Friday, November 27, 2009

I Discover Above Top Secret

I found it while browsing for a good discussion site. Most of the chat rooms and other internet discussion forums I had encountered were either hopelessly stupid and inane, or so hostile toward those who dared to post in them that it was off-putting. I've always enjoyed a good debate, but name-calling and personal insults are no fun and at best just annoying. Any idiot can abuse people.

Above Top Secret was, surprisingly, one of the first hits I got on my search. The title alone conjured up images of spies, saboteurs and government intrigues. It turns out that impression was largely true. All three of those topics are to be found on its boards, and more -- much more. I was at first amused by the image of tin-foil-hat wearing lunatics and aliens from outer space and thought I was going to read them and get a good laugh. But my condescending and superior attitude soon changed.

The discussions of even the most far-out subjects are usually supplemented by evidence -- articles, experts, photographs, etc as well as personal experiences. There is almost always some form of documentation for each claim. I'm still not convinced that 9/11 was an inside job, for example, but after reading many of the zillion threads and posts on the subject, I have come to respect the amount of research that has gone into this claim and the sincerity of the people who write on it. I remain skeptical, but willing to keep my mind open now.

In order to be able to post replies on this site one has to join ATS, but this is possible and still retain one's anonymity. When one registers he or she just provides a screen name and an e-mail address to which your password is sent. No personal information beyond that is asked or required.

There are many forums on every kind of conspiracy from the medical (is H1N1 a government deception?) to the governmental (secret federal detention camps? Was the Warren Commission hiding something?) to the artistic (who really wrote the Diary of Anne Frank?) to the paranormal, to the predictions of Nostradamus, to the inner workings of secret societies and organizations. Some of these last ones border on old prejudices and persecutions and make me somewhat uncomfortable; the terms and conditions of the site, however, discourage the expression of out and out prejudice or xenophobia. But there is more -- much more.

There are forums on medicine, education, science, the media, and many other subjects which may or may not involve conspiracies.

Two of my favorites are the Breaking Alternative News forum and the Breaking Political News forum. Breaking Alternative News has a preference for non-main-stream media accounts, although provocative, unusual or suspicious items may be accepted from these sources. Threads are never more than a day or two old when they are posted. Breaking Political News covers a spectrum of recent political events and controversies.

I, myself, am an avowed political junkie, so I spend a lot of time on the numerous political forums, though I browse the others from time to time.

One of the features that makes this site so unique is the terms and conditions, which one must agree to when one becomes a member. There are prohibitions on profanity, name-calling, or any other kid of abuse. The T&C is strictly upheld; members who disregard the rules are issued warnings and after repeated offenses are banned. These rules create an atmosphere of civil debate very unlike most other internet discussion forums.

Since I joined two years ago, rarely a day goes by when I don't spend some time on ATS. There is always at least one thread that captures my attention. You get points for every post or thread you initiate. These can be used to "buy" things at the ATS store (like backgrounds for your avatar) or just accrue to one's prestige. Particularly outstanding posts, and accompanying points, are awarded by the forum moderators. Generally speaking, the longer one is a member the more accustomed one becomes to the protocols and expectations of the site, and the more solid one's posts are the higher one's status.

It seems silly to try to accrue so much status, but that's part of the fun.

I invite anyone who has an inquiring mind and a taste for civil discussion and debate to visit ATS. It's one of my favorite places on the internet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I've Been Double-Crossed By My Congressman

If the guy were a Republican I could understand it. He would be acting on his own deeply-held convictions and there would be no hypocrisy in his voting against the House bill on health care reform (or more accurately health insurance reform).

But the congressman from my district, Health Shuler, is supposed to be a Democrat. He has enjoyed the full support of the local Democratic party and raised a lot of money from us. We threw picnics and barbecues, went door to door, made calls and passed out leaflets. We all celebrated when he won the election against a popular Republican incumbent. I am sorry, now, to report that I voted for Shuler. Twice. I actually liked his Republican predecessor, but the guy was, well, not a Democrat. So we were all happy. For awhile.

It's true that our district is relatively conservative, and Shuler no doubt felt that he owed his victory in large part to his conservative support. Now we Democrats feel we were taken advantage of.

I hesitated, but continued to support Shuler, even after I learned that he is the whip of the Blue Dog coalition in the House. The Blue Dogs are a group of conservative Democrats and like Heath they also come from conservative districts and sometimes vote with the Republicans. That's okay, as long as he doesn't cross any major ideological divides, like health care reform.

The trouble is we Democrats were whole-heartedly in favor of the House bill. We made our voices heard through phone calls, letters, and petitions to Shuler's office. We also heard a lot from Shuler's other constituents and in many cases even the Republicans wanted at least some kind of reform. Shuler's office responded with the assurance that he was listening to us but never gave us specifics on his position. But I was optimistic that he would, when push came to shove, assert his loyalty to the people who got him elected and give him most of his financial support.

I was still hopeful on that fateful Saturday night when the House voted on the bill. I was glued to the coverage on C-Span (which I like because it is totally unbiased. It gives you only the actual proceedings with no commentary ). I was still hopeful as the Congressmen began voting electronically. When I didn't see how my congressman voted, I went on-line to the C-Span site and read the official vote tally. It said "Shuler - nay."

