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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

War Resistance in Killeen

An article published in truthout tells the story of soldiers from Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, who have found one another through their mutual conviction that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are morally wrong and unjustifiable. They are part of a newly connected group of people in Killeen who have determined that they must take a stand against the war. Two soldiers, Spc. Victor Agosto and Sgt. Travis Bishop, have faced court martial for their refusal to deploy.

One of the outgrowths of this developing community of war resistance has been a coffee shop just down the street from Fort Hood, called Under the Hood. Members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, soldiers, and families of Fort Hood military personnel have found refuge and strength for their convictions in this new gathering place.

The Resistors from Casey J Porter on Vimeo.

The Resistors is a new film made for Under The Hood Cafe.

The following quotations are excerpts from the truthout article.

Sgt. Travis Bishop, who served 14 months in Baghdad with the 3rd Signal Brigade, faces a court-martial this Friday for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan.

Bishop is the second soldier from Fort Hood in as may weeks to be tried by the military for his stand against an occupation he believes is "illegal." He insists that it would be unethical for him to deploy to support an occupation he opposes on both moral and legal grounds and he has filed for conscientious objector (CO) status.

Spc. Victor Agosto was court-martialed last week for his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan.

* * *

Bishop told Truthout he was inspired by Agosto's stand and had chosen to follow Specialist Agosto's example of refusal. Both his time in Iraq, the illegality of the occupation and a moral awakening led to his decision to refuse to deploy.

"I started to see a big difference between our reality there and what was in the news," Bishop explained to Truthout about his experience in Iraq, but went on to add that morality and religion played a role as well.

When he received orders to deploy to Afghanistan, Bishop said, "I started reading my Bible to get right with my creator before going. Through my reading I realized all this goes against what Jesus taught and what all true Christians should believe. I had a religious transformation, and realized that all war is wrong."

Bishop received his orders to deploy to Afghanistan in February, but at the time "didn't know there was a support network or a way out at all. I thought GI resistance was something archaic from Vietnam."

As his deployment date approached, he met with other soldiers at a GI resistance cafe, "Under the Hood", in Killeen, Texas.

"They told me not only do I have a choice, but I have a support network backing me up," Bishop explained, "I told them my thinking, and they said that I sounded like a CO. They put me in touch with (James) Branum and when I learned from him what a CO was, I knew I couldn't go."

* * *

Bishop hopes his refusal to deploy will inspire soldiers to search their consciences.

"My hope is that people who feel like me, that they don't have a voice and are having doubts, I hope that this shows them that not only can you talk to someone about this, but that you actually have a choice," he said.

"Choice is the first thing they take away from you in the military," Bishop added, "You're taught that you don't have a choice. That's not true. And not wanting to kill someone or get killed does not make you a coward. I hope my actions show this to more people."
There is a video documentary linked below, for those who want to learn more about Under the Hood Cafe. Be warned that there is some rough language used by some persons who are interviewed.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Listing Reasons for Health Care Reform

I found an excellent summary of the reasons to support the current health care reform proposal. It came in an email from Health Care Can't Wait.

A lot of angry, over-the-top rhetoric is muddying our discussion of health care reform. To help clear things up, here’s a brief summary of President Obama’s plan, including how it will stop insurance company abuses and help you—even if you currently have a strong health benefits plan.

Health care reform will stop insurance company abuses.
  • Insurance companies won’t be able to refuse to pay a claim or give you coverage because of “pre-existing” conditions.
  • Your out-of-pocket expenses will be capped. No more going broke because of a serious illness or injury.
  • Insurance companies won’t be allowed to charge women higher rates than men or drop you if you get sick.
  • Insurance companies will have to cover your children until age 26 instead of dumping them at 19.
Health care reform will hold down rising costs.
  • A public health insurance option will force private insurers to compete and will lower costs for everyone.
  • By requiring companies to pay their fair share, we’ll stop them from dumping their health care costs on the rest of us.
Health reform means affordable care will be there for you, no matter what.
  • If you lose your job,
  • or your kid loses his.
  • If you get sick.
  • When you retire. Affordable health care will be there for you, no matter what. That means you and your family can’t fall through the cracks
  • and won’t go broke because of health care bills.
The reality is that health care costs are spiraling out of control, and everyone in America deserves quality and affordable care. Health care reform simply can’t wait. We will all be better off with real reform.
There is a good new site to correct the masses of misinformation going on about health reform. People who believe in truth and morality need at least to listen to each other and make sure they are not running around fighting against empty enemies. There are no death panels. There is not a takeover of the health care system in this plan. Frankly, I wish the plan would do more than it does to reduce costs, but this is the compromise plan.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Even if You Have Employer-Subsidized Health Insurance, You Don't Really

At the excellent "think-tank" blog on economics and finance, The Baseline Scenario, James Kwak has posted an article on health insurance that draws back the curtains, blows away the fog, and shatters the mirrors of illusion. The "in-your-face" title is "You Do Not Have Health Insurance." He says that unless you are over 65 in the U. S., the word "insurance" does not really apply. I'll quote the first section to spell out the heart of his argument, which will knock you over.

Right now, it appears that the biggest barrier to health care reform is people who think that it will hurt them. According to a New York Times poll, “69 percent of respondents in the poll said they were concerned that the quality of their own care would decline if the government created a program that covers everyone.” Since most Americans currently have health insurance, they see reform as a poverty program – something that helps poor people and hurts them. If that’s what you think, then this post is for you.

