Monday, August 31, 2009

What's the green "tweet" thingy?

Observant visitors will have noticed that every post here now comes with a little green "tweet" button. If you are so inclined, and you use Twitter, you can click on that button and you'll be taken to your twitter account to send on a tweet noting the post.

If you are not using Twitter, you are probably asking, why in the world would you want to? I asked that myself until recently, but I am now finding that joining the flow on Twitter is making me aware of writing and opinions I would like to see and would otherwise have missed.

You've probably heard that Twitter consists of 140 character "tweets" that ostensibly answer the question "what are you doing?" People on Twitter "follow" each other's tweets. And if you have anything you value to do in life, you probably don't want to know on a minute by minute basis what your friends are doing!

That's not how I use Twitter. Instead, this is what I'm doing. I've always chosen which books to read, and which journalism to scan, and which blogs to follow, by establishing a more or less conscious list of people whose information and opinions I've learned to value. It used to be (like last year!), when I'd encounter a new candidate for that list in an online venue, I'd put a Google alert on the name and read mentions of them for awhile, figuring out whether I really wanted to follow them.

Now, many interesting thinkers seem to have adopted Twitter. I don't have to mess with Google alerts. They tweet their stuff and they tweet what interests them, often just as interesting. If I follow them on Twitter, I can sample the stream. I don't have to attend to all of it, but can dip in and out.

This development has me tweeting myself -- moderately. Every blog post gets tweeted automatically (sometimes twice -- I'm working on the glitch). Occasionally I'll throw out a tweet about an interesting article I've run across online. And if I'm at some more or less political event, I might tweet a "twitpic" -- a picture.

For a thoughtful rant (nice idea, huh?) on the authority of various forms of communication, try this from Coturnix. And I should say that the previous post here on health reform journalism owed a lot to Twitter folks @emptywheel and @jayrosen_nyu.

Health reform shorts:
Why we don't know what "public option" means

An amplification of this.

The Washington Post ombudsman last week had an interesting column responding to complaints about the paper's coverage of the fight over universal health care reform. He explains that readers send him notes like this:

"Your paper's coverage continues in the 'horse race' mode," complained Bill Byrd of Falls Church. "Who's up, who's down . . . political spin, personal political attacks.

... Many have said that Post stories routinely assume a foundation of knowledge that they simply don't have. Some said that they don't understand basic terms like "public option" or "single payer." They want primers, not prognostications. And they're craving stories on what it means for ordinary folks and their families.

Neal Gabler, writing in the Los Angeles Times, adds another implication of the critique of the media: reporting has not helped its audience discern what is true.

... a citizenry is only as well-informed as the quality of information it receives. One can't expect Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or the Republican Party or even the Democrats to provide serious, truthful assessments of a complex health plan. Truth has to come from somewhere else -- from a reliable, objective, trustworthy source.

That source should be the media, and there has been, in fact, some excellent coverage of healthcare, especially by our better newspapers and especially lately when the untruths have become a torrent, rousing reporters to provide a corrective. But overall, the coverage has not been exactly edifying. According to the Pew Research Center, 16% of the stories in its media sample last week were devoted to healthcare, but three-quarters of that coverage was either about legislative politics or the town halls.

That is, health care reform is drowning in horserace journalism, more suited to covering a sporting event than helping people form smart opinions about life and death policies.

Matt Thompson at has offered a critique of the way "news" is currently delivered to us that provides a good description of why the ombudsman is hearing what he hears and Gabler is so frustrated. This article should be required reading for anyone trying to understand discontent with journalism.

Thompson says the media are pretty good at telling us "what just happened." That's fine, if we already know (as we hope the reporter does), 1) "the longstanding facts," 2) "how the journalist knows what s/he knows," and 3) "what we don't know." Unfortunately, the latter three are almost never part of the story, yet without them "the news" is just a meaningless stream of gobbledeeguck with occasional emotional hooks.

Truly -- go read Thompson.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Help my cultural competence

The freelance artwork in my 'hood has become very sophisticated lately. At least, I assume this stuff is freelance, not commercial. Can anyone tell me something about these images?

On a boarded door on Valencia:

This once was tagged by a more ordinary graffittist before I snapped the picture, but you get the idea.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Don't go easy on Obama ...

Our friend Van Jones made this speech at a wingding for the Washington legal rights advocacy outfit Alliance for Justice on the evening before the inauguration in January. (Van now works on green issues for the administration.)

Everything he said is still true.

Now is the time to intensify the struggle for democracy...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Health reform shorts:
Do we really want that public option?

Looks like most of us don't know. Polls conflict, some showing huge approval -- others not so much. This story casts some light on the conflicting answers we see:

... consider this question: Should we repeal the 1975 Public Affairs Act? Very, very few Americans should have a pre-existing opinion since no such act ever passed. Yet that did not stop 30% to 40% from agreeing or disagreeing that the non-existent Act should be repealed on survey experiments conducted by George Bishop and University of Cincinnati colleagues in the mid 1970s.

What Bishop and others have learned over the years is that survey respondents work hard to answer questions and that they frequently form those answers on the spot based on underlying values tapped by cues in the question language. Twenty years later, for example, the Washington Post's Richard Morin modified the experiment and found that when the question informed respondents that either "President Clinton" or the "Republicans in Congress" wanted to repeal the non-existent law, responses polarized along partisan lines.

So how many Americans are familiar enough with the "public option" to have real, pre-existing opinions about it? I am guessing very few, but unfortunately, few pollsters have tried to tackle that particularly challenging question.

Mark Blumenthal,

Blumenthal's observations agree completely with my years of going door to door to talk with voters during elections. People seldom have very formed opinions about policy issues. They have loose affinities -- a sense that some candidate or party is "on their side." Lots of them couldn't tell you why, but they know.

