Thursday, August 20, 2015

How Dumb Can the Republicans Get? When it Comes to Health Care, INCREDIBLY DUMB!

By Richard Kirsch

Every time Republican candidates for president put forth their Obamacare repeal and replace plans, it's like money in the bank for Democratic political ad makers. In their desperate need to appeal to Republican primary voters, candidates are giving Democrats the same kind of health care hammer that allowed Barack Obama to pummel John McCain into the ground in 2008. 
This week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker came out with a somewhat detailed repeal and replace plan, while Florida Senator Marco Rubio outlined a very similar piece in a Politico column. These plans follow the standard playbook of Republican proposals to reform health coverage, one that Republicans in Congress never actually move forward because they understand the political dynamite they would ignite. 
The following are accurate claims that Democrats can make about the Walker plan. Most also appear to also apply to Rubio's, although his is such a sketchy description it's hard to be certain about all of them. 
The Walker and Rubio plans would return to the days when insurance companies could deny coverage or charge higher premiums because of a pre-existing condition, charge women more for health insurance than men, and stop paying claims when people have high-cost illnesses. 
The Walker and Rubio plan would slash the tax credits that allow families to afford health coverage, driving millions of people back into the ranks of the uninsured. It would replace a tax credit based on person's income with a fixed amount, so that a millionaire would get the same tax credit as a working person who makes $25,000 a year.
The Walker and Rubio plan would force 8 million people off Medicaid immediatelyand then make enormous cuts in Medicaid coverage for families, children, seniors and people with disabilities, hundreds of billions of dollars over the next ten years. 
The Walker and Rubio plans would take away health coverage from 3 million young adults who are now on their parents' plans. 
The Walker and Rubio plans would make millions of seniors pay more for prescription drugs and visits to the doctor for check-ups. And the Rubio plan would replace today's Medicare with vouchers to buy private insurance. 
And here's the kicker that killed McCain: The Walker plan (and it appears the Rubio plan, but it's not clear) would tax health benefits that people get at work. 
If each of these statements sound like political poison, they are. For years, opinion polling have found that almost all of the core parts of the Affordable Care Act are politically popular, including with Republicans. In fact, the whole notion of repeal and replace is out of favor with the public. In June, Kaiser found that 27 percent wanted to repeal the law and another 12 percent were for scaling it back, for a total of 39 percent in the repeal and replace category. But 47 percent wanted to either keep it as is (22 percent) or expand it (25 percent). A Bloomberg poll taken in April found that 73 percent wanted to keep the law or include small modifications, while only 35 percent wanted to repeal it. 
The relentless Republican campaign to demonize the Affordable Care Act has put their candidates in a political bind, with no escape hatch. With so many people now benefitting from the ACA, Republicans candidates are forced to propose a replacement plan. But it's literally impossible to propose a conservative plan that meets people's needs and therefore is politically palatable. Remember, the ACA itself was a huge compromise with traditional conservative ideas and liberal proposals. 
All of which brings us back to the unfolding presidential debate and what the Obama campaign did to John McCain, when he proposed taxing employer health benefits. As Politico reported just before the 2008 election, "Democrat Barack Obama has spent $113 million in health care television advertising so far this year, eight times that of Republican rival John McCain - and investment that polls show are paying big dividends as the election enters its closing weeks." 
A typical Obama had ended with the line, "John McCain, instead of fixing health care, he wants to tax it." Another ad showed a clip from a debate between Vice-Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin in which Biden quipped, "Taxing your benefits. I call that the ultimate bridge to nowhere." 
We'll be seeing the same kind of ads in the fall of 2016 from Hillary Clinton or whoever the Democratic candidate is, pounding her Republican opponents on health care. And just as Obama raced to reelection standing up against Mitt Romney's pledge to repeal Obamacare, the third Republican presidential candidate in a row will lose in no small part because they don't get that Americans understand in a very personal way what access to affordable health coverage means for their families.
This piece ran first in the Huffington Post. Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute in New York City. As Director of Health Care for America Now, he led a broad coalition of progressive organizations that were instrumental in fighting for passage of the Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sex Slavery is "Condoned and Encouraged" in the Islamic State

The men of ISIS are routinely raping pre-teen women, claiming the practice is condoned and encouraged by their religion!

In case you missed this story in the The New York Times  you have to read it. This is how it starts:

QADIYA, Iraq — In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.

