Sunday, August 30, 2009

In Search of...a lot less talk and a little more action

I promise that one day soon I really will blog about the hidden gems and forgotten treasures in my CD collection. However, today is Sunday and if it's Sunday (come on, it's a weekly sing along now) it must be politics day!

I spent most of yesterday watching Ted Kennedy's funeral, and in the wake of his loss, not to mention our national best interest, I feel a moral obligation to rise to the occasion and not surrender the healthcare issue.

In an earlier blog I said that I had done everything I could think of as a regular citizen, but I have thought of some more. After watching Bill Moyers on Real Time with Bill Maher, I was appalled at the notion that our President could possibly forgo genuine healthcare reform that would benefit millions of Americans for the sake of re-election money that would come from the health insurance and drug companies. Bill Moyers suggested that Rahm Emanuel might be telling congressional Democrats to do just that.

Hearing that makes me feel like I've just been betrayed by my best friend. It's the Godfather equivalent of Fredo taking sides against the family. And you can argue that Rahm has taken it on himself to do that, but in the immortal words of our late President Harry S. Truman, "The buck stops here." So as far as I'm concerned, President Obama is responsible.

I don't know what could possibly be going through this administration's mind, and maybe I'm just politically naive, but even with all the money in the world to campaign, don't you need the citizens to actually vote for you? I have never been so thoroughly disheartened or disappointed in the Democratic party in my life, nor have I ever thought about looking elsewhere to vote when the incumbent was a Democrat, but now I am.

So today I'm going to do something I've never done before - write a letter to the President of the United States and to his Chief of Staff. It will not be filled with vitriol, but rather with open-hearted honesty and the sincere hope that they will have the backbone to risk being in office one term if they can accomplish something that will benefit the nation for generations to come.

It is not easy being a leader, but the time for poetic rhetoric must give way to straight talk. It is time for our President to be a President and not a bystander. It's time for him to show some backbone, and if necessary, some teeth. It's time for this administration to remember that we entrusted them with more than ambiguous issues, we entrusted them with our hopes, and dreams, and our very lives. They volunteered. They asked us to.

So let's hold them accountable for the job they signed up for. Let's remind them that we put them there and we can just as easily put someone else there the next times around. The insurance companies and the drug companies can raise our rates, and they can buy politicians air time, but the one thing they cannot do is walk into the voting booth for us on election day.

I urge you all to write and call the White House and remind them whose interests they are there to look out for. Because I like to make activism a little easier for my readers, here's the contact info:

Phone: 202-456-1111
Mailing address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20500

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day!

Friday, August 28, 2009

In Search of...a personal Kennedy story

I'm realizing I've spent some time talking about the Kennedy's and Ted in particular, but after watching the second twenty-four hours of news coverage it's easy to see why. This time I was struck by how many people's lives the Senator personally touched. There was the lady whose husband died on 9/11 to whom he wrote every year, the little girl with a rare disease who lived in Russia and would die without surgery the United States could provide whose grandmother lived in Massechusetts and begged the senator to help get her out. He personally went over there and did. There was the little girl with diabetes whom he called frequently and had testify before Congress. There was our vice president who lost his wife and child and whom he called every single day to comfort and console. There is seemingly no end to the list of ordinary people who reached out for Ted's help and to whom he took it on himself to assist.

As I watched news anchors, fellow senators and regular folks tell tales of their personal encounters with Teddy, I thought to myself, "I got nothing." I never met him, wrote him, or even saw him in person. I did see John Kennedy, Jr. once on the street in Manhattan. It was on the corner of 51st and Broadway. First I glanced like you do at everyone you pass on the street, but then I stopped dead in my tracks, thinking, "Is that...?" Of course in a split second I realized it was, at which point I believe (still momentarily paralyzed) that I drooled. He was stunning. I'm not sure that this counts as an encounter as much as ogling.

I did, however, have one honest to goodness Kennedy encounter which I wrote about in my as yet unpublished book: In Search of George Stephanopoulos - A True Story of Life, Love, and the Pursuit of a Short Greek Guy. And since I'm hoping that when it's out you'll buy it, here's a sample - about my Kennedy encounter.

Seeing Ghosts

Sometime in the early 90’s

Because I was born in 1965, I feel robbed of the right to claim the sixties as my own decade. I missed Camelot and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and I was only three when Bobby Kennedy was shot.

Though I have no personal recollection of these events, they shaped my life and values in an undeniable way. When I was in grade school I did book reports on them, when I was in college, term papers. The ideals the Kennedy’s set forth in their speeches are my ideals to this day, and I’m not the only one.

Even forty plus years later, we are still a nation obsessed, perhaps wrongly so, perhaps not, with a legacy that looms larger in death than in life. The highest compliment you can pay a politician even today is to liken them to a Bobby or Jack Kennedy.

