I was talking to a bartender/musician friend of mine the other night -- young kid, in his mid-20s. He mentioned he has no health insurance. A few months ago, he sprained his wrist and rather than go to a doctor, he bandaged it up and asked a friend who practices yoga to recommend some exercises that might help him recover. Fortunately it worked -- this time.

Zaq doesn't have a high income. He lives paycheck-to-paycheck and he can't afford insurance, even though he's healthy enough to get it. A catastrophic policy ($10,000 deductible) puts it beyond his reach. Why bother, he wonders.

What Zaq didn't know is that when the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014, he will be eligible for a subsidy to help him afford decent insurance.

He isn't alone. A Kaiser Health Tracking Poll Survey shows that nearly half of uninsured Americans know there will be subsidies available. Of course, you won't find that in most of the so-called mainstream media because they're too busy spreading the half-truths and lies of reform's opponents.

Anyone earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for a subsidy. Granted, the subsidies will be small for the people near the top of that income limit, but there will be help to allow people whose employer doesn't offer insurance to get into the marketplace. An estimated 31 million of the 50 million uninsured will gain access to health insurance.

That's not enough for me, of course; I want to see every American gain access to quality health care. But covering an additional 31 million is a good first step.

The lack of health care is only part of the problem here. That's why I'm joining thousands of people in Washington, DC, on Oct. 6 for "Stop the Machine."

The so-called machine is corporate influence on American government. It was corporatre influence that kept real health reform off the table with its lies about death panels and socialism. Talk to people over age 65 about Mecicare and most will tell you they love it. Then talk to someone like my friend Danielle in Texas, who has been without health insurance for years and is counting down the days to her 65th birthday so she can find out what's wrong with her stomach and maybe get some real help for her back pain.

Talk to almost anyone from France and they will tell you how much they appreciate getting health care as a basic human right. It, not ours, is considered the best health care system in the world.

Expand Medicare and let the rest of us buy into it and Big Insurance would face a big profit loss. There would still be enough people who want all the bells and whistles who would stick with private insurance to keep them in business. It has worked that way in Canada and Australia. But Big Insurance spent billions to make sure health reform sent them new customers. In this case and in so many others, Congress passed a law that benefitted corporations instead of the American people.

Corporations also are leading the attack on workers. Union members in the private sector have been broken by big business, which now seeks to break the public sector unions too -- teachers, police and fire officers, road construction workers and more. Public sector jobs are real jobs. When the Koch Brothers-funded ALEC writes suggested legislation, which states just take and pass, that's corporate-led government.

When big banks forclose on homes rather than work with people to help them stay in their homes, and no none who caused the financial meltdown by bundling questionable mortgages gets so much as a slap on the wrist, something is wrong here.

For 30 years, education has been attacked by reduced funding and increased standardized testing, which takes away from the ability of teachers to foster critical-thinking skills. These students do not grow up to be people who can think for themselves. They can memorize statistics (which san be manipulated very easily) that they're fed by the corporate "news" media, but they can't decipher the real meaning. In other words, they're easily misled by the lies some of the media put out there.

Rick Perry doesn't "believe" in global warming. Too many people think that "belief" makes it true. The truth is that the planet is warming, no matter how much Big Oil pays to put its lies out there.

People in North Carolina and across the country have asked legislators to leave taxes in place so programs for the poor don't have to be cut only to see corporate-funded legislators slash taxes and services like Medicaid.

This country is not broke; that is another corporate lie. If corporations paid taxes, if the richest Americans paid their share, if the wars and military and CIA adventures that fill the pockets of defense contractors and take innocent lives around the globe were pulled back, we would prosper.

For these reasons and more, I'm going to Freedom Square in Washington on Oct. 6.

We the People, whose government this is supposed to be, need to kick some corporate butt and take back our country,

If you agree, visit www.october2011.org and join us in Washington.

So, Rick Perry thinks Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional. He was too busy taking a big bite of fair food to explain why be believes that.

Sen. Tom Cogburn from Oklahoma agrees. He didn't say why, exactly, but he did say he believes families should take care of the frail elderly. That would be fine if every frail elderly person had a family. Not everyone marries and has children. Not all children survive their parents. Not everyone can cope with a person with advanced dementia who needs round-the-clock care, including adult diaper changes, feeding and bathing. Not many of us can stay up all night to be sure the person with dementia doesn't wander off or do something else dangerous. Some of us have to work one or two jobs to keep a roof over our own heads so we can't do 24-hour care, especially not alone.

Coburn asked where in the Constitution it says we should care for the elderly. The answer is Article I, Section 8, which gives Congress the power to “to lay and collect taxes” and to “provide for the…general welfare of the United States.” I'm pretty sure the words “general welfare” means Congress can create programs that ensure Americans can know that retirement will not force them into abject poverty and denial of health care.