He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.

When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.

“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity." Continue reading the main story

The question now is what can anyone do to stop this abhorrent practice?

The Obama administration is already bombing ISIS targets in Iraq. American troops are training and advising the Iraqi army, and the U.S. is arming some Syrian rebels.

The only other alternative would be for the U.S.  to wage war against ISIS. Putting American troops on the ground there will end up killing thousands of soldiers and civilians. And what will it achieve? We've already seen the mess caused by the wars the U.S. waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the end, the situation in the Islamic State will be no better after a war. 

All we're left with is deep loathing for the rapists who use religion to justify violent sexual acts against young women. We are left with an even deeper sadness. And prayers for the young women who are enslaved and brutalized.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Miraflores Remembered

                                by Camincha

I come down to the Coast -- it has the seducing curves of my
morena, who sings, tamales calientiiiiiitos!!!!!!!! Through
the streets of my city on Saturday nights I hear the voice
of my cholo, with his eagle–beak nose, skin the color of mud,
my color. My Inca whistles at my door. Miraflores.

I come down to the Coast. To blue, green eyes. Full-bearded
Europeans. The cafe latte skin of my criollas and criollos. To
flat streets that roll to the ocean. To its white foam. To the heat
of its shade. The tears of its garüa. The corner of La Picaronera.
The callejon next door. The European chalet. The Gardens of
La DiagonaL Ice cream from D'onofrio. The church across
Parque Central. The benches of Alameda Pardo. Sunday's
promenades. The British-Peruvian school, the blue uniform, hat,
white shirt, red tie. Ferocious exams. Matinees at the Excelsior:
The cowboy and the girl Miraflores.

I come down to the Coast. I take El Expresso to go to Lima, El Urbanito
to El  Mercado Central, to La Tiendecita Blanca. It is there where our mothers bought Chantilly Creme to decorate birthday cakes, and still serves butifarras, paltas rellenas, tamales, empanadas, humitas. Memories jump through the intersection of' Larco and Pardo, five blocks in diameter, with a rainbow of flowers in its center. Walk to Schell St. where my school, San Jorge, used to be, then to Porta St. that saw my growing up years. El Terrazas Club still a block away, looking forward to its next Carnavales Festival. Would you like to dance? sounds in my head. Dance? His eyes full of  adoration. EI Malecón gives me his cliffs that roll to the
Pacific while the scent of jasmine, dahlias, sweet peas, honeysuckle, sweet  narcissus, stalk my steps. Miraflores, my Miraflores.

Camincha is a pen name for a writer living in California.

Friday, July 31, 2015

No Words

What words
are there
for the way
the rain fell last night,
in thick ropes of water
onto the ground?

What words
are there for the crystal drops
of water that hang
this morning
from the tips of every
branch, leaf and flower?

What words
are there for the way the
sun sets flame to  
the butterscotch and crimson

What words are there
for the chirrupy sounds the birds
make and the thrumming of the
hummingbirds sipping
at the feeder?

What words are there
for the way the 
orange butterflies
land on the purple cone flowers
fluttering their wings?

What words are there
for a sky that you have
tried to describe
so many times?

the sky is
as clear as the morning
blue can possibly be.

Haven’t you anything better
Than that?
No. No words. None.

We speak, we write
but language doesn’t
quite do it, bring
the thing to life.

So I sit here.
With nothing more to say.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thanking God for 13 Years of Good Health!!!!!!

It was today, July 16, 2002, that my husband and I drove to New York City.
It was day one of my chemo regimen at Sloan Kettering to treat my Hodgkin's lymphoma.
It was the first of 13 weekly treatments, each with five intense chemo drugs, to shrink a tumor, the size of a cantaloupe, inside my chest.
It was misery in so many ways. The unrelenting nausea, the withering body, the loss of hair. The endless cat scans and other tests. The injections I had to give myself. The weeks of radiation that followed, burning my skin as it worked its wonders to heal me.

But now, 13 years later I prefer to put all of that behind me.
I prefer to walk about the yard on this magnificent summer day,
feeling overwhelmed by the explosion of day lilies,
I prefer to think about how wondrous life is,
How it can fill us with joy and love and peace.

I prefer to stop hour by hour today to say
And for so many other blessings!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Family's Dark Secret: My Italian Great Grandfather Was Illegitimate!!

