Monday, August 31, 2009

#151 The Life and Death and After-Life of a Taliban Wife

Let's take a closer look at the assassination (death-by-droning) of Baitullah Mehsud a few weeks past in Pakistan, and a couple of posts ago. For a moral dilemma. One for the nations to ponder, as the bloodstain soaks wider and deeper into the Middle East.

After further research, and pieced together from scattered and constricted news-reports, here's what happened last Aug. 6th: It all starts off in the Nevada desert, where some Air Force guy is playing computer games with his drone-missiles thousands of miles away. He's aiming one of these at a "modest farmhouse" in or near the village of Zanghara, located in the "tribal badlands" straddling the Afghan/Pakistan border.

As recorded on "drone-cam," and according to later reports, the aim is true: the flying robot hits Mehsud on the roof of his father-in-law's home. Dad might have reconsidered his dinner-invitation to the Taliban commander, had he known his daughter would blow up along with him. The drone-missile commits further "collateral damage" on two brothers, several bodyguards, and maybe on Mehsud's physician, who could be there attending to his long-time kidney and/or diabetes patient.

You see, Mehsud's "second wife" (which I suppose could mean either non-first-wife or harem-rank) is giving him a drip! That is, the poor, soon-to-be-widowed woman is administering some sort of intravenous procedure--talk about being "un-armed"--to her soon-to-be-widowered husband. The wife is officially un-named, of course, and technically, according to Islamic dogma, non-martyr material. After all, What's she gonna do with 72 virgins? Don't answer that.

Zoom ... boom. Mehsud became a bonafide martyr for the cause, and has probably become more valuable dead than than alive. Great recruiting tool. So too for the brothers and the bodyguards. Not so for wife #2. Like all other women in the Islamic world she's expendable ... at best a mere appendage of the husband in this case. NOT a great recruiting tool. For 100% of Islamic believers, Baitullah Mehsud has gone directly to Paradise, bypassing the divine judicial process and possible punishment/purgatory, and has already begun to enjoy the rewards of his martyrdom. As for Mrs. Mehsud ... not. How they talk female suicide-bombers into it, I'll never understand. (more)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

#150 The Raleigh Rally on Health-Care Reform and the "Grosse Luge"

Need to file a report on yesterday's event in my adopted hometown-downtown, and to comment on the persistence of the Big Lie. Again (see DM #133), on opposite sides of the street, and on the issue, stood a little more than 1000 in favor of reform, against a little fewer than 3o0 not. While we can't put scientific stock in these numbers, it so happens that they represent the national figures. Makes me proud, I guess. Despite the overheated controversy of the last several months, the polls hold. About 70% of the American electorate is still in favor of a substantive revision of our health-care system.

The local newscast spotlighted a retired couple on the pro-reform side, and a middle-aged mother on the other. They interlocked nicely, for my purposes. The elderly couple had their government Medicare in full, and were well-off enough to pay the high price of private supplements to fill in the problematic gaps. In other words: health-care secure. For them, no need for reform. However: "I'm worried about my grandchildren," said the wife. "They won't be able to afford proper insurance in 10 0r 15 years, the way things are going."

Maybe the reporter planned it this way, but the other woman, on the other side of the street, had a perfectly opposite view, within the very same context:

We don't need the government doing any more with health care. Medicare is fine ... We are the cheapest country on insurance, the cheapest country. People should be able to afford it. When we had no money as a family, we put that first. We had insurance.

Empirically impossible, not to mention the logical contradiction. What's more: Can she possibly be unaware that the U.S. has the most expensive system in the world? That we spend 50% more, and get 50% less health care than any other civilized nation on earth? Makes you wonder what planet she's really from, or--if indeed terrestrial--wonder that she might really be "a dining-room table." That's how Rep. Barney Frank characterized a protester in his Town Hall meeting recently, her questions being so outlandish as to be unworthy of debate. To be fair, his protester went a bit beyond ours. "Why do you continue to support these Nazi programs of President Obama?" she repeated over and over. This moots the possibility of rational discussion for most anybody, so Can you blame a fortiori the Jewish and very gay Mr. Frank (very special people for Hitler and pals) for going rather over the edge?

And speaking of Hitler--as if you couldn't see this coming--he's the originator of the Big Lie (G. Grosse Luge) strategy in most infamous terms, in modern times. (Plato's "noble lie" in the Republic spawned a lot of these, unfortunately.) It's a lie so outrageous that one couldn't believe it to be a lie. Hitler says in Mein Kampf (1925) that the public would think that nobody would be that grossly "impudent" as to make up such a thing. He was. And he went from one Big Lie to another in his distinguished career.