Nay? I couldn't believe it. He had stabbed me, and his party, in the back. He was a Benedict Arnold who did not honestly prepare us for his defection to the enemy. He takes money and votes from the Democrats but he might as well be a Republican. At least then he would be true to his voting record and what are, apparently, his real convictions.

The next day the phones were ringing at the county Democratic Party headquarters. An article was circulating that disclosed Shuler had taken more money from the insurance industry than any other congressman in our state, including the Republicans. Another was produced that brought up an old scandal that connected Shuler to a dishonest real estate deal with the TVA in the next state. I was prepared to listen to the buzz. I had been bamboozled and gone from shocked to mad.

As I said earlier, if my congressman was honest and forthcoming about his true convictions I would not be happy but I could accept it. As it was, however, he has taken a lot of us for a ride. Just wait until 2010.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The President's Address at Fort Hood: What Does It Mean To The Muslim-American Community?

It's rather eerie that my last post was about fear of Muslim-Americans, particularly of interns on Capitol Hill. I had no idea, when I wrote it, of the events that would transpire at Fort Hood last week. I had no idea that it would have broader implications.

While President Obama stopped short of calling Dr. Hasan's murder spree a terrorist act, he didn't deny it either. The fact is, I think, we are all waiting for more evidence before jumping to conclusions that could have serious and even dangerous implications for the Muslim-American community in this country.

I am not familiar with the Muslim faith and have no close friends who are, so I can only speak from my own point of view. I agree with President Obama when he says:

"It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know -- no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world, and the next."

I think people of all faiths can relate to that. But Dr. Hasan's violence is already being met with a violent response from the more volatile segments of society. They call for blood in return for the blood that was spilt. Mahatma Gandhi once said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." I believe that this is the conviction of the majority of sane people in this country, even atheists.

I only hope and pray that the acts of Dr. Hasan's tormented soul do not lead to the same violence from the non-Muslims among us. It is too easy to point to the continuing unrest in the middle east as proof that all Muslims are murderous and lawless. It is all too easy for some among us to form into mobs, mindless and destructive in their fury. It has happened in our history before, to other segments of our population, and these acts are remembered with shame. We must not let it happen again.

Muslim-Americans have lived peacefully among us for many years, long before the events of 9/11 caused Americans to react with such hatred. There is no reason to believe that the vast majority will not continue to be vital, productive and peace-loving citizens of the United States, or that they will not continue to try to control the extremists among them.

We must be careful not to punish the many for the sins of a few. Those guilty few who deserve punishment should surely receive it, but they should be recognized as the exception, not as the rule.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Muslim Interns on Capitol Hill

Most people are familiar with what interns are and what they do. In most places of business they are the fresh-faced young beginners, just out of college and in some cases still enrolled, who are working for minimum wage or sometimes for free just for the opportunity to learn the ropes and perhaps someday climb the ladder to positions of greater responsibility in their present company or a future one.

On Capitol Hill, interns, who usually work in the offices of senators and congresspeople, do much the same sort of work--xeroxing, collating, running out for coffee, etc.--as do their counterparts in the private sector. These interns, rather than setting their sights on a business career, are there to learn the ropes of a life in the political arena. These positions, often political appointments, are highly sought after and considered a great privilege.

It does not surprise me that these interns often come from many different ethnic and social backgrounds, just as all Americans do.

I am completely surprised, though, at the outcry of some Americans upon finding out that some interns are of the Muslim faith. There has not been a similar reaction to those of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, B'Hai or Buddhist persuasions, for example, only, apparently, to Muslims.

Given that many Americans view Muslims as violent people bent on the complete destruction of the western world, perhaps that should not surprise me. But it does. It must be clear to most reasonable people that Muslim Americans do not, as a rule, support Al Qaeda or its passionate hatred of western civilization. They are, first and foremost, Americans. It's not like the Muslim interns in Washington are being brought over from the middle east, these are home-grown American citizens. They are young people pursuing careers in politics.

Then, I remember the heated accusations, during the last election, that President Obama is secretly a Muslim, bent on waging Holy Jihad against the United States at every opportunity. The great flap about his Christian minister notwithstanding, some benighted individuals still insist that he is a practicing Muslim. And then the outcry begins to make some sense -- sort of. The reasoning, apparently, is that somehow the president is personally filling the Capitol with violent young people who will bring down the hallowed walls of Congress and crash airplanes into our national parks and other revered landmarks. The assumption is, I suppose, that President Obama hates everything American and has enough power to force Congresspeople and Senators to hire interns with ties to Al Qaeda.

This because his father was born in Kenya. This sort of fear has a name--xenophobia. It means an extreme fear and hatred of anything foreign or outside one's own culture. I have posted a link to the free dictionary definition of the word. The fact that xenophobia pertains to irrational fears should be obvious.

If John McCain had won the election, and there were some interns on Capitol Hill of the Muslim faith, then I've no doubt no one would have raised an eyebrow.

But, apparently, because the current President of the United States has been accused of being a Muslim, we must all hate and fear Muslims in any position of responsibility anywhere in this great country of ours.

