fair care

23 07 2007

Another heartening article in The Times today: The House is attempting to push a bill that “calls for major changes in Medicare and promises to intensify the battle with the White House over health care.” While the Senate had recently passed a bill that would increase coverage for lower-income children (provided, brilliantly, by tax increases to the tobacco industry), House Democrats flexed their ever-expanding political muscle today and said that the bill just wasn’t good enough.

And if there’s a time to do it, now is that time. Following the overwhelming success of Michael Moore’s latest documentary endeavor Sicko, the American public has finally received a blunt awakening to the frankly embarrassing statistics of our country’s medical inferiorities. With more doctors and nurses than ever standing behind a more universal health care plan, and with Republicans floundering at large in the face of an increasing progressive majority, the Dems should take advantage of their power on Capitol Hill.

The American people want a change. The regime under Bush has not fared anyone (excluding, of course, a handful of billionaires and Fox pundits) well. If the Democrats fail, it will really only end up making Bush look worse — and more like a dictator in a supposedly Democratic nation — than ever.

Plus, his argument is flimsy:

President Bush has threatened to veto what he sees as a huge expansion of the children’s health care program, which he describes as a step “down the path to government-run health care for every American.”

His argument has a pretty gaping hole: America is no longer terrified of socialized medicine. Major political voices are too young to remember the blood-chilling threat of Communists infiltrating America — and even those who do remember have come to realize that the whole movement was a bit of sham (McCarthyism anyone?). What we as a people want more than anything — Conservatives and liberals alike — is for our families and friends to be safe and healthy. It is obvious that the current middle-man-oriented, insurance-driven Medicare system is not doing that. We need a change.

What the Democrats are currently suggesting may seem controversial, but it’s a long time coming. They could even up the ante a little bit — as they may be planning to do later. They are wise, however, to try to push this through Congress before the summer recess. We want to look at the last half-a-year and see that the Democratic-controlled Congress has done something we can be proud of. And if they do, that could be just what the Democratic ticket could need to secure that coveted spot in the Oval Office in ’08.

americans suck

21 07 2007

Check out my list of My 10 Least Favorite (Living) Americans…

by clicking here

old heroes

20 07 2007

It’s a disgusting world we live in when the forces that are meant to keep us safe are the most corrupt and dirty of them all.

Case in point: Today’s article in The New York Times on the Chicago police department. The article is just another in a long string of never-ending stories about police brutality in America, although it does have some startlingly new statistics.

The story mentions a list of more than 600 officers (no, I didn’t accidentally add a zero to the end) who have had more than 10 civilian complaints filed against them in a five-year period. The list, uncovered by journalist Jamie Kalven, is being kept under wraps by lawyers who don’t see what good it would do to exploit police officers who wouldn’t be able to defend themselves. The Times got their hands on a copy of the list and reported:

…four officers had 50 or more citizen complaints filed against them in the five-year period, beginning roughly in 2001.

Of those, one complaint resulted in a 15-day suspension and two prompted reprimands. The officer with the greatest number of complaints, 55, did not receive any disciplinary action. Twenty-nine additional officers each had 30 to 40 complaints against them; of those, two were given reprimands and two received one-day suspensions.

Most officers on the list had 11 to 20 complaints.

Kind of makes you think of 1993, when Chicago police chief Jon Burge was finally removed for getting Black suspects to confess by taking them into interrogation rooms and torturing them until they signed confession papers. These confessions — which were obtained in dark rooms where suspects were kicked, beaten, and electro-shocked on their ears and genitals — often led to death sentencing. And Jon Burge alongside his police department did that for more than 20 years before he was finally fired from the police force.

Of course, many of the police officers Burge worked with are still in the force today. And old habits die hard.

So today we still have corrupt police officers in the system, and a lot of evidence to back it up (not to mention lots of angry citizens). For instance:

An off-duty officer was caught on videotape beating a female bartender. In another incident, also captured on videotape, a group of off-duty officers was seen beating four businessmen at a downtown bar. In addition, several officers in an elite unit are awaiting trial on charges that include home invasion, theft and armed violence, as county prosecutors continue to investigate the unit.

So finally the city has spoken out and decided to do something about it. An ordinance was passed in City Council yesterday, 48-0. To which Mayor Richard M. Daley (one of my 10 least favorite Americans) said, “Some people believe we don’t need this kind of reform. Others believe we haven’t gone far enough. We need to take this step and give it time to work.” Really, Mr. Daley? Who exactly are these people who don’t believe we need this kind of reform, I wonder? Considering even the most conservative alderpeople voted in FAVOR of this kind of reform, I can’t help but question your statement.

