Monday, June 16, 2008

A Change of Pace

Learning of the death of Tim Russert has temporarily taken the wind out of my political sails. He knew how to get along with everyone without sacrificing honesty and integrity. Who else in the entire country would both Tom Brokaw and Rush Limbaugh consider friends? Who else could take any politician to task, no matter how far to the right, left, or middle he/she was? He will be sorely missed. In his honor, I offer a little piece of prose that I posted in a tiny forum I frequent, where we just get away from it all. It is called, in a very unoriginal manner, "Pleasantville." I wrote this piece one Sunday when no one had posted in the last 24 hours. It's a combination of where I live, where I used to live when I was younger, and Mayberry.

Sabbath Day in Pleasantville

June mornings are always nice in Pleasantville. We've just finished the rainy days, and the temperature is not yet reaching the nineties, so people tend to sit out in their yards while they drink their coffee or tea and read the paper, especially on Saturday mornings. Somehow, they are still there in the evening, but they have moved around. You'll see a lot of card tables out, but that's a misnomer because the old folks are playing dominoes and the kids are doing puzzles.

Sunday morning is another story. Nothing is open when the sun comes up, and you shouldn't expect anything to open too soon. Most Sundays, the Piggly-Wiggly will open up about 1:30, but it closes at 5:00, and doesn't see much business. The general feeling of the people here is that if you really needed something you wouldn't wait until the Sabbath to go buy it.

I used to pick up my grandmother for church on Sunday mornings. I would cross the tracks on the east side of town and she would be coming out of her clapboard house as I opened the passenger door for her. As we drove slowly through the streets, there were hardly any other cars, and those we saw had people in suits and ties driving them.

Our one radio station comes on about 6:30, and Albert plays "Sunday Morning Melodies" from the station until about 9:30, when the downtown men's Bible class sends a live feed to the studio, just in time for Albert to get over to the Presbyterian church where he hands out the bulletins. At 11:00 the Methodist church's sermon is broadcast, and there's usually dead air when it's over, until Albert can get back and run the turntables again.

It's funny how people would throw a fit if the Perry's department store or the Western Auto were to open on Sundays, but the Episcopalians get out at 11:30 and expect Cindy's Diner to be open and the food ready. At 12:00 Little Mexico opens, and some people drive the six miles to the interstate to eat at the truck stop diner. However, over half of Pleasantville just goes home after preaching.

They would have had a good breakfast, and dinner is usually not served until about 2:00.Walking through most neighborhoods you see people sitting on the front porch, reading, visiting, or just watching the birds and the neighbors. I'm amazed at how many of the men still have their ties on, though they have shed the sports coats. When dinner is over about 3:00, some people take a nap, and about half of them do it sitting up in their chairs.

The TV station sometimes comes on about 3:00, especially if there's a game of local interest, but everybody expects the game to be over by 6:00 in time for Disney. Supper is light, and in the summer, usually about 8:00. The drug store opens about 6:00 as well, and a lot of folks walk down there for a bottle of pop.By ten, it's rare to see any lights on. Occasionally, you will hear the drone of a swamp cooler, but most people have just left their windows open, though it's getting harder to sleep at night since they widened the interstate and you can hear the trucks, over five miles away.

Most of the world hates Mondays, but in Pleasantville, no one seems to mind. As they go to work, most of them walking, they look relaxed, refreshed, and well-fed. The Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian preachers go to Alice's and get coffee, and sometimes even the Church of Christ preacher drops by and sits with them. By the time the whistle sounds lunchtime at the compress, everything is back to normal.

Somehow the town survives, though the Ben Franklin and Goodyear stores are beginning to feel the loss of business as more and more of the young folks drive up to the Cost Mart on the interstate to save a few cents, and they are willing to forego the courtesy windshield cleaning and oil check at Jack's Full Service because gas is seven cents cheaper at Supersave next to the Cost Mart.

Jack will probably retire next year, and when he does, the station will probably close.But we'll worry about that when it happens. You can still get a Grapette for a dime at Jacks; they have those cans out on the interstate, and they are a quarter. We'll enjoy things while we can.

Happy Sabbath to all.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

You Can't Have It Both Ways

Presidential Candidate Obama was "incensed" this week. A little earlier, he had angrily told a TV audience, "when they go after me, I can handle it; but my wife is off limits." There are some moments when I might sympathize with him, but not this time.

The old saying is, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Obama has done what many other candidates have done -- recruited family members as part of the campaign. There is a line that needs to be drawn. Traditionally, the candidate had the adoring wife and children around him. The wife, if the candidate was elected, adopted some politically neutral causes like hunger or literacy.

I don't know if it started with the Clinton campaign -- I'm sure it didn't -- but Hillary made it an issue. She was vocal and extremely opinionated, and assumed the the office of First Lady was more than ceremonial. As a result, she was sometimes berated or criticized. And for some reason, Bill thought that wasn't fair.

Nobody ever criticized Mamie Eisenhower. In spite of the bitter dislike that many had for Richard Nixon, Pat Nixon was left alone. Even Laura Bush is still respected. She doesn't suffer from the angry political rhetoric that Michelle Obama is already seeing. Why? Because Laura Bush has not been used by her husband as a political tool.

Look at what Obama was saying this week, in effect: "I'm going to use my wife for political mileage. She will speak out on issues that I'm most passionate about. She will speak against those who oppose us, and challenge the Republican policies that are in place. She will have a carte blanche to say whatever she wants, but if anyone says anything against her, that is unfair, and they will have to deal with my righteous indignation."