Somebody needs to get a grip.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Health Care Reform: OMG That's Socialism!

Here's an excerpt from Wiki on Medicare and Socialism:


At the time it was enacted, conservatives strongly opposed Medicare, warning that a government-run program would lead to socialism in America:

  • Ronald Reagan: “[I]f you don’t [stop Medicare] and I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” [1961][58]
  • Barry Goldwater: “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink.” [1964][60]
  • Bob Dole: In 1996, while running for the presidency, Dole stated that he was one of 12 House members who voted against creating Medicare in 1965. “I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare ... because we knew it wouldn’t work in 1965.” [1992][61]

Sound familiar?

It happened when Roosevelt passed Social Security, too, in the 1930's. There were people who predicted that the U.S. was headed down the slippery slope to socialism, and from socialism to communism. We would lose our freedom and all our liberties and be the subjects of a totalitarian slave state. The United States of America would be doomed.

It's happening again today, in the debate on health insurance reform.

The cries are coming from much the same sources as they did when Social Security and Medicare were passed.

What's different today is that the people who are voicing their fears are often those who LIKE their Medicare and Social Security just as they are. They are against socialism, in other words, except when they are for it.

This fear of losing treasured benefits is being played upon by politicians and corporate interests who are interested only in preserving their own campaign contributions or their own bottom lines. It's cynical manipulation of a vulnerable population.

With health insurance reform insurers will have to provide competitively-priced coverage with no loopholes for pre-existing conditions. To keep their premium costs down and keep insurers honest, there will, hopefully, be a public option -- a government-run, not-for-profit insurance plan for those who want it. Those who are satisfied with their present insurance will keep it. The huge profits of some of the biggest health insurance providers may well decrease somewhat. The high cost of pharmaceuticals, in addition, would probably come down as the drug companies would have to negotiate with the regulated insurance industry on prices. These are the costs to corporate interests, which are funding and disseminating some of the most vehement attacks on the proposed health insurance reform in America.

Another problematic proposal for some people is to make it mandatory for everybody who is eligible for health insurance to have coverage. This is much like our present policy of requiring by law that everyone who drives must have car insurance. Such policies are in effect in countries like Japan, where the level of satisfaction with health care is generally higher than it is here in the U.S. The rationale is that if everyone buys insurance that will enable the cost of premiums to come down and the additional burden of covering the uninsured won't add to health care costs for everybody.

But none of this is socialism.

Socialism is an economic theory in which the means of production are owned by the state. Neither Medicare nor Social Security nor health care reform as it is presently proposed would entail government ownership of the means of production. Countries like Canada and the United Kingdom are not socialist societies, for example, yet they have socialized health care which their citizens are basically satisfied with. Yes, there are some horror stories, but there are also plenty of those in the U.S. too, with its present capitalistic system of health care provision.

Capitalism will continue as it always has, and drug and insurance companies will not be put out of business, although they may have to come down on their astronomic costs somewhat.

At the risk of alienating those who, like Ronald Reagan, believe that government is always the problem, and never the solution, I would point out that programs like Medicare and Social Security are run better and more efficiently by the government than they could be if health care were left to the vagaries of the private sector, as it is now.

There are just some things that government can do better, and health insurance reform is one of them.

And America hasn't turned into a communist state yet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Difference Does It Make How Many People Were At the 9/12 Rally?

According to the crowd estimates given in this "Politifact" article (click on the title of this post for the link) various organizations have given widely differing numbers for those who attended last Saturday's "Tea Party" rally in Washington, D.C. The estimates range from 60,000 (D.C. police) to 2 million (Michelle Malkin) demonstrators.

I looked first to see what the New York Times reported, a source I believe to be generally objective, and was disappointed to find that it said "thousands," an estimate I find vague and unhelpful. "Thousands" could mean anywhere from 2,000 to a million. Beyond that, it seems like the numbers depend largely on one's political orientation. Glen Beck, Fox and ABC apparently gave the highest tallies, and government workers the lowest.

Politifact goes on to describe a misleading photo which was purportedly of the crowd on Saturday, but turns out to be a shot of the Promise Keepers' rally in 1997. This rally covered the vast expanse from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, while other pictures of the 9/12 protest showed significantly less acreage. The event has been widely discussed on the internet, but the disparities of reporting make me nostalgic for the heyday of newspapers.

The trouble with the internet is that we tend to go to sites that we like and that we agree with, and we get a lot of our news from them. This news is usually slanted in directions we approve of, and can eventually give us a false sense of important issues and public opinion. In addition, photoshopping and other techniques have allowed photos to be doctored to a point where it becomes impossible to be sure of the images we see. While newspapers never created a consensus they did offer a version of events that all readers could use as a starting point, and pictures that were less easily tampered with.

Still, it seems to me that reasonably precise estimates of crowds could be made by anyone with a helicopter. If you know approximately what number of people are in a given segment of the picture, then multiplying that amount by the number of segments should give you a good idea of attendance. Though there were variations in the estimates of the crowd at Obama's inauguration, they covered a smaller range of possibilities than the wildly differing numbers given of Saturday's march.

