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Monday, September 22, 2008

Breaking the Law

It’s really hard to not break the law these days for even the most determined law abiding citizen. I don’t speed, run red lights, rob banks, steal copper tubing, or even use aliases and kidnap children. All I am really trying to do is get some medication to treat my migraine. And the state and insurance companies are seemingly determined to make me break the law to do it.

Before I had health insurance, I simply paid my $225 for nine tiny Maxalts. I bought them maybe three times a year. I treated each pill like gold, fighting off migraines with over the counter pain relief, and only taking a Maxalt when I knew if I didn’t, I would not be able to work the next day. For me, a single mother of three, making ends meet means working every day.

Then, the law came into effect requiring health insurance, so I signed up with Blue Cross, paying $620 a month to cover myself and my three sons. When I needed the Maxalt I was informed it was not covered. Consulting with my doctor, we found a substitute, Zomig, which was covered. My co-pay? $170. Blue Cross generously kicked in a whopping $55! I take no other medications and have no medical conditions requiring any doctors’ visits and go only once a year for a checkup. Same thing for my kids. So, I’m basically paying about $7000 a year to get a discount of $55!

Blue Cross says Zomig is a “Tier 2” drug, which is why the co-pay is so high. Does Tier 2 mean less important? My migraines cause me horrific pain, light and sound sensitivity, nausea, inability to sleep, work, drive or take care of my kids for three days at a time. I found out Cialis is another Tier 2 drug. I am left wondering who determines tier levels and how.
Before I knew about Maxalt and Zomig, I had little recourse for my migraines. The only thing that ever worked was marijuana. But I rarely used it, terrified of taking an illegal drug. I can’t pay $620 a month for useless insurance and $170 for every prescription. I feel compelled to choose between two illegal actions: dropping my insurance, or smoking pot. And yes, pot is much cheaper. One hit, I’m a new woman!

I have one other illegal choice. I have a friend who has been on unemployment most of the year. She gets free health insurance and all medication for a $3 co-pay. She developed migraines recently and will be getting a prescription for Maxalt. I’m wondering if she will be using all those Maxalts or if she perhaps may have a spare or two for a friend?

Although I have never been on any government assistance, I believe in our system of taking care of those less fortunate. I believe in universal healthcare. I believe in the rule of law. What I don’t believe in is paying for insurance and not being reasonably insured. I don’t believe that the government does enough to take care of people who work hard every single day to do the right thing, who pay their bills and taxes and ask nothing of the system except to be treated fairly and reasonably. I believe that if we have created a system that forces people to break the law, the system itself is the thing that needs to be fixed. Until it is, I guess I will try to work harder and work when I don’t feel well. I will try to not break my back doing so, because I’m sure Blue Cross’s co-payment on broken backs is more than I can afford.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Imports We Don't Need

So, Clark Rockefeller is a German. A German! What in the world is going on here? Is there anything we won't now import? Henry Ford, an American, refined and perfected automobile production, and yet now we can't get enough of imported Toyota Priuses while good American-made Hummers sit forlornly on car lots all over the country. Televisions, computers, you name it, the US led the way in developing all kinds of products, and now we import rather than export them all. Baseball was invented in Cooperstown, New York, yet all the best players are now imported from Latin America and Japan. I've made peace with all this. But this Clark Rockefeller thing is where I draw the line. The US pretty much invented violent crimes, we are the murder capital of the world, with a murder rate 6 times higher than that of Germany. Why, then, do we need to start importing our murderers? Are we getting lazy? Are there no more red blooded American killers out there? Where have you gone Ted Bundy? Are we really going to let the Christian Karl Gerhartsreiters of the world push us aside? Let's take a stand America! Let's act now for an embargo against all non-native killers, whether they be Moldovian murderers or Barvarian bludgeoners. It's not protectionism, it's patriotism!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Well, it only took about a month of cold weather: the huddled, shivering masses this cold winter are whispering that maybe global warming really is just a bunch of hot air. Crank those thermostats back up; let the car warm up in the driveway for as long as we want; we can’t collectively stop old man winter after all! But wait…

Global climate change, not global warming, is the more accurate term for the effects of increased carbon dioxide and other human-created additions to the atmosphere. Even more significantly, the effects will not be a slow steady increase in temperature over time. They will be exactly what we’re seeing, wild, unpredictable weather, increased storm intensity, and disruptions to ocean currents. One snowy winter does not mean global warming is all a bunch of hogwash.
Still, many Americans insist that we’re putting ourselves at economic risk by taking steps to avoid global warming. What if they’re right that global warming isn’t real? Is it an economic burden to try to fight global warming?

