11/28/2009

A Gleeful Guilty Pleasure

I’ll admit it. Glee has become one of my guilty pleasures. I’m not a avid fan, but I do record it on DVR and usually watch it in the days following the original airing. To be honest, I only began watching it because of Jane Lynch whom I find very funny.

However, despite the High School Musical aspects and the parade of mediocre “mash ups” that pepper the episodes, their feature song is normally very good and often emotional. This past week was no different and their rendition of “Imagine” by John Lennon with a deaf school chorus (despite the obvious theatrics of that gimmick) actually moved me to tears.

For me, it was not the cheap theatrics of the moment but rather hearing this beautiful, yet simple declaration of a peaceful worldview again.

11/18/2009

Small Victory…

Rachel Maddow did a segment on her show the other evening about a site merchandising Psalm 109 against President Obama.

I realized the site in question was CafePress.com since I also have a site there. While the segment was running I did a quick search of CafePress to find the products. Sure enough, there they were in all their glory.

I quickly sent an email to CafePress through the Customer Service link explaining that the items violated the CafePress TOS because they promoted hate and violence.

I am quite disturbed that CafePress is allowing and promoting merchandise calling for the assassination of the President of the United States. While I'm all for free speech (even tasteless Obama/Hitler crap) this crosses a line into possibly criminal behavior.

The shop in question is: http://www.cafepress.com/(removed)

You will notice it quotes a Bible verse. The next lines of that prayer are this: Let his children be childless and his wife be a widow.

There is little other interpretation than this "prayer" design is calling for the death of the President and in Biblical context that death is a violent one ended by assassination.

I got back the following email from CafePress:

Thank you for contacting CafePress.com!

As you may know, CafePress.com provides an automated service to a rich and vibrant community of international users. Unfortunately, because our service is automated, sometimes content that is not consistent with our Offensive Material & Prohibited Content policy is posted on CafePress.com. We appreciate that you have brought this content to our attention and it has been removed from our site. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.

Your ticket code is (removed). Please use this code in any further communication.

Best Regards,

Margene H.
Content Usage Associate
(650) 655-3104 (O)
(650) 240-0260 (F)
www.cafepress.com

So, a small victory in having such offensive things removed and stopping these people from making money on advocating for the assassination of our President.

If you are on CafePress and run across similar items (I’m sure they’ll be back exploiting the automated service with a new email or shop ID) please click the Customer Service link and include the URL of the shop and item and explain that this violates the CafePress TOS. They seem very responsive and quick to remove such obnoxious items from their service.

10/31/2009

Teacher Suspended Over Scientific Article

We all know that “unnatural sex” is a cornerstone of the bigots argument against allowing LGBT citizens to have their full civil rights. In fact, it’s usually the argument religious leaders put forward when whipping their parishioners into a frenzy and calling for violence and murder. (I’m thinking here of a certain pastor in Phoenix, AZ.)

So, imagine their chagrin when high school students are allowed to read a scientific article that reports natural homosexual behavior and tendencies in over 450 species. You got it, they went ape-shit and started calling for blood. Of course, a terrified school district that puts “getting along” with the ignorant ahead of education immediately sprung into action:

A Southwestern High School English teacher has been suspended after reports he had students in his classes to read an article about homsexuality (sic) in the animal kingdom.

Dan Delong of Carlinville acknowledged his suspension but declined to comment further until he spoke with his union representative.

Delong is said to have allowed students to read the article “The Gay Animal Kingdom” from the June 7, 2006, edition of Seed magazine. Seed magazine is a science and culture publication.

The article by Jonah Lehrer talks about the research of Joan Roughgarden, a biology professor at Stanford University who said she has documented homosexual societies among the more than 450 animal species.

School district secretary Pat Milner said a special School Board meeting has been set for 6 p.m. Monday at the district office in Piasa to discuss personnel/employee discipline.

Superintendent Larry Elsea was unavailable for comment Wednesday and Thursday, as was Macus Albrecht, the union representative for the Illinois Education Association that represents the district’s Southwestern Education Association members. (source)

Mr.. Delong teaches an English class, so you may be wondering why he allowed students to read that article in a scientific journal. The reason is that he was teaching a unit on critical reading and students were reading non-fiction work to assess their point of view and the validity of the writer’s thesis. In short, Mr. Delong was actually asking students: “Do you believe this research?”

Of course, the religious right and their puppets in the school administration don’t see it this way. Never mind the article was about animals and not people – any thought of homosexuality causes their heads to explode.

On Facebook, there is a Facebook group started by his students that already has over 1,000 members.

If you’re disgusted by yet another school board putting religious dogma, fiction and ignorance ahead of educating our children about the real world, please send a COURTEOUS note to Larry Elesa, Superintendent at lelsea@piasabirds.net.

10/19/2009

A FOX News “Boycott”

A couple days ago I was chatting with a friend and the subject of Fox News’ effect on the national psyche came up. He related how his family had seemed to go completely crazy on a steady diet of FOX paranoia, racism, and run of the mill crazy. He talked about a brother who is convinced there is a coming “war” and is preparing for it. He talked about his mother who is convinced that the President of the United States is going to slip into her house and kill her in her sleep.

It’s so sad you almost have to laugh. Were it just his unfortunate family I might say “Oh well, too bad, but maybe they’re just nuts.” But it’s not just his family. It’s many, many people who are fed this noxious stew of hate, paranoia, racism, pseudo-religious mania, and homophobia daily and often as the price of working or doing business in the public square.

Recently, a couple we’d had to our home in the past began spouting similar craziness. “Obamacare is just the Nazi Final Solution updated!” “Something’s gotta happen because of this guy and we’re going to be ready!” (Note: both are gun lovers.)

It was enough for me to say I didn’t care to have them in our home again. I don’t like having guests to dinner when I have to worry they might pull a gun should someone suggest a need for health care reform or, God forbid, Glen Beck is not a saint and brilliant mind.

As we chatted, I had one of those “Aha!” moments. I recalled having to take our car in to be serviced at the local CarMax several months ago. In the waiting area the television was tuned to FOX news and their talking heads were spinning the news to the right with a fury. People came into the room to wait and were subjected to that propaganda the whole time they were there. There was no remote to change the channel. Likewise, workers sitting at the counter were barraged by this propaganda during their shifts. They had no choice. Their employer was telling them they had to watch an ultra-right wing network to work there.

Then I recalled FOX News playing on large screens at the bank I used back in South Carolina. If you were in the lobby you had to listen to their right wing extremist messages. If you worked in the bank, you had no choice but to absorb this propaganda at the expense of all other news sources for a minimum 8 hours a day.

Not too long ago I was in one of the newer “upscale” McDonald’s. Normally, I do the drive-thru but for some reason had gone inside. There in the restaurant was a large screen TV broadcasting FOX news to the diners and employees. I couldn’t imagine having to sit in the restaurant and be subjected to watching this network and ruining my meal. So, I took my food to go.

It seems that many businesses and franchises have decided that they will use their place of business to beat customers and employees with this propaganda arm of the Republican Party and other even more extremist politics such as the “Tea Party” groups, anti-gay religious zealots and overt racists.

But, it goes a long way in understanding why people are going insane around us. When people are subjected to this radicalized agenda during their entire workday with no voice of reason to counter the false claims and sensationalized paranoia, they absorb the messages as truth and reality. They slowly become radicalized.

So, I have decided that from now on when I go into a business where FOX news is required viewing, I will ask that the channel be changed to MSNBC while I am conducting my business, eating my meal, or waiting for a service. I will ask for a manager and state my belief that as a customer I should not be forced to view a network I feel strongly is at the root of our current inability to function as a nation and whose subtle messages are creating a corps of paranoid and delusional anti-government, anti-gay, anti-liberal extremists who are armed and dangerous.

If the business refuses to change the channel I will then take my business elsewhere. I will not be a party to the indoctrination of customers and employees to a dangerous agenda that is inexorably pushing at risk people toward violence and mayhem.

I urge you to do the same thing. If enough people speak up these right wing managers and owners will have no choice but to stop this political indoctrination or see their profits suffer.

