Tag Archive | Donald Trump

Socialized medicine is not a bad idea

This past weekend I went to the eye doctor. I had tried to order new contact lenses online. You can order all kinds of abominable things online without any hassle but for some reason buying contact lenses online requires that the seller contact your eye doctor. Well my eye doctor said that my prescription was expired and I had to have another eye exam.

My eye exam went well enough. The people there dilated my pupils to run some of the usual tests and did another special “contact lens test” that cost another $40 on top of a $50 deductible. After an hour and a half, I was released back into the world wearing a pair of oversized disposable sunglasses that made me look like a Florida retiree shuffling to an early bird special. And my eyeglass and contact lens prescription did not change one bit. I spent $90 just for the honor of getting permission to buy contact lenses online. I can’t apply that to the purchase of any new glasses or contact lenses. That’s an expensive two-year rubber stamp.

I’m lucky enough that I can afford to pay off the doctors to let me buy my contact lenses. I have good health insurance and I’m gainfully employed. Someone who is unemployed or under-employed or not paid as well at their job would be shit out of luck if they didn’t have the cash for this.

Even with the good health insurance we have, for-profit health insurance companies have earned their bad reputation for their treatment of consumers. When our youngest daughter was born, we sent in all the paperwork on time to have her added to our insurance policy, but for some reason the insurer didn’t process this in time and for several months we got letters from doctors and collection agencies looking for the money that the insurance company was supposed to pay. When my wife was in the hospital, she was being charged $1.50 per Tylenol pill. Why?

These experiences illustrate some of the inadequacies of our current healthcare system and they are MILD in comparison to some of what goes on. The Affordable Care Act (A.C.A. a.k.a. “Obamacare”) curtailed some of the most blatant insurance company abuses, but there are so many bad actors in the healthcare system that piecemeal reform hasn’t worked to fix things. For example, one of the first efforts of the Obama administration to pass its health plan was to make price guarantees to pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies.

The Trump administration’s effort to repeal Obamacare only accomplished in proving that the Republicans have had no real healthcare plan from day one. For all the meaningless votes to repeal the A.C.A. that the Republicans held in the intervening years, the half-assed effort to pass “Trumpcare” showed that this was all silly games. They have no real plan. Democrats would prefer to have socialized medicine but few establishment Democrats will come out and say that.

Socialized medicine doesn’t sound good to Americans because socialism in general has a deservedly bad reputation. Venezuela’s ongoing collapse is a lesson in how “progressive” authoritarians are best at running their countries into the ground. But socialized medicine does pretty well in capitalist countries. The Japan, Ireland, Sweden, the U.K., France, Germany, the list goes on– these are all civilized democracies with healthy business communities. This doesn’t mean they are immune from recession or fiscal difficulties, but it means that healthcare is not a confusing patchwork of providers trying to grab what they can from every consumer.

But socialized medicine is not the imposition of socialism and not a stepping-stone to a Stalinist state. And the most recent political debacle of Congressional Republicans calling off a vote because they knew they would lose was pathetic. There was no real reason to bring this vote within the first 100 days of the Trump administration, but Congressional Republicans still think it’s 2009.

The latest political shifts have given us an opening to resolve this issue once and for all. There are calls for a single-payer system in the populist right as well as the populist left. The cultural wars that have been using the healthcare debate as a proxy are now out in the open. We can have those discussions instead of hiding behind the skirts of medical policy.

Let’s have the healthcare debate we ought to have. Doctors in France get paid and people in Denmark don’t go bankrupt when a loved one gets cancer. Canadians don’t have to launch a GoFundMe campaign when they sprain their knee.

America is a great enough nation to establish and manage socialized medicine. Let’s go for it.

I’ll always be friends with someone you hate

“Say it’s not so, Matt,” my friend’s message read, accompanied by a photo of a public figure that I don’t know personally but follow on social media. I explained that I follow/befriend people on social media that I often disagree with, and that while I find some of this person’s views extreme, they were not the murderous villain popularly portrayed in the mainstream press.

