Monday, September 28, 2009

Help Me Battle Teabaggers on the National Mall

Yesterday my wife and I were discussing some of our weird personal highlights from the past year. We remembered two days when I held homemade political signs out on the streets (this one and this one). Both were great days, though the first one definitely topped the second. Then she told me about some of her recent run-ins on the DC metro with tea-bag types holding signs on their way to anti-health care rallies on the National Mall. Apparently these foot soldiers for the insurance companies have swarmed DC recently. The latest group she saw were from Mississippi. Hmm, I wonder who's footing the bill for these long trips.

Anyway, it got me thinking, we live just a few blocks away from the National Mall, why aren't I out there with my own sign, representing the other side of the health care debate? You know, the side that is for everyone having medical coverage?

So last night, I went out and bought some yellow poster board and big black markers. And sometime this week I am going to walk down to the nation's lawn and engage in the national discussion, or the national shouting match, or whatever is going on down there. (Seems like every time I'm down there, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is going on.) But anyway I thought I would open this up to suggestions first.

What short health care message would be on your yellow sign?

Remember your audience is mainly DC commuters, tourists, and teabaggers who rode in on the insurance company bus. There are lots of directions you could go with this. Let's hear some ideas.

Here are a few to get you started:
"Get corporate profits away from our health care!"

"Insurance company billionaires or universal health care? You decide."

"If you get very sick, we hope you die. Love, Your Insurance Co."
Surely you can do better than these, so send me your message. I will post an update later on how it goes down on the Mall. Keep up the good fight.

Update: I cross-posted this article on Daily Kos. Check out some of the creative suggestions over there.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Democracy is controversial.

Here's the conclusion of the Los Angeles Times review of "Capitalism: A Love Story."
"At the end of the day, perhaps the most startling thing about "Capitalism" is that Moore stands revealed not as some pointy-headed socialist but as an unreconstructed New Deal Democrat who admires Franklin D. Roosevelt, believes in increased democracy and opportunity, and feels that the decades-long weakening of unions has fatally weakened America. The fact that this will be a controversial stance says as much about today's political culture as it does about Moore's place in it."

I echo that last sentence. I would add that democracy will always be "controversial," as long as those who are rich and powerful off the current system have an influence in the debate that is grossly disproportionate to their numbers. ("One person, one vote" makes little sense if the man over there is a media mogul who funds a conservative policy "think tank.") The manufactured controversy is simply repackaged as the years go by. In the past, the argument has been as vile as to say that the poor and working class are too crude to have a vote. Lately, the argument says basically that democracy is all good and fine but it shouldn't affect anything that has to do with the economy. "Let the market decide," they who own the market say. They might as well say, "Just sit still while we think up new excuses for why we few should remain in charge."

Democracy is always the enemy of those at the top of the pyramid, because democracy would dismantle the pyramid and use the stones for something useful.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Looking Forward to Michael Moore's Love Story

Hello, friends! It's been a while. I'm in Australia right now visiting my sister Amy and her family. I just realized that "the tubes" reach all the way down here--I guess they run through the center of the Earth?--or else I would have posted sooner.

The talk down here is all rugby, cricket, and the awesomeness of universal health care. So, I've been surfing the tubes a bit to see what's happening in the real world, where it's Fall and not Spring in September, where "Yanks" means northerners, and where free refills of soft drinks abound.

A quick perusal of my usual sites reminded me that we are closing in on an exciting date. October 2nd is the nationwide release of Michael Moore's new film, Capitalism: A Love Story.

By all the accounts I've read from the early screenings, Moore swings for the fences on this one. In what he calls the culmination of all his is work to date, Moore goes after not just another corrupt corporation or another unjust industry, but the very incentive structure and moral underpinnings of an economic system where the richest 1% of Americans control more wealth than the bottom 95%.

It's about time. Michael Moore has a way of consistently being a couple years ahead of the mainstream--in other words, controversial. Roger and Me (1989) documented the human effects of General Motors plant closings in Michigan. Bowling for Columbine (2002) shined a light on the gun-worshiping culture of fear that gives the United States its sky-high murder rate. His Oscar acceptance speech in 2003 called out "a fictitious president" for "sending us to war for fictitious reasons," two or three years before it was cool to talk like that. Fahrenheit 911 (2004) eviscerated the Bush Presidency, the "war on terror," and the media's cheerleading for both, all about two years before the movie's arguments went mainstream. And Sicko (2007) diagnosed the broken, profit-centric American health care system about two years before the current debate in Congress. Here's to hoping that Capitalism: A Love Story directs or predicts the national discussion at least as much as his previous works have done.

It is good news that a squarely anti-capitalist film is about to plop down into pop culture. Because it's time for us all to start connecting the dots between the myriad of issues confronting us. The national discussion, led by Big Media, tends to focus on issues in isolation. Over here we have stagnant wages. Over there we have environmental degradation. Hey look, home foreclosures. Here's a local news story about unaffordable health care. Environmental degradation. Here's a news program on economic bubbles. Here's an article on mercenary soldiers. It's long past time we started looking at what connects all of these problems and what stands in our way of solving them: in short, corporate capitalism.

