look for the helpers

We don’t have a TV in our main living space, and Jon and I almost never watch TV news (when we do, the kids are in bed or not in the room, because we watch in our bedroom usually after bedtime, and it’s because we’re following a breaking event or watching a live speech or something). I figure, they’re 5, and I don’t want to overwhelm them with the problems of the world just yet, especially since Claire tends toward anxiety. We talk about issues and events, but I just don’t want them exposed to wall-to-wall coverage or the sensationalism and graphic imagery so often part of TV news. This wasn’t even a super conscious decision to protect them from TV news, but more a result of my own awareness about my anxiety– I do better reading print/online news than watching it on TV, too. This has been especially true since the election.

I haven’t talked to them about recent natural disasters, but we were eating at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant last night, and they had a Mexican news station on TV. Of course most of the coverage was about the Mexico City earthquake. We had been eating when I noticed a concerned look on Claire’s face. “What is happening? Are those people dead? What happened to that building?” I realized she’d been watching the coverage, taking in the images even if she couldn’t understand the speaking, which to me had been background noise along with the oom-pa-pa mariachi music playing on the radio.

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How to explain an earthquake to my worried child without causing her to develop a fear that one might happen to us? I told her there was an earthquake in Mexico City, and that a lot of buildings fell down when the ground shook. “Did people die?” Yes, some people died, but a lot of people are still alive in the rubble, and the people they are showing right now are the helpers. They are digging the people out and saving them. So many people will be helpers after something terrible like this happens, and we’re so thankful for the helpers.

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I don’t know if I got it right, but my general parenting philosophy is that following the advice of Mr. Rogers can never be wrong. He said:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”


I don’t watch the news because it feels like the end of the world lately: earthquakes, hurricanes, shootings, nuclear war, and an evil man in charge of our country. I need to look for the helpers, too. I need to protect my children and myself, and I also need to help the helpers.

Some organizations we like to support include World Vision, Doctors Without Borders, and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.  Feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments. I’d also love to know if you protect your kids from TV news, and what age you think is appropriate for them to be exposed to it.

graduation day

I don't have a lot of pictures of him doctoring, but here he is on a mission trip to Haiti a couple of years ago.
I don’t have a lot of pictures of him doctoring, but here he is on a mission trip to Haiti a couple of years ago.

I interrupt my regularly scheduled ramblings to bring you a moment of shameless bragging on my husband. Tonight, we will celebrate his very last graduation in what has been a very arduous journey toward his medical career. 4 years of college. 4 years of medical school. 3 years of residency, followed by boards. And now 3 years of fellowship, coming to an end, in which he will be board certified in pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine, and on Monday will officially begin work as an attending physician, or, even more specifically and rad, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, in the emergency department.

Last night, as we sipped some wine, I told him, “I’m so proud of you for finally being finished.” He asked if I had to throw the “finally” in there, but I maintain that the “finally” is necessary to indicate just what a long, difficult process this has been. I wish I could do the math on all the hours spent working and studying to get to this place. I have never seen anyone work harder to achieve their dream, and what a beautiful dream to want to take care of the tiniest patients and help them to be healthy and feel safe. As I tell people, you don’t want to have to take your kid to the ER, but if you do, he will take GREAT care of you.

I’m excited for this next step in Jon’s career and for our family, and I am so very happy and proud.

we’re moving!

Our new house! Plans to change the exterior colors are already in the works.

Big news, gentle readers: we’re moving.

Only this time, for a change, it’s not a huge affair across state lines, as has been twice in the last 6 years, but just a couple miles from where I now sit. Of course, this time the move involves both two small humans and a cat who will surely hate us for a while, if that time he got suicidal when we took him on a weekend trip is any indication, so it’s still a pretty big deal.

The reason for this move is, after 3 years of renting and 3 years of further medical training for my husband, he has accepted an attending position in the hospital where he’s trained for the last 3 years. In other words, we’ve decided that Little Rock, AR is the place for us for the foreseeable future.

