Thursday, April 26, 2012


The Constitutionality of the Affordable Health Care Act, referred to on orders from the Republican high command as “Obamacare,”* is being adjudicated by the Supreme Court, the decision to be announced around July 1. Some sage heads have opined that one or two of the Court’s usual majority on controversial issues will defect, upholding the law in its entirety. But these people are Democrats who I believe are wishful thinking. I’d put my money on the usual five dress suit ward heelers who made George Bush president and passed Citizen’s United, ruling true to form

While the entire law is up for review the most controversial aspect, one that could be overruled by itself to the exclusion of the rest  the bill, is the mandate that every American possess, and consequently pay for medical insurance. A recent article in the New Republic by Elner Enhauge specifies instances in our early years where the Founding Fathers had laws imposing similar compulsory expenditures.

Two of them deal specifically with insurance. Owners of commercial ships were required to carry medical insurance on their crews. Crew members were later required to insure themselves for hospitalization when it became too expensive. Where this analogy breaks down is similar to the argument that equates mandated health insurance with the requirement for car owners to carry liability coverage on their vehicles. Automobiles only have to be covered by an owner who wants to them driven. Since shipping was under federal jurisdiction the government had the right to impose its rules on those who chose use the seas and our ports for commerce. The law in question today requires purchasing health coverage simply for being alive, metaphorically a horse of a different color. 

But don’t despair because Mr. Enhauge mentions a third early statute which is directly to the point. Every male was required to have a gun in his home, a mandate that should warm the cockles of most right wing hearts. It specifically reveals the intent of the earliest American citizens in laws enacted by their elected representatives on the matter of federal mandates for simply the privilege of living as an American. Speaking for myself, that seems like a pretty good deal.

*Right wing “analyst” Amy Holmes in a monologue on the Bill Maher show mentioned “Obamacare” about ten times. “It” would have sufficed for the last nine, but then she was only following orders.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Slice of History

In Jonathan Alter’s history of FDR’s early years he describes the events beginning late in the afternoon of Friday March 3, 1933, the day before his inauguration, on his visit to the White House with outgoing president Hoover. There was no love lost between the two men, but the visit was a tradition. On his arrival he noticed Treasury Secretary Ogden Nash and other big wigs and knew that this was more than a social event, so he sent for Raymond Moley, a member of his “brain trust.” The ensuing conversation was heard by Eleanor Roosevelt through an unintended open door and related by her to several female reporters sworn to secrecy.   Late in that business day there had been an unexpected frantic run on the banks, which were already shut down in most states, but not in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York. Both men knew that a devastating panic would likely result Saturday morning unless banks in these states were closed. Hoover wanted FDR to publicly join him in approving their closing. Roosevelt’s response was “like hell I will.” He told Hoover to do as he wished while he was president and that he, FDR, would declare his own “bank holiday” on Monday.   The upshot of this standoff was that unless something was done in the wee small hours of the morning the banking system would likely have completely collapsed. The day was saved by members of both staffs, acting on their own, waking the governors of these three states, two of whom were in Washington for the inauguration, and having them close the banks that morning.   I mention this not to take either man’s side in their disagreement, but because I find it a fascinating slice of history that shows the even greater depths to which three years of Hoover’s handling of the Depression might have led us were it not for the heroic efforts of subordinates. FDR’s first seven years were no picnic. But most historians would agree that they were a significant improvement on Hoover’s last three. What I also find telling is that the Depression ended with the national armament following the fall of France in 1940, an expense that roughly half of Americans at the time thought extravagant and unnecessary.   The contrast between Hoover’s and FDR’s reaction to hard times is well reflected in our political parties today. Republicans, as Hoover, want to cut expenses that benefit lower and middle income people and reduce taxes, a boon to the rich. Democrats want to prime the pump with investment or stimulus as FDR did in 1933 and as Hitler eventually forced us to do in spades.   It can be argued that ten years of our history do not a policy make. But we should consider that conditions and their causes then were strikingly similar to today’s and the direction of the first three was steadily downhill, while the last seven moved us a long way towards recovery. I see this perspective as a valid and strong argument against those who claim that government is our enemy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stick 'em Up

In his comments about the Trayvon Martin killing, Bill Cosby dismissed the racial aspect and placed blame on our lax controls of guns.  I disagree with him on the first part. The odds of a black man spending the night at home after having killed a white person in Sanford Florida are steep, even if it was in one of those black gated communities. But I’m with him all the way when it comes to them there guns.
Our gun control policies are simply too liberal. Yes liberal! What better word describes laws that specifically defend owners’ rights to carry loaded weapons openly in places like bars and churches? (OK. “Permissive” or “lenient” will do.) People who feel as I do often cite a laundry list of tragic events such as Tucson, Virginia Tech and Columbine. But it could be and is argued that the need to be armed outweighs these negatives. A far more accurate measure is the comparative homicide rates in nations, states and cities. Every report I’ve heard showed conclusively that the stricter the controls the fewer the killings
“I’m an NRA member AND I VOTE” was the text of a popular bumper sticker awhile ago, to which I’d often mumble to myself “yes, but only once.” I wonder why it’s been years since I’ve heard of any polling results on this subject. At that time the public was generally in favor of more regulation. After Googling the subject I found that it still is, not on the most severe measures such as restricting handgun ownership to law enforcement, but on the future of gun control in general, stricter regulation was the clear winner in poll after poll. The status quo was second choice with less control a distant third.
The reluctance of the Democratic Party to take a position on this subject over the years has mystified me. Of course the NRA controls considerable votes. But it has been, and never more than today, a de facto arm of the Republican Party. Barack Obama hasn’t said or done a thing on gun control as president and yet the muckety mucks of the NRA have publicly made his defeat a priority.
Public opinion in the polls I saw favored gun control, but by less of a margin than in previous years. It’s moving in this direction because the gun lobby has been dominating the public conversation. Our president is a smart man. But he has yet to show he understands that on this subject appealing to independent voters is a much more fertile field for him and most Democrats than trying to pacify National Rifle Association mentality.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Travon Martin

The Trayvon Martin killing is indeed an important event. But as a story I found it tedious because developments haven’t kept pace with media attention. This situation changed yesterday with the announcement by a state appointed prosecutor that second degree murder charges will be filed against Zimmerman, who is now in police custody.
Many of us on the left have come to tentative guilty conclusions. An armed man chasing, shooting and killing an unarmed teenager lends itself to this sort of thinking. But I believe that we will come out best by keeping our conclusions to ourselves until there is more time to gather information. Predictably the right has already leaped to Zimmerman’s defense with nothing but an opinion.* Still “beyond a reasonable doubt” is a high standard at which I direct the following conundrum. Can any person maliciously kill another in the absence of witnesses and successfully claim self defense? The paucity of witnesses in this case is a by itself cause for raised eyebrows. Were there none? Has information been withheld?
Whatever can be said for reserving judgment on Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence, there is no defending the performance of law enforcement prior to yesterday's announcement. Should a person taken to police headquarters after having killed another be sent home to get a night’s rest? I’m surprised, disappointed and saddened by the fact that only 35% of white Americans polled believe that racial consideration was involved in his treatment by law enforcement. Do 65% think a black on white killing in most Southern cities would have been treated as delicately?
This case doesn’t figure to go away any time soon. I for one would be pleased if Zimmerman pleads guilty by virtue of insanity. This idea is not far-fetched judging by his recent behavior. After all, racists are irrational by definition and convincing a jury that he’s a racist should be a lead pipe cinch.
*In a textbook sample of good old fashioned racism one of Zimmerman’s defenders, referring to Trayvon Martin, said “when you plant corn you get corn.”