Let the Medicare Cuts Kill Me. But Answer a Question First.

I’ve had a severe disability my entire life. I’d never walked. I have spent all of my 61+ years in a wheelchair. I was able to go to college and to work full-time as a computer programmer for 2 years after college but as my disability worsened I could no longer work full-time. I began collecting Social Security disability because I had accumulated sufficient time paying into Social Security that I became eligible. I’ve been fortunate enough to live with my parents my entire life. My mother passed away a little over eight years ago and although my dad is in his 80s he’s in pretty good shape. Still he needs help to be my caregiver. I qualified for Medicaid and as a result of that I’m able to get a home health aide 2 hours per day to help get me bathed, dressed, and in my wheelchair. About a year ago my disability worsened to the point where I could no longer eat and now I’m dependent upon a G-tube for nutrition. Last December after severe respiratory issues I had to have a trach. I use a ventilator at night. Throughout the day I occasionally need my trach suctioned. About a year ago Medicare/Medicaid paid for a new motorized wheelchair. It was my first new wheelchair in over 28 years.

Is no exaggeration whatsoever to say that if it were not for Medicare and Medicaid I would be dead. There is no way that I or my family could afford my medical expenses. If I was not fortunate enough to have my father who could care for me most of the time, I would be depended on Medicaid to pay for a nursing home.

Both the House and Senate versions of the repeal and replace Obama care plans call for significant cuts in Medicaid. Because I was Medicaid eligible prior to the Obama care expansion, I’m hopeful that I will still be eligible and have sufficient funding to keep me alive even if these current proposals pass and become law. But there are no guarantees on that. Nobody really knows what these proposals will ultimately due to the Medicaid system. The Congress itself has no idea what the real consequences will be. Let’s set aside for the moment how obviously irresponsible that situation is.

Let’s suppose for a moment that our country is in such dire circumstances that the continued existence of our democracy depended on cutting Medicaid to the point where it might cost me and other people like me our very lives. Because my lifelong disability, I’ve not had the opportunity to serve my country in a military capacity. The willingness to give one’s life for one’s country is one of the noblest sacrifices a human being can make. So let us suppose hypothetically that the sacrifice of my life and the lives of others like me will save this great nation from financial collapse or some other horrid disaster.

Of course I do in the slightest way believe that our country is in such dire circumstance such that the sacrifice of my life is necessary. But just for the sake of argument let’s say that it is that situation. Under that circumstance I would do the patriotic thing. I would offer my life to save this great nation of ours.

So I say to Congress… Go ahead and kill me. Take my life for the good of the nation. Let me serve my nation honorably as if I had given my life on a battlefield. I’ll take that. It will be noble. My life will not be in vain.

But before I make that sacrifice answer one question for me.

Why do all of these plans include massive tax cuts for rich people? How will these tax cuts save our country? Are they sufficiently necessary that I need sacrifice my life in order to to justify these cuts?

Okay hyperbole aside… Answer this even simpler question… How will tax cuts for the rich improve healthcare for anyone? How will these tax cuts fix what’s wrong with Obama care?

So I say to every member of Congress… Until and unless you can give me a reasonable justification for the tax cuts and explain in any kind of logical fashion why they are a necessary part of this plan that will benefit anyone except those who are receiving the cuts themselves… How dare you ask me to sacrifice my life for your ludicrous plans?

Meryl Streep Agrees with Me

In a previous post, I criticized Democrats for giving a free pass to Representative John Lewis for saying that Donald Trump was not a legitimate president. As a bit of a joking aside, I also said one should not be afraid to say that Meryl Streep is overrated.

Apparently she agrees with me on that part. In the video below she continues her criticism of Trump and his administration but admits that she is overrated, over decorated, and goes on to say she is over persecuted. I agree with all three.

Democrats Need to Admit that Congressman Lewis Went Too Far

Anyone who’s followed me on Facebook for more than five minutes knows how liberal I am and how much I dislike Donald Trump. So nothing that I’m about to say should in any way be construed to be in support of Republicans, conservatives, or Donald Trump.

What I dislike most in politics or anywhere in life is hypocrisy. With conservatives being allegedly pro-life but in favor of the death penalty, claiming to be Christian yet having a little regard for the poor, and dozens of other hypocritical stances I come down especially hard on the conservatives.

