Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Reading

Deporting the Ill:

High in the hills of Guatemala, shut inside the one-room house where he spends day and night on a twin bed beneath a seriously outdated calendar, Luis Alberto Jiménez has no idea of the legal battle that swirls around him in the lowlands of Florida.

Shooing away flies and beaming at the tiny, toothless elderly mother who is his sole caregiver, Mr. Jiménez, a knit cap pulled tightly on his head, remains cheerily oblivious that he has come to represent the collision of two deeply flawed American systems, immigration and health care.

Eight years ago, Mr. Jiménez, 35, an illegal immigrant working as a gardener in Stuart, Fla., suffered devastating injuries in a car crash with a drunken Floridian. A community hospital saved his life, twice, and, after failing to find a rehabilitation center willing to accept an uninsured patient, kept him as a ward for years at a cost of $1.5 million.

What happened next set the stage for a continuing legal battle with nationwide repercussions: Mr. Jiménez was deported — not by the federal government but by the hospital, Martin Memorial. After winning a state court order that would later be declared invalid, Martin Memorial leased an air ambulance for $30,000 and “forcibly returned him to his home country,” as one hospital administrator described it.

Since being hoisted in his wheelchair up a steep slope to his remote home, Mr. Jiménez, who sustained a severe traumatic brain injury, has received no medical care or medication — just Alka-Seltzer and prayer, his 72-year-old mother said. Over the last year, his condition has deteriorated with routine violent seizures, each characterized by a fall, protracted convulsions, a loud gurgling, the vomiting of blood and, finally, a collapse into unconsciousness.

“Every time, he loses a little more of himself,” his mother, Petrona Gervacio Gaspar, said in Kanjobal, the Indian dialect that she speaks with an otherworldly squeak.

Mr. Jiménez’s benchmark case exposes a little-known but apparently widespread practice. Many American hospitals are taking it upon themselves to repatriate seriously injured or ill immigrants because they cannot find nursing homes willing to accept them without insurance. Medicaid does not cover long-term care for illegal immigrants, or for newly arrived legal immigrants, creating a quandary for hospitals, which are obligated by federal regulation to arrange post-hospital care for patients who need it.

American immigration authorities play no role in these private repatriations, carried out by ambulance, air ambulance and commercial plane. Most hospitals say that they do not conduct cross-border transfers until patients are medically stable and that they arrange to deliver them into a physician’s care in their homeland. But the hospitals are operating in a void, without governmental assistance or oversight, leaving ample room for legal and ethical transgressions on both sides of the border.

My Life Is But to Serve Your Majesty: Leonard Pitts, Jr. on the partisan injustice at the Department of Justice.

”What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?”

I have gone forward and back for awhile now trying to figure out where today’s rant should begin, but I find that I cannot get past that question. It was posed by Monica Goodling, an aide to then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, to job seekers at the Department of Justice.

”What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?”

Is it me, or doesn’t she sound less like a job interviewer than like an adolescent girl splayed out on her bed, giggling with her girlfriend about some hottie actor they both adore? I mean, what, exactly, was an applicant expected to say?

”I adore his strong chin?”

”That crinkly smile really turns me on?”

”I can’t resist the manly twinkle in his eyes when he mispronounces `nuclear?’ ”

Presumably, Goodling is somewhere doodling the president’s name and hers inside valentine hearts while she awaits her fate. You see, she faces possible professional sanctions for violations of both civil service law and the DOJ’s own policy. As detailed last week in a Justice Department report, she and other aides systematically schemed to fill nonpolitical positions with Bush loyalists.


This administration prizes ideological purity above ability. As a result, it has driven the presidency off a cliff, the country following close behind. These are not people who came to government to govern. No, these are true believers who came to government to institutionalize true belief, to make it permanent as a stain.

There is something Stepford, something robotic and chilling, in the glassy-eyed, ends-justifies-the-means faith of these young Bush aides in their own righteousness. Forget credibility. Forget competence. Just give us your answer, please: ”What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?”

It is a telling question. Apparently, these people have forgotten or never even knew: It wasn’t George W. Bush they were supposed to serve.

The Low-Road Warrior: Is mudslinging the only way John McCain can win?

