alternative healthcare debate

March 15, 2017

The debate about the Affordable Care Act, the attempt to repeal and/or replace it, is an invitation to examine the core values embedded in the various assumptions of the discourse. Three values that have become apparent are: the primacy of financial considerations, an individual’s freedom, and the right to health care for every human being.

Financial implications, for example, are emphasized in the March 13, 2017 email issue of “The White House” proclaiming, “Americans were promised that Obamacare would bring down healthcare costs Americans were promised that Obamacare would not raise taxes on the middle class.” Senator Rand Paul said on Face the Nation, “we’re not going to vote for it” (Ryan’s plan) because it creates a system of refundable tax credits. In addition, the recently released Congressional Budget Office analysis focused on costs of insurance premiums and federal deficit reduction.

Representative Paul Ryan, speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, March 12, 2017, advocated for the primacy of the value of an individual’s freedom. He seeks to eliminate any mandate on individuals to buy insurance saying, “People are going to do what they want to do with their lives because we believe in individual freedom in this country.” He proposes a plan where people are free to buy insurance in the private market. Also, National Public Radio interviews with people who are critical of ACA reveal a positive attitude toward acquiring health insurance but a resistance to any “mandate” telling them they must have it.

The problem with being guided by the primacy of economic considerations traps us in a debate about the value of a healthy human being and which of us has earned the right to be healthy. Adhering to the mantra of ‘individual freedom” leads us into a society where every person must fend for him/her self. Both of these approaches are divisive and contrary to the vision of freedom and justice for all. They ignore the reality that we’re all in this together. The freedom and health of each individual affects the freedom and health of our communities and nation.

However, there is a value that can serve us well in the debate about health care in our country. Senator Annie Kuster, in a March 10, 2017 e-mail, suggested valuing the importance of health care for every human being. She wrote, “I am ready to get to work to… find ways to help improve healthcare for every citizen.”  Logically extending her focus on improving health care for every citizen invites us to begin a serious discussion by first seeking agreement to value good health for all human beings, no matter who they are, their economic situation, or where they live.

Some cynics will suggest that it is the nature of human beings to center on individual and family fortune. For example, in the current debate of ACA some healthy young people say, “I don’t need health insurance so why should I pay for the coverage of those who are unhealthy?” However, there is another side of human nature that may be worth cultivating. Consider the times and situations that bring out empathy and care for others. How often have we observed the ways people rally after a natural disaster or a tragedy in the life of an individual, a family, or a community. People are energized and heartened as stories are told about volunteers contributing their time, skills, and money to support victims. People celebrate these situations as evidence that human beings are really good people supportive of their neighbors. It seems, in times of crisis the glorification of rugged individualism is subverted. The people of our country have a history of standing with each other. In the early years it took a village to raise a barn. Not so long ago, neighbors would help one another get the hay in before a thunderstorm descended.

It is time to refocus the healthcare debate based on personal economics and individual freedom values to the basic value of communal support for every person in our society. Contributing to this discussion can be the many stories and examples of empathy and commitments to helping others in need. In the course of the conversation the evolving nature of the human condition may surface. Could it be that rugged individualistic self-interest is giving way to communal concern? The task for elected officials and the American people will be to embrace this new possibility.

With this groundwork, the means of developing a healthcare system of economics that shares wealth and benefits and a society that recognizes freedom to be supportive of one another will begin to fall into place. Returning to the barn-raising example, once we agree that a barn is needed to shelter a given number of animals and store a given amount of hay, the details of the shape and size of the barn will soon be resolved. In the same way, when we agree we are together responsible to provide adequate healthcare for all people, the economics to make it happen will take shape. It will be a triumph for our basic cooperative human nature working for a greater America.

 

 

 

 

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Methods to Silence dissent

When Senator Elizabeth Warren questioned Senator Jeff Sessions qualification to be the nominee for Attorney General, the Senate voted to silence her from further participation in the debate. Her crime was declining a “Hobson’s Choice.” Hobson was an English keeper of a livery stable, 1544 – 1632. He required customers to take either the horse nearest the stable door or no horse at all. There would be no discussion about the qualifications of the proffered horse. Senator Warren, by choosing to question the proffered choice, was in effect suggesting Sessions might not be the best candidate and the motives of the person nominating him might not be fully transparent. The Senate declared these suggestions broke the rules and were unacceptable.

This incident is an example of one of the several methods used to silence dissent since the new administration took office. It is important for citizens to recognize and name these techniques to discredit anyone who opposes an idea or action of the President or the majority party in the House and Senate. The issues needing attention in our country are too important to be overshadowed by such duplicity.

