Healthcare Reform for Idiots


I really shouldn’t have to do this, but here we go. Healthcare Reform for Idiots:

(Disclaimer: single payer health care is  the best option. Remove the profit motive from health care. No more million dollar CEO’s getting rich by dropping folks who get cancer or other illnesses. But this guide to health care reform for idiots is necessary since single payer was destroyed by wealthy industry opponents)

#1. Congressional Republicans are NOT STUPID (well not literally, but that’s another discussion). Republicans are not intellectually incapable of understanding the problems around healthcare and what the democratic solutions are. What republicans are is MANIPULATIVE.

#2. Since the republicans are not stupid, but rather conniving weasels, the President and Democrats need to be smart. Don’t get caught up arguing that republican objections have no wings, just CUT THE DAMN WINGS! Example: DROP THE PROVISION that republicans are twisting as “DEATH PANELS”. The provision itself would simply allow physicians to counsel patients on end-of-life care, but its just red meat for the republicans.  Its just not that important, and can be done in separate future legislation.  Drop the provision, and just pull the rug out from under the R’s.

#3. Speed is essential. While the R’s are trying to find some new baloney to fiercely oppose, MOVE ON HEALTH CARE. GET A BILL OUT AND TO THE PRESIDENT.

#4. Speaking of speed, Democrats: GET YOUR FLIPPING ACT TOGETHER. Just in case that is ambiguous, let me repeat: DEMOCRATS, GET YOUR FLIPPING ACT TOGETHER. Republicans are able to toe the party line no problem–This is the first time in who knows how long when the Democrats have the presidency, the house, and the senate. DO THE DAMN THING.

North Korea has been obnoxious and obstinate in nuclear discussions. Conservatives  argue a policy of non-engagement. SO GIVE THESE CONSERVATIVES A TASTE OF THEIR OWN MEDICINE. We do not need to engage in their b.s. and beg for their votes.

#5. DON’T PASS A HALF-BAKED PUBLIC OPTION. For a public option to be meaningful, it can’t be watered down to accommodate scheming republicans.

#6. Be Clear about how you are going to pay for everything. Don’t Simply say the reform will cost $700 billion. EXPLAIN THAT WE ARE ALREADY SPENDING MUCH OF THIS MONEY ON HEALTH CARE. Its not like we are just going to tack on new spending. We are restructuring largely how we pay for healthcare.

#7. CHOOSE YOUR BAD GUY. Right now “big government” is the bad guy. Its easy for the right blame the government and rail against it. How about redirecting some of that ire where it belongs? THE HEALTH INSURANCE INDUSTRY. If you haven’t had a personal experience where you, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker was screwed over by their insurance company, you either live under a rock or  in a  FANTASY BUBBLE OF CAREFREE FOLK. Direct some of this justified anger at the industry.

#8. SUBMIT YOUR RESIGNATION if you still can’t figure out how to pass health care reform with a democratic president, house, senate, and massive public discontent with the status quo.

If you really can’t do it, I’m happy to take your job.



My Letter to Obama

This is my letter I am mailing to the President, my Senators, and Representative. Please add your voice of support by contacting your legislators.



Dear President Obama,

Since your Office of Communications receives thousands of letters every day, let me get my main point out early: DO NOT DROP A PUBLIC OPTION IN HEALTH CARE REFORM MEASURES.

As a social worker, uninsured masters-level degree holding employee, an individual with a pre-existing condition, and brother to my younger sister who passed 2 years ago for want of  medical care, I am writing you today to let you know that it is absolutely imperative that we have REAL, MEANINGFUL HEALTH CARE REFORM.

I was a strong supporter of yours in the campaign, and am grateful you were elected to office. Further, as a former health care community organizer, I am thrilled that you have elevated the discussion of healthcare reform to an actionable state. While I am disappointed that single payer is not being seriously considered outside of HR 676, I am also pragmatic and understand that our nation is years away from being able to intelligently consider its merit.

That is why it is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL that you DO NOT ABANDON A PUBLIC OPTION. As an educated and thoughtful individual it is not necessary for me to lecture you on the unsustainable proposition of an unchecked private health care industry. It is already bankrupting untold number of Americans, allowing thousands to die prematurely every year, stifling entrepreneurship, and failing to uphold a basic American value: treat others how you wish to be treated.

The private marketplace, while a remarkable mechanism for innovation and economic growth, has historically demonstrated that sans incentivizing, the most vulnerable and financially burdened individuals and families will not receive an equitable share of resources.

Recent remarks from your administration in which the need for a public option is downplayed in favor of health cooperatives deeply troubles me. I understand that political realities of Washington generally necessitate compromise, and at times generate better results.

HOWEVER, THIS IS NOT ONE OF THOSE TIMES. Political expediency, misinformation, and hysteria have colluded to place serious obstacles in your path and the path of those who would fight for real health reform. PLEASE STAND STRONG. DO NOT SACRIFICE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. Your failure to communicate (at least publicly) very specific directives to congressional leaders what is non-negotiable worries me.

I urge you to TAKE A STRONG, SPECIFIC STAND ON HEALTH CARE REFORM: MAKE A PUBLIC OPTION NON-NEGOTIABLE. I believe that you, Seblius, DeParle, and other legislative leaders know that health co-operatives, while appropriate in theory, will prove woefully inadequate to make a meaningful dent in the private-insurance dominated marketplace.

Assuming that the fate of millions of American’s will be well served by untested cooperatives, when we have a model before us that we have seen work before (Medicare), seems disingenuous. I know that more than healthcare reform is at stake in this debate. I understand your presidency and the viability of the Democratic Party will be in part, determined by the outcome of health care reform this year.

