Friday, August 28, 2009

Cry, The Beloved Country

“What is happening to America?” I ask myself while reading newspapers and scanning the intertubes from my sick bed where Canada’s national health plan is treating me at no cost, without any waiting times and without making me go before a death panel.

A crazy Kansas Congresswoman - a Republican, naturally, and she's not even Michelle Bachman - says her party is looking for a "great white hope."

In Virginia, a man wearing an Obama T-shirt at a town hall meeting is punched in the face without provocation by another man wearing an anti-abortion T-shirt.

Only days after Sen. Chuck Grassley tells an Iowa rally they should fear that health care reform will let the government “pull the plug on Grandma,” Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is on the Today Show insisting “no elected Republican official has used scare tactics to frighten constituents into opposing the measure. I haven't."

Meanwhile, on the same day, the RNC sends out an e-mail over Steele’s name and signature claiming health care reform is really an attempt to deny Republicans health care.

A man who tells a town hall meeting he is a "proud right wing terrorist" is applauded by the Republican Congressman holding the event instead of reporting the self-proclaimed terrorist to Homeland Security which is what Bush and Cheney did to nearly everyone who objected to their war of lies.

The lunatic lout who toted a semi-automatic weapon to an Obama rally in Arizona belongs to a church where, the previous Sunday, the pastor prayed for the death of the president, hoping "worms consume his soul."

The same fundamentalist Christian group that targeted the last abortion doctor to be killed - in his church, no less - has set its sights on another physician, including putting details of his home and phone, family photos and a map to his clinic on the web.

In a similar act of Christian charity, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is now against healthcare reform because it includes end-of-life counselling.

After Sarah Palin posts a condolence note about Ted Kennedy on her Facebook page, many of her "friends" leave comments such as "good riddance to bad rubbish," "Now, if we can only get Pelosi and Reid to join him" and "It's about time."

And all of this is in just the last few days.

Meanwhile, to my knowledge, only one elected Republican official has called for this to stop. I guess crazy is a pre-existing condition, as Paul Krugman notes in his blog.

Nothing good will come of this. And I am beginning to suspect that the United States is no country for an ailing old man like me, anymore.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The New Chevy Volt And An Old Nash Rambler

GM is touting the Chevy Volt as getting 230 miles per gallon. Big deal. Been there, done that, never had to buy gasoline.

This is a tale of what could have been done a half-century ago - and wasn't - to save energy, save the planet and save billions of dollars.

In the late 1950s, my dad bought a new Nash Rambler. It had a thimble of gas in it so he filled the tank as soon as he left the dealer. A month later, the gas needle hadn't budged off full so he took it back thinking there was something wrong with the gague. Nope, it worked fine. Another month of driving and it was still showing more than 3/4 full. Back to the dealer, still nothing wrong.

Convinced there was something amiss, my dad stopped at a gas station to "fill 'er up" as people said in those days. (Windows got washed and oil checked, too, by "attendants" who often wore white uniforms and a cap.) It took less than a dollar to top up the tank. Totally befuddled, he kept driving but couldn't shake the feeling that at any moment the gas gague would suddenly show empty and he'd coast to a stop somewhere on a lonely highway late at night.

Until George Romney at The American Motors Co. sent him a letter.

It seemed that, somehow, an experimental car with a new engine that wasn't supposed to leave the factory did. Dad ended up buying it. Nash told him that if he'd return the car, he could pick any Nash model in the showroom - free, and Nash would pay off his $900 bank loan on the Rambler to boot. Acting out of greed rather than smarts, he immediately turned his then-five month old car in for a big, honking, gas guzzling, Nash Ambassador with huge fins and no loan. The Rambler's tank was still more than half full when he exchanged keys with the dealer.

Dad spent less than one dollar on gas in his five months of driving it, during which time he logged more than 10,000 miles.

American Motors and Nash have long-since disappeared. But if the auto industry could build that kind of fuel efficient, gas powered engine in the 1950s, why did it stop and why is the Volt such a big deal?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

No, Mr. President, I Will Not "Back Off"

Updated below.