Mr. Daley is, of course, talking about Chicago policemen. They’re certainly not pleased at all this bad press they’ve been getting recently, and frankly, Mr. Daley isn’t, either. He’s doing everything in his power to keep the newspapers from reporting on this too heavily. That way, he can maintain that sparkling clean Chicago image that he’s kept up for so long, dutifully sweeping everything that doesn’t shine, look beautiful, or make more than $80,000 a year under the rug.

It took a lot of grassroots organizing to get Jon Burge ousted from the Chicago Police Department in the ’90s, and in order to make that organization happen, the media had to pay a lot of attention. Similarly, to clean up the police system which has been corrupt since its beginning, it is crucial to abandon the whole everything’s-peachy act and let the public know what is its business. If the major bad guys on the 600-name list didn’t want to get into trouble, they should have treated their positions with more respect from the get-go. Now they’re in danger of becoming what all men in places of power fear becoming: Common citizens who must obey the law like everyone else.

cold blood

17 07 2007

Bob Herbert’s opinion piece in the Times this morning was about Senator Barack Obama’s speech yesterday at the Vernon Park Church of God, in which he addressed the increasing number of murders among Chicago school children in the past year.

Herbert’s column basically parrots Mr. Obama’s plea for greater governmental action as well as individual responsibility:

In a conversation yesterday, he stressed that the plight of young people struggling in tough environments demands both governmental attention and a heightened sense of individual responsibility. Both are essential.

It’s safe to demand more from the government while also demanding more from people as individuals. That really covers all the bases: No one want school children to die, right? And the liberals say George W. Bush needs to impose stricter gun regulation, and the conservatives maintain that if only those lower-income minority families would stay out of trouble and stop doing crack none of this would happen. Mr. Obama’s speech, as presented by Herbert, comes out dead in the middle. He’s a smartly political man, that Obama. You’d think he was running for president.

The bold choice Mr. Obama made yesterday, however, had nothing to do with the solutions he offered. While he did mention stricter gun control regulations (a hop topic for Democratic nominees in this election), he really did something marvelous just by bringing attention to a problem that is under-reported at best.

Last September I spent four hours in a community garden in the neighborhood of South Chicago on a day that was particularly quiet. The tiny garden, cultivated by willing volunteers in the neighborhood, was the largest area of green space for miles in any direction. The woman who showed us around the garden — a volunteer who had moved to Chicago from the West coast — was sad that day. One of the teenagers who often helped at the garden and spent every day after school in the corresponding community art center had been shot and killed the night before. South Chicago falls right between gang lines — incidents like that are common. One teacher told our group that no one ever showed up to school on Halloween because it was simply too dangerous to walk outside; even in the day time. As Bob Herbert aptly wrote, “Chicago is hardly alone when it comes to the slaughter of youngsters who are living in conditions that can fairly be compared to combat.”

I don’t write that as a scare tactic. The truth is, if you’re white and middle class, you’re not really in danger at all. Funny, then, how the news disproportionately reports stories with white victims and Black or Latino attackers. An extensive Berkeley study done in 2001 shows unequivocally that the news is designed to scare white people and antagonize Black people. Among the findings:

In nine of 12 (75%) studies, minorities were overrepresented as perpetrators of crime. Six out of seven (86%) studies that clearly identify the race of victims found more attention was paid to White victims than to Black victims.

Several studies found that Black victims are less likely to be covered in newspapers than are White victims, and one found that newsworthiness increases when the victim is White.

Homicides of White victims resulted in more and longer articles than homicides of Black victims.

The truth is, it is all too easy to pull a Bill Cosby and point fingers at the minorities of America. While there is something to be said of the Black conservative argument (hotghettomess.com, for instance, discusses these arguments intelligently, hilariously and at length), there is a lot more to be said for the fact that we can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars providing aid to the friends and families of the victims of the Virginia Tech Massacre, while pushing the real victims of the American system further down the drain.

Mr. Obama was correct to address an issue which puts modern American racism on the table, looks it in the eye, and demands it to explain itself. America, what are we doing for these families who do not deserve to suffer any more than you or I do?

The solution is not for the government to ban guns in the inner cities (as Obama would have it, incidentally) and expect the problem to fix itself. The solution is not for single mothers who are working two jobs to buy healthier juice boxes and more colorful hard-bound children’s books for their impressionable kin. The solution is for America to wake the fuck up, realize that we are not living in a country where all men are treated equally, and start the long and painful discussion that is embarrassingly overdue.

progress under control

13 07 2007

Sales of the oh-so-controversial morning-after pill Plan B have doubled this year, the Washington Post reports today, since the FDA approved the sale of the pill without a prescription. And conservatives are shaking in their bootstraps.

