Monday, August 31, 2009

Single-Payer, Socialism And the Government Option

In a previous blog post I began to address the issue of universal healthcare. I mentioned the fact that many people are labeling Obama a Socialist and that the reason that many don't want single-payer healthcare is that they fear that the nation might be on track to become Socialist. I've yet to hear anyone call him a Communist, though Communism is what Socialism tends to transform into. As it turns out, I meet regularly with a friend named Walda Katz-Fishman who is a professor of sociology at Howard U. I also have other friends and acquaintances who are into sociology, collectivism and social justice. The common sentiment among the sociology-types that I associate with is that Obama is more of a Fascist than a Socialist. Their claim is that, even though he is overhauling the U.S. Government, it is in the interest of the crapitalists, whereas Socialism is a system that lifts up the working class. That said, I'll address the issues of single-payer and the government option in slightly greater detail before delving further into this hot-button issue of government types any further.

The basic scheme of the single-payer system is as follows: Nobody pays out of pocket for healthcare. It gets paid for with your tax dollars. A person can go to any participating hospital or doctor's office and get the healthcare that they need on demand. The doctor or hospital then bills the government. Though this is a great idea, it has the scent of Communism all over it. The Communist slogan is "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need". This speaks to the idea of taxing people in proportion to their earnings and then redistributing those tax dollars through various social programs. With all of the social programs that already exist in this nation, this begs the question: Why are people not up in arms about ALL social programs, just single-payer? I believe it was the British statesman Edmund Burke who said:

What is a Communist? One who hath yearnings
For equal divisions of unequal earnings
Idler or bungler or both he is willing
To spoon out his copper and pocket your shilling.
(I learned that in my highschool Collectivism course.)

That poem encapsulates the anti-Communist sentiment with which our nation's people have been propagandized. (People having been conditioned by their government to believe a certain way wreaks of the self-same government control that people are fighting against as they oppose single-payer.) It goes to show that many people who are presently well-to-do don't want to pay anything towards the well-being of another human being. Such is the argument against single-payer.

The government (insurance) option is a slightly different animal. the fear that some people have concerning the government option is that it will be sold at a much lower premium than for-profit insurance and will, in effect, put many insurers out of business. (Single-payer would eliminate the need for ANY health insurance.) I couldn't agree more with their predictions, though I couldn't care less just how many for-profit insurance companies go out of business. Behind this fear is the wild notion that all business should be competitive. If Americans could see beyond this deeply-engrained belief, then they could begin to appreciate the government option, though it is the lesser of the 2 healthcare choices being described here.

As a matter of principle, healthcare should not be a competitive business. If it were up to me, I would change how we do business altogether so that none of it is competitive. I would also reverse the de-regulation of the Reagan era. Healthcare should be about saving lives at little or no cost to the patient. That's it. That's all. At the end of the day, what we all want in terms of healthcare is to be able to go to a doctor's office or hospital and get the healthcare we need without the threat of receiving a heart-attack-inducing bill or deductible. This desire and the fact that some people don't want to foot the bill for their fellow human beings is the crux of the healthcare fight. But, since the healthcare issue has raised some questions about government forms, let's address the latter issue in greater detail. (Walda reads my blog and will tell me how I did.)

In light of the healthcare fight, I asked Walda for some clarity on the difference between Socialism and Communism. The following paragraph reflects her response as I understood it:

SOCIALISM is a system that lifts up the working class. However, it is more of a phase than an end result. Both Hitler and Mussolini called themselves "National Socialists", though they were indeed Fascists. Socialism results when 2 major components exist. The first is that working-class people are disgruntled with government. They realize that government doesn't have the answer to the big problems that beset the nation. There is a general malaise. The second is that the government begins to be infilitrated with people who redirect its efforts so that it serves the little people of the nation -- the dispossessed -- rather than the crapitalists. This "infiltration" can be nothing more than the existing government having a change of heart, though that's not very likely. In either instance, the focus of government begins to change. The dispossessed begin to be served by government. The wealthy begin to lose their privilege and their ability to do backroom deals with the government. The process during which these changes are slowly but surely taking place is known as Socialism. Once the new system that provides for the dispossessed is firmly in place, the government that maintains that system is essentially COMMUNIST.