My explanation was lost and I found myself “blocked.” It’s a real shame. This is someone I’ve been friends with since college that is generally open-minded and intellectually strong. I know this person from a college debate society, the whole purpose of which is to listen to people you disagree with and debate them peaceably without tantrums or emotional self-immolation.

Maybe this person will find it in their heart to befriend me on social media again, but if not, so be it. I can’t please everyone and I can’t apologize for the opinions of others.

No matter who you are or what your politics, you are going to find I am friends with someone you hate. I can guarantee that to everyone: someone on my list of friends is going to piss you off.

I won’t have it any other way. I refuse to live in an echo chamber only occupied by people who share my view of the world. No matter how right you think you are, no one is above having their opinions and perceptions challenged and there is absolutely nothing virtuous about a closed mind.

In our era of divided politics, trolls on both sides of the spectrum feel morally justified in becoming increasingly uncivil. I’ve had a few people block me or “unfriend” me. One even called me names and blocked me so I couldn’t see or respond, a cowardly low. People engage in this kind of behavior when they have no real ideas or don’t have the wherewithal to defend their beliefs.

But I also have lots of friends that don’t block me. The friends with more substantial progressive activist bona fides – the people who’ve actually been in the streets and done battle with the cops, who’ve been to jail for their activism or actually rumbled with real Nazis in the real world – don’t find the need to block me on social media or prove their online virtue through their computer keyboards. I have friends who are law enforcement officers and military veterans who have been shot at in the line of duty at home and abroad; none of them have expressed horror that I’m friends with people that are communists or anarchists. They don’t need to wear their patriotism or their toughness on their sleeves, they live it every day.

Fortunately, the majority of my friends are confident enough in who they are to listen to other’s people’s views. That doesn’t mean they agree with me or like that I’m online friends with people they deplore, but they have strong enough wits to disagree without name calling.

I can’t judge people based on their ideology alone. Some of the people considered most virtuous in public life have been some of the most miserable human beings; egos rendering them incapable of treating others with dignity and respect. How you treat the waiter or waitress at a restaurant tells me much more about you than whatever politician you voted for last November. So many people who check all the right virtue boxes can’t be bothered to act like a decent human being in real life.

I hope my friend comes back online. I won’t block or unfriend someone just because they hold opinions we may despise. There’s something about my collection of friends that everyone can hate. But I have a great group of friends nonetheless. I’ll never apologize for keeping an open mind to different ideas, no matter how offensive they might seem to others. If that makes enemies out of some friends, then that’s too bad.

If you’re not making enemies, you’re not living life.

Presidential stupidity and the need for patriotic immigration reform

When I moved back to New York City as an adult in the late 1990s, the job that got me here was as an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Services. I worked at J.F.K. airport stamping passports and processing immigrants, refugees, tourists, celebrities, and anyone else that came through my line.

In some cases the job could be very humbling and inspiring. For a short time I worked at the federal building in downtown Manhattan interviewing refugees and asylees who were applying for green cards. I met people who would rather be fry cooks in America than engineers in their native country. I met a woman who had seen her family murdered, a man who did time in jail for being gay, and young guy who faced prison time for simply protesting for his rights.

I also saw first-hand how our system is completely broken and is largely not at all in keeping with the traditions of what we consider our great American heritage of immigration. Our immigration laws and policies are a patchwork of corporate influence and ethnic lobbying. There is no comprehensive consideration of the national interest in how immigration is handled in the U.S. and it’s been that way for decades.

In New York City, you know something crazy is going on when people are voluntarily going to JFK Airport when they don’t have to. This past weekend thousands of people flocked there to protest the detention of a handful of travelers by order of a hastily drawn up Presidential executive order travel ban that affected a handful of Muslim-majority countries.

Travel bans like the one issued are done at times when there is a potential immediate terrorist threat. Others that have been cited have been President Carter’s restriction on Iranian travel during the hostage crisis at the time and President Obama’s temporary ban on processing Iraqi refugees in 2011. But those were limited and in response to events happening at the time. There aren’t corresponding crises that would equate to the recent Trump travel ban.

