Category Archives: Healthcare

Mold a new reality, closer to the heart.

In this edition: Rush in retrospect, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s on public assistance, the turning points in the journey to oligarch rule, Hobby Lobby says “corporations are people, my friend,” and have religious freedom.

Closer to the Heart

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the Heart

Written by Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Elwood Peart, Peter Talbot
Recorded by Rush, 1977

Read more lyrics: Rush – Closer To The Heart Lyrics | MetroLyrics

In “Closer to the Heart,” Rush offers just four stanzas to make their point. The “men who hold high places,” the “blacksmith and the artist,” and the “philosophers and ploughmen” must each work to create this new reality. Then the artist can captain the metaphoric ship to the chart that the everyman creates as the society moves closer to the heart, and by inference, away from the selfish and material in life.

Rush was never a favorite band of mine (sorry guys) because at this point in time I was getting into the British New Wave and the dramatic renderings of the prog-rock groups clashed with the back-to-basics sound of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and a little later Joe Jackson, The Pretenders, Blondie and the Talking Heads. I’m not alone in this, check this article on why Rush is the most hated rock band (including their lack of appeal to female fans, characterized as a “low clitoris count” at concerts). However, in retrospect the band gains appeal for me. The power trio lineup, the intelligent lyrics, and the theme of the plight of the individual against the pressures of conformity have all fermented well in the barrels of time. Now that I’m not hearing “Tom Sawyer” every 15 minutes I can settle back to enjoy them once in a while. Add in Neil Peart’s lyrics involving humanism, the journey of understanding the nature of life, and the metaphysical elements and I’m right there!

The themes Rush developed more than 30 years ago were in response to a world just revealing itself. They could not have envisioned that 6 members of a certain family would have an amount of wealth equal to 40% of the rest of the American population and that the corporation that provides such wealth–the largest employer in the U.S.–would offer its employees tips on subsidized healthcare and housing paid for by taxpayers. (Wal-Mart in case you didn’t pick up on it.) Check out this video of another large (700,000 U.S. employees) low-wage employer’s internal site advising employees to stretch food budgets by breaking food into smaller pieces and selling gifts on eBay for extra cash.

In the last post I wrote on the topic of lost American ideals. Americans seem less inclined to care about the environment, the growing problems wrought by income inequality, and the loss of privacy we face. It is as if we are a defeated people willing to accept numerous indignities as long as we can keep our lives rolling along with moderate success. I think it’s clear how we got here and I think it’s clear how we regain our strength.

These are the “turning points” in my take on things:

1981 – Ronald Reagan convinces everyone “government is the problem.” Before that people operated under the assumption that it was just bloated and corrupt. Reagan Democrats and old farts of all stripes believed his earnest demeanor was authentic and turned against government. The wealthy would-be kings and corporate America seized on the opportunity to start fighting unions, privatizing whatever they could get their hands on, gambling with workers savings and livelihoods, reviving the greed that 65 years earlier had filled factories with child workers and 120 years earlier filled fields with slaves, cutting away at the safety net for the poor, and taking a lot of momentum out of upward mobility.

1994 — Following mid-term elections, Newt Gingrich became the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years. Gingrich and Dick Armey wrote, and heavily publicized, a “Contract with America” offering many proposals that became law under Democratic President Bill Clinton and a template for today’s GOP Representatives. Gingrich, as Speaker, piloted the House to two government shutdowns (5 full days and 21 full days) and was successful in impeaching Clinton in the House, although it was overturned in the Senate. Under the leadership of Gingrich and the principles of the Contract with America, Capital Gains taxes were reduced, welfare was reduced and even eliminated for mothers 18 years old and younger, prisons were funded as sentences became harsher, payments for UN peacekeeping operations were cut, tort reform benefiting corporations in product liability suits was instituted, and citizen’s protections against illegal search and seizure were weakened. Conflict between the parties on Budget talks was nothing new, animosity toward a president of the opposing party was not new, but Gingrich’s disdain for compromise and disregard for the essential role of Congress, purely on ideological grounds, was new, ugly, and precedent-setting (and is currently being repeated).

