Monday, August 31, 2009

Fear: 1, Facts: 0

Fear is a very powerful emotion. In fact, as a primitive biological instinct, fear trumps reasoned reflection and logic. So it’s no wonder opponents of health care reform and climate change legislation have been employing fear as a tool to sway public opinion in their favor. In fact, these very tactics have been used for decades in politics, and it seems that the majority of Americans are incapable of wising up to them, if for no other reason than the fact that fear is potent and compelling.

Scare tactics to defeat health care reform were used in the early 1920s when opponents spread the message that public health insurance was a plot by the Nazis to take over the US. They were used again to defeat Harry Truman’s attempt at health overhaul in the late 40s with the notion that nationalized medicine would lead to nation-wide Communism. And now health care reform opponents are doing exactly what they did in the Clinton years: trying to convince Americans that such reform will harm them, not help them. They are focusing especially on senior citizens, whom they allege will lose their health care in the proposed plan (suddenly conservatives are champions of medicare, apparently), or worse: face a "death panel" that will determine their continued existence.

Unfortunately, it seems to be working. Many Americans are riled up, but many of those who are most ardent about their opposition speak only in vague terms about "socialism," "Communism," and "big government," but seem not to understand any details of the proposed health care legislation. In short, instilling fear into people has not only worked for conservatives; it has created an army of largely uninformed, loud, and well-publicized opponents (thanks for giving it such excellent coverage, media).

The Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world know exactly what they are doing. They know they are manipulating people and offering, at best, half-truths about topics on which they are thought by their listeners to be experts. They know a public option has nothing to do with Communism, and that seniors will not lose their insurance under any of the currently proposed bills. But they don't want to see health care reform, because they want to keep taxes and government spending low (regardless of potential benefits and projected savings), and want Democrats to fail. And their strategy is working all too beautifully.

Similarly, the big utilities, gas and oil companies, and manufacturers who would have to change their dirty ways (to some extent) if a climate change bill were passed are winning the messaging fight on that front. They are using all the resources at their disposal to scare Americans with talk of overwhelming hikes in gasoline and energy prices, all the while trying to play down the now well-understood science of anthropogenic climate change:

"The whole question of man-made climate change is really, really iffy," said limited-government activist Kelly Havens, speaking to a cheering, sign-waving crowd of about 200 at the recreational vehicle hall of fame. "I mean, what was man doing when Indiana's glaciers were melting? We weren't even here!"

Lawmakers know better. They know what is in the health bill, and they know the facts about climate change (well, maybe not Jim Inhofe). Those who were against reform from the start are beholden to special interests, and those who are swayed by uninformed and beguiled constituents are simply not concerned enough with the well being of Americans to want to help their constituents to resist fear and understand facts. It boggles my mind that changes that will serve to better Americans are often so hard to come by in this country.

Images: Red Army (Wikimedia), Rush Limbaugh (politicalquote.net), James Inhofe (newsok.com)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy was one of the most effective Senators in the last century, serving the institution longer than all but two other Senators in US history. But perhaps most impressive about Kennedy was his tendency to stick to his morals, even in the face of extreme derision. He was a favorite target of conservatives throughout his tenure, but seldom veered from his fight to provide basic rights and services to all Americans, focusing especially on the poor, the sick, the disabled, children, minorities, and immigrants.

Kennedy came from a very affluent family, yet followed in his brothers’ footsteps to work as hard as he could for those who do not have a voice. The words “liberal” and “conservative” are thrown around almost arbitrarily nowadays, and Kennedy has been dubbed the “Liberal Lion” of the Senate, but what is far more valuable is to look past his ideology and at what he was actually able to accomplish. He helped to pass landmark bills that gave hope to immigrants, funded research on cures for fatal illnesses, protected voter rights, made life easier for those with disabilities, gave rights to those who had been denied them, provided health insurance to the old and the young, and sought to improve the national education system.


Throughout his life, Ted Kennedy tried to provide quality, affordable health care to all Americans, including the 45 million who are still uninsured today. He saw government as a guardian and a helping hand, and a mechanism for helping those most in need. While the current conservative messaging platform centers largely on exacerbating public concerns about government spending and taxation, maybe it would serve the country better to, in Kennedy’s spirit, have an honest debate about the value of providing health care—as a fundamental human right—to all Americans.

We can all learn something from the Lion’s work ethic, perseverance, tolerance, and generosity. If there were more Senators like Ted Kennedy today, the discourse in this country would no doubt be far more civil, and far more Americans would be better off. Rest in peace, Senator.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Another Hate Crime Against a Latino in Patchogue, NY

Matthew Mont (L) and Curt Hatton (Newsday)
Last year Patchogue, New York was host to the vicious stabbing death of Marcelo Lucero, a 37 year-old immigrant from Ecuador, at the hands of 7 teenagers from the area. Today two more teens from Patchogue were arraigned on charges of assault in a separate incident that has reminded many of last year's hate crime. Curt Hatton, 19, and Matthew Mont, 16, are charged along with 20 year old Ramon Rodriguez stemming from an incident on August 14 in which the three are accused of beating an Ecuadorian man and robbing him while hurling racial epithets.

