Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What's Virginia to Do?

Bob McDonnell pledges to reopen the now 19 closed rest stops within 90 days of taking office as Governor in January 2010. Not to be outdone, Creigh Deeds claims he will do it in 60 days. The Republican candidate's website sports a Press Release outlining a four pronged approach; the Democratic contender is mostly a belated echo chamber, sans concrete funding implementation details. In view of the public backlash, both are giving lipservice to the issue in an effort to get elected. But the discourse over the transportation budget still seems to be focused on roads and rail, with the human capital they serve and the needs of the here and now taking a backseat. With the recent closure of the Interstate 66 W Welcome Center at Manassas, approximately two months after the 18 others, and with less than two months remaining in the campaign, the question then becomes, roughly two months after inauguration, what's Virginia to do?
Lest we forget, the state built and is charged with maintaining these areas. So closing them is a lost investment of taxpayer money and there will still be the cost of minimal upkeep anyway to avoid their becoming roadside eyesores. Not 9 million a year, or a more limited operational budget, but not a zero outlay either. So why not get creative?
Run a Commonweathwide contest to decorate these monuments for contemporary times, Virginia's equivalent to DC's Donkeys and Elephants or New York City's Bulls and Bears. Then they'd be much prettier, and have dual drawing power as tourist magnets. Think of it as putting lipstick on a pig. Replace those unsightly blockades with toll taking devices at the entrances. I'd be happy to toss a coin as I go through a booth to get to the facility - and photo op - on the other side. I suspect others would as well.
Federal Law requires that rest stops cannot be commercialized unless they are located on a turnpike or toll road. Duh! Just rename the roads and/or start charging for their use (another revenue raiser; West Virginia did that) if you want to continue that hoary, ghost of the 1980s, "get it off the government's balance sheet" strategy and contract them out. It's not like more toll roads aren't coming somewhere down the pike anyway, as a next step in making up the general budget shortfall or just paying for the infrastructure. VDOT recently laid off 600 employees, idled more trucks and is committed to seeing only current contracts to completion. Let's call Routes 81, 95, 85, 64 and/or 66 intrastate something scenic or historic. How about Kaine Turnpike, in honor of this turning point in our state's history? Monikers memorializing current Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer and VDOT Commissioner David Ekem would also be appropriate.
Both candidates favor this approach, with McDonnell's appellation for it being "creative financing structures," but they seem to be banking on a Congressional waiver to allow businesses to run the Commonwealth's rest stops. According to the Federal Highway Commission statistics, that has only occurred in a handful of cases. More problematic to overcome may be local mercantile contrariety, the reason one of Virginia's own, Eric Cantor, actively opposed the Wolf Amendment during Governor Kaine's failed attempt.
Organizations could sponsor part of, one, or more; Adopt a Highway, Adopt a Rest Stop. McDonnell proffers this as an "immediate" approach. Why not consider it permanently? In return, the group's name would be put on a plaque, or a road sign if one entity alone adopted one area; public good will for the adopters would be generated at the same time.
Or convert them to State Police barracks, with ancillary public restrooms monitored by surveillance cameras. The Republican candidate proposes assigning those sentenced to community service or eligible for work release programs to do the landscaping and custodial work. Since money is the issue, this will put Virginia's finest closer to those they love to chase and need to watch, maximizing the bang for the taxpayer buck. Boy, would that make me feel safe, and void the argument claiming rest stop crime. Texas has done this, and added playgrounds and interactive kiosks, converting rest stops into attractions. Iowa has included gift shops featuring local (Norwegian) products. The Commonwealth could do something similar with its unremarkable Plain Janes, going beyond the beautification suggested above, highlighting regional foods, wines and artisans, thus blunting parochial opposition. A welcoming Travel Plaza, giving the captive itinerant a snapshot sense of the state, moving the mall ever closer to the highway....and more potential retail traffic. The sweet smell of peanuts and sales tax, as we stop, shop and go. All for just a few additional frills! So why has the Governor pointed us in the opposite direction? And why do both candidates primarily want to follow suit, with McDonnell going a step further by including divestiture of the state ABC stores in the transportation discourse? Spruce up their lackluster facades and product mix as well, and make "Shopping Virginia" the patriotic alternative to not only save the rest stops, but to augment the transportation and general budget, avoiding the distasteful and divisive revenue raisers of hiking taxes, something Deeds recently indicated he would consider as a last resort, or off shore drilling, which is on the Republican's radar. Sometimes you have to spend a little money to make much more. Inspire "Virginialism," a sonorous brand, instead of separatist, regional warfare.
This state had the misfortune of not having Maryland's foresight in grandfathering the commercialization of its rest stops before the federal law took effect. OOOPS. Louisiana has closed 24 of its 34 since 2000; they have a good excuse: Katrina. Maine, Vermont and Colorado have plans to do so; others, including Rhode Island, Indiana and Arizona are "thinking about it." Depending on what happens in the Commonwealth, the movement may be gaining momentum. The slogan of our 2009 Travel Guide says "Live passionately." Before we don't have the need to print as many of them, let's find some enthusiasm for tackling the problem from a human and fiscal standpoint. We in Virginia can be at the forefront of a win-win solution and conceptual redesign. For the state to be "...for lovers," on this, the fortieth anniversary of the slogan, it first needs to show its residents and potential tourists some love. For the candidates, that means blowing more than an air kiss to get a vote and planting more than goblins and skeletons, of a plan, or of their or the Commonwealth's past, on the cheeks of the James River. It is not the time for another OOOPS. Or Trick or Treat.

