High Court a Political Machine?

English: West face of the United States Suprem...
English: West face of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. Español: Edificio de la Corte Suprema de Estados Unidos en Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If there is anything comforting about the impending decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, is something that Charles Lane said in an article he wrote that appeared in The Washington Post:” …the United States periodically redefines the role of the federal government in society, in a process that is both political and legal — and, sometimes, more revolutionary than evolutionary. In that sense, we do have a “living Constitution.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-lane-redefining-american-government-through-obamacare/2012/06/25/gJQAdmIp2V_story.html).

What people want, or what we are taught to believe, that out of the three branches of the federal government, there is one branch, the judicial branch, that we can count on to interpret the law according to the Constitution, politics aside.

But that hasn’t been the case, and Lane quotes Akhil Amar, a professor of constitutional law at Yale University, who said that if the Court comes down against the Affordable Care Act by a margin of 5-4, it will show that it is not objective, but that it is bound by politics, party loyalty, money and party.

As a student of history, I have read of cases in which the High Court was not an agent for “the least of these;” I still shudder when I think of the wording Chief Justice Roger Taney used in the Dred Scott case. As part of the African-American community, I have yearned for a government that has been willing to live up to its ideals of being a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

What some Americans come to realize is that the government really advocates on behalf of “some” of the people, and some High Court decisions have validated that opinion.

Be that as it may, there is always a flicker of hope that in the end, no matter where else injustice may dwell, it will not be sanctioned by the United States Supreme Court. And so, when the Court shows its colors of party loyalty and politics, there is a collective sigh of dismay. If not even the highest court in this land sees “all of the people,” who will?

Perhaps my own state of mind is related to an erroneous way I have perceived America and the concept of democracy. I was taught – and I believed – that a democracy was different from other forms of government. I believed that that meant American democracy had a tradition of egalitarianism.  I believed that our democracy prided itself on “all” being equal.

That is not the case, however. All people in a democracy, more accurately a capitalistic democracy, are not supposed to be equal. Those who have get more and those who do not have…get less, and are chided for wanting what they see is possible.

At the end of the day, it seems that the United States Supreme Court justices are not people who believe in the make-believe of  “justice for all.” The laws of this nation were not set up to protect “all” people and I guess it is the work of the court to protect those laws, not “all” of the people.

So, I am bracing myself for the Court’s decision on health care. I am hoping that the gains made by the passage of the bill will not be lost; it is amazing that 46 million more people have health insurance because of this bill. It is inconceivable to me that a nation that is supposed to be so concerned with the treatment of people in other countries seems to be so callous when it comes to dealing with its own poor.

If I hadn’t had such good civics and social studies teachers, who taught me that America was probably the only country in the world that cared about the rights and care of everyone,  perhaps I wouldn’t have been so disappointed, time and again, when the High Court has not come off as the protector of America’s underclass, poor, and working poor.

Perhaps part of the issue, or my issue, with the Court is that it cannot let the Constitution breathe – it cannot allow that the Constitution is a live, living document, like Professor Akhil Amar said. Times change and so do the needs of the people and of the nation. Shouldn’t the law, even the Constitution, allow for that? Would the Founding Fathers have been pleased with a democracy where 46 million people didn’t have health care?

I’m blessed to have health care. I sure hope that by this time tomorrow, people who recently got access to health care after not having been able to afford it are not wringing their hands in despair, pushed yet again to the curb in the name of politics.

It would be the saddest thing ever…

A candid observation

 

 

 

 

President Obama: Courageous Up to a Point

Whether or not one agrees with the work President Barack Obama has done overall, there is one stand-out quality that he seems to have: the courage it takes to be a leader.

From the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Obama has taken on one Goliath after another. Many thought (and still think) that his push for affordable health care for the vast majority of Americans via the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a game-changer, an act of political suicide.

Then there were the bail-outs of the big banks and the auto industry. It is hard to understand why big business says the president has worked against them when these bail-outs really helped…big business, so much so that the president earned the ire of Liberals like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, as well as others, who said he did not do and has not done enough for the poor.

There was the decision to go after and kill Osama Bin Laden in one of the riskiest moves one might imagine. There was no guarantee that that mission was going to be successful. Had it failed, his career as president would have been over, and even in light of its success, he has drawn criticism for “politicizing” it during this campaign. Still, the courage it took to make that decision and to stand by it is notable.

