Friday, October 18, 2013

How Fox Lies Masquerade as Journalism

A Guest Post

I happened to turn on the Hannity show on Fox News last Friday evening. “Average Americans are feeling the pain of Obamacare and the healthcare overhaul train wreck,” Hannity announced, “and six of them are here tonight to tell us their stories.”  Three married couples were neatly arranged in his studio, the wives seated and the men standing behind them, like game show contestants.
As Hannity called on each of them, the guests recounted their “Obamacare” horror stories: canceled policies, premium hikes, restrictions on the freedom to see a doctor of their choice, financial burdens upon their small businesses and so on.
“These are the stories that the media refuses to cover,” Hannity interjected.
But none of it smelled right to me. Nothing these folks were saying jibed with the basic facts of the Affordable Care Act as I understand them. I understand them fairly well; I have worked as a senior adviser to a governor and helped him deal with the new federal rules.
I tracked down Hannity’s guests, one by one, and did my own telephone interviews with them.
First I spoke with Paul Cox of Leicester, N.C.  He and his wife Michelle had lamented to Hannity that because of Obamacare, they can’t grow their construction business and they have kept their employees below a certain number of hours, so that they are part-timers.
Obamacare has no effect on businesses with 49 employees or less. But in our brief conversation on the phone, Paul revealed that he has only four employees. Why the cutback on his workforce? “Well,” he said, “I haven’t been forced to do so, it’s just that I’ve chosen to do so. I have to deal with increased costs.” What costs? And how, I asked him, is any of it due to Obamacare? There was a long pause, after which he said he’d call me back. He never did.
There is only one Obamacare requirement that applies to a company of this size: workers must be notified of the existence of the “” website, the insurance exchange. That’s all.
Next I called Allison Denijs.  She’d told Hannity that she pays over $13,000 a year in premiums. Like the other guests, she said she had recently gotten a letter from Blue Cross saying that her policy was being terminated and a new, ACA-compliant policy would take its place. She says this shows that Obama lied when he promised Americans that we could keep our existing policies.
Allison’s husband left his job a few years ago, one with benefits at a big company, to start his own business. Since then they’ve been buying insurance on the open market, and are now paying around $1,100 a month for a policy with a $2,500 deductible per family member, with hefty annual premium hikes.  One of their two children is not covered under the policy. She has a preexisting condition that would require purchasing additional coverage for $800 a month, which would bring the family’s grand total to $19,000 a year.
I asked Allison if she’d shopped on the exchange, to see what a plan might cost under the new law. She said she hadn’t done so because she’d heard the website was not working. Would she try it out when it’s up and running? Perhaps, she said. She told me she has long opposed Obamacare, and that the president should have focused on tort reform as a solution to bringing down the price of healthcare.
I tried an experiment and shopped on the exchange for Allison and Kurt. Assuming they don’t smoke and have a household income too high to be eligible for subsidies, I found that they would be able to get a plan for around $7,600, which would include coverage for their uninsured daughter. This would be about a 60 percent reduction from what they would have to pay on the pre-Obamacare market.
Allison also told me that the letter she received from Blue Cross said that in addition to the policy change for ACA compliance, in the new policy her physician network size might be reduced.  That’s something insurance companies do to save money, with or without Obamacare on the horizon, just as they raise premiums with or without Obamacare coming.
If Allison’s choice of doctor was denied her through Obamacare then, yes, she could have a claim that Obamacare has hurt her. But she’d also have thousands of dollars in her pocket that she didn’t have before.
Finally, I called Robbie and Tina Robison from Franklin, Tenn.  Robbie is self-employed as a Christian youth motivational speaker. (You can see his work here.) On Hannity, the couple said that they, too, were recently notified that their Blue Cross policy would be expiring for lack of ACA compliance. They told Hannity that the replacement plans Blue Cross was offering would come with a rate increase of 50 percent or even 75 percent, and that the new offerings would contain all sorts of benefits they don’t need, like maternity care, pediatric care, prenatal care and so forth.  Their kids are grown and moved out, so why should they be forced to pay extra for a health plan with superfluous features?
When I spoke to Robbie, he said he and Tina have been paying a little over $800 a month for their plan, about $10,000 a year. And the ACA-compliant policy will cost 50-75 percent more? They said this information was related to them by their insurance agent.
Had they shopped on the exchange yet, I asked? No, Tina said, nor would they. They oppose Obamacare and want nothing to do with it. Fair enough, but they should know that I found a plan for them for, at most, $3,700 a year, a 63 percent less than their current bill.  It might cover things that they don’t need, but so does every insurance policy.
It’s true that we don’t know for sure whether certain ills conservatives have warned about will occur once Obamacare is fully enacted. For example, will we truly have the same freedom to choose a physician that we have now? Will a surplus of insured patients require a scaling back (or “rationing,” as some call it) of provided healthcare services?  Will doctors be able to spend as much time with patients? These are all valid, unanswered questions. The problem is that people like Sean Hannity have decided to answer them now, without evidence. Or worse, with fake evidence.
I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster; but none of them had even visited the insurance exchange. And some of them appear to have taken actions (Paul Cox, for example) based on a general pessimistic belief about Obamacare. He’s certainly entitled to do so, but Hannity is not entitled to point to Paul’s behavior as an “Obamacare train wreck story” and maintain any credibility that he might have as a journalist.
Strangely, the recent shutdown was based almost entirely on a small percentage of Congress’s belief that Obamacare, as Ted Cruz puts it, “is destroying America.”  Cruz has rarely given us an example of what he’s talking about.  That’s because the best he can do is what Hannity did—exploit people’s ignorance and falsely point to imaginary boogeymen.
Eric Stern lives in Helena, Montana. He was senior counsel to Brian Schweitzer, former Governor. This article appeared on the website SALON.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Land Is Alive With the Sound of Flatulence

