Year End Loose Ends

end-of-yearNew Orleans   For more than 30 years I’ve taken some vacation days at the end of the year so I could spent time with my children and family, sort of a sorry payback or smart pay forward, as they say now, for a life with lots of travel.  We revive with a couple of days near a beach, if we can afford to get out of town, or in an especially good year a week or two in some great city like Madrid or Lisbon, usually after some local disaster reduced the airline ticket costs.

            It’s not that there’s no work.  There are always loose ends to try to pull together.  Painting that had been postponed for months with walls begging for primer.  Piles of tools and gear waiting for the right moment to be put up in the garage, which the kids have always called a shed.  The pile of magazines that need to be finished.  The books ordered and stacked for the year’s reading.  Figuring out how to use electronics gifted or gotten. 

And, there’s work-work, some unpleasant, like moving to evict a bully boy, car dealer, radio huckster and hustler off of the KABF tower where they have been virtually squatting for years as they took advantage of a volunteer crew and a nonprofit mentality, and some just plain necessary like spending hours working out the calendar for the coming year.  Can the trip to Buenos Aires be postponed another year, since Nairobi has been put off too long, and Scotland and India are already booked?  How many weeks will be set aside for Little Rock?  When do we open the second Fair Grinds Coffeehouse?  Can we get the organizing drives finished?  Can we get the Citizen Wealth service centers up and running in time?   When will I finish the book that has occupied me for 10 years and is now finally within reach? These are all the kinds of questions that require some quiet space for reflection and planning, which is always the scarcest commodity of all work.

            We try to finally go see some movies so we have an opinion on the year’s best, notching the Dallas Buyer’s Club and American Hustle so far, thumbs up on those two, and looking for Llewellyn Davis and the Wolf on Wall Street in town now.  I’m still interested in Nebraska and though Gravity looked boring from the description, we’ll watch it, if it’s around or someone finds it on Netflix for us.  I listen to some music finding it unbelievable how amazing it can be to hear MIA rap or bubbling rhymes and voices of Vampire Weekend.

            It was eerie to see that President Obama has been mimicking our television choices with time spent on HBO’s Game of Thrones (which with 6 million illegal downloads leads the BitTorrent rip-and-run listing as well), and Boardwalk Empire, and our binge watching early in the year of Breaking Bad and House of Cards.  We’re OK with it though.  It gives us a funny kind of hope.

            An item caught my eye while writing this in David Brooks’ column in the Times.  It seems that surveys indicate that the average American falls in love 2.5 times in a lifetime and psychologists say that we’re only capable of 5 or 6 true loves through the span of our years.  Not sure what to make of that other than it being an argument for keeping the family small.

            All of which reminds me that in tabulating the ups and downs at year end and getting ready to begin another, that responding to the surprises are as important as all of the resolutions made, and that some of the major ones are always the magical gift of life itself and the wonders of the people and world all around us. 



The Moral Dimensions of Price Protections for Drugs and Basic Necessities

drugsNew Orleans  It’s painful to read the papers about tens of thousands being denied life-saving cancer drugs solely because of costs and various trade protections that put profits ahead of people, as so many prepare to die rather than either be a burden to their families or fight for some more justice.  Reading about the USA being 35th of 148 countries around the world in internet speeds, while also being hugely more expensive for the service offered, because of monopoly protections here which in the same way are denying a basic utility to the majority of Americans and thereby diminishing their future lives and impoverishing them even further, seems just plain wrong to me in the same way.

            How is any of this moral, even within the shame of our contribution padded politics that rationalizes price protections for companies while being unwilling to impose price controls to protect people as consumers or victims of the same policies?  The horror of the drug company policies forced global reactions and drug company compromises in Africa to lower costs for AIDs drugs even though 14 million still suffer with no medication, hardly making this a success story. 

The fact that India is leading the charge to force generic cancer drugs to be licensed in that country where even with reduced prices only 1500 women of the 25000 afflicted, are still receiving the drug, says something powerful about the possibility of government action.   And, not surprisingly, when it comes to opportunity, no small reason that other countries have faster and cheaper internet is that many countries ahead of us insist on the speed and subsidize the access.  Last I knew we were still subsidizing rural telephone service in this country in order to force the companies to provide it, so why is the FCC and our government not muscling up on these same monopolies to get faster service at cheaper prices with more universal access?

Former President Bill Clinton says he regrets his bad decisions when president to defend and prop up the drug companies rather than jawboning them to drop their prices during the African AIDS crisis.  Some of the apologies seem hollow.  Death was as real for millions then as it is now.  What is the morality of asking forgiveness later when the impacts of inaction are immediate?  Will these be the issues that Obama has to apologize for five or ten or twenty years from now?

Seems to me the best alternatives would be to do the right things now when it makes the most difference to everyone, regardless of the political costs or the reduced campaign contributions.  This can’t just be about politics.  When lives and futures are at stake the morality of politics has to trump the expediency of the moment.