04 November 2010

Do You Want Your Health Care Run Like the Post Office?

Driving home this afternoon I saw a sticker in someone's window that asked if I wanted health care run like the post office. I have seen these before, I think people have been putting them up for a couple of years, but being stuck in traffic gives one time to think, and I began thinking about that question.

I haven't made a survey of the postal systems of the world, but I've always held the opinion that we have a pretty good one here in the USA. I am sure that there are anecdotes galore of letters taking months or years to reach their destination, mistreatment by postal bureaucrats, and various other tales -- some no doubt verifiable -- of bad experiences caused by the US Postal Service, but my personal experiences have been generally good.

One of the more frustrating Post Office stories I could tell would be about waiting in line. No one likes to wait in line, and it's infuriating to see only one or two customer windows open when there are dozens of people in the lobby. But if you are patient, you will get your turn, and be waited upon by one of the Postal Service's employees who will handle your transaction with a reasonable level of efficiency and politeness.

This is from the USPS' own site:

"The United States Postal Service delivers more mail to more addresses in a larger geographical area than any other post in the world. We deliver to more than 150 million homes, businesses and Post Office boxes in every state, city, town and borough in this country. Everyone living in the U.S. and its territories has access to postal services and pays the same postage regardless of his or her location."

That, to me, sounds like a pretty good description of how I'd like health care to be delivered.  "Every one... in the U.S... has access...and pays the same."

And consider, if you will, what kind of fees the USPS charges. For 44 cents, I can send a 3 page letter from coast to coast, in about 3 days. For about $12 I can send a 5 pound box. If it's books, CDs, or DVDs (or film, tape or vinyl records) there's a reduced rate of about $4. I think these rates are a uniform bargain, and I have never complained about the price of a first-class stamp. They probably should charge more. 

Oh, and the Post Office uses NO tax revenue. Throw that into Boston Harbor. Another fact from the USPS website: the USPS is the most trusted government agency. It would be a fine goal for the new National Health Service (if we may borrow from the UK) to become at least the second-most trusted.

So, yes. I would like my health care run like the Post Office. I know I'd have to wait in line, and follow the rules, and sometimes it might annoy me, but knowing that everyone in the country finally had the ability to access a reasonable level of care at a uniform price would go a long way toward alleviating that annoyance. Knowing that mentally ill people could get good care instead of winding up in prison or on the street would make me sleep better at night. I'd probably be healthier just knowing that pregnant women and little children would all be able to see a doctor whenever they need to, no matter where in the US they live, no matter how poor they are.

16 July 2010

Patty Murray for Senator. Yeah, Okay. I guess.

I will vote for Senator Murray, but I am very disappointed by the Democratic Party. Accusations of "socialism" aside, the Democrats have still not learned what their opponent's great strength is, nor do they seem to have a grasp of what their own role in national politics is, or should be.

The GOP stands more or less united for their (mostly reprehensible and disingenuous) principles. They present a strong front that many Americans (heaven help us) perceive as great leadership. They define problems, no matter how absurd, and present solutions, no matter how ridiculous. You're unemployed because of illegal aliens! Solution: check everyone's citizenship and build a wall.

It is important for many reasons that the GOP not resume legislative power. They have done enough damage since 1980 or so. 

The Democratic Party should stand for the working man, the oppressed, the minority. It should be proud to advocate for a strong social support network, including health care, child care, unemployment, and education. It should stand for building a nation that the rest of the world can look up to, and turn to in times of need. It should not be afraid of meaningless names called by ignorant hecklers.

The Democratic Party must loudly remind Americans that the economic meltdown of 2007-8 is the legacy of Reagan, Bush, Bush, and Cheney. They must take a stand to end the Bush-instigated lie-based wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They must strongly advocate a return to the civil liberties we enjoyed in this nation before we allowed a handful of terrorists to scare us into giving them up. And they must be the truly inclusive party, the one that welcomes people of all races and spiritual persuasions, all nationalities, all types of personal orientation, with liberty and justice for all.

It will take courage and conviction to stand for and behind these principles, but if led with fearless and strong conviction, America can and will prove once again that it is capable of being a great nation, perhaps even the greatest nation on Earth.

10 March 2009

How Much Are Your Thirty Dollar Auto License Tabs This Year?

I have been a resident of the Great State of Washington (GSoW) for about 33 years. During that time I have reached the conclusion that if there is anything that the GSoW has gotten really screwed up, it is the intake of money for the purposes of operating said State.

