Archive for August 9, 2010

Death Panel Demagoguery

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment

One year ago last week, Sarah Palin alerted the world on Facebook to the dangers of the health care bill then under consideration by Congress.

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Four months later, this would earn PolitiFact‘s designation as Lie of the Year. But the damage was done. Fellow demagogues jumped on the bandwagon, including Newt Gingrich, who declared on This Week with George Stephanopoulosthat, “You are asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there are clearly people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards.”

There were many debunking efforts. At the ABC news website, for example, Kate Snow explained three days after Palin’s charges that, “At issue is a 10-page section of a 1,000-page House health care reform bill on ‘advanced care planning consultations.’ These consultations would reimburse a doctor for talking with a patient once every five years about what kind of care they want near the end of life. … The provision would create no such panel. It calls only for a ‘consultation between the individual and a practitioner.’ … In fact, the intent of the measure is not for doctors to tell patients what to do, but to give doctors more incentives to talk to patients about all of their options.”

Alas, the damage was done, and the bill that finally passed had no such provision.

Why am I reviewing this? Because on the first anniversary of this madness, our family is dealing with the difficulties that arise when someone does not give instructions on end-of-life choices. The someone is Gail’s brother, now comatose and on life support at a Seattle hospital, as we learned when we were awakened at 6:00 AM yesterday by a doctor’s phone call. He may regain consciousness. He may even be able to come off the various devices that are now assisting him. But if he doesn’t, and this would appear to be the more likely scenario, then decisions will have to be made, and he has provided no guidance.

Yesterday, Gail, her sister, and I sat with three doctors to review the medical, legal, and ethical issues and the possible timeline for decision making. This was a difficult conversation for all the obvious reasons, but also because we were operating in a vacuum with regard to their brother’s wishes. The doctors helpfully clarified that their initial concern was not what we wished for him, but what he would have wished. And so we speculated, but really, how could we know?

I can’t say that if he had the appropriate conversations with doctors, lawyers, or family earlier, he would have left instructions. But I would happily encourage and promote opportunities for such conversations to be held routinely. He has been in and out of hospitals for several years. If only he had left instructions during one of his stays.

As we continue to work our way through these issues, and as so many others do every day, I say to Sarah and the rest of the death panel demagogues, “Shame on you.” You should know better, and you do. As for you, Betsy McCaughey, the instigator of all this nonsense, shame especially on you.

Categories: Health, Life, Politics

War Without End

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Nagasaki bomb, August 9, 1945

Today is the 65th anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Three days earlier, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. People continue to argue, and surely will as long as the human race survives, about the morality of President Truman’s decision to explode what, sixty-five years later, remain the only atomic bombs ever used in war. One thing is certain, though: the bombs brought the war with Japan to a close.

Now we find ourselves in a war apparently without end. Recent coverage of the war in Afghanistan, plus the release by wikileaks of over 91,000 reports on the war from 2004 to 2010, suggest not just that it is not going well, but that if we are to achieve our stated objectives, we may need to be there for decades to come. See, among many, this piece from today’s NYT, in which Gordon Goldstein (author of Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, about which I wrote two Januarys ago) is quoted as arguing “that it’s clear the counterinsurgency and population-protection policy, as set out in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s manifesto last summer, is failing, reminiscent of the grandiose plans Mr. Bundy promulgated in Vietnam in the 1960s.”

Bush began the war in parallel with tax cuts. As we continue to fight, the politicians who most ardently support the war ask that we cut taxes further. At what cost domestically? With the economic downturn cutting into local tax revenues and the federal government unable to fill the gap, much of the damage can be seen at the local level through cutbacks in government services. Three such examples were provided two days ago in a NYT article:

Plenty of businesses and governments furloughed workers this year, but Hawaii went further — it furloughed its schoolchildren. Public schools across the state closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year to save money, giving students the shortest academic year in the nation and sending working parents scrambling to find care for them.

Many transit systems have cut service to make ends meet, but Clayton County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, decided to cut all the way, and shut down its entire public bus system. Its last buses ran on March 31, stranding 8,400 daily riders.

