James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, October 16, 2004

We could all become Willy Lomans

By Will Shapira

In Arthur Miller’s classic play, "Death of a Salesman," aging traveling salesman Willy Loman pleads for his job with the son of the man who hired him and is about to fire him. Exasperated and fearful, Willy shouts that "Promises were made across this desk!"

To no avail. Willy is out and as his world unravels, he suffers a breakdown and commits suicides in a desperate, futile hope that his family can collect on his insurance.

The parallels between Willy Loman’s heart-breaking plight and that facing millions of American retirees is striking, disturbing and by no means exaggerated. Promises that once were made to millions of workers who helped build their companies – and this country – now are being broken. The stiff, cold, corporate rationales are:

*"We have to cut benefits to remain competitive."

*"We have to make the numbers, increase shareholder value, boost the bottom line."

And what of the many who suddenly find themselves without health care coverage and, quite possibly in an uncertain future, without pensions as well? Are they supposed to emulate Willy Loman and end their lives as sacrificial lambs on the altar of Darwinian capitalism?

Don’t think that if the current trend continues there won’t be a significant increase in the number of suicides of retirees at the end of their financial rope. My fellow Minnesota, Sinclair Lewis, wrote in 1935 with bitter irony and astounding prescience "It Can’t Happen Here." But of course it can and, in fact, it already is happening. It must be stopped. Now.

Promises that were made across the desks of American business are now being broken with increasing frequency. The media have paid only sporadic attention, but, as Willy’s sad, beleaguered wife, Linda, declares while watching her husband plunge into despair and financial ruin, "Attention must be paid."

The very lives of American retirees - whether they realize it or not – are now in peril as never before.

A recent ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) permits companies to reduce or eliminate health care benefits for retirees 65 and over if they are on Medicare, regardless of previous promises. And if companies get their way in Congress and major changes are made in the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), retirees also might lose their pensions.

It "can’t happen here?" Think again.

Retirees must face up to some other hard facts:

*Eleven years ago, 46 percent of large companies made good on promises of guaranteed health care benefits. Today, only 28 percent of large firms assist retirees with health care benefits and, over all, only 11 percent of companies do, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute.

*Those who believe Medicare will take care of them in retirement must realize that Medicare typically covers only about half of a retiree’s health care costs, so most people must purchase supplemental insurance at ever-rising costs – not an easy task for many, or perhaps most.

In perhaps a worst-case scenario, if there is wholesale cutting of retiree health care benefits and pensions, this national might well experience a social upheaval not seen since the days of the Great Depression. With the once-sacred social contract and social safety net being shredded before their eyes, retirees facing the economic abyss would have nothing to lose by demanding fundamental changes in the nation’s governmental and economic systems.

One can envision massive marches on Washington by the retirees of today and tomorrow, ala the civil rights marches of the 1960s, to confront those who refused to act on their behalf, and on corporate headquarters, as well. The foundation of capitalistic America could be shaken to the core.

However, the future for retirees is not entirely bleak. An all-volunteer organization has been formed to focus public attention on the grave problems facing retirees and to try to generate interest from the public and candidates for public office. It is called the Ad Hoc Coaliition to Restore Retirement Security.

It’s a highly diverse coalition involving about every type of retiree you can imagine in terms of
age, gender, race, national origen, geography, political affiliation, occupation and retirement activity.

The members are united in their purpose: to make business and industry keep their promises so that retirees may enjoy the fruits of their labor in their "golden" years. After all, retirees are in large part the ones who built their companies to what most of them are today: golden.

Ad Hoc Coalition members occupy the moral high ground on the issues; they are fighting for what America is supposed to be all about. They are setting an example for other retirees (and future retirees) by refusing to lie down and play dead in the face of assaults in business and government who place corporate concerns above human worth and dignity.

Those who are retired, and those who hope to retire with some degree of comfort some day, must realize that however benevolent their former employers once might have been, the days of beneficence and trust are gone forever. Retirees now must act in their own interest – indeed, for their self-preservation – by contacting their senators and Congressional representatives and urging them to promptly enact legislation ensuring that retirees will receive their hard-earned and long-promised pensions and health care benefits.

