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Healthcare’s Integral Role In Functioning Democracy March 23, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Politics.
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7 comments

So much rhetoric and misinformation has come out of the healthcare debate that we are today a country deeply divided. But, though conservatives have used the passage of healthcare reform to argue that freedom in America is on the decline, I believe we have made incremental steps closer to true democracy and freedom today.

Conservatives say that the new law is a form of government socialism; but I fail to see how putting limits on insurance companies so that doctors and their patients have more control over care can be considered socialism.

The law that President Obama signed today is not a government takeover of healthcare. If this law could be considered socialized medicine, every single American would have free and equal access to healthcare, through a government agency that administered all facets of public health. This simply isn’t the case. The new law does not take responsibility of administering health away from the precious insurance companies; it simply sets limits on how irresponsibly those companies can treat consumers. Have no fear, conservatives: The United States is still the only industrialized nation in the world without universal healthcare for all. The patchwork system still lives.

People who argue against the right for healthcare also argue that those who lose their health insurance, or have never had it in the first place, are always responsible for their plight. They believe that people don’t get sick unless they bring it upon themselves… and that no one loses his or her job (and therefore, his or her employer-sponsored insurance) who doesn’t deserve to be unemployed. Coming from a state with nearly 13 percent unemployment, I believe this argument for “personal abdication of responsibility” is becoming more difficult for them to use.

Most interesting to me, however, is the assertion that the law is somehow undemocratic.

I would argue that the right to healthcare is a necessary component to functional democracy. How can individuals exercise their freedoms if they are denied access to care necessary to maintain and protect their health — the most basic and fundamental of resources?

How can individuals without access to needed care be active participants in democracy?

How are we truly a democracy when our citizens are denied equality?

How can we claim to the rest of the world that we hold life precious and are some kind of example of humanitarianism, when we scrutinize spending money on our citizens’ health so much more than we do our oversized military budget?

How did democracy come to mean that the rights of individual consumerism supercede wise collective decisions?

Lack of healthcare is the greatest of injustices. Our current system of arbitrary, profit-driven care denies the individual the full expression of self, and the ability to make use of any other granted right or privilege. What use is personal liberty if the foundation for it — life and health — is unattainable for so many?

In fact, if I may quote founding father Thomas Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence and a member of the body that wrote our Constitution: “If we’re going to have a successful democratic society, we have to have a well educated and healthy citizenry.”

Which dovetails nicely into my final point. As a society, there’s no doubt that we value access to quality education for all. But, like healthcare, the right to public education is glaringly absent from our Constitution. In fact, the United States’ law guaranteeing education for its citizenry wasn’t passed until two centuries after our Constitution went into effect. And, while this right is one we take for granted in 2010, it was heavily debated with as much rancor as the current healthcare debate has exhibited.

As a society, we need to place equal emphasis on nourishing our bodies as we do on nourishing our minds. And let us not forget, that as societies advance toward greater democracy, the rights of their citizens expand. Let that be our happy fate.

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Do The Right Thing: Healthcare Reform Must Pass March 16, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Politics.
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As Congress readies itself to vote on healthcare reform this week, it’s time to reiterate why this country needs reform — and yes, even the abandoned public option — NOW. And we can’t wait for the Republicans to get on board because they simply never will: They like the money they get from the insurance and pharmaceutical lobby too much.

Why now, why this? The current system, the status quo, does not work.

1. It doesn’t work, either for the 12-50 million “collateral damage” Americans the conservatives seem to believe are disposable — or for the 280 million people who already pay a fortune in personal insurance, or co-pays and deductibles, or out-of-pocket treatment, or COBRA. Americans are increasingly underinsured, trapped in their jobs because they have a “pre-existing condition”, or arbitrarily dumped or denied when they require expensive life-saving treatments. If you argue that our system works, you’d better hope that you don’t find yourself out of a job or in the all-too-common position that you require the mercy of an insurance board looking for reasons to deny coverage so it can save a few bucks.

2. If the argument that covers human compassion/basic morality/haves vs. have-nots/social responsibility doesn’t mean anything to conservatives, then yes, let’s talk economics. If the 45 million or so uninsured are suddenly insured and able to obtain regular medical treatment, how many jobs do you think such a massive shift might generate in the middle class? And… isn’t competition supposed to be a good thing in the free market? Doesn’t the classic argument follow the idea that competition keeps prices down, quality high, and innovation moving forward? And there’s the argument of economic value. The United States already pays by far the most money per capita in the industrial world for medicine, yet tens of millions are uninsured and we have the highest medical mortality rate in the first world. The return on investment in our current system is abysmal.