So that leads me to the question: why does it matter how many people there were? After all, even 2 million people are hardly a majority even of the people who voted in last November's election. The answer, I think, is that two thousand people can represent many more who just didn't have the time, means or energy to travel in order to attend themselves. Two million protesters can represent how many more? A two-million-sized gathering represents quite a bit of discontent in the country.

It has been alleged that many of the attendees at the Tea Party 9/12 rally are bought and paid for by the insurance companies and big pharma. Certainly Freedomworks, a political group funded by corporate interests, has been active, especially behind the scenes, in much of the agitation at this summer's town hall meetings, in funding a number of political ads, and at Saturday's demonstration. There is no doubt that powerful interests are dedicated to undermining this president and his administration and opposing any changes to the status quo.
I also believe that many conscientious, patriotic and hard-working people are being manipulated through fear and false representations of the facts.

My greatest hope is that fear, hatred, rabble-rousing and emotional manipulation can be replaced by reasoned dialogue between those who advocate for positive change and those who want everything to stay the same. If we are all reduced to the political equivalent of food fights we all will be losers.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Democracy and the Town Hall Meetings

The concept of the town hall meeting goes back to the founding of this country. The business of the fledgling democracy was forged through the gathering of neighbors at an agreed-upon meeting spot and engaging in debate on the issues most affecting the community. The resulting ideas were subsequently published in newspapers, letters and pamphlets and dispersed, eventually making their way to other localities and states. In this way the common concerns of the nation were articulated and discussed. It was a slow process compared to the instantaneous communications of today, but it was more or less effective for the emerging young country.

We like to imagine these early town meetings as almost idyllic, punctuated by courtesy, cooperation and rigorous examination of the issues. It was on this model, probably adopted from the forums of some of the early Greek city-states, that the two houses of Congress were patterned. In all likelihood the local town hall meetings became contentious and rowdy at times, with insults and threats hurled in the heat of the moment. But it is the more civil and intellectual gatherings we like to remember as a nation.

It was in this spirit of listening to the voice of the people that this summer's town hall meetings between members of Congress and their constituents were held. The weighty matter of national health insurance reform would be discussed in all its pros and cons, with participants both hearing and being heard. That was the original idea anyway.

Unfortunately, our traditions of civil debate have fallen on hard times. The dominant impression emerging from these town halls today is one of disorderly and contentious brawling, with the loudest and most obnoxious behavior, rather than the most reasoned arguments, taking center stage. It has been alleged that those corporate interests who have the most to lose from reform have carefully organized crowds of vocal antagonists, some of them paid, to travel from meeting to meeting and disrupt them as they go. It has also been alleged that pro-reform groups have similarly organized highly visible and vocal supporters of their agenda. But the lingering impression is that the anti-reform voices are at present the shrillest and seize the floor the most tenaciously.

The fact is there are many people who attend these town hall meetings, both pro and con, who are willing to listen and engage in constructive debate with their representatives. But they are not the ones in the spotlight when the press goes after its sound bites to present on cable and network news. The press is looking for the most exciting and hopefully most shocking footage they can get. That's what sells the news. The action seems to be with the detractors so that's where the attention goes. I contend that there are an equal, if not greater, proportion of those who attend are in fact in favor of some kind of health care/health insurance reform, but that's not the lingering impression that remains. American audiences appear to want conflict and disorder more than sanity and reason.

The representatives who lead these town halls are shouted down and over so much that they often can't get a word in edgewise, much less engage in constructive debate. Some have retreated from actual town halls altogether, instead addressing groups who have invitations only or holding telephone town halls, where the callers are carefully selected.

Very conservative citizens are not the only ones in American history to be disruptive. The anti-war movement of the Vietnam era, and the visible and vocal protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, for example, were also often loud, obnoxious and unruly. Bad manners have never been confined to the right.

The saddest part of the protests and the surrounding media circus is that democracy is suffering in the process. This is not only going on in town halls but also in the halls of Congress, where bitterness and contention appear to have replaced thoughtful debate. When we, as citizens, can no longer come and reason together then our whole civil society, as well as our form of government, is in trouble.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Passing of a Legacy

It was a struggle to let go of my old computer.  When I say old I mean it was really old: a Mac OS9 that I bought in 2000.  At the time it was state of the art technology.  Today it's referred to as a "classic".  It might even qualify as a vintage  item that can be sold in an antique shop.

But it was my first computer and the one I learned on.  For a long time I resisted the pressure to upgrade: the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know, that kind of thing.  When my future husband saw it he declared that it wasn't a real computer at all.  He himself had learned on a PC and he insisted there was no comparison between them.  But that was mostly because he didn't know how to work with a Mac and didn't want to admit his feelings of  cluelessness when he tried to use mine .

When we married my old computer went with me.  I was not completely computer-literate and I still am not, but it was familiar and I could handle basic functions and it was like an old friend to me.   I  could write letters, compose articles, send e-mail, and browse the internet, although for a long time I didn't do that often.  I was still in cyber la la land.  My husband was a good sport and gamely began to learn the ropes.  He soon became more proficient than I. 

