Monday, June 29, 2009

Honduras: As you are me and we are all together--Coup, coup, k'joob

Today in Teguc (emphasis mine):
One day after the country’s president, Manuel Zelaya, was abruptly awakened, ousted and deported by the army here, hundreds of protesters massed at the presidential offices in an increasingly tense face-off with hundreds of camouflage-clad soldiers carrying riot shields and automatic weapons.

The protesters, many wearing masks and carrying wooden or metal sticks, yelled taunts at the soldiers across the fences ringing the compound and braced for the army to try to dispel them. “We’re defending our president,” said one protester, Umberto Guebara, who appeared to be in his 30s. “I’m not afraid. I’d give my life for my country.”

Leaders across the hemisphere joined in condemning the coup. Mr. Zelaya, who touched down Sunday in Costa Rica, still in his pajamas, insisted, “I am the president of Honduras.”
As you may have noticed in comments about the Honduran coup at Cogitamus, a number of opposition party supporters have deluged my post, as well as writings at other US blogs and newspapers, with bold assertions about the Honduran army having "protected democracy" and "upheld the rule of law". Numerous allegations about President Zelaya's various transgressions are scattered throughout the thread, but not a single one is supported with linked documentation; I have not been able to verify them independently, outside of what the international media are reporting, and what they are reporting--namely, that the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations, and the European Union, unanimously and unequivocally, condemn the illegal arrest and kidnapping of President Zelaya--flies in the face of that which our new Honduran rightwing friends are saying, and saying with gusto, sometimes in ALL CAPS, and often in Spanish, with a few insults aimed at CNN for good measure.

Having only read portions of the Honduran constitution (and arrgh, if you think legalese in English makes for tricky reading...), I cannot say for certain that it does not have a special amendment tucked into it somewhere that legally authorizes the congress to order soldiers to invade the president's bedroom, kidnap him at gunpoint, fly him out of the country in darkness, falsify a letter of resignation from him and forge his signature on same, and install a brand-new president within hours. But I'm reasonably sure there are no provisions of that nature. If, however, there is such an article, subsection, or amendment that I may have missed, Estimados Lectores con abilidad de leer en Español e interpretar la ley Hondureña para nosotros Gringos, favor de avisarme.*

[*Dear Readers with the ability to read in Spanish and interpret Honduran law for us Gringos, please let me know.]
Mr. Zelaya, 56, a rancher who often appears in cowboy boots and a western hat, has the support of labor unions and the poor. But he is a leftist aligned with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, and the middle class and the wealthy business community fear he wants to introduce Mr. Chávez’s brand of socialist populism into the country, one of Latin America’s poorest. His term was to end in January. [...]

The military also appeared to be moving against Mr. Zelaya’s allies. Local news outlets reported Sunday that Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas and the mayor of San Pedro Sula, the country’s second-largest city, had been detained at military bases.

The government television station and another station that supports the president were taken off the air. Television and radio stations broadcast no news. Electricity was cut off for much of the day in Tegucigalpa on Sunday, in what local reports suggested was on military orders. Only wealthy Hondurans with access to the Internet and cable television were able to follow the day’s events.

The Congress met in an emergency session on Sunday afternoon and voted to accept what was said to be a letter of resignation from the president. Mr. Zelaya later assured reporters that he had written no such letter.

Interesting, don't you think? Grassroots movements cannot possibly spread when they're trampled by combat boots day in and day out; contrarily, Astroturf will grow like a bloody weed when its opponents can't access any means of electronic communication. And as you'd imagine, the poorest citizens of the Americas' poorest nation are not exactly weighed down with Apple products and satellite dishes.

Also at Cogitamus.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Heads Up: Honduras in political crisis after apparent coup


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemns Zelaya's arrest.

Countries and leaders of all political persuasions, and across the Western Hemisphere, are united in their opposition to the Honduran coup.

A Honduran resident, commenting at the NYT (emphasis mine):
I want to report that all national and international news networks were pulled out from the cable system as the Coup unfolded. Now at noon only the Televicentro Network, owned by Rafael Ferrari, and main critic of Manuel Zelaya Administration along with OPSA (owned by Jorge Cahanhuati) is back on air along with others that favored the Coup (Maya TV). The rest of newtorks that leaned towards Zelaya remain off the air along with international networks. Even CNN HD was pulled out shortly after John King reported President Obama's comments on the issue.

The Congress has received a resignation letter from President Zelaya and has accepted it. Mr Zelaya has denied he signed the letter on CNN en Español.

Hope The Times do something to verify my version and denounce this limitation of freedom of speech.

From President Obama's statement: “I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic charter,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

From Tegucigalpa:

Later on Sunday, the Honduran Congress voted Mr. Zelaya out of office, replacing him with the president of congress, Roberto Micheletti. [...]

Political tensions have increased as Mr. Zelaya pressed ahead with plans for a nonbinding referendum that opponents said would open the way for him to rewrite the constitution to run for re-election despite a one-term limit. In the weeks leading up to the referendum, supporters and opponents of the president held competing demonstrations.

Last week, the Supreme Court and Congress both declared the referendum unconstitutional. But on Thursday, the president led a group of protesters to an air force installation and seized the ballots, which the prosecutor’s office and the electoral tribunal had ordered confiscated.

After the armed forces commander, Romeo Vazquez, said that the military would not participate in the referendum, Mr. Zelaya fired him. But the Supreme Court declared the firing illegal.

