Sunday, October 23, 2011

What is Occupy Wall Street About?

A Work in Progress

Why is that so hard to understand?  Support Occupy Wall Street.

UPDATE 12-3-2011

After I posted the list above, We formed our own Occupy Aroostook.  As with other Occupy groups, our local  group is wrestling with the issue of stated goals for the Occupy movement.  Having arrived at a consensus opinion about the need for a trifold brochure to explain what we are about to community and media who keep asking, I drafted one and sent it around to our email list for comments and suggestions.  For purposes of discussion, the draft included the following list garnered from discussions at assembly .  Although there is no consensus about most of the items on the list, there are passionate loyalties among some for or against particular items.


Get money out of politics.  Reform campaign funding.

Stop congressional insider trading.

Reduce deficit via fair-share taxes for the rich and stop wars.

Reform banking:  restore Glass-Steagall Act. 

Stop corporate welfare, too-big-to-fail companies, government subsidies that support big profits.

Better education for a better world: publicly funded K through Ph.D., stop public funding of private for-profit schools, forgive student loans.

Single-payer, universal health care.

Protect workers’ rights, and support small-business prosperity.

I did get disagreement as expected, and I responded with the following message.

Thanks for input on the OA trifold draft.  This is an important part of the process.  I would like to have more.

I’m going to speak as myself here and not for Occupy Aroostook; I want to express some opinions that some of you will likely disagree with.  That’s OK; give me your argument for disagreeing. 

First, the brochure itself—do we need one?  As I read the consensus of those attending Assembly, yes we do.  I agree with that.  We need to explain ourselves to the larger community in some format(s) more than what we can communicate with signs at marches.  I think we are not in agreement about what such communication should contain.  So, I decided to draft a brochure to use as a basis for discussion.  I tried to put in it all the issues I have heard discussed about what we should stand for.  I hope and assume there will be revisions, deletions, replacements, expansions, etc. that will happen as we come to better understand the issues and grow our opinions about them.  I hope we never stop keeping an open mind to new evidence or knowledge that might require us to change our minds, even after we agree on a brochure, or whatever else we decide to do.

Second, the list of goals—do we need one?  I don’t think we have consensus about that in assembly, but the issue keeps coming up in the Occupy movement nationally and locally from marchers and non-marchers and from media.  Every time I have spoken to the media, they ask the question in one form or another.  My preferred list would be one umbrella term, like “social justice,” which, to me, captures a sense of all the issues we are concerned about.  Unfortunately, that term is too loaded, ie. socialism, to be practical and too abstract to be useful.  My next preference would be simply what we have been using “Economic  & Political Justice.”  But that, too, doesn’t satisfy the media, nor the public’s legitimate right (we are in their faces every week) to know more specifically what we are about.  I can think of no other mechanism to let them know in a brief format other than a list.  Do any of you out there have ideas for how to do this?  Perhaps we should call such a list “Some Issues of Concern,” since I don’t believe we are ready to declare specific goals that we can achieve consensus about.

Third, the content of the list.  For my ideal preferences, even the list suggested by one of you (economic justice, money out of politics, corporations are not people) is too long.  But for the purposes of communicating to the public what we are about, 3 items is too short, too limiting.  I would, at this point in my thinking, try to boycott any list that does not include concerns about education and health care.  These issues are too basic to the cause of economic justice to ignore in such a list.  I am open to a good argument against including them; I haven’t heard that argument yet.  

Fourth, the forgiveness of student loans that some object to.  I’ve been on the fence about that.  So I went looking for good arguments that would allow me to fall over to the side of forgiveness as part of a more-comprehensive solution to the whole problem of funding education, such as “universal education for life,” in multiple senses of for life.   I’m still doing research, but for now, here are a some arguments persuasive to me:  for an economic view:; for a moral view:;  for comment on the moral view:  

Please feel free to join or continue in this conversation about a list of Occupy concerns:;; or any Occupy facebook page or website.   Or draft your own list and submit it for discussion.   Be peaceful.  Be respectful.

Visit again for further updates.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It simply Isn't patriotic to disenfranchise citizens.

Published October 12, 2011, The Star Herald


Two major reasons are given for the new law in Maine that we must register to vote at least 3 business days prior to the election date:  to prevent voter fraud, and to alleviate a burden on town clerks.

In the Bangor Daily News, Eric Russell says that Charlie Smmers' investigation into voter fraud turned up only one case that would come close to fraud.  And America Goes to the Polls 2010 reports that Election Day Registration (EDR) actually reduces administrative costs and burdens.  Gathering signatures at the Maine Poato Blossom Festival Parade and elsewhere for the people's veto about the issue, we had a town manager and several town clerks sign, all of them voicing strong support for same-day registration.  [Since this was first published in The Star Herald, The Maine Municipal Association has endorsed the people's veto of the law.]

