The Common Good

Blog Posts By LaVonne Neff

Posted by LaVonne Neff 12 weeks 6 days ago
One of this morning's headlines from Worldcrunch "While You Slept":"More Than A Third Of The World Is Obese Or Overweight"!Don't choke on your doughnut until you've looked at the statistics.No matter how much you hated high-school math, surely you can do better than the people who wrote this headline and the accompanying article.First, note that 2.1 billion is not "more than a third" of the world's population, which has passed 7.2 billion. It's more like 29%.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 18 weeks 1 day ago
"Unmarried moms are rarer in America than France, Sweden, New Zealand, the UK, or the Netherlands" screams yesterday's headline by Matthew Yglesias on vox.com."And honestly, it's no big deal," sighs an exasperated Swiss friend of mine, weary of conservative American Facebook memes. Unmarried mothers apparently do just fine in Switzerland (though admittedly the Swiss rate of 20.2 percent of births to unmarried women is considerably lower than the American rate of 40.7 percent).Actually, though, it is a big deal in the United States, for several reasons.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 19 weeks 2 days ago
Twelve years ago we took our beloved Maltese dog, Moose, to the vet and came home without him. Moose was in the late stages of congestive heart failure, and many times each day he was wheezing and crying out in pain. While my daughter held the little dog, the vet gave him a shot. It was over very quickly.Why don't we treat death row prisoners at least as well as we treat dogs?"Secret Drugs, Agonizing Deaths" is the headline on an article in yesterday's New York Times. Back when executioners wielded axes, they tended to wear hoods so people wouldn't recognize them. Nowadays states still conceal executioners' identities — and much more.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 42 weeks 3 days ago
Yes, President Obama said that if we like our health insurance, we can keep it. Yes, that turned out to be false for a few million people.Yes, the president chose his words poorly. Whether or not health reform became the law of the land, there’s no way any president could have known if we’d be able to keep our health insurance from one year to the next.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 43 weeks 1 day ago
Experienced as the Butlers were in suffering and loss, they were not prepared for the technologically enhanced torments of old age.Knocking on Heaven's Door tells what can happen when a person's mind and body endure a series of shocks that would naturally lead to decline and death — except that, through various technological interventions, the body is not allowed to decline along with the mind.In Professor Butler's case, a major stroke wiped out most of his ability to function independently and set him on the road to dementia. At the same time, his heart was slowing down. A year after his stroke, over the opposition of his primary care physician, Butler was fitted with a pacemaker. His cardiologist strongly recommended it. He needed hernia surgery, the doctor said, and his heart was not likely strong enough to survive the operation. So he had the pacemaker installed, he had the surgery, and he was rewarded with another six years of increasingly hellish existence — not only for himself, but also for his wife and his daughter. His mind was shot. His body would not do what he wanted it to do. But his artificially assisted heart kept relentlessly ticking away.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 44 weeks 6 days ago
Yesterday on Facebook I referred to my daughters, who are in their early forties, as middle-aged. One of their friends, who is 43, wrote, "Middle-aged???""For sure," I wrote back. "I know it hurts." But then I Googled middle age and discovered that its borders seem to be shifting. Once defined as ages 40 to 60, it is now often defined as ages 45 to 64 (though Merriam-Webster wants to have it both ways).When I turned 40, everyone was talking about the midlife crisis, that scary feeling when people in the workforce fear their careers may have peaked and when caregivers at home notice their nests are practically empty (except for all that stuff in the basement). Midlife hit at age 40 back then — a bit optimistic, perhaps, considering that U.S. life expectancy in 1988 was 74.9 years. Columnist Bob Greene may have been closer to the truth when he wrote that "middle age starts at 36."
