Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The truth about government health care revealed!

I think I finally understand objections to the idea of government bureaucrats taking control of your health care away from private insurance bureaucrats (aside from the 70 million Americans who already get some form of government health care).

Not only will they make you kill grandma* to get your blood pressure check up, but they will also make you bring in an American flag to burn and agree to appear in an al-Qaeda video** with old chums Osama and Obama.

(*-Disabled children, fetuses or puppies can be also be sacrificed if you already killed grandma to get your wisdom teeth pulled)

(**-You can also burn the Bible or use a Cross for kindling)

Note: This information may have been provided to me by the Tea Bagger leader and ObamaCare opponent who informed us that the "government of the people, by the people and for the people" appears in the US Constitution. So it must be completely accurate.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Don't belong to the Party of No

One of the things I've learned as a political junkie and wannabe-activist is that you can simply say No, No, No all the time. You have to offer people something to say Yes to.

In a previous essay, I took issue with some comments made by my friend PCS at Adirondack Musing blog. He promptly offered a response of his own. In it, he "asked [me] to give [him] the secret plans of how the Green Party is going to gain control of our government...."

I explained to him a little about American history; history which has repeatedly shown that organizations can have a huge influence on the direction of policy even without a majority of seats in a legislative body or none at all. In the early 20th century, the Progressive Party had a major influence in pushing progressive items, like anti-child labor laws and the health and safety labor regulations, that are now considered basic in any civilized society. They never controlled the presidency and I don't believe they ever controlled any governorship or state legislative chamber. Movements like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, NAACP, abolitionists and women's suffrage organizations weren't political parties at all.

All of these movements and parties succeeded not by crossing their fingers and wishing for the best for years upon years upon decades. They demanded not Hope but action. They succeeded by putting pressure on elected officials, without regard to party. Pressure that included threatening to withhold votes, support and money... and the willingness to follow through.

They weren't timid and meek. And most importantly, they weren't in hoc to any one particular party or individual (a key principle which the US labor movement singularly failed to learn, with results we can all see). Their responsibility was to their beliefs. As the political axiom goes, "There are no permanent allies, only permanent interests."

Politicians and parties worry about getting elected. Citizens must be more concerned with what's done once elected.

All citizens should be responsible to their beliefs, not their political party or any particular politician. The party and the candidates need to be servants, not masters.

I did point out to PCS that the first step in the Greens not-so-secret plan is to persuade people like him who clearly have sympathy with the Green agenda to actually vote for the party or, at the very least, consider it.

But none of this seemed to persuade my friend. He clearly thinks that the idea of the Greens or any other so-called third party making a difference is not pragmatic, is unrealistic.

So be it.

But in terms of how to the citizens can take back the government from the corporations, I've never heard from him or anyone else a realistic, viable alternative to real multipartyism.

So I will throw his challenge back at him.

If multipartyism is not his answer, then what is HIS illuminating secret plan to reinvigorate and render effective the progressive movement in the United States?

Any readers are invited to share their suggestions too.

Don't belong to the Party of No.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The heroes of the world

This essay is part of an occasional feature on this blog that presents compelling stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, IsraelStine and the Trumped Up Enemy of the Month. A list of all pieces in this series can be found found here..

Yesterday marked the first celebration of World Humanitarian Day. The date was chosen because it marked the sixth anniversary of the homicide bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad which killed 22 UN workers including former Human Rights Commissioner Sergio Vieria de Mello.

Humanitarian aid workers have always been in harm's way but they are suffering greater and greater numbers of casualties in recent years. This is not down to bad luck but rather to an intentional strategy by warring parties.

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, which at the time hosted one of the largest refugee populations in the world, I came in contact with and made the acquaintance of many humanitarian aid workers. I visited a refugee camp and it gave me some idea of the absolutely miserable conditions these aid workers labor under.

I've come to consider these people the heroes of Humanity. The majority of western aid workers are people who could easily have remained at home in comfortable, air-conditioned apartments in London or New York but have chosen of their own free will to go to the worst places in the world in order to feed the starving and heal the sick.

It's also worth remembering that most big aid organizations also rely heavily on domestic staff from the countries in question. These are people who could very easily and understandably flee the conflict in their land but choose to stick around and help people who would otherwise suffer in misery or die.

I can think of no more noble calling.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Screw the pedestrians!

I've written before about problems with the president's 'Stimulus' package, particularly its emphasis on wasting the $800,000,000,000 on what can be done quickly rather than doing things right or doing what's needed.

