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What's "New?" 

Crank Call

So, it's a new year. In fact, by the time you read this, it'll have been a new year for almost a fortnight.

I had to look up the word "fortnight" to remember precisely how many days it contains. I'd thought it was 14, but I was only half right: A fortnight is two weeks long, but it's 14 nights, not days, that define it. When I first ran the query through an online dictionary, I was told: "No entry found for fortnight."

"Did you mean forthright?" the computer asked. "Did you mean first night?"

Plainly, there had been a mistake. I emphatically did not mean "first night," which I avoid assiduously along with all New Year's celebrations. Personally, I can't think of a bigger set-up than a "new year." We're the ones who give them numbers, after all -- they don't do it by themselves. Neither does a "year" necessarily begin in January, unless someone decides it does. In which case, they aren't Chinese, or Jewish, or many other things.

But I promised an "upbeat" column this week, and I'm trying to greet this new year, Anno Domini 2006, in a spirit of hope. Is there an entry for that? When I looked up "hope" online I saw it defined, first, as, "Hope, Bob (1903-2003), British-born American entertainer." Only when I scrolled farther down did "hope" become a verb -- "To wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment" -- and then a noun, "A wish or desire accompanied by confident expectation of its fulfillment."

Right -- it's that "confident" part. Already, I'm afraid, 2006 is looking a little tattered around the edges. It's not good to start out with a tragic mining disaster, huge corruption scandals in Congress, the Constitution effectively shredded by unlawful wiretapping, mail-opening, spying and "eavesdropping," 136 deaths in Iraq in a single day last Thursday (by official count); and a booming crisis over drug benefits for the recipients of Medicare -- those desperate hordes known collectively as "the elderly, the poor and the disabled."

"There's almost nothing that isn't going wrong," sighs Jeanne Finberg, an attorney for the National Senior Citizens Law Center in Oakland, California. Finberg was quoted last week by the Associated Press and many others in the media, who found in her words a way to express, sound-bite style, what every health-care worker in America now has to endure. Finberg's office, along with every pharmacy in the nation, has been "overwhelmed" since January 1 with calls of complaint and distress from people who can't get their medications.

Everywhere, the states and localities have had to step in to make sure these people don't die of neglect. Worse, that they don't die from a brutal, systematic, federally mandated effort to deprive them of the fundamental decencies our society can provide. And which it could easily afford if it weren't bombing Iraq, plotting the demise of Iran, handing out record profits to the oil industry, and cutting taxes for the rich.

"While the extent of the problem is unclear," says the AP, "health experts say the situation is dangerous because those patients who get Medicare and Medicaid benefits have higher rates of chronic illness, disability, cognitive impairments and other health needs. Their lives and livelihoods depend on their medicine."

Really? Do you think so? "People are crying," says Finberg. "They're calling their legislator's office in tears." As a columnist, I think they should have done that sooner, when the disgusting provisions of Medicare "reform" -- a bald, shame-faced hand-out to the insurance and pharmaceutical giants -- were first thrust down the throats of a bewildered population. As a person, however -- and especially as a person who struggles with chronic illness -- I'm part of that same population. I'm on their side.

"That same population" should have screamed to high heaven last year, when Congress, bought and paid for by "K Street" lobbyists, eliminated bankruptcy relief for everyone but the very poor (who can't get credit to start with) and corporations (which can). In the land of the free, a corporation enjoys exactly the same legal status as a citizen, by Supreme Court decree. However, its masters are allowed to "reorganize" their finances any way they want, while eliminating benefits, pensions and all assurances from the people who buy them their yachts. That is, the people who work for them.

Whoops! That sounds kind of socialist. "Did you mean forthright?" Let's hope the NSA is listening in, but let's not blame 2006 for it. The new year is not at fault for any of the problems we're currently facing. In fact, they're hangovers from 2005, 2004, 2003, etc. And that's a concept many people can relate to, I'm sure.

As for being "upbeat," there's always old dependable Rev. Pat Robertson, who declared that Prime Minister Sharon's massive brain hemorrhage was a judgment from God. Sharon "was dividing God's land," Robertson explained, "and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course." That even the Bush administration has denounced this "Christian" obscenity for what it is gives me hope for, well, at least another fortnight.

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Peter Kurth

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