The architects of where we are

Mike Schmidt, an architect of the mess we’re in today.

You see their faces everywhere, proclaiming how broken the Republican Party is now. What you don’t see is them realizing they’re the ones who built this thing.

I mean, you don’t think the Republican Party was in great shape before the Orange Menace took its ride down the escalator to proclaim its candidacy in the name of racism and dishonesty, did you?

Don’t you remember the Southern Strategy used by Richard Nixon to win the White House with dog-whistle phrases that racists would understand and the rest of us might not? “Welfare queen.” “Poor people are just lazy. If they would pick themselves up by their bootstraps …”

Reagan’s campaign was even worse, as he promised to stop giving “handouts” like food and medical care to poor people to force them to work. And we all knew these greedy, lazy bastards weren’t white like we were. No, it was those Black and Brown people who were multiplying like mad and taking all OUR money.

Papa Bush’s campaign went to Willie Horton, the Black man who was released from jail for the weekend in Massachusetts and committed a second murder. Bush blamed then-governor Michael Dukakis, who was running against him in the presidential election in 1988, for being “soft on crime.” What that really did was convince racists that Bush was on their side. He would have kept this criminal in jail forever, even had him put to death. Racists ate it up.

Clinton was little better than a Republican, ending Aid to Families with Dependent Children and other programs to help lift poor people out of poverty and replacing them with shorter, less effective solutions, and putting in place trade agreements that harmed American workers and sent almost all of the good-paying jobs overseas. Clinton’s “miracle” economy moved wealth upward again and left workers in he cold.

Michael Steele, former head of the Republican National Committee.

Then things got really crazy with George W Bush and Dick Cheney and all their cronies. This is where Steve Schmidt and Michael Steele come in. They were the architects of what the Republican Party has become. They worked tirelessly to advance the cause of trickle-down economics, illegal wars, torture and the establishment of a permanent underclass to serve the rich.

As we cheer Steele and Schmidt for fighting fascism, we need to remember they helped to create this mess. They stood by and approved while all of out political traditions and mores were dismantled so the Republicans could have their “revolution.”

When Donald Rumsfeld said, “You go to war with the Army you have,” they cheered and did the rounds of talk shows to defend him.

When the administration opened the prison at Guantanamo Bay, they defended it.

They defended “rendition,” which involved kidnapping people for “interrogation” in secret sites.

Every step Bush and Cheney took away from Democracy and toward fascism, they were in lock-step.

Then came 45. They fell silent.

By comparison, George W. looks like a statesman, so now we’ve rehabilitated him. Look what a good guy he is. He wasn’t fascist at all. meanwhile, Gitmo is still open and nobody’s talking about it.

Neither Steele nor Schmidt appear to understand their own complicity in the mess we’re in now, with members of Congress involved in an attempted coup on Jan. 6 — and four months later, those members are not only still in Congress, they just ousted Dick Cheney’s daughter from her leadership position because she won’t repeat the Big Lie that Biden isn’t really president because victory was stolen from the former guy.

Fascism isn’t defeated here. In fact, it’s still gaining strength, and it’s thanks in large part to the work done by Steele and Schmidt, who helped Bush and the GOP defy convention after convention, paving the way for this disgusting madman to take over the party.

Schmidt and Steele are no heroes. They created this mess and now they want you to forget their role in it.

Mike Day, for the 13th time

This image, taken seven months before he died, is probably my favorite. He was so handsome and his eyes were so mischievous. Also, he wasn’t making a goofy face.

On this day 13 years ago, the world lost a fabulous jackass, and I lost my precious son.

I’ve told this story every year, of how, when the hospice nurse arrived, we couldn’t rouse him, of how he finally woke up, of how the nurse kept saying he could still be with us for days, but I knew better.

I’ve told about how he tried to tell me he loved me with his last bit of strength, and of how he saw my sister, who had died a year and a half earlier.

I re-live it every year. I see him in the bed, I feel it in my gut, that desperate wish to keep him here with me, that secret, erroneous, knowledge that my heart would stop when his did.

I can hear my older son’s voice sobbing, “He’s dead? No, no. Oh, no!”

What I remember most is how pissed I was when he died and I didn’t. I sat there for a few seconds, waiting for my turn to go. Certainly God didn’t intend to leave me here.

But my heart kept beating, beating, beating …

Damn!

I remember calling my colleague, John Boyle and asking him to tell everyone in the newsroom. John called back a few minutes later and apologized for being insensitive before asking whether I knew what day it was. Yeah, I said, I knew and I believe it was intentional.

I remember the woman from the funeral home demanding I had to come into the living room to sign some papers that were on a clipboard resting on my son’s corpse. I couldn’t bear to see that body bag. I couldn’t bear the thought of watching that body bag being taken out and loaded into an ambulance.

I asked her to come into the kitchen and she said it would be easier if I just went out there because she was in a hurry.

That’s when my pastor, Joe Hoffmann stepped in. He walked into the living room and calmly told her she needed to step into the kitchen now. I’m still grateful for that. It’s bad enough my son died from a broken health care system, I didn’t need the memory of him being taken out of my house in a body bag.