By the way, we PAY for Social Security and Medicare all our working lives.

Sure, somebody with Cogburn's or Perry's money can pay to care for family; the vast majority of us don't have that kind of money.

And they call themselves Christians. Looks like they haven't read the Constitution or the red print in the Gospels.

A civilized society helps people who can't care for themselves -- unless of course you believe it's best to put a frail elderly person to death. Franklly, that might be less cruel than leaving them to fend for themselves in a system that cares nothing about them or their well being.

It's called the" nag factor" and it's what marketers always hope to induce in children. They know many parents will give in and buy the cereal or candy with a Disney character or Scooby Doo on the package.

A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University showed children are more likely to nag parents to buy sugary cereals and treats decorated with cartoon characters they know.

Companies spend an estimated $10 billion per year marketing sugary foods and drinks  to children in the U.S., the researchers said, and studies have shown that this marketing works. Even brief ads  --  10 to 30 seconds  --  can influence children's choices.

This study was the first to document the nag factor, though. It is defined as the propensity for children to request items with cartoon characters they know.

Nagging included repeatedly asking for an item, whining, stomping, full-blown tantrums in the grocery store (I was a victim to this one a few decades ago), putting an item in the shopping cart even after being told no or manipulative nagging -- flattering the parent or professing love or hate.

Parents in the study reacted by:

  • Giving in
  • Yelling
  • Ignoring the child
  • Distracting the child
  • Being calm and consistent
  • Avoiding places or products that could induce nagging
  • Limiting commercial exposure
  • Negotiating with the child
  • Allowing for alternative items
  • Explaining why the child can't have a product
Most of the mothers surveyed said that giving in was the worst way to deal with nagging, while explaining purchasing decisions and the concept of advertising were the best strategies.

The study was small, and I think I could have guessed the results. But marketers are savvy. It's up to parents to find ways around the marketing. If we explain marketing to children in simple words, they usually get it. Make them proud to be able to figure it out and resist it. It's a great way to foster critical thinking skills and avoid childhood obesity.


This year, Medicare and Medicaid will be changed, whether we like it or not. The so-called compromise on the debt put 12 members of Congress in charge of slashing the nation's budget, and if they don't agree by Thanksgiving, automatic and drastic cuts will be made to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, even though 82 percent of Americans don't want to see these programs cut.

It's not likely these 12 members of Congress will be able to agree on anything unless conservative Democrat Sen. Max Baucus votes with the Republicans to slash social programs while preserving the corporate interests and the Pentagon budget.

To me, this spells disaster for Middle Class America. Health reform will be meaningless if these programs are slashed in the ways proposed. People on Medicaid, who are already in deep, deep poverty, won't be able to get dental or eye care, physical, occupational or speech therapy, or even hospice care when they are dying.

As for Medicaid, I paid into it my entire working life; I deserve to get what I paid for, as do all Americans. In fact, I deserve to be able to buy into Medicare now, with the premium based on income. If I want to buy private insurance to get all the bells and whistles, fine, let me do that. But being without insurance because you can't afford it can be a death sentence, as it was for my son.

As Americans, we have a voice. We need to use it to tell Congress we won't stand for any more reductions in access to quality health care. My Congressman knows where I stand. Does yours?

The changes most of us want to see are to expand and improve Medicare and Medicaid. Let every American who wants it get Medicare and let people who have chronic illnesses or disabilities get whatever care they need under Medicaid.

This fight is not about whether we can afford health care for all -- we can if we close corporate tax loopholes and ask the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans pay their share in taxes. It's like being a dues-paying member of a club that shuts off the electricity to the clubhouse rather than increase dues. Our taxes are the dues we pay to live in a civilized society that takes care of people who can't care for themselves. People who can afford to pay, should pay.

A lot of Americans voted for people in the 2010 elections who promised to focus on creating jobs for the millions who were -- and are -- jobless.

What we got was a crowd of idealogues who have become fixated on breaking the treasury so they can shred our public safety net.

In North Carolina, the regressive two-year budget will cause the loss of nearly 50,000 jobs, including teachers and their support staff, public safety employees, health care workers and more.

The legislature here cut $763 million in state Medicaid money this two-year cycle, which actually means the program will lose more than $2 billion in funding -- the federal government sends $2 for every $1 the state spends on Medicaid.

The health care cuts alone will cost about 10,400 jobs, which equals about $522 million in taxable wages lost to the state and federal governments. Our mental health system, already one of the worst in the country, will lose another $45 million.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services loses about 10 percent of its budget -- about $1 billion. The Legislature didn't specify where those cuts would come from; they left it to DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler to make those desicions. For his part, Cansler says he doesn't know how he can make such deep cuts and keep operating.