The house search has been long and arduous. There were difficulties in securing a loan thanks to screwups on the part of the bank who last gave us a loan for our house in Charleston. We got outbid/rejected on 3 houses we really really loved. I started feeling like my dreams of a perfect 1920s charmer within biking distance of my husband’s work with no carpet, a good-sized yard for the dogs, a nice kitchen, and a bedroom/bath on the ground floor for Claire were an impossibility. Actually, it turned out that they were: our new home is not the character-filled old home that Jon and I both usually prefer, but a 1960s ranch, smack in the middle of a street full of beautiful 1920s homes. So yeah, we are kinda getting the ugly house on the block. Except that it’s been fully renovated, has gorgeous dark hardwoods, and a really beautiful kitchen, even if it’s darker and more masculine than I would have chosen were I designing my dream kitchen from scratch (think lots of white and subway tiles and LIGHT). And we’re going from a 1200 sq ft 2 bed/2 bath to 4 beds/3 baths, with a huge carpeted den that I foresee will become our main hangout with the girlies the majority of the time. We’re not going to know what to do with ourselves with all that space! And if I ever get sad about the lack of crystal doorknobs or quirky built-ins, I will console myself by stepping into my WALK IN CLOSET, which is a real treat after 6 years in very old houses with very tiny closets.

Oh hey there, pretty kitchen. Busy backsplash aside, you’re pretty good lookin’!

We close on Monday, but won’t move in for a week or so while we have the house painted. Currently EVERY SINGLE WALL is a weird mustard-y beige, and that just can’t stand. This gives me time to oh…start packing?

I look forward to setting up our nest in our new home, and fully expect to be doing a lot more DIY/decor/home type blogging along the way. I’ve got all kinds of plans.

Weiner’s weiner and “porn for women”

So, by now you’ve probably heard the story of Weiner-gate, and if not, by all means, Google is your friend. Basically, a US Representative (edited because I previously called him a Senator) who happens to be named Weiner (it could only be this funny if it had happened to him or John Boehner), may or may not have* tweeted a picture of his boxer-brief-clad crotch. And, much like the time Brett Farve texted some pics of his crotch, the event has sparked a conversation around the very concept of sexting, particularly the sending of pictures of crotches to women.

The Washington Post has the audacity to declare “Naked man parts? Not so sexy.” In a headline.

I’m so glad a few randomly polled women quoted in a national publication are enough to declare, once and for all, that certain parts of men’s bodies, the parts most associated with sex, are universally not sexy. How problematic is this? Let me count the ways:

1. Women. We are many and varied like so many special snowflakes. Just because 5 ladies in the Washington Post say something isn’t sexy TO THEM doesn’t mean that it isn’t sexy to many many other women. While I am very sure that there are some ladies who would find a photo of a man cleaning their gutters sexier than a picture of a penis, I’m sure there are also some ladies who would find a picture of a man in high heels or wearing a dog collar sexier than a picture of a man cleaning gutters. If there is anything the internet has to teach us, it’s that for any given thing, there are lots of people who find that thing sexy. And lots of people who don’t. So perhaps the number one takeaway could be: know what your partner thinks is sexy. Maybe ask him or her and talk about it. Send him or her pictures of things that person thinks is sexy. Because you know what IS pretty much universally sexy? When someone gets to know you and wants to make you happy in ways that actually make you happy. Personally? I would not be happy to receive photos of any body part on my cell phone. But that’s just me. It might be right up your alley.

2. “Porn for Women” when defined only as photos of men doing household chores like making beds, folding laundry, or organizing a refrigerator, is a very damaging idea. The fact that women are supposed to find photos of men doing housework hot suggests that housework is women’s job, and if men do it, it is a super special favor that should be rewarded with sex. It also suggests that sex isn’t something women actively desire, pursue, and enjoy, but rather something they begrudgingly consent to in order to please and/or reward men. This is what leads to damaging ideas like grey rape– the idea that sex is, at best, something women must be convinced or coerced into having, and that a “no” is negotiable. I know it might seem like a leap to go from “sexy” photos of men folding clothes to the idea of rape, but it’s part of a larger problem of seeing women as sex objects who reluctantly give up sex, instead of active participants in the wanting and having of sex. Fold laundry because you live here, not because you want a sexual reward. Have sex because you want to, not because you feel you owe it to someone or that you have to be talked into it.

