Saturday, July 4, 2009

HAPPY JULY 4th, May God Forgive America

Compare and Contrast: A Woman With Pneumonia Goes to The Local Clinic


From Coalition of the Obvious, via Avedon, this useful "compare and contrast" on national health care systems. It especially means something to me because a few years back, after my unemployment ran out and I was working an hourly job, I developed pneumonia and couldn't afford to pay for a chest x-ray. I'm glad I'm still alive to tell the tale:

During my time in Venezuela, I developed a cough that went on for three weeks and progressively worsened. Finally, after I had become incredibly congested and developed a fever, I decided to attend a Barrio Adentro clinic. The closest one available was a Barrio Adentro II Centro de Diagonostico Integral (CDI) and I headed in without my medical records or calling to make an appointment. Immediately, I was ushered into a small room where Carmen, a friendly Cuban doctor, began questioning me about my symptoms. She listened to my lungs and walked me over to another examination room where, again without waiting, I had x-rays taken.

Afterwards, the technician walked me to a chair and apologized profusely that I had to wait for the x-rays to be developed, promising that it would take no more than five minutes. Sure enough, five minutes later he returned with both x-rays developed. Carmen studied the x-rays and informed me that I had pneumonia, showing me the telltale shadows. She sent me away with my x-rays, three medications to treat my pneumonia, congestion, and fever, and made me promise to come back if my conditioned failed to improve or worsened within three days.

I walked out of the clinic with a diagnosis and treatment within twenty-five minutes of entering, without paying a dime. There was no wait, no paperwork, and no questions about my ability to pay, my nationality, or whether, as a foreigner, I was entitled to free comprehensive health care. There was no monetary value connected with my physical well-being; the care I received was not contingent upon my ability to pay. I was treated with dignity, respect, and compassion, my illness was cured and I was able to continue with my journey in Venezuela.

This past year, a family friend was not so lucky. At the age of 56, she was going back to school and was uninsured. She came down with what she thought was a severe case of the flu, and as her condition worsened she decided not to see a doctor because of the cost. She died at home in bed, losing her life to a system that did not respect her basic human right to survive.

Her death is not an isolated incident. Over 18,000 United States residents die every year because of their lack of prohibitively expensive health insurance. The United States has the distinct honor of being the “only wealthy industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage”.(8)

Instead, we have commodified the public health and well being of those live in the US, leaving them on their own to obtain insurance. Those whose jobs do not provide insurance, can’t get enough hours to qualify for health care coverage through their workplace, are unemployed, or have “previously existing conditions” that exclude them from coverage are forced to choose between the potentially fatal decision of refusing medical care and accumulating medical bills that trap them in an inescapable cycle of debt. And sometimes, that decision is made for them. Doctors often ask that dreaded question; “do you have insurance?” before scheduling critical tests, procedures, or treatments. When the answer is no, treatments that were deemed necessary before are suddenly canceled as the ability to pay becomes more important than the patient’s health.(9)

It is estimated that there are over fifty million United States residents currently living without health insurance, a number that will skyrocket as unemployment rates increase and people lose their work-based health care coverage in this time of international financial crisis.(10)

Already this year, 7.5 million people have lost work-related coverage. Budget cuts for the state of Washington this year will remove over forty thousand people from Washington Basic Health, a subsidized program which already has a waiting list of seventeen thousand people.(11)

As I returned to the US from Venezuela, I was faced with the realization that as a society, the United States places a monetary value on life. That we make life and death judgments based on an individual’s ability to pay. And that someone with the same condition I had recently recovered from had died because, according to our system, her life wasn’t insured.


Friday, July 3, 2009

What the U S A as the World's Oldest and Most Successful Democracy Can Learn From Others~~ HOW TO FIX HEALTHCARE~~

What do the world's "laboratories of democracy" tell us about health care?

AnonymousLiberal blogger eloquently reasons:

Republicans, at least rhetorically, claim to value federalism and to believe that the states can function as "laboratories of democracy"-- places where policy experimentation can take place. Through this process, flawed policies are exposed and voted down and newer, better policies are given a chance to prove themselves. Over time, the policies that prove to be the best are adopted by other states.

For some reason, though, the only laboratories of democracy that matter to Republicans are those located within the United States.

This is especially true when it comes to health care. The United States is not the only industrialized democracy in the world. We are, however, the only one that does not guarantee basic health care to all of its citizens. When Democrats propose relatively mild reforms to our current dysfunctional system, such as creating a public insurance option, Republicans flip out and suggest that doing so will result in some sort of socialized health care dystopia.

But we don't need to travel into some hypothetical world to understand what universal health care looks like. There are literally dozens of countries in the real world that have functioning universal health care systems. Indeed, the verdict of the world's laboratories of democracy is pretty clear. Virtually all of them produce better health outcomes at less cost while covering everyone. We're the outliers. We're the laboratory that's stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that its experiment has failed.

