Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tip of the Hat

File this month's Tip of the Hat under Duh. David Frum cites a study that undermines the long-standing austerity narrative of the Right, and kudos to him for doing so. My one complaint? He still can't bring himself to lay the blame squarely where it belongs. Oh well, Rome wasn't built in a day.




The Deficit is Under Control

AEI's John Makin studies the numbers and concludes that the United States has already achieved a sustainable fiscal path for the medium term. There's no need for further near-term spending cuts. Instead, Congress should go to work on longer-term tax and entitlement reform. Here's a quote with permission from an advance copy, the text will be available on the AEI site tomorrow.


The United States has actually made substantial progress toward deficit reduction in 2013 ... 

On January 2, as part of an agreement to avert the sharpest austerity that would have been triggered by the “fiscal cliff,” Congress did pass a total of about $180 billion of annual tax increases. The result is that, by the 2014 fiscal year, the fully phased-in sequester, along with the January 2013 tax increases, will cut the US deficit—already on a downward path—from $1,089 billion in 2012 to $845 billion in 2013, and then further to $615 billion in 2014. In terms of the deficit-to-GDP ratio, that is 7 percent in 2012, down to 5 percent in 2013, and down further to 3.7 percent in 2014. 

That is substantial progress, especially when compared with the G7 average ratio of deficits-to-GDP projected to be −4.0 for 2014.

The years 2015–17 look even better, with Congressional Budget Office (CBO)–projected deficits averaging just 2.5 percent of GDP, very close to the 30-year average of 3.4 percent and well below the projected G10 average of 3.5 percent. The US debt-to-GDP ratio stabilizes at about 75 percent on a slight negative trajectory from 77 percent in 2014 down to 73.1 percent in 2018. The United States is well below the much-feared 90 percent [Reinhart & Rogoff] threshold, which itself has been called seriously into question. 

The American fiscal austerity has been moderate and probably, at the current pace of deficit reduction of about $300 billion per year over the next half decade, has proceeded far enough for now. … [I] is important for the US Congress to take yes for an answer to the question of whether it has already achieved substantial deficit reduction. Perhaps by accident, Congress has in fact reduced the US budget deficit by enough to enable working at long-term fiscal reform.


Link: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/22/there-s-no-need-for-further-near-term-spending-cuts.html

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Shaming of the Shrew

Six days have elapsed since the worst terrorist attack on American soil since September 11, 2001 and already two things are abundantly clear. First, given the type of open society we have and the rights we enjoy, it may well be impossible to completely protect ourselves from future attacks; indeed, given what goes on in Europe on a regular basis, we've been fortunate that there haven't been more successful attempts.

And secondly, the media in this country is simply abysmal. Watching the "news" coverage of this event over the last week was nauseating. From the first moments after the bombs went off to the capture of the second suspect, I have never been more embarrassed for an industry.

And in didn't matter which channel you tuned into. For the first time I can remember, everyone was even-steven. Appalling, all. One network even went above and beyond to separate itself from the pack. This just in, CNN has confirmed that the residents of Watertown can now safely leave their homes. The lockdown is over!

SERIOUSLY, WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IT IS THAT JOHN KING AND ERIN BURNETT DO FOR A LIVING? I'M DYING TO KNOW!!!

But if the "coverage" of this tragedy was shameful; the rush to judgement was beyond contempt. Not even 24 hours into the event, most of the main-stream press and virtually all of the liberal media were ready to pronounce that it was a domestic attack, no doubt perpetrated by a right-wing lunatic or lunatics, probably spurred on by the gun lobby. After all, wasn't it tax day? Images of Oklahoma City and the second coming of Timothy McVeigh danced in their heads all week long and made their way into the ether.  Never mind that there was not one shred of evidence that supported such idiotic claims; they continued to gather steam and gain momentum.

