Friday, November 5, 2010

In the Afterglower

I’m not sure what exactly Obama could have done differently. Was change ever really possible? If he hadn’t feigned ignorance that elected officials are essentially little more than indentured servants to corporations and special interest groups and said, “I’ll try” instead of “I promise,” John McCain would have certainly prevailed. With McCain in the Oval office I imagine that the recent election would have seen the weeding out of a lot of Republicans instead of Democrats.

As a supporter of Obama I am particularly disappointed that inadequate progress has been made towards insuring the liberty of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation. Good God, you’d think a black man at the very least would be able to make the civil rights thing work out. I am however, confident that during my lifetime there will be effective legislation to guarantee equal rights for the gay and lesbian population and I take a bit of grim satisfaction in considering how those who sought to impede this will be remembered by history. Niggling progress in the area of gay rights and a namby-pamby healthcare plan were a huge let down to many Obama stalwarts. Maybe more headway on a lot of social issues will be made if and when Obama is elected to a second term.

I don’t know how many rabid Obama supporters actually went Tea Party but I think a lot of the fresh faced believers in the candidate’s possibility have gone sour and cynical and couldn’t muster the gumption to refute what seemed, even in a big election, an inordinate amount of disinformation. According the Poltifact website, respected across the whole political divide for accuracy and objectivity, Obama has kept 122 of the promises he made as a candidate. 40 promises resulted in compromise; 85 are stalled; 234 are considered “in the works” and only 22 were outright broken. I realize the numeric values do not reflect various promises’ disparities in magnitude, when, for example, the acquisition of a puppy is counted in the “kept” column.

Obama’s record really isn’t that bad and yet his former acolytes just shrug when he’s referred to as the “worst president in history.” Democrats failed to make clear that what the bailout averted would have been cataclysmic and that more than half of the TARP money has already been repaid. The truth is more private sector jobs have been created in 2010 than in the entire eight years of George W’s reign. No one had the balls to say that the voices disparaging national health insurance emanate from puppets of the healthcare industry, fueled by greed, all the more venal as it hides under the wooly fleece of humanitarianism.

Much of Obama’s army went AWOL in the recent election and indeed there is much to be disillusioned about but it is unfair to attribute all that is not right here to Obama. There are some largely symbolic gestures that at least indicate a palpable change in attitude. For the first time in U.S. history the list of all visitors to the White House is made public. A Latina woman has been seated on the Supreme Court. The “global gag order” which prevented U.S humanitarian dollars going to groups that funded or performed abortions is rescinded. Restrictions on stem cell research have been lifted. Enhanced interrogation is no longer sanctioned. Benefits for same sex partners are available for federal employees. Obama appointed more openly gay officials than any of his predecessors. The media is no longer barred from photographing the returning coffins of fallen soldiers. The Lilly Ledbetter Act, prohibiting pay discrimination was signed into law as was the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act.

Obama has been accused of not standing up to malfeasance in the banking industry and indeed a lot of the guilty will escape punishment. Much of the financial collapse however was due to legislation that deregulated a lot of the financial industry and dating from way back in the 1980s. I disagree with the decision not to bring some of the worst of the worst down but I can see why it was felt best not to open this can of worms. Obama has made progress with tighter regulation of the banking and financial industries and the protection of consumers. Certain risky activities of the nation's largest financial firms will be curtailed and the way Americans obtain and use credit cards and negotiate mortgages is changed for the better. There were a number of dispiriting capitulations to the finance industry but the legislation still has some teeth.

I will not underestimate the potential damage the conservative backlash will do in terms of progress on climate and environmental issues. I do think that perhaps a conservative congress might be more receptive to encouraging the development of safe, clean, efficient, renewable nuclear energy as exemplified in France and Belgium. Like the weird myth that a microwave oven saps vegetables of nutritional value (au contraire) a lot of lefties are unable to make the distinction between nuclear energy and nuclear bombs. Although probably a lot of conservative folks who support nuclear energy can’t either and maybe that should be a concern but popular wisdom is that we are far more technically prepared to prevent nuclear energy calamities than oil spills.

There probably won’t be a lot of other good news on the environmental front and Obama’s progress, even with a Democratic congress, was disappointing. But, the stimulus package does include $71 billion for energy and environmental initiatives and another $20 billion for green tax incentives. There is a 10% increase in federal subsidies for national parks and forests. Passenger car fuel economy standards will require 35.5 mpg (up from 27.5) by 2016. The importance of these accomplishments pales to the looming inevitability of climate change but I will give Obama at least some credit for trying to dispel the myth that global warming is a myth.

Reagan and Clinton were also humiliated at mid-term elections in their first terms but both survived, governed and were reelected. There is, I think, good work that can be in the spirit of bi-partisanship. I cannot imagine that true fiscal Republicans will let our trillion dollar military budget remain hidden under the rug like it was for the entire election. The U.S. picks up the tab on 46% of the world’s military spending. China is number two, responsible for less than 7 percent of the expenditure. Our annual budget for the military is over a trillion dollars. The shrill Republican rhetoric about reduced spending, it would seem, obliges the party to take this on, if not to prevent the further loss of life, to make sure that the war doesn’t come back as a bite in the ass to the “reduce spending” party in 2012.

