Monday, April 25, 2011

Radical Right Would Limit Voters - Easier to Win that Way

            By the twentieth century, when Communism and Fascism reared their heads as forms of totalitarianism, Democracy had already become so ingrained in the public mind that these and other types of dictatorship found it necessary to adopt democratic forms such as elections and constitutions.  Of course they controlled the elections in ways that democrats did not.

            The history of democracy in the United States since the American Revolution has been one of expanding and enlarging the franchise and including more citizens in determining who makes decisions.  In the 1820's American states began repealing property ownership as a requirement to vote so that by the end of the Jacksonian era all white males were eligible to register and vote. During the Civil War absentee balloting especially for military was introduced. After the Civil War race was removed as a bar to voting, but universal male suffrage lasted only about ten years.  Then during the WWI era women won the right to vote. In the 1960's the promise of the 15th amendment was kept with the Voting Rights Act and we had universal adult suffrage. We abolished the poll tax and the literacy test- devices that were used to keep poor people and blacks from registering.  Finally with the Vietnam War the voting age was lowered to eighteen.

            As the franchise has been expanded so too were registration procedures reformed; until by the second half of the twentieth century America had permanent personal registration (rather than annual) and it was possible for citizens groups to register voters at tables at parks and festivals and shopping areas.  Year round registration by mail was introduced.

            Now due to concerted and coordinated radical Republican campaigns in almost forty states efforts are being made to restrict the franchise so as to assure Republican victories.  Proposals that would reduce the number of poor, young and minority voters are being pushed in those states because those three demographic groups tend to vote Democratic.  Raising the phony cry of “Voter Fraud” and claiming that thousands of people repeat vote using false identity (no evidence of such in any state since before the Great Depression) the strongest push is for Voter ID bills that would require a voter to produce a picture id card (college cards not allowed) when voting. If you don’t have a drivers license (which 2/3 to 3/4 of urban residents do not) you can get something else. So if you don’t drive or are poor or don’t need a photo id for another purpose you just don’t register and don’t vote.  The radical republicans have carried this notion to the point now of proposing that if a woman marries after registering she must change her registration surname to the married name and produce a marriage certificate when she goes to vote.

            There are other proposals floating around to restrict the franchise and to rig the elections. One would bar young people from voting from their college dorm even if they are going to spend four years in that area - and we’re talking about restricting their voting for President and federal officials not town council. Another would require every new registrant to show proof of citizenship.  With today’s databases and computers it is no great problem for the county boards of elections to check on birth and citizenship status something they’ve done for decades without computers.

            Democrats should be fighting back against these radical Republican ideas.  The Democratic Party since the days of Andrew Jackson has always supported expansion of the franchise (though it opposed the Civil War amendments, Democrats led the fight for the Voting Rights Act.).  Republicans like their Federalist forebears have always supported a restricted franchise. Some Republicans today even hold with a recent spokesman at a Tea Party rally who advocated restoring property (land) holding as a requisite for voting arguing that only people with a “stake” in society should have the right to vote.

            If you can’t win an election steal it seems to be the mantra of the Republicans who still revel in their two stolen Presidencies 1876 and 2000.  But stealing an election after the votes are cast can be a messy business and attract a lot of publicity and even end up in the Courts.  And it doesn’t always work witness Minnesota where they couldn’t count out Senator Franken.  So now the new radical right wing Republicans want to steal elections in advance by identifying those who vote Democrat and making it almost impossible for them to register and vote.   Having succeeded under President Bush in passing the so-called trick named Help America Vote Act which has put most of the country back on paper ballots (under the guise that machines can read the ballots so that equates to electronic voting when it is of course electronic counting) they find that those pesky people the voters still find ways to vote for who they want.  The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is reported to have said “It doesn’t matter who votes what matters is who counts the votes” Well, radical Republicans don’t want to take any chances they want to restrict who can vote so it doesn’t matter who controls the count.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Dems want to Keep America #! -- Reps would Let It Sink to 3rd Rate.

