Thursday, November 23, 2006

Arnold: Turkeys: Personal, Political, and Planetary

Published on Tuesday, November 21, 2006 by
Turkeys: Personal, Political & Planetary
by Caroline Arnold

My Thanksgiving for the election outcome was quickly tempered by gobbling from assorted turkeys – personal, political, and planetary.

Reviewing my personal finances at my kitchen table I found myself stymied by a bill from Kaiser Permanente, my HMO for the past 21 years, for $48.68 for small miscellaneous charges over the past 22 months, apparently bits of various office visits that neither Medicare nor Kaiser covered.

This is the third time in the last two years that Kaiser has gone prospecting among my past medical services to come up with me owing them money. I would be tempted to think this is an artifact of the Medicare drug plan that Congress designed, but I can’t document it. The amounts are fairly minuscule, under $100 at a time, but in my monthly budgets they show up in majuscule.

I live on just under $1500/mo after my HMO and Medicare premiums are deducted and my property taxes paid. This month I learned that my monthly Kaiser premium for 2007 will increase by $35, effectively cancelling any cost-of-living increase.

I try to be rational, and budget carefully, and have enough each month to contribute to causes and charities that help my neighbors, my nation and my planet. This month I had already made modest donations to my church, a national progressive organization, local food pantries and environmental projects, and local public radio, and was hoping to squeeze out another couple of $25 donations.

Then a reminder to make a follow-up appointment at Kaiser about my high blood pressure made me angry: go to the doctor, so that in few months I can be billed for something else they decide not to pay for. The doctor, of course, will find my blood pressure is too high (you bet it is) and prescribe more drugs, so that I can pay some added tribute to the pharmaceutical industry.

It’s hard not to feel like a cash cow for insurers and drug companies. I could decline to be jerked around with their accounting maneuvers and fight back, or spend my days "shopping" for better deals for medical crises I may never have. I could refuse to take their *questionable drugs, and risk dying sooner. Or I could redesign my life to avoid stresses that raise my blood pressure, though I figure that’s not basically different from being dead.

What discourages me is that there is no person or place to which I can take these frustrations. Calling "Customer Service" would change nothing and maybe give me a stroke; the good folks who staff those phones don’t make the policies, have no power to change anything, and need their jobs. Writing a letter would be costly in time, attention and high blood pressure, and generate nothing but more platitudes about keeping costs affordable.

Rationally, I suppose I should drop everything else and work for single-payer health care, though that really isn’t how I want to spend my remaining years. Worse, I doubt that the American populace or polity can master their cultural, ideological, commercial and political baggage to get to government-managed, tax-supported, universally available health care in my lifetime.

And there are other large political turkeys on the table this season: Corruption, Education, Energy, Jobs, Trade, Nukes (both military and civilian) Poverty, War, Torture, Iraq, Iran, Israel.

And Impeachment. The impeachment turkey is NOT off the table. The anger voters showed at Bush’s high crimes of homicide/genocide, torture and kidnaping, at his incompetence/ insouciance in dealing with the aftermath of Katrina, at his lying and spying and wrecking habeas corpus and Constitutional protections will not and must not be assuaged by a "do-it better-next-time" brush-off.

The biggest fowl of all, of course, is our beleaguered and fevered planet, which we have all treated like a turkey with our profligate economic policies, haphazard environmental regulation, and personal habits of consumption and travel.

This week distinguished economist Joseph Stiglitz said, "We have but one planet, and should treasure it. Global warming is a risk that we simply cannot afford to ignore anymore."

And retiring UN chief Kofi Annan stated: "The message is clear. Global climate change must take its place alongside those threats -- conflict, poverty, the proliferation of deadly weapons -- that have traditionally monopolized first-order political attention."

Thanksgiving at my dining-room table will be somber this year. Like many seniors, I don’t want to spend my remaining days grubbing around for my own comfort, convenience or longevity, nor fending off predatory businesses, nor watching local wetlands or continental ecosystems destroyed by human actions. I’d like to use my energy and experience at making the world a little better for my children and grandchildren – and everyone’s children and grandchildren.

