Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Mixed Bag

I am thrilled that President Obama is issuing an executive order to rescind the ban on HIV infected individuals from entering the United States. I’m pleased that he is working to close Guantanamo and trying to open up dialogue with Iran and other countries with whom we have strained relationships.

But, what the heck is it with this $250 check that he wants to send to Social Security recipients because the cost of living has decreased? The COLA (cost of living adjustment) would properly LOWER social security payments if reason prevailed. Obviously, that’s not going to happen, and that’s fine, but why add the extra dough? The cost of living (statistically, at least) has fallen, so why should Social Security recipients get more money? Bear in mind, my mother, father, uncle, aunt, and sister-in-law all will benefit from this government giveaway, so I’m happy for them, I suppose, but, really? We’re in the midst of a recession. A downturn. A contraction. A serious as shinola problem.

My wife and I got our property tax bill today. Our property taxes are nearly 20% higher than last year, even as our property has lost as much as 40% of its value. What’s up with that? Are our schools better? No. Are they more effectively educating the young people in our community? No. Are our streets safer or better maintained? No. Is crime down? No. So, why are we paying 20% more in property taxes when services are no better or diminished in comparison to a year ago? There is no good answer. Greed, corruption, graft, perhaps? Or perhaps it’s simply incompetence and foolishness. I honestly don’t know.

I don’t like to simply issue complaints on this blog, but I’m concerned. Worried. We need leadership, and I’m not seeing as much of it as I would like out of Washington, DC right about now.

All for now…


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Death is not proud…

It simply is. Death is arrogant, sometimes swift, and often wildly unexpected.

When Death takes a fifty-eight year old man in the middle of the afternoon while walking down the street, Death is alarming. The man was a good man. He left a wife, Miriam, and a daughter, Megan, behind. His name was Michael Philippi. He was a deeply gifted lighting designer and a kind and decent man.

Death visited him on Dearborn Street Tuesday afternoon October 27 and took him away from us. The suddenness of his passing made all who knew him gasp. Nothing could have possibly prepared any one of us for this.

It’s hard to know what to think in the wake of an event like this. It seems there have been so many unexpected, too-soon deaths of friends and colleagues in the past several years. I run across their email addresses in my contact list and can’t bring myself to delete them, as if to do so would be a final erasure or a turning away of some sort.

Years ago I worked on a new musical that (to the best of my knowledge) never did get a full production, but it had some great pieces in it, and some deeply moving sentiments. One of the lyrics read, in part, “The dead get tired of waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for the living to live and do something! Do do do something.” Perhaps that’s what we need to recall when we are forced to face Death, that we must live while we can and not waste our precious time here on earth, here with our loved ones, our family, our friends.

Death is the one thing we all share, the one fate that awaits each and every one of us and yet it remains so… difficult for us to accept, for us to cope with. Even if a death is not a huge surprise or not completely unexpected, we are still shattered by the loss. And yet… We also, at some level, in some place, know that it’s an inescapable part of life. All that lives shall die. Cold comfort, that. Or, no comfort, I suppose.

What do we do? We carry on. We persist. We persevere. And, perhaps most importantly, we remember and we celebrate the lives the departed lived, and the lessons they taught us through their living and their grace. We cherish those memories and keep them alive through our stories. We lift them up, and in so doing, lift ourselves up in the process and recommit to living each day to the fullest and being grateful for our lives and try to keep the dead from waiting for us to live.

Namaste. Rest in peace, Michael.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Health Care

Earlier today the Senate Finance Committee voted to send a health bill to the full Senate with one Republican vote, from Olympia Snowe, of Maine. Is the bill perfect? No. Will it be passed in the US Senate as is? No. Will it survive a conference committee as is? No.

But, it is still an accomplishment. This country has been working on passing comprehensive health care reform since FDR or earlier. We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

The bill passed out of the Finance Committee today ends pre-existing conditions and disallows insurance companies from dropping covered individuals when they need the coverage the most - when they are sick. This is a good start. It will not solve all of our health care problems and challenges, but it is a good start.

In the richest country in the world, is it acceptable that we have so many people without health care coverage? I think not. And, this pre-existing condition thing hits home with me... you see, about a year ago my wife, Gloria, got a great new job that provides us both with health care. That's wonderful. But, I had to stop getting my allergy shots, because that was/is a pre-existing condition. So, now I've spent a year or more with no shots and my hearing has worsened a little bit more, but soon I'll be able to start up the allergy shots again because we've waited a year. I should be grateful, right?

