Reading The Healthcare Bill



I've been beating around the bush long enough.

It's time to tackle "America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009", better known to the rest of us as "the healthcare bill".

The beginning is pretty tame - just a bunch of definitions and "wherefores" that have to be laid out in order to begin any actual undertaking of this size.

(a) PURPOSE.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—The purpose of this division is to provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending.


That "all Americans" is the thing that is at the crux of the debate, at least among the people I've talked to about this. More on that later - if I get too wound up about these people who claim Christianity as their guiding light with one hand while they use the other to beat down their fellow Americans at every opportunity, this reading project won't get very far.

I know law schools are woefully inadequate when it comes to training their students to create legal documents that are readable as well as technically correct, but whomever the Democrats selected to write section 102 subsection A-1-a :


(1) LIMITATION ON NEW ENROLLMENT,

(A) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day of Y1 (Year One)


needs to be horsewhipped.


This is one of those sections that has had radio shock jocks all up in arms for the last few weeks, but the way these kinds of documents are written, section 102 subsection A-1-a and all the ones that follow modify the "grandfathered coverage" clause preceding them:

(a) GRANDFATHERED HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE DEFINED.—Subject to the succeeding provisions of this section, for purposes of establishing acceptable coverage under this division, the term ‘‘grandfathered health insurance coverage’’ means individual health insurance coverage that is offered and in force and effect before the first day of Y1 (Year One) if the following conditions are met:


Surely someone without a law degree was available to tell the Dems that this kind of writing was going to come back to bite them in the butt.

The first time as a mortgage loan officer that I went to get someone to sign the loan disclosures that came along with their application, it was a disaster. Back then, there were only about twelve disclosures the borrower really needed to sign to get a loan into underwriting - the servicing disclosure, the RESPA disclosure, the privacy policy disclosure, the Reg Z Truth In Lending disclosure, the fee disclosure, the PMI disclosure, the appraisal disclosure along with a state specific disclosure and several occupancy and insurance disclaimers - but because I didn't really understand how to explain what they said in plain English, it took forever to get the borrowers to sign them.

I took a copy of these disclosures home the next night and went through them, one by one, over and over until I could summarize them simply, yet still be able to elaborate on the details if a sharp eyed borrower had a concern about the language in any clause.

Making government documents readable for the general public should be the next thing the Obama Administration tackles after healthcare - but I won't hold my breath.

I don't know how far I'll get with this reading of the healthcare bill project, but I am willing to bet that, at 50 pages into it, where I stopped yesterday, I'm farther along than 99.9% of the country.

Then again, there were very very few people who actually read each and every word of the documents they signed at their home loan closings either.



"The Windshield Is Bigger Than The Rearview Mirror"




My buddy from Alabama called my today, upset at a local newspaper columnist who had painstakingly written an account of the healthcare protest he attended yesterday that, according to him, completely marginalized the efforts of he and his fellow healthcare supporters.

"You told me this would happen. I just can't believe her," he said, the disgust rising in his voice as he spoke. "I wish she would bring her ass back to another damn rally."

"Dude," I said, laughing as I talked, "this is why I write my blog. This is why I keep telling you that we've got to push our people to master the King's English, because that's the only way we are ever going to be able to control the narrative. When someone else tells the story, they get to leave out what they want."

"Man, I almost forgot to tell you about the guy who was talking about "give us back our water." He says they messed up a long time ago when they were doing the state boundary, so the Tennessee River should really be ours. What is wwrong with these people?"

"Dude, the people in Tennessee don't even waste the time to respond to the letters our governor sends them."

Taking back the country.

We surround them

Give us back our water.

My buddy is right - who are these people?

While my mind was veering off into the wild blue yonder as I laid into the healthcare bill in earnest earlier this afternoon, a funny thought crossed my mind.

Why not round up a few bus loads of young, underemployed trial lawyers with overdue student loan payments nipping at their heels who need somebody to sue and ship them off to an Indian reservation?

Maybe one of those places that isn't busy counting their millions in gambling revenues because they haven't figured out just how to exercise their sovereignty or grease their local politicians properly.

It wouldn't take one of those young, hungry lawyers long to realize the obvious - with all this "take back the country" mania going on, why not start at the beginning, and start a class action lawsuit on behalf of the Indian descendants who want to "take back the country."

Sounds ridiculous, but this is the same thing these hide behind the bible types of people are screaming at rallies all over the country, as if they can hold clear title in perpetuity to the cultural and political reins of a democracy in the manner of the old style European monarchs.

The past is over.

The "good old days" had their downside too, the same way the ideals of diversity and multiculturalism and equality have their negative components.

If sending cargo ships full of grain and airplanes full of doctors to starving nations is such a good idea, why can't we apply these same principles at home?

The first time we put a man into space, and brought him back alive, the whole world stopped to watch. Now, the space shuttle makes more trips than a MARTA bus - a shuttle laaunch has officially become a nonevent.

I haven't heard much from the "right to life" people as a group, but many of them are out there, protesting with all their hearts against providing basic health benefits for all Americans, the same way they are willing to fight to the death to insure that every embryo that even thinks about being formed has a chance to be born, a stance that would stagger a thinking person into a stupor just by thinking about the logic behind such idiocy.

Tom Daschle had an interesting quote in an interview I read today about him in the New York Times magazine, one that all these "take backers" should turn over in their minds at night before they go to sleep.

"The windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror."

Looking back at an idealized past that is unsustainable is what we do when we go to museums. Believing that things which no longer exist are still there are some of the early warning signs of mental illness.

These "take backers" need to quit looking in their rear view mirror.

They need to turn around and see what's coming before they crash.



Thursday, while I was in the drugstore, picking up a prescription for S., I ended up in a conversation about healthcare reform with the pharmacist.

It was early evening, a time when most of the people in our area were at home going over homework with their kids while they did the dishes, or, if they were empty nesters, were likely to be dining at the local restaurants, so the store was practically empty, with only one or two other customers.

I walked up to the counter at the rear of the store and asked for S.'s prescription. The pharmacist retrieved the package from a plastic bin and read a note stapled to the front of it. "We need to update her insurance."

"Okay. Is it something she needs to do to get this prescription?"

"Well, without the prescription I don't know what the co-pay will be," she said, peering back at the bag as she spoke. "But this is pretty inexpensive - it only costs eleven dollars to begin with."

"Alright," I said, "well, go ahead and give it to me. She changed jobs a few months ago and probably didn't get you the new card."

The pharmacist's eyes brimmed with concern. "She's lucky - I see a lot of people who come in here who've been out of work for six months."

We went back and forth with a few of the local neighborhood jobless horror stories while I signed and clicked and signed all the disclosures you have to acknowledge these days when you are getting prescription medication. She gave me my bag and my receipt. I turned to leave, then hesitated.

"Do you mind if I ask you a question about healthcare reform?"

She shrugged her shoulders in the affirmative.

"So what do you think?"

The concern seemed to drain out of her eyes, replaced by something harder. "I can't support it," she said as she squared her shoulders and her eyes sharpened. "I'm against socialized medicine."

"Really?" I said. "So you're happy with what we have now."

"I think there needs to be a change. There's definitely something wrong with what we have now. But I don't want the government running healthcare."

"Well, if you can keep the plan you have if you like it, and you don't have to get the government option unless you want it, how do you figure that's socialized medicine?"

"They're going to ration healthcare," she said. "They're going to tell seventy year olds who need transplants that they're too old - that the thirty year old who needs a transplant deserves it more than they do."

I hadn't seen anyone look that smugly self satisfied after answering a question since Donald Trump's last TV interview. It was hard for me to fathom that this woman, who had dispensed drugs to our household for the last three years, could be so vehemently opposed to a more inclusive healthcare effort that she would stoop to parroting the stuff she heard on the radio to explain her position - especially when she worked in the healthcare field everyday, and was likely to directly impacted by any changes.

