Tuesday, July 28, 2009

That Jefferson - What a Spoilsport

[Thomas] Jefferson was a student of history--not just the compliant and safe history that praises our own time or country or ethnic group, but the real history of real humans, our weaknesses as well as our strengths. History taught him that the rich and powerful will steal and oppress if given half a chance. He described the governments of Europe, which he saw at first hand as the American ambassador to France. Under the pretense of government, he said, they had divided their nations into two classes: wolves and sheep. Jefferson taught that every government degenerates when it is left to the rulers alone, because rulers--by the very act of ruling--misuse the public trust. The people themselves, he said, are the only prudent repository of power.

But he worried that the people--and the argument goes back to Thucydides and Aristotle--are easily misled. So he advocated safe-guards, insurance policies. One was the constitutional separation of powers; accordingly, various groups, some pursuing their own selfish interests, balance one another, preventing any one of them from running away with the country: the executive, legislative and judicial branches; the House and the Senate; the States and the Federal Government. He also stressed, passionately and repeatedly, that it was essential for the people to understand the risks and benefits of government, to educate themselves, and to involve themselves in the process. Without that, he said, the wolves will take over.

Here's how he put it in "Notes on Virginia", stressing how the powerful and unscrupulous find zones of vulnerability they can exploit:

"In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate and improve. Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved. . ."

- Carl Sagan, "The Demon-Haunted World"


I have lost faith. I woke up this morning and discovered that the tiny fragment of faith I held onto--that hope that this president, this White House, this congress would finally be the ones to deliver us from the clutches of the wealthmongers and powerbrokers--has disappeared entirely.

I am just one in a flock of sheep and the wolves are near enough now that I can see their slimy, jagged teeth. The horror is that, even now, there are still a vast number of us who want to believe that those same wolves are not there to devour us, but to save us.

This is not a nightmare, this is reality:

Affordable universal health care will not happen.

Unions are broken and jobs with livable wages are gone forever.

Foreclosures and bankruptcies are the accepted norm.

The middle class has become an anachronism.

We owe our souls to China

Our government has abdicated its constitutional obligations and sold us out.

The rich will go on profiting from our misery.

And for the last seven days our attention has been laser-beamed on a black professor being arrested in his own home in Cambridge, and on Sarah Palin's Farewell Picnics.

We are still frantically thumping our chests, pretending that America is alive and well, while the rest of the world sees us as we really are--a sad and sorry lot.

But ain't we got fun. . .?  Bring on the clowns.  Tomorrow is another day.

Okay.  I'm going to sleep on it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Maher Socks it to the Profiteers - Why hasn't everyone else?

How about this for a New Rule: Not everything in America has to make a profit. It used to be that there were some services and institutions so vital to our nation that they were exempt from market pressures. Some things we just didn't do for money. The United States always defined capitalism, but it didn't used to define us. But now it's becoming all that we are. - Bill Maher, Huffington Post, July 23, 2009

In my last blog, about Walter Cronkite, Frank McCourt and Molly Ivins, three totally different communicators who made an impact on me and on my own writing (truth be told), I said, "A writer who can also speak off the cuff is rare. (Of course it helps if you're either Irish or Southern or Bill Maher.)"

I don't know why Maher came to mind when I wrote that sentence. There are plenty of writers who can talk in public. They used to call them "raconteurs", and they used to appear on Jack Paar's "Tonight Show" and on "The Dick Cavett Show". Now they appear on "Charlie Rose" but I can't stay up that late at night anymore to watch them.

But when I wrote the above, Bill Maher's was the only name that came to mind. It was as if I knew he was going to post this absolutely brilliant and incredibly important
New Rule on Huffington Post last night.

There are so many quotable quotes in that one piece that if I began posting my favorites I would be posting every single paragraph. So here are a few terrific truths, and then you can go on and read the rest for yourself:

"A company called the Corrections Corporation of America is on the New York Stock Exchange, which is convenient since that's where all the real crime is happening anyway. The CCA and similar corporations actually lobby Congress for stiffer sentencing laws so they can lock more people up and make more money. That's why America has the world's largest prison population ­-- because actually rehabilitating people would have a negative impact on the bottom line."

"In the U.S. today, three giant for-profit conglomerates own close to 600 hospitals and other health care facilities. They're not hospitals anymore; they're Jiffy Lubes with bedpans. America's largest hospital chain, HCA, was founded by the family of Bill Frist, who perfectly represents the Republican attitude toward health care: it's not a right, it's a racket."

