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Turkeys: Personal, Political & Planetary

My Thanksgiving for the election outcome was quickly tempered by gobbling from assorted turkeys -- personal, political, and planetary.

Reviewing my personal finances at my kitchen table I found myself stymied by a bill from Kaiser Permanente, my HMO for the past 21 years, for $48.68 for small miscellaneous charges over the past 22 months, apparently bits of various office visits that neither Medicare nor Kaiser covered.

This is the third time in the last two years that Kaiser has gone prospecting among my past medical services to come up with me owing them money. I would be tempted to think this is an artifact of the Medicare drug plan that Congress designed, but I can't document it. The amounts are fairly minuscule, under $100 at a time, but in my monthly budgets they show up in majuscule.

I live on just under $1500/mo after my HMO and Medicare premiums are deducted and my property taxes paid. This month I learned that my monthly Kaiser premium for 2007 will increase by $35, effectively cancelling any cost-of-living increase.

I try to be rational, and budget carefully, and have enough each month to contribute to causes and charities that help my neighbors, my nation and my planet. This month I had already made modest donations to my church, a national progressive organization, local food pantries and environmental projects, and local public radio, and was hoping to squeeze out another couple of $25 donations.

Then a reminder to make a follow-up appointment at Kaiser about my high blood pressure made me angry: go to the doctor, so that in few months I can be billed for something else they decide not to pay for. The doctor, of course, will find my blood pressure is too high (you bet it is) and prescribe more drugs, so that I can pay some added tribute to the pharmaceutical industry.

It's hard not to feel like a cash cow for insurers and drug companies. I could decline to be jerked around with their accounting maneuvers and fight back, or spend my days "shopping" for better deals for medical crises I may never have. I could refuse to take their *questionable drugs, and risk dying sooner. Or I could redesign my life to avoid stresses that raise my blood pressure, though I figure that's not basically different from being dead.

What discourages me is that there is no person or place to which I can take these frustrations. Calling "Customer Service" would change nothing and maybe give me a stroke; the good folks who staff those phones don't make the policies, have no power to change anything, and need their jobs. Writing a letter would be costly in time, attention and high blood pressure, and generate nothing but more platitudes about keeping costs affordable.

Rationally, I suppose I should drop everything else and work for single-payer health care, though that really isn't how I want to spend my remaining years. Worse, I doubt that the American populace or polity can master their cultural, ideological, commercial and political baggage to get to government-managed, tax-supported, universally available health care in my lifetime.


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And there are other large political turkeys on the table this season: Corruption, Education, Energy, Jobs, Trade, Nukes (both military and civilian) Poverty, War, Torture, Iraq, Iran, Israel.

And Impeachment. The impeachment turkey is NOT off the table. The anger voters showed at Bush's high crimes of homicide/genocide, torture and kidnaping, at his incompetence/ insouciance in dealing with the aftermath of Katrina, at his lying and spying and wrecking habeas corpus and Constitutional protections will not and must not be assuaged by a "do-it better-next-time" brush-off.

The biggest fowl of all, of course, is our beleaguered and fevered planet, which we have all treated like a turkey with our profligate economic policies, haphazard environmental regulation, and personal habits of consumption and travel.

This week distinguished economist Joseph Stiglitz said, "We have but one planet, and should treasure it. Global warming is a risk that we simply cannot afford to ignore anymore."

And retiring UN chief Kofi Annan stated: "The message is clear. Global climate change must take its place alongside those threats -- conflict, poverty, the proliferation of deadly weapons -- that have traditionally monopolized first-order political attention."

Thanksgiving at my dining-room table will be somber this year. Like many seniors, I don't want to spend my remaining days grubbing around for my own comfort, convenience or longevity, nor fending off predatory businesses, nor watching local wetlands or continental ecosystems destroyed by human actions. I'd like to use my energy and experience at making the world a little better for my children and grandchildren -- and everyone's children and grandchildren.

I especially dread watching daily the world-wide slaughter of the innocent and unarmed, knowing that not only am I powerless to stop it, but that my beloved country practices and defends terrorism, torture and genocide, and manufactures and sells weapons of mass destruction, that we have failed to end genocide in Darfur, and will not move to halt the killing of Palestinians in their own homes.

We who repudiated Bush's policies and practices in the election of 2007 must stay at the table and keep impeachment on the menu, or we will once again become the turkeys to be consumed by endless war, corporate profiteering in mindless markets, brutal murder of our brothers and sisters, and heartless exploitation of our precious planet.

And for myself this Thanksgiving? Damn the high blood pressure -- full steam ahead!

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Caroline Arnold

Caroline Arnold retired in 1997 after 12 years on the staff of US Senator John Glenn. She previously served three terms on the Kent (Ohio) Board of Education. In retirement she is active with the Kent Environmental Council and sits on the board of Family & Community Services of Portage County. Her Letters From Washington has been published as an e-Book by the Knowledge Bank of the Ohio State University Library.  E-mail:

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