Battle fatigue

Ron Mikulak, fussing with the fire in my backyard. He was forever fussing with things.

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.”

Why do I feel so angry all the time? Why doesn’t everyone?

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.

We can’t let all this become normal

At a time of year when we’re supposed to be celebrating the life of a baby born in a stable because no one would offer his parents shelter, we are ripping children from their parents’ arms and incarcerating them in for-profit prisons.


It’s been awhile since I posted anything, mostly because I just don’t know what to say. Outrage after outrage happens daily and there’s no sign of it letting up.

We’re all waiting for Robert Mueller to lay his cards on the table, tantalized by the morsels he’s tossed out so far.

Meanwhile, children are being held in for-profit prisons for the crime of having parents who want a better life for them. Some of them are dying.

Republican legislatures continue to try and suppress the vote even as we’re left reeling from the level of their election fraud — hundreds of thousands of votes suppressed in Georgia by a Republican candidate for governor, enough to steal the election; thousands of uncounted absentee ballots in Florida, enough for Republicans to steal the election; a couple thousand absentee ballots tampered with in North Carolina, probably enough to steal the Congressional election.

In Wisconsin, the Republican lame duck legislature ripped authority from the incoming Democratic governor, just as they did here in North Carolina two years ago.

And in this Christmas season, when Christians are celebrating the birth of one whose parents could find no room at the inn, we turn away desperate people whose homelands are made treacherous by our imperialistic policies. We call them criminals and rip their children from their arms.

And because of the administration’s Muslim ban, a woman from Yemen can’t get into the country to say goodbye to her dying 2-year-old son. This is cruelty at its ugliest.

Meanwhile, we allow this administration to destroy the planet with its policies that are bought and paid for by Big Oil. We allow the carnage caused by unfettered access to guns to continue. We allow huge chemical companies to poison our food and water with pesticides and herbicides.

The thug currently occupying the White House spews hate and threatens our First Amendment rights, appoints people to positions where they can pillage our heritage, and people who claim to be Christian cheer him on, vilifying the poor and the immigrant as though the poor and the stranger are the people who are ruining this nation.

This country was built on the backs of slaves, indentured servants and immigrants, but few of them attained any power because that was already reserved for white men, who feel free to abuse everyone else at will. Although we claim to be a land where anyone with drive can make it big, we reserve wealth and power for the few.

Just thinking about all we have to overcome to bring about justice can seem overwhelming, but if we don’t bring about justice for everyone, the 1 percent will be the only ones to prosper.

We can’t allow all these outrageous behaviors become the norm. We can’t accept this deep, deep immorality.

I still have hope that we can fight the 1 percent and win such humane policies as a living wage for everyone, safe housing, a good education, health care, universal suffrage, a justice system that works for everyone, a reduction in the military budget …

We can’t effect these changes through social media, although it’s a great tool for educating — or mis-educating — people, as Russian hackers know all too well.

We have to show up. We have to vote in such numbers that their cheating won’t be enough to keep them in power.

We have to take to the streets when they steal elections. We have to be ready to do nonviolent civil disobedience.

And we have to stop accepting their lies. That means we have to work to learn the truth, and we have to call out lies.

There are some people who won’t accept the truth. These people are known as the Republican “base,” and they account for no more than 30 percent of the voting public. They won’t be convinced they’re wrong by anything we say or do, so we have to work to educate the people who will listen, who will see the injustice of putting children in for-profit prisons, the insanity of unfettered access to guns and the immorality of keeping people in poverty.

I believe we can do this. That’s why I work to organize for the Poor People’s Campaign. I’ve been arrested numerous times trying to talk to legislators about health care, and I have no plans to stop trying to speak truth to power.

Please understand that you don’t have to be arrested to work toward justice. Those of us who don’t stand to lose out jobs can do that.

But you do have to show up. You have to vote in every election, and you have to educate yourself before stepping into the voting booth. You have to let your legislators know you’re watching through phone calls, letters and e-mails. If you can, you need to show up at rallies and other events. The more people they see in the streets, the more they know we mean what we’re saying and we have the support to get rid of lawmakers who vote for unjust laws and policies.

In this coming year, I refuse to let up. I refuse to be quiet. I refuse to stand down.

As one of my favorite freedom songs says, “I am not afraid, I am not afraid. I would die for liberation, for I know why I was made.”




The murderer-in-chief just signed what could be your death warrant

Look at all the happy murderers here, including North Carolina’s own Vivian Fox, Rand Paul and Mike Pence.

Ever since he took office, the current occupant of the White House has been looking for ways to kill access to health care for tens of millions of Americans.

