Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hooray for Health Care Reform: The Court Gets it Right. But Now About that Election...

By Richard Kirsch
That was a shout of joy followed by an enormous sigh of relief you just heard. And a tear you can't see in my eye. Today the Supreme Court refused to sign the death warrant for tens of thousands of people. And tomorrow a Koch brothers-funded group will put up $9 million in TV ads in swing states attacking the law.
 Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote in the historic 5-4 decision upholding the Affordable Care Act.
When I sat in Nancy Pelosi's box on March 21, 2010, watching the House enact the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I felt an enormous sense of peace. After 100 years of failing, and after a quarter-century of organizing in my own life, the United States had finally made a government guarantee to health care the law of the land. At the time, the last thing I was going to do was look ahead to the roadblocks that would be encountered between then and 2014, when the sections of the law that would make that guarantee real kicked in. I simply wanted to celebrate and believe that, as I'd been telling people all around the country for the two years since we launched Health Care for America Now, the moral arc of the universe can be bent towards justice if we pull hard enough.
But it turns out the ACA had to get around more than roadblocks -- more like two big landmines. The first was the Supreme Court, where the right mounted a challenge that surprised constitutional scholars in its vigor. What had seemed like a frivolous lawsuit gained enormous momentum, powered by the right-wing and corporate media, political ads, and relentless messaging. Even after two very conservative appellate judges upheld the law, questioning at the Supreme Court oral arguments made it look like the first landmine would be triggered. But by one huge and surprising vote, Justice Roberts took us around that deadly obstacle.
Let's not kid ourselves; the biggest danger remains on November 6th, and the right will do everything it can to make these elections a mandate to kill Obamacare and with it, legislation that will demonstrate to Americans that government can be a powerful force for security and opportunity. Since the president signed the law, opponents have spent $235 million attacking it, while a fraction of that, $69 million, has been spent on its defense. Remarkably, Mitt Romney -- who by passing RomneyCare paved the way for Obamacare -- has the chutzpah to now be championing his opposition.
But the law's near-death experience at the Supreme Court can be a huge opportunity to change the debate and convince the American public that Obamacare is a vital solution to the crushing of the middle class in today's economy. There is only one state in the country in which people don't have to worry that losing your job will mean losing your health care, or about taking a job that doesn't have health care benefits, or that you won't be able to find affordable health coverage if you have a pre-existing condition. That state is Massachusetts, and the great irony is that if the governor who signed the law that created that system gets elected president, it will remain the only state where Americans will have the security of affordable health coverage that's always there.
President Obama and Democrats must embrace Obamacare as part of the story they are telling voters about the economy. They cannot continue to be silent in the face of the relentless attack that will only accelerate.  Yes, the issues that will decide the election among swing voters are jobs and the economy. Which is why it's time that Obama made clear -- in the new economy where so many jobs don't come with health coverage, with so many people juggling two or three part-time jobs, so many others worried they will lose their jobs, and so many still without work -- that Obamacare will end those worries. But only if he is reelected.
An election is a choice, and the choice between Obama and Romney on health care is crystal clear and compelling if voters hear their options over and over again.
So unlike March 21st, 2010, I'm not feeling peaceful today. We've got one more very big landmine to get around. Make no mistake about it -- I'm very happy. Like Fred Flintstone, I'll add a jig to my yabbadabbadoo! But I want to be sure that we use this victory today as a springboard over that mine to a victory on November 6th -- an Election Day triumph that will secure health care as a right in these United States.
Cross-posted from Next New Deal.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Supreme Court's Supremely Important Decision on Health Care

