Back to Basics: Income Equality and Health Care

Before we were so rudely interrupted by evil in national, and in some cases, state politics, before Black people got shot daily, there were calls for income equality. Some people made a gazillion dollars for working and some people didn’t make enough to live on even though they were working. 

I’m good at being angry about basics, so when I talked to a friend this morning about the treatment she’s getting from a Boston hospital she worked at for 30+ years, I got good and angry. I remain so, but it provoked me to write a long-simmering piece about healthcare and the mess it’s in.

The story has 4 pieces now, but they are all the same story: doing away with the actual care at hospitals while their bosses make extraordinary– really extraordinary — money. 

When my mom was alive, she was a director of nurses at HeathSouth in Florida. My mom worked as hard and as decently as  a person could. She mentored her nurses, accepting calls at home about this or that crisis at a facility, and got mad if a nursing home smelled of urine. She thought it was unacceptable to treat people as less that human, regardless of who they were or what shape they were in. Just because a patient didn’t seem to know what was going on around them, if you did, you were supposed to treat them well. 

Suddenly, there were corporate mergers and people trying to save a buck, and the company hired people to “pick off” potential disability claimants and save money. My mother was one of those people– kidney problems all her life, heart problems from stress, and ultimately cancer would claim her. But while she was still working, she or her staff would be written up for really minor infractions and the stress of always being watched for any wrong move finally got her. Without benefits, she’d have to work for insurance, even though her health was declining with every extra hour or shift. Why? So some CEO or stockholder could make more money and say “it’s just business”. My mother was a person, who cared for others. She made the lives of others easier and didn’t get rich doing it. In return for all of that, she was sent adrift while CEOs made more money than they ever had. The stream that was supposed to be “trickle down” was a flood going up instead.

Jump forward a few years and I live near Hartford, CT. I worked as a very part-time chaplain at a hospital for quite a few years. Suddenly there is no chaplain program for people early in recovery or dealing with a severe mental illness for the first time. Why? Budget cuts. It’s no big deal financially for me. I didn’t make a lot of money anyway. But who was going to do the work that I did, taking care of the people I did?  No one. A few months later, they reinstated the position I heard, but through a private donor because people complained. Did the institution care about the people it was supposed to? No. Money came first. 

At the same time, I knew a nurse at the hospital who complained to me about an odd idea. If you go in to the hospital and your blood sugar gets low for whatever reasons, nurses used to have orange juice and little packets of graham crackers at their desk to help you cope. The hospital was in areguements with an insurance company and decided to  remove the “free” orange juice from the area where the nursing staff was as a cost cutting measure. I believe they explained it as “so we won’t have to cut back on staff”. Really? I don’t know how much orange juice costs, but I didn’t think those were really the choices. What staff did they mean? The CEO got a million dollar raise that year. I’m sure his or her contract could cover it. Why wasn’t that considered?

At another hospital in Connecticut, administration also cut the chaplaincy program. I remember that it happened in drips and drabs at first. Then, because the chaplain was support for the nursing staff who we’re being nickel and dimed to death, administration really turned up the heat. The chaplain in question is the best chaplain I know. His departure, and their pressure on him meant that not only were the patients losing someone who cared deeply about them,  but so were the rest of the staff. I’m sure someone saw it as a cost-cutting measure, but the chaplain gave them “more bang for their buck” than that CEO did. Also involved: merger talks and CEO pay raises, just like above. 

Now, today, I hear this: a friend in a Boston hospital has seen her health deteriorate for a while now, but she’s used to being a nurse, and she has been good at it for 30+ years. Her health got worse and worse and the hospital was updating something. The combination of her health and their updating led to her leaving and retiring. Could it be that simple? Nope. The hospital — also cutting corners, also with a well-paid CEO (7 million dollars per year!), decided to mess with her benefits. Other nurses or staff tried to help, but that may or not help, as the hospital fought that. Why? People can’t be kind to each other if money’s involved? People must remain anonymous? I don’t know. It makes no sense.

Here are the similarities: corporate restructuring, loss of jobs or income from caring, hard working people and huge raises for CEOs. This cannot be the best way to do our healthcare. Certainly it’s not the moral thing to do.  Can we change this somehow? I’d like to think so. The wrong people are getting rewarded, the wrong people are losing their income, and the public suffers. 