The GSoW has no income tax, a thing which, once a year around 15 April, bringeth a smile to the face of many a taxpayer. The lack of this instrument -- enjoyed by most states in the Union -- causes a great crimp in the giant culvert through which flows the legal tender required to maintain the public servants of the GSoW in the manner to which they have become accustomed. This deplorable impedance has forced those resourceful servants to grow an enormous blackberry bush of fees, fines, and taxes a single thorn from which exacts no more than a scratch, but whose total influence may draw enough blood to induce anemia in the hardiest of victims.

One of those thorns is the annual fee that motorists pay to renew their vehicle registration. When I first lived here, that fee was mostly excise tax, based on a table of theoretical value for the vehicle in question, and it was onerous indeed. It was not uncommon to pay several hundred dollars a year if one owned a newer, more valuable car or truck. Over time, I became used to this annual contribution, and would save up for it throughout the year.

In 1999, Tim Eyman successfully sponsored Initiative 695, which reduced the automobile license fee to $30/year. In a paroxysm of governmental angst, the State Supreme Court ruled that Initiative unconstitutional. The legislature and governor, however, sensed that a lynch mob was gathering, and quickly passed a law that was almost the same as I-695. I don't really remember, but it seems that the car license fees I paid that year were pretty close to $30. Ah, the good old days.

Every successive year that figure has crept up, and up. I know that this is predictable, and I am not surprised, but it is remarkable how each year creative fees, surcharges, and related taxes get tacked on to the bill. The last payment I made for my $30 car tabs was $57. The GSoW provides this page to see all the interesting ways that this is possible.

Yesterday I received the bill for my other vehicle, which renews in April. These $30 car tabs come to about $65. Wow, sez I. Why so much? Oh. I see. Not only am I paying for my license, but I am buying new plates. The perfectly good license plates that I have are due for replacement. I will be charged $20 to keep the same plate number, my ham radio callsign. And (this is good) there's a "reflectorizing fee" of $4.

Sigh. How brief a victory. Timmy, we hardly knew ye.

09 June 2008

American Scarelines

I have really come to despise flying, the automobile is a source of frustration and despair, rail is far too expensive and slow, and bus travel would combine all of the disadvantages of the other options, as well as additional discomfort, danger, inconvenience, and unpleasantness. I live a continent's width from many of my relatives, and my daughter's home is as near to the Gulf of Mexico as mine is to the North Pacific Ocean. In order to make the visits to which one at times is obligated one is doomed to use the airlines.

Air travel is cheap, I suppose, and this is its downfall. When it was not so cheap, it was much, much better. Air travel benefited from regulation, and airline companies benefited from charging fares that reflected the real cost of transporting humans and their possessions from point to point about the globe.

Far be it from me to begrudge any youngster a trip to Disneyland (ugh) or those with limited funds the freedom to fly the friendly skies, but I am really sore and tired today from the squeezing and pummeling I received on Northwest Airlines yesterday. I am not remarkably large for an American man, but neither am I small. (5' 11", 220 lbs.) When I sat in the seat on the 757 that was to fly us from Minneapolis to Seattle yesterday, my knees touched the back of the seat in front of me. My left arm overlapped the "arm rest" (interesting term for a thin rail of steel which does nothing to "rest" my arm at all, and much to injure it), my right rested against the inside wall of the cabin. (I was in a window seat, the first one on the four flights I took. Bast be praised.) The outside of my left thigh contacted the outside of my brother's right. The outside of my right thigh was pressed against the cabin wall.

If the person in the seat in front of me had reclined the back of his seat, we would have had words. I had not quite enough room to hold a copy of Harper's magazine before me. To reach the $2 bottle of water in my briefcase (you can't bring your own, it's a security measure) required contortions that would elicit applause in a carnival freak show.

Since the marketing departments of many airlines have decided to charge extra to check luggage as a way to keep the apparent price of a ticket down in the face of rising kerosene prices, folks are carrying bigger and heavier things into the passenger cabin. This makes loading the cabin a nightmare, bringing the general mood to a simmering level of dislike bordering on hatred, and causing a number of very unsafe conditions. As time goes by and people become even more aware of this situation, it will become a bottleneck in the trip second only to those idiotic runway delays that we always seem to endure. (Why don't they plan the departure times of airplanes so that they don't get stacked up waiting to take off?)

