Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Well I just finished watching Michael Moore's "Sicko." And, while I hate to use such a trite expression, it truly made me sick. It made me heartsick to watch the stories of Americans who have lost everything, even their lives, because they got screwed over by the American health care system.

The first few moments of the film were grotesquely disturbing. First, there was the guy who was shown sewing up a gash in his own leg. Then, the story of a man who cut off two fingers in a saw accident. It was going to cost $60,000 to reattach his middle finger, but only $12,000 to reattach his ring finger. He chose the ring finger because that's all he could afford.

These two guys are part of the 50 million unemployed Americans. But the story is not about them. It's about the 250 million Americans who rest comfortably in the belief that if they get sick, they will be taken care of. Sicko blows the lid off that myth.

They did interviews with former Medical Directors, physicians who's job is to review cases and deny as many claims as possible. Their performance, and subsequent pay increases and bonus, is graded on the number of denials they process. One Medical Director admitted that she denied a claim for a necessary operation and the patient died.

The Hippocratic Oath states, "I will apply dietetic measures to benefit the sick, according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice." How the hell can a physician who took this oath work in a position where the financial interests of the insurance company are placed over the health of the patient?

There were many other stories. A mother in LA who rushed her newborn daughter to the nearest hospital when she developed a 104 fever. The hospital refused to treat the child because Kaiser Permanente said she wouldn't be covered unless she was treated at a company-owned hospital. During the time it took to transport the little girl, she went into cardiac arrest and died.

And then there was the story of the Kansas City father who died from cancer because his insurance denied a bone marrow transplant because it was "experimental." His claim was denied even though his younger brother was a perfect bone marrow match, and doctors insisted he had a good chance of getting well if he had the transplant.

A 22 year old Michigan woman was denied coverage for treatment of cervical cancer because of her age. She was told 22 year old women don't get cervical cancer.

A middle-aged couple went bankrupt and lost everything after she developed cancer and he had 3 heart attacks. All the fine print in their insurance policies guaranteed that they would have to sell their home and move into their daughter's basement.

Then there was the young lady who was injured in a car accident. She was unconscious when the ambulance arrived. The insurance company denied the claim for the ambulance because it hadn't been pre-approved. How the hell can you call for approval when you're unconscious????? Actually, she was the lucky one in this group.

The answer to this mess would seem to be some sort of national health care for all. But, of course, the right-wingers scare us off with the specter of "socialized medicine." They tell us, "how would you like it to be like Canada or Europe, where people are dying in waiting rooms for lack of care?" Well, that is a scary thought. The problem is, it is an absolute lie.

Moore takes us to Canada, and speaks with several Canadian citizens about the benefits of their medical system. None of them would trade their health care for ours. They are able to go to any doctor, go to any hospital, are treated without regard to payment, and never receive a bill.
Their hospitals are high-tech, with all the bells and whistles of any American hospital. And the medical staff is concerned about the health of the patient, not who is going to pay for it. The same thing was found in England and France. And isn't it interesting that statistics show that people with "socialized medicine" have longer average lifespans, lower infant mortality rates, and better overall health than the average American.

The most poignant moment was when Moore took a group of Americans to Cuba. These were special Americans. They were EMT's who had volunteered to work at ground zero after 9/11. They subsequently developed respiratory ailments that affected their ability to work. Their workers comp claims were all denied because because they weren't "on the job" when they were injured. They gave their all, and the system took it all from them.

So, Moore takes them to a hospital in Havana, where they are admitted and treated, and they all received suitcases full or prescriptions and treatment plans for when they returned home. All of this without payment, and without regard to their citizenship. It brought tears to my eyes watching these Cuban doctors and nurses caring for these American heroes that had been rejected by their own system.

To be honest, I've never had any major problems with my insurance. But, I am one of the lucky ones. I only pay $30 a paycheck for my medical. I've never had any serious medical issues. But I also recognize that "there but for the grace of God go I." Those of us with cushy company group plans are only one job loss away from being destitute.

