Notes on Political Venality, Pomposity and Associated Stupidity.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"Oh, The Weather Outside is Freakin' FRIGHTFUL!"

There is nothing that warms the hearts of television news directors and producers quite so much as a THREATENING WINTER STORM or an ARCTIC WINTER BLAST or DANGEROUSLY COLD CONDITIONS. They love this stuff. They simply love it. Why? Because weather, or so their consultants tell them, brings in viewers. That's the reason the local forecast has about 12 minutes of unnecessarily confusing radar images, isobars and temperatures from every known community and about :30 of actual information. Let's face it, you can "do" the weather in under ten seconds. "Cold tonight, low around zero. High tomorrow around 25, with a chance of flurries. Tomorrow night, cold again, with a low of 15." Done. Even if you do it realllllllly slow, and repeat it twice, it's still shorter than :30.

But we have long passed from weather being simple and to the point. Today weather has to be SCARY! Temperatures are "dangerously cold." Snow is "hazardous." Even a sunny day has it's caveat; check the UV index! Run! Put a hat on!

The unfortunate part is that the public has played along with this silliness. Never before have more people driven more four-wheel drive vehicles, but been less able to manuveur them in 2 inches of snow! Schools close when the first flake falls! Businesses let the frightened masses out early to clog the highways! All because some dork on TV gets everyone wound up.

Many years ago, when I lived in a Northeast city, the local TV stations scared the bejesus out of everyone with what they were calling the "storm of the century." So everyone scurried home. Businesses closed early. We huddled with our hot chocolate and waited. And waited. When the sun rose the next morning, there was NO snow. No a bit. The only moral there is; get a life.

Along with the SUVs, today we also have the best, warmest clothing money can buy. Boots that'll keep you toasty to 60 below zero. Cars that have heated seats. Snowblowers. Deicers. Heated mittens for scraping your windows. So what is all the whining about?

Here's my advice. Turn off the TV news, turn off The Weather Channel and go out and play in the snow. And teach your children that snow and cold weather is FUN, not something to be afraid of. Better yet, help them build a snow man that looks like the local weather guy, then do what Tootie did in "Meet Me In St. Louis;" go outside and whack its head off.

Friday, January 21, 2005

"Political Preacher Men"

It became clear to me recently that what most over-the-top, right-wing politicians aspire to is not public service, but the pious service of being preachers. Watch them speaking on the stump or, better yet, giving their little "inside baseball" speeches before cozy religious groups. That's where you'll see the real deal; the quiet, emotional words, punctuated by finger points and harsh, "god knows all" rhetoric. You'll see the comtemptuous evangelizing that stands in for intelligence, research and thoughtful consideration of complex issues. You'll see, in effect, a Preacher.

So why do these boobs have such heavenly aspirations? Simple answer; with "god on their side" they can never be called wrong. If they are "doing god's work" or are, like Mr. Bush, being given driving directions from "The Big G," how can they be called wrong? It worked for the Crusaders, it'll work for them.

On the other hand, a politician who discusses issues like abortion or foreign relations or military spending from a secular viewpoint doesn't, by the nature of things, have a giant, all-knowing, all-seeing buddy in the sky to act as his backup. He or she must formulate and support ideas using their smarts. The Preachers, for their part, simply stand up and say, "Because HE said so." And that means, "end of discussion."

There's another reason these Pols want to preach. Because they love the adulation. Now, politicians have always liked to talk and have always loved the applause, but this is different. Religious followers look up at the dias with that wide-eyed awe that only comes when one is in the presence of a divinely-inspired speaker...and our Preacher Politicians eat this up. They can just feel the love..and it feels great. And you know what? Once they've felt that warm glow, they never want to go back out in the the cold, cruel world of reality.

These people scare me. They really do. Whether they honestly believe that America has some sort of "gameplan from god," or if they are just playing along because it happens to get them elected, doesn't really matter. The result of their "holier than thou" attitude is what we have to fear. Because anytime someone tells you that "god told me to do it," he didn't.

Friday, January 14, 2005

"Words Have Consequences"

Well, there you go. Bush proves, once and for all, that he has the emotional maturity and native intelligence of a six-grader. I imagine him standing in front of the class; head down and eyes averted, struggling to say,

"Sometimes, I guess, ya know, words have consequences, Mrs. Crabtree."

