We are once again in the annual Medicare enrollment period, when those of us on the government-funded, single-payer plan known as Medicare can change plans.
So, a word of warning. For-profit insurers are trying to privatize Medicare for their own benefit. They are selling what are called “Advantage” plans, which offer no real advantages to consumers.
If you’re on Medicare, you’re getting dozens of emails, phone messages, texts and glossy snail-mail demanding your attention. Free gym memberships! Free vaccinations! $0 premiums!
It’s all smoke and mirrors. The ads will have you believe the plans are part of Medicare. They are not.
Don’t be swayed by a gym membership or low- or no-premium plans. Private insurers will make money by covering fewer things, in dramatically narrowed networks. With Medicare, your doctor is covered. In addition, you don’t need referrals, and you don’t have to worry about pre-authorization requirements or a denial that could cause a fatal delay in care.
Private insurance companies care only about profits; Medicare doesn’t make a profit. In fact, it spends more than 95 percent of the money it takes in on direct care; insurance companies had to be forced to spend no less than 70 percent.
What we need is health care that’s affordable, accessible and whose terms are clearly spelled out, and as confusing as Medicare can be, it is always better than a for-profit plan.
Private insurance companies are known for their obfuscation and out and out lies about their coverage. They won’t mention the narrow networks, or the steep copays and deductibles, the short pharmacology list or any of the other ways they will part you from your money.
They have to make up for what they give you. It’s simple math – if they don’t make a profit, they don’t exist.
I was getting gas yesterday at Sam’s Club, and the pump next to mine malfunctioned. The attendant, a middle-aged man who needed to see a dentist, came by to fix it.
“Be careful to keep your windows closed when you leave Sam’s,” he said. “There are homeless people reaching in and grabbing stuff at the light there.”
He pointed at the exit.
“Right there, they’re just grabbing stuff.”
“Desperate people do desperate things,” I answered. “Thanks for the warning.”
He laughed and said desperation was what drove him to take this low-wage job, being outside in all kinds of weather, helping people who likely are annoyed at any delay in getting gas and eager to get on to more pleasant tasks. He probably takes a lot of verbal abuse.
“I’m thankful I have a place to live,” he said. “It isn’t much. It doesn’t have heat. But I stay dry.”
I told him I lived in a house in Massachusetts as a kid that had no central heat and no hot water. We had a woodstove. He told me his place is small enough to heat with a little electric heater. We chatted a few more minutes before the pumps got busy and I needed to move.
I thought about him being a bit judgy at first, as he told me to be careful of homeless people. But as soon as I said, “Desperate people do desperate things,” his face softened.
There but for the grace of God and all that.
Except God doesn’t cause people to be poor or homeless or sick with no access to health care. That comes from public policies that impoverish people, like an insufficient minimum wage, allowing corporate landlords to overcharge for crappy housing — hell, allowing corporations to own a quarter of all housing units in the first place — allowing health care providers to let people die rather than care for them, allowing insurance and pharmaceutical companies to make obscene profits while poor people suffer and die.
It isn’t the grace of God that allows any of us to fare better than others, it’s privilege, luck, and greed. God isn’t all about making people go hungry because you won’t agree that everyone deserves a basic level of income, one that covers needs. And by needs, I mean food, clothing, shelter, transportation, health care and maybe a couple of bucks extra to take the kids for ice cream once in awhile.
When Republicans (they’re the only ones who’ve ever done this) aske me whether my late son was working when he got sick, that’s inappropriate and cruel. What you’re doing when you ask that is telling me my son probably didn’t deserve to live.
When you ask someone living in poverty why they don’t get a better job, that, too, is inappropriate and cruel. Do you think they hadn’t thought of that? Do you have any understanding of the barriers people living in poverty face? Most poor and low-wage people can’t afford a car, and most places have crappy public transportation (another policy failure). People in low-wage jobs usually have to have two or more jobs to hold body and soul together. That leaves little time for family, and no time for a proper job search or for training for a better job.
My gas pump attendant friend considers his job a desperate measure. Living on starvation wages leaves one in a desperate place, and if he were to lose that job, he likely would have to join the ranks of the homeless.
Before you condemn poor people, you might want to think about how your votes affect these lives. I mean, voting for people who will change these cruel policies is the very least you can do. Seriously, it is the very least you can do.
If you want to do more, you can join the ranks of people who are fighting against poverty, not the poor.
Fifteen years ago, in the final weeks of my son’s life, I was devastated that my son really would die because doctors in Savannah, Ga., refussed to treat him. Because the Emergency Room at Memorial Health in Savannah refused to treat him.
Most people don’t know that an ER can refuse to treat you, but the fact is, they only have to stabilize you. If you show up in pain, they can give you pain meds and release you. If you have an intestinal blockage, they can give you a laxative and release you. I know this because it’s what happened to my son as he desperately tried to seek care.
Lisa Edwards, 60, went to the ER at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville, Tenn., on Feb. 5, saying her ankle was broken and she believed she was suffering a stroke. Doctors blew her off and told her to leave. When she begged them to listen to her, they called police.
Fifteen years and a few days ago, I had rushed to Raleigh after getting a call from my son that his cancer was back and there would be no cure. My husband and I checked into a motel near my son’s apartment and I got a call from one of my colleagues in the newsroom. A young homeless man had died after being turned out from the emergency room. Since I covered health care policy, my colleague needed some names and numbers of people to interview for a story about him.
Tommy McMahan had pneumonia and the doctors had given him antibiotics and discharged him. McMahan knew he was too sick to go back on the street, especially since the twmperature was well below freezing. But doctors refused to admit him.
Emergency Room personnel called the police, who arrested him. He died that night, alone in his cell.
Like my son, Edwards and McMahan weren’t wealthy and couldn’t pay for treatment. Like my son, the hospital disposed of them. Like my son, they died, The only difference is that my son suffered, in poverty, for three years because that’s how long it took to approve his disability. His first check came nine days after he died.
This is how we treat poor people in this country, and about 68,000 of them die each year from lack of access to care, according to a study before the pandemic hit in 2020. And it’s been estimated that up to a third of the more than one million covid deaths could have been prevented if people had sought care right away. But they didn’t because nearly half of Americans say they can’t afford a $400 suprrise bill without borrowing money.
What’s worse is that up to 14 million people could lose access to health care when the pandemic spending ends. Medicaid grew by nearly 20 million low-income people under the expanded access during the pandemic, which began in 2020. Once the spending dries up, some 14 million of them could be booted from the program as their eligibility disappears. Thousands will die from lack of access to care.
Before my son died, I promised to fight as long as I lived to get a system of universal health care in place. I thought the Affordable Care Act would do that, but I was mistaken. Big Insurance has preverted the law to benefit themselves, and we, again, lose.
The average deductible out-of-pocket costs for workers covered by an employer plan is over $6,000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, with workers at small companies paying up to $2,000 more.
That’s not affordable.
In addition, plans with lower deductible (and Medicare “Advantage” plans) have networks so narrow that you can go bankrupt if you get sick or injured while traveling.
In the end, that’s not affordable, either.
Fifteen years ago today, we were preparing to say goodbye to my son. I was making calls to set up interviews in the Raleigh area so I wouldn;t be charged with vacation time when I took him to see his doctor and to his forst chemo appointment. I could do nothing to save his life.
Fifteen years and people are still being refused care and dying as a result. We hear about them all the time, but we still refuse to vote for people who will give is the health care system we need.
If this isn’t state-sponsored murder, I don’t know what is.
On this day 15 years ago, we had less than five weeks left with my son.
I am not impressed by the weeklong revival going on in Kentucky, where hundreds have come to sing and pray nonstop.
While some think it’s a sign of national revival, it looks a lot more like a political rally that pedals propaganda to me.
Any one of these people could be out feeding the poor, standing up for the rights of women, LGBTQ folks and people of color. They could be calling for an end to the war economy or to the destruction of the planet. They could be delivering sleeping bags and tents to people who have no home.
They could help build houses for Habitat for Humanity.
That’s right, you won’t see Jimmy Carter here, and you wouldn’t have seen him here as a younger man, either. He was building houses. As president, he set the example of cutting back to save the planet. He alway sought peaceful solutions. He was faithful to his wife — whom he also respected and from whom he sought counsel.
Jimmy Carter lived his faith every day. So, to those who have said they’re praying for Jimmy Carter, let me say he doesn’t need your prayers. He’s good to go. He has lived in tune with the teachings of Jesus his entire life. You’d be better served by following his example than by sitting in a pew and throwing money into a barrel.
These revivals seem to devolve into a sort of mass hysteria. People are so filled with the “Spirit,” yet as soon as this marathon ends, they’ll go back to their lives, back to voting for people who won’t raise the minimum wage, who won’t offer us the same health care access they have, who won’t do a damn thing about the proliferation of gun violence.
They’ll go back to demanding women endure forced pregnancy and childbirth, even going so far as to ban contraceptives. They’ll try to destroy the marriages of LGBTQ people. They’ll continue institutionalized racism, especially in the so-called justice system. They won’t raise the minimum wage because if you love Jesus enough, God will bless you with material wealth (about the biggest perversion I’ve seen of Jesus’s teachings).
When this clown show ends, people will talk about how great they feel, but I assure you, poor and marginalized people don’t benefit from others’ religious experiences.
Does this country need a revival? You bet it does, but not this revival. We need people to wake up to the systemic injustices in our system. We need to lift up the poor and marginalized. We need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, welcome the stranger … you know, all the things Jesus taught us to do. If you claim to be a follower of Christ, stop whining about your gun rights and gay rights and women’s rights and start reading the red print.
Get off your butt and do the work, like Jimmy Carter did.
I’m not condemning all Christians here. I’m a follower myself. But American Evangelicalism has so corrupted the teachings of Christ that he wouldn’t recognize hismelf in what they teach. And if he were to return today, American Evangelicalism would reject him in a heartbeat.
This “Christianity,” isn’t Christian at all, and it has done irreperable harm to millions — especially to women and girls — and to the entire planet.
Thirteen years ago today, less than two years after our broken helath care system killed my son, it very nearly killed my husband.
He had felt a heaviness in his chest for several days, and with his family history — the men tend to die of heart attacks in their 40s and 50s — he went to the doctor. She ordered an EKG, which was alarming, so she called his cardiologist. They informed him our insurance required preauthorization for cardiograms, even after an alarming EKG. It could take a couple days.
Fortunately, he survived the wait, and the cardiologist sent us straight to the hospital. Do not stop at home, do not collect your pajamas and toothbrush, get to the ER. He was rushed upstairs and diagnosed with a nearly complete blockage of the artery knows as the “widowmaker,” and taken into surgery within an hour. Still, just as they got him onto the table, his heart quit. His doctor told me if it had happened so much as a minute earlier, he would have died. As it was, he wouldn’t be out of the woods for about 48 hours after double bypass. The wait imposed by the insurance company, which went against medical advice, very nearly killed him.
