Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Health Care, & Two Bums

Question: why does a post about health care reform lead off with a picture of the late, great folksinger Utah Phillips? Answer: read on….

Robert Frost’s Banjo isn’t a political blog, tho as regular readers know I do sometimes write about political issues. Actually, a lot of our posts are about what I’d consider to be political issues—I’d certainly include pretty much all of Eberle’s & Audrey’s writings in that category for instance.

Yesterday I noticed an item on the excellent blog The Ya-Ya Tree; Jenean Corette Gilstrap, author of that blog (& other good blogs besides), professed her support for “Health Care for All Citizens” & directed readers to The Huffington Blog, where there was a piece about President Obama calling on bloggers to make their opinions on health care reform known.

So I began writing—the word “appalling” kept coming up. Now remember, I’ve been an Obama supporter all along, so yes, I support universal coverage & health care reform. The more I wrote, the more I thought about the opposition to this initiative; about how the U.S. (according to that notoriously liberal think tank, the Central Intelligence Agency) ranks 45th in life expectency, way below nations that are sometimes demonized by opponents of publicly-funded health care,
like France & Sweden & Canada (they are 9th, 10th & 14th respectively); the more I thought about people optimistically believing in the power of corporations to act in the public benefit even when it runs contrary to the bottom line, & about my own direct experience of the corporate U.S., which has been very different than that; I thought about these things, & the angrier I got.

Now, I do believe in the concept of righteous indignation, but it just doesn’t work out too well for me. I inherited—either by nature or nurture—my father’s famous Irish temper, & I’ve done a good bit of work over the years so this isn’t a disruptive force in my life. Partisan politics is one area for me where righteous indigation easily can transmogrify into something else altogether….

I’m happy to say things didn’t actually get bad, (tho my “internal sensors” were on alert), but the upshot was I stopped writing my first post—if folks want facts & figures & strong opinions, there are plenty of blogs that’ll offer that, both from a perspective I’d tend to agree with & from one I truly oppose. Instead, I thought I’d give a Robert Frost’s Banjo twist on the question.

Both Eberle & I have long been fans of Utah Phillips (& we both were saddened by his passing last year); he was a great singer, a great storyteller, a great songwriter & someone who was pretty much right on a very high percentage of the time. As we think about the possible hit to corporate profits or to the pocketbooks of the wealthy that might take place with public funding of health care, & weigh that with the tragedy of regular folks who go into bankruptcy or worse because of health care expenses, as well as with the reality that some will take advantage of any system, we might also think about a concept Utah used to talk about: “shifting the blame pattern downward”—how we seem trained to always be on the lookout for someone who’s out to “get a little something for nothing,” & oblivious to the wealthy & the corporations who, in his words, “are out to get a whole lot of something for absolutely nothing at all.” He used to use the old Wobblie poem “Two Bums” to illustrate this.

The poem runs as follows:

The bum on the rods is hunted down as an enemy of mankind
The other is driven around to his club, is feted, wined and dined

And they who curse the bum on the rods as the essence of all that's bad
Will greet the other with a willing smile and extend a hand so glad

The bum on the rods is a social flea who gets an occassional bite
The bum on the plush is a social leech, bloodsucking day and night

The bum on the rods is a load so light that his weight we scarcely feel
But it takes the labour of dozens of folks to furnish the other a meal

As long as we sanction the bum on the plush, the other will always be there
But rid ourselves of the bum on the plush, and the other will dissappear

Then make an intelligent, organised kick, get rid of the weights that crush
Dont worry about the bum on the rods, get rid of the bum on the plush

Here’s a clip of Utah telling a story about Frying Pan Jack, then reciting the poem, then launching into “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum,” then getting sidetracked (as he often did mid-song) into a story about Idaho Blackie. A bit of a warning—don’t listen to the Idaho Blackie story while eating—especially not while eating oatmeal….

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  1. A Great Great Man.
    + thanks for the link to Ya-Ya.

  2. John, this is a superb post. Thank you for it. As you know I am currently writing about my own experience, some years ago, of a major life-changing operation in England. Before undergoing the operation I had a whole series of decisions to make but one of them was not how on earth am I going to pay for it. The entire procedure was free as part of our National Health Service.

  3. Hi Tony & Alan:

    Tony: Couldn't agree more on Utah, & hope you enjoy the Ya-Ya Tree--it's a good blog.

    Alan: Yes--I also have a lot of first-hand experience with the health care "system" here, as I have a condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. At this point about 30% of my annual income goes to health care; not only does the US rank 45th in life expectency, but it ranks #1 in health care costs--one would say this isn't a lot of bang for your buck!

  4. John, thanks for writing this... I had not seen the request in The Huffington Blog and will attempt to gather my thoughts on the subject & post in a day or two.
    I wholeheartedly agree with you and yes the word "appalling" does pop into my mind on a regular basis. For a long time I have been a supporter of universal health care in our country and think it is "appalling" that so many individuals go without health care. It should be a top priority of our nation to make sure its citizens have health care... Thank you John.
    Oh... and I love Utah Phillips. He must have been a great storyteller & humorist.

  5. Hi Lizzie:

    Thanks--I'd be very interested to see what you'd write. & yes, I've thought this should be our #1 priority for a number of years.

  6. Excellent post John. My thoughts, exactly. Now, I'm off to the Ya-Ya Tree...

  7. I wish the system here in the UK (the NHS) would become the global norm. If there's one thing a nation ought to focus on doing it's providing healthcare free at the point of delivery, paid for by taxation.

    Like the poem and the Utah Phillips video. (Have you ever come across The Big Red Songbook?)

  8. Hi Dominic:

    A system like the NHS sure makes sense to me--unfortunately, it's a very hard sell in the U.S.

    I've heard about the Big Red Songbook, but I've never seen a copy--wasn't that a Wobblie songbook? Pretty sure the Wobblies had one, even if it had a different title.

  9. There is the Wobbly one, also one of the same name published by Pluto Press in the UK. I'm sure I've got one kicking around somewhere...

  10. Good to see and hear last of the Wobblies, Utah Phillips in action. I too noted his passing with sadness.

  11. john, thanks so much for such a great post - and i dropped by lizzy's as well - many good wishes to you both - and to all the others who are speaking up and out! peace - jenean

  12. Hi Dick & Jenean: & thanks for stopping by.


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