Posts tagged with Making A Difference

Loud Fury

In my experience, when there is a debate going on and one of the sides begins screaming just to try to shut the other side up, it means that the discussion is over. The screaming side has lost, and their reaction is clearly a desperate way to try and turn things around. And this is exactly what the extreme right in the United States (I will not say Republicans, because there are many moderate members of the GOP who abhor this kind of behavior) is doing – they are trying to drown out any form of intelligent discussion on the issue of health care reform.

For those outside the US who are reading this, let me quickly summarize what is going on: President Obama has proposed a major overhaul on health insurance in this country to allow 40 million uninsured Americans to receive affordable coverage. Unlike many other nations, if you need to see a doctor here and you have no insurance, it will cost you a lot. There are no “public” hospitals where you can be taken care inexpensively, because private health providers have the system in a choke hold. The President's proposal will dramatically change that situation, but right-wing conservatives are battling them by spreading lies and false rumors meant to scare the less informed. And surprisingly, those tactics have been working quite well, and as a result Town Hall meetings across America have become shouting matches where right-wing nuts scream at their Congressmen and women with idiotic threats, unrelated statements and things like that.

In the meantime, those who support the initiative have done very little to turn the tide to avoid going down to the wingnuts' level. A recent effort was a page on the President's website that countered the false rumors.

I think that having a bipartisan effort in this matter is nothing but a pipe dream. Members of the GOP in Congress are fearful of going against the party line (they have pretty much opposed all of the President's proposals so far) because they know that this might cost their seat, even if it is for the good of the country. They should look at the example set by Pres. Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act even though he knew that would cost any support he might have in the racist South. He just did the right thing, and he is remembered fondly for that single act.

You see, unlike what Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) said in Wall Street, greed is not good. Greed keeps us from reasoning, and also blinds us. What I think the President should do is to turn a deaf ear to the GOP in Congress and go at it alone with the support he has today. At this time, a coalition will not work. Bipartisanship will not make a health reform come true.


Why A Health Care Reform Is Needed Now!

by Ernest Barteldes

A few years ago, a close friend of mine was unfortunate enough to have suffered an automobile accident shortly before her job benefits kicked in. She was rushed to an emergency room and treated for her cuts and bruises. Though luckily she didn't have any serious injuries, a few weeks later she received a hospital bill for thousands of dollars. Not too long ago, I also ended up at a Staten Island ER with a massive toothache. Even though I was fully insured at the time, the hospital still sent me a $ 130 bill (what they called a co-pay) for what was basically a few minutes' attention, a Vicodin pill and a prescription for powerful painkillers. Until recently, another person I know worked for a small business that did not provide health benefits for their employees, which meant she had to pay for every exam, doctors' visits and other need even though she went to a clinic that supposedly provided affordable services for those unable to pay for insurance out of their pockets. These are only a few examples of stories that prove that we drastically need to fix this country's health system. The way things stand today, countless individuals are going bankrupt because they are unable to pay for the hefty fees imposed to the uninsured. Thousands others die or go without medical attention because they cannot afford to pay for said services. This affects – in a way or another – all of us who are living in the United States today. The President has sent a health care reform proposal to Congress, and there is a fierce debate over it going on right now. . Unfortunately, several right-wing Republicans are using this as an opportunity to regain control of Congress during the midterm elections – basically going against Pres. Obama the same way that they damaged Clinton fifteen years ago over the exactly same issue. Republican editor William Kristol actually wrote that this is the time to “go for the kill” to try and unbalance his Presidency.

If you ask me, this is utterly irresponsible. We need health care reform now. This country needs to step up and protect the millions of American taxpayers who go without proper care. We cannot allow the fat cats at the insurance companies to reap huge profits at the expense of the people. Yes, we are a capitalist country and all. But we are not savage. It is time to take action now, and there is something we can all do: we can contact our representatives in Congress and let them know how we feel. Once their offices are inundated with calls, letters and emails, they will understand that their necks will be on the line during the Midterm elections next year. Believe me, this is for our own good.


Thoughts on The Passing of Michael Jackson

When I heard about Michael Jackson's passing a week ago, I was naturally shocked, but somehow the news did not really surprise me. I can't really say why I felt this way.

Although I can't say that I was a Michael Jackson fan (I never owned any of his discs save for Thriller and a handful of Jackson 5 tracks from Motown compilations), I must admit that his songs were an integral part of both my childhood and teenage years. I recall vividly the first time I saw John Landis' elaborate video for “Thriller,” and I still remember the controversy generated by the violence on the original version of his “Black and White” videoclip. However, as his strange behavior seemed to become more important than the music, I pretty much stopped following his career.

What drew me to Thriller back in 1983 (when I was 15) was Eddie Van Halen's twisting solo on “Beat It.” I was in a guitar band phase back then, and really admired what he did to that song. The fact that Paul McCartney was also on the disc was a bonus – even though I thought “The Girl Is Mine” was way below par (was never impressed by their second collaboration, “Say, Say, Say” either)

I think Jackson's music began to suffer because he just tried too hard to top Thriller, the record that would ultimately define his career. I mean, who but the devoted fan can name a memorable track from his last couple of discs? The only thing I can remember about Michael Jackson in the past decade is his slow transformation into a sort of pop-era Howard Hughes.

