Friday, October 28, 2011

The Right to Live ... the Pursuit of Happiness

The radical right wing Tea Party Republicans who claim to be motivated by a desire to see less government at all levels have just passed another of their moral imposition laws: HR 358 the self-styled Protect Life Act.  The proposed law would prohibit women from buying health insurance plans through the new Health Care Act if those plans cover abortion procedures even when women use their own money, not government funds, to pay for the premiums.  It would also allow hospitals to deny abortion procedures to women who face life threatening conditions.  I find it incomprehensible that these so called less government folks would support government prohibiting people from buying a type of insurance.  The underpinning of their argument against the Health Care Act is that it requires people to have insurance.  Well if you can prohibit people from buying a type of insurance you can require them to have a type of insurance.   I also find it truly cruel to deny women a procedure at a hospital that a doctor thinks is necessary to save their life. Evidently the Protect Life Act is about protecting only the life of the unborn fetus not the life of the mother.

Abortion is one of those moral issues that divides the body politic along religious lines.  It is probably the most divisive issue to face our nation since slavery tore us apart one hundred fifty years ago.  By the early decades of the twentieth century many states had outlawed abortion procedures.  Like prohibition of liquor it didn’t mean that no abortions occurred.  Women found a way to have abortions in back alleys and on kitchen tables performed by unlicensed and untrained individuals who used coat hangers instead of surgical instruments. When in the 1960's movements for civil rights for blacks and increased opportunities for young people and equality for women spread throughout the nation there became a campaign to make abortion a procedure that women could have done safely by trained doctors.  Some states, such as New York replaced their abortion ban with an allowance of abortion whenever a women and their doctor wanted to perform one (this was denominated abortion on demand)

The Supreme Court of the United States eventually ruled that the ninth amendment to the Constitution contained within its meanings a right to privacy which then through the fourteenth amendment was applicable to state governments as well.  With this decision, Roe v. Wade, abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy became legal in this country.  A reaction to this ruling then occurred and grew in intensity as many Roman Catholics; and, eventually orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Protestants found strong religious objection to allowing abortions which they considered murder since they considered that life began at conception. Women saw the anti abortion movement as an effort to restrict their control of their own bodies and reproductive choices.

With abortion legalized by the Supreme Court, opponents sought ways to restrict it.  The question of minors’ rights to abortions was raised.  Self styled Pro-Life forces argued that minors should need parental consent.  Pro-Choicers argued that most minors who sought abortions were often those who couldn’t talk to their parents either out of fear, abuse or shame; and they offered alternative ways for consent to be given, e.g. a judge.  So Pro Life forces countered with parental notification which would require parents to be notified when their daughter was going to have an abortion in cases where someone else gave consent or no consent was required.

There were efforts to restrict abortion procedures to the first trimester and many states adopted these.  With the election of the anti-spending, anti-deficit, less gov’t is good Tea Party radical Republicans in 2010 dozens of new types of restrictions have been proposed.  In one state by regulation of facilities they have successfully closed the only three abortion procedure providers in the state. In other states there has been renewed efforts to require parental consent, mandate pre abortion procedure waiting periods, require women to view videos of abortions before they undergo the procedure and now this draconian and truly offensive federal proposal that says you can’t have insurance that pays for abortion even if you pay for the insurance - so much for rights or capitalism.

The newest plan to ban abortion procedures is the so called Personhood Amendment.  In Mississippi in this Nov. election it is on the ballot. It would amend theat state’s constitution to wit: “the term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.”.  Effectively such an amendment could bar not only abortions but day after pills, and possibly even other methods of contraception. Five other states are considering such amendments and waiting for the Mississippi referendum (the amendment is expected to pass there).

Moral issues that divide people along religious lines should not be the basis of governmental legislation.  The role of government should be to enable everyone to practice their own religious beliefs and live by their own moral codes as long as they don’t impose them on anyone else or do damage to anyone else.  To say that the future life of an unborn fetus is more sacrosanct that the life of the mother is not the province of government.  To decide when a health procedure is needed to save life should not be the role of government -- interestingly these same radical Republican types make much of what they incorrectly call death panels and insist that the Affordable Health Care Act would allow government to decide who could live or die.