3. When profits and care are forced to compete, the consumer loses to the shareholder. For example, Anthem (Blue Cross) just had a $3 billion profit last quarter in California. But because of high unemployment, people are dropping expensive insurance plans, resulting in a smaller risk pool. Result: Anthem’s premiums are going up a minimum of 39%. Welcome to deflation everyone! Deflation is invariably linked to higher unemployment and lower wages, but it’s out of alignment for a company like Anthem which stockholders to please. It’s not a sustainable situation for Anthem, which will have to cut costs (i.e. deny healthcare services to its customers) to remain highly profitable.

The Right, which so recently entrusted our government into the hands of the inept, now suddenly is exhibiting an anti-governmental tick, resulting in an argument that all government (and its initiatives, such as healthcare) is evil, all taxation to pay for the common good (except for the military) is theft, and that all regulation (except that which protects Wall Street executives) is tyranny. Tea partiers don’t worry about loss of life or predatory healthcare corporations because they don’t care about practical effects, only ideological consistency.

But what these free market extremists don’t understand — or are paid by the corporate benefactors to ignore — is that we don’t need to give up individual liberties in order to allow the state to provide greater security in healthcare:

There is no reason why “the state should not assist individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance, where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks, the case for the state helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.”  — Friedrich von Hayek, Austrian economist whose work is often cited by the Right.

Do what needs to be done, Congress. The American people can’t afford to be cannibalized anymore by corporations pretending to provide them care. Pass healthcare reform!

Piracy And The Web: Plagiary is Alive and Well, Me Hearties! March 11, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Broadcast/Internet.
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Sometimes, there’s no flattery in imitation. Sometimes, imitation is simply laziness and unoriginality with a little chutzpah thrown in.

During my former career as a journalist, I knew another reporter who was caught plagiarizing. The reporter was promptly fired, and the media company’s attorneys steeled themselves against the lawsuits from the owner of the original copyrighted material, which, ultimately, never did come. It was a lesson right out of the media law books that every J-school student has studied in order to be in the profession.

Plagiary, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is defined as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; to use without crediting the source; or to commit literary theft.” Once important primarily to only professional writers and their attorneys, plagiary has become a muddied subject in the Internet age, as those untrained in media law, copyright infringement and intellectual property take to the Web and begin to blog.

I was reminded of this the other day when a tip led me to another blog where the writer had “borrowed” one of my posts wholesale, changed a couple of words, and passed it off as his own. He refused to pull down the verbiage in question, or simply attribute it to me. His argument: Everyone steals everyone else’s ideas, so everything’s game.

Perhaps nothing is new under the sun, but I am capable of creating a blog — or an article or a press release or a website or anything else that I regularly am called upon to write — by sitting down at my computer and writing it myself. Maybe it’s because I was trained in media law, or maybe it’s because I saw as a young adult what happened to that other journalist. Or maybe it’s just because I am capable of coming up with my own words and ideas, and don’t need to pass other people’s off as my own.

We’ll see what happens with my unrepentant plagiarist. But in the meantime, it’s worth remembering that — despite the argument that there’s nothing new under the sun — the theft of words and ideas is still unethical, usually illegal and can have legal ramifications. Simply because it’s on the Web doesn’t mean it’s fair game. In fact, the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 meaningfully extended the reach of copyright law to stop Internet pirates from doing what my plagiarist has done; and to punish those who are too lazy and unoriginal to come up with their own work.

If you’re interested in plagiarism and copyright law, here are a couple of sites and articles I recommend:

http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/

http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html

http://editing.suite101.com/article.cfm/plagiarism_and_copyright_infringement

http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf

Big Brother Comes to The Olympics, or “How NBC and The IOC Are In League To Deny You Live Coverage” February 23, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Broadcast/Internet.
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8 comments

UPDATE: See my thoughts about the London Games here.

And you thought the Cold War Olympics were over?

I wrote a few days ago about how NBC has ruined the Olympics for me. A few thousand page views and dozens of comments later, I’m seeing a larger picture.

And boy, is it disturbing.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) counts on American broadcast rights to help finance the games. NBC and its parent company, GE, paid the IOC a record $2.2 billion for exclusive rights for the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Games.

An integral part of the agreement: All International Olympic Internet feeds are blocked to those residing in the U.S.; and for those who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite television, even NBC’s Internet feeds are unavailable.

Which means, if you live in the U.S., you do not have legal access to free or live Olympic coverage from any source.In today’s technological age, this is an outrage.