Too many people being paid to practice my old craft -- journalism -- have become unctuous bags of hot air.

If their bias is centrist, President Obama just won a big victory because the damned fools in Congress decided after 16 days of theatrical idiocy to allow the government to resume governing.

If they are biased to the right, as ever increasing numbers are, the end of the shutdown and avoidance of debt default have killed democracy and created a socialist dictatorship or, as Tea Pot Minister of Propaganda Rush Limbaught put it, "it feels like we lost a war to a Communist country."

Theyre all simply bloviating.

Nobody "won" or "lost" in this sad, sad parody of democracy.

The country, the citizens who elected these buffoons, are the losers.  In monetary terms alone, the most conservative estimate is that the antics of the morons cost an already battered and bruised economy $24 billion.  As Sen. Elizabeth Warren put it, "How many children could have been back in Head Start classes? How many seniors could have had a hot lunch through Meals on Wheels? How many scientists could have gotten their research funded? How many bridges could have been repaired and trains upgraded?  The Republicans keep  . . . trying to cut funding for the things that would help us build a future. But they . . .flush away $24 billion on a political stunt."

All that was accomplished by yesterday's events was to fund government operations for a few months and set up an apparatus for agreeing on a budget.  The same cockeyed contretemps that just ended could very well resume early next year.

The biggest loss is that while Congress was dancing around its Constitutional obligation to fund the government programs it has already created, terribly important matters have been pushed off the national agenda.

Warren touched on one of them when she mentioned bridges and trains.  Our national infrastructure is Third World.  Water mains, bridges, rails and trains, dams, roads, schools and other public facilities desperately need repair or replacement.  Meanwhile, we are suffering a crisis of joblessness. When this happened 85 years ago, government stepped in and put people to work building things that still benefit people today. This has to be addressed.  How many bridges have to collapse, how many long-term jobless citizens have to commit suicide because they can't feed their families, before the millionaires in Congress realize the obvious?

We are on the brink of an environmental crisis that could destroy the planet as a habitat for human and other forms of life.  If that doesn't deserve immediate and serious attention from our government, what does?

We have crippled our scientifc community, thanks, again, to some of the idiots we have elected to office.  If the richest nation on earth cannot, or will not, lead the way in the quest for cures, the development of safe and renewable sources of energy, the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink, who will?

We are pursuing a policy of endless war that not only is inhumane, immoral and illegal but also is bankrupting our treasury. Yes, Ted Cruz, you uncredible fool, and all of your moronic allies, we need to cut spending; we need to cut spending on war and divert the money to increasing Social Security, improving health care for every single person in these United States, and making our government's top priority the improvement of the quality of life of its citizens.

No, members of the nattering class, there were no "winners" or "losers" in Washington yestrday. The same zoo is still there, monkeying around, behaving like asses, burying their heads in sand, flying off the handle, changing colors, lying like magpies and fluffing their tailfeathers for the camera while toadying faux journalists treat them like celeberities.

A pox on all their houses.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Land of Racism, Home of Haters

A group of white American citizens gathered yesterday to exercise their Constitutional rights of assembly and free speech, exposing to the world the true colors of the Republican party: racism and hate.

Exhorted by the likes of Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, they flaunted the ultimate symbol of racism, the flag of the Confederacy.  They cheered a speaker whose message to President Obama was, “put the Quran down … get up off  (your) knees, and …  come out with (your) hands up.”