But recently my own side has really ticked me off with a huge lump of hypocrisy regarding Congressman John Lewis. In a recent interview with Chuck Todd, Lewis says that he doesn’t believe Trump is a “legitimate” president. This naturally drew a number of angry tweets from Trump which challenged Lewis to stop wasting his time and get to work on fixing the numerous problems and his own congressional district including poverty, crime, and a host of other stereotypical urban issues. He followed up by accusing Lewis of being “all talk”.

The liberal media, which I usually adore, pounced on Trump for daring to criticize Lewis who is described as a civil rights icon. The piles of hypocrisy upon hypocrisy on both sides are so huge I can’t believe it.

First of all let’s set our “Way-Back Machine” for a few months ago when Donald Trump hinted that he might not accept the results of the election. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, people of all kinds were quick to condemn him for daring to suggest that one might disrespect the voice of the people. I was among those who said it was his most un-American statement to date. I don’t take that back and I don’t think anyone else should. Absent any 100% clear fraud or corruption that would invalidate an election, one has to respect the outcome of our democratic process.

Yet Lewis is doing exactly what Trump said he might do. He is saying that the outcome of the election was illegitimate. While Lewis believes that the activities of the Russians, the FBI, and who knows whom else rises to the level that justifies his claiming that Trump is illegitimate as president, the facts at this point simply do not support that. While I abhor the fact that the Russians tried to meddle in our political process and I think some of the actions of the FBI need some extra scrutiny, Hillary didn’t lose the election because these outside influences cost her votes. She got the number of votes she was expected to get. Trump won because he got more rural white votes than anyone anticipated. Unless we can somehow prove that Russia drummed up close extra votes in Wisconsin and a couple of other states, Russia really did not change the outcome of the election.

So in my opinion, Congressman Lewis is guilty of doing what Trump only hinted that he might do in disrespecting the outcome of the election. I know it sounds a little bit childish but in a dispute between Trump and Lewis, the defense of “He started it” directed towards Lewis is legitimate. Did you really expect Trump not to fire back at such a public and in some ways invalid attack on him?

Yet the media is jumping all over Trump for daring to attack a “civil rights icon”. It’s as if all of the good things that Congressman Lewis had ever done somehow earned him a free pass to throw invalid criticism at a duly elected president. Trump’s accusation that Lewis is all talk and no action can easily be construed to be disrespectful to Lewis’s lifetime of work in civil rights and his great personal sacrifice in Selma. However in context Trump’s criticism has an implied “okay so you’re a great man but what have you done lately”. The truth is I don’t know. I would rather see the media specifically disputing Trump’s accusation that Lewis is ignoring the needs of his constituents. But all we are getting is an indignant “How dare you criticize such a great man?”

Taken to extremes we would say “Who cares if Bill Cosby drugged and raped women? Look at all the good he has done?” Or “Who cares if Mel Gibson is a racist anti-Semite? I laughed my ass off in all of the Lethal Weapon movies?” While expressing one misguided opinion doesn’t invalidate Lewis’s lifetime of good work, neither does his lifetime of good work give him a free pass to make over the top statements and not be called out for them.

The approach of the Democrats towards Lewis statements are to sort of solemnly say things like “well that’s the way he feels” and they stop short of applying the “illegitimate” label as did Lewis. For example this morning Bernie Sanders was on the ABC “This Week” Sunday morning show and repeatedly declined to take the bait from George Stephanopoulos who tried to get him to agree with Lewis. Sanders also went on to say that he would attend the inauguration. But at no time did Sanders criticize Lewis in the way that Trump was criticized when he hinted that he might not accept the outcome.

While I really don’t expect the Democrats to criticize their own as rigorously as they would criticize Trump, I’m very disappointed that no one is that the courage on the Democrat liberal side to say that Lewis’s comments are a step too far. I happen to feel the same way about anyone who says “Trump is not my president”. He is your president whether you like it or not. And to say that he isn’t is to do the exact same thing that we criticized Trump for back in the debates when he said he might not accept the outcome.

The liberal media in its criticism of Trump’s handling of Lewis’s comments tries to point out the hypocrisy of Trump because he spent so much of his own energy supporting the birther movement which tried to delegitimize Obama. So basically the media is saying to Trump “Why are you criticizing Lewis for doing what you already did yourself?” Yet they are ignoring the fact that both Lewis’s illegitimate comments and Trump’s birtherizum were both false ideas to begin with. Saying that “You have no right to criticize our guy for being wrong because you were wrong too” is not a legitimate defense of Lewis.

