Recent letters-to-the-editor prompted these rebuttals from me.
We need more than image
Posted: Monday, September 1, 2014 12:15 am
Chief of Staff Athan Koutsiouroumbas recently dismissed as “partisan” a constituent/critic of his boss, Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. This seems to be the go-to dismissal of anyone who is not drinking the Kool-Aid of the Congressman’s well-crafted PR campaign.
Rep Fitzpatrick presents himself as bipartisan to woo swing voters. But in 2013, by my calculations, he voted 73 percent of the time with what critics consider the extreme positions of the tea party. If we remove the Hurricane Sandy votes, his tally for extreme tea party positions is 78 percent. (TeaPartyScorecard.com. Footnoted analysis available.)
Rep. Fitzpatrick fueled the fires that led to a government shut down, and then capitulated when poll numbers were tanking. He allied himself with Paul Ryan to make Medicare a voucher system. He was not the voice of compromise when it came to the Affordable Care Act. The GOP issued drill commands. Obstruct a constitutional law no matter what. Our representative dutifully carried out his “partisan” marching orders.
One can object to the votes a representative takes. But when a representative makes a job out of presenting an image to the public that does not square with his voting record; when he does not openly discuss his votes at public meetings where his answers can be easily disseminated for the edification of all constituents; when he resorts to calling constituents “partisan” justifying a wave-of-the-hand dismissal, we have a GOP seat-holder whose job it is to campaign 24/7. He wants you to feel good about him and then pull the lever. You will never find this representative engaged in what I consider substantive public debate of the issues on the record.
Many times I have heard he is a nice guy and a hard worker. If he were running for the position of Nice Guy Hard Worker he’d have my vote. What one works hard on is what matters. Can we really afford another term of a representative selling us image? How about a hard core negotiator behind-the-scenes and in public who will challenge the GOP leadership to make meaningful compromises to move this country forward?
In these very contentious political times, our representative is out of his depth. We need a strong voice. Selling image is puff, not leadership.
Here is the introduction to my book. Share widely and let the story find its way home to a proper publishing house. Happy travels, memoir. Meanwhile, if you want to read excerpts, subscribe to Art As Social Inquiry’s newsletter
The Making of an Accidental Advocate
Know this before I tell you my stories.
The moodiness of Paris circa1973
1973. I was 19. In Paris working as an au pair, a babysitter.
Most American teenagers didn’t know about au pairs in the 1970s. But the college dropouts looking for escape routes, some of us knew. We were the failures. We were banging against the psychological walls in our heads. We were suffocating in lives where the possibilities were out there. We were desperate to know. Know what? That’s just it. We didn’t know what we were so desirous to feel, but we knew it was out there – anywhere but here. We took risks. We had nothing to lose.
People like that, like me, we somehow happened upon words like au pair, and latched onto them as our ticket to anywhere but here.
Even as s a teenager I owned my existential crisis by letting myself feel it — not that I had words for what I was doing, or the questions that consumed me. What is this crazy planet I’m on? The hellacious suffering? The hatred? The killing? Disease? How did I get HERE? What’s with this God-business? So much hatred and prejudice in God’s name? A God? And after all that we die? What the hell??? What is real? What is real?
What is real? The asking was an admittance that I suspected that what I was seeing was not…real. A record playing at the wrong speed. Something about life just wasn’t right. Why so much suffering?
Posted: Monday, April 21, 2014 12:15 am
A recent letter writer said that Congressman Fitzpatrick was having real town halls. I believe the writer refers to an August 2013 weekend.Two town halls were held: Aug. 2 in Springfield Township and Aug. 4 in Salford Township. The “No Labels” event was also held that weekend, which many did not consider a town hall.
There have been no town halls since the two in August 2013. And the staff did not tell me about them when I asked for the town hall schedule. Why not? I wanted to go.
You see, I have been trying to publicly address my congressman about his misstatements about the Affordable Care Act. I believe he has been scaring constituents for political reasons.
