Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Operation Succeeded but the Patient Died

Oops, they did it again.

The Boston Globe has once again written about the Massachusetts mandatory health insurance plan without ever asking the critical question: "Are people getting the health care they need?"

They ask whether people have insurance coverage. Sure, since they'd be scofflaws if they didn't! But being covered is not the same thing as getting care: not when you can buy insurance that doesn't kick in until after you pay a high deductible. That kind of insurance is a subsidy from the working poor to the health insurance industry: pay for something you can never use.

They ask whether it saves the state money. That's an important question, but only AFTER you answer "Are people getting the health care they need?" Because surely the state could save even more money by letting people die. Cost is not the primary issue, any more than coverage is. The primary issue is health.

They ask how small businesses react. That's a good question. Small businesses are justifiably concerned that they are subsidizing large health insurance companies, hospital chains, and the state. But it really shows the bias of the Globe that they ask about small businesses and not about the people who work in them.

They ask what effect this plan will have or should have on Romney's presidential campaign. Show me a mom working two jobs to support her family who's paying for health insurance and who still can't afford routine doctor's visits for her children who cares about that question. Find me one. Then I'll agree that the Globe cares even one little bit about the working people who need real health insurance--not the plan we've got.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Patience as Leadership

I have tutored a lot of bar and bat mitzvah students on Parshat Sh'lach Lecha, the portion of the Torah before the wandering in the wilderness when Moses sends twelve spies to scout out the land--but no one has ever talked about it the way Aaron O'Malley did last week at Temple B'nai Brith.

Aaron didn't focus where most people do, on the difference between the ten spies (that evil minyan!) who said it would be impossible to conquer Canaan and the two (Caleb and Joshua) who basically said, "Buck up, people, God told you you could do it." He also didn't tackle the daunting question of why the Torah portrays God as telling the Jews to take the land by force--especially when (according to archeological records) they actually moved in gradually and absorbed the Canaanites as much as they displaced them.

Instead, O'Malley focused on two leaders' reactions to the spies' report. Moses hears his people giving up hope and murmuring about going back to Egypt and slavery, and he falls on his face as if somebody has just died. Joshua, his young assistant, says (in the Etz Hayim translation):
The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us; only you must not rebel against the Lord. Have then no fear of the people of the country, for they are our prey [literally, "our bread"--DF]: their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us. Have no fear of them!" (Numbers 14: 7-9]
I am not surprised that O'Malley found Joshua's response more admirable. He is the son of a lawyer and an artist/activist, and he prides himself on speaking up. That doesn't take into account how many times before that Moses had overcome his people's resistance and how tired he must have been of apologizing for them to God.

What's more, there's no indication that Joshua's exhortation had any more effect than Moses' public show of shame. In the very next sentence of text we hear:"As the whole community threatened to pelt them with stones, the Presence of the Lord appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites." It took an act of God to keep the community from turning on "them": not just Moses, but also Joshua, and even the bar mitzvah boy's namesake, Aaron the priest.

Different styles of leadership fit different historical moments. Sometimes, there's nothing you can do but hang in there. There's a reason "forty years in the wilderness" has become a proverb for a long, hard period that tries one's patience. Here's hoping we who suffered through the Bush years and are now gritting our teeth through the Obama years can live long enough to see the Promised Land.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Six Days Shall You Labor

It's the end of another work week, and all week I have been carrying with me a thought on last week's Torah portion, B'haalotkha. (I heard it chanted at Ilana Pliner's bat mitzvah.)
1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to Aaron and say to him, "When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand." 3 Aaron did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
The words "Aaron did so" could be translated in different way: "Aaron did YES!" According to the medieval commentator the Vilna Gaon, as cited in Etz Hayim:
Day after day, year after year, Aaron's attitude never changed. His work never became routine or boring. He approached each day with the same sense of reverence he brought to his first day.
What a blessing Aaron had, to feel and act that way! At the end of a week of work, while I welcome a day of rest, I pray to greet next week with the attitude of Aaron.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Invisible Army

We treat our active-duty military like tools and our veterans like bums. But there are more contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan than there are military--and we treat some of them like slaves. Please read Sarah Stillman's article "The Invisible Army," from The New Yorker. Then tell me how in good conscience any of us can support fighting foreign wars, when this is the result.Link

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Penny-wise and Patriotism--foolish

As I have previously pointed out, when the U.S. government sends troops to war, it condemns them to all kinds of health problems, from PTSD to cancer to rape. Now, the Ryan budget favored by so many Republicans in the House of Representatives would end VA healthcare for over 1.3 million veterans (as my friend Mark Alston-Follansbee, a vet himself, quotes The Hill magazine reporting).

By doing so, we would save enough money to keep the troops in Afghanistan for not even thirteen days. This is dumb as well as disloyal, penny-wise and patriotism-foolish. Who is supporting our troops when they come home?

We have to do that ourselves. We have to fight to change the priorities of the country. While we're doing that, however, we can at least on a personal level treat vets as our neighbors and fellow human beings. Please read this article by my friend veteran Bill Shelton for tips on how.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Here Comes the Neighborhood

I distinctly remember that early in Rona's real estate career, a prospective client told her, "We don't want to live in no multi-cultural neighborhood." She heard the word multi-cultural pronounced with such distaste, she instantly knew it was code for, "We don't want to live with no niggers." Rona invited these buyers to find themselves another agent.

Things have changed. Today, it might be a lot harder to avoid living in a neighborhood where your neighbor has a different race than you do. The Boston Globe published a map showing the diversity of different neighborhoods in the city, and only a few are islands unto themselves. I wish they would have extended the map into Somerville and Cambridge! Still, it tells the story: most of us now choose to live in neighborhoods where there are "enough" people "like me"--but not too many. I think that's a sign of progress.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

This Little Light of Mine

My friend Rabbi Arnie Fertig is especially fond of the priestly blessing. As each student I tutor for bar or bat mitzvah goes up to the Torah on his or her special day, Arnie gives them that three-part blessing, and again at the end of the service, he gives it to the whole congregation:

May God bless you and keep you.

May God make God's face shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May God turn God's face toward you and grant you peace.

You could really examine each detail of this blessing and find it full of meaning. Today, at Nate Serisky's bar mitzvah, it was the beginning of the second line that struck me: "May God make God's face shine upon you." Sometimes when we look at an inspiring leader, we think they glow with an inner light. We make the mistake of thinking that they are uniquely brilliant. We could never be like them, we imagine, and we let ourselves be overshadowed. In dark times, we wait for someone else to show us the light.

When we think like that about leaders, we are making the same mistake people make when they think the moon is shining upon them. As we now know, contrary to centuries of folklore, the moon only reflects the light given to it by the sun. The few people who have stood on the moon and looked at the earth found that it, too, shone in the sky.

In the right circumstances, anyone can catch the divine spark and be a leader, illuminating the way for the rest of us. Any other idea of leadership is the merest moonshine. But so often, I know, I stumble along in the dark. When it happens to be me who lights the path, it does feel like a moment of grace, and a blessing. That's the blessing I wish for Nate, Tia, Brandon, Olivia, and my other students past and future: that for a moment, they bring clarity to us all.