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I Tried to Understand….and Have a Glimmer of the Concept…You?

I think ALL of us can agree on one thing: our American society is sick right now.   So much finger pointing is going on about the causes, but there are some truths that can’t be ignored.

One is on male anger: our young boys are taught to “man up”, to suppress their natural dismay and fear and unhappiness and learn to be stoic. And the hurts build up until it festers.  Some people turn inward and we have a lot of teen depression and anxiety. Others, unfortunately, turn outwards and access a way to strike out. Such are mass murderers nurtured…..and it is all of us who parented that one. Because we are part of the society that encourages this way of raising boys. Today there was another shooting in Texas with 5 dead and 21 injured..and it was a young white male who is the (now dead) suspected perp.

The other is white male privilege. I read an opinion piece I urge you to read. It’s long and you might want to close it down. I urge you, instead, to read it in bits. Take it in. Share it. It may not resonate with you but when I read it, I had a few insights of enlightenment. Perhaps you can, too.

Christianity and the Cult of Trumppublished by Utne Reader, was written by Miguel A. De La Torre, from Burying White Privilege.  

It is apparent to anyone who is not a white male that the white guys have access to many things that people of color and women generally have to work harder to achieve. And we know pay scales are different. We know perception of why people act the way they do is different based on color and gender. This article develops the historic reasons why. Image result for being a member of a group and outsider

The ONLY time I ever was close to a position that the white males of the USA enjoy was the summer of 1972 when I went to Israel. It took a few weeks there when it hit me: most people around me were Jewish. It was the first time in my life that I was in the majority. I was no longer an “other”.

While I had entered the identifiable group, I was only on the fringe because I did not have the language nor a lot of the modern cultural knowledge, but, once learned, I would be there.  I propose to you to consider the experience you had when you visited the country  where your family’s heritage is based. You may not been able to speak (fluently) in that language and you would not know the day-to-day societal norms, but you could learn them if you immersed.  If you have never gone to the “old country” nor ever really learned any ethic cooking, dances, or stories, if your family has lost its cultural heritage and you just “know” you are part Irish, for example, you probably will not be able to access this point of insight.  It is NOT the feeling you get when you are on your 5th green beer on St. Patrick’s Day and just looovveeee everyone in the bar.

That feeling of “belonging” to a group that is in the majority and has a strong voice in the society gave me a sense of calm……and I had not recognized prior that I was otherwise anxious. That anxiety increased greatly when I lived in the Bible Belt and was very definitely an “other” much more than when I grew up in the ethically and culturally diverse New York metropolitan area.

So, without even going into the God-given rights as discussed in Christianity and the Cult of Trump, I could see that white men subconsciously feel safe. Since they have been the predominate group, they have the power.  And when I felt for the experience I had, the feeling of being IN the group in Israel, I could finally grasp just what white male privilege is.

 

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Part of the pushback by angry white men MIGHT be because  it sounds like they are being considered “inferior” because of skin color and that is an impossibly hard concept to swallow (and yes, ironic as hell).  No, it’s not your skin color……it is your attitude. But your skin color gave you access and so your attitude is that everyone has equal access, which is not true.  Once you wake up to the difference, we can begin the job of healing this society.

The second insight I received reading this article was related to religion. As you know, I am Jewish but married to a Christian. For twelve years I have been attending church with him, learning about the stories and practices of this faith. And what I have learned has taught me that Jesus was all about teaching love by actions. He tried to simplify things, since people then like people now seem to have issues with reading long and deep. He acknowledged the Ten Commandments but basically said it comes down to treating others the way you want to be treated. That really should be simple enough for people to understand….but it is not.

I told my husband I would go to church with him but only as long as people respected me. His answer, “If they don’t, we’re in the wrong place.” So I was embraced by people at Ascension & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Pueblo, Colorado for my introduction. The people at Huntington, West Virginia’s St. John’s Episcopal Church asked especially for me to participate in study groups because my point of view would be different and would lead to more interesting discussion. Now in McMinnville, Oregon at McMinnville Cooperative Ministry, a blended Lutheran-Methodist church, I am participating in actions to help the community and even though I am not baptized, I am recognized as a full member of the congregation.

Simply, the exposure I have had to Christianity has lead me to understand that we are all imperfect but should be striving to BE LIKE JESUS.

In contrast, the Christianity I saw on full display living in the Bible Belt was, for the most part, significantly different.  When I first moved to Nashville in 1975 I was greeted “Hello! Welcome to Nashville! What church do you belong to?” in one continuous breath.  Sunday mornings were the best time to go grocery shopping (except the beer was inaccessible until noon, not a big problem for me.) because people either were in church or sleeping in; basically not going out in public if not at church so not to be identified as “one of those”. It also was when I learned not to expect to schedule anything on Wednesday night, as many had midweek church suppers at the very least.

So, if they were so tuned into church life, why was there so much anger towards “others”?