I don’t know why people are so shocked and dismayed when celebrities become political activists. They’re citizens first, and it seems only natural to me that people who are passionate about their work would also be passionate about their country, their planet, and their species.

And that’s how I wound up at Sting’s cocktail party.

While I was busy handing out tapes of my songs to practically anyone who would listen (hard to believe that didn’t get me noticed right away), my friend whom I’ll call Roberta had the good sense to get a job working for Sting’s publicist.

Sting had a cause he was passionate about, and that cause was saving the rain forests. And so, thanks to Roberta, I found myself invited to this party at a private club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was a swanky place, one of those clubs that’s usually preceded by the name “Harvard,” “Yale,” or “Princeton,” and oozes quiet conservatism and old money. In other words, it was the perfect place for a bunch of tree-hugging liberals like me to gather and raise money to save the rain forests!

So there I was, roaming around with my friend Roberta, both of us dressed in quintessential cocktail attire – little black dress and terribly uncomfortable shoes with stiletto heels that could double as lethal weapons if necessary.

We sipped wine and ate hors d’oeuvres while inconspicuously milling about nodding at rock stars, talk show personalities, and politicians who looked like they felt equally uncomfortable waiting for Sting to arrive.

Roberta and I walked into the room where Sting would be making his appeal. There were round tables set up with white linen tablecloths and as everyone else began drifting into the room, Roberta and I picked a table and stood near it. I don’t know why people never sit down at these things.

When the speeches began we were all still standing and I was happy to have a place other than my aching feet to direct my attention. I was oblivious to everything and everyone around me except Sting, who had finally arrived and was speaking at the front of the room. He spoke so softly that he was barely audible, and my gaze was so transfixed on him that I hadn’t noticed anyone who had gathered at our table until the speeches were over and I turned around to find Roberta.

I know I’ve talked a lot about celebrities – seeing them, writing to them, meeting them, even wanting to date one of them. And I know I have downplayed their celebrityness. But there’s famous and then there’s FAMOUS. There’s “I think you look kind of familiar,” and then there’s “Oh my God, you are the spitting image of a man who ran for President,” someone I read about in history books who believed that we could be “a nation that spends more on books than on bombs, more on hospitals than the terrible tools of war, more on decent houses than military aircraft.” There’s famous…and then there’s Kennedy.

When I turned around to talk to Roberta I saw him next to me and gasped. Audibly. I thought I was seeing the ghost of Bobby Kennedy, but instead I was standing next to Robert Kennedy, Jr. and his wife.

There are some moments in life for which we are just splendidly unprepared, and meeting Robert Kennedy, Jr. was definitely one of them. I was more than just a wee bit embarrassed by my completely uninhibited reaction to him, particularly the loud gasping part, but I’m sure this wasn’t the first time that happened…or the last. The resemblance was astounding.

I tried to regain some composure so as not to look like the total dork that I am, but I really didn’t have to worry about that because Robert Kennedy, Jr. and his wife were among the nicest, most soft-spoken and down to earth people I have ever met and it was a non-issue immediately.

What was an issue in that evening’s discussion with them was the rain forests, children and clean air and water, and how late the hour was getting and how nice it was to meet everyone. Then we all dispersed and worked our way over toward the line of people waiting to have their individual two second audience with the Pope, I mean Sting.
So that was my personal Kennedy story. Thanks for stopping by and please tell your friends.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In Search of...a different tribute blog

So it turns out that you can't submit pieces to a newspaper if they're on your blog. Who knew?...which is why you are not reading what I've written about Teddy Kennedy yesterday. It's my hope that you'll actually be reading it in print. Print - you remember that antiquated idea of an actual newspaper...where you fold it just right so you can read it while standing up on the subway and getting your hands covered in ink by the time you get to work? Ah yes, it's a glorious thing!

Anyway, I've been spending the last twenty-four hours like most of you probably have, immersed in non-stop coverage of the life and times of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. It's not usual for me to refer to our elected officials without their hard won titles, if for no reason than out of respect for the offices they hold. However, it is difficult not to refer to Senator Kennedy as "Teddy" even though I am not a colleague, a relative, or a close personal friend. Maybe it's hard to look at any Kennedy as formally as we should, so embedded in our psyches are they. The photos of them that we've seen for decades could just as easily be our own family photos, and in some cases I have an easier time naming all of the Kennedy's than I do my own relatives, but that's besides the point. We have come to know Joe and Rose and their children as if we are talking about people we hold near and dear to our hearts. And maybe that's fitting.

How many of us have lost three sons in service to our country? Who could imagine the horror and the grief of such public atrocities as the way in which Jack and Bobby died? And then it all came down to the youngest son, Teddy - both the burden and the privilege of being the patriarch, the one to whom all could turn and the one on whom all relied. I've often wondered how Teddy got up in the morning. Did he fear for his own life? Does the next generation?

