What Part of “Our Oil” Can’t they Understand?

There’s new polling that shows that two-thirds of Iraqis, including majorities of every ethnic and religious group in Iraq, strongly oppose “plans to open the country’s oil fields to foreign companies.” The nerve!

Since getting control of Iraqi oil has been the real point of the whole invasion and aftermath, how annoying that the damn Iraqis are using their US-blessed democracy to frustrate the process. No wonder the Iraqi lawmakers would rather go on vacation than work on such legislation. Forget about getting re-elected: life expectancy for Iraqi politicians who go against the will of the people is not great.

Which throws America back into its original “how to get our oil out of their soil” dilemma. It would have been so nice if the Iraqi government just deeded it over to us.

Let’s drop a few thousand more bombs, flatten another city or two, and see if we can get those polling numbers moving in the right direction. Democracy, American-style…………

Michael Sky

Peak Oil and Healthcare

One of the better examinations of America’s addiction to cheap oil is Jim Kunstler’s blog — Clusterfuck Nation. Author of the book, “The Long Emergency,” Kunstler depressingly outlines the many ways in which American car-culture is doomed as oil becomes more scarce. He cautions that supposed techno-fixes like ethanol will only exacerbate our problems, and that any real solutions must begin with a total rethink of every aspect of American culture.

As Al Gore tried to point out during his run for the presidency (to a big media yawn), our society is now designed to burn oil at every stage: to get us to work and play; to grow, process and move our foods and products to market; to heat our 5,000 sq ft homes and fire up our Hummers; to jet us about the world; and, to run the largest military machine in history, which has as its main purpose — the whole reason we’re mucking up the Middle East — to secure cheap oil into the future.

Even Bush admitted to America’s addiction to oil, though he used the moment to push plant-based fuels, again, not a solution at all.

Now we can add another worry to the “peak oil” list: healthcare. As if there were not already ample problems with American healthcare, Dan Bednarz shows how our fossil fuel dependence is jeopardizing our healthcare system:

Petrochemicals are used to manufacture analgesics, antihistamines, antibiotics, antibacterials, rectal suppositories, cough syrups, lubricants, creams, ointments, salves, and many gels. Processed plastics made with oil are used in heart valves and other esoteric medical equipment.

Petrochemicals are used in radiological dyes and films, intravenous tubing, syringes, and oxygen masks. In all but rare instances, fossil fuels heat and cool buildings and supply electricity. Ambulances and helicopter “life flights” depend on petroleum, as do personnel who travel to and from medical workplaces in motor vehicles. Supplies and equipment are shipped — often from overseas — in petroleum-powered carriers. In addition there are the subtle consequences of fossil fuel reliance.

A recently retired doctor informs me, “In orthopedics we used to set fractures mostly by feel and knowing the mechanics of how the fractures were created. I doubt that many of the present orthopedists could do a good job if you took away their [energy-powered] fluoroscope or X-ray.”

However, just as the shift to more ecologically sound practices is only financially threatening to those too attached to the status quo to move on to something in all ways better, so removing the petrochemicals from our healthcare practices can ultimately result in a better system with better outcomes at a fraction of the cost:

We can avoid collapse, however, by reducing medicine’s present consumption of energy and creating a health-care system that reflects our actual relationship to resources. Ironically, peak oil can be a catalyst for creating a health-care system that is cost-effective, ecologically sustainable, and congruent with a democratic social ethos.

Michael Sky

Addicted to War

We can all be forgiven for looking forward with great optimism to the end of Bush-Cheney and the major policy shifts, at all levels of government, that will occur as the Democrats take over. But we are seriously delusional if we expect that the Dems will replace the war-think that is ruining our world with genuine peace-think.

We should remember that while Bill Clinton was a huge breath of fresh air after 12 years of Reagan-Bush, he engaged in an unhealthy amount of war-mongering, including refusing to sign an international treaty that would have banned the use of land mines and maintaining eight years of sanctions on the Iraqi people that resulted in over a million deaths, which Secretary of State Madeleine Albright deemed “acceptable.”

The current crop of Democratic leaders have displayed similar stumbles into scary and depressing war-think. Most recently, the Senate voted 97-0 in favor of a Joe Bomberman resolution blaming Iran for complicity in the deaths of Americans in Iraq. The very Dems who have strained to distance themselves from yea votes on the 2002 resolution that gave Bush the go-ahead for the Iraq War, simply and without any apparent agonizing opened the door to the next colossal mistake.

The problem is that even if our congressional leaders are opposed to the act of war, they are utterly addicted to the financial benefits of designing, building, and feeding the American war machine. Derrick Jackson provides the numbers:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the Democrats would “drain the swamp” of Republican corruption and “break the link between lobbyists and legislation.” But the Globe recently reported that Kennedy slid $100 million into the 2008 defense authorization bill for a General Electric fighter engine that the Air Force said it did not need.