Perhaps one of the less controversial issues facing a congress that has just taken a giant step to the right is the crisis in education. Unfortunately, this should have been indentified as a crisis twenty-five years ago. Job loss is being attributed to the bad economy and certainly the numbers shot up as confidence went down. But, no matter how much cash we infuse into stimulus programs it won’t compensate for our failure for over two decades to groom a workforce for new millennia. Under Obama’s watch the country’s first Chief Technology Officer was appointed and inevitably this Department will more than cross paths with the Department of Education. In the last 2 years Pell grants for college students have been increased. Middlemen can no longer profiteer on student loans. There is funding for the recruitment of math and science teachers. There’s a long way to go and I hope the irrefutable connection between education and unemployment stimulates some good bi-partisan legislature.

California did much better than a lot of other states in the mid-term. We’re probably in too big a mess for Jerry Brown to do a lot of good but at least I believe in his integrity. I am perhaps even happier about Meg Whitman’s defeat. I hope that this is a catalyst for the renewed support of publically financed elections where ballot eligibility for candidates and propositions would be based on a required number of signatures. Public monies would be equally divided and personal, corporate or individual contributions would be prohibited. Corporations, unions and other organizations would be unable to finance political action committees to further any cause or candidate.

Academy of Motion Picture Sciences members are only allowed to vote for short films or documentaries if they’ve attended screenings for all of the nominated films. I presume that voting will eventually take place via internet and perhaps viewing videos pertinent to candidates and propositions should be required. Given the trends I noticed in the California election, I suspect that Propositions 22 and 26 passed and Prop. 24 failed because corporately funded advertising was grossly misleading and voters really didn’t understand the actual propositions.

I don’t know how to break to cycle of political beholdeness. Politicians know in their hearts that our democracy would be better served if elected officials had no obligations other than to constituents. But, the enactment of any legislation to temper the political power of special interest groups is self defeating for any ambitious politician. My husband will be surprised by the cynicism I show in positing that favors were being repaid when the Supreme Court ruled that curtailing political special interest groups’ right to buy and own politicians is a violation of free speech.

Republicans, egged on by heavy hitting healthcare lobbies, are threatening to try to repeal national healthcare but most pundits feel this is beyond their reach. The health package is pretty lightweight but already there is a 50% Medicare copayment reduction for prescription medication and the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization has provided coverage for four million previously uninsured children.

The big plan has already been stripped of language regarding end of life care. My mother was institutionalized due to the onset of dementia about five years ago. No Medicare funds are available for residential Alzheimer’s care so this was paid for entirely with private funds. For the last six months or so my mom was able to ambulate and feed herself with assistance. Occasionally she would recognize me but the two women who had cared for her for two years were strangers. She would fuss and become belligerent at the indignities of being diapered and bathed. I was awakened by a call from the board and care reporting that Mom was having a seizure and that the paramedics had been called.

My mother spent a week in intensive care. There was no clear sign as to the cause of the seizure and it was brushed off as Alzheimer’s related but she was also found to have pneumonia. I didn’t authorize an invasive broncosopy procedure to clear her lungs and help diagnose if the pneumonia was bacterial in nature until her doctor realized that if she posed any danger of carrying infectious pneumonia she could not return to the board and care. I had already enrolled for hospice care but this entailed services performed at the board and care. Treating the pneumonia was presented by her physician, a specialist in gerontology, as the only option. The possibility of transferring her to a residential hospice was never suggested to me. She was nearly three weeks in the hospital and then returned to the board and care. She died two weeks later. The bill for the hospitalization alone is over $100,000.00. There are also laboratory, medication, and physician bills trickling in. Most of this will be covered by Medicare but the truth is I would have been happier if the Feds ponied up instead for the college education of one of my children.

Care during the final year of a person’s life accounts for more than 25% of all Medicare expenditures. Medicare will pay most of a 100k hospital bill for a terminally ill woman who had the cognitive abilities of a grapefruit but services to counsel me towards steering her to hospice will not be covered because the right has branded end of life counseling “death panels.”

It is ok to execute a prisoner, who given the choice would prefer to spend life behind bars with no possibility of release, even if the cost of carrying out a death sentence is significantly higher than keeping a inmate alive for his or her natural life. Lots of people of faith ascribe to this but would fight to the death to keep the likes of Terry Schivo or my mother, people doomed to have no further quality of life, alive. I’ve told the kids that if I am ever permanently non-compos mentis that they should pick up a pillow and a pair of rubber gloves at the Target and just be sure to pay with cash.

Why can’t we go beyond “Do Not Resuscitate” orders? If qualified medical professionals determine that by the standards I set forth to my loved ones, there is no hope for life with quality, please then give me a lethal dose of something that has a mindblowing high. This isn’t, as my mother used say, “everyone’s cup of tea” and there are those who would choose to remain alive no matter. I am not one of them and perhaps the most unsettled issue I have with my mother is that she would have detested everything about the last few years of her life. I do not ever want my children ever to regard seeing me as a dreaded obligation. I talk to them about this, probably way more than they’d like, but I want them to be clear about my personal definition of “quality of life” in the hopes they have a wider arena of choice than I had with my own mom. I hope I live my life in a way that helps them further grasp my own idiosyncratic take on “meaningful” so that the cessation of meaning will be obviously apparent. And I hope that there are death panels.

Shabbat Shalom

1 comment:

Fionnchú said...

Thanks for posting here lots of what we discuss, and even agree upon, beyond the merits of microwaving. And how can I be surprised by cynicism? Verily I say unto thee, there are folks who make me sound like Pollyanna, on both sides of that tattered red-blue divide. Call me me