Now, he has come out in support of gay marriage. It is yet another decision that took courage not  because there is anything wrong with gay marriage but because angry Conservatives, including Tea Party members, are going to use it to skewer him in this upcoming presidential campaign.

The president has worked to fulfill the promises he made during the 2008 campaign, in spite of bitter opposition from the Republicans and an outburst of opposition from the American public as the Affordable Health Care Act became law. He has tackled the economy and done, it seems, the best he could, given the opposition, and has held the line – his line- even as he has nervously watched the unemployment rate hover between horrible and disastrous. Every day, it seems, there has been yet another decision of monumental proportion, and he has taken those decisions on and acted decisively.

The only area in which the president has not shown much courage is in the area of race, racial politics, and racism as an American reality. It seems like, feels like, the president is afraid to talk about it or even mention it, for fear of certain criticism that he is playing the race card. Anything he says and/or does as an African-American is carefully scrutinized, with people ready to accuse him of showing partiality to one race over another, and Mr. Obama, it seems, has caved into the pressure of not bringing that Trojan Horse into the middle of the nation’s woes.

Consider what felt like a fairly innocent and rancor-free statement that the president issued in the height of the attention that was paid to the killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. All the president said was that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. Duh. That’s an innocuous statement, and yet people waiting to see even the slightest hint of

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

favoritism toward African-Americans jumped all over him.

It is a shame that the courageous president cannot be courageous when it comes to race; the political capital he would spend were he to delve into and address matters of race would far exceed that he spent even on getting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed.  And …it’s a shame, because African-Americans are still the lowest on the American totem pole in areas including education, health care, poverty and unemployment. Surely, there is much to do and much to say.

Ironically, white presidents could address issues of race without spending as much political capital as Mr. Obama would. President Eisenhower showed courage when he ordered that segregation in public places had to end, and President Harry Truman likewise showed courage when he ordered that the United States military had to be integrated.

Mr. Obama could never get away with making a decision that would even appear to help black, brown or poor people too much. He would be seen as biased.

So it’s sad that this president, who has shown such chutzpah in all these other areas, has been loth to step into the swirling waters of institutional and structural racism.

It’s too bad, because he has shown that he is tougher than nails…and it is significant that not even this man of courage, who knows racism first hand, cannot brave this Goliath.

A candid observation …

Doctors Getting Away with Murder

Cover of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarcer...
Cover via Amazon

There is something wrong in America.

Prisons all over this country are filled, mostly with African-American men. The dramatic increase of arrests and incarcerations of African-American men coincided with President Ronald Reagan‘s “war on drugs,” and most of us Americans have smugly assumed that the war was declared in response to the appearance of crack cocaine in urban areas. According to Michelle Alexander, who brilliantly discusses disparities in incarceration between whites and blacks in her book, The New Jim Crow, the Reagan administration declared the war before crack cocaine began to ravage inner city neighborhoods, but used the spread of the drug to secure funds to carry out policies which exacerbated sentencing disparities.

The “war on drugs” led to policies that resulted an explosion in the penal population in this country, accounting for an increase from 300,000 inmates to over 2 million in less than 30 years, Alexander writes. The end-result is that this country incarcerates more people than any other developed country in the world.  Alexander writes that “the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.” (p. 6)

But even as more and more attention is paid to those who use crack cocaine, more and more doctors are getting away with murder, prescribing pain and other medications that are no less damaging or dangerous than is crack. While the prison system is allowing legalized discrimination of African-Americans, American society is allowing legalized murder.

It has been said that Whitney Houston used crack; she herself said she used cocaine, but what we all know by now is that she used prescription meds, and was able to get them fairly easily. She apparently had doctors on both the East and West coasts, and in her room was found bottles of  Xanax, lorazepam, and valium – which are all benzodiazepines – as well as Ibuprofen, Midol and Amoxicillin.

I have heard doctors say that there is no way she should have been taking Xanax, lorazepam and valium at the same time. And the danger of her taking those drugs together was exacerbated by alcohol.