For Obama, I think the the Big Lie surrounding health-care reform (and earlier, economic stimulus), and supervenient upon all the other lies, myths, conspiracy-theories, etc. is the threat of COMMUNISM--that old bugaboo, currently re-buzz-worded as SOCIALISM, attached to progressive social action since FDR. Truman's fitful health-care initiative (and civil-rights) couldn't stand up to it. Neither could LBJ's. The Clintons' reform package crashed more quickly than expected, even by the chief purveyors of the Big Lie of "socialized medicine." Some of the hate for Obama and his regime surely involves racial and religious bigotry, along with mindless partisanship. But also deep down for some people, Obamacare is really Commie-care. Recall the lady protesting, "This is like Russia!" mentioned in an earlier post. And we have the misguided protester above who'll allow government control for one program--"Medicare is fine"--but disallow the presumably way-too-socialized Public Option, which is to be modeled on Medicare! (see DM #141 for more)

Who's responsible for the Big Lie here? Nobody in particular, because commie-phobia in this country has a history so long and deep that it's an easy thing to tap into when someone's up to no good. But does not "Big Lie" roll rather trippingly off the tongue with "Big-Med"?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

#149 THE WAR and Your Friendly Neighborhood Dope Dealer

They connect on a literal level, of course: Afghanistan provides 90% of the poppy-derived opium distributed to grateful nations around the world. The Emerald City that Dorothy spied in the distance across that poppy-blossom landscape, which put the pilgrims in such a pleasant slumber, was no doubt Kabul. And recently the U.S. has finally bowed to reality and abandoned its efforts to shut down their ancient opium trade. What other crop but poppy could give the Afghan farmer such a rate of return . The Taliban know that, and reversed their anti-poppy policy some time ago. You can't win the minds and hearts of country by shutting down its #1 industry. Why, that would be as ridiculous as trying to stop North Carolina farmers from growing the state's #1 cash-crop: marijuana. Oh, wait ...

The "War on Drugs" (a term now officially excised from the lexicon of our new political leadership) in this country has been about as effective as its counterpart in Afghanistan. That is: totally not. But I really want to use this kind of FAILURE, due primarily to a deluded view of reality (I'll leave to a later post the case for drug-legalization) as an analogy for our miserable military failures already in the Middle East, and for our inevitable defeat by the "insurgents" and assorted militant types in Afghan/Pakistan and Vietnam. (Sorry, you're free to cross-out that last one.) THEY JUST NEVER GIVE UP. For illustration, let's look in a minute at an ostensibly upbeat news report from "the front" which purports to signal some progress in our "War on Terror" over there (another term on the politically-incorrect list). When really it turns out to be exactly the opposite.

But first, aren't you often amused as I am by the self-aggrandizing bloviations of law enforcement officials when they make a drug bust? AS IF it were going to make any difference at all. "Yep," says the Sheriff, "this time we done broke the back of drug traffic in our county. Seized almost 12 pounds of stuff worth 12 billion dollars on the street. Put the Kingpin of the operation under the jail. Y'all can sleep easy." Or some such. Do you know what they call the "arrest of a Kingpin" in the underworld of drug-trafficking? I don't either, so I'll make one up: it's called a PROMOTION. There's always somebody ready to take his place. The money is just too good ... because we make it so.

Likewise, "we make it so" for the insurgents in the Middle East. For, as long as our forces are THERE, providing the incentive, their ranks will never be depleted. Somebody will always step up and take over from a fallen "Kingpin." The power is just too good. The fallen militant-leader in question is the late Baitullah Mehsud, confirmed killed earlier this month in a drone-missile strike on a Taliban stronghold (actually, eating dinner at his father-in-law's house) in Whothehellcares Pakistan. Via the Associated Press (8/25) we are told in bloated terms, with no attribution, that "Mehmud's death is a victory for the U.S. and Pakistan"-- ain't-no-I-reckon-about-it. And further:

Pakistan considered Baitullah Mehmud its main internal threat, and his death was a significant blow to the militancy ... He and his NETWORK were suspected in dozens of suicide attacks, including the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

His death was also a boost for U.S. efforts to take out militants in Pakistan's wild northwest, where al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden are suspected to be hiding out, and where Taliban from both sides of the border are believed to have plotted attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

The very first "dead" giveaway that all of this is an aromatic load of bullshit is the PHOTO attached to the news story, and reproduced upper right. No, it's NOT the dead guy. It's his very photogenic successor, Hakimullah Mehsud (no "relation" indicated)--a tacit admission that the new guy is already a star, in a tabloid sort of way. "The Kingpin is dead; long live the Kingpin"--if you will. Next, notice that the very propaganda statement itself is riddled with unconscious "tells." The first paragraph starts with one man, but ends with a "network." And this network has obviously operated all over the place, for many years, and with great effectiveness. One dead guy at the top is going to make difference?

The answer to that is conceded in direct contradictions throughout the report. We're suspicious already when we are told that earlier reports after Baitullah's presumed death had his would-be successors "locked in a bitter power struggle" and that the top two contenders, Hakimullah and Waliur Rehman--get this--"had been killed in a shootout during a meeting to choose an heir." Not so. On Tuesday they were on the phone together with the AP and others in a very "cosmopolitan" conference-call, outlining politely their plans for the future. In cozy, chat-room style, "They handed the telephone back and forth to each other at an undisclosed location."

A former Pakistani security-chief, Mahmood Shah, dismissed all of this as "a public relations exercise to satisfy themselves." Well, that's a telling point, isn't it. These folk are so well-organized that they've got their own P.R. Department! The report also speculated that there was "infighting" among the job-seekers. So what? This can only indicate that there is a sufficiency of candidates to take over the position.

