Dec 15, 2014

December 14,2014: Thank Lyndon Johnson, Measure in the Details, Because Liberalism Works

On Thursday morning, December 10, my wife suffered her second stroke in 7 years. The first occurred in October of 2007 while she was in the employ of the University of Georgia engaged as the administrative assistant to the Chief Information Officer. The stroke damaged 3 of the 12 main nerve bundles that make up the cerebral cortex, leaving her with some difficulty with motor skills, some weakness, and a propensity for scanning speech to return when fatigued. She soldiered on nonetheless, returning to work within a couple of months and working for an additional 4 years. As the stresses of employment became more and more obvious we were able for her to leave her employment fearing another stroke would surely result if some dramatic changes were not forthcoming. What followed was a period of unemployment and then, when it became obvious that she could no longer work, a claim for disability. In mid summer of 2012 she filed her claim and was speedily granted the benefit after a review of her medical records. Because, for some insane reason, health insurance does not become available for two years she was unable to seek medical care until she qualified for medicare under the social security disability act. Previously there had only been a one year wait but ‘Ol Two-Cows’ extended the waiting period doubling the time one has to wait until on qualifies for medical assistance. So the nation now poses the absurdity of denying medical treatment to disabled persons for two full years. Such is the logical consistency and the compassion as exemplified by political conservatives.

In any case she was able to first get health insurance when she became eligible nearly a year ago with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, or ObamaCare as it is widely known. This, in effect, reduced the two year wait to see a doctor by about four months. She then qualified for Medicare under the Disability Act. Having insurance she could now seek treatment. 

While it has been stressful dealing with the events of the last days, one would have to ponder what would have befallen us if this had happened a year or two earlier when we had no insurance and could get no insurance given her medical history of ‘prior conditions’? The answer is at once obvious: the resulting expense would have been financially devastating, reducing the household to poverty, facing trade offs between medical expenses and food.

I’ve had the misfortune of encountering many a swine and the larvae of the swine on the internet, as I have commented on various issues of the day. Often I will get some knuckle dragging bonehead who will tell me straight out that taxes are theft, and that no government is the best government. The fool, if pressed, would no doubt reveal that he is in his twenties or early 30's and doesn’t see why ‘he’ should pay for someone else’s benefits. Of course he can, afford this ignorance, or thinks he can, because he is presently covered by his employment or is in pristine health at the prime of his life. What he doesn’t understand, and will make no effort to understand is that we are what he will be. At some point he too will no longer be employed and will have to either insure himself or will have to rely on government insurance.

The experience of my wife is a text book case; a standing justification of Lyndon Johnson and the liberalism that he exemplified. She lost her job at the prime of her productive years not because of incompetence or failure but because she could no longer physically deal with the stresses and strains. Having suffered already a major brain injury (brought on by stress) she was forced from the labor market long before she reached her golden years. Did her employer step up and see to it that she would keep her insurance and, therefore, her medical security? No he did not. The institution did what every employer does in this country, viewing the employee as a commodity, an interchangeable part, much as any piece of office equipment. They simply let her go, and replaced her with someone else, leaving her to fend for herself. This is the situation millions of workers in this country face every day as they are downsized, let go, forced by medical issues to leave the workplace early, or the company simply declares bankruptcy and wiggles out of its obligation to its workforce.

The point should now be obvious. If you are relying on your employment to care for your medical needs you may be in for a rude awakening, especially if you develop a serious, chronic, or end of career illness. Some may step up and do what is right, but most will not and you will find yourself damn thankful that Lyndon Johnson and now Barack Obama have come to the rescue.

When Medicare was passed it cut poverty among seniors by nearly two thirds. There are reasons for that, given that most of what one will spend on medical care occurs in the late stages of life, at a time when one no longer works and is on a fixed income. For this reason Lyndon Johnson set up a government insurance program in which everyone is compelled to contribute through payroll taxes. The program works. It isn’t perfect, but it sure as hell beats the alternative. As someone who has faced the real prospect of an event like this happening with no insurance at all, it is of some great comfort that for the last year or so we have had a measure of security, secure enough to make that ambulance call last Thursday morning. For that I take a moment and thank my stars for Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Ask me why I’m a Liberal? Because liberalism works.

Dec 3, 2014

December 2, 2014: Generation of Swine, The Idiot, Bad Citizenship

“To stand outside the state is to stand nowhere”
—from “The Quotations of Chairman Joe”.

