Monthly Archives: October 2012

Canvassing with the grassroots campaign for Obama: the Musical

Yesterday morning, I made a little video. Inspired by my experiences volunteering on Saturday mornings with the Minnesota for Obama grassroots campaign, I have often wondered if people would be even more motivated to vote if I burst into song. But … I hold it in.



The song is to the tune of a slightly rearranged “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson of course! Side note: I don’t generally give people directions to their polling place but I happened to look it up for Natalie the previous night and then mapped it. And she really didn’t know — she thought she was going to the same place as 2010 and 2008. A lot of people’s polling place changed with the nationwide redistricting and you don’t want to accidentally show up at the wrong place on November 6. Just google “where do I vote in (your state)” and a website for your state will pop up that allows you to enter your address and find out if it’s the same place as last time or somewhere else. Then, march down to the polls and embrace that ballot in the most intimate of ways.


Forget Presidential Debates — Why Can’t We Have Presidential Interrogations?

In Sarah’s fantasy realm (not to be confused with my vision of world joy which — admittedly — is a reach goal), we throw out the whole idea of a “debate” and call in a joint CIA-FBI task force to subject the candidates to lie detector tests and interrogate them until their actual views on the issues and their real plans for our country are revealed in their entirety on live national television. And why not? The members of both federal agencies work for us — we pay their salaries. And the truth is a matter of national security. Besides, if Romney gets his way, it sounds like they’ll soon be one merged entity anyway. Will it be called the FIA? the CIB? Oh, no!! Although, yes, please, let’s do away with the TSA child molesters and the DHS a.s.a.p. Plus, we already have a Department of Homeland Security. You’ve probably heard of it — it’s called the Military.



Instead of Jim Lehrer opening up the debate with a polite request for silence, let’s have a masked CIA agent appear out of thin air to get the party started. In the sketch comedy version, could this role of Primary Interrogator be played by Will Ferrell, using the same voice he used when he played the retail store manager who dressed all in black and pulled out his teeny tiny phone while riding on a scooter (it was called Jeffrey’s Clothing Store)? He could face the crowd and greet them with, “Splendid. You’re all here. So I’ll begin the interrogation now.”


Can the Primary Interrogator wear this terrifying mask? Oh, please?


Meanwhile, a [very long buffet style] table would fill with ten FBI profilers who would sit behind the Primary Interrogator and take notes on the facial expressions and hidden communication patterns of the candidates so that they could deliver their personality analyses of the two Presidential candidates to us, the People, at the end. And tag team interrogate the candidates during Round Two. Ah, yes. Good cop, good cop, good cop, good cop, good cop, good cop, good cop, scary masked cop, good cop, good cop, good cop. Every time the lie detector test detects “untruthfulness,” a gigantic red neon sign behind the candidates would blink a warning, alternating between bright crimson, “Lying Liar” and neon orange, “Lying Liarpath.” I imagine Will Ferrell with his terrifying golden mask and a megaphone announcing a lie: “LIAR.” And the profilers firing follow-up questions, such as:


“Which loopholes, Governor?”

“Would you be willing to name one?”

“Would you be willing to name one, right now?”

“Would you be willing to specify, tonight, one loophole that you would close?”

“When we say tonight, we do mean tonight, before midnight, because at that point in time, it will officially be tomorrow — do you think you could describe a particular tax write-off that you would eliminate, and describe it in five words or fewer within in the next five minutes? It could be one for a hundred dollars or a thousand dollars or even one dollar or ten cents …. No, the answer has to be yes or no. Yes or No, Governor. The word yes or the word no. One or the other. Right now.”

“Then we’ll sit here and wait till you can think of one.” (Oooh … awkward!)


