Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Day Like No Other, a Birth Like No Other

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, December 24, 2009

Every other week, as my brother and I consider the many issues that divide us, we usually have several to choose from. Ultimately, one or the other of us will graciously accept the choice of the other and we then proceed to research and opine.
However, this week and this day we decided to “pull in the claws” and deliver a column upon which we both can agree – the season of Christmas.

There can be no denying that this special day is like no other on our calendar. Each year we lament the fact that commercial interests push the envelope of propriety and sanctity further and further out of shape, yet each year we submit to the pull and follow along, if not willingly, at least without much protest. The familiar songs and images greet us in every storefront and the advertisements that interrupt our TV viewing compel us to join in the annual charade.

Why do we get caught up in the flow of house-decorating, gift-giving, card-sending, goody-baking, family-greeting and party-making every year?

Why is this day and this season so special?

The history of mankind reveals our love for, and need for, tradition and ritual. I am sure that is one reason why this day grabs us no matter how hard we may try to resist. But biological or sociological needs tend to only draw us so far. There has to be another reason, a greater pull, a deeper calling that causes us to put up with the struggles of: untangling coils of lights in the bitter cold, finding the perfect gift, addressing and mailing cards to people we neglect 51 weeks out of 52, sweating over countertops and ovens as we cook and bake ourselves into sugar-highs, arranging and squeezing family get-togethers and parties onto calendars and day planners, etc. etc.

I suggest that this day is so very special only because the birth it represents was so special. The incarnation of the Supreme One may or may not have actually occurred upon the 25th day of December. I am not qualified to argue for its validity as the actual date of Christ’s birth – but I am qualified to discuss what I believe.

I believe that His birth changed our world forever, and no matter how commercial the season becomes, He will always outshine the synthetic glitter. There is a soft, still voice that whispers just beneath the clamor and it speaks volumes. It speaks of a Creator who became confined within his creation to redeem a rebellious creature.

I believe this small voice first broke the musty silence of a stable in Bethlehem in the form a baby’s whimper. Now, that voice speaks through the actions of those who reach out toward the less fortunate with gifts of mercy. It is that voice that comes through the sound of pocket change falling into a red kettle.

I believe our political and ideological differences melt away to insignificance as we get caught up in the spirit of this season. The message proclaimed on that Bethlehem hillside of “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward all men” is being repeated today too, as we send the cards and wrap the gifts. It is impossible for us to imagine a time when there will ever be Peace on Earth throughout our whole planet, but each year we should do our part to bring peace and good will to at least a small portion of it.
It is in that hope that I extend my hand to Keith and all our faithful readers. Let us forget our differences and share in the common belief that we are all God’s creatures and, for one day, at least, we are all speaking in one voice.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Christmas Wishes

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, December 24, 2009

The holiday season is a special time of the year. My fondest memories as a child centered around gatherings of family and the returning home of my older siblings during the yuletide season. As an adult, despite the guilt and anxiety of the financial stresses of this commercialized time, I find the spirit irresistible as my own family congregates for Christmas Eve services, dinners and other festivities.

Every year, it gets harder to deny the uniqueness of the holidays and not just because seasonal commercials and ad fliers now start appearing on the scene in mid-October. During the last couple of weeks nearly everyone I encounter in businesses and stores has a smile to offer and a kind word. Salvation Army kettles fill with change and bills, even as a depressed economy leaves most of our friends and neighbors with fewer dollars in their wallets. Blood banks and soup kitchens find more participation and donations of time and resources.

However, I can’t simply attribute the power and spirit of the holidays to a Christian ideal. One must accept that the celebration of non-Christians during this season is as legitimate as those who celebrate Jesus’ birth. Devout Jews honor the sacred traditions of Hanukkah with every bit as much zeal as is evidenced in the carols and candle lighting of Christmas. Atheists even embrace the season despite the elements of Christendom.

In fact, the traditions of Christmas not only transcend Christianity, they have their origins in paganism. The yuletide was an observance of the winter festival of Germanic peoples. Customs such as caroling and trimming of trees come from these celebrations.

Still, there is a sense of miracle and magic that one can scarcely debate. Given this time of wonder, it seems natural to believe that our most ambitious wishes might come true. I would like to allow a glimpse at my Christmas list. Miracles and magic allow optimism to be limitless so my wishes aim high.

Since the season is a time for cheer, I have a couple desires on the lighter side. First, I wish for former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and TV and Radio personality Glenn Beck to announce bids for the 2012 Republican nomination. That would be a gift that would keep giving right through the primary debates.

Secondly, I wish for Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman to either adopt a Republican Party affiliation or step down from his position. I would rather see Democrats lose a vote to the other side of the aisle than continue to court someone who is trying to strip all that is meaningful from any legislation intended to bring change.

I wish for some important issues to be addressed as well.

I wish for politics to be removed from policy regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Policy-makers should examine the merits of these missions, and a responsible withdrawal from a futile occupation should be perceived as wisdom and not weakness.

I wish for financial and economic systems in the United States to be assessed honestly. We need to stop clinging to a false idealism of capitalism and stop rejecting progressive ideals out of fear of words like “socialism”, which have become perverted by years of abuse and misinformation.

I wish for the current health care plan in Congress to be thrown out. A new bill with a simpler solution should take its place. Medicare should be expanded to cover all who choose it. Private insurance companies should be limited in the influence of their lobby in Washington and should not be exempted from regulation or anti-trust laws. This would lower the cost of health care coverage and free up resources to help rid the Medicare system of waste and corruption.

In this season of peace, love and hope, there is room for optimism. One can wish for goodwill to all. One can wish for commonality among the divisiveness that plagues discourse. One can wish for peace on Earth. One can still believe in the miracle and magic of the season.

Obama’s Afghanistan Strategy

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, December 10, 2009

On Tuesday, December 1, President Barack Obama gave a primetime speech to the American public outlining his strategy going forward in the war in Afghanistan.

The thrust of the plan is a three-pronged approach intended to bring a successful end to our involvement there. The components were a commitment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to stabilize the region; a civilian effort to provide security; and a partnership with Pakistan to combat the threat of terror in the border region.

While the address given before cadets at West Point Military Academy was far from Obama’s most eloquent and effective oration, I felt he presented a well-structured argument for an escalation of troops and a change of strategies with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He dismissed criticisms from those who felt he took too much time to deliberate something as simple as dispatching young men and women into harm’s way, by discussing the weight of the decision and the fact that none of the existing requests called for action sooner than this near-immediate surge. He answered other critics who think we should remain in open-ended occupation there, by determining a timetable and exit strategy, something antithetical to the previous administration’s stay-the-course approach.

I found myself taking a hard look at my own opinions on Afghanistan. I have always recognized that the attacks of 9/11 were orchestrated from strongholds in the region, and one of my greatest criticisms of the Bush administration was that it missed opportunities to capture al Qaeda leadership there because of a preoccupation with engaging in a war of choice in Iraq. So, when Obama spoke of the threat to national security that a strengthening al Qaeda would be, I couldn’t help but agree.

The president also spoke of the decline in conditions and the growing danger to Afghans and to our troops. I have to agree again. I see the growing dangers and I know that his mention of the problem reflects the assessments of the commander on the ground General Stanley McChrystal; ambassadors, and other experts. I accept that the security of our forces is – and should be – of primary concern to their commander in chief. I support any efforts to ensure that security.

That said, I found much of Obama’s announcement troubling. There is a tendency within mass media, and even with policy-makers, to oversimplify the situation. An outcry was spun into a frenzy by pundits who posited that Obama’s refusal to commit troops immediately upon McChrystal’s request was a sign of weakness. To me this deliberation signaled an understanding by the president that Afghanistan was a complex problem. The country is embroiled in a long civil war. Tribal conflicts beset the region. Corruption is rampant and hinders the function of government and civil bodies.

Furthermore, Obama’s description of that government was less than promising. While he admitted that the recent re-election of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was marred by corruption, he claimed that the Karzai government was “consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.” I would have felt more confident about support of an election that represented the will of the Afghan people. Unfortunately, the common mistrust among Afghanis of their governing powers is only exacerbated by our long-term presence there.

My apprehension about further commitment to this mission is echoed by many others. Former U.S. State Department representative to Zabul Province Matthew Hoh resigned in September from that position in protest stating that he failed “to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties and expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war.” Likewise Congressman Eric Massa of New York’s 29th district has been vocal in his opposition to expanding the troop levels in Afghanistan. Among his reasons, he lists the enormous cost of the war at a time when our national treasury is strapped with debt and other commitments.

