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A daughter who deserves choices

Limited options in the new Empire

My most terrifying moment in decades slammed into me like a runaway 18-wheeler on Feb. 1 at 6:14am. Nurses at Egleston Children's Hospital on the Emory University campus in Atlanta wheeled my 14-year-old daughter Amy away for major surgery. Any parent knows the feeling — the point at which you're helpless to aid a child in crisis. All the bright, kid-friendly décor at Egleston, all the cheerful physicians and staff, all the kind words from family and friends — it didn't make a sand grain of difference in my desert of despair. I wept without reserve, as did many of a dozen other parents who watched their infants, toddlers, youngsters and teens taken from their arms for surgical ordeals.

Ten hours later, I got my daughter back. She was in a lot of pain, and will be for weeks. But the operation, while difficult, was successful. Mom and Dad survived, too, if only barely, from the emotional gyrations.

The day after the surgery, I caught part of George Bush's State of the Empire speech on the TV in Amy's hospital room. I consider it a portent that just as I switched from SpongeBob to CNN, Bush was declaiming about Social Security: "It's time to extend the same security, choice and ownership to young Americans" that others enjoy by rolling the dice on the stock market. (Note that I emphasized "choice.")

Earlier, in Egleston's cafeteria, I had caught up on reading. I turned to the Feb. 1 Atlanta Journal-Constitution column by Jim "Thinking White" Wooten, who rendered this statement in a convoluted, stealthy pitch for school vouchers:

"Parents now routinely have the education and the grounding to make rational choices about what's best for their children. Provide them information about school performance and outcomes. Then give them choice." (Again, my emphasis. Wooten, by the way, cited the wrong US Supreme Court case to underpin his conclusion, but what the hell, when you're part of the Cox Media Goebbels Squad, the truth is what you say it is.)

About a week before my daughter's surgery, I infiltrated the Christian Wrong's anti-abortion march at the Georgia state legislature building, or Gold Dome. There, I briefly rubbed my sweatshirt against the finely tailored threads of newly minted House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Lobbyistswithbagsofcash. I tried to ask him about the "Women's Right to Know" bill, whose enlightening knowledge will include false information on links between abortion and cancer. Richardson, not realizing that I was an infidel, effused over providing "women and girls with informed choices."

There's that "choice" thing again.

And, of course, whenever I want to bone up on the latest news about making "choices," I can always tune to the sweetly shrill tones of Sean Hannity and Neal Boortz on the radio. Boortz causes rapture among his neo-Klan listeners by almost daily asserting that poverty has nothing to do with generations of slavery and Jim Crow, and that it is purely and entirely the result of "bad choices" by "those" people. Hannity last week was relentless in shilling for the "choice" Bush promised in "privatizing" (gutting) Social Security. (I just love Hannity's revered model for Social Security reform — Chile's pension program that was concocted by the murderous rightwing dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, a scheme so riddled with hype and hypotheticals that that nation's power elite, the army and police force, opted out.)

Which brings me back to daughter Amy. Thanks to George Bush's profligate spending and siphoning of middle-class money to the extremely wealthy, Amy will start her adult life with the, um, "choice" of $40,000 in debt, her share of the trillions-and-counting national deficit. Let me tell you a little about Amy, her sister and three brothers. Until seven years ago, they had damn few "choices." Their birth parents made the lousy choice of being born poor, and they stayed poor, eventually losing their children. The kids made the "choice" of joining the often-lethal foster care system, and would likely have remained there because soooooo many children need adoption, and soooooo few families will take them, especially a sibling group of five.

Part of the horrid truth about foster care is that medical problems often go unnoticed and untreated. The state really doesn't care, and the foster families are overwhelmed on their best days. Amy quite likely would have had the choice to spend her life crippled had not my wife and I happened along.

I did one thing that was unselfishly good and became a dad — and that, I hope, gave Amy and her sibs some honest choices in life.

While going through the adoption process, I discovered an interesting fact. Rich folks don't often adopt poor kids. There are exceptions — Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and his wife have fostered children (while pushing 60,000 indigent children off the state's health insurance program).

In mandatory pre-adoption classes, my wife and I found ourselves in the sometimes awkward status of being the only would-be parents who were sorta upper-middle class. As became clear, when the wealthy adopt, they seek out infants from private agencies — or the really trendy spend enough money to support a herd of foster children by going to places such as China in search of cute toddlers. The tykes in state care face Dickensian futures, but since they can't vote or kick in big bucks to campaigns, the politicians don't get weepy-eyed.

I was thinking of that as I infiltrated the "right to life" marchers at the state Capitol. So I started asking folks about adoption, and guess what? I couldn't find a single pro-lifer who was an adoptive parent. I'm sure some are. But it underscored my longtime belief that these people love the fetus but hate the children. Or, at best, don't give a hoot for the children. (For a comparative sampling, I polled the first 20 people I encountered one recent evening at the decidedly blue-state-leaning Manuel's Tavern, and two had adopted children from the state system. Both of those people supported abortion rights.)

I don't endorse abortion. It's a lousy option made acceptable — to me — only when all other options are lousier. I offer a prayer of thanks each day that my sons and daughters were born — and that I was fortunate enough to find them.

But I worry about their future, especially when so many hucksters are promising them "choices."

Bush's Social Security "choice" would drain as much as $2 trillion from a system he claims is cash-strapped. So, we're going to wreck the system to save the system, right? The real, unstated "choice" is that the plutocrats and their think tanks have loathed Social Security since its inception because it very slightly redistributes retirement money in the direction of the non-mega-wealthy.

The voucher "choice" for schools is the old right's (and old Dixie's) contemptuous ploy to dismantle public education. Only the elite need schooling. And the rightwing's poverty-equals-bad-choices is agit-prop for class warfare, with a not-too-subtle appeal to racism.

I want my precious Amy to have real choices. I don't want her generation's choice to be how to pay for crushing national debt. I want her educational choices determined by her character and achievement and not (solely) by Dad's checkbook. I want her retirement choices to have the foundation of Franklin Roosevelt's wise social safety net. I want her America and her world to have the choice of peace, and not be victim to the forever-war of would-be empire makers.

Group Senior Editor John Sugg can be reached at

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