And none of this Lehreresque, “I’m sorry, we’re way over 15 minutes.” No, bring on the Will Ferrellian, “Time is up. I said time is up. If you don’t stop talking, I’ll waterboard you on live national television. Raise your hand if you want to be waterboarded on live national television. Oh, not so much? Splendid. Shut your mouth. We’re moving on to the next topic.” (To which President Rockstar could point out that he outlawed the use of waterboarding just 2 days after taking office, I suppose!)



And I want major demands for clarification when Romney says he’s going to “give $716 billion back to seniors” on Medicare. Obama missed an opportunity here to explain that the $716 billion reduced from Medicare costs to fund Obamacare was cut out by lowering the amount of money to be paid to doctors and hospitals per service. So if Romney were going to reverse Obama’s action, the $716 billion would go back to doctors and hospitals, not to seniors. When Romney says, “back,” I want the interrogators to demand the form. Via a check? A voucher? A deduction? An extra dessert off the Senior Menu at Perkins? Someone, please, make Romney say — disclose — that he doesn’t want to give a penny back to seniors, he wants to give the profit back to doctors and hospitals.



If we had national health insurance — and I am still sad that not even a public option was included in Obamacare — the health needs of everyone in our nation could and would be met: seniors, the young, the poor, rich, the healthy, the sick, and everyone before, after or in between. And the program could be designed so that your family doctor would be paid the same way FBI profilers and CIA agents are: on salary! Not per service. It is true — conservatives are not lying when they say this — that nearly a third of doctors are no longer taking on Medicare patients because of the rate at which those doctors are being reimbursed per service compared to a private insurer. They miss the point (and oh, how I want the Presidential Interrogators to help them see it … so so badly, my friends …) that, to reference the example in this blog post on Forbes’ website by Avik Roy,


“Wertsch billed Medicare $217 to care for a Medicare patient with a sinus infection whose appointment ran late, because the patient required more time. Medicare reimbursed the clinic for $54.38. Later in the day, a younger patient with the same sinus infection, requiring half the time, was charged the same $217. But his private insurer reimbursed the clinic for twice the amount of Medicare: $108.04,”


the reason the private insurer, as an insurance company — which is a profit-motivated organization — can afford to pay  more to the doctor is because many young and healthy people are paying in the same premium for coverage but needing less care than the elderly because they are so healthy. So the insurance company has more money to pay out to the service providers (doctors) because they are making a profit — unlike the government. And the reason the insurance company has so many healthy people? They deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions (unhealthy people) and drop people in the middle of terrible sickness once they’ve received the lifetime maximum dollar amount in treatment. So who picks up the tab for the unhealthy people? The government. (Ironic, right? The government as the FBI and CIA is also picking up the tab on people who are unhealthy in a “different” way, unhealthy people who want to auction children and fly airplanes into tall buildings. Talk about sickness. And preexisting conditions.)



Would it be so bad if primary care physicians — general practitioners we go to when we want a check up or have an infection — and ER doctors were government employees? Paid on salary? And were offered bonuses for preventing recurring accidents and illnesses, and maintaining the existing good health of their patients? Everyone, sick or healthy, would be in the same pool, causing an average between the two figures mentioned above for the treatment of sinus infections (which were $54.38 and $108.04; the average works out to be $81.21) but it would probably be even higher because, just as in the insurance company pool, there are more healthy than unhealthy people in the pool of our country. But we’d remove the profit motive for the physician to patient-load (like carb-loading before a marathon) in order to make more money by taking as many patients as possible and shorten visits to the minimum required, and the other profit-motive which is to skip any lifestyle change recommendations that could prevent more billable, charge-able, profit-from-able visits in the future? Doctors, really consider this: a 5% matching savings account (Thrift Savings Account) and only 6.2% social security tax instead of the 12.4% you pay when you’re self-employed, and other great benefits like paid vacation and sick time, and how awesome would it be to have no overhead costs, such as paying rent for the clinic space, the wages of your receptionist, nurses, etc.? No, it wouldn’t be ideal for specialists, in my opinion, but if we think of how the CIA and FBI work — for the greater good of the entire country — then you can see how establishing an agency of highly trained physicians, motivated to protect the People from illness and serve them by helping them to achieve and sustain excellent health, could be considered a success strategy. And wise. Especially if we want to really truly take down type 2 diabetes and heart disease, two totally preventable diseases that are killing people! In the same way WMD’s do.



