Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Into the Mystic

Rest in Peace, Teddy. The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Capitalism as Ethical Compass

While it would be interesting, and frankly just damn funny, to list the (now somewhere around 33) advertisers scrambling to retroactively disassociate themselves from Glenn Beck, the events inspiring his recent temporary “suspension” speak to something larger that is altogether embarrassing about our nation, our culture, and ourselves.

When corporations exhibit a scintilla of integrity or sober judgment, it should shame the rest of our country’s population, who have no overarching profit/loss motives or PR concerns to overcome in making their decisions. When Major League Baseball took it upon itself to racially desegregate, years ahead of the federal government and the society at large, there was no great sigh of resigned embarrassment around the country, but there should have been. When a nation’s political and social advancement is left to professional sports, something is seriously wrong with the country and its people. Today, it is no small thing for any giant corporation like Proctor & Gamble or Wal*Mart to draw a line in the sand and specifically cite something they perceive as reprehensible, risking the potential alienation of a particular demagogue’s audience who are at the end of the day, the very consumers they are trying to advertise to.

Recently I’ve read perspectives on this retreat from Beck’s show by marketers (but not a retreat from Fox News Channel itself) in places ranging from the Myers Report to Advertising Age. Interestingly, there hasn’t been much of an uproar, or even expression of surprise at what the Right is calling “activism” and “coercion,” and what the Left is calling “responsibility.” No one is surprised that Beck’s latest remarks are the straw that broke the camel’s back, and no one ever doubted that the camel’s back was in peril for these many years. Beck appears on a network that allows him to show footage of Nazis as a backdrop while talking about the President of the United States. While Fox “News” insists it is “fair and balanced” and maintains it exists to counter the media’s Liberal bias, it cannot cite examples of CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS or news organizations in any other media that engage in regularly calculated omissions of important events or that issue forth lies on a nearly daily if not hourly basis, -certainly nobody matching its own level of reach and recognition. Fox News is a propaganda media network, and it repeatedly shields itself from recrimination by maintaining that its “analysts” are not journalists, but on-air “commentators” merely expressing opinions. Rupert Murdoch has brusquely constructed his network with programming blocks that offer hyperbole, fiction, paranoia, exaggeration, -in short a network where “feelings” and “suspicions” are always more important than the facts. Murdoch shields the “News” part of his product’s name with a single legitimate news program that sticks to the facts and operates according to the institutionalized practices and standards of journalism in America: the afternoon program hosted by Sheppard Smith may be the only objectively-postured news program Fox features daily. All other slots are filled with, at best, sad parodies of what broadcast journalism is supposed to be, including Geraldo Rivera and Greta Van Susteren’s shows. At worst, you’ll get Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly.

Opinions are protected speech by our Constitution, so Fox “News” manages to cover any of its partisan nonsense, distortion or out-and-out lies by presenting them as opinion. But a lie is not an opinion, and in any case, opinions and beliefs have no place in the reporting of the facts. Journalists are not to report what they believe to be factual, only what they know to be factual… or at least this is what journalists do everywhere else, except on Fox “News.”

You can only know a fact. You cannot know a lie.

A lie can only be believed or disbelieved:
If a person says “2+2=5,” this is not something they know, it is something they believe, or say they believe. In a concrete sense they can only know the fact “2+2=4,” or know nothing at all.

Logic notwithstanding, the idea is that this is somehow all covered by freedom of speech and the freedom of the press is incorrect. The freedom of Speech is not a right to lie, and freedom of the press is not a Constitutional right to disseminate said lie. In an ideal world the Fox “News” Channel’s violations would be subject to all kinds of actions, legal and regulatory. Journalism is in fact subject to regulations and laws, even if you try to sneak by and call journalism “opinion” as Rupert Murdoch has done by creating Fox “News.” In an ideal world, or in a nation that simply operated by the rules it claims are its laws, Fox “News” would suffer fines that would dwarf the nonsense that plagued Howard Stern in 1990s. In an ideal world the FCC would actually do something about Fox “News” and its violations of the Republic’s Fourth Estate.

Instead, it is advertisers at the urging of an online community who have to point out to the rest of us that this is unacceptable, despicable and wrong by pulling their ads off of what they clearly view as the worst show on Fox “News,” in some cases publicly reiterating that they had already requested their ads not be associated with Glenn Beck’s program in the first place.