"Could you speak up, George? What did you say?"

"Words have consequences!"

"And are you going to apologize to the rest of the world for what you said?"

"Yea, well, maybe. I don't know. I sure didn't mean to say what I said."

"But you won't do it again, right George?"

"Listen, well, now, yea, I guess...but no one ever told me I couldn't say what I wanted to say...."

"Okay. Take you seat and we'll try to forget this ever happened."

Those famous Bon Mots of Bush, "Bring 'em on" and "dead or alive" were blurted out, not because Bush is just a simple, down-home kinda guy, but because, throughout his life, he never learned the simple, childhood lesson that "words have consequences." Never. As a coddled rich-boy, he got away with saying whatever he felt like. Apparently Bush Pere never slapped his face or washed his mouth out with soap. No sir. George Jr. said what he felt, did what he wanted to do - and nobody called him on it. This is truly pathetic. The President of the United States is SUPPOSED to be a man (or woman) who, at the very least, understands how to operate as an adult. How to temper their personal feelings. How to thoughtfully approach problems. How to show strength and moderation at the same time. Not George.

And once again, I have to question his grand group of camp followers. Don't parents out in Nebraska and Oklahoma and down in Florida keep their kids in line and teach them, at a very young age, that "words have consequences?" Sure they do. But...when the leader of their nation spouts off, they think it's just dandy. Go figure.

While I desperately want a Democrat in the White House in four years, what I really would like is an adult.

"A Tort Reform Tantrum"

I am republishing this commentary, because, a) it's critically important and b) it's more timely today than ever.

There is one sure thing you can say about insurance companies, they know how to insure their profits. Just so you have a handle on the sheer volume of money we're talking about, here are some recent numbers from an independent market research firm, Weiss Ratings. Read 'em and weep.

> The nation's HMOs nearly doubled their profits during 2003, earning $10.2 billion, an 86% increase over the $5.5 billion reported in 2002.

> For 2003, the nonprofit Kaiser Foundation Health Plan reported a $1.1 billion increase, which represents one-fifth of the industry's net profit improvement.

> Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, as a group, produced a $5.4 billion profit, which is a $2.1 billion, or 63 percent, increase compared to the $3.3 billion profit recorded in 2002. The nonprofit Blue Shield of California experienced a 220% increase -- or $314.2 million in 2003, up from $142.6 million in 2002.

Yup, America's insurance companies sure are strugglin' ain't they, Slim?

And yet, here we have the Bush administration and its Congressional yes-men forcefully pressing for "tort reform" as the cure all for health insurance increases! Hello? Earth to the GOP! Come in, please. 290-million Amercans want to know what in the name of God you're talking about!

Here's my problem with all this. First, if a doctor is at fault for a medical error, they should be held accountable. Period. And the only way for anyone to be held accountable in our society is to sue them. All other forms of conflict resolution mean nothing to companies unless they carry the weight of a hefty potential settlement. Lawsuits rampant? Maybe. But consider this. Your average citizen has almost no power to fight back against corporate malfeasance. None. Try it sometime. It's a bitter learning experience. One I can personally attest to. If you want to fight a corporation through the courts, the expense is staggering. You can easily spend 20-thousand dollars in a couple of weeks of filing motions and prepping for trial. And your lawyer will want this all upfront. Who can do that? Could you? No? Me, neither. So what you come down to is the realization that the court system, and by extension any form of "justice" is actually something only the rich can hope to have. For the rest of us, we take our lumps and move along, while the corporate counsels laugh all the way to the bank.

Of course, contingency cases are different. Here, you present your complaint to a lawyer who can then decide if they can make a buck on it or not. The truth? These firms generally run through tons of loser cases before they take on the "sure things." They don't bother with the ones that will cost them a lot to investigate or litigate. Meaning that, they only really accept the cases which are so obvious or egrigious that even a trained seal in an Armani suit could get the defendant to settle out of court.

Look again at those insurance company profits. Remember how much they gave to the GOP (and the Dems) last year. Realize how little is done by the AMA to self-police their member doctors. And finally, imagine what you life would be like if someone you loved was hurt or disabled or killed by a physician's error. Clearly, in the case of death, no amount of money would compensate you, but, if the GOP gets it's way, they will simply put a cap on how much your wife or husband's life is worth. For the most part, it'll be far less than many of those insurance company executives pay for their country club membership each year...