Honduran soldiers guard streets around the residence
of just-exiled President Zelaya.

Early today, presumably in the wee hours of the morning, Honduran soldiers burst into the bedroom of President Manuel Zelaya, firing shots; according to his wife Xiomara de Zelaya, they then beat the president and dragged him away.
Troops moved through the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, and surrounded the presidential palace and other government buildings. The state television network was off the air as hundreds of angry Honduran citizens poured into the streets and shouted support for Zelaya. "The fact is, this is a coup d'etat and the president of Honduras has been kidnapped and beaten up," Honduras' ambassador to the Organization of American States, Carlos Sosa Coello, told CNN's Spanish-language network.

Janina del Veccio, minister of security for Costa Rica, confirmed that Zelaya was in her country. She told CNN that the president said he had been kidnapped from his bedroom and bundled into an aircraft, in which he was flown to Costa Rica. He was scheduled to speak to the press later this morning, she said.

The military action followed days of unrest ahead of a referendum over constitutional reforms scheduled for today. The vote was to ask Hondurans whether they wanted another referendum to change the constitution in a number of ways, including allowing re-election of the president.

Army leaders opposed the vote, which they, Congress and election officials said was illegal. In response, Zelaya last week fired the top military commander and then ignored a Supreme Court order to reinstate him.
I confess that despite my higher-than-average level of interest in Honduran current events (I lived in Tegucigalpa during my middle school years), I was caught completely unaware this time, and sort of stumbled upon the news of the coup via the BBC website, which led me to search around for more information.

But I predict we'll all be hearing more about this as the days pass. So here's at a bit of background on what has precipitated the current crisis, along with my memories of the bloodless (thank goodness) coup that took place back in 1974, when my family and I lived there.

Essentially, the current president-now-in-exile, Presidente Manuel Zelaya of the Partido Liberal de Honduras (the Liberal Party of Honduras or PLH), was chosen by the people in yet another controversy-wracked election in late November, 2005. The results were hotly contested and challenged by the runner-up and his party; Zelaya was declared the winner in early December '05, and ballot counts confirming his victory were released later that month. He took office in January 2006.

Zelaya's term, however, has been characterized by infighting, controversy, and severe disagreements with Honduras' military leaders, to put it mildly. The most volatile of these disputes centered around Zelaya's efforts to put to the vote a referendum that would have modified the Honduran constitution, including allowing a president to serve a second 4-year term if the voters so chose:
Zelaya, a leftist elected in 2005, has found himself pitted against the other branches of government and military leaders over the issue of Sunday's planned referendum. It would ask voters to place a measure on November's ballot allowing the formation of a constitutional assembly that could modify the nation's charter to allow the president to run for another term.

His four-year term ends in January 2010, and he cannot run for re-election under current law.

The Honduras Supreme Court had ruled the poll illegal, and Congress and the top military brass agreed, but Zelaya had remained steadfast.

In the end, it appeared the opposition to Zelaya was too great.

The military confiscated the ballots from the presidential residence, in effect canceling the disputed vote.
Honduras is no stranger to military overthrows of the government; indeed, the election of the PLH's Roberto Suazo Cordova in 1981 was the first time in over a century that the country had a civilian government. Nor is she a stranger to what I will charitably call "American guidance". At the bilingual school I attended in Tegucigalpa in the early 1970's, most of my classmates were the children of American and British diplomats, US Army and Air Force personnel and officers, agents of The Company, or--like my father--employees of American or British businesses operating in Honduras. As an eleven-year-old, it didn't occur to me to wonder why a small and terribly poor country--over 80% of Hondurans live in poverty--would attract so many Yanquis, nor did I question the purpose of building an enormous US-Honduran air base--Palmerola (now known as Soto Cano Air Base)--in nearby Comayagua. But years later, with my political conscience (and guilt-levels) appropriately raised, I figured it out.

Honduras is not an especially resource-rich country, but it is located right next door to Nicaragua, home of a then-brewing Marxist revolution movement--the Sandinistas--that grew out of disgust and disaffection with the corrupt, brutal reign of the Somoza family. The situation was obviously being carefully monitored by Uncle Sam et. al., and this was years before President Reagan upped the ante:
Upon assuming office in 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan condemned the FSLN for joining with Cuba in supporting Marxist revolutionary movements in other Latin American countries such as El Salvador. His administration authorized the CIA to have their paramilitary officers from their elite Special Activities Division begin financing, arming and training rebels, some of whom were the remnants of Somoza's National Guard, as anti-Sandinista guerrillas that were branded "counter-revolutionary" by leftists (contrarrevolucionarios in Spanish).
So, I watch today's developments with interest, with a heavy heart, and with no small number of memories awakened and rattling around in my head: turning on the radio one school-day morning and realizing that instead of the usual American Top Ten fare my friends and I enjoyed, it was now playing military marching music.