            The radical right wing Republicans inspired by the Tea Party fanatics punted and didn’t shut the government down over the 2011 budget.  Yet, they continue to push the draconian Ryan budget that with all its’ double talk will result in the America becoming a third-rate nation in thirty years.

            There is a clear philosophical difference between Republicans and Democrats .  The radical Reps, having been absorbed by the tea party folks, are determined to use fiscal issues and the so called debt limit crisis to impose their version of morality upon the American people. All sides agree that some spending needs to be curtailed. But the Democrats are not about to allow the radical Republicans to end all appropriations for Planned Parenthood and other programs that benefit the middle class citizens of the country.  (Planned Parenthood cannot use federal money for abortions - that’s been illegal for decades.  But these radical Republicans want to make sure my daughters and someday my granddaughters can’t go to Planned Parenthood for contraceptive services and health services for women.  So the radical Republicans just keep repeating the lie that all Planned Parenthood does is provide abortion services and turn a spending priority issue into a right-to-life cause.)

            While at it these folks want to make sure that government agencies don’t do their job. In fact in many cases, e.g. Department of Education, they want to abolish the agencies. They want to restrict the Environmental Protection Agencies' employees from protecting the environment.  Just for good measure they'd cut out PBS and Sesame Street which they think has been a left-wing conspiracy to poison the minds of our kids.  I watched Sesame Street with my children thirty years ago and my grandchildren just a few years ago and if there ever was anything worth my tax dollars it was that show.

            The greatest outrage of the Ryan Radical Republican plan is the repeal of Medicare.  A guaranteed low cost medical insurance for all citizens over 65 would end for anyone under 55 today. Those younger persons, paying payroll taxes to support Medicare, would be given vouchers to help them buy medical insurance.  The insurance companies, if they will insure seniors (one of the reasons we have Medicare is because the private sector didn’t want to do that), will make more money and seniors will pay as much as $6500 more per year. Or in many cases their children would have to pay – a middle class already unable to make ends meet would now be deprived of one of its major economic mainstays.  And don’t doubt it – if they succeed in gutting Medicare they will try again to privatize Social Security and subject seniors income to the roller-coaster of the stock market.  

These Tea Party radicals who control the Republican Party don’t believe there is a function for government.  Everything can be done and run by private sector interests motivated by desire to make profit.  We have built in the US a society with a mixed approach to both economic control and political control.  We have tried to create a country with the broadest political freedoms for all the people and limited restrictions on a free market economy - with regulations to protect the majority of people from being controlled by the rich and big business interests and having their lives negatively impacted by the vagaries of economic trends.

            If you don’t believe that government should do anything (except impose your moral standards on the population) -  the radicals have a plan to sell you (can’t sell you a bridge because they want to cut funds to repair them). But, if you believe that people should get an unemployment check because they lost their job in the Bush Republican caused Great Recession; or get some low interest loans so young people can afford to attend college; then you understand and support a government that helps people who need help (one of the purposes of government according to the first Republican President Abraham Lincoln)

            It is hypocritical to say the least for these radical Republicans who claim they want to get the government off people’s backs (rich people at least) by cutting taxes and keeping the government out of their pocket book to argue that the only way to balance our budgets is to undue the social progress that has changed this country over the past one hundred years.  Now that the majority of Americans have accepted the concept that black or white, gay or straight, male or female, young and old, everyone should have a piece of the American pie these radical Republicans want to burn the pie and toss it out.  They will not win,   because the American story is not finished; and, the march to progress, which began here in 1607, many times hitting bumps in the road and even setbacks, will continue.  As FDR said in the speech he never got to give “The only limit to our realization of  tomorrow will be our doubts of today”.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We Could Use A Man Like Franklin Roosevelt Again

            Our country is in the midst of a great economic downturn, millions unemployed,  thousands facing foreclosures, prices rising,  tin-horn dictators meglomanically committing atrocities against their own people,  and the government in Washington DC appears paralyzed.  We could use a man like Franklin Roosevelt,  Again.

