Monthly Archives: September 2013

Obamacare would help IP workers

For many of the 1,100 workers employed at International Paper’s Courtland plant, the overwhelming issue is health care.

They understand they will lose their jobs. IP announced last week it will close the Courtland plant, opened in 1971. The employees are casualties of the transition to a paperless world, and they get that.

Many have skills they can utilize to sustain themselves after the plant closes. Maybe they can fix cars or build cabinets or paint siding. The work ethic that benefited IP shareholders can benefit them.

The problem for the IP workers is the same problem faced by millions of Americans. Individual health insurance is not affordable, especially in a state like Alabama monopolized by a single health insurance carrier. Accessing health care without insurance is not feasible. The only option for the uninsured is the emergency room, which does little to deal with the chronic conditions that come with age and which leads to bankruptcy for those forced to use it.

“Obamacare,” originally promoted by conservatives as a market-driven alternative to Medicare-for-all, has become a partisan hotspot. Republicans, historically champions of the laborer, feel compelled to condemn the Affordable Care Act.

Even in Alabama, one of the poorest states in the nation, elected representatives vow to do what they can to defeat a law that uses the market to provide health care to all.

In the next few months, 1,100 IP workers will be losing their jobs. Some will find new employment, complete with health insurance. Many — probably most — will piece together sustenance from a variety of odd jobs, none of which offer health insurance. But beginning in January, that’s OK. In January — if efforts by Alabama’s elected officials to defund “Obamacare” fail — they can buy individual health coverage at reasonable rates.

Gov. Robert Bentley swears he will do anything to help the IP workers. So do U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. But all four are doing everything in their power to block health-care access to the IP workers who are soon to be unemployed.

It’s time for Congress — especially poverty-stricken Alabama’s representatives — to quit treating the Affordable Care Act as a partisan tug-of-war.

The law is imperfect, but a Congress with a desire to help those without access to adequate health care can fix it. Governors who are more interested in helping their people than undermining the president can help, too.

As 1,100 IP workers soon will discover, America’s health-care system is a mess. The Affordable Care Act is an initial step toward fixing the system, and it deserves bipartisan support.

If they care more about their constituents than about partisan bickering, the elected representatives from Alabama — including Bentley, Brooks, Shelby and Sessions — will do their best to make “Obamacare” work.

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Filed under Alabama politics, Health care, Obamacare

Shelby slams Obama, not Assad

With the world watching, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, could not resist the temptation of insulting his Commander-in-Chief.

Shelby on Tuesday announced he would vote against a resolution authorizing President Barack Obama to use limited military force against Syria.

Shelby’s position was sensible. An attack on Syria does not clearly serve U.S. interests. Indeed, it could easily damage American interests by triggering retaliation against our allies. Shelby could have expressed his opposition as many of his colleagues have done, with dignity.

Instead, Shelby treated the president with derision.

“President Obama has failed to articulate a compelling American interest in this conflict,” Shelby complained. “I have heard the President’s argument. It is weak and vague, in my judgment.”

There was a time when this nation stood proudly against evil. Americans have lost their lives throughout this nation’s history opposing brutality and offering support to the downtrodden. There have been times in our history when military action was seen both as noble and necessary, even in the absence of valuable oil reserves or threatened trade alliances.

“He has also failed to clearly explain what he intends to achieve and how he intends to achieve it,” Shelby said.

Short of publicizing a target, Obama has been explicit on both. He proposes a limited strike, without the presence of U.S. troops in Syria, which will serve as a deterrent to the further use of chemical weapons. Bashar al-Assad enjoyed a tactical benefit from gassing 1,400 men, women and children. Obama has been entirely clear that Assad needs to pay some cost; that he must recognize, even in civil war, there are global norms to which leaders must adhere.

“I will vote against President Obama’s plan because it appears that he does not really have one,” Shelby said in a last slap of condescension. It was an ironic complaint from a senator who strongly supported the shock-and-awe war expected to quickly unleash the latent love Iraqis held for America.

Possibly the most remarkable fact of Shelby’s scornful statement — one that condemned his own president but not the murderer of thousands in Syria — was that he said it from a pedestal Obama provided.

Presidents should obtain congressional approval for military actions in all but the most extreme situations, but the reality is they rarely do so. Obama recognized America is tired of war. He saw that Americans were weary of serving as protectors of people we are unlikely to meet in lands we will never see. He may also have appreciated a deep skepticism borne of too many wars that proved to be less about ideals than about riches.

Obama did not have to defer to Congress, but he did. He hoped that elected representatives like Shelby would agree that America still has a role in protecting the weak from their oppressors.
Obama turned out to be wrong. Neither Congress nor the people are willing to pay the cost, in lives or dollars, to deter Assad from gassing more of his own people.

Shelby could have voted against the resolution, and in doing so he would have followed the wishes of an increasingly cynical U.S. population. To couch his opposition in condescension and insult — not for the dictator who has massacred hundreds of thousands of Syrians, but for the leader of the free world — was an embarrassing display.

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Filed under Foreign policy, obama, War

My Labor Day rant to a friend

I loved the Krugman piece you forwarded..

If you want to get mad, read the attached Heritage email. The whole email infuriates me, but especially who they pick as the centerpiece: Ashton Kutcher. This is what the self-laudatory species of capitalists always do. They find examples of people who made it, but the examples are always people with unique talent or, in the case of Kutcher, unique looks. (He was drinking his way through college, per Wikipedia, when a modeling scout signed him up.) Yes, a Bill Gates or an Ashton Krutcher can avoid poverty, even if their parents aren’t rich. But what about regular people?

Krutcher may well have worked hard, but he lucked into his looks. Same with Gates and Krugman on their intelligence. Capitalism does a great job at rewarding those with unique gifts, which we need, but it no longer rewards the labor of those without unique gifts.

Hard work no longer gets the average person — one without unique intelligence or looks or talent — into the middle class. A hard-working person of average talent, but no family money, can’t go to college. He can’t pay for health care. He can’t save for a house. Thirty years ago, when a low-skill job at Wolverine or 3M paid enough for a middle-class existence, most people had access to the “American Dream.” They had opportunity, and they could provide opportunity for their children.

That has changed. Since 2009, 60% of the jobs that have been created pay less than $11 an hour. No one can accumulate capital at those wages, and success in America is impossible for those who can’t accumulate capital.

Sorry for the rant. Labor Day always brings out my worst.

Eric

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Filed under Capitalism, Income inequality, Poverty