When Lucero was killed last year, it sparked a lot of controversy in the community and shone a light on the shady business of "beaner hopping," in which Patchogue youth would apparently go out looking for men of Latino descent to harass and assault for fun. When a meeting was held at the school where the teens attended (Medford-Patchogue High), things got heated when parents started to complain about the media and a Newsday reporter was forcibly removed from the auditorium. The focus should have been on how something like that could have happened in their community, not that the media was paying attention to the despicable act.

Ramon Rodriguez, the first person arrested and charged
(Newsday)
Now less than a year later we have a very similar incident, with teenagers from Medford-Patchogue High School arrested for assaulting an Ecuadorian in the same neighborhood where Marcelo Lucero was killed. In the previously cited Newsday article, some parents are quoted as saying, "This is not a racist town," or "Now my daughter's embarrassed to go to this school because people are going to incorrectly label it racist." I'm not saying that the town or school is racist, but we're less than a year after Lucero's murder, national media attention, and the beginning of a DOJ investigation and this is still happening? A similar incident happened right after Lucero's murder last year, in which 8 youths yelled racial slurs at two Latinos leaving a restaurant and pushed one of them (yes, this happened less than two weeks after Lucero's murder). After the incident last November, Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri stated, "It is very alarming that after the incident of two weeks ago [Lucero's murder] there are still people who have not gotten the message." It seems some of them still may not have gotten it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bipartisanship: Fail

With all of the talk of the healthcare debate, "pulling the plug on grandma," and Kenyan birth certificates, it's a wonder that bipartisanship has not bloomed and flourished like the beautiful flower that it is. But when both sides (in this case the Democrats and the Republicans) are so entrenched and, despite ill-advised concessions (taking the public option off the table, really?), neither will stop hypberbolizing and feigning outrage, bipartisanship is as probable as a Mets playoff berth.

We'll start with the Republicans.

First there was Senator Chuck Grassley who was praised by Obama for his willingness to reach across the aisle and repaid the compliment by telling a crowd in his home state of Iowa that the government should not have a plan that decides when to pull the plug on grandma. Grassley later admonished those people bringing up the "end-of-life" issues because, as Grassley stated, they "are not the issues that we ought to be talking about." In other words, he pulled a Palin.

Then there's Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia), who wrote a letter disseminated by the American Conservative Union that stated, among other things, "When mama falls and breaks her hip, she'll just lie in her bed in pain until she dies with pneumonia because her needed surgery is not cost efficient." In terms of invoking fear and anger in people, telling them that their mothers will die slow, painful deaths because the government does not want to pay for their surgery seems like a successful strategy, facts be damned.

There's also the birthers, who go beyond Lou Dobbs and Tom DeLay to our elected officials. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Montana) stated that he would stop talking about the president's birthplace. But before you think it's because he thinks that Obama was born here, you better recognize that it's because the media could not "legitimately" discuss the issue. Of course! Don't forget Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-North Carolina, also the Irish version of the founding father?), who told a town hall attendee that he didn't have enough evidence one way or the other to determine whether Obama was a jus soli citizen.

The most over-the-top performance by a Republican during these town hall meetings, however, goes to Rep. Todd Akin, who joked that "Different people from Washington, D.C., have come back to their districts and held town hall meetings, and they almost got lynched." To follow this up, he pretended to choke himself as if being lynched. He and Michael Richards have an HBO special coming up. But seriously, this is 2009; joking about lynching is so far over the line it's incomprehensible. Especially given the way that some folks (like Rep. David Scott (D-Georgia), who got hate mail calling him a "nigga") have been treated by those who disagree with him.

With such rational, level-headed folks on the other side of the aisle to Obama, it's no wonder that people are blaming Obama for not being bipartisan enough. But having one rational side in a debate and one irrational side would be an improvement from what we're seeing, because the Republicans do not have a monopoly on idiocy.

Rep. Baron Hill (D-Indiana) refused to even hold town meetings because, as he told the Washington Post, he felt that the protesters were "political terrorists" and would try to "blow up" the meetings and not answer the questions in a forthright manner. Way to bridge the gap between the left and the right and try to work together to help your constituents. Listening to them would be Step 1.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York) pulled a Rush Limbaugh and compared town hall protesters to Nazis. He told the Huffington Post that protesters' means of protest "is fascist. It is a fascist tactic. That's exactly what they did in Weimar Germany. Let me put it this way. It is a fascist tactic not to disagree with you, or to say you are an idiot or whatever, but to try to shut you up. That's what I mean. That's a fascist tactic." Joining Nadler in comparing the town hall protesters to Nazis (for, apparently, comparing the healthcare plan to Nazis) is Rep. Brian Baird (D-Washington). He accused the town hall protesters of "Brown Shirt tactics." As I've said before, comparisons to Nazism (outside of people actually trying to exterminate a large group of people based on ethnicity/religion/etc.) is never appropriate and does nothing to add to intelligent discourse.