These cuts were unnesessary. The legislature chose to end a one-cent sales tax that was set to expire, even though the majority of North Carolinians wanted the penny tax left in place to preserve programs we need.

The tax equals about 17 cents a day to the average person, but it adds up to about $750 million, or enough to restore nearly all the cuts to Medicaid.

Those cuts likely will include "optional" services -- those services federal law doesn't require -- such as housing, therapy and other activities for people with serious disabilities, hospice care, dental and eye care and more. People don't want to lose these services, but legislators chose to cut $763 million from Medicare.

On the federal level, the same thing is happening. The steadfast refusal on the right to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and to close corporate tax loopholes means we could lose Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

This is not what We the People asked for; this was a choice made by corrupt politicians, and there's only one way to fix it: Throw the bums out.

Thanks to drastic budget cuts, none of which are balanced by new revenues, North Carolina's Medicaid program faces a $165 million budget shortfall.

When you consider how poor one has to be to receive Medicaid at all (my son had to leave his wife, even though he was battling stage 3 colon cancer and couldn't work, and his wife's only income was a student loan and a part-time waitressing job becaused they both were full-time students), it's pretty frightening to think about what might be cut next.

I can tell you what some of the proposals are: more cuts to a mental health system that's already been found by the U.S. Justice Department to be out of compliance with federal law, and cuts to "optional" services such as housing and physical, occupational and speech therapy for people with severe disabilities. Hospice care. Dental care for adults. Eye care for adults. Even lower reimbursement rates to the people who provide services.

That all means that people with severe disabilities who now live in homes and get onsite services at places like the Irene Wortham Center (www.iwcnc.org) will be moved to nursing homes, where they will receive little or no therapy. Most will regress and many will die. People who are dying and their families will get no Hospice services. Grandma won't be anle to get new glasses and adults who have dental problems will just have to suffer.

NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler said he's afriad the process to make the changes necessary to achieve the cuts could take up to eight or nine months. That would mean all the cuts would have to be achieved in the final quarter of the fiscal year.

"It's just really going to be next to impossible to achieve this budget, and  I'm not sure where the legislature will go with that," Cansler told Raleigh television station WRAL. "The fact
that this budget plays into next year (means that next year) is going to be a difficult budget year as well."

Health reform be damned; these people don't care who suffers or who dies, as long as they have theirs.

The medical journal Health Affiairs reports in a new study that eating healthy food can cost a family thousands of dollars a year more than eating processed and fast food.

In the study, researchers from the University of Washington surveyed more than 1,000 adults. Not surprisingly, the people who ate the healthiest (that is, came the closest to getting the recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals) spent the most on food. Reasearchers said food costs dipped considerably each time people got 1 percent more of their daily calories from saturated fat and sugar.

Our industrialized food production process robs fruits and vegetables of valuable nutrients and fills all our food with poisons meant to kill bugs and weeds. Livestock are pumped so full of antibiotics that once harmless bacteria have become killers. Just this weerk, Cargill Meat Solutions recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey products that could be contaminated with a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella. The outbreak killed one person and sickened 77 others.

Cheap food is a relatively recent concept. Before the 1970s, American families spent a larger percentage of their incomes on food. But the advent of palm oils and high-fructose corn syrup gave foods a longer shelf life, and salt substituted for the flavors that were cooked away in processing.

Animals began to be fed unnatural diets of grain mixed with high-calorie additives (including some meat from their own kind) to make them fatter and tastier. They began to be kept in pens instead of allowed to move freely. It's now routine for insurtrial pig farmers to clip the tails of newborn piglets because pigs kept in crowded conditions become stressed and will bite each other's tails.

So, what's the solution? Eat close to home. Buy food from local farmers whenever possible. Sometimes, fruits and vegetables are less expensive than those shipped cross-country, and even though meats likely are more expensive, you can eat less of it. You likely will be surprised at how much better it tastes.

Cooking instead of eating processed food will get you closer to the recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals without spending a whole lot more money.

Bake something from scratch now and then. Homemade snacks aren't difficult to make and they're healthier and taste better than store-bought, not to mention being less expensive.

On the weekends, cook big batches of soups, pasta dishes and other things that make for good leftovers, or use your slow-cooker during the week. Toss inngredients (potaties, onions, carrots, greens, chicken, beans, whatever) into the pot in the morning and have dinner ready when you get home. Cook up a big batch of rice and sautee vegetables to make a quick meal.

With incomes stagnant or dropping, it becomes more difficult for people to eat healthy foods. Perhaps it's time for the government to stop subsidizing corn byproducts and other chemicals that make food cheaper and less healthy. Maybe we should be subsidizing real, fresh foods.