I worked for 18 months (way too long) in an office in Vanderbilt Medical Center where the electronic medical equipment was repaired and kept running at peak efficiency.  The assistant director was a guy in his late 30s who proudly told me he was an elder in his church. He also told me that all the other people who thought they were Christian were not. He belonged to the XYZ Christian Church and others went to Southern Baptist or Church of Christ or some other denomination without “Christian” in their name. Ergo, they were not Christian.  He said all this with a straight face.  Image result for my god is better than yours

This same guy stumbled into work bleary-eyed one morning shortly after his second child had been born. I asked if the baby had kept him up. No, it was another problem. At his church.  Apparently, one of the Sunday School teacher positions had to be filled and the congregation had been asked for volunteers. Two men had offered but they just could not be considered. Why? He was hesitant to speak it….I wondered if he knew his indoctrination was not quite right and that caused him distress? He finally said that the two guys were “a couple.” I responded with “What’s the problem?” He was shocked I didn’t automatically “get it” and asked “Would you want one of THEM teaching your kids?”  I kept calm and asked him if the Sunday School has a curriculum that the teachers use to teach the religious training they want the kids to get. Yes. I asked if any of the curriculum included getting naked and touching each other. NO!!! “Well, then,” I repeated, “what’s the problem?”  He stomped away in frustration. (I seriously hated using that argument because it feeds the convoluted concept that homosexuals are pedophiles even as we hear at LEAST once a month about some ordained Christian minister being caught in incest or some other inappropriate act with a minor. And THAT gets no discussion so it really is a GREAT example of white male privilege.)

The next morning the boss stumbled in again and I played coy and again asked if the baby was ok. Yes,….it was “the other thing.”  Turned out, after kids were asleep and his wife also and he was just drifting off he clearly heard a deep resonant voice (James Earl Jones?) “Love your brother!”  And a few seconds later, it was repeated, “Love your brother!” I asked him if God had ever talked to him before and he slowly said ” noooo”. So then I told him the message was pretty clear…..and was he going to approve hiring the two volunteers for the teaching spot. He didn’t want to. So, I pushed a bit, “But God told you to LOVE YOUR BROTHER and I think God would be okay if you just let him teach the class.”

I have no idea what eventually happened there.  I would prefer to think that those guys found a better church family, one that could respect and love them as Christ taught. (Is it considered teaching if teh lesson is not learned?)   But this was only one of many many incidents related to the need to make everyone believe the same that I experienced and for many, I was the one they were trying to change.

These experiences, when compared to the ones I have had at the churches where I attended, have been significantly different and when Miguel A. De La Torre wrote in his essay Christianity and the Cult of Trumphe mentioned that Christianity as practiced in the South IS different from Christianity practiced elsewhere in the USA.

I want to interject that I know there are “liberal” churches in the South, just as there are “conservative” churches throughout the country.  In the 21 years that I lived in Tennessee I had five active Christian friends who walked the walk and loved me as I am with no “need” to fix me.  And I have also met others in other areas of the country who very much want to “save” me.

The point Mr.De La Torre wrote and I sensed is that when a culture has a majority population with a similar mindset, it influences the mores of the area.  So, with a pervasive attitude in the Bible Belt that the fundamentalist spin is the ONLY right way to Christ, it makes everyone else an “other”. That means the unchurched, the nonChristians, and so many others need to be fixed or made to leave.

I very much felt like an “Other” in the South and there are a few people around me that may try also.  Because white men essentially run this nation and the conservative Christian church has learned how to make their voice heard, we are all immersed in this struggle.  The first step is to stop denying it.

 

 

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Aim for Information NOT Confirmation Bias

Seven years ago, about a year before we planned to move from West Virginia to Oregon,  I got deeply involved in helping establish The Wild Ramp, an indoor year-round local food market. Among other things, I visited the farms and other food producers basically to get their stories to tell consumers, but also to verify that they were raising or producing the yummies they brought to sell at the store.

For a person who grew up in the paved part of the Garden State and one who earned a degree in urban planning, finding myself knee deep in mud was one of my earliest experiences and I immediately bought muck boots for later farm visits. I am a quick learner…at least in some issues. 2014-10-07 10.48.42

I believe the first farmer’s patience with me and my questions helped establish my process: I spent an hour asking questions sitting usually at the kitchen table, and only then did we walk the farm and I got to see and take photos.

Because I knew next to NOTHING about farming (other than going with my grandpa into his chicken coop when I was 3-years-old was a terrifying experience which he sure could have made easier!) I asked tons of questions. I may not know a lot but I am curious.

“What’s the issue about corn fed versus grass fed” was a question. “What kind of cows are these?” was another. (The answer to that was also enlightening: “Well, ” the farmer slowly answered, “they’re black.  Angus are black, so I guess we can say they are Angus.” And my response: “So ARE they Angus, or are you riding a marketing message?” was answered with a smile.

So I learned something there and I later learned that perhaps it is not always just the breed but also the diet that helps make some meat tastier than others.

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The point is, I was not afraid to appear that I did not “KNOW”. In other words, it was okay for them to figure I was ignorant and it was their job to teach me. And almost all of the 70 farmers and food producers I visited were happy to give me the two precious hours of their work day. The later sales jump after the blog was written and read by the consumers was worth the work interruption.

So last night I again watched the debates. And I will watch the 2nd debate with the rest of the Democratic candidates tonight. WHY?

Because I am not going to rely on what news organizations chose to tell me. I am not going to read my Facebook friends’ comments as a basis for my own decision-making. I do find comments by people I know and even people I have no idea what their background basis is for their comment. This is our reality: people have various levels of evaluation tools and their decision making may or may not be similar to mine.