I especially dread watching daily the world-wide slaughter of the innocent and unarmed, knowing that not only am I powerless to stop it, but that my beloved country practices and defends terrorism, torture and genocide, and manufactures and sells weapons of mass destruction, that we have failed to end genocide in Darfur, and will not move to halt the killing of Palestinians in their own homes.

We who repudiated Bush’s policies and practices in the election of 2007 must stay at the table and keep impeachment on the menu, or we will once again become the turkeys to be consumed by endless war, corporate profiteering in mindless markets, brutal murder of our brothers and sisters, and heartless exploitation of our precious planet.

And for myself this Thanksgiving? Damn the high blood pressure – full steam ahead!

Caroline Arnold served 12 years on the staff of U.S. Senator John Glenn. In retirement she is active with the Portage Democratic Coalition and the Akron Council on World Affairs

This column first appeared in the Kent Ravenna Record Courier (Ohio) Kent Ravenna Record Courier (Ohio)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Williamson: Waging Peace

Published on Thursday, November 16, 2006 by the Boston Globe and Common Dreams
Waging Peace

by Marianne Williamson

In the United States, 12 children each day die from gun violence. Homicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 in 2001, with rates 10 times that of other leading industrialized nations. In 2005, there were more than 190,000 reported victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assaults. Acts of terrorism worldwide are up since the start of the Iraq war. War itself has killed more than half a million Americans since World War II.

A bill before Congress would establish a US Department of Peace. This measure would provide practical, nonviolent solutions for the problems of domestic and international conflict. It would apply the institutional heft of the US government to a serious effort not merely at avoiding war or waging war more effectively. It would take America to the next evolutionary step: It would proactively wage peace.

The problem of violence is a many layered one, and its solution needs to be as well. . . . While no one action -- governmental or otherwise -- will provide a single solution to such an entrenched and deeply rooted problem, the problem must be treated as an all-systems breakdown that requires an all-systems response.

A Department of Peace would address the causal issues of violence -- from human disenfranchisement to societal dysfunction -- thus saving money and human heartache.

Domestically, the department would develop policies and allocate resources to reduce the levels of domestic and gang violence, child abuse, and various other forms of societal discord. The secretary of peace would work with the secretary of education to develop curriculums to teach students alternative conflict resolution techniques and strategies.

Internationally, the Department of Peace would advise the president and Congress on the most innovative techniques and ideas for peace-creation among nations. A peace academy, on par with the military service academies, would train civilian peacekeepers and work with the military in the latest nonviolent conflict resolution strategies and approaches. In short, a Department of Peace would work hand in hand with existing government agencies and structures to help ensure that conflict, when it occurs, does not boil over into life-destroying behavior.

Last month, President George W. Bush said at a conference of school officials, police officers, and youth advocates that communities need a list of "best practices" to prevent and respond to the kinds of school attacks that have occurred in recent weeks. "It seems to me, a lot of our attention should be on preventing" such incidents, Bush said. That would require, he said, "a mosaic of programs." The Department of Peace would give structure and design to the mosaic, providing much-needed assistance to city, county, and state governments in coordinating existing programs as well as developing new programs based on best practices nationally.

Throughout America, there are countless peace-builders and peace-building projects. Those skilled in ameliorating the effects of violence -- from conflict resolution experts to nonviolent communicators -- have proven their effectiveness at treating root causes of violence. Yet these programs receive only pennies in comparison to the tremendous costs of violence.

A 2004 World Health Report estimated the cost of interpersonal violence in the United States (excluding war-related costs) at $300 billion per year. We currently allocate more than $400 billion per year to the Department of Defense, not including the cost of the war in Iraq. The financial cost alone is enough to motivate many to support this bill, but the human carnage is simply a cost that should never be permitted in a civilized society.

Marianne Williamson is founder and chair of the board of The Peace Alliance.