Echo Chamber

Health Care for America Now launch on June 8, 2008:

“HCAN will mobilize millions of Americans to demand that the first order of business of the next President and Congress is to enact quality, affordable health care for all in 2009,” said Kirsch. “We will be asking Members of Congress this year to tell us if they are on our side or the side of the health insurance industry.”

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) on the House floor today:

Roxi(oh really?)

I’m moving in a couple of weeks (more on that later), and I’ve decided to transfer all my old TV work from VHS to DVD and finally ditch the boxes of tapes I’ve been lugging from apartment to apartment for years.

I’ve got a VCR so I bought Roxio’s “easy VHS to DVD for Mac.” I got all the hardware connected and was able to capture the video without a problem. I also could turn my videos into quicktime movies. But when I burn the .mpgs to disc and try to open them, I get an error message telling me the .mpgs are not movie files. Same happens when I try to play the .mpgs off my computer.

I’m sure this is something easily remedied with a little more info so I logged on to Roxio’s live chat for help. The following is a transcript of that chat. If you think Fred “hung up” on me, you would be correct (click to see larger image):

But here’s the kicker. You may be thinking, “Why not just call?” Here’s why:

Phone Support

We also provides a premium telephone support option at a rate of $1.89 (USD) per minute at (866) 434-9871 during the hours of Monday – Friday, 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., EST.

Nice work, Roxio. Epic customer service fail.

UPDATE: Did a little research and found a fix on my own. Turns out I’m even more tech savvy than I thought. As an additional aside, however, a quick Google search turns up a ton of problems with this product and an endless stream of complaints about Roxio and its lack of basic customer support.

If a Tree Falls in a Forest…

What would happen if the cable and broadcast networks stopped chasing Sarah Palin? What if they collectively decided her 15 minutes were up and she was no longer more than a future Jeopardy! answer and a desperate Presidential candidate’s bad decision?

I say this because Palin – like a 4th grader who repeats the same bad joke to every adult in earshot – continues to call the press the “lamestream media.” She purports to despise them, but the same time, she needs them. Desperately.

Let’s say she puts a video up online. Let’s say instead of every TV station putting it on air as if she’s shown up in the studio and sat for an interview, no one plays it. No one. She may still get attention online, but she no longer reaches far beyond her loyal minions. She gradually becomes less and less relevant. A niche product. If she wants to marginalize traditional media, why are they not marginalizing her right back?

She’s not smart. She’s not well-read. She’s not worldly. Her uninformed opinions don’t contribute to or elevate our national debate. She’s proven she’s completely tone deaf to the nuances of basic human decency. Her thoughts on matters of substance are comical, and she’s not an expert in anything other than self-promotion.

She was historically relevant during the last election. She’s not anymore. And if she doesn’t want to face the nation or meet the press or talk to anyone with any experience in journalism, she ought to be ignored by them altogether. News networks have no obligation to give her airtime, and yet they do. Straight, no chaser.

How about telling Palin that if she wants to reach people who watch TV news, she’ll have to step out of her climate-controlled bubble and take some questions? (No, sitting down with an anchor from a network that pays her to be their pundit doesn’t count.) And until then, she can be just another person with an opinion, a webcam, and an Internet connection. If people want to hear what she has to say, they’re free to Google her or follow her on Twitter or friend her on Facebook, and the rest of us can be done with her once and for all.

Don’t get me wrong. If she were informed or educated or her thoughts on anything leant substance to our collective national conversation, I’d be more forgiving. But she’s consistently wrong. Not just ideologically wrong. Factually wrong.

I know she has a following, and those people are more than welcome to fawn all over her all they want. That’s the joy of the Internet. There’s a home for everyone. But there used to be limits on what news networks would pull from the web and amplify on television. I know because I was that gatekeeper for years. It was my job to help filter out the unreliable, the inaccurate, and the crazy. When it comes to Palin, she craps all over the very megaphone she needs to be relevant beyond her base, and yet, the press keeps wiping off the megaphone and handing it back to her.

