Sunday, August 30, 2009

Traffic Monstrosity

Spaghetti Junction in Atlanta, GA

Spaghetti Junction on I-85 Heading South

While in the car the other day, I heard a traffic report on the radio advising me of traffic problems on "Spaghetti Junction", which prompted me to do a blog entry about it.

The Tom Moreland Exchange, known colloquially as "Spaghetti Junction" to locals, is what's known as a "stack interchange". It is the intersection of I-85 and I-285, along with several access roads, situated just north of Atlanta, Georgia.

I first encountered Spaghetti Junction in 1985 when I moved to this area from Texas. During that time, construction was ongoing, converting this interchange from a traditional cloverleaf into the fuckup you see today, for the purposes of reducing congestion. The construction continued for several years after that, which made trips into Atlanta a nightmare, especially during rush hour. At that time, I dubbed this area as "The Fuckup" or "The Screwup" (depending on whom I was speaking with), finding the term "Spaghetti Junction" a rather pale description.

It's the type of interchange where one wrong turn will make you end up in New York City with no clear recollection of how you got there. Even worse would be when you'd end up getting stuck in an endless loop going round and round this monstrosity, wondering if you'd have to call someone to bring you some food and gas while you tried to figure out how to finally get free of it. I've even heard urban legends about babies being delivered while making repeated circuits of Spaghetti Junction, while trying to find the off ramp to the hospital. I'd not be surprised if Jimmy Hoffa was even here endlessly circling the various access roads trying to find a way out.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Uniter, Not a Divider

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pot, Meet Kettle

Listening to the Neal Boortz show the other night, I heard him ragging on liberals who have decided to boycott Whole Foods because of an editorial Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote in the Wall Street Journal where he stated that "universal healthcare is no more a right than food or shelter."

Boortz believes the boycott is misguided because
Whole Foods pays 100% of employees' premiums, but no deductibles, for everyone who clocks in 30 hours or more per week. Then it gives these workers $1,800 a year in "health care dollars" to use for health and wellness expenses.

Whether or not the boycott is justified isn't the point of this blog entry. My point is to call attention to Boortz' hypocrisy in light of a broadcast he'd made about a week earlier than this one.

In the earlier broadcast, Boortz talked about a stationery shop he'd patronized for several years. One day while shopping at this store, he noticed the owner leaving his car, which has pro-Obama stickers on them. At that moment, Boortz decided to never shop there again, despite the fact that he'd always been given good service there and had nothing to complain about. He chose to boycott this store only because the owner had voted for Barack Obama.

He went on to say that voting with one's wallet is a time-honored way of expressing one's opinion in a free market society, blah, blah, blah.

Pot, meet kettle.

I'm guessing Boortz won't be trotting out that old voting with one's wallet theme when it comes to the 36 sponsors who have chosen to withdraw their sponsorship from Glenn Beck's show, either.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Harry Truman on Health Care Reform

President Harry Truman was among the first Americans who saw a need for health care reform. Decades ahead of his time, he was unable to make meaningful changes during his tenure as president in the late 40s and early 50s, but he’s acknowledged by some as the inspiration for the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid under the Johnson administration.

Following are a few quotes that illustrate Truman’s opinions on this matter:

“We should resolve now that the health of this nation is a national concern; that financial barriers in the way of attaining health shall be removed; that the health of all its citizens deserves the help of all the nation.”

“Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and to enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. And the time has now arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and to help them get that protection.”

I do not understand a mind which sees a gracious beneficence in spending money to slay and maim human beings in almost unimaginable numbers and deprecates the expenditure of a smaller sum to patch up the ills of mankind.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Deficit of Compassion

I normally don’t repost articles written by other people in their entirety, but the following article so precisely sums up my sentiments that I am making an exception. All bolded passages are my emphasis.

The Real US Healthcare Issue: Compassion Deficiency

By Gordon Marino

Northfield, Minn. – During the height of the banking and Wall Street meltdowns, Americans seemed to love clucking about corporate greed. As far as most of us were concerned, the moral debacle was purely the fault of Wall Street, not Main Street.

Yet you don’t need a graduate degree to see that the character crisis is not restricted to those summering on Nantucket.

The healthcare debate has revealed that Americans suffer from a compassion deficiency. Many of us would prefer that our fellow citizens go without medical care rather than make even the slightest of sacrifices.

Over the summer, I have heard many groans along the lines of, “I don’t want to pay for someone else’s visits to the doctor.” When pressed, some will retreat to concerns about the degradation of care. But there are plenty who will stick with, “I just don’t feel as though I should have to foot someone else’s medical bills.”