It gets worse in a defense budget that is zooming to $648.8 billion. The nonpartisan budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense last month analyzed 309 Senate defense earmarks. Four of the top five “earmarkers” were not Republican hawks but centrist and liberal Democrats.

Levin led the way with 44 earmarks. Clinton was second with 26. Reed was fourth with 23, one behind Republican John Warner of Virginia. In fifth place was Charles Schumer of New York with 21. When asked if she saw any change in defense earmark behavior since the Democrats took back the House and the Senate, senior analyst Laura Peterson of the Taxpayers for Common Sense said over the telephone, “No.”

More proof the swamp is still full is the fact that only four of the top 10 senators in defense campaign contributions in the 2006 election cycle were Republicans. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats Kennedy, Clinton, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Dianne Feinstein of California, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut collected 60 percent of the $1.4 million the industry lavished among the top 10.

But, but, but, the Dems say, we’re not for war, we’re just for jobs in our districts and a strong national economy.

This no longer washes when bringing home the bacon fries the rest of the world. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute last year reported that the United States is now responsible for just under half of the entire planet’s trillion-dollar military spending. No other nation accounts for more than 5 percent of the world’s military spending.

The Stockholm report said the United States “is the principal determinant of the current world trend.” With that, it is no surprise that the United States accounted for 80 percent of the increase in global military expenditures in 2005. The United States is also roughly tied with Russia in exporting arms to the rest of the world, together accounting for 60 percent of the total.

The World Policy Institute, an independent arms proliferation watchdog group, reported in 2005 that the United States transferred arms to 18 of the 25 countries in active conflicts. It also reported that 20 of the 25 nations that received arms from the United States in 2003 were classified as undemocratic or as having a poor human rights record by our own State Department.

Fifty years ago, as President Eisenhower was leaving office, he warned against the dangers of the military-industrial-congressional-complex. No one listened, and America is now war-think nation. On this issue at least, Ralph Nader was right: there’s no difference between the parties, they both stand for war.

Michael Sky

The Earthquake That Screamed “NO NUKES!!!”

As the whole world lurches toward a fossil fuels mega-disaster — if we keep burning them, we make the planet less habitable; if we stop burning them (voluntarily, or, soon enough, as oil reserves diminish), our oil-addicted economy tanks  — it has been both predictable and scary to see the nuclear industry attempt a comeback.

Like drug pushers saying, “Hey, we’re out of pot, so try some crack instead,” nuke-pushers seem oblivious to the fact that their so-called solution will only exacerbate our problems. But, because this the land of the denial-dumb, they’ve been building momentum with their nukes-are-green bushit. At least until reality intervened:

The massive earthquake that shook Japan this week nearly killed millions in a nuclear apocalypse.

It also produced one of the most terrifying sentences ever buried in a newspaper. As reported deep in the New York Times, the Tokyo Electric Company has admitted that “the force of the shaking caused by the earthquake had exceeded the design limits of the reactors, suggesting that the plant’s builders had underestimated the strength of possible earthquakes in the region.”

What a surprise! All of those sober assurances we’ve been getting from white-coated nuclear engineers over the years were … wrong. Or dishonest.

We should keep it in mind when the current crop of nuke-pushers spin their nonsense:

 There is only one thing we know for certain about this advertising: it is a lie.

Atomic reactors contribute to global warming rather than abating it. In construction, in the mining, milling and enriching of the fuel, in on-going “normal” releases of heat and radioactivity, in dismantling and decommissioning, in managing radioactive wastes, in future terror attacks, in proliferation of nuke weapons, and much much more, atomic energy is an unmitigated eco-disaster.

To this list we must now add additional tangible evidence that reactors allegedly built to withstand “worst case” earthquakes in fact cannot. And when they go down, the investment is lost, and power shortages arise (as is now happening in Japan) that are filled by the burning of fossil fuels.

It costs up to ten times as much to produce energy from a nuke as to save it with efficiency. Advances in wind, solar and other green “Solartopian” technologies mean atomic energy simply cannot compete without massive subsidies, loan guarantees and government insurance to protect it from catastrophes to come.

This latest “impossible” earthquake has not merely shattered the alleged safeguards of Japan’s reactor fleet. It has blown apart—yet again—any possible argument for building more reactors anywhere on this beleaguered Earth.

Michael Sky

Health Care vs. the Profit Principle

The greatest contribution of Michael’s Moore’s Sicko is his direct and unambiguous attack on the profit motive in healthcare. Moore shows that since the insurance companies have turning a profit as their prime directive — rather than providing care for and healing people — they cannot help but keep adding to the ranks of under- and uninsured Americans.

