The Vulnerable Are Expendable in the Free Market

…[T]hey all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” Ursula K. Le Guin (p. 282)

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-37

I am driving my deceased father’s truck, the bed loaded with toys and my grandson in the extended cab, to Goodwill before dropping off my grandson to be watched while I go to my mother’s former assisted living facility to remove all of her things, mostly clothes and her recliner.

My mother is lying in the hospital oncology wing with, as we are just informed, hours or days to live.

Since my one sudden hard cry the morning the doctor told me on the phone about my mother’s cancer, I have been mostly numb, or empty, functioning through, along with my nephews, the necessary burden of managing my mother’s affairs as her body gradually shuts down.

As I leave her things crammed into two large black trash bags beside the recliner separated into two parts, I have a near-moment of tears as I pause to look into the living area of her house, the home I lived in from the age of 10 into my early 20s. My nephews have cleaned the area to an eerie tidiness that never existed when the house was lived in.

The finality of that tidiness, that emptiness, that none of us would ever live there again—this rekindled the sadness that has been resting beneath the necessary resignation that allows the living to navigate the dying.

My mother actually left us when she suffered a stroke about six months ago—with this day just one week from my mother’s birthday, a woman born on Friday the 13th.

Over that half year, she has been nearly in constant poor health, in and out of hospitals. And if possible, our experiences with the current healthcare system and the inexcusably inadequate Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance charade have been nearly as low a level of hell as being told my mother has stage 4, incurable, cancer.

To add insult to injury, these experiences with my parents’ failing health and their dying has coincided with a Republican-led federal government working furiously to dismantle the anemic Affordable Care Act, demonized as Obamacare, mostly with claims that the free market would be better suited to care for the vulnerable in our country that shamelessly waves flags and calls itself a Christian nation.

Of course, those making these claims and creating laws and policy all are wealthy and have all the essentials that their laws and policies deny everyone else, especially the vulnerable:

[M[ore than 80% of the officially poor are either children, elderly, disabled, students, or the involuntarily unemployed (while the majority of the remaining officially poor are carers or working people who didn’t face an unemployment spell). I bring up these 80%+ because these are the classic categories of people that are considered vulnerable populations in capitalist economies. These are the categories of people that all welfare states target resources to in one form or another, the good ones very heavily.

I believe my parents represent a fair claim that in the free market, being sick and dying are extremely (and unnecessarily) expensive, and if you happen to not have the capital, being sick and dying are incredibly undignified experiences no person really deserves.

To survive her stroke, my mother was airlifted to a nearby larger hospital, a life-saving transfer costing tens of thousands of dollars. That life-and-death moment involved doctors and family having to discuss and calculate the insurance implications, ones that linger for months since the second hospital, unlike the first, no longer accepts my mother’s supplemental policy.

That hellish (and unnecessary) scenario has repeated itself multiple times since then: my father’s death beside my mother in a rehabilitation facility, my mother being forcibly discharged from that facility and denied the high-level rehab her doctors requested, my mother being placed in assisted living, and then the multiple hospital stays leading up to her now lying in Hospice.

My mother’s death will come similar to my father’s—with only a few thousand dollars to her name.

White and working class, my parents grew up and graduated in the idealized 1950s, married in 1960, and gave birth to their obligatory two children in 1961 and 1962. They were the embodiment of aspirational, reaching hard and often for the white-washed American Dream without a hint of skepticism, without any recognition that promise was never really being extended to people not like them.

Dad worked his ass off, and mom raised me and my sister until we were in elementary school, when she re-entered the work force herself. All of that good old American work ethic was aimed at buying the largest lot at a new golf course just north of my hometown where they eventually built their dream home; it cost less in 1971 than the first Honda Accord I bought new, but that house also has more square footage than the home I own now—although my annual salary among the professional class my parents only dreamed about (and lived vicariously through) is many times more than my father’s best annual income.

My parents were politically conservative like much of the South in the latter half of the twentieth century, and therefore, I lived through Watergate, for example, in a household where my parents routinely ranted against the liberal media and felt compassion for the Dan Rather-crucified Richard Nixon.