Whether you favor gutting that system entirely and replacing it with something entirely new or whether you'd just like to see a number of meaningful reforms, anti-capitalism in the national discussion moves you closer to where you want to go. The point is, you don't start negotiating from a compromised position. (See the recent health care debate for why this fails.)

More on that later. Right now, we're off on a "bush walk."

Please fill me in on what's happening back home. Tea-baggers still trying to prevent civic discussion? Blue Dog Democrats still working hard for insurance companies?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why Joe Wilson Really Shouted Out

Here is the top story at right now:


Rep. Joe Wilson apologizes after shouting at Obama as he talked about insuring illegals. | VIDEO | FULL TEXT

Notice the wording they choose:
" he talked about insuring illegals."
So not only is Fox News fueling the effort to make Wilson a right-wing folk hero, they're also giving the impression that Obama said the exact opposite of what he actually said. Some news outlet.

The president took important time out of his speech to debunk the actual lies that opponents of health care reform have been using to try to derail the whole process. First he addressed the Republican lie that health reform will "set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens." Then he said:
"Now, there are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms -- the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."
That's when Rep. Joe Wilson interrupted the speech, before the highest assembly of our government, by yelling out and calling the president a liar.

Let's face it, the president was kicking ass at that point in the speech. He had already laid out his own vision for reform, and now he was peeling back the layers of lies one by one. Obama has a way of making his fiercest opponents seem pretty small and petty--and rightly so. I wonder if at that moment the Republicans sitting in the chamber felt like things were slipping away from them. After all, the lies are important to Republican prospects for regaining power. "Death panels." "Tax-payer-funded, forced abortions." "Free health care for all 'illegals.'" If the president stands before the American people and exposes each lie for what it is, he also exposes the liars for what they are: members of a desperate, vitriolic, and shrinking party. I wonder if some of the Republicans thought, in terror, "Oh my God, he is actually going to pass sweeping health care reform. This is going to be like Social Security and Medicare. People are going to love it, and it's going to permanently shift the country toward the left, as people realize that government in the peoples' hands can actually solve big problems."

Whatever they were thinking, it was too much pain for old Joe Wilson from South Carolina, so he shouted out, "You lie!" Maybe he was actually shouting at the voices in his head, constantly whispering about death panels, abortions, and "the illegals." I don't know. But this is what the Republican Party has become--shameless, devoid of good will, untethered from reality, possibly schizophrenic.

Remember this moment. This is what it looks like when progress is on the march. Powerful moneyed interests and their representatives in government will always oppose any major step forward for ordinary Americans. But when they are this ridiculous and this desperate, it means we are about to win one.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Open Health Care Thread

What did you think of President Obama's speech?

I liked that he drew parallels between the present health care reform effort and the passage of Social Security and Medicare. In each case, the opposition derided it as socialism, and in each case the programs passed, were exceedingly popular, and became a foundation for greater prosperity for all.

Overall, I think he laid out his case pretty well. He made dollars-and-cents arguments as well as moral arguments. He called out the Right for some of its nonsense in the debate but still reached out to Republicans in Congress.

After this speech, it's hard for me to picture the reform effort all going down in flames and ruining Obama's presidency, as Republicans have been hoping. Some kind of health insurance reform will pass Congress. There will at least be some new common-sense regulations on insurance companies. The question is what else will make it in the final bill and how far-reaching the reform will be.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Obama Reminds Me Why I Voted For Him

Speaking at the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic:

Here are some of the highlights from the transcript.

Praising some of the labor movement's past accomplishments:
"So let us never forget: much of what we take for granted--the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, health insurance, paid leave, pensions, Social Security, Medicare--they all bear the union label. It was the American worker--union men and women--who returned from World War II to make our economy the envy of the world. It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history. So even if you're not a union member, every American owes something to America's labor movement."
Linking the economic crisis to the cultural values that enabled it:

"But in recent years, the American Dream seemed to slip away, because from Washington to Wall Street, too often a different culture prevailed. Wealth was valued over work, selfishness over sacrifice, greed over responsibility, the right to organize undermined rather than strengthened. That's what we saw. And while it may have worked out well for a few at the top, it sure didn't work out well for our country."

Addressing health reform directly, turning up the ass-kicking a bit:

"We've never been this close. We've never had such broad agreement on what needs to be done. And because we're so close to real reform, the special interests are doing what they always do--trying to scare the American people and preserve the status quo."

"But I've got a question for them: What's your answer? What's your solution? The truth is, they don't have one. It's do nothing. And we know what that future looks like. Insurance companies raking in the profits while discriminating against people because of pre-existing conditions and denying or dropping coverage when you get sick. It means you're never negotiating about higher wages, because you're spending all your time just protecting the benefits you already have."