President Trump’s ham-handed executive order is like everything else he has done: a dramatic show without any planning or thought and with no understanding of the issues. He managed to make life difficult for those border and airport inspectors on the front lines of our national defense and energize the opposition. He’s helped open-border advocates position their agenda as more mainstream than it is.

Trump won the election based largely on the strength of his opposition to illegal immigration and within the first week of his administration he’s undermined his greatest political asset.

And the biggest tragedy is that now real patriotic immigration reform is going to be even more difficult to achieve, because any attempt to enact a common-sense agenda is going to be linked to Trump’s bone-headed travel ban.

This weekend’s move also hurt the fight against Islamic terrorism. Keep in mind that our best allies in the fight against Muslim extremists are Muslims from those afflicted countries. Trump’s attempt at a show-business presidency punishes some of the people who worked alongside our military in Iraq and Afghanistan, truly deserving refugees that risked their lives for our servicemen and women.

The decay of our immigration system began in 1965 and it’s had more than 50 years to morph into the mess it is today. It will take years to pass the laws needed to make sensible immigration policy stick. If Donald Trump is serious about really making a lasting change, he would stop his senseless showboating and start drafting legislation with Congressional leaders. That would require time away from TV cameras and social media. That requires real work. Start now!

A Dog That Didn’t Hunt This Time

The most deplorable thing about the general election was the awful choices voters were handed. The wife of a former President and a shady real estate mogul best known for hosting a reality television show? There was no way the outcome could be anything less than embarrassing. Each candidate deserved to lose.

There’s not much negative about Donald Trump that he didn’t say himself. He refused to even read the news during his campaign, brushing aside the pleas of his staff that he prepare for debates or learn about the world he was asking to lead. He’s arrogant and vulgar and his life is a monument to bad taste and delusions of grandeur. He’s been wrong about almost everything. But he was right on illegal immigration and crime and America is so desperate for people to speak at least partially honestly on controversial topics that this paid big dividends at the polls.

Hillary Clinton is an intelligent person with political skills and a mastery of the law and public policy. While there’s no doubt she got to where she was in large part because she is a former first lady, she’d be a formidable candidate and no question the most qualified by experience on the ballot. No one doubted her intelligence or her skill. But her career has been marred by repeated short-sighted judgements based almost solely on political calculation. In the end Hillary Clinton outsmarted herself.

The Clinton campaign followed the conventional wisdom of American politics that says accusations of racism is the Kryptonite of Republican candidates. Anyone so shamed with that scarlet ‘R’ is supposed to meekly apologize for whatever infraction they’ve committed, and sulk off to political purgatory. Trump threw that political calculus out the window and if fortune smiles upon our republic it will be his enduring legacy.

Trump set the stage early with his stand against illegal immigration. It was considered radical and extreme because he delivered a speech with his usual bombast. But the Democrats’ year-long overreaction to Trump’s stand against illegal immigration was their biggest gift to him.

You can’t solve a problem by pretending it doesn’t exist or trying to demonize those who want to fix it, even if your opponent is an ignorant blowhard. Illegal immigration on the scale we have now suppresses wages, brings criminal aliens into the country, poses serious public health risks, and often places unfair burdens on state and local governments forced to provide higher levels of service for populations that pay little or no taxes. You would have to be a reclusive millionaire not to see first-hand some of the negative effects unchecked immigration has had on our country. Somehow the view from Trump Tower was better than that from Chappaqua.

[N.B.: The idea of building a wall to solve the immigration problem shows just how clueless Trump is. Many if not most illegal immigrants enter the U.S. legally and then overstay their visas and Mexican cartels have shown themselves extremely adept at digging tunnels.]

Instead of serious policy solutions to issues of immigration and crime, Democrats delivered pompous moral lectures and in doing so they helped hand the election to Donald Trump. While it was impossible to cast a vote for either candidate, it was fun watching the premature Clinton victory celebration dissolve into a weepy pity party.

