06 September 2009

Broken record

by Chiaroscuro _

In less than three days, Obama will be giving another of his make-or-break speeches. Once again, he'll be trying (and, I expect, failing) to redefine the health reform debate that has careened so far out of reason or control. On the Sunday gasbag shows, White House officials prepared the way -- for another round of insipid boilerplate and equivocation. From the NYTimes:

Three days before President Obama is to address a joint session of Congress about overhauling the health care system, administration officials on Sunday continued to characterize a new government program for the nation’s 50 million uninsured as worthwhile but not essential to legislation.

David Axelrod, a White House senior adviser, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Mr. Obama “believes the public option is a good tool.” But Mr. Axelrod added: “It shouldn’t define the whole health-care debate.”

Oh no, the public option certainly doesn't define the whole debate. The right-wing whackjobs have taken care of that and now it's insane conspiracy theories about commie-fascist death panels and withholding health care from Republicans that drive the "debate".

The White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who appeared on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” sidestepped questions on whether Mr. Obama still regarded the so-called public option as a necessity for any bill he would back.

“We’re trying to provide choice and competition for individuals and small business owners,” Mr. Gibbs said when asked if the public option was “essential.”

“The president strongly believes we need to provide choice and competition,” he said. Pressed on whether Mr. Obama would demand that a government insurance program be included in legislation, Mr. Gibbs said that it could be a “valuable component” of any health plan. And asked whether the president would reject a plan that did not include government insurance, Mr. Gibbs responded: “We are not going to prejudge where the process will be.”


And The Associated Press reported that on a call with prominent liberal House members Friday, Mr. Obama refused to be pinned down.

In his talk-show appearance, Mr. Gibbs said, however, that Mr. Obama will clarify his position in his address to Congress and is considering broadly outlining his own legislation instead of letting Congress set the terms.

It's nauseating. Just fucking make up your mind, already. Stand for something, dammit. I have this nightmare vision of getting to 2012 with a president that has spent the last four years refusing to be "pinned down" about anything of importance.

The endless parroting -- "choice and competition," "competition and choice," blah, blah, blah. What does that mean, exactly? That's right: Nothing. There hasn't been one component of actual reform (versus insignificant tinkering at the edges) that Obama hasn't supported, then "indicated" he'd trade away, and back and forth, yes, no or maybe, ad infinitum.

Are we supposed to cheer that Obama might propose an actual plan? It beggars the imagination that this "clarification" will be any less nebulous than his statements thus far when the latest trial balloon is floated using words like "considering" and "broadly outlining." If he truly wants to "clarify" this clusterfuck, he'll ditch everything and start over by first reading the riot act to the Senate Democrats and then taking a tire iron to their future electoral ambitions.

That won't happen, though. We'll probably get another mealy-mouthed paean to bipartisanship, competition and choice along with heart-felt thanks for the cooperation of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in fashioning this historic legislation. Feh.

An aside: Not only have I called and emailed the White House, I mailed an ink-and-paper letter to the president in which I promised that he will lose my vote if a fully competitive public option is not passed. Late last month, I received a reply. It's a canned response, brimming with bland boilerplate. The letter includes this line:

There are tough choices to be made, and I will bring businesses and workers, health care providers and patients, and Democrats and Republicans together to create a system that delivers better care and puts the Nation on a much sounder long-term fiscal path.

I am then urged to "learn more about [Obama's] agenda" online. The letter ends with this:

I share the sense of urgency that millions of Americans have voiced. I watched as my ailing mother struggled with stacks of insurance forms in the last moments of her life. This is not who we are as a Nation; together, we will fix it.

Sorry, but Obama's language and tone are so dispassionate, so dry, so brittle, that the merest gust of Teabagger bullshit can easily shatter his narrative -- and that's exactly what's been happening.

Americans are dying because they can't get or afford health insurance. Americans in the hundreds of thousands are facing medical bankruptcy even with insurance. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are posting the biggest profits on record and they're lavishing millions in salaries and bonuses on their executives while children are denied life-saving treatments. How can these fuckers be winning?

I know Obama is a cool customer. However, if he wants to change the scorched landscape of American health care, he had better get angry --  very angry and very soon. This is a life-and-death debate and Obama's got to man up and fight. Get in touch with your lizard-brain, man.

[Cross-posted at The Followspot.]