It's utterly ridiculous that these are the people that we have elected to guide and lead us. If they're incapable of having a civil discussion about healthcare and then bitch and moan when a bunch of fringe elements that no one takes seriously fulfill their tangential role in society as wanna-be cranks, should we really expect them to get anything worthwhile done? Let's not forget that at the end of the day, whether comprehensive healthcare reform is passed or not, our elected officials and their families are still covered under one of the best plans in the country. That would explain why they want to pander to special interests and small pockets of voters instead of pass legitimate healthcare reform at the expense of losing their seat in Congress (and their Rolls Royce of healthcare plans).

All quotes of the esteemed elected officials in this post come from Andie Coller and Daniel Libit's "Some lawmakers engage in made-for-YouTube crazy talk"

Photo - Healthcare protesters and supporters (Guardian)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Paterson and Goldman Sachs Blame Negative Public Opinion on Prejudice

Today Governor Paterson has all but guaranteed that he will not be the Democrat on the governor's ticket next year. In an interview with Daily News columnist Errol Louis, Paterson stated that the increasing calls for him to not participate in the next gubernatorial election are not because he's been an ineffective governor, not because his party was host to one of the most ridiculous legislative stunts in recent memory and he was powerless to stop it, not because shortly after taking office he admitted that he cheated on his wife and smoked pot and did blow. No no; it's because he's black.

The ludicrous comments come as the writing on the wall is becoming clearer to Paterson, who will likely face a very difficult primary next year against current New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (should he decide to run). First of all, Paterson was not elected by the people of New York as governor. His jump into governor's duties wasn't seamless, but it was not horrendous, either. Then Hillary Clinton got tapped to be Secretary of State under Obama and Paterson had to replace her. The debacle that ensured was nothing less than embarrassing, entangling (and eventually infuriating) the Kennedy clan and leaving the voters of New York scratching their heads. He acted like a spectator during the state senate stalemate. But these are not the reasons that state Democrats don't want him as governor again; according to Paterson, it's because he's black.

Now anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I am quick to point out incidents that I believe involve prejudice of any kind, especially racism. I just don't see it here. But Paterson is not the only high-powered, high-profile New Yorker crying foul. Upper-level executives at Goldman Sachs feel that they are being unfairly targeted in the media because their head and many senior execs are Jewish. Not because the taxpayers bailed them out (both directly, and then indirectly through AIG), not because they know they're playing with dirty money a la Jimmy Conway and should not be spending it lest people notice, not because Goldman has seemed anything but gracious to the taxpayer for our help, and not because Goldman is back to their risky ways; no no, it's because high level executives there are Jewish.

Are there people out there who hate Paterson because of his race? Sure. Same thing with executives at Goldman because of their religion? Yup. Is it the reason that the overall public dislikes them? Absolutely not. There are so many reasons to dislike Paterson and those who run Goldman Sachs, that their race and religion, respectively, is one of the last things on most peoples' minds. It just shows the hubris involved: "Oh, I'm so good and never make mistakes, they must not like me because of some immutable characteristic that I can't control." Give me a break. Crying racism and anti-Semitism like this adds doubts to those who are true victims of it, and that's wrong. Anyone paying attention can see through these ill-spewed smokescreens. Peace.

Photos - Governor David Paterson (NY.gov), Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein (The Daily Beast)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ridge Confirms the Obvious: Threats of Terrorism Used for Political Reasons

Today it was revealed that the first Secretary of Homeland Security (the cabinet position created following the 9/11 attacks) feels that he was pressured to raise the terrorist alert level shortly before the 2004 elections to give the Republicans a boost at the polls. The Secretary, Tom Ridge, stated that while he and his department did not feel that a new bin Laden tape that surfaced days before the 2004 election warranted a threat level raise, he was pressured by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to raise the threat level.

Some folks' reactions have included "Oh, well, Ridge is just trying to sell books and is making these things up." Even if Ridge is making it up (which I don't think he is), the actions and words of the Republican Party during the 2006 midterm elections show that they would be more than capable and willing to do something similar to what Ridge charges. Let's not forget Bush's words in the run-up to the elections on October 30, 2006: "However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses." If Bush publicly insinuated that a vote for the Democrats would be a vote for the terrorists, what happened behind closed doors?

We saw the politics of fear in play during the Bush Administration with its use of the War on Terror. We saw the politics of fear in play during the 2008 presidential election, with neo-cons begging people to be afraid of Obama, the Khalidi/Ayers/Wright "scandals," and Hillary Clinton's top adviser suggesting that they highlight the fact that some people may think that Obama is not "fundamentally American because of his diverse background. We see the politics of fear now with the whole talk of "death panels." It all reminds me of an Al Gore quote from his book The Assault on Reason: "Leadership means inspiring us to manage through our fears. Demagoguery means exploiting our fears for political gain. There is a crucial difference." Peace.