This is how the most ignorant and mean-spirited among us deal with their frustrations at having their most cherished and most noxious notions rebuffed in the democratic process: 40 losing votes in the House on repealing the Affordable Care Act, repeated refusals by the Congress to attach draconian social issue caveats to proposed spending bills that could have ended the government shutdown they caused.

They are no longer just a loud and vexing minority. They are a national disgrace,

They and the propaganda tanks like the National Heritage Foundation, which pull their puppet strings, provided the impetus for the governmental follies that have destroyed whatever influence and prestige the United States once retained among the nations of the world.  All it has left is the capacity of bombs, nukes, drones and military incursions to create ever smaller "coalitions of the willing" in the manner of playground bullies.

Forget the moral high ground.  We relinquished the last vestiges of that a decade or more ago. We are an empty suit in the eyes of the civilized world.  "Land of the free and home of the brave" is an international laughing stock.  "The beacon of democracy" in Washington is a flickering myth. "Hope of the free world" is an outright lie.  We are morally bankrupt.  We have allowed two successive administrations to whittle away our civil rights, cancel the Constitutional balance of powers, create a ruling corporate oligarchy and turn most of the public into lemmings and sheep.  Those who dare to dfissent are bullied into silence or jailed. (The Occupy movement.) Those who speak the truth, to Power and to us, are jailed or forced to flee into exile. (Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning.) A subservient mainstream press has enlisted full throat in the conspiracy to hide these unpleasant truths from us. (Miller to Sanger to Fox.)

This is the legacy of those who made a spectacle of themselves Sunday in Washington. Their brothers and sisters in ignorance all through this land watched approvingly.  But abroad in lands where wisdom and prudence  are more cherished than they are here, observers turned their heads from this ugly demonstration of racism and hate in a country many of them once admired. Japan and China, holders of roughly two-thirds of our national debt, have warned our so-called leaders to grow up, but to no avail.

If the nations of the world are going to solve the great problems confronting them -- war, starvation, massive global climate change, poverty, human rights abuses -- they will have do do so without the leadership or even the cooperation of the United States.

It can't even figure out how to pay its bills on time.  Some superpower.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Criminality of Teapot Republicans

Money buys power in these United States and power corrupts. Koch brothers petroleum money -- more money than god -- is behind the imbecilic behavior of the Republicans in Washington.  They can't help being imbeciles but having run for the House of Representatives, and somehow been elected by their comrades in ignorance, they need to be held accountable for their crimes.

For it is indeed criminal that they are refusing to perform what has always been a routine function -- approving the payment, and authorizing the borrowing required for the government to do so, of the costs of government programs they have already voted for.  It is criminal because, as a result of their actions:

-- The United States is powerless to join other countries in the desperate search for a Fukushima solution before the earth is rendered unfit for habitation.  Water contaminated by more than 7,000 times the maximum tolerable amount of radiation is flowing into the Pacific Ocean.  Flotsam from the tsunami that hit the Japanese nuclear plant has already washed up on the shores of other countries, including our own.  The killer wastewater is on its way and en route nobody can even guess the devastation it will wreak on marine life, let alone people on the coasts.

--No responsible government entity or individual is working on the biggest threat to mankind since Biblical times: climate change.  Most of the same morons who brought us the government shutdown deny that there is such a thing, or that humans caused it, or should attempt to stop it and save the human race.  Such insanity simply cannot be tolerated in a crisis of this magnitude -- yet it's happening.

--Our illegal wars continue around the globe, and our illegal military incursions into sovereign nations (Libya, Somalia) continue as well, and our Secretary of State proudly declares there will be more.  But the Veterans Administration doesn't have money even for burial costs of our slain military, can't pay benefits to our disabled veterans and the imbeciles in John Boehner's cuckoo's nest do not give a damn.

--Families living below the poverty line with children cannot get assistance to buy basic food. The infantile asses who shut down the government think their problem is lack of good old American ambition.

--Hard-working American citizens who are fortunate to have a bit of discretionary money to spend cannot use our national parks and monuments, our national museums and cultural institutions, our memorials to the dead of yesteryear's wars,  Yet the exploiters of public lands, the drillers and diggers in our natiional parks and monuments, the polluters of the waterways that run through them and the exploders of their mountain majesties -- these makers of billionaires like the Kochs, takers who pay no income tax -- are able to come and go on public lands willy-nilly to extract and transport their spoils.

--People with terminal diseases have been cut off from the experimental drug treatments that  are their last desperate hope.

--The Slimeballs who caused the government shutdown say they want to control the deficit -- which actully has been shrinking for months -- but their shutdown is costing us as least $300 million a day.