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on September 6, 2009 at 10:33 PM in Awfulness, Current Affairs, Health Care Security, Kvetch & Retch, Press Clippings
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Afghanistan Outpost

by Chiaroscuro _

Our endless floundering in the Afghan quagmire is finally commanding some attention. Miraculously, it's taken only eight years for the American public to realize that something is gravely amiss with our Central Asian Adventure. In his latest NYTimes column, Bob Herbert compares Obama's escalation in Afghanistan to Johnson's in Vietnam and concludes that both presidents listened to the wrong advisors:

President Obama is being told (as Lyndon Johnson was told about Vietnam) that more resources will do the trick in Afghanistan — more troops, more materiel, more money.

Supporters of the war offer an array of rationales in a way that reminds me of Bush's constantly mutating excuses for the Iraq invasion: Every explanation carefully avoids the real, bedrock motivation for our occupation of a hostile country.

After all the huffing and puffing about Iraq's imaginary WMD, Saddam's imaginary ties to al Qaeda, Saddam's insanity, the regime's cruelty and oppression, establishing viral democracy in the region and more, the real reason for our invasion of Iraq was as obvious as it was unspoken.

When Dick Cheney pored over maps of the Iraqi oil fields with petroleum company executives during the secret meetings of his Energy Task Force, all was clear. When our military forces in Baghdad guarded the Oil Ministry while ignoring the looting at the National Museum, it was clear that file cabinets were vital security objectives but the priceless heritage of early civilization was expendable. Securing the Iraqi oil fields was our strategic objective in the first resource war of the 21st century and establishing massive permanent bases and a friendly puppet government was how we'd do it.

Afghanistan started differently. We had legitimate objectives at first --  the capture of bin Laden and the destruction of al Qaeda's network of training camps and safe havens in the country. Once we'd botched that, the stage was set for what we have now -- a prolonged and ineffectual occupation in an increasingly hostile environment. Nevertheless, we're establishing massive bases and protecting a puppet government that, more and more, is unfriendly.

So why are we still there? Of course, we're saving face. God forbid that we have to tuck our tails between our legs and accept ignoble retreat, defeated by a bunch of violent country bumpkins in a repeat of the Soviet debacle. But again, mostly bogus excuses abound. We're saving the Afghanis from the oppressive Taliban, whether or not they want to be saved. We're watering the seeds of democracy in Central Asia, despite propping up a rampantly corrupt regime with no support outside Kabul. We're fighting the scourge of opium, even though the poppy fields are once again blooming abundantly after a hiatus under the Taliban. (Interestingly, the Taliban originally banned opium production under Sharia law, but now they embrace the trade as a way to raise both cash and allies in the countryside.)

Afghanistan looks like a dry hole in terms of our strategic interests, yet Obama is doubling down. Perhaps the answer lies next door. Our bases in Afghanistan are the launchpads for invasion should events take a very bad turn in Pakistan. I can't imagine any other reason to put the spurs to this conflict.

Bush made a precedent of "pre-emptive" war in Iraq and now Obama seems to agree that it's a good idea in Afghanistan. Thus we're drawn deeper and deeper into both real and potential conflicts in countries and cultures where our understanding is shallow at best. And nobody talks about it.

We persist in believing that we must police the entire globe through the vast network of military outposts we've established and pay for with money that might otherwise be used for universal health care, investment in modern infrastructure, R&D in energy, medicine, climate control and more. Will we ever, as a nation, grow up?

[Cross-posted at The Followspot.]

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on September 6, 2009 at 09:45 AM in Awfulness, International Affairs, War(s)
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16 August 2009

The Reaper Chronicles

by Chiaroscuro _

Every aspect of the health insurance "debate" makes me purple with rage. This morning's AP story quotes Sibelius' claim that the wretched Obama is willing to drop the public option in favor of the useless co-op nonsense.

There are no words to describe my complete disgust with Obama and the rest of the Washington Democrats. Their gutless incompetence has in all likelihood doomed real health insurance reform for another generation. Actually, a humane, civilized health care system is probably impossible in the U.S., given our hostility to doing anything to help our fellow citizens -- especially those who aren't white -- and the opposition of a loud, easily manipulated plurality of stupid Americans. Yes, there is a significant percentage of American citizens who are proudly ignorant, gullible dolts. These are the kind of people who give Democracy a bad name.

