Monday, August 31, 2009
Books covering the subject matter of urban planning are particularly interesting in this regard, especially when they focus on the philosophy of the field.
I want to share an excerpt from Howard Kunstler, the author of The Geography of Nowhere and its follow-up, Home from Nowhere...this is from the latter.
You'll see, as you go through it, how what he's saying applies to what we're seeing right now in our health care debate; in terms of the conservative perspective vs. the liberals ones...and the question about whether we can tap into our better angels.
Starting from p. 37, Chapter 2: The Public Realm and the Common Good:
"Main Street USA in America's obsolete model for development---we stopped assembling towns this way after 1945. The pattern of Main Street is pretty simple: mixed use, mixed income, apartments and offices over the stores, moderate density, scaled to pedestrians, vehicles permitted but not allowed to dominate, buildings detailed with care, and built to last (although we still trashed it). Altogether it was a pretty good development pattern. It produced places that people loved deeply. That is the reason Main Street persists in our cultural memory. Many people still alive remember the years before World War Two and what it felt like to live in integral towns modeled on this pattern. Physical remnants of the pattern still stand in parts of the country for people to see, though the majority of Americans have moved into the new model habitat called Suburban Sprawl.
For all its apparent success, Suburban Sprawl sorely lacks many things that make life worth living, particularly civic amenities, which Main Street offered in spades. Deep down, many Americans are dissatisfied with suburbia---though they have trouble understanding what's missing---which explains their nostalgia for the earlier model. Their dissatisfaction is literally a dis-ease. They feel vaguely and generally un-well where they are. Nostalgia in its original sense means homesickness. Americans essay to cure their homesickness with costly visits to Disney World. The crude, ineffective pallaitives they get there in the form of brass bands and choo-choo train rides leave them more homesick and more baffled as to the nature of the their disease than when they arrived---like selling chocolate bars to someone suffereing from scurvy---and pathetically, of course, they must return afterward to the very places that induce the disease of homesickness.
Historically Americans have a low regard for the public realm, and this is very unfotunate because the public realm is the physical manifestation of the common good. When you degrade the public realm, as we have, you degrade the common good.
The public realm is furnished with some nonphysical equipment in the form of laws, beliefs, social agreements, and preeminently language, which enables all these other mechanisms to operate. One might call language the basic operating system of the public realm, without which all the other applications needed to run human society would not function. When you degrade this equipment, this language, as we have in our time, then you impair the ability of a group of people incorporated as the republic to think about the common good."
Monday, August 24, 2009
I've had this in the works, in my mind for a long time...years, actually. It's just been a matter of getting it on paper, and TIMING.
The time is now.
So now, this last weekend, I put something together and mailed it off to the White House, addressed to the 44th President of the United States.
I've also written my two Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, in addition to Ted Kennedy, to thank them for their efforts.
It didn't end there.
I've written my representative in the House, Republican Dave Reichert, and cc'd copies of that letter to House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner of the 8th District of Ohio, as well as Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky...in hopes (probably in vain) that my family's story will have some effect.
All the letters are nearly identical, with the initial and ending paragraphs differing slightly...the one to Republicans is more about urging bipartisan support.
It will be interesting to see where this all goes. It's a bit of a protracted letter, and I'm sure there's some out there that are more concise, so I'm not expecting it to necessarily be in the "A Group" to appear before eyes such as Obama's...but if it gets before the right person, and hits home, I'm hoping it has great possibilities of effect.
We shall see...here's the text from the letter.
August 24, 2009
President Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Re: My family’s story with regard to the need for EFFECTIVE health insurance reform
Dear President Obama:
I write you today with a heavy heart—and hope—in the push for effective legislation to reform our health insurance system so that it will function in a way that does not rob covered working families of their golden years. Unfortunately, my family—along with many other American families—has direct experience with the failures of the current system; while acting responsibly with full health coverage.
