Thursday, September 10, 2009

Emerson for the Day

"The difference between talent and character is adroitness to keep the old and trodden round, and power and courage to make a new road to new and better goals. Character makes an overpowering present; a cheerful, determined hour, which fortifies all the company by making them see that much is possible and excellent that was not thought of."


That Is Our Calling. That Is Our Character

"I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road - to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.
But that's not what the moment calls for. That's not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test.
Because that is who we are. That is our calling. That is our character. Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless the United States of America."
--The end of President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress on 9/9/09. Excerpts from the speech follow, in rough order, top to bottom.

We Came to Build A Future

"But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came to build a future. So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future - and that is the issue of health care. Our collective failure to meet this challenge - year after year, decade after decade - has led us to a breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can't get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can't afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or expensive to cover.
We are the only advanced democracy on Earth - the only wealthy nation - that allows such hardships for millions of its people. There are now more than thirty million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage. In other words, it can happen to anyone."

That is Heartbreaking, It is Wrong

"But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem of the uninsured. Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today. More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you'll lose your health insurance too. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won't pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.
One man from Illinois
lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it. Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer more than doubled in size. That is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America."

No One Should Go Broke Because They Get Sick

"The plan I'm announcing tonight would meet three basic goals:
It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. It's a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge - not just government and insurance companies, but employers and individuals. And it's a plan that incorporates ideas from Senators and Congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans - and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.
Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan:
First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.
What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick."

The Public Option

"Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. The insurance reforms that I've already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear - it would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5% of Americans would sign up....
I have insisted that like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects. But by avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits, excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers. It would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities. It's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I've proposed tonight.

It Is A Lie, Plain and Simple

"Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.
There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false - the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally. And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up - under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.
And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open. But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.
Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result."

Why We Cannot Fail

"That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed - the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town hall meetings, in emails, and in letters.
I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death...
On issues like these, Ted Kennedy's passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick; and he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance; what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent - there is something that could make you better, but I just can't afford it.
That large-heartedness - that concern and regard for the plight of others - is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.
This has always been the history of our progress. In 1933, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism. But the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it. In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.
You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, and the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter - that at that point we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Here's President Obama poisoning the minds of American youth with the message of "Get serious this year." What? That will cut into Xbox sales--that's not capitalism, it's socialism!

This is a nice last 6 minutes. Some comments from students: "This doomed generation should be proud that they had something to do with electing a President who cares about the quality of schooling and knows how to spell it too...What I would most like to applaud President Obama on is taking the time to look at this new generation from ages 5 to 18 and letting us know that he cares." "Obama made my education feel more important, that I mattered." "His speech talks to the students on a personal basis, and the country should be proud that we have a competent President who can talk to students without making mistakes and sounding like an idiot."

As for me, it made me want to be young again.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Farewell to Summer

It's the traditional if not the official end of summer, and it's been a pretty quiet one around Lake Woebegon, North Coast annex. A couple of weeks in June back in western PA was all the traveling, and the recognized summer activity included a few walks on the beach, one backyard do, and two baseball games--both our local Humboldt Crabs, one on my own and one with Margaret. Apart from the band and some choice commentary from the crowd (as the manager and infielders of the opposing team gathered at the pitcher's mound in a crucial game situation, someone suggested they "talk about your feelings") there was the usual complete baseball experience. That second game we saw the Crabs right fielder make two stunning throws to nail runners at the plate.
Mostly it was homebodying, a little assisting with house and garden, so maybe it's not too impressive that my summer reading included not only Kim Stanley Robinson's entire Mars trilogy (some 2000 paperback pages) but his related 434 page book, The Martians. So maybe I did more traveling that I thought. I spent the summer on Mars.

First Summer

The first summer as the First Family was not exactly a frazzle-free, but the Prez did get in some trout fishing in Montana, golf and family time on Martha's Vineyard, and a peek at the Grand Canyon, scattered around White House happenings and events, like congratulating the new Supreme Court justice. Click to enlarge: official White House photos.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

It's Serious

I take the right wing crazies seriously around here, and I have to count myself among those who are getting a little anxious about the apparent Obama administration attitude towards them.

Two things this weekend, for instance: the Secretary of Education repeating the same language concerning the Rabid Right's latest truly rabid insanity: their blatant Big Lying and frothing at the mouth over the President of the United States talking to school kids about the importance of education. The Secretary of Ed said it's "silly," just as Press Secretary Smilin' Bob Gibbs called it "silly season." Silly is an attempt to deflate it with mild ridicule, and I've been waiting for that to work--because the Obama people went against conventional wisdom on this sort of stuff during the campaign and turned out to be right. But if they don't believe this stuff is really dangerous, then I am worried. You can dismiss it in public, although I don't think that's a good strategy any longer, but I really hope they aren't in fact dismissing it.

