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Friday, October 30, 2009


Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Dec 15, 2009 1:24 PM PST

This chapter is devoted to Jimmy Stewart, who created the memorable hero of It’s a Wonderful Life and many other great characters such as Harvey and the title character of Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington. Stewart loved nothing more than acting in fun message films that used to remind us of our common humanity and our duties as citizens of America and the world.

I am leaving Manhattan  today with mixed feelings. I want to see my wife after an exhausting travel schedule over the last four months, but there is so much more that I wanted to experience in this wonderful place that considers itself the center of the civilized world, with some  justification. With all of its exciting attractions, I can certainly see why so many would not live anywhere else despite some of its more depressing aspects, particularly for its less fortunate.

These include the middle class elderly on fixed income, the disabled and homeless, the lame and the mentally ill and psychologically traumatized who are often treated on the street as if invisible. The teenagers in the less affluent Boroughs have a distinct lack of hope for the future. I saw the sick who could not get help and the small business owner suffering under burdensome taxes and an economy ruined by the wealthy grasping class. The amazing thing is that everywhere I went I was met with respect, friendliness and smiling and helpful residents who were proud of their city, rich and poor alike.

In some newspapers and on talk shows in the metro area I heard and read complaints about the expense of building a real social safety net, including universal access to health care. I also read of a small businessman in New Jersey who died after declining emergency care that would have saved his life. He was afraid that he would lose his business and with it the means to provide for his family if he asked for help to treat what turned out to be a fatal illness in the absence of proper care. It seemed to me that everyone was concerned with holding on to whatever remained of their personal piece of the pie. I wondered how the good people of the area reacted to the news that a local businessman died of self-neglect because he was afraid that he might be bankrupted by medical bills.

As I always did on the road, I listened to local talk show hosts  while in New York. Most talk show callers and letter writers  who complained that we cannot take care of the losers in a trickle-down economy displayed no insight into the fact that we have no choice but to reform health care if we want any but the most wealthy to continue to have access to it. The US taxpayer already picks up the bulk of the tab for the total cost of providing medical care to the insured, the uninsured and those on government assistance who have not yet fallen through our increasingly porous social safety net. With health care costs rising in uncontrolled fashion, we will bankrupt America trying to force the middle class taxpayer to continue subsidizing the corporate medical insurance industry unless we elect a Senate with the courage to challenge its corporate Puppetmasters.

I have a nightmare vision of Manhattan becoming a large prison island guarded by Blackwater to protect the rich living in barricaded communities. Thinking of this, I am reminded of why so many have escaped from New York before the Bloombergs, Goldmans, Sachs and the movers and shakers behind Citicorps succeeded in destroying the city that apparently slept while the infrastructure rotted. I couldn’t wait to pay the last of the endless tolls as I drove toward JFK airport, wondering why New York of all cities couldn’t decide how to use their enormous tax revenues to keep the bridges and roads in repair without soaking the public with user fees and constantly reducing the flow of traffic to a trickle. Out West we have what we call freeways, paid for with far fewer tax dollars for publicly owned roads.

As I have tried to point out in previous essays, the danger to the American experiment in democracy is not just from the misinformed average American voter. It is not from the honest politician trying to help while working in a system corrupted by the Supreme Court and the more self-interested of our Senators. It is not with a President who had no choice but to take corporate dollars to fund a campaign that gave unrealized hope to so many frightened and angry Americans. The modern Presidential contest more resembles an advertising campaign than an attempt to inform voters of their real choices. The result is that our President is beholden to corporate interests if he wants to get anything accomplished without fear of meeting JFK’s fate. Despite its failure of courage, the danger is not even solely the fault of the corporate media that has resorted to infotainment and that ignores the crimes of its corporate owners. The audience is distracted by the everyday difficulty of making a living in an increasingly feudal society. Exhausted and in a daze, they sit down in front of the TV ripe for brainwashing.

The average citizen has sat by and watched while TV news has become a means of diversion with and Faux News in place of well researched articles informing us of important events that affect all of us. Everyone knows that it is growing harder every year to care for the needs of our families. We have to realize that only together can we change the system. Instead of attempting to escape the increasingly complex real world and facing its problems, we must clean up the mess we are in by talking to each other about real solutions instead of watching the melodrama of two corporate parties blaming each other for their mutual failures. Despite the deep divisions in American society, tere is still hope. I saw it on the faces of people on the street enjoying the delights of Christmas in Manhattan. This joy shone not only in the faces of the laughing children but those who walked the streets alone, greeting others they passed instead of walking by with faces averted.

We can still save this country and our planet if we are willing to commit ourselves to caring for each other. If we remember when we are alone or at home with our families that we are all in this world together, we can reform our government and rededicate it to worldwide Democracy and Peace. Isn’t that what we all really want for Christmas? Let us enjoy Christmas, Hanukkah and the spirit of the season. In the New Year, let us pray that all over the world we will begin to ponder how selfishness, fear, clan mentality and self-imposed isolation have led us to the brink of self destruction. If we can all begin to look deeply into the faces of the brothers and sisters we meet on the street and see the hope of love and peace we all share, we will teach our children well and love one another as we would wish to love ourselves.

Happy holidays one and all.

In the words of Charles Lesley:

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mid
God and sinners reconciled"

Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"

Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die

Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Love, peace and freedom

Rick Staggenborg, MD
From the heart of Manhatten

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