Category: Do No Harm


Life requires a series of ongoing daily chances which are often dealt like random cards from a casino dealer. The chances we take are enormous. Small events, the crisscross of human paths etched as we transverse each day. Most dismiss these small events as mundane. Yet each path offers opportunities for both opportunities of joy and sorrow. Quirks of time, moments of interconnected strangers passing between brief singular points of focus.

I don’t know singer and entertainer Ariana Grande. If I heard her music, I wouldn’t recognize it. However, late last night, I checked Ms. Grande’s Twitter for the very first and last time in my life. Two days prior, her account hovered over her tour, tour notes, and upcoming performance events. Forty-eight hours later, Ms. Grande’s was filled with love and vile. I’m unsure why, as some claim, how Ariana Grande is sole heir to the deaths of concert patrons.

From a tragic event, comes continued pain and joy. For those who left the arena uninjured, joy. For the fourteen or so who remain unaccounted, everlasting anguish. Here one minute, gone the next. Where are they? Alive one second, ghosts another.

If there is ever a time I question God’s honor, it’s especially ripe in such moments. If we truly admit, such times are an open scar for the world to bear. Why do children have to perish in such horrific ways? Surely, I would have given my life for any of the missing. Yet, 4,600 miles from the destruction, I remain alive. The victims are not.

I have no answers to long sought after questions. For many, God remains as silent today as several hundred years ago. In truth, Jesus, nor God, nor early Biblical writers offer much hope for victims of terrorism. One preacher I heard shortly after September 11th stated that 9/11 in and of itself was a test of faith. I tend to reject such allusions. Let’s confirm we aren’t sure what God beliefs are.

From my Buddhist training, I reach back to the eightfold path and grasp the first three: the right view, the right thought and the right speech. My view rightfully suggests this was a horrific event. The right thought is to honor those who lost, including the performer. Ariana Grande is just another victim in a list of many. Lastly, my speech is one of comfort not hatred.

We must choose to “Do No further Harm” to any of the victims. Doing otherwise forsakes the path of love we are commanded to carry.

Rather to have chosen the vile, I choose love. To those who lost or suffered in Manchester. I offer my love, my tears and heart.

In her article The Reality of a Pre-Existing Condition, Susan Chira wrote:

I would not wish what my family has endured on anyone, even the legislators who voted to take away the protection that gave us such relief. I don’t really care about theory, about which is the more efficient way to rein in costs, or to give families the most choices. To me, preserving the principle that people should not be punished for a fate they could not control seems fundamental.

At the end of the day, this is not about ideology. It’s about humanity.

At a “pep rally” meeting prior to the vote, members heard the “Rocky” theme song as they arrived, and an image of George S. Patton placed on the screen as inspirational quotes from the general were read. Members also heard “Taking Care of Business.” Then a prayer and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

A prayer? I remind fellow legislators that in the thousands of deaths yet to come, the silent pain of death will scream unto the divinity.

As a human being, I too have joined the ranks of those with a preexisting condition. As disks in my neck crush with vice-like tenacity; as the heart disease slowly forces my heart to beat slowly toward an end, yesterday’s house bill was a shameful display of heartlessness. If Sara Palin was looking for an American death panel, she need look no further. Yesterday’s White House beer party was a coup de grâce.

I have never seen legislators celebrate kicking 20 million or more people out of the healthcare system. In Trump’s victory, the President tweeted “… Republicans will be having a big press conference at the beautiful Rose Garden of the White House immediately after vote!” as buses awaited House Republican members for the Rose Garden.

Opinion writer Stephen Henderson wrote “This now appears to be about not much more than striking back at President Barack Obama for having championed the law in the first place, and turning the nation’s back on the most vulnerable — people who were helped by the ACA’s progressive accomplishments.” Henderson further notes, we’ve reset the clock to the days when the poorest will choose between health care and shelter or food, to the times when people without coverage faced bankruptcy or other financial ruin if they or their family members get sick.

