We Can Do Better

I was six years old in 1975. I didn’t know much about the world. I did not know, nor did I care, who was President. I didn’t know that Richard “I’m not a crook” Nixon had recently resigned. I didn’t know that his replacement, some guy named Ford, had fallen down the steps while leaving Air Force One and put a dramatic coda on that whole sordid business. But I did know one thing. Summers were made for playing outside, getting drinks from hoses, and helping Grandma weed the garden. That’s what the summer of 1975 was for me.

At least that’s what it was until July. For a few days that month my attention strayed from exploring the catacombs of the neighbor’s hedges and turned to a marvelous event that was taking place a million billion trillion (numbers didn’t mean much to me then either) miles away. And I got to see it on television. Our astronauts, which is to say United States astronauts, were going to meet up with some Russian astronauts in space.  I couldn’t pronounce the name of Soyuz, the Russian craft, but I knew what it was when I heard it or saw it written. They were going to have their spacecraft meet up, attach themselves to each other, then open up a door, crawl through, and shake hands. It was going to be awesome.

And it was awesome, even on the ancient television that was as big as a refrigerator and was only color part of the time when the signal came in good. I sat there in my living room, outdoors forgotten, my mind locked around the fantastical concept of people being shot up into space and then meeting each other. I had trouble meeting neighborhood kids who lived just a few houses away. They were so foreign and scary, but if these guys in space suits could do THAT, well … maybe I’d just walk up to one of those kids’ doors and introduce myself.

In other words, I was inspired. Our country, my country, put its resources and energy into accomplishing a goal that just a decade before was highly questionable. What’s more, we did this in cooperation with our sworn enemies. I didn’t know much about the world at six, but besides knowing what summers were for, I knew that Russians were the bad guys and they might kill us all one day with their bombs. Maybe, I thought while sitting there watching all this happen, if we could get along well enough to do this, we could get along well enough to do a lot of things. Continue reading We Can Do Better

The Death Panels: Rep. Paul Ryan, Commissioner

Paul RyanIn August of 2009, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin cynically attacked the Obama administration backed Affordable Health Care bill on the grounds that it would create “death panels.”

What’s a “death panel”? Ms. Palin explained it to us via the favorite method of angst-ridden teenagers with no social skills everywhere by turning to Facebook. Once again exploiting her own children to score political points, she raised the specter of her Down’s Syndrome afflicted child standing before:

Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Of course, this was all nonsense. The part of the proposed legislation that allowed her to make this fanciful claim was the portion that would allow Medicare to compensate health care professionals who counseled individuals facing end-of-life decisions. This would include the terminally ill, those advanced in age, and anyone else who was seeking hospice care, was designating someone who had legal authority to make decisions for them in the event they became incapacitated, or simply wanted to devise a living will. This twisting of the truth moved the respected website Factcheck.org to name Ms. Palin’s lie as one of its “Whoppers of the Year” for 2009.

Despite the fiasco of false fear and paranoia brought on by Ms. Palin during the health care debate, a year and a half later we might want to find it in our hearts to thank her for laying out in such stark terms what the issues really are when we consider making sure the most vulnerable among us have access to desperately needed health care. Certainly the thought of a child with a genetic disability being denied needed care should shame a society with the high moral standards we demand. Judging whether one is worthy of care based on their “level of productivity to society” is not what the land of the free is all about. We would never want to be known as the nation that brought into wide acceptance the notion of condemning our grandparents or our children to die simply because they needed to see a doctor and could not afford to do so.

Well, most of us don’t.

Enter Paul Ryan, the ultra-radical Republican Representative from Wisconsin who has cornered the market on proposing some of the worst ideas to come out of Congress this century. Mr. Ryan has been telegraphing his budget proposal for 2012 on YouTube and through Republican-controlled Fox News with the vigor of an advertising executive. The details of this budget were released for public scrutiny today, but we already knew enough just from his showmanship to get a fairly clear picture of what he and presumably the rest of his radical Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives demand. Continue reading The Death Panels: Rep. Paul Ryan, Commissioner