Saturday, June 30, 2012

I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act.

I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act. I burst into tears when I heard the news. (Those on the other side were no doubt bursting into tears as well.) Fortunately, I missed the erroneous CNN report which announced that the Supreme Court had ruled against ACA and got the news when the decision in favor of ACA had been announced.

It wasn’t all good news. I’m worried that allowing states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion and still keep existing federal funding will leave a lot of people uncovered, but there is time to work on this and as Ruth Ginsberg said, “In the end, the Affordable Care Act survives largely unscathed.”

As usual, one of the best analyses was Paul Krugman’s :

In short, unless you belong to that tiny class of wealthy Americans who are insulated and isolated from the realities of most people’s lives, the winners from that Supreme Court decision are your friends, your relatives, the people you work with — and, very likely, you. For almost all of us stand to benefit from making America a kinder and more decent society.

Also the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Annette John-Hall didn’t pull any punches and said what so many pundits have danced around:

What baffles me the most is that almost every poll indicates that while most Americans support many of the measures in the Affordable Care Act, more than half want to see it repealed, including seniors who stand to benefit the most. For sure, the president didn't do the best job explaining the health-care law. And yet there's that element that chooses to blind itself with hatred for the black guy in the White House. Even if it kills them.

I think I will always remember where I was when I learned that the ACA had been upheld.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Walled City of Carcassone: The Langue d’Oc Diaries, Part I

It felt really good to be back in France—we hadn’t been there since our sabbatical in 1999. Before that we went almost every year concentrating on one small region at a time. Southwestern France was one of regions where we had spent relatively little time. We were in Toulouse sometime in the mid 1980’s, but it was so hellishly hot we fled after one day. During our working years we could only travel during the summer or the winter holiday break. One of the great pleasures of retirement is the ability to travel off-season, when the prices are lower, the crowds fewer, and when it’s much easier to snag an airline upgrade.

We decided to combine Barcelona with Southwestern France—-once one cultural region before there were such entities as France and Spain. I had planned to read Montaillou, a social history of a small town in the region during the Middle Ages. No surprise, I never got around to it, despite Rick’s owning a copy. Fortunately Rick knows a lot about the history of the region and filled me in on the key points. I had also planned to review some French grammar before the trip, but never got around to that either. Rick speaks French really, really well and since he’s so good with languages, it’s very easy for me to fall into the trap of linguistic laziness.

The French are trying to revive the old language of the region and I was surprised to see all the street signs in Carcassonne in Langue d’Oc. The old walled city of Carcassonne is definitely worth a day and also worth staying overnight to see the castle and ramparts illuminated at night. Unfortunately, you have to walk through a gauntlet of gift shops as you enter the old medieval town, but then tourism pays for the preservation of the site. Carcassonne had been a major political /cultural center in the Middle Ages, but had been abandoned and in a state of disrepair until one of my heroes, historical preservationist Eugene Violet-Le-Duc, convinced the French government to allocate funds for its restoration. Every time we visit a medieval historical site in France– a cathedral, castle--the guidebooks always tell us that Violet-Le-Duc preceded us. Lovers of the Gothic cathedral (and I count myself among them) owe a great deal to Violet-Le-Duc.

L'Eglise Saint Navaire

The bad news about Carcassonne is that it has the high hotel prices that come with a major tourist attraction. We found an acceptable small hotel in a great location—-right outside the city walls. And although the hotel was nothing special, thanks to the hotel staff we found a great restaurant with the best cassoulet I’ve ever had!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Another victory for democracy, transparency in the Democratic Party—this time in the Pennsylvania Democratic party!

Some friends of mine who are very disillusioned with the Democratic Party and see little hope for improvement ask me why I bother working within the Democratic Party. Every once in awhile something happens which makes me think it might be worth it after all.

Progress shouldn’t be this painfully slow, but the determination and persistence of Tracey Gordon and Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus has finally paid off. The Philadelphia Democratic Party finally acknowledged that Tracey Gordon won election as committeeperson in 2010 and seated her. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Pennsylvania Democratic Progressive Caucus, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party is becoming more democratic, more transparent.

On June 9 a resolution initiated by the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus was passed unanimously by Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee. The resolution stated:

Whereas, that in all 67 counties in the State of Pennsylvania there is only one process in effect for the election of Democratic Committee people and that the Committee person election process has guidelines set forth by the Pa. Dept. of State and State election laws; and

Whereas, we recognize that that all 67 Democratic County Committees are obligated to have rules and by-laws that are consistent with our State Party by-laws; and

Whereas, it should only be practical, that in all 67 counties that there is only one process in effect to remove an elected county committee person from office within the Pennsylvania Democratic Party;

Therefore, be it resolved, that we the elected committee people of the Democratic State Party respectfully request that the leadership of the State Democratic Party commission the state by-laws committee to establish a review and recommendation process for a due process procedure of the removal of county committee people and to submit a draft to all state committee members for the Jan./Feb. 2013 30 day call.

Last Fall the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus asked the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus to bring the Philadelphia Democratic Party’s refusal to seat Tracey Gordon to the PA Dem. Party Executive committee and seek a remedy. Initially there was reluctance to deal with this issue but the Progressive Caucus persisted and the July 9 resolution was the result. Special thanks to Bruce Slater, Chair of the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus who made many, many phone calls to state committee members all around the state getting their support for this issue. That outreach will no doubt pay off in many other ways.

The By-laws Committee will have a draft of new by-laws consistent with the resolution by the next State Committee meeting and Party Chair Jim Burn made a public commitment that this would be done. I have seen a change in Burn. I think he now recognizes that the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus is a force to be reckoned with and Burn is now talking about making the Party more democratic, more transparent.

