Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hold your nose & vote Democratic if you want our elected officials to work for the 99%

By Marc Jampole 

Today’s the day for my annual Vote Straight Democrat essay. These past few years it seems to be an exercise in futility in every other area than social issues, as many Democrats are almost as right-wing as the Republicans on economic and foreign affairs issues, further to the right than the Eisenhower administration.

Most Democrats were once true progressives, which makes it doubly frustrating. The urge to stay home rather than vote for an Allison Lundergan Grimes or an Andrew Cuomo is strong.

But there are only two ways to influence elected officials, because those are only two things they want: votes and money. Correction—they want money and need votes. Unless you’re willing to cough up a few thousand—or a few hundred thousand—bucks, all you can offer a politician is your vote.

Votes don’t speak as loudly as money because you only have one vote and you can give many, many, many dollars. But the collective votes of demographic groups can speak loudly and clearly to the candidates.

Nothing short of an enlightened dictatorship will magically transform the United States overnight into a land in which all people get adequate health care, education and retirement as part of the social contract, there is an equitable distribution of wealth and income and we have secured our future as a species by slowing down man-made global warming and resource shortages. 

In our system of government, movement in a new direction, or back into old and successful direction, comes slowly. We have to keep pushing, just like the 1%, social conservatives and gun manufacturers have kept pushing over the past 35 years, gradually increasing inequality, limiting the right to an abortion, weakening unions, lowering taxes on the wealthy, attacking any scientific theory that doesn’t support their views and making it easier to carry guns in the street and get away with shooting people in cold blood for flimsy excuses.

To turn back the tide may take as long as or longer than it took for the right-wing waters to gather and flood our country. The first step is for progressives to show our power, which we can’t do if we don’t vote, since we 99% don’t have the same ability as the 1% do to feed money to the candidates and parties. Until minorities, young people and the poor establish a track record of voting, Democrats will continue to ignore our pressing needs, make compromises with the right wing and pursue militarism and 21st century imperialism abroad.  

Right now the best reason to vote Democratic is that the other side is so much worse. Let’s call it “voting on the Gore,” as we now know that progressives who voted for Ralph Nader instead of Al Gore for president in 2000 are in a large part responsible for the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, the torture gulag, the disastrous federal tax cuts for the wealthy, racking up major debt and then paying for it by cutting funds for education, the poor and our infrastructure, the embedding of the religious right in key government posts, the curtailment of civil rights in the name of security—and, as it turns out, possibly the 9/11 bombings through deliberate ignoring of many warnings signs.

Today we have to vote, and vote on the Gore. But if we can swing the Senate for the Democrats, erode the Republican majority in the House and start to hand governorships and state legislatures back to the Democrats, we will be in a position in 2016 to move the party left—to insist on more progressive candidates, and to maybe get Elizabeth Warren, Bill De Blasio or some other progressive on the national ticket.

But if we stay home this year, the Democrats will once again treat 2016 as if it were Halloween and dress up as a bunch of right-looking centrists. And I’ll be back again telling everyone to hold their noses and vote straight Democratic. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Kellogg’s adds to infantilization of American adults with Fruit Loops TV spot

By Marc Jampole 

It’s Saturday night. The kids are in bed and their early-thirties parents are finally alone.  She slips into a negligee while he opens a bottle of wine. She turns off the lights and waits for him on the sofa by the soft flickering light of a few candles. He programs some smooth jazz into the stereo, then sits down beside her. He tells her how beautiful she is.

Sounds like a great way to spend an evening without the kids, doesn’t it?

But not if you’re in a TV commercial for Fruit Loops, a Kellogg’s dry cereal with toxic contents: sugar is the first ingredient and you won’t find a single fruit or fruit product anywhere in the list of ingredients on the side of the box.

The commercial starts with an attractively plain-looking man and woman pouncing onto a plushy sofa, both with smiles as large as a half moon now that the kids are asleep and they are alone. But instead of getting amorous, she frenetically grabs a joy stick and starts playing a video game on the flat screen, while he excitedly spoon feeds her Fruit Loops from a large bowl which may or may not contain milk. They are completely into it, but not in a sexual way, but gleeful, like children at an amusement park having fun.

They do what boys and girls of all sexual proclivities do before they discover sex.

