On booze, guns, voting, and healthcare

It is a popular belief that physicians take an oath to “first, do no harm.”  They do not, however, they should.  Not just physicians though — everyone.  Doctors, lawyers, teachers, mechanics, bankers, mayors, governors, congressmen, presidents……  What does it mean to “do no harm”?  Truthfully, I’m not really sure I know what it means, but I can imagine what it might look like.  It would look like people caring for their fellow man beyond platitudes and pity.  I would imagine it would stop lawmakers from making laws that are clearly harmful to any portion of the population.  “But it’s not possible to make everyone happy.”  I know this, but is it possible not to let people die for the sake of capitalism?  There have been numerous Facebook debates this week about whether or not healthcare is a right.  If I’m being honest, I think people get too caught up in semantics.  No, healthcare is not a right spelled out by what is apparently the holiest of all documents ever written, the Constitution of the United States.  

Let me take a moment to say this:  I love the Constitution of the United States of America.  It is a document that has stood the test of time and prevailed.  It is a simple explanation of what the government cannot do.  Yep, you read that correctly.  The constitution is not so much about the rights of the people as it is about the limits set on the federal government by that ubiquitous group of men we lovingly call “the founding fathers.”  The ‘founding fathers’ who, by the way, agreed with each other about as much as the democrats and republicans do today, really struggled to agree on what the government of this new country should look like.  The first seven articles, which comprise the ‘original’ Constitution, do not contain a single right. None. Nada. Zip. Zero. They simply lay out the powers of each branch of government and how each one is to function.

There are actually very few rights outlined in the Constitution besides voting and drinking. Yes, there is a ‘bill of rights’, but they have much more to do with what the government cannot either do to you or stop you from doing.

So, are the only rights we have the ones outlined in the constitution? Where does that leave us? We can drink, vote, shoot guns and tell everyone about how much we love or hate it.  Seems a little lacking to me.

What rights should we be guaranteed as humans? A few come to mind: safety, the right to self-determination, freedom; basically, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which is referred to in the 14th amendment, but again it’s telling the government that they can’t take those away from people “without due cause.”

While the Constitution does not go into detail about basic rights, in 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States ratified.  In it are 30 articles that are “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”  The three above are part of it, but there is so much more.  Like the right to marry whomever one chooses and the right to own property.  The freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  The right to one’s own opinion. The right not be belong to an association.  And way at the bottom, at number 25 is the “right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services” and the “right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”  

How very refreshing to see that some entity somewhere cares about the well being of earth’s citizens.  Why do we, a “Christian Nation” allegedly “Under God” not care to meet those same standards?  Why do we think that some deserve for their illnesses to be treated while others remain sick?  Why do we think an adequate standard of living is only for the wealthy?  Why do we make health care a privilege?

It’s because we have been taught that God blesses the righteous and sends woes to the unrighteous.  We equate wealth with morality and it is sickening.  To be living in poverty means that you are not blessed by God and therefore not deserving of “handouts.”  You are not a “worthy poor.”  “If you would pray enough, you’d be healed.”  “If you tithed enough, you’d have more money.”  “Follow God and he will provide for all of your needs.”  These words only sound good to those saying them.  I am a Christian.  I believe in God.  I pray and go to church.  I serve my community in His name.  I study the bible.  Hymns are the first songs that come to mind when I need to fill empty space. I am a Christian.  I am also sick.  Before I knew what was wrong, I was in so much pain that I just wanted it gone or me gone, and that is what I prayed.

God didn’t take me to heaven or take the pain away.  No, He answered with a simple pill I take every night before bed.  A pill that costs $87 a piece.  Do the math.  That’s crazy, right!  Do you want to know what is even more crazy? In any other country it cost about $1. It is so much more expensive here because America not only worships the Constitution, but we worship capitalism as well.  The ability for the government to negotiate with drug companies has been repeatedly voted down because of capitalism.

There is a place for capitalism, healthcare is not it.  The right to live is not something that should ebb and flow with the market.  It should not be reserved for those who can afford it. Health care may not be a right in the United States, but it is a Human Right and should not be withheld just because someone can’t afford it.

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On Rights

 

“Healthcare (medical care) is not a right…” I have seen this over and over and over on Facebook and Twitter this week.  There’s even a hashtag.  Well, you all know how I love my word play, so let’s break it all down:

Right:
Noun: A moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something.

Moral:
Adjective: of, relating to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical.

Ethical:
Adjective: Pertaining to right and wrong in conduct.
Synonyms: upright, honest, righteous, virtuous, honorable.

So, even if someone is not legally entitled to something, they could be ethically entitled.

Now, we may not be legally entitled to health care, but how can anyone say that we are not ethically entitled to it?

Would you like to know what we call something that we are not legally or ethically entitled to?
A privilege.

Privilege: A right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of others or a grant to an individual under certain conditions or an advantage granted to a person.

So which is it?
Should medical care be classified as a right or a privilege?

Is it something that should be “enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages (money, status, job, ect.) of others?”

Is it upright, honest, righteous, virtuous, or honorable to tell someone that they don’t deserve medical care for any reason?

