Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A declaration of war

Whether you realize it or not, the Republican Party has declared war on 99 percent of the American
people. In doing so, it has made it clear that the only people in the United States who count for anything are the one percent. The question now is whether those of us with any sense of decency and conscience can fight back; and, if so, how.

Let’s start by trying, briefly, to understand what has happened to get us to this miserable juncture in our nation’s civic life. First, in the 1950s we had the birth of the religious right, just without that label. The movement used the “godless communist” threat to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Second, in the 1960s and 1970s, we saw the beginning of America’s dumbing down. The hippie movement was a resistance to the attempts to kill off critical thinking, but thanks to the propaganda efforts of the Republican Party and the Nixon administration, American students devolved into regurgitators of facts without the ability to use that information productively. Third, the 1980s saw the Republican takeover with the Reagan administration playing the “greed is good” card, undoing the progress from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Concurrently, propagandists extraordinaire like Roger Ailes, Rush Limbaugh and other hate mongers began the systematic attack on the media. In doing so, they stimulated the pent-up fear and perceived threats of a diverse society in that generation of those whose critical thinking skills had been destroyed.

 The last quarter century saw the poisoned seeds of the right wing and Republican Party bear fruit. The successful propaganda distracted oh-so-righteous Christians and those with some secular sanity left using hot button issues — birth control, abortion, gay marriage. Sex sells, right? Meanwhile, corporations like Diebold and others have suborned our voting machines. The feds militarized local police forces. Corporatists took over government at all levels and lawmakers are now wined, dined and owned while immunizing themselves against accountability.

Now, with the pending inauguration of an insane, narcissistic, lying, sociopathic (if not psychopathic) authoritarian with a record of business failures, we face an uncertain, if not dystopian, future. At this point, we face the possible outcome of an election that has seen a popular vote mandate be overturned by the Electoral College. But, the Founders wrote the Constitution in such a way as to protect us from this kind of crazy. The electors can, in fact, rightfully abort Donald Trump’s faux victory; and, they have the obligation to do so to protect our republic from the depravity of the current incarnation of the GOP. Instead of calling them “faithless” electors, we should call them “faithful” electors for upholding the true values of the Founders of these United States.

From now until the Electoral College meets, I will do everything in my power to use my words and what little resources I have to bring sanity back to our great nation. I will contact members of Congress, for what it’s worth. I will continue to blog to counter the propaganda from the right wing. I will use my blogs to embarrass, as best I can, those politicians who are betraying decent Americans to foster a corporate and dystopian America. I will explore ways to get to the electors to convince them that a Trump presidency is a massive fraud. Please join me in that effort. Write local newspapers, contact politicians. Do whatever you can. Please join me in this effort.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ain’t no cure for stupid, is there? Or sedition

 Today’s Facebook newsfeed is peppered with information about Biff Tannen’s nominating Tom Price (R-Ga.) to be Health and Human Services secretary. This nomination comes in the context of Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) promising to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and Medicare

Here’s what’s interesting about this that the mainstream, and the good outlets like ProPublica, haven’t picked up on: The American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack has come out in support of Price’s appointment, with a statement saying Price’s experience as an orthopedic surgeons will be an asset as health care becomes more patient centered. Pollock has spent his entire career as a lobbyist. I don’t suppose he knows the old joke about bone doctors: Strong as a bull and just as smart. And while that’s an unfair generalization for all orthopedists, it must apply to Price since he is a Republican and part of the evil sect set to destroy the health care system as we know it.

Remember on Nov. 18, fed up with holding my fire on hospital administrators, my post described the educational evolution leading to the spinectomy of an entire profession. It’s pretty clear that the AHA’s commitment to patient care is an empty phrase and the part of Pollack’s assertion about patient-centered care is a sick joke. But even better, the idiotic shortsightedness of the AHA’s policy-making is even sicker. Dismantling those insurance programs — and don’t for a minute call those programs socialized medicine because they are not — will cut off huge cash flows to hospitals, doctors and other providers. Supporting Tannen’s and the right-wing agenda will, and there is no other way to put it, folks, bite them on the ass. Good deal. They need it.

