Oct 2, 2007

Counter Coulter event raises money for free dental clinic

A few miles west and six hours later more than 150 people gathered in the historic Howell Opera House in downtown Howell Monday evening and heard a positive message and raised more than $1,500 for a planned free dental clinic in response to rightwing author and commentator Ann Coulter calling half the U.S. population traitors.

Coulter spoke at Cleary University’s Economic Club Speakers Luncheon Series earlier in the day at a cost of $30,000 plus expenses. Many Livingston County residents were concerned that welcoming someone who has made numerous racist and hatful remarks in her books, columns and on TV and radio would further reinforce the county’s undeserved reputation as a place that welcomes racists and bigots of all ilks.

The Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton and Voter's Voice - a group for independents, moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans – co-sponsored what they called “Turning a Negative into a Positive” at a Counter Coulter event that brought in Ann Arbor author Jonathan Cohn, a senior editor at The New Republic magazine, to talk about his book “Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis --- and the People Who Pay for it,” and the health care crisis in the United States. Cohn spoke for free, and admission was the price of any size monetary donation.

Jim Swonk, the president of Voter’s Voice and the President of the Board at the church, said he issued a challenge to Cleary President Tom Sullivan and the sponsors of the economic series that brought Coulter in to see who can raise the most money for a charity. Swonk said he has not heard from anyone. Still, Swonk was very pleased with the large turnout on a very wet and rainy evening.

“I’m very, very pleased to see this turnout,” he said. “I think it really speaks to the kind of people that live in Livingston County.”

The money raised will go to the VINA Community Dental Center of Livingston County that is under construction in donated space at the First United Methodist Church of Brighton. It is being organized by Dr. Samuel Daniels, and he said the space, equipment, labor, materials, architectural work and even the legal work to establish a nonprofit are being donated. He said the clinic should be ready to accept patients who have no dental insurance or are low income in about a year.

“Almost every dentist in town and their staffs have volunteered their services,” he said. “It has been talked about for about 25 years. The problem has been dentists are reluctant to treat these kinds of cases in their own offices.”

In addition to being a senior editor at The New Republic magazine, Cohn is also a media fellow at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and a senior fellow at Demos a non-partisan public policy center. Cohn writes about domestic politics and policy with a primary focus on health care. Cohn has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone and Slate. A graduate of Harvard University, he now lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two children. “Sick,” his first book, was published in April.

“When they called to ask me to be the counter to Ann Coulter I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to be the counterpart to Ann Coulter.”

Cohn said when he decided to write a book he chose to write about something no one else was writing about, but since then health care has become a major political issue. Cohn traveled all over the U.S. and some foreign countries and read every study and every source on health care he could get his hands on in doing the research for the book, and he has become a walking encyclopedia on the state of health care in America.

“I was thinking maybe we should not talk about Ann Coulter because if we do she wins,” Cohn said. “That's what she does; she denigrates.
“She doesn’t want us to talk about health care, so I hope you will indulge me if I don’t talk about Ann Coulter anymore.”

Cohn spent almost two hours talking about health care to an attentive audience, answered questions and signed copies of his book.

He traced the origins of heath care insurance in America, how the employer-based health care system is failing and he advocated for universal health care. He told some truly horrific stories from his book of middle class families playing by the rules losing their health care coverage when a parent's job is downsized, and that is happening more and more as companies trying to compete in the global marketplace try to shed costs and doing so by cutting and eliminate health care benefits.

The U.S. spends about 16 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care, more than any other industrialized nation in the world, but millions of Americans have no health care coverage at all. The U.S. spends more on health care than those nations that have quality universal health care.

The auto industry has really felt the effect of health care costs because they are competing with countries that have universal health care, and the cost of providing employee and retiree health care benefits is not added to the purchase price of the car. Cohn said universal health care has been a liberal issue in the past, but more and more conservatives are beginning to take up the cause as they realize U.S. companies cannot compete globally carrying the high cost of health care insurance without the same help other countries have, and they also need healthy workers to drive the economic engine.

“You can have a debate about this, but let’s do it with the facts,” he said. “There may be a good case against universal health care. We have a good system, but we can do better.”

To donate to the VINA Community Dental Center send donations to 305 W. Main St.
Brighton, MI 48116.

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