Commentary & Opinion

The ongoing struggle for control of the state Senate has put some traditional Democratic allies in a tough spot. That is particularly true when it comes to New York’s LGBT community.

The Democrats are trying to convince New Yorkers that putting the majority in their hands will result in passage of many long stalled so-called progressive bills. That includes a transgender rights measure, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, better known as GENDA.

If last week was all about politics - and thankfully things turned out pretty well - maybe thisweek we can put ideology and partisanship aside for a moment and apply a more objective,scientific approach to some of the tough issues we face. What do historical records and datasuggest might be the better course for our nation to follow?

Most pundits have been describing last week's elections as a victory for the status quo, with President Obama being reelected and Democrats retaining control of the Senate despite the timid economic recovery and despite SuperPACs spending nearly a billion dollars on largely negative campaign ads. From a health and science policy perspective, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

In Jacques Barzun’s masterwork on cultural history he describes modernity as decadent.  Pitirim Sorokin’s narrative of contemporary society includes sensate culture, a belief that the senses are superordinated over ideas and beliefs.

Stephen Gottlieb: Jajja’s Kids

Nov 13, 2012

On election night, we spent part of the evening with friends who, like us, had served in the U.S. Peace Corps. The group had invited Diane Reiner to speak about her experience in Uganda. She brought Ronald Sseruyange (pronounced Sse as in send, ru as in rue the day, yang as in fang, and ending with the ge pronounced gay) from Kampala. Diane described going to Kampala originally on a photographic expedition. While there, she wanted to see the conditions of the poor and was introduced to Ronnie. Ronnie had lived in the street for ten years beginning when his mother died when he was six.

If they haven’t discerned it before this, Americans must by now have realized, that the first freedom guaranteed by our Constitution is our most onerous and burdensome one: Religious freedom.  By now, Americans should have ascertained that every right is counter-balanced by a responsibility.  In this case, the right to religious belief and worship literally requires respect for others to enjoy a similar right, and if different, to refrain from any dissent, contrary persuasion or resistance.

Blair Horner:

Nov 12, 2012

As we look at the 2012 election in the rear view mirror, the nation’s attention now turns to the impact of the re-election of President Obama and the partisan leadership in the Congress.  Last week, Americans kept in place a Democratic majority in the Senate as well as a Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

Essentially, the same partisan national leadership structure that existed prior to the election.

What will the election mean to our health care?  It creates both certainty and uncertainty.

Rob Edelman: Heroes

Nov 12, 2012

Decades ago, you could watch any number of films-- dramas, action-adventures, Westerns, swashbucklers-- in which good was pitted against evil. There would be villains: men who were power-mad or consumed by greed, or who would readily commit violent acts. Ultimately, they would be quashed by heroes: men who were honest, stalwart, moral.

Now that the revelry is dying down, and the harsh reality of ongoing unemployment and the impending “fiscal cliff” re-emerges, President Obama and the Republican leadership need to commit themselves to bridging the partisan divide which has thwarted any major progress over the last four years.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Sacred Right to Vote

Nov 6, 2012

I keep hearing that many people are blasé about voting in this election. The great American historian Gordon Wood described liberty in the Revolutionary era as meaning the right to vote, the great right of a free people.

Cancer is a horrible word.  Everyone is affected, 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get a cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes.  Everyone is affected – either personally or when it impacts someone they love.

Rob Edelman: War Is Hell, Indeed

Nov 5, 2012

In so many Hollywood films of yesteryear, American soldiers and war veterans-- particularly those of the World War II era-- are depicted as valiant, well-adjusted warriors who have fought for their country. They smile, even if they are wounded. Upon coming home, they are ever-willing to be embraced by their loved ones while disappearing into the mainstream and getting on with their lives.

Anyone who's jumped off a haystack or played on a trampoline, knows the pleasurable feeling of weightlessness, wherein there are, for a fleeting moment, no more sagging body parts.

Felix Baumgartner, a 43-year old Austrian military parachutist, intentionally jumped from a capsule 24 miles up, on Oct 14, thus certainly knowing weightlessness for a decent amount of time. And what a fascinating lot of physics the man who fell from space experienced!