Posted by LaVonne Neff 46 weeks 1 day ago
This morning a Canadian woman wrote such an interesting comment on an old post of mine, "Rationing is not a four-letter word," that I want to share it with you. I don't know the author, her full name (though she tells me her first name is LaVonne, so she's obviously a great person), or her contact information, so I can't give her full credit. But thanks, LaVonne-in-Canada: I learned a lot from you.Here's what she wrote about how Canadian health care works for her. I've added a few comments in italics, in case you want to compare the situation of LaVonne-in-Canada with that of LaVonne-in-the-United-States.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 46 weeks 6 days ago
Something you should know about tall women who seem reserved and even distant  — they may just be shy or socially awkward, and they may really want to be your friend. I've understood this all my life, of course, but I was well into adulthood when my mother told me she understood it too.My mother was not the kind of woman who could chat easily with strangers or charm other people's children. She would not have survived as a social worker, therapist, or nurse. If she had belonged to a church that equated righteousness with personally comforting the deranged or the homeless or the dying, she would probably have changed denominations.I tell you this only to point out that hospitality has many faces.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 47 weeks 5 days ago
Q. What is one of the best ways to look good, feel good, and enjoy a long life?A. Celebrate! Yes, it's counterintuitive. Most Americans are convinced that if only we could eat little enough fat, ingest few enough calories, spend enough sweaty minutes at the gym, and drink exactly 5 ounces of red wine a day, then we might live forever — with enough expensive medical intervention, of course.How dreary.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 47 weeks 6 days ago
It's odd that Christians — people who claim to believe that God created the earth, sustains it day by day, and intends to create a new earth — are often so mixed up about sex and food. How long would the earth's inhabitants last without coupling and eating?And yet most Christian writers right up to the 16th century praised celibacy, sexless marriages, and arduous fasting. Bless Martin Luther for loving his wife (and the beer she brewed), but lots of us still seem to think that good sex and good food — if not actually sinful — are at least pretty low on the religious values hierarchy.Has it escaped our attention that, according to our most sacred literature, God made a naked male and a naked female, put them in the midst of grain fields and orchards, and told them to multiply?
Posted by LaVonne Neff 47 weeks 6 days ago
I signed up for Medicare last month. In addition to standard Medicare, I added Part D, the prescription drug benefit. My 2013  costs, if they had covered the entire year, would have come to $529 for insurance and $330 for prescription copays.Today's mail brought the rates for 2014. The insurance premium has increased to $650, or by about 23 percent. Copays have also increased, to $616, or by nearly 87 percent. The total increase — assuming I won't need any additional medications — comes to 47 percent.I was not happy when President Bush proposed and AARP supported Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit. The idea of insuring seniors' drugs was good. The resulting law, which specifically forbids the federal government from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies, was insane.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 48 weeks 13 hours ago
If we're going to talk about food, we need to start with theology. Before chocolate was invented, a snake put "sinfully delicious" and "decadent" on the menu. Somebody fell for the marketing ploy, and we've had a complicated relationship with food ever since.We've also had a complicated relationship with sex, and with siblings, and with weapons of mass destruction. It's all there in Genesis (where the WMDs are swords). And pretty soon, right-thinking people started coming up with rules to keep people from doing bad things. You can have sex with this person but not that one. You really shouldn't deceive, sell, or kill your brother. Beat your swords into plowshares.The rules helped to restrain bad guys, and they gave would-be good guys some helpful pointers. Still, there were plenty of bad guys to go around, and good guys could get pretty anal about what other people should or shouldn't do. Anyway, it's obvious that you don't create a good marriage simply by avoiding sex with the wrong person, and you don't have a pleasant Thanksgiving dinner simply by not killing your siblings, and you don't banish war simply by wiping out as many weapons as possible. The rules are helpful — adultery, fratricide, and genocide are really bad ideas —but if you want a Peaceable Kingdom, you're going to need more than rules.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 5 days ago
News bulletin to Michael Gerson's firstborn son, my firstborn granddaughter, and the maybe 3 million other kids starting college this year: Your parents will be OK!Gerson, a Washington Post columnist, wrote a touching op-ed piece Monday about his son's departure. He's not alone — the article, "Saying goodbye to my child, the youngster," is all over Facebook. Assuming there are still teenagers who use Facebook, no doubt many of them have read it too.Some of those college-bound teens may be concerned for their parents' sanity. Kids, it's OK to relax. Your parents are probably normal.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 3 weeks ago
Opponents of Obamacare like to talk about how long it takes to get a hip replacement in, say, Canada —even though the Affordable Care Act is nothing like the Canadian health plan. Let's put this in perspective. How about a system that charges so much that some middle-class insured people can't afford a hip replacement at all?... Unless they fly to a Western European country with "socialized" medicine and pay out-of-pocket?Check out this story about Michael Shopenn, a man whose artificial hip was manufactured in Warsaw, Indiana, a "global center of joint manufacturing." Shopenn, who had health insurance, could not get coverage for a hip operation because his insurer deemed it a pre-existing condition (note: that should no longer be a problem under the ACA). So he ended up flying to Belgium.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 3 weeks ago
