Soap Box

Iran: Who & where is the threat?
06/27/2019

To the editor,

The official U.S. narrative on Iran is that it is an escalating threat to “peace and security” in the Middle East and must be stopped. Step by step, with Mike Pompeo and John Bolton – two war maniacs – taking the lead, the Trump administration has sought to destabilize Iran with sanctions, if possible to bring about regime change, and if necessary provoke actions by Iran that will provide a pretext for war. If this sounds similar to the nonexistent Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964 and the false pretenses behind the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, it should. Only this time around is even more dangerous and more preposterous.

Journalists and Congress members have been pestering Trump and his aides with questions about their determination to go to war with Iran. Trump, typically, tells reporters to wait and see, stymieing them. They should be asking different questions, such as: What threat does Iran pose to U.S. interests? Why shouldn’t Iran’s actions be considered responses to the U.S. policy of “maximum pressure?” The answers to these two questions are clear: Iran is doing nothing that constitutes a new threat to the U.S. or any other country’s interests, and Iran’s latest actions – even if Tehran is responsible for the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and the downing of a U.S. drone – are best understood as responses to U.S. provocations.

What I believe we are now witnessing is the result of the ascendance of the hardliners on both sides. U.S. policy since the appointments of Pompeo and Bolton and withdrawal from the nuclear deal has energized their counterparts in Iran – the Revolutionary Guard, certain military leaders and others long opposed to the nuclear deal are now able to show that the Americans are completely untrustworthy.

The fact is that the Trump administration has been on a mission from day one, with open support from Israel and Saudi Arabia, to eliminate – not merely deter or contain – the ayatollah’s government. That mission has engaged U.S. administrations since the early 1950s, but unlike those previous efforts, Trump seems prepared to commit forces to accomplish regime change. Yes, he has said he wants to avoid war, especially with a re-election campaign under way. That is why his preference is not to deploy yet another war-fighting force to the Middle East, which would undermine his longstanding criticism of “endless wars” there. But preference is not policy, and the policy, being relentlessly pushed by Bolton and Pompeo, is to push Iran’s regime to the brink and get rid of it.

If Trump takes the U.S. to war with Iran, which could happen without consultation or authorization from Congress (another impeachable offense), the responsibility will be squarely on his head. Thanks to the Obama administration, Iran has been in compliance with the nuclear deal, an achievement that is very much in the security interests of the U.S. and its Middle East allies. Obama showed that moving from confrontation to engagement pays off, and that mutual respect can move mountains even when trust is absent. Now, however, the enemies of “peace and security” are in Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh. And among the most outrageous aspects of Trump’s Middle East policy is rewarding those enemies – Israel, with a full tilt to Benjamin Netanyahu’s assault on the Palestinians, complete with a dead-on-arrival “peace plan;” and Saudi Arabia, with billions of dollars in military aid so the murderous crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, can continue his aggression in Yemen.

I will say again: Donald Trump and his minions are the chief threats to America’s – and for that matter, the world’s – real security.

– Mel Gurtov, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Portland State University, for PeaceVoices

Medicare vs. Medicare for All
06/20/2019

To the editor,

Consider Medicare for All like Medicare on steroids. There are differences, but legislation currently before Congress represents our best chance to cure our sick health-care system.

Polls show 70 percent of people like Medicare, which parlays payroll taxes to fund most of the coverage for people 65 and older and those with disabilities. People often purchase additional private plans to fill in coverage holes. Private plans include premium payments and out-of-pocket costs.

Even though Medicare covers the least healthy people who need the most care, it’s far more efficient than private health insurance plans. Medicare’s overhead costs are about 2 percent compared to private insurance in the Affordable Care Act with overhead costs around 20 percent.

Expanding Medicare to cover everyone means it would be modeled after the existing Medicare “system” but with improved coverage. The publicly funded plan would simplify health care for both the patients and providers. A simplified system would also serve to reduce costs.

Medicare for All would protect everyone from birth – not only those over 65. As the bills are written now, Medicare for All will include more comprehensive coverage, including dental, vision, hearing, long-term care and medications, without premiums, nor deductibles.

All providers are likely to participate because the new system will cover everyone. Improving access to doctors and hospitals. No more networks and denial of service. Our health care will be back in our doctor’s hands, not the insurers.

– Jan Phillips, Durango

U.S. health care a sinking ship
06/20/2019

To the editor,

A solid majority of Americans (70 percent!) support a health-care system automatically available to everyone, such as NIMA (National Improved Medicare for All).

But in this representative nation, that’s not what we  have by a long shot. Among nations, America is the odd-ball, making health-care access an issue of wealth. Got lots of dough? Well then, you can probably receive good care here in the U.S. But if you are among the rest of us – the 95 percent of Americans who work for a living – you know what “paycheck to paycheck” means, and you probably live in the shadow of fear about possible medical bills.

Our health-care system gives free rein to insurance companies to play the numbers against their customers. “Let’s see. What strategy gives us max profit and least value to our claimants? How can we jack around the benefits this year to leave our customers’ heads spinning, while granting us most leeway to skip out on our obligations?”

Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive who found his way back from the corporate world to conscience, describes in detail the psychopathic shenanigans regularly pulled by insurance companies to deprive ill and injured Americans of the treatment they have paid for. America, have a good look at his descriptions please, then doff your cap to the ingenious modern American insurance profiteers who control your health outcomes. (healthinsurance.org/authors/wendell-potter/ )

And let’s look at those health outcomes which derive from our cut-throat profit-driven system. A study published in the Lancet, the Healthcare Access and Quality (HAQ) Index, ranked the U.S. 29th, far behind the pack of other First World nations, and even some impoverished ones. In the World Health Organization’s (WHO) overall health-care system assessment, our “greatest-of-all-nations” is way down around Slovenia. In the case of basic human care, we’re hardly great. We’re pitiful.

Every other industrialized country, including many European Union nations, Canada, Japan and Australia, provides every citizen with lifelong, comprehensive, effective care for half the price we pay. Picture having all your loved ones automatically covered from birth to death, and covered very well. Are these countries wealthier than we are? Not at all. They just don’t buy the guff that “we can’t do it here” as Americans are famously pitied for doing.

The U.S. pays $3.5 trillion per year for health care, well over $10K for every man, woman and child in the country. Most of us get poor coverage, substantial wait times, a scanty list of “preferred providers,” and the pleasure of being jacked around when it’s time for a claim to be honored. Many Americans can only afford a policy with a deductible far higher than their accessible savings, creating a spring-loaded trap-door to bankruptcy. The majority of American bankruptcies are due to medical bills: Kaiser Family Foundation tallies more than 1 million medical bankruptcies per year in the U.S.

So this is America: sky-high rates with astronomical deductibles, poor outcomes, slipshod coverage with complex coverage loopholes, and – oh yes – a million healthcare bankruptcies per year. Let’s call it what it is: our very own All-American Titanic Health-care disaster. The strange thing is, all folks onboard could survive, and very nicely, if resources were shared intelligently as in a NIMA system (like they do in the Modern World). Yet, I repeatedly hear of Americans hugging their position on an insurance lifeboat, afraid of giving up their crappy but privileged seat, while millions of their uninsured neighbors flounder around them in the frigid waters.

NIMA is a cheaper, more efficient solution that would cover everyone. Speak up. Take a stand. Join us at one of Healthcare Durango’s monthly presentations. The next one is Sat., June 29, from 3-5 p.m. at the Durango Public Library, including a film and talk about “Big Pharma.”

– Karen Pontius, Durango

Buzz over chainsaws was merited
06/20/2019

To the editor,

As a former ranger in the Weminuche Wilderness for the San Juan National Forest, I was ecstatic to learn of the agency rescinding the approval to use chainsaws in the wilderness area to clear trails. I applaud the organizations Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Wilderness Watch and the San Juan Citizens Alliance for their quick action to bring this matter to the attention of the public. Now, more than ever, the public needs to get involved and speak up in matters of our public lands. As the remaining wild country shrinks in our nation, we must remember Aldo Leopold’s view that we belong to a community on this Earth, and in consequence, we owe a duty.

Working as a wilderness ranger, I became intimate with the traditional cross-cut saw to clear trees and found beauty, energy efficiency and satisfaction in this tool. I personally feel that the demands of the forest management cannot be met with current staffing cuts and budget decreases over the years. We must rethink, collaborate and be patient to mitigate the issues the San Juan National Forest is facing presently and for the future. Yet we must still maintain the high standards of the Wilderness Act that makes the Weminuche Wilderness unique.

We must remember, as Edward Abbey states, “The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.”

– Crystal Muzik, Moab

Zero suicide more than just hope
06/13/2019

To the editor,

I’ll start out my letter with a question: How many of you know someone who has attempted or died by suicide? I suspect there are a lot. Why did 1,175 Coloradans die from suicide in 2017? It’s a simple question with many complicated answers. The gut-wrenching statistic is that suicide is the leading cause of death among 10- 24 - year-olds, and we have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. It is estimated that up to 50 percent of those who die by suicide have seen a primary care provider within the previous month. Thirty percent have seen a behavior health provider in the previous month.

In 1999, The Henry Ford Medical Group in Detroit implemented a “Zero Suicide Prevention” system of care, which was named the “Blues Busters.” The plan had lofty goals: screen everyone using an evidence-based screening tool, then determine who is at risk for self-harm or suffering from other behavioral issues, such as depression or anxiety. Their protocols also included an integrated and coordinated system of care that also emphasized evidence-based therapies.

The results were astounding, and within a few years, the system was implemented within their primary care departments. From 1999-2009, they had an 80 percent reduction in suicides including zero suicides in 2009. The North Central Health Care System in Wisconsin, which cares for 10,000 lives, saw zero suicides in 2015 following implementation of a similar system.

In 2016, Colorado Senate Bill 16-147 passed, which allowed for the creation of a Colorado suicide prevention model based on the Zero Suicide model. Regretfully, there were no funds appropriated for this bill.

Zero Suicide is more than just a hope. I urge all of you to call or e-mail our Joint Budget Committee members and ask them to approve funding for this important first step.

– Dr. Jonathan Gordon, Mental Health Colorado Board of Directors