In recent years the word "liberal" has become one that most democrats have shied away from in favor of "centrist," mostly because republicans say it with such disgust and disdain that being coined a "liberal" is akin to having leprosy. But not to Teddy, the liberal lion. He wore the label of "liberal" proudly, and because I grew up with those "liberal" values of equality for all (as opposed to equality for all who can afford it, or equality for all white men) ingrained in my psyche, I too wear the label of "liberal" proudly. But now it's time to do something with those liberal Ted Kennedy values - like pass substantive healthcare reform.

In watching all the footage of Teddy, while I am struck by his booming voice, his smile, and his charisma, I am struck more by his unrelenting sense of purpose. I am struck by his ability to look people squarely in the eye and disagree. I am amazed at his ability to take people to task for their actions and their positions. I am in awe of his ability not to waver, not to falter, and not stray from who he is and what he believes at his core. And though his flaws as a human being have at times far overshadowed his gifts, I am inspired by the courage he showed to take responsibility for them and to spend the remainder of his days trying to exemplify what redemption looks like.

So I aspire to be like Teddy in ways as seemingly small as speaking up with confidence and conviction, and ways as big as using my life to make something better and being that person who can be counted on by those I love.

Life is a ripple effect. What we do matters. It reverberates out into the world in ways that we can't begin to imagine from our current vantage point. Maybe Teddy knew this. Maybe he didn't and he just did the best he could with what he had from where he was.

While we can take comfort in the fact that at least one Kennedy boy of that generation lived to see old age and die of natural causes, he left so much undone. Really the only fitting tribute we can pay him is to be the voice for whom he was the voice, and to finish the work he started.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In Search of...a staycation

It's Sunday, and if it's Sunday it must be usual. There I sat, listening to virtually the same healthcare discussion as I've been listening to week after week. No news. No progress. Just talk about how insurmountable the task is, and how it's never going to happen.

I've written my representatives. I've called. I've gone to their offices in person. I've begged, I've cajoled, and I've just plain asked everyone I know to contact their own representatives. Most people I know have done it. A few hold outs have not. I've gotten serious myself and thrown out the processed foods and been exercising just in case there is no healthcare by the time I really need it. So now what - hope Congress develops a conscience? What are the odds?

So I'm wondering what's next, while at the same time trying to tell myself that I'm on vacation. Oh yeah, and they're no longer "vacations." They're "staycations" because who can afford to go anywhere? So I've been home in my cozy apartment. The only problem with the idea of a staycation is that it doesn't work, at least not for me. I've had maybe one day where I've actually done nothing but relax. Thanks to modern technology we're never out of touch. Not only does my home phone ring, but my cell phone rings. And the emails pile up in massive quantities. And I can't check my email without being hit squarely in the face with the news headlines...which are never good. And then I look around my apartment and see all the things I should get done, and so I should all over myself until there's really no chance for total relaxation. Even the stack of books I intend to read for pleasure seem ominous and more like a chore to be gotten through at this point. Has anyone else had this experience?

So I know that unless I go somewhere or turn everything off including my brain, I will never feel as if I've been on vacation. Hmmm...maybe at Christmastime?

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Monday, August 17, 2009

In Search of...a birthday blog!

It's my birthday today and I know you are all doing the requisite singing. Birthdays are always a good time to reflect with gratitude about the gift of life we've thus far been given. For starters I just did something I never thought I would - 4 miles on the treadmill. I told myself with every laborious step that if I could do this, I could do anything and why not start the year off with that premise?

While I'm busy recuperating from my workout, I'd like to take a minute to appreciate everyone who's ever stopped by my blog, so thank you. It means so much to me that what I think and feel has made it out into the universe to others.

So what will this next year of my life bring, I wonder? What new unforeseen roads will I get to travel and what will I be able to contribute? While I'm putting things out there, I want to state my intentions so that somewhere in the ether they will reverberate.

I intend to be open to possibilities greater than my mind can imagine.

I intend to be a beneficial force on this planet.

I intend to enjoy and be present in my own life and to celebrate the beauty that is all around me.

I intend to expand my thinking, my imagination, and my faith in the unseen goodness that is working on my behalf.

I intend to make peace a practice internally and externally.

I intend to live in the overflow of abundance of good health, prosperity, and fulfillment that are available to everyone.

These are just some of my intentions for the coming year ahead. I'm off to go celebrate now! Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

In Search representatives

Well, it's Sunday and if it's Sunday...

So I can't believe how many people I've heard from this week since I posted my blog last Sunday saying I was going to actually go to my representatives' offices and talk about healthcare. You all were as up in arms as I, and you cheered me on in a way I found empowering.