Old News: U.S. spends more on healthcare, gets worse resultsWe Americans are first in the world when it comes to per capita healthcare spending, and yet we don't live as long (we're in 51st place), more of our mothers die in childbirth (we're in 47th place), more of our babies die in their first year of life (we're in 50th place) ... well, you've seen the statistics, and they aren't pretty.Interesting Spin on Old News: Medical and social spending should be seen as a whole"The truth is that we may not be spending more," wrote Elizabeth H. Bradley and Lauren Taylor in a 2011 New York Times article — "it all depends on what you count." If you count "the combined investment in health care and social services," such as "rent subsidies, employment-training programs, unemployment benefits, old-age pensions, family support and other services that can extend and improve life," we're in 10th place among developed nations.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 5 weeks ago
Oddly, I wasn't there the night George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. I wasn't in the jury box either. Some commentators, like Ezra Klein and Ta-Nahesi Coates, are saying the not guilty verdict was appropriate according to Florida's "stand your ground" law. (Note that they are not saying that the Florida law is appropriate; Klein uses the word outrageous).If this verdict was appropriate, though, what about verdicts in cases that were similar except for the color of the defendant? What happened to the "stand your ground" law when the jury reached its verdict against Marissa Alexander — an African American woman from Jacksonville, Fla.?And anyway, why should fear of attack justify shooting to kill? It didn't in the case of  John White — an African American man from Long Island, N.Y. — who shot a (white) teenager in 2006 (accidentally, he says, when the boy was trying to grab his gun).John White, it appears, had good reason to fear the boys who showed up on his doorstep that night. That's probably why the governor commuted his sentence after he had served five months. And White no doubt should have served some time, according to New York law — his gun was unregistered, and if he hadn't been holding it when he went to the door, a scuffle probably wouldn't have escalated into manslaughter.But, some say, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Is this true?
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 7 weeks ago
After I blogged about expensive American childcare earlier this week, my daughter Molly directed me to a March of Dimes web page showing the extremely high rate of preterm births in the United States. "Born Too Soon," a 124-page report issued in 2012, "ranks the U.S. 131st in the world in terms of its preterm birth rate of 12.0 per 100 live births, almost tied with Somalia, Thailand, and Turkey. Nearly half a million babies are born too soon in the U.S. each year."According to a 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control, "the main cause of the United States’ high infant mortality rate when compared with Europe is the very high percentage of preterm births in the United States" — in spite of the fact that "infant mortality rates for preterm (less than 37 weeks of gestation) infants are lower in the United States than in most European countries." In addition, "infant mortality rates for infants born at 37 weeks of gestation or more are higher in the United States than in most European countries."
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 8 weeks ago
"American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World" That's the headline of an article by Elisabeth Rosenthal in yesterday's New York Times. The article includes a chart comparing childbirth costs in seven countries. In the United States, the average amount paid for a conventional delivery in 2012 was $9,775; for a Caesarean section, it was $15,041. Those are the highest prices for childbirth anywhere in the world.To get an idea of just how high, I made a chart using the figures in the NYT chart. Childbirth costs in the other six countries range from 21 percent to 43 percent of U.S. costs even though American women typically spend far less time in hospital.South Africa is so dangerous for childbirth that its graph line would not fit on this blog page. For every 1,000 births, there are 56 infant deaths. For every 100,000 births, there are 400 maternal deaths. [Chart by L. Neff; data from WHO] 
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 12 weeks ago
This week the company my husband works for unveiled the health-insurance plans available to us beginning July 1. If we chose the plan closest to our current plan, our premium would nearly double and our office visit co-pays would increase 25-50 percent.I am so glad we are going on Medicare in August.Medicare isn't perfect by any means. It isn't even cheap. Just the insurance (Medicare medical, Medicare supplement, prescription) is going to cost us more than $500 a month, and that doesn't include the deductible or the prescription co-pays. And that's for this year. Who knows what it will cost 10 years from now?I was so ready to read a book that would solve America's health-care crisis.Besides, David Goldhill's title is irresistible: Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father - And How We Can Fix It.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 14 weeks ago
Last week Pope Francis spoke out against the cult of money. Here is how Catholic News Service's Carol Glatz summarized his remarks:Pope Francis called for global financial reform that respects human dignity, helps the poor, promotes the common good and allows states to regulate markets."Money has to serve, not to rule," he said in his strongest remarks yet as pope concerning the world's economic and financial crises.A major reason behind the increase in social and economic woes worldwide "is in our relationship with money and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society," he told a group of diplomats May 16."We have created new idols" where the "golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal."