I got a little revenge two years later, when North Carolina was considering building its own Marketplace for the Affordable Care Act. I was part of a panel of stakeholders brainstorming and advocating. The rep from my insurance company stated that they would like to be able to keep costs down by insisting on preauthorization for expensive tests.
I raised my hand.
“Would that mean pre-auth for shoulder MRIs or, say, cardiograms after a bad EKG?”
“Oh, we would never do that,” she said.
“You’re gonna have to walk that back,” I said. As she reacted with shock, I added, “I have the record of when you made my husband wait 48 hours for pre-auth after a truly alarming EKG.”
More “shock” from her. “That’s inexcusable! Who’s your carrier?”
Suddenly, everyone was scribbling on their notepads. The insurance company would not get permission to demand pre-auth in cases where people’s lives were at stake. Sure, demand pre-auth for non-vital tests, but not for tests that diagnose life-threatening conditions.
The insurance company that wouldn’t sell insurance to my son and that delayed my husband’s cardiogramdamn nearly long enough to kill him is still in business. They’re classified as a nonprofit, but they are powerful and they, together with others, are loaded with cash to bribe lawmakers to maintain their power over our lives.
Yes, the Affordable Care Act forced Big Insurance to sell insurance to everyone, but copays and deductibles average almost $4,000 per person, and some of the networks are so narrow that if you fall ill on vacation, it could bankrupt you. This is at the same time nearly half of Americans say they can’t pay an unplanned expense of $400 without borrowing money.
So-called “Christians” are happy to spent $14 million on commercials to tell people Jesus loved them, but to live what Jesus told them — to heal, feed, clothe and love the poor and marginalized — seems to be beyond their capabilities. Instead, they vote for lawmakers who will impoverish them and then vilify them for being poor.
These are the same people who ask whether my son was working when he gor sick, implying that he was somehow undeserving of care, even of life itself.
Fifteen years ago today, I was in Raleigh, contemplating life without my precious son. Two years later on this day, I would be cotemplating life without my husband, all because we can’t do what every other industrialized nation has done and move to a system that covers EVERYONE.
So, if you want to talk morality, explain to me the morality of allowing tens of thousands of people to die every year, of healing only the rich, of putting and keeping people in poverty. If this is your view, you are most definitely not morally superior to anyone.
I haven’t been writing much lately. I think it’s mostly because I’m frustrated that, 14 years after the death of my son from lack of access to health care, I still can’t make legislators care enough to fix this.
I have held rallies, I have spoken in public at every opportunity to explain how we can fix this. I have been arrrested six times trying to talk to legislators. I’ve never been violent, not have I ever condoned violence. Yet the violence of allowing people to suffer and die because of corporate greed not only continues, but is protected.
But I made a promise to my late son to work on this every day. I’ve been busy organizing, registering voters, speaking out … but it’s gotten really hard to just sit down and write, to tell other people’s stories, and then see the same bad actors getting elected again and again, to see things get worse instead of better.
I was naive enough to believe the Affordable Care Act would improve things but it turned out to be just another way to drive customers to Big Insurance, where customers are required to pay thoudsands of dollars before their insurance company has to shell out a dime.
I used to say the ACA would have saved my son’s life, but that’s no longer the case. An insurance policy no longer offers access to care. Deductoibles soar to $3,000 and above for an infdividual, which means if you don’t have $3,000, you don’t have access to care. This is at a time when nearly half of Americans say they would have to borrow money to pay an emergency expense of $400.
In other words, 14 1/2 years of activism has resulted in nothing but further degredation of the “system.” I know it’s hubris to hope one’s work will result in something positive, but to watch things get worse while tens of thousands die needlessly is downright depressing.
I’ve let it get to me, and it’s time to stop wallowing and start shouting again.
I’m busy registering people to vote right now because this is an election we can not lose. Period. Nothing good will happen on any front if we allow the corporate elite to hold power.
If you’re not registered to vote, do it NOW. And then be sure to vote. If we lose this one, we’re toast.
And if you think I’m too radical, ask yourself how the unnecessary death of your child might affect your outlook.
Chief Justice John Roberts called the leak of the draft opinion ending a woman’s right to control her body an “egregious breach of trust.” Funny, that’s how I feel about the far-right minority in this nation stealing the court to get this enforced-pregnancy plan through.
I am outraged by this, but I’m not surprised at all. I grew up among these people who claim to be Christian, but who wouldn’t know Jesus if he stood in front of them. They believed it was fine to lie, cheat, steal, even kill, if it’s for their version of Jesus.
They believe all women are “Daughters of Eve,” and are guilty of her “original sin,” which was seduction. It meant we were at fault if we suffered sexual violence. It meant we have to be controlled — really, closely controlled at all times.
I’ll be 70 years old in November. I remember when a woman couldn’t choose. I remember my 16-year-old friend being coerced into a marriage to an abusive boy because she was pregnant. Her baby died when she was 6 months pregnant and he threw her down the stairs. It was called an accident and he wasn’t charged with a crime. But had she skipped the marriage and being thrown down the stairs, she would have been charged with a crime.
In Massachusetts in 1971, the year I turned 19, I wanted to get birth control, but it was illegal for a doctor to presscribe it for me. The law was so paternalistic, he was the one who would be punished, not me. I apparently, was too childlike to be responsible.
So, we had no choices. None. If we were raped, it was our own fault for being women — for being where we were, wearing what we had on, talking to a man, having a drink, letting a man drive you home after a date …
Well, welcome back. Let’s try to think about what they want next.
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, we didn’t just lack access to birth control and abortion, we lacked access to credit in our own name. This meant my next-door neighbor who made three times what my then-husband was making, couldn’t get a credit card. She tried to buy a condo and the bank insisted her father had to co-sign the loan, even though she made more than enough money to afford the condo and her father was retired.
Women could be denied a job if they were pregnant or had children.
White women had it better than women of color, but we lacked rights. We lacked the ability to break free of a bad or abusive marriage.
And we died. We died from botched abortions. We died at the hands of abusive husbands. We died in childbirth.
What the far-right minority is telling us is that we don’t matter enough for them allow us dominion over our own lives.
And if we don’t matter, you don’t, either, unless you’re one of them.
They won’t stop here. They’re determining what your children can learn in school, and because they own the media, they get to tell you only what they want you to know. They’ve been plotting for more than 60 years, and they’ve been playing the long game.
Here we are. What are you going to do to stop fascism? I started by voting today, and I voted against all of them.
Arlo sleeps on whatever project I have in my lap. This helps keep me sane.
This is how I calm down at night. I knit, I crochet, I quilt, and I snuggle my cats. During the day, I do my best to work on the world. That gets more difficult all the time.
I can’t watch the news anymore, what with a former president and his cronies still trying to stage a coup, and the US Department of Justice still doing nothing about the leaders of the violent coup atempt on Jan. 6, 2021.
The country — no, the world — is being run by oligarchs, and we seem powerless to stop the slide into a global death spiral. The ice is melting, storms are becoming more severe. We have refugees streaming from war zones, who are being joined by climate refugees and the wealthy of every nation that can help are lobbying for closed borders. Their motto is “I got mine, get your own,” as they monetize absolutely everything.
This is late-stage capitalism. Privatize everything so it’s all owned by the few oligarchs and then keep everyone else in a permanent underclass.
If we don’t start taking the climate crisis seriously right now, we’ll be extinct in a couple more generations. Humans are clever, but not clever enough to breathe methane, which is being released into the atmosphere in increasing levels as the permafrost melts. Even the wealthiest can’t buy their way out of this.
It’s paralyzing. I look at all that’s happening — a madman ruling Russia and trying to bring the world to war so he can control it all, another madman trying to usurp power in the US and several of his co-conspirators still sitting in Congress, economic and ecological systems teetering on the verge of collapse, millions who refuse to believe the science of it all, and no one seeming to notice or understand.
My own “representative” has been caught trying to bring a loaded gun through airport security twice in just over a year, and has been stopped for speeding three times, and for driving with a revoked license. He’s been caught in dozens of lies and he was one of the insurrectionists at the Jan. 6 “rally” that preceded the attack on the US Capitol. As of today, he has faced no real consequences for any of his actions.
I’ve had a hard time even wanting to write about all that’s happening because I’m so overwhelmed all the time. I want to hide from the world and pretend everything is OK because that’s what everyone seems to be doing these days.
We’re going to have to find a way to work together, and we’re going to have to find a way to deprogram the people who believe the lies and propaganda of the extreme right. Even supposedly liberal news outlets and media platforms are owned by huge corporations or by oligarchs like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerburg and Elon Musk, so some things just don’t get the coverage they should. We know what they want us to know unless we know where to look for real information, which is getting harder to find.
There’s so much to do, and that leaves us feeling helpless.
But we all have to stand up and start working to overthrow the oligarchs and save out planet. We need to start talking again and stop letting right-wing media whip us into a frenzy.
Both of our political parties are owned by the oligarchy and our primary elections are set up so they can decide which candidates make it to the general election. If you see a candidate who stands for universal access to health care, a living wage, voting rights, taking real action on the environment, reforming elections … rest assured that candidate likely will lose in the primaries to a very well funded “moderate.”
It may be too late for us to take it back, but we can’t stop trying. We have to shake off this paralysis and work together. There’s just too much at stake to stop now.
On this day 13 years ago, the intake nurse from hospice came. Michael was, as usual, in good form.
“Do you use tobacco?” she asked, clicking her pen.
He held up a half pack of Marlboro Reds. “I’m not gonna quit now.”
“Do you use drugs or alcohol?”
“I did, but I’m sober 11 years now.”
“What was your drug of choice?”
I could see the wheels turning as his eyes lit up.
The nurse looked up from her clipboard, startled, and Michael laughed.
“I was whatcha call a garbage head,” he said. “Whatever altered my conscoiusness was good with me.”
She laughed and seemed a little more at ease. This was someone who knew what was happening to him and decided he could still laugh. He intended to exit laughing. He had charmed his hospice nurse.
The nurse ordered a hospital bed and tray and a walker, which were delivered that same day. James and Janet arrived in the afternoon with the last of Mike’s belingings, including his gaming computer, which he and James had built. They used to build or refit computers for people who were newly sober and trying to put their lives back together. Some of those people were already getting in touch to visit and say goodbye, and for the next 13 days, our driveway and house would be full. You might think the mood would be sad, but it wasn’t because Mike saw every day as a gift and even though he was pretty much confined to a small bedroom, he was enjoying every moment.
It was a new chapter for us — Mike’s final chapter. I can’t even put into words how it felt to know this, but it was right about this time I decided my heart would stop when his did. That’s how I would cope with my child dying; I’d go with him. It wasn’t reasonable and I didn’t say anything to anyone, I just believed it.
We have a family joke that came from something my mother-in-law said back in the 1980s as my husband and I sat down to watch a program we had taped earlier.
“Oh, I’ve seen this one,” she said. “The guy dies.””
I’m seeing a lot of judgement on the part of people whe are quite smug about having a car that doesn’t guzzle gas. Here’s the thing, though — people who drive trucks are not all Trump-loving, mouth-breathing idiots. And even some of the Trump-lovers need their trucks.