Sure, there are lots of FOX boycotts out there. Most are aimed at advertisers of the network. While I support those, I also know that they are limited and don’t get to the root of the indoctrination problem. I also believe that FOX has a Constitutional right to broadcast its filth and poison, but I also have a Constitutional right not be forced to watch it as a requirement to eat a meal, make a deposit in my bank, or get my car fixed.

The employees at these companies cannot insist they not be forced to swallow this extreme ideological agenda because, face it, an owner or manager who supports FOX news will see nothing wrong with firing an employee they consider “against them.” So, it is up to us, the consumer, to help employees stand up for their right to be free from radical politics, homophobia, racism, and religious extremism in their workplace.

I hope you’ll join me in my “boycott” of forced FOX News viewing. If you’d like to stand up for your rights to be FREE OF FOX, please sign the pledge to quietly take action in your own community.

9/25/2009

Barbra Walters Ambushes Paula Deen

It seems that Paula Deen stopped by The View to plug her new cookbook "Paula Deen's Cookbook for the Lunchbox Set" which features recipes to help parents spice up the usual "lunchbox fare" of PB&J.

Barbra Walters took it as time to ambush the affable Mrs. Deen and accuse her of almost singlehandedly causing the epidemic of childhood obesity: "This is a cookbook for kids. Obesity is the No. 1 problem for kids today. Everything you have here is enormously fattening," scolded Walters as she sat by the famous chef. "You tell kids to have cheesecake for breakfast. You tell them to have chocolate cake and meatloaf for lunch. And french fries. Doesn't it bother you that you're adding to this?"

Paula Deen like any rational parent reminded Walters that all things should be done in moderation. But Walters was not to be stopped in her tirade saying: "You book is hardly about moderation! Not when you're feeding them this!"

Of course, Barbra Walters is just doing what too many people do. They blame someone else for their problems. Or in this case, everyone's problems. Walters would have us think that it is not our responsibility to choose what and how much we eat or to make good choices for your kids. It's easy for people like Walters to say "It's not your fault or your parents' fault you're fat. It's that mean Georgia lady who cooks good food."

But let's drop down to Barbra Walters playing field and hit low and hit hard. Paula Deen is a self made woman having been divorced with two small boys and beginning a business making and delivering sandwiches out of her home. She parlayed that into one of Savannah's most successful restaurants and finally into being a TV Food Superstar. Paula Deen raised two gorgeous young men who now have full careers in the food industry as TV hosts and authors after having worked with her in her restaurant.

What about Barbra Walters? Barbra was born to well-to-do parents and attended ritzy private schools in New York. She finally graduated from Sarah Lawrence. She then went to work as an entertainment industry publicist and parlayed that into a job at NBC, launching her stellar career in entertainment journalism. She has one adopted daughter about whom she detailed her years of drug abuse and treatment following her wild teenage years in her book. Her daughter often attended all-night parties at the infamous Studio 54 when she was only 15 years old. Eventually, Walters had to send her daughter away to boarding school and residential rehabilitation.

So, I'm not sure Barbra Walters in necessarily the right person in that group of ladies to be berating Paula Deen for causing the epidemic of childhood obesity while stuffing her own mouth with a big slice of Red Velvet Cake. As my friend Kimberly might quip: "Just sayin', y'all."

It Ain't Easy Bein' Green

... especially if you aren't upper middle class and yuppie.

I follow a number of "green twitterers" and read the links they suggest. What I have found is that the "Green Movement" is made up of upper middle class and wealthy yuppies. If you are lower income or lived on a fixed income being "green" is almost an impossibility because of the costs involved.

For example, a recent post I read about "Green Holidays" listed a number of ways to be more environmentally responsible during the holiday season. Most of the ones listed that would be affordable for lower income people were considered "good" (they were rated from Good to Best). For those who couldn't do all the "Best" options the final suggestion was buying "Carbon Offsets" to assuage one's guilt.

Now, I've never been a fan of this Carbon Offset junk. I figure it's like the old draft dodge of the 19th century where you pay someone to go to war for you if you're drafted. Anyway, how can low income people who may barely be able to afford a decent family holiday also pay for mysterious "carbon offsets" to some company? It's just not doable.

Of course, the "green movement" also includes the healthy eating and "local food" groups as well. They would like us all to stop consuming anything produced by the major agribusinesses and manufacturers. While, I agree and would love to do that. After all, I was raised in a family that had a huge garden during the Summer and got probably 50% of its own produce from it. My grandfather also owned hogs that he slaughtered in late Fall to provide meats for the Winter and Spring.

But, today that's not possible. I don't have room in my small backyard for hogs and I'm not fond of doing the slaughtering myself, unlike my grandfather. I also don't have room for a garden that would produce enough to feed us. I'd love to buy local produce in the store and we do when we can afford it. Still, the cost is at least 50% higher most of the time and it's a strain on the budget. Just last night I needed to get a dozen eggs. Michael always opts for the local organic/cage free eggs. I wanted to get them as well, but I am more conscious of the cost of things like that when we're strained for money. As I stared at the egg case I saw the regular eggs were about $1.50 a dozen or $1.90 for 18. Looking at the organic/cage free the cost as $3.79 a dozen!

Now, I know the green folks will yell about the agribusiness subsidies vs. the local farmer having to charge what it costs without those. I understand that. But, when you're watching pennies those arguments don't hold much water. I'm the rare lower income person who even considers the local organic/cage free eggs. Most would take a look at the prices and laugh.

To make lower income people part of the green movement, the folks at the top have got to get past this yuppie mentality that virtue is its own reward. They need to get active fixing those parts of the system that will make being green affordable for people who have to make tough choices to keep house and home together.

Finally, they need to stop the double standard of "carbon offsets." All that signals is that they have the option of being irresponsible because they can pay a little "fine" to clear their conscience.

If you want the "Green Movement" to succeed you have got to figure out how to make it possible for everyone to participate without going broke in the short term.

9/19/2009

When The World Is Too Much

Lately, you have probably noticed that the posts here have slowed tremendously. There's actually a very good reason for that. Sometimes, the world just gets to be too much, too real, and too full of meanness and strife.

I have been watching the health care reform debates closely. My position has been obvious as a person who fell victim to private insurance and the patchwork of private/public programs available. My own husband cannot get basic post-cancer care and screening because his employer does not offer health insurance as a small business and he can't purchase private insurance as a cancer survivor. The "high risk pools" available are as much as $2000 a month which is as much as our monthly gross income combined.

Still, I watch the crass nuts screaming in the street and our media treating them as though they have a legitimate point of view. Perhaps this comparison is a bit harsh but it feels right: It's like our media calling up Charles Manson to get some good advice on family management! Our media stopped reporting and informing long ago and now entertains us with the most outrageous visuals and statements, pretending that the most disgusting and crazy claims are treated with the same gravitas as legitimate policy dispute.

I have watched progressive congresspeople and senators cave to corporate sponsors to give up our public health to insure profits and gold plated serving sets on private jets. I have listened as the ACLU, the ACLU of all groups, has weighed in to enshrine corporations with the same civil rights that we enjoy as individuals! What is next? Allowing corporations to commit murder with no criminal penalty? Well, that's already happening. The ACLU has taken the stand that money is a form of political speech. The more money you have the louder your voice should be and the more service you should get from your government. In essence, the ACLU position has become: If you are poor or of ordinary means your voice should be silenced by the bribery and mayhem in our government. The ACLU! What has happened in our world?

I have watched right wing extremists in the streets with automatic weapons, trying desperately to see how close they can get to the President and take a shot. I have watched as these same terrorists have been exposed as Christian extremists who also call for the murder of LGBT Americans in the streets.

I have seen gays in Iraq singled out and murdered horribly by the Sharia Death Squads while our own military and government stands idly by. I have thought of how our own military when they liberated the death camps of Nazi Germany were quick to release Jews, Gypsies, Socialists, and others but kept gays locked up - just as the horrible Nazis did!

I have watched our President instruct his Justice Department to defend the Defense of Marriage Act saying that equal protection doesn't apply if you're LGBT. Then I have watched Gay, Inc. buy the argument. I have watched him waffle on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

When a few brave senators introduce a bill to repeal DOMA - exactly what the President and the "Progressives" wanted - I have watched Barney Frank play the "mid-term election card" and caution that it's "not the right time."