We talked for another five or six minutes about the things she believed Barack Obama was trying to do to America. About how much less her father was going to get from a government plan than the private plan he was enrolled in as a retiree. About the fact that neither of us had taken the time to sit down an actually read the bill we were at odds about for ourselves, the same way people signed the paperwork for their home mortgage without actually reading the documents word for word.

All the while, I thought about those unfortunate souls who were jobless that the pharmacist had shown so much compassion about. When I wondered out loud "what about those people without jobs who come in here for medicine - what are they going to do about their pre-existing conditions when they finally get back to work?"

Her eyes widened and her shoulders shrugged. "I said what we have isn't working."









"Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope."

Rep. Lynn Jenkins, (R) Kansas
August 2009


You probably won't see this on your TV much, since Ted Kennedy retrospectives will probably take up most of the available air time for the next couple of days, so I'll fill you in while your talking heads are otherwise preoccupied.

It seems Rep. Lynn Jenkins, (R) Kansas, broke one of the cardinal rules of politics by telling her public audience the kind of thing she says at private meetings with large donors - a rule President Obama himself understands, as we all discovered last year when an unauthorized recording of his comment "cling to their guns and their religion", made at a private gathering of influential supporters, leaked out to the press.

The other good thing about getting this from me instead of your favorite media outlet is the lack of sanctimony you'll get from me on this, because, just like Rep. Jenkins and President Obama, I have been known to write one thing here and say another in private. Like this morning, when I shared a particulaarly coarse and unsavory description of Rep. Jenkins with my buddy.

In real life, these things happen from time to time.

And for a unguarded few seconds, we are as honest and as earnest as Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

Maybe Rep. Jenkins toggle switch, the one most congressional level officeholders have that switches their rhetoric from "public" to "private", was accidentally actuated.

Maybe she looked into the crowd and forgot that cameras were rolling.

I can buy these kinds of explanations.

What I can't stomach is the statement her spokesperson issued.

Mary Geiger, a spokeswoman for Jenkins, said the reference to a great white hope wasn't meant to denote a preference by Jenkins for politicians of a particular "race, creed or any background."

Geiger's explanation sounds about as ridiculous as Bill Clinton's meditation on the meaning of the word "is" during his testimony, while he was president of the United States, to the Starr Commission.

"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the--if he--if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement....Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true."

Bill Clinton
Grand Jury Testimony To The Starr Commission



When the recording of Barack Obama's "they cling to guns" statement hit the airwaves last year, it created an instant firestorm in the media. The "they" in this instance were rural white voters in places like Pennsylvania, where his campaign was polling poorly against Hillary Clinton.

"And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."


Barack Obama
San Francisco
April 2008

The words Obama spoke in private were as true as the ones Rep. Jenkins uttered in public. But Obama's spokesperson did not try to change the actual meanings of the words he said, the way Jenkins spokesperson has been forced to do, but merely downplay them as much as possible.

Jenkins probably won't stand by her remarks the way Obama did last year, if her spokesperson's statement is any indication. Faced with a similar situation, Obama deconstructed his statement more forthrightly than we had come to expect from a politician


"It's interesting, right? Lately there's been a typical sort of political fight. Because I said something that everybody knows is true -- which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois, who are bitter.

They are angry.

They feel like they've been left behind.

They feel like folks aren't paying attention to what they're doing here."



Barack Obama
Indiana
April 2008

The irony about the uncomfortable truth behind Jenkins statement is the same irony that made me look up the "clinging to their guns" remark by Obama. If you think about the common denominators between a large swath of the people who have emerged from the woodwork this past year to protest practically everything the president does, "guns" and "religion" are at the top of the list.

Although what Obama said wasn't politically correct, he was right - there is a whole lot of "clinging" going on these days.

Rep. Jenkins is right about the need for a "great white hope". There is a vocal subset of the Republican party who hunger for a return to "normal". Who make no bones about why they want to "take back the country". And Jenkins senses that in her district, she can count on these people to send her back to Washington.

I think Jenkins should see this as an opportunity, rather than a setback. Because if she spoke out about this, she would not just be speaking for all political extroverts you see on TV, but for the others who whisper at the office water coolers about the latest "coons in the White House" cartoons their friends have emailed them, for all the people who are commiserating at their local watering hole about the way things aren't like they used to be, for those who have unpacked their Confederate flags in case the talks about secession get serious - for all the people who are staring at this brown skinned president of these United States on their TV at home and asking themselves "what the hell happened?"

The great thing about the internet is, you don't have to go to Kansas or D.C. to let Rep. Jenkins know how you feel.

It's as simple as clicking right here.
Bob Collier of Montezuma, Georgia


Maybe what some of us need to do is go to these town hall meetings, not to ask any questions, but with the express intention of following some of these people who are protesting against health care reform back to their homes.

I'd like to sit in their easy chairs, or slouch back their couches, the way they do in the evenings, and play with their remote controls. Perch on their decks or back porches, like they do after a hard day at work, and contemplate how little money is actually left in their 401(k)'s. Ride in their cars and click the preset station buttons on their radios to see which stations they're tuned into.

Maybe even go with them to work for a day or two, all in the hopes of being able to find out just what the exact angle of incidence is that determines their perspective, the particular type of logic that dictates how they process facts, the precise combination of life experiences that directs them to the conclusions they believe to be the right way, and often the only way, to see the world.

Maybe, if I were polite enough about it, I could convince someone like Bob Collier, who was profiled in yesterday's New York Times article "Calm, but Moved to Be Heard In the Debate Over Health Care" that graced the front page, to let me into his life for a day or two to see the world with his eyes.

Because the thing I can't figure out is how this 62 year old salesman from Montezuma Georgia, a man who seems from the bio included in the article to be the kind of person who has the capacity to separate fact from fiction, can reel off a personal indictment of the Obama Administration that completely ignores reality.

"Here comes the new guy in town," Collier says, "and he wants to centralize everything. He wants to take over the car companies. He wants to take over the banks. Now he wants to take over health care. It's a power grab, and if he gets this, there's no turning around."


The car company CEO's came to Congress twice to beg for money, because they had none left.

The banks felt they were in such dire straits that they skipped Congress and sent their 911 calls for help straight to the Treasury.

These are not events that took place behind closed doors, but in front of TV cameras that beamed them directly into our homes every night last fall.

The catchphrases "personal responsibility" and "accountability", phrases that I can imagine often pepper Mr. Collier's conversations, must have been thrown out the window when those people who managed the banks and the auto companies so poorly that ONLY the government could keep them from collapsing got boatloads of Mr. Collier's tax dollars to prop them up.

Something tells me though, that if I were to sit in Mr. Collier's living room with him and get the bank CEO's and the car company CEO's on the phone to explain how hard they had to beg the government to RELUCTANTLY come to their aid, he probably wouldn't believe the words that came out of their mouths.

It is as if Mr. Collier and his brethren, after seeing these events through the funhouse mirrors of talk radio and shock talk TV, have decided to accept the distorted images from these heavily biased media outlets as if they are accurate representations instead of the optical illusions they really are.

To Mr. Collier's credit, and to the credit of many Americans like him, he understands that something is wrong with with our health care system.

But for the Mr. Colliers of the world to insist that we apply simple arithmetic to a multivariate problem, one that demands a calculus-level solution, gives the president, the government, and ultimately the America citizenry absolutely no chance for success.

If we take a look at the sentiment that seems to be the recurring theme among these folks like Mr. Collier who seem to hunger for a golden yesteryear - those rose colored memories of a time long past that every older generation seems to invoke when progress demands immediate and substantive change in the way we do things - the sentiment that any changes should benefit some of the people, not all of the people, this is the posture that is at the heart of the moral dilemma that people like Mr. Collier face.

