Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Relay For Life and the moral compass

I posted the note below in April 2009, after a successful Relay For Life. We'll be doing the Relay again next month, this time not at the behest of the kids, though some of them will be joining us. This time we adults have some personal drive to Relay, as many people we love have been touched or taken by cancer this year.

When I read the story at LifeNews calling for a boycott of Relay For Life and likening participation to supporting Nazi  experiments at Dachau, I decided to revisit this issue.

We can have a conversation on stem cell research, sure.  I will insist that you understand 1) we are not talking about embryos but about cells that are destined for destruction, and 2)  someone close to me has been benefiting from all that research lately so my opinion is more hardened now.

What I won't do is offer respect to or "tolerance" to the idea that a community coming together to raise precious funds for research, education, and care can be compared in any way to Nazis, or the suggestion that any compassionate God would tell a kid or their parent to stand down when given the opportunity to be of help. 

When I write below about the baggage that comes with the word "religion", this is what I mean. I have come to terms with the fact that a large minority of "Christians" have hijacked the very concept in order to construct a world in their own image. They make me terribly angry, but I can hold the concept of religion apart from them.  I don't wonder why other people, especially young people, can't, however.

Anyway, my note below. It was popular a couple of years ago. I still feel pretty good about it.

 April 27, 2009
So yes, this weekend was all about Relay for Life. And in addition to the tired and the proud and the giggles I brought home with me, I brought some thoughts that keep swirling through my brain.
 First, I should make clear: we relay because some of our kids feel very strongly about this cause. One of them has been relaying every year since he lost his mom to cancer. A couple more wanted to get involved when their grandmother was diagnosed. So we relay as a team because they asked: not because the grown ups thought it was a swell idea.
 But that's not what my note is about. My note is about who my community is, who our kids are, and how sick I am of being told by mainstream so-called moral leaders that religious or political liberalism means the death of a moral society.
 The Relay kicks off with a ceremony. The Boy Scouts raise the flag, followed by the pledge of allegiance and the singing of the national anthem. Then there's a prayer.
 My kids are in a church group, yes. But some of them (most, maybe) have difficulty with identifying themselves as "religious", for many of the same reasons that liberal adults do. "Religion", unfortunately, is a word with baggage. It carries with it notions of dogma and conformity and unreason. It brings visions of group-think and bigotry and mob mentality. It carries an idea of "God" that many are uncomfortable with.
 So we try to talk a lot about what it means to be us- to be a part of a liberal religion, where we are encouraged to figure it all out according to our own conscience, and to support each other on our paths. We talk of religion as a joining together, rather than as a school of thought.
 So a local minister offered a prayer on Saturday morning.
 He began rather beautifully. He asked for God to be with us as we recall the people we've lost, as we celebrate the people who're still fighting, to recognize and be with us in our pain. I'm a Universalist at heart, and so it's reflexive for me to translate certain words so that they work for my own spirituality. I don't have to picture or to speak to that minister's idea of God, and I don't ask for direct intercession while I hear and internalize his words. That's not part of my world.
 And this is the kind of prayer I am comfortable discussing with the kids. How we can take the prayer and make it meaningful to ourselves, appreciate the love that the minister is trying to communicate, respect the fact that he has a very different path than we do.
 Ah, but then he went on.
 He began to speak to his God about the sins of our society, the things we do, the policies we embrace, which are against God and which doom us to things like cancer.
 He went on to decry the removal of prayer from schools, and how we're raising successive generations of Americans without a moral compass.
 At that point, I checked out. Literally. I left the stands and went on a supply run, thinking all the way out, speak for yourself, asshole.
 Because my kids- and especially my son- do not lack a "moral compass". They somehow do not need engraved tablets to tell them how to behave in a civilized society. They somehow have developed empathy and compassion and respect without prayer in school, or, for that matter, in church.
 They have these things because they are each brilliant and deep and they are encouraged to think about what they believe, about what responsible action means, about what they want the world to look like and what their place is in that world. They have these inherent qualities because they are surrounded with family and community who care about them and who model right behavior, and who demand the same from them.
My kids weren't tramping around making noise and talking loudly during the Luminaria ceremony and the reading of the names. My kids weren't stealing food and making disgusting messes that no one cleaned up. My kids weren't yelling "GIMME THAT, YOU QUEER!" at each other in the middle of the night. My kids are silly and passionate, and held forth on neuroscience and male/female differences and ageism and a host of other topics all night, challenging the adults when they didn't agree with us. 
My kids weren't unchaperoned. While the majority of the teen teams were completely without responsible traditional Christian adults all night, my kids had crazy liberal grown ups sitting with them in camp, and they put up with my nagging (and usually reassure me that it's ok when I nag like the middle aged mom that I am).
My kids, in short, rock. And they're the people that I want to create society as they grow. They're the ones who give me hope that the world will not only go on, but will become a better place, in small ways and large, as they take charge.
So stop telling me that liberalism is the scourge of morality.
And no, my son doesn't need your prayer in his school. He'd only question it afterward, anyway, and I doubt the faculties of the local middle and high schools posses the background in theology you'd need to argue with him or answer his questions.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt on 1/28/11