Photo - Tom Ridge (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jenny Sanford: Setting the Example for Cheating Politicians' Wives

Jenny Sanford (MSNBC)
How many times have you turned on the TV to watch a press conference or seen a clip on the evening news about a cheating politician and see his wife standing by his side as he admits to the entire country his inability to maintain self-control? I always think to myself, "What is she doing with him? He publicly humiliated her and their entire family, and she's still going to stand by him like that?" Not Jenny Sanford. When the revelations of what Mark Sanford meant by "hiking the Appalachian Trail" became public, she started the process of officially leaving the governor (their relationship had been hanging by a thread when he disappeared off to Argentina.) Within a month she had moved out of the governor's mansion and had taken the kids.

Eliot Spitzer and his wife, Silda (NJ.com)
When Mark Sanford held court like a Greek philosopher expounding on the virtues of love at his press conference admitting he was having an affair with an Argentinian mistress, Jenny was not there. She put out her own press release after her husband's embarrassing tell-all, in which she minced no words when it came to her and her husband's relationship: "I therefore asked my husband to leave two weeks ago." She goes on to say that Sanford can earn her trust and respect back, but it won't be anytime soon. Jenny Sanford had the stones to do what Mark Sanford could (and still will) not: stand up and do what's best for herself and her family.

David Vitter and wife Wendy (NOLA.com)
Some wives stand by their husbands despite their husband's ultimate sign of disrespect and public humiliation (Silda Spitzer and Wendy Vitter both stood by their hooker-visiting husbands [with Wendy saying she was proud to be the Louisiana sentor's husband]). Other wives may not be at the press conference, but are still with their men (Hilary Clinton stayed with Bill, Darlene Ensign has stayed with her unfaithful husband and previous 2012 Republican hopeful John Ensign.) But Jenny Sanford seems to be a rare breed (the only other wife of a politician caught cheating who I can think of that left him is Mary Pat Fosella who left Staten Island/Brooklyn Rep. Vito Fosella following the revelation that he had not only a mistress, but a kid on the side).

So why do Jenny Sanford's actions stick out so much? Why do other politicians' wives [seemingly] put up with their husbands' immature and unfaithful ways? Is it the allure of being a powerful man's better half? Is it to keep appearances? Are they so blinded by love that they don't see their husbands for who they really are? While we may not know the answer to those questions, Jenny Sanford makes it clear why she left her husband: her kids come first. Even more impressively, she has forgiven Sanford, but she's not running back into his arms. "I have put my heart and soul into being a good mother and wife. Now I think it's up to my husband to do the soul-searching to see if he wants to stay married. The ball is in his court." I think Jenny Sanford's already won the game.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Disturbing New Details in NYPD Rape Cops Case

This weekend more details emerged in the case of NYPD Officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata who are accused of raping a woman on the Lower East Side after a taxi driver called 911 to report a drunken fare. Moreno and Mata were the responding officers and instead of displaying the "Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect" we see emblazoned on all NYPD patrol cars, they allegedly raped the woman while she drifted in and out of consciousness.

The details come from a notice of claim filed by the victim, who remains unidentified, seeking $5 million total for the heinous act. Among the new details is the fact that the officers stole her BlackBerry and called her mother and brother in an effort to intimidate the victim from coming forward.

The timeline of events is equally disturbing. The victim was out having drinks at a Brooklyn club last December 6 and into the morning hours of December 7, when her friends put her into a yellow cab to take her home because she was highly intoxicated. When the cab driver pulled up to her apartment he could not get her out of the cab so he called police. That's when Moreno and Mata showed up. The officers escorted the woman into her apartment and left, but returned less than an hour later and gained entry to the building by telling a resident that they were investigating a noise complaint behind the building (which was untrue). They entered the victim's apartment with a key that they had stolen from the woman earlier. They were in the apartment for 17 minutes but had to leave when called to a traffic accident.

Once they were done with the accident scene the two are alleged to have made a false 911 call saying that there was a drunk homeless man two buildings down from the victim's so that they could return to the area. They went to the woman's apartment after being dispatched to the fake homeless man. This is when the alleged rape took place, with Mata acting as lookout and Moreno raping the victim while she lie face down on her bed after she vomited a few times. After being in the apartment for more than a half-hour the pair left and this is when the woman reported the rape.

The victim was able to meet with Moreno after the rape and secretly recorded him apologizing to her for having sex with her. Moreno has also admitted to having sex with the woman during the investigation, but he claims that it was consensual. Now we all know that when a person is legally drunk (and if someone is puking from alcohol poisoning, it's a pretty good indicator that they are legally drunk) they cannot legally consent to sex. And when you have sex with someone who cannot legally consent to sex, it's called rape.

Even Ray Kelly, who rarely criticizes his officers in public, called the two's actions "egregious" and a "shocking aberration." The two were charged with rape, burglary, and official misconduct back in April, have pleaded not guilty, and have a scheduled court appearance for September 16. You would think given their charges and Kelly's own outrage over the incident that these two would not be working for the NYPD anymore. You would be wrong. Despite the fact that Moreno has admitted that he had sex with a drunken woman WHILE ON DUTY, he and Mata continue to work for the NYPD in administrative duties. That means that our taxes are going to pay for their salary and benefits while they wait for the inevitable firing from the force and convictions on at least some of the charges. Top that off with the tax dollars that will have to be used to pay the victim her settlement money, and we're really in the hole. If Ray Kelly truly thought that what these officers did was egregious and a shocking aberration, he would do more than simply say it; he would show it by firing them. Peace.