By Richard Kirsch
On the eve of the Supreme Court's decision, after numerous lower court opinions and treacherous questioning by conservative justices, the overwhelming consensus in the legal community remains that the requirement in the Affordable Care Act to buy health insurance is unquestionably constitutional. As recently as mid-June, Bloomberg News asked law professors at the nation's top law schools whether they thought there was any question that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance was constitutional; 19 of the 21 who responded replied that it was. They were only confirming the opinions of two very conservative appeals court judges, who upheld the provision last year.
But the widespread view that the only reason we have a question before the Supreme Court is their receptivity to right-wing political manipulation of the law was not the story told by the New York Times on Sunday, under the headline, "Supporters Slow to Grasp Health Law's Legal Risks." The Times's Peter Baker faulted the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats for being unprepared for the legal challenge.
Some would view the fact that the Court is seriously debating a question that is so far out of the political mainstream, even among the most respected conservative jurists, as a testament to the groundbreaking work of a small set of conservative lawyers to change jurisprudence. They would compare their work to the careful strategy that led to decisions like the Warren Court's Brown v. Board of Education. I am not so generous. The legal arguments against the individual mandate remain flimsy and there is no comparable history of carefully plotted legal strategy. What has become more solid is the ground that the arguments are being made on, a Supreme Court majority whose magnet is not the Constitution or precedents, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In drafting what became The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Democrats in Congress and the White House had myriad complex policy and political factors to juggle. The implication that they should have added in the minuscule chance that the mandate would be successfully challenged on its constitutionality is as silly as the opponents' legal arguments.
What might have given the law's drafters pause was the ruling on Citizens United, in which the Court majority dynamited a century of precedent to overturn the ban on corporate campaign contributions. But that decision was handed down in January of 2010, three days after Scott Brown won election to the Senate from Massachusetts, in a seeming repudiation of health care reform, which deprived Democrats of their filibuster-proof majority. At that point, there was neither the time nor the legislative maneuverability to consider changing the structure of the mandate, even if someone had raised their head and said that this Court is capable of doing anything it wants to further the corporate agenda.
In contrast with the Times article, Ezra Klein has a piece in The New Yorker titled "Unpopular Mandate: Why Do Politicians Reverse Their Positions?" Klein points out that the question of the mandate's constitutionality on the right changed when conservative politicians jettisoned their own idea, the mandate, after Obama accepted it. He describes how the Republican message machine legitimized the constitutional challenge once Republican politicians did an about-face.
Tomorrow,  the Court will weigh in. Many of those same law professors surveyed by Bloomberg predict the Court majority will ignore precedent and overturn the mandate. The have reached the same conclusion as many Americans that the Court is driven by politics, not the Constitution. I'm hoping they will be proven wrong, and that the Court will put our founding document and two centuries of precedent before the partisan, corporate agenda. But whatever they decide, I won't blame the fact that the case has gotten this far on Democrats in the White House or Congress.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform. This post appeared first in the Huffington Post.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Waking Up, Where? Chapter 54, Sister Mysteries

NOTE TO READERS: "Sister Mysteries" is an on-line novel about a nun, Sister Renata, who was falsely accused of killing her cousin, Antonie. She was convicted of the murder but managed to escape, and she's now on the run.

By Claudia Ricci
She is dreaming she's back in the convent, feeling the pinch of straw in the mattress clawing at her skin; the old convent mattress used to stitch her the same way in the old days. In the dream, she smells corn posole cooking, her mouth waters at the fragrance, but just then, Teresa comes running to her room, she pushes open the door without knocking and stands there panting, holding up a spoon.

"You can't stay here," she says, frantically waving her head back and forth. The spoon dances. "Please, take the back door, Renata, hurry, don't wait even one minute more, the posse's half way to the far gate, riding with a fury." Teresa's face is flushed, her cheeks as pink and moist as a ham. "My dear Renata, if they find you, God in heaven, you're done for. They'll have you swinging from the gallows within hours."

 Renata keeps trying to get up from the bed, but she just keeps sinking further into the mattress with each move. The straw claws her. She doesn't understand why Teresa won't put the spoon down and help  her up. But then she realizes, Teresa has disappeared. Renata is all alone. Terrified, she bolts upright, and now she is awake, sitting in the makeshift bed that he made for her after carrying her, half dead, to his tiny cabin in what he keeps referring to as The Woodland. At the end of the bed is an aging floppy eared dog, staring at her open-jawed. His coat is smooth and shiny and as chocolate in color as Teresa's favorite German cake. The dog's mouth hangs open, and he is drooling strings of loopy drool over his fierce-looking teeth and eying her curiously.

"Nice fella," Renata whispers, reaching her hand out tentatively toward the dog's head.

"Better just to ignore Pete, then he'll be your best friend." Renata pulls her hand back and turns, and the man with the head of curls -- the person who saved her and brought her here -- as leaning into the doorframe. From this perspective, he didn't look tall. Not at all. In fact, Renata is pretty certain that she is a head taller than the man who carried her to safety.

