The Birth of the United States Parliament: Update

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Update:

October 7, 2013

When I first published this post back in August, I honestly thought that neither a government shutdown nor a Debt Ceiling default was within the realm of possibility in a world of rational people.  After all, I thought, in the end cooler heads would prevail.

I’ll never make that mistake again!

Now with the House of Representatives being held as political prisoners, because the GOP’s super-conservative faction (is cult too strong a term–maybe not! Look up the definition of a cult) has decided that the idea of majority rule as enshrined in the U.S. Constitution no longer applies to them, and therefore, they can stage an ideological and, therefore, legislative coup, violating both the Constitution and their pledge to defend it.  Of course, in their twisted logic, they believe they are defending the Constitution from the rest of us who are…well, just the rest of us.  The notion of majority rule can just go to hell.  They threaten to take the nation over the socioeconomic edge into a pit of unknown calamities, though, the economy crashing down around our heads is likely to be one major consequence.

After the election in fall 2012, I was thinking, ‘Okay, now we can get back to Congress doing some real business.  The next election is a long way off and I’m burned out with the 24-hour election cycle we were subjected to by the media, and anybody else with an axe to grind and a Twitter account.’  Now, I can’t wait for Fall 2014 to get here soon enough, presuming we have some semblance of an electoral process still intact, so through some miracle, this group of constitutional insurgents can get voted out of office.  Way out.  Maybe to be the new boots on the ground in Afghanistan as we pull our troops out.  I’m sure they and the Taliban would have most interesting debates over ideological sledge hammering.  The Taliban are against compromise, too.  Oops, did I just compare the tea party insurgents to the insurgents in Afghanistan?  Well, of course not.  I obviously just used the illustration to highlight the fact the tea party politicians are pathologically opposed to compromise.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who have been Extreme Thinkover readers since the beginning, The Sniffer and I are very pleased with the Affordable Care Act rollout.  Minute by minute, Americans’ demand for access to health insurance is building as a wave against those who would still deny them that.  And as the Exchanges get the opening kinks worked out, the Whiff’ and I both have this strong feeling the initial registration and enrollment period will exceed the everybody’s predictions, perhaps by the many millions.

And all the Republicans have to present to the nation as their alternative national health care plan remains that one blank piece of paper that Boehner, Cantor, and McConnell were so smug about in January 2010 when they met with the President.  Oh yeah, and then a month and a half later President Obama signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010.  Majority rules.

Now we are closer to devolving into a parliamentary morasse than when I posted this essay:

The Birth of the the United States Parliament

Sometimes you get an insight by reading what is going on someplace else in the world. I’ll admit that’s not a ground-shaking revelation, but the insight can be a point of sudden snap-focus into what is happening right here under your nose.

In my case, this “ah-hah!” moment came from reading a New York Times Op-Ed article by Shmuel Rosner, a Tel Aviv journalist and senior political editor for The Jewish Journal. His piece, titled, “The Tyranny of the Minority” (2 August 2013) discusses changes that are taking place in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, regarding adjustments to the election laws that determine the threshold percentage needed to win a seat in body.  The specifics are not important to my point (you can read the article if you are interested), but the impact of the changes on how the minority parties will have to negotiate to have a voice caught my attention.

I contend we have in the United States House of Representatives not just the birth, but the rapid evolutionary growth of a parliamentary structure; a structure that, according to my reading of the United States Constitution, should never exist.

For some context, here’s what’s happening in the Knesset.  As the percentage threshold for winning a seat in the assembly is raised, the smaller parties that might have had just one or two seats under the old rule are now unable to win even a single seat.  Since these small parties represent minorities to begin with, such as different Arab groups, and more extreme Jewish conservative and liberal parties, they are faced with a huge dilemma.  How does a single party negotiate with one (or more) of the others to piece together a coalition that might mean compromising with a group they find politically distasteful?  And even worse, from their perspective, what if their only solution was to compromise and attach themselves to one of the mainline “Jewish” parties?

Rosner writes,

Raising the threshold was proposed on the theory that it could help stabilize Israel’s political scene by strengthening the two leading parties.  It may not: Some say it would only create more midsize parties. But at least it would fix the currents system’s main pitfall, which is to discourage compromise among all parties by encouraging the proliferation of small ones.