But attacking the profit motive in America is so unamerican. SWe will need many more people making the case. Such as Barbara Ehrenreich:

I once tried to explain to a Norwegian woman why it was so hard for me to find health insurance. I’d had breast cancer, I told her, and she looked at me blankly. “But then you really need insurance, right?” Of course, and that’s why I couldn’t have it.

This is not because health insurance executives are meaner than other people, although I do not rule that out. It’s just that they’re running a business, the purpose of which is not to make people healthy, but to make money, and they do very well at that. Once, many years ago, I complained to the left-wing economist Paul Sweezey that America had no real health system. “We have a system all right,” he responded, “it’s just a system for doing something else.” A system, as he might have put it today, for extracting money from the vulnerable and putting it into the pockets of the rich.

Of course, transferring wealth from the poor to the rich is the whole point of American capitalism, so things will not be improving any time soon.

If government insurance for children (S-CHIP) isn’t expanded to all the families that need it, there is no question but that some children will die — painfully perhaps and certainly unnecessarily. But at least they will have died for a principle.

Michael Sky

Michael Sky

Socialized Medicine for Those Who Need it Least

For years we’ve had to listen to Republican candidates for political office rail against the many problems with “big government” while simultaneously begging us to elect them and keep them in office. No one in the media ever points out the obvious: why would we put people who hate government in charge of the government? And why would we be surprised when a group of government-haters like the Bushies turn out to be so monumentally incompetent at governing?

Not surprisingly, these same self-serving hypocrites rail most loudly against the evils of “socialized medicine” even as they enjoy the best healthcare plan in America — provided by the very government can’t do anything right:

There is an employee/insurance deal in the U.S. that includes unlimited doctor office visits of your choosing; covers all accidents, routine exams, physical therapy, labs and X-rays; and the like; unlimited hospital visits and stays; certain chronic care and rehab; full prescription coverage; and unlimited specialty consultations. For the employee and the entire family. There are no deductibles, no co-pays, and only a $35 monthly fee taken from an annual salary of $158 thousand. Thirty-five dollars!

The group awarded this insurance looks forward to a full pension and continued coverage until their deaths. Quite a few, most in fact, were millionaires before they took on their jobs that got them such a perk. Who gets this coverage? It would be nice if it were the underprivileged or the chronically ill and debilitated or our veterans.

But no. For starters, the 535 members of the U.S. Congress, and add to that the few hundred in the upper executive and judicial branches of government.

In truth, these overfed assholes are neither anti-government nor anti-socialized-medicine. They’re anti-the-people.

Any politician, Republican or Democrat, who says that the American people cannot have exactly the same healthcare plan as the politicians get needs to be strapped to a gurney and left in some overcrowded emergency room for a long, long time.

Michael Sky

Health Care Terror

After the recent bomb plot in Great Britain was traced to a group of doctors, right-wing loons, led by Fox’s Neil Cavuto, were quick to suggest a link between “socialized medicine” and terrorism. He didn’t actually provide a logical argument; it was enough just to say “socialized medicine” and “terrorism” in the same sentence and let Bush Americans draw their own lame-brained conclusions.

Not surprisingly, this is a total reversal of the truth; the real “medical terrorists” all reside in the US, and are virtually all overfed white guys. And they are the only ones terrorized at the thought of a more moral, efficient, and effective sociable healthcare system coming to America.

It is grasping-at-straws time for the status quo in American healthcare: after decades of scaring Americans with the prospect of the nation going communist if it dares to offer all of its citizens the sort of sane and sensible healthcare that the rest of the world’s leading democracies enjoy, they’re shifting to the bogeyman of the moment — Islamic terrorism.

But their arguments have become so craven, so totally transparent, we can only hope the American people are ready to wise up and give these bums the hook.

As Paul Krugman writes:

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.” So declared F.D.R. in 1937, in words that apply perfectly to health care today. This isn’t one of those cases where we face painful tradeoffs – here, doing the right thing is also cost-efficient. Universal health care would save thousands of American lives each year, while actually saving money.

So this is a test. The only things standing in the way of universal health care are the fear-mongering and influence-buying of interest groups. If we can’t overcome those forces here, there’s not much hope for America’s future.

Michael Sky

Sicko, Meet Greedo

Between Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” and an election cycle in which the American people are naming healthcare as their number two issue (after the war in Iraq), American healthcare is about to undergo a long overdue and hopefully deep examination. If, however, all we do is focus on access to and payment for care — arguing, as Moore admirably does, for the elimination of private health insurance — then it is likely that the status quo will prevail, because the insurance companies will win that battle.

Remember, the insurance industry is a major contributor to and thus owner of the Congress. The men and women who make up the Senate and House are beholden to the industry for much of their financing yet, ironically enough, not for their own healthcare. Instead, all of the people who run the government (executive, legislative and judiciary) get their care through a government-run and -financed, single-payer, universal (for them) system.