Are you getting this? Does it sound a little like living in Iran or China? But instead of government censorship, it’s corporate for-profit totalitarianism. Think of the larger implications of this statement. Americans are being force fed news of this event from the perspective of one single news source, with no timely alternatives. Are you angry yet?

I understand the mutually beneficial relationship between NBC (advertising revenues resulting from exclusive broadcast rights) and the IOC, and can only hope that NBC will lose its broadcast rights by the time 2014 rolls around for its poor coverage. But that’s just wishful thinking — there’s no evidence to suggest that anything other than money talks to the IOC; and NBC has already expressed its intention to bid for the 2014 and 2016 Games.

The wall won’t fall on its own because, despite the almost universal disparagement of NBC’s coverage, the network has inexplicably logged the largest ratings of any Winter Games since 1994. But as mobile and wireless evolve quickly, there will be more and more fires for the IOC and NBC to put out to prevent us from finding ways to watch. At some point, those little fires will become a wildfire of public control that the IOC will be unable to extinguish.

Let’s hope it happens soon.

Feel free to contact the FCC: http://www.fcc.gov/contacts.html

Tiger Woods: More Stagecraft Than Sincerity February 19, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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2 comments

A few thoughts after watching today’s Tiger Woods “press conference”:

There’s no point in holding a press conference on marital infidelity to reveal no new information, refuse to take questions, or to call attention to his wife being nowhere in attendance.

All in all, a PR stunt gone wrong. And it’s not like anyone couldn’t see it coming. Who is the publicist who OK’d this unnecessary, public self-flagellation? All it accomplished was to:

  • Annoy reporters who, inexplicably, like to ask questions
  • Open the door for two of his former mistresses to have their own press conferences
  • Put Woods in the spotlight again for his personal life, which was probably not a good idea. Already the twitterscape is rife with new Tiger jokes.

What it did not do:

  • Improve his professional reputation
  • Give his supporters and sponsors any idea of when he would be back playing the game of golf
  • Convince anyone that he was sorry for anything more than just being caught.

Personally, I would have advised him not to have made a statement at all — after all, really no new information was introduced, other than his insistence that wife Elin did not, in fact, work him over with his own golf clubs, and that he made a mistake (read: conscious decision). Woods really didn’t need to cater to the public’s salacious need to see him further humbled over what is really a private matter.

Get a new publicist, Tiger. Then close your mouth, apologize to your family again, and get back in the game.

10 Reasons Why NBC Should Lose Its Olympic Broadcast Rights; Or “How I Learned To Hate The Coolest Sporting Event In The World” February 18, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Broadcast/Internet.
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44 comments

UPATE: A followup to this post can be read here… and another one on the London Games here.

NBC has really managed to make a mess of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — even more than usual. I love the Olympics and am saddened that NBC has made them so painfully unwatchable, even for me:

  1. The commercials are relentless. Coverage of actual sporting events are given slots of between 3 and 9 minutes at a time, however long it takes one or two athletes to compete. Then we go to 3.5 minutes of commercials. Time it: I did. Throw in time for the talking heads and shallow featurettes, and only 51 percent of every hour turns out to be actual Olympic footage.
  2. Which geniuses at the network decided there would be No Live Coverage? There is scarcely any Olympic coverage at all during the day. None of the coverage is actually live on the U.S. West Coast, which shares a time zone with Vancouver. For example, I watched the broadcast of women’s downhill skiing last night a full 11 hours after it actually happened. Not only did I already know the outcome (a result of having this thing called the Internet), but I also knew in advance who took a spill and who took the early lead and lost it. There’s no joy of as-it-happens sport, no excitement. Dull, dull, dull.
  3. My kids can’t watch the Olympics. NBC insists on showing the Olympics during prime time, delaying all coverage for multiple hours. When prime time starts at 8 p.m., my kids are in bed. It would be nice to inspire American children, teach them about sports, teamwork, excellence and the wider world — but NBC doesn’t make it easy.
  4. Forget my kids — I can’t stay up! I’d have loved to have seen Shaun White and Lindsay Vonn receive their gold medals last night, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open until almost midnight, when the award ceremonies were apparently broadcast.
  5. NBC has ADD. If NBC is going to package a whole day of Olympic coverage into a nightly 4-hour highlight reel, why is it so impossible to cover one event completely before launching into the next one? I’m talking about the constant skipping around: showing three skaters compete, then switching gears to snowboarding, then going back again, and maybe throwing a few interviews, soundtrack highlights and features in between. People, this is not live coverage. So why does it appear that NBC can’t find its editing room?
  6. Extreme American-centricity. Go Team USA. I get it. I feel it. But during the Olympics, I’d like to hear about people from around the globe, not only Americans. After all, isn’t the international coming together of the athletes and the ensuing drama the real thrill of the Olympics? You wouldn’t know it from watching NBC.
  7. NBC crushes on a select few athletes. Shaun White. Lindsey Jacobellis. Apolo Ohno. Johnny Weir. Yeah, they’re great. But the United States has 212 other outstanding athletes with great stories also competing in Vancouver, not to mention the thousands of other Olympians gathered in the Olympic Village in Vancouver. It got so bad early on that some friends and I conceived of a new drinking game: anytime the camera rested on Shaun or Lindsey, take a drink!
  8. Lame stories. Sure, I want to hear about the athletes and their stories. That’s part of the fun and it brings the human aspect to the Games. But a few nights ago I learned, courtesy of a quite detailed and long feature by Mary Carillo, more than I needed to know about polar bears and ecotourism in Manitoba. Now, Churchill, Manitoba is in the Hudson Bay area of Canada: more than 2,000 miles from Vancouver. One question: What did this have to do with the Olympics? Sadly, this is the kind of “storytelling” we’re seeing every night on NBC.
  9. The interviews are horrendous. Pedantic, stilted, amateurish. I can’t even watch.
  10. And: There are no viable alternatives! For a while, some friends were able to watch a live Bulgarian feed on the Internet, but apparently that no longer works. Exhaustive searches have revealed no other alternatives for Americans that I know of. Stuck with NBC. Wah-wah.