1996 — FoxNews channel launches. Funded by Rupert Murdoch and run by Roger Ailes, a Republican political strategist, the channel promotes extreme conservative thought to the point of skewering mainstream Republicans like Gov. Chris Christie and promoting the wildest extremes of the GOP (e.g. Ann Coulter). Using tools such as repetition and framing, combined with titillating graphics and bootylicious contributors, the channel successfully functions as the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Of course, this was all it was intended to be: an outlet of extreme conservative viewpoints that went well beyond what an already corporatist press was willing to promote. Entire media organizations developed just to identify and document their misrepresentations of Democratic policy and politicians. How did the channel get to the point of being available to 85% of cable and satellite customers? Rupert’s wealth allowed the station to pay cable systems on a per subscriber basis (rather than the opposite) to give the station an audience it would otherwise not have developed so quickly.

2001 – The September 11th attacks leave Americans shaken. Acts of terror, particularly against the World Trade Center, provoked urges for retribution, misdirected hostilities to immigrants in the U.S. and Muslim people everywhere, created strong feelings of jingoism (the feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries). We’ve now endured years of war at a great human cost (for all parties) and a great financial cost. We’ve built massive government entities in Homeland Security and the NSA. We have less privacy and less liberty than we did just 12 years ago and it wasn’t taken from us, it was given away. For many, the world was turned upside down and confidence in our safety and security was threatened. Then (in 2003) the Bush administration capitalized on this insecurity–even fearfulness–with the political decision to waste blood and treasure in Iraq in order to secure access to Saddam’s oil fields. Lawmakers understood this to be some sort of retaliation and most went along with the program. Every death in Iraq and Afghanistan produced dozens of enemies of the U.S. And gas prices still went up.

2007 – The Great Recession begins the nation’s descent into the deepest and longest Recession since the Great Depression. Unaddressed real estate bubbles and unregulated risky banking investment combined to bring the economy to the verge of collapse with millions losing their jobs. GW Bush had hoped that he could get out of town before the poop hit the spinning blades but he was splattered enough to initiate a bank bailout of epic proportions and hand his successor an economy hemorrhaging jobs at previously unseen rates (2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008 and by 2010 the total reached 8.8 million jobs lost from the pre-recession peak). If you didn’t lose your job you still felt the insecurity of the economy keenly. After 30 years of stagnant wage growth for most Americans, and an employer’s market for jobs, we quickly learned the advantage of putting up and shutting up.

2010 – FoxNews and conservative talk radio misrepresent the Affordable Care Act and other policies of centrist, corporation-friendly president Barack Obama to the point that a subset of Americans become activated to oppose his policies under the umbrella of the Tea Party. Billions are spent by Rupert Murdoch and David and Charles Koch to organize and promote Tea Party activism and Tea Party candidates. Dick Armey was pegged to run FreedomWorks, launched with $12 million from the Koch’s, to organize Tea Party branches and create the rallies that the press so adored prior to the 2010 midterms. FreedomWorks paid a million to Glenn Beck for his ongoing endorsements, and an undisclosed amount to Rush Limbaugh for the same. Many middle class people were easily led by these professional talkers to direct their anger against government, Obama, or liberals instead of to the group most responsible for their problems: the powerful multinational CEOs and the super-rich who were busy moving the workers share of income into the pockets of CEOs and dividend checks of investors.

Wolves at the door.

Step by step, those who are too greedy and selfish to understand the concept of acting for the greater good, (the enlightened self-interest that de Touqueville found in America in the 1830s), have shaped the country to our detriment (and their benefit). We are rudderless in many ways because we have surrendered national values.

Can we ask the questions that matter? What happens to the unskilled or lower skilled workers when the factories close? Should we retrain them, can we retrain them? What happens to the children of poor parents who have no early childhood support (educational, ethical, nutritional, emotional)? Can we expect them to find the way out of poverty? Is it good for the economy to see dividends going up while real wages are going down? Should the gap between CEO wages and average workers salaries be widening or closing? What happens when the seas rise, the desert overtakes productive land, and we find ourselves rebuilding again and again after violent storms? What happens when the temperature’s slow rise changes regional ecology, or deadens the oceans, or makes the air unbreathable? Should we sit and watch nature die because we didn’t want to put a price on carbon emissions?