Dear Mr. President:

According to a senior White House staff member who attended Wednesday’s lunch with the Senate Democratic caucus, you told progressives to “back off” attacking Blue Dogs and ConservaDems for their opposition to meaningful health care reform including the desperately needed public option.

Say what?

No, Mr. President, I will not back off – and I assume other progressives, in and out of the Senate, along with 48-million uninsured Americans and 72% of the country who want a strong public option won’t either.

Please remember that progressives are the people who did much of the legwork during the primary and general election campaign, helping you get elected. In turn, your overwhelming victory enabled a lot of progressive House and Senate candidates to win, allowing the Democrats to take control of both houses of Congress. One of the reasons so many of us worked so tirelessly for nearly two exhausting years was because of your long-standing commitment to genuine change in the way health care is delivered and paid for in the United States.

We did not do this to let six members of the US Senate stand in your way, or ours. Six Senators who, by the way, happen to live in very small states yet receive millions in campaign contributions from the medical-insurance complex. One of them, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, even threatened the entire country with blocking health care reform forever because he got called out for stuffing his campaign coffers with more than $2.2-million from health insurers, medical device manufacturers, big Pharma, hospitals and doctors.

Nelson is simply the latest example of how the medical-insurance complex has managed to block health care reform for nearly 100 years, ever since Teddy Roosevelt first proposed it. This not what we had in mind when we responded to your call for "change we can believe in."

So we won’t back off, Mr. President. Instead, you should stand up.

Charley James

UPDATE: At today's press briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs walked back Pres. Obama's admonition to progressives to "back off" Blue Dogs blocking health care reform. Gibbs said the president was not referring to activists and other proponents of health care reform and a public option.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Confronted With Truth, Blue Dog Ben Nelson Throws Hissy Fit

Since The White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seem unwilling to take on Blue Dogs blocking desperately needed public option from health care and insurance reform, the job of calling them out is falling to advocates and Keith Olbermann.

On Monday night, Olbermann’s Special Comment on Countdown took a rip at both Democrats and Republicans standing in the way of genuinely fixing America’s broken health care system because their campaign coffers are being enriched by the medical-insurance complex to the tune of millions of dollars.

But when the coalition group ActBlue began running TV spots in Nebraska and Washington DC highlighting Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson – one of the staunchest Republicans in the Democratic caucus – he threw a complete hissy fit. His spokesman, Jake Thompson, issued a statement threatening that, as a result, “health care reform may be dead by the end of August."

Thompson wrote, "Nebraskans don't need outside special interest groups telling them what to think."

Only a few problems with Nelson’s indignant, self-rightous and self-serving stand.

First, the “outside group” is Mike Snider, a small business owner in Ralston, Nebraska, who’s featured in the ad because health coverage for his employees and family rose an unconscionable 42% this year. Oh, and Nelson has taken more than $2.2-million in campaign contributions from the medical-insurance complex, the dictionary definition of an “outside special interest group.”

Somehow, in his statement Thompson overlooks the thick wads of cash stuffed in Nelson’s pocket by pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, hospitals and doctors. And why does it take so much money to run for re-election in Nebraska, where TV spots can be bought for about $100 each? Two million bucks would buy 20,000 commercials – or every commercial availability on every television station in the state for more than a year. And we’re not even counting contributions Nelson receives from other corporate and individual donors.

Clearly, the medical-insurance complex wants something more from Nelson than helping him buy advertising and opening re-election campaign offices.

Sadly, if Nelson were the only problem Blue Dog, this would be a tempest in a teapot. But, as Olbermann points out, the list includes Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, who’s received bags of money from the same people as have a long list of other Senate and House Democrats trying to block the will of 72% of Americans.

Fortunately, my representatives – Keith Ellison in the House, and Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken on the Senate side – aren’t on Keith’s list. Unfortunately, theirs are only three votes among 535 and – more importantly – just 10 or so Blue Dogs are trying their best to wreck the nation’s first meaningful health care and insurance reform since Richard Nixon proposed the concept of HMOs.