It is difficult if not impossible to compromise on moral issues.  In the years I have spent in public and political life I have seen little support from elected officials for compromise proposals on the matter of abortion.  When pro-choicers offer alternatives to abortion ideas such as increased funding for adoptions, more education and support for contraception the pro-life folks say no.  They fail to understand that allowing the government to bar any abortions under any circumstances means that government can require abortions.   They fail to comprehend that respect for life must also include helping children as they struggle through infancy and adolescence - as they seek education and later a job. 

The role of government should be to enhance the life of all; we as a society must care about how life is lived, and that pursuit of happiness that our Declaration of Independence linked to the rights to life and liberty. Today is the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty by then President Grover Cleveland. That statue has come to symbolize the right to liberty to pursue a full, productive and prosperous life not just to be born.

28 October, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Occupy" America - The 99% Movement

A mass protest movement has grown up almost overnight as thousands of frustrated and angry middle class Americans take to the streets in peaceful protest about the economic conditions in America.  Beginning with a protest against the Wall Street tycoons whose greed and frankly criminal activities led to the Great Recession and to the mass unemployment endemic in the country today it has spread to Occupy demonstrations in hundreds of cities, state capitals and county seats.  First populated by young people, as with almost all protest demonstrations, they were quickly joined by middle aged middle class citizens, teachers, firefighters, blue collar workers, laborers and soccer moms. 

The movement has been portrayed as a liberal progressive movement countering the right wing Tea Party.  Ironically the initial stimuli of the Tea Party movement was the big business bailouts from DC and the Occupy movement is angry about those as well and the lack of accountability of the corporate heads who still make huge bonuses and manipulate futures and positions for their own financial benefit.

The Occupy movement, aka the 99% movement, is fueled by the frustration of many who have sat on the sidelines and watched as their freedoms have begun to erode.  There are those who feel that personal liberty is more important than just being able to bring a gun into a bar.  There are those who believe that health care should be a right in this great nation and that the health care industry should not be dominated by big insurance corporations.  There are those who have earned their graduate degrees only to find that the economy has no jobs for them and they are saddled with huge student loans that offer them a future without the means to own a home and raise a family. There are those who see their children in ever enlarging public school classes because those with the money to afford private school want to cut back public education.  There are those who have lost their job and doubt whether they can find another of equal worth before they reach retirement age and now they see radical right wing Tea Party Republicans threatening whether they will have Social Security or Medicare when they retire.  They watch as these tea party radicals blame the ills of America on entitlements (something you are entitled to because you paid into it) instead of the corporate greed of those who dominate the right wing Republican party through their massive campaign contributions.

1% of Americans today seem to own more of the nation’s wealth than the other 99% collectively. There’s just something that seems wrong about that to most Americans.  Most don’t begrudge those who have it’s just they feel cheated out of their dream of having.  They are the real “silent majority”.  The Americans who don’t always vote because either they see no difference between the candidates and the parties or they don’t see how voting benefits them.  When the middle class was the vast majority of our people the upper classes supported programs to aid the poor for two reasons 1) it assuaged their consciences and 2) if they could keep the middle class worried about the poor coming and taking what they had then the middle would ignore what the top did.

The tactics of the very rich in America haven’t changed since the days of the Gilded Age (1880-1900).  It is simple: economic, ethnic and racial divide and conquer.  Class warfare was invented by these super rich.  The poor against the middle; whites against blacks in the south to protect the economic power of the bourbons; office workers against laborers to protect the power of the corporate moguls.  Keep non-union workers at the throats of union workers even though many non-unionized workers benefit from laws passed in response to union efforts.

Now the right wing Tea Party folks led by Rep. Eric Cantor attack the Occupiers; call them mobs.  Claim they are fighting other Americans and that political officials shouldn’t encourage them. You see it was all right for the right wing to demonstrate and call themselves Tea Partiers after the first great American demonstration in 1773.  It was okay for those people to protest to take their America back.  And it was fine when Republican elected officials hailed and praised the Tea Party marchers.  But if liberal progressives (and their elected officials have been silent compared to the right) march; if Franklin Roosevelt’s “forgotten man” teams up with the “silent majority” well to the right wing that’s another matter - because that threatens their attempt to stampede Americans, using the weapon of fear, into a decade of reaction that will undermine the entire American social fabric of freedom and personal liberty built up so painfully over the past century. 