Soon, though, as I became more and more interested in the internet for news and opinion, the shortcomings of my old Mac became more apparent.  For instance, I couldn't access YouTube videos.  The machine just couldn't handle it.   When I went to sites like The Chicago Tribune or the Huffington Post I would get messages that my java script was running too slowly.  I would select "abort" and then wait for several minutes as the machine valiantly struggled with the complexity of the operation.  After what seemed like an eternity the first page would appear, groaning.  If I tried to go to another page I would get the same java script message and the same wait for it to appear.  Often my computer would just quit trying and I would be suddenly looking at my desktop.   Frequently I'd get the message that memory was getting short and I would have to quit what I was trying to do and restart.

My browsers were all old, as well.  Internet Explorer 5 and two early versions of iCab were the best I could do.  I just couldn't download newer ones like Firefox or Safari.  As a result when I started posting on Blogspot there were many functions I couldn't perform.  For example, I couldn't add a gadget or choose any but the default font for my script.  I had to go to somebody else's computer that had a newer browser when I wanted to make changes in layout or etc.

My infidelity began at first with fantasy.  As I started to understand that others didn't have the same computer limitations I had, I began to peek at sites like Apple and MacMall  (yes, I still wanted a Mac) and see what tantalizing goods they had to offer.  I was dazzled by the feats their merchandise purportedly could perform.  Secretly I began saving (Macs aren't cheap, and my husband said if I got another one I'd have to pick up the tab myself).

But I still clung to my old faithful (well, sometimes ) dinosaur.  Even after my eagerly anticipated shipment arrived from MacMall I left it in the box for a couple of days, unwilling to just pull the plug and say a final good-bye.  

Knowing from past experience that (despite what the salesmen say) Macs do not come with a user's manual, I had had the forethought to order a couple from Amazon.  But there they were, sitting unopened on the dining room table.

Finally I couldn't resist any longer.  I decided to at least take the thing out of the box.  Even if I didn't actually put it in my old computer's spot on the desk I would see what was inside.

I was impressed by the the iMac's sleek design and relatively light weight.  I had to admit it looked good .  I proceeded to tentatively examine the other contents.  Much to my surprise, there didn't seem to be a keyboard in there.  I left a telephone message with my sales representative saying my shipment was not satisfactory.  Going through the pieces of styrofoam again, my eye alighted on a small flat rectangle about 12" x 5" I had not seen earlier.  I turned it over and saw tiny little keys.  This couldn't be the keyboard...could it?  I asked the sales representative and he assured me that was the standard one for this model.  I was still skeptical.   How could my fingers adapt to such a miniature board?  

The next day I actually set it up.  Took off the plastic, attached the cord, and, after a couple of calls to my cable provider hooked it up to the internet.  It was not only beautiful, it seemed to promise unlimited possibilities.  From there on it has been true love.

I haven't sold my old Mac or taken it to the dump.  Not yet anyway.  There was a moment when I  thought I might have to keep it around forever.  The documents I had copied from my old computer onto a flash drive would not open on the new one.  After speaking with friends and a consultation with the manuals my husband and I discovered that Word could translate the binary code from the old to the new quite easily.  Since then my old friend has been consigned to the closet indefinitely.

I am still in the madly infatuated phase of my relationship.  There doesn't seem to be any limit to our possibilities.  Every day brings new discoveries.  Each time I pass my desk, there it is, shining and beckoning.

It's like coming out of the stone age.

Still, I will never forget my first love.   We both grew older together.  


Friday, May 29, 2009

Republican Paranoia and the Blogosphere

Hey. My blog is a legitimate and authoritative news outlet.


My blog is mostly what I politely call "editorial opinion." It's my own take on things, often but not always political. If I want to refer to a credible news source or provide supplemental information I include a link. Never do I assume that my readers will take my word as gospel. I always thought most bloggers would agree.

I find I am naive.

Imagine my surprise yesterday to find a blogspot blog being called investigative reporting. It first came to my attention in a thread on Above Top Secret. Granted, ATS is a conspiracy forum, so you might expect some paranoia to surface there. It could be interesting to some readers, however, to know that the site requires, and usually gets, some credible evidence to back up its OP's claims. Not, apparently, in this case.

The ATS thread that I have linked includes the web address of the blog in question, for those of you who are interested in reading it.It is used as the source of all information.

For those of you who do not wish to be troubled by going to all these links I will summarize the gist of the blog's assertions. To wit: As part of Chrysler's bankruptcy proceedings the automaker has found it necessary to close a good many of its dealerships. These, according to Chrysler, are the ones that are the least profitable and/ or in geographical areas which are being depopulated.

A number of these dealerships that are being shuttered are owned by Republicans.

According to the blog's logic:
The U. S. government now owns a percentage of Chrysler.
The U.S. government is largely Democratic.
The Democratic U.S. government allegedly has an interest in persecuting hapless Republicans

President Obama is making Chrysler shut down the dealerships of all the owners who in the past have made campaign contributions to Republicans or the Republican party.

Simple, and abundantly clear, no?

Presumably the IRS and the FBI and maybe even the Department of Homeland Security have joined forces with President Obama in order to identify which Americans both have Chrysler dealerships and have made campaign contributions to known Republicans in the past.

