Saturday, July 28, 2007

Health care wars and the lies the for-profit racketeers tell us

Health care is either a right or a privilege: Ultimately, that’s going to be the central question regarding any efforts at health care reform

As Michael Moore’s “Sicko” continues to draw huge crowds and spawn spontaneous health care reform advocacy groups all across the country, the health care industry is planning to hit back hard.

They’ll attack Moore’s credibility, discredit the movie’s core thesis, hammer on the horrors of government control, provide a list of uplifting bullet points detailing for-profit medicine’s contributions to the good of society, conduct endless push polls, create case studies detailing the horrors of other countries’ health care systems, and build a phony but cogent case for continuing the American way of medicine, along with its disgracefully inequitable delivery system.

For-profit medicine – insurance, medical facilities, specialized equipment manufacturers and the like – was a $1.3 TRILLION business as far back as 2000, and it’s safe to say that figure has only increased in the seven intervening years. The companies who have a stake in maintaining that massive revenue stream will do whatever it takes to convince Americans that they would be crazy to modify or dismantle “the best health care system in the world.” As always, PR and advertising will be the preferred weapons of mass disinformation.

Back in the early ‘90s, the “we’re number one” myth’s public faces were a folksy old couple named Harry and Louise, who polluted TV advertising every evening for months reciting industry propaganda and spreading fear of “radical” change that could place our very lives in jeopardy. All this as the ill-fated Clinton health care plan gradually sank beneath the combined weight of its own complexity and the groundswell of public opinion, taught to them by Harry and Louise, against reforming such a perfect system.

This time though, things are a bit different. Anger is everywhere and sharply focused on the source of the problem. Nearly everyone’s had their own personal HMO moment by now, and it’s likely going to take more than the estimated $100 million Harry and Louise campaign to sway public opinion industry’s way. But never underestimate the vast amounts of money the health care racket is willing to spend to keep its front-row seat on the gravy train. They would have spent 10, 20, 30 times the $100 million Harry and Louise cost and still considered it a bargain, given that they retained their ability to bilk consumers out of trillions for another decade and a half. And that kind of money buys some very clever, skillful media strategists and professional opinion manipulators.

Observers of the fine art of manufacturing consent are eagerly waiting to see how the health care industry slithers its way out of this latest assault on its revenue stream. One thing is certain, as the mass media sages like to say: If things get serious enough that Congress actually moves Dennis Kucinich’s HR 676 single-payer, universal-access plan out of committee and onto the floor for a vote, all of us will be the targets and/or victims of the most egregious assault on critical thinking and common sense since the Supreme Court ordered the Florida recount stopped because the results might be prejudicial to Bush’s contention that he had won the state’s electoral votes. And that’s a tough one to beat.

Here are some of the industry's most treasured talking points to scare us into compliance and empty our pockets in service to the god of market-based medicine.

The “S” word
Might as well get it out in the open, because as soon as somebody raises the topic of a taxpayer-funded universal-access health care system for the U.S., the chorus starts bleating “socialized medicine; socialized medicine” like a combination of Chicken Little and the last Cold Warrior, until everybody starts looking under the bed for Commies and subversives.

Fact is, we’ve already got socialized medicine. It’s called Medicare, and it’s absolutely astounding how the subversive evils of socialized medicine for people aged 64 years, 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds are magically transformed into an untouchable entitlement program when the clock ticks one more time.

It’s both comic and tragic to watch our elected representatives fall all over themselves in an effort to defend Medicare while denying its very nature. Comic because only a clown would try so hard to avoid the taint of socialized anything while advocating tirelessly for that very thing. And tragic because the rest of the world doesn’t have to do the free market orthodoxy dance, and gets better and far more affordable health care as a result. We can only look beyond our borders with appreciation and envy as other populations get healthier and ours gets more sickly and desperate by the year.

And here's the crowning insult: The US taxpayer already foots the bill for the bulk of all health care expenditures in this country. A seminal Harvard Medical School study shows that, in 1999, the US taxpayer shouldered the burden for just under 60 percent of all health care costs nationwide. That percentage represented $2,604 per capita at the time, which means government spending on health care in the US was higher than total per capita health care expenditures in any other country -- including those with single-payer, universal-access national health care systems. So we're paying for national health care; we're just not getting it.

More of the usual scare tactics
In late 1993, during the alleged U.S. health care debate, a conservative academic and columnist named Thomas V. DiBacco wrote an article that was picked up by a number of daily newspapers and whose headline read, “Health Reform Could Kill Individualism.” This is in sharp contrast, one supposes, to the current system, which only kills actual people while leaving prevailing free market ideological mythology in place.