And for all of their adult and married lives, my parents worked, my father grinding himself into an early grave, I believe. Both also smoked, as people did then, and for my mother, those 3+-packs a day were certainly the root of her dying breaths being taken in the coming days.

And what have my parents reaped for being obedient soldiers for the free market and the American Way? Truly awful final days on this planet because healthcare is a nightmare and the insurance maze is worse than anything Dante could have imagined.

My parents voted solidly Republican their entire lives, and were very much like the white majority that elected Trump. Like those deplorables, that ideological commitment eroded virtually every aspect of their dignity as their grew old and unhealthy.

Yet, this government that they hated, voted against, is all that sustained them toward the end, through publicly funded programs—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.

My nephews and I have been scrambling over these six months to protect and preserve their dignity, if not their lives, but it has been an exhausting fight—one that people in the medical field shake their heads about, powerless it seems, and one that people in the insurance game on the distant other ends of phone calls simply just don’t give a damn about.

For all my parents’ faults, and there were many, I can’t imagine they deserve this, being among the vulnerable in the U.S. who are expendable in the free market because they passed their time to be productive.

The vulnerable, you see, in a free market always become the faces of takers, and no market likes takers who no longer produce.

That market was free, in fact, to squeeze the lives out of my parents and then toss them aside when nothing was left.

It is here I must add—imagine how this is amplified, magnified for others among the vulnerable who do not enjoy the privileges my parents had, being white and achieving a pretty solid middle-class living during the golden years of their productive lives.

Yes, my parents suffered the Libertarian delusion that their material achievements were mostly their hard work and solid character, but despite that delusion, they did work hard, and they did deserve better at the end.

Because almost everyone deserves better than the Social Darwinism of the free market; children do, the infirm do, the elderly do, carers do, the working poor do, and even the lazy and the meek do simply by being human.

The problem? This is the sentiment of a socialist, a humanist, and (here is the Big Reveal) Jesus Christ himself.

Here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. we won’t be having any of that bullshit; you know, respecting the basic human dignity of every living being.

Nope, we are all about the middle finger to the vulnerable who don’t have the common decency to pull on their bootstraps and all that.

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Woody Allen, Hollywood, and the Monsters of Capitalism: “I thought it was funny at the time”

The Woody Allen dilemma, now resurrected in the wake of Harvey Weinstein being exposed as a serial sexual predator, confronts us on two levels.

Level one is an enduring debate about Allen himself: Is Allen merely attracted to young women in his personal and creative lives, a proclivity that pushes at the boundaries of social norms for consent and age-appropriate relationships? Or is Allen a sexual predator, one who has sexually abused a child?

Level two involves how this remains a debate, how keeping alive arguments about who Allen is provides a shield behind which Allen continues to produce films, accumulating wealth and power, and to remain mostly unscathed—much as Weinstein did for years: When women accuse men of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or sexual abuse, men raise the specter of false accusations—Allen himself responding to the Weinstein scandal by cautioning against a witch hunt in Hollywood.

If we return to level one, we must be willing to acknowledge the tension between consent and women’s (especially young women’s) autonomy and human agency.

Consider for example, a parallel situation involving another powerful and celebrated artist, J.D. Salinger, who courted young women; at 18, Joyce Maynard made a decision:

At Salinger’s urging, I left college — left the world, more or less — to be with him. I will state plainly: This was a choice I made, of my own volition, with as much understanding of the world as an 18-year-old may possess.

Maynard forefronts her autonomy, but we must also admit her decision to be with Salinger was prior to his exposing himself as a monster. In other words, a young woman’s autonomy and consent need not be erased, and must not be demonized, if we keep our focus where it belongs—on the men who are monsters.

So that brings us back to level two and why the most damning possibility about Allen—he is a man who sexually abused a child—remains only a possibility, a rumor, because shouting “Witch hunt!” maintains the accusatory gaze on the victims—imbued with their possibility of being false witnesses.

But the false witness argument is at least a distraction if not a lie:

The majority of sexual assaults, an estimated 63 percent, are never reported to the police (Rennison, 2002). The prevalence of false reporting cases of sexual violence is low (Lisak, Gardinier, Nicksa, & Cote, 2010), yet when survivors come forward, many face scrutiny or encounter barriers. For example, when an assault is reported, survivors may feel that their victimization has been redefined and even distorted by those who investigate, process, and categorize cases.