I wrote: This crystallized for me some months ago when I heard New York Gov. David Paterson's remarks while inaugurating some road project in the Albany suburbs. He was asked by a reporter why the road did not include a bike path. You have to remember this is Stimulus money, the governor insisted. It's Stimulus money. It's Stimulus money.


Basically, Paterson said that because the project was being paid for with Stimulus money, the most important thing was that it be done quickly -- not that it be done well, not that it be done efficiently or in a beneficial way, but that it be done as fast as possible.

So paying for some suburban road project that will only stimulate more traffic congestion is an acceptable use of funds, but building a sidewalk so schoolchildren don't have walk along the shoulder of a major state highway was denied.

I know public policy in this country is generally hell-bent on subsidizing the least efficient, most environmentally damaging form of transportation, the private, single-person automobile. But with $800,000,000,000 floating around, you'd think they'd at least be able to throw the occasional bone to bicyclists and schoolchildren.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

"The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." -Albert Einstein

Adirondack Musing blog is written by a self-described liberal. Its author seems like an eminently decent guy, no clown or joker he. But he seems to fall prey to the same disease that affects far too much of society. Too many Americans, including lots of otherwise decent ones, seem to define themselves more strongly by what and whom they are against rather than what and whom they are for. What this unfortunately means is that too many Americans are more interested in opposing than in doing.

His blog devoted primarily to taking shots at conservatives and this entry is no exception. He approvingly quotes a conservative economist who declared, "Until conservatives once again hold Republicans to the same standard they hold Democrats, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect."

Yet I contend that liberals are guilty of the same thing.

Until liberals once again hold Democrats to the same standard they hold Republicans, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect.

I concluded this over a decade ago, which is why I switched my party registration from Democrat to Green. The intervening ten years has only strengthened my belief that I was right to do so.

For example, President Obama is about to abandon the "public option" of his so-called health care reform bill. This isn't a compromise. It's a capitulation. It's not sacrificing something good to get something decent. He's abandoning the only semi-redeeming feature of his vastly inadequate plan.

And whose fault is that?

According to liberal Democrats, it's the fault of the Republicans, the Party of No, the "mobs" and "hooligans" trying to shut down town halls, the far right wing nuts tilting at windmills.

All worthy of scorn no doubt, but mere scapegoats.

Why isn't it the fault of the party that has 60 pct. majorities in both houses of Congress?

Why isn't it the fault of the Messiah who promised Change We Can Believe In and consistently failed/refused to deliver, on issues from Guantanamo to the War Against Civil Liberties to, now, health care.

The last time the Democrats controlled the presidency and had Congressional majorities of this size, they passed Medicare and Medicaid. This time, they can't even pass a modest 'public option.'

The Democrats promised us that things would be so much different if we simply gave them all the power. Liberals crossed their hearts and promised us they would hold Obama's feet to the fire.

I knew that was b.s. and I didn't believe it for a second. Now we're seeing it clear as day with his capitulation on the only semi-worthy part of what should be the most important bill of his presidency.

The truth is that neither the public option nor the sensible option (Medicare For All/single payer) were killed by the evil, minority Republicans. They were killed by sainted DEMOCRATS. I'd say Adirondack Musing's rage and those of other liberals is just as misdirected as the conservatives they vilify.

So here's my question: when will these self-described liberals hold Democrats accountable to the same degree they did so for BushCheney and the Republicans?

Democrats are beholden to corporate interests to more or less the same degree as Republicans. If this fiasco doesn't make that clear, nothing will.

If you really want change to believe in, start voting for smaller party and independent candidates not bought and paid for by corporate America. It may not bring change instantly, but there is no way forward without real multipartyism.

Update: Adirondack Musing offers his retort.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"We Have Talked The Problem To Death" (guest essay)

Editor's note: During the current health care debate, Canada's national health insurance program known as medicare has come under attack from opponents of real reform. The program provides health insurance to all Canadians and does so quite a bit less expensively per capita than our own system. Quite a bit of misinformation and outright lies have been told about the Canadian medicare system. A local businessman, who actually lived in Canada and knows the system first hand, shares his thoughts about how the Canadian system really works.

"We Have Talked The Problem To Death"
by Matt Funiciello

Regarding health insurance reform, Barack Obama was quoted today as saying, "We have talked this problem to death." It's enough to make a reasonably-informed, active citizen run screaming into the woods.

As someone without health insurance, as someone who spent more than a dozen school years living in Canada with its fantastic health care system, and as a small business owner tasked with providing HMO coverage for my fellow employees, I am very upset at this latest betrayal by the Democratic Party and its leadership. If I was a Democrat or if I had voted for Obama, I would be absolutely enraged! He is touting mandatory, overpriced heath insurance in place of meaningful, universal health care reform.

