Friday, August 21, 2009

A Brilliant Obama Strategy

By Dennis Matanda
Belmont, Massachusetts

The health care reform debate taking place this American summer is such fascinating stuff that I could not and still cannot help but become an ardent and addicted follower!

I was right there when President Obama threw his gauntlet down and gave the Congress a deadline to pass something before the Senate and House went into their respective August recesses – a deadline that fell apart with those Blue Dog days and three Committee Bills. I went awestruck at the audacity of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and her ‘Death Panels’ message on Facebook – going into further shock that many Americans actually believed that the government was out to kill her down syndrome infant son! But then who can blame the poor Americans yet they literally take everything they hear their politicians say as gospel truth; and even worse, what the cable news and radio talk show hosts have to opine?

Out of interest, have you watched the Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck or even Bill O’reilly shows on the Fox News Channel? If you do not out of principle, I fully understand. I, on the other hand, have to admit that I am totally obsessed with these three men’s opinions; they who have the most popular television shows in America. I marvel at how they think and rub my hands in gleeful anticipation of what sacrilegiousness will come next from the tube!

Glenn Beck, for instance, said he thought Obama was a racist and hated white people.

And Mr. O’reilly of The Factor believes that Obama is losing popularity because Americans do not want government run healthcare.

Lastly, to this day, it is obvious that Sean Hannity does not know the definition of ‘socialism,’ ‘communism’ and if you sat down to discuss ‘Marxism,’ you’d completely lose him.

So; why am I bringing up these three gentlemen and then throwing in the oxymoron that is a brilliant Obama health care reform strategy? I will tell you this: First, each of these men do not do is tell their viewers that the people who oppose health care reform have been sold a series of incomplete stories and utter lies. These utter lies are reminiscent of the 1960s where opponents of health reform, including former President Ronald Reagan, made ordinary Americans think that their days of freedom were about to end because the government was going to stand in the way of their personal relationship with their own doctor. It has, according to different reports, become obvious that Obama's push to overhaul health care sparked [an] uprising; but the movement's real fuel is the conservative recoil from his overall agenda - one that is viewed as wholly radical and different from what they know. You should not be surprised to hear things like: " ... We're all aghast at what's happening to our constitution, our government, our deficits, our freedom ... "

Combined with stories like their premiums being increased, rationing and then their beloved grandmothers being euthanized prematurely, one cannot blame conservative and gullible audiences for coming out foaming at the mouth. And FOAM they have! At the town halls and in the streets with their signs depicting Obama as a neo Nazi and of course, demanding to take their country back. What these poor people seemingly miss is the irony that in claiming their country back, they may sentence their own families to healthcare costs that drive them into bankruptcy and backwardness!

Although some people have been wrongly termed as ‘un American’ and ‘crazies,’ there is no doubt that these three men have contributed to bringing out the mob mentality from various nooks and crannies to oppose the common sense health care reform. For his part, President Obama has been able, in his own swinging and meandering way, to start the process of showing people what health care reform is not – in essence, effectively dispelling rumors.

Sometime at the end of the 2009 spring, groups like Conservatives for Patients Rights [CPR] started slamming government run health care. They did such an amazing job in getting Americans to call or write their congressmen that they managed to scare the Mighty Democrats themselves into smithereens – and hence, the Blue Dog Democrats from fiscally conservative districts went up in against their own party because the Congressional Budget Office had, in their banal assessment, calculated that Healthcare reform would dump another trillion dollars to the deficit over the next ten years – a deficit that, including the stimulus packages of the past 10 months, was already spinning into free fall. Again, with egging from the three aforementioned gentlemen, America ginned up for the town hall meetings – to give their congressmen and women a piece of their ‘collective’ mind.

It’s important to note that although we are coming to end of August, things are very fluid and fast. News coming out of Washington or even the different town halls makes the news cycle and seems to make policy; further clouding an already really crowded Democratic government message board. It also seems to depict the Republicans as clear in their thought processes and in their overall strategy to become America’s next government. But underneath all this is a series of waves working out in the Democrats’ favor and part of my overall thesis that this is a brilliant Obama strategy.

For instance, CPR’s adverts featuring British women dishing about the inefficiencies of the National Health Service [NHS] turned out to be false. Kate Spall and Katie Brickell – two women who were supposedly giving their testimony about the NHS misdemeanors – came out recently to say that they was duped into believing that they were being filmed for a documentary and did not think that the British system of health delivery was inefficient.