I know the Bill O'Reilly's of the world will call this another socialist propaganda piece from socialist Michael Moore. But health care for all will be right up there with global warming as THE issue of the coming years. I urge everyone to see Sicko and see it with an open mind.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Decisions Decisions

I've always prided myself on not taking part in Black Friday. There is no way in hell I'm going to get up at 5AM and fight those crowds to save a buck.

But, now I have a dilemma. I caught this ad for Circuit City. They're selling a 19 inch HDTV flat screen for $249. The prices for those are normally over 400 bucks. I've been wanting a small HDTV for my bedroom, but didn't want to spend that much money right now.

So, I may have to swallow my pride and head down to Circuit City today.
Well I guess flying on Thanksgiving was a good move. Yesterday's flight was one of the most pleasant I've had in awhile. Everything seemed to go my way.

There were no lines at the airports. They were almost deserted. The planes were fairly crowded, but I got the entire row to myself on both flights. I flew Frontier and had a two hour layover in Denver, which gave me time to have a nice lunch and read a magazine.

The longest line I had to wait in was at Avis. There were three people in front of me. It was kind of amusing because all the staff were Sikh men, from the counter help to the lot attendants. I felt like I was in the Star Trek episode where the planet was populated by clones. They kept running into the same people and that's the feeling I got at Avis last night.

No Lone Star for me last night. I was planning to go, but I was tired after the long trip, so I grabbed some takeout in the hotel restaurant and climbed into bed for a movie.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

More Proof That Right Wingers Are Odd

I came across a website called Conservapedia. It's supposed to be "the trustworthy encyclopedia." I guess their definition of trustworthy is preaching to the choir.

So, I clicked on the statistics button, and it showed the top 10 pages ranked by number of views. I expected to find things like George Bush, God, family values, Christianity, etc. Guess how shocked I was to see the top 10 list:

  1. Main Page‎ [1,922,628]
  2. Homosexuality‎ [1,620,117]
  3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis‎ [517,760]
  4. Homosexuality and Promiscuity‎ [421,722]
  5. Homosexuality and Parasites‎ [414,381]
  6. Gay Bowel Syndrome‎ [398,252]
  7. Homosexual Couples and Domestic Violence‎ [373,610]
  8. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea‎ [331,960]
  9. Homosexuality and Anal Cancer‎ [293,908]
  10. Homosexuality and Mental Health‎ [293,151]
What the hell is "gay bowel syndrome?" Never heard of it. These people do seem to have a sick fascination with us. They need to get a life.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm feeling a little melancholy tonight. It suddenly dawned on me that, while everyone else will be doing the hearth and home thing this weekend, I'll be on a plane back to San Francisco.

I have no one to blame but myself. I planned the trip. And I specifically chose Thursday because I didn't want to fight the crowds on Wednesday or during the weekend.

But reality is setting in. Once again, I'm alone on the holiday. It certainly isn't the first time. And I doubt it will be the last. Many Thanksgivings have passed when I couldn't go home because I was working, or didn't have the money, or was otherwise occupied.

I did go home last year, but it was a horrible weekend. I had just broken up with my husband after 3 1/2 years. The wound was still very fresh, so I spent the Thanksgiving weekend emotionally tucked away in some barren wasteland.

I guess I could have left a few days earlier. There are people who care about me in San Francisco who would have taken me in for the day. I'll have to remember that next year.

In the meantime, in an effort to cheer myself up, I've started thinking about the things I am thankful for. And they are as follows:

1) I have my health. Despite my best efforts to live an unhealthful lifestyle over the last 49 years, this old body is still hanging in there. If I ever do get serious about my resolution to live a healthier life: lose weight, eat better, exercise, quit smoking for good, etc etc etc, I'll probably live to be 110. And my family is healthy too. My brother and sister are all older than I, and no problems so far. My mom is still knocking around at 81.

2) I have a pretty good job, and make a pretty good living. I'm fairly autonomous and my boss is based in another city. Not too many jobs where one can come and go as one pleases.