The valid fear, then, about sexual assault includes the following:

Research shows that rates of false reporting are frequently inflated, in part because of inconsistent definitions and protocols, or a weak understanding of sexual assault. Misconceptions about false reporting rates have direct, negative consequences and can contribute to why many victims don’t report sexual assaults (Lisak et al., 2010). To improve the response to victims of sexual violence, law enforcement and service providers need a thorough understanding of sexual violence and consistency in their definitions, policies and procedures.

We must add that men who assault also perpetuate the “frequently inflated” narrative because treating outliers as some sort of rampant phenomenon allows the monsters to survive without scrutiny or consequences.

Despite Courtney Love in 2005 and, apparently, Family Guy for years—the open secret of sexual abuse in Hollywood has remained closeted, from Weinstein to Kevin Spacey and dozens (hundreds?) of men including Allen and Roman Polanski.

Another hint about the open secret, Lana Del Rey’s “Cola,” serves as a powerful entry into the root cause of the Allen dilemma narrowly and the sexual abuse reality broadly:

“When I wrote that song, I suppose I had a Harvey Weinstein/Harry Winston-type of character in mind,” Del Rey told MTV of the “Cola.” “I envisioned, like, a benevolent, diamond-bestowing-upon-starlets visual, like a Citizen Kane or something. I’m not really sure. I thought it was funny at the time, and I obviously find it really sad now. I support the women who have come forward. I think they’re really brave for doing that.”

Del Rey, like Allen, has strong personal and artistic connections with relationships between young women and older men, but Del Rey personifies how gender shapes the consequences of those experiences and themes for women:

This kind of reversal has cemented LDR’s legend: Caught between misogynist dismissal of her art and feminist critiques of same, she appears coolly immune to both forms of attack, which boil down to a common shame over heterosexual cliché. Each camp argues that she presents a superficial, even damaging view of womanhood, minus the talent or veneer of commentary to carry it off. Where Taylor Swift and Katy Perry will belt a breakup anthem as a call to arms, Lana has the audacity to stew in her nihilism and laugh ruefully at the men who mistreat her. Gendered, negative responses just feed into her enveloping aura.

Here, however, let’s pause at “I thought it was funny at the time.”

Comedian and film maker Louis CK has released I Love You, Daddy, a poorly timed film by another man with rumors that linger without any real consequences.

This film is either an homage or garbled analysis of Allen, a work that is blunt pastiche that may ultimately be 21st-century fan fiction—seemingly an artistic extension of Allen’s “witch hunt” mantra.

With Del Ray’s mea culpa in mind about her art, a brief moment in Louis CK’s film trailer is telling:

Louis C.K.’s character is not sure he is ok with his beautiful and carefree daughter dating a man three times her age, and at one point reiterates to Malkovich’s character that she is a minor, to which he responds “a minor what?”

Let’s extrapolate Del Ray’s response to her own song: Maybe Allen seemed funny “at the time,” and maybe Louis CK thinks his Being Woody Allen is funny now—but this was never funny because monsters in real life are never funny.

Hollywood has made billions on fictional monsters, but we must now admit Hollywood has made billions by monsters as well—and they continue by the dozens.

“The evil that men do” (here, the sexism of Shakespeare language is prescient), however, is not a Hollywood real-life story alone; the monsters are everywhere, and if we look carefully at the Hollywood cesspool, we see the root of all evil—”the love of money” that empowers the shield behind which monsters thrive.

Weinstein and Allen, although not alone or unique, depended on their power and wealth to make or break the careers of young women—megalomaniacs who disregarded the humanity of their victims.

I have argued before that Tom and Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby are the “careless people,” the wealthy who are themselves monsters, who best represent who America truly is as a country—a people poisoned by capitalism, materialism, and consumerism.

The real world of Hollywood, in fact, trumps Fitzgerald’s fictional unmasking of the America Dream, but nothing can surpass the actual Trump clan now lording over the U.S.

The national indignity of Donald Trump being elected president after being exposed on video as a sexual predator himself is something the country can never erase, or even explain—adding to our long history of propping up men-who-are-monsters as heroes and honorable men.

