Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist

THE NEW NORMAL: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SOMETIME WRITER

Because you are a writer, you get out of bed, pee, start the coffee, and head directly to your office computer. No teeth brushing. No getting dressed (writers can stay in their p.j.s all day). This is because you aren’t disciplined enough to eat breakfast and read the paper in less than three hours and you really do want to get that book finished and another dozen queries sent.

Over time, because you are not a disciplined person, your email sneaks into first place, followed by BING, because it has beautiful photographs – and news items. After an hour or more, you get to your writing, but soon it is time for breakfast and the New York Times, which takes up another hour and a half. You do not read it on line. The pop up dancing ads in the middle of an article drive you mad so you cling to your hard copy, i.e. the REAL New York Times, which sometimes lands in the bushes in your yard providing the opportunity for an early morning hunt, followed by drying the paper over the heat vents. By this time it is noon and your writing sits there like a poor neglected cousin. And it is soon time for your regular coffee date with an old friend, your counseling appointment, a board meeting, or your writing group (ha ha ha!).

On another normal day in the technologically dominated 21st Century, you open your computer and begin to print out a contract, but nothing happens. You change ink cartridges. Still nothing. You turn the printer off and back on. Still nothing. You call for technical support. After taking over your computer, the young man with a lovely Indian accent tells you your computer has been hacked by someone in Germany. 98% of your files have been corrupted. He fixes the problem. Several hours have passed. It will cost you $349.99 for protection. You cancel your current anti-virus contract because it failed to protect you against hacking.

You sit down to pay bills and find a charge for $198.48 from “Webnetworksolutions” that you’ve never heard of. When you call them, a woman in Florida asks what your account number is with Frontier. You say “I’ve never heard of Frontier.” She asks what is your phone company. You answer, flustered (it is still early), “I don’t remember but it’s not Frontier.” You tell her there is a charge on your visa bill for $198.48 giving their phone number and you did not agree to any service, whatever that service might be. You can’t understand her answer (you often cannot understand people speaking from your cell phone and long for the old land line—some technology improvements need improvement). You repeat that the charge is wrong and you have no account with Frontier. She tells you to call your Visa –or, at least, that’s what you think she says. When you call Visa to dispute the charge, the woman can’t find your Visa account, but eventually does. You say you don’t know anything about this company. She checks something, then says they are going to remove the charge. They consider it fraud. In one or two days they will send you a new Visa card with an entirely new account number. Then, you will have to notify every organization that automatically charges to your card each month. There are 11 of them. Notifying them will be your task for another morning – before writing.

You responded to a special deal to get DirecTV streaming for $10 a month for the first three months and $35 monthly thereafter. When a better offer appears in your inbox, you contact DirecTV and change contracts. They bill you for both. You call to ask why they have not canceled the first contract. After an hour and a half on the phone, they tell you they have resolved the matter. They haven’t. Next day, you spend another hour and a half on the phone with another person forced to do this work for lack of better options. The problem is not his fault. He sincerely wants to help you – and after 90 minutes he supposedly has corrected the problem. When you try to watch DirecTV, however, the screen flashes a message that you are unsubscribed. You contact DirecTV again. After a 90 minute on-line chat, during which you run numerous times between the TV in the living room and the computer in your office and repeatedly ask him to explain what he is talking about (you are computer-age illiterate), the technician tells you to call Amazon Fire and hangs up. The woman at Amazon Fire fixes the problem in less than 5 minutes.

Now you have time to drive 45 minutes to the doctor’s to figure out why you can’t breath and why you have a pulsing headache (brain tumor? aneurism?). They don’t know. You huff and puff to your chair, pop two Tylenol, and stick an ice pack on your head, while you read about the fall of U.S. civilization and the coming Fascism. Thus, ends a new normal day in the life of a sometime writer in the 21st Century.

 

ARMAGEDDON!

I’m freaked out. Fires are consuming my state. My air purifier is running bright red, toxic, don’t breathe. Ash covers my desk, the windowsills, clothing, plants, the floors, my lungs. A major highway is closed. Cities evacuated. Hikers rescued from our once green forests. The sky glows an eerie dirty gray and copper. The sun, a red orange ball, is about as spectacular as the eclipse. I breathe ash into my already compromised lungs. I need to wear a mask, but I’m suffocating from the heat. And the South is underwater as category 5 Hurricane Irma assaults the Caribbean and heads toward Florida, with Jose not far behind.

