Thursday, October 31, 2013

Keeping the Feast

About a year ago, I received Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal by Milton Brasher-Cunningham in return for a promise to read and review it within 30 days.  Well, it got into the pile and I never got to it.  The other day I got an e-mail reminder (thanks Mike) and found the book and read it.  Here's my review.

This book is about meals... primarily communion but it also reminds us of the sacredness of being at table with one another and the place that meals hold in building community and reinforcing "who we are and to whom we belong." It shares a few recipes (we're going to try them), some poems, and lots of metaphors illustrating the role of communion in our lives.

I like this book.  A lot.  I wanted to like it even more, but I read it too fast for that.  It is a short book and easily read in two or three sittings, which is what I did.  That was a mistake.  It reads more like a series of free flowing discussions over the kitchen table rather than a linear argument or treatise on the theology of the Eucharist and each little bit requires some time to properly digest.  The book made me think of the Slow Food movement, a reaction to fast food eating that envisions food as something we ingest quickly and without thought, as a means of getting a little quick physical nutrition as if eating is the same as refueling a car at the gas station.  Slow Food says that eating together can be a time of meaning, of community, of re-membering and it can be sacred time that makes us whole rather than just full.  I read Keeping the Feast like fast food and that was a mistake.  I'll read it again... slowly, digesting each metaphor and wrestling with the challenges.  (I love the idea of the Thursday Night Dinner).

The secondary theme of the sacredness of eating together will be most meaningful in my life.  My wife and I do eat dinner together every evening but too often it is perfunctory as we grab something and park in front of the television.  Recently my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson moved in with us which has changed our eating pattern and pushed us back to the table together.  It takes more time and a lot more energy, but it might just be a wonderful opportunity for re-membering.  I'm hopeful.  I dare not implement a Thursday Night Dinner without permission but the idea holds a lot of attraction for me.  At the very least, it will push me to open our door more than we do in our isolated American life.

So... I recommend this book.  Read it slowly and take time to digest the ideas.

In the meantime, check out Milton Brasher-Cunningham's blogs - for recipes and  for reflections.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Alternatives to Obamacare

I had an epiphany yesterday.  Republicans in the House have voted to repeal the ACA 46 times and not once have they offered an alternative.   The reason that they have not offered a reasonable alternative to Obamacare is because Obamacare was their idea.  Yep.  Back in 1974, the Nixon administration proposed an insurance program where all employers would provide insurance for all of their workers or face a fine.  The poor would be added to an expanded Medicare and small businesses and low income folk would receive a government subsidy to help cover their insurance costs.   It failed because Democrats wanted a public system rather than one based on private insurers.  In 1989 the Heritage Foundation proposed a law with an individual mandate requiring everyone to purchase insurance and that feature began showing up in Republican proposals for healthcare reform up until Newt Gingrich made it a centerpiece of his agenda when he was Speaker.  All of this on the federal level.  Then, of course, Romney established a very similar plan in Massachusetts on the state level.  Obamacare is a Republican program.  A Democratic program would have centered on a public option with a single payer.  The ACA is not socialized medicine, it is a program based on the private sector. 

There are other options to the ACA.  I prefer a single payer, public program.  I think that is the only way to address the myriads of problems in our healthcare delivery system.  There was no way the Republicans would have voted for truly socialized healthcare and there were enough Dems who would have sided with them that it was an idea that was dead in the water regardless of whether or not it might have been the best idea.  It never even made it to the table for discussion.

I have heard two other options mentioned by some.

Leave the system alone.  That is fine if you are someone who has good insurance from your employer without a large employee contribution or never experience any illnesses or accidents that cause injuries.  It leaves out the folk who have no insurance or are under-insured.  It causes many people to forgo treatment until it is too late and sends others to the most expensive healthcare option of all, the emergency room.  It leaves those out who have pre-existing conditions which preclude them from purchasing insurance (and there is no way to stop insurance companies from excluding pre-existing conditions without an individual mandate).  And regardless of what folk say, healthcare does not work like any other "free market" industry so in this option there is no way to slow the runaway price increases we've all experienced.  Leaving it alone is not an option that I can see as making any sense at all.