3. Bodies are sexy. I’m always quick to point out how uncool it is to shame women about their bodies. Telling men that part of their body is universally unsexy is also uncool. Sure, as I actually said when the whole Brett Farve thing went down, a picture of a penis outside of any context, certainly when unsolicited, can be jarring and confusing and even violating. But bodies and their parts can also be very very sexy, even if said bodies aren’t involved in mopping floors or whatever. One stereotype I think is particularly damaging is the idea that men are visual creatures but women aren’t. Different people are aroused in different ways, but for many many women, visuals are indeed arousing. Even visuals of naked men. Just as I believe women deserve to be with men who think ALL of them is sexy, men deserve the same.

4. The thing that makes the Brett Farve and Anthony Weiner pics unsexy is that they were also unsolicited. This goes back to my earlier post about enthusiastic consent. Don’t foist pictures or activities or anything on someone unless someone has enthusiastically consented to that picture or activity. Because it turns out rape/assault is decidedly NOT SEXY. **The Weiner pics would be increasingly unsexy if they prove to have been taken and/or posted without Weiner’s consent, making him a victim as well.

My pithy final words? Don’t send penis pictures to people who don’t want them or don’t find them sexy. Don’t assume that women do not like sex, that they do not like men’s bodies, or that housework is their job. Don’t assume that the four people you interview for your piece are representative of all people of that gender (or race, or socioeconomic group, or, or, or).

*Late breaking update: he did it, he confessed, he’s not resigning.

**added after the fact because a commenter felt I was unclear about Weiner’s alleged involvement in the picture and its posting.

Dr. Laura & Racism

So, last night Jon and I happened to catch some of Anderson Cooper on CNN and learned about the whole Dr. Laura racism-on-the-radio debacle.  If you haven’t heard the scoop, here’s the basics: a woman called into Dr. Laura’s show for advice (if you ask me, anyone who would call that horrible woman for advice is less than bright, but certainly not deserving of what came next).  The woman, Jade, said that she’s in an interracial marriage, she’s black and her husband is white, and that she has been hurt by her husband’s friends and family making racist comments, while her husband does nothing about it.  Dr. Laura managed to call the woman hypersensitive, dismiss the idea that the comments were racist, make gross generalizations about black people as a monolithic entity, use the N-word many times, and suggest that people who can’t put up with racist comments from friends and family members shouldn’t marry outside their race.  While many outlets are simply focusing on Dr. Laura’s use of the N-word, as you can see/hear, the rest of the exchange is really what drips with racism.  You can hear the whole audio and read a transcript over at Media Matters.

Before I respond, here’s Jamelle Bouie:

What Dr. Laura said was RACIST.

Dr. Laura asks Jade, the caller, for an example of a racist comment she’s been hearing from her husband’s friends and family, and Jade replies:

CALLER: OK. Last night — good example — we had a neighbor come over, and this neighbor — when every time he comes over, it’s always a black comment. It’s, “Oh, well, how do you black people like doing this?” And, “Do black people really like doing that?” And for a long time, I would ignore it. But last night, I got to the point where it —

SCHLESSINGER: I don’t think that’s racist.

CALLER: Well, the stereotype —

SCHLESSINGER: I don’t think that’s racist.

Memo to Dr. Laura: that IS racist. Assuming that all people of a certain race think/act alike and expecting an individual from that race/group to be able to speak for/represent the whole group, well, that’s racist. Just like people who think all women are alike and expect any one woman to represent/speak for the entire sex are sexist. Seeing an entire group of people as if they aren’t as diverse and individual as your group of people is racist. Full stop. There’s no hypersensitivity there, and I can see where this woman would feel hurt by her husband’s friends and family constantly making generalizations and stereotypes about her race and expecting her to be the ambassador for all black people.