"If conservatives get to call universal health care "socialized medicine," I get to call private health care "soulless vampires making money off human pain." The problem with President Obama's health care plan isn't socialism, it's cap

So many of us have said for so long that this isn't the America we've known and loved. We've shouted until we're blue in the face that letting the obscenely rich get obscenely richer by sacrificing the entire middle class MAKES NO SENSE.

We've screamed at the top of our lungs that sending American businesses offshore to hire workers at slave class wages in order to reap huge profits is wholly un-American.

We've let the lies go on about health care, but the truth is people are sickening and dying because nobody cares enough.

We elected a president we thought would pull us out of this by smacking down the profiteers. On election day, November, 2008 we went mad with sheer joy when Barack Obama said the dark days were over and a new light would shine on truth, justice and the American Way.

As much as I want to go on cheer-leading for our new president, I still see us wallowing in quicksand. We can't wait forever. We've got to get out of this NOW.

Shut those Republicans UP. They're the reason we're in this mess.

Blue Dog Democrats--you sully the very party name.

Wall Street, K Street, C Street--put a cop on every corner. Arrest those bastards!

And keep the comedians commenting. Bill Maher and Jon Stewart--the voices of the people?? Okay, it's a start. Anyone else?


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cronkite, McCourt and Ivins - Stilled Voices Still Going Strong

Frank McCourt died on Sunday. Walter Cronkite died on Friday. Molly Ivins died more than two years ago. As near as I can tell, none of them had much in common with the other, but yesterday I couldn't stop thinking about all three of them.

It started when Walter died and the tributes began. Clips of Walter's greatest moments were everywhere, his deep Midwestern voice--soothing and comforting, authentic and sure--reminding me that once there were straight, honest chroniclers out there reporting the news in ways that we could understand and then judge for ourselves the truths presented.

In the PBS tribute to Cronkite, a repeat of a biography broadcast several years before, Molly Ivins was seen commenting about his influence on the country. I don't remember what she said, but I bring this up only because both she and Walter were fresh on my mind when I heard the news that Frank McCourt had died on Sunday.

All three were fascinating and sure of themselves and fully aware of the impact they had on the rest of us, but I could say that about a lot of people--even people I don't like at all.

All three of them were unlikely "stars", but they made their marks indelibly, unforgettably.

All three spoke to me in radically different ways, but throughout the years all three voices have stayed with me. Whenever I;ve thought of each of them, it was as if I had known them personally. It has to do, I think, with their fearless honesty, with their refusal to toady or pander, with their ability to communicate with such clarity I couldn't help but sit up and pay attention.

But as I thought about each of them, I also saw them in entirely different ways. I loved watching and listening to Walter. Again--soothing, straight, strong, full of emotion--but as much as I had looked forward to reading his autobiography, "A Reporter's Life", I couldn't get through it. Without that steady, forceful voice I found his words oddly and disappointingly just words .

Molly Ivins could write like the dickens but I admit that more often than not I had a hard time watching her. Her movements were too staged, her Buckley-like, slack-jawed pauses too distracting. I thought I needed her words in black and white in order to appreciate the full measure of them . Then I found the speech she gave at Tulane University in April, 2004. It is over an hour long, but it's one of the best hours I've ever spent with someone in the News business. Watching it again, I miss her more than ever. (Okay, looking back, it's the unscripted interviews that bother me--her speeches are her writings. She wrote them. All is well.)

But Frank McCourt could do both. He could write and he could talk and in either situation he was as comfortable to be around as your lovable, funny Uncle Francis. When "Angela's Ashes" was published in 1996 it became an overnight sensation and McCourt went from being an obscure, unknown teacher to being the delight of interviewers everywhere. He handled himself masterfully and even the people who hadn't read his book couldn't help but stop and watch. A writer who can also speak off the cuff is rare. (Of course it helps if you're either Irish or Southern or Bill Maher.)

We need people like Cronkite. He made us feel safe. We could count on him to be Uncle Walter, no matter what. I can't think of a replacement right now, and I want to--badly.

We need people like Ivins. She could cut through the crap and do it so wittily even the pompous asses she skewered with comforting regularity couldn't help but admire her. Who is out there to take her place?

We need people like McCourt to make us understand the paralyzing shame of poverty and the powerlessness of the children of the poor. We need to allow our hearts to be subject to breakage in order to understand that we have the passion and the power to make lives better.

The one element I left out of this is laughter. Both Ivins and McCourt are laugh-out-loud funny. (Walter not so much) When I finished reading "Angela's Ashes" I had laughed and cried and laughed and cried so much I felt as if the book was an immediate danger to my health. It took years before I could open it again.