Is medical care only for people who are good (wealthy) enough for it?

What makes someone worthy to receive medical care?

These are all questions each and every person who claims that medical care is not a right must answer.  Please look those who are sick and dying in the face and tell them that they are not worthy of life.  Tell them that if they didn’t earn it they shouldn’t have it.  Tell them they should have worked harder and saved more.  Tell them you’re sorry about their situation, but medical care is not a right.  Tell them you’ll put them on the prayer list at church.

The reality is that it is a shame that the United States doesn’t have universal health coverage.  We’re so damned afraid of government involvement that we are only hurting ourselves.  We are so set on capitalist ideals that we’re willing to sacrifice “the least of these” on the altar of the free market.  Medical care should be exempt from the divides of wealth.  The poorest among us should expect the same care as the wealthiest.  Where is the compassion?  Where is Christ in this “Christian Nation”?  When are we going to hold ourselves accountable?

Yes, healthcare is a right; it is the most basic of rights and it’s about time American caught up with the rest of the world and realized that.

 

 

On Shame

The two main part of speech are nouns and verbs.  Nouns are people, places and things, and verbs are actions – things we do.  Shame is a word that can be both a noun and a verb.  It can be a thing or an action.

Have you ever felt ashamed? That feeling you get when you know you’ve done something wrong. That feeling that makes you want to crawl into yourself and disappear. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes from within because it helps keep us in check. Hopefully, it keeps us from hurting others too much. Shame as a feeling is a noun. It has substance and purpose. It is a thing. As a noun it means embarrassment or discomfort.

Shame as a verb means to humiliate, to mortify. Recently, shaming has become a popular thing. We fat shame, slut shame, and poor shame.  We humiliate and mortify each other. For what? To make ourselves morally superior? To show how “Christian” we are?

What got me thinking about shame are graphics like these:

They get shared on our Facebook pages and people don’t really think about how they might affect others. Think about it. Think about how it feels to open up your Facebook news feed and see this stuff if you are a person who, even though you try your best, can’t feed your family without food stamps.  You know, if your one of the more than half of people on food stamps who work.  How do you think it feels to the guy who searches everyday for a job or the man who worked in a factory for 20 years only to be replaced by a computer?  How does our shaming help those people? What does it do?

Seeing poverty as a moral problem is a practice older than the United States.  I’ve been doing a research paper on poverty in Early America and I find that our views today on poverty haven’t changed much in the last 250 years.  (For more on my views about poverty, feel free to read this)  People say that if someone is poor, it must be because of sin or something else of their own doing. You know what? People use to say the same thing about illness. Would you post about cancer or ALS being the sufferers own fault? No, people don’t do that because we know better now. We know that illness isn’t a moral issue it’s a physical issue. We now know that mental illness isn’t caused by demons. We need to apply this thinking to poverty as well. Considering that the poorest parts of this nation are in the Bible Belt which has the highest rate of church attendance and the most people claiming to be Christians, it seems odd that poverty would be a morality problem.

But the Bible says…….
Yes, the Bible says lots of things that can be taken completely out of context.  My favorite is “work or you shouldn’t eat.”  Have you ever looked at the rest of that chapter? Paul is reminding people that just because the Lord was going to return quickly, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our normal everyday things until He does.  The proverbs, written by the son of a king who never wanted or worked for anything, are used to shame people.  Do you know what else the Bible says about the poor?

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.

I could keep going, but I’m sure if you can find verses condemning the poor, you can find more that say to help them.

The Bible also has a lot to say about how we speak to others…

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

See, when we shame others for having less than us, we are putting ourselves above them. We are not following the example Christ gave us.  Christ, above all, was humble. He lowered himself because he knew that humility leads to honor.  As Christians, we are to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”

So, does “shaming” have a place?  When should we shame others? We should call attention to people who harm others. We should shame the rapist. We should shame the racist. We should shame those who hurt children and animals. We should shame those who oppress the poor. Those people need to be made aware that we will not stand by and let them hurt others. We should always be a voice against those who do harm.

Friends, we can stop hurting others with our words. We have control over what we say to and about others. We choose  everyday what kind of person we are going to be. Can we not just choose  to be kind, compassionate, and humble? Can we choose words that build people up – not tear them down? Can we choose to help and not hurt? If we all choose to not let any harmful words pass through our lips or on to our Facebook pages, how much better would this world be?

Before you post things, think about everyone who sees your Facebook page? Is anyone struggling to make ends meet? I’m talking about people you know; your family, friends, people you go to church with. Has anyone been laid off and is desperately searching for a job? Think about them when you post things. Try to put yourselves in their shoes before you shame them, before you mortify them, before you humiliate them. Try to see things from the perspective of those hearing what you say or reading what you post. Maybe then the world will become a little bit more kind.