“We’ve got to do something about those people who can’t get insurance,” Mr. Collier said. “There has to be a safety net there. But I don’t want that safety net to catch too many people.


If I could sit in Mr. Collier's easy chair long enough, the easy chair he has undoubtedly paid for with income from his many years of work for his employer, and ruminate on this the way he does, I might come to the conclusion that the government's health care proposals now on the table neglect to address the concept of individual fairness.

This may be one of those few times in our history, however, that the concept of the public good trumps the concept of individual fairness.

But we cannot simply dismiss the Mr. Colliers of the world, as if their opinions don't matter, even if we think his moral compass is off kilter. We have to do a better job explaining to him why doing this thing which tears at one of the tenets he has tried to live by all his life makes sense even when it goes against his personal credo.

The Obama Administration has to get its historians out of moth balls, not the ones who can reel off statistics and dates but the ones who know how to tell a compelling story, and get them in a man-to-man situation with every TV news camera crew they can find.

This administration needs to let these historians tell the Rural Electrification story with some pathos, while pointing at the Montezumas and the thousands of other small towns across the country, to show how much influence the federal government had in getting electricity to homes like his when the power companies didn't think it was fair to have to provide electric current for the same price to ALL its customers.

Barack Obama himself needs to get one of those Magic Wall gizmos that the cable news networks used during the elections last year for his next press conference on healthcare. Then he needs to use it to show just what the United States of America would look like if we had only built interstate highways in the states who could pay for them. There would be very few superhighways west of the Mississippi until you got to the coast. A large part of south would still be making do with two lane highways.

Obama then needs to tap the Magic Wall twice after that visual opening with all those dangling roadways that would start and stop at state lines like a halfway finished jigsaw puzzle and pull up a few numbers - the cost of the interstate highway system, which was staggering at the time, followed by the amount of money the federal government spends every year out of our national collective treasury to help individual states maintain them.

I hope, Mr. Collier, that you and your wife get to putter around your house long enough to see why we had to have healthcare reform now - why, as imperfect as this beginning may be, it is ultimately to the greater good of our American society that we bravely endure the sacrifices necessary to "heal thy sick" in the communities all aross our nation the same way we bravely endure the sacrifices on battlefields all around the world to preserve our freedom.










Will The Real (Chris) Kris Broughton Please Stand Up?




I was tooling around the internet Sunday night after chronicling my weekend adventure with our local healthcare protestors, clicking on a few links here and there, when I saw the picture that had ticked me off to no end last week - the one of the preppie looking young black man in a white button down shirt and khakis who had an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle slung over shoulder at a town hall meeting attended by the president.

I'd passed by this photo the last few days on Talking Points Memo because I figured it was old news, but there was something different in the headline that made me click on it Sunday afternoon.

My eyes scanned quickly through the page, as I usually do, then stopped dead in their tracks. I can't remember the last time I'd opened my eyes so wide.

What was the reason for this sudden shock?

This article on Talking Points Memo's TPMCafe:


The Right To REMIX: DJ Reason's Acid Jazz Remix of Chris Broughton.

Christopher Broughton carried an assault rifle to a Presidential appearance. I thought it only fair to call him up, record him, and remix the whole thing, because IF WE DON'T USE OUR RIGHTS, we lose them.


The AR-15 toting black guy's name was Chris Broughton.

If you are reading this on my main blog, Brown Man Thinking Hard, then you know me as Brown Man, but my real name is...

...Kris Broughton.


Granted, our names aren't spelled exactly the same, but to most people, when I say "Kris Broughton", what they hear is "Chris Broughton". And I'm sure that many people who've known me for years, who've never had a reason to read my name in print, or receive a business card from me, probably think that my name is "Chris".

I was so hot about this other Chris Broughton last week my rage was indescribable. And then it turns out that his name is...Chris Broughton. How could this be? Who the hell was this guy?

With a last name like Jackson or Washington or Brown or Johnson, if you are black, you stand a very good chance, even in this age of African American given names like Courvoisier or Rockwan or Shauntavious, of running into someone else who shares your full name.

But there aren't that many people in America named Broughton. And this universe dwindles considerably when you focus solely on black people in America with the last name Broughton.

As I reeled from the irony of sharing a name with someone in the news whose political stance was so at odds with my own, I thought about the mixups that used to ensue whenever the exploits of a cousin of mine, also named Chris Broughton, who recently passed away, were printed in my hometown newspaper.

The real Kris Broughton, yours truly, has cranked out over four hundred politically oriented posts on my blog since last January, many of them practically full length essays that, taken in total, do more to define my own personal political stance than any mere label like "liberal" or "conservative" or "progressive" can hope to fully encompass, because like most people, I can and do hold one or another of these political viewpoints at any given time.

So to see a name so close to mine, one that will for the near future be associated with "semi-automatic gun wielding nut", is more than disheartening - it is as if this other Chris Broughton from Bizarro World has taken aim with his rifle at all of the ideas I've carefully deconstructed, all of the positions I've painstakingly explained, all the outrage I've so forcefully and voluminously articulated, and left them all in tatters, the way an errant marksman scatters bullets all around the bullseye printed on the paper target at the gun range.


In several media interviews following the rally, including CNN, Broughton refused to identify himself by last name.

"I don't want to be Joe the Plumber," he said. "I don't want to be famous."

The Arizona Republic
AZCentral.com


You don't have to worry about that, Chris. You're already "Chris the Nut" to most of America.

And you won't be famous either, but infamous for a week or a month, until the next genius with a penchant for the cameras and a crazy, "look at me" gimmick comes along.

Meanwhile, the real Kris Broughton will still be toiling in obscurity here at Brown Man Thinking Hard, teeing up the political news of the day he sees fit to discuss, one issue at at time, bringing the heat to each topic the way Tiger Woods puts the wood to a golf ball.






"I Don't Think Everybody Needs Healthcare"



When my buddy from Alabama called me yesterday to tell me that he was in front of Congressman David Scott's office at a health care rally, I was still in my pajamas, on hold with my ISP, trying to set up the cranky email software on my new laptop. Twenty minutes later I was in my car, heading across Atlanta on I-285.

I haven't watched the news in a couple of weeks, because the lazy cable news producers have begun to remix the healthcare reform headlines the way P. Diddy remixes old hit songs. I have avoided the claptrap coming from the Sunday morning political talk shows, because at this point they are all talking to each other in soundbite shorthand, as if they are filming a sit-com and have been practicing their lines all week.

This was not a townhall meeting. Congressman Scott, (D) Georgia, representing Georgia's 13th District, had planned no press conference or any other public event for Saturday. Scott has become infamous to healthcare reform opponents for giving s spirited response to one of his own constituents during a recent town hall meeting. Since then, Scott's office has been vandalized with swastika graffiti spray painted over signage bearing his name, and the video of his town hall encounter with a local urologist has been spreading across the blogosphere.

When I got to Scott's office about midday, the protesters seemed to be quieter than the ruckus I'd heard coming through my buddy's cell phone. There were maybe fifty protestors left straggled along the curb in front of Scott's district office, many of them in garnet colored shirts that looked like they could have been University of Georgia paraphernalia, waving signs and banners, yelling a few spirited catcalls from time to time.

I didn't hear the guy my buddy had held his phone up for me to listen to earlier over his cell phone - the guy who had been yelling "if you want healthcare, get a job" at the top of his lungs - but there were plenty of people yelling derogatory comments about "Obamacare" and "socialism".

Directly across the street from Scott's office, a smaller group of people, most of them in blue shirts, some of which read "Obama '08", were waving their "honk if you support healthcare reform" signs and occasionally shouting back at the healthcare protestors.

When I raised my camera to take a picture, the two police officers who had gone over to remind the healthcare supporters to stay within the right of way seemed to scurry away a little faster.