NBC isn’t the network that is bringing Americans the Olympics. It’s the network that’s preventing us from watching them —  from really participating in this two-week period of international goodwill and athletic exhibition that happens only every four years.

Now: Your turn. What’s your take?!

UPATE: Followups to this post can be read here and here.

PR At The Speed of Twitter February 16, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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How long does it take for your business to go from zero to crisis mode? The answer is: As long as it takes an unhappy someone with a significant social media presence to whip out his or her Blackberry.

What so many companies don’t seem to realize in this age of instant communications is that they need to react — immediately — when negative communications begin swirling around the blogosphere. As I noted last week, in the Google/Twitter/Facebook era of today, crisis communications response is measured in hours, if not minutes.

To demonstrate exactly what impact social media can have: On Saturday, Director Kevin Smith tweeted his 1.6 million followers within minutes of being thrown off a Southwest Airlines plane in Oakland, Calif., allegedly for being too overweight to fit comfortably in the seats. Whether his ejection was justified or not (Smith says it wasn’t), the incident was retweeted, blogged and then noted in mainstream media almost immediately, ultimately prompting Southwest to tweet and blog its own expressions of regret the next day.

In addition to how quickly companies must react to protect corporate reputation, what this story illustrates so well is that you can never know exactly when or how a threat to your company’s reputation will crop up. In this case, a customer relations gaffe — for certainly, whether Smith’s girth was against airline policy or not, his ejection from the plane wasn’t handled as well as it probably could have been — caused Southwest an unpleasant media uproar culminating with Smith relentlessly and quite publicly declaring to his millions of followers that he will never again fly Southwest. And it also nicely illustrates that it’s not enough to have a social media web presence; companies must effectively manage their social identity by sustaining a solid online reputation and addressing potential PR crises immediately.

When companies craft their crisis communications plans, they need to fully realize they have literally minutes to react to any threat to their carefully crafted brands. Be prepared!

The Google Buzz Backlash February 12, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Google Buzz has been a topic of excitement this week for anyone interested in watching the line between social media and e-mail communications blur. But in the past day or so, as the novelty has evolved into practicality, a serious privacy matter has come to the forefront.

It annoyed me, the first time I logged into my rarely used Gmail account this week, that I was told I automatically have Buzz followers. For one thing, I didn’t sign up for Buzz; for another, the Gmail account I have is used exclusively for my job-hunting activities, which means that automatically, the recruiters and hiring managers I’ve been in contact with over the past few months are, suddenly and without my permission, my Buzz “friends.” Not a big deal, I thought, since I don’t plan, for the moment, to use Buzz to post my status updates or keep in touch with friends.

Wrong. It turns out it is a very big deal.

On Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, users must sign up, create an account, and deliberately connect with others. I’ve not been the only one bothered by Google’s presumption that everyone I e-mail is a social networking friend, or that I even want to be linked to Buzz.

Many people have complained that they have too little control over who follows them and that its blocking controls are inadequate. Google’s auto-following and public listing can expose personal connections that some users would consider private; or as in my case, turn even the most casual e-mail contacts into Buzz “friends.” Most alarming is the concern that some have that even their addresses and contact information, courtesy of Google Earth and Google Maps, may now be available to anyone who has their e-mail address.