So, there you have it: a short description of single-payer, Socialism, the government option and their correlation. But as a final point of interest, I'd like to mention the fact that the homeless of Washington, DC have free healthcare even now, though it is not without its share of problems. Nonetheless, it is a microcosm of the good that single-payer can do for the nation. That's not to speak of the fact that other nations like our neighbor to the north already have single-payer. All we need to do is look at how their systems are working even now. If we were to reject single-payer because it carries a scent of Socialism or Communism, we'd be throwing out the baby with the bath water.



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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

FREE HEALTHCARE FOR ALL

I just wrote the following article for a paper called the People's Tribune. I decided to cover the issue of Obama possibly being a Socialist in the next post, not this one as previously stated. (See previous post.) I hope you find it to be insightful.....


The nation is up in arms about the healthcare issue. Obama is being depicted as a Socialist, the Joker and Charlie Chaplin. He is bearing the brunt of frustration with the healthcare system that people have felt since before the Clintons. As a matter of fact, Rush Limbaugh had a heyday mocking Bill Clinton's administration for having written a 100,000-page healthcare plan that never got implemented and went so far as to sell a Bill Clinton backwards-running watch.

The fact of the matter is that, in spite of what manner of man Barack Obama is, he was elected as the head of a failed system which the best of us can never hope to heal. Nonetheless, the healthcare issue may very well become the impetus for systemic change. It has blossomed into concerns about the degree to which government controls people's lives and the new form that our government is metamorphosing (morphing) into. Regardless of anyone's specific views, even a blind man can see that the healthcare issue is raising the consciousness level of the nation. Concern over this issue is contagious and spreading like cancer.

Speaking of being contagious, I had a recent bout with conjunctivitis (pink eye) and went to the free clinic in the shelter basement. During my visit, the doctor informed me that he was completely out of the usual eyedrops for pink eye and asked me if I could afford to pay $18 to fill my prescription at a drug store. I told him that I don't make much money on my part-time job, but could afford it if necessary. he doubled back to the supply room and came back with a tube of ointment. He explained that it was not as good as the eyedrops and would make the vision in my left eye blurry. (My right eye has poor sight due to my biological parents fracturing my skull when I was 8 months old, thus the Polish last name.) I said,"You must be getting a lot of patients down here who have pink eye." He told me that he has not been getting many cases of pink eye and that his last case had been about a week earlier, but that the economy has resulted in his budget being tightened and his supplies being reduced.

Though the economy has put the squeeze on this doctor's medical supplies, it has yet to reduce the number of sick people. As I recently wrote in a Facebook comment, this sets the stage for the wide spreading of some of the most easily cured ailments: reducing medical access and/or supplies so that something as simple as pink eye runs rampant throughout a homeless shelter that houses 1,500 people and then spreads to the wider community. Failing to effectively and quickly cure the first few cases of a certain contagion can aid its spread (and create more business for the hospitals and doctors). It pays to give free, single-payer healthcare to all so that people can get all of the healthcare that they need without fail and doctors don't run out of needed supplies. (Of course, that's only true if your interest is healing people and saving lives, rather than making a buck.) We could nip it in the bud when any contagion -- be it pink eye or swine flu -- begins to plague the community.

My situation was actually complicated by the fact that I needed to go to the free clinic rather than the hospital, being a non-paying customer as I am. With me not being a frequent user of medical services, I was unaware of the fact that the clinic was open for a half-day on Saturday. I was having complications with the ointment that the doctor had given me on Tuesday and had been too busy to revisit him during the work-week. When someone told me at around 11 AM that the clinic was open, I went there immediately, only to find out that I was too late to sign-up, due to them closing at noon and only tending to those who'd already signed-up. It would've been nice if I could've gone to a hospital and received immediate attention.

I restarted my use of the ointment for about a day and a half and then got this really bright idea. I figured out that I was re-catching pink eye every night by lying in the same place. I stopped using the ointment and bought some 91%-isophoryl rubbing alcohol and put it on my face, sheet, mattress and pillow. The pink eye is in remission and almost completely gone as I type this article.

The healthcare issue is important to me for at least a couple more reasons, not the least of which is that I used to work at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL at the University of Florida. I therefore know that Shands used to share its beds and other medical equipment with Alachua General and other local hospitals (even before buying AGH). They didn't compete for people's business, but rather worked together to heal people. I should probably put in a plug here and say that Florida is a retirement state where the biggest business is funeral homes and that tourism is actually second biggest (and tourism might've actually been replaced by the prison-industrial complex as the second biggest business in Florida at this point). The large number of elderly people creates such a large market for healthcare that the hospitals have more work than they can bear. This eliminates the need for competition. And healthcare shouldn't be a competitive business. It should be about saving lives with little or no cost to the patient. That's it. That's all.

