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!

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