My mother telling us there was no school that day, and just to be on the safe side, let's all stay indoors. Soldiers, soldiers everywhere, even on the country's two television stations (which annoyed us housebound kids to no end--believe me, ancient re-runs of Popeye or Fractured Fairytales, all in black and white and dubbed in Spanish, are better than nothing, and certainly better than endless loops of soldiers marching!) Gunshot/guerilla drills when school did re-open (mainly, you're supposed to hit the deck immediately). Shortages of various food staples like sugar and flour, advance news of which had led my practical, smart Mum to stock our basement bodega, which dark and somewhat spooky storeroom, we were instructed, would also be the go-to hiding place for us children should our parents be away for some reason and soldiers came to the door (thankfully this didn't happen, but my arms bristle with goosebumps as I type this; my own boys just ran into the room, and once again I marvel at, and am grateful for, my mother's amazing calm and ability to somehow impart survival lessons to us without terrifying us to the point of paralysis).

I don't know the extent to which America is or will be involved in this latest development, but the fact that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has condemned the Honduran military's early-morning actions, and called for President Obama to do likewise, probably speaks volumes. My thoughts are with the warm and generous Honduran people, the poorest and least powerful of whom have been used as pawns, manipulated, stolen from, brutalized, and abused for as long as I can remember.

Photo via Reuters.

Also at Cogitamus.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Food, Inc., the movie: Food for thought; fuel for debate

In his Sunday column, and today's blog at the NYT, Nicholas Kristoff discusses the new movie Food, Inc., which aims to enlighten our increasingly unhealthy populace about the madness that is the nation's current and predominant food-production system (also known industrialized corporate agriculture or simply, Big Ag).
I’ve often criticized America’s health care system, and I fervently hope that we’re going to see a public insurance option this year. But one reason for our health problems is our industrialized agriculture system, and that should be under scrutiny as well.

A terrific new documentary, “Food, Inc.,” playing in cinemas nationwide, offers a powerful and largely persuasive diagnosis of American agriculture. Go see it, but be warned that you may not want to eat for a week afterward.
Full disclosure: my husband Robert's new venture--a solar-and-wind-powered organic and hydroponic vegetable farm with enclosed greenhouses--will be harvesting its first round of crops this fall. So as you'd imagine, Robert and I will definitely be going to see Food, Inc.; hopefully our state's various agribusiness barons didn't order armed guards to confiscate all the reel copies of it at the Georgia-Florida border (I kid, I kid...).

Have any readers seen it, and if so, what are your thoughts about the movie in particular and the effort to educate the public about Big Ag--and the health woes caused by processed, hormone-laden, genetically-manipulated, overly-fatty, corn-syrup-saturated rubbish that America has been conditioned to accept as food--in general?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Fathers' Day, Dear Robert

With big hugs and kisses from your very own gang of Mini-Me's. (And me.)

3 Boys Rocks!


Friday, June 19, 2009

@ President Obama: Please stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act

We Floridians are having one of those classic sticky-toffee summers, you know, the body-baking, inertia-promoting kind that predispose you to being in a bad mood, often before the day has even got off the ground.

It's not that. The normally all-affecting weather is irrelevant.

Nor is it the fault of Messrs. Worry and Fear; although I know them well (and who wouldn't, given how incessantly, how intrusively, they've been hanging around these days). Nor is boredom to blame, although that too, especially when I see someone engage in the same reprehensible behavior over and over, and especially, especially when that someone is not a child, but rather, an adult whom I'd previously admired; a leader, shall we say. At such times, as now, what I tend to feel is an oddly combustible combination of boredom and frustration, the results of which might best be described as fury, if that makes sense.

Right now, I am furious that in 2009, there are still some Americans who do not have equal rights, neither in reality nor even scrawled somewhere within the laundry list of moral abstractions that is the law. And I'm furious that the very presidential candidate who in February 2008 said this:
"Now I’m a Christian, and I praise Jesus every Sunday," he said, to a sudden wave of noisy applause and cheers.

"I hear people saying things that I don’t think are very Christian with respect to people who are gay and lesbian," he said, and the crowd seemed to come along with him this time.

...and who went on to become the first African-American to be elected president, igniting a breathtaking cosmic lightshow of a win for civil rights in America, has now, for reasons I cannot fathom, defended the loathsome Defense of Marriage Act in a brief filed by the DOJ, the logic of which was flawed; the language, utterly offensive.

From Credo, who will present a petition (goal: 30,000 singers, and they're already 70% of the way there) to the White House:

President Obama and Attorney General Holder cannot stand behind a brief which, per the New York Times, "cites decades-old cases ruling that states do not have to recognize marriages between cousins or an uncle and a niece."

Sign this petition today to ask President Obama and Attorney General Holder to withdraw this brief and apologize for its contents. We expect better from this administration than to compare same-sex marriage to incest.
Please do sign it, dear readers. It's but one thing, but it's something.

Also at Cogitamus.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

litbrit joins the twitter olympics...

Well, the heavy-handed censorship that Iran imposed on its citizens during the recent election couldn't contain the ongoing uprising and the thousands of twitter messages that made it out to the world; this, above all else, has convinced me that I ought to get with the program, join the kewl kids, and give the, er, newfangled whizzo technology twit-thingie a try, so here goes (eventually, I'll get the feed thing going in the right margin). You can now follow this writer/mother/dreamer's quips and quotidian mumblings on twitter, should you be so inclined:

Also, it gives me a great excuse to post another Python video (as if I needed an excuse, right?)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Feminism vs. the faint of heart: Help, help...I'm being repressed!

Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses!

