Cultural Psychology

Archive for April 2010

Senator Robert Byrd, March 2009: Passing health-care reform via budget reconciliation is an “outrage”

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Here is Senator Robert C. Byrd’s (D-W. Va.) entire Washington Post op-ed article of March 22, 2009, in which he called use of budget reconciliation as a way to bypass Senate debate “arcane”, “undemocratic” and  an “outrage that must be resisted.”  Note that a year later (2010), the House used reconciliation to pass health-care reform.  It is an outrage, and people on both sides of the aisle should be very concerned about it.  The piece is just three paragraphs and worth reading in its entirety.


Member of the Senate Budget Committee and senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee

Americans have an inalienable right to a careful examination of proposals that dramatically affect their lives. I was one of the authors of the legislation that created the budget “reconciliation” process in 1974, and I am certain that putting health-care reform and climate change legislation on a freight train through Congress is an outrage that must be resisted.

Using the reconciliation process to enact major legislation prevents an open debate about critical issues in full view of the public. Health reform and climate change are issues that, in one way or another, touch every American family. Their resolution carries serious economic and emotional consequences.

The misuse of the arcane process of reconciliation — a process intended for deficit reduction — to enact substantive policy changes is an undemocratic disservice to our people and to the Senate’s institutional role. Reconciliation, with its tight time limits, excludes debate and shuts down amendments. Essentially it says “take it or leave it” to the citizens who sent us here to solve problems, and it prevents members from representing their constituents’ interests. Everyone likes to win, and the Obama administration, of course, wants victories. But tactics that ignore the means in pursuit of the ends are wrong when the outcome affects Americans’ health and economic security. Let us inform the people, get their feedback, allow amendments to be considered and hear opposing views. That’s the American way and the right way.

Source:  Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Washington Post Opinions, March 22, 2009, “The End of Bipartisanship for Obama’s Big Initiatives?”.

The End of Bipartisanship for Obama’s Big Initiatives?

The End of Bipartisanship for Obama’s Big Initiatives?

Thomas Jefferson – Public debt and hiring ourselves to rivet the shackes of others

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“I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom. And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts, as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they now do, on oatmeal and potatoes; have no time to think, no means of calling the mismanagers to account; but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers. Our landholders, too, like theirs, retaining indeed the title and stewardship of estates called theirs, but held really in trust for the treasury, must wander, like theirs, in foreign countries, and be contented with penury, obscurity, exile, and the glory of the nation. This example reads to us the salutary lesson, that private fortunes are destroyed by public as well as by private extravagance.

“And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, and to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering. Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia, which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man. And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.”

– Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Samuel Kerchival. vii, 14. Ford Ed., x, 41. (M., 1816.)

Right to die might kill health care reform – Washington Times

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SMITH: Right to die might kill health care reform – Washington Times.

“Several aspects of the legislation are troubling from a constitutional perspective. However, not all of these aspects are raised in the state lawsuits. Ultimately, the Supreme Court may confront the constitutionality of the legislation in the context of a lawsuit brought by an individual citizen, not the state governments.

“For example, the mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance raises potential problems, not merely because the congressional authority to pass it is questionable, but also because it interferes with individual rights regarding health care choices…”

Read full article here.

Pleasanton Tea Party Draws Several Thousand

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Pleasanton Tea Party Draws Several Thousand

Yesterday there was a large regional Tea Party for the Bay Area held at the Pleasanton Fairgrounds.  I attended.  A security person estimated there to have been 7,000 to 10,000 total attendees throughout the day.  Unlike some other tea parties, this one lasted until 7:00 pm, giving people a chance to drop by after work.  Therefore this probably gives a better indication of public interest, since a lot of people who would like to attend Tea Parties work.

There were a couple of dozen booths for political candidates and political action groups.  I arrived just in time to hear Carly Fiorina, a Republican challenger to Senator Boxer’s California Senate seat.  Carly gave a great speech.

People in attendance exhibited a cross-section of political orientations, but all were concerned about (1) high taxes, (2) the national debt, and (3) adherence to the Constitution.  The speakers were intelligent and stayed on the issues.

What impressed me was how the attendees represented a cross-section of sensible, ‘red-blooded’ Americans – the salt of the earth kind of folk.  There is no way to describe them, no convenient stereotype – in large part because these are not the kind of people you tend to notice.  A word that comes to mind is “silent majority”.

I’m making this post partly to document the size of the rally.  Searching the news today, I couldn’t find much press coverage of the Tea Parties around the country. (Maybe more stories will appear later today).  No doubt there will be attempts to misrepresent the rallies, or biased reporting.  But I was there and saw this one.  It was huge, and in any way that I could  see completely positive.

I used the opportunity to pratice my version of satyagraha:  as much as possible, I shut up and listened to other people, seeking to learn what I could from others.

