Wednesday, September 23, 2009

#159 Obamacare and the Dark Ages

Light and dark were of the same duration yesterday, and I give us about an equinoctial chance to get right with Health Care and finally step into the ranks of civilized nations. Unfortunately, the metaphor from nature bodes ill, because the nocturnal forces will hold sway till Sol Invictus begins to right the diurnal balance in December. Maybe it will take that long--we're not a parliamentary system, and I'm okay with that. But maybe more honest and "enlightened" heads and hands will soon prevail to stop the bleeding. For it's nothing short of BARBARIC what untold millions of our fellow citizens are "forced" to go through, if they're lucky enough to be alive to go through it. (see DM #140-1, #143-4)

I use "forced" advisedly, since I believe that a nation's HEALTH, collectively and individually, is in a unique category exempt from the vagaries of the free-market. As Bill Moyers said a couple of weeks ago, "health is a condition, not a commodity." As a good Libertarian--interpreting basic principles broadly--I expect my government to protect me and my fellow tax-payers from Force and Fraud, and the "conditions" of old age, disability and disease fit the former (see DM #122). We just have little or no control at all over the accidents of fate and human mortality that are rather forced upon us.

Ideally, the solution would be Single Payer for everybody--modeled on Medicare, but without its gaps and co-payments. Show your card ... get fixed. For life.

Not gonna happen. So ... whatever "National Health Insurance Bill" is cobbled together to find its way to the President's desk must contain the Blogman's three bed-rock provisions:

  • Everyone is covered, regardless of ability to pay.
  • Insured has a choice, within reasonable limits, of doctor and health services.
  • Out-of-pocket payments, if any, are based on family income.

There you are. Easy ... all industrialized nations on earth, but us, honor those principles every day for their healthy, happy citizens. To exaggerate just a bit. Whatta they got that we ain't got?--Public Option. As mentioned earlier (DM #138): the French, Germans, Swiss, for example, and of course the rosy-cheeked Scandinavians, all enjoy the benefits above without a purely single-payer system. Depending on the country, they are offered a varied mix of private and public options. Can't we do at least as well?

Remember--and no exaggeration here--those countries rank in the the top ten of "Happiest Nations" surveys year after year, while the U.S. never gets out of the twenties (DM #139). We should be ashamed. It's about time that we join these happy, civilized people and reform our dark-age health-care system, so long benighted. We'll see.

Monday, September 21, 2009

#158 The "Fall" (Or Rise) of Obamacare

It's the Autumnal Equinox, and the beginning of what may be the bloodiest battle in both houses ("a plague upon ... etc.") of Congress since the Clinton affair (or "affairs"--take your pick: Hillary or Monica). Dr. Obama may be able to resuscitate his dead patient--yes, he is a god--but I fear whatever zombie-like creature emerges won't be viable enough to break the amazing stranglehold that Big-Med has on our health-care system in this country, and on so many people-of-power who have sold out. Frankly, the last few months have been positively shocking in this regard, and I'm about ready to give up.

One patient is as dead as Rembrandt's cadaver in the "Anatomy Lesson"--Single Payer. Obama and his minions toyed with this idea some months ago. Pity, because we had English-speaking, tax-payer-funded models across the pond and just north of our border as examples of just how good such a system could be. (Have you noticed, however, that cheap pot-shots at Britain and Canada have pretty much ceased since they have been proven to be so mendaciously off-the-mark?) Or, Wouldn't a sweet, cradle-to-grave, morning Danish be nice right about now? Alas.

That being moot, Public Option had better be an option ... or the battle is lost. I marvel at my senior senator from NC, Aaron Burr--er, Richard, though his family claims distant cousin-hood-- a Republican who won the election to replace the can-he-possibly-bring-even-more-opprobrium-upon-himself Democrat John Edwards. Ranked as the 3rd most conservative senator, Burr at least makes no secret about where his particular GRAFT is coming from. In an interview on a local news show he characterized the debate over the public alternative in baldly good-ol'-boy terms:

Well, you know, they [Obamacare supporters] just don't realize whose toes they're steppin' on here. They'd be steppin' on the toes of the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the doctors, lawyers, hospitals ... a whole lotta people you don't want to be doin' that to.

I swear. Maybe he thought this arrogant revelation of his true power-base wouldn't do him any harm at the local level. Little wonder that he was #1 across the country in corporate contributions for those 2004 Senate elections. And "lawyers" too? There's a wrinkle that I wish he'd elaborated upon.

