Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Enter the Unexpected--and Hope?

February arrives with a reminder that life takes turns that don't fit into the mold our minds have constructed for the world:

An uprising in Egypt suddenly changes the Middle East power equation and forces us to recalibrate our investment of blood and money in the region.

Here at home, state courts keep overturning the essence of health care reform, racing ahead of GOP Congressional efforts to repeal it.

And winter storms across the country wreck damaged local government budgets with new debt piling as high as the sleet and snow that have to be taken away.

The agents of such unexpected stress, varied as they are, don't wait for political agendas to focus attention on problems that must be faced, ready or not.

Only a supreme optimist would see in all this a reflection of the bromide that the Chinese word for crisis is the same as opportunity, but there are elements of hope in all of them.

The upheaval that shakes our strongest ally--and client--in the Middle East forces us to rethink what we have been doing there for a decade. Are our policies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq built on sand? (Decades ago, we supported the Shah in Iran and ended up with a hostile regime now going nuclear.) Are there better ways to invest in our own security there?

The piƱata that the Obama White House pushed through Congress is being whacked from all sides and, from the debris, there could emerge a less convoluted, simpler health care system. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, a keen student of the subject, speculates on a possible overturn of the act followed by a Democratic expansion of existing programs that could sidestep the obstacles of a Senate supermajority and legal challenges:

"Think something like opening Medicare to all Americans over age 45, raising Medicaid up to 300 percent of the poverty line, opening S-CHIP to all children, and paying for the necessary subsidies and spending with a surtax on the wealthy (which is how the House originally wanted to fund health-care reform). That won't get us quite to universal health care, but it'll get us pretty close. And it'll be a big step towards squeezing out private insurers, particularly if Medicaid and Medicare are given more power to control their costs."

Snow removal costs can't be as easily wished away, but their reality could fuel a groundswell of public opinion to jolt even such as GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who has proclaimed that "There will be no bailout of the states. States can deal with this and have the ability to do so on their own.”

Try telling that to snowbound constituents.


Harley King said...

I love reading your column and appreciate the ideas and comments. And I have lots of hope. This too shall pass.

Harley King said...

Robert, do you remember the mayor of Chicago who was not re-elected because of the failure to remove the snow fast enough? Can we blame the politicians for the snow problems?