But this is the kind of inane argument advanced by privatized health care apologists, as if anyone in his or her right mind gives a tinkers damn about the merits of individualism, American-style, while they’re busy dying on a feces-stained, urine-soaked mattress because they exceeded their lifetime benefits cap and couldn’t afford a hospital bed where they might get treatment, or even a hospice where they might at least die with dignity.

Other phantom phobias and industry favorites include:

• Single-payer will force us to ration health care. Nonsense. Health care is already rationed in this country. Or more accurately, it’s auctioned off to the highest bidder. To the shock of no one, study after study shows that the rich tend to recover from illness far faster and far more completely than the middle class, who in turn are doing way better than the poor. A single-payer plan erases those class distinctions, which may well offend the 4 or 5 percent of the population able to pay out-of-pocket for premium medical care, but will put the rest of us on an equal footing.

Poverty as health risk is borne out by a late-‘90s Tufts University study, which concludes that poverty is the single most dangerous risk factor in America – ahead of genetic predisposition, bad habits, dangerous jobs, extreme sports and poor diet combined.

Which leads us to the inevitable: According to a study released in May 2002 by the Minnesota-based research firm Institute of Medicine, approximately 18,000 Americans die each year because they lack the basic medical coverage necessary to get proper health care. Only in America is lack of private health insurance a capital crime.

• Single-payer will cost too much and raise taxes. Nonsense. The current debacle costs each American more than anyone else, anywhere else in the industrialized world. And payment doesn’t end at the pocketbook; there are some things you simply can’t put a price tag on, like recovering from an illness because you had the right care from the right people at the right time. Managed care, by making sure that none of the above happens without throwing a huge bureaucratic hissy fit, is simply a cruel hoax. After all, if they were so effective at controlling costs, health insurance premiums wouldn’t be rising by double-digit percentages each year.

• Single-payer will kill choice of physicians. Nonsense. Managed care killed your freedom to choose a long time ago. If your doc is in the plan, great. If not, you’re paying a fair percentage of your own medical bills along with your bloated premiums. Single-payer, on the other hand, doesn’t place any restrictions on who you see, despite industry propaganda to the contrary. And logically, if all docs are operating under the same rules and are paid by the same entity, why should there be any questions about freedom of choice? The argument makes no sense.

• Single-payer will create an army of government bureaucrats who will have control over our health care needs. Nonsense. There’s already an army of bureaucrats in charge of our health care. The difference is, private health care industry bureaucrats advance up the corporate food chain largely on the basis of how well they control costs – which is code for how often they’re able to deny coverage without incurring lawsuits. Public bureaucrats, such as Medicare administrators, are also graded on how well they measure up to their job descriptions, although those descriptions rarely include how effective they are at killing off their clientele.

• Single-payer will turn over our health care to the people who run the post office. Nonsense. For all their well-documented inefficiency, the fact is the Feds do many things pretty well – one of which is the Medicare system, which only takes about two or three cents on the dollar to administer, as opposed to the 25 to 40 percent overhead we pay the industry parasites so they can deny us coverage.

Moreover, many things are just too important to be subjected to the bottom-line mentality. Police and fire departments are perfect examples. Both are single-payer, universal-access services provided to the public through a modest tax on all so that individuals don't have to pay for private security or face bankruptcy because of a giant bill for privatized fire-fighting services if their house goes up in smoke.

And really, why would anyone want the air traffic control system privatized? There you are suspended seven miles in the air when the captain comes on the intercom and tells you that Glutco Air Traffic Solutions, Inc. has just laid off 40 percent of its workforce, including most of the people who staffed the control tower at the airport you're heading to.

Industry happy talk and the leaked BC/BS memo
To balance the fear mongering, there will also be continual recitation of happy talk platitudes about how the health care industry is constantly striving to improve service, expand covered procedures, control costs and otherwise incrementally improve the Best Health Care System In The World.

Here are a few “positive spin” talking points excerpted from a leaked Blue Cross/Blue Shield memo written by a communications VP named Barclay Fitzpatrick regarding the anticipated “Sicko” backlash.

• The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) and the 39 Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are committed to improving the U.S. healthcare system for our nearly 100 million members through continuous innovation that reflects the ever-changing healthcare landscape and the needs of the consumer.

• The Blues recognize the need for improvement of both the coverage and delivery of healthcare. But the divisive tone set forth by Michael Moore and his movie "Sicko" is not helpful. Positive change to our healthcare system can be best achieved through shared responsibility, not recrimination. To ensure Americans have access to the best healthcare that is both timely, efficient, and of high quality, requires the collective contribution of all stakeholders -- consumers, providers, employers and the government.