Then there was the Professor Steve Hawking debacle where an editorial claimed that if British Professor, who has had the motor neurone disease all his life, had been living in the United Kingdom, NHS delivery of healthcare would have killed him dead! In its outright lie, the article lackadaisically ignored the fact that the man who wrote A Brief History of Time was born and bred in the UK and had had to endure the 'torture' of the the health system there!

For the record, CPR and other conservative groups have started to take their fight from the adverts on television to a series of conservative and Republican spokespeople making their rounds in the media – following a script that basically dispels the evils of government run health care. Combined with strategically placed memos to enthusiastic grassroots and Internet based videos, these watertight strategies are being employed to very effective lengths and they do have some excellent points.

For instance, the NHS has major weaknesses in terms of their contributing to the British deficit and there are delays in the delivery of health services to some patients that need medical attention. However, people are not dying in swathes while they wait in life for medical care. And in the matter of rationing vs. the people, because Britain has a single payor system, there is a chance that some snooty British bureaucrats make decisions on who gets what service and when. If American insurers are not as snooty as their British counterparts when they deny medical coverage due to pre - existing conditions or drop someone in the next billing cycle because they are not a bankable investment, then there is a chance that the world is a much better place than we originally expected it to be!

On the other [more serious] side, although the President has not fully deployed it, his bully pulpit is also taking the fight right to the opponents by using his town hall meetings to address rumors like the ‘pull the plug on grandma’ one and explaining how the entire health care reform would be deficit neutral. If he had not had these boogey men out there [pun unintended], he would have had nothing to say or apply his oratorical process to such deadly effect.

Now, while he may still have a long, long way to go in winning the battle for American hearts and minds, it seems as though the good fortune that brought Mr. Obama into power may carry him through this healthcare debate. And although she did not mean it to work this way, Peggy Noonan in her most recent Wall Street Journal column put it much better than I could ever do. She said: ‘Health care as a subject is extraordinarily sticky, messy and confusing. It's inherently complicated, and it's personal. There are land mines all over the place.’

Then she, almost allegorically, spoke of the Obama healthcare mantra which is: ’Don't make the mistake the Clintons made and create a plan that gets picked apart, shot down … Instead, push it off on Congress. Let them come up with a dozen plans … It will allow them to vent, and perhaps even exhaust, their animal spirits … Various items and elements within each bill will get picked off by the public. Fine, that's to be expected. The bills may in fact yield a target-rich environment…’

So far, Peggy was spot on. And then she nailed it by stating: ‘Maybe health care's foes will get lost in the din and run out of ammo. Maybe they'll exhaust their animal spirits, too. Summer will pass, the fight confined to the public versus Congress. And at the end, in the fall, the beauty part: The president swoops in and saves the day, forcing together an ultimate and more moderate plan that doesn't contain the more controversial elements but does constitute a successful first step toward universal health care. In my calculation, although Ms. Noonan basically says that this is not what is going to happen, I think that the President is getting his way in more ways than he could have bargained for.

But perhaps an unintentional Obama victory came from an ally. Betsy McCaughey, PhD was probably the Angel of Death of Hillarycare in 1993. In 2009, she coined the ‘death panel’ statement earlier in the healthcare debate. Then she went and got completely outmatched on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show on the night of August 17, 2009 [I saw it on August 20]. Jon, in his gentle way, ripped her a new one – making me feel sorry for her as she tried to find the page that talked about the death panels in the first half of the House Bill she had managed to lug into the studio. She probably thought she’d convince the comedian that she was right – and instead, lost her position on an influential healthcare board – meaning that America’s most trusted newsman triumphed.

Another unintentional victory was when Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts basically taught the other healthcare proponents how to deal with crazy people at their town hall meetings and lastly, the President took his fight to the religious groups – talking about how it was a moral obligation to provide insurance for the over 46 million Americans without health insurance.

Even Bill O’reilly, with the most popular television show on cable television could not argue with that. His Talking Points memo of August 20, 2009 basically had one argument: that because of the rumored trillion dollar investment by the Congressional Budget Office, the all giving Americans were skeptical. Then he went on to give statistics of how Americans did not support the health care reform and unfortunately, a miserable nun managed to tell him that if Jesus had been in the United States, he would have sided with government healthcare.

Sean Hannity replayed a show from the past on the night of August 21, 2009 – an irrelevant show since some of the rumors of Canada’s ineffective healthcare system had been debunked - and Glen Beck did not even have the courtesy to say he’d not do his show on August 20.