But we should be just as disgusted by Donald Trump Jr. who recently continued the Trump family tradition of stealing other people’s ideas when he Tweeted (like father, like son) on Halloween, our national celebration of fictional heroes:

Like Allen’s “witch hunt” response to Weinstein, Junior is playing the diversion game in order to maintain the shield behind which the Trumps scuttle along as the monsters they are.

Many have noted that Junior appears clueless about both socialism and his dear capitalism, his shield. Framing socialism as some sort of monster itself is a diversion from how capitalism creates monsters and perpetuates them.

Advocates of amoral systems, capitalism, must hide that socialism is, in fact, a moral system—a people consenting to community and cooperation so that everyone has essential needs that support basic human dignity and agency.

Explaining socialism, Oscar Wilde argued: “It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair”:

Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material well-being of each member of the community….

Private property has crushed true Individualism, and set up an Individualism that is false. It has debarred one part of the community from being individual by starving them. It has debarred the other part of the community from being individual by putting them on the wrong road, and encumbering them….The industry necessary for the making money is also very demoralising. In a community like ours, where property confers immense distinction, social position, honour, respect, titles, and other pleasant things of the kind, man, being naturally ambitious, makes it his aim to accumulate this property, and goes on wearily and tediously accumulating it long after he has got far more than he wants, or can use, or enjoy, or perhaps even know of.

Wilde concludes ( with more prescient sexist language), “The evolution of man is slow. The injustice of men is great.”

The deplorables laugh at Junior’s ignorant Tweet because they think it is funny.

What now? Will we allow “I thought it was funny at the time” to appear on the gravestones of the women and children sacrificed in our quest for the all mighty dollar?

Or like Del Ray can we finally admit it isn’t funny.

It was never funny.

Brave: No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

If memory serves me well—and it is failing in that regard as I tumble toward 60—this is my fifth summer in a row to take a week-long or so vacation grounded in cycling.

For a couple summers, we went to Colorado, Boulder and Ft. Collins, but now we drive the brief hour just north of where I live to Asheville, NC.

But for all the proximity of geography, I might as well be slipping through a worm hole or walking into some sort of science fiction portal involving much more than time.

Jack of the Woods

A blue grass band performs at Jack of the Woods in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

This summer of 2017 has come at significant costs to someone with incredible privilege and a life of mostly leisure—a traumatizing car and bicycle accident at the end of 2016 and then June brought my father’s death just days after my mother’s stroke.

More physically and psychologically tired than I can ever remember being, I walk around Asheville now as the U.S. spirals further and further into proving ourselves to be a truly awful people—primarily because of what we refuse to do.

The majority political party, Republicans, maintain a relentless drumbeat toward repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), pronounced Obamacare, as political theater and a not-so-thinly veiled next step in the renewed racist energy embodied by President Trump.

While the virulent racists in the U.S. may be few, the “best lack all conviction,” more than willing to remain neutral on this moving train of inequity.

A sizable majority of comfortable people (what we enjoy calling “the middle class”), mostly white but all financially stable enough, may think things are bad here and there, but doing something about pain and suffering for the struggling among us (children, the elderly, carers, the disabled) could disrupt what they have, and they’ll risk none of that.

Just last night a few senators (all of whom are enormously wealthy) stalled (derailed?) yet again the repeal of the ACA—some offering rhetorical flurries about their own medical struggles and eliciting praise for their bravery in the face of political pressure.

Also last night, I had a conversation about the fractures among feminists, specifically involving someone such as Emily Ratajkowski who shares a sort of capitalist feminism once championed by Madonna—the right for a woman to control and market herself as men are free to do even when that crosses a line viewed as objectification or sexualizing.

Not to be too simplistic, but Ratajkowski is the sort of brave witnessed in the senators—brave within a system but unwilling to overthrow a system that benefits them.

And I watch and feel this as I walk around Asheville where a bohemian way of life looks brave to me but is really not that brave at all in Asheville, where this has become normalized by being monetized. Part of the tourist schtick of Asheville is dreadlocks, tattoos, tie-die, and quirky eateries along with lots of breweries.

