by Gilles d'Aymery
"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."
(Swans - August 13, 2007) CHILDREN'S HEALTH CARE: Before going into its August recess, the US Senate debated a federal program -- the State Children Health Insurance Program or SCHIP -- that provides funds to states for uninsured kids. The program began in 1997 and has covered about 5 million children. Still, out of the 45 to 47 million uninsured Americans, 9 million children are left without coverage. Fifty billion dollars had been earmarked for the next five years but a minority of Republicans cried foul. It was too expensive; it was, oh my, oh my, "socialized" medicine. A compromise was bargained so that it could receive 60 votes (and thus avoid a Republican filibuster). The amount was lowered to $35 billion, financed by an increase of the very regressive cigarette tax.
THE IRONY, OF COURSE, is that a large majority of smokers can be found in the segments of the population that cannot afford health insurance in the first place. So, the effect is to rob from Peter to pay Paul. Still, Mr. Bush has threatened to veto the legislation because he does not want to further "federalize" health care, which to mimic ol' Robert Byrd is pure undiluted hogwash -- H-O-G-W-A-S-H.
FAR FROM BEING FEDERALIZED, SCHIP is a public-private partnership. The states contract with private health insurance companies, and care is provided by private physicians. Only the money comes from the federal government, a slight detail that apparently has yet to reach the desk of our Decider in Chief. Filled with his usual compassion, Mr. Bush also indicated that the kids already have health care. How? Elementary, my dear Watson, they can go to the Emergency Room. I'm serious, he said that.
EVIDENTLY, Mr. Bush has never had the opportunity to go to an Emergency Room as I had on January 21, 2007, following the little melee in San Francisco between Priam and Mestor, our two canine companions. He'd find out it takes hours to receive care if it's not refused altogether due to the waiting lines and the meager hospital personnel overburdened with the most traumatic cases. Perhaps someone could also tell the president that preventive care is many-fold cheaper than the ER, and that a kid with health care is on average 68 percent better in school than an uninsured kid. Argh, those darn details.
ANYWAY, THESE $35 billion over five years will pay for 3.3 million kids, leaving 5.7 million still without coverage. Even so, the Reps whined that's too much money to spend on kids. We don't have the money, can't afford it, they said with crocodile tears in their eyes. The Senator of Massachusetts, John Kerry, suggested a few places where money could amply be found. For instance, what about restoring taxes to the level of 2000 on income above $1 million per year -- about 0.21 percent (not even a quarter of one percent) of taxpayers? This would bring just about $43 billion a year to our empty treasury. So, over a five-year period, $215 billion (plus interest) could be spent on health care for kids. Or what about tax subsidies to oil companies? Just about $9.4 billion over 10 years. What about the $13 billion of tax breaks given to gas-guzzling SUV manufacturers? What about taxes on American companies' foreign income? $53 billion over 10 years, according to Kerry.
FINALLY, to keep some perspective as to our moral priorities, $35 billion over five years is the equivalent of $583.3 million a month for the health care of 3.3 million kids. We are spending $12 billion a month in Iraq. Let me repeat: We are spending $12 billion PER MONTH in Iraq to kill and destroy, and get killed and maimed.
LITTLE KNOWN FACT: The US Tax Code is about 27,000 pages long!
MINNEAPOLIS BRIDGE COLLAPSE: It was built in 1967 and carried about 140,000 vehicles a day. How many times have I alerted readers to the crumbling of US infrastructure? How many times? I recall the article the now-deceased Professor Emeritus of Industrial Engineering at Columbia University Seymour Melman sent me in March 2003, "In The Grip Of A Permanent War Economy." In its penultimate paragraph, Melman indicated that the "American Society of Civil Engineers' Report Card for America's Infrastructure, the services from roads, bridges, transit, energy supply, drinking water, etc., etc. are all in deteriorating condition, deserving a combined Report Card rating of D+," and that the cost to put major parts of the infrastructure in good repair would require an investment of $1.3 trillion. The undated Report Card was either that of 2001 or latest 2002. The most recent ASCE Report Card, that of 2005, now gives a lower rating: D. It also states that the Total Investment Needs have grown to $1.6 trillion (in 2007 it's gone up to $1.7 trillion). The ASCE also notes that:
EPA has identified 350,000 contaminated sites requiring clean up in the next 20 years.
