25 November 2009

The Loving Story

Thrown into rat-invested jails and exiled from their hometown for 25 years, the Lovings fought back and changed history.

Using rare archival footage, home movies, photographs, interviews with witnesses, friends and family, and poetic visual and narrative sequences, the documentary builds a complex portrait of the couple at the heart of marriage equality in this country -- how the changes their now-famous bravery and the anti-miscegenation case argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 have influenced our definition of community and family in modern America.

But the movie, due to be released in 2010, intends to do more: to look at how the story itself as it has mutated over the years, with the understanding that history is only as reliable as those who tell it.

Mildred Delores Jeter Loving and her husband Richard Perry Loving lived in Virginia, where interracial marriage was banned by the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. When Mildred was 18 she became pregnant, and the couple decided travel to Washington D.C. (importantly, out of Virginia) to get married.

In 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the unanimous Supreme Court Decision, Mildred issued a statement which concluded:

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God's plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation's fears and prejudices have given way, and today's young people realize that if someone loves someone, they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the 'wrong kind of person' for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

To learn more about the annual celebration of the anniversary, visit: www.lovingday.org, but bear in mind there are events year round, not just on June 12.

28 October 2009

Kleis and Clark bridge the political divide

Almost two years ago, in the anxious wake of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, bridge inspectors determined that flaws merited shutting down the so-called "De Soto/Highway 23" bridge in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The news was bad - it would be seven (7) years before reconstruction of a heavily travelled bridge.  No help was forthcoming from Washington.

In St. Paul, legislators at the State Capitol dealing with budget shortfalls  - and despite a governor famously opposed to transportation spending - nonetheless found the will and the resources to replace this bridge seen as vital to the community. They got traffic moving again not in seven years, but in less than two.

The new bridge, the “Granite City Crossing,” is a tribute to the persistence of state and local legislators, and local contractors, working with no help from Washington on a project they knew was important to nearby residents and businesses. Tomorrow (Thursday, 29 Oct 2009) the crossing will re-open to vehicular traffic. Sure, members of the Minnesota delegation to the U.S. Congress were on hand for the dedication; but the initiative and drive, the funding that made it a reality, are a credit to dedicated local politicians, such as St. Cloud's Mayor, Dave Kleis who'd spent seven years at the Capitol as Assistant Minnesota Senate Minority Leader and Minnesota state Senator Tarryl Clark. It was local commitment and leadership that solved this problem for their community.

Pictures of ribbon cuttings don't put people to work - fundamentally sound priorities such as investing in returning this bridge to service, and the courage to find money to invest in our infrastructure even in difficult financial times instead of lining the pockets of special interests, are precisely the qualities we deserve from elected officials at any level. People who act for the good of their neighbors and community are to be applauded - and encouraged to do more.

When politicians overcome partisan political posturing - when they bridge that divide - the consistent winners are the citizens they represent.

17 October 2009

Michelle Obama: I thought we had our stuff together.

Nearly one out of three children in the USA are overweight or obese, with that number rising to one half in African American and Hispanic communities.  Focusing on the profound implications of these growing numbers, First Lady Michelle Obama discussed her concern over the diminished quality of life for affected children in an appearance at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on October 16, 2009.

Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start kids on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. 

Ms. Obama discussed the challenges that today’s parents, particularly working mothers, face in consistently providing healthy meals and snacks for their children. She shared some of her personal stories with this struggle.
"...I got a little tap on my shoulder from our kids' pediatrician who basically said, "You know, you may want to look at changing the way your children are eating," because he could see the effects. And I was shocked. I thought we all had our stuff together.

But it's a little startling when somebody tells you you need to, you know, rethink things. So you just try to figure out, well, where do you begin, what do you change, how can you change things? But what I found was that if we start small and not try to bite off too much, if we just added a few more fruits and vegetables into every single meal, if we cut down on sugary drinks and processed fruit -- foods, that we could see some changes.

The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 more than doubled in the past 20 years according to the Centers for Disease Control. The rate among adolescents aged 12 to 19 more than tripled!

What can be done?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines, the first to be issued by the federal government, present science-based recommendations to help persons aged 6 years or older improve their health through physical activity.

Read Ms. Obama's full remarks online.  Visit CDC.gov to learn more about the contributing factors, prevalence, and statistics of childhood obesity and get tips for parents interested encouraging healthy eating habits and making sure that their kids' lifespan is longer than their own.


16 October 2009

The greening of a city

Minneapolis is slated to receive $31.8 Million from the ARRA funds to further innovative housing projects according to Mayor Raymond "R.T." Rybak, a fiscal bulldog who is poised to win re-election to a third term.

