Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Good bye to a lot more than Teddy

This news, only a little earlier than anticipated, still shocks me and greatly saddens me.

Now and then I start to write posts in which I would grapple with and, mostly for my own sake, try to account for my own transformation from a rather uninformed conservative youth to a self identified liberal. I usually gave up and never posted.

Oh shit, I am actually sobbing as I read the obits.

But I can't say why I will miss Ted Kennedy without describing how my attitude toward his politics and his political skills changed over the years.

When I first moved to Massachusetts in the early 70's, fresh from Nevada and straight from a home of staunch paleolithic republican sentiments, my typical reactions to Kennedy's causes such as health care were un-researched quips. "Oh sure," I would think, "a guy that has never lacked a massive family trust fund thinks I should pay more taxes so everyone can go see a doctor when he wants". I am now in a position to set up our own family trust fund and I can't always see a doctor Its so much easier to be heartless when your ignorance enforces a distance from the realities of hardships and unjust distribution of rewards that Kennedy mustered us to battle. Find any wingnut who still vilifies Kennedy and I will show you an ignoramus.

In 1976, I worked for a consulting firm and had to travel to Washington DC just to be an extra in a show of resumes for a potential customer. On one shuttle flight down there, it happened that the the Senator had the seat next to me. He rode coach without any ceremony at all, just another passenger not hinting any expectation of deference. I was not even positive it was him when he first sat down. I did not speak to him. He was paying a lot of attention to a copy of NY Times Magazine with a cover story on some political upstart who was then the governor of Georgia. It was a crowded field that year.

It was the Viet Nam war that still repelled me from Republicans but Carter has always conjured up hope and decency and I voted for him in hope. Kennedy seemed to me at that time a man beaten by his own bad luck but he resolutely soldiered on. His wary dance with corporate powers while he introduced bill after bill to make life livable for what we used to call the working class simply never let up. He had the big ideas if not the charisma to turn our political hearts. But it takes so much more work and organization and granite-willed persistence to redirect a nation that in its private dreams sees itself as potentially wealthy and independent individualists. Those dreams were exploited easily and have given us the local and the presidential politics of the Reagan revolution. And all through that dark period, Ted strove on, cutting deals, compromising where compromise would at least gain the embattled middle class some small help.

I was so disgusted by the response a self-absorbed electorate and media handed the profoundly decent but unwily Carter that I voted for John Anderson in 80. The national political scene had become an ethical vacuum. Yet all that while Teddy beat the drums for better benefits and programs. Even as I withdrew from the fights over the wrong issues that could have no winners, I recall being impressed how Kennedy could so respectfully engage the barking and repugnantly narrow representatives of One Selfishness Under God. That capacity to remain engaged, to find a way to get any opponent to look you in the eye ...that is the gift of a great politician. I grew to know I was not such a creature and he, with few peers, was.

Not until MoveOn offered me what seemed like a real voice, did I reengage in politics. But after four years of hopeful changes and improvements, my own politics are now nearly ready to walk off the field again. If a Radical Greens party springs up, I might waste my vote on them in symbolic and futile protest. I see a nation that has lied to itself about how bad its economy was until its crooked and faked affluence nearly collapsed. I see a country that has lied to itself about how to live well until it is rife with life style and environmentally induced diseases and wants only a quick cheap fix. I see a country with a pathologically overgrown sense of its place among the economic and military forces that will shape history. Economic and political power will be wrenched from the hands of any nation that poisons itself and lets the mass of ill, poor and unrepresented only grow. I see a nation that has now lost one of its last lions for the little man, one of the unthanked giants who worked to give those dreaming individualists what they needed rather than what they wanted. Without that concern which Kennedy embodied for the welfare of the citizen above the welfare of corporate power, we will be too weak a country to address our real problems.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

who gets health care?

I don't particularly support the outcry for health care. Its not entirely because I have had for decades what most consider a thorough and mostly employer paid health coverage. Are you 60 and can't get your HMO to do a full body MRI or anything beyond a PSA test just to have a baseline? Thats my situation.

We may waste huge amounts of money on administration and on PREDICTABLY futile treatments of terminal patients. Those expenses will be hard to back out of the system and they are snarling the present congressional debates.

But we are barking up the wrong tree. Removing from our health care burdens obesity and diet-induced diabetes and the long years of patching the living yet rotting bodies should not need a doctor's efforts but rather our own efforts. "First, do no harm", goes the doctors oath...why can't consumers be held to the same standard? If we locked the god damned cars in the garage and shuttered the fast food joints in favor of more locally produced and vegetarian diets, as you have all been hearing for most of your lives, we would mostly live longer and be healthier up until genetics pulled the plug on us. I would only really support more prevention, starting with less consumption and wiser more informed consumption. Michael Moore can easily say our health care system is sick ...but how healthy is the portly Mr. Moore? I love the depth of Moore's sympathy and courage in his long crusade for a little justice for victims of the corporate oligarchs but his thinking and arguments are at times as shallow as his sympathy is deep. When he took on GM, it was not to lambaste them for making and convincing us to drive environmentally disastrous cars for the sake of their higher markups. No, he just wanted to save jobs at buick plants. If they had made something more responsible than Buicks at those plants, we might still be buying from GM.

The fears and perceptions that power health care hysteria, made to seem so real by the bounty of pathetic poster child cases among uninsured are none the less an unbalanced view. Rather like our climate crisis, as long as the ultimate causes arising from our personal gratification and convenience are obscured by the final dire effects being so many years and stages of remove from those causes, we will only clamor for window dressing rather than solutions. There is no cure for death. But "living better" is not the consumer orgy you have been programmed to desire.