I've recently seen multiple folk advocating another option which I find sickening (excuse the pun).  They are arguing that we do away with insurance completely.  Healthcare would become like any other commodity on the market with individuals bargaining with physicians and hospitals when needed, health care going only to those who can afford it, and the "free" market running its course.  In their minds, those who are healthy would not have to subsidize those who are not and those who are not in this scenario are always caricatured as irresponsible folk whose poor choices are causing their problems.  While there are many who do not need regular doctor visits or medications and think they can go without insurance, one accident or unexpected illness changes everything in a heartbeat.  Those folk argue that a free market would bring down costs, but never imagine the ridiculousness of sitting in the emergency room with a broken bone sticking through their flesh while arguing with the doctor about the costs or leaving to go 55 miles to another hospital that treats heart attacks more inexpensively.  I presume they would argue that anyone arriving at the hospital must pay in advance or not receive treatment.  Without that stricture, who would pay for those who receive treatment and never pay?  Most of all, this kind of idea completely excludes any sense of community and the greater good for the entire community.  I can't help but think of politicians in New York and Colorado who argued against government disaster funds until their communities were struck by Sandy and terrible floods and they saw the light that we really are all in this together.  The only folk for whom this option works are the very, very, very few who never get sick or injured or the extremely wealthy.

Are there other options that I've missed?  Realistic ones that preserve a sense of community?  I agree the ACA is not the best option.  I would even agree that it does not represent any sense of a compromise.  In spite of the fact that it was passed by the Dems,  it is a completely Republican idea that Democrats supported, expecting that Republicans would own the baby they birthed.  They did not.   And they offered no reasonable alternatives... because their proposal was already on the table.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In the Ghetto

Yesterday was the first real sit down meal for the blended Busby/Donkin families (although John was working so we weren't all here).  It was a simple meal, sauteed asparagus and sloppy joes, but I decided to open a little higher grade wine.  We have about 180 bottles in our "cellar" so I sat in front of them and looked at the labels and came across Ghetto Red from Joseph Blair winery. 

Yep... Ghetto Red. 

It is a fun joke as the wine area in Lompoc, CA is called the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  It clearly is not the ghetto red I knew as a teenager growing up very near the ghetto in Wilkinsburg, PA.  The ghetto red I knew was Tiger Rose or Bali High...  I think it had some kind of grapes in it.  The Ghetto Red we had was a very nice blend of Merlot and Petit Verdot.  It really went well with the cloves in the sloppy joes.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What the Republicans Are Doing

It has been interesting watching the media cover the ongoing political mess.   Fox News has refused to call it a government "shut down," preferring instead a government "slimdown."  As has been noted by some, words are important and the one who controls the language, controls the debate.  On October 10 at a press conference, press secretary Carney used the word "ransom" which was rejected by the press corp as being too provocative.  The Republicans have repeatedly slammed the president for "refusing to negotiate" while the president has refused to allow the economy to be held "hostage."   All the while, the media has implied more or less equal blame for the mess we're facing.

At this point, it is important to clarify what has actually happened.  A law was passed (the ACA).  That law was judged constitutional by a very conservative SCOTUS.  The electorate re-elected the president, running on the basis of that law and even a majority of voters in House races voted Democratic, all endorsing the law.  Republicans, largely because of gerrymandered districts held the House majority.  Some 41 times, the tried to repeal the ACA, failing every single time.  It should be noted that laws get repealed and modified all of the time... through the legislative process or via the courts.  Neither worked for the Republicans so they decided to do an end run, holding first the budget hostage and then the full faith and credit of the United States.  Make no mistake, when the Republicans in the House were unable to repeal Obamacare via the normal means, they decided to threaten severe damage to the economy of the country and indeed the world.  Give them what they want, what they could not get by normal means, or they would destroy everything.