When I read restaurant reviews when I am searching for a place to eat in a location I have not fully explored, I have no idea if those reviewers’ taste buds are similar to mine. I have no idea if they value food without additives, as I do.  Same kind of issue when I hear how people love or pan a movie. How can I know if any person making a comment is aligned with my values on what entertains me?

Even more important is the much more rigorous and important evaluation for the next President of the United States.  A crummy meal or movie may, at worse, provide a wasted couple of hours or a tummy ache, but typically not more than that. Playing passive on the evaluation of candidates can provide for poor leadership that will affect me…and you…and the world.

So, it’s all theater. I made a comment on Facebook as the debate started that the narrator sounded like he was introducing a sport event. But this is NOT the time we chose one winner and all the rest are losers.

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Source: Apple Podcasts

Each person standing on that podium last night had something that was important to be heard. Each one.  How would you know if you don’t put your own mind to work?

Do I think they are all equivalently experienced for the job of President. Hell no! But they have their viewpoint and it may overlap someone else’s, including your own.

Let’s be careful not to throw support to one candidate so early that we don’t listen. Let’s be careful to listen and evaluate how we feel about the various solutions to issues posed.

And let’s remember that the way the government is working now will not change much without some huge changes that are, unfortunately, needed to be made by the people who currently would not want them changed.  For example, we have clearly seen the damage to the election process that the Supreme Court decision about Citizens United caused.  By permitting money to be equivalent to free speech, and corporations defined as “people”, we have seen that our government is now being controlled by megawealthy corporations and people. Very few people. And the rest of us, working (or not) to make the changes have a tough uphill battle. How can that be changed to give the governing of this nation back to the people? Listen to how the candidates suggest changes and see if they align with you.

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Source: UMass Dartmouth

Above all, quit sitting back and only using your voice to armchair quarterback. Get out there. Locally, you can have some huge influence in the way your city or county runs.  On the national level, if you like a candidate, get involved. Give an hour a week…..that certainly is not too much of a drain when you think of what gets decided that will affect you.

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Source: Waupaca Rotary Club

 

 


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The Moral Majority Has Failed the Test

In 1979 Jerry Falwell, with thousands of followers, started a new political party in the hopes of presenting candidates with good Christian morals.  The issues that attracted followers: anti gay, anti abortion, anti school segregation, anti science teaching among others. The Moral Majority prided themselves as being pro Family and yet, many of the leadership were found to be having affairs or liaisons. So, despite strong evangelical Christian support, the party dissolved late in the 1980s. The people who supported Falwell waited silently for their next hero.

Perhaps they never really got silent but their more recent activities begins to beg the question about the basis of their Christianity.

Look, you know I’m Jewish but I would bet you that I pay more attention at church than cradle Christians whose memorized responses do not require any brain involvement. My Christian husband asked me to attend with him 10 years ago and I said I would as long as I was respected.  My introduction began at Ascension Episcopal Church in Pueblo where I marvelled at the similarities; of course! this was a denomination not far off the Catholic shoot and that church was derived from Judaism. Funny how the symbolism, while morphed a bit, still exists.  In West Virginia we attended St. John’s Episcopal Church in Huntington and once again, not only were people respectful, they sought me out at times asking if I would join a study group because they knew my viewpoint, being different, would spark more interesting discussion.  And now in Oregon we attend the McMinnville Cooperative Ministries, a combined church of Lutheran and Methodist congregations.

I listen. I study. I ask questions. And you know what?  The teaching of Christ in the churches where I have worshipped seems to be very different from what I see proclaimed by the evangelical Christians who walk a very different pathway.

  • They say they are pro-life but they have no tolerance for children who are hungry or homeless.
  • They proclaim their great patriotism but their pride in our veterans seems to appear only on two days of the year and there is little concern about the number of veterans committing suicide or those that are homeless.
  • They fight against bathrooms being used by people who identify themselves by their chosen gender, not their birth gender, and yet, we have a President who has happily walked in on young women in stages of undress during “his” beauty contest.
  • They argue against homosexulaity and then we find that some of the loudest voices have been arrested for inappropriate behavior in a public place.

Now we have this judge, twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court who is running to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he was named Attorney General in this administration.  Roy Moore has been accused by several adult women that he inappropriately touched them sexually when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. One girl was 14-years-old. And this morning, another woman has come forward who has announced she, also, was 14-years-old when this man took her innocence. Image result for supporting sexual abuse

I’ve read a number of essays that this is not uncommon with evangelical Christian men. They want to have relationship(s) with women that they can mold, women who will not be mature enough to know that a healthy marriage is one based on mutual respect.

While this is also very common in other societies with fundamentalist religions, few more educated communities expect women to be subservient like this.  Few educated societies permit children to become married. Fewer still think sex is an appropriate activity for budding adolescents.

As much as this angers me,  what bothers me more than the men and women who believe this is a good way of life are the many people who say they will still vote for Roy Moore despite the behavior they don’t like. They will vote for him because he is a Republican. That voting for a Democrat is worse.Image result for unthinking followers

Now, before any Democrat starts feeling superior, the same is true in that camp. Here locally we have a woman beginning her campaign for a state house district. Personally, I can’t vote for her because I do not live in her district, but I have gotten to know her and I know she would have my vote if I could. Even though she is a Republican.

