Saturday, December 22, 2012
Monday, January 10, 2011
I’m thinking I can no longer call myself a liberal, or progressive. Perhaps I never was, anyway. Liberals tend to believe that people can learn to live peacefully with one another. They believe the human race can make progress towards justice and equality. They think we can learn from our mistakes.
I used to think that way, even as late as 2008, maybe 2009. Not any more.
It’s not the madman’s mayhem in
No, what gets me is the hope that liberals profess that maybe this time, we’ll all change for the better, we’ll all put the muffler on runaway rhetoric, we’ll get Congress and state legislatures to pass rational gun control.
Don’t hold your breath.
We live in a plutocracy now, a country where money doesn’t merely talk, but swears (my apologies to Dylan). And those with money are telling us to go fuck ourselves, because nothing’s going to change.
Sure it’s a damn shame that Jared Lee Loughner, by all accounts so psychotic that he scared the bejesus out of his teachers and fellow students, was able to buy a Glock and kill six people, including a nine-year old girl. But as the NRA says, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. He could just as easily have beheaded all those people, and diced up a bag of carrots to boot, with a sharp samurai sword. He could have converted an old hash pipe into a blow gun and strafed them with curare-tipped darts. He could have strapped dynamite around his body and…nah, that’s not the American way.
And as for any other means of killing people, not very likely either. Nothing kills like a high-capacity 33-round hand gun. Unless, maybe, it’s an AK-47.
A sensible thing to do would be to ban assault weapons. Another sensible thing would be to require background checks at gun shows. But none of these proposals will get through any state or federal legislative body because the NRA opposes them. The NRA cites the Second Amendment, but really, it’s policies are based on unfettered free enterprise. Any law that hinders the purchase of firearms cuts down on the profits of gun manufacturers and dealers. That’s what it’s all about, making another buck, or another billion.
Far more people have been killed in our wars in
I have a fantasy—and just an abstract fantasy, please—that some day, some guy who’s hearing voices coming through the fillings in his teeth will start firing a gun-show-bought semi-automatic weapon at someone like this guy:
Nice, friendly looking fellow, isn’t he? His name is Ron Schmeits and he’s a small-town banker in
By the way, most of the political leaders assassinated in the past 50 years have been Democrats.
So short of evening the score, what can we do? First, recognize that this kind of tragedy is just a more dramatic rendition of the collateral damage wreaked daily by our economic system and the vast inequality of wealth and income in our country. Death just is another externalized cost of doing business in the
Second, people have to put their lives on the line. That means way, way more than starting a Facebook issue page and getting a million people to put some slogan in their status update. Even more than volunteering at the food co-op or homeless shelter, as worthy as those deeds are.
No, it will take active resistance and pro-active organizing. Massing thousands of people at the next NRA convention, for a start. Or organizing a boycott of companies that contribute to the NRA. Perhaps moling inside a large nefarious organization or corporation and causing all sorts of havoc. I don’t think it requires violence, but it does require personal risk.
And that’s the catch. Even as we get picked off one-by-one by the economy, by the housing crisis, by unaffordable health care, by hazardous working conditions, by deadly pharmaceuticals, by random gunfire, we remain all too comfortable, so long as we have our I-Diversions. In a few days, we’ll still be talking about the Auburn-Oregon football game and barely remember who Gabriel Giffords is.
I have to admit, I’m pretty comfortable, too. I haven’t found a cause that I would die for. But if the right cause came along under the right circumstances, I might kill for one.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
One annual piece of good news for our fair city is that not that many people are murdered in
If you want to live more dangerously, move to
Now for the less rosy picture: in 2010, 13% of
Best thing to do is avoid the police, because they’ve been getting away with murder for decades and nobody at City Hall has the brains or guts to do something about it.
If, however, you want to reduce those odds even further, there are several things that could work in your favor (other than being polite to the police).
- Take your meds and don’t hang around people who won’t take theirs. Two of the people shot be the cops were, according to witnesses, behaving in a mentally unstable manner and four other victims were killed by mentally disturbed assailants.
- Be white. Forty percent of the homicides were committed against people of color, usually by people of color (except for those shot by cops).
- Learn knife defenses, which are taught in many martial arts schools and self-defense classes. Seven victims—about a quarter of the total—died from knife wounds.
’s rate is far higher than the national average of 14%. On the other hand, just over half of Portland ’s murders were committed by firearms, while the national average is 70%. Portland
- If you are a woman, don’t get involved with an angry, obsessive or jealous man—and if you do and want to leave him, you may want to spike his cocktails with a few drops of methyl alcohol. The reason for this precaution is that of the seven women murdered last year, five were killed by their husbands or boyfriends (two after they had become estranged).