I have worked in a job too far outside my home town to get to town offices during regular business hours, as do many Maine people in rural areas who often work more than one job.  And I have been in voting situations considered suspicious by Summers.  I have several times been a student where I voted in districts outside my home state.  In all those cases, I was registered to vote in Maine and in another state in the same year.  I also may have been guilty of failing to register my car within 30 days of those moves; that does not make me guilty also of voter fraud.  What could Summers have meant by questioning the patriotism of such voting?

Our laws should encourage voting by making it as easy as possible.  According to Michael Cooper in the New York Times, EDR is responsible for "enrolling some 60,000 new voters in 2008."  The current law disenfranchises many and discourages participation for no good reason that has been supported with persuasive evidence.   Where is the patriotism in denying 60,000 citizens their vote?  

Please vote yes on Question 1 to protect EDR, and tell your legislators to stop wasting time and money on laws that fix no problem when we have pressing problems that need work.   




Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Governor’s Defense of the New Maine Health-Care Law

At his Town Hall in Presque Isle August 22, I asked the Governor to compare the costs and benefits of his new health-care plan with the single-payer bill proposed around the same time.  I was not satisfied with the responses, which referenced the Idaho bill as the model for his plan and the Canadian health care system as the comparison model.  In hopes of getting more specific responses, I wrote him a follow-up letter on August 30.  You can see my full letter and his full reply of September 14 below.  

In my letter I asked, “What cost/benefit analysis was done to compare the new health care law with the proposed single payer system?”  He replied in his letter, “Although the legislature passed [emphasis mine] the single payer bill many times, it did not provide funding that would have allowed a comparison to the existing system possible.”  Assuming the use of passed is a mistake, and he meant introduced, the assertion is still false.  The single-payer system proposed in LD 1397 does provide funding explained in the synopsis of the bill I sent him:  the bill “will eliminate for-profit health insurance and replace it with a standard premium payment, 9% of adjusted gross income, to be paid by every Maine resident to an independent trust fund.  Those making less than $300% of the federal poverty level, or $32,670, will pay a reduced rate” (  

I also asked, “Considering that ‘total administrative costs consume 31% of U.S. health spending’ according to Physicians for a National Health Program (—costs that do not go for healthcare—how can any for-profit insurance that continues the current fragmented system be better for consumers or taxpayers?”    He replied, “Private companies have a nimbleness that bureaucracies cannot match, allowing them to innovate in response to market trends.”  I would like to know what evidence supports that, and even if it is true how does the nimbleness and innovation of insurance companies directly alleviate the burden of the 31% of costs that are not spent on healthcare in the private insurance system?

The governor referred to the website of the Maine Health Management Coalition, .  I spent a couple of hours at the website, and I could not find any information there that addresses the 31% of costs that don’t go to direct patient care:  advertising, lobbying, profits, high overhead costs in medical offices to deal with insurance forms, immorally high administrative salaries.  These costs would be sharply reduced in the proposed single payer system.  By comparison and depending on which source you consult, Medicare overhead is between 1 and 6% of total costs.  And Canada’s National Health Insurance Program had overhead costs in 1999 of 1.3% of its total expenditures (   

I asked the governor, “How will the new law be better for Maine businesses and workers such as loggers who must compete with Canadians who can work for less because they have a national health care system?”  In his reply to this question, he ignored the issue of competition with Canada.  I asked “How will the new law provide for the 140,000 Mainers who are currently uninsured and for the equal number underinsured?” and “What is the source of charges made at the Town Hall Meeting about the Canadian Health Care System?”  He completely ignored these questions and did not respond to evidence ( I sent that his charges about Canadian health care are false. 

My brother was diagnosed with cancer in Maine and received his early treatment here.  When it came time to retire, he and his wife, a Canadian citizen, decided to move to Canada where they could get much better quality health care at much less out-of-pocket expense.  Instead of worrying about threats to his assets by high premiums, deductions, and co-pays and possible long-term care, he could focus his final years on quality of life—time with his 4 generational family, gardening, fishing, practicing his craft of making beautiful jewelry.

