July 11th, 2008

alexander calder

Health care -

I think we all were thrilled when Ted Kennedy strode into the senate this week to cast his deciding vote for Medicare.

This guy is GREAT!!

Kennedy’s Big Day

Published: July 11, 2008

It was the worst of days, it was the best of days. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats capitulated to the Bush administration on wiretapping — with Barack Obama joining the coalition of the craven.

Later that day, however, those same Senate Democrats won a huge victory on Medicare.huge victory on Medicare.

News reports stressed the cinematic quality of the event: Ted Kennedy, who is fighting a brain tumor, made a dramatic appearance on the Senate floor, casting the decisive vote amid cheers from his colleagues. (Only one senator was absent: John McCain.)

But the vote was bigger than the theatrics. It was the first major health care victory that Democrats have won in a long time. And it was enormously encouraging for advocates of universal health care.

Ostensibly, Wednesday’s vote was about restoring cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. What it was really about, however, was the fight against creeping privatization. Democrats finally took a stand — and, thanks to Senator Kennedy, seem to have prevailed.

The story really begins in 2003, when the Bush administration rammed the Medicare Modernization Act through Congress, literally in the dead of night. That bill established large de facto subsidies for Medicare Advantage plans — plans in which Medicare funds are funneled through private insurance companies, rather than directly paying for care.

Since then, enrollment in these plans has been growing rapidly. This has had a destructive effect on Medicare’s finances: the fastest-growing type of Medicare Advantage plan, private fee-for-service, costs taxpayers 17 percent more per beneficiary than Medicare without the middleman. It also threatens to undermine Medicare’s universality, turning it into a system in which insurance companies cherry-pick healthier and more affluent older Americans, leaving the sicker and poorer behind.

What does this have to do with cuts in doctors’ fees? Well, legislation passed a decade ago makes such cuts automatic whenever the growth in Medicare spending exceeds an unrealistically low target. This year, the automatic cuts would have reduced doctors’ payments by more than 10 percent, a pay reduction so deep that many physicians would probably have stopped taking Medicare patients.

In previous years, payments to doctors were maintained through bipartisan fudging: politicians from both parties got together to waive the rules. In effect, Congress kept Medicare functioning by expanding the federal budget deficit.

This year, the Democratic leadership decided, instead, to link the “doctor fix” to the fight against privatization and offered a bill that maintains doctors’ payments while reining in those expensive private fee-for-service plans. Last month, the Senate took up this bill — but Democrats failed by one vote to override a Republican filibuster. And that seemed to be that: soon after that vote, Senators Max Baucus and Charles Grassley had another bipartisan fudge all ready to go.

But then Democratic leaders decided to play brinkmanship. They let the doctors’ cuts stand for the Fourth of July holiday, daring Republicans to threaten the basic medical care of millions of Americans rather than give up subsidies to insurance companies. Over the recess period, there was an intense lobbying war between insurance companies and doctors.

And when the Senate came back in session, it turned out that the doctors — and the Democrats — had won: Senator Kennedy was there to cast the extra vote needed to break the filibuster, a number of Republicans switched sides and the bill passed with a veto-proof majority.

If the Democrats can win victories like this now, they should be able to put a definitive end to the privatization of Medicare next year, when they’re virtually certain to have a larger Congressional majority and will probably hold the White House.

More than that, however, advocates of universal health care, like Health Care for America Now, the new group headlined by Elizabeth Edwards, have to be very encouraged by this week’s events.

Here’s how it will play out, if all goes well: early next year, President Obama will send his health care plan to Congress. The plan will face vociferous opposition from the insurance industry — but the Medicare vote suggests that this time, unlike in 1993, Democrats will hold together.

Unless Democrats win even bigger than expected, however, they won’t have the 60 Senate votes needed to override a filibuster. What the Medicare fight shows is that the Democrats could nonetheless prevail by taking their case to the public, daring their opponents to stand in the way of health care security — so that in the end they get some Republicans to switch sides, and get the legislation through.

A lot can still go wrong with this vision. But the odds of achieving universal health care, soon, look a lot higher than they did just a couple of weeks ago.

alan's flowers

My car is maintained -

I took my car in for its regular maintenance today, and I feel so good when I do that.   I love my car and my intention is that we are together for the rest of our lifetimes, so we are both happy that he/she is all checked out and purring with fresh oil.