In short, it has all become far too much. I have realized that I am often depressed and anxious over the state of affairs in our nation. I read my newsfeed from various places and see the same inane babbling about all this. It's like the weather, everyone is talking about it but nobody ever does anything about it. Our own President seems immobilized by the headlong rush into open violence on our streets fueled by entertainers and racists.

I always wondered why my mother would cook when she was upset. No matter what was happening she would start baking. Couldn't sleep because of worries about money or the mills closing? She'd be up in the middle of the night making a pound cake from scratch. Depressed about the illness or death of a family member? Bake a coconut cake.

I've discovered why she did that. Baking can be a very Zen activity. A little over a month ago I launched a new blog Sugar Pies that focused on baking and in particular traditional and heirloom recipes. It was fun going through my mother's recipes and looking over ones I'd not made in years. Then I started baking. When I couldn't sleep or the news got to be too depressing, I whip up some Lemon Cookies. When I'd worry about Michael needing a colonoscopy and complaining lately about some pain but with no way to get one, I'd switch to Maple Cookies.

When baking, all of those troubles would fall away as I busied myself with measuring the ingredients. I would turn on the oven light and watch as cookies rose and browned, the smell of maple or lemon permeating the house. Then I would turn, not to this blog where I would be forced to confront all of the ugliness in our nation or brought about by our wars, but instead to Sugar Pies where I would share the recipe along with a photo of the treat I'd just made.

In short time, I was making some lovely new friends through cooking sites who enjoyed my recipes and my reminiscences on food history, my stories about my Mama, and simple back to basics ingredients and flavors. We didn't discuss politics. We didn't argue about "tactics" and we didn't care about political alliances. In all but one case, I have no idea where these people fall on the political spectrum and it's wonderful! We share something much deeper, a love of baking and a connection to how food impacts our lives at the most basic levels.

So, I've been quiet here on SE2SW while I've enjoyed this time. I'm sleeping better and am happier. I have discovered what my mother did - bringing joy to yourself and others is very healing and when faced with overwhelming problems a bit of sugar and butter made into a glorious treat can always remind you of what is really important.

9/17/2009

Profits Over People - The American Way

A few years ago the Republicans got the great idea to open up Medicare to private insurers. It's part of their backdoor plan to get rid of Medicare entirely.

In essence, if you have Medicare you can get a "Medicare Advantage" plan that is supposed to be more cost effective and better for those in lower income brackets. Sounds like a great plan and after a lot of red tape over transplant drugs I was told they were covered and I wouldn't have to worry about the "doughnut hole" with this plan. Since all my doctors were part of Health Net Amber I joined.

I'd been pretty happy with it for several months. Michael kept asking how they made money. After all, they're a profit making business. I really couldn't answer. All I knew was that I didn't have to pay co-pays for my doctors and my meds were affordable. Who cares about the rest?

Then, slowly but surely it happened. With each visit to the doctor the "covered amount" dropped. After a few months the "covered amounts" were beginning to be less than 25% of the cost of the visit. The bills for the "balance" have begun to arrive.

Today I got an explanation of benefits from Health Net for a visit to my Hepatologist for a transplant checkup. The charge for the visit was $181, which is an outrageous amount since it didn't even involved a physical checkup, just going over lab tests and chatting for less than 15 minutes. Oh, and writing a new prescription for my blood pressure medication. Anyway, the "covered" amount from Health Net was $87. So, I will get billed for the difference as I was for the last visit which, amazingly, was paid at a higher rate.

The same has been true of my GP. I've had two visits with him since changing plans and each time the "covered amount" has dropped. I'm concerned at this point that I will need to cancel my annual physical next month out of fear that Health Net will not cover it at all. At least with regular Medicare I would know that it would cover 80% regardless.

So, now I know how they make money. They sucker you in with promises that they pay "at least what Medicare does" then once they have you all signed up they do nicely for a few months. That makes sure that you cannot have second thoughts and are tied into them for at least a year. Then, slowly they drop your "covered services" until they are paying FAR LESS than Medicare does for normal services - leaving you with the bill.

After getting the EOB today, I'm waiting for that bill for almost $100 to show up from my hepatologist. It'll be a bill I can't pay. At least with Medicare my part would only have been about $36. Welcome to the world of GOP and Blue Dog Democrat handouts to their masters in the insurance industry. Hope the CEO of Health Net will be able to make that campaign contribution to Baucus, McCain, Kyl, and Gabby Giffords.

Isn't it time we took out the for-profit middleman in all this? Come on people, we need to dismantle private insurance in this country completely.

9/10/2009

Don't Turn Your Back on a South Carolina Boy

"You lie!" That was Rep. Joe Wilson's histrionic scream last night during President Obama's address to the nation and Congress on Health Care Reform. Never mind that President Obama was refuting a GOP lie that "illegal aliens" would not only get free health care but get it before citizens. Never mind that it is in black and white in H.3200 that those in the country illegally are specifically excluded from health care proposals. Never mind that the only lie at that moment was coming from Joe Wilson's own mouth.

His red-faced snarl and gesturing were caught on camera. Attendees noted that those around him tried to get him to calm down. Obama gave him "the look" and Nancy Pelosi looked stunned. It was a moment of shocking discord in our rather staid halls of government.

Erudite political observers were quick to point out that it was nothing really. "Happens in Parliament all the time. Sure it was unusual, but let's move on." Of course, had Wilson said that in Parliament there is a pretty good chance that, being a personal attack on character, he would have been "named" by the Speaker and held up for reprimand or censure.

But really, what's a little yelling? When it comes to Representatives from South Carolina yelling is the least of your worries. Take the case of Rep. Preston Brooks. Brooks took great offense at Senator Charles Sumner's (MA) comments about South Carolina senator Andrew Butler and his support of Kansas as a slave state. So, Brooks slipped into the Senate chamber and walked up behind Sumner carrying a light cane with a silver handle. He struck Sumner in the back of the head and as Sumner lurched around the chamber he continued to beat him with the stick. After Sumner had collapsed to the floor and Brooks landed a few more blows he quietly walked out of the chamber and returned to his office.

Preston Brooks did not even receive a censure for his actions. In South Carolina he became a hero with people sending him canes and notes of congratulations on his violent action. In fact, Preston Brooks is still a hero to many older South Carolinians.

When I was in grade school and junior high studying history, we were told this story and Brooks was always portrayed as a heroic figure defending the honor of a fellow Carolinian. My teachers seemed to tacitly approve that Sumner's characterization of slavery as "Butler's Mistress" was sufficient cause for him to be ambushed and beaten on the floor of the Senate. It was only in high school that I learned that "Mistress" was a rhetorical flourish and Butler was not being accused of adultery. Were my early teachers ignorant or were they indoctrinating their students into believing that a man who should be a national pariah was justified in his violent act?

But, Joe Wilson yelling "You lie!" at the President during a speech before Congress is just par for the course when it comes to those holding onto the Old South mentality. Joe Wilson said in his half-hearted "apology" that his emotions got the better of him. But what were those emotions?

First of all, South Carolina has seen a rapid increase in immigration in recent years. Before I moved to Arizona my hometown that previous had consisted of two races since colonial times had exploded with a vibrant Latino community. Stores began carrying items labeled in Spanish. Mexican restaurants flourished (real Mexican restaurants - not Taco Bell). No longer were students taught Spanish in school with a Southern drawl but by native speakers. Medical personnel had to learn basic Spanish to care for many of their patients. It was a radical shift in an almost 300 year old culture based on a black-white dichotomy.

Many older South Carolinians have had a hard time with this. They've never like African-Americans and aren't shy about expressing that dislike, but these new immigrants seemed worse to them because they didn't even speak English and weren't "American."

Joe Wilson is the embodiment of those people. When Strom Thrumond's daughter came forward in 2003, Wilson led the attack against her. He accused her of lying then he said she should shut up and not bring up Thurmond's extra-marital affairs. This is despite the fact that Thurmond, that poster child of the Old South and segregation had supported his African-American family for decades. It was the plantation system writ modern! Joe Wilson could not fathom his hero of anti-miscegenation laws and segregation would love an African-American woman and father a daughter by her whom he provided for. Joe lashed out.