The governor’s defense does not justify the passage of a new health care law which will surely perpetuate the current problems, and likely exacerbate them (  We take for granted that we need to provide publicly funded schools, fire and police protection, national defense, disaster relief.  Why shouldn’t health care be likewise publicly funded?  I haven’t found good reasons why not that consider the health and well-being of all our citizens and of the entire economy.  Having health insurance decoupled from employment as the Single Payer bill proposes would be a great incentive for Maine businesses to hire new employees and for new businesses to come to Maine, goals the Governor says he favors. 
August 29, 2011
Governor LePage
Office of the Governor
#1 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0001

Dear Governor LePage,

Thank you for visiting with us in Presque Isle August 22.  Such meetings give us the opportunity to think about the issues in more depth than we otherwise might.  As a result of that meeting, my list of concerns about the new health-care law has grown.  Perhaps, a letter is a better forum than a meeting for expressing my concerns and for getting the kind of specific responses I would like.  Please respond to the following:

·         What cost/benefit analysis was done to compare the new health care law with the proposed single payer system?  I’m enclosing a synopsis of that single-payer bill.
·         Considering that “total administrative costs consume 31% of U.S. health spending” ( that do not go for healthcare—how can any for-profit insurance that continues the current fragmented system be better for consumers or taxpayers?    See enclosed quote from Physicians for a National Health Program.
·         How will the new law provide for the 140 thousand Mainers who are currently uninsured and for the equal number underinsured?
·         What is your source of information about the Canadian health-care system as compared to ours?  Please see enclosed information addressing your comments about Canadian health care at the August 22 town hall.  
·         How will the new law be better for Maine businesses and workers such as loggers competing with Canadians who have a public single-payer system?   
·         I looked on the web site for the fact sheet on myths and facts about the health-care law, mentioned at the August 22 meeting and couldn’t find it.  I think I have seen it before, but could you send me a copy or tell me where to find one, so I can check my memory?   And, please, tell me also where you get your facts from.

Thank you for attention to these concerns.  I look forward to hearing from you

Alice Bolstridge

cc.  H. Sawin Millett, Jr., Mary Mayhew
Synopsis of LD 1397 “An Act To Establish a Single-payor Health Care System
To Be Effective In 2017”

“Introduced by Rep. Charlie Priest, District 63 (D-Bruswick), 55 co-sponsors
125th Maine State Legislature

“The bill, LD 1397, creates the Maine Health Care Plan to provide uniform access for all Maine residents to comprehensive, high quality and affordable health care. The Plan is to be financed by the Maine Health Care Trust Fund. The Maine Health Care Agency, an independent executive agency, is established to administer the Plan and the Trust Fund under the direction of the Maine Health Care Council.

“The Plan has eleven stated goals, the first three of which -- 1. access to health care for every Maine resident, 2. eliminate income-based disparity and 3. reduce the rate of growth in the cost of health care services -- will bring about fundamental changes over the current costly, unsustainable insurance-based, fragmented system. The Plan will accomplish its goals first, by decoupling health care from employment. By making health care an individual human right, this bill will relieve employers of any financial obligation for their employees’ health care. Secondly, it will eliminate for-profit health insurance and replace it with a standard premium payment, 9% of adjusted gross income, to be paid by every Maine resident to an independent trust fund. Those making less than 300% of the federal poverty level, or $32,670, will pay a reduced rate. Thirdly, the plan will incorporate technologies to create a highly efficient and accountable system, integrating patient records and payments with provider processes.

“The result will be a barrier-free health care system; patients requiring health care services need only present their personal health ID card to the health care professional of their choice to receive treatment. Providers, in turn, will receive agreed upon payments for services rendered in a timely manner, automatically.

“And here is the url for the actual 19-page bill.

Also visit about the authors of the bill.

from Physicians for a National Health Program

How much do private insurance companies spend on overhead and profit?

“Private insurance overhead and profit, on average, fluctuates between 12% and 14% nationally. This figure is
somewhat lower than the 16-20% at many of the big insurers because it includes self-insured plans of many big employers that have overhead of about 6-7%. On the other hand, overhead in the individual market is often substantially higher than 20%, and in some cases above 30%.
“The estimate that total administrative costs consume 31% of U.S. health spending is from research by Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003. The figure would undoubtedly be higher today. Insurance overhead accounts for a minority of the overhead. Much more occurs in physicians’ offices, hospitals, and nursing homes - driven by our current fragmented payment system. The fact that insurance overhead per se accounts for a minority of the bureaucratic waste in the system explains why implementing a public option plan would not achieve most of the potential bureaucratic savings that can be realized through single payer. Even with a public option, hospitals, physicians and nursing homes would still have to maintain virtually all of their internal billing and cost tracking apparatus in order to fight with private insurers.”