But I still had to get used to telling people he had died.

“How’s your boy?”

“He died.”

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!”

I remember all the kindnesses — the hugs, the visits, the meals, even a very expensive bottle of single-malt Scotch. I remember the cards and letters, the kind gestures and the words of condolence. I would not have survived without all of the love from my friends.

I had to get used to telling his story over and over and over … hundreds of times in these last 13 years.

This morning I woke and grabbed the tangle of yarn we once called “boo bankie,” a blanket I crocheted for him when he was little. As it unraveled, he tied knots in it until it was a tangle little bigger than a football. He always had it with him — he couldn’t sleep without it. When I pulled it close to me this morning, I wanted to smell him on it, but the antidepressants I was on after he died robbed me of my sense of smell.

But as devastated as I still am, today is the day we celebrate the crazy, funny, tragic and far-too-short life of a proud jackass.

Today is the 13th annual Mike Day.

After Mike’s memorial service, several of his friends came up to me to announce that April 1 was no longer April Fool’s Day, it would be known henceforth as Mike Day, since he was the biggest fool they knew.

“We’ll wear plaid, eat Cadbury Creme Eggs and do silly things all day long,” one of them said. “All the other fools are just amateurs, anyway.”

So, every April Fool’s Day — excuse me, Mike Day — I take the day off. I have plaid sneakers, plaid socks, a plaid shirt and a plaid hat. If it was a little warmer today, I’d wear my plaid shorts.

Tomorrow I’ll get back to work because we still don’t have a president who will work for Medicare for all.

I’ll get back to work because even though 70 percent of Americans want Medicare for all, we still don’t have legislators and policy-makers who will get it through for us. And that’s because elections can be bought, paid for by the people who have more than they ever can spend, but who think people in need are just lazy.

I’ll get back to work because even before the pandemic began, an American was dying every eight minutes from lack of access to care.

I’ll get back to work because up to one-third of Americans who have died of COVID did so because they couldn’t get early care.

I’ll get back to work because more Americans lack access to care now than did when my son died, despite passage of the Affordable Care Act because Big Insurance has found ways other than pre-existing conditions to deny coverage (restrictive networks and astronomical deductibles keep millions of people from getting the care they need).

I’ll get back to work because I made a promise to keep working until we have universal access to care or until my heart finally stops.

Today was our last day with him.

I miss his laugh.

I miss his empathy.

I miss his wisdom.

I miss his twisted sense of humor.

Unless you have lost a child to injustice, you can’t understand. You have no earthly idea. I can only pray you never find out.

Bringing my son home to die

This image, taken seven months before he died, is probably my favorite. He was so handsome and his eyes were so mischievous. Also, he wasn’t making a goofy face.

It was 13 years ago today.

Thirteen years ago today, I was at my son’s apartment in Cary, getting ready to take him for chemo, when he looked up at me and said, “I’m ready for this to be over.”

He hated chemo, but he wanted to stay and see his nieces and nephew grow up.

He wanted to be around to crack inappropriate jokes, to eat my homemade bread, to go to the beach with his friends, to cook gourmet food, to enjoy late-night conversations with other night owls, to snuggle up to his cat, to help people get and stay sober, to build computers from spare parts.

We knew he had to have gained two pounds for there to be any hope the chemo was working. And we knew he had, at most, a year, because the doctors at Memorial Health System in Savannah had ignored his symptoms and refused to do a colonoscopy until he was vomiting fecal matter and weighed just 110 pounds (he was 6 feet tall).

I would never be ready for this to be over.

When we arrived at the clinic at Duke Medical Center, he stepped on the scale.

He had lost another pound.

The look on his face proved to me he wasn’t any more ready for this to be over than I was.

“I tried!” he said. “I really tried.”

That was it, then. There was nothing more we could do. His doctor, Herbert Hurwitz, sobbed as he told Mike, “You’re a good person, Mike. You don’t deserve this.”

It was so different from the doctor in Savannah, who had allowed my son to come perilously close to death before doing anything. And his dismissive attitude as he said, “We can do a little chemo, I guess, but you’ll have to get your affairs in order.”

That had been two years earlier, when he shrugged and gave up on Mike after allowing him to almost die three different times, first by not investigating what was wrong for months and months, the second time by not treating a stricture in Mike’s small intestine until he weighed just 104 pounds and then by not treating a life-threatening infection in his surgical incision. Had we not sought another opinion and paid for a consultation, he would have died in 2006. Dr. Hurwitz adopted Mike because he knew sending him back to Savannah was a death sentence. He fought for Mike’s life as hard as we did, and he gave us two more years with him.

But the damage had been done by that callous jerk in Savannah and his colleagues, who had written in my son’s medical record, “Patient needs a colonoscopy but can’t afford it.”

On this day, we learned my son’s life was to be measured in days or, if we were lucky, weeks.

My son would die because we as a society only value the lives of people who can pay.

He would die because insurance companies were too greedy to sell him a policy.

He would die because doctors were allowed to let him suffer.

He would die because we live in an anti-life culture populated by people who pretend to be “pro-life,” and “Christian,” but who have no idea of the meaning of either of those terms.