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I think I could have added Citizens United to the list above, but I had the sense that it was only extending the problem of “bought” politicians, not the primary cause of it. Last week the Supreme Court agreed to take up Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and many see this as part 2 of Citizens United. In that case, the Supreme Court said that corporations were people and money was speech, and therefore corporations could not be limited in political donations under free speech principles. The Hobby Lobby case, rather innocuous when viewed as the fight of a corporation against mandates to provide coverage of contraceptives, extends Citizens United to say that corporations have religious freedom as well. The owners of Hobby Lobby use the protections afforded by incorporating, but then balk at the responsibility to follow federal law with the premise that the corporation should be afforded freedom of religion protection under the Constitution. Not only that, but the exception is not based on religious beliefs generally, but their own zealot belief that Plan B One-Step prevents fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb and is tantamount to an abortion. In the fashion of zealots, they misunderstand the functions of this pill as it does nothing to stop a fertilized egg from implanting. If Hobby Lobby was pacifist and wanted to avoid paying the share of taxes that finance the war in Afghanistan, how would that go over?

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Well, I just remembered the promise (to myself) to end on a relatively positive note. So here I go. The good news, on a topic where good news has been hard to find, is on Obamacare. According to the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, the growth in health care spending (since Obamacare was passed in 2010) has slowed to the lowest rate on record for any three-year period since 1965. “If half the recent slowdown in spending can be sustained,” the report says, “health care spending a decade from now will be about $1,400 per person lower than if growth returned to its 2000-2007 trend.” Additionally, health care price inflation is at its lowest rate in 50 years.

The ACA also had many measures to curb spending on Medicare (which is 16% of the federal budget). Benefits were not reduced (they improved in fact) but spending was reduced through various measures to tighten up payments and experiment with alternatives to the pay-for-procedure model that creates incentives for healthcare organizations to perform more procedures and tests to make more money.

Projections suggest we will save $147 billion on Medicare and Medicaid over the next 6 years. These changes will reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion from 2013 to 2022.

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We looked backward and said goodbye

In this edition: Long time since I posted. Blue O (with an umlaut) yster Cult. Losing a friend. The mystery that lies beyond.  The conservatives I get and the ones who run (ruin) our government.

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

All our times have come
Here but now they’re gone
Seasons don’t fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain
We can be like they are.

Come on baby… Don’t fear the Reaper
Baby take my hand… Don’t fear the Reaper
We’ll be able to fly… Don’t fear the Reaper
Baby I’m your man…

Valentine is done
Here but now they’re gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity…
Romeo and Juliet

40,000 men and women everyday… Like Romeo and Juliet
40,000 men and women everyday… Redefine happiness
Another 40,000 coming everyday…We can be like they are

Come on baby… Don’t fear the Reaper
Baby take my hand… Don’t fear the Reaper
We’ll be able to fly… Don’t fear the Reaper
Baby I’m your man…

Love of two is one
Here but now they’re gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear we couldn’t go on
The door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew and then disappeared
The curtains flew and then he appeared
Saying don’t be afraid

Come on baby… And we had no fear
And she ran to him… Then they started to fly
We looked backward and said goodbye
We had become like they are
She had taken his hand
We had become like they are

Come on baby…don’t fear the reaper

–Written by Buck Dharma, Recorded by Blue Öyster Cult (1976)

Perhaps strangely, I have a playlist called Death Songs. “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” is one of them. My favorite is Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” I love its simplicity, the wordplay, and writer/singer Ben Gibbard’s phrasing. The chorus is:

If Heaven and Hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the No’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

However, as the Death Cab for Cutie song is from 2006 it doesn’t fit my self-imposed restriction of songs that boomers knew ages ago (when we were all so sad about the recent deaths of the dinosaurs). Both songs come from the same impulse. A 29-year old imagines loss from death and explores the feelings in song lyrics. Buck Dharma (stage name of Donald Roeser) was musing on the possible impact of his death and played off the theme of eternal love. Gibbard’s message is exactly in parallel to that.