Now would a great time for the media to take a stand. They all could stand up, wave goodbye to the one-way Palin PR machine, and walk away.

Imagine all the extra airtime we’d have for substance and stories that matter.

Truce?

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Tucson, I’ve seen many on the left ask that we please tone down the firebrand rhetoric and offer up the thought that regardless of why this madman did what he did, now would be the perfect time to reassess the way we speak to and about one another in the course of everyday political discourse. Sure, plenty (myself included) are singling out Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck as talkers with large audiences who could make a real dent in changing the way we communicate about politics if they were so inclined.

But I’ll say it once again because clearly it needs to be repeated to sink in: I don’t think Palin and Beck are personally responsible for the actions of a madman on a shooting spree. I do think the vitriolic and demonizing rhetoric they spew on a regular basis has shaped an environment in which IF someone brought a gun to a political event and shot a member of Congress in the head, no one would say they didn’t see it coming.

Mark Shields did an excellent job of explaining what I mean during a roundtable on Newshour last night. He and I disagree on the Palin map in particular, but we are absolutely in line on the following:

MARK SHIELDS: … But what I’m saying is this. David is a member of Congress, and so am I. This is what has happened to our language. And this is what’s happening to our democracy. Instead of saying David on an issue on the other side is misinformed or mistaken, I say David doesn’t love America. He’s evil. He obviously doesn’t believe in the same God we believe in. He doesn’t believe in the same country that we believe in. He’s owned by other people and other interests, probably foreign interests.

And when this happens, this not only debases our debate; what it does is, it forecloses democracy from working. It means that we won’t be able to be allies in a future event or on a future issue, because I would then be trucking with somebody…

JIM LEHRER: Consorting with the enemy.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, somebody who obviously doesn’t love America.

In contrast, what I am seeing come from the right in the wake of Tucson is an active effort to defend the venomous speech, coupled with a mad rush to find example after example of people on the left who have said nasty stuff too.

Talk about missing the point.

In my opinion, the left isn’t trying to demonize the right to score political points. The left is acknowledging that people like Palin and Beck have tremendous influence over millions of people, and if those two, for example, take responsibility for currently perpetuating a toxic level of communication peppered with misinformation often strategically designed to push buttons (death panels being the most obvious case in point) and seriously consider toning it down at this very moment in time, we may be able to eliminate some future risk.

There is a difference between laying blame and asking that we make this a learning moment and see opportunity in tragedy. Not political opportunity. Not gamesmanship. But the chance to change course and elevate the nature of political debate.

There has to be a little faith on both sides. I see that plea for decency coming from the left, but I fear the right is so defensive and skeptical that any sincere ask is falling on deaf ears.

It’s not about who said what to whom when. It’s about how we speak to and about each other from here on out.

Map Quest

The sheer number of people googling “DLC bullseye map” and landing on my site leads me to believe this whole Palin v. DLC map thing may become an issue. Here are the two maps we’re talking about:

DLC 2004:

Palin 2010:

As I mentioned in the previous post, it would be a tremendous mistake for the media to take the bait and draw some false equivalence conclusion, suggesting the current state of overheated political discourse is the result of equally inflammatory rhetoric on both the left and the right. Here’s what I said yesterday:

The DLC doesn’t command a large following and doesn’t tour the country whipping crowds into a frenzy spewing words of anger and hate. 2004 is not 2011, and the political tone now is infinitely more heated than it was six years ago. An archery target is not a gun sight, and the head of the DLC doesn’t brag about gun ownership or star in a reality show wielding a gun. And finally, putting an archery target on a state is a lot different than putting a gun sight on a person, and Palin’s map – unlike the DLC’s – encourages followers to take aim at individual people.

One additional note: The DLC map was printed in Blueprint Magazine – a publication so popular that it’s been gone since 2007. Plus, the DLC considers itself center left. To say it has any sort of real loyal grassroots following is comical. I guarantee you that when that map came out – in print – back in 2004, no one saw it.