To adopt the Republican position on health care requires believing that every other country in the world is wrong, that their policy experts are misguided and their citizens confused. Indeed it requires believing that the American people themselves are wrong, that despite endless opinion polls to the contrary, people in this country really love the system we have.

You would think that, at some point, these lovers of federalism would ask themselves why it is that no country in the world currently has (or has any plans to adopt) the kind of health care system they're clamoring for. After all, if the ideal health care system is one in which the government plays the least active role and lets the free market work its magic, you would think that some country would have already tried that by now. Such a policy is, after all, much easier to execute and to fund. It's infinitely less complex and requires much less government spending, so you would think that at least some group of lawmakers somewhere would have given the "do nothing" approach a shot. And if the results were as great as the Republicans claim, by now most countries would be following such a system.

Of course, the reason no one follows such a system is because it doesn't work. As economists have understood for many decades, markets don't work very well in the area of health care, at least if the goal is producing a world in which most people can afford care. Indeed, the reason we have a patchwork system of health care in this country is precisely because the market doesn't work and the government has been forced to step in and remedy its most glaring failures. Under a free market system, most elderly people are priced out of the market (hence the need for Medicare). Under a free market system, the poor can't afford health care (hence the need for Medicaid). Under a free market system, children of those without insurance have no access to health care (hence the need for S-CHIP). Every health insurance regulation or government program currently on the books was passed in order to address a significant failure of the market.

Other countries have confronted the exact same issues, but instead of trying to solve these problems piecemeal, they have opted for a comprehensive approach. In an effort to discredit the far better approaches taken by other countries, Republicans like to cherry-pick stories of people who were denied treatment or had to wait for treatment under a universal system (while ignoring the very same kinds of stories in our country). But here are some numbers they ignore:

The number of people in other industrialized democracies who go bankrupt as a result of medical bills = 0

The number of people in other industrialized democracies who lack access to routine medical care = 0

The number of people in other industrialized democracies who feel trapped at their jobs for fear of losing their (or their family's) health insurance = 0.

That last number is particularly galling given conservative reverence for entrepreneurism. Though it's difficult to quantify, I would bet that our dysfunctional health care system, more than any other factor, discourages entrepreneurial risk-taking in this country. Which makes all this talk about free markets all the more absurd.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Today in Gay History

Happy 58th Birthday

Sylvia Rae Rivera

July 2, 1951 - 2002

Rivera was born July 2, 1952 and raised in New York City and lived most of her life in or near that city. She was of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent. Her birth name was Ray (or Rey) Rivera. Abandoned by her birth father José Rivera early in life, she became an orphan after her mother committed suicide when Rivera was three years old. Rivera was then raised by her Venezuelan grandmother, who disapproved of Rivera's effeminate behavior, particularly after Rivera began to wear women's makeup in fourth grade. As a result, Rivera began living on the streets at the age of eleven, where she joined a community of drag queens.

She was one of those rabble rousing resisters to queer oppression who literally led the charge at the Stonewall Inn, New York City, on the night of 27th of June, 1969, the night that a riot at the bar, touched off the open radicalization of the Gay Liberation Movement fighting back against police harassment directed at the most visible members of the community. She became a founding member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and helped found STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a group dedicated to helping homeless young street transwomen, with her friend Marsha P. Johnson.

Rivera spent most of her life at the forefront of both transgender and gay activism, tirelessly advocating and demonstrating for LGBT rights, inclusive social policies and struggling against transphobia.

In 1970 Rivera formed a group called S.T.A.R. - Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries - to fight for the civil rights of transgender people, and provide them with social services support. The S.T.A.R. House lasted for two years until her crack habit caused her to lose the house. It was the first institution of its kind in New York City, and inspired the creation of future shelters for homeless street queens.

In 2000, she reformed S.T.A.R. pressuring the Human Rights Campaign to be more inclusive of transgender people. Even when hospitalized with liver cancer, Rivera never stopped working for the civil rights of transgender people and several hours before she passed away on February 19, 2002 she was meeting with LGBT community leaders.

An active member of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, Rivera ministered through the Church's food pantry, which provided food to the hungry. Recalling her life as a child on the streets, she remained a passionate advocate for queer youth, and MCC New York's queer youth shelter is called Sylvia's Place in her honor.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009



Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Anonymous Liberal's Got It ! Right

Bipartisanship on Health Care Makes No Sense

Whenever I hear someone call for a "bipartisan solution" to the health care crisis in America, I just want to pull my hair out. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It's like calling for a bipartisan solution to the next presidential election.

Health care policy is a definitional issue in American politics. For as long as I can remember, the Democratic party has fought to increase the government's role in providing health care coverage for Americans while the Republican party has fought to reduce the government's role. The Democrats are responsible for Medicare, Medicaid, and S-CHIP; the Republicans fought all of those initiatives. On a policy level, the Democrats believe that the best health and cost outcomes can be achieved by increasing access and encouraging widespread use of routine and preventative medical care. Republicans, on the other hand, have routinely identified the problem as over-consumption of care. Their proposals to fix the system inevitably involve significant deregulation with the goal of encouraging the use of high-deductible policies to try to discourage personal consumption of health care. Nearly every Democrat (including the blue dogs and "centrists") believes this to be bad policy.