In preparation for my expedition I wrote a carefully thought out letter in which I told my story specifically and I was clear about what the legislation needs to include for me. This included a ban on the idea of pre-existing conditions, caps on coverage and being dropped altogether. I also chose to include copies from Blue Cross of how much my initial premiums were versus my recent letter from them of what they'll be increased to starting September. It is mind-blowingly close to triple the amount.

I phoned ahead. Lamar Alexander's office wanted me to discuss it on the phone rather than in person, but agreed to in person nonetheless. Bob Corker's answering machine mailbox was full and there was no live person there at all. And Jim Cooper's office gave me their address and directions. So right off the bat, Rep. Jim Cooper wins round one.

After a little confusion about the actual address, I found myself asking directions in (ironically) the Blue Cross Blue Shield building. They, interestingly enough, had no problem directing me to the two senator's offices. Hmmm....

As it turns out, my two senators have offices in what I refer to as the Capitol Records building, which sort of affirms my notion that there really is no difference between politics and the music business, but I digress. So I drove into the underground parking lot and was greeted by the security guard with the sign in pad. As soon as I filled out my destination, the guard asked if I had an appointment. I told him I had phoned ahead and that someone named Michael was expecting me. He directed me to the proper floor and I got in the elevator. When I stepped out of the elevator another security guard was there to greet me and point me toward the office while he stood outside the door watching. "Wow," I thought, "they never pay this much attention to me when I'm going to Capitol Records."

I was greeted by a pretty, twenty-something redhead named Mackenzie. The offices were beautiful, very upscale and well organized. I told Mackenzie that I had spoken to Michael about coming by. She told me that she would take anything I had and convey it to the Senator. All I could think was, "Good move, Lamar. I never expected the redhead to be playing defense." So I gave her my little packet of papers and left, feeling slightly outmaneuvered. Then again, I was a rookie. What did I expect? The security guard watched me leave, but I didn't leave the building. I had another stop - Senator Bob Corker's office.

There was no security guard to meet me on his floor, and I had to actually ask someone in another office where his was exactly. It was at the end of the hall, very out of the way. There were delivery post-it notes all over the door to his darkened office as well as papers slipped under the door. It looked like no one had been there in a while. I gingerly slid my packet under the door as well and headed back to the elevator.

Once out in the open I headed downtown toward my representative's office. I found a parking meter on the street and optimistically put a few coins in it, hoping I might actually get to speak to someone about healthcare this time. After all, they were friendlier when I called, and he is (supposedly) a Democrat. Plus, I voted for him. Doesn't that give me some say so?

I walked in with my last packet of the day. The offices looked smaller than the other ones I'd been to, and it was bustling. Unlike Lamar Alexander's office, there were insane amounts of papers everywhere. It looked to me mostly like letters. They were piled high all over the place, with most on the receptionist's desk. She was also twenty-something and far more harried looking than the Senator's receptionist, though she too was playing defense. Almost verbatim she offered to take my package and promised that the Representative would receive it. I reluctantly handed it to her, knowing I too would be receiving a form letter like the kind she had in a stack and was mailing out.

Will anyone read my letter? Will it make it to anyone who can do something? Does my voice even count when the only power I wield is my one vote? Will the needs of an average citizen ever outweigh the money of the powerful insurance lobby? Did it make any difference that I took the time to participate in the process? These are the questions that remain unanswered.

Here's what I do know. It will take a lot more people like me if we're going to get this done. So while I appreciate your cheering me on, please contact your own representatives and make your voices heard. The links are below.

We must do this - NOW. Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy your Sunday and please tell your friends.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In Search August TV blog

So it turns out that some of my trusty readers are jonesing for a TV blog. How do I know this? They told me. They said, "Enough with the healthcare. Give me TV!" Well, they didn't exactly say it that way, but close enough.

The only problem with that is I haven't been watching too much TV. In Plain Sight had its big season cliffhanger finale last week in which Mary got shot and now we're left to wonder for at least six months if Mary will cling to life and make it. Here's my guess since she's the star of the show: uh, yeah she lives. Not much of a cliffhanger if you ask me. And I like the show, but even I was rolling my eyes with this one.

All I've got left now is Royal Pains and The Closer, and they've already shot people in the past on The Closer, so I'm putting all my money on Royal Pains, my guilty pleasure, for the good cliffhanger. As you know, I love me my Mark Feuerstein (Hank). Always have.

With no real television shows to watch, I've been watching a lot of politics, which as it turns out is not so good for my health, so I had to turn it off. Instead, thanks to the joy of Netflix, I've been watching old TV shows, mostly from the eighties - when the hair was big, the makeup pronounced, and the shoulder pads very prevalent. God, I miss those days! No really, I do.

