Friday, February 29, 2008

Universal Health Care vs Personal Wealth

As I've commented in the past, I am FOR universal health care. Frivolous law suits are a problem, but they are not the only or even the major cause of out of control health costs. That the government is moving to bar people from suing certain entities for any cause is a wholly unfair endeavor. Are there abuses? Certainly. It's a part of human nature to cheat. But cheating goes both ways. There are obviously individuals, families who have large and legitimate claims against the health care industry who should be allowed access to the legal system for fair compensation. But, I digress.

Sixty or more years ago the cost for health care was relatively low owing to the fact that beyond providing a bed and some multi-colored pills of dubious efficacy, the occasional high colonic, there was little that a hospital could offer. By comparison to today, surgical procedures were rudimentary - adequate for fairly mundane maladies; removal of appendices, tonsils, repair of hernias, certain types of injuries, and a handful of others. But, they were doing little of what can be done surgically today. Also, technology was almost non-existent. XRay was about it. There were a few gizmos, a few lab procedures, but again, damn little of what has been developed since, say the 1950s. Of course, all of this stuff costs a great deal of money to design, engineer, construct, set-up, operate and maintain.

Additionally, drugs have made a quantam leap during the same period. As a teenager my father worked for Eli Lilly - we're talking around 1920 or so. He and another kid about his age were employed to stock the drugs. The more potent of the medications available at the time were kept in a locked wire enclosed cage. My father and the other boy were in charge of it. They were entrusted with the key! Unfortunately, the other boy discovered something he could drink that would get him high - paregoric, perhaps, or some other opiate derivative, I'd guess. (I doubt they used "high" to describe those kind of effects at that time, but you get what I mean.) The other boy was discovered "getting a buzz on" by someone, and they were both fired. I assume storage and security of such substances has become more sophisticated today, or so I would hope.

My point being that the medical industry has become just that - an industry. It's great that we've developed all of these machines and drugs and procedures, but they are of little value to those who can't afford medical insurance, let alone the astronomical costs of many of the aforementioned developments.

I'm not against a guy making a buck. But health and human life has value as well. Americans are the first to stand up and prattle on about how great this country is; about how much we have, our freedoms and so on. While our economy is closer to teetering on the brink than it has for decades, we remain, I believe, the richest (large) nation in the world. Yet we still have at least 20% of our population who have little or no effective access to even nominal health care. What it comes down to is which is paramount - a citizen's right to attain wealth or a citizen's right to life and health?

The richest nation in the world should be able to accomodate both, but if it can't, one's very life trumps anyone's access to wealth. A country - its government - should be able to provide its citizens in need with access to the basics of life - including health care. I don't believe that it follows that anyone in particular will be denied the opportunity to fill their coffers should our government provide universal health care to all citizens. Are there no rich Brits, no rich Germans, Canadians, Aussies, and YES, Frenchies?

Might it render the goal of personal wealth a bit harder to achieve? Perhaps. But having access to doctors and hospitals, diagnostics and surgical procedures, drugs and therapies can enable many people with an opportunity to LIVE and perhaps to function. Again, life trumps wealth.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Indiana Gay Marriage Ban Update

I just thought I'd post an update on the status of a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage in Indiana. As was predicted earlier in the local media, the measure was not allowed out of the Indiana House Rules Committee, by its chairman, Scott Pelath, a Michigan City Democrat.

To fill in the blanks, this measure was proposed and passed by both houses of the 2005 session of the Indiana Legislature during the height of the frenzy against same sex marriage. At that time both houses were controlled by Republicans. While the Indiana Senate remains in the hands of the GOP, the House is now controlled by Democrats. Amendments to the Indiana Constitution must pass both houses of the legislature in consecutive years, and then be placed on a statewide ballot for a vote. I believe a simple majority is all that is needed to affirm the action. However, now that the measure has failed to pass both houses in its second go round, the process must start again from square one. The earliest a gay marriage amendment could reach Indiana voters now is 2012.

Congratulations should go to Pelath for standing his ground. Publicly, he states the reason for not allowing it out of committee is that the amendment is poorly and vaguely written and could have unintended legal consequences down the road. I don't know what, if any, private motivations he may have.

Supporters of the bill lamented, "It is a tragedy for the people of Indiana..." Oh yeah, a real tragedy. As I noted in a previous post on this issue, Indiana already has a statute preventing same sex marriages. A constitutional amendment, besides being morally and ethically despicable, is a waste of legislator's time and taxpayer's money. Currently, there is not one legally recognized same sex union in the state. While the existence of the statute is troublesome, presumably, it would be relatively easier to overturn than a constitutional amendment.

The effort to further codify the definition of marriage as ONLY the union of one man and one woman was promulgated through ignorance, fear and hatred. Social conservatives - mostly Christian fundamentalists, evangelicals and charismatics - have been hard at work in this country since at least the early days of the "Moral Majority" in the late 1960s. Their self righteous rants against anything and everything they perceive as being even remotely outside the parameters of their construct of biblical law has run amuck in recent years.

I am heartened by this latest development coming rather unexpectedly here in the bible belt. However, I don't believe the issue is dead. The social conservatives are a determined lot. They will not give up the fight at this juncture. They will not be satisfied unless and until they reinvent this country as a Christian theocracy and/or the "Rapture" whisks them all away to paradise, leaving the rest of us heathens to battle with Satan, and wallow in the offal of the damned


Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Ever since all the shit hit the fan a few years ago regarding Abu Garib, Gitmo, and our use of interrogation techniques that many feel meet or exceed the accepted definitions of torture, I've come to realize that I have long been naive about the reality of just who we are.

