Watching the Debates

I was struck by how well both candidates held up for 90 minutes of unrelenting pressure. I’m not a political scientist, just someone who watches the news, but I thought that Sen. McCain kept harping on ‘naivete’ more as a slogan and provocation than a debating point. I thought he was conflating Iraq, Vietnam and the Cold War and going for emotion rather than fact.

I noticed that he took some shots at Russia, and sounded like he was ready for a face-off over Georgia, and that worried me. How many wars are we ready to fight? How many American soldiers are we ready to lose? For somewhere we’ve never heard of a couple of months ago, against a country we were on better terms with a few years ago?

In response to the Russia crisis McCain was seen widely as reckless in his condemnation of Russia. Kissinger said last week that “We have to face the fact that the first shot in Georgia was fired on the Georgian side.” The funny thing in McCain’s Russia answer is that he demonstrated the very reckless behavior that people have accused him of. He recited his over-used “KGB” line that when he looks into Putin’s soul he sees the letters K-G-B. Clever line that completely screws us with any future relationship with Russia. Which hey, three Republican Secretaries of State (Kissinger, Powell, and Baker) say is incredibly important and not worth sacrificing for a border conflict in the Caucuses. McCain’s priorities are completely off base and his over-the-top rhetoric which was on display only makes the possibility of a new Cold War all the more likely.

Maybe it’s from taking care of my little old Russian ladies, maybe it’s from remembering the fear of living in the shadow of the Cold War all my life, but I hope that we can work through diplomacy – war with Russia was the worst-case scenario in times more uncertain even than the present.

Back when Sen. Barack Obama was running against Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary I favored him because he said he would talk with foreign leaders without preconditions. I’m glad he’s sticking to that. We have no right to send any American soldier into harm’s way before we have exhausted every alternative. I actually heard someone on the radio saying that our troops are over there so that we can fill up our tanks and go to the supermarket, and it was not some lefty being ironic.

I don’t want any American ever to go to war for any other reason than national survival, when no other way is possible.

Some commentators were saying that Sen. Obama didn’t deliver a knockout punch, but folks, this isn’t American Idol. I hope that when we vote it won’t be based on a clever line or who wore the best tie.

So what do you think?

Never Surrender the Vote

I can’t believe what was on the news tonight. This is the weirdest since Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge speculated about suspending the presidential election of 2004.

Senator John McCain on Wednesday injected another surprise into his presidential campaign, announcing that he would suspend campaigning on Thursday and seek a delay in this week’s planned debate so that he could return to Washington to try to forge a consensus on a financial bailout package.

I immediately thought of the only Republican I’d ever vote for, the President who trusted the American people to make the right choice, even in a Civil War. The words of President Abraham Lincoln after his re-election in 1864…

It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies.

On this point the present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test; and a presidential election occurring in regular course during the rebellion added not a little to the strain. If the loyal people, united, were put to the utmost of their strength by the rebellion, must they not fail, when divided, and partially paralyzed, by a political war among themselves?

But the election was a necessity.

We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. The strife of the election is but human-nature practically applied to the facts of the case. What has occurred in this case, must ever recur in other cases. Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them wrongs to be avenged.

The Face of Lincoln, Viking Penguin 1979

So enough talk about putting the election on the back burner. More than ever we need to know who we will elect in November. Vote as if your life depends on it.

Breaking Out of the Nursing Home

One of my most memorable patients is a woman I’ll call Victoria, who is almost completely paralyzed. She can use her hands a little, but can’t turn in bed. She needs complete care by a nurse’s aid several times a day, every day. Her body is failing, but her mind is intact, and she knows her rights.

“They won’t get me back in a nursing home.�

I don’t know if I agree with her decision to get care at home, but I think she demonstrates what is possible. If she can manage with her extreme disability, what reason is there to force her to live in a nursing home when she doesn’t want to? What excuse is there for this?

PLANT CITY, Fla. – Charles Todd Lee spent a lifetime going backstage at concerts, following politicians on the campaign trail and capturing iconic shots of everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Mick Jagger to Mickey Mantle. Today, he enjoys such freedom only in his dreams.

The 67-year-old photographer has been confined to a nursing home for five years, the victim of a stroke that paralyzed his left side. And he’s angry…

Lee is among the Medicaid recipients across Florida challenging the nightmare of the old and disabled: to be forced from comfort and familiarity into a nursing home.

