Mar 22, 2005

Being Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Is Not an Oxymoron

I totally agree with the following statement issued by the White House after president Bush signed a law intervening in the Terri Schiavo case, "our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life." I wish this were the case in the U.S., but it isn't! We don't have a comprehensive public policy that reflects this. Life is, well, valuable. But, we must also ask, what kind of life?..
Liberals are pro-life! We believe in protecting life and enhancing it with quality, and individual choice! We are humanists and therefore we hold the presumption in favor of life when it clearly matters. When the self-appointed guardians of human life worry about when two cells meet in early stages of gestation, or when there is no brain activity/identity,while they do little otherwise to enhance people's quality of life, then they are clearly missing the point. Intentionally? You decide.
The Republicans circulated a memo in the Senate which said that the Schiavo case would "excite" the conservative base and would be "a great political issue!" This president and Congress have not acted with such expediency before. For example, Bush didn't rush to Washington after getting the PDB in August of 2001 (a month before 9-11) which said that AlQueda was planning to attack in the US using highjacked airplanes, and when other terrorism warnings were "blinking red!" He didn't come back from his vacation either when the tsunami killed 150,000 people recently.
Had the Schiavo case happened in Texas, it would have been over by now since the then governor Bush signed a law giving the spouse and the patient's doctors the final say in matters of life and death. Want more of hypocrisy? Let's see, Bush signed a law in Texas that the state can turn off life-supporting devices in cases like Schiavo when the patient has no insurance to pay for the indefinite extraordinary care, even if the family wants such care to continue! How's this for having double standards?
Oh, could the White House please explain to us how the president's statement applies to his record of executions as governor? "Take, for example, the case of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded man of thirty-three with the communication skills of a seven-year-old. Washington's plea for clemency came before Governor Bush on the morning of May 6, 1997. After a thirty-minute briefing by Gonzales, Bush checked 'Deny' just as he had denied twenty-nine other pleas for clemency in his first twenty-eight months as governor".[Mitigating circumstances included] the fact that Washington's mental handicap had never been presented to the jury that condemned him to death."- NY Review of Books,1/13/05.

My contention is that those conservatives, the rapture right, and president Bush don't really care about human life after it exits the womb. I simply don't understand how their religious morality makes them fight so hard against abortion--assuming that the fetus at any stage is a human life worth defending--but as soon as it's born it's not much of their concern any more! I wonder how many Americans have died in the last few weeks, while the Schiavo case is being fought over, because these poor souls didn't not have adequate, or any, health care.... If we, as we should, defend life, shouldn't we do whatever we can to protect it and enhance it? Many Americans die because they're poor--they cannot afford even basic medical care. In addition to promoting democracy the president should also try to reduce the 20,000 deaths that occur every day around the globe because people are poor--no access to clean water, vaccines, medicine, and, because this president has cut off funds to any international agency that gives out condoms, talks about family planning, AIDS prevention, etc.

Terri Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) for 15 years. Her cerebral cortex has been replaced by spinal fluid, in other words, her brain is gone. It cannot be reconstituted. In the last seven years, all the impartial courts and the doctors involved have consistently agreed that she's in "a persistent vegetative state ...with no hope of a medical cure", and the courts have backed her husband's decision (based on Terri's own expressed wishes) to end the artificial life-support treatments. The federal courts have the power to intervene had a fundamental right been abrogated. Last Friday, the US Supreme Court turned down an appeal to intervene.
The so-called compassionate conservatives, again, are using a wedge issue to gain political points, though it seems they've miscalculated on this one.
An ABC poll showed that most Americans oppose, by broad margins, the federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case. However I don't think personal choices and medical decisions should be made by popular polls. A responsible adult should have the right to his own privacy, including to choices of medical treatment, and use his person in any way seem fit to himself. Furthermore, a person should have the right to end her life in a dignified manner, even with professional assistance, when confronted by a terminally dilapidating disease.
The good thing this case has brought to us is that so many people are talking about the subject and taking the time to think and express their own preferences when confronted with a similar situation on their own. Everyone should have a "living will" [obtainable easily, like this form from the NYS Bar Association] which makes clear what a person wants done in his last days. Talk to your family, friends, your doctor about your wishes. It may be unpleasant to confront one's mortality, but it's the responsible thing to do, for you and your loved ones. Responsibility and choice go together, and this is liberalism.