The economic cost of this war has become a focus of attention even within Congress. The Pentagon’s comptroller’s office submitted a recent report to congressional leaders in order to justify figures the administration has been using to valuate the proposed Afghanistan strategy. An estimated cost of $1 billion per 1,000 has been used to come up with the $30 billion Obama said would be spent in the next twelve months. As justification of part of that expenditure the Pentagon released the fact that a gallon of gasoline used to power vehicles and aircraft in the region costs an alarming $400. The details of the process of transporting fuel to the field (which contributes to this cost, are outlined in an October 15 article from The Hill) culminate in a figure known as the “fully burdened cost.” According to some analysts the fully burdened cost of fuel can be as high as $1,000 per gallon. The human toll of this war is alarming enough. The financial price tag in the midst of our crippled economy is staggering.

I look at my daughters, aged 19 and 21, and I realize the enormous price sending 30,000 American sons and daughters (the majority of them similar in ages). Then I look at the complexity of the situation and the near futility of the stated mission. Then I look at the double standard many employ with their support of committing human and financial resources to this war, while complaining about the tax burden of providing affordable health care to U.S. citizens. With these factors in view, I cannot lend my support to Obama’s proposed strategy in Afghanistan.

Too busy being fabulous

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, December 10, 2009

“You were just too busy being fabulous…
Too busy to think about us”

-Don Henley & Glenn Frey

The above words come from the song: “Busy Being Fabulous” performed by The Eagles on their latest album, Long Road Out of Eden. It is sad to say that our brave men and women struggling against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan could rightfully sing that chorus to Barack Obama. While they watch their leader travel the globe and as they watched him campaign in state governor races, they could justifiably wonder if he was just too busy being fabulous to think about them.

Our president appointed General McChrystal to take the leading role in the conflict in Afghanistan, who called upon Obama to provide him with the additional troops to carry out his mission. That request was made over 90 days ago.

Now, I am sure his supporters will look at his indecision as “careful deliberation”, and they will claim that Haste makes waste. I suspect that many of our fighting men and women would quickly counter with the opposite proverb that states He who hesitates is lost. Hesitation on the battlefield is a deadly and costly attribute.

What has Obama’s hesitancy cost us? The recent months have seen a rise in U.S. and British casualties and a loss of confidence among our allies. Growing frustration with Obama’s indecisiveness has surfaced in the foreign news media outlets, as British and French leaders expressed concern that the lack of determined leadership will harm the overall mission.

“What is the goal? Where is the road? And in the name of what? Where are the Americans?” Mr. Kouchner, French Foreign Minister, is quoted as asking in The Daily Telegraph. His words echo the same apprehension that caused Bob Ainsworth, the British Defense Secretary, to criticize Obama publicly for a “lack of clear direction” which has made it difficult for ministers to maintain troop morale and public approval for the mission.

The cost of “being fabulous” cannot be measured when one considers that, had McChrystal’s measured request for more troops been honored more swiftly, one single soldier’s death could have been prevented. As commander in chief of the sole superpower of the world, Obama must be aware that his decisions – or lack thereof – have far-reaching ramifications.
I am not suggesting a shoot from the hip approach to these heavy, policy-forming resolutions. I am, however, advocating a rapid, reasoned response that demonstrates a prioritized determination that lives are imperiled by protracted procrastination.

Now that his decision has finally been made, we can make the following observations: First of all, we can see that he really had no choice but to at least send some of the reinforcements requested by McChrystal. After all, he had repeatedly claimed during his campaign that Afghanistan was the necessary war, not that he really believed it, but merely because he had to oppose the Iraqi liberation that Bush had directed.

I almost felt sympathy for Obama as I read his words. This was a speech made by a man who was made by politics and a hungry media. He lacked both the executive experience and the definitive leadership qualities that are necessary to lead a nation or a battalion into battle, much less into a full-fledged war. Therefore, he was confined to trying to please the conservatives who would criticize him for “dithering” or being too dove-like, while at the same time, he had to keep one foot wiggling in the tents of the left-wing by offering up a “cost-vs.-reward” paragraph and then throwing them the bone of a totally unrealistic and unattainable exit date.

His procrastination has cost him the luxury of setting a real exit date as well as a valid cost analysis. By losing those precious 90 days, we have pushed the actual deployment dates of the 30,000 troops to, at best, late 2010 and, most likely, early 2011. So, to have them arrive in early 2011 and leave by July 2011 is not feasible, and you could see that he knew it wasn’t when he said it.

I agree with the overall goal of dismantling Al Qaeda and the Taliban, because I recognize the threat they represent to liberty. And I agree with the need to involve Pakistan in our strategy. I do not agree, however, with the assumption that we can work with the Karzai administration in any realistic form of nation-building from a central seat of power. The nations of Afghanistan and Pakistan are both bound by centuries of tribal alliances and rivalries. It is a very complex situation, and it cannot be solved in 18 short months.

We must, I believe, limit our approach to destroying the Islamic extremists while leaving the political future of the region to the vagaries of their populace. We should not be seen as propping up one party or tribe or sect.

I did applaud Obama, however, for finally acknowledging that America was not all bad and that we had “underwritten global security for six decades” and he even went as far as admitting that we were responsible for bringing walls down, opening markets, lifting billions from poverty and advancing the frontiers of human liberty. Hopefully, we can add the destruction of Al Qaeda to that list.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Potpourri or Hodgepodge Stew

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, November 19, 2009

Rather than revisiting the Health Care issue again, I decided that it might be a better idea to offer a collection of various observations that have occupied the synapses of my feeble mind during the past couple weeks. It will be up to you to decide whether this collection is a potpourri of sagacious thoughts or a hodgepodge stew of misguided meditations. I only ask that you take the time to read them carefully and I invite you to respond with your assessment.

First of all, we must take some time to analyze the results of the election held on November 3. I found it very interesting as I switched from one cable anchor to the next, during the broadcasting of the returns from that night; the same anchors who gleefully told us the ’08 election was the dawning of a new era in American thinking, and that Obama represented an unstoppable force of political energy that would usher in a wave of progressive sociological change. Some even went as far as to say time would soon be divided into the years B.O. (Before Obama) and A.O. (After Obama).

This year, however, these same anchors fell into line with the White House’s assessment that: “There really is nothing to see here, people. Just move along, now.” Well, I’m sorry, but I do think there is something to see here. I see a heavy investment of time, money and political capital (whatever that is) into three key contests that did not go as planned by the reigning party. Obama visited New Jersey and Virginia several times and Biden somehow found his way to the New York 23rd District, yet for all that effort they lost both governorships and only garnered 49% of the votes in the liberal congressional district.

Despite the insistence of the White House that this means nothing and the combined negligence of the mainstream media, I think you must agree with me that when an unknown CPA with the personality of a wet Fig Newton is able to come within 4% of defeating a liberal Democrat in a liberal district even after the Republican candidate dropped out and put her support behind the Democrat, it means something! When Obama makes the case that he needed to have Democrat governors in Virginia and New Jersey to keep his progressive ideals going forward and the voters respond to his pleas with deaf ears, it means something!

What it means to me is that after all the hype and hope for change, many voters seem to be saying that Obama’s force is not unstoppable and the wave of progressive sociological change may be only a ripple in the stream.

Another observation of the past week came to me as I watched our Attorney General tell the assembled reporters that he has decided to bring the terrorists who orchestrated the destruction of 9/11/01 back to the shores of New York City for a civilian trial. This was very disturbing to me as I considered all the ramifications of this decision. This could very easily become less a trial of the guilt or innocence of these vermin and more of a re-trial of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policy.

It serves no judicial or moral purpose to bring these creatures into a civilian court. It merely serves the political purpose of revisiting the successful campaign of Obama being the anti-Bush. The best case scenario given by most experts is that this trial would last months or possibly years as civilian lawyers hash and re-hash the interrogation techniques used by our CIA agents. There is also the real possibility this trial would invite another deadly terrorist attack upon NYC. Yet, this justice department assumes those risks to be worth the price if they can once again draw the line of difference between Obama and Bush.

Finally, I observed with pride the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. It was such a remarkable feeling to watch the film of those people who took down that barrier to freedom with screwdrivers, chunks of rock and bare hands. It made me aware, once again, of how blessed I am to live in this nation. It was the same feeling I had as I watched those Iraqi citizens holding up their purple fingers. Despite the many faults in our past, (and if you don’t know what those faults are, just ask Obama) one cannot dispute the fact that those purple fingers and that crumbled wall would not have been possible without the decisive actions of Reagan and Bush.

So, there you have it - my potpourri of jumbled thoughts, I welcome you to send me yours.

Searching for Meaning

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, November 19, 2009

It has been two weeks since the last edition of “All in the Family” and a few events of note have occurred politically and otherwise over that short span.

As humans we are meaning-makers. We strive in every aspect of our life to connect effects to causes. It is a natural predisposition to attempt to assign grand meaning and purpose to everything that occurs. Media and journalists are not only party to that same disposition, they often are the sources that many seek out when looking for the deeper meaning of something. This becomes a problem when it suits a certain agenda to impose a specific reasoning as the ultimate and true one.

