Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

Home of the This Is Not Normal podcast, Bill Scher columns and other liberal commentary

Month: September 2009

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Helvetica Edition

The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast today at 12 noon on WHMP in Western MA. This week’s show features our essentially regular health care update by me, Bill Scher, WHMP’s Bill Dwight on his brush with far Right extremist hate, Tom Pappalardo hosts “Art Talk,” and Sarah Lariviere brings us Poetry on the Radio.
You can download the podcast at these links: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

The Week In Blog: UN Edition

The latest edition of The Week In Blog is up at featuring Matt Lewis and myself discussing President Obama at the UN, prospects for climate and health care legislation, and the influence of Glenn Beck. Watch it below.

Rules of the Playground

“At school, on the playground, you can’t just play with one friend,” Remy complains. “You have to be friends with everyone. Sometimes, I just want to play with Gabe.” As I write those words down, I wish I could adequately convey Remy’s full, pouty lips, his pained blue eyes, his soft, rounded cheeks, and the concave little slump of his shoulders as he conveys to me that this set of negotiations on the playground is really, really hard for him to figure out. When I ask what he plays on the playground, he explains, “I play kickball, because it’s not something you can do with just one person.” And this, of course, is part of why games like kickball and tag and four square are good for the playground, precisely because they are group activities, and can pretty easily absorb a lot of kids’ participation.
Maybe one of the mind-blowing discoveries of parenthood is this: being nice isn’t always natural. It requires practice, it requires learning some rules. Just because a child isn’t always kind, doesn’t make him or her an unkind or not nice person. But humans are sometimes cranky, sometimes rude, and sometimes just don’t like someone or don’t want to do the task at hand. I’m not sure why I found this so surprising, because I don’t always feel nice; I don’t always want to be nice, or do what’s on the agenda, either.
Still, being a parent, you have to think about these things from a whole new angle. You are the teacher, the role model and the arbiter, to some degree, of the lines in the sand (in the spot on the beach or sandbox where your children play). You have to draw your lines, and sometimes, you find yourself negotiating with other grown-up parents (or, as Saskia, 19 months, calls them, “growm-ups”) about those lines’ intersections with their children’s lines.
When Remy complained about the be-friends-with-everyone demand at school, I found myself remembering a story from my childhood–one of those signature tales of Sarah as a kid–from when I was four. My mother had a neighbor she felt sorry for (not sure why, divorce maybe) and so she invited the neighbor’s kid over to play. I did not want to play with the neighbor’s kid. I sat on the stairs that rose up from the front hallway (beige carpet, beige and white wallpaper) and declared (to my mother’s chagrin), “You invited her; you play with her.” At four, a rounded little girl with dark hair and dark eyes and a pretty commanding pout myself, I’m sure it was like Remy’s complaint; beyond the words themselves, you needed to see the full body in action, hear the distressed, whiny voice pleading its case.
To Remy, I offered a hug, and these words: “Playing kickball sounds like a really good choice.” I also said, “It’s hard not to get to be with just Gabe, but you have a lot of time away from school to spend with him.” That’s an imperfect answer–and the only one I can offer, because the play-with-everyone rule seems like an important one (besides, I don’t make the rules at school).
While I have no hard and fast “rule” myself–and with four very different kids, at different stages, I have learned hard and fast “rules” don’t hold anyway, for myriad reasons–about playing with other kids, for the most part with Remy (lovely, often cranky boy), I expect him to go to school–and beyond that, I don’t schedule too many other activities or demand that he have play dates (unless he asks for them). (Well, sometimes, I have him read to me, which isn’t always his top choice). And sometimes, I find myself feeling a little bit like the lines I draw don’t intersect easily with others’ (say, people whose kids want to play outside of school with Remy more than he desires play time with them). My “job” is to respect and protect my child and teach him to be kind and respectful to others, and to understand that he can have his boundaries and be a kind person at the same time. I trust that my shepherding both his safety and his respect for others’ feelings will give him the security and freedom eventually to operate in the world as a kind, compassionate, self-confident adult (fingers crossed). It’s complicated to learn to become a person out in the world, even a generally sweet, friendly community, that’s for sure.