Hopefully when all the hysteria over his death passes and the tabloids find a new pet scandal to exploit, the public will be able to stop and really listen to the music. It is then that we'll know which legacy he's leaving behind: that of a highly talented musician or just another tragic superstar who was unable to cope with his own fame – or mirror image.


Goldman Case: The CBS interview

Watch CBS Videos Online

Many of us were surprised last Tuesday when Sean Goldman's Brazilian family appeared on CBS' early Show to tell their side of the story. I myself was not aware of the interview until someone I know wrote a comment about it on Facebbok, but I quickly logged on to the network's website to check it out. Now, I am not going to talk about supporters' reactions on either side of the debate. My own position about this case is pretty well known by now – I believe the boy belongs with his biological father. But I will give my impression of what I saw. The Brazilian family is well aware that the American public opinion is largely against them, and it was clear that they change that by appealing to viewers' emotions. I noticed that when host Harry Smith mentioned the Hague International Treaty, all stepfather Joao Paulo Lins e Silva and grandmother Silvana Bianchi had to say was that Sean wanted to stay in Brazil with his half-sister and that he was well adjusted to life there. Those words were accompanied by current images of the boy participating in a basketball match and playing with his half-sister (the network had conducted an interview with Sean, but it was scrapped for legal reasons). Now, if they flew for nine hours to get our sympathy, I must say that they failed miserably. Lins e Silva's arrogance was palpable when he said that Sean had spent sixty percent of his life in Brazil and that he felt loved there – you could see that this was an exhausted lawyer who was doing nothing but buying time in order to stall an inevitable verdict. Harry Smith cleverly extracted from Bianchi that her late daughter acted surreptitiously by announcing her desire to divorce her first husband from almost ten thousand miles away. He was also smart when he let family lawyer Sergio Tostes blab on about what happened in the Brazilian courts when Bruna Bianchi was alive – but then cutting him off with the letter of the law. CBS was really aiming for ratings when they aired this interview. But contrary to what most have said, I do not think that the interview damaged the the case for David Goldman – in fact, it might have helped him, for this is a rare opportunity for American viewers to see what kind of people Goldman has been forced to battle with: these are individuals who – because of their economic power – truly believe they are above the law.


On Same-Sex Marriage Rights

Over fifty years ago, the US Supreme Court took the first practical step towards ending Racial Segregation with the landmark Brown VS. Board of Education – a move that was cemented with Pres. Johnson's Voting Rights Act in 1965, which would once and for all put a nail in the coffin of the ways of the Old South (that was not without consequence – the Democratic Party would lose support in the area for years to come).

Today, we are faced with yet another controversial Civil Rights issue – same sex-marriage. As of this writing, only a handful of U.S. states (Iowa, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts) have laws that allow the matrimony of individuals of the same gender. California was once part of that group, but a recent voter-backed initiative put the kibosh on that, to the dismay of pro-gay activists around the country – something that creates jurisprudence for similar bans elsewhere.

One misconception that those who oppose same-sex marriage have is that gay couples might have the right to force their local ministers to officiate at their weddings. That is definitely not true (in spite of what the California ads said). Because of Church-State separation, churches that do not support same-sex unions would be able to continue to do so, in the same way that they condemn reproductive rights. The case here is a simple civil marriage recognized by the state, not a religious ceremony – so the “sanctity” of marriage remains unchanged as far as that goes.

Now, many states have what they call “civil unions,” which gives couples some of the protections that conventional couples take for granted. But that fact is that the status does not always give them the right to claim joint taxes or to enjoy shared health benefits. Worse, in many cases they do not get inheritance rights – meaning that if one party happens to pass away, the other person might be thrown out in the cold by the deceased's family.

Since the majority of US states fiercely opposes same-sex marriage rights, I believe it is due time for the Supreme Court to step in to push towards equal rights - maybe if California activists appeal, there will be an opportunity here. After all, this is a nation whose Declaration of Independence states that all were created equal. The existence of a second class citizenship doesn't make any sense – which is, by the way, the reason why “separate but equal” was an absurdity in the first place.


The Pitfalls of Facebook

Reading Vanessa Gregoriadis' recent detailed article about Facebook on New York magazine, I was reminded how powerful social networks have become of late, and the pitfalls that have come with this new form of - let's face it - overexposure.

Last January, I was feeling a little frustrated by the fact that several pitches I'd sent to a number of publications in a certain geographical area had gone unanswered for longer than usual. One afternoon, I ran into a friend and then we had a few drinks together which caused me to lose some of my inhibitions.

Later that day, I made the mistake of logging into my Facebook account, where I left what I will call an off-color remark about what I was feeling at that moment.

Now, I had - like many before me - posted a few silly things on my account status to zero consequence whatsoever. I figured then that what I had written would be laughed at and dismissed as a silly rant. But to my surprise - some people took real offence.