Then, after stating that generalizations about black people aren’t racist statements, Dr. Laura forges ahead and makes a couple of generalizations about black people, namely that they all voted for Obama simply because he’s black, and that they’re all good at basketball:

A lot of blacks voted for Obama simply ’cause he was half-black. Didn’t matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That’s not a surprise. Not everything that somebody says — we had friends over the other day; we got about 35 people here — the guys who were gonna start playing basketball. I was going to go out and play basketball. My bodyguard and my dear friend is a black man. And I said, “White men can’t jump; I want you on my team.” That was racist? That was funny.

Nope, Dr. Laura, that entire paragraph is racist. And after that, as if her words are a little racist snowball rolling down the hill, Dr. Laura decides to get something off her chest: how deeply jealous she is that “black guys on HBO” can use the N-word but she, a white person, cannot.  She literally says the N-word over and over again.  It’s a common racist/sexist tactic to get upset that minority groups take words previously used to oppress and hurt them and turn them into something they use for their own power.  It’s not quite the same as the N-word, but it reminds me the way I and some of my favorite blogger friends have reclaimed the word “harpy.” If some man called me a harpy, I’d be downright pissed. But I jokingly call myself a harpy all the time.

After a commercial break, Jade, the caller, makes some very wise observations about race relations in this country.  She points out that older white people in this country seem more frightened and emboldened about racism after Obama’s election to the presidency.  This isn’t crazy stuff, folks like the Southern Poverty Law center have been pointing this out for over a year now.  You only have to look to footage of Tea Party events to know that some racists in this country are flipping out and feeling comfortable expressing very racist ideas in public.  But Dr. Laura tells the caller that she obviously has a “chip on your shoulder” and suggests she has “too much sensitivity.”

After a bit of arguing about the N-word, Jade hangs up and Dr. Laura concludes:

SCHLESSINGER: All right. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Can’t have this argument. You know what? If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.

Talk about an epic fail from a professional advice giver!

If Jade had called me for advice, I’d definitely answer differently.  I’d validate her feelings that her husband’s family and friends are making racist comments.  I’d affirm that yes, expecting one person to represent her entire race, with the belief that the entire race thinks/acts alike, is racist.  I’d tell her that whether her husband agrees with her that the comments are racist, it’s her husband’s job as her spouse and as the one with the primary relationship with these people to tell them to cut it out.  If your spouse says your friends/family are hurting his/her feelings, you tell them to knock it off. You refuse to tolerate it in your house.  You inform them they will not be welcome in your house so long as they continue to say things that hurt your spouse.  Period.  It’s not that difficult to see that that’s the right answer to that question.

Because Dr. Laura did not take this opportunity to state the obvious, that spouses should have each other’s backs when someone is hurting one of their feelings, I can only conclude that she’s had these feelings of racial resentment, the ones that came bursting through in the exchange, for a while.  I’m not saying that Dr. Laura hates black people, or that, as a person, she’s a complete and total racist. But that exchange definitely revealed her racial resentment, and her words were racist.

To top it all off, Dr. Laura’s “apology” is of the “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings”variety rather than the I’m sorry I said what I said variety.  She primarily focuses on the use of the N-word.  Her use of the N-word wasn’t even the half of it! She needs to do more than apologize for using an abhorrent word, but for the entire hateful exchange.  And she needs to examine her issues surrounding race, perhaps with a licensed therapist.

boycotting BP?

Image: "Boycott BP", a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from rustyboxcars's photostream

Pretty much everyone is REALLY ANGRY about the ongoing BP oil volcano deep in the Gulf of Mexico.  I’m angry too.  But when lots of people start calling for a boycott of BP, I get off the boat. Or oil rig. Or whatever.  Boycotting BP just won’t work.

For one thing, oil is a commodity.  It’s bought and sold on a worldwide market, with production and prices determined for all of it by cartels like OPEC.  So long as we’re buying gas from *someone*, prices will stay the same, and BP will still be making profits, because you’re never going to get enough people to boycott one gas provider to really hurt their bottom line.

Not to mention, if you refuse to shop at a BP station, you’re probably not hurting BP at all, but rather a small business owner who owns the franchise, since BP doesn’t own most BP stations.  And if you get your gas at a Kroger or a Costco, you just might be buying BP gas anyway.  And you’re going to have to avoid products from BP subsidiaries like Castrol and Wild Bean Cafe.