The folks who run the faux-left corporate lobby group known as the Democratic Party are now responsible for all kinds of terrible policies, both foreign and domestic and they simply can't blame Bush anymore. For Obama to now pretend that he and his party care about the 100 million Americans who lack appropriate access to health care transcends the corrupt and enters the realm of the criminal. Lack of access health care kills 22,000 people in this country every year. That’s seven and a half 9/11s! Think about that. Let that sink in for a moment.

I have written about the answer to this problem frequently. I have spoken at rallies in support of what I know to be the right answer. I have supported political candidates who support that answer and would use it to save 22,000 American lives every single year (along with barrels of money).

The "answer" I am referring to is Single-Payer Health Care (Improved Medicare For All - H.R. 676). Every American would be completely covered and it would actually cost less than we are already spending for unconscionably bad, non-universal, heath insurance. There are currently 50 million Americans totally without health insurance but there are also 40-50 million more who are considered "undercovered." Our profit-driven, criminal, health care system is currently ranked 38th in the world.

Canada has a single-payer system and they don’t have any cases of people losing their homes due to medical bills... because there are no medical bills. Progressive taxation pays all the costs.

Canadians don’t build two hospitals ten miles apart from each other in small towns and then wonder why their health care costs are so high. They build and support one hospital and figure out how to most effectively transport patients to said hospital. It' a system based entirely on patient care and efficiency, not on profit.

Canadians live THREE YEARS longer than we do! If their system is so damned terrible (as Fox TV and the NY Times tell us on an almost daily basis), how is it possible that they are healthier than we are? How could their infant mortality rate be almost half what ours is?

In Canada, no one waits 3 hours to have a broken arm looked at nor do they wait ridiculously long periods for necessary surgeries. The insurance companies and the corporate media are LYING TO US. They are LIARS! It's really just that simple. They are keeping as much as 35 cents of every single one of your health care dollars for themselves. If profit margins are a corporation's sole motivation, 35% of the 2 TRILLION dollars spent annually on health care would be a fairly compelling reason to lie, wouldn't it?

There is no profit in Canadian health care. This means that while doctors and nurses make a good living there, they are, by and large, people truly motivated to help their patients, first and foremost. Although their are many doctors who play golf in Canada, I would hazard a guess that very few Canadian doctors go into medicine specifically to support their golf habit. I actually know doctors here for whom golf is the center of their existence rather than the healing arts.

Collectively, Americans spend about $7900 per person per year on health care (private insurance, private bills, Medicare and other subsidized programs). Eliminating all that redundancy and removing profit from the equation allows Canadians to save about $2300 per person while covering EVERY single Canadian. Again, our system leaves about 100 million people in fear that if something goes wrong with a family member's health, they may go bankrupt (and they should be scared because it happens every single day and often to people who think they're more than adequately covered).

I know the popular mythology, oft-repeated, is that Slick Willy (Bill Clinton) and his wife, Hillary, tried "really, really, really hard" to get us real health care back in 1994 but we "just weren’t ready for it as a country."

We really need to stop supporting this kind of nonsensical propaganda. If Bill Clinton had really wanted to pass a national health care plan, he would have done exactly that. He had no more excuse then than Obama has now. To so clearly ignore what a majority of Americans so clearly want is, again, for lack of a better word, criminal.

Clinton had a Democratic congress and the American people behind him and instead of championing the very issue that most likely got him elected, he withdrew from it entirely and left his wife, who had never held a political office, to "fight" for this much-needed change all by her lonesome.

Mrs. Clinton got some great television exposure, playing the role perfectly of proud defender of the people and gaining national attention. Then, just as if everyone inside the beltway knew it was pre-ordained, Congress refused to pass it and it just "went away" for 15 years.

Bill Clinton then went on to do more long-term damage to our economy than, perhaps, any other president in American history. He passed NAFTA, selling our manufacturing base to China, India and Mexico for about twelve dollars and sixty three cents. We will likely never recover and, for this, the Democrats love him and speak nostalgically of the "Clinton era."

Later, when Hillary ran for Senate, she had strangely become the darling of the very same HMOs and the pharmaceutical industry that she had so bravely "fought" earlier on. They supported her campaign with historic levels of donation. Those who refuse to see that the Clintons played us all like a violin are just being willfully ignorant because that's precisely what they did.

The same is true with Barack Obama today. This totally fake progressive (who has far more in common with George Bush Jr. than with JFK) comes to the and says, "We’ve talked this problem to death."

While we may well have talked the "problem"to death, Obama and his ilk have refused to even mention once the "answer" that would resolve the problem instantly.