April 12, 1945 the nation was shocked to learn of the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  For most Americans alive today he is a figure in history.  Today, sixty-six years after his death conservatives who opposed his political policies are determined to gut most of what he did and what others built upon his work.  Political historians will argue whether FDR’s New Deal got America out of the Great Depression or whether it was World War II.  Yet had the billions spent on WWII been spent in the thirties on the programs advocated by FDR there would be no dispute the Depression would have ended by 1939.  Had he never wavered under conservative Republican pressure and cut spending in the late 1930's the recession of ‘38 wouldn’t have happened either.

            America was in a bad way when FDR took office in 1933, as was most of the industrialized world, and some nations like Germany and Italy had chosen the way of fascism.  Roosevelt restored Americans’  belief in their own destiny.  His ringing voice, spoken while standing with the use of heavy iron braces, lifted a nation off its knees and allowed it to stand tall again.  He pushed through a myriad of programs to ease the pain of the Great Depression which had caused 25% unemployment in the cities and thousands of farm and rural home foreclosures.  His Civilian Conservation Corps took thousands of young people  and taught them discipline and health and gave them a bit of money to send home.  His Works Progress Administration and Public Works Administration  built the infrastructure of America - roads, school buildings, pipelines many of which still today keep this country afloat.  He tried with the NRA to adopt wage and price controls, and when the Supreme Court came down on the side of big business and stopped it he pushed through the Wagner Labor Relations Act that settled once and for all (we thought) the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain.

             And then of course his greatest legislative achievement -- Social Security -- an insurance program funded by mandatory contributions from workers and their employers to guarantee seniors, upon retirement, some funds to live on. The original program also initiated unemployment insurance and disability insurance so that families would not suffer when breadwinners lost their job nor would accidents destroy a workers ability to feed his family.

            To bring progress to areas of the country like the Appalachian South, that were ignored by the private sector because they didn’t see profits there, he established the Tennessee Valley Authority. The people of parts of seven states soon had access to cheap electricity and became a major market for post war consumer electric goods.  Had Congress passed FDR’s plan for eight other regional TVA’s half of America today would have inexpensive electric power and the great power monopolies would not be either as powerful or as rich.

            Later as WWII was ending FDR got the GI Bill of Rights passed.  That single piece of legislation is most responsible for the post war growth and success of the middle class in America and the ability of the Greatest Generation to pass on to their children and grandchildren a better America.

            Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not a saint.  Nor was he always right (he mis- judged the Russians at Yalta) nor did he always handle things the smart way politically (he mishandled the so-called Court packing plan an idea which he never told people he had gotten from U.S. Grant).  But, FDR was a Leader with a capital L.  He modeled himself in many ways after his fifth cousin and uncle-in-law Theodore Roosevelt.  He will go down in history as the greatest President of the US in the 20th century - known for getting us out of the Great Depression and leading the world in defeating Nazism, fascism and militarism.  He was not an ideologue nor a constitutional lawyer.  He once explained that when faced with a problem you should try something, if that didn’t work try something else and if the second idea failed try a third, but most of all do something about a problem.  He believed that even though he belonged to the upper 10% of Americans measured by wealth, the 90% deserved their fair share of the American pie.  

            Now we have the Tea Party that would take us back to an America before the 20th century and House Republicans like Rep. Ryan who would abolish the Great Society,  ignore the New Frontier and undue the New Deal.  Whenever this nation has faced a great crisis a true leader has arisen: Washington during the Revolution, Lincoln at the time of the Civil War and FDR during the crises of the 1930’s .  We can only hope that in this 21st century America will again be blessed and a true national Leader with the skills and the compassion of Franklin Delano Roosevelt will enter the arena.