And finally, despite all the report's futile disclaimers, the best man got the job. Mahmood the ex-security-chief gets it right after all. The news-report ends with his last words, unwittingly confirming all of the above, and thus completely undermining the propaganda value of the piece:

Shah said Hakimulla's rise might lead to EVEN MORE TERRORIST ATTACKS as he attempts to prove himself. But he added that the young chief's lack of experience RUNNING LARGE ORGANIZATIONS could make it hard to maintain order. "He is a very TRIGGER-HAPPY individual," Shah said. "I think he will show no restraint." [emphases mine]

Perfect. If he shows restraint, get rid of him. There are other gunslingers waiting in the wings who can out-un-restrain themselves with the best of them. How about this: Let's get the hell outta Dodge.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

#148 Back to the Middle East and "Mystery"

What's not to like about a good mystery? Will Sherlock Holmes decipher "The Sign of 4," or Hercule Poirot solve the "Murder on the Orient Express"? Will the CERN particle-accelerator uncover the Higgs boson and the secret of what banged the Big Bang? Great fun. How about a mystery NOT to like:

In the intelligence [?] business, we always used to categorize information in two ways, secrets and MYSTERIES ... mysteries were those where there were too many variables to predict. And I think that how long U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan is in that area. [AP 8/14]

That was Robert Gates, our Secretary of War. Sorry, "Defense"--but we might as well use the older title. Correct me, but does he not say that the war in which we're involved is--by way of an old conundrum--intelligence wrapped in a secret wrapped in a great big mystery? Res ipsa loquitor. Or as an old saying goes: No Shit, Sherlock.

The statement is not only self-contradictory: the secrets must have already been uncovered and the mysteries already been solved, or we wouldn't have troops there. Moreover, it also clearly contradicts a statement earlier in the press conference where there seemed to be no mystery at all. Any uncertainty expressed in the following?--

Defeating the Taliban and al-Quida will take a few years ... with success on a larger scale in the desperately poor country a much longer proposition.

I love it. What about OUR poor country. The Middle-East Wars have cost about a TRILLION dollars now, and, according to a recent WashPost article, the cost of our prolonged presence in Afghan/Pakistan will ultimately exceed what we've spent in Iraq. And here we are in the Great Recession, ready to bankrupt half the Middle East along with us. "Desperately poor" indeed. And who's responsible for that?

In an earlier post, I quoted a poor deluded woman protesting health-care reform at a Town Hall meeting: "This is like RUSSIA!" Of course it was more about anti-Obama and the Democrats than health care, and of course she's a raving lunatic who's got everything wrong. Except for one thing, unwittingly. We ARE Russia in Afghanistan.

At the expense of untold billions of dollars and millions of lives, THEY couldn't achieve "larger success"--as Sec. Gates put it-- and neither can we. No mystery.

Monday, August 17, 2009

#147 Health-Care Reform and the Zeitgeist

The time is now. It's been 70 years now for Social Security, 40 years for Medicare (and not so coincidentally the Civil Rights Act), and almost 20 years since the Clintons floated their universal health care plan. But sunk in Congress, alas. I can see some still-living Congressfolk who voted against it having few qualms about boasting to their grandchildren,"We put a stop to socialized medicine!" But can those in Congress today claim the same bragging rights later if some form of health-care-for-all fails to pass now? Not. "Grandchild, I helped keep Big-Med in the money!" No more so than some nonagenarian ex-legislator would brag about voting against the Civil Rights Act. (Wait: forgot about my old senator, Strom Thurmond, who was personally able to vote against every incarnation of civil-rights legislation over his 150 years in Congress. His only "apology" for all that was to father a child with a black woman during his segregationist days!--only posthumously revealed.)

No excuse to drop the ball on health care this time. The Zeitgeist has moved on, and obstructionist Congresspeople must take warning of being on the wrong side of history, not to mention the better angels of our nature. The originally Hegelian idea of the "time-ghost" or Spirit of the Age (zeit is cognate with our "tide"= time) is a useful concept, without buying into the rest of that philosopher's barmy notions. It's a kind of "collective intelligence" or wisdom of the times, relating to moral, social and political issues. Moreover, the concept has taken on an almost palpable existence with the advent of cyberspace. A clear indicator of Zeitgeist, I believe, is SATIRE--whatever is being lampooned and pilloried--to popular acclaim--just ain't in the mainstream consensus. (See my other blog for "musings" on Stewart and Colbert, for example.) And it seems to me that the Bush/Cheney days of War and Waste and Greed--indeed the last decade or two of money-happy, selfish America ... are long past. We're on the cusp of a renewed spirit of moral and social responsibility in this country, I believe.

In other words, mainstream America is ready for health-care reform--70% say so. Half of those want Public Option, and the other half as well, really, but don't know it (remember once again the deluded cracker from S.C.--"Keep your gov't hands off my Medicare"), because they are distracted by the voodoo scare tactics of the far-right and the machinations of Big-Med. This is why it's so very important for our elected representatives--some of whom, I'll admit, have already been bought-off--to rise above the fray and make enlightened choices and unselfish votes. To get in tune with the Zeitgeist, and on the right side of history. To do the right thing.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

#146 Health-Care Reform and Jesus

Well ... turns out HE showed up too, later in the week (see last post), at a "Tea Party" event in San Francisco--again by proxy. There, the wing-nut tea-baggers were anti-Obama everything, health-care reform foremost; the Christian god was a face in the crowd, or rather a picket-sign, which asked the question: "Who would Jesus insure?" An insidiously clever question, considering all the well-kept "Americans for Prosperity " folk ranging about. Yet these 99% conservative Republicans should've known the answer immediately, since you can bet that 99% of them were conservative Christians too. Irresistibly for these Church-bred, Sunday-school-literate types, the placard would doubtless invoke the doubtless unspoken, guilt-ridden answer: "the least of my brethren."

