CANADA, OH CANADA

14455067-rocky-mountains-at-whistler-canadaI spent New Year’s in Canada and an ear infection sent me to the doctor where in very short order, although a visitor from another country, I was examined, diagnosed, treated, and even without insurance the cost was 48% of what it would have cost me in the US.

The Trump administration and its Republican cohorts have made it clear that they intend to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There are problems with the Act, but what the naysayers never mention is that the reason for those problems was their obstructionist efforts to derail the law when it was being drafted in the legislature. Most of the stakeholders, the drug companies, the insurance industry, the Republicans, and many corporations with large workforces, rather than work with the administration, opposed it at every turn.

So, it’s no surprise that we’ve ended up with a system that has been the bone of so much contention. For the most part the criticism has been partisan rather than constructive, but say what you will, increasing coverage cost and all, Obamacare has been a massive improvement to what we had before.

I have personal experience regarding the benefits of the ACA. I had a pre-existing condition and could not afford the cost of the medicines I needed which was approximately $3,000.00 per month. Although I had a decent income I still had to rely on assistance to afford my medications. Fortunately, because of Obamacare I could afford my prescription expenses.

There is no public option in the ACA, and the public mandate is one of the most criticized parts of the legislation. We need both. The former to keep the costs down and available to everyone and the latter to be able to pay for it.

I was visiting another state and developed a hearing problem that required flushing wax from my ears. At home this would have been covered as a regular doctor visit but because I was out of the area my insurance covers only emergency care and this was not. Therefore, I would have to pay the full $130 charge.
I declined the treatment there and sought it at the next stop on my trip which was Canada. There would’ve been no charge to a Canadian but as a U.S. citizen I was charged US $37.00, and the medication for the infection was $24.50.

I am confounded by the fact that representatives who claim they are working for the interests of the common man are so shamelessly disingenuous. The ACA is not perfect but it does work and it is better than the no-protection-nothing-but-unfettered free market system we had before that left nearly 40 million Americans without access to healthcare readily available to every citizen in every other developed industrialized country in the world.

So, I challenge our political representatives, for the sake of the constituents you took an oath to represent, fix the system; change the name if you want to, but do so with the spirit to work in the interests of your constituents and not solely the big moneyed lobbyists and special interests.

It’s All Over But The Voting

I’ve stopped watching the debates. Yes there’s still some drama left to be wrung from the candidates but the outcome seems obvious. For the Republicans it’ll be the reign of Machiavelli v the Dem’s optimistic (in small letters) hope.

Yes this is the view through my ‘progressive’ prism. From here the only question left before the vote in November is how much wealth will be transferred to the 1% owners of corporate media in the advertising orgy to come as the campaign rolls on.

Trump is the presumptive GOP’s candidate, and in the unlikely event it’s another, their agenda will be as disingenuous regarding the interests of the middle class, not to mention the poor which no one has bothered to mention for the last two election cycles. In no particular order the Republicans views on the issues making the headlines are virtually indistinguishable.

Immigration: They are are all against comprehensive immigration reform, except for Kasich, though he joins in the call for border control, which is their watchword of the day, with building a ‘beeyootiful’ wall the ultimate solution to the problem. Never mind that just like the anti-voting rights agenda where they’ve been obsessed, since the Obama presidency, with solving a problem that doesn’t exist, illegal immigration has been on a downward trend in recent years and is currently at a statistical trickle. If there are those that do not seek whole scale deportation of the undocumented they’re not in favor of a path to citizenship either. Regardless of the candidate, addressing the real issues of the undocumented immigrants’ value to our economy, their humanitarian needs, and the long term issues of poverty and violence in the countries from which most of these immigrants are fleeing are off the table as long as the current group of Republicans in Congress hold sway over the legislative agenda.

National Security: In varying degrees their solutions are to turn up the anti-Muslim rhetoric and fan the flames of hate and fear. Not all are as direct as Trump but their solutions in essence are the same; baton down the hatches at home, increase the military response and go on the attack abroad.

