Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Liberal

He carried his personal flaws and tragic miscues in the same way he carried the liberal credo: slightly wearied, but unyielding.

His opponents linked them seamlessly.

If the health care debate reveals anything, it is that to believe in a government conceived with the purpose of serving the people places one in the company of someone who drives a young girl off a bridge, runs, and then hides.

Together, Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy and the large liberal constituency that thrives throughout this country, have trudged on, standing by tired platitudes that are no less virtuous for being time-worn and tested.

His loss is a terrible blow to Republican fundraisers, but not so much as it will be to an ungrateful and impatient people who take whatever they can get, while viewing the acts of sharing with or giving to the less-fortunate as foolhardy.

For those of us inspired and instructed by his political example, his like will not be seen for a long time, if ever.

Kennedy never saw a military intervention he liked. He taught, by his example, that such consistency is the stuff of being anti-war and pro-human, never falling for the slick trick of associating support for a missile system with a desire for peace.

Those of us who agreed with him were never disappointed - no matter how low the value of our philosophy sunk - when we awaited his lone and familiar voice to speak out with intelligence against organized and taxpayer-funded mayhem.

We were never disappointed when the corporations that run our lives, pirate our money and health, had come up with yet another new line of propaganda that succeeded by appealing to what was worst, rather than best, in the American spirit.

He was there, like a default setting; turning our helpless rage into articulate argument that we might carry forth onto the streets, into parties, and anywhere else informed public debate still percolates.

For those of us who retired at night, beaten by our own mistakes -- thrown into doubt -- Kennedy demonstrated how one picks-up and carries on.

The marvelous and masterful senator taught us that our questionable pasts and sorry records could be righted by doing one small thing tomorrow and another the day after and so on.

He taught us that our job is to get better at what we do and to not be undone by setbacks.

He did not define what it meant to be liberal because all of that came before his rise to power and fame. But Kennedy taught us what it cost to remain liberal, to endure the insults and continue the work of assisting those who need it.

Unlike his brothers, frozen in youth by martyrdom, his story encompassed the sloppy narrative that becomes all our narratives, which in the end, is the same effort at doing good while swimming against a current of so much evil.

Good bye you good Liberal.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Tale of Two Governments

Republicans and their wing-nut fellow travelers believe there are two governments in the United States.

One government runs foreign policy and wars and it is a government that never apologizes for America because America never commits a sin overseas.

It is a government never referred to as such.

It is just "America," a bright and shining example of all things good, that runs itself on the strength of its immaculate conception.

The other government is the one that should never get involved with America's interior workings, should never monitor its businesses, and should never render any services, because it can't do anything right.

The two governments, of course, are one and the same. Republicans and their ilk consider the first one their particular provenance and shunt the other one off on Democrats whom they then deny the right to administrate as often as they can.

FOX News runs montages of President Obama committing the cardinal sin of admitting the first government's humanity and concomitant flaws before foreign audiences to the soundtrack of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."

It spends the remaining air-time lamenting Obama's attempt to lead the second government's "takeover of the health care system."

The argument is this: The same American government that should never apologize for actions overseas cannot be trusted to best the wild and woolly wiles of our entrepreneurial class at home.

That's the religion.

It's a religion, like many religions, with adherents who subscribe to the tenets against their better interests.

But as Michael Hiltzik of the "Los Angeles Times" noted the other day, the entrepreneurs handling of health care sucks.

Writes Hiltzik: "Throughout the heroic struggle in Congress to provide a 'public option' in health insurance, one question never seems to get answered: Why are we so intent on protecting the private option?"

And that's a whopper of an omission, which most of our elected representatives (in a rare demonstration of bipartisan comity), and cable news offerings on both the "left" and right, are all complicit in arranging.

Maybe some of you saw bumbling Bill Kristol's interview on "The Daily Show," not too long ago.

Host Jon Stewart observed how members of our military are the beneficiaries of government-controlled health care and Kristol, in his knee-jerk understanding of patriotism, noted that, because of their sacrifice, the soldiers "deserved the best."

Stewart was on it, scribbling in a pad, "So you're saying a government-run plan is better than the sh*#t private insurance coverage the rest of us have?"

Kristol wanted to counter, but the knee had already jerked. He was nailed in the same way the rest of the hysterical right wing should be.

Republicans and conservatives are out to torpedo anything the Democrats might do to improve health care in this country. Not because they love getting reamed monthly by their insurer, but because they don't want the other "side" to have a victory.

This is an extreme example of what candidate Obama was talking about when referencing the corrosive impact of our divisive politics: Some Americans would rather forego better, perhaps life-saving health care, than let their opposite political numbers claim they had done something good for the country.

Full disclosure: highwayscribery hates his insurer Anthem/Blue Cross/Blue Shield etc. He views it as an adversary to whom he ponies-up the second largest chunk of his discretionary budget.

And it's not fair.

Taking his blogger's sense of the responsible citizen into the realm of health care, highwayscribery eats fruit salads every morning (except Sunday when he gets a sausage, egg, and cheese "McGriddle"), and salad (or gazpacho) for lunch.

At dinner, the scribe averages a single piece of meat per week, two fish meals, two pasta feasts, and some other culinary delights chosen for their salubrious balancing of his dietary intake (although he'd prefer more McGriddles).

He surfs three times a week, runs an average of 10 miles over the same period, and plays baseball with a six-year-old who can, and does, run rings around him.

