Thursday, June 28, 2007

Radical Change Required

Michael Moore has a new movie. The movie is called SiCKO, and is being released nationwide on June 29. SiCKO is about health care, in the US and around the world. I haven't seen it yet, but I hear that Moore takes a look at the abject failure of the US health care system. Michael Moore was in Manchester last week for a special early showing to health care professionals and some uncommitted voters. You may have seen a very brief mention of it on WMUR's late news, which appears to have been sanitized for our protection. One might think that the appearance of one of the most famous US documentary filmmakers would be cause for some serious media attention, but, as is almost always the case with our very conservative NH media, one would be wrong. Moore also takes a scathing look at who our politicians take money from, and how that may relate to the stranglehold the insurance companies have on our system. This may explain why, in the first in the nation primary state, not a single theater in our state is showing the movie Friday the 29th. As far as I know (as I write this) the very first showing in NH, will be on July 3, in Keene.

Love him or hate him, Michael Moore has a gift for taking up issues that make us think. His very presence has created an entire industry of debunkers, one of whom is the “victim” of Moore's largesse in the film. Jim Kenefick created the website, which is dedicated to despising Michael Moore. Kenefick was asking for money on his site to keep it alive – saying he was in trouble because of his wife's medical bills that were nearly bankrupting him. He received a check to keep the site up for another year, and pay insurance premiums – from a mysterious donor. That donor turned out to be Michael Moore. In an interview with Newsweek, Kenefick manages to convey a reluctant gratitude. As you'd expect, Kenefick is already critical of the new movie, even though he hasn't seen it. What surprised me was his commentary on the health care system. He should know better than anyone that it isn't working – yet because it's Michael Moore pointing it out, he can't come out and agree that the US system is broken.

A 12-year old Maryland boy died in March from an abcessed tooth. His mother couldn't find a dentist that would take Medicaid. So, in the wealthiest country in the nation – not only was a 12 year old boy homeless – but he died. Deamonte Driver died because we don't regard teeth as part of our health care in this country. Insurance companies treat us from the neck down. Dentists won't take Medicaid patients because the reimbursement rates are so low. Where were the pious advocates for life? They are strangely silent about the born. The GOP ghouls who made such a spectacle of themselves around Terri Schiavo are completely silent about the way this CHILD was allowed to die.

Two weeks ago, a woman bled to death in the emergency room of a Los Angeles hospital. The hospital wasn't treating the woman. Her boyfriend called for an ambulance, but the 911 workers decided it wasn't a real emergency, and refused to pick her up, saying that she was already at a hospital.
Edith Rodriguez was vomiting blood, while the staff ignored her. She died from a perforated bowel, an entirely preventable death. At age 43, she was far too old for the right to life crowd to be concerned with. She should have pulled herself up by her bootstraps and gotten health insurance – so it's really her own fault that she died, right?

The great thinker Anonymous, wrote that a society is judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable. If that's the case, we are a failure.

The United States spends 13.7 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) according to the World Health Organization (WHO). France spends 9.8 percent of it's GDP, and the UK spends 5.8 percent. Despite the fact that we spend more money on health care than any other country in the world, according to the WHO, the US ranks 37th in the world for health care. France is ranked in first place, and the UK is in 18th place. We're number 37, even though we spend twice as much of our GDP as other countries, and 47 million of us are uninsured. Over half of the personal bankruptcies in the US are related to medical debt.

This isn't anything that most of you don't already know. We all know that there is very little care involved in the treatment we now receive from our health care practitioners – they don't have time to care for us. The HMOs require them to see a patient every 12 minutes. That's not enough time to say hello, never mind articulate health concerns. We're being run through on an assembly line. Insurance companies are making our health decisions for us – what we do and do not need. The system is broken, and we all know it.

We all know it – yet many remain stubbornly convinced that the market will save us, that we can turn the insurance companies around, that a “consumer driven” system is the answer, and so on. If the market could save us, it would have by now. If competition was the answer, we'd all be covered. The insurance companies are involved in our health for one reason only – PROFIT. The less coverage they provide, the greater the profit. By denying care to those in need, CEO's are collecting multi-million dollar bonuses. The insurance industry donates huge sums of money to political campaigns (check out who is on the receiving end at and nothing ever changes.

