Current Comment

The Urgency of Now

The health care summit meeting on Feb. 25 ended not with a bang but with a grimace. With the Republican opposition determined to remain only that, Democrats are left scrambling to salvage health care reform before its momentum peters out completely. To start over, as Republicans disingenuously suggest—as though they were not present and had no responsibility to participate in the yearlong process—would be to postpone reform indefinitely.

But Congress cannot merely shrug off the vexing problem of health care in the United States or pretend to “fix” it through tepid efforts at cost control. It does not serve the common good to help 3 million additional families pay for health insurance when more than 10 times that number have none. And it is morally unacceptable for 45,000 people to die each year in one of the wealthiest nations on earth for lack of health care insurance.


As a player in the health care debate, the church may not achieve all its goals immediately, though it has already achieved a great deal in protecting the integrity of the Hyde Amendment. It can continue to fight for the protection of the unborn, conscience clauses for medical professionals and health care for immigrant communities through the reconciliation process and future legislative action.

Reform is imperative. The status quo already endangers the nation’s economic vibrancy as it diminishes human dignity. Postponing a comprehensive solution means costs will climb and fewer employers will offer insurance benefits. It took courage for previous Congresses to pass Social Security and Medicare against powerful opposition and public uncertainty. That same courage is required today. As Carol Keehan, D.C., president of the Catholic Health Association, insists, the time for reform is now.

The Cost of Uranium

President Obama has stated his support for the construction of safe, clean nuclear power plants in the United States but has said little about the methods by which the uranium needed to run them will be obtained. One possible location: the Arizona 1 mine, located approximately 10 miles from Grand Canyon National Park. At this spot in December 2009, uranium mining resumed after a 20-year hiatus. Denison Mines, a Canadian company, will extract up to eight 20-ton truckloads of uranium per day. The mining has begun, despite lawsuits from environmental groups and a two-year ban on new mining claims, to assess the environmental and economic impacts of the mines. Denison’s claim is not a new one, however, so the company has been given appropriate permits to move forward. Its decision was spurred by rising uranium prices. But are increased profits worth the increased risk of environmental contamination and health problems?

On the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona, where extensive uranium mining took place more than 50 years ago, the effects are still felt. Sheep graze in the midst of radioactive tailing piles, and more than 2.3 million tons of hazardous waste have been buried near the reservation town of Tuba City, Ariz., covered only by a layer of soil and rock. Contaminated water and soil are thought to have increased instances of cancer and birth defects over time. A recent U.S. Geological Survey concluded that, while 95 percent of the water near the mining strip north of the Grand Canyon was drinkable, contamination could be found in areas near the mines. More work must be done to clean up past contamination and eliminate potential future problems before new mining projects move forward.

Descartes in Pennsylvania

In the mid-1800s an Italian mathematician stole from the Institut de France a stack of letters written by René Descartes. Since then scholar sleuths have recovered 45 of the 72 letters. They should have been looking at Haverford College, a Quaker-founded school in the leafy suburbs of Philadelphia, where one letter was found in February. It had been given to the university’s library in 1902 by a donor unaware that it had been stolen. The university’s president, Stephen G. Emerson, immediately called the Institut and promised to return the heirloom that had sat more or less unnoticed on his campus for over a century.

Mr. Emerson did the right thing. Often, after works of art with shaky provenances find their way into museums, the original country calls for their return and a legal battle ensues. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles was recently ordered by an Italian court to return the Getty’s iconic bronze statue of an athlete. The museum says it did not know the work had been removed from Italy illegally. The judge countered that the museum showed “grave negligence.” Around the globe, artworks have been taken and retaken as invading armies plundered palaces and museums; others are housed in museums that have superior resources for conservation. Both issues make deciding ownership a thorny question. Others were simply pilfered from the original sites. The Elgin Marbles, part of the Parthenon, were spirited away in 1801 by Lord Elgin and are still in the British Museum. But Haverford did the right thing. Ownership does not trump ethics. That would be putting Descartes before the horse.

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Mike Evans
8 years 10 months ago

Perhaps the summit airing caused some of the concepts to jell among media pundits. Huge numbers of folk are uninsured and denied coverage at any cost. Discrimination in coverage is rampant especially according to gender, age, occupation and locality. The cost of throwing everyone into the pool is quite modest and even contributes to a decline in future deficits. Medicare is fundable by simply raising the limits and kinds of income subject to the payroll tax. The party of 'no' has finally lost credibility and the media has refused to focus any more attention on outlandish and patently false assertions by those obviously in the deep pockets of insurers, providers and employers who resent any health care costs whatsoever. Perhaps now even our bishops will 'get it' and put their moral strength behind the best efforts to pass at least a simple plan. They will save enormous amounts on their own costs for insuring clergy.

