Monthly Archives: August 2009

The American Plan


The recent hoopla on healthcare has shed light on an issue that has been painfully obvious to many progressives: even with a President that is a great communicator of progressive values, in terms of ongoing long-term communications, conservatives continue to dominate the public narrative.  So much so, that progressive framing guru George Lakoff has come out in full force to suggest an alternate to the boring “public option” branding: the “American Plan“.  Yes, of course any healthcare reform MUST at least include a strong public option (otherwise it will be a giant giveaway to the insurance companies’ already bloated greed).  However, in terms of branding, the name “public option” simply does not do justice to what the public option is trying to accomplish: reform the system so that the American people’s health is placed above CEO’s bonuses, rather than the other way around.  In larger terms of the picture in communications matters, 2009 is undeniably a different world when it comes to progressive media infrastructre compared to how it was back in 2000, when in that year we saw the conservative machine in full attack mode to make sure that Gore did not become the next President of the United States

I refer back to 2000 to illustrate and recognize just how far we’ve come in terms of building a progressive infrastructure but at the same time to highlight just how far we still have yet to go.  Like many others, that was the year when my political awakening began, amid a national media landscape that was incredibly hostile to progressive ideas.  Prior to George W., I was just a small town Latino teen that was absolutely apolitical, overwhelmed with my own families’ struggles, and could care less about what went on with politicians in DC.  However, the downward spiral into the depths of right-wing authoritarianism that the country took under George W.’s presidency became too alarming to ignore.  I started to take notice, from the blatant betrayals of the American public’s trust with the invasion and occupation of Iraq to the excesses of the scary right-wing/conservative religious rights’ alliance with the Republican Party. On that front, much has changed too: with some progressive religious figures like Reverend Jim Wallis, Michael Lerner, and progressive activist faith groups and projects like Faithful America, The Network of Spiritual Progressives, Interfaith Alliance, Catholics United, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good gaining some much-needed traction on the national stage to fight the authoritarianism of the religious right.  Nevertheless, the presence of progressive religious figures in the national media continues to be a struggle, as I have argued before (click here to read my previous post on the matter). 

In retrospect, it is no surprise I can track the moment when I became aware for the first time of the massive conservative propaganda machine: when I caught word through a progressive medium-a new movie, “Outfoxed“, which detailed just how much the Fox News channel serves as the bullhorn for the Republican Party’s propaganda.  I was so starved to connect to other progressives, that when the credits rolled at the end of the film, I frantically started to write down the names of the organizations that had contributed to make the film just so I could search for them online.  One of the major progressive hubs of information sharing and activism that I found was, which would occasionally post information on progressive groups doing grassroots activities on the local scene. 

It was through one of such local grassroots events that I had another brush with another progressive medium that brought about for me a pivotal moment in the formation of who I am now as an activist.  It was when I saw Marcos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos, speak at a bar in Santa Monica, CA during an event that was being sponsored by the Public Campaign.  He was promoting a book that he had co-authored, Crashing the Gate, and so I bought his book right there and then and asked him to autograph my copy.  I started reading it and quickly became amazed at how incredibly well-organized and powerful the conservative infrastructure really was to the point where they completely dominated the national discourse with their far-right messaging.  Crashing the Gate laid it all bare, pin-pointing how the conservative machine had come to be and how the inept angry left of the U.S., broken up into its silo single-issue self-righteous factions, had allowed it to happen.  After finishing the book, I immediately made the resolution to answer the call to action to help build an organized progressive infrastructure that could fight the conservative machine.  I did not exactly know how or where to start, so I kept on reading more progressive works like The Left Hand of God and Don’t Think of an Elephant, while at the same time continuing to attend progressive-minded events such as Drinking Liberally, and started listening to progressive radio personalities after they started to be syndicated nationally.  In short, whatever progressive communication outlets that had been launched back then were extremely useful to inform and motivate new progressive activists like myself and countless others. 