For another thing, as this excellent Newsweek piece points out, ALL of the oil companies are pretty deplorable.  If you don’t give your money to BP, who are you going to give it to? Exxon, who dumped a bunch of oil on Alaska during the Valdez oil spill and still hasn’t finished paying for all the damages?   Texaco/Chevron, who are accused of dumping toxic waste into the Ecuadorian rainforests? Citgo, whose profits prop up a Venezuelan dictator?  Shell, who are accused of supporting human rights abuses and of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta (40% of the US’s oil imports come from Nigeria, where more oil is spilled by the likes of Shell and ExxonMobil every year than has been spilled at BP’s Deepwater Horizon)?  The piece makes pretty clear, there is no “better” oil company to support.

However, the Newsweek piece also says:

The only way to make this the last oil spill in the gulf is to make oil obsolete. Shall we all hop on our bicycles, charge our plug-in hybrids with wind-generated electricity, swap out the heating oil or natural gas warming our homes for geothermal wells and passive solar?

Didn’t think so.

Why not?

Why can’t we all hop on our bicycles more often? Via the League of American Bicyclists:

According to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, 25 percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home, 40 percent of all trips are within two miles of the home, and 50 percent of the working population commutes five miles or less to work. Yet more than 82 percent of trips five miles or less are made by personal motor vehicle.

I’ll tell you what– I’m mad about the BP oil spill, and I’m not just going to talk the talk, I’m going to walk the walk. I have a bicycle, but I haven’t been riding it to the store like I know I should, as someone concerned about climate change. Rather than boycotting BP, I’m going to ride my bike if I go to the grocery store this week. Even though it’s hot. Even though it’s hard. Even though I’d really rather not.  And I’m willing to bet there’s a few trips you could make on foot or by bicycle this week, too.

I really just don’t get where Newsweek gets off pooh-pooh-ing what could be a real solution to the problem of our country being held hostage to deplorable companies like BP just because we’re junkies who need our fix of what they’re selling.  If, as this amazing infographic suggests, 71% of our oil goes to transportation, and, as mentioned above, most of our trips are within five miles of our homes, we could seriously cut our oil consumption AND seriously cut companies like BP’s profits if we just hopped on our bikes, walked, or rode public transit for short trips.  It may not be as easy as boycotting BP, but it would go a much longer way toward actually hurting BP’s bottom line.

Sure, we need to lobby the government to more seriously regulate oil companies.  We need to recognize that offshore drilling, with the catastrophic risks that go along with it, is just not worth it, as the same infographic points out that the US generates about 1.5 million barrels of oil each YEAR through offshore drilling but consumes 19.5 million barrels of oil per DAY. (I’d do the math and tell you what percentage of our total oil consumption comes from domestic offshore drilling, but I majored in English, so I don’t know how to do that.)  We need to shift our economy away from petroleum as our primary fuel source.  But the only way for any of that to work is if we each and every one of us seriously cut our fuel consumption.  And to do that, yes, Newsweek, we shall all have to hop on our bicycles and start walking more.  Maybe then we can use the money we’re saving on gas to get solar panels on our roofs and buy plug-in hybrids and invest in geothermal heating.

Obama and the Oil Spill

President Barack Obama, National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen, and Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph look at the effect the BP oil spill has had on Fourchon Beach in Port Fourchon, La., May 28, 2010. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza), Image via the Official White House Flickr Photostream

I am angry about the oil spill, and unlike President Obama, I’ve been angry ever since it happened, on Earth Day– I didn’t have to be badgered by reporters into packing my angry eyes, just in case (Toy Story reference, heck yes). But more than just being angry, I want answers.

