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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, August 6, 2007


Where are the Guns?

Look - It's not like every single weapon given to our Iraqi "allies" is missing. Why, it isn't even the majority of them. So why don't all you Liberal Democrats (which just happens to be Rudy Giuliani's favorite new term) stop blaming President Bush and the Republican Party for everything that's going wrong in Iraq. After all, ONLY thirty percent of all weapons given to Iraq are actually missing, according to the GAO (Government Accountability Office).

What the hell do they know anyway?

Almost 200,000 AK-47 rifles and handguns are unaccounted for, according to the report and one has to wonder how many bullets fired from those guns found their targets in the form of American soldiers.

It was just last year that a special inspector general in Iraq totaled the number of missing weapons at 14,000. Oops!

Of the $19.2 billion spent by the US on Iraqi troop training and equipment, $2.8 billion of it was spent on weapons. Almost one billion dollars ($840 million) worth of that equipment is now gone.

Much in the same way those responsible, both fiscally and in the cost of human life, for Iraq had wasted pallets full of $100 dollar bills the missing weapons are have to make one's head spin. And this is so much worse. The terrorists - those the Bush administration make sure to tell us all how well they are protecting us from - don't even have to find places to buy the weapons to kill our troops, WE GAVE THEM THE MEANS! And that makes it even harder to fathom.

And guess who was in charge of the Iraqi troop training and weapon distribution during the worst part of this? Why, it was none other than current Iraqi Supreme Commander General David Patraeus who, according to the report, allowed weapons to be distributed haphazardly and failed to follow established procedures.

"They really have no idea where they are. It likely means that the United States is unintentionally providing weapons to bad actors."
-Rachel Stohl of the Center for Defense Information

We're all familiar with those government supplied pictures of US and Iraqi soldiers raiding homes and finding weapon stashes one could only conclude have been put there by those very same terrorists and such we are fighting in Iraq. Just how many are US Army surplus?

Some of these weapons, the Pentagon admits, were even used against our troops during the worst battles of "The War After Mission Accomplished" in Fallujah.

"We know there is seepage and very little is being done to address the problem,"

If one doesn't see a problem, then one doesn't have to fix the problem, Ms. Stohl. And that's just the way the Bushies likes it. I'm even surprised that the GAO report wasn't somehow deemed "classified" by President Bush and his cabal of deciders and deniers. But what is classified is another report which would tell us where the funding for insurgent groups are coming from.

"All of that information is classified,"
-Joseph A. Christoff of the GAO

According to Stohl, much of the weapon cache wasn't secured as troops searched for the WMD's which we now know was an intentional aberration created by the likes of Dick Cheney to help create the mess we're in today. Instead of keeping tabs on our weapons, our troops were searching for non-existent Weapons of Mass Distraction.

In contrast to the missing weapons provided to our internal "allies" which have gone missing in Iraq, the GAO found no problems during the 1990's distributed to the Bosnian Federation Army. Just as a reminder, Bill Clinton was President then.

The GAO will also investigate similar issues in Afghanistan and our new "allies" there. Let's just hope that those weapons don't end up in the hands of the Taliban.

Or maybe they already have.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

It took me a while to go to see Michael Moore’s latest documentary, *Sicko,* about the failures of the American health care system.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I am seriously ill with a progressive disease, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to see other people suffering for two hours. Second, while I can objectively enjoy Michael Moore’s work because he asks serious and important questions, I tire of the hyperbolic manner of his presentation which ignores any facts that impede his argument.

Everyone has a little of the propagandist in them. We all have a point of view, we all want to present that point of view and forget the facts.

Being a journalist hounded by fact-checkers doesn’t allow me that luxury, except with my friends. And my friends are a knowledgeable group, so I don’t get away with trying to bamboozle them, either.

Moore gets away with a lot in *Sicko.* Nearly everything he presents about health care in other countries is exaggerated or just plain wrong.

Where the film is absolutely on target, however, is in what he says about the American health care system. It’s almost totally broken and Moore points out many of the places where it has failed irretrievably.

Moore’s film has been, unsurprisingly, accepted as gospel by the left and totally dismissed by the right. It’s not gospel, but it certainly should not be dismissed. It should be watched by anyone who thinks there’s nothing wrong with the health care system in America. I suggest we start with the President, Cabinet, Congress and health insurance administrators.