But the beauty of the system is that when I thought I could open it again, it was right there on the shelf, waiting for me. Nothing was lost. Molly's books are on those shelves, too. And all I have to do is Google or YouTube Walter's name and in a quick flash he'll be there.

Because, lucky for us, that's the way it is.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Fight for Health Care, Part 2 - My Man Stupak takes 'em on

In my last post I tried to shine light on the abuses of the health insurance industry by highlighting Bill Moyers' Journal conversation with Wendell Potter about their efforts to keep the American people from knowing how universally acceptable Universal Health Care is.

Today I want to continue it with video clips of my state rep, Bart Stupak (D. Mich) forcing the insurance execs to admit that they wouldn't change their policy of arbitrarily turning down PAYING clients for whatever reasons suit their needs (i.e., to keep profits right where they are).

The first clip shows Joe Barton (R - Texas) and Stupak doing the kind of smack-down we've been wanting to see for lo, these many years.


Bravo to both of them, and a big "thank you" to Republican Joe Barton, who courageously took the righteous road.

But the following clip goes into my all-time favorite video clips file. Stupak, from the wilds of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is the kind of "rube" that Wilford Brimley played to perfection in "Absence of Malice". I'm betting those big shot execs took one look at Bart, heard him speak, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Bad mistake. Stupak's passion for the people makes him a seemingly unlikely but most formidable opponent. He hates cheating creeps, and he makes no bones about it. But he bides his time. He has a knack for asking seemingly innocuous questions, building on them, and then letting these people dig their own graves. You gotta love a guy like that:


Again I'm asking you to pass these clips along. This hearing took place a month ago. Both Paul Begala and Karen Tumulty wrote about it soon afterward, but since then there's been virtual silence. So please - send them to everyone you know. Post them in your blogs. Include them in your comments. Get them OUT there. The insurance companies are winning and good people are dying because of them. We just can't let that happen.

And while you're at it, you might want to contact both Barton and Stupak and thank them for their service. They're my Good Guys today and I salute them.


(Crossposted at Talking Points Memo here)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bill Moyers shines light on the health insurance mess - a Journalistic Best

There are so few mainstream investigative journalists in this country anymore, I have to wonder in whose pockets the MSM has cozily slipped--and why.

When one of our best investigative newspapers has slipped to such depths that it's publisher invites health insurance execs hellbent on killing any hint of public options to hobnob with, and thus lobby, top-level White House officials at a private soiree in her own home (but only if they fork over $25,000), and when nobody else seems to notice or care, we can give up any remaining quaint notion of a watchdog press.

We're on our own, folks, and if not for the precious few like Bill Moyers and Rachel Maddow, we would be dead in the water. They are the mainstream media remnants of a once-proud profession and we need to treat them like the treasures they really are.

They study the issues, they bring on guests who can discuss them intelligently, they ask the right questions, they give their guests time to answer thoughtfully, they continue the conversation with smart follow-ups, and best of all, they don't give up their precious air time to raucous, spitting catfights between notoriously biased opponents.

Last week, Bill Moyers brought to our attention two important stories. (See above for the first one)

On "Bill Moyers Journal" on PBS Friday night, Bill talked with Wendell Potter, a former Cigna exec turned whistleblower. In Potter's own startling words (startling not because we didn't know, but because a former insider, someone who, less than two years before, was a practicing purveyor of these professed sleazy tactics, said them):
“The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that you're heading down the slippery slope towards socialism... I think that people who are strong advocates of our health care system remaining as it is, very much a free market health care system, fail to realize that we're really talking about human beings here, and it doesn't work as well as they would like it to... They are trying to make you worry and fear a government bureaucrat being between you and your doctor. What you have now is a corporate bureaucrat between you and your doctor... The public plan would do a lot to keep [health insurance companies] honest, because it would have to offer a standard benefit plan. It would have to operate more efficiently, as does the Medicare program. It would be structured, I’m certain, on a level playing field so that it wouldn’t [have an] unfair advantage [over] the private insurance companies. Because it could be administered more efficiently, the private insurers would have to operate more efficiently.”

The interview is a half-hour long. Later into it he outlines the insurance industry's efforts to discredit Michael Moore's documentary, "Sicko", when they saw the truth in it and were afraid the American people might believe it, too. This to me was a stunning admission, the entire interview an astonishing piece of journalism--again, not entirely surprising, but I saw a door opening, enough for us to wedge our foot in. Wan rays of sunshine about to turn dazzling, if only we can keep the momentum going.