I don't know what to think, haven't a deep enough understanding of Egypt to know what to think. I'm rather blown away by all of it.
 All of it.

How do you turn off the Internet?

Al Jazeera's coverage is vital. Biased, too? Sure, almost certainly. But then, who are we Americans to judge someone else's biased media, really? Al Jazeera's livestream is here.

And (paging Mr. Peretz) it turns out that Arabs value each other and community and all of the things we value. This item brought a tear to my eye. Also this one.

Mubarek's been our ally, but we've also pumped millions into pro-democracy groups over there; so while the situation is fraught, it seems to be what we asked for, ultimately. And no, I'm not worried about the Muslim Brotherhood. Mubarek and John Bolton are worried about the Muslim Brotherhood, which tells me there are more important things happening.

Yemen, now Yemen is scary. Egypt? I don't know what to think.

Hope everyone is ok, and that the outcome doesn't hurt more than the status quo.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


At Davos, everyone's hurting Jamie Dimon's fee-fees.

So that's what the kids are calling it

Ted Haggard says he's probably "what the kids call bisexual."  Ok.

These days when I see his face all I can think is, that poor man. What a huge lonely gaping wound he is.

GQ profile here.

Is what it is

Ever notice that when someone starts with, "Partisan politics aside," they're about to be mad at a Democrat?

Likewise, if they say, "I don't like either party!" they're about to defend a Republican.

It just is what it is.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More on jobs and the SOTU

Reich: The president ignored the elephant in the room

Ezra: Can we win the future if we lose the present?
I sat in on a briefing yesterday where various "senior administration officials" explained the theory behind the State of the Union. When they were asked about shifting their focus to the future when the economy was so bad in the present, they explained that they got pretty much everything they thought they could get -- and, in fact, more than they thought they could get -- in the tax-cut deal, and it was time to let that work. Left unsaid is that they can't get anything more out of a Republican House, and so there's little point in begging.

And now, a shout out from The Hammock of Complacency & Dependency

Paul Ryan's response to the SOTU was a bit disappointing, I have to say. The only republican willing to come up with a Roadmap of specific spending cuts and policy changes was uncharacteristically vague, his words mostly just standard GOP doctrine. (Including swipes at England and Ireland which were just, well, ill-informed and wrong.)

The problem, as always, is that these vague platitudes may sound idyllic to some ears, but only because they are not upfront about cuts and policy changes.

Ryan's language was, most likely, constrained by the party. While I believe he's enthusiastic about his Roadmap, there is little to love in there for economists or the general public. Medicare is basically dismantled, Social Security is privatized (this, from the party that thinks too much regulatory burden has been placed on Wall Street over the last two years), and still the Roadmap wouldn't balance the budget until 2063, and the deficit still wouldn't have been addressed.

But it's really all they have. Rand Paul's proposed legislation will not go anywhere. No one else in the Republican party can name any cuts that impact the deficit in any meaningful way. They have Ryan. But his roadmap won't stand up to scrutiny or politics, and they know it.

So, we are offered pretty platitudes, because accounting doesn't win hearts and minds, in the hope that we'll keep the GOP in the majority, maybe elect a Republican resident in 2012. Keep tax breaks for their friends - and themselves. Let's not forget that congress is overwhelmingly made up of very affluent people.

That's what Ryan gave us. That, and the now-required insult for people like me, people lounging in The Hammock of Complacency and Dependency. I won't argue there's a certain amount of torpor over here, which you could interpret as complacency. But I promise you, this feels nothing like a hammock.

Also too: Joan Walsh. Justin Fox.   Yglesias.

And also likewise, I was going to say something about Bachman, but sometimes, in the face of utter stupidity, words fail. So I'll direct you here, instead.