You do not have health insurance. Let me repeat that. You do not have health insurance. (Unless you are over 65, in which case you do have health insurance. I’ll come back to that later.)

The point of insurance is to protect you against unlikely but damaging events. You are generally happy to pay premiums in all the years that nothing goes wrong (your house doesn’t burn down), because in exchange your insurer promises to be there in the one year that things do go wrong (your house burns down). That’s why, when shopping for insurance, you are supposed to look for a company that is financially sound – so they will be there when you need them.

If, like most people, your health coverage is through your employer or your spouse’s employer, that is not what you have. At some point in the future, you will get sick and need expensive health care. What are some of the things that could happen between now and then?

Your company could drop its health plan. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (see Table HIA-1), the percentage of the population covered by employer-based health insurance has fallen every year since 2000, from 64.2% to 59.3%.

You could lose your job. I don’t think I need to tell anyone what the unemployment rate is these days.

You could voluntarily leave your job, for example because you have to move to take care of an elderly relative.

You could get divorced from the spouse you depend on for health coverage.

For all of these reasons, you can’t count on your health insurer being there when you need it. That’s not insurance; that’s employer-subsidized health care for the duration of your employment.

Once you lose your employer-based coverage, for whatever reason, you’re in the individual market, where, you may be surprised to find, you have no right to affordable health insurance. An insurer can refuse to insure you or can charge you a premium you can’t afford because of your medical history. That’s the way a free market works: an insurer would be crazy to charge you less than the expected cost of your medical care (unless they can make it up on their healthy customers, which they can’t in the individual market).

In honor of the financial crisis, let’s also point out that all of these risks are correlated: being sick increases your chances of losing your job (and, probably, getting divorced); losing your job reduces your ability to afford health insurance.
There is more in the article, explaining some further dangers about companies rescinding policies, denying claims, not covering various critical procedures, and COBRA that help us realize how precarious our health coverage is. As he points out, unless your job is insured (there is no way you can lose your job or go out of business), your access to health care is not insured.

We need this reform. Make it plain to your Congressional Representatives.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

An Outsourcing Strategy for Customer Service in Prayer

Not long ago, a friend from Atlanta, Guy Pujol, passed on a bit of information:
I just learned the funniest thing from a friend employed at a call center handling the customer service calls for AT&T, Verizon, and other major companies: they also handle the prayer request lines for TD Jakes, Eddie Long, and Creflo Dollar! If you call those toll-free televangelistic numbers, you aren't talking to someone with that ministry; you're talking to an outsourced employee reading a script off a computer.
It's a little disorienting. When we call for assistance or service with a business, we still think of it as calling that business. Slowly, many of us have become aware that service calls to outsourced call centers mean that we may not be talking with someone who works directly for the company we are trying to reach. Call centers are a business unto themselves, and they don't necessarily have specific people assigned only to AT&T, Chevrolet, Sony, or Exxon.

What Guy has pointed out that many of us have not thought about is that a person in a call center responds to the caller by following a script on a computer screen. That computer screen can give a script for computer problems, auto warranty information, cell phone plans, airline reservations, credit applications, or an almost infinite number of products and topics. It is not an idea that I have really gotten used to.

So it is shocking at first to consider the notion that Creflo Dollar has outsourced his call center to people who may be selling a phone package to one caller then making a pitch to someone needing prayer. It's shocking until we realize that such ministries have long ago left being modeled around theological convictions about the church. They have come under the discipline of the market and adopted the rationality of corporate finance. Therefore, efficiency of processing the paying customers is far more important that sincere and caring listeners for people needing prayer.

The scales of unbridled capitalism blind us so often to the distortions and corruptions of what goes by the name of church in our time. Apparently the fourfold ministry should be revised: some are CEOs, some profiteers, some entrepreneurs, some passers and teasers.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Pay to Play: Health Lobbies Buy Their Access

"This is not a democracy. It's an auction." Those are the words of a bumper sticker we stuck on a car I used to own. The obscene amount of money that are spent to elect and influence government officials keeps growing because it works. Money keeps buying access. If you might have money to give, then candidates and incumbents want to talk with you. If you already gave money, they want to keep the relationship for next time. And savvy lobbyists know what kinds of assistance and treatment specific legislators want. They also know how to sway the direction of corporate news and the TV-watching and talk show-listening public. In U. S. politics, money makes the world go 'round.

Michael Winship of truthout reports that enormous amounts of money have been spent on lobbying against health care reform in the second quarter of 2009: over $133 million in three months from insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and hospital corporations alone. This does not include spending by other organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and political action groups which is also on a grand scale.

According to community organizing, there are two kinds of power: organized money and organized people. Theodore Lowi, in The End of Liberalism, wrote that organized money had managed to dominate U. S. politics so heavily that we now operate by a de facto new constitution. Representative government flows from powerfully organized lobbies. Theologian John Howard Yoder warned Christians not to be fooled by the rhetoric of democracy, the rule of the people, when the U. S. polity is better described as a plutocracy, the rule of the wealthy.

There is faint hope in that community organizing has experienced a renaissance in the past quarter century. But grassroots movements still have most of their influence at the local level, and occasionally at the state level. There are ambitions for more national power from grassroots groups, but for now the organized money is in the lead.

I'm going to keep on asking folks to demand that Congress listen to the people and get us a universal health care plan that cuts costs and promotes preventive care. We may be a voice crying in the wilderness, but the voices of Isaiah and John both made a difference when they stood up for the truth.
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