Please note: This story reflects my best understanding (thank you family members!) of how my great great grandmother in Paola, Italy, came to have an illegitimate son. We know her name was Filomena, but she called to me as "Giglia," which means lily.  My cousin Donna Ricci has visited Italy trying to track down our great great grandmother's story. All we know is that our great grandfather, Pasquale, was given a last name by the state. In this case, Pasquale was given the last name, Orzo, a name for all of his descendants. I think it is time that I went to Italy so maybe I could turn this story into a family novel! Thanks for reading this, and all comments welcome!

“Giglia by the Sea”
You see her there, my great great grandmother?  She is sitting in the sand by the sea.   She is bare-legged, raw faced.  She is crying.  The waves are slopping over her legs, spread wide.  The cool water rises between her thighs.  The salt stings the tender dark skin there.  The white flaxen gown she is wearing is pulled up to her womb, and it is soaked and it is clinging to her swollen belly. 
She has no name, and so we will tell you, my sister and I, that we have invented her name.  It is Lily.  In Italian, it is Giglia.  Pronounced with one soft g and one that is completely silent.  

Jeelia. Was it a red lily
like the ones that grow in my garden today? Or yellow or white?
The pockets of her white gown are filled with wooden clothes pins, grey weathered clips that she uses to hang his clothes on the line.  She fingers the hard wood of the pins through the soft white gown, and something makes her take one out of her pocket.  She throws the clothes pin into the sea.

And then another.  Due.

And another.  Soon, all of the clothespins are sinking down into the ocean.  A new breed of tiny grey fish, she thinks.  Avannotto.  Small fry, that will swim alongside the bigger fish.  Baccala.  Pescespada.  Cod and swordfish. 

She smiles.  Looks out across the water.  Her teeth are perfect and white. Her caramel skin is tight across her nose.  Her cheekbones arc at just the right angle, and her jaw makes a perfect presentation for her lips.  

The first time he took her into his bed, he blamed her lips.  She was standing at the stove, stirring, when he took her face in his hand and grazed her lips with the tips of both thumbs.  Then he parted her lips and kissed her.  She dropped the thick ceramic plate and it broke into four pieces on the tile floor.
The sea is becoming a light green dome.  It looks to her now like an endless green belly, the belly of an ocean princess, un principessa, who, like Lily, is fishing for love.  Love that looks like liquid coins.  Love that glitters gold in the sunlight.  As soon as you try to touch the coins, though, or hold them in your hands, they sink through the water like hard grey stones.
She splashes her face with water.  Licks the salt water off her lips.  Across the sea, the sun is cutting up through the horizon, a red yolk splattering the white of the sky. Soon she will have to return to the house to fix his coffee.  To lay out his roll and butter.  Soon she will begin to fix the minestra for his lunch.

But for now, she lies back on her elbows in the gritty sand.  She lifts her gown above her navel.  Up to her swollen breasts.  The nipples are dark sea urchins floating in the sea.  She smiles.  She will have the neighbor women talking.  She laughs, that deep throaty laugh he tickles out of her after they make love.

The neighbor women are already talking.

She gazes out to the sunlight dancing on the green water.  Closing her eyes, she pins the edges of her belly to the wide green sea, and then, pinned to the ocean that way, she flutters freely in the wind like a piece of seaweed.  A piece of ocean laundry.

Letting her head drop to the sand, she is everywhere covered in pale light.  Soft water.  The sea carries the morning light up and over her belly and her breasts and tickles her neck.  Her chin.
The smell of seaweed is in her nose.  The gurgle of waves is in her ears.
The water foam touches her lips.  And then, just when she can feel that the next wave will scoop up and over her face, she hears the bell.

The bell.  Always the bell.

 She left half the laundry on the white flat stones by the house and she ran here to the water, and now no doubt Griselda has arrived for the day.  But Griselda cannot tell her anything.  Not anymore.

Lily pinches her nose closed with her fingers and holds her breath and lets the water rise where it will.  She bubbles the salt water out of her lips.  Her dark hair flares, coppery brown seaweed uncoiling, in and out, in the green water.

The bell rings harder and harder.  The woman’s old voice follows.  It carries down the craggy hillside covered in fig and olive trees.  It carries into the green water.  It sinks into her ears.
Giglia!  Giglia!