It appears he has found a way to do it without out-and-out repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

In taking away the tax subsidies — more accurately, the payments made by the federal government to the insurance companies — that made insurance affordable for 33 million Americans, and in approving insurance policies that cover nothing more than the insurance companies collective ass, it’s likely we could destabilize the market enough to send us back to 45,000 or more Americans dying every year from lack of access to care.

This is not even taking into consideration the massive cuts to Medicare and Medicaid in the Republicans’ proposed budget, or the failure of Congress to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program and funding for community care clinics.

In fact, all of this could cause the collapse of our entire health care system.

Think about it. Premiums will rise even faster and people will drop their insurance. I go on Medicare on Nov. 1, but if I hadn’t, my premiums would have gone up by about 10 percent, perhaps more, plus my deductible was set to go from $5,000 to $7,500. My copay for my doctor’s visits would go from $10 to $25; and from $40 to $75 for specialist visits. My pharmacy deductible would double from $200 to $400.

I will wind up paying $4,000 to $5,000 of the approximately $11,000 cost of my recent minor surgery. That $5,000 is 25 percent of my income and about 12 percent of my household income. And that’s for a minor procedure.

How is anyone supposed to be able to afford this?

With nobody able to pay the bills, how are hospitals and clinics going to stay in business? Insurance companies might survive, but hospitals will not, except, perhaps, for a few huge conglomerates.

Services that don’t turn a profit will be shuttered, and those include mental health and addiction services.

Soon, more services will go, and that means even the wealthiest Americans will find themselves unable to get the care they need, because even if the 1 percent can afford to pay, that’s not enough to keep anything up and running.

The very wealthiest will fly to Europe for treatment while the rest of us die.

This takes us back to Medieval times, when there was no health care and half of all children died before their fifth birthday. Don’t get too attached to your children because they’re going to die just like my son did.

They’re going to die from ear infections and from measles, mumps and other childhood diseases when their parents — who work 40, 50, even 60 hours a week for minimum wage — can’t afford to have them immunized. They’re going to die from things as preventable as complications of the common cold or a tooth abcess.

It’s going to look like a third-world country around here.

And the Republicans in Congress — including my representative, the immoral and thuggish Mark Meadows and Senators Burr and Tillis — have done everything to aid and abet this criminal ever since he stepped into the White House.

After my son died, I left my job to become an advocate and activist. Believe me, there’s no money in this. I don’t do it for recognition, either.

I do this because no one should die the way my son did. I do this because the Republicans have an incredibly effective propaganda machine to spread their lies, and I need to counter those lies.

I do this so your child won’t die the way mine did.

So, instead of getting angry, let’s all call our lawmakers in Washington and tell them to save our health care.

Then, if you live in a state that has refused to expand Medicaid, call your state lawmakers and tell them to get it done.

We saved the Affordable Care Act by inundating Congress with letters, e-mails, calls, texts, faxes and visits. Let’s not let up.

Then all of us — and I mean all of us — need to register and vote to send these thugs home, even if the opposing candidate isn’t perfect. Get over your damn purity tests and put some people in Congress who will do better than the murderers who are there now.

Yes, I said it. Stop being a damn purist. Even if we can’t have Bernie, we can have people who won’t try and kill us by stripping us of our health care.

They’re not done trying to steal our health care

Do you really think this man and his partners in crime are going to give up and stop trying to take away our access to health care?


Everyone seems in a celebratory mood this morning.

Stop it.

Stop it now.

Mitch McConnell announced the latest version of Trumpcare is dead, and that saves Medicaid — for now.

But he also announced he will try a “clean repeal,” meaning the ACA would go away in two years. It would leave up to 33 million people without insurance. Thirty-three million. That’s how many people have gained insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

When my son died on April 1, 2008, I started fighting for reform. In 2009, I left my job as a newspaper reporter — I volunteered to be laid off — so I could devote all my time to the effort.

I wasn’t thrilled with the Affordable Care Act, but it was a step in the right direction. It would have forced insurance companies to cover my son and he likely would still be alive — that is, if it had passed in 2005 instead of 2010.

As it is, my friend, Kelly, who worked with me in the fight to pass the ACA, will die if this is repealed. Kelly has lived with cancer for years, and if the ACA goes away, she will lose her insurance and her access to the care she needs. She will die.

Middle-aged people with diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression and any number of other illnesses, will be left to die. Cancers that are treatable when diagnosed early will be diagnosed too late to save people’s lives — exactly what happened to my son.

