REMEMBER WHEN Bob Dole used to go around saying: "Where is the outrage? Where is the outrage?" We were all, like, "Huh?" -- a sort of national version of that totally blank stare of incomprehension that teen-agers lay on us.
The outrage shortage or outrage fatigue appears to be a looming national emergency. It'll be the Outrage Crisis in no time flat if we don't find the energy to actually Do Something.
And therein lies the problem. The reason we don't Do Something about the various idiocies being committed in our names is because we don't think anything we do will do any good. Cynicism leads to inaction, and inaction reinforces cynicism.
Of course, our government has been largely hijacked by big-money special interests. We live in a corporate oligopoly, and none of us is stupid enough to think that his or her mite of indignation is going to sway policy. But let's try a little exercise in constructive indignation and see if we can't find something that motivates you to sit on your backside and write a letter.
Believe it or not, the combination of many mites of indignation still does move the political system. The only people ticked off enough to do anything these days are the Miami Cubans, who have decided that Janet Reno is a communist and President Clinton is a tool of Fidel.
That many of these people appear to be completely bonkers has not prevented them from bringing the feds to a crashing halt for the nonce. (I have no idea how long a nonce is, so don't ask me.)
Some people think the protesters at the Washington meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have lost their vertical hold, but you notice you're hearing a lot more about labor and environmental standards in trade agreements these days. Suddenly, globalization doesn't appear to be quite so inevitable or uncontrollable, an onslaught of unstoppable forces driving us all to work for Bangladeshi wages.
It is quite possible to stand up and say, "We don't want this." What Jim Hightower calls globaloney is no more inevitable than the next stupid weapons-procurement disaster.
Speaking of which, a new book by Frances Fitzgerald is actually a readable account of how we have come to spend $60 billion since 1983 on the Star Wars missile defense system with not a single working system to show for it. Not that we have even started to build the thing -- this is $60 billion in research.
This project is unneeded, unwanted and unworkable, so why did Congress appropriate yet more money for the Boondoggle That Will Not Die in 1999? Because not enough people took pen in hand to tell the dimwits that they've got better things to spend our money on.
Still in the weapons-procurement field, the Osprey helicopter that crashed and killed 19 Marines recently is a good example of why it's worthwhile to take enough time to write. We thought this deadly flop was costing us only $43 million a copy, but last week the Pentagon released records showing that it's actually $83 million per aircraft, and of course the things still haven't passed several crucial tests. Not to mention the dead Marines.
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According to The New York Times, the Pentagon will spend $310 billion this year -- more than the world's 12 next-largest militaries combined. The top expert on military procurement says most of the money is spent on weapons that "take far too long to build, cost far too much and don't deliver as promised."
The Air Force is now building F-22s at $200 million per plane. Six new weapons systems under way will cost $500 billion -- "most, if not all, will go into full-scale production with open questions about their cost and effectiveness."
Meanwhile, many service personnel qualify for food stamps because their pay is so low, and training and preparedness are noticeably worse. This is truly dumb policy. And it can be fixed -- the General Accounting Office has some excellent reform plans. Write!
Another outrage worthy of attention is the highly profitable trade in body parts, a story broken by The Orange County Register. I am listed as an organ donor because I know people who have desperately needed a liver or a kidney or a heart, and I always figured if I wound up brain-dead after a horrible accident, at least somebody would get some good out it.
But I sure didn't sign up to help private corporations make $500 million a year off my ground-up teeth and tissues. They sell tissues to be used in plastic surgery, among other things, to give the lips of models that bee-stung look.
"If donors were told at the time about profits, they wouldn't donate," said the director of the Intermountain Tissue Center in Salt Lake City. Duh. The nonprofit foundations involved in this grisly trade are in cahoots with the for-profit corporations.
The nation's four largest nonprofit tissue banks will generate $261 million in sales this year, according to the Register. An analysis of the 50 largest tissue banks shows that top executives earn an average of $135,000 a year. A Los Angeles tissue bank paid its top official $533,450 in 1998 and bought him a BMW. The two largest for-profit companies made a combined $142.3 million in sales last year, and each pays its chief executive more than $460,000 annually.
In 1984, Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act, which bans profits from the sale of tissues, but no company or tissue bank has ever been prosecuted, said the Register. The way that companies and tissue banks get around this is by charging marked-up fees to handle and process body parts. The law allows for "reasonable" fees without defining "reasonable."
The Register reports that a typical donor produces $14,000 to $16,000 in sales for the nonprofit agency, but yields can be far greater. Skin, tendons, heart valves, veins and corneas are listed at about $110,000. Add the bones, and one cadaver can be worth $220,000.
Good grief -- if they're going to use your body, the proceeds should go to your estate or your favorite charity. No one signs up as an organ donor so some jerk can make $533,000 a year.
Now if that doesn't get your dander up, you're probably already brain-dead