Many have thought “(Don’t fear) the Reaper” song was pro-suicide but the writer has denied that vehemently. It’s more about accepting the inevitability of death, not romanticizing it. Dharma explained, “I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of it (as opposed to actively bring it about). It’s basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners.”

Blue Öyster Cult was kind of a Long Island response to Black Sabbath. (Buck Dharma being Tony Iommi with fingers intact.) The name is from a poem written by their manager, Sandy Pearlman, with umlaut added to invoke a Wagnerian vibe. This was picked up by later metal groups. They were an early adopter of a band logo, in BOC’s case a hook and cross symbol. Their sound was catchy riffs, slicing metal solos, but gentle-sounding lyrics. In case you are wondering, “40,000 men and women everyday” is the number of people who die that Dharma pulled out of the air. The real number is closer to 150,000.

The song also features a cowbell. In the song, it’s a discreet addition to the beat. The cowbell was immortalized in a skit featuring Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live. You can watch it here. And you should know, Bruce Dickenson did not produce the song.

Searching around, I also found the following item of interest. Blond twins, with harps, and some kind of green screen background thing happening.

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Soul-searching on the topic of dying is not uncommon. Many have beliefs. My own father, with cancer overtaking his body, and who never stepped foot in a church except for weddings and funerals, spoke of meeting up with my mother on the other side. Others are equally convinced of the nothingness that follows. I take a middle ground approach. The principle concept is Mystery. We do not know, cannot know, what happens next. It can be nothing, it can be heaven- or hell-like, or it can be a return to the source with or without our individual personality intact.

I heard the American spiritual leader Ram Dass speaks of his friend, a channeled entity named Emmanuel. Ram Dass : “I once said to him, ‘Emmanuel, I often deal with the fear of death in this culture. What should I tell people about dying?’ And Emmanuel said, ‘Tell them it’s absolutely SAFE!’ He said, ‘It’s like taking off a tight shoe.'” These are comforting thoughts. Too comforting for me to put too much belief in. And besides, CHANNELED FRIEND???

So this I know. It’s a mystery. At worst, my death means I will not have a care in the world. At best, I will be bathed in peace and love and free from the worries of the material world. It is not me who will suffer from death, it will be those who knew me, loved me, or just tolerated me affectionately. And my death is certain to cause them to consider their own mortality.

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mistramv_20130910

One reason I’m thinking about death and death songs is that I lost a friend in September. Mark Mistrata died of a heart attack at the age of 55. He was a man’s man, competent in most things. He kept his politics mostly to himself, but Mark was an “O’Reilly conservative”. For example, he might have been against the Medicaid expansion in the ACA not because he didn’t want people to get healthcare, but because his common sense told him that if you give people something for free then they don’t try to change their lives to get it themselves. Foodstamps might be a similar proposition. If you make life too easy then there is no incentive to do the hard work that it takes to turn a nothing life into a productive one.

I won’t argue the opposing side here. (It wouldn’t feel right.) But I wish that the conservatives in the House of Representatives would take a similar tack. Instead of lying about the Affordable Care Act and the terrible disaster they claim it is, they should deal honestly with the issues at hand. Insurers were overpaying their CEOs from the profits gained by cherry-picking and lemon-dropping (using pre-existing conditions and outrageous pricing to avoid insuring actual sick people) while consolidating into single vendor territories where there’d be little competition to keep pricing down.  Instead of talking about death panels for Medicare enrollees, they should talk about how 10,000 people each day are turning 65 and will be doing so through 2030 at which point 18% of Americans will be on Medicare. And today people live longer spending extraordinary amounts of money in their final days. What is the answer to that? I can think of a number of answers including some that are not even part of today’s model. Killing the people off is not one of those options. (After all, I will someday be one of them.)