I understand this. I PROMISE YOU HOWEVER THAT WHEN AMERICANS VOTED FOR CHANGE THEY MEANT IT. I promise you that if you remain strong, self-assured, and confident in your plan and the public option that the majority of the public will follow. A mandate for real change swept the nation with your election, and if there ever is a time to spend your capital, it is now. THE NEED FOR A PUBLIC OPTION IS REAL.

I leave you with your very own words, and pray that they inspire you to action:

“This is our chance to answer that call.  This is our moment.  This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can.  Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.” – President Barack Obama


Original Story Here: Obama May Soften Healthcare Plan

Please support healthcare reform & fight back against the hysteria- this is too important of an issue to sit on the sidelines.

Email or call your United States Representative:
(202) 224-3121

Email or call your United States Senator:

Contact the White House- Tell them we need real reform now, and a strong public option.
White House Comment line: 202.456.1111

I’m happy to answer questions or direct you to further resources.

Thank you.

Grey Hair

awesomematrixI had to check in the mirror today to see if I was getting grey hair. In the past couple of months, I’ve had flashes of conservatism, and I’m wondering if the whole “get conservative” as you get older is coming true.

I wouldn’t consider myself “older” by any stretch of imagination, unless I’m comparing myself to last year. Or for that matter, the year before. But in all seriousness, I am starting to question whether my relatively one sided perspective on the “pro’s” of a big, liberal government actually plays out in reality.

I think the first chink in my thinking came during when I was engaged in an conversation about universal health care with a friend who was equally enthusiastic as I am about the idea. At some point we touched upon the issue of employer sponsored health care, or payments to the government in lieu of actually providing coverage for employees. And then a very basic question struck me: What responsibility do employers have to their employees to provide health care? Or more importantly, What right does the government have to impose such a regulation?

Now before all of you who know me think I’ve gone crazy to even ask such a question, hear me out. I as much as anyone, (and probably more than many) (okay, definitely a lot more than most), believe that health care should be a right. The right to live a life of freedom, self actualization, and prosperity crumbles without the prerequisite foundation of safety, health, shelter and sustenance.

But if we have this “right” to health care, and other basic human needs, the question then becomes, from whom do we demand or receive this right?

It has only been in the last hundred years or so in America, where we have turned to employers, and the government to provide for these fringe “rights”. Employers only began offering workman’s comp, health insurance, and other benefits as a means to attract and retain employees- not because they were genuinely concerned with guaranteeing the “rights of the people”. Over time, these benefits in kind have become the accepted domain of the workplace, and indeed for a business to be competitive, they must offer them.

However, simply because they do offer these benefits, does that mean that they have to? If McDonalds begins offering retirement plans, does that mean in 10 years we will demand that all fast food restaurants provide retirement insurance? Of course, employment is one logical marketplace for health care- an exchange of labor for benefits- but that in itself, does not mean employers should have to. There are exceptions of course- in hazardous industries, some provisions for the health and security of the employee should be made.

So back to the question- where do we obtain our “rights from”? If we do not turn to employers, the only other possibilities are the private market, or the government. We have seen that the market has no financial incentive to provide affordable health care  to the sick or indigent (or for that matter, most social services), so that means the only logical place left would be the government. And herein lies the fundamental contradiction I have encountered in my thinking:

On one hand, I would like for the government to provide these basic “rights” or “needs” of the people because they market won’t (health care, child care, education, police, fire, etc) but on the other hand, I decry excessive government interventions in other areas (military, domestic surveillance, national ID, etc). So the problem becomes that I am not for big government as a matter of fact, but rather for big government, when the ends suit me.

If I (a liberal), feel certain ends do not suit me (PATRIOT Act, immigrant deportation, civilian surveillance, business subsidies), then I wish for a smaller government. Accordingly, many conservatives are threatened by big government in certain instances (welfare, taxes, health care), but actually want big government in other areas (military, aid to businesses). It is this irony that allows the right to decry social service spending, but support  military budgets; at the same time that the left can decry military budgets, but support social service spending.

So where does this realization leave me? For starters, conflicted. As a social worker, as a human being, I believe that there are certain things that all people should have access to: food, health, security, shelter, clothes, education, etc. However, how do we draw the line between what falls in the public domain and what falls in the private? The more we put in the public domain, the more rights we sacrifice in exchange for these services, and the more we put in the private domain, the more we sacrifice those who are not served by the market.

I think that grappling with this complex balance of ideas is a necessary part of informed opion formation and decision making. However, the ever present danger remains getting caught up in ideological debates and rhetoric at the expense of arriving at solutions. For an example of this, turn on CSPAN, FOX, or CNN, and notice how ideology colors everything from floor debates to coverage of political issues.

Becoming trapped in an ideological corner is the inevitable result of a two party political system, where if it’s not black its white, its us against them, and one half of the country will be perpetually unsatisfied. The difficult reality for many, including myself, lies in realization that compromise is the only solution to resolving these vexing issues. It means being open to dialogue, new perspectives, and change.



What’s Yours is Mine :)


As an undergraduate student in a social work program, I had become accustomed to sharing ideas and conceptions about our society, its ills, their causes, and their remedies, with many of my liberal peers. Many of those beliefs were reinforced by our professors, including the virtue of wealth redistribution. What’s more American than paying taxes?

One day, our Social Welfare Policy professor decided to challenge us and our vehement convictions. Walking to the front of the class, he began writing a string of numbers: 99, 92, 87, 84, 76, 51, etc…

Turns out they were grades from our last test. When he turned to us and said we were going to have an experiment I knew I didn’t like where it was going. He then tallied up all of the points we had cumulatively scored on the test. Let’s call it 2400. He then posed the question to the class: How do you want to distribute these points among the class? I will accept whatever decision you make“.

