Tag: government

The Norway Advantage

June 17, 2010 | By | Reply More
The Norway Advantage

My 19-year old Norwegian niece (“Katja”) just left town after visiting my family for four days. We had the opportunity to have several long conversations with her comparing Norway to the United States. I’m not going to suggest that Norway is perfect, but when you read the following list, it might make you wonder why the United States can’t get its act together to be at least somewhat more like Norway. Here’s what Norway offers to its citizens:

– Single-payer healthcare (“The only requirement for receiving healthcare in Norway is that one be alive.”)

– Free schooling at the grade school and high school level. In fact free schooling at the university level as well. Competition can be fierce for getting into particular schools at the University level (my niece is keeping her fingers crossed that she gets into law school this fall), but anyone who can do the school work is allowed to go to school.

– The average Norwegian has five weeks of vacation every year.

– Generous maternity and paternity leave, with pay. Further, many businesses offer high-quality child care for their workers. The government offers subsidized child care.

– A generous social security system

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Federal Court rules that the “National Day of Prayer” violates the First Amendment Establishment Clause

April 16, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Federal Court rules that the “National Day of Prayer” violates the First Amendment Establishment Clause

Yesterday, I received an email from the Center For Inquiry indicating that, in 2008, Freedom From Religion Foundation had filed a lawsuit (Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc v. Obama) to prevent the federal government from declaring a “National Day of Prayer.” The U.S. District Court, Judge Barbara B. Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin, struck down 36 U.S.C. §119, which establishes a yearly National Day of Prayer. Here’s the text of the statute:

The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.

As discussed in the Court’s Opinion, the National Day of Prayer was established in part, due to the efforts of Reverend Billy Graham in 1952. One of Graham’s speeches included the following:

We have dropped our pilot, the Lord Jesus Christ, and are sailing blindly on without divine chart or compass, hoping somehow to find our desired haven. We have certain leaders who are rank materialists; they do not recognize God nor care for Him; they spend their time in one round of parties after another. The Capital City of our Nation can have a great spiritual awakening, thousands coming to Jesus Christ, but certain leaders have not lifted an eyebrow, nor raised a finger, nor showed the slightest bit of concern. Ladies and gentlemen, I warn you, if this state of affairs continues, the end of the course is national shipwreck and ruin.

Congress then took the reins, lead by [appropriately named] Representative Percy Priest, who introduced a bill to establish a National Day of Prayer. Here is the Court’s description:

In addressing the House of Representatives, he noted that the country had been “challenged yesterday by the suggestion made on the east steps of the Capitol by Billy Graham that the Congress call on the President for the proclamation of a day of prayer.” In support of the bill, Representative Brooks stated that “the national interest would be much better served if we turn aside for a full day of prayer for spiritual help and guidance from the Almighty during these troublous times. I hope that all denominations, Catholics, Jewish and Protestants, will join us in this day of prayer.” Representative Peter W. Rodino, Jr., stated that “it is fitting and timely that the people of America, in approaching the Easter season, as God-fearing men and women, devote themselves to a day of prayer in the interest of peace.”

[The Court added a footnote: “This part of the report is not accurate. 1 Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 787(1983) (“[P]rayers were not offered during the Constitutional Convention.”]

I downloaded the entire ruling from the federal district court in pdf format and I’m making it available here.

The Plaintiff argued that Plaintiff the statute is unconstitutional “because it endorses prayer and encourages citizens to engage in that particular religious exercise.”

[More . . . ]

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The rot at the center

February 28, 2010 | By | Reply More
The rot at the center

Robert Reich has noticed how the democratic base is demoralized. Who is to blame?

A growing portion of the public, fed by the right, blames our problems on “big government.” Much of the reason for the Democrats’ astonishing reluctance to place blame where it belongs rests with big business’s and Wall Street’s generous flows of campaign donations to Democrats, coupled with their implicit promise of high-paying jobs once Democratic officials retire from government. This is the rot at the center of the system. And unless or until it’s remedied, it will be difficult for the President to achieve any “change you can believe in.

And if you are looking for America by the numbers, you’ll find the sad up to date statistics right here, in this Alternet post by David DeGraw.

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Exhibit A regarding Congressional dysfunction

February 7, 2010 | By | Reply More
Exhibit A regarding Congressional dysfunction

How is it that one senator can stifle government function? Tim Rutten of the LA Times explains:

In the face of these daunting issues, what was it that preoccupied the Senate on the eve of its long weekend recess? The legislative drama du jour is the standoff between the White House and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), who has put a personal hold on more than 70 executive branch appointments until the Obama administration agrees to fund a couple of pork-barrel projects he has earmarked for his state. One involves tens of millions of dollars for an FBI laboratory focusing on improvised explosives — something the bureau doesn’t think it needs. . . . Unless the administration agrees to give Shelby what he wants, he intends to invoke an archaic senatorial privilege that allows him to prevent the chamber from considering any of the administration’s nominees to executive branch vacancies, no matter how crucial. Without the 60 votes to force cloture — another archaic convention — there’s nothing the Democrats or the White House can do.

