Thursday, July 23, 2009

President Obama rallies for health care reform

Setting the Stage:
President Barack Obama  
Town Hall Meeting On Health Care Reform 
Shaker Heights High School
Shaker Heights, Ohio

by Mike Marcellino

Challenges Facing Americans

Being a relatively kind journalist, in my travels over the past two days, I’ve tried to “set the stage” for President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Reform at Shaker Heights High School. My two sons and stepdaughter all went to school there.

Ari, my youngest just graduated from Ohio State University. Sean went out to LA to be a rock star after singing in Jesus Crisis Super Star and every other musical at Shaker High. He went to the School for the Recording Arts in Hollywood, still has a band, opened for Deep Purple before 5000 people outside and lives and works as a sound engineer in Germany. Rachael, got her LPN from Cuyahoga Community College and has made a career as a concierge in Las Vegas after working as a nurse in a doctor’s office for a year.

Shaker Heights High School is touted as one of the best public high schools in the country and some students do win a lot of academic honors.

I know one thing for sure – the Red Raiders hockey team - against all odds - won the Ohio state championship in 2001 and Ari, played right wing. He had a sweet left handed shot, finesse and pin point passes. His team members were swell. No one expected the Raiders to win anything that year. I blogged a story about that magical season on the Shaker Youth Hockey website. His journey began at 8, but most kids started at 3 or 4. It was our family’s life, and the life of many families, a good life and lots of fun traveling to Pennsylvania, St. Louis, New York, Michigan and Canada, getting creamed in the latter two.

While I was a long time newspaper reporter, winning a couple of national awards for investigative and community journalism, I decided to cover President Obama’s meeting with the public as myself - a veteran of the United States Army who barely survived a year as a combat correspondent and photojournalist covering every kind of mission under the boiling sun and monsoon rains.

I wrote for years about the health, personal and family costs of combat stress as far back as the 1970s. That’s when Dr. John Wilson, a Cleveland State University psychologist and professor, helped coin the phrase, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” This continues to help millions of people, not just veterans, around the world suffering from traumatic stress. He interviewed 600 Vietnam combat veterans from across our nation and published “The Forgotten Warrior Project.”

Years later, in a meeting room at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Louis Stokes Medical Center in Brecksville, I looked up at chalk board filled with the symptoms that I and a half dozen combat veterans identified ourselves.

I said to myself, “Man, Mike, you got some of all of these, a classic case.”

Actually, I have post VA hospital stress disorder, as the system, though a leader in what I call “bionic prosthetics” is just about as screwed up as the private system. The VA system is still rated one of the best hospital systems in the country. I know a lot of people in the Cleveland hospital. For the most part the staff is dedicated, hard working and they respect veterans. The VA has improved to be sure since the 1970s and 1980s when I wrote about it or attended weekly investigative meetings as an aide to former Congressman Stokes. Well, the body count is lower now and most veterans still don’t complain.

I don’t look forward to going to the VA. I go often, oh, for prostate surgery, or hernia surgery and a four month long prostate related bacterial urinary tract infection, and for a while PTSD. I think about having prostate cancer, or some other cancer picked up from all the Agent Orange we sprayed from planes to defoliate South Vietnam. Actually, some days at the VA go well – good, friendly doctors who actually entertain and answer questions and listen, and cute, funny nurses. I do like seeing and sometimes talking with my fellow veterans, including those from Iraq and Afghanistan.

If I had prostate cancer, I’d get disability compensation. Not a pleasant thought though.

Got up before six this morning, made coffee, French roast, downed a couple cups, smoked a Bugler roll your own cigarettes and got to work. Just after 8 I got an email confirming that I get in the door at Shaker High to cover President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Reform. That’s a mouthful. Actually the health care mess is more than a mouthful, it’s a monster.

Getting through Tower City on my bike, a Japanese model, to avoid a hill, I asked a young woman of color on the elevator, “Did you know Obama’s coming to Cleveland tomorrow?”

“Yes,” she replied without hesitation.

“What do you think about his health care reform?”

“We’ll see what happens,” she said smiling. I smiled too.

At the tiny specialized office supply in the Standard Building, the only place I can get reporters’ notebooks, I asked the thin, mild mannered, friendly clerk, “Did you know Obama’s going to be in town tomorrow?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“What do you think of Obama’s health care reform?” I asked him.

“Nutrition.” His one word answer. He went on to point out that there could be a lot less grossly overweight and obese people if they paid any attention to nutrition.

Since I felt these interviews were pretty revealing and comprehensive I gave myself a coffee break at Phoenix on West 9th Street in the yuppie Warehouse District. I got a European blend, like Dutch or something, medium roast. But I was preoccupied trying to “set the stage” for President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Reform and my series of blogs I would start posting tomorrow.

A man of color on a bench outside the cafe, just behind me, bummed a Bugler and rolled it.

“Did you know President Obama is coming to Shaker Heights tomorrow?” I asked him, really nailing the question at this point.

“They’re trying to derail him,” he said flatly, meaning his detractors and enemies in Congress are using President Obama’s shot at providing health care to everyone to stop the popular president with a Hollywood glow in his tracks. He says these people don’t care about health care one way or the other.

He told me President Obama is right about health care reform. He agrees that everyone should have health care.

But, he added, “There’s a lot of racism still left in America. He told me he had come from in a little town in Mississippi, near Memphis. The man, in his fifties I guess, said he blew his lips out playing the trumpet, touching them with his hand. He took off running for the trolley to find a friend.