Americans think of themselves as a democracy, which we are not, but nevertheless point to ancient Athens as the origin of the American democratic experience.  That we are a republic, not a democracy matters little for “We the People” have taken sovereignty from the clutches of the self-appointed monarchs who had hitherto lorded over the masses by means of the pious fraud known as ‘divine right’.  We are rightly proud of our experiment in self governance, now entering it’s third century.  But lost in the din of contemporary political discourse and discord are some rather fundamental precepts of self-governance that were passed down through the ages to our founding fathers, but have been lost on the ‘generation of swine’.

If one cares to read not only the founding documents of this republic but the body of work representing its rationale, principally “The Federalist Papers”, one is confronted immediately by the realization that our founding fathers were steeped in ancient history, languages and, most especially of the political institutions of the ancient and medieval world.  They understood not only how ancient Greece and Rome were instituted but were well versed in the Conceptual nature of how the ancients saw themselves, their community, and one’s place in that community.
For the ancient Greeks specifically, the political community, the city-state, defined by the concept polis was all encompassing.  It defined everything, it was in essence the totality of the social arrangement.  For the Greeks to be outside the polis, is to be outside society.  To be outside the polis is to be nowhere.

I remember, as a young man, watching an episode of “The Waltons”, a serial saga about a semi-rural family in small town America.  The son, called ‘John-Boy’ declared to his father that he was a writer.  “You’re not a writer John-Boy”, replied the old man, “until someone else says you are”.  Herein lies the abiding truth about our existence.  It is the community that defines the individual, that is the point that old man Walton was trying to impress upon his impressionable young son.  You are what the community says you are, what–in large measure–the community has made of you.  Herein lies the overarching lesson of life.

It begins in the cradle, who brings you into this life, the station in which one finds oneself.  What one then makes of it is in large measure determined by the influences, be they familial, of the community, or of the institutions in which one is increasingly nurtured.  Later in life, individual initiative is either enhanced or retarded by the opportunities opened by one’s earlier upbringing and experiences or closed as the case may be.  But it is, in large measure, determined by the greater society.  Finally one knows when one has ‘made it’ when, as old man Walton, so inelegantly expressed it, someone else says you have.   The currency of success is always a social currency; one becomes a writer when one becomes ‘recognized’, one becomes an economic success only when society heaps wealth upon your shoulders.  To stand outside society was, to the ancients, an absurdity.  Likewise in every society be it tribe, city-state, confederation, church (as in the middle ages), or modern nation-state to be outside it’s boundaries is to be an ‘alien’, to be an ‘outcast’, to be nowhere.

The word “Idiot” in this context derives from the Greek “ idiotes” meaning someone who was characterized by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private—as opposed to public—affairs.[6] Idiocy was the natural state of ignorance into which all persons were born and its opposite, citizenship, was effected through formalized education.” (1) Indeed democracy was first introduced to Athens as a means of making the affairs of state public as opposed to the state being run by a group of oligarchs for their own personal gain. By expanding the franchise the ‘people’ acting directly and on their own behalf served to reign in on the abuses of the oligarchy, not by expanding the definition of the polis, but by expanding the participation in it.

Two concurrent threads are interwoven in this tapestry; the all-encompassing definition of citizenship and the participation in that citizenship for the purpose of reigning in and controlling the dominant economic interests of the state.  It was, therefore, anathema to the Greeks that one would place private concerns ahead of the public interests and to see in every concern, in every issue, in every domain merely narrow private interests was, to the Greeks, to be the original idiot.

It is the Greek word polis that is the root of our term ‘politics’, as the word commune is the root of its variant community.  One is born with an understanding of neither; however, it is hoped that through education the citizen develops an understanding of his rights, privileges and responsibilities to the greater society.   Indeed in this context “idiocy was the natural state of ignorance into which all persons were born and its opposite, citizenship, was effected through formalized education.” (1) Idiocy, then, is the opposite of citizenship.  ‘"Idiots" were seen as having bad judgment in public and political matters”. (1)

This, by degrees, leads us to the swine.  We have witnessed in the last election one of what one hopes will be one of the last hog-calls of the swine, but I fear not.  In any case, the Koch (read coke) addled knuckle-dragging tea baggers have now made a complete pig’s breakfast of the political process in effect paralyzing the politics of the republic.  This has been a long time coming, beginning with the Young Asses for Fascism (2) and their support of Barry Goldwater to the modern Tea-Bagger we have seen a four decade assault on the very idea and legitimacy of governance itself.  When Reagan declared in his first Inaugural Address that “Government IS the problem” he, in effect, declared war on the polis and in so doing not only demonstrated bad citizenship, but revealed himself to be the political mouthpiece of a growing number of idiots in the truest meaning of the word.


1. See,
                                For a partial explanation of the ancient meaning.
2. Known as the “Young Americans for Freedom” they were referred to, in my youth as the
“Young Asses for Fascism.”  And so they have become.