While we’re on the topic of such things let’s talk about boycotting the inauguration. I’ve got no problem with people not wanting to attend. I’ve got no problem with people not wanting to perform at celebrations. If you don’t want to be associated with Trump that’s fine. I would not go if I had a free ticket and it was across the street. But I will be watching it on TV and while you’re free to watch or not watch, I think you should watch. I think we should all be watching. I think we dare not blink for a nano second during the Trump administration. Like the famous Weeping Angels from the Doctor Who TV series, you have to keep your eyes open because the minute you blink you are dead. If you really fear Trump then you need to be vigilant.

As much as I watch liberal media… MSNBC, the Daily Kos, MoveOn.org etc. I understand that they are liberal media and I don’t trust them to be anymore “fair and balanced” than I do Fox or Breitbart. That’s why I need to see the inauguration. I need to hear Trump’s inaugural speech. I need to get as many unfiltered news sources as I can. If our entire democracy is at risk at the hands of Trump and his people, I want to see it with my own eyes so that I can speak more clearly about what’s going on.

I don’t blame Trump for lashing back at Congressman Lewis. I don’t blame him for lashing back at Meryl Streep. I don’t blame him for lashing back at anyone who criticizes him. But the way to fight Trump not to simply say “How dare you attack an icon?” Criticize him on the merits or lack of merits of his arguments.

By the way I hate to say it, but my definition of the word “overrated” is someone who has received more adulation and praise than they actually deserve. While Meryl Streep is a great actress and deserving of much of what she had earned, let’s be serious people… Is she really THAT great? Can anybody be THAT great? You can be really, really good and still be overrated. People make jokes about how she always wins everything and nobody stands a chance against her at awards time. Aren’t those jokes a backhanded way of saying that perhaps, just perhaps, it’s somebody else’s turn to win once in a while? Doesn’t that hint that she’s overrated?

If the liberals and Democrats want to maintain the moral high ground, they have to feel free to say that Congressman Lewis, while entitled to his opinion, may have gone a step too far. And they have to feel free to say that maybe Meryl Streep has gotten a few too many nominations and awards. There are much better ways to attack Trump than to blindly defend one’s own icons against Trump’s legitimate criticisms of them. And if those criticisms are not legitimate then you need to be more specific than just to say “stop attacking our icons”.

Protest Trump but Don’t Say Not My President

Last night we watched spontaneous protests in cities coast-to-coast protesting the Trump victory. While I share in their sadness because I not only liked Clinton but thought that Trump was totally unsuited for the job, the one thing that disturbed me about the protest was the signs that said “Not My President”.

He is your president.

If this had been, as Trump predicted, a rigged election then you might’ve had a point. There was no evidence to support his claims that it was rigged before the election and there is no evidence of it the day after that it was rigged.

When you say “Not My President” you are engaging in reverse birtherizim. You’re trying to delegitimize the legal and proper election of the president of the United States under false pretense. You’re stooping to the fear mongering that you are allegedly protesting against. When Trump said that he would potentially not accept the results of election in which he lost, the center and the left and even some of the right said that that was one of the most un-American things that he said among all of the dozens of horrible things that he said. It was pointed out that acceptance of the results of an election is among our most fundamental principles and Trump’s initial lack of pledge to do so was among his worst sins.

He is your president.

The worst part of that realization is that in many ways it is your fault as well.

Where were the crowds marching in the street when he called Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers?

Where were the crowds marching in the street when he denigrated not only John McCain but every other American POW?

Where were the crowds marching in the street when he praised communist dictators?

Where were the crowds marching in the street when he suggested unconstitutional religious restrictions?

Where were the crowds marching in the street when he mocked disabled people?

Where were the crowds marching in the street when he denigrated women on so many occasions that I can’t count?

Where were the crowds marching in the street when he threatened to lock up his political opponents and failed to quiet the crowds who screamed murderous things about his opponents?

Where were the crowds marching in the street when he advocated sexual assault against women and then denied that it was a big deal that he had done so?

Where were the crowds marching in the street when he said he would not necessarily accept the outcome of a legitimate election?

Marching in the streets founded this country.

Marching in the streets brought about the civil rights movement.

Marching in the streets hastened the end of the war in Vietnam.

Marching in the streets works. So why didn’t you use it when there was a chance for it to do some good? There were handfuls of protesters at various Trump events and some of them braved physical assault and my hats off to them. But don’t stand in the street now and say “Not My President”. He is your president and it is your fault and my fault and the fault of the 49.5% of the American people who didn’t even bother to fucking cast a ballot.