In north Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) is partnering with an array of community organizations to create a brand new senior community center that will provide a variety of medical, recreational and social services to the senior population.

Near that proposed community center, the ARRA funds will also be used to develop a new 48-unit cutting edge "green" senior housing development incorporating technologies such as solar and geothermal to provide a supportive home to the frail and elderly, particularly those who have severe memory issues.  The innovative structure, built from green materials, will reduce energy costs and consumption to reduce the structure’s carbon footprint.

Green economic initiatives go beyond environmental awareness; it starts with construction jobs that help get money flowing in the area, while the community benefits long-term -- in this case from the new facility to take care of senior citizens while having a low impact on critical resources.

Rybak says that improvements on 733 already existing MPHA properties will also be undertaken using ARRA funds.  Properties have severely outdated energy and water systems will be enhanced to be more efficient and to save energy.   Even in the land of 10,000 lakes, water is one of our most precious resources, and obviously energy efficiency goes beyond economic and environmental concerns to actually enhance national security by reducing our dependence on supplies from those who have historically opposed American success.

Such investments in a community give a boost to the local economy while ultimately reducing burdens on tax-payers as well.  Rybak's Minneapolis continues to be a strong competitor for recovery funds and innovative, beneficial projects like this illustrate what a strong, effective leader skilled at advocating on behalf of their community can do.
Recovery.gov is online to see projections -- based on language in the legislation -- of where ARRA money will go, broken down state-by-state.

Mixed Greens

14 October 2009

A letter from U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN)

Dear Friends,

American families continue to struggle during these tough economic times. Job loses, rising health care costs, and the foreclosure crisis combine to put unprecedented stress on hard-working Americans.

Since entering Congress, I have worked to reduce the financial crisis' impact on our communities by supporting legislation to extend unemployment insurance, curtail predatory lending, and save working families from losing their homes.

We all know someone who has been forced to make hard choices due to the sagging economy. For example, some parents are forced to make ends meet by sending their children to school without a lunch.

I recently introduced the Expand School Meals Act (HR 3705), which would ensure that more students receive the nutritious meals they need to learn and succeed. Senator Franken joined me by introducing a Senate version of the bill.

My campaigns have always been about more than electoral victory. Since my election in 2006, I've run vigorous campaigns focused on what I call "the politics of generosity and inclusion" - a movement based on the reality that there are enough resources to go around - and that we should act that way.

In order to build the politics of generosity and inclusion, our campaign reaches out to underrepresented communities, helping citizens organize and fight for the change we need on issues like affordable health care, green jobs, and reforming our financial system.

I need your help to get out the word and organize for our progressive agenda. Conservative commentators are working overtime to spread lies and distortions, but you can fight back by making your voice heard.

Help me continue building the politics of generosity and inclusion by making a contribution of $10, $25, $50, or $100.

Thank you for your support!


Keith Ellison
Member of Congress

Learn more about the Expand School Meals Act - HR 3705 either by following that link or by using the convenient Google search box below.


Tick tick tick... Time for Climate Justice

The former U.N. Secretary General is campaigning for a climate-change initiative. Kofi Annan, winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, responds to questions posed by Tim Morrison of Time Magazine...

"Climate change is having a real impact on the lives of individuals and communites around the world. We must do something about it."
Former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan
Download "Beds Are Burning" freely, and become a Climate Ally  at: www.TimeForClimateJustice.org

The time has come
To take a stand...


Mixed Greens

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12 October 2009

Are we running out of water?

WaterOver two billion people do not have adequate water to address basic sanitation needs (according to the World Health Organization/UNICEF report, “Meeting the MDG drinking water and sanitation target: the urban and rural challenge of the decade,” Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment, [World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund, 2006].)

    Here are three questions:
  1. Do you know how much water it takes to put a pound of beef on the table?
  2. Is there much difference in the water content between a cup of coffee and/or a cup of tea?
  3. How many people don't have access to clean drinking water?
answers below

In the United States and elsewhere a number of local governments now rely on "privatized" water systems.  The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy [IATP] has produced a map and a report on the impact of water privatization in the U.S.  Links to those documents and other related materials can be found at "Helping Local Communities Thrive" at the henoticworld blog.

Water "Remunicipalization"

Nonetheless, some communities have insisted on returning water and sewage treatment services to public management -- "remunicipalization" -- forcing water multinationals to pull services out of communities world-wide. Do you know how many communities in your state are buying their water from for-profit multi-national corporations?  Is it the end of water as we know it? I know this: it's enough to make Lewis Black curse. (The following clip contains strong language that may not be appropriate for some readers.)