I don't care if the airline serves me food or provides a B or C movie (with a G rating) for me to watch. They may charge what they need to to pay for their fuel and check my baggage in the hold. They may restrict the size and weight of what I carry into the cabin, as long as I can bring a book, a sweater, and a small bag of food.

I will pay the price when I need to fly. What I want is very simple: I want enough room for my fat ass, my long legs, and my very ordinary arms and hands. I would like the cabin to be heated or cooled to a temperature in the vicinity of sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. (Last night it was close to 80° F.) I would like to be able to recline the seat back and sleep without injuring or infuriating the person behind me.

I do not want to be forced into intimacy with my fellow passengers. I do not want to touch them involuntarily. If I need to rise to go to the restroom, provide enough leg and head room so that I can do this without injuring myself, or others, or forcing everyone in the row to leave their seat.

Why is this not available?

Are the geniuses that operate airlines so busy dealing with bankruptcy (don't try to win business by cutting prices) and labor relations nightmares (take care of your employees and they'll take care of you) that they can't see that an airline that would provide the service I've described above -- really provide it, not just say they do -- and then advertise it, would probably kick ass in the marketplace? It would certainly kick ass with me.

"Fly JingoJumbo, the airline for full-sized American people! Bring your lunch and your own entertainment, but be ready to have a really comfortable, pleasant time. When we say 'sit back and enjoy the flight,' you will be able to do just that. Round trips from Seattle to New York starting at $899."

Sign me up.

06 June 2008

The Chasm

I could say that I am an Episcopalian, but in most conversations I would not. The last time I went to church it was for my father's funeral, and before that I really can't remember. Notwithstanding, I was baptized (or so they tell me) when an infant, and confirmed as a very young fellow (age 12, I think), into the Episcopal Church.

Growing up with my parents, I was taken to church nearly every Sunday. I seem to remember that our attendance intensified as I grew older. When I left home, I left that habit there.

Belonging to, and attending a church, does not attract me, but religion as a human phenomenon is interesting. The desire to place a structure over reality; to explain the unexplainable; to summon forces greater than our own to protect, defend, and guide us -- these desires are ingrained in some subconscious level of the majority of human minds, if not all. The rituals of religious celebration or worship that I found stultifying and intolerably boring as a youth sometimes don't seem so bad to me when I remember them today. Of course, should I actually go and participate in a service of Morning Prayer or Holy Communion, I might have a different attitude. Nevertheless, the words of the services do come back to me at times, and the tunes of the hymns, anthems, and chants that we sang are permanently recorded in my mind.

The first priest that I remember was Father Moss, a Scotsman who had probably lived in the United States of America for a long time, because his speech was quite Americanized. Later in life when I have listened to, and attempted conversation with the citizens of Scotland, I have had to make a much more concerted effort to understand them, and to make myself understood, than was ever necessary with Father Moss. But his voice and his pronunciation were glorious, partly due to his innate gifts, and partly to the traces of Highland mists, rainbows, and bagpipes that clung to his syllables and influenced his choice of words.

May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon them."

When I read those words, I hear the voice of Father Moss. There was a lot of beauty in our priest's speech, and in the liturgical music, and there was a lot of decent English poetry in the Book of Common Prayer. (It is worth noting that my church attendance as a child was well before 1979, the year when the Book was revised, and much more modern English was included. This no doubt was intended to make the service more understandable -- "accessible" would be the term today -- to the average reader, but to my ears trained to the King James words and meter, it sounds flat and fake.) One of the most memorable passages (and this may say more about me than is desirable) is the General Confession from the Order for Morning Prayer:

and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us..."

I love the cadence, and the tone of "We have left undone ..." etc. I've never forgotten it. It's so true. "...there is no health in us..."

I really am not religious. I don't believe what one must, or should, believe: "All things visible and invisible, " in order to qualify. I regard the art, poetry, and music that I was exposed to as a child in church as just that: art, poetry, and music. I can admire the Tjängvide Image Stone without believing in Odin. Myths are a beautiful and integral part of our culture and psychology, and the lack of subscription to belief need not inhibit one's appreciation of their beauty, and mystery.

