by Gilles d'Aymery
"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue."
—La Rochefoucauld, 1655
(Swans - July 2, 2007) SHOOTING THE HEALTH CARE MESSENGER: As Charles Marowitz pertinently observed, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries did not waste time attacking Michael Moore's documentary, Sicko. And who else but The New York Times would be the best shooter? We need "liberals" to kill liberal ideas, after all. Where there is money to be made you can find the Gray Lady. It never misses the target. So, Moore's stuff is dead stuff. He'll make a few mils and move on to the next experiment. Meanwhile, 47 percent of the American people and 62 percent of the 17-29 folks (the latter, a big advertising target) want a single-payer health care system. Remarkable numbers in light of how little the issue is mentioned in the MSM. We want the insurers out and we want to rein in the pharmaceutical giants. We want health care for all, non-for-profit care, especially preventive care, for you and me. But it's not in the books of our leading presidential candidates. Can you imagine Hillary Clinton, who's backed by insurance and pharmaceutical companies, supporting a single-payer system? Can you?
THANKS TO THE US SUPREME COURT, the status quo will perdure. The black-robed folks decided that it was okay for corporations to spend their profits on advocacy ads. Because, see, corporations are considered people under US Law, people like you and me. I'm no constitutional expert, but our own in-house authority, Carol Warner Christen, is quite clear on this point. Nowhere in the Constitution are corporations referred to being people. How did the U.S., supposedly a Republic of, by, and for the people, become a Corpocracy?
IT BEGAN IN 1868 when the 14th Amendment was adopted. (No state can "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.") Clever lawyers began arguing that corporations were groups of people and as such deserved the same rights as people themselves. The argument went on for almost two decades until, on one fateful day in 1886, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the USA, Morrison Remick Waite, issued a short and sibylline statement: "The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the 14th Amendment ... applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does." Voila! Two short sentences...and the Republic was done with thanks to nine white men in black robes.
SOME WILL ARGUE THAT the Republic was effectively neutered in 1845 (annexation of Texas) or about 1846-1848 (Mexican War) and put to rest in 1898 (Spanish-American War). Possibly...but unlikely. The black-robe man had a more significant influence on the demise of the American construct since his two-sentence decision, never adjudicated by the People, gave all decision-making processes to the moneyed corporations through the power of the purse, not of the ballot. Imperial ventures were and remain boardroom affairs devised to fill the coffers of their members on the back of the People. The end result has little consequence so long as the short-term enrichment by the few is realized. The U.S. lost the Philippines and Cuba. The mining barons still made a killing. Vietnam was lost and the same barons, or their siblings, got a great ride to the bank. Iraq is lost, but fortunes are made or sustained. Eventually, California and the southwest will turn Mexican again within a few decades without a bullet being fired -- check the demographics and the idiotic white nativists (supremacists) who refuse to integrate the immigrants into the American culture. To refuse assimilation leads to the "other" culture setting in by default. Again, check the demographics. Wealth is borderless. Hence, the wealthy could care less. But control they do, and that's what Chief Justice Morrison Remick Waite handed them on a golden platter -- America, "a tribe that worships gold," once said a poet. In parentheses, please notice that the same day the Court reinstated the right of corporations to blast issue ads, it also ruled that students at an Alaska high school could not display a banner that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," and that it was legitimate for the high school's principal to punish the studentry. The black robes have a definite view of the meaning of free speech!
SO EXPECT A BUNCH of issue ads paid for by the insurance and big pharma industry in the near future, and do not expect any 2008 candidate to propose universal health care coverage based on a single-payer, not-for-profit system. (Kucinich is not a true-blooded candidate, just one to keep the gullible Lib-Labs within the big Democratic tent.) Michael Moore is right on mark, but so long as he endeavors to influence the Democrats, he may gross a few green buckados (all the better and well-deserved), but he is wasting both your time and mine. The system is broken. You can't reform a broken system. You have to change it.
THE BLACK ROBES ALSO HAVE some preposterous and reactionary views about school integration, the latter having been driven by the 1954 landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. Schools were racially segregated, particularly in the South. It was successfully argued then that, "No state has any authority under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to use race as a factor in affording educational opportunities among its citizens." Finally, race could no longer be used to deny equal opportunity to African Americans and for the next 30 years school integration saw significant progress. But in the last two decades re-segregation has reared its ugly head again for a variety of reasons (economic disparities, good old racism, etc.). School districts have attempted to rebalance, rediversify their systems, by taking into account race to achieve their goals, as Brown always intended. But that's precisely what our current black robes decided they did not like. They turned the argument made in 1954 on its head and declared that race could not be a factor to promote equal opportunity and a pluralistic -- that is, integrated -- system. In so doing, our five conservative black robes gutted, or at least greatly weakened, that landmark decision, without proposing any other factor that can be used to make school systems more diverse and pluralistic. For, if race cannot be used to achieve balance among whites, blacks, Latinos, and all the hues -- that beautiful rainbow -- that bless our land, then what can or should? The black robes didn't say.
