Friday, September 25, 2009

What's The Hurry?

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
Blame the obstructionist Republicans for slow-walking health care reform to death.

Please indulge me if I've said this before; I have no health insurance. I can't buy it anywhere for any price. I once acquired the help of an insurance specialist whose job it was to find individual coverage for people who were self employed. After allowing her access to my medical records, she assured me that she would find something, only to call back in frustration after a week to refund my deposit. Every company has refused me coverage because of the "pre-existing condition." First, this catch-all phrase of doom was an invention of the insurance industry, and secondly, without Divine, metaphysical insight, how in hell would they know what my condition was before I existed? My personal theory was that my soul was in what theologian Jimi Hendrix referred to as "Spiritland," getting ready to go around that wheel one more time. I think the insurance companies would prefer to believe that if you are dead after life, then you are also dead before life. Therefore, if death is a pre-existing condition, they don't have to insure anybody.

It astounds me that so many people question the president's motives over reforming health care and accuse him of every nefarious scheme except wanting to help the American people and the human condition. The GOP has no plan other than to delay the debate and cry, "What's the hurry," which sounds very similar to Alfred E. Neuman's life's query. But tomorrow, forty million people will either have to pay retail for medical costs, if they can afford it, or use the emergency room as their primary physician, and let you pay for it. For a nation whose good was supposedly crowned with brotherhood, we sure have a heartless and ruthless system to care for the ill, the uninsured, the working poor, and the "least of these, my brethren." And what was my sin that forever disqualified me from health coverage? Several years ago I had an ulcer. It went undiagnosed and grew worse for a long time because my doctor was trying to spare me the expense of an MRI since I didn't have health insurance. The last time I had a chest X-Ray, I was billed for $650. How much was yours?

When I could take no more of mooching expensive prescription samples and pleading for doctor's to give me the "brother-in-law discount," I found that the local Church Health Center, although established to help the uninsured working poor, had an exception for musicians that would allow them to acquire decent health care at a nominal cost. I first had to attend an orientation meeting which was filled with mostly poor people coming straight from work, and fill out forms. God bless these folks for the work that they do, but the greeting meeting came with a healthy dose of Jesus and an emphasis on the importance of faith and building a relationship with God. A line in the registration form asked for "Church Congregation." Since Judaism does not have churches, I technically could have written "none," but instead I put "Temple Israel," to avoid any recruitment bulletins. It is, after all, the "Church" Health Center, and I accept their mission.

The young doctor leading our session seemed to have had a bad day and rather than having everyone take a seat, pass out the forms, and give instructions, He had us make a single-file line and he repeated the same instructions fifty times. He grew impatient with an Asian couple that spoke insufficient English and insisted they return at a later date with an interpreter. The young couple in front of me spoke only Spanish to each other, and I was prepared to say, "Yo hablo Espanol," to help these people muddle through on my bad Spanish, but they knew enough English to receive the forms. A brief lecture followed about 1040 tax returns and pay stubs necessary to verify sufficient work hours, and further instructions and calls necessary before being accepted as an "established patient." We concluded with a tour of the Hope and Healing Center on Union Ave., which is a wellness and exercise facility, with a chapel.

It is a tremendous relief to know that should I become ill that I have somewhere to go that will not financially break me. At the same time, while returning to my car after the meeting, I couldn't help but feel somewhat depressed about the whole thing. My wife assures me that the people who work at the Church Health Center Clinic are the most caring and thorough medical professionals she has ever dealt with and that I will appreciate the experience after my years of dealings with doctor's offices. I feel blessed that this alternative is here and is non-sectarian in the dispensing of medical care. But, as a former child of privilege sitting in a room with the likewise uninsured working poor and the truly destitute, I could not help but feel that I was occupying someone else's place whose life was far harder than mine. If I'm able to afford health insurance, then what am I doing accepting charity? The way the collusive medical/insurance complex is currently configured, desperation over health care knows no economic, ethnic, racial, or religious boundaries. Thankfully, neither does compassion.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Wrinkled Rebellion

Hey kids! Remember when your parents told you that wisdom comes with age? Mom and Pop told you a lie. Since you're the Online Generation, you know the acronym, "gigo," stands for "garbage in, garbage out." Wisdom is a long-term distillation of knowledge and experience; but when your experiences are limited and your knowledge comes from AM radio, paid shills for Rupert Murdoch and other right-wing groups, and chain emails, the only wisdom to be found there has to do with impacted teeth. Before the Bush re-election of 2004, an email went around from the GOP to conservatives that stated, "They think you're stupid," and liberals went crazy attempting to discuss issues of war and the economy instead of creationism and gay marriage. Well, the time has come to admit it. We really do think the far right-wingers are stupid, but more than that, we now think they're dangerous as well. And as George Bush proved over eight years, there's nothing more dangerous than an idiot convinced that he's right.