Thing is, people who own old pickups aren’t going to trade them in for a Prius. They need them for work or they can’t afford a new vehicle, especially if the truck is 15 years old and paid for.
Nealry half of people in this country live in or near poverty, and higher gas prices are cutting into their food and rent money, and they don’t have a cushion. They can’t just run down to the car dealership and shell out $50,000 for a new electric vehicle. Forty-one percent of Americans say they can’t afford to pay a surprise bill of $400 without borrowing money, so how should we expect them to trade in their $2,000 truck and drive off in a $50,000 vehicle?
To go to social media and post a meme that says, “I’m better than you because I love the planet,” just reeks of privilege. Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean everyone can.
Poor people don’t get to choose whether they drive a gas guzzler or something with a lithium battery that will foul the planet later when you try to get rid of the battery. Poor people can’t cut back on going out to eat because they already can’t afford to go out to eat. They can’t cut back on rent, either.
Maybe you don’t know how expensive it is to be poor. Many haven’t had a raise in a decade or more. But rent and food and clothes and utilities continue to rise. You don’t have a great credit score so you can’t get credit, and everybody wants a deposit — the cable company (if you can afford it, and many can’t), the water and electric companies (because these are now for-profit companies instead of public utilities), and of course, your landlord. You don’t have enough money to have free checking, so you pay a monthly fee plus something for each check you write — and you write checks because your credit cards are all maxed out and you’re paying 26 percent interest because your payment six months ago was three days late. You shop for cheap food at the Dollar Store and you don’t have health insurance. But people think you’re a jerk because you drive a 15-year-old truck — if you can keep it on the road.
But sure, let’s criticize these people for being too poor to buy a hybrid or electric car. They must be stupid and willfully ignorant because they drive trucks, and some people who drive trucks are Trump supporters, so let’s lump everybody into that category so we can feel SOOOOO superior. I even saw someone tell a woman she shouldn’t have had so many kids (four) that she needs a minivan to transport everyone.
I was reported to an administrator in a Facebook group because I called someone out for doing this. I blocked the woman and left the group.
These memes are meant to divide us. They’re meant to get us sniping at each other so we won’t see the oligarchs picking our pockets and getting us drawn into their very profitable wars and foreign adventures.
So, with the cost of a barrel of oil having dropped in the last week, why is the price at the pump still rising? No, it’s not Biden’s fault; it’s greed. The oil companies know they can jack up prices, so they do, and there’s no consequence for them. Instead we attack poor people because we think we don’t agree with their politics.
This is how those in power control the rest of us — with propaganda that pits us against each other, with memes that over-simplify something quite complex.
So, please stop sharing these despicable memes. Sure, there are some folks these memes apply to. So what? Do you really need to feel superior that badly?
It’s so easy to get distracted. There’s just so much going on and it’s hard to keep track of it all.
What’s worse, the more we think about all that’s in the news, the more we want to shut it all out.
We’re in the middle of a deadly pandemic that millions of people refuse to take seriously, and the far-right has stacked the courts to make it “unconstitutional” to regulate lethal behaviors like not wearing a mask to slow the virus down.
We’re looking at a dictator in Russia who’s trying to expand his influence by conquering another sovereign country.
Our own federal government is dysfunctional, thanks to two Democrats who have been bought and paid for by Big Money — fossil fuel interests, banking interests, pharmaceutical and insurance interests — and the courts are not going to do a damn thing to stop them.
We’re a year into life after a violent attempted coup and not one of its leaders is in jail. Not one.
The leader of that coup, the former occupant of the White House, has been banned from social media, but he has yet to be arrested and he still has millions of followers who have been propagandized into believing he’s sent by Jesus.
Voting rights are being attacked in half the states, with gerrymandering and purging, reducing the number of voting machines available in heavily Democratic precincts, the former occupant of the White House is trying to install his own lackeys to count the votes, and we can’t seem to do a damn thing about it — like arresting the former guy for trying to rig the last election before he gets another chance.
We have a president who’s actually done a remarkable job at cleaning up the mess that was left to him. No, he hasn’t fixed everything, but he’s working on it. Is he doing enough? I don’t think so, but he’s doing something, at least. Still, the corporate-owned media is criticizing him as though he were as damaging as the former guy.
That leads us to another big issue that few people seem to be aware of: Big Money owns the media, and they’re not doing the job of an unregulated free press. Instead of being a government watchdog, they’ve become the lapdog of the most corrupting influences. They exist to distract people from the truth. That we even allow Fox to call itself a news company is disgusting, since they peddle an incredible amount of misinformation and outright lies.
Even the legitimate news sources are filled with the distractions of celebrity and lifestyle news and sports instead of focusing on what’s truly important.
So, what — other than posting our outrage on social media — can we do?
Well, we can vote. That’s just the most basic responsibility of a citizen in a Democracy. We all need to read up on the candidates in every election and vote for the person who lines up most closely with our views.
With our primary elections as they are set up, it’s highly unlikely we can get a true progressive into office, but we can vote for people who aren’t blatantly trying to overthrow the government.
The impotant thing to remember is that no matter how hard we work, this can’t be fixed overnight. The oligarchs spent 60 years getting to this point. Read the books, “One Nation Under God,” by Kevin M. Kruse, and “The Family,” by Jeff Sharlet. They chronicle the whole process by with the oligarchy harnessed the energy of Evangelical “Christianity” to capture election after election, starting with local school boards and town councils, and working their way up. Defeating them will take a Herculean effort and it will take time.
Meanwhile, we need to be loud — really loud — in our opposition. We need to collaborate with each other, form alliances and partnerships.
We can’t stop and we can’t be distracted.
The prize is a system that offers a better life for everyone — voting rights, living wages, access to health care, improved public infrastructure, a truly just justice system — instead of a handful of the most privileged and corrupt.
Let’s focus on that, one voter registration, one election, one public office, one court decision at a time, all while remembering our goal.
It’s been a year since the former president tried to stage a coup and he’s still tweeting and screeching from his lair in Florida. His cronies are still roaming free and our Democracy is still in serious danger.
Between the pandemic and the political uncertainty, all of which are made worse every day these people remain at large, anxiety levels are creeping higher every day — at least mine are.
Toss in a flood in my basement last August, the damage from which is still being fixed five months later because of “supply chain” issues (I suspect these are deliberate so prices can be raised), and all I want to do is knit and bake bread. It’s hard to concentrate long enough to read the news in the morning and I can’t watch it on TV.
Like others, I lay awake nights wondering whether humanity will even survive. God knows we don’t deserve to. We’re following “leaders” who beckon us down the path to destruction, burning the forests, over-fishing and polluting the oceans, resisting switching to renewable sources of energy and blithely unaware that the methane we’re allowing to escape into the atmosphere will keep increasing until we no longer can breathe. When I mentioned this to a friend a couple years ago, his response was, “Human are clever.” I had to remind him we’re not clever enough to be able to breathe methane.
We’re living in a failed state. Not failing, failed.
We can’t pass laws that will save the planet, let alone ease the suffering of the nearly half of Americans living in or very near poverty. We can’t raise wages, we can’t offer health care, we can’t even assure people their votes will be counted on Election Day. We can’t stop mass shootings. We can’t manage immigration. We can’t maintain our infrastructure well enough to prevent the shutdown of the busiest highway on the East Coast in a snowstorm, leaving thousands of people stranded in their cars for more than a day. We can’t even work together to stop a deadly pandemic.
All of this because we won’t tax the richest of the rich, but we still spend trillions on the war economy. We still force poor people to go to war in exchange for an education, and too many either don’t come home or come home so compromised that an education is difficult, at best, and we address the issue of veteran suicides with a “Thanks for your service.”
In addition to suicides, rates of addiction and overdose deaths have skyrocketed because people have no hope of their lives getting any better and the Sackler family took advantage of people’s pain so they could increase profits by fueling the addiction epidemic. They’re still free, too, by the way.
The stock market keeps rising, though, so we’re told the economy is blazing hot, and it is — for the privileged. Most people don’t have money to invest in the stock market, and that wealth isn’t trickling down. A decade after workers began asking for $15 an hour, some states and municipalities are offering it, but the minimum wage would be almost $24 an hour now if it had kept pace with inflation, and frankly, it takes that to live comfortable anywhere in the country.
Housing prices continue to surge, leaving nothing for the people who work for a living, especially those in the service jobs we claim are so essential. Homelessness is rising with the prices as investors and corporations buy up more and more of the housing stock. There are more than enough empty housing units to house every homeless person, but we make them sleep in the streets and then arrest them for vagrancy and demolish the small tent communities they build.
We place people in poverty with bad public policies and then vilify them for being poor.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the Jan. 6 insurrection still walk free a year after their coup attempt because we appear to not have a functioning justice system. We have a Supreme Court packed with right-wing idealogues to speed us along the path to totalitarianism. Already, women are losing control of our bodies and voting rights are being stripped away.
I have been quiet lately, as I try to process all of this. It’s time to start speaking up again.
We have arrived at the last minute. We are tettering on the edge of ecological and economic collapse unlike anything we’ve seen in human history. I’m thinking the end of the Bronze Age was just a practice run for what’s on the horizon already.
It’s time. If we don’t move now, it really will be too late.
In Germany, homeless people are being told this is the solution to their problems. They can “live” in a coffin-sized pod. Every time I see praise for this on social media, I cringe.
Although the pod has heat and is insulated against the cold and wind, it has no toilet, no sink, not even a hot plate for warming food. But we are to believe this is a good solution.
I disagree wholeheartedly, and I have had discussions with several people I know who are or have been homeless. Some of them believe these pods are the only alternative to sleeping in the cold.
They are not.
These pods are dehumanizing and cruel.
In the United States, it’s estimated there are just more than a half million homeless people. It’s also estimated there are some 3 million vacant housing units. That’s six housing units for every homeless person. Some are second and third homes, but in a growing number of tourist destinations, these are short-term vacation rentals, with wealthy landlords who own dozens of units. Having many vacant housing units off the long-term rental market also makes housing prices rise for working people. Some places are banning or regulating these short-term rentals, but not enough.
The United States also has a minimum wage that’s only about one-third what it takes to live comfortably in any US city, so fewer and fewer people can afford housing because their wages don’t rise with inflation.
If your answer is to put human beings into coffin-sized boxes, even while many of them have jobs, you’re missing the point on how to be a decent human being.
A number of the people I know who are or have been without housing also live with a mental illness — PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder … — and they can’t access treatment because in some states, Medicaid doesn’t cover single adults, no matter what the illness. And even though the Affordable Care Act mandates parity for mental health care, laws that allow people to be denied access to care (especially in states that have yet to expand Medicaid), leave many without access to adequate treatment.
Even when people are fortunate enough to qualify for disability, the paultry amount they receive can’t even cover rental on a studio apartment, and if they had been poor enough to receive Medicare, the $750 or so a month often is enough to bump them out of being qualified, and then they have to wait two years to qualify for insurance through Medicare. This loophole affects about 10,000 people a year, and it makes no sense. Congress could close the loophole, but they have refused to do so.