Please, she thinks.  Please.  If she could swim, she would dive in now, and swim as far as the red splatter of the sunrise.  She would swim until her arms ached and her legs would paddle no more.
But she cannot swim and she cannot run.  Not now.  Now she belongs to him.
Up at the house, the laundry she washes is not just his laundry anymore.  Now, his laundry is mixed freely with her own.  His white shirts.  Her aprons.  His briefs.  Her bras.  His handkerchiefs, each embroidered in blue.  J.S.  J.S. J.S.  Her nightgown, edged in hand-crocheted cotton lace. 
Next to the white clothes, he has left her his soft chamois riding britches.  That is my best pair, my darling Giglia.  Make sure you are careful with the soft leather patches there between the knees. 

She runs out of breath and sits up and her hair coils down around her shoulders.  The white gown is grey with grit.  She places her hand over her belly.  Whispers something inaudible.
She stands.  Her hair is matted in wet sand and water drips in sheets off the bottom edge of her gown She turns around. 

The laundry is waiting.

Monday, July 13, 2015

My New Art Teacher's Advice: "F*** This Painting!"

My dear friend Sharon Flitterman-King has been nudging me for months to find a new art teacher. So finally I took her suggestion and enrolled in a class with her former art teacher, Kate Knapp, a Berkshire County artist who is one of the most prolific painters I have ever met.

Today was the first day of class, and I will admit to being a bit nervous. After about an hour of painting, I turned to her and said, "Kate, I am thinking too much."

She had rather refreshing advice and she didn't wait a minute to give it to me: "Just throw the paint on the canvas any which way it comes out. Don't worry about what you're doing. Just have a good time and be yourself and tell yourself, 'Fuck this painting!'"

I laughed. I've never had an art teacher (or any other teacher) say anything like that to me before. But maybe because she said that, I dove into the painting and enjoyed it so much.

Thanks to Kate, my fire for painting has been stoked up once again.

Here is the painting I did today in class:

Thank you for pushing me Sharon! 

Friday, July 10, 2015

My Psychic Car Accident and How I Have Healed

By Gina X

Thirsty. Cotton dry. Mouth open for water. It isn't the worst thing in the world to be thirsty. But it's taken me three years to write about it.

Now however it is raining day and night. What a relief! Finally I can write again, dark and light words on a blank page. Phrases are falling out of me. Sentences. Gloriously moist pages are coagulating, black on white paper. And this is what I am writing:

Why the hell did I fall off the edge of the earth in 2012? How did I land in the hellhole that is depression?

For those of you who suffer from it, sit tight, there is hope.
At least I think so tonight.  I am speaking to all of you who are locked in the dark grey dungeon that is depression.

Looking back, I feel like I was struck head on by a psychic car accident. I went through the windshield and was thrown 50 feet and survived barely. Broken bones glass blood everywhere.

OK, I want this to be straight forward and honest.

In March or April of 2012 I realized I was more depressed than I had ever been before.  I had a psychiatrist (who will not be named) and a therapist. I didn't realize it but they were both hopeless or worse, totally incompetent, at least in my case.

My sister, a nurse, says that the shrink should be shot.

Enough of this. The shrink started throwing one anti-depressant after another at me. None of them worked (he didn't really wait for any of them to take effect.) Meanwhile, the therapist didn't have a clue what she was doing or what I was dealing with.

I was on lithium for one day.  My husband said I was a zombie. It just so happened that I had a routine appointment with my gynecologist (he delivered two of my children) that day. A very kind man, he was, apparently, shocked to see me in the lithium-induced state.

After talking to him for five minutes, he told me I needed electroshock (ECT) treatment right away.

I was shocked. The shrink had never recommended that. Why not, I wondered.  I called the shrink and told him what my doctor had said.

"I agree with him," said the shrink. "I think we should go that route."

When family members talk to me about what happened next, they get angry. At me. At my husband. At the shrink.

He told me that I should check myself into a first-class hospital in Westchester County. He told me that the hospital had a fine reputation for treating depression. And doing ECT.

Against the wishes of all my family members, I had my husband (who was desperate as I was) drive me to the hospital. I was full of hope, but soon, I was filled with terror. It started when they took all of my possessions away from me. It continued as they led me to my room, shared with another woman.

What had I done? It was Friday night and I wanted out right away. But the rule was, once you were in, you were there for no less than 72 hours.

I won't bore you with the details. I have blocked most of them out.

