Congress Forgets: Healthcare Impacts Real People, Real Lives

By Alan Vitello

My wife, Ann, is a pediatric physician assistant at a publicly funded community health center in Aurora, Colo.

She sees roughly 400 patients per month. That’s usually 20 to 25 patients a day. (Yes, you read that right.)

Alan Vitello is a writer and an award-winning cartoonist who lives in Colorado. Learn more about Alan…

Twenty to 25 children, poor children, immigrant children, refugee children, children with serious physical, psychological and emotional problems, foster children, homeless children, children from two-parent homes, children from single-parent homes, children who have been sexually abused, children who have been physically and mentally abused, children with fetal alcohol syndrome, autistic children, children whose mom or dad or mom and dad work three fast food jobs (each) to make ends meet, children who’ve gotten pregnant and don’t know why or how, children with sexually transmitted infections, newborns, toddlers, little boys, little girls, tweeners and teens, some children struggling with issues of gender and sexuality, sick kids, injured kids, children in for a well-baby visit and children in for a sports physical, children who speak English, children who speak only Spanish, children from Africa, and the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, and children from the good ol’ US of A…and on and on.

All day. Every day.

Think you could hack it? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t.

…and that’s to say nothing of the 12-hour days, and the up-late every night, sitting with the laptop, finishing patient charts, just to go to bed at midnight, to get up to do it again, tomorrow.

Like I said, think you could hack it? I’d like to see you try.

And guess what? She’s not alone. She has five very dedicated co-workers: pediatricians, fellow PAs, nurse practitioners who do the exact same thing, every day.

And that’s only the pediatric side of the house. The other side of the clinic sees adults.

The providers who see adults don’t see as many patients per month as the pediatric side does, but the problems they see can be exponentially more complex.

Complex because of age. Complex because of cultural issues. Because of language issues. Because of lack of insurance or lack of money. Complex because the patient is a refugee who has been in the United States a week and doesn’t know anything, like how to fill out a form in English or how to ride a bus to reach the clinic. Complex because poor people—because they may not have any insurance, or enough insurance, or because they may not have enough money—wait until a health problem becomes a health crisis before seeking help at the clinic. Complex because of domestic violence or substance abuse. Complex because of homelessness or transience. Complex because of joblessness. Complex because life is more complex when you are on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder.

And this is only at Ann’s clinic.

The organization she works for runs or provides staff members to 20 clinics—from pediatrics and mental health to school-based clinics and family practice—all over the Denver metropolitan area. Twenty clinics providing basic healthcare to tens of thousands of people, every day, every week, every month, every year, year and year out.

That’s 126,700 individual patient medical visits in 2015 alone (to say nothing of mental health visits or pharmacy, wellness, substance abuse, or dental or school-based visits).

That’s 126,700 human beings depending on 535 people in Washington, D.C.—members of the U.S. Congress—to make a wise decision on health care that will have a profound and far-reaching impact on human lives, and the lives of their spouses and children and parents and…

My wife sees the REAL WORLD on her doorstep every, single day. Every day.

For Ann, and her incredibly dedicated and hard-working co-workers, “Healthcare” is not some wonky, abstract idea that people like Rep. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, majority leader of the Senate, bat around to score political points.

It’s not about “winning.”

It’s not about “getting something done in the first 100 days,” just to say you did.

Nor about getting revenge on Barack Obama and his Democrat cohorts. Or about sticking it to Obama’s legacy.

It’s REAL. It’s living, breathing human beings. Real children. Real parents. Real circumstances. Real world. Reality.

When we stop talking about the “real” in healthcare we lose the thread. We lose the key that must drive the conversation.

Real people. That’s where it starts and stops.

Americans must demand members of congress answer these questions:

  • Which one, or ones, of Ann’s patients are you going to tell they can no longer afford care, or because of cuts to Medicaid, will have no prospect for care, at all?
  • Which ones are you going to decide are worthy enough, or lucky enough, to have the chance at life; their life, their real life?
  • Which ones would you tell that their chances have run out, because for you, “winning” is more important than “caring?”

With a straight face, I’d like to see members of congress tell them that “party” beats “compassion,” and “politics,” well, sorry, but that’s simply more important than common sense and common decency.
I mean really tell ’em, face-to-face. In person.

