What's All This Then?

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

It’s ironic that my current poor state of health has prevented me from chiming in on the topic of health care reform. I almost said the health care "debate" - but what has been going on for the past few weeks is about as much removed from "debate" as chalk is to cheese. Don’t ask me where that phrase comes from. I don’t know but it’s certainly descriptive of things that are as far apart as they can get.

It’s absolutely astonishing to me that something as basic as affordable healthcare for the citizens of this country could be the basis for the utter madness that it has spawned. We are alone among the industrial countries of the world when it comes to national healthcare. We don’t have it. Get sick in England or Germany or France or Sweden or Canada or Japan or any other industrialized nation and you go to see your doctor - or a specialist. And if need be, you are hospitalized. And if need be you are provided with necessary medications. At no time do you have to worry about costs. No one asks you if or what "insurance" you have. You may have to pay a modest sum here or there - but there is never an expense that can bankrupt you. There is never a decision that needs to be made between buying food or filling a prescription. It matters not if you are a billionaire or a minimum wage worker - or if you are unemployed or retired. You are able to get all the health care you need .

As the madness that substitutes for debate over healthcare reform rages, people in England and Canada and likely elsewhere - but I know about those two - are watching us with horror and disbelief. And they are fighting back angrily at idiots on the right in this country who point to their healthcare systems as the "disaster" that would befall us if we adopted a similar system. Letters to newspapers. Statements by government officials. And I don’t blame them. According to aforementioned idiots, my sister-in-law - my brother’s wife - was euthenized many years ago. That’s because she lives in England and had/has a physical problem that required multiple complicated surgeries to save and maintain her life . But since the idiots are liars, my dear sister-in-law - now 80 - continues to thrive with the unrestricted help of the dreaded National Health Service.

We on the on the other hand have a wild west system of health care. Every man and woman for themselves. You either have the cash to pay for your medical needs or - in one way or another - you have insurance that pays for some of those needs. None of us - other than the extremely wealthy - has the luxury of not having to think about the cost of our health care. And you have to ask yourself why? Why as the world leader in so many areas, do we lag so far behind when it comes to providing all of our citizens with not just "affordable" healthcare - but healthcare that is a guaranteed right without the need for you to have any kind if insurance, . With "no questions asked" healthcare. And the answer is greed. Money. Filthy lucre. Insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment companies and other sections of the healthcare industry rake in billions and control the nation’s healthcare system and Lord knows how many of our elected officials. They will spend millions telling every kind of lie to scare you into believing that a national healthcare plan like those in England and Canada will raise your taxes and control your access to healthcare. At the same time they are running ads that seem to support the idea of national healthcare for everyone - even people with preexisting conditions - but what the ads are really supporting is compulsory healthcare insurance for everyone which of course would make them even more in control and a great deal richer. You couldn’t more disingenuous than that. Watch those ads carefully that are from "America’s Healthcare Insurance Companies" and you’ll see what I mean.

But as disgusted as I am over the surrender of a national interest to the profit motive, I am even more disgusted at what I am hearing from those who oppose any kind of national healthcare reforms. I’m not sure whether what we are seeing from those "protesting" any kind of healthcare reform is merely a lack of basic intelligence or a bigoted reaction to the color of the White House occupant or to some misdirected mistrust of anything to do with the Federal government.. Maybe a mixture of all three . Luckily, we, the sane among us, are in the majority - otherwise Obama would never have been elected. And despite our disappointments at the paucity of the promised "change" that has so far occurred, we will reelect him four years from now. But if the expressions of hatred that we are hearing from idiots at town meetings - purportedly about healthcare but clearly about extreme disappointment by some with the result of the election and the color and policies of President Obama - continue with the urgings of reckless right wing media pundits and with tacit approval by elected officials from the House and Senate - the next four years may well be one of constant turmoil with the very distinct possibility of some violent eruptions. Watching and listening to some of these yahoos at town meetings with their "Hitler" and "Socialism" and other assorted nonsensical signs , I truly fear for the safety of the president.