Posted as a little thank-you to talented feminist blogger The Apostate, who found herself hosting an impromptu (and ever-growing) discussion group for the departing readers and ex-contributors (like Yours Truly) of The Feminist Blog Formerly Known as Shakespeare's Sister. In a June 4th post, Apostate wrote:
There’s more drama going on at Shakesville. It doesn’t seem like that blog is going to survive long in its current format. That format would be the “community we cherish” format. That format is doomed to failure because online communities are by definition dysfunctional.

If you read the threads linked in the comment I linked to, and if you have been following many of the ridiculous McEwan flounces over not getting enough money from blog-readers, and other conniption fits and the ensuing apologies, and the slams on regular commenters over minor infractions and the constant language policing, and the self-shaming and the worship at the altar of McEwan, and blah blah blah, you know what I’m talking about – it’s a madhouse.

Shortly thereafter, the 'Ville went dark, sending its current readers into a tailspin over the weekend. Then, early this week, a magisterial magnum opus appeared, one which chided "the community" for all its transgressions against their leader--to whose head, it must be noted, no gun was held (and that metaphor right there would've led to me being drawn and quartered, as would that metaphor), since blogging, as we know, is neither mandate nor sentence, but rather, a voluntary exercise in expression--and laid out an eight-point commenting guide (!) from which condescension dripped and splattered like so much spilled syrup.

As Apostate noted:
I’m not sure why online “communities” are so fragile. I think the problem really is the medium. You can’t do community except in person, face to face. Any time you start writing shit down, congregating around a cause, or are removed from the physical presence of your fellows, there’s that much more information to manage and agree to without the civilizing influence of looking another person in the eye.
Yes. The concept of a "safe space" is, ironically, far easier to uphold in a physical environment for that very reason: humans are much less likely to insult or threaten a three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood human being who's right in front of them.

If you haven't read the naughty konagod's take on safe, er chafe spaces, I commend to you, with my heartiest cheers, kona's lengthy, hilarious, Carlin-esque parody of the aforementioned Magnum Hopeless:
While konagod considers konagod a progressive blog, or at least considers himself progressive in a lazy hippie kind of way, this is also a chafe space. Visitors need not check their privilege at the door (we have no bouncers and somebody without privilege might make off with it) so best you keep it close at hand and just be aware of it. No one is expected to be perfect; everyone is expected to be willing to self-examine and if you want to touch yourself in strange places while here, far be it from konagod to interfere. Focus on the fun. It's a blog. He can't see you.
And if all this strikes you as an awful lot of insider baseball because you've never wandered over to that blog and aren't especially interested in watching a trainwreck-in-progress, well, at least you've now got two compelling, new-to-you voices to check out--The Apostate and konagod--and a terrific political Python clip to watch. What are you waiting for?!

Also at Cogitamus.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Frank: Watermelon in Easter Hay; Barcelona, 1988

I know, I've posted this beautiful instrumental before (it was a while ago, though). Call me selfish, but I feel a strong need for some inspiring artistry today, and since it's Friday, this FZ piece makes sense. If I recall, it was one of Frank's favorites.

As one YouTube commenter notes: One of my very favorite pieces of FZ music. Beautifully melodic, yet it still contains Frank's trademark, quirky phrasing. A brilliant piece of guitarwork for those not as familiar with Frank's own style as they are with those of some of his famous hired guns.

Bon Weekend, everyone!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Propagandize this: Health care for all. Now.

The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: The growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.

-- the late Australian social scientist Alex Carey

This article was published last year, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (then a candidate for the presidency) was proposing a system of allowing the private, for-profit health insurance companies to work together to cover everyone (?) rather than scrap it all and build us, from the ground up, a powerful, comprehensive, nationalized system like the ones they have in other developed (and even some undeveloped) countries. Jake at Whiskeyfire writes:

The truth is that large government run programs such as social security are models of efficiency. We have the data and proof. At any rate they couldn't be less efficient than the private health insurance industry. Many estimates of the waste inherent in the private healthcare industry run in excess of 1 trillion dollars annually. There is the answer to that question about where we might find a trillion dollars a year to finance this venture.

We should not forget as we wind our way through this debate about dollars, medical records, reimbursement rates, economies of scale and the like that real people are suffering every day at the hands of people who are willing to sacrifice the health of their fellow men and women for a bit more money. Let me just say that this is what evil looks like and if there is a hell this would consign one to the lower levels in my estimation. If your work causes people to suffer that is evil and your soul is corroding as quickly as your wallet is growing.

Under President Obama, the current reform plan under review is, let's face it, a diluted, hybridized, private-public version; it's far from the socialized medicine model many of us lefties believe is the fairest, most efficient, most cost-effective, and most humane way to care for the health and well-being of our citizens. Even so, the currently-discussed "plan" has obviously got Big Insurance, along with its PR firms and personal handmaids supporters in Congress--Ben Nelson, cough cough--in a tizzy. Big Insurance doesn't want us to have any public option at all. Because then, they will have to compete with an entity that actually provides access to health care. (What, you thought health care insurers were in it for the rewarding, patriotic, humanitarian aspects of providing access to health care for Americans?)

And for some reason, what Big Insurance wants is getting plenty of traction, when in fact there are, what, a couple of hundred million of us and a relatively small number of them?

Democracy? Now?

The statistics laid out herein, alone, demonstrate that the bullshit we're already being bombarded with courtesy of Big Insurance--Oh, but Americans will lose their ability to make choices! Americans don't want to have health care rationed! Americans don't want to be on waiting lists!--is exactly that: bullshit.