It is no secret that there is a double standard when it comes to crime and criminals; street drugs are looked down upon and those who use them are regarded as the dredge of society, while prescription drugs are acceptable. Go into any affluent neighborhood and it’s easy to hear people talk of the anti-anxiety drugs and pain meds they take regularly. It’s almost fashionable to take such drugs, and, contrarily, not fashionable not to take them. The people who are on prescription drugs not as criminals, though some get them illegally and “doctor shop” in order to satisfy their habits, and are socially accepted.

And who is getting away with supplying the drugs? The drug sellers or providers. On the streets, the drug pushers are labeled thugs by society, but in the suburbs, the drug pushers are called …doctors.

If America is going to have a “thing” about drug use, oughtn’t its concern be about all drug use?  I think of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, and Keith Ledger, recent stars who died not because they used crack, but because the sophisticated drug pushers called doctors prescribed them the drugs they were demanding.

The rampant use of drugs –  on the streets and in affluent society – makes me wonder why it is so many of us need to self-medicate. Something, somewhere, has failed if so many people in a country where opportunity is so much more available than in other countries are so unable to cope with life. I have no idea about the pressures in the music and entertainment worlds that seem to lead so many people to a state of deep unhappiness, so deep that they cannot cope without medical help. At least, in urban areas, where men cannot get jobs, where poverty is rampant and there seems to be no way out, there appears to be a justifiable reason to want to escape…but what is it when one is “on top?”

Whatever the reason, my point is that since America is so interested in putting “bad” people away, and since we have more money pumped into building new prisons than we do in improving public schools, then room in the cells ought to be made for medical doctors who are violating the Hippocratic oath to “first, do no harm.” These doctors are “doing harm. They are getting away with murder, and they ought to be made to pay for it.

A candid observation …

No Outrage Over Poverty

How come it seems like nobody gets outraged about poverty in the United States?

I ask the question on the heels of the outrage expressed by Catholic bishops over the Obama administration’s policy that would have required Catholic institutions (churches excepted) to cover birth control in the health insurance coverage for their employees. Catholic bishops and others protested, calling the requirement an assault on religious freedom.

The furor has somewhat died down, as President Obama has announced a compromise that will require insurance companies to require contraceptive coverage directly to women. While some are skeptical of the new policy, others say the compromise is on target.

But I found myself shaking in my boots as I wondered why there seems to be so little outrage about poverty in this country? In the United States, there are 46 million people who are officially “poor.”  Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, wrote this week that the disparity between rich and poor is making hunger in America more and more real for more and more people; for as many as 14 million children, free food programs provide some with the only food they get. She reminded readers that hunger due to extreme poverty has been an American reality for a long time by recalling a visit Robert Kennedy made to the Mississippi Delta in the 60s where he saw for himself children who were literally starving. Ironically, today, while some children are becoming obese, many others are losing weight not because they want to, but because they do not have enough food to eat.

One thing is clear: we as humans tend not to empathize with the plights of people unless we see with our own eyes what people are going through. The stark pictures of people’s suffering after Hurricane  Katrina mobilized the nation and the world to do something; in the 60s, the nation and world, again, were both outraged and provided the impetus for Washington to do something. When I have visited tropical islands, West and South Africa, my privileges as a tourist seemed less palatable after I traveled into the territory beyond the posh hotels, including the shanty towns in Cape Town, South Africa, and saw how awful living conditions were for so many of the people.

The lack of a deafening outrage from religious and non-religious leaders makes me wonder if people really know how bad poverty is in America, and how many it is affecting. Sabrina Tavernise wrote in Friday’s The New York Times that poverty is affecting education as well. While the big gap in educational achievement used to be that between white and black children, Tavernise wrote that “the achievement gap between rich and poor children is double that between black and white children according to a study done by a Stanford University sociologist.”

We already know that poverty has resulted in people not being able to get health care, which was a major impetus for the push for health care reform. In this, the richest nation in the world, people are dying from illnesses that are treatable. Just last month, I learned of a woman who contracted a cold which didn’t get better, but the woman couldn’t go to a doctor because she had no health care, though she was a full time employee at a fast food restaurant. Her cold developed into something more serious, landing her in an emergency room, then in intensive care. She died after two weeks on a respirator.

How come there are no religious leaders, no political leaders – somebody – screaming about poverty in America?

A person attending my church one time took me to task for talking about poverty. Her statement still troubles me. “You are wrong to talk about poverty,” she said. “The Bible says that the poor will always be with us. There are supposed to be poor people.”