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 17 weeks ago
If you eat food, here are two newish books you should know about.You may already have met Robert H. Lustig, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease (2012). Lustig is the UCSF professor whose surprisingly riveting 90-minute lecture, "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," has already had nearly 3.5 million hits on YouTube. The thesis of his lecture: it's not dietary fat that's making Americans gain weight, it's sugar. And sugar is doing much worse things than increasing our clothing size. It's setting us up for a whole range of lethal diseases that are almost entirely avoidable....In Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (2013), Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, tells what the food industry has been up to during the last couple of decades. Food executives, Moss says, are nervous: people are figuring out that convenience foods aren't good for them.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 18 weeks ago
I spent an entire day a couple of months ago in an outpatient clinic (I'm fine; thanks for asking). I met a lot of nurses, and every one of them was excellent.When Velda came to take away the remains of my lunch, I offered her my untouched can of ginger ale."I don't drink soft drinks," she replied. Since I rarely do either, we started chatting.Velda grew up in Tanzania, moved to Belgium, spent several years in London, and finally came to the United States. She returns to Tanzania regularly, and she is not happy with what she sees."I grew up eating lots of vegetables," she told me. "We might have had ice cream once every three years. But now people are eating American-style junk food. They don't know it's not good for them."
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 31 weeks ago
"Faith in America's Future" — that was the theme of Monday's inauguration activities.Watching the prayers, the songs, the speeches, the crowd massed on the Washington Mall, I felt the faith. We don't have to hate each other. We can work together for a future that will be good for our country and for us as individuals. We can, as the President charged us to do, make the "values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American."Inaugurations are times for setting aside differences and wildly celebrating. While Richard Blanco read his inaugural poem, even John Boehner looked teary-eyed.The political divisions will be back in full force this week, of course. And yet we Americans are in the midst of some really big changes — changes that may make today's partisan squabbles look hopelessly antiquated in just a decade or two. Monday's events highlighted these changes.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 35 weeks ago
This is not a blog post about gun control. Everything that can possibly be said about that subject, pro or con, has already been said millions of times since Friday. We are talking too much, too soon. In the words of my rabbi, “Judaism teaches that when there is nothing to say we should say nothing….Sometimes only silence gives voice to what has happened."We Americans should all be sitting shiva.But when, next week, we rise from our knees and begin working – together, I hope – to reduce the terrible problem of violence in our country, we must realize that our disorder goes much deeper than simply owning too many guns, and that any effective solution will have to go much deeper too.When they are distressed, some people clean house or do push-ups  I collect data. All week I have been amassing numbers and arranging them in rows and columns, trying to shed light on the question: Why are some nations violent while others are not?
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 41 weeks ago
I believe we can seize this future together -- because we are not as divided as our politics suggest; we're not as cynical as the pundits believe; we are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions; and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America. And together, with your help, and God’s grace, we will continue our journey forward, and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth. -- President Barack Obama, 7 November 2012  Yesterday I joined a Facebook exchange about whether the United States is indeed the greatest nation on Earth. By quite a few objective criteria, I argued, we trail other nations: health care accessibility, lifespan, maternal mortality, education, infrastructure development, employment, equality of opportunity ... well, the list is frighteningly long. We are clearly not the greatest nation on earth by any standards that people from other nations would accept, and we are becoming less great every year (for a European view of America's decline, read this sobering article - in English - from Monday's Der Spiegel).  Yesterday I also told my two little dogs -- Muffin the poodle mix and Tiggy-Winkle the terrier -- that they are the best little dogs in the world. By quite a few objective criteria, I am deluded about my dogs. Tiggy  digs holes in upholstered furniture, and she barks so much that she was nearly kicked out of obedience school ("Just give up," the trainer advised; "she's going to bark, whatever you do"). Muffin snores, refuses to cooperate with her groomer, and bites large dogs. But I love my dogs passionately. I wouldn't trade them for any Westminster champions or obedience winners. Several friends, watching me interact with Tiggy and Muffin, have said they would like to be my dogs.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 1 year 51 weeks ago