Obama himself quoted this passage from Matthew 25 during last year's campaign at the infamous Saddleback Church affair. He emphasized the positive side of Jesus's words in response to a question about public health care, to which, at the time, he was fully committed. And the future President's context was perfect for the occasion, though he didn't quote further. If he did, he could have pointed out that Jesus was pointedly concerned about the poor and the sick. Those who gave them succor would sit on the right-hand side of the Son of Man on Judgment Day and "inherit the kingdom."

But then it gets ugly. Earlier, in this protracted sermon, coming right after evicting the money changers from the Temple, Jesus had already condemned various grafters and greedy folk to an "outer darkness" where there shall be much "weeping and gnashing of teeth." Then, appropriately, in the self-assumed persona of the Son of Man, he awards the Kingdom to the right-hand-sider, righteous humanitarians in the celestial docket: those who clothe the naked, feed the hungry, help the sick. (Notice: all secular virtues.) But eternal woe betide those who don't:

Then shall he say also to them on his left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels ...

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. [Matt. 25:41, 44-45]

I hope this scenario reminds you of our self-appointed prophet Mr. Craig Anthony Miller from last post. At that Lebanon PA "Town Hall" meeting he took on the role of Son of Man and assigned "deserts" on Judgment Day to health-care reformers like Sen. Specter and his "damned cronies on the Hill"--exactly those to whom Jesus would grant eternal reward. After all, the primary impetus for reform was to provide medical aid for the poor and sick, "the least" among us. If the despicable Miller wants to use the Bible as a club ... he ought to read it first.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

#145 Health-Care Reform and God

Yes, the Deity made an appearance at the Pennsylvania Town Hall meeting this week--at least by proxy. A very clever move by President Obama. The strategy all along, you see, behind these Democratically-sponsored events is to foment as much stupidity as possible on the part of his wing-nut opponents. Rant, double-talk, booing and shoving, a knife and a hand gun or two (really)--all welcome. It couldn't go more according to plan than for one protester to invoke the very judgment of God upon the Obamanites. What better way to expose the opposition for what they are than to let them be hoist by their own petard?

I'll refer you first of all, for one last time, to that epitome of ignorant discourse: the elder South Carolinian who wanted no government interference in his Medicare. But in Senator Specter's Lebanon PA Town Hall meeting it all seemed to come together. Specter did his best to overcome shouts of "This is the Soviet Union" ... "Maoist China" ... "You're dismantling our country" ... "Killing people." When he could answer questions, he wasn't listened to: "I was so emotional, I really didn't listen to his answer," admitted one lady, associated with the venal "Americans for Prosperity." They of the bloody-hand placards. The answers were just too easy, and not what the rowdy Republicans wanted to hear. That is: the Public Option wouldn't fundamentally change our current health-care system but for one crucial thing--every American would be covered.

But for the loud-mouthed, PAC-and-lobbyist-sponsored protesters, Health Care really wasn't the issue. It was purely political: an out-of-power minority of racial and religious bigots (read: Republicans) against Obama and the Democrats. "Americans For Prosperity," indeed. Amy McAfee, a spokesperson for that group, admitted as much after the meeting: "The real issue is the the expansion of government favored by President Obama." Another was even more forthright: "This isn't just about health care; it's about political power and a means to regain that power." (Emphasis mine.)

The highlight of the evening, though, was the Old Testament prophet Craig Anthony Miller, standing an in-your-face, two-feet-away from the Senator:

You're trampling on my Constitution. One of these days God is going to stand before you, and he's going to judge you and the rest of of your damned cronies on the Hill, and then you can get your just deserts.

I rather like his muddled theogony--God standing before the Senator--but his point is clear. The majority of the Hill is bound for Hell by the vengeful wrath of Yahweh (assuming that's his god), since Mr. Miller and the Republicans lack the divine wherewithal to do it themselves.

Would the viewing public, by and large, want to identify with these hate-filled idiots? Despite Bill Maher's piece about a smart Obama versus an un-smart America ... I think not. Obama's devilishly clever plan just might work. For although we seem to be divided on what kind of bill should pass Congress, over two-thirds of the electorate--the good-hearted and right-minded among us--believe that healthcare reform is necessary, according to the polls. There may be real hope of becoming a civilized nation, after all. I'm keeping my morning Danish warm.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

#144 Health-Care Reform and "Social Security"

And I mean that in the broadest sense. But let's first go back to that poor deluded South Carolinian who shouted with perfect naivete'--"Keep your government hands off MY Medicare!" (At one of these ever more contentious Town Hall meetings) His feelings of contentment, complacency, and security about his health-care situation totally negated his ultra-right-wing proclivities. He took for granted the predictable efficiency of this 45-year-old, single-payer public program, caring little whence it came.

Three years ago he may have been one of those around the country shouting--"Hands off my Social Security!" But no, wrong target. Those protests were directed against Bush/Cheney and the Congressional Neo-Cons who were threatening to privatize Social Security. Bad mistake, they admitted after-the-fact. Among voters, that perceived danger to this 70-year-old, single-payer public program--along with The War, which was of more concern in those days than now, alas--helped bring about the Great Republican Downfall of 2006. They lost control of Congress and a lot of other things, inevitably including the White House three years later.

