THE STATE OF THE STATE OF THE STATE

10 02 2006

Governor Bredesen gave his “State of the State” address recently. Compared to W’s recent remarks, Phil’s presentation was the very model of honesty and vision, but there was much he merely put a good face on, and much that he ignored.

Tenncare is, of course, the bull elephant in Tennessee’s parlor, and it was good to hear the Guv tie lifestyle counseling in as part of his health care reform package, but the fact remains that, as a health care millionaire, Bredesen is as responsible for skyrocketing health care costs as anyone. Is Dracula really going to curb the vampire problem?

Bredesen, like Bill Frist, has grown fat by profiting from others’ misfortune. Speaking of ethics reform, how ’bout giving up your ill-gotten gains, Phil? They’d help a lot of poor people stay alive. Phil says he will be proposing major health-care reforms soon, and has proposed a way to cover all the uninsured children in the state, but he’s not getting to the deep issue here—we are caught in the clutches of a for-profit medical system that is geared towards wealth accumulation, not promoting human health.

For example, over the last seven years, four diabetes lifestyle clinics along the line of what Gov. Bredesen seems to be proposing have opened in New York City, but three of them have closed because they lost literally millions of dollars, even though they were doing wonders for the patients who used their services. Healthier diabetics do not need to spend so much money on pills and procedures, and that, in our current economic regime, is not a good thing—it lowers the GNP! Ah, the religion of economics….put wealth before health, kiddies… Insurance companies balk at taking on diabetics, because they are obvious losers from the for-profit company’s point of view. For-profit hospitals must make the best-paying use of their time, and people pay more for kidney dialysis, amputations, and stomach-shrinking operations than they do for diet and exercise counseling.

And people who receive and apply that counseling, not only are lowering the GNP by not consuming so many expensive pills and procedures, they’re weakening the country by not buying the foods that contribute so much to the American economy—pizza, ice cream, cheeseburgers, french fries—excuse me, freedom fries—red meat, wonderbread—all the big contributors to the GOP—I mean GNP –are gonna get hurt if too many people change their diet. And if people are out exercising instead of watching TV, how will we control what they think and how they vote?

The exercise thing must have been a sop, like Bush’s “alcohol from switch grass” line—the very next day, Shrub cut the alternative fuels r&d budget. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Phil’s lifestyle counseling centers. And will health insurance for all of Tennessee’s uninsured kids be insurance that lots of them get put on Ritalin? Stay tuned.

An issue that Gov. Bredesen didn’t touch was the continuing deterioration of small-town life in Tennessee as Walmart continues to suck money out of the state. Sure, they’ve got the lowest prices around, partly because they have such a big, efficient distribution system, and partially because they underpay their employees. And sure, those low prices are a boon to low-income people, but if Walmart wasn’t driving wages down and driving out owner-run retail business, there would be a lot fewer low-income people who need to take advantage of Walmart’s low prices to stretch their shrinking food stamps.

But…what could the State of Tennessee do about Walmart, especially now that it’s ubiquitous?

The most obvious step relates back to the health care question—Gov. Bredesen could ask for legislation requiring all companies over a certain size to provide affordable, comprehensive health care plans to their employees. Yeah, I know that doesn’t establish not-for profit health care, but you gotta start somewhere. For another thing, he could ask for legislation that would, through zoning and tax incentives, work to preserve open land and discourage sprawl, so that the Walmart/strip mall plague doesn’t get any worse.

I think another big/little step would be to use the power, organization, and communication ability of the state government to foster community economic organizing—rather than bringing in outside corporations to provide services and employment in Tennessee’s dying country towns, we need to bring people together in those towns and help them realize their own strengths and their ability to provide for themselves. The Mondragon movement in Spain provides a template for this kind of worker-owned co-operative business. Neighborhood food, clothing, and shelter providers need to become the order of the day, because, as our Junkie-in-Chief put it in his speech, “America is addicted to oil,” and we need to break that addiction before it gets broken for us by crashing oil supplies and skyrocketing prices. When that day comes, Tennessee will, if current trends continue, find itself with an excellent network of four-lane footpaths, at least until the rivers change course and wash out the bridges. Then there will be some job opportunities for ferrypersons.

Phil spoke not a word about peak oil or global warming, nor did he offer anything that even remotely seemed like a way to meet these crises, crises that will turn low high school graduation rates and the so-called “meth epidemic” into the worst problems we wish we had. P.S. to Phil, if you want people to quit screwing around with amphetamines, you could try legalizing marihuana—or even legalizing amphetamine, which was an over-the-counter, cheap, nonprescription drug from its invention in the thirties until the mid-fifties, without producing any noticeable crime wave–not that I’d use it even if it was legal.  But, I digress.

Governor Bredesen could have showed some vision by asking the state legislature to endorse the Kyoto Protocols, or some courage by denouncing the war in Iraq (which, after all, has as much legal basis as the Nazi invasion of Poland!) and announcing that he will no longer allow Tennessee National Guard Troops to be sent over there to get their asses shot off to keep our fear factor government happening. He could have just shown common sense by proposing an initiative to cut Tennessee’s electrical consumption, or to encourage more solar design in all the development that’s eating what’s left of the countryside in this state, but he didn’t do any of those. He gave a nice, business-as-usual, nothing extraordinary about to happen around here speech—but business is not as usual and extraordinary things are coming to pass, and he will go down in history as a man who did nothing to prepare us for it. Sorry, Phil, you flunked.

music:  James McMurtry, “Candyland”

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