Even before the election results were tallied on Tuesday, November 3, the off-year contests all over the country were being called a referendum on President Obama’s approval numbers by media personalities. The three races most closely examined hinged, it seemed, not on the character, qualifications or competence of the candidates involved but on the collective attitude of the country after nine months of the Obama administration, as if the entire nation shared a common pulse beat. Yes, it is true that millions of dollars and the energy of the President and his administration were spent in an effort to support the efforts of two gubernatorial candidates. Yes, that expenditure fell short of delivering Democrats victory in Virginia and New Jersey. However, as with every event these races did not occur in a vacuum. Other factors, including alleged corruption and negative smear campaigning were also at play. In fact, one should seriously question the value of our democratic (small “d”) system, if the viability and strength of individual candidates are negligible, and the politics of party are king.

I think such a perversion took place in the New York Congressional District 23 during the recent special election. When the Republican Party offered a candidate in Dede Scozzafava who failed to pass muster with a certain segment of the party’s base, the big guns were brought out. Controversial but widely popular personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin were enlisted to drive Scozzafava from the race and prop up Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman in an unsuccessful bid for the seat which had been held by Republicans for the last 16 years. The sad thing is that while most of the country (and even most of New York State) knew little about the candidates, save the bad press and bashing Scozzafava was receiving from Republican Party loyalists, folks all over were chiming in and speculating about the “importance” of the election.

No one knows how these contests would have played out in an environment unmarred by the tug-of-war of party politics. It is frustrating to me that so much energy is expended in win/lose team loyalty aggression that progress and change are dashed on the rocks of political peril.

Another milestone of the past couple of weeks was the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Meaning-makers on the right have long offered only one factor that led to 1989’s monumental event. According to some Ronald Reagan’s channeling of the biblical Joshua and speaking of the words “tear down this wall” were enough to shake its foundation and bring its collapse. It is interesting that many of the same people who now laud the power and influence of grassroots efforts deny this same spirit in East Berliners and attribute credit instead to a legend that far overshadows the actual man on whom it is based.

Another event that demanded the nation’s attention was the tragic shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. On November 5, I happened to be tuning in to a cable news channel when the first reports of the rampage broke. Over the next few hours, speculation abounded regarding the motivation behind such an act. Initial analysis focused on the unique stresses and distresses experienced by the men and women we send into harms way to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. This careful condemnation of the violence while expressing sensitivity to the plight of our servicemen and women held until the name of the gunman was released. As soon as an Arab-sounding name was released to the media, networks from Fox News to CNN began using the word terrorism. This easy connection between Arabs and terrorism (and between Muslims and terrorism) provided the only meaning many viewers needed. Many of those who were calling into television and radio talk shows were calling the tragedy a terrorist attack. Pundits and media personalities were demanding a declaration of the same by President Obama.

Was Nidal Malik Hasan a Muslim? Yes he was. Did he disapprove of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East? Yes he did. Did he express that disapproval on many occasions? Yes he did. Did he correspond with a cleric who espoused radical views? Yes he did. Was he a terrorist? Despite those who seek to define it as such because it reinforces easy prejudice, he was not. One must look past the convenient labels and accept that terrorism is the product of organized and sanctioned aggression aimed toward a stated agenda. Hasan is a disturbed man, convinced that he had been victimized because of his religious belief, and influenced by radicals. He committed a heinous crime.

Again there were other factors at work. We will always seek meaning within events. That is our human nature. However, we must look beyond the shallow surface and past the media’s spoon-fed reasoning to find true meaning.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Health Care Revolution

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, November 6, 2009

In light of the shouts and murmurs rising from Tea Parties and town hall meetings, I am afraid that the use of the term “revolution” may classify me as part of a certain breed who seeks to reclaim some idealized vision of America from the grips of those currently in power. However, I believe that any real relief from the current healthcare crisis will have its roots in revolutionary thinking.

The bills in the works now on Capitol Hill are the products of flawed process dressed up as democratic compromise. The problem is that the process is so corrupt that the only victory that comes of it may be a political one. After the bills are loaded up with amendments and stripped to rags by concessions, Congressional leaders and the president will be able to say they struck a blow for health care reform. Unfortunately, partisan opposition has failed those who are truly in need of health care relief by hindering and obstructing benevolent intentions and neutering the legislative process.

At the risk of being characterized as naïve, allow me to submit an idea I would like to see emerge from Congress. I’ll admit that this is not a unique idea, though its quick condemnation by opponents seems to suggest it is a queer and ludicrous invention.

I propose, as do many others before me, a single-payer plan that is the expansion of Medicare to be offered to all regardless of age. This plan should have an opt-out mechanism to offer choice, and to satisfy those who prefer pricey private insurance or the opportunity to gamble with their health. This plan would also be more legislatively efficient because it would simply require an outline of adjustments to the current Medicare structure.

Some will argue that Medicare is flawed with waste and excess. I would agree in part, but the current private system with its vicious denial of claims and coverage is a much more flawed and I would argue much less patient-friendly approach. In fact, an expanded Medicare network would have greater resources with which to address waste and fraud. The large numbers of medical experts and practitioners who have voiced their advocacy for a “Medicare-for-all” model, attest to their confidence in the quality and viability of the concept.

“But,” the critics will cry “how will we pay for all of this?” I would echo the ideas presented by dozens of experts and politicians (including President Obama): eliminating tax cuts for the wealthiest among us; and rolling back tax rates to pre-Reagan administration levels. Of course, this is the kind of talk that gets sneered at by Obama-bashers as socialist redistribution of wealth. Never mind that lopsided corporate favoritism has grown the wealth/poverty gap to embarrassing levels and essentially eradicated the middle class. It’s time to accept the fact that supply-side Reaganomics was only successful in fattening the supply side of the equation while never actually trickling down to feed the working class.

Up until now, though the obstructionist would label it socialist drivel, my ideal option is far from revolutionary. It expands a current structure to cover more needy Americans. It offers choice and liberty, while paying for itself by righting wrongs exacted against hard-working citizens.

We as common citizens are held hostage. The idea that we cannot hope for real reform because the medical industry represents one-sixth of our economy is an embarrassment and a travesty. Something as vital as attainable health care should be the banner for everyone who claims to value human life, yet we have collectively allowed this essential human service to become a for-profit commodity. We have allowed powerful insurance companies to have nearly unfettered influence in legislation that has direct impact on their interests. We have caved in to pressure by pharmaceutical corporations. We have offered our support to the corporate health care machine against our own interests. We have done so, largely, because of a misguided allegiance to an ideal called capitalism and a belief that somehow the free market will right all wrongs. We have clung to this belief despite the worsening state of our for-profit health system and our plight as its consumers.

Let’s reclaim health care from the grasp of greed. Let’s break the monopolistic stranglehold of private insurance corporations whose legal obligations rest with their shareholders not their stakeholders. Let’s allow physicians and providers to focus on quality of care and not the quantity of patients. Let’s reduce the influence of pharmaceutical companies and put decisions back in the hands of qualified doctors (not patients dazed by the incessant bombardment of advertising). Let’s make the Hippocratic Oath mean as much as the beat cop’s commitment to protect and serve, or the school teacher’s commitment to impact a student’s life.

This is revolutionary change but it requires active participation. We the People must stand up and demand the attention of those chosen to represent us.

Lighting a Candle Instead of Just Cursing the Darkness

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, November 6, 2009

It is easy to find fault with what we have seen so far of the Democrat Party’s proposed Health Care Reform Bill. As our loyal readers know, I have spent several columns pointing out the dangers of increased federal regulations and increased deficit spending surrounding the idea of a government-run and taxpayer-funded universal health plan. I feel that I must do more than just sit in the balcony and throw insults toward the stage. That is not conducive to constructive debate and only serves to polarize and anger those who disagree with my assessments.

Therefore, I am hereby lighting a few small candles and offering some alternative plans. I wish I could truthfully say that the plans below were all original thoughts by me, but I have to admit that (as if you need to be told this) I am not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, and it was only after reading the thoughts of many others who are pretty bright that I came up with the following suggestions.

One dangerous dark point in the House version that I have mentioned previously is the expanded role of the federal bureaucracy in our healthcare decision making. This would come in the form of a Federal Health Care Committee that would have unprecedented powers and no accountability to the electorate. This would mean that compensation rates to providers and tests and procedures available to patients would all have to be filtered through a distant and disconnected bureaucrat’s desktop.

One possible alternative to that darkness would be to hearken back to the words of our founders who saw the danger of a large, overreaching centralized government that was out of reach of the common citizen by both geographical distance and political accountability. They understood that increasing the power of the individual states was the best insurance against tyranny.