The insurance companies have invaded Washington in massive numbers, spreading their propaganda like evil seed and infecting our "leaders" with the kind of weak will that only sizable donations can secure. When single-payer advocates arrived at the hearings on health care reform asking why single-payer was not even being discussed, Obama’s idiot henchman, Senator Max Baucus, had them all arrested.

This is "progressive" politics? This is "socialism"? Lets call it "corporatism" instead because that’s exactly what it is. There are few better examples out there of our puppets and puppet-masters at work than our government's absolute insistence, not even discussing the health care answer a clear majority of Americans say they want to see made into policy.

For Obama to say that we’ve "talked it to death" is the worst kind of lie. It is reminiscent to me of Gee Dubya’s "You’re either with us or against us!" rhetoric. It is to suggest that we have exhausted all possibilities and that it is time for action when, in fact, one terrible plan is being sold at the expense of altruism, health and sanity.

Obama’s corporate health care plan will simply force every American to buy bad, overpriced, insurance from the very same weasels who engineered the criminal health care nightmare we currently call "a system." The parallels between this and our bailouts of all of the "financial wizards" who brought us "Depression Part II" are simply astounding.

But, I am not mad at Barack Obama. I knew he was a total sellout from the moment the Democrats gave him that national TV spotlight in 2004.

I am mad instead at all the Democrats who lied to us, promising that they would "hold Obama’s feet to the fire."

They told us that while Obama was far less than ideal as a candidate and that he was far too corporate to be real that we all needed to "Wait. Just wait. Give him a chance. You’ll see. We can do things with him in office. We can move him. We can do it! You’ll see. This is a movement for change."

Where did you all go?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

America's Great Healthcare Denial of Service (guest essay)

Editor's note: During the current health care debate, some have claimed that government run health care or health insurance would result in a bureaucratic nightmare where needed treatment would be denied by bean counters. The reality of Medicare for All (single payer) is a topic for tomorrow's guest essay. But today's essay is just one of many examples of how the present system is, for too many, already a bureaucratic nightmare where needed treatment is being denied by bean counters. Here is one local man's Kafkaesque story with our private health insurance system.

America's Great Healthcare Denial of Service
by Ben L.

In October of 2008, I began trying to verify with United Health Care
(UHC) what my out-of-pocket expenses would be for covering Remicade
infusions (for treatment of Crohn's Disease). After many phone calls, I
received assurances in January of 2009 that the procedure would be coded
and billed as an office visit and I would be responsible only for the
$25 co-pay. At this time, I was coordinating services through my doctor
as well as the hospital.

In April, I received a bill from Glens Falls Hospital for $1,677.09.
This was for my first Remicade infusion for the year.

I called customer service on at least four occasions from April through
June being told on one instance that the claim dispute had become a
"project" and someone would get back to me. I was directed on June 2 to
submit this as an appeal (no word on what became of the "project").
When asked what to include in the appeal, I was told only write a letter
and send it to the address for appeals that they provided.

On Saturday, June 20 I received a letter denying my first level appeal.
I never talked to anyone from United Health Care about my appeal. I want
to reiterate that the assurances I received about coding and billing
these Remicade infusions as office visit co-pay were out of a
three-month long process of multiple phone calls and questions about my
Remicade infusion. In fact, the hospital will not even give me the
infusion without first receiving pre-approval.

The facts related to this pre-approval process were never addressed in my
initial appeal or secondary appeal. Instead, they made it sound like this
pre-approval process and statement of their coding and billing process
is based solely upon the whim of a customer service representative and
that "information given by Customer Service Representatives is not a
guarantee of payment."

What is the point of pre-approval and the months I spent trying to
coordinate between the hospital, my doctor's office and my insurer if
the insurer can decide to choose different terms than what it states
before services are provided?

While spinning my wheels with getting this issue addressed (it still
remains open as you will see later), I received another bill for a
colonoscopy that I had to have in April. This time, I was being billed
because my doctor is not "in-network" (a point that was never addressed
during the pre-approval process). I called and said that I thought that
I would be eligible for a waiver as there are no in-network
gastroenterologists in my area. UHC said that while this is true, the
waiver can only be given before the procedure. Why would it make any
difference before the procedure or after the procedure?
It is a waiver for crying out loud! They denied this twice as well.

Meanwhile, I also sent in some complaints to the New York State Insurance Deptartment. After several weeks, they notified me that my company's plan is out of
their jurisdiction because my company is self-insured and UHC is merely
administering that self-insurance. If I had complaints, the appropriate
agency would be the United States Department of Labor.

About that same time, I also was pointed by UHC to address subsequent appeals to the company's employee benefits committee. I have forwarded on more words to these people as well.