3) My job allows me to travel back and forth to San Francisco at will. I don't need a particular reason. I just go. And it gives me the opportunity to live in a city that most people dream of vacationing in.

4) I feel good about myself. That seems like a small thing, but I know so many people with self-esteem issues. Loving yourself is the first step to loving others.

5) I have a lot of great, caring friends. Both in Houston and San Francisco.

6) I guess I'm thankful for being gay as well. It makes life interesting. I sometimes feel sorry for breeders. If I were a breeder, I would be spending Saturday night sitting on the couch watching tv with my middle aged wife, waiting for the kids to come home. Life would be a lot duller. Being gay keeps one young at heart. And think of all that disposable income. Despite all our drama, bitchiness, and other issues, we are a fabulous people.

Those are a few things that I thought of off the top of my head. I'm sure there's many more if I pondered it. And, I'm sure most people will have similar things when they consider what they have to be thankful for this weekend.

One of the things I'm most thankful for right now is the weather in San Francisco. I just checked and it's supposed to be sunny and mid 60's for the next 10 days or so. It was almost a sign from God when a cold front moved through Houston tonight and the temperature dropped into the 50's. When I checked the extended forecast for Houston, it said rain and 50's the next 10 days. So it will actually be warmer in San Francisco than here. That makes me feel a hell of a lot better about going.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

How Low Can They Go?

It's funny how something shocks me, gets my blood stirred up, on an almost daily basis. For some reason, I haven't become accustomed to the injustices that come to light every day. One would think that by now I would be desensitized to them, and take a "what else is new" attitude.

The latest onslaught is the news that the defense department wants its' money back....not from Haliburton, which has ripped off the government, and the American people, for billions of dollars. They want injured American soldiers, who are no longer able to serve, to return their signing bonuses. How's that for supporting the troops?

I keep asking myself "how low can they go?" And every time I ask that question, the answer is, "wait and see." A secondary question is "what happened to the America I love?" Why are we, as a nation, putting up with this madness?

America, as I know it, would never put up with being lied into a war. Oh sure, there have been other wars where the excuses have been contrived. The Vietnam War is the most obvious example. The sinking of the Maine in Havana Harbor is also suspect. Spain was blamed, which ignited the Spanish-American War. It was later discovered that they most likely had nothing to do with that disaster. But in those cases, the evidence that we were manipulated into war didn't surface until years later.

The America I know would have risen up over the revelation that we invaded a sovereign nation over contrived evidence. The America I know would have taken to the streets in protest over this and many other things that are happening on an almost daily basis.

When the truth came out that Richard Nixon lied to cover up a petty break in that he had nothing to do with, Americans were so outraged he had to resign or face impeachment. Where is the outrage today that Bush's former Press Secretary admitted in his book that he was lied to about the Plame affair. and Cheney and Bush were involved in the leak? That's a crime far more serious than a petty break in at the Watergate.

The America I know would have been outraged about the revelation that the government is spying on its own citizens, that it is torturing prisoners, that the top 1% of our people are being allowed to amass more wealth than all the rest of us combined.

Where is the outrage that our great manufacturing centers like Detroit, Cleveland, and others, which used to provide the majority of manufactured goods for the entire world, are now ghost towns? When I was a kid, the only imports you would see were toys, and "Made In Japan" was a punchline. Today, we're the punchline.

Where is the outrage that we have gone from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor? Or that countries like China hold the majority of that debt? China could destroy us tomorrow by calling in the debt. Of course, they won't do that because if America goes down, the world would face another Dark Age. Not a cultural Dark Age, but an economic one. Nevertheless, I'm not comfortable with the fact that China has its' finger on the trigger of a gun pointed at our economic head.

Where is the outrage that the American dollar has become the hot potato of currencies? Nobody wants it. And even worse, since the dollar is so weak, we should have tourists pouring into our country and spending money because it's inexpensive for them. But our entry policies are so restrictive and unwelcoming, nobody wants to come here.

There are so many examples I could go on and on.