27.1% of our nation's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. [590,750 bridges -- it will cost $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to eliminate all bridge deficiencies.]
Commuters spend an average of 46 hours a year stuck in traffic.
Commuters waste 5.7 billion gallons of gas annually.
Federal funding for drinking water provides less than 10% of the estimated national need.
WHAT ELSE to say? Read the full "2005 Report Card." Maybe it will awaken you. Surely, after the Minneapolis bridge collapse, the politicos and the media will chitchat about the ardent necessity to fix the infrastructure, reminding the populace that for every $1 billion spent 50,000 jobs are created. But how long will the chitchat perdure? Till the next news cycle...that's how long. Remember Katrina?
CAPITALISM AT ITS BEST: Inquisitive minds want to know why we are spending only $850 million a year instead of the $11 billion needed "to replace aging facilities and comply with safe drinking water regulations," according to the ASCE. After all, public-paid, developed, and maintained water systems, tap water in other words, are top notch. They are indeed so good -- EPA standards for tap water are stricter than FDA regulations for bottled water -- that the plastic water bottles you buy at your favorite supermarket are quite often filled with municipal water. The giant Pepsi Cola Company has recently admitted that its famous Aquafina brand was tap water packaged in plastic bottles and sold through multi-million-dollar ad campaigns to consumers who are happy to pay up to 7,000 times the price for the same water they can get from their home faucet.
ADDITIONALLY, according to a report by Democracy Now! on August 1, 2007, "Each day an estimated 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away. Most are not recycled. The Pacific Institute has estimated 20 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the plastic for water bottles." Okay, Amy Goodman is not particularly revered for her accuracy. Actually, Peter Gleick, the president of the Pacific Institute, stated in an August 1 letter to The New York Times, "We estimate that the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil were used to make the billions of plastic bottles Americans consumed in 2006 as bottled water." He adds, "And that doesn't include the additional energy needed to fill the bottles with water, move them to our stores and homes, chill them for use or dispose of them." In its editorial, "In Praise of Tap Water," the paper of record cited data provided by Lester Brown's Earth Policy Institute: "it takes about 1.5 million barrels of oil to make the water bottles Americans use each year. That could fuel 100,000 cars a year instead. And, only about 23 percent of those bottles are recycled..."
SO WHICH IS WHICH? The editors of the NYT picked the data from "Bottled Water: Pouring Resources Down the Drain," the February 2006 article written by Emily Arnold and Janet Larsen. But to add to the confusion, the same Janet Larsen, who is research director at the Earth Policy Institute, tells journalist Bo Petersen of The Charleston Post and Courier "that 10 million barrels of oil are used in new bottles made each year." (See "Bottle Battles: Empty water bottles becoming environmental scourge," July 13, 2007.) Hmm, hard to get the facts, just the facts and only the facts these days! In any case, it takes a lot of oil to produce these estimated 70 million bottles used daily in the U.S., of which 60 million (also estimated) end up in landfill all over the country or thrown along the sides of our roads. It takes about 1,000 years for these plastic bottles to biodegrade. For more information:
Google plastic water bottles, US consumption
Emily Arnold and Janet Larsen's very informative article
Earth Policy Institute
Think Outside the Bottle -- Challenging the Bottled Water Industry and Corporate Control of Water
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Natural Resources Defense Council
World Water Council (1.1 billion people live without clean drinking people)
ONE ISSUE Amy Goodman and her guests did not touch with a ten-foot pole, however, was the cleverness -- or the insanity -- of the for-profit system that is destroying us slowly but relentlessly. See how it works. Municipal water systems are funded by our taxes. They are public utilities so long as local elected officials don't fall for the privatization schemes plotted by giant international corporations. The tap water we drink is both cheap and of excellent quality, proving once again that not-for-profit public works is highly efficient. Then comes along a water bottling company, say Pepsi. It pumps that public water -- whose purity and low cost were financed by the public, not the company -- bottles that public water, and resells it to us at huge profits -- a gallon of that water costing more than a gallon of gasoline. So, we subsidized the product and they raked in the profits. We are hit twice. Actually, three times if you consider the environmental mayhem whose eventual cleanup is also paid by our taxes. And remember, these huge corporations pay practically no taxes at all as their CEOs and top management live comfortably in Richistan.