There should be no delay, interruption or revocation. Promises made must be promises kept. Promises broken mean grim futures for millions of Americans.
"Attention must be paid."

The Ad Hoc Coalition to Restore Retirement Security intends to make sure it is. Further information on the coalition can be obtained at www.restoreretirementsecurity.org.

Will Shapira is a retired public relations representative for major corporations and non-profit organizations. He once was a news reporter and writer for Minnesota's largest radio stations.

Friday, October 15, 2004

A few quickies

The lies keep piling up:

During the final "debate," W said again that most of his tax cuts "went to low- and middle-income Americans." Sadly, people who don’t read believe that crap.

As the Daily Mis-lead pointed out Friday (Oct. 15), an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (among others) showed that in 2004, the top 20 percent of Americans, in terms of income, received 69.8 percent of the cuts enacted by Bush and Co. The middle 20 percent in income got an average tax cut of $647, while the top 20 percent got an average cut of $5,055 per year.

The analysis shows that as a result of the Republican tax manipulations, middle class Americans pay a greater share of total federal taxes than they did in 2000.

A happy thought came to me today: Bush and the right wing extremists who support him in Congress are just figments of our imaginations. We’re in some sort of collective nightmare from which we will awaken soon.

I noticed somewhere a reference to the much-used Latin phrase, Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), and realized that if the statement is true, then, logically, its opposite also must be true.

Ergo, George Bush does not exist. He am not.

It’s very hard to figure out whether the Bush/Cheney campaign is pushing citizens around at campaign events because the candidates are afraid of the public or because their need to control everything and everybody leads them to nutty extremes. Or maybe the candidates’ egos are such that, as Marlin Brando once said, "if there is one person in a room who doesn’t like me, I have to leave."

Whatever the reason, every "public" appearance made by the Republican candidates produces stories of ordinary folks being kept from entering the rally site, or being thrown out, for the most extraordinarily inoffensive behavior. And I do mean every appearance.

A few examples, chosen pretty much at random:

In Traverse City, Mich., a 55-year-old school teacher’s ticket to a Bush campaign speech was taken from her and torn up because she had a small "Kerry for President" sticker on her blouse.
(Reported by the Traverse City Record-Eagle.)

Also in Michigan, a married couple and their son had their tickets to a Bush rally confiscated by three campaign staff members, who ripped them up "violently" and ordered the family to leave the area. Their offense? The husband was wearing a pro-choice tee shirt. The leader of the three Bush staffers said, "If you’re pro-choice, you’re not welcome in his (Bush’s) campaign."
(Reported by the Saginaw News.)

During a Bush rally in Duluth, Minn., Secret Service agents posted photos of people who were not welcome at the rally. Among the pariahs were a Green Party member who had helped organize an entirely legal anti-Bush rally and a local advocate for the homeless.

Got that? The Secret Service. That's pretty scary. And all over the country, police departments are helping the Bush campaign and the Secret Service enforce their lockouts.
(Reported by Minneapolis StarTribune.)

Another not-quite lockout story: The Bush/Cheney campaign insisted on know the race of an Arizona Daily Star staffer assigned to photograph Dick Cheney. The Star refused to provide the information, which Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the campaign, said was necessary "for security purposes." He refused to say whether the request was a bit of racial profiling based on the photographer’s name. She is Mamta Popat.

Three of the newspaper’s editors were asked separately for the information on her race, and all refused to provide it.
(Reported by Arizona Daily Star.)

Such stories number in the dozens, probably the hundreds by now.

Yep, those Republicans really are big on democracy.
Please read the piece below for a preview of a development in health care that is building steam.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Health care crisis hits home

By Elizabeth Fuller

When our son was born last year, we found a pediatric practice that we love. It has a staff of great doctors (Dr. Harvey Karp, author of "The Happiest Baby on the Block" and "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" books is one of them). It has wonderfully flexible appointment hours, and the finest lactation consultant imaginable; she saved our lives, or at least the life of our son, more than once during the first few months of his life, when we had a string of major difficulties with breast feeding.

I intended to take our son to that practice until he was too old for a pediatrician and they had to kick him out.