Late last month, renowned cyclist and cancer activist Lance Armstrong was stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from competitive sport. Mr. Armstrong has repeatedly denied the allegations, and has only tested positive once for a banned substance -- cortisone -- for which he provided a prescription. The prohibited steroid was in a doctor-provided cream used by many riders to treat saddle sores.

Have you ever heard of Leon Cooperman?  He is a billionaire whose 1500 word letter of complaint to President Obama has made him the darling of the top one tenth of one percent.  In the NEW YORKER’s October 8 issue he is profiled in a fascinating article that quotes from his letter.

I am reprinting the entire letter with my comments interspersed:

Cooperman:

Blair Horner: Every vote counts

Oct 31, 2012

As much as medical care, public policy decisions have a tremendous impact on Americans’ health care.  And there is no decision more important than next week’s Presidential choice. 

Americans who watched the 2000 Presidential election – including Al Gore – know that it’s not the nation’s total popular vote that chooses the President.  In fact, there have been a total of three Presidents elected while losing the national popular vote.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Eastern Storm

Oct 30, 2012

As I record this commentary, there is a powerful storm approaching the East coast. The last hurricane to hit this area affected a number of people in my office. One of the women who had worked for me lived in Schoharie. Her home and family were OK but she was devastated by what happened to her town. This time, my thoughts are in Brooklyn where my son and his family live – near the water but in the area that serves as a port so we hope more protected.

I’m no meteorologist. So how do you talk about a storm?

As the shadow of a doomsday triad looms over the coming first week in November, this WW-II combat-veteran-turned-commentator is compelled to dwell on an over-riding truth, that any military commanders who have seen war’s effects on the bodies, minds and spirits of combatants must – ever after – become reluctant warriors.  This does not make them more timorous or less diligent in carrying out the savage and frightful actions that combat leadership compels; it does, though, constrain them from committing those they command to needless or foolhardy slaughter.

At the Republican convention, Senator Rick Santorum told a story I could have told. At birth, he said, his daughter’s hands were “just a little bit different and I knew different wasn’t good.” At birth my son’s hands were clenched and quivering in seizure.

Now I know the Senator and I share the brotherhood of vigilance. We have known the long nights watching hospital monitors for reassurance that our baby is still alive. I know how much, admirably, he left unsaid—the change in expectations, the frustration over pains that can’t be soothed, the exhaustion of constant concern.

The Senator told his story as an anti-abortion message. “We didn’t let go,” he said. He thanked God America still has one party that says that “each of us has dignity and all of us have the right to live.”

But which party is that? Paul Ryan’s budget, which candidate Mitt Romney has said he supports and the Republican House already adopted, would deeply cut funding for Medicaid, the very program that supports the medical costs of disabled children. For the mother who has been told she is carrying a child who will face difficulties, Medicaid provides the financial security to choose not to let go. Medicaid protects disabled children, but also most of the residents of nursing homes. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that by 2050 the Ryan Plan would reduce the projected federal spending on Medicaid by over 70%.[i]

Instead, the Ryan Plan shifts Medicaid costs to states, more so each year. States are not likely to be able to make up the lost federal money except by cutting people from the program. The Kaiser Foundation estimates that in just nine years, the Ryan Plan would force states either to cut payments or to reduce enrollment by almost half.[ii]    

A few years ago, my child had a fall at school. He hit his head and developed that staple of television hospitals, an epidural hematoma. Bleeding under his skull was increasing pressure on his brain with each heartbeat. Without immediate surgery he would have died. Our insurance paid for a helicopter ambulance to take him to a trauma center. Our insurance paid for the surgery and hospitalization. Medicaid helps us pay for that insurance.

Once my son was well enough, we moved from intensive care to a shared room, which had many beds. Changes to Medicaid were being debated then as well and I remember wondering who among the politicians calling for cuts would be willing to come to that room and tell parents precisely what their child would no longer be able to afford.