Flash forward to 2009 and we have an African American President at the podium giving a speech to cheers and applause. He begins to talk about immigrants and Joe Wilson cannot stomach it any more. Joe Wilson is invested in hating immigrants, he's invested in hating African-Americans and opposing anything an African-American President will do. It was too much.

It may have sounded like "You lie!" when he yelled it but what we really heard was the Old South still crying out in its death rattle.

Mr. President, you can accept his apology, but take a lesson from Charles Sumner: Don't turn your back on a South Carolina boy.

9/04/2009

Am I Better Off Than I Was One Year Ago?

My husband at a Health Care Reform Rally.

I'm beginning to ask myself that question as we zero in on November which will be the first anniversary of casting my vote for Barack Obama.

I tried to tell myself that Obama was different and my vote just wasn't a "lesser of two evils" vote. When my LGBT friends tied into the Gay, Inc. told me that Obama would be our best friend, I looked at his statements about marriage equality and had a chilling memory of Bill Clinton and DOMA. But, I voted for him. I figured even if he didn't help us out that at least he could reform health care and get my husband (in name not in document) insurance so he could finally get the colonoscopy he needs as follow up care for his cancer two years ago.

So, I voted for Obama. I convinced friends to vote for Obama, some of whom are registered Republicans, I argued with family about how desperately we needed reform and how McCain could be a horror for this country with his ties to big business and his unstable personality.

I believed Obama when he said we'd be out of Iraq by 2009 and we'd close Guantanamo. I got behind him when he said we'd wind down the war in Afghanistan. I even believed him when he said he'd repeal DADT and DOMA and let us pursue our state by state strategy for marriage.

In the days after the election I was swept up in the emotion. The end of a dark period - perhaps one of the darkest in our history - and the beginning of a new era of Progressive ideals where the people would be put before corporations and profits. I was also thrilled to be living in the historic moment of our first African-American President. For the first time in my life, I shed tears of joy over an election. I was so filled with hope.

I give a speech during a protest for Marriage Equality.

Then during the ramp up for the inauguration trouble began to brew. Obama signaled he couldn't stand up to voices of intolerance and hatred when he invited a rabidly anti-gay minister to give his invocation. When the LGBT community grumbled we were slapped down by Obama and his political operatives. Those of us who were concerned before the election were shouted down by Gay, Inc. who assured us that Obama is a "chess player in a city of checker players" and we didn't understand his beautiful plan.

So, we waited. Nothing happened. No DADT repeal. He wouldn't even issue an executive order suspending the discharges. No, the Grand Master felt that he shouldn't get involved and let Congress deal with it... when they got around to it. "What about DOMA?" we asked. He answered by directing his Justice Department to defend DOMA in court under the pretext they "had to by tradition." Unfortunately, that defense included comparing our relationships to incest. "Oh, don't worry," we were told "it's part of his grand strategy whereby they say something so outrageous that the court will find the defense even ridiculous." The chess analogy rolled on.

When we kept asking we were told that this year his plate was too full to deal with something as silly as Civil Rights. We should wait till next year. But, next year there are mid-term elections so that probably won't work. Let's just hold off on all that contentious queer stuff till 2011. Oh, but maybe not because he's got an election to get ready for in 2012 and bringing up queer stuff might help the republicans. Oh, well one day we'll get around to it. Not sure when or if it'll be in our lifetime but maybe by the time we have Star Trek transporters in every home, we'll be able to all get married and the Federal Government will give its assent.

Meanwhile, my husband (without the paperwork) is without insurance despite working full time. Same old song you've heard a thousand times now. Make too much for Medicaid but can't get private insurance because he had cancer. Can't afford the "high risk pool" at a couple thousand a month in premiums so he does without. We looked to Obama to at least come through on that promise. Hell, 77% of the public agrees something has to be done.

So, he told us that we had to give up this idea of a single payer system where everyone could get coverage and no one would be killed for profit as happens now with private insurers. Instead we'd have to settle for the "Public Option" which would be like Medicare that everyone could buy into and would compete with private insurers. It would have much cheaper premiums so that working people could afford it. "OK," we said, "if we have to compromise so at least people can get to a doctor and not go bankrupt or get kicked out of their home or apartment, we'll compromise. We're decent people."

Then after being told to compromise we are told that the "Public Option" is a no go. The best we can hope for is a system where everyone is required to buy private insurance at the going rates and the only concession from insurers will be that they can't deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. In other words, we get an insurance industry gift basket that does nothing for the working poor or the middle class struggling to make ends meet.

The crowd at the Health Care Reform Rally in Tucson 9/2/09.

On Wednesday night I stood with a couple hundred people on a street corner in Tucson to advocate for choice B, the "Public Option." Within hours, David Axelrod was telling us that notion was dead in the water. Today, the conventional wisdom is that the White House is seeing this as a chance to prove the President's mettle by staring down all these nasty liberals who elected him.

For whom is he grandstanding? Does he think that if he pisses off his liberal base that Pastor Steven Anderson is going to wake up the next morning all warm and fuzzy over Obama? Does he think the vast number of independents who agree that we need a Public Option (at the least) are going to shrug their shoulders and say "This guy has backbone!"?

We do know that Obama is preparing a major speech on Health Care Reform (sorry - Health Insurance Reform) for a Joint Session of Congress. We can only hope that the Grand Master has been using a feint to pull his GOP opponents off guard and will announce that he's going it alone and he's going for the Full Monty of Universal Coverage.

But, to be honest, I think what we'll hear is more of this bi-partisanship crap and our chance to at the very least begin real reform go up in smoke. Just like closing Guantanamo went up in smoke, ending the war in Iraq, winding down the war in Afghanistan, repealing DOMA, repealing DADT, and getting tough on the Banks.

After all, the side bets on this match have been laid and the Grand Master has bet with big pharma and the hospital cartels. That's a good sign this chess game has been thrown at the outset.

But, here's the part I don't think the Grand Master and his political lackeys figured. Liberals are getting pissed. What do we have to lose if he loses in 2012? LGBT people are not going to see a repeal of DADT or DOMA in this Presidency - if Gay, Inc. still holds onto that they are all fools. We are watching as Afghanistan is being ramped up more - just this week a call went out for 10,000 more troops for this quagmire. Guantanamo is still open for business. Domestic spying is still going on with the same people in charge. His first Supreme Court appointment, while historic and thrilling, is far from the Liberal voice that would help tip the court back into balance, and the banks are still doing the same thing they were doing and we're all paying the price.

Am I better off than I was a year ago? Nope. I'm in the same boat and I don't see this President or "Rahmbo" or "A-Rod" or any of the other cute names in D.C. the left blogosphere coins, doing a damn thing to change it. So, if this speech turns out like I think it will, Obama can kiss my support goodbye. I might not vote for a Republican in 2012, but I sure as hell won't be voting for him.

9/03/2009

Oregon Goes to the Dogs

It seems that Oregon is a little too dog friendly. Well, certain affluent parts of Oregon are a little too dog friendly.

According to a story in the New York Times the Pearl District area of Portland loves their dogs so much people take them everywhere, even to the grocery store! Unfortunately, the non-dog lovers hate that.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture that oversees food regulation (and by extension grocery stores) is cracking down on "non-service animals" being allowed in supermarkets.
In response to the complaints, Oregon is about to begin an unusual campaign, distributing posters and pamphlets to about 4,500 retail stores that sell food. The message is this: Animals, except those trained to help the disabled, are not allowed.

The federal Food Code, based on language from the Americans with Disabilities Act, describes service animals as aiding people with physical disabilities and performing certain tasks the disabled person cannot, like those provided by Seeing Eye dogs. The code says, too, that a service animal is not considered a pet.
As the article at the Times points out its a gray area though. Stores are limited in how much they can question people about their disability and there are no laws requiring service animals to be licensed or identified with a special collars or vests.

Yet, the paradox I see in all this is that "dogs" are considered "dirty" and not allowed in a grocery store while "service dogs" are considered somehow magically "not dirty" and are OK. I understand that some people don't socialize their pets well and they shouldn't be taken into a store. However, the same argument could be made for certain people's children. After all, who hasn't been shopping and noticed little Johnny tearing down the aisles, pulling things off the shelf, helping himself to all the free samples in a display, running carts into people's legs and otherwise being a nuisance? Yet, no one would ever deign to say that mothers should not be allowed to bring their children to the store because they are dirty, loud and obnoxious.