Occupy America must spread and continue - march to the polls all of next year - overcome every tactic  used to suppress voter turnout and throw the right wing Tea Party radical Republicans into the harbor with their tea.  Take back America for the 99%.

20 October 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Free Trade 1911 Good Idea / Free Trade 2011 Not So Good

One hundred years ago Democrats and Progressives were strongly behind Free Trade.  America produced more goods and foodstuffs than it consumed and the economy was strengthened by being able to sell goods to overseas markets with few restrictions.  Conversely consumers benefited when goods not made here were imported and did not face high protective tariffs so that retail prices could be relatively cheap.  Big Business which controlled the Republican party and had long championed high protective tariffs so it would not have to compete with foreign goods began to see the benefit of expansion of manufacturing and selling overseas - that also meant increased hiring.  So there became a bipartisan consensus to lower tariffs and seek access to overseas trade.

After WWII this became the ingrained American policy and led to the US sponsoring GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) a UN affiliated operation that sought to reduce tariffs imposed by countries on imported goods and relax non-tariff trade barriers, such as regulations that restricted employment and raised manufacturing costs.  Eventually the US persuaded the west to replace GATT with the World Trade Organization that would not only provide a forum for negotiating freer trade among nations but would regulate it and enforce the regulations.

By the time of the Clinton administration free trade had become gospel among both US political parties - Democrats for reasons of historic positioning(the basis of which most had forgotten) and Republicans because Big Business liked a global economy.  So the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed which essentially sought to make US-Canada-Mexico one continental economy. 

But at the same time in the 1990's it became evident that companies were moving their factories out of the US into not only Mexico and Canada but into third world nations.  The labor was cheaper, there were few environmental or worker safety regulations and cheaper health care costs if any associated with employment.  As America began to produce less and used fewer workers to do so it began to dawn on liberals that free trade, unless it was fair trade, was not a good thing for our country.

The Bush-Cheney crowd in order to further the need of big business and the military industrial complex to invest overseas decided to tie trade agreements with national security.  So they negotiated agreements with “allies”.  The most significant being South Korea which is a nation tied to the United States since the 1949 war.  They also negotiated with Columbia, claiming it would help that government in its struggle with the narco-rebels and Panama which is adjacent to Columbia and now includes the former Canal Zone.  The Obama administration in its misguided attempt to reform rather than replace the Bush foreign policy renegotiated the agreements getting some cosmetic changes that appeared to acknowledge American concerns about workers rights and wages and safety and assuring that goods not be produced using environmentally deficient methods.  

Like all else in the federal government trade agreements are political.  The Republicans now favor all of them because their business masters do and the Democrats now oppose them because they are inherently anti-organized labor and anti- environment.  So Obama endorses his version of the agreements and since the Republicans want them badly he makes a deal with the Republicans in Congress - he’ll submit the trade agreements for approval, which only the President can do, and the Republicans in Congress will block his jobs proposal. Not exactly an LBJ type deal. It’s what we used to call simply a dumb move. The Republicans get their business pals their trade agreements and the Democrats get the workers and the middle class nothing.

The 99% Movement, aka the Occupy Movement, has sprung up due to the frustration of the middle class with the corporate mogul’s control of all facets of our system economic and political.  With big money in control of the Republican party and with the Democratic President paying only lip service to liberal pro middle class programs where do the unemployed, the poor, the middle class young people strangled with debt, the homeowners with mortgages larger than their properties are now worth, and the seniors facing rising health care costs look for leadership, help and hope.   

Whenever our nation has faced a social division - a split among our people based on race or geography that threatened to dissolve the ties that bind this union their arose leaders to whom all elements of our society could look to.  Not at first, because initially except for George Washington these leaders were seen as polarizing political figures.  But after their election Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Eisenhower and Reagan struck a chord that unified rather than divided. Let us hope and pray that out of the 2012 election such a unifying force emerges and the vast majority of Americans, the 99% (not the1% with all the wealth), reject racial, religious and radical extremism and get this country back on the right track to progress.