After a moment of tittering among us, he continued. “There are 2400 points here, you could say, divide them evenly and make sure everyone gets a 76no one does really well, but no one fails either“. Or, we could decide to just take points from the top performers and award them to the lower scorers. Yet another option would be for everyone to contribute some of their points to a pool, and then assign them according to need. Finally, we also had the option of keeping things as is: we could just keep our original scores.

Instantly people began talking, and asking questions of him. “No, no” he said, “You all are a group, you decide what you want to do“.

It was a telling process that followed, as those who performed poorly on the test began talking about being fair, and suggested that those of us who did well should share some points, etc. Those of us who did well (myself included) objected. Why should we do worse on our test than we deserved? It wasn’t my fault others didn’t do well! Then the low scorers began cajoling us “what about your social work values?”, “don’t be greedy!

As one of the top performers on the test I was conflicted. For a while I had unquestionably believed that those who did better in society (financially) had an obligation to share that wealth to help others who were less fortunate. Now I was that rich person who didn’t want to give up my hard earned salary to support others! It was quite a difficult situation to be in, and really challenged my assumptions about the validity of wealth redistribution.

At the end of the day, I came to the conclusion, that the exercise wasn’t fair- it presupposed that my relative success on the test had in some way caused others to do worse. I strenuously rejected this notion. Perhaps I have been lucky to have generally performed at a higher academic level than some of my peers, but it certainly didn’t mean that I should have to sacrifice my success!  Some time later (since I thought about this for quite a long time), I realized that this example was closer to real life than I had wanted to admit.

In the same way that I did not believe that it was my fault that others did not do as well on the test, many in our society do not believe that it is their fault that others do not do as well economically. Why should they sacrifice their hard earned income just because others don’t do as well? I could point out that our society is full of historical inequity, male privilege, white privilege, heterosexual privilege, nepotism, and structural barriers that do in some way both contribute to the success of some and the failure of others. But, many do not see this connection- do not want to see it- or do see it and simply shrug it off. In the same way, I did not consider how privileges I have had in my  life (male status, excellent primary education, etc) might have inherently positioned me to perform better on the test than others- and so I really didn’t see why I should give up my points.

It is interesting in  retrospect to consider what I would do. Would I advocate for absolute communism in the class? Everyone gets equal points despite  unequal contributions? Would I push for a highly progressive tax system? Virtually no taxes on the “poor” and lots on the “rich”? Would I support a regressive tax system? Tax those at the bottom at relatively higher rates than myself? Would I fight to protect the status quo? Let the points lie where they may and to hell with the failing students?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but the experience does give me slight pause when I talk about wealth redistribution. Given all of the social factors that contribute to wealth inequity, surely some equalizer needs to be introduced- but where do you draw the line? Do you give food stamps to the poor- but only just enough so they don’t die? Do you seize the assets of the rich- and simply give them to the needy?

More than likely, we simply elect others year after year to struggle and fight over the answers so that we don’t have to.


Economic Stimulus for Social Workers

tax_relief The American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill has been submitted to Congress for review. There are billions of dollars floating around in this economic stimulus proposal & yours truly has taken a look through it to cull some funding streams that should be of interest to social workers & like minded individuals (read: you are concerned about the welfare of poor, oppressed, and vulnerable populations).

Why does this matter? This legislation represents the most sweeping financial stimulus the nation has ever seen, and the potential for great good to be done for our clients is within our grasp. It is up to us to contact our legislators and let them know what we support, do not support, or wish was in the stimulus that is not there.

I encourage you to read the full summary here in the next week before the bill is voted on.

elderly Vulnerable Populations:

Child Development Center: $360 million for new child development centers.

Veterans Medical Facilities: $950 million for veterans’ medical facilities.

Job Corps Facilities: $300 million to upgrade job training facilities serving at-risk youth while improving energy efficiency.

Education for Homeless Children and Youth: $66 million for formula grants to states to provide services to homeless children including meals and transportation when high unemployment and home foreclosures have created an influx of homeless kids.

Child Care Development Block Grant: $2 billion to provide child care services for an additional 300,000 children in low-income families while their parents go to work.

Head Start: $2.1 billion to provide comprehensive development services to help 110,000 additional children succeed in school.

Training and Employment Services: $4 billion for job training including formula grants for adult, dislocated worker, and youth services (including $1.2 billion to create up to one million summer jobs for youth).

Child Support Enforcement: $1 billion to provide federal incentive funds for states to collect support owed to families.

Centers for Independent Living: $200 million for state formula grants to help individuals with disabilities continue to live in their communities.

cap-and-certificate Higher Education:

Pell Grants: $15.6 billion to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500, from $4,850 to $5,350.

College Work-Study: $490 million to support undergraduate and graduate students who work.

Student Loan Limit Increase: Increases limits on unsubsidized Stafford loans by $2,000.

safehousing Housing:

Energy Efficiency Housing Retrofits: $2.5 billion for a new program to upgrade HUD sponsored low-income housing to increase energy efficiency, including new insulation, windows, and furnaces. Funds will be competitively awarded.

Native American Housing Block Grants: $500 million to rehabilitate and improve energy efficiency at some of the over 42,000 housing units maintained by Native American housing programs.

Homeless Assistance Grants: $1.5 billion for the Emergency Shelter Grant program to provide short term rental assistance, housing relocation, and stabilization services for families during the economic crisis. Funds are distributed by formula.