Just this morning, a homeless man asked me how swine flu vaccinations would be administered to the homeless and where they would fall in terms of priority. He asked more as a matter of critiquing the government than as a matter of fear. Nonetheless, his question is an important one. Let's bear in mind that epidemics spread indiscriminately -- regardless of race, religion, creed or financial status. The homeless can infect the well-to-do just as easily as they infect each other. Healthcare should therefore be administered in an egalitarian manner. Hopefully, this problem with my left eye will help others to see the light.

As far as my other reasons for being interested in the healthcare issue are concrned, my foster mother and adoptive mother were both nurses and at least 8 other family members including my now-deceased father and his widow worked at Shands Hospital. Maybe when I need to see the doctor again (with me averaging 2 years between visits) I'll be able to waltz into his office and get what I need free of charge, knowing that I'm getting the best service possible, in spite of my economic status. Let's hope that the fight over healthcare leads to complete systemic change. One can only hope. Obama ran on a campaign of hope and change; so, let's hold his feet to the fire.

CORRECTION:

Below is a message from JOSH FAULKNER, a Facebook friend. I mentioned him in my previous post. He is volunteering to help the homeless, due to advice that I gave.....

Josh Faulkner August 25 at 12:29am
Hi Eric,

That was very kind for the donor to donate so many pairs of socks! That is quite alot!!!

I appreciate being mentioned in your blog. However, the project to replace the obsolete computers is still in progress. I have an equipment list that shows the cost and currently working on an online donation site that will allow donors to make donations and go directly to the homeless nonprofit. I'll keep you posted.

Your blog and works have really opened up the eyes of many to the reality of homelessness and have empowered many to take action and do something about it.

God Bless,
Josh Faulkner

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Sock It T Me!!!!! and 2 Announcements

A parishoner at my church, the Church of the Epiphany, at 1317 G Street in northwest DC recently sent me an e-mail stating that a woman who reads this blog has donated 700 pairs of socks to Epiphany, where much is done to help the homeless. The church didn't have enough storage space for all of them and therefore had some sent to S.O.M.E. (So Others Might Eat), which feeds the homeless and has a number of other programs. It is good to know that my efforts are paying off and helping others. Thanks to the donor, whoever you are.

I also use Facebook and am proud to say that a FB friend named Josh Faulkner has found a way to help the homeless due to advice that I gave him. As it turns out, someone had donated some old, inefficient computers to a homeless shelter. Josh, being a computer specialist, was asked to hook them up. He saw that they weren't worth anything and found some better computers. He has gotten them up and running. Thanks to him, homeless people in and around Pine Mountain, GA can now do on-line job searches and other internet business.

The DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (a collaborative of DC Government agencies that are working to end homelessness) will meet at my church on September 2nd from 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM. It is open to the public.

My next blog post will be about "Single-payer, Socialism and the Government Option". It will address the healthcare fiasco and the accusations against Obama for being a Socialist. Just for the record, I'm all for Single-payer and the government option when it comes to insurance. If the government can provide cheap insurance, who cares if they put for-profit insurers out of business?????!!!!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"THE HOMELESS ARE PEOPLE TOO" -- A Short Autobiography

A project is presently underway to gather the stories of about 25 homeless people and put them into a book for the nation to read. Hopefully we will be able to get First Lady Michelle Obama to write the foreword to the book. Below is the story that I submitted. (It is still subject to editting.).....



THE HOMELESS ARE PEOPLE TOO
....,a-whop-a-do, a-whop-a-do. (From "Wonderama")


I was born in Atlantic city, NJ on February 15th, 1969 as Eric Gooden. When I was 8 months old, I was almost killed by my parents who fractured my skull. I don't know which one actually did it or any of the other gory details. However, after my hospital stay, I went to a foster home in Atlantic City, where I stayed until I was 5 years old.

In August of 1974 I was taken in by Rudy and Joanne Sheptock who lived in Chester, NJ at that time. They took in Mary Elizabeth who was from Morristown, NJ at the same time that they received me. together we were the 9th and 10th children, with the Sheptocks having had 6 biological children and 2 adopted ones already. The following year, we moved to a 3-story mansion in Peapack, NJ. Mary Elizabeth and I were adopted that same month. They would eventually have a seventh biological child and adopt 25 for a grand total of 32 children.