Karen Ann DeLuca

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A KISS to DRIVE Health Care Reform

My health care plan, a COBRA by default, is one of those Cadillacs that covers all sorts of things I know I will never use, and many I hope to avoid. Maternity care and family planning - I'm almost 55, and so far, childless... and not a man. Contraceptive drugs and devices - I'm post menopausal. Infertility services, double ditto. Smoking cessation - I've gone this far without a puff. A boatload of mental health and substance abuse benefits - the strongest thing I've ever imbibed is a couple of cups of morning joe and I'm probably one of the few Baby Boomers who's never inhaled. The plan is also light to non existent on services that I actually do use, such as dental care, acupuncture and massage therapy. For almost $500/mo, I get far more than I will ever utilize, yet to procure the most comprehensive coverage for my particular needs, I had no choice but to enroll in a program that covers infinitely more. To do otherwise would have left me with hefty out of pocket expenses far greater than any premium differential.
My health care plan is part of the current federal government "insurance exchange." Yes, there is an assortment, twenty one plans to be exact, with premiums varying from roughly $275 to about $550, with the lower cost options being the more restrictive HMOs. But even with such a panoply, my complaints highlight the problem, often overlooked and ignored, of fitting individual requirements, the proverbial "square peg," into the insurer provided "round holes."
The solution would be a cafeteria of choices within a plan, where one would be obliged to carry certain basic government mandated coverage which addresses common financial and social depletion risks, but could opt out of services that were clearly personally irrelevant to lower the premium. True consumer choice, not the current - and proposed - systems which offer one-size-fits-all products from an insurer determined menu. While this might have been difficult back in the day when record keeping was by hand, it could be easily implemented now in the age of computer technology - customized pricing - the way auto insurers do! Exactly the model the President proposes to mimic in requiring universality, taken one step further. It could be done with a minimum of additional bureaucracy and corporate inflation, utilizing the current infrastructure as a foundation. Medicare could expand to serve as the "public option," allowing for "buy-ins" that may perhaps save the program from projected future financial difficulty, and enrolling could be promoted as patriotic, to counter and reverse the current demonization. Not only would such a system lower my premiums, but it would force insurers to compete on price and appealability of product lines, and decrease and perhaps eliminate the need for government subsidies altogether. They shouldn't balk; in return for scant extra effort, they would have the opportunity to greatly increase their subscriber base and reap volume driven profits. The policies would be self limiting, cost containing and somewhat behavior modifying by their very nature, keeping overuse and abuse of the system in check. If you want more, you can always pay for it. Self, not government imposed, rationing through personal choice. This proposal, and the transition to its implementation, would be much less complicated and speedier than any idea in the current discourse and should appeal to everyone from the fiscally cautious, free market "pro-choicers" to the bleeding heart Robin Hoods and Crusader Rabbits. A great compromise. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Hint, Hint.
I'd also like to see some cash in the health care overhaul as a reward for not being a "clunker" - for not being a drain on the system, for watching diet and exercising regularly, for not being obese, for keeping blood pressure low, for not smoking or drinking, etc. - tantamount to a "good driving discount." This could easily be implemented via an age appropriate yearly checkup which would be optional and covered free of charge, with the results transmitted to an insurer to adjust a premium downward, adding an additional monetary incentive for health and wellness. I would gladly "tune-up," submit to an "inspection," downsize to a Chevy, and nibble at the "cafeteria." How about you?