At any rate, and no matter the plan submitted by the White House and worked-out with the Democratic leadership, Sen. Burr will vote against it, because it will be submitted by the White House and worked out with the Democratic leadership. He's been paid-off well before the fact. And anything "Obama" is anathema, anyway, for the party of NO.

Have Obama and the Democrats forgotten that they are the politics of "YES, We Can"? And that they are now in control of the elected government of these United States? Temporary amnesia maybe. They need to start remembering, and to stop pandering to the loser/obstructionists. Most important, they daren't forget the 70% of the electorate who are behind them on this. If it comes to a fillibuster, I say get it on. Love to see it on C-SPAN. What a circus it would be for these venal reactionaries to expose themselves for what they are on national TV. I say, bring on the clowns.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

#157 Wisdom of the Week--Obamanomics

Caravaggio's "Saturnus" is apropos of the the day and of the season. The Roman god of HARVEST is pictured here holding his sickle in one hand and a bag of gleanings on his right hip. And looking puffy-toga/loin-wreathed proud of himself, thank you.

President Obama--yes, he is a god--should feel proud of himself , too. Let's do the metaphor: we seem to be harvesting the fruits of his fiscal policy. By anybody's measure, our economic half-acre was devastated when he took over, and he "threw money at it." That was actually the derogatory Republican mantra over and over, but the various stimuli worked, just as I knew they would (DM #114-5). He took his Keynesian sack of seed-money and spread it "Alfred E. Newman/What, Me Worry?" style all over the fallow landscape ... and, lo, it was stimulated. A flourishment forthcometh. As Gaia's fields ... okay, I'll stop.

I have hesitated heretofore to blow the all-clear signal, and Obama's horn, though signs of recovery have been noticed even back in the second quarter. I was waiting on unemployment, destined to be a dicey thing for another year or so, according to everybody. But a glimmer of good news on that front finally came out last week. Which basically is this: we've hit bottom. Here's the headline: UNEMPLOYMENT FALLS IN 16 STATES; HOLDS STEADY IN 7 OTHERS. Can others be far behind? Let's just hope that the new hiring gets underway before that extension of unemployment benefits runs out in the next few months. (Hell, just extend them again, if we have to.)

Above all, it would be Obama's CONFIDENCE index--as it was for FDR and Clinton--that was going to lift us out of hard economic times, as I pointed out last June. The placebo-effect of having a Democrat in office doesn't hurt either. All of this would "trickle down" irresistibly. In that vein, let me just purloin the following from Eldon Mast's blog, The Good News Economist (9/17), which gathered last week's statistics on the "spike in confidence" in four important market groups:

  • The Consumer: On Wednesday the Rasmussen Consumer Index, which measures consumer confidence on a daily basis, ROCKETED to its highest level in exactly one year.
  • Investors: Also on Wednesday, the Rasmussen Investor Index SPIKED to its highest level in over a year. Investor confidence is up 28 points since Jan. 1.
  • Builders: Confidence among U.S. home-builders rose in September for the third straight month. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo confidence index BOUNCED to its highest level in 16 months.
  • Small Businesses: Economic confidence among small businesses LEAPED to its highest level in 18 months in August as more owners expressed faith in U.S economic recovery. According to the latest Discover Small Business Watch, their small business index rose 7.7 points from July, reaching the highest level since February 2008.
(And does Mr. Mast exude confidence ... or what?! Look back at those verbals I emphasized. They'll positively lift you off your chair a couple of inches. Don't know Mast's politics, but I'm sure Pres. Obama would approve of his optimism.)

It was inevitable. As I pointed out in those earlier posts, lots of taxpayers' money pumped back to 300 million-plus pretty-well-behaved citizens is an unbeatable equation. My example was China--admittedly a Keynesian model by its very nature--which is the most populated and best behaved of nations. Predictably, it has weathered the Crash of '08 in fine style. We still owe them money. And--get this--they're HIRING. In a nice ironic bit of double-reverse out-sourcing, unemployed Americans are finding jobs in China they can't find here! Even if they speak only English. According to the AP last week, China's stimulus package, in the multi-billions like ours, has aloud them to expand employment opportunities in their booming economy for thousands of well-qualified U.S citizens shut out of jobs here at home.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

#156 Fruit, Marine, Counts III

A couple of last things. Yes, that's our fruit, jointly cradled by mother and child in Botticeilli's "Madonna of the Pomegranate." (Be careful with it, little fellow ... it might explode.) Not only is the pomegranate a very sexy fruit, it carries some symbolic baggage too, for several religions. For the Christ-child here, the unopened fruit is prophetic, looking ahead to his ultimate full-blooded-sacrifice (compare photo in last post), which will presumably lead believers to some sort of heavenly afterlife. For the Islamic believer, the fruit is symbolic-prophetic of Mohamet's Paradise, as pictured in the Koran. It grows there in special abundance, more so even than in the groves of Kandahar. Those Muslims killed in the cause will taste the "fruits" of their martyrdom immediately, including their 72 virgins--NOT counting the ones pictured above.

