Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The President we’ve got

The words are practiced, polished, prevaricated, poll-tested, and practiced some more. He spews forth the concoctions of his army of wordsmiths, who’ve been tasked to be upbeat and visionary, heedless of truth, mindless of reality. Will there be any mention of the dead folks who’ve paid the price of our war-mongering foreign policy? Will he take this opportunity to ask the rest of us whether we’re better off now than we were in 2000?

I’m afraid I won’t know until I read it in tomorrow’s paper, because I lack the intestinal fortitude to listen to him ape the words—I’d prefer dueling Shopsmiths with dull blades shrieking, or a horde of Harleys racing round my living room, or an army of garbage disposals grinding through cutlery; I simply cannot make myself listen to the State of the Union address, now more than ever before.

I am not alone in this. Not even political junkie extraordinaire Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo can stand to listen to this President’s plagiaristic blathering.

I want a leader who’s also an orator, someone who can write, stringing his own thoughts into a coherent whole, and I think the absence of such leaders has everything to do with the sorts of “leadership” we’re presented with these days—if they can’t tell us what they’re thinking, how do we know they’re thinking anything at all? If they can’t rationally speak their minds, why would we believe that they’re capable of rational thought?

Why do we not expect our leaders to write their own speeches anymore? Why do we give them just as much credit for hiring out this all-important task of their leadership? Why don’t we consider the hiring of outside speechwriters to be the same sort of plagiarism as when a college student buys a term paper on-line?

How can I judge the reasoning and thinking ability of someone who never demonstrates to the world what they’re able to do, with their own mind, with their own intellect? I learn less by listening to him speechify on matters of grave substance than I would if he were reading from Green Eggs and Ham, and the latter would be more pleasurable.

Follow-up: Now it turns out that the “Leader of the Free World” was a tad confused, and didn’t really mean what he actually said, in spite of having spent copious amounts of time and effort on being told what to say and how to say it. According to his aides, we should not take his statements “literally” (ever?) which really makes me wonder why we ever bother listening. Conserve your breath, Mr. Bush, if your words have no meaning. There’s really no point in wasting our time, or yours.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hippocratic hypocrisy

I have learned that a relative I’ve never met, suffering a cerebral aneurism, was refused treatment in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California, and therefore was forced to pay (more than $13,000) for air transport to Oregon, in order to be treated by a neurosurgeon.

Was this man an indigent, or illegal immigrant, a criminal, or dying of other causes? No. In short, the man was a Medicare patient.

Admittedly, I have received this story third-hand, but from reliable sources (my aunt, via my mother; the patient is my aunt’s brother). The man was taken by ambulance to an Emergency Room in Yuma, Arizona, where his family was told that there were “no” neurosurgeons (in any of the states listed above) available to treat him, unless he could get to Portland, Oregon.

Once in Portland, many hours later, he was treated—two surgeries so far—and the family was told that both the delay and the air transport had worsened his condition, and probably caused the damage to his brainstem that also necessitated a tracheotomy, because he now lacks a gag reflex.

I later learned that not only does this man have Medicare coverage, but he also has a Medicare Supplement policy in force, but apparently the way that works is only to fill in for some of the patient deductible costs after Medicare approves and pays for treatment; it doesn’t increase a doctor’s reimbursement. It seems that since Medicare’s reimbursements are so low, all of the neurosurgeons in the Southwest United States have banded together to deny treatment to a man with a treatable condition, a man who played by the rules and, no doubt, believed that he possessed medical coverage, particularly for any catastrophic conditions.

What has happened to my country? Average folks work their entire lives, paying into the system for all their working years, only to receive less medical care than a dying whale in the River Thames.

No money, no air

If the news reports are true, medical personnel at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas yanked the respirator from a conscious and protesting 27-year old patient and stood idly by as she struggled for air for 16 minutes and finally suffocated to death, solely because she was unable to fork over the funds to keep it running. They gave her a 10-day notice to pay and then evicted her from the planet, bringing new meaning to the term “notice to quit.”

Meanwhile, others among us hark back to the Roaring 20s and are both willing and able to revel in $10,000,000 parties for a 13-year-old’s birthday. [This celebratory spectacle was put on by her doting defense contractor dad whose company produces body armor for our troops in Iraq, suggesting a grossly inflated price to US taxpayers, but that’s another story.]

Still others will fork over a million bucks for a fancy watch that doesn’t keep time as accurately as a $25 Timex.

Some will lavish their excess funds on yachts far larger than most homes, yachts that include both helicopters and gold-plated plumbing, and that require 16,000 gallons or more of gasoline on each fill-up, as marinas struggle to accommodate the size of these behemoths.

I guess we’re done with the notion of “Live simply, that others may simply live” but I wonder whether those who have won their race to the top ever realized how much effort it would take to expend their billions of dollars, or how empty they’d feel with each new purchase, forcing them to seek ever-costlier baubles and wonders, or cathedral-sized homes, rather than consider that they could use their good fortune to create something of real value while still having more than plenty left over for their own entertainment.