Karen Ann DeLuca

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chloe Viner

Dear Editor,
My name is Chloe Viner,
I am submitting the following poems
for your consideration: Short Meditation Poems.
I have been published in Teen Voices,
Seed Magazine, The Garnet, and
have some poems awaiting publication for Down in the Dirt.
I am currently a student at Vermont Law school,
and write poetry in my free time.
Thank you for your consideration
Sincerely, Chloe Viner


Short Meditation Poems
I my original self
washes away in rain
left as dew clinging to fruit
---

Like snow on the mountain
becomes the ocean,
we live and die.
-----

Three birds perch on step
two moons reflect in water
one monk in dharma.
------

The Buddha sits in the rain
and doesn't get wet
but when he swims in the ocean
he becomes the water.
------

Like stones in the water
become stuck when the river freezes
hatred and ill will become trapped
once allowed to enter the mind.
------

There are thousands
of ways to be
but only one
way to not be.
------

Just as you can't smell
an orange until you peel it
you can't reach non-thought
without first peeling away thought.
------

There are no need for benches
and no need for words
it is far better to sit on a stone in silence.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Enclave of Excellence

Jimmy Carter spoke of racism,
In the Congressman's "you lie" remark,
Joe Wilson's 62, from South Carolina,
The ex-President may not be far off the mark.

Number 39 also took aim at Kanye,
For hijacking Taylor's acceptance speech,
The "punishment" came from Jay Leno,
Is this what Dr. Donda West teached?!

What no one seems to be saying,
Is that racism works both ways,
Against black Presidents in the White House,
And sweet, young white girls at the VMAs.

We all have our enclave of excellence,
We don't like it when others intrude,
That may explain Seven Days in September,
Joe and Kanye, Serena and Roger, all being so rude.

Karen Ann DeLuca

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Elegaic for a Week of Incivility

It started with Joe Wilson's "You Lie," to the President,
In chambers, televised for all to see,
One apology, that's enough, so what?!
I was frustrated, I heckled, what's the fuss, gee?!

Then came Serena, not so serene,
On court, doing her best Johnny Mac,
Another line judged crossed, tantrums in ladies' tennis,
Grand Slam means not only the ball is attacked.

At the same time, MJ, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame,
Accepted, dissing, from high school to the pros, who he didn't like,
To his kids: "You...have a heavy burden...I wouldn't want to be you...,"
Do people still want to be like Mike?

Running for Governor in Virginia, Bob McDonnell,
When interviewed, of f---ing mechanisms spoke,
He said he meant "funding;" oops, believe it, or not,
The "culture warrior" now seems more like a joke.

But worst of all, Kanye, dissing poor Taylor,
Spoiling the teen's moment, narcissistic and crass,
Thank you Beyonce, for being so gracious,
And showing the rest of us the meaning of class.

Just as Serena was fined and said "sorry," three days late,
There was Roger, cursing, what is Arthur Ashe thinking from above?
Sure, no one likes to lose, particularly a champ,
But the solipsism gives new meaning to the tennis terms "upset" and "love."

From the world of politics, sports and entertainment,
Modeling poorly, it's common, there's no getting away,
Outbursts, ego and swear words, regrets only after the fact,
Elegiac for a week of incivility.

Karen Ann DeLuca

Monday, September 14, 2009

Just Look What Has Become of US?