James Kane
8 years 10 months ago

Your statement that the Elgin Marbles were 'pilfered' or 'spirited away' is at best dubious and at worst a serious misrepresentation of the facts. While the details may be uncertain, it is generally recognized that Lord Elgin, at the time British ambassador to the Sublime Porte, did obtain some form of permission from the Ottoman government to remove artefacts from the Parthenon site. To portray Elgin's actions as blatant skullduggery, as you appear to, is to malign his character unfairly.

C Walter Mattingly
8 years 10 months ago

Sometimes partisanship causes us to fall into misleading innuendo and omission and even misrepresentation of relevant facts.  The above comment provides a good example. If insurance companies are so greedy, would it make sense that they would turn away business from any individual who pays enough money so that they could project a profit from his premiums? That would make them not greedy, but dumb, acting against the interest of the shareholders and the company mission to make a profit by refusing to provide a profitable service.  Next, the statement about discrimination, as if that is an inherently "evil" practice in which insurance companies engage.  Every college admissions committee discriminates against those applicants with lower grades, lesser recommendations, and poorer test scores in favor of those with greater. In judgment we believe unrepentant sinners will be discriminated against because of their behavior.  (Let's not accuse Him of culpable discrimination!) Is it wrong to charge me more for my health insurance because I choose to eat too much, smoke, and not exercise than my neighbor who is more prudent regarding his health and therefore it is totally predictable that I will used 3 times the services than my neighbor? Am I not responsible for my choices? (Those with unfortunate genetic dispositions are of course another matter).

That providing millions with insurance would not cost more money is counterintuitive to the American public.  The president's smoke-and-mirrors presentation to the contrary is so shot full of holes that it is no longer taken seriously.

It is true that taxing benefits for those with "Cadillac" health plans would have gone a long way to paying for these new services, but unfortunately the president's proposal to exempt those he owed politically, unions and public employees, from these taxes was so outrageously unjust that it did no more than further his reputation as a well-spoken Daley style Chicago politician of patronage and finally caused this sensible proposal to be dropped from the current plan, leaving an immense unfunded hole.

Next, we need to address the party in the pockets of the insurers and financial institutions. The president received far more big bucks from insurers and financial institutions than did his opponent in the last election. And who can forget Big Pharma's very own Tom Daschle with his multi-million salary as a lobbyist, and his very own paid driver and limousine, the Tax Dodge? And the "investment" paid off: pharma will not be subject to free market pricing of their products (an anti-freemarket policy of which President Bush, sadly, was also guilty).

And let us recall that the president failed to live up to his repeated committment to avoid the mistake of the Clintons by going behind closed doors and presenting a fait de compli insurance package to be approved by the congress and the public. When the actual moment arrived, I can only conclude that since he had a supermajority in the house and senate, he concluded it wasn't necessary to live up to his word, that he could do exactly what the Clintons did and force the vote through in a hurry without any opoen debate or compromise. He miscalculated. So now we have before us a health plan which the great majority of the public disapprove.

So we have the statement of the party of No. The republicans are asking the president to do no more than simply do what he said he would do in the first place: go back and have the open debate. His answer? NO.

Robert O'Connell
8 years 10 months ago
Have the Editors read the Senate bill? Do they recommend it or not? What is the position of the Editors and why?

We need to be more than mere critics of the politicians. If the Editors support the bill that is being prepared for passage by "reconciliation" just say so. We need more than criticism of the critics of this potential legislation.
Maggie Rose
8 years 10 months ago

enjoyed the pun; in addition, yes: the british government should return these ill-gotten gains asap. will they? i doubt it. and how DO we describe the ethics of that refusal? self-serving at best; approving thievery next; and at worst ... well, what CAN one say about the british sense of (self) righteousness?!!


Rafiqur Rahman
8 years 10 months ago

The institution of a bright-line provenance litmus test concerning museum artifacts is impossible for many items ... the practicality of returning 100% of the disputed items / artifacts throughout human history does not seem realistic ... ascertaining the legal validity and documented transfer of title going back centuries or more for many museum objects is for the most part out of the question ... for example, if American museums returned everything it acquired from the WW II era - whole installations would be decimated ... this is not imaginable ... at any Museum, the artwork in question is at the very least preserved for all of humanity to see and enjoy ... no one person is profiting from the artwork ... let us bury the hatchet


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