Ben Word-Sims, model
My church held its annual alternative gift market Sunday, featuring handmade items and gifts of nails and tools and kitchen sinks for Habitat for Humanity, fair-trade items from developing countries and art.

I brought a shawl, several scarves and earrings, Life o' Mike T-shirts and car magnets. We made over $200, and the Christian Action Committee will donate a portion of the proceeds to Life o' Mike.

Danny and I were talking last night about what a difference having a church community makes. He started going regularly a couple of months ago, and he says he can't believe the help that's there for all his struggles.

Since Mike died, he has thought of the unfairness of it and the bitterness has eaten away at him. But now he sees the blessings of Mike's life and has decided to be more like Mike in a lot of ways.

Mike was generous -- on holidays he cooked extravagant dinners for people who had nowhere else to go, even though he really couldn't afford it. That's one of the reasons we raised money with a dinner. Mike loved getting together with his friends and enjoying a meal. When Mike died, his friends offered a meal for all of us who loved him.

 Mike had the ability to move on from bad things and not be consumed by anger or bitterness. He could laugh at the worst things.

Danny was awed by all that, and he wants "to be a better man," in memory of Mike and for his wife and kids.

The work we do, we do in memory of Mike because Mike's memory and his generous spirit need to live on.

And when Ben picked up the shawl and three scarves to model, it just looked like a shadow of Mike standing there in front of me.

... and demonstrate for healthcare, but nobody from the media comes, do they still make noise?

You bet.

Seniors for Health Care drew people of all ages to Pack Square in downtown Asheville today. No one from the paper or the TV station were there, but we were at the busiest intersection in town and many hundreds of people saw us there.

We had a lot of thumbs-up, and just two nasty comments. One man rolled down the window of his shiny new Mercedes SUV and hollered that government-run health care would kill us.

I usually don't engage, but I hollered, "Corporate-run health care already killed my son!" I don't think he heard me, though. He rolled his window up and went back into his own selfish, soundproofed, truth-deprived, I-got-mine-get-your-own world.

Another woman hollered that our taxes would go up if health care is approved. Well, if that were true, and it isn't unless you make more than $250,000 a year, I think that's OK if we can save those 45,000 lives lost every year to not having insurance.

Of course a lot of my activist friends were there -- people from the bus trip and others I run into at every rally.

Word came while we were there that The Associated Press was reporting the Democrats have their 60 votes. So, at least we'll have a debate.

Here's the problem with allowing the insurance companies to sell policies nationally:

Benjamin French, 12, was born with no arm below his right elbow. He needs new prosthetic arms as he grows, but the insurance company in Michigan won't pay for it because he has used up his lifetime limit of $30,000 for prosthetic devices.

As any amputee can tell you, that cap is completely inadequate. But Michigan allows it. Many other states d0n't let the insurance companies get away with that, but Michigan does.

If we allow insurance companies to sell across state lines, we'll have a "race to the bottom," as the big companies rush to headquarter themselves in the state with the most lax legislation.

How do you think all the credit card companies wound up in Wilmington, Del.? That's why we have 30 percent interest rates and countless other abuses.

If we want to reform health care, we have to stop giving the insurance companies what they want in "reform."

If we're going to allow sales across state lines, we have to use interstate commerce laws to regulate insurance nationally, and the regulations must have good, sharp teeth.


On Veterans Day, we need to honor those who have served their country. Even in peacetime, serving in the military is a sacrifice -- low pay, a lack of control over one's own life -- so most patriotic Americans would agree that they deserve the best ew have to offer.

Until this last generation, veterans' benefits included lifelong medical care. That's not so anymore; the care is needs-based now.

So, the latest Harvard Medical School study should anger any American who has any respect for veterans:

According to the study, 2,266 veterans under the age of 65 died last year as a result of not having health insurance. Researchers emphasize that "that figure is more than 14 times the number of deaths (155) suffered by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2008, and more than twice as many as have died (911 as of Oct. 31) since the war began in 2001."

The 1.46 million working-age veterans that did not have health insurance last year all experienced reduced access to care as a consequence, leading to "six preventable deaths a day."

"Like other uninsured Americans, most uninsured vets are working people -- too poor to afford private coverage but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care," said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at Harvard Medical School. [...]

Let's say we honor our veterans by supporting the members of Congress who voted for health care reform. Let's honor then by standing up to the big insurance companies, big pharma and their lobbyists, and passing real health care reform that will give all Americans the care they need.

Last February, Carolyn and I met with Rep. Heath Shuler to ask him what his thoughts were on health care reform. I told him Mike's story and Carolyn told him her nightmarish story of having to battle breast cancer and wonder about whether she would ever be able to find insurance again, let aone afford it at the same time.

Rep. Shuler said, "Don't worry; I'm going with the Obama plan."

