MAJORITY DOES NOT RULE – RICH PASCHALL

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And the loser is Democracy, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

The majority of eligible American voters did not vote in the 2014 midterm elections.  As a matter of fact, according to the US News & World Report almost two-thirds of the people who could cast ballots chose not to vote.  In this election, as in many midterm elections, the electorate chose not to elect and in the process the balance of power shifted in the Legislative Branch of the US Congress.  Is this the outcome the majority wanted?  Why do so many people refuse to vote when democracy is supposed to be the most important part of our society?

With so many close elections, it is clear that a vote by more than 50 per cent of the people in any given state could have changed the outcome.  In fact surveys show that of non voters the vast majority were Democrats.  Why did they abdicate their authority when so much was at stake?

One of the things that make the rule by the few even more perplexing is the results of the many ballot referendum nationwide versus the candidates who were elected.  Voters in large numbers across many states supported ballot initiatives for what are largely Democratic supported positions.  Those same states, however, turned increasingly to candidates who opposed those issues.  Are we so uneducated that we vote for candidates who do not actually hold our views and who will indeed vote against what we want?

voting polls electionIn no state was the seeming paradox more striking than in Illinois.

The Huffington Post pointed out “The Irony Of Illinois Election Results Is Hard To Ignore.”  The few who voted strongly supported a rise in the minimum wage (as do most voters according to pollsters), yet the champion of minimum wage lost the election to a billionaire businessman who is not only against the raise, but indicated to one audience he did not think we should have a minimum wage.

The ballot referendum that passed in Illinois will find no support with the new governor.

Why were voters turned off by the elections?  Why did the voters who came to the polls vote the way they did?  Attack ads seem to hold the key.  It matters little where you live, you likely saw or heard a glut of attack ads.  This year an estimated 3.67 billion dollars were spent on political ads according to Mother Jones (MJ) website.  The same number is widely reported elsewhere.  The ads seem to work, but why so many?

In Kentucky, for example, Mitch McConnell who is now set to be Senate Majority leader was about as popular as President Obama in February.  In other words, his approval rating was in the tank.  Nevertheless, he won reelection and should move on to a very powerful position.

What happened?  Attack ads happened.  Afraid of losing the senate seat, a power political PAC without the same restrictions as candidates, got behind McConnell and outspent his opponent who was leading in the polls at one time.  The mud-slinging PAC dirtied the Democrat via 12,000 TV ads state-wide. The so-called independent PAC is run by a former McConnell aide according to the MJ website and hauled down money from some powerful people.

In all “outside PACs” spent an estimated $301,000,000 this year, but that’s nothing compared to the total.  We will never know what the real total is because of “Dark Money.”  Politifact.com says there is no way to tell the real amount  spent by organizations who keep their donors anonymous.  They report these groups include “trade associations, unions and nonprofit social welfare organizations like the Koch brothers-founded Americans for Prosperity.”

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Not long ago we ran a “cautionary tale” about two brothers who put together an organization to essentially buy elections and hold power over America by the candidates they supported.  It was a work of fiction, but consider the reality.  It is estimated the Koch brothers together spent 300 million dollars of their fortune on this election alone.  Was it successful?  MJ website credits them with an 85 percent return on investment.  Even at that, why would anyone set out to buy the Senate.  What is in it for them?

The long-delayed Keystone Pipeline may now get approved by a Congress favorable to such a project.

The controversial project could be a windfall for the Koch Brothers.  According to the Huffington Post, they could benefit by 100 billion dollars.  Yes, you read that right.  100 billion!  So, voters, do you feel used?  You non-voters, do you regret passing up the chance to make your voice heard?

We have seen 9 months of continuous job growth. The stock market is close to 10,000 points higher than it was when Obama took office. Inflation is low, powered by a significant drop in gas prices.

Not having to spend so much hauling goods keeps prices down too.  The banking industry was saved, so was one of the America’s largest employers, the auto industry.  Yet we voted against the President and returned to power the Congress the party who was there when the economy tanked.  We will not even go into the war we fought under somewhat questionable reasoning.