In other words, public policy causes poverty and its myriad consequences, which include homelessness.
And when you say a human should exist in something smaller than a dog pen at an animal shelter, what you’re saying is that you see them as less human as you.
I know people who are homeless are grateful for this as an alternative to sleeping in the cold and wind, but I’m saying they deserve more. This should be obvious to anyone who has enough privilege to be safe and warm every night.
We have more than enough housing units for everyone who has none to get one. If some super-wealthy person who owns dozens of vacation rental units objects to that, I’m going to side with the poor.
If we want to place people in tiny houses, that’s fine, but we need to make sure they’re residences with a bed, a chair and table, a bathroom and a kitchenette. Make them have no less space than 250 square feet. Allow people the dignity of a place they can call home. Every human deserves that much.
In the year since the presidential election (which the former president really did lose), we have heard empty promises again and again, but we have seen little of the reforms we were promised by Democrats and even less of the house-cleaning that was supposed to happen.
It has been a year and we have no indication that US Attorney General Merrick Garland is actually moving closer to charges against the former president or his co-conspirators, even with hard evidence that they broke election laws and conspired to overturn a legitimate election, ultimately with a violent attack on the US Capitol while Congress was in session to certify the election.
They are still trying, and nothing is happening to them. There have been no consquences for the violent attempt to overturn the election, even though it’s all there on video. We ALL were witnesses.
We were promised relief from starvation wages, the inaccessability of health care, high housing costs, income inequality, a broken, racist justice system, college debt, corrupt and unconstitutional voting laws, a broken immigration system …
But two Democratic senators are colluding with Republicans to block any kind of relief for poor people, people of color, children, voters — anything that would help anyone is blocked by out-and-out bribery.
We pay more for prescription drugs than any other nation because Big Pharma doesn’t want it. We can’t even make progress on climate change because Big Oil doesn’t want it, and that means the very survival of our species.
Trillions of dollars for tax cuts for the wealthiest among us are fine, but not for the rest of us.
I held out hope for a few months, but this slashing of aid to Americans from $3.5 trllion over 10 years to less than half — $1.5 Trillion — is what’s on the table now. We could trim the Pentagon’s budget by that much and still spend more on war than any other nation on Earth.
The hard-right has been plotting for three-quarters of a century to overturn FDR’s New Deal and they’re doing just fine, thank you. The ultra-rich convinced Evangelical Christians that Jesus was a hard-ass libertarian, they attacked education and science, and enough of us followed them into the abyss to leave us where we are now — with some 250,000 Americans a year dying from poverty.
Trickle-down economics was — and is — a scam. We need to help those on the bottom of our economic ladder because more and more of us are falling into poverty every day. Nearly half of Americans live in or near poverty (one small disaster away — someone gets sick or the car breaks down and you don’t have rent money).
Democrats need to play hardball becasuse the Right plays hardball. We have no time left to dither about whether Americans deserve better — we do. We deserve clean air, a living wage, a decent education, safe housing, accessible and affordable health care, high-quality child care, and most of all, free and fair elections where every citizen gets to vote.
We need to hold our representatives’ feet to the fire and get rid of the ones who won’t serve us.
We can start by going after those who would overthrow our government, followed by those who bribe and those who accept bribes (in other words, pass real voting rights and take private money out of the mix).
The former guy and his gang of misfits need to be in prison, and we can’t let these wounds they’ve inflicted fester any longer.
Why are we seeing help-wanted signs everywhere, and why are fast-food joints all of a sudden offering $15 an hour? Are workers really so lazy they can’t be enticed to take a job for double minimum wage?
The answer is that people are willing to work, but not for a pittance, not part-time and not without benefits and a somewhat predictable schedule. Workers deserve respect, and they’re starting to dermand it.
Employers laid of workers by the millions, and a lot of these workers made more staying home and being safe than they did waiting tables, tending bar or cleaning hotel rooms. And while they were home, nobody trashed them, grabbed their asses or demanded they smile to get a tip — all while not making enough money to survive.
Those workers whose jobs didn’t go away faced nasty comments about keeping their masks on, served people who refused to wear masks, were denied tips (remember, most tipped employees are paid less than $2.50 an hour and often work less than 25 hours a week at this job, so they’re forced to work two or more jobs). Many of them have two or more roommates.
Women face sexual harassment from bosses and customers alike, but they can’t quit. It’s akin to indentured servitude.
This is how business treats human beings when workers have no power to make things better. The dismantling of worker portections that took decades to put into place began under Ronald Reagan, when he broke the air traffic controllers’ union, and conditions have only worsened since. One of the reasons we don’t have a comprehensive and humane immigration policy is because big business doesn’t want it to happen. Businesses hire undocumented immigrants becauase it’s easy to abuse them. They live in fear of being sent back to the hell they came from, which likely is even worse than what they’re experiencing.
Business wants control of its workers lives.
Back when my grandparents worked in the textile mills of New England, children worked alongside their parents in the factory. Mill owners liked having children there because their small hands could reach into the machinery and clear jams. A lot of children lost all or parts of their hands when the machinery started up again. My grandparents witnessed this. My grandmother went to work in the mill when she was 7; my grandfather was 10. Companies provided housing, which was pretty substandard, and many had company stores that charged prices just high enough to keep workers in debt so they couldn’t just pack up and look for better paying jobs.
Today, credit cards do the same thing. We’re not paid enough to make ends meet, so when we need a car repair or a tooth fixed, we have to charge it. Then we have that monthly payment, so it’s even harder to make ends meet. So, we accept the offer to transfer our balances to a lower-interest card — except the bank leaves $1,000 on the old card. Now you have another payment to make. It’s all done to keep us in debt. It’s deliberate. Just look at the ads for apps that help children learn about credit. Get ’em hooked while they’re young.
Look at what happens to people who don’t have a credit rating. You can’t even get a job without one. You can’t rent an apartment or buy something in installments. You can’t get a health insurance policy through Affordable Care Act marketplaces without jumping through a remarkable number of hoops. I know because I helped someone do it. It took weeks. If you pay all your bills on time and save up to buy your car with cash, you don’t exist.
Thanks to the pandemic, workers who were laid off by the millions found better ways to make a living. There’s the bartender who went to work for the wine distributer and tripled his income, plus got benefits like paid time off and access to health insurance. There’s the line cook who decided to open her own catering service, the photographer who opened a small gallery …
How many times have you heard someone say waitstaff should just quit complaing and get a better job? You know, like that’s an easy thing to do when you can’t go to college or trade school because you’re working 70 hours a week and you can’t schedule a job interview because your work schedule changes every week.
Well, these workers got some time off to work on their dreams and now your favorite restaurant can’t find staff to work part-time, with no benefits and a shitty schedule, even when they offer $15 an hour.
Workers aren’t lazy, they’re just doing what was suggested to them — getting better jobs.
When employers offer a living wage, full-time work, benefits and a somewhat predictable schedule, they’ll have all the workers they need. If they can’t offer these things, they don’t deserve to be in business. Workers are not here to subsidize your dream.
Saturday’s rally in support of the January 6 insurrectionists appeared to be a bust. Hardly anyone showed up and the press far outnumbered participants.
This apparent failure sent the left into spasms of laughter and derision.
Do not be fooled. This was not the failure so many of us think it was.
Organizers realized late in the week that the Capitol was prepared for them this time and advised people to stay home. They claimed the rally was a government trap to identify people who still support the efforts of the former president to regain the White House. Thousands of people obeyed and stayed away
We don’t know their true numbers, and we honestly don’t know what they’re up to. Look at your social media feed and you won’t see their plans because they don’t do it all on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Besides, you likely have blocked most of them to avoid having them troll you, or to resist the temptation to troll them.
While hiding them makes our lives easier, it also makes it more difficult to keep track of their lies and their plans, and that’s dangerous.
All day yesterday, I saw posts about how the planned rally was an utter failure. It was not. It was a practice run for the next one, which we’ll all think will be another bust, and for which we might not be as prepared. That’s what they’re waiting for.
These people are bullies, and bullies back down when people stand up to them. They don’t necessarily stay down, though. These people are waiting for us to look away.
When more than one-third of Republicans still believe the former president will be reinstated , and half of Republicans still think Biden lost the election, we have a much bigger problem than the attendance at Saturday’s rally would suggest.
Before you celebrate the demise of Trumpism, look at the polls and what these Republicans still believe. You can’t argue facts with them because they operate with their own set of “facts,” provided by the hard-right. They do their research on Fox (or Newsmax or whatever right-wing source they prefer)-approved web sites. They don’t believe mainstram news sources because their right-wing conspiracy sources tell them these news organizatons are “socialist.”
The former president and his people are quietly replacing election officials with people who will help them overturn the next election. They have worked for years to make us believe elections in this country are corrupt as they also have worked to corrupt the system.
The joke of a recount in Arizona was actually not a joke. When they normalize such outrageous behavior, they bring us one step closer to fascism and dictatorship. The first thing fascists and other dictators do is foster doubt in the validity of elections, and in this country, a third of voters have bought into their narrative.
We are not out of danger. These QAnon folks are a real and present threat to our nation. If we are to survive as a Democratic Republic, we need to wake up and pay attention.
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.
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.
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 …
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?”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
I unfriended a couple of people on Facebook this morning because of their insistence that masks cause brain damage from lack of oxygen.
Each one had posted You Tube videos from crackpots claiming masks are a dangerous conspiracy because they’ll cause us all to become stupid from oxygen deprivation.
So, here’s a little test you can try at home if you have a pulse oximeter: Test your pulse-ox level, then put on a mask for 15 minutes or so. Now test again. What? You got the same result? Wow!
Of course, science deniers won’t own a pulse oximeter because they won’t acknowledge it’s a good idea to have one to test for diminished lung capacity from COVID-19, something that happens before serious lung damage occurs. This is a common complication, but if caught early, the chances of successful treatment are better. But these people don’t “believe” in COVID-19 as a threat because their science-denying leader told them it’s a hoax.
Doctors and other medical personnel have worn masks for long periods of time for years and years. My stepsister is a radiology tech who wears them all day, every day. She has never suffered from oxygen deprivation. Nor have any of my medical professional friends.
Wearing a mask can be difficult, especially for anyone who has PTSD. I had to suppress the urge to panic every time I put one on before this pandemic. So, I made a mask out of two layers of quilting fabric (the best fabric to use, by the way, because it’s tightly woven and light) and put it on for a couple minutes. The next day, I put it on for a minute more, and the same for the day after that. Within a week, I was able to put it on and keep it on for as long as I needed to.
Wearing a mask is not just for you. It protects others from your germs as well as protecting you from theirs.
Yes, the virus is smaller than the weave of the fabric, but it’s carried in droplets that are’t that small and the mask stops them. It is not 100 percent effective, but it is much, much more effective than wearing nothing.