Once again, I am not blaming Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sharron Angle, or anyone else in particular for Jared Lee Laughner’s shooting spree. What I am saying, however, is that Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sharron Angle, and the rest of the angry right that is regularly and deliberating distorting the truth to intentionally get people riled up and then – in the same breath – either outwardly or implicitly advocating violent revolution as a solution to political discontent need to take a long, hard look at their role in spewing words that can easily be interpreted as a call to action. There is a reason why Rep. Giffords spoke of Palin’s map in particular after her office was vandalized back in March. It’s not a stretch to conclude that if you say enough of just the right inflammatory stuff over and over again, someone’s going to snap.

Let’s have a conversation about taking it down a notch. That’s what Jon Stewart was trying to do with his Rally to Restore Sanity back in October. I’m sorry that message fell on deaf ears. I’m sorry it took the attempted assassination of a member of Congress and the murder of six other people to get us talking about the possible danger of firebrand rhetoric.

The point is that even if yesterday in Tucson wasn’t at all connected to the current climate of heated political discourse, it easily could have been. And that’s more than enough to want to make it stop.

Cause and Effect

When I was in Madrid last spring, two friends asked me if it was scary living in a country where people carry guns. At the time, I said no. After yesterday in Tucson, that’s changed.

It’s not scary because yesterday’s rampage was unthinkable. It’s frightening because yesterday’s rampage was inevitable. (h/t to Chez for picking the perfect word)

We don’t know enough yet about the Tucson shooter’s motivations to definitively tie his actions to any one political figure or movement. However, if you advocate, encourage, and foster an environment in which violence is the answer to political disagreement, you then own the consequences when someone follows through. If you build a cult of personality that thoughtlessly and deliberately spreads lies designed to push buttons (death panels, for example), and you knowingly prey on the ignorance and/or desperation of people looking for someone to blame for their everyday struggles, you don’t get to rewrite history or play dumb when the sparks you fanned catch fire.

There’s a PSA running on TV in the DC area that shows a teenage kid getting a tattoo. As the camera pans out, you see his entire body is covered in ink – all insults. His cell phone buzzes, and he tells the artist the next one will be “worthless” and there’s room on his back. The tagline: There’s a thin line between words and wounds. It’s an anti-digital harassment campaign, but it makes a good point the so-called adults running the angry right could stand to learn. Words can have consequences. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater and then be surprised – or claim surprise – when someone gets trampled.

I don’t use Twitter very often, but I found it more useful than anything on TV as events were unfolding yesterday afternoon. The amount of speculation and rumor the cable networks were passing off as news was embarrassing. In contrast, I found a running conversation online that was helping to sort through the flood of information in real time. Nothing was confirmed until it was.

Twitter was also useful as the smart people I follow started offering educated opinions. For instance, from Peter Daou:

Infuriating that media never acknowledge profound imbalance: the left attacks the right’s ideas, the right attacks the left’s very existence.

Roger Ebert:

Sarah Palin rummages online frantically erasing her rabble-rousing Tweets like a Stalinist trimming non-persons out of photos.

Today, many are pointing to this piece by James Fallows who writes the following:

We don’t know why the Tucson killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we’ll never “understand.” But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac’s famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed — including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk — on rallies, on cable TV, in ads — about “eliminating” opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say “don’t retreat, reload.”

I’ve already seen some on the right dismiss the conversation of violent political rhetoric as a deliberate diversionary tactic by the left. I challenge and encourage the media not to take the bait on this one. No one reasonable on the left is saying one crazy guy’s actions are undoubtedly the fault of one particular political candidate or party. What they are saying is that political candidates and parties cannot endorse “2nd Amendment remedies” to ideological disagreements and then pretend they had nothing to do with setting stage for someone to bring a gun to a grocery store and shoot a member of Congress in the head.