Then, very recently, we got a letter from the doctors' office. It said that as of Jan.1, 2005, the practice will no longer accept health insurance of any kind -- not HMOs, not PPOs, not anything -- and that it is going back to a "traditional" payment system. That is, all patients must pay the practice its full rates, in full, at the time services are rendered.

The letter went on to say that we could still choose to submit claims after the fact to our insurance company, and the insurance company probably would cover the doctors’ services as an "out of network" provider.

That's hardly the same as having medical providers accept payment from your insurer.

Insurance companies usually don't pay as much for the services of non-network providers as they do for doctors who are members of their network, so we would be reimbursed at a lower percentage of the total costs than the practice gets under the present system. Also, when doctors work through insurance companies, they must accept lower rates and rate caps, which are negotiated with each insurance carrier, and that means the doctors and/or clinic usually are paid less than their "normal" rate.

The system does put a burden on the doctors and other health care providers -- which is why many, like ours, are starting to opt out of the insurance game altogether -- but it also helps patients by keeping over-all costs down to some degree.

Under the new system, we'll have to pay the pediatricians' office its full rate (whatever it chooses to charge), not a negotiated discount rate. If my insurance company will reimburse for the services at all, it will be for a lesser amount than before. And of course we'll still be paying the same insurance premiums as before, even though our share of the doctor bills goes way up and we'll have to pay the full price out of our own pockets every time we see a doctor or other practitioner.

The burden for rapidly escalating health care costs has just been shifted from the doctors --who were understandably upset about being forced to bear an unacceptable share of that burden --onto my family and other parents who have chosen that pediatric practice for their kids.

That means that many -- probably including my family – will have to switch from what we believe is a fabulous care system to one we may not trust so completely.

I'm furious, but not at the doctors. I'm disappointed by their news, and very upset at what it means for our family, but I can understand why they've decided to wash their hands of a system that frequently pays them less than they need to meet expenses and make a living. I’m furious at a nation and national government that has let our health care system get into such a mess.

One of the major arguments against national health insurance is that it would stifle freedom of choice. But if the current trend continues, and more and more doctors choose to drop out of the private insurance system, as ours have done, it's obvious that health care choices will become increasingly limited for all but the wealthiest individuals.

My husband and I chose those doctors and that medical practice to care for our son, but now we may be forced to move to providers that we consider less able simply because we can't afford to pay the doctors we've come to trust.

Whatever your feelings on national health care – and I haven't even mentioned spiraling insurance premiums, which also are squeezing consumers -- be aware that the crisis in health care costs is very real. If you haven't yet discovered how real, you probably will soon, in a manner similar to the shock that arrived in our mail .

For me, the time finally has come to start making a ruckus -- at the very least, to take a look at the positions this year's candidates for elective office hold on health care, and to be sure I vote for those who have the right answers. I also plan to hold the winners accountable for tackling the problem once they take office. The health of my family -- and probably yours -- depends on it.

Elizabeth Fuller, the daughter of James Clay Fuller, is a script reader and editor, a screen writer and a producer, writer and director of business films and videos. She lives in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Face up to the religious right

"God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them." — George W. Bush, June, 2003.

We liberals have a terrible time dealing with religion in politics, and so mostly we don’t. We pretend that a Jerry Falwell or Jimmy Swaggart is just another preacher, as legitimate and godly as the decent men and women who occupy the pulpits at the steepled churches, and the temples down the block and around the corner.

If some nutter of a judge decides to erect and maintain a monument containing the Ten Commandments on his courthouse lawn, or in his court room, we disapprove, but keep our mouths shut. We’re happy if the Civil Liberties Union or some gutty atheist takes on the judge, but we usually keep our heads down and our mouths shut.

We’ll argue, write letters to the editor, sign petitions against Bush’s attacks on civil rights, the environment, the working poor, but we seldom say a word in public when he claims that he has a direct connection to God. People who believe in an authoritarian religion see that no one openly disputes his claim, observe that their pulpit-pounding preachers back the man, and figure he must be right.

