Thursday, December 24, 2009

Health Care Reform Perspective

First, Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year. And if you celebrate other holidays, I offer my wishes for a fine holiday wherever you may be.

I remember when I was a kid my older brothers and some neighborhood kids were always wishing for more than they got. My oldest brother, for example, wished for a surfboard and got less expensive gifts instead. He grumbled but other kids in the neighborhood would have been delighted with what he got.

We need a better health care bill than the one that was passed in the Senate but at least we got one and that is more than we could have said a year ago. It's amazing that a combination of Republicans and a handful of Democrats can't see their way into the future. Too much emotion in politics I guess. That applies to both sides at times and I worry that Obama is focused more on the tensions than he is on explaining where we are and what needs to be done. One thing for sure is that shrillness from the left doesn't always help.

Over at Americablog, John Aravois and his blogging partners always seem to believe that more emotion is better than no emotion and a little spinning is acceptable since the other guys does it even more (or something like that).

Joe Sudbay on Thursday got sarcastic when he wrote about the health care bill:
Sounds good, some of those "special interest lobbyists" earned their money on this bill -- and they were aided and abetted by Obama's staff (e.g. that multi-billion dollar sweetheart deal for drug makers. And, insurance company lobbyists aren't unhappy these days either. But, apparently, we're supposed to overlook that now.)

I agree Obama should have helped more but the House and Senate are fully capable of passing a first-rate health care bill. The problem is that while Republicans have been drifting to the far right over the last thirty years, Democrats have drifted a little to the right themselves.

During the Nixon and Ford era Democrats passed some first-rate legislation despite the threat of veto. But then they sometimes had the help of a few moderate Republicans. The real problem, though, is twofold: First, Americans still do not understand how much big business pushes our government around these days and they do not understand how much Republicans give them everything they want. Second, Democrats have gone so long without dominating Washington they have lost some of their skills and some of their best legislators.

After all is said and done, we still have a health care bill that hopefully will reach Obama's desk.

Anyone who thinks Obama and a Democratic majority can turn Washington around in two years hasn't really been paying attention to how much our society has changed and how much work it now takes to bring about change.

I don't want to defend Obama too much on the health care bill. On the other hand, any number of bloggers have let their emotions override their judgment. John Aravois, the main blogger at Americablog, quoted a Washington Post article:
Obama said the public option "has become a source of ideological contention between the left and right." But, he added, "I didn't campaign on the public option."

Aravois then tried to give examples that aren't particularly convincing:
Sure you didn't. That's why there's video, and countless news stories with you talking about it over and over again.


Obama to the Washington Post in 2008:
Every American has the right to affordable, comprehensive and portable health coverage. My plan will ensure that all Americans have health care coverage through their employers, private health plans, the federal government, or the states. My plan builds on and improves our current insurance system, which most Americans continue to rely upon, and creates a new public health plan for those currently without coverage. Under my plan, Americans will be able to choose to maintain their current coverage if they choose to. For those without health insurance I will establish a new public insurance program, and provide subsides to afford care for those who need them.

Aravois would be more convincing if there were better examples. The word "public" is not the same thing as the public option that has been discussed for eight months. What I remember is that Obama's health plan was always less ambitious than the one put forward by John Edwards and Hillary Clinton. There are times when Obama said he would accept the public option plan being discussed in the House but I never had the impression he was initiating such discussions or pushing hard for it. Fine. Shame on Obama for not working harder for healthcare reform. But the real shame falls on the Senate for not getting the job done.

Aravois has gotten shrill at times and emotional to the point of being off-putting. Yeah, fight for what you believe. But leave the spinning to the politicians.

The real fight is not whether Obama is progressive enough. The real fight is expanding the progressive movement and doing it in a smart way that pulls people in rather than expressing strong anger, resentment and outrage.

Researchers have now taught us a few things about emotion. We know it's part of politics. But Aravois needs to understand how it works. Strong emotion always appeals to the base, whether on the left or right. Well, strong emotions are important but they don't win arguments and in this age they don't necessarily win people over.

