Thursday, June 28, 2012

Celebrating What, Exactly?

In a 5-4 decision announced today, the United States Supreme Court has upheld the individual mandate provided for in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  The justices did not find that Congress could mandate individual insurance coverage by governing interstate commerce, but did find that a penalty for not buying insurance could be considered a tax and, therefore, legally imposed in this instance.

Reaction from the public as manifested in online comments in response to the news is falling into two distinct categories.  On the one hand, there are those who are screeching this is the damnable but undeniable dawn of socialism, with the seal of approval from the USSC.  Some of them seem rather hysterical in their predictions that The End of Civilization and All That Is Godlike is nigh.  On the other hand, (mostly) Democrats are declaring victory for what the media abetted the right wing by labeling Obamacare almost two years ago and pretending like this is the best thing since sliced bread...Take that, you right wing nuts!  Obama promised health care reform and he delivered!

I think the truth of the matter makes fools of both sides on this one.  Let's get real here:  The PPACA is a socialist dream only in the realm of right wing fantasy and is a comprehensive overhaul of a dismal health care system in this country only for those desperate to make something of value out of a crap sandwich.  Further, both prevailing positions are predominantly political in purpose, with those who are screaming socialism doing so because they're determined to deny Obama four more years in the White House, all while the celebrants of today's decision are certain it's just what their guy needs to get his second term.

What does any of this actually mean for the future of health care in the U.S.?  Well, the proponents of the PPACA will repeatedly (and correctly) advise of the millions of people who will no longer be denied medical insurance because of a preexisting condition.  They'll also remind that the infamous "doughnut hole" built into Medicare prescription coverage will be eliminated, saving some of us a couple of thousand dollars every year. A graphic from Upworthy is making the rounds on social media today to convince everyone the Supremes gifted the American People with the announcement of their decision.

Those are not "bad" things, of course, but they are no more comprehensive health care reform than they are a Satanic socialist plot to take over the nation.

At the risk of sounding all libertarian like here, I want to say I think the Supremes got this all wrong.  I don't think the Constitution grants authority to require us to be purchase insurance in order to access health care, or even vehicle insurance in order to drive...or to wear motor cycle helmets or seat belts, for that matter.  Those may be prudent decisions for an individual to make, but I'm not convinced the Constitution allows the government to penalize us if we don't make them.  

Am I glad more people will have health care coverage as a result of this Supreme Court decision and that millions of Americans will catch a break on their medical expenses?  Yup.  But I'm pissed that everybody is acting like this is what is needed to bring health care in this nation out of third world status in just about every measurable criteria.  It isn't.  A single payer system is the only system that will ever assure parity in health care and break up the criminal enterprise that has become the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.  We ended up with the PPACA aka Obamacare because the right wing in this country pulled out the socialism bogeyman and everybody else did what they always like hell from it.  The result has been that a ton of money has kept lawyers busy for two years and, once again, those in charge keep the rest of us squabbling over a tiny sliver of their pie.  

In the end, today's Supreme Court ruling will benefit some of us.  That's better than a stick in the eye.  But, so, too, would be nothing, and what we got today falls closer to the "nothing" end of the scale than the true reform end.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

No Justice for Sandusky

A jury has convicted ex-Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on 45 counts of what everybody is calling "child sex abuse."  He will be sentenced for his crimes sometime within the next 90 days, but it seems likely that Sandusky, now 67 years old, will spend the rest of his life in prison.  Is this justice?

That depends on who you ask.  For some, I'm sure a justice scenario for Sandusky would include horrors replete with repeated rape episodes in prison and end, ideally, in a slow but sure and excruciatingly painful death he'd have hours or days or even weeks or months to pray for before it came.  But, would that be justice?

Not if the concept of justice includes anything about equivalency, because no matter what happens to Jerry Sandusky between now and the end of his life, he will experience it as an adult.  His victims were children, children violated in the most personal of ways by an adult charged with their well being.  It is not possible that Sandusky will experience the same feelings of helplessness and hopelessness those children experienced when he assaulted them.  

Nor will he get to experience the psychological devastation of a child's ability to trust or even to know who to trust being irrevocably shattered because the person who was supposed to protect him was the same person who hurt him.  He will not likely live long enough to endure decades of horrific flashbacks and nightmares as his victims have, experiences his victims will still wake from in terror while the state shelters and feeds him.   

Sandusky will also likely be spared the agony his young victims experience in years of therapy in which they attempt to save themselves by trying to figure out how what happened to them was their fault.  Is that twisted?  Yes, it is.  Because that's what Sandusky did.  He twisted and distorted all reality and sense of well being and security for each of his victims for the rest of their own natural lives.