Huh? An image began to form in my mind sketching out what is happening in the House of Representatives as we observe the growing influence of smaller and smaller groups of politically narrowly-aligned representatives declaring that they are fighting perceived tyranny in the size and function of the Federal Government, but ironically, growing closer to manifesting and exercising a true “tyranny of the minority” over the House.

Rosner’s closing point was my snap-focus realization:

For a country as varied and complicated as Israel, the representation of minorities is crucial.  But for a country as varied and complicated as Israel, learning to compromise is even more important.

Bang! Substitute the words “United States” for “Israel” and what emerges is a powerful statement of what I see is the affliction that is now crippling the House of Representatives, and placing the balance of power of the Legislative Branch outlined in the Constitution in jeopardy.

Read More…

30 Governors Open Health Care Ghettos: October 1, 2013

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The governors from over half of the 50 states have or are considering refusing to establish Health Care Exchanges and to participate in Medicaid as provided for by the Affordable Care Act, (ACA) cynically known as “Obamacare.”  My assessment is that the consequences of this decision by the Chief Elected Officers of these states is going to in actuality create a third-tier, low quality health care environment.  Simply put, those states that offer to their residents full participation in the rights and privileges provided by the ACA, which is the law of the land, will develop in a few short years, into first-tier, high quality health care systems.  The states  that don’t, however, will within a similar number of a years see their health care, both private and public, degenerate into a ghetto of medical inferiority.

I call it…Read More

Mitt Romney is Four Years Old

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I am sitting on my couch listening to Mitt Romney give his acceptance speech as the Republican nominee for President the United States.  What strikes me (as it has with other speeches I have listened to from the Republican National Convention) is that unlike scientific creationists who at least believe that the universe is a scant 6000 years old, Mitt Romney and the Republicans believe the universe is four years old.  Four years old.

Nothing in the universe existed before 2008 (shouldn’t that be year 0004?) in the GOP cosmos.  No universe, no galaxy, no solar system, no earth, no America.  It all spontaneously came into existence the moment President Barack Obama took office.

In the Republican cosmos according to Mitt Romney, nothing came into existence until Barack Obama became President of the United States. Four years ago.

That’s it.  In their cosmology all the ills America is facing are the directly the result of four short years.  Since nothing existed before that time, the Republicans and Mitt Romney believe there is nothing for which they have to take responsibility.

There is only one conclusion I can draw from Mitt Romney’s speech: The GOP is only four years old, therefore Mitt Romney is only four years old.

As a progressive and a Democrat I have news for them.  We live in a universe that is nearly thirteen billion years old, the solar system is four and a half billion years old, America is 236 years old, and four years ago when Barack Obama took office, the economy he inherited had been worn threadbare and emaciated by years of Republican living high on the hog, passing bills and conducting wars with unfunded mandates.  They are the ones who drove our economy into the ground, not President Obama.

And don’t the Democrats bear responsibility for their version of bad legislation in the past?  Of course they do.  What they don’t claim, however, is that the universe began with George W. Bush.  FDR, maybe, but not Dubya. (For the satire-challenged, that was it.)

Mr. Romney, since you are only four years old, you do not meet the Constitutional minimum age of 35 to be President of the United States.  Neither are your Republican toddler companions.  That goes for your running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan–a disciple of Ayn Rand, an atheist objectivist–along with Rep. John Boehner, so-called Speaker of the House who has raised obstructionist political shenanigans to the highest levels ever seen in the history of the Republic, and finally Mitch McConnell, minority leader of the Senate, who for the past four years–again that toddler age–has not one day done his job as a senator to govern but has dedicated is every breath to the defeat of the President.

America needs a mature adult in the White House.  That adult is Barack Obama.  He lives in the real world with a clear sense of history, both the good and bad.  And without a clear sense of history, there can be no clear sense of the future.  That is America–true Americans have never wavered from that clarity!

ACA Aftermath: Three Little Pigs & the Big Bad Wolf

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Three Little Pigs. Silly Symphony Original Release Poster, 1933. Courtesy Walt Disney Company.

Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs?  You know, one pig built a house out of straw and a second built a house out of sticks, while the third built a house out of bricks.  The antagonist is the iconic “Big Bad Wolf” whose ravenous appetite for pork knew no bounds.  Endowed with an impressive lung capacity he goes to each of the little pig’s houses and, as the story goes, “He huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down!”  (It’s more fun if you say it out loud with all the enthusiasm and glee a four year old would put into it.) The house of straw immediately collapses under this pneumatic assault, and the one made of sticks fares no better.  Their plump porcine owners scramble to find shelter in the house made of brick, which as we all know, survived the wolf’s hurricane-force winds, unscathed.  It is, of course a morality tale about being wise to the ways of the world and “building” the various parts of one’s life out of material that can withstand its big bad wolves, or storms, be they actual or virtual.  Either that or a clever publicity story concocted by the bricklayers union, but I prefer the former.

