April 2005 Archives

Dubya had this to say yesterday upon signing the onerous bankruptcy bill:

"If someone does not pay his or her debts, the rest of society ends up paying them."

Four years ago, I would have been annoyed at the media-enabled "compassionate" label that allows W to so enthusiastically screw the families that wind up in economic trouble due to job losses and medical bills. Now I'm simply astounded at the level of cognitive dissonance needed to mindlessly parrot the words of fiscal responsibility (once known as fiscal conservatism, but no longer) while simultaneously running up over TWO TRILLION DOLLARS (that's $2,000,000,000,000.00) in additional public debt.

If the amount of $2 trillion seems familiar, it's because Bush made a promise in his 27 February 2001 address to a joint session of Congress:

Many of you have talked about the need to pay down our national debt. I listened, and I agree. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to act now, and I hope you will join me to pay down $2 trillion in debt during the next 10 years. At the end of those 10 years, we will have paid down all the debt that is available to retire. That is more debt, repaid more quickly than has ever been repaid by any nation at any time in history.

The contrast between his words and his actions has been startling. Instead of paying down any of the debt, Bush has squandered our economic strength on military adventurism and tax cuts for the wealthy. Bush's legacy has been the exact opposite of his promise: his administration has run up more debt more quickly than any nation at any time in history.

Who is going to foot the bill for W’s profligacy? Certainly not his multi-millionaire donor base, who will escape (as always) with income tax cuts, capital gains tax cuts, dividend tax cuts, and the elimination of the estate tax (and, for the last time, it's NOT a "death" tax).

No, the rest of us will be stuck with the tab. It works out to $26,295.29 per person, which my tax cut certainly did not cover…and neither did yours. (If you want to check the math, the total debt of $7,781,536,376,170.65 is divided by 295,928,957 people in the United States.)

In the wake of the Schiavo debacle's political grandstanding, here is an online form that emails the following message to Bill Frist (R-TN), and Representative Dave Weldon (R-FL):

Last month, you were able to diagnose Terri Schiavo’s illness by watching a short videotape. It is great to know that physicians in Congress are willing to provide their services free to Americans who aren’t even their constituents, especially at a time when nearly 50 million of us are uninsured. I was hoping you might be able to diagnose a few of my medical problems.

{PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR SYMPTOMS HERE.}

Thank you for your time and for your dedication to quality healthcare for all Americans.

Sarcasm doesn’t get much better than that.

The infamous "Hand of Hope" email was forwarded to me (Thu 4/14/2005 3:36 PM):

BE SURE TO READ THE STORY BEFORE LOOKING AT THE PICTURE BELOW .

A picture began circulating in November. It should be "The Picture of the Year," or perhaps, "Picture of the Decade." It won't be. In fact, unless you obtained a copy of the US paper which published it, you probably will never see it. The picture is that of a 21-week-old unborn baby named Samuel Alexander Armas, who is being operated on by a surgeon named Joseph Bruner. The baby was diagnosed with spina bifida and would not survive if removed from his mother's womb. Little Samuel's mother, Julie Armas, is an obstetrics nurse in Atlanta. She knew of Dr. Bruner's remarkable surgical procedure. Practicing at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, he performs these special operations while the baby is still in the womb.

During the procedure, the doctor removes the uterus via C-section and makes a small incision to operate on the baby. As Dr. Bruner completed the surgery on little Samuel, the little guy reached his tiny, but fully developed, hand through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon's finger. In a Time Europe article highlighting new pregnancy imagery that show the formation of major organs and other significant evidence of the formation of human life but a few days after conception, Dr. Bruner was reported as saying that when his finger was grasped, it was the most emotional moment of his life, and that for an instant during the procedure he was just frozen, totally immobile.

The photograph captures this amazing event with perfect clarity. The editors titled the picture, "Hand of Hope." The text explaining the picture begins, "The tiny hand of 21-week-old fetus Samuel Alexander Armas emerges from the mother's uterus to grasp the finger of Dr. Joseph Bruner as if thanking the doctor for the gift of life."

Little Samuel's mother said they "wept for days" when they saw the picture. She said, "The photo reminds us my pregnancy isn't about disability or an illness, it's about a little person." Samuel was born in perfect health, the operation 100 per cent successful. Now see the actual picture, and it is awesome - incredible. And hey, pass it on.