Today, there is now a “progressive infrastructure” that continues to grow that simply did not even exist back in 2000.  Nevertheless, currently a progressive nation-wide communications system is virtually nonexistent.  Famous professor of linguistics, George Lakoff, in his newly published piece The Policy Speak Disaster for Health Care, discusses this very same issue in terms of how it relates to the current healthcare debate.  He has, in fact, warned about this before, specifically on his “The Obama Code” piece:

The president is the best political communicator of our age. He has the bully pulpit. He gets media attention from the press. His website is running a permanent campaign, Organizing for Obama, run by his campaign manager David Plouffe. It seeks issue-by-issue support from his huge mailing list. There are plenty of progressive blogs. now has over five million members.  And yet that is nowhere near enough.

The conservative message machine is huge and still going. There are dozens of conservative think tanks, many with very large communications budgets. The conservative leadership institutes are continuing to turn out thousands of trained conservative spokespeople every year. The conservative apparatus for language creation is still functioning. Conservative talking points are still going out to their network of spokespeople, who still being booked on tv and radio around the country. About 80% of the talking heads on tv are conservatives. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are as strong as ever.  There are now progressive voices on MSNBC, Comedy Central, and Air America, but they are still overwhelmed by Right’s enormous megaphone.  Republicans in Congress can count on overwhelming message support in their home districts and homes states. That is one reason why they were able to stonewall on the President’s stimulus package. They had no serious media competition at home pounding out the Obama vision day after day.

Such national, day-by-day media competition is necessary. Democrats need to build it. Democratic think tanks are strong on policy and programs, but weak on values and vision.  Without the moral arguments based on the Obama values and vision, the policymakers most likely be unable to regularly address both independent voters and the Limbaugh-FoxNews audiences in conservative Republican strongholds.

The president and his administration cannot build such a communication system, nor can the Democrats in Congress. The DNC does not have the resources. It will be up to supporters of the Obama values, not just supporters on the issues, to put such a system in place.  Despite all the organizing strength of Obama supporters, no such organizing effort is now going on. If none is put together, the movement conservatives will face few challenges of fundamental values in their home constituencies and will be able to go on stonewalling with impunity.  That will make the president’s vision that much harder to carry out.

In light of what the right-wing has been able to accomplish in their battle against healthcare reform, is it any wonder that many progressives are left wondering “where is the progressive messaging machine?”  Well, it is MIA because it simply does NOT exist.  Yes, progressive have the blogosphere and some rising stars on MSNBC, but let us not confuse that with an actual progressive MESSAGING machine.  The blogosphere and other media outlets are just that, outlets with a lot of useful information.  They ARE important and essential outlets, but they nevertheless are missing a piece: the messaging and framing element that works on a nation-wide marketing level.

So who would it be up to to build such a progressive communications system?  Al Gore considered creating a liberal cable channel, and instead settled for creating the youthful socially conscious “Current TV“.  Nevertheless, even a progressive channel would still need the right messaging.  In absence of a nation-wide progressive channel, Professor Lakoff suggests the following communications strategy concerning the healthcare debate: 

A progressive communication system should be started. It should go into every Congressional district. It should concentrate on general progressive ideas. President Obama has articulated what these are.

• The basic values are empathy (we care about people), responsibility for ourselves and others, and the ethic of excellence (making ourselves better and the world better).

• These values form the basis of democracy: It’s because we care about our fellow citizens that we have values like freedom and fairness, for everyone, not just the powerful.

• From that, it follows that government has two moral missions: protection (of consumers, workers, the environment, the old, the sick, the powerless; and empowerment through public works; communication, energy, and water systems; education; banks that work; a court system: and so on. Without them, no one makes it in America. Taxes are what you pay for protection and empowerment by the government, and the more you make the greater your responsibility to maintain the system.