Every human life is precious, has the same value and dignity. Our society, our laws, our courts, our elected officials should reflect this. We can debate when human life begins, but we have to use the best tools at our disposal--the scientific method & knowledge-- to understand and make decisions in the personal and public spheres. Religious beliefs (which are many, varied, and often contradicting each other) may serve as the believer's moral guide, yet, such beliefs are not facts and therefore shouldn't be imposed on others who don't share them.
The defenders of life, liberals among them, also care about the quality of life after birth, and in the final stages of our physical existence. Being a free person also means having the liberty of choice, especially when it involves one's own self. It is indeed a matter of life and death!

Because several people and the irresponsible media have been throwing around accusations and claims of conspiracy, I'm adding this "footnote."
The US Supreme Court declined, again, on 3/24/05, to take up Schiavo's case, which means all courts have consistently ruled in agreement regarding the course of action and who acts
on behalf of Terri Schiavo. There have been over some 20 state and federal judges who have examined all evidence in the last 7 years and heard hundreds of hours of testimony, pro and con.
Every neurologist testified in the case has said Terri is in a "persistent vegetative state" (PVS, which I realize is different that coma) and every physician involved has concurred that she has no hope for recovery. Removing the artificial life support, again, won't make Terri suffer. This article explains what happens to the body of a PVS patient.)
This brings us to the sphere of the ridiculous claims: There is this former Schiavo nurse, Carla Sauer Iyer, who claims that Michael Schiavo had been abusive towards his wife, and other allegations about Michael's motives. The judge in the case dismissed Iyer's claims as "incredible!" Even Terri's parents (who are fighting against the tubes removal) did not seek Iyer's testimony! But you wouldn't hear this on any self-proclaimed "fair and balanced" network.
You will hear this, though: the claims of a
convicted crook and a charlatan, Dr. William Hammesfahr, who says that he can help Terri Schiavo. He thinks Terri is not in a coma! You wouldn't hear that this doctor has been disciplined by the Florida Medical Board. You wouldn't hear that he had earlier advocated that Terri Schiavo didn't need a feeding tube! You wouldn't hear that this doctor is a member of a religious group that does not accept an individual's choice not to be kept alive by artificial means! Ten years of court decisions have upheld the findings of many neurologists who all have testified that Terri is in PVS.
This begs the question: are those people, who are opposing the removal of the tubes, also against a person's right to choose her treatment under a terminal/irreversible condition? I know the answer, do you?

The U.S. Living Will Registry can provide you with lots of information and forms for the particular state living wills, organ donation, and health care provider/community partners.

Mar 14, 2005

"Fair & Balanced" But Hardly Truthful

I don't know how many of you noticed the fuss about ABC's censorship of Boston Legal last Sunday, but it's ironic, the show was about free speech. The Disney-owned ABC asked the writers to remove a reference to FOX News Network. Who could ever think that Fox News is biased? Horrors! So, ABC played it safe by censoring the script of Boston Legal! Yet, we, fans of the show, noticed the writers' jibe at ABC, that censorship is alive and well and it's applied even on a ..drama show! Also, they left in the script the reference to new documentary Outfoxed (on R. Murdoch's war on journalism and the distortion of the truth). Smooth!
I've worked as a journalist, and I've never pretended that I didn't have an opinion. But opinion is one thing and distorting the facts is another matter. Journalism is about the hunt for the truth. Is it not? As usual, the Boston Legal writers made some excellent points. In the Cronkite days, you could turn to the news to find out what was going on if you didn't trust what the government was telling you. Not anymore. News for the most part is seen as another purely commercial, entertaining activity. Give the people what they want, a character on Boston Legal argued. Why not?, Over at FOX News there is a better world--we're winning the war in Iraq (with hardly any casualties), the economy is performing beautifully for every American, and you do feel that you are in the company of fellow patriots!
On the same day, The New York Times reported that at least 20 federal agencies have made and distributed pre-packaged, ready-to-serve television "news segments" to promote President Bush's policies and initiatives. Congress' Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that these "video news releases" were illegal "covert propaganda" and told federal agencies to stop. But, last Friday, the White House ordered all agencies to disregard Congress' directive! Expect nothing more, or less. The Bush administration is using hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to manipulate public opinion. This is illegal, but this also is in your face politics--the ethos of the neo-con Republicans and as practiced by Bush. Just take a look at his judicial appointments and his rewarding of the liars and the incompetent people of his praetorian guard to see this concept applied.

