Is anyone really surprised?

These two need to be in jail. Now. (Image from USA Today)

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.

What do workers want? Respect.

If you think your staff is amazing, treat them like it.

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.

Wake up. They are not defeated.

Capitol Police were ready for the insurrectionists this time.

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.

They are not defeated


Capitol Police were ready for the insurrectionists this time.
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.

The architects of where we are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Steele, former head of the Republican National Committee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then came 45. They fell silent.

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

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

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

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

Mike Day, for the 13th time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But my heart kept beating, beating, beating …

Damn!

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s your boy?”

“He died.”

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!”

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

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

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

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

Today is the 13th annual Mike Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today was our last day with him.

I miss his laugh.

I miss his empathy.

I miss his wisdom.

I miss his twisted sense of humor.

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

Bringing my son home to die

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

It was 13 years ago today.

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

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

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

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

I would never be ready for this to be over.

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

He had lost another pound.

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

“I tried!” he said. “I really tried.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A note to the president

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

Dear President Biden:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t want it,” I said.

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

He paused as I sat, staring.

“What are you going to do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone deserves care. Everyone.

Sincerely,
Leslie Boyd

The day my joy ended

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was I going to go on without my son?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still waiting for health care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is not access to care.

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

In North Carolina, three of them will die today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I will not stop.

Everyone deserves care.

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

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

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

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

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

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