And above all, if you ask them a question about something they don't understand, most are not going to admit ignorance. The one thing you can be sure that all of us learned from being schooled is: don't look stupid. Folks guess, usually answering what they think you might want to hear. (That can be very informative if you are listening.)

Does this mean that President Obama and the Democrats have failed to explain the "public option" well? Yes.

If they'd advocated for something like "a choice for coverage that will make sure insurance companies can't rip-off anyone" they'd have boosted support -- among people who trust government. But they'd have brought down the visible wrath of the insurance companies on themselves and had to make a public fight about that, something most Democrats evidently don't want. They understand that most people don't like it when the public arena is filled with anger. (Obviously, the Republicans know that too and they are providing lots of furious scenes.) A more assertive definition of the public option would cost Dems campaign contributions, not only from the insurance giants, but also from the entire financial sector that plays in the same funny money arena.

The Blumenthal piece quoted above makes it pretty clear that, in terms of actual public preferences, the "public option" is still so little understood that some version could be sold if real effort was made at selling.

So -- it's up to people who want universal health coverage to 1) hammer the President to use his bully pulpit; here's a link for that. 2) hammer our Congresspeople to legislate for accessible, affordable universal quality care. Start here. 3) Talk with and listen to people we know about health care reform. Educate ourselves -- here's a good place to start. [.pdf]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Season creep

The kids have returned to the middle school across the street. My college-teacher partner has met with her first classes. It's not even Labor Day for another week. And now this display in Walgreens.

I want more summer.

Fixing the news if not the war

Assessment of reporting on Afghanistan war by a military contractor.

The Afghanistan war isn't going well for the United States. So what does our Army do? It's obvious: try to fix the reporting from the war zone. Stars and Stripes, an independent newspaper for the military, has broken the stroy that Pentagon is profiling journalists who write about our Central Asian imperial adventure.

Contrary to the insistence of Pentagon officials this week that they are not rating the work of reporters covering U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes has obtained documents that prove that reporters' coverage is being graded as "positive," "neutral" or "negative."

Moreover, the documents -- recent confidential profiles of the work of individual reporters prepared by a Pentagon contractor -- indicate that the ratings are intended to help Pentagon image-makers manipulate the types of stories that reporters produce while they are embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The assessments offered aren't flattering about the professionalism of the journalists the military is trying to influence. I particularly liked this one:

One reporter on the staff of one of America's pre-eminent newspapers is rated in a Pentagon report as "neutral to positive" in his coverage of the U.S. military. Any negative stories he writes "could possibly be neutralized" by feeding him mitigating quotes from military officials.

Fortunately all this is having minimal influence on U.S. public opinion. A majority of us have figured out that election theatrics and the latests offensive are doing nothing for U.S. interests, according to a recent Washington Post poll.

How long will it take Washington to notice that this war, like the Iraq one, is something we don't want anymore? How many more of our troops and how many more Afghans will have to die for this mistake -- a mistake President Obama has adopted as his own?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to know your life has become history

I'm currently reading Rick Perstein's Nixonland as an audiobook. It's a terrific history of the formative events of my lifetime. And it is very well written for taking in by ear -- Perlstein's style suits the spoken word.

But I keep being jarred. The reader keeps mispronouncing the names of individuals who were the stuff of nightly newscasts in my youth, the household furniture of the time. Obviously, he's too young to have grown up on a nightly diet of these guys:

Can you name who they are? I'll stick the answers in the first comment.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gay marriage acceptance is only a question of time

This chart is amazing. A couple of statisticians, Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips plotted support for allowing same-gender marriage by age and state.

Their finding: if policy were set by people under 30, only 12 states would forbid gay marriage TODAY.


Soon enough, these folks will set policy. The interim is about trying to live through the backlash before the inevitable happens.

Note too, that Maine, facing an anti-gay marriage referendum in November, sits right on the cusp of acceptance by "all" according to this study. If you can, help out Equality Maine.

H/t The Lead.

Health reform shorts:
Employer mandate is working in San Francisco

This yuppie hangout in my 'hood, Medjool, has broken ranks with the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and joined a brief in favor of the city's requirement that employers pay toward giving their employees health insurance. GGRA struck out with its objections in lower courts, but is appealing the mandate to the Supreme Court. San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco jumped the gun on health care reform and has managed to get most of our 60000 residents previously without insurance into a local program called Healthy San Francisco. According to health economists, writing in the New York Times, the scheme works well without hurting businesses:

To pay for this, San Francisco put into effect an employer-health-spending requirement, akin to the “pay or play” employer insurance mandates being considered in Congress. Businesses with 100 or more employees must spend $1.85 an hour toward health care for each employee. Businesses with 20 to 99 employees pay $1.23 an hour, and businesses with 19 or fewer employees are exempt.

These are much higher spending levels than mandated in Massachusetts, and more stringent than any of the plans currently under consideration in Congress. Businesses can meet the requirement by paying for private insurance, by paying into medical-reimbursement accounts or by paying into the city’s Healthy San Francisco public option.

There has been great demand for this plan. ... Among covered businesses, roughly 20 percent have chosen to use the city’s public option for at least some of their employees.

But interestingly, in a recent survey of the city’s businesses, very few (less than 5 percent) of the employers who chose the public option are thinking about dropping existing (private market) insurance coverage. The public option has been used largely to cover previously uninsured workers and to supplement private-coverage options.

A "public option" works if lawmakers will only take the plunge and write smart legislation that subsidizes those who can't pay by making moderate charges on those who can.

