Monthly Archives: September, 2011

President Ruth Simmons

Brown University is a short walk away from my house, but unless I’m cutting across the quad, university business is not on my radar.

I can only name two Brown presidents– Vartan Gregorian and Ruth Simmons. I think it’s because both reached out to the greater community and all the students of Providence, and both were such warm and effective communicators.

Doctor Simmons gave Brown a running start into the 21st Century. Her defense of free speech, even at personal cost, her institution of need-blind admissions, and her straightforward confrontation of Brown’s legacy of slavery may stand longer than the buildings that rose during her tenure.

Good luck, Doctor Simmons in all you do. has a timeline of Ruth Simmons’ tenure at Brown.

It’s All Obama’s Fault

Violent crime has shown large declines in the past two years..

Violent crime fell significantly last year in cities across the U.S., according to preliminary federal statistics, challenging the widely held belief that recessions drive up crime rates.

The incidence of violent crimes such as murder, rape and aggravated assault was down 5.5% from 2008, and 6.9% in big cities. It fell 2.4% in long-troubled Detroit and plunged 16.6% in Phoenix, despite a perception of rising crime that has fueled an immigration backlash.

The early figures, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, indicate a third straight year of decreases, along with a sharply accelerating rate of decline.

And continues to fall.

This good news, of course, is due to multiple factors, though the Wall Street Journalarticle does mention that stimulus money helped keep police on the street. I wonder if the greying of America is part of the picture? You get old, mellow out, just don’t get into robbing banks the way you used to. Just a thought.

Free to Die

Economist Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times takes a closer look at Libertarian views about ‘freedom’. Millions of American children, for instance, make the ‘bad choice’ of being born to to poor parents– should taxpayers bail them out?

So would people on the right be willing to let those who are uninsured through no fault of their own die from lack of care? The answer, based on recent history, is a resounding “Yeah!”

Think, in particular, of the children.

The day after the debate, the Census Bureau released its latest estimates on income, poverty and health insurance. The overall picture was terrible: the weak economy continues to wreak havoc on American lives. One relatively bright spot, however, was health care for children: the percentage of children without health coverage was lower in 2010 than before the recession, largely thanks to the 2009 expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-chip.

And the reason S-chip was expanded in 2009 but not earlier was, of course, that former President George W. Bush blocked earlier attempts to cover more children — to the cheers of many on the right. Did I mention that one in six children in Texas lacks health insurance, the second-highest rate in the nation?

This sounds like flaming partisanship but it is sober fact– such a shocking truth that we don’t want to face it. We have a highly developed system for dealing with acute health emergencies, but we are failing in preventive care. It makes no sense in terms of basic self-interest, never mind morality.

The unspoken assumption in the concept of ‘choice’ is that we are all born with a menu of choices before us, and some foolishly choose to be sick, or poor, or victims of discrimination. In real life, most of us choose as best we can from what seems possible. If health care is available and affordable to most, but out of reach for some, then individual choice is not the problem. The problem is justice and wise leadership.

It is the role of government to promote the public good, and especially the good of the next generation. We will all be older, most of us won’t be richer. What kind of nation do we want to be?

MORE: Echidne of the Snakes has a good explanation of why the current mess, which has disincentives for young people to buy health insurance or use preventive care, is economically dumb.

Get Ron Paul off Rt. 195

Really. I was driving over the I-way and there on the India Point Park pedestrian bridge was a banner–’Ron Paul for President’.

Paul zealots are far from the only ones to use the interstate as free advertising, putting their stamp on public property, and I’ve seen this stunt many times, for many causes.

But if you must put a distracting nuisance in the way of drivers who should be concentrating on the traffic–


I know I must die sometime, but I don’t want to leave this world with a flying Ron Paul sheet covering my windshield.

Ron Paul says he is the candidate of personal responsibility. So who’s responsible for taking that sheet down when the elements reduce it to a frayed Sword of Damocles dangling over rush hour. Huh?