The world needs to see this one!

My response was:

I saw this one a few years ago. Snopes has a (partial) debunking. The money quote is:
Some opponents of abortion have claimed that the baby reached through the womb and grabbed the doctor's hand.

Not true, [Dr. Joseph] Bruner says.

Samuel and his mother, Julie, were under anesthesia and could not move.

"The baby did not reach out," Bruner says. "The baby was anesthetized. The baby was not aware of what was going on."

I received a reply (Fri 4/15/2005 2:25 PM):

Frankly, whether it was orchestrated or not doesn't concern me. It's a BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! [personal information redacted]....sorry to be so abrasive, but this is an issue about which I feel so strongly......[personal information redacted]

My final response was (Fri 4/15/2005 7:36 PM):

Since the tale was fabricated (or, as you put it, "orchestrated"), then why would it be important for everyone to "READ THE STORY BEFORE LOOKING AT THE PICTURE?"

Without the emotional spin and the faux drama, it's just another operating room photo: of great import to family and friends, but of little interest to the rest of us.

I'm not snarky enough to reprimand you for the overuse of exclamation marks, but I would like to mention the importance of making distinctions between the different stages of human development. It may be politically prudent for those on the Right to call everything from a zygote onward a "baby," but it's not accurate. As others have mentioned, acorns and oak trees are not interchangeable.

It's time for the 2005 "Muzzle" Awards, and the dishonors are legion.

Amid the usual contretemps over school dress codes, graduation speeches, and censorious idiocy at the FCC, perhaps the most bothersome episodes are those that prompted the dual award to the Democratic and Republican National Parties for their shameful behavior during the conventions last summer. The idea that peaceful protestors should be kept out of sight in so-called "free-speech zones" is repugnant at best and flagrantly unconstitutional at worst.

By my reading of the First Amendment, a free speech zone encompasses the entire area between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the parallel, and the Rio Grande. No exceptions are mentioned, especially not anything of this sort:

"Measuring approximately 300 feet by 90 feet, the "free speech" zone was located on a former construction site under abandoned railway tracks, surrounded by two rows of barriers topped with eight-foot chainlink fencing and looped razor wire, completely covered with a mesh netting, and guarded by armed law enforcement officers."

In the Muzzle award, there was a one-sentence mention of the GOP's penchant for denying citizens admission to political rallies "unless they signed statements affirming their support of the Bush-Cheney ticket." Their practice of muzzling dissent, unfortunately, continues unabated.

On the state level, there were two notable Muzzle awards:

In late 2004, Alabama State Representative Gerald Allen proposed legislation that would prohibit the use of public funds 'for the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.'
In what may well be the most extreme assault to date on Darwin, Georgia State Representative Ben Bridges introduced at the start of the current session a bill that would permit public schools across the state to teach only 'scientific fact' - a measure specifically designed to discredit Darwinian hypotheses since they were only 'theory.' A Democratic colleague quipped in response, 'You mean, like the theory of gravity?'

As much as I prefer rational discourse, sarcasm may be a perfectly acceptable response to such idiocy.

I received this response to my piece on the Terri Schiavo situation:

My response to your manifesto:

I must state the following as my response to your proselytizing. I will respond in short, hopefully lucid sentences, keeping in mind what my father, a professional writer for over 40 years, has always said: Keep it simple, keep it brief, and keep it friendly.

1. There is NO PROOF that Terry Schiavo EVER expressed her wishes to her husband.

2. She cannot, nor could not, make a "medical decision" because she is not a qualified medical person.

3. This crap about a "dignified decision" really makes my blood boil. No one WANTS to be in such a position in terms of lying in a vegetative state, however, forgive me for sounding, in your words, "holier than thou" (which actually comes across as holier than thou when you say it), but sometimes, in life, we must accept what God (yes, God) has chosen for us. That is why we are mere mortals. None of us knows what lies beyond this temporary life on earth, which is why those of us who believe in God and the Ten Commandments try to lead as decent a life as we can. Bad things happen to good people. My parents have lost two children; I have lost two brothers. Yes, we are mad and hurt and question why, but none of us can adequately conclude what God's plan was for them.