Congress: take note of San Francisco's experience.

Monday, August 24, 2009

About this, I'd rather be serious than sorry

The pictures and stories of guys flaunting their guns outside of a couple of Presidential appearances recently reminded me all too vividly of my youth in activism. Part of my summer reading has been Rick Perlstein's monumental Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. I'm sure I'll write more about this volume in the future -- it's by far the richest account of the U.S. in the 1960s I've ever encountered.

Perlstein vividly recounts the violence the right adopted when young people who would be drafted to fight began to question the Vietnam war.

History would remember the antiwar side's turn to violence years later, but neglected the pro-war side's, which was immediate. The first antiwar teach-in, at the University of Michigan, was interrupted by a bomb threat. ... In Berkeley in October 1965, fifteen thousand militants marched from campus to "pacify" the Oakland Army Terminal. They were turned back by cordons of riot-helmeted police, but not before Hells Angels were allowed across police lines to crack some hippie heads. ...The barn of a pacifist communal farm in Voluntown, Connecticut, burned down (police said nothing led them to believe the fire had been set, though the farm was constantly harassed by vigilantes after a local petition campaign failed to run the pacifists out of town.) ...

As in violently segregationist neighborhoods (in the South, but also in the North), it wasn't the left that turned to violence in the 1960s, until much later. (Full disclosure: I was in that march in Oakland and knew the Voluntown folks. These were not, then or ever, violent people.)

This bringing your piece to the party practice is about intimidation. It's got nothing to do with free speech or democracy -- it is a naked effort to impose,
by threat of force, a minority point of view that was rejected at the last election. E.J. Dionne hammered home this truth in a recent column.

This is not about the politics of populism. It's about the politics of the jackboot. It's not about an opposition that has every right to free expression. It's about an angry minority engaging in intimidation backed by the threat of violence.

There is a philosophical issue here that gets buried under the fear that so many politicians and media-types have of seeming to be out of touch with the so-called American heartland.

The simple fact is that an armed citizenry is not the basis for our freedoms. Our freedoms rest on a moral consensus, enshrined in law, that in a democratic republic we work out our differences through reasoned, and sometimes raucous, argument. Free elections and open debate are not rooted in violence or the threat of violence. They are precisely the alternative to violence, and guns have no place in them.

On the contrary, violence and the threat of violence have always been used by those who wanted to bypass democratic procedures and the rule of law.

If there is no Constitutional way to outlaw people carrying assault weapons to threaten other citizens with whom they disagree, this country is pretty far gone. Under the last administration we got to see a lawless government; under this one, we're getting to see a lawless minority faction of disappointed bullies trying to bust up the country out of spite. Can we find a way to stop them that doesn't itself escalate into violence? We better...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Obama welcomes Ramadan

It's pushback-against-Obama season. And where I think he's full of it (letting torturers walk, warring on Afghans, weaseling on health reform, for a non-exhaustive sampling), you'll find plenty of pushback here. But when I think our President is doing something good and right, I do want to highlight it.

And that's how I feel about his message of good wishes to Muslims on the eve of their Ramadan month of devotion, reflection and fasting. You can view it here:

[5:04] It is worth watching, even though it contains nothing earthshaking. Some highlights:

On behalf of the American people -- including Muslim communities in all fifty states -- I want to extend best wishes to Muslims in America and around the world. Ramadan Kareem.

Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, beginning with a simple word -- iqra. It is therefore a time when Muslims reflect upon the wisdom and guidance that comes with faith, and the responsibility that human beings have to one another, and to God. ...

[Ramadan's] rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam's role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings. ...

Seems like kind of trite stuff -- just pro-forma courtesies about someone else's religious observances -- unless you hear off to one side the cacophony of voices trying to gin up the United States (and Europe) for a war to the death against Islam and its adherents. I've been noticing a lot of these voices lately in some likely and unlikely quarters. Here's a random sample of a few:
  • One Christopher Caldwell, a U.S.-citizen who is a columnist for the British Financial Times, has a new book promoting fear that Europe is being overrun by Muslims. (Muslims are 3 to 4 percent of the population of the European Union.) This hardy perennial fear taps into the historic reality that, half a millennial ago, European Christians were at war with an advancing Islam. Today it is hooey, but it gets the phobic adrenalin flowing and leads to stupid policies. Caldwell will be widely discussed. There is no reason for the United States to adopt Europe's ancient enmities and Obama knows it.
  • Meanwhile, a Brandeis University professor is enduring a small re-igniting of the 2005 controversy over the Danish cartoons depicting and defaming the Prophet Mohammed. The story is complex, but political scientist Jytte Klausen apparently tried to write a nuanced account that focused particularly on how demagogues in Libya, Nigeria, and Pakistan used the cartoon flap to pursue local political quarrels. Now the respected scholar finds herself re-visiting the issues of disrespect v. free speech that were the original flash points.
  • Jim Naughton has chronicled how breakaway Episcopalians (they style themselves Anglicans) not only are building a pure refuge from gay cooties, but also are turning to promotion of fear of Islam. This accords well with the concerns of their right wing funders. Having left their church of origin, perhaps they needed new enemies to keep their coherence?
This anti-Muslim junk thinking around the edges of our social and political scene make me thrilled that we have a President who knows it is his role to say polite things to welcome Islam's holy month. If this is to be a secular democracy, we need a civic discourse that not only prevents any group from imposing its religious precepts on anyone, but also respects the faiths through which people orient their moral compasses. Finding a right balance isn't easy on this topic; it never has been.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Health care townhall with Rep. Jackie Speier (CA-12)

At one point, Congresswoman Jackie Speier smilingly told a questioner, "Don't shoot the messenger." The crowd laughed -- and kept asking probing questions.