For me and others like me, access to quality care is literally life and death. An essential core belief behind the Republican plan is that we should pay only for health care services required. Logically speaking, sick people like me require more coverage. Therefore, sick people must pay for it. Younger and healthier constituents require less coverage. Accordingly, they should pay less. Yesterday’s American Health Care Act salutes 20 million or more with the middle finger saying, “Sucks to be you.”

However, maybe Republican Representative Raul Labrador said is correct. In a recent town hall, Labrador stated “nobody dies because they don’t have access to healthcare.” Hopefully I remind God of that statement after breathing my last breath.

I close with a brief story and quote. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by forces of Imperial Japan, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was reported to have said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Historians claim to be unsure if Yamamoto ever said those words. However, the film’s producer, claimed to have found the quote written in Yamamoto’s diary.

The historical lesson is important. Even though Yamamoto crafted the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, it was reported he secluded himself the day after as his staff celebrated, for he felt the unprovoked attack would enrage Americans; thereby awakening a sleeping giant.

Let’s hope American legislators find an awakened giant.

As GOP leaders continue marching the American Health Care Act through the legislative process, we are left with bickering pros and cons of affordability and coverage. As one who’s earned a livelihood from the healthcare industry, I view legislative gladiators from the cheap seats and ponder, “If you can’t afford health care, should the state let you die?

The current House plan relies on government tax credits, regulation of the insurance industry, and continued government funding to keep the low-income population insured. Yet in-between weeds, down in the fine print no one ever reads, one can find insurance reforms are positioned so carriers can offer a wider array of policies that pick up less of the tab for getting care. Additionally, Insurance companies can charge the oldest enrollees as much as they want, roll back the Medicaid expansion thereby eliminating approximately 11 million of the nation’s poorest from health care and eliminating healthcare services of poorer via planned parenthood.

In February 2017, Cardinal Burke noted, “Catholic health care, by its constant and careful attention to the perennial moral teaching of the Church, safeguards and promotes the respect for all human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death ...”

Sounds wonderful, but there are little safeguards that promote the respect for all human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. Our faith-based nation spends a hell of a lot time upending/defending Roe vs. Wade, but the notion we protect all human life from conception to natural death is bullshit. The back hallways of healthcare facilities are littered with the strewn, discarded and neglected. These hallways are filled with the “let them die” arrogance. We simply do not care about the respect of human life.

Both Bernie Sanders and the Pope have stated similar positions, “…access to health care regardless of income” is a right. Technically speaking, even one without health care can get health care coverage via a hospital emergency room. And in truth, both the Affordable Care Act and the GOP’s American Health Care Act provides opportunities for health care access. Now whether one can afford that access is an entirely different matter.

Health care is not mentioned in our Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Yet our Founding Fathers rightfully focused on life, liberty and justice. Conservatives continue to believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense.

Several years ago, a 17-year-old senior at T.C. Williams High School wrote:

“… it must be noted that the key word in said act is “affordable.” The American people struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet, worrying about groceries, bills, and car payments. For better or for worse, that is capitalism, and as a country the United States has stayed true to its ideals. Nevertheless, the competition of the game of life should never have to be a game of life and death.”

Health care coverage is extremely complex. By nature, medical clinicians, Buddhists, Christians and many others of faith are concerned in their own way in the alleviation, control and ultimately the removal of human suffering. The American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck began his bestselling book The Road Less Travelled with the statement “Life is difficult.” He added, “This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.”

Borrowing from Peck, the current health care debate is difficult. The disparity between health care and American values is crudely displayed as political views, politicians, managers, and administrators impact who receives what level of proportioned health care. While hospitals are forced to meet sometimes arbitrary measurements of performance, financial incentives are dolled-out on the backside. Lost in all this is what matters. For instance, what may matter more to a patient is the intangible and unquantifiable aspects of care experience. On what measurable performance scale can it be recorded that a dying patient is helped through denial, anger, and resentment to peace and serenity?