• The Blues participation in the Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured is a primary example of how the broader healthcare community is working together to reduce the number of uninsured in the United States.

• The Blues are working on myriad initiatives that ensure Americans have access to quality and affordable healthcare. Each day, Blue Plans across the country are bringing healthcare value to their members in a number of ways such as new advances in health information technology and greater access to cost and quality information.

The Blues, indeed. You can read the entire memo here, which includes the priceless, oft-quoted line “You would have to be dead to be unaffected by Moore’s movie,” and links to a letter from Moore in which he challenges Fitzgerald to a public debate – which will happen about the time my mortgage is paid off.

Beyond the PR wars
After the character assassinations and scare tactics and ads extolling the overarching wonderfulness of the for-profit system, we’ll eventually be presented with a clear choice: Continue to squander huge sums of money on a scam that is systemically incapable of providing decent health care for all. Or follow the lead of every single other industrialized country – and quite a few who aren’t even close to industrialization – and create a fair, universal-access, single-payer system that doesn’t limit its services to those with the fattest wallets.

Most of the rest of the world has decided in favor of the latter. Thus far, the US has taken the former position. It’s up to us, the tens of millions of individuals most affected by this hideous, malevolent, soulless system, to force our representatives to obey their constituents because, other than a few gutsy people like Dennis Kucinich, Congress certainly isn’t going to do this on its own. After all, when has altruism ever been a property of governments, particularly when so many of our alleged representatives are so well paid by the health care racketeers to look the other way.

The for-profit medical system, along with its accomplices and employees in Congress and the executive branch, has managed to con Americans into believing and even parroting the industry's talking points that tout the inherent wonderfulness of privatized health care. This is a sad tribute to the death of critical thinking and the ascendancy of PR and advertising to take its place.

But despite the best efforts of our bought-and-paid-for political "leaders," who are delivering exactly the kind of government you'd expect in an insanely corrupt bribocracy, they can only keep the peasants down for so long. "Sicko" has unleashed decades of pent-up rage at the sheer inhumanity of the American health care model. It's hard to find anyone who isn't furious at the profits-over-patients ethos that drives that model and -- happy, happy, glorious day -- they're finally starting to organize. There will be hell to pay if politicians continue to ignore this issue, or offer half-baked faux solutions that seem on the surface to be improvements but, according to the fine print, only serve to protect and perpetuate the status quo.

Health care is either a right or a privilege. Ultimately, that’s going to be the central question regarding any effort at health care reform in this country. And when the dust finally settles, after another 18,000 or maybe 36,000 Americans die from lack of health care, it's increasingly likely that the industry parasites, the rabid free-marketeers, the privatization zealots and the paid apologists for this deadly system will be the ones left behind.

A version of this article first appeared in Online Journal July 6, 2007. Go here to read my follow-up on the Journal, or just scroll down an inch or so and read it here.

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Universal health care, Islamic extremists and the gleaming scalpels of doom

“We must remove their appendixes over there so we don’t have to do it here.”

OK, I made up the quote above. Even President Malaprop hasn’t tried that one yet, although it’s likely being tested for credibility and traction on some focus group as we speak. But to the point…

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article for Online Journal called “Health care wars and the lies the for-profit racketeers tell us.” I wrote it to offer my best educated guesses on how the health insurance industry will attack Michael Moore’s “Sicko” and, even more critical to them, blunt the groundswell of public anger and outrage this movie has generated all across the country.

News reports and blog postings from Florida to Alaska suggest Moore is responsible for creating widespread public revulsion regarding our ongoing public health catastrophe. Apparently, it crosses standard demographic barriers, race and class distinctions. And it points an accusing finger directly at the tragicomic fiction that the for-profit health care industry’s sole concern is the welfare of its subscribers.

A little background
My column was written from the perspective of someone whose day job for the past 15 or so years has been consulting spinmeister to corporate America. Prior to that, I was a “senior media relations manager” with a division of a very large software company whose initials are not MS. In short, I’ve got a ton of experience at devising PR strategies and campaigns, some of which have included damage control or “crisis management” as their prime objective, and all of which are designed to deceive, manipulate opinion or destroy the counterweight of critical thinking – or all of the above. It’s soul-shriveling work, but it pays well.

I often atone for my professional sins by using my experience to help people understand how, for example, effective corporate spin-doctoring shifts the focus of cynicism and outrage away from the machinations of big business and attempts to direct it toward whoever or whatever is challenging their public image and benevolent-corporate-citizenship mythology.