There is not much difference between the warring factions in the Middle East killing people because they do not agree on who was Mohammed’s heir and people who are so fixated on the NAME of their political party that they never put any effort into thinking about the person running for office. Or effort working for that party to help make sure it runs honest candidates who WILL represent the common people.

Look at the issues, yes. You don’t like abortion, I understand. But the clinics do more than that…..don’t shut your eyes to the good that is done.  Don’t be so narrow in your outlook that your hate encompasses good.

Look at the experience the candidate has had to help you understand if they know the important aspects to do the job fairly.  It is very clear that Trump meant it when he said he plans to shut several federal departments; his appointments for their secretaries were selected carefully so the most damage could be done. While many people like the concept of “small government” few people like the idea of letting corporate interests destroy public lands for private enterprise.

Look at their ethics and decide if they are like yours.  You don’t rape little girls? Then don’t vote for someone who prefers his meat tender and juicy and well below the age of consent. And yes, “meat” is rude but surely you don’t think what Moore was doing was a meaningful relationship and one you would enjoy?  He did NOT mentor these children; he raped them.

If you vote for someone who admits sexual predation like Trump, you have something missing in your thinking process…..or you also believe women are playthings.  If you think the idea of children and unconsenting young women being sexual objects is not healthy, then you need to speak up when an abuser proclaims they want to represent you.

Image result for fake christiansSo, simply, I’m holding my “from the outside looking in” card and tell you that these people are not learning the teachings of Christ. Being an imperfect human being I can understand. I can understand that just about all of us have done things that have been unwise. But being proud of reprehensible behavior I can not understand nor support. And anyone supporting it blindly will only continue the deterioration of the American culture.

Yes, that will. Not the immigrants, legal or illegal. Not the LGBTQ community, not the NFL players who kneel to add their silent voices to the protest that not people of color do not have the same equal access to the law that is promised.

Nope, those are all part and parcel of this great land with its wonderful Constitution. But the society will continue to circle the drain if all citizens don’t start thinking about how their actions affect everyone.  Or lack of action. The time for Monday morning quarterbacking is over.  Your choice to act or stay silent is your legacy to this American culture.

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Fear or Stubborness?

It has been easy, since the campaign season, to compare statements and actions by Donald Trump with Adolf Hitler.  Image result for compare trump and hitlerAlso comparable is  the excited reaction of support by a significant minority of the population.  Additionally, what can also be compared is the silence of a larger minority of the populations, providing tacit approval.  These two groups provide a majority base for power.

So, using Nazi Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s as an example, why do “good”  people stay silent when witnessing discrimination of others? Later on, it can easily be understood that they were frightened that they too would become a target for internment or death. But at the beginning of the growth of power, why the silence?Image result for Germans quiet about Hitler

All  the insight I have is based on discussion with people I know who supported Trump during his candidacy. I was told “He doesn’t mean that” many times. When asked how they knew that, the discussion faltered, but the tenacity to that one statement was evident, “I know.”

Each of us is indoctrinated to think certain ways. It may be the way you were raised, or it may be completely opposite the parental viewpoint, but our upbringing-the ethics displayed in our households, the education we had (meaning how we learned to learn, not just how we did on tests), and the people in our close circle all influence the way we think and act.

I, for one, was taught early and often about World War II. My grandparents were immigrants in the early 20th Century and we lost family members in the Holocaust. It was personal and there was no doubt about it but I was taught to hate Germany.  As young as 3-years-old I watched the documentaries showing newsreels of US Army liberating the death camps. I know what slow starvation looks like. I also know what determination to survive despite the odds looks like.

When I had the opportunity to travel for work to Germany to spend six months there on a project working with the US Army, I was uncharacteristically slow jumping at the chance for free travel. I understood why and I tried hard to face that prejudice, learned as a baby, and overcome it logically. And I accepted the assignment.

Waiting at the Frankfurt airport for another part of the team to arrive from the States, I had plenty of time to people watch and came to an obvious but, to me, important understanding: they look just like me. And when our coworkers arrived, we got on a train to head to Kaiserslautern, and I thought, oh yeah, here I am, a Jew, on a train in Germany.   The next morning, reporting to the military office, I noticed the swastikas that were part of the architecture. The base had been built in the 1930s. The spector was all around me. Despite my best intentions, a certain low level anxiety showed I had carried much of my baggage with me.

So why did “good” Germans and others in occupied Europe, for the most part, stay quiet about the actions being taken against the Jews, the Communists, the homosexuals, the gypsies, the handicapped?  Was it mostly fear that they might be next?

Or was it that they really agreed that these groups of people were inferior and the nation, the world, would be better off without them?

We see denial of similar issues here and now in our own nation. For example, we hear lots of white people complaining about the silent and nonviolent kneeling protest  during the national anthem at professional football games. They believe, because it is the information being presented by news sources they trust, that the protestors are not being respectful of the flag and thereby the veterans who fought to protect our rights. They will not recognize the actual purpose of the protest. They believe that people have trouble with the police because they are bad people, but 100% stop talking about the  issue when I asked what a 12-year-old sitting on a playground swing holding a toy gun did so bad that he was shot dead within seconds of the police arriving on the scene.

