By Mel Carriere
I'm not the world's most enthusiastic liberal, I suppose. I am not exactly certified for doctrinal purity on all leftist political tenets of faith, and one of the issues that separates me from the hard core reds (funny how the color red has now been co-opted by the red-state right, isn't it?) is that I believe free enterprise serves human society as long as it is recognized that we the working people, as the most essential means of production, have the right to negotiate our own price. I mean, the guy who supplies the steel to the mill gets to haggle over how much the factory pays him, so why shouldn't the people who provide the labor to that mill also have the right to negotiate how much they will be paid, through the process of collective bargaining? To me this is not radical politics, it's just basic economics. We the working people are the most important means of production, and we deserve to be compensated accordingly with a living wage.
On the other hand, I believe there are certain areas in which free enterprise is utterly unsuited to fairly and efficiently allocate resources; one of these being mineral resources on public lands. For instance; should corporations be allowed to pump oil out of publicly-owned tracts without giving a significant portion back to the American people that it belongs to? A detestable example of corporations fleecing the American public in this fashion occurred in the late 1800s, when the companies that built the transcontinental railroads across the country were given enormous swaths of territory by the government. To demonstrate their gratitude for this public largesse, the railroads then literally shook down small farmers for transportation fees, which shows you exactly what happens when corporations are left to their own devices, without regulation. Instead of operating according to the principles of the free market they deliberately drive up prices through corruption, graft, collusion and monopolization. A "level playing field" only applies to the little guy at the bottom. The fat cats on top buy off politicians and drive competitors under through extra-legal means in order to suck all of our bank accounts dry.
I also do not think that corporations should be allowed to treat human beings as commodities either, but apparently this is exactly what is happening in the senior care industry. The very fact that "senior care" should have the word "industry" affixed to it seems an abomination to me, but that is exactly what it has become. In the pre-industrial revolution era societies used to take care of their elderly collectively. Not only was there an altruistic sense of duty to tend to the needs of the loved ones who had paid their dues caring for us in the past, but the notion also existed that the hard learned wisdom of older, experienced people could be a great benefit to society.
But nowadays the elderly have been reduced to commodities that are traded on the Dow Jones, just like oil and transportation are. Yesterday while driving to work I heard a report on KFI Los Angeles that made the little hair I have left stand on end. The news item was relating that when senior citizens living in elder care facilities can no longer make rent payments, the nursing homes often go to the court to claim guardianship over the defaulting resident. The court often grants power of attorney rights to the care facility, who in turn uses it to gain complete control over that elderly person's money.
This happened to a woman named Lilian Palermo in New York, and you can read the revolting details by following the link at the bottom of this article. In summation, after her husband Mr. Palermo complained about increased co-payments and living conditions at the facility, the nursing home obtained a court order that granted them the right to seize Mrs. Palermo's assets.
I understand that a nursing home is a business with exorbitantly high operating expenses, and like any business it is survives by producing black ink on the bottom line. I understand that a business does not exist only to perform altruistic deeds, and as such the elder care industry has to coldly calculate revenues and expenses to produce a profit. But is it right and proper that we as a society have turned the well being of our elderly over to the unfeeling, uncompassionate hands of corporate care? Instead of adding a trillion dollars in debt bombing Iraq into oblivion with no readily apparent benefit at all to the American people, couldn't we have taken half, a quarter, or even a tenth of that money and put it to use taking care of those among the elderly who can no longer afford to take care of themselves?
These are the remnants of the "greatest generation" we are talking about here, folks. I regularly engage in conversation with them on my mail route, but sadly enough there are fewer and fewer every day to talk to. These citizen heroes include the soldiers, sailors and airmen who manned the trenches and tank turrets to take down Hitler and Tojo, as well as the "Rosie the Riveters" on the home front who built the tanks, ships and planes their men overseas required to defeat tyranny and evil.
After Baghdad has been reduced to rubble many times over, isn't there anything at all left over for these people, or are we going to continue to allow corporate raiders fretting over the daily ticker tape to bilk the last few dollars out of their pockets? Where have we come as a society, when even the people who loved us and cared for us in the past are reduced to tradable, disposable commodities?
Read the New York Times Article on this Subject
Image from: http://ualrpublicradio.org/post/arkansas-nursing-homes-receive-failing-grade-national-survey