Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Goodbye Senator Kennedy

It's 1:35 am here on the east coast and I'm sitting in front of my television. I was watching Craig Ferguson interview Eric Idle; it was a very humorous interview. However, CBS news just broke into the broadcast to announce the death of Senator Edward Kennedy. I don't have anything wise or pertinent to say about his passing; it just seems to me that the loss of such a statesman cannot be ignored.

The Kennedy family was the beacon of my youth. I was five when JFK was elected to office and eight years old when he was killed. I remember that Mother Theophane, the nun who was principal of my school cried as she told us of his assassination. I had never seen her cry before that day. My mother was crying when I came home from school. She had never let me see her cry before either.

When Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, I was 13. I had been enthused about his campaign,especially his vocal support of civil rights. He was young and forthright and I really believed that he could change the world. I was only 13 and still capable of believing in the impossible.

Ted Kennedy didn't have the immediately apparent charisma of his two brothers. The first significant attention that I recall him attracting followed his unfortunate accident that resulted in the death of a young woman. However, as I grew older, the Senator from Massachusetts impressed me more and more. He was a fierce champion of civil rights, access to a quality public education for all,and social programs to ensure that the needs of the most needy in our society were met, including access to health care.

His death saddens me. I think that his presence in the U.S. Senate will be sorely missed. His are big shoes to fill. May he rest in peace and may his family take comfort that his life was well spent in public service.

I looked for a song and settled on Bob Dylan's Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Dylan was the voice of an era when I was young, optimistic, and believed in heroes. Senator Kennedy was one of my heroes. (Hit the pause button on the music player before you hit play on the video.)

Knockin' on Heaven's Door
by Bob Dylan

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can't use it anymore.
It's gettin' dark, too dark to see
I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door.

Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can't shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin' down
I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door.

Repeat chorus

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On the Mountain Top

A friend sent me a link today to a couple of videos by a singer-songwriter named Patty Griffin. I had not heard her before, but within a few bars of the first song, I knew that her music spoke to me. I listened to several of her songs (I love YouTube) and then sent my friend a thank you note.

How to describe her music? Patty Griffin is in a league with the best of the singer-songwriters. Her lyrics are intricate and yet accessible to the listener. She speaks uniquely, yet she speaks to any one of us who takes time to listen. Her voice is slightly weary and yet rich and nuanced. I'm in love.

I selected one song to share here. Griffin says that her inspiration came from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech, I've Been to the Mountain Top. I re-read that speech today and it moved me to tears. I think that is just as relevant to the issues confronting all of us today as it was 41 years ago. Dr. King made the speech the day before he was assassinated. The link above is to the entire speech; following is the final paragraph of that memorable speech.

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

The lyrics are posted below the video. Please hit the pause button on the music player in the left column in order to hear this video.

Up To The Mountain
I went up to the mountain
Because you asked me to
Up over the clouds
To where the sky was blue
I could see all around me
I could see all around me

Sometimes I feel like
I've never been nothing but tired
And I'll be walking
Till the day I expire
Sometimes I lay down
No more can I do
But then I go on again
Because you ask me to

Some days I look down
Afraid I will fall
And though the sun shines
I see nothing at all
Then I hear your sweet voice, oh
Oh, come and then go, come and then go
Telling me softly
You love me so

The peaceful valley
Just over the mountain
The peaceful valley
Few come to know
I may never get there
Ever in this lifetime
But sooner or later
It's there I will go
Sooner or later
It's there I will go

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care Reform Debate Needs New Voices

A friend sent me the link to the video below. In it a woman by the name of Katy Abram makes an impassioned anti-health care plan speech to Sen. Arlen Specter at his town hall meeting. I was not impressed with her argument; she doesn't have a clue as to what she's talking about. I have no patience for people espousing opinions based on nonexistent facts. My friend, who is far kinder than I am, observed that while she was totally uninformed, that she nonetheless appeared to be a decent person.

I don't think that she's a decent person. I think that she's selfish and doesn't give a damn about anything except her own back yard. People like her are dangerous; they form the base of Limbaugh's dittoheads and the acolytes of Glenn Beck and all of the other ultra conservative groups. She's uninformed but too stupid to know that she doesn't know or understand the issues that she is attempting to address.