As I write, someone on Twitter just produced this interesting nugget. Apparently, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) released a target map back in 2004. Here’s why this is insignificant, and TV reporters should not use the DLC map as a counter to Palin’s gun sight-speckled graphic. The DLC doesn’t command a large following and doesn’t tour the country whipping crowds into a frenzy spewing words of anger and hate. 2004 is not 2011, and the political tone now is infinitely more heated than it was six years ago. An archery target is not a gun sight, and the head of the DLC doesn’t brag about gun ownership or star in a reality show wielding a gun. And finally, putting an archery target on a state is a lot different than putting a gun sight on a person, and Palin’s map – unlike the DLC’s – encourages followers to take aim at individual people.

Not every story has an equal point and counterpoint. Sometimes there is very clear imbalance. The political left doesn’t promote violent revolution, physical confrontation, or bringing guns to public rallies. The rhetoric isn’t coming from both sides of the aisle. This is a characteristic unique to the right. And any attempt by the press to dismiss that truth is just plain wrong.

The Tucson shooter targeted Rep. Giffords because she’s a political figure, and whether or not his ideology lines up with any particular rhetoric or his motivation can be tied to any particular person or movement remains to be seen. But what’s abundantly clear is that we’ve reached a tipping point. As Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (Pima County, AZ) just said in a presser:

I think that when the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates, and to trying to inflame the public on a daily basis – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – has impact on people, especially people who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.

We knew this was going to happen. It was bound to happen. And like everyone else today, I’m really sad it did.

Ingeni(x)ous

I’ve been entangled in an ongoing issue with my health insurance company for a few months now. I won my appeal, but their explanation letter makes no sense, and after reading it over carefully, I think they owe me money. I called yesterday, and they’re supposed to get back to me.

In the meantime, I discovered something interesting. My issue involves being reimbursed for a percentage of what UnitedHealthcare considers “usual and customary.” And they are still using Ingenix – the database they own and control – to determine what’s “usual and customary.”

You may remember that NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo settled with UnitedHealth Group back in January 2009 wherein United and other insurance companies would stop using Ingenix. Here’s why:

Attorney General Cuomo’s investigation concerned allegations that the Ingenix database intentionally skewed “usual and customary” rates downward through faulty data collection, poor pooling procedures, and the lack of audits. That means many consumers were forced to pay more than they should have. The investigation found the rate of underpayment by insurers ranged from ten to twenty-eight percent for various medical services across the state. The Attorney General found that having a health insurer determine the “usual and customary” rate – a large portion of which the insurer then reimburses – creates an incentive for the insurer to manipulate the rate downward. The creation of a new database, independently maintained by a nonprofit organization, is designed to remove this conflict of interest.

It’s now been two years, and according to UHC itself, nothing’s changed. The letter I got from United on November 19, 2010 reads as follows:

In October 2009 NY Attorney General announced FAIR Health, Inc., and an upstate research network headquartered at Syracuse University would develop a new independent database for consumer reimbursement and a new website. Ingenix would continue to calculate out of network benefits until Fair Health, Inc was up and running. I do not have any current information.

So two years after the settlement and more than 14 months after the announcement of a new research network, it seems the scam’s still in place.

There are a handful of other shady discrepancies in UHC’s correspondence – not the least of which is the Complaint Specialist’s claim that she is “unable to access the Cost Estimator” I used to research possible “usual and customary” rates for similar providers in my area. It’s an online tool. On the UnitedHealthcare website (3rd from the bottom on the right-hand side):

If she’s got the Internet and can sign into the UHC website (which I assume as an employee, she can), she can access the tool. This came up on yesterday’s call, and all the Specialist could say was that she knows where it is now.

I’ve procrastinated following up on the letter because I just wasn’t in the mood to deal. I imagine this happens a lot and is exactly what the insurance company banks on. But my whole debacle was just too egregious to let slide, and now that I’ve started the ball rolling again, it will be interesting to see the response.

I’ll keep you posted.

Happy New Year

I resolve to get back to blogging on a regular basis. Beyond that, let’s just see how things shake out.

Have a good one. Be safe.