Why America?  Why?  We eagerly await your comments below.

2014 – ELECTION DAY

Our polling place is at the intersection of “Fair Street” and “Dead End.”

We are a microcosm of this country … but we also different. We’re live in a liberal, highly educated and urbanized state, yet ours is a rural community. We express the characteristics of rural, urban and suburban areas. We are every-man and every-woman while remaining uniquely ourselves.

We vote. Our polls are busy, but lines move briskly. I could vote by absentee ballot, but I enjoy going to the polls. I even like waiting on line.

Last time I voted, Barack Obama was reelected. Two years later, the results of that election are troubling. The U.S.A. is divided along racial lines. The south still votes white, but it’s not just the south. In many regions, white men vote for other white men and their “issues.”

Women and minorities are losing traction. Socially, culturally, we are moving backwards. I thought these issues were settled decades ago, when I was a young woman and I’m appalled to find them back on the table.

How come we are still debating a woman’s right to have an abortion or have free access to birth control? At what point do we finished debating and get on with living? When are women, who are actually a majority in this country, become permanently free to choose what is done to our bodies?

How did religion get in the mix, creep back into the body politic? How did we allow a religious fundamentalist minority to become kingmakers in a country where freedom of religion and separation of church and state are fundamental tenets of our way of life?

How come we are still fighting the Civil War?

How is it possible so many Americas are so ill-informed about their own history they have never heard of the Articles of Confederation? They don’t know how their proposed “fixes” to today’s problems already failed? That their “new proposals” are historical disasters?

When did we become a nation of ignoramuses?

Around here, voting is a different experience than in more populous areas. Massachusetts is as far from a battleground state as you can get. No doubt we have our share of die-hard Republican voters, but we are as “blue” as an electorate can be.

It’s one of the reasons, although I would love a less harsh winter, the political climate suits me well. The idea of moving to a state where racist, anti-gay, and anti-woman attitudes are major political forces makes my stomach heave. The idea of living under the tyranny of fundamentalism makes me ill.

Around here, many incumbents run unopposed. Most are Democrats, but a couple are Republican and a few are unaffiliated. I guess people figure if our representatives are doing their jobs well, there’s no reason to make it into a battle.

At what point will the virulence of partisan politics ebb? When can we remember we are Americans? All of us are Americans regardless of our political affiliation.

If we can’t hang together, we will surely hang separately. History has proved it time and again. Empires fall from dissension within. It can and will happen here unless most of us start to behave like members of one nation.

The frothing at the mouth rage and rhetoric is killing us. Unless we let go of the hate, I don’t see how we can continue to be any kind of nation. Under God or not, we need to be a people, not a bunch of ill-mannered children whacking each other with our shovels in the sandbox.

vote today

If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain about the government.

Get off your lazy butt. Go to the polls. Instead of whining about it on Facebook or ranting on your blog, be a citizen. Stand up and be counted. Vote!


We voted. The rest of the world is discussing the pluses and minuses of electronic and online voting, but here in Uxbridge, we have paper ballots. And black ballpoint pens with which to fill them out.

We also have really long referendum items. It took half an hour to just read all that fine print.

Do we want casinos in Massachusetts? And, by the way, how about expanding the greyhound racing so they can abuse even more dogs? (No, we don’t. Casinos do not improve the economy. They just bring in crime and infrastructure expenses.)

Would we like to  have our commonwealth charge us even more for a whole bunch of new things to recycle? Like we don’t pay enough? (No, thank you.)

Would we like the tax on gasoline adjusted based on the cost of living index? (I think so. Probably better than paying and paying and paying forever at the highest possible rate.)

Then there were all those school board people we never heard of. The one or two we knew (one of them is our neighbor) we voted for, the others were left blank. They are all running unopposed and unaffiliated, so asking for our vote is pro forma.

The lines were longer for parts of town where houses are closer together. Yay for living in the middle of nowhere.