I’ll leave you with this…

love-pic

On Being Poor

In 1833, publisher and economist Mathew Carey wrote a series of essays titled “Appeal to the Wealthy of the Land, Ladies as Well as Gentlemen, on the Character, Conduct, Situation, and Prospects of Those Whose Sole Dependence for Subsistence Is on the Labor of Their Hands.”  He dedicated this pamphlet “as a small mark of approbation of their Liberality, humanity, and fostering care, directed towards the relief of a large, oppressed, and suffering class of females, whose case often presents scenes of distress, to which nothing but ocular demonstration could secure credit, in a country far more prosperous than any other portion of the habitable globe.”  Wow! That’s a mouth full for sure, but in all of those fancy words, Mr. Carey made a keen observation – people in America, this new country full of opportunity and prosperity, were too poor.  Sadly, they still are.

I have been firmly in the middle class ever since striking it out on my own.  I’m one of the lucky people that was able to get out of abject poverty.  As an adult, I’ve never worried about where I would sleep and I’ve never gone hungry.  I’ve always had the ability to pack up my things and move when the mood struck and that often meant crashing on couches and spare rooms until I figured out where the next road would take me.  Currently, I could decide to move to a dozen different states and about five countries without much planning because I’ve got a friend or two who would accept me with open arms.  Mobility is one of the marks of the middle class; the ability to change, hopefully for the better, your situation.   People who live in poverty and only know others who are in the same situation don’t have that ability.  They are stuck in whatever situation they are in with no power to change it.

As I mentioned earlier, 1833 America had the same problem as 2016 America — once a person became poor, by birth or circumstances, they usually stayed that way.  Mr. Carey was one of the few people of his time who believed that it was everyone’s responsibility to try solve the poverty problem – through direct assistance and fair labor practices. (Sound familiar?).

In his pamphlet, he mentions 4 arguments that the middle and upper classes gave against helping the poor.
1. That every man, woman, and grown child (over 8), able and willing to work may find employment.
2. That the poor, by industry, prudence, and economy, may at all times support themselves comfortably, without depending on charitable aid, from said employment.
3. That their sufferings and distresses chiefly, if not wholly, arise from their idleness, their dissipation (waste), and their extravagance.
4. That taxes for the support of the poor, and aid afforded them by charitable individuals, or benevolent societies, are harmful, as, by encouraging the poor to depend on them, they foster their idleness and improvidence, and thus produce, or at least increase, the poverty and distress they are intended to relieve.

Does that list sound familiar?  Of course we no longer expect 8 year-old children to work    ( 16 is apparently a good age to start supporting the family), but the rest certainly seem to still fit in with America’s view of the poor.  How many times have you heard people say that the poor are just lazy? What about wasteful? How about drunks and drug addicts?  According to The Kairos Center, 48% of the US population are considered low income or impoverished.  That means one out of every two people have very uncertain futures.

While 48% of the population don’t, or barely, make enough to live off of, only 23% of the population receives some form of public assistance.  What’s even more shocking is that 56% of those recipients are employed.  That’s over half! That means that almost 20% of American workers don’t make enough to fully support themselves.  The “lazy” argument doesn’t really hold up, does it (I’m talking to you GOP)?

“They’re spending it on drugs” you say.  Well, actually not so much.  A few states have tried implementing drug testing programs for recipients.  It turns out that these states wasted tons of money for a statistically insignificant amount of positive results.  So, no they’re not a bunch of drug addicts.  “But, they’ll become dependent on the system.” Again, no.  Over half of all people who receive assistance come off of the programs within 2 years.  People don’t want to “live off of the system”.

I can hear you asking me what the problem is then.  Its the same thing it was in 1833.  Wages.  Mr. Carey lays it all out.  In 1833 a day laborer, with his wife and children all working, could expect to make $156 per year.  That same laborer could expect his expenses to be $166.21 per that same year.  That left a $10.21 deficit if all of them were able to work 365 days a year – these were not 40 hour work weeks either; such luxuries didn’t exist.  Today, if a person making minimum wage works 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year, he or she will make $15,080 a year.  Again this is assuming that they take no days off ever.  If their rent is $500 a month, which is a low ball number for most areas, then almost half of their income is almost gone and that doesn’t even count what they pay for utilities.  Can you see where I’m going here?  They are in the same situation as laborers almost 200 years ago.  How do we fix this?  Getting a higher paying job isn’t the answer because, according to the jobs report, 60% of all jobs being created pay minimum wage.

I find myself asking this question a lot, but how is this still okay?  How can we, as a nation, decide that almost half of all Americans are not deserving of financial security.  We have to either raise the minimum wage or expand assistance programs.  Period.  We can’t continue to pretend there is “nothing we can do.”  We can fight poverty with legislation.  We can raise the minimum wage.  We can implement a system of Universal Healthcare.  We can offer assistance for childcare.  We can make getting a college education more affordable.  There IS a lot we can do.  We just seem think that some people are more worthy than others and that everyone should be able to make it on their own no matter what the wages are.  Well America, you’re wrong and in the words of Mathew Carey, “This is one of those decisive facts which ought to silence unnecessary objections for ever on this important subject” – we are letting down 48% of the population and its not okay.

If you disagree with me, check out what the Department of Labor has to say on what will happen to our economy if we raise the minimum wage.