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Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

In less than a week President Obama will address a joint session of Congress. He will speak to our elected representatives about health care and the sorry lack of it in America.  He will undoubtedly talk about Senator Kennedy and the cause of his life: health care for all and Kennedy’s belief that health care is a right and not a privilege.  He will mention the needless suffering and deaths of those who can neither afford to buy health insurance nor pay for their own medical needs.  We have heard it all before.

Over the past several months, the President and his team have tried mightily to work with members of the Republican Party to craft some sort of health care legislation, but it is all too apparent that the vast majority of Republicans have negotiated in bad faith.  They don’t want universal health care – at least not at the expense of the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.  Today, in the United States, health care is a for-profit business.  Health care is a commodity that people buy and sell. You either can afford it or you can’t. In the cold world of Republicans you live or die by your own resources. I doubt that you would get any sympathy from most Republican members of Congress if you fell down and died in the street.  For them, the main concern would be that you were blocking traffic.

We’ve been here before – this issue of human rights.  Years ago it was the right to vote for everyone. It was often denied to non-white Americans in certain parts of the country.  Years ago it was the right to equal access and equal opportunity.  Equality was a right often denied to non-white people in America. It was the Democrats, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson who struggled to gain these rights for all Americans.  Many people died in the cause.  Many “Americans” were violently opposed to the concept of equality.  It seems strange now, but that is the way it was.

Despite the years of negotiations before the Civil Rights Act was passed, it was only after President Kennedy was assassinated and the American people marched en masse in Washington that President Johnson found the overwhelming support in Congress to finally pass that landmark legislation. America and the world are better for it.  It was a leap for many Americans (including Blue Dog Democrats) to accept that equality and equal opportunity was a right that all Americans are entitled to.  We take it for granted now.  The same thing must happen with health care.

President Obama has tried mightily to work with Congressional Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, but it is clear that these people are intransigent in their beliefs.  They simply do not recognize that Americans have a fundamental right to health care.  They do not care that millions of Americans still suffer from a built-in discriminatory system that still favors the “elect” in this and in many other areas.  The battle lines are formed, the positions are hardened.  There will be no negotiations.  It’s 1964 all over again.

President Obama has only one option: next week he must declare before Congress that health care is a fundamental right of all Americans.  He must be unequivocal; there can be no room to misinterpret or negotiate this right away.  He must not flag or fail.  He knows this.  There can be no room for Congress to water down the legislation.  The American people have already spoken at the ballot box.  The Democrats have the votes.  The only choice for the Republicans and the Blue Dogs is to either get out of the way or to truly be constructive (something that seems highly unlikely).

The feeling is in the air.  America is about to change again.  For the first time in nearly fifty years we will have a new right – a right to health care.  And fifty years from now people will wonder what all the fuss was about.  Of course it’s a fundamental right, just like the right to live.  It’ll be obvious in fifty years – but next week President Obama has to declare it to Congress now, and in no uncertain terms.  It’s show time.  He has no other option.

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You had to have been there to really understand.  The 1960’s were a different time in America, as different from the time before and as they are different from our present.  The 50’s were the post World War II recovery years, led by President Eisenhower, the former Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe.  He had been a five star Army general.  He was as solid as a rock and carefully guided the country through a transition from a  war-based economy to a normal civilian economy.  It was well planned and well executed.  It was tidy and predictable.  The country had returned to “normal”.  Except that for some, and eventually for many, “normal” was no longer good enough.

It was President John F. Kennedy who ignited the spark in his Inaugural Address when he challenged Americans to go beyond themselves, to enter the New Frontier, and “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.  An age of volunteerism was born.  The Peace Corps was created.  The Alliance for Progress was created. Human rights, and the lack of them, were being given front page notice.  Equality of all races was preached.  Equal opportunity was recognized as a right.  It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.  It was the dawn of the Hippie movement.  It was Woodstock.  Harmony and understanding, and justice for all.

The Kennedy brothers, John, Bobby, and Ted all worked together during the time of President Kennedy’s administration to effect social change in America.  A new vision had arisen in American society -partially initiated by the Kennedys, but it was also an upwelling of public spirit that infused the Kennedys as much as they infused the public. It was the age of Martin Luther King. It was the age of Freedom and Freedom Riders and Freedom marches.  The people of America had awakened from their slumber and realized that despite all the good things about America, the country still had a long way to go to fulfill the dreams of it founders, dreams of equality and liberty, and justice for all.

One by one these champions were assassinated by the foes of freedom.  First John, then Martin, then Bobby.  It remained for those who were left behind, people like Lyndon Johnson and Ted Kennedy to pick up the fallen torch and carry it forward.  And carry it they did, because it was really Lyndon Johnson and Ted Kennedy who, over the years, actually worked within the system to effect social change and justice in America.  They were not the men of the soaring visions and soaring rhetoric like those who had given their lives in the cause.  But they were true believers in these ideals and they willing to work tirelessly for years to bring about the change of the great American visionaries of the 60’s, and so the credit for so much that has been accomplished belongs not only to those who first enunciated the vision but to those who successfully struggled to see it accomplished.