Creating and focusing mass opinion
This process of shifting public focus from the crimes of the perps to sins of their accuser takes many forms, occasionally by attempting to rebut the challenger’s views, but more often simply by assassinating the challenger’s character. This has become standard practice in business and politics. You have only to look back to 2004 and the “swift-boating” of John Kerry to see it elevated to an art form. And now Moore is having his own swift-boating experience, trashed by the usual reactionaries as an anti-American, anti-free market, anti-capitalism fanatic who wants to destroy one of the US’ most dominant corporate institutions.

Having destroyed the challenger’s credibility, the tactics now shift to engaging the enemy in “reasoned” debate. In any PR campaign, sets of official talking points evolve to provide “balance, context and support” for the official story. In this case, about a half-dozen standard objections to single-payer specifically, and to universal access in general, pop up every time these issues are widely discussed – the last time being Clinton’s bloated, indecipherable “near universal coverage” plan, which still scared the industry into a $100 million ad campaign to convince Americans that they’d be nuts to tamper with the status quo.

So for last week’s article, I put together a set of talking points that I expect we’ll hear from the usual corporate shills in Congress and mass media. I also provided arguments and counter-spin points that easily debunk the conventional nonsense about the dark secrets and socialistic evils of universal health care.

And I thought I did a pretty good job overall. However, last Thursday, even as my article sat in Online Journal editor Bev Conover’s computer, scheduled for placement in Friday’s edition, the health care industry came up with something so ridiculous, yet so ingeniously creative, that I really should have seen it coming.

Fox News: The wingnut full-employment act
With Fox News’ customary humility and understatement, we learn that “Today on Fox News’s Your World With Neil Cavuto, National Review Online columnist Jerry Bowyer attacked Michael Moore’s movie SiCKO and its positive portrayal of the health care in countries such as Britain and France.”

OK, so what? Been there, done that. However, Bowyer unveiled a brand new industry weapon in the health care wars. Official wingnut doctrine says Americans must fear Muslim extremists. They must also fear universal health care. It’s pure genius to combine these two phobias and come up with this caliber of hogwash. From the Bowyer transcript (and people say he hadn’t been drinking):

“A state run health care enterprise is bureaucratic, and I think the terrorists have shown over and over again, whether it’s dealing with INS or whether it’s dealing with airport security, they’re very good at gaming the system with bureaucracies. They’re very good at getting around bureaucracies…

“And if one of your guys is a jihadist, if one of your doctors is spending all the time online reading Osama bin Laden fatwas, someone’s going to notice that (in the US). But the National Health Service is more like the post office, you know there’s a lot of anonymity, it’s easy to hide in the bureaucracy.”

As evidence, Bowyer cites the recent bombing attempts in the UK, which were allegedly perpetrated by seven National Health Service doctors, along with the wife of one of the docs who also works in the medical field. All eight are immigrants from either India or the Middle East, all eight came to the UK because the NHS suffers from a chronic shortage of qualified docs and nurses (thanks mainly to Maggie and Major underfunding it for 17 years in a Tory effort to get Brits to support US-style privatization) and all eight are Muslims.

So apparently Bowyer’s thesis is: Single-payer, universal access means millions of Americans who had previously lacked the insurance or the money to visit a doctor would suddenly flood waiting rooms, hospitals and clinics all across the country. The current supply of trained medical professionals in the US won’t be able to handle an additional 80 million patients (consensus rough estimate of the combined number of uninsured and underinsured in this country).

Docs and nurses would have to be imported from other countries, some of them inevitably Islamic, to cope with the onslaught of new patients. Some of those countries breed, harbor or covertly encourage Islamic jihad against the US. Therefore, medical professionals from those countries could also be fanatical anti-US Islamic terrorists using newly enacted single-payer legislation as leverage for fast-track immigration clearance. Once admitted to the country, they would simply disappear into the anonymity of a giant new health care bureaucracy, treating patients by day and blowing up the American infrastructure by night.

You can check Jerry out further at his web site. He’s actually a fairly interesting guy for a wingnut and, from reading through some of his articles, I get the feeling he’s not enough of an ideological purist to be the point man for this kind of garbage. Still, there he was on Fox…

The right wing echo chamber circles the wagons
You’d think that any self-respecting pundit would run away from such complete idiocy as if his pants were on fire. But that would be underestimating the lockstep cohesiveness that characterizes the right wing in America these days as it clings desperately to any argument, no matter how absurd, that advances its intellectually and morally bankrupt agenda.

So, in support of Bowyer’s fantasy -- which looks very much like a trial balloon floated by the industry’s PR machine to see how many imbeciles buy into it -- syndicated columnist, author, luxury cruiser with other National Review luminaries and more raving wingnuts than there are asteroids, star of the TV/radio interview circuit and tireless self-promoting right wing shill Mark Steyn weighs in with a July 8 piece on the horrors of imported docs, intensifying the endless 9/11 hangover that’s warped the thinking of millions of gullible Americans and feeds the free-floating fear, suspicion, angst and xenophobia that typifies it.

