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Friday, December 28, 2007

Common Sense? Or Corporate Neglect?

This week a promising young girl died from liver failure that followed a leukemia bone marrow transplant.

The insurance company, managing a self-insuring employer, claims it consulted with an in-house transplant expert and two outside doctors about her situation, then determined that the liver transplant she desperately needed was experimental and not covered under the insurance policy of her father's employer.

Then, supposedly out of the goodness of their hearts, they decided to pay for the procedure themselves, but only after family and friends of the girl began picketing outside their offices. Nothing gets the attention of companies like that quicker than bad publicity and public relations. But it was too late.

At the funeral, no one mentioned the insurance company's name, but apparently they will in court.

From what I have learned of such matters, once an organ fails a leukemia patient, their chances of living, even after such a transplant, are slim. We, as a society want to be compassionate, yet we must many times draw a line to this compassion. Doctors have to decide if one patient who needs the same organ might have a better chance of survival, for example. At this very moment, in an apartment across from mine, lives a child who is not even two years old who is awaiting a liver transplant. The doctors say, if they can find one in time, she has an excellent chance of getting to see her grandchildren.

It is not an easy choice to decide who lives and who dies. I for one do not envy any doctor who has to make such a decision, but it is the doctors caring for the patient who should make such decisions in cases like this, not insurance providers.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Growing Up

Helping someone research materials for a major term paper this week, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to learn more about an amazing leader of the civil rights movement. He is a greatly misunderstood and inaccurately depicted figure, cursed by some, be knighted with sainthood by others. I speak of none other than Malcolm X.

Malcolm's beginnings were somewhat less than inspiring. In his earlier years he went from a misunderstood and socially brutalized youth to a womanizing, drug-addicted street thug. This life of debauchery and criminality culminated in his being sent to prison for burglary, though it could just as easily ended with a bullet in his back, according to his descriptions in "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."

Being sent to prison actually turned into the turning point of his life. While in prison he continually wrote to his siblings, a habit they had all gotten into after the physical (but not spiritual or emotional) breakup of their family in the 1930s. During these correspondences, Malcolm's older siblings introduced him to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam.

Muhammad did not immediately embrace these teachings, but instead found his difficulties in reading and writing (caused by years of participation in what was then black society's counterculture) inspired him to seek self-improvement. Gradually, he came to accept Islam's teachings, choosing to embrace the peaceful nature taught by it as an antithesis to his previous life.

Upon his release, he became more involved in the Nation of Islam, taking first a humble position as an assistant at one of the mosques in the U.S., becoming later a key spokes person and advocate for the Nation of Islam and Islamic teachings in general. During this time, his animosity for white society became a prevailing feature in his life and public speaking, calling white people devils and blaming them exclusively for the plight of black society.

It was only after he began learning about significant corruption within the Nation of Islam and the Nation's censure of him for remarks made regarding President Kennedy's assassination that Malcolm broke his association with them. This break sparked his desire to more fully understand the teachings of Islam, leading him to partake in a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. There he encountered Muslims from many different countries and ethnicity, altering his perception and understanding of black-white relationships.

When he returned from his pilgrimage, he became an outspoken critic of the Nation of Islam and its increasing militancy against white society, advocating respect for the cultural differences between blacks and whites. He further urged black Americans to accept personal responsibility for their own failings, not to simply blame their plight on white Americans. This advocacy earned him a death sentence from the Nation of Islam which they were successful in executing in early 1965.

One thing that strikes me about what I have learned about Malcolm X was his candor in admitting and accepting responsibility for his earlier conduct. He gave credit for the good he was able to do in society to Allah, but retained responsibility for his own mistakes.