The reason I've started thinking and writing about all this is that I picked up a copy of the May 2008 Harper's magazine in the airport Wednesday, and read (among other excellent things) an article entitled "Turning Away From Jesus, Gay Rights and the War for the Episcopal Church," by Garret Keizer. (Page 39) I'll not attempt to restate all of Mr. Keizer's work here. He did a very thorough job of exploring what's been going on since the ordination of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, "the first openly (and without the word openly you must lose the word first) gay and domestically partnered bishop in the Anglican Communion..." Much has been written and said about this, and about many other parts of society to which, of late, gay people have been trying to gain acceptance. It is not my purpose to explore these phenomena. [p39]

In the second paragraph, Keizer got my attention with this:

"...what might strike you as an irrelevant story about a religious dispute is in some ways your story, whether you are religious or not. The story invites us to ask if what we see happening to the institutions we love is not at least partly the result of our having loved them less attentively than we supposed."

And then, what I found particularly interesting about Keizer's article, the last page. After telling many stories about the controversies and arguments in the church all over the world, and about how the power structure of the Anglican church is changing both as a result of and coincidentally with this issue, he takes a new tack. He remarks that his non-religious readers are probably thinking that this is all very interesting, but what of it? Isn't all this church-related brouhaha pretty irrelevant to the "real" world? In the so-called "developed" countries, isn't church attendance at a new low? What do we care about the arguments of a bunch of superstitious men and women ?

"My non-Christian readers are likely to see this disquisition on sacraments as a bit of obscurantist trivia having little to do with them or with the subject of this essay, and if they do, my trap is sprung... The consecrated wafers placed on the tongues ... of the faithful, one per person and all the same size, have a secular equivalent in the basic allotments of health, education, and welfare -- of life, liberty, and the off chance of happiness--that every citizen at the common can expect as his or her due. " [p50]

His trap, indeed. He makes his church a metaphor for our society, and our economic structure, describing a church in a very poor area:

"...the most isolated places need the ... greatest skills. But the system works so that the priests with the greatest skills go almost always to the places that are well-resourced already ... The deployment system is basically a free-market system... it's part of the same system that distributes the rest
of our goods and services and that most middle- and upper-class electorates ... are quite happy to leave exactly as it is."[p50]

The chasm deepens and widens. More is distributed to those who have the most. 35 million people in the USA were described as "Food Insecure" by America's Second Harvest food bank network's Hunger Almanac 2007. About 47 million had no health insurance in 2006, according to the US Census Bureau.

"If we divide the wealth of the US into thirds, we find that the top one percent own a third, the next nine percent own another third, and the bottom ninety percent claim the rest. (Actually, these percentages, true a decade ago, are now out of date. The top one percent are now estimated to own between forty and fifty percent of the nation's wealth, more than the combined wealth of the bottom 95%.)" [From
After Capitalism, by David Schweikart,
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (June 2002), ISBN 978-0742513006.]

That was written in 2002. Do you suppose that it has changed in the last six years, and in what way?

(Incidentally, here is another analysis, using the mathematics of physics to describe income distribution in the USA from 1983-2001. The authors define a two-class structure, "thermal," (97-99% of the population) and "super-thermal" (1-3%). This paper is not for the mathematically inhibited.)

Gene Robinson, according to Keizer, has remarked that he knows that those who oppose him are suffering, experiencing an unwelcome pain and controversy in the part of their lives that they probably thought would be a source of solace and comfort. Robinson "takes inspiration from the example of their faithfulness." In other words, Robinson is capable of loving and respecting those who oppose him. "[He] is showing us how our secular debates might bear the image of divinity." [p50]

Keizer exhorts us to pay attention to the "major sacraments," instead of debating the minor ones. He asks us to take care of women, children, and youth before we argue over gun ownership, politics, religion, or morality; to "feed my sheep."

Whether we are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, or atheists -- no matter what minor sacraments we celebrate -- we all know that we are going out of this life the same way. While here, in the little time we have, we can fight over unimportant points, or we can do what we can to help each other. We might try harder to emulate "the gentleness of a shepherd than the imperiousness of a shop boss." [p40]

However we may feel about someone else's behavior or style of life, and no matter what we may believe or not believe, when we dismiss the needs of another (whether spiritual, nutritional, or otherwise) because of his or her difference from us, we fail as human beings. Whether we are religious, moral, or simply trying to be good, it seems to me that we are called upon to recognize how we are the same. Garret Keizer has done an excellent job of framing this argument in conclusion to his very thoughtful article.