I thought I had done as much as I could. I stood up to the hate speech on Facebook. I posted antitrust messages. I stood up for Clinton and the falsehoods leveled against her. I stood up for women’s rights as best I could. I donated to the Clinton campaign. Had I been able to, I would’ve gone to a Trump rally wearing a sign pasted on my wheelchair daring Trump to make fun of me. Maybe I should’ve written this blog sooner. Apparently I didn’t do enough.

Did you do enough?

Donald Trump Superstar?

It’s Holy Week and as always I break out my copy of Jesus Christ Superstar and watch it as my way of getting me in the Holy Week mood. However watching it today I saw some hilarious parallels between the feud between the Jewish priesthood and Jesus as compared to the Republican Establishment and Donald Trump today. Now far be it from me to even remotely suggest that Donald Trump is some sort of Messiah. I won’t even give him the privilege of being called a false Messiah. But the parallels I noticed really really cracked me up.

The scenes where the chief priests Caiaphas and Annas are plotting to take down Jesus made me think of what the Republican hierarchy might be doing right now in an attempt to stop Donald Trump. I imagine Mitt Romney would play the part of Caiaphas and I don’t know perhaps Newt Gingrich in the role of the weaselly little Annas. Here is a link to a YouTube video that just plays the song and shows the lyrics of the song “Then We Are Decided”. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it was not in the original album but was added for the film and probably appeared in most stage productions. I’m not sure maybe it went to the stage first. The refrain from the song goes “he’s a craze”. In fact I thought that was the title of the song and it wasn’t until I just looked it up.

Here is a link to the scene from the movie. This is no doubt an illegal upload of the scene from the actual movie so I can’t guarantee how long the link will be active.

After plotting behind-the-scenes among themselves, Caiaphas and Annas call together the entire counsel to convince them of their plot in a song titled “This Jesus Must Die”. Here is a video with the lyrics. I could picture the same scene going on among a larger group of old-school members of the Republican Party trying to decide what to do about it Trump.

Again here is a link to the scene from the actual film no doubt illegally uploaded.

Now the priests (oops I mean the Republican leadership) just needs to find a Judas who will sell out Tramp. My guess it would cost way more than 30 pieces of silver 🙂

Just read the lyrics and tell me it doesn’t make you think of the Republicans vs. Donald Trump. Prepare yourself for a good laugh.

We Are Obsessing over the Wrong Election

TED Talks make you think. I’ve recently become obsessed with TED Talks. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out ted.com. Better yet check out their YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/ted

TED is a nonprofit organization that promotes sharing of ideas. Originally it focused on Technology, Entertainment, and Design which is what the letters TED denote. However TED conferences today cover a wide variety of topics including science, business, and global politics. They host conferences all over the world that consist of presentations no more than 18 minutes long by experts in every field you can imagine. I could go on all day about the interesting things I’ve learned but TED is about sharing ideas and I’ve got some to share.

I recently found a TED presentation that called me to task about my own political activism. It was by a woman named Alessandra Orofino from Brazil. Her presentation was to “It’s our city. Let’s fix it”. You can click on that title see it. It only runs about 15 minutes.

In the beginning of her talk, she cites statistics such as the fact that most of what we consider global problems are actually concentrated in cities. Our cities have the greatest poverty, contribute the most to global warming, they are where the crimes occur. If you want to fix the world you need to start by fixing the cities and you need to start with your own city. She goes on to point out that municipal elections have the absolute worst turnout rate of any kind of election. In Brazil it is mandatory that you vote in their elections. Yet 30% of the people either voted and then invalidated their ballot or they stayed home altogether and decided to pay the fine for failure to vote. I don’t have any statistics about Indianapolis but I know it’s been decades since I bothered to vote in a municipal election. Indianapolis city elections are on the third year of the four year cycle. That’s this year.

This prompted me to realize that we are obsessing over the wrong election. We are totally obsessed with the presidential election because we are totally obsessed with the presidency. We call the President of the United States “The Leader of the Free World” and “The most powerful man in the country”. That’s because the United States is a leader among nations and our president is the leader of our entire country.

But what about me?

What about the job of President of the United States directly affects me on a daily basis? Will my life change one iota depending on whether or not my next president did or did not have a private email server in her previous job? I’m never going to have an abortion and although I oppose abortion for a variety of reasons most of which are not religious, the legality of abortion doesn’t affect me directly and apart from appointing Supreme Court justices, the president has no impact on that hot button topic either. These past few years have shown us that when the president and Congress are divided, nothing gets done.