Armed white nationalists, neo-Nazis, KKKers, and other hate groups march in the streets with torches, unmasked, unafraid. A Korean demigod threatens conflagration and his American counterpart wreaks destruction on Obama’s world, my world. Encouraging hatred, division, and violence. Expelling young dreamers to alien lands. Gifting our water, air, and land to those who would profit from their pollution. Promoting violence by and militarization of police, who bully, beat up, terrorize, and kill. Aligning himself with dictators and strong men, disparaging allies. Contemptuous of the constitution and rule of law. Distorting reality for everyone as he lives in the land of lies. Taking from the poor and giving to the rich with smoke and mirrors showing down is up, distorting reality, murdering truth. Encouraging our demons who hate women, immigrants, Muslims, Black people, Latinos, those with disabilities. Granting permission to our dark side.

In his air-conditioned WHITE House, he does not choke on smoke, collapse from heat, wade through chest high water. He lives in a bubble drifting from golf course to golf course. Maralago is not yet underwater, though Hurricane Irma is on the horizon. I am reminded of a movie popular in my growing up years: On the Beach, where only two people remain alive after nuclear war. A gem of a planet and all its vibrant life destroyed. How close are we, I wonder?

Why I Don't Support Medicare for All

I’m not sure what is meant by “Medicare for All.” Is it a more popularly accepted name for Single Payer? Or is it really an expansion of Medicare. If it’s an expansion of Medicare, then let’s be clear. Medicare was partially privatized in 2003 by the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA). As a result, private insurance companies are heavily into the Medicare market.

The MMA created a prescription drug program (Part D) – and handed it to private insurers to offer policies and set premiums and reimbursements. If you don’t want to pay the entire cost of prescriptions out of pocket, you have to buy a Part D plan from a private insurer. Reimbursements and premiums vary from company to company.

In the same legislation, Congress opened the door wider for private insurance companies, allowing them to compete with each other and with “Original Medicare” (Parts A – hospitalization - and B – outpatient services, which are managed by the government for a set premium (currently about $104 a month) by offering “Medicare Advantage” plans. These, too, vary in coverage, deductibles, and premiums, so you will have to shop around, an unpleasant task that faces you each year as premiums and coverage change.

It is also possible to buy a Medicare Supplement Plan (aka Medigap), which, for an additional premium, will cover most copays and deductibles. Again, premiums and benefits vary, so one needs to set aside a couple weeks and forego making the grandchildren Halloween costumes and taking walks in the brilliantly colored fall to compare coverage and try to understand it all, i.e. “Should I stick with Original Medicare Parts A & B or choose a Medicare Advantage Plan?” “If the latter, which one among those offered in the private sector is best for me in coverage and cost?” “Do I need a prescription drug plan, as well, and, if so, which company offers the best deal?” “Does it cover my medications and, if so, how much will it pay?” Are we having fun yet?

Well, you’re not done because even if you have all the coverage discussed above, it won’t cover eye exams and glasses, hearing aids, or dental work. You either have to pay for more policies or pay out of pocket, if you can afford it. For those who haven’t faced the need for hearing aids, you will pay $3,000 to $6,000 -- or less if you’re a Costco member (it’s worth the $55 annual fee). It appears that eyes, ears, and teeth are not part of the human body. Who knew?

It has taken me five years to manage a basic understanding of partially privatized Medicare, law degree notwithstanding. And I am probably wrong.

Does the campaign Medicare for All (that requests my signature daily) mean the Medicare we have now? If it does, I’m not signing any petitions.

Caveat: this is not legal advice. It is cri de coeur and a caution.

An interesting article on the subject is Joshua Holland’s “Medicare-for-All Isn’t the Solution for Universal Health Care.” Holland is a contributor to The Nation, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and hosts “Politics and Reality Radio.” https://www.thenation.com/article/medicare-for-all-isnt-the-solution-for-universal-health-care/

"When will we ever learn . . . ?"