When he first brought her to The Woodland, she was limp to the world, unconscious in the back of the cart. He carried her in and put her to sleep in his own bed for at least three days, while he occupied the small barn where the horses were stalled. Soon enough, though, she awoke. Her arms and legs ached and her backside felt bruised and stiff as stone. Her chest was heavy but thankfully, she had no fever. But scratches? Yes. And lots more: bruises, cuts and welts and gigantic bug bites. And several ticks she needed his help to remove, one or two from the back of her neck and one from the tender skin directly below her armpit,  a precious few inches from her round left breast.

"It makes me fiercely embarrassed you doing this," she whispered as she lifts her arm, holding a towel to cover her breasts. He lit a match and went to work to remove the tick.

"I done seen a woman's body before," he said matter of factly. "And there ain't no use in you getting ill because of a tick whose time has come."

For the first two days (or was it three), she had slept straight through.  When she finally woke, the sun was at a morning slant. Or was it?

"It is morning, yes?" she asked. He stood above her. He smiled and nodded and asked if she was hungry enough to eat a grizzly.

"No, but I am mighty thirsty," she said holding both hands against her throat. He left and Pete followed and soon, the man returned with a tray. Pete dropped into a position lying near the head of the bed. On the tray was a larger pitcher of water and a glass jar. He also brought her a plate with dark bread and a hunk of yellow cheese, and a cup of steaming broth. He had placed an apple on a plate, too, and she was impressed because he had cut it into paper thin slices.

Mostly, though, she was thirsty. She was more than thirsty; she was a desert. Before she touched a bite of food, she finished the pitcher and held it out to him for a refill. Once again he returned with it, and once again she finished the pitcher and once again she asked for more. After the third pitcher, she blushed and asked where she could relieve herself.

Without the slightest hint of embarassment, he helped her out of the bed and supported her walking through the back door into the sunlight. A small outhouse stood a few feet away. He stayed within earshot while she peed, and helped her back to the cabin and into bed again.

It was only then, when she went to thank him, that she realized she didn't even know his name.

As she finished the broth -- it tasted of something meaty, maybe the rabbit he had shot -- she decided she was not going to disclose anything about herself. But that meant she needed a story that was plausible. And she had to decide how long she would rest there before taking off again...and then of course, she would be going where exactly...?

"I don't feel right taking your bed, Mr.?????" She set a slice of apple on her tongue.


"Mr. Arthur."

"No, not Mr. Just Arthur. Or just plain Art if you prefer."

"Well, like I said...Arthur, I will get myself up and out of this bed of yours just as soon as I'm a little more steady on my feet, don't feel right displacing you in  this way."

He smiled. "It's a privilege to have you here, ma'am." He looked down, but said it without an ounce of embarrassment.

Her eyes narrowed. "A...privilege?"

He reached into his rear pocket and took out a wrinkled piece of paper. He unfolded it and smoothed it with the side of one hand. Renata gasped. There -- square in the middle of the paper-- was her likeness -- her face wan and pale, her hair stubbly and spare, and a scared look in her eyes. Her photo sat under the headline: WANTED: CONVICTED MURDERER ON THE RUN!!

She looked away, covered her eyes with one hand. "My dear Lord. And here I thought you wouldn't have any idea who I was."

He sat looking at her sadly. "Ma'am, I did not have the privilege of attending the courtroom proceedings. But I followed your friend Kittie's campaign to get you freed. With all those letters she begged and pleaded for. I for one composed a simple letter on your behalf. I dare say ma'am that your case has interested me from the start. I saw your image in the newspaper and said to myself, "that woman don't have the heart to razor a man's throat in half, not except if it were in self-defense."

Renata turned to face him. She had tears in her eyes. She bit hard into her lower lip, as she didn't want to start crying.

"Let me just say if there is any way I can help you, by having you stay here, or helping you escape clear out of the county, or the country, I'm ready and volunteering to help."

Now the tears came, and she wiped them on a towel he'd brought with the kitchen tray.  Her voice was unsteady and broke as she spoke. "You are very very kind, Mr., I mean, Arthur." The full name sounded better to her. More dignified. "I have had every man aligned against me in this matter, starting with my cousin and every other sheriff, jailer, juror, and judge. So to find a person, a man, like you who simply wants to help see me go free, it sure does a lot for me."