The answers:

  1. It requires 1500 gallons to raise and deliver a pound of beef to your kitchen (over six times more than a pound of chicken!)
  2. It takes roughly 4 times as much water to make a cup of coffee compared to a cup of tea.
  3. Over 1 billion people do NOT have access to clean drinking water.
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25 September 2009

Communities of Interest

There was a time when the concept of community was strictly geographic - in practical terms, what happened to people who directly affected your chance of survival was what mattered. Trade started to broaden the area, of course, since a trader serves as a broker in cases where geography makes it impractical for interested folks from one community to deal directly with those in another, say to obtain tea from hundreds of miles away while still maintaining your agrarian way of life, working as a blacksmith, etc.

Money, (the use of a system with banks and other financial entities) and technology (such as transportation, and rapid, non-face-to-face communication) have profound ramifications for how we see communities and how they function. It's not necessary, for example, to persuade neighbors to give up their time and labor to help build a home or raise a barn, we negotiate with a banker about the value of such projects and either arrange a mortgage or engage a contractor to attain our goals. We can eat blueberries or other perishable delicacies from halfway around the world; we can see pictures of natural disasters, or wars, as they happen. We are touched by evidence of suffering after a tsunami, or the plight of refugees.

Our sense of community grows - our definition of community is no longer about neighbors in the original sense; our neighbors, the non-family people we are concerned about, include not only those who might dump noxious stuff into our water supply or start a fire that threatens our property, but some living on other continents. We know the plight of workers in India, or China, impacts the standard of living of our relatives and "proximate" neighbors as surely as if they were competing for the same jobs - because in point of fact, they are.

It behooves us, according to most philosophies and religions, to treat our neighbors with the care, interest, and respect we want them to employ when dealing with us.

Yet, in the most technologically advanced nation in the world, the United States of America, we are debating the merit of extending health care coverage to tens of millions of our closest friends and neighbors by making it affordable.

Large capitalist organizations are trying to avoid competing in an open, free market for customers, preferring to pick and choose those they can make the most profits on - while the reality is that everybody does get health care, because if you get sick and you can't afford it the hospitals will admit you to the Emergency Room, but then to insure their own survival they must absorb that effort by raising the prices on their other services. Logic alone obviously dictates that we find a method to spread those costs fairly.

Human compassion argues for doing so, as well.

We're not getting great health care in the United States, we're getting very expensive health care that costs even the wealthy more than it should. Yet, rather than examine the successes in other countries and adopting their best practices, big business interests in this debate are spending millions of dollars every day (collected from health care premiums) to influence the men and women in Congress, who are sorely outnumbered by the lobbyists. It's a travesty - a sham - that makes a mockery of the alleged reliance on free markets to insure efficiency and improvement of goods and services.

The "profit motive" is great. It brings consumers choices for fair trade coffee and tea parties, and "out-of-season" blueberries, and Blackberries™, and a veritable plethora of choices for our transportation, wardrobes, and more. It also brings the cost of MRIs down in Japan, by an astonishing margin compared to what we pay in the USA - why is that?  Because we've let the system of paying for health care mimic a competitive market, while in practice it's not possible for a consumer to make a real, let alone well-informed choice. 

When you're in a serious car accident you don't shop around for the best doctor charging the lowest rates, you trust an ambulance or flight for life chopper (is that socialized health care?) will transport you to the nearest hospital or clinic (are those for-profit entities?) and you agree to pay the price that facility needs to charge you to cover being there, on call, day and night, and cover their overhead, which includes doing all the paperwork for insurance claims and the costs of those who arrive uninsured and broke.

Half of the personal bankruptcies in the USA are triggered by medical expenses.  Bankruptcy isn't some magic wand, though, it means that all the people who were owed money by that person end up getting less than they agreed to originally - sometimes virtually nothing at all - and so THEIR costs of doing business go up much the same way a hospital or clinic has to "absorb" the costs of treating those in the community who cannot afford it.

One way or another, we pay.  One way, we also pay 8-digit salaries and bonuses to CEOs and lobbyists who profit from rising costs that have outstripped inflation for three decades.  Those costs do get spread across the area where the insurers do business, of course.
There's certainly no "perfect" system, and there's big money riding on keeping things "as is,"  but one thing has become obvious to even the most casual observer: there's lots of room for improvement in the current scheme, for finding a fairer way to distribute the costs while controlling the expenses, and the benefit of improvement will flow to you, and me, and our community - no matter if you think of community as the neighborhood, the city, the country, or the planet.
The Congressional Budget Office figures show that tethering a public option to Medicare reimbursement rates would save the government $110 billion! That's even more than the "public option" in which the government has to negotiate rates with doctors and other health care providers. There are LOTS of fiscally conservative ways to improve the bottom line, and places where the profit motive can drive innovation and reduce costs -- but the bottom line is:

Let's get the profit motive out of health care payment.