Why is it that we as a nation have not done the same with our time and attention? Are we waiting for the 3 remaining advertisers to leave his show, or are we just waiting for a slow death from embarrassment and shame? I wonder at the questionable people and things we’ve allowed to take the place of names like Murrow, Cronkite, Brinkley, Brokaw, Jennings, Koppel, Lehrer, Macneil, Moyers and Russert.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Baby Steps

I'm going to admit defeat in the health care reform debate. I'm just going to get out ahead of the White House and Congress and admit that there is simply no middle ground in this debate. I'm not talking about the middle ground between the Democrats and Republicans. I mean there's no middle ground between Democrats and between the Houses of Congress. It is becoming more clear that congress may pass a bill with a public option, but the senate never will.

It's time for the White House to retreat to a defensible position. I believe that the debate got away from the President when he was unable to define exactly what health care reform would mean for most Americans. The genie is out of the bottle at this point. There is no way to get the sweeping change that was promised through the Congress this year. The Right has done a masterful job of bringing out all the hot button issues to bear on this debate, from abortion to illegal immigrants. The administration spends so much time trying to combat these bogus charges (which more than 50% of the public believe by the way) that it's message has gotten lost.

I have a plan though. I'm not sure that anyone will follow it, but I do think it might actually be more effective. Health reform this year should be limited to introducing new regulations for the Health insurance industry. The legislation should make it illegal for the insurance companies to either deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or drop someone once their application has been approved. The last regulation should be that the lifetime caps on coverage should be eliminated. That's it. No mandates for universal coverage, no mandates for employer coverage, no public option, no single payer. Just some common sense regulations that will make the insurance companies policies a lot more equitable. The Republicans will of course oppose the legislation on some far fetched ground, but it will be easy to explain to the people and all Democrats should be able to get on board with it.

If those major insurance regulations could be pushed through this year, the President could claim a major victory. It's is now pretty clear that health care reform has to be done in smaller steps. It is apparent that something as complicated as a major health care overhaul is simply too much for the majority of the people to understand and is subject to the most spurious of attacks. The people have to be force fed their medicine. Perhaps if we give it to them in small doses they'll never be aware of how much they've actually swallowed. I say the President takes on one health care initiative a year as part of his planned agenda. Explain one thing at a time, have a unified message, and that will make it all less scary for most Americans. Perhaps this is the approach that the White House has. Maybe they've been planning this all along. I know that the President is much smarter than me and so are the people working for him, so I would find it hard to believe if I'm the first to come up with this idea.

This effort cannot go to waste. Substantial insurance reform would be a giant step in the right direction. If you have been watching and listening to the President closely during his recent town hall meetings, he has subtly turned his mentions of reform from health care reform into health insurance reform. Could that have been his goal all along? Maybe. Or maybe I'm just dreaming.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Answer Is a Referendum on the Public Option

The Single Payer option was “aborted” before the current Health Care proposals took shape, and there was silence.

At least silence from the 50 million uninsured in America. 50 million people. Sure, many of them are homeless, living below the poverty line, but many are also the recently unemployed. If some small fraction of that population showed up to town halls and demanded what they in fact need, no amount of bussed-in patsies could shout them down.
No one can drown out a terminally-ill child who is refused care, or worse –never had it.
No one can tell the sick they don’t need what they need.

No lobbyist can fool the dying.

Now the Public Option, a proposed government-run no-profit structure is also endangered. It seems that we Americans have long ago given up the idea that we have a right to anything, as long as someone happens to be shouting in the room.

What’s remarkable about the attempts at derailing Health Care reform this time, is just how naked and transparent they are. Right wing propaganda arm, Fox News continues to parade around “experts” who have career-long histories of stepping on Americans to further the cause of the HMOs and the Health Care industry: lobbyists, former lobbyists and PR people masquerading as Think Tank members, or independent consultants. It’s no different a ploy than the bookings and interviews of all the so-called “experts” during the run up to the current Iraq War, many of whom turned out to have ties to defense contractors and other war profiteers.

But all in all, across the GOP’s talk/shout radio apparatus, across its right wing blogosphere is the insistence on talking about anything (including fictions and lies like “death panels”) that will confuse the issue of providing Medical care coverage to Americans with issues that incense and mobilize irrational opposition in voters. Any bill that has the mere mention of “abortion” in it will make some people take to the street every time; whether a reference to abortion is actually in the bill isn’t really of consequence if someone on Fox News or the Far Right says it is.