I started by attempting to relive my youth by renting the Hardy Boys with Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson. Unfortunately, I couldn't get through one half of one episode because it was so bad, which made me wonder how exactly it was that I watched it every week? But that was the seventies, with the satin jackets and feathered hair and I guess that went a long way when I was twelve or thirteen.

Then I moved on to Jake and the Fatman and Riptide, which I remember really liking when they were initially on in the eighties. Also, I had a thing for Joe Penny at the time. Riptide surprisingly thrilled me, largely because so much of the geeky guy's technology is so laughable to us now. Also it seemed like the male version of Charlie's Angels...on a boat. Okay, so maybe it wasn't exactly Charlie's Angels, but it had a lot of action and some heart, which appeals to me even still. So Riptide (season one, at least) still gets the thumbs up from me.

Jake and the Fatman, however, that's another story. I think the creators may have been enjoying a few herbal cigarettes when they came up with this gem, slobbering dog and all. There aren't too many ways to say it - it's bad.

Fortunately for me, the Hallmark Channel has been running a lot of Golden Girls day and night. This is one show that never disappoints and constantly has me laughing. It saddens me to think that two out of four of them are gone now, but boy do I enjoy watching this show. What a comedic gift.

Still in my Netflix queue are more old gems like Simon & Simon, The Equalizer, and Family Ties - which I hope doesn't disappoint because I have fond recollections of loving that show as well.

In my reading queue as it were, are a litany of celebrity memoirs, my genre of choice. I've got Cloris Leachman's, Marlee Matlin's, Melissa Gilbert's, and Michael J. Fox's all lined up to read. I'll get back to you on those. The celebrity memoirs can frequently be as painful to read as the old TV shows are to watch, even with ghost writers. I will say, however, that Michael J. Fox's first book was fantastic and I was thrilled that he chose to write another one. He is actually a great writer, among his many other talents, so I have high hopes for his book.

Well, I guess it's time to go watch or read something. Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In Search of...hey, what ever happened to George Stephanopoulos?

It's Sunday, and if it's Sunday (come on, sing it with me) it must be politics day! I've got a fresh idea - why don't we talk about healthcare reform?!!!! Since the last time I've mentioned it a few days ago I've been inundated with emails and media, videos of town hall meetings gone awry - which could possibly be sold 2 for 1 with those videos of kids doing crazy things on spring break in Florida.

In the midst of all my many emails was one I just received that caught my eye. Let's face it, most of us complain and do nothing. Heck, we can't even get most of the country to vote, so how are we going to get them to do something - like call, write, or visit their representatives to demand legitimate healthcare reform?

Well thanks to my most recent email, I, for one, am going to go visit my trusty Republican Senator - Lamar Alexander's office on Tuesday. I plan on taking with me copies of my recent premium increase, as well as denied claims, and everything else I can think of to make my very real case, including talking points on an index card. This is the first time I've ever done an in-person office visit, though I've done just about everything else you can think of. I plan on reporting my experiences back to you, my trusty readers, as well as to anyone else I think is pertinent. I plan on being respectful, concise, well thought out and organized, and I'm hoping to be received with that same level of respect.

All of that being tactfully said, here's why I see true reform going nowhere - because politicians get money from lobbyists, and insurance companies are a BIG lobby with lots and lots of money. There's money to the individual campaigns as well as to the parties, and as long as that's the case, politicians have a greater vested interest in keeping the gravy train coming than they do in caring for the needs of American citizens - that is unless those citizens make it very clear in irrefutable numbers that no amount of lobbying money will get them elected if they don't accomplish this. That's why I've been imploring everyone to take action and contact your representatives. And this is not an issue limited to one party either. Both parties are equally guilty of it. And again, what does Congress care if they achieve affordable healthcare for everyone? They're already covered.

Enough said on that...for now.

So it's been a while since I've talked about my memoir "In Search of George Stephanopoulos - A True Story of Life, Love, and the Pursuit of a Short Greek Guy," and for those of you who have been up nights wondering if that has fallen by the wayside while I've been doing things like starting a new religion, let me assure you that it most definitely has not.

I am newly inspired by just having seen the movie "Julie and Julia" with Meryl Streep (acting Goddess) and Amy Adams (whom I love in pretty much everything she does). Having both blogging and the idea of self publishing affirmed by the film, I am blissfully looking forward to some time off next week to both celebrate my birthday and revisit the manuscript. (All birthday gifts, by the way, will be gratefully acknowledged with a lovely hand-written thank you note!)

And while I'm mentioning George Stephanopoulos again, let me just say that his ability to quote chapter and verse on the proposed thousand page healthcare bill, was stunning. He knew exactly what was and was not in it...which is more than I can say for the guests that were on his show to discuss it. Seriously, I find it reprehensible that legislators don't actually read what they're voting for or against, and that those sent out to do their bidding don't either. It seems to me that reading the actual proposed legislation would fall under the category of, um, their job!!! Anyway, well done, George.