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14 September 2009

How to end illegal immigration

"We don't want the government to do anything."

That's the mindset of some folks, despite the fact the U.S. Constitution actually calls for government to manage things such as defense, domestic tranquility, etc. Oddly, by doing away with the government, we no longer have illegal immigrants. We also do away with pundits pretending to be objectively covering politics and all those ads during the election. That's a fair trade-off for no more taxes, right? In a way, it's interesting - it's utopian:
I don't need anybody regulating the food I buy; I don't need anybody checking the efficacy of the drugs I use; I'm never going to need a fire-fighter or a policeman! I don't need roads and bridges built or maintained by some big agency - no not me! I'm fine with private, "free market" solutions to everything, including education, defense, and immigration.
Call it a little naive, maybe, but... the sound bites seem appealing until you ponder little things such as: who deals with pollution in the streams you fish in, or how a family living in a hut copes with forest fires, hurricanes, or immigration (at least there'd be no more illegal immigrants.)

The problem seems to stem from how any given person views and values their community. If you believe you can be totally self-sufficient, that there's no gain from being able to drive to the grocery store, have utilities connected to your property, or turn to an outside authority about a potential dispute about just what IS your property, well, then there's not much the government offers, I suppose. But if you value other people (say, for instance, somebody who will make your bullets, or mine copper to help make pipes so you can build solar heating panels, or simply to keep your descendants from inbreeding,) then unless you always get along perfectly with everybody it follows that there's a certain value in civilization - which is to say, society.
Community values, shared vision and common goals, lead to things such as fire departments, public beaches, Navies to deal with piracy on the seas so you can get certain goods you can't grow or make yourself, the FDA, even bridges and national parks - but none of that is without a cost, that we must share. Even hermits benefit from agencies that limit the pollution in the water and connect the dots between pesticides and reproduction in wild animal populations, after all. What will the mountain man, living on the fish in his stream, do when somebody removes that food supply?

Debating the role of government is great...

Look, I'm no fan of paying for somebody else to sit around doing nothing, and I think the IRS rules are needlessly obscure and convoluted for the wrong reasons -- but as long as my share of the taxes collected is fair I'm not against taxes or governments in principle. The process of democracy in the U.S. is obviously not perfect; I envy the Iraqis who have health care access guaranteed by their new constitution, but I'm very fond of what we've built in this country and I'm fine with contributing to the betterment of my community - which extends considerably beyond the edges of my little chunk of land.

31 August 2009

Have Town Halls jumped the shark?

The town hall format is attracting a lot of attention, but people obviously come based on partisan goals, emotions run high, and political reporters determine how the story is played in the media.

The Washington Post, for instance, recently ran with
"The DNC kickoff rally in Phoenix attracted about 1,200 reform supporters, but a raucous meeting on the other side of town hosted by Obama's former presidential campaign rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) attracted hundreds more -- most of whom were loudly opposed to Democratic reform proposals."
This at best inconsistent with the reports from the Associated Press, which indicated McCain faced a hostile town hall crowd in favor of health care reform. Quoting, again,
"After McCain opened it up to questioning, one man angrily pointed at him and asked the senator why he deserves a better health care plan than him."
A more academic setting where the focus is on facts rather than carefully scripted appearances intended to mimic open forums quite probably does more to forward any discussion. Given how adept partisans and pundits of both sides are at dismissing any assertions advanced by their opponents, the chance to have a voice from outside politics, an experienced respected scientific researcher, discussing facts is overdue.

Recognizing that, Dr. Morrison Hodges, Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine (and formerly the Director of Cardiology at Hennepin County Medical Center) will describe the forces that shaped the U.S. health care system in a lecture on September 17, 2009. He intends to cover how we arrived at a "market based health care system funded by employers" and how well is it's working in comparison to other countries. Dr. Hodges will explain the history of U.S. health care and how it compares in quality and cost to other functioning systems. Dr. Hodges believes he can outline how the United States can cover everyone with quality health care "without breaking the bank."

The town hall format has done much to illuminate how central the problems with our health care insurance system are in our communities. With one in six citizens uncovered, we've all come to realize that we end up paying for their medical problems anyway, be it through increased premiums, or more subtly when they're forced to file for bankruptcy protection (over half of personal bankruptcy filings in the U.S. are triggered by medical costs.) We've come to resent that money collected to pay health care premiums is spent at a rate of over a million dollars per day just to support lobbyists seeking to continue "business as usual" in D.C., and resent paperwork that drives up costs and bureaucrats that countermand medical decisions without improving outcomes.

