Soaring Spirit with Tears



In this political season, Michael Moore's new film will open in theaters at the end of June. Everyone needs to read between the lines and think clearly. We cannot depend on our elected officials to do this. How many candidates have confessed that they voted on major legislation, including the Patriot Act, without first reading the bill?  Even if you believe Hillary Clinton was briefed, we have to ask exactly what a briefing is.


So, at the risk of boring you to tears with my Vietnam tales, I will tell you about the year in which over three hundred Congressional delegates were "officially briefed" in Saigon.

Typically, a cable would come to our office at the State Department in Vietnam asking us to "RESERVE ROOM AT THE MANDARIN IN HONG KONG FACING WATER STOP." This was followed by measurements for tailor made fatigues and "ARRANGE FLOATING MARKET TOUR IN BANGKOK STOP."

I am not making this up. We had a trench by the airport with a real water buffalo and a gorgeous Vietnamese girl in a silk ao dai. The fatigues would be delivered, the congressman would change clothes, jump into the trench, get his picture taken, and hop back on the plane so as not to miss his floating market tour. Rarely was anyone on the ground more than ten minutes. There were two exceptions: Ribicoff and Kennedy. I was one of those who briefed these and other visitors, not to mention the press corps. Keep in mind, I was 24 years old when I went to Vietnam and hardly what you would call a political whiz kid.

Basically, we were told what to tell the congressmen, meaning everyone was told what my boss wanted them to hear, and what he wanted them to hear was no doubt what his boss wanted them to hear and so on and so forth. They hardly had to leave Washington for these "facts." Stubborn that I am, I was not complicit but often as not, there was neither the time nor occasion to get any facts across in a meaningful way. As if this were not bad enough, there are "safe" and "unsafe" issues: war is not a safe issue, but orphans and diversion of supplies to the alleged enemy are safe issues. These are the only subjects that were raised in the question and answer periods.

There were a few exceptions, bitter rivals of incumbents, dark horse candidates for high office, and officials functioning at the state rather than federal level. For instance, there was a delegation from Hawaii that asked some tough questions, but one never knows if the facts make it to D.C. I frankly doubted it because the information route is hierarchical not circuitous.

Photo Op

Against this backdrop, take everything you see and hear as nothing more than an orchestrated photo op. No one in high positions is spontaneous. No one just happened to visit Iraq much less Walter Reed. What you see is meticulously arranged in advance, and if the antics were absurd in 1967, imagine how much less relevant news in 2007 is, a time when the illusion of a free and honest press corps no longer exists except in some antiquated textbooks.

If you doubt it, replay Wolf Blitzer calling time or phasing out one of the dark horses in this election. I would reckon that Kucinich is the #1 dark horse on the Democratic stump and Ron Paul is the odd one out on the Republican side. Okay, so our view is canned, but despite this, we have to read something into the sound bytes that were no doubt rehearsed and rehearsed.

Between the Lines

Two issues arise that I hope will get attention in the "net press". These are that one of the reasons for keeping our doors open to immigration and for attempting to change some of the immigration flow is that "we may have need of someone" from another country, like doctors, engineers, high tech people in all industries, etc. Loosely translated, this reads, "We will continue to invest in wars and aggression rather than education, and we will fill vacancies with foreigners" since American schools will fail to produce qualified people. Industry must have decided this is the cheapest way to expand without an investment in fundamentals and infrastructure.

We can see the handwriting on the walls. If you have a problem, and I don't care if it is with your bank or credit card company, your computer, or a lost shipment for something purchased on the internet, you are likely as not to follow up with inarticulate people with low morale and no interest in the outcome of your query or your call will be rolled over to someone working strange hours in Bangalore. I cannot believe that I am the only one witnessing a steady decline in job skills on the part of "real" Americans.