“Does government health care inevitably lead to homicidal doctors who can't wait to leap into a flaming SUV and drive it through the check-in counter? No. But government health care does lead to a dependence on medical staff imported from other countries.”

See… he’s a reasonable guy. He recognizes that not all Middle Eastern guys with swarthy complexions and medical degrees are fanatical anti-western bomb throwers. But that possibility remains, and if we institute single-payer here, we open ourselves up to the same kinds of terrorist threats now present in the UK. After all…

“Mohammed Asha, Mohammed Haneef and their comrades didn't even require a work permit to come and practice as doctors in state hospitals. You don't have to be the smartest jihadist in the cave to see that as an opportunity…”

Steyn’s position, translated into our native tongue
So, to extrapolate, Mark actually prefers having about 45 million uninsured and another 35 million or so underinsured so they can’t over-stress the current supply of docs and medical facilities and force Mark to wait a little longer to see his proctologist.

If those 80 million suddenly have access to quality medical care – which is to say, if they can finally get that weird lump looked at by a specialist, or have that painful scratched cornea treated, or get that CAT scan or blood test or MRI or tox screen or any of the other standard medical procedures that well-insured elitists like Mark take for granted while 80 million Americans go without – if that happens, they’ll quickly overwhelm existing medical resources and the US will have to look abroad to fill staffing requirements.

And because in Jerry’s and Mark’s delusional world a certain percentage of these overseas docs will prove to be Islamic terrorists, buildings will come tumbling down, bridges will collapse, pets will be poisoned (wait; somebody already did that), Jeeps will be set aflame and launched at airport ticket counters… They might even disrupt communications such that vast areas of the country would be prevented from seeing reruns of “American Idol.” Now that’s terrorism.

In his own words
Just so you understand where Mark’s coming from, here are a few jewels from his own web site.

On Iraq: In the summer of 2002, Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, warned BBC listeners that a US invasion would “threaten the whole stability of the Middle East”. I wrote: “He’s missing the point: that’s the reason it’s such a great idea.” Invading Iraq made sense because it offered the best way to prick the puffed-up pustule of regional stability.

On nationalism and xenophobia: … America is the western world’s odd man out, and has been increasingly since September 11th. Personally, I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m delighted the United States is “out of step” with, say, Belgium. Not because I’m Belgophobic. If the Belgians want to support the International Criminal Court, keep Saddam in office until his nuke arsenal is ready to fly, and continue subsidizing Yasser Arafat’s pay-offs to the relicts of suicide bombers, that’s fine, go ahead, you’re an independent nation.

On the liberal media: Six imams returning from a big conference of imams were removed from a plane at Minneapolis Airport after other passengers grew concerned about loud cries of “Allah akbar,” the imams reseating themselves in the same configuration as the 9/11 hijackers and demanding seat-belt extenders, even though none was of sufficient girth to need them. Aside from Fox, America’s national media showed little interest in the story. Nor, oddly, did the local media. …This is one of those stories that runs for a couple of days because he (a daily newspaper editor) chose to run it only for a couple of days. Had it been something more consequential – like, say, fictitious stories about guards at Gitmo desecrating the Koran – he would have run it into the ground.

And of course, Holy Joe likes Mark’s new book: “The thing I quote most from it is the power of demographics... But the other part is a kind of confirmation of what I know ... that Islamist extremism has an ideology, and it’s expansionist, it’s an aggressive ideology. And the title (“America Alone”) I took to mean that we Americans will have ultimate responsibility for stopping this expansionism.” Senator Joe Lieberman (Democrat [sic] of Connecticut)

So Mark’s a predictable purveyor of right wing doctrine, a counter balance to Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativism,” a staunch supporter of the US as antidote to the European world view, and a prominent member of the “fear, fear, terror, terror, all the time” paranoia-perpetuating chorus.

Personally, I wouldn’t trust such a warped personality to make correct change at McDonalds. Unfortunately, in today’s poisoned media ecosystem, he’s one of its more ubiquitous partisan hacks and influential fear-mongers.

Compared with the usual low standards of wingnut punditocracy, which lives by its ability to annihilate reason and logic, this one is unusually slick. Linking two of the right wing’s most terrifying phantoms into a single talking point is sheer PR genius, and I really should have seen it coming. That it’s inane, insane and incredible is beside the point. Just connecting these two harbingers of doom is sufficient.