No, there will be no justice here.

Damn the media and everybody else for the past year that has called what Jerry Sandusky did to maybe scores of children for a period of at least fifteen years "child sex abuse."  Let's be clear.  Sandusky raped children.  Children.  He raped them.  Headlines have used the cleaned up euphemism so as to protect our sensibilities, perhaps, but that only compounds the offense.  Sandusky raped children and if we refuse to say so, we perpetuate the illusion that it doesn't happen and can justify the other headlines that claim we've all been "shocked" by the revelations.  If we are still "shocked" at the disclosure of children being raped, we need to get over it because our denial doesn't mean it isn't happening and makes it possible for it to go on in churches and schools and gyms and homes all over the country every day of the week.  If we insist on keeping this in the "shocking" category, we're suggesting it isn't happening with much frequency.  

We're lying to ourselves and re-victimizing all of the children who have been assaulted by Sandusky and others like him if we can't at least call by name what has been done and acknowledge that nothing about this will ever be anything like "justice" for Sandusky or his victims.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Let's Get Stupid

If you wanted to devise a plan that would assure the dumbing down of an entire population, what would it look like?  On which fronts would you need to organize your assault?  There's no need for lengthy deliberation about an answer here because others have already come up with a plan that virtually assures we will become a nation of poorly informed individuals.  It's a plan that was implemented years ago and is now running full tilt boogie.  It's been in place long enough, too, that now we have evidence that this plot is working and we in the U.S. are, indeed, largely uninformed, and on the way to becoming perhaps even more so. 

How has this happened?  Broken down into components, the plan is stunningly simple, really, and it builds and feeds on itself.  And, just what are those components?  Which actions needed to take place, where and by whom?  Let's take a look-see and see what the process has been.

Control the media

In the past three decades, ownership of media outlets in the U.S. has consolidated to the point where we now have only a half dozen huge corporations weilding absolute control over 90% of the media available to most of us.  This group of six corporations (Comcast, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS) controls public discourse, and they do it beginning with the decisions they make about which stories or issues they're even going to cover before they get to the place where they present the preferred story from the perspective of their own bias and agenda.  It doesn't matter whether the consumer favors newsprint, television, radio, or even online sources for news...Comcast and News Corp et al create the message, present it as "news," and run it over and over again on all their outlets until it becomes what passes for "truth."

This means that even those people who make conscious attempts to be informed on issues have to work hard to access more than a party or corporate line perspective.  Sometimes, you have to dig deep to even find out there is a story.  Unfortunately, too few of us make the effort required, for whatever reason, and I think we can expect to see more studies that show in concrete terms the disaster for an informed populace that is the result of people relying on corporate controlled media for their news.  A recent study conducted by the Fairleigh Dickinson University offers a look at what happens when, for example, the preferred vendor for news is Fox and demonstrates perfectly the point I'm trying to make here. 

Buy politicians you can count on

Once you've secured control over most vehicles for public communication through consolidated ownership of media outlets, the next thing you need are politicians who will happily accept your financial support and, in turn, use the bully pulpit of their elected office to promote any agenda you want promoted.  Of course, if what you want is a dumbed down population, these spokespersons will need to espouse an anti-science and generally anti-intellectual position.  If you can get them to couch it all in Biblical or otherwise religious terms, it's a double play, because nothing confounds logic or fact like faith and belief.

American anti-intellectualism is not new. It's a sentiment voiced as long ago as our colonial days, a time when John Cotton proclaimed, "The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee." Perhaps Puritan Cotton's opinion had a biblical basis, grounded in the text of Genesis with God's admonition forbidding partaking of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.  Albert Einstein would later observe, "Highly developed spirits often encounter resistance from mediocre minds." Indeed. Anti-intellectualism is pernicious class war waged by the same people who accuse others of waging class war when social inequities are raised. They accuse others of snobbery while demonstrating their own. Touted as a populist stance, anti-intellectualism grows faster than, well, arugula.

The next time you hear someone like Senator Inhofe from Oklahoma with his "global warming is a hoax and humans are arrogant" message, or the likes of Texas Governor Rick Perry explaining why it's a good idea to teach creationism right next to evolution, at least you'll know why. 