The missing word

Andrew Leonard notes The missing word in Obama's State of the Union.
The unemployment rate in the United States is 9.4 percent. But if you went to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night looking for a job, you came away empty. The president did not even mention the word "unemployment." The stock market "has come roaring back," he told America, and "corporate profits are up." But aside from one reference to "the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts of once busy Main Streets," Obama devoted precious little time to the current plight of Americans who might be facing foreclosure or the expiration of their unemployment benefits. Instead he told us that the "worst of the recession is over" and that we had "broken the back of the recession."
Leonard notes reality: with the congress we've got, there's almost no chance that unemployment will be directly addressed. The president is working within practical restraints. That doesn't change the discouraging feeling that we've been given up on.

Doesn't change the fact that you can train 100,000 science teachers, but you can't get them hired without direct investment. You can promote clean energy development and transportation infrastructure, but you can't make it happen without direct investment.

And even if investments here and there make it through congress, the fact remains that tens of millions of us find ourselves having to start over, while there are five people for every available job in this country, we're heading into the second big housing market decline, foreclosures continue apace, and the safety net has run out.

And even if the Republicans were to eliminate every "job killing" regulation on their wish list and capitalist heaven materialized on Wall Street, high unemployment and stress means that we won't be spending the money that drives the economy, not like we used to.

I'm a person who likes to think in terms of the long arc, and maybe there's still the chance that Obama can enact policies which will have a positive impact on my son's generation. But I have to say, I sort of feel like roadkill, and that sucks.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jobs in the SOTU

I will have to spend some time tomorrow re-looking at the speech and thinking about it. He did talk about the need for investment. But, as Maddow observes, it came off as a sort of "prayer to the free market."

Maddow is reading the poltical wisdom in the speech, and to be fair, I'll need to look at it again. I went in tonight with tired eyes, my respect for the president notwithstanding.

Matthews nails it

Having a look at the person the Tea Party chose to do their rebuttal, because I don't have the capacity for long-form thought right now.

They're selling a scriptural version of the founding of this country, promising we can get there again. It's like heaven! It's all bullshit, but Bachman probably doesn't know that. She's honestly crazy. Sal Russo, however, knows it. He just wants tax cuts and libertarian ponies.

Anyway, good TV from Matthews and Joan Walsh.

"Accounting is important."

So sayeth Eugene Robinson, noting that accounting's great, but it doesn't "win hearts and minds." Which may be  true, but accounting is preferable to fantasies about libertarian sparkle ponies. Which are probably all we're going to get.

Math is hard, ok. But I think grown ups should be able to handle it.

Paul Ryan and his puppydog eyes

Make them stop.

"The worst of the recession"

Is not over for an awful lot of us.

And I do not want to hear that my government will "sacrifice" like "American families" do, because all that means is that people in my situation and people far worse off will be the sacrificial animals.

Someone, convince me that we're not fucked.

To remove barriers to growth and investment

he should provide psychiatric care and Pell grants to the house republicans.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Our president is inspiring and good, and all of that, but: I'm looking at the 55 year-old woman who's going for a degree in biotech, and I'm thinking, great! Too bad no company in this country will be hiring a 55 year old woman to do anything earning a decent living, at least not any time soon.

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.

We are so fucked if the Hill doesn't start taking this seriously.


I'm telling myself that the president is SO HIP, he knows what Winning The Future becomes on Twitter.

The mood at my house

The husband asks: "Who's Yertle the Turtle over there?"

That's Mitch McConnell, honey.

"What a turtle of a man."

Well the other one retired, and there he was.

Let's see who has a prom date

Or maybe it's more of a Sadie Hawkins Day type of thing.

Biden's date, through no fault of his own, is John Boehner. For his part, Boehner looks like he adjusted his makeup shade a touch.

Still waiting, still thinking of England.

Justice Roberts decided to show. Scalia, Thomas, and Alito have decided that this is all beneath them.

Word is, Obama will call for lower corporate tax rates, which will piss me off immeasurably.

Hillary love- it's catching.


Segregation and Calvinism and blah blah blah ... Or: why I'm not optimistic going into the SOTU

So this upsets me:
AKRON, Ohio – A Summit County woman will spend 10 days in jail after she was found guilty in a school residency case that could set a precedent for Ohio school districts.
Judge Patricia Cosgrove also placed 40-year-old Kelly Williams-Bolar on two years of probation and ordered her to complete 80 hours of community service.
On Saturday, a jury found Williams-Bolar guilty on two counts of tampering with records. She was also facing one count of grand theft, but the judge declared a mistrial on that charge after the jury couldn’t reach a verdict.
She receives government assistance, works with disabled kids, and pursuing a teaching degree which would, presumably, better her family's situation. She falsified a record so that she could send her kids to a better school.