Appropriate language can be found to express these values. They lie at the heart of all progressive policies. If they are out there every day, it becomes easier to discuss any issue. This is what it means to prepare the ground for specific framings.

Once progressives hammer out the right messaging approach, the need for a nation-wide progressive TV channel that can broadcast it everywhere will become even more evident.  MSNBC has taken some good steps, but it has not capitalized on its recent ratings success with its progressive hosts (Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, and Ed Schultz).  In fact, a recent poll reveals something that has now become almost painfully clear: MSNBC has established a marketable niche that it is simply not servicing at it should be.  MSNBC would do itself a favor by embracing its progressive niche and switch to an all-progressive format, before someone else beats them to it.  After all, our country is quickly changing with the new so-called millenial generation that tends to be overwhelmingly progressive taking over.  MSNBC from its inception positioned itself to be a bit more youthful and edgier than CNN.  In the spirit of its original business model, should MSNBC position itself to serve the up-and-coming progressive-minded millenial generation, it would reap financial rewards that would most likely eclipse its competitors’.

When will MSNBC start realizing that they have created a niche with the progressive community that it should capitalize on?  The above video is a sample of the kind of progressive talent MSNBC could benefit from.  Progressive media personalities like Stephanie Miller or even Randi Rhodes (on the radio) have proven to be hugely successful, even beating their conservative competitors day after day in the ratings.  So what are the powers-that-be waiting on?


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Filed under Framing, Marketing, Progressive Media Personalities, Progressive Movement, Religion, Spirituality

RIP Senator Ted Kennedy

Today is a very sad day for Latinos and supporters of immigration reform.  He was a champion for Latinos’ and other minorities’ rights.  It’s almost beyond words what he represents in our country’s history.  Here is Ted Kennedy photographed with Cesar Chavez in an appearance back in July 31, 1985: 

Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy and Cesar Chavez address the audience at an unknown meeting, possibly on the floor of the United States Senate.

Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy and Cesar Chavez address the audience at an unknown meeting, possibly on the floor of the United States Senate.

Just to highlight out the enormity of the Kennedy family legacy regarding Latinos’ rights, here’s a photo of when Senator Ted Kennedy’s brother, Bobby Kennedy, went to visit Cesar Chavez in 1968:

Cesar Chavez breaks his 25-day fast by accepting bread from Senator Robert Kennedy, Delano, California.

Cesar Chavez breaks his 25-day fast by accepting bread from Senator Robert Kennedy, Delano, California.

One of Senator Ted Kennedy’s most endeared causes the he fought for throughout his career was healthcare reform (click here for a video of him speaking on this issue) that is currently the hot topic, which I’ve been blogging about for the past few weeks due to the recent grostesque turn the debate has taken, with right-wingers using immigrants as scapegoats, once again.  Here’s Senator Ted Kennedy giving one of his best speeches at last year’s Democratic National Convention (introduced by President JFK‘s daughter, Caroline Kennedy):

Here he is singing in Spanish! (back when he was on the campaign trail for Barack Obama):

Here he is at an East L.A. Rally stumping for Obama:

During last year’s presidential campaign, it was undeniably clear that the Kennedy family and the Cesar Chavez legacy were a major reason of why Obama won the election.  Just take a look at the kind of videos that were being circulated on YouTube at the time:

From Cesar Chavez’s “Si Se Puede” slogan being co-opted and translated by Obama as “Yes We Can” to the co-opting of the UFW organizing model as a campaign tactic to the endorsements of the Kennedy family of Obama, the intersection of major American historical giants was amazing. 

Today is a day of mourning, as America has lost one of its greatest Senators.  Sign here the SEIU card in honor of Ted Kennedy and/or share your memories and sympathies on his website here.  Finally, there is a petition to name the healthcare reform bill that passed Kennedy’s own health committee “The Kennedy Bill”.  To sign that petition, click here.


Filed under RIP

Sotomayor: Turning Point for Latinos

The nomination and confirmation of Sotomayor marked a turning point for the clout of the Latino vote.