Instead of talking about Obama as the “foodstamp president” they should address what would enhance the economy in the U.S. and what moves people into economic circumstances where food assistance is needed. But they really can’t do that because they believe ideologically that what’s good for business is good for the U.S. If business has outsourced jobs it’s the inevitability of globalism. But the truth is that government is there for the people first. Government of the corporations, for the corporations is another form, not Democracy. Yes, talkin’ about f-a-s-c-i-s-m: strong leaders, suppression of dissent,  protection of business and elites, and preservation of class systems. Fascism in Europe arose out of fear of the rising power of the working class and it seems like many are ready to follow these themes today without understanding the history of this failed system. Pretend patriots and pretend moralists, they pick and choose which parts of the Constitution and the Bible they will champion. The real patriotism we need in America is economic patriotism.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address seems apropos in the sense of being a memorial and a call to live to humanistic ideals.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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Ease the Day that Brings Me Pain

In this edition: Berserkers and other Norwegians, 2 sides to the Youngbloods, Chicago gun violence, the Chicago Public School system, and if that weren’t enough… Medicare for All!

Darkness, Darkness

Darkness, Darkness
Be my pillow
Take my hand, and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow
In the silence of your deep

Darkness, Darkness
Hide my yearning, for the things I cannot be
Keep my mind from constant turning
Toward the things I cannot see now
Things I cannot see now

Darkness, darkness,
Long and lonesome, ease the day that brings me pain.
I have felt the edge of sadness,
I have known the depth of fear.

Darkness, darkness, be my blanket,
Cover me with the endless night,
Take away, take away the pain of knowing,
Fill the emptiness of right now,
Emptiness of right now, now, now  [Repeat verses 1 and 4]

Oh yeah, Oh yeah
Emptiness, emptiness
Oh yeah

Written by Jesse Colin Young (1969)
Performed by The Youngbloods, Jesse Colin Young

I have two versions of “Darkness, Darkness” on my iPod (the first from The Youngbloods’ Elephant Mountain album and the second a Jesse Colin Young re-do from The Very Best of Jesse Colin Young released, I believe, in 2005. That “Very Best” album remasters many original Youngbloods songs and re-interprets “Darkness, Darkness” with a harder edge and scorching guitar work from Larry Mitchell.

Young was one of the early 1960’s folk artists working at New York City Greenwich Village clubs (like Dylan, Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary).  The period is explored on this YouTube channel. The next step in his career was the jug band style of the folk music revival along the lines of John Sebastian who went on to The Lovin’ Spoonful’s and Joe McDonald who went on to Country Joe and the Fish. Finally, evolution moved all these bands to the folk rock scene and a few survived the sixties British Invasion including Jesse Colin Young.Young released a couple of folk albums and then joined with Jerry Corbitt, Lowell “Banana” Levinger, and drummer Joe Bauer to form The Youngbloods.

“Darkness, Darkness” was featured on the 1969 album and was produced by Charles E. Daniels. Charles E. (you may know him as Charley) Daniels contributed the violin part. It’s pretty interesting to contrast the 1969 release with the same violin part remastered and used on the 2005 version. You can hear the tone of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on that second version including one bridging riff that is reproduced exactly on the Charlie Daniels’s song.

The Youngbloods’ bigger hit had been “Get Together” with the refrain “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody come together, try to love one another right now.”  That song was written by Dino Valenti (a.k.a. Chet Powers) whose story could be a movie about the California folk rock scene in the sixties. Check his Wiki page.

The contrast between that dreamy epic of fraternal love and the invitation for Darkness to be a pillow or blanket is pretty astounding. It is likely a reference to emotional depression, but it was associated with the darkness of jungle warfare in the Vietnam period and the darkness veterans survived after coming home to a world that no longer could relate to them or their experiences.

Young currently lives on his own coffee plantation in Hawaii and CDs and coffee are available at http://www.jessecolinyoung.com.

And now the segue…

One of the arguments about gun control is that no amount of control will stop the handgun killings in Chicago’s poor neighborhoods. (Of course, that’s not exactly true because if dealers weren’t selling guns in bulk in Virginia and other states to gang members or gang vendors to drive to Chicago then the supply would dry up.) But I’m not sure that knives or worse wouldn’t take the gun’s place. It is a valid point that the problem is the culture of violence not the method of violence. I came to this conclusion, believe it or not, reading a book about the Vikings.

I enjoyed the History Channel series about The Vikings and have always held a little affinity for them (although not a lot of real knowledge). The affinity is based on an e-mail I got 2 decades ago via AOL from someone researching their genealogy. My fraternal grandfather (who hadn’t stuck around–a sperm donor in my father’s words)  was from England. So I attributed that to 25% English ancestry. But apparently the name is originally Norwegian and comes from a specific fjord-littered area in Norway. But the Scandinavians settled in various parts of England and that may explain it. And that’s what put Vikings into my consciousness to this day.