While some quack on You Tube may tell you people are dropping dead from the tyranny of having to wear a mask, scientists are saying it’s a good practice, even if it’s not 100 percent effective.
I say if I have a 70 percent chance of catching COVID-19 when I encounter someone who’s carrying it and a mask lowers my chances to 10 percent, I’m going to go with whatever gives me that advantage. And what gives me that advantage is a mask.
If you’re going out, wear a mask. You don’t have to wear it while you’re alone in the car, but when you’re out and about, put it on. It show’s you’re both intelligent and considerate.
When you get home, wash the mask in hot, soapy water and dry it in the sun of you can.
And please know that if you tag me in one of these posts or post it to my timeline, I will unfriend you. If you do it again, you will be blocked. I’ve had my fill of ignorance.
I’ve seen a meme on Facebook this morning, posted by several friends, calling on us to love one another.
But as sweet as it seems, it just calls on us to agree to disagree, and that will never contribute a thing to the justice oppressed people are seeking.
“We’re one race—the human race. You want to support President Trump? You do you. It’s your choice. You want to support Biden? Fine… also your choice! You want to believe in God? Okay, believe in God. You want to believe in magical creatures that fly around & sprinkle fairy dust to make life better? Awesome… you do you.
“BUT stop thrusting your beliefs on others & not being able to deal with the fact that they don’t have the same exact mind-set as you. Having our own minds is what makes us all individual and beautiful.”
I have a problem with this — a big problem.
The entire thing (it has several more paragraphs) seems sweet, but it isn’t. It offers a pass to racists and bigots.
“Just do you …” means I’m not going to challenge your beliefs that people of color are stupid or lazy, that poor people don’t deserve more than slave wages or that they don’t need a decent place to live or healthy food and clean water, that immigrants belong in cages because they came here seeking safety and perhaps a better life for their children — the same thing every one of our ancestors came here seeking.
“Just do you …” means I’m OK with your bullying demonstrators and legislators by carrying a military-grade assault weapon around and demanding we reopen the economy in the midst of a deadly pandemic because you want a haircut.
“Just be you …” means you’re OK with cops killing unarmed black people and then looking to justify it by saying, “he had pot in his system,” or “he was arrested for breaking and entering six years ago …” None of these things is a capital crime, and everyone deserves a trial, not summary judgment and execution.
“Just be you …” means you’re OK with the 1 percent grabbing all the stimulus money and leaving small-business owners desperate enough to feel they have to open up or starve.
“Just be you …” means you’re privileged enough not to be experiencing these horrors.
We need to be talking about inequality.
We need to talk about how we love and support people who are forced to work low-wage jobs or starve in the middle of a pandemic.
We need to talk about those who are fine with children, stolen from their parents and held in filthy cages, are being lost in the system or dying from preventable causes.
We need to talk about the number of unarmed people of color shot and killed by cops, who then face few, if any, consequences.
We need to talk about people who are marching for their very lives are being doused with chemical weapons (tear gas is a chemical weapon that’s banned in war by multi-national treaties) and shot with rubber bullets.
We need to talk about poisoned water in Flint and other cities.
Yes, the meme is sweet and feel-good, and it’s privileged.
Those of us who have enough food and water, who can feel safe walking or jogging pretty much anywhere, can feel this way and feel good about calling to love everyone.
But to love everyone, we have to advocate for those who aren’t privileged. I don’t feel like pointing that out is “thrusting an opinion” on anyone. People are dying because of inequality. Love can only solve these problems if we who have privilege act to secure what we have for those who are oppressed.
Three more in a long, long, long list of casualties of systemic racism.
Today, I’ve seen a lot of white people lamenting that we need to do something about this, but then disagreeing with things people of color had to say.
This is not how we fight racism, white people. We are the problem here if we don’t listen to what people of color are saying.
An African-American friend posted that she won’t get in line to vote for Biden. She listed her reasons, and while I may not see things exactly as she did, I also never have experienced racism.
I’ve experienced sexism and misogyny, and I know how furious I get when a man tells me it’s not so bad. I can’t imagine telling someone who fears for her life every day that she can’t fight racism in the way she wants (short of violence).
Someone used the analogy of giving a demanding kid candy, even when you know he won’t do what he promised he’d do to earn it.
Neither party has been willing to stand up to racism the way it needs to be done. We need to see cops who shoot unarmed people convicted of murder and sent to prison.
The woman in Central Park who called police screaming because a black man wanted her to leash her dog was completely unaware of — and uncaring about — the likelihood that this man could be murdered because of her actions.
Can you just see the courtroom scene as the audio of the 911 call is played?
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, can’t you hear the utter fear in her voice?”
And the knights in blue armor rushing to defend this poor white delicate flower come off as heroes.
In Charlotte, Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by an officer who claimed he feared for his life because he smelled pot — and the officer got away with murder.
In Cleveland, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child playing with a toy gun was shot and killed by an officer who claimed he thought it was a real gun. The child’s family got as $6 million settlement, but the officer walked free.
I’ve lost a son to injustice, although not like this, not so sudden and utterly shocking, and I can tell you, $6 million wouldn’t make it better.
So what do we, as white allies, as anti-racists, do?
Well, first we listen.
This is not within our realm of expertise.
We do not live in fear of being murdered by cops (or ex-cops) who detest our very existence.
Second, we listen some more.
We do this because trauma is best addressed by allowing people to speak about it.
Then, we ask what we can do to stand with and fight with oppressed people.
Finally, we do what we’re told we’re needed to do (short of violence).
Here are a few things I’ve learned we can do:
Speak out when you see racism and call it what it is.
Don’t call the police when you see a person of color in your way. In fact, unless it’s a matter of life and death, don’t call the police at all.
Be public about being anti-racist. Show up at demonstrations because the racism in our justice system will rear its head and hurt demonstrators more quickly if no white people are there.
Donate to funds that raise bail money for poor people who are awaiting trial in jail because they can’t come up with $500 bond for a nonviolent crime. These people, too many of whom are innocent of any crime, and none of whom have been convicted of anything, lose their jobs, their homes and their children.
Finally, if you are white, understand your privilege. What that means is that even if you’re dirt poor, you still have more power than a person of color in your same situation.
It means that if your ancestors were in this country before or during slavery, they benefited from the economic conditions created by enslaving human beings of color — whether or not they enslaved anyone — and all of us here now benefit.
It really means you have to check that privilege before you open your mouth to criticize how a person of color reacts to racism and oppression.
If we want to end racism, we must confess that we live in a racist society, that racism is pervasive, and that when someone of color tells us something is racist, they probably know more about it than we do, so stop defending it.
I have been arrested and hauled off in zip-ties five times in my life, all of them for trying to talk to legislators in Raleigh and Washington about the need for access to health care for every human being.
If you know me, you know why I have entered the NC General Assembly Building and the US Capitol to speak about health care. My son died on April 1, 2008, because he was denied the care he needed because he didn’t have insurance. And he couldn’t get insurance because his birth defect was a pre-existing condition. And doctors were able to deny him the care he needed to survive and not face any penalty for his death.
Legislators refused to speak to me, and I refused to leave until I had spoken to my representative/senator or a legislative leader. I was never threatening. I was not armed. I didn’t cuss at anyone. I never raised my voice until the door was closed in my face, and then I raised my voice to be heard through the door. I sang “Hold On Just a Little While Longer” as they hauled me away.
I was arrested three times in Raleigh for trespass in a public building, while it was open to the public. I was convicted once and had the conviction thrown out because you can’t actually be trespassing in a public building while it’s open to the public. You can be disturbing the peace, but not trespassing. The rules of the General Assembly Building were found to be unconstitutional.
I have been arrested twice in the US Capitol for wanting to speak to representatives and senators about people dying from lack of access to health care. Again, I never threatened anyone. I was armed only with a 5″x 7″ photo of my son — unframed because I didn’t want to appear threatening in any way. The photo fit nicely inside the brochure I was given to take into the Senate chamber with me. The officer called it a poster and claimed posters aren’t allowed in the Senate gallery.
Fast forward to yesterday, when a group of armed men entered the State Capitol in Michigan and were scary enough to drive several legislators to don bullet-proof vests. They screamed at police who were there to keep the peace and wandered around threateningly with semi-automatic weapons because they want their “personal freedoms” back. They want to be able to spread COVID-19. It’s their risk to take, they say, and they don’t care about anyone else’s freedom to survive this pandemic, and their lack of concern for anyone else was made evident in their failure to wear masks or social distance.
And they weren’t arrested.
They weren’t forced to leave.
Their weapons weren’t confiscated the way my son’s photo was.
They were allowed to act like terrorists and get away with it.
Imagine what would have happened if they hadn’t been white men.
Hell, unarmed black men can’t even jog through a white neighborhood unarmed without getting slaughtered, let alone enter a government building with a gun.
I can’t even enter a government building with my knitting and thread snippers.
But these fascist white men can roam around a state capitol armed to the teeth and get away with it, all because they don;t want to act like responsible adults in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
If you ever doubted we live in a racist, fascist state, you can stop doubting now.
I’m having an increasingly hard time being on social media these days, what with people screeching to reopen the state and country in the midst of a pandemic that hasn’t peaked yet, people spreading the lies and half-truths of the current occupant of the Oval Office, the shrill demands that we all vote the way YOU want …
I know we’re all stressed right now, and for damn good reasons. But we can be stressed AND kind to one another.
If you don’t want to vote for Joe Biden, I get that and I will not scream at you because I, too, suffer from the loss of hope that we can fix the political mess and help 141 million poor people climb out of poverty with a living wage, safe and affordable housing, health care, safe food, a sensible plan to address climate disaster …
However, if you come onto my timeline with excuses about why we need to open everything up and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, you will find yourself with no access to my timeline, because you will be unfriended and ultimately blocked.
If you come onto my posts and act like a jerk, you will be unfriended and possibly blocked.
If you have information about Covid-19, please provide a credible source for that information. And the White House is not a credible source.
There’s a lot we still don’t know about this virus, including why some people test positive and show no symptoms. News reports today have stories about testing at a homeless shelter in Boston where 146 out of almost 400 people tested positive and not one showed symptoms (https://www.boston25news.com/news/cdc-reviewing-stunning-universal-testing-results-boston-homeless-shelter/Z253TFBO6RG4HCUAARBO4YWO64/), and testing on the aircraft carrier Roosevelt showed a large number of people testing positive with no symptoms (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-military-sympt/coronavirus-clue-most-cases-aboard-us-aircraft-carrier-are-symptom-free-idUSKCN21Y2GB). If we have so many people spreading the virus while showing no symptoms themselves, think about how bad things could get if we re-open everything and expose vulnerable people.
Yet beaches in Florida are re-opening. Churches in Texas never closed. People are demonstrating in Raleigh, NC, and Lansing, Mich., to have businesses re-open, and these people are violating social distancing rules, spreading the virus.
The thing is, we don’t know all that much about the virus and its spread, and we can’t know more unless we do widespread testing, which those who want to end social isolation insist we don’t need.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have people judging the actions of others whom they know nothing about.