As a result, no politician with any sense of self-preservation at all will dare propose any sort of meddling with these two venerable institutions ever, ever again--in our lifetimes anyway. Yet in their time there was considerable opposition to both. Coming out of FDR's "New Deal," Social Security was declared "welfare-statism" (aka communism). And coming out of LBJ's "Great Society," Medicare was declared "socialized medicine"--as is the Public Option today by retro-wing-nuts.

I wish I'd said, "We're all born with a pre-existing condition: mortality," but Hendrik Hertzberg already did in the Aug. 3rd NewYorker. Great line--ironically excoriating the insurance industry's favorite scam. However, We the people of the United States, good tax-payers all, have established two time-tested single-payer ways, so far, of ameliorating the effects of human mortality. Social Security covers old age, and Medicare covers, um ... old age. Wait a minute. Isn't that discriminatory "age-ism"? I wish I were younger--I'd protest.

Monday, August 10, 2009

#143 Health-Care Reform and "Health"

For some reason this ancient pagan (no, not me) seemed inordinately concerned about the health of his fellow human beings:

A wise man or woman should consider that Health is the greatest of human blessings, and by their own Reason derive benefit from their illnesses. (Hippocrates, "Regimen of Health" 400 BC)

On the other hand, the wise Hannah Green--of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977) fame--got it right, too, with "Health is not simply the absence of sickness."

The United States is an unhealthy country by any measure. Even in the "absence of sickness," millions upon millions of Americans, me included, are haunted by the FEAR of un-health and how they're going pay for it. That's mental illness enough for any mortal man or woman. A "pre-existing condition," if you will, for a "healthy" majority of this country.

First of all, the USA is literally sicker than 36 other countries around the the world in terms of statistical "medical outcomes." According to that WHO report mentioned earlier (DM #14o), our health-care system ranks below the likes of Colombia and Portugal, who spend far less on health care than we do. Even our unborn are unhealthy: we rank 44th in infant mortality. A disgrace.

But we are also sick at heart. For multitudes of Americans, if it isn't illness and death, it's bankruptcy. Here's a statistic from Health Care for America Now (.org) that should strike fear in the staunchest free-marketer: One of us goes bankrupt every 30 seconds in this country due to medical expenses, and 75% of them have insurance! Here are some of our fellow-citizens who live in unhealthy fear and trembling every day:

  • 47 million are uninsured;
  • 41% of Americans with incomes of $20,000 to $40,000 have had only intermittent health coverage since 2001;
  • 53% with incomes under $20,000 lack health insurance.
  • And woe unto those millions who punch the clock--they simply can't afford it. The average health-insurance premiums for a family of four come to over $13,000, which exceeds the annual gross-income of a full-time, minimum-wage worker, and out of reach for most who earn more.

Hippocrates also famously said that the physician's first duty to his patient is to "Do no harm." We're guilty in this country of doing harm even before a patient reaches patient-hood. Not to mention then ... and long after.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

#142 Health-Care Reform, the Post Office, and Me

The Blogman must take umbrage--nay, extreme umbrage--at the aspersions cast upon our U.S. Postal Service by GOPers, Blue Doggers, Tea-Baggers, and other rump-fed runnions* bent on denying Americans proper health care. Aroint thee, fat-rump baggage--health care is one thing, but "hands-off" MY U.S. mail bag. That would be my picket sign. For I was a "mail-bagger" once. During one Christmas season long, long ago.

And it was by far the hardest and honestest job I ever had. And the biggest hourly-rate of pay, up to that time. It was Christmas break from my 1962-63 sophomore year at Kalamazoo College. Having taken the civil-service exam in the fall, I became an auxiliary mail-carrier assigned to several routes in our Chicago suburb of Lombard for the three-week rush and volume, mailwise, in and around the big Dec. 25th holiday. And we were true mail-CARRIERS back then--big leather pouch and all--none of those cute little putt-putt Good Humor vans in those days (only for parcel-post). Delivering overflow cards and letters, us temps trudged our appointed rounds faithfully, despite the drifting snow (neither rain nor sleet ...), and got the mail through. It really was a White Christmas the whole time--not unusual for the "lake-effect" Chicago area. Satisfying work, and nobody "went postal"... as far as I know.

So I take these indirect slurs on our postal service personally. Gimme just 5 minutes with John Boehner, please. (*Shakespeare's runnion is a "boner"= male-member, by the way.) The Senate Minority Leader and his minions have slandered the good name of our USPS by way of false analogy and invidious comparison. Asks Boehner: "Would you want our health-care system run by the Post Office, or the DMV?"--thinking it a rhetorical question. As to the former ... hell yes, and I'll get to that in a minute. (Notice though , as mentioned in last post, these folk don't dare point to the V.A., where we have an actual government-run, indeed "socialized," health-care program at work, and working.) As for the DMV whipping-boy, they know this is dishonest ... a TV sit-com cliche'. DMV's are state-run, not federal. Some states are efficient, some not. Inevitably, though, it works--you will always walk out with a license plate, or get a renewal sticker in--you guessed it--THE MAIL.