But the people of the United States don’t. Believe it or not, our national security is as dependent on a healthy and robust population in all age groups. To visit upon our nation a health care system designed to deny care to millions of citizens, with the rationale for doing so based on Josef Goebbels- type lies, provides evidence that Tannen’s relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia may be part of a treasonous and seditious plan for a nondemocratic country — ours.

And further, if the people of the U.S. are smart, and this election leaves that in doubt, they should rise up in anger over this plan. They won’t, of course, at least for now. The propaganda drums are beating too loudly. Here’s the question: Will we ever be smart enough to vote our own and not the plutocratic corporate interests?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Let's flood the fax machines

Those of us who are concerned for the future of our nation much not remain silent. The only way to counter the big money access to members of Congress is by overwhelming the moneyed voices by quantity voices. That’s hard to do because staffers take calls or monitor the social media and email. Letters go through the congressional mail room for screening and that takes months — and, based on my experience with Ted Cruz, John Cornyn and Mac Thornberry, results in nothing but computer-generated form letter replies.

What is telling is that the fax numbers for these people are hard to fine, which I interpret as them wanting it to be hard for constituents to contact them this way. While I have no doubt that the big money people have other, less public, ways to contact them, flooding the fax machines might have a positive effect. And so, as a public service, here are Washington, DC office contact information for those of us in the Texas Panhandle.

Ted Cruz
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Suite SDB-40B, Washington, DC 20510.
Office - (202) 224-5922.
Fax - (202) 228-0755.

John Cornyn
517 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: 202-224-2934

Mac Thornberry
2208 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
T (202) 225-3706
F (202) 225-3486 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Can the Amarillo Globe-News get a simple story right? Uh, no

Once again (and it’s getting tiresome), I am compelled to criticize the Amarillo Globe-News for poor — if not slanted — reporting on the crime situation in the Bivins neighborhood; and, in line with journalistic ethics, I disclose it’s my neighborhood. Since I can’t, and won’t, talk to this reporter or her editor, I am going to leave the question of motivation aside. Further, because I know who the process works, I’ll also note that a reporter can get it right but an editor can ruin the accuracy of a story with ease.

Let’s start with the crime data. The numbers in the story are based on “emergency” calls that required a report; and, the story isn’t clear how the calls to the non-emergency number are accounted for. If you saw the ABC7 Amarillo report on racial profiling, the take-away from that story was that the data from Amarillo Police Department are flawed, and not necessarily through the fault of the department or the officers on the ground. But, leave that aside for a moment.

Accepting the data as reported in the article, note that the 2.6 percent drop between a two-month period between 2016 and 2015 in the reported incidents in the neighborhood “doesn’t jibe,” as the headline states. But, for the same period in between 2015 and 2014, the incidents jumped 20.8 percent. In other words, the tenfold increase is insignificant while a smaller increase is. Never mind, by the way, that we’re dealing with three data points for a daily paper (I don’t call the Globe-News a “newspaper” anymore) of record for a city to conclude that the residents of a neighborhood are unduly alarmist. Nor, in fact, did the paper moderate its labeling on the basis of the incidents at the businesses on the north side of our neighborhood.

Devoting most of the story to dissecting one incident is as bad as the mishandling of the data.
All this is in spite of APD spokesman Brent Barbee explaining clearly and accurately why the data are flawed. Even more, it’s my opinion that the APD is being very responsive to our concerns. Ed Drain, the new chief, seems to be more responsive to citizen input than the former chief. The patrol officers and supervisors have met with us and are aware of the concerns. The last paragraph of the story is far behind this curve (as is Mayor Paul Harpole). It’s clear that the APD is much further along than “looking into” our situation.

