Yes, it was a remarkable week for Obama — and now on to gun control!

It was a remarkable week for President Obama, as the New Yorker’s David Remnick writes so eloquently: “What a series of days in American life, full of savage mayhem, uncommon forgiveness, resistance to forgiveness, furious debate, mourning, and, finally, justice and grace.”

Indeed, it was a remarkable week for America, capped by Obama’s eulogy over the victims at the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a must to see and to listen to, for all American. So go ahead!

Now, let’s now hope the Confederate flag really does come down from the South Carolina State House, and everywhere else where it might fly. And let’s hope the discussion about the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage is over. Because it is done. Finished. Let’s move on!

Sadly, however, most Republicans, including the “clown bus” of presidential candidates, seem reluctant to do so, holding on to something that has passed them by. That doesn’t seem to be a  winning strategy, and it is disappointing.

And let’s hope the Democrats, going against their own President on the Asian trade bill, will come to their senses. I come from a country ruled by Social Democracy for decades and where everyone belongs to a union. Still, it is a country that firmly believes in international trade, in an open world, in the globalization that we are all experiencing. There is no going back here either, so how could Nancy Pelosi and the great majority of the other Democrats go so wrong? It is not a winning strategy for America, and it is, also, disappointing.

Remnick’s article talks about Obama’s “resolve.” He is still the President for another year and half, so let’s hope he uses that remaining time to move forward on gun control. The curse of guns in this country must come to an end. Let’s hope.


“It takes one’s breath away…”

Here is Norm Ornstein, eminent political scholar, on the Republican efforts in Congress to sabotage Obamacare — “it is simply unacceptable, even contemptible…and it takes one’s breath away.”

“But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation—which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil—is simply unacceptable, even contemptible. One might expect this kind of behavior from a few grenade-throwing firebrands. That the effort is spearheaded by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate—even if Speaker John Boehner is motivated by fear of his caucus, and McConnell and Cornyn by fear of Kentucky and Texas Republican activists—takes one’s breath away.”

For Pittsburgh, a new future without steel

On the road again…

…and once again to Pittsburgh, the old steel city among the green hills of western Pennsylvania, where old friends live in a city of optimism and hope.

From Mount Washington, where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers come together and become the Ohio River, the view of downtown Pittsburgh from the steep mountain as dramatic as in any other American city. Below, some twenty bridges in all directions cross the rivers between the city’s many neighborhoods. Among the skyscrapers downtown are some of America’s finest buildings, from the days of Carnegie, Heinz, and Mellon to modern masterpieces by Philip Johnson and others, and to native sons Andy Warhol’s and August Wilson’s museum and cultural center, respectively.

And across the rivers lie the splendid ballparks for the Steelers and the Pirates, important landmark in a city of passionate sports fans.

Carson Street on Pittsburgh’s south side reminds me of Haight Street in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco’s old hippie neighborhood, with its galleries, rock clubs and small shops. Old mixes with new, former philosophy professor Edward Gelblum’s lovely old bookstore “City Books” with young Jake Nickman’s “Buddy’s Brew on Carson” – the finest of beer stores.

Coming into the city, along Monongahela River in Mon Valley, where the steel mills lie as giant monuments to a bygone era, side by side, mile after mile, in the small towns of McKeesport, Braddock, and Homestead, with furnaces long since cold and chimneys without smoke, the optimism and sense of hope might be a bit hard to understand. At its peak, the steel mills employed well over 100,000 workers, but in the crisis of the 70s and 80s, most of them lost their jobs, and Pittsburgh’s steel industry is only a fraction of what once was.

Today, Pittsburgh is the prime example that the old industrial cities in the “Rust Belt” can come back. But the recovery is based on something completely different than the steel, on distinguished universities and hospitals – biotech, green technology, health care, finance, and research. Today, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) logo is seen on top of what once was U.S. Steel’s 64-story headquarters, and with its 50,000 employees, the university hospital is western Pennsylvania’s largest employer.

It’s a city of history and character, and of excitement. I will return, again.

Medicare for all!

Medicare, Medicare, Medicare won the election on Tuesday in the 26th district in New York State, and the Democratic candidate Kathy Hochula became the beneficiary of the voters’ verdict in a surprising upset in the, usually, staunchly Republican district.

As a European, who has made America my home for many years, I am still partial to anything in the American health care system that smells like Canada or Europe – where health care is a fundamental right for everyone, like basic education, too important to leave to private market forces.

I like Medicare. I profit from it myself. So I completely understand the voters of the 26th district in voting down the Paul Ryan proposal to privatize Medicare. It works, unlike so much else in American health care.