I’ve been annoyed with the right wing meme that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is “Obama’s Katrina.” But, if the problem with Bush’s handling of Katrina was that he downplayed the extent of the disaster, failed to make it a proper priority, kept incompetent people in charge of the recovery even after their incompetence was known, and failed to take responsibility for his administration’s role in the disaster, well then, I’m starting to think maybe this IS Obama’s Katrina after reading this piece, “The Spill, The Scandal, and the President,” from Rolling Stone. (Though I remain frustrated with the comparison, because obviously, Katrina involved a huge loss of human life and a huge amount of human suffering, and the response involved a heaping helping of racism.)  Because I know not everyone has time to sit down and read a 10 page piece, I thought I’d *highly encourage* you to check it out, while also hitting some of the high points here.  If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know I’m generally a big Obama fan. But I think he and his administration dropped the ball bigtime on this disaster. Continue reading “Obama and the Oil Spill”

Sanford and Soul Mate and Smoking

Governor Sanford.

Back during the whole “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” fiasco, I wrote a lot about my state’s governor, Mark Sanford.  I’ve written about his marriage, I’ve written about his infidelity, I’ve written about his ties to C-Street’sThe Family.” I’ve created an entire tag, Annals of South Carolinian Ridiculousness, largely thanks to his antics, though Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham have certainly contributed to that category.

And now, my fair governor is in the news once again.  His wife having filed for divorce and written a tell-all book after their efforts to save their marriage failed, he is trying to reunite with the Argentinian woman he calls his “soulmate.” And the thing is, I’m fine with that. I can’t say why exactly, but somehow, I’m less bothered by a man who simply fell in love with the wrong woman at the wrong time, than I am with an Elliot Spitzer screwing prostitutes behind his wife’s back after making a career going after prostitution rings, or John Edwards cheating on his dying wife with a bimbo, and then failing to wrap it up, all the while thinking that he could still run for president and no one would know about his love child.  Somehow, I’m sympathetic to love, even if it’s narrated by poorly-written email poetry about tan lines.

This is a slide from a presentation my husband gave on the subject of childhood smoking.

What I’m less sympathetic to are Sanford’s policies, particularly his veto this week of a proposed tobacco tax increase in a state with the lowest tobacco taxes in the nation.  As someone concerned about childrens’ health in particular (and the wife of a pediatrician), I know that higher tobacco taxes are a proven way of keeping tobacco out of kids’ hands and a great way to fund tobacco use prevention programs.  According to the SC Tobacco Collaborative, “Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.”  Keeping kids from smoking is a key way to prevent adults from smoking and make our nation a healthier place, keeping health care costs down for all of us.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most smokers have their first cigarette between the ages of 11 and 14!  Thankfully the House overrode his veto, and there is hope the Senate will do the same.

It’s just a shame that yet again, the governor’s love life is detracting attention from his more serious missteps, like the ones that put SC children at risk.

what’s with the food stamp hipster outrage?

Image of a Depression Era soup line via the Google LIFE photo archive.

A Salon piece called Hipsters on Food Stamps has provoked a lot of outrage, most of it pretty hilarious to me.  It seems that people on food stamps just can’t catch a break.  First they’re stereotyped as Escalade-driving “Welfare Queens” who have the audacity to buy chips and sodas and other unhealthy food with their government benefits.  Now we’re mad that this recession has put young professionals out of work, they’re on food stamps, and they have the gall to buy fresh, organic produce with their benefits? (For a great response, see this piece by an actual “hipster” on food stamps.)

Personally, as someone interested in sustainable food, I’ve been heartened to see increased efforts to get people on food stamps access to healthy produce and other food, including getting farmers’ markets to accept food stamps.  A major reason people in poverty have higher rates of obesity is a lack of access to fresh and healthy food in poorer communities.  Instead of scoffing at people who buy eggplant with food stamps, we should be glad that they’re eating in a way that is good for themselves (which holds down health costs for everyone) and the planet.

Food stamps, contrary to popular belief, actually put money INTO the economy.  People use food stamps to buy food, which puts money in the pockets of store owners and allows them to create jobs.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculates that for every $5 of food-stamp spending, there is $9.20 of total economic activity.  In fact, food stamps are a more effective, faster-acting, and direct economic stimulus than tax cuts.  The next time you think that, “as a taxpayer,” you’re entitled to judge the food choices of any individual on food stamps, you should remember that they don’t owe you anything, they don’t really cost you anything, and if anything, their benefits are benefiting your community too.