Ruthie McAllister.  I want to know where people get their info on the Canadian healthcare system?!?!?  He is not the first to say bad things.  Makes you wonder who is feeding this kind of info to our public servants?  Having lived there and having family and friends still there I have never known anyone who has had to wait or been denied.  I am sure that, like here when it comes to elective surgery, there may be a wait but nothing unusual.  They don’t wait either until they are so sick to go see the doctor.  And as far as inferior quality of medicine, that’s a crock of you know what.  Just like here there are great Drs. as well good and not so good, same with hospitals, but that as nothing to do with having a universal healthcare system.  I don't know of anyone who was denied any treatment or procedure over there because the government refused to pay.Having both lived there and have family and friends still there I have never known anyone who has had to wait or been denied..I am sure that like here when it comes to elective surgery..there may be a wait but nothing unusual.They don't wait either till they are so go see the doctor of info to our public servants?Having both lived there and have family and friends still there I have never known anyone who has had to wait or been denied..I am sure that like here when it comes to elective surgery..there may be a wait but nothing unusual.They don't wait either till they are so go see the doctor
Shelly Mountain.  Rationing occurs here [in Maine]. You are at the mercy of insurance executives who decide whether they will pay for procedures and rationing happens based on your ability to afford health care and/or insurance. People have died here because insurance companies have refused to pay for treatment.
Roberta Morris Bolstridge.  I never heard tell of rationing here (New Brunswick) and I worked in the system for 12 yrs and lived with it for 25 yrs. If your doctor orders something it is done. Period, end of discussion. No yoho in an insurance office decides. And what's this about having to move to get health care? What idiot thought that one up? And to put my views in perspective, I lived in ME for 16 yrs and worked in a hospital there as well.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Alice Bolstridge, Winner, Maine Writers and Publishers 2011 Literary Award for Shorter Works, Poetry, for the following poems:

"Traveling from the Northeast," published UpCountry, July 2015

"At the Cincnnati Art Museum," forthcoming as "Rodin's Fugitive Love" in the chapbook, Chance & Choice to be published by Finishing Line Press.

"Some Place in Tennesee," 

"In New Orleans," forthcoming as "New Orleans Art in July" in the chapbook, Chance & Choice to be published by Finishing Line Press.

"At the Missouri Psychiatric Facility for Federal Prisoners,forthcoming as "My Son, the Artist" in the chapbook, Chance & Choice to be published by Finishing Line Press.

"Through the Heart of the Awl."

"Back home in Maine fields."

©  2011, Alice Bolstridge

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The State Budget and Poverty

Op-ed at

By Alice Bolstridge, Special to the BDN
Posted May 26, 2011, at 6:42 p.m.
I grew up in poverty in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. With a crippled father and a sickly mother, neither one of whom completed elementary school, we often were dependent on state welfare and charity from relatives and neighbors for the basic necessities of food, clothing and health care.
All six of us siblings eventually worked our way out of poverty and far enough up the rungs of the middle-class ladder that we could provide through work the basics for ourselves most of the time and contribute as taxpayers. Though some of my siblings would argue that they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, as “rugged individualist” wisdom suggests we all should, I know that none of us do it by ourselves.
First, we survived childhood as healthy as we did with the aid of a social safety net that provided for much of our food and health care. Second, we all were educated through high school by a publicly funded education system. Third, we all received some sort of training beyond high school that was in large measure publicly funded.
Upon graduation from high school, my older sister received a scholarship to a business school that led to a job in the Veterans’ Administration, where she spent her entire career helping to administer the design and construction of veterans’ hospitals, a publicly funded enterprise. All four of my brothers joined the publicly funded military after high school, which provided not only training useful in later civilian life but also some lifelong health benefits.
My publicly funded education provided a few great teachers who awakened my sleepy brain and nurtured my intellectual development all the way through higher education and beyond. Yes, I paid for a good part of my adult education by teaching part time, but I also was helped by scholarships and publicly funded grants. Other forms of education, in whole or in part publicly funded, such as PBS and senior education, continue through old age.
With this proposed Maine state budget, the important social safety nets that are the major drivers in lifting people out of poverty and into tax-paying status are under threat. The proposed changes to pension and health care contributions of teachers and other state workers can only serve to discourage great teachers like I have known as well as those who work with the mentally and physically challenged, many of whom can become taxpayers with the right care.