For this reason, I am delighted that Vermont’s Democratic Governor, Peter Shumlin, today signed into law a new single payer health care system, which basically is Medicare for all, regardless of age. Shumlin said that the new law would make Vermont the first state in the nation to make health care “a right and not a privilege.”

I like Vermont, a State of proud firsts, as Amy Goodman writes, “first to join the 13 colonies. Its constitution was the first to ban slavery. It was the first to establish the right to free education for all – public education.” On “Democracy Now,” you can listen to Dr. Deb Richter, president of Vermont Health Care for All explain it all.

We will hear a lot more about this in the coming months. In fact, it is likely it will dominate the campaign rhetoric up until the election next year.

But, as E. J. Dionne points out in the Washington Post today, the election in New York State was not only about Medicare, it was Medicare combined with the promotion in the Republican budget proposal of further tax cuts for the wealthy. That made the whole thing into an issue of fairness. The Republicans have gone too far, they have no mandate for this.

The result in New York’s 26th district and the vote yesterday in the Senate on the Ryan budget proposal, with four moderate Republicans, two of them up for re-election next year, siding with the Democratic majority, are both clear signs how worried the Republicans have become. They mutter about “Mediscare,” but the truth is that to tamper with a popular program like Medicare has proven politically disastrous.

The legal battle over healthcare reform is heating up

When Americans have problems, they get a lawyer and go to court. Everyone is sued, or, at least, everyone threatens to sue everyone, and often about the smallest of things.
The American system of separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial powers makes it unique in comparison to Europe. The result is that many of the country’s crucial issues, such as racial segregation in schools, the right for a woman to have an abortion or how election campaigns should be financed, are not finally determined by the president or Congress, but through the judicial process, from the lower bodies up to the nine members the Supreme Court.
Now, a momentous legal and constitutional battle looms. It is about President Obama’s healthcare reform that was approved by Congress in March last year. It’s a battle not easily understood by Europeans where every citizen is guaranteed healthcare. They say: of course, every American should be entitled to health care and health insurance, without exceptions. They also wonder about the role of the judiciary and the Supreme Court and the central position of the U.S. Constitution in the American political system.
“Obamacare,” as Republicans and reform opponents condescendingly call the new law, has certainly divided America. About as many Americans support the reform as oppose it, at least if you talk about the new law in its entirety. However, some of it went into force at the start of this year and many of these measures have proved popular – lower drug costs for retirees, tax breaks for small businesses seeking health insurance for their employees, children up to age 26 can now remain insured under their parents’ health insurance, no child can no longer be denied health insurance because they already sick – so called pre-existing condition, and no person can get his/her insurance revoked if falling ill.
The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives has already voted to scrap the entire healthcare law. The Republicans in the Senate tried the same thing, but the Democratic majority prevented that from happening. Obama and the Democrats have said they are willing to take a look at individual sections of the new health care law to see if these can be improved, but they will not touch the whole law as such. For the moment, at least, it seems that the fight over the healthcare law in Congress has reached a stalemate
It is here, where the legislative process seemed to have reached an impasse, that that the focus has turned to the courts. In a series of legal maneuvers opponents of the healthcare law now seek to have it declared unconstitutional.
Twenty six attorney generals – all of them Republicans — are suing the Obama administration. Their goal is for the U.S. Supreme Court to find the new law unconstitutional. In addition, four federal judges in the states of Virginia, Michigan and Florida have expressed their opinion on the healthcare law. Two of them, both Democrats, have said that the law is consistent with the Constitution. The other two, both Republicans, had objections and one said that the entire law is unconstitutional.
For the opponents, the central argument has focused on the fact that, starting in 2014, everyone must buy health insurance. Congress does not have the power to order such a thing. No one can be forced to do this, they argue. But proponents of the new law say that it is no different from the fact that people have to buy car insurance or home insurance. Congress has this power. Choosing not to participate will make the system unfair and eventually so expensive that nobody will be able to afford insurance.
Much of the present debate is now focused on the date when the healthcare law will reach the Supreme Court. That it will reach the highest court seems a foregone conclusion, although no one knows when that will happen . One year? Two years?
Meanwhile, legal experts on all sides are lining up, pro and con. In recent articles in the New York Times and the New York Review of Books, Harvard law professor, Laurence Tribe, and Georgetown University law professor, David Cole, both regarded as liberals, are surprisingly optimistic about the Supreme Court’s future decision on the healthcare law. Both argue that the law is based on well-established praxis and that there are enough precedents for the Nine on the Court, in spite of their ideological differences, to uphold the healthcare law and thereby declare it consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
We’ll see if they are right when the time comes. If so, it will be a decisive step for America in its gradual transition to a country where everyone has the right to health insurance. If not, it’s back to square one.