In addition to Hobson’s Choice, we have recently been subjected to innuendo, double speak (simultaneous opposing positions), shifting the focus, making up information, fear/bullying, and divide and conquer. Innuendo serves to plant suggestions of possible impropriety without stating it as a fact. Slippery language is employed such as, “I’m just asking whether…” or “people are wondering about…” For example, President Trump said about the Iran nuclear agreement, “some people say it’s the worse than stupidity… There’s something going on… I’m not saying that, half the people in this room are saying it.” (The bold is my emphasis for demonstration). Commenting on the appellate court ruling against reinstating his refugee and immigration executive order Trump said, “I don’t ever want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased.” However, he has planted the suggestion that the court is biased.

An example of double speak is affirming two conflicting positions. For example, one day Trump criticized the CIA for its ineptness. A few days later he tells a gathered group of 200 CIA employees that they are great and their work is outstanding.   However, he not only takes two opposing positions, he then shifts the focus to the untrustworthiness of the press. He declares the press falsely reported that he criticized the CIA. At another time he sends a double message when he says, “America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave” while he signs an order blocking people from entering our country to seek freedom from persecution and war and rejecting brave people who have put their lives in danger by aiding the United States as military translators and with other duties.

Then there are times when information is created with no basis in reality. Trump insists that at his inauguration there were “a million and a half people” filling the mall all the way back to Washington Monument.  However, photographs show several blocks empty of people.   Trump proclaimed “a million and a half people” were there, contradicting photographs and the statistic of only 500,000 people passing through the transit system.   And when the Mexican president canceled a meeting with Trump, Trump followed up the announcement with the claim it was “a mutual decision.”  Another example is his claim of voter fraud in New Hampshire without any evidence to back up his statement.

Initiating a climate of fear and bullying has also become a familiar ploy.  Concerning reports of protests against his immigration executive order Trump tweeted, “Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” (Feb.3, 2017).

He lashed out at the judge who put a temporarily hold on the order: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” And feeding fear he tweeted, “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”   Packed into these tweets are name-calling, labeling, misinformation (paid protesters), threats ( blame the judge), and fear.

There is another practice that manipulates citizens: divide and conquer. This narrative includes declaring the press untruthful. It defames government officials, the elite, scientists, and intellectuals. “I’m going to drain the swamp,” quoth Trump. He cautions against untrustworthy immigrants, refugees, and Islamic terrorists, and contrasts them with persecuted Christians. Among all of these groups, the only true American people worthy of praise are those who thrived in the post second world war society and who agree with the Trump agenda and his judgment of all others. As American people we are being pitted against each other. Meanwhile, the very wealthy are able to continue advocating only for themselves: increasing their wealth, power, and influence over the government and the bulk of the American people.

These contrivances to “Make America Great Again” take us back to when women were second-class citizens. When there were segregated schools, bus stations, and lunch counters. When gays felt they had to hide their orientation or risk their jobs or sometimes their lives. When Christianity was the only acceptable American expression of faith in God. When Arabs were depicted as aggressive, evil, and backward. When Jews were not able to buy a home in some of our New Hampshire communities.

It is imperative to expose and reject all of these duplicitous efforts to deceive and divide Americans. The alternative is to focus on issues instead of people. When workers loose their jobs we all loose. When the wealthy get richer, the rest of us struggle. When injustice exists none of us are free. We will be a greater America when our unity as human beings guides our dependence upon one another and responsibility to one another, no matter who we are or from where we come. Focusing together on the issues of wages, health care, pensions, infrastructure, international relationships, and the environment can nurture the skills and wisdom inherent in humanity.   Now that, Hobson, is a real choice.

Christmas Greetings

Minds Crossing, Concord, NH                                                                    Christmas 2016

 

“Say to the anxious, ‘Be strong! Fear not! Your God comes to save you…’ for water will spring up in the wilderness and torrents flow in the desert… it will be called the Way of Holiness… it will become a pilgrim’s way.” (Isaiah 35: 4)

 

There is a spring flowing in the wilderness of Palestine. For centuries it has provided water for the village of Taybeh, known in biblical times as Ephraim. Three years ago Nadim Khoury started a brewery that depends upon water from the spring.

Faye and I visited Taybeh last April during a two-week traveling seminar, Faith in the Face of Empire.  We learned that Taybeh receives its spring water only three days a week. It is metered and administered by the occupying Israeli military. Most of the water is diverted to a nearby recently constructed illegal Israeli settlement.