Many of those preachers call from the pulpit for Bush’s election, and we say nothing. Extremist clergymen boost Bush and deride his opponents in all sorts of venues and we do not challenge them. They intone prayers for Bush’s victory before legislative bodies and at public gatherings and most of us bow our heads and remain silent. We should be questioning the tax-exempt status of their organizations, but we don't.

In late September, the Republican Party – not some right wing splinter group, but the party itself – sent mass mailings to citizens of Arkansas and West Virginia claiming that if elected, "liberals" will ban the Bible. No, they weren’t saying that John Kerry and other Democrats would not support the Christian agenda; they said and meant that the Bible literally would be outlawed.

The mailings, in full color, showed a picture of a Bible with the word "Banned" stamped across it and a photo of one man placing a wedding band on the finger of another man with the word "Allowed" on the picture.

A Bush campaign Web site attacks Kerry, a Roman Catholic, for being "wrong for Catholics."

You know what? The religious extremists are creaming us because we won’t fight back. They don’t care about American tradition or the U.S. Constitution. They are out to impose their brand of Christianity on all of us and they’re on their way to success.

They’ve become important in the presidential and congressional campaigns, and they’re almost literally in charge on a wide variety of extremely important issues in this country. They’ve called the shots on stem cell research and several other issues where extreme fundamentalism gets crosswise with science. They are driving the attacks on civil liberties for gays and, ultimately, for all of us. If their surrogates win this election, Roe v. Wade will be reversed. Religion – the right-wing Christian version -- will be thrust into public education in a big way. Courts, and this is no joke, will be under great pressure to look first to the fundamentalist reading of the Bible and only secondarily to civil law in making decisions. That’s already been made part of more than one bill introduced in Congress. (No, not kidding.)
But right now, the extremist Bible thumpers attack and we say meekly, "Everyone has a right to his or her beliefs." We say, "I won’t fight on religious grounds" and lose again.

It is, of course, an article of faith (so to speak) among the entrenched Democratic Party leaders that one never says anything critical of anyone else’s religious declaration, nor does one ever attack or even publicly contradict a "religious leader," no matter how vile, untruthful or hateful that person’s statements or positions.

That, folks, is stupidity bordering on insanity, and the fact that current party leadership embraces the position should be enough to call it into question. Silence in the face of repression and aggression is the next thing to approval. It also is cowardly.

When Pat Robertson publicly declares George W. Bush "a prophet," as he did not long ago, we should answer with loud laughter and raspberries. When the despicable Jimmy Swaggart makes one of his hateful attacks on gays or others of his favorite targets – he threatened on the air in late September to kill any gay man who "looks at me like that," meaning romantically – we should shout our anger, demand responses from those, including Bush, whom he supports. We must call for appropriate action.

The FCC, ever so righteous under present leadership, fined CBS $550,000 for Janet Jackson’s bare boob. So far it has issued not a peep about Swaggart’s death threat, although his program runs in all 50 states. The Canadian station on which Swaggert’s threat was aired has apologized to the public.

(It would be appropriate to drop Chairman Michael Powell a note. His email address is Michael.Powell@fcc.gov); other FCC commissioners are Kathleen Abernathy, Michael J. Copps, Kevin J. Martin and Jonathan S. Adelstein. Email adresses are: Kathleen.Abernathy@fcc.gov; Michael.Copps@fcc.gov; KJMWEB@fcc.gov and mailto:Johathan.Adelstein@fcc.gov. )

It couldn’t hurt to point out, when the topic arises, that while Swaggart’s rants may nudge others toward violence, he probably has nothing to worry about personally. Can you imagine anyone, male or female, finding that scowling, slack-jawed visage attractive?

Beginning in the 1950s and running well into the 1970s, a great many demagogues, racists and haters of all descriptions lost their power because the majority of citizens got fed up with them. They and their supporters were publicly ridiculed as well as reviled. When we overheard racist remarks in public places, we told the fools who made them that we wouldn’t put up with their nonsense. When people of color, or gays or anyone was threatened, we stood up together and told their tormenters to shove off – and we didn’t say it nicely. Most importantly, we laughed at the fools for their ignorance and stupidity – and most people, if laughed at by their peers, will recognize, finally, that they are wrong. If they don’t change, and some will, at least they shut up.