Lead Paint: $100 million for competitive grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations to remove lead-based paint hazards in low-income housing.

food-fruit-01 Food Security:

IDEA Infants and Families: $600 million for formula grants to help states serve children with disabilities age 2 and younger.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance: $20 billion to provide nutrition assistance to modest-income families and to lift restrictions that limit the amount of time individuals can receive food stamps.

Senior Nutrition Programs: $200 million for formula grants to states for elderly nutrition services including Meals on Wheels and Congregate Meals.

Afterschool Meals: $726 million to increase the number of states that provide free dinners to children and to encourage participation by new institutions by increasing snack reimbursement rates.

whiteeyes Undeserved Communities:

Wireless and Broadband Grants: $6 billion for broadband and wireless services in underserved areas to strengthen the economy and provide business and job opportunities in every section of America with benefits to e-commerce, education, and healthcare.

Economic Development Assistance: $250 million to address long-term economic distress in urban industrial cores and rural areas distributed based on need and ability to create jobs and attract private investment.

Rural Water and Waste Disposal: $1.5 billion to support $3.8 billion in grants and loans to help communities fund drinking water and wastewater treatment systems.

Bureau of Reclamation: $500 million to provide clean, reliable drinking water to rural areas and to ensure adequate water supply to western localities impacted by drought.

Bureau of Indian Affairs: $500 million to address maintenance backlogs at schools, dams, detention and law enforcement facilities, and over 24,000 miles of roads.

Indian Health Service Facilities: $550 million to modernize aging hospitals and health clinics and make healthcare technology upgrades to improve healthcare for underserved rural populations.

Rural Community Facilities: $200 million to support $1.2 billion in grants and loans to rural areas for critical community facilities, such as for healthcare, education, fire and rescue, day care, community centers, and libraries.

pencils Primary Education:

School Construction: $20 billion, including $14 billion for K-12 and $6 billion for higher education, for renovation and modernization, including technology upgrades and energy efficiency improvements. Also includes $100 million for school construction in communities that lack a local property tax base because they contain non-taxable federal lands such as military bases or Indian reservations, and $25 million to help charter schools build, obtain, and repair schools.

IDEA Special Education: $13 billion for formula grants to increase the federal share of special education costs and prevent these mandatory costs from forcing states to cut other areas of education.

Title I Help for Disadvantaged Kids: $13 billion for grants to help disadvantaged kids in nearly every school district and more than half of all public schools reach high academic standards.

48_healthinsurancesect_s188 Health:

Medical Facilities: $3.75 billion for new construction of hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers, and $455 million in renovations to provide state-of-the-art medical care to service members and their families.

Superfund Hazardous Waste Cleanup: $800 million to clean up hazardous and toxic waste sites that threaten health and the environment

Prevention and Wellness Fund: $3 billion to fight preventable chronic diseases, the leading cause of deaths in the U.S., and infectious diseases

Community Health Centers: $1.5 billion, including $500 million to increase the number of uninsured Americans who receive quality healthcare and $1 billion to renovate clinics and make health information technology improvements.

Training Primary Care Providers: $600 million to address shortages and prepare our country for universal healthcare by training primary healthcare providers including doctors, dentists, and nurses as well as helping pay medical school expenses for students who agree to practice in undeserved communities through the National Health Service Corps.

COBRA Healthcare for the Unemployed: $30.3 billion to extend health insurance coverage to the unemployed, extending the period of COBRA coverage for older and tenured workers beyond the 18 months provided under current law.

CB022158 Financial Security:

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: $2.5 billion for block grants to help States deal with the surge in families needing help during the recession and to prevent them from cutting work programs and services for abused and neglected children.

Employment Services Grants: $500 million to match unemployed individuals to job openings through state employment service agencies and allow states to provide customized services.

Increased Benefits: $9 billion to increase the current average unemployment insurance benefit from roughly $300 per week, paid out of State trust funds, by $25 per week using Federal funds, through December 2009.

Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants: $500 million for state formula grants for construction and rehabilitation of facilities to help persons with disabilities prepare for gainful employment.

Payments to Disabled and Elderly: $4.2 billion to help 7.5 million low-income disabled and elderly individuals with rising costs by providing an additional SSI payment in 2009 equal to the average monthly federal payment under the program

Community Service Employment for Older Americans: $120 million to provide subsidized community service jobs to an additional 24,000 low-income older Americans.

world-connect-people-community-international Other:

Transit Capital Assistance: $6 billion to purchase buses and equipment needed to increase public transportation and improve intermodal and transit facilities.

Department of Labor Worker Protection and Oversight: $80 million to ensure that worker protection laws are enforced as recovery infrastructure investments are carried out.

Compassion Capital Fund: $100 million for grants to faith- and community-based organizations to provide critical safety net services to needy individuals and families.

AmeriCorps Programs: $200 million to put approximately 16,000 additional AmeriCorps members to work doing national service, meeting needs of vulnerable populations and communities during the recession.

Community Services Block Grant: $1 billion for grants to local communities to support employment, food, housing, and healthcare efforts serving those hardest hit by the recession.

Emergency Food and Shelter: $200 million to help local community organizations provide food, shelter, and support services to the nation’s hungry, homeless, and people in economic crisis including one-month utility payments to prevent service cut-off and one-month rent or mortgage assistance to prevent evictions or help people leave shelters.

It is important not to become complacent and assume everything will work out now that Obama is in office. We still need to support good legislation, demand better when necessary, and provide constructive criticism  flawed ideas.

For instance:

-The plan to lift time restrictions on the length of time individuals can receive food stamps is a laudable policy

-The plan to invest $224 million in the repair of flood control systems neglects New Orleans (see full bill)

-The plan to invest $350 million to research renewable energy sources for military weaponry would be better spent on green civilian technology such as mass transit.