But, unfortunately, it’s likely not to happen until we make it happen. As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, many of our elected officials are avoiding meetings with concerned citizens; some have even ducked out of back doors when a town hall event got too tough with questions and comments.

Many of our elected officials have forgotten they have the power to impact real people’s real lives. Everyday in Ann’s exam rooms, and the dozens of other exam rooms, all over Denver, all over Colorado, all over the United States. Millions of real lives that don’t care about scoring political points.

Something to nosh on. Then contact your U.S. representative or senator to provide them your thoughts.

Trump Should Study the Koran

By Bear Gebhardt

Although many passages in the Koran seem quite harsh and inhumane, there’s one passage all good ol’ American blue collar workers can quickly agree with: “A worker should be paid before the sweat is dried from his brow.” This is a passage Donald Trump should follow, but doesn’t.

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

One way to describe D.T.’s basic business practices is “Donald the Octopus.”  He has many, many arms (over 500 corporations), and each arm has hands, and each hand has fingers, and each finger has digits. Each digit is a corporation designed solely for the purpose of profit, e.g., designed for getting, not giving. Many, many people who have worked for D.T. over the years have not only not been paid “before the sweat is dried from their brows,” they don’t get paid at all or get paid less than he promised.

In the last three decades, the Trump Octopus has been involved in at least 3,500 lawsuits.  His way of doing business regularly ends up with his partners, his contractors or subcontractors suing him, or he suing them. Apparently his way of doing business is to delay payments, and often not pay at all.  He disputes, disputes, disputes. Not only is the sweat dried from his workers’ brows, they’ve worked and completed a dozen other projects and he still hasn’t paid.

As USA Today documented, Donald Trump may have learned this tactic from his father Fred, who got him started in business. They both have a long history of not paying their contractors, not fulfilling their end of signed contracts, and lying about their true intentions. Anybody who takes even a cursory glance at the business history of Donald Trump, as this Newsweek article documents, would have a hard time defending such practices.

The contractors who have not been paid, or the business partners who want him to ante up his share, naturally, want to use whatever leverage they can—often Trump owes them millions of dollars for the work and materials they have provided, or the investments they have made on his behalf. So when it becomes obvious workers are not going to get paid, or that he’s stalling about his payments, they sue him, trying to get what they are owed. That’s why he creates a new corporation for every new project, or even a new phase of an old project. Contractors can only sue that one corporation, and not the man himself, hiding behind his many “corporate walls.”

But Donald the Octopus is not afraid of being sued. On the contrary, apparently one of his secret business tactics is lawsuits. So he keeps a Tower full of lawyers on payroll whose only job is to drag out the lawsuits year after year, and/or institute counter-suits. Eventually, the contractors and unhappy investors are willing to settle for anything—for pennies on the dollars—just so they can get paid something, rather than nothing. That’s just how he does business.

And if the deal doesn’t work—if he can’t bully local people into doing what he wants them to do—he can disband that little piece of this business, that temporary corporation. Or simply declare bankruptcy, as he has done on six separate occasions. Again, it’s like an octopus.  You fight one arm, and you can win—but he has many more arms. In Donald’s case, 500 more arms that keeps the octopus alive.

Again, the one passage from the Koran that all American blue collar workers will quickly agree with, and that Donald Trump should take to heart: “A worker should be paid before the sweat is dried from his brow.”

Does it take the Koran to teach this man the honest American way of doing business? Then again, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” seems pretty clear in itself. For a man whose penthouse apartment is decked out in gold, you’d think the golden rule should apply.

Evidence put forth by some of the most respected lawyers in the country documents sufficient constitutional cause to impeach this man. His lousy business practices give further evidence that this man has not yet learned to be an honest, upright, fair-handed American. He does not represent the best of our people, or our history.

I Pledge…I Guess

By John Gascoyne

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Confession time: yes, I frequent Facebook. In fact, it’s become more than just a habit – it is, however mild, an embarrassing addiction.

John Gascoyne is a writer and lawyer living in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

I recently responded to one of those frequent and superficial Facebook polls. The question for this one: “Should children recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily in our public schools?”

A raft of responses was unanimous-zip in favor of pledging – until I started typing.

In somewhat snarky words, I asked if all schoolchildren should be required to pledge and if that should also hold true for middle and high school kids, and what about college students? Now I was on a roll: what about adults? What about those apparently unpatriotic miscreants, students and older, who would rather not feel forced to declare their allegiance – can their property be confiscated? Can they otherwise be forced into compliance?