Hey, is this good news, or what?Give up organic heirloom tomatoes at $4.99/pound! Stop paying $5.99 up for a gallon of organic milk! Buy cheaper ground beef than the organic grass-fed stuff at $7.99+/pound! Slow down, folks. Read the articles, not just the attention-grabbing headlines. What the scientists discovered was basically this: Take two identical, ripe, juicy, fresh peaches, one of which was grown organically and one of which was not. Analyze the nutritional profile of each. You will find that one peach has just about the same vitamins as the other. OK, and I'll bet they're pretty much the same color, too. And they probably weigh the same. And if dropped from a tall building, they most likely will go splat at about the same time.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 2 weeks ago
In June my husband, who gets lots of review copies unbidden, asked me if I wanted to read Mark Shriver's memoir about his father, Sargent Shriver, who passed away in 2011 at age 95."Since you're a fan of all things Kennedy," he said, "I thought you might want to see it."I didn't. True, a high point in my adolescent life was standing in back of St. Matthew's Cathedral one December morning in 1963 waiting for mass to begin when suddenly a very tall, very disheveled, very pregnant Eunice Kennedy Shriver pushed past me, wearing smudged red lipstick and a full-length fur coat. But sons are not necessarily good biographers, and anyway, I had a stack of mysteries awaiting my attention. But then in July, a Facebook friend pointed me to Reeve Lindbergh's review of A Good Man in the Washington Post, suggesting that this was a book I might want to read. Lindbergh — herself the daughter of two famous parents, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh — called it "a moving and thoughtful book." Maybe I'll read this after all, I said to myself. And then a week or two later, my friend Estelle sent me a copy of the book as an early birthday present, telling me she thought I'd connect with it on many levels.I must be supposed to read this one, I thought.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 4 weeks ago
I bought a car recently, and the dealer just sent me an online survey. It asks a lot of detailed questions and asks for yes-or-no answers.Unfortunately, it's been several weeks since I was in the dealer's showroom, and I have no idea if the salesman offered me a drink, for example, or if he showed me how to work the sound system. So I tried to leave some questions unanswered, but the survey won't allow that.Either I say yes or no, or I don't take the survey at all.How contemporary, I thought. And how destructive of attempts to tell the truth. Ellen Painter Dollar does not say yes or no in No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction, but she tells the truth. In a book that is part memoir, part journalism, she recounts her lifelong struggle with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) — her own and her daughter's.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 6 weeks ago
LaVonne Neff reviews The Red House by Mark Haddon, Drift by Rachel Maddow, The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler, and Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son by Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott. 
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 15 weeks ago
With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about the matriarchal blessing—the moment when an old woman, staring death in the eye, communicates to a younger female relative or friend that life is good and love is eternal.As far as I know, the only mention in the Bible of an older woman blessing a younger woman is when Elizabeth says to her young, unwed, pregnant relative Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth probably wasn’t the matriarch of her family, and she wasn’t about to die, but her Spirit-inspired words were still similar to a matriarchal blessing. She welcomed the new life growing in Mary, and her loving hospitality surely must have given courage to the baffled young mother-to-be.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 16 weeks ago
We'll be hearing a lot about Medicare between now and November. President Barack Obama wants to tweak it. Mitt Romney wants to reinvent it. Everyone who wants to get elected, however, agrees on one thing: nothing will change for the current crop of seniors and soon-to-be seniors.Whew. Six months and Mr. Neff will be home free! Less than a year and a half and we'll both have free health care! And then we can afford to retire, right?Wrong.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 16 weeks ago
The Vatican has always been scared of forceful nuns. Even (and perhaps especially) the three female doctors of the church made prelates nervous.In the 14th century, Catherine of Siena meddled in papal politics and brought the Avignon pope back to Rome. In the 16th century, Teresa of Avila survived an investigation by the Spanish Inquisition of her mystical writings (and Jewish ancestry).  In the 19th century, Thérèse of Lisieux disregarded the commands of her priest and Vatican officials until the pope gave in and let her do what she wanted.And last week, following a two-year investigation, 80 percent of American nuns came under Vatican fire.++ Join us in showing our appreciation for Catholic women religious (aka nuns or "sisters") on Thank-a-Nun Day, May 9. Click HERE to send a thank-you note online. ++
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 16 weeks ago
If I had seen just the title of Almost Amish, I probably wouldn't have been attracted to it: I'm not a fan of Amish fiction, and I've heard too much about Amish puppy mills.If I'd also noticed the name of the author, however, I might have picked it up: several years ago I met the Sleeths at the home of mutual friends, and I greatly respect the choices they have made about a simpler, more hospitable lifestyle.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 17 weeks ago