Contact your Representative

Contact your Senator

Contact your President

****UPDATE: On CSPAN tonight the House was debating this bill and of course the Republicans wanted to CUT THE FOOD BANK / FOOD STAMPS provisions….this is why you must stay informed & involved!!*********


Armchair Activism

chapter_upennWe are born. We live. We love. We hurt. We reflect. We die. Perhaps there is a God in the sky who will shake our hands if we were nice, and perhaps if we were naughty he will kick us a burning curb. The best I can figure in the interim is to help bring peace and justice to those that I can. But how to go about this?

That’s where I get hung up. My colleagues and I are dolling out $40,000+/yr to learn how to be good social workers. Living in Philadelphia amidst rampant urban decay, poverty, homelessness and blatant inequality casts a certain amount of irony over our high minded discussions safely contained within the walls of an ivy-lined campus.

It’s something we all struggle with. How do we balance the benefit of a great education, lifelong connections, enlightening dialogue, and a chance to experience first hand the inequality pervading the city, with the reality that perhaps we could bring good to the world without Penn’s seal of approval, without singlehandedly keeping student loan companies in business?

We all undoubtedly do social good through the very fact that we contribute our time and efforts to various social organizations throughout the region, but there is a call we feel to do something more. It is hard to sit through classes and have tough discussions about racism, about sexism, poverty, welfare, healthcare, homelessness, elder abuse, child welfare, food insecurity, and the myriad of other issues that we do, and then go home at night to our warm beds.

And so some of us talk. We talk to each other about these feelings and our passion to do more. Some of us volunteer our time above and beyond our field placement requirements. Some of us insert random acts of kindness into our daily routines, and more likely all of us do some combination of all of these things.

One of the things I do is write. I feel compelled to share my ideas about the world, my passion for social justice. I feel hopeful that someone will stumble across my Action of the Day Page and say “hey, I don’t support executing people without evidence” and place a phone call, or “hey, torture isn’t cool” and sign a petition. I hope that someone will stumble across my Media section, and give second though to immigration laws, or will decide to engage in the political process. I hope that someone will read my “Policies for People” article and discuss these ideas with others.

But for all of these hopes and posts, I run the risk of becoming an Armchair Activist. When I go to a photo exhibit in Philadelphia about hunger in our city, and then walk home and heat up a bowl of soup, I run the risk of becoming an Activist in Theory. When I go to a Housing Conference, talk to people about homelessness, and go to sleep in the Hilton Hotel, I run the risk of mistaking words for action.

Perhaps I am being harsh on myself, and my fellow social workers, but the question is very real, and very relevant- Are we bringing good to the world, or are we Armchair Activists?

Asking this question is so important for all of us who believe in social change, in equality and justice, because it is so very easy to become jaded, to become burnt out, to have our exuberance stamped out by reality. And more importantly, we, I, must answer the question: What am I going to do today to make a difference?


I especially welcome comments from Sp2 students here. Also, please feel free to join the Sp2 Committee for Action

Big Brother

governmentI often talk about social policies I don’t like, social issues that I think are pressing, or solutions to problems from my point of view. Often though, the ideas are kind of at an academic distance, and so I thought I would share just one way these vague, and seemingly distant policies really effect me, and probably others.

The reason I thought of this was because I just sent an email to my sister. A week or so ago my mom had sent us a video about some sort of terrorist threat in the NYC subways, and the newscaster went on to explain why it was an “easy target” etc. So we then had a couple of back and forth emails about how annoyed we get when the media provides a blueprint of sorts for people who really would carry out such heinous acts. Then I thought about how many movies I have seen with elaborate plots on how to rob a bank, blow up a city, etc, and I sent that thought to my sister.

Immediately after sending the email, I had a queasy feeling. I had just sent communication over the internet containing the text ” how to rob a bank, blow up a city”. The thought that this email was going to be picked up in some governmental office scanning emails for suspected terrorist activities crossed my mind. And this isn’t the first time that I’ve had this feeling. With domestic wiretapping, communication interception and a raft of other policies ushered in by Bush throughout his presidency and the Patriot Act, those of us who think Big Brother might be peeking over our shoulder when we communicate, are no longer paranoid- we are realistic.

I don’t want to live in a country where as a completely innocent citizen, I have to second guess my words when talking to my family. I’m not saying I had a full blow panic attack, or I started hyperventilating. But the fact that the thought crossed my mind, that I might pop up on a watch list somewhere, even if for only a second, is unsettling. Has our society really become so dangerous that it is necessary to surrender our right to privacy? The terrorist watch list maintained by the FBI has nearly 1 million names on it. Call me crazy, but I don’t think we have that many terrorists running amok.

So that’s it really. Just an observation I had. And this sort of thing only wants me to redouble efforts to protect our civil liberties and promote social justice at home and abroad.


Government labels Nuns & Pacifists “terrorists”

…And Justice For All?

6a00d83451bae269e200e54f3eb4db8834-800wiI’m a little surprised myself that to date, I haven’t dedicated a post solely to Universal Health Care. So here we go,  reasons why I think you (and everyone you know) (and everyone you don’t) should have health care:

#1 Currently, in the United States, health care is treated as a commodity. Got money? You got health care. Got Broke? Got Divorced? Lost a Job? Graduated from College? You loose, or can’t afford health care. The fact that so many people are uninsured in America (45.7 million at the last census count), points to a serious flaw in the way our system works.