You are the first U.S. President I have ever written to. I’m currently 40, and a technical writer with a background in city planning…and a 3rd generation only child like my mother and her father before her. My folks were born during the Great Depression, and the practice of fiscal conservatism was ingrained in them at a young age. They developed a jack-of-all-trades skill set; my mother’s background in teaching, nursing, & administration, and my father’s in civil engineering & international sales helped them build a successful manufacturer’s rep business after working for various employers in the 1960s and 70s. In the 1980s they converted the basement of our Seattle area house into an office, and their dynamic skills shined bright as they put passion, time, and diligence into the business.
I recall my father insisting that he wear a button-down shirt and tie before embarking on his commute of twelve stairs into our basement office. He never deviated from that rule once, as it helped get his head right for the workday. While it may seem like a small act, it’s a testament to his work ethic. The business, the xxx, was very successful going into the 1990s…there was every indication my folks were on their way to achieving their retirement dreams through hard work.
Then tragedy hit the family. In June of 1993 my father (57 at the time, fit, and physically active with an impeccable bill of health) suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that snuck up on him; things were fine one minute as we were having Sunday dinner, and then after a rush to the hospital he was in the middle of brain surgery nine hours later. Luckily he survived, but not without some damage to his speech center, right side, and other effects from the trauma. Over the course of the next couple of years my father endured a total of 3 brain surgeries, along with ICU stays, protracted in-patient hospital stays, long stretches of therapy, and a smorgasbord of medications. His speech therapy continues to this day.
As sole proprietors, my parent’s insurance premiums to Regents Blue Shield were approximately $1,500 per month—in 1993…it was the best coverage they could get at the time from their menu of options. Yet, Regents refused coverage for decisions made by the hospital in the use of certain specialists, they went after every possible loophole, and bird-dogged every charge associated with my father’s illness. As if being a small family dealing with this tragedy wasn’t enough, the costs (in the range of 100K) nearly bankrupted my folks and triggered a domino effect of slow financial decline (when you factor in the loss of income from my father’s inability to work) that forces my mother to continue working in other capacities today—in her 70s. Needless to say, the toll of everything accelerated their aging significantly, to the effect that my involvement in a caretaking role—again, as the only child—is happening much sooner than I expected.
This scenario involving my family is unconscionable. The behavior and games played by their insurance company were despicable. I can’t believe that my parents—who were responsible with finances, worked diligently to make a life and future for themselves, and carried full coverage at the time of an illness—could suddenly become victims and essentially be robbed of their golden years.
If working families like mine—who have coverage and act responsibly—are being victimized like this, then obviously our health insurance system is not only broken, but rigged with merciless pitfalls. In the reform efforts taking place at this time, it is imperative that the final product have teeth in it that will protect working families with meaningful coverage; especially those in that vulnerable age bracket from 50–65, and in doomsday scenarios such as the unpreventable one that presented my father’s illness. I see legislation that’s any less effective as simply adding to an already imploding house of cards.
We all deserve to pursue the American Dream built on our own will and efforts; one that won’t be torpedoed by the health insurance machinations and its complex web of cloaked tiger traps. My parents were on track for a solid retirement before having the rug yanked from under their feet by such devices. They deserved better. This is why I write to you today…so that other families don’t experience the horrors with health insurance that mine went through. As a small business owner (I included a couple cards for you) I’ve followed the example my parents set, and needless to say I am concerned about my own coverage when the cards are on the table (in a situation similar to my father’s, heaven forbid) and scenarios to that effect that could wreck my family’s financial future.
Thank you Mr. President for reading this…and for standing firm on your vision of health insurance reform that’s effective and furthers the efforts of many others before you. I appreciate your continuing efforts and personal sacrifices you have made in the interest of fixing the broken pieces of America—like the issues I speak to here. Let’s further perfect our Union with EFFECTIVE health insurance reform.
Yours truly and respectfully,
Washington State Obama Delegate for the 41st Legislative District 2008 Democratic Caucus
Obama for America campaign fundraiser of approximately $2,000
Cc: Ms. Kathleen Sebelius, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services