Here’s a quote about violence from the book:

“At any moment, say the sagas, the daily round of farming, herding, and fishing might be torn asunder. A single spark of violence might set off an endless success of duels, ambushes, pitched battles, murders, maimings, and burnings. These blood feuds were pursued with deadly intensity as each fresh killing stoked the hatred.”

The Vikings of the times (around 800 to 1000 AD)  lived in loosely connected enclaves of farms and villages and the first loyalty was to their immediate family.

I find two connections to the killing in Chicago and other cities. First, it reminds us that the behavior is not inhuman in any way, humans have always done this type of thing. Not civilized, maybe, but that’s a different concept and we would find such uncivilized behavior in any state at war. The second, is that disconnection to a larger group interest leads to action that always pivots on personal exchanges. Each local group then controls their own justice. I would suggest that the failures of connection to immediate family, with families in sub-optimal configurations, leads to adoption of gangs as families and that a lack of connection to the mainstream leads to lack of consideration for institutions. Sub-optimal would mean many fathers, no fathers, teen mothers, and households out of control due to drugs, alcohol, or other failures to make it to the mainstream.

If we were smart enough and had sufficient enlightened self-interest, we would be attacking the problem of violence in our cities from a completely different angle, probably with education and opportunity because it is ignorance and lack of opportunity that creates the chasm between life on gang-controlled streets and life for those who are participating members of the U.S. economy. Those of us who live in relative security and even abundance, as well as institutions like government, social welfare, or religion could partner on this.

In addition to the normal fierceness of the Vikings, whose gods mimicked their penchant for feasting and destruction, a sub-group of warriors existed called berserkr, from which our word berserk originates. These fighters wore no armor, just skins or bare skin, and would roll their eyes and bite the edge of their shields as they charged adversaries with no fear for their own lives. While not related to the lines I drew between Viking behavior and the gang-controlled streets of Chicago, it reminds us that extreme behavior is part of our human makeup (as evolution isn’t a thousand-year proposition) and that in war or under stress some people will have the capacity to react with abandon against their enemies.

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I don’t like Michael Gerson’s editorial work too much but I think he is a smart guy and thoughtful about his conservative point of view. In a Washington Post article this week, he argues that the right’s perpetual efforts to derail Obamacare is being fought “in a particularly counterproductive way, which discredits responsible opposition and makes a Democratic takeover of the House more likely.” He thinks the Tea Party House members may save Obamacare by marginalizing the GOP as voters come to understand that 40 attempts to derail the healthcare bill is idiocy, not governing. He argues that it will take the same configuration to kill the bill as it took to make the bill, Democratic President, Senate, and House.

He likens Ted Cruz (R-Tx), Marco Rubio (R-Fla), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) as fighters most like General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Tea Party and their supporters may be intoxicated by a certain romance in the notion of the fight against overwhelming odds, but the outcome won’t be the one they are looking for.

In the most recent four Congresses, Democrats controlled the first two House of Representatives and Republicans the second two. The Tea Party ascendance resulted in a loss of 63 seats for Democrats in 2010 (after gaining nearly that many in the last Congress under GW Bush and the first under Obama). Democrats will need to gain 34 seats in 2014 to reach the majority.

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From Pope Francis’ speech in a Rio de Janeiro slum, “Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices… The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world…”

Now that’s good Pope-ing.
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Highly recommended is the Dick Kay show on the radio at Chicago’s WCPT and online from the same place. Dick Kay and his helpers are generous enough to podcast the shows, and last Saturday’s with Carol Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, was eye-opening for me. How much of the city’s budgeting woes are related to killing unions and appeasing the interests that absorb our tax dollars in charter schools? Do we really need to pull schools out of neighborhoods and generally make children’s lives less enriched by killing music and other programs? Look for the July 27th, 2013 MP3 here: http://doogiesplace.com/podcast.html. Lewis is a formidable opponent of those who want to commercialize the schools in Chicago.