Assure that the text books of your choice are used in schools across the country

With corporate media creating and controlling the message and public servants in place to tout the party line, you can afford to move next to control what's taught in schools so you can prepare young students to be future consumers of your conglomerated media and to vote for your bought and paid for mouth pieces so the party won't stop for future generations of your personal lineage.  And, if you want your version of history, science, and everything else taught in schools all across the country, you can get the ball rolling by working, really, just one or two states...because text book publishers, like other capitalists, are about making a profit and they make more money publishing the books they can sell the most of.  What that effectively means is that populous states like Texas and California with activist school boards pushing an anti-science agenda are in a position to dictate which textbooks get published just on the basis of the sheer volume of their orders.

The Week has an article that lays out just how this all comes together.  But it's important to note that, even if 21st century technology makes it easier for publication houses to do short runs or altered runs, your children are still screwed if your own local school board is taken over by zealots like the ones in Texas.  The battle over text books is taken very seriously by the anti-science crowd and that's why you've seen so many activist school boards in recent years. 

Rape limited resources available for public schools by pushing private charter schools and vouchers for private schools as progress and "choice"

This part of the plot reminds me a bit of the ruse so often run about Social Security in this country...the one where you break something then decry its sorry state and use its "failure" as justification to dismantle it.  Uh huh.  (You might also consider the U.S. Postal Service here as another case in point.)

Access to free public education changed this country for the better and I'm not sure how even the nitwits can argue otherwise in the context of overall creativity and ingenuity, productivity and, yes, even corporate profits.  Civil rights battles in the 50s and 60s made a lie of the old "separate but equal" myth, and integration would soon force us to see just how unequally those who had been separated had been educated in their "separate but equal" schools.

So, the answer now to our problems in public schools is to separate?  Again? Into charter, magnet, parochial, and otherwise private institutions of learning?  Well, maybe it is the answer if what you want is a compliant but mostly uninformed segment of society to be drones or robots in service to your profit margin. 

Scapegoat teachers and their unions for all of society's ills

If there's a problem in our public schools, it's because teachers are evil and the unions that represent them are how they're able to support lavish lifestyles while corrupting our children.  Because, of course, only the truly vile would strive to go into debt getting an education so they could get a job requiring them to spend six hours a day in a confined space with small humans who have not yet developed the full range of behavioral adaptations required for peaceable assembly.  Right?

Controlling the media and textbooks is not enough if you cannot silence the only people who really know a great deal about education...teachers.  It's critical that they be demonized, otherwise people might actually listen to what they have to say about teaching-to-the-test and the rote "learning" they are so often mandated to pimp.

Frame any free access to information as an unwarranted "entitlement"

The internet has played a key role in removing barriers to information and, until recently, if you could afford to pay an internet service provider every month or get to a public library, you could have at your fingertips more information than you have time in your life to consume.  Not since the invention of the Guggenheim press has how information been disseminated changed so quickly or dramatically.  Access to information in the hands of the great unwashed?

No, not in this plan.  Enter fees for online access to news sites, accompanied by insistence that the publication's survival depends on it (their online advertising revenues aside, of course) and the suggestion that it's all "worth" it because nothing's free and to suggest otherwise is socialist or...

Same for public libraries.  In tight economic times, who needs them when we have so many pressing concerns, anyway?  After all, who really reads?  Elites?  Shuttering facilities and reducing both staff and hours of operations limit access to information.  Period.  So, of course, it's a necessary part of the plan too.

A different plan

We need one.  And we need it in a hurry because this handcart is rollin' down the track at full speed.  Who hasn't seen the spectacle of Jay Leno's street interviews?  I'm pretty sure those people breed and I'm afraid they may also vote.  We need more of us and fewer of them and the only way I see for that to happen is for us to come up with our own plan that begins with confronting the lie that public education and the money to pay for it does not benefit every single one of us, no matter where or how we live.  It's in our own best interest to rally whatever resources we can to create a new paradigm, one in which being uninformed isn't seen as either the status quo or even in some perverse way a desired state of being as early moralists and now their modern day version suggest. 

Some of us may need to consider running for school boards ourselves, as organizing on a local level has proven hugely successful for the ones responsible for this mess.  We can vote for politicians to represent us who want our children to be educated, not indoctrinated. 

We can again call out the lie that separate will ever be equal.  We must.  But we also must confront the idiocy that there's something immoral or bad or otherwise wrong about wanting more and better anything for ourselves and others.  Including access to information.  There is nothing any more "wrong" about accessing information with which one equips oneself to live ones life than there is "wrong" with wanting to eat when you're hungry or shelter and a bed to sleep in when you're tired.  When you get right down to it, I'm not sure any of us is equipped to pursue either life, liberty or happiness without information on which to base life altering decisions.  That means we need to get smarter, not more stupid.