Monday, August 10, 2009

A non-argument in support of health care reform

Recently a friend asked me why I think health care is a right rather than a privilege. My friend is on the conservative side of the aisle, and we’ve had a few constructive, interesting, online discussions about politics. My initial thought – and, like many other initial thoughts, one that was best left unvoiced – was “It just is; why wouldn’t it be? Isn’t it obvious?” Not exactly the most convincing argument for health care being a right.

Several weeks have passed as I’ve thought about the question. Defining terms helps sketch out the problem. By health care, I mean access to free or highly affordable treatment for all Americans. Never mind for the moment how that sketch is colored in. By right, I mean that all Americans, regardless of age, race, ability to pay, income level, you name it, have the right to walk in to a clinic or hospital and receive treatment that will make them healthier or save their lives. Whether that right is manifested by expanding current government-run health care systems, developing a new one, defanging the insurance providers or amending the Constitutional, the end result should be that families no longer go bankrupt because of medical conditions, and women are no longer refused treatment because an insurance company deems, say, menopause a pre-existing condition.

There are all sorts of arguments supporting recognizing health care as a right. For instance, there’s the Ethic of Reciprocity Argument. This ethical guideline shows up in the scriptures of just about every religion on the planet, but the most familiar version to Americans is the Christian take on the theme: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Extended to health care, this suggests that society’s haves should extend their benefits to the have nots. As citizens of a democracy, we ourselves are our own government, and it is unethical that some of us can saunter into a clinic to have a mole removed while other citizens die from treatable causes.

Then there’s the Economic Argument. Insurance companies run the show and afford themselves the luxury of denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions such as menopause. At the same time, the rising cost of medical care outpaces other market sectors as the drug companies set their prices anywhere in the stratosphere that they like. Meanwhile, 60% of all personal bankruptcies are due to healthcare costs (and 75% of those individuals had health insurance). In the free market, laissez-faire model, health care is a privilege for those who can afford it. In today’s market, almost nobody can afford it, and even those who can afford it won’t necessarily be covered for all of their issues. Continuing down this road surely leads to yet more misery. The federal government must get involved; one can’t expect the corporations to suddenly start playing nice.

I particularly like what I call the Peer Pressure argument. The majority of advanced nations have some form of universal health care. The German system, instituted in 1883, is the world’s oldest, and others have fallen in place since then. The rest of Europe (with the exception of some laggards in Eastern Europe) is covered, as are Australia and our neighbor to the north. Most of the South American countries are with the program, as are China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Even a quick glance at this map reveals an enormous gray hole in the Western hemisphere where a fair, merciful health care system should be. These countries, at various points in their histories, determined that their citizens had the right to health care, and passed then passed legislation accordingly.

But anyone who has taken Logic 101 knows that every argument has counterarguments, and after our long months of debate most of us will line up in our familiar corners, only a few of us having been swayed by the other side. It’s not that I don’t stand by my arguments. It’s just that I don’t pretend that many conservatives will let go of their own beliefs and decide to support the coming legislation. But if I had to make a final appeal to fence sitters, I wouldn’t use an argument at all. I’d tell you about my life.

Every day I drive on roads that are maintained by my tax dollars. I cross the Willamette River on bridges that are maintained by my tax dollars. When my son is old enough, he’ll be educated at a school that is maintained by my tax dollars. When I buy groceries, I can be reasonably assured that my food is safe to eat thanks to the oversight of the Food and Drug Agency. Our taxes fully or partially fund our technological infrastructures, national defense, government health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and security net programs such as Social Security. When I lost my job three days before my wedding, unemployment checks kept me afloat until I got my head above water several months later. There are institutions, goods and services that we as Americans hold in common, and together we work to support those things. When the government knocks on my door asking for its share, I get out the checkbook.

When my son was born, he was born with a diagnosis. I’ll leave out the details for now, but the long and the short of it is that at the ripe old age of two weeks he was unqualified for health insurance due to a pre-existing condition. I know because I started making the calls. Let this sink in for a moment. He had done nothing to disqualify himself or otherwise deny himself the privilege of getting health care. The insurance provider claimed that he didn’t have the right to health care treatment through their service based on a condition he had no control over. If the insurance company knocks on my door asking me to defend their practices at a Congressional hearing, they can talk to the hand.