No one says "please" or "thank you,"
"Hello," or "excuse me" as they shove by,
Newt called Nancy by her last name,
We're accustomed to rarely being looked in the eye.

I've been woken up by loud TV, blaring music,
Thumps and slams in the middle of night,
My neighbor's website boast a hobby of "bothering people,"
That has given me a fright.

For the ex, name calling came naturally,
"Bitch," "evil," "worthless," and "whore,"
I had enough by the time he took a swing,
The police hauled him out the door.

And what about the language on radio or TV,
Talking heads screaming over each other,
If "leaders" don't model or show respect,
How can we expect it from our "brother?"

Online it's even worse,
Borderline "opinions" and inflammatory trash talk rule the day,
The only line that's been drawn is in New York,
Where calling someone a "skank" or a "ho" is not okay.

In business, always trying to put one over,
Disingenuous discourse to see who can be gypped,
A person's word used to be their bond,
It's worth has certainly dipped.

We used to be able to calmly converse,
Have a dialogue, agree to disagree,
Now you can go to a town hall meeting,
And leave one finger free!

Woodstock and Kumbaya were not so long ago,
Is this rudeness the result of thirty years of "partisanship plus?"
We're shrinking in the eyes of the world,
No wonder, just look what has become of US!

We're acting like animals, not using our brains,
Less "listening tour," more national Jerry Springer show,
No civility, no empathy, adrenaline fueled vitriol and rage,
With a Congressman calling the President a liar, we've hit a new low.

Karen Ann DeLuca
Everyday Life: If Only a Visit to the Doctor Could Be Like a Trip to the DMV

Throughout the summer, I heard a lot in the discourse claiming that if the US went to a universal, single payer health care system, with the suspected transitioning being via the controversial "public option," well, the experience would be negative, tantamount to going to the DMV.
Mid September, I made my first trip to the DMV since I reverted to my maiden name in February 2002. A month early, and because I was required to take a vision exam, I suspect because I am about to turn 55. I chose the Springfield (Virginia) Mall location for its proximity to one other errand I needed to run, and because it, and I, are close to exits off Interstate 395. When I arrived at 10AM, the doors had just opened and the line was halfway to the "Entrance 3" door, roughly 75-100 people. Nevertheless, people seemed to be filing through rather quickly. A half an hour later, I was at the Information Desk at the DMV doorway being assigned "A007." I had literally barely sat down and begun to fill out the paperwork that had been mailed to me that I had brought along to help pass the time before I was called. I completed the page at the window, sailed through the eye exam, smiled for the camera, and was through the exit door in less than 10 minutes. It was obvious that there was a system in place designed to prioritize transactions that were simple and needed little time, while allowing more complex ones additional attention. I was impressed with the efficiency and found nothing to gripe about. The medical parallel would be the difference between a routine or yearly office visit and an extended, urgent or initial one. I've sat in doctor's offices longer...with an appointment...most likely because of the variations in what the physician is presented with on any given day, crammed into virtually identical time slots. So the first positive lesson to be taken from the DMV for our health care system would be to differentiate a bit more based on need when scheduling time. Another one would be not to make an assumption based on anticipation of lengthy queues, and to realize that looks can be deceiving. That our emergency rooms are overwhelmed by patients with no primary care and/or health insurance is reflective of the status quo under our current system; we can change that. Yes, I expected a long wait, so I brought my patience, and, in addition to the DMV form to fill out, a book. Turns out, I was wrong. Yes, I've heard a horror story or two, but honestly not that many, regarding problems in other countries that have socialized medicine. But that is not the way it would have to be in this country. So if national health care were to look like the DMV, in my opinion, maybe that's not so bad. Which leaves me wondering why so many are so tenacious in clinging to or insisting on remodeling a rickety, broken down system rather than exploring and designing a completely new one. Almost 700,000 just turned out in droves to take advantage of another government program to trade in "clunkers." The analogy to health care is obvious, so why the irrational resistance?
I do have one unrelated question. The purpose of my visit to the DMV was to get a new, "secure" Virginia driver's license. But when I asked, I was told that it was to be sent to my home address, first class, no signature required. Am I the only one who sees the illogic in that! I also have one related observation. 28 years ago, when I moved to this area after law school, Springfield Mall was a vibrant center of commerce. Aside from those lined up at the DMV, on this trip, the lack of bustle compared to 7 years ago was noticeable. Another disposable structure cast aside for something "hotter." If we can change "traditions" for "shopping," why can't we do it for health care? What's the diff? If, as it now appears, we relegate the "public option" to an oxymoron, a minuscule, impotent self funded alternative of last resort, it in essence becomes just another underwriter and the system will not be substantially transformed. Why the love affair with insurers, when they routinely either partially or totally rescind coverage, their gatekeeper, perilous in this economy, is a job, and lofty ideals aside, they're a business and will find the loopholes in any plan to continue to make money? Less than a year ago, we voted overwhelmingly for change? What gives?