As we were leaving the clinic, he looked at me and said, “How much time do you think I have? Two weeks?”

“God, I hope it’s more than that,” I said.

It would not be. He would die two weeks later, with me by his side, holding his hand and telling him how proud I was that I got to be his mom.

I brought him home with me that day and called Hospice, grateful that I didn’t have to do this alone.

His best friend, James, and his now-ex-wife, Janet (he had to leave to get Medicaid), would come the next day and spend the next two weeks helping to care for him. We had a team of people who adored him ready to dedicate the coming days to making him comfortable and listening to his bad jokes and his deeply wise reflections on life and death.

Thirteen years ago today, I brought my son home to die from medical neglect and societal greed.

Since then, more than a half million Americans died from the same thing before this pandemic even started, and now, up to one-third of the deaths from COVID-19 are being attributed to people not being able to get care early on in the course of the disease.

I worked for the passage of the Affordable Care Act, only to watch it being perverted by insurance companies to their own benefit. While 45 million were uninsured when the ACA passed, we have at least that many now, and another 40 million or more who can’t afford to use their health insurance because of deductibles of thousands of dollars — the average is over $3,000 now. Tell the 141 million Americans who live in or near poverty they can just use their insurance when they can’t even pay a $400 surprise bill without borrowing money.

In other words, all the work I’ve done, alongside other advocates, for the last 13 years has done not one bit of good. While the estimate 13 years ago was that 45,000 people were dying from lack of access to care in this country, the estimate a year ago — before the pandemic began — was 68,000.

I am exhausted. I feel defeated. As my son said 13 years ago today, I am ready for this to end.

On this day 13 years ago, I brought my precious son home to die. We would have just two weeks left with him.

A note to the president

President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden observe a moment of silence to commemorate the half million Americans lost to COVID-19

Dear President Biden:

You spoke my heart last night as you honored the half million souls lost to COVID-19 in the last year in this country.

It’s hard to wrap my heart around the grief that runs through this nation right now. But you need to know this grief that surrounds unnecessary death is far older than the pandemic, and it needs to be addressed.

You, having suffered so much loss, are perhaps the most empathetic man ever to set foot in the White House, and you are the polar opposite of the previous occupant in that respect (and in many others).

But you need to know this grief surrounding unnecessary death has been with us for decades, as people who have no access to health care are tossed aside like so much garbage.

When you spoke of opening the closet and not just seeing, but detecting the scent of your loved one on the clothing hanging there, I thought of the leather jacket my late son wore, its scent now dissipated after 13 years.

When you spoke of watching your son’s life fade from his eyes, I remembered sitting by my own’s son’s side as he breathed his last, I remembered being so angry that my heart didn’t stop, too.

Those final six weeks of his life are etched deeply in my very being, and I re-live them every year — now for the 13th time, as my heart keeps on beating.

I remember the sound of his voice as he asked what I was going to do with the “Dead Kid Card.” He had this twisted sense of humor, you see, and he played the “Cancer Card” the whole time he was sick. As he lay dying, he mentioned that I would have the “Dead Kid Card,” and he wanted to know how I would play it.

“I don’t want it,” I said.

“Doesn’t matter what you want,” he said. “It’s being dealt. What are you going to do with it?”

He paused as I sat, staring.

“What are you going to do?”

I promised him I would fight for health care for everyone every day, in every way I could imagine, as long as I had breath in my body.

Mike was born with a rare birth defect and it left him very vulnerable to a particularly nasty form of colon cancer.

That birth defect was deemed by insurance companies to be a pre-existing condition, so he couldn’t buy insurance. Without insurance, he had to pay for the colonoscopies he needed every year out-of-pocket. He’d already had pre-cancerous polyps removed before he was 25.

Mike decided to go back to college when he was 28, and since he was working part-time while he went to school, employer-based insurance was denied to him. He couldn’t find a doctor who would let him pay for a colonoscopy in installments, so he went without. It was a risk he had to take because there were no other options for him.

He got sick in the beginning of his junior year. Abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation … His doctor demanded $2,300 cash up front, so Mike still couldn’t get the test he needed so badly. His doctor wrote in his record, “Patient needs a colonoscopy but can’t afford it.” Can you imagine seeing that in your child’s medical record?

He went to the emergency room, but as you know, they only have to stabilize you there, not find the root cause of your problem. So, he was sent home with pain pills and a laxative — and a bill for several thousand dollars — when his real problem was a malignant tumor. No one helped until it was too late so save his life.

Even after he got sick, he was denied Medicaid until he left his wife.

He applied for disability and was denied. Approval ultimately took 37 months and his first check came nine days after he died.

Mike died at 3:50 p.m. on April 1, 2008, just a few months before you would become vice president. At that time, it’s estimated an American died once every 12 minutes — 45,000 a year — from lack of access to health care. By early 2020, before the pandemic, that number had risen to 68,000 a year, or one every eight minutes.

You know the grief of losing someone whose life you held more dear than your own. Imagine it had happened because of systemic medical neglect, and that neglect was not only tolerated, it was protected.