I mean lots of breweries, including the mega-craft brewery New Belgium, which boasts a powerful ownership model and much-praised corporate values.

NB Asheville

The view from the back deck of New Belgium Asheville is scenic and a picture of revitalization of long-ignored areas of cities. But how often do we ask for whom and why?

So on vacation for daily mountain biking and several rounds of breweries each afternoon, I am mired in thoughts of bravery—or to be honest, the lack of bravery in me and those around me whether I am where I live or here in Asheville.

No matter where you go, there you are, and mostly everyone is cowardly and selfish.

And as I often do, I think about the reduced circumstances of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The rarely discussed consequence of the sacred Invisible Hand is that it keeps us often frantic so that behavior that falls short of any sort of human decency looks brave—senators barely keeping a healthcare system afloat that is criminally inadequate but even so better than the alternatives being promised.

To be brave, then, wherever you live, wherever you are, comes with great personal costs. As Ratik Asokan writes: “Most middle-class Indians hate Arundhati Roy—or, rather, they hate the political activist she has apparently become.”

Roy, it seems, has committed the sin of bravery, a sin most offensive to the so-called middle class—and this is about India, a country of tremendous poverty.

“Fiction is the only thing that can connect all of this together,” Roy explains about returning to the novel as a writer after decades writing essays as a political activist. “Fiction is truth. You turn to fiction when you can’t express reality with footnotes and evidence and reportage.”

Normal, it seems, becomes powerful and evil, ultimately. No matter where you go, there you are with your normal against the normal around you.

I feel both at home and entirely out of place in Asheville, but I am merely visiting and spreading my disposable income around town, often at breweries and restaurants where I am just wasting time and hoping to come out the other side—if not brave at least a bit less of a coward.

See Also

The Low Road, Marge Piercy

Freedom, Choice, and the Death of Us

“they did not stop to think they died instead”

“‘next to of course god america i,'” e.e. cummings

Over the course of a couple hours after my mother was discovered comatose, the ER doctor offered us a choice: airlift my mother to a larger hospital for surgery to remove the clot in her brain that caused her stroke or leave her comatose, each moment destroying more of her brain.

Just twelve days later, in front of my mother then in a rehabilitation facility after responding well to the high-risk surgery,  my father became unresponsive; the EMS team summoned by a 911 call were frantically trying to resuscitate my father, kept alive by his pacemaker/defibrillator. Since my father had resisted switching off the defibrillator and choosing a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order, the lead EMS responder asked me where I wanted him to be transported.

Because of the proceeding days when we all scrambled against my parents’ health insurance, my first thought was how was I to know where his insurance would cover this event (ultimately the last moments of his life).

While cycling on the local rail trail near my university and where my mother now remains in a single room—the building in which she witnessed my father’s death—a friend and I pedaled up to a road crossing where a father sat on his bicycle with a trailer attached for children to ride along.

This intersection has decorative circles of brickwork on each side of the road. As this man crossed, he steered poorly around the brickwork—the cart left wheel rolling up onto the brick, tipping the cart and his two sons over onto the side of the trail and jerking the bicycle out from under the father.

These are all complicated and difficult stories about choice and freedom in the U.S.

The U.S. is a cruel and calloused culture that values a false narrative about freedom and choice, an idealized version of freedom and choice as concepts that trump all else.

Even human dignity.

Even life.

Especially in healthcare, education, and providing social support for the poor, the guiding principle is giving people choice, believing that individual responsibility is the root cause of poor health, failing students and schools, and finding oneself in poverty.

The meritocracy and rugged individualism myths are so powerful in the U.S. that winners and losers both cling to them even when the game is revealed to be fatally rigged. As Tim Maly explains:

So there are people who can be so wrapped up in a certain worldview that even in the face of serious evidence that they have been taken in, and despite many warnings from the rest of the world, they persist. Indeed, warnings from the rest of the world seem to serve only to entrench them in their position. With some of them, it’s as if they end up making bad choices specifically to spite the people warning them.

The U.S. has instilled a tremendous amount of self-loathing, in fact, among marginalized groups (blacks, English language learners, women) who feel compelled to embrace the bitter American Dream in order to be American—even as each of them could utter as Langston Hughes wrote:

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

The parent cycling with his children in tow was free to choose placing those boys in the trailer, free to choose to pedal along the trail and then to send them tumbling.