Ron Paul’s Answer–Unlicensed Doctors for Uninsured Patients


Neuroscience the Old Fashioned Way

AmericaBlog has video and a transcript of Rep. Ron Paul during the Republican presidential debates, as he answers Wolf Blitzer’s hypothetical question about a 30 year old man who opted out of health insurance and now lies in a coma with a dire but treatable disease. Should we save him?

Paul >> That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody –

Audience >> [applause]

Blitzer >> but congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

Audience >> [shouts of "yeah!"]

Even Paul’s rival, Gov.Rick Perry, was ‘taken aback’ by the ugly mood of the crowd.

This may sound like ‘nut picking’– taking the most extreme statements out of context, but I will swear on a stack of collected Ralph Waldo Emerson that I heard the same kind of things said, shouted, and offered to me as argument at the health reform Town Halls here in Rhode Island.

[Here was a snarky example of a group of firefighters who let a house burn for lack of fees. Xavier Onassis, EMT-P, took issue with the story as reported by USA Today. He says the story was mis-represented in the press, and that dedicated volunteer firefighters had been working unfunded and without adequate support. He has an informed comment here with a link to a more complete story. I apologize here for giving legs to a story that reflected badly on people whose mission is to save lives.]

Rep. Paul did go on to say that no one would be left to die in his hospital, and he invoked the old-fashioned neighborly spirit where churches and benevolent groups would come together to save the guy in the coma (more on that following). Then he said something that the blogosphere has not picked up, though it’s one of Paul’s most radical statements yet…

We have lack of competition. There’s no competition in medicine. Everybody is protected by licensing. We should legalize alternative health care. Allow people to practice what they want.

“Everybody is protected by licensing.” This is a problem? Not de-regulated enough? “Legalize alternative health care.” What is he talking about? Alternative health care is thriving, and often reimbursable by medical insurance. But do we really want to just guess, when picking a doctor, whether they passed their boards, and whether their medical school was accredited? Ron Paul’s son, Rand Paul, is not board-certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, but rather by an association that he founded and directs. That’s one way to do it. Do we crave the freedom to take our own risks with loosely-regulated doctors who can create their own credentials? Do we want an old-time doctor like R.V.Pierce?

R.V.Pierce,MD, was a good businessman. His hospital covered an entire city block in Buffalo, New York at the turn of the last century. He peddled a pre-FDA concoction called the ‘Golden Medical Discovery’. It made people feel better, allegedly because it was fortified with alcohol and opium. Dr.Pierce’s book, ‘The People’s CommonSense Medical Advisor’ contains scores of testimonials to miracle cures effected by just a few bottles. To the skeptical nurse, these stories are a window into the suffering endured by our great-grandparents, whose lives might be ruined by accidents or conditions now easily treated. Interestingly, R.V.Pierce served in Congress on the Republican ticket.

Back to Rep. Paul’s recommendation that we look to churches and neighborhood yard sales to care for our neighbors in need– check out Providence Journal reporter, Felice Freyer’s article ‘The Price of Miracles’. Neighbors do help, but the care of a baby in intensive care costs thousands of dollars a day, and then thousands of dollars a month after they go home. This is where collective responsibility comes in, and where we uphold our values as a great nation.

Back to Wolf Blitzer’s hypothetical. The life of a 30-year-old man has value. More than $800,000 according to one calculation. And the community that decided a cloud of air pollution and a smoking ruin was better than an intact house– well, just a little shortsighted. At least the firefighters woke up when they saw the neighboring roofs catching sparks.

And if you’re old enough to shudder at the mention of the drug, Thalidomide, then thank Frances Kelsey. As a pharmacologist at the FDA she kept that drug from being widely prescribed in the US. Regulation is good in its place, and what you don’t know can hurt you. Ron Paul’s nostalgia for unlicensed doctors for uninsured patients is not shared by most Americans. Most Americans want some assurance that there are standards, and recourse if they are not treated right.

The suggestion that we would all be better off if it were not for those tiresome standards and licensing requirements is easily refuted if we look back a few generations– and see why these standards were put in place.