I hope you all have a stellar start to your week, and thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

In Search of...the way we were

The past few days have been eventful for us as a nation. First, former President Bill Clinton successfully got the two imprisoned American journalists out of North Korea, and second we have a new Supreme Court Justice, lucky number 111 and the first Hispanic in our history. All this has happened while new poll numbers show our President's approval rating spiralling ever downward.

I realize that as a people we Americans generally have a miniscule attention span as well as a propensity for significantly short term memory and a perpetual need for instant gratification, a lethal combination when it comes to digging ourselves out of the mess we're in and taking on the responsibilities of actual adults. So naturally the first thing to go is President Obama's popularity because people actually thought he would get in office, wave his magic wand and all would be as it was before - immediately. The only problem with that is it never can or will or should be as it was before, and it's time we stop collectively pouting and start digging in for the long haul. But again, that does't sound like a whole lot of fun.

We would like everything to improve and change while we ourselves don't. How realistic does that sound? I would like to be a size 4 whilst eating potato chips and sitting on my couch, but again, it ain't gonna happen. So it's time we collectively stop the binging and start exercising - which, by the way, would also decrease healthcare costs, but I metaphorically digress.

As I watched Bill Clinton make his way back to the forefront of American politics this week, I couldn't help but harken back myself. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know he's got his personal shortcomings, but I don't care. I miss him. There, I said it. And while me and my fellow Democrats have collectively if not still apprehensively heaved a sigh of relief that our current President appears to leave us free of those particular worries, I still rested better under Bill's watch. Um, also, I still had a 401K and the promise of social security when he was president. Now...not so much. So I get a little misty as I see Bill do what no one else has been able to do - get two American journalists out of North Korea, and while all the pundits are busy arguing whether or not this sets a bad precident for other countries in which Americans are being held captive, I'm busy noticing that Bill is uncharacteristically quiet, standing to the side looking genuinely humble. This is not a moment in which he needs to seek the limelight. It has sought him out and there's really nothing more that needs to be said.

I listen to George Stephanopoulos offering commentary on the goings on, and I watch President Clinton now completely white haired but unable to shake off his natural charisma, even in his self-imposed silence, and I feel the pangs of melancholy. (violins swell as they play "The Way We Were") This was my President - the one who balanced the budget and left office with a surplus, the one under whose watch we thrived, the one who tried to fix healthcare sixteen years ago, the one who wanted to kill Bin Laden and take down the Taliban (before 9/11) but was met with opposition by our own intelligence forces, the military and a Republican Congress. The one who signed the Family Leave act, enabling workers to take time off to care for loved ones without jeopardizing their jobs. Yeah, that guy. The one recent history has relegated to jokes about blow jobs. Say what you will, but we were all a lot better off then. So I'm melancholy.

My report card for President Obama is not yet filed. It is too soon to pass judgement on his ability to reverse the mess he inherited, and for the record, the media needs to stop saying that it has become his mess. He inherited it and that will always be the case. Oh yes, he's trying to fix what took years to create, but give the guy a break. It's like taking the car you totalled to the repair shop to be fixed, and the repairman is doing everything in his power to get the car running again, but after a while you say it's his fault that the car is totalled in the first place. It's just ridiculous.

So while I would like to close my eyes and wake up in a different time, a time when things were both easier and better, all I can do is reminisce about the way we were, and work toward a future that's better than the present.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Monday, August 3, 2009

In Search of...a second commandment

For those of you who have been wondering about it since the first commandment, pacing the floors of your cleaned up homes and lives, here it is, commandment #2:

Love yourself.

I know, I know. Just like "Clean up your own mess" it sounds a tad elementary and like something you might scoff at, but I dare you to do, actually I command you to, oh trusty followers of my religion of personal responsibility which still has no catchy name.

Notice I didn't predicate that love on some other kind of love like some other religions. That's where you get into some tricky territory, if you ask me. That whole "love others the way God loves you" or "love others as you love yourself" - that presupposes a lot of knowledge and practice that, judging by the world around us, we don't really have. So I thought I'd start with a basic, simple and straightforward - love yourself.

What does that mean? Well, for starters I can tell you what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean to buy yourself anything and everything, or to treat others condescendingly or disrespectfully. Those wouldn't be signs of self-love at all, and though you would figure that out for yourself eventually, why waste time? Loving yourself begins with respecting yourself, and if you think about the qualities in someone that would earn them your respect - which is different than your fear, obedience or even admiration, by the way - those are qualities that indicate self-love.