We have to appreciate their conundrum when they get together to decide what to do about the rest of us — the fifty million who have no insurance at all, and many others who have the sort of tragically inadequate insurance that Moore highlights.

First, they can’t exactly relate — they have fantastic healthcare! Second, if they try to provide for us what we’re providing for them, their owners will stop sending all those big checks.

This is why the Clintons’ attempt at major reform stalled: though strong majorities of Americans then as now favored a switch to a single-payer, universal system, the nation’s wealthy elites would not be moved. Nothing changed, except, of course, things got worse.

This time, if we want to get it right, we need to look not just at how we pay for healthcare, but at the actual care. We need to revolutionize the way medicine is practiced, moving away from our expensive, invasive, technology- and drug-based system  to the sort of low-tech, people-centered, common sense care practiced in Cuba and other countries that are out-performing America.

Alas, this means stepping on the toes (and bottom-lines) of yet more wealthy elites — the doctors and pharmaceutical companies. So the only thing that will change is that in a couple years we’ll have another ten or twenty million people without insurance, while standard medical practices will have grown yet more expensive.

Michael Sky

Expensive Speech

We can either have a situation where we have a small number of people with a huge amount of wealth or we can have a democracy. But we can’t have both.
— Bill Gates, Sr.

This week brought another round of pro-corporate rulings from Bush’s Supreme Court. There’s no longer any question that John Roberts will push the Court hard to the right. The only question is how much damage to the nation these men will do before a new President can bring some balance back to America’s judiciary.

The most egregious rulings — which began during the Rehnquist court — are those that undercut Congress’s feeble attempts toward campaign finance reform. True, the McCain-Feingold bill has problems. But the Court has decreed that it will never be improved and there’s no point in proposing options because the crux of the matter — rich people buying legislators with campaign contributions — has been ruled off limits as “free speech.”

Huge irony here, with major dollops of chutzpah.

Wealthy elites can use their money to buy politicians and influence policy and the practice is protected as a fundamental American right to political speech. The rest of us have the same rights, of course, but our soapbox orations, letters to the editor, emails to our Representatives, and blog postings never count as much as the hefty campaign contributions and million dollar TV ads of the rich.

When the rich “speak,” the politicians listen. When the rest of us “speak,” we’re thanked for our opinions and quickly forgotten.

I call this the most egregious of rulings because as long as we give the rich more power than the People, we do not have a functioning democracy. And without a functioning democracy, none of this will ever change.

First priority: Supreme Court justices who can tell the difference between a sincerely-expressed opinion and a bag of money. Until then, “free speech” in America is a farce. All speech costs, and the speech that moves America’s leaders is very expensive.

Michael Sky

Mal-Socialized Medicine

The sharp knives are out for Michael Moore once again and, as with his past films, some of the sharpest are in the hands of democrats. This time the friendly fire is coming mostly from presidential contenders, who all want to sound like they’re serious about achieving universal coverage, but are floating plans that avoid the real issues.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois and former Sen. John Edwards of South Carolina all have staked out positions sharply at odds with Moore’s approach. But none of them is eager to have that fact dragged into the spotlight.

If Moore’s fire-breathing proposal catches on among party activists, who tend to be suspicious of the private sector and supportive of direct government action, the candidates’ pragmatic, consensus-seeking ideas could look like weak-kneed temporizing — much the way their rejection of an immediate pullout from Iraq has drawn heated criticism from antiwar activists.

In “Sicko,” the filmmaker calls for abolishing the insurance industry, putting a tight regulatory collar on pharmaceutical companies and embracing a Canadian-style government-run system.

Rather than welcome Moore’s contribution to the conversation, his detractors are accusing him of advocating “socialized medicine” and hoping that such time-tested commie-baiting is enough to make him go away. The irony is that socialized medicine is just what we need — not “socialized” as in the way the Soviet Union used to do things, but “socialized” as in medicine practiced with a social conscience.

Our current system is the very opposite: mal-socialized medicine. It breaks American society into 250 million private actors all competing for a piece of a woefully limited healthcare pie. It is bound to create winners and losers, to stratify American culture, and to exacerbate the already difficult conditions of the poor and middle class.

Moore is simply asking that we consider bringing moral and humane concern for one’s neighbors into the practice of medicine:

The problem is that the U.S. corporate health insurance system, the corporate-dominated economy more generally, and the ideology that undergirds both, seeks to defeat the essential insurance function of sharing risk — of everyone helping to take care of everyone else.

Moore offers this challenge, or plea: “If there is a better way to treat the sick simply by being good to each other why can’t we do that?”

People in the other countries visited in the film “live in a world of we, not me,” says Moore.

To varying degrees, they have created solidarity societies, and they are happier, and healthier, for it.

Fracking commies………

Michael Sky