This last factoid is a recurring nightmare, worse even than cops killing black folks. In previous years, the number of women murdered by crazed ex-boyfriends or husbands has approached massacre levels. I can only guess at why it happens so much. Some men have a “master” complex and when a man sees his slave leave him, his ego is humbled. He can’t let it go and get on with his life, because a big part of his life is mastery over another human being. So he tries to bring her back home. And if that fails, he kills her.
Restraining orders are futile against crazy men. I propose a law that says that whenever a woman takes out a restraining order against a man, the man has to wear a GPS bracelet for a sufficient period of time, which would allow the police to make sure the ex is not getting too close to the object of his desire, or if he is, to warn her.
Either that, or methyl alcohol (methanol). If administered in just the right amount (about 10 mL), it will lead to blindness, but not kill him.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
So here’s the solution to our health care crisis: send all the uninsured sick people to another country that has socialized medicine.
This idea springs from a guest column in The Oregonian by David Lister, a genuinely nice and reasonable guy who also is a political conservative. Lister opposes the single-payer health care systems in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and probably also the public option proposed and possibly abandoned by President Obama.
Yet he recounts his own experience with Britain’s nationalized health care and comes away begrudgingly satisfied:
“Last April, during a trip to Scotland, I had my own encounter with a "socialized" health system. The day before our scheduled return I experienced severe chest pains and labored breathing. Our hosts insisted that I allow them to call the health service. After some discussion with a screener, I was told I should come in to be examined. In less than an hour, I was sitting in an exam room with a Scottish physician. A rapid examination satisfied him that I was not in cardiac distress, but merely suffering from acute indigestion.”
Lister mentions that his attending physician said he would move to American “in a hot minute,” presumably because of better pay, but also notes that his trip to the doctor cost him nothing.
If a doctrinaire conservative can experience socialized medicine first hand and not launch into a voluminous rant about how awful it is, think about how ordinary, non-ideological Americans would react. It seems that Americans are afraid of health care reform because they view it as the devil they don't know. So introduce them to the single-payer system and see how they like it.
This would have two positive effects:
In the short run, it would save us billions of dollars. Buying a plane ticket for an uninsured American would be a lot less expensive than providing health insurance for that person, or treating the illness. Of course, there would have to be some kind of screening to make sure the sick person was actually sick and not trying to finagle a free trip abroad.
After awhile, Britain, France and all the other countries with socialized medicine would catch on and start denying care to American tourists, but by that time, enough Americans would have been treated overseas—or in Canada—to greatly expand the movement for publicly-financed universal health care here. These people would then start showing up at town hall meetings demanding that their representatives pass the legislation that recently was getting shouted down.
In addition, if more people spent time abroad, they might develop an appreciation for such European things as fast and reliable public transit, walking, eating food in small portions and five-week vacations—all of which are good for one's health.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Ah, the Great Indoors
Last night I went to Laurelhurst Park and watched “Singing in the Rain” along with a few hundred other Portlanders. I'm not sure there is a better way to enjoy a balmy summer evening that doesn't involve taking off all one's clothes or imbibing tall drinks with Spanish names. There were snow cones for sale at a tropical-themed cart, though most people brought their own picnics. The movie, which I hadn't seen in years, is one delightful song and dance routine after another, including the famous eponymous scene, plus the songs “Make 'Em Laugh,” “Good Mornin'.” and the incomparable “Gotta Dance.”
But this is a somewhat political blog, so for me, it's “Gotta Kvetch.”
It was the cigarette smoke. Enough people were smoking in the crowd that at times I grew a bit nauseous. At the least, it was irritating. And that brings me to my point: cigarette smoking must be prohibited in outdoor public places.
I applauded the extension of cigarette bans to bars, although it went into effect about a year and a half too late. Now I can go into even the most divey (and therefore most interesting) bars in town and inhale comfortably. It's great to be able to walk to my neighborhood pub and have a beer and dinner without suffocating from tobacco smoke.
Unfortunately, by implementing this ban on smoking in bars, we have ceded the outdoors to smokers. It's great indoors now. But it's virtually impossible to sit on at a sidewalk table, or on the patio of a restaurant or bar, without wondering if a tremendous fire is consuming Mt. Hood National Forest—except that forest fires, as devastating as they are, smell better than the incineration of tobacco.
So let's just ban outdoor smoking. Let the smokers puff away in a closet or a car with the windows rolled up. Or their own home, if they own it themselves, since very few landlords want to rent to smokers anymore.