Kellogg’s is obviously targeting adults, but in doing so, they offer not an adult pleasure, but a retreat to a pre-sexual childhood. Contrast with the TV spot for Post’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch of a few years back that equated eating the cereal to scratching a dog’s belly, suggesting it was the highest of sensual pleasures. 

Kellogg’s is only one of many advertisers who infantilize adults or present a juvenile world as the ideal for adults.  Advertisers want adults to behave like children because it makes them better consumers. Children are more self-centered and find it harder to think long-term, so they are more likely to make an impulse purchase for themselves. Children have less sophisticated thought processes and are therefore easier to convince to buy or believe something. Children have not had rigorous training in economics, the scientific method and logic, all part of the core curriculum of any high school. Children tend to believe anything an authority figures says.

But as OpEdge has demonstrated in several columns, advertisers are not alone in supporting the infantilization of American adults. Year after year, the movie industry turns out movies about adults remaining children, behaving like children or returning to childhood. The “Harold & Kumar” movies,  “Old School,”  “Big,”  “Grandma’s Boy,”  “Ted,”  “The Wedding Crashers,”  “Billy Madison,”  “You, Me and Dupree,”  “Dodgeball,”  “”Step Brothers,”  “The 40-year-old Virgin,”  “Knocked Up,”  all three “Hangovers,”  the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,”  “Hall Pass”  and “Identity Thief” --these infantilizing movies dominate the playlists of the dominant cable networks. Marketers from the American Museum of Natural History to amusement parks are packaging childhood experiences for adults, as are makers of products for children such as LEGO and My Little Pony, who see a market in adult followers.

The 2006 satirical film, “Idiocracy,” depicts a future world in which humans have become stupid and illogical, basing most of their knowledge on what television commercials tell them. Thus they water their crops with Brawndo, a Gatorade like liquid they believe is good for everyone and everything because ads tell them “it has electrolytes.”  Of course the crops fail.

When I see commercials like the one for Fruit Loops and movies like “Ted,” I wonder how far off we are from the world of “Idiocracy.”  It wouldn’t be the first time that the educational levels and cultural sophistication has declined for a period of time. Think of the decline of knowledge and literacy in Western Europe after the death of Charlemagne.  

It’s more than just the infantilization of adults in the mass media and mass entertainments that troubles me. There’s the virulent reaction of the religious right and their political factotums to scientific knowledge. There are the attempts by state school boards to sneak fake theories and false notions into curricula. There’s the retreat from modernism in poetry and other art forms.  There’s the almost plague-like spread of celebrity culture stealing more and more news media space and time from real news and the discussion of issues.

Many signs point to a new dark age of ignorance falling upon the United States.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Editorial: Public Needs Facts, Nurses Need Union

Republicans and corporate media have sown fear with rampant misinformation on the Ebola threat. They blame federal authorities for failing to prepare local hospitals to deal with potential victims, but the debacle at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas points out the need for more oversight of healthcare providers as well as unions to protect doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers from administrators who are more concerned with bottom lines than quality control for patients and workers.

The biggest mistake the officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made in late September was in trusting Texas health authorities to deal with the Ebola victim, but Gov. Rick Perry has largely escaped criticism for the state’s failure of oversight.

Thomas Eric Duncan, who showed up at the Dallas emergency room on Sept. 25 with a fever, stomach pains and a piercing headache, reportedly told an ER worker that he had recently arrived from Africa and didn’t have insurance. He was sent home with antibiotics. When he returned three days later in an ambulance, he was left waiting with other patients for hours before he was admitted to the hospital’s isolation unit, nurses say.

“No one knew what the protocols were or were able to verify what kind of personal protective equipment should be worn and there was no training,” a nurse told National Nurses United, which has been warning for months that poor training and oversight is putting US healthcare workers at risk of contracting the virus. A nursing supervisor who demanded that Duncan be moved to an isolation unit faced resistance from other hospital authorities, the nurses said.

Luckily, none of the hospital’s patients or Duncan’s friends and family came down with Ebola as the 21-day incubation period expired on Oct. 20. But two nurses who treated Duncan were infected with the deadly virus, possibly because they were not trained in use of the limited protective gear they had, and more than 200 others with proximity to the stricken nurses were still being monitored.

As the hospital sought to defuse the criticism of its treatment of Duncan, it hired the global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller and started a more assertive defense, with employee pep rallies and complaints that the CDC didn’t help the hospital adequately prepare for an Ebola outbreak.

