Of false prophets and fools in the health care debate

Count Jon Golnik, a candidate for Congress in Massachusetts, among those Americans who think government can do no right. At a recent Tea Party event in Lowell, Mass., he received an enthusiastic round of applause when he proclaimed: “I don’t know anything government’s ever gotten involved in and made it cheaper and made it better.”

His comment was in reference to the recently passed health care bill, and his object was to bash U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., for her support of the bill — hopefully helping to unseat her in the fall elections.

But either Golnik doesn’t know much, or he was just feeding meat to the Tea Party hyenas to hear their frenzied yelps, regardless of the “truth” of his statement.

We can’t imagine, for example, that Golnik doesn’t know of Social Security. That’s the program started in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that, for the first time in America’s history, provided for the secure retirement of America citizens. It was borne in the midst of the Great Depression as part of the New Deal legislation, and responded to the reality that hundreds of thousands of Americans were penniless and homeless in the latter years of their lives and never knew retirement was an option.

At that time, Social Security also included unemployment insurance — also a key government program that allowed workers who had lost their jobs to have enough income to feed their families and maintain car and home payments until they could find new employment. Disability insurance, where workers receive benefits if they become disabled so they are not destitute or a financial burden on their families, is another aspect of the program.

Most Americans today cannot imagine a society that did not provide for a secure retirement for the vast majority of Americans, nor would allow citizens to suffer through months of uncertainty between jobs without unemployment insurance, nor not provide security when facing the inevitable hardships of disability due to accidents or other maladies which limit one’s ability to earn an adequate living. All are current government programs that have served Americans well for decades.

Nor can we imagine Golnik, or other conservatives who hold such cynical views of government, are not privy to the merits of the Veterans Administration, which provides long-term health care benefits to veterans; or of Medicare and Medicaid, two programs that are touted for their cost efficiencies — especially when compared to the private health care system Americans now have.

There’s the military, of course, unless Golnik really believes Blackwater and mercenary firms like them, ought to be fighting our wars instead of members of the armed services. Can’t hardly believe he, nor any of the Tea Party followers who are so opposed to government-run programs, would sign on to that.

No, Golnik and others (rightwing media malcontents included) who have been ranting and raving that the health care bill was a government takeover of the nation’s health care system and would end in ruin, have just one goal: to run in opposition to anything Democrats propose and try to ramp up the fear of the unknown through misinformation and exaggeration. Their object is to heap dishonor on the opposition through conjecture and supposition — despite not having a suitable plan of their own or facts on which to base their criticism.

We urge area conservatives not to buy into such sophomoric deception.

There are legitimate concerns this country may have — and should have — concerning the proposed health care initiative passed this week and signed by President Obama into law, but such mindless fear mongering is not only unjustifiable, it makes Republicans look ignorant at best, if not outright obstructionist.

Consider for example these undeniable facts:

• Insurers will no longer be able to deny individuals under 19 health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions. By 2014, no person with pre-existing conditions can be denied insurance coverage.

• Parents will be allowed to keep children on health care plans until the age of 26. Currently tens of thousands of 19-26 year-olds go without insurance in those early years because of high costs and low incomes.

• Insurance companies will be imposed from barring lifetime caps on coverage amounts, and insurers will no longer be able to cancel insurance retroactively — an abuse that has outraged Americans from coast to coast.

• Tax credits and insurance exchanges that broaden the insurance pool to increase buying power for small businesses and individuals will help drive down insurance costs across the nation.

• Community health centers (a less expensive way to practice preventive medicine) will double in number within the next five years.

All are tremendous improvements over the current system, not to mention 32 million more uninsured Americans will now be covered. Even so, there are many concerns.

Administrators at Porter Hospital in Middlebury, for example, are legitimately concerned that the federal government will not follow through on its commitment to fully fund all aspects of the initiative. We agree. Hospitals currently provide the framework of the health care system and while preventive care is the new focus, keeping the nation’s existing hospitals and medical care systems in good repair only makes sense considering we are facing an aging demographic for the foreseeable future. We must make sure that new measures don’t undermine existing structures, and that promises of financial commitment are not forgotten.

Nor did the health care bill include provisions that could drive down pharmaceutical costs (because of Republican opposition). If Golnik and Tea Party members want to play an effective role in this debate, perhaps they could propose ways to bring the costs of drugs to Americans within reason, rather than being several times more than our European or Canadian counterparts.

There are ample opportunities to be effective in opposition to substantial changes in policy and those ideas are needed to craft the best legislation possible. But opposition that simply tries to sabotage achievement by the other party is a blow to all Americans and should be roundly rejected. Most important, however, is that American citizens must take it upon themselves to become aware of false prophets who rant nonsense and make fools of their believers.