Karen Ann DeLuca

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

EVERYDAY LIFE AND THE LATEST EMOTION DRIVEN WAR

Mid August, I went to a local Safeway in Alexandria, VA to purchase some leaf lettuce that was on sale. I was surprised to see the parking lot adorned with large white signs, "Flu Shot Here Today," with a few in the windows promoting the availability of the shingles shot as well. As I walked past the pharmacy to the produce section, I saw no takers. But it got me thinking...Back to school, back to flu; yes, kids can be germy, but this was tantamount to starting Christmas sales in July, a la K-Mart and Sears, and another blatant attempt to create an early bird market.
Up front, I will admit that I haven't had a flu shot in many years. After being diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1995, I decided not to risk an adverse reaction to the virus preparation, or worse, to the mercury or aluminum used in it as a preservative. Instead, I rely on a routine gamma globulin shot to restore to my weakened immune system what I am lacking, and for the most part, that has worked for me.
Within days of that shopping trip, the federal government came out with its scare projections regarding the predicted upcoming H1N1 outbreak. 90,000 deaths, 2 million hospitalized, with pregnant women having a four times greater risk of complications leading to the latter. The swine flu vaccine won't be available until October, just in time for Halloween, but as someone whose onset of chronic illness was iatrogenic, I'm already spooked. Its production sounds way too rushed and "just off experimental" to me, and administering it to the general public in the fall will in reality just be a continuation of the clinical trials. That sounds scarily similar to the long list of drugs whose approval was fast tracked only to be later recalled, or perhaps the Gulf War Syndrome that some of our vets attribute to their pre-deployment inoculations. No thanks, but I am writing this out of concern for those who may say "yes."
It appears that there will be no qualms about giving the H1N1 and seasonal flu shots together, at the same visit, which to me spells a possible internal stress overload of our more sensitive populations. In addition, pregnant women are being put at the top of the list of those being encouraged to get the shot, almost shamed as "bad mothers" if they do not. My particular concern is for their unborn children; what will we be doing to them? And right up there on the priority list are young children, 6 months to 4 years, another group with less than developed immune systems already hard hit by what many think is, and for which there is substantial anecdotal correlation for, overinoculation. What will we be doing to them?
Back in the 1950s, I was allowed to get Mumps, Measles, German Measles and Chicken Pox, and aside from annoyance of the latter on the bottoms of my feet, survived just fine. For me, it was a kindergarten right of passage, and bestowed immunity how and when nature intended. My sister, four years younger, caught everything I brought home from school, and had a much more difficult time dealing with my "presents;" my brother, who did not contract Chicken Pox until he was nine years old, got a "harder case" as well and was left with facial scaring. So there is something to be said for timing in exposure to any virus, which I suspect would also extend to vaccine preparations. The question then becomes with respect to the unborn and the very young, is this the optimal time to inoculate them for the swine flu when we are claiming they are at an inappropriate age to actually catch it? And what about individual constitutional differences?
It's no accident older adults are being ignored in this latest "war"; most of them have built up their immune systems naturally and gradually over a lifetime and can fight whatever "bug" comes their way. But by vaccinating against a pandemic that might not even come to pass, we may deprive our younger population of being able to do the same and take a greater risk than "the flu" with those who will be the future of our country, rushing into something that could be akin to the deformities in the 1960s? Remember the thalidomide babies, disfigured on the outside? As a result of the implementation of the CDC recommendations, could thimerosal babies, autistic, or worse, be next? The H1N1 "fear factor" is just one element to weigh in taking that chance.
Yes, the swine flu appears scary. But so, historically, did much else that this country in retrospect has overreacted to. We seem to be allergic to "balance;" either we do next to nothing in preparation (Katrina) or engage in action overkill (Saddam, after 9/11, another emotion driven war). There are many ways to deal with the prospects besides tampering with our human capital. First and foremost, the big difference today from the times of other epidemics is that we have the technology to make work, and even school, temporarily more telecommute friendly. It's about time we change our predominate model from "command and control" anyway. This could be the impetus we need. Send people home before the flu strikes, rather than asking them to stay there once they're sick. Think of it as a second phase expansion - beyond shopping online. We have at least two months to conjure up creative ways to deal with the possibility besides the traditional - a flu shot and enriching the drug industry - and should have learned something from anticipating the avian pandemic non-event two years ago. Getting back to my trip to Safeway for leaf lettuce, what about promoting the maximization of overall national health - lifestyle changes, diet and exercise - to reduce susceptibility and address the existing obesity epidemic? Or launching a campaign to instruct on practicing common sense hygiene? Sorry, Baby Boomers, but the answer is not always in pharmaceuticals.
My fear is that the panic and alarm driving the flu shot campaign will propel us to something worse. And while I am not an advocate of disease as population control, we can minimize deaths with other, less invasive techniques, and need to look at the citizenry we will be left with if we vaccinate pregnant woman and the very young. When Ted Kennedy died recently, the almost immediate question was "who will replace him?" Not just in his Massachusetts Senate seat, but in stature in Congress. I'd like to broaden the query. Who will replace our current leaders, and be guiding this country in the future? He was the poster child for "it takes forever to grow up." Don't we at least owe it to our unborn and youth to honor their bodies as temples and give them, and US, the same fighting chance?
One week later, I returned to the same Safeway. The same signs were still up, and probably will be on my next trip, and my next trip, as well. Not to be outdone, on September 1st, CVS began offering seasonal flu shots at Minute Clinics, free to the unemployed. Does that include the unborn and the very young? I hope not. The following day, the Governor of Maryland pronounced getting inoculated "a patriotic duty," in what I suspect is a politician's capitalization on the sentiment of the upcoming anniversary of 9/11. I hope not. Again.