The Rabid Right's latest cri de coeur -- "Obama Death Panels" -- has been scooped up and amplified by an equally stupid and irresponsible media class. So far, Obama has been singularly ineffective in countering the hysteria. As Maureen Dowd writes in today's NYTimes:

Sarahcuda [Sarah Palin] knows, from her brush with Barry on the campaign trail, that he is vulnerable on matters that demand a visceral and muscular response rather than a logical and book-learned one.

Okay, here's a visceral response to the idiotic notion that Obama will pull the plug on Grandma. Here's the story of a real Grandma, my husband's Grandma.(All names have been changed.)

Louise had metastatic cancer. She had survived breast cancer many years earlier but now, in her eighties, the cancer had returned. One bout of chemotherapy was enough to convince her that she didn't want to spend what was left of her life enduring painful torture. I think it was the right decision. She lasted another two years and was relatively healthy until the last three or four months. The "cure" would probably have killed her far more quickly by weakening her with poison and pain. And it is those last three or four months that concern us now.

Harry, my husband's grandfather and Louise's husband, was in his mid-eighties. He was amazingly vigorous and sharp as a tack, but old age had amplified his peculiarities. He was a miser and a hoarder. And he was totally paranoid about having strangers come into his home. That, in itself, wasn't unreasonable. The elderly have good reason to feel vulnerable to strangers. As his wife's health deteriorated, however, he insisted on coping with caring for her by himself and then, when he could no longer lift her to change her soiled bedding, he enlisted his daughter Joanne's help. My husband's mother was well into her sixties and not in great shape herself.

The combination of ignorance and despair was determinative. Joanne called me one day to ask, amazingly, for my advice. She didn't know what to do, how to proceed, how to handle an increasingly untenable situation. Her stubborn, paranoid father refused to allow anyone into the house -- no nurses, no home health workers, not even Meals on Wheels.

I advised that she convince Harry that he must allow her to have professional help. At no point, I said, should she allow her father to hospitalize Louise. I told her that once her mother was in the hospital, her agony would be prolonged. She would have the tubes inserted, the machines hooked up, and she'd be kept alive as long as possible, in misery. I advised her to contact someone about home hospice care.

All Louise needed at that point was to be kept clean and comfortable. At home, she could spend her last days with family in familiar surroundings with a view of her lovely garden outside.

Harry was an autocrat and would have nothing of it. Joanne, even in her sixties, was still a cowed and impotent child when facing her father. So Louise was taken to the large hospital nearby. She was hooked up to a feeding tube, IVs and monitors. Her view out the window was of a brick wall.

Louise spent the last forty-two days of her life on her back in that hospital. No one asked about alternatives. Standard operating procedure was to prolong her life through any and all means.

There's also a dirty little secret that nobody in this health care "debate" talks about: Doctors are paid by the procedure and there's nothing like a helpless, elderly patient for the opportunity to pile on the tests and procedures. During a patient's last days in the hospital, doctors come out of the woodwork to peek in the door, glance at a chart, order an expensive test, and walk out to bill Medicare accordingly.

When Louise wasn't staring out the window in pain, she was being hauled all over the hospital for tests and x-rays for -- what, exactly? There was no question that she had terminal disease and that the end was very near. Did they think this blood test or that x-ray would tell them something they didn't already know? Did they expect to predict the exact day and hour of her death?

So for forty-two days, Louise was mindlessly kept alive while her body was being eaten to death by the cancer. Her bones had become so fragile that some time in the last week her hip broke merely from lying in the bed. Her guts had turned to putrid goo. Finally, she died.

The hospital bill was, of course, stratospheric. Miserly Harry didn't care, though. Medicare picked up most of it and what they didn't cover, supplemental insurance did. And it was all totally, utterly unnecessary. Harry was rich enough that he could have paid for round-the-clock nursing at home. There would have been no feeding tube, no monitors, no IVs. Louise would have died weeks sooner, in her own bedroom, and been spared what passes for "care" in America's modern hospital system.

But no one in a position of authority spoke up. Louise wasn't given the chance to choose her own fate. Every day in the hospital, she begged to go home. Instead, she had a husband more concerned with money and his own paranoia, a willfully ignorant man happy to have someone take the problem off of his hands for free. She was left to a system that has perverted its mandate for mercy into a soulless, hypocritical exercise in milking the helpless for every penny that can be squeezed from Medicare.