Ms. Williams-Bolar is poor and black, while the school she sent her kids to is in an affluent white neighborhood.

(And yes, I do understand that under the current terms of debate, pointing this out makes me a racist.  Maybe Kelley Williams-Bolar is a racist, too, come to think of it. Why didn't she want her kids in a black school?)

The judge pointed out that her fraud cost the school district in question $30,000, and he made an example out of her so that others would not be tempted to commit similar fraud.

What did it cost the county to prosecute this woman? In this era of "fiscal responsibility", what's the ROI?

But more importantly: who looks at this situation and thinks, right, it's obvious: she broke the law and needs to go to jail. How can one not look at this situation and think maybe there's something wrong with that law?

Anyway. We segregate. We do it by zip code or street map, but we really do it by income. In terms of policy, we have decided that the affluent deserve better breaks and their children deserve better educations. We've gone all Calvinist, which is convenient, because it absolves us as individuals and as a society of any responsibility.

So that's what I'm thinking about as I await the SOTU. That and the economic decline in Britain.  Let's see what the president has to offer.

SOTU 2011 in 52 minutes...

And I've decided to see if I remember how to communicate in longer bursts than Facebook status updates.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

We need a public option with a French accent

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the inefficiencies in the US health insurance system, as compared with what seems to be the amazingly efficient French system. Most talk is centered on inequity here, which is the bottom line, of course. Still, we like to believe that the economy (and all progress in this country) is driven by efficiency, innovation, and productivity, so the contrast in this case seems rather alarming.
Listen here to author T.R. Reid on his experiences in doctor’s offices around the globe, seeking help for a “bum shoulder”. Listen, particularly, to his account of the French system of files and payment processing.
[In France and other ‘Bismarck model” European countries] These are private docs, private hospitals, and mainly private insurance plans…
This business in America where we have the in-network deal or we have to get pre-authorization; any doctor, any clinic, anybody in the entire country, you chose ‘em, you go, and insurance has to pay the bill within two weeks or so…
[French doctor’s offices] are Spartan... What’s missing [...] is the files and files of patient records, and there’s no billing office… the patient comes in, out of her pocket she pulls […] the Card Vitale, he puts it in a reader on his desk and her entire medical record shows up on the screen. He chats with her about her problem, he’s typing down what she’s got wrong, and he says “I’m going to prescribe a course of antibiotic” […] and he’s typing all that up. He’s finished with her, […] he hits one key on his computer and the entire bill has gone to her insurance company, he’s going to be paid in three days, and she’s gonna get her copay back from the insurance company within two weeks. Done. No paperwork.
Compare that to the situation now facing my sister, trying to get her daughter needed treatment for a deforming case of scoliosis. The condition is not, of itself, life threatening, but further deformation could begin to impact internal organs, including her lungs. The girl has, since birth, been very susceptible to lung ailments.
The treatment is thoracic spinal fusion, a 7-8 hour surgery that, while not uncommon, is far from routine. My sister’s search up and down California for a doctor competent to perform the surgery who would also accept Medicaid led to UCLA, where the surgery is performed, apparently, hundreds of times per year.
My sister lives in Northern California, so the team at UCLA worked with her doctor up north to coordinate some of the pre-op work and insurance submittals. There were two necessary pre-op trips to LA. The surgery was scheduled for today, September 15. The family flew down this weekend, mom, dad, the patient, and her twin sister. Dad and sis planned to go home Friday, while the patient would not be clear to travel for three weeks, so she and mom would stay down here.
What do you say to a kid about to go under the knife? I told her it would all be over in two days, and she wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.
So I was sickened yesterday when I heard that the surgery had been postponed for at least three weeks, because her Medicaid paperwork had been lost in some shuffle or another and UCLA won’t do the surgery until it is pre-authorized. In the meanwhile, her parents must find money to change tickets and buy new ones, putting more financial stress on an already stressed family.
“Medicaid is a government program!” I can already hear the screeches. But this situation isn’t unique to public insurance. It’s due to an approval system in use by public and private insurers, and it’s stupid, and it’s wrong, and it wastes time and money.
There is (or there was a couple of weeks ago) language in the current house bill that would enable electronic funds transfers between doctors and Medicare/Medicaid, and presumably other public insurers. That’s a good step.
Now how about language that removes pre-approval from the transaction? The doctor treats, the doctor gets paid. If there is reasonable suspicion of fraud after the fact, it becomes a criminal investigation. If the fraud were committed against a public plan, the charges would be federal, and the penalties would be stiff, and would include prison time.
I’d like it if we followed the Swiss model, and made for-profit basic health insurance illegal. If we can’t do that yet, we should build a strong new public option, while strengthening Medicare and Medicaid. These programs should have zero pre-authorization requirements, and be dedicated to innovating payment and record keeping systems.
If the private sector won’t do it, the government must. And if the private sector wants to remain competitive, it’ll have to go along.
(Here's the NYT story on Reid's book.)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Thanks a lot, asshole