If we see someone taking a child into a grocery store, we probably think that parent is pretty terrible, but it might be somebody on the way home from the doctor who needs to pick medication for that child’s ear infection. It might be someone who has nobody to care for that child and who’s afraid to leave the child at home alone for a half hour. And if that parent does leave a child at home while he or she runs to the store and something happens, will you be one of those screaming for “consequences”?
Not everyone has your level of privilege. You might want to remind yourself of that.
A lot of poor people are being forced to work so you can have what you need, and they’re not getting protective equipment or hazardous-duty pay. In fact, they’re still working low-wage, part-time jobs with no benefits AND they’re having to take verbal abuse from customers angry at the lack of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and whatnot.
Meanwhile, those of us who have the luxury of isolating call them heroes and pat ourselves on the back for being so thoughtful.
You know what would be kinder? Paying a living wage and benefits to grocery store workers, restaurant workers and others who have to be at work in the midst of a pandemic.
The news is scary. We don’t have to make it worse by spreading disinformation. We don’t have to make it worse by being unkind to one another. We don’t have to make it worse by screaming at each other for decisions no one wants to have to make.
Isolation, Day 29: It’s hard to believe I’ve been home for four weeks.
I still have plenty to do every day, thanks to the water disaster in my garage, the fact that the big mower is broken and won’t be fixed for another two weeks (we’re using the reel mower, which is great exercise) and the beginning of gardening season. Plus, I still have about a quarter of my granddaughter’s wedding quilt to finish, if the cats will let me work on it.
Around the world, there are reports of pollution being reduced, the air and water clearing, because we’re not out driving, rushing around to buy more stuff, much of it utterly useless. I have hope that we’ll realize there are more important things in life than consuming just to consume.
I’m doing OK except for the moments of utter panic, when I realize how serious this is and how unprepared we are to face it.
Republican friends all think I’m just blaming the current occupant of the Oval Office, but it started way before he ever schlumped into office. We as a society believed we were so smart and knew so much science that a pandemic like the 1918-19 flu couldn’t happen again, even though scientists warned us it was not just likely, but absolutely certain to happen again
But our policymakers knew more than the scientists and, starting with Reagan, we cut funding to public health and the CDC. We denied millions access to care in the name of profit, and allowed tens of thousands of people to die unnecessarily. We cut spending on public health so rich people could get more tax breaks and amass more and more and more money.
Both Republicans and Democrats did it, and now we have a presumptive presidential nominee in the Democratic Party who vows he will not allow Medicare for all to happen, even while 70 percent of Americans want it, and we’re being told that if we don’t vote for this deeply flawed old white man — a man who refuses to apologize for the way he treated Anita Hill or his support of welfare reform and other policies that have proven destructive — that WE’RE the problem.
Since 1980, even the Democratic Party leadership hasn’t believed in Democratic Party ideals of strengthening labor, building up public infrastructure, of government funding of scientific research, of doing things for the common good instead of just for profit. Even the Democratic administrations attacked workers’ rights, refused to take profit out of essential services like health care and education — in fact, they helped the process of de-funding essential services, slashing the social safety net and cutting taxes on the rich.
And now you want to criticize me for saying this nominee is so deeply flawed it may be impossible for him to defeat the most corrupt, the most ignorant, the most despicable man ever to set foot in Washington.
You say I have to get in line to vote for someone who won’t even begin to work on climate catastrophe, which is unfolding before us in the form of global climate change and the unleashing of pathogens like the novel coronavirus because of the way we have encroached upon the habitats of animals we once rarely encountered but now eat.
This candidate is a man who went silent at the beginning of the pandemic, while Bernie Sanders had encouraging words for us and pushed for policies that would help more of us survive.
I’m not saying I won’t vote for him. I waver between saying, OK, I’ll hold my nose and do it, and saying I’m only going to vote down-ticket — although I’m not happy with many of my choices there, either.
I’m seeing people attack me because I think Biden won’t be able to win in November, and I do think he will lose, even if I do cast my vote for him.
The moment Sanders suspended his campaign, I started seeing threatening messages from moderates, demanding we all get in line and not complain about our only choice being this 1960s-era Republican.
I was a Democrat in the 1960s, when the party platform called for universal health care, before Reagan came alone and made “liberal” a dirty word and raised greed to the level of a religion.
I left the party several years ago, when my resolution to include an immediate wage hike to $15 so those making minimum wage could survive on a full-time job, was changed to a raise to $10 an hour over five years. I walked out and never looked back.
This month at home has given me a lot of time to think about where we need to go as a nation, and it isn’t in the direction of do-nothing moderation.
We need to be bold. We need to take the reins away from the fascists and moderates and build a society where everyone can thrive. I will support nothing less, and neither should you.
If we can move Biden to support Medicare for all, a living wage and free tuition for community college, I will be happy to vote for him. Otherwise, I will make no promises, even though I’m likely to be frightened enough by the prospect of President for Life Trump to cast my vote for the slightly-less-bad alternative.
Thing is, I’m not the problem here. The Democratic Party, the Republican Party and all their ultra-wealthy controllers are. Our corporate overlords have stacked the cards against us again.
Isolation, Day 6: Is everyone still wearing pants?
It feels very strange to be home and know I’m going to be here for awhile. It’s another example of what my grandmother used to tell me: “Be careful what you wish for.”
How many times did I sigh and wish I could just stay home and chill for a few days? It’s beginning to look like it could be a few months. My husband and I decided we probably could enjoy a beer with friends online via Skype or Zoom, so we’re looking into that today.
Meanwhile, I’m going to order some seeds and plants online for the garden. I have lots of work I could do out there, and if I get that all taken care of, I could order some stuff from Home Depot, get onto YouTube and learn how to do some home repair and remodeling.
What makes this hard is that I have little to distract me from this time of year, of reliving the death of one son and fearing the death of my only surviving son.
What makes this hard is that I have worked for a dozen years to try and convince legislators and policymakers how important it is to get access to health care for everyone, only to be called a commie, a radical and countless other names. I tried to speak to them, only to be arrested time and again rather than have anyone hear me.
And here we are, facing a genuine health care crisis with one of the most broken systems on the planet. We could lose 2.2 million Americans — twice as many as would die if we had done the right thing and fixed this.
Twelve years ago today, all hope of any serious time with my son was dashed, as we learned the chemo wasn’t working and there were no more options.
Mike had his third chemo appointment this morning. His doctor had told him at the previous appointment that he needed to gain two pounds before today. I had gone into the Duke Chapel to find a quiet corner and pray for those two pounds. It seemed like so little to ask. Two pounds. Two fucking pounds.
I slept on the couch at his apartment the night before so we could get an early start, and when we settled in with a cup of coffee, he sat in the easy chair across the room and sighed.
“I’m ready for this to be over,” he said.
Maybe he was, but I wasn’t. I would never be ready to lose him.
We went to Duke and he stepped on the scale.
He had lost a pound. I still remember the look on his face as he turned to me and said, “I tried. I really tried!”
This was it.
His doctor’s eyes began to tear up.
“I want you to know you’re a good person and you don’t deserve what’s happening to you,” he said. I wished his original doctor in Savannah had felt that way — it would have saved his life.
There would be no more chemo. There would be nothing but Hospice.
The physician assistant advised him to come home with me.
“Go today,” she said. “Let people take care of you now.”
As we headed back to the car, me pushing Mike in a wheelchair because he was too weak to walk, he turned to me and asked, “So, how much time do you think I have left, two weeks, maybe?”
“Oh, I hope we have more than that,” I said.
We did not.
His heart would stop, and mine would break, two weeks later, almost to the moment.
Two words: Yoga pants. I’m surprised it took me five days to see this. I don’t have to wear uncomfortable clothes, although I’m not so far gone I won’t put on a bra.
I’ve been saying for months I need a week with no obligations. So far, I can’t complain. If I’m here for a month, I might actually get the inspiration to clean out the closets and the garage.
I always thought I was an extrovert, but I think I have become more of an introvert. I’m sitting here in my office, by myself, sipping coffee and thinking about what I’m going to need for the garden this year. Compost for sure. I need to order a load.
Trying not to think about what’s left of our life savings and how we’ll cope if the stock market doesn’t come back. The garden is part of that plan.
And of course, my mind goes back 12 years, to a day when I still had hope my son would be with me a little while longer.
On this day, I was driving to Cary, a four-hour trip, so I could take Mike to his third chemo infusion the next day. I had arranged for an interview in Raleigh for a story on the mental health system. I didn’t dare take a day off because my boss was charging me with vacation days, and I only had a few left. I couldn’t afford unpaid leave, so I was scheduling interviews at state agencies when I was in Raleigh and writing stories in the evening. I didn’t have the luxury of just concentrating on caring for my son.
I think about this now as many friends face weeks or months without a paycheck as they try to avoid getting sick without access to health care.
Norway has asked its college students to come home from the US because of our Medieval health care system.
Until now, the death rate from lack of access to health care has been one American every 8 minutes. It was one every 12 minutes when my son died, but a new Yale University found it to be higher now, and it’s about to really spike as we turn people away from hospitals that are unprepared for the influx of desperately ill people.
For the last 12 years I have worked relentlessly for a system that benefits people over profits, and I have been called communist or just plain crazy for suggesting that even unemployed people deserve health care. I have been driven from a job I loved by right-wing Tea Party fools, and arrested for trying to speak to fascist lawmakers who don’t care that people without access to care are dying.
We’ve made progress in public opinion over these last dozen years, but not in action. The Affordable Care Act left the system in the hands of the profit-mongers, who subverted it to meet their own needs. Nearly three-quarters of employer-sponsored plans are high-deductible ($1,500 or more) at a time when 40 percent of Americans say they can’t afford a surprise bill of $400.
Do you have any idea how much worse this pandemic will be here than it has to? Do you think about how many people will die who should have survived?
It’s about to get real, folks, partly because our public health systems are so broken after decades of pillaging by Republicans and the refusal of Democratic neo-liberals to reassemble it when they had the chance.
A lot of people are going to lose loved ones in this pandemic, and a lot of them will be people who would have been able to survive if we’d only had the leadership we needed to get our health care systems in order. This virus will not spare the wealthy, although they can afford to stay out of work a lot longer than poor folks. Still, they seem to be the ones least willing to isolate.
I’m not talking about people who were on vacation or visiting family when this started to get real — I’m talking about people like the owners of the Biltmore Estate who want to squeeze every dime they can before they’re forced to close (yes, the tourist attraction is partially open still), hoping to attract tourists when they should be closing down entirely. I’m talking about restaurants advertising how clean they are to try and attract diners.
People are not concerned enough, and plenty of people will die who shouldn’t because there is no leadership coming from the White House. Again, our government is falling down on the job and the upshot will be tragic.
I know how this kind of tragedy feels because on this day in 2008, I had just 15 days left with my precious son.
COVID-19 can kill you and it’s likely to kill a million or more people in the United States.
These are facts, not some made-up fantasy to defeat the current occupant of the Oval Office.
