Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Party of No, No, No, I Really Mean No!

It's been four months since my last entry, and a lot has happened since then. As my readers know, I have been a proponent of health care reform. I am both excited and disappointed by what we have achieved. Will there be reform? Yes, to some degree. For that I am grateful. The part of I find disappointing is the glaring lack of a public option to offer real competition to the insurance companies. I would even like to see Dennis Kucinich's plan to offer Medicare to all Americans from the cradle to the grave. We're the only "free" country in the world that doesn't offer its citizens universal health care.

Somehow we've been led to believe that universal health care is our enemy. It's perfectly acceptable to use our tax dollars to fight wars overseas and to fatten the pockets of oil companies. But guarantee our people the right to universal health care? Heaven forbid! Socialism! The end of the world as we know it!

The health care debate gave rise to the so-called "Tea Party" movement. Funded largely through Dick Armey's "Freedomworks," which is connected to high profile special interests, the Tea Party nevertheless claims to be a "grassroots" movement. By and large, their shrill cries have taken civility out of the public discourse. They shout down intelligent debate, and they hurl terms such as "Socialist" at their foes. I believe much of their vitriol against the President of the United States is thinly-veiled racism. It's totally unacceptable to use racial slurs, so instead they use the "socialist" and "Muslim" smears against President Obama. This plays right into the fears of the ignorant. Lies breed more lies, fear breeds hatred and even violence.

In the wake of the recent healthcare vote, Democratic legislators have been harassed and threatened. Office windows have been broken. Blogs have sprung up revealing the private home addresses of legislators, urging harassment and violence. One site keeps track of broken windows. I don't know about you, but I find this eerily reminiscent of Germany's "Night of Broken Glass" as the Nazis rose to power. Mob mentality brings out the worst in people, and this is what the harsh rhetoric of talking heads and far right wingers have awakened. You just can't keep making statements like, "Obamacare is a Socialist totalitarian takeover of healthcare," without expecting some form of backlash. Okay, that's not entirely clear. Backlash is to be expected, but I was brought up to believe our revolutions happened at the ballot box. Since when is it "American" to advocate violence against our elected officials? Are we not "One Nation" with opposing beliefs? Or are we so polarized that we have nothing but hatred for those who don't see things our way? If so, then America doesn't need enemies; America need only heed the immortal words of Pogo, the cartoon gator: "I have seen the enemy, and he is us!"

So if you don't like our leaders, speak your mind on election day. But don't be swayed by the poison that will soon pollute our airwaves now that corporations have unlimited spending power in elections. Right now, the Party of No, No, No, I Really Mean No! seems to have nothing constructive to build upon, so this will be a campaign of fear, lies, and slander of historic proportions.

Now let's Connect the Dots.

The only way out of what the Supreme Court forced upon us by unleashing corporate spending is to carve out a constitutional amendment to end it. But can this happen between now and election season? Not likely. Don't let that stop you from hounding your leaders about it. And please, don't buy into the fear. Reason can win.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Frank Schaeffer

Check out Frank Schaeffer. He's one of the founders of the modern American evangelical movement, with some interesting observations about the direction in which the evangelical right is trying to take us. I find him though-provoking. Just click on his name in the title above for his latest blog post.

Now let's Connect the Dots. We all need to think past our ideologies and think for ourselves. Question everything, especially if we're told we should do or believe something. To face the challenges ahead, we need to use our minds, not our gut-reactions. Most important of all, always verify the facts of what we are being told. Most of what passes for truth in viral emails on the Internet are blatant falsehoods or half-truths. Always check, check, check!

To all my friends and readers: Have a great Thanksgiving.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Ray of Hope

A Ray of Hope
Remember Bob Dole? He’s a former GOP senator from Kansas, and he ran against Bill Clinton for the presidency. Recently this venerable old GOP warhorse said he was asked not to take a stand on health care by Republican leaders in Congress. To his credit, Mr. Dole did more than take a stand; he teamed up with former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Together they released a statement acknowledging that although the various reform bills currently in Congress are flawed, they “provide some basis on which Congress can move forward.”