The evidence offered is the assertion that more Republican-owned Chrysler dealerships are being closed than Democratic-owned ones. They point to the fact that "Mac" McClarty's dealerships are going to remain in business, and McClarty is a Democrat.

It doesn't seem to occur to anyone in the blogosphere, a large part of which has now joined the melee, that maybe more car dealerships are owned by Republicans than Democrats in the first place. Businessmen often tend to be conservative.

But wait a minute.

Isn't it the Republicans who have been shouting that the U.S. government should just let the automakers go bankrupt?

So why are they now incensed when one of them has gone bankrupt and dealerships are being closed?

Because they are Republican-owned dealerships, that's why.

It is apparently inconceivable that the business of a good, loyal Republican -- especially one who has made significant campaign contributions--could possibly go on the rocks.

There must be nefarious goings-on at the highest levels of government.

Soon they'll be coming for you, your guns and your little dog Toto too.

The Republican Party is not self-destructing. It's being persecuted to death.

This is what Barack Obama really means by "change."

This is what they have been warning you about.

Somebody needs to get a grip.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

We Stand On The Shoulders of Giants

When I was in my twenties, I, too, was a reluctant feminist.

The women of the television network at which I was employed were organizing to advocate for equal pay for equal work. Not long ago that was an issue in almost all news organizations and we were the first major network to take up the cause. There was self-interest involved in my joining, of course, but there was also a feeling of shared purpose and empowerment which permeated the atmosphere at those meetings. We were, initially, a pretty small group, although as we began to succeed it grew exponentially.

But in my private life I was much more ambivalent. I was in a very traditional relationship and enjoyed the benefits of being a pampered and adored little china doll. In addition, I was not raised in a consciously feminist family, although, looking back, I can see that my mother was sending out signals that she was not completely satisfied with her role in the family and in her life. She had quit work quite readily to become a wife and mother. That was her dream and she had enjoyed none of the jobs she had held. Still, she resisted teaching me any household skills. I asked her to teach me to cook many times, but her answer was always that it was easier to do it herself than to show somebody else how to do it. That, and the occasional aside that she hoped I would have much more important things to do with my life. She didn't say that often, though. For the most part, I was raised in a very "traditional" family as far as gender roles were concerned. There were some women teachers whom I emulated, but for the most part I had few liberated models on which to pattern my life.

All that was not that long ago, but probably longer than I would like to admit. As far as many of my women students are concerned, though, it's ancient history. I see them waffling in many of the ways I once did--liberated when it suits them and uber-feminine when that has an advantage. Many of them are bored or contemptuous when issues of particular importance to women are raised. It's easy for them to be that way. All their battles have already been fought for them.

President Obama, who has taken the words from numerous predecessors, likes to point out that he has gotten where he is today because he "stands on the shoulders of giants." It is true for him, and it is true for me as a woman, and for all my students who now can toss off the benefits and rewards that others have fought so hard for them to achieve.

It was not even a century ago that women, after at least a hundred years of struggle, finally got the right to vote. My great grandmother told me with pride that she never let my great grandfather know who she voted for. That was her little secret, and one of the ways she could exercise her independent judgment. Neither my students nor I had to march and struggle or be force-fed in prison because we had the right to vote given to us, giftwrapped, from our forebears.

Because of people like me, my students won't have to struggle as hard to receive equal pay for equal work. That issue still hasn't disappeared entirely, but significant inroads have been made.

Women today no longer accept that they have to suffer abuse at the hands of a spouse or family member or submit to rape, afraid to report it because of the consequences. Women today take it for granted that they may pursue any career they are qualified to pursue.

Women today are free to disdain or ignore the struggles and triumphs of their predecessors.

Women like my students and I are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Private Sector Doesn't Always Do It Better

In the ongoing national discussion of a plan for universal health care in the United States there are several factions.

One group insists that health care as presently provided by the private sector is the best and most effective in the world, and there needs to be no change in the system.

At the opposite pole are those (like me) who believe a single-payer plan, under which the federal government would assume the administration of a national health care plan, and would negotiate with private physicians and pharmaceutical companies regarding prices, would be the best, most efficent and most cost-effective way to go. Imagine the present medicare and medicaid programs expanded to include the whole population. Under these programs there is still generally freedom of choice for patients, who need only find a provider that accepts one or both of these programs, and most do.

A third option, which the Obama administration seems to be leaning toward, is a middle way, in which Americans would be required to purchase private health insurance subsidized, if necessary, by government funds.

Two weeks ago I wrote about mental health care "reform" in my state. In that post I maintained that when the state turned health care over to the private sector it substantially reduced the quality, availability and scope of services provided. I have included a link to the site of one of the private providers in my county. On the surface the publicity looks good.