If the people in my community are unwell, then I suffer as well. And if I can’t get health care because I’ve lost my job or simply can’t afford it, then my family and the people I work with will suffer. In that case, even if I had been one of the privileged Americans who had health care, I lost that privilege not because of some kind of demerit but simply because I was laid off from work. No one deserves to get kicked out of a hospital because they can’t pay. And if health care is a privilege, then why does our prison population have health care provided to them if they have been stripped of their privileges? I’m not saying that they shouldn’t, but this fact seems to turn the right vs. privilege argument on its head.

Not long ago, Norman Goldman filled in on the Ed Schultz radio program. Some time in the second hour he spoke with a Canadian who, after affirming that there were not long lines at hospitals and people dying in the streets, made the most salient point I’ve heard in the entire health care debate, and one that helped solidify an argument that had been trying to congeal beneath the surface of my psyche. Canada gained a national health care system in 1961 after years and years of reforms and battles in the ten individual provinces. This caller said that once the United States defined health care as a right, and once that sunk in to the fabric of American life, then Americans would begin defending that right as passionately as they defend the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and free speech. In future elections, the argument would turn from whether we should define health care as a right to how to best provide that right. What I took away from this was that Canada, along with the many other countries that provide universal health care, had to have a national dialogue about what its citizens’ rights were. As important as it is to scour our constitutions and other founding documents for clues and declarations, at the end of the day, the people must define for themselves the type of society they wish to live in.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inaugural invocation (but not the one by Rick Warren)

Text of the invocation offered by Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson at the "We Are One" inaugural concert event on Sunday, January 18, 2009:

“O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will bless us with tears – tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

And God, we give you thanks for your child, Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for all people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our ship of state needs a steady, calm captain.

Give him stirring words; We will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand, that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace. Amen."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Assume Obama's losing. What are you going to do about it?

In politics, two and a half weeks may as well be a lifetime. Careers are made and destroyed overnight, and one can never underestimate the effectiveness of negative, even nasty, campaigning. With this in mind, I'm bringing to an end these last few days of celebrating Obama's encouraging standing in the polls. The race is not over, and anything -- anything --can happen.

In this liberal oasis of Portland, I feel that many of us have slipped into complacency. Have the Bush years, which I might point out have not yet ended, really already receded from memory? For anyone who cares deeply about civil liberties, good governance, accountability, and even that elusive concept "world peace", we can't assume that the race is ended and that Obama is necessarily going to segue into the White House. McCain, Palin and the GOP are going to put up a hell of a fight these next 16 days.

Give what you can to the Obama campaign. Donate, volunteer, talk to the undecided voters in your circles, write, blog -- do whatever you do. Obama is several points ahead. Assume he's 10 points behind. Oh, and whatever you do, vote.

And if you're voting for McCain, well, voting your conscience is your right as an American. But what's up with your conscience?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Voices Of The Night : A Psalm Of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I was listening to Thom Hartmann's radio program on Friday, and amid discussions about the economy and the presidential election he read this poem:

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, — act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Just before waking to feed the baby, I dreamt I was in a used book store. I was shopping in the Spiritual section of the store. I bought four books, two of which I remember the titles of: "Awakenings" and the "CSV New Testament". CSV? That's a spreadsheet document format. Appropriate, since my life these days is all about spreadsheets.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Photos of Erica's graduation

Notes about tunes

In reference to my previous post (listed below) --

I recorded these tunes at East2West Studios, where I currently teach guitar and piano two evenings a week. While they were recorded to include on the studio website, I've dedicated them to Erica on the occasion of her graduation from NCNM.

Couple of notes about the recording -- the mix is 50% audio signal through my guitar pickup and 50% microphone signal. The raw signal was compressed, and a little reverb was added to fill out the sound. There was no overdubbing; the only edits were a couple of cuts.

Congrats, sweetie. I'm incredibly proud of you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Summer solstice recordings

Two songs I recorded tonight at East2West Studios in Clackamas. Comments to follow.