And there we must admit, parental choice is not universally a good thing, and we must also confront that anyone’s choice necessarily encroaches on the freedom of others: children routinely suffer the consequences of their parents’ choices.

The children were fine, however, but my mother and father—along with our family—have been navigating a hellscape of healthcare dictated by patient choice and freedom, jumbled with a nightmare of bureaucracy in which mandated and bounded choices are not really choices at all.

In the U.S., we celebrate the choice between a Toyota Camry and Honda Accord (essentially the same car with the free market promise of competitive prices in your local market!), but few people are afforded the freedom of not buying a car at all—and no one is allowed the freedom from sales and property taxes or freedom from insurance and liability for all that driving.

Freedom and choice are in fact a nasty shell game used to keep the masses occupied so that they do not realize only the few have some sort of economic freedom and choice because of the labor of those masses, those people drawn to the myths like moths to a flame but never allowed to survive the allure.

It’s July 4th, a patriotic orgy in the U.S. that is as shallow and materialistic as the country we celebrate.

A people truly committed to equity and our moral obligations as humans would recognize that sometimes, maybe even often, choice and freedom are not as important as insuring that no one needs to choose because essentials are collectively provided for everyone to insure the dignity of simply being a human.

No child left to the lottery draw of their parents, no sick person tossed into the meat grinder of market-based healthcare, no elderly cast into the dark well of individual responsibility.

As we wave tiny plastic flags today, swill (mostly) cheap beer while overeating from our decadent grills, let us roast in the sun and the recognition that we actually have freedom and choice—and this heartless and selfish country is what we have chosen.

For Further Reading

Why poverty is not a personal choice, but a reflection of society, Shervin Assari

‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ by Frederick Douglass

Healthcare? We Do Not Care: Blood from a Turnip

Over the past two weeks, my mother had a stroke and resides now in a rehabilitation facility, and my father died sitting beside her over this weekend, after deteriorating for months because of a failing heart.

My family has been experiencing the nightmare that is the consequence of living in a nation that worships money above all else: being sick and dying in the U.S. remains a financial disaster.

We in the U.S. have purposefully and willfully monetized illness and death.

While my mother was in the hospital, she needed her IV changed, but the floor nurse on duty was having trouble with the new placement. She called in the head nurse, who asked me about the care my mother was receiving at the hospital.

I eagerly praised the nurses, doctors, and staff—all of whom had been wonderful, and it is no hyperbole, they literally saved my mother’s life.

I explained, however, that this recent experience combined with my own accident on Christmas eve had reinforced how senseless the healthcare and insurance systems in the U.S. are.

She was quick to concur, noting how often the insurance representatives dictated what doctors have traditionally decided was best for patients.

My mother’s insurance was not a provider for the hospital where they saved her life; that same insurance made placing her in a rehabilitation facility a week-long waste of time, including rejecting her being in a higher care facility recommended by the doctors.

Today, we head to the mortuary with the blunt awareness that my working class parents have only a small balance in my father’s check book—accounts we may not be able to access due to my mother’s condition—and only their insurance and Social Security to sustain them.

As millions of people have done and are doing, we are navigating how inexpensively we can bury my father while also balancing how to provide my mother the care she needs to recover her life, again as inexpensively as possible,

I am a son of the South, just as I am of my parents, and I cannot push from my mind “You can’t get blood from a turnip.”

How did we allow this? How do we sit idly by and cheer on the soulless political leadership that manufactured this disaster and works now to make it even worse?

Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and lawyers are feeding on us; our healthcare system is a real-life reveal like Soylent Green.

The wealthiest and most powerful country in human history could easily provide humanely for the health and death of every person who lives in the U.S. And as a people who rush to wave our flag and shout about being a Christian nation, we have the capacity to put our actions behind our words.

Other countries do because the people expect this basic human dignity.

But we do not care. We are an awful people.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10, NIV)

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7, NIV)

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24, NIV)

If you are so inclined to evoke God, claim to know the wishes of God, we must admit there is no act of a god greater than the will of a people to put children, the elderly, the sick, and the dying before all else.