Some context: we live in a time of oughts and ought-nots. We ought to feel just fine about the new regime; we ought to manifest our patriotic righteousness in manifest ways; we ought to assume that there will be elections in 2018; we ought to cheerfully pay our taxes while the elite evade theirs; we ought to be okay with critical classified information being peddled as a blue light special on Aisle 3, etc.

So…we ought to force our children to have their voices daily ring with the Pledge of Allegiance; we adults ought to recite it daily; we ought to think about placing our hands over our exposed hearts and reciting it in the bedroom with our lovers just before we…the possibilities are endless.

Before we get too far down the patriotic road, however, let’s learn a bit about the Pledge and student participation in it and with it.

The first known recital of the Pledge by students was on Columbus Day in 1892. Although it soon became something of a cultural hit, there were some who objected to reciting it in school and elsewhere – some extremist groups for religious reasons, some extremist individuals for a myriad of personal reasons.

Francis Bellamy was the author of the first version of the Pledge and wrote it in 1892. Three different sources describe Francis in three somewhat different ways:

  • According to one, he was the son of a Baptist preacher and a socialist, wanting to criticize, via the Pledge, the excessive greed and extreme individualism of the time.
  • In a Smithsonian-released 2003 article, Bellamy is described as an ordained minister – with no mention of socialist inclinations.
  • In something of a tie-breaker, the Huffington Post identifies the author as a Christian Socialist.

Whether to pledge or not to pledge became an issue that roiled through our society for many years. In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students do not have to participate in the Pledge. The ensuing legal history of the issue seemed to settle corollary issues:

  • Students do not have to stand while their comrades recite the Pledge.
  • Students cannot be compelled to leave the room during the Pledge.
  • Teachers cannot single out a non-complying student nor can they comment upon an individual’s decision to exercise their choice.

Whether these laws of the land are actually respected is, of course, a different question, one to be determined by tracking individual schools and classrooms.

The wording of the Pledge has some elasticity and has seen modifications over the years. The most recent, and likely the most controversial change, was finalized in 1954. Consider the historical context of the time: we were hotly engaged in the Cold War and “godless communism” was the enemy du jour. What to do, what to do?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was President at the time and not a member of any particular religion when he entered office. Assumedly influenced by his wife, Mamie, he was baptized into her church and became a serious Presbyterian.

Many groups had begun advocating to insert “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps most prominent was the Knights of Columbus, an activist group of laymen Catholics. (My dad was a member of the Coral Gables, Fla., branch at the time; don’t recall any discussions on point.) The Knights are generally found at the head of the line when credit for the added two words is accorded.

Eisenhower, then, with overwhelming support, effected the introduction of the two words “under God into the Pledge of Allegiance. Despite occasional efforts to go back to the older phrasing, the two words have been there ever since. There is little reason to believe that things will change in the foreseeable future. (“In God We Trust” replaced E Pluribus Unum as our national motto, also during Eisenhower’s reign. We’ll reserve comment for a subsequent rant.)

In trying to assess my personal feelings about the Pledge, particularly the “new” Pledge, and by inference how I feel about the Flag, I’m all over the board:

  • December, 1958, my 19-year-old brother Peter is lowered into the ground at Denver’s Fort Logan National Cemetery. My last memory of him is the U.S. flag covering his coffin, giving him more accord and honor than might have otherwise been true.
  • November, 1962, in Hong Kong harbor, aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Topeka. The Cuban Missile Crisis erupts, my tour of duty is extended a year but I was okay with being there—serving under my country’s flag.
  • May 8, 1970: Four days after Kent State, the University of New Mexico is one of the many schools shut down amid the national chaos. The nation’s flag has been flying at half-mast in honor of the students murdered at Kent State. After four days, the flag is scheduled to be returned to full-staff and a group of veterans has gathered to ensure that this happens. I’m at the flag now, totally adrenalized and needing to act. The paradox manifests: I’m a student striker and feel the flag should remain lowered; I’m also a veteran and sympathetic to the other vets and their ambition to raise the flag. I’m not able to choose; I wander away and soon joined and began to lead the student marshals – student strikers dedicated to seeking peaceful resolutions on campus. A few days later, the New Mexico National Guard storms the campus and bayonets a dozen people, including three of my young marshals. The flag was flying at the top of its mast as this took place.
  • When I see tired old white politicos sporting Chinese-made flag pins on their lapels, I bristle and resent this supposed support of the flag. I see it as a sacrilege and resent their smug misstatement of patriotism.
  • When I’m standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, I go silent when we get to the words “under God,” then I pick it up on the flip side. My belief is that this “God” of the Pledge is not a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Moslem god. No, I can’t get past the conviction that those two words are a Christian invention and that most everyone knows, even while vehemently denying reality, that this is an homage to Jesus Christ and that we are pledging our fealty to a particular god – the god of white Christian America.
  • There’s an old and somewhat stained U.S. flag in my hall closet. When the occasion warrants, I take it down from the shelf and fly it from my front porch. Any reservations are put aside: this always feels like the right thing to do.

