Monday, March 26, 2012

If I Only Had A Heart

Old Dick Cheney has finally had a change of heart. Even though the former co-president has suffered five heart attacks and has been kept alive since 2010 by a small pump powered by special batteries worn in a fanny pack, he underwent successful heart transplant surgery last Saturday. The Cheney family thanked the anonymous donor, who was rumored to be an illegal, gay activist. Some doctors and ethicists are already questioning the wisdom of granting an organ implant to a sick, 71 year old man, but if I was on Cheney's death panel, I'd say more power to him. Give him a new heart, a fresh kidney, a clean lung; whatever it takes to keep his vital signs ticking. I want to see Dick Cheney healthy and hearty so he can be alert for his war crimes tribunal. It would be inhumane to have him show up trembling and frail, unable to defend himself. So what if the average heart recipient is in the 50-60 year old range? This man has a rendezvous with destiny, and destiny's pissed off. In Cheney's defense, he had waited 20 months to receive a donor heart. I understand that he was on the recipient's list just above Kony. In a single year, this man had a quadruple bypass, two angioplasties, and a pacemaker surgically implanted. No wonder he was so bitterly opposed to medical malpractice litigation. His doctor's assistant is a hunchback named Igor. 

According to Transplant Living, the cost of a heart transplant has gone up from $658,800 in 2007, to approximately $997,700 today. Of course, Cheney has the government, gold-plated health care plan, the kind that you can't get, so taxpayers will pick up the tab for cracking the old man's chest. This means I'm paying to keep Dick Cheney alive while going without health insurance myself. I have to wait until 2014 when a provision in the Affordable Care Act, affectionately known as "Obamacare," kicks in and prevents insurers from discriminating against "pre-existing conditions." I made the mistake of seeing a psychiatrist once, so now, no organization of any sort will insure me because I'm insane, you know. If it weren't for the generous people at Church Health Center, who offer discounted medical services to the working poor or otherwise uninsurable, I'd be lying in the back room on a ventilator and an IV drip, writing my last check. Dick Cheney gets to promenade around like the Energizer Bunny while 49 million people lack access to the most basic care. Yet the right-wing propaganda machine has convinced the proletariat that Obamacare is a government takeover of healthcare, when it's really just an effort to reign in the cut-throat insurance industry that makes its profits by denying care to the sick.

The controversial law will finally see a courtroom this week when the Supreme Court decides the constitutionality of Obamacare. Why is it that I don't trust an impartial decision from virtually the same court that stopped citizens from counting votes in 2000 and gave the presidency to George W. Bush? At issue is the "individual mandate," which was originally a Republican idea. It assures that public health is a shared responsibility, requiring those not already covered by employee-based programs, Medicare, or Medicaid, to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty if not exempted by a  religious objection. The provision is waived in cases of financial hardship and subsidies are granted to lower-income customers. It's a windfall for insurance companies, but the conservative position is that the government should not have the right to force you to buy anything. As I said, I've been begging to buy insurance for a decade, so for me, money was never better spent; and they have to sell it to me. The insurers don't have the right to hang up a sign that says, "We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone." Millions of people will be able to afford to stay alive without taking out second mortgages, and parents of "special needs" children will no longer be denied coverage. To me, it sounds like a Republican wet dream because everybody profits. But religious extremists don't believe contraception or womens' birth control pills should be covered with your other prescriptions.

The Republican presidential candidates grabbed the religious exemption controversy and pounded that wedge issue like John Henry hammered steel. Suddenly bills were stampeding through state legislatures limiting womens' access to contraceptives. In Arizona, they actually passed a bill that exempts an employer from covering birth control pills if they're not being used for "medical purposes." If a woman wishes the cost of her contraception to be covered by insurance, she has to "submit a claim" to her boss stating the reasons for its usage. In other words, you can still have intercourse in Arizona, but you'd damn well better not be having any fun. It didn't help that Planned Parenthood announced a massive giveaway of the "morning-after pill" while they are at the center of an election year anti-abortion crusade. I understand they were trying to make a point, but they unwittingly gave fresh ammunition to the Santorum disciples. By handing out free post-coitus pills, the zealots can rightfully say that Planned Parenthood is encouraging unmarried women to have unprotected sex. I know the beleaguered organization has been dragged into every election since 1973, but their Board of Directors needs to call the Susan G. Komen Foundation to ask how inserting yourself into the political arena has worked for them. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, Planned Parenthood just, "gave them a sword."

The Supreme Court's decision isn't expected until June, but right-wingers are already licking their chops and taking a victory lap. If Obamacare is struck down, it wounds the president just in time for the national political conventions. Imagine the crowing in Tampa if the individual mandate is struck down. There will be stemwinders over the tyranny of a government mandate; even though if you plan to operate a car, you must first have a drivers' license, then are required to procure insurance and register the vehicle. Or, if you ride a motorcycle or bicycle, you're required to wear a helmet. Even your pet Schnauzer needs rabies shots and a license, so don't say the government never mandates a purchase. Think of it this way: If an uninsured person gets sick, they go to the emergency room and the cost is passed on to you. If everyone were required to purchase some form of health insurance, the insurance pool will grow larger, costs will go down, and you will be responsible only for your own care. As it stands now, you're paying for Dick Cheney's heart surgery, when I believe he got the wrong procedure. What he really needed was a soul transplant, but that's considered a pre-existing condition.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Way Too Big To Fail

There was an ad in the New York Times a week ago Sunday entitled "A Thank You Letter to Rush Limbaugh," which read: "We, the women of America, want to express our deep felt appreciation for throwing down the gauntlet. You have awakened a sleeping giant. You have given us the power to crush the Republican party. We are coming after all elected officials, Republican or Democrat, who have failed us miserably. Smart strong women are coming after you." signed Dr. Walton, PhD.