©Eric F. Lester 2008
Posted at http://www.thisisby.us/index.php/content/the_chasm 2250 6 June 2008 PDT

09 February 2008

Hillary Clinton, or Someone, is Getting on my Nerves

As I have mentioned before, my political leanings tend to put me in the "Democratic" column on election day. Unless you have been living under a rock or perhaps in denial you will be aware that the race for the Democratic Party nomination for President in 2008 is starting to look very much like a contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I don't mean to begin a discussion of who is the more desirable candidate, or the differences and similarites between them. We can have that another time. What I want to talk about here is why in hell Clinton or her campaign staff think that it's a good idea to harass the living fuck out of me.

Today, Saturday 9 February 2008, is caucus day here in Washington State. The arcane process of selecting candidates is another thing which will be beyond the scope of this article. It is worth mentioning this fact only to possibly explain why my telephone started ringing frequently several days ago. We seldom answer calls from numbers that we don't recognize, or unidentified numbers. It is logical to conclude that anyone with anything of importance with which they must interrupt our peace will certainly leave a message. Junk calls, telemarketers, survey takers, charity beggers, etc., almost never leave messages. They are usually calling with automated equipment that simply disconnects when it doesn't get a live answer. So, more and more, we don't answer the phone. It saves a lot of useless frustration.

The calls were coming from area code 703. Google told me this was from Virginia. One of the Google hits for the number I entered was for http://800notes.com, a site where people report unknown, irritating, and annoying phone calls and tactics. Folks on there were talking about getting irritating "robo-calls" from politicians.

When the phone rang at 5:30AM we woke up with that confused feeling of what the hell? followed by dread -- no good phone calls come at 5:30AM. It was hard to believe that it was going to be another area code 703 call, but it was. The usual profile: when it went to voicemail, they left no message. That is rude. No matter from where they are calling, they have to know the time zone that we're in. This was really starting to feel like harassment.

Later in the day when one of the calls came in, I was standing near the phone and I grabbed it. I pushed the "talk" button on the handset, and didn't say anything. This is, in my view, a perfectly reasonable way to answer your phone even if you're not trying to fool a robot. A legitimate caller, hearing the end of the ring tone and nothing else, will certainly say something. This gives you, the victim of an uninvited interruption to your time, peace, and quiet, an advantage. You may recognize the voice as friendly, or not. It is your option to speak, or not. In the event that the call is from an auto-dialer, you will have confused the machine a little -- only a little, these refined torture devices have been in use a long time. Usually they will simply disconnect after a few minutes. And that's what happened when I allowed that call into my phone. There was silence, with no background noise, simply dead air, and then a fast "busy" signal.

The next time I tried this tactic, about two hours later, for whatever reason (maybe I made some inadvertent noise, or a background noise in the house triggered a response) the auto-dialer must have thought it had made a hit, because a recorded voice, speaking extremely fast, began to tell me about Hillary Clinton. This was followed by another voice, which claimed to be that of Hillary Clinton, encouraging me to help her become president, etc. etc.

Even later in the day I discovered a message on our voicemail, very much like the one delivered to my ear before. The same number, Hillary Clinton promo, and an incredibly fast disclaimer at the end that seemed to include a call-back number (I made out "703," but that's all.)

What exactly is going on? Does Clinton think this will get her more support? Does she (or her staff) believe that Americans will be positively affected by this tactic, rather than greatly annoyed -- which is what I am? Or -- here comes the conspiracy theory -- are these calls being made by Clinton and/or her staff at all?

Suppose that someone who dislikes Clinton and does not want her election bid to succeed is causing this to happen. It seems likely, in a way. But is it effective? I'm perplexed and annoyed now.

Apparently, in other parts of the country, this has been happening -- but the calls are accredited to Barack Obama. Clinton's campaign has actually accused Obama of breaking State laws by making automated calls.

Some states have passed laws against auto-dialing, but this is being challenged as a violation of the First Amendment.

I like the First Amendment, and the whole Bill of Rights. I've talked about it before. But making my phone ring at 5:30 in the morning while I'm still in dreamland, thereby taking my heart rate up to 260 and focusing my brain on every possible disaster I can think of is a lot more like assault with a deadly weapon than free speech.

I have never talked to anyone who likes telephone solicitation of any type, yet it continues to be used to sell things, collect public opinion, fund charities, and promote political objectives. It is very cheap, and apparently reasonably effective.

Google has an interesting new service called Grand Central. I have experimented with it a little bit. It allows me to have a little more control over my incoming telephone calls, and allows them to be routed to different places. I think I'll be looking a little closer at that, but it's too bad that my main personal impression of the first serious female candidate for President of the USA is that she's added to the general garbage-truck load of marketing crap that I have to wade through every day. Thanks.

