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.