The one thing that used to get me through it all was I have always believed that Americans, at heart, are a fair and just people. Oh, we may go a little crazy now and then. And we're pretty young as a nation, so we charge out into the world and do stupid things sometimes. That's how the rest of the world used to look at us. We were the 16 year old kid who just got the keys to a brand new car. Or the frat boy who does something stupid. We didn't mean any harm, but we're too immature to really understand the consequences of our actions. They don't look at us that way now. They fear us.

I am losing hope that the innate goodness and fairness of Americans will win the day. I kept telling myself that once the truth came out, and enough people knew about this or that, things would change. We would boot the jerks out of power at the polls. But nothing has changed. The Democrats took back control of both houses of Congress last year. But Bush still gets his way. I'm sure that's why Congress' approval ratings are even lower than Bush's,

It makes me wonder what it will take to get Americans' attention? We seem to be so self-absorbed in paying our mortgages, worrying about our jobs, fretting over who's going to be the next top model, or Britney's next misadventure, that we don't look up to see that the very people that are supposed to represent our interests are picking our pockets and kicking us in the ass on the way down.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been a little under the weather for most of the month. Haven't really been in the mood to post things. But now I'm coming out of my cave, and things are returning to normal.

I watched a lot of tv while I was ill. And one of the things I noticed was the proliferation of "end of the world" tv shows. They were fucking everywhere.

One night in particular, there was a movie about a massive earthquake wiping out of the west coast, a documentary about what would happen if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck today, another show about a gamma ray burst destroying most life on Earth, and various Biblical apocalypse shows. I've seen Houston consumed in a fireball, San Francisco destroyed by earthquake AND a meteor, Dallas destroyed by an asteroid, Kansas City's population devastated by a killer plague, etc etc etc.

I can only assume these shows are popular or they wouldn't be on the air. But it makes me wonder why are we so pessimistic? Why can the future only be bleak? Outside of Star Trek, you never see any shows depicting a wonderful, Utopian society in the future.

I prefer to think of the future as a land of promise. Yes, someday an asteroid could hit Earth. Hopefully, we'll have the technology to avert that when it comes. Yes, some day the California coastline will slide into the ocean, but that's millions of years of tectonic sliding away. Yes, some day the sun will expand and consume the inner solar system, but that's at least 5 billion years from now. And most credible theologians believe the apocalyptic writings of the Bible were written for the people of that time, not some future end of the world scenario.

Frankly, I'm more afraid of what the idiots in Washington are up to as opposed to some cosmic disaster. We are our own worst enemy.

This Opinion Piece From The Philadelphia Inquirer Pretty Much Sums It UP


Chris Hedges

is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and author of "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America"

All great empires and nations decay from within. By the time they hobble off the world stage, overrun by the hordes at the gates or vanishing quietly into the pages of history books, what made them successful and powerful no longer has relevance. This rot takes place over decades, as with the Soviet Union, or, even longer, as with the Roman, Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian empires. It is often imperceptible.

Dying empires cling until the very end to the outward trappings of power. They mask their weakness behind a costly and technologically advanced military. They pursue increasingly unrealistic imperial ambitions. They stifle dissent with efficient and often ruthless mechanisms of control. They lose the capacity for empathy, which allows them to see themselves through the eyes of others, to create a world of accommodation rather than strife. The creeds and noble ideals of the nation become empty cliches, used to justify acts of greater plunder, corruption and violence. By the end, there is only a raw lust for power and few willing to confront it.

The most damning indicators of national decline are upon us. We have watched an oligarchy rise to take economic and political power. The top 1 percent of the population has amassed more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, creating economic disparities unseen since the Depression. If Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes president, we will see the presidency controlled by two families for the last 24 years.

Massive debt, much of it in the hands of the Chinese, keeps piling up as we fund absurd imperial projects and useless foreign wars. Democratic freedoms are diminished in the name of national security. And the erosion of basic services, from education to health care to public housing, has left tens of millions of citizens in despair. The displacement of genuine debate and civil and political discourse with the noise and glitter of public spectacle and entertainment has left us ignorant of the outside world, and blind to how it perceives us. We are fed trivia and celebrity gossip in place of news.

