Friday, July 10, 2009

Bill Moyers: Insurance Companies vs. Michael Moore

I just came across this clip from tonight's broadcast of Bill Moyers' show on PBS.  Bill Moyers interviews a former insurance executive who discusses the fear the industry has about government-run healthcare, how they immediately began to attack Michael Moore when Sicko was coming out, and how they would influence politicians to play their game (including, and especially, our Blue Dog Dems). 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"The Street with the Bully Is the Safest One"


After almost 4 weeks in Nicaragua, it has become quite evident that it is an excellent time to be in Central America. With the Honduran Presidential Crisis/Coup D’√©tat underway, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and the 30th Anniversary of Liberation Day (1979 NIC revolution) coming up in ten days, I couldn’t have picked a more exciting place to take my FSD internship (save maybe Iran).

Now that I have settled in, the degree of immersion has reached a whole new level. Conversations about school and weather have turned to politics and international relations. Questions of how to say useful words like “cool” and “goalkeeper” in Nicaraguan Spanish(“tuani” and “portero”) have shifted to questions of how to say “bribery” and “welfare” (“soborno” and “bienestar”). Luckily, I haven’t been able to get myself into too much trouble, since I’ve been listening much more than talking. Altogether, spending free time with Nicaraguans has been as educational as it is fun. In the past two weeks, I’ve experienced a few things for the first time. For your reading pleasure, here are a few:

1) Having a serious case of Language Barrier Syndrome (LBS):

Anyone who has lived in a foreign country (non-English) for an extended period of time can attest to this one. There comes a time when you need to express yourself in a certain way, perhaps to express your opinion or explain why you did something, and you lack the ability to do so effectively. Most of the time, we learn to deal with this and do our best. However, there are times when patience is lost or there is a sense of urgency, and one is left disappointed and frustrated. Needless to say, this happened to me at work. My limited command of the language made me feel foolish and incapable while I was describing my opinion on the direction of the shoe conglomerate project. I remember engaging in a 20-minute English rant after work about my frustration. Warning: this will likely happen to you someday

2) Encountering the teacher’s dilemma:

If you ever had to teach a class, you may be able to relate to this experience. I call it “The Teacher’s Dilemma.” The dynamic that emerges, often, is that there are 3 types of students: (1) excellent ones who don’t need additional assistance, (2) hopeless ones who can barely sit through class, and (3) the remainder, who are in the middle and have potential to improve. Teachers love type 1s, except for the fact that they didn’t become a teacher to watch these students excel. Type 2s create a world of problems and frustration. Most teachers want to keep 2s from distracting other students, and occasionally hope to pull students out of 2 and into 3. The problem that they find is that often 2s will always be 2s. It isn’t always a great investment of time to focus on pulling up the bottom of the class. What this leaves is the 3s, who are mostly willing to learn but perhaps need the right inspiration/instruction. Teachers live for 3s. This is where measurable progress can be seen. The teacher’s dilemma is about more than teachers. It is about society as a whole. The teacher’s dilemma is why people would rather invest in development projects in Latin America than in Sub-Saharan Africa. The teacher’s dilemma is why politicians pander to the middle class. The problem is- no one wants to go into a place where the problems are so severe and complex that there is a good chance they will fail in achieving any real progress. People see opportunity where there is potential. You can pour millions of dollars into saving the most destitute, or fractions of that to witness measurable progress in the middle/lower-middle. Politicians can do great things for the poor, but at the end of the day, their efforts just don’t pay dividends like the middle class does (in terms of voting).

3) Hiking up a 35% incline for miles to get to the top of a volcano:

No giant explanation needed here. Let’s just say my legs were sore for about 3-4 days after, but it was worth every step.

4) Real world/reality tv-esque group dynamic failure:

I began to realize that every FSD intern was here for a different reason, which makes it difficult to plan anything. It made me miss my amazing Dems family at ND. I guess learning to let others lead can be healthy at times.

5) Leading a business meeting in a foreign language:

This was a challenge that I knew I would have to tackle head-on. Monday, I had to present a document of regulations to a conglomerate of 12 businessmen for a business trip to Panam√° that they will be taking in early August. Not only did I have to write up these regulations in Spanish, but I had to basically conduct an entire meeting. Luckily, the businessmen were patient and amiable. Running a College Democrats meeting should be a piece of cake after this.

6) Witnessing a Socialist political rally:

Last, and certainly most exciting, was being able to see the Sandinista (FSLN) political parade that comes storming through Masaya every year. The event, called “El Repliegue,” (meaning “The Retreat”) is a reenactment of a journey that citizens of Managua took in 1979 when the city was being bombed during the civil war. An estimated 20,000 people make this 20km trip each year.

(INTERESTING FACT- Adolfo Calero, fmr. leader of the largest contra rebel group against the FSLN, who was probably one of the people bombing the Managuans who fled the city, is a Notre Dame alumnus. Small world, eh?)

The celebration, which happens from 8pm to about 2am, is exclusively Sandinista. Liberales and Conservadores stay at home. My host family, who self-identifies as Anti-Sandinista, remained inside as the madness hit the streets. In fact, I have heard members of my family call each other “Sandinista” as a sort of joking insult. Imagine calling your fellow Democrats/Lefties “Republican” or “Right-wing.” It hurts me to even think of doing so...

