Thursday, April 2, 2009

A positive take during worrisome times:

* Remembering what we have – The following is an excerpt from an email exchange with a reader: There is also a positive side to our discussion. At the present time you and I, our family and friends, enjoy a standard of living and peaceful (safe) existence far better than 99% of the people that have walked this planet. We do not know what the future holds but there is merit in remembering what we do have. In large part it is the result of those who came before us and it is a responsibility I believe we now have to those who will follow - to continue to make this a better place in terms of freedom, health and standard of living.

* A helping hand – “Drugstore operator Walgreen will offer free clinic visits to the unemployed and uninsured for the rest of the year, providing tests and routine treatment for minor ailments through its walk-in clinics - though patients will still pay for prescriptions… Spouses and children are also eligible for free services if they don't have insurance of their own.” The linked article provides details of this offer. Some cynics have commented that Walgreen is only doing it to build business for its Take Care clinics. I do not know if the claim is accurate but I do say that an initiative that helps people in need is worthy of praise. If Walgreen benefits in the long-term by building a sound business model it has the ring of intelligent capitalism. We have not seen much of it in recent years but there is promise.

* Helping the land – “President Barack Obama signed legislation on Monday expanding and protecting US public parks and wilderness areas from oil and gas development, billed as the largest US conservation measure in more than 15 years… The legislation - backed by members of both parties -- is "among the most important in decades to protect, preserve and pass down our nation's most treasured landscapes to future generations.” It is certainly a breath of fresh air seeing Congress and the White House acting responsibly with respect to our natural resources and environment. This is a role of government abdicated in recent years.

* Helping the country – USA Today reports: “The early federal stimulus money appears to be hitting its target, paying for new projects and creating jobs… Most early spending is flowing, as planned, into "shovel-ready" projects — a new bridge over a Louisiana bayou, the widening of a mountain road in Colorado — that wouldn't have occurred this year without stimulus money.” The $750 billion stimulus package is being used in part to create jobs and fix a crumbling infrastructure. Some of these funds will go into education, health care and tax cuts over the next two years. It is a win-win situation.

* Helping the world – “President Obama plans to open negotiations to draft a new arms control treaty that could slash the American and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals by about a third and possibly lead to even deeper reductions, according to administration officials… Just setting a new limit would send a signal to the international community in general that the United States is getting serious about its disarmament commitments again,” said Peter Crail, an analyst at the Arms Control Association, a Washington advocacy organization.” This is not to suggest that America does not need a strong defense. But, like intelligent capitalism, it is beyond time that America strongly consider intelligent defense. For too long we have funded defense systems that are impractical, outmoded and economically crippling and unsustainable.

* Another Republican icon vaporized ~ again – This may not be positive news for the general populace but it sure is a lot of fun. An anti-union conservative group benignly calling itself Americans for Prosperity has been funding Joe the Plumber traveling to various sites to speak out against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Joe has become one of the faces of the Republican Party. He has also become one of the asses of the Republican Party.

Appearing in Harrisburg, PA to campaign against EFCA, people in the audience began asking Joe questions about the proposed legislation and why he was against it. “Pressed on the specifics of the law, Mr. Plumber repeatedly refused to answer, and finally lost his cool, telling his questioner: “Drop it, brother, drop it. I never said I was an expert, man.” Following some enthusiastic heckling Joe flushed his scheduled appearance in Philadelphia.

* The best news of all ~ the Republicans are no longer in charge – On April 1st congressional Republicans released their alternative budget to what Obama and the Democrats have proposed. The title of this Republican budget should read “Same Crap, Different Day” or “Dumb and Dumber” or “April Fools Meets Ship of Fools.” Some of the lowlights include:

~ The GOP plan would rescind the recently-enacted economic stimulus package, which would cause America—and the world—to spiral into Depression.
~ The GOP plan would hand over nearly $4 trillion in tax cuts to the rich.
~ The GOP plan would freeze non-defense, non-veteran spending for five years.
~ The GOP plan would privatize Medicare.

Not only is this an alternative to what Obama is proposing it is the antithesis of what is needed in a damaged economy and unconscionable given the state of this nation. How absurd is this Republican proposal? “The marquee item, however, in the Republican plan is their inexplicably regressive tax cut for the super rich. Wealthy Americans in the top three tax brackets would see their tax burden cut to a flat 25 percent from previous rates of 35, 33 and 28. According to the Center for American Progress, CEOs from any of the top 800 corporations would receive a tax break of around $1.5 million a year. Meanwhile, if you earn $15,000 a year, your tax break will be around $0 a year.”

In the land of Uranus, where Republicans reside, the only focus is protecting those who least need protection or support. The American people are awakening to the dismal and incompetent Republican message as the GOP continues to transition from a once vital and proud political party to a re-run of Hee Haw.

* Darfur – I received a broadcast email message from Ruth Messinger of the American Jewish World Service. On Monday she had attended a meeting with President Obama at the White House on the subject of Darfur. Messinger reports that the administration understands the need to ensure the restoration of international aid groups into Darfur. “The President also clearly indicated that finding a political solution to end the conflict is a top priority.” The full press release is available at the above link. In every generation, in multiple locations, the worst of humanity forms a puss-filled boil over a group of people. The world community has never been able to prevent it but there is a long history of overcoming man’s inhumanity to man. Let us hope that Darfur can be brought back from hell.

* America – Few would argue that a core problem burdening our nation is the inextricable link between money and politics. The high cost of running a federal level election campaign has two very specific downsides: it forces candidates and incumbents to seek funding that too often comes from the deep pockets of special interests; it forces the incumbents to be in almost constant fundraising mode thereby reducing the time they devote to actually representing constituents. Regardless of who wins the election we are the losers. It is the inordinate influence of special interests that has contributed to a degrading environment, reduction in product inspection and safety, reduction in oversight that allowed financial institutions to go over the cliff and a host of other problems that we now must deal with. It is beyond time that our country addresses how federal elections are funded and there is good news on this front.

“Fair Elections Now” is a set of bills just introduced in both houses that would fundamentally transform Congressional fundraising. The bipartisan bill is being sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Representatives John Larson (D-Conn.) and Walter Jones, Jr. (R-N.C.). It is based on key elements that have been successful at the state level in Arizona, Connecticut, Maine and North Carolina. The Public Campaign Action Fund provides details of this legislation and links to a number of non-partisan organizations that support this bill. If one sincerely wants to change the dynamics of what is a broken electoral system, action should be taken to contact one’s Senators and Representative and demand that this bill be supported. provides contact information for Senators and Representatives. Democracy is a participation sport!

* If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.

1 comment:

Ruth Z Deming said...

very informative column, stephen. enjoyed esp. the note about walgreen's philanthropic edge on its competition by offering in-store clinics. great idea!

read in today's times that today is the 40th anniversary (!) of Requests for Comments on various early internet sites before the age of the World Wide Web.