As long as private insurance companies are in control, they will dictate who gets care and who does not. They found a way around the Affordable Care Act. They simply jacked up deductibles until most people couldn’t afford to use their policies. The average deductible — or, as I like to call it, ransom — is more than $3,000 at a time when 140 million Americans live in or near poverty. They can’t pay, so they don’t get care.

Many of these half million COVID deaths could have been prevented of people had been able to seek help earlier in the course of their illness.

Mike was born on my birthday, so I mark the passing each year as another year without his sense of humor. I miss that most of all.

I miss the sound of his tone-deaf voice as we sang “Happy birthday to ME!” at the top of our lungs every year.

I miss the late night phone calls where we would talk about everything from Phil Collins to philosophy.

I miss cooking with him. I miss making up new recipes.

I miss the way he slathered butter on my homemade bread while proclaiming, “The only thing wrong with this bread is that it’s not at my house!”

I miss his utter impatience with bad drivers, actually hollering out the car window, “Hey! It’s the long, thin pedal on the right. You press it down with your foot!”

I miss how he loved animals and talked to them as if they could understand him, and how often it seemed as though they did.

And my grief is multiplied by a half million deaths from the same cause since he died. I live in a state where lawmakers steadfastly refuse to expand Medicaid. Three people die here every day from systemic neglect, just the way my son did, and these lives are no less precious than his or mine, or yours.

I know you to be a man of deep, deep empathy, so I can’t understand why you wouldn’t be pushing Medicare for all. That alone is the reason I didn’t support you in the primary election, and why I was so angry when you became the nominee.

All this empathy needs to be focused on preventing the depth of grief you and I live with every day. You understand it, and you can do something to lessen it.

When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, a hot mic caught you calling that step forward “a big f***ing deal,” and I loved that.

But that big deal has been derailed by Big Insurance, and we won’t be able to find a fix without getting them out. It’s time for Medicare for all.

You have more power to fix this than anyone else. You need to step up and do the decent thing.

Everyone deserves care. Everyone.

Sincerely,
Leslie Boyd

The day my joy ended

This was the day we learned that Mike would not survive. It was also the day a homeless man named Tommy McMahan died alone in a jail cell because he didn’t want to leave the hospital and die on the street. I grieve them both today.

This was the day I knew I’d never be joy-filled again, that every happiness I might manage to experience was to be marred with unfathomable loss.

This was the day 13 years ago that we learned the cancer was back and we knew there would be no cure.

This was the day we learned my son would die. And every year, I am forced to relive those last weeks of his life, and finally, his death.

I can still hear the echo of his voice. “Mom, the cancer’s back. If we’re lucky, I might have a year.”

We weren’t lucky. He would have just six weeks.

I don’t remember much of what was said after that, other than, “I’ll be there this afternoon.”

I was on my way into work and my husband was a few minutes behind me. I decided to go into the office and not say anything to anyone until he arrived, and then it would be OK if I fell apart.

All of this was because no doctor would see him because he didn’t have insurance. And he didn’t have insurance because a birth defect was a pre-existing condition. And doctors were allowed to turn him away, even though they knew to do so was a death sentence. And the only ones who suffered were Mike and all the people who loved him.

When my husband got to the office, I went to his desk and tried to tell him quietly, but I fell apart and sobbed uncontrollably.

How was I going to go on without my son?

That might have been the moment I decided my heart would stop when his did. Of course it would. There was no way I could outlive him.

“I have to go,” I said. “I’m heading out there now.”

My husband decided it would be better if both of us went, so he went in to the editor’s office to tell him. The editor never came out to face me. I remember how upset I was that this man I had worked with for several years couldn’t even bother to come out of his office to say he was sorry about my son.

I remember my colleagues hugging me and offering whatever words of condolence they could muster, and most of them only finding, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” Surprisingly, those words from people who cared about me were enough to help me pull myself together.

It’s a nearly four-hour drive from where I live to where Mike lived, just outside of Raleigh. I don’t remember a moment of that drive. I hadn’t seen him in several weeks and I was shocked to see how much weight he had lost and how close to death he looked.

This was really happening. My precious son was dying because no one had cared enough to help him before it was too late to save his life, because our system was — and is — so damn broken.

We spent a couple hours with him, his wife (they’d had to split up so he could get Medicaid and have any chance at all of surviving, but they never stopped loving each other) and his best friend, and then got a motel room.

I had wandered across the street to an electronics store because I couldn’t just sit in the room, and as I browsed, I saw a photo printer and thought to myself that Mike could help me set it up if I bought it.

Then I remembered that Mike would be gone soon, and I was overcome once again. I ran back to the motel room and fell apart again.

My phone rang a few minutes later and it was a colleague asking for numbers of people to call who could comment on the death of a homeless man named Tommy McMahan. I was the reporter covering social services issues, so I would have written Tommy’s obituary. I had the contacts for a story like this one.

Tommy had gone to the hospital because he was having trouble breathing, and it was frigid outside. They diagnosed him with pneumonia and discharged him with medication, but he begged not to be turned out into the sub-freezing night. So, someone called police so he could at least be in a warm jail cell.

That’s where he died in the early hours of the morning. Alone.