We received much exposure due to the size of our family. We were often filmed by news crews or photgraphed for the newspaper. A documentary was made about our family by a Japanese T.V. crew. We were visited by Thomas Kean when he was governor of N.J. in the early 80's. My parents were the guest speakers at many churches and pro-life meetings because of adopting so many children. There is even a book about us called "Our Growing Family" which was published in 1980.

The Sheptocks moved to Interlachen, FL beginning in December of 1984. (The move took about 3 months.) I was in the 10th grade at the time and would eventually graduate from highschool in June of 1987. I went to Georgia for about 9 months following highschool and then returned to Florida where I got a job in the Enviromental Services Dept. of Shands Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville. I worked there from May of 1988 until February of 1994 when I had a disagreement with my supervisor and walked out. I got my last check and returned to New Jersey. My money soon ran out and I found myself at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission at 2009 Bacharach, Blvd. I was now officially homeless.

I travelled back and forth between Atlantic City and Philadelphia via the NJ Transit train for 6 months and then hitch-hiked down the coast to Florida. I arrived back in Gainesville, FL on September 19th, the birthday of Joyce Ann Williams who I'd dated from May of 1990 until my abrupt departure in February of 1994. I went to visit her, only to find that she had died on August 11th, 1994 from sclerosis of the liver. I haven't had a relationship as good as ours since then.

I would spend the next 10 years (from September 1994 to August 2004) moving to various locations within the coastal states, sometimes relocating in order to do farm work. I've done cabbage in Hastings, FL as well as white potatoes, sweet potatoes, watermelons and tobacco in North Carolina. I even planted a few onions in Lyons, GA which is near Vidalia. I saw first-hand how farming contractors often prey upon drug-addicted homeless people by hiring them, giving them drugs on credit and forbidding them to leave while in debt due to their drugs. Though I used crack from April of 1998 to August of 2005, I managed not to get sucked into the debt trap myself. In spite of having used drugs, I retained my sense of moral responsibility and paid my debts.

In August of 2004, I went from Orlando, FL back to Gainesville where I would spend the next 11 months. In may of 2005 I participated in my first protest while part of a small group of homeless people, concerned citizens and homeless advocates who were speaking out against the city's decision to close the bathrooms in the downtown bus terminal at 5 PM rather than 7, as this would greatly inconvenience the homeless population and was seen as a move against them. (Gainesville and Orlando, FL, where I've lived for a total of about 14 years, both made the list of 10 U.S. cities that are considered to be meanest to the homeless population.)

During these 11 months in Gainesville, I was living in a tent city in the woods and working at labor halls (having also done day labor during my years in Orlando). While waiting to be given an assignment by the dispatcher, I would watch T.V. and catch the latest news. It bothered me to no end to see the constant reports about the Iraq War, knowing that it was predicated on lies. So, on July 6th 2005 (Bush's 59th birthday), I began hitch-hiking from Gainesville, FL to Washington, DC, completing my journey on the night of July 31st, 2005.

That night was the last time that I used crack. My money ran out on the morning of August 1st and I quit cold-turkey. I didn't know where the labor halls were and was never one to steal, not even to support my habit. Besides, I was a man on a mission. I was intent on doing whatever I could to address the dishonesty for which many were dying in Iraq. On September 24th, 2005, I participated in my first war protest on the Ellipse in Washington, DC. Since then, I've participated in about a dozen large war protests involving up to a half million people.

In mid-June 2006, two women came to the Franklin School Shelter, where I'd been since August 2nd, 2005 and told its 240 residents that then DC mayor Tony Williams planned to close the shelter and replace it with a 120-bed facility elsewhere. As a result of this news, about a dozen of us formed the Committee To Save Franklin Shelter. We organized rallies and protests and met with members of DC Government in order to stop the closure. During our fight, 60 beds were added to the shelter, proving that the shelter was still needed. We prevailed against Mayor Williams 9 months later and celebrated our victory in March of 2007.

However, Adrian Fenty had become mayor 2 months earlier. He had promised to keep Fanklin School open as a shelter while campaigning to become mayor. But in April 2008 announced plans to close Franklin School Shelter. A new Committee To Save Franklin Shelter was formed, with me being the only member from the original one. We fought tooth and nail to prevent the closure again, but lost this time. The mayor abruptly closed the shelter on September 26th, 2008, for which reason his administration has been taken to court in the case of SHEPTOCK, et al v. FENTY, et al .