That exchange about summarized the mood at last night's 200 person event in the southernmost reaches of San Francisco in the Outer Mission-Ingleside neighborhood alongside the huge Park Merced rental housing complex.

The Congresswoman represents California's 12th Congressional District, having succeeded Tom Lantos when the later died in mid-term in early 2008. She's a longtime Democratic fixture on the Peninsula, still best known as having nearly been murdered as a young aide to Congressman Leo Ryan who was killed during the Jonestown massacre in 1978. Subsequently a member of the California legislature, she accumulated a strong record of working for various consumer-oriented reforms and of climbing the Democratic Party hierarchy.

She's smart and she gives good townhall, at least where the questioners mostly come from her left. Accordingly to her figures, 46,000 people in her affluent district would gain access to health care if the House bill were enacted.

A pediatrician asked about continued funding for children's health. Another questioner asked about "rationing". Speier pointed out that there is rationing now. At San Mateo General, poor patients wait four months for a doctor visit and as much as a year for non-emergency surgery.

A doctor who had just returned from working with the charity Remote Area Medical dispensing free medical services to people without health care access in Los Angeles pleaded for help. State licensing laws are preventing sharing volunteer medical expertise across state lines.

One questioner was concerned about costs; where was the money going to come from? Someone else asked about limiting malpractice damages; Speier supports California's caps on "pain and suffering" litigation, a measure she voted for in Sacramento. But nothing like that is likely in the current national reform.

Another man pointed out that there always seemed to be federal money for wars. Speier agreed that Washington had skewed priorities. She pointed out that somehow the Treasury had come up with $200 billion to bail out the insurance giant AIG.

The crowd was full of advocates of a single-payer system and/or of "Medicare for all".

Speier was asked whether she would stick up for the public option by refusing to vote for any bill that didn't have it. (The "public option" is the name of a new government competitor to the insurance companies that would be available in part of the health care market. It is expected to have lower costs than for-profit plans and to force them, through competition, to improve their practices if they want to retain market share.) Speier hedged. She's supports the public option; she is one of the 57 signers of a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking that it be retained in the House bill; but she is determined to pass some kind of reform, indicating she might be willing to live without this part of the proposed package.

She thrilled the crowd by saying she did support the Kucinich amendment that would allow states to experiment with their own single-payer health plans. As a member of California legislature, she has voted for single-payer plans that were vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

A retired school principal caught the mood of frustration in the room. "We worked hard. We elected a Democratic President. We elected a Democratic Congress. Why aren't these people really speaking up? You do your best -- but we need lions on our side!" There was wild applause.

Speier seemed to concur: "It's all about leadership ..."

Then she tossed it back to us. Not everywhere she goes is like this meeting -- we need to persuade more of our friends and neighbors if we want to see quality, affordable health care mandated for all.

It's still up to us.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health care shorts:
The "death panels" are real ...

Insurance companies decide who lives and who dies far too often. They also ration how much care we get. I don't want some company that is trying to squeeze out every last penny of profit to make those decisions. Do you?

Friday cat blogging

Now that you are back in town, are you going to do something about all this mail? Although I do like to sleep on it...

We've been neglecting her with all this traveling around. Time to get back to our regular duties: cleaning the box, scratching her head, providing laps on demand, opening cans. We are remembering our places.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why health care reform is hard

Health care reform is not morally complicated. Unless you like your country ruthlessly selfish and amoral, the issue is clear: guaranteed access to affordable health care should be a right for residents of the richest country on earth. Every other country that can afford this does it. The United States should to. How complicated is that? There are implementation issues, but there should be no question about policy objectives.

What turns out to be complicated is that our political system makes it very difficult deliver what should be a simple imperative. This post is a catalogue of the obstacles from an old campaigner. The obstacles can be overcome, but the list reveals a lot about the incompleteness of our famous democracy.

The President:
this Obama guy's attachment to "bipartisanship" was probably a necessity to get where he is today. A Black man couldn't win by just replicating the behavior of the many politicians who win constituents by "doing their hating for them." (That's Rick Perlstein's phrase describing a Nixonland style of politics of resentment.) He has a lifetime of convincing skeptical people that he's a safe, rational guy. But in this, as in everything, he's up against the haters who are mobilized against him. So, as Paul Krugman points out, he's been coming off as

... weirdly reluctant to make the moral case for universal care, weirdly unable to show passion on the issue, weirdly diffident even about the blatant lies from the right.

He needed that rational affect to get elected -- it hurts him in pitched battle over his policy agenda.

The Senate: the geniuses (that's sincere) who cobbled together our system of government put the Senate into the Constitution to temper the populist passions (mostly assaults on property) they feared would hold sway in the House of Representatives. It also mollified small state leaders who feared they'd be swamped by large states. So a couple of guys from North Dakota and Montana, who together represent about the same number of people who live in the city of Philadelphia, can gum up the works for the whole country as Max Baucus and Kent Conrad are currently doing.

The Senate has undergone several waves of reform (direct election; lower standards for filibusters; less power to seniority) since it was invented. If it blocks health care reform, look for more pressure to change the rules. Senate reform may be a reform whose time has come. As it stands, we get Ezra Klein writing stuff like this at a Washington Post policy blog:

The main thing we could do to improve the functioning of the legislative process would be to dissolve the U.S. Senate. Its composition is wildly anti-democratic, its rules are aggressively anti-majoritarian, and its culture holds all this aloft as a good thing.