Finally, one more thing that sticks in my craw. Almost to a man, anyone who supports med-mal reform will be found trashing the jury system. "Compassionate juries tend to give excessively high awards in the case of infant cerebral-palsy cases" or something of that description. My question is this; If the jury system doesn't work in the case of medical malpractice cases, then how can we trust it to work at all? When a jury finds someone guilty of a heinous murder, do these same people strut and pontificate about the jury's lack of ability? Hell, no. They only malign the jury system when it cuts close to the financial bone...and their corporate benefactors.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"We're Only Arrogant Because We're Right!"

It's been said before, but it probably can't be said enough; the United States can't "go it alone" in the world. Though many in this country apparently think we are some sort of undefeatable fortress and that our much-vaunted military bravado will carry the day , it just ain't so, Joe. We need friends around the world. Though we were the swing factor in WWII, it was the entire ALLIED FORCE that was able to defeat Germany, Japan and Italy. Got that. Allies. Friends. People who help out each other, particularly when the going gets rough.

Despite this fact (and it is a fact) the current administration continues its hard-headed, blinders-on approach to world diplomacy. Hear me now. I'm not saying you have to be a wimp and let other nations have whatever they want. We all know that's not the answer, either. But what you have to do is show the world that we, as a nation, have both the moral and the military chops. Right now, both are questionable.

One thing I like to do is to put myself in another man's a way of getting outside the U.S. nexus of news and thought. Imagine along with me...

For a moment, you're sitting at a cafe somewhere in Europe. The particular nation isn't important. You pick up a newspaper, maybe the International Herald Tribune, and you read that the President of the United States wants to make Alberto Gonzales the chief law enforcement officer in that great democracy. You pause for a moment before making the connection. Ah, yes. Gonzales. The guy who said it was more or less okay to suspend the Geneva Convention's rules on torture and play fast and loose with prisoners.

One more thing. Imagine that you're sitting at a coffee shop in the U. S. and you read that Chirac was going to appoint a man with similar bona fides to an important post in France....

You get my point.

We have to realize that the oft-mentioned slippery slope is well beyond that now, it is sloppy with mud and a constant deluge of ethically abhorent rain. The current administration has managed to "re-brand" the United States of America in four short years. It's quite a marketing coup! In the new global economy, when we need friends and allies more than ever, America has managed to become known as an ideaological intolerant gradeschool bully. For many millions of people around the world, the message they get is this, when you boil it all down; The US is right. You are wrong. And if you don't like it, we'll punch your face in, buddy!

The question that hovers above all this, of course, is how long it will take a post-Bush administration to turn this back around. Even though policies can change and more subtle diplomacy can be reasserted, we have to remember that people have long memories. What Bush is doing right now will have long-term, historic repurcussions. It will change the way the United States goes forward from here on out.

Friday, January 07, 2005

"The State of the Unions"

I noted a distrubing trend recently. Even people who should embrace unions are thumbing their noses at them. When they hear about this union or that, where people are being paid well, they often say, "I can't believe those guys are getting that much! It's insane. I mean, I work 60 hours a week here and I'll never make that much!"

What's wrong with this picture? Right. These complainers shouldn't be bitching about the union worker's good fortune, they should be wondering why they are so poorly paid and so lacking in benefits. Instead, frustrated by their lousy lot in life, they berate the union's for doing what they are supposed to do, which is to intercede on behalf of employees and help them get a decent shake from management.

Mind you, unions have their share of problems. Many suck dues from employees and give little in return. Many got so strong that they forgot about the rank and file. But blaming the unions isn't going to fix anyone's payroll problems. If you think you're underpaid, a union is about the only chance in hell you have of getting a better deal, particularly if you work in a commodity type business where you can easily be replaced. And forget about benefits. Pensions were long ago eliminated so we could have the honor of investing in 401k plans. Health care, if you haven't lost it already, is the next to go.

I just want people to focus they unhappiness and anger at the right people, and that's not the guy with a union card, it's the guy on the top floor of your building, who has done all he can to make sure you never sign one.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

"Rush Limbaugh, Matinee Idol"

Let's take a well-desered day off from earthshattering events.

