A bedtime story

(Warning: may not be suitable for younger children or fuzzy-wuzzy liberals.)

Once upon a time, in a land that used to have a lot of trees, there was an adorable new creature called a "land exchange."

The land exchange (of the family scamitorius winnus winnus) was much beloved by politicians, as well as timber companies, mining corporations, and land developers, because it was so cute. But when it was very young, the land exchange learned a very bad habit. In the Pacific Northwest, everywhere it went, trees would disappear. This is because land exchanges existed by having big corporations like Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek trade the public land that had already had the hell logged out of it for land that had not had the hell logged out of it yet.

Now, to survive, this type of land exchange needed the permission of the bureaucrats of the US Forest Service. Fortunately, these bureaucrats, long accustomed to doing whatever their puppet masters at Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek wanted, were only too happy to let land exchanges thrive. And all seemed to be wonderful for the new land exchanges, if not for the trees.

But there was a catch. Certain other animals can't survive when the hell is logged out of forests. And—because in the last few decades a whole lot of hell has been logged—these animals are now "endangered" and protected by "the law," a bigger, predatory creature that, when it wants to, can eat federal bureaucrats as well as corporations.

But the law is a lazy creature and not inclined to help other creatures unless it is forced to. The law should have stopped land exchanges long ago, but because land exchanges are so cute and so beloved, the law didn't bother to look around the land exchanges for animals that were in danger of going extinct. In fact, a Forest Service supervisor—remember, children, that the US Forest Service is a division of the Department of Agriculture, and its mission is not to protect trees, but to eat them—wrote a memo suggesting that searches for endangered animals should be "minimized to the extent possible." Why? Maybe he liked land exchanges. Maybe he liked Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek. Maybe he was a lazy bastard.

And, so, land exchanges romped through the forest land, happy because searches for endangered species were being minimized. But other industrious—some would say obsessed—animals known as environmentalists (homo sapien arborus huggus) found some of these rare animals. And the land exchanges could not go forward. This surprised many of the politicians, who knew that, in theory, the rare, endangered animals existed. But they did not believe that arborus huggus existed, let alone voted. And they were crestfallen that their efforts to shoot, gut, and clean the Endangered Species Act had not been entirely successful. Yet.

Now, children, I understand that this is a confusing story. But there are several important lessons to be learned:

Land exchanges are very cute, but they are what is known as an indicator species. That is, they indicate the presence of other, less desirable species, like Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek, which will eat all the trees so that no creatures can survive. Land exchanges are not of themselves bad animals. But they must be watched very closely for the presence of these other animals that are very destructive.

Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek are very odd animals. They eat trees, but, like some Australian marsupials, they have pockets. This is where the Forest Service is located. (These pockets are also where certain parasitic "politicians" attach themselves, deriving essential nutrient campaign contributions in exchange for their protection. In zoology this is known as a "racket.")

"The law" is not randomly lazy. It is least inclined to be enforced when big corporations are involved. Government bureaucracies are much more inclined to use "the law" against, say, welfare mothers. When big animals like Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek are involved, "the law" can run with surprising speed in the other direction.

We've had environmental laws on the books for three decades now, and things are a little better in that endangered animals would never have even slowed down, let alone stopped, a scam like winnus winnus before. But here in the Pacific Northwest we are still losing our forests, and endangered species, at a seemingly much faster rate than 30 years ago. Why is that?

Sleep tight.

I must have nodded off

A footnote to the column two weeks ago on health insurance: state insurance commissioner Deborah Senn's office called with the information that they have, in fact, rejected Regence Blue Shield's request for a 28 percent rate increase on their individual plans—four times. My contrary information came from a letter Regence sent to policyholders informing us of Regence's intent to collect the increase. My apologies to Senn's office; that was my fault, for not double-checking Regence's claim. It's hard for me to even wrap my mind around the idea that the insurance giant could possibly misrepresent themselves to customers. Greedy, aren't they?

Behavior like that is the most eloquent argument for abolishing the health insurance industry entirely. It's time to get profit and the middlemen out of what ought to be a basic human right. The US is breathtakingly wealthy; we as a society have the resources to keep ourselves and each other healthy and alive—if we want to. For the bean counters at companies like Regence, it's in their short-term financial interests to let healthy people get sick and to let sick people die. And they do. How do they sleep at night?

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