Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Senior citizen soldiers

The Pentagon is launching a new experimental policy which will allow people to join the Army National Guard and Reserve even though they are almost middle aged. Under the new policy the maximum age for new enlistments will be 39 years.

Let me assure you that I am not kidding about this.

The Army is having difficulty recruiting people because, it is assumed, youngsters who might enlist don’t want to be shipped out to Iraq where they could be killed or wounded.
If the Army thinks this plan to push up the age of recruits is a good one, why stop at 39? That’s what I’m wondering. What about 49? Better yet, let’s go to 69. How about 89?

Retirees don’t always have much to do anyway and if Social Security benefits are going to go up in smoke, the Army is about the only place we geezers can go and still get three hots and a cot.

Palm Beach County would be the best place to sign up seniors to serve as soldiers because nearly 25 percent of our population is over 65.

Look at it this way, here’s a manpower pool that’s being overlooked.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. How are the old boys going to do in basic training? It can be pretty taxing physically, I remember. Well, the Army might have to alter the routine a little. But those who can get around without a cane or a mechanical walker ought to do just fine. For those who can’t walk unaided, some concessions will have to be made.
You can’t do much on the firing range trying to hold on to your walker and fire an M-16 with one hand. Maybe, they’ll get a pistol instead, like the Army provides for general officers.

I think folks with extra years of experience should get some special consideration. For instance, the Social Security recipients can be given a choice of where in Iraq they want to serve. I think we should be allowed to choose which Iraqi city we would like to see while on foot patrol. Choices could include – but not be limited to – Baghdad, Tikrit, Fallujah, Mosul and Kirkuk. Those in the infantry would be allowed to carry walking canes as well as their M-16 rifles, if approved by a unit commander.

Those of us who were first in the Army years ago at least ought to get our old rank back and the pay that goes with it. That pay, enlistment bonuses, incentives, overseas pay and hazardous-duty pay will add up to a lot more than Social Security benefits ever were.
Where do I sign up?

Social Security benefits would be suspended for those on active duty, of course, and so would Medicare health coverage. If wounded, senior soldiers would be treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington where the president and congresspersons get their free care.
If the senior citizen soldiers are killed, they would get a military funeral with a free flag on the free coffin at a free veterans’ cemetery. Talk about your saving money.


Friday, March 18, 2005

Sundays at the beach

You wouldn’t think oil drilling in Alaska would cause a spill on the beaches in our area of Florida, but it might.

The Senate has approved a bill that moves closer to approval of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and if you think it doesn’t matter to you, you’d be wrong.
If Alaska is OK for oil drilling, Florida can’t be far behind. That’s what I think because drilling apparently is just fine with our junior senator, Mel Martinez. He voted last week to push the Arctic-drilling measure ahead.

Our state’s other senator, Bill Nelson, voted with those who don’t want the oil people to have their way with the planet.

I thought you ought to know how our top Florida legislators in Washington regard this matter. Just in case you missed it.

President Bush favors the drilling. Before the vote last week, both Martinez and Nelson said that they don’t like the idea of offshore drilling near Florida. While Sen. Martinez, who previously served as President Bush’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, came down in favor of drilling in the Arctic, it is not clear to me how he will stand on drilling near the state we live in.

What happened last week was this:
The Senate endorsed – by a vote of 51 to 49 – -oil-drilling in the ANWR. The vote on the budget bill -is regarded as a victory for President Bush. It is, of course, an idea favored by the oil industry and opposed by environmentalists. This is not likely to be the last word on the matter.

In the past, the president has said he favors drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but he pulled back from his earlier position a bit. I think that was because the idea is not popular in Florida. At the time, the president’s brother, John Ellis (Jeb) Bush, was running for reelection as governor of Florida. Jeb won’t be running for governor any more
The Bush administration in 2001 backed off a proposal to allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in an area that came as close as 16 miles to beaches in Florida's panhandle. What the Bush bunch ultimately approved instead keeps drilling at least 100 miles from the coast.

Offshore oil and gas drilling, which subjects nearby coastlines to the constant threat of a leak or spill, is currently banned near the Florida coast by a drilling moratorium. The moratorium is set to expire in 2007. Martinez said last week that he had negotiated with the White House and the Interior Department to get a five-year extension on the moratorium. But he acknowledged that it might not be enforceable beyond the current administration. He said he would like to extend it to the Atlantic side of the state, too. He said he believes the extension will give time to seek a permanent solution.
For the ANWR drilling to take place, the Senate later will have to pass a measure authorizing it. Then the House of Representatives will have to vote to agree.

Indeed, some observers believe that among President Bush's energy advisers, allowing Arctic drilling is seen as a political maneuver to open the door to more geologically promising prospects off the coast of California and Florida.

"The same pressures that resulted in the Senate vote will surely come to bear on the Gulf," said Charles Lee, an official of Audubon of Florida, an environmental organization.

