Archive for 2008

Doctor is timely reminder of New Orleans poor

A year ago this week I was in New Orleans gutting flooded homes with a volunteer team from Portland. I had forgotten about this personal anniversary until this afternoon when I met a physician. She told me she has been practicing for four years in Portland. Before Portland? New Orleans, she said. Pre-Katrina she had worked in the emergency room of Charity Hospital. For eight years. My eyes widened. “Wow, you were on the front lines, weren’t you,” I said.

Here’s how author Jed Horne describes Charity in “Breach of Faith,” his powerful recounting of New Orleans during the storm and its aftermath:

New Orleans had been doing its birthing and dying at Charity, its ailing and its mending, nonstop mostly on the government’s dime, for about as long as the older patient’s had been alive. The mayor had been born in Charity, though one could confidently assume that he would not now seek its services except in the direst of emergency. The violence in New Orleans’s back streets had made its trauma center and emergency rooms as skilled as any in the South, and a mecca for interns with the gumption to endure permanent battlefield conditions.

I can’t fathom how this doctor I met worked there for eight years. She actually spoke fondly of her experience.

Today, Charity is closed, a victim of the hurricane and bureaucrats’ decisions. In addition to serving the largest number of indigent patients in the city, Charity was a teaching hospital. Officials at Louisiana State University plan to keep it closed and build a new teaching clinic in the city, but it won’t be open until at least 2012. A group of former patients have filed a lawsuit to “in an attempt to force the state to reopen Charity Hospital or make other provisions for thousands of people whose health has deteriorated without ready access to free medical care.”

That Charity will not reopen probably surprises no one in New Orleans. This was the hospital that was falsely reported by CNN to have been evacuated completely by Wednesday, two days after the hurricane hit. According to Horne,

(T)he reality was that twelve hundred staff and patients were still trapped in Charity, with diminishing supplies of food, water, and medicine…As the army kept Charity waiting until Thursday, helicopters were evacuating critically ill patients from Tulane University Medical Center, the private hospital right across the street.

On the medical, housing and just about any other front you want to consider in New Orleans today, the poor remain in dire straits. There are about 12,000 homeless in the city, double the number before the storm.

Meanwhile, our president in tonight’s state of the union address is supposed to announce a conference to be held in New Orleans. He wants the meeting to show “how the ‘great American city’ is rebounding.”

This from the president who could muster not a single reference to the plight of New Orleans in his address a year ago. New Orleans may be rebounding — for some — but don’t think for a moment that a positive spin will help those without a home or health care in the Big Easy sleep better tonight.

UPDATE: The president’s remarks were applauded by business leaders in New Orleans.


Hearing the message of a despised messenger

I spent more than 20 years in high tech marketing before recently moving my career in a different direction. I never thought I’d be in the position of defending Bill Gates, who for most of his years at Microsoft has been widely despised for his ruthlessly competitive leadership style.

I am quite certain many in and out of high tech are uttering something like “yeah, right” having learned of Gates’ speech before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland calling for “creative capitalism.” Gates has been creative all along — as in always finding ways to put his competitors out of business.

That’s the old Gates. The new Gates is the extraordinary, soon to be full-time philanthropist. And that’s who was speaking yesterday.

“We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people as well…I like to call this idea creative capitalism.”

Call it whatever you like, Bill, but it’s about time people of your stature use a platform such as the World Economic Forum to urge big business, in particular, to attend to the needs of the neediest.

We can kill the messenger, but his message must be heard:

“I am an optimist…But I am an impatient optimist. The world is getting better, but it’s not getting better fast enough, and it’s not getting better for everyone.”

Now consider for a moment how free market apologists construe the words of the world’s most successful capitalist of our time. Here’s Larry Kudlow, CNBC and National Review, spouting off:

Don’t you just love it? A guy without a college degree who invented a new technology process in his garage that literally changed the entire world, a guy who took advantage of all the great opportunities that a free and capitalist society has to offer and got filthy rich in the process, is now trashing capitalism and telling us it doesn’t work. What chutzpah…

So I just have to smile when billionaires like Bill Gates and George Soros turn cold shoulders to the blessings capitalism bestows. Or when their buddy, Warren Buffett, broadcasts the importance of hiking tax rates on successful earners and investors.

Look fellas, the command-and-control, state-run economics experiment was tried. It was called the Soviet Union. If you hadn’t noticed, it was a miserable failure.

Is that what Bill was doing, trashing capitalism and urging Communist state-run economics? Is that what the putative richest man in the world meant yesterday when he said, as the AP reports, “business must work with governments and nonprofit groups to stem global poverty and spur more technological innovation for those left behind”?

Thanks for clearing everything up, Mr. Kudlow. I always suspected business leaders who join the struggle to eradicate poverty are nothing more than closeted Communists. I mean why take personal action when you can just let the free market fix everything.


Challenging the claims of drugmakers – finally

Arguing the merits of cholesterol-lowering medications wouldn’t seem to fit a blog devoted to issues of social, environmental and economic sustainability. But I can’t ignore a fascinating cover story by BusinessWeek that raises serious questions — finally — about the benefits of statins, especially among those who’ve never suffered a heart attack. I’m not a conspiracy theory type, but I’ve watched with growing suspicion the actions of statin producers and their surrogates who seem hell-bent on convincing all Americans they should be taking their drugs.