Whether it’s the Globe-News’ attempt to paint APD in a bad light, or people from the neighborhood in a bad light, isn’t clear. What is clear is, that between the data and the “putting a face” on the neighborhood with one incident, the Globe-News once again pretends to do journalism and produces content that can’t stand up to analysis.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

What is my ministry? A personal note

Today is the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle in the Episcopal Church. As such, St. Andrew’s in Amarillo celebrated with the liturgy and music for the occasion. It’s not unusual that I learn something every time I attend a service at this, my home parish. This time I learned that Andrew was the first Apostle, joining Jesus’ ministry to become, as Matthew’s Gospel version in today’s lectionary quotes Jesus, “Follow me, l make you fish for people.”

Andrew and 11 others decided that it was their ministry to join with this itinerant rabbi in spreading the word of God’s love for all people, including perhaps most importantly, the least of us but certainly, all of us. While a visitor or new parishioner might think that this was the only day we address ministry at St. Andrew’s, it isn’t; it was just the day we looked at the Gospel reading about it. The theme exists every day at St. Andrews, based on what Jo Roberts Craig, our retired rector (priest in charge), said when asking people to help out, “If it is your ministry ….”

For many years, my ministry at St. Andrews was to be a chorister. But we all have ministries outside of our churches. It might be hard to believe that I see my last twenty years as a journalist and blogger as a ministry but it is. I was on the cusp of starting my first class in seminary in Denver in 1995 when the seminary suddenly closed. I was at loose ends and as I looked through a pile of materials in my apartment, I found information for journalism programs at the University of Colorado and Metropolitan State College of Denver. The die was cast.

I make no profession as a Biblical scholar. To the degree I understand the Bible, I know I am not a “literalist,” meaning I don’t take the fundamentalist view that it is the exact words of God written through men. I believe the Bible is allegory, stories, drama and message — with the main one that, as Christians, must surpass all others: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

One of the hardest things for those 12 men’s ministry must have been to drop everything in their lives to follow this unknown thirty-something. Maybe ministry isn’t supposed to always be easy. It’s clear that at this point my ministry at St. Andrews is to be present. I am open to other engagement. What became more evident to me today than ever before it that I have an equally important and wider ministry. It’s to speak out against the unspeakable hate and divisiveness engendered over the past half-century or so and manifested most vividly with the election of Donald Trump.

Our elegant First Lady Michelle Obama recently exhorted the formula, “When they go low, we go high.” As a paradigm for changing political minds, it’s an ideal. In practical terms, I am not yet convinced it will work. We are in an age of post-fact America. We must somehow convince our body politic that the scandals, corruption, corporatism, pro-business, anti-consumer, anti-human and anti-humane, misogyny, homophobia, racism and hatred are real and the modus operandi of the right-wing are real. Thus, my huge challenge with this ministry is not just trumping Trump’s and his followers’ hate with love. The task extends to furthering justice, peace, equality and compassion. I can, and often do, use a sharp tongue and pen, even veering into vulgarity. So the almost insurmountable challenge is to do all this without sowing more hate.

I don’t see satire as hateful, of course. Asserting I won’t dirty my hands with his name by referring to him as movie villain Biff Tannen seems perfectly acceptable to me. But calling him “Cheeto?” I love it, but does it dilute my message? I really don’t know. And what about that behavioral model in my era of grammar school: You finally hit the bully back in the nose? Do I do that verbally and lose my impact? Do I tweet back one of his favorite epithets, “loser?” Is there any way to make it clear to Biff that mocking a disabled person as he did is unacceptable under any circumstances?

I am not asking people for input on these questions. I am grappling with these questions in my own way and in my own time.

This will end up on Facebook and I know some people will want to take me on about this. Some of those people are my real friends and they know how to reach me back channel. Others are “frenemies,” either on Facebook or in real life. I am going to block any comments that purport to “take me on” in this. Otherwise, please join me on my journey.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Let's play "whom do you trust?"

We all know one definition of insanity is to continue the same behavior while hoping for a different outcome. So, why would I be surprised when I read in an Amarillo Globe-News story slated for publishing Sunday that Amarillo’s City Council is following that path? Well, it may not be — at least if one relies on the Globe-News’ version.