Our previous Associated Press story reports also that Marine Cpl. Joshua Bernard, son of a Marine, was "a devout Christian, Iraq war veteran [at 21!] and avid hiker, home-schooled [so make that fringe-fundamentalist "devout Christian"] in rural Maine." In other words, he couldn't have been a more perfect recruit for Bush's holy wars in the Middle East. The ex-President's notion of his divine appointment for the job has been quoted often enough--"God led me to invade Iraq"--by me and others, but lately it's come to light that his religious zeal assumed biblical, apocalyptic proportions, fantasy-wise. He seriously believed that the giants Gog and Magog of Old Testament prophecy were at work in the region, and must be defeated before they destroy Israel--or so he told French Pres. Jacques Chirac in 2003:

This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to ERASE [!] His people's enemies before a New Age comes. [Alternet 5/25]

I'm sure our bereft mothers and widows will be glad to know that their loved-ones died in Iraq not for the old saws of "freedom" and "our country," but for this decidedly higher purpose--fighting the forces of Gog and Magog. True Christian martyrdom. Was the dead Cpl. Bernard rewarded with the presence his own after-life Holy Virgin? Well, surely not in the Koranic sense.

However that may be, I have no doubt that the Bernards, pere et fils, had no doubt either, being hard-core Christians, that the Middle East War in whatever incarnation was a holy one. This would have been reinforced by the almost-exclusively evangelical chaplains "serving" our troops at home and abroad. (This is thankfully a current "scandal," by the way.) Bernie would have been led to believe, I'm sure, that a brave death on the battlefield would bring its rewards in the afterlife. Wouldn't the Marine point-man console himself, as he took his last breaths in the M.A.S.H. unit they took him to, with those reassuring thoughts? Yes ... and so would the last dying Muslim he shot down.

In the family interview after the fact, Bernie's mother explains that her son showed a remarkable early interest in the Bible and Christianity. (Surprise: he was home-schooled.) "He had a very strong faith right from the beginning," she says. His father, the former Marine, describes him as a shy and unassuming boy, who "didn't smoke or drink, and always opened the door for others." Shortly before the "pomegranate attack"--as if all this isn't ironic enough--his father had written a letter which truly captures this family's Christian principles:

Bernard's father is a retired Marine 1st sergeant. Three weeks before the Aug. 14 ambush that killed his son, he had written to his congressman, Rep. Michael Michaud, expressing frustration at what he described as a change in the Afghanistan rules of engagement to one of "spare the civilians at any cost." He called this "disgraceful, immoral, and fatal" to U.S. forces in combat. [AP 9/4]

Alas, too late for Bernie, and his father's protestations. If we'd just been able to murder more civilians, his son might have been saved.

Monday, September 14, 2009

#155 Strange Fruit, Dead Marine, Body Counts II

... In fact, I feel like I haven't stopped writing about the films of Luis Bunuel (see last several MM's)--so very surreal is the reality of our presence in the Middle East slaughterhouse. Nightmare dream-sequences indeed, but nothing ultimately funny about them.

Certainly not the death of Cpl. Bernard. So don't get me wrong. Living in the state of North Carolina, which tops the nation in number of military installations, I see the killed-in-action faces of Fort Bragg soldiers and Camp Lejeune marines flashed across the TV screen every single day on the local news. I mourn the fallen warriors ... and even more poignantly because--let's face it--THEY DIED UTTERLY IN VAIN. Nonetheless, the obituaries get longer and longer as the war intensifies. Bernie's photo was no doubt in one of those TV segments on or about Aug. 14th, the date he was killed by that missile-grenade, in that most cruel of months.

No smiling TV faces of the enemies he killed, of course. Or of the civilians he and his company--not to mention covering air-strikes-- "collaterally damaged" in their "clearing" of Dahaneh. Look back again at Bernie locked and loaded in front of that darkened doorway. I'm sorry, but I need to drumbeat once again that aforementioned statistic: WE KILL TWICE AS MANY CIVILIANS AS THEY DO. But the main-stream media continues to be swindled by the wrong numbers: villages cleared, militants killed. Or, as in my earlier post, Baitullah Mehsud (and family) murdered long-distance by flying robot bomb. As if it made any difference in the world.