So don't talk to me about "Obama's Death Panels." Don't talk to me about "pulling the plug on Grandma." Don't pretend to care about people when all you care about is demagoguing and demonizing humane health care reform to score political points.

I'm in despair that any real reform will ever be enacted. I'm sick of a country informed by brutality and stupidity. I wonder what all those imbecilic "Town Hell" screamers would be screaming if they found themselves in Louise's hospital bed.

(Cross-posted at The Followspot.)

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on August 16, 2009 at 09:49 AM in Awfulness, Current Affairs, Health Care Security, Moral Values, War of Words
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19 January 2009

Follow us to The Followspot

by EDN

Faithful readers:

We, your humble correspondents, have decided to put away politics — at least as a main focus — for now. We've been at it for a lifetime (or so it seems) and it is time to make room in our writing lives for reflection on the other adventures of mind, body and spirit that engage us, each and both.

As I write this we are but twelve hours from the inauguration of Barack Obama — and what we hope will be a new era of enlightenment for the country and for its bushwacked citizens. We are grateful to leave the deep thinking and keen analysis of political events to the likes of DigbyRJ Eskow and others in the liberal blogosphere whom we so admire.

Our new blog, The Followspot, is a work in progress — we intend a gallimaufry of observations about books, shorebirds, the kitchen, movies, mortality and...well, you get the idea.

We hope you will join us on our journey of exploration.

— Ellen and Chiaroscuro

Posted by EDN on January 19, 2009 at 08:13 PM in Blog Watch
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02 January 2009

Smile, everyone — it's 2009!

by EDN

Happy New Year! And not a moment too soon.

Posted by EDN on January 2, 2009 at 12:44 PM in Asides
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22 November 2008

Raising Kaine will call it a day

by EDN

It will be a significant loss to the blogosphere: our esteemed honorary broad, Lowell Feld, and his co-bloggers at Raising Kaine are going to close up shop on December 31, 2008.

Read Lowell's announcement and explanation here. And if you haven't already, read Lowell's greatly admired book about the influence of the Internet on political campaigns, Netroots Rising.

Lowell, old friend: the new administration will be even better if you are somewhere in the mix, adding your expertise to a sane and progressive energy policy.

All hail!!

Posted by EDN on November 22, 2008 at 03:42 PM in Blog Watch
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20 November 2008

Obama won't have 100 days

by EDN

I've been one of the most prudent people around, with no mortgage, no car loan (I drive a small 15-year-old Ford, very fuel efficient) — and credit card debt that was, until now, a very very small percentage of my net worth. Like most middle-class people, I'm a shareholder. (For reasons I fail to understand, "shareholders" are always lumped together with malignant management when politicians are eager to throw somebody under the bus as a conciliatory gesture to the almighty "taxpayer." What about when we're one in the same?) 

I'm 69, and one of those millions of retirees whose investments are meant to see one through the later part of life. I don't manage my investments — it's not my expertise — so I let a professional do it, someone whose prudence matches my own. But the markets are in free-fall, sucking into the vortex the assets of the imprudent and prudent alike. My "safety net," along with so many others', is in shreds.

January 20 can't come soon enough. And when it does, Obama won't have 100 days in which to begin instilling fresh confidence in the markets. He'll be lucky if he has 100 hours. He'll have to do something almost the moment he sits for the first time behind the desk in the Oval Office, something bold — something to lift the hopes of the nation and, indeed, the world — something to stop the terrible slide.

[Update, Saturday Nov. 22] First Geithner, now this. It's a good beginning.

Posted by EDN on November 20, 2008 at 02:01 PM in Wall Street crisis
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17 November 2008

Follow the Minnesota recount

by EDN


Posted by EDN on November 17, 2008 at 03:06 PM in Election '08
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15 November 2008

Startling photo from downtown Santa Barbara

by EDN

I just came across this photo at CBS.com, taken from the plaza that fronts City Hall. It chillingly shows how close the "Tea" fire was, on Thursday night, to downtown Santa Barbara.

And that hillside, by the way, is quite densely populated.


Posted by EDN on November 15, 2008 at 01:06 PM in Earthly Concerns
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The "Tea" fire: Saturday update

by EDN

The "Tea" fire in Santa Barbara has been knocked off the front pages by the horrendous new fires now burning in the San Fernando Valley neighborhoods of Los Angeles. An entire mobile home park in Sylmar, some 600 units, has been destroyed. Vast numbers of people are being evacuated. Major highways are closed. There are rolling blackouts. And the winds continue to be vicious.