But what Trump supporters will soon realize is that they’ve been sold a false bill of goods. Trump is no real populist, and he’s aligned himself with religious conservatives hostile to science. It’s good to no longer ignore realities that were verboten in American political discourse, but Trump has never been interested in helping working-class Americans before. He’s a snake oil salesman. His willingness to speak a few harsh truths somehow overshadowed his bulwark of lies and empty boasts.

But the game has been changed in at least one positive way: The valid concerns of working-class Americans can no longer be shunted to the nether regions of the Internet by smearing them as “racist.” That’s the silver lining of Trump’s victory; it may be the only one.

Political enemies make the best friends

There is a popular meme being widely shared on social media. It depicts several of current crop of presidential candidates and says, “If you are voting for any of these candidates, please unfriend me now …. Just kidding. I’m not twelve.”

It’s a funny meme and one people ought to take to heart. I learned long ago that political views and personalities are not one and the same. Just because someone agrees with you on political philosophy and public policy doesn’t mean they are agreeable people are even good people. You will find that you will completely loathe some of your own allies more than your sworn enemies. A person’s personality is not dictated by their politics.

Some of my most productive and pleasant conversations have been with people on the extremes, the outside of what is considered proper or viable political discourse. These people could speak honestly with me because they had nothing to lose. They didn’t have to put on airs to convince themselves or the world around them who they were. Their outlier status bestowed on them an easy confidence that meant they didn’t have to prove who they were or make a dramatic demonstration to establish their identity at every turn.

I have friends who span the political spectrum from far left to far right. Some of my friends would be horrified that I’m friends with communists, cops, Black Lives Matter protesters, white nationalists, transgender activists, Republicans, Democrats, Green Party activists, Libertarians, and more. I’m friends with active duty military members as well as pacifists, anti-war demonstrators as well as veterans (and some of the most fervent anti-war people I know are veterans).

I didn’t set out to cultivate friendships from every political persuasion, it just happened that way. I’ve met lots of interesting people from all walks of life. I value the friendships I’ve made along the way even though I will always disagree with many of my friends on the important issues of the day. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I don’t want to live in a world where everyone agrees with me. That would be a strange place and no fun at all. Life is better when your ideas are challenged and you are exposed to ideas on all sides. Many of the opinion writers I read are people I rarely agree with but their arguments are so well written I can’t resist. Also, how will you learn to defend your ideas unless they are challenged by worthy adversaries?

Also, human beings are complex, many-sided beings. The person who may be very conservative on one issue may be very liberal on another. No one worth knowing is a completely blank slate of ideological talking points. No one with a sound intellect can be pigeon-holed into a stereotypical ideological bracket on every matter.

There’s nothing wrong with despising someone’s ideas or speaking your mind when it’s appropriate. But trying to pick and choose your friends by an ideological litmus test will lead you to quickly paint yourself into a corner.

My cool Vermin Supreme story

As our American political discourse slides further into the gutter with every new televised debate, it may be worthwhile noting that there are some who saw the satire in our politics decades ahead of time. One such person is Vermin Supreme.

Vermin Supreme, you may know, is a perennial presidential candidate who wears a boot on his head and promises everyone a pony. He’s attempted to turn religious conservative candidates gay by pouring glitter on them and promise to fully fund time travel research.

It was 1992 and as the Democratic primary continued to go on then-Governor Bill Clinton’s only real competition after the early primaries was former California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown was the Bernie Sanders of his day, a more liberal alternative to the establishment favorite who captured the enthusiasm of the younger, more activist wing of the Democratic Party. He swore off corporate donations and set limits on what individuals could donate through a 1-800 number (this was in the days before widespread Internet.)

At any rate, that spring before the New York and Connecticut primaries, Jerry Brown had a rally at the University of Connecticut. This was during my freshman year there. I was a columnist for UConn’s Daily Campus and since I showed up there with a notebook, the campaign staff waved me ahead to the press section where I sat among more serious and established members of the media.