But I guess that wouldn’t work, because the whole point is not for one to be wealthy beyond measure, but rather wealthier than as many people as possible, and if one’s wealth doesn’t show, what good is it? If this means other people die for lack of a ventilator, or taxpayers (and troops) are bled for substandard body armor, or seniors once again face a diet of dogfood after their promised pensions are stolen, so be it. Life’s a lottery and they’re losers. The more losers there are, the bigger the winners can feel, and isn’t that the real point?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

“What can’t he do?”


“If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can’t he do?” - Al Gore, 1/16/2006

And that is the real crux of the matter.

The answer to Gore’s rhetorical question is, of course, that the President can presently do anything he wants to do. The checks and balances have failed, for numerous reasons, but the point is that they have failed.

We may begin to repair our broken system come next November, if we can muster an honest and true accounting of the vote outcome. But that too is a very questionable matter.

Presently it seems that our only real hope is for moderate Republicans to come to their senses and realize exactly what is being done to our country, and use what’s left of their Congressional power to put on the brakes, if it’s not already too late.

Friday, January 13, 2006

No light at tunnel’s end

I have been haunted by the Sago mine disaster since it happened, in spite of the fact that it is so grossly overshadowed by the ongoing Iraq disaster. What haunts me is my certainty that the Sago deaths were needless, and in fact, would likely not have played out as they did, in most other hazardous industries.

In the “hazmat” realm, ruled by OSHA, the most tightly regulated circumstance is that of “confined space entry” and there is no more confined space than an underground coal mine. Yet, none of OSHA’s “HAZWOPER” rules seems to be part of mine safety programs (regulated instead by MSHA), which is both troubling and puzzling. Most appallingly, there was no on-site rescue crew available to assist the miners in the event of an emergency, an egregious violation of OSHA’s confined space entry regulations. Apparently, where such regulations are needed the most, they are not in force.

Certainly, we have the technology to have provided emergency air for the miners, to allow their escape, but it was not made available to them. Certainly, we have the technology for the miners to have had a line of communication with those above-ground, but it was not made available to them. Certainly, we have instruments capable of identifying an explosive atmosphere, but they were not made available to the miners.

Just as certainly, the pathetic lack of lifesaving equipment—self-contained breathing apparatus, gas detectors, adequate communications—had nothing to do with an absence of technology, but everything to do with an unwillingness to spend money to prevent the deaths of the miners. The decision had already been made that their lives were not worth the cost of adequately equipping the mine for their safety, that in cold economic terms, it would be more fiscally prudent to risk their lives in order to squeeze a bit more profit out of the coal mine.

It is just such economic calculus that fostered the creation of OSHA in the first place, but why does OSHA apparently not have jurisdiction over the Sago mine? Or, if OSHA does have jurisdiction, how could it have gone so wrong? Mine-owners are not in the worker-protection industry; they are in business to make money. And this is why such regulations as OSHA’s are absolutely necessary for worker protection—because it will always be cheaper to cut corners and risk worker deaths or injuries, and employers will always and ever see such deaths and injuries as simply another “cost of doing business.” The Sago miners, and all miners, will always deserve better.

“Equipment” maintenance - a basic cost of doing business

Finally. Someone is going to make Wal-Mart pay the freight for healthcare for their workers, rather than continue to allow them to foist off those costs onto we taxpayers.

It is simply unfair, as I’ve said before, to force taxpayers to subsidize Wal-Mart’s business by providing tax-funded healthcare for their full-time workers. If Wal-Mart can’t afford to pay for healthcare for their workers, it obviously means that their business plan is flawed. But Wal-Mart should not expect NON-customers to subsidize their enterprise in order that they may outcompete those businesses that choose to treat their employees decently and provide them with access to healthcare.

Clearly, healthcare is as important as food and shelter to an employee’s well-being, and any full-time job should be required to provide for an employee’s basic needs. For a company to pay less can only mean that they expect others to pick up the tab, while the company reaps the benefits of the employee’s labor, and in a just world this would be illegal.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Fascism creeps in on little cat feet

Bush’s approval rating has climbed about 10 points in the past month--just who are these deluded people anyway? What part of Bush’s performance, precisely, is worthy of approval? It has always been a wonder to me that there is anyone at all left who supports the Bush Cabal, let alone the 46-48% approval reported this week in various polls.

But today I received a hint, while reading the January issue of Harpers Magazine. The Harper’s Index reports that of Russians today, a resounding 37% currently “approve of the direction their country took under Stalin,” equal to Bush’s November 2005 approval. Obviously, Americans hold no monopoly on delusion, but just as obviously, Russians aren’t the sole worshippers of fascism, either.

There is apparently great comfort to be found in fascism, something so compelling about turning over one’s destiny to a dictator that even Americans can be taken in by its welcoming arms. Bush, citing the supposed principle of “unitary executive” power, has said that he believes that his own adherance to the rule of law is optional, and that he has the right to ignore laws and treaties at will. In this he differs from a dictator only in his official job title.

Bread and circuses, iPods and reality-TV, celebrity gossip and Prozac, Blackberries and pornography: no need for Soma for these masses. And, Bush knows as Stalin did, that while one death is a tragedy, a million deaths are only a statistic. It only gets easier.