It's self-defeating, I hope, for those rump-fed, graft-bloated politicians (DM #133) to compare the workings of our postal service to what might happen in a government-run health-care program--e.g. the Public Option. For most thinking people unthinkingly take for granted that their cards and letters are going to get where they send them. Some of us may experience inconvenient clogs at holiday-times, like Christmas, but otherwise, generations of Americans have counted on the non-profit institution as a model of inexpensive efficiency. Put a 37-cent U.S. stamp on your birthday card to Grandma, slip it in the mailbox, and it arrives at her house the very next day. Two days at the most, anywhere in the country. If she lives in Hong Kong, plan on 6-10 days for only 98 cents (I looked it up). Still ... a marvel. And I don't even have to mention the wonderful world of Netflix.

Our government gets a goodly number of good things right, and everything doesn't have make a profit to be good. A very few things are too important to be left to the vagaries of private enterprise. Health care is one of them.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

#141 Health-Care Reform and Communist Threat to America

Yes, to use an old McCarthyite term, we're all "comsymps" when it comes to health care, whether we know it or not. I'm indebted to Bill Maher for picking up on this revealing quote from one of those tea-bagging "bloody hand" protesters (last post) at another "Town Hall" affair in South Carolina: "Keep yer damn gub'ment hands off my Medicare!" I love it. It was in a transcribed (from HBO's Real Time) Huffpost piece about how stupid Americans can be. Agree or not, there's no question at all that the anti-Public-Option (really just anti-Obama for whatever) people are ignorant of, or are covering up the real facts about the extent of government involvement in health care already. And though we may know not ... we love it.

First, indirectly:

And when considering costs of health care, remember the U.S. taxpayer already pays for more than 60% of the American health care bill. this because businesses are allowed to deduct the cost of health care for employees as a business expense, thus reducing taxes on businesses. This puts a greater burden on individual taxpayers as well as paying for government supported health care such as Medicare and the Veterans Administration health programs. [Sierra Club lawyer G.T. Saperstein, Alternet 8/5]

And directly: the V.A. programs mentioned above are, instructively, the ONLY truly socialized health care programs that are in operation now, or, in my opinion, will ever be in future. They do actually employ the medical personnel and provide the hospitals, like no other programs now, to repeat, or envisioned. So much for pure Mao. We do it so well, however. You never hear, as far as I know, of any Republican or Blue Dog congressman objecting to this veritable hotbed of communism operating right under our noses.

Otherwise, while we don't have the Danish cradle-to-grave "welfare state" of my smiling tour-guide friend (DM #139), our federal and state governments do provide direct health-care assistance in the form of Medicare and Medicaid to the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and children of the poor. Radical Marxism for sure. Problem: you have to be very old, very young, or very, very poor to get it. Solution: if not Single-Payer (my choice), then Public Option.

For, ironically, THAT'S what Bill Maher's ignorant good ol' boy from South Carolina (my home state for 30 years) really wants: the Public Option, even as he rails against it. Somehow for him this wonderful thing called Medicare came solely from the wonderful workings of free-market America, unsullied by the machinations of Uncle Sam. "Hands-off, you commies!" Listen, this guy has had a taste of Medicare, like me (DM #119). In spite of his deluded anti-Obama self, he knows it works just fine ... almost. Costs are too high--blame Big-Med--so there are certain gaps and some co-payments ($150 on a $1500 bill, for me) that ultimately must be fixed/eliminated, in order to make it a perfect system. But it's still a pretty good model of what public health care should be like. You flash your national insurance card ... you get treated. No questions asked. Not even about your politics.

Friday, August 7, 2009

#140 Health-Care Reform and Apartheid

Let's again be clear about this shameful reality: the USA represents the ONLY industrialized country in the civilized world that does not guarantee health care for ALL its citizens. Whether or not in the top twenty of those "Happiest Nations" of last post (USA, not), each and every so-called "First-World" nation provides some form of universal health care. Even South Africa.

Resisting, though, your urge to emigrate immediately, the South African system has problems. Especially if you're "colored"--the old Apartheid term (which by the way included Gandhi when he was there). A PBS News Hour report I saw a few months ago (and rechecked on-line) on the situation in that blighted country reminds me NOW of our Reform problems HERE. There, the well-to-do 20% of the population (99% white, I'm presuming) rely on private insurance and totally shun the public program, yet preoccupy half of the doctors and two-thirds of the nurses. Nothing has changed, in other words, post-Apartheid. The vast majority of South Africans--poor, rural blacks--still do not have access to adequate medical facilities and providers. By implication, the government has evidently not been able to spread the risks and taxes equitably enough to make public program work. And tens of thousands die each month (mainly from AIDS) for lack of treatment, not to mention preventative care. Take the Blogman's quick-quiz: Do the rich, urban, well-cared-for South African white-folk give a shit?

The analogy may be a bit strained, I'll admit, but it triggered when I saw those Americans for Prosperity goons picketing outside President Obama's appearance here in Raleigh (DM #136). Their signs (you've seen them by now) with the red palm-print logo said it all: "Hands Off MY Health Care!" Since, as I mentioned, the iconography of the bloody hand is confusing, allow me to interpret it this way, thank you: the blood is on THEIR hands. I'm sorry, these well-scrubbed, white-faced, Sunday-go-to-meetin' folk--and their ilk in Washington--are just not very good people. Selfish, un-caring--not in the least concerned about people less well-off than they, evidently. For them, the "poor" in this country--which covers a lot of ground when it comes to health care--might as well be the South African "colored."