From my earliest memories, I was taught to believe that we Americans were the guys in the white hats. We were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger. We were Superman and Jack Armstrong. We were John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. We even came to believe that we could be James Bond, and that blowing the shit out of everything was okay as long as it was "for the cause of freedom," and it was accomplished without mussing the crease in one's tuxedo or spilling one's martini. We have been fed this line of bullshit as long as I can remember.

Of course, we got warnings; hints about who we might really be. We saw it in the books and films that began appearing in the late fifties and early sixties - "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," "The Ipcriss File" - the books of LeCarre' and Deighton. Sure, they were fiction and they were mainly about the Brits. But the implications were there. The whole world of spies, acts of sabotage, acts of torture - physical and mental. All the elements were there. They were, by extension, about us, too.

The trend continued with a plethora of books and films which made hay with plots laden with implications of government involvement in a variety of nefarious and covert acts, even and including plots carried out against our own people by the CIA, the NSA, the FBI or other usually fictitious super secret agencies variously called things like "The Shop," "The Firm," "The Office," or a number of other sometimes clever euphemisms meant to indicate super deep cover intelligence and espionage groups, often answerable to no one. Again, all fiction. But one can assume that where there's smoke...
Many of these writers had been involved at some level in counter-intelligence and/or espionage groups in their native countries, some dating back to the OSS of WWII. Conspiracy theorists believe our government was involved in the cover up of encounters with UFOs, JFK's assassination, and more recently, the 9/11 attacks.

During the long years of the cold war, we faced what we believed to be a formidable enemy in the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent China, both of which were at least as deeply involved in spying, sabotage, espionage and other undercover acts as we were. Tit for tat. It was a dangerous game with potentially itchy fingers hovering close over those buttons to oblivion.

Of course, that particular danger is more or less history. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, we have not had a monolithic and clearly defined enemy against which to cross swords. China, at least for the moment, has made such a sharp and intense turn into the world market place, that they have little time or inclination to give much consideration to war or world domination, at least not by military means. They may one day dominate the world economically, perhaps sooner than most might imagine. But that's another story.

Much has been learned over the last 40 years or so about how deeply this country has involved itself in the affairs of other countries around the world. How we have encouraged, and aided the overthrow of governments, how we have insinuated ourselves into the economies and exploited the resources of other countries to the benefit of US government, military and business interests, all with little concern for how badly our actions may have affected those countries and/or their citizens.

Americans have long assumed our superiority to other peoples and other countries. We still hear ad nauseam how the US is the "greatest country in the world," and by that "fact" alone we assume that we deserve more than anybody else. That if we exploit the lion's share of the world's resources, well, hell - we're Americans, it is our due. We're the good guys. Screw the rest of you. You're all just green eyed jealous bastards! Get the fuck in line!

Now that our seat on the throne has been openly challenged - not by another "super power," but rather by a seemingly rag-tag bunch of cave dwelling, towel headed, sand niggers. (The last there a loathesome bit of pejorative phraseology I heard used to describe a fellow, a Jordanian, who was the director of operations of a modest sized fast food franchise back in the early 1980s.)

So, now we have been forced to apparently turn over a new leaf - albeit a rotten one. It is naive to believe that we have not, all along, through much of the cold war and before, made use of the tactics of torture whether as defined by the Geneva Convention or not. But, now it's all become public. No longer is it hidden away in some windowless cell in the bowels of a towering and forboding concrete government monolith.

In the aftermath of WWII the US tried, convicted and put to death about a half dozen Japanese officers who were found to have used waterboarding on US military prisoners. It was said then to be torture. The six Japanese soldiers died for using it.

But, hey. It's different now. Now that we have chosen to make use of the technique, it's okay. It's NOT torture. I wonder what has changed? Is it magically rendered less heinous in the hands of Americans? Is it that the end justifies the means? Should we retroactively pardon those Japanese officers - maybe send their surviving family members to Disney World in a gesture of contrition? Oh, no, of course not. They were evil. Their goal was evil. Our goal is good. We're good.

Are the manner in which other prisoners have been treated to be likewise overlooked or forgiven? Is our "cause" of such greatness that we have a perhaps "god given" greater latitude in such matters?

I'm sure there are other methods of torture which far outstrip waterboarding in the level of pain and suffering they inflict. I'm sure Americans and others who have been imprisoned as war criminals have endured far greater hardships and humiliation at the hands of their captors than those at Abu Garib or Gitmo. But that doesn't excuse us, now does it? We are supposed to be above all that. Our dazzling white hats supposedly reach the heavens, touching god. We are the pristine! We are the chosen!

Of course, we're none of that. But we have been looked upon as the leaders of the "free" world since at least 1945. We set a higher standard in our treatment of POWs and the manner in which we carried out our post war occupations of Germany and Japan. I'm sure there were ugly incidents to be sure, but overall we did an admirable job of assisting those war ravaged countries to rise from the ashes. The obvious success of those efforts couldn't be more stunning. How did it all turn to shit?

I know, I know. This is all "old news." I am displaying to all my incredible naivete. Guilty as charged. But, either we must accept that we're NOT god's gift to humanity, or we must change our ways. Actually, we must do both.