Therefore, I propose that we shift the responsibility of providing health care back to the states. We could essentially have 50 laboratories performing experiments rather than having one monopolistic laboratory trying to impose a one-size-fits-all solution to an issue that has proven to be so complex that it has already consumed tons of paper and months of negotiation and is still miles away from being solved.

I believe this could work because it has been tried on a small scale already. Massachusetts, Tennessee and Utah have each taken on this issue and while Tennessee and Massachusetts have not been glowing successes, they have at least provided the other states with valuable lessons. In the case of TennCare, the state of Tennessee offered a scaled-down version of the plan the Democrats are proposing, i.e. highly subsidized health care and restricted reimbursements for providers. As you might guess, that solution has since been abandoned.

Utah, on the other hand, is experimenting with a plan based upon defined-contribution and citizen-owned and citizen-controlled health insurance that increases portability as employees retain their policy as they move from job to job while it also increases patient responsibility for making healthy choices by offering incentives.

Another candle I would light would be to illuminate the proposal offered by four Republicans in Congress (and you thought they were only the ‘Party of NO’, right?); Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Richard Burr (R-NC), along with Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Devin Nunes (R-CA). They have authored a bill called the Patients’ Choice Act. The nutshell version of this bill is to re-direct a $300 billion tax subsidy – already being used to subsidize employment-based health insurance – back to individuals and families in the form of a $2,300 and $5,700 (respectively) tax credit or debit card (if they do not pay income tax due to low income). This would empower the individual to purchase her/his best plan and would set the insurance companies against each other in increased competition for those consumer dollars. This would automatically lead to lower prices.

Another candle would be to encourage employers to offer defined-contribution plans as opposed to defined-benefit plans. These would take the form of offering a set contribution from the employer to the employees who would then shop for the best plan. Rather than having the insurance company negotiate with one buyer, they would have to offer packages to multiple buyers. This again would foster true competition and choice. It would also encourage the employee to make healthy choices and give them true ownership of their policy.

One more candle has been lit by the Improving Health Care for All Americans Act (IHCAA) sponsored by John Shadegg (R-AZ). One proposal within this bill would allow group insurance to be offered through membership associations such as churches, civic groups and even alumni associations and trade associations. This would greatly increase competition and enable individuals who were self-employed, underemployed, unemployed or retired to get the benefit of group plans.

In conclusion, these are all candles that could be lit, but the sad fact is that the current political leadership in Washington has shut the door – both figuratively and literally – on any constructive debate from the opposition, hence the darkness continues to reign.

Affordable Health Care – the Sequel

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, October 23, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water…Jaws II! I remember the ominous voice of the narrator from that movie trailer in the late 70’s. I, like many others, had experienced the terror of the first movie. My mind still carries the image of a sharpened dorsal fin breaking the surface of the water as organ music built to a crescendo. This image created a healthy fear that I carried with me each time I visited the beach.

Well, here we are with a very similar scenario. The first health care overhaul bill inspired many to get off their couches and to use their God-given right of free expression to voice their concerns and fears. Their voices were heard and Senator Baucus and company went back to the studio otherwise known as Capitol Hill and produced another movie that is just as frightening as the first. However, just as with the dreaded shark, we can only see the fin above the water at this point, because most of the details – i.e. the sharp teeth and crushing jaws – are below the surface.

Suffice it to say that the fin is enough to make most intelligent bathers head for the shore.

I downloaded and scanned through several pages of the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) report to Senator Baucus with their analysis of the long-term costs of the bill as it was presented to them. I was able to see, for example, the much publicized figure of $829 billion over ten years that it would add to the Federal deficit.

I was also able to read how the projected savings to the health care consumer would be accomplished. I felt a small shudder of fear when I read the details on page seven about how Medicare payments to hospitals and doctors would be reduced proportionately; because I read a small detail hidden below the surface in the third paragraph where the simple phrase: “These recommendations would go into effect immediately unless blocked by subsequent legislative action” lurks like the teeth and jaws of a great white shark. That simple phrase should be enough to tear the $829 billion figure apart and send it floating to the depths in a trail of scarlet, because we all know that “legislative action” almost always blocks real cuts in any government program. But wait, there’s more to come.

A more careful analysis of page four shows us another row of teeth when we read that state spending on Medicaid will increase by about $33 billion. Do I need to tell you where the states will get that money? Well, we all know it will come from the state income taxes and from the local municipalities who will get it from the property owners and businesses.

Hidden toward the end of the CBO analysis is the fact that the payments to doctors will increase during 2010 (hmmm…maybe it has something to do with Congressional elections?) and then they take a 25% reduction the following year. And each subsequent year, the payment rate will be set below the rate of inflation. Sounds like a recipe for reducing the number of doctors and the quality of care, to me.

The bill also includes penalties and excise taxes like the 40% excise tax on all high premium health care policies. This tax and the extra costs and liabilities thrust upon corporations would not occur in a vacuum. Extra taxes, fees and penalties always find their way into the prices paid by consumers. So, even if the CBO was completely accurate with their analysis and if our congressmen and congresswomen were able to restrain themselves from “blocking these reductions by subsequent legislative action” and our deficit only rose by the projected 829 billion dollars, this bill is still a fearful thing to swim around with.
It is a frightening thing because of the overall premise that it tends to perpetuate. That premise is the idea that if there is an inequity in our society, or if there is any unfulfilled need among our citizens, it automatically falls upon the federal government to step in and balance the inequities and meet every need. That was not the intent of our founders who studied the history of tyranny and foresaw the future in which the power of the federal government was limited and personal liberties were expanded. This bill is another example of legislation that would reverse those roles. Personal liberties would be limited and the power of the government would be expanded.

As we watch this bill and the House version swim their way through the legislative process, watch closely for the shadows that lurk beneath the surface.

The Doctrine of Fear

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, October 23, 2009

In her Hubbard Town Patriot column, published in the October 16 issue of Broader View Weekly, Sue Smith-Heavenrich mentioned that, according to a New York Times/CBS survey, two-thirds of Americans supported a single-payer health plan. She also called attention to the wording of that survey in contrast to others that yielded different results.

Words can wield enormous power. Especially when those words are charged with the emotion of fear, and are crafted in such a way as to inspire fear in those who would ordinarily not be fearful. More sinister yet are those who choose to ratchet the level of fear to higher and higher levels in order to manipulate people.

During a recent show, one of Rush Limbaugh’s listeners called in to ask a question. This low-income elderly woman (audibly frail) asked him what was going to happen to her husband and her when “Obamacare” passed and she couldn’t afford coverage. His feeble stab at explaining that as a Medicare recipient she wouldn’t lose her coverage had me suspecting that the pompous radio show host had an ounce of remorse for propagating lies. Then she asked what would happen when the government comes to take her car away because it is too old. “You’ll be screwed,” he told her. At the end of the call the woman was left with the reinforced fear that G-men were on their way to siege her property and deny her prescription drugs.

Now, I understand that Rush is not a journalist and as such has no accountability to the truth, nor to his audience, but only to an agenda. However, media personalities frequently blur the line between entertainment and journalism. Often, opinion is presented as fact and many play fast and loose with the facts in order to communicate a desired message. Folks like Limbaugh know that fear is the icing on the cake that helps craft effective communication of certain messages.

My brother Gordon’s column is another example of such fear mongering. The intention is to inspire enough fear in enough people that they will accept the status quo (even against their own interests) as long as it will defeat the “threat” posed by reform.

There are a couple of possible motivations behind attempts to cripple health care reform. Some individuals simply stand in opposition to anything with President Obama’s seal of approval stamped on it. Others are so concerned with the thought of making any sacrifice that might benefit someone else that they oppose it on principle and label it socialism. There are other reasons for opposition as well, but the one rising to the surface of late is fear.

Now, there are parallels between the Jaws movie series and the health care debate. As in the movies, the threat is imagined. Unfortunately, while close examination of the movie reveals the robotic machinations and rubberized skin of the shark in the film, the current illusion is harder to make out. Fear is spun of speculation about the impact of health care bills on the economy, the deficit and the quality of health services. This is especially troubling since the specifics of the bill that will reach Obama’s desk are yet to fully surface.

While the teeth of the health care monster may be as flimsy as the synthetic ones Chief Martin Brody faced, the fear generated by the opposition has real teeth. In fact, the public health option has been ripped to shreds by those peddling panic and may be dead in the water. And in the current volatile political climate, even proponents of viable solutions to the health care problem are paddling like mad toward the shore in order to save their Congressional seats.

Lost in the waves of hyperbole is a very real fear. Millions of uninsured and under-insured are paralyzed by it. A crippling distress prevents many from seeking treatment for sick children or addressing their own ailments, injuries and disease because there is a very real threat of economic devastation. Unfortunately, the S.O.S. signals sent out by the needy are drowned out by the din of the privileged, the wealthy and the insured. Those who are unencumbered by the weight of real fear seem to be those shouting the loudest at town hall meetings and demonstrations.