I may need to take a few refresher classes, attend a thought manipulation seminar, read Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” again. I’ve got to upgrade my skills lest I become another of those unemployable ghosts who spend their time on the Web sniveling about the good old days and trolling LinkedIn in case somebody’s actually looking for them.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Online Journal on July 13, 2007

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Monday, July 23, 2007

The marketplace of ideas: empty shelves and dusty aisles

...and why obliterating Rush and the thousands of wingnut motormouths he spawned -- by means such as death by sponsor abandonment -- is vital if there is ever going to be a functional marketplace of ideas in this country. Next step after that would be to assert the public's right to the airwaves -- a legal right, I'm told -- and reclaim them from the corporate oligarchs who determine the range of permitted thought in America. But first...

The marketplace of ideas assumes two non-optional components: The marketplace is free and open to all ideas, no matter from whom and no matter how weird. And the "consumers" are informed, intelligent and capable of discerning one idea from the others based on the validity of the idea itself -- no PR, no advertising, no positioning, no pandering, no spin.

The internet seems to meet the first requirement, although it's limited in that participants either own or have access to a computer, know how to use it well enough to connect to the Internet, live in a place with the appropriate telecom infrastructure, and have the means to pay for that access. Still, those barriers are falling all over the world and, as a result, there is a relatively unfiltered forum for the marketplace of ideas to peddle the full range of its wares.

However, a true marketplace of ideas capable of reaching everyone who wished to tap in would by definition have to include TV, print media and radio. Since those media are virtually all under the control of large corporations whose vested interest in the status quo makes presentation of the conservative world view inevitable, and unbiased presentation of a full range of opinion impossible, I would argue that the marketplace of ideas doesn't really exist in any useful sense, at least in this country.

As to the second requirement, polls consistently show that TV news is the sole or primary source of information for about 92 percent of Americans. So passive consumers of ideas are lulled to sleep by the continuous repetition of narrow points of view that almost universally support the status quo. Active consumers can turn to the Internet as an alternative to TV news, but the above-mentioned polls suggest that at most 8 percent do so as their primary source of information.

Add to that the hideous state of public education in this country, the diminishing time people have to do anything but work, pay bills and "put food on their family," the complete absence of "un-spun" reporting in conventional media, the horrible morphing of the press into a cheer leading corps of status quo stenographers and, to seal the deal, the absolute dominance of the AM and FM bands by Clearchannel and a couple of other media giants, none of whom are shy about hosting right wing hate speech -- consider all these factors and I suggest the average American idea consumer lacks both adequate information and the basic critical thinking skills necessary to separate spun hogwash from fact.

For example, it's a "fact" that more than 3,600 American military have died in the Iraqi invasion and occupation. Spun hogwash takes that fact, coats it with equal doses of phony patriotism and official White House fear-mongering, and if those death tolls are ever even reported on TV news, they're linked to the latest line about Iranians slipping over the border and killing US troops in Iraq. This kind of subservient, uncritical "reporting" is designed to drum up public support for BushCo's insane assertions that the US needs to exact revenge on Iran for allowing these alleged hit squads to organize and train in that country. Just fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here, as they like to tell us undiscerning morons.

Un-spun ideas can compete successfully in a fair fight, and I'd be surprised if progressive positions didn't swamp wingnut ranting if given an equal hearing. The problem is that anyone who uses M$M as their sole source of information can go weeks, months or, on Fox or CNN, years without hearing a progressive viewpoint, unless it's voiced by that candy ass Colmes who exists solely to portray liberals as eunuchs that the mighty Hannity can whip with one frontal lobe tied behind his back.

The problem is access, and we ain't got it. We have the Internet, where progressive and regressive web sites exist by the tens of thousands. But we're non-existent as far as Ward, June, Wally and the Beav are concerned. Not wrong; not misguided -- just not heard at all, except when a wingnut talker abstracts some out-of-context half-quote attributed to a liberal and spends the rest of the hour laughing at it. And only callers who agree get to be on the radio, so there's no possibility of refuting the wingnut position.

It seems like the forces arrayed to prevent progressive/left ideas from hitting the mainstream are pretty overwhelming. In addition to nut-case radio, the Internet is getting unwelcome scrutiny from the privatization crowd. The FCC is looking to charge tolls for fast web site access (and keep the ones that won’t or can’t afford it in second gear). Some (including me) speculate that this is just a first step toward putting non-corporate web sites out of business – and in the process effectively silencing the last remaining medium available in which progressive/left ideas thrive.

TV news is, as always these days, pathetic (and I imagine that Murrow’s ghost is much disturbed). Even newspapers, long admired (somewhat more than they’ve deserved) as sources of unbiased, unvarnished information, have decided, with a few notable exceptions, that their advertisers want zero controversy and prefer a status quo-boosting venue to peddle their wares.