Hearing their story filled me with anxiety. A brewery requires a “torrent” of water to succeed, which their spring is restricted from supplying. However, these Christians, powerless under Israeli occupation, remain strong in their belief that the road to the Taybeh Brewery will “become a pilgrim’s way.” How confusing is that!

It was confusing to return home to Minds Crossing where many fear that the waters of civility are being rationed or shut off altogether by the election rhetoric and plans for the future administration. We thirst for peace with justice in a world of never ending war. We thirst for peace with justice in a time threatening to roll back gains for the rights of women, GLBTQ people, people of color, and immigrants. However, every time we turn on a water faucet for a drink of water, to take a shower, or to drip irrigate our tiny vegetable garden we remember Taybeh: their trust in the vision of Isaiah.

This Christmas time, we join with Nadim and the people of Taybeh to hope in the impossible: “water will spring up in the wilderness and torrents flow in the desert… it will be called the Way of Holiness… it will become a pilgrim’s way” (Isaiah 35: 4).

In our tumultuous world may we all discover the “pilgrim way.”

A blessed Christmas and a hope-filled New Year,

John and Faye Buttrick

 

 

U.S. / Mexico border issues

The Barrier Wall                                                                               December 18, 2016

On the Saturday after the elections, my wife and I and one of our daughters and her husband traveled from San Diego to Border Field State Park in the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. It was a sunny warm day for the two-mile walk through the saltwater low lands. The sweet scent of flowers was in the air. The songs of marshland birds and the flash of gull’s wings competed for our attention. Ahead and on our left we could see the distant houses and new construction on the hillside in Tijuana, Mexico. In the foreground was a high concrete wall barrier separating the United States from Mexico. Our destination was Friendship Park at the shore of the Pacific Ocean. Along the way we joined a young Mexican woman and her father. She is a U.S. citizen. He has a window washing business in San Marcos, CA. They were making the journey to the Park to meet his mother and family members who are not allowed to enter the United States. The father and daughter are reluctant to go into Mexico. They fear they would not be allowed to return to their U.S. home.

Friendship Park is a paved strip of land about 50 feet wide between two high steel fences traversing the border west of Tijuana and extending 100 yards beyond the surf into the Pacific Ocean. Down the middle is a road used exclusively by the U.S. Border Patrol vehicles. While we waited for the gate to open into this barren strip of land we could look beyond the two fences to see groups of people strolling on the beach on the Mexican side.

The gate into Friendship Park only opens on Saturday and Sunday from 10am until 2pm. The sign beside the gate explains that only 20 people at a time can be in the area between the fences. On the other side of this narrow strip people wait behind the second fence to meet their friends and relatives from the U.S.

When the gate was opened, father and daughter rushed across the narrow Friendship Park to greet his mother and other family members standing beyond the second fence. They spoke excitedly through the fence. The father had not seen his mother in fourteen years. They pressed their hands against the fence: son and mother and two separated sisters. There was no touching. Woven through the steel frame of the fence is a heavy wire mesh preventing contact and the passing of any items to one another.

There were fewer than twenty people waiting at the gate this day so we also entered the park between the two fences.   We watched two parents introduce their infant child to family and friends on the Mexican side. One U.S. Border Patrol official, standing next to his vehicle, was controlling the gate and watching the people gathered at the far fence. I learned that he was also a public relations officer for the Border Patrol.   He was originally from Maine but when he joined the Border Patrol he was assigned to the border with Mexico. When I asked him why he chose to join the Border Patrol he replied, “I want to serve my country.” However he also explained that work in Maine was scarce and he needed a job.

During our ½ hour conversation I asked, “What is the discussion among your colleagues about the presidential transition?”

He responded, “We don’t think a wall will be built along the whole border. However, we do anticipate that there will be more money for the hiring of more personnel.”“What is it like to watch these people visiting with the fence between them?”

“We opened this area (Friendship Park) to give them the opportunity to meet,” he justifies.

I explained that I had talked with a Texan who lived on the border and missed the days when there was free movement across the border to visit, shop, work, and for entertainment.

“I’m too young to remember those days but I’ve heard the stories,” he responded. “I agree it is the way relationships should be between the people of our two countries. But today, after 9/11, it is important to restrict movement across the border.”

“Doesn’t dividing families and restricting interaction among people of our two countries contribute to more tension, misunderstanding, and fear,” I asked?

“It does, but you should know that over 50% of border patrol personnel along this section of the border are of Mexican descent,” suggesting that their presence makes the situation acceptable.