To cap off my “setting the stage” for President Obama’s town hall meeting, I called a few people that I trust and have some sense left. I told them I was covering Obama’s town hall meeting at Shaker Heights High School tomorrow and asked them what do they think about health care in America and President Obama’s reform package.

Boy did I get an ear full. Now I know for sure the health care crisis in my country is a total disaster, a monster, and it must be fixed or America will go under a sea of red ink. Here’s just some of what ”my team of experts" had to say. Be prepared, it’s frightening.

“While you read this stuff I’m taking my antibiotic. I have to stop forgetting,” I said to myself.

Here’s the scoop –

America doesn’t compete very well in health care with the rest of the developed nations in the world. These other countries provide access to health care for everyone but taxes are higher than ours, at least in most cases.

Since we don’t compete in health care, we don’t compete very well in everything else, i.e., jobs, the economy.

That stuff comes from my brother. He used to be a newspaper reporter too and then did corporate PR for a major power company.

But, my brother’s final point I liked best.

“We need a department of coordination.” he said sleepily. I could hear his pain from bad disks, surgery, procedures and pills. He says every time we try to fix a big problem we screw something else up while we’re at it.

My economic guru, a former sports reporter and CPA, really had the shocker.

“Anchor babies. Ask Obama what he’d do about anchor babies.” he said. I could tell over the phone he was smiling somewhat as I was as to just how preposterous this was.

My friend says that illegal immigrants each year give birth to 500,000 “anchor babies.”

“How many illegal immigrants are there,” I asked him. He said about 20 million. And more and more and coming to take advantage of our health care system and working in laboring jobs, driving wages down.

He pointed out that by making our health care better we are actually inviting more illegal immigrants to cross the border and take advantage of our stuff. He said Congress should get rid of the law granting citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

But, my chief economic advisor wasn’t finished. He claims, excuse the expression, that insurance companies charge people without insurance two to three times what they charge people with insurance.

“Man, that’s sounds backwards to me,” I reacted.

Oh, he also points out that in his humble opinion insurance companies are a total rip off.

“They try to get you to pay as much money as they can get for your policy and try not to pay claims, and are very good at it, making tons of money.”

A Palestinian friend can’t figure out how President Obama is going to get the drug and insurance companies to go along with his health care reform when they are making so much money right now doing what they do best, making money. Now, the President did say in his news conference tonight that the drug companies are pledging $80 billion dollars to health care reform. Somehow these days that doesn’t seem like very much.

A small businessman and artist, he thinks the only way to pay for health care is cutting military spending. Even President Obama admits that Medicare and Medicaid alone, left alone, will “break” out country. “See why I find this scary?” My friend also thinks the way to heal our economy is by supporting growth of small business, kind of like starting all over in America. He adds that Congress is kind of in the sleep mode.

My chief economic advisor winds up my effort to “set the stage” for President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Reform.

He read that colleges are closing nursing schools to tighten their belts because they are too expensive, lab equipment and all. Yet, there is a real shortage of nurses.

“See, this gets right back to my brother’s point which my chief economic advisor agrees with.

“We desperately need a department of coordination.” I thought.

Finally, my chief economic advisor says without a shudder, “Forty percent of our health care costs are for patients in the last six months of their lives.”

He told me there are hospitals in Florida with nothing but patients on ventilators. Yea, I know, you say, “Boy, he’s all heart,” but he says he has no problem if someone wants to keep their loved one alive in a comma or vegetating, if they pay for it out of their own pocket.

My Palestinian friend, kind of my secretary for peace, wonders why the United States has 40,000 troops in England, and thousands in Germany and a few odd places I can’t remember, maybe the Philippines. He says the only way to find money to pay for health care reform, saving lives, is to close down some of these bases. He says there are something like 60 of them or more. He figures no one in America is going to readily give up their guns so to speak and actually cut weapons of low to mass destruction.

My friend also reported to me that the drug companies had recently won the favor of many congressmen and senators in recent days. They donate a lot of money to them.

Oh, I almost forgot. A 20 something girl with a nose ring serving coffee said she didn’t know President Obama was coming to Cleveland tomorrow.

“What do you think of Obama and health care reform,” I asked politely.

“I have 8000 words,” about that, she replied, looking up slightly and then facing me. But she had “no comment.”

“Are we going in the right direction?” I asked.

“The wrong direction,” she replied without explanation.

“I guess that explains why some of my young friends are anarchists,” I thought.
Last word for “setting the stage” goes to my very tired, at this point in the phone call, chief economic advisor.

“No matter what is in the bill that goes to conference from the Senate, very few Congressmen will read it,” he says, his temperature rising. “The bill may run 300 pages, maybe a lot more, and they will get it one day and pass it the next.”

“This is ludicrous,” I gasped.

Well, finally, I have my say in “setting the stage” for President Obama’s Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Reform at Shaker Heights High School where my kids went.

One thing I know for sure –

Vietnam combat veterans outnumber all combat veterans of all other wars combined and they are flocking to the Veterans Affairs medial centers all over the country with all kinds of ailments and conditions.

And sadly, when the many many Vietnam War veterans are finally coming home they’re finding not enough room at the inn.

See tonight’s Notebookwriter Blog for the second in the series of street journalist Mike Marcellino’s coverage President Obama’s visit to Cleveland and his Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Reform at Shaker Heights High School where my kids went to school.

I switched to Gambler roll um up cigarette tobacco for a change. This morning I heard on National Public Radio the 188th British soldier was killed in Afghanistan and wondered how many of my American brothers and sisters have died.

Copyright 2009 by Mike Marcellino