Anyway, the Repliegue was quite a sight, with families spread throughout Masaya’s main streets, people cheering, eating, drinking, lighting fireworks, singing Sandinista songs, and waving their red and black FSLN flags. FSLN leader/Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega spoke at a plaza just 100 meters from my homestay. The energy of the celebration was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the states, and I’ve been to plenty of political events. Don't worry, I was safe and made sure to keep a distance. Let’s just say, it was an ironic and fascinating way to spend my 4th of July. Happy Independence Day, America! Happy civilians running from civil war day, Nicaragua!

If you’re still curious about the title of this post, I’m glad you made it this far. The saying is one that I came up with the other day. Basically, when you have only one dominant force, there is no one to contest its power. However oppressive it sounds, that place is less dangerous, because the submitted stay submissive. I thought back to theories of hegemonic stability and realized just how true it can be sometimes. Speaking of that, I better get back to my business. The bully is doing rounds.
I’ll be sure to let you all know if anything else goes down. Until then, I’ll be watching the rest of the Gold Cup with Nicas and eating enough beans and rice for the next 2 lifetimes.

Good Day,

Henry “Enrique” Vasquez
Masaya, Nicaragua

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Healthcare Update

Just a quick update on the healthcare reform battle...

It looks like some of our politicians have been responding to the public demand for real healthcare reform and *gasp* Harry Reid may actually have grown a pair... well, maybe just one, but that's a start.

The HELP Committee recently produced a draft of a healthcare reform bill that included a public option and cost almost half of what a previous bill without a public option did.  That was some real progress, but we have also been waiting for the Finance Committee to produce a bill as well.  Max Baucus, the leading Democrat on that committee, has been a source of many of the rumors of Democratic backpedaling on real reform.  He has been trying to get the support of Chuck Grassley, ranking member on the committee.  This has resulted in a lot of talk about a "trigger" for a public option (essentially kicking the can down the road) and also mention of taxing health benefits, a proposal the president campaigned against.

It was reported yesterday that Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, has decided to start acting according to his title.
According to Democratic sources, Reid told Baucus that taxing health benefits and failing to include a strong government-run insurance option of some sort in his bill would cost 10 to 15 Democratic votes; Reid told Baucus it wasn’t worth securing the support of Grassley and at best a few additional Republicans.
This is good news.  It is the strategy that Bernie Sanders advocated, along with many other supporters for real healthcare reform.  The Democrats have the numbers to pass a strong, substantive reform bill that could benefit the lives of millions of Americans.  They do not need a single Republican vote to do so, and in my opinion which I share with Sanders and many others, they shouldn't try too hard to get those Republican votes if it means sacrificing the quality of the bill.  

This is an historic time in which the public overwhelmingly kicked one party to the curb and said, "here, Democrats, you guys take a shot at this now."  The message was not to join hands with the Republicans and corporate interests and sing "Kumbaya."  No, the message was to deliver change.  Real change.  That means not allowing the people who have been wrong for decades to continue to shape policy.  Our representatives should work together when possible, but on important issues like this, an aura of bipartisanship in exchange for bad watered-down policy is wrong, and would be a slap in the face to the voters.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Today's The Day, Senator Reid

This is what we've all been waiting for. After eight long, drawn-out months, Al Franken will finally be sworn in as the Junior Senator from Minnesota. I celebrated this over the weekend by watching Al Franken: God Spoke, a documentary about Franken's involvement in the 2004 Presidential campaign, the start of Air America radio and Franken's motivation to run for the U.S. Senate. Highly Recommended.

When the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, Senator Harry Reid became Majority Leader Reid. While only holding a 51-49 control of the chamber, the new Majority Leader warned that a Democratic agenda would be tougher to pass in the Senate. He would go on to say numerous times that he would need 60 votes to stop a Republican filibuster. You give him 60 votes, he gets your agenda passed. Honest injun.

I can ignore the fact that Harry Reid let our agenda get kicked around and controlled in the Senate by the Republicans. They threatened to filibuster every major piece of legislation and the Majority Leader would eventually cave in to their demands. The new Republican minority threatened to filibuster a record number of times, but did they ever have to? NO.

I can ignore this because we gave you 58 votes. We knocked on doors. We made phone calls. We put you oh-so-close to your precious 60. But, for all you've done, we might as well have put you back down to 49. You watered down our stimulus package. You muddied up the energy bill. You're letting key administration nominees get held up. Sure, you got Arlen Specter, but at what point does he start acting like a Democrat?

Some might say I'm being a little too rough on you, Senator. But, at what point do we realize that your "leadership" consists of nothing but pandering to an extreme-right minority that wants nothing to do with you, had no ideas to contribute and actually hopes for your policies, your party and your President to fail?

Now is your chance to prove me wrong, Mr. Leader. Prove to me and everyone else who worked to give you this majority that you have the leadership to help steer this country in the right direction. Prove to us that you can pass good, honest legislation without any excuses. The Republicans, to use your own terminology, bulldozed over us for years without any consideration. It's time to show them the same courtesy.

Otherwise, I'll start a 'Draft Durbin for Leader' movement.

UPDATE: I look like a fool. Senator-elect Franken will be sworn in tomorrow at 12:15pm. My bad.