Their reasoning for being so upset is illogical and borderline insane.  Says the Post:

Conservative members of Congress and advocacy groups strongly opposed the move. They questioned the drug’s safety and argued that easier availability could encourage sexual activity and make it easier for men to have sex with underage girls. They also maintain the pill can cause the equivalent of an abortion.

Let’s break this down:

They are first upset because they question a drug’s safety — a drug which has been thoroughly tested, mind you and contains (wait for it) the same chemicals as regular old birth control pills!:

“Plan B® has no serious or lasting medical side effects. Some women will experience non-serious side effects, such as nausea, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, or breast tenderness. These are similar to the side effects of regular birth control pills.”

Whooooa. Hold the phones! Dizziness? Headache? BREAST TENDERNESS?!?!?! We can’t have that, now can we?

Moving down the list of complaints: They maintain that Plan B will “make it easier for men to have sex with underage girls.” Oh, right. Because sexual predators are just so likely to care one way or the other. What are they going to do — take the girls to the pharmacy afterwards and force her to take the pill? I’m sorry, but isn’t that kind of girl exactly what this pill was designed for? Ultimnately, the victims of rape must deal with the repercussions on their own. Plan B provides a safe, clinically-tested option for these women during what might be the most vulnerable time of their lives.

The final complaint listed in the article — that taking Plan B “can cause the equivalent of an abortion” — is the most ridiculous of all. Just for starters, Plan B’s Web site has this to say:

Because Plan B® is used to prevent pregnancy, it will not work if you are already pregnant, and it will not affect an existing pregnancy.

Now let’s check the definition of “abortion,” shall we?

a·bor·tion[uhbawr-shuhn] .–noun: The removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus in order to end a pregnancy.

Huh.  Sooo… Let’s get this straight. Plan B cannot affect an existing pregnancy. And the defintion of an abortion is to end a pregnancy. Let’s put 2 and 2 together and deduce that conservative adovates against Plan B are idiots.

I don’t know if there’s some conspiratorial subtext here — like, really, the religious right wants to ridicule rape victims or something ridiculous like that — or it’s possible they’re just really, really stupid. Because if we can have antidepressants that are rumored to make suicide more likely, and alcohol which causes upwards of 15,000 premature deaths per year, then why on earth is there such an outcry when there’s a drug that is statistically proven to help women live their lives?

like bike

11 07 2007

Sitting down in a neighborhood community-growth discussion group in south Chicago last year, someone mentioned a far-fetched and distant dream they had of loaning bicycles out to residents on faith that they would be returned. The room buzzed with laughter. “Yeah right,” someone muttered.

Trust is not something that runs freely in this country. With our conservative every-man-for-himself, dog-eat-dog collective mentality, a shared-bicycle program in a major metropolis is an idea for radical socialists whose minds are less grounded than runaway balloons.

But New York instigated just such a test-program only five days ago, setting up a station where people could borrow a bicycle — provided they showed photo ID and a credit card number for security reasons — for up to half an hour.

That said, the New York Times blog post on the subject is almost hilariously headlined, “Dozens Turn Out for Bike-Sharing Program.” Ooooh. Dozens. In a city of 8 million people, you’d think that more than 25 would snatch up the opportunity to ride a free bike around a big, bike-able city.

But the program (which was only in the testing stages, I must emphasize, and ends today until further decisions about instigating a permanent version can be made) is flawed. First, by mandating photo identification and a credit card, the program shuts out all those it should be encompassing. Those without the financial means to have a state-issued ID or a credit card would not be able to ride on the bicycles. Basically, the program is limited to the bourgeoisie who have a half hour to leisurely pedal through Central Park before their afternoon frappacino.

Second, the half-hour time limit is extremely restrictive — especially in a tangled, intimidating city like New York. A program like this shouldn’t just be available to people who know the area and want to take a short ride — bicycles are great for anyone trying to make a job interview or get to the subway on time. With only one drop-off station two of the days the program was working, biking free could be more trouble than it was worth.

And of course, if the bicycle group couldn’t trust the people to return their bicycles without a credit card number for security, how could they expect the people to give their credit card numbers without fear of unlawful distribution?

Similar programs have been successful in cities like Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas. In Austin, particularly, the project (dubbed “The Yellow Bike Project”for the bright yellow bicycles that are distributed throughout the city) has flourished, offering not only free rides for those who need them, but also build-your-own bike classes for those who cannot afford their own bicycles, and bike distribution and donation to non-profits like Bikes Across Borders.