SUBSIDIZING OUR DEMISE: Our fearless senators (I'm oozing sarcasm) have come up with courageous legislation to lessen the country's dependence on foreign oil and to clean the environment. As I predicted two weeks ago, they agreed to increase the average fuel economy of vehicles, promote more drilling in the U.S. and off the continental shelf, and mandate with the help of tax incentives a higher production of biofuels and other renewable energy. The bill needs to be reconciled with its House counterpart and won't reach the president's desk before the fall, at best.
NOW, I WON'T HOLD a grudge against any of you for not having followed the debate on the floor of the Senate, where, for a week, the august chamber went through countless amendments, each requiring at least 60 votes to avoid a filibuster. Not many came out of the grinder unscathed. Still, getting a hold of that bill is worthwhile. Here is a non-expert summary (and context) of the results reached by our intrepid decision makers.
AVERAGE FUEL ECONOMY: Great news! After three decades of inaction, our lawmakers have decided to increase the average from 22.5 mpg to 35 mpg, a whopping 40 percent increase. Knowing that our European friends already have an average in excess of 40 mpg, we can report that our bold senators (sarcasm still oozing) took a titanic step in the right direction, with only one slight exception to their boldness: The change will take place by 2020, 13 years from now -- a small detail your local paper did not report.
THIRTY-FIVE MPG could be achieved tomorrow, literally. Nope, actually, it could have been achieved yesterday, had not car manufacturers peddling power over conservation. In short, the technology is here to produce engines with high mpg, as high as 100 mpg, no problem. The problem resides in the choices made by car manufacturers and the consumers who are guided by ads paid for by the same car manufacturers (and oil companies).
LET ME DEMONSTRATE MY POINT through my own vehicles. I own two 20-year-old Toyotas, both 1987 models built in September 1986: A Land Cruiser and a pickup truck. Both were bought second hand: The former in the fall of 1991 (its odometer read 38,400 miles; today, 92,600 -- paid $15,600 for it), the latter in the spring of 2004 (odometer then: 144,600; today 153,500 -- paid $2,000 for it). The Land Cruiser has a 6-cylinder OHV engine (the old Chevy block that the Japanese bought from GM), displacing 4.2 liter (4230 cc), and developing 125 horsepower @ 3600 rpm. Its EPA estimated mpg was 11/13 (city/highway), though I swear I can get as high as 14/18 mpg when driving lightly. Its 2007 younger sibling has a mpg city/highway estimate of 13/17 with an 8-cylinder, 4.7 liter DOHC engine developing 265 HP @ 5,400 rpm. If they can achieve a similar mpg with an 8-cylinder developing more than twice the horsepower than my old horse, just imagine what they could achieve with a modern 6-cylinder developing the same 125 HP. Just imagine.
TAKE THE PICKUP: In 1987, it had a 22/25 mpg rating (here again, I swear it can reach close to 25/30 mpg when driven lightly) with a 4-cylinder, 2.3 liter engine, developing 96 HP @ 4,800 rpm. Twenty years later, the same truck, or its replacement, The Tacoma, has a 2.7 liter engine developing 159 HP @ 5,200 rpm -- its mpg rating, 23/28. Over 60 percent more power but only 10 percent more fuel efficiency than the 20-year-old EPA estimates. Here again, imagine the fuel efficiency of a 2 liter engine with just about 90 HP...
CONTRARIANS WILL OBJECT that power is good, or at least needed to service our modern lifestyle. But I wonder: People my age remember the time when a 1.4 liter engine was the nec plus ultra. It developed 70 or 80 HP and had around 40 mpg or more fuel efficiency. Heck, my first car, almost 40 years ago, a second-hand 1966 Citroën 2 CV, had a 2-cylinder engine that was giving me up to 70 mpg. The Toyota pickup, before I bought it, was owned by a friendly acquaintance, a contractor with a pristine reputation for excellence and reliability. He used the truck for his contracting business, loading it with tons of wood and materials and tools over the years. The truck went on going and going for over a decade and 140,000 miles (with a regular, meticulous maintenance schedule). He only sold it because, due to a health ailment, he needed a vehicle with air conditioning, which the truck did not have. My luck. Point is: why make use of a more powerful engine when a less powerful one can do the very same job? You know the answer: greens.
CONTRARIANS WILL OBJECT AGAIN. They'll argue that with more power you save time from point A to point B, and that you can carry more cargo in any trip from the same point to the other. That's when you have to laugh loudly, starting with myself. I referred to my first car, a 2 CV that blessed my late teens. In those French antediluvian days, when you finally got your driver license you had to exhibit on the back of your car a round, white magnet with the number 90 in black. It meant that you were not allowed to go over 90 km/h (about 56 mph). This was a huge embarrassment, short of total shame, to this young Turk. I could not wait for the 12 months to pass by and see this object that tarnished my testosterone-loaded manliness removed from the back of my car. The funny part is that the 2 CV could barely go over 55 mph, only when pushed by a strong tail wind and down hill. But, oh well, when you are 19 your manliness is a prerequisite to adulthood. The funnier part is that I drive slower now than I used to, or could, in 1969. To me, going 50 or 55 mph is still going too fast, and fastness does not save time, or so little that it is a joke. Why? Traffic congestion, that's why. A trip down to San Francisco through Highway 128 and the 101 Freeway -- distance 120 miles -- takes about 2.5 to 3 hours whether one drives at 55 or 80 mph. First, you must navigate 28 miles of a two-lane twisty and treacherous road; then, once on 101, you get about 30 miles of open road before hitting Santa Rosa where serious gridlock begins and practically lasts till the Golden Gate Bridge. In short, the speed difference is only real for one fourth of the distance. Not worth the risk of a ticket, accident, or the price of the gasoline used speeding for such little time gain.