The biggest issue that these people have is some twisted notion that their hard earned money is going to be taken away and distributed to a bunch of undeserving, lazy ethnic minorities and illegal immigrants. That's the subtext of every reference to upholding the Constitution and getting back to the principles of the founding fathers.

Her entire opinion was based on her fears that so-called good, hardworking Americans such as herself are being asked to be their brother's keeper. In spite of the litany that these people espouse about America being founded on Christian values, they are as far removed from any resemblance to Christian values as I am from looking like Marlene Dietrich.

These narrow minded, ignorant, selfish semi-bigots scare me more than any honest, sheet wearing, card carrying member of the KKK. The KKK has always acknowledged that it is based on a sense of self-superiority and hatred of the "other;" these people delude themselves into believing that they are just being good citizens, trying to preserve American values.

I think that they are so consumed with their own sense of self-righteousness that they have no ability to empathize with others. As long as their little piece of the world functions well, they don't give a damn about anyone else's troubles. They are also incapable of recognizing that they may find themselves in the position of not being able to afford health care. They can't anticipate such a thing happening because they function under the misbegotten belief that such things only happen to the unworthy. Of course, they can't imagine themselves as ever being unworthy, therefore they can't imagine finding themselves in a position that they believe only befalls those who are lazy, shiftless, and worthless.

The level of ignorance would be laughable except that just because accusations and innuendo are without basis in fact does not mean that they are ineffective. I think back to the Clinton administration's attempt to enact similar reforms to our health care system; those efforts ultimately failed because too many people believed the outright lies that were propagated about the proposed changes.

Once again the lies abound, with stories about "death panels," about forcing everyone to give up their current plans and join the government plan, about huge tax increases on the middle class to pay for the plan, and the horrors of becoming a socialist country.

According to the evening news, most of the protesters admit that they haven't read the health care bill or any summaries of the bill. When did ignorance become so fashionable? How can you have a valid opinion on anything that you really don't understand?

Some 47 million people in this country have no health insurance. That number doesn't include the people who are under insured--they have insurance but not enough to cover a major illness. Insurance companies can deny coverage to an insured person who has paid premiums for years, alleging that a treatment is experimental. You can challenge it, but you may be dead by the time a decision is made in the case.

An insurer can refuse to insure an individual with a pre-existing condition unless you are part of a group policy through an employer or your state has a high risk pool plan. Of course, there may still be a waiting period before any treatment connected to your pre-existing condition is covered.

At one point, I was considering going into private practice, so I investigated how much I would have to invest in health insurance. After I dutifully applied online to Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, listing that I am a diabetic, have atrial fibrillation, sleep apnea, and congestive heart failure, BCBS informed me that I was classified as uninsurable, but if I was willing to pay $3700 per month, they would provide me with a minimalist insurance policy.

When I was done rolling on the floor and laughing hysterically, I politely declined the policy. In spite of all of my diagnosed problems, I haven't been hospitalized in 10 years. I take my meds, exercise, see my doctors regularly, and eat healthy most of the time (chocolate is health food of a sort). Without insurance, I wouldn't be able to afford my meds or see my doctors, and would certainly cost the system far more with visits to the emergency room. I'm fortunate. I had the choice of taking a state job with health insurance benefits.

However, I know that everyone isn't so fortunate and I do believe that is is my responsibility, our collective responsibility as a society, to ensure that everyone has access to preventive and maintenance health care. That's what the proposed health care reform plan is about. Those of us who understand this have to speak up and serve as a counterpoint to drown out the lies being spouted that threaten to derail this renewed effort to ensure that all of us have access to quality health care. There are people whose lives depend on us.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Justice Really Needs to Take Off That Blindfold

Where to begin? I really think that I need to stop watching or reading any news. It just leaves me all discombobulated as if I went to sleep and woke up in the twilight zone.

On Tuesday, William Kostric strapped his loaded gun to his leg and went to stand outside the Portsmouth high school where President Obama was scheduled to hold a town meeting on the health care plan. Police officials asked him to move because there are federal and state laws against having a gun within a certain distance of a school. An obliging official at a nearby church gave Kostric permission to stand on church property with his loaded weapon. The local sheriff had no problem with Kostric exercising his 2nd amendment right to bear arms; if the weapon had been concealed there would have been a violation but as Kostric was carrying his weapon in plain sight, he was not in violation of New Hampshire law.