In addition, I often wonder if people who criticize the choices of people on any form of government benefits have ever had to rely on government benefits themselves.  I didn’t know much about government benefits until I became unemployed in fall 2008.  When I was laid off, I applied for unemployment benefits, and was shocked to realize just how meager my monthly “wage” would be on unemployment.  It didn’t even begin to cover COBRA to replace the health insurance I lost along with my job, for example.  If I had not been married to someone who remained employed, I would not have been able to afford to house and feed myself.  While people may point to a few people who manage to “milk the system,” the vast majority of people on any sort of government benefits truly need them, and are barely squeaking by.  Yesterday I saw someone claim that there are Medicaid recipients who drive Escalades and have iPhones.  I mentioned this to my husband, who sees many Medicaid patients as a pediatrician, and he laughed at how far-fetched the idea is.  Are there some people who may live like that and still draw Medicaid benefits? I’m sure you could find a few. But it’s worth remembering that this is not the average.

I know the current populist rage seems to be pitting “working people” against the entire rest of the country.  I just pray that instead of begrudging the benefits of our neighbors who are dealing with hard times, we could think for a minute that we’re lucky we, ourselves, don’t need them right now, and be grateful that such a safety net is there if we need it, because we never know when we might.

freedom and independence are not the only American values

Just for fun, I'm illustrating this with a pic of me pretending to be a Tea Partier in the Smithsonian gift shop. The fact that I carry Jasmine Green Tea around in my purse probably reveals that I'm really an elitist liberal.

My friend Adam posted a great link to his Facebook today.  It’s an open letter to the Tea Partiers by John H. Richardson in Esquire. Many of these protesters, opposed to what they call “big government” like to claim that things like health care are part of “big government,” are antithetical to American values, and are perhaps even unconstitutional.

Claims like those make me wonder if perhaps these patriotic protesters somehow missed US history.  Taking care of each other, interdependence, and community spirit are founding American values.  Most of our early colonies were founded as “commonwealths,” where the good of everyone was considered crucial to the good of the colony.  According to the Esquire piece:

Way back in colonial times, Americans spent between “10 and 35 percent of all municipal funds” on what was then called “relief,” according to Walter I. Trattner’s standard textbook on the subject, From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America. Aid to the poor and sick was the largest single government expense, providing crucial sustenance to the widows and orphans of the Indian wars, the survivors of epidemics, starving immigrants, and a surprising number of abandoned bastard children (during the Revolutionary era, between a third and 50 percent of all first children were illegitimate — take that, nostalgists of family values!).

I’d also add that a democracy is only ever as strong as its citizens.  Only people who are free from basic want, secure from preventable disease, protected in the event of catastrophic illness, and ensured a basic level of education and employment are able to be the kind of citizens who can participate fully in a system of representative democracy.  Our constitution’s preamble asserts that the purpose of the document and the government it establishes includes a responsibility to “provide for the general welfare.”  It is for this reason that our founders, notably John Adams (who is my favorite and for whom I am crusading for a monument in Washington D.C., although that is a subject for another post), were so adamant that public education be a cornerstone of our democracy (which is why I am personally very passionate about the subject of public education and not a huge fan of private or home school, though of course people should have those as choices).  I see public health as an extension of that concept.  If medicine had been more of an established science at the time of our nation’s founding, I’m sure providing for the public health would have been more explicitly mentioned. (As an aside, I’d encourage any vaccine doubters to see the John Adams miniseries and observe what a miracle early innoculation was for this nation.)

The bottom line is, for all the rugged individual John Wayne-iness of this nation, there’s an equal tradition of people coming together to create communities dedicated to the good of all.  We can’t be the shining city on the hill if our image is tarnished by people in this great nation unable to access even basic medical care, with people always at risk of poverty and homelessness if a catastrophic illness should befall them or a loved one.

I sure hope we get a vote on a final health care reform bill this week.  Bills have already passed the House and the Senate, and now we just need those two bodies to come together to get something passed for President Obama to sign.

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