The Teacher’s Union Website lays it out this way, “While the policy of neighborhood school closings and charter openings has not moved education in Chicago forward in any significant way, the benefits to charter school operators, private testing companies, real estate interests, and wealthy bankers are growing.”

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Lastly, I want to make sure that readers have H.R. 676 on their radar. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan is promoting his bill, H.R. 676, “The United States National Health Care Act,” or “Expanded & Improved Medicare For All.” When the ACA health care bill was being debated, part of the discussion was on the idea of opening up Medicare to more people. This would benefit the income and actuarial sides of the equation making Medicare more affordable to the nation.

I heard Congressman Conyers speaking of the various wasted spending and bureaucracy associated with our current system (1/3 of healthcare dollars spent on supporting staff and computers to manage the bills to insurance companies, $350 billion spent on administrative costs, waste, and profits to insurers) and I was impressed.  If the costs of healthcare are making single-payer the only viable solution, this type of thinking gives a shortcut from the “lemon-dropping” and “cherry-picking” of commercial insurers (whose profitability is not driven by efficiency or quality, merely by restricting membership to the healthy) to a system where all Americans could enjoy low-cost treatments, medicines, and even dental work.

Lyndon Johnson, “We can say this of Medicare: By honoring the fundamental humanity, which is the spirit of democracy, it is a triumph of rightness in America.”

All comments other than SPAM are gratefully welcomed.

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You can go your own way

In this edition: Don’t care? Repeal Obamacare. I had to pause the video and count Buckingham’s fingers because there just seemed to be too many. The Ryan Budget is one bad mother– watch your mouth! Shaft! GOP Hypocrisy! Hey it rhymes! Moon, June, Loons…

Go Your Own Way

Loving you
Is it the right thing to do?
How can I ever change things
That I feel?

If I could
Baby I’d give you my world
How can I
When you won’t take it from me

You can go your own way…

Tell me why
Everything turned around
Packing up
Shacking up’s all you wanna do

You can go your own way
You can call it
Another lonely day
You can go your own way.

– Written by Lindsey Buckingham, performed by Fleetwood Mac

Go Your Own Way was the lead single released from the 1977 classic, Rumours, from Fleetwood Mac. It was the group’s first top ten hit in the U.S. It is believed to be about the relationship between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Other big airplay songs from the album were Don’t Stop, Dreams, and You Make Loving Fun.

The members of Fleetwood Mac were experiencing emotional upheavals while recording Rumours.  Mick Fleetwood (the 6′ 5″ drummer) was going through a divorce. Bassist John McVie was separating from his wife, keyboardist Christine McVie. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were ending their relationship of 8 years. Because they were trying to capitalize on the success of their previous album, Fleetwood Mac, and maintain career momentum, the band had to keep their personal lives separated from their professional lives in the studio, which must have been quite a feat.

Many of us were unimpressed by Fleetwood Mac and the soft rock turn that followed the addition of Nicks and Buckingham. Still, Lindsey is definitely an artist of high caliber. He’s unaffected, self-taught, and doesn’t read music. But due to his lack of training he invented the playing styles and tunings that would enable his “orchestral” expression. Check the video below for solo work in concert from 2006.

The excitement for rock fans at the time came from the British New Wave with musicians like Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson, Graham Parker and their American counterparts Blondie and Talking Heads. But it would be silly to look down on a group that has sold more than 50 million albums and features veterans of the 60s British blues scene as well the outstanding finger-picking of Buckingham.

That would be like a politicians looking down on the 50+ million Americans who voted for Obama last year and reaffirmed their comfort with his policies, and still going their own way. (Progressives, don’t jump at that “comfort” statement. It leads to my point, but doesn’t take into account the flaws of his policies on drones, energy, etc.) Yet a political party continues to flaunt “the will of the people” and return again and again to minority POVs.

This is what I’m talking about: Attached to the Senate Budget Bill last week was an amendment from Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s that would repeal Obamacare. By itself, that may be understandable since campaign promises have been made. Still, it was the !36th! repeal attempt in the Senate. The House has similar numbers of bills, passed with the Republican majority, but were simply theater as the Democratic Senate would not move the bills forward and in any case, the President would veto repeal.