The governor’s race should make interesting viewing. It was, last we heard, too close to call. Elections are my favorite contact sport, after clearance sale shopping.

ELECTION DAY – NOVEMBER 4, 2014

CAMPFIRE WITH LBJ IN VIETNAM, 1967 – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Location: A campfire in Vietnam near Saigon.

Year: 1967.

1967 and 1968 were very intense years for me. I had jumped directly from college and small time commercial radio, to ABC Network News. The time was right and the opportunity was there, but I was a kid thrust suddenly into the big leagues. My journalistic baptism started with the 6-day war in the Middle East which began on my first day at ABC. My professional life continued with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the volatile 1968 Presidential campaigns and a long visit to Vietnam, the first of several.

At headquarters in New York, my assignment was to receive reports from ABC’s field correspondents. I’d speak with them over static-riddled phone lines. Difficult to hear for anyone, harder for me. The daily MACV — or war front reports — were often significantly different from what the Pentagon reported. It was disturbing, worrying. Then, they sent me to Vietnam.

The sights, sounds and smells of Vietnam are still with me, 50 years later.

ABC needed a grunt to help the news team covering President Johnson’s visit to Vietnam. I was it. My job required I not allow myself to be distracted from the work at hand. I was a young reporter still learning the ropes. I had to stay focused on the story and exclude the other harrowing images around me.

LBJ vietnam 1967It was a typical evening, the never-ending noise of artillery in the background. It was what was called “down time.” Dinner around a campfire. GI’s, South Vietnamese soldiers, politicians and news media, all hunkered down for chow. Everything was off the record. Chow was beans and some unknown local meat. Most of us ate the beans. Skipped the meat.

President Johnson or LJ as he told us to call him, squatted at the point of the campfire and told some colorful tales about dealing with his pals in the Senate and Congress. The stories were punctuated with smiles and profanities. LJ was drinking from a bottle which he passed around. Good stuff.

Halfway through dinner, the beans began to resonate. The smell was pungent! I must’ve had a funny look on my face because LJ gave me a withering stare and asked if I had a problem. I remember sounding like a squeaky 16-year-old as I responded “No sir.” LJ guffawed and passed the bottle back to me.

Before completing his trip, President Johnson confided to some of us that seeing Vietnam up close confirmed his worst fears. He broadly hinted he was unlikely to seek re-election, given the backlash of Vietnam back home in the States. I thought he sounded like one of my cowboy heroes putting duty above personal gain.

But it wasn’t a movie. It was the real thing. History in the making.

The following day was my final encounter with Lyndon Baines Johnson. There were handshakes, a smile about our campfire evening and LJ was again President Lyndon Johnson, one of the truly great American presidents.


Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th President of the United States, from 1963 to 1969. As President, he designed “Great Society” legislation, including civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education and the arts, urban and rural development, and a “War on Poverty”.

Johnson’s civil rights bills banned racial discrimination in public facilities, interstate commerce, the workplace, and housing. It included a voting rights act that guaranteed the right to vote for all U.S. citizens, of all races. Passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 reformed the country’s immigration system, eliminating national origins quotas.

Johnson was renowned for his domineering personality and his readiness to do whatever it took to advance his legislative goals.

DEATH OF DEMOCRACY

A cautionary fairy tale by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

The King Brothers strode through the luxurious lobby of the grand Wilford Washington Hotel. It is a stately old hotel with all the modern amenities. Only the richest of the rich can stay at the Wilford, and the King Brothers were among the one percent that controlled most of the nation’s wealth. It was a particularly joyous night for the highly successful businessmen as they again used their business skills and wealth to get what they wanted.

Your Vote CountsAlthough they were knowledgeable and successful businessmen, Chauncey and Derrick King owed most of their wealth to inheritance. Their father discovered a new way of making energy. It was not the most environmentally responsible method, but it sure made a lot of money.

When old Farley King passed on, Chauncey and Derrick aced out two other brothers to grab control of the largest privately held corporation in the nation. Now they had their sights set on power. They wanted the sort of power that would assure continued success to their business as well as that of their friends. This meant no environmental controls that would limit their production.

