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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

March 25, 2008


One Step

First, allow me to say that I am for a Single Payer Universal Health Care Plan (SPUHC). The system I would recommend would offer coverage to anyone and everyone without exception. It would be paid for with tax dollars and would exempt all earnings below the poverty line. In other words, as it stands today, no one would pay on the first $13,000 (for a single) and $26,000 (for a family). All earnings, including capital gains would be taxed, evenly, too.

Next, allow me to follow with my opinion that I don't believe that it's possible to get to Point "A" (the current "YO-YO" - "You're-On-You-Own system") to the SPUHC system - Point "C" - which most of us wish we would have on January 21, 2009. I believe that those who disagree either forget that we have this little influential group known as insurance company "lobbyists" out there who act as legal bribers against the public good and for their own benefit. They aren't going away without a fight and until they do, SPUHC is nothing more than an achievable, but far off, dream.

And, yes, we do need to get rid of the current system of paid bribery which these lobbyists practice. But since they aren't leaving next January, we need to work around them, and a system which includes every single American is the only answer. It is Point "B" and it is the first, necessary step.

I've had Barack Obama supporters tell me that his plan will, in fact cover everybody. It doesn't because it leaves the many an opt-out. And if he is right about Hillary Clinton's plan (that it will only penalize those who opt-out rather than force them to actually have health care insurance), then her plan stinks, too.

At least 8.5 percent of our already high health care cost in the US relates to the uninsured. The only way to make that number fall is to make sure they have access to doctors when they are sick and to make sure they take care of themselves before it's too late. Let's face facts here - when many of those who are without health care coverage finally go to the doctor, the first thing they hear is "Why did you wait so long?" And it's often the beginning of the end.

A mandate is the only answer.

Along with the health care mandate, as I have written before, I believe that a floating day off given to all US workers would be a powerful mandate as well. All employers would be forced to give their employees a day off to see their doctor for an annual physical. They would have to bring back a note from the doctor stating only that they went as proof and the employer's responsibility would be over. The employee, of course, could opt-out of the day off, but then they would be losing that day. If an employer was found to be refusing the extra day off, it should be a federal offense.

We have to take health care seriously and we can't wait for a SPUHC plan to make its way to us while many die without coverage. I'm not willing to wait for perfection while anyone waits for a doctor.

Today, I had two naturalized American citizens verbally berate me because I didn't come from a nation with socialized health care. Somehow, they think, I don't get it. They told me that, no matter what Obama says about health care, what he really means is that we are going to have socialized medicine under him.

It's not what his words say, however, and I have to take him at his word. I might be his supporter if he hops on the mandate wagon with the rest of us.

As an employer (from 1990 through 2000), I paid to make sure all of my employees had health care coverage. I left no one out and wouldn't allow any of them to opt-out. I helped them as much as I could with a pre-tax (cafeteria) type plan. Today, I am an employee of someone else's small business and am forced into their plan. I pay over $1,000 per month (not including what my employer's share is) and still have to pay for much out of my own pocket for me (I'm a Type 1 Diabetic); my healthy wife, my asthmatic son; and my seriously ill and handicapped daughter. Her disease has left her in bed much of the day and completely deaf. In 2005 alone, she had four operations (one to clean up an infection occurred at New York's Presbyterian hospital which caused the pain that now keeps her in bed much of the time). This year, she turns 21 years of age and if something happens to me, she will no longer be able to see the doctors at NYU who specialize in her very rare disease, any longer. They don't take New Jersey Medicaid and the nearest doctors who are familiar with NF2 (Neurofibromatosis Type 2) are three-thousand miles away in California. (they take NJ Medicaid, believe it or not). There are no doctors in new Jersey who are familiar with her condition and none I would trust to treat her.

I tell you all this for the sake my point, not for sympathy. As for sympathy, keep it. The doctors, hospitals and surgi-centers want greenbacks.