My buddy appeared in a blue t-shirt, with his two year old son on his shoulders and his scientist wife at his side. "You need to go over there," my buddy said, his finger pointing across the street, "and talk to 'em. I was over there earlier, just asking them why they hate the idea of healthcare reform so much."

A few minutes later, the four of us were across the street, and I was taking close ups of the protestors.



One of them, an older man in a red golf shirt and khaki shorts, asked me why I was there, since I had on one of my beloved "Magnum P.I." Hawaiian themed shirts, a red one that was covered in white tropical flowers. So I told him I wrote a political blog called Brown Man Thinking Hard.

"Thinking hard, eh?" he said. "Then you must be on our side."

"I think that's one of the problems with this whole thing, for starters," I said, "this partisan 'which side is right' stuff."

Another man, about the same age and in similar attire, sidled up to us. And just like that, while the camera crews were putting their gear away, and the photographers were walking around looking for a few final shots of the event, we got into a conversation about why all of us were standing on the side of the street in downtown Smyrna on a Saturday afternoon.

It took a few minutes for us to get past the obligatory position statements and traditional rhetoric and into a discussion that was a little more intimate. The man who had originally asked me why I was there, after sensing that I wasn't there to counter the anti-healthcare reform slogans he had been yelling, started in on why HE was out there.

He was retired. He had served in the military, where his healthcare was free. I countered that it wasn't really free, but a part of his compensation. He had seen then, he said, what the government did when it had to serve large numbers of people as their primary provider. The long lines, indifferent doctors who were merely marking time until their student loans were worked off, the soldiers who had abused the system - all of this, he asserted, was what he feared if the government ran the nation's healthcare system.

More people began to drift over as we talked. The man shifted gears a little then, segueing from why he didn't believe we needed to have healthcare benefits for everyone to what he thought of Obama. "Obama is nothing more than a pimp. A Detroit pimp is what he is. I lived in Detroit for awhile, and in certain areas of town, they had these guys - pimps - there they called them 'murphy men'. They would wait for a guy who looked like he was out for some action to start eyeing the girls walking up and down the street, and then they would start talking to the guy, real smooth-like, the way Obama does, to try to figure out what kind of girl the guy wanted."

"I don't think he's a pimp," I said. "What he is is a politician, and in this country, we aren't really interested in politicians telling us things we don't want to hear. So the politics of the situation has kind of got him in a spot. Look, I voted for him myself, but now, what I want him to do, instead of worrying about who is vulnerable at the midterm elections, or what kind of legacy he's going to have, is to stick it to these weak Democrats in Congress who aren't willing to staand up for anything and get them to stand up for something. To get them to stand up for us.

This is a complicated issue. It's got a lot of moving parts. And right now, it looks like the president is pushing a bunch of ideas that sound like they are going to cost a lot. The other thing I wish he would do is simply say to all of us that what he is proposing isn't just a few changes in how we do things. What I want him to do is say what needs to be said - that he is proposing a fundamental change in the way we see healthcare in this country. That we are going to go from a 'how much profit can you make' healthcare system to a "this much profit is fair' healthcare system. Because all of these things they are proposing - limiting this fee, capping that cost - all point to a public utility model."

"But that's not right," the man said. "He's trying to get rid of free enterprise."

A black guy who had wandered over with his "Obamacare = Slavery" poster grunted in affirmation.

I could feel the presence of my buddy from Alabama just behind my right shoulder. His wife and child were in the shade of the congressman's office. Many of those who had worn blue shirts to show their support for healthcare reform were gone. I could sense the frustration in my buddy at the black guy's sign, could practically feel the tension rising in his body. My buddy had spent many, many weekends and week nights campaigning for Obama in this very same area.

"Can I ask you guys something," I said. "I've been thinking about this for weeks, and from what I can see, the public utility idea is one that has worked before. My grandmother lives in the middle of nowhere. Do you think the power company wanted to run powerlines out to her house? Do you know how much it cost for them to put electricity in rural America? It was the government, with the Rural Eletrification Act who made them do it. And she pays the same for electricity as everybody else, even though it cost waay more to get power to her house."

The man I was talking to looked perturbed, but the man holding the yellow "Don't Tread On Me" banner, the one with the mini ZZ Top looking beard that touched his chest, who had been half turned while we were talking, turned around and joined the outer ring of our growing group.



"I don't think it's the same," Mr. Perturbed said. "I don't think everybody needs healthcare coverage."

While I was searching for something to say, something other than the many inflammatory retorts floating through my mind, because I was really interested in seeing where this conversation could lead, the man with the ZZ Top beard spoke up. "I'm a veteran. And I think the VA system is horrible. I got sick last year, and it took me over a month to get in to see a doctor. Weeks and weeks before I could get a colonscopy the doctor ordered. I don't think the government has any business running healthcare."

I turned back to the original protester. "I've heard the same things about the VA. But the government doesn't want to take over healthcare. What they have is a problem. A big one. Half off all the money in this country spent on healthcare is spent by the government already." The black guy with the "Obamacare = Slavery" sign grunted again, then interjected "on what? What are they spending it on?" I reeled off an incomplete list of programs and subsidies, but he wasn't interested in hearing any of it. My buddy from Alabama was restless now, his feet shuffling, his breathing getting heavier. I could imagine his eyes glaring fiercely at the black guy.

"The thing is," I continued to the larger group, "the biggest bulge in our history - the baby boomers - are going to start hitting the system by the thousands. Something has to be done about this."

"The Democrats ain't never done nothing for the people," said the black guy holding the "Obamacare = Slavery" sign. "Not a damn thing. That's why I'm a Republican."

My buddy from Alabama had had enough. "Do you know your history?" he said to the black guy.

The two of them got into a verbal tit for tat, exchanging heated barbs about slavery, Martin Luther King, and the history of African American involvement with the Republican Party that ended when my buddy, exasperated, finally yelled "how much are they paying, brother? Huh? How much are they paying you?"

Some of the people still on the curb turned around, wondering what was going on. More onlookers crowded in to our growing group.

But the guys I had been having the most productive conversation with, the ones who had begun to tell their own stories, and reveal their own feelings and fears, had started to look more and more like my cigar buddies. Maybe I looked more and more like somebody they knew as well. In any case, we continued talking a little while longer after my buddy and Mr. "Obamacare = Slavery" reached an uneasy truce.

"When I moved to North Fulton almost fifteen years ago," I said, "my new neighbors were protesting the expansion of a major corridor between Fulton and Forsyth Counties. They didn't want a four lane highway so close to their subdivisions, they said. It would hurt property values. It would be a route for big tractor trailers thaat would rumble through all night long. On and on they went with why we shouldn't do this.

So the major corridor remained a two lane road. Traffic backed up. Forsyth County grew by leaps and bounds. And now, fifteen years later, they are building the road anyway, for more than it would have originally cost, and at a greater inconvenience to the residents. It was inevitable that the road was going to be widened.

Its inevitable that healthcare in America is going to change. So why not do something about it now?"

There was less rancor now as we went about the small circle in round robin fashion, with everybody throwing in their own real life scenarios to explain why they believed what they believed.

After awhile, I peered at my watch and then looked at the guys I had been talking with. "Let me ask you guys something. If we could take the politics out of this - if we could just look at this as a human issue instead of a partisan one - would you be willing to at least listen to some different ideas on how to address the problems we have in our healthcare system?"

They all said yes.

A few minutes later, my buddy and I had rejoined his wife and child on the sidewalk in front of Congressman Scott's office, where we began talking about what had just happened. The two year old, a veteran of many political events, was nonetheless tired of standing still. Now that his father, his number one playmate, was near, he was ready to do the things two year old boys do.