I knew my son would have people who loved him by his side when his time came. Tommy had died homeless and alone. It was unbearable to think about it.

This has stayed with me almost as vividly as the news that my son was dying. That we as a society can allow people to die from lack of access to even the most basic necessities is so deeply immoral that I have no words to express it. Even now, 13 years later, I cry over the loss of both of these precious human souls — and the hundreds of thousands — more accurately, millions, when you consider all the ways poverty causes premature deaths — of precious human souls who would follow because we love money more than life itself.

We still haven’t fixed any of this. And don’t tell me the Affordable Care Act fixed it. Insurance companies have subverted the law to their own advantage and more people were dying from lack of access to care before the pandemic hit than were dying in 2008 (45,000 a year then, 68,000 before the pandemic hit). The ACA helped some people. But the average deductible now — the amount people have to spend out-of-pocket before seeing any benefits — is more than $3,000 in a time when nearly half of Americans say they have to borrow money to pay a surprise bill of $400. The ACA did not fix this.

Every year on this day, I weep from the overwhelming grief of watching my son die from medical neglect, but also for Tommy, and for all the people who are still unhoused.

I fume as I see people praising someone for building coffin-sized boxes for fellow human beings to “live” in, but who then stand firmly against paying people a living wage in exchange for a week’s work. I live in a perpetual state of grief and outrage, and I can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t, too.

I think of today as Tommy McMahan Day, a day to remember this man I never met, but who touched my heart so deeply.

I continue the anti-poverty work in memory of my precious son and in memory of Tommy. May they, and the millions who have died prematurely from poverty in the 13 years since their hearts stopped, rest in peace.

Still waiting for health care

My late son, Michael, with his niece, Meghan.

Today marks 13 years since my son called me to say he was feeling better because the doctor found and drained a couple quarts of fluid from his abdomen.

We didn’t know why the fluid was there, but in the back of my head was the fact that fluid like that is a symptom of end-stage cancer.

A week later, we found out that was the cause, that the cancer was back and nothing could be done to cure it. He had, at most, a year to live. He would die just six weeks after getting the news.

This year is the 13th time I have relived this seven weeks, and I still have to lament that we are no better off than we were in 2008, when I promised my son I would work for access to health care for every human being.

In fact, things have gotten even worse. Where some 45,000 people were dying every year from lack of access to care in 2008, that number has been revised upward to 68,000 now — and that estimate is from before the pandemic began.

We had 35 million people with no insurance. We still have that many, plus another 45 million or more who can’t gain access to care because of sky-high deductibles. In a time when nearly half of Americans say they can’t pay a $400 surprise bill without borrowing money, 70 percent of employer-sponsored policies have deductibles over $1,500, and the average deductible on a health insurance policy is over $3,000.

That is not access to care.

Today, I live in one of 12 states that have so far refused to expand Medicaid to cover everyone living in poverty. I have tried calling, writing, visiting and pleading with the Republicans in charge to accept the billions of dollars in federal money to cover people whose incomes can’t cover insurance. These are people making minimum wage. Many of them already have chronic conditions that they can’t manage without care, and that will kill them prematurely.

In North Carolina, three of them will die today.

Three more will die tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, just the way my precious son did 13 years ago on April 1.

I have been arrested three times in Raleigh, trying to talk to legislative leaders about access to health care. I was not violent or even threatening. I asked to speak to leaders and was told they weren’t there, even while I could see them sitting there. I offered to wait because what I had to say was so urgent. Instead, I was arrested and hauled off in zip-tie cuffs.

I am forced to relive these last days of his life year after year after year with no end in sight to the carnage caused by our broken system.

I had hoped to see some improvement by now, but the Affordable Care Act has been so sabotaged by insurance companies and other monied interests that we’re actually seeing more people die from lack of access to care than we did 13 years ago, and we have more people who don’t have access to care.

I promised my son I would work for access to care for everyone as long as I have breath in my body. I have kept my promise. But I really hoped we’d have seen some progress by now. Instead, we’ve been skipping happily backwards, giving insurance companies, Big Pharma and the rest of the crooks everything they want, while keeping us fooled that we’re doing better because pre-existing conditions have to be covered and young people can stay on their parents’ plans — as long as their parents can afford to have insurance plans.

I’m exhausted. I’m stressed. I’m grieving. I’m frustrated. I have all but lost hope that we can get anything done.

But I will not stop.

Everyone deserves care.

You can help in this fight. Every one of you can call legislators at the state and national level and let them know you need to see improvements if they want to keep their jobs. Demand that every candidate tell you how they plan to improve health care access.

Then, you need to vote as though health care matters to you, because health care needs to matter to you.

You need to care that people are dying every day from curable and/or preventable causes.

My son would be a lawyer now if he had survived our broken system. He would also be a proud jackass, a master of inappropriate humor and practical jokes, a dedicated volunteer helping people get and stay sober, a man with a brilliant mind and a kind heart.

Those of us who loved him still grieve every day over this hole in our hearts that won’t ever heal.

This has to stop. We have to demand better, and we need to demand it now.