Of course, we can mimic Rep. Roger Marshall’s (R-KS) holy view to wash our hands. Marshall used Jesus to justify his opposition to Obamacare by explaining that poor people will reject health care.

“Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us.’ There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves. Just, like, homeless people … I think just morally, spiritually, socially, [some people] just don’t want health care. The Medicaid population, which is [on] a free credit card, as a group, do probably the least preventive medicine and taking care of themselves and eating healthy and exercising. And I’m not judging, I’m just saying socially that’s where they are.”

Can we afford to be spiritually ignorant as some politicians? Should society claim that if one can’t afford health care, they die? No. At this point, both societal value and the American Health Care Act are morally unaffordable.

img_0015Protests erupted on campus of the University of California Berkeley late Wednesday that canceled a scheduled speech by conservative Milo Yiannopoulos, a self-proclaimed “troll” and editor for Breitbart News. The university blamed the violence on a group of 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest.

I worry about “the heckler’s veto” being used to shut down free speech. We live in a country where people of all faiths, politics and ethnic backgrounds should be allowed to freely speak.

What we find is one political party or president uses hate tinged speech to justify hatred versus policy. We’ve all seen it, “unethical and corrupt media,” “she’s sick,” “a senator’s father helped kill a former president,” “an attorney betrayed their staff,” “You’re a Republican, I’m a Democrat, so I can learn nothing from you.” “Screw you,” they say. “No. Screw you first,” we reply.

As a Buddhist, it’s important to understand everyone has a legitimate right to feel and think the way they do. No one is wrong simply because he or she has a different point of view. Factual observations and other evidence may lead either to disagree, but the person always remains honorable.

For example, I listen to far-right and alt-right perspectives. Not so much because I agree with their position, but rather to understand. Our 2016 Presidential candidates accused one another of racism and bigotry so often they forgot about the people. By stating falsehoods, we race-bait. Anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women ideas are key tenets of such racist ideology.

Lastly, few, if any, understand that if one person wins an argument, you both lose. This is problem most politicians, including our President, fails to understand. When winning becomes the number one goal, you’ll eventually fail. Need an example? Former “Apprentice” contestant Omarosa Manigault warned all Trump critics they will soon be bowing before him. I will leave it at that.

Lastly, unless you in a country with a dictator, free speech shouldn’t have to hide. Protesters argue hate speech isn’t free speech. Why not? If so, why do free speech protestors have to hide behind masks? And if so, why do many such protests devolve into destruction?

In response To Berkeley protests, one blogger posted:

“President Trump must take action. We must get our colleges back from these radical haters. Any university that accepts federal funds must provide a balanced education. For every leftist professor, there must be a conservative professor. American universities are out of control.”

In the wake of Black Lives Matter movement and other protests, we’ve seen a clamoring for “safe spaces” whereby affected parties can process pain. What we require are spaces by which we can discuss and exchange ideas.

America is a free speech country. However, we really need to relearn the ability to agree to disagree agreeably.

img_0006At a rally in Wisconsin, Donald J. Trump stood in front of a line of Christmas trees and repeated a campaign-trail staple.

When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here some day and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” Trump said. “Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.”

Mr. Bill O’Reilly returned to the War on Christmas this year, but with a triumphant tone.

That culture war issue ignited and we won,” he recently said. “Donald Trump is on the case.”

Question please. “What war?

There is no evidence on any type of organized war on Christmas, it’s simply personal ignorance used as a “device” to ensure bias and innuendo remain artfully sculpted by equally bias. Christmas war allies noted the 2016 naughty list included Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and Victoria’s Secret. Starbucks came under fire for seasonal cup designs that emphasized social harmony over Christmas greetings.

Bah humbug Trump would metaphorically say, “Maybe we should boycott Starbucks.”