I don’t know if we truly need pledges or if other people need to hear us making them. Nonetheless, I’ve drafted one that would work for me:

I Pledge Allegiance to the Constitution of the occasionally United States of America and to the Democracy for which it may or may not stand (depending upon situational considerations), one Nation which recognizes the separation of church and State, indivisible (other than gerrymandering for the benefit of Nazi wannabees) with liberty (after the end of the reign of King Donald and his gang of anti-American sycophants) and justice for all – not just for those who can buy it. 


Crossing the Line: One Woman’s Feminist Journey

By Mary Roberts

My foot lands solidly on the half-court line. Zing! A confusing mix of joy and fear fills the space between my ribs. Joy, because I was free to cross that line, and fear, because it felt like I was committing a crime.  Running hard and fast with elbows akimbo, adrenaline propelled me into the fray of girls under the basket trying to score on us.

Mary Roberts writes to say, “Wake up, people!” Learn more about Mary…

“Tweet, tweet!” The ref calls a foul on me. I look toward the bench at my coach who stands there, shaking her head. We weren’t supposed to try to foul out, but being short and lacking defensive skills, I was willing to sacrifice myself. The other team was in the paint, ready to score. I just made sure I didn’t foul their best free-throw shooter.

It was 1966 and we were playing six-on-six girls’ high school basketball. Only a couple of players per team could cross the mid-court line without incurring penalties. I felt sorry for my teammates who had to come to a screeching halt before they tumbled over the line into forbidden territory. I fought hard to keep my position as “roving guard,” terrified that I would be imprisoned behind a thick black line if I didn’t play well.

“Was I more delicate than my twin brother?”

In 1958, the Office of Civil Rights started phasing out six-on-six girls’ basketball, finally accepting that women and girls can sprint up and down a full basketball court without losing a uterus or lapsing into a coma. It took 37 years.

My brothers, on the other hand, crisscrossed the floor with abandon, unfettered by sexist rules, devised by ignorant men, medical and otherwise. Was I more delicate than my twin brother? Was I unknowingly causing irreparable damage to my baby-making parts when I flew down the court, ready to engage in hand-to-hand combat if it meant that a basket wouldn’t be scored? If I wasn’t already a ‘feminist,’ I surely would be one by the end of the 1966 girls’ basketball season.

I was one of six kids in my family—three boys and three girls.  We all attended Catholic school where the nuns ran the place like soft-spoken Gestapo but whenever a priest entered their sanctum, it was all bows and “yes, father, no father, and your will be done, father.” Even at 10-years-old, it confused me. Why was all the power concentrated in these men when, clearly, the nuns knew how to run a school and ensure their charges were not sent into the world as idiots?

I never understood what the priests did, except say Mass on Sunday mornings and listen to people spill their guts in the confessional on Saturdays. The Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s they offered in return for my stutter-riddled admission of bad behavior didn’t help me, but whenever my 8th grade teacher, Sister Ann Patricia, kindly asked me how I was doing, she poked a few more holes in the walls I had built up at a young age.

Mom had a steady job as a social worker and Dad worked inconsistently as a salesman, but the burden of six kids and childhood emotional wounds or character flaws or whatever we call them today, was too much for him and Mom became the de facto head of house.

“How could I not be a feminist?”

I joined the National Organization of Women in 1972 and marched for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Yet, I stumbled too many times making my way in the world, and settled for a marriage I shouldn’t have. My dream was to become the head of a women’s fitness publishing empire. My magazine, Healthword Magazine, a regional health and fitness publication covering the Front Range of Colorado, lasted three years. I want to blame my ex, but I didn’t fight hard enough to keep it. I gave up.