The budget proposes egregious cuts to Maine’s poor workers, particularly in the area of health care, cuts that can only serve to increase the costs to the rest of us.
Increasing the economic distress of the poor, which this budget proposal would do, cannot improve the Maine economy overall. Neither can other actions such as recent passage of the health insurance bill, LD 1333, and the removal of the labor mural from the Department of Labor building in Augusta, which reflects the administration’s lack of respect for Maine’s labor force, a vital necessity to the Maine economy.

The policies and proposed budget of this administration and Legislature amount to economic attacks on teachers, state workers, low-earning wage workers and micro-businesses, which together are vital to the Maine economy. Such actions only serve to exacerbate the problem of poverty, not just for the poor but for all of us. And for what? To give tax breaks that further enrich the already rich?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Supporting Maine Woods Workers

Testimony Opposing LD 1383 – An Act to Improve the Process by Which Logging Contractors Hire Legal Foreign Workers, May 6, 2011

by Shelly Mountain
I am from Mapleton and the much maligned Aroostook County. My grandfather worked in the woods with horses, my father hauled pulp wood, my husband owns a log truck, and my son would like to. I am here to testify in opposition to this bill that would make it easier to hire foreign labor. I will be 50 years old this fall and the Canadian labor issue has existed all of my life. As a little girl I remember men parking their trucks across Route 11 in an effort to get the attention of Augusta. Senator Jackson has worked hard to find solutions to the problem. Now this legislature appears determined to not only reverse any progress he has made but also to blame the hard working loggers for their own demise. The arguments I have heard against Maine loggers are varied and vague.

When I asked two Aroostook County representatives why they voted against Maine loggers they told me that no one came here to speak in their favor. To the extent that some truth exists in that it is because they fear reprisals that would worsen their already bad situation. In asking people to come down here today I was told that they would like to, that they are frustrated that their own equipment sits idle while Canadians are working, but that they couldn’t testify because they want to keep the jobs they do have. I understand that and in fact share that fear myself. I worry that my testimony may threaten my own family’s livelihood.

Representative Peter Rioux has argued that Canadian labor should be favored because, “they are more productive, they show up for work . . . they work harder, they complain less.” I have invited Rep. Rioux to spend a day working with my husband to understand how productive and hard working he is. I invite any of you to do the same. But you had better go to bed early the night before because his day starts at 1:00 in the morning and you had better be prepared for an overnight because he often sleeps in his truck. I should add that he does this all without complaint.

Representative Crockett is quoted in the Bangor Daily as saying, “the reality is bonded labor keeps the price of wood down, it keeps mills open and it keeps a market for people like my dad who sell wood.” It is not the purpose of the legislature to manipulate the price of wood and doing so is a violation of federal trade law and the bonded labor program. Bonded labor has been used in Northern Maine for a long time and it has not prevented the closing of mills there, rather it has accelerated it.

In the BDN Senator Trahan has dismissed Senator Jackson’s efforts as just, “an issue for the loggers in his district. But for everyone else in the state it could create a serious disadvantage.” I have left messages for Senator Trahan asking him to explain how hiring Maine labor creates any kind of disadvantage but he has never gotten back to me. I assume he is also talking about keeping the price of wood down. The wood that is harvested and trucked by Canadian labor is for the most part not going to Maine mills. As I have said there are few mills left up there for it to go to. This wood that these legislators are trying to manipulate the price of is all going to Canadian mills to employ more Canadians. The wood then comes back as a cheap, subsidized, finished product that undercuts our industries and puts even more Mainers out of work. The bonded labor program is only supposed to be accessed when domestic labor is unavailable. There are many Maine loggers whose equipment sits idle while foreign labor is doing the job and they are defaulting on loans for that equipment. No matter how some try to construe it, Maine’s economy and certainly Maine’s workers do not benefit from the hiring of Canadian labor.

I urge you to do the right thing and support Maine loggers by voting against this bill. It is wrong to make it easier to hire foreign labor that takes jobs away from hard working, productive Maine loggers.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Single Payer System for Maine:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011, four of us from Aroostook County, traveled to Augusta to attend the hearing on a bill to provide a single-payer health-care system for Maine.  It was one of the most gratifying experiences of my recent political activity.  Many people showed up to testify in support of the bill, LD 1397, and the opposition disappeared from the room as it came time for their testimony.    One lone opponent who appeared to be an insurance lobbyist showed up after testimony closed and asked to be permitted to speak.  He did, and that proved to be a fitting closure to the testimony because he did not address any of the specifics of the bill, and all he did say served to convince us that he had not read it.  Much of the testimony focused on a variety of problems the bill could resolve, including creating a more friendly business environmnet for Maine and providing a more level competitive playing field for Maine workers in the global market.  Following is testimony two of us gave on Tuesday.  It addresses some of the personal stresses faced by individuals trying to get affordable health care insurance that the single-payer bill would help to alleviate. 