What does this mean for crime victims, journalists, government sources, whistleblowers, employees, attorneys? It’s not Big Brother that has your information now: EVERYONE has access to it.

Today, Google acknowledged the outcry over privacy complaints and made changes to the social networking tool. A Google spokesman naively said in a Google blog post that Buzz is still young and there are many improvements on the way.

Excuse me? Why on earth would Google prematurely throw the switch on Buzz when the tool actually poses a safety concern for some users in its current form? Having worked for Yahoo! once upon a time, I know Google has an army of attorneys that must have counseled its execs on liability and privacy matters. And common sense tells you that any program should be opt-in. Google: FAIL.

Facebook’s Communications: Fail February 10, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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8 comments

It’s amazing how Facebook has managed to become the heavyweight in social media, considering its patent disregard for its 400 million or so active users.

Facebook has established a well-earned reputation for not communicating with the public or its users. A simple blog post will be the only notification most users will get from the company when it makes major policy or user interface changes — which it does on a quarterly basis. The unchecked rumor mill is constantly churning with charges that the company will begin charging for its now-free service. Privacy scandals break out regularly over what information is being shared with advertisers, who owns content, or what user information is made public — and Facebook weighs in, it seems, as little as possible. In fact, when the media covers Facebook and its various scandals, the company has appeared fairly dismissive of its many critics.

Over the past week, Facebook rolled out major changes to its user interface, which many users have complained are counter-intuitive and difficult to use. On top of that, technical issues have plagued the service, resulting in delayed news feeds, disappearing posts and the like. The only acknowledgement Facebook has made in the ensuing firestorm of dissatisfaction was an hour ago, when it notified users that some bugs have been fixed and that the news feeds will gradually return to normal.

The user-interface changes doubtless were in anticipation of yesterday’s debut of Google Buzz. But With Google Buzz aching to go up against Facebook, it will be interesting to see how users react. Are they too invested in Facebook to make a meaningful change in their social media behaviors? Or will Facebook’s lack of commitment toward user satisfaction and acknowledgement of user feedback be its eventual undoing?

Impressive statistics released by Facebook this week in celebration of its sixth anniversary (timed nicely to combat Google Buzz) revealed one interestingly buried fact: On the whole, a notable percentage of Facebook’s users are less engaged with the site than they used to be. Could it be that Facebook’s poor public relations strategy has eroded its core, leaving it vulnerable for other social media leaders such as Google to scoop up its disenfranchised users?

Not only does Facebook have no core principle of what the site should be, but it has also demonstrated repeatedly that it doesn’t care what users think and can’t be bothered by their needs, desires or privacy concerns. Will I stop using it? I haven’t decided yet, but one thing’s for sure: Facebook had better be worried.

A Cautionary PR Tale February 8, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, took decades to build its platinum reputation. It took just two weeks to topple it, in what will go down in the history books as one of the biggest corporate PR debacles ever.

Clearly, Toyota’s handling and response to its sudden-acceleration and breaking-system woes should be a cautionary tale to crisis communicators everywhere.

The slow and inexorable drip, drip, drip of news, recalls and possible solutions has dried up business at Toyota car dealerships, created shortages for rental car agencies, worried and inconvenienced its customers and made the company the global butt of jokes even as its market value has severely plummeted. You know things have gone very wrong for Toyota when suddenly Detroit automakers are looking really good to consumers.

Companies need to realize that crisis is nearly inevitable and be prepared. Design fails, recalls happen, bad press will follow. But Toyota took the Tiger Woods route: Initially ignoring the growing scandal, avoiding public statements as the crisis grew, finally admitting parts of the problem but only after others had made their damning accusations, then — eventually — putting a recall and repair plan into place, albeit with mixed messages and too many unanswered questions.

Toyota is now throwing itself on its sword in mea culpa ads, and company executives are offering themselves up as whipping boys on national TV news magazines. But had the company addressed the problem head-on weeks ago, it would not have needed to atone so spectacularly.

A solid crisis communications plan, carried out competently and courageously — and most of all, immediately — could have saved Toyota. Think Tylenol or David Letterman. In the Google/Twitter/Facebook era of today, crisis execution is measured in hours, if not minutes. That it took weeks for Toyota to formulate a plan speaks to its internal problems and lack of accountability. Its deplorable response will almost certainly translate into heightened paranoia about its end product by consumers.

Toyota finally seems to be finding its course and communicating with the public, although the recalls continue. The question now becomes whether the company will be able to repair its tattered reputation enough to find its way back near the top of the heap; and if so, how long it will take.

All for the lack of a crisis communications plan.

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