Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A few good men and women

A few good men are left who fought in the Battle of the Bulge that began on Dec. 16, 1944. It was a defining battle of World War II. Some of those who fought it out with the Germans in Belgium on and after that date 60 years ago are still among us.

They made great sacrifices as do the men and women who wear the uniform of our country and fight today in another faraway place.
Many other Americans remember the sacrifices that all our citizens made in World War II. It wasn’t just the ones in uniform.

You couldn’t go out and buy yourself the same kind of vehicle the troops were using in Europe or the Pacific. That would have been a Jeep. Nobody drove a Jeep around town unless he was in the military.

In fact, you couldn’t buy a new car for civilian use of any kind. All the nation’s people were involved in the war effort.

All the power of U.S. industry was focused on the war. Thousands of Jeeps and tanks and planes and Liberty ships were built in the first couple of years of the war.

Take Liberty ships for example: The first of the 2,751 Liberty ships was launched a few months before the start of the war. The ships were built to a standardized, mass produced design. The 250,000 parts were pre-fabricated throughout the country and welded together in about 70 days. One Liberty ship, 441 feet long and 56 feet wide, was built in four and a half days. A Liberty ship could carry 2,840 jeeps.

We are talking about a national effort here involving thousands of civilians making sure the war effort does not come up short.

If the troops overseas experienced shortages, it wasn’t because the folks at home were getting everything they wanted.

Not only could you not buy a car, food was rationed. You had to take a ration book with you to the market when buying groceries.

In 1944, everybody had a hard time getting beef and eggs and you sure couldn’t get any butter for your bread. You were glad you got the bread, and you understood where all the butter was going.

Gasoline was rationed. If you used up your allotment, you came to a halt. Shoes were rationed.

You see where I’m going with this.

The president calls on us to make sacrifices for this war, but the reality is, he can’t be serious. If I want a Hummer (The military’s version of the vehicle is called the Humvee and is the modern Jeep equivalent.) and have the money, I can get one. If the troops in the battle zone lack armored Humvees, too bad. I still get my Hummer. The Hummer factory will still make it for me.

Who is supposed to be making the sacrifice? It’s not the president’s family, not mine, probably not yours.

But it is not just the comfort level in the White House I am talking about. None of us – unless we have loved ones in or about to go to Iraq – is inconvenienced in the slightest by this war.

What a minute. I don’t want to forget. There’s another group that is inconvenienced: the ones who have been there and came home in body bags. And the kids who came back scarred or shattered or missing parts.

How does it happen that when the nation is called upon to sacrifice for some ideal nowadays, only a few good young men and women do the sacrificing?


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Federal flu fiasco

I was not surprised to learn that Tommy Thompson, the federal government’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, resigned from the Bush cabinet the other day.
Bush appointees usually don’t resign just because they’ve screwed things up, but Thompson probably knew that he might be embarrassed if thousands of Americans die of the flu.

We all know that there isn’t enough flu vaccine to go around because our government outsourced its manufacture to a company overseas.
This has caused the Centers for Disease Control to recommend that the vaccine be given only to young children, senior citizens, health-care providers and persons with chronic health conditions.

If you’re a senior in Lake Worth or Wellington, you might draw some comfort from knowing that. The reality of trying to get a shot is another issue.
Persons in non-priority groups are being asked to forego or defer vaccination.

Flu is serious business. My grandmother died of it. I never met her. That was in 1918 at the end of World War I. In that year and the following one, the flu killed perhaps as many as 40 million people worldwide. That was a whole lot more than died in the war and more than the number killed by the bubonic plague that nearly wiped out Europe in the 1300s.

See what I mean: Flu is serious business.

The poor tend to be hit the hardest when flu and other such diseases strike. These folks are less likely to have health insurance coverage and, therefore, often wait longer for treatment after symptoms begin. It can be too late by then.
And there is another important question:
Should the development and production of flu vaccine be part of the free-enterprise pharmaceutical business or should it become part of our national security program? Another way to say it is this: homeland defense can’t be carried out by a bunch of dead people.

We talk a lot about biological warfare, but we are not prepared to deal effectively with an obvious biological weapon like the flu.

The federal flu fiasco has shown us that we either (1) don’t have facilities in the United States to deal with this kind of biological weapon or (2) we don’t care enough to get a facility cranked up and producing.

I don’t know if we have solutions to any other possible invasive biological threats, but I sure hope so.

Already, in an average year in the United States, some 36,000 people die from influenza and its complications and more than 100,000 are hospitalized.
Thompson’s HRS employs more than 60,000 people and has an annual budget of about $503 billion.

Isn’t that enough to protect citizens from an old, well-known and manageable threat? Flu vaccines were first developed over 40 years ago.
Why has our government sent the job of protecting Americans against this biological threat to other countries? Can’t we make flu vaccine?

Or is it that we can’t make flu vaccine at bargain-basement prices and that saving money is the real issue for the government when it comes to our health?


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