I also learned that once or twice a year there is a time designated for people from each side of the border to stand in the opening of an emergency door in the fence to touch each other and embrace for as long as three minutes, under the watchful eye of a border official. These meetings are organized and limited by a lottery. I commented, “It seems to me that this destroys dignity rather than communicating good will.”

“It’s the way it has to be,” he replied with an uneasy shrug.

A silent parting handshake acknowledged a mutual uneasy troubling tension.

Before we left the Park, we went over to the second fence to say “good by” to our father and daughter walking companions. They introduced us to their family from Mexico. Through the fence there could be no handshaking, just smiles and well wishes. Returning through the gate on the U.S. side, we looked down to the shore of the Pacific Ocean where the two fences enter the water. On the Mexican side there were adults and children sitting on the beach and swimming. The U.S. side was deserted except for one Border Patrol vehicle driving through the sand.

As we walked the two miles back to our car we pondered the irony in the name “Friendship Park,” a barren strip of land between two iron fences, one with a steel meshed barrier. We later learned from No More Deaths that so far this year 469 people have needed help to recover $54,134 taken from them by the Arizona Department of Corrections when they were deported. Others stranded in Nogales, Mexico have needed help to make 2150 phone calls to tell friends and family about their sudden deportation from the United States. There have been remains of 144 people found in the southern Arizona desert so far this year.

Conversation about the border between the United States and Mexico has been dominated by fear of lost jobs, economic assistance abuse, drugs, terrorism, and “the wall.” Missing is an awareness of the human condition. In the West Wing, in the halls of Congress, and in our neighborhoods we must begin to frame the discussion of border issues around human dignity, uniting families, developing friendships, and acknowledging the valuable contributions each person can make to our respective countries. Then, perhaps, the next time we visit the borderlands we will be able to shake the hands of the man’s Mexican mother and his daughter’s sister. And together we will hear the voices of the songbirds and see the gulls flying back and forth across the border.

 

J

 

 

Valued People

December 8, 2016

Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend there were numerous cautions on the radio, TV, and in print media urging the avoidance of political conversations around the thanksgiving table. A significant motivation for this caution is the increasing divide between blue collar or no collar low income working people and intellectuals who benefit from higher education. The former group is cast as hard working with common sense ideas about relationships, personal freedoms, and familiar values. The latter group is perceived as a privileged elite claiming superior reasoning power. They seek to dictate values and rules for their own benefit, advocate for “political correctness,” and designate how people should relate to one another.

It’s difficult to talk about this divide because each of us belongs to one side or the other and therefore cannot claim unbiased insight. However, I find myself trying, even though I’m perceived as living on the side of the educated elite. I protest that I have labored as a farm worker, worked as a waiter, and sweated on a road construction crew. In the Army I advance only to Specialist 5th class. But I’ve also earned a masters degree and have earned my living with words, spoken and written. Therefore my education and subsequent profession leaves me isolated from a man, whose job relies on physical strength, once saying to me, “It’s not right. Just because you have the ability to write, you are able to push your bad ideas in a newspaper article. Clever words are not my way. I use plain common sense and simple language, saying it like it is. It does not make good copy for the newspaper. But it’s the truth.” Even the language we use separates us into two different worlds.

It seems this past election cycle has exacerbated this burgeoning divide in the American psyche, with the potential to split friends and family members into separate angry camps of people who voted for different candidates. People who voted for Donald Trump protest that others are branding them with unjustified labels related to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. Many women, people of color, people of different national and cultural origins, the GLBTQI community, and people of diverse religious faith expressions are interpreting the Trump win as giving permission to threaten their integrity.

President elect, Donald Trump, continues to feed this divide. He has branded with his name the endorsement of aggressive language and crude labels against people and groups perceived as enemies or different. He has encouraged populace impulses of suspicion, bravado, and uncensored attitudes where the value of a person is determined by shirt collar color, education, physical prowess, religious belief, cultural origin or choice of beverage.

Harry Reid recently wrote, “If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump…” However, we cannot wait for president elect Trump to apologize for setting a course of words and actions that denigrates swaths of people. Nor can we wait for him to acknowledge flimflamming the people to vote for him. It is not enough to accept the defense of his followers that he only exaggerates to make valid points. It is time to reject all of the divisive labels and open a conversation across the divide.