As I talked to my buddy's wife and another healthcare supporter about his recent travails with his insurance company over the limitations of his coverage, the two year old dragged his father across the parking lot towards a large motorcycle. The man with the ZZ Top beard was rolling up his nylon "Don't Tread On Me" banner to put in a compartment on his bike when he saw my buddy and his son approaching.

The bearded man was rummaging around in another compartment by the time my buddy's son had dragged him all the way to the bike. The bearded man's hand emerged from the compartment with a brightly colored coin. He bent down and said something to my buddy's son as he handed the coin to him.

Behind all of the hysteria, bombast, misinformation, fear and denial swirling about the Obama healthcare reform effort, I am firmly convinced that if everybody on both sides of the issue would recast their positions in more human terms - whether or not all Americans deserve to have access to regularly scheduled doctor visits and preventative medical care - we might get a better understanding of why, as imperfect as this initial effort is, that it is the right thing to do, and why the time to begin doing it is now.






Obama's Plan Demands New Healthcare Vision


The more I've read about the healthcare debacle, and the more I've ruminated over the president's proposals to reform our healthcare system, the more I've been inclined to think about what we are really doing here that is scaring some Americans so badly.

We are standing at the beginning of what could be a seminal moment in American history, when our "all the profit you can generate" healthcare system is transmogrified into the "this is enough profit" healthcare system.

Because if President Obama truly intends to accomplish any of the major goals regarding healthcare reform that he has laid out for his administration, the reality is that we as a nation are going to have to make a fundamental shift in the kind of business philosophy we think is appropriate for our healthcare system.

In many ways, what Obama's plan demands is a new way of seeing the healthcare industry, moreso in the way that we have come to see our power companies, for instance - as an industry whose machinations are so necessary to modern human life that they are in effect the equivalent of public utilities.

Maybe it has been the constant repetition of the phrase "public option" the last few days, or maybe it was an article I read in the Weekly Standard, or maybe it was the way the proposed bill seeks to regulate so many aspects of the healthcare fee-for-service transaction - whatever it was, it got me to thinking about the power companies and how closely we have regulated them, and how we have pre-determined for years how much of a profit they could make.

Duke Power and Georgia Power have some of the happiest shareholders in the country, the public feels that it gets a quality product at a reasonable price, and everybody, even the unprofitable customers, have access to electricity as long as they can pay their bills.

The thing I am wondering is, if the president could put what he is trying to accomplish in these terms, would it remove some of the anxiety for those who fear the unknowns behind his reform efforts? For those who see the erosion of their capital as the only result of reform?

Right now, without being able to point to an example of what he is looking to get done down the road, the president is left with a lot of loose ends from his current proposal that are just dangling all over the place because they are not a part of a larger, coherent, easily digested narrative structure.

With 46% of healthcare expenditures already being paid by the government through its existing programs, and the onset of the baby boomer bulge that is due to start swelling the ranks of Medicare aand Medicaid, President Obama has no choice but to begin to act now if the government is to have a fighting chance.

The question is, how long will it take the rest of us to realize this?










I don't watch much preseason football - hardly any, in fact - because they aren't real games. They are practice sessions that teams use to see if the game plans they have been working on actually work in game day type situations.

Right now, I feel as if the debacle about the healthcare reform effort that President Obama is pushing these days is getting the same amount of attention from me. Make no mistake, though - when it comes time to suit up against the opposition, I'll be watching the healthcare debates in Congress like I watch the NFL during the regular season on Sundays.

If Obama, who is a sports fan, can take anything from the world of football in the ongoing scrum that our national healthcare debate has become, he needs to look at the things a team does when it is behind. When the plays it is calling aren't working. When the players themselves are not executing their individual roles well enough to capitalize on their strengths.

He needs to go back to the run.

Football coaches go back to the run when their teams are in trouble because it settles the players down. Because it is a low risk way to advance the ball a few yards at a time. And because it can help the offense stay on the field long enough to get back into a rhythm that is productive again.

The run, in this case, is a chart showing how healthcare costs have risen over the last forty years. The graphic visual should be everywhere. I'd replicate the angle in lapel pins, in T-shirts, on baseball caps, on coffee cups.

Because the thing we are looking to do is pull the rising end of that line down to a more level trajectory.



This symbol idea sounds stupid, but until you can show me a stadium full of people wearing fake calculators on their heads they way they will wear fake cheese; until you can show me people who are willing to rabidly yell "30% savings!!!" the way they holler "Da Bears!!!!"; until you can visualize people walking with t-shirts that say "cost containment is cool" the way they wore those t-shirts that said "yes we can" - until you can show me, in other words, how to get people excited about the abstract and arcane minutia that it will take to get started on a major overhaul of our healthcare system, you are pretty much waiting on a Hail Mary pass to pull this thing out.

A Hail Mary pass, you may recall, if you watch a lot of football, is a pass that doesn't win very many games.


* * *


I've been kind of silent on this healthcare reform effort the last couple of days, partly because one of my co-workers went on vacation, leaving her high maintenance partner-in-crime with nothing better to do than aggravate the shit out of me the last couple of days, which has cut back on my daytime doodling and brain storming, but mostly because I realized a few days ago that amid all the hoopla about who said what about whom, our media had lost any interest in disseminating the facts.

For once, though, I can't say that I blame them. As my illustration above alludes to, you don't have football fans cheering about page 137 in the playbook - what you have are legions of fans who are willing to cheer the SYMBOLS of a team, like its mascot or its trademark, all day long, regardless of whether the playbook that helped to put points on the board was six pages long or six hundred.

Even if the healthcare reform effort were to pass in toto while retaining all the important elements around which it was originally designed, it would only be the first step to bending the healthcare curve downward.



Which is why I have all these charts in this post, just so you can see for yourself how...what's the word I'm looking for here - "ubiquitous" sounds like it - yep, that ubiquitous angle that is almost identical on practically all of the charts I googled earlier tonight.

So some of you more ambitious, entrepreneurial types who read this blog should see this lazy, sideways looking, two colored "V" the way the marketers at Nike see their famous swoosh symbol - as something that, properly magnified, screen printed on shirts and embroidered on hats, can come to represent more than a set of plot points on a graph.

When you see people painting their index fingers and their middle fingers so they can show you where they stand, if they are across a room by themselves or en masse in front of the cameras at a townhall rally, the two painted fingers proudly held in a sideways "V" across their chests the way this Iranian woman below



holds her painted finger aloft in a derivation of the classic "V" for victory pose, you will know at that point that you have achieved your goal.



The gauntlet has been thrown down.



We'll see who will pick this sideways "V" idea up and run with it.



"If you don't believe in second chances, you don't believe in second downs."

This was lifted straight from the comment section of a web article about Michael Vick going to Philadelphia - I wish I could take credit for such a pithy, right on the money phrase, but to who ever wrote this originally, all I can say is "thank you".

I actually had another post, a more congratulatory one, that compared Vick to Ray Lewis, who went from a murder trial, where he wasn't found guilty of murder but was shown to have legions of questionable associates, to Super Bowl MVP - because in America, we are supposed to believe in second chances.

We are supposed to be able to put the past behind us, especially when the crime in question DID NOT go unpunished.

But yesterday, I know my blood pressure went off the charts when I read the comment by Jeff Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, regarding his meeting with Michael Vick before he signed off on his contract.


"I needed to see a lot of self-hatred in order to approve this," Lurie said.

Excerpted from "With Eagles, Vick gets second chance"
ESPN Online



Self hatred?

Are you serious, Jeff Lurie?

The quote above, the one that I started this post with, Jeff Lurie, is for you. "If you don't believe in second chances, Jeff Lurie, you don't believe in second downs."

More importantly, sportswriters at ESPN and SI, why aren't you calling the Eagles front office in droves to see just what generated this kind of attitude from a team owner?