Deliberate destruction leaves people with nothing

All that was left after NC Department of Transportation bulldozers cleared a community of homeless people’s belongings from an underpass in downtown Asheville.

A few days ago, during the coldest week of the winter so far, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, the NC Department of Transportation bulldozed the belongings of a community of unhoused people that had been set up under a highway overpass in downtown Asheville, NC. Some people had time to gather a few of their things, others did not.

I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel to be on the streets because our society chooses to not help people in crisis, instead calling them lazy and vilifying them. In comments on news sites about this, people are actually gleeful about fellow human beings being booted out of a place they found community and a tiny measure of safety.

Imagine having lost everything — your shelter, your car, your possessions — and now you’re living in a tent under an overpass, in sub-freezing temperatures. You go to get food or to a government office in search of help and when you come back, everything is gone. Your tent, your sleeping bag, any spare clothes, even the few small things that offered you a connection, however tenuous, to a happier time, all gone.

I wrote an angry letter to the Mayor and City Council members, asking how they could have allowed this to happen. Mayor Esther Manheimer replied with an “I’m sorry this happened,” and a denial that the city knew anything about this.

I had hoped for a little more outrage than that. The statement had no suggestions on how City Council plans to address the problem of increasing numbers of people in poverty.

The mayor can write all the public statements she wants, but until she starts offering — or even asking for — suggestions on how we move forward, there is no evidence of genuine concern on her part. There wasn’t even a promise to replace things that were lost in the city’s statement, although I’ve heard people can contact the city to report lost items. If I were one of those people whose few possessions were bulldozed, though, I likely wouldn’t trust the city to replace them.

Council member Kim Roney also replied to my email with a long list of questions and concerns she has sent to other council members and the DOT Commissioner. I found her reaction to be far more appropriate than the mayor’s. She was genuinely concerned about these fellow human beings.

I want to know why there’s nothing in place to ensure city officials know before any property is destroyed or people displaced within city limits. If such a policy exists and it failed, I want to know why and what’s being done to rectify it. I didn’t get an answer to that concern. We do know that the complaint came in through the Public Safety Department and was sent to the state DOT, and that city police were present when the destruction took place.

I want to know why the city, since it can’t accommodate as many people in shelters because of the COVID pandemic, doesn’t at least make sure people have a place to set up their tent community. As it is, it’s illegal to be homeless here. People can’t stay on public or private property without being harassed or arrested. It would be easy to designate a small piece of city property with trash pickup, portable toilets that are serviced daily, perhaps a water tank truck, some cooking stations and some electrical power that will allow people to plug in cell phones or small heaters. The city also could offer security training to some volunteers because the police should have no presence there.

Please understand that I don’t think a tent community is the answer. This is a tourist town and time and again, city officials have shown that tourism is more of a priority for them than poor people. In fact, the city is about to allow a continuation of the hotel boom, which will bring in more wealthy tourists that residents will serve for poverty wages and inhumane working conditions. Why don’t we require hotel developers to contribute to housing for poor people in a meaningful way? Why can’t they contribute to a fund to buy a couple of old hotels that then can be turned into safe and decent housing for people who have nothing? If you won’t invest in the community, you shouldn’t be allowed to build here.

People deserve the dignity of a place to call home. It’s a basic necessity, and we don’t even view it as a right in this society because we’re too afraid someone will get something they don’t “deserve,’ as though anyone on Earth deserves what happened to those fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters.

Other cities are finding ways to house people. Why won’t we?

I am a follower of the teachings of Christ. I am required to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and welcome the stranger. But Christianity isn’t the only faith that demands love of each other from its followers. In fact, evert major religion demands the same thing, and even for people with no religious faith, moral standards demand this.

As I told the mayor, there may not be a Biblical Judgment Day, but there will be an election.

BeLoved Asheville is replacing the things people lost — tents, sleeping bags, warm clothes and more. If you can donate, please go to www.belovedasheville.org. We’re all doing our best to keep these people alive right now.

Accountability needs to come before unity

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talks about having to hide in a bathroom to escape terrorists who we calling for her to be killed on Jan. 6.

Reporting by the New York Times yesterday and AXIOS today makes it pretty clear that the former president was deeply involved in the conspiracy that led to the attempted violent coup of Jan. 6.

Investigations are starting to uncover involvement by Republican members of Congress, some of whom led reconnaissance tours the day before the attack, and some of whom tweeted the whereabouts of Democrats the terrorists were looking for during the attack.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chilling Instagram video describes what happened to her during those terrifying hours hunkered down in the bathroom of Rep. Katherine Porter, believing she was going to die at the hands of the terrorists she could hear calling for her.

“Where is she? Where is she?” she heard them ask from just a few feet away. She was wearing heels and Rep. Porter helped her find a pair of sneakers she could wear in case she had to run for her life.

At least two members of Congress have tested positive for COVID since the assault because Republicans refused to wear masks, and then a majority of Republicans in the House and a handful in the Senate voted to overturn a fair and legitimate election.

Someone needs to pay for these crimes before we can talk about holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.”

We have reached levels of stupidity and corruption I wouldn’t have thought possible before Election Day 2016, and I was aware it was going to be really bad.