Cars and trucks using gasoline and coal burning power plants are responsible for the vast majority of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. To replace these, the argument goes that these fossil fuels must be replaced with renewable, efficient energy sources, but that this will come at too great a cost, putting the U.S. at a distinct economic disadvantage.

During the last great oil crisis of the 1970’s, several nations chose to limit their dependence on fossil fuels. Through a combination of general conservation, taxes on gasoline, and diversification into nuclear power plants and other alternatives, those nations were able to level off and even cut their dependence on oil. In his book, A Thousand Barrels a Second, Peter Tertzakian creates an oil dependency factor to indicate how tied a nation’s GDP is to its oil consumption. The “dependency factor” for a nation like France, which aggressively worked from the 1970’s onward to untie itself from oil dependency, is 16. For Japan, it’s 0. For the U.S., the dependency factor is 45! The impact on the U.S. economy every time oil goes up a $1 a barrel is significant and painful. For Japan, it’s not even a blip.

Every investment we make in another wind turbine, in greater fuel economy, in hybrid technology, translates into oil we do not have to buy from unstable foreign governments. The economic rewards Japan is reaping by having developed hybrid technology first, and not only selling hybrid cars to U.S. consumers but also licensing hybrid technology to U.S. car manufacturers, is huge. Solar panels are being built in China and other nations that jumped on renewable technology.

We’re losing our technological edge in this area and are being hurt by it in two ways: 1) we must pay to import the technology, while 2) we’re still importing more oil at astronomical prices. The U.S. is economically disadvantaged by not doing everything in its power to untie itself from fossil fuel dependency.

Domestically produced coal is no solution, either, for power generation. Forget carbon dioxide, coal burning puts huge amounts of other pollutants into the air, causing a litany of undesirable effects, from acid rain to asthma. The real economic costs of continuing to rely on coal are astronomical.

The U.S., for its own non-altruistic economic survival, needs to stop arguing about theory and start weaning itself off the fossil fuel sauce now. The fact that we may prevent global warming by the effort will certainly be one of the most pleasant by-products of energy production ever known.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I Gave at the Mall

Save the world by buying a bottle of drinking water! That idea sums up the latest in the feel-good trend sweeping the country: spend money on something you want and would buy anyway, and get that warm feeling associated with helping your fellow man at the same time. Buy a $1.80 bottle of water and Ethos/Starbucks will send a whopping five cents to help children around the world get access to clean water. What could be better? Except that bottling of water in plastic, is, as we now know, a wildly irresponsible way to sell our drinking water.

What if Starbucks instead supplied access to tap water with some paper cups next to it? Every time a person took a cup, they could drop $1 into a can, which would then be sent to help children have access to clean drinking water? The customer would save 80 cents, the children would get 95 cents more, and we wouldn’t waste all that plastic and generate tons of non-biodegradable trash. Well, obviously, Starbucks isn’t going do that because then they’re out $1.75 on every bottle they didn’t sell.

The Ethos water charade is just one example of this trend towards incorporating a false sense of charity into an activity we engage in all the time anyway, namely shopping. We just go to the mall, not out of our way one bit, and we can buy things we were going to buy anyway so corporations will give a percentage of the profits to some charity. The Product Red campaign is a good example of this trend. We’re made to feel like we’re solving world hunger by buying a red iPod. A red iPod Nano costs $199. However, the blue one costs $199 also. Why should we feel so great about ourselves? We did nothing charitable; we simply bought something we wanted anyway and perhaps compromised on the color.

But hey, this is not to imply that it’s not good that corporations are committed to giving money towards causes like AIDS in Africa. And it’s not wrong that the corporations are only participating in these drives so that people will buy their products, either. They’re in the business of making money, so they’re just doing what they do. But let’s call it what it is, huh?

We’re being given the sense that every time we buy something, we just did our part to save the world. But if we really look, are we abdicating what is our responsibility--to truly help others?