Thank God for Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly claimed “The Donald” is on the case. So much so that he declared the war on Christmas officially over. ”We won,” O’Reilly claimed. After hearing that, I hurriedly rushed to the streets. Each corner brought a sense of excitement. “Celebrations Everyone.” “Celebrations,” I yelled. “The War on Christmas is over.”

Yet, not one corner yielded singing in the streets. There were no pictures of home bound sailors kissing women in New York’s Times Square. There were no pictures of Christmas War soldiers raising the U.S. flag, like that of Imo Jima. Did the Christmas war even have a flag? Sorry, I digress.

I FaceTime’d a friend in Finland. Surely, Finland will be celebrating? Surely? Right? “What the f…?” He said. “What? What war? Call me when you’re sober” Then I reached out to another friend in Norway. Christmas War? Nope. Nada. No celebrations. Nothing. Finally, I called the big man at the North Pole. Yes! As in the North Pole, Alaska (actually south of Fairbanks, AL). No war there either.

I perused the BBC, Yahoo, MSN, MSNBC and Associated Press (AP). No war. No war memorials to the lost and fallen, no one to lay an annual Christmas reef on the Tomb of The Unknown Christmas War Soldier Memorial and no evidence of any Christmas War veterans waiting in line at the Veterans Administration hoping to get aid for Christmas War PTSD.

Once Again, all of this begs the question, “What war?

Seriously, the only war won was where sensible men and women allowed ignorance an upper hand. As a Buddhist, I’ll take the harmony Starbucks offers. We need more of that.

Anderson Cooper 360 began with the names … Right on Anderson.

PrayIn 1991, Barbara Poma’s older brother John died battling HIV. Twelve years later, Poma and her friend Ron Legler founded Pulse Orlando in memoriam to her brother and as a safe space supporting the LGBT community.

According to police, alleged shooter Omar Mateen opened fire early Sunday morning at Pulse. An officer working at the club initially responded, “engaging in a gun battle” before the suspect went back into the club, Authorities say that at least 50 people have been killed and at least 53 are injured, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

Playwright Arthur Miller wrote “violence in our streets is the violence in our hearts.” So much so that violence by weapon has weaved so much into daily life we hardly notice. To add support, BradyCampaign.org notes on average, 31 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 151 are treated for some form of gun assault. Additionally, every day, on average, 55 people kill themselves with a firearm and 46 people are wounded or killed via a gun. In contrast, if 86 people were dying each day from the mosquito bred Zika Virus, there’d be holy hell on the streets of America.

Over the coming days, thousands will pay their respects, reefs laid, memorials held, tears shed and promises to remember will be made. Homage and prayers were offered by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and many celebrities. Donald Trump? Well, Trump congratulated himself. But at the end of the day, even this shooting will have little positive impact for the Washington electorate to implement anything more than a few moments of silence.

The important part of Sunday remembrances came not from celebrities but rather from those who survived the shooting. Brothers, sisters and children were not overly idealized or enlarged in death beyond what they were in life. Each victim was remembered simply as a good and decent person, who saw wrong, tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it.

Pulse Orlando was about was Love.

And what set Pulse Orlando and victims apart from the hate was their depth of love – not only for each other but their community as well. It’s the same love Christ and Buddha offered. And that form of agape love can never be forced, even by a whacked out, mentally deranged idiot. Why? Because power never wins. A true God does not want subservience, but love. Pulse Orlando and all those LGBT rights activists chose the sometimes slow, hard way of agape love. It’s a conquest from within.

George McDonald captured both Christ and Buddha’s approach, “Instead of the crushing power of force; instead of destroying what we believe to be infidels, these victims encouraged making one another better people. (paraphrased)” Better citizens. They chose to love one another.

Victims in this shooting are voices speaking from heaven. Some will try to dismiss them but each victim is dazzling proof of love’s transfiguration. Each one is beautiful and may their voices roar to the power of love.