For example, the congressman relies on seniors not knowing the difference between Medicare and the private, for-profit policies sold to seniors called “Medicare Advantage.”
The congressman says Medicare is being “cut,” and he is on the side of seniors. In fact, the opposite is true.
Medicare Advantage siphons money from traditional Medicare in the form of overpayments to private companies that sell the Medicare Advantage policies. The health care law looks to scale back these overpayments, characterized by the New York Times as “unjustified federal subsidies to the insurance companies.”
There are many examples like this where the congressman is not telling his constituents the whole story on an issue.
Let’s have as many town halls as the constituents want. We can discuss the public’s business for the benefit of everybody, not just individuals who meet privately.
First an undated photo of me on the front page of our local newspaper. Then my response in a letter-to-the-editor with portion edited out that did not see print. And there is always the question, “Did our local press self-censor at our congressman’s request?” Welcome to 2014. Read on….
“The newspaper pulled a 2013 story critical of the congressman’s lack of town halls under questionable pretenses. And now the editors print an undated photo that gives the reading public a false impression about the congressman holding real town halls.
These are just two instances in my personal experience where the congressman seems to be coddled by this newspaper.”
Our local newspapers, the Intelligencer and its sister paper, the Courier Times (part of Calkins News Group), recently recapped 2013 in their publications.
The article included this undated picture of me from 2011. I suppose my efforts to have real town halls with my congressman was topical? Oy Vey! Whatta picture!
But why run a 2011 photo of me at a town hall with no mention of my repeated and unsuccessful efforts to get to real town halls in 2013? (There was an event at a church that someone tipped me off about….Jeeesh, and that’s what we have to rely on in Pa-8? Informants?)
This letter-to-the-editor appeared in the Midweek Wire print edition. (No LTEs appear in the online edition.)
A COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER REACHING 239,700 HOMES IN BUCKS AND MONTGOMERY COUNTIES, PA.
I have gone to the trouble of keeping a log of town halls in Rep. Fitzpatrick’s district for many months so I can attend a few to talk about my representative’s positions on the healthcare law. The congressman’s staff did not tell me about two that happened in August in Salford Township and Springtown when I asked. I read about them in the newspaper. There have been no real public town halls since then that I am aware of.
After months of keeping a log, I have observed how politics is played in PA-8.
Constituents who want to challenge the congressman on the issues are political liabilities to be avoided especially at public town halls.
I suspect this congressman and many other representatives do not want to be videoed talking to folks at real town halls. They prefer events that are managed or staged where the dialog can be controlled. This, in turn, controls what the press sees. The press then feeds the congressman’s message to the general public.
At a real town hall, the congressman would be on the hot seat. He would have to answer for his statements on the healthcare law and his votes on the gov’t shut-down, for example.
We see the congressman visiting seniors, and tenderly talking to veterans. But he voted for Paul Ryan’s plan to alter Medicare by turning it into a voucher program that would hurt seniors.
And the veterans? The congressman uses every low-ball, incendiary Republican talking point about the healthcare law without regard to facts. Is he really working for the vets ? One out of every 10 vets will get health insurance because of the healthcare law.
So what is really going on in PA-8?
PA-8 is comprised of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Pleasing them all is difficult.
I believe our congressman’s answer to this political conundrum is image. Appear to be accessible by making many private appearances where challenges are less likely; avoid being challenged in public on the issues where substantive answers are required; and hope this strategy wins enough moderate voters to win an election.
Unfortunately, it seems that serving as US congressman for PA-8 in the House of Representatives has become one long press junket to keep a congressional seat.
Art As Social Inquiry
Yours Truly has a guest opinion piece in our local paper, The Intelligencer, rebutting PA-8 representative Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick’s ideas about reforming healthcare.
With health care law repeal, many consumer protections would disappear
By Theresa BrownGold
Constituents familiar with my art and advocacy work often send me letters about health care they receive from our congressman, Mike Fitzpatrick. In some letters, the congressman mixes unhelpful talking points with his less well-known proposals. At times, the congressman even makes a strong case for Obamacare, albeit unwittingly.
