Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Enough Is Enough

I did something this morning that needed doing for a long time. As some of you know, I spend my winters in a fancy country club setting in Florida. It is a high security, gate access high-end community consisting of people who obviously have a lot of money and enjoy golf, tennis and other activities conducive to an active life style. I would be remiss if I did not mention that I enjoy my life in this community very much and I feel very fortunate that I am able to do so. One of the major ‘players’ in this community is a man who is the subject of this blog. Let’s call him Bill. Bill is an organizer of sorts. He has carved out one of the days of the week for a large number of the male golfers and takes it upon himself to set up tee times and a game for these golfers whose only responsibility is to let Bill know sufficiently in advance as to whether or not they want to be included in the event in any particular week. Bill collects money from each golfer, collates the various scores and pays out the winnings for those who have done better than the others in that particular week. This is a very nice thing for Bill to do and he does it very well.

Now the downside: The mechanism by which Bill does all of the scheduling is e-mail. In our club, one can sign on to the club web site and make a tee time. On one day of the week, Bill does this for a substantial number of male golfers. Bill, thus, has access to the e-mail addresses of these golfers. In addition to performing his generous activities on behalf of those who participate in the weekly golf event, Bill has chosen to be the purveyor of a particularly wicked array of racist e-mails directed at President Obama and black people in general. He has done this for a long time, but his ardor for the task increased during the presidential campaign and of late. Presumably, the success of Obama in preventing a depression in the American economy followed by his success in obtaining passage of the health care act has triggered an outrage in Bill’s mind that requires him to express his rage in a manner equivalent to the guy I saw on TV news this weekend who spit on a black congressman who was walking past him.

Now what I did: By way of prefatory comments, I tend to be idealistic I guess. When I read the Declaration of Independence where it says that ‘all men are created equal’ I get the chill-bumps. The hairs on my arms stand up, my nerve endings start to tingle, and my eyes start tearing up when I think about the men and women in our country who have died to preserve the sanctity of those words and the nation that emerged based upon that basic principle. I should also mention that I am not Polyanna either. I come from Detroit, the center of many of the racial divides of our great country. I am under no illusions or delusions about some black people who exploit the system for personal gain (just like a lot of white people), nor am I unmindful of the fact that our educational systems in the United States, despite Brown vs. Board of Education in 1953, has failed to serve the black populace miserably in providing quality education to its children. But I do not hate black people. I neither hate individual black people nor do I hate black people in general. Having said all this, I need now to tell you what I did this morning. After reading a particularly vile hate-filled message from Bill I did, quite simply what I should have done a long time ago. I wrote a message to Bill. It said simply, “Bill, please remove me from your e-mail listing.” I gave no reason because it is my firm belief that the reason is obvious. But just in case it is not obvious, let me make it clear. I believe the continued fanning of the flame of racism is anti-American and destructive. In passively acquiescing to the receipt of these e-mails over the past few years so that I could maintain my standings as one of the good guys in this nearly all-white high scale upper end community, I have sold my soul. One is either part of the problem or part of the solution. There is no middle ground here. I choose now to be part of the solution.

Monday, March 22, 2010

This Tops It All

Barely eight hours have passed since the democrats passed a historic bill allowing most Americans the right to receive medical care free of the daunting rules and restrictions long established by the private insurance companies of America. Just to briefly give one example, insurance companies can and do reject people all the time for medical coverage on the flimsiest of excuses on the basis that illnesses are pre-existing. People pay thousands of dollars of insurance premiums only to find out that their claims for protection in an individual situation are rejected by an unknown person sitting somewhere at a desk in Kansas, or Missouri, without any medical training whatsoever making some life or death decision denying coverage on one pretext or another.

Let me digress briefly and talk about a trip to Dallas I made back in 1967 to undergo two weeks training for my new job as a pharmaceutical representative for a major drug company. Just across the street from the motel where the training class was staying was a Laundromat. There were two entrances to that Laundromat as well as two different sets of washing and drying machines.; One was for white people and one was for “colored” only. As a young idealist from southeast Michigan, I came from an area where there was no similar overt form of racism so I was fascinated by this raw display. However, I was not na├»ve enough to realize and understood that people from my neck of the woods manifested a variety of covert racial attitudes and activities that were as significant in their owns ways.

This southern experience flashed back into mind this morning as I surveyed the mainstream Republican reaction to the passage of the health bill In the background of the Palin “death panels,” type claims, the mainstream Republican thinker, Newt Gingrich, commented on the potential significance of the health care passage. If Democrats pass health reform, Gingrich said, “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation.

So there you have it President Obama, you mad man. You have destroyed all that is good about America, just like your predecessor, Lyndon Johnson. By bringing 30 million people in from the dark side of medical care, you have destroyed the Republican interpretation of “all men are created equal,” just as Johnson did and shattered the Democrats. We will never recover from this destruction and the worst part of it, we may have to suffer the consequences of living another ten or fifteen years longer than we would have. Shame, shame.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A. Running a business, B. running a household, C. running a government.