Restriction of choices. Rationing. Waiting lists. Those of us who've sat through even a single semester of PR or advertising will immediately recognize these as negative transfer words, sledgehammers in any propaganda-writer's arsenal. They're words (oftentimes they're images) with widely-recognized positive--or, as in this case, negative--associations. And you plaster them all over the thing onto which you want to transfer the previously-established positive or negative reaction. Hence, if you want to make a politician look good, you place lots of flags, smiling children, and green rolling hills in his television spot, since people already react positively to flags, smiling children, and green rolling hills--in pretty much any context.

Correspondingly, if you want to make a policy proposal look bad, you recycle the same negative associations with worst-case-scenario tales from abroad--disingenuous, out-of-context, and even outright false though they may be--that were instrumental in deep-sixing said policy the last time around. Restriction of choices. Rationing. Waiting lists.

I'm just amazed they haven't resurrected Harry and Louise. (Or dug them up, since I don't remember them ever getting the coverage or the health care they talked about needing, so perhaps their stories ended as tragically as have the stories of so many Americans.)

Make no mistake: the companies fling that bullshit at us because they do not want Americans to think about the long wait-times and restriction of choices they already endure, even with top-drawer PPO health coverage: three or four weeks for a simple appointment at the pediatrician's; six months to see a psychologist or gastroenterologist (and if you don't have private insurance, forget about seeing those specialists altogether, because the first question the receptionist will ask, when you call, is not "What's wrong?" or "How may we help you?" but rather, "Who is your insurer?"); the "choice" of paying for vital but non-formulary (and thus exorbitantly expensive) prescription medicine instead of taking care of car-repairs or, heaven forbid, buying something to eat other than lentils and rice that month. They do not want Americans to consider the fact that "elective" surgery--i.e. having cataracts removed so that one can, you know, see properly, which is considered elective or optional surgery by many policies including Medicare--can cost an American tens of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket.

Or just bankrupt him completely: as reported everywhere this week, there are serious financial meltdowns going on within families around the country when someone falls ill or has a serious accident, which are things that can and do happen to us all, every single day. More than 60% of bankruptcies in the United States are caused by a health care crisis. Not frivolous spending or mismanagement of income or living above one's means. A health care crisis.

In other words, whereas some citizens of the world have free*, fully-accessible medical care, well-care, prescription medicine, and emergency care--plus the security of being able to live their lives, do their work, and engage in sports and exercise without the crushing worry that an illness or accident will strip them and their families of everything they own and have worked for--AND whereas those citizens might sometimes have to wait for non-emergent surgery like cataract removal (although that, too, will still be paid for by the state when it comes time for the surgery)--something not unlike the wait period that even the best-insured American, save perhaps the odd sports celebrity or movie star, endures to have any sort of non-emergent treatment, depending on the number of specialists in any given field and geographic location, and the demand for their services...

...whereas some citizens of the world get to have all that, America gets to have meaningless, semantically-dependent non-benefits like "choice" and "no wait times".

Well, no, of course there aren't any wait times for the woman who needs cataract surgery if she can't afford it. You don't get on wait-lists for something you can't have in the first place.

Of course there is no wait time for the millions of children whose parents can't afford insurance and who thus don't get their shots or visit the pediatrician; whose prenatal care was spotty (if it existed at all); and whose nascent medical problems, presenting now, could be addressed--but aren't--instead of being ignored and permitted to worsen and develop into chronic, full-blown, infinitely costlier problems as adults.

I don't get it. I really don't. How can the richest, most powerful nation on Earth fall for this? How can we stand for this? (Emphasis, as usual, is mine.)
Cuban life expectancy in 2006 was 77.6 years, while the life expectancy of the United States for that same year was slightly less, 77.5 years (United Nations Development Program, 2006). It is interesting that poor Cuba with a history of poverty before their 1959 socialist revolution, and a devastating U.S. imposed economic blockade since, is able to provide good healthcare for everyone through socialized medicine. Cuba, unlike the United States, does not let people die in the emergency rooms without treatment, turn sick people away from receiving healthcare because they lack insurance, or allow insurance companies to decide, based on profit motive, whether the insured actually receive the care they paid for and need. The Cubans have done this by taking the profit out of illness and injury and providing healthcare as a basic human right.

Canada, like Cuba, has a higher life expectancy than the United States. In 2004 the life expectancy of Canada hit 80.2 years (Statistics Canada, 2004). With Canada’s socialized health insurance system, like Cuba’s socialized medical system, every single person is covered. In the United States 45.8 million Americans do not have health insurance (U.S. Department of Health and human Services, 2005).

On another key indicator of health, infant mortality, the United States is also nearly the worst in the developed world, only worse than the recently turned capitalist country of Latvia (Green, 2006). The infant mortality rate in the United States in 2002 was 7.0 deaths before the age of one per every 1,000 live births (Center for Disease Control, 2005). In comparison, other advanced countries with forms of socialized medicine and socialized health insurance have lower infant mortality. This includes rates per thousand births in Japan of 3.2, Germany with 4.4, Italy with 4.5, France with 4.6, and the United Kingdom with 5.6 (Treasury Board of Canada, 2003).

Cuba, with their system of socialized medicine has an infant mortality rate of 6.2 per thousand live births, a rate much lower the United States rate of 7.0 per every thousand live births (BBC News, 2002). This is also lower than every other Latin American country (BBC News, 2002).