Written by John Uebersax

April 16, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Heathcare Reform Crisis: America’s Second Wake-Up Call

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When 9/11 occurred, when those terrible images of the Twin Towers crashing down appeared across the country, my first reaction was basically that it seemed like a wake-up call to America.  Maybe if I had been on the East Coast, closer to the tragedies, or if I knew someone who was killed or injured, I would have reacted differently; I would have likely been more immediately affected by the grief and sense of loss.  But I was in California, 2000 miles away.  To some extent, the events were an abstraction — just as if a typhoon or other natural disaster struck half-way around the world.

At the time I was very much involved in an attempt to rescue a large tract of land from the hands of real estate developers.  I was carefully reviewing an Environmental Impact Report, and preparing a scathing critique to send to a local government office.  This is what was on my mind:  how people in California could be so preoccupied with wealth and real estate speculation that they were willing to literally sell their souls, paving every field and meadow, destroying every other life form, poisoning their air and water, stressing themselves to the point of physical and mental illness, and severing their life-sustaining connection with nature.

I didn’t use these words exactly, and in any case it didn’t imply lack of concern for the people directly harmed by the attacks, but my immediate private response was something like “America had it coming”.  To the extent that I shared this reaction, however diplomatically, people were shocked.  They asked, “how can you criticize America at a time like this!”  I was accused of being unpatriotic. Unfortunately, things have played out in the intervening years consistent my reaction then.  The societal problems I was noticing in 2001 were strongly linked to a lopsided and unsustainable economy, not just on the part of corporations, but with regard to individual people.  The ethos of the times was to buy a house, let it appreciate in value, and sell for a profit; and at the same time to make any ethical compromises necessary in terms of work and job to insure enough income to make mortgage payments. That was considered the ticket to financial security.  This led, in a way that might have been predictable had people thought things through, to the collapse of the mortgage industry and the financial meltdown.

After 9/11, some people called it punishment from God.  That’s not what I was suggesting then or suggest now.  ‘Punishment’ is the wrong word.  It seems to me, rather, that, when people are messing up big-time and headed for ruin, that God gives them a message.  It doesn’t come from wrath or anger, but from compassion and concern.  Literally, then, we bring these things on ourselves.  Hopefully we get the message, correct what needs correcting.  Then hopefully go on to reap the joys and blessings that life truly promises, and can look back on the wake-up call with understanding and even gratitude.

For me, what’s happened with healthcare reform in the last year seems like a second wake-up call to America.  The kind of reform proposed by the president and voted for by Congress amounts to the worst kind of socialism. It is antithetical to the principles of American society.  It is not just the content of the reform — which puts government at the center of a malignant and malicious medical-industrial complex — but also the process:  this was truly done without the consent and participation of the American people.  The whole thing was an exercise in totalitarianism.  The House and Senate bills were, for the most part, drafted in secret, allowing little opportunity for public scrutiny, debate, and comment.   Meanwhile the president embarked on a shameless propaganda campaign, even to the point of bombarding constituents with absurd emails misrepresenting the plan and demonizing opponents.  In the end, the House of Representatives relied on incredibly shabby tactics to bypass a Senate filibuster, effectively announcing the suspension of even the appearance of democracy in the country.

However as far as I’m concerned the biggest and most decisive issue concerning healthcare reform — one about which there should be complete agreement by any observant person — is that the whole thing is a farce, because the medical system in America is totally dysfunctional anyway.  If you don’t know this, then either (1) you are as rich as Warren Buffet, and are insulated from what most people experience seeking healthcare, or (2) you haven’t been to a doctor in 10 years.

Doctors and other healthcare providers have traditionally been among the finest people in society.  They are smart, unselfish, compassionate, highly skilled, and, more often than not, extremely spiritual.  To be a physician used to be considered a calling from God.  Personally I believe that is still the case.  However the institutions in which care providers must operate today are aversive to the point of choking the life out of  these genuinely good intentions, and bringing the noblest among them to the point of despair.  I, for one, do not like to see this.  When I visit a hospital now, I’m not sure who I feel more sorry for — the patients, or the staff.  But in any event, I see that something is terribly wrong.  (And in case you’re wondering, I enter hospitals these days to visit others.  I’d rather die than be admitted myself.)

So now we’re faced with our second wake-up call.  American society fell years ago off the cliff into materialism and affluence.  But we still congratulated ourselves as being the bastion of democracy. But, with the events of the last few months, that illusion too has come crashing down.  The United States is not a democracy.  We are an occupied nation, each of us isolated, cut-off from others, and paralyzed with fear.  What makes it especially difficult is that we do not even know who the enemy is.  It isn’t Obama, and it isn’t Nancy Pelosi.  It would be nice if it were that simple.  Ultimately, it is just like those prophetic words of Walt Kelley, the famous creator of the ‘Pogo’ comic strip:  “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

It comes as no news to say that we are, each of us, divided souls — part angel and part devil — each struggling for dominance and control within us.  It seems that, in ways I’m not sure anyone has yet fully explained, these forces can collectivize.  Just as our inner angel may work with those of other people to found churches, charities, and institutions of learning and art, our inner devils do this also.  We probably don’t need to get too far into the psychology, and certainly not the metaphysics, of this here, because the practical implications are pretty straightforward in any case. The bottom line is that our inner angels have grown tepid and lazy, gradually being seduced, one degree at a time, by comfort and self-indulgence.