But what about the mayor or the City Council or the school board? Depending on how the mayor does his job, I either do or do not have sufficient police to make my day-to-day life safe. I either do or do not get my street plowed in the winter. I either do or do not have to buy new tires for my car because the potholes don’t get fixed. If I had children, I either would or would not get a quality education for my kids depending upon the school board. My nephew had to pay hundreds of dollars to rent an iPad because the school requires it but doesn’t provide. This is despite the fact that the Constitution of the State of Indiana requires them to provide a “free and appropriate public school education” to all children. I believe it’s just as unfair to charge a $30 book rental fee as it is to charge $100 iPad rental. But what can I do about it? The city government is going to decide whether or not to tear down my house or my favorite store or restaurant for some other purpose.

Our local city government probably affects our personal lives hundreds of times more than anything that the president does on a regular basis. But I know nothing about city government and I consider myself a reasonably knowledgeable political junkie. I don’t know if the mayor is up for election this year. I don’t know who is running against him if he is. I’ve been a diehard, bleeding heart, liberal Democrat for my entire and I don’t know if our mayor is a Democrat or Republican and I don’t know if our City Council is majority Democrat or Republican.

Recently there was a proposal before the City Council to spend millions of dollars on a new Justice Center. It would house municipal jails and court rooms. It’s construction would create hundreds of jobs and continued operation would likely create jobs as well. It would renovate an abandoned factory that is a blight to its neighborhood. Yet there were serious questions about the cost and scope of the project. After going back and forth between the Council and its committees several times, the project failed to get enough support to pass.

While I don’t want my mayor or City Council spending that kind of money without doing due diligence, especially in light of that one police command center that they recently had to abandon because the building was unsafe… Even if this project was a boondoggle, I can’t believe that it was proposed on someone’s whim. Some reasonably intelligent and thoughtful people developed, refined, presented, and promoted that project because they saw some kind of need. So maybe it was a bad idea or too expensive or whatever multitude of reasons councilmembers had for rejecting it. But where does that leave us now? What unmet need that this new Justice Center was supposed to meet is not going to be met? I don’t know. No one is saying.

Will our municipal courts be bogged down? Will our jails overflow resulting in inhumane treatment of prisoners some of whom might actually be innocent? Will that overcrowding resulted in the early release of people who should not be released? Everyone talks about the project itself but not the needs. I watch the local news early evening and late night and sometimes at noon every day and I feel totally ill-equipped to voice an opinion on that particular situation.

Our city is suffering right now from a rash of gun violence. An innocent bystander, a mother of five, was caught in the crossfire of a shootout at a filling station at 38th and Lafayette Road. That is so close to me that I actually heard the gunshots through my bedroom window that night. I heard the shots that killed that woman. Another young man was run over by a car while trying to escape the gunfire. That incident was at 2:30 AM. This week there was another shooting right across the street from where my dad buys our pizza. It happened 4:30 PM very close to the time when he might’ve been picking up a pizza.

But I know jack shit about my mayor, my City Council, or any other municipal government issues. We are all obsessed with the wrong elections. It is a sin that I know more about Donald Trump than I do Greg Ballard. I just had to Google “Mayor of Indianapolis” because I couldn’t remember Ballard’s first name. And I like politics.

I’m ashamed of myself and my guess is you should be too.

Not just racist: Literally Un-American

There’s lots of online and media debate about whether or not the Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred and/or racism. One very eloquent article which you can read here gives a brilliant and thoughtful argument for why the simple should not be used today. The author of that article talks about the fact that the meaning of symbols changes over time. An example he gives is that the swastika was originally used by some Eastern cultures and even Christian communities as innocuous symbol before was adopted by the Nazi Party and the SS. He goes on to say that the way that the Confederate flag has been used in later years makes a symbol of hate and racism.

The evolvability of meaning of words and symbols is something that is always interested me especially when it comes to terms describing disabilities. If my perspective that when it comes to disability terminology we never will come up with a permanently inoffensive set of terminology. At one time the words idiot, imbecile, and moron were the technically correct medical terms to describe people with varying degrees of mental retardation. But because people used them in pejorative ways, the terms became insults and lost their original innocuous meaning. When I was young the politically correct terms were mildly, moderately, and severely mentally retarded. Today you can’t say “retarded” especially its shortened form “retard” because it has been co-opted as an insult. Whatever term we come up with, someone’s going to find a way to use it as a pejorative and we will have to invent yet a new word that eventually will become so innocuous that it will lack meaning whatsoever.