The Globe-News stated, “In a statement following Wednesday’s sudden departure of former Interim City Manager Terry Childers, Mayor Paul Harpole announced Amarillo would once again turn to Strategic Government Resources to help fill the position of city manager.”

But that isn’t a done deal until the Nov. 22 council meeting. How do I know this? Because this is the exact language from Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole’s statement to the media which Jesse Patton of the city’s PR office sent out: “Details about filling Childers’ position, and the steps Amarillo Council must take to move forward will be discussed at the upcoming Tuesday, Nov. 22 meeting along with reengaging the process with Strategic Government Resources (SGR) to find a permanent city manager.”

Look at those works carefully. It’s a discussion; and, while I would not be surprised if the council “re-engaged” with SGR because the council is unable to learn from past mistakes thus repeating errors hoping for a different outcome. The council has such a track record. But the Globe-News’ own report noted on Oct. 31, that the council would be cutting ties with SGR.

But if the Globe-News mischaracterizes the Harpole news release, how do we know the out-of-town-owned daily didn’t also mischaracterize something more important? The paper reports, “Weeks before the November election, Amarillo City Council members began meeting in executive session to discuss when and how best to move forward with hiring a city manager, and at their next regular meeting on Tuesday they plan to bring the conversation out from behind closed doors.”

First, if this is true, there is a serious question about the right of the City Council to go into executive session over such an interpretation of “personnel matters.” The discussion about a path forward hiring a city manager and whether to go with a search firm isn’t the same as a personal evaluation. If this paper’s characterization is true, the transparency pledge from the council is as empty as that see-through class of vodka. But, if this is a mischaracterization of the council’s behavior, then the Globe-News has visited another disservice on the people of Amarillo — just as classy as the “Goodbye Terry” editorial the other day. (Say classy, Les.)

Speaking of editorials, now the Globe-News is calling for slowing down the city manager search. Doesn’t this conflict with questioning why the council wasn’t done with this search and hire mission a long time ago? Yes, most emphatically, it does. In fact, according to the voice of the Globe-News, its Nov. 3 opinion called for the hire before next May’s municipal elections. What is happening behind the scenes for the Globe-News to change directions? Does the petulant publisher have a slate lined up to back with his little birdcage liner?

Let all this sink in, will you?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hospital administrators and a lack of courage

It’s funny how certain actions trigger certain thoughts and memories. In my case, emptying the dishwasher brings up memories of my graduate program in hospital administration at the University of Iowa, which ended in 1969 with a master’s degree.

At a departmental farewell party, the now dead, director of the program, Gerhard Hartman, publicly invited me to continue for a Ph.D. I turned down that invitation. I don’t believe I ever shared why I declined to continue my education beyond the notion that I needed to begin supporting a family my wife and I planned to start soon. The previous year, one of the doctoral students washed out right at the point when he should gotten his degree. No one knew why, but I didn’t trust Hartman or the program.

Hartman was a hard and harsh taskmaster. I acknowledge that his setting that tone for some of the academic rigor was worthwhile. But, as I reminisce about the education and the way Hartman ran the program, I think I was intuitively aware that Hartman was morally bankrupt as were some elements of the program. Even more, Hartman was mean-spirited and that translated into the way he treated people. Hartman referred to my thesis advisor in front of our entire master’s class as a “martinet.” It wasn’t a compliment.

Hartman supplemented his income as department head and CEO of the university hospital with a consulting practice. I don’t know how he marketed himself to hospitals scattered throughout the Midwest, but I know how he handled the engagements. He assigned one of the doctoral students to supervise a team of three or four master’s students to gather demographic and socioeconomic data and ultimately put together a consultant’s report with recommendations for the hospital. Usually it was it was to cure the hospital board’s edifice complex by building something — another wing, a diagnostic building. I don’t remember any reported that didn’t carry some construction with it.

The report was to be formal, typed according to university standards and packaged for presentation. And, back then, grad students used freelance typists (an entire industry in a university town) who charged by the page. The master’s students on the team chipped in to pay for the typing. I don’t remember whether we paid for duplication or if Hartman used one of those high-end copy machines at the university. I do remember my share of the project was $150 in 1966 dollars. That was after we paid all the costs for travel to the hospital on the particular engagement.