I went to see the film with three other people. Two of us had been diagnosed with cancer in our 20s. Another had been hospitalized for a mental illness. Another had gone through two serious cancer scares in the past two years. I was the only person in the theatre in a wheelchair.

One man and three women, between the ages of 24 and 53. This made us prototypical of the American health care demographic, the “paying” part of the spectrum. Too old to be on our parents’ health care plan, too young for Medicare.

What made us atypical is that each of us has health insurance. (One in six Americans has no health insurance.) My companions get theirs through their various jobs, each paying a different percentage in addition to what their employers pay. A self-employed writer, I pay for my own health insurance.

In many respects we mirrored the worst case scenarios that Moore presented because of our health histories.

I was diagnosed with cancer in my 20s. That put me on a “pre-existing condition” list for the rest of my life. If I ever let my health insurance lapse, I would never be able to get it again. I was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease in my 30s. That sealed my fate.

But my companions have pre-existing conditions, now, too. That means they would be barred from getting health insurance again if any of them lost the insurance they now have.

No doubt many of you reading this are nodding your heads. Your aunt or cousin, neighbor or friend lost their health insurance and then couldn’t get it again. It’s a common story in America. Someone loses a job and loses their insurance, often for an entire family. Or they have a job that doesn’t pay for health insurance and they can’t afford to pay for it themselves. My health insurance costs more each month than my mortgage payment.

These are only some of the reasons it’s hard to stay insured in America, which is why six million Americans lose their health care or some of it every year.

A few weeks ago Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was on a Sunday morning political show and said that not everyone in America *wants or needs* health insurance.

Forget for a second that McCain’s chances of becoming president are almost non-existent. He’s still a sitting senator. Who doesn’t need health insurance in America? The people driving over the bridge in Minneapolis on August 1st who were perfectly healthy one minute and then plunging 150 feet into the Mississippi River the next? A college student like my friend’s daughter who was perfectly fine one minute and then diagnosed with meningitis the next? An athlete who suddenly find out he has a heart defect or who breaks a leg skiing or hiking?

Everyone is perfectly healthy until they get sick or have an accident. That was the case for all four of us at *Sicko* the other night.

Everyone needs health insurance. So why don’t we all have it?

The central question in Moore’s film is why doesn’t America take care of its sick people? It’s not just a valid question, it’s an important question. It’s not a question that can be dismissed.

The film sparked a lively discussion among us after we left the theatre the other night, and perhaps that is Moore’s singular achievement with this film. Unlike *Fahrenheit 9/11* or *Bowling for Columbine,* the issue is one every American can relate to personally. Not everyone (inexplicably) is against the war or guns in America. But *everyone* knows someone who has had to deal with health issues and everyone, no matter what their age, knows that they could get sick or have an accident at any time.

Midway through the film, Moore makes a tiny point that might get lost in the hyperbole of the lauding of other countries’ health care systems (which are far from perfect, either).

The point he makes is this: Conservative politicians argue that Americans don’t want “socialized” medicine, they don’t want a national health care service. Moore says the word that scares everyone is “socialized.”

And he’s right, of course. If you ask most Americans, they will parrot that back: No, they don’t want socialized medicine. They don’t really know what socialized medicine is, but they know that socialism is a bad thing and somehow antithetical to a democracy, so no, they don’t want socialized medicine.

Okay, so I would ask Americans this: Do you want a “socialized” school system? How about a “socialized” police force or fire department or water department? Or even just a “socialized” library system?


Guess what–you’ve already got them. We *have* a public school system, we *have* a public library system, we have public police, fire and water departments. So why can’t we have a public health system?

These were some of the questions I raised in the conversation with my companions as we ate dinner after the film. I have been thinking about them ever since.
In the past two weeks both the President and Vice President have undergone minor surgical procedures. There was a great deal of discussion in the media about the procedures and what they meant for the country and for the two leaders.

Everybody talked about risk and transfers of power. Nobody talked about what it cost.

George Bush had a colonoscopy. The standard cost of a colonoscopy is $1,000. This is what you would pay if you didn’t have health insurance or hadn’t met your deductible (usually $5,000). The cost of a colonoscopy doesn’t include the cost of the medication used to sedate the patient nor does it include the cost of the pre-procedure preparations or any post-procedure complications, like intestinal bleeding.