Something is happening in America. The Healthcare Reform Debate tide is turning. Of course I have not even mentioned the Big Guns like El Rush Limbaugh or Jay Severin of Boston’s WTKK. Against them, the President guarantees that this reform will pass; and although one is justified in worrying about the things happening internally in the Democratic Party and even the different rallies and tea parties, there is no doubt that after September 15, 2009, Americans will wake up to a new country – one with a government health insurance option or not.

Friday, July 24, 2009

We are ALL Racist, Gadammit!

By Dennis Matanda

Anyone who knows me knows three things: first, that when I am caught red handed with my hand in the cookie jar, I come clean and accept my punishment. Second: I like to drive very, VERY fast. And thirdly; I ALWAYS have my seat belt on. Now, if you are reading this and follow American politics, you definitely know where I am going with this considering that, for the record, I am a Black Man.

In case you do not know what is happening, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation's pre-eminent African-American scholars, was arrested a few days ago at his home by Cambridge police investigating a possible break-in after a neighbor reported seeing two black men trying to force their way into a house. It turns out that the two black men were Professor Gates and his driver trying to get into his house through a door that had jammed. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist after the officer insisted on questioning him after he had showed his driver’s license and Harvard identification card and was later booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. I guess the question in the professor’s head at the time was: if he had been a white professor, would this kind of thing have happened to him?

But let me start like this: I have no doubt that all my Black friends will tell you their individual stories of police profiling woe. For my part, I got my first speeding ticket in Watertown – a town West of Boston, MA - known to have some of the strictest and most vigilant traffic officers on the entire East Coast. I had, over the course of my one year of driving in the United States, been cautioned by all and sundry about driving through this place since I live in Belmont, the next town. That morning – for it was 1:15 am – I had just left the club and was feeling a little buzzed because this girl I’d met the day before had called to find out if I wanted to do drinks with her and her girlfriends. And then, the new Mazda 6 I was driving responded beautifully to my foot nudges and soon, I was right in the middle of Watertown all the while overtaking drivers to my left and to my right.

When I passed the last driver, who gave me what I considered a dirty look, I realized, only too late and firstly, that the look had been one of pity; and secondly, that I had flown right into the hornets’ nest! A few seconds after I slowed down, I saw flashing lights in my rear view mirror, slowed down even more like I had seen in the movies, pulled off to the side of the road, stopped, turned the loud music on my radio off and rolled my window down. Sitting there not knowing what to do – and yet at the same time excited that something was happening to me AT LAST – the young looking officer came up to my window and asked for my license and car registration which I fumblingly gave to him. He then asked me if I knew why he had pulled me over; and I said that it was because I was overtaking some people who were driving recklessly. He told me that I had been doing over 40 miles in a 30 mile zone and speechlessly, I nodded. Then I, with zest, explained that I had not meant to drive that fast. It’s just that I was trying to overtake some slow drivers who were, in my opinion, driving dangerously.

The Young Man told me he understood and turned to take the documents I had handed him back to his car. As he was walking away, I asked his pardon and wondered in question if he was going to give me a ticket. He asked me to stay in the car and wait. I followed that up by saying that I was worried about my insurance being affected by a speeding ticket – and he, in that reassuring voice – told me to be patient and get what was coming to me.

He came back after what seemed like forever and presented me with my first ticket. On it was the fact that in his estimation, I had been driving at over 40 miles an hour and for this violation of the law, I was going to pay $ 25 dollars to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Massachusetts. Then I saw something else on the ticket. I was being accused of not wearing my seat belt. When I pointed this out to the Officer, he said he had done me a favor and only given me a $ 25 ticket that was not going to affect my insurance rating or anything of the sort. The not-wearing-a-seat-belt crime was, somehow, going to show that this was just a minor offense and that I was a good person after all.

Giddy with having ‘successfully’ negotiated myself out of a nasty ticket that would have doomed my future car insurance to Siberia, I drove home, sent a text to my now failed potential date apologizing and explaining the circumstances. She did not respond. I then called Thomas to tell him the story of my ticket. He did not think it was a big deal and so I went to sleep in a good mood believing that I had gotten charged only $ 25 for that irreplaceable feeling of nirvana!

Three months later – about two weeks ago in fact – you can imagine my shame and frustration when the insurance agent brought up the fact that he deemed me one of those careless ones that did not wear their seat belts! I was in shock. I could not believe that that White Police Bastard had stained my driving record with such a, excuse the pun, white lie! This is what went on inside my head while I sheepishly made grunts and rude gestures to the Insurance fellow who was making faces about my record. But to be fair to him, I had within those months received two other tickets – the $ 150 for driving at 88 miles in a 65 mile zone [it was 3:00 am and I was driving from Washington DC like a maniac because I was longing for my bed], and then the cool $ 240 one for driving at 53 miles on a 30 mile bridge!