Congratulations to BusinessWeek for finally drawing attention to the serious questions behind claims of statin producers that have gone virtually unchallenged in the mainstream media:

Americans are bombarded with the message from doctors, companies, and the media that high levels of bad cholesterol are the ticket to an early grave and must be brought down. Statins, the message continues, are the most potent weapons in that struggle. The drugs are thought to be so essential that, according to the official government guidelines from the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), 40 million Americans should be taking them. Some researchers have even suggested—half-jokingly—that the medications should be put in the water supply, like fluoride for teeth. Statins are sold by Merck (MRK) (Mevacor and Zocor), AstraZeneca (AZN) (Crestor), and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) (Pravachol) in addition to Pfizer. And it’s almost impossible to avoid reminders from the industry that the drugs are vital. A current TV and newspaper campaign by Pfizer, for instance, stars artificial heart inventor and Lipitor user Dr. Robert Jarvik. The printed ad proclaims that “Lipitor reduces the risk of heart attack by 36%…in patients with multiple risk factors for heart disease.” So how can anyone question the benefits of such a drug?

Read the article and find out before you ask your doctor about Lipitor.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008
Posted in Business & Economics, Marketing | No Comments »

Times are tough, better go shopping

So it looks like you’ll be receiving an $800 economic stimulant come April 15 ($1600 per household). All of this courtesy of Bush and Congress (if they do the president’s bidding). I know what you’re thinking. You really want to save your tax rebate, pay down your credit card debt or donate it to charity. The last thing you want to do is head out to the mall, right? But wait, there’s our president urging you, as he did after 9/11, to go shopping. That’s what we Americans do when times get tough.

“Letting Americans keep more of their own money should increase consumer spending,” Bush informed the media today.

It’s practically un-American to even imagine you would sock the money away. Or hand it over to a family whose idea of consumer spending is putting food on the table. Or share it with an environmental organization that believes more consumption is the last thing we ought to be promoting.

No, consider it your duty as a citizen to indulge your fantasy for a new HD television and an overstuffed chair to plop down in front of it. After all, buying more stuff that you don’t need is what will keep our economy strong and growing.

As for those fringe dwellers who want you to believe unbridled consumer spending is exactly what’s wrong with our economy today, tell them to get a life.


Making the wrong argument for sustainability

Call me a hopeless idealist, but I happen to believe we need no other motivation for living more sustainably than simply doing the right thing. I’m no fan of leading with competitive, economic or profit-based appeals when arguing for sustainability, as The Oregonian did earlier this week in their editorial, “Racing to stay ahead of the pack.”

The editors cautioned Portlanders that we can’t stop doing what has made us a world leader in sustainability because other cities worldwide are “hellbent on catching up”:

Daily we are reminded just how global, competitive and interconnected the modern economy has become. The consequence is clear: In this new world economic order, only the nimble will thrive. This fresh market reality places cities — not generally known for being light on their feet — in extreme peril. Those that have a clear sense of purpose and direction will flourish. Those lacking this trait will wilt.

Accompanying the written editorial was a cartoon of man in a meeting room pointing to a large poster of a dollar bill and telling his colleagues, “Actually there is one rather compelling ‘green argument’ for sustainability.”

The message was clear: There’s money to be made in sustainability, and if Portland loses its position as a global leader in sustainability, we will also lose out on the economic spoils that go to the victors in this race. Maybe so, but in looking at sustainability through the lens of economics we lose sight of the much greater social and moral imperatives for changing how we live.

The editors got it partially right when they concluded:

Current consumption patterns cannot endure. We all will have to use fewer resources, use them more wisely, reuse them, then recycle them. That is the core of sustainability. That is the manner of living Portland must role-model for the world.

The very fact that our global consumption patterns are unsustainable is all the motivation we need to live more sustainably. And Portland should be the role model for the world because the world desperately needs one. Period.

Let’s just keep doing the right thing. If our economy grows as a result, so be it.


Shedding light on Obama’s choice of identity

As never before, race and gender are playing into the politics of presidential elections. With the Republicans floundering to decide among a slate of undesirable candidates, the Democrats appear almost assured of winning the White House with either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as our new president. Either’s election would be historic.

Lately, I have been wondering how it is that Obama, the son of an Kenyan father and a white American mother, decided to identify himself as African American. What are the issues he had to weigh in making that choice? NPR’s Day to Day news program yesterday asked that question in a piece that discusses the reasoning Obama probably used in calling himself African American rather than biracial. Turns out for Obama to identify as biracial would likely cause more division and confusion among voters than declaring himself to be African American.

In a better world, Obama’s race and Clinton’s gender would not be factors in this campaign, although they clearly are. We haven’t reached a place in our nation’s development of being well past our historic prejudices against women, African Americans and other minorities. Even so, the election of either Obama or Clinton would be a sure sign of progress.

Thursday, January 10th, 2008
Posted in Politics | 1 Comment »