The Ryan cuts are far deeper. So I wonder again, is Paul Ryan himself going to walk into a room of ten beds and push half of them back into the hallway? Will he clip the IV drips? Deny the pain meds? Will he pull the respirators?

There is a deeper kind of dishonesty than saying things that aren’t true. Paul Ryan’s proposed cuts to Medicaid can have only two outcomes. Either the unreimbursed costs will be passed along as ever higher medical fees. Or children will die. They will miss preventive care, they will wait too long, they will be denied care. Pretending to value children while withdrawing the supports they need is unforgivable dishonesty.

David Gilbert Keith is a father and independent researcher living in Deerfield, Massachusetts.

During the final presidential debate this past Monday, President Obama stated that “…if we are not making investments in education and basic research …then we will lose the lead in things like clean energy technology.”  Indeed, I think it is fair to say that both parties have passed platforms which reflect a belief in the importance of scientific research.

Photo: Andre Pilarczyk

At this stage of the race -- with candidates as smart as both President Obama and Governor Romney -- it is safe to say that nothing happens by accident.  So what is the takeaway from last night's foreign policy debate?  

Mitt Romney wanted to obscure differences rather than clarify them, even going so far as to etch-a-sketch away his most hawkish language on Afghanistan and Iran.   But why?

This presidential campaign season is a time for clarification. If campaigns have any value over and above the megaphone effect of why one candidate is more desirable than the other, it is the chance to use a campaign as an educational forum. From my perspective, even silence or ambiguity can be revealing. In this season, President Obama has indicated the threat and direction of American foreign policy through ellipses.

Stephen Gottlieb: Romney-Ryan Rickshaws

Oct 23, 2012

Both candidates say they want to pull us out of the recession and put people back to work – to create jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs, the election seems to be about jobs.

Blair Horner: Fact checking the health care debate

Oct 23, 2012

As we all know, the fate of the federal health care reform law is to be decided by voters this November.  There are those running against the law that argue that they want to “repeal and replace” the law. 

However, there has been no alternative offered by opponents – just vague promises, partial pledges and grotesque distortions of the federal law itself.

In the heat of the political season, it’s important to take a closer look at opponents’ promises.

Paul Elisha: On paper in the digital age

Oct 23, 2012

The poet Frank Bidart’s “Inauguration Day,” composed for President Barak Obama’s first Inaugural, began with these lines: “Staring out across America I see, since Lincoln, gunmen nursing fantasies of purity betrayed, dreaming to restore the glories of their blood and state.”  These words projected a hope of return to earlier times of repression and the glory of purity restored.  It’s a hope that obviously lingers for some.

Rob Edelman : Much to Ponder

Oct 22, 2012

On rare occasion do I see a film that so challenges me, that has so much going on in it, that I come out of the theater thinking, “I must give this movie a second look.” One such film is CLOUD ATLAS, which I saw at the Toronto Film Festival back in September and which I will re-see upon its theatrical release.

Eliot Spitzer - 2nd Presidential Debate

Oct 18, 2012
Photo: Andre Pilarczyk

Toe to toe, interruption to interruption, like two gladiators they squared off in the arena. Candy Crowley's best efforts to maintain order couldn't survive the testosterone battle that played out before us. It was not only great TV, but a superb debate. The key takeaway: Barack is back and moderate Mitt can't survive careful scrutiny. 

Sean Philpott: Now Entering the Health Care Spin Zone

Oct 18, 2012

Last Tuesday night was the second of three scheduled presidential debates, with President Obama and Governor Romney going toe-to-toe before a public audience at Hofstra University.

In a recent book entitled Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students Its Intended To Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, the authors identify reforms that could make a difference in dealing with this ticklish racial issue, reforms, as I see it, that are eminently sensible.

Stephen Gottlieb: This is an emergency

Oct 16, 2012

During the fund drive I heard Joe Donahue and this station working hard to bring Bill McKibben to this audience and lead us away from the catastrophe of global warming. He and the station did a great service and I am proud to be associated with them.

If your house was on fire you wouldn’t stand like a bystander waiting for it to collapse; you’d call the fire department and get anyone you could reach out of there fast.

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