So what’s the point? It’s kind of a mystery for grown men and women to act that way. Are they so cynical that they think that such displays cement the loyalty of followers? Do they expect a miracle? Divine intervention? Whatever it is, they just can’t quit. They keep holding the votes. They continue to act as though it isn’t settled. The news they didn’t get is that the law was passed, the Supreme Court addressed it, and the voters gave Obama the nod. It’s settled.

Obamacare is certainly not perfect. If you really want to reduce healthcare costs then you create a system where there’s a single payer, (no need for doctors to have large billing staffs), and allow commercial insurers to manage it as not-for-profit entities. And this was never going to fly. So instead, the administration went with the concept that Richard Nixon proposed and the conservative Heritage Foundation filled in 23 years ago. The concept: everybody in.

Most of the alternative plans work well for people who are already in the system. The lack of compassion seen in that camp is rather startling. By advocating for high deductible, lower cost plans for the uninsured they ignore the fact that people won’t go to the doctor if the expense is significant and they are already living paycheck to paycheck as 68% of Americans are. This increases the overall costs in the system by allowing many routine and treatable conditions to become  acute and costly. Not only that, but why should the poor be put in the position of ignoring symptoms and self-imposing a death sentence when other Americans are getting the early treatment they need? Like those that insist that our budgetary woes require cutting Social Security and raising the age for Medicare the lack of human empathy makes one’s skin crawl.

On top of all that, many are motivated by the fact that they believe that it is morally wrong for the haves to provide for the have-nots, even though this type of cooperative social behavior is consistent with both our species and our nation’s history. George Lakoff of framing fame explains that here.

It’s interesting that the GOP has championed clean votes on bills but continues to tack unrelated amendments without consequence.  The programs they publicly decry are privately lobbied for. This article details some of the hypocrisy. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) placed a hold on every single one of the 80 administration appointees who had been cleared for approval by Senate committees, explaining that he thought the Obama administration had a bias against his home state. He feared that defense dollars for tanker aircraft were going to bid and might not flow to his home state.  The senator felt holding up all nominees would place maximum pressure on the administration to ignore other contract bids.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) campaigned against the stimulus, and asked for the funds on behalf of constituents. His vice-presidential run seemed to be revolving around outrage that Obama was cutting $700 billion from Medicare but his budget leaves those cuts intact. He also leaves all the other Obamacare tax provisions in place but without the actual healthcare benefits they were designed to pay for.

The American people really dodged a bullet with that guy. He’s a zealot without a trace of self-reflection and not the leader he claims to be as evidenced by his steadfast dedication to ideology over public opinion. So while his constituents (and the rest of America) support Medicare and Social Security, he wants to shrink them. While the components of Obamacare resonate positively when detailed to the general populace, he wants to abolish it. His idea is that he should not be held accountable to his constituency because he is a leader and a leader changes the polls, not the other way around. The truth, Congressman, is that you are elected to represent your district. You need to act according to their wishes and needs. But, there’s nothing wrong with you attempting to move opinion. It’s just that you need to wait until the polls agree with you before you try to change the laws.

Believe me Congressman Ryan, a 25% maximum tax rate sounds good. You just haven’t told us how we can get there with the benefits and services we currently enjoy. Undefined tax loophole closing has the stench of snake oil. You hide big reductions for food stamps, college tuition aid, child nutrition programs, and other programs that help the least among us by lumping them together in large categories hiding the detailed costs.  In addition to the millions who would lose insurance from repeal of Obamacare would be the millions you would add to their ranks by cutting eligibility for Medicare. Your idea of premium support is a little wacky. Substitute premium support for a “serial DUI driver” for “85-year-old with health problems” and “car insurance” for “health insurance” and you may have the light bulb go off. Premium support for unattainable coverage means no coverage.

And what is the overriding principle that you stand by to hurt Americans in this way? Tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. The tax cuts, according to the Tax Policy Center and this Washington Post article, create a nearly $6 trillion shortfall over 10 years. Creating a budget that simply cuts revenues and programs that benefit the nation is not that great of an idea. Yet, Ryan is the guru and darling of the right. As H.L. Mencken wrote, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

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