The only other country in the Americas with an infant mortality lower than Cuba is Canada with their system of socialized health insurance. The Canadian infant mortality rate in the year 2000 was 5.3 (Treasury Board of Canada, 2003).

In addition, a United Nations report on the status of Native Americans in Canada has credited Canada’s relatively recently established socialized health insurance system with drastically reducing an extremely high infant mortality among Native Americans (United Nations, 1993). In 1979, that death rate for Canadian Native Americans was 27.6 per thousand live births, but by 1999 it had dropped to 8.0 deaths per thousand live births (Treasury Board of Canada, 2003). These improvements coincide with Canada’s passage of the Canada Health Act in 1984 that brought their socialized insurance system to the entire country at that time (Health Canada, 2002).

For Blacks in the United States between 1995 and 2002, the infant mortality rate was 13.9, more than double the rate of 5.9 for whites in the same time period (Center for Disease Control, 2005). Canadian statistics are a strong indication that a socialized insurance system in the United States could both decrease the infant mortality rate of the general population and dramatically decrease the infant mortality of oppressed and impoverished minorities such as Blacks, as it did for Canadian Native Americans.

The statistics show that socialized medicine is cheaper, saves lives, and helps alleviate class and racial inequalities in healthcare.
Give America health care, Congress, or you'll in effect be giving us death.

[*Free, in this context, means that instead of lavishing most of our tax dollars on the madcap, quaintly inefficient, legendarily-bloated, deathmongering shadow government known as the Defense Industry, we instead direct some of that cash toward buying America a chance at redeeming ourselves as thinking, feeling, moral human beings.]

Also at Cogitamus.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday Frank: Ravel's Bolero; Barcelona, 1988; with bonus Jeff Beck playing Bolero

I never tire of hearing Frank Zappa's version of Bolero. And while hunting for this clip, I came across the brilliant Jeff Beck's version, performed live at the Fuji Speedway in 2006, and thought I'd share it with readers, too.

Bon Weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Keith Olbermann: O'Reilly and FOX created the climate for Dr. Tiller's Murder

Keith Olbermann says it so well: O'Reilly in particular, and FOX in general, were instrumental in whipping up the frenzy--with oft-repeated buzzwords and catchphrases that rhyme with the murdered doctor's name, for example--that grew and swelled, the way frenzies tend to do, and inevitably led to an act of extremism. In this case, a deadly, criminal, and irreversible act of extremism.

Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley appeared on Rachel Maddow's program and stated that First Amendment rights, particularly freedom of speech, meant it would be very difficult to successfully prosecute O'Reilly or any other talking head for incitement. Indeed, he said protected speech was a very broad category that even included what he referred to as "hate speech".

And he's right. O'Reilly can always just state that he is entitled to his opinion, and that's really all he was doing here: expressing his opinion, based on the facts, and the facts do include the number of abortions that Dr. Tiller performed and where he performed them.

Never mind that O'Reilly's protected speech, in its typically polarizing way, conveniently left out the compelling and heartbreaking stories behind those late-term abortions themselves: women whose pregnancies had gone terribly, tragically wrong and who had to choose between a third-trimester termination and leaving their other children motherless; child rape victims; babies without vital organs; conjoined twins whose brief, pain-wracked lives--in the unlikely event they survived birth--would be spent hooked up to wires, tubes, and ventilators.

Never mind that O'Reilly's protected speech was presented in the form of glib, soundbite-ish rhyming slogans and repeated over and over. Never mind that his campaign against OB/GYN Dr. Tiller--and ultimately, against a woman's right to bodily autonomy, period--was a classic case of propaganda that employed standard techniques: ad nauseam reinforcement, black-and-white fallacy, demonizing the enemy, half-truths, name-calling, oversimplification, repetition, scapegoating, and of course, the use of slogans and virtue words.

Never mind that O'Reilly's protected speech enjoyed a multiplier factor, unimaginable to the Constitution's framers, in that it was electronically broadcast to millions of American ears and eyes, simultaneously. And then, repetitively.

I say this as a dyed-in-the-wool First Amendment supporter: Words have consequences, and so do viruses, often to a deadly degree. In protecting the former--as we surely must--let us not enable the proliferation of the latter.

Also at Cogitamus.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Waterboard Operation Rescue

The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

-- the FBI's definition of terrorism, per the Federal Code of Regulations (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85)

From McClatchy, emphasis mine:

The suspect in custody for the slaying of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller was a member of an anti-government group in the 1990s and a staunch opponent of abortion.

Scott P. Roeder, 51, of Merriam, Kan., a Kansas City suburb, was arrested on Interstate 35 near Gardner in suburban Johnson County, Kan., about three hours after the shooting. Tiller was shot to death around 10 a.m. inside Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. [...]

Roeder also was a subscriber to Prayer and Action News, a magazine that advocated the justifiable homicide position, said publisher Dave Leach, an anti-abortion activist from Des Moines, Iowa.[...]

Roeder, who in the 1990s was a manufacturing assemblyman, also was involved in the "Freemen" movement.

"Freemen" was a term adopted by those who claimed sovereignty from government jurisdiction and operated under their own legal system, which they called common-law courts. Adherents declared themselves exempt from laws, regulations and taxes and often filed liens against judges, prosecutors and others, claiming that money was owed to them as compensation.