Perhaps things will calm down some when some kind of healthcare bill is finally signed into law - but from what I have seen during the past few weeks of the ignorance and bigotry of what seems to be a substantial portion of the electorate, despite the roaring rhetoric of then Senator Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, I have serious doubts about how UNITED the United States of America will remain during his first term in office.

Monday, August 17, 2009
*explanation below

It’s almost passed into obscurity - but before it fades completely, leaving the equivalent of the grin of a Cheshire cat, a thought or two.

It’s been years since I last bumped into and spoke to Lynn Sweet. I can’s say that I really knew her - just that on occasion we happened to be attending the same meeting - she as a Chicago based newspaper reporter and me in another capacity. I mention it only because on the few occasions when we actually did meet and chatted, she struck me as a pleasant, efficient and fair minded reporter who had little interest in the sensational side of news reporting. So it was a bit of a surprise that given the privilege of asking the last question at Obama’s July 22nd news conference, she opted to bring up an issue that might well have been one or two news cycles away from being "yesterday’s news" and opened the door into it becoming -mat least for a while - the new "Gate De Jour" - the Crowley-Gates Gate!!

Of course Obama could have avoided the question. As he made clear, he wasn’t there - but he still made the stupid comment that the local police acted stupidly - setting off a firestorm about "racial profiling." I was as far away from the incident as the president, but I’d give odds that I know what happened. The professor didn’t know what the cop was doing there. He was almost certainly suffering from jet lag and he was in his own home and here was a police officer asking stupid questions Of course he didn’t know that there had been a report of a possible break in and the cop didn’t know who the professor was - and somewhere along the line the conversation became heated and the cop asked the professor to calm down which probably made him more angry to the point where he committed an unofficial criminal offense - DPO - disrespecting a police officer.

The fact that he was handcuffed and dragged down to the police station and held there for a while was pretty close to inexcusable. The cops are supposed to be trained to handle this kind of situation. Once he was convinced that Gates lived there and that no break in had taken place, Crowley should have backed off and left. His decision to do what he did however, had nothing to do with "racial profiling." I don’t claim to have any particular expertise on the subject, but my understanding of racial profiling would be Crowley or some other cop - spotting Gates approaching his house and stopping him and asking him what he was doing there. Assuming that Gates wasn’t acting suspiciously - like crouching down behind some bushes and then weaving his way towards the house in a manner that would suggest he didn’t want to be seen. But to suggest that the fact that the cop got mad and arrested Gates had anything to do with the man’s skin color is, to me, an expression of paranoia.

I once saw a woman - not a block from my home, who had obviously been pulled over for a traffic violation, being handcuffed - presumably as a prelude to being hauled off to the local hoosegow. I couldn’t overhear the conversation that preceded that action, but clearly the women had become hysterical and was screaming at the officer and I guess handcuffing her was his reaction to what he probably considered an extreme case of DPO. She was white - but had she been black, would that have been racial profiling? Some would say so without a second thought. And that has happened in the Gates case - but what is truly surprising and disturbing to me is that it isn’t just coming from the average man on the street who might - perhaps for good reason - harbor deep distrust for the police - but from people who should know better,

Distinguished and respected black columnists, commentators and assorted pundits, took to the airways to decry the incident as something that only happened because Gates was a black man - or at the very least, that it wouldn’t have happened if Gates had been white. I heard one such commentator opine that such a thing wouldn’t have happened if the home owner had been Henry Kissinger!! Seriously! President Obama, whose response to Lynn Sweet’s question had created a racial mountain out of a quasi color blind molehill, backed away from his assertion that the police acted "stupidly" and suggested that the entire incident presented an opportunity for a "teaching moment." There have been a few cynical responses to the idea that there is something of value to be learned regarding race relations from professor Gates’ arrest - among them the lesson that you just don’t mouth off at a police officer no matter what. And that’s a lesson well learned no matter what your skin color or that of the police officer.