What the hell kind of statement is "I needed to see a lot of self-hatred"? Why does Vick, who is nothing more than a very good football player who has had off the field legal problems, need to hate himself before you can sign him to potentially quarterback your team, should injury befall McNabb, your starter, and Kolb your backup?

Any grade school teacher will tell you that they teach children to despise the bad acts they may commit, not themselves.

Does Michael Vick have to jump off the Empire State Building and rise again from the dead in order to move on from the sordid segment of his life that he just finished paying almost two years of his life for?

Will you pay him in crumpled up dollar bills every week to prove your point, Mr. Lurie?

Your coach Andy Reid can't keep his heroin and meth addicted thug sons out of jail for more than ten minutes at a time, an OFF THE FIELD distraction that has to have affected his decisionmaking.

Your fans are so nasty and rowdy during your home games that the Philadelphia police have a jail IN THE STADIUM.

In a redemptive society, where we believe that HUMAN BEINGS have the capacity to change, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY ARE SO YOUNG, to write off an entire person means you don't really believe in whatever religion you claim to espouse, Mr. Lurie.

Pretending to possess a choir boy level of sanctimony in a business where you pay grown men to knock the snot out of their opponents every forty five seconds is beyond hypocrisy.

But more than that, what I want to know is why Michael Vick has to play the role of the sub-human negro in order to MAKE YOU RICHER.

In order to help your team get over the hump to GET TO THE SUPER BOWL.

Will you refuse to accept the Lombardi Trophy if Philadelphia can somehow make it through the playoffs this year and notch a victory in the big game if Michael Vick's hands touch the ball during regulation play?

I won't hold my breath for your answer, Jeff Lurie.

But I will be watching you in your owners box when Vick scores his first touchdown for your team.







If You Are Still Wearing A "Yes We Can" T- Shirt...


To all you people who are still wearing those "Yes We Can" t-shirts that are starting fade out...

To all you people who gave Barack Obama's presidential campaign $5 or $10 or $15 or $20 a week...

To all you people who trekked from across the nation to Washington D.C. to brave sub-freezing temperatures to see Barack Obama sworn in as commander-in-chief...

To all you people who stayed up all night every night, yapping on the internet about Obama and the primaries and the presidential election as if your very life depended on it...

...the time is now to get your ass back in gear.





Because the people you think you defeated, the people you thought would go home with their tails between their legs because their candidates based their message on fear instead of hope - they have not left the building.

They did not go gently into that good night.

All the while, they've been gearing up for the next round of the never ending fight for the ownership of the soul of America. Telling you that you are surrounded, even as their numbers shrink daily. Proclaiming with a collective fervor that they are working on "taking the country back", as if the United States of America is nothing more than an automobile to be repossessed, or a house to be foreclosed on.





Your president doesn't need you high fiving your buddy every time he caps off a speech with his trademark aplomb right now.

Right now, what your president needs you to do is get back on this internet, the one you spent so much time on last year, and get that positive chatter going again. He needs you to click on those links to the healthcare bill and donate two or three hours to READING IT, the way you used to donate those $5 or $10 or $20 a week to his campaign. He needs you to get as excited about the possibility of having the nation's first comprehensive healthcare reform as you were about the possibility of having the first black president.

And what your president really needs you to do most of all is find out where the next town hall meeting on healthcare is in your area, and attend it the way you attended those debate watch parties.





You were the president's secret weapon back when he was campaigning, an unstoppable force that grew in number by the hour, shifting the momentum of the race in his favor at several key junctures just when he needed it the most.

Your president is in the same boat now with healthcare reform as he was then during the primaries, where a few key surges of support can make all the difference.

So put that faded "Yes We Can" t-shirt back on. Put that $20 you used to donate to the campaign into your gas tank. And trek across town or across your county to the nearest townhall meeting on healthcare you can find.

And remember - smile for the cameras.








If you were listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show yesterday morning around 8:50, you heard Tony Dungy come on the air and make his case for the remergence of Michael Vick on the active player roster of an NFL football team. Dungy felt that there was a very, very strong possibility that Vick would be signed within a week.

As SI.com's Peter King put it a couple of weeks ago, Dungy made it clear that he has one overriding goal with Vick over the next few months. "I've told Michael, 'My hope is that you play again, but if you don't, I really don't care. It's more important that you get your life right,'" Dungy said.

I guess Tony Dungy is the Colin Powell of the NFL, with the same unflappable personality, the same clean as a whistle background, the same taciturn manner in which he greeted friends and foes alike. I would imagine that Dungy is the guy the league goes to when they want to hear from a black man they can trust about a black man they don't.

It looks like Dungy is well aware of this phenomenon himself, which is why, after answering the obligatory intro questions yesterday from radio host Tom Joyner, he patiently explained why Michael Vick should play again in the NFL this year. The longer I listened, the more I felt like I was listening to a defense lawyer who was pacing back and forth in front of a jury, detailing item by item the kinds of positive and uplifting activities his client was involved in these days - activities, Dungy asserted directly, without equivocation, that signaled Vick was a changed man.

Dungy knew he wasn't just talking to the Tom Joyner Morning Show audience - he understands first hand the political side of the game of football, the one that takes place before the first player hits the locker room, a world that is scrutinized by sports analysts and sports reporters waaay, waay more thoroughly than political reporters examine our government.

The veteran coach knew exactly how these scribes would rush to slice up his commentary, all of them in a mad rush to break a story. So when Dungy said "I've been getting calls from numerous coaches who wanted to know 'what I saw in his eyes, in his body language'", he was pushing back hard against the conventional wisdom dominating sports media that says no one wants to risk picking Vick.

I applaud Tony Dungy, a man who has lost a son of his own to suicide, for not shying away from the Vick controversy. I applaud him for remembering that beneath the highlight reels, behind the dog fighting, and after the jail time that Michael Vick is more than a fallen football player.

Michael Vick is a fellow human being.






My father told me he missed the radio interview I did with Sean Yoes that aired on WEAA last Sunday night.

So I tooled around the vast internet for an hour tonight, until I figured out how to make the audio that the station has graciously made available to me easily available to others. Now my father, and anyone else who wondered what it sounded like, can access the interview portion of the show at the touch of a button.


Audio Of FIRST EDITION Interview with Sean Yoes




While I'm working on polishing and revising my real post for tonight, which is liable to be the lunchtime ditty I whipped out on Tony Dungy's interview today on The Tom Joyner Morning Show about his recent work with Michael Vick, especially since I haven't seen the podcast yet of the healthcare townhall President Obama had earlier today, you can see what all the hullabaloo was about.

I swear I don't sound like this in real life - I always thought my voice had a sharper pitch than it seems to here - but it really doesn't matter.

Now I know how those rappers who used to sell their CD's out of the trunk of their car felt.

Well, not really - this is free.









The first time last week that I saw the picture of Sarah Palin holding her baby, a hot fire whipsawed through the synapses of my brain. It was the incendiary quote "Obama's 'Death Panel' would kill my baby" that was repulsive, as if she had taken a page out of "Manufacturing Pathos 101" handbook.

I immediately thought about a section of an all-dialogue story I'd written for my writing group a couple of years ago, where a successful novelist who was having trouble with his latest book was getting advice from a book doctor.


"You know, Young Buck, for all the effort you put into writing these books, you’ll probably only be remembered by one random phrase. If you're real lucky, they might be able to connect one of your titles with your name without having to look it up."

"But there’s no easy way to do this. It's almost as hard to write bullshit as it is to-"

"That's where you’re wrong, Young Buck. Chopping ten cords of wood is hard. Digging a hundred yard ditch is hard. This," the grizzled old man said, sweeping his thin brown hand over the younger man’s desk, "is easy.