My daughter is not the reason I support a health care mandate, however. I support it because it's the right thing to do, plain and simple. And anyone who thinks that we can get from Point "A" to Point "C" doesn't get the real obstacles in the way - those lobbyists.

I know what the health care system is about. I have been my own company's health plan administrator; I have been an unofficial advisor to friends with small businesses; and now I can call myself a victim of the system, as well.

There are many healthy people out there who don't get it until they "GET IT" (whatever their particular "IT" is). They watch their money run out and/ or their loved ones die along with all they had worked for as many years as they were able to work. They're left with nothing and it isn't right or fair. That I do know.

And I also know that the first step needs to be taken before that second, much larger leap take off.

No one would benefit better from a SPUHC system than me and my daughter. But we both know that it will take that first, much smaller step.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

Much of the past two weeks on the political landscape has been spent discussing Barack Obama, his pastor, Jeremiah Wright and how race is addressed–or not–in America.

Obama gave what many thought was an important speech here in Philadelphia after Wright’s controversial and inflammatory comments hit the mainstream media. Whether it served to broaden discourse on the subject of race in America remains to be seen. I haven’t noticed that there’s any less tension between the Asian shopkeepers in my neighborhood and the African Americans who live here.

The conversation is taking place at the same level it always has done: among educated black and white Americans who think of themselves as “post-racial.” Real America is not post-racial, however. Real America has biases we have not even begun to address. One of those biases is gender.

I envied Barack Obama last week when he was speaking. Not an envious position, certainly, having to somehow explain why you are raising your children in a church so fueled by misinformation, anger and hatred. Or why you consider the man making the misinformed, angry and hate-mongering statements your mentor. Nevertheless, I was envious.

Why? Because for the 30-odd years of my life as a civil rights activist I have wanted to be able to both make or hear a speech like Obama’s–except about gender. I have, of course, as someone who has written about these issues for decades and thus fallen into the role of “expert,” been privileged to be a regular speaker on panels, on radio programs and on TV about gender bias in America. But I have never had the kind of national forum Obama had last week. Nor do I know any woman–more famous or less famous than I--who has.

Three hours after Obama spoke at the Constitution Center, Hillary Clinton was speaking at City Hall.

Hillary Clinton can’t give the speech about gender that Obama gave about race. We just aren’t there yet. As far behind as we are on race in America, we are light years further behind on gender.

This election should have provided the perfect forum to discuss race and gender. Clinton alluded to that with a kind of wistfulness at her appearance in Philadelphia – but knew she had to change the subject. Because we aren’t there yet. A black man speaking about racial bias is considered brave and ground-breaking, but a woman speaking about gender bias is considered a coward and a whiner.

A few months ago, the award-winning editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant did a cartoon which ran first in the Washington Post and then in the Philadelphia Inquirer that was outrageously sexist – depicting Hillary Clinton as a cry-baby unable to deal with world leaders. If we need a litmus for whether we are further ahead on race than gender in America, that cartoon was one example.

And here’s another example: MSNBC hosted an entire show with GOP strategist, Roger Stone. Stone was there to discuss founding a new group called Citizens United Not Timid. The group is an anti-Hillary Clinton 527. We can’t print the acronym in this family newspaper, but ask yourselves: would MSNBC host a program devoted to the founder of a group where the acronym spelled out N.I.G.G.E.R.


Then there is the G.O.P. t-shirt with a red circle and slash through it, Sen. Clinton’s picture and this: HO8. A t-shirt with the female presidential candidate who is tied for front-runner for the Democratic Party as “ho.”

The reality of race politics in America is this: Educated white Americans of any class do not use the word *nigger.* They don’t use it and most don’t even think it. Yet it is perfectly acceptable to use the word “bitch,” “ho” and even the word for female genitalia that is the acronym of that group run not by some marginal nutcase, but a well-respected member of the GOP, to describe women.

“Bitch” used to be one of the seven banned words by the FCC. No more. We say the “n” word rather than “nigger,” because “nigger” is too offensive to even speak. But we now *accept* that “bitch” is common parlance, as is “ho.”