Sorry for getting off-topic… We were talking about a particular flag. In the article I linked above, the author unknowingly illustrates a point that I’ve been wanting to make about the flag for several days. I just now got around to putting my thoughts in writing. The author of the article doesn’t call that flag what I as a Northerner have always called it. To me it was “The Confederate Flag”. I was taught it was the flag of the Confederate States of America which seceded from the United States of America. He however does it “The Rebel Flag” and unknowingly damaged his own argument that the meaning of the symbol has evolved from an innocuous one into an egregious one.

Let’s say for the sake of this discussion were going to set aside the idea that this is a racist or hate filled symbol and look at its original unadulterated meaning. It was the flag of a group of states which consciously decided that they did not want to be part of the United States of America. That makes it quite literally un-American. It was a group of people which with geographic pride decided that they no longer wanted to be part of this country. In a strange way I’ve never understood geographically based Civil War. If a bunch of states up and decide they don’t want to be part of this country. My attitude is “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.” I would’ve applied this to the American “War between the States” the southern term as well as to Vietnam, Korea and any other geographically based Civil War.

The people of the Confederate flag or as they called it the Rebel flag made the conscious decision that they did not want to be part of this country. They did not want to uphold its laws. They did not want to be guided by its founding principles. They wanted to go off and do something different from being Americans. Okay technically the entire northern and southern continents of the Western Hemisphere of this planet are in some ways American. There is South America. Mexico and Canada are North American countries as well. But when I say they do not want to be Americans I’m saying they do not want to be part of The United States Of America which was founded on July 4, 1776 and continues to this day.

While rebellion and political discourse and disagreement are an integral part of our society North, South, East and, West… The Confederate Rebel Flag isn’t about political discourse. It’s about separatism. It’s about us versus them. It’s about “we don’t want to be like you anymore so much that we want to go off and do our own thing and live by different founding principles then you live by.”

The state of Louisiana and much of the midsection of this country originally belonged to France. We bought it from them in the Louisiana Purchase and sent Lewis and Clark out to see what we got for our money. New Orleans as a French quarter. The Creole language is somewhat French. Baton Rouge is French for “red stick”. I have no problem with people in Louisiana celebrating their French heritage. They used to be French. Then they want anymore. They became Americans. American in the sense that they were part of the United States of America. If they want to fly a French flag as part of their historical heritage I would have no problem with that. I don’t know that they do but it wouldn’t bother me.

The state of Texas and much of the Southwest portion of this country used to be Mexico. The cities, towns, rivers have Mexican names. There were Mexicans this side of the Rio Grande before it was a border. People in the Southwest US have wanted to fly Mexican flags as part of their historical heritage and similarly I have no problem whatsoever with that even though it has generated controversy in some quarters.

But when you fly the Confederate Rebel flag with pride, even if you have no racism and no hatred in your heart, you are being un-American. Taking pride in a time of your cultural and geographic history when your ancestors will file decided they didn’t want to be part of the United States Of America.

That flag is a symbol of divisiveness. It is a symbol against the Constitution and the founding principles of the United States of America. It has ALWAYS been such a symbol. It did not just get co-opted by racist or hate groups. It has always been and always will be un-American. And if you don’t want to be part of America, you know how I feel… Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

United (?) States of America

I watched last night’s presidential debate between Romney and Obama and I was most interested in the questions regarding the role of government. I would like to see much more detailed discussion on that particular area even though overall I thought the debate had more content than any presidential debate I never seen.

What is of particular interest to me is that Romney and the Republicans and even their American Idol Ronald Reagan and always wanted to pass things from the federal government down to the states. You may recall during the Reagan years they invented something called block grants where they would take federal money, give it to the states, and let the states develop their programs on their own. While even Obama has turned over some responsibilities to the states he seems to take an approach where the government comes up with what it believes is the best plan and administers it for the states but then if the states can come up with a concrete proposal that will achieve the same goals then he gives them the flexibility to opt out and do that. Philosophically that’s much different than just dumping the problem in the lap of the states.

A specific example is that Romney says that under his Romney Care that pre-existing conditions would be covered. That’s not exactly accurate. Obama pointed out that under Romney’s proposals people who were insured would have to be given the option to keep their insurance but those people who are currently uninsured because of pre-existing conditions would not be covered under Romney Care. Today one day after the debate one of Romney’s own aides admitted under questioning from reporters that people who are currently uncovered because of pre-existing conditions would have to rely on their own individual state to pass a mandate that carriers had to cover pre-existing conditions. You know… Like Massachusetts death under Romney.