This was, of course, in response to Limbaugh's putrid tirade about a Georgetown law student invited to testify before Congress about a colleague that needed birth-control pills for treatment of an ovarian cyst. Although the need was medically verified, the insurance company insisted it was for contraception and continued to deny coverage. For having the temerity to speak out, womens' rights activist Susan Fluke was attacked as a "slut," and a "prostitute" by Limbaugh, and those were just the headlines. He continued that Ms. Fluke, "is happily presenting herself as an immoral, baseless, no-purpose-to-her life woman. She wants all the sex in the world whenever she wants it, all the time, no consequences. No responsibility for her behavior." I only hope that Sandra Fluke has a good lawyer because in the world of real journalism, this is known as "slander."

Everyone knows that Rush Limbaugh, like Ann Coulter, is a provocateur who knows the more outrageous his remarks, the more headlines they receive, and publicity generates income. In fact Limbaugh and Coulter are the Tea Party inverse of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Sprat, and up until now, anything they said was mainly for publicity or self-aggrandizement. This time, however, Limbaugh not only stepped over the very same line that brought down Don Imus, he snorted it. I don't know which is the most offensive, his complete ignorance of how womens' contraception works, his referring to a womans' health advocate as a prostitute, or his total disdain for the rules of broadcast journalism. Rush's claim that Fluke was, "having sex so frequently that she can't afford all the birth control pills that she needs," was simply stupid. After four marriages, didn't any of his wives tell him how it works? During his non-apology about "using those two words," Limbaugh was perspiring like a whore in church, so I don't understand his rage against prostitutes. Nor do I understand how he can oppose contraception, when he himself is a scumbag.

As a proud graduate of the U. of Memphis' College of Journalism, among the first things we learned was what was and what was not considered "protected speech" under the 1st Amendment. Usually, people in the "public eye," celebrities, or commentators, having been placed in that position by design or circumstance, are considered fair game for criticism, which explains tabloid journalism, The Jersey Shore and The Fashion Police. That's why if I wanted to call Sarah Palin a moronic inferno of malediction or infer that Rush is showing traces of being back on the Oxy, that is protected speech because they are both "public figures." To intentionally pronounce malicious falsehoods against a private person that may tend to damage their reputation, however, is against the law. Attempting to defend the defenseless, the "ditto-heads" are scrambling to find equivalencies in leftist rhetoric by Bill Maher or Ed Schultz. The problem is that these editorialists always pick their fights with the powerful and the pontific. Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly prey on the powerless and rely on scapegoating singular examples, like doctored Acorn videos or selectively edited speeches by Shirley Sherrod, to besmirch an entire movement or people. Let the blowhards ridicule Nancy Pelosi's botox all they want, but never ask a female congressional witness to post sex tapes online for your edification. That makes you not just a defamer, but a pervert, too.

This entire controversy exploded onto social media with a ferocity I had not yet seen. When Limbaugh apologised for his words but not for their intent, dozens of petitions popped up on Facebook and Twitter urging signers to go after Rush's advertisers. Limbaugh scoffed at the herd of corporate sponsors heading for the door saying it was, "like losing a couple of french fries from the container when it's delivered to you at the drive-thru...You don't even notice it." It's true that Limbaugh appears to never have missed a french fry, but with over 98 sponsors and counting suspending their ads, that's beginning to sound like a supersized order. Still, Rush affirmed that on the business side, "everything's cool," although his final radio program of the week contained over five minutes of dead air. By brushing off the desertion of advertisers, Rush has inadvertently left a blueprint for protesters to follow; go after his networks and local stations, which would be Clear Channel Communications, Premier Radio Networks, and locally, WREC-AM600. Rush's audience has been characterized as "angry, white men," but after 20 years of spewing his vile misogyny about "feminazis...out there protesting what they actually wish would happen to them sometimes," surely the mothers, wives, and daughters of these angry men deserve to scream, "Enough!" Hey, it's just the free market at work.

Limbaugh may well be "too big to fail," and survive the onslaught of outrage coming his way, but consider the long-term damage he has done. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, the only Republican to vote against the Blunt Amendment which would have vastly restricted womens' access to contraceptives, announced she will leave public office, blaming an "atmosphere of polarization." Not a single Republican rebuked Limbaugh for his noxious campaign. Santorum said Limbaugh was "just being absurd," and Romney disapproved of his "choice of words." Frontrunner Romney might have shown some courage with a "Joseph Welch moment," but he blew it. Welch was the Army attorney who finally confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy in the fifties by saying, "Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" This assumes Rush ever had any decency to begin with. It's a mammoth undertaking to knock Limbaugh from his perch, but never underestimate the power of passionate women on social media. The unwarranted attack on Sandra Fluke's character has morphed into an insult to all thinking women. Rush might save his job, but he's lost the GOP any chance they might have had to win the presidential election.