I believed him and defended him to all my activist friends.

But he betrayed us all last night by voting against the health care bill.

He backed off, using several excuses:

"It has to be deficit-neutral."

Well, the Congressional Budget Office said the plan before the House was defecit-neutral.

"We have to look at waste, fraud and abuse."

He was talking about government waste, fraud and abuse, while the private, for-profit, insurance companies continue to deny one in five claims and CEOs make millions and spend our money on lobbyists and advertising campaigns against reform.

You're looking in the wrong place, Congressman.

"I believe most of my constituency is against it."

Sometimes, a moral man must decide what's right. If the majority of voters in his district want to make it legal to drive drunk or use cocaine, he wouldn't vote for it, would he? Well, denying more than 50 million Americans access to health care is no different.

Voters who believe the lies put out there by the medical-industrial complex don't want reform; when told the truth, most do. Congressman Shuler knows the truth, and he supposedly knows what's moral.

I'm deeply disappointed in my Congressman. I hope someone with real morals and a little bit of courage runs against him next year.

The House of Representatives just passed the health care bill. I watched the vote count tick over to 218 and felt a sense of relief. It was a historical moment to be sure.

I still don't know how my representative, Heath Shuler, voted.

But it isn't over yet. We still have to see it through the Senate, where it can be derailed by Joe Lieberman. That's right, one man can derail meaningful reform for 53 million uninsured people. It's so wrong.

But I guess I should bask in the success of getting reform through the House for a day or so. It is a moment a lot of us have worked very, very hard to achieve.

Check our Nicholas Kristoff's column in today's new York Times:

He dispells some of the myths about the greatness of the American health care system.

We have the potential to have the best system in the world, but because we deny access to so many people, our outcomes are far from the best. Here's the heart of it:

The United States ranks 31st in life expectancy (tied with Kuwait and Chile), according to the latest World Health Organization figures. We rank 37th in infant mortality (partly because of many premature births) and 34th in maternal mortality. A child in the United States is two-and-a-half times as likely to die by age 5 as in Singapore or Sweden, and an American woman is 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as a woman in Ireland.

Canadians live longer than Americans do after kidney transplants and after dialysis, and that may be typical of cross-border differences. One review examined 10 studies of how the American and Canadian systems dealt with various medical issues. The United States did better in two, Canada did better in five and in three they were similar or it was difficult to determine.

Yet another study, cited in a recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute, looked at how well 19 developed countries succeeded in avoiding “preventable deaths,” such as those where a disease could be cured or forestalled. What Senator Shelby called “the best health care system” ranked in last place.

The figures are even worse for members of minority groups. An African-American in New Orleans has a shorter life expectancy than the average person in Vietnam or Honduras.

It's time to fix this. Call your members of Congress and let them know we want change now, and we mean business.

Yesterday was a lovely birthday. I took the afternoon to go up to the spot where we scattered Mike's ashes and spend a little time telling him about what we're doing in his memory.

It's really hard having my birthday to myself after sharing it with him for 33 years and joking about how it was mine and he could have it when I was done with it. It's what we all expect as parents: to outlive our kids.

I finally sang "Happy birthday to ME," and built a small cairn next to his blueberry bush.

Fortunately, I have good friends who made sure the end of my day was fun. Annie, Liz and Kathleen met me at Mela for dinner. Fortunately, they put us back in the corner, where we were free to laugh and carry on. There were two wine-glass-toppling accidents, but they were because someone talks with her hands and got a little too excited about something. Twice. Next time, she gets a sippee cup.

I got to thank Anoop Krishnan, the owner, in person for the food he donated to Eat at Mike's. It was especially nice because Mike loved Mela as much as I do.

And I'm starting to learn to play the mandolin Rob gave me. I got a gig bag, some picks and a chord book. Maybe by next year's Eat at Mike's I'll be able to play a couple songs along with some bluegrass friends (Sons of Ralph, Buncombe Turnpike, Carol Rifkin ... I'm thinking of you).

We raised about $3,550 at Eat at Mike's. We had about 70 people and all but four of the auction items sold.

The food was fabulous. Thanks to Chris Stockard-Goering (aka The Empanada Guy), Roots Organic Gourmet, Mela, Asheville Pizza & Brew, Mohsin Sayid and Tomato Jam Cafe for the food.

And our volunteers: board members Chrystal Cook, Gary Kovach and Bill Jamieson; David Tripp and Mark Murray, who came all the way from Fayetteville; Annie Doucette and Kathleen Rowles, and of course, Rob, who cooked, carved and served.

Thanks also to all who donated auction items and all who bought them, and to Home Trust Bank, our corporate sponsor.

Thanks to John for the truck.

This definitely will be an annual event. But first, I want to rest up a bit.