Sorry, Mr. Obama. It doesn't work that way. There is no political "king's X." You have the choice of letting her be your adoring wife, or putting her on the front lines, in the trenches. If you do the latter, expect people to snipe at her.

And Obama is not the only one to do this. He's just the latest. But the whole issue is a silly political game that many candidates are playing. Remember Martha Mitchell, the loudmouth wife of the Watergate era? It can happen to anyone, at any time.

I'm not telling Michelle Obama that she needs to stay home, making tea and cookies. She may have some good ideas, and she may want to proclaim them. All I'm saying is, if she wants to climb up on the public podium, don't expect to be treated like a happy homemaker.

She may be our next first lady, and as such, should be respected. But if she's going to talk a lot, she should expect her words to be analyzed. She seems to be erudite and professional, and I recommend that she express her views boldly and openly. We might learn something, whether we agree with her or not.

But please don't feign wide-eyed surprise when someone responds.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Best Wishes, Ted Kennedy

I begin this with a sincere wish that Senator Kennedy recovers from the surgery to remove his brain tumor. I disagree with him politically on nearly everything we could discuss, but that doesn't mean I want him to go through such a horrible medical condition. May his recovery be speedy, and may the surgery prove totally successful. In the real world, cancer is a bigger enemy to me than any liberal politician, even the most liberal.

I'm glad he was able to get the excellent medical treatment that he got. I wish you, the reader, could get it too. Unfortunately, there is a great gap between you and Mr. Kennedy. He will not see even a small dent in his rather substantial bank account, because, you see, he has an excellent health care policy. Only the best hospitals for him. The health insurance policy that covers his medical expenses was paid for by you and me. He's over ten years past medicare eligibility, but he won't need it. He's got you paying his health care costs.

Supposedly, he and Hillary both want to give you the same excellent coverage. Let me warn you that, even with good intentions, neither of them can deliver. If Hillary's health care is made a reality (and Obama will probably let her have a free hand if he is elected), we won't get anything like Ted Kennedy's coverage.

We won't get to select the finest hospital, first. Our place of medical care will be limited to whatever the government has decided it will be. Secondly, we should not expect the speed and efficiency that Mr. Kennedy has been blessed with. Under Hillary's health care, your tumor in your head might get attention in three or four months, and then, at some local center that Uncle Sam has chosen for you.

One reason that our elected officials are so far removed from anything realistic regarding health care is because they have been shielded all their congressional lives from the daily horror of medical costs and red tape. If 535 men and women in our capitol building were suddenly given the same options that we have, they might be drawing up totally different bills from the ones they are suggesting now.

I'll venture that Mr. Kennedy would not have gotten nearly as good treatment with nearly as good a prognosis as he got this morning, if he were blessed with the health care proposals on the table by Mr. Obama and Ms. Rodham/Clinton. Mr. Kennedy might be in a bind right now.

But what they're proposing will be good enough for you. The waiting, the paperwork, the underfunding, the substandard treatments, all of that is okay for you.

I am amazed that I cannot find a congress-person, on either side of the aisle, who knows that Health Care and Insurance are two different worlds. Mr. McCain has the same problem. I live in the real world, and realize that the reason insurance rates are so high and cover so little is because hospitalization and medical costs are astronomical and unrealistic.

The only answer to reforming health care is not using public money and higher taxes to pay for insurance for everyone. That will only drive medical costs higher, and close more small hospitals, and crowd more emergency rooms, delay time for medical treatment, and bankrupt more families, who must exchange financial security for a couple more years of life.

What we need is a congressional group who is willing -- and courageous -- enough to find out why:
  • Why does it cost more per day to stay in a rural hospital room than it does to get an exterior cabin on a luxury cruise ship?
  • Why does a box of kleenexes in a hospital room cost 75 dollars?
  • Why does any type of surgery cost more than the average American makes in six months, and crucial surgeries cost more than the average American makes in three years?
  • Why are over 80% of all medical bills in error, almost always in favor of the medical institution?
  • Why is it common policy for medical institutions to bill both the patient and the insurance company, and if they collect from both, not have the obligation to notify either of the double billing?
  • Why are hospitals constantly losing money, yet we usually have to walk around new construction to get to the wings where we visit our loved ones?

I could name others, but that's a start. I think one reason is, most of the 535 elected officials in the Capitol building do not even know that these things are happening. They have a cover-all comprehensive medical policy -- funded by you -- that takes care of itself. It is a bottomless, limitless source of money that can easily pay for a 12 dollar tylenol tablet or a six dollar bar of dial soap.

When you multiply a policy like that by 535, and look at the base of say, 100 million taxpayers, it works. But when you multiply that coverage by 300 million Americans, and keep the same base of people who actually pay taxes, the math breaks down. There is no way it can work.

I'm glad Senator Kennedy received the best of medical treatment. I am equally glad that his outlook is good. He may outlive me; one, because the press says he is a 'real fighter,' and also, because if I get a brain tumor I won't be able to afford what he got for free that I helped pay for.

I have a crazy idea that I know will never happen, but it would work. If every American would cancel all health insurance tomorrow, hospital and medical prices would grudgingly have to settle back into fair market competitive levels, and appendicitis would not be a cause of bankruptcy. We might even see some communities of less than 5,000 that could have their own hospitals again, like they used to be able to do when everyone paid his own medical expenses.

Best wishes, Senator Kennedy. May you live to be a hundred. And in your remaining 20+ years, may you get out a little bit and realize what real people have to face every day. We're not asking for the luxurious health care that you have due to your hard work and years of service to your district. We just want something we can afford.