Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Of Course There Will Be Death Panels!

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Not the USS Stockton

For the record, I live in Stockton, California. Yes, that Stockton, California! The largest US city ever to declare bankruptcy. After a couple of days of waving our giant foam fingers and shouting, "We're number one!", the time has come for a somewhat harder look at what's going on.

Last night, the news coverage was filled with accounts of many of the people who are going to be hurt by the city's plight. Many retirees showed up at City Hall, fearful of what was going to happen to them, on a fixed income, if their benefits were reduced and their health care costs were to increase.

Rather than dissect, at the moment, how the city and its retirees got into this mess, or how they're going to get out of it, and at what cost, I see the City of Stockton's bankruptcy as an example of what happens when the resources are inadequate for the demand, and unfortunately, a microcosm for what looms large for both the state of California and the nation as a whole.

But first, a little trip down Memory Lane. Anyone here remember "Situational ethics"? Situational ethics was a supposedly Christian theory put forth in the 1960s by an Episcopal priest Joseph Fletcher. As I recall, it started gaining favor in school curricula in the 1980's.

Situational ethics taught that what might be unethical in one situation might be perfectly acceptable, should the "situation" call for it. It is a bad thing to tell a lie, but if you were in Germany in the 1940's and Anne Frank was hiding in your attic, it was permissible to lie to the Nazis if they asked you if you were hiding any Jews. So far, so good.

And then, there was the infamous lifeboat scenario: There are fifteen of you in a lifeboat with only enough food and water for twelve. If you all stay on the boat, you are all going to die. Therefore, in this situation, wouldn't it be better to throw three people overboard so that twelve might live?

They made it easy for you, too. There was usually a rabbi or a priest on board, in his seventies or eighties, and, after all, he'd lived a good long life. Better to throw him overboard than your freckle faced fifteen year old niece, right? (The holy man always has to go first, otherwise, he might introduce some morality into your situational situation and muck up everything!*) There'd usually be at least one more elderly person in the boat, because euthanizing the elderly is not something we can teach our children soon enough! So, Granny goes over the side. In some cases, there might have been a handicapped person, or one with Downs syndrome, and since their quality of life isn't all that great, and who knows how long someone with Downs syndrome might live anyway, into the water with them, too.

At this point, having killed the elderly, the infirm and the retarded to save your own skin, may I point out the irony in a comparison between you and the Nazis you were lying to in the previous example? Perhaps here we could contrast, too, those four chaplains on the troop ship USAT Dorchester in 1943, who gave up their own life jackets when there weren't enough to go around. It is quite a different thing to volunteer to give up one's own life as opposed to having some committee decide it for you.

In bankruptcy, there isn't enough money, simply not enough resources to pay all the bills and keep all your promises. In the lifeboat, there aren't enough resources to keep everybody alive, so Father Flanagan and Granny go in the drink. In the proposed government takeover of the healthcare system, which hopefully will have a stake driven through its heart tomorrow, you cannot add millions of people to a shrinking system in a bankrupt country, full of bankrupt states, cites and towns, and expect that there will be enough resources for everyone.

Granny will have to go. Maybe she'll get a pill instead of an operation, like Obama suggested, but rationing would become a way of life in healthcare.

Unless we can get some national leadership in Washington to grow the economy again, get out of the way of mining and manufacturing, and create new wealth, new resources, rather than trying to ration what we have now, we will go the way of Greece. (And Stockton)

Our Founding Fathers were made of sterner stuff and meant us for better things. Unless you want to see the misery of those people in Stockton multiplied from coast to coast, it is time for genuine change in the White House. Vote for change this November.

*I kept thinking..."A preacher, a priest, and a rabbi go into a lifeboat..."

Cross posted at LCR.


  1. As a fellow Stocktonian, I am proud that America's All American City is leading America once again. I guess Ann Johnston didn't think Stockton being named as the "All America City" a couple times in 5 year span ('99 and '04) was enough to set us apart from other cities vying for the limelight.

    I am not clear how Mayor Ann and the rest expect to fix the problems we face, but I am absolutely certain the unions here will not get the treatment they deserve. I suspect they will use a big band-aid, raise our taxes and expect the next generation to pay the subsequent bills they pile up. All the while the politicians here will point fingers at everyone else while they make sure our union workers are happy.

    The new situational ethicist (whom is neither Christian nor ethical) would surely argue that the union worker who retired after 25 years of service to the city deserves an $80K a year pension for life with full benefits. After all, its an iron-clad promise in their union contract and unions are the only privileged class fully anointed by those we elected to office! What right does the hoi polloi have to complain?

    Along with increased taxes, missed trash collections, spotty water service and more neighborhood crime we can look forward to watching our already bottomed-out property values nose-dive even further.

    Of course, not to worry! Our newly retired 50 year old ex-Stockton union worker will have moved to a nicer city by then anyway.

    1. It will be interesting to see if officials are willing to spread the misery around equally.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! Check out Andrew Roman's take on it on the front page, too.


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