Photos - NYPD Officers Kenneth Moreno (l.) and Franklin Mata (NYPost)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Astroturf Strategy Spreads from Health Care to Climate

As the House and Senate have been on August recess, their "town hall meetings"—largely focused on health care legislation—have been met with vociferous, angry, and even violent opponents of any reform. These right-wing conservatives, feeding off each other's anger as well as that of inflammatory media pundits, are taking a stand against what they see as a "government takeover" of health insurance, which they associate with the worst of evils, many comparing it to Socialism, or even Nazism.

Unfortunately, much of this contrived anger and fear is a result of irresponsible media neglecting to provide facts on what the current health care bills would actually change (the government would, in fact, not be "taking over" any insurance options, and there was never anything close to a "death panel" proposed, as ex-governor Palin had insisted last week). And much of it is simply the conservative Republican effort to derail Obama and the Democrats' platform in order to blame them for a slew of failures come 2010, and pick up Congressional seats (even if it does mean leaving millions of Americans without health insurance—a minor hitch to an otherwise noble plan).

But now, finding that this public, "grassroots" (or "astroturf," as some are calling it) outcry strategy is actually working—despite its largely uninformed, and sometimes clandestinely confederate perpetrators—the oil industry is planning to apply it to its opposition to climate legislation in the Senate.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) has written to its member companies asking them to "move aggressively" to stage dozens of anti-climate bill gatherings across the country, mostly in states with swing voters in the Senate. Greenpeace acquired the letter that API distributed, which outlines many of the same false arguments that have been plaguing the climate debate for months. At one point, the letter reads:
After hearing that Waxman-Markey-like legislation could increase the costs of gasoline to around $4 and lead to significant job losses . . . audiences changed their opinions on the bill significantly. Opposition to the bill within the policy influentials cohort grew 23 points, from 40% to 63%; with a 19 point increase in those who now “strongly” oppose the legislation.
What this letter fails to mention is that the $4 figure above comes from research by the Heritage Foundation, which asserts that gasoline will reach that price in 2035. That's 26 years away. And we just had $4 per gallon gas last year, only there were few fuel-efficient cars that found themselves immune to the hikes. I can guarantee that with functional climate change regulations, and more responsible consumer behavior, there will be an abundance of alternatives that will render such a gasoline price increase insignificant. But API doesn't give credence to these trivial details.

So now these astroturf groups—meant to look like regular citizen groups, but actually groups funded by corporations, trade associations, and lobbying firms—will have their voices heard much more readily than those they are impersonating.

And the saddest part is that the targeted Senators, even though they will likely be mindful of these charades, will still be affected by them. Instead of taking a strong stance against artificially engineered rallies and pervasive lies, many Senators will ultimately bow to the pressure exerted upon them—and fueled by the media, who report not on facts, but on spectacles.

If the public were fairly informed about issues like health care and climate change, the debate would be completely lopsided in favor of a comprehensive overhaul of policy on both fronts. But well-endowed corporations, ratings-driven media, and Senators susceptible to being weakened with lies and bought with contributions, are playing no part in helping to accurately educate voters. And those frightening realities of our modern democracy could end up dismantling some of the most important legislative initiatives in our history.

Images: Violent town hall meeting (The National), API Presdient Jack Gerard (flickr), Senator Arlen Specter at a town hall meeting (Philly.com)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Are You a Sensible Person and Oppose Obama's Healthcare Plan? Sorry

Congressman Frank Kratovil (D-MD) hung in effigy (DailyKos)
Given all of the hullabaloo going on about the health care town hall debates (and the ensuing mainstream media soap boxes being handed to crazy healthcare protestors), I thought to myself, what do you do if you're a sensible person who opposes healthcare because of the facts contained in the bill and not because of some irrational, made-up fear of euthanizing people once they get their AARP brochures?

The behavior of some of the members of the Republican Party the past couple of days has been pretty discouraging. I discussed last week Rush Limbaugh comparing the Obama administration to Hitler's Germany, as well as Palin's thinly veiled eugenics comparison and your run-of-the-mill town hall protestors likening Obama to one of history's most evil villains. But these folks have gone beyond the Hitler comparisons (that was soooo last week) and have moved to straight up racism. While those looking to harass Rep. David Scott (D-Georgia) started out with the played-out swastika graffiti, they really stepped it up with their correspondence:

I think Claire McCaskill may have missed the boat on that one.

But mere words, unlike sticks and stones, do relatively little damage to a person. Some town hall protestors have taken to packing heat when getting emotional and angry about America's inevitable plunge into socialism, then communism, then making a roundabout to fascism and killing everyone over 55. Take William Kostric, who openly displayed his piece outside of Obama's town hall in Portsmouth, NH (and then subsequently got an interview on mass media outlets to talk about healthcare). Another protestor in Arizona dropped his gun at a town hall (did we learn nothing about sweatpants and firearms from Plaxico?).