And don’t be going for that dead baby sympathy bullshit either,” the old man continued. "Hell, I could whip up an opening scene with a thug shooting a newborn in the head with a nine millimeter at point blank range, spraying the baby's brains all over his crib as his crack addicted momma slavers naked in the corner, and I guarantee you I’ll get more tears on the first page than the ocean’s got waves."


We watch billions of hours worth of movies a year. You would think we would be experts at deconstructing the manufacture of fake drama, that we would be tired of the way directors and producers try to pull at our heartstrings as if they were playing a violin, the same way newspaper and internet editors do, but the longer I live, the more I am slowly being convinced that the majority of us like this ham handed use of tired archetypes.

The clumsier the execution, no pun intended, the better.

But, like the old man in the excerpt above, I guarantee that there are people all over this country who are still wiping away the tears after seeing that picture, people whose need to hate all things Obama may have been waning a little, because...well, because this healthcare stuff is COMPLICATED, and who has time to read all that stuff?

I don't know where the White House has stashed the people who boiled down an entire political campaign to three words - "Yes We Can" - but they need to get them back to work immediately. Although with all the moving parts this legislation will have, it would be a tall order indeed to boil it down to a three word phrase.

The people who can understand the enormous benefits that healthcare reform offers to them, their loved cones and their community haven't read the healthcare proposal either, because its COMPLICATED, with many key passages that are tediously written by lawyers in a way that is easy for the unscrupulous to use verbatim, as people like Sandra Rose have shown, in order to frighten people into believing things that are simply not true.

For those people whose eyes lose focus when they look at that picture because a baby, that good old symbol of sugar plummed helplessness, is having their life threatened by that nasty old bogey man in the White House, Sarah Palin is a hero, regardless of the job she abandoned, or her lack of in-depth knowledge about anything.

I mean, who else could you trust to shoot straight with you about healthcare reform when a woman like Sarah Palin has a record like this?

Certainly not that fellow with the permanent tan who sits in the White House.

Me? I'd read it for myself.







Last Friday I did a thirty minute radio interview with Sean Yoes, who is the host of "The WEAA/AFRO First Edition", an hour-long political talk show on Baltimore's WEAA-FM (88.9 FM), which airs Sunday nights at 8 p.m.

I didn't know who Sean Yoes was, but when I mentioned to one of my buddies that he had played on the HBO drama "The Wire", you would have thought I was being interviewed by Barack Obama himself.

"Who did he play? Was he Omar?" my buddy from Alabama asked me.

"Man, I've never seen the show."

My buddy was undaunted. "What'd you say his name was again?"

"Sean Yoes." I heard my buddy shuffle around. "What are you doing - looking him up on the internet?"

"There's this little thing called On Demand that I've got on my cable service-"

The next thing you know he has an episode playing. We found out that Mr. Yoes played Lieutenant Brent Hoskins - what season he was on I couldn't tell you.

The radio interview process itself was something new to me. I have been known to talk until the cows come home, but when no one is recording you, and your audience may or may not be paying attention, you have a whole lot of leeway when it comes to the facts or even actually making sense.

So I was more than a little nervous when the sound engineer called my phone a few minutes before the taping was to begin. Something wasn't working right, so he had to call me back a minute or so later. When he called back, Sean appeared on the line a few seconds later and introduced himself.

"We're on in twenty seconds," he said.

This was it. The last few seconds before-

"Oh yeah," Sean said. "We need to do a mic check real quick, Kris."

I said "one-two one-two" the way I'd heard the old school rappers do it.

Sean laughed. "A-ha. There is a brown man at Brown Man Thinking Hard. Whenever I ask a brother to do a mic check, I always get the same thing: 'one-two one-two'."

And just like that, seconds before we were going to record the show, I felt like I knew him. The next thing you know, Sean was smoothly segueing into his introductory patter a split second after the engineer opened our connection.

It was the fastest thirty minutes I've ever had. I have no idea how it really went, other than a point somewhere towards the end when I forgot the question and began to ramble a bit before struggling to rein myself in. I would also imagine, over the course of the whole time, that my voice was all over the place.

But the interview is in the can, and tonight, at 8 pm, it will be broadcast on WEAA 88.9 FM in Baltimore. You can click this link, and push the "Listen Live" button at the top of the page to hear the show.

My radio rope-a-dope might be a little rusty, but it doesn't matter.

I'm hooked.




Truthers, Birthers And Town Hall Terrorists


Since President Obama said Sergeant Crowley acted "stupidly" when he arrested Professor Gates, what do you think he is thinking about the "truthers", the "birthers", and the "town hall terrorists" who are all coming out of the wood work these days?

I'll go with "these mother******'s are stupider than I thought!"

Because the TRUTH is, all this manufactured outrage about where OUR (as all the citizens of the United States) black president was born has got me thinking about is the old D.W. Griffith movie BIRTH OF A NATION - then again, maybe some studio is remaking it, because these people TERRORIZING the healthcare town hall meetings could stand in as extras for the mob scenes without any coaching at all.

I've been meaning to get around to doing a piece on the absurdity that is the Glen Beck phenomenon, whose presence on CNN FOX is so negative, the cable news network CNN could run "Black In America" specials five days a week and it wouldn't balance it out what has to be the "stupidest" son of a biscuit eater on the air.

Beck makes Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh look like the right wing actors they are as they join the fray, whipping the herds of town hall terrorists out there into a frenzy, directing their followers in the art of creating pandemonium...

...all so they can keep ALL OF THE PEOPLE, including themselves, from getting a better health insurance deal than they have now.

If we can all agree that our nation's insurance companies are peeing on our heads and telling us it's raining - then why is anyone who is NOT a CEO in the healthcare industry or major shareholder in one of these companies even thinking about keeping things the way they are?

If the president is able to get health insurance companies to actually do what they claim to be doing, and less of the denying of coverage to the people who pay the premiums that keep these insurance company doors open, while providing an alternative source of health care coverage for those of us who would throw off the statistics in any actuarial pool, an alternative source that will drastically cut back our emergency and trauma center costs - which seems from most angles to look suspiciously like something right out of the pages of the old Good Book my Christian citizens are ready to raise in the air whenever their motivations are questioned - why is this seen as such a terrible apostasy?

Doesn't the phrase "promote the general Welfare" come right out of the Preamble to our own Constitution?

I mean - what would Jesus do?

I don't remember Jesus standing with the money changers or the "wealth creators".

As a matter of fact, I believe he is best known for feeding the hungry and healing the sick.

Healing the sick was seen as a miracle two thousand years ago.

Today, we call it "modern medicine".

I can guarantee it would cost us less - much, much less - to "heal the sick" than the trillions we've spent keeping those "wealth builders" in Connecticut and Westchester and Ossining rich.

Just think about this. There was a time, years ago, when the effort to make seatbelt usage mandatory was just beginning, when some of us protested that too.

Amazingly, with all the disorderly conduct that has been going on at these town hall meetings - the charge of disorderly conduct, we have learned in the last two weeks, covers most kinds of public unruly or disturbing behaviors which act to provoke a disturbance - not one of these non-professorial, non-Harvardites has been arrested.












Health Care Stories: America



I was in Starbucks at lunchtime, sitting in one of their purple easy chairs, reading "Health Plan Opponents Make Voices Heard", an article about the latest brouhaha at the healthcare town halls, when I laughed out loud, startling the people around me.

It seems there have been sitings of small bands of people all around the country lately, including some of those who will tell you "I believe in creationism" without blinking an eye, who have suddenly done an ideological about face, claiming with the utmost sincerity that the madcap antics they are fomenting at the healthcare town hall meetings sponsored by the White House are all the result of "spontaneous generation".

I haven't written anything about the crazies - the Glen Becks, the Michelle Malkins, the Ann Coulters, the Michael Savages - and their followers since the great Teabagging Experiment, mostly because they are so predictable. Chasing ratings numbers or hit counts can make this crew do strange things.