The statement that we should just let uninsured people die if charity doesn’t intervene won’t seem so smart when it’s someone you know or care about whose life is in danger. And that would happen sooner rather than later if we lived in Ron Paul’s America.

We are not yet a nation that demands a credit card number before responding to 911, but yes, people are dying for lack of affordable care. It’s years of health and life lost to preventable disease and is a national heartbreak and disgrace.

I actually share Rep.Paul’s frustration with the current system– overtreating here, undertreating there, pill-pushing and flawed. But I wouldn’t throw it away in favor of a Wild West where sick people have no protection from quacks, where we pride ourselves on being strong enough to deny care to people who made ‘bad choices’ not to buy insurance. Especially as uninsured people are often young adults, and often can’t afford insurance.

Like many middle-class parents of young adults, I am benefiting from the health care reform that allows family insurance up to age 26. I want to see this as a beginning of more comprehensive reform that covers everyone. You may say I’m idealistic, but universal health care is more reality-based than a nostalgic vision of an America that never was.

MORE: Mark Karlin on Buzzflash says that a campaign manager for Ron Paul died young, uninsured and in debt. Would it be in accordance with Libertarian principles to provide health insurance for employees? The Huffington Post also has a comment on this sad story. Pneumonia can be fatal, but it is a disease that has a high rate of recovery if treated early. When people hesitate to go to the doctor for lack of insurance there are some whose luck runs out– this especially applies to the young and healthy.

Spared by Fate on 9/11

Denise Oliver Velez at Daily Kos has a powerful 9/11 story.

I was working in the World Trade Center when we decided to move upstate, from our home in Astoria Queens, NY. We wanted more space, I wanted to garden and grow veggies, and we couldn’t afford to buy a house in the city. So we searched for an affordable home and found a fixer-upper for sale–cheap-two hours away from Manhattan. My husband was able to change jobs to a place nearer to the new house, but I didn’t have that luxury. After relocating I continued to commute to work early in the morning to make it in to my office, located on the 16th floor of 4 World Trade Center.

One morning, in September of 2001, I got up at 4:30 AM to get ready for the long 2 hour drive in. Before leaving I heard a strange grinding sound from our cellar. County homes often don’t have basements; ours had a cellar with a sump pump. For those of you not familiar with sump pumps–they are used to pump out ground water that accumulates under the house. I investigated and saw smoke; the grinding noises were the sump pump burning itself out. I figured out how to shut it down, but water started to flood over the boundaries of the sump hole and flood the cellar. I woke up my husband and told him to call a plumber. I had to leave or I’d be late for an early morning meeting with my boss.

The Velez family found themselves in a changed America, where race and religion took on new and ominous meanings, and Ms.Velez’ father’s American flag from his service with the Tuskegee Airmen became a shield against suspicion.

Read the rest here– After the Towers Fell.

September 11 After 10 Years

Wall of Peace Tiles

Last night I went to Waterfire, beautiful cool night with a full moon and our own unique civic festival in full swing.

Since September 11, 2001, I never go to a large public gathering without a small feeling of defying fear. We hear reports of credible threats, but that has been the background of the last ten years. So many parts of the world– Kenya, Northern Ireland, Chechnya– have suffered violence at the hands of organized religious and political fanatics. When that violence invaded our nation it brought into focus what had been on the margins of our national consciousness.

On that day, I was working as the Health Program Facilitator at the Providence Housing Authority. All day we stood in the community room in front of the large TV’s, or went into the apartments where the TV’s all showed the towers falling over and over. I stayed at work, glad that I believed my work mattered, but worried about my family and what might happen next. That night I couldn’t bear to be alone, and walked from Benefit Street to Rochambeau, stopping at three churches that kindly opened their doors to the lost and traumatized.

For the first time, I looked at people on the street and saw not Black and White, young and old, but simply, Americans.

In the days immediately following, the national mood was one of unity, coming together to help one another. An intern we worked with had started nursing school in NYC, and the student nurses were mobilized to assist with the wounded. There was no influx of survivors, the devastation was so complete.