Send a message and tell them to stop using our money for mindless covert propaganda. Media Matters is another excellent site that monitors distortions by the media, especially those who don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.
The self-proclaimed "fair & balanced" network is indeed right: it's fair both to the neo-cons & the traditional conservatives; and, it's balanced between promoting intolerance and ignorance. We have to admit that Fox's been very effective! Its viewers, who also tend to be Bush supporters (surprise?), still believe that we've found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that Sadam & Osama are blood brothers! [editor's note: Let me check on the tooth fairy thingy and I'll get back to you]
As the late Senator from NY, Patrick Moynihan, used to say, everybody is entitled to his opinion, but not to his own facts!

Mar 11, 2005

We're Losing a Great Friend in the Senate: Sarbanes to Retire

Senator Paul Spyros Sarbanes (D-MD) won't seek a 6th term and will retire next year. This is a sad day for us because we're losing a true liberal and a people's representative of the utmost integrity in the highest elective offices of the nation.
"It was not my ambition to stay there until they carried me out,'' he said plainly and added that his decision to retire wasn't due to health reasons, though he acknowledged that his age, 72, was a factor. Paul has been a reliable liberal voice and an activist on economic and social issues. Just last week, he was one of only a dozen Democrats in the Senate to vote against a bill that would make it harder for ordinary Americans to go through bankruptcy.
I've met Paul several times, had the chance to talk to him, and I can say, without reservation, that this fellow Greek American impressed me--and I'm not easily impressed by politicians, stars or other people of dubious fame. Sarbanes has led by example. He is a true intellectual and a great public servant. The man deserves a break, especially because he's been one of the most hardworking elected officials, but his ethos, I'm sure, will keep him engaged as a contributor to liberal causes and to the public discourse. We'll be watching you Paul.

Mar 8, 2005

Squeeze an Elephant Into Your Frame

Having good political positions isn't good enough. Having a clear message is a must. As a matter of fact, the way a message is crafted and presented to the public is more important than the validity of the claims and the soundness of the argument. I'm not for dumbing down, nor I am for an Orwellian newspeak.
I used to think that "the truth shall set you free, " but even being armed with a truckload of facts you won't very far in the sphere of politics where, unfortunately, impressions dominate over the facts. The good news is that the progressive base of the Democratic party today is very active in the debate over the party's future, and that, finally, they're setting up think-tanks and grass-roots organizations to establish a two-way communication.

The Democrats seem to have a problem formulating a clear message and picking the right messenger to deliver it. Richard Margolies from the
Maccoby Group suggested to me that the Dems, from a personality standpoint, are attracted to obsessives: Carter, Dukakis, Mondale, Gore, Kerry. These messengers are confusing because they get lost in the details. They make lists, they love the complexity of issues and love explaining them. I couldn't agree more. It's intellectually honest to have the facts on your side, but they can serve as a support, not the focus themselves, and should be available for whomever is interested in looking into them.
Dr. Margolies added, Clinton was not an obsessive, he is a narcissist, as was Johnson. Narcissists tend to articulate, when they are really talented, a clear vision. Bush is not a narcissist, he is our first president with a marketing personality, a person who has little ideas of his own but knows how to play to his market. To that I'd add, Bush came out as good as he did because he was compared to an obsessive. Having so many objective negatives (approval ratings, direction of the country, jobs, economy, etc) against him, Bush nevertheless got more Americans to vote for him than Kerry! Look, I am not looking for the ideal candidate. Maybe they don't exist, and certainly they don't run. Yet, Kerry would have had a good chance of winning if he had never hired the usual losers (read recent post on the consultants) who perpetuate the same stale message and wooden language.

I've been thinking about his for a long time, ever since I realized that too many Americans hold false beliefs on important issues. Yes, it has to do with human psychology, but also it has to do with the images & messages available to them. Even simple things like WMD in Iraq. Further, anyone with a little effort and minimal critical skills could determine that there was no connection between AlQueda and Iraq, and that the latter had nothing to do with 911. Unfortunately, as high as 30-40 % of Americans still maintain those beliefs!
I worked for the Kerry campaign in Ohio, and throughout my stay there I talked to many people. Even those who voted for us admitted to me that Kerry was too confusing! They thought his message wasn't clear enough, and they even held (unfounded) views of him as defined by the other side! Bush's simplistic and emotional message was better received. This is the puzzle we have to solve.