Grateful that I had to wait a year to continue treatment that is critically important to my health?

I could not afford to continue those treatments without health insurance covering them, but I had to simply forego them for a year because I changed insurers. Do you not think our system needs fixing? Do you think that nothing is wrong with this picture? The bill that passed out of the Senate Finance committee today is far from perfect, but it's a good start. It will end pre-existing conditions. That, in and of itself, is reason enough to support it. We will - they will - make it better in sessions to come. But we simply MUST have health care reform soon.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize

On November 27, 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, and in describing what he wanted as the criteria for the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, he wrote that it should be awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

President Obama has eliminated torture on the part of United States military and intelligence personnel, he has pledged to close Guantanamo Bay and is making progress on that pledge, especially with the recent news that prisoners there will be allowed to be tried in U.S. courtrooms, he has pulled forces back in Iraq on the way to a complete withdrawal, and he has – successfully – begun talks with Iran about their nuclear program.

Are the two wars he inherited won or over? Of course not. Has he fixed the economic quagmire he inherited? Nope, hasn’t done that either, although the stock market did record its highest close of 2009 today. Has he brought peace to the Middle East? No, not yet, and he may not succeed at that, but nor has any other president since 1948.

What he has done is significantly opened up and fostered good will for international diplomacy. In the nearly nine months that he’s been president he’s traveled to thirty-one countries, more nations in the first (not quite) year of his presidency than any previous occupant of the office. He has told the world that America wants to listen and talk to the rest of the world, that we wish not to dictate how their countries should be organized, but that we wish to partner with them, and to be their friends.

The Taliban and Rush Limbaugh both agreed that Mr. Obama didn’t deserve the prize. He hadn’t earned it, they said. But Mr. Obama, in his speech this morning indicating that he would accept the prize, said, “I do not view it [receiving the prize] as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations. To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize.” He has said that he will donate the $1.4 million cash award to charity.

Mr. Obama understands that the award is meant to motivate, to catalyze actions towards peace in the months and years to come. He has been advocating for a nuclear weapon free world. He has been willing to talk to enemies as well as friends, something for which he was ridiculed during last year’s campaign, but something for which the majority of Americans voted.

Mr. Obama has not yet accomplished much of what he has set out to accomplish, but he is on his way, and the world is listening. The world’s view of the United States of America has undergone a major shift for the better because of Mr. Obama’s election, and it is likely that, as much as anything else, that explains why he was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize this morning. It is an honor that looks to the future, that embraces his message of hope and optimism, and that understands that things don’t change overnight, but that this sort of recognition might help move the rest of the world to be more eager to work with this young, vibrant president to forge a better future for all of us and for our children.

I salute and congratulate you, President Obama. God speed. Do us proud.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Okay, Chicago. Now’s your chance!

Now that we have lost the 2016 bid for the Olympic Games, perhaps we will focus upon some other – arguably far more important issues – such as, how do we keep our children safe? How do we provide them with a world-class education? How do we maintain, repair, and improve our crumbling roads, bridges, and train tracks?

Isn’t this just the opportunity we’ve been looking for?

All sort of forces mobilized to raise untold amounts of money and to put in untold numbers of hours in preparing the city for the Olympic Games. Well, we didn’t get the games, but there sure is a heck of a lot that needs work here in our city. Let us get to it, shall we?

When an honors student (and, frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not he was an honors student) can get beaten to death in broad daylight outside of a school and it is filmed and put up on the web for all to see and no one (apparently) called either the police or 911, doesn’t that tell you something is rather wrong here? What’s more upsetting is that this is no longer surprising. Children have been murdered at astonishing rates in this city for many, many years. Victims of stray bullets or gang beatings or downright gang-ordered assassinations. When will the madness stop? When will our elected leaders – and I’m talking to you, Mr. Daley, and you, Alderman Vi Daley (no relation to the Mayor) – when will you at long last take action?

How many people have to die before we get serious about these problems? How long will we allow folks in poverty to languish in inadequate housing with inadequate, or no, health care? What really matters to us? That’s the question, isn’t it? Is it more important that we get a big influx of visitors from across the world in 2016 or that we create a city that everyone from across the world will want to visit?

Mayor Daley, the time is now: pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and announce a bold, new initiative to quell gang violence and create safer, more effective schools once and for all. Enough is enough already. Let’s all harness the energy that was created behind this Olympics bid and put it to use making our community safer, stronger, and more healthy, which will, by the way, make it more attractive to tourists from all over the globe. The time for action has come. The only question is, will we take it?