Which leads me to this question: is civility an old-fashioned concept? The question may sound trite, but as I watched the brouhaha unfold after Representative Joe Wilson called out President Obama as a liar during the President’s address, I found myself less wrapped up in whether the congressman should be reprimanded or not than saddened that either dirty tactics seem to be fair game to the most conservative branch of the Republican party or that a self-censor button is breaking down between us as humans and we now feel entitled to treat one another poorly, even in situations where respect has been considered an essential part of how we proceed (for, while the English argue vociferously in Parliament–and sometimes, rudely–in the United States, custom on the House floor has been to disagree in more gentile fashion with my friend, Representative so-and-so from the Great State of wherever).
There were many commentaries following that incident–including President Obama’s joking with David Letterman about it–and the questions boiled down to whether the Congressman’s remark was part of a larger political tactic or an outburst of racism. One friend pointed out that local news coverage where she lives (Philadelphia) refers to the President as Mr. Obama. She remarked, “I don’t remember the news outlets calling President Bush, Mr. Bush.” There’s a line between being overly sensitive and keeping a vigilant eye on ensuring that harsh words don’t spin out of control: toward disregard for others or toward violence. My friend’s question–as was true of others’ questions after that Joe Wilson incident–serves to keep sight of that line, and on what side of it we–the collective we–are standing.
Keeping that idea of the line in mind, take Alex Merritt, a high school student in suburban Minneapolis. According to an article in Newsweek, Merritt was not a kid people teased or messed with; a solidly built teen, he managed to avoid social “speed bumps,” until he enrolled in a vocational program a few periods a day during his junior year of high school, that is. From the Newsweek article: “”Kids were calling me fag, they were calling me queer,'” recalls Merritt, who says that he is straight. The Minnesota native, then 16, says that he initially decided to laugh along with the verbal attacks, hoping they would disappear. Instead, he says they escalated.” And here’s a critical piece of information: “In a damning report issued by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and made public last month, the alleged incidents at STEP were perpetrated by social-studies instructor Diane Cleveland and Walter Filson, a former cop who taught a course on law enforcement.”
Painful as it is to imagine kids inflicting hurt like this upon other kids, it’s even worse to imagine teachers inflicting such intolerance and cruelty upon their students.
With weak protections in many states, and a lot of fear in many school districts about stepping forward with “rainbow” programming to dispel bias, for fear of conservative parents’ uproar, it’s no surprise that according to GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), the percentage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender middle and high school students who report harassment has hovered above 80 percent since 1999, the first year the New York-based group conducted surveys to learn about school climates.
Politeness in formal settings–the Halls of Congress, a classroom–does not guarantee safe or kind behavior on the playground, on the street, or in the public bathroom. Formality–addressing the President as the President or the teachers by their full names–also does not assure politeness. But somehow, I feel there’s a relationship between acting in good faith–with respect–and treating each other well. Teachers, congressional leaders, parents alike owe one another–and the younger generations–that show of respect, that modeling of respect.
I don’t think it’s simple, any of this, especially when things like racism or homophobia come into the mix. But I’m hoping–as a parent and a woman and a citizen–that we take respect seriously. It seems like the starting point toward tolerance, the baseline.