This is a complex problem and I don’t pretend to have answers but there are lessons from history that point to the comprehensive nature of any strategy needed to reach a long term solution. There is a legitimate need for an effective cooperative military strategy, but such a strategy must reflect our core national values, otherwise the terrorists will have already won. I have nothing but abhorrence for their violent tactics but in order to defeat them we must understand clearly what motivates them, and stop relying on convenient platitudes such as ‘they hate our way of life. More often they couldn’t care less about us. It’s a power struggle between our cultures and what they hate is that we are in their countries and they’re losing control to us over their way of life, and they want us to leave them alone.

This is not to suggest I agree with them; sometimes yes, but not always, especially on basic issues of human rights particularly to minorities and women. But they’re humans not animals and if we treat them as such we will never be able to exemplify the difference in our values and and counter the narrative they use to attract their followers. When for short term goals we dismiss values such as justice under law and resort to unrestrained violence of torture, it gives the terrorists a platform from which to undermine our moral claims in the eyes of their potential recruits. And make no mistake, this is a war over the moral core of our cultures. In addition to military and police actions we must address the conditions of corruption, poor governance, education and poverty that create the milieu from which acceptance of their vile use of violence and hate arise. We must be willing to listen and learn as well as to attack and impose. There are times when our military might is needed but as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars show, winning the peace is more difficult than winning the war.

The Economy: The GOP recently began giving lip service to the problem of inequality of wealth, yet their solutions are all variations on an old and discredited theme; trickle down economics. Cut taxes for the wealthy so that they’ll create jobs for the many. Throw the needy off entitlement programs that only increase the deficit, while tax loopholes remain for the wealthy, and ‘yuuge‘ transfer payments take place for wealthy corporations in the defense industry, energy sector, agribusiness, foreign aid, and manufacturing. Their austerity scalpel is prepared to slice away only at the weakest and most marginalized sectors of the social fabric.

Health Care: GOP candidates are uniformly dead set on blowing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to smithereens without any credible plan to replace it. Health care for their constituents is not a right but rather another commodity to be left to the forces of the market without any check on the greed of the drug and insurance companies, and the corporate healthcare providers despite their history of gouging the market with massively overpriced medicine and services and leaving nearly 40 million Americans without access to comprehensive healthcare prior to the passage of the ACA.

Climate Change: The most serious problem facing humanity but it doesn’t exist in the parallel universe of the Republican Party.

This is the unfortunate state of affairs in the divide between conservatives and progressives. Never mind the current rhetoric of prejudice and scapegoatism that overwhelmingly comes from the right and which has become a real threat to the stability and health of our democratic process. If there’s any substantive change in the position of any GOP candidate I’d be happy to reconsider my position, but in light of the above, I’m ready to vote right now, not so much for those on the left, as against everything coming from the right.

Shout Out from My Colostomy Bag

One moment you’re fine, the next pain, and then you’re in surgery. Life throws you curves and you swing. I came out of surgery with a pain as deep as the near foot long incision running through my abdomen and a shame as vile as the colostomy bag clinging to the side of my belly.

No point in talking about what’s fair. It’s unfair for civilians to be running from barrel bombs in Syria, for little boys and girls to be dying on high seas trying to escape to places that don’t want them so they can have a chance to live in peace in this world that God gave to everyone. It’s unfair for millions of young girls to be victims of human trafficking, for people to be going to bed hungry in the 21st century, and the list of things truly unfair goes on and on.

So it’s not unfair for this to be happening to me, but it’s damn hard to bear nonetheless. I want to close my eyes and never wake up, to fall into a deep sleep and float away into the imagined peace of nothingness.

But I’m not going anywhere. I open my eyes and there’s the love of family, there’s the caring of friends who are family, there are the comforting words of strangers, even a woman, Bag Lady Mama, https://www.facebook.com/bagladymama/?ref=nf,  blogging about the joy of pregnancy with pictures of her colostomy bag to boot. I come home to the peace of utter chaos in the beauty of a house pulled apart to adjust to my present infirmity.