While President Obama insists that changes in our medical system will not require middle-class tax hikes, it is plain that many fear reform will cost them. Apparently, there are a lot of folks who would choose to have young mothers with cancer go without chemotherapy, instead of giving up a bit of that disposable income that is our badge of freedom and individualism.

Those of us who abide below the money mountaintop are acquainted with hardworking people who can’t afford some critical medical treatment. Though we are inured to them, I could easily reel off 10 horror stories, including a couple quite close to home.

I reside in a small town and every week there is some kind of raffle or spaghetti dinner to scrounge together the funds to meet the medical expenses of a child with leukemia or a teenager with a brain tumor. We’re trying to pay for brain surgery with bake sales!

Back in the late 1980s, I lived in Denmark, where there is superb universal coverage. The rich aside, it is hard to know how anyone could come to the conclusion that Americans are better served by their doctors than the Scandinavians or, for that matter, anyone else in Western Europe. Despite widespread illusions, life expectancy (we rank 42nd) and infant mortality rates (we rank 29th) attest that our healthcare system is not even a contender for the best.

But the issue isn’t about the comparative quality of care; rather it’s about what we will and will not put up with as a society. As much as the Danes moan about taxes, not many of them would prefer having extra euros over the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they don’t have to think of their less fortunate but sick countryman going without medical treatment.

The fact that a significant number of Americans do not feel any urgency to revamp a system that leaves millions of our sick without care is symptomatic of the fact that we must be suffering from a hardening of more than our arteries.

There was a time when highbrows were repulsed by the fact that Americans were not appalled by the levels of violence in films. For a country that loves to moralize, we ought to acknowledge that what does or does not repulse reveals a lot about who we are.

The pandemic lack of compassion for the un- and under-insured is really not that distant from the narcissistic indifference of the avaricious CEOs that we love to sneer at. Anyone who values honesty will have to admit that many of us are not appalled by children dying for lack of medical treatment.

We don’t like it, we wish that it could be otherwise, but it doesn’t exactly make us sick. And that is appalling.

Gordon Marino is a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College. His book, “Ethics: The Essential Writings,” will be published in the spring of 2010.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

True Racism vs Playing the Race Card

In a recent New York Times article, Reverend Jesse Jackson, has speculated about Michael Vick not yet being signed to an NFL team, wondering if it was a racist conspiracy among NFL team owners to keep him out of the league. Jackson even had the temerity to compare Vick's situation with that of Jackie Robinson, the first black American signed to play major league baseball in 1947.

Give me a break!

To even mention Vick's name in the same sentence as Robinson's does a disservice to Robinson's memory and place in history. The experiences of the two men are in no way comparable.

Robinson was a law-abiding citizen whose only "crime" was being the wrong color in a time when racial prejudice was pervasive in American society. Vick has known nothing of the racism in his sports career that was an everyday fact of life for Jackie Robinson.

Vick's current problem was caused by Michael Vick, not a racist conspiracy. They're not picking on him "just because he's black". To suggest otherwise and to compare him to Robinson just cheapens and demeans all that Robinson had to overcome to come out on top.

It's one thing to believe that Vick has paid his debt to society and to think he deserves another chance. That's fine.

But it's quite another thing to act as if he's an innocent victim in all of this by playing the race card.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Answers to Health Care Reform Critics

The other day, I was monitoring the Neal Boortz radio show and he was on yet another one of his rants against changing the American health care system.

Not only does he oppose a nationalized health insurance system, he also believes that the current private system should abolish coverage for routine, preventive care. He stated that he believed insurance should be reserved for major catastrophic illnesses only and that people should have to pay coimpletely out of their own pockets for routine care, regardless of income.

He used pregnancy and childbirth as an example of what should not be covered by insurance because, in his words, “People choose to have children”. He blithely asserted that if one could not afford to pay for such care, then they had no business having children at all, as they could not obviously handle the costs of raising such a child.

Never mind that one does not have to come up with the entire cost of raising a child to 18 all at once, as one would have to for pre-natal care and delivery.

And his elitist mind doesn’t seem to have thought things through all that carefully. After all, if only the affluent are to be allowed to reproduce, then who will be left to flip the burgers, drive the taxis, clean the houses, and so on? I can’t imagine he expects the scions of blueblooded families to have to stoop to such labor themselves!

Boortz, while ranting and raving about all the money it would cost to convert to a health care system like the rest of the civilized world has, also seems to conveniently forget that full access to routine and preventive health care, which is far more inexpensive than catastrophic health care, is the most effective way of reducing the need for the major medical care in the first place.