The congressman says he wants to retain some of Obamacare’s consumer protections, such as keeping children on their parents’ policies until age 26 and providing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions (guaranteed issue). Who doesn’t? These goodies, however, need to be paid for.
We can expect heavy lobbying by insurance companies to send this notion of guaranteed issue without an individual mandate (everybody participates) straight to Mars. Based on our current for-profit model of delivering health insurance, insurance companies would not agree to insure all the sick people without the healthy. And if the congressman proposes giving private insurance companies extra money to cover sick people, we’d be promoting a system that encourages people not to get too well so they can keep their insurance.
By flirting with the notion of saving some of Obamacare’s consumer protections, the congressman should then list the consumer protections he’d discard by having the law repealed.
Here are just a few: no copays for preventive services, no dropping of coverage if you become ill (rescission), no more charging more for women, no more annual or lifetime caps on coverage and no more referrals for ob-gyn. Would our congressman get rid of accountable care organizations and medical homes that reward providers for outcomes, or the prescription drug benefit saving seniors billions (“closing the doughnut hole”)? How about transparency rules on the exchanges (easy to understand policies), telling the insurance companies they have to spend at least 80 cents of every dollar on actual care, requiring an outside agency to review exorbitant premium hikes, the SHOP exchange for small businesses, a limit to out-of-pocket expenses, essential health benefits (insurance policies can’t be too skimpy), subsidies to help lower-wage earners afford insurance and freedom from “job-lock” (stuck in a job for the insurance)?
And how would the congressman propose paying to repeal the Affordable Care Act? The Congressional Budget Office’s latest report says repealing the health care law would actually raise the deficit $109 billion over 10 years.
The congressman advocates selling insurance across state lines. This is an exceptionally bad idea. Insurance companies would set up in states with the fewest regulations and then be able to sell their skimpy policies to anyone in the country for cheap. Individual states’ insurance regulations and consumer protections would become null and void. He would, essentially, be nationalizing a new low standard for insurance coverage, squeezing states’ regulations out of the picture. Please note an insurance company can sell in any state now if it wishes to go through a state’s licensing process.
The congressman supports association health plans, where small businesses band together for greater purchasing power. What’s to stop businesses from doing that now? Chambers of commerce, guilds and associations have been offering insurance at group rates to their members for years. Furthermore, a business must shoulder the cost of joining that association before being allowed to purchase its group insurance. As far back as 2011, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported employer-based coverage has been dropping precipitously. That trend has not changed, even though group insurance through associations has long been available.
Obamacare, on the other hand, takes this idea of pooling purchasing power by establishing small-business exchanges called SHOP. Small businesses will be able to go to the online marketplaces and buy group policies with the purchasing power of large businesses. Small businesses have been paying about 18 percent more than larger businesses for group insurance. SHOP looks to remedy this disparity.
Congressman Fitzpatrick is an advocate for tort reform as a way to end the practice of expensive defensive medicine. Ten years after Texas passed tort reform, doctors are seeing their malpractice premiums drop, but more people are not able to buy insurance and get health care. The notion that tort reform will cause premiums to fall, thereby giving millions of uninsured folks access to health insurance, has been debunked by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2003, Texas held the top spot with 25 percent of its population uninsured. Ten years after tort reform, Texas still claims that dubious honor.
Theresa BrownGold, New Britain Township, is a portrait painter and uses her art to start dialogue around social issues. As a Pennsylvania Health Access Network certified trainer, she gives presentations about the Affordable Care Act.
(Scroll down to read the missing article.)
The Bucks County Courier Times recently printed a piece that examined Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick’s (PA-8) record on holding real town halls. Characterizing that record as dismal is kind. The article, “Fitzpatrick Meeting Strategy Muzzles Critics,” was critical of the congressman. The story was taken off the internet by the newspaper.