Now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) there has been non-stop huffing and puffing by the Republican opponents of the law, who thought they were going to be rewarded with a Health Care house that was made out of straw, or at the worst, of wood.  SCOTUS, they reasoned, would strike down all or part of it so that they could legislatively “huff and puff” and finish blowing the house down.

Big Bad Wolf: “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!” Three Little Pigs, 1933. Courtesy Walt Disney Company.

But it turns out that the Court took the position of the third little pig and, in declaring the law constitutional, revealed a house made of bricks.  It’s rather like that moment on the television show, Extreme Makeover (Huh, something familiar about that…), where at the moment of climax as the family stands in nervous anticipation, the crowd yells in unison, “Driver, move that bus!”  Only in this scenario, the Republicans and their conservative wolf pack are not overcome with emotion at the fabulous new home standing before them, but rather are stunned, being confronted with an edifice made out of material largely impervious to their huffing and puffing.

Here’s the thing.  The story ends with the wolf leaving in abject defeat, his hunger unsated.  Conservatives, however, apparently lack the capacity to see they have lost this fight and therefore continue to huff and puff, launching into tirades to any convenient warm body holding a mic and a TV camera, insisting that they have actually won and it’s only a matter of four months until the General Election to prove that point.  Already, they have coined a new term to try to recapture their bluster: Obamatax.

We will be subjected in coming months to their incessantly chanting this new mantra as the justification for their huffing and puffing, but they fail to realize the American people just aren’t that stupid and soon it will become distracting background noise.  In fact, it already is.  Yes, the Supreme Court changed the word “penalty” to “tax” but despite the conservative’s vitriolic demonstrations of outrage and consternation over the ACA being declared “constitutional” there is nothing new here.  Nothing.

It is completely dishonest to claim that on June 28, 2012, President Obama imposed a new tax on Americans.  Completely dishonest.  And it only piles a huge mound of disingenuous, uh, bovine excrement, on top of that dishonesty to claim that President Obama lied to the country by promising there would be no new tax.  There wasn’t and isn’t.  Chief Justice Roberts bears the responsibility for substituting the words in his ruling.  The wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of the GOP and the hyper-cons is all for show, political theater at its most profane.  Over-played and badly acted, at that.

The inconvenient truth for the Republicans is that the statue of their graven idol, Antitaxus Ultimatum, has feet of clay.  The Supreme Court just took a sledge hammer to it.  It now teeters, susceptible to collapse from the tiniest puff of air from a butterfly’s wings.  Or a poorly aimed huff from one of their own, say, perhaps one Mitt Romney?

I see two important lessons that Democrats should learn (and avoid at all costs) from the Republicans: If you lie to the American public long enough on the theory that the one who shouts the loudest is telling the truth, it does not take long for you to start believing your own lies.  Second, once you begin believing your own lies, you lose all perspective regarding the reality that ultimately the Big Bad Wolf failed.  He could not blow down the house made of bricks. Ever.

Why?  The answer springs forth in the words of the man who neither succumbed to the lie nor lost his perspective of what it means to be an American:

“…that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863. The Gettysburg Address.

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Is Health Care a Constitutional Right?

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A Constitutional Right to Health Care?

The assertion that we have a right to medical care is one of the pillars supporting the Affordable Care Act.  Not the sole pillar, but one of them.

Photo Courtesy Blue Ridge Community College, NC

As with all of our rights, it has to be built up from some source that is part of the foundation of the national edifice.  Being a democratic republic, as I understand it, we in the United States have two sources.  One is the Constitution, and the other is the statutory authority given the various levels of government both federal and state by the Constitution.

Do we have the Constitutional right to medical care?  Read More…

The Supreme Court and the ACA: The Ultimate Death Panel?

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I started Extreme Thinkover in the fall of 2008.  The presidential race was in full swing.  Universal health care was one of the major topics that the candidates, media, and the public were debating.  One of my primary motivations for creating the blog was to have a forum in which to express my ideas about the health care debate.