The standard cost to replace a pacemaker or defibrillator, which is what Dick Cheney had done, is around $8,000. The cost of the pacemaker alone is $5,000. The anesthesia, doctor’s fees and other hospital costs are between $1,500 and $3,000.

There was no discussion about the costs of these procedures because both the President and Vice President have health insurance. Paid for by the federal government. You know, like socialized medicine.

In *Sicko,* Moore present a series of people who actually have health insurance, but it doesn’t help them. A middle-aged couple ends up bankrupt and living in their daughter’s basement because the wife got breast cancer and the husband had a heart attack. They had health insurance, but it didn’t pay for everything. Another woman–in her 20s–was diagnosed with cancer. Her health insurance wouldn’t pay for treatment. Now she’s dying. Another woman had a brain tumor, but her health insurance wouldn’t pay for it to be removed. She’s now deceased.

Certainly Moore is trying to prove a point, but it isn’t difficult to do so in the current health care environment because everyone in America is, like me, living on borrowed time.

Not everyone is sick, although more than two-thirds of us are obese, so if we aren’t sick now, we will be soon. One in four of us smokes, so if we aren’t sick now, we will be soon.

Those of us who have health insurance think that it will take care of us if we get sick. Moore’s film makes it very clear how unlikely that might be.

In the U.S., more than half of all bankruptcies are filed because of catastrophic medical expenses. That’s because private health insurance is a for-profit business and only pays for so much illness.

Back in 1993, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton tried to re-vamp the health care system in America. She was sent packing by the Republican Congress. Many Republicans still loathe her for attempting to make life more livable for a majority of Americans, while many Democrats blame her for not achieving that goal. No one has taken on health care since.

It shows. The current health care system is broken. Rudy Giuliani is running for president on his 9/11 credentials. What few Americans know is that he worked tirelessly to keep first responders from getting health care benefits when they began showing signs of irreparable lung disease from digging through the rubble.

McCain is already on record as saying not everyone needs health care. Mitt Romney thinks everyone should pay for health care. No matter how poor they are.
John Edwards talks about health care a lot, but then his wife has terminal cancer, so he knows just how essential health care can be. Barack Obama, like Edwards, wants an overhaul of the system.

As for Hillary Clinton, she has been talking about health care since she was elected to the Senate where she has proposed bill after bill to create the changes she tried to implement in 1993. Clinton mandates universal health care as her platform.

And that’s what we need in America. Universal health care. We don’t have to call it socialized medicine. We can call it public health–after all we already have Medicare and Medicaid. If someone on welfare can have universal health care paid for by the government and someone in Congress can have it, too, then why can’t the 60 million Americans who are either uninsured or under-insured? Why can’t we all have the best health care possible?

A few months back Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) proposed that all uninsured Americans be given the same health care package the Congress had. No one in Congress was able to explain why it was good for Congress to have that health care plan, but not just as good for other Americans.

In the 14 years since Hillary Clinton faced down Congress over health care (vividly recounted in Moore’s film), no one has challenged that system. Instead the health care industry has lobbied Congress, given money to the President and other politicians and done everything possible to keep people from getting the care they need and deserve.

It’s time to make our national health a priority. Whether one agrees with Moore’s presentation or not is irrelevant, the basic premise of his film is correct: We have a broken system that allows healthy people to get sick and sick people to die.

The only way to make a sick system well is to treat it. The answer to the health care crisis in America is simple: Universal health care. Any candidate for president in 2008 who *doesn’t* prioritize health care doesn’t deserve a single vote. The health care industry has made its bottom line more important than human life while politicians–themselves well-insured–have cashed in on the profits.

America is the only western nation without a national health care system. That’s as anachronistic as it is appalling and it must change. It’s time to put health care back on the agenda, before we get any sicker than we already are.

In response to Laura and George going to Minneapolis to take advantage of the carnage, Dorothy Schwartz writes,

So Laura B. went to Minneapolis -- did she go to New Orleans? I don't think so. Of course Barbara B. did manage to get to Houston where she gleefully reported on how wonderful Katrina had turned out for the residents.

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-Noah Greenberg