The discussion of health care reform has morphed into a carnival geek show with every pro-militia, automatic weapon-toting, Tim McVeigh wannabe out in public to show that nobody pushes them around. And since I live among them in the south, let's own up to the undercurrent of racial resentment that flows beneath these demonstrations of public anger. It's too simple to say, "Scratch a conservative and find a racist," because there are principled fiscal and social conservatives with much to add to the public debate. So although all conservatives are not racists, all racists are conservatives. Or else they use the "conservative" label to help dilute their 19th century worldview, and those who hold genuine conservative principles have allowed their movement to be distorted and corrupted by a group that could well be called the "New Dixiecrats." These propagandized "patriots" allow themselves to be used by corporate interests and show up at demonstrations howling "Facism, Communism, and Socialism," as if this was the new axis of evil threatening their lives. Where were these protesters when Dick Cheney came as close to establishing a totalitarian state since George Washington decided to be president instead of king?

I have a theory that's going to piss you off. I believe we're seeing the unintended consequences of private Christian education. First, let me say that I am a product of Christian education myself and I am all the better for it, because it helped me to understand religious faiths and viewpoints other than my own. So it is not the Christian part of the equation in which I find fault. In 1971, when the Supreme Court upheld busing to achieve integration in public schools, it threw the national educational system into chaos. It may have been a noble ideal, but many considered it "social engineering," and in retrospect, it was impractical policy. It was also the first conservative uprising since Nixon's "Silent Majority," and led to the complete desertion of public schools by white people, so that schools like East High went from being all-white to all-black in the course of a single year. This, in turn, led to the establishment of the private Christian academies and high schools and to the mammoth growth of churches in the following decades. Congregants found all their needs, from day care and exercise rooms to concert halls, met by the new church community. The unforeseen result was a new type of segregation, where like-minded people associated only with each other and suburban Christianity became a sort of exclusive club. These people have held sway for so long, that they now feel threatened by "socialistic" ideas, even when they are in their best interests.

And those that are screaming the loudest are the members of the so-called "Greatest Generation," who have been on the government teat since 1945. Returning soldiers from the big war were given the biggest slice of socialism this side of Sweden and they called it the GI Bill. Not only was a college education granted to every serviceman, but low-cost government loans were made available to purchase homes and start businesses, which fueled the economic boom of the fifties. Veterans from other wars did not receive such generosity. Now, old soldiers with white hair are hollering "Keep the government away from my Medicare" at town hall riots, or arguing over phantom rationing and forced euthanasia, while demagogic prophets tell them Obama is attempting to overturn the Judaeo-Christian ethic upon which this nation was founded. Which ethic was that; love thy neighbor, or an eye for an eye?

No social progress has ever been made with the help of the obstructionist conservatives. The only things the right-wingers have contributed is free-market Darwinism, prohibition, and term-limits after Roosevelt drove them crazy. I used to ask my Dad what it was like when FDR was president, and he said the GOP, the bankers, and industrialists hated his guts so thoroughly, they refused to refer to him by his name, only as "that man in the White House." Or they called him Rosenfeld and inferred that he was a secret Jew. Sound familiar? He was also known as the "poor man's friend," and called a Socialist and a Communist. Even Eisenhower was called a Communist by the right. When Ike expressed his approval for fluoride, a proven dental aid, to be added to public drinking water, the reactionaries claimed it was a Communist plot to rot the teeth of our children. But now, the factually challenged believe this president is a Kenyan Muslim, sent here by sinister forces to be a bi-racial Robin Hood ready to rob the white rich and distribute their earnings to crackheads and crooked ACORN employees. How did we get so damned dumb?

Any societal advances, from Social Security, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, women's economic and reproductive rights, Medicare or Medicaid, were advanced despite the resistance of the naysayers and defenders of the status quo. Some sort of major health care reform is going to pass this Congress, and in a year or so, it will look so seamless, we'll wonder how we ever allowed our rapacious current system to exist for so long. The Republican party, under the thumb of the Palin/Limbaugh wing, can't even bring themselves to admit there are no "death panels," in the bill, so why even consider them any further? They lost, so steamroll them and leave them in the wake of progress once again to sulk and lick their wounds. Better still, add the public, government-run option to compete against the carnivorous health insurance agencies, name the bill "Ted," and ram it through. Then, when our health care changes for the better, the repugnant, Hitler-referencing, functioning morons among us will have to focus their hatred elsewhere. It may well be true that the United States is the greatest country in the world; it's just the people that suck.