Granted, Americans don't die by the tens of thousands each month because of lack of adequate health insurance. We hold it down to only 18,000 a year--according to a report from WHO, the World Health Organization. In addition:

People without health insurance have 25% higher mortality rates, and 59% of uninsured people with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes skip medicine or go without care--and get sicker ... The United States ranks 44th in the world in infant mortality, behind many impoverished Latin American countries. Out of 30 developed nations, life expectancy in the United states ranks 21st ...

What wonderful lethality our profit-driven health system hath wrought. Though not as efficiently as South Africa, it KILLS people.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

#139 Universal Health Care--A Morning Danish

I'll get back to more Reform nuts and bolts "directly" (my old Grandaddy's favorite Southern contranym for "whenever"), but in the interim let's take a trip to one of those rosy-cheeked countries with universal health care, mentioned in last post. It's relevant. First of all, though, it shouldn't come as a shock that these first-worlders all placed at the top of the "Happiest Nations" lists. AS USUAL, I might add--Forbes, Business Week, and others do these surveys every year. Canada always scores in the top ten, which is otherwise dominated by Northern and Scandinavian Europe. This year Denmark ranked #1 again in several polls. (FYI: the USA is forever down in the 20's.)

"Do you know why there are so many SMILES on these Danish faces that you are seeing?"--she asked, at one point on our itinerary. Our tour-guide's question came up on one leg of my early 70's journey "retracing" Beowulf's journey from Sweden (another happy "top-tenner") to Denmark after Grendel's first lethal attack on King Hrothgar's mead-hall, Heorot. Subject of my Ph.D. dissertation, the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is fictional, but the geography is fact. And fun. Bear with me. I shipped out from the English port of Hull, in East Anglia (where I contend the poem was written), on an overnight Swedish casino-boat, and landed across the cold North Sea (even in spring) at Goteborg--note first element Gote="Geat." Beowulf was a Geat/Swede. I was in the hero's tribal "home town" in the area still known as VesterGOTland.

Unable to procure a pre-Viking-age long-boat for the voyage to Denmark's Roskilde Fjord and Heorot, as Beowulf would have done, I enjoyed instead a Swedish holiday in what seemed to be the cleanest city on the planet, and took an overnight boat-train to Copenhagen. Touristic stuff ensued. Then the morning bus trip to the ancient town of Roskilde--first element Ros="Hrothgar's"--on Zeeland's west coast. It is still a "holy city"--all the later Danish kings are buried in the cathedral there. And the poem's Heorot Hall is still there too ... sort of. Only now, not far up the headlands from the fjord, an impregnable medieval-masonry castle occupies forever the hill-top site of the perishable wood-built long-gone dark-age long-building that Beowulf would have visited. Still exhilarating, however.

But back to our Danish tour-guide. Not a "melancholy Dane," by any means, she reminded me of an ebullient Kathleen Freeman, recently-deceased character-actress of hundreds of films, perhaps most familiarly to Myriad Readers as the "mission-from-God" sister/nun, aka The Penguin, in the Blues Brothers movie. Like the actress, our tour-guide was truly a "character." And like Freeman too, she was a stocky/Nordic/muscular type--no doubt from gripping those aisle-side seat hand-holds as she faced and lectured her seated passengers, and standing steady against the sway and jostle of the moving bus. She may have been on some sort of "mission" herself. A diplomatic one perhaps. Anyway, the somewhat stilted-English ANSWER to her own question about smiling Danes was actually quite smart, had a peculiar twist, and was eminently unforgettable. It went something like this:

You see the smiles on all the Danish faces because of two things. We are happy because our wonderful Danish pigs have an extra rib--Did you know that?--which makes the pig longer in the body, and having more meat makes our hams taste much better.

And what else? We are also smiling all the time because of our Danish Welfare State. We are happy that from the time we are born we are taken care of in our health and well-being. We don't have to worry about those things, so we are always having a smile on our face.

So help me. I remember the exact words, "Welfare State," above all because I thought to myself at the time: Whoa--did she mean to put it quite that way? That's got some pretty negative connotations in English and in the USA. Okay, maybe in Danish the equivalent is a little more euphemistic. On the other hand, so what? She was so proud of it. In whatever language, Can she teach us maybe that government looking out for the "welfare" of its citizens in this most important area is not such a bad thing? One thing you can't argue with her about, though: Danish hams.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

#138 Health-Care Reform and the Public Option

This summer season of political madness can't help but remind one of the frantic months of last year's Presidential campaigns. The almost hour-by-hour tension in Washington and westward all over the place--here in Raleigh last week--is about as high. No, it's not about the "election" of Judge Sotomayor, where you've got about as good an example of "playing politics" as you'll ever get. Senate Republicans unreservedly endorsed Bush's nominee, Sam Alito, despite his ethnic-Italian background and his proud admission of how it would indeed influence his judicial decision-making. I won't quote, but he and the proud Latina could be paraphrased identically on the matter. She will pass, yet with only a handful of Republican votes.

No, it's Health Care, of course. Same Realpolitik, though, from the reich--sorry, right-wing. Lotta LIES bruited about--just yesterday one of our congressman repeated a common one about "socialized medicine" abroad. "Hasn't worked in Britain; hasn't worked in Canada. Won't work here"--conveniently forgetting about our "Social" Security, Medicare, etc. Are we supposed to envisage an abattoir of dead Brits littering the streets waiting for Eric Idle's meat-wagon?--"Bring-out yer dead!" The British single-payer system dates from just after WWII, forcryingoutloud. It "hasn't worked" for over 60 years. So higglety-pigglety they must be getting something right. It certainly worked for my father some 40 years ago (DM #119). And Canada?--why, some Americans brave the cold and repatriate just for Great White North health care. It "hasn't worked" for over 40 years.

