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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The Big Three US Automakers

As the "Big-Three" American automakers (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) sit down with the UAW (United Auto Workers) to discuss a new contract, the rest of American labor waits while holding its collective breath. The reason is simple: As the Three continue to lose money (at least on the book) and claim poverty, they offer their CEO's and upper management tycoons hefty bonuses, stock options and, when things don't work out, a golden parachute for their safe exit while asking the rank and file to sacrifice - something they'll never do.

The sticking point is health care and the retirees who were promised a lifetime of coverage. In exchange, they offered up a working lifetime of devotion to the company way and a little less in the pay envelope.

The auto makers are looking to rescind on their promises. On the table, they have put the one thing on the table which every person who has retired from their ranks depends upon: health care coverage. You see, old people have this tendency to get sick and go to doctors more than, say, younger people. And when promised that they would be allowed to do so, along with their spouses, for the rest of their lives, they tend to rely on that promise.

General Motors, as well as the "Big Two out of Three" claim that living up to their promises-made would be a hardship on their company. They claim that it costs them upwards of $1500 per car just to do so and they don't wanna anymore. So, the first thing they look towards is making their retirees pay the difference. What they really are saying, however, is that the comfort of their stock holders, and the bonuses for their CEO's, board members and upper management types come first and will not be touched. One might say that putting some of the onus on those making the most money would be a mere drop in the bucket versus what medical coverage for their retirees costs, but it would be a good first gesture, showing those retirees that those on then top are willing to take the initial wounds.

The Big Three are going to try and put limits on the benefits which their workers earned throughout their lifetime of work; they're going to try and increase deductibles for doctors visits; and they're going to try and place large deductibles and restrictions on prescription drugs. However, they're going to do nothing to upset their stock holder/ upper management cartel's lifestyle. Remember that --it flows downhill and the retirees, and those who can see retirement through the windshield are standing at the bottom of that hill, arms wide open.

The Big Tree claim that Toyota and Honda, new to America as employers and without that liability, don't have the same liabilities as they do. They're right. But what they also forget is that for years they allowed these foreign owned car companies passage into a market which they, the Big Three, dominated because of a product that couldn't keep up and an attitude that said "Status quo is okay with us".

Who was the pioneer in hybrid technology? Allow me to answer my own rhetorical question: GM was. And who is among the last to get a production hybrid vehicle onto the US market? Why, it's GM again! And it is the retiree and future retiree whom they want to pay, not those at the top who had made those decision.

I look a Honda, for example, and I see just a few models with different trim packages; the same Accord chassis can be a luxury car or a nice looking, pared down family sedan with much of the same work being performed at one factory. I look at GM or Ford and see a multitude of cars, all needing different parts and none of which sell as well as the Accord or Civic model lines. Streamlining is word not in their vocabulary.

Today GM is joining the cries for national health care. it isn't out of altruism, but out of fear and a want to stop paying a hefty price for their bad decisions and promises which must be kept. In any event, it's nice to have them on our side, even if the reasons are purely selfish.

The UAW could work out a deal where the Big Three fund a union-based health care program. It would cost them upwards of $65 billion to do so, and it's the right thing to do, until we have a real universal health care program here in the USA. In the meantime, maybe some of that money we're spending in Iraq (half a trillion dollars and counting) could be better used as a loan by the federal government to the Big Three so they can begin transferring the health care responsibility from themselves to the UAW in the near future. Let's face it, that money might come in handy for this, as well as other things we need right here at home.

Imagine if the health care argument began this way: "We want more!" instead of stating "Make the other guy get less." What are we jealous?

In any respect, it's time to stop counting on the dwindling pocketbooks of the average American and start to look elsewhere for help. Ending the war, rescinding the big tax break to the very wealthy would be good starts.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Inc.

It’s been hot everywhere, as befits a global warming summer, but it’s hot in places where it shouldn’t be hot, like Maine and San Francisco. Heat makes us cranky and prone to ranting. We turn on the tube and that gives us reason to rant.

There are always the minor disappointments. Like the magician we really liked, Kevin James, on *America’s Got Talent.* He had done such fabulous and edgy tricks in previous weeks, then he gave the kind of performance washed-up magicians give at kid’s parties.

ABC ended its fabulous summer series, *Traveler,* an edgy, well-acted, fast-paced espionage-meets-homeland security thriller.

And do we need to mention again that it’s mid-summer and a hunky new guy has come to Oakdale, but Luke (the wildly talented and Emmy-nominated Van Hansis) *still* doesn’t have a boyfriend on *As the World Turns,* even though he remains the only gay kid on daytime?

Must we also note how terribly disappointed we are that networks are unwilling to air the fabulous Dove Pro-Age ad campaign with great looking naked older women? (You can see it on YouTube, however.)