But 2016 wasn’t when all this began. Evangelical “Christians” have been wanting to “take over” since I was a child growing up among them in the 1950s and ’60s. And their alliance with white supremacists and fascists proves their hypocritical belief that it’s OK to do anything — steal, lie, cheat, even kill — as long as it’s for Jesus.

They voted for Reagan because he was against abortion. It didn’t matter that he was incompetent, that he and his cronies would set us on a path that was pro-military, pro-police and pro-Wall Street, anti-labor, anti-LGBTQ, anti-woman, anti-health care and anti-environment.

They voted for Bush I because he kissed up to them.

They voted for Bush II because he was a “Christian,” and they supported his illegal kidnappings, imprisonments and torture, his illegal wars and corrupt cronies.

Then they voted for the least moral, least competent, pettiest, nastiest, most ignorant and unstable man ever to run for the office, and they supported an attempted coup to keep him in office after he was defeated at the polls..

Now they want “unity.”

Well, here’s what’s required for unity:

To start, convict this former president in the Senate and ban him from holding any federal office ever again.

Then file criminal charges against him and all his co-conspirators — and that includes every last person we can find who entered the Capitol illegally on Jan. 6.

I have been arrested twice in that building. Once was for disrupting the Senate by bringing in an unframed 5×7 photo of my late son to hold up when they began debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act, as we chanted “Kill the bill!” I was convicted and did 48 hours of community service. The other time was when I tried to speak to leaders of the Senate about health care. I paid a $50 fine.

I didn’t break in. I actually went through security. I didn’t steal anything, break anything, cause any damage, smear my own excrement on the walls, threaten anyone, carry anything that could be construed as a weapon, mouth off to cops, threaten anyone, attack anyone — none of that. I chanted from the Senate Gallery and I prayed and sang in the Rotunda after being refused entry to the corridor that led to Mitch McConnell’s office, where I had hoped to deliver a letter.

I went there to try and save lives, not to take them. And I was arrested, tried and punished for trying to beg for people to have access to health care.

I broke the law by refusing to leave the Rotunda, and by chanting from the Senate Gallery. I was arrested and punished. I never complained about being arrested. I knew it was likely when I went in there, and I never, not even for a moment, considered violence.

I want to see justice dished out to everyone involved in this mess before I cozy up to anyone who supported this creature, and I refuse to cozy up to (or work with) anyone who still supports him and his lies.

Donald Trump is a common criminal. A thug. He belongs in prison for the rest of his life, as do his children, his advisors, his lieutenants and members of Congress who helped to plan or incite the insurrection.

When I see that, we can talk about unity.

Accountability first, then unity.

No justice, no peace.

It’s a trap

All of a sudden, I’m seeing a ton of ads for stock trading on my Facebook feed. And as soon as I hide one, another pops up.

I’m looking at these in the light of the Robinhood/Game Stop fiasco this past week. This was a scheme by rich people called shorting, where they manipulate the stock of a company (in this case, retailer Game Stop) they’re betting is about to fail. Last week, middle-income people who saw this happening, went to the online trading company, Robinhood, and bought so much of the stock as a group that the price rose precipitously. The Robinhood traders made millions selling this stock back to the wealthy traders. The rich people lost a ton of money, so trading was stopped to protect the wealthy.

So now, we’re seeing ads for “discounted” stocks all over because rich people are going to prey on the hopes of people who can’t afford to gamble with these schemes.

Headlines are promising unimaginable wealth from new tech stocks, or 50 percent off trading fees for hidden gems in the market. I have hidden the ads of one company (Motley Fool) three times in an hour.

Meanwhile, most of us are drowning in debt, from student loans at 12 percent interest, four of five credit cards, all maxed out at 29 percent interest, and now we have payday loan apps on smart phones.

I get emails from Experian every day — every damn day — telling me I can have this credit card or that one to “rebuild” my credit rating.

I cut up all my credit cards two years ago after struggling for years to get them paid off. One of the most popular ways to get people to keep their debt is to offer another card at lower interest rates, say, 12 percent, for the first year. They’ll transfer your balance.

Except they won’t.

They’ll leave $1,000 or so on the original card, so now you have another payment to make, and in times like these, the minimum payment is all people can afford to make. And, since you now have a credit card that isn’t maxed out, when the car breaks down, you put the $1,500 bill on the now-almost-cleared card, at — you guessed it — 26 percent interest.

I struggled with this for years before I finally figured out I’d already paid more than double what I had borrowed. I cut up all the cards and signed on with a debt-reduction service. Instead of struggling to pay nearly $1,000 in credit card bills each month, I pay about one-third of that. The downside is that I have a crappy credit rating. I mean, really crappy.

That means I have to pay a higher interest rate if I borrow money. But with $600 a month freed up, I can pay cash for what I need. I don’t need credit for everyday expenses anymore. The debt-reduction service is negotiating settlements with all four credit card companies, and I’m able to save a little money for when I have a big expense.

For the first year, these credit card companies filled my inbox with threats of court action, but the service I contracted with told me not to even acknowledge those threats, and after a year, they stopped.