And on the flip side of the same warped coin, not to be outdone, the entire AM radio dial was convinced that the attack had to be the result of al-Qaeda sleeper cells with the ghost of Osama bin Laden, no doubt, directing them from the grave. Peter King, Mr. Islamophobe himself, called for a renewed "focus" on Muslim communities. Of course, the fact that there is no direct evidence that either of the two suspects in the bombings had any connection to Islamic extremist groups, didn't prevent King and the throng of airheads on the Right from spouting their drivel. Like their polar opposites on the Left, they stuck to their narrative, come hell or high water.

The truth is there is still a lot we don't know about what happened and why. Guessing about motive at this juncture is irresponsible. Three people have been killed - one an 8-year old boy - well over a hundred have been injured, some critically, and the vast majority of what passes for the media in this country have embarrassed themselves by shoddy reporting, rush to judgements and flat out poor taste. It's enough to make you throw up.

Let's hope the next time a lunatic feels the urge to blow up something he plants his bomb right under the communication hub that links to the satellite that the cable networks use to broadcast from.

God knows the country could use the break!


Correction: An earlier version of this piece said "worst attack on American soil." What I meant to say was "terrorist attack." Obviously since 9/11, there have been worse attacks on American soil, Newtown for one. I have made the appropriate change.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Wrong Debate

Let's be honest, was anybody really all that surprised that the background check bill went up in a proverbial puff of smoke? Even if it had managed to get the 60 votes needed to avoid a Republican filibuster, the House, in all likelihood, would've killed it or ripped what little was left of it to shreds. Even intact, it was a watered-down billed, flawed and not nearly bold enough to tackle the enormous problem of illegal guns in this country.

I read Michael Tomasky's piece in The Daily Beast and I agree; it was a shameful day in the Senate for both Republicans and Democrats. But, if I may be allowed to go off on a tangent, that's not why this bill failed. And why others like it will in the future. It's not because of a few cowardly Dems - one of whom isn't even up for reelection until 2016 - or a broken political system that has rendered the entire Senate unable to pass a ham sandwich which caused the background check bill to fail; it's because for the better part of two centuries, we've allowed ourselves to be hoodwinked into accepting the idiotic premise that the Second Amendment somehow gives unfettered rights to every gun-toting hick in the country irrespective of circumstances. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the first place, the Bill of Rights is NOT absolute and never has been. Even the most precious and sacred of these rights - the freedom of speech in the First Amendment - has its limits. One cannot liable or slander someone's reputation or shout "fire" in a crowded movie house. To do so would mean severe penalties, financially, perhaps criminally. Most people get this, even so-called Constitutionalists who love to preach about the good old days when government was actually small enough to drown in a bathtub.

Of course all that goes out the window the minute the Second Amendment is brought up for discussion. Attempting to impose what some would call common-sense reforms is akin to a vampire staying up late to watch a sunrise. Even reading the damn thing gives one a headache:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

You figure it out. What did the framers intend when they wrote that? Were they referring to militias, which in the late 18th century was about the only defense the nation had against a foreign invader? Most people don't even know that the U.S. didn't have a standing army until the late 1800s. Even the Civil War was fought primarily with state-run militias.

Given that, it's highly unlikely that the "people" mentioned in this amendment are civilians in the usual sense. What is more likely is that the founders intended these militias to have access to the Arms necessary to, if needed, defend the homeland and that no act of Congress could deny them that access.

That seems like a reasonable take. But let's be polite here and play devil's advocate for a minute. Let's assume that the founders were intending to paint a much broader stroke with this amendment. The question then comes down to one of degree. Is this right absolute? Again, based on what we know of the First Amendment, the answer is undoubtedly no.

And that's where the breakdown occurs and why it has been so incredibly difficult to pass meaningful gun legislation. Even those who are moved by the tragedy in Newtown are reluctant to openly question the "sanctity" of the Second Amendment. From Joe Biden to Joe Manchin (the co-author of the background check bill) to Gabby Giffords, all went out of their way to defend the rights of gun owners and make abundantly clear to everyone they could that they were pro Second Amendment.