The loaded gun was a bit disturbing but it was the sign that Kostric displayed that really made me go WTF. It presented a line that referenced a quotation from Thomas Jefferson, "It is time to water the tree of liberty." The full quotation reads, The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It was a favorite quotation of Timothy McVeigh, America's home grown terrorist who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma. When he was arrested, he was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Lincoln on the front and a tree dripping with blood on the back.

According to MSNBC, who broke this story, the Secret Service was informed of Kostric's presence and that he was packing heat. I assume that they kept their eyes on him.

Given this countries history of assassinating leaders, is it really unreasonable to tell a citizen that he can't be near the location where the President of the United States is scheduled to appear unless he wants to leave his loaded gun at home? None of the other rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights are absolute. There's freedom of speech, but there are restrictions and limits on it. If you don't believe me, run around libeling your neighbor and then wait for the lawsuit. The fourth amendment prohibits unlawful search and seizure, but if there is probable cause, a search can be made. As for probable cause, it's a somewhat nebulous concept that has been defined and redefined again and yet again, in case law in state and federal courts, as the law attempts to get a handle on exactly what constitutes probable cause.

Let's accept that the 2nd amendment guarantees a right to bear arms, does that mean that you can just carry a loaded gun any where? Of course it doesn't. When I go to the courthouse, I have to pass through a metal detector and there is a big sign telling me that I cannot bring in a gun, even if I have a permit to carry it. The only folks that may carry guns in North Carolina courts are law enforcement officers, although there was legislation proposed this session to allow judges and magistrates to carry weapons. (I'm not real fond of this idea; it would add new meaning to holding a loud mouthed lawyer in contempt.) So why is it that New Hampshire law enforcement felt that the right to bear arms was so tantamount that Kostric had to be allowed to indulge in some role-play fantasy that he was in an episode of Gunsmoke?

Chris Matthews interviewed Kostric and hearing the man speak didn't give me any comfort. Like so many people he twists the Constitution into some multi-headed hound from hell that is unrecognizable as the foundation of a government that was formed to protect the rights of all, the weak as well as the strong: We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. The MSNBC video follows the text of this post. I apologize for not providing a transcript for my hearing impaired readers, but I really can't tolerate watching it more than once and I can't find the transcript online.

In another news story, a 20-year old named Antavio Johnson just received a two-year sentence in Florida for a video that he made when he was a teenager. He posted it on MySpace a couple of years ago. In it, Antavio performs an original rap song entitled, "Kill Me a Cop," in which he proposes to kill a cop. His mistake is that he gets real specific and names two cops that he would like to kill with a "glock" to the "dome." The two year old video was discovered by police officers who were surfing MySpace looking for signs of gang related activity. Johnson was charged with "corruption by threat of a public servant," a third degree felony under Florida statutes in which the perpetrator intends to harm or threatens to harm public servants, their families, or the people that they care about. The threats must have been made with the intent or purpose to influence public servants in the performance of their official duties. This law falls under the dangerous and profane speech exception to the first amendment.

They say that Justice is blind; I don't think so. I think that Justice is a borderline fool. How else do you explain a two-year sentence for writing a song that no one has heard? The officers mentioned in the song couldn't have been intimidated or influenced by it because they didn't know that it existed until a few days ago! In the meantime, a gun-toting, ignorant, hate-filled wingnut gets to stand around wearing his loaded gun waiting for the President. Makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands!

By the way, I can't help but wonder if Kostric would be so in favor of everyone carrying guns if a crowd of young Blacks and Hispanics showed up with guns strapped to their legs. Maybe I need to round up a posse and head for New Hampshire to exercise my right to bear arms.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's All in the Rhythm

It's no secret that I love music. There is something wonderfully primal about the rhythms of a really good song. Of course, I like instrumental compositions as well, percussion, some strings, the tinkling of a keyboard. I enjoy jazz, blues, country, R&B, classical, opera (mainly Italian, especially Puccini); there is no genre in which I haven't found something to like. That's why the video link that my sister sent me made me positively orgasmic. Rather than try to describe it to you, take a listen and experience it for yourself. It's a sort of global symphony of the song, Stand By Me. Don't forget to locate the music player to the left and hit the pause button, then hit the play button on the video below. It's a bit slow to load, for some reason I have to hit the play button twice before it will start.

Stand By Me Playing For Change Song Around The World from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.