I recently saw someone with four of those one-dollar rubber wrist bracelets at a coffee shop discussing the meaning of each colorful band. “This one is for poverty, this one is for cancer awareness…” He had spent a grand total of $4 to look like the second coming of Mother Teresa, all the while sipping a $4.95 mocha latte.

You see the signs everywhere — we can “feel good” about buying from this and that store. This one gives to charity, that one promotes fair trade, the other one is committed to being “green. “ What does that mean? A Connecticut car wash promotes itself as being “green” since it installed solar panels on its roof. While this will only meet a small fraction of the car wash’s electricity needs, we’re told to feel good going there to clean our SUV, even though hundreds of gallons of water mixed with phosphate pollutants from the soap go down the drain.

America is a generous nation, contributing a record $295 billion in 2006 to charity while corporate donations were $12.72 billion, a decline of 10 percent from the previous year. As much as it’s great that corporations are feeling that it’s necessary to look like good members of the world community, it’s obvious that we can’t leave it to them to do our giving for us. We need to think as much about our charity as we do about our other purchases. We can’t allow buying an overpriced bottle of water when we’re thirsty to replace well thought out contributions to deserving organizations. We need to continue doing what we’ve always done — volunteer and be generous, and not allow “I gave at the office” to become “I gave at the mall.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Where Have All the Anti-War Songs Gone?

The movie theater lights came down 10 minutes before show time, but instead of coming attractions, or ads for popcorn in the lobby, a three and a half minute National Guard recruiting video began to play. Immediately, it became obvious that this was no ordinary schlocky military-produced film, but a slick rock video by the popular rock group “3 Doors Down.” The video, “Citizen Soldier,” chronicles the history of the National Guard; one of their own fired the shot that “started a nation,” and others “stormed the beaches of Normandy” and includes footage from 9/11 and Guardsmen rescuing a cute blond boy from what looks like the aftermath of a tornado.

The reality, of course, is that for the last several years, Guardsmen, more often than not, have been deployed to Iraq, not here rescuing Americans from disasters. 3 Doors Down, by appealing to its fan base, is helping to send young men and women to fight in Iraq. The new recruits will most likely not find cute blond kids to rescue, nor will they start a nation.

The times they are indeed a-changin’.. During the Vietnam war, the popular bands of the era were putting out seminal anti-war music, not recruitment songs. Where have all the Pete Seegers gone? Gone to commercials everywhere, it seems. Even the formerly anti-establishment hero of the farmers, John Mellencamp, has gone corporate, happily singing that this is our country in those repetitive Chevy commercials. He informs us that, “There’s room enough here for religion to forgive,” but this inane, banal piece of bad songwriting cannot be forgiven. Long ago, Mellencamp told us that he fought authority and authority always won. Maybe he just got tired of fighting and decided to just take the money and run.

Four and a half years into the Iraq conflict. and it’s hard to think of a single Iraq-era anti-war song. Yet, even young people born long after the Vietnam war can name a handful of that era’s best protest songs. “Alice’s Restaurant,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “One Tin Soldier” come quickly to mind. Something has indeed gone haywire over the last 30 years if the most memorable anti-war musical moment (not even a song)came from the Dixie Chicks, a country group no less, when the lead singer announced a few years ago that she was ashamed that the president was from Texas.

Do today’s artists and listeners just have different political viewpoints? Or could it be the lack of a draft? Maybe self-preservation helped inspire the great anti-war song output of old. Or could the corporate ownership of radio simply be keeping these songs from us? In March of 2003, before the invasion of Iraq, The New York Times published an article about the state of anti-war music, saying, “One thing is certain: a war, as opposed to the prospect of war, would quickly generate more anti-war music.” Four plus years since then, it seems that certainty, like the music business, just ain’t what it used to be.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


1-20-09. The day Bush leaves office. Never before have we been so keenly aware of the exact date when a president will step down. It’s on bumperstickers and keychains everywhere. Many have timers counting down the days, minutes, and seconds left to his term.

Amusing at first, these now seem vital to those who are terrified that Bush may still have time to start a war with Iran before his term ends and will leave it to the next president to mop up not from just one war, but from two. The reports differ, but there are indications that the hawks, especially Cheney, are lobbying heavily for an attack on Iran in the near future. They’re afraid that the next president will be “too wimpy,” and believe that this is their last chance to start another war before they lose power.