Think about it: if you make $35,000 a year and you have a policy with a $10,000 deductible and high co-pays, you won’t be able to afford care unless you sell your house — if you own a house and can sell it in time to save your life. That’s what the Senate version of “replace” had in it, a two-tiered insurance system that would give people with a lot of money good insurance while the rest of us would be able to get only junk plans.

Before the ACA, some 45,000 Americans died every year from lack of access to care. That’s one every 12 minutes.

Under the ACA, an estimated 33 million more Americans are covered than were before. Most of the 12 to 15 million without coverage now are low-income people in states that have so far refused to expand Medicaid. That’s also where most of the approximately 20,000 who die every year from lack of coverage live.

So, we’re saving 25,000 lives every year with the ACA, but the powers in Washington want it repealed because — well, why?

The ACA is not failing. Insurance companies are not going broke. In fact, a federal court has found that United Health Care was not losing the money it claimed it was losing when it pulled out of the ACA marketplaces.

What’s happening is that a group of ultra-wealthy, ultra-conservative thugs want more money. They want more tax breaks for the rich. They want less regulation. And they don’t give a damn about you and me. They don’t care about the opioid addiction epidemic — in fact, they deliberately caused it to make money.

If you don’t remember, Purdue Pharmaceuticals began marketing synthetic opiates in about 1996. They told doctors and others that this new synthetic wasn’t addictive, although they knew damn well it is. Before long, doctors were prescribing it for things as simple as a tooth extraction — things where an over-the-counter painkiller would do.

They now ship enough painkillers into West Virginia alone to kill everyone in the state.

And you think these murderers are going to give up now because they can’t get a “replacement” through for the ACA?

Think again.

Their disdain for us runs so deep that they won’t give up. Tax cuts are far more important to them than our lives. They want that money.

They’re talking about passing a repeal that would take effect in two years — after the next election so we we can be distracted easily, since we’ll still have our insurance at election time. They can keep promising a replacement that they have no intention of passing.

Please remember that they’ve had seven years to come up with a replacement and they showed us already that they have nothing.

If they genuinely cared a whit for us, they would have had some idea how to do this. But the ACA was a conservative idea, generated by a conservative think tank (The Heritage Foundation) and implemented by a conservative governor (Mitt Romney) in a single state. The Democrats pushed it because they thought conservatives might be willing to go with their own idea.

They weren’t.

Obama offered a huge olive branch with the ACA, and he put icing on the cake by taking single-payer off the table at the outset. Had we started discussions there, we might have been able to get a public option and give insurance companies some competition.

But we started negotiations in the center and landed right of center, and they still want to get rid of it.

That alone should tell you that they will stop at nothing to take away our health care. If it is at all possible, they will do it. And they won’t stop trying.

Don’t let up now. Don’t stop calling, writing, e-mailing, faxing … Our lives depend on it.




For Women’s Equality Day, let’s defend women’s health


Today marks the 95th anniversary of woman suffrage. That’s a big deal to me. My grandmother was the last generation of women who were denied the most basic right of a citizen — the right to vote.

But that didn’t mark the end of the Women’s Movement. Today we still make just 77 cents on the dollar as compared to men.

We still are less likely to get promoted into higher management and more likely to lose our jobs because we take time off to tend to sick children. And understand that we are the ones expected to stay home with sick children.

Men still think they can tell us whether and when we can have children. Remember the Congressional hearings about contraception in 2012? All of the panelists and all of the witnesses were men. When Sandra Fluke made noise about the injustice of that, Rush Limbaugh called her a slut.

Conservatives in state legislatures and in Congress — nearly all men — keep trying to take our right to contraception away from us.

When I was getting married in 1971, I had to sign a paper stating that my wedding was less than 90 days away before my doctor was allowed to prescribe the Pill for me. It was illegal for a doctor to prescribe any kind of birth control for a woman, and the law was so paternalistic that it was the doctor who would be punished, not the woman.

Now there’s a new push to close women’s clinics, especially Planned Parenthood.

No matter where you stand on the morality of abortion (I say it’s only the business of the woman and her doctor), Planned Parenthood prevents far more abortions than it performs.

Low-income women get their health care from Planned Parenthood clinics. That’s where I got my care when my kids were young and I was a single mother struggling to make ends meet. I had my annual checkups and cancer screenings there, and I got my contraception there. When I had bronchitis, I got antibiotics there. The clinic likely saved my life.

I was at a counter-protest last week and the people who wanted to close down Planned Parenthood were among the rudest, meanest, nastiest anti-life people I have ever encountered. Their behavior shook me to the core. Apparently, fetuses matter more than their mothers because these people didn’t care that women die when they lose access to health care. In fact, some said the women who get care there deserve to die.