As for free trade agreements which the President should withdraw and Congress should reject our countries policy should be to seek trade agreements with trading partners that life the life style of our partners workers and improve their economy not deals that lower the lifestyles of our people and hurt our economy.  In 1911 I would have supported Wilson and Roosevelt and Free Trade but now in 2011 we must insist on Fair Trade.

12 Oct. 2011

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Say It's So Joe -- Run !

I reside in the 7th Congressional district of Pennsylvania. It was represented in the House of Representatives until Jan. 2011 by Admiral Joe Sestak.  Since he chose to seek a seat in the US Senate, he did not run for a third term in the House.  The seat was won by a Republican, Pat Meehan. It was one of the seats that Republicans took from Democrats enabling them to hold a majority in the House, a majority in turn controlled by the right wing radical tea party crowd.  PA 7 is one of those districts that Democrats must win back if they are to re-take a majority in the House in the 2012 election. Conventional wisdom holds that incumbents like Meehan are most vulnerable in their first attempt at re-election and subsequent to a reapportionment. Next year both of those factors will come into play in PA 7.

Democrats would like to see Admiral Sestak run for his former seat in the House.  They believe, accurately, that he would defeat Meehan as handily as he did twenty year veteran Congressman Curt Weldon in 2006.  But winning alone doesn’t justify a candidacy.  There are too many politicians who run for what they can or think they can win and not what they are best capable of serving at. Joe Sestak is not one of those politicians. In fact, Joe Sestak is not a politician.  He served in the US Navy for over twenty years rising to the rank of a four star vice-admiral (had to be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate).  He served on President Clinton’s staff in the West Wing of the White House.  And for four years he represented the people of Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties in Washington D. C.  He did so as a liberal progressive but not an ideologue.  He did so as an independent voice, not in the pocket of any leaders or party machine (I know because I was a party leader running part of the machine).

Joe Sestak was a pragmatic and practical, consensus building Congressman.  When he saw a problem he sought solutions and then determined for himself what he thought was the best answer. How better off today this country would be if we had 235 like him in the House of Representatives (and we could have had more like him in the Senate).  Curt Weldon, the former Republican congressman was a center-right sometime moderate who until the end of his service did not wear his conservative positions on his sleeve - he sought to reflect the moderate nature of the district.  And before Weldon the district was represented by Bob Edgar, a liberal Democrat but an independent one. 

Not so now - with Meehan we got a lock-step follower of the radical right wing tea party controlled party leadership.  He voted early on for the Paul Ryan budget plan that would have voucherized Medicare (that is, turn it into a another money maker for the big insurance companies) and has since then voted with his leadership time and again as they have tried to bring this country to crises - destroy our economic recovery by forcing extension of tax cuts for the rich and massive spending cuts in middle class programs - holding the debt ceiling hostage and threatening government shutdowns rather than authorize hurricane relief. Always casting his votes with the radical right wing tea party Republicans.
Today many of the men and women Admiral Sestak served with in the Navy are unemployed. Their middle class livelihood is threatened.  Their parent’s health care and social security are threatened. Their children’s access to public education and college financial aid may be problematic. The people of Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district, and the working class men
and women, veterans, and seniors of America need Joe Sestak in the halls of Congress.  If the voters of the state would not send him to the upper house - be assured the people of PA 7 will send him to the people’s house.

There are political reasons for Joe Sestak to run next year for another term in the House of Representatives, but I doubt they will impress him.  There are more important reasons. When Joe first came to Delaware county Democrats and sought our support in January 2006 he said it was because he wanted to repay his country for the education he received, the years of fine service he was able to perform, and the health care he and his family, particularly his daughter, received.  He had already repaid his country and for four years he repaid his community.  He does not owe more to either.  But there is one motivation that in my opinion has driven Joe Sestak his entire career since the days at Cardinal O’Hara High School -- DUTY.  He has never shirked his duty whether in the Navy, or in the West Wing, -- whether on the George Washington or in Washington D.C.  And when duty calls Joe Sestak has been ready to serve.  Admiral - Duty Calls.   

1 Oct 2011