Since the Franklin closure, the economy has worsened, more people have become homeless and the homeless and their advocates have begun to pressure DC Government to create more shelter and to stop slashing the funding for various social services during this economic downturn. This particular fight is ongoing and seems like it may continue for quite some time, as we seek to change DC Government's paradigm for dealing with homelessness and poverty.

Mine is definitely an unusual story insomuch as I've had a wide variety of experiences that don't often occur in a single lifetime. I've been abused; adopted into a large, inter-racial family; lived in a mansion; been homeless and advocated for the homeless. I've been featured on T.V. and radio, used drugs, quit cold-turkey and spoken out against various wars. I've had a girlfriend to die at a very early age and even had a short marriage which is hardly worth mentioning. Despite the whirlwind of sorrows that have befallen me, I suppose that I have retained my sanity (but might be too crazy to know that I'm crazy).

It's enough to make anyone ask where it's all leading to. Many are they who say that God (or providence) has something great in store for me. Few are they who take a stab at just what that might be. My guess is that I'm doing what I was meant to do as I advocate for the homeless. I don't plan to quit until the poor and homeless are being treated humanely and our nation has come up with comprehensive solutions to homelessness. I'm not sure that I'll ever quit. That, of course, begs the question: "Just what is it that I don't like about how the homeless are treated and how do I plan to change it?" There's no short answer.

First of all, we must preserve the social safety net for the underprivileged people of our nation. The unfortunate truth is that those in DC Government (and probably many other local, state and national governments) have a backwards paradigm for dealing with homelessness and poverty. When the economy is good, they don't mind having social programs like food stamps, rent supplement, WIC and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families -- a DC program that gives $428/month to unemployed mothers). When the economy takes a nosedive, they want to cut off the lifeline.

On the contrary, governments should create employment programs and encourage people to find employment when the economy is good and there are jobs to be found. Then, when things get bad, the government should provide a social safety net to carry people through the hard times. The problem is that they think in terms of affordability rather than practicality. When enough people are employed, governments are raking in tax revenue and can afford to care for the unemployed. So they do. When unemployment skyrockets, tax revenues decrease and the government wants to wean people off of the system, in effect cutting off the lifeline when people need it the most.

Secondly, we must avoid stereotypes. Let's bear in mind that most statements made about all homeless people are inaccurate. Not all homeless people are mentally ill. Not all of them use drugs or drink alcohol in excess. Not all of them are dirty. And the list goes on. It is actually a good idea to go to a homeless shelter during check-in or to a soup kitchen during the meal and survey the crowd. One would find that most of the homeless dress neatly, carry themselves well and would not stand out as being homeless if they were spotted away from a shelter or soup kitchen. I am firmly convinced that anyone who takes me up on this will find what I've said to be true. (Hopefully, my writings say something about my own level of intellect.)

Thirdly, we must remember that we are all just a paycheck away from being homeless. Since the beginning of the 2nd Great Depression (or whatever you choose to call this economic downturn) many college-educated, middle-class Americans have become homeless. Some have said things such as,"I'm middle-class. I shouldn't be here." (In actuality, they used to be middle-class.) Fact of the matter is that it can happen to anyone. It behooves you to be nice to the homeless, as you may be eating or sleeping right next to them some day.

Fourthly, it is a good idea to befriend a homeless person or two. People often ask me how they can help the homeless. I tell them that there is not a single solution that works for everyone. Each person has their own story as to how they became homeless. So, befriend a homeless person or 2. Take them out to lunch occasionally. Talk to them one-on-one and find out their story. Let the individual tell you how to help them. Furthermore, most homeless people want to tell their story to a friend who is not homeless. We hate to just be fed. We want conversation. If all you want to do is feed somebody, there are plenty of pigeons in the world. The homeless want to be spoken to like human beings.

And that's a perfect segway into my fifth and final pointer which is that you simply treat the homeless how you'd want to be treated if you were down and out. (Is anyone ever "up and in"?) A little bit of common courtesy can go a long way.

Hopefully what you've just read will help to shed some light on the plight of the homeless and help you to see them as people first and then as homeless, My story, while unique in some ways has its similarities to the stories of other homeless people. Most notable is the fact that there is a lot more to me than my homeless status. Homelessness is an economic status. It says nothing for my level of intellect, personality or what I did before my fall from grace. Maybe, instead of speaking of us as "homeless people", folks should refer to us as their "homeless neighbors" or "people who are homeless". Regardless of our present, past or social status, "the homeless are people too".

(That last statement is a modification of the theme song from the '70's kid show called Wonderama, which later changed its name to "Kids Are People Too")

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