This lack of facing facts is a clear sign of cognitive dissonance, the stubborn and willful choice to not consider information that is not aligned with their convictions.  And all of us have some level of this infliction.Image result for cognitive dissonance

It is so very easy to think that what I believe is THE RIGHT WAY TO THINK and that everyone else is crazy or stupid. But that way of thinking is also cognitive dissonance.

This morning there are statements by various high level Republicans who have an opinion about Roy Moore’s alleged sexual behavior affecting the upcoming election for Senator from Alabama to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that if the allegations are true, Moore should step out of the race. But other Republican leadership are once again blaming the women (why did they wait so long?) and are supporting Moore fully.Image result for sexual assault by men in power

With the recent #MeToo social media campaign I remembered and told my kids about one incident in my life where my boss tried to inappropriately insinuate himself into my life (I was 24 at the time and he was 49). Recently I read there is a new social media campaign gaining ground  to “Name the Pig.” Instead of telling how we were assaulted, we are encouraged to name the person who behaved illegally and unethically.  So, I think about that former boss of mine.  He would be 88-years-old now, if he is still alive. What good would it be to “out” him?  None, I believe. (I dealt with that boss directly, facing him and telling his he had been inappropriate and it had to stop. He listened and complied…..at least with me. )  But I also support every woman, from Anita Hill to the women who named Bill Cosby to the ones in the Moore situation, for speaking out when we are dealing with a man who has been a role model or could become politically powerful.

Meanwhile, we continue to have at the head of our government a man whose code of ethics seems to be best described as “ME FIRST.” The die hard supporters still believe in what the rest of us know are empty promises (I’ll get your coal jobs back, I will make sure everyone has affordable health care coverage….and more, so many more).  One supporter, in the course of a calm and reasonable conversation stated, “I think Trump is the savior of this nation.”  I knew that the ground had tilted and there was no middle place to find a commonality there.

So why are these people this way? Simply, they are not hearing nor reading what the rest of us are learning.  They typically rely on media that comes from the same viewpoint and never cross check with other news sources to see another aspect of the same issue.  Before condemning him or the countless others, think first. Do you? Do you cross-check issues that are getting your blood pressure up? Or do you just confirm with other sources that are in the same camp?

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Most of us react emotionally first and often speak next. Few recognize that if the information just received appeals to your sense of greed or outrage it MUST be verified by cross-checking across the media, liberal and conservative.  I urge everyone to take the few minutes it takes to do that search and read before climbing aboard some bandwagon that you might not like to own later.

Remember, the “good” people of Germany allowed things to take place that eroded their prior sense of right and wrong because it was not directly affecting them…until it it did, and then, it was too late for most to take a stand.

Image result for bill of rightsWe live in a nation that has an amazing set of laws backed by the Constitution that provides protections for all people here to speak their mind, gather in public, practice their faith, purchase weapons for home protection and hunting, keep from illegal search and seizure, protection from having soldiers living inside your home, certain rights of prisoners and people arrested, and other rights kept by the people and by the individual states. The NRA has massaged the fear of firearms being confiscated to drum up massive purchasing by frightened people.  The fact that some news agencies report on the inept leadership currently in Washington does not mean they are fake news; it means the people responsible want to distract you by blaming the messenger.

Don’t ignore the message.

 

 

 

 


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They are Making THEIR Choice Known – What’s YOUR Choice?

Back in the late 90s I worked as an administrative assistant in the Vanderbilt Hospital office that maintained the electronic machines that go beep, among other things. One of the technicians had the opportunity to go to a training seminar out of state and was excited about that until he realized he would have to rent a car to get from the airport to the training site. (No uber or lyft in those days.)  He asked if I could arrange to get the department credit card for that expense. I presented his request to the supervisor who had an interesting reaction.

He not only immediately said no, as he was wont to do anytime anyone asked anything “nice” of him, but he then went on a demeaning rant about how anyone could be so inept with their own personal finances that they could not float a $500 expense that might take a month to get reimbursed. He not only had no understanding that not everyone he knew was as financially solvent as he was, but he had no empathetic ability to recognize times may be hard for others and what small thing could he do to help.

As I was myself in severe financial straits at the time dealing with a serious long term illness in the family, I could immediate understand the technician’s situation, and so, went to bat. We got the department credit card, the technician went on his training trip, and all worked out.   But the message hit home. Some people are so narrow in their view of the world that they have NO ability to recognize anyone may be different. And when that different worldview is thrust upon them, they refuse to learn about it, and so more easily want to brush it under the table. Make it disappear.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people like that supervisor. Many are in positions of authority as he was, and so exert control with little signs of benevolence. Instead, they are judgmental and their aim to make people causing them problems disappear may not be hidden well.

Years before, sometime in the 1970s I read a book which stayed with me.  Triage by Leonard C. Lewin, published in 1973, was not a best seller and is not a spellbinding page turner but it is a view of a dystopian society where the government and individual corporations make decisions that can and will cause death of “stupid” people, “old” people, “sick” people, “worthless” people.triage-definisiton

triage-bookThe one story I remembered from reading 40+ years ago was about how car manufacturers had come up with a motor that had NO unhealthy emissions and so would eliminate pollution. Sounded great as they they made their presentation to what is clearly recognizable as the EPA until someone finally asked a question they were hoping would go unasked. Simply, the revolutionary motor needed to be started with a proscribed sequence and if not done correctly would blow up. The manufacturers had rejected installing a switch in the car to inhibit imperfect start-up because then they would be accepting responsibility if it failed. The best thing they could offer is that it would only kill the driver who would be showing his lack of intelligence by not following instructions. Passengers would only be injured. The roads would then, they argued, have one less unsafe driver and so driving accident rates could be expected to decrease.