There was, for a time, such a sense of selflessness. The anger, inevitable, had not yet set in. President Bush made a point of leading us away from prejudice against our Muslim citizens, though he failed to seize the moment of a national desire to serve and heal. Some of that spirit is captured in the tiles that line the walls of the peace walk at Waterplace Park.

Ten years on, our divisions are deep and painful. ‘Muslim’ has become a slur thrown at the president. Though this president succeeded in killing Osama Bin Laden, the enemy was never one man, or one organization. You can’t stop an idea with bullets, if that idea has power in the minds and hearts of people. Religious extremism flourishes when people despair of justice in this world. Angry people look for an enemy, or a scapegoat, as the terrible history of the last century shows.

Peace is not just the absence of war, it is a way of life built by work and sacrifice. War may temporarily stop an aggressor, but it cannot create a world we can live in. That is the work of the peacemakers.

I wish in this tenth year after the terrible attacks that took more than 3,000 innocent lives, and the even more terrible and costly wars that followed, that we can again find our commonality as Americans, and work in the world to stop conflict before it becomes war.

I hope that we can heal our own divisions, to make our society safe and welcoming to the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, free and just to people of all religions, and an example to the world that our American values of liberty and justice cannot be shaken by violence from without or fear from within.

Otto Takes on the Larouchies

Otto, via Daily Kos
posts an account of what happened when the Larouchies set up a table in front of his town post office.

Avoiding a drawn-out argument about the Larouchie’s ‘Obama as Hitler’ poster– their signature statement– Otto set himself up as a counter-recruiter. Proving the old saying, ‘when engaging in a battle of wits make sure your opponent is armed’, Otto got nowhere fast with the Larouche people, who didn’t even know which party their candidate is running on.

Q. What do they get taught in “Camp Larouche?” A. “Dump Obama”

It was pretty obvious what they are taught. They are taught that their bread and butter is going to be senior men. Every time they see a man who is older than 60 walk out of the post office, they immediately accost him.

“Are you ready to dump Obama?”

Maybe they get a bite. Maybe they don’t.

My strategy was to get them to advocate for a candidate. They couldn’t. They simply don’t know anything about the insane man who is earning money off of their ignorance.

If they got a bite on this one, I would let their catch know that Larouche runs as a Democrat, is a former communist, and supports a massive infrastructure project.

If they are going after the Fox News demographic, then I figure it’s fair to argue against their position with something that will resonate with that demographic.

You can read the rest, including what Otto said to the cops after the Larouchies called them, here…
Preventing Crazy From Going Mainstream– Tea Time With the Larouchies

Crazy going mainstream is the story of this generation, but more dangerous when crazy goes undercover. I saw the Larouchies at the health care town halls in Rhode Island, and they were playing up to the Tea Party people big time. Middle aged white people were carrying around the Obama/Hitler magazines as if they thought that image was just fine. So many are ready to cry Nazi every time they get a parking ticket, perhaps the discourse has been polluted beyond saving, and the people really believe that Hitler was infamous for declaring that no one should be denied health care for being poor.

Otto noticed that the Larouchies were tacking right with the older folks, and left with the younger ones. Same can of worms- different branding.

There are many valid disagreements with President Obama’s positions on issues and actions while in office. It’s a widespread sentiment that the country is going in the wrong direction, though no consensus on what the right direction should be. Obama’s electoral victory disappointed many who wanted a President McCain. Free speech, passionate speech– that’s democracy.

But some of what I see on the left-wing sites is so hateful in a personal way, and came on so early, that I suspect chameleons like Lyndon Larouche as a source. Extremes tend to go full circle and meet at the fringes. Not all the left wing anger, even when over the top and personal, is insincere. Some of it, though, is coming from the extreme right and other ideologies, packaged to appeal to lefties and progressives.

Consider the source, do some fact-checking.

At one Town Hall I confronted a young black man who was carrying a stack of magazines with the Hitler/Obama image. Did that man know anything about Black History, or about WWII and the real Hitler whose atrocious regime lives on in the memories of people yet alive? Would the good people of Warwick, who sat in that Town Hall fanning themselves with Larouche’s magazine have signed on as allies of Larouche if they knew anything about the man?