But all this is not the point. I am just going to say that although I am still mad that the first traffic officer lied to me and accused me of a violation I would never commit, the other two tickets came from very professional officers who addressed me by name – even at those odd hours of the night – and who even offered words of advice like ‘pull into a rest area to take a nap’ or ‘Dennis, you need to slow down or you will die.’ And these officers were both, like the first one I am going to disparage later on in this article, white.

Did I feel like any one of them was racist to me or profiling me? Well – to some extent, I guess all officers were a little taken back that I was not intoxicated at that time of the night since I was driving carelessly; and probably pleasantly surprised that I spoke with an accent. I actually believe that the $ 150 ticket was a major consideration since I had actually been flying that Toyota Prius Hybrid thingy off the road!

That is why, I guess, I am not going to take all police personnel as pigs in a Dunkin’ Donuts shop. I will, however, say that the case of Sgt. James Crowley vs. Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr was, like President Obama said at the end of his July 22, 2009 evening, an act of sheer bloody stupidity. Yes – the President said the white police man acted stupidly in arresting the old black man with a cane in his own home; but I will reiterate the fact that this was just sheer bloody mindedness and downright stupidity.

Let me explain: first, if this Sgt. Crowley actually gave courses and talks on racial profiling, he should have known how Black Men feel about being accosted by the Police. He should have known better to de-escalate the situation and especially let the fact that there was an old man mouthing off at him. It did not matter that the man insulted his mother or even called him a racist and demanded to speak to the Officer’s Officer.

But at this juncture, I need to throw in a curve ball. Like the President, I do not have all the facts on this – but I believe that many Black people do blow a few things out of proportion and grow their sense of injustice. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court rendered one of the most important legal decisions in American history. With its first opinion in the Brown v. Board of Education, the Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren stated that racial segregation should not be allowed even if Black and White schools had equal funding, equal opportunities, and were equivalent in all other resources. The eventual result of the
Brown decision was the complete breakdown of the legally mandated, or de jure segregation.

And Brown did change a great deal of the American fabric. Black people went to white people schools and somehow, neighborhoods begun to have a little brown sugar. However, you have to admit that with the progress made so far, Black people have probably not necessarily received what is their due. In this case, what, in my opinion, is their due? The honest truth is that I do not know. All I know is that many of my Black American friends say that they would never marry a white person because that person would not understand; many of my White friends do not understand what the Black people have gone through and ultimately, many people do not say what they honestly feel about other races because it is deemed politically incorrect.

Now, I live in the North East – in Massachusetts. According to the official 2005 demographics, Whites are 87.89% of the population while Blacks made up 7.58%. This has, since the 2000 official statistics, grown from the 89.23% to 6.97% ratio. That is why I understand that most of the billboards and advertising literature feature happy White folks without seeming regard for the minorities. Interestingly, these subliminal messages – through showing White families going on holiday, White families being the perfect American family and White families showed as happy present Black people as sports icons, musicians, people with HIV or even criminals living in the South End.

My neighborhood has very few Black people – but many other minorities. For instance, there are at least five Chinese families in the two miles on either side of my address. Combined with the Armenians, Latin Americans and others, being that these people are fair skinned, the only color that sticks out like a sore thumb is Black. I do get looks when I walk into an ice cream parlor. I do get looks when I sit down at my local Starbucks. I do get stared at when I walk into a barber shop to get a haircut [and I gave my neighborhood barber the experience of his life because he had never shaved a Black guy]. And lastly, I do, like everyone else, drive cautiously considering that the police patrol the streets 24 hours a day. I am proud to say that I feel safe in my neighborhood, proudly speak of my cool apartment and have, over the months, somehow forgotten that my housemates are both White, that most of the women I have been involved with in the past few months have been White and there is a chance that I am really not that racist.

But not so fast, I tell myself on a regular basis! That is not necessarily true. The fact that I notice the stares I get says something about me. The fact that I live in this neighborhood in the first place says something about me. The fact that I take cello lessons says something about me. On the other hand, there is also a chance that I am just an uppity nigger! My point here is that in thinking these thoughts while getting these looks of curiosity makes me racist to some point.