In other words, there is virtually no common ground between the parties. The parties don't even see eye-to-eye regarding basic goals and policy assumptions. So why on earth would anyone believe that there is a bipartisan solution to health care? If one side believes the answer is behind door #1 and the other believes it is behind door #2, the correct answer is never to walk into the wall between the doors. Yet any conceivable "bipartisan solution" to health care would amount to exactly that.

Furthermore, as a simple political matter, it makes no sense to seek Republican support. First, it's a quixotic quest. Putting aside the fact that the Republicans are determined to uniformly oppose any significant Obama initiative, on this particular issue, there are actual principles and core beliefs underlying that opposition. Yes, there is a lot of standard Republican propaganda and demagoguery as well, but beneath all that disinformation is an actual philosophical disagreement. I happen to think that Republicans are dead wrong about health care, but I don't question that their beliefs are genuinely-held.

At the end of the day, no matter how willing the Democrats are to water down their proposal, they are unlikely to get any Republican support. And even if they were able to woo a few Republicans, it would not provide any meaningful political cover. The Democrats would still own the final bill.

Which is fine, because there is virtually no political downside here. The Democratic party is already identified with the issue of health care. It's one of its chief strengths. Despite their reluctance to support anything progressive, the reason red state Democrats like Ben Nelson get elected at all is because of issues like health care, where most people side with the Democrats. And it's not like what's on the table now is particularly radical. We're talking about providing people with a choice, giving them a public health insurance option if they want it. Not only is that idea already wildly popular, but it has virtually no political downside. Republicans and the insurance industry will do their best to demonize such a policy, but at the end of the day, no one is going to be upset that they are being presented with more options, and many people will be immensely thankful for it. Once the dust clears and the bill is passed, there is almost no political risk.

So the goal here should not be bipartisanship. The goal should be come up with the policy that is most likely to be effective and then browbeat every last Democrat in the Senate until they're on board. I don't say that about every issue, but on this one, there is no other sensible option.


Monday, June 29, 2009


Martin Boyce, a participant in the riots, shared this sentiment with a reporter for the AARP:

“We were feeling anger and resentment, but the big thing was that we had a chance to do something now,” Boyce says. “People got hurt. I got hit in the back with a club. But you could see and feel the person next to you wasn’t going to run.”

Stonewall’s Significance

“People will point out there were acts of resistance before Stonewall. But those acts of resistance were on a smaller scale,” says David Carter, author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. “This was an act of resistance that was a mass movement. It was mass crowds. These other events were smaller, they weren’t sustained, and they didn’t get in the media. Plus, the Stonewall riots sparked the gay liberation movement, by the founding of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance.”

Frank Kameny, a leader in the gay rights movement who had been leading peaceful gay rights demonstrations for 12 years before Stonewall, estimates that there were 1,000 organizations formed within a year after Stonewall. After two years, 2,500. After three years, he stopped counting.

“Progress has been enormous,” Kameny says. “Sodomy laws were repealed, so we’re no longer criminals. Mental health classification changed, so we’re no longer loonies. The government is finally recognizing and respecting us. Just this year, an openly gay man [John Berry] was appointed head of the Office of Personnel Management, the group [then called the Civil Service Commission] that fired me over 50 years ago in 1957, and I was acknowledged at his swearing-in ceremony. That is deeply satisfying. It’s a storybook ending. At age 84, I am not sure that I will see full equality in my lifetime, but I have no doubt that we’re heading toward it.”

And best of all, on June 24, 2009, Frank Kameny received a surprise apology for his firing 52 years earlier. The apology was made in public by John Berry, the highest-ranking openly gay member of the Obama administration. Attending a ceremony where he knew he'd be receiving an award, Kameny was nonetheless so totally surprised by the verbal apology, he quipped tearfully,

"~Apology accepted!~~"


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stonewall's Legacy

. . . I came out as a lesbian a decade after Stonewall. I was 27 and scared to death. My greatest hopes were that I could live openly without being fired, shunned by my family or beaten to death by someone. I didn’t expect society to treat me with decency. The possibility of being able to marry was beyond imagining. Today a new generation — the second to come of age since Stonewall — thinks my old dreams are inadequate, and they’re right. These heirs of 1969 expect nothing less than full equality. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn would be proud.
~ Diane Silver, a journalist/political activist, who now writes from Lawrence, Kansas the nationally syndicated column, Political IQ. Visit her blog: In This Moment


Images from Stonewall Inn Riots 1969

For a collection of more images and of New York City newspaper articles from those halcyon days in late June, 1969, visit the Columbia University website, HERE.