2007 - %3, February

Stick Your Head In The Box And Let It All Out

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 9:53 PM EST

Last week, Californians in Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Monica voluntarily stuck their heads in a white box to share their thoughts about healthcare.

The "chat boxes" are part of the "We (Shield) You" Campaign, which nonprofit Blue Shield designed to assess consumer dissatisfaction. People were invited to step up to a white box, put their head inside of a hole, and give their critique. Inside the box was a two-man film crew recording people's comments, which will get shipped back to Blue Shield for review.

It's about time we had a healthcare confessional.

A 2006 Harris Interactive poll, which found that consumers ranked health companies third lowest just above oil and tobacco, likely motivated the chat box campaign. One 50-year-old woman, Nancy, went to Union Square in downtown San Francisco Friday to stick her head in the box on her way to visit her Medicaid-recipient father at a nearby hospital, and arrived just in time to see the film crew tearing down about an hour before the stated 5 p.m. end time. "This is just like Blue Shield to tell you one thing and then do another," she said. While the film crew set everything back up to get her on film, Nancy told me, "What bothers me is all this business about pharmaceuticals. I mean, they make it impossible for average people to get medication. For somebody who makes $1,500 a month, I can't afford $200, $300 or $400 a month for healthcare."

A bike messenger from Chicago told the film crew Friday that she had been hit by a car three times and had to host fundraisers to come up with the cash she needed to cover costs. A 58-year-old massage therapist from New York said she and her husband have to pay $1,800 a month for a combined health plan, a fee based on their age, not physical health. A woman with a "compromised liver" said she wound up paying more than she should have for treatment because she was misdiagnosed by several doctors. Several people complained that Blue Shield had refused to cover them because of pre-existing health conditions.

Doug Biehn, the organization's vice president of corporate marketing, said Blue Shield will "cherry pick" the best interviews and post them on blueshieldchatbox.com by the end of this month. By "best," Biehn means funny and compelling stories that do not include swearing and do not defame Blue Shield or other health insurance brands. By that definition, Nancy's critique of Blue Shield would not likely get posted.

Coincidentally, a lawsuit was filed last week against Blue Shield for reportedly canceling 300 policies in the past two years of people who reportedly became ill. No word on whether those folks showed up to talk in the box.

—Gary Moskowitz

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Burma Struggles For Help, Headlines

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 9:19 PM EST

It's not really clear when Bush plans to "speak out for the cause of freedom" in long-oppressed Burma, as he promised in this year's State of the Union address. But with all that warring in Iraq and Afghanistan and perhaps soon Iran, Burma is likely to remain on a remote backburner of the administration's – and the MSM's – agenda.

So it's worth noting that yesterday the BBC started a series of articles looking at 200,000+ Burmese refugees and migrant workers in Thailand, just one of many stories of struggle in this insurgency-rocked country.

Last month, the UN came damn close to passing a resolution on Burma, and activist groups hope that more coverage of the country's plight will help bring about international action against fifty years of military rule.

— Nicole McClelland

Edwards Zings Clinton On Iraq: Voters Want An Apology

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 8:45 PM EST

I know, I know, it's too soon. Everyone is already sick of hearing about what Obama's finance chair said about Bill and Hillary and what Romney, the flip-flop maniac, had to say about McCain's only seemingly inconsistent stance on abortion. But is it really too early? Judging from the many comments on my posts covering the Edwards netroots drama, some of you are quite interested in the early, and excessive, election gossip, er... coverage. (TomDispatch has a great essay on why you care.)

Without further ado, more election gossip: Edwards seems to, once again, be calling Clinton out on her inability to apologize for her vote to authorize the war. He had this to say at a press conference this morning in response to a question as to why he is so insistent on apologizing for his vote to authorize the war:

"They [the voters] want you to tell the truth when you believe you have made a mistake and they want you to change course when something is not working."

Edwards' campaign has not made clear, either way, if these comments were or were not directed at the New York senator, but one can only assume. Seems everyone wants Clinton to apologize -- Salon has actually written an apology speech for her. Pretty funny and definitely worth a read.

Sisters Are Doin' It To Themselves

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 8:22 PM EST

It began when a DePauw University psychology professor distributed a survey, and students described one sorority as "Daddy's little princesses" and another, Delta Zeta, as "socially awkward." Speaking for myself, I would rather eat rocks than be part of a group of Daddy's little princesses, but apparently, not everyone feels that way. The Delta Zeta membership at DePauw had declined, so some important DZs from the national office in Ohio went to Indiana to help. They interviewed 35 members of the DePauw DZ chapter, and concluded that 23 of them were "insufficiently committed" to the sorority. Those women were asked to leave the sorority house.

Every one of the 23 women just happened to not pass the American standard of weight normalcy, i.e., they were considered overweight. The group also included the only Korean woman, the only black woman, and the only Vietnamese woman in the sorority.

And then there were twelve--all slender, all popular with frat men--and six of those were so angry about what had occurred that they quit Delta Zeta. Other students staged protests, parents wrote angry letters, and a faculty petition declared the house-cleansing "unethical."