He nodded. "I'll do whatever you want me to."

A moment went by. She spoke slowly. "But only God knows how you can help."

That night, he fashioned a bed for her that was nothing more than a thick layer of hay packed snugly between two blankets and then tied. What she loved about this bed is its position in the furthest corner of the cabin's so-called front porch. The porch, held up with four rough-hewn aspen posts, is open to the elements, leaving Renata able to catch a vision of the night sky as she falls asleep each night; the stars twinkle clear and bright between the dark pine trees and that pleases her to no end and gives her some kind of crazy hope. No matter that she battles mosquitoes and an uproar of crickets, or that some nights the temp drops and her feet are ice cold. All in all, she is comfortable and warm in this bed, she has a fully belly each night before she goes to sleep, and she feels sure that no one is going to find her before morning, tucked away as she is here. Moreover, no one is telling her where to go or what to think or how to figure out what she should do next with her embattled life.

As she falls asleep that first night in her new bed, soaking up the starlight, she says to herself, if only I can stay here a few days, and gather my strength, I'll be sturdy again. I'll have enough stamina to keep going."

Friday, June 22, 2012

What the Hell is the Presidency For?

By Richard Kirsch

Reading Caro's biographies of LBJ has become a multi-generational experience in our family. At 15, my son, who had never read anything more than Harry Potter, became enthralled with them, devouring the first three. This year, he bought the newest volume as my birthday present, I got my dad the book for Father's Day, and my dad gave the book to my son for his birthday.
Much of our great fascination with Lyndon Johnson is the duality of his character: willing to lie and cheat, devoid of any principles on his path to power, and then as president, using that power to achieve lofty, principled goals that transformed our nation forever.
As Caro describes in the latest volume, The Passage of Power, as LBJ was preparing to address Congress just after assuming the presidency, "a fierce debate" between his advisors "erupted -- over the emphasis to be given in the speech to civil rights." As the discussion went on until 2:30 in the morning, one advisor concluded with the argument, "The presidency has only a certain amount of coinage to expend, and you oughtn't to expend it on this."
LBJ replied, "Well, what the hell's the presidency for?"
As I read the words of the good Johnson -- and all it has meant for America -- it reminded me of theongoing controversy over whether Barak Obama made a colossal blunder by pressing ahead for health care reform in 2009 in the face of the growing economic crisis. I'm not interested here in weighing in on whether this was a political mistake or whether it had any impact on the economy. What matters to me is that, like LBJ, Obama overruled his advisors multiple times and made a courageous moral decision, without regard to short-term politics.
Barack Obama is not a great incarnation of good and evil like Lyndon Johnson, but he too is torn between two sides of his nature. As I recount in Fighting for Our Health, there is the Obama that is looking to conciliate, to avoid appearing partisan or strident, to be so committed to finding common ground that he'll give up half the farm with little or nothing in return. When it came to health care, this Obama surrendered without much of a fight on numerous important provisions that would have made health care more affordable and most famously refused to push for, let alone fight for, the public option.
And then there's the Obama who not once but four times went against the advice of his staff and insisted on pushing for health reform that would aim to cover everyone. The Obama who, when his back was to the wall, took off the kid gloves and won.
In the summer of 2008, Obama's campaign staff advised him not to make health care a big issue in the election. He overruled them, and in the month before the election, 86 percent of his campaign ads included health care.
In February of 2009, as the depth of the great recession became apparent, most of Obama's top team told him to give up on health care and focus just on the economy. Instead, he told the nation in his first joint address to Congress, "health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year."
In July of 2009, before the tea party eruption, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said it was time to retreat to "kiddycare," legislation that would aim at covering all children and pregnant mothers. The president refused, and after the August tea party demonstrations he appeared before Congress and declared, "I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.... We are the only democracy -- the only advanced democracy on Earth -- the only wealthy nation -- that allows such hardship for millions of its people."
The last and biggest test was after Scott Brown took Ted Kennedy's seat in January of 2010, a refutation at the polls that led Emanuel to press for kiddycare again. Instead, the president went to a retreat for Republican members of the House and made them look foolish. He unleashed his administration to finally go after the health insurance industry, using a big California rate increase as a pretext. And he worked closely with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid to design complex legislative maneuvers -- along lines that LBJ would have been proud of -- to get a strengthened bill to his desk.
What accounts for Obama's deep commitment to passing a health care law that would finally make affordable health care a right? As with LBJ's commitment to civil rights, there was clearly a personal side. Obama's repeated telling of the story of his mother fighting with health insurance companies while dying of cancer was not just a good political anecdote; it was seared into his memory. His own story was reinforced by the letters he read every night in the White House from Americans recounting their own health care horror stories. At his core, Obama understood, as did LBJ, that he had the opportunity to use the presidency to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice. As Jonathan Alter recounts in The Promise, on the night of his election, before addressing the gleeful crowd in Chicago's Grant Park, he asked himself what was the one thing he could do that would most help the average American. His answer was health care.
While today we cannot imagine going back to an America before the passage of the major civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965, both laws met with great resistance in the South after their enactment. Even today, governors and legislatures in the South are trying to undermine voting rights legislation. It is no surprise, then, that the right and its wholly owned political party are intent today on killing a government right to affordable health coverage. But if ObamaCare survives the Supreme Court and the next election -- and it is likely to do both -- history will reward President Obama for his courage when it mattered.
Dr. King said, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." Looking back, ObamaCare will be seen as a fundamental turning point in America's health care system, toward both greater equity and a focus on the quality of care more than the quantity of care. The historic law will be viewed as a significant measure to deal with a new economy in which jobs do not come with health care benefits. As it grows and evolves, the Affordable Care Act will take its place alongside Medicare and Social Security as foundational elements of the United States government providing security to its citizens. It will be a point of pride to call it ObamaCare.
Well, what the hell's the presidency for?
Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform. This post appeared first in Next New Deal, the blog of the Roosevelt Institute, and also was cross-posted in the Huffington Post.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chanting: maybe it will take a stomach ache away!!