I draw several fundamental lessons from Malcolm's autobiography (not the 1992 Spike Lee movie):

  • One - that people can change regardless of their past

  • Two - that people must take personal responsibility for their lives and the development of their communities

  • Three - that even good people can be mistaken in their beliefs

  • Four - that those who seek to change society are, without a doubt, going to make dangerous enemies

  • Five - those that are truly dedicated to their beliefs and desire for change won't give a damn about how dangerous the opposition is

My newly formed image and opinion of Malcolm X has further fueled my dedication to House Wyldstar and to this blog. I pledge here and now to be more responsible in the maintenance of this blog and in my efforts to establish websites for House Wyldstar and the Social Policy Center and to work harder at my participation in the social change movement.

Stay tuned for further developments!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Censorship of Opinions and Facts

Check out what I found on a blog allegedly ''discussing'' the issue of false accusations.

Note: Comments are limited to feminists or those who can be respectful of feminists and their efforts to fight sexual exploitation. If you want to excuse or minimize the behavior of those who harm others, make the person exploited responsible for their own exploitation, call those who label their experiences rape liars, or tell us that we should be focusing on more important issues, please do so elsewhere.

This is typical in most ''discussions'' on controversial issues. It's alright to talk about the issue, just don't say anything that disagrees with us or that might prove us wrong about it. Funny thing is, I read just this morning a report from a college professor who analyzed several hundred rape accusations at his college and local police department who found that one-half to two-thirds of those reports were either outright fictitious (lies) or unsubstantiated (not sure of the distinction between those two categories, to be honest).

Add to that the number of men convicted of rape managing to prove their innocence through DNA testing and it leads one to wonder ... just what is really going on?

Among the possible scenarios (other than the victim lying) include mistaken identity over who the actual rapist was, miscommunication (or lack of communication) between the man and woman leading to an assumption of willingness, and ''buyer's remorse'' where the woman claims rape because she suddenly decided having sex the night before wasn't such a good idea.

Any one of these can cause an innocent man to go to prison not just for years, but for decades for a crime he never committed or did not knowingly commit. It is a bit more serious than putting a man in jail for speeding in an area that has no posted speed limit, but the basic concept is the same.

Years ago women had an almost perfect blackmail weapon, called ''breach of promise'' that they used against men. Supposedly it was a law to prevent rapist men from seducing innocent women with promises of marriage, but it was rampantly used by women to blackmail men instead. Legislations nationwide recognized this problem and repealed the laws.

Today, women have things like ''date rape'' laws and the threat of a man getting branded a ''sexual offender'' or ''sexual predator'' for the rest of their lives to replace this lost blackmail power. Laws that have been instituted to protect women from exploitation have themselves become a form of rape, this time with the men being the victim.

This is another case of a ''wicked issue'' that has no simple solutions. We as a society need open, frank discussion on the topic, not censorship like the Alas blog apparently has.

Recommended Reading


Monday, December 17, 2007

A Perfect Example: TIAA-CREF Staff Misconduct

I want to relate to you a situation that happened today.

My fiance, until last week, was working as an independent contractor at the Denver, Colorado offices of TIAA-CREF. She is a fibromyalgia sufferer and has had an extended flare (very rare) for the past week, which caused her to miss several days of work. TIAA-CREF chose to terminate her contract with them, a technically permissible action, though questionable on the ethics. Friday, she sent a message to Bret Deardorff (bdeardorff@tiaa-cref.org) informing him that I would be coming this morning (Monday, December 17th) to retrieve her personal effects like her mp3 player and her purse, which she accidently left at work last week.

When I arrived at their office this morning, I went straight to their security desk, which is located on the 28th floor of the building they are in (note that I am leaving the actual address out, please) and attempted to request one of the TIAA-CREF staff retrieve her belongings. I had her security badge with me, in case they requested it, and the key to her desk. The security guard (Wes) stated he could not reach anyone to help unless I knew their LAST name. At the time, the information was on my fiance's Yahoo! Mail account. I tried to reach her by phone while I was there, but was unsuccessful. I informed the security guard that I would have to go back home to retrieve the information he requested, but he refused to allow me to leave unless I surrendered her badge immediately. Begrudgingly, I gave it to him, but kept her desk key, intending on contacting Bert Deardorff to request his presence when I returned. When I got home, we found a letter from Chris Weston (head of Global System Staffing) insisting on a contact phone number for Laura. It seems TIAA-CREF had told him that Laura gave me her security badge and that I was wandering around the building in violation of security rules, which was a blatant lie.