I still rail against the gender pay gap, the lessening of reproductive rights, the lack of women in powerful positions, both in business, science and legislative bodies. I call out men whose language and attitudes betray an insidious and deeply-held belief that women are inherently less than men. It’s the demons of yesteryear that trip me up, that too many times make my decisions for me or want me to cling to the fallacy that I don’t have the ability to rise, once again.

Women growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s experienced a struggle of proportions that young women today don’t understand but are still in the thick of, whether or not they acknowledge it. We have much to do and a long way to go. The goal is not to be in the boardrooms and the halls of government, or to see how much money and power we can amass—a male-dominated view of the world.

The goal is to shift the paradigm of what we mean by liberty and justice for all and how to achieve it. The goal is that no one is denigrated or considered “less-than” because of economics, gender, race, etc. The goal is to make decisions based on “the good of all” and not just a few.

For me, the goal is that all women can fly across that half-court line with joy, flexing their muscles and minds, the winds of change and the work of their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers at their back.

SOZUTI – My Last Chance To Get It Right

By John Gascoyne

Mnemonics, those memory-tickling acronyms and phrases, have been around for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. Without these clever reminders, scores of students would have to settle for lower test scores and artists would struggle to remember the essential colors of their palette.

John Gascoyne is a writer and lawyer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

Why, then, approach the telling of my own concocted mnemonic—SOZUTI—with trepidation bordering on embarrassment? I’d like to think that the need for these reminders is not a function of the aging process. I’d also like to think that my hair is not thinning and that I don’t resort to hearing loss denial.

SOZUTI, in large high-liter letters, is posted on a note card next to the inside of my front door—the last thing I see before leaving home. The last thing, of course, if I remember to look at it. The good news is that, on occasion, I do notice the combination of coded admonitions and, on occasion, am saved from a red face or possibly more serious problems.

Simply put, SOZUTI stands for: Stove Off, Zip Up, Teeth In. Seemingly simple, yes, but let’s take it in parts:

STOVE OFF is fairly straight forward—have any burners been left burning; is the oven off? Inside of this question is another, equally serious, question—is there anything in the oven, on the burners?

My dad began having cognitive difficulties in the last few years of his wonderful 90-year span. My mom, also elderly, was as patient and caring as she could be. The incidents, however, increased in number and seriousness. One day Pop left a wooden cutting board on the burner and walked away. That was it, the final incident. Pop spent his last few years in a rest home serving life with no hope for parole.

I have two wooden cutting boards in my own home. The smaller one, suggesting that even family history repeats itself, is scarred with concentric black rings. I’ve thought about sanding the rings off and, in effect, starting over. So far, however, it serves as a good reminder: turn the damn stove off, now; you might not glance at the front door.

ZIP UP, contrary to what you are probably thinking, does not refer to winter jackets. Those are fairly easy to work with—if it’s cold enough, Nature will offer sufficient clues. No, the reminder has to do with that most feared of male sartorial oversights, the unzipped pants zipper. I’ve done fairly extensive research and believe there are only two categories of men in our society: those who are willing to admit that they’ve walked around with an unzipped pants zipper, and those who insist on lying about it.

So, if it’s a near universal, hopefully infrequent, omission, what’s the big deal? Well, duh, it’s downright embarrassing, that’s what—for more reasons than we’ll discuss here. Okay, here’s a couple of points: no matter how well-acquitted a man may be, e.g. by putting on an expensive three-piece suit in preparation for a public appearance, the unzipped zipper totally destroys the attempted image, and his audience, whether in church, lecture hall, or social gathering simply can’t focus on the intended man-in-charge-of-the-world persona.

Second, and of more concern to me personally, the man with the too-frequently unzipped zipper may be seen as a candidate for relocation to a less-desired environment. In this regard, refer to Stove Off, supra.

TEETH IN—as with the other pointers, this should be more or less self-explanatory. Some words of explanation, nevertheless, seem to be in order:

I was having some fairly major dental work done in the recent past and it served two legitimate purposes: first, the work was needed and, second, my dentist had two kids in college. To resort to the trite phrase, it was a win-win situation. The remaking of my smile required a single false tooth (to the left of the two big ones in front, as I am looking at you). Before the work could be made permanent, however, there was a period of many weeks when I had to wear a flesh-colored insert that held a single temporary false tooth in the correct place. Okay, maybe I’m a bit wimpy, but I didn’t enjoy or appreciate the apparatus. So, in the privacy of my home, there seemed to be no reason to keep the tooth, and its intrusive anchoring plate, in my beleaguered mouth.