They say the state is illegally forcing them to live in nursing homes when they should be able to live where they choose. Advocates charge that nursing homes, afraid of losing money, have successfully pressured politicians to make qualifying for community care more difficult. They have filed a federal lawsuit seeking class-action status on behalf of nearly 8,500 institutionalized Floridians…

Americans who qualify for Medicaid and get sick or disabled enough to require substantial care typically have little problem gaining admission to a nursing home. But obtaining Medicaid-supported services at home, such as visits from an aide, is substantially harder and often involves a long waiting list, even though it may cost the government less.

Did you read that last line? ‘Even though it may cost the government less’.

I’m not intending to criticize nursing homes. I’ve worked in several, and they’ve improved a great deal in the last twenty years. For some people a nursing home is the best option, and many use nursing homes for short-term rehabilitation or respite.

But Charles Todd Lee, paralyzed on the left side, able to give an interview, sounds far less disabled than Victoria. What the heck is he doing in a nursing home? Against his will?

When decisions are made about Medicaid spending, a share goes to nursing homes and a share to home care. Neither is cheap, but home care is usually less expensive. Home care is underfunded in Rhode Island, making it difficult to recruit and retain good workers who are the foundation of the whole system.

I think we are doing better than Florida, but maintaining home care as a real option will require support from the state and advocacy from consumers.

Obama HQ Reopens

The Barack Obama for President campaign headquarters reopened last night at 321 S.Main St. in Providence. The rally was not held in the office. There were too many people to fit so they set up a stage across the street in the park by the Providence River.

I can’t estimate a crowd, especially when I’m in the middle of it, but organizers were signing people in, so we should have a number — it was big.

‘Diverse’ is such a cliche. There was a mix of people I have never seen at one event. Young and old, Irish and Cape Verdean, old hippies, young students and women in business suits talking into cellphones. There were white-haired brahmin Yankees and people just off work. I ran into Stan Israel from S.E.I.U., Sen. Rhoda Perry and Edith Ajello, my friend Karen, a retired nurse, and I saw a Tai Chi teacher in the crowd, as well as a semi-famous artist. I said hi to my friend Carol, who is one of the dreaded ‘community organizers’.

Things ran mostly on schedule, the setting sun put a limit on how long the speeches could run. Among them were Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman Pat Kennedy, Congressman James Langevin, and Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts. She was great. If it snows, I would count on her.

Organizers were signing people up to work the phone banks and canvass in New Hampshire. There’s high energy and lots to do. If you want to be a part of it, find out more here.

Cat in a Bag

Our nation has suffered such distress lately over the invasion of animal metaphors in political speech that I tried to find a kinder, gentler, purring animal. Except when it bites, scratches, or hacks up hairballs on your floor.

Palin Calling for an End to Investigation She Requested

GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin shifted her tactics for the second time in three weeks on the “Troopergate” investigation, this time calling to end the very investigation that she herself called for and the one the McCain campaign had said was the only proper venue for a probe.

Palin’s Attorney General, who initially launched an internal probe into Palin, even before the legislature began theirs, is now asking the legislators to withdraw their subpoenas of Palin aides and Palin’s husband.

We’ve had eight years of secrecy, cronyism and ‘trust us’. We can’t afford four more.

Dreaming Fox News

Fox News was on this morning. They said the Federal Reserve was putting up $100,000 to buy the Kramden’s mortgage.

“This isn’t an unsecured loan,� said Ben Bernanke. “We’re taking the house as collateral. It’s our guiding principle to let the markets regulate themselves and let people and institutions take responsibility for their choices, but this is a special case.�

“The Kramden’s house is situated on a lot that borders a block ravaged by foreclosure. A vacancy here will invite vandalism and demoralize the remaining homeowners. The whole neighborhood could crash. Additionally, the Kramdens have ten children.�

“Ten children!� cried Brit Hume, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. “What a beautiful thing!�

“Yes�, choked Greta Van Susteren, “Sarah Palin mailed the family a box of frozen mooseburgers in solidarity.�

“God– she’d make an awesome Fox newscaster, she should have her own show.â€? They beamed for a moment.

We have Alice Kramden on camera now–

“Ralph wanted to be here but he’s driving the bus today. We just want everyone to know that we don’t consider this a handout. For the last two years we have been paying interest only on our mortgage. With the 11% interest rate we will be paying now we hope that we will have enough of the principle paid off to get a conventional loan in five years. And we want to thank Sarah for the mooseburgers, we were going to give Spot to the pound because we couldn’t afford to feed him.�

Then the story switched to a kid who had put most of her tuition on credit cards and was living in a cardboard box while still attending classes. Before she could speak I was jolted by a screeching alarm. I woke up and remembered that I never watch Fox News, so I put on my glasses, and got up to get a cup of coffee.