I am not standing in support of the Baucus health care plan. I’m concerned that those who most desperately need the benefits of reform will be denied under its provisions as well. I am saddened that the growing fear spread through the public by irresponsible media; and the growing fear infecting those who see their political careers in peril have already defeated the promise of health care reform.

We in the media should recognize the responsibility we have to the public. If we are perceived as journalists we have an obligation to inform. We must avoid shouting bumper sticker tirades and overshadowing facts with opinion. We must resist the temptation to use the easy tools of fear and manipulation. We must hold ourselves accountable.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Obama’s Foreign Policy Revisited

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, October 9, 2009

Recent events have turned the focus of the U.S. from domestic issues, such as health care and the economy, to foreign affairs. Critics point to a revelation about hidden nuclear facilities in Iran, the rogue nation’s missile tests, and as-yet unanswered questions about Afghanistan as proof of President Barack Obama’s weakness in foreign policy.

Certainly, it is true that the Obama administration stands in sharp contrast to the hawkish administration of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. This is to be expected, since the current Commander in Chief has consistently favored measured response and diplomacy to the knee-jerk commitment of troops into harm’s way.

Iran is a problem with no easy solutions.

Even with several officials in the previous administration favoring military action in reaction to Iran’s defiance, the reality of the delicate situation and U.S. entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan precluded such measures. Our continued military obligation in both wars, as well as growing concerns in the region, still rule out the kind of scorch and burn aggression some would like to see in regards to Iran.

Absent the option of invasion, one is left with only two real alternatives if one wishes to bring about a change: increased economic sanctions and diplomatic negotiations.

The latter began in earnest last week when the first face-to-face between Iran and United States since the 1979 Iranian Revolution was held in Geneva. This first meeting began a long process aimed at multilaterally addressing the threat of Iran with the support of major players like China and Russia who have a stake in the process as well as essential influence over its outcome.

Even the administration’s harshest critics have had difficulty describing the talks as anything other than a step in the right direction. Officials and the president are cautious in their public response, admitting that much depends on Iran’s willingness to abide by agreements made on October 1. The Iranians must come clean with full disclosure of information about nuclear plants and capabilities. They must also make good on promises to ship much of their existing uranium stockpile out of the country to be enriched (slowing the process and making it less likely that Iran could carry out clandestine plans to build nuclear weaponry).

Iranian officials have committed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to begin inspections within two weeks. However, much depends on the level of real cooperation that is forthcoming from the Iranian government. The missile tests over the past couple of weeks, and anticipation of additional acts of defiance, casts a shadow over hope of compliance.

Iran needs to recognize that it is in its best interest to become a good and responsible world citizen. Pivotal to that realization is the threat of sanctions by a unified global coalition. Steps are already being taken to prepare for the event of Iran’s insolence. With international cooperation, economic sanctions like the prevention of Iran’s importation of refined petroleum can be effective as long as other stakeholder nations work together.

In this sense, Obama’s strategy in dealing with Iran is exactly as it should be. The U.S. has initiated negotiations along with other nation’s that share an interest in limiting Iran’s nuclear capacity. And in the event that Iran squanders international goodwill by rejecting the opportunity to move forward, sanctions will be swift and harsh.

Obama’s position on Afghanistan has become increasingly complicated. It is problematic that during his election campaign and early in his presidency his claim was that the U.S. had taken its eye off the ball and too quickly became distracted by Iraq. It is true that opportunities were missed and it is true that Iraq consumed precious resources that may have possibly prevented the Taliban’s resurgence, and avoided some bloodshed in the violence-torn nation.

However, the war is becoming increasingly unpopular and many analysts believe that a reevaluation of strategy there is necessary. Civilian deaths and an open-ended timetable have become impediments to progress and the sources of growing animosity and mistrust of Americans. There is some evidence that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has been used as a recruiting tool for terrorist organizations.

Further complexity is added to the predicament by forces of corruption within the Afghan government. The recent presidential elections are suspect and a culture of corruption seems to infect the political structure. Cooperation with a state to provide counterinsurgency defense becomes perilous in an environment that is contaminated by fraud.

It is becoming clearer that real success in Afghanistan may not be attainable. History has shown that the country does not respond well to military invasion and that those who have attempted in the past to wage effective warfare using formidable military might have found Afghanistan a hostile territory. Afghans have outlasted the Soviets, and the U.S. has fought there for eight years with worsening conditions and no clear goal in sight.

Whatever is announced as the White House’s official strategy regarding the increase of troops at the request of General McChrystal and others, Obama is right to take ample time to make the determination. This may seem like an odd approach after eight years of stay-the-course-at-all-cost policy, but risking the lives of America’s sons and daughters is a weighty decision and one that is best deliberated.

Lessons from Copenhagen

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, October 9, 2009

All we need to know about our president’s priorities and his readiness to play a major role in the world was made crystal clear to us this past week. While our brave soldiers fought the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan and the illegitimate president of Iran flaunted his defiance toward the UN and the United States, we saw our president flying off toward Copenhagen to put the full force of his charisma behind the push for the 2016 Olympics to be played in his hometown of Chicago. Five full-size jets, two of which were undoubtedly needed to carry his ego alone, carried the leader of the free world to a foreign shore, not to show support for the above-named troops or to meet with foreign leaders about the crisis in Iran, but to act as a public relations office for a city that needs a major change in its effort to control rampaging youths more than it needs the Olympics.

The first indicator of your leader’s weakness is when he is criticized by the French leader as being too soft. President Sarkozy’s criticism of Obama, which seemed to escape the attention of our national anchors who had their hands full covering the weighty issues of David Letterman’s affairs, would have been trumpeted from every front page if he had called Bush naïve or accused him of living in a virtual world. Yet those are the words Sarkozy used in reference to Obama’s speech at the UN and his demeanor during the talks at Geneva.

Perhaps Sarkozy knows something of which he speaks. After all, his nation still smells of the burning buildings that resulted from radical Islamists who – for all their misguided direction – at least demonstrate true resolve and passion for their cause, which, by the way, is not peaceful coexistence with those of us they believe to be infidels.

Obama seems to indeed suffer from the naïve supposition that all the world needs is a song to sing and a Coke to drink and we will all live together in a nice yellow submarine. The sad fact is that the “peace at any cost” mantra of the 60’s and 70’s brought us the Carter years and it wasn’t until a more mature outlook from Reagan and Co. in the 80’s brought American pride and idealism back into prominence.

An overlooked fact by Obama as he takes his apology express to every international venue is that if it were not for the policies of Reagan, Bush 1, and Bush 2, he would be dealing with Iran plus an empowered and emboldened Saddam Hussein as well as a U.S.S.R that would have bases in Salvador and possibly Guatemala. He seems to miss the point that it was not by negotiations alone that we were able to dissuade radical dictators.

My brother claims that the recent meeting in Geneva represents a victory for multilateral talks and that we walked away from there with a whimpering, remorseful Iran agreeing to all the demands of the UN and IAEA. I am afraid to say that the real winner in Geneva was Iran. They gave up nothing and they received plenty. They admitted they had a previously undisclosed nuclear reactor in the region of Qom. Then they sheepishly agreed to open the facility for inspections – in two weeks. This surely shows that they are scared of Obama and the UN, right? Wrong.

A sad fact that has escaped the rookie in the White House, is that the reactor in Qom is not even operational. The real threat is located at the reactor in Natanz and while we send in inspectors who will issue reports and have further Security Council wrangling, the work goes on unhindered and sanctions are avoided for another six to nine months – more than enough time for weapons-grade Uranium to be developed.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is left to its own devices to defend its borders as they now realize that no help is to be expected from the president who essentially sided with the Palestinian suicide bombers in his speech to the UN. If they (the Israelis) demonstrate true resolve and forethought by using a surgical airstrike to destroy the reactors before they become operational, it will be even more evident that Obama lacks leadership on the world stage.

So, what have we learned in the past few weeks? Well, we learned that not only are we not the first choice for the Olympic games, we aren’t even first choice for the games that really matter.

Friday, September 25, 2009

In the interest of Decorum

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, September 25, 2009

The uproar over Representative Joe Wilson (R., SC) and his daring accusation shouted during President Obama’s address to Congress indicates a disturbing trend in American politics and the news coverage it generates. It seems that the streets and avenues of our capital city were so greatly shaken by Wilson’s two-word outcry – “You lie!” – that emergency measures had to be taken to prevent wholesale destruction of our society and the defilement of those hallowed halls of Congress.

