Monthly Archives: August, 2009

The Tough Practicality of Dr. Martin Luther King

The heat, the humidity, the hate, the stupidity… It’s hard to think straight. To my Republican friends, I apologize. The Larouchites defy categorization, and Larouche likes to run in Democratic primaries. He did pretty well at times in the South.

Of course, in the South they have a saying. ‘Just ’cause the cat has kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits.’ The Democratic Party doesn’t want anything to do with him, but they can’t legally keep him from claiming any label he wants.

Larouche accuses President Obama of failing to adopt the single-payer plan he is advocating–

There is no rational argument that can be made against LaRouche’s proposals. They provide health care and funding sources—whereas the Obama plan provides neither. What Obama’s does, instead, is to provide a British-Nazi-style apparatus to kill people, as part of a British imperial drive to utterly destroy the only threat to their world domination, the republic of the United States. And that must be stopped.

I don’t know how long Larouche has had any interest in health care, but he has a history of attacking politicians from both the left and the right flank. I don’t stay up at night worrying that the Redcoats are coming, but some do. The British, of course, have a single-payer system that insures all their citizens.

Insuring all our citizens is not an agreed goal. I talked to a lot of people at the Town Hall meetings, and often the same ones who were carrying signs about the evils of rationing explained to me that some Americans were just going to have to die of preventable diseases.

Reasons offered–
We don’t have enough doctors.
We don’t have enough money.
They made bad choices and chose not to buy insurance–tough luck.
Women have too many babies they can’t afford. (This from a man who said he was a pro-lifer)
The Constitution doesn’t mention health insurance.
They can go to the Emergency Room.
Most of them are illegal aliens anyway.

I am not an economist or a Constitutional scholar. All I can offer is my own witness to the waste, stupidity, heartlessness and mis-allocation of resources that I see every day in our current ‘system’. I think that some of the anger being turned against efforts to fix this mess comes from a sense of the insecurity most of us face with our job-linked insurance. We need reform and we need it now.

I recognized the Larouche disciples because I had encountered them in New Hampshire, in 1977, when I was part of the Clamshell Alliance organization against nuclear power. The Clam was an education in all that can go wrong and right with a political organization. I remember hearing rumors that provocateurs had infiltrated, and finding the thought laughable. We were quite capable of fouling things up on our own without outside help. But years later Freedom of Information Act records showed that there were indeed spies and provocateurs.

Which leads me to the tough practicality of Martin Luther King. Nonviolence and civility are morally powerful tools for persuading opponents and winning allies. They are also powerful safeguards against infiltrators who try to undermine your cause by provoking violence in word or deed.

When I went to the Town Hall, I did not name-call, my sign was pro-reform, not anti anyone. I talked to people and tried to use persuasion. I clapped for Rep. Langevin, to let him know he had supporters, but I didn’t boo anyone.

To my Republican friends, I would ask you to strongly disown the Nazi and ‘death panel’ rhetoric, and all who use them. If the Larouchites show up with their sign tell them that they do not represent your views. Stop accepting their magazines with the vile picture on the back cover. To my Democratic friends, I would remind you that non-violence and civility are the tools of the strong. There were a good number of people in West Warwick who were not from there. There will be no shortage of provocation. Counter lies with truth- the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

Why Are We Adding Troops in Afghanistan?

As more Rhode Islanders are called being called to active duty for the purpose of going to Afghanistan (people we all know and love), the question of why we are there and whether we have realistic goals deserves further investigation. To that end, I offer the following video:

A friend in the Air National Guard told me that if he is called up to go, he will be involved in a mission to teach the people of Afghanistan how to farm crops other than poppy. It sounds like we are getting very heavily involved in nation-building.

Wedding Entrance Dance Remix

As my sister Laura says, “This is so joyful — I had to share!”

Real Nazis

This writer from Mudflats had conversations with her father, who knew what he was talking about when he used the word, ‘Nazi’.

My father spent his 21st birthday in a prisoner of war camp. Deaf in one ear, and completely flat-footed, he could have easily been a “4-F” and escaped service for medical reasons. He was a peaceful man but he, like so many of his generation, felt the need to serve his country, and to fight againgst the fascism that was threatening to engulf the democratic nations of Western Europe, and had even attacked the United States.