And what did they get for their efforts? A staggering defeat at the hands of the NRA. The simple fact is that the moment they conceded the infallibility of an amendment few truly understand, their goose was cooked. Think about it for a moment. If the Second Amendment is absolute, and you believe it to be, then any limits on it by definition is a contradiction. 

But if you start from the premise that the Second Amendment does NOT guarantee the right of everyone to own a gun, much less a true weapon of mass destruction, you can reframe the whole argument on your terms. You still may not win the first few times around, but eventually enough people will start to come around and you'll prevail in the end.

It must start with educating people. The country desperately needs to have an adult conversation over its preconceptions about and love affair of guns. That's the debate we should be having; not how many clips one can legally purchase or where and from whom one buys a weapon.

Until and unless we have that debate, America will continue to be a violent nation and the next lunatic in waiting will get the chance to murder yet more innocent people. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Letter From Birmingham Jail - 50 Years Later

April 16th marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous Letter from Birmingham. Four days earlier, King had been arrested, along with many of his followers, for disobeying a court order not to march on the city.

It was in that jail cell that King penned what many consider to be his finest work: a critique, not only of the system of segregation, but of those who, through their apathy and appeasement, enabled it to flourish and endure, mainly white moderates and, oddly enough, his own beloved Church.

There is no adequate way to sift through or skim over the letter.  It must be read in its entirety for it to have any meaning at all. Only then can the reader appreciate the frustration King was going through and the magnitude of the obstacles he faced.

It is every bit as powerful and relevant now as it was in 1963.


MY DEAR FELLOW CLERGYMEN:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants --- for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-off we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension, which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken .in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.

Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do-nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.

If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble-rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides--and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ...” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some---such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle---have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a non segregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of Rio shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era; and too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jai with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches; have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham, and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. There will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. There will be the old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” There will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,


Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mourning Has Broken

Sometimes, words alone just can't cut it.  One grapples for a reason or an explanation for a tragedy such as this and none is proffered.  A despicable act of violence is visited upon innocent people by an individual or individuals and the mind boggles. Three people are dead, one of them an eight year old boy, and dozens more are wounded, some critical. 

It matters not whether this attack was homegrown or spawned in a foreign land thousands of miles away. What matters most, at least at this precise moment, is the carnage wrought by the attack. The city of Boston is in mourning and a nation sends its prayers towards those who have been touched directly by it.

What should have been a day of celebration for a proud city turned in a few seconds into a national tragedy. Once more our sense of safety and security has been shattered; once more we are humbled and reminded how precious and delicate life truly is; and once more we come face to face with unspeakable evil.

I do not much care to play the game of politics, not with the blood of innocent lives still staining the sidewalks of Boston. Those who would turn this horrific event into a sideshow to advance an agenda are more depraved than the psychopath or psychopaths who planned and carried out the cowardly deed. The truth is I could care less what the President said or didn't say at his news briefing. Calling it an act of terror gives little comfort to the families and loved ones who are grieving at this moment. They need our prayers, not our ideology.

As I watched the attack, my soul was sickened. While this was not even remotely close to the scale of 9/11, it was far more graphic in its impact. On that day, what we focused in on were the two planes hitting the twin towers and the ensuing collapse of both hours later. As gripping as those images were, they seemed almost surreal. Even today, more than a decade later, it is still hard to imagine the skyline of lower Manhattan without those two iconic buildings. Truth is, I still can't believe it happened.

But this was different. We saw, up close and personal, just what a bomb could do to human bodies. Those people were there to cheer on the marathon runners and then, without warning, they were lying on the ground, mangled and bleeding profusely. Some had lost limbs, some a lot more. One reporter said he saw a little boy, sitting stunned in a pool of his father's blood. The father had lost both legs. Imagine, if you will, a father, carrying his son on his shoulders so he could see the race. He will never be able to do that again.

This is what real violence looks like. This is what evil is. It is patient and merciless. It waits for just the right opportunity and then it strikes, stealing that which is most precious and dear to us.