The nomination and confirmation of Sotomayor marked a turning point for the clout of the Latino vote.

Much has been said about the nomination and confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  Much of the analsys has been focused on the fact that she was  the first Latina to EVER be nominated to the Supreme Court in the entire history of the United States.  Nevetheless, surprisingly little has been said about just how monumental a turning point her ascent to the Supreme Court was in terms of what it represents for the growing clout of the Latino vote. 

Perhaps for the first time, politicians (especially Republicans) who would otherwise not hesitate to oppose her based on her ethnicity and on the fact that she was nominated by a Democrat-President Obama, were forced to be extremely careful about what they said on Sotomayor’s qualification because they were afraid that they might alienate Latinos.  They were afraid of losing the Latino vote, and they had good reason to be afraid.  Key battle ground states like Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and others, which are currently under Republican control, have an ever-increasing Latino population that can vote and in fact will be voting.  Americans in general are said to have very short-term memories.  This is something that is different culturally with Latinos.  Latinos tend to remember the past for a LONG time, and they do tend to base their future voting decisions based on their memories (if you still doubt this, just remember how Latinos overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries based on their loyalty to President Bill Clinton).  Just ask a Latino about the U.S.’s undercover paramilitary operations to control Latin America’s affairs, and you’ll be sure to get an earful on things that happened 20, 30, or even 50 years ago and beyond. 

Nevertheless, an interesting schizophrenic dynamic developed inside of the massive conservative machine throughout the Sotomayor saga.  While Republican senators were careful in measuring their comments against Sotomayor in fear of offending Latinos, it seems that the extremist wing of the Republican party just could not help itself.  Instead of acting in favor of their political benefit, they chose to launch a vile campaign tainted with vicious and sexist attacks to descredit Sotomayor and bully other Senators into voting against her.  The twisted propaganda unsurprisingly gained much traction and dominated the coverage of her confirmation in the corporate media, cowardly lurking under the cloak of “reverse discrimination“.  I say “unsurprisingly” because this was not an isolated incident: the conservative media has displayed a disturbing pattern of promoting hate against LatinosEven from the time before Sotomayor was nominated, powerful conservative interests knew that it would be political suicide to attack Sotomayor but still, because of their racist tendencies, they could not help themselves and chose to go after her with unbridled hate. 

In the meantime, other powerful Republicans chose to stand in the sidelines and remain silent, perhaps thinking that by doing so they would be sidestepping Latino anger.  Yet, this might have proven to be a political mistake in and of itself.  After all, silence many times represents a tacit approval of what is going on and therefore shows complicity to the wrongdoing; it’s a sign of cowardice to stand up for what is right.  Take Sarah Palin, for example: I still think she missed a key opportunity to advance her chances to be the Republican Presidential nominee next time around because she hurt herself by remaining silent on defending Sotomayor while all the sexist attacks were being flung at the Supreme Court Justice nominee.  Should Palin have come out and castigated her Republican colleagues’ attacks on Sotomayor, she would have come out as the good guy, boosting her stance with Latinos.  This would have been a clever and timely strategy, being that her major obstacle to a future Presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich, went after Sotomayor and thereby virtually tarnished his chances of ever winning the Presidency because of his racist comments against Latinos.  Moreover, Palin would have repaired her overall image with mainstream America, being that she is currently an extremly polarizing figure who is loved by the extreme wing of her party but is quite toxic for everyone else’s taste. 