4. Your chastisement of Noonan's statements in her column where you bring her to task for her statement/question "Who is to say her life is pointless?" and you very dogmatically state that HER HUSBAND says so. Her husband is suspect, I am sorry to say. His pontification on numerous occasions really leaves me cold. If he were so concerned about his wife, then perhaps he should have harkened back to the day he took his marriage vows instead of moving on with his sex life and fathering two children with someone else. Believe me, I do not object to divorce if the situation becomes untenable. I have to believe that Michael Schiavo has an agenda and it does not involve "his wife's wishes." Right or wrong, Terry's parents and siblings were fighting for Terry. Yes, they are undoubtedly dreaming in their hopes that she would return to who she once was, but frankly, so what? I know you despise George Bush, but his statement that it is always better to err on the side of life resonates with me. Who is it going to hurt to allow her to live? Michael Schiavo's girlfriend.

5. I take umbrage at your comments about life having value equivalent only to the size of someone's 401(k). Really, don't you think you are being a tad pompous?

6. I agree with you (can you believe it?) that this situation has been politicized and that it should never have gone to Congress, but I think it did because Terry's parents were desperate. If either of my daughters were in the same situation, I would fight tooth and nail to keep her with me, disabilities, brain damage and all. Every life has value. Who determines who should live and die?

7. If the only thing keeping a loved one alive was a respirator, which essentially inflates and deflates lungs, then I would certainly consider "pulling the plug" because the person is already dead in terms of brain function. In Terry's case, her level of brain function has not been irrefutably established and the only "artificial" means of life support was FOOD. Interesting, isn't it?

8. I also find it interesting that any attempts to visually document Terry's current condition were rebuffed. That's because seeing her respond to her mother and make albeit moaning noises, would likely elicit an emotional response from the fence sitters. She was not lying unresponsive with her eyes closed. She was aware and she felt pain. Imagine the suffering she endured as she slowly and torturously starved and dehydrated to death.

9. I agree with you (again, what a concept) that some of the religious right are dogmatic and borderline fanaticalThe same can be said, however, for those on the other side. The left wing is ever ready to abort babies, kill the infirmed, and blow up buildings, but they raise their voices in self righteous protest and indignation because lives are lost in war or because there is a death penalty. I find it so interesting that you accuse the religious right of imposing their views because "their beliefs must take precedence." Aren't you doing the same? Don't you truly believe that your way is the only way and that you are right and gifted with knowing what is right for all of us? You make your snide comments about Bill Frist with an air of superiority that is palpable. I can almost hear you smugly thinking "what an idiot"

10. The 82% of those who think Bush and Congress should stay out of it, are not, I would hazard a guess representative of the number of people who truly believe that Terry Schiavo deserved to be allowed to live and NOT STARVED TO DEATH. I am appalled that intelligent people think that it is OK. What is the next step? If you are diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, knowing full well that within several years you will be confined to a wheelchair that you should save everyone the trouble and just end it now? Just something to think about.

11. I consider a "callous disregard for human life" the TAKING of human life.

Anyway, I didn't keep it brief, as I had promised, but I hope you will at least consider what I am offering you. By the way, I chuckled at your use of a quote from Ronald Reagan. There's hope for you yet. You are a very good writer, in terms of sentence structure, vocabulary and style. Unfortunately, I find your argument woefully and sadly so wrong. We should agree to disagree. Have a great weekend.

[numbering added for easier reference]

My reply follows:

I'll try to be brief in this response to you, although I doubt I'll be successful. I will endeavor to avoid ad hominem attacks (pomposity, superiority, snideness, smugness, etc.), as I consider them distractions. I certainly don't hope to change your mind, but rather to clarify my position and point out a few relevant facts.

Keep in mind that my "proselytizing" remarks were written strictly to rebut Peggy Noonan's nearly libelous assessment of those who opposed government intervention in the Schiavo case. A true "manifesto" on the larger subject of euthanasia and assisted suicide would have been a much different piece.

1. Terri Schiavo's wishes (as expressed to her husband and four other people, including her own mother) were accepted as "clear and convincing evidence" by the court. Since she left behind no documented "proof" (i.e., a living will), her next-of-kin (her husband) is the person legally authorized to direct her medical care.

2. That is incorrect. Neither she nor her husband needs to be a "qualified medical person" to make those decisions. Living wills, DNR orders, refusing treatment, and leaving a medical facility AMA would not be options if such a requirement existed.