Not that I'm totally unsympathetic. I did make this suggestion last winter when the bar ban took effect:
But don't cry to me about smokers' rights. Those of you who smoke should have no rights. You are drug addicts. You suck on an extremely lethal drug that is more addictive than heroin. Like meth tweaking, your addiction harms the people around you. And the weird thing is, it doesn't even get you high.
In any sane society, tobacco would be illegal. Only the largess and lobbying power of the tobacco companies keeps it legal. So that's not going to happen, but the non-addicted public is going to keep making it more difficult to feed your addiction. Get used to it.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
If the DMV did health care
One of the main points in the argument against a single payer, government-sponsored health care system is that it would be run by heartless gummint burrocrats. One line I’ve heard several times is: “Do you want to trust your health care to the kind of people who run the DMV?”
A week ago, I got a letter from the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. This letter informed me that a vehicle registered to my name was not insured and that I had to procure auto insurance for it unless I had sold it or if it had been wrecked and thus taken out of circulation. In my case, however, the vehicle in question, a 1960s vintage Ford stepside pickup, was in a friend’s garage, not going anywhere until a loving restoration was completed.
There was a phone number at the bottom of the letter. I called it. A person answered. Yes, a real human being answered. No tedious menu of numbers to push or things to say to eventually get to a point where you are on hold long enough to watch Schindler’s List. A woman just answered the phone, said her name and asked how she could help me.
When was the last time that happened when you called your insurance company?
She was very helpful and told me to write my explanation at the bottom of the slip that I was supposed to return and all would be fine.
Again, when did that ever happen when you inquired about something from a health insurance company?
Fact is, the DMV Express center at
So, as to whether I want to have my health care administered by the same people who work at the DMV, I’m saying, “Hell, yes!”
Monday, July 13, 2009
Nothing Pencils Out
Nothing pencils out anymore. Maybe nothing ever did, but it seems flagrantly more obvious today that virtually all business activities are entropic. Unsustainable. Oh yes, businesses survive, even thrive, but only by begging, borrowing, stealing, cheating or government subsidy.
No business seems to make it on its own. No business can operate profitably without either cutting corners or receiving unearned revenue.
You know the big names, the ones who got the billions and hundreds of billions from the feds. So you know:
--Banking doesn't pencil out. Banks need large infusions of your tax dollars to stay afloat.
--Ditto for insurance companies. In addition, insurance companies have to aggressively deny benefits to their customers to stay in business.
--American auto companies haven't penciled out for decades and now need not only government money but supervision.
Certainly, the failed economy doesn't help matters, but this thought came to me awhile ago, before millions of jobs went up in smoke.
--Big agribusiness doesn't pencil out. The corporate farms are totally dependent on the pork-laden agriculture bill that Congress passes every few years.
--Small farms haven't penciled out for nearly a century.
--Food product manufacturing doesn't pencil out unless the product is loaded with heavily subsidized commodities such as corn and soybeans.
--Most other kinds of manufacturing doesn't pencil out in the U.S., which is why it's done in China and elsewhere.
In Portland, however, it's no different, just perhaps more bungled up than many other places, but definitely not alone.
--Major league sports franchises, though universally owned by billionaires, evidently can't make it unless taxpayers pay for their stadiums and arenas.
--The hotel industry doesn't pencil out, since it needs to hire illegal aliens to clean the rooms. And it needs subsidies from local governments to build new hotels.
--Restaurants, too, need illegals in the kitchen to pencil out.
--Bars evidently will go bust if they don't get revenue from video poker.
--Newspapers aren't penciling out and thus are near extinction.
--Radio and television news doesn't really pencil out either, because these media really don't report news, just gossip and opinion.
--The construction of buildings no longer pencils out, because there's no buyers anymore. Unless a builder wins a contract from the government, at which point taxpayers foot the bill.
--Pharmaceuticals don't pencil out. Yes, the drug companies make obscene profits, but only by convincing people to take lots of drugs they don't need—and then the government or the insurance companies pay for those drugs.
--Health care in general doesn't pencil out, even though prices are escalating at three times the general inflation rate. Hospitals can't make money treating the sick, but instead have to seek profits treating the vain.
--A lot of little boutiques in trendy areas may appear to pencil out, and do so in the short run, but wait a couple of years and see how many are still around.
--Small business in general hardly ever pencils out. Either the employers or the owners make pitiful wages for what they do, and never have good health plans.
--Big business doesn't pencil out either, because it doesn't have to. Big business is too big to fail, so the government keeps it alive.
I can come up with a handful of business activities—coffee, sex, IPhones—that seem to pencil out. Maye I haven't examined them closely enough. Maybe there are more. There definitely are more that don't. Give me your list.