I sent an email informing them that the security guard's action to detain me was an illegal detainment which could subject them to civil litigation action by me and that their lack of cooperation in returning Laura's belongings were, under Colorado law, an act of criminal theft (failure to surrender property to its rightful owner when demanded), but that, as a professional courtesy between nonprofit organizations (I run House Wyldstar) I was willing to overlook this misconduct if they would simply return my fiance's belongings because she needs her ID for a plane flight Wednesday morning.

Chris Weston flamed back an email accusing me of threatening them and violating TIAA-CREF security, which I never did either of those, I merely pointed out the misconduct of their staff in the situation and reminded them of the potential effects of it.

I will admit, my last email was slightly more than heated, though I did my best not to become abusing towards them. I was originally, in response to their attitudes, going to have a civil escort go with me this afternoon. I thought it might be prudent to have an officer assist me with this crazy situation. Unfortunately the Denver Police Department did not have one available before 5pm, so I will have to do it in the morning.

Such misconduct is unbecoming to ANY organization, much less one with as much responsibility as TIAA-CREF. I would personally NEVER treat anyone like this and would NOT let a situation like this get out of hand like they have done, but after viewing the wide variety of consumer complaints against TIAA-CREF, I am really not surprised.

And by the way, if anyone from TIAA-CREF wishes to challenge my statements here, I have the emails mentioned saved and could easily post them online for everyone to view. Or we could post the security video of my visit there and let the rest of the world judge for themselves. Think about it.

December 20, 2007

This situation has been more or less resolved.

My fiance contacted the TSA (airport security) and learned that her student ID would suffice for boarding her airplane. Subsequently she had contact with Chris Webster (who is actually an executive with Global System Solutions, a TIAA-Cref contractor, and not TIAA-Cref itself) and agreed to have her belongings shipped to our home.

We were also informed that I have effectively been banned from the Denver TIAA-Cref occupied building by Mr. Webster, although I am not certain he has the authority to do that. Personally, I could care less if the building suddenly collapsed around him, except one of my favorite Starbuck's is also in the building. I guess one cannot truly consider themselves an activist until they have either been arrested during a protest (which almost did happen to me years ago, but that is another story) or have been banned from a facility for standing up to governmental or corporate misconduct and corruption. Perhaps I should take this incident as my ''coming of age'' event, maybe?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Social Forgiveness of Branded Men

I'd like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am
But they won't let my secret go untold
I paid the debt I owed them,but they're still not satisfied
Now I'm a branded man out un the cold
- Merle Haggard, Branded Man

I've been a fan of Merle Haggard ever since I was a kid. His songs seemed to strike a cord with me. The one that touches me the most is Branded Man, the story of a man who was in prison and paid his debt to society, but was discriminated against after his release.

It might be just another song if it didn't reflect exactly how our society treats ex-offenders. Long ago, a man released from prison could move out of the state and start over. Now, thanks to computer technology and registration requirements for many ex-offenders, there is not only nowhere to hide, there is nowhere to start over.

We complain about the rampant crime in our society, yet we fail to realize we are, in part, responsible for our own mess.

Multiple studies, academic, governmental, and independent, have shown that ex-offenders who have steady, stable employment, housing, and community support services are far more likely to never commit another crime. Yet two-thirds of employers, if they know someone is an ex-felon, won't give them the chance. Many apartment complexes refuse to rent to them. Sex offenders in particular are victimized by this phenomena, being the only class of ex-offender who is required to uniformly not only register with the state they are living in, but in most states to have their picture, crime, and address posted on the Internet.

The basic question is, does this make us and our children any safer in our society? Statistics indicate the answer is no. By not allowing ex-offenders a chance to start over after paying their debt to society, we are setting them up for repeat behavior and endangering ourselves and our families.

Maybe we need to rethink this.