Even public safety has not been immune to the budget ax. In Colorado Springs, the downturn will be remembered, quite literally, as a dark age: the city switched off a third of its 24,512 streetlights to save money on electricity, while trimming its police force and auctioning off its police helicopters.

Faced with the steepest and longest decline in tax collections on record, state, county and city governments have resorted to major life-changing cuts in core services like education, transportation and public safety that, not too long ago, would have been unthinkable. And services in many areas could get worse before they get better.

The length of the downturn means that many places have used up all their budget gimmicks, cut services, raised taxes, spent their stimulus money — and remained in the hole. Even with Congress set to approve extra stimulus aid, some analysts say states are still facing huge shortfalls.

Cities and states are notorious for crying wolf around budget time, and for issuing dire warnings about draconian cuts that never seem to materialize. But the Great Recession has been different. Around the country, there have already been drastic cuts in core services like education, transportation and public safety, and there are likely to be more before the downturn ends. The cuts that have disrupted lives in Hawaii, Georgia and Colorado may be extreme, but they reflect the kinds of cuts being made nationwide, disrupting the lives of millions of people in ways large and small.

(Glenn Greenwald used this NYT article as the starting point for his recent post, What Collapsing Empire Looks Like.)

And yet, over at The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol offers President Obama three tips today on how to save his failed presidency. The concluding summary:

So: No tax hikes, no Afghanistan deadline, no Ground Zero mosque. It’s really pretty easy. They’re all the right thing to do (as you surely know with respect to Afghanistan and the mosque, and must suspect with regard to taxes). Doing these three things will stabilize your approval rating and could lead to an uptick before the election. November will be rough but not disastrous.

Ah, it’s so simple. Just keep fighting a lost war without paying for it. And while you’re at it, engage in a bit of demagoguery to suggest that we’re going to fight Moslems of all stripes, at home as well as abroad. At least Kristol didn’t suggest dropping atomic bombs on Afghanistan and Iran. Oh, but wait. His next and final sentence is, “Then major cuts in domestic discretionary spending in the budget early next year, and military action against the Iranian nuclear program—and you’ll have a real shot at a successful presidency.”

Um, so we should start another war? And pay for it with still more cuts in domestic spending? And this is the best hope for a successful presidency why?

I’ve been somewhat critical of Obama lately, but let me be clear. I sure am glad he’s our president rather than McCain, who would surely be trying out all of Kristol’s ideas. Still, I fear the direction in which we are headed and hope Obama takes clear steps to bring our wars to an end.

Categories: Government, Politics, War

Change We Can Believe In, V

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Letting nominees twist in the wind

A regular reader of this blog has expressed dissatisfaction with my Change We Can Believe In series, on the basis that criticizing him only provides ammunition for his opponents. This is a familiar argument, one — I pointed out — used throughout the Bush years against opponents within government, in the press, and beyond. Not supporting Bush, we were to understand, was in fact an unpatriotic act, giving aid to enemies within and abroad. I would have hoped that Obama’s arrival would signal, if anything, an end to such arguments and a return to the democratic and American tradition of open argument with the powers that be.

It is yet another peculiarity of our political era that Republican politicians move steadily to the right to appease extremist elements in the conservative, Christianist movement while Democrats ignore their supporters from the (non-extremist!) left, eager themselves to move rightward to appease the right wing or at least quiet its bloviations. Obama would appear to hold his liberal or progressive supporters in contempt, and his chief lieutenant Rahm Emanuel openly does. (See Peter Wallsten’s WSJ article last January in which Emanuel was quoted a year ago as telling liberal groups that they were “f—ing retarded.”)

When I got home two nights ago from the dinner at which I was accused of giving aid to Obama’s opponents, I just happened to check the blogs and find a post by the blogger bmaz at emptywheel’s site with the title Obama’s Relentless Abandonment of Progressive Nominees. This captures perfectly the contempt Obama has for his progressive supporters, so rather than say more, I will simply quote from it. Read more…

Categories: Politics