At a speech given by John McCain, a woman in the audience asked–referring to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy–“How do we stop the bitch?” There was laughter all around, including, sadly, from McCain himself, who has professed to be friends with Clinton.

Imagine someone asking McCain, “How do we stop the nigger?”

Do we think for an instant that there would have been laughter? Do we think if McCain had laughed, even if uncomfortably, that he would have been able to remain a candidate?

No. But as far as we have yet to go on racism, we are still light years ahead in that battle than we are battling gender bias.

One of the many inflammatory remarks of Rev. Wright was directed at Hillary Clinton. Wright queried, “Has Hillary ever been called a nigger? Has Hillary ever had a cab whiz by her because she was black?”

The simple answer to such race-baiting rhetoric is no.

But here’s the opposing question: Has Barack Obama ever been called the slang term for female genitalia or had a 527 founded about him using that acronym? Has Barack Obama ever been threatened with rape because he was a woman? No.

The parallels are there, but the reasons we don’t discuss them are far more damning of America than are the reasons we don’t discuss race. The fact is, most educated Americans *aren’t* racists. We know that no race is superior to another. But the majority of Americans–including women–are sexist and truly believe that men are superior to women.

That fundamental difference allows for the disparity in our society between men and women that damages the lives of *every* girl of *every* race growing up in America today. Every girl for whom Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is just as ground-breaking and thrilling as is Obama’s candidacy for African Americans.

Much has been made of surrogates for Clinton making comments that may have had a racial undertone to them, such as Geraldine Ferraro’s. But *every* surrogate for Obama has made sexist comments about Clinton, as has the candidate himself. No media outcry has occurred.

Obama has said, for example, “Taking tea with foreign leaders [something Sen. Clinton did as First Lady] is not foreign policy experience.” Really? Because I thought diplomacy was key to foreign policy experience. When was the last–or first–time Obama took tea with foreign leaders?

The diminishing of the work women do is a constant in American society and discourse. Women’s work is devalued to the degree that in 2008, women *still* only make two-thirds of what men make for comparable work. There is no glass ceiling for men. There are more African American CEOs in corporate America than there are female ones. Yet women comprise 52 percent of the American demographic and African Americans represent 11 percent.

Race-based hate crimes remain a concern in America, but rape and domestic violence are the two most common violent crimes in the country, according to Department of Justice statistics. What’s more, according to those same statistics, one in four girls in America will be a victim of a sex crime before she turns 18. And the leading cause of death among pregnant women? Murder by a spouse or boyfriend.

These issues are all about gender.

Barack Obama may have faced racial bias growing up in Hawaii, going to private schools and later attending two Ivy League colleges–Columbia and Harvard. But Hillary Clinton has faced biases that Obama did not because the one thing that can be said in America today is that gender remains a bigger impediment than race in every venue of American life.

When Hillary Clinton attended Wellesley College, Ivy League schools like Columbia and Harvard were not yet open to women. When she attended law school at Yale–newly opened to women–she was one of only 20 women in her class.

Obama may have broken new ground with his speech last week in Philadelphia. He may have gotten a new conversation going about race.
Obama has two little girls. Unlike their African-American forebears, those little girls are not having to grow up hearing the “n” word. However, they *are* growing up hearing themselves and other girls referred to as *bitches,* *hos* and the “c” word.

We are starting to talk about one terrible legacy–racism–in America. The question is, when will we begin to talk about the other terrible one–the all-pervasive sexism that reduces women and girls and all their many and varied achievements into nothing every day in America and to which no one pays any attention at all?

In response to, "Four thousand military service members killed in just five years and not a peep out of the Commander in Chief," Rhian writes:

Don't forget the full division injured beyond capability of normal life, and the deaths that have not been counted because the injured was transported before death. Some estimate that number at 30,000. Some estimate that number at closer to 70,000.

What I do know is that right before the Iraqi invasion, the Bush administration purchase of body bags numbered 60,000 and all those have been used.

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-Noah Greenberg