Thursday, September 24, 2009

Truthful Trillions by Ned Studholme

We all need to be vigilant, recognize intentional deception, and counter unsupported political assertions with reason and logic when the opportunity arises. I would like to confront the wide spread assertion that President Obama’s proposed programs, including health care, will heap debt on our children and grandchildren from which we will never recover.

Without even discussing these programs and the methods by which we might pay for them, critics use the cost side by itself to obfuscate the true nature of debt, and frankly, to scare people. For this they employ the “T-word”, a trillion dollars. One republican senator recently compared a trillion dollars to the number of seconds in 317,000 years. Forget the fact that 317,000 years contain TEN trillion seconds; I will give him the fact that even 31,700 years is a long time.

Yet what, I ask you, do seconds have to do with dollars? What’s really important to understand in any cost-side debate on health care, is how a trillion dollars of debt affects the American worker and future generations? That is the real question we need to answer.

The truth is that one trillion dollars in debt is easily retired by payments of $39 a month by each member of our existing work force over the standard 30-year mortgage term at 5.2 percent interest. To calculate this yourself, simply divide $1 trillion by 146 million workers and then divide by 182, the value that converts present debt into monthly 30 year mortgage payments.

As stunning as this calculation may be, it is even more surprising that it has not been used by advocates, pundits or the media to explain the meaning of large budgetary figures to the people that pay the taxes. It’s almost as if we are all adhering to some unwritten rules about adversarial discourse by avoiding analyses that use little more than logic and 8th grade math. We worry about “the devil in the details”, forgetting that more often than not the devil does even better in the big picture.

Still, we probably can’t blame the lack of detailed discourse and disclosure just on adversaries with a hidden agenda. The truth is that most people listen to and are engaged by information that is meaningful to them. The challenge of making details meaningful I feel rests with the press. When one side of an argument can get away with obfuscation or intimidation by playing on our aversion to facts and detailed analysis, you can bet that there is a little “constrained” journalism involved in the perpetuation of deception. The press and the populace, it would seem, are equally uncomfortable with the notion that economics, finance and the budgetary process can be dissected and made meaningful with simple math and a little courage.

Challenge the pundit or politician that dwells only in the land of “basic” principles and values while shunning the need to clutter our minds up with analytical details. Reject journalism that fails to dissect vague generalities to confront the truth. Risk making someone in authority angry. The one complaining the loudest is likely to be the devil.
note: if you'd like to check the math in this essay here's a link to a mortgage calculator

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Death Panel Interview by Timothy Hulbert

I recently had my “death panel” interview. Never having any prior first hand experience with such an interview, my reaction was that it went well.

I’m a 57-year-old Irish Catholic from Upstate New York, married, four kids. I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. Six years ago I was diagnosed with a rare form of Lymphoma and have had a host of treatments. Each treatment – chemotherapy, radiation, stem-cell transplant, immunotherapy, has worked at gaining some remission for some time – three and a half years the longest stretch.

Now, the beast is back. A sizeable tumor in my colon requires aggressive treatments that “manage,” rather than eradicate the disease. While I expect to be in the 50% group that gets a response, and I’m hopeful of treatments beyond that, it’s time to look at the end-game.

So in between my infusion schedule, I took time to see my general practitioner – about what I thought would be my high cholesterol and high blood pressure. But Doctor Joseph Orlick had a different thought. He has been kept current by Doctor Michael Williams and the oncology team at the University of Virginia, so he knows my condition. Dr. Orlick wanted me to look a little further down the road. We spent an hour together, first chatting then to the hard-to-talk-about stuff.

“Have you done any planning Tim?” he asked. Things you might want to do, finances, your wife Bonnie, your children, your work? I told him I was confident in my will and life insurance, some health care coverage issues, how I’m going to mow the lawn if the side-effects get me, for how long I could do my job, what a funeral would look like, etc.

“I’m staying positive Doc and fighting as long as Dr. Williams has bullets left, but when we’re out of bullets, we’re out of bullets,” I said. “When that time comes, I’m for letting nature take its course.” How might we treat you he asked? Treat pneumonia? Mechanical feeding? Like most people, I’ve only paid abstract, distant attention to such topics.

“No,” I said. “To what end? Sometimes it’s time to pass away; keep me comfortable.” (I’m a 60s kid, I appreciate drugs.) As a Catholic, I believe in natural death – no acceleration mind you, but no extraordinary means to delay my meeting my maker.

This was one the most enriching meetings, which I’ve had on this long strange trip. Like many cancer patients I have found that cancer gives as much as it takes away – love, appreciation of life, a savoring of time, serenity, determination, a different sense of humor.

Leaving the office I said to Dr. Orlick, “so this is my death panel interview? We agreed could not understand why anyone – in Washington or in some zooie town hall meeting – would want to stand in the way of such a comforting session.

Whether these new treatments and drugs work, and I expect them to work their magic, my death panel interview was well worth the price of admission. Amen!

© Timothy Hulbert, September, 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Leaving Town for College: A Reminiscence by Grace Ivory Zisk

In 1948, I went from Brooklyn, NY, to an “out-of-town” college, Syracuse University.

I had chosen Syracuse because of its journalism school, and had never actually visited the campus. Nor did my parents drive me up when the school year started; they had no car. I said goodbye to Mom and Dad at home and was on my own with the moving-in process.

Luckily, as it turned out, I was not completely alone—my roommate was to be one of my best friends, Bernice. She and I made the 7-hour trip up to school on the New York Central, each of us with a trunkful of clothes in the baggage car, and more clothes in carry-on suitcases. We took a taxi from the railroad station.

Having grown up in a rather small, railroad-flat type of city apartment, I was really looking forward to my freshman dorm, University I, which the college literature called a “cottage.” The very word “cottage” brought to my mind the mandatory adjective “cozy,” along with an image of red brick, bright shutters, geranium-filled window boxes, and sparkling white ruffled curtains. Sightseeing out the taxicab window, I remember thinking: “This must be the slum part of town,” when the driver stopped and said, “This is it for University I!” This was it?! This was our “cottage?!” The reality was a grimy, mustard-colored three-story clapboard residence that was long past its prime.

Greeting us at the door to help us with our luggage was a smiling Junior Guide. We briefly glimpsed the dark, boxy living room with its threadbare carpet and seedy, mismatched furniture, and then she led us up (and up!) the stairs to our third-floor attic room, all the while “orienting” us to the university. We were so stunned by the shabbiness of the dorm that not a word registered, and our room was a further shock. The one closet for both of us was about two feet wide and four feet deep, with just a curtain for a door. About three feet out from the right-hand wall was a four-inch floor-to-ceiling pipe that connected to the bathroom, which was downstairs on the second floor. On the twin beds were rolled-up mattresses that definitely had seen better days. The windows, of course, were bare.

As our guide chatted on, Bernice and I nodded without hearing or saying a word. My disappointment was so intense, I felt like crying, and I would have if I had been alone. Instead, when our guide finally left the room, Bernice and I burst out laughing. We unrolled the mattresses, fell onto the beds, and laughed until I thought we would burst.

Our laughter proved to be prophetic: we had many good times in that dorm, which housed about 20 freshman girls and turned out to be pretty cozy after all.


About Me

I write for lots of different venues, so this blog provides links to those places. Plus, occasionally, stuff that appears no where else . . .