08 January 2008

Sobriety Checkpoints Advocated by Washington's Governor

MADD says Evergreen State doesn't do enough against drunk driving.

It's hard to find an argument in favor of drunken driving. Even people who do it probably know it's a very bad idea. All you have to do is bring this topic up in conversation with a group of people and the horrible tales of death and injury will be told.

It is, therefore, difficult to enter into a discussion of drunken driving without encountering intense emotion. When loved ones have been killed or injured by an alcohol addict at the wheel of an automobile, rational thought goes out the window. Revenge becomes the focus of the victim's family and friends, and this angry desire to lash out at the perpetrators drives a powerful political force. Mother's Against Drunk Driving (MADD), is arguably the most visible and well-organized manifestation of that force.

MADD was formed in 1980, and states that their mission is to "eliminate... drunk driving and... underage drinking," and "to serve drunk driving victims and survivors."

This organization has an effective strategy of putting government officials on the spot and demonstrated that with a November report that ranked the State of Washington as "40th in the nation in its efforts to eliminate drunken driving." [Seattle Times 7 Jan '08.]

Politicians do not enjoy the role of pariah, and Governor Christine Gregoire issued a statement calling for "legislation to authorize police to set up sobriety spot checks." The City of Seattle tried this tactic in the early 1980s but the State Supreme Court forced an end to the program, saying that it violated the State Constitution. Legislation could possibly overcome the constitutional prohibition, according to Washington State Justice James Dolliver. [ibid.]

It is a cold-hearted person indeed who is not moved by a story such as the "deaths of Ashley Ann North, 20, of Pleasant Grove, and Stephan Sean Peery, 20, of Provo, [Utah] on July 14[2007]." The drunken driver, Benjamin Louis Shaw, was convicted of "two second-degree felony counts of automobile homicide" in this case. A third victim was seriously injured in the crash. [Salt Lake Tribune 5 Jan. '08]

We are horrified, personally and as citizens, when this happens, and it happens very often: I found the Salt Lake Tribune article in less than a minute by searching Google News for "drunk driving tragedy." I had plenty of awful stories to choose from. The frequency of occurrence, and feelings of frustration and anger at the persistence of the problem make it nearly impossible to be objective. It is at this very point that we freedom-loving citizens of the USA become suggestible: perhaps we could trade away one of our rights to stop this abhorrent crime? If only we empowered our police officers to make random sobriety checks, certainly we would catch many of these sociopaths before they can do their damage?

In the shadow of the ruins of the World Trade Center, and in the smoke of the burning Pentagon, cries for prevention and revenge were heard. And so were born the USA PATRIOT act, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006. These pieces of federal legislation removed previously sacred rights in the name of fighting terrorism. I leave it to the reader to judge how effective that fight has been; the rights are gone, nonetheless -- leaving me for one with a feeling of buyer's remorse. What have we traded away for this mess of pottage?

Are we then, at the State level, to repeat this same action? Should we allow our police officers to randomly stop automobiles and check the sobriety of their drivers, without probable cause? Why not? After all, driving is a privilege, not a right. One must have a license to drive, and agrees to various conditions upon applying for and receiving that license. Being subject to such checkpoints could be simply made a condition of being granted a Washington State Driver's License.

On the other hand, driving an automobile is a de facto requirement for being a fully franchised citizen. Unless one lives in one of the metropoli with adequate public transportation (and Washington has none of these) he or she will simply not be able to move about in a manner consistent with normal life unless in possession of a driver's license and automobile. In pursuit of life (liberty, and happiness) is it right to require a citizen to give up his or her Fourth Amendment right to protection from unreasonable search? And further, could not such checkpoints be abused?

It is important to remove the emotion from this issue and look at the issues as calmly as possible. Drunk driving is not safe, it is a danger to society, it is a crime: this is all fairly established fact. Laws are on the books that make it a serious crime in every state to operate a vehicle while under the influence. Why, then, does this problem continue? Is it because drunken drivers have rights that protect them from being caught breaking the law, and is it a good trade to give up Fourth Amendment rights in exchange for ostensible protection from such lawbreakers? Or is it because most people who choose to drive an automobile when drunk are simply in the grip of an insane addiction over which they are powerless. Perhaps we need to look harder at this problem in our society, the problem of substance abuse and addiction -- but this is a topic beyond our scope here.