When I went to purchase the book recently to refresh my aging memory the reviews talked about how this is a libertarian viewpoint. Each person is responsible and no paternal oversight should be expected.  I don’t know about that but I do know there is something very much missing in the actions described in the book.

Today we are about three weeks into the new President’s administration and the view from here is one where decisions are being made without much thought about consequences.  It seems like backs are being scratched and the promise to clean up the government by “draining the swamp” is resulting in an exchange of self-interested people with long term experience for people who have paid for their new position and have considerably less experience and a demonstrated predominant display of self interest.triage-decision

I am not inclined to buy into conspiracy theories but it is getting clear even to a Pollyanna like me that something stinks. We The People are not relevant to the people in power.  We WILL be killed off by restricting health insurance, astronomically raising the price of life saving medicine for increased profits,  eliminating environmental protections for water and air, allowing food to have increasing levels of potential carcinogens. Discussions about a new educational policy has not included improving work and life skills nor cognitive reasoning skills. We have been promised that rules restricting businesses will be reduced, thereby helping small business people, but the candidate to run the Labor Department has a long history showing he cares little about wages and work benefits. I fully expect more, not less regulations affecting my own business.

In addition, we are seeing the formation of a shadow administration.   We have a President who has already demonstrated he is unwilling to be informed to make decisions and thereby  relying on his advisers for their input.  In Steven Bannon we have a person who has a history of showing a very narrow definition of who is acceptable.  His advice to the president will ONLY be in their own best interest and those of their cohort.

The rest of us are expendable.  Get ready to play. You’re in the game whether you want to be or not. dice

 

 


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Six Decades of Medical Care

So many changes. Any time you can talk to someone whose life has spanned more decades than your’s, an interesting discussion could result if you asked about big changes they had observed. I thought I’d take you through a small walk about health care as I have experienced it. I suspect this post will be longer than most I write.

doctor-norman-rockwellMy mom trained as a nurse in the 1940s and met a doctor studying to be a pediatrician at the hospital in New York City. When she and my dad moved to New Jersey they were thrilled the doctor had set up practice in the next town and I was told years later that I was his first baby, whatever that implies. Anyway, we would go to his office, located in the first floor of a multi-family house and wait to be called in. I read Highlights magazines and graduated later to Reader Digests. (I guess some things never change.)  I had my first asthma attack at age 5 playing with a hula hoop. I received allergy shots with needles that were sterilized with the glass syringes in the doctor’s office in their autoclave.  When I was too sick to go to his office, he came to our house. The house call that no longer exists.

In college I went to the college infirmary. The health care fee was covered in our overall  tuition which was about $500 a year.  My 19-year-old skiing accident where I banged up my knee was ignored and over a few weeks I healed. I developed arthritis in that knee in my 40s.  (Life lesson…if you get hurt, even if you are young and can heal well, go get help to make sure you are healing correctly.)

My first job after college was for the State of Tennessee in Nashville. I really do not remember the insurance plan provided but it would have been a large group of state employees. I didn’t see the doctor at all except my annual checks for health and I ended up with a minor surgery. I did not take any medication in those days.  I don’t remember the fees but I do remember there was no stress in paying even though I was making about $6,000 a year.

herniated-discI changed jobs and moved to Memphis a few years later and in the course of the move, hurt my back. My new insurance was through my company and even though the injury happened before my first day of work, there was no waiting period.  I saw a chiropractor a few times and then an orthopedic specialist for a year before opting for surgery. There were no MRIs in those days and I was in the hospital for 4 days. My portion of the bill was under $100.  I also started allergy shots again while living there and paid $1 per shot.

I ended up a few years later  in Connecticut. My husband worked and had Blue Cross through his employer. He needed counseling and later a short hospitalization. I started taking blood pressure medication.   We had two babies (one by c-section).  One baby needed a couple of surgeries.  Our copays for medicine were $1. The hospital bills were $500 for the c-section, $300 for the next delivery VBAC, and the other surgeries were about $300 each.

That husband and I split and I was able to pick up coverage for a Kaiser Permanente HMO plan through a small business group. I paid $400 a month for a family plan which included my two kids and me, and later, a new husband.  It had no copays nor prescription costs. I fell and hurt my back again. Again I saw a chiropractor for a while and then he referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. Still no MRI in those days. The hospital stay was 2 days and I think my bill was about $700. I later had a miscarriage and the D&C cost nothing since it was done in the office. My last baby was born in the same hospital as the first, 11 years before but was also a VBAC and cost about $500.