The alarming question lingers: Did Rep. Fitzpatrick or his staff pressure the local press to remove the uncomplimentary article about the congressman not having town halls? (The removed article is below.)
Delaware Valley PA/NJ NBC News also picked up the article before Calkins Media censored the story. (PA/NJ NBC News has also removed the Calkins article since the writing of this blogpost.) (Update, the article has also been removed from the NBC site.)
The Bucks County Courier Times piece garnered over 100 comments. Town halls or lack thereof have become a hot topic in PA’s 8th district.
The article was posted online, removed, reposted, removed again, and then just the accompanying video was put back up.
WHY did the press self-censor and remove the article? What happened from the time the piece was posted until the final removal?
The story was written by a respected and longtime journalist of the newspaper.
Many attempts by me and others to attend town halls appear to have been thwarted by a lack of information from the congressman about when town halls were actually happening. We felt our voices were muzzled by the congressman, and now further silenced by the press that killed the article criticizing the congressman on his town hall policy.
As one young person said to me, “Nothing disappears from the internet.”
The 8/19/2013 story has been retrieved (below). Please read, share widely and comment. How important are town halls?
8/22/2013 Postscript: The newspaper told me the story was pulled because of “inaccuracies.” What exactly are these inaccuracies and who brought them to the editors’ attention? Did Congressman Fitzpatrick or his staff have a hand in getting the article removed?
(Read article below)
My daily calls to Congressman Fitzpatrick’s office for the town hall schedule information for Art As Social Inquiry’s daily log, Tracking Town Halls: Do Unscripted Constituent Public Gatherings Matter? , is sometimes met with curt politeness.
“Nothing is scheduled as of right now,” I am often told. “As of right now,” implies that something could be scheduled 5 minutes, an hour, two hours from now. The staff technically fulfills their duty by giving me the “correct” information in the 60 seconds I am on the phone with them.
But any thinking person would connect the dots and ask, “Why is getting town hall information from the congressman’s staff so difficult?” It’s just information like any old movie listing,or the departure and arrival board at Philly International Airport.
Does the congressman not want us to know when town halls are? And what would be his reasons?
When asked about why we couldn’t know in advance about the August 3 “town hall,” where the congressman shared the stage with a representative from the group, No Labels, the staff told me they put the notice in the newspaper when they knew.
The town hall was scheduled at a college. Obviously the space was reserved in advance. Having helped organize events, I know all kinds of arrangements need to be made in advance — logistics with security, parking and other accommodations. Institutions work on schedules. A speaker from No Labels had to be booked.
For the congressman’s office to say that the August 3 event at a college was only confirmed when the notice went in the paper on August 2 really insults the intelligence of the average person to the point where one giggles at the silliness of the statement. We cannot run our lives that way, and who would believe that a congressman, a member of the United States Congress with schedulers in Bucks County and Washington D.C., would not know well in advance.
Some at the event even questioned why it was called a “town hall.” Here is an excerpt from the newspaper coverage:
Fitzpatrick said representing a “more challenging district makes me better representative. I have to listen and respect everyone’s opinion.”
That comment didn’t fly with everyone in the crowd of about 80 people. Robert Mason of Levittown said he became “very angry” listening to Fitzpatrick. He’s one of several people who have called on the Republican to hold town hall meetings on major topics, including health care, immigration, and Social Security and Medicare reform.
“We’ve been after him daily,” he said. “Today, in an hour and 20 minutes, (by his count) there were six questions from the audience and four from the moderator. That does not represent the main purpose of a town hall. It hardly gives the opposition an opportunity to vent their frustration. Why is (Fitzpatrick) so adverse to talking to constituents with different points of view?”
Clare Finkel showed a reporter a printout of a Fitzpatrick newsletter emailed Friday afternoon that didn’t mention Saturday’s event. “I don’t understand what he’s afraid of,” she said.
So what’s up with the Congressman’s reluctance to have town halls and to let people know about them IN ADVANCE?
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Theresa’s high school alma mater, Paul VI HS,featured her work in its alumni magazine, SOAR.