But sadly, I think there is something to be learned from this incident - and that is to understand the deeply held feeling of African Americans - from the most successful and admired to the man in the street - that their color continues to play a negative role in their encounters with police - even in an era of an African American president. How else would you explain the belief of award winning journalist Eugene Robinson that race "must" have played a part in professor Gates’ arrest ? I may not have his exact words down but that was the sentiment he expressed in an appearance on MSNBC shortly after the incident - and to a certain extent -even though I have described such a reactions as expression of paranoia - I can understand how he could come to believe something so illogical. I think of the history of the world’s Jewry - of which I am a member - and how, after centuries of oppression and decades of illogical discrimination , many of us have become sensitized to the point where we see anti-Semitism where it doesn’t exist. Criticism of Israel for example. While it is clear that there are bigots who hide their anti-Semitism behind criticism of Israel - legitimate criticism is frequently perceived by many American Jews as a form of anti-Semitism.

The Gates affair would appear to be a clear case of being unfairly arrested for refusing to stop arguing with a cop - having nothing to do with the color of his skin. Yeah - maybe it wouldn’t have happened if the home owner had been Henry Kissinger. The cop would probably have been scared out of his pants in the face of a stream of invective in a guttural German accent and would have been happy to get out of there with his dignity intact. But now that we have been made aware of the belief that even a Kissinger would have been hauled off in handcuffs had his skin been black, we should all take a step back and think about how far we still have to travel in healing the residual pain of decades of racial discrimination.

Quite a distance I would say. And the road probably won’t be a smooth one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Having a knee replaced is a painful business and recovery is slow - but despite my absence from this page for so many weeks, I hasten to assure those who come here to read my words of wisdom that I have not shuffled off this mortal coil and blogging will continue - even if sporadic. Not that it would be missed should I decide to discontinue the hobby. That one quickly learns when circumstances force a long absence. There has been no clamoring for my return - now outpouring of inquiries about why I have stopped blogging. It’s a humbling experience.

As I’m sure I’ve indicted before, I maintain this site for my own amusement. I know that I have readers. I have met people who have been informed of this blog’s existence and who have said I read your blog - or I enjoy your blog. And I hear from readers occasionally. But beyond the few that I know about, I have no idea how many people come to this page. I know I am one of the millions of bloggers who labor away in relative obscurity and who wouldn’t really be missed if I stopped blogging.

Even those who gather a substantial reading audience and then disappear are soon forgotten. I am reminded of "Riverbend" - the young girl from Iraq who began blogging shortly after we invaded her country - at a time when people around the world were looking for voices from within. We followed her commentaries for months on end - and many of them were gathered together and published in book form. But in October of 2007, she and her family fled to Syria from which she published a report on the twenty second of that month - and then - silence. I sent an e-mail to her address asking f she was O.K. as I’m sure many other people did - but there was no response and the e-mail didn’t bounce, indicating that her e-mail address was still active - but obviously no longer being used by a blogger who no longer blogs.

But a blogger to whom I might more closely relate as I contemplate the silence of this page from July 15 - the day before my surgery - until today - is George Sodini - the disturbed woman hater who charged into a health club with guns blazing a few days ago, killing three women before turning the gun on himself. Of course I don’t relate in any way to his murderous rampage - but this twisted young man had apparently though about carrying out the murders in a public forum. He had a BLOG and wrote about it on his blog!! In the news stories following the incident, there was talk of the existence of the blog and speculation over whether anyone other than Sodini - ever read it and thus might have alerted authorities.

The blogosphere is supposed to be the new and exciting addition to journalism - an alternative to and on a par with print and broadcast media, local, national and international - and indeed there are blogs and bloggers that make appearances on or are regularly quoted by the "conventional" media. Yet it is pretty clear that the vast majority of the millions of regular and occasional bloggers labor in relative obscurity being read by no one other than themselves.

It’s something to thing about - but not for too long. Obscure or not. Readers or not, I fully intend to keep airing my opinion on anything and everything that I consider to be of interest whenever the urge grips me - ands boy has the subject matter to be tackled accumulated over the past twenty eight days. Where to begin? Healthcare? The $32,000 plus for the hardware of my new knee? It’s certainly something to talk about - but it may have to wait it’s turn as I resume blogging.

That may be tomorrow - or the next day. Stay tuned my sparse audience.