This kind of system would restore the healing element of practicing medicine to the doctor’s lifestyle too. Instead of feeling impelled to drive up the number of patients and the number of visits and treatments, the doctor would truly act as a conduit for healing. Still not convinced? Consider the fact that no one has to pay Due Process Insurance which would be calculated on how likely you were to eventually have criminal charges brought against you at some point or other in your life. The 5th Amendment guarantees everyone the right to due process in a court of law (a trial where evidence has to presented that proves guilt) and the 6th Amendment guarantees that, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” Yes, you get a lawyer, and if you remember from TV, “if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you.” So, we get a lawyer if we need one. Why not a doctor? The Justice System is socialized: our tax dollars pay for criminals (er … alleged criminals) to have a public defender. And all the judges and clerks and everyone else involved in the process part of due process are paid their salaries with money that was collected through taxes. What is a doctor but a judge of disease, coming up with an opinion/diagnosis and a sentence/treatment plan?



Obamacare is a great start, and I was amazed the President got that much transformation of the system passed into law. And as far as the popular ideas for single payer health care currently stand, I’m glad none of them were on the table because the greed element remains as long as primary care doctors who would ideally feel called to prevent illness still have a financial incentive (a motive if it were a crime, which it ought to be) not to. There’s still a lot to be done and I look at it in the light of, “Look how much the President accomplished in four years with a divided Congress during the second half. How much more will he accomplish in four more years?”



On a primal note, what’s interesting about how the President did not defend himself — or counter-attack Gov. Romney — on Wednesday night is that the lack of the act of self-defense often indicates that we simply do not feel attacked. So we might truly be experiencing an attack — with words as weapons in this case — but in the very confident person’s perception of what’s happening, there is no genuine threat, thus no genuine need for self-defense.



Some said that the President’s manner could only be described as “subdued” during the first presidential debate, but I saw a man granted the acceptance of things he cannot change. He was surprised by the bald-faced lies from his opponent, but only slightly and only for a second. I saw a man resigned to his fate, one who knows that in the end, his occupation for the next four years will be determined by the collective caprice of a nation. After all, he can’t make us google the lies. And no one’s going to force us to see the truth either; after all, we don’t live under a fascist regime. Wednesday night, I saw a man (not a perfect man, as he reminded us) who has come to terms with the inevitability of life’s whims, and who, with a shrug of consent, knows that either way, what was true before he became president will be true after: he was and will be a husband, he was and will be a father, and every Oct 3, he will celebrate the anniversary of his marriage to the woman he adores and the woman he mentions every time he speaks in public directly to the people. She was the first thing he said. Literally, his first point: “There are a lot of points I want to make tonight,” said the President straight out of the gate, “but the most important one is that 20 years ago I became the luckiest man on Earth because Michelle Obama agreed to marry me.” This matters to me, possibly as much as my gratitude for the good parts of Obamacare and my disappointment over his reneging on the promise to close Gitmo. It matters because it means that the President finds his identity primarily in his ability to love and is, perhaps unconsciously, acknowledging that although everything else about life is transitory, love isn’t.



At the end of the day, Chris Rock says it best.

“If you’re voting against Obama because he can’t get stuff done it’s kind of like saying, “This guy can’t cure cancer. I’m gonna vote for the cancer.”

-Chris Rock

What a fascist regime looks like

Question: What does a fascist regime look like?

Answer: Russia.