Now just in anticipation of those who dispute the 45.7 millon (but Kevin, you know a lot of those people are ILLEGAL ALIENS!!!), I would say: 1st- a full 8 million of those uninsured are children, 2nd- People are only “illegal” in this nation because of perspective. I say they aren’t illegal. As much as we like to try, we cannot own land, we cannot own the ocean, or the air, and making artificial demarcations of territory and saying if you were born on one side of an invisible line you are “legal” and if you were born on the other, well then shit you must be “illegal”  out is purely ridiculous.  If someone lives, works, and plays in the United States, they are AMERICAN. And the fact that 45.7 million AMERICANS can’t afford health care says something about our system.

What does it mean when I say we treat health care as a commodity? It means we treat it like a good, a product, something to be bought at the store, like cereal or soda. Why is it that we do this? Why do we allow our health to be relegated to a shelf in a superstore run by the likes of Aetna or Blue Cross?

To truly put this in perspective, imagine if when someone called 911 because their house was on fire, the operator asked what kind of fire insurance they had, and what their health insurance carrier number was, and put them on hold. Then after a few minutes the operator came back on the line, asked for their credit card number to process the co-pay, and then sent out a fire truck with only 1 firefighter because that was their coverage limit.

Or how about if someone called 911 because their house was being broken into, and the operator told them that they had already used their maximum police benefit for the year, and they would have to wait until the next coverage year started…

Sounds ridiculous eh? Of course it does, because humans generally believe that if someone needs help we should help them first, and ask questions later. But the health care insurance industry has got this question twisted around, and the results are dire: an estimated 18,000 people die each in America for lack of health care coverage.

We need a universal health care system that covers everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Otherwise, we are supporting an ideology that says people should live or die based on their pocketbook.

#2 Health Insurance today isn’t serving those who need it. Got Cancer? AIDS? Diabetes? A history of family illness? You better pray to god that you don’t, because there are hundreds of health conditions that will render you ineligible for insurance. They are called pre-existing conditions, and under United States law, health insurance companies can refuse to provide you coverage, or charge astronomical rates.  To call a service health care insurance, and then deny it to the very ones who needs is so counter intuitive, the question begs when is someone going to tell the king he has no pants on? Even if you are lucky enough to purchase health care insurance when you are healthy, if you get seriously ill, YOUR INSURER CAN DROP YOU. To many people in America are blase about the health care debate because they believe they are protected.

When I lived in Connecticut, and did community organizing for health care, you wouldn’t believe how many doors were shut in my face because someone told me “they already had health care coverage“. As a decent human being, it was hard for me not to wish them a catastrophic illness or injury so that they would understand what millions of people are going through. Those American’s who oppose Universal Health Care because “they got theirs” represent the worst kind of self-centered, “me-first” thinking that has earned the U.S. its negative reputation around the world. What someone says the issue doesn’t effect them,what  they are really saying  is “sucks to be you“.

We need a universal health care system that puts the “care” back in health. Otherwise we are supporting a social darwinism ideology that says people should live or die based on their relative luck in the disease/illness lottery.

#3 Universal Health Care is a Moral Issue. I get so frustrated and angry when I think about this issue that it is hard for me not to rant, and it is equally annoying to look up and cite all the appropriate statistics/figures/studies that I have done before. The fact that there is even a debate over whether we should have universal health care from cradle to grave disgusts me. It gets added to the long list of questions in America that as a “progressive” society we should have answered long ago.

The reality is however, no amount of statistics, no amount of figures and studies will sway those who rigidly cling to a conservative ideology that prohibits them from using reason to approach an issue. Moral arguments might be most effective, so I have composed a short list of tasks that might help people break free of their inflexible ideologies:

In your spare time, make a list of 12 of your closest family and friends. Choose 2 of them you think should loose their jobs and health care.

The next time you go to church, ask Jesus if he were a claims representative Whom He Would Deny.

Take a visit to your child’s elementary school. Pop into the classroom, and identify 5 children you think should die this year from an illness.

When you are done, I invite you to re-explain why you think everyone in America should not be guaranteed health care coverage. Really, I’d love to post an essay from you on this blog.


Further Resources:

Federal Universal Health Care Legislation

Universal Health Care Action Network

Universal Health Care Questions

Healthcare4every1 (CT)

California One Care

Policies for People

kids-diverseWhat’s a president to do? War, crime, poverty, education system, veterans benefits, social security,  human rights, Guantanamo bay, financial crisis, blight, sprawl, child abuse, elder abuse, animal abuse, cronyism, corruption,  war profiteerism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, nuclear weapons, chemical warfare, suicide bombings, school shootings, blood diamonds, genocide, Israel/Palestine, Russia/Georgia, India/Pakistan, Iraq/Iran, North Korea/South Korea, child soldiers, slavery, sex trafficking, drugs, guns, health care, welfare, Chinese goods, missile defense systems, guided missile systems, Africa….

This is the world we live in, and for most of us, more often the world we indirectly observe…I asked readers before what the next president ought to focus on, and I’ve made humorous suggestions. But as Obama begins putting together his next administration, the time for surveys and satire are no longer enough. Here begins an Agenda for America* that I will forward to the President Elect after refinement and further exploration:

In 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote a paper entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation”; out of this paper came the famed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For those unfamiliar, Maslow theorized that human behavior exists along a continuum motivated and influenced by individual needs. He suggested that as basic needs are met, people are able to move on towards securing the next set of needs. Here is a graphic representation:


I believe that there is merit to Maslow’s ideas, and since: 1-The principle role of the government is to provide for the safety and security of its people, and 2- The government made a promise that all have a right to pursue “life, liberty, and happiness”, I would argue that there is a compelling reason for the government to center its priorities around helping Americans secure their essential needs, while also providing a national environment where the pursuit of higher needs is actively supported.

*This Plan is Primarily Domestic in Nature

Policies for Physiological Needs:

These policies should be designed to ensure the stable and equitable distribution of food, water, and shelter.