The House of Representatives: if the problem with the Senate is that Senators get to live above the fray, the problem with the House is that, having to campaign for office every two years, they tend to come cheap for the funders of campaigns. They scare easy at the prospect of a challenger; in a sea of undistinguished colleagues, most of them come off as empty suits buffeted by competing demands, but ever alert for the calls of funder and lobbyists. Still, they are the closest to the people of any part of our government and they've shown it in the health care reform debate. If we want to get reform done, we need to support those who support us. See my post here.

The merchants of confusion: There are, of course, people who don't want you to think health care is a moral issue. In fact, they want you to believe you couldn't possibly understand the issues. Mostly, they are folks who make a profit from selling medical care, drugs, and above all insurance. (Aside from the insurers and the drug companies, some of them also do care if you are sick and try to help you, if it is not too costly for them.) For them, health policy is complicated, because they are continually redesigning the system so they can make the most money out of it for themselves. They are fighting for survival and will do anything they have to do to hang on to their profits.

We're living through a test of our democracy: can it overcome the selfish private interests of the health profiteers in order to achieve health care reform? They have always been slippery, deceitful and vicious in holding on to what they have; can we pry some fairness away from them?

We the people: did you know that there is almost a one to one correspondence between those people who have health insurance and those who vote? That creates some friction, because we the voters can get scared by the idea that bringing into the system all the 45 million folks or so who are now without health access might somehow mean we have less access. We know that health care costs more and more and that staying insured is more and more chancy and arbitrary. That last is true even if we are old enough to be on Medicare: what if the country decides caring for old people costs too much?

We the voters have a choice -- it's the basic choice that always confronts a democracy. Do we want to use the political influence our participation gives us to hang on to what we have? Or can we dare to believe that sharing what we have will mean that we all will live more abundantly? Like all major social choices, the health care reform debate is about a choice between fear -- a death grip on our existing entitlements -- or hope -- risking change in the belief that a better society is possible. Last November we chose hope over fear; will we persist in demanding change or will timidity prevail?

Democracy is a lot of work.

This post is my contribution to
Elders for Health Care Reform Day.

Elders For Health Care Reform Day

Over at Time Goes By, Ronni Bennett is linking all the posts reported so far. To prime my own pump, I just read through some. Some snippets [my emphasis]:

Health care reform without a government option is worse than the status quo. At least with the present system we have Medicare, a single payer government plan. That covers those of us over 65. Without a government option for the rest of our population they will inevitably raid Medicare and Medicaid.

20th Century woman

For Ronni, health care reform is a moral issue:

Here is my question for elders who have Medicare and younger people who have private coverage who oppose health care reform: why is it all right for you to be well cared for by your physician while tens of millions of other Americans are not? How do you justify that?

Ronni Bennett

For some elders, this debate raises up the truth they'd prefer not to think about.

Modern medicine is both wonderful and cruel, amazing advancements have been made over the years, but we have outlandish expectations for miracle cures. We are all living longer and the way the health service works will have to change. Illnesses such as cancer, once considered fatal, are now becoming chronic. Joints and internal organs can be replaced, but there is no such thing as a free lunch… the price is often with (like me) constant reviews and extra medication all costing the state and our pockets to stretch a very long way. We seem to have forgotten that we must die at some stage. I would like to live for another ten to fifteen years, but please don’t keep me hanging on like a vegetable, for another twenty, thirty or forty years, somebody show mercy, open the door and push me outside the igloo!


We can't fight off time's changes forever (and may not want to), but right now we can show the President we want real health care reform:

Get involved. Sign the message to the President at this site.

Thanks to The Tempered Optimist for that last link.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Alternatives to helpless rage

This morning I'm working up a good rant for tomorrow's Elders For Health Care Reform Day. Fury comes easily.

But I don't like living with fury. And I've lived long enough to know the remedy: don't just fume -- DO SOMETHING.

So today (while I get adjusted after traveling 3000 miles yesterday) I want to pass on a few suggestions to folks who are frustrated that the process of winning meaningful health care reform has gotten stuck in the August political doldrums.
  • If you are internet-inclined, bookmark and hook up with the campaign for health care reform at FireDogLake. These folks have taken the lead on trying to ensure that progressive Democratic politicians keep pushing for something real from within their ever-so-tepid coalition. We need this kind of street heat! Sign the FDL petition and check out their event listings. It's a great place to get connected.
  • If you relate to more conventional advocacy, there's the usual union and liberal suspects at Health Care for American Now. They feel a little stodgy, but we need them too.
  • We know the health profiteering lobbyists will donate generously to kill reform. Bundled together, our dollars can count too. Let's reward the Democratic members of the House of Representatives who have told the President and the centrists that, if "reform" is watered down to nothing, they won't vote for it. This keeps reform pressure on. ACTBLUE has set up a donations page for this purpose.
Don't just fume -- DO SOMETHING.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On the road today

Our progress looks something like this:
It takes at least 12 hours, often far more. If the Vineyard weren't such a lovely place to be, we wouldn't put ourselves through this so often.

UPDATE: It took 16 hours. I'm pooped.

Meanwhile, the Island awaits the hullabaloo next week.


It's nice to see even the tourist establishments feel the need to support health reform.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wesley Clark spouts nonsense about Vietnam

Retired General Wesley Clark is a respected former commander of NATO; nonetheless he is writing downright ignorant things about U.S. war in Vietnam as he cautions the Obama administration on its war in Afghanistan. This paragraph is simply nonsense:

The similarities to Vietnam are ominous. There, too, an insurgency was led and supported from outside the borders of the state in which our troops were fighting. There, too, sanctuaries across international borders stymied U.S. military efforts. There, too, broader political-strategic considerations weighed against military expansion of the conflict and forecast further struggles in the region.