But it's not just the protestors who are a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Clearly there's Sarah Palin, who (through her new medium - Facebook) called Obama's health plan something akin to eugenics with "death panels." There's the Investor's Business Daily editorial stating that British citizen and resident Stephen Hawking would not have a chance to flourish because of his ALS (despite the fact that Hawking has lived and flourished under Britain's socialized healthcare system). And then there is Senator Chuck Grassley, who after being praised by Obama, went back to his state of Iowa and told a crowd there that the government's plan can determine whether or not to "pull the plug on grandma."

So what do you do if you're a reasonable fellow who disagrees with Obama's plan to introduce a government option, but don't necessarily want to paint Hitler mustaches on our President's likeness, carry a loaded gun to town halls, ignore what's in the bill and argue on made-up death panels, or call black politicians "niggas"? You're certainly not going to be given airtime on one of the networks or cable news stations, because you're not incendiary or loud enough to draw in viewers. As soon as you tell someone you disagree with Obama's healthcare proposal one of the first things that comes to mind (if you follow the news) is swastikas and loaded guns. It's sad that the actions of a few have smeared the reputation of the many (like Islamic extremists casting a dark shadow over Islam), but unfortunately it seems like in this era of mass media ratings and toeing the line between controversial and pulling-all-of-our-advertising controversial, the most outrageous and ridiculous voices get heard while the reasonable or well-grounded are labeled boring and unworthy of debate. Maybe the Republicans can go with Nixon's silent majority scheme - internally.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

State Democrats Forget About Stalemate, Fear Paterson in Next Election

The New York Times today had an article on Democrats worrying about re-election in the fall next year. I thought, "Hey, another article about the do-nothing State Senate and how they're worried about going back to their districts, hat in hands, to beg their constituents to put up with them for another term." You can imagine my surprise when I found out that these Democrats aren't worried about their future-felon leaders or their embarrassing colleagues, but the governor.

True, Paterson is a pretty weak executive and has trouble making the simplest of decisions, but have we forgotten that THE STATE SENATE WAS SHUT DOWN FOR A MONTH BECAUSE OF PETTY, MIDDLE-SCHOOL CALIBER INTRA-PARTY PERSONAL GRUDGES? I mean, with all that has happened in the past few months the state democrats are worried about Paterson? Do they not realize that the two most recognizable New York Democrats right now are Hiram Monserrate - who faces trial in September for slashing his girlfriend's face with broken glass during an argument, part of which was caught on videotape - and Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr. - someone who may not even live in his district, funnels public funds into his own shady non-profits, and is loathed throughout the state?

Take the story that came out today about Espada: his son will be making $120,000 a year in what NYMag describes as a cushy job upstate. Because holding up the state senate for a month over a personal beef with Malcolm Smith was not a big enough sign that he has no respect for the people of New York, we might as well pay his kid's six-figure salary. And this comes after both Espada and Monserrate received raises following the state senate fiasco that they created.

If I were a Democratic State Senator I would be more worried about my complacency during the senate stalemate than what our accidental governor does or how his poll numbers are. How many senators stood up when that nonsense was going on and mirrored the outrage or even showed more than a modicum of anger over what was going on? Now they'd rather blame party peril on Paterson, not their own inane behavior. It's always someone else's fault in Albany when the people get screwed, but the fact remains: the people get screwed. Peace.

Photos - New York Governor David Paterson (New York Times)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Palin Jumps on the Nazi Comparison Bandwagon

On Friday I discussed Godwin's law and its applicability to politics. Now a "frontrunner" for the 2012 Republican nomination has compared Obama's administration to the Third Reich, albeit slightly more subtly than Rush Limbaugh did last week. Harking back to the pseudo-science of eugenics (a tenet synonomous with the Third Reich), Sarah Palin stated that she fears losing her parents and her son under Obama's healthcare plan that would supposedly weed out the less "productive" of society.

What she said was extreme, considering she essentially accused Obama of wanting to set up a "death panel" to decide who gets health coverage based on their perceived value and productivity to society. What Palin stated, in other words, is that Obama wants to re-establish the practice of state-supported eugenics in this country by denying those who this imaginary "death panel" deems unworthy of medical coverage. I like to think that this country has come a long way from Buck v. Bell; there is no evidence of a desire by the Obama administration to set up a death panel to withhold health coverage based on subjective predicted productivity in society.

But Palin struck a different tone in a later Facebook post, saying that

"we must stick to a discussion of the issues and not get sidetracked by tactics that can be accused of leading to intimidation or harassment. Such tactics diminish our nation’s civil discourse which we need now more than ever because the fine print in this outrageous health care proposal must be understood clearly and not get lost in conscientious voters’ passion to want to make elected officials hear what we are saying. Let’s not give the proponents of nationalized health care any reason to criticize us."

So first Palin fans the flames of extremism by claiming that the Obama administration will practice Nazi-era eugenics through a death panel, then calls for civility in the health care debate? Hypocrisy at its finest. There were two contradictory posts on her Facebook, one original post and another, cover-your-ass kind of post. I wonder which one was sincere. Peace.