The National Housing Trust Fund, which will be used for the production and repair of affordable housing, has its funding source currently tied to Sallie Mae & Freddie Mac revenues. A more secure funding source should be directed towards this Trust Fund, so that as the economy falls and home sales diminish, more, not less money is invested in housing.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program is one step in the right direction designed to provide immediate relief to troubled states, but the funding should paid on an annual basis, as opposed to a one time payment.

In urban centers, fighting urban blight is an essential component towards creating stable neighborhoods and livable environments. Further, the administration shall adopt a policy to end homelessness that will be vigorously pursued regardless of cost. Part of this strategy should include the construction of more shelters, assisted living facilities, transitional housing, supportive housing and other special needs housing units in accordance with need in distinct geographic tracts.

Additional Low Income Housing Tax Credits shall be dispersed by the government to aid in the construction of affordable housing developments. Serious regulation shall be put on the lending and finance industry, and a pragmatic look needs to be taken at eviction and foreclosure regulations.

Existing affordable housing programs such as Section 8 should be increased in scope, and areas with the longest list of eligible applicants for affordable housing should receive priority funding through the National Housing Trust Fund.


The government should charge the FDA with establishing a basic, healthy, and sustainable diet plans for various demographics of the population (elderly, children, etc). The costs of these sample meal plans shall be directly tied to food subsidies such as WIC and Food Stamps.

The FDA should also create a policy that imposes an internal tariff of sorts on the sale of unhealthy foods, while at the same time, creating incentives and policies that reduce the cost of healthy foods, fruits and vegetables. Additionally, tax breaks should be provided to food vendors to encourage the expansion of healthy food retailers into underserved communities.

The government should require states to set aside of pot of money to be distributed to food banks and soup kitchens in accordance with local needs.

Subsidies should be given to farmers where necessary to maintain stabilize food prices.


The government should engage in a vigorous review of anti-pollution & dumping laws, and impose stringent penalties on companies that violate established rules.

Policies should be pursued that encourage private investment in technologies that would make the conversion of saltwater into drinkable water less expensive.

In order to prepare for emergencies, each state should establish a federally supported food/water bank.

Building codes for temporary shelters (FEMA trailers, etc) should be revised to insure the safety & security of those who use them.

Policies for Safety & Security

These policies should be designed to ensure the safety of the individual and the nation.


Over a period of time, due to aggressive and progressive poverty reduction tactics, coupled with a myriad of other social supports, a strong education system, and more equitable distribution of income, we can expect to see crime rates fall. However, until that time, several policies should be undertaken.

An aggressive, evidence based model of rehabilitation should be employed for all incarcerated individuals. Gun control laws should be largely returned to the states, with the exception of a few basic federal regulations. This will allow for policies that make sense in different geographic regions to be implemented.

Stronger hate crime legislation should be enacted, and the Elder Abuse Act should be passed. Additionally, white-collar crime that impacts the public should be more vigorously investigated and prosecuted, with harsher penalties.

Discriminatory sentencing disparities should be eliminated- such as crack/cocaine laws. Further, a judicial review of the sentencing patterns of courts in capital and other criminal cases should be undertaken. Jurisdictions with conviction and sentencing patterns heavily skewed should be temporarily put under a moratorium, and plans should be established to reduce the disparities.


Employment is central to personal fulfillment for many people, and full, equitable employment will reduce the need for excessive social spending. Any individual who wants to work should be able to find work, and the government should put together a federal employment program for individuals out of work. This program should be modeled after the Tennessee Valley Authority Program (out of the Great Depression), with projects largely designed around infrastructure repair/creation. For other skill sets, the program should also include community building aspects.

A basic living wage should be established and required in metropolitan areas and states.


A universal health care system should be established which complies with the Institute of Medicines 5 Principles for Health Care Reform:

1- Health care coverage should be universal- it should cover everybody

2- Health care coverage should be continuous, portable from job to job, and regardless of employment status.

3- Health care coverage should be affordable to individuals and families.

4- Health care insurance should be affordable and sustainable to society.

5- health care coverage should enhance health and well-being by promoting access to high-quality care that is effective, efficient, safe, timely, patient-centered, and equitable.

Under this plan, the following services should be covered: hospitals, health facilities, health care professionals, physicians, labs, diagnostic imaging, dentistry, medication, vision, mental health, preventative care, rehabilitation, durable medical equipment, eye glasses, hearing aids, immunizations, blood, dialysis, home health care, emergency care, podiatry, long term care, chiropractic, adult day care, substance abuse, nursing facilities, ambulance transport, language interpretation and hospice care (modeled after California One Care).

Additional funding for scientific research of diseases, and related health studies (including stem-cell research), should be supported.


Family planning services should be made available at public health centers, and laws protecting the right for women to have an abortion should be put in place. Child care should be made available for all children through the age of 16. This can be accomplished by the establishment of federally funded child care centers with affordable rates, or for families that live in areas without a federal child care center, vouchers should be offered for use at private day care centers.

The federal government should establish the right for individuals with children under the age of 18 to take up to 12 paid “family” days per year.


In order to protect individual’s right to property, more stringent burdens must be placed on any governmental entity that would seek to take over private property though eminent domain. Private property owners who allow their property to sit vacant, used, abandoned, or blighted for longer than an established period of time, may have their property co-opted by local land banks for the purpose of building affordable housing. Compensation for this seizure shall be at a rate below market value.

Areas currently established as Native American reservations should have legislation forever maintaining that status. Funding for the upkeep of such properties shall be allocated annually by the federal government.