“The American people have waited decades and if this moment passes us by, it may be decades more before there is another opportunity,” the statement said.
While it may seem odd for such opposing figures as Mr. Dole and Mr. Daschle to release a joint statement in favor of health care reform dialog, hopefully it is the spark that lights a fire under the stalled partisan mindsets of our legislators. Something needs to remind them that the times, indeed, are a-changing. One interesting effect of Mr. Dole’s call for bi-partisanship is that may be just the catalyst that Republican Senator Olympia Snowe needs to cross the great divide and vote with the Democrats in favor of health care reform.

Other Countries
Recently I’ve been speaking to people from other countries about their views on national health care. One conversation was quite unintentional, but revealing. I was talking 70s progressive rock music with an Englishman in a neighborhood health food store. We were naming bands, and the group “National Health” came up. My English friend remembered them, but then said, “Funny you should mention it, but our system of National Health is a far cry better than anything I’ve seen here in the states.” He had no horror stories about long waits and care denied, only that the English just don’t have to worry about their health care. It’s a given.

One of my recent gigs as a laid-off teacher has been performing at local organic farmers’ tailgate markets. I do a set of 20 old tunes, mostly Dylan, Donovan, and some 50s thrown in for fun. Recently I met a very intelligent 20-something Canadian girl. I was singing a Donovan tune and it drew her like a moth to a flame. Turns out she really likes Donovan. She heard it at her parents’ home as she was growing up. I asked her about the Canadian health care system. She said, “It’s great. We get the care we need when we need it. It’s so simple. I don’t know why Americans are making such a fuss about it.” Isn’t it odd how the Canadian health care system can pool its influence and get far lower prices on pharmaceuticals from the U.S. drug companies than we can here in the good old USA? There is strength in numbers.

Another opinion comes from my nephew in Denmark. My brother’s first wife was a Danish woman, and after a divorce when my nephew was only three, she and Michael moved to Denmark. That was 40 years ago. Michael says the health care in Denmark is great. It’s guaranteed to all. He also said they get guaranteed retirement. That’s quite a combination – decent retirement pay with no health care costs to erode spending power. “It’s why we pay taxes,” Michael said. “Our taxes don’t go to wars. We use them to help our people.” What a revolutionary idea. Taxes can actually be used to help people.

Time to Connect the Dots
My young Canadian friend asked a very interesting question. Why are Americans making such a fuss over health care reform? Let’s connect the dots and see.

First, follow the money. During the summer mobs of angry Americans showed up at health care town hall meetings and street marches to protest against their own best interests. Where did the funding for such “grassroots” democracy come from? Does anyone remember Dick Armey? He was once the House Majority Leader. He is also a long-time lobbyist for the health insurance industry. His group, FreedomWorks, funded and staged these “protests.” Funny, but the insurance industry has been spending about a million dollars a day to spread misinformation about health care reform. Mr. Armey’s group “FreedomWorks,” gets a lion’s share of funding from big insurance companies, as well as corporate giants like Exxon-Mobil. After they leave health care in the dust, their next target would be the President’s green energy initiative. But that’s a topic for another day.

Second, follow the money. The CEO of Aetna, a major player in the insurance business has a really sweet compensation deal. On the profits made by Aetna in the health care insurance market, Ron Williams brings home $24,300,112. Yes, you read it right. That’s tens of billions. No wonder these companies like to deny claims and refuse to treat pre-existing conditions. Sickness is a really big business. Mr. Williams earned $24,300,112 in total compensation for 2008, with more than half of that ($13,537,365) coming from option awards. He also received an additional $6,456,630 in stock awards to go along with his base salary of $1,091,764. Personal use of a corporate aircraft and vehicle, as well as financial planning and 401(k) company matches added up to another $101,487 for Williams, You can find more information on

Third, follow the money. Mr. Williams is not alone. Cigna’s H. Edward Hanaway takes home more than $12 billion annually. Wellpoint’s Angela Bray takes home nearly $10 billion. The list goes on. This is why there’s so much opposition to a public option. When the public finally realizes how long these guys have been ripping us off, the whole game will collapse like a house of cards. That’s why the industry is spending so much money to fight this.