Nothing ever will change until we the people decide it must. It's time for radical reform – not the sissified incremental steps our leaders advocate for. Michael Moore is providing us with a clarion call to action. Go see this movie! Ask your local theater to show it! It's up to us to heed the call, and create a movement that ensures a single payer system with health care for all.

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The World Health Organization 1948

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Getting the Lead Out

An announcement was made this week that the state of NH is fining the Dept. of Transportation over $300,000 for the illegal dumping of lead paint and lead paint chips at four state property sites in Franklin, Concord, and Ashland. The dumping has gone on for 25 years. The DOT going to finance an independent audit and the cost of a consultant to come up with an environmental management system – which, when added to the cost of cleanup carries an estimated price tag of $1.5 million, which means it will likely be a whole lot more.

The worst incident was in 1980, when two 1-ton pallets of lead based paint and epoxy were dumped into the foundation of a paint shed that was being built in Franklin. Apparently the dumpers were supervisors associated with a state bridge maintenance unit. Some have since retired, one recently resigned, and others will be. State Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has said that no criminal charges will be brought, since many of the incidents took place a long time ago. The dumping began in 1980 and continued through 2005. According to the Nashua Telegraph, incidents in 1996 and 2004 were covered up by a supervisor, during a previous investigation.

That there was a previous investigation makes one wonder what ever became of it. This was a bridge unit that had the training and the budget to handle waste properly – so, why didn’t they? Acting DOT Commissioner Charles O’Leary called it “a breakdown in the character” of the employees. It sounds like a pattern of systematic institutional abuse and cover-up that badly needs exposure to sunlight and taxpayer scrutiny.

The worst of the dumping took place at two sites in Franklin. In addition to the paint and epoxy that went into the foundation of the paint shed, paint chips were buried, dumped on the ground, and poured into holes in concrete floors. There will be a public hearing in Franklin on June 25, where Dept. of Environmental Services Commissioner Thomas Burack hopes to have soil samples. There are eight homes that abut the two Franklin sites. There is concern about lead dust in the air, but the potential for lead polluting the water is being downplayed. In a Union Leader story, unnamed officials were quoted as saying “The houses are hooked to city water and sewer systems and don’t use groundwater.” They don’t? Where do these “officials” think the water in their pipes comes from?

A cursory search about lead contamination in groundwater turned up an EPA website that warns that 10-20 percent of total lead exposure in babies and young children comes through drinking water. Too much lead in the body can cause brain, kidney, nervous system, and red cell damage. Babies and young children are most vulnerable to lead poisoning. Old plumbing systems may have lead pipes, brass fittings can leach lead into water, and lead solder is often used on copper pipes. Add that to high lead content in the water, and the folks in Franklin may be in real danger. The cavalier attitude of the nameless officials about the potential for damage to the groundwater is appalling.

Indeed, the whole story is appalling. This comes from the utter disregard that too many have for the environment. Apparently we have yet to learn that we dump toxins into the ground at our peril. There’s always a price to be paid. This is also a classic NH story – one that we see time and time again. I’m not sure why it is this way, but rather than pay the ounce of prevention, we choose to pay for the pound of cure, and we never, never learn.

The Union Leader story mentioned our very own Representative Gene Chandler, who apparently complained that these fines take money from highway maintenance. He’s annoyed that roads aren’t being paved because people at DOT didn’t do what they were supposed to. Indeed, all of us should be wondering how this illegal dumping could go on for 25 years without coming to light? How was this covered up, and by whom? How high up the food chain does the cover-up go? Where was the oversight of this department? Attorney General Ayotte should reconsider the decision not to bring legal charges against these people. They’ve committed crimes, not only against the environment, but against the taxpayers of our state. They’ve damaged the public trust. These people are state employees – and means that the taxpayers will be paying their retirement pensions, at the same time we fund the cleanup that they caused. There’s something wrong with that picture.

We cannot continue to treat the planet as though there were no consequences to what we do. We cannot continue to let polluters and illegal dumpers get away with it. It is 2007, and the NH DOT is just now getting around to coming up with an environmental management system? The REAL NH advantage is our state’s natural beauty. We destroy that beauty at our peril. It’s not just our state economy at risk – it’s the health of our residents. That’s a hefty and unnecessary price to pay. In the words of the late, great writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: “We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap.” We can choose not to be able to paraphrase that quote to fit NH – and we had better. Our future depends on it.

“Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,
For strip-mined mountain’s majesty, above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.”
George Carlin