DO YOU STILL drink bottled water? This household rarely does. We fill recycled bottles with San Francisco tap water, which in part comes from the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park (Hetch Hetchi Reservoir). It's about time we boycott those corporations and support our municipal water systems!
HUMOR OF THE TIMES. An apparently irked (and imbecilic) reader asks: "No to Gay marriage!!! Are you and your ilk members of the treasonous Fifth Column? I, a red, white, and blue patriot, want you out of this country, preferably tar-feathered and sent to Guantánamo." Err, in respect to the initial question, having read Mr. Fielding's letter and following President Bush's order regarding executive privilege, I must respectfully decline to answer your question...at this time. On the follow-up, you are not the first "patriot" that has wished me tar-feathered and ousted. Actually, some of your own ilk have threatened me with getting a noose around my neck on top of a bonfire. I'm used to the blather. But let me leave it with a postscript and a puzzling question. The postscript is short and sweet: If I could -- but it's not that easy -- I'd be out of this country in short order. (I'm not sure the U.S. is redeemable. It's gone too far down the hole to hell.) As to the question, it's also sweet and short: Why, for good sake, one would read a publication that one loathes? Is that imbecility or masochism?
I ALMOST FORGOT the remark against gay marriage. The best rejoinder I've found lately is a short quip by Sam Smith, the genial editor of The Progressive Review. "If you don't like gay marriage, don't marry a gay." As simple as that!
"THE MIDDLE EAST THAT WE WANT TO SEE" -- Condi Rice's undefined expression -- should be a stable region, peaceful and prosperous, where the moderate states (read pro-US authoritarian regimes) and our friends and allies (read Israel) can realize their full potential for economic development in a safe and secure environment. At least, one would expect that was the meaning she had in mind. To achieve these worthy objectives -- peace in the Greater Middle East, a Palestinian state (preferably located on the other side of the Jordan River) next to a right-to-exist Israel, access to privatized oil fields -- the US administration has engaged into a new round of high-powered diplomacy centered around a policy that the U.S. knows best and one that has a long record of impressive success: military assistance. The State Department announced that the U.S. would increase its military aid to Israel by $30 billion and to Egypt by $13 billion over the next 10 years. In addition, the U.S. will sell military hardware to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman in the order of "minimum" $20 billion, which could be increased and also include assistance to Jordan and Lebanon (they are broke). As Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated, it demonstrates "the importance of this region in terms of US vital interests and the importance we attach to reassuring our friends out here of our staying power." In other words, want peace? Make war! It sure has worked just fine in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as it did in Vietnam.
TALKING ABOUT WAR IN IRAQ, opponents of our latest efforts in peace-making should be made aware that their opposition to the Iraq War could be construed by the finest legal minds inhabiting the Department of Justice as knowingly or unknowingly aiding or supporting the enemy (the insurgents, the terrorists, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, etc.), causing as a consequence a freeze of their financial assets.
Walter Pincus, the Washington Post national security and intelligence reporter, in a July 23, 2007 dispatch, "Destabilizing Iraq, Broadly Defined," stated:
President Bush issued an executive order last week titled "Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq." In the extreme, it could be interpreted as targeting the financial assets of any American who directly or indirectly aids someone who has committed or "poses a significant risk of committing" violent acts "threatening the peace or stability of Iraq" or who undermines "efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform" in the war-torn country.
NOW, IF YOU OPPOSE THE WAR, aren't you undermining the "efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform" and henceforth supporting the enemy? Aren't you threatening the "stabilization efforts in Iraq"? Amazing what specious legal minds can come up with, no? Bong, swash, you oppose the war and your government seizes the little financial assets you may own -- your government... Make sure, by the way, that if or when you send a small contribution to a charity that endeavors to help people in those war-torn places (Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Lebanon), that charity is not in any way, shape, or form associated with Moqtada al-Sadr, the Taliban, Hamas, or Hezbollah), "knowingly or unknowingly," 'cuz here may go your life savings. And please do not support antiwar publications, 'cuz ditto!