Testimony in favor of LD 1397
An Act To Establish a Single-payor Health Care System To Be Effective in 2017

by Alice Bolstridge 
I am a retired teacher with a Maine State Retirement pension.  When I signed up for Medicare in 2003, the only additional coverage I could get for which the MSR System would pay their share was Aetna, the company providing my health insurance at the time of retirement.  I started paying about $350 a month from my own pocket, and the premium went up every year.  At some point I needed surgery and was hospitalized for several days.  When the bills started coming in, I discovered that I did not have the supplement plan I thought I had, but a catastrophic insurance plan that also provided some coverage for prescription drugs which I didn’t need.  Aetna did not pay any of the co-pay expenses for the surgery and hospital stay.  By this time my premium was up to about $450 a month.  With the state’s share, my insurance was costing over $700 a month.  Not only was I getting ripped off, the state was, too.  As a taxpayer, I was cheated twice to pay for Aetna profits.  The whole experience was a nightmare with trying to figure out if I should blame the insurance company or the providers who kept harassing me with bills. 

When the collection agency threatened me, I paid the bill to get some peace of mind, but my trust in some of the health care providers involved in that has never recovered.  I don’t intend to recover trust in for-profit insurance.  It is foolish for any of us to trust our health to companies whose only motive is profit.  And it is foolish to trust providers who are encouraged by the way they are paid to compromise quality of care and to waste money for unnecessary procedures.  I dropped Aetna coverage and picked up an Advantage plan.  I don’t trust them either.   They start you out cheap and then increase the premiums by 100 percent or more every year.  The first one stopped offering the product I had after about 2 years.  The one I have now started out with a payment of $0 per month and increased the premium to $50 per month the first year.  I don’t even know how to calculate that percentage.  These companies are getting subsidized by the federal government; we are cheated again.

When I first began my experience with a non-profit Blue Cross/ Blue Shield decades ago, our insurance life was simple and worry-free.  Faced with a life-threatening illness of one child that went on for several years and involved several hospital stays, we all—the patient, his family, and the providers—could focus on the medical problems of the illness, not on what we would have to sacrifice to pay for the treatment.   We need a payment system that returns us to that simplicity, effectiveness, and trust. 

This bill is especially important in view of the Health Care bill, LD 1333, that was already voted out of committee as ought to pass and is especially bad for seniors, rural areas, cancer patients, and people with other preexisting conditions.  Mainers, support LD 1397, and get for-profit insurance companies out of the health care business.

by Shelly Mountain.

I am here to support single-payer. I live in Mapleton with my husband and two sons. We are small business owners which means that we have an individual insurance plan. Until just a month ago we were paying Anthem $516 a month for a policy with a $15,000 deductible. It covered absolutely nothing before that $15,000 deductible. We were paying $6200 a year and still responsible for all of our medical expenses, which usually works out to at least that same amount in a year. I have stopped going to the doctor myself for any reason. I have strong family histories of both breast and colon cancer
but I do not get mammograms or colonoscopies because I can’t afford them. My understanding is that the Affordable Care Act now requires those things to be covered through insurance but Anthem never told me that and since my policy was grandfathered into the old system they were not required to cover those
things under that policy. The only way I found out about it was when I testified in March against their proposed rate increases. It is common practice at Anthem to keep policy holders in the dark about anything that would benefit the policy holder.

My 12 year old son was involved in a snowmobile accident this past winter and complained of severe pain from what he believed was a broken a rib. I hesitated about taking him to the ER. I knew an ER visit would be very expensive and that it would probably involve an expensive X-ray. I wondered, “Can they even do anything for a broken rib?” I ended up going because he was complaining about pain when he breathed. The winter before that I waited 3 days when he had a severe sore throat and fever before I finally took him in to find out he had strep throat and double ear infection. Untreated strep can be very dangerous.
I pay Anthem $6200 a year and I still struggle with whether I can afford a strep test on my son. I pay Anthem $6200 a year and still I have bill collectors calling and harassing me for payment of medical bills. I pay Anthem $6200 a year that I receive no benefit from. Where does all that money go?  Last year Anthem’s treasurer, R. David Kreschmer, had a compensation package that totaled almost $2.4 million. Last year the CEO of Anthem’s parent company, Wellpoint, was paid $13.1 million. Last year Anthem contributed money to political campaigns, including Governor LePage’s transition. They use my money to affect legislation that will add to their profits but exacerbate my ability to be a responsible parent. I have been financing my own worsening healthcare situation.