Friday, April 8, 2011

AUTISM - The 21st Century Epidemic

April is Autism Awareness Month.  It is also my oldest granddaughters fifth birthday. When she was fifteen months I began researching Autism, because I was concerned that her incessant rocking back and forth (now know that is called stimming) meant something wasn’t right.  She had begun to speak when she was twelve months and then a few months later stopped.  I later learned that, along with lack of eye contact, regression in speech was an indication of Autism to look for in small children.  In the summer of 2007 it took two years to get an appointment with a Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)  developmental pediatrician.  We got an appointment with a pediatric neurologist who suggested after seeing her that we have a pediatric hearing exam which we did.  The examiner suggested we contact Delaware County Intermediate Unit to see if she was eligible for early intervention services. We did and they were great providing three types of therapy in the home.  We were lucky enough to get an appointment with a developmental pediatrician in Camden NJ by the time my granddaughter was 19 months old.  She was diagnosed as PDD-NOS pervasive developmental disorder -not otherwise specified; a diagnosis that accounts for 90% of the children on the Autism Spectrum.  ; the remaining 10% having one of 5 more specific diagnoses.

Then began my daughters’ journey on the Internet and in books learning everything she could about Autism Spectrum Disorders and PDD-NOS.  Now that 1 in 110 children are affected by ASD there is a wealth of information on possible causes, cures, therapies etc.  It seems to be clear that most cases are somehow different and there is no one fits all solution. We don’t know the causes - to what extent do environmental factors cause or trigger inherited tendencies; can mercury or aluminum in vaccines trigger some toddlers’ gastrointestinal problems then affect development; is the vaccine question one not of the vaccinations but of the number of vaccinations (often more than 12 in the first year of a baby’s life).  Empirical evidence would suggest that in some cases, e.g. my granddaughter, diet can play a factor - she is now on a gluten free, casein free, soy free diet and no one except a trained developmental pediatrician would even see signs of ASD. 

Now when Autism is a worldwide epidemic and some progress is being made comes the Great Recession and the right wing attempt to cut government programs at the federal and state level. The research that is being done including major studies of genetic factors in autism (including replicating Autism symptoms in mice using a one gene mutation) is a result of government funding. Twenty-five states have mandated that health insurance sold in these states must offer coverage for Autism related therapies.  Yet all this and more is threatened. The efforts to cut Medicaid will also affect long term community services for those children and support services at home and at school as well as supported employment when these children age into the workforce.

Some in the government get it.  In 2006 Congress passed and the President signed the Combating Autism Act of 2006 which provided funding for Autism research and created the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.  That historic act sunsets on Sept 30 of this year.  Readoption of that Act is critical to maintaining the progress made so far in combating this epidemic.  Over 130 members of Congress from both Houses and both Parties have formed a Congressional Coalition for Autism Research and Education but that leaves 405 others who need to be educated on this.

            We were lucky we realized what was happening early and got early intervention.  Today major studies are concluding that screening for ASD in toddlers as young as 18 months is doable and valuable.

            The childhood epidemic of my generation was polio.  We are a great nation and we eradicated polio, often with government funded community clinics that distributed both types of vaccine.  We cannot let a Great Recession and the national debt crisis consign an entire generation to what this ASD epidemic can do to them for their entire lives.  We are so close to coming up with the answers and to helping those who are on the Autism Spectrum; and possibly even finding a way to prevent that 1% from becoming 5%.

            Eradicating polio in the 1950's was not an Eisenhower initiative nor was it a political matter - it was a matter of public health and the entire nation united behind accomplishing it.  So the same can be with Autism.  I had the honor of speaking personally to then Sen. Obama about Autism when he visited Wallingford in 2008.  He then made some commitments that he has kept.  But this should not be an Obama budget initiative nor a Ryan Republican budget alternative. This is a matter of human decency and the decency of Americans to help all those little children who unlike my granddaughter may have parents who may not recognize the signs of Autism.

 [For more information on Autism Spectrum Disorders see the website of the Autism Society of America]