For those not keeping score, a quick review of the McCain campaign’s lunge for Obama’s jugular. First, its new slogan: “Country first,” with its inverse insinuation that Obama puts something else (i.e., his own ambition) ahead of the nation. Second, McCain’s accusation that Obama “would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.” Third, the McCain ad “Troops,” which claims that Obama, while in Germany, “made time to go the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops—seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras.” And, finally, the ad “Celeb,” with its intercut images of Obama in Berlin, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears.

The strategy behind all this isn’t hard to discern: Drive up Obama’s negatives and render him unacceptable to pivotal voting blocs. Thus the depiction of him as too young, too feckless, and too pampered to be president. (In almost every shot in the McCain ads, Obama is smiling flashily, whereas McCain is pictured as weathered, sober, staring hard into the distance—a clever bit of jujitsu, using Obama’s pretty mug against him.) Thus the portrayal of him as precious, self-infatuated, and effete: “Only celebrities like Barack Obama go to the gym three times a day, demand ‘MET-RX chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars and bottles of a hard-to-find organic brew—Black Forest Berry Honest Tea’ and worry about the price of arugula,” wrote campaign manager Rick Davis in an e-mail announcing “Celeb.” And thus the emphasis on Obama’s rock-star persona, designed to engender envy and contempt among the swath of Middle America for which hipness is no virtue but a sign of pretension.

The racial undertones of this assault are subtle but undeniable, as Obama himself suggested when he asserted last week that his opponents are trying to make voters “scared” of him because he “doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency.” They’re most glaring in “Troops,” which features footage of Obama sinking a three-pointer in Kuwait, despite the fact that the shot took place at a military base, which undermines the ad’s argument. But the spot’s deeper aim is to foster an unconscious simile: Obama as a blinged-up, camera-hungry, NBA shooting guard, Allen Iverson with a Harvard Law degree. Am I reaching? Consider this: Would the ad have featured footage of Obama on a golf course draining a hole-in-one? “No, it wouldn’t,” laughs a GOP media savant. “The racial angle is the first thing I thought of when I saw that ad. It fits into the celebrity stuff, too.”


All of which, naturally, has more than a few Democrats in a state of mortal dread, although they tend not to be the types with GOT HOPE? bumper stickers on their Volvos. Making them all the more queasy is what they regard as Obama’s tepid and too-placid responses to the most scurrilous of McCain’s j’accuses. “Obama says he’s ‘disappointed’ in McCain when he charges him with near treason, patronizing him, as if he’s got a twenty-point lead with a week to go,” says one tough-minded organizer on the left. “It’s shades of Swift Boat.”

To be fair, by the end of last week Obama didn’t sound excessively serene. He had toughened his rhetoric, and so had his campaign. But even then, they were playing defense, fighting the battle on the turf defined by Team McCain. Obama’s calling out of the racial component of his opponent’s attacks, though justified, opened the door to the McCain countercharge that it’s he who is slapping down the race card—a claim that, however ludicrous, puts Obama in the position of denying, in effect, that he’s a smoother, calmer, version of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and his former pastor, Wright. What’s more, there’s reason to worry that the Democrat, as Jonathan Chait contended recently in the Los Angeles Times, is “making the enormous mistake of letting the race be entirely about him, which is the only way he can lose.”

The alternative, of course, is to get on offense, to batter McCain for his gaffes and incoherence, hammer him for his flip-flops, highlight how his maverick status is a thing of the past, and turn him into a combination of Bush and Grandpa Simpson. God knows there are those in Chicago champing at the bit to do just that—not least, one imagines, Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, who can wield the cudgel of negative ads with as much vigor and glee as any Republican. Yet Obama seems reluctant to go there. Tough pol though he is, he’s a conciliator and not a confrontationalist at heart; he seems to believe that once undecided voters know him better, he will have them eating, along with so many others, out of the palm of his hand.

And who knows, even if Obama stays above the fray, he might still pull this thing off. Because as unwilling as he is to get down and dirty, McCain may simply be unable to drive a consistent negative message. “John is uncomfortable doing this stuff,” says Weaver. “And it isn’t in his skill-set. It’s like adopting the West Coast offense and making Dick Butkus your quarterback.” Butkus, it should be noted, was a linebacker—which actually makes the metaphor more apt. Obama may hesitate to call the right plays, but he knows the difference between offense and defense, and is unlikely to wind up sprinting into his own end zone.

Doonesbury: Yo, dog.

Opus: In his image.