I've seen dogs who are much better behaved and generally better groomed than a lot of children. Many companion dogs are equally as well tempered as any service dog. Why then, is the service dog allowed the privilege of accompanying their owner while the equally well groomed and well-behaved companion animal made to be tied to the cart railing out front?

If the issue is one of cleanliness then logic dictates the service dog shouldn't be there either and the store should provide a human guide for the person instead. But why let logic get in the way of making multiple rule sets based not on health code concerns but on what is PC.

BTW: The Pearl District sounds like a marvelous place to live. Unfortunately, areas like that don't often welcome fluffy people like me and I'm always afraid we'll be sacrificed to the Gods of Yoga and Organic Soy Milk by the uber fitness nutrition nazis!

8/31/2009

Why Isn't This the End of the Two Party System?

George Washington, in one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, his "Farewell Address", predicted our current state of affairs with the two party system.
"However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."
Indeed an entire section of his speech is devoted to warning us of the danger of political parties to the democratic process. Certainly, we have become a nation of only two parties whose interests are almost indistinguishable today. As Bill Moyers has pointed out, both the Democratic and Republican parties are owned by corporations. It is the interest of those corporations that drive our legislation and not the good of our people. The Health care debate is sparkling proof of that. Corporations have funded "community organizers" who have deluded the ignorant and simple into actively working against their own best interests! Of course, real reform was never an option at all. The Blue Dog Democrats have been bought lock, stock and barrel by the insurance concerns to make sure no real reform passes. They have tripped all over themselves trying to walk the line of obstructing reform without getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar. For Republicans whose entire party is owned by corporate interests it was never any question.

All around the Internet people both Democrat and Republican are steaming mad. Not just about health care reform but rather about the impotence of their party. Sure, there are a few "third parties" out there but most are single issue parties or extremist fringe parties.

Yet, we see the two big players beginning to shake loose at the seams. The left Democrats have become disillusioned with a party that is for the most part, indistinguishable from its opposition once elected. The Moderate Republicans are fleeing a party that has been taken over by corporations and the extremists they manipulate like so many puppets. Republicans in areas outside the deep south actually bear little relationship to their party that is increasingly controlled by crazed secessionists - eerily reminiscent of the Democrats on the eve of the Civil War.

In essence our two parties are strangely similar on the "big" issues. It is only the hot button issues where they can mobilize the masses and give them a sense of mattering where the parties differ. Although it appears the health care debate offers vastly different plans, in reality they do not. The truly revolutionary plan never made it to discussion. That would have been a Universal health care system with a single payer like most civilized nations. In its place we have a "public option" which, honestly, is looking like a long shot because the Democrats owned by the insurers are dead set against it. President Obama has already made deals with the pharmaceutical industry that gives away any bargaining power for lower drug prices. In reality, the "reform" will be minor and will probably leave the corporate sponsors of our two parties in a better position - which is what was intended in the first place, despite all the Sturm und Drang of the masses that give us an illusion of mattering.

So, where are the new parties? Where are the vibrant parties made up of those on the Left who believe in a more kind and caring government and those in the center who believe in a balance between social services and private enterprise? Why are we simply sitting around complaining about how Obama sold out the base to be "bipartisan"? Why do I hear Republican friends bemoan how their party has been hijacked by lunatics and religious extremists (nee terrorists)?

Perhaps it's time for people in the center and on the left to begin organizing opposition to the Democratic and Republican Parties. After all, if they truly are shrinking to the extremist core on one side and the corporate core on the other, shouldn't there be room to dethrone them? Shouldn't we heed Washington's advice?

How much more interesting and responsive to see a government made up of even half a dozen vibrant parties each responding not to corporate interests but to their constituents. Could we even imagine a Congress where coalitions would be needed to pass legislation rather then "bipartisanship" which is simply code for doing the bidding of corporations?

Then again, as President Washington warned us, the power and influence of our two parties might be too much to break. After all, we're so scared of the "other guy" getting into office that we'd never dare vote against a Democrat or Republican and hazard a chance on a small party candidate. The parties have seized the reins of power so tightly that it would take massive effort to break their hold and that of the corporations. We have been brainwashed into looking at our political process the same we do a football game. We cheer on "our" side without really even thinking if "our" side is reflecting our own beliefs or interest. In reality both sides are the same when it comes to big issues.

As a nation it would be necessary to figure out how to dismantle corporate personhood that has been growing since the 19th Century when it was decided a corporation had all the rights of a citizen. That lead inexorably to our current quagmire of a government that is bought and paid for by billionaire CEO's. A government where people are so deluded that they are vomited forth into the streets, armed and screaming by their employers to do their bidding.

Still, I hope. I hope that one day we will see the demise of the Democratic and Republican parties as the only real games in town and a rebirth of vibrant political coalitions built not on money and name but on real principles and ideas about how our nation should proceed. It may well, be the only thing that can truly save us from another horrendous fracture.


8/30/2009

Family Values in Health Care

It has struck me as odd lately to see so many "Christian" groups and "Family" groups jumping on the Teabagger Nutjob crazy train. Of course, it shouldn't, because as any LGBT person in America can tell you these people resemble Christians in name only. Surely, were Jesus to return today and start in with all that "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven" or "love your neighbor" crap he'd be labeled a Socialist and some guy with an AK-14 from the local church would start stalking him.

But, the reality of our health care system is that is does break up families and it wrecks lives. Take the case of M. related by Nicholas Kirstoff at the New York Times:

The disease [early onset dimentia] is degenerative, and he will become steadily less able to care for himself. At some point, as his medical needs multiply, he will probably need to be institutionalized.

The hospital arranged a conference call with a social worker, who outlined how the dementia and its financial toll on the family would progress, and then added, out of the blue: “Maybe you should divorce.”

“I was blown away,” M. told me. But, she said, the hospital staff members explained that they had seen it all before, many times. If M.’s husband required long-term care, the costs would be catastrophic even for a middle-class family with savings.

Eventually, after the expenses whittled away their combined assets, her husband could go on Medicaid — but by then their children’s nest egg would be gone, along with her 401(k) plan. She would face a bleak retirement with neither her husband nor her savings.

A complicating factor was that this was a second marriage. M.’s first husband had died, leaving an inheritance that he had intended for their children. She and her second husband had a prenuptial agreement, but that would not protect her assets from his medical expenses.

The hospital told M. not to waste time in dissolving the marriage. For five years after any divorce, her assets could be seized — precisely because the government knows that people sometimes divorce husbands or wives to escape their medical bills.

“How could I divorce him? I loved him,” she told me.

“I explored a lot of options with an attorney here in town,” she added. “The attorney said, ‘I don’t see any other options for you.’ It took about a year for me to do the divorce, it was so hard.”

So M. divorced the man she loves.
I can relate to that story. When my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's we tried to allow her to stay at home. I lived with her while working at our local hospital up the street. Yet, it became apparent that she would be unable to stay at home. While I was at work she would wander the streets thinking that she was a young mother and someone had taken her baby. The delusions got worse and worse and when she began to go into rages and become violent there was nothing that could be done.

By that time, I was spending more time at my mother's house to just get a break from it all. It was taking a toll on my sanity and health as well. She was finally hospitalized in a nursing home that another of her grandchildren worked at over 50 miles from home because no local home had a bed available - despite the fact that there was one across the street from her house and she and her late husband had sold them the property to build it at a substantial discount over 40 years before!

Interesting side note about that: She eventually ended up in that nursing home after being refused repeatedly on the grounds there was "no bed available." It became clear that there were several beds available but they were being held for people with private insurance or self-pay rich people because the nursing home administrator was shifting funds from that home to a swank "retirement community" he and his friends were building nearby. She got her bed when Strom Thurmond (yep, that Strom Thurmond) called the nursing home and hinted that he'd ask for a full review of their reimbursements over the past 20 or 30 years if she didn't get a place to say. Within hours a bed suddenly "opened up." BTW: My elderly mother and aunt were driving 100 miles round trip daily to see their mother in the other facility.