But some of the nurses at Presbyterian, who are not represented by a union, contacted the nurses union out of frustration with the lack of training and preparation. They spoke anonymously because they were warned not to speak to reporters and they fear retaliation from the hospital, NNU officials said.

Before Duncan showed up there was one optional lecture/seminar on Ebola and a link to the CDC website, but no mandate for nurses to attend the training sessions or protocols on what nurses had to do in the event of arrival of an Ebola patient.

“This is a very large hospital. To be effective, any classes would have to offered repeatedly, covering all times when nurses work; instead this was treated like the hundreds of other seminars that are routinely offered to staff,” the nurses said.

There was no advance hands-on training on the use of personal protective equipment for Ebola. No training on what symptoms to look for. No training on what questions to ask.

The problem is nationwide. NNU conducted a survey of 700 RNs at over 250 hospitals in 31 states and found that 80% said their hospital had not yet communicated any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected with Ebola; 87% said their hospital had not provided education on Ebola where nurses could interact and ask questions; and one-third said their hospital had insufficient supplies of eye protection and fluid-resistant gowns.

Also, while Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital operates as a non-profit organization, it booked an operating profit of $89 million for a 14.5% profit margin in 2012 and the Dallas Morning News reported Oct. 18 that Presbyterian’s ER actually is run by an independent contractor, Emergency Medicine Consultants Ltd., operating as Texas Medicine Resources L.L.P.

In such arrangements, which are common nationwide, companies typically assume many duties for the hospital, the News noted. So it is possible that the night the ER sent Duncan home with a wrong diagnosis of sinusitis, no Presbyterian employee was involved.

We agree with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who called on President Obama to use his executive authority to put in place mandatory protections and other workplace standards for hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

“Existing protocols, standards and guidelines, and adherence to them, are deficient,” Trumka said. “The failures in the response have put dozens of additional health care workers at risk, and potentially exposed many other workers and members of the public. ... Immediate action is needed.”

The standards should include the “highest level of protective equipment,” including use of air purifying respirators and full body suits with hands-on training on the proper way to put on and take off the protective gear. Trumka also called for protection from retaliation against workers who report health and safety issues or who contract the Ebola virus or are restricted or placed under quarantine.

Congress also must stop partisan posturing and work with the administration to provide support that is needed to stop the threat here and the bigger threat in West Africa, restoring the budget cuts that House Republicans have demanded since 2011 and adopting legislation to see that these protections are put in place without delay.

Supreme Court OKs Voter Suppression

A federal judge in Texas ruled Oct. 9 that a Voter ID bill unconstitutionally imposes a tax on the right to vote but the Supreme Court Oct. 18 decided to let Texas go ahead with suppressing hundreds of thousands of Texas voters in this year’s general election while the appeal works its way through the courts.

The order was unsigned, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a six-page dissent joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote.

Republicans claim to be confident that they can keep control of Texas, but they don’t want to leave anything to chance, so they railroaded the voter ID bill through the Legislature in 2011. US District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos of Corpus Christi ruled the bill was passed with a “discriminatory purpose” and could disenfranchise more than 600,000 citizens, disproportionately black and Hispanic, including students and seniors who don’t have cars so they don’t have drivers’ licenses, a military ID, a passport or a concealed weapons permit. Republicans claimed the law was needed to prevent voter fraud, but only two people were found to have impersonated others at Texas polls during a recent 10-year period.

The Supreme Court also upheld new restrictions on voting in North Carolina and Ohio that cut back early voting, but the high court stopped Wisconsin from implementing a voter ID bill for this election. At least 16 Republican-dominated states have acted to restrict voting in this election — and the suppression works. The US Government Accountability Office reported that strict photo ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee lowered voter participation in the 2012 elections by roughly 2 to 3 percentage points from 2008.

If Republicans were acting in good faith to prevent voter fraud, they would make state IDs easier to obtain for the roughly 10% of people who lack them. Many of those unlicensed don’t have the time or money to get the required documents, take a day off and find transportation to a license bureau, which are often in the suburbs, to get a state-approved voter ID. The GOP is unmoved.

Some day Republicans will be embarrassed by their role in suppressing the vote. But not this year. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2014
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Selections from the November 15, 2014 issue