I beg everyone who reads this and clicks onto the link to send it on to everyone you know. Send it to your congressmen, your governors, your legislatures, the White House. Get an email chain going--put the link up on yard signs or billboards. Put it on bumper stickers. Stencil it on tee-shirts or tattoo it onto your forehead. Whatever it takes.

This is a television event too important to let die. Please. Keep it alive. Keep it going. It's up to us now.

(Cross-posted on Talking Points Memo here)


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

83-yr-old blogger skewers Palin and Pals - Priceless!

Some mornings I just ramble around, reading online stuff here and there, finding things that either inspire me or crack me up--and I ramble so much I have no idea how I got to the places I've been. Such was the case this morning when I found "Margaret and Helen".

Margaret and Helen have been best friends for over 60 years. They lived near each other in Texas almost all of their lives, until Margaret and her husband moved to Maine. Then they talked on the phone every day, sometimes for hours. Then Helen's grandson set up a blog for her so that they could communicate that way. Most of what they wrote when they first started was personal, but then people found it and started commenting. Helen embraced her new audience and started writing to them and for them. (Margaret is the foil, so to speak--Helen's Ed McMahon.)

But lest you think that M & H are just two boring old grannies, let me tell you, first, that as of today they've had 2,016,391 hits on their WordPress blog.

Why are these two old ladies so popular? Let me quote for you some stuff from their blog. This is Helen in a piece called,"Sarah Palin Called a Family Meeting and the Rabbit Lived. . ." :

I would cut [Palin] some slack but she used up all her slack with me while on the campaign trail. This is the woman who called the parts of the country where I don’t live more Pro-American than the part where I do live. She stirred up crowds across the country to the point that McCain campaign stops frequently resembled a lynch mob. She mixes religion and politics like I mix gin and tonic but then calls for less government involvement. Freedom from government is her battle cry until a vagina gets involved and then watch how much involvement she wants. Show me a woman who is making a private medical decision to end a pregnancy and I’ll show you a Palin screaming for more government involvement.

In her piece called "In Appreciation or Depreciation of Michael Jackson", she wrote:

If it were up to me, I would establish a few rules right about now regarding hypocrisy. Something along the lines of:

  • If you’re Michael Jackson’s father now is not the time to be enjoying the limelight.
  • You can’t be Pro-Life and Pro-War at the same time. If one of these dispositions has to be in your cadre, then pick one and live with the consequences.
  • You can’t deny the right to marry to some and then cheat on your spouse. The right to happily marry belongs to all no mater how unhappy it makes you.
  • You can’t tolerate the atrocities of one President for eight years and then assign the consequences to one who follows. From this day forward everything was Reagan’s fault.
  • The Christian Right should be forced to spend a week in Iran. May the best radicals win.
  • The Real Housewives should actually be housewives.

About that last one. I mean it. Really.

Here's Helen in "My Big Fat Ass":

Margaret, whatever happened to common sense? I eat a lot of pie. I have a fat ass. I get the connection. You hardly eat anything, walk everyday and a strong wind could blow you over. Again, I get the connection. So why is it so hard for Bill O’Reilly over at Fox News to understand the connection between what he says and how someone responds to what he says?

It’s just not that big of a leap to see a connection between the television news calling someone a Baby Killing Nazi over and over again and some religious fanatic deciding to finally pull the trigger. I get that it is not quite the same as the pie making my ass fat, but I don’t work for Jenny Craig. Bill O’Reilly, however, works for Fox News. The emphasis, of course, is on that last word – News. He should know better. He is paid to know better. He should be fired for not knowing better.

And lastly, but not leastly, this one from "Shit Happens":

I’m 83. For most of my life, I drove a big car and watered my lawn in the middle of the day. Now I think twice about how I live because I realize life goes on and my grandchildren will be here long after I am gone.

For most of my life I never gave much thought about gay people. Now I watch Ellen and really hope she and Portia are happy together. What do I care if gay people want to get married.

For most of my life I really didn’t care too much who ended up in the White House. Then one day a lunatic took up residence and started an unnecessary war, condoned torture and made me ashamed of my country. So now I pay attention… because shit happens. Really. I mean it.

Margaret blogs, too, and I've given her short shrift here, but I suspect she's used to it.

Check them out. They're two of a kind. (The comments are terrific, too. Am I jealous? You bet. But I can't be Helen. There's only one Helen.)



(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here)