Bush recently said that he does not want to become “irrelevant.” It’s frightening to imagine that the war-mongers whispering in his ear may be saying there’s no better way to become relevant again than by provoking Iran into war. Think of the advantages – all the fun of dropping bombs, cowboy talk, and killing people without any of that messy clean-up to do. It’s like having a kids’ birthday party at a restaurant – the kids have fun, spill cake and soda all over the place, and then you pay and get to leave, while someone making minimum wage cleans the tables and floor. Iran is like a neocon’s Chuck E. Cheese, but better; the money they’ll spend will be the taxpayers’, not theirs.

It won’t be up to Bush to figure out how to increase the ranks of the armed services, who today are straining to keep up with the demands in Iraq alone. It’ll likely be up to a Democratic president who may not have even supported the Iraq war to begin with. If it’s Hillary, well, too bad, since she did support Iraq and has given tacit support so far to the saber rattling over Iran.
It will be the American people straining financially to pay for two wars and sacrificing more and more of their sons’ and daughters’ lives while Bush will be busy building his presidential library and maybe clearing some brush at his ranch.

The countdown now is about 15 months. That’s plenty of time to invent the necessary justifications for war. The administration has the experts who must believe that, having fooled us once into buying that invading Iraq was essential to our security, we will believe it once again about Iran.

Soon, we’ll begin to hear “9/11” and “Iran” in the same sentences, and frightening talk about WMDs. We’ll be told that we have to fight ‘em there so we don’t have to fight ‘em here. The U.S. will make ridiculous demands with deadlines that Iran cannot possibly meet. When they don’t meet the deadlines, the bombings will start.

Get your cameras ready: Bush may yet have time to don another flight jacket and pose beneath another “Mission Accomplished” sign before he walks off into the sunset on 1 20 09.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Glass Houses

Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Okay. Got it. Now, let's talk about his politics…Oh, if only it could be that way! Instead, we have to hear debate about whether the U.S. is ready to accept a Mormon as our president and about how Mormons don't drink alcohol, and a thousand other things that distinguish Mormons from other types of Christians. I'm no Romney fan, but I just don't think it’s important that he's a Mormon. When his father George ran for president 40 years ago, there was no hand wringing about his religion. Have we slipped backwards down the evolutionary (er, I mean intelligent design) chain so much in 40 years that we don't know if we could deal with our president having some not-so-average religious beliefs?

The media focuses on Romney’s "strange" Mormon beliefs. Yet Christians don't think it's strange that God masqueraded as burning vegetation in the Old Testament and many believe that a divine force causes the image of Christ to appear in odd places such as the side of a grilled cheese sandwich. Imagine a space alien on his first day on Earth learning that to live forever, he would need to be immersed in a body of plain old H2O, or have some sprinkled on him.

The only thing that renders us able to accept strange beliefs and rituals (such as baptism by water to get us eternal life) is that we’ve been indoctrinated since childhood to consider these strange things normal.

One of the particular rituals the Christian right has difficulty with is that Mormons sometimes convert the dead of other religions to theirs. I can’t fathom why this is so odious to other Christians. It actually strikes me as quite understandable and practical. When Romney was a young missionary, he spent 30 months in France, knocking on hundreds of doors a day, and converted only two people during his stint. It must have been tempting to saunter into a graveyard and inform the dead that if they had any objection to being converted to Mormonism, they should really speak up immediately. Is this really so different from Christian crusades to convert the Muslims of the Middle East? Actually, the fact that the crusaders killed so many of their would-be converts makes me think I would rather be converted when I’m dead than be killed while arguing the point.

All religions require some suspension of disbelief. To be truthful, even atheists have to swallow some things that are pretty hard to believe. They must buy into the belief that billions of years ago, nothing, of its own volition, suddenly became something. This is essentially the big bang theory. Maybe even harder to accept is the one where life on Earth began from non-life, aka spontaneous generation: not living one moment, then living the next. Is this so much more logical than believing that Jesus died one day and rose the next?

Romney has a lot of faults. He is a flip-flopper who has sudden epiphanies timed perfectly to his political ambitions. He believes that fixing the nation’s problems is just a matter of closely analyzing all the data and waiting for the answers to present themselves. But he should not be faulted for being a devoted religious man simply because the religion is different from the majority. As the hero of both the Christian right and the Mormons might have put it, let he who is without strange religious beliefs cast the first stone.