As if Joe Wilson’s words had somehow represented a huge belly flop upon the glass-like smooth surface of our Congress’ moral and ethical swimming pool, our leaders immediately issued an official rebuke, which was approved, oddly enough, along party lines. It apparently does not break the surface of said pool if one fails to follow the tax codes that they sign into law for all of the other citizens, nor does it seem to matter if you solicit the services of prostitutes or hide thousands of bribery dollars in your refrigerator.

I am aware that all things should be done decently and in order if we are to maintain a modicum of civilized debate. I do not advocate disrespect for authority, nor do I applaud when someone demonstrates a lack of esteem toward others by shouting expletives or derogatory slang terms about a person’s ethnicity.

Therefore, I think that Mr. Wilson’s actions were not helpful to the discussion on health care, and, according to a recent interview, he concurs with that assessment. In fact, he realized his mistake and accepted full responsibility within minutes of leaving the chamber. He took the initiative to call Rahm Emanuel with the intent of having him deliver a heartfelt apology to Obama – an apology that was acknowledged and accepted the following day.

That should have been the end of the matter, right?

Foolish we are if we think that this congress should let this pass between the two men involved. No sir, we must broaden this to encompass our society as a whole. We must take precious time and waste taxpayers’ dollars to issue a statement that carries no weight nor serves any other purpose. It will not make the other members of congress more respectful and it does nothing to clean up the ethical cesspool in which many of its members continue to swim.

What then did it accomplish and why was it so important to get this formal rebuke in the Congressional Record? Well, I believe it accomplished the goal of keeping some vital issues off the front page and leading news stories, and putting trivial matters front and center; rather than addressing the issue that inspired Wilson to question Obama’s veracity, i.e. whether or not there were sufficient firewalls within the proposed bill to prevent illegal aliens from jumping on the “free health care” bandwagon.

One inconvenient truth that is lost in this uproar is that prior to Joe Wilson’s challenge, there was not clear language within the bill that would preclude those who dishonor our laws at the border from drinking at the same trough as those who follow the legal procedures to gain citizenship in this great nation.

Another consequence to this endeavor within the Democrat leadership is to use Joe Wilson as a convenient whipping boy. It is their hope that they can destroy the reputation and political career of a man who served his country with honor; and who raised four sons who also served or are currently serving on the fields of battle. But more than that, they desire to squelch all political speech that runs counter to their ideals.

The other disturbing aspect of this episode is that some self-righteous politicians have taken the opportunity to stand before cameras and microphones and wax poetic about how Wilson somehow represents an undercurrent of racism. They charge that any person whose skin does not contain the same level of melanin as our president’s skin must be racist if they speak critically of his policies. They also claim that the mass demonstration of concerned citizens in our nation’s capital last week, and the ones who stand to speak out at town hall meetings, are all racially motivated.

This is a revived form of McCarthyism in which accusations of racism or even unreasoned opposition (Party of NO) can be thrown about without merit or proof, and the accused is burdened with proving them false. If this policy of hindering speech and questioning the motives of critics continues, our nation will suffer continual division.

The Decline of Civility

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, September 25, 2009

The outburst from Joe Wilson during the president’s address to a joint session of Congress was troubling, but it did not exist in a vacuum.

Recently, the New Yorker magazine printed a story on Robert Frank’s “The Americans,” a photographic collection that criticized many, at the time, for presenting a negative commentary on American society and lifestyle. Frank’s photos, in fact, simply captured moments of truth and reality that can sometimes be painful to those who seek to ignore their own blemishes.

Today, the painful truth is that there is an ugliness that is emerging in our culture. We can choose to ignore it, or deny it, but it is becoming clear that our baser instincts are dominating our social structure. Important and complex issues have been reduced to the equivalent of points in a sporting event, as pundits and talking heads seek the upper hand at any cost.

Many have referred to racism as a potential factor to explain the nature of the current hostility throughout the country. Perhaps people are searching for the impetus that has driven so many of the privileged to the streets with such intensity of emotion.

The fact is that the fiery town hall meetings and raucous rallies have drawn few people of color. And, some of the signs and t-shirts on display have connoted racism and xenophobic hatred of immigrants, even if they don’t explicitly depict slurs.

Some stand up in objection and mock offense at words from people like former President Jimmy Carter. Some argue that in the post-racial Obama era, racism has been officially declared over. However, some of these same detractors project a tone in their criticism of Obama that appears infected with racial prejudice.

Most of us would deny any implication that we have racist inclinations. For instance, I consider myself to be forward-thinking and open-minded. I am sensitive to prejudice and would like to describe myself as colorblind. Yet, if I employ the same honest introspection I spoke of above, the ugliness of racism appears in my reactions to the world around me. As with the other day in Elmira, I saw an Oldsmobile with custom wheel rims and though the windows were too darkly tinted for me to tell, I envisioned the driver as African-American. I am not proud of the presumptions then conjured up by my subconscious about the character of this unknown fellow driver. Again, this past weekend when visiting Erie, Pennsylvania with my son, I found myself making judgments about the neighborhood through which we were walking, based solely on the faces of those we met on the street.

While I don’t believe that racism is entirely behind the protests going on currently, and while I believe the accusations leveled against protesters in some ways muddy the waters even more, I do think we need to accept the truth that we do not live in post-racial times.

But racism only contributes to part of the animosity that is fueling the fire of fury in the U.S. A general decay of decorum has left us rude and crass. The divisiveness that drives us apart has spiraled into a dark tone that has blotted out the light that would otherwise illuminate the facts at issue.

What I see in rallies and town halls is a rage leveled at political parties and their members. I see hatred of certain politicians and blind praise of others. I see the win or lose mentality overshadow discussion of real issues that affect real people.

It is no surprise that society has regressed to this point. We have lost the common sense of respect that my generation grew up with. When I was a kid, the president’s picture was on the wall of every classroom. Our parents would not have even thought of preventing us from listening to a speech given by him.

Today our athletes hurl language and threats at officials that would make the infamous John McEnroe blush. Today, we aren’t outraged that a musical artist rudely interrupts another’s award acceptance speech with an appeal against the results. Today, we accept defamation of character on baseless grounds and hold no one to account for the attacks they wage.

The right to free speech is sacred and vital to democracy. Sports arenas and entertainment venues are immaterial to the real problems that need solving in most of our lives. But as civility perishes, those issues are drowned out by the din of shouted insults and bumper sticker jibes. With the demise of decorum comes the death of hope and change.

We will be left with the status quo, which many of us can ill afford. We will be left with a nation divided into blue and red. We will be left fighting over empty ideals and meaningless ideologies.

Aligning Our Interests

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, September 11, 2009

I must begin this week’s column with a confession that I am no expert in the subject of climate change. I don’t have a strong scientific background or credentials that would give me any authority on the topic.

That said, I find it frustrating to hear some pundits ranting about how the cool temperatures of this July and August disprove theories of global warming. “Those silly tree-hugging environmentalists want us to give up our SUVs for this hoax that is plainly untrue,” they more or less say as the polar ice caps melt and storms rage and typhoons engulf entire cities. These talking heads spout their hype as studies are released about dangerously high levels of greenhouse gasses.

While some may choose to ignore the inconvenient truth of climate change (or worse, attempt to disprove it), I feel confident that mankind is continuing to contribute to the atmospheric pollution that will eventually kill millions, lay waste global coastal regions and devastate our planet. The situation reminds me of something the late George Carlin once said. Speaking of climate change, he mentioned that people were always saying “save the planet.” He assured his audience that the planet was going to be just fine, but that we people were all going to eventually go away.

At a recent talk given by author Michael Dowd (Thank God for Evolution), I asked him if he was optimistic that we would be able to avoid self-destruction, he answered in the affirmative but added “if not, my money is on cockroaches.” His point was that “low” forms like bacteria and insects stand a better chance of survival than we advanced humans.

Part of Dowd’s prescription for survival was the realization that interests need to converge. Our survival as a species relies on our ability to accept the fact that we are all in this together and that our fates are intertwined. In order to address the problem of climate change (and other issues that threaten our existence) we must bring corporate interests, political interests, global interests, human interests, and environmental interests in line. This requires giving corporations, governments and individuals incentives to do the right thing. Unfortunately this is not easily done.

One attempt at this may be the cap and trade bill that passed in the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate. Its stated purpose is to provide incentives for businesses to operate greener by setting limits on carbon emissions and allowing heavy polluters to purchase credits from operators that produce smaller carbon footprints.

The problem with this legislation, and the problem with much other legislation that seeks to do the right thing, is that the interests discussed above are not yet aligned. This is further complicated by a systemic imbalance of those interests. Interests of the individual lag far behind political interests and even farther behind those of corporations. Last in line, quite far behind the interest of individuals is the environment. The fact that our current two-party political system is so firmly entangled in a corporate death-grip makes it plain whose interests will win out.