Ted Kennedy was a true believer in those visions that arose in the 60’s, but he knew that the heart of those visions was not new.  It had been born in the suffering of his Irish ancestors who had undergone centuries of oppression, starvation, and theft of their land.  It had been born in the suffering of the African Americans who had undergone centuries of slavery, discrimination, prejudice, and denial of the rights of an American citizen.  It had been born in the stories of all of the world’s tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,  who heard and heeded the call of Lady Liberty and believed in her torch that had been raised beside the Golden Door.

Ted Kennedy’s last great quest was to make health care recognized as a right for all people and not just a privilege.   It is an idea embodied in the Irish Constitution and is reflected in the governments and actions of most countries in the civilized world around the world today .  The exception, of course,  is the United States of America.

The last torch bearer of the 60’s has fallen at last, but as he said before he fell, the torch has already been passed.  Echoing the words of his brother, John, the torch has been passed to a new generation, led by President Obama.  It is now up to this generation to succeed or fail, to change America from being a land ruled by the wealthy elite to a land of freedom, equality, and justice for all.  The last of the great idealists of the 1960’s left us today. The choice is now ours.  Do we also pick up the torch and follow in Ted Kennedy’s footsteps?  Do we now truly rise up and follow our own human vision, informed by the great American visionaries of the past; or, our last hero fallen,  will we falter and fail, and be seduced by the wicked lies of those among us whose only God is gold.

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The simple fact is that, in the United States, unlike, say Ireland, citizens of this country are not entitled to have health care i.e. they are not entitled to be healthy.  It seems sort of strange that a country that professes to espouse other rights such life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is blind to a right for a healthy life.  It seems that you have a right to life – just not a healthy life – if you live in this country that professes to be the leader of the free world.  You might have the right to travel wherever you like on the country’s highways, and you can get a free education in the country’s public schools, but ask for medical help without being able to pay for it, and our hospitals may just leave you to die.  If you haven’t watched Michael Moore’s documentary on our failed health system, Sicko, take a look at it, you’ll see what I mean.

Now the Wall Street Journal has joined the fight against President Obama’s attempt to create some sort of national health insurance plan.  The scare tactics have been launched once again – the ones that have been so successful in the past in preventing universal health coverage for all U.S. citizens.  But why?  Why has this New York Voice of the Wealthy come forth to speak out against health coverage for all?  Try as I might, I can come up with only two reasons for the frantic effort to prevent such a plan.  The first reason is greed.  The second reason is also greed.

Let me explain.  It’s easy to see that in order to have health care for Americans who are in the lowest income bracket that someone is going to have to pay, and it won’t be the people in the lowest income bracket. We already know they don’t have the money to pay – that, after all, is the problem! So what is the solution? Tax the rich! An eminently wise solution.  As the famed bank robber, Willie Sutton, reportedly said when asked why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is”.  It’s the same with taxes, you tax the rich because they have all the money and, besides, the rest of us are all taxed out.  It makes perfect sense, unless you are the multi-millionaire or multi-billionaire greedy, rich, good Christian, people of this country who would much rather spend their money in Monaco, or the Maldives, or maybe Palm Beach.  OK. I guess, I can see the sense in that.  The ultra wealthy have made their money and they want to keep it.  To Hell with everyone else… Perfect sense.  Very American too, isn’t it?

But wait, there’s just one other little thing about health care – it’s big business.  Actually is massive business.  There is a lot of money you can make from people who have diseases, you know.  If you have the secret elixir that will save their life, some people will pay a fortune for it – even if it only cost you five cents to make it!  If you have the secret knowledge of delicate surgical techniques and someone needs your skill to save the life of their child – think of how much money you could make by doing a little operation!  Yes, the business of providing health care is a moneymaker and a big one.  And then of course there are the insurance companies, close relatives of the Las Vegas casino operators, they’ll take your bet that you will get sick – if you are healthy, that is.  If you are likely to get sick they’re not interested.  And if they take your bet and later on you do get sick, they quickly lose interest in you.  After all, insurance is not about helping you pay for your medical costs, its a business where the insurer is betting that, on the average you will pay them more than they will pay you. How else can they make money?  Be reasonable.  They, of course, have no interest in the government somehow covering your medical costs and you therefore just walking away from their craps table.  In fact, that scares them to death.  How are they going to make money if you don’t place your sickness bet with them?

The problem is that the rich, greedy folks who don’t want to share their money, the rich medical industry who want to stay that way, and the rich insurers who know a good bet when they see it, are terrified of any sort of national health plan.  That’s because it will cost them money.  They don’t care a bit if it helps you.  That’s why they are so eager to try to convince you that you will suffer under any sort of government health plan. Now, all the old scare tactics, that have worked so well in the past, are being deployed once again, and the lobbyists in D.C. are trying their best to pressure our representatives and succeeding as usual.  I wonder how many of our elected representatives have secret Swiss bank accounts?

The simple fact is this: you do have a right to health.  It is a fundamental human right, but the greedy rich don’t want you to have your right to health. That isn’t surprising.  They didn’t want you to have your right to education in the past either.  Nor did they want you to have the right to own land.  Nor did they want you to have the right to vote.  The greedy rich only want one thing – your money.  And these powerful people, many of whom are descendants of powerful people, who are also descendants of powerful people, are working very hard to keep this right from you.  It is time to stop listening to the lies of the greedy rich, it is time for the American people to realize we all have a right to health, just as our European and Asian cousins realized a long time ago.

The issue is not about the freedom to choose your health care provider.  It is about your right to be healthy.

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