It is not safe to gather in groups or to travel. If you’re in a high risk group, you need to be at home. If you’re not at home, you need to wash your hands with soap and hot water often and avoid touching your face. Hand sanitizer does not work as well as washing with soap and hot water, so quit hoarding it.
It didn’t have to be this serious here, but the current administration took no steps early on to mitigate the spread. The current administration, in fact, denied the seriousness of this pandemic and turned down testing kits that could have tracked the pandemic’s path and slowed the progress of the virus.
But, no. Instead, the current occupant of the Oval Office pretended nothing was wrong and kept claiming that everything was OK, assuming his followers would believe him.
I have seen denials of the seriousness of this as recently as yesterday, and I have answered each claim that it’s no worse than the flu with the fact that it is 10 to 20 times more lethal.
These claims are often followed by appeals to not make this political.
Well, here’s the thing: when politicians cut funding for public health for 40 years, shit happens.
Funding for public health (national, state and local health departments, research efforts and response personnel) has been cut by every Republican administration — especially this one — since Ronald Reagan because for some reason the science deniers tend to affiliate with the Republican party, and Democrats have lacked the spine to stand up and fight.
Politics could have prevented this, but Americans wanted to believe Reagan’s attacks on government. Remember when he said the most frightening words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”? I remember it clearly.
Government — politics — is there to mitigate disasters like this on behalf of the people it serves. Except Republicans have perpetuated the lie that government is bad in every instance. So, our infrastructure crumbled, and public health was part of that infrastructure.
Now we have a government that lies every day about what’s happening, and tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people who shouldn’t die, will.
If testing had begun in earnest two weeks or a month ago, we would know where we stand. But people who are showing up in the emergency room with symptoms of COVID-19 are being sent back home with no test, unless they have traveled to China.
If you think the virus isn’t in your community because there have been no confirmed cases, that’s because there are no test kits, so it’s not possible to confirm cases. That’s one way to make the total look lower than it actually is, which makes it easier for this administration to lie about the spread of the illness.
The illness is in your community. People are carrying the illness into public places and it’s spreading like wildfire because we insist on listening to the most dishonest administration ever to exist in Washington.
Let me repeat: The illness is in your community already.
If you’re going out into public places because you don’t think you’re at high risk, you’re risking infecting people who are at risk.
When you go into a restaurant, you’re asking wait staff that likely have no real access to health care and no paid sick time to take the risk that you’re not carrying the virus.
The reason that waiter has no access to care, no paid sick leave and a $2.35-an-hour wage is all about politics as well. Again and again, Republicans have refused to pass legislation that would fix any of this, and Democrats have yet to get enough spine to stand up and rebel against it.
This disaster could have been mitigated much more effectively than it has. Look at how South Korea has dealt with this. Testing is available everywhere and people are staying out of public places. In the end, their mortality rate will be a lot lower than ours. We’re going to look more like Italy, or even Iran, where the mass graves can be seen from space.
All of this is happening at a time in my city is struggling with its hospital having been taken over by a for-profit corporation. HCA has laid off large numbers of CNAs and other support staff — especially housekeeping, which is the department that cleans your room — and cut back on nursing staff as well. Nurse-to-patient ratios are dangerously high and getting worse as nurses quit in disgust. The nurses who remain are fighting to establish a union so they can demand improvements in patient safety.
And, yes, this is political, too. We have no laws mandating safe nurse-to-patient ratios. We have no regulations regarding how many cleaning supplies must be on hand to guarantee patient safety. There is no law mandating that patient safety has to come before profits because Richard Nixon signed that away in 1973.
We are in this mess because of the dishonesty and utter lack of leadership of the current administration, and because of decades of politically motivated cuts to public health to funnel ever more money into the pockets of the wealthiest and the military.
So, let’s be clear about this. We have to make changes — serious changes — to our system. We need to send the current crop of do-nothings home in November — well, those of us who survive that long, anyway — and elect people who will start to rebuild our public health systems.
The truth is that each one of us stands a small chance of dying from this, but we likely all know people who will die. The death rate is about 3.4 percent, but the infection rate could be as high as 70 percent. These are the real numbers.
So, yes, this is a real danger and yes, politics could have made it better. Instead, politics has made it far, far worse than it needed to be.
I have something important to say, and I need to be heard.
I don’t agree that Biden is the answer to any of our problems and I don’t want to be forced to vote for him.
I also don’t want to have you calling me names and telling me to fuck off because I don’t agree with you.
First of all, he is not yet the nominee, so trying to force me to pledge fealty to the failing candidate of a party that is fast becoming irrelevant before he’s the nominee is just cruel.
Let me tell you why. Twelve years ago today, I was trying to prepare for a life without my beloved son. I was facing every parent’s worst nightmare and I was terrified. And I am forced to re-live those final six weeks of his life every damn year.
Here we are, a dozen years after I promised my son I would fight like hell to prevent other people from dying the way he did and you’re calling me every name in the book for refusing to swear to vote for a man who won’t do a damn thing to fix a health care system that’s even more broken than it was 12 years ago.
When my son died, an American was dying every 12 minutes from lack of access to health care; today it’s once every eight minutes.
The Affordable Care Act isn’t working and Biden has said he won’t move toward a real fix for it. He has said things will stay the same.
So, here I am, grieving for my son with a pain that has not gotten any better since he breathed his last, and you’re screaming that I have to get in bed with the enemy.
So my choice is a man who doesn’t care that someone dies once every eight minutes or one who’s pretty close to gleeful about it.
Stop telling me to shut up and vote for someone who thinks things are fine, especially since the nominating process isn’t half over yet.
Stop telling me I have to vote for a man whose actions toward women are disrespectful of their personal space and dismissive of their concerns about dominion over their own bodies.
Stop demanding I vote for a pro-war, pro-Wall Street candidate when it violates everything I stand for.
Stop disrespecting who I am and what I stand for.
I have not said I won’t vote for this demented old creep; I have said I don’t want to.
I understand about the Supreme Court and all the rest.
But we don’t have time to waste on climate action and he will waste time. I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren and I want them to inherit a planet they can inhabit.
We can’t keep putting off giving low-wage workers a chance at a decent life with a living wage, paid sick leave and access to quality health care.
Your insistence on everyone getting in your boat assumes that we all have ladders to climb, and too many of us don’t. As the saying goes, you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t have boots.
Your intransigence proves your level of privilege. You can wait four years for things to get better. Too many of us can’t, but that doesn’t matter to you.
It isn’t enough to vote for Trump-lite. The status quo is not good enough, and if it is for you, then you need to open your eyes and check your privilege. You need to see how too many around you are suffering. Open your ears and listen to the stories of people who can’t provide for themselves even though they’re working two and three jobs.
Joe Biden is NOT good enough.
If forced to vote for him, I will, but he will not win. It will be a replay of 2016, and we will get four more years of the current mess. And then you’ll blame the people who just can’t bring themselves to vote for more of the same.
I refuse to get angry with people who can’t face a Biden presidency because the thought of it leaves me utterly without hope.
So before you yell at me to shut the fuck up, maybe you should try to understand that I don’t want your child to die the way mine did. Maybe you should look and listen to the 140 million Americans who live in or near poverty, who have no hope of a better life if they have to live — and all too often, die — without the changes we need.
We talk a lot about getting in line, but nowhere near enough about where that line is headed.
Yes, I am pissed off. You bet I am.
This is my country, too, and I’m just trying to make it a better, more moral place for the people I care about. And I care about everyone.
I’ve taken a lot of criticism lately for saying I won’t vote for anyone who doesn’t support a single-payer health care system.
Here’s the thing: You don’t get to decide who gets my vote, not in the primary and not in the general election.
I have good reason for my position. I call it the Dead Kid Card (only because that’s what my son called it before he died from lack of access to health care). I suffered a loss most parents only have nightmares about. I sat beside my precious child as he breathed his last, and his cause of death was neglect for profit.
My son should not have died, nor should any of the half million people who have been murdered by our profit-driven “system” since his heart stopped beating.
Universal access to care was proposed by Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago, and we’re still waiting. The rest of the world has found ways to do it, but we still prostrate ourselves before the altar of profit. We spend twice as much per person as any other system in any advanced nation, and our outcomes are always the worst among the industrialized nations. Hell, Cuba has better outcomes than we do, and that’s because everyone has access to the care they need.
I’m not willing to wait any longer. I believe enough people have died, and it’s time to stop the unnecessary deaths so some insurance executive can take home another few million dollars and stash it in an overseas tax-sheltered account.
Health insurance companies are parasites. They add nothing of value to our system, but they suck billions of dollars out of our economy, and they deny lifesaving care that causes the deaths of tens of thousands of people every year.
OK, so now you’ll argue that some people love their plans. Well, I have a couple of problems with that. First of all, Medicare for all will get care to everyone, not just the few well-to-do people who have their access to care but don’t even think about people who have little or no access. That’s called selfishness, or greed. Remember, Jesus never said, “I got mine, get your own.”
Secondly, we know that 70 percent of employer-sponsored plans are high-deductible — meaning you have to spend $1,000 or more before you see a penny in coverage — The average deductible is $3,000. This is in a society where nearly half of the people say they can’t pay a surprise bill of $400 without borrowing money.
No one can make me believe that most Americans love their health insurance in light of those statistics.
And it’s getting worse.
According to a study by The Commonwealth Fund, (https://www.commonwealthfund.org/ ), median household income in the United States between 2008 and 2018 grew 1.9% per year on average, rising from $53,000 to $64,202. But health care costs rose 6 percent per year in the same time, and the Affordable Care Act has been in effect for about half of that time.
“The most cost-burdened families live in southern states,” said Sara Collins, lead author of the report and vice president for health care coverage, access and tracking at The Commonwealth Fund.
In general, those states tend to have lower median incomes, so even if the sticker price for premiums and deductibles is lower than in higher-income regions, health insurance costs take up a greater share of Southerners’ income.
The next argument I get is that people who work for insurance companies need their jobs. Well, jobs administering Medicare will be plentiful. Even managers will be needed, although the CEOs who have been skimming billions in our national treasure can go and live on their blood money because they won’t be stealing any more from us.
The longer we wait to do this, the worse things are getting, as for-profit companies take over health care systems, especially in rural areas.
Rural hospitals are cutting services or closing altogether, especially in states that refuse to take the federal Medicaid expansion money that their citizens are already paying for. Here in Western North Carolina, women in labor have to travel up to two hours to get to a labor and delivery facility. Ambulance rides can cost up to a whopping $40,000. People are dying because they have to call an Uber because they can’t pay for an ambulance.
Under the current administration, the Affordable Care Act’s protections have been weakened. Premiums and deductibles have skyrocketed. Since the mandate that everyone buy insurance has been lifted, people of moderate means have dropped their coverage so they can afford to pay for food and shelter.
Meanwhile, plans have become more and more restrictive, putting drugs and care on tiers so that if a doctor comes to see you while you’re in the hospital and they are not on Tier 1 in your plan, you could be faced with thousands of dollars in uncovered care. That lifesaving antibiotic could wind up costing you $300 per pill.