Well, I have news for these creeps. I can be as loud as you are. I can make as many signs and I can fight just as hard for women’s lives as you fight against them.

I’m not good at the violence they so love to promote and perpetrate, but I can love better than any one of them, and I will fight for women’s access to health care with every ounce of strength I have.

We have to draw the line now. We can’t let them take away any more women’s health clinics, whether or not the clinics perform abortions — which, by the way are still perfectly legal.

Women’s lives matter.



Women’s lives just got more difficult

hobby lobby

It appears we’re living under Scalia Law.

In the last week, the Supreme Court has ruled against women’s health and privacy in two shocking decisions.

In the first, they abolished the 35-foot buffer zone around women’s health clinics in Massachusetts, saying the zealots who verbally abuse patients, while waving pictures of dismembered fetuses in their faces, can go right ahead with their free speech. Apparently, their right to hate speech trumps my right to go into a clinic unmolested.

About 90 percent of women going into health clinics are there for reasons other than abortion. I got my primary care at a Planned Parenthood clinic in New York for several years when I was uninsured. I never had — or wanted — an abortion.

I also never had an unplanned pregnancy because I had access to low-cost contraception — which a second decision took away from women who work for corporations owned by Christian fundamentalists. I’ll bet the ruling would be different had the suit been brought by Muslims or Orthodox Jews.

Without the buffer zone, women who go into these clinics are subject to being filmed. So much for a right to privacy. Protesters sometimes grab them to prevent them from entering the clinic, never knowing whether the woman might just be there for a cancer screening or to renew a prescription. Some of the women going to these clinics are actually seeking help getting pregnant.

But the zealots don’t discriminate.

I saw a video not long ago of a woman whose infant had died in utero. She was at the clinic to have the dead fetus removed, and she fell apart when the zealots started screaming at her. Her husband explained why she was there in an effort to shame the zealots. But they’re so eager to stop one abortion, they don’t care who gets caught in the crossfire.

These are the people who the Supreme Court protected in its decision last week.

In today’s decision, the justices have said Christians — whose company invests in the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture contraceptives — can deny women insurance coverage for contraception.

This means Hobby Lobby’s low-wage workers will be faced with choosing between facing a raging crowd of zealots, who just might turn violent (c’mon, they have a history), just to get low-cost contraceptives, or dying at the hands of a butcher because they can’t run the gauntlet of zealots to get a legal abortion.

No mention was made in the decision of coverage for Viagra and testosterone replacement therapy, which will still be covered — because it’s for men, and obviously, men have more rights than women under Scalia Law.


Still seething

This is my son, Mike, who paid taxes right up to the time he got sick. After his Stage 3 colon cancer was diagnosed, he became one of the people Mitt Romney doesn’t care about.

The more I think about it, the madder I get.

I know I said a piece about Mitt’s comments yesterday, but since then I’ve been thinking about all the people who don’t pay income tax — Mitt most likely included.

There’s my friend, Lynn, who worked in human services all her life for low pay. She’s on Medicare now and she gets Social Security. She’s not on the dole and she’s not looking for a handout.

Then there’s my friend, Mike, who was injured in service to his country, and the woman he would love to marry. She has diabetes and would lose her health care if she married him. She also would love to get a job working with children, but she can’t because most of those jobs don’t come with health benefits.

All three of these people are better Americans than Mitt will ever be.

Then there’s my son, Mike. He worked hard and paid taxes until he got sick. He didn’t have health coverage because a birth defect is a pre-existing condition, and because of that, he couldn’t get the screening tests he needed.

After he was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer, Mike had to leave his wife to get Medicaid because she had student loan money in the bank. He later divorced her so she wouldn’t be responsible for his student loan debt.

He applied for disability but was turned down twice, even though he had metastatic colon cancer. He finally got approval nearly three years after he first applied, but he was dead nine days before his first check came.

He was one of the “47 percent” after he got sick, but he wasn’t looking for a handout. He wanted to work, but he was too sick. He even tried working a part-time job for a couple months, but he couldn’t even work two hours without a nap.

In the end, everyone got paid except Mike. He never had the dignity of deciding what bills to pay because we all paid his bills for him. Not everyone is lucky enough to have friends and family who love them the way we loved Mike.

My son was not a bum. He was not lazy. He was terminally ill and still couldn’t get what he needed, even though he had paid into the system for 15 years.

These are some of the people Mitt Romney isn’t interested in.

And no Mitt, it wouldn’t help if you were Latino. I have a feeling you would be the same arrogant bastard no matter what your ethnicity.