Then I moved back to Nashville and my husband started working for the State of Tennessee and we had HMO plan through Aetna. Prescriptions were $2 or $5 each. Doctor visits to our primary physician were free. Specialists were more and this was when things started getting really interesting since my husband was soon diagnosed with brain cancer.  We were sent for a C-Scan one day and then an MRI the next. The specialist at Vanderbilt Medical Center ran a kazillion tests to determine where the tumor was located and the potential effect removal would have. Surgery was scheduled and became the day my life seriously changed as he had the equivalent of a stroke on the operating table and was not expected to survive. But he made it through the night, improved in fits and starts in 8 weeks in the ICU, another 2 weeks in a regular room and then home. Physical therapy was provided at home for a few sessions and then we went to the clinic for that. I understood the coverage for physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy was for 5 weeks. The clinic suggested visits twice a week. We asked for and went daily every weekday of those 5 weeks.  At that point he had improved enough that they wanted to try the surgery they had had to stop 5 months before. It went well, with 2 weeks in ICU and then home after another week. The bill, when it got to us and I finally figured out the in and out and all around nonsense, was $7500 to us.brain-tumors-fig4ab_large

(Now, we step aside for a minute. Recognizing that $7500 is an amazingly low bill for all the scans and surgeries and special tests and ICU and medicines, it still was something above and beyond what we could afford. He was the wage earner. I was home with the baby, something both of us had wanted to try to do for a couple of years and I was just starting to look for work when his seizures started. So, we had no income, no savings and we had that $7500 bill and of course all our normal living expenses and rent, utilities, food, car expenses and then I needed migraine medications, I’m sure you can understand why.

At that point I did a few things. First, I called our landlord and asked him if he had a smaller, less expensive place for us to live and he listened to the why of the question, was silent and then said “The last thing you need is to move. Pay me when you can as much as you can and don’t worry about it until then. I am in a position to help you.” That man is one of my life angels. I have used this story whenever I hear anyone talk about how people who are homeless are all drug addicts or drunks and basically did it to themselves. There but for the grace of that wonderful man, we would have been homeless.

I also called and talked to someone at the county level to find out if I qualified for any assistance program for the six months until the social security disability payments kicked in. They said no. The problem was we had a VERY few thousand dollars in our IRAs and they wanted us to use that up before any public assistance would kick in. The fact that it was a temporary need and very little set aside for our future did not work into any equation for help.

Finally, I called the credit card companies. We had 3 cards and each had about $2000 on it. I asked for the cards to be frozen. Basically I would not use them but asked for no interest or penalties. I owed the $6000 but did not want to see it go ridiculously higher when we could not make payments. They refused to work with me.)

So, back to the medical care. Cancer is expensive. We had radiation therapy. We had chemotherapy. And then, something unexpected happened. He did not die. I was told to expect him to not live beyond five years and when all was said and done, it was about 10 years. I had gotten a job after the first round of chemo so we would start having more income. I was lucky to get a job at Vanderbilt Medical Center and later the University. In those days the issue of pre-existing conditions meant that he would have had no medical coverage at all and I would not have had coverage for my blood pressure, allergies and stupid migraines for at least 12 months. But the year before the Democratic Congress had passed a law that any employer with more than 100 employees would offer health plans with no pre-existing conditions limitations.

So on we went. The plan each year at Vanderbilt changed. Sometimes it was strongly limited to Vanderbilt with very low fees inside that medical center and higher rates outside. No big deal to us since we were relatively new to town, but it caused messes for people who had relationships with doctors outside the system. One year it was equal inside and outside the medical center. I had sinus surgery that year at a different hospital.  By that time my share of our medical bills were topping $15,000. Still not a ridiculously high price but too high for us.

I went to talk to a debt counselor. After hearing my story he got up and shut the door and said they were not supposed to suggest bankruptcy but our situation was exactly the reason the law was there. I refused. Maybe not my wisest decision but I felt we owed all we owed except for the stupid interest and penalties for the three credit cards. He suggested if I chose bankruptcy my credit would be okay in seven years. I still said no. I felt morally obligated to pay my bills. I just needed help getting them reduced or a time payment plan set up.bankruptcy-causes

hospicemedallionAnd on it went. About eight and a half years into the illness my husband could no longer stay home safely by himself. The option of me quitting working was not feasible, so we needed to find a nursing home for his care. The one that had a bed at the time was my third choice. The top two had a medical director that was our primary care physician so I thought the continuity with the same practitioner would be beneficial. But they had no beds, so he went to #3.  It was fine, as those kind of places go, but week after week he “failed” the test to be able to become a Medicaid patient. He could put the pills in his mouth and swallow them when they were handed to him. He could dress himself in two hours when the clothes were given to him. He could still manage to shuffle to the bathroom. But the time came when he couldn’t do enough of the things on the checklist and so, became eligible. All bills were sent to Medicaid. The nursing home had a fire three days later and 13 patients died. (The story of that night is for another time.)  Ironically, my husband got transferred to one of the places we wanted.   Once Medicaid took over, I had no more additional costs for him. We stopped taking him for MRIs when it needed to be by ambulance and really, why bother after a while. Hospice got involved and visited him three times a week to provide supplemental care issues.