By this time she had few assets other than her home. She had willed that home to my mother as a life estate and eventually to be mine free and clear. Unfortunately, her going into a nursing home complicated matters. Eventually, my mother moved into her house and out of her tiny apartment. Meanwhile, I had met Michael and we were living just across town in a rented home next to my brother who was ill with HIV.

When my grandmother died the house went into limbo. We were told the state could not evict my mother but that it was not clear whether it could pass to her because my grandmother had been put on Medicaid to help pay for what Medicare did not during her long decline. So, for another two years my mother lived in the house until she had a stroke. At that point her own health rapidly declined and she eventually died in a hospital.

At this point the house was again in limbo. No one was living there and my grandmother's will had not been probated because of my mother's own illness at the time of my grandmother's death. She had recently had a fractured hip that did not heal properly and a heart attack just after the surgery. She had also developed Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion during the surgery.

Michael and I had purchased a house about two blocks away by this time. However, having a house free and clear of payments could have helped us immensely either as a rental property or to move into and sell our house with its high interest rate loans. I decided to probate the will.

Not surprisingly, the probate attorney I hired told me that it was almost certain I would lose the house. The reason was that the state wanted its money back for my Grandmother's care. The Republicans in our state didn't like the idea of poor people inheriting, only rich people. But, we decided to try it anyway and see if I could possibly keep the house.

By that time my grandmother's will had disappeared either during her early dementia or when my mother cleaned after she moved in. All I had was a copy entrusted to my brother by her that he'd kept in his safety deposit box. By this time he had passed away as well. So, in order to probate it, the will would have to be proved meaning that all potential heirs would have to agree it was the correct will.

Up until that time I'd had a wonderful relationship with my mother's side of the family. In fact, I considered myself more related to them than my father's side. Unfortunately, it wouldn't last. My aunts and uncles and cousins didn't understand what was being done. They refused to sign a simple letter saying that the will was final, I should be named executor since my mother had died and they agreed for it to be probated. The reason for this, I found out, was they were all afraid if the will were probated the state would come after them for the costs of my grandmother's care for several years.

So, I had to hire a process server and have them served as though I were suing them (which I was not). One of my aunts tried to push the server off her porch thinking I was trying to make them pay for my grandmother's care.

Even when we finally assembled them all at the Probate office and the judge explained to them what was happening they were not happy they still thought they were being sued. None of them would speak to me and the only one who seemed to get it was my one surviving uncle who spoke up for me and hoped that the state wouldn't take the house my grandmother had left me.

So, in the end, the Probate judge ruled that the house would have to be sold and the proceeds given to the state to pay for my grandmother's care. If anything were left over it would be mine (not a chance) and I would be reimbursed for my attorney fees for opening and closing the estate.

After several months the appointed executor who makes a living doing this, sold the house for less than $20,000. I got about $400 that went directly to my attorney to pay her fees. The resulting sale did not pay for reimbursing the state for even a month of my grandmother's long illness.

Since that day in the probate office when my aunts and uncles were terrified of the state seizing their property to pay for my grandmother's care I have not heard from them. One of my aunts contributed a little bit to helping with expenses before my transplant and I saw her in Wal-Mart just before moving to Arizona and we exchanged a few words and a hug, although it was clear her eldest daughter prefers we do not speak at all. I speak to one of my cousins infrequently online because she is the black sheep of her family and seems to hold me no ill will. One of my cousins told me after my transplant that she thought it was a waste that they saved a "homosexual" with a liver when they should have saved a good Christian. One of my aunts and her husband died without me every being able to see them or speak to them again.

So, the state, because of the horrific health care system we have, broke up the family I was closest to my entire childhood and life until that point. Beyond that, because I could not inherit the house as my grandmother wished, we remained in our house paying high interest rates. A few years later when I, myself became sick and needed a liver transplant and Michael was diagnosed with cancer, we would be unable to balance the medical bills and lost wages to keep our house. We eventually ended up all but homeless and would have been without the kindness of a friend who rented us her guest house for almost nothing. Had we been able to sell our house and move into my grandmother's we would have been spared a horribly disruptive episode in our lives as we both tried to recover from serious and life threatening illnesses.

Why is it that an illness like dementia in the case of Mrs. M or Alzheimer's in the case of my grandmother is allowed in our society to destroy families? Why is it that "family groups" who profess to want to "protect the family" cheer on the system with its patchwork of laws, insurance, and greed that seem designed to destroy families? Does anyone else not find it disingenuous that churches can possibly take the position that reform of our health care system is bad? Why is evil allowed to masquerade as good in the guise of "Christianity" in our country?




8/29/2009

Smart People Saying Dumb Things

Please read this quote by Will Wilkinson:
[P]eople tend underestimate the extent of adaptation to pain and reduced function. That’s the sort of thing a doctor might bring up in a counseling session. But it’s not clear how relevant it is. Living wills, as I understand them, primarily involve questions of what to do when a patient has lost consciousness, or is a state of heavily drugged consciousness, and is being kept alive by a respirator or other apparatus that is substituting for an organ that no longer functions. The big questions are about whether to withdraw active life-extending interventions or not, and under what conditions. If you’re functioning at a level sufficient to revise your living will, you can do that. It’s not like you’re locked into your first draft. And it’s not as if it is possible to set out in advance the conditions under which one would like to be legally euthanized. So I’m not sure I see the mistake.
What's wrong with that statement? Read the penultimate sentence again. Wilkinson confuses natural death without extreme measures with "euthanasia." Euthanasia is the active termination of life even when that life could, conceivably, continue indefinitely without medical intervention. Euthanasia does happen. It happens when a husband or wife gives extra morphine "accidentally" to a spouse suffering from excruciating and intractable pain in the final stages of cancer. It happens when someone shoots themself in the head rather than continue suffering from a terminal illness.

However, euthanasia is not when someone says that they do not want to be placed on a respirator, or have a feeding tube surgically inserted because they are no longer concious and have no chance for recovery. It is not when someone requests that if they are brain dead they do not want their body to be kept in an artificially animated state for no reason other than prolonging the suffering of their loved ones and the enrichment of the doctor's and hospital's bank accounts.

How can it be that supposedly intelligent people can be so dumb? Wilkinson's statement does nothing to enlighten but only muddies the waters further among those who have been so lucky to never see a family member or friend suffer through a terminal illness or been forced with this decision because a family member refused to confront the reality before they became incapacitated.


8/28/2009

The Horror of Socialized Medicine

Tuesday morning and I have to have labs drawn and see my hepatologist. That's hepatologist, not herpetologist because I am a liver transplant survivor and not a turtle (thank you spellcheck).

Anyway, we've all heard the horrors of socialized medicine where going to the doctor means you'll have to wait and wait and wait for an appointment and then you won't be able to get care or you'll be seen by some hack. Unfortunately, according to many, I must deal with socialized medicine because I have Medicare. Heaven help me!

About 6am after dropping Michael off at work, I swung by Sonora Quest to get my labs drawn. I walked in and signed my name on the pad. The nice person at the desk asked if I had orders with me or if I have standing orders. Of course, since I have labs monthly, I have standing orders so told her. She asked me to have a seat as it would be a few minutes since I had not made an appointment as I usually do.

About 5 minutes later, a tech called my name and escorted me to her room where she quickly drew the required vials of blood to be tested. The entire process took less than 10 minutes. After she finished, she wished me a good morning and I left. I didn't have to pay out of pocket and I didn't have to sweat how much it was going to cost. I just got the labs necessary to make sure my liver and kidneys are functioning properly.

I had about two hours before I needed to go to my doctor's office so went home and caught up on email. Around 8:30 I headed out to Oro Valley to see my hepatologist (liver doctor) during their monthly visit to Tucson. (They are based in Phoenix.)

I arrived and checked in at the desk. The waiting room was a bit more full than usual so I wondered if I would have to wait. However, in less than 10 minutes (I was 15 minutes early) I was called to a room. Roger, one of my favorite nurses, checked that everything was up to date and did my vitals. We talked for a minute about general things.