In Russia, if you criticize the government in public, you end up in prison. What will the charge be? “Hooliganism.” The women of the Rock Group “Pussy Riot” did exactly this in February of 2012 by shouting, “Mother Mary, please drive Putin away,” in a protest act inside Christ Savior Cathedral in Moscow. Today, October 1, is their appeal trial. Before taking action and signing the petition below, let’s reflect on how lucky we are in the United States to have our multiple rights to freedom of expression (specifically, freedom of speech, the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and freedom of religion) protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Now let’s reflect on the irony. These women were praying for mercy from the tyranny of a fascist regime, out loud, in public.

From my friends at Avaaz:

“Facing 2 years in jail for singing a song criticizing President Putin in a church, a member of Pussy Riot gestured to the court and said in her show-trial’s closing statements, “Despite the fact that we are physically here, we are freer than everyone sitting across from us … We can say anything we want…”

Russia is steadily slipping into the grip of a new autocracy — clamping down on public protest, allegedly rigging elections, intimidating media, banning gay rights parades for 100 years, and even beating critics like chess master Garry Kasparov. But many Russian citizens remain defiant, and Pussy Riot’s eloquent bravery has galvanized the world’s solidarity. Now, our best chance to prove to Putin there is a price to pay for this repression lies with Europe.”



Sound familiar? The Dixie Chicks protested the U.S government in 2003 during a London concert ten days before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when lead vocalist Maines said, “we don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States [George W. Bush] is from Texas.” Only they didn’t end up in prison.



Please join me in signing the petition from my friends at Amnesty International:

“As an Amnesty activist, you know we don’t need a bulldozer to free a prisoner – just the power of our voices. And we need your voice more than ever as [the women of members of the rock band] Pussy Riot face[s] an appeal hearing on October 1st.

Turn up the volume of protest to end the political persecution of Pussy Riot. Send your message calling for the unconditional release of Nadya, Masha and Katja.

Nadya and the other members of Pussy Riot went to the cathedral to give Russia – and the rest of the world – a wake-up call. They felt it was their civic duty to expose the corruption and repression they saw.

Pussy Riot stood up for their ideals. As artistic expression. Nonviolently. Legally.

Except, of course, in Putin’s Russia, where their dissent was stifled and condemned as “hooliganism.”

But there is hope. The world is watching. Last week, Pyotr Verzilov travelled with his daughter Gera to the United States to work with Amnesty to raise awareness for his wife’s case. During the Amnesty International Youth Town Hall, Aung San Suu Kyi met with Pyotr and Gera and called for the release of the women. With Amnesty at her side, Yoko Ono gave the band the LennonOno Grant for Peace to honor their courage.

During their visit, Pyotr expressed how moved he was by your advocacy on behalf of his wife and the other courageous women imprisoned for expressing their opinions peacefully:

“We are grateful to Amnesty International for your work on the case and all of your support. The most important thing you can do is rally people. We need your voices.”

Use your voice to tell the Russian authorities to release Nadya, Masha and Katja. Take a stand for free speech and human rights before Pussy Riot’s Oct. 1 appeal hearing.

In solidarity,

Michelle Ringuette
Chief of Campaigns & Programs
Amnesty International USA”



Here’s the letter I sent to Russia’s Prosecutor General today:

“I am deeply concerned about the imprisonment of Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova for performing a protest song in a cathedral as part of the feminist punk group “Pussy Riot” on February 21, 2012.

The two-year prison sentence handed down to Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova  is far too severe. The cathedral performance was a peaceful protest against President Vladimir Putin and those leaders of the Orthodox Church who have supported his repressive tactics.

While it is true that many Russians were offended by Pussy Riot’s actions, the women never incited violence and they do not deserve prison terms. They were prosecuted for political reasons and they are prisoners of conscience.

I call on you to immediately and unconditionally release the three imprisoned members of Pussy Riot. It is up to you to uphold the fundamental right to freedom of expression in Russia and ensure that there are no additional arrests or trials related to this case.”



Let’s take action and join our voices in protesting injustice and objecting to government abuse of power anywhere and everywhere on Earth.