Tort Reform, Misdirection, and The Lesser of Two Evils

Before their 2008 meltdown, the hit on the Republican Party was simple: great at campaigning, bad at governing. Republicans were able to whip up populist fervor in ways that Democrats hadn’t in a generation, and had so successfully honed their message that in election years their strategy no longer revolved around winning independent voters, but activating a base that could win an election by itself. In spite of that, Republican candidates that reached office seemed to almost inevitably descend into scandal, like Governors Ernie Fletcher and Bob Taft in Kentucky and Ohio, or ineptitude, like Sarah Palin.
The question is, then, how did these same candidates win an election in the first place? Some ran in bright red states; some were confronted with Democrats who were slightly less talented campaigners than the yard signs that become so plentiful during even-numbered Octobers; almost universally, they sold issues that have no effect on the lives of most voters.
To be clear, the voting majority doesn’t always know an issue won’t affect their lives. Rather, they become so emotionally activated by it that they seize upon the issue, only to realize later that they’ve been duped. If you need proof, ask the 92% of Iowans who told the Des Moines Register this week that their lives had not changed since gay marriage became legal in their state.
Gay marriage, of course, is a civil rights issue, and while it has a profound effect upon the lives of some, it does inspire more of us to action because of the stakes. More than just ineffective ideas, however, we’ve seen a generation-long peddling of irrelevancies and frauds from the GOP: during the 2008 campaign, John McCain railed against earmarks. He did this without telling you, of course, that earmark spending is as readily transparent and fully disclosed as any spending in the federal government, spent in a more direct and efficient manner, and, despite all of the howling over it, comprises an infinitesimal amount of government spending. When cable news erupted over the $410 Billion Omnibus Spending Bill this spring and the multitude of earmarks included, their ire was captured by 2% of the total cost.
This trend continues even into the healthcare reform debate, as the President has thrown the GOP a bone, acknowledging their wish to explore tort reform on a national level. One would imagine that after the last eight years our federal government would have ceased looking to Texas for ideas, but I digress; tort reform just doesn’t matter. In 2003, Texas saw a campaign to pass Proposition 12 instituting tort reform, which was sold to the voter largely as a method of luring doctors to rural communities. Texas does indeed have more doctors today than it did in 2003. They’re also overwhelmingly choosing to live in the wealthiest areas; the number of neurosurgeons, obstetricians, and orthopedic surgeons (all identified as critical needs in the Proposition 12 campaign) grew by 45% in Collin County, which is the wealthiest in the state. Against this backdrop, Texas still has the highest rate of uninsured individuals in the country.
As our national debate on health care rages for what 24-hour news cycles make feel like an eternity, it’s important to maintain focus on the key issues at hand: lowering costs and expanding coverage to the uninsured. Hypothetically, lower damages would allow the provider to lower their rates; in practice, Texas has seen insurance premiums rise by 92% since 2000. After the gay marriage and earmark debates we know better than to trade away the last recourse for 98,000 families who lost a loved one to negligence for no appreciable gains. Right?

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Vegan Cupcake Edition

The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast today at 12 noon on WHMP in Western MA. This week’s show features analysis of the Baucus bill, WHMP’s Bill Dwight on the possibility of the Supreme Court lifting the ban on electioneering by corporations, and Tina McElmoyl on how to beat the recession with vegan cupcakes (with special bonus recipe below!).
You can download the podcast at these links: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

The Week In Blog: Sign-Carrying Right-Wing Rabble Edition

The latest edition of The Week In Blog is up at featuring Matt Lewis and myself discussing health care, the Glenn Beck army and the hit job on ACORN. Watch it below.

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Turn On The TV Edition

The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast today at 12 noon on WHMP in Western MA. This week’s show features reactions to the president’s health care speech from Sarah Buttenweiser and myself, as well as “Momtroversies” essayist Traci Olsen on turning on the TV.
You can download the podcast at these links: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

The Week In Blog: Corporate Campaign Edition

The latest edition of The Week In Blog is up at featuring Matt Lewis and myself discussing blog reaction to Obama’s health care speech, Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst, the pending Supreme Court ruling on corporate campaign cash and the attempted boycott of World Net Daily. Watch it below.

Congressman Joe Wilson is an example of something… I just don’t know what

Tonight, President Barack Obama, in front of a joint session of Congress, spoke with conviction on healthcare. He beat down the lies and pledged his support to Medicare and seniors. He told his progressive colleagues that the public option is a means to an ends. It is the ends that we want.
Watch the video:
Before I go on, I must address Congressman Joe Wilson. What a dork. In public, there is some behavior that is simply unacceptable. If you’re a meeting with colleagues and you suddenly drop your trousers, that is unacceptable. If you’re in one of those nice hotel meeting rooms with some perspective clients and you suddenly spit on the floor, that is unacceptable. Shouting in a joint session of Congress, “You lie!” Is unacceptable. There no two ways around it. After his jaw-dropping comment, after the president’s speech was complete, the South Carolina representative released a statement which stated in part, “While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable.” Accidentally knocking over a glass of cold water which spills in your wife’s lap is regrettable. Shouting at the president as an elected official of United States Congress is totally unacceptable for Republicans or Democrats. Since it seems that no Republicans ever resign (almost never) from anything these days, I’ve donated money to Rob Miller who is challenging him in 2010.
Now, as we sat back and analyze the president’s words, we must remember that Republicans never rest. This fight is not over. Republicans, the health-insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies are reloading. We have to be ready for their counterpunch because it is coming. Even if we pass effective healthcare reform, this fight isn’t over. There are still Republicans who are trying to kill Medicare and Social Security. We cannot become complacent because the president has just laid out his case and given a great speech. We must continue to organize. We must continue to write and call our Congressman. (No matter whether your Congressman is for or against healthcare reform he or she has to know where you stand.) This is the legislative fight of our generation. Healthcare will help level the playing field and give a huge boost to small business. We must win this fight.