Does that sound wrong to you? Does this sound right?:

If the authorities "know" Bernie made-off does not have cancer then I know that
Bernie made-off does get better health screening that millions of Americans who did
not steal billions of dollars. What a country this is! Perhaps you too can get a good cancer screening if only you can defraud someone out of a few billions.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Cash for Cluelessness

I admit that I once owned an 8 cylinder Chevy Suburban, a true gas guzzler...that was 1985. Before then and since, I have driven much lighter cars and since around 1990, I have often left the car home and gotten to work on a bicycle.

That history divulged, I will chance being called a hypocrite to tell you what I have felt about the automobile since my high school days when tail fins and tyrannosaurs roamed the earth.

It is a cheap thrill for some apes, and perhaps a necessary evil for the hapless working class who can not find work where they live or live where they can find work. Buckminster Fuller was one of the more prominent but hardly the earliest voices to question the massive per capita use of petroleum, metals and other resources to which the automotive addiction [and the severely dysfunctional use of land that goes with the addiction] committed us. The vision of the conventional automobile and its usage patterns as arch nemesis of sustainability was not exactly his message. He also thought more technology could be applied to help us live as well on less resources. His book "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth" was old news by the time I read it in the late 60's. Having been taken on as a kind of manifesto for the technically inclined hippie and tossed as kookie by most others, its influence is far less than it prescience about our resource-starved present would justify. That is not the only source of my revulsion at the clumsy dirty machines, the love of which we subsidize, but it was important intellectual support. I also have youthful associations of noisy cars with bullies and negligent scholarship. The car was, in my formative years, a cultural institution to rival the black holes of gambling and public drunkenness [the latter has been radically exacerbated in both opportunity and severity of consequences by the illusory freedom to escape that advertisers use to promote car ownership.]

That is not all I can say about my bad reaction to one of the pillars of both our economy and our culture but enough of that. Suffice it to say that since GM and Chrysler are sucking up billions of YOUR dollars on life support, you are owed a moment of sanity: the pillars of life in this allegedly great nation are rotting out from under you. I have not the time nor you the patience for me to explain to you that from a fundamentally economic perspective, the collapse was inevitable. That explanation would be one that puts the whole of our support system: the resources we acquire at severe political cost, the resources do we command: coal, air, water, iron, health and the costs to patch up bodies corroded by lives lived in cars...and the money that makes all those resources fungible... all counted on the ledger. Saying that collapse was inevitable and that any, ANY, reasonable extrapolation of consumption trends since the 60's amounts to a set of tracks ending at an ecological and economic cliff is unnecessary because we are at the cliff now. Plenty of smart and far sighted people already did that didn't listen to them either. I am making plans to jump off the train since it won't even slow down.

Won't even slow down. The same psychology as ever quietly commands the body politic: "I don't want to know the ultimate costs of any ploy of government/industry as long as it minimizes my immediate discomfort or protects me from the scary, the unfamiliar effort or privation". The same corporations, oil companies, and automobile companies, that benefited from congressional dispensation will continue to benefit based on the excuse of the jobs they represent in spite of the now obvious fact that the future they represent is one of empty shelves, uprooted lives, dirt and want. The corporations still have vastly disproportionate representation via lobbies and representation that speaks far better for the largest blocks of share holders than for individual workers or families. We will always see congressional creativity in new forms of subsidies overt or subtle. In the past we have had tax funded highways, tariffs on imported cars, tax breaks on car loan interest...a long and varied list to which we now add "cash for clunkers". We seem bent on rewarding the very stupidest behavior. Now, I who can pay more taxes because I have spent far less of my family wealth on cars, will pay more in taxes now and later so that you morons who bought SUVs long after they became the laughing stock of the ecologically minded, can get a do-over. A do-over of the mistake of buying a car at my expense financially and at my expense environmentally...this program sucks.

And if you think you can tolerate the suckage because at least the dupes will be driving more fuel efficient and less polluting cars, please consider:
  • They will have to buy a Japanese car or a [German owned] "Smart" car to get anywhere above 38 MPG average. American worker's benefit from this will be much less than advertised.
  • Another ton of iron will be mined or refined and another ton of coal burnt to make the replacement car. A comprehensive analysis factoring in more than job-angst would have us just drive the clunkers more slowly and trade them in when they were really ready to trade.

Its a hoax, folks. The popularity is just a tip-off on how fatuous the fans of this "solution" are.

At one time or another, we have given Detroit and Dallas [1]every conceivable advantage using the general revenues of this nation. Now, populism provides a willing if blind alliance of the least conscientious consumers and the least conscientious industries to raid the coffers when they are already empty by the accounting standards that your bank would apply to you.

Did you think XOM was an oil company? If they were an oil company they would need a headquarters in the oil patch but I doubt they drill much oil on K street yet profit spectacularly. Like almost any other corporation, the sole logic of their existence is profit...they are a profit company more than an oil company. Hence the nice HQ office by the beltway. Your government and your oil company are so very much in bed together you probably can't tell who is on top unless you rip off the covers.

UPDATE: I drove a car today. It was someone else's hybrid Honda Civic. It was starting to get less than 45 MPG and I got the chore to have it serviced. The owner has a light foot on the gas pedal but then the dash board of a hybrid is actually a highly effective biofeedback video game to reprogram your driving habits. On the way back from the tune up, I caught this piece on NPR...wha'd I tell you?.