I‘m in so much pain I don’t want to go on, but I can’t go out either. The love of God is all around. It lifts me up into my seat of consciousness and I look down from the place of the observer and understand. Adversity is not about the body but the soul, and when the soul opens to give and receive love it flourishes with life even in the presence of physical pain.

So you take a swing at the curve, and discover that with love you can always get a hit.

GAZA, EBOLA, IMMIGRATION: BETTER KIND THAN RIGHT

The world is a wondrous place made ugly by selfishness and greed. These are the real threats to our security and it is the responsibility of each of us to fight back with love, mercy and justice.

A television commentator observed recently that humans are the only specie that has to constantly relearn what it means to be themselves, i.e. human.

Our history is one of each generation relearning what it means to identify with the other as himself, or seeing the other as equally human. The history of race in America is an example of this failure.

To counter this we all have a responsibility to share the wisdom of our experiences, open to the potential of learning as well as teaching, and it doesn’t matter if it’s been said before.

The current acrimony in our public spaces blots out any consensus of a common humanity. This may be more perception than reality. But in this age of instant access, controlled by corporate immorality, the extremes have greater motivation and are noisier, and there is real danger of perception becoming the only reality.

This is evident in every hot button issue. From the hostility towards the children caught in the immigration purgatory, to the vitriolic fear surrounding caring for 2 citizens who’ve contracted the Ebola virus, and the disproportionate killing of children taking place in Gaza in the name of security, to name a few.

The majority of mankind lay claim to belief in a God. Whatever one’s attitude on the subject, human history has distilled the core of this belief system down to one central principle, do unto others as you would they do unto you or love your neighbor as yourself.

This mirrors our social evolution which shows  our fragile existence hinges on our ability to understand that our fate is inextricably woven together, no matter how insulated we feel from one another.

One is repeatedly confounded by those of all religious persuasions, wrapped in allegiance to a God of love, who are always ready to choose war over justice, cannot see the love of their own children in the eyes of another frightened child, and who choose fear over mercy for fellow Christians spreading their faith. One national spokesperson even asked why were they working in the “diseased cesspools of Africa”. Glib statements may reinforce needy egos, but anything that dehumanizes one dehumanizes all.

Love and mercy are not cheap.  Turning the other cheek requires accepting the risk of getting hit in order to end the cycle of violence. If the choice is between being right and being kind, it is better to be kind.

This may seem Pollyannaish, but if we begin in small ways to affirm our humanity it will carry over to the larger issues. The ability of good to transform evil remains our best hope, not doing the same or greater evil.  So, haltingly or otherwise let’s live it as best we can.children_on_border

OBAMA’S INITIATIVE FOR MINORITY BOYS: Nice Shot but it Misses the Mark

I applaud the President’s efforts to engage the private sector and government in his initiative, to create more opportunities for young minority men and to improve conditions that keep them impoverished and imprisoned in disproportionate numbers.

However, its tepid rollout reflects the political reality of his limitations and that is part of the problem. There is no doubt this will help. The tragedy is that this is the signature assistance for the nation’s minority youth from our president.

This is not principally his fault. He is a victim of the same institutional racism that keeps people poor by failing to provide resources of opportunity through better health care, education, and jobs that pay a living wage.

Saddled with an historic recession, and vulnerable to criticism of being a president only for black people, he has been excruciatingly cautious about issues of race. His naiveté to the virulence of the racism he would encounter, that remains dedicated to destroying his presidency, made him avoid these issues in the hope he could broker progress by reaching across the aisle to find common ground.

He found no willing hand. He might as well have played to his base and stood firm on issues regarding equal access to resources and opportunity.

The fundamental problem in this country is that for the last 34 years since the Reagan presidency, when greed became good, the distribution of wealth has become increasingly more unequal.