"Regarding the hate-filled killings in Orlando: Skimming Facebook today, I have seen two posts that recall incidents in American history where more than 50 people were killed (Wounded Knee in 1890 and the East St. Louis killings of African-Americans in July 1917). Such things simply reinforce my belief that the American press lacks historical insight or sacrifices it in the name of expediency. But in the grand scheme of things, what does it matter? Native Americans, African Americans and the LGBT community have one thing in common; they are the targets of hate. Ranking them by numbers simply provides an index of available targets and killing resources, nothing more. Orlando is simply the latest indictment of society's desire to prove superiority through lethal force." -Timothy Charles Butz

I met Tim eons ago in Washington, D.C., where we were both living in the 1970s. He was an activist with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, hailing from Ohio. I was working for Rep. John Seiberling (D-Ohio), an anti-war congressman. I thought Tim’s comments on his Facebook page were thought-provoking and worth sharing. This is not a competition, it is a tragedy, one more in a long line. “When will we ever learn. . . .?”

A Menu of Whom to Hate and a Means to Express It

For the disaffected, the U.S. offers a menu of whom to hate: African-Americans, women, LGBTQ folks, Muslims, Jews, Latinos, government workers, among others. Early Sunday morning, Omar Mateen aimed his anger and hatred at the LGBTQ community. Forty-nine dead, over 50 injured in a matter of minutes.

In Charleston, South Carolina, 2015, a disaffected young man selected a group of African-Americans gathered in a bible study group. He murdered nine. In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2015, another disaffected man killed three Muslim students. In Oak Creek, Wisconsin, 2012, a White Supremacist shot and killed six people at a Sikh Temple. In Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2015, an anti-abortionist shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood Clinic. In New Mexico, 2016, a husband and father was charged with the murder of his wife and four daughters, three days after the Orlando massacre.

In the U.S., the disaffected are offered an easily available and lethal means to express their anger and hatred: guns. To kill more in a short time, military-style assault weapons can be purchased. The popular AR-15, used by Omar Mateen, shoots eight rounds per second. That’s 240 rounds per minute. 1200 rounds in five minutes. It enables one lone gunman to murder 49 people and injure 53 in less than a minute (I don’t know how long it took Mateen). Americans own 10 to 12 million AR-15s. When was the last time you heard of someone with an AR-15 preventing a massacre?

And who will be next target – for there will be a next time?

Typhoid Mary of the Blogosphere

            Mary Mallon, born in 1869, is best known as “Typhoid Mary.” She is iconic for allegedly  spreading typhoid to 51 people, three of whom died. Since there was no known cure, Mary was isolated for nearly three decades of her life. Today, we apply the term to people who infect (wittingly or unwittingly) us with information we otherwise might avoid hearing. That, at any rate, is the way in which I use the term here.

            When I was living in the Balkans, then in The Hague reporting on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, I wrote regular letters to a group of friends and colleagues about my experiences. They were mostly disturbing, focusing as they did on war crimes, genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity. I was grateful to those recipients of my missives who actually read them, though they could hardly have brightened their days. One brave friend, who may have read them all when he could have been watching basketball or hanging out at the local pub, endearingly described me as “The Typhoid Mary of the Internet.” It pretty much fit and we are still friends. So, when I decided to write a blog, an amended version of the title seemed apropos. Henceforth, this blog will be known as belonging to “The Typhoid Mary of the Blogosphere.” Those with courage enter here.

            My intent is to blog about the subjects that stir my conscience, yet leave me feeling helpless. Writing is how I know to influence people -- revealing what is hidden, witnessing what is distressing, offering suggestions for change, passing along the wisdom of others, and most of all, telling stories. Writing moves me from despair. In the best of circumstances, it means I am not alone with sadness and anger that heavies my soul. Julian Beck in The Life of the Theater wrote an exhortation that has guided me since I first read it over four decades ago:

“I see all the danger, the dissolution, I am not content, I recognize the emergency in every house and place….

It is not what we do not know but what we do not feel.

The Theatre of Emergency is the theatre of feeling.

For a feelingless society, feeling.

For a fractured people, unification.

Realization. The people as one, one.

A theatre not for people, but at one with people.

Mending the gap between human nature and the human mind. Stein. We know what class hatred and race hatred are, but we can’t get ourselves to really do anything beyond petty liberal gestures because we don’t really feel what we believe. To change the world.

The theatre of change. Of emergency. Of feeling.

When we feel, we will feel the emergency: when we feel the emergency, we will act: when we act, we will change the world.”

            Yet I do want to be a comedienne. I’d love to make people laugh. I want to laugh more myself. Another adage I try to live by is attributed to Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution.”

            I hope some of you will take this journey with me. It is not just a telling, but a hearing. I am still teachable (I think). I know that something new comes from respectful discussion among many. So, let’s see what we can create.