Instead, we have cast them all into the Terrible Churn that is our glorious Free Market.

Damning them, damning ourselves.


For Further Reading

Health Insurance Coverage and Health — What the Recent Evidence Tells Us, Benjamin D. Sommers, M.D., Ph.D.; Atul A. Gawande, M.D., M.P.H.; and Katherine Baicker, Ph.D.

Are the benefits of publicly subsidized coverage worth the cost? An analysis of mortality changes after Medicaid expansion suggests that expanding Medicaid saves lives at a societal cost of $327,000 to $867,000 per life saved.29 By comparison, other public policies that reduce mortality have been found to average $7.6 million per life saved, suggesting that expanding health insurance is a more cost-effective investment than many others we currently make in areas such as workplace safety and environmental protections. Factoring in enhanced well-being, mental health, and other outcomes would only further improve the cost–benefit ratio. But ultimately, policymakers and other stakeholders must decide how much they value these improvements in health, relative to other uses of public resources — from spending them on education and other social services to reducing taxes [emphasis added].

The Hollow Nation

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion…

“The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot

My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for eleven years….Carers aren’t machines.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

We are the hollow nation. We are the stuffed nation, “Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw.”

It has been almost seven months since a motorist struck a pack of cyclists I was riding with on Christmas Eve 2016, injuring four of us—two seriously and permanently.

The motorist was deemed at fault on the scene, but received only a $76 ticket, less than the monthly payments I am making on my remaining medical bills since the insurance claim for the accident has yet to be settled.

My own insurance has paid much of the cost, but I am required to repay those payments once I have a settlement. The orthopedist, as well, overcharged me during my fracture treatment, refunding that amount more than six months later.

Nine or ten insurance companies and multiple lawyers have been wrestling with this accident, and the other injured cyclists and I have received a barrage of bills and notices from the ER, the hospital, the ambulance service, and numerous doctors. One cyclist was airlifted from the scene, and since the motorist had minimum coverage, his portion of that insurance likely was erased immediately in that urgent care.

This recent Monday morning, my mother was found unconscious by my youngest nephew, her grandson. She had a stroke, requiring an ambulance to transport her to our local hospital that then had her airlifted to a larger hospital nearby for emergency surgery on the clot discovered in her brain.

She has been in neurological ICU, and now a regular hospital room since Monday—but soon she will be transferred again to a rehabilitation facility for 2-3 weeks.

My father has been quite unwell recently; therefore, we are guiding him around in a wheelchair, circling our own wagons because my mother’s stroke creates a new and terrifying reality: she was his caretaker, and the family now must seek ways to provide both of my parents care.

Working-class children of the 1940s and 1950s, my parents have only Social Security and Medicare to sustain them.

Our next steps are swamped by if and how well their insurance and social services cover the medical care and rehabilitation my mother needs, if and how well my father can receive the daily care she has been providing.

My accident and my mother’s stroke are not nearly as extreme as the terrors of the healthcare system in the U.S. that countless people suffer daily. But these “terrors” are not really about the healthcare.

The treatment my mother has received, the seemingly miraculous surgery, has been the sort of kind and skilled medicine that leaves you mesmerized by the power of humans to make this world work in ways that are good and right and life-affirming.

But that care, I am afraid, is an isolated outlier in a calloused and awful system of administration, bureaucracy, and dehumanization caused by our lack of political courage as a people, as a country.

The power of universal healthcare and a single-payer system to provide humanity and dignity to the amazing medicine and brilliant healthcare providers already in the U.S. is left in the wake of our hollow nation.

A nation that is the wealthiest and most powerful in human history.

A nation that allows more than 1 in 5 children to live in poverty.

A nation of heartless and vicious partisan politics poised to dump an already inadequate system into the laps of caretakers, family members.

My accident exposes the hollowness of calls for individual responsibility; the system is designed to allow serial carelessness that leaves innocent victims responsible.

My mother’s stroke exposes that we as a nation genuinely do not care about a generation of people who may have bought the American Dream myth most sincerely—people such as my parents who were buoyed by white privilege they denied, who preached and practiced  the rigged rugged individualism scarred by racism with the faith it would pay off as they decline into their new reality of being dependent on the kindness of not only family, but the kindness of strangers.