Today we look high above the roadside and into the great big owl eyes of Rush Limbaugh. (my most sincere apoligies to Fitzgerald) This is a sight I see each day driving home. A billboard for Rush, hawking his daily radio screed. But the funny part (see, I said it wouldn't be too serious!) is that, if it weren't for the huge type that says RUSH LIMBAUGH, you would NEVER know who the handsome devil on the billboard is. I kid you not. The image is sort of a composite of John Wayne and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's the image of a virile, strong-chinned, high-cheekboned movie star. It ain't Rush, the slack-jawed, drug-addled raver. (see above. The guy on the left is an airbrushed imposter. The guy on the right is the real deal!) So that's the big laugh for the day! Rush as drastically altered matinee idol. It's damn shame he's become one of those crazy Hollywood types. Oop! Damn. I said politics weren't allowed today. Well, I'm just not the virile cowboy Rush is....

"Snipers Are People, Too"

An article in the New York Times today puts into perspective the debate over gun control in the U. S.. It discusses legislation in California to ban the purchase of a gun known as a ".50 caliber BMG, where the BMG stands for Browning Machine Gun. To be fair, the rifle is not a machine gun, but rather a semi-automatic. However, I'm sure that owners love the sound of "machine gun." It's got to be part of this weapon's lethal cache. The gun was developed for use by the military and police, not as a hunting rifle that blaze orange buddies heft out into the north woods. In other words, there is absolutely no reason in the world why anyone, other than a soldier or a cop should ever have one of these massive, armor-piercing killing machines. But want them, they do.

Now, the most enlightening part of this article is the quote from a gentleman who sells guns. I had to read it three or four times, just to make sure I got it straight...

"We all think it's the first step toward banning sniper rifles," said Michael Fournier, owner of the Gun Exchange, a shop in San Jose. "They keep chipping away a little at a time. Eventually they'll try to get them all."

Okay, call me crazy, but why exactly would a ban on sniper rifles be a bad thing? Remember, this guy was are his fanatical friends in the "guns are fun" lobby. One of their arguments in favor of the gun is that "it has never been used in the commission of a crime in the United States." Swell, neither was anthrax until three years ago.

One more note. I grew up using guns. I had a pellet gun when I was 14 and went on to hunt with rifles and shotguns for years. I mention this only as background, because so many "gun nuts" claim that those of us in favor of gun control are all wussy suburban geeks who've never stalked the ever-elusive Bambi.

Whether we can ever get a handle on the millions of guns already the US is debatable. The genie may be so far out of the bottle, that we will never poke it back in. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to try to hold back the night.

Monday, January 03, 2005

"Jesus Loves The Ethically Challenged"

Close your eyes and imagine this scene, which may have occurred a couple of years ago. You are in the nation of Liberia. Tyrant Charles Taylor proclaims that he is going to water down the ethics rules of this government so that he and his henchmen can't be held accountable for their crimes and misdeeds. Your response? Ho hum. Totally expected from such a crazy guy in a such a lawless nation.

Now open your eyes tomorrow morning as the Congress of the United States is gaveled into its first session of 2005 -- and watch as Republican Party power brokers attempt to do the same thing, right here in the little ole U. S. of A. From where I sit, I see no difference. Any attempt to weaken ethics rules is a brazen assault on the citizens of this nation. The politicians behind this (and it's pretty much a GOP team effort) might just as well spit in our eyes and strike us with their ivory walking sticks. Such is the way the rabble has always been dealt with.

The ethics rules end-run does, however, affirm what we all should know; politicians believe themselves to be above the rest of us and to be somehow immune from the slings and arrows of outrageous behavior. But will our red-state brethren get it? I doubt it.

Somehow, for some reason none of us can cypher, the "self righteous right" will not see the contradiction in all this. They will readily accept that men and women who want to eviscerate ethics rules (which are essentially, the moral struts which support us all) can, at the same time, blather on about prayer and Jesus and the Bible in every other sentence. They will quote scripture, then run and hide behind an array of weak "rules" when they "sin" in office. To update an old joke, "Jesus Saves! DeLay scores on the rebound!"

It's a pathetic way to start the new year and the new Congress. From my cynical perch, I don't see it getting much better in the months ahead.