When GE buys Air America, expands it into hundreds of new markets, promotes the hell out of it and puts actual lefties back behind the mic, then we'll have the faintest beginnings of the sound machine the right wing has enjoyed for decades.

When people ignore TV news in sufficient number, and boycott the sponsors who pay for this garbage, then programming heads will roll and changes may emerge that include encouraging reporters to hurl actual questions at Bush and his spokespersons/apologists rather than the softball, no-follow-up scripted bit of infotainment that passes these days for a press conference.

When the US “papers of record” – the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal (reporters, not editors) – learn that progressives can afford their ad rates, too…

Nah, that would be to go against their very nature as tools for manufacturing consent and coalescing public support around the policies of those running official Washington.

After all, these media conglomerates often have business before various federal regulatory agencies and they don’t want to be seen as enemies of the state.


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Here's what I think...

Just to start things off, I'll give you an overview of what I see as a few current critical issues, with links and comment throughout.

Things are lively but inconclusive and frustrating on the impeachment front. And as usual, Nancy Pelosi is spouting more apologist nonsense, this time with a whole new talking point about how the party could become fragmented over impeachment and, as a result, fail to win super-majorities in 2008.

That's nice, Nancy, but please don't expect me to buy into yet another clichéd argument on the heels of such brilliant ones as: He's going to be gone anyway so why bother (even though a couple of recent presidential directives [not subject to congressional vote or review] set the stage for martial law and cancellation of the '08 elections, along with the seizure of assets of anyone disagreeing with BushCo's Iraq policies, assuming any exist).

Or how impeachment wouldn't leave enough time to do the peoples' business (even though impeachment is the ONLY valid way to serve the people right now, unless bombing and possibly nuking Iran, continuing the Iraq genocide, and escalating domestic repression and voiding the Constitution are now regarded as great ideas by our slack-jawed, Fox-poisoned idiot citizenry).

Or how we should give the investigations time to work, even though BushCo simply laughs at the subpoenas and orders his subordinates not to honor them -- for which he should be indicted for obstruction of justice, yet another impeachable offense that carries serious criminal penalties unless you're a republican named Scooter Libby -- or any other republican, for that matter.

There are at least four really good reasons to impeach Bush and Cheney right now, along with the rest of this hideous administration:

1 Simple justice says they must be held accountable for their crimes, and punished to the full extent of the law.

2 Their totalitarian agenda must be exposed so that the American people understand the magnitude of their unprecedented criminality.

3 Somebody has to put a stop to their murderous agenda before they can nuke Iran or shed any more blood in Iraq or Afghanistan.

4 They must serve as an example of what will happen to the next right wing cabal if it tries to replace representative democracy with fascism.

And then there’s impeachment as the last means of self-defense. It’s getting a bit urgent, and all the pieces are in place to install a pure fascist dictatorship. Below are links to the presidential directives mentioned above, an excerpt from a particularly odious provision within each of them, and articles or blog postings explaining their significance.

This is the most recent, and sanctions property and liquid asset seizure for pretty much anyone BushCo deems a pain in the ass. Here's the text of the directive:

How to legally steal your stuff

Here's a particularly awful part:

"(c) the term "United States person" means any United States citizen, permanent resident alien, entity organized under the laws of the United States or any jurisdiction within the United States (including foreign branches), or any person in the United States. (NOTE: Corporations aren’t exempt, unless they’ve recently donated large sums to GOP campaigns,)

(B) undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people; (NOTE: this means anyone at all who's pissing them off, including anti-war protesters and those who donate to leftist political organizations)

Sec. 5. For those persons whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order who might have a constitutional presence in the United States, I find that, because of the ability to transfer funds or other assets instantaneously, prior notice to such persons of measures to be taken pursuant to this order would render these measures ineffectual. I therefore determine that for these measures to be effective in addressing the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13303 and expanded in Executive Order 13315, there need be no prior notice of a listing or determination made pursuant to section 1(a) of this order." (NOTE: which means they snatch your stuff and you don't know about it until, say, you stick your card in the ATM and find you have zero balance)

And here’s comment on what this actually means in real life:

Outlawing the anti-war movement

The following is a link to two earlier directives, signed May 9, 07, both of which provide the framework and excuses for implementing martial law (which is what declaring a national state of emergency means to these swine). Note that Bush is to be the sole guarantor of the continuance of Constitutional law under these conditions, and that he’s the only one who gets to define what constitutes grounds for declaring a state of emergency.