The other event was the resignation of Van Jones, the green energy advisor. The Beltway folks are either cynical or approving--he was in their eyes a minor guy whose past political indiscretions were going to stay a story and take up attention from health care and Climate Crisis legislation, etc. But it's a lot worse that that. First of all, it's a victory for that vicious scum, Glenn Beck. I have compassion for Beck, he's a troubled guy who evidently couldn't get jobs as an actor and has settled for selling Big Lies and hate. But he needs treatment, not encouragement, and certainly not power.

He went after Jones, and he evidently got him--inspiring Huff Post to its own racist headline to the effect that Jones was his "first scalp." And it's going to be blood in the water for Beck--he's going to McCarthy his way up the White House staff. Beck gets away with this--while the White House claims nobody there watches him--as he gets away with his own repeated blatant hate speech and racism.

This has inspired some pretty acid comments from those who support Obama on many issues, like digby here:

I would hope that these leftist extremists like Color of Change will think twice before they go after an upstanding company like FOX News because the lesson here is that somebody is going to pay a big price for doing it. In fact, it probably would pay to keep a close eye on the FOX gasbags from now on to get an idea of which groups or individuals have offended the network and get rid of them before anyone has a chance to make a public stink. It would save everyone a lot of time and trouble.

Color of Change is an organization that Jones founded, and since it has led the pretty successful campaign to deny advertisers to Beck due to his expressed racism, Beck went after Jones (no longer actually associated with them, at least until today.)

Second, it's not very comforting to see the White House abandon Jones, a talented and charismatic guy, a bridge between non-white communities and the all-too-white environmentalists. Just on the basis of loyalty, of standing up, it doesn't feel right. Brian L at Calitics quotes Baratude:

I'm heartbroken over Van's departure because it's these little meaningless concessions that undermine people's faith in the system. You get folks all riled up about change. You empower a man who embodies that change. And they you let him be run out of office by fucking Glenn Beck? So Glenn Beck is running the White House now? Is that how it's gonna be? Just tell me that I knocked on all those doors for nothing, and I can start the grieving process, but don't pretend this will solve anything.

** *** *** How do you expect folks to continue to go to the mat for your agenda, when you so easily sacrifice our best and brightest at the whim of an illegitimate lynch mob? How do you expect the next generation to invest themselves in the political process when they see that despite their good works, they can be taken out over nonsense, especially when the double standard is so abundantly clear? How can you ask from us what you won't do for us? And when will you realize that you cannot negotiate with terrorists?"

I know that from a White House perspective you have to deal in acceptable losses sometimes, but if the Obama Administration is going to cede ground to the Rabid Right they're just going to get more and more vicious. They may end up consuming themselves, but by that time we may not have much left to build a future with.

Bill Moyers has taken this temperature as well:

The editors of THE ECONOMIST magazine say America's health care debate has become a touch delirious, with people accusing each other of being evil-mongers, dealers in death, and un-American. Well, that's charitable. I would say it's more deranged than delirious, and definitely not un-American.

Those crackpots on the right praying for Obama to die and be sent to hell — they're the warp and woof of home-grown nuttiness. So is the creature from the Second Amendment who showed up at the President's rally armed to the teeth... Bill Maher asked me on his show last week if America is still a great nation. I should've said it's the greatest show on earth. Forget what you learned in civics about the Founding Fathers — we're the children of Barnum and Bailey, our founding con-men. Their freak show was the forerunner of today's talk radio.

Speaking of which: we've posted on our website an essay by the media scholar Henry Giroux. He describes the growing domination of hate radio as one of the crucial elements in a "culture of cruelty" increasingly marked by overt racism, hostility and disdain for others, coupled with a simmering threat of mob violence toward any political figure who believes health care reform is the most vital of safety nets, especially now that the central issue of life and politics is no longer about working to get ahead, but struggling simply to survive."

Moyers writes this in the context of a letter to President Obama, and pleads: "Come on, Mr. President. Show us America is more than a circus or a market. Remind us of our greatness as a democracy."

To do so he may have to do more than gently chide or dismiss this wave of hate and distortion. He may have to name it, and oppose it. And stand with those who stand with him for a better future.

Emerson for the Day

"There is no virtue which is final; all are initial."