Brown’s rally was at the large theater on campus. The event was well attended and the crowd was enthusiastic. When it was over, I hung out with the rest of the media contingent, most of whom were bored by the whole thing (“Once you’ve seen the candidate’s speech you’ve seen them all,” I overheard one say.) Jerry Brown answered some questions before being whisked over to do a live interview with the local news.

As I watched Brown do the TV interview in the auditorium that was now mostly empty, I noticed a strange figure head down a side aisle unnoticed. He was dressed in a coat made of fur pelts and he had a large boot on his head. He continued walking down the aisle until I lost sight of him. As Gov. Brown wrapped up his interview and hurry away to his next campaign event, I heard a voice amplified by a speaker or bullhorn call out to him.

“JERRY! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THE WEATHER?!? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THE WEATHER, JERRY?!?”

Brown looked over in the direction the voice was coming from but didn’t break stride as he exited the building with a gaggle of campaign staff.

As I stood there I spotted this same strange figure coming back up the aisle. He and I made eye contact and he stopped to address me.

“Another candidate avoiding a question about the weather,” he said, shaking his head. He moved on and I had had the strangest political campaign experience ever.

Years later I saw Vermin Supreme on television and was glad that he hadn’t lost the boot on his head and that he was still engaging in the kind of absurd spectacle that has sadly seemed downright dignified compared with some of our discourse today.

I hope Sid Yiddish seriously considers him for his running mate.

We have had too much God in America

In James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the novel’s protagonist Stephen Dedalus is listening to an argument his father and aunt Dante are having with a Mr. Casey about the place of the clergy in Irish society. The talk was prompted by the scandal surrounding Charles Stuart Parnell, an Irish nationalist leader who was condemned by the Catholic Church. This condemnation set back the movement for Irish independence considerably.

—God and religion before everything! Dante cried. God and religion before the world!

Mr. Casey raised his clenched fist and brought it down on the table with a crash.

—Very well then, he shouted hoarsely, if it comes to that, no God for Ireland!

The passage came to mind as Pope Francis, traveling in Mexico, commented that political leaders who wanted to build barriers to illegal immigration were not truly Christian. He was referencing Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican Party’s nomination for president, who has made opposition to illegal immigration a central part of his campaign.

Who are we to argue what is Christian with the Pope? We’ll take him at his word: building walls instead of bridges is not the Christian thing to do. Trump is a big phony and a blowhard who is not a good Christian. Sure thing, Francis.

Let’s not jump on the Trump bandwagon, but let’s also be fine with giving Christianity the boot in the ass out of public life that it richly deserves.  Let’s be absolutely fine with America not doing the Christian thing; we’ll be a better and stronger country for it.

Building a society around a holy book isn’t a recipe for success. And like many other religious documents, the Gospel of Christ is full of a lot of very bad ideas. Loving your enemies is masochistic. Turning the other cheek only gets you hit twice. The current Pope comes from the Kumbaya school of Christianity that holds that if we all just love everyone enough, we can create a just and peaceful world. Christianity has (in theory at least) been trying this for more than 2,000 years, I think it’s safe to say it doesn’t work.

Where are the secular social-justice warriors telling the Pope to butt out of our national debate on immigration and sovereignty? Where are all the self-proclaimed “male feminists” objecting to the import of thousands of the unenlightened?

The Christians who are promising love and world peace are just as delusional and self-righteous as the ones threatening fire and brimstone. Both camps will gladly lead us to ruin, if not by the Christian right’s aversion to science and obsession with gays and abortion then by the Christian left’s naïvely embracing those who would destroy us.

Donald Trump is a fraud and a buffoon, and he’s not the answer to our national question. But for all Trump’s idiocy, his campaign understands this simple fact: if you don’t have real borders, you don’t have a real country.

We cannot solve the world’s problems by inviting people from all corners of the world to come live with us. There are other ways to help that won’t harm our country. Any charitable efforts ought to be tempered with a measure of rational self-interest.

Our well-meaning religious friends think that they are doing God’s work and that the magic of their good intentions will somehow turn bad people good and make everything OK. I wish them luck with that, but these beliefs are not a basis for a responsible immigration policy. As a country we need to be the adult in the room.

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