Over the next few days and weeks, the various intelligence-gathering agencies will begin the process of discovering the whos, hows and whys. That is their job.

Our job? Hug a child, spouse or loved one and tell them how much they truly mean to us. In Boston, there are those who would give all they had and then some to have that chance just once more.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Obama's Long Game

Boy are progressives ever in a lather over Barack Obama's budget. Poor Bernie Sanders has practically gone postal at the prospect that Social Security might be on the chomping block. Six months after winning what many thought was a mandate, many Democrats are openly questioning not only the President's tactics, but his sanity as well.

And while I sympathize with many of the sentiments being expressed and even share some of their concerns, my gut tells me that this isn't a reemergence of old Captain Pragmatic. Obama the appeaser isn't taking charge here. No, what I think the White House has figured out, and rightly so, is that no matter what budget it produced, it was going to be rejected by Republicans anyway. This isn't, therefore, about the 2014 budget; it's really about the 2016 budget and beyond.

Put succinctly, Obama has concluded he can't work with this Congress, certainly not the way its constituted. So his hope is that by putting out a budget that is down the middle, with cuts to entitlements and other sacred cows of the Left, but with moderate revenue increases from eliminating deductions for high-income earners and closing loopholes, and then having the GOP flatly reject it, he can use that to his advantage in next year's midterms.

It's a gamble, but one that he's apparently willing to take. Of course, if the Republicans call his bluff and say yes - extremely unlikely, but still a possibility - he could find himself in hot water with his base. Imagine a scenario where Senate Republicans go along with the White House proposal, it passes and then Boehner actually allows it an up and down vote in the House, only to have the Democrats shoot it down. That would be a political disaster for Obama that might render the rest of his second term moot.

But I must stress that the odds of that happening are remote at best. The GOP has drawn a line in the sand and is apparently willing to risk everything on keeping to their pledge of no new revenue, regardless of the cost.

If that's the case, then why is Obama being so timid with his budget? Why not go for the gusto; plant a flag so to speak and make a moral statement that clearly draws a distinction between himself and Republicans?  Remember that wonderful inaugural address in January? I certainly do. Was all that just for show? After all, didn't he win a convincing reelection over a party whose opinions and policies an overwhelming majority of voters rejected?

Well, yes and no. Yes, the President kicked old Turston Howell III right in the pants. And, yes, Democrats netted seats in the Senate and House. But a careful read of the electorate reveals some rather startling contradictions. While a majority of Americans find the GOP's views too extreme, that same majority also wants both parties to work together to resolve the nation's problems.

And that's where the no comes in. The fact is that Obama doesn't have the option to take his ball and go to his side of the court. The last thing he needs to be seen doing is drawing any lines in the sand. What he must do, and has done for most of his presidency, is convey to the voters that he is willing to compromise to achieve results, even at the risk of pissing off his base.

What most of us political junkies fail to note is that outside our little bubble, most average Americans do not pay that close attention to the day-to-day machinations of Washington, largely because they have lives, but mostly because they could care less. If you added up the combined ratings of MSNBC, Fox News and CNN, it wouldn't equal those of the Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men. And now that last year's general election cycle is over, even less viewers tune in to cable news channels.

In that environment it is risky indeed to be perceived as the tit for the other guy's tat. Yeah, I know about all that false equivalency stuff. Democrats aren't on the opposite side of the same extremist coin and neither is Obama. The dilemma here is that most voters don't and won't care about that. I've seen enough hockey games in my lifetime to know that it isn't the instigator who gets the penalty called on him; it's the guy who retaliates. Depending on voters to parse out little details like facts is a dicey proposition.

What Obama has to do here is stay out of the penalty box, politically speaking. Remain open to compromise and let the Republicans continue to paint themselves as the extremists that they are. The fact is they can't help themselves. If Democrats can just manage to calm down a little, most of them will see this for what it is. Obama is baiting the GOP with a budget proposal that actually gives them most of what they've been looking for. So by rejecting it, they will send a clear signal to the electorate that they aren't willing to come to the table and be equal partners. 