Today, the top 1% of Americans own 42% of the financial wealth. The top 5%, meanwhile, own nearly 70%. The bottom 80% owns 7%. CEO pay is now 350X the average worker’s, up from 50X from 1960-1985. http://www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street-protesters-are-so-angry-about-2011-10?op=1#ixzz2vhcPw2w7

The US has the highest income inequality among developed countries, and is the only one where the income gap is getting wider and not smaller. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/15/income-inequality-wall-street_n_3762422.html

The problem is the economic system, and the social underpinning it receives from social institutions, that has conjured acceptance of the status quo from the masses. Our economic system and the institutions that support it were created to benefit a specific class of people. That system remains in place today, and has been strengthened by laws that validate disproportionate access to government to wealthy people.

We accept the enduring myth that people are poor because they are lazy. This is often heard in the more benign but no less vulgar assertion that poor people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There are poor people for many reasons, but the prime reason is they are not valued. Their labor is cheap and their earnings are exploited.

The solution to this is multi-faceted, but one obvious place to begin is to get money out of politics. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. The plight of minorities is inextricably linked to the plight of poor people in general.

In America, as Watergate taught us, sadly, the answer to any question is nearly always, “Follow the Money.”

THE MUSIC OF LIFE

A young friend sent me photographs recently celebrating his attendance of oral arguments at the U. S. Supreme Court of a case in which his partner was a member of one of the legal teams.

He was justly proud of the accomplishment.

As I looked at the photos taken on the steps of the courthouse it brought back memories of my own similar experience 33 years ago in the early years of my legal career.

What struck me however was despite the milestone of the occasion and the precedent setting decision that resulted from that case, I could not remember the case name.

What I remember most vividly was the other first year associate with whom I labored to draft the brief that would be argued by a senior partner.

He was a quiet, erudite young man who seemed better suited to the hallways of academia than the cutthroat corridors of a law firm. Working together we developed respect for each other borne from our mutual love of literature. We were relatively close for a few years until his termination, during which I got to know his wife and two children, and learn about their privileged backgrounds.

In the years that followed I lost touch with him though I heard tidbits of news of his life spiraling downwards. He became divorced, developed health problems, and appeared to be suffering from depression. One day I heard that he had died from a heart attack, though more likely it was from heart break.

I have never been able to think of our legal accomplishment without the sadness of our broken relationship. His community that should have supported him was too preoccupied with its own interests to care. And I was an integral part of that community.

I read once that our diverse lives are like musical instruments. If we play our individual tunes without regard or reference to the others we create discordance and disharmony.

When we play together we create beauty and harmony.

Time and hindsight has proven to me that it is the relationships we create as we endeavor to achieve that are meaningful, often far more so than the achievement itself.

It is up to each of us to decide if we want to put forth the effort to create together the beautiful harmonies that the music of life has to offer.

LEAGUE OF DENIAL: THE NFL AND ITS CRISIS OF BRAIN INJURIES

PBS on Oct 8,2013 aired a Frontline documentary regarding chronic traumatic encephalopathy brain injuries that are occurring to football players in the National Football League, along with strong evidence that this may be a significant risk factor in football played at all levels, to which younger players maybe particularly vulnerable.  These injuries lead to an array of illnesses, mental and physical, and is responsible for premature and early deaths including suicide.

This is an absolute ‘must-see’ for any football fan, parent or loved one of anyone who plays or has played the game at any level, or anyone concerned with issues of justice and corporate greed in our society

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/league-of-denial/

It is a stellar production and a major exposition, and a debt of gratitude is owed to everyone from Dr Bennett Omalu, the Pittsburgh pathologist  who first detected the disease in the brain tissue of former Pittsburgh Steeler, Mike Webster to the producers at Frontline.

The NFL will no doubt continue its push back with its manipulation of research data and denials as the tobacco industry did with cigarettes and as the energy industry does now with climate change. Corporate greed rules in our economy.

But there must be public advocacy for change to protect the long-term health and safety of thousands, if not millions, of youth at unnecessary risk to suffer a debilitating life time head injury with the possibility they might not even be aware of it.

I am a football fan. I do not want to see the end of the sport, but I am willing to see the end of the sport as it is played today in the interest of the young men of tomorrow.