Since then, I have been hit by another $600+ bill to bring my total
in-network responsibility to $2400 while also keeping that out-of-network expense for the doctor for whom I didn't get the timely waiver at another $645. I have a thick folder at my desk from different letters I've sent to different people all around the country for these bills. I still feel like I haven't even spoken to a person who has a clue on how to address the discrepancy between what I was told I would be responsible for and what I have been billed (bilked?).

Universal health care anyone?

Friday, August 14, 2009

In sickness and in health

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Arguments over health care are at a fever pitch. Supporters of President Obama's half-a**ed reforms are being drowned out by the hysterical mobs, some with alleged corporate ties, trying to prevent any change at all. Meanwhile, intelligent arguments against ObamaCare, from the left and the right, remain mostly unheard.

The problem is that all the scaremongering against Obama's meek proposal doesn't invalidate the fact that our system is seriously dysfunctional and needs some kind of fundamental change. The loudest opponents of (insert menacing music) SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, either real or imagined, aren't proposing any change whatsoever.

Many of the things that the Sarah Palins of this country are trying to scare Americans into believing would be the inevitable result of (insert menacing music) SOCIALIZED MEDICINE... well, those are things are already reality for many Americans in our present health care morass.

The New York Times had a disturbing piece on what is basically a mass clinic for medical refugees. It was held a place where health care is scarce... [and provided] free dental, medical and vision services, courtesy of a nonprofit group that more typically provides mobile health care for the rural poor.

Except this 'giant MASH unit' was not held in some miserable African refugee camp or remote Central American village. And it certainly was not held in a country with (insert menacing music) SOCIALIZED MEDICINE.

It was held in Los Angeles, the second largest city in the country that repeatedly pats itself on the back for having the best health care system in the world. The nonprofit group running the camp typically serves people in rural parts of the United States, where access to health care is notoriously poor.

Similarly, much of the scaremongering against any role for government in health care is based on the premise that it would take turn our stellar system into a nightmare where bureaucrats, not doctors, decide who lives and who dies. This piece in The Atlantic reminds us that such a nightmare is already the reality for many Americans.

The piece, entitled 'How American Health Care Killed My Father,' is described as such: After the needless death of his father, the author, a business executive, began a personal exploration of a health-care industry that for years has delivered poor service and irregular quality at astonishingly high cost. It is a system, he argues, that is not worth preserving in anything like its current form. And the health-care reform now being contemplated will not fix it. Here’s a radical solution to an agonizing problem.

The $1 million per day propaganda campaign run by the insurance lobby has focused primarily on smearing countries with universal health care, primarily Canada and Great Britain. Granted, Obama's weak plan doesn't even vaguely resemble either system, but these folks will not let facts interfere with their agenda. If they did, they'd be put in the awkward position of badmouthing the popular Medicare and VA programs, which are (insert menacing music) SOCIALIZED MEDICINE and do resemble the Canadian and British systems respectively.

However, people in those countries have hit back against the willful ignorance and intentional deceit of the Know-Nothing smear campaign. Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is under pressure from many quarters to defend his country's crown jewel against 'Swift Boat' style attacks made by those with zero first hand experience and largely ignorant of how it actually works.

Britons were similarly outraged at attacks on their National Health Service (NHS), a system whose survival was guaranteed by that hero even of conservative Americans Winston Churchill. Brits flooded Twitter with so many tweets in support of the NHS against 'right-wing American libel' that the website briefly crashed. #WeLoveTheNHS is still one of the hottest topics on Twitter.

Of course, neither of these prove anything but being opinions of those with actual first hand experience, they are certainly more authoritative and informed that virtually all of the half truths being bandied about over here.

And in many cases, a half truth would be an improvement.

Take the case of two British women who were exploited and lied to on behalf of a right-wing anti-reform group. A purported filmmaker invited the women to speak about cancer treatment in Britain for a purported documentary.

Except an excerpt of the footage was instead used in a propaganda ad trying to discredit the British NHS. The women objected to this blatant deceit. They also said they supported the NHS in general but just thought this particular aspect needed improvement. One woman said, "My point was not that the NHS shouldn't exist or that it was a bad thing. I think that our health service is not perfect but to get better it needs more public money, not less." According to the CBC, they both said wouldn't for a second trade their British system for the American one.

Not surprisingly, this NHS-endorsement did not make it into the right-wing ad.

Update: The Los Angeles Times also has a piece on the medical refugee camps.