The United States may have thought North Vietnam was a foreign country "invading" South Vietnam -- the Vietnamese never did. The vast majority of them thought they lived in one country arbitrarily divided by foreign invaders.

Like the nationalist Vietnamese, many Pashtun Afghans and Pakistanis apparently have no truck with the "border" bequeathed to them by the departing colonial empire. Taliban "sanctuaries" in Pakistan probably look like where Uncle Mohammed lives in his family compound to many Afghans. The area got by, insofar as it did, when central governments in both countries left people alone and didn't attempt to impose an outside hegemony. If local governments couldn't prevail in these mountains, how likely is it that a foreign power 15000 miles around the world can establish control?

"Broader political-strategic considerations" perhaps should have "weighed against military expansion" in Vietnam -- but once a series U.S. leaders got in further and further over their heads in a hopeless morass, U.S. troops and bombers managed to devastate and destabilize all the countries of the area. It took those countries -- Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam -- a generation to get back on anything like an even keel. We're drifting in that direction once again -- in the middle of a region dominated by two hostile nuclear powers.

Escalating in Afghanistan is simply foolish -- and for General Clark to be misrepresenting the U.S. experience in Vietnam won't help.

Health care shorts:
Get the picture?

The flow chart above was created by Nicholas Beaudrot at Donkeylicious. Chris Hayes gave him the idea. I'm visually oriented as I think many people are. If you look this over carefully, you can begin to understand what the proposed health care reform might do for (or to) you.

It's not surprising that I wish the reform were in place today, since I reside in the lower right hand corner of the chart. Click on the picture for a larger image.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pols find walking and chewing gum too hard

Current chart and data for atmospheric CO2
A blogging friend pointed out a scary Bloomberg headline:

Climate Change Measure Should Be Set Aside, U.S. Senators Say

Aug. 14 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate should abandon efforts to pass legislation curbing greenhouse-gas emissions this year and concentrate on a narrower bill to require use of renewable energy, four Democratic lawmakers say.

"The problem of doing both of them together is that it becomes too big of a lift," Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas said in an interview last week. ...

"Doing these energy provisions by themselves might make it more difficult to move the cap-and-trade legislation," said [Peter] Molinaro, [head of government affairs for Dow Chemical Co. which supports the measure.] "In this town if you split two measures, usually the second thing never gets done."

Thought for Food summed up what this means:

Imagine for a moment that some how, some way, the White House and Congress cobble together a civilized public health care system. Within a decade, Americans are healthier than they’ve been in a generation. Preventative care available to everyone has led to fewer ER visits and fewer instances of chronic, avoidable diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. We have more money in our pockets because we’re not paying for inefficient, privately-controlled health care. More and more of us are spending it on healthier, fresh food, and the obesity epidemic is finally turning a corner.

Guess what? We’re still fucked. Because the Senate decided one crisis is enough.

As far as the galloping climate crisis goes, maybe we should be happier if they don't enact health care reform. More of us would then live less long; given the detrimental effect every living American has on the planet's carrying capacity, slightly fewer of us might be a gift to the world's other peoples.

Yup, the system is looking more and more broken. The unrepresentative, sclerotic Senate is the obvious culprit -- too many old guys who represent hardly anyone have too much say over everything. But the House isn't really much better; Congresscritters need to run every two years and they welcome the campaign cash that listening to lobbyists can win them.

Scientists have for quite a while felt as hemmed in by idiocy as do those of us who are confronting birthers and deathers raving against health care reform this summer.The Reveres published an essential essay over a year ago and brought it out again last month. Just one excerpt from Why the Right Wing attacks science:

Refuting the arguments of environmental skeptics is usually easily done but the volume of their assertions is so large and so indifferent to counter-argument that cutting off the heads of the [Conservative Think Tank] hydra has become a major distraction for environmental science and a significant cost in time and money. ...

Yes -- refuting the right is a major time sink. The folks at Real Climate pointed out the good that going over the arguments yet again can do:

However there is still cause to engage -- not out of the hope that the people who make idiotic statements can be educated -- but because bystanders deserve to know where better information can be found.

Unfortunately, on health care and on climate change, opting out is impossible. Giving up means people and the planet die. Human beings seem hard-wired to resist our own extinction, though not necessarily to be sensible about how we try to do it.

All of this is to introduce a new widget I'm adding to my already crowded blog side bar. This one, from CO2 Now, (as is the large illustration at the top of the post) reports a running tally of the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide currently in the earth's atmosphere. Thanks to human industrial activity and the burning of fossil fuels, that CO2 level is now the highest it has been in the last 2 million years. Climate scientists think humans can avoid the most devastating results of global warming if we can get the CO2 level below 350 parts per million. We haven't been that low since 1988. As I write this, the widget reports 387.81 ppm.

That's what the bill the Senators can't get their minds around is about. It's not perfect, but if the U.S. doesn't contribute to reducing carbon emissions we can't very well expect anyone else to. One more thing to batter the politicians about ...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Health care shorts:
What about immigrants?

For people who care about democracy, it ought to be axiomatic that we don't create two- (or more) classes of persons. If you haven't committed a crime, and you are part of this country, you are part of this country. If you are a citizen, you are a citizen, with the same rights and responsibility as anyone else. Pretty simple, really.

The current health care discussion uncovers too many instances in which we don't seem to know that.

  • Item: Massachusetts has made an effort to cover all its residents with health insurance. But at present, as the recession cuts state tax receipts, it is running into the failure of the federal government to reimburse it for covering all residents. So 30000 legal immigrant residents have begun receiving letters informing them that their state-subsidized health insurance is ending Aug. 31.
  • Item: naturally, the nativist faction in politics think this is just fine. They want to write a provision into the health reform bill that would exclude future legal immigrants from whatever emerges from Congress. Adam Serwer points out who would be victimized by such a provision:

    Why would an employer hire an American citizen, for whom he will have to provide health coverage, when he could instead hire a perfectly legal new resident, who is exempt from health insurance mandates?