The result is a low-cholesterol, low blood-pressure, clean bill of health for a middle-aged guy (don't ask) who asks little else of his health care providers than to confirm these positive results.

Last year the scribe paid $208 a month for his premium and this year it was raised to $248. No reason. Now the scribe is no Adam Smith, but he figures if the free market system our conservative countrymen are so worried about conserving actually functioned, a cut in premium would have been due.

But that's not what happened. What happened was the unilateral imposition of a considerable increase backed by a threat of financial ruin should the scribe walk away from this "relationship" and then be badly hurt.

What insurance really gets you, of course, is the right to pick a fight with your insurer once illness strikes, and it decides "the procedure is not covered."

Or as Hiltzik puts it: "For if the insurers have proved anything over the last 15 years as the health crisis has gathered speed like an avalanche roaring downhill, it's that they're part of the problem, not the solution."

the scribe wrote the Anthem/Blue Shield plan administrator and let him know exactly what he felt about the increase. He said the company should have paid him for the aforementioned custodianship of his own well-being and added that he hoped President Obama instituted a single-payer, government-run system that responded to public pressure because private insurers certainly don't.

Anthem confirmed the argument by not replying.

The premium stood, much the same way Bank of America's unilateral decision to increase monthly fees by $5 on the scribe's checking account did.

It's all one way. Big boy leans, little guy bends and breaks.

"The firms," Hiltzick writes, "take billions of dollars out of the U.S. healthcare wallet as profits, while imposing enormous administrative costs on doctors, hospitals, employers and patients. They've introduced complexity into the system at every level. Your doctor has to fight them to get approval for the treatment he or she thinks is best for you. Your hospital has to fight them for approval for every day you're laid up. Then they have to fight them to get their bills paid, and you do too."

That's what, no, that's who The Right is defending. These companies.

They are organizing (read: paying) people to attend town hall meetings on health care and disrupt the dialogue, shout down speakers, and insult their elected representatives.

Republican Party leaders at the national level such as Rep. John Boehner and Michael Steele defend these actions as if they were proper and worthy of a healthy civic culture. With the sophomoric smirk that has become their party's trademark responses to earnest policy, they mock Democrats as people who just don't get how badly Americans want to keep the crap arrangement currently in place.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

Instead these purported loyal oppositionists gain succor from what passes for the left in this country, with the onerous Democratic senators Max Baucus (pictured) and Ben Nelson, from Montana and Nebraska respectively, doing everything they can to eviscerate or eliminate altogether the American peoples' desire to have a public option to these corporate crooks.

Hiltzick, in his excellent piece, makes the connection to these "Blue Dog" Democrats thusly:

"You've heard of the Blue Dog Democrats, those mostly rural conservatives who blocked a summertime vote on reform legislation on Capitol Hill? According to the Center for Public Integrity, the biggest backer of the Blue Dogs’ political action committee is the healthcare industry, which is on the path to pumping a total of $1.2 million into the PAC's maw in the current 2009-10 election cycle."

Wow, there's a surprise.

Maybe this time things will backfire. Maybe if the opponents of change yell loud enough and insult enough people, Americans will get past the cant about "socialism," or "bureaucrats" (as if health insurers didn't have them, too), and see that the only thing Republicans propose is doing nothing.

Maybe Americans will see that the President's opponents stand for nothing, but will fall for anything that does harm the largest number of Americans.

But don't wait for an apology. Their America doesn't do that.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Book Report: "The Gaudi Key" by Martin and Carranza.

"The Gaudi Key"(La Clave Gaudi) possesses the grandiosity of its subject's architecture, but lacks his whimsy.

Sometimes you can concoct a literary triumph yet not tell a story so well. Such is the case with Esteban Martin and Andreu Carranza's novel.

"The Gaudi Key," takes Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," moves it to Barcelona, and then attempts to transform a potboiler into big literature. But the authors fail to match Brown's talent for penning the page-turner, and instead weigh their piece down with interesting, but unnecessary information.

Any story affirmatively linking Barcelona, its most famous architect, and the second coming of Jesus Christ is going to have a lot explaining to do, and the resulting expository writing generates a book of considerable heft (430 pages).

The set-up involves a vicious conflict between the diabolical Men of Mensula and the Knights of Moria; the latter being an ancient Catholic order of warrior friars with which Gaudi was inscribed.

The knights are engaged in an age-old quest of squiring a surviving rock sliver from Solomon's temple to its final resting place in the Gaudi-designed Sagrada Familia cathedral, as preparation for Christ's return to earth.

If it sounds complicated, well, it is. And if it doesn't sound complicated, it still is.

And although the authors successfully guide the narrative's baroque machinery to a successful conclusion, the exquisitely embroidered scheme ends up stepping all over a story that is not uninspired in its origins.

Detailing the history and competing philosophies of the Mensulan and Morian orders is tackled via long character dialogues best omitted or at least reduced to something more essential and dramatized through story action.

Parsing them is a slog and their presence is augmented by the presence of still more as these well-schooled scribes hold court on all manner of esoterica, Greek mythology, Catholic mysticism, 19th-Century anarcho-syndicalism, and the Shinto religion (to name a few).

"The Gaudi Key" never practices what it preaches. The famed architect's hallucinatory vision and transcendent approach to life and art are lost in a tome that is constantly over-reasoned and overwrought, robbing the marvelously chosen topics of all their inherent magic.