Editor's note: I will be running two guest essays on health care this weekend. The first will detail one local man's account of his Kafkaesque dealings with an American health insurance conglomerate, an experience which leaves him begging for (insert menacing music) SOCIALIZED MEDICINE. The other is planned to be a first hand account of how the Canadian (universal) medicare system really works.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Palin's America vs the real America

So conservative populist hero Sarah Palin, who cut and ran as Alaska governor, made news again recently by claiming that in the America she knows and loves, bureaucrats do not decide who does or doesn't get health care. In her America, health care doesn't get rationed. In her America, there are no 'death panels.'

Yet in the Real America, far removed from Palin's Utopia, Americans ALREADY have insurance bureaucrats deciding whether they get the health care their doctors and medical professionals deem necessary.

In the Real America, health care already gets rationed.

In the Real America, there are already death panels.

So rather than support the option (single payer) that guarantees every American health care, she supports the present system where care is rationed by insurance bean counters in order that insurance CEOs can receive compensation that would make A-Roid and Kobe feel like paupers.

I'm very happy for Palin that the generous taxpayer-funded health are she's received for the last decade allows her and her Down's Syndrome baby to get good care.

I just wish that the privileged Mrs. Palin would fight for, rather than against, the plan that would give everyone else access to the same level of care she and her baby got.

Way to stick up for the little guy!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Get updates via Twitter

Just a reminder that you can get a notification via Twitter whenever I update either my main blog Musings of a (Fairly) Young Contrarian [MOFYC] or my Africa blog Black Star Journal [BSJ]. On the Twitter feed, I also provide links (Re-tweets or RT) to stories around the web that may be of interest to readers of either blog. The Twitter feed can be found at:

Apology: Espada WASN'T only in it for himself

Readers may remember Pedro Espada Jr., the ethically challenged Bronx state senator who threw the chamber into turmoil by holding out to the highest bidder.

He switched to supporting Republicans when they offered to make the freshman senator president pro tempore of the institution (and thus acting lieutenant governor of the state) until he sensed that the GOP might lose control of the chamber and accepted the Democrats' offer to make him majority leader. Although a registered Democrat, he's probably more loathed by his own party than by Republicans.

The dirtbag insisted he only did it on behalf of (hold claw over heart) reform and on behalf of that most abused of phrases, the (watch out for the growing nose) People's Business.

Some, including myself, laughed hysterically at these claims and insist he only did it for his own personal benefit.

I would like to apologize to Sen. Espada. It looks he did NOT do it only for his own personal benefit.

Apparently, he also did it for the benefit of his son... for whom a cushy $120,000 Senate job was specially created.

Monday, August 10, 2009

An Adirondack Wedding

Bee Balm Gal blog wrote about a wedding we both attended this weekend. Except for her neglecting to mention how sharply dressed the ushers were, she provided a very nice account of a wonderful ceremony between two amazing people held on beautiful grounds under rare fantastic weather. I guess you could call it the perfect non-storm.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Reactionaries defend slavery in Bolivia

This essay is part of an occasional feature on this blog that presents compelling stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, IsraelStine and the Trumped Up Enemy of the Month. A list of all pieces in this series can be found found here..

Pretty much any leader in Latin America who doesn't slavishly adhere to neo-liberal economic policies and tries to pass economic reforms designed to address land reform or other massive inequalities is ripe for vilification by the American media.

Obviously, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is target number one, though his grandstanding, cult of personality and alliances with theocrats shouldn't endear him to progressives.

Bolivia's democratically elected president Evo Morales has also taken his fair share of criticism, despite focusing primarily on improving the lives of his people (in contrast to his Venezuelan counterpart who's more interested in being an international big shot).

That Pres. Morales has been wildly vilified by the big land-owning elite in his country is not surprising. They see his fairness reforms as threatening their inherited privilege, in much the same way there was a backlash from the white elite against majority rule in South Africa.

The true nature of the Bolivian elite is shown by the widespread use of slavery, a right they no doubt feel comes from God. They clearly resent their ill-gotten economic privilege being threatened by that socialist in the presidential palace.

Not coincidentally, the forced laborers are overwhelmingly indigenous, much like the president so hated by the slave owners. Sharecropping and serfdom were eliminated in the United States and Russia long ago but they remain a plague in anti-Morales parts of Bolivia . The BBC reports.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A few questions for people smarter than me

If "socialized medicine" is as demonic as the scaremongering we keep hearing, why do we subject Our Heroes in the military to it rather them just letting them thrive in our wonderful health care system like everyone else?

If network television affiliates, commercial radio stations and most weekly and monthly newspapers are able give away their content free to end users and still make a profit based on advertising revenues, why does this model not translate to daily newspapers? Why is daily print the singular exception to this model?