I just discovered I've been duped. This is painful, because I like to think I know how to read labels. I also like to trust products named Aunt Millie and stores named Whole Foods.Alas, I forgot one of my basic shopping principles: Never trust food that calls itself "natural." In label language, natural means nothing at all. Companies who use the term in their marketing are usually trying to hide something. I should have looked more carefully at Aunt Minnie's Hearth Fiber for Life 12 Whole Grains bread.Here, I'll show you the inset up close. I read it as "100% natural whole grain," never stopping to wonder why the marketers bothered to point out that whole grains are natural (isn't that obvious?). But no. This bread is not 100% whole grain. It is 100% natural, whatever that means, and it contains whole grains. Twelve of them, in fact. But its third listed ingredient, after water and whole grain wheat flour, is unbleached wheat flour.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 21 weeks ago
Maybe the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and maybe it's not. If it turns out to be constitutional, maybe it's good legislation and maybe it's not. In any case, it's looking increasingly likely that the Supreme Court, come June, will strike down at least the requirement that everyone buy health insurance. And if the mandate goes, two other requirements will most likely go with it: Once again insurers will be able to reject or refuse to renew applicants. And once again Americans with pre-existing conditions will be uninsurable.Let me tell you four short stories about friends of mine. These are true stories, not hypothetical examples. I have changed nothing but the names of the people involved. I am not arguing on behalf of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. I'm just saying that all of these people had serious problems before it was passed, and some of them are doing much better now because of it.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 27 weeks ago
Tuesday's New York Times carried a thought-provoking op-ed by David Brooks called "The Materialist Fallacy." I recommend that you read it: it's only 764 words long. Brooks argues that "in the half-century between 1962 and the present, America has become more prosperous, peaceful and fair, but the social fabric has deteriorated." This is not just because of job loss (the liberal explanation) or government intrusiveness (the libertarian explanation) or "the abandonment of traditional bourgeois norms" (the neo-conservative explanation). It has more to do with declining social context and social capital, says Brooks, who never met a financial capitalist he didn't like. He really likes Charles Murray's new book, however: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. (If you're not up for the 416-page book, you might want to read Brooks's January 30 column in praise of it.) Both authors worry about nefarious social forces that are driving a wedge between rich and poor, productive and non-productive, law-abiding and outlaws. Brooks is partly right, and so are his critics. Yes, there's a rip in our social fabric. Yes, it is caused or made worse by job loss, ill-advised government programs, and shifting (or abandoned) values. Yes, it diminishes social capital and impoverishes social context. But also, Mr Brooks, and perhaps fundamentally, our decaying social fabric is the direct result of our enthusiastic worship of Mammon--the love of money that is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). I don't need to remind anybody about rapacious financiers, bloated CEOs, unscrupulous lobbyists, and corrupt politicians. But there were plenty of those in the 1890s and the 1920s, and, as Brooks points out, the social fabric still stayed more or less intact back then. Even two World Wars and a Great Depression didn't unravel it. People still finished school, still got jobs, and still got married before having children, if not always before getting pregnant. Why did things start to break down in the 60s?
Posted by LaVonne Neff 2 years 28 weeks ago
This Sunday is an important milestone for me. It's the day I no longer risk losing health insurance. I left my last job-with-benefits when I was 51 years old. I'd been commuting an hour and a half each day, and I was worn out. My husband had excellent health insurance, and publishing jobs were plentiful. Six weeks after my job ended, however, the dot-com bubble burst and jobs everywhere started to dry up. In 2003, I discovered I had a great big pre-existing condition — a defective heart valve and an aortic aneurysm that would eventually require surgery. I became uninsurable except through my husband's employer (and mine, should I ever find another job).And then in 2008, the year I turned 60, the whole economy tanked. I realized I was now entirely dependent on my husband's employer for health insurance, since I would probably never again have a job-with-benefit.
Posted by LaVonne Neff 3 years 3 weeks ago
The other day the mail brought an advertisement for something I desperately need (or so the ad suggested). If I ordered it right now, the ad said, I would save a hefty percentage off the usual price. In vain I searched the flyer for the price. None was listed -- not the total, not my monthly payment. I was apparently supposed to place my faith in the kindly marketers and order it anyway. I guess I should be used to this sort of marketing. After all, that's how our federal government does business. Shall we a. fight a war in Iraq? b. add a war in Afghanistan? c. subsidize medical care for seniors and the poor? d. rescue failed financial institutions? e. subsidize growers of corn and soybeans? or f. fund interstate highways?
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