The gap in my thinking, of course, was those few occasions when I left home with a serious gap in my toothy smile. The worst episode took place in Lyons, Colo., when I met up with some companions for coffee and rolls prior to a mountain hike. These were not very forgiving people and the missing tooth was a source of rowdy amusement—for some of those present at least. (A historical note: the dental fix is now permanent and the “TI” in SOZUTI is not really needed these days; I leave it in because “SOZU,” short the TI, does not seem to flow as mellifluously as the original creation. And, yes, it may yet again gain some practical utility.)

I never use the word “old” to describe myself or any of my colleagues who are geriatrically inclined. The word “older,” however, seems sufficiently vague to be acceptable.

So, to my older friends, I say make your own mnemonic version of SOZUTI; I neither hold nor wish for a copyright on the word and certainly make no claim on the nearly infinite number of variations that might fit one’s personal situation and needs.

As for myself, SOZUTI is not the end; no, it is merely the beginning of a word that will grow in size and import as I move down life’s road. That is, of course, if I can only remember to look at the word—and, of course, if I can only remember what the letters stand for.

A postscript of sorts: this work-in-progress began a while ago. Since the beginning of the piece, I’ve shelled out $6,000 for a matched brace of hearing aids—by my estimation, about $400 for the technology and $5,600 for the good folks who hold the medical gun to our heads. And, yes, I frequently neglect to stuff these concessions to aging into my head while I’m remembering to turn off the stove and bring the zipper tab toward the ceiling.

So—how does SOZUTI-HA work? Sounds a bit elaborate, but maybe it will help.

The Russians Are Coming

By David Adamson

My wife and I felt it was the right thing to do to expose our children to other cultures early in their lives, in the spirit of Thomas Paine’s humanist declaration: “My country is the world, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

David Adamson is a writer living in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

Along with traditional American collections of cute animal stories like Mother Goose with happy endings, we included a few translations from other countries which were more realistic. One was a book of old Russian folk tales that was so brutally realistic we donated it to a book sale. But I always remembered the story about a devious fox and a dim-witted wolf in which the former tells the latter he can catch fish by sticking his tail though a hole in the ice on a frozen lake.

To Americans coming of age in the Cold War (1945—1991), Russia has always been coming. We were conditioned in schools and churches to loathe communism. One of the first TV shows we watched was “I Led Three Lives,” about an advertising executive who’s really an FBI agent spying on the Russian-controlled U.S. Communist Party. The commies were evil, denying the existence of God and teaching subversives how to convert vacuum cleaners to bomb launchers.

My family moved to Mannheim, Germany, in the mid-50s as part of a huge post-war U.S. military presence. Purportedly an army of occupation to snuff any resurgence of Nazism, actually we were there to stop any further Russian expansion into Europe. A few times a year we’d be awakened by alert sirens; then my father would don his fatigues and .45 automatic and disappear. We’d watch the long procession of tanks from the 510th Heavy Tank Command roar away, ripping up the cobblestones, to the anticipated battle front along the borders of East Germany or Czechoslovakia.

Nuclear war and kids hiding under tables

Back stateside in the early 60s, the Russians were still coming. Stationed at the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado, my father worked on an anti-missile missile project to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. In high school, during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, we practiced crowding into the crypt-like basement of a Catholic church. The room was lined with containers of water and C-rations where we’d wait out the nuclear exchange in case those antimissiles failed.

I was reminded again the Russians were still coming in the 80s as I stood in a cavernous building at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that housed the Nova Laser. It was built during President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative to provide a shield against incoming Russian “independently targetable reentry vehicles” (MIRVs) with multiple warheads.

By then I knew a little more about Russia and the Union of Socialist Soviet Russian Republics (USSR). In college, I learned to admire the great Russian writers from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn, who could only be understood by studying the historic conditions during which they wrote.