    That's right -- low income folks who are current citizens will be discriminated against if nativists succeed in creating a two-tier health reform.
Of course any sane health reform would cover anyone in the country, regardless of citizenship. The Brits do. What's wrong with us? More haters? More fearful people? I sure hope the people of this country are not so weak as to go for this. We not only hurt the direct victims; we hurt ourselves when we construct complicated exclusions.

Friday, August 14, 2009

McNamara partially unfogged

LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

I just got around to viewing Errol Morris' film Fog of War. I've been hanging on to the DVD so long its subject, Robert McNamara, died while it sat in its Netflix wrapper.

As Secretary of Defense (War) in the early and mid-1960s, McNamara was one of a trio of political figures -- along with President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk -- who I hated as war criminals during those awful years when they were sending guys my age off to die in their war to eradicate Vietnamese nationalism. I didn't find the old man's apologia for that horror particularly appealing or enlightening, even today.

But there were a couple of moments in the film that opened up possibilities I'd not thought much about.

For one, if McNamara hadn't been lured to Washington by President Kennedy, this country might still have an auto industry. He had just been made president of the Ford Motor Company. His claim to fame was introducing a small car (the Fairlane; my parents had a series) to compete with the VW Beetle. A guy in the center of the auto industry back then who was smart enough to compete with the Beetle could have set U.S. manufacturers on a different path.

Also, the film shows McNamara reduced to looking like a stammering, simmering little boy when being awarded a Presidential medal by Lyndon Johnson. This was after Johnson had fired him from leading a war effort that he claims to have known was doomed from early on and that was destroying Johnson's reputation.

Lately I've been trying to understand more about Johnson. Back then, I hated him so much because of the war, I didn't appreciate his accomplishment in getting both our core civil rights legislation and Medicare through a Congress probably more conservative than the one we have today. Johnson was apparently a very unpleasant, bullying legislative genius. He seems to have had a knack for making powerful grown men dependent on his approval. The scene (contemporary footage) showing McNamara pathetically grateful to this seemingly indifferent President is searing. No wonder Johnson beat Congress into submission -- and no wonder he couldn't imagine a people that would hold out against U.S. firepower.

Worth seeing.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Barack honors Harvey

Okay -- I know giving Harvey Milk a medal posthumously was a sop to the LGBT community from a President who has offered some access but little substantial accomplishment toward our goals. But you got to love this from the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony last night:

His name was Harvey Milk. And he was here to recruit us, all of us, to join a movement and change a nation. For much of his early life he had silenced himself. In the prime of his life he was silenced by the act of another. But in the brief time in which he spoke and ran and led, his voice stirred the aspirations of millions of people. He would become, after several attempts, one of the first openly gay Americans elected to public office. And his message of hope, hope unashamed, hope unafraid, could not ever be silenced. It was Harvey who said it best: You gotta give 'em hope.

Harvey was right -- and this President was right to say it. Now let's get to work.

LGBT people want a lot from the ascendant Dems. Victory on a hate crimes enhancement statute is in sight; it is hitched to the Defense Department authorization bill now in conference. A fully inclusive (that means transfolk are in) Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced in House and Senate. We want Don't Ask, Don't Tell revoked -- that takes passing a law also.

And as soon as possible, we need the mis-named Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) repealed. That's the one that prohibits the Feds from recognizing our marriages, even though more and more states let us get legally hitched. Without doing away with DOMA, we usually can't share health insurance with our spouses if we're covered or ensure they can inherit without expensive legal arrangements. For sure they cannot receive our Social Security benefits when we die as heterosexual partners would. DOMA has to go as a simple matter of justice.

A wise friend of mine says we should hope; she has lobbied on Capitol Hill for several years:

It's so different [than under the Republicans]. When we went in to lobby, it was like fresh air. They won't do our work for us. But there are people there who are creating an openness so that we can do our work.

I like that. If we want something from these people, we have to do the work. Harvey certainly knew that.

Vacation musings


As I ditz around the blogosphere this morning, I'm struck by how many folks I regularly read report they are "on vacation". I know August is sometimes described as "the vacation month", but that association is not strong for me. This is particularly the case since kids now seem to return to school during this month, instead of staying blissfully free past Labor Day, as we used to. Sorry, kids.

Nonetheless, I too am "on vacation". And I am realizing there's an almost physical relief when I say that.

For the first summer since 2001, I am not living this August with a nagging fear that my quasi-democratic government will do something aggressively, intentionally vicious. Cruel, perhaps. (Well, certainly). Stupid, maybe. But not something of the sort that means I am morally bound rise up in horror at the actions of my country. I could be mistaken about this, culpably complacent even. I hope not.

This chance to take a bit of a vacation in the midst of citizenship is what the Obama election and Democratic majorities mean to me, even as I try to find the right mix of support and criticism of this administration's numerous shortcomings.

The screaming townhall meeting crowds obviously feel differently. I note they mostly seem to be afraid of potential evils, while by mid-2002, I believed I was living in the backwash of far too actual ones. (That was the year we ramped up anti-war work, the year we found ourselves on the no fly list.)

I wish the screamers could feel safe enough to take a vacation, to just chill a bit. But obviously they don't dare.

The new photo on the "masthead" of the blog dates from the summer of 2001, from a vacation that included hiking a few of Colorado's 14000 foot peaks. It is the view from the summit of Grays, looking over to Torreys. Yes, we tromped across the ridge and them barely avoided a lightening storm by running down the mountain.