The current debate over health care reform illustrates this imbalance. The GOP has been successful in shifting the narrative to corporate concerns. I remember hearing Senator Chuck Grassley interviewed on Fox News before the August recess. While he discussed the proposal that was before the House at the time for nearly ten minutes, he didn’t once mention the interests of the uninsured or the shortfalls of the current system. What he did mention three times was that the health care industry represented one-third of the economy. The next morning on NPR, Grassley softened his rhetoric a bit but reminded listeners of the potential impact on the economic interests of the corporate medical industry. And many politicians and pundits on both sides of the political spectrum have been reminding Americans that we cannot afford to overhaul health care in the current recession.

Likewise the argument against cap and trade (as well as any other climate-related legislation) is that it will kill jobs and pass an economic burden on to consumers as a virtual energy tax. I believe that legislation can produce green jobs if properly executed; however, I believe it is unlikely that corporate America will provide the brain power or the impetus to bring these jobs to the market. And without corporate support, there is little will within Congress to facilitate change.

Lobbying is an important part of our legislative process as a democratic republic. The question is which lobby wields the greatest influence. Currently, corporate lobbies are an overwhelming force and the loudest voice on the floor. Part of the problem is the broken electoral process that requires so much capital that even well-intentioned public servants find themselves beholden to energy companies and the like. Therefore, the voice of the individual and the concerns of the environment are neglected.

Another part of the problem is a different inconvenient truth. We as citizens fail to see our interests threatened by climate change. Or, if we do recognize the threat we largely choose to defer sacrifice until tomorrow rather than alter our lifestyles. Until we as individuals recognize that we share common interests with nature and the environment, effective and meaningful climate-related legislation will not come.

The Real Danger Zone

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, September 11, 2009

First of all, let me say that I applaud my fellow columnist’s candor when he states his lack of credentials and his weak scientific background in the area of global climate change. I only wish that our legislators (and even our former vice president) shared his honesty. Sadly though, it seems that they feel as if their position of authority grants them authority to speak on every issue with the same weight of authenticity. That alone would be sad, but it goes from sad to bad when they pass legislation based upon that false sense of authority.
I would love to take the opportunity to debate the validity of the “evidence” used by Gore and others who take on the Chicken Little role, running to and fro, clucking about a falling sky and a shrinking ice cap. However, I feel this is not the place or time for that debate. Suffice it to say that for every expert they hold up, I could find two experts to stand behind me in opposition to them.
Also, before I go on, I must say that I truly love our planet, and I gladly pay the extra fees for my hunting licenses and ammunition to help preserve its natural areas and its wildlife. I believe she is one of the most unique planets created by our benevolent Creator. She is miraculously designed and wonderfully appointed for the purpose of sustaining life. I abhor any who would willfully defile her face or avariciously waste her resources. I am in favor of conservation and I would gladly add my voice in condemnation of those who pollute or destroy our environment.
My intent here is not to fight over who loves our earth more or who is most diligent in its protection. I am writing today to warn you of a very real and verifiable danger to our earth and to our economy.
I am speaking of the legislation passed by the House of Representatives this past June known as HR 2454, the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Bill. By a narrow 219 – 212 vote, our representatives signed on to a bill that, according to Waxman’s website, would revitalize our economy with the creation of millions of “green” jobs (as opposed to what? Blue or red jobs?), increase our national security, and preserve our planet by reducing the pollution that causes global warming. Okay, sounds good, right? Well, let’s examine this legislation a little more closely.
To begin with, those three short premises listed above required over 1,200 pages of legalese to delineate and once again, as with the other voluminous bills produced by this Congress, few of the signees have taken on the responsibility of reading it before attaching our names, by proxy, to it.
I don’t have the space here to detail all of the dangers in this bill, so I will highlight a couple and hope it encourages a few of you to investigate my claims and to speak to our senators if those claims concern you.
This bill will create another large government bureaucracy that will oversee the daily operations of almost every business in our nation. This alone would stifle job creation and hinder productivity, when our nation needs an increase of both to help us out of this recession. The pages and pages of regulations and incomprehensible procedures would require most corporations to spend valuable employee hours and untold legal fees in an effort to comply with burdens that foreign competitors would not have to carry. This extra cost would be passed on to domestic consumers and, by extension, make foreign products even more attractive. Our economy would suffer and job losses would continue to escalate.
The target levels of CO2 emissions mandated by this bill are unrealistic for two reasons. The aim of the bill is to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuels to one billion tons from the 2005 benchmark of six billion. That relates to the level emitted during 1910, when our population was 92 million and per capita income (in 2008 dollars) was less than $7,000.00. Do they intend for us to return to those days?
The second reason this is unrealistic is the fact that even by International Energy Agency projections, the goal of 450 parts per million (ppm) on the global scale would never be reached, even if all participating nations reduced their ppm to zero!
In conclusion, it seems that this congress and administration are rushing this bill through without due research or discussion, just as they did with the stimulus bill, and as they tried to do with the health care bill. There is a tricky reason for this and it has to do with the upcoming Copenhagen climate conference in December. These lawmakers know that when Americans hear China and India refuse to limit their own emissions, we would be left holding the bag full of stifling regulatory limits upon our economy while our global competitors gleefully increase production and increase our corporate bankruptcies.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Separating Fact from Fiction

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, August 28, 2009

As the noise from the Health Care Reform effort continues to drown out almost every other political discussion this summer, it has become increasingly difficult to determine which voices are speaking facts and which are merely spreading fiction. The charges have been flying from both sides and even though we have spent precious newsprint in our two previous columns covering this topic, we decided the importance and relevance of this issue demanded at least one more effort.

At the risk of being redundant, I will fight the urge to echo my earlier objections to this legislation. For those readers who were unable to read my columns or for those who may have forgotten the arguments, I invite you to log on to our blog or email me for copies.

In the fight for facts over fiction, it has been believed by many in the media that the protestors have been the ones spreading misinformation. Obama spent a fortune flying to Montana and New Hampshire for staged Town Hall meetings and gave speeches to civic leaders, church leaders, and anyone else who would listen about why we needed this overhaul and why we needed it now. He claimed this unprecedented sales job by our chief executive was necessary because “so much misinformation was out there”.

I’m sorry to say that he failed to not only stifle the noise of fallacies, but I am suggesting that he actually added more volume to the din. Let me explain.

Obama claims that this bill will pay for itself with two-thirds of the expenses covered by reducing waste, reducing subsidies to insurance companies who augment Medicare coverage, and increasing efficiency. The final third will be supplied by increasing taxes on those earning more than $250k. That is the plan. However, I should remind you here that these are the same planners who were surprised by the depth of the economic morass, and same ones who had to redress the Cash for Clunkers program when it didn’t go exactly as planned.

Even if this bill did not scare me with its provisions for an overreaching and all-intrusive bureaucracy that would monitor and influence every private interaction between physicians and patients, and even if I was not concerned with the loss of privacy and freedom of choice that is contained in the details of this monstrosity, I would still oppose it on economic grounds alone.

Obama is either not being factual in his numbers or he is being naïve. I hereby offer the following factual examples of why this plan will not pay for itself.

Obama bases his numbers on the increased cost of insuring 46 million Americans (and/or anyone who can swim the Rio Grande or squeeze beneath a border guard’s nose) who are currently uninsured, while assuring the rest of us “who like their health care can keep their health care”. The facts are that it will be impossible to squeeze that many people under this umbrella without someone getting pushed out into the rain.

We need only look to our northern neighbor and to the State of Tennessee to see how expensive health care becomes when we get it for free.

In a recent article published on by Randall Denley (Tuesday, August, 18, 2009), the author lamented about how costly the Canadian system had become. In fact, he claims that 43% of Ontario’s program spending budget goes to fund health care. He also claims the system is antiquated and inefficient and not patient-friendly, “being driven by government budgets – not patient needs”. I can also quote other Canadian authors who say their current program is unsustainable as it is being run now.

Now, before my critics start yelling about how unfair it is to be comparing Obama’s plan to Canada’s, let me tell you a little secret. One of Obama’s health care architects is Health Czar, Nancy DeParle. She was also instrumental in casting the failed TennCare health policy in Tennessee.

That policy started with the same lofty and altruistic goals as the current House bill. However, reality set in and as employers saw their taxes rise, they shuffled off their employees to the public option and costs skyrocketed. In a few short years the plan was consuming a full third of the state budget and sucked up every penny of new revenue. Before the plan was re-structured, almost half of all TennCare subscribers were people who had migrated from private plans to the free plan. Are you surprised?
To pay the extra costs, taxes were raised, reimbursements to doctors and hospitals were reduced and benefits to patients were slashed. In other words, health care was rationed, and taxes were raised.

Another fact that has not been disclosed by Obama is the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has crunched the numbers and concluded that the new taxes, mandates and bureaucratic sludge that always seems to accompany any government program will increase our obscene deficit by another trillion dollars and cost our economy another 1.6 million jobs.