Moreover, the congressman and his venal ilk (they've been bought-off) conveniently commit a lie of omission when they direct us overseas to make a point. The British system is 100% tax-payer funded (Canada about 95%)--yes,"socialized." Grist for the commie-witch-hunters' mill. Their problem: it works. Their other problem: Obama isn't asking for a single-payer plan (sad to say). Rather, he wants a public/private mix--an "exchange" where one can choose the Public Option, or not. Now, Why is it that we hear only about Britain's miserable sixty-year "failure" with socialized medicine, and not about some other European welfare state? Answer: because, guess what, ALL of them have a public/private mix--an "exchange" where one can choose the Public Option, or not. (See DM #120.) Poor maligned Britain--"We're awright, Jack"--but the congressman DARE NOT point a derogating finger at France, Germany, or Switzerland, not to mention the Scandinavian countries. Every man-Jack and woman too ... is covered. Notice, too, that the commie-baiting is always in the abstract: "Washington is trying to make us into a European-style democracy!" As for their approach to health care ... cut me a specific slice of that!

Monday, August 3, 2009

#137 Health Care and Employment ... or Not

Following up on the unholy alliance of Employment and Health-Care, mentioned briefly in last post, well ... it's a problem. Isn't proper and permanent health care for you and your family really far too important to trust to a JOB? The Great Recession has taught us some hard lessons lately about the vagaries of gainful employment when the Economy takes a dump. People get dumped. And employer-sponsored health insurance gets flushed down the crapper with them. And it seems that, paradoxically, while the economic outlook is improving, employment will be down in the dumps till the last. A feculent situation all around.

Again, the Newly-Unemployed are now faced with the expensive and only-temporary COBRA, or no insurance at all. Job-seeking will be compromised by the onus of "benefits." The new job may or may not have "group." If yes: waiting period. Pre-existing conditions. Different levels of coverage. Loopholes. Far too much INSECURITY for mortal men and women to bear. And completely unnecessary.

A personal story: My ex-girl-(still-a)-friend has/is currently undergoing this kind of Nazi torture. She has several chronic health issues that CAN become life-threatening IF not treated with regular preventative care. Two act drama: When (#1) she changed jobs for the better last year, of undue yet paramount importance were the health-care benefits offered by her new employer. She had to endure the "exclusionary" period, etc., etc. Then this year (#2) she was laid off. Great Recession fall-out. Now she is paying a hefty share of her unemployment check to COBRA--no choice here--which will eventually run-out, along with the unemployment compensation which was needed to pay for it in the first place. Then what?

This simply must not be allowed happen to a good, tax-paying American citizen. And others like her, rich or poor. Health-care security must not be attached to job security--or to the profit-driven insurance industry that willy-nilly goes along with it. Single-Payer is best, but at the very least: Public-Option. Moral imperative: Everyone in this country must be covered from cradle to grave, regardless of means or circumstance, and that includes employment ... or not.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

#136 Health-Care Reform and "the Poor"

Obama's come and gone from Raleigh, returning to D.C. in time for his beer-fest Thursday with new buddies Professor Gates and Officer Crowley. A bit precious, like a three-way hug, but a good thing--and I would point out the potent iconography of the triumvirate: one black, one white, and one both. Would that Obama (you can see this one coming) could get some folk together on health-care reform.

I've never liked the phrase "playing politics" because it's most often off-point and ad hominem. But the Blogman can offer no other explanation for the dilatory and downright obstructionist non-progress toward reform, on the part of our elected representatives. I've flogged this poor old hobble-horse before, but here's the simple question again: Who's gonna care for the poor, sick Americans among us?

Certainly not the well-scrubbed picketers outside Broughton High School on Wednesday, who hoisted signs proclaiming, "Our Health Care is Great" and "Hands off My Health Care" (with a big bloody palm-print on them--a confusing bit of iconography there). No surprise: they were all white, middle-aged, some with coat-and-tie despite the heat. The group in charge: "Americans for Prosperity"--believe it or not. A spokesman said they were planning bus-trips around the state, and maybe to Washington to protest their opposition to Obamacare. I will hold my breath. A cavalcade of Beemers and SUVs perhaps. I hardly need make the point: these people can afford adequate health insurance under the existing system--whether individual or employer-sponsored. Of course they want "hands-off." And their well-scrubbed, all-white, old-aged counterparts in congress--Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats with unlimited health coverage for life--want "hands off" too. No skin off their ass, and they can continue to keep Big-Med happy.

And by "poor" I mean all of the 47 million Americans without health insurance despite their income. These obviously include the jobless and homeless; but also those between jobs with no unemployment compensation; or starting jobs with a waiting period; or working at jobs with NO employee-sponsored insurance at all; or low-level hourly workers who can't afford it either way; etc., etc.

But how about the millions more no less "poor" laid-off workers who struggle to pay the high cost and only temporary coverage of COBRA? And the "poor" under-insured employees who can only afford a piece of the company's group coverage for their families? And, how about what I might call the "poor in spirit"--those who endure a job, fear losing a job, or are looking to change the job they've got, only because of "the benefits"?

You don't have to be a pauper to be poor. Or sick.