Already, the GOP is hearing it from their base for embracing gay marriage and immigration reform. If a gun control bill somehow manages to become law, there will be hell to pay for any Republican who votes for it. Democrats can use that to their advantage in 2014. Taking back the House is still a long shot, but Bill Clinton was able to pick up 5 House seats in the '98 midterms by employing the same strategy. If Obama plays his cards right, he can one up Bubba.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Shameless


It's one thing to get called out by a former colleague on MSNBC, but when John McCain - old grumpy pants, himself - is ripping you a new one, you know the wheels are coming off.

If you have any doubts as to how low the GOP has sunk, Senate Republicans - lead by their fearless leader, Mr. Turtle face, Mitch McConnell - are now threatening to filibuster gun legislation that would impose background checks on - are you ready for this? - rapists. Yes, you heard right, rapists.

Shocked? You shouldn't be. Not even an issue that enjoys a 92 percent approval rating is enough to shame a party that is so far to the right, you have to look to the left just to find the right margin. Barney Frank was right when he said that the Senate couldn't come up with the 60 votes needed to evacuate in the event of a fire.

As I wrote in an earlier piece, this nonsense will continue so long as Republicans believe they can get away with it.  Only true filibuster reform will end the gridlock in the Senate. It's time for Harry Reid and Senate Democrats to put the nuclear option back on the table and stop this charade.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Right now, things are about as nutty as they can get.

Links: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/04/07/1831571/mccain-i-dont-understand-why-gop-would-filibuster-gun-legislation/

http://thebigslice.org/joe-scarborough-excoriates-the-gop-over-filibustering-gun-control/

Sunday, April 7, 2013

It's the Messaging, Stupid

Once more, Michael Tomasky nails it. His piece in The Daily Beast, titled "Unemployment and the Sequester," is a warning to the President that he needs to "explain to the American people the relationship between sequestration and the economy" and do it quickly.

Why? Because he is running out of time, that's why. Last month's job's report was woefully weak. Most economists expected a jobs gain of around 190,000. 88,000, suffice to say, isn't cutting it. Worse, yet, the sequester hasn't begun to take effect. When it does, look out below, because the ensuing shit storm is going to be knee-deep.

Of all Barack Obama's failings, none have plagued him more than his inability to succinctly draw a narrative for the American people. Name an initiative that he spearheaded - be it the stimulus, the auto bailout, healthcare reform - that wasn't badly mangled due to lousy or non-existent messaging. The result has been that Republicans have been able to jump all over them and rebrand each and everyone. Anybody remember the good old days of death panels?

And now, with a fragile recovery hanging in the balance, the GOP is poised to hang Obama out to dry with a sequester that he himself was forced to accept in exchange for them agreeing not to default on the debt ceiling. Everywhere you go, all you see are Republican congressmen and senators stating this is Obama's sequester. And what response do you hear from the White House? Crickets.

Make no mistake about it, as the sequester begins to take hold, the economy will begin to head south. And when that happens, the voters will turn on Obama like a relief pitcher who just blew a two run lead in the ninth inning.

That analogy will be fitting. Because Obama, fresh off a flogging of his opponent in last year's election, is acting more like the kid who almost got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Now, more than ever, he must summon what little ability he has to communicate and explain to the nation just what the stakes are. Otherwise, as Tomasky correctly points out, the "people are naturally going to blame [Obama] instead of the people who are actually responsible."

Link: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/05/unemployment-and-the-sequester.html

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Medicare For All Gets An Unexpected Boost



Kudos to David Frum for bringing to light a different - for conservatives, that is - perspective on a way too familiar argument: namely how to best deal with the high-rising cost of medical care. In a recent piece he cites fellow conservative Bob Paterson, who believes that the best replacement for Obamacare would be a system like Britain's National Health Service. Paterson writes,

First, congressionally charter Blue Cross-Blue Shield as a monopoly to provide basic coverage to all Americans, except retirees. And grant the regulated nonprofit authority to impose payer-fee schedules on providers of routine care and services, much as Medicare does. A utility-style Blue Cross-Blue Shield covering all working-age Americans and their dependents would offer enormous administrative economies of scale and an insurance pool of unprecedented size. By trumping state regulations, the plan would be relieved from paying for luxuries like aromatherapy, Viagra, sex-change operations, hair implants, birth control, or elective abortion. Nothing would preclude other carriers from selling supplemental insurance for medical non-necessities, purchased by individuals at after-tax rates.