When he was 20 years old, he’d been taken prisoner by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, was marched for miles, imprisoned, and starved. Like many men of his generation, veterans of World War II, he didn’t talk about it much. He held his memories close to his chest. If he talked to anyone about them, I didn’t know. It was only many years after his service and just before his death that he shared some of those memories with me.

Read the rest of the story here.

Repent, Ye Lobstersuckers

Thanks to Pam’s House Blend for this link to a site called, God Hates Shrimp.

Woe to the infidels who think they can get away with picking and choosing from Leviticus. Nought will suffice but the whole enchilada. Um, is that kosher? Watch out for the mystery meat filling, it could be anything that walks or crawls.

Hot Night at the Senior Center

When I went back to RIC to get my bachelors I was taught that advocacy is part of public health nursing, so I was back at the debate, with a sign, on Thursday night at the West Warwick Senior Center.

This time the pro-reform crowd was better organized, with signs and stickers. Linda Kushner was there, I saw a couple of my Unitarian friends. I got there before 4:00 and got the last space in the parking lot, the line wound around the building.

Again I got into hot arguments with anti-reform people. This time some men who seemed to be Constitutional fundamentalists. They brought up a lot of issues like the gold standard and Gulf War vaccines. I shared my experience of seeing so much preventable suffering and disability due to lack of care. I got basically the same answers. We can’t afford it, those people should have taken better care of themselves in the first place, they can always go to the emergency room, most of them are illegal aliens anyway. Even when I approached a guy who was holding a sign that said- ‘Obama Lies, Grandma Dies’ about the rationing of health care I could not get through. If rationing is so evil, why are we letting insurance companies do it for profit?

There was a lot of anger about multiple issues. The Constitution guys were very angry at the corporations, and I have to say that the influence of insurance and pharmaceutical corporations is a troubling aspect of this plan. But letting business as usual prevail will not do anything but make them stronger. I’d like to see more than the moderate reforms proposed, but being a believer in harm reduction I don’t disparage measures that help at least some people get access to care.

After harsh words had passed between me and them, I heard one of them call, “Nurse, nurse!” An elderly woman, who had stood in line in the hot sun for an hour was getting short of breath. Someone had found a folding chair for her and given her some water.

I knelt down by her and asked her where she lived, suspecting she might have walked from one of the nearby senior complexes. I asked her if she had an inhaler, if she had used it-yes. “Let me call rescue,” I said, “you can sit in the truck, it’s air-conditioned and they can check you out.”

“No, don’t,” she said, “I don’t want the rescue.”

She was talking easily, her color was okay. “Well, let’s get them to let you go inside where it’s air conditioned, and you can sit for a while and drink some water and see if you feel better.”

I was passing the word up the line for someone to open the door and let the woman in when a police officer climbed over the rail. He said he had called rescue, so I stepped back and let him do his job. Three police escorted the woman inside.

In a few minutes rescue arrived.

I looked at Emergency Services in action. An expression of our common responsibility for one another. A safety net we are used to and would not discard. Would we be able to build a system like this today, when there is so much fear and mistrust, so little willingness to invest in a better future?

Well, work is the curse of the blogging class. I have yet to mention the LaRouchites, but that will have to wait. I’d better get out the door to the day job.

UPDATE: Your correspondent didn’t try to get a seat inside the Senior Center, figuring someone else should have a chance and anyway her ears hurt from all the hollering in Warwick the night before. says that the discussion inside was civil and productive. Yea, seniors.

Who’s Playing Who?

More on the Warwick story-

I mentioned that I had a long conversation with a guy named Ryan who came out to ward off the ACORNs who were marching toward City Hall in legions lured by the prospect of a box lunch.

I told him I wasn’t sure that rumor was true, but he said he got the email direct from ACORN.

Todays’ ProJo suggests otherwise…

The event’s first controversy began a full day before Langevin took the stage when The Rhode Island Young Republicans issued a statement blasting an e-mail from the local Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now for encouraging supporters of the health-care plan to block protesters from attending Langevin’s meeting.

The problem: ACORN says it never planned on attending the meeting and never issued an e-mail to supporters.