And that Sgt. Crowley guy mentioning that he gave a dying NBA star mouth to mouth in a bid to save his life is just as racially tragic as the young black man he failed to save on the basketball court. I was really incensed when the Officer taunted his being post racial by saying that he taught a course on racial profiling and could not have been racist to Professor Gates. But what made the cup boil over is when he talked about Reggie Lewis, RIP. As a campus police officer at Brandeis University, he in July 1993 tried to save the life of the former Boston Celtics player Reggie Lewis when Lewis, who was black, collapsed and died during an off-season workout. Crowley administered CPR, trying to resuscitate the dying Lewis.

How could this be brought up? Does this mean that this would not have been a story to talk about if Lewis had been White or even Chinese? Is that not what police is trained to do? Does this make him any racially motivated just because he tried and failed to save a dying person? This is just the epitome of silliness. And for this, I completely give up. And then, to conclude, this is why I accuse all of us of being racist: we have all taken a side in regard to President Obama’s comments. Everyone is basically giving their opinion based, not on the facts of the case, but on the colors that are being displayed. Yes – the fact is that a White Officer arrested a Black Scholar. If this had been a White Scholar, would he have been arrested in the first place? I think not. I do not even think that that impeachable woman who called the police would have taken note. She would have walked on and none of this would have happened.

I guess, under the circumstances, we are all none the wiser, have all acted stupidly – except the President and the White Cop who gave me my first ticket. The President is a combination of both Black and White – and so there is no way we can bring him down to our level. And that Young White Cop was such a conniving and lying person that I would not want to find in an alley deep in the night! Of course I cannot remember what he looks like since all White Cops, young or old, look the same to me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Discombobulatingly Yours ...

Interesting, huh?

I emerge not to report facts or sheild the candles in the wind. In fact, I come up for air not to structure arguments but to add to a world of being; just being. This is now my new world of strange emotions and very strong feelings of procrastination. And of course, the issue at hand, discombobulation.

There is so much going on - and right now, as we sit in this well lit and well aired New England based Spring Library - there is no doubt that the work will be completed before the close of business either today or tomorrow. And whether this work is impeccable or not is another story. Experience with this particular client and scholarly colleague shows that one is not encouraged to strive to reach the required heights of intellectual pristinity.

And yet these are the things we aspire for. Yet these are the things that throw us into the jazz, the exciting volumes and journals all over us and this coffee so lackadaisical. Yet in reality, our mind in not seeking to compare and contrast or collaborate in the shaping of questions of human rights and women and children in Darfur and Uganda and Rwanda and the Middle East! It just prefers to wander down its own road following paths trodden with arrogance and dark hindsight.

A sad tale, I tell you; one that will probably be redeemed in a day or so - with extra work and consultations. Meanwhile, there are sleepy females about me; in the throes of caffeinated diets and final exams before they break off for the Summer and those internships in either Afghanistan or Kenya. And again, right in the middle of an awning, I emerge to be the discombobulated of the rest of us.

The Kennedy School of Government,
Harvard, Cambridge, MA,
May 19, 2009 - 2:42 pm

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Place Called Fear

I hear incomplete footsteps. One foot touches the ground in that silent way only a padded shoe can touch; and then the other does not come. I strain and wait and strain and still, it does not come. In the distance, the bells tend to knell in ways that do not tend to tell a tolled tale. Incomplete. But still, the sounds reach us and make sense. We see doom and then wait to die.

The steps and feet retreat - at least for a year and a day. And just when we rest on our laurels, the distant bells start to warm their knells; and then, we know that the hunger has started again. It wants us. It wants to eat. It needs to feed and it has to be fed. From its hibernation while it fed on others, it has returned for us; our year and a day is up.

The footsteps; incomplete and otherwise have started to take their toll in our heads; eating and feeding and fearing. And in the middle of the awning, just when we think its safe to come out and play, we are struck - with a thought - and just like that, we are back into a place called fear.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Part 15 of a Long Journey

By Dennis Matanda

Life is hard; already. And God knows that you did not need any more philosophy or philandering minds! I am both of these, I admit. I know not what has happened these five months now - but I woke up on the wrong side of fresh air and decided that I wanted to start all over again. And then I went dark. It was nice.

Then the awning begun to claw at me. And again, I needed to be back to work - to write and so, just like that, I am back to the discipline.

Life sucks, does it not?

No it doesn't.

But Master of the Sagging Cheeks does. He is in the back of the burner - put on hold by library stops, cups of lousy coffee and a certain obsession with the unbearable lightness of just being lackadaisical.

And again - just like that - I am back to spewing phlegm and hiding right in the middle of an awning, rumbling, full of rubbish and of course, a certain indignity.

Same time, next time?