I’m deep in end of life issues and government health care these days, seeing my father through Hospice. The nasty accusations that talking about mortality is the next step to ‘death panels’ is such a destructive lie. Without government health care, my parents, like millions of Americans on Medicare, would face a financial crisis as well as a health crisis. And during the debate, the loudest voices were spreading wild rumors from unclear sources, to the benefit of business as usual.

I will vote for Barack Obama in 2012. Not as a lesser of two evils, but because I think he wants to lead this country in a better direction, in the face of massive opposition from the other party, and with the challenge of two wars and a recession handed down from the last president.

I could be wrong, and good people of all points of view may disagree. But take a lesson from Larouche– an easy example. There are more covert ways to sway opinion, astroturf organizations and trojan horses, blogging trolls who try to pass for what they are not. There’s a certain tone of malice that you get to recognize, a ring to the counterfeit. Speak your conscience, support what you will, but don’t take anything at face value.

Chris Young Found Guilty

Perennial performance artist candidate for mayor, Chris Young, has finally incurred a legal penalty.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A District Court judge Tuesday ordered perennial political candidate Christopher F. Young to perform 25 hours of community service for resisting arrest during an altercation at the State House on June 29.

Judge Anthony Capraro Jr. found Young guilty of resisting a deputy sheriff’s attempts to remove him from the Senate gallery, where he and his fiancée, Kara D. Russo, had been protesting the same-sex civil union bill. The judge, however, acquitted Young of disorderly conduct saying videotape and photographs clearly showed the couple “minding their own business” while quietly holding signs opposing the bill along the back wall.

This is after years of stunts like this…

Young showed up at a debate for Providence mayoral candidates at the Providence Career & Technical Academy on Wednesday. The mayor’s race is his race of choice this year.

He showed up carrying a three-foot statue of the Virgin Mary. And what happens when a man walks into a debate carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary? You guessed it. People noticed.

People, specifically the debate organizers, also told him that the statue violated a ban on signs or props among candidates and he would have to remove it.

Young argued that the statue represents his faith and is a matter of free speech.

His standoff over the statue left people who wanted to attend the debate waiting outside in a hallway.

The debate was delayed for more than an hour. Young got in the way.

That was in July, 2010, and in my opinion was obstruction. We have a lively tradition of free speech. Misusing that right to drown out others is abuse. Civility has its uses, especially in civil life. I don’t like the ‘glitter bomb’ or pie-throwing pranks we’ve been seeing lately, because it’s intended to humiliate a human being, and conveys a message that their security allows things to be thrown at them. I still remember Chris Young and Kara Russo, howling at James Langevin as he tried to conduct a Town Hall in Warwick during the health care reform debates. I think they should have been kicked out, not politely told to tone it down.

Providence has a wealth of performance spaces where they could do their thing. They, and all the people who use a public hearing to take more than the reasonable time to speak their mind while others wait their turn should be made to follow the rules. General Assembly– buy an egg timer, I’ll donate the funds.

Labor Day Sermon

Dear Kmareka friends,
I’m cutting back on writing to spend more time with my family, who need me now, so I’ll be posting more good words from other people.

Rev. James Ford delivered this sermon at First Unitarian in Providence. Inspiring and exhorting words for Labor Day, the Reverend always wishes us peace with a little unease…

We need to organize and restore the dignity and authority of our communal responsibilities. William Cohen, Unitarian Universalist, former Republican senator from Maine and Bill Clinton’s longest serving Secretary of Defense said it eloquently. “Government is the enemy until you need a friend.” Today we desperately need a friend. We need to organize and reclaim our social connections and to see how they come together within our social organization, within our governments.

To do this we need to reframe. We need to reclaim the title citizen over the title taxpayer. And we need to challenge the idea that taxes are a necessary evil or worse that they are theft. Taxes are not theft; they are the mother’s milk of society. We need to advocate for a fair and progressive tax system, and to fund what needs doing. To do this we need to organize.

You can read the rest at MonkeyMindOnline, Hanging Separately–Hanging Together.


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