We didn’t get rid of all the racism and other hateful beliefs, of course, but we converted a surprising number of people to rational acceptance of others, and we let the haters know they and their views were not welcome in reasonable society.

But somehow we liberals have become afraid of the haters who cloak their nastiness in religion. We stand mute in the face of their attacks on decent society.

"I trust God speaks through me," says George W. Bush. (Yes, he really said that.)

If you believe that, you’re crazier than he is, and if you let it go unchallenged, you’re signing away your country.

We have to stand up again, locate our backbones again and face down the haters in clerical masquerade. It is more essential than ridding ourselves of Bush & Co. in the upcoming elections, and the time to start is this minute.

Act on this today -- please

A Sinclair Broadcasting Group, owner of 62 publicly-licensed television stations around the country, is about to make an incalculably large contribution to the Bush campaign.

The contribution breaks all kinds of rules, and probably some laws, but it looks now like the right-wing broadcaster is going to get away with it. The public might be able to stop this outrageous action, however, by leaning heavily on members of Congress.

Here’s the deal:

Sinclair intends to air on all of its stations a phony, right-wing attack on John Kerry a few days before the election. The program is a phony documentary – much of it is sheer fiction according to many people who have seen and analyzed it – attacking Kerry for his antiwar activities after he returned from Vietnam. It calls Kerry a traitor.

The broadcast will preempt regular programming on all Sinclair stations, including several in supposed swing states.

Sinclair, by the by, is the organization that refused to let its ABC-affiliated stations carry the "Nightline" broadcast that consisted entirely of a reading of the names of Americans who had died, up to that point, in the Iraq war. Sinclair said the broadcast was "politically partisan."

Broadcasting the right-wing screed now will violate several laws and rules of both the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. Sinclair is defending its plans by calling the extreme partisan program a "news program" though, of course, it has nothing to do with any news, was produced and paid for by a right-wing partisan organization.

The broadcast is, in effect, a "contribution in kind" to the Bush campaign -- just like providing the campaign with free transportation, hotel rooms, food and such, but much more effective.

Left to itself the FEC won’t act until after the election, if at all, and the FCC is effectively run by Michael Powell, an adherent of the Bush crowd who can be relied upon to look the other way.

Our elected representatives often forget, or choose to forget, that the airwaves belong to the public, and that broadcasters are licensed and under law may use the airwaves so long as they adhere to all the rules, which include public service and avoidance of any political partisanship.

We must – now! – demand that our Congressional representatives of both parties stand up and demand that the FEC and FCC act now to halt Sinclair’s unfair use of their licenses on behalf of the Bush campaign.

Pick up the telephone today and call your representatives and Senators. Please. It may be the most important thing you do during this election cycle.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Keep telling the truth

As we approach the wire in the presidential campaign, the Bush crowd is beginning to reach deeper into its bag of lies, distortions and dirty tricks.

There are some who say the Bushies might lie about anything if they see a chance of conning the public and winning votes. That’s not quite accurate.

In fact, the Bush crowd does lie about everything. One cannot name a topic on which they have been substantially, let alone completely, truthful.

And, no, the two sides are not alike in that respect. The Kerry camp, unfortunately like most political campaigns, distorts some of its own positions and history, and dissembles where the truth is inconvenient. Unlike the Bush bunch, however, they do not lie outrageously – baldly stating as truth that which is 100 percent false -- by habit and preference.

There is a reason for the Bushies having made lying their way of life, of course: Everything they do is aimed at furthering the interests of the very small band of the very rich who are their masters and their ideological peers, much to the detriment of the vast majority of the population.

If the poor, ignorant public understood what is being done to this country and the world by the extremists who control the White House and the House of Representatives, the election would go to John Kerry by a margin of at least 100 to one. (Or the Democrats would have put up a better candidate than Kerry who would win by such a margin.) But the public generally is ignorant, and about half the population accepts the oft-repeated Big Lie without question, especially if it is wrapped in the flag and delivered to the tune of "Proud to be an American."