The practice went on for years and somehow no one could ever bring up how Hartman was benefitting from this practice. It turned out that in 1977, Hartman got into trouble with the university and rumor had it he was also billing the university for some of those engagement costs. In that era, standing up to such an authority figure was unthinkable. I regret not having the courage, then, but this is a case of “if I knew then what I know now.”

When I was in the health care industry, I joked that the entire first semester of training for hospital administrators was devoted to learning how to serve coffee to the women’s auxiliary. The disdain that I have developed over the years grew as I witnessed hospital administrators show less backbone than a jellyfish has continued as I morphed into an investigative and health reporter. This came to mind earlier on Nov. 2, when I saw a story out of Boca Raton in the Palm Beach Post when the Boca Raton Regional Hospital charged a woman $7,000 for the use of a delivery room — despite the baby coming in the hospital’s parking lot. But that’s only part of the story. How did the hospital respond to the publicity? “A spokesperson for Boca Raton Regional Hospital says the administration has no comment at this time,” according to WPTV of West Palm Beach.

That is only the most recent incident that offers fodder for my evolved disdain for the graduate training at the University of Iowa. In part, it is because the Iowa program has lionized Hartman, naming an endowed chair for him and perpetuating him as an icon, all the while knowing he was morally bankrupt. Of course, like any institution, the university and the program itself, fends off any criticism or information that puts it in a bad light. Some of us, I suspect, see through that.

So what’s the point of posting this now, almost 50 years later? The past eight years, the debate about health care policy in the United States has revolved around the Affordable Care Act. Now, with the Republican coup d’état, we are further engaged in that debate. When are those supposedly trained to discuss policy going to help educate the public? Or, will they just quietly serve coffee to the hospital volunteers and cower in the corner?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A petulant publisher and a damaged city

The “opinion” page of Thursday’s Amarillo Globe-News displayed a pettiness and stupidity rarely seen in the worst of our media. But, here it is, in all its glory.

Brief background: Tuesday evening, Terry Childers, Amarillo’s interim city manager, was caught on a hot mic calling a citizen a “stupid son of a bitch” after said citizen spoke during the City Council’s public comment session. Wednesday morning, Childers resigned. It was the second such public display of profanity and bad temper, so no matter how much anyone approved of the changes Childers brought to the city, it was time for him to hit the road.

And thus, we have the two-word editorial in the local newspaper of record. Former opinion page editor and local blogger, my friend John Kanelis, pretty much took the words out of my mouth by beating me to the punch opining about the unprofessional act by Les Simpson, the AGN publisher of the city’s newspaper of record. Kanelis’ post lit up Facebook brighter than Beth Duke’s and Xcel Energy’s Christmas Electric Light Parade.

After I saw this petulant little display today, I called Simpson “a petty, petulant and deplorable prig,” and I think I also called him a “prick” and a “little shit.” But those are puerile insults on my part. The most condemning label for Simpson is hypocrite.

He made a big show for himself and the Globe-News to be leaders of the downtown development effort. He wanted to portray the paper and his role as leadership and that he was doing something good for the city. Of course he and his buddies then brought us Melissa Dailey, Wallace Bajjali and millions of lost dollars and misguided plans. When the new councilors came on board in June 2015, it was clear that Simpson’s cabal was in trouble and it was Childers who delivered the death blow for Downtown Amarillo Inc. and Dailey. Poor Les. He’s been angry, vindictive and petulant ever since. He’s been using a paper that once won a Pulitzer Prize as an ugly stick to beat on his enemies.

Now, with this openly childish reaction, he shows his hypocrisy. Everything he and the Globe-News did was for self-aggrandizement. It was for business reasons, to foster ties with the people in control of advertising dollar. It was never for the good of the city. Because if Les were interested in the good of the city, he wouldn’t have waged a 52-week war on Childers and the new councilors. He would have realized that his little, petty media outlet will now, with this very act, jeopardize getting a solid candidate to be city manager.