Jointly funded by a modest payroll tax and shale-oil severance fees, this utility would not only replace all nonsupplemental health-care plans, but also Obamacare, state exchanges, much of Medicaid, and the State Children's Health Insurance Plan. Medicare - and Medicaid for the severely disabled - would remain in place.

Next, Republicans should transform the healthcare debate by championing strategic cures to make Americans healthier and as disease-free as possible.  As the polio vaccine did in the 1950s, we can bend the long-term cost via technological breakthroughs.

The thrust of Paterson's argument is that it is stupid for Republicans to continue their efforts to repeal the healthcare law; it's here to stay. Instead they should be working to improve it, a point Frum made back in 2009 when Democrats were supposedly "ramming" it down the throats of the country.

What I find interesting and mildly amusing isn't so much Paterson's rebuke of his fellow conservatives' failed strategy, but rather the solution he comes up with to replace Obamacare. In case you missed it, what Paterson is calling for is a kind of Medicare for All, which, if I'm not mistaken, was what progressives were calling for back in 2009.

To recap, Obama, as you might recall, anticipated he didn't have the votes to get a single payer or public option through Congress, so he opted for a plan that mirrored Mitt Romney's Massachusetts healthcare law. The employer mandate had been a conservative idea as early as the late 1980s, when it was heralded by the Heritage Foundation. Bob Dole, in 1993, approached then President Bill Clinton with a proposal to pass a similar plan, claiming he could deliver the votes needed, but Clinton turned him down. The rest was history.  Obama, perhaps sensing a repeat of that history, jumped at the chance to get what he could through, even though the enforcement mechanism was highly unpopular.

And that has been the sticking point for conservatives and liberals alike. The Affordable Care Act's employer mandate has been an albatross from day one. Rightly or wrongly, it unfairly puts a burden on smaller businesses who must now offer health insurance and while it does contain some cost-saving measures, it still does not do enough to lower overall costs. It also doesn't tackle the number one issue behind the rise in healthcare costs: the fee for service model. If anything, it left it pretty much intact. The insurance industry still drives the bus; only now it has more fuel, courtesy of the 30 million more Americans who must now buy into a hopelessly corrupt system.

Medicare for All would've killed three birds with one stone. First, it would've eliminated fee for service altogether. Doctors would know upfront what they were getting paid as compensation for their care and treatment. Second, it would've removed from all employers - big and small - the responsibility for having to provide health insurance for their employees. Imagine how much more profitable corporate America could be just by eliminating that one nagging issue. And third, it would've stabilized a badly hemorrhaging Medicare system that is less than a decade away from going bankrupt. 

The problem with Medicare isn't that it's an entitlement program; it's that the people who use it - seniors - get sick more often than younger people. By expanding the roles of Medicare to the entire population, the costs of the program are spread out far more evenly. Think of it this way. How long would an insurance company last if it could only insure people 65 and older? That's the current problem with Medicare and if it isn't dealt with successfully, any bandage that gets applied to it will be temporary at best.

The Obama Administration can hardly be faulted for getting the best deal available to it, especially when so many prior administrations had tried and failed. But while it is an incredible accomplishment, given the resistance by its opponents, it's time to admit the obvious: the Affordable Care Act is flawed. It needs to be fixed, not scrapped. It's harshest critics on the right and left should work together to improve it. It's refreshing to see that at least one conservative has seen the light and had the courage to say the unthinkable. Let's hope that more step up to the plate.

Link: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/03/one-social-conservative-s-alternative-to-obamacare.html