An increasing number of voices, especially within the military, are speaking to this stark deterioration. They describe a political class that no longer knows how to separate personal gain from the common good, a class driving the nation into the ground.

"There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders," retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of forces in Iraq, recently told the New York Times, adding that civilian officials have been "derelict in their duties" and guilty of a "lust for power."

The American working class, once the most prosperous on Earth, has been politically disempowered, impoverished and abandoned. Manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas. State and federal assistance programs have been slashed. The corporations, those that orchestrated the flight of jobs and the abolishment of workers' rights, control every federal agency in Washington, including the Department of Labor. They have dismantled the regulations that had made the country's managed capitalism a success for ordinary men and women. The Democratic and Republican Parties now take corporate money and do the bidding of corporate interests.

Philadelphia is a textbook example. The city has seen a precipitous decline in manufacturing jobs, jobs that allowed households to live comfortably on one salary. The city had 35 percent of its workforce employed in the manufacturing sector in 1950, perhaps the zenith of the American empire. Thirty years later, this had fallen to 20 percent. Today it is 8.8 percent. Commensurate jobs, jobs that offer benefits, health care and most important enough money to provide hope for the future, no longer exist. The former manufacturing centers from Flint, Mich., to Youngstown, Ohio, are open sores, testaments to a growing internal collapse.

The United States has gone from being the world's largest creditor to its largest debtor. As of September 2006, the country was, for the first time in a century, paying out more than it received in investments. Trillions of dollars go into defense while the nation's infrastructure, from levees in New Orleans to highway bridges in Minnesota, collapses. We spend almost as much on military power as the rest of the world combined, while Social Security and Medicare entitlements are jeopardized because of huge deficits. Money is available for war, but not for the simple necessities of daily life.

Nothing makes these diseased priorities more starkly clear than what the White House did last week. On the same day, Tuesday, President Bush vetoed a domestic spending bill for education, job training and health programs, yet signed another bill giving the Pentagon about $471 billion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. All this in the shadow of a Joint Economic Committee report suggesting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been twice as expensive than previously imagined, almost $1.5 trillion.

The decision to measure the strength of the state in military terms is fatal. It leads to a growing cynicism among a disenchanted citizenry and a Hobbesian ethic of individual gain at the expense of everyone else. Few want to fight and die for a Halliburton or an Exxon. This is why we do not have a draft. It is why taxes have not been raised and we borrow to fund the war. It is why the state has organized, and spends billions to maintain, a mercenary army in Iraq. We leave the fighting and dying mostly to our poor and hired killers. No nationwide sacrifices are required. We will worry about it later.

It all amounts to a tacit complicity on the part of a passive population. This permits the oligarchy to squander capital and lives. It creates a world where we speak exclusively in the language of violence. It has plunged us into an endless cycle of war and conflict that is draining away the vitality, resources and promise of the nation.

It signals the twilight of our empire.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I don't handle being sick very well. And that's what I've been dealing with for the last two weeks.

For the last several years, I've suffered from diverticulitis. I hate the disease. It's an old man's disease. It's one of those diet kind of diseases. Basically a lack of fiber in the western diet causes these little pouches called diverticula to form in the colon. That's diverticulosis. 85% of people with diverticulosis never have problems. I, however, am one of the unlucky 15%

Sometimes, those little pouches get infected. That's diverticulitis. It's usually cleared up with a round of antibiotics. But, every attack exponentially increases the chance of a future attack, along with its severity. The dangers are that you could get an abscess or perforation, which would lead to peritonitis, and that's bad news. The mortality rate for peritonitis is 35%.

So, the long term solution is surgery. They go in and remove the diseased section of the colon, removing the threat of future attacks. It's not that big of a deal. It means a day or two in the hospital and 2-3 weeks recuperation at home.

I've resisted having this surgery because I hoped that I could control it with a lot of fiber and antibiotics when there were flare ups. But this last bout has convinced me to go ahead with the surgery.