Russia’s history like bloody folktales

Russia’s history was as brutal and bloody as their folktales: close to a million killed by Ghengis Khan, millions by Napoleon, millions by Stalin, millions by Hitler. For centuries, Russian was invaded from every direction. As a result, Russia grew hostile to outsiders and systematically and forcibly annexed bordering countries to deter invaders. Inadvertently, they also created a vast expanse of ungovernable expanse of diverse cultures, speaking over 100 languages, which could only be controlled by force. Their isolationist stance spawned a national character that was not really European, but not really Asian either.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 and the collapse of the USSR, there was absolute glee among the Western democratic super-powers, especially the U.S. We signed some limited nuclear disarmament treaties. We invited the Russians to join the elite G-7 in 1997, to create a G-8, with the expectations that Russia would enthusiastically embrace all things Western—shopping malls, free elections, gay rights, individualism, and rock and roll.

It didn’t work out that way. In 2014, Russia was kicked out, and the club of elites shrunk back to the G-7. Now Russia and the West are back to the future. What happened?

In short: Vladimir Putin, the reincarnation of the Russia’s past, ready to avenge.

Unlike Western Europe, Russia did not participate in the two critical passages that gave rise to democracy and capitalism. Russia skipped both the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation, watershed events in which the ideas of individual rights and liberty took root in Europe.

During the Renaissance, the barbarian tribes, which later merged to become modern Russia, were busy fighting the Mongols, and they never had any exposure to the democratic principles that Europe adopted from ancient Greece. As to the Reformation, it didn’t gain traction because the powerful Russian Orthodox Church was not rotten to the core like the Roman Catholic Church, guilty of selling indulgences and other shortcuts to heaven.

(Russia did embrace the scientific method from the Enlightenment. This enabled them to put the first satellite and human in space, and develop atomic weapons, using little more than slide rules.)

Putin: Make Russia Great Again

Russia has always been hostile to the ruthless destruction of traditions, order, and community bonds that accompany multiculturalism, capitalism, and globalization. They flat don’t buy our way of life. They never did. Russians are not Europeans.

Upon the collapse of the USSR, the first elected president was Boris Yeltsin, a drunk and loud-mouthed buffoon whose “anti-establishment” rise to power was similar in many ways to that of Donald Trump. The privatization of the Russian economy engineered by Yeltsin, and encouraged by the West, was a disaster. There was chaos, near total economic collapse, and the open plunder of the country’s wealth by oligarchs.

As if part of a sinister master plan, Putin, a career KGB officer, learned about geopolitics while a spy in Germany. He showed up on the political stage and became Yeltsin’s understudy. While a witness to the embarrassing debacle, he mastered the ins and outs of Russian politics, including killing opposition. When Yeltsin was forced from office, he appointed Putin president.

A fervid Russian nationalist, Putin despises the West. He was insulted by the USA’s and Europe’s triumphalism during the Reagan years and after. Once in power, he immediately embarked on a project to restore Russian greatness. To aid him in this cause, he formed a surprisingly strong bond with the Russian Orthodox Church, with whom he shares a hatred for homosexuality, to communicate and affirm his message—Make Russia Great Again.

The Russians are coming because the Cold War never ended, as should be obvious to Americans, especially those transfixed by minor threats like ISIS and terrorism, and under the leadership of a president who is a clueless imbecile when it comes to history and geopolitics.

How the folktale ends

Just look at what Russia is up to:

Naive Americans may believe the pop culture images of us trumping the backward Russians at every turn. Think of all those jingoistic Tom Clancy novels, or Clint Eastwood cleverly stealing a top secret Russian jet in “Firefox,” or a bunch of American high school kids repelling a Russian invasion in “Red Dawn.” Were geopolitics like the movies! Especially those happy endings where we always win.

Based on history, sometimes it’s more like a Russian folktale.

In case you wonder how the fox and the wolf story ended, the fox’s advice was a devious trick to punish the wolf for ruining the fox’s life. The wolf’s tail froze in the ice, trapping him.  The fox told the town peasants, and they attacked with their farm implements and killed him.

Trump versus Putin. Guess who’s the fox?

Writer with Tender Story Fears Return to Back-alley Abortions

By Mary Roberts

Dr. Voss rolls his chair away from the examining table. “Yes, you’re pregnant.”

It is 1971. I am 20.