Also two additional resolutions initiated by the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus, support for same sex marriage and for women’s rights, were passed at June 9 state committee meeting. The women’s rights resolution was passed unanimously; the same-sex marriage resolution passed by an overwhelming margin. The energy in the Pennsylvania State Democratic Party is with the Progressive Caucus.

Irv Acklesberg and the ACLU intend to pursue legal remedies and are currently considering options which could result in a ruling enjoining the Phila. Democratic Party from ever again nullifying the results of a democratically conducted election for a county or committeepersons.

Of course it shouldn’t be so hard to get the Democratic Party to conduct its business in a fair, democratic manner. And some times I question whether it’s worth working within the party , BUT at this point I think a reformed, revitalized Democratic party is the only option for keeping an energized, well-funded radical right at bay and creating some space for progressive politics.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

President Obama is not the lesser of two evils! This President has a record worth defending.

Last October I wrote a blog post expressing my frustration with “left wing critiques of Obama that refuse to credit his achievements or acknowledge the constraints he has been under.” Now that we are heading into what could be a very close election, it’s all the more important to counter that notion that President Obama is the lesser of two evils—a view recently expressed on a progressive email list I’m subscribed to.

Encouraging people to for Obama vote because Romney would be a disaster (although certainly true) can result in voters just staying home. People want a reason to vote for someone. Obama’s achievements--criticism from both far left and far right to the contrary-- have been impressive. There is a record to be proud of.

Yes, he has not always governed as a liberal/progressive. Yes, the stimulus bill should have been much larger, but was arguably the best that could be done, given this dysfunctional Congress. Remember what a difficult time the President had getting three Republican votes in the Senate to pass the bill.

This is not a liberal/progressive country and we can’t expect him to have governed as if we were a nation of blue states. Polls consistently put the number of people who identify as liberal/progressive at no more than 20%. Many of us are working hard to change those numbers, but that is the current political reality.

The responses both to the October blog post and its reprint in a local paper were quite positive. The comments I got were all in the form of reminders of achievements I had neglected to include. So for all those who are going to be out there going door to door talking to voters or to your friends and relatives, here are some talking points:

Jobs/ The Economy
True, President Obama has not ended the jobs crisis brought on by the Great Recession but financial crises, as virtually all reputable economists acknowledge, take a while to recover from. Although now reviled by both the left and the right, the stimulus program, according to most economists, brought the economy back from the brink of real disaster.
The rescue of the auto industry is certainly one of the President’s major achievements. See WAPO article on auto bailout.
Despite fierce Republican opposition, the President managed to get significant extension of unemployment benefits in the 2010 lame duck Congressional session
The passage of meaningful—again not as much as we needed—regulatory reform is an accomplishment the Republicans are itching to undo. The dismantling of regulatory agencies at the root of the current economic crisis dates back to the Clinton years. This crisis was many years in the making and we in all probability have a long ways to go before real recovery. Reasonable people understand this.
Despite implacable Republican opposition, President Obama, with a lot of help from Nancy Pelosi, still managed to pass a healthcare bill establishing access to heath care as a right of all citizens. Sure, it’s an imperfect bill, but assuming it survives the legal challenges, we will have the opportunity to improve it, just as we have had with other deeply flawed programs, such as Social Security. Medicare at first met with fierce opposition, but gradually became an essential part of the social safety net.
The expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) extended coverage to another 4 million low-income children, increasing the total number of children covered by the program to more than 11 million.
President Obama’s overhaul of the college loan program resulted in significant savings for students, their families and the taxpayers. It is projected to save taxpayers roughly $68 billion over the next 10 years.
The implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill increased educational opportunities for veterans by making college more affordable for returning service members.
Women’s Rights
President Obama’s first official act was signing “The Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act,” another piece of legislation the Republicans are pledged to overturn.
In his first few days of office the President rescinded the "global gag rule" which denies US taxpayer dollars to clinics around the globe that even mention abortion to women with unplanned pregnancies.
President Obama has nominated and gotten confirmation of more women and minorities to the federal bench than any president in the history of the United States. And while many of his nominees remain stalled in the Senate confirmation process, it is a stellar record nonetheless. For more info see NYT article on Obama nominees.
And let’s not forget that Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan are on the Supreme Court: their nomination is a testament to Obama’s good judgment; their senate confirmation a testament to his political skill.
LBGT Rights
President Obama’s major achievement of the 2010 lame duck Congressional session was the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Admittedly it took him too long, but President Obama has affirmed his support for same sex marriage.
Foreign Policy
Finally, consider Obama’s achievements: He rid the world of Osama Bin Laden and finally brought the country some degree of closure after 9/11. Somewhat too slowly from my point of view, he is winding down the two wars he inherited.
The President reached the most important arms control agreement with Russia in two decades. New START will reduce our nuclear arsenals, put inspectors on the ground in Russia, and renew America’s leadership in pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons.
There is also a list of accomplishments prepared before the 2010 mid terms which contains additional info: : WHAT THE FUCK HAS OBAMA DONE SO FAR? at

Also something often overlooked: Obama's appointments to regulatory agencies. John Judis wrote an excellent article about this. A summary and links to Judis article “The Quiet Revolution: Obama has reinvented the state in more ways than you can imagine” at “The Quiet Revolution: Obama has reinvented the state in more ways than you can imagine.”

I’m sure I’ve overlooked something, but I think it’s clear: This President has a record which is worth defending. He should not be described as the lesser of two evils!