The key to crossing this divide involves, first, the recognition that we are presently experiencing the worst of our human nature and inclinations. Then, rather than accepting this predicament as inevitable, let it lead us to shift the focus toward the integrity and value of each and every person among us. Where we’ve been complicit in devaluing another, begin to acknowledge our abuse of power. Where we’ve been silent, begin to talk to one another across the divide, nurturing the strength of spirit that does not depend upon the weakness of others but on the contributions each person makes to our society and country.

We are a people who depend upon one another. My wellbeing counts on the contributions of the store clerk, the factory worker, the elected official, health care professionals, the farmer, the migrant worker, educators, tradespeople, and so many others. We all suffer when a union is busted, familiar physical work disappears, and low-paying service jobs replace former middle class jobs. We are all impacted when some lose medical or pension benefits and opportunities for education that recognize differing learning aptitudes and skill sets. We are only weak when we let the Trump mindset pit us against each other. Then the only winners are the ultra wealthy and dictatorial despots. Our strength as Americans is measured by our determination to stand with any group of people who is depreciated or denigrated. Our nation will gain strength and integrity when no bigoted action, statement, or joke by a politician or a stranger on the street goes unchallenged.

Perhaps the Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanza / holiday table is a place to demonstrate a determination to feed the human ability for passionate reasoning, careful listening for understanding, empathy and love. This transparency can open us up to face into, name, and overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other attitudes that divide us. Open trusting conversation will create a new normal of hospitality, of understanding other cultures and religious faiths and of empathy. Now that’s a conversation with which we can live and thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Fall

November 10, 2016

The morning after the election, my daughter who works at the coop food store in Tucson, Arizona reported that customers were coming in in tears. Women and ethnic minorities felt fear and despair. In my email box was a communication from Jewish Voice for Peace, expressing fear of a resurgence of oppression against Jews and giving thanks for people who support them. Schoolteachers across the country, including New Hampshire, are reporting fear and anxiety among students of color or from families with different national origins. A Muslim expressed grateful thanks to a friend pledging to stand with him in this threatening atmosphere. This is the first election in my memory where such despair over the results has been so openly expressed. What is different this time?

Since the results of the presidential election have been announced, essayists, op-ed contributors, TV and radio commentators, bloggers, and twitter voices have flooded our attention with assurances that the future of our country is going to be OK. We are being told we shall get through the political intrigue, the economic uncertainties, and even the controversies like abortion, climate change, and job creation. I do not remember a time after an election when so many felt it was so important to assure people that they had nothing to fear from the results.

Most of the commentary is speaking to people in privileged positions. I, myself, am a white male with family roots in America that reach back to before 1776. It is easy to seduce me with the rational idea that government leaders come and go but our democracy will endure, as it has for almost 250 years. We just need to teach civics in every school and participate in the workings of our government and our economic system. We must continue to advocate for ideas that will strengthen our country, our standard of living, and our relationship with the nations of the world.

However, these assurances have the effect of normalizing the results of the election. Yet the climate of fear that has surged among women, people of color, people of different national and cultural origins, in the GLBTQI community, and among people of diverse religious faith expressions is not normal. It is not normal for a presidential candidate to win an election by espousing bigotry and hate. The tragedy of the election results is not a change in political policy but the perception that demonizing others is a winning strategy. Healing will not be accomplished with rational assurances that the system of transfer of power can be trusted. Healing will begin when we publically reject that putting others down is an acceptable or successful way to win.

Harry Reid recently wrote, “If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump…” However, it may be that all of us must take responsibility for the tragedy of broken relationships in our country and the resulting fear. We cannot wait for President elect Trump to decide to change his rhetoric and his attitude. This is particularly true for those of us who are privileged white males. Where we have been silent we must speak out. Where we’ve been complicit we must acknowledge our abuse of power. We must say loudly and clearly that our strength does not depend upon the weakness of others. It does not depend upon the color of our shirt collar, our education, our physical prowess, or our choice of beverage. Our strength is measured by our determination to stand with any group of people who is depreciated or denigrated. Our nation will gain strength and integrity when no bigoted action, statement, or joke by a politician or a stranger on the street goes unchallenged.

With the results of this election, we’ve stumbled into a situation of fear, suspicion, bravado, and uncensored attitudes. However, if the results of this election have done anything, they have brought to light the worst of our human nature and inclinations. This visibility can open us up to face into, name, and overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other attitudes that divide us. This experience can energize us to call out these attitudes and discourage them wherever we experience them. Such actions will create a new normal of hospitality, empathy, understanding about other cultures and religious faiths, and resisting any generalizations about a particular group of people.  Now that’s a difference with which we can live and thrive.