So, when I hear a candidate say we can wait for Medicare for all, my response is, “Nope.”
Our corporate overlords may not care if you die from lack of access to care, but I do.
I will not vote for someone who thinks people can wait for health care, and you have no right to tell me I have to. People are dying NOW, and we have to fix this NOW. I really don’t care if the rich don’t like it. They’re not the ones I’m worried about.
My vote will ONLY go to someone who’s ready to fix this.
Christians believe we are redeemed — forgiven for all our sins — if we believe Jesus died for us.
Some Christians seem to interpret that as license to commit sins, knowing God’ll forgive because, well, Jesus.
I’m not so sure. On the one hand forgiveness is more about me than you. I never sensed any remorse from my grandfather for molesting me throughout my childhood, but I had to forgive him. I had to let it go so I could cease allowing his abuse to define me. But I also kept my distance from him because I knew he wasn’t safe.
I would love to see the doctors who refused to treat my son, knowing he would die, suffer some consequences, but that’s not going to happen. I can’t allow them to live, rent-free, in my head, so I have let go of my anger and outrage. If any of them approached me and said they wanted to work with me toward Medicare for All, I would stand with them as brothers and sisters in the fight.
But, as my mother’s pastor once described it, sin leaves a scar. He pierced a piece of paper with a pencil (the sin), then removed the pencil to show a hole — a scar. The sin is gone, but the damage is still there.
Watching an African-American man hug the woman who murdered his brother in cold blood sent a chill up my spine. I didn’t feel comfortable thinking, “Awwww, that’s so Christian of him.”
And my mind went back to the young man who murdered nine African-American people in an act of racial hatred in Charleston, SC. The survivors of the massacre, family members and others stood in front of microphones and offered forgiveness to the unrepentant racist.
That made me uncomfortable, too.
It seems people of color keep forgiving the people who murder them, but the other side of the coin — the remorse on the part of the killers — is blank. A blog post by Rev. Karyn Carlo that I read yesterday called it “cheap grace.”
Cheap grace is a scenario where someone is called to forgive again and again and again, but the object of forgiveness keeps committing the same sin. The phrase keeps spinning in my head.
We keep allowing black people to forgive white people for killing them, and all too often the white people walk free. Systemic racism continues while black people are still called to forgive. Jail sentences are more common and more lengthy for people of color. Schools are poorer and still segregated. Access to health care is worse. Access to the vote is far less and getting worse.
If Botham Jean had walked into her apartment “by mistake” and shot her, he would be on Death Row. But we assuage our collective guilt by saying “Awwww …” when we see his brother embrace and forgive the woman who murdered him.
I can’t quite force myself to say, “Awwww…” anymore. I want to see issues of racism dealt with. I want to see real justice.
As a white woman, it’s not my place to forgive the killer of Botham Jean or the racist who slaughtered nine people in Charleston. It is my place to listen and follow. It also is my place to work toward racial economic and social justice.
With my vacation half over (I spent a week on Cape Cod camping with my sisters and leave tomorrow to spend a few days with friends before my granddaughter and her husband and daughter come to visit next week), I feel rested and restless at the same time.
I had an argument with my sister over whether we should shoot for an immediate move to Medicare for all, or whether it should be done gradually.
“I’m done with gradualism, ” I told her.
During the 12 minutes we’d been talking about this, another person died the way Mike did. I’ve heard every argument, and in the time it will take you to recite them to me, another person will have died the way Mike did. When you add them all up, it’s about a half million human beings, just in the 11 years since Mike died.
And now you want me to wait some more. Are we waiting until my other son dies? Maybe one of his kids or grandkids? How long are we supposed to wait?
I didn’t get all this out before she yelled at me to let her finish her argument. In that time, another person died. and since that time, another 100-plus people have died. I turned my head and started reading something on my phone because I didn’t want an ugly scene, but I knew I couldn’t convince her I’m right. She pays through the nose, but she has access to care. She had surgery in the last year for a condition that would have killed her had she been uninsured.
I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am for that.
I tried to tell her all this, but I just started crying instead because even after 11 years, the pain of my son’s death is as fresh and raw as ever, and in the time I took to try and explain that, another American died from lack of access to health care and his or her family is plunged into the same endless grief I experience every day.
Meanwhile, children languish in filthy cages with no sanitary supplies and no beds, separated from their parents in a strange land where they don;t know what people are even saying to them.
Meanwhile, the Earth continues to burn, hurtling us toward extinction in a few short generations.
Meanwhile, we contemplate war on Iran.
Meanwhile, the water in Flint and dozens of other American cities is still poisoned.
Meanwhile, the election districts are still gerrymandered and the elections are controlled by two utterly corrupt parties.
Meanwhile, the wealthiest of us continue to steal and hoard our wealth while half of our families live near or below the poverty level because those with the most money won’t pay a living wage for a week’s work and then they get to call poor people lazy because they don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs.
Meanwhile, we all go about our business, taking care of ourselves but not noticing how much trouble we’re in as a nation, as a species.
Meanwhile, a third of our nation continues to defend the hatred and ignorance spewing from the Oval Office, and we have yet to rise up in sufficient numbers to prod our so-called leaders into action to remove this criminal from office.
All the while, complacent people scream at me to “VOTE BLUE, NO MATTER WHO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
No. No to all of it.
I will not shut up. I will not wait. I will not be patient. And I will not vote for another Wall Street-sponsored candidate.
I’m done with all of it. This is more than a national emergency, it’s a planetary one. It’s about our continued existence as a species, and you’re asking me to wait patiently?
Every day we wait, dozens more people die.
Every day we wait, children in Flint and other cities face irreversible brain damage from lead in their water.
Every day we wait, people languish in jail, losing their jobs and homes and children because they don’t have $500 bail money. So they wait in jail for months to be tried for a crime they may not even have committed.
Every day we wait, we edge closer to extinction.
Wake up. Stop waiting for somebody else to save us. We have to save ourselves, and we can’t do that by being patient.
My friend and former colleague, Tony Kiss died in August. John Boyle led the memorial service, which I think Tony would have loved.
Trust me, it’s a real thing.
It happens when my brain thinks it’s busy enough and doesn’t want to do any more.
“Knit,” it tells me. “You love to knit. It calms you.”
So, I knit for a little while. Nothing.
“You know,” I tell me, “we’re running low on bread. You should make bread.”
So I make bread. Still nothing.
“A nap,” I say.
No. I’m not a napper. Besides, I can’t fall asleep when I’m all keyed up like this.
You know, a walk in the woods always does wonders.
It does, but when I sit down at the keyboard, nothing happens.
It’s been a tough year, — we lost my brother-in-law to a long and debilitating illness — but things are finally settling down.
And then Tony Kiss died.
Damn. I knew he’d been sick and I wanted to visit, but I was running back and forth to Louisville, caring for my brother-in-law. I just couldn’t get there, and just as we finished up our final trip to Louisville, we got word.
Tony was my colleague and my friend. He was funny, and (we all like to use the word) quirky.
For a time, our desks were adjacent, and since both of us were packrats, the piles of paper and other stuff tended to overflow from his desk to mine. Sometimes, it would be a beer he was asked to review (I always knew before you did whether a new beer was worth the price). I once joked that if any beer landed on my side of the “divide,” I’d confiscate it.
Tony laughed, but then something lovely happened. I was having a terrible day — I don’t remember what was going on, but I was unhappy. I went out to do a interview, and when I came back, there were a couple of beers on my side of the divide. Tony was back-to me, so I said something. He turned around, smiled and shrugged. It happened a few times. His reaction was always the same: a smile and a shrug.
He loved to be the center of attention, and we all loved to hear his stories. He loved meeting important people, and then he delighted in telling the tales. As an entertainment writer, Tony got to meet a lot of important people, and we got to hear the stories, often over a couple cold beers.
I wish I’d found time to call him one last time, but I don’t think he’s the only friend I should have called awhile ago. I think I’ve drifted away from a lot of old friends since the pandemic hit. Maybe that’s part of this malaise. Perhaps it’s time to reconnect.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to sit down and write. It seemed as though my brain has refused to cooperate when I have something to say.
There’s been a lot to process. My brother-in-law died recently, after a long and painful illness. I watched him waste away just as my son did, and there was nothing I could do about it but try and keep him confortable and safe.
We die the way we lived. Whoever we are as we go through life is who we are as we lay dying, and Ron was no exception.
Ron was a brilliant and cranky man. Apparently, he was that way as a child, too. He loved spending hours fussing over model ships and airplanes while the other kids played baseball. He just loved fussing over things, especially food. He was an extrordinary cook, and an accomplished conversationalist. Dinners with Ron were always entertaining and delicious.
I was allowed in Ron’s kitchen to assist, but never to direct the preparation of a meal. It was, after all, Ron’s kitchen. So, when he told me to go ahead and bake brownies, with the only direction being, “If you line the pan with foil, you can lift the whole thing right out when it cools and then wrap it up,” I knew he really was dying.
As his strength ebbed, his incredibly well equipped kitchen became my domain. When things became too much, I escaped into the kitchen and fussed.
Ron was nothing if not tenacious. Not just stubborn, but determined. If something needed to be done in his mind, no one was allowed to rest until it was done to his satisfaction. He remained ambulatory through sheer force of will until days before he died. “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” he muttered as he stood, wavering, and grabbed his cane. “Let’s go for a walk around the apartment.” I was so afraid he would fall, and that would be the end. When I stop to think about it, I don’t think he would have minded if he “died trying” to walk.
Ron also had a legendary temper, and one of the largest vocabularies I’ve ever encountered. He could berate you with an eloquence that would leave you reeling more than the volume at which it was delivered.
Ron was never afraid to show his temper in public. He figured it it made him angry it must make others just as frustrated and he felt it his duty to put a stop to whatever bullshit was under his skin. He once stood up in a movie theater and declared the theater had shown enough previews and ads already and it was time to start the damn movie.
At a party once time, I was talking to an elderly civil rights lawyer about activism. His generation paved the way for the work I do today, so it was a rare pleasure. We sat in the corner talking until Ron came over and yelled, “Enough activism talk, already. Talk about something else! Mingle, for chrissake!” The room fell silent and Ron turned and went about his business, his job done. My new friend and I continued ouir conversation and no one ever mentioned it again because Ron did these things now and then.
But his intellect, his curiosity, his sense of humor and wit, his way with food — all if these made the temper worth it. Most of the stories I’ve heard about Ron’s temper are told with humor and deep affection. His former students (he was a high school English teacher and then a food writer) acknowledged he was tough, but also that he was one of the best teachers they ever had.
He married his beloved Annie, artist Ann Stewart Anderson, and they traveled. She really was the best thing that ever happened to him. She kept him on an even keel. She died in 2019, and Ron created a beautiful garden space outside his condo building in her memory. And under the plaque that says, “Annie’s Nook,” I want to add another: “Lovingly created by her husband, Ron Mikulak.”