In the end, the situation became a lose-lose situation for Republicans: Sotomayor was confirmed and the consequences of conservatives’ unfettered hate seem to have started.  A new poll is out that shows that Republicans’ unwarranted attacks on Sotomayor DID actually enrage many Latinos.  The damage is done, and defying logic, the Republicans continue to shoot themselves in the foot by now siding with and riling up their ever-shrinking old guard of racist supporters, thereby completely undoing the gains that former President W. Bush had smartly made with Latino voters.  I’ve been blogging about how the conservatives have been spreading lies about the current healthcare reform debate by shamelessly claiming that it would cover “40 million illegal aliens“, while ignoring the greedy insurance companies’ CEO’s obscene behavior

Yet, what conservatives didn’t anticipate is that Latinos would start to mobilize to fight the right-wingers’ dirty tactics at the townhalls.  Conservatives have enraged the Latino community with the incendiary speech that right-wingers use against Latinos at the current townhalls on healthcare, further eroding support for the Republican party among Latinos.  It has become quite clear that the conservatives’ angry reactionary shouts full of racial and violent slurs have nothing to do with a healthcare reform that would care for the sick but rather are nothing more than people being afraid of their owns shadows, refusing to accept the fact that America is no longer a white-only elitist patriarchy with “white-only” drinking fountains.  Right-wingers may deny that their reactions are based on bigotry and fear, but their actions speak otherwise.  They are desperately hanging on to a racially segregated past, while the rest of us are moving towards a more inclusive mindset.  As President Clinton explained best at the recent Netroots Nation conference in Pittsburgh “we are growing more diverse … more orientated psychologically to communitarian solutions”:

Mark my words, the Republicans need to wake up to the fact that Latinos will NOT tolerate their racist tactics anymore, that they will NOT be their whipping boy anymore.  If they don’t wake up to that fact, Latinos will wipe Republicans off of the electoral map, just like the Latino electorate did in the wake of California’s governor Pete Wilson’s inhuman anti-immigrant Proposition 187.


Filed under Political

We can’t let them spit on Latinos-go to a townhall!

Blaming Latinos for the healthcare crisis or using them as scapegoats to oppose Obama’s plan to reform the system is just wrong and racist.  In fact, in a twist of irony, the bigots attacking Latinos don’t even realize that many Americans are now moving to Mexico in increased numbers, while others venture into Mexico because healthcare is much cheaper over there.  The difference in cost is in large part due to the existence of a government-run system in Mexico, making healthcare much more cost-efficient, compared to how criminally expensive it is here in the United States.  Anyway, I’ve sent the following action alert to the Project Economic Refugee community.  I urge others to do the same:

Justice. Not bullets.

Send them home with a bullet in the head”.  That’s what racist right-wing protesters at HealthCare Reform townhalls are shouting now, attacking immigrants. Watch:

This is NOT an isolated instance, but rather part of grotesque campaign to blame Latinos for the healthcare crisis.  The protesters’ hatred does not stop there.  In Hagerstown, Maryland – The Secret Service is investigating a man who authorities said held a sign reading “Death to Obama” outside a town hall meeting on health-care reform in western Maryland. The sign also read, “Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids.”

We can NOT and must NOT let these extremist displays of disrespect and hatred go unanswered. It is time to go to these townhalls and tell these bigots to stop scapegoating immigrants and instead go after the hitmen that are behind the efforts to rile up the hate: the greedy insurance companies’ top executives-people like Rick Scott, who are content with defrauding the American people.

So let’s go and let America know that we will NOT allow for the scapegoating of immigrants to continue any longer!  Click here for a list of organizing events where you can make a difference or here for a specific list of upcoming townhalls. 

IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to bring your signs demanding that protesters stop scapegoating immigrants while the greedy insurance companies’ CEO’s (like Rick Scott) are being given a pass!  As George Lakoff, professor of Linguistics (and the inspiration for Project Economic Refugee itself) has pointed out:

Insurance company plans have failed to care for our people. They profit from denying care. Americans care about one another. An American plan is both the moral and practical alternative to provide care for our people.  The insurance companies are doing their worst, spreading lies in an attempt to maintain their profits and keep Americans from getting the care they so desperately need. You, our citizens, must be the heroes. Stand up, and speak up, for an American plan.



PS Would you like to be a more active part of Project Economic Refugee?  Be a part of the organizing team! Email me at to ask for more details.


