Wednesday, May 10, 2006

How Are We Doing?

Recently I got email from a smart media professional in Scandinavia. He had watched a documentary on the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, done for the local state television by a native reporter. The email states that parts of the facts presented made him feel sick. He compares the treatment of poor, blacks, prisoners and the elderly to that of Nazi Germany: these people don’t really have any rights and any excuse to get rid of them is acceptable. ‘The nation that believes it is the most powerful and free in the world cannot even begin to take care of the storm damage to one city. That is why it is losing in Iraq as well. If I lived for another twenty years, I would witness the near destruction of a nation of obese people, in which even capitalists have been disappointed. People’s buying power and creditworthiness have disappeared.’

These are harsh words but give reason for serious evaluation. We cannot deny that New Orleans went through a horrendous time after being flooded. The well-to-do of course managed to get away, but the less fortunate were stuck in miserable conditions. A private hospital’s patients were evacuated, but those in a public one next door were left in their wheelchairs to die. When the mainly black and poor people were finally transferred to Houston and other locations, nobody really wanted them ever to return. What an opportunity to rebuild a new white New Orleans, with no poverty to be seen; a new Disney World on the Mississippi Delta!

Yesterday’s news mentioned the fact that infant mortality in the U.S. is among the highest in the Western world. If you measure it in the black population, it climbs to the level of developing countries. How can this be? This country spends an enormous amount of money on medical care but has little to show for it. Of course we must remember that the poor and even many members of the middle class don’t have any health insurance and thus cannot afford proper prenatal care. The lack of maternity leave also contributes to the death of infants. Best on the list were countries such as Japan, Finland and Norway. It is noteworthy to remember that at least in my home country delivering babies is a job for midwives: a doctor is only called in if there are serious complications. A year-long paid maternity leave is taken for granted; even fathers get some time off to be with their newborns.

Also in the news was an article which compared the health of American and British middle-aged white men. The U.K. is not known for stellar medical care, yet the average subject of the study was far healthier in the British Isles, in spite of less than a half the money spent on him, compared to his U.S. counterpart. We can all draw our own conclusions.

This country is at a crossroads. The cold war has returned, even if we don’t acknowledge it (Iran, North Korea, much of the Islamic world), and there is plenty of ‘warm’ war to go around. People are very unhappy with the present government. The Republicans haven’t been this unpopular in decades, yet the Democratic Party seems to lack focus and leadership, and hasn’t really come up with a theme, an idea, a read thread that would awaken voters and excite them at least a bit. How long do we have to wait for someone to have the courage to really demand health coverage for all? How about free, decent education? Isn’t there anything else we could try with the population that is addicted to drugs than to incarcerate them by the millions? To most people in Western Europe these ideas would be a given. People here like to think of themselves as good Christians, models for the rest of the globe. Have they totally forgotten that Jesus was a firm believer in socialism in his day? Everyone was to take care of their less fortunate, sick or elderly neighbors, brothers and sisters. Isn’t that the basic message in the Gospels?

Last week the New York Times had a story of our president leaving the White House to go shopping in a hardware store. He ended up buying dog toys there, chewing bones, paying around $8 in cash. This was supposed to illustrate how even he was contributing to the economy. My question is this: how much did the store lose in sales since it presumably had to be emptied of other customers for security reasons? Also, it wouldn’t cross my mind to go to a hardware store for my pet needs. I guess I’m not leadership material.