The pastoral scene at the head of this post is an experiment with the new blog template.

If anyone has trouble with the new set up, please email me and I'll try to fix it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Good news, smart decision

Equality California, the 800 pound gorilla at the hub of the gay and lesbian marriage fight in the state, has made a sensible decision:

After reviewing all the information, research and feedback from our coalition partners and the community-at-large and in view of our aggressive determination and dedication to win marriage back as soon as possible, we support committing our energy, resources and leadership to helping the community win a ballot initiative to restore marriage at the November 2012 election.

That is, they haven't let themselves be stampeded into trying to go back to the ballot in 2010. Cheers for good judgment!
  • The electorate in a Presidential year is likely to be younger and more progressive than next year.
  • With some luck and good management, the economy may be stronger. Voters are much more open to innovation when they aren't so scared about their own situations.
  • Waiting will give the individuals and communities that need to get to know each other better a longer window to do that.
  • Potential donors needn't shell out again immediately.
  • Some of the current, slightly hostile, electorate will no longer be voting.
That last item is important. This struggle is already won in society, at least in California. Gay marriage is simply not an issue among younger people. It is going to happen. The only issue is when.

Healthcare reform short:
Time for Elderbloggers to weigh in

On Thursday, August 20, older people can take part in a demonstration that elders are not credulous, selfish nitwits -- so secure in their government-provided Medicare that they can be persuaded to serve as shock troops against health care reform for everyone else. Read all about ELDERBLOGGERS FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM. And if you've got a blog, join the day of blogging!

Our age cohort -- beginning at about age 50 and working up -- are out of sync with the rest of the country.

And convincing [older people] of the need for change is proving to be an uphill battle. Last week, a CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll found that a majority of voters over 50 opposed the healthcare overhaul effort, while most voters under 50 supported it.

Los Angeles Times
August 12, 2009

None of the proposed reforms would cut Medicare -- part of what reform would try to do is lower costs and consequently save this vital government program.

Opponents have seized on a reform proposal to pay doctors to talk with people about their wishes for end of life care -- to ask delicate questions like, do you want to be hooked up to feeding tubes and breathing machines? At present, you are not going to find doctors asking these things -- they get paid for hooking us up, not listening to us or helping us understand options. Opponents label the availability of such conversations with medical professionals a form of euthanasia. I'd call them offering us dignity and choices.

But then, since I think we need health care reform (almost certainly far more than we'll get), I must be a Nazi or a Communist or something.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Healthcare reform short:
If we brought guns to rallies, they'd shoot us

Parallels are being drawn between the current health care protesters and the anti-war protesters of the Bush years. There's at least one difference, though: The Democrats were protesting killing people, and the Republicans are protesting healing people.

Jack Bog's Blog

Healthcare reform short:
a democracy -- or not?

Blogging here will be a little different over the next week, I hope. You see, I'm really on vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world. And if I have any energy for the blog, I want to put that energy into some behind the scenes work to make this place function a little more cleanly.

But on the other hand, a titanic struggle of over healthcare reform seems to be playing out this August around the country. And that struggle raises all sorts of issues this blog deals in -- issues of campaigns, how public opinion gets formed and gels, ultimately, of how much of a democracy we have in this country and can we have more of one?

I could try to write some thoughtful tome on this stuff. There are oceans of material, scads of interesting angles. But I've got other stuff to do. So I'm going to throw out occasionally short posts about the healthcare reform brouhaha, not asking myself to think particularly deep thoughts, but just hoping to share some light into corners that catch my eye.

And you may get some pictures and thoughts from vacationland too.


This woman, seen at a community march in the San Francisco Mission district, knew what she wanted.

Here's an oddment: one of the best summaries of the impetus behind healthcare reform from the ordinary person's point of view that I've heard was from a Heritage Foundation economist, not usually where I'd go for an overview that I can agree with.

I think there are some basic problems that we've got to solve. One is, of course, that there are millions of Americans who literally don't have adequate access to the health-care system because they don't have insurance coverage.

Even those with insurance in the United States are often very nervous that they are going to lose that insurance if they change their jobs, maybe if their child graduates college and doesn't have a job, then they can't be a dependent, so they're not under the family plan. So even people with insurance are nervous.

And I'd say thirdly that the cost of coverage, the cost of medical care in this country is enormous, compared with what we spend on other things and what other countries do, and yet we don't seem to get the value for money.

So I think it's value for money, I think it's uncertainty for people who've got coverage, and gaps in coverage. Those are the three big things that we've got to solve.

Stuart Butler,

Speaking with Terry Gross, July 28

Yes -- we, most all ordinary folks in the United States, need access to healthcare and we fear not having it when we need it. The current "insurance" system creates all sorts of lunacy. If you get insurance from your job, you are stuck in your job for fear of losing your doctor. If you get healthcare through a spouse's insurance, you are stuck with your spouse for fear of losing your doctor. If you think you were injured by a doctor (or any individual or business with "deep pockets"), you almost have to sue because getting taken care of is going leave you with the dread "pre-existing condition" that makes you uninsurable and leads to bankruptcy. Then all the rich individuals and businesses have to insure against your likelihood of suing them which raises their costs and makes them every more eager to avoid insuring you ...

What we have is quite simply, NUTS. But you don't hear that from President Obama and our democratic leaders -- we hear "unsustainable" and "smart investment." Healthcare reform might be doing better if they'd honestly name the lunacy.

But that would put in play the question of whether we have enough democracy to enable our leaders to sell change to a workable majority of the people by telling the truth. Unfortunately, that is an open question.