It takes about four hours, so I dropped my friend car off and walked across the street for breakfast, and then, looked around to decide which way to go.  Last time I walked to Ring Mountain.  Today, I decided to cross the freeway, an intriguing experience in itself as one goes one way and then another and up a curved ramp and then down, and then, I headed to the library which is closed on Friday but has the most delightful outdoor garden.  There is a plaque that says,

If you have a garden and a library, you have all you need.


I certainly agree!!   People passed by dropping off their books, and it seems I dressed perfectly to be sitting on a bench in the garden.  I sat among flowers of blue, violet, yellow and pink.  I wore soft blue and green.  I'm glad I didn't clash.  People wanted to take my picture.  It is fun to be landscape.  

I am reading The Far Side of Madness by John Weir Perry.  Now, here is a fascinating book.  He studied and worked with schizophrenia, and viewed it as a necessary way to integrate.  Listening can help a person through their episodes and allow them perhaps a new life, without the need for drugs. 

After a bit of reading, I decided to head over to the toy store.  I volunteered last night to take care of the two and a half year old grandson of my good friend one day a week, so I am preparing.  His mother is having a bone marrow transplant.  I had to pass the book store to get to the toy store and it has a rest room, so I really didn't plan to get a book but now I have George Lakoff's The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain.  I've been resisting this book since it came out, and today my resistance was gone. 

The toy store was filled with children entranced with what I had come to purchase, Thomas the Train.  I was told I couldn't go wrong, so I checked out the engines and cars, and called Zack's dad to be sure I wasn't duplicating what he already has, and I now have a train engine called James that comes with a story, and, also, a portable train set in a suitcase.  My intention is to give Zack the train engine, and then, explain that the suitcase only comes out when I am coming to get him.  He has never met me, so it is going to be quite something to gain his trust at such a difficult time.  I am hoping these toys will begin to do the trick.  I don't normally believe in bribes and this is a special case.

I headed back, stopping for a pound of Peet's coffee, and on the bridge home was looking directly across at San Quentin.  San Quentin always stops my heart.  I tremble with the pain of those inside, and here I am, walking outside on a bridge, looking down on cars, carrying a new book, toys, and coffee.  What gives me the right, and it is true I haven't killed anyone, but I have also had a gentle life.  What would I be like with a different upbringing, so prayers to those imprisoned and a return to my beloved vehicle and a stop at the grocery and we are home in the fog.

Connection Well awaits. 

One more thing.  I think that judgment, judging another or ourselves is not helpful.  We are each here, each unique, and we learn in relationship, and how, then, do we best change our oil and lubricate our wheels.   I more and more come to see we are here to embrace each one of us, difficult as that may sometimes be.

alan's marigolds

Jon Carroll today -

I haven't yet visited the new Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF though it is on my list.  I have certainly enjoyed the reviews of it.

I also need to get to SFMOMA to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit so a trip to the city is in order, one of these days!

Jon Carroll

Friday, July 11, 2008

At the new Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, there's an exhibition called "In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis," and a fine exhibition it is. (A fine museum too, come to think of it, that almost didn't get built, and hooray for persistence.) It includes an extremely cool game/art piece called "Playing God," which is kind of like a cosmic slot machine only with video screens. Hard to describe, but you'll find that you'll elbow 12-year-old children out of the way to play a few rounds.

Perhaps you are a nicer person than I am. Perhaps you will be the elbowee. Anyway, big fun.

Included in the show is a really good talking-heads film, "Genesis Now," in which theologians of many persuasions, plus artists and scholars, talk about the nature of the book of Genesis, or rather portions of the first chapter of the book of Genesis. (There's a whole lot of stuff in Genesis - Noah and the flood, Isaac and Jacob, Abraham of Ur, Joseph and his coat of many hues; heck, it's most of the Old Testament. Which is good, because Numbers and Deuteronomy are so very boring.) That's the chapter in which God creates everything.

They have lots of different things to say, and a lot of them are provocative. If there's a common thread running through the remarks, it's this: Genesis raises a lot of questions. It makes us think about these questions. It challenges our powers of interpretation, extrapolation and metaphor-making. It's a room with an infinite number of doors.