It's time to peel back the rhetoric, to get past the sound-bites and the spin-mongering "pundits" -- to stop pretending this is about death panels or a way to cover illegal immigrants, and find a way to preserve our American way of life by insuring that every citizen can afford decent medical care as needed. I applaud Dr. Hodges and those who have made it possible for him to share his knowledge in an academic setting, even if it doesn't make for such dramatic TV coverage.

For more information about the Hodges lecture, see:

20 May 2009

Working effectively for change

Getting people out to vote was what put Obama into the Oval Office, but obviously different tactics are required to bring about change, particularly at the national level, when the issue won't be decided at the polls. Part of what we do is spread the messages, and arm people with the facts, but most of the change between elections depends on legislative persuasion, and incumbents aren't typically "scared" of losing votes unless their re-election date is looming very closely indeed.

Do you know how your legislator voted on the issue, or similar ones, in the past?

Voting records can be found at watchdog sites such as OpenCongress and Project Vote Smart. Search voting records by member of congress or by topic, check in on committee and bill activity, or call the office and ask for their voting record or a position paper on how your representative stands on the issue of concern to you. Not only will you understand the position your elected official has already taken, it may help you learn about the issue in terms of what's in play in D.C., or where the pressure from the other side is concentrated.

The Wellstone Action organization always stresses what you have in common with your reps...

They're people with a history, experiences, and most importantly commitments to various issues. There are lots of great tips at Wellstone.org, but here are a few highlights for effectively dealing with a legislator at any level of government. It is crucial to get to know them and their story - they're people.

  • Learn their biographies - including family, profession, education, etc.
  • Know their districts. If it's not your representative you're lobbying you'd better research the demographics, geography, economy, and the challenges of the person's state or district.
  • Discover their policy interests. What issues motivated them to become an elected official? On which issues do they exert leadership? What life experiences have made certain issues real to them? Whose opinion on issues do they value?
  • Learn their community interests. Find out where they volunteer, and worship -- what they care about in their communities both now and historically.
  • Exhibit your shared interests by letting them get to know you. Sales professionals know it's all about personal relationships, and that means your success is tied to your willingness to talk about yourself, not just the issue. They know you have an agenda, everybody who approaches an elected official has an agenda, that's the nature of their position - but if they like you as a person you will, frankly, make better progress.

Take the time to listen to elected officials, not just study them. Hear their concerns. Become a resource to them and look for opportunities to provide them information and other assistance. These folks are all about networking. If you go to a town hall meeting or a fund-raiser, or any other event they're at, they WILL talk to you, they love to talk - so listen, don't just cram your idea down their throat.

Maintain contact and notice things that deserve praise and support. You're pitching an idea, and you can bet somebody else is pitching a totally contrary plan - so be respectful and genuine to make yourself worthy of consideration. When you're up against the hopes and ambitions of major campaign donors (and you almost always are) or influential special interests you'll have to be persistent and persuasive to make much headway, as the current negotiations over health care reform show.

14 May 2009

An opportunity to create millions of new U.S. jobs

At a time when outsourcing undermines the middle class, and deregulation has wounded our entire economy, we have a chance to be creating millions of new jobs right here in the U.S.A.

It's time for our leaders to take charge of the economy. Deregulation has helped the wealthy long enough: it's time to reward those who WORK for a living by insuring there are jobs for anybody in the U.S.A. willing to be productive.

Investing in energy independence isn't simply a national defense priority, it makes sense for the environment and our economy - it means jobs right here at home.

The Economic Policy Institute recently showed that a $100 billion in green investment annually would yield $160 billion in additional output for each of the next two years, creating approximately 1.1 million new jobs and resulting in an increase of approximately 100,000 in the number of unionized jobs in the United States. EPI points out that this would lead to rising median incomes, a reduction in inequality and more access to job-training and mentorship programs. Read the EPI Issue Brief.

Mixed Greens

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05 April 2009

Fixing Health Care in the U.S. is not the sole province of Democrats

We expect elected U.S. Senators and Representatives to be our eyes and ears tackling the often thorny issues that are best solved with a national perspective. We don't want state legislatures to spend time re-inventing the wheel on problems confronting us all - what to do on behalf of military veterans, or the mortgage foreclosure crisis, for instance, are challenges for the national government.

It's easy to blame that government for being slow to solve problems: the bodies that craft the laws are deliberative by nature, the departments they oversee are engaged in large undertakings - getting the government to change course or take up new challenges is not trivial. The perception that government isn't quick to solve problems has led to calls for privatization of various functions over the years - retirement accounts, for instance. The far-reaching effects of deregulating our financial institutions and the credit-default swap game have shown us the downside of privatizing.