Angelo S. Lynn

 

I don’t know if it is because I have reached a certain age and look back over a longer sweep of time, or because my children have reached a certain age and I see things differently through their eyes, but I’ve really begun to notice how much things change. I’m only 45 years old, but more and more when I tell my 6- and 8-year-olds about scenes from my childhood I find myself having to explain how things were back then.

And it makes me shiver when I look back and consider how much things have changed in only 35 or 40 years, then turn and consider how much more things will change by the time my girls are old enough look back on these days with nostalgia.

A common ritual finds the three of us, father and two daughters, lying in a bed, seeking a measure of calm before sleep. Sophie says, “Daddy, tell us about when you were a little boy.” She asks this all the time.

So I tell them about how me and my sisters and brothers would play hide and seek under the steps in the basement, or how Uncle Mark got left at the airport when he was a little boy, or how I used to stop during my paper route to look at the Claude Monet and the Mary Cassatt paintings hanging at the chamber of commerce in my hometown in Iowa.

While I’m describing the scene it sometimes occurs to me that a little explanation is in order; or if it doesn’t occur to me, Sophie or Emma asks what to them is an obvious question. Like when I describe how me and Uncle Mark and Aunt Julie and Aunt Kathleen would have to squeeze past the milk can full of sports equipment and boxes of old books to get to the hiding place under the steps, they ask, “What’s a milk can?”

At least the girls haven’t yet asked what a box of books is.

The incident at the airport is filled with explanations. It was the early ’70s and I guess my parents were looking for something different to do to distract their brood of seven children. So we drove 60 miles to the Des Moines airport to watch the planes take off and land. Lots of fun. All nine of us wandered through the airport, checking out the little lounges near the gates, and sauntered unmolested to the end of the concourse without a security guard or an airline employee giving us a second look.

I explain to the girls that families were bigger then so there was nothing unusual about a mother or father literally herding a gaggle of girls and boys around a public space. There was no hyper vigilance at airports, I don’t remember any metal detectors, everyone kept their shoes on. There was an air of understated celebration in the airport because almost everyone was happy to be there — just about to leave on a big trip to an exotic locale like Denver or Dallas or greeting a loved one or friend just returning from a faraway land.

The girls look forward to the part of the story about the ride home. It was after dark and our station wagon was barreling up Route 330 back to Marshalltown for a late supper at home. Kids were sprawled all over the place, the seatback between the passenger seats and the cargo compartment in the back end was folded forward to make a large flat space. Something prompted my mother to turn to the back and take a headcount: “Joe, Matt, Mark …. Mark? Mark?! Speak up, Mark … Mark, if you’re hiding under that seat this isn’t funny. (Then turning to my father) Oh dear, I think we forgot Mark.”

This cracks the girls up every time. Sometimes they’ll wander around before breakfast the next day parroting Nana: “Oh dear, I think we forgot Mark.”

At this point I have to explain to them that “in those days” children didn’t sit in car seats or even have to wear seatbelts. On long trips we crawled all over the car. Sometimes the floor was actually the best spot — it was out of the way, it had a built-in headrest in the form of a driveshaft, and because my parents had a pride of ownership it was relatively clean (unlike my cars now).

My father swung the Gran Torino around and we headed back to Des Moines. We hadn’t yet got to the airport when steam started coming from under the hood. Dad coasted the car to a stop at the curb and Mom quietly wept (see, girls, that’s where Daddy gets it from). Dad took son No. 2, Matt, with him in search of some kind of help (in hindsight, I think he took Uncle Matt because he was the next likeliest to just wander off, and Papa wanted to keep an eye on him).

I note here for the girls that my father didn’t have a cell phone. In fact, no one did. So he went to “phone booth,” used the phonebook to look up the number of the police, and then dialed the phone. We had a rotary phone in our house here in Middlebury until just a few months ago, so I don’t have to explain what “dialing” really means. Or what it used to, at least.

Turns out Mark had gone back to look at a model in a display case, and when he looked up he discovered he was alone. So he found a policeman, and when Dad got ahold of headquarters they were waiting for his call. Then he called a tow truck and a service station, and he got us a room at a hotel within walking distance and two pizzas to share for dinner. This, I point out, he probably did without a credit card.

It must have just about killed my father to fork out so many greenbacks in one day, especially after he had devised such a clever scheme to occupy his children at almost no expense.

I wonder if, while he lay in the hotel bed that night, my dad thought about how strange a world he occupied at that moment compared to the one in which he grew up. As a child he lived on a farm where electricity was quite a new thing when he was very young. They had work horses and dairy cows and crops and his mother kept close track of the egg money. He hauled drinking water from the pump out back, and they took care of other necessities out back, as well. He daily walked across several pastures to get his education in a two-room schoolhouse.

My father, whose home today has 100 television channels, high-speed Internet and an electric garage door opener, is a pretty thoughtful guy, so I think he’d share a sentiment with me. Strange, oh, strange, may it never stop changing.

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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