Sicko and Campaign 2008

Against this grim backdrop and the theater props of two parties and 18 announced candidates, we have health care on every platform. Let's take this from the least imaginative to the most. The least imaginative would be some lame promise to lower costs of prescription medications for senior citizens. Let's see, with Big Pharma being the richest industry in the world and every single member of both houses being beholden to Big Pharma in some way or other, we are going to ask the patrons of the semblance of a system of government to surrender windfalls by voluntarily lowering costs? If anyone believes this would happen without something replacing the reorganization of profits, he or she is delusional.

It will not happen in our lifetime. Rather, something much worse would probably happen, like mandated use of more useless (and/of dangerous) vaccines. Believe me, this is already happening so whether you think teenage girls should be forcibly vaccinated for HPV or smaller children should be vaccinated for everything under the sun, this is a fait accompli, not a negotiable point. So, I say again, the least imaginative campaign promise would be to lower the costs of drugs. Even if this were something more than hot air, Big Pharma would get something more in return, like fast tracking of dangerous drugs that have not been tested, more suppression of competition from natural medicine, or some other bonus for appearing to cooperate with the need for affordable health care.

Somewhere a bit higher up the scale of intellectual imagination is mandatory or universal health care. The ostensible objective would be to take the monkey off the back of industry. Read between the lines. American industry will become more competitive if employers do not have to pay for health insurance for employees. Basically, I believe that health insurance should not be tied to employment but if the burden is transferred to individuals without a substantial increase in wages, this would be another gift to industry. Might as well put a ribbon on it and a thank you note for millions and millions in campaign contributions. Moreover, we have to look really hard at the politics of those advocating this because if they are Bush Republicans, the words are a euphemism for making the rich richer and breaking the backs of the middle class. Ergo, this is not a "plan" but rather a "scheme."

Michael Moore evidently favors federal health care. God help us. I cannot believe anyone in his right mind wants Big Brother involved in yet one more gigantic project. If you have ever been to a federal health care facility or seen a doctor employed by the federal government, you would know the right response to this proposal.

The Dilemma

The dilemma is how to provide necessary and compassionate care affordably, universally, and competently without taking away freedom of choice in health care and freedom of choice in spending. Personally, I would refuse to buy health insurance that only covered treatments I would never use. This said, I have less objection to paying for treatments required by people in unfortunate circumstances, but I do not think government can do the job right.

Government is in the business of managing colossal sums of money, trillions of which seem to have gone missing at the Department of Defense, but I would imagine that funds go missing in every department because that is the nature of unwieldy budgets. At the moment, the U.S. is 45th in life expectancy (CIA data); in infant mortality, we are 37th; but we have the highest per capita health care costs. Given that 45 million are uninsured, this is a staggering figure.

Alternative Health Care

At the moment, at least a third of adults, probably more, use some form of complementary and alternative medicine. Depending on the definition used, the figure could be higher. In most cases, the services of alternative practitioners are regulated in such a way that they do not compete with the highly lucrative monopolies of conventional medicine, like cancer. More regulation would therefore tend to imply less competition and hence less choice. This is already a serious problem in our country and is much worse in many other countries.

Americans would have a very hard time understanding needing a prescription plus $48 for a bottle of vitamin C. I think many would learn to eat oranges, but this is exactly what has already happened in countries that have socialized medicine, mandatory health insurance, and Codex Alimentarius. If politicians have their way, they will say, "get used to it" in exactly the way that they are talking about gasoline prices now. I think that this election is more about finding out where the threshold is for political abuse than leadership much less reform.

Going deeper and deeper into the issues facing us today, we not only need a president who is on board with the need for renewal energy—and not biofuels made with GMO crops—but a president who is actually a fiscally responsible leader with a vision of world without war, poverty, illiteracy, or epidemics. Therefore, we need to examine the ethics as well as the details of the plans of each candidate and keep in mind that any promise for universal health care is most likely jargon for a big ding in your pocket book for less and less coverage. If any changes occur without total reform of the FDA, Big Pharma, and travesties in the reprehensible insurance industry, the changes will be for worse, not for better.





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Poulsbo, Washington