Aravois and others need a strategy that helps people see what's going on without all the emotional tripe that shuts down the ability of people to listen. Obviously the Republicans in Congress aren't interested in listening or accomplishing anything beyond obstructing Obama and progressives in Congress. Who will listen, however, are people who feel something is wrong but they aren't sure what. Screaming at them and telling half-truths is not the way to go.

People are turning away from politics. It's exhausting and Republicans are gleeful because their strategy works for their style of politics which ultimately is destructive rather than constructive as these guys continue to join big business lobbying firms after a few years in Congress.

Democrats need a more patient and intelligent tack that includes a passionate rhetorical style that draws people in rather than putting them off. In this season of fellowship and good will, it's something to think about.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Night Poetry: Rainer Maria Rilke


Slowly, the dusk wraps itself in the cloak
held for it at the dark edge of old trees;
you watch: the surrounding lands part from you,
one heavenward, one absorbed by the fall;

and leave you, belonging to neither realm,
not quite so dim as the empty stone house,
not quite at all invoking the eternal
as the flight of stars that sweep through the night;

and leave you—so unable to give speech—
your life—fearing, so large, ripening—
becomes now bearable, comprehending,
by turns the stone and star present in you.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Night Poetry: Pablo Neruda

It seems most of the poems I post are from the U.S., Europe, China or Japan. Below is a translation of Pablo Neruda, the famous poet from Chile who died in 1971. Neruda's books can be found at; also, here's a bio on Wikipedia and more information from

XII (from Twenty Love Poems)

Your breast is enough for my heart,
and my wings for your freedom.
What was sleeping above your soul will rise
out of my mouth to heaven.

In you is the illusion of each day.
You arrive like the dew to the cupped flowers.
You undermine the horion with your absence.
Eternally in flight like the wave.

I have said that you sang in the wind
like the pines and like the masts.
Like them you are tall and taciturn,
and you are sad, all at once, like a voyage.

You gather things to you like an old road.
You are peopled with echoes and nostalgic voices.
I awoke and at times birds fled and migrated
that had been sleeping in your soul.

The above poem was translated by W. S. Merwin, one of the finest American poets and winner this year of the Pulitzer Prize for his book of poems, The Shadow of Sirius. Merwin is also a first-rate translator.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What People Actually Do

I do a lot of political commentary but I don't want to make to0 much of the photo above. I found it on Mother Jones and started laughing when I realized no one was precisely following the abrupt turns of the blue line. Of course not. The people at the Copenhagen conference were walking casually in a straight line. Let's hope they can cobble together a global warming policy that's as sensible as the way they walk.

Actually, just to add a 'footnote,' planners who design big college campuses have in recent years refrained from putting in too many walkways. Why? Because it's easier to see where people start walking and pour the cement later. That's a kind of pragmatism one can admire.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday NIght Poetry: Li Po

I don't know the history behind the following Chinese poem but the image it conjures is extraordinarily evocative. It was translated by Burton Watson. The poem can be found in The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry.

Autumn Cove

At Autumn Cove, so many white monkeys,
bounding, leaping up like snowflakes in flight!
They coax and pull their young ones down from the branches
to drink and frolic with the water-borne moon.

—Li Po (701-762)

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Why I Don't Read Murdoch's New York Post

Sometimes when you read Google News a headline catches your eye and you feel compelled to check it out. Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw was in an accident Friday afternoon. I didn't like the sensationalistic turn on some of the headlines but the Post surprised me by having what seemed a reasonable headline, "Tom Brokaw OK after Car Crash on Bruckner Expressway." So I thought I would check it out.

The Post writer, Kirsten Fleming, was doing fine until near the end of the story:
"Tom and Meredith are greatly saddened by this loss of life," said a flak for the newsman and his wife in a statement issued this afternoon.

Flak? I can see that in catty political commentary I suppose, but in a straight news story, particularly one that involved a tragedy? Somebody died in an accident immediately in front of the Brokaws and its lucky nothing happened to them too. No wonder the Post has a low reputation.

Actually, in retrospect I have other problems with the story but I'll let others who know the Post cover that. In this holiday season I hope drivers and writers slow down and think a bit—and please tie down those Christmas trees and loose cables.