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Somalia as a libertarian paradise?

September 6, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Somalia as a libertarian paradise?

Believe it or not, some are claiming that Somalia is doing alright without any elected government, thank you. Somalian have access to fairly good cell phone service and one can hire private bodyguards. Prevalence of AIDS is extremely low compared to many other African countries (though many attribute this to strict Muslim practices regarding sexuality).

As this same article points out, however, things are going so “well” that the Somali 2004 presidential election had to be held in Kenya. Consider, also, the BBC’s 2009 country profile of Somalia:

Somalia has been without an effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. Fighting between rival warlords and an inability to deal with famine and disease led to the deaths of up to one million people . . . [Somalia is the] scene of arguably Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis: a third of the population is dependent on food aid . . . No effective government since 1991.

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Spotting fake libertarians

August 30, 2009 | By | 10 Replies More
Spotting fake libertarians

Darksyde at Daily Kos presents 10 clues for spotting fake libertarians (Republicans). Here’s one of the clues–you are a fake libertarian:

[I]f you think government should stay the hell out of people’s private business — except when kidnapping citizens and rendering them to secret overseas torture prisons, snooping around the bedrooms of consenting adults, policing a woman’s uterus, or conducting warrantless wire taps, you are no Libertarian.

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Government-Hating: An American Value

August 27, 2009 | By | 6 Replies More
Government-Hating: An American Value

G.O.P. Chairman Michael Steele made a few remarkably in-your-face comments recently about the health care debate. Here, in his own words, is pretty much where he thinks the nation is going, why it shouldn’t go there, and what the Republican Party stands for.

This morning on NPR he tangled with Steve Inskeep, in particular over this.

One quote in particular caught my eye: ” Simply put, we believe that health-care reform must be centered on patients, not government.”

When you listen to the NPR interview it’s clear that we’re hearing another in the now decades-long tirades against the government which has become the hallmark of Right Wing politics in this country.

In this country, in theory, the government is supposed to be us, the people. We elect our representatives, we tell them how we want them to vote, we change our minds, we are supposed to be in charge. In theory. Obviously, the reality is far from that. For one, we are not a full-fledged democracy, we are a republic, and while we elect those who operate the machinery of the republic on our behalf, we do not have a direct say in the running. Nor could we, really. it is simply too complex. We send our representatives to the various points of departure—state capitols, Washington D.C., county seats, city halls—to do that for us because it is a big, complex, often indecipherable melange of conflicting goals, viewpoints, and problems. We do not have the time to pay the necessary attention to do that work ourselves, so we pay people to do it for us.

So why do we distrust it so much?

Well, because we distrust each other.

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George Lakoff offers some framing tips to the Democrats re health care reform

August 20, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More
George Lakoff offers some framing tips to the Democrats re health care reform

Linguist George Lakoff is asking how a man who did such a marvelous job campaigning for President has stumbled so often on the issue of health care. Lakoff thus wrote an article offering some a list of language/framing advice to the Democrats. Here’s the foundational concept:

The list of what needs reform makes sense under one conceptual umbrella. It is a public alternative that unifies the long list of needed reforms: coverage for the uninsured, cost control, no preconditions, no denial of care, keeping care when you change jobs or get sick, equal treatment for women, exorbitant deductibles, no lifetime caps, and on and on. It’s a long list. But one idea, properly articulated, takes care of the list: An American Plan guarantees affordable care for all Americans. Simple. But not for policy wonks.

The policymakers focus on the list, not the unifying idea. So, Obama’s and Axelrod’s statements last Sunday were just the lists without the unifying institution. And without a powerful institution, the insurance companies will just whittle away at enforcement of any such list, and a future Republican administration will just get rid of the regulators, reassigning them or eliminating their jobs.

According to Lakoff, Obama needs to break out of his wonkish way of talking about health care. He is mistakenly operating on the principle of “policy speak”:

If you just tell people the policy facts, they will reason to the right conclusion and support the policy wholeheartedly.

Lakoff argues that “policy speak” is a big mistake. Mere facts don’t win arguments. Rather, the facts need to make sense to people, resonate with them and inspire them to act. Here’s Lakoff’s version of what should be Obama’s basic message:

Insurance company plans have failed to care for our people. They profit from denying care. Americans care about one another. An American plan is both the moral and practical alternative to provide care for our people.

The insurance companies are doing their worst, spreading lies in an attempt to maintain their profits and keep Americans from getting the care they so desperately need. You, our citizens, must be the heroes. Stand up, and speak up, for an American plan.

Lakoff has lots of specifics. For instance, remind Americans that health care is a patriotic duty. Highlight the phrase “doctor-patient care.” Deny that the insurance companies care; rather, they clearly communicate that insurance companies make money by depriving us of care. Hammer the phrase “insurance company bureaucrats.” Tell Americans that their health care premiums are “private taxes” levied by insurers. Remind Americans that health insurers “govern our lives.” Talk about the “failure” of insurance companies. The “villainizing of real insurance company villains should have begun from the beginning.