In April 1996, Roeder was arrested in Topeka after Shawnee County sheriff's deputies stopped him for not having a proper license plate. In his car, officers said they found ammunition, a blasting cap, a fuse cord, a one-pound can of gunpowder and two 9-volt batteries, with one connected to a switch that could have been used to trigger a bomb.

Jim Jimerson, supervisor of the Kansas City ATF's bomb and arson unit, worked on the case.

"There wasn't enough there to blow up a building,'' Jimerson said at the time, "but it could make several powerful pipe bombs...There was definitely enough there to kill somebody.'' [...]

In recent years, someone using the name Scott Roeder has posted anti-Tiller comments on various Internet sites. One post, dated Sept. 3, 2007 and placed on a site sponsored by Operation Rescue called, said that Tiller needed to be "stopped."

"It seems as though what is happening in Kansas could be compared to the 'lawlessness' which is spoken of in the Bible," it said. "Tiller is the concentration camp 'Mengele' of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation."

On May 19, 2007, a Scott Roeder commented on an invitation by Operation Rescue to join an event being held May 17-20 in Wichita, "the 'Nation's Abortion Capital,' to pray for an end to George R. Tiller's late-term abortion business and for all pre-born babies everywhere to once again come under the protection of law."

Let us review: an armed and dangerous man kills a doctor in broad daylight as he sat with his wife in church. Said armed and dangerous man has a record of committing acts designed to intimidate via fear: trespassing as well as verbal threats to doctors that he had "seen you now". Said armed and dangerous man is a known member of an anti-government group. Said armed and dangerous man has a police record that includes convictions for the criminal use of explosives. Someone posting under the name of said armed and dangerous man has repeatedly, on sites owned and/or sponsored by Operation Rescue, called for Dr. Tiller to be "stopped".

Like Andrew Sullivan, who posts the ghastly piece of Operation Rescue "Tiller the Killer" agitprop here (warning: it's as awful as you'd expect) in order to spotlight the deranged violence-inciting lengths to which OR goes, I abhor torture and do not support it. I understand it, I live in a country where enhanced interrogation techniques are believed to be extremely useful when it comes to finding out what terrorists are plotting next. Whom are they targeting? What are their plans? Here we have an actual, real-live terrorist in captivity--not just an alleged enemy combatant or whatever it is they're calling teenagers who got swept up in the Great Guantánamo Grabs these days. No, this guy wasn't on his way to a family wedding in rural Afghanistan--he'd already been caught, tried, and convicted on explosives charges, and now, in front of witnesses, he's shot dead a law-abiding American citizen while he was in church.

So. What does he know? Whom else are OR targeting? What are their plans? Ticking time bomb, ladies and gentlemen. Domestic terrorism is with us today, operating and "rescuing" right here on our own soil. Consistency, consistency, consistency.

I agree with Lisa: let's Waterboard Operation Rescue.

[Updated to include the FBI definition of terrorism at the top.]

Le Roi est mort; vive Le Rail!

One of Japan's famous shinkansen bullet trains,
capable of traveling 186 mph.
How many of these do we currently have running in the States?

The letter below is fresh from the In box and reprinted in its entirety, along with my enthusiastic Hear, hear to Michael Moore's urging of President Obama to fast-track (couldn't resist) the building and installation of those much-needed bullet trains and light rail systems in America.

Trains, everyone! Trains are wonderful.

Goodbye, GM
by Michael Moore

June 1, 2009

I write this on the morning of the end of the once-mighty General Motors. By high noon, the President of the United States will have made it official: General Motors, as we know it, has been totaled.

As I sit here in GM's birthplace, Flint, Michigan, I am surrounded by friends and family who are filled with anxiety about what will happen to them and to the town. Forty percent of the homes and businesses in the city have been abandoned. Imagine what it would be like if you lived in a city where almost every other house is empty. What would be your state of mind?

It is with sad irony that the company which invented "planned obsolescence" -- the decision to build cars that would fall apart after a few years so that the customer would then have to buy a new one -- has now made itself obsolete. It refused to build automobiles that the public wanted, cars that got great gas mileage, were as safe as they could be, and were exceedingly comfortable to drive. Oh -- and that wouldn't start falling apart after two years. GM stubbornly fought environmental and safety regulations. Its executives arrogantly ignored the "inferior" Japanese and German cars, cars which would become the gold standard for automobile buyers. And it was hell-bent on punishing its unionized workforce, lopping off thousands of workers for no good reason other than to "improve" the short-term bottom line of the corporation. Beginning in the 1980s, when GM was posting record profits, it moved countless jobs to Mexico and elsewhere, thus destroying the lives of tens of thousands of hard-working Americans. The glaring stupidity of this policy was that, when they eliminated the income of so many middle class families, who did they think was going to be able to afford to buy their cars? History will record this blunder in the same way it now writes about the French building the Maginot Line or how the Romans cluelessly poisoned their own water system with lethal lead in its pipes.

So here we are at the deathbed of General Motors. The company's body not yet cold, and I find myself filled with -- dare I say it -- joy. It is not the joy of revenge against a corporation that ruined my hometown and brought misery, divorce, alcoholism, homelessness, physical and mental debilitation, and drug addiction to the people I grew up with. Nor do I, obviously, claim any joy in knowing that 21,000 more GM workers will be told that they, too, are without a job.