But something else may be happening behind the backs of all who are angry, silent, agitated, confused, hopeful or despondent in America.

Something truly diabolical and in my opinion far worse than the theatrical opposition of John Boehner and the contrived, specious doubts of Eric Cantor is happening behind America’s back.
As I wrote today in response to my co contributor and founder of this blog; I now suspect that no one in government wants real healthcare reform. Not the Republicans and not enough of the Democrats, just Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Howard Dean (not currently in elected office although somehow he’s managed to say more about the Public Option than anyone with the possible exception of Senator Chuck Schumer of New York) and Dennis Kucinich. The GOP has repeatedly said it will not sign any of the proposals for Health Care. Their reasons for opposition are as groundless and ridiculous as they are intractable. The Republicans simply don’t want change of any kind; they want nothing that would interrupt the flow of dollars from Health Care lobbyists to their campaigns.

However the continued willingness of the Democrats in the Senate and our President to bargain away key items and programs in the bills will not garner one single vote as my co-contributor has pointed out repeatedly on this blog. While this bargaining will do nothing in the way of accumulating the fabled “bipartisan” support President Obama has said he wants, it does in fact do something else: It fulfills the Health Care lobby's goals.

Are Senate Democrats afraid to wholly "own" Health Care reform, are they insisting on shared responsibility to avoid a replay of the tribal schisms and regional polarizations created by the enactment of the civil rights legislation of the 60s that caused them to “lose the South” for decades? I suspect the reason is much more venal in nature.I suspect that many Democrats are allowing the Health Care Reform efforts to be whittled-down from without, so they can publicly say they did all they could, while not openly upsetting their own pay stream from K street lobbies. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m paranoid, but it doesn't really matter does it?
-Ultimately the result and consequence is the same, regardless of motive and intent on the part of whomever, or whatever party. 50 million people will go on with life (and death) in America without Health coverage.

The rest of us live at the mercy of an industry that will let any one of us die if we cost them too much money.

… Maybe the Health Insurance Industry is where Sarah Palin’s imaginary “death panels” reside? -No, even they don’t have “death panels.”
What they do have are lawyers and entire legal divisions devoted to weird and now lethal concepts like “rescission,” but again the result and consequence is much the same.

While the Republican Party pats itself on the back for its successful obstruction and distraction, those now familiar throngs of panic-driven shouters remain the loudest voices in the discussion right now. How is it that these mobs bus themselves (or are sponsored) from Town Hall to Town Hall unopposed?

If Health Care reform dies, it'll be because all the people who determined the last presidential election in November remained silent.

The Health Care industry will continue to prey on Americans and business big and small. With no Public Option, there is no reform. We should be able to count on our representatives, our senators to defend our concerns but the truth is, they too listen to the loudest voices in the room. Right now the uninsured are not heard above the shouting of the new “thug politic” and whatever money and favors elected officials received from the Health Care industry. Money still talks very loudly, and it downright drowns out a pre-term baby, a teenager with MS or a mother dying of cancer.

How do Americans combat the “thug politic” that is screaming nonsense at televised Town Halls around the country?
How do Americans who voted for change, insist on change?
How can you be heard over some misinformed lunatic at a televised Town Hall meeting?
My suggestion is something very radical and very American:

-A national referendum on the Public Option.

Call or email your local, state and federal representatives and ask about the process, and let them know it’s about the Public Option:

The President and Vice President:

Your US Senators:

Your Representatives in the House:

Ask for a referendum on the Public Option now.

or you know, just drop dead.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Peace With Honour

For some reason Neville Chamberlain is on my mind today. This morning the Secretary of Health signaled that the White House is ready to wave the white flag on the public option for health care, which is in my opinion, the backbone of the proposed legislation. A month ago I wrote an article in which I expressed my frustration over what I perceived to be a lack of commitment on the part of the Obama administration to real health care reform. First of all the only way to truly control the spiraling cost of health care is with a single payer system. However the Democrats gave up that fight before they even started down the reform road. Since single payer had been so demonized during the Clinton attempt at health care reform, they decided that they would forgo it this time in order to try and keep the rhetoric to a minimum. So before this current attempt at health care reform had even begun, they had already conceded the best option to control costs and to make sure that everyone receives some level of coverage.