Why are people who want their content via online dailies treated as freeloaders, but people who get their content via over-the-air television or radio or weekly or monthly newspapers are treated as valued audience members?

I understand newspapers don't want to collapse but is calling your audience cheapskates the smartest way to thrive... or survive? I don't have a single magic bullet for how newspapers can thrive (though I do have several suggestions) but is blaming your community for not recognizing your brilliance really that magic bullet?

Post-Star editor Ken Tingley's recent blog entry must on newspapers going back to the failed model of paid websites. He seemed to suggest that his paper is considering the same. The lead story on the website of his local upstate New York daily at this moment is "Aussie koala that survived fires dies in surgery." Would you pay "Glens Falls' Hometown Newspaper" (or "Saratoga's Hometown Newspaper"), depending on where you saw the billboard) to read featured content like this?

Israeli gay youth center murders

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am remiss for not having mentioned in my previous entry the shooting at a gay and lesbian community center in Tel Aviv, Israel. Two young people, Nir Katz (26 years old) and Liz Trobishi (16) were assassinated in the tragedy and 15 more injured. No word yet on whether homophobia was the motive.

The US National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is organizing vigils in this country in support of the slayed and injured.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Bits and pieces

People like to point to Major League Soccer's attendance figures as 'proof' that the sport will never make it. Never mind that recent friendlies (exhibitions) by foreign teams in the US drew huge crowds, most in excess of 60,000. But even MLS' own numbers aren't bad, when you consider the relative youth of the league. This is MLS' 14th season and its average attendance is 15,559 per game. 1916 was the year of the 14th World Series. The highest average attendance of any single team in 1916 was 8,830 per game. It wasn't until the year of the 27th World Series that even a single Major League Baseball team average more than 15,559 per game. MLS average attendance is actually comparable to that of Brazilian soccer's top division and higher than Scotland's top flight (despite the distorting presence of two huge clubs) and only slightly less than the NBA and NHL, though their television figures remain far less than pro basketball's.

North Country Public Radio's blog had a piece on a proposal by Democrats to eliminate "socialized medicine" in America and the GOP's rejection of that plan.

The contention of the right-wing during BushCheney's war against civil liberties was that the government was competent enough to kidnap foreigners abroad and take away their freedom ad infinitum arbitrarily and without oversight (by randomly claiming they are 'suspected terrorists'), was competent enough to conquer and administer two foreign countries (obviously a piece of cake!) and competent enough to invade your privacy without law or oversight ("if you're not an evildoer, you have nothing to fear"), but not competent enough to ensure every American can get (and use!) decent health care without going bankrupt. Basically their contention is that our government is competent enough run social programs in foreign countries but not our own.

SARAH AND MAHMOUD muses the similarities between two theocratic, anti-elitist, right-wing populists: the "president" of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Sarah Palin, who recently cut and ran as Alaska's chief executive.

Speaking of the woman who couldn't handle a full term as governor of Alaska but thinks herself qualified to be president of the United States, Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio has a good blog piece exploring then-Gov. Palin's love for big government and for leeching of taxpayers in other parts of the country. Alaska was the number one state in the country in terms of total Federal spending per capita... The vast majority of that money came from taxpayers in other states, from California to New York. Mann's writing a number of pieces, both blog and magazine, exploring the disconnect between conservatives' professed antipathy toward government and public spending and their actual actions when push comes to shove.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website has a profile of Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Youth from Nature Deficit Disorder. He was in the state as part of his "No Child Left Inside" campaign.

A segment on Radio Netherlands' Bridges With Africa program questions the real impact of fair trade on African farmers.

The public radio program On Point had a good show exploring the nature of kindness and why it's important.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Actual facts undermine birthers' fraud

"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." -Mark Twain

An update to yesterday's entry on the anti-Obama 'birthers' movement:

Apparently the birthers have produced a document purporting to be Barack Obama's Kenyan birth certificate. It claims Obama was born on August 9, 1961 in Mombassa, Republic of Kenya.

The city of Mombassa was a part of the British colony of Zanzibar until 1963 when it was ceded to Kenya.

Second, Kenya did not become a republic until December 1964, ten months after the purported document was issued.

Monday, August 03, 2009

I'm glad I have the corporate media to tell me what's important (vol. 1)

Note: I'm introducing a new feature on this blog to partly document the corporate media's obsession with passing triviality as major news stories of broad public relevance. It's not that media outlets report on fluff; we all enjoy the occasional diversion once in a while. And this feature does not deal with specialty media outlets whose raison d'etre is to focus on voyeurism or other forms of entertainment. It's about media outlets that portray themselves as mainstream, serious organizations giving wholly disproportionate amount and placement of coverage to fluff or to things that should be nothing more than local stories.