While I am no less offended by senseless death and injury caused by helpless addicts or sociopaths, I am very concerned about a trend in the USA: More and more we are coming to the conclusion that we as a people have too many civil liberties. These liberties get in the way of effective law enforcement, and we believe that we need effective law enforcement more than ever. Our leaders cite the threat of terrorism, the war on drugs, and now the scourge of drunk driving, as reasons that we should willingly surrender the protections won for us in 1789.

There is a lot of press given to those who cry for the upholding of the Second Amendment, which many interpret as protecting the citizen's right to own firearms. Let us not forget: there are nine more amendments included in this historic document, and the liberties encoded therein constitute nothing less than the basis of our freedom from persecution by any government.

The founders of this nation were not given to complacency. They understood that government is a necessary evil, a dangerous center of power needed for defense and the regulation and/or provision of various services, but prone to self-importance and self-indulgence. They knew that they were setting up a system that would provide for the peaceful transfer of power from one government to another at regular intervals, and that there was no guarantee that such new governments would always be benevolent. For this reason they hammered out, over many years, the system under which we have prospered and thrived as a free people.

"Thirty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, allow spot checks to catch drunk drivers, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)." Eighty percent of the United States feel that it should be legal, without probable cause, for police to stop an innocent citizen traveling legally in her automobile to determine if the driver is drunk. Washington State is somewhat unusual where this issue is concerned. Our State Supreme Court determined that this practice would violate the State Constitution. "The U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 upheld a Michigan checkpoint program, saying motorists' privacy rights were not violated." [Seattle Times 7 Jan '08.]

What is the right thing to do?

Shall we abridge our personal privacy and our right to travel freely in order to facilitate the arrest and prosecution of drunken drivers?

Or shall we rely on our present laws and constitution and expect law enforcement to observe drivers without interfering, stopping those that show erratic or unusually aggressive behavior: probable cause.

If you are a victim of drunken driving, or closely related to a victim -- if you have been directly affected -- you will likely be of the opinion that no measure is too drastic. I sympathize completely with your feelings. When you have lost a loved one or seen someone close to you injured needlessly it is quite normal to be angry and want to lash out at something or someone.

Suppose that a law is passed completely forbidding the use of cellular phones in automobiles. University of Utah researchers have determined that drivers using cellular phones, even hands-free, are every bit as dangerous as drivers who have been drinking. [University of Utah News Center] If we believe this, and we are as determined to prevent this problem -- and why wouldn't we be -- what measures will we take to catch drivers who talk on cellular phones?

Perhaps you will say that this is foolish, that there is no comparison, but suppose the claims that the UU psychologists made are upheld. Suppose that the use of cellular phones becomes recognized as the cause of thousands of traffic fatalities, and is made illegal. What are we to do to enforce this law? Shall we allow the government to monitor the cellular frequencies and identify cars with phone usage? Shall we trust that they will not abuse this permission and listen in a little more than is strictly necessary for the enforcement of the new law?

SMS or "text" messaging while driving has been specifically forbidden by law in Washington State as of the first of 2008. If there is an outcry to arrest those who break this law, what will we allow our government to do to facilitate that?

When asked about a loss of privacy in exchange for protection from criminals many people will answer "So what? I'm not doing anything wrong, I have nothing to hide. Let them monitor my cellular phone, my text messages, and let them stop me to check my sobriety. I'm a law-abiding citizen and I don't mind."

This is an attractive idea. After all, what is there to fear if one is not breaking the law?

As far as these laws and this government, we seem to have little to fear.

Remember, our laws and our government are designed to change. We have regular peaceful transfers of power, driven by the forces of politics. While the direction of those forces is one with which we agree, we are content to go along with abridgements of rights, because we wish to see the objectives of the government accomplished. Should the direction shift, will we not regret having given up protections once guaranteed that keep the government from trespassing into certain areas, areas such as privacy in our communications and the freedom to travel unhindered?

Germans and Austrians in 1939 learned that their legally elected National Socialist government could turn out to be something monstrous. Mussolini established his Fascist party in Italy and by 1926 had abolished free trade unions and the right to strike. [History.com article] With the perspective of history we wonder how the people of Europe could have been so blind as to allow these power-hungry dictators to take away their freedom.

Passing one State law is not going to lead us into Fascism and a World War -- but I fear that this is one more ugly step in a direction about which one of our founding fathers warned us:

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Let us not memorialize the loss of our loved ones by weakening our freedom.