This shameful condition will continue to worsen as long as health care remains an industry motivated only by profits. The insurance companies have made it obvious that they are unwilling to contain their costs. They have made it clear that they value high executive pay and profit above the health care of their subscribers. Insurance is the only business that exists by charging increasingly excessive prices while providing absolutely no service. Insurance was originally developed as a means for many people to pool resources that could be used to help community members when they incurred costs that no one of them could afford individually. It is no longer that. It has become something in itself that fewer and fewer people can afford. We need to return it to its roots. A single payer system would provide a more reasonable and just pricing structure. Fewer administrative costs would mean that more money would actually be spent on citizen’s health care needs. Insurance companies and the executives who run
them would stop profiting off the suffering of Maine citizens.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cheapest Pleasures

That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.
Henry David Thoreau

By way of metaphorical usage, cheap has acquired connotations of seedy, disreputable, worthless, but Thoreau meant it literally to refer to the minor cost of spiritual riches attained from a frugal life.  One example is the cheap pleasure of imagining owning a house with some property as opposed to actually owning it:
An afternoon sufficed to lay out the land into orchard, woodlot, and a pasture, and to decide what fine oaks or pines should be left to stand before the door, and whence each blasted tree could be seen to the best advantage; and then I let it lie, fallow perchance, for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things when he can afford to let alone. 
Tolstoy also has a short fable, “How much Land does a Man Need?” about a man with just enough land to supply his basic needs who seeks more.   Every acquisition of new property increases his hunger for more until, eventually, he sacrifices everything and literally runs himself to death seeking more land. 

In spite of proclaimed values in agreement with Thoreau and Tolstoy about simplicity and frugality, I find myself in old age often distressed about how to manage bookkeeping and maintenance of property and possessions.   I have way too much stuff.  Shelves and shelves and shelves house close to a thousand books.   They take up living space, perpetually need dusting, and the only reason I don’t own more is that I give so many away to make room for more.   Surrounding my work desk and leaving only narrow aisles to get to books, filing cabinets bulge with over forty years of accumulated drafts of writing projects and paperwork from managing real estate, personal accounts, and investments.  To simplify my life, I sold a big old house I owned and invested the money, which earns some interest, which I must manage, capital—ugh.  And then I bought another house bigger than I need.  So I now have, again, gardening and snow-removal machines and paraphernalia, an over supplied kitchen, and stuffed closets.  All of this always needs organizing which, like dusting, never gets completed.  Vanity, all vanity.  Just the sheer number of possessions and money complicates my life and interferes with the pursuit of the cheapest pleasures I believe to be the best.  Pleasures like observation, contemplation, and creative social activity.

With all of this, by today’s standards, the entire value of my possessions does not qualify me as above lower middle-class in the prevailing view of American-dream aspirations.  Except for the aspirations of our Maine Governor who asserts that his proposed budget puts anyone with an annual income above 19,000 + a few dollars in the rich income-tax bracket and thus the beneficiary of a tax cut amounting to about 6-10 dollars.   Still, relative to the poverty in the world, I am too rich.  

My country is too rich, too greedy, spends too much money on trivial luxuries.  Multi-car garages house air- polluting vehicles at private homes.  Multi-billion dollar industries finance sports teams, junk movies, junk TV shows, junk news as entertainment, and junk internet products for addicted spectators who require ever increasing and costly fixes of escape from the cheap pleasures of stimulating and socially valuable work, conversation, and activity.  Huge shopping malls, both mini and maxi, provide an endless stream of useless consumer paraphernalia.  Garish advertising litters the landscape and the mind and extinguishes cheap pleasures of natural and artistic beauty.  Multi-billion-dollar profits of corporations feed a lust for ever-more power that money buys.  Adding insult to injury, our government practices spending priorities that encourages all of this—when facing a national crisis, President Bush said, “Go to Disneyland.”  Spend money.  Have a good time.   The energy it takes to fuel all these trivial pursuits pollutes and degrades the earth that could with the right values and priorities supply all of our most basic needs and all of our cheapest, most satisfying pleasures.  

The more we spend in pursuit of mind- and spirit-deadening pleasures of escape, greed, and power, the more we resort to war to protect and keep our American way of life, nearly perpetual war since the founding of our nation.  In my lifetime, WW II, the Cold War that took in the hot sites of Korea and Viet Nam, Wars in the Near East—Iraq, Afghanistan, now Libya, and our interminable military support for Israel and all over the rest of the world.  War, with all the expense of its production and repair of collateral damage, is the costliest luxury.  And there is no appetite by either of the major political parties to even reduce war, let alone eliminate it, as a way to resolve international conflicts.   The spending-cut deal for 2011 negotiated by Boehner, Reid, and Obama does not touch military spending, over half the total budget.  Seeing how often the right thing to do gets compromised, I’m deferring judgment about Obama’s promises to cut military spending in the future. 