One of the more revolting TV moments of the week certainly inspires us to rant. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was charged with running an illegal dog-fighting ring.

A few months back Vick was caught with an illegal substance and those charges just disappeared–unlike his bad behavior. It seems unlikely–at least we hope it’s unlikely–that *these* charges will disappear. Here’s a sentence from the end of the 18-page indictment against Vick and his co-defendants: "In or about April of 2007, Peace, Phillips and Vick executed approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions at 1915 Moonlight Road by various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog's body to the ground."

Think that’s repugnant? How about this: The NFL has decided to let Vick continue on the team until the criminal justice system find him innocent or guilty, because everyone deserves that.

And they wonder why they have a reputation for shielding criminals.

Speaking of criminals, in case you missed the arrogance of Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) when he got caught not once but twice as having patronized prostitutes, you can catch that on YouTube as well. Vitter and his wife gave a press conference on July 16th in which they basically defended his infidelity and said it was a private matter.

Well, no. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky–two consenting adults with no money, just pizza and bodily fluids exchanged–*that* was a private matter. Sen. Vitter–a public official sworn to uphold the law–and prostitutes? That’s actually a crime.

But Vitter’s a family-values Republican, so don’t expect any charges to be filed nor any resignations to be tendered. However,*Hustler* porno entrepreneur Larry Flynt is offering $1 million for any other senatorial sex scandals, so....

Yes, there’s a lot of disappointment on the tube this summer. And few–*Damages,* *The Closer*–delights. It’s enough to turn one back to reading.

Speaking of disappointments and family-values Republicans, that brings us to our major rant of the week which is also more news you aren’t seeing.

When President Bush first nominated Robert Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of War–er, Defense–he seemed to have, despite his history as a warmonger, some clue that the war on Iraq was not going well and probably should be ended. That ceased early on.

On July 18th, Gates was videotaped ostentatiously crying at a Marine Corps dinner. Gates was crying over having to write letters to the families of the dead in Iraq.
NBC decided this was news, and given the callousness of the rest of the Administration, we can sort-of see how it appeared to be news. At first.

But the story was about the war and veteran reporter Andrea Mitchell–who is *so much*better than this–provided commentary on how the war is taking its toll on those prosecuting the war, too.

Jimmy Kimmel has a segment on his late night comedy show called “How Is This News?”

We would say that this craven attempt to justify the war through a tearful moment with Secretary Gates is not only *not* news, it is *anti*-news. It deflects attention from the actual news, which is tearful families all over America, none of them politicians. Whether Gates’ tears were real or photo-opped is irrelevant. He *should* be crying, every day, because he’s responsible for the deaths and maiming of thousands of Americans in the war.

So we get to see Gates cry for a few minutes, but when do we see the actual war and the men and women fighting in it?

Since March 2003 when Bush invaded Iraq, scenes from the war have been limited at best. Mostly we have been treated to made-for-TV events: well-known news anchors in the Green Zone, other reporters doing human interest stories about the families of soldiers or about Iraqis. But except for what seems like stock footage of bombed out cars and blood in the marketplaces of Baghdad, there appear to be no actual scenes from this war. At least not on the evening news.

During Vietnam it was TV news that turned American sentiment against the war. There are just so many scenes of one’s own soldiers muddied and bloodied that one can absorb before saying *enough!*The blood, the jungles, the helicopters, the napalm. It all began to resonate.

Which is no doubt why the Bush Administration and the Pentagon have virtually banned similar news and video reports from Iraq. The question is, why has the media–and TV news in particular–gone along with the dictate?

When we don’t see the war on TV, we can’t experience it. Remember the tsunami in the South Pacific two years ago? Of course you do. Because you *saw* it on TV. Remember Katrina? Who–aside from Bush and FEMA–could forget?

Bush has banned reporters from showing the flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq, and the White House and Pentagon have banned nearly all footage of the actual war being fought in Iraq. If Americans see no scenes from this war, they are anesthetized against its reality. Unless someone is coming to their door with a folded flag and an envelope, of course. Many if not all Americans can still ignore the mayhem that is going on in Iraq because it’s invisible. The video we see on the evening news is always of Iraqis being killed and injured, never of Americans.

We don’t see our wounded either. Two reporters, ABC’s Bob Woodruff and CBS’s Kimberley Dozier, have made it a personal campaign to detail the lives of the wounded post-Iraq.

But then Woodruff and Dozier are themselves survivors of the war. Woodruff was hit by an IED and had part of his head blown off and his face carved up by shrapnel. Like 60 percent of American soldiers in Iraq who are injured, he suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI). Since he returned to his job, he has focused exclusively on covering the stories of the wounded.

