14 August 2009

Town Hall Crazies : Too Nuts for Jerry Springer?

Graphic by Larry Ray with apologies to Jerry Springer.

Out of Control Town Hall mobs:
Probably even be too much for Jerry Springer!

By Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / August 14, 2009

It would not surprise me if former politician and TV show host, Jerry Springer, would even ban some raving and ranting health care town hall meeting audience members from his show. Springer, known for the raucous and outrageous behavior of his show's guests is a former Mayor of Cincinnati and knows the politics of stage-managed dissent. Many recent summer break town hall meetings televised on cable TV and the evening news look very much like the Jerry Springer show . . . complete with beefy security guards hauling off screaming, threatening audience members.

News and opinion columns are full of reasons why rude sign-toting mobs are shouting down their U.S. Senators and Congressmen at town hall meetings across the nation. Common findings about this rage and nastiness show much of it has to do with more than constructive health care debate. Almost all the red-faced, loud, finger-pointing folks are up in arms over totally incorrect or out of context information they believe to be true. Many also erupt over things to do with immigration and topics other than health care. And the meetings may also be serving as a pop-off valve for racial hatred in some instances.

Senator Arlen Specter was assailed by 59 year old Craig Anthony Miller who did not like the seating plan for the meeting. He bellowed at Specter, ""One day, God is going to stand before you and he's going to judge you!" Then he walked out of the meeting. Later Specter noted, "There is more anger in America today than any time I can remember."

Much of this disinformation is fed by mindlessness opportunists like Sarah Palin and her Twittered warning of Obama "Death Panels," and from endless talking-point emails loaded with falsehoods and half-truths.

I was recently emailed "20 Questions for your Congressman . . . what to ask at a Town Hall Meeting." The list is the work of Robert Tracinski, and distributed by the right-wing "TIA Daily." I looked up Tracinski and remembered his ultra-conservative ravings from the presidential campaign. He was opposed to McCain for president for not being a true conservative and was a Rudy Guliani champion. In January 2008 he wrote:
So how is he (McCain) supposed to stand up to the Democrats on any part of their socialized medicine agenda? In addition to fighting the Democrats on socialized medicine, a Republican president would also have to fight in Congress for the extension of President Bush's tax cuts, which are set to begin expiring in 2009 and 2010.
Tracinski's talking-point list is full of total fiction and fear mongering. Here's an example:
When the government starting(sic) portraying people in the financial industry as villains and started limiting their pay and subjecting them to more regulations, banks reported a "brain drain" as smart and well-educated people left the industry or went overseas looking for better pay and less stress. But the term "brain drain" was originally coined in the 1960s when doctors and medical researchers left Britain to escape socialized medicine. Aren't you afraid we might see the same kind of brain drain from the medical profession here in America?
That simply is not true at all, but is typical of chauvinistic claims ignorant Americans love to make about "foreign countries" they know nothing about. Tired of hearing their National Health Service, England's cheap, efficient and universal health-care system, smeared in the American debate, the Brits have started responding to them with a lively Twitter forum, "welovetheNHS."

A serious example of chauvinistic ignorance is the conservative Los Angeles, California based, "Investor's Business Daily" which asserted in an editorial, "People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."

This prompted a quick counter response from London's "Guardian," by Hugh Muir an editorial columnist for the paper. Muir, contacted the internationally famous, wheelchair-bound Prof. Hawking for comment which was easy to do since Muir and Hawking are both UK citizens, a fact the LA IBD clearly did not know. Muir reported on his contact with Professor Hawking:
We say his life is far from worthless, as they do at Addenbrooke's hospital, Cambridge, where Professor Hawking, who has motor neurone disease, was treated for chest problems in April. As indeed does he. "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS," he told us. "I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived." Something here is worthless. And it's not him. Investor's Business Daily, incidentally, has now deleted the offending line from their editorial and published a correction. "This version corrects the original editorial which implied that physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor at the University of Cambridge, did not live in the UK," reads the addendum.

But that's not a correction at all. IBD never claimed that Hawking didn't live in the UK. It claimed that the NHS would judge him worthless and leave him to die. That was what was wrong. And that has not been corrected by the IBD -- which says a lot about how much trust readers should place in their work. Instead, it has been corrected by Hawking himself.
This kind of calculated misinformation easily leads to anger and violence. Fortunately this unforgivable US editorial garbage was called to task. All too many Americans still repeat the old saw that America has "the best health care in the world," which of course has not been true for decades when looked at in detail. America, indeed, has some of the very best physicians and surgeons in the world and amazing medical technology. But when you look at the overall health care provided to our citizens, we are failing miserably. The statistics are nothing to be proud of:

US expenditure for health care (2008) was $2.4 trillion, and estimated to be $4.3 trillion by 2017. 46 million uninsured and another 25 million underinsured. 18% of US citizens can’t pay for medicines or health care their family needed in last 12 months (April, 2009).

A telling and truly sad confirmation of this lack of health care for all Americans was published in The New York Times last night, August 12th. The story's headline is "Thousands Line Up for Promise of Free Health Care."

Hundreds of volunteer doctors, dentists, optometrists, nurses and others have set up a huge M*A*S*H unit in an arena just outside Los Angeles. For eight days they hope to help more than 8,000 people. "Remote Area Medical" is offering basic medical exams, mammograms, eye exams and glasses as well as dental services, all offered for free from medical professionals who understand the huge problem too many Americans face.

Of the thousands standing in lines for hours, many have some sort of insurance but it does not cover all their needs. Most still cannot afford a dentist, preventive medical tests or the cost of an eye exam and glasses.

It is extremely generous for individual physicians, nurses and others to make this all possible a few times a year. But this Tennessee based group is now spending more time helping the under served in America than in rural India where they have helped for years.

You would never see such a pitiful band-aid approach to health care anywhere in Europe, Japan, and other modern societies where all citizens are guaranteed quality universal health coverage. The USA is a singular holdout, not placing a high value on guaranteed quality health care for all its citizens.

Shouts of "socialized medicine" by conservatives clearly mean that they feel many Americans actually do not deserve quality health care. Shouting down this obvious need for universal health care, especially if the rich and powerful are urging frightened people to do the shouting, may appeal to Jerry Springer fans but for most reasonable Americans it is a disgusting show.

[Retired journalist Larry Ray is a Texas native and former Austin television news anchor. He also posts at The iHandbill.]

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