It also has the benefit of giving poor people a less expensive and time consuming alternative than having to use the emergency room for routine problems, thus allowing medical personnel to more efficiently serve those patients whom emergency care was originally designed for, which, again, would reduce costs.

Some Americans, who are fortunate enough to have good jobs which provide adequate health insurance, oppose changes to our health care system, fearing that such a change would reduce the quality of the care they receive.

While it is true that American health care is among the best in the world — provided that one can gain access to it — not all Americans have full access to it.

I was browsing Rubicon’s blog today, where he stated in a comment to another reader:

I have excellent health insurance, that includes dental, mental health, emergency room visits, and hospital stays. I can be referred to a specialist with no wait time, if I would need it I could have any procedure done immediately, and I can receive care by most any doctor and can go to any hospital, no wait, no muss, no fuss. Why in the world would I want that taken away from me??

I’m not as lucky as Rubicon — my job provides no health insurance at all and pays me so little than I cannot afford to buy my own. And I’m a worker, not a welfare recipient. In reponse to his last question, I would ask, “Why don’t you want all Americans, regardless of income, to have full access to that wonderful health care?”

He speaks of people having to wait for medical procedures under Canada’s health care system. Well, I’d much rather have to wait to get a needed procedure done, than not to be able to get the procedure at all.

What follows below is my reponse to his comments on his blog:

So far as the “wonderful” American health care system goes; yes, we have great health care here — if you have a good enough job, that is.

For those of us who don’t have good enough jobs, like me, those of us with no health insurance or inadequate health insurance, access to health care, especially the routine preventive care that can forestall major medical illnesses down the road, is extremely limited.

I have no health insurance and have not for nearly five years now, nor does my job provide any paid sick leave whatsoever. It’s easy to say “why don’t you get another job”, but the reality is quite different. My town was recently voted by Fortune magazine as being one of the “10 Worst Small Cities” in which to get a job. in other words, I’m lucky just to have a job at all right now. And people I know who have better jobs than me, who formerly had adequate health insurance, are now underinsured, with ther companies scaling back on the quality of insurance offered in order to save money.

As one without health insurance, nor the resources to buy my own, and also ineligible for Medicaid because I’m not on welfare nor have minor children living in my home, the situation is pretty grim. Health care for me is pretty much limited to praying that I don’t get sick. I can’t go to the doc for any sort of preventive health care and am pretty much limited to resorting to the emergency room for a dire emergency, the circumstances of which could have likely been avoided with the preventive health care I can’t afford.

Presently, I have a cataract in one eye and am effectively blind in that eye. I can’t afford the operation that would easily restore normal sight in that eye, nor could I afford to take unpaid time off from work to convalesce from such an operation even if I could find a doctor to donate his services. I can only pray the other eye doesn’t go as well.

And I think there’s something seriously wrong that in the richest nation on Earth, I have no access to a simple operation that would easily restore normal sight to that eye, simply because I don’t have a good enough job.

Unrestricted access to health care for everyone, from the lowliest prison inmate to the wealthiest philanthropist should be a given in any civilized society and no one should be denied full access because of a lack of money. It’s just that simple. If our society can find money to build the bombs, then it certainly can find the money to pay the doctors and hospitals.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Clutching at Straws

Recently the Tinfoil Hat Brigade, aka "conspiracy theorists", have added a new facet to their arsenal of idiocy.

What I'm referring to are the "Birthers"; those who believe that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, thus making him ineligible to be President.

Do these morons not know that Obama had to have had his background thoroughly checked out before he was allowed to take the Oath of Office?

I understand that they're not happy that Obama won the election, but is probably one of the most extreme cases of sour grapes that I've ever seen. These folks need to give it up, accept reality, and to get a life already.

Obama won. Their guy didn't. Deal with it and move on.

I do have to admit, however, that I laughed when even Neal Boortz called them "moonbats", then whined that they were making conservatives look bad. Well, Boortz and others of his ilk do a pretty good job of that all by themselves, but I suppose a some contributions from the Looney Tunes section of the Republican Party can't hurt, either.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Passing the Torch

I'm pretty impressed with Bill Clinton's trip to North Korea where he successfully negotiated the release of the two women, returning them to their anxious families.

I was struck by the thought that Clinton perfect for the role as an elder statesman of diplomacy and that this trip was a kind of a passing of the torch from Jimmy Carter to Clinton. Carter, who has distinguished himself in this role since the end of his presidency, is 85 now, and no doubt slowing down. I can think of few people who are more qualified than Bill Clinton to accept that torch and to carry on the work that Carter has done.