DreadlocksOver the past year or so, the country’s racial battles have been cast in black-and-white terms — with black folks on one side, white folks on the other. Other avenues often expressed are the entitled versus the poor.

Recently, a video showing a black San Francisco State University campus student accosting a white student over his dreadlocks has reached both news and blog infamy. Bonnie “Bonita” Tindle lectured Cory Goldstein about how being white means he shouldn’t have dreadlocks, calling it “cultural appropriation.”

Since America seems to be under some detailed microscope, old ideas about its racial dynamics have been extensively challenged. Writer Wedaeli Chibelushi noted that part of the oppressive culture (I presume white), the white student emulates minority tradition (I presume Black) while ignoring the discrimination that came with it.

Really?

I simply cannot recall a single instance where dreadlocks have been patented to a specific race. Corey Goldstein was correct when explaining dreadlocks are not the sole preserve of black culture. The style has been traced back to Ancient India, Egypt and Greece. Critics claim Goldstein isn’t immune to the accusation that now surrounds him: that he’s guilty of “cultural appropriation.

Really?

Critics require a reality-check, everyone one is guilty of cultural appropriation.

On May 14, 2015, Rihanna arrived at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating “China: Through the Looking Glass.” Rihanna swooped in, wearing a fur-trimmed yellow cape with floral swirls of gold and a train so long it required three assistants. The ensemble came with a little pink mini-dress underneath, and a sparkling tiara. In keeping with the evening’s theme — China, and its artistic influence on the West — the outfit came from Beijing-based designer Guo Pei, whose sumptuous designs also are on display in the current Metropolitan Museum exhibit, “China: Through the Looking Glass.” At the same event, Lady Gaga, wore a huge kimono-like garment studded with feathers by Balenciaga. Gaga drew cheers when she waved to the crowd packed behind bleachers across Fifth Avenue from the museum.

No one was busted neither Lady Gaga nor Rihanna. Then again, I heard no one talk about China’s labor camps, exiled dissidents, or widespread poverty and corruption in rural areas either.

It’s much harder to patrol the ramparts of our cultures, to distinguish between the appreciators and appropriators. Just who gets to play in which cultural playground?

Today, we question ourselves constantly. Does eating an Israeli-grown avocado mean I effectively fund the war on Hamas? Does drinking Russian vodka mean I approve Putin bombing Syrian hospitals? If I eat high-end chocolate harvested in Africa, do I condone slave labor by Africa cocoa farms, where an estimated 100,000 children are working, with more than 10,000 trafficked? I wear a Buddhist pendant and a silver cross made by a Navajo Indian Artist. Does that make me a cultural appropriator?

And speaking of American Indians, people have been injured, and some have died, in fraudulent sweat lodge ceremonies performed by non-Natives. Utterly horrific. Yet many other forms of cultural appropriation are honored, including New York pizza, Japanese denim, not to mention democratic discourse, mathematics, and the calendar.

Personally, in light of everything going on in today’s world, the only sin Corey Goldstein guilty of is a bad hair style. Whoever did that style for him should never be allowed in a beauty parlor again.

From a Buddhist perspective, the message is tolerance and the beauty that comes out of cross-cultural expression.

Lighten up.

hqdefaultAfter reading of the events surrounding Donald Trump’s Chicago Rally, I thought of an old story of a guy who wanted to be a locomotive engineer. Accordingly, the lead instructor present the applicant a problem.

If you had one train coming from one direction at 55 mph, and another train coming from another direction at 45 mph, what would you do?”

Thinking for a minute the applicant responded, “I think I’d call my brother.”

That’s a really strange answer. Why would you do that?

Because my brother has never seen a train wreck before.

What’s disturbing about Trump’s combative Chicago Rally was all of us saw it coming. Instead of decorum, understanding and forgiveness, it appears many went and got their brother.