The executive director of Delta Zeta denies that the 23 women were evicted from the sorority house. Here is the text of the letter those women received:

"The membership review team has recommended you for alumna status. Chapter members receiving alumnae status should plan to relocate from the chapter house no later than Jan. 29, 2007."

There really isn't much room for interpretation there. Nice having you, your time is up, get out. Delta Zeta at DePauw has a bit of a mixed record when it comes to diversity, but overall, seems to have done very well, and now is "paying for it" by having members who are not the average girl from your video. In September of 2006, the women were told that national representatives were coming to interview them about their "commitment," and that they should "look their best." Four women with especially good instincts withdrew from the chapter right away, bringing the total victim count to 33.

Debbie Raziano, national president of Delta Zeta, in a letter written yesterday, denies the occurence described in the "unfortunate New York Times article." "The article," she said, "is inaccurate and grossly mischaracterizes the situation." She said that the chapter was supposed to close at the end of the 2006-2007 school year because of declining membership, and reorganize later, but the reorganization request was denied by the university. The university asked the sorority to do a membership review, and only those women who were willing to do day-to-day recruiting were chosen to continue to be active members.

Raziano's version of events is even more outrageous than what a reading of the Times article would lead one to conclude: that the women who were not model-thin just weren't up to doing the recruiting, and all the slim white women enthusiastically jumped on the recruiting bandwagon. What a coincidence.

Jill, writing for Feministe, says:

It's easy to demonize the Delta Zeta leadership for their (obviously abhorrent) actions here. But even they were only reacting to a greater social consensus among other members of campus--that a "worthy" sorority is one which is made up of traditionally attractive women who will be attractive to fraternity men. This kind of stuff is par for the course when it comes to sorority and fraternity selection processes. And while it helps to call out the bad behavior of one sorority, that hardly solves the larger problem. Until women are valued for more than their physical appearance, and until attractiveness and social status are less dependent on perceived economic status, we won't be getting anywhere.

I have a suggestion for the 23 banished DZ members: Start a chapter of Sigma Rho. When I was in college, a number of women were kicked out of their sororities for the most absurd reasons (including passing pizza out of a dormitory window). They formed their own sorority, Sigma Rho (Sorority Rejects), threw their own parties and dances, and held their own fundraisers. Their sister group, Delta Mu (Discontented Members)--which would already have 10 members at DePauw--did the same thing, and enjoyed many joint activities with Sigma Rho. Being invited to a Sigma Rho/Delta Mu event was a hell of a lot more hip than being invited to a regular sorority bash, and also a hell of a lot more fun.

Troop Readiness Comprised, Bush Cuts Corners Again

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 8:02 PM EST

USA Today reports that two brigades, headed to Baghdad as part of Bush's escalation to reinforce the security of the city, will forgo essential desert training in California. Instead the troops will finish their readiness training at their home bases. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been watching the administration cut corners militarily for the past four years. But somehow the consistency of this trend makes it no less appalling. As Think Progress points out, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is screaming about this over at her blog, The Gavel:

"This unacceptable state of readiness affected our military long before President Bush ordered an escalation of the Iraq war in January, but the escalation is making it worse."

For more on how the Iraq war is "Breaking the Army" and how our troops are paying dearly for it, see Mother Jones' new report on Iraq.

Scientists Say Enough to Right-Wing Manipulation of Their Work

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 6:29 PM EST

The religious right defends its intolerance towards gays and lesbians by generating misleading statistics about them. For example, groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council claim that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles than straight men simply by calling men who abuse boys "gay," rather than pedophiles. A greater proportion of child molesters choose victims of the same sex than consenting adults choose partners of the same sex, so there you have it: Gay men molest boys. (Confused? You should be.)

They also claim again and again that children do best with a mother and a father. That's not what the research says. Research says that kids do better with two parents than one, but parents' gender and orientation have no effect. (Slate's William Saletan exhaustively debunked the right's response to Mary Cheney's pregnancy if you want more details.) Just as their bogus studies (with such qualified authors as born again actor Kirk Cameron) make a mockery of science, so does their success getting their views reported by media outlets trying to be balanced make a mockery of that basic journalistic tenet.

Well, at long last, the scientists whose professional studies are being cherry-picked and distorted to bolster the religious right's claims have created a website to refute the misuse of their work. The site, RespectMyResearch.org, lists the studies that have been distorted and explains how. It also has a portal researchers can use to report misuse of their findings.

If only mainstream media outlets will check it before they publish bogus claims fed to them by right-wing think tanks, maybe some intelligent public dialogue about GLBT issues will follow.

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Is It Getting Mean to Keep Making Fun of Cheney?

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 5:29 PM EST

Matthew Yglesias at The American Prospect has a funny analysis of the Cheney-Pelosi dust-up last week. (Recap: In an ABC interview Cheney said, "If we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we'll do is validate the al-Qaeda strategy." Pelosi accused him of questioning her patriotism and asked Bush to distance himself from the Veep's remarks. Cheney claimed he had questioned her judgment, not her patriotism.)