So now you know how whatever happens to the tundra of Alaska may relate directly to your Sundays on a Florida beach.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Matters of values

When the Texan John Ellis (Jeb) Bush first was elected governor or Florida, our state was ranked 45th of the 50 states in high-school graduation rate. Now after six years of Jeb, Florida is 50th: rock bottom.

There may be an excuse for this decline. At least, there is an explanation. I think this is it: Florida ranks 50th of the 50 states in per capita spending on education.
No money. No education. No graduation.

In his six years, however, Bush has engineered a cut in the taxes that affect mostly the wealthy. The state still does not have an income tax. It has a fairly high sales tax that affects the low-income folks the most.

Bush proclaimed his achievements and his modest intentions to a joint session of the state legislature last week. It was the beginning of the new legislative session. The speech is called the State of the State. It got faint praise and few standing ovations from the predominantly Republican legislature.

Consistent with the governor’s desire, the state has given away quite a lot of education money to private schools in the form of vouchers. That means fewer dollars for public education. If that plan is regarded as a success, I am unaware of it.
Bush has said that he wants to undo the constitutional amendment approved by the state’s voters in 2002. That amendment would limit class size. Bush has said it’s better to raise teachers’ salaries and let class size alone. It has been pointed out that the minimum $35,000-a-year salary for teachers that Bush has proposed is already in place or on the way for most of the state’s urban schools.

Bush is correct to identify education as one of the state’s biggest problems. Bush’s business-friendly plans may be good, but I fail to understand why the link between business and educating people to run business is so hard to make. We need educated people on all levels to do the work in the changing world of the 21st century and beyond.

Jeb also is correct to identify Medicaid, the state/federal medical plan for low-income citizens, as a huge problem. Medicaid will take about $15 billion (more than $8 billion of it comes from the feds) of the entire budget that is expected to be about $61 billion. That’s too much.

Affordable medical care for the aged and the ailing poor in our society is a vast problem and must be addressed soon. I don’t think it will be solved by cutting back on the tax revenue that can help pay for it. But the problem goes beyond that. Jeb thinks we should privatize Medicaid, turn it over to the HMOs. Like the sound of that?

Our state government and the federal government must either address the problem of healthcare and all its costs or we will be obliged to change our system of values.
Values are what it’s about here: Protect human lives or let citizens die in the streets. Talk about your basic values.

And finally, the other ignored problem of our time: If the governor said anything about illegal immigration into our state, I didn’t hear about it. How long will this be ignored? It is an economic problem. It is a "home-state" security problem and it is a values problem.

Making a decent living is a family value. Jeb has done it for as long as he’s been in Florida.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

The sickness within

I guess you don’t know what’s going to happen with Social Security, so I don’t have to feel stupid because I don’t know either.

The president wants to change Social Security’s fundamentals. He intends to reduce the benefits paid by the government.

I share his concern, but the reality is that Social Security is not our big problem right now. It ain’t broke.

Medicare and Medicaid are teetering on the edge of brokeness, and if these medical programs aren’t fixed pretty soon, a whole lot of people are going to be hurting.

The president thinks faith-based programs can fix a great many things. He may be right, but I don’t see how that could work in medicine. Faith-based medicine is called voodoo.

Voodoo has the advantage of being practically free, but those who subscribe to the scientific method do not regard it as efficacious.

Healthcare in the United States is extraordinarily expensive, but if you get it, it’s extraordinarily good. The problem is that too many people don’t get it because they can’t afford it. Medicare – the federal program – and Medicaid – the states’ programs – were established to help pay for those who can’t.

Both programs are overburdened and, unlike Social Security, are in immediate danger.
I don’t know exactly how to solve this problem, but I think I know the direction we need to go in to find a solution.

Here it is: Healthcare rationing.

Basically, that’s what other countries do to provide healthcare for their citizens at little direct cost.

I was in Panama recently, where I was told that citizens of that Central American country could see a physician for 50 cents. I don’t know what that entails exactly, but you can be sure that a sick citizen can’t march into a brain surgeon’s office, sit in the doctor’s leather-covered, waiting-room furniture and order up a 12-hour operation after two weeks of EKGs, CAT scans and MRIs using multi-million-dollar machines.

But the patient does get something in the way of the care he needs. At least, he gets more than neglect and pain and suffering and early death while rich others get an over-abundance of technology and chemistry.

In Great Britain, the much-maligned system there ensures that everybody gets some care at little cost to himself or herself. If one of the Queen’s subjects doesn’t like the quality of the care available through the state program and if he can afford it, he can choose to see a doctor outside the state-supported system. You may have heard of Harley Street doctors. They are the ones outside the state-paid system.

It is not the fairest scheme, but it meets the basic need. It is a two-tier system and one that could work in this country, I think.

Everybody would get coverage, but would have to accept a trimmed-down plan, a kind of HMO program in which the patient’s preferences are limited. It would be like a huge Veterans Administration program for everybody who wants it.

Anybody who has the resources can go to – let’s call them --– Park Avenue doctors.

So, that’s what I think. I suppose some reader is gong to call me a Communist, but I don’t care.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?