By Claudia Ricci

Note: This post appeared first in the Huffington Post.

It was the last week of the Happiness class that I teach at my university in the spring semester. We had read dozens of articles, books, stories and novels, all of which had prompted hours of discussion about what it means to be happy. We had also taken a seven-week mindfulness-based stress reduction "lab" with a woman who had trained with Jon Kabat-Zinn, the scientist who developed the now-famous MBSR program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School three decades ago.

We were certainly in the know about stress reduction and relaxation. And yet, I realized in those last days of class that I hadn't yet shared with my students one of my favorite ways of eliminating stress -- chanting.

Sound is energy. Sound -- in the form of your voice chanting -- causes subtle vibrations. If you consider the body as an intricate energy system, with seven nodes of concentrated power located in what we call the chakras, then it stands to reason that the energy of our vibrating or chanting voices can influence the energy of our body systems.

Dr. Zhi Gang Sha, a renowned specialist in Chinese medicine, suggests that sound vibrates our organs, "thereby stimulating and accelerating the flow of energy" (or qi.) Different sounds stimulate vibrations in different body parts. In his book, Power Healing, Dr. Sha points out that "for over 5,000 years, Buddhists, Taoists and Confucians (the three main spiritual groups in Chinese cultural history) have applied sound power techniques for healing and blessing." Individual sounds affect different parts of the body. For example, says Dr. Sha, "if you touch your chest while chanting the ... sound ar, you'll feel the vibration there." In India, it is common for people to chant mantras for hours or even days on end, as a form of prayer, to achieve certain healing goals.

In my case I learned about chanting from a gifted gnostic healer with whom I have studied for many years. This woman introduced chanting to me after I was treated for Hodgkin's Disease ten years ago. She explained that it would help me to keep my seven chakras clear and balanced if I vocalized each chakra with its own particular vowel sound (the sounds are EEEEEEEE, AAAAAYYYY, OOOOOO (as in Go), OOOHHHH (as in Goo), AAAHHHH, MMMMM and SSSSS.) When I first learned the technique I was most directly concerned about my chest region, where, before I had chemotherapy and radiation, doctors had found a tumor the size of a cantaloupe. For that reason, I did a lot of chanting to stimulate the pulmonary region (the sound AHHHHHHH.) It got so that my husband and I would chant together for long periods of time. We might chant while we were driving, or while we were  sitting up on bed. My AHHHHHH became quite powerful; I could hold the sound for a couple of minutes without taking in another breath.