In general we know a lot of the qualities that would indicate self-love, at least we do intellectually - honesty, integrity, loyalty, courage. In fact, we bandy these words about with little regard for their actual meaning, so I'll clarify. Honesty is easy when there's nothing at stake, but try telling the truth it when there's something big on the line, like your relationship with your spouse. See if you choose to rock that boat or live with the status quo.

And look at integrity. It's easy to have it when your livelihood isn't jeopardized. Try it out when it would mean losing your job. Also, not so easy when our national security is threatened. Then we somehow manage to look the other way about people skimming off the top, or very obviously, torture...which brings me to loyalty, an issue I've thought quite a bit about in recent years.

Who or what is worthy of our loyalty? Or is loyalty in itself an ideal worth being loyal to? Most of us do it - with spouses, religions, political parties, sports teams, friends - we say we're loyal. We choose sides. But loyalty isn't tested when your team is winning. It's tested when they're not. It's tested when your spouse is ill, your team is losing and your party is not in power. It's tested when you're deciding whose fight is your fight, like in the schoolyard. If someone picks on your best friend, do you stand by and see how it plays out, or do you put yourself between your friend and that bully? Or what do you do if your best friend is the bully? What about if your best friend, the bully, is taking the other kids' lunch money to buy his cancer-ridden dying sister the toy that would bring a smile to her face? It's not so clear-cut, is it? But these are choices we make day in and day out nonetheless. And notice I'm not saying what the right decision is. I'll just tell you that loving yourself, in my estimation at least, involves making the choices that you can live with in those quiet hours of the night when we are left alone with our own thoughts. Can you sleep soundly? Do you respect the person whose eyes you encounter in the mirror? Do you know peace inside?

I've spoken a lot about courage lately too because I don't think it's such a common trait to possess and utilize these days. And I'm not referring to skydiving as an example. I'm referring to speaking truth to power - or truth to anyone, for that matter. I'm talking about doing what's right as opposed to what's popular. I'm talking about facing life and death with equal optimism. I'm talking about living in the biggest, broadest way possible. I'm talking about showing up, being a leader, taking ownership of your own life and the life of this planet. That takes real courage.

So to me, loving yourself, will at times not be such an easy road to walk. Sometimes it will be solitary, sometimes filled with others cheering you on, sometimes filled with others who are not cheering you on. I suppose the person who truly loves him or herself is the person who walks their path unfazed and undeterred by the changing circumstances and people surrounding them. I suppose they choose what it right for themselves, even when it's difficult, unpopular, or seemingly futile to an onlooker - and I suppose that someone who truly loves him or herself meets those choices with the same attitude as the choices that are easy, popular and obviously going to be successful.

What you are willing to risk for the sake of being true to your own soul is in direct correlation to how much you love yourself. There, I said it. Are you willing to risk losing who you were in order to gain who you are meant to be? Are you willing to be wrong and forgive yourself for that? Are you willing to forgive someone who's wronged you and forgive yourself for having allowed it, or maybe contributed to it? These are not only signs of maturity, they are signs of a person who truly values him or herself.

So love yourself enough to forgive yourself. Love yourself enough to be honest with yourself. Love yourself enough to change the way you operate in the world. Love yourself enough to be grateful for your life. Love yourself enough to know you have something unique and essential to contribute to this world at this time or you wouldn't be here. Love yourself enough to care about your physical well-being. Love yourself enough to speak up for yourself, for your principles, for whatever and whomever you would be loyal to. Love yourself. Period.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your love themselves too.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

In Search of...a lion

It's Sunday, and if it's must be politics day on my blog. Let's see, what should I talk about today on the ol' blog? Okay, twist my arm - healthcare. I just can't let this one go.

So there I was, thinking about how out of proportion we Americans blow everything to do with celebrity, and how our genuine affection for people we don't know can seem absurd, especially in light of their personal shortcomings. I've thought this about politicians, and princesses, athletes, and actors. I've thought the magical powers with which we attribute them lack any kind of rationale and only serve to ultimately disappoint us. Then I caught the last half hour of a documentary on Ted Kennedy.

The Kennedy's have often been referred to as American royalty, and in light of the all the information that's been made available to us in the current information age, I've wondered if that wasn't too big a scepter to carry around for a regular family. But here's the thing - the Kennedy's are no regular family. Yes, they've taken accomplishing the American dream to new heights, even if some of their past methods of accomplishing that dream have been dubious at best. But they've also sacrificed their lives in service to this country in every way one can sacrifice his or her life in service, and they continue to do so in ways both big and small. At the very least that's worth some admiration, if not the title of royalty.

So Teddy the Lion. For those of you who don't know, Edward Kennedy (Teddy) is known as "the lion of the Senate." As with everything else Kennedy I thought this affectionate title may have been blown out of proportion, but after watching footage of him spanning nearly four decades in the Senate, I'm convinced that there is no amount of affection or title big enough for Teddy the Lion.