WANT TO SAVE ENERGY? Lower the speed limit to 55 mph (will save one million gallons a day), and manufacture small cars with efficient 3-cylinder engines. And don't rejoin with the usual bogus argument that small cars aren't as safe as the mastodons. There are no statistical studies that confirm the case. There are no independent studies, that is -- independent from those financed by Detroit and the oil companies, both having a financial interest in having people drive big and expensive gas guzzlers. Actually, the U.S. has more car-induced fatalities per capita than in Europe where they, by and large, drive much smaller vehicles. Prove me wrong, George Will and other pundits notwithstanding. I rest my case. Americans simply do not want to change their beloved way of life.
MORE DRILLING INCENTIVES: That's a no-brainer for our bold senators. I can't wait to see the ANWR become Gruyère with ever-enlarged holes. We'll drill ourselves into oblivion so long as we can milk more buckados for the few and keep the driving habits for the many -- future generations be damned. Since nobody cares, why would our valiant senators do? Do you care?
MORE BIOFUELS: Here, I don't know what to say any longer. The bill mandates a sevenfold increase in the production of ethanol, at least 36 billion gallons by 2022. I mean, talk about accelerating our own demise! It's becoming a waste of time and emotional energy to write about this stuff. I've done it again and again, lately in March 2007, when I reported on the sorry state of the ethanol scam. Not only is it a (financial) scam, but it's a destroyer of our natural environment. Destruction of the soil, obliteration of water resources, higher prices for the food chain, and absolutely no solution to our energy dilemma. Darn, this is so widely documented that there is not much more to say but to shout at our daring lawmakers that they are literally putting us all asunder for the benefit of their careers and bank accounts. What's needed is another Boston tea party revolution. Let's throw the rascals overboard. I can't take it anymore.
BACK INTO SARCASM: Since no one listens, we'd better, sort of, laugh at it all. Following the debate on the Senate floor I learned that the producers of biofuels get not just 52 cents in tax credits as reported earlier, but another full one dollar. (Sorry, I can't say whether the $1 replaces the 52 cents, or is an additional bonanza at our expense. The darn bill is so complicated that it would take months, if not years, to peruse intelligibly.) But here is a scheme that you will undoubtedly enjoy.
"THEY" GET A $1 TAX CREDIT for every gallon of "alternative," biofuel energy they produce. That's your money getting into their pocket, mind you. See how it works. Millions of acres are being planted with corn. Corn price doubles. Food price is 6.5% higher than last year. Corn is the feedstock of not only human food but that of livestock (poultry, pigs, cows, etc.). Livestock produces animal fat that is used in the oleo-chemical business, makers of soap and other house detergents. Price of animal fat has gone up 100 percent in the past six months -- check your weekly bill and compare. What happened? Remember the $1 a gallon tax credit I mentioned above? A company figured out that by adding animal fat through distillation to normal oil-based diesel oil, it could get the $1 per gallon tax credit. And which company that might be? Conoco-Phillips, the oil company for sure. There you have it in a nutshell.
IN SUMMARY, our tax dollars finance an industry that has no positive effect on energy independence and environmental cleanliness; that destroys our soil and our water resources; that increases the price of our food and cleaning materials; that takes small farmers out of business through land speculation; that lines the pockets of Agribusiness and their quislings in Congress, and we say nothing. Great accomplishment!
LET'S END THESE BLIPS, which they assuredly are, with a lighter find that belongs to the "Only in America" column: Two years ago, Roy Pearson, an administrative law judge in Washington D.C., took a pair of pants to a dry cleaning shop own by Soo and Jin Chung. The shop, like in many small businesses, displayed a "satisfaction guaranteed" sign. Judge Pearson wanted his pants altered -- maybe he had put on some unwelcome weight and wanted the waist enlarged. Unfortunately, the pants went missing. Soo and Jin Chung could not find them. The story does not say what kind of compensation they offered to Judge Pearson, but it'd be reasonable to think that they proposed to replace the trousers at their own expense. The judge had another idea. He felt defrauded because from his point of view the "satisfaction guaranteed" sign meant that the shop's owners had to do whatever he wanted. As the owners begged to differ, he decided to sue them for, get this, $54 million under the pretense that he had suffered "mental suffering, inconvenience, and discomfort." The case went through the court system for two years before it was finally thrown out in D.C. Superior Court by a judge who ruled that Mr. Pearson was "not entitled to any relief whatsoever." Meanwhile, the Chungs have incurred tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Will Mr. Pearson appeal the ruling? As said, only in America...
. . . . .
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.