I was stunned at her comment.  It is true that in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can always help them, but you will not always have me.”  The statement came after a woman came to anoint him with expensive oil from an alabaster box.  Those surrounding Jesus were angry at the apparent waste of the oil. Some in Jesus’ presence said that the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Apparently the oil the woman used was so precious that it could have been sold for 300 denarii! (One denarius is said to be worth about $20)

Were the oil that valuable, I rather doubt money garnered from its sale would have been given to the poor …but the point is, the woman who approached me had apparently read that scripture to mean that there are supposed to be poor people.

Interestingly, she didn’t mention Deuteronomy 15:11 where it says that there will be poor people and therefore “I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

There is nothing fun about being poor; it is far easier to avoid the poor sections of town, and to complain that the poor are poor because they want to be, that they are lazy and want to live off the wages of others. It is as easy to do that as it is to go to Cancun and stay protectively cooped up in the luxury hotel and banish the real world out of our minds.

But the luxury hotels are not the norm. The people who serve us in the luxury hotels and on the cruise ships, many of them, are horribly poor. While they serve us the best of foods, many have little to eat themselves.

Why isn’t there more outrage about poverty? It is OK for the Catholic bishops to be outraged about contraception and a perceived imposition of a federal policy on religious liberty, but where are their collective voices – in fact, where are the collective voices of religious leaders, period, on the subject of poverty?

It seems we have it confused; we honor and reach for prosperity. The poor, who should have a voice through us, are ignored largely because of us.

A candid observation …

 

 

Is Fancy Marketing Keeping America Overweight?

I often shake my head at the contradictions between what we as Americans hold as dear and what we market.

Being overweight in America is frowned upon; obesity is scorned. And yet, we are inundated with images of foods that are not good for us. Nothing looks better than a great big Big Mac, or French Fries. Sometimes, the jungles from the commercials follow me around like a shadow, because the tunes are catchy,designed to become anchored in our subconscious. Images on television are masterful at getting consumers to salivate at even the thought of something greasy, fatty, and salty.

The fast food industry has wreaked havoc in our busy lives. It is far easier, after a long and busy day, to go to a fast food restaurant, sit on our derrieres as we order our food at drive through. We don’t even have to exercise by walking to the counter if we don’t want to. While we hear that fatty food and greasy foods are not good for us, we see images on television of happy families eating pieces of fried chicken as they smile lovingly at each other.

And portion control? Forget it! We have gotten used to enormous portions of the worst things possible. We prefer restaurants where we can boast of how much we get on our orders.  In a prosperous culture, we behave badly; we have become gluttonous, wanting more and more, or maybe even needing more and more, in order to be satisfied.

The saddest reality about all of this is that good, healthy food is so expensive, and so the people who have the least resources use what little money they have on food that is killing them. The rates of heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension in African-American communities are way too high, and yet, with the paucity of good supermarkets in those neighborhoods, and the lack of money to buy healthy food, fast food is often the only food many urban residents, children and adults, have ready access to.

We have become conditioned to wanting fatty, greasy, salty food. I have found that when I say I’m hungry, what I’m saying is that my body is craving something salty or greasy.  I give in sometimes when I feel like that, but I find it interesting that my “hunger” is rarely for an apple or a handful of walnuts.

My pull is fatty greasy salty food, but some give in to desire for big-time carbohydrates, things like bread, cake, cookies. It is so easy to sit in front of a television and eat an entire package of Oreos, or way too many Hostess Twinkies. And commercial ads make sure we don’t forget how good those goodies are!

A pair of In-N-Out cheeseburgers.
Image via Wikipedia

It is a known fact that what people see, they want. When people saw Farrah Fawcett‘s haircut, they wanted it. Whenever they see something that Michelle Obama or Kate Middleton wear that they like, they want it. We want hamburgers and fries because we see them in these masterful ads. What if the ads changed, and showed, instead, more people reaching for a juicy apple or a handful of cherries, in the artful ways that advertising geniuses do in order to lure consumers to their products?

The country would be healthier; health care costs might drastically drop. We could have smaller government and less government spending, don’t you think?

This morning on the Today Show I saw a little kid who was celebrating his birthday, I think his 8th. He held a sign that said “I love French fries.” He had on ear muffs that were “French fries” over each ear.

He was cute, but he was very young…and overweight.

We have to do better.

A candid observation …