AS PINCUS NOTED, "Be careful what you say and whom you help -- especially when it comes to the Iraq war and the Iraqi government."
I AM FINALLY CONVINCED by the rationale and am hereby announcing to the world that I have become a strong supporter of the war and the Bush administration -- any war, any US administration. Attack Iran: I'm for it. When Obama is president and attacks Pakistan, I'm for it. Like Hitchens, I have suddenly become a pro-war advocate in order to -- clap-clap-clap -- save the white, Judeo-Christian world. Of course, I am also a bona fide defender of AIPAC. Israel can do no wrong from sea to shining sea. Having lost my right to Habeas Corpus, risking to lose the little financial assets I've managed to garner, it's about time that I lose my soul, too. At least you can now send money to Swans without incurring the wrath of the American god.
A FORMER COLLEAGUE of Jan, my dear wife and partner in crime, let her know that she was seeking a job in the UK, selling her condo in Half Moon Bay, California, and leaving this hellish country. Brings a few ideas, or at least fantasies, to mind, no? What about Vancouver, BC? It would not be too much of a move.
ON TO ALOUETTE, gentille Alouette, and her latest letter. I took the example of Barack Obama for it encapsulated the positions taken by the Establishment. It just happened that at the time I wrote my piece Obama was laying down his "vision" of god and country. I could have used Clinton's screeds as well, but it was not fresh material. We all know where Clinton stands. Poor me, why would I be a racist in highlighting Obama's BS? I did not even mention the complexion of his skin. Look, Obama is being packaged like some sort of JFK -- make it JFK II with a darker complexion. I fully understand that black folks can be excited by his candidature. I recall watching with initially some disbelief as Harry Belafonte -- an idol of mine -- was drinking with joy and a look of paternal admiration the Kool-Aid blathered by Obama during the debate at Howard University a couple of months ago. Then, I thought again. I suppose that in Belafonte's wildest dreams he had never expected that a black man could run for president competitively, and I suspect that if an SOB has to be elected a black one would do just as fine as a pale face. If I were a black voter I may make that choice as well. It has to do with pride as much as emotion. Were I a woman, I also suspect that I'd look favorably to Mrs. Clinton's campaign, even though I still would consider that she is a member of the SOB club. In either case, you get an SOB, but you break the race or the gender barrier -- call it an incremental change in an insane system.
THIS IS NOT TO SAY that African Americans have rallied behind Obama's campaign. They have not, at least as of yet. Some folks, like Glen Ford, the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, are highly critical of Barack Obama. What's puzzling is why white Corporate America has decided to push the Obama candidacy. He is evidently a product of the Establishment. What gives? Is this a twisted strategy to reelect a Republican (white) candidate on the assumption that in a general election a black man could not be elected, or is there a wider agenda at play? In recent years, prominent conservative African Americans have been pushed on the center stage in the Democratic Party. The Congressional Black Caucus is now largely sponsored by corporate interests and moving away from policies that ought to address the immense disparities between white and black America. Blacks and Indians (aka Native Americans) are statistically the two most endangered human communities in the country, followed by the Latino community. Yet more and more of those corporate-funded African Americans are locking the doors of opportunities and redress for their brothers and sisters and throwing the keys in a deep well of neglect and repression. What's going on? It's as if they were throwing solidarity through the window. Wealth is indeed colorless, and Obama's "freshness" and "cleanliness" (Biden) should be regarded in light of these trends.
AMAZING STATS. Let me end with a more positive tidbit, at least for lovers of the English language: According to Erin McKean ("On Language," The New York Times Magazine, July 29, 2007), the Oxford English Corpus is a database that contains 1.8 billion written and spoken English words. The OEC is "compiled from 32,000 sources, ranging from news to fiction to blogs, all published since 2000, representing English from all over the world and growing every year." One billion eight hundred million words... Wow! Now, these are not different words. The most commonly used word in the English language -- the -- is repeated million of times in the Corpus. Actually, the Lemmas (based words) the, of, and, to, that, have account for 25% of the Corpus. Still, the 1989 twenty-volume edition of the OED contains 615,000 plus words. How many, or few, of them do we use on a daily basis? Four hundred to one thousand at the most (my guess). See AskOxford.com/oec to learn more about this fest.
. . . . .
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.