But you and I and the rest of America now own a car company! I know, I know -- who on earth wants to run a car company? Who among us wants $50 billion of our tax dollars thrown down the rat hole of still trying to save GM? Let's be clear about this: The only way to save GM is to kill GM. Saving our precious industrial infrastructure, though, is another matter and must be a top priority. If we allow the shutting down and tearing down of our auto plants, we will sorely wish we still had them when we realize that those factories could have built the alternative energy systems we now desperately need. And when we realize that the best way to transport ourselves is on light rail and bullet trains and cleaner buses, how will we do this if we've allowed our industrial capacity and its skilled workforce to disappear?

Thus, as GM is "reorganized" by the federal government and the bankruptcy court, here is the plan I am asking President Obama to implement for the good of the workers, the GM communities, and the nation as a whole. Twenty years ago when I made "Roger & Me," I tried to warn people about what was ahead for General Motors. Had the power structure and the punditocracy listened, maybe much of this could have been avoided. Based on my track record, I request an honest and sincere consideration of the following suggestions:

1. Just as President Roosevelt did after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the President must tell the nation that we are at war and we must immediately convert our auto factories to factories that build mass transit vehicles and alternative energy devices. Within months in Flint in 1942, GM halted all car production and immediately used the assembly lines to build planes, tanks and machine guns. The conversion took no time at all. Everyone pitched in. The fascists were defeated.

We are now in a different kind of war -- a war that we have conducted against the ecosystem and has been conducted by our very own corporate leaders. This current war has two fronts. One is headquartered in Detroit. The products built in the factories of GM, Ford and Chrysler are some of the greatest weapons of mass destruction responsible for global warming and the melting of our polar icecaps. The things we call "cars" may have been fun to drive, but they are like a million daggers into the heart of Mother Nature. To continue to build them would only lead to the ruin of our species and much of the planet.

The other front in this war is being waged by the oil companies against you and me. They are committed to fleecing us whenever they can, and they have been reckless stewards of the finite amount of oil that is located under the surface of the earth. They know they are sucking it bone dry. And like the lumber tycoons of the early 20th century who didn't give a damn about future generations as they tore down every forest they could get their hands on, these oil barons are not telling the public what they know to be true -- that there are only a few more decades of useable oil on this planet. And as the end days of oil approach us, get ready for some very desperate people willing to kill and be killed just to get their hands on a gallon can of gasoline.

President Obama, now that he has taken control of GM, needs to convert the factories to new and needed uses immediately.

2. Don't put another $30 billion into the coffers of GM to build cars. Instead, use that money to keep the current workforce -- and most of those who have been laid off -- employed so that they can build the new modes of 21st century transportation. Let them start the conversion work now.

3. Announce that we will have bullet trains criss-crossing this country in the next five years. Japan is celebrating the 45th anniversary of its first bullet train this year. Now they have dozens of them. Average speed: 165 mph. Average time a train is late: under 30 seconds. They have had these high speed trains for nearly five decades -- and we don't even have one! The fact that the technology already exists for us to go from New York to L.A. in 17 hours by train, and that we haven't used it, is criminal. Let's hire the unemployed to build the new high speed lines all over the country. Chicago to Detroit in less than two hours. Miami to DC in under 7 hours. Denver to Dallas in five and a half. This can be done and done now.

4. Initiate a program to put light rail mass transit lines in all our large and medium-sized cities. Build those trains in the GM factories. And hire local people everywhere to install and run this system.

5. For people in rural areas not served by the train lines, have the GM plants produce energy efficient clean buses.

6. For the time being, have some factories build hybrid or all-electric cars (and batteries). It will take a few years for people to get used to the new ways to transport ourselves, so if we're going to have automobiles, let's have kinder, gentler ones. We can be building these next month (do not believe anyone who tells you it will take years to retool the factories -- that simply isn't true).

7. Transform some of the empty GM factories to facilities that build windmills, solar panels and other means of alternate forms of energy. We need tens of millions of solar panels right now. And there is an eager and skilled workforce who can build them.

8. Provide tax incentives for those who travel by hybrid car or bus or train. Also, credits for those who convert their home to alternative energy.

9. To help pay for this, impose a two-dollar tax on every gallon of gasoline. This will get people to switch to more energy saving cars or to use the new rail lines and rail cars the former autoworkers have built for them.

Well, that's a start. Please, please, please don't save GM so that a smaller version of it will simply do nothing more than build Chevys or Cadillacs. This is not a long-term solution. Don't throw bad money into a company whose tailpipe is malfunctioning, causing a strange odor to fill the car.

100 years ago this year, the founders of General Motors convinced the world to give up their horses and saddles and buggy whips to try a new form of transportation. Now it is time for us to say goodbye to the internal combustion engine. It seemed to serve us well for so long. We enjoyed the car hops at the A&W. We made out in the front -- and the back -- seat. We watched movies on large outdoor screens, went to the races at NASCAR tracks across the country, and saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time through the window down Hwy. 1. And now it's over. It's a new day and a new century. The President -- and the UAW -- must seize this moment and create a big batch of lemonade from this very sour and sad lemon.

Yesterday, the last surviving person from the Titanic disaster passed away. She escaped certain death that night and went on to live another 97 years.

So can we survive our own Titanic in all the Flint Michigans of this country. 60% of GM is ours. I think we can do a better job.

Michael Moore