You have to read between the lines. Mental health care "without walls" only means that they have no hospitals and no direct liason with community hospitals, and no other facilities for long or short-term stays. They have only the resources the "community" provides, which in practice turns out to be just friends and family. Patients in crisis receive short-term benefits, which means a social worker will talk to them and perhaps drive them to a doctor appointment or two for a short time, not on an ongoing basis. Patients deemed to be having an acute crisis may call and talk to a social worker, and perhaps be directed to needed assistance programs. This is called community support, and it is designed to be short term. There is a total of three social workers to assist hundreds of clients. Social workers cost money and don't really bring in the cash. Those with chronic or acute mental illness, especially those who live alone, are not served. They are not deemed sufficiently profitable.

The services of a psychiatrist, in my community, consists of one or two sessions speaking to a distant doctor via therapeutic teleconferencing. This allows the doctor to speak with a patient but not really observe their behavior, as only their faces and upper bodies appear on the screen. Follow-up care is thereafter provided by a much cheaper Physicians Assistant or nurse-practitioner. All of this in the service of profitability.

Group and/or individual psychotherapy are provided at intervals of two or three weeks or a month and only if the client has insurance. This works for those with moderate or mild symptoms but are not really enough for the acutely ill or those in crisis. Therapists are also few and work for smaller salaries and less benefits than they had in the state system. Again, the bucks don't justify the services.

When the mental health care facility was run by the state their first objective was to serve the patient and the community. While there was every attempt to run it cost-effectively that was not its raison d'etre. It has been replaced by those who serve the dollar, and they cherry-pick what services they will offer.

It's pleasant to think that the pursuit of financial gain is absolutely compatible with the best of human endeavor. But that hasn't happened for the mentally ill in our community.

A single-payer plan could potentially provide both quality health care and cost-effectiveness. Patients would still have freedom of choice among those providers which accepted their health care coverage. That's basically what happens in our present health-care system. Doctors, insurance companies and drug manufacturers would not, presumably, make such enormous profits as they would if all costs were paid for at top dollar, but it isn't that way now. Insurers bargain for the best rates from health care providers in the present system.

A single-payer plan would, hopefully, encourage quality care without rewarding pure greed.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What's The Matter With A Good Old Fashioned Filibuster?

The main reason the Democrats want a two-thirds majority in the Senate is to ward off filibusters by the minority, mostly Republican, senators who may want to use it to stall proposed legislation indefinitely.

The possibility of a Senate filibuster has been enough to strike fear in the hearts of the majority party since the early days of the Senate and was enough to cause the Republicans, when they were last in power, to threaten the "nuclear option" against Democrats who might want to use this tactic. The nuclear option is a parliamentary procedure by which a simple majority vote can stop a filibuster or eliminate the practice altogether. Now the Democrats presumably can also threaten or actually use the nuclear option, but thus far they have given no indication that they are even considering it. It would be a shame if any Senate majority would ever invoke this power.

The filibuster grew out of a time-honored Senate tradition of allowing free and unlimited debate on any issue. It wasn't until 1917 when cloture--the necessity for a 2/3 majority to stop a filibuster--was passed.

The aim of a filibuster is for the minority to hold the Senate floor indefinitely in an effort to wear down and/or eliminate the opposition or in order to force a compromise. This means they have to speak nonstop. The rules do not say that the filibustering Senators have to stay on the topic or even to make coherent remarks. Filibusters invoke the memory of Senators reading from telephone books and sleeping on cots or at their desks in the early morning hours. Filibusters have lasted for days.

The filibuster hasn't always been put to good use. During the 1960's this tactic was notoriously used to try to thwart civil rights legislation. It didn't succeed. In fact, filibusters rarely succeed, except to make Americans aware of their positions.

Still, this option should remain if for no other reason than the voice of the minority may be heard. These days simply the threat of a filibuster has been enough to send Senators scrambling for a compromise. In a way that's too bad.

What is wrong with a good old filibuster in Congress? Let the Senators read textbooks or passages of Sanskrit or talk about botany. Let them spend the night in the Senate chamber. In all of that issues of real substance still have the chance to be voiced. I personally would truly enjoy the spectacle.

The tradition of free and unlimited debate should not disappear from the houses of Congress.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Mental Health Care "Reform" In My State: Out of the Hospital and Into Prison

Until about two years ago our community hosted a premier mental health care facility funded by the state. Often working in conjunction with the psychiatric wards of several hospitals, it provided a psychiatrist, medication, outpatient individual and/or group therapy, substance abuse counseling, crisis intervention, an ACT team, DBT (dialectical behavior training) classes and a case manager/social worker who helped connect the client with resources in the community and assistance programs when necessary. The facility also ran several group homes for the mentally challenged and the mentally ill who needed some assistance in everyday living.

Payment for these services was on a sliding scale--those with sufficient income paid the going rate for such services and those with less also paid a given percentage of their earnings. Homeless people and those living at shelters could walk in and be treated, often for free. Two pharmacies cooperated in discounting needed medication for those with a proven need, and the facility itself kept a storeroom full of free samples from drug salespeople, which they dispensed to the indigent. The group homes were accessible to those with some form of public assistance.

