August 11th, 2009

monkey pirate

Open letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama;

Happy belated birthday. Yours has just passed and mine is tomorrow, so I'm taking this opportunity to write to you, and share what I've reflected on over the past year. I'll 38 tomorrow. I'm a happily middle-class citizen, a veteran of the U.S. Army, and a responsible citizen in terms of staying informed about issues that confront our nation. I am a patriot, and I come from a family of patriots, right back to my great-great-great-grandfather who fought in the American Revolution, and whose gunpowder horn sits on my bookshelf today. I love my country. I love what it's been, what it is, and what it can be. It's mostly that last part I'm writing to you about.

I didn't support you in the primary election, President Obama. I felt you were a centrist, status-quo politician too inclined to compromise, especially on matters like overspending, military budget, and concessions to corporate interests. But once the general election kicked into gear, I got behind you as preferable to your opponent. I'm afraid though, I was right.

You have power and influence unprecedented in a progressive President since FDR. You have the opportunity to significantly change American politics. But I fear you won't do so, and I'm writing to you to beg you to do it. Please don't let corporate interests derail your health care reform. Please don't let political machinations from both parties stop you from investigating misdeeds and torture in the recent past. Please don't continue the disastrous attacks on Civil Liberties of the previous administration by extending warrantless wire-tapping, indefinite detention and please don't fail to shut down the symbol of our national disgrace, Guantanamo Bay. You ran for election saying you would do these things, keep your word, please. In so doing, you will secure your own lasting legacy as not just the first black president, but the first great president of the 21st Century. This your day, your hour to shake the pillars of heaven, and make mighty reforms.

And the most important of all of these to the most people, is health care. It seems to me, as it does to so many of us, that health care is as fundamental a right as police protection or firefighting services. Can you imagine if people were denied police protection because they hadn't been provided with police insurance by their employer, and couldn't afford it individually? It would be a shocking abrogation of basic human rights, and something no reasonable person would agree as desirable. It's true that we're a capitalist nation, but we've seen fit to turn over to the government those things that are inappropriate to base on a profit motive. Health care is, it must be - one of those issues. In presenting your reforms to the public, be sure to put health care in the same bucket as police protection, firefighting, libraries, national defense, education, all things that aren't profit-motivated but still essential to our country. By and large we trust government to do these things well, and have the capacity as citizens to mobilize and redress the issue of they aren't done well. Health care must be one of these issues.

Here is why I say it "must" be. I have a friend who died of a known, treatable condition because he couldn't afford health insurance. His name was Derek Taylor, but everyone called him "Taylor". He was larger-than-life, charismatic and the kind of guy who could get a dozen people to get together and go on a trip, even if he was famous for then not showing up himself. It was part of his charm, and Taylor knew people from all walks of life, of every race and class and creed and orientation. He had a half dozen gigs at any time. He was half hustler and half entrepreneur, but he was all character. And unknown to his friends, he had a congenital heart problem. There was medicine for it that would have saved his life. But he had a bunch of part-time jobs rather than one full-time job. None of those jobs offered benefits, even though he was a hard worker and always striving at something. A lot of employers do that, these days - hire only part-time people or contractors to prevent having to pay benefits. A lot of my friends are working full time, or double time at jobs but still don't have insurance. And one of them died. A simple, universal, portable insurance program would have saved Taylor's life. He was young! In the prime of his life. He just didn't have insurance, because he was living paycheck to paycheck, like a huge percentage of Americans. When people clamor to prevent universal health care, I think their fears, or greed, or narrow-mindedness, or whatever it is that puts them in opposition to care for all citizens is responsible for killing my friend. I take it personally. I wish Taylor were still alive. You can save the lives of millions of Taylors around the country - give us healthcare that is independent of employment, portable from job to job, and affordable for everyone.

Canada spends less on health care per capita than we in America do. What they increase in spending for care (a basic human right!) they decrease in bureaucratic costs. For-profit health insurance companies are not in the business of providing care, they are in the business of denying care. They take coverage away from the most vulnerable people, a shockingly high percentage of chronically ill people, even those lucky few who are employed and have adequate insurance, get their policies canceled when they become too expensive, and take away too much from the bottom line. We already disastrously ration health care, only now it's in service to greed rather than nation and community. Private insurance companies and pharmaceutical mega-corporations rake in profit far in excess of their research and development, and spend much more on marketing, PR and lobbying than they do on research. A single government purchaser could get far better deals from pharma companies, and reduce their need to market, lobby and spin their image. They could do well, and do good! Let's do it, President Obama.

So many vulnerable American citizens are looking to you to end a long nightmare of irrational profit-motivated denial of coverage and care. My own sister is one of them - she is moderately autistic, and dependent on the state for medical care. She can't work full time, but she works as much as she can. She is caring and kind, a regular church-goer, a woman of faith and generosity and a lovely, gentle soul. Recently she had to get a surgical procedure done. Her partial coverage from the state wouldn't cover it, even though it was urgent and necessary. We had to pay for it out of pocket. She got the help of friends and church and family, myself included to just cover it. She lives simply in a rented room, has little to no luxuries in her life - she didn't have the means to take of it herself. What would have happened if her community weren't so generous? Would she have shared the fate of my friend Taylor? President Obama, please save the lives of people like my sister, like my friend Taylor.

Please provide universal and portable comprehensive health care for all Americans, just like we already provide police protection, education, firefighting, and countless other government services that we all count on, believe in, and as patriots, of which we are proud.

Happy birthday, President Obama. I hope this year, you change the world.

With kindest regards;
David Krieger
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