My impression generally is that the opponents of reform outdid the supporters in zeal and organization, sadly. But some of the hollering crowd were from a galaxy far, far away– that is Planet Larouche.

Members of a group affiliated with frequent presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche handed out flyers showing President Obama in a Hitler-style mustache.

To my friends on the Republican side, if you don’t know who Lyndon Larouche is and what he stands for, Google him quick. You may not want him to represent your cause.

At Warwick City Hall

If I had known I would have brought a sign. I got there at 3:30 and the anti-reform people were out in force, at least a hundred were there already. The pro-reform people arrived later, but enough were able to get inside to form a loud cheering section for Congressman Langevin to balance out the loud boos.

A couple of young men had set up a lunch table as a slam at ACORN, who they believed was going to lure hundreds to the site at noon by offering box lunches. I didn’t see ACORN anywhere, and the lunch table was wilting in the sun.

I got into conversation with one of them, a guy named Ryan. He had studied government and business, I work in nursing. I told him what I see happen to Americans who don’t get coverage until their health is wrecked and they qualify for disability. He acknowledged that people die for lack of care but said we can’t afford to cover everyone, and we don’t have enough doctors. If people choose not to get insurance they take the consequences. ‘This is not a Democracy’, he said, ‘it’s a Constitutional Republic.’ Not being a political scientist, I had no answer for this. I heard the same words exactly from a questioner inside later, so this is a talking point, clearly.

Ryan and I talked back and forth, but finally could agree only on the point that disease is bad and cures are welcome. At least the conversation was civil. I told Ryan that this ‘Nazi’ talk was offensive and he denied that anyone from their side would use such language. I was almost embarrassed to have brought it up. But before the line of citizens was allowed into the hall, someone had set up a huge picture of Barack Obama with a Hitler mustache, and later I saw a woman holding a glossy magazine with the same picture on the back cover. There was a bald guy with a bullhorn wearing ‘Joker’ makeup, I tried to make eye contact but maybe my nurse’s scrubs put him off, he avoided me.

A couple of Brown medical students were there in doctor garb advocating for the public option. Some friends over age 65 came with signs for health care reform.

Chris Young’s associate, a pretty young woman I have seen with him at hearings before, was holding an anti-abortion sign. This led to me getting into another conversation, with an intense man who decried ‘ripping babies from the womb’, but supported the Governor cutting insurance for pregnant women because women shouldn’t have babies they can’t afford. I guess I’m fortunate that my father was in the Army when I was born, and my mother got government health insurance.

To both of these men I argued that Medicare lifts a burden off my generation by giving us peace of mind about our parent’s medical care. Neither of them really had an answer to that, other than that Medicare’s okay, but we don’t want any expansion.

Having arrived so early I was toward the front of the line, I think about 400 were able to get in, filling all the seats and the gallery in back, with about 10 people in wheelchairs down front.

A screen displayed myths and facts about the health care legislation.

The Congressman was calm, had answers to all the questions, and firm on the benefits of reform and expanding coverage. There were many questions, mostly from the opposition. Many had come prepared with speeches, they were generally able to be heard.

It would have been even better if a loud contingent, mostly in the center of the room, had not taken the call to shut down discussion so literally. They hollered, they booed, they even drowned out questions from their own side, prompting others to yell, ‘shut up’. They set a nasty tone and slowed everything down. Chris Young hollered, he was escorted out, he came back and began hollering at intervals again. His associate shrieked, but only once. Thank you for your restraint, miss.

One of the most interesting moments was when a man with an accent asked if the plan would fill America’s hospitals with illegal aliens working as doctors and nurses so that we wouldn’t have to pay citizens. He heard it on Glenn Beck.

Many of my fellow-workers in health care were born outside of the US. They are here legally. We all undergo background checks every time we change jobs. Is it going to be open season on them now? A woman sitting in front of me, when Congressman Langevin asked ‘who are the uninsured?’ shouted–‘illegal aliens!’

The town hall wrapped up sometime around 7:30. The shouters managed to obstruct enough to prevent a large number of people from having a chance to speak by slowing things down.