Here's Yglesias—the last bit is pretty smart:

The only element of Pelosi's judgment I would question at all was her initial response to Cheney's first attack…All Pelosi needed to do in response was note that if Dick Cheney thinks she and Murtha are badly wrong, they must be on the right track…She should have just smeared Cheney's remarks all over the White House and driven home the point that, in opposing Democratic efforts to change the course in Iraq, Bush is once again taking Cheney's advice -- a strategic approach that works exactly never.

If you're one of those for whom Cheney-bashing never gets old, check out the entire piece, entitled "Cheney Follies: Our vice president is both a national joke and a national nightmare."

Hillary Responds to Ethics Allegations: Whoopsie!

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 4:32 PM EST

hillary.jpg

Sen. Hillary Clinton has for five years running neglected to report her involvement with a Clinton family charity in her ethics disclosures. After Sen. Bill Frist and Rep. Nancy Pelosi attracted attention (though no penalties) for the same oversight, it seems bizarre at best that Hillary's professional army of advisers would have neglected to report the senator's role in the foundation. (The family foundation is separate from the better known William J. Clinton Foundation.)

More importantly, such pet charities generate temptations for additional ethics violations: An individual connected to a certain corporation can make a contribution to a particular charity as a way of currying favor with a politician. Notorious examples include the Ted Stevens Foundation, a charity whose mission is to "honor and recognize the career of Sen. Stevens." A 2004 foundation dinner was attended by executives whose corporations had business before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Stevens led. Ethics violator extraordinaire Tom DeLay also established a charity whose major donors turned out to be major corporate players.

Finally, there's a personal ethics issue. Here's the Post:

The retired chief of the IRS branch that oversees tax-exempt nonprofits said family-run foundations are commonly created by wealthy Americans, allowing them to earn tax breaks by donating to a charity whose future good works they can control. Such charities need only to give 5 percent of proceeds each year to maintain a tax exemption.

The Post's numbers indicate that the Clintons have given away about 10 percent of what they have put into their private charity. In a sense, holding Hillary accountable for this is unfair since the tax code routinely hands out favors like this to the wealthy, but she is running for president—and as a Democrat—so maybe we can fairly ask a little more from her?

Romney Battle Plan Leaks to the Press

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 2:33 PM EST

Whoa boy. Somehow the Boston Globe got a hold of a 77-slide PowerPoint presentation created by the Romney campaign that analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of Romney, McCain, and Giuliani. Frankly, the thing is hilarious (the campaign is worried that Romney's helmet-like hair is "too perfect") but I won't be able to do any better chopping the thing up than Kos blogger BarbinMD already did. So enjoy.

Oh, and by the way, if this all sounds familiar, it's because the same thing happened to Giuliani just a little while back. Remember when the Democrats were the ones who ran sloppy campaigns and lacked party discipline?

John Gibson of FOX Doesn't Consider Himself a "News Guy"

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 12:15 PM EST

 john_gibson130.jpg John Gibson is the big-haired FOX host that, amongst few other distinctions, pimps the "War on Christmas" meme more than the rest. Now he's finally got something to really hang his hat on: he's the one FOX guy who will stand up to CNN's "news guy snobbery." Covering the "real" news is for nerds -- elitist nerds! Like soulful, squinty, supernerd Anderson Cooper.

To explain. On his radio show the other day, Gibson defended FOX's non-stop coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death. He said that the story supplies all the drama people love in TV and movies, except the facts are all real. He accused CNN's Cooper of exemplifying the "news guy snobbery" that leads news outlets to shrink from stories like the Smith saga and to instead bore their viewers with Iraq coverage (presumably stuff like global warming, the minimum wage, and the impending war with Iran would also fall in this category; I think it's safe to say John Gibson wouldn't approve of MoJoBlog).

At one point in the show Gibson mocks Cooper, saying, "Oh, 'There's a war on! There's a war on!' Maybe, just maybe, people are a little weary, Mr. Cooper, of your war coverage, and they'd like a little something else." But he doesn't limit his criticism to Anderson Cooper. Also guilty? Basically any self-respecting journalist. Gibson rails against the "high-minded view of a lot of news professionals, people who think, you know, their news program is just another part of Foreign Affairs Quarterly." He again evoked the s-word. "Those people are snobs." Edward Murrow, Dan Rather, David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite -- please exit history, stage left. John Gibson has dismissed you.

[Audio of all the blathering here.]

Well, Mr. Gibson, I propose a deal. If you agree to never consider me a sexmonger because I don't cover the Anna Nicole Smith story, I'll agree to never consider you a journalist. I think that's fair. I'm with ThinkProgress, who points out:

Since Smith's death on Feb. 8, 42 U.S. soldiers have died fighting in Iraq. Approximately 969 Iraqis have been killed. Americans aren't weary of the media's war coverage, they're weary of the war itself.