At the gas station this morning, and this story came over my local NPR station.

One person injured during altercation at healthcare rally in T.O.

TPM's already got a link up, so the story isn't staying local. There are, as well, conflicting eye-witness accounts of the incident, who did what, the usual. The basic facts are not disputed, though: an anti-reformer and a pro-reformer mixed it up, and the anti-reformer got his finger bitten off at the first knuckle.

Depressing that a pro-reform demonstrator committed assault? Oh, absolutely. Here we've been asserting all summer that we just want a discussion based on fact, that we're trying to be rational and democratic (please note the small d), while the opposition is intent on pushing crazy paranoid junk and intimidation. And someone here in my little town just lost it and irresponsibly engaged in confrontation, and committed assault.

Dude, whoever you are: that's MY corner you just shit on, and I don't really care who started it.

That's the corner where we demonstrated every weekend from November 2002 through March 2003 against war with Iraq, the corner we've returned to many times since, to rally or to mourn. That's the corner where we stood silently while people yelled obscenities at us, that's the corner where we stood in pouring rain while Catholic schoolgirls engaged in counter-demonstration across the street.

That's the corner where I stood smiling, eyes full of tears, as teenagers gleefully and proudly joined our ranks in support of marriage equality and against discrimination in all its forms.

That's the corner where we have peacefully gathered and sometimes cried and always been respectful, reminding our neighbors that here in Reagan country, there is a liberal population.

And that's the corner where I have personally engaged in some amazing conversations, like the time a young Army recruit came to ask me to explain if we could support the troops and oppose the war. The Catholic schoolgirls I mentioned above, who were really very brave, out there in the rain, and we talked about Catholic beliefs (Pope John Paul, remember, spoke out against the invasion of Iraq), and how they could support the invasion if they understood that civilians would die.

I wasn't there last night. I haven't been there for a demonstration since shortly after prop 8 passed. I don't respond to the MoveOn organizing emails lately, because there are several people here in the Conejo who are well-connected and can be relied upon to answer the call (in fact, often several people put up the same event). They're very good at this, so I'm not much needed, really.

One thing you can generally count on at larger demonstrations is that there will be a group charged with being peacemakers. Often, their jobs will be to just keep the two sides physically apart. At the 2004 March for Women's Lives in DC, attendees were asked to come to peacekeeper training the night before. During the March, peacekeepers often formed human chains, arms linked, keeping the marchers separated from the anti-abortion protesters who staged a "die-in" at the front of the march (they were removed by law enforcement), and stationed in clumps along the way. At Camp Casey in the summer of 2005, a firm no-man's-land was monitored by both the local police (who were wonderful, and friends of the Camp) and designated campers. In both cases, in addition to the peacekeepers, all attendees were admonished at the start to refrain from engaging the other side in anger.

In TO, the corner has always been so small, 35 to 150 people, and always familiar faces. Organized peacekeeping hasn't been necessary. Individuals reminding each other to behave is really all it's ever taken. There has been no hard fast rule about crossing the street, because people who cross the street do so to shake hands and agree that we all have good intentions. 

(Ok, there was the one time I lost it on a neo-Nazi, but I'm only human and anyway once I realized I was screaming I forced myself to walk away.)

So it would seem that the conversation in this country has become so heated that even here, in little TO, the civility of the population cannot be taken for granted anymore. I'm sickened that our corner was disgraced last night. I'm wondering if I feel a responsibility to be there from now on, or if I'm having grandiose notions of just how much help am.

I have no wise conclusions as of this morning. I'm just sad, and angry too.

Incidentally, it's interesting, in a vaguely nauseating way, that the intensity of emotion over health care reform trumps the public concern over the invasion of Iraq.