Karen Ann DeLuca
Michael Bruce Foster

Michael Bruce Foster was born and raised in California. His poems have been published in the City College of San Francisco Literary Magazine, Aurora, MO: Writings from the River, Rapid City Journal, and Mobius, the Poetry Magazine.

He gets his inspiration from his family, nature, and other things that are happening around him.



Mr. Logan,



I am including six poems in my e-mail. They are:



How Soon Fog



Earth and Darkness Meal of Colors



Below Zero Ebony Song


How Soon


Tingling daylight, everything is strange,

The worlds become a rifle range.

The sky has become one giant cloud,

It’s raining bullets, bombs, and shrouds.

The earth is bleeding tears and pain,

And I the only one left to explain.

I would have finished this, with luck,

But I forgot to…


Earth and Darkness

I lie on the cold evening sidewalk,

Windy waves pass over me.

A star tries to impress, with its fall,

But I am without a net.

I’m in the sea of earth and darkness,

Drowning from a bullet’s blow.



Below Zero


The cold covers my face

Like frozen glass,

Ready to shatter at

The first warm touch

Of my lover’s hand.


Fog


Delighted with my misery

The fog gave chase to my soul,

Until I no longer felt its security

Nor heard its soothing, whispered

Fragments of advice.


A Meal of Colors

Rainbows fly,

On the sides of fish.

The hawk gathers them

Up and feeds each color

To her children.


Ebony Song


Ebony song,

Without stars or moon

You sharply chill

My bones, and with

The wind play a

Freezing chorus

In my ears.

Thank you for this opportunity to submit some of my work to you. I appreciate your time and consideration.



Sincerely,

Michael Bruce Foster