The day I introduced chanting to my class, I gave the students no warning. We had done a lot of meditation together, as well as mindful walking, and mindful eating, and all kinds of mindful breathing, so I figured they were as ready as they were going to be. I always find myself a little self-conscious introducing a new and unorthodox pedagogical technique to the class. I'm always a bit afraid that I will look up from what I'm doing in front of the classroom and see students giggling, or exchanging mocking glances, or rolling their eyes toward the ceiling.

But that day I was feeling brave. I told them that I sometimes chant in the mornings after meditating. I explained briefly the theory behind chanting, that it keeps the chakras tuned up and clear. I told them that they might want to try it as a way of relaxing during stressful periods. I drew a humanoid figure on the white board and indicated where each chakra was located and what sound was associated with each chakra.

I explained that we would do five rounds of each vowel, together, with me leading the chant. We would take three cleansing breaths between each vocalization. Without any further ado, we began. I kept my eyes closed and focused on my chanting. I can hold the vowels much longer than most people, so I was conscious of that fact and I tried to hold back a bit. It wasn't my intention to be a chanting show off. At one moment or another I was tempted to look up, to see if everyone was actually participating, but then I thought, what if they're not? I kept my eyes closed and stuck to the task, and soon we were finished the seven vocalizations. After I use a technique in class, I always ask for comments and questions. I steeled myself as I invited reaction.

And then came the most shocking responses. A student named Laura raised her hand.

"Professor Ricci, I had a fierce stomach ache when I came into class, in fact I almost didn't come to class I felt so sick, but now, after the chanting, my stomach ache is gone!"

"Wow," I said. "That's... amazing."

The girl next to her, Lori, raised her hand. "I wasn't going to say anything, but I also had a stomach ache before class. And now my stomach ache is gone too."

I shook my head. I was so surprised. Never did I expect this!

And then, Kevin, in the back of the room, raised his hand. "I had a migraine coming in. And now the headache is gone."

I was thrilled. Clearly, the students had taken the exercise seriously. And at least a few had found it to be powerfully effective.

We left the classroom shortly thereafter, and I felt wonderful that I'd given my students a life skill that they might actually find useful in staying healthy and relaxed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

ObamaCare isn't just about health care -- It's a Job Issue Too!

By Richard Kirsch

Massachusetts is the only state in the country where you don't have to worry about losing your health insurance if you lose your job, and it will remain that way if Mitt Romney, the man who signed that Massachusetts bill into law, gets elected president. But if President Obama beats him, every state in the Union will join Massachusetts in 2014.
The number one issue in the election, the issue that will decide who will be living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next January 20th, is jobs. President Obama's reelection prospects will be determined by how many of the small percentage of voters who are up for grabs decide that they might as well give Romney a chance, since their economic prospects are just as shaky now as when President Obama took office. It might help if they could see ObamaCare as a jobs issue, which it clearly is.
Many of the independent voters who will determine the presidential election are confused by the Affordable Care Act, as its passage has offered no relief for a major worry in their lives: if they lose their job, they'll lose their health insurance. Or maybe they've already been forced to take a job without health insurance, or are self-employed or out of work. In that case, they may well be among the 51 million uninsured Americans who are worried that one major illness will wipe out whatever financial security they have left. Other swing voters might like to leave their jobs and start a small business, but they are locked into their current jobs until they reach 65 and qualify for Medicare. All that will change in 2014 if they vote for President Obama -- which they might be more likely to do if they knew that.
Starting in 2014, health insurance will be affordable for the great majority of people who don't get coverage at work. Most will qualify for heavily subsidized private health insurance through the new health insurance marketplaces (exchanges) that will be set up in each state. Many others in low-wage jobs will be eligible for coverage under Medicaid, which will be expanded to cover families up to 133 percent of the poverty level, around $30,600 for a family of four.
ObamaCare is more than a health care bill; it is a major step toward addressing the gaping inequities in our economy, where incomes and wealth for the richest 1 percent keep rising while most Americans are treading water or drowning. Three decades ago, a job came with good health care, along with rising wages and a pension. Now only 56 percent of the workforce gets health care on the job. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act's coverage expansions in 2014, almost all workers will have access to affordable health coverage, even if they don't get the insurance at work.
President Obama and Mitt Romney are both working hard to appeal to the hard-pressed middle class. For Democrats, ObamaCare should be a core part of this appeal and the most powerful rebuttal to attacks on the legislation. The president and Democratic candidates for Congress around the county can reach swing voters on health care if they make the stakes in the election very clear: a vote for Romney and Republicans in Congress is a vote to leave Massachusetts as the only state in the nation in which you don't have to worry that losing your job will mean losing your health care. A vote for Obama and Democrats will mean that, come 2014, Americans will finally have the security that -- job or not -- they will have health coverage for themselves and their families.
Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform. This post appeared first in Next New Deal, the blog of the Roosevelt Institute. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Celebrating Simon, A Portrait