Dozier has had more than three dozen surgeries since her convoy was hit by an IED. Her camera man and sound man were killed. She survived, but her legs were shattered and burned. She has titanium rods and pins keeping her legs together. Skin grafts cannot hide the severity of the burns she sustained on her legs, however. (The video diary of her near-fatal experience and her recovery is available at CBS.com, search: “Flashpoint.”)

So that’s two reporters covering the war in its grimmest aspects. Ironically, Woodruff was there to report on how well the war was going when he was nearly killed.
And what of our dead? Do we get to see them?

Not really. Unless a local boy or girl gets killed, don’t expect to see any in-depth coverage of the dead anywhere but your local news.

PBS airs photos of dead Americans every night after their evening broadcast of the *News Hour with Jim Lehrer* and ABC runs the names of the dead at the end of their “In Memoriam” segment on *This Week* every Sunday. CBS used to have a segment called “The Fallen” under Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer, but it wasn’t perky enough to be maintained after Katie Couric took over as anchor.

So other than these bits and pieces, this collage of the war, the dead are invisible, the injured are invisible, the war itself is invisible.

Yet to end the war we have to see it.

ABC’s *Nightline* can’t decide where it stands on the war. Most of Woodruff’s reports end up there, as do other reports on the state of Iraqi civilian life, which is consonant with living on the seventh circle of hell. Terry McCarthy, Nick Watt and Dan Harris report from Iraq and the stress is evident on their faces.

But then Jake Tapper has a tendency to report the more upbeat, Washington-fed, Democrat-bashing aspects of the war. Is he for the war, or just against ending it? It’s difficult to tell.

What *is* clear, is that *Nightline’s*producers, despite the show’s split personality on the war, still knows there’s a war on. Which puts ABC far ahead of its competition.

That’s where the 15 minutes from hell, a video diary titled “Inside the Surge in Iraq” came from. On July 16th, *Nightline* aired video by veteran British photojournalist and reporter Sean Smith, who spent two months embedded with the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division in Baghdad. (The link is still available at ABCnews.com. Click on *Nightline* and search “Inside the Surge in Iraq.” Be forewarned, however, the images are hideously graphic.)

What did it show?

It showed, point by point, the horrors of war. It showed American soldiers being burned alive in a Bradley that had been hit by an IED. It showed American soldiers kill a taxi driver they thought was an insurgent. It showed American soldiers wounded–badly burned, gushing blood–being attended to by medics on a Baghdad street. It showed American soldiers bursting into the home of an old woman because they thought insurgents were in the house and showed her sitting in her housedress shrieking hysterically.

In addition to this daily carnage, the video showed the invisible wounds of war–the anger, the bitterness, the exhaustion. It showed men who are worn out, who stare into the middle distance, who look just like the men in the news footage 30-odd years ago from Vietnam.

Unlike Secretary Gates, these men weren’t crying. Rather, they appeared numb as they described their experiences, all emotion–even anger–drained from their voices.

They’ve been doing this for 15 months without a break. Fifteen months of killing the wrong people. Fifteen months of killing the right people. Fifteen months of terrorizing old women by accident. Fifteen months of seeing and hearing their friends burned alive. Fifteen months of fearing they would be next–next to die, next to burn, next to kill the wrong person, next to see their own leg or arm severed from their bodies.

This is the news you aren’t seeing. This is the war you’ve never seen, even though it has been going on for four and a half years–longer than World War I, World War II, the Korean War. This is the news you need to see, the news that should be on TV every night until America gets it.

ABC got a flood of emails and phone calls about the report. One woman wrote that her son was among those killed in the Bradley. She was glad ABC aired the horror that her son had to endure. Other wrote that ABC was “just emphasizing the negative.”

It’s a war–what’s the up side, exactly?

On the same night that ABC aired this video, Republicans were posturing in the Senate. The Democrats had called for an all-night debate on the war. They wanted a timetable for withdrawal. The Republicans, except for three defectors, said no.

Too bad no one on the Senate floor turned on *Nightline.* Too bad none of those Republicans gets what they are putting American soldiers through, day after day, month after month, year after year.

You could watch the Senate debate all night long on C-SPAN. We saw the un-used cots in the Senate chambers in case someone wanted to take a nap. We’ve been to the Senate, when we covered Washington. It’s quiet there.

Not so much in Baghdad where the men of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division are doing their endless tour of duty while Republican senators give vague reasons why they have to stay.

Specialist Michael Vassell noted, “Because we have people up there in Congress with the brain of a two-year-old who don't know what they're doing, they don't experience it. I challenge the President or whoever has us here for 15 months to ride alongside me. I will go on another 15 months if he comes out here and rides along with me every day, 15 months.”

It will be a cold day in a Baghdad August when that happens.

Meanwhile, now *you* know the news you aren’t seeing. *Tell someone else.* Have them watch the *Nightline* piece, too. And then, stay tuned.

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-Noah Greenberg