The boys were all smiles as they moved to the elevators, one of which would take them to an exclusive penthouse party to celebrate victory. It was election night in the nation and everything was falling into place. Despite the massive price tag of their efforts, they were pleased with what their investment had purchased.

When the doors of the elevator opened, the King brothers found family, friends and a few carefully selected politicians on hand. They all had the opportunity to partake in the best drinks and hors d’oeuvre money could buy.  Chauncey was partial to a particular wine from France, Pierre Jouet Champagne, at a mere $6,500 per bottle. The hotel secured a case of it just for the event.

Cal Rhodes came up to the boys with the latest good news. “We have won another one. Just one more and we will control the Senate as well as the House. There are victory celebrations in just about every one of the party campaign headquarters across the country.”

For all the money the brothers dumped into attack ads and digging up dirt on the other party, they felt they ought to win most of the battles. And win them they did, all night long.

Time to vote! - Marilyn Armstrong

The party went well past midnight as they all kept a careful eye on the western states. The laughing and joking and storytelling of the earlier hours had given way to watching election results. Giant screen televisions around the room had been playing FIX News all night, but now they turned up the sound so everyone could hear. The audience hung on the words of the political reporters they knew and loved.

Elections in Oregon and Idaho were unexpectedly close. While Oregon was supposed to be a battle, Idaho was considered “a lock” for the brothers prior to election night.

“What the hell is going on in Idaho?” Chauncey shouted at Cal.

“I’ll check it out,” was all Cal could say as he went back to working the phones, a task he normally relished. It would not be good for Cal or any of the architects of the Senate strategy if they did not pick up one of the remaining states.

The numbers on the election boards were moving agonizingly slowly. Derrick said to no one in particular, “No one lives in Idaho, how long can it take to count a few votes?” At just past one in the morning, Eastern time, the crowded roomful of conservatives heard the news they’d been waiting for.

“With 93 percent of the precincts reporting, FIX News projects the incumbent Senator from the state of Idaho has held off an unexpected challenge and will retain his seat.”

With that announcement, Chauncey ordered another bottle of his favorite champagne. “Give everyone a glass. Let’s toast this hard-fought, hard-bought victory.” They toasted until the wine was gone and the guests headed home or back to their rooms in the warm, friendly Wilford Washington Hotel.

Derrick went to Cal with hardiest congratulations.

“You know, Cal, it’s time we set our agenda for the next two years. We need to start working on it immediately. But let’s get a good night’s sleep first. We’ve all earned it.” With that, Cal got a big hug from both King brothers before heading downstairs to his room.

On the very next day, with the House and Senate in hand, the King brothers discussed who should be the candidate for the highest post in the land two years hence. Whoever they picked would become their anointed one, their monarch and would serve the brothers well.

They would send him off to live in a big white house. Congress would pass all the Kings’ proclamations and the brothers would live happily ever after.

The very end.

WORDS OF A WELL-KNOWN AMERICAN

How do your opinions compare?

We all have opinions about our country. While some of us are Democrats and others are Republicans, and while some are Libertarians and others are right of the Tea Party, we can generally all agree on certain aspects of the American government and our basic freedoms. Nobody wants our rights taken away and we all want to be good patriots, but what is a good patriot?

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“Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen…” and nothing would seem more certain than this. That is what one well-known American had to say recently, but not all are in agreement with his point of view.

“How can that be?” you might ask. Protecting the country, the Constitution and the countrymen would seem to be the highest priorities for a true patriot.

He added that we also need to look out for “encroachments of adversaries, and those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.  They can be bad policies.” There are many Americans who believe that bad policies are hurting the country. Ask anyone who claims to be in the Tea Party. They will tell you that Obamacare is killing this country. Ask many on the left and they will tell you lack of gun control is killing our children.

But this is not the sort of thing this well-known American is talking about. It could just be “simple overreach and — and things that — that should never have been tried, or — or that went wrong.”