We don't lack the facts or the ability to confront the other side's talking heads. This is important, and we're learning to do so, unlike in the past when we didn't bother to discuss or debate ridiculous arguments. That was a big mistake, because we gave the impression that the Repubs were right! So, again, the impression mattered a lot. Therefore the problem lies elsewhere. The question is how to reach these people. The ones who control the language also tend to win the debates. The Dems must go to school and learn how to frame the issues. I would urge everybody to read George Lakoff's, Don't Think of an Elephant!,which is a blueprint on how the Dems and progressives can win. Lakoff, a linguist, also explains how to frame the issues and use the appropriate language.

We always have to be thinking about the intended audience, because we, thinking progressives, tend to include too many details (which is OK if we're in search of the truth/facts), but we have to craft a powerful message on a few pillars and promote it relentlessly! The details can be available to anyone who cares for them, but too much information, even if correct, often confuses and distracts, making the message less clear. I'm a polisci guy, but like a good comedian I know that if you lose the audience you bomb!

Mar 3, 2005

Protection for the Wealthy When They Screw

But the Unprotected Will Have to Pay
The proposed law on bankruptcy has some peculiar provisions, namely the wealthy could shield most of their assets in trusts. Before 1997, they had to hide their assets outside the country, but since then, many states have made it easier for the rich to keep much of what makes them ..comfortable after a bankruptcy! The Sarbanes-Oxley law made the executives personally liable for the illegalities of their companies. Yet, the current bill doesn't touch this topic. The rich can cover their ass(ets), claim bankruptcy and pay no hefty fines for their wrong doings.
Yes, but how about the shame you ask? Surely you understand that the wealthier a person is the more he needs to ..cover his shame, you know, like frequent trips abroad and estates big enough to hide himself from the public! Please, don't ask me to dignify the remark about the "double whammy:" the directors of the bank/credit corporations who screw the public, are themselves the ones who get preferential treatment! Yeah, and the point is?

It is truly obscene to see Republicans and Democrats in agreement ready to screw the American consumer. For example, they voted 74 to 24 not to cap the APR at 30%! I guess that's not high enough. [After all, the creditors would say, you seem to be a very high risk debtor, because you let us push you into that predicament... So, shut up and pay, or else!]
Other amendments that were defeated: to protect old people from losing their (only) home, and meager savings; to require the credit card companies to fully disclose the actual interest amount the consumer has to pay, and the exact terms & conditions under which this can change! You did know that if had a problem with one creditor, all the other creditors could dramatically raise your APR, right?

If you charged someone, say, a 35% interest, it would be considered "loan-sharking," but usury fees & other charges seem to be just fine to our elected "wise guys." Contact them, and voice your concern now. This bill will affect all of us who use credit; it's not only about bankruptcy and perks for the rich people/corporations. This administration has been duping the public for a while now (remember the WMD). You know what the crooks say about the oft-fooled: stupid people deserve to be mugged.

Using the excuse of ending the abuse (read: by the average person), the banking industry, through the Republican one-party-rule, is pushing this bill. Some consumers do pile up debt with reckless spending, but the truth is that most of the people end up in bankruptcy court because of unforeseen or dire circumstances: like a job loss, medical (yes, because of the travesty of our health care system) expenses, and divorce. These are the same people who have no big assets to protect. It's the super-rich who have houses, money, and investments to protect, and the current bill in Congress provides for them in spades. It is also an obscene payback to the credit card companies that made $30 billion in profits last year.

When are we going to stop this mugging? It's puzzling to me that a nation of consumers--and, boy, we do consume--doesn't seem to understand ..consumerism! This proposed bankruptcy law is shameful, no ifs, ends or buts. Don't want to use protection? OK, but at the very least you must say, NO, to this monstrosity!

In an earlier posting on this blog, there was a discussion about the rewards the credit card and banking industries have been getting from the Bush White House. Molly Ivins, Suzan Douglas have written excellent articles on this topic, and PBS's Frontline did a story on the secret history of credit cards last month. If you use money, read and act.

PS>I wanted to elevate a point made by SK (NY) in the comments section here..."What everybody has to understand is this: THE RICH WHO FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY DO NOT DO IT FOR MONEY PROBLEMS! They do it to PROTECT their assets and KEEP their money!" Also read Elizabeth Warren's interview; she's a Harvard professor and an authority on the subject.