Question: what do these three activities have in common? Better yet, what should these three activities have in common? I have run a small business. I also have and currently run the finances of a household. I have never run a government entity, but the point I wish to make about doing so is based upon the other two activities. The principle that I believe most strongly results in success is that one should live within one’s means. For example, consider credit cards. I currently have two credit cards in my wallet that were issued to me in 1980, the year I opened my own law firm. Never once in the thirty years since have I paid one penny of interest on these cards although, admittedly, at times I have used them liberally to travel, recreate and conduct my business affairs. Each month since the initial date of issuance I have paid off the entire principle sum owing on both of these cards. One of the most common sales pitch for appliances, electronics, furniture, etc. is that it is a good idea to buy things on time because it creates a credit rating. Other than a home mortgage, I think that advice is nonsense and is likely to doom people who fall for this sales pitch to entrapment in a bundle of accumulating debt forever. Is this beginning to sound like the various governments in all of our lives have been living for the past fifty years or so? We hear about the national deficit in the trillions of dollars, a number most of us cannot grasp simply because the sheer size of it makes our heads spin. We know that there was a surplus when Clinton turned over the country to Bush who decided to put the two wars and Part D of the Medicare drug plan on a credit card. Since then our debt has mounted tragically and drastically beyond a point that indebts each of us, our children, our grandchildren, and the kids still on the way to approximately $28,000 per person. And that is only at the federal level. We hear and read about the plight of the various states which are facing ruinous financial crises causing closing of schools, prison, massive layoffs and elimination of projects vital to the health and welfare of our citizens; projects such as upgrading and maintaining the infrastructure of our highways.

For me, I can certainly see the point and understand the frustration of the Tea Party groups. What I cannot understand is the lateness of the hour on which they decided to conclude that there was a problem. Now the average tea-partier is a collector of social security (a government expense) and Medicare recipient (another government expense), but ironically sees fit to decry government spending on the proposed health bill (which will, in fact, lower the national deficit). The question I have is what else in play here? But, back to the point. We must somehow fashion a remedy to eliminate this terrible financial plight we are in. If the government was a business or a household, this is the way it would be done. Stop spending on unnecessary items. Pay as you go. Unfortunately, we also need a large temporary tax increase to pay off the nearly trillions of dollars we have spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iran. If every American citizen was assessed an additional thirty dollars a year for three years, the money raised would nearly eliminate the federal deficit. Even the darling of the Republicans, President Reagan, raised taxes several times after his original tax cuts created a huge financial federal debt.

Friday, March 19, 2010

It Kind of All Ties In

It does kind of all tie in. As we move (hopefully) to a system of expanded insurance coverage for thirty one million uninsured Americans, there is more to the story than meets the idea. The party of “no” ignores basic facts about the current system, which operates in a variety of ways to cheat people and deprive them of needed medical care at crucial times in their lives. A 17-year-old boy in Georgia was recently permitted to sue his medical insurer who had denied him coverage because a nurse inadvertently wrote 2001, rather than 2002, on a medical form as the time on onset of his medical condition. Thus, this mistake allowed the insurance company to claim that the insured lied on his insurance application by failing to disclose his pre-existing condition, AIDS. A private lawsuit was brought and, thus, the shenanigans of the insurance company were exposed. In fact, they had conducted a company wide policy of finding ways to exclude anybody with AIDS by the simple denial of coverage for a myriad of reasons. In doing so, the company saved itself more than 150 million dollars in coverage costs for which it was legally liable.

Why I say that it all ties in is that this deplorable incident serves to illuminate exactly why this country needs a system of medical care not controlled by a group of insurance accountants who examine only the bottom line of their companies’ profits. This country also needs to nourish and demand a continuation of our tort system, which, many times, can be the only means of rooting out irresponsible behavior of corporations.

Our system of government, our society, thrives best in a balanced manner. To allow unregulated corporations free rein to maximize their profits carries just the kinds of risks of incidents like the one described above. There needs to be a balance and counterweight to corporate activity, which allows conduct to be examined and liability to be assessed. The American way of life, tea-party wise, is absolutely correct when it decries government influence in private activities. However, the yelling stops short when it comes to the most important aspect of all. The preservation of our rights under the 7th amendment of the Constitution is a guaranteed right that systematic corporate influence has swept under the bus. Ironically, the same people who demand the right to carry their weapons to presidential speeches and prevent government interference from gun shows selling weapons to lunatics, etc., are the ones who scream, literally, most loudly about the need to eliminate the tort system of holding people and corporations responsible for their behaviors. These types extend to the highest offices in our land, i.e. Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito, not to mention the various Republican Congressman and Senators who would toss the system of torts of America out like the baby with the bath water.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Questions to the Republican Party

Old people are your base. Medicare is a major reason why the budget deficit is so high. You oppose budget deficits, but at the same time oppose any cuts in Medicare. This fiscal sleight of hand, dressed up in aphorisms such as ‘death plans’ allows you to confuse the elderly to the obvious contradiction between these two major items. If you oppose deficit spending, how can you support continued Medicare benefits at their present level? You have the Michelle Bachmans and Sarah Palins of your party doing all the heavy lifting on these issues because, quite simply put, no one at the federal level bearing a Republican name tag has got the guts to stand up and tell voters what is really necessary here. Either the deficit must be reduced by reducing spending (such as cutting Medicare’s benefits or reducing the 70 billion dollar handout to corporate farmers each year) or by increasing taxes so that income matches outgo. Simple as that; No hysteria about the “uppity one,” no grumbling about Pelosi’s airplane. Why do Republicans avoid answering the obvious questions about President Nixon’s advocacy of a health care plan in the early 1970s? Why do Republicans avoid the fact that their leading presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, led the way in Massachusetts to bring a health care plan similar to the one now pending in Washington to the people of that State? Why do Republicans consider the deficit such a huge problem at this moment while having remained absolutely silent during Bush’s reign of eight years which turned a budget surplus into the largest deficit in the history of the United States? Why is it so convenient for Republicans to forget that Reagan’s initial deep tax cuts were followed by years of his tax increases to reduce deficits smaller than the current ones?