Here in Santa Barbara, the mid-day winds are calm, and officials tell us that the Tea fire is 40% contained. As long as the sundowners don't kick up again this evening the news will continue to be good. 

Our thoughts today are with those who have lost their homes, and for many, their security and their dreams.

Posted by EDN on November 15, 2008 at 11:59 AM in Earthly Concerns
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14 November 2008

The "Tea" fire: Friday update

by EDN

Fire Status •2,000 – 2,500 acres burned •Approximately 100 homes damaged or destroyed •5,446 homes evacuated •More than 500 firefighters •10 injuries from smoke inhalation •3 burn injuries

It would be easy, perhaps, to discount the destruction here because the fire has burned principally in what news outlets are terming "ritzy" or "tony" Montecito, and insist on describing the neighborhood by citing Oprah, Rob Lowe and Michael Douglas among other famous residents. Yes, it's true that $15 million homes have burned to the ground, and I can hear some of you thinking "Well, so what? They're rich. They can rebuild. It's not like New Orleans."

I can't think about it that way. To lose a home is devastating. A home isn't just a house, a shell. If you've lived well, you've invested yourself in every nook and cranny of your home. A home is made of memories. It holds the deepest part of you. It holds things you care about that, when they are gone, are gone forever. Of course it's true that people are more important than things. Things, they say, can be replaced. But not always.

Our house in Quoque, New York burned twelve years ago. The original house was a gem, lovingly built in the mid-60s. Robert and I had been involved in every detail with the architects and contractor. The rebuilding did not engage in the same way. The "new" house never quite came to life. How could it? The "old" house had known thirty years of family living. That could not be reproduced.

Losing a home can cause deep psychological, as well as physical, dislocation. This is true for people who've lost their home through fire, flood, a freakish tornado touchdown on the open plain — or foreclosure. It is, for people who go through it, something like a death.

So please, if you read that some of the houses destroyed in Montecito were pricey, don't be dismissive. People here today are suffering. The people who lived in those homes are real people, and their feelings are as real as yours or mine.

Helicopter pilots dropping water on the fire today are saying that the estimate of "100 structures damaged or destroyed" is way too conservative.

Posted by EDN on November 14, 2008 at 12:15 PM in Earthly Concerns
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13 November 2008

Another big fire here — scary!

by EDN


Not too far from where we used to live...Adam was over there a little while ago to pick up a prescription at our old pharmacy and called to tell me about it. He just got home and said it was getting bigger by the minute.

The winds in the hills are gusting at 60-70 mph. This is a very dangerous event.

Update: Millions of dollars' worth of property gone. Evacuees clogging the roads. The winds won't die down until tomorrow morning. It's very dramatic — and terribly sad, as these catastrophes always are.

The fire has spread to more than 300 acres in a scant two hours. We're not as close as we were the last time, but that doesn't make the fact of this terrible fire any less appalling — or threatening.

The local newscasters are very brave. They're in the thick of it. They report hearing "explosions," which are probably eucalyptus trees going up. Eucalyptus trees are a great feature of our landscape, but they are oil-soaked and thus terribly dangerous in these circumstances. 

Update: This fire, now named the "Tea," is a very different sort of fire from the "Gap" fire of last July. That one burned primarily in the wilderness high in the hills, and very few structures were involved. This one is in an area closer to town, and far more thickly populated. Local TV has been showing many houses engulfed in flame. There are lovely lovely houses in that part of town, and many mansions. 

Here's an annotated map. (You may have to click on "Madison" as well as "T Fire" in the left sidebar to see the annotations.) If you scroll over and look at the lefthand side, you'll see a marker for my house. The polygon is an approximation of the current mandatory evacuation area. It's just been extended down toward town. We have a number of friends who live within the perimeter. But cell phone communication is spotty, and there are power outages, so we don't have news. We may have to wait for morning.

There are fire crews from all over Southern California pouring in to help...from Glendale, Pasadena, Santa Monica, all the communities around Los Angeles. "Hotshot" crews from Vandenberg AFB. Ventura County strike teams. Staging them is sometimes difficult, because many roads are winding and narrow. How valiant they all are, and uncompromising in their commitment to duty.

I'm going to try to go to sleep now, but will be hard.

Posted by EDN on November 13, 2008 at 07:38 PM in Earthly Concerns
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