Wall Street and Big Credit don’t want you to know these things, and I think the rich are rather amused at our efforts to catch up and live debt-free.

They punish us with a bad credit rating if we don’t play their game, and your credit rating is everything. It’s even used to determine whether a company will hire you, whether you can rent an apartment and have a roof over your head.

If you can get an apartment by paying three months’ rent up front, you’ll also have to pay a hefty deposit — perhaps the equivalent of three months’ service — for utilities.

If you can get a loan, it will be much more expensive because you’re going to pay a much, much higher interest rate.

These are the ways our current system extracts the last drop of blood from the poor. It’s how they drive middle class families into poverty, where they, too can be exploited.

Historically, it reminds me of the way my grandparents had to live in company housing and buy from the company store as employees of textile mills in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You never had quite enough to cover everything, so you just went deeper and deeper into debt, so the company pretty much owned you.

Today, it’s not the company, but the banks who own us. They control the narrative because they control the money.

We the People are not being represented in Congress anymore, they are. That’s why minimum wage hasn’t budged in more than a decade, even though the cost of living is three times what minimum wage is now. That’s why interest rates that once were illegal are now considered low. It’s why car title companies and payday lenders are thriving.

We’re not supposed to be able to dig out.

We’re entering serfdom from the first time we borrow money, and now credit card apps are available for children to teach them how to “manage debt,” so we’re not even able to reach adulthood anymore before being ensnared.

And nearly half of us are voting for people who stand against helping any of us dig out.

I can’t say what the solution might be except to push the new Democratic majority to change some laws:

  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 immediately and plan increases over the next five years to get it to where it would be had it kept up with inflation, and then tie it to inflation.
  • Re-establish usury laws to keep interest rates in check. Put caps on what banks can charge for various loans. Close payday lenders.
  • Establish a massive public works program to shore up our crumbling infrastructure and electrical grid.
  • Break up the banks and tech monopolies.
  • Provide real, ongoing relief to people whose jobs went away because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, forgive their rent and pay the landlord. Pay their utilities and make sure unemployment compensation pays for the bills they still have. Make sure they have health insurance (this is especially urgent in the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid).
  • Treat us like human beings. All of us.

When will someone stop him?

His affiliation with convicted sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein didn’t stop him.

For three and a half years, we have watched as the creature currently squatting in the White House has dismantled norm after norm after norm.

He has surrounded himself with sycophants, and disposed of all whose loyalty rested first with the nation and its people. He has fired people who won’t stoop to his cruel ways.

It isn’t just him, of course. He has allies and co-conspirators, all of whom have dispensed with societal and governmental norms in a naked power grab.

The Republicans in the Senate have been happy to follow him down the path to fascism, filling seat after seat with incompetent judges loyal only to the fascists on the right — hundreds of them, thanks to Mitch McConnell and his minions.

The object, of course, has been to take over the judiciary so they could own all three branches of government.

We got back the House of Representatives, but it means little when the Senate is pandering to the most unstable, the most purposely cruel person ever to inhabit the Oval Office.

And now we have a deadly pandemic raging out of control. Those of us who take it seriously haven’t seen our families in four months, and God only knows how much longer it will be.

And because of the inaction from Washington, we are trapped here. Our passports are useless because no other country will have us. Mexico is finally grateful for the wall. Canada has closed its border. The European Union has told us to keep out.

Meanwhile, 140,000 Americans are dead and no one knows how long it might be before we can get a handle on it because nobody will do anything about him. The House impeached him and the Senate shrugged it off. He blatantly cashes in on his office and reaps profit from his position, in defiance of the law, and still nothing happens.

When he said he could shoot someone and get away with it, he was right.

Each revelation of his misdeeds starts with, “Maybe now somebody will do something,” but nothing happens.

Now his niece, clinical psychologist Mary L. Trump, has written a book about how he came to be who he is, and it reveals even more horrendous information. It sold nearly a million copies on its first day out.

I remember him as a real estate magnate in New York. I remember hearing about how he made sure his late brother’s children were disinherited after his father’s death — including a very sick baby named William, whose health insurance was cut off.

I remember the Central Park Five and how he has yet to apologize for calling for the death penalty for these five — who, by the way, were innocent of the attack on a woman who was jogging in the park.

Last night, everyone was focusing on how, during an interview with Rachel Maddow, Mary said that, of course, she had heard him use the N-word and utter anti-Semitic slurs.

We have 140,000 Americans dead from a lethal pandemic that is raging out of control as he tries to think about how he can make money off it, and the numbers are still rising, and people are screaming that he used the N-word.

Yes, he’s a racist. And people of color are dying in greater numbers because of his racism. People of color are still dying at the hands of police.

And now, it will be poor children — disproportionately children of color — and their teachers who will die has he tries to send them back to school so he and his minions can pretend things are back to normal in time for the election.

And still, no one with the ability to do something to remove him from power will act.

What will it take? We know 140,000 dead won’t do the trick. Will it take a million dead? Two million? Will it take the utter destruction of the economy? The crumbling of supply lines? Will we have to sink to civil war like Syria and Yemen?

When will somebody do something about him?

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