Basically, the Yellow Bike Project releases about 30 bright yellow bicycles — rebuilt from unusable and defunct old ones — around the city. Anyone can ride any bike at any time and leave it wherever she wants when she’s done using it.

The key here is that the Project doesn’t take the problem of stolen bikes too seriously. As Project Coordinator Marci Schneider put it:

“When we release them, they’re around for about a month or so, then they start to disappear.”

And that’s to be expected. Run on donations, volunteer hours and manpower, those who run the Project can’t expect its bicycles to stay out there forever. Nevertheless, the city is much better off, and the Yellow Bike Project has done a fabulous service.

New York has higher-grade offers being made by shady corporations like Clear Channel, JCDecaux and Cemusa, but they’ve got it all wrong. The city would be well off instigating a for-everyone program like Austin’s — only on a much larger scale.

Interest in programs like these speaks at great volume to the country’s increasing concern about carbon emissions and global warming. It won’t be long before major corporations attempt to make a profit from the nation’s legitimate apprehension. Frankly, I’m okay with that. But, as always, we must keep in mind those who can’t afford solar panels on their roofs or $2000 road bikes.

Global warming is a unique cause because it’s growing more and more non-partisan. With escalating scientific evidence, it’s growing near-to-impossible to deny the boundless reaches of its effects. The positive side of this, if we must find one, is that this cause may bind us as a common people in ways that have since been unknown. And if there’s any cause that must resist the shackles of grid-locked class divisions, this is the one.

carefully worded

10 07 2007

There was a funeral in Detroit, Michigan yesterday: a big one. As hundreds of non-mourners looked on, the NAACP buried the n-word — once and for all.

Obviously, the burial was controversial among everyone — especially in the Black community. The symbolic motion had undertones of the Civil Rights-era passion that had been so widespread and successful in the 1950s and ’60s. Since then, Black Rights have been a less talked-about and more swept-under-the-rug topic of conversation for the country. Some see yesterday’s ceremony as a bold step to rekindle a movement many took for dead.

Except that the abolition of the n-word is tricky. The idea has a blatant air of censorship.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said at the ceremony:

“To bury the N-word, we’ve got to bury the pimps and the hos and the hustlers. Let’s bury all the nonsense that comes with this.”

Whoa. We’ve got to “bury the pimps and the hos and the hustlers?” One problem: The pimps and the hos and the hustlers are not yet dead. Too often, those “pimps and hos and hustlers” are the ones who fall most victim to racist American society. These are the people who need our help. Wasn’t the idea of the NAACP to get America to learn to accept everyone, anyway? (Okay, that’s disputable, I’ll admit, but it’s a topic for another day).

Unfortunately, we can’t just bury these things. To me, this gesture more symbolizes the exact action that is behind institutionalized racism in this country than it does anything else: Our government’s desire to cover up its racist tendencies at every turn.

There are problems we have to acknowledge, here: For one, the overwhelming corporatization of hip-hop has masked what that music was really all about when it began. The glorification of drug-hustling and women-as-sex-objects (among other hip-hop cliches) not only gives white Americans the wrong idea about Black culture, it gives inner-city minority kids the wrong idea, too. But it sells, and people buy it. This music is just as much a part of our culture as anything else. An examination as to why this racial stereotype has become so acceptable is long overdue.

Furthermore, what right do we as white America have to define a culture as we deem acceptable? There is a growing movement in the Black community (especially gaining speed after the Michael Richards fiasco of last fall)  to reclaim the n-word, in an effort to invest in it respect and dignity. I need not add that many rappers subscribe to this idea.

In the end, words are not the problem. A symbolic burial is good to bring a community of like-minded people together, but that’s about where the positive nature of the action ends. More important is to address the problem at hand: there are millions of kids who are hearing that word on their friend’s MP3-players — but haven’t learned the history of it. That’s a problem. There are millions of Black teenagers who don’t know where to turn or what to do with their lives because this country has not given them the same resources as their white counterparts to make a living. Sometimes those people turn to selling drugs for money just to live their lives.  That’s a problem. White kids who do the same thing — less likely for lack of options and more likely for lack of initiative — are far less likely to be arrested for it. That’s a problem.

So it’s time for the NAACP to do something bigger, for once. I buried the n-word in my vocabulary a long time ago. When I was six, my mother explained to me what that word meant and that it would never be allowed under her roof. And I intend to do the same thing with my children, as I hope they will with theirs, so that the n-word might never disappear completely — a constant reminder of what we as a people did wrong, and the debt we will forever owe to those whose lives we destroyed.