Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Care We Deserve

Rep. John Conyers at IUS

Yes we can. That was the rallying cry for the Obama troops during the campaign last year. Hope was the fuel. Change was the goal. I was caught up in the enthusiasm as much as anyone. I believed that the page was turning and a better day would dawn if only...

That was then. This is now. I confess to disappointment in the tentative approach Obama is taking to the presidency. He was off to a good start with the closing of the prison at Guantanamo, but now it's time for some reconsideration of that bold move. A few thousand more soldiers to Afghanistan; surely there's a plan.

Let's let bygones be bygones. If Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Yoo, Feith, and the boys from Blackwater pushed the envelope a little, just let it go. At least they're gone now and who wants all that poking around in closets looking for skeletons anyway? Just be happy that McCain didn't win because, well he was old and... Or just be happy that the eight years of Bush have ended and now things are...

Saturday at IUS the topic was health care, but the prescription was self-help. A forum was put on by the Southern Indiana chapter of Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan, the group working for passage of House Resolution 676, Single Payer universal health coverage for the U.S.. Several of the excellent speakers brought the same sobering news: If we want change, the kind of change that brings us up to the standards of health enjoyed in the rest of the industrialized world, we're going to have to hold Obama's feet to the fire. He's on film speaking eloquently about the virtues of a single payer health plan when he was running for State Senate, now he looks to the influence pedalling lobbyists and takes their cues to slow that train down. Unless we take the initiative,Conyers said, "we will get the kind of health care we deserve, not the kind we want." Now Obama says, paraphrasing, if we were starting out with a clean slate, we'd design a better system for health care, along the lines of a single payer plan.

We're not starting with a clean slate. We're starting with a slate on which health insurance sellers rack up $25 billion a year in profits. We're starting with a slate where these same corporations work not to deliver health care to the hapless purchasers of their flawed products but, rather, to deliver profits to their investors. They are in business not because that is how they deliver their needed service, but because it is a business, and a hugely profitable business. On their slates they write about the unfettered holy mandate of the marketplace. They write that a single-payer system of health coverage results in long waits, inferior treatment and a slight wafting of a European odor which is not to their liking. They write that they will voluntarily wring TWO TRILLION DOLLARS out of the heaven-sent cost increases to which they are entitled but which they will forgo because they are "team players" and they are on the capitalist team. That's how it's done, they write on their not-so-clean slates, in the land of the free, by choice.

Is it by choice that nearly fifty million citizens of the richest nation on Earth play the health care equivalent of Russian Roulette by having no coverage? Is it by choice that our once most valuable manufacturing powerhouse, General Motors, is brought to the brink of bankruptcy, in part by the current and legacy burdens of private health insurance which GM pays, but which is paid by the governments of foreign producers? Is it by choice that our citizens have shorter life spans than citizens of nations with universal health care? Is it by choice that in the U.S., according to a Harvard study in 2005, that half the personal bankruptcies are caused by the high cost of medical treatment? Is it by choice that the U.S. spends nearly a half trillion dollars more to deliver health coverage than is spent in Western Europe? Is it by choice that this excess spending delivers less care?

Huge numbers of people want a single payer health system for this nation, some polls report as high as 65% in favor, nearly 60% of doctors favor it,and yet it seems now that it will not happen. Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, the author of HR 676, spoke to the IUS gathering. He spoke of his heroes, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks. What these people all had in common was that they did not take no for an answer. They knew what was right and they persevered. Civil rights legislation was not seen as a viable option at the time. Marches on Washington brought segregation to an end and opened voting booths to all races. Ending the Viet Nam war was impractical, countries are like dominoes you know. Focused effort ended that war. Today the health care industry comprises 17% of our economy, those who benefit from the role of middleman in the transaction portray their work as critical to the success of the nation. Those who are shut out of the system, and those who are bankrupted by the system, and those who see health care as a right of citizenship, may be excused for seeing the health insurance industry as so many leeches feeding off the populace. The nation needs to adjust to new economic realities. Reform of the health care system, providing health care for all as a right not a commercial gewgaw, is one of a few important steps in that adjustment.

Congressman Conyers's admonition to those who see the health care system as broken, and those who feel the weight of that broken system, is that we must now do what those who preceded us did when they encountered injustice. We must now take the fight to the halls of power. We must let legislators know that we will not stand for the status quo on health care. When they don't listen, we must open their ears. When they are swayed by lobbyists oozing cash we must say, "Enough". Now is the time to take this right to health into our hands and make it real. We now must let Obama know the status quo is in need of change. We must recapture the hope which made us believe the words "Yes We Can" and utter those words once more. This time they must signal our knowledge that we can bring meaningful change to our broken,sub-standard health care system. If we don't act now, we will get what we deserve.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Al Franken Decade is Almost Here

Al attempted to tag the Eighties as "The Al Franken Decade". It didn't quite take hold. It looks like he missed the real decade by about 25 or 30 years. I can relate.