This happens. It’s part and parcel of being an angel.  But when it comes to your attention that this has happened, you’ve got a decision to make:  to let the slide continue, or to get back on track.

That’s where we are today.  I believe that most Americans still believe in our country:  that we have a special role to play in history.  But we’ve fallen slack, and haven’t been doing our job.  We’ve had two wake-up calls already, and I, frankly, don’t want to wait around to see what the third one might look like.  It’s time to gird up our loins, step up, and do what it takes.

What that means can be said in a single word:  Virtue. If that’s too vague, just refer to the time-honored division of Virtue into the four cardinal virtues of discernment (prudence), self-control (temperance), courage, and justice.  And if, like most people today, thanks to the narrowness of modern education,  you’ve never studied the cardinal virtues, then you need wisdom.

I don’t need to spell out in detail what needs to be done, because you already know where the answers come from:  conscience.  My job — both a psychologist and also as someone who’s been fortunate enough to have a traditional religious and classical education in an age where that’s rare — is just to help remind you that you have a conscience.  Consult your inner compass.  It exists.  It’s a spiritual reality.  Everything begins there.

But just as evil has now collectivized itself in unprecedented ways, creating terrible, global anti-humanistic power structures, so too must our inner angels organize and become effective in unprecedented ways.  This is the challenge of history now.

First we must individually get our acts together, shrugging off the lethargy and dross of bad habits and thought. Then we must learn to new ways to work together. We must found new institutions, and new kinds of institutions.  We must transcend the limitations of personal ego that have rendered previous institutions incapable of preventing the evils we see today.

I will close by singling out for emphasis one of the cardinal virtues:  courage. It is not that courage is, per se,  more important than the other cardinal virtues, but it does seem particularly important to these times.  The events of 9/11 achieved the aim of instilling widespread fear.  And the federal government, too, has lately used fear to drive the populus into submission.  In both cases the antidote is courage: the courage to endure and to believe in oneself, in ones ideals, in others, in ones traditions, and in ones instincts.

As I write I am reminded of the great book of the eminent theologian, Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be.  The title alone reminds us of a vital connection between courage and being.  To be who one truly is requires great courage.  And, conversely, to lose courage is to cease to be.

Let us all take courage, then, and more forward — together.

Written by John Uebersax

April 11, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Individual Mandate: Unconstitional Capitation Tax?

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Law professor Steven Willis suggests that the strongest argument against the constitutionality of the Health Care Act is that it involves an un-apportioned capitation tax.

According to Article 1, section 9 of the U.S. Constitution:

No capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.

Willis writes:

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care ACT of 2010 requires all individuals… to pay a ‘penalty’ on their failure to act, i.e., on their failure to purchase proper health insurance or to enroll in a proper plan…  Certainly, the ‘penalty’ is not a ‘duty’ or an ‘impost’ and is not constitutional under either of those terms.  Hence, in my opinion, the only thing the ‘penalty’ can be is a direct tax and, more particularly, a Capitation or per person tax.  Such a tax is constitutional, but only if apportioned among the states consistent with the census. This Lack of Health Care Tax is not properly apportioned. Hence it is unconstitutional.

Proper apportionment (i.e., amount of tax) could potentially reflect factors like age distribution of a state’s population and their general health status, and whether the state has its own provisions for public healthcare.

For details read the entire article here.

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John Stossel: Welfare state harms the poor

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From John Stossel’s April 8 column:

“When I first explained libertarianism to my wife, she said: “That’s cruel! What about the poor and the weak? Let them starve?”

I recently asked some prominent libertarians that question, including Jeffrey Miron, who teaches economics at Harvard.

“It might in some cases be a little cruel,” Miron said. “But it means you’re not taking from people who’ve worked hard to earn their income (in order) to give it to people who have not worked hard.”

But isn’t it wrong for people to suffer in a rich country?

“The number of people who will suffer is likely to be very small. Private charity … will provide support for the vast majority who would be poor in the absence of some kind of support. When government does it, it creates an air of entitlement that leads to more demand for redistribution, till everyone becomes a ward of the state.”

… David Boaz of the Cato Institute] indicts the welfare state for the untold harm it’s done in the name of the poor.

“What we find is a system that traps people into dependency. … You should be asking advocates of that system, ‘Why don’t you care about the poor?‘”