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So the encroachments on our freedoms could be the sort of thing that intrudes on our privacy.  “If we want to be free, we can’t become subject to surveillance. We can’t — give away our privacy,” he told a reporter.

But is that what we are doing? Are we no longer free if we allow the government into every aspect of our lives? Is it right for them to collect data on our computer use, our telephone calls our visits to neighbors? Shall they put cameras and sound recording equipment at major intersections? Should they fly drones over our houses to see what we are doing? What is to be done to preserve our American way of life?

“We have to be an active part of our government. And we have to say — there are some things worth dying for. And I think the country is one of them.”

The problem would seem to many that the average person is not an active part of government. People do not vote. They do not become educated on government policies, although they may re-post misleading graphics to Facebook. They do not protest the encroachment on the things we think are protected in the Bill of Rights. They do not speak out.

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Some may believe that we have to give up liberties to stay safe, but this American will question whether recent historical events “justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don’t need to give up and our Constitution says we should not give up.” It is a tough issue, to be sure. Do you think we should give up freedoms to the government without proof as to why this should be? What about the Fourth Amendment?

It would seem the Fourth Amendment might be encroached upon by some programs at home. Do we really believe “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated?” If so, are recent actions of the government violating this idea?

This American does not necessarily disagree with the government’s need for surveillance but adds, “It’s the dirtiness of the way these things are being used. It’s the lack of respect for the public.”

So do you agree that is the problem with government programs? Are some policies bad, or at least the implementation of the policies, because they do not hold respect for the American people? These matters of government programs and their effects on our lives are a sticky business. Do you think things are worse because Obama is the President? Do you think things were worse when Bush was the President? Do you think we would have been better off with Romney or Mrs. Clinton?

Consider carefully and think to yourself how well you agree or disagree with the quotes above? It seems hard to disagree with an American who is defending American beliefs. Do you agree surveillance is necessary for freedom? Are you disloyal if you disagree? Now ask yourself, are you a good American? If you are a citizen of this country my guess is you think you are a good American. Are you a real patriot?

“Do you see yourself as a patriot?” Brian Williams asked this well know American, now living overseas.

“I do,” Edward Snowden replied.

If I now told you all the quotes above are from Snowden, what do you think of them?  Could your opinion possibly have changed about those patriotic quotes?

KINDNESS FROM STRANGERS — WHEN IT MATTERS

The Kindness of Strangers

When was the last time a stranger did something particularly kind, generous, or selfless for you? Tell us what happened!

Since this is a rerun of a prompt that’s been run I don’t know how many times, I thought I’d publish a rerun of the last piece I wrote on the subject. With some editing, of course, so it isn’t exactly the same.

It was a good post and frankly, I don’t have a new answer to the same old question. Happy Mother’s Day all you moms out there!

 


It was an ordinary day in the suburb of Jerusalem where I managed a weekly English-language newspaper. I had fallen into the job when the previous editor quit — after his paycheck bounced. Twice. Me too, but I wanted the paper to succeed, and was willing to work for free if we might save it. Most of us kept working without pay. We were optimists in the midst of disaster.

Israel was in turmoil, Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, an awful economy, soaring temperatures. The predominantly Arab areas were seething. The Jewish population was none too happy either. It was bad, but when has it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what gives it its unique character. The Jewish population is diverse — from secular and anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are also Christians of every stripe, every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans … and sects I never heard of plus more than a few wannabe Messiahs. I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, loved the traditions, the clothing, the markets, everything. Not everyone loved me.

The newspaper was broke and the Israeli economy was a disaster. Trying to keep the newspaper alive, I volunteered to take the pages from the office to the typesetter in Givat Zeev which was right next to Ramallah.

There’s a rumor that Jerusalem has just one road, but it winds a lot and if you keep driving, you’ll get there eventually. That’s not quite accurate. You can get close — but close can be very far when I’m the navigator. I have no sense of direction. When I hear the fatal words “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it. Which is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a small riot in late August 1983. I didn’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be there.