This and many other issues where the Republicans tout the idea of “let the states do it” have always been troublesome for me. That’s because I thought I lived in the United States of America. I shouldn’t have to worry about which state that I happen to reside in order to get the government services that I need. Why should people in rich states with good tax bases have great programs while those in poor states who cannot afford to meet all of the needs of their population have to suffer? Why do I need to move from state to state just to find someplace that has the kind of programs that all Americans deserve.

A prime example of this idea that local control isn’t always the best thing is what happened as I was growing up and needing to go to school. I was fortunate enough to live in Indianapolis where they had an excellent special education school called James E Roberts School IPS #97. It had been built in the mid-1930s to deal with all the physically handicapped kids who were appearing because of the polio epidemic. So living inside the IPS district, I was eligible to go to what at the time was a model of phenomenal special education programs. Unfortunately my cousin Nancy who was also handicapped lived in Lawrence Township just outside the IPS limits. In those days there was no special education anywhere in Indiana except for Indianapolis and Gary. Anyone else outside those areas had to have homebound tutors were provided by the district and/or the state. But they did not have the opportunity to go to school with other kids or to receive any of the social interaction benefits of going to school.

So when Nancy was school-age, my aunt and uncle had to sell their house and move into IPS district so that my cousin could go to school. Yet there were those in the legislature and in the general public who screamed loudly and often that they did not want any state regulation of local school districts. They would say things like “We know what’s best for our kids in our district and we don’t want the state or God forbid the federal government telling us what to do here in our little school district.” So my aunt and uncle and cousin packed everything up and moved out of their little school district that thought it knew what was best for kids and moved into IPS just so that Nancy could get a decent education.

Throughout the 1960s my mother participated in an organization known as COVOH (Council Of Volunteers and Organizations for the Handicapped). This was a grassroots coalition of groups representing a wide variety of disabilities who came together to lobby the state legislature to mandate special-education programs throughout the entire State of Indiana. Rather than individual disability organizations each working on their own to get special programs for their own people, they grouped together in this coalition and their combined voices convinced the legislature that we needed special-education throughout the state. It always seemed strange to me that we had to pass a special law to get this accomplished because the Constitution of the State of Indiana already mandated that all children in the state be provided a “free and appropriate public school education”. One can hardly argue that a homebound teacher that isolates an already isolated child was an appropriate way to provide them with an education.

Finally in 1968 Indiana passed “The Mandatory Special Education Act” which mandated that every school district throughout the state provide special-education programs for their students regardless of disability. It allowed for smaller school districts to combine with their neighbors to have co-ops of special ed if they cannot manage to have a special ed program of their own. Because these other school districts were starting from scratch they used a different model of special education than the one that was used at good old Roberts school. In the mid-1930s when Roberts was built, the idea of lumping people altogether for a special purpose apart from the mainstream was considered normal. Of course I’m talking about forcing black children to go to their own schools apart from whites. But then in the 1950s was the Supreme Court case Brown vs. the Board Of Education which clearly stated that “separate but equal” was unachievable. It’s ironic that Robert school was the most racially integrated school in the entire district but it was the most segregated when it came to disable versus able-bodied. Anyone who had even the slightest thing wrong with them such as asthma or a mild heart condition was shipped off to the special school so that the local school didn’t have to deal with it. It wasn’t just people like me and Nancy who were in wheelchairs or who had obvious and significant physical difficulties. But in the 1960s when you’re starting from scratch to build special ed you understand that separate is not equal and so the vast majority of the special ed programs developed throughout the states used some form of what was called mainstreaming.

This meant that even if you had to ride the short bus (to use the cliché) to the special school for special education the special ed program was provided in the same building as a regular school. That way those kids who did not need a lot of special attention could attend regular classes with the able-bodied kids. And only the most severely disabled children who perhaps had multiple handicaps including physical and mental handicaps combined would have to remain in a special ed room with the resources necessary to meet their needs. Even if they were isolated in such a room, there was still the opportunity for interaction with the general population of students. They were still part of the community yet their needs were being met. The idea of shipping them off to one school that was handicapped only just didn’t meet the new standard of “separate can’t be equal”. So while Robert school was a pioneer in the early days, once the mandatory act had passed, Roberts was dragging behind.