Wealth and security are hoarded by a few, a vicious tribalism of a country that denies community, the power and dignity of everyone caring about everyone—not just the tunnel vision quest of “me getting mine,” the mean-spirited Social Darwinism that lurks beneath our national platitudes about working hard and fair play.

A hollow nation that denies the humanity of all sorts of “others” because of race and religion, but also culls away many at the edges of white privileged—white poor, white working-poor, white working class.

My parents represent that even the wink-wink-nod-nod promise of the American Dream (the white nationalism of “Make America Great Again”) is a lie, a calloused lie within the larger lie to the tired, the poor, the huddled massed—and especially a bald-faced lie about the so-called melting pot, a metaphor more accurate if named a witch’s cauldron.

With these realities before me, it is tempting to call for the removal of the Statue of Liberty, but at least, we must strip it of the poem inscribed at the base and post instead:

We are the hollow nation. We are the stuffed nation, “Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw.”

The Illusion of Free Speech and Democracy in a Culture of Capitalist-Consumerism

All along the incredibly compressed political/ideological spectrum in the U.S., hand wringing has begun about free speech—mostly because right-wing racist academics and hate-mongering pundits-for-hire have been blocked from speaking or challenged on college campuses.

It seems to me we should pause the melodrama, then, and consider what I believe is the most important koan-type question to ponder concerning free speech: Is it OK to shout “theater” in a crowded firehouse?

Now let’s unpack this as important.

Key here is the question is a satire of the Urban-Legend reduction of free speech couched as “Is it OK to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater?”

The satire adds nuance and complexity to considering and understanding free speech since, as the current pontificating shows once again, the public debate about free speech is typically awful in its laziness and lack of context .

Ulrich Baer’s response is a rare recognition of that lack of context and laziness:

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

So here are a few problems with the All Voices Matter approach to demanding that colleges must protect even the most horrible speech on their campuses.

“Free speech” is a constitutional term about the role of government to protect and not impede any citizen’s right to expression. As noted above, “free speech” is not any damn body gets to say any damn thing any damn time.

If we persist in this debate without including the context of the government’s role, then we are being terribly lazy and ultimately dishonest.

Now, yes, tax-supported public universities and colleges certainly create a complicated context for the role of government in protected or limited speech—if we consider administration and faculty as agents of the government in these institutions.

What we are then arguing, I believe, is academic freedom, a much different concept.

Academics and scholars rightly call for and defend academic freedom, but it too is not license for anyone to say anything any time.

As a professor of history, one may acknowledge to students that Holocaust deniers exist, but that would come with a clear denouncing of that position. As important here is that academics and scholars take great care to represent the weight of voices along with the credibility of voices.

Holocaust deniers, academics would stress, are in a significant minority, and their scholarship is deeply flawed, therefore invalid.

For comparison, let’s return to satire and look at the media in the U.S.

Like the imbalance of Holocaust deniers to Holocaust scholars, the climate change debate is greatly skewed—the vast majority of environmental scientists verify climate change is a fact while a few (usually without credentials in the field) deny climate change, also without valid science behind their claims.

Yet, as John Oliver has shown through the power of satire to render the oversimplified complex, the mainstream media, in its ham-fisted effort at being fair and balanced, routinely have two people present “both sides” on issues such as climate change.

This standard of journalism completely misrepresents the weight of informed opinion and the significance of expertise—whose voice matters and how much that voice is amplified.

All of the current lazy bluster, then, is failing the importance of free speech and academic freedom by oversimplifying the principles, blurring the concepts, and, worst of all, completely ignoring the real threats to free speech—capitalist-consumerism.

There is no free speech in the U.S., and what academic freedom exists is small and cloistered in select classrooms, often hidden and thinly shielded from the Institutions themselves—as public and private education remains prisoner to consumerism and the all-mighty dollar.

Whose voice matters in the U.S. is determined by wealth and still governed by, mostly, white men.

Free speech ultimately is not just about who gets to speak and if, but about the platform as well as the weight behind the who and the what—and mostly that is determined by the weight of money, gender, and race.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Mark Zuckerberg.

O, wait, that’s already happened.