Photos - Sarah Palin (Examiner)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Comparisons to Nazism: Never Called For

Godwin's law states that as an internet discussion becomes longer, the likelihood of someone using Nazism or Hitler as an analogy increases. Unfortunately, this law also applies to political discussions that are supposed to be productive and informative (but are actually counter-productive and mind numbing). Take, for example, the healthcare debate.

Now I know very little when it comes to the nitty gritty of the healthcare argument, other than the following: Obama and a large number of Democrats are suggesting a public option for healthcare coverage that would compete with private sector healthcare and (hopefully) spurn price reductions in the spirit of capitalist competitiveness. Republicans and a small number of Democrats fear that this public option will eventually put the private options out of business and we will all be forced to seek health insurance from the government. That's what I proclaim to know; but this post is not about healthcare coverage.

It's more about the inanity being portrayed from certain people in the debate. It seems that some people think that Obama's charisma and ability to speak to the American people equate him with one of the world's worst people ever, namely Adolf Hitler. Rush Limbaugh, who just last week was praised by House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), said that "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."

Additionally, people at these "town hall debates" about healthcare also seem to be jumping on the Nazi bandwagon. Take, for example, the following pictures from one of these debates in Denver:The young man with his arm up is a 16 year old wearing a shirt saying, "Hitler Gave Great Speeches Too." The lower picture is pretty self-explanatory. Of course, we saw this type of immature/hateful behavior with anti-Bush folks, too. I'm sure that people think Obama is doing horrible things, and it's pretty evident that Bush did some horrible things, but Nazism? Not even close. To invoke the Third Reich detracts from one's argument and shows one's inability/hesitancy to discuss the real issues and argue their merits rather than resort to name calling.

And the overall irony of this is stunning; why would Obama model his policies after someone who, had Obama lived in Germany during his reign, have sent him to the crematorium because of his race? Is Obama's plan to wipe out an entire race in America, take over Canada and Mexico, and eventually rule the world? Hardly. It is highly offensive to compare someone to Hitler; let's not forget what Hitler did. I'd like those who compare anyone to Hitler to sit through hours of archived video and photos and listen to the stories of Holocaust survivors. Then we'll see how quick they are to compare someone to such evil incarnate. Peace.

Photos - Rush Limbaugh (Salon), Protesters invoking hateful symbols of the Third Reich (Huffington Post)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Did Anyone Know About Diane Schuler's Problem?

The Schuler family (Newsday)
It's unbelievable the about-turn that has taken place in public opinion since the toxicology reports came out regarding Diane Schuler's blood alcohol level and THC levels when she crashed her brother's minivan carrying her two children and her brother's three daughters. What was originally sympathy for Schuler, thinking that she suffered some unexplainable medical condition, turned to anger and enmity upon learning that she was incredibly intoxicated and also high at the time of the crash.

A lot of the attempts to get down to what truly happened on July 26 in the hours leading up to the crash have begun to focus on the people around Schuler - namely her husband Daniel Schuler, who departed ways with Schuler at the family's campsite that morning, and her brother Warren Hance, who spoke with her after she left the campsite but before she began her fatal drive the wrong way down the Taconic State Parkway, eventually slamming into an oncoming SUV containing three people who were among the eight dead.

While Schuler's husband told investigators that his wife drank socially and occasionally smoked marijuana, there is no indication from either the Schulers or the Hances that Diane Schuler had a problem. However, to drive five children in a minivan while swigging vodka (a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka was found in the charred wreckage) and smoking pot does not come in an overnight transition. It's possible that Daniel Schuler's revelation that a sudden medical condition caused his wife to drink and smoke, but the ME has ruled out a medical cause (including diabetes - one of Daniel Schuler's theories).

I'm not going to say that Daniel Schuler or that Warren Hance knew that Diane Schuler had a problem. I will say, however, that having seen alcoholism firsthand, it is hard to ignore. I also find it very difficult to believe that a person would allow a relative to drive his children knowing that she was capable of something like this. We may never know what happened when the Schulers parted ways that morning or exactly what was said between Diane Schuler and her brother, but it seems that we do know what happened and the tragic results that Diane Schuler's problems reaped. If, in fact, Daniel Schuler or Warren Hance knew that Diane Schuler had a problem and/or knew that she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time, the fact that they could have prevented the deaths of their loved ones and three innocent people will haunt them for the rest of their lives. If they honestly did not, then we may never know what truly caused Diane Schuler to go over the edge.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Barrett Sues Menino, Davis Over Own Racist Email

Boston Police Officer Justin Barrett
(NY Daily News)
As if Boston Police Officer Justin Barrett could not embarrass himself (or his department) any more, he has filed suit against BPD, the police commissioner Ed Davis and Mayor Thomas Menino for what he has deemed a conspiracy to "intentionally inflict emotional distress and conspiring to intentionally interfere with the property rights, due process rights, and civil rights of the plaintiff."