Within 3 minutes the doctor entered the room. I normally see their Nurse Practitioner but today one of the physicians was helping out because of the number of patients. He went over my current medications and labs and decided to increase my blood pressure medication. He wrote me a new prescription for the higher dose. After making sure I had no complaints or concerns we chatted for a minute about his recent vacation to Fripp Island in South Carolina. When we'd finished he walked me into the hall and made an appointment for me for November. I stopped for a moment to chat with the Nurse Practitioner I normally see and then headed out of the office.

I did not have to worry about how much I would have to pay that morning and I did not have to worry that I'd need to cancel or re-schedule because I was strapped for cash this week.

Meanwhile, Michael isn't allowed to have insurance in our country. Because he had cancer he is not eligible for any private insurance even if his employer offered it. In fact, if his employer offered insurance he would lose his job because the company would slap a huge surtax on their premium because they employ a cancer survivor! (Up to $1 million.) The only way around that would be to fire the cancer survivor. That's something people aren't taking into consideration when they yell "Free Market" and mandated coverage. The only way around that is a robust public option where employers and people like Michael could buy insurance at reasonable rates.

So, while he is due for a colonoscopy to make sure he's still cancer free - he can't get one because they run about $3,500 and the doctors and hospitals want that money up front if you don't have insurance.

Guess, I'll take the horrors of my socialized medicine plan! Funny that the majority of the screamers at Town Halls also participate in this socialized medicine program and seem to love it. In fact, the only part (before all this) anyone complained about was the Medicare Part D. Know what? That was a Republican plan to slap some cash into the hands of their friends in the insurance industry. It was an experiment in PRIVATIZATION that has failed miserably as drug costs increase and companies continually limit what drugs they cover.

I am still amazed at the "rationing" fools out there as well. If it were not for socialized medicine I would be dead because my private employer backed insurance dumped me when I got sick. I was completely without insurance when I was finally diagnosed just days from death in an ER with End Stage Liver Disease. My doctors and social workers moved Heaven and Earth to get me Medicaid (the MOST socialized medicine) so I could have a transplant. Without socialized medicine I would never have received a new liver. The claims that people won't receive transplants because of "socialized" medicine are lies and I would personally like to punch every person spreading it right in the mouth. Socialized Medicine saves lives... the private insurance industry is designed to take the lives of our sickest people to protect profits. If you believe any different you are a moron and there is nothing anyone can do for you.

So, let's hear it for socialized medicine!

Is There No LGBT Issue So Small the Mormons Won't Jump In?

I have a very dear friend who serves on the Human Relations Advisory Board for the City of Mesa, AZ. They have been considering an ordinance to establish Domestic Partnerships and call for sexual orientation and gender to be added to the non-discrimination language for the city.

In reality both are fairly symbolic. While city Domestic Partnership ordinances make us feel better they really don't have much affect in securing even the most basic rights. In short, they are statements that the city views LGBT people and couples as vital parts of the community and deserving of respect.

Yet, no statement can be allowed to be made that is not calling for condemnation or violence if you are the Mormon Church.

Indeed, they are mobilizing NATIONWIDE to fight a simple city ordinance in a suburb. According to my friend, Mitt Romney has already weighed in on the issue denouncing the ordinance. They have been asking anti-gay Mormons and other anti-gay extremists to flood Mesa with anti-gay letters, phone calls, and emails.

It also appears that one of the local Republicans has ties to both the church and the anti-gay front organizations. I'm still working on information on that, but looks like he could be the smoking gun in the Mormon church being a political rather than a religious group and deserving of having their church status stripped.

So, if you'd like to help counter the nationwide anti-gay Mormon forces you can drop a line to the Mesa City Council or call Mayor Scott Smith at 480-644-2388 and let them know that you support LGBT Equality and the Domestic Partnership proposal. Please be respectful as the HRAB is sympathetic to us and have been working hard to counter the Mormon's anti-gay propaganda.

I'm preparing a "real" news story on this development for the Examiner and will update this post with a link there once I have all the details and have unravelled the Mormon money train driving this meddling in a local issue.

8/27/2009

Missing the Real Drama


Lately I've been watching Jada Pinkett Smith in HawthoRNe on TNT. I'll admit it is a fairly sappy little show with few redeeming qualities. The acting is sub-par and the story lines suffer from an identity crisis: Are we a drama, a comedy, a soap opera?

But, what is positively crystal clear in this series is that no one doing the writing knows the first thing about the real world of medicine. As I watched the latest installment where Smith's character goes to bat for a family friend who needs to get into a clinical trial for a cancer treatment, I couldn't help but think that they have completely missed the real drama that happens every moment in a hospital.

None of the patients at Hawthorne's hospital every have a problem with insurance. No matter how great the treatment, how unlikely the outcome, or how poor the patient - everyone obviously has the best insurance. No patient ever has to make choices about getting treatment or paying the rent.

In this episode Christina's (Smith) friend has his cancer recur. There is a new clinical trial for a treatment at this hospital. Amazingly, it is being run in house because her public non-teaching hospital has its own research department. But, let's set that aside for a moment. There's only one spot in the trial for this promising miracle cure. The spot has been promised to a man with a family though.

In the opening scenes we see one of the doctor's is speaking to the patient and his wife. The patient has gone off his antibiotics and gotten an infection because he didn't like taking the pills. This jeopardizes his position in the trial. What could have shaped up to be an intriguing look at patient cooperation flops when the patient promises to take his medicine and is re-instated. How much more interesting to explore that topic fully. How much more interesting to talk a little about real world health care rationing. Instead of not taking drugs because he just didn't want to, how about talking about the real fact that many patients don't take their medication or self-ration because they can't afford them. Would that not have been more intriguing?

But, we go down the tired old path of Christina Hawthorne wanting to save her friend and ending up in a moral dilemma over whether to get her friend in the trial who has a small chance of surviving or a dedicated family man who has a good chance of being saved by the treatment.

Meanwhile, the shenanigans continue around her to provide levity and secondary drama.

Yet, none of it is remotely real or emotionally gripping. Her hospital functions like none that have ever existed. She has sexual tension with her friend who is Chief of Surgery but seems, like her, to be a super hero. He's a surgeon, a neurosurgeon, orthopod, oncologist, ER doctor, pediatrician, OB-GYN, and probably moonlights as a Chiropractor/psychiatrist.

Hawthorne is also the only "Chief of Nursing" that seems to spend all her time treating patients on every floor and department of the hospital rather than mired in the paperwork and endless meeting that are the realm of the Administrative Nurse.

I've made it pretty much through this first season only because when I'm dealing with insomnia I can grab it On-Demand and kill some time. Yet, it lacks any depth or any connection to real world issues in health care. In the end, you have to wonder if any of the mega-rich people involved, like Smith, have a clue what it means to need health care in today's world where insurers try their best to deny that care, where 47 million+ people have no access to care, and where nurses who actually treat patients often find themselves at odds with their own bosses to provide even minimum standards or care to those who need it.

Maybe, one day, someone in Hollywood will learn that real life can be much more dramatic than hackneyed story lines tied up with nice bows at the end of an hour.

The Puritans in the Age of Cellphones

Our laws to "protect" teenagers from sex just can't seem to catch up to the 21st Century. Or rather, they seem to be stuck in the quaint window of the mid 20th Century when teenagers were thought to be asexual.

In Tucson, two 13 year old boys were arrested on misdemeanor "child pornography" charges because one of the boys received a nude photo from a girl and passed it to his friend. Never mind the fact that the photographer was the girl herself and she knowingly disseminated the photograph and did so in a way that was easily shared.

The girl in this case faces no charges whatsoever for producing child pornography. The police decided not to file felony charges against the boys because they said the boys were not "aware" that receiving and sharing the photo were a crime. Yet, you can be sure that the police will force the boys to be registered as sex offenders for life meaning their entire adult lives will be destroyed by this.

Meanwhile, the pubescent stripper will get off scot free despite being the catalyst of the illegal activity. Furthermore, she will be treated by police and adults as a "victim" despite the fact that she willingly took photographs of herself without clothes and willingly distributed it to others hoping to arouse sexual interest.

I am constantly amazed at how our puritanical roots continue to lag behind our real world. First of all, 13 year olds are sexual. I know, it's terrible to consider given our short memory spans as adults but once those hormones start pumping we do begin to think about sex. They are not "children" in the sense that they are non-sexual beings anymore. In fact, in the United States the average age of first sexual intercourse at 16.9 years old. In lower income brackets that average drops to 12 years old!