Going back to Mr. Dole, I give him credit for trying to break the deadlock. It’s a bold move. Maybe the plans in Congress really are flawed. In my opinion, they don’t go far enough for real reform. I would favor a single-payer national healthcare system, like the ones in England, Canada and Denmark. Does that make me a “socialist?” I don’t think so. No more than it makes my young Canadian friend a dangerous radical. These are labels. If we move past the labels, we can meet and greet each other on equal terms and make some real progress.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Not Your Average Joe

Joe Wilson just had his wrist slapped by Congress. Voting largely along party lines, the final tally Tuesday was 240-179. Of these, 233 Democrats and seven Republicans voted to chastise Wilson, 167 Republicans and 12 Democrats opposed the measure, and five Democrats just voted "present."

While Republicans are calling the vote in the House a "witch hunt," I believe there is a deeper issue here. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md, said, "The resolution is...about the conduct we expect of one another in the course of doing our business."

Perhaps "business" is the right word. Since Wilson's outburst, both he and his opponent in the upcoming Congressional election have raised more than a million dollars. Incivility pays!

But I digress. Here is the heart of the issue. "Average" people have been getting downright nasty lately at town hall meetings for health care, slinging insults and epithets, some even carrying guns to the events. But Wilson is not your average Joe. He's a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Rules and procedures govern how our ruling bodies conduct business. After all, Congress is not the Jerry Springer show.

Have we so thoroughly lost our civility as a nation? By refusing to chastise inappropriate behavior in Congress, are Republicans implying that this kind of behavior is acceptable? Maybe so. Nobody censured Dick Cheney for telling Patrick Leahy, on the floor of the Senate, to "Go f**k yourself." Cheney later reported his outburst made him feel better. Perhaps it did, but is this the type of behavior we expect from the Vice President of the United States during official Senate business? Is this appropriate behavior from the party many Americans believe holds the moral compass?

Let's get back to Joe Wilson. Shouting "you lie" at the President of the United States shows a blatant disrespect for that office. It doesn't matter who is in the office; the office itself must be held in high regard. This is, after all, the leader of the Free World, the Commander-In-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces. Like it or not, he was put in this lofty office by the American people. He is worthy of respect and civility, even if we disagree with his policies.

As a journalism major during the Nixon years, I had the opportunity to witness and reflect upon a pivotal time in our history. America was in Vietnam. The Equal Rights Amendment was a hot-button issue. Roe v. Wade had just sprung from the starting gates amid a frenzy of controversy. Protests were everywhere, from Washington, DC, to the cities of America. What distinguished the protests of that era with the protests of today? Only this: the protesters of those times went after issues. They did not engage in the character assassination of today's motley crew of haters. For example, a sign that demanded "U.S. Out of Vietnam" was focused on the issue of the day. It focused attention on a problem that lawmakers could do something about, rather than attacking the character of the President.

Is there much difference between the disrespect Joe Wilson demonstrated and the audacity of demonstrators marching with signs depicting the President as Hitler? What are these people thinking? Do they even know? Hitler was an authoritarian dictator who persecuted and murdered millions for their religion, beliefs, ethnic identity, and even physical and mental handicaps. President Obama does not advocate genocide or persecution, nor have any of his proposals indicated a desire to topple our democratic institutions in favor of an authoritarian state.

So let's connect the dots. If the President's detractors have nothing constructive to add to civil debate over the issues, they resort to character assassination. It's all a part of the politics of destruction. Hopefully, thinking people will see past the smokescreen and demand a return to issue-based civility in our political discourse.

What to do with Joe Wilson? Here's what I propose. If a hockey player demonstrates unacceptable behavior, he is put into the penalty box for a specified period of time. Since Joe Wilson obviously does not know how to behave on the ice, he should spend some time in the penalty box. Perhaps he should have to sit out the next few House votes, especially the upcoming health care vote. Too Draconian? You decide.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Watch This Space

Watch this space for cutting edge commentary that will look behind the news. I aim to cut to the chase about events that affect us as American citizens, from politics and ecology to culture and entertainment.

Well-researched discussion about the issues I post will be warmly welcomed.

Watch this space!