Partisan posturing placates lobbyists, postpones problem-solving.

Rising cost of health carePutting health care administration into the hands of the insurance industry has arguably had similarly disastrous results. We spend more per capita than other nations, yet their innovations have thus far led only to higher costs that keep rising faster than inflation, faltering quality,and red-tape, with non-medical personnel making decisions about treatments and medications.

We've given the responsibility to big insurance companies because we expected creative, cost-effective solutions that improved the delivery of health care services; that's the strength big business brings to any challenge, right? That's why they earn the big salaries and lavish bonuses. Yet the insurance industry hasn't helped get health care right. The costs are out of control, and with millions of Americans - from children through the elderly - uninsured, their system is plainly failing.
U.S. Senator Max Baucus"In 2009, Congress must take up and act on meaningful health reform legislation that achieves coverage for every American while also addressing the underlying problems in our health system. The urgency of this task has become undeniable."
~Senator Max Baucus, (D-MT)
Chairman, Senate Finance Committee
12 November 2008
When the Senate Finance Committee gets involved it's because the repercussions of the current mess are dangerous for the entire U.S. economy. One innovative solution with bi-partisan Finance Committee support is The GREEN HOUSE® Replication Initiative. The concept of Green House® homes is residences for 6 to 10 elders who require skilled nursing care and want to live a rich life. We're talking about significant departure from traditional skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities, organized to foster community and services by enhancing both autonomy and support. Creating places for senior citizens to enjoy calling home without the necessary assistance and care becoming the focus of life seems an obvious idea, doesn't it?

more than bottom line numbers

Insurance actuaries and CEOs know the number of elderly Americans is on the rise, and that their health care is costly - but the solutions haven't been coming from their industry. This particular solution is coming from NCB Capital Impact (the nonprofit affiliate of NCB) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. We need to re-define success. Big business is ignoring the problem, looking instead to their separate bottom lines, while non-profit organizations are bringing real innovation and proactive thinking to bear. We need insurance profiteers out of the health care industry - now.

Note: THE GREEN HOUSE® is a registered trademark. Only projects with an executed sub-license agreement may use the "Green House" term, or a confusingly similar term, in association with a long-term care facility.

01 April 2009

Feminist Advisory Board

Feminist Advisory Board [FAB] for Obama The Feminist Advisory Board [FAB] for Obama is now an official group within Organizing for America.

The founder, Madama Ambi, is now exploring turning FAB, which first gained notice during the 2008 Presidential campaign, into a platform for communicating with The White House Council on Women and Girls. She also hopes for the women's movement to "unify and strengthen its networks, but this doesn't mean that any one group has to be dominant." In Ambi's opinion, "the smart way to organize when you have so much talent is to create a horizontal, transparent network with high-powered communication infrastructures." Certainly staying within the construct of Organizing for America provides tools for that work.

"We are all in this together.
No one is free until everyone is free."
A draft proposal is available for comment at http://needia.blogspot.com, a needs-based women's media network driven by user interactivity. The draft proposal may also be posted at Wikipedia so that it can "take advantage of crowd-sourcing and collective intelligence." Ultimately, despite a feminist focus, you do not have to consider yourself feminist in order to participate in FAB: the group seeks support for dismantling the systems of domination that deprive all people of their human rights.

In the words of U.S. President Barack H. Obama,
"...it's up to us to carry that work forward, to ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements -- and that they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers never dreamed of."

17 March 2009

Tempest-tossed (two-boat) Irish Immigrants not welcomed in U.S.

While the history of the "No Irish Need Apply" signs may have grown in the telling, there was resistance to Irish immigration to the United States; the Ku Klux Klan greeted the newcomers (with their unpopular Christian religion and their strangely fair skin) with the intolerance, rumors about lifestyle, and prejudice previously reserved for non-white people. Perhaps the KKK was confused by the term "Black Irish." There is abundant evidence that such "NINA" signs were prevalent among a certain class in London in the early 1800s, (the British had famously broken away from the Catholic Church under Henry VIII) and scattered elsewhere throughout continental Europe, and no doubt they appeared in the USA as many Irish were fleeing violence and famine in their native land - arriving in America full of dreams and hope.

Regardless, today the President of the United States, Barack Obama, traces some of his ancestry to the Emerald Isle, and one of the better-known "ethnic" holidays in the USA is St. Patrick's Day, and people from all walks of life will take note of it today. Many will adopt caricatures of Irishness for the day, hats fit for a Leprechaun, green buttons and shirts saying "Kiss me, I'm Irish!" as they celebrate Irish culture, tradition, and people. Reporters and journalists across the country will cover people across the country enjoying parades and parties where people sing in faux accents, marvel about Irish jigs, drink beverages from Ireland, and put an O in front of their last name while overlooking the fact they'd never venture into a Catholic church and aren't quite sure how to pronounce shillelagh.