Later that evening, I got a message from one of the editors I've worked with over the years. In it, this individual wrote that "this is not only incredibly immature, it is going to have the exact opposite effect that you intend. "

She added that "Facebook comments (not the appropriate place to try to do business), and so on are not going to get me caught up with e-mails any faster. In fact, they are going to make me want to answer yours, or give you assignments, last. I'm sorry you're frustrated with the speed at which I respond to you, but damaging our working relationship does neither of us any good."

This person along with a couple of others also immediately de-friended me and let me know why they'd done it. One of those wrote me that "not getting responses must be extremely frustrating, but being an editor and tackling the escalating demands of that job, while simultaneously dealing with free-lancers who constantly e mail, call, and generally add to the overwhelming feelings of pressure you already might be struggling with, is no picnic either."

Having realized how bad my blunder had been, I sent a direct email with an apology, but it was to no avail. Because of what I'd written (do NOT ask me to repeat it), a three-year working relationship was suddenly over, and has not been restored since. The worst of it was that I was not venting about anyone in particular, but things sadly ended up as they did.

Today, my status updates are pretty innocuous. Having been burned once, I learned that sometimes words you think are harmless can be truly hurtful. I haven't heard from my former friend since that day ,and every attempt of communication since have gone unanswered (I stopped trying after a few times - what is the point?), and although I recognize that what I wrote was wrong, I also think that this prolonged "silent treatment" is a bit over the top.

After all, we all make mistakes.


On The Nature of Comments

When I started this blog a few weeks ago, I saw it as an opportunity to try out the whole blogosphere thing in a low-key kind of way - I had already contributed pieces for different publications around the country - mostly the Miami New Times and The Houston Press, which both have daily blogs on music and the arts.

I was surprised when I got numerous comments on two pieces I wrote here - the first being a note on the arrest of a relative in Lawrence for gun posession, and the second an account of my last trip there in order to attend my grandfather's funeral - that one got a whopping 58 comments (there were more, but I flagged them) in just a few days.

I have since posted other pieces, but those didn't get much of a reaction - maybe because they had little or nothing to do with the city of Lawrence.

Now, I welcome any kind of commentary - especially critical ones. But what I got in some cases was nasty and borderline threat-like. One person went to great lenghts to go through my entire published history - and also my Facebook profile. I had no choice but to flag those posts and have them removed - I felt like I'd been stalked online.

On the other hand, there were also some comments that made me reflect on my own writing - for instance, one individual opposed a remark I'd made - I immediately realized it was inappropriate, and edited the original text in order to make it more palatable. I did more revisions on the same text every time someone pointed out something was unclear or too vague.

Looking at other articles published on the site, I noticed that some comments were completely thoughtless - almost as if the reader had been doing tequila shots before posting - for instance, I saw several posts on a piece on LJWorld that simply made fun of a reader who'd mispelled a couple of words - I mean, what exactly is someone trying to accomplish with that kind of thing?

When I leave a comment somewhere, I try to do something that is worthwhile, that people will react to (agreeing or not) in a positive manner in order to create a dialogue. Apparently, some use the Internet's anonimity shield to create bar brawls - even though they would never do that in real life...


Blind Justice?

Recent MSNBC broadcast on the case

Among all the bad news this week – beginning with the murder of Dr. George Tiller last Sunday, the tragedy of Air France flight 447 and the shooting of an off-duty African-American police officer by another (Caucasian) cop in New York, the one that sparked the most outrage was the new setback on the Goldman abduction case.

For those unfamiliar with what is going on – five years ago a Brazilian woman named Bruna Bianchi traveled to Brazil with her son with her New Jersey husband David Goldman. The trip was intended as a three-week vacation, but as soon as Bianchi arrived in her native Rio de Janeiro, she announced that she was not returning to the US. From Brazil, she got an unilateral divorce and got – from the Brazilian courts - for sole custody of the boy. In the meantime, David Goldman filed a petition in New Jersey to have Bianchi return to the US to resolve the matter as prescribed by the Hague Convention, which both countries have signed.

Back in Brazil, Bianchi remarried and became pregnant. Tragically, she died from complications after childbirth (how that happened at this day and age, I don't know). David Goldman has since intensified the fight to recover his son, but he has found fierce opposition from Bianchi's moneyed family and the connections that her husband, a well-known lawyer in Brazil, have with the Brazilian government.

Earlier this week, Federal justices in Brazil finally awarded David Goldman the right to have his son returned to the US with him, but then a senator from a minority political party (of course connected to Bianchi's family) filed an appeal to halt the current order based on the premise that the 9-year-old Sean has adapted to Brazil and has said that he does not want to come back to the US. Another argument is that since the kid has Brazilian citizenship (through his mom), he cannot be 'repatriated.'

The case now rests in the hands of the Brazilian Supreme Court justices.

What drives me nuts about Brazilian courts is that money talks louder than it does in the US. Had Bianchi's family been dirt-poor, this story would have been over a long time ago. But they are quite rich, even for US standards (for instance, their assets include a condo in the Jersey shore), so they have the means to fight this as long as they want. To make matters worse, Brazil's courts are seriously underfunded and overworked – which causes justice there to be served very, very slowly.

Let's hope that this setback is indeed the last one in this sad story.