Outside, the crowd was exuberant, the cameras were there. The anti-reform group had won the PR contest.

We don’t have a health care system. We have a fragmented mess. I think some of the fuel for this anger is a justified sense of insecurity. I think the blame is misplaced and that delay and half-measures will cost more and accomplish less.

I had a sense of religious zeal when I heard people speak about the ‘free market’– a faith I don’t share. But I’m a Unitarian, and I believe in the worth and dignity of every person, so religion motivates me as well.

I was not expecting to be face to face with nice, well-informed people who conceded that Americans will die for lack of care, but that’s how it is. It’s a philosophical gap I can’t get over.

Shout Down and Drown Out

State Republican Party Chairman Giovanni Cicione will be out of town– does he want other people to crowd into a health care forum and disrupt it? From…

State Republican Party Chairman Giovanni Cicione said he hopes angry protesters will flood Wednesday night’s town hall meeting hosted by Rep. James R. Langevin.

The 6 p.m. event at the Warwick City Hall is the first opportunity most Rhode Islanders will have to comment on and ask questions about health-care legislation moving through Congress. The meeting had been planned for the Warwick police headquarters, but Langevin’s office moved it to City Hall in anticipation of a large crowd.

“This is the clearest example in decades of the government exceeding its authority. I think this should make people really angry,” Cicione said, noting that he would be out of town, but that conservative groups — such as the Rhode Island Young Republicans and Rhode Island Tea Party movement — are mobilizing their forces to attend.

“This is America, we have First Amendment rights to protest,” Cicione continued. “The citizenry has the right to go out and shout at the top of their lungs.”

Am I wrong in thinking the strategy is to drown out discussion? Maybe I’m misinterpreting what he said. Maybe he doesn’t mean that an opportunity for citizens to speak to Rep. James Langevin, who knows the health care system from the patient’s view, must be hijacked and turned into a photo-op.

“It’s not fair to people who come with serious questions and want to get answers to have it totally theatrical and non-communicative,” said Sen. Jack Reed, who said he preferred to host a “tele-town hall” in which constituents could discuss the explosive issue by phone.

But Cicione disagrees with Reed’s basic premise.

“The town halls were always about political theater intended to garner support,” Cicione said. “These town halls were never about debate. We’re not stifling debate.”

It sounds like Chairman Cicione wants to make sure a debate doesn’t break out.

I went to a gathering at the office of Senator Reed. I wish the Senator had been there, because the advocates of health care reform were civil, prepared and had important things to say about how the current mess affects their lives, no only medical bills but employment prospects and family security.

You’re not going to be able to hear an 80 year old woman say that she’s worried about Rhode Island’s poor children when some college Republican is shouting her down.

Maybe I’m being unfair to suspect that Chairman Cicione is sneaking out of town while trying to get someone else to do the dirty work of keeping their fellow-citizens from being heard.

It’s too bad the Republican Party in Rhode Island isn’t a real alternative. The Chairman can’t do better than incite and run off somewhere safe, that passes for leadership.

Rhode Island Free Clinic

A recent article in the ProJo illustrates why volunteer clinics like Remote Area Medical and the Free Clinic cannot solve our health care problem.

PROVIDENCE — Ruth Sobola was first in line at the Rhode Island Free Clinic Thursday afternoon, standing in front of 75 people gathered on a sidewalk alongside the Hindle Building at 655 Broad St. They were waiting for a shot at what many others take for granted –– health care.

A small slice of the 120,000 Rhode Islanders without health insurance, these people had pinned their hopes of seeing a doctor on a lottery, a monthly event at the Free Clinic.

Sobola said she’d been there since 2 p.m., although the drawing would not start until 4:30 p.m. “I have a toothache. It’s very painful,” she said. “All my body is aching. I have to see the doctor because of the pain in my body.”

Sobola, 57, has a job with the Falvey Linen Co., but the insurance offered to her was too expensive. She hadn’t seen a doctor since her husband lost his health insurance two years ago.

The Free Clinic runs on the good will of volunteers and donors and they do good work, but they cannot begin to meet the need. People need health care security. A public option to buy into a plan at a cost proportionate to income will help low-wage workers and their employers to cope with the rising costs of for-profit insurance.


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