This is a success Americans could do well to reflect on as they consider their current struggle with immigration laws and issues. More than a president noted for an ethnically rich heritage, the United States is a country strengthened by the nature of being an alloy of many cultures and philosophies. The Irish endured invasions over the centuries, yet retained a unique (albeit somewhat misunderstood) cultural identity: both unity and diversity persist proudly on that one smallish island. Surely there is room in the United States for all who dream of freedom and hope to improve their lives.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
It's time for the great minds of American leadership to embrace the American dream, to bring immigrants who treasure the opportunities embodied into our constitution into full participation in our way of life. They must be required to abide by our laws, to value their citizenship and patriotism as highly as their neighbors, to participate in our democracy in every way, and if they don't want to participate wearing green on St. Patrick's Day they must at least recognize that it's about more than a Catholic saint - it's about valuing diversity by walking a mile in somebody else's shoes for one day each year.

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06 March 2009

A bi-partisan message in support of volunteer service.

Two congressmen, Michael Honda (D-CA), and Thomas Petri (R-WI), who served as Peace Corps volunteers in the late 1960s, have teamed up to write an opinion piece published by the Christian Science Monitor describing their experiences in support of Kennedy & Hatchthe bi-partisan initiative of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who are championing the Serve America Act to, "bolster volunteerism across the board – from a Clean Energy Service Corps to an Education Corps to a Healthy Futures Corps."

Citing links between unemployment and murder rates, among others, the Congressmen demonstrate that violent crime rates are tied to relative poverty - and the U.S.A. ranks highest among developed nations in its inequality levels and poverty rates. We've got a problem.
"Poverty is not political, nor is the need or call for service. Helping our neighbors through public service, whether on this continent or another, brings a broad spectrum of benefits, from boosted self-esteem to a bolstered sense of security. It serves the greater good of our community and theirs."
From something as fundamental as a food drive to the much longer commitment of living overseas in El Salvador or Somalia as the two Congressmen did as Peace Corps Volunteers, simply giving to others - to bring hope and build the capacity for self-improvement - is one of the most personally rewarding actions we ever undertake.

Peace Corps

Be inspired - however you define your community, be it your neighborhood or the planet - act.

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02 March 2009

If you're not part of the solution...

USA Can!It’s time for politicians to pay attention to what voters said in November 2008. Voters said, government is here to stay, so stop running against government and just start running the government well. We had a failure of leadership in Washington, and Obama won the Presidency because most voters felt it was time for a change. The task of restoring the jobs, the task of rebuilding the American dream, is urgent. Real people are losing their paychecks every day. Real people are losing their health insurance every day, while millionaire bankers send their lobbyists to D.C. to make sure executives of badly run companies don't lose their bonuses, let alone their pensions or their jobs.

Barack Obama and his team in the White House are clear that they work for the people who elected them, because special interests didn't fund his campaign. He's turned his attention to health care plans that regular people can afford, and won't lose when they lose their jobs - the President knows our wages aren’t keeping pace with the price of gas, food, and prescription drugs. He's rolled up his sleeves; Obama's working every day.

This is what happens when you elect a former community organizer. Voters saw that this is a man who leads by example, a man who's more interested in action than repeating memorized talking points in a press conference. Will you be part of the solution? If you're not talking with your neighbors about community needs and priorities, rest assured there are people who have every intention of controlling how the money is spent.

Obama won’t sit idly by and let our country become even more dependent on foreign oil and imported goods while big companies outsource our jobs. He's targeted education, for example, an investment in our children that will renew our economic power and secure their future.

President Obama gets that government is only as good as the people who run it; he and his staff were working even before the inaugural. Voters are hungry for more leaders with the common sense values Obama has shown, with the courage to do what it takes to lead a clean up of the mess in Washington - so that government "for the people" serves us all by keeping teachers and policemen employed despite special interests and partisan posturing that most of us find disingenuous if not downright unpatriotic in a time of crisis.

I'm not asking who you voted for, or if you're a member of a political party. My question is: What are you doing while Obama's team works to save the economy, jobs, and our environment?

I'm not asking if you can help, but as a citizen of the USA I'm hoping you will.
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27 February 2009

Tea Party

No, I'm not talking about impersonating natives to perpetrate an act of insurrection against the British by vandalizing the cargo in Boston Harbor, but that does set the stage. You see, unlike countries that have longer history, such as Britain, China, and Japan, we've gotten away from tea in the U.S.A because of an oppressive tax burden - it didn't really bother the rich, mind you, but when an everyday beverage becomes so expensive that normal people find the price problematic, something has to be done.