I stayed at Vanderbilt another 18 months after he died.  By that time I had moved to the university side of Vanderbilt and was voted to the Staff Council. My project was to track the amount we shared in our  paychecks to pay for our medical insurance (and parking) each year (the payroll deduction increased about 10% annually) while noting our raises each year (about 5%). While I appreciated the benefits, I wanted people to realize that we were slipping backwards all the time. I quit the Council when I was told to stop; that the administration did not want that kind of information shared with the staff who could not figure it out themselves.  Meanwhile,  Graham, who I had met online in a chat room about 8 years before, asked me to marry him and have my youngest and me join him. He was teaching at a state university in West Virginia, so had a health insurance plan through the state.  He was able to add my son as a dependent pretty quickly but I paid COBRA until we got married.

copayThe new plan was challenging. It was a more standard system with copays and deductibles that had to be met and  with a cap on lifetime use.  Having been exposed to the world of cancer I knew sometimes patients ran into the lifetime limit and care ended, with death soon after. It was horrific to watch knowing a maintenance dose could keep a person alive longer with a decent quality of life.  I started allergy treatments again as my sinuses and lungs were getting horribly affected with the pollution in the Ohio River Valley.  We had no dental care coverage, minimal eye health coverage, and limited options for specialists because West Virginia is one of those places in the nation that just does not have all the choices other places do.

And then the young one left for college. We had to take out an insurance policy of about $1000 a year on top of all his tuition and fees and room and board for him to access the medical care on campus. Then Graham retired and we made our move to Oregon. Graham had enrolled in Medicare and the first problem we had was there were no primary care doctors in our town who were taking new Medicare patients. I paid $500 a month for a COBRA plan from the State of West Virginia when the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act allowed implementation. I was pleased because the time limit for COBRA was going to run out before I became old enough for Medicare.

ohpWorking with someone trained in all the offerings, I selected a plan that was good and did not cost “much” It was $550 a month just for me. Since our rate was based on the prior year’s income and we had now retired, we resubmitted about 4 months later with our current income. We wanted to find something in the $350 a month range but instead they enrolled me in the Oregon Health Plan, the expanded Medicaid offering.

I was concerned that I would not get adequate care but was extremely surprised and pleased for the most part. The one issue where the specialist decided not to order an MRI when I injured my arthritic knee (“You have arthritis” he said. “I know,” I answered, ” but it feels different and I can’t walk right.”) and told me to go home. Otherwise, the clinic was friendly, competent and ON TIME.

Last September it was time to re-enroll and our joint income was $200 a month too high to qualify for the same plan, so I had to go back out to the Marketplace and found something for $530.  And OHP dropped me in September but I could not pick up the new plan until January 1. I went three months without my breathing meds ($1000 out of pocket per month) and that set me back to a 20% lung function rating. It will take me about three months to climb back to something better. I have copays and a deductible of $2500. I’m partway there….got that MRI for the knee and that cost me over $700 out of picket because I am working down my deductible.

So, the point here was not to bitch and moan. The point is to show that health insurance has ALWAYS been confusing and ALWAYS has been inaccessible to a large group of the American public.  Prices ALWAYS go up. Benefits ALWAYS go down.

But I sure enjoyed the Medicaid plan. I would be willing to pay an affordable monthly fee for a plan that allowed me to get care without any copays or deductibles or lifetime limits.  THAT was a joy.cost-of-healthcare

 


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Basic Knowledge

If you’re lucky, you had a least a handful of teachers who significantly and positively affected your learning. They stand out among all your teachers as being special and teaching you more than just the subject matter assigned. They taught how to understand the “WHY” of what you needed to learn and if you were REALLY lucky, they taught you how to continue to learn on your own without needing someone giving you assignments.

Mrs. Umholtz was one of those special teachers in my life. I learned a lot in that 7th grade class. I learned about the stock market by pooling my dollar in a classroom investment.  She taught us poetry and made us memorize some classics like The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (I know my friend Liz can still recite it!) and High Flight. More, I bet, but that’s all I can remember after 50 years.   I learned state capitals. I learned the changes in Africa as nations there were gaining their independence from colonial powers.  I learned how to research and write reports that included complete sentences and coherent presentations that the reader could understand.

I learned what many other kids and many adults never have: I learned how our government worked. We discussed each branch of government extensively. We had to memorize (oh yes, she was big on that) the names of LBJ’s Cabinet and learn  the responsibilities of the various Executive Branch departments.   We learned about how Congress enacts a bill and visited our statehouse in Trenton, getting an insider’s tour since one of my classmates’ dads was a Representative. We learned about how the Supreme Court, as the highest court in an extensive judicial system,  gets presented with appeals and goes through a selection process to only hear the ones that actually are about points of law.  branches-of-gov

Our world is spinning seemingly out of control right now. Arguments and fighting seem to be the way it goes now. Unsupported boasting is believed and causes distraction while changes are being enacted quietly in the self interest of the people who hold power, ignoring they are our representatives and we voted for them.

It seems in the past year my writing here on this blog has turned more and more to commenting about the social and political aspects of life here in the US and how disturbing issues are. Not only the causes but the fact that no fix is presented.  It seems we have become us versus them. It is hard to engage in any dialogue with anyone who does not hold a similar viewpoint.

Let’s start with some basics. Why not a system in our communities to educate all residents how the system works. What the community does to take care of the needs of all of us. But the basic understand must happen before we start arguing.

Can we do that?

And can we learn to present our opinion in a way that permits others to listen?

And please test yourself…..how much do YOU know about the basic issues of our nation?  This is the basic knowledge you should know.