Four of the top six non-business stories at this moment on Google News

-Who gets custody of the late celebrity Michael Jackson's kids

-'Guerilla art' in Los Angeles portraying Pres. Obama as The Joker

-Another way to find free iPhone apps

-Football player Plaxico Burress indicted for shooting... himself

Update: A friend of mine responded this observation as such, " That's what makes Digg so great. People control what's important."

At the time, the top story of the last 24 hours according to users was: Donald Duck, You Son of a Bitch! The number two story of the last 24 hours currently is: Epic Neighbor Lawn Chair War Continues.

Birthing common sense

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I'm hesitant to wade into the argument over whether Barack Obama really is a natural born American citizen and thus constitutionally qualified to hold office (those who are skeptical of Obama's qualifications are often referred to as 'birthers'). I'm hesitant because, frankly, the apocalyptic rhetoric and furious rage of many birthers is a little intimidating, especially considering the affinity for guns most of them brag about.

(Bear in mind that I did not vote for Obama and have many issues with him and his administration, though they all revolve his policies rather than the location where he exited his mother's uterus half a century ago)

Racism and xenophobia is not inherent in the question of whether Obama is legally qualified to be president. In theory, the question is fundamentally about the rule of law, as my friend Matt explained in this piece. I'm not convinced by it but I know he's not a racist or xenophobe.

But in practice, there's no doubt that racism and xenophobia is a far too common feature among birthers, which is why the anti-immigration TV pundits Glenn Beck of Fox News [sic] and Lou Dobbs of supposedly respectable CNN (though that was the network to give Beck his first national platform) have taken up the cause. This is unfortunate for two reasons. The first is that there's far too much bigotry, hatred and intolerance of difference in this country as it is. Second, if this is an important question, it's important to the extent that it affects/reflects the rule of law and the hatemongering obscures what should be a serious discussion.

If this controversy were solely about the rule of law (as it should be), then why weren't these people demanding that previous presidents publicize their birth certificates too? How do we know that Dubya didn't really pop out when Babs and George were on vacation in the Carribbean or Europe? After all, Bush Sr. was quite the world traveler.

The reason I'm skeptical of the birthers' contention is simple: it doesn't pass the smell test. The specifics have been widely addressed (most recently in this column by Leonard Pitts), though nothing will really satisfy most birthers. Name any scenario that Obama could (again) prove his natural born citizen status and they would find a reason to reject it or find conspiracy.

But here's why I'm most skeptical. Political campaigns are take-no-prisoners affairs, presidential campaigns triply so. I've often heard libertarians complain about how evil and cynical the Clintons are. Many also think that the Republican administration caused 9/11 for political gain and as an excuse for militarism and to seize our freedoms. Both raised and spent gargantuan sums of money to try to get elected. If the Clintons and the GOP were anywhere near as ruthless as libertarians, then both would've made sure they were pounding this story incessantly until the media picked up on, as it would've caused Obama's candidacy to implode.

The Clintons will do anything for power, including whore themselves out to corporate lobbys, pander to theocrats and bomb aspirin factories. According to many libertarians, Republicans were so cynical as to commit or enable one of the worst crimes against humanity of the 21st century to win an election (among other things). But none of these most ruthless people was willing to take up the birthers' cause, even for the selfish reason of gaining themselves power. They knew this story didn't contain one iota of truth. And surprisingly, this lack of truth actually stopped them for once.

I'm still waiting for someone offers me a compelling explanation of what's missing in this common sense observation.

Reminder: Please read this blog's commenting policy before posting.

Clarification: I think there should be some sort of legal or constitutional change whereby all candidates for the presidency should be required to privately present their birth certificates and any other requirements to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for validation. There could also be a representative for each candidate present. I say privately because in this era of identity theft, I'm not sure the specific details contained on such documents need be required to be made public. Our decentralized electoral system makes such a plan difficult to envision, but it could be required of the actual winner of the election more easily before his swearing-in. I realize even this won't satisfy most birthers, as Obama has already released his birth certificate publicly on more than one occasion. But it's the right thing to do for the purposes of the rule of law.

Update: When you're dealing with a theory against a liberal that even Ann Coulter thinks is too extreme...

Further update: Apparently the birthers have produced a fake document purporting to be Obama's Kenyan birth certificate. It claims Obama was born on August 9, 1961 in Mombassa, Republic of Kenya. Two obvious facts make this a forgery. First, Mombassa was a part of the British colony of Zanzibar until 1963 when it was ceded to Kenya. Second, Kenya was a British colony in 1961; it did not become an independent country until 1963 and did not become a republic until 1969.