Lock up the usual suspects

A couple of looks behind the curtain:

“(b) "Catastrophic Emergency" means any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions;“ (NOTE: which means Katrina, a Calif. quake, a flood in the Midwest, a massive power outage, etc. could all trigger the marvelous plans that comprise most of the rest of the directive.)

“(18) The Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall provide secure, integrated, Continuity of Government communications to the President, the Vice President, and, at a minimum, Category I executive departments and agencies.” (NOTE: This would be making sure the usual shadow government entities have uninterrupted access to Il Duce and his puppet masters in the secure white house.)

“(6) The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government for ensuring constitutional government.” (NOTE: You may have noticed BushCo’s ongoing respect for Constitutional law, and may assume that such respect will continue after the dictatorship is in place.)

Comment on this blueprint for totalitarianism includes this article detailing the rise of fascism under Bush:

Imperialism and fascism are on the rise in the USA

This one is specific to the DHS and National Security directives:

Bush anoints himself ensurer of Constitutional government in emergency

And this one is the best of the bunch and deals with fabricated “terrorist” attacks (more on that below) as pretext for nuking Iran:

Bush directive for a "catastrophic emergency" in America: Building a justification for waging war on Iran?

So we’ve already seen that the events that would trigger these security state actions are pretty arbitrary, and are defined by Little Lord Hissyfit himself. Meanwhile, there has been a great deal of “buzz” about upcoming terrorist activities against “the homeland.” Predictably, our free press is all over this one, since it gives them yet another opportunity to wave their pompoms and cheer on the Bush Death Machine.

DHS head Michael Chertoff spoke of his “gut” feelings about an impending attack last week (although most attributed it to a pastrami and swiss sandwich of questionable vintage). Here’s Keith Olbermann’s take on Chertoff’s intestines:

Al Qaeda in Michael Chertoff's Stomach: The Terror of a "Gut Feeling"

However, unlike Chertoff, whose resume includes his utter uselessness during the Katrina aftermath, this guy might be worth paying attention to. A former Reagan administration insider credited (?) with the invention of “Reaganomics,” author and national syndicated columnist Paul Craig Roberts is no flaming lefty propagandist. And if he’s concerned, then so am I.

My wake-up call: Watch for another 9/11-WMD experience

A “false flag” operation is an extreme act of governmental propaganda that can consist of mass violence like 9/11, or a manufactured incident – such as the Gulf of Tonkin "attack" – perpetrated by elements in the US security apparatus and blamed on the contemporary US whipping boy and his shadowy band of swarthy evil doers. So Osama was immediately identified as the chief 9/11 perp -- although the entire 9/11 myth is seen by most of the world as a convenient fairy tale to enable BushCo's resource and power grabs, while the North Vietnamese leadership was blamed for the Gulf of Tonkin incident -- which history now tells us never happened.

The intent is to create consent for the next governmental outrage du jour -- like bombing Afghan or Vietnamese civilians -- further demonize the designated bad guys, scare the hell out of the public, encourage rabid unquestioning patriotism, and provide popular support for actions alleged necessary to prevent similar atrocities in the future -- which generally means a military attack on the usual disposable brown people, along with suppression of dissidents at home. Roberts says this about the possibility of BushCo pulling off another one of these false flag black ops:

“Alternatively, false flag “terrorist” strikes could be orchestrated in the US. The Bush administration has already infiltrated some dissident groups and encouraged them to participate in terrorist talk, for which they were arrested. It is possible that the administration could provoke some groups to actual acts of violence.”

In the case of the 9/11 “attacks,” reprisals included invading Afghanistan and Iraq, occupying both, causing massive civilian casualties and incidentally providing the muscle for the US to deploy a huge, permanent military presence in the heart of oil country.

So… still think impeachment isn’t appropriate? Martial law, end of the great democratic republic experiment, asset seizures, terror terror all the time everywhere...

“It Can’t Happen Here,” as Sinclair Lewis titled his novel that demonstrates the opposite, and chronicles the rapid US devolution from representative democracy to fascist dictatorship.

Oh sure it can. In fact, the whole thing is spelled out in the right wing think tank Project for a New American Century's (PNAC) 2000 manifesto called "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century." You can download it as a pdf file by clicking on that link. Before you read it, it might be interesting to look at the signatories at the back of the document. You'll recognize quite a few names.

So just give these maniacs time to put a few more minor pieces in place and we'll suddenly find our thoughts enclosed by virtual razor wire, our savings donated to the GOP, our houses sold to pay for the voracious war machine, our jobs exported, our families broken up -- and Orwell's vision will finally be realized: As O'Brien says to Winston Smith near the end of 1984, "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."

Then imagine your face and some BushCo fascist thug's boot. Think maybe it's time to fight back?


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