It wasn't perfect. Hospital stays typically last only until an acute crisis has passed and the medication has begun to work -- typically about two weeks. This is in accordance with the demands of insurance companies, which often will not cover mental illness or cover it only minimally, and in accordance with a philosophy which took root in the late 1960's and the 1970's. This philosophy postulated that institutionalization was an unmitigated evil and that all patients need to be free. In addition, new psychiatric medications have been developed that allow people who were previously completely impaired to function fairly normally in their homes and communities. The result has been the closing of thousands of state mental hospitals nationally. Our state currently has only one, which is always filled over capacity and has a waiting list months long.

The result has not been a success, however, in millions of cases. There are those whose illnesses are chronic and recurring, and who often forget when and how to take their medication when they are unsupervised. There are those who need consistent nursing care as well as psychiatric treatment. There are those who can function only within the structure of a hospital, which gives them the necessities for sustaining life-- necessities they are incapabable of providing for themselves--and also gives them social interaction with the staff and other patients as well as structure in their lives. There has always been a segment of the mentally ill population who thrive in an institutional setting.

And then, of course, there are those who do not have warm families or welcoming communities to go back to. There are many who are homeless or live temporarily in shelters. And there are those who, in the absence of mental hospitals, get in trouble and are committed to prison. When these prisoners are released, often still suffering acutely from their illness and having no resources for finding a place to live or getting employment, reoffend and go back to prison. Truly our society has simply replaced one form of institutionalization with another, much worse, form.

Short hospitals stays and deinstitutionalization, as well as the practice of locking up the mentally ill, of course, preceded the "reforms" our state has made in its mental health system. Still, they have destroyed the services that once made our community a model of enlightened mental health care.

It began when the state decided to cut the budget for mental health, proclaiming that it was eliminating the waste, fraud and inefficiency of the system. They also decided that privatization was the only road to success. The state government would now pay only the minimum possible and turn over the lion's share of the care of the mentally ill to private businesses. I don't like to point fingers, but the movers and shakers of this "reform" were mostly--but not exclusively--conservative Republicans.

Without state funds our premier mental health facility quickly closed. Five small for-profit agencies sprang up in their place. Three quickly went out of business. Those that remain have cherry-picked their services, providing only those that are most lucrative: psychiatrist, group and individual therapy. Their staffs and salaries are so small and the work load so heavy they have difficulty in retaining trained professionals, especially psychiatrists. In addition, the few services they do provide are far more costly for the patients. And even so, the state keeps demanding more and more paperwork to justify less and less funding.

Gone are the sliding scales, the discounted or free medications, the community support teams, the group homes, the crisis intervention. Gone are the services for the severely and chronically ill. Scarce are the social workers, who are not profitable (how can you make money helping people to find subsidized housing or get food stamps?) Gone are the homeless, the indigent who have no benefits, the shelter dwellers. Gone back to prison or the streets. Gone are the days when our community could point with pride at our effective, enlightened and advanced mental health care system.

Now when a politician brags about how he or she was instrumental in bringing about health care "reform" I know who not to vote for.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Not the Boston Tea Party

Q: How many teapartiers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. If the federal government would just leave it alone it would screw itself in.

The first Boston Tea Party was a protest against taxation by Britain on the colonists in America. These taxes were imposed without giving the colonists any representation--no say in the taxation process back in England. In a protest against tea taxes, in particular, some of our American ancestors boarded a tea-laden British ship in Boston Harbor and threw boxes of the beverage leaves overboard. In a fairly transparent effort to disguise themselves and shift blame onto native Americans they dressed up as Indians, complete with war paint. It was an heroic effort which we Americans fondly remember, although, of course, it actually took a war to free us of British rule.

The recent tea party events in various parts of the country claim to be descendents of this noble endeavor. Although they were in part protests against proposed taxation of the upper echelons by the Obama administration, the demonstrators cannot justifiably claim they have no representation. They have Congresspeople and Senators who are elected to do just that. If one is unhappy with this representation then one works to have people who do as they like elected. One can loudly complain but the power is in the ballot box.

The tea parties were also protests against recent presidential and Congressional efforts to stimulate the failing economy. Similar costly stimulus efforts as well as borrowed trillions for the war in Iraq by the Bush administration were mostly ignored. These protests were pointedly against the current president and Democrat-controlled congress.

Tea partiers have little historical memory. There was a Great Depression which began in 1929 and lasted into World War II. The president at the outset of the depression was a Republican named Herbert Hoover. His economic policy was the same as that propounded by the recent tea partiers--no bailouts of the economic sector, no stimulus programs and many cutbacks in government spending. The result was a rapidly disintegrating American economy and ultimately about 1/3 of the workforce unemployed. Tent cities erected by those who had lost their homes were called "Hoovervilles," in honor of the president of the same name.

Conservatives often argue that Franklin D. Roosevelt, who followed Hoover as president, and Roosevelt's "New Deal" were not really effective in mitigating the depression. That point can be debated, but it is certain that he did better than Hoover, who nobody can claim was successful. Yet Hoover's is the course the modern tea partiers want to follow.

The tea partiers can protest peacefully to their hearts' content. That is their right as Americans. It is also not yet certain that the massive stimulus packages by both the Bush and Obama administrations will help as much as many economists and average Americans hope they will. But one might expect that the partiers would pay a little more attention to American history as they attempt to reenact it.

At least nobody dressed up as phony Native Americans this time.