And now we have coffee shops stacked so close together that you can hardly see between them in some places, and they charge - guess what? - a fortune for a cuppa Joe. For the price of one Starbuck's half-caf latte I can get well over an ounce of remarkably good tea. I'm not talking about Lipton's here, either. I'm talking visit a tea shop run by a tea loving entrepreneur, such as Indigo Tea in Burnsville, MN. Food Co-ops offer tea in bulk - even that bastion of new capitalism, Amazon, offers remarkable deals on better-than-average tea. The coffee shops work as fast as they can to get me in and out, but the tea shops encourage me to linger, they offer me tastes of something new, and conversation about the trade.

Tea is the wine of the warm beverage industry. It reflects where it was grown, with influences from how it was prepared between harvesting and arriving at the market. The history of tea is as rich as the beverage itself, which is considerably more diverse than most U.S. coffee-drinkers realize.

Learn about tea; Camellia sinensis.

Learn about Teaism.

I've got nothing against Starbuck's making a noisy buck in their frantic shops, or regional chains such as Caribou and Dunn Brothers that offer jobs in a good environment (albeit often still noisy,) and I applaud the entrepreneurs who run their own operation without the support of national ad budgets... after all, you can get a cup of tea, too, at many of these places.

But in an era when families face foreclosure and loss of health care coverage because the financial industry gamed the mortgage business and we left the foxes guarding the henhouse, it just makes me wonder about our consumer-oriented mindset and economic priorities.

So try something different - have some tea. If you're a coffee drinker and you need something dark and full-bodied to entice you into enjoying what billions of people around the world already enjoy, try aged Pu'erh from China's Yunnan province for a start - check a local supplier, order it through Amazon, or order it in tuocha form online from various small businesses, you won't be disappointed.

Next time you're in New Jersey, visit Cape May and you'll find an amazing array of tea rooms. You're been reading about the health benefits, now I'm telling you that there's more to "Green Tea" than just the stuff from Stash at the grocery store. Slow down and have a tea party.

18 February 2009

Obama's Visit to Arizona Brings Hope to Foreclosure Alley

President Obama has people engaged, and Dawn Teo's covering both sides of the story for Huffington Post:

Dueling groups of anti- and pro-Obama demonstrators were setup in several "free speech zones" near the high school, smaller groups were scattered across sidewalks and Secretary Janet Napolitanostreet corners for several blocks, where former Governor Janet Napolitano's departure to take over as the new United States Secretary of Homeland Security gave Republicans full control of Arizona's state government.

Ms. Teo wrote:
"According to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who spoke to the press before the event, about 6 percent of Arizona mortgages either are in foreclosure or are more than 90 days behind today. Across the country, nearly 10 percent of mortgages are behind, and in December, close to half of home sales across the country were "distressed" sales. Donovan says he expects about 6 million more foreclosures over the next 3 years."
The Obama administration is supporting legislation that, if passed, would allow judges to write down the principle and/or interest of mortgages when mortgage holders file for bankruptcy, and will be releasing new mortgage guidelines, which go into effect in 2 weeks that will standardize the mortgage loan process, including the appraisal process.

"Eyes brimmed with tears, attendees described the bleak outlook of being uprooted from their homes, a common fate in the Valley of the Sun. Besides the obvious transition from pre-election rallies to stately policy talks, today's topic -- the foreclosure crisis -- was sobering for the Mesa crowd."

12 January 2009

A call to service on January 19th, 2009

Michelle Obama recorded a short video to tell you more about an important effort on Monday, January 19th in anticipation of the Inauguration of America's 44th President, Barack H. Obama. Please take a minute to watch it and sign up to host or attend a service event near you.

People like you are committing to renew America together, one community at a time. Volunteer part of your day on the eve of the Inaugural - you'll never forget it.

Whatever service activity you organize or take part in -- cleaning up a park, giving blood, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or mentoring an at-risk youth -- you can help start this important journey. But this is about more than just a single day of service, it's the beginning of ongoing commitment to your community.

Monday, January 19th, is also Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Dr. King taught us to live a life of service, and he led by example. He once said:
"If you want to be important -- wonderful. If you want to be recognized -- wonderful. If you want to be great -- wonderful. But, recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness."

Ordinary citizens working together with a common purpose can get this country back on track. Join the Obama's national day of service as your next step. Whatever service activity you organize or take part in -- cleaning up a park, giving blood, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or mentoring an at-risk youth -- you can help start this important journey. Click below to find a service opportunity in your area or to organize one yourself.

Find an Event
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MLK Birthday is a National Day of Service in 2009