Will we?  We’ll see.

Resisting with peace, 
John

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Lack of Sandals

I’ve been thinking about my Mom lately. One of the things she used to say to try and keep people humble was “I can tell you’re not God because there are no sandal marks”…

As I think about the current state of our country — some of our leaders and some of their followers, and when I compare it to Jesus’ views of the way things should be, I see a distinct lack of sandals as far as the eye can see and I wonder how we got here as a country, and how they got here mentally. I suspect that this is a good measure of politics in any era and, if we’re still here in 4 years, we try it again.

Jesus:    Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

Trump: I know more than the generals do. I don’t need to be told the same thing day after day(by the CIA).

 

Jesus: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone”.

Trump: “We’re gonna make billions!”

 

Satan:  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you,  and they will lift you up in their hands,  so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’

Jesus: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

Trump: “Support for Taiwan is a bargaining chip”

 

Satan:  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus:  “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”

Trump:  ” Make America great again!”.

 

Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Trump: ” I like veterans who haven’t been captured”
Jesus: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”

Trump: (Mr. Kahn’s wife) probably didn’t say anything because she wasn’t allowed”
Jesus:  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Trump supporters: “Lock her up!” “Send the monkey faces back!”
Jesus:  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Trump: “You don’t know it was the Russians. You can’t prove that.”
Jesus: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Trump: “It was fun threatening Hillary, wasn’t it?
Jesus: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Trump: “I’ll have my finger on the button. The generals will have to do what I say”
Jesus: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”

Trump: “Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!”

For years, politicians have talked about “values” and “Christian values” being important.  I’ve listed Jesus’ values here.   Do these seem like them?  This is why I cry for my country. It’s not politics. It’s Christianity.

Let me be clear here: I don’t dislike Trump or his radical followers because they won. This is not about winning or losing, as they would have you believe. I disagree with them because of what they say, and what they do… and how far it is from Jesus said to say and do.

Resisting with peace,

John

 

Think! Have A Conscience! Do Something! 

Last night, I received an email from boldprogressives.com that said, 

“Yesterday, 10 Electors demanded an intelligence briefing on Russian meddling in the Election. Now, that number has climbed to 40. According to Politico, the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign are so concerned about the Electoral College vote on Monday, they are even monitoring Electors social media activity. 

The bigger the crowds and media attention when Electors go to every state capitol on Monday Dec 19th to cast their votes, the better equipped they will be to do the right thing and do the will of the people — and the more we’ll debunk Trump’s claim of a “mandate” after he lost the popular vote and was helped by Russia.” 

I think I’ll go. What do I hope it will accomplish? I’m not sure. Could weird things happen one way or the other? Given this year’s election, you never know. Will I still go? Yep. 

I had a very lengthy chat yesterday with someone I respect who worried that if the electors somehow change the election results, it could lead to all out conflict between citizens. Given the fractured state of this country, that is a possibility. It is not one that I want or long for in any way — not even close. 

I also just read a scathing, mocking op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that says it’ll make things worse for the democrats, as it historically has. Everything it says is possibly correct about the future but those people are my spiritual tribe. Abbie was a bit much, but it was people like that who stopped the Vietnam war and made us think about war in general. 

So what do I want to happen? I want the electors to have all the information they need. I want them to think about what they’re doing. Then, I want them to vote their conscience. If they do that, democracy wins. I don’t care what answer they come up with. I don’t care what actions they take. (Well, yes, I have an opinion about what action I’d like them to take, but that’s not the point.)  We get democracy back by taking democracy seriously — and by expecting others to do the same. 

If we deliberate, if we talk, and argue, and think, and feel before we do anything, that’s the best anyone can ask of us. Still, I’m sick of pretending that’s what we do in America. I’m all for feelings. That’s how I make my living. But that is only one part of living. Many people I see (in and out of the office) have FEELINGS but can’t hold them back with thoughts. Other people I know have incredible thoughts, but wouldn’t know a feeling if it bit them. Unfortunately, the feeling group is more into action — and making their voices heard! — than the thinking group, and have been for awhile. That’s how we got here. 