For we've been through all of this before. We couldn't "win the hearts and minds"--that was the phrase--of the Vietnamese with the very same military strategy, and we can't in Afghanistan. (And the Vietnamese were much better people.) Deja vue: Cpl. Bernard's village-clearing operation was called, euphemistically, "pacification" during the Vietnam disaster. The "body-count" mentality was in full-force then too, day after day, year upon year in that longest of America's wars. (Obama may be out to set the record, however.) Today, 842 Americans killed or wounded; 28,000 gazillion Viet Cong and North Vietnamese dead ... "and that's the way it is," Walter Cronkite would tell us, credulously, as if this "good news" could be construed as anything other than downright, blood-drenched ghoulishness. Just like today. Maybe Obama's just too young. To remember.

Here's a footnote that should jog anyone's memory, at least those who bought a ticket for Apocalypse Now or Forrest Gump. Let's go back to to the pomegranate grove. Just before the attack that killed Lance Corporal Joshua "Bernie" Bernard, the Associated Press reporter tells us that the patrol already had a tip that Taliban fighters were lying somewhere in ambush. One Marine had some sort of incendiary weapon trained on the very trees in question, some 70 yards away. The reporter quotes the field commander's orders: "If you see anything move over there ... light it up." Language sound familiar? This guy could easily have been a stand-in for Gump's "Lieutenant Dan," or Robert Duvall's helicopter-cowboy in the Coppola movie, who gives forth with that most memorable line--"Just love the the smell of napalm in the mornin'!" (more)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

#154 Strange Fruit: One Dead Marine and Other "Body Counts"

Since last post, there have been rumblings in Congress about reducing troop levels in Afghanistan. On Friday 9/11 to be exact--did he deliberately choose that date?-- Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan urged Pres. Obama to submit a TIMETABLE to get our TROOPS out ... but even though "he opposes sending more combat troops, he's open to sending more U.S trainers." Further, reports ABC News, "he doesn't rule out sending more combat troops in the future." Hard to argue with that bit of double-speak. Nonetheless, his announcement led to fitful echoes of assent from Democrats in the House, even including some talk about reducing FUNDING--as if they hadn't voted to increase funding just this last June! Alas, Oh my Representative Government, is it possible to be--what's a good word?--even more fecking feckless ... than you have been already?

And so very too late to save a marine halfway around the world from the U.S. Senate. He's twenty-one-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua "Bernie" Bernard, killed less than 24 hours after this photo-op from an Associated Press camera-lady (9/4). That's him, "walking point" in what's left of Dahaneh, a small town in Kandahar Province--part of that danger zone straddling Afghan/Pakistan. Forgive the dark humor, but don't the "walls" in front of that soldier named Joshua look like they just done come a-tumblin' down? On second thought, no forgiveness necessary ... nor apologies on my part, not neither. There's more dark humor in this post below--BECAUSE ... maybe it's getting to the point where it's hard NOT to think of the Middle-East War(s) as a cruel cosmic joke. One played on us over and over again, because we never seem to learn. Like the venerable Banana Peel shtick, we slip on Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, "Yugoslavia," Iraq--you name it--and then we go right ahead and take another pratfall in Afghanistan.

Another species is on stage here, however, another "strange fruit" to be harvested--pace the Billie Holiday song. The Kandahar region is famous for producing among the highest-quality pomegranates on the planet. It was from a pomegranate grove, not far from the devastation pictured above, that the fatal gunfire and missile barrage was launched--ironically, since the Marines had just spent 3 days "clearing" the village itself of Militants/Insurgents and whomever was within gunshot--exactly as Cpl. Bernard is doing (is there any doubt in your mind that Bernie is ready to kill anything that makes a move behind that darkened doorway) ... and as we tried to do for an eternity in Vietnam. The company had, in fact, just taken some "downtime" from their own blood-thirsty occupations, in all senses of that word.

The irony proves to be even more fruitful than that. Simply add it to the poetic justice that punishes us daily in the Middle East. "The pomegranate grove looked ominous," thought the AP reporter before the attack. As well he should--and this is what stuck me first about the whole affair--I'm guessing no one was there to tell him that the direct etymon of "grenade" is pomegranate = the "apple" of blood-red "grainy" seeds inside. The look-alike fruit--the stem resembles a fuse--had been tossed around for centuries before the the French thought to name (sans pomme-"apple") a new explosive-device after it: la grenade. (That's what the French grenadiers carried, not to be confused with the red-colored syrup for a not-quite-so-deadly Tequila Sunrise.)