Again, these are facts, not fiction. Verify them if you wish. I do not dispute the fact that we need reform – but not this reform.

The Faltering Plan for Reform

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, August 28, 2009

As we near the time Congress will resume its session after its August break, the momentum for real change is slowing. There are several reasons that the plans for health care reform coming from Washington and the White House are losing steam.

One reason is the Democrats’ failure to stay on message and control that message. As organized opposition surfaced at town hall meetings and congressional meet-and-greets, representatives were ill-prepared to answer the tough questions posed and often ill-informed about proposals that were in committee. The result was a lampooning of public officials that seemed like an ambush to the world audience that was observing.

At the same time, Senators and Congressmen from the opposition set out to obstruct any solution that came from the Democratic president or his colleagues in Congress. This is the worst kind of politics because it abandons the interests of constituencies in favor of power brokering and posturing. Instead of addressing problems that have caused struggles for the GOP, and a thumping in the last election, Republicans opted to become a party of “no” and get in the way of any proposal no matter the benefits to the individual.

Another problem is a caving in at several levels of the process. The authoring of the separate proposals in the House and Senate were perverted by the influence of health insurance companies and political pressure. Provisions that stood a chance to trim costs, increase efficiencies or cover greater numbers were struck in order to gain leverage to pass any measure at all.

This is the greatest threat to President Obama’s promise to provide something that comes close to universal health care. Even the White House recently backed away from the idea of a public option until pressure from supporters effectively put it back on the table.

It doesn’t help that there is an organized campaign in some media to oppose any reform at all. Some of the most influential voices in conservative media are now discounting their power (an interesting suggestion coming from some of these inflated egos) and claiming that the opposition to Washington’s efforts is led by the masses. They attempt to convince grassroots America that the charges leveled against the talking heads are insults against American citizens. They feed the line that Obama and the Democrats are elitists that are directing their hatred at the public.

The argument makes no sense to me, especially since those voices shout arguments against health care reform that show their general disdain for anyone who would gain coverage under any new plan that might emerge.

Unfortunately, representatives were unsuccessful in countering that message as well, and began to get beaten-up in the media and public opinion. Representative Eric Massa of New York’s 29th district was blasted for comments he made at in informal gathering of bloggers recently. He mentioned that he would oppose public opinion to vote in ways that would benefit his constituency. Instead of applause for taking a principled stand for the public good, he was showered with daggers of contempt. And he was talking about voting against the current iteration of the legislation.

Supporters of reform have been unable to dispel the myths used to attack the plans and present the proposed benefits in a concise way. This has allowed the same misinformation to be repeated over and over. As a result many of those myths are accepted as truth.

For instance, claims about the high costs of reforming the system are overblown, especially since the details of the legislation are yet to materialize. Critics characterize every government entity as inept and inefficient. They argue that moving health care from a private system would endanger important services. The fact is that the most vital services we rely on are already publicly run. Emergency services, police forces and fire departments are publicly funded and run and operate well in most cases.

Also, the administration’s discussion of cost reduction is often characterized as a reduction of compensation to physicians and care providers and rationing of patient services. In fact, part of the concept is a reform of the bureaucratic waste and excess of the health care system. Faith in American ingenuity should envision the ability to efficiently distribute health benefits under a new streamlined system. Instead, the defeatist opposition turns again to the same tired assertions about the evils of big government.

Comparisons to other public health care systems are often used to undermine the efforts to reform the U.S. system. Canada is a favorite choice as an example of the problems of public health care. Interestingly, Canada is ranked above the United States in the quality of health care. In fact, in an August 12 column on Fox News’ website that was critical of patterning our system after Canada’s, Wendell Goler admitted that:
Canadians have a longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality rates and lower rates of obesity and diabetes than people in the United States. Canadians' primary care doctors get paid more and spend more time with their patients than doctors across the border to the south.

An interesting observation from Obama’s most vocal detractor: Fox News.

The fact is that the most common talking point in the health care debate is a weakness of the current system. The concept, called “death panels” by some, whereby a panel makes judgments about treatments and coverage, is a fabrication of the right. However, that type of decision-making goes on every day. Panels and agents in cold corporate insurance companies make choices to deny services to needy patients (often in life-or-death situations) in order to serve the interests of their bottom line. Even though the legislation imposes no such panel, putting those decisions in the hands of those legally bound to the service of the public is better than leaving it to those legally bound to the service of shareholders.

Like my brother Gordon, I recognize the need for reform. Like him I don’t think the current plan fits the bill. Unfortunately, if this current effort fails, I fear it will become more and more difficult to pursue meaningful change.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cutting through the Fog

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, August 14, 2009

Since members of Congress began their August break recently, there have been efforts on both sides of the debate to present their cases. Democrats have held town hall meetings to allow for discussion of the legislation. Cable news and talk radio have launched campaigns to color public opinion and oppose the reform measures.

Unfortunately, other forces are also at work. Special interest groups and political action committees are organizing folks to disrupt meetings, shout down speakers, and give the impression that a “huge” mob of grass-roots individuals are rising up against the government. Some protests have turned nasty and even violent.

Lost in the fray are the real details of the bill and issues of concern.

The objective of this week’s column is to attempt to cut through the fog and fury of the heated rhetoric and help decode some of the actual bill that is beginning to emerge from Congress.

Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to represent the thousand-plus page document accurately within our limited space. Also, I will admit that I have not read the entire House bill, and that I have read none of the document that the Senate will resume work on when the session returns in September. In fact, wading through the tangle of legalese gave me a greater appreciation for our representatives charged with crafting, amending and even reading the legislative materials that cross their desks. I am not excusing members of Congress who vote on bills without reading them fully, but I found myself wishing for a staff of interns to parse the bill for me.

In the interest of brevity, I will take a look at a few of the criticisms leveled against the bill and discuss them with reference to its actual provisions.

One claim of the opposition (whatever form that opposition takes – be it GOP leadership or conservative media) is that individuals will be forced into a public government-funded health insurance system even if they have existing health insurance with which they are satisfied. There is a provision wherein an employer’s offered health insurance plan is evaluated against certain criteria to ensure that such plan provides sufficient coverage. Any insurance plan that fails to meet these criteria would hardly be worth enrolling in. Employers not currently offering insurance that measures up, have the option to enroll in an appropriate plan or choose the public option. The hope is that employers will be able to provide more inclusive health insurance coverage to their employees by having greater choice of options available.

Opponents also claim that the House plan specifically provides for tax-payer funding for abortions. The Right to Life movement has been loud in its opposition to the bill because it accuses lawmakers of providing funding for abortions in sections of the bill addressing outpatient clinic services and family planning services. In fact, there is no specific reference to abortions at all within the bill from the House of Representatives. There is a portion of the bill that allocates funding to clinic services, but only as a means of defining the breadth of medical coverage under the plan to include entities outside of physician’s office and hospital services.
Some in the movement are pushing for a specific prohibition of public funding for abortions but one of the sections of which they are critical comes close to just that. The section on family planning services denies coverage of those services for women who are already pregnant. While I disagree with this limitation, it should placate abortion opponents. Apparently, though, any public funding of women’s health services is equated with promoting abortion in the minds of some.

The most interesting claim opponents of the bill are making is that it promotes physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. To be fair, there is a provision that discusses end of life decision and promotes physician-patient consultation that weighs the concerns versus the benefits of certain treatments. This provision does encourage consultation on living wills and sustaining treatments of patients in end-of-life situations. Some conservative talking heads have said that the bills deference to existing state laws regarding these matters implicitly promotes euthanasia since two states (Oregon and Washington) permit physician-assisted suicide. While it is true that the bill suggests physicians discuss a state’s legal requirements regarding the patient’s care, it neither implicitly nor explicitly warrants the practice of euthanasia. The fact is that many ethical doctors already institute a policy of consulting with patients, especially those who are aging, about realistic treatments. Surgeries or treatments that are invasive are often risky and may yield little relief to certain patients, regardless of age. The tendency may be for doctors to recommend treatments to prolong life or minimize symptoms whenever possible, but I believe a realistic approach is morally superior to playing God at the expense and potential peril of the patient.

I am not endorsing the current bill. I had hoped for a real reform of the broken health care system in our country that would provide the neediest among us with the security that vital health services are within reach of us all. I think this bill falls well short of that. However, I feel that the bill should be disputed on its merits and not amid a smokescreen of misinformation.

It is unreasonable for me to claim that this column comes close to educating Broader View Weekly readers on the various components of the health care reform bill. I can only offer this advice: educate yourself. HR 3200: The Affordable Health Care Choices Act of 2009 is available for download at Also, check the rhetoric you hear against the list of fact checking resources provided weekly on page 2 of the Broader View Weekly. Most importantly, don’t rely on any one source for news or information.