I’ve worked in the health care industry for nearly 16 years and have daily contact with patients and families in the hospital.  I hear their stories, good and bad, about what these hospitalizations are doing to their lives.  Yes, what the hospitalization is doing to their lives.

Here in America, going to the hospital is not just about getting medical treatment; it’s also about entering a very broken and extremely expensive system. It nevertheless tries to limp along: In all fairness to the medical professionals who work very hard on behalf of their patients, in most cases, if you find yourself hospitalized, you get reasonably good medical care.

However, in the middle of this is an ongoing battle with the major health care players (hospital systems, health insurance, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment providers, etc.) all wanting to maximize their profits in an economic power race that too often is at the expense of the quality of care delivered to the patients who pay for their services, as well as forcing ever-increasing demands on their care givers to do more with less.  Admittedly, it doesn’t happen everywhere, but it is far too pervasive in Rube Goldberg “system” that passes for health care in America.

I wrote in fall 2008:

Here’s the question: What kind of treatment and medical care is needed so that all Americans can be healthy, or as healthy as possible?

That perhaps is not the question you expected to hear. The national conversation has focused on how much will it cost to provide all Americans with health insurance, how will the spiraling costs of health care be brought under control, will taxes have to be raised to pay for it, what will the roles of the health insurance industry, and the medical industries, and most of all the federal government be? Tough questions all around.

That question, “What kind of treatment and medical care is needed so that all Americans can be healthy, or as healthy as possible?” remains the key to a successful national health care program.  It also remains almost totally ignored by politicians, lobbyists, and, sadly the American public, none of whom have yet realized that without answering this question first, in my opinion, the debate about the cost cannot be resolved.  I contend this is why the health care law polls low for national support.

The current law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, nibbles at the edges of what I think is essential, but it, also, is far too focused on trying to control medical costs.  And in case you are wondering, yes, I’ve read the law cover to cover.

Beginning Monday, March 26, the Supreme Court of the United States is going to hear arguments for and against the PPACA.  The primary question before the Court is whether Congress overstepped its authority regarding the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by mandating all Americans (sort of) be required to purchase health insurance.  The debate is guaranteed to be rancorous, even in the sedate and forcibly polite setting of the Supreme Court.  The debate, though, once again is all about the money.  A healthy America will likely never even come up. The pundits will have a field day with this, without question, but I doubt any will see the fundamental flaw in all the arguments, based on my point of view.

Will the justices see past the smoke screen of political ideology, special interest group pressure, and inflammatory rhetoric that is fueling these proceedings?  If they do, and declare the law constitutional, there is hope that the ACA can continue to be refined, actually moving toward being a mechanism to support a healthier America.  If they don’t, by striking down all or parts of it, the Supreme Court will, for all intents and purposes, become the Ultimate Death Panel, condemning tens of millions of Americans to poor health, premature, and in some cases, an agonizing death because they will have been denied the right to even the most basic level of health care.  And that, tragically, just months before a law already on the books would have given them the care snatched away by the Supreme Court Death Panel.

Now we wait to see how this court rules on the fate of Americans’ health for generations to come.

The Thinkover:  When Patrick Henry uttered those iconic words, “Give me liberty or give me death!”  he wasn’t suggesting that death was preferred outcome of that stand for patriotism.  So far, the opponents of the ACA have been clueless to this obvious distinction in demanding “liberty” from the ACA mandate.

America the Entertained

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We Americans are undergoing a cultural transformation. I know in many respects that is hardly news. What I’ve been observing though is a confluence of streams of those changes in ways that suggest they are picking up speed, not unlike several rain-swollen rivers coming together to create a massive flood as it works its way down-stream.

It’s difficult to characterize all the subtleties of this growing torrent, but for purposes of this post I’m going to focus on three of these streams in the context of our national demand for endless entertainment. I’ll leave the non-entertaining analysis to the sociologists.

Let’s start with politics, specifically the debates by the Republican presidential candidates.  It seems to me the behavior we have observed not only by the candidates, but the very format and “rules” for these televised events is no longer a forum in any classical sense for a debate, that is, a discussion of genuine public policy positions the candidates hold on the important issues facing the nation. Instead, they have been converted into political theater, orchestrated bash and trash sessions analogous to two teams scrambling for a fumbled football, the referee-pundits at the opposite end of the field, commenting on what they think they observe eighty yards away.

The result takes little effort to parse. Read more…