Individuals who purchase manufactured housing and reside in a mobile home park shall be given a deed to the land upon which their home rests. This will prevent the sale of these parks for private development and eviction of tenants without just compensation.


The Department of Defense, originally named the Department of War, should be re-designated as the the Department of International Relations. The department should develop plans for promoting peace and stable relations with foreign nations, as well as realistic defense protocols. This will immediately promote the safety and security of all Americans.

Policies for Self Fulfillment (Love, Belonging, Self-esteem, Self-actualization)

After basic needs for survival are obtained, human beings seek to progress and develop. These developments include: inclusion in a welcoming community, self-esteem, and eventual development of one’s full potential. The following policies should aid American’s in their obtainment of these needs.


Every child in America shall be guaranteed high quality education. All schools will be federally assessed on several levels: Physical condition/environment, Physical resources (books/facilities), Quality of Instruction,  & Educational Achievement. Unlike the punitive No-child left behind policy, this extensive review of all public schools will be used to allocate and redistribute resources among schools.

The practice funding of public schools with local properties taxes shall be abolished and replaced with a state tax. The combined pool of taxes will be distributed to all schools within that state according to their needs as established by the aforementioned study.

Every state’s public universities and colleges shall be tuition free. Students may continue to receive grants, scholarships and loans to pay for related expenses: housing/books/transportation, etc. Universities will reimbursed for tuition by the state at a pre-established rate per student.

Community Development

The federal government should pass a law requiring certain community resources per a given population; i.e. for every “X” number of individuals in a city/town, “x” number of libraries, community centers, recreation centers, artistic venues, and other essential community resources should be available. The construction of such facilities should be considered an eligible project under the aforementioned government employment program. Priority for such jobs will be given to local residents.

Volunteer Programs

Funding for domestic volunteer programs such as Teach for America and AmeriCorps should be increased and widely publicized. Assistance for individuals who are unable to participate due to financial constraints should be eligible to apply for assistance for certain expenses such as airfare.

Civil Liberties

Defending the psychological safety of Americans is equally important as their physical security, so serious policies should be implemented to curb current practices.The oppressive Patriot Act shall be repealed, and policies such as domestic wiretapping should be closely monitored. The Terrorist Watch list, with nearly 1 million identified Americans should be seriously pared.

The Department of Homeland Security should be abolished, and fear inducing strategies such as the color-coded terror level system should be prohibited. The use of the military within the nation’s borders should cease, and domestic police forces should be closely monitored for abuse.

**This Agenda for America represents a rough sketch for how the United States government should actively work to ensure the safety and security of all Americans, while also promoting the ability for all to pursue life, liberty and happiness. I welcome comments and feedback before I forward this Agenda to the President Elect Obama.


What frightens you?

27 million people worldwide are enslaved?


2 men marrying?


1% of the world’s population controlling 40% of global wealth?


Taxing people with earnings over $250,000 a year?


America’s prison population of 2.3 million representing 25% of the worlds total?


Leveling the playing field for women and minorities?


18,000 people in America dying every year for lack of health care insurance?


Making health care available to all Americans?


The genocide in Darfur leading to 300,000 deaths over the past 6 years?


Allowing a rape victim to terminate her pregnancy?


1,900 immigrants dying over 6 years trying to cross into America


Immigrants working in our country?


1,000,000, American homes in foreclosure?


The specter of electing a minority to the White House?


If the right wants to run a campaign on fear,  go ahead think about what really worries you.

The national discourse in America today couldn’t be further from what truly matters as human beings in this world. But not to be deterred, the religious right, fiscal conservatives, and closet racists have become galvanized in their quest to suppress the most dynamic and promising candidate for president that our nation has seen in nearly a decade. If the McCain/Palin ticket is successful, four more years of reckless guidance, international arrogance and wanton disregard for human rights, civil liberties, and equality will be ushered in.

The Democratic Party is by no means a panacea, but try as I may, I cannot wrap my head around the republican line of reasoning that believes a 72 year old self-proclaimed “maverick”, and mind numbingly unqualified governor can bring us the “change” we need.

The economic divide between the impoverished and the rich has grown steadily over the past decade, millions suffer from lack of health care, hundreds of thousands are homeless, women still make less than eighty cents on the dollar to men, more black men in America are incarcerated than in college, civil liberties have been slashed by the Patriot Act… the list goes on.

Conservatives have decried the liberal nominee as “inexperienced”, “unknown”, and most recently “socialist”. Absentee ballots mailed out to three hundred voters in New York, even “mistakenly” spelled Barack’s last name “Osama”.

During the 2000 election I was dumbfounded at how the election was stolen in plain sight. In 2004 I was confident America would reject Bush’s four years of “leadership”, and again was crushed. Now we have Obama and the nation has not seen the kind of unity, excitement and collective hope for a new, respectable course in the world since the nomination of JFK.

I’m not sure how I would take another Democratic  defeat, especially one clouded by suspicious behavior. Meanwhile, the right is decrying the registration of false names nationwide (which will have no bearing on the election- “Mickey Mouse cannot cast a ballot on the 4th) while meanwhile, states are purging thousands of registered voters by “accident” (6,000-Ohio), or simply rejecting applications for voter registration (35,000-Arizona).

Conservative politics have brought us slavery, second class female status, xenophobia, market deregulation, imperialism, George Bush, John McCain & Sarah Palin. Liberal politics have brought us women’s suffrage, the New Deal, the civil rights movement, Bill Clinton, Al Gore & Barack Obama.

The choice couldn’t be clearer for me, and it breaks my heart that some will read this post and still conclude that the conservative McCain/Palin ticket will move us into the future.

This video was shot on a college campus 1 hour from Philadelphia:

Stand up for justice, acceptance, and progress in this election.