As most people are aware, Al Franken won the Minnesota Senate seat, defeating Norm Coleman by several hundred votes. He will be the state's junior senator when the beaten Coleman bows to reality and decency.

Franken is a non-traditional politician. I witnessed him getting his political sea legs through several years on Air America radio. He was a champion of progressive causes from universal health care to a strong anti-war stance on Iraq. He was educated at Harvard. His anti-war position did not prevent him from traveling to Iraq for Christmas shows for the soldiers stationed there. From my admittedly limited perspective he seems like a good and decent man. For those who would question his qualifications to be in the U.S. Senate, quick, what are Jim Bunning's qualifications? For my money I'll take good and decent.

Speaking of money...if you'd like to help further progressive causes and candidates, Democracy for America has started a pledge-type fund raiser based on Norm Coleman's stamina. Or is it pig-headedness? DFA is asking progressives, liberals, or simply those who believe that Norm Coleman is a boor who is shooting the bird at fair elections, to pledge one dollar for each additional day that Coleman hoists the sore loser banner.

The people of Minnesota, by virtue of their citizenship, are entitled to two senators. They currently have one. The United States is entitled to 100 senators. We currently have 99.

If you'd like to help Norm do what's right for America, check the Democracy for America web site.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hit the Bricks

I recall a scene from a movie: a young couple upon moving into their new house, go ecstatic as they pull up the shag carpet to reveal hardwood floors. They had found value and asthetics beneath what had surely seemed a good idea to the previous owners.

Last week I noticed a rather healthy pothole on Market Street near W. Seventh Street. It had probably followed the path of most potholes and started out as a tiny fissure in the asphalt. The recurrence of rain and snow and the steady flow of traffic had enlarged the tiny break into a thing of noteworthy dimension, measuring about two feet across and of rougly equal length. The depth was about two and a half inches. At the bottom of the hole exposed to the new century lay a small expanse of New Albany's past; ten or twelve of the big thick bricks which underlay many of our inner city streets. They appeared to be in good shape. Is the pothole akin to a rip in the movie couple's shag carpet?

As the discussion of pavement continues, I wonder if, in a 180 flip of Shirley Baird's recent blog post, "Let's Pave Some Roads" perhaps it's time time to also say, "Let's Un-pave Some Roads".

Removing the asphalt from city streets is not a broad substitute for paving. On the contrary, if applied, the exhumation could most likely only be done in a very limited fashion. But, if tried on a limited basis, it could be a means of enhancing the historic district of town. It could also bring a long term solution to the merry-go-round of paving, which could reduce the costs of street maintenance for the future.

Certain parts of Louisville have brick streets intact, and intact is a relative term. But those streets which have remained brick appear to be protected. Some of the streets have, in fact, improved fairly recently. The improvement taking the form of the removal of ashphalt scars from utility repairs and replacing missing bricks.

Beyond the benefits of historic preservation and potential cost saving, a return to brick surfaces should serve as traffic calming, as people tend to drive more slowly on such a surface.

Salem, Indiana is another good, local example of extant brick streets. I did not verify, but I surmise that the Salem streets have never been paved. The only surface of which I'm aware that has actually turned back the clock by removing blacktop is the alley next to St. Mary's Church. That removal was accomplished with little fanfare and could serve as a model to be expanded beyond simply one block. The method used there returned the brick to the appearance I recall prior to paving.

In discussing this, some have said the newly-exposed brick would be a surface too foreign to drivers unaccustomed to driving on bricks. That idea doesn't hold up when one considers that both Louisville and Salem must have drivers who are unfamiliar with bricks and yet neither place has found it necessary to cover them up.

This idea may actually come to fruition if the pavement issue is delayed much longer. Apart from my suggestion that some streets be stripped of asphalt, the process is unfolding in its own time on E. Sixth Street between Elm and Spring Streets. As I remember it, that street was in pretty good shape before it was covered up. Interestingly, that block was paved with bricks laid on their sides rather than the chunky bricks more commonly used throughout New Albany and most cities. Something I did not realize until work last summer on Pearl Street in front of Kaiser's revealed it, Pearl Street is a yellow brick road. Oh my.