Perhaps "ransom" is too provocative... but terrorism is an accurate description.  Here's one definition I found for that word... other definitions were all similar.  "The use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons." 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Welcome to Crazy Town

I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or move to another country when I think about the current political mess in Washington.  We have Tea Party folk willing to shut down the government because all of the normal ways of changing a law are out of their reach.  So, to defund the ACA, which they are afraid will succeed, they are willing to directly hurt thousands of Americans and add one more drain on a still very fragile economy.  Of course, they are willing to fund parts piecemeal - fund the WWII Memorial in DC but forget the EPA and the FDA... you get the picture.  While FOX News calls it a government "slimdown," the reality is that it is being felt throughout the economy and is impacting the lives of all Americans, though clearly some much more than others.

And then comes the debt ceiling.  I have to say that I don't fully understand all of the ins and outs of the debt ceiling.  I do understand that if it is not increased, that the US government cannot pay all of its bills.  That would be devastating to the economy of the US and the world.   I also understand that even the threat of a default ripples through the skittish economy as Wall Street reacts to the slightest insecurity in the financial system.  The last time they threatened to breach the debt ceiling (2011), the Dow dropped 2000 points and the US credit rating was impacted.  A 2000 point drop is a serious hit on investments, people's 401Ks, retirement plans, etc. and that is just the impact on the US market.  Because much of the world's markets rely on US Treasury bills as the safest investment in the world, a hiccup there is felt everywhere.  Already the worldwide market seems to be reacting to the possibility of a default. 

Here's the scary part... there are Republicans who are saying that a default wouldn't be a big deal,  They are irresponsible.  Every economist is saying that at best it would be an economic catastrophe.  At worst, it would plunge us into a worldwide depression that would make the Great Depression look like a Tea Party (excuse the pun).  Of course, these are the same folk who ignore the clear scientific consensus that Global Warming is real and caused by human activity, dismiss the clear scientific consensus that evolution is the way we got here, and even question whether children should be taught science and the humanities.  Why would they listen to economists?

There is a worse group.   They are seeing breaching the debt ceiling as the best strategy to destroy the government they hate.  They believe it would be catastrophic but that would provide the easiest cover to dismantle Social Security, Medicare, the EPA, the FDA, public education, and virtually all of the other parts of government that help secure the common good.  They want to destroy the US government as it exists.  If the first group of Republicans are irresponsible, those in this group are treasonous. 

I almost want to believe those folk are truly crazy.  I feel sympathy for people with mental illness. I know it is not their fault and that they need treatment.  If those Republicans are not crazy, the other options are not good.  You could say they are stupid... or you could say they are very, very badly misled... or you could conclude they are evil.  I like crazy better.  Maybe with some thorazine they'd be OK.   Why we've allowed the inmates to run the asylum is another question... addressed in the next paragraph.

There is a third group of Republicans, possibly the most despicable of all.  They are the more moderate Republicans who see the other two and are afraid to stand against either.  They are afraid they will be Tea Partied in the next primary and will lose their power and position so they acquiesce to the crazies and allow them to set the agenda and chart the course even though they know it is insane.  They are motivated by self-preservation and lust for power, not by the best interests of their constituents or for the nation as a whole. They are not crazy.  They are despicable.

I have said before that I believe in a two party system.  Actually, I think we need more viable parties to represent a broader spectrum of views at the tables of power.   I think decisions are best made when reasonable people of a variety of understandings struggle together to make compromises that work.  I see nobody acting reasonably on the Republican side.  Literally, nobody.  I think they all need to be voted out of office so that another coalition of folk who truly represent conservative values and understandings can come to the table and wrestle responsibly.  Let the far right come to the table as well... but do not allow the tail to wag the dog any longer.  (FWIW, I'd like to see the Democrats split into multiple parties so that the true liberals get a voice at the table as well.)