Before the 2016 presidential election, Mary Roberts wrote about real estate, her Irish Catholic childhood in Boston and the 13 dogs that have defined the chapters of her life. Now, she writes to say, “Wake up, people!” Learn more about Mary…

When the doctor examines me, he says it felt like the IUD had turned upside down, rendering it almost impossible to do its job—preventing a pregnancy. Even if motherhood were a consideration, the fetus had little chance of surviving. I had a high probability of an ectopic pregnancy but would most likely miscarry.

Dr. Voss’ assistant, Julia, sits to my right and holds my hand while he probes. He is gentle but I am terrified and humiliated, uncomfortable with my body and sex or anything mildly erotic, having spent my childhood in the unforgiving and punishing bosom of the Catholic Church.

He said that he was unable to perform an abortion, or in my case, a D & C., explaining that he was being watched and didn’t want me involved.

“Besides, you’ll abort on your own. I’m sorry, that’s all I can do. Call me when you start bleeding.”  Julie, who I learned was his daughter, gave me a piece of paper with his home phone number on it “in case it happens after hours.” The doctor hoped that manipulating the IUD would encourage the device to perform its job—if belatedly.

Ten days later, I was back with a report of minor spotting and extreme stress. Once again, I lay there. Once again, his daughter held my hand. I noticed there was no one else in the waiting room and no phones were ringing. His daughter spoke quietly, telling me that they expected an arrest warrant to be served any day now and they didn’t want anyone in the office when the police finally came for him.

“But don’t worry, we have the names of other docs who can help.”

What? Who came for him? I still hadn’t understood that this doctor in Colorado, this kind and solicitous man who warmed his hands with a heating pad before touching his patients and treated me with respect and concern, would soon be taken away in handcuffs, have his mugshot taken and be put in a holding cell for taking care of women like me.

I spent those two weeks before the D & C, terrified I was going to hemorrhage in Reporting 101 or in line at the student center bookstore. Or late at night, asleep, waking with stabbing pain and a bloody mattress. Only my boyfriend knew. I told no one else.

The bleeding started on a late Friday afternoon, after hours. I dialed the doctor’s home number and we met at dusk in his office, his daughter handing him the instruments for the D & C while still reassuring me that everything was going well. I would feel a sharp pain and it would be over soon. I did and it was.

A few days later Dr. Voss was arrested. His case led to a change in Colorado abortion laws although the state had legalized it (with daunting restrictions) in 1967. To me, Dr. Voss was a savior—compassionate and without judgment. There have been few people in my life that I can recall with such gratitude. (“Voss,” by the way, is not the doctor’s real name. I changed it out of respect for this kind-hearted doctor and the possibility that he may not want to revisit the past.)

Was he arrested because of women like me, who believed they have a right to maintain control over their bodies?  I technically didn’t even have an abortion, yet I couldn’t help but worry that cases similar to mine led to his arrest.

In 1971, limited access to abortion was available in Colorado with three physicians approving it for the “right” reason. Was not wanting to be a mother a good reason? No. Was mental health a reason? Only if a psychiatrist would state that the woman was emotionally unstable and under a doctor’s care. How about rape and incest? Yes, but not if there was evidence of ‘inappropriate’ sexual conduct on the woman’s part.

Forty-six years later and I believe that this can happen again. I fear that women’s choices about their bodies will be, once again, determined by ignorant men.

I fear that low-cost access to birth control and sex education will be denied and we will, once again, whisper amongst ourselves, sharing the names and numbers of doctors who are sympathetic.

I fear that “back-alley” abortions or recipes for DIY “miscarriages” will appear on the Internet and more women will die. I fear that children will be born to households unable to care for another child. I fear that what we do with our bodies will be determined by old, white men, eager to get back their longed-for authority over women who have had generations of freedom to cast their own destiny and that of our country’s.

I was outraged 46 years ago when what happened inside my womb was someone else’s business. I am outraged now that the progeny of those men and women who struggled to wrest responsibility for my body away from me are back at it again.

It’s time they feared us because we are coming for them. Because now, we have generations of men and women who, like Dr. Voss, understand that an administration that imprisons a man (or woman) for helping the vulnerable is an administration that is destined to fall.


For more information

The issue of a woman’s right to govern who her own body has been a complex controversy since the Supreme Court recognized abortion as a constitutional right four decades ago. The constitutional right has never been under attack as it is now in the Trump administration and the Republican congress. This is evidenced through such actions as Trump’s assault on Planned Parenthood and his appointment of Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court judge. Learn more by clicking on the green links. For historical background, click here.