Recognizing that it all comes back to organized labor:

"And few have fought harder or longer for health care and America's workers than you--our brothers and sisters of organized labor. And just as we know that we must adapt to all the changes and challenges of a global economy, we also know this: in good economic times and bad, labor is not part of the problem. Labor is part of the solution. It's why I support the Employee Free Choice Act--to level the playing field so it's easier for employees who want a union to form a union. Because when labor is strong, America is strong. When we all stand together, we all rise together."

It's about time for some of this fiery Obama. The opponents of health reform (i.e. insurance companies, anti-social ideologues, and congressional Republicans) need to be called out for their vacuous arguments aimed at maintaining the status quo. Obama is beginning to do this and to boil down the health reform issue to its essential conflict: corporations who profit obscenely from an inhuman system vs. ordinary people uniting to improve their lives. I hope there is more of this in his big speech on Wednesday night.

My wife and I just returned from a holiday weekend getaway (which I'll be posting about later). It was nice to find this rousing speech online when we got back. The president is getting tough on the health reform fight while allying with the folks who have been fighting the corporate status quo since there first was one. Happy Labor Day indeed.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The South and the Health Care Debate

Note: Let me begin by saying my recent lack of posting is inexcusable! But here's my excuse: my wife and I just moved back into downtown Washington D.C., and I've been living out of cardboard boxes for the last week. Now, back to your regularly scheduled BTM programming...

There was a poll over at Daily Kos yesterday showing continued strong public support for a public health insurance option. The poll breaks the stats out by region (Northeast, Midwest, West, and South).
Three of the four regions are very supportive of the public option. I will let you guess which one is not supportive. Hint: The region rhymes with "mouth," is listed in the title of this post, and many claim it "will rise again."

In the poll, the South is about evenly split between favoring and opposing the public option, but Southerners say they are more likely to support a politician who opposes the public option than one who supports it. The South playing the outlier in the health care reform debate goes largely unnoticed because the South is consistently so unprogressive on so many issues that we take it for granted. Liberals who take notice of something like this will often simply launch into old-fashioned South bashing.

I'm not interested in bashing the South. I grew up in and love the South. When I was a kid I tried to come up with a theory proving that south was inherently, unexplainably better than north. (The theory hinged on my understanding that in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, it was the southerners of those countries who were the good guys and the northerners who were the bad guys.) And though I now reside in Union territory, I still "wanna live with my feet in Dixie," as one of my favorite songs puts it.

But I would like people to really stop and think about why the South is so damned "conservative." This is something that ought to be discussed. And I'm not talking about "family values." I'm talking about the actual heart of politics: power--who has it, and what they do with it.

I don't claim to understand every reason the South is so far to the right of the rest of the country. But I'm pretty confident about one reason, and I think it's probably the main reason.

People divided against themselves are easily conquered, and the South's history is a story of a great division running through the middle of society. It's not just slavery that I'm talking about; it's the culture that the slavery system perpetuated. Even when that system was technically ended, the Southern status quo depended on maintaining that division. For generations, Blacks and Whites were taught, in a thousand different ways both intentionally and not, to fear and resent one another.

I've written before about how people clinging to great power and wealth at the expense of others must turn one group of the public against another over and over again. This is one of the never-ending tasks of conservative political strategy, and it can sometimes be difficult to manufacture resentments that will divide people. But in the South, that work was done a long time ago, and it is still paying off (literally) for conservatives.

The South's poverty, low unionization rates, unequal income distribution, low "social capital," low Human Development Index scores, and strong support for conservative Republican candidates can all be tied back to the slavery system and its social legacy. After a recent trip down South, where my wife talked politics with some family and friends, she said to me, "Politics is so 'us against them" down there." She's right. Whether "they" are black people, atheists, Muslims, the coastal cultural elite, or "the illegals," politics in the South pits one group of working people against another. That has been the Republican recipe for power for a generation and the heart of their so-called "Southern Strategy." The goal has been to divert people's energy away from genuine reforms to the system and into division and social issues that have zero effect on rich people's money (prayer in school, flag lapel pins, the Ten Commandments hung in this or that court house).

Am I saying that the South generally opposes a public health insurance option because of slavery's legacy? Yes. The kind of conservatism made possible by social division in the South makes the region an outlier on almost every political question.

If there's a happy ending here, I think it is simply that the "us against them" conservatism of the South is dying the same long, slow death that slavery's legacy is dying. The deep divisions between Blacks and Whites, which first served the slave masters and then served the Southern capitalists and conservatives, cannot last forever. Conservatives will always create new divisions to exploit (see "the illegals"), but as I said earlier, it's not always easy for them. The force that compels people of all colors and creeds to come together to improve their lives--whether it's bargaining for a living wage at work, creating a public health insurance option to compete with local private insurance monopolies, or cleaning up the river so their kids can swim in it--is a strong one, and it can't be held back forever. Virginia and North Carolina recently gave their votes to a progressive Democrat and African-American for president. That is the result of great changes that have already taken place down South, but I think it's also sign that deeper, more lasting changes are possible.