That was the theme, over and over. Questions, not answers. Questions are useful; answers less so. Answers have a short shelf life; questions live forever. Both science and theology thrive on questions; answers just make everyone go to the refrigerator for another glass of iced tea. Questions get you through the night; answers leave you sitting on the top step, staring blankly off into space.

I exaggerate, of course. I'm also right.

So as I was eating the quite-good tagine in the museum restaurant, I began to think about politics. It's hard to avoid in this season of the which. Politics are apparently all about answers. Reporters ask questions; candidates provide answers. If a candidate doesn't have an answer, he temporizes, or blusters, or alleges that he already answered that question. He never, ever says, "That's an interesting question. I really enjoy interesting questions."

And he really never says, "So what's your thinking on that, Ms. Reporter? You have any solutions in mind?" Because reporters ask questions and politicians provide answers. Reporters have the better deal.

Now, we know, you and I, sitting separately in our rooms, that there's no "answer" to the situation in Iraq. Even a timetable (which is really not an answer) is bogus. It's all situational; it's all terrible. To whom is our loyalty in this situation? What are our goals? What will 2010 look like, both in Baghdad and in Berkeley? What should the world look like two years from now? Go ahead, you're an expert.

Aw, hell. People who pretend they know the answers are just politicians without power. Ideologues. Boring.

But there are rules. People want a leader to be strong. People want a leader who knows the answer. A politician without the answers is just another citizen, blundering around in the dark hoping to grasp an answer-shaped object. Our best politicians, or course (Lincoln and Jefferson, say) understood that they didn't have answers; they had principles, and they had guesswork, and they had a lot more questions.

Imagine writing the Declaration of Independence, and sitting in the hotel room the next night and thinking, holy Mary Travers, what the hell have I just done? The person who sleeps a deep and dreamless sleep after something like that is the person you need to worry about.

But no, it's solutions all the time. We've got five-point programs - but what if the problem requires seven points? Nine points? No points at all? Doesn't matter; we feel comforted by the five points.

That doesn't mean our confusion in the face of large questions should render us immobile. We gotta do something. It should render us humble, though. It should render us flexible. If man was created in God's image, as it says in Genesis, it should be remembered that God in Genesis was always making mistakes. If we didn't know better, we'd think he was making it up as he went along. When something went terribly wrong, he'd say, "Oh, that was just a test." That excuse hasn't worked since the fourth grade.

"Be fruitful and multiply," God said. You have to wonder if, later on, he sat on the edge of his cloud and thought, holy Mary mother of me, was that the right thing to say? Too late now. Time for more questions.

In the beginning, God created the stairways and the atrium and of course the gift shop, because he needs an alternative revenue stream, God knows.

alan's beach photo

Robinson Jeffers -

Robinson Jeffers built his home in Carmel from stones on the beach.  He planted.   One can visit Tor House with an appointment and view it with a docent and it is an amazing treat.

My Tor House newsletter arrives today with this dedication to the Big Sur Community and the Firefighters battling the 2008 Basin Fire.  Let us hope, once out, it is the last fire for this year and the next.  We need rain.  


The deer were bounding like blown leaves
Under the smoke in front of the roaring wave of the brushfire;
I thought of the smaller lives that were caught.
Beauty is not always lovely; the fire was beautiful, the terror
Of the deer was beautiful; and when I returned
Down the black slopes after the fire had gone by, an eagle
Was perched on the jag of a burnt pine,
insolent and gorged, cloaked in the folded storms of his shoulders.
He had come from far off for the good hunting
With fire for his beater to drive the game; the sky was merciless
Blue, and the hills merciless black.
The sombre-feathered great bird sleepily merciless between them.
I thought, painfully, but the whole mind,
The destruction that brings an eagle from heaven is better than mercy.

    from Thurso's Landing (1931) Hunt: Vol II. p. 172.
    Robinson Jeffers

ocean by san base, searby friend

Charlotte Selver -

Words of Charlotte Selver from Reclaiming Vitality and Presence.

"Exploring breathing really needs to be a practice, but a practice which is absolutely new each time, not a repetition of old ways, but a finding out what is going on in the condition and activity in which you happen to be at a particular moment.  No moment can be compared with another; in each there is something new to discover... It is one of the most wonderful, most gratifying practices in which you can engage, because as you are finding out about breathing through experiencing it, you will become quieter and quieter, freer and freer, healthier and healthier, and more and more alive."

She lived to 102, so she knew of what she spoke.