I had a few thoughts today about healthcare reform after reading that article, but when I looked over what I'd written, I realized that I might need to let those ideas simmer a bit more before posting them here.

In the meantime, you might want to check out my man Bill Campbell's idea, which he described below to me in an email last week.


    Hey Brown Man,

    This month I'm trying to dedicate my blog, Tome of the Unknown Writer, to health care stories from America and countries with universal health care. Since we're going to be inundated with propaganda from all sides, I thought it could be enlightening just to hear from regular people how they feel about our health care system. So, I'm looking for stories about their experiences, their views on health care, what they'd like to see happen in the future, stuff like that. Then I'll be posting each story as I get them. I don't care if they're pro or con. I only care that their honest.

    If you could possibly contribute and/or spread the word or know someone who would be interested and pass it along, it would be greatly appreciated.

    For further instructions I put up two posts:


    Health Care Stories: International



    and

    Health Care Stories: America



    Thanks for your time and consideration. I hope to hear from you.

    Bill Campbell
    Tome of the Unknown Writer



You heard the man - if you've got a story to tell, Bill will publish it, warts and all, on his blog. If you've got a blog, post a link. It's our turn to expand the narrative. Who knows - maybe a compilation will find its way to the offices of a few Congressman, or even the president himself.

There's nothing like that "spontaneous generation" - you never know what you might end up with.




If I Had A Beer With President Obama...



...the first thing I would do is ask for bigger glasses.

The thing about having a beer with someone, at least when it is not a symbolic gesture, is that the conversation doesn't really get earnest after a few sips. Its the second beer that changes the dynamics of a group, especially when none of them know each other very well.

S. and the Resident Diva had been out all afternoon, and had eaten dinner with one of S.'s friends. So I figured I would pop out for a burger and a beer and be back home in an hour or two. It just so happened while I was finishing my burger that one of my cigar buddies walked into the neighborhood restaurant I where I was eating last night.

If you are old enough to remember Rod Steiger, you know what this cigar buddy looks like, because he and Steiger share almost every feature - powerful, stocky build, full head of hair, wide face, the most forthright cleft chin this side of Kirk Douglas - except the eyes. I could say he is a "serial entrepreneur", the way a lot of people in Atlanta like to describe themselves when they have been in several business ventures, but if you were to ask him yourself, he would tell you "I'm in the car business."

Usually, when I see him in this particular place, one of the upscale casual dining spots that seem to pop up on every corner on the northside of Atlanta (more about that in another post), S. and I are together. So not only was he happy to see me last night, he looked to be even more excited by the prospect of me being alone. "Guess what I've got, buddy?" he said, before slowly reaching into his pocket to extract a cigar. "We should hit the rooftop when you're finished eating and light one up."

Ordinarily, I don't have any cigars on me, but it also just happened to be that I'd stopped by a cigar shop on the way to the restaurant to get a couple of stogies to go with my Sunday paper. So he really didn't have to much arm twisting at all - none, in fact, to get me to join him on the restaurant's open air rooftop lounge.

My buddy was a little keyed up, though, with stance that suggested he was not yet removed from his day-to-day life. We ordered a round of drinks. We talked about his new girlfriend. The waiter told us a joke while setting down our glasses. One of the valets, who for some unknown reason was wending his way through the crowd, stopped for exchange with us that had my buddy guffawing as the smoke from his cigar curled from between his fingers.

Now he was relaxed.

The waiter was back a few moments later, a lot sooner than I would have expected him, to settle up - the sky, he said looked like it was about to open up, and he wanted to collect the tabs from his customers before they made a mad dash downstairs when the inevitable Atlanta evening rainstorm hit.

Walking back downstairs with our drinks, we settled at the corner of the bar, where a tall man with an English accent was bantering with the bartender. Two minutes later, the three of us had acquainted ourselves. Ten minutes later, we were all deep into a discussion about rugby versus football when my buddy made some remark about the British that raised the guy's eyebrows.

The comment seemed as if it was about to kill the budding conviviality of the moment, so I said to the English guy, "you know, the one thing I've admired about the English are the way you guys have carried on since the days of the Empire. I guess one day we'll be joining you."

And just like that, we went from three guys having a drink together, talking about nothing in particular, to three guys who were engaged in a deep discussion. My buddy reared back and stared at me as if I'd lost my mind. "This is the greatest nation there ever was on earth."

I looked at the English guy. "I believe the British felt the same way years ago."

So then we were at it then, with a wide ranging three way gentleman's argument that somehow included Copernicus, Newton, Decartes, Benjamin Franklin, Einstein, Tesla, Napoleon. And just when we had all sufficiently satisfied ourselves that we were in the company of other learned men with whom we could agree to disagree, my buddy leaned in and reignited our original point of contention. "There's one thing I know that makes me sure that America will be the greatest country on this earth."

Both I and the Englishman looked into our glasses before looking up at my buddy, as if we had both come to the same conclusion - "we don't have enough beer left for this."

My buddy extended the pregnant pause after his declaration for what seemed to be forever, then leaned in a little, his hands raised. "This nation was founded under the divine right of God. We were chosen to be the nation that would lead the world."

"I believe the English used to believe that too," I said. "And the Ottomans before them. And the Romans before them. As a matter of fact, I can't think of any dominant nation in history that didn't do this."

The conversation that followed was more subdued but more contentious, with all of us mouthing the words "you can believe what you want to believe, and I can respect that" while wondering how the hell anybody who didn't see any merit in our positions wasn't locked up in a mental institution.

"The thing about all these belief systems is that they are really continuations of narratives," I said. "Sustainers of the myths and realities that we have melded together to explain the who and why behind our existence. Because if you tell a story, it has to make some kind of sense."

"All I'm saying," my buddy went on, "is that the greatest story ever told has been told over and over again, and it never changes."

This was new ground for me and my buddy. At the cigar shop we used to frequent, the conversations I'd had with him had never veered this far away from current events. "The thing is," I said, "as a writer, I am a person who shapes narratives. I am the storyteller. In fact," I said with a grin, "this exchange might make its way onto my blog.

And as the storyteller in charge of retelling what happened here tonight, I could make myself look like the good guy, and you guys like idiots. That's why I am wary of the stories that we base so much of our beliefs on, because the original storytellers, like all storytellers, told the story they told the way they told it for a reason."

There were no cameras. There was no press pool. And the people waiting on us didn't treat us like royalty, but like guys who needed to be ready to pay the tab when the check came.

It wasn't until we were about to leave, while we were connecting the dots between the great scientific minds of history and their seminal discoveries, that we seemed to find some consensus.

I had ventured a thought - "what was it that allowed these men to see more than others? Could it have been that they didn't bind themselves to the conventions of the day? Could it be that they were focused on thinking freely, rather than ideologically?"

My buddy said "they were free thinkers. They were men who had an enormous facility for exploring abstract ideas."

He looked at me a little funny, though, as we walked out of the restaurant, as if he'd learned something about me that he was going to have to take some time to process.

I'll give the president an "A" for effort, for attempting to use a simple, age old tradition to bridge the gap between Professor Gates and Officer Crowley. But he gets a "C" for execution - turning the potential for a level of personal intimacy between these two men into a photo opportunity was guaranteed to reduce any exchange between these two to polite pleasantries.

Cocktail chatter isn't going to solve the issues surrounding our nation's racial dilemma. Like the men who discovered planetary motion, or the existence of gravity, or the properties of electricty, we are going to have to abandon a lot of the things we believe in today to get to the bottom of the nation's racial divide.

The havoc these discoveries wreaked on the conventionally accepted wisdom of their day is the same havoc we are going to have to endure whenever we finally come to the painful realization that it will take no less than a complete reordering of how our world works.






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