On Bill Maher Friday night they were discussing healthcare, and the author Joe Queenan said that healthcare reform wasn't going to happen in this country because we are basically a selfish people, and we don't care what happens to the next guy really as long as we're not that next guy. Well, Joe, let me just say that you are not a guy I particularly like, but you did make me pause to consider the veracity of that position. And I did. I paused. I considered. I buried my head in my hands and wept at the possibility that most Americans could feel that way. I slept on it. And then I saw this documentary on Ted Kennedy.

So here's this wealthy guy from a family dynasty. To the casual eye, it seems like a lifetime in the Senate has not made up for the promise he might have shown had scandal not bankrupted him of the opportunity to serve in our nation's highest office like his older brother. And yet his staunch belief in the value of public service has not stopped him from doing the best he could for others regardless of the accusations or limitations placed on him. And as I watched this man survive the changing tides of political fortune and continue to fight the good fight regardless of personal loss, I began to understand where the title of "lion" came from.

Now you might be wondering when exactly I'm going to talk about healthcare and how that ties in to the reverence I'm heaping on ol' Teddy, so here it is. Since his senate career began in 1962, here's what Teddy has done. And by the way, he has called his forty-seven year fight for affordable and accessible healthcare the "cause of his life."

In 1966 he created a national system of neighborhood health centers in an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act.

In 1971 (1971!!!!) he held hearings around the country and released "The Healthcare Crisis in America" report.

In December of 1971 he took over as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on healthcare and soon after led passage of the National Cancer Act which increased the staff of the National Cancer Institute.

In a stalemate with President Nixon in 1973, he refused the administration's offer for a national HMO-based solution to healthcare.

In 1978 he had a falling out with Jimmy Carter because Carter said the $65 billion price tag for a national healthcare system was too exorbitant. (I've just lost complete respect for Jimmy Carter.)

In 1986 Kennedy pushed and passed COBRA, a program to continue health benefits from a former employer for 18 months. (I've utilized that one. Haven't you?)

In 1990, Kennedy guided passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, granting rights to disabled citizens seeking employment. (Aren't you embarrassed that they actually had to pass legislation for us to treat disabled people fairly?) And keeping on that theme...Ted Kennedy also introduced the Ryan White CARE Act to give help to communities impacted by AIDS.

In 1993 he endorsed Hillary Clinton's national healthcare plan, which eventually failed.

In 1996 Kennedy led and passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which expanded options for people changing jobs. He also sponsored the Mental Health Parity Act which expanded coverage for mental health patients.

In 1997 Kennedy led the passage of the state Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the largest ever expansion of public healthcare for children.

Have I mentioned enough? (Thanks to, by the way for supplying the pertinent info.) So Ted Kennedy, a man who's got both good health insurance as well as money, has been crusading for forty years to see that the rest of us can have good healthcare too. So much for Joe Queenan's theory about selfishness.

So as Ted Kennedy fights for his life, and make no mistake he would not even be around today were it not for the great healthcare afforded Congress, I wonder who will be the next "lion." I wonder who will have the fortitude to stand up to his own party if necessary to do the right thing for the people of this country. I wonder who will sacrifice a lifetime of comfort for the conviction that those of us without a lobby need a voice too.

I hope that those of us who are here to witness that kind of courage can find some of our own. I hope that the masses of us who are struggling to stay afloat in these times can band together to be a bigger lobby - one that can make our needs as well as our principles known. I hope we can impact those we've put in office by letting them clearly know that they will no longer be in office should they not adequately represent the needs of the people who put them there. A good tee-off time or a steak dinner will not compensate them next term when someone else has replaced them. So let's make that clear to them.

Yes, I'm angry - angry that corporations have the power to determine life and death. And I'm scared - scared that lions who would stand up to them are a dying breed.

This is not the time to get bored with the discourse and start tuning out. That's what Congress and the insurance companies are banking on, that we Americans have the attention span of a gnat. We can be easily worn down by threats and confusing rhetoric. But we mustn't. It's simple, really. Everyone deserves the right to good and affordable healthcare. Either you believe that (like me and Teddy), or you don't. And if you do, then there's a way it can be accomplished. For starters, how about we study the 36 countries that are ranked ahead of the U.S. in healthcare and see what they're doing. Why don't see take the best of the best and utilize that. Surely we have mastered the art of cheating off the other guy's paper. Why don't we use that finely honed skill for the greater good.

The thing is we all have the capacity to be lions. We've just gotten so used to being sheep that we've forgotten. (And I promise I'll stop with the jungle analogies now.) So Ted, thanks for leading the charge. Now it's our turn. Roar.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends and contact your representatives.