Yes, Senator Johnson, Health Care Is A Right

This summer I read The Vineyard of Liberty by James MacGregor Burns.  Starting with Shays Rebellion the first volume of his work tracks the changes in attitudes and laws which impact how our nation viewed and dealt with evolving conceptions of freedom and equality.  The one thing that becomes very clear early in the history of this nation is that nothing is static when it comes to these matters.

So I when I read that Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson told a group of high school students health care was not a right in this nation, but instead a privilege, I had to seek out a second reporting source to see if in indeed this was an accurate statement. Surely it could not be a reflection of how Johnson feels. But in short order I was able to determine he had indeed uttered those words.

We all can admit the larger question about rights, and how they come to be viewed as such, is a proper one to be addressed and debated in a classroom.  It is a thought-provoking topic. But history underscores again and again how the nation is always advancing and making for a more just and equitable place to live. New rights are secured in each generation and they have dramatic impact on society.

Without the right to privacy, as an example, which the Supreme Court ruled was a constitutional precept; gay men and women would not have the fuller scope of legal rights and freedoms that are now accepted by large majorities in the country.   Johnson told the students “What we have as rights is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I strongly suspect that most readers here—and citizens everywhere—would place being healthy and able to access health care as a vital link to their life and the pursuit of happiness.   It appears Johnson would have those students believe that unless a word or phrase, such as health care, is found in the Constitution there is no way to now place it as a right.

Time and again Burns makes a point in his book that Johnson needs to ponder at length before again speaking on the matter. During a trip to D.C. this year I viewed—with real emotion–The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Founders did not provide depth of clarity to each and every issue or national concern. Even if they had the late 18th century would not be the place for us to seek answers to the complexity of the world we live in. What they did provide is a process for us to use, and a path to follow as we work to achieve a more perfect union. There was not a desire from the Framers to limit progress or national maturity. In fact, it was quite the opposite. They wished to see this new and experimental nation grow and adapt as they had done while meeting in Philadelphia.

Perhaps the student who asked Johnson the question last week should have asked a follow up. How did the senator feel about health care as a moral issue? After all, if Johnson could not find a right for it in the Constitution there is one spelled out in the Bible.  Matthew 10:8 from the International Version of the Bible reads as follows.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

There is no way that a decent society rations out who gets health care by whether one is employed, or insured, or financially able.  In the end the right to health care comes from the bonds of shared humanity. We either are all in this together, or we are reduced to the level of the animal kingdom where the strongest survive, and the herd leaves the weak to die alone in the tall grass to be devoured by scavengers.

As some rant and rave about the cost and politics of health care might it not be best to get back to the basics of what our guiding moral principles should be regarding the health treatment of our fellow citizens? And was not virtue a guiding desire of the Framers who penned the Constitution?

Yes, Senator Johnson, health care is a right.

Egypt Takes Military Goodies From North Korea

In April 2015 I wrote the following on this blog.

So it should come as no surprise that I am troubled by the news that the United States will resume suspended military aid to Egypt.  The Obama administration said it would continue to request the annual $1.3 billion in military financing the United States has provided in the past to Egypt.  That makes such funding the second-largest recipient of U.S. military support after Israel.

While I strongly support foreign aid overall , and also support the military moves Egypt along with other regional powers are taking against radical elements in Yemen, I am opposed to the military support we are providing for Sisi.

Today comes reporting from the Washington Post of what happens when we support tyrants such as Egypt’s President Sisi.  We always end up being duped.

Last August, a secret message was passed from Washington to Cairo warning about a mysterious vessel steaming toward the Suez Canal. The bulk freighter named Jie Shun was flying Cambodian colors but had sailed from North Korea, the warning said, with a North Korean crew and an unknown cargo shrouded by heavy tarps.

Armed with this tip, customs agents were waiting when the ship entered Egyptian waters. They swarmed the vessel and discovered, concealed under bins of iron ore, a cache of more than 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades. It was, as a United Nations report later concluded, the “largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

But who were the rockets for? The Jie Shun’s final secret would take months to resolve and would yield perhaps the biggest surprise of all: The buyers were the Egyptians themselves.

A U.N. investigation uncovered a complex arrangement in which Egyptian business executives ordered millions of dollars worth of North Korean rockets for the country’s military while also taking pains to keep the transaction hidden, according to U.S. officials and Western diplomats familiar with the findings. The incident, many details of which were never publicly revealed, prompted the latest in a series of intense, if private, U.S. complaints over Egyptian efforts to obtain banned military hardware from Pyongyang, the officials said.

Patriotism Takes Many Forms

Over the past two weeks James and I have watched the PBS series on Vietnam which captivated the nation.  Ken Burns is simply a genius when it comes to making documentaries.  During the period when the nightly episodes appeared President Trump decided for some unhinged reason that going after African-American athletes who wish to use their First Amendment rights during the playing of the National Anthem was somehow worthy of our attention.  But for those who watched and heard the many stronger voices over the PBS airwaves as the many spokes of the war at home and abroad were told a much more reasoned lesson about patriotism was learned.

It is most clear that patriotism is far more than signing up–or being drafted–to fight in a place and for reasons that are often not understood by the combatants or perhaps not even fully grasped by the leaders who made the military decisions.  That is not to say their willingness to sacrifice their lives for their country is  not to be recognized and in its own way praised. But as the series showed patriotism is not merely one thing and it sure as hell not embodied by one group of Americans–those who wear the uniform.

As I look around the neighborhood where I have now lived for a decade there are forms of patriotism being expressed daily.   There is the public defender who fulfills a constitutional right that each and every American has legal representation.  There is the reporter who seeks the truth and works to make sure the rest of us are aware of the way our government functions .  Just a few blocks from where we live government employees carry out their public responsibilities and do so often in a hostile environment which was created by partisans.  On the news each day the faces of diplomats who work in foreign embassies so to craft solutions to problems that otherwise might lead to civil war or larger military conflicts show their love of country.

Watching the many faces who spoke with candor and passion during the Vietnam series underscored once again a national truth.    Patriotism is more than a soldier or saluting the flag. Patriotism is also about debate and even provocation.

And so it goes.