The best thing to do in the days remaining before the election is to pound at the truth, to point it out to the hard-nosed Bush voters and the few undecided voterss one might run across – with documentation, demonstrable facts, inarguable evidence. Let no Bushy lie go unchallenged between now and Nov. 2. Write letters to reporters and editors as well as letters to the editor for publication, and challenge each false statement you hear from Bush supporters (being mindful of personal safety, of course; the Bush crowd attracts bullies).

For the sake of your arguments, I’m including here, in no particular order, a few of the lies on which the Bushies are campaigning and the truths about those situations, with suggestions on where you can find more documentation.

* The lie: Iraq was a direct and imminent threat to the United States.

The truth: As even many of the Bush backers now must concede – despite the lies repeated by Dick Cheney and others even now – Iraq posed no danger to this country. It had no "weapons of mass destruction," nor did it have even the means to make such weapons. It did not have ties to Al-Qaida, the Taliban or other international terrorist or extremist groups, nor did it actively support such groups or terrorist activity outside its own borders.

Those facts have been affirmed by the 9/11 Commission, virtually every major newspaper and news magazine throughout the world and a great many Republican office holders and former office holders. It’s no longer a question. Among the countless factual reports: ABC News report on 9/11 Commission report, July 7 of this year, CNN report on Cheney attack on media for reporting the lack of an Iraq-Al-Qaida link, June 18 of this year. You can find reports on statements by Charles Duelfer, head of the CIA Iraq Survey Group, in any major newspaper of Oct. 7, 2004. The Washington Post report is thorough and straightforward.

*The lie: Citizens of Iraq are better off for having got rid of Hussein.

The truth: Reporters for a variety of publications and agencies have reported recently from Iraq that the majority of the country’s citizens want the U.S. and its few allies there to leave immediately; they are much worse off economically under our puppet regime than they were under Saddam. While our no-bid contractors bring in workers from other countries, unemployment among Iraqis is running at something over 60 percent. Men are lining up to join the new Iraq police forces despite the killing of literally hundreds of recruits by "insurgents" simply because they can find no other work and their families are hungry. Reporters in Iraq have said recently that they are under constant pressure by our government to report "good news" even if it doesn’t exist.

Months after Congress approved the biggest foreign aid package in our history for the rebuilding of Iraq, less than 5 percent of the $18.4 billion has been spent on rebuilding, and now hundreds of millions of those dollars are being shifted to administrative and "security" spending. As Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chairman of the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Committee, said, "loss of central command and control" in Iraq has made serious rebuilding in Iraq all but impossible. (See Washington Post, April 29, 2004, among many sources. Check "Iraq reconstruction" on the Internet.)

*The lie: The war in Iraq has made America safer, protecting us from terrorists.

The truth: As virtually every news agency (with the possible exception of Fox) has reported, our occupation of Iraq has led to the recruitment of thousands of new terrorists and young men who have entered Iraq to fight our troops. Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader – one around whom terrorists rally and the one who set up the attack on the World Trade Center -- remains free despite Bush’s public vow to capture him quickly, and Bush now pretends he didn’t mean it and that bin Laden just doesn’t matter.

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida discloses in a new book that Gen. Tommy Franks told him on Feb. 19, 2002, four months after the invasion of Afghanistan, that many needed resources were being shifted from Afghanistan to be used in the upcoming war against Iraq, making it all but impossible for the army to locate bin Laden and other Al-Quida leaders. The book also says there are ties between the 9/11 attackers and the Saudi Arabian government, which is led by close friends of the oil-loving Bush family.

Former Bush counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke also reveals in a book, "Against All Enemies," that the Bushies ignored repeated warnings about an Al-Quida attack on this country before 9/11 – a charge since confirmed by others – and that they were determined to invade Iraq even though they knew it had no connection to 9/11 or other international terrorist activity. Clarke, who worked for every Republican administration from Reagan on, has been attacked viciously by the Bushies, but they have not refuted his statements.

And yet another truth: The Bushies have underfunded their own "war on terror." They have, for example, refused to fund a request from the IRS for more investigators to seek out terrorist money sources, and, according to a Washington Post report in the last week of March, 2004, immediately after 9/11 the White House cut almost 65 percent from an FBI request for counterterrorism funds.