If we must prosecute teenagers for engaging in sexual activity - including fantasy activity such as looking at nude photographs created by the subject of the photograph as a way to titillate a prospective partner - then we must also prosecute the person creating that photograph for creating pornography.

In this case, if the boys are going to be arrested for receiving and distributing child pornography then the girl should be arrested for making and distributing child pornography as well. What's fair is fair.

Otherwise, we need to realize that 13-year-olds are sexual beings and treat them as we would adults who have nude photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends which is simply to not get involved.

This is a case where the parents of all involved needed to sit them down and have a good talk and deal with a natural fact of life given a new spin because of technology. Instead, our police are acting as the parents in ways that will wreak the lives of two people while the other party simply walks away.


8/25/2009

100 Angry White Dudes and Journalist Walk Into a Town Hall...

And the journalist pees in his pants because he has the opportunity to create a movement out of whole cloth.

Media Matters' Eric Boehlert brings us a brilliant analysis of how those on the left protesting the Iraq War and Bush policies were routinely classified as "fringe" by the MSM at the time and ignored. Compare that to today when a few dozen screaming sexagenarians at a Town Hall and some crazy militia types carrying AK-47's are seen as the epitome of enlightened discourse by our media elites.
And just so there's no doubt in people's mind, the blanket coverage the mini-mobs are lapping up (i.e. the mobs are hugely important!) stands in stark contrast to the way the press often did its best to ignore liberal protesters who spoke out against the war in Iraq.

For instance, in October 2002, when more than 100,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to oppose the war, The Washington Post put the story not on the front page, but in the Metro section with, as the paper's ombudsman later lamented, "a couple of ho-hum photographs that captured the protest's fringe elements."

For that same 2002 anti-war rally, The New York Times also bungled its reporting. The day after the event, the newspaper published a small article on Page 8, which was accompanied by a photo that was larger than the article itself. And in the article, the Times falsely reported that "fewer people attended than organizers had said they hoped for."

This is a MUST read analysis of how the MSM has become so afraid of the Right Wing's constant claim of a "Liberal Media" that they are now constructing their reporting to follow their talking points.


8/24/2009

I Went Before a Real Death Panel

I am a liver transplant survivor. I'm very lucky. I am also one of the people in this country who has been before a real life "Death Panel."

In mid January of 2007 after two months of testing that included both physical and mental screenings, I went before the Transplant Committee at the Medical University of South Carolina. Well, not me personally. It was actually just the collection of lab results, notes, and personal views of a half dozen or so people involved in the process. I was assured by the Transplant Coordinator who is a nurse and serves as the patient advocate that she would present my case in the best way possible.

Yes, this is a real life "Death Committee" or as it is sometimes called "The God Committee." Before I could even make it to that point I had to show that I was a good and decent person, I had family support (charmingly titled a "support network"), I did not use illegal substances (even medical marijuana prescribed legally by an M.D. will get you killed by a God Committee), and that I had the financial resources including insurance and a set amount of money in the bank to make it through the months after transplant.

Honestly, I was terrified because I'd heard rumors of God Committees turning down LGBT people because we are not "socially valuable" in that we don't have children or can't have children. I was assured this was a mistaken belief when I broached the subject outright early on.

Still, what did these people think of me? I had to sit for a couple hours and talk to a therapist about my life and my mental status. I worried that even hinting I'd ever been depressed after my father's death would kick me out of the running to live. After all, why speak to a therapist about your past mental health history unless it meant that something in that history could make you ineligible? Since no one gives you a list of things that makes you ineligible it's hard to know what is considered "normal" by the God Committee.

In my first appearance before the God Committee I was "deferred." That's not a death sentence but it's close. It means that there was something some member of the committee didn't like. My nurse called me and told me the news. However, the good news was that it was simply a lab test they were concerned about. Something looked a little strange on one of the cardiac tests and they needed a better idea whether or not I could even survive the surgery.

I was scheduled for another test involving a cardiac catheterization the next day and then my case would go back into the committee at its next meeting in two weeks. As it turned out at the next meeting I was listed for transplant and placed at the top of the waiting list in my state because I was critically ill. Still, in the intervening two weeks one of my doctors had to start me on anti-anxiety medication because I was prone to panic attacks and uncontrollable weeping as I saw my life slipping away 40.

A few days later I had a new liver thanks to the generosity of a young man and his family and have since done quite well.

However, transplant committees truly are "Death Panels" they are tasked with deciding whether someone is given a chance to live by receiving a transplant or whether they die - often painful and horrible deaths. Their deliberations are quite secretive and there are precious few safeguards enacted in law.

It is necessary to have some screening process because the number of available organs is tiny compared to the need. Too many people just refuse to do the right thing and sign up as donors. After all, of all the people who do consent to be donors only a small percentage actually are able to become donors at the time of their death. It's, unfortunately, a numbers game.

I was very lucky to be at a hospital where the people looked at the medicine rather than making their decisions based upon religious beliefs or social values. Each of their decisions centered around whether I was medically fit for transplant and could survive an 8 hour surgery, whether I could handle the life changes following transplant including the mental swings between euphoria at being alive and the guilt at being alive because someone else died, and the ability to understand what was necessary to remain healthy and juggle medications and frequent visits for checkups. They saw that I was a good candidate medically and that I had educated myself on the process and was capable of being a partner in my own care. My doctors and nurses were all wonderful people who were able to transcend the ordinary to make tough decisions.

Not everyone is as fortunate. Several years ago the University of Arizona's program at UMC came under scrutiny for what seemed to be random actions by members of their God Committee when it came to patients. Simply disagreeing with a physician about a course of treatment or asking about alternatives were enough to have a patient denied a listing for being "non-compliant." Supposedly, this has all been changed and for several years the program at UMC shut down due to a "lack of surgeons." They are now back in full force as of 2008.

Yet, unlike the "God Committees" that functioned in the early years of Kidney Dialysis and which Congress destroyed with the Medicare Act, there doesn't seem to be any sign that the organ transplant God Committees will be going away in the near future.

The reason for that is simple. While finance plays a role in access to transplant: in my case waiting longer while I was finally classified as "disabled" and given Medicaid or in Steve Jobs case, jetting to a place where the list was short to get listed; the real limiting factor is the number of organs available. Unless people in the United States embrace transplant as a moral duty we will continue to have long lists and God Committees will continue to make life and death decisions. Sometimes they decisions will be good and based on medical criteria and sometimes those decision will be bad and based on personal whim or politics.

But, the fact is, when given a chance our Congress destroyed "Death Panels" in the past and I have no doubt that should we reach the place where there is no longer a shortage of transplantable organs and a need by hospitals to ration them, they would do so in the future. But right now, Death Panels meet almost every day across our country and no one on the Right Wing notices or cares because they see them as a necessary part of organ rationing. So don't be fooled by their moralistic bluster. They approve of the Death Panels that do exist both in hospitals and at review centers for insurance companies - they just don't approve of the fictional ones they created as a boogie man in the process to insure more people in this country!

This is not an indictment of the people who serve on Patient Selection Committees. As I found, many of them are very caring and they have a job I simply could not handle. After my transplant, my coordinator and I discussed returning to school to complete my BSN then possibly my MSN and become a Nurse Practitioner to work with transplant patients. However, the more I thought about having to sit on this panel and in judgment of people's lives and whether they lived or died, I knew I could never do it. I could never tell someone that their life was not worth doing everything possible to save if there was so much as a glimmer of hope for them and they wanted to fight. The trauma nurse in me simply couldn't stand by and let death win without a fight.

So, I have a great deal of respect and compassion for people who makes these decisions. Those who act with justice and wisdom do outnumber those who act with pride and conceit.

Would you like to help make the God Committees a thing of the past? It's easy. Sign up to be an organ donor. Then talk to your family and friends about your decision. Don't worry about your current state of health! The determination whether you can successfully donate is made at the appropriate time. Criteria are constantly expanding as techniques improve. Thousands are being saved today using organs that just a few years ago would have been untransplantable!


Links