And so the morbid comedy plays out: it was to be payback time for the marine point-man. At first they thought it was a land-mine that blew-up Bernie's legs. But no, it was an RPG--a rocket propelled grenade--one of the many that then began to explode upon the small company, lethally arced from amongst the nearby pomegranate trees. (more)

Friday, September 4, 2009

#153 Collateral Damage Abounding

And it spreads beyond the battlefield. Barely had the cybernetic ink on my last post dried, than sure enough the ugly Americans had once again uglied the landscape with civilian blood--and this time all across the news-scape of the world. Unlike the sad case of the Taliban wife, this event got some major headlines, but, like the former, it too is an event that is hot-wired with the same kind of moral ambiguity that threatens to detonate the brain. Here's a conflated version from various news services today:

SCORES DIE IN AIR-STRIKE ON HIJACKED AFGHAN OIL-TANKERS; Dozens of Civilians Among Dead as NATO Hits Taliban-seized Trucks.

Remember that shameful statistic: we kill twice as many civilians as they do. If our ground troops don't get 'em, we'll blow 'em up real good from the sky. As a result of the air-strike, local officials estimated a total of nearly 100 dead, half of them non-combatants who were receiving fuel distributed by the militant hijackers at a river-crossing near the village of Omar Khei in Kunduz province ... if you'd like to consult your maps. We thus murdered innocent petroleum-products too. Ironically, that's all we're really there for in the first place. Double indemnity.

But, as in the assassination of Baitullah Mehsud, that specious "body-count" mentality--shades of Vietnam-- again takes over. The Governor of the province was pleased that a "large number" of insurgents were killed, including another Mehsud-type commander who controlled several districts in the area, along with several other senior Taliban and four Chechen fighters. He continues with these all-too familiar words:

Abudur Rahman was a very dangerous man. I hope the death of Abudur Rahman will have a positive effect on Kunduz city.

Sure it will, after we just killed and martyred dozens of their fellow-citizens along with him. Fellow-citizens, I might add, who were peaceably assembled, they thought, in order to fill up their tanks with fuel that's rightfully theirs anyway. And, as to knocking-off those "dangerous" people--Yep, our job is done. Might as well pack up and go home. Surely there's nobody to take their place. Just ask your friendly neighborhood dope-dealer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

#152 Life, Death, Taliban Wife II

Continuing from last post, Did we really want to kill this woman? Baitullah Mehsud's late wife was a blip on the computer screen at Air Force HQ in far-off Nevada. Would the operator have called the drone back, or redirected it, had he known that his missile was to hit a woman, a dutiful spouse, probably a mother, but assuredly a non-combatant? No, she's "collateral damage." A civilian casualty of war that must be tolerated. What's more--and this will test your moral ambiguity tolerance--a case can be made for justifiable homicide.

The late "Commander" Mehsud was for years in charge of those responsible for killing thousands of innocent people by suicide-bombings and other means. They may have been involved in the murder of the beloved Benazir Bhutto. A very bad man, but just doin' his job. Our job is to kill him--such are the rules of the counter-insurgency game now that Obama has put us all the more in play, alas. And, hey, that woman was trying to keep the guy alive! Serves her right to get killed in the middle of that intravenous drip. Her wifely ministrations would have kept him healthy enough to continue killing innocent civilians of his own. Okay, but that will go on anyway, with no doubt renewed fervor, no matter if he died of complications due to diabetes or kidnet disease or flying robot bombs. As we saw a couple of posts ago, there's already a doppleganger also named Mehsud to take his place. All of this makes HER death all the more meaningless.

Notwithstanding, I nominate the Taliban Wife as poster girl for all that's wrong with our involvement in the Middle-East Wars. We just flat-out shouldn't have to deal with all this moral and military ambiguity, dammit. We should be-the-hell not there. She was still a civilian casualty that shouldn't have happened, or at least happened without our help. Whether or not the poor lady was guilty of trying to keep alive a mass-murderer of innocent people, here's the alarming fact: OUR FORCES KILL TWICE AS MANY CIVILIANS as do the militant and insurgent forces. Shouldn't be surprising. In addition to regular troops and mercenaries, we've got planes and missiles and drones, oh my, to do the job for us.

We're paying restitution though: August 2009 was the deadliest month for our troops in Afghanistan since we arrived there eight years ago. Let me repeat: EIGHT YEARS AGO! And you'll recall that, according to Defense Secetary Gates (DM #148), it's a "mystery" as to when we'll ever get out at all.