None of this needs to have happened.  Millions of Americans  are suffering and some -- too many -- will die because a relative handful of amoral fools, wrapped in the flag and shouting the praises of a vengeful Old Testament god, full of hatred for all the "others" in this world, clinging to the material wealth of their class and jealous of the aspirations of those others to live in health in decent houses with adequate food, spiteful and juvenile and resentful and angry all at once, these blind and bloated  ignoramuses just do not care. They have no sensitivity, no empathy, no compassion.

But we let them control our destiny.  And so we are criminal, as well.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Journalism in the U.S. Fails Us Again

Sometimes the U.S. media complicity in the national madness seems to border on treason.

"News" coverage of the run-up to government shutdown, and possible default on the national debt has been abominable, in the disastrous tradition of the three I's (Iraq, Iran, Israel), recent poitical campaigns and Congress (in all of its actions, inactions and assininity).

The remaining contemporary giants of journalism have been pointing out these failures for a long time now, and largely been ignored. Bill Moyers comes to mind. A former newspaper publisher who turned Newsday from a conservative little rag into one of the country's most respected newspapers, Moyer then spent three decades showing us how good television could be in the right hands.  Many of his finest TV hours exposed the deficiencies of the media that give us most of our "information," too much of which is stenography, "he said, she said" claptrap, or unvarnished propaganda. A recent review of pre-shutdown coverage on the website magnified these criticisms.

Chris Hedges, a great New York Times reporter who left the Old Gray Lady when its journalistic standards began to plummet, only to become one of the most important writers on contemporary affairs in the nation today, is another frequent critic of today's pathetic journalism. "The degradation of education into vocational training for the corporate state," he writes, "the ending of state subsidies for the arts and journalism, the hijacking of these disciplines by corporate sponsors, severs the population from understanding, self-actualization and transcendence. In aesthetic terms the corporate state seeks to crush beauty, truth and imagination. This is a war waged by all totalitarian systems."

Such corporate state journalism accounts for what Paul Krugman calls "wildly distorted ideas" about Obamacare, the nickname for the Affordable Care Act that Republicans have contrived to drag into the national economic debate. Extremist GOP congressmen have brought communism, slavery and pederasty into the ignorant fooferaw that set up the present shutdown. The best reporting on all of this has come from peudo-journalists like Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart.  Kimmel took to the streets with camera and microphone to ask common citizens whether they preferred Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.  Every respondent went Bonkers demeaning Obamacare; all of them preferred the Affordable Care Act.  Never mind that they are one and the same; right wing propaganists, with full support of the popular media, have succeeded in demonizing Obamacare (a repeat of their success in making "liberal" a nasty word). Stewart summarized the hollowness of the GOP position by telling Rep. Peter King of the GOP: "It's a f*c*ing LAW!!"

Indeed it is -- debated, compromised and passed by both houses of the previous Congress; signed by the President and upheld by the uber-conservative Supreme Court.  Our laws and Constitution provide a process: those who dislike all or parts of the Act can move in the appropriate committees of either house of Congress to amend or repeal it. If it gets out of committee, it goes to a vote. Of course, the members of the House the ultra-Republican New York Daily News calls "Turds" have tried that legitimate tactic 40-some times and failed.  So now they're using an illegal tactic, shutting down government and threatening to force it into default. And our media still play "he said, she said," giving equal weight to what, say, Michelle Bachman says, and what, say, Elizabeth Warren says.

Another great contemporary journalist, the inimitable Seymour Hersh, says: "Get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist. Close down the news bureaus of the networks and let's start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won't like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you.  That's what we're supposed to be doing, Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say, 'here's a debate.' Our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who's right and who's wrong about issues.

Mort Persky, who spent five distinguished decades making American journalism better, decries the New York Times's nerdy-wordy or plain right-biased coverage yesterday and today of the start up of Obamacare. This sentence -- "A trouble-plagued start, accompanied by the complaints of frustrated consumers, may undermine political support for the law and discourage people from signing up."
(Then again, it just as likely may not, but The Times didn't speculate on that.) -- could have been written at the NRC.

As could these headlines:

"Details of Available Plans Offer Vast, Varied Picture,"

"A Committed Group of Conservatives Outflanks the House Leadership."

"Opening Rush to Insurance Markets Hits Snags -- Millions of Online Visits, Many to No Avail"

(Why not: MIllions of Would-Be Insurance Buyers Overwhelm New Exchanges)?

But that would be too much like, well, old-fashioned journalism. The kind Bill Moyers, Chris Hedges, Sy Hersh and Mort Persky practiced.  I know because I was there, too.