George Lakoff is asking how a man who did such a marvelous job campaigning for President has stumbled so often on the issue of health care. Lakoff thus wrote an article offering some a list of language/framing advice to the Democrats. Here’s the foundational concept:

The list of what needs reform makes sense under one conceptual umbrella. It is a public alternative that unifies the long list of needed reforms: coverage for the uninsured, cost control, no preconditions, no denial of care, keeping care when you change jobs or get sick, equal treatment for women, exorbitant deductibles, no lifetime caps, and on and on. It’s a long list. But one idea, properly articulated, takes care of the list: An American Plan guarantees affordable care for all Americans. Simple. But not for policy wonks.

The policymakers focus on the list, not the unifying idea. So, Obama’s and Axelrod’s statements last Sunday were just the lists without the unifying institution. And without a powerful institution, the insurance companies will just whittle away at enforcement of any such list, and a future Republican administration will just get rid of the regulators, reassigning them or eliminating their jobs.

According to Lakoff, Obama needs to break out of his wonkish way of talking about health care. He is mistakenly operating on the principle of “policy speak”:

If you just tell people the policy facts, they will reason to the right conclusion and support the policy wholeheartedly.

Lakoff argues that “policy speak” is a big mistake. Mere facts don’t win arguments. Rather, the facts need to make sense to people, resonate with them and inspire them to act. Here’s Lakoff’s version of what should be Obama’s basic message:

Insurance company plans have failed to care for our people. They profit from denying care. Americans care about one another. An American plan is both the moral and practical alternative to provide care for our people.

The insurance companies are doing their worst, spreading lies in an attempt to maintain their profits and keep Americans from getting the care they so desperately need. You, our citizens, must be the heroes. Stand up, and speak up, for an American plan.

Lakoff has lots of specifics. For instance, remind Americans that health care is a patriotic duty. Highlight the phrase “doctor-patient care.” Deny that the insurance companies care; rather, they clearly communicate that insurance companies make money by depriving us of care. Hammer the phrase “insurance company bureaucrats.” Tell Americans that their health care premiums are “private taxes” levied by insurers. Remind Americans that health insurers “govern our lives.” Talk about the “failure” of insurance companies. The “villainizing of real insurance company villains should have begun from the beginning.

I recommend reading Lakoff’s entire article, which is detailed, and thoughtful.”

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Twilight of Reaganism?

June 29, 2009 | By | Reply More
Twilight of Reaganism?

From a friend of mine:

You know how every once in a while you come across a piece of writing that is spot-on, so much so that you sit back and think, “Wow, that really captures it well.” This just happened to me in reading Halberstam’s book, War In A Time Of Peace (2001). Here’s the quote:

“(In 1992) Ed Rollins, the former Reagan political consultant, had an epiphany about how dramatically American culture had changed in the twelve years since Reagan’s first election. Driven by various technological, social, and economic forces, that change was now being seen in American politics. Reagan, Rollins believed had been the final political reflection of the popular culture of his time, derived primarily from the movies of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Gary Cooper days when the American self-image called for one lonely man to stand up and do the right thing, whether it was popular or not. That self-image during the Cold War was comforting; it might not be true, but as they used to say in the west, when there was any difference between the truth and the legend, print the legend. Clinton, by contrast, was the political extension of a new popular culture, the age of empathy television, symbolized by Oprah Winfrey, the need to feel better about yourself in a difficult, emotionally volatile world where the greatest daily threat was posed not so much by the nuclear warheads of a foreign power, or by severe economic hardship, but by the inner demons produced by an unhappy childhood” (p. 108)

Reading this quote brought to mind George Lakoff’s two basic ways of portraying government which, in both cases, is metaphorically conceived as a family. Conservatives see government as run by a strict father figure while Progressives tend to see government a nurturing parent. Here’s a excerpt from Wikipedia:

Lakoff argues that the differences in opinions between liberals and conservatives follow from the fact that they subscribe with different strength to two different metaphors about the relationship of the state to its citizens. Both, he claims, see governance through metaphors of the family. Conservatives would subscribe more strongly and more often to a model that he calls the “strict father model” and has a family structured around a strong, dominant “father” (government), and assumes that the “children” (citizens) need to be disciplined to be made into responsible “adults” (morality, self-financing). Once the “children” are “adults”, though, the “father” should not interfere with their lives: the government should stay out of the business of those in society who have proved their responsibility. In contrast, Lakoff argues that liberals place more support in a model of the family, which he calls the “nurturant parent model”, based on “nurturant values”, where both “mothers” and “fathers” work to keep the essentially good “children” away from “corrupting influences” (pollution, social injustice, poverty, etc.). Lakoff says that most people have a blend of both metaphors applied at different times . . .

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