Filed under Health, Immigration

Christians & Veterans Defend Healthcare Reform

Update on the healthcare reform front: veterans and religious groups that support Health Care Reform are fighting back the vicious tide of well-funded hate:

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Filed under Health, Military

“Send them home with a bullet in the head”

That’s what racist healthcare protesters are shouting now. No, I’m not making it up. See for yourselves:

I have been blogging for the last couple of days about this-how protesters of healthcare reform are falsely claiming that providing health care to the uninsured would cover “40 million illegals“, aka economic refugees.

Besides the fact that their angry violent shouts are pretty disturbing onto themselves, their claims are actually based on pure lies.

Sadly, in the meantime the real culprits for our healthcare crisis are not being called out: the insurance companies. Instead of scapegoating Latinos for the healthcare crisis, the American public would do itself a favor and go after the REAL bad guys.

Ed Schultz & Robert Greenwald explain best who the real evil guys are:

We can NOT and must NOT let these extremist displays of disrespect and hatred go unanswered. It is time to go to these townhalls and tell these bigots to stop scapegoating immigrants and instead focus on the REAL evil doers: the greedy insurance companies’ top executives … people like Rick Scott, former CEO of a hospital company that defrauded the government:

So let’s go and let people know we will NOT allow for the scapegoating to continue any longer! 

Click here to see a list of upcoming townhalls.

SEIU & Organizing for America also offer ways you can sing up online to stay involved.

IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to bring your signs demanding that protesters stop scapegoating immigrants while the greedy insurance companies’ CEO’s are being given a pass!

Be safe and be strong!

Update 08/14/09: I am telling you guys, the right-wing protesters’ shouts and signs are getting more radical, evil, and disturbing. Check this report out:

Hagerstown, Maryland – The Secret Service is investigating a man who authorities said held a sign reading “Death to Obama” outside a town hall meeting on health-care reform in western Maryland.

The sign also read, “Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids,” referring to the first name of President Barack Obama’s wife, said Washington County Sheriff’s Capt. Peter Lazich.

Looks like the demons out there are showing up and exposing themselves in all their gory glory :-/  To read the rest of the report, go here.


Filed under Economic Refugees, Health, Political

“40 million illegals”?

That’s what protesters of healthcare reform are shouting.  Yup.  They’re shouting at the townhalls that the reform would cover “40 million Illegals.”  Besides the fact that their angry violent shouts are pretty disturbing onto themselves, their claims are just based on lies.  Read this article:

Right-Wingers Are Stirring Up Xenophobia to Swiftboat Health Reform
By Joshua Holland, AlterNet. Posted August 4, 2009.

I’ve blogged about this ongoing grotesque attempt to blame the healthcare crisis on Latinos:

Instead of scapegoating Latinos, support Public Option in Healthcare Reform:

Extremists love to bring up how “illegals” are overwhelming the Healthcare system yet they hardly ever talk about how the Healthcare system itself is a joke in this country.

Instead of blaming refugees, people should be talking about the things (like Universal Healthcare or the standwithdrdean campaign) that the U.S. government could implement to solve the healthcare crisis.

By the way, reports have come out before that have debunked the claims that “immigrants abuse the health care system”. Back in 2007, the Center for American Progress published such study.  To access it, visit this link.

It seems, nevertheless, that the right-wing knows no limits with their hatred of brown people.  They are on a self-destructive path and they can’t help themselves.  A new poll has come out that clearly shows that Latino support for the Republican Party has hit new time lows in light of the racist onslaught of attacks that Sonia Sotomayor had to endure to get confirmed.

Sadly, in the meantime the real culprits for our healthcare crisis are not being called out: the insurance companies.  Instead of scapegoating Latinos for the healthcare crisis, the American public would do itself a favor and go after the REAL bad guys:


Filed under Economic Refugees, Health, Immigration, Political