It seemed naive to me at the time to believe that by conceding this option it would lead to less vitriol from the opponents of real reform and events have proven this point. As I have said previously, the Republicans are not interested in bi-partisanship. Their only goal is to defeat the President's agenda. The Democrats continue to concede point after point (the provision to provide end of life counseling is, if you pardon the pun, dead) in the name of bi-partisanship when the Republicans have no intention of voting for a health care reform bill regardless of the number of concessions that are made. If a bill does receive solid bi-partisan support you can rest assured that calling it a "reform" bill would be massive misnomer. In a town hall meeting this week the President singled out Chuck Grassley as a Republican who was trying to find ways to get bi-partisan agreement on the reform bill. The next day Grassley told an audience that the government shouldn't be in the business of killing grandma.

Each concession that the Democrats make only serves to embolden the opposition. The question becomes, is our government in the business of protecting the private insurance companies or protecting the health and well being of it's own citizens? Each concession in the never ending chase for phantom Republican votes only takes us further and further away from true reform. The Democrats are going to have to pass this bill on their own. They now have to figure out whether they want to pass something truly historic and helpful to the citizens of this nation or whether they want the GREAT HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL OF 2009 to become just another footnote in the history of politics of usual in Washington D.C.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sound and Fury

I wake everyday to the same nonsense over and over again. I have to listen to the opponents of health care make up claims about "death panels" and other extreme positions that have nothing to do with the proposed bill in Congress. I have to listen to people talk about how afraid they are of what is happening to their country and how we need to "take our country back". I have to listen to this supposed organic movement talk about how this country is on the road to socialism. I have to listen to senior citizens say that they want the government to keep its hands off their medicare. I have to listen to the right wing media talk about the 1st amendment when they spent the previous eight years calling anyone who opposed the President un-American, treasonous and worse. I have to listen to people compare our President to Adolf Hitler and the Democratic leadership to the Nazis. I have to listen to Glenn Beck appeal to his audience not to get violent over this protest and then joke about poisoning the Speaker of the House.

This is no longer a "debate" about health care reform. This becomes just another outlet for the Right to get out their talking points about the President. Could anyone with a brain actually believe that the Congress would pass a law that sets up "death panels"? Of course not, but why let that stop them. But if you keep shouting socialism! and fascism! and Hitler! and Nazi! long and loud enough, you may just get some people to pay attention. People who oppose the President not because of what he stands for, but because of who he is are very attuned to the buzz words of the campaign to defeat health care reform. After all, they don't want someone who wasn't even born in America to tell them what to do. And I won't even get into the fact of how corporations get citizens to work against their own self interest (that is a story for another day).

There is real anger in this country, but it's not about health care reform. I think the vast majority of people in this country would be in favor of a system that stops the insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Or stops the insurance companies from increasing rates if you happen to make a claim against your coverage. Or lowers costs so that even poor Americans can get coverage. Those are universally helpful measures. The real anger in this country comes from the person pushing the message. While the Clinton health reform push was defeated by misinformation, fear, and millions from the insurance companies, this attempt at health reform might be defeated by hate.

The opponents of this President "want their country back". Well, I hate to be the one to tell them this but "their country" doesn't exist anymore and that is a good thing. Our last election proved to me (and if you read this blog, you will know that I was extremely skeptical) that this country has indeed moved on in a way. The country that allowed the Republicans to dominate the Presidential elections for the previous 40 years, has indeed changed. The fallout from the Civil Rights Act that allowed the Republicans to tap into white, southern anger has finally run its course. I believe what we are seeing now are the death throes of that movement. The loud, angry, vitriolic death throes of a movement whose time has past.

These are indeed desperate times for those who long for the days when white equalled right. The influx of Hispanics into the mainstream of this country scares the hell out of them (John McCain's vote against the confirmation of Sonya Sotomayor was his first against ANY nominee to the supreme court). Having a Black President scares the hell out of them. Losing control scares the hell out them. There was a day when these things weren't possible. There was a day when they controlled the "debate" in this country. There was a day when fear of the known and unknown kept us from fulfilling our destiny as a nation. I can only hope that day has passed. The anger is real and loud, but at the end of the day it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.