3. Religions may guide individuals in their personal decisions, but cannot be the basis for public policy in a pluralistic nation. Like it or not, the people most closely affected are legally empowered to make these decisions - sometimes mediated by the courts - without seeking approval from you, me, clergy, or Congress.

4. Neither Michael Schiavo's stance nor my support of it is dogma; it's the law. (Whatever happened to "the rule of law?") You are, of course, free to question his motives.

5. Six years ago Bush signed a law that devalues life (particularly that of the poor) by permitting the unrequested termination of life support. That decision led to Sun Hudson's premature death, but now Bush prattles about a "culture of life." That isn't pomposity on my part; it's hypocrisy on his. (Has everyone forgotten Karla Faye Tucker and the 151 others whose executions he so blithely approved?)

6. I can only imagine, and hope to never experience, the agony of seeing a child in that state. When my son reaches adulthood, I will strongly recommend that he write a living will and update it as necessary. Until then, my spouse and I are obligated to make those decisions on his behalf. In Schiavo's case, the question "who determines?" has already been answered - many times - over the last decade and a half.

7. I find it interesting that, for some people, no amount of evidence could ever be irrefutable. The preponderance of the evidence can be debated - although, again, that has been done numerous times - but there will never be enough neurologists, enough tests, or enough court reviews to satisfy everyone. (Again, I hope to never arrive at that place of anguish and desperation.)

8. When existing years-old visual documentation has allowed a certain politician to make a spurious "diagnosis," it's no surprise that further attempts to do so were denied. If my spouse were in a similar situation, I wouldn't want GOP Congresscritters to gloat over a "great political issue" (or the media to profit) by publicizing a lamentable medical condition. (At any rate, people can have emotional responses to things that they do not comprehend - such as neurology. Basing decisions on emotions rather than facts is often little more than a petulant refusal to consider countervailing evidence.)

9. I can't let you get away with framing the issues that inaccurately. The left wing is in reality only "ever ready" to let women make their own decisions about bearing children, and to let all adults make their own decisions about the conditions under which they may not wish to live. (Whatever happened to "smaller, less intrusive" government?) As far as buildings being blown up, violent radicals on the left committed their crimes several decades ago. The only recent examples that come to mind involve the reactionary right (e.g., the Unabomber, Eric Rudolph, Oklahoma City, 9/11, etc.).

No, I'm not "doing the same" as Bill Frist and his cohorts; I'm doing precisely the opposite. I don't insist that everyone make life decisions according to my opinions, and I wouldn't abuse power to do so. On the contrary, I think that we should respect others people's decisions (even if we disagree with them) and obey the law (even if we don't like it).

Although Frist was apparently smart enough to graduate from medical school, that doesn't give him supernatural neurologist powers that would enable him to diagnose anyone without an examination. My beef with him is that (as Bush has in many instances) he started with the conclusion he wanted to reach and mangled (or invented) the facts to fit. The ends do not always justify the means, and logical argumentation doesn't work that way.

10. In a perfect world, no one would be faced with the prospect of living under appalling conditions. In that type of situation, though, different people will make different decisions. Disagreeing with those decisions does not confer upon anyone the right to overrule them. Respect for privacy and personal autonomy means that some decisions are neither open for public debate nor subject to public approval.

11. I agree. Everyone who supports pre-emptive war and capital punishment should keep that in mind. (Feel free to call that "self-righteous" if it makes you feel better, but ask yourself: do you call the Pope "self-righteous" when he points out the same inconsistency?) I recommend Michael Blanding's "The Culture of Life Top Ten," William Greider's "Pro-Death Politics," and Ted Rall's "The Right vs. the Culture of Life" on this point.

I quoted Reagan's speech to illustrate the irony that Peggy Noonan (his speechwriter) is now arguing the exact opposite position that she did then. I've made this point before, but incidents like this demonstrate an absence of political principles on the right. GOP-dominated Washington is awash in tactics that fluctuate depending on the desired result; Bush's "culture of life" is merely another example, this time as part of the continuing assault on the very concept of an independent judiciary.

Thank you for your opinions; although I disagree with many of them, I appreciate them at least as much as your compliments.

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All other questions follow from that."

(Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus)

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