Who, after all, in their right mind, would want to work in Amarillo now? Congratulations, Les. You have-not only shown your true colors, but you’ve done irreparable damage to the city.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Understanding media failure through history

Alyona Minkovski, a bit of an over-achiever at age 30, published an article on the Huffington Post on Nov. 11. The title, “Want Better Journalism? You Have to Support It,” really isn’t about that. Her analysis of the media failure is shallow and lacks an understanding of the historical context.

To understand the media landscape that brought us to this point, Minkovski needed to harken back to before she was born, when Rush Limbaugh launched his right-wing program from a station in Sacramento, Calif. He went national a few years later. If she could have listened to him then, Minkovski would have heard his nascent attacks on the mainstream media. The first weapon was tapping into the confirmation bias, a notion about which you are correct, with lies of commission and omission. His rhetorical technique was a classic one in this regard — start a sentence but not fully complete the thought, letting the already biased listeners fill in their blanks.

The second weapon drew on what we learned about public relations from Edward Bernays and Josef Goebbels. That was a steady drumbeat of lies designed to undermine the credibility of such stalwarts as The New York Times and the Washington Post. It’s known as “The Big Lie.” The Times and Post didn’t do themselves any favors with reporters like Judith Miller, Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke, either.

Once Limbaugh started, others followed: Michael Savage, Art Bell, Glenn Beck and others. And so, the drumbeat got louder.

Parallel was “The Dumbing Down of America.” It was outlined well in a revealing book by Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, a former senior policy advisor in the United States Department of Education. Other books followed, including John Timan’s “100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World,” which pointed the finger at several social trends, including but not limited to, corporatization, anti-intellectualism, anti-science and conservative Christians zealots. His was a summary of things started by the so-called Moral Majority in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the cult of celebrity rolled on. Youth no longer aspired to be great doctors, or teachers or scientists. They aspired to be celebrity singers, rappers, athletes and entertainers of all types. Ah, yes, it was now bread and circuses.

Yes, the chattering class, helped by the changes in the media landscape, became famous and insular. And Limbaugh and his confreres stoked the fires of separating the media from its constituents. Where Minkovski is correct is that some of the media itself started taking themselves more seriously than the news they were tasked to cover. You know one of the definitions of journalism is to publish things that others don’t want revealed. But the corporatization of the media meant that the good reporters’ very bosses were part of that world of the corporate takeover of our government — the very corrosion in our nation needed revelation. Sure the revenue models have changed, and for the for-profit media, it was a combination of incompetence and greed that diluted investigative reporting. Filling the void are the non-profits like ProPublica, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Texas Tribune.

Now, this is the short version of something that has unfolded for some 40 years. We are at what historians call a watershed moment. As the son of Jews from Austria who left Europe in time, and as some students of history like me, the parallels to the rise of the Third Reich are frightening. To others, who wish to discount the obvious fascism, the Trumpsters throw out “Goodwin’s Law” in an attempt to discount our observations with the claim citing Hitler invalidates our view. They argue there are no roundups, concentration camps and gas chambers. My response is, “Not yet. But keep going and you’ll see.”

How the media handled this election can’t be understood and how the U.S. got to this point can’t be understood without the historical context and an understanding that corporatist elites own the government. Both 2016 candidates are elites. One tapped into the dark side of the U.S. and the other into the naïve side of the U.S. Ultimately both candidates are corporatists. Without a different kind of revolution, corporatist choices will continue. How and what unfolds remains to be seen, of course. But given what we’ve done to America’s intellect, I fear the worst.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Biff is not my president

It’s been about 24 hours since I and others realized that Hillary Clinton would not be president-elect.
Last night, during the fray, some of my friends on Facebook, including those who I know in real life, told me to get over it and move on. Pundits, Clinton herself and President Barack Obama called for unity. Well folks, that isn’t going to happen for me. I am not going to move on, I am not going to be part of the unity. I will avoid using the president-elect’s name, hereafter referring to him as Biff, as in Biff Tannen, the obscene bully, in the “Back to the Future” films.