Barrett alleges in the complaint that the mayor and commissioner have caused Barrett "pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, posttraumatic stress, sleeplessness, indignities and embarrassment, degradation, injury to reputation, and restrictions on personal freedom." The only thing that the mayor and commissioner did in this case was point out that Barrett was clearly racist and that the Boston Police Department had no tolerance for his idiotic behavior. What Barrett does not seem to understand is that when you send a racist email to a newspaper, it can be published. When you are made a national laughingstock because your opinions come from antebellum attitudes towards blacks, that's on you, not the mayor or the commissioner or anyone else you want to blame to try to get sympathy.

What happened to personal responsibility What happened to saying, "Wow, I messed up. I suppose I'll apologize and move on." Barrett seems to think that everyone is to blame but himself. He blames the mayor and commissioner for "injury to reputation." Seriously? Calling a black man a "jungle monkey" and telling a Globe columnist that she is a "hot little bird" and that she should be making him coffee on Sunday mornings while also saying that suspects have no rights is more telling than anything Menino or Davis can say or do. I love Barrett's quote on Larry King where he said that he treats everyone with dignity and respect. Well, everyone except "jungle monkeys" and suspects who, in Barrett's view, have no rights and "hot little birds" at the Globe who write columns with which he disagrees.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dear Congress, Climate Regulations Hurt Minorities. Love, "NAACP."

Only days after I wrote about the power of special interest lobbies in Congress versus the power of the American people as a whole, an interesting story broke. According to the Times:
A grass-roots lobbying firm has acknowledged forging letters opposed to the climate bill that were sent to a Virginia lawmaker. The office of Representative Tom Perriello discovered that a half-dozen letters it received had nearly identical language signed by a made-up person at Creciendo Juntos, a Latino group, and five fake members of the Albemarle-Charlottesville branch of the N.A.A.C.P.
So here we have the powerful, corporation-financed professional lobbyists—who already have a great deal of clout among Congress members and often win victories for companies whose actions are harmful to the public good—posing as members of nonprofit organizations that seek to give a voice to historically voiceless or powerless communities, in order to block legislation that would disadvantage their clients.

The bill claimed that the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) would be deleterious to low-income families (the opposite is in fact true, according to the Congressional Budget Office). And here's the best part:
The lobbying firm, Bonner & Associates, apologized to the groups and attributed the faked letters to a temporary employee who, it says, has been fired.
Well, problem solved, then, Bonner & Associates. Glad that meddlesome rabble-rouser is out of there! Shame they weren't able to catch him before the bill went to a vote.

How often does this happen when the perpetrators aren't caught? And how often do forged letters like these end up influencing Congressional votes? ACES only narrowly passed the House, and more moderate Congress members could have easily been swayed by a completely fabricated plea allegedly coming from important advocacy groups.

Even with a political system that is already tainted by unethical injections of money, greed, and power, those with the advantage still don't play fair. How can the public be served when the public seems to be neglected or undermined at every turn?

Dobbs and the Birthers Movement: The Stuff Cranks Are Made Of


Today CNN is just realizing how embarrassing it is to have Lou Dobbs associated with your name. Dobbs, who has latched onto the whole "birthers" movement like a dog in heat, will simply not let go of the debunked rumor that Obama was not born in the United States and, according to Section II Article 1 of the Constitution, is thus ineligible to be president. While Dobbs states that the only reason he brings up the birthers movement is to be fair (he states that he believes Obama was born in Hawaii), it's like giving equal airtime to the person who says 2+2=5, because it would not be fair to simply say they're "wrong."

Nevermind that Obama has produced his birth certificate. Nevermind that Lou Dobbs is your high-profile spokesperson. When he's not calling black politicians cotton-pickers, he's trying to prove that they were born in Africa. I was originally going to write this post about what I'm sick of hearing in the news (Michael Jackson's kids/estate, anytime Gates or Crowley uses the restroom, Jon and Kate's relationship), but People.com still exists, so why give these topics more publicity?

Instead I wanted to discuss a cable news network Howard Beale wannabe. While this blog makes a good point about what we should shed light upon, and what we should simply ignore and allow the public ridicule to overtake, my argument is that if we do ignore something like Dobbs' embarrassing "reporting" about Obama's birthplace, it might reach more mainstream markets like, I don't know, CNN or something (oops). Seriously, it's fine if we see folks like Hannity or Beck or Dobbs as the jesters they are; there to make a buck while entertaining folks. It's when we start taking them seriously that we run into trouble.



A lot of folks are saying just ignore Dobbs, which I am wont to do. I've seen his show a few times, but getting through an entire episode is torturous. As Dobbs' ratings continue to drop, CNN might have no choice but to dump him (notice they'll allow him to be a national laughing-stock on company time, but cut into ratings and ad revenue and you get the ax). But the fact that the birthers movement has even made it to a semi-reputable news agency like CNN speaks volumes; no more is it relegated to the Daily Show or Colbert Report or Fox News to be laughed at; it's now "news." In honor of Dobbs, tomorrow's post will be baseless claims that I don't personally believe, but I feel need to be given sufficient airtime, such as the revelation that Dobbs was actually born in Antarctica and illegally entered the United States on the back of a polar bear. Peace.

Photo - Lou Dobbs (Media Bistro)