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I had no idea how to get back to French Hill and going forward wasn’t an option. So I pulled to the curb and sat there, wondering what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. No, the doors the doors weren’t locked. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows. Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked out a couple of words, one of them being “American.” (That’s the easy one as it’s the same in almost every language.)

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You must not go to dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem the thing to do.

As a final note, their act of kindness was a genuine act of bravery. They could have come to real harm for their generosity. They didn’t have to help me, but they did … at considerable risk to themselves.

WHY AREN’T YOU DEAD YET?

Why aren’t you dead yet?

If you’re over 65 and/or on Medicare, or poor on Medicaid, that’s the message you’re getting.

Out-of-pocket costs of Medicare have been going up annually, with ever-higher deductibles and premiums and a massive doughnut hole in prescription coverage that like the energizer bunny just keeps going and going and going. Many of the most fundamental, critical medications aren’t covered at all — emergency and other inhalers for asthma sufferers, nitroglycerin, newer antibiotics. Out-of-pockets costs are terrifying.

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It doesn’t matter that you literally can’t live without your medications. Survival is your problem. Your health care providers, including your doctors, don’t care.

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been a downhill slide into worse medical care. As long as I was on MassHealth (Massachusetts’ Medicaid), I was okay. Medication was affordable. If I was sick, I got care. Lucky I had cancer while I was covered by MassHealth. Otherwise, I’d be dead.

The day I turned 65, I was dumped from MassHealth. I vainly hoped I’d be protected by my disabled status. I had been on Social Security disability for years. Officially disabled, I was thus entitled to MassHealth.

No problem getting around that. Social Security reclassified me as just old, not disabled. They switched me to standard Social Security. I get the same money, but without the protection. They also changed the poverty line so I no longer qualify for the extra help I was getting for medications.

Cost-of-care

Apparently when you’re over 65, you need a lot less money to live on. Pity no one told my mortgage company or other creditors. Or the drug companies. When you hit 65, you are healed of all existing disabilities and can can live on a third of the money you needed before. Poverty — when you are 65 or older — is set to levels so low you couldn’t afford a refrigerator crate.

All of this occurred right after the second anniversary of the two tumors which cost me both breasts, at which point I discovered I needed major heart repair. Without MassHealth, I needed a new medical plan and had switched to a Medicare HMO. At the time, there was only one in Worcester County. Fallon was (and remains) awful with practically no oncologists and they didn’t include the only dedicated cancer facility in central Massachusetts.

So, for a year, under Fallon, I didn’t see an oncologist. I made appointments, but they were consistently cancelled because the guy had meetings. Not emergencies. Meetings. By the end of 2013, facing heart surgery and needing a real oncologist, I switched to one of Blue Cross’s Medicare PPO Advantage plans. Simultaneously, Partners Group, the umbrella organization for all the doctors I’d been using withdrew from the Medicare and MassHealth HMO programs. Partners Group chose to not serve the old and poor. Not profitable.

At the beginning of 2013, I had no doctors. My PCP, gastroenterologist, psychiatrist … my entire support network … dissolved. In theory, I could continue to go to them. It was, after all a PPO … but it turns out just because you can go to a doctor doesn’t mean your insurance will pay the bills.

I needed new doctors and I don’t have them.

I’ve had four different kinds of heart surgery and I don’t have a cardiologist. No one is monitoring my blood pressure or medications.

Essentially, I’ve got no medical services. I’m taking the medications I was taking before surgery because I don’t know what else to do. I’m doing my best to hook up with doctors, but I’m in limbo and have been since before the surgery.

I’m angry. I’m trying hard to stay calm, but inside, I’m terribly angry. I’m getting the message loud and clear.

“Why don’t you just die already? Stop using up valuable resources we could use for younger people who deserve to live.”

I’ve outlived my usefulness. So how come I’m not dead yet?

When did we become this mean-spirited country with medical organizations which would rather close down than provide care to most vulnerable citizens? How did we come to this? Who are we?

I know. I get it. Just die already.