On Monday, I called my therapist -- who is also a nurse practitioner -- and told her what was going on. She was angry when I said I wanted to leave. The hospital staff was recommending I try an older antidepressant called Nortryptoline.  But she said I would need regular blood tests and she wasn't prepared to do them.

Finally, my husband came to pick me up. I was as low as I have ever been.

When I think about the next few weeks, it's all a blur.  I will cut to the chase: I checked myself into another Albany, New York-area hospital where I remained for two weeks. There I had six ECT treatments. I remember them in great detail. Being wheeled into a hospital room. Lying down on the table. Having an IV -- the slow warm solution flowing into my arm. And then. Blam. I was out.

Six times. And I knew I had had enough. I wasn't sure that I was feeling any better but I couldn't stand the place any longer. I remember all of the morning sessions where we gathered as a group and considered how much progress we were making. I remember the nursing station where the staff was always pleasant. I remember that I couldn't go jogging, or even take a walk without a staff member (and other patients.) I remember walking in large groups for three meals a day. And having no appetite. I remember my husband visiting me every day (and it was a 45-minute drive one way!)

What I don't remember is any family members calling me. I am told now that I forgot and I believe it.

This is enough for today. But there is more to this story that I need to tell. From a perspective of being well and healing and dealing with the ups and downs of life.  My daughter shared with me an interesting phrase the other day: "Mom," she said, "sometimes you just have to sit with your shit."

And so, now I do.

But with medication, meditation, incredible therapy, daily journaling, love and gratitude, I am lifted toward Light!

Gina X is a writer living in Egremont, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Strange Coincidence As We Sell Our House!

Some people say that there is no such thing as a coincidence, implying a divine hand in what happens in the world. I am not entirely sure what I think, but I do know that I have experienced two strange coincidences in the last day.

First and foremost, our house. We've had it on the market since December, and yesterday we came to terms on a price with a buyer and signed the initial purchasing papers.  The date: July 7, 2015.

OK, so it was exactly 30 years ago to the day -- July 7, 1985 -- that my husband and I first saw the house! It was love at first sight. And the family coming (four children) couldn't be more excited about living here. As it stands now, we close October 1st, which again is the same day we closed 30 years ago.

So there you go, coincidence number one.

And just a few minutes ago, another. I was about to jump into the pond after my jog, and I noticed some bright orange flowers in the garden.  I went over to take a closer look. There were beautiful day lilies...and oddly enough there was another flower, exactly the same color, but not a lily. The leaves of the lily are long and slender, but the leaves of this other visiting flower are flat and lacy.

I am puzzled how these two flowers came to grow in exactly the same part of my garden. It's as if a painter used one color for the lilies and had some leftover orange and so decided to make them the same color.

How very very odd. Maybe God did have a hand in this. I am left wondering.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga Sizzle on Stage!

They make an amazing pair. There's the dapper Tony Bennett, his voice remarkable for age 88. And then there's the aptly-named Lady Gaga, the dazzling young diva whose stage presence is stunning.

They've teamed up to promote their new album, "Cheek to Cheek" on an international tour that started in Manhattan at Radio City Music Hall, where 6,000 fans showed up.  Last night, they performed to a sell-out crowd at Tanglewood -- it was the kind of show that backs up the highways leading into Lenox and the outdoor music hall. It was almost impossible to tiptoe through the lawn, as nearly every inch of grass was occupied by blankets, coolers, chairs and tables.

There's good reason for the crowds. As one Huffington post writer said, "The pair is a blend of sparkle and subtle; they giggle and snuggle, flirting and flitting, posing and prancing."

The curious thing was that I preferred those jazz standards that Bennett performed solo! He sang with the same richness of voice so many oldies -- among them "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and "Smile" and "I've Got the World on a String."

To be sure, the couple did a fabulous performance of "The Lady is a Tramp," and Gaga stunned everyone with her rendition of "La Vie en Rose."

Each time Gaga appeared on stage she wore a different glittery costume; some of the more risqué featured feathered boas over something scanty underneath.

The show was a feast for the eyes and the ears; supporting the duo was a fine jazz band which included a marvelous piano, guitar, saxophone and bass. Add the dizzying pink, purple and blue stage lights and you have one awesome musical and visual feast.

Yes, it took forever to get out of the parking lot. But that's OK, because it's not often we get the chance to experience a show that sizzles like this one!