Over the past year or so Black Lives Matter, Ammon Bundy, Mizzou Football team, Melissa Click, Mizzou’s Concerned Student 1950, Racial Protesters on many college campuses (Mizzou, Yale, Ithaca College, UCLA, etc), Muslim Protesters, Mexican Immigration Protesters, Syrian Immigration Protesters, Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood Shooter, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and a host others have practiced “in your face” degradation and hatred.

One cannot be certain if there is an actual increase in racial incidents or just an ability to record and post such events in moments. In our age misbehavior can be documented with a cellphone and spread simultaneously via social media. Videotape of protesters using “in your face” tactics only guarantees violence at political rallies will increase.

Both Sanders and Trump have raised the specter of violence. Trump’s campaign began depicting entire categories of overwhelmingly peaceful people as threats. Sanders’ political revolution hints at overthrowing a government of bureaucratic privilege, replacing it with government based on workers’ democracy while maintaining state owned property relations. Political revolutions occur throughout history and many times end in a worse situation than before.

Oh yeah, one fact most revolutionaries neglect – in revolutions, people die. One only needs to look at Ammon Bundy as history’s most recent example. Bundy’s revolutionary plan ended January 26, 2016 on Oregon’s Highway 395, with eight arrested and the death of LaVoy Finicum.

From a Buddhist perspective, our political leaders could use a heavy does of “Right Speech.” Right Speech is the third of the eight path factors in the Noble Eightfold Path. And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech and from idle chatter.

If this country is going to move forward, eventually, we’re going to have to sit in a room with each other—both sides—and find common ground.  Our country has problems, which most of us agree upon. Our problems are similar to those of the world around us. But we have to find a way to work them out, together. Civility means learning how to make political change to address the frustrations of the American community.

All of us should be aware of what we say and how we say it. However, it seems we’d rather just get our brother.

imageCNN reported the family of Michael Brown filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Ferguson under Missouri’s “wrongful death statute.” The family suit seeks punitive and compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, in addition to attorney fees. My guess? The family will get millions.

The Brown family lawsuit raised an interesting question that I’ve pondered for several hours: “Once there’s a settlement, can the Brown family be sued by a destroyed Ferguson business owner?

Recollecting, as Louis Head (Michael Brown’s stepfather) consoled Brown’s distraught mother after the grand jury announcement, he turned to the crowd of demonstrators and said, ‘Burn this motherfucker down’ and ‘Burn this bitch down.’ While Mr. Head apologized the following day, riots left parts of Ferguson a burning wreck.

In a subsequent police investigation, Mr. Head issued a statement saying that while sorry for screaming ‘Burn this bitch down!‘, to arrest and charge him ‘goes way too far and is as wrong as the decision (of the grand jury) itself.‘ Granted, that stance may be good against criminal prosecution, but how about civil court, where the burden of proof is only a preponderance of evidence?

Should mobs get a free pass to riot and steal in response to unwelcome political outcome? Remember, approximately 25 structures in Ferguson were burned, damaged, or destroyed during riots following the grand jury verdict. Has any of the protesters paid for damage sustained? Sam Chow, an immigrant opened a Ferguson restaurant in 2009. His restaurant practically whipped. Where’s the outrage for the death of Zemir Begic? Begic, a young immigrant who fled violence in Bosnia, was driving home with his fiancée 20 miles away from Ferguson when black teens beat him to death. I don’t recall a single protester speaking for him.

I ponder the outcome of a black business owner’s civil suit against Louis Head and the Brown family for punitive and compensatory damages, especially when statements “Burn this bitch down” contributed to inciting the riots. From prima facia value, if we honor the choice to not prosecute Mr. Head based upon Head’s claim that prosecuting him ‘goes way too far and is as wrong as the decision (of the grand jury) itself,‘ then should business owners completely ignore the option to litigate civily?

At the end of the day, no one can stand in the court of public opinion and shout ‘Look over yonder, but don’t look here (at me).’ Responsibility applies everyone equally – to you, me and Mr. Head.

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