When I got to high school, only those students who absolutely needed an accessible facility and some resources to help them, continued to attend Roberts. Anyone else who could possibly go to regular school did so. But that meant the entire high school (all four years worth) consisted of about 30 students. There were only two teachers in the high school. They had to teach an entire high school curriculum between the two of them. In order to do so, our six-hour days were divided into twelve, 30 minute periods. Class would consist of three or four students sitting around a table at the front of the room with the teacher while the rest of us sat around the perimeter of the room with our desks facing the wall as we attempted to study while there was a class going on in the same room. I suffered through that my freshman year but in my sophomore year all of my classes ended up being in the morning. I had no classes scheduled after lunch so that meant I would be in class all morning, then lunch, and then sit and do nothing for three hours every day. Meanwhile out in the Township schools as the mandatory act was being implemented, disabled kids were going to regular high schools and attending classes with their able-bodied friends. Roberts was a clear example that separate was not equal.

So my mother arranged for me to be able to attend my local neighborhood high school Northwest High School for half of the day and to attend Robert school the other half. In those days Northwest did not have an elevator and there were certain classes that I would not be able to take on the second floor. While it might have been easy enough to move a history class or in English class from upstairs to downstairs, some programs such as the science labs could not be moved. There really was no way I could attend Northwest full-time. So the wheelchair bus would pick me up in the morning, take me to Roberts for a few classes, mom would then drive me 7 miles from Roberts to Northwest in the middle of the day, and then the bus would bring me from Northwest home the end of the day.

My cousin Nancy had a different solution. She lived very near the border between Manual High School which was IPS and Perry Meridian High School which was Perry Township. Perry Township special ed was integrated into their regular high school program and so they arranged to have the Perry bus pick her up and take her across the school boundary line to attend regular high school at Perry rather than Roberts. Had she not been able to work out that situation, my aunt and uncle would have again possibly faced having to pick up their roots and move to yet another district just so that Nancy could get a quality education.

We were lucky to have Robert school when most of the state and most of the country didn’t have such a facility. We were lucky to have the mandatory special education act that allowed Indiana kids to receive a quality special-education alongside their able-bodied classmates. It wasn’t until a few years later that the federal government finally caught up to us and passed Public Law 94-142 which was a federal version of the Mandatory Special Education Act. That way people in other states that have the same benefits that we had here in Indianapolis and Indiana.

Inequities still exists between school districts mostly because of the funding mechanism. Here in Indiana schools are mostly paid for by property taxes. So the Township districts which have broad tax bases have more money to spend while the inner cities schools that have poor tax bases suffer for lack of funds and facilities. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at the Republican National Convention and said that the quality of one’s education should not depend upon where they are living. I only wish that the rest of her Republican counterparts felt that strongly. Education is one of the primary issues which Romney says should be handled almost exclusively at the state and local level and that the federal government should have minimal if any role in education. I wonder how long it would have taken every state in the union to pass a mandatory special education act if the federal government had not passed 94-142 when it did.

So you can imagine that every time I hear things like “let the states take care of it” or “the states know best”, I have to wonder how many people end up moving from state to state just so that they can get the programs that they need to survive and to participate fully in society. Whether it’s quality healthcare, the right to marry whom you wish to marry, or a whole variety of issues, the real question that were being asked in this election is this…

Do we live in the United States of America or are we just a loose confederation of states?

If it’s the latter then you have to hope that your state or local government is as sympathetic to the needs of its constituents as is the nation as a whole. I hope that I live in the UNITED States of American where good ideas can be applied to everyone in the country.

This nation had a choice in the 1860s between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. The United States won. I just hope Mr. Romney and Republicans keep that in mind when they want to disassemble our federal government and dump everything on the states. And I will be remembering it when I vote this November.

SNL Outdid Itself with Obama Related Skits This Week

All the speculation about Maya Rudolph’s return as host of Saturday Night Live this week was focused on whether or not they would dare to do a Whitney Houston sketch since she was known for her spot on impersonation of the late one time popstar turned drug addict. Fortunately she did not. However in one of the best skits in a long time on SNL, Rudolph played first lady Michelle Obama with Fred Arminsen doing the president. But in a twist they didn’t play the Obamas themselves but played the Obamas impersonating Bill Cosby’s characters from the old Cosby Show… Cliff and Claire Huxtable.

In another excellent skit, a group of African-American political pundits sit around speculating what it would take to get them to not vote for Barack Obama. This one is well worth watching also…