I’m sick of arguing with people who don’t believe in facts. I’m sick of people who just want to be heard, but don’t want to listen. To the extent that I have been one of those people, I’m sorry, and I hope it’s not been often.  I heard a Trump supporter in a discussion with Bernie Sanders where the Trump supporter said he thought Trump was crude, but was opening a dialogue. I believe him. I believe that’s what he thought. But it’s not a dialogue if everybody isn’t talking or only some people listen. I for one, expect to listen, but I also want to be listened to.  I’m willing to freeze in the Connecticut  cold to “speak”.  I think it’s time we pushed the pendulum hard and back the other way. Yes, I do, but that’s me. 

When I started blogging, I did a whole section on “Do your own theology” which encouraged people to do just that. I believed that people have the ability to use their brains and hearts to know what God calls them to do. I still do. So, there it is: do your own theology about politics. Let your moral compass — the brains, heart, and faith God gave you ( or brains, heart, and ethics if you’re not a believer) guide you.

And to the Wall Street Journal guy: this isn’t an “outside of the system end-around, it is the system. If, as you say, these are the rules that got Trump elected, then so be it. Take the rules seriously or get rid of them. If the electoral college has to vote like automatons, why are they there? Isn’t that another example of do-nothing government that doesn’t take into account the will of the people?  I’m against that. I’d like a represtative democracy that repress the will of the people. Is that too much to ask?

Resisting with peace,
John

Nina Simone and How Far We’ve Come

Someone posted in the Facebook group “Black Lives Matter To Us” that there was an old video of Nina Simone on “Sesame Street”, singing “Young, Gifted, and Black”. I remember as a kid hearing how “radical a statement” the song was at the time. In watching the video, I was astounded to listen to it and think “This is radical?”

To be young, gifted and black,

Oh what a lovely precious dream

To be young, gifted and black,

Open your heart to what I mean
In the whole world you know

There are billion boys and girls

Who are young, gifted and black,

And that’s a fact!


Young, gifted and black

We must begin to tell our young

There’s a world waiting for you

This is a quest that’s just begun
When you feel really low

Yeah, there’s a great truth you should know

When you’re young, gifted and black

Your soul’s intact

Young, gifted and black

How I long to know the truth

There are times when I look back

And I am haunted by my youth

Oh but my joy of today

Is that we can all be proud to say

To be young, gifted and black

Is where it’s at
What was once “a lovely precious dream” is now real to America. Some people are frightened by that reality, absolutely. But no one can dispute its reality. How many incredible Black people I know! How many of my friends have Masters Degrees and Doctorates because they are (in spirit, if not body anymore) “young, gifted, and Black”! 

I know personally (just me): 1) a preacher who gave a Ted talk and is writing a book while changing whole cities with his work. 2) a minister and leader of Boys and Girls Clubs. 3) a late legend in the Bridgeport community, her late husband, and their incredible daughters. 4) dozens of hard-working middle-class pastors who work in the Bridgeport area. 5) the husband of a friend who is now in Bridgeport politics, 5) my area minister and her daughter (who is, apparently, “gifted”according to her mom). 6) a women who used to work in Long Beach, CA government. 7) a couple of brilliant bass players in college, 8) a college dean, 9) a brilliant and warm man from my Deering years — actually a couple of those! The list goes on and on…. oh, yeah, though I don’t know him personally, there’s that family in the White House all of whom are gracious, intelligent, decent, respectable people. 

Yes, there have always been gifted Black Americans. No, we White folks didn’t always know, and there’s still much more we don’t know. But, today, in our midst, are leaders whose parents taught them that they were young, gifted, and Black, and their parents were right! What an incredible blessing they are to our country. 

Now, let me be clear: just because young, gifted Blacks are quite real doesn’t mean there aren’t young, gifted (fill in the blank). Nor does it mean that every Black person is great. No  group — even within the same family– is ever 100% great.  

What I am saying is that we should be proud– all of us — for raising and/or acknowledging that there are what was once unthinkable as a nation, that what once was “radical” to White America is just plain fact today. There are young, gifted and Black folk everywhere. Just a reminder in all the hubbub: we must protect this national treasure just as we must protect any other treasure we have — the part that is the best of America.

Resisting oppression with peace,
John