There are known solutions to these problems if we can collectively find the will to apply them.  Likely the best place to start is to reduce the obscene gap between rich and poor that grows and grows.  In “Equality is Better—for Everyone,”  Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett use comparison studies between the more income-equal nations like Japan and the Nordic countries and the less equal ones like the U.S., Britain, and Portugal to show that “inequality is socially corrosive” for everyone, not just the poor.  In countries where the gap between the rich and the poor is smaller,
the statistics show that community life is stronger and levels of trust are higher.  There is also less violence, including lower homicide rates; physical and mental health tends to be better and life expectancy is higher . . . . prison populations are smaller, teenage birth rates are lower, educational scores tend to be higher, there is less obesity and more social mobility.
. . . . . . . . . .
Even the well-off do better in more equal countries . . . . live longer and enjoy better health . . . . Everyone enjoys the benefits of living in a more trusting, less violent society. . . . More equal countries give more in foreign aid and score better on the Global Peace Index.  They recycle a higher proportion of their waste and think it more important to abide by international environmental agreements. 
In contrast,
mental illness is three times more common in more unequal countries [U. S. is the most unequal in the world] than in the most equal, obesity rates are twice as high, rates of imprisonment eight times higher, and teenage births increase tenfold.  (People First Economics)

Individually, we would be healthier by getting out of the car more often and enjoying the cheap pleasures of walking, running, or biking (and the earth would thrive better, too).  We would be happier as well as healthier if we channeled our hunger for power into gaining control over expensive entertainment appetites that are never satisfied.  Collectively, we would improve the mental health of ourselves and our culture by taxing obscene riches of the entertainment industries and applying the revenue to full funding of PBS and to high quality education and health care for all.  We could provide for the earth’s health and welfare by requiring all polluting enterprises to pay for cleaning up the messes they produce and then to stop polluting.  We could substantially reduce the national debt by requiring corporations with huge profits and financial institutions that are too big to fail to pay their fair share.  See Bernie Sanders’ list of the top ten freeloading corporations who not only don’t pay taxes but get subsidies, refunds and bailouts from the rest of us who do: We could further reduce the debt and would all be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthier with individual and collective commitments to put costly violence and war behind us as outmoded solutions, and to leave the world a cheaper, more peaceful place than we find it. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Peace Rally, Bangor, Maine

April 9, 2011

Alice, Mike, Steve
from the Peace and Justice Center of Aroostook
which meets every Sunday at noon since the invasion of Iraq in 2003
to walk for peace across the Aroostook River Bridge. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Study Peace

March marks the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and we have not completed that war.  In October, we will have 10 years at war in Afghanistan, and we have yet to begin the draw down of combat operations there.  The total cost of these wars is above $1.16 trillion and counting, over $700 million a day by conservative estimates. It is millions more if considering all the associated costs of maintaining the military industrial complex and repairing the damage caused by war.  Leaving aside for a moment the social and moral costs of war, can we afford this kind of expense when we have such looming unsolved economic problems here?  

Consider health care so costly that many of our citizens can’t afford it even with the Affordable Health Care Act that is under threat, state budgets in so much trouble they are threatening massive layoffs and cuts in essential social services and infrastructure to avoid bankruptcy, a national debt that exceeds $14 trillion, rampant and uncontrolled greed in our financial institutions that caused a massive recession and that show no signs I have seen of reforming or being reformed, an environment increasingly at risk, increased taxes on the lower middle-class while taxes are cut for the most wealthy.   No, we can’t afford the mounting costs of resorting to war to resolve our security problems and international disputes. 

And now--war in Libya!?!

We study and learn the practice of war.  We pour our best resources into improving our military capability.  Imagine what would happen if we began to draw down our commitment to war and turned those abilities and resources to learning and practicing peaceful conflict resolution.  For that we need moral commitment from citizens and institutions together.  A better, more peaceful world will not happen only by individuals just improving themselves, though that is a good and necessary thing to do.  But then, like Buddha, or Christ, or Mohammed, the individual needs to take some responsibility for improving the world. 

©Alice Bolstridge, 2011. 
A pre-Libya version of this post was published as a Letter to the Editor
in The Star Herald, Presque Isle, Maine, 2-16-2011.