What do you do if you are a very talented painter, AND you are a grandmother of a unique and very special child named Simon?

If you are painter Barbara Willner, of Chatham, New York, you paint a delightful portrait of the delightful child, and you even make the spectacularly handsome gold frame.

You present this magnificent portrait as a gift to your daughter, who is Simon's mother.

If you look carefully at the background of the painting, you will see that it contains dozens and dozens of glowing stars.

"Why the stars?" I asked Barbara, as I marveled at her glowing portrait one day recently in her studio.

She smiled. "Because when my children were little, and they asked where they had come from, and I wasn't ready to dive into the birds and bees talk, I told them they had each emerged from a star up in the sky."

No doubt, Simon emerged from a star. Just look at him!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Strange Gratitude

By Kellie Meisl
This is a post about the gratitude that we experience in strange places, places where we don't expect to feel gratitude, but do, then feel a double dose because it was unexpected.

For instance, I feel gratitude quite often when I go to McDonald's for a cup of iced coffee. There are two McDonald's in town, and one in a neighboring town, nearby the highway I took to see my mother while she was in the hospital recovering from open heart surgery. It doesn't matter which one I go to, because at all three the people are always extremely friendly, and tell me to have a super day. I can tell they mean it. That really helped when I was getting on the highway for another jaunt to the hospital, and it really helps when I stop by for a morning pick me up on my way to care taking now, too. 
The coffee is delicious, Paul Newman's organic, and affordable! How can I not feel grateful about my happy little indulgence having so many positives?

Just today, I felt grateful for big, black, garbage bags. We have been cleaning my mom's very large home out, both indoors and the yard, and it is so nice to know that I can grab a big bag, fill it, and it will contain all that is meant to move on. I can then easily carry it off to my brother's truck where it will be delivered to a dumpster, by him, leaving us all with less baggage. Big, black, garbage bags are a godsend.

Even though my mom's gardens are overwrought with weeds from a year of her being unable to work in them due to illness, I find myself on my knees, grateful, plucking out weeds. The smell of the earth and greens, with the monotonous motion of the pulling, lull me and take me back to a simpler time when my head was full of hope and possibilities. Can it be this hope is returning?

Even though I would have never wished heart surgery on my mom, it has found me grateful for my family. I am grateful for my sister, who stayed overnight in the hospital with my mom, taking exceptional care of her; she took care of all the little touches that made my mom comfortable. She even made my mom homemade iced tea right in the hospital room, with the cup of hot tea they gave my mom with lunch, and brought her favorite cinnamon donuts and crosswords everyday. Then she brought my mom home and got her house all in order, making sure my mom has everything she needs. She is exceptional with paperwork and medical equipment. I am so grateful to have such a capable, caring sister.

I am grateful for my brother who is willing to take the night shift at my mom's though he works two jobs. I am also grateful for the continuous maintenance work he does on my mom's very large house too, and for the dozens of bags of garbage he has hauled, acting as if it is simple.

I am grateful that my mom is healing and that she is letting us take care of her without too much complaining about us moving her things and I am most grateful that she has changed her lifestyle to heal better. It takes a lot of courage and energy to heal from open heart surgery.

I am grateful to have my mom.

Writer and visual artist Kellie Meisl lives in Pittsfield, MA. This post appeared first on her blog, WALK.