Saturday, August 13, 2016

Dear Appeals People at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina
Appeals Department
Level 1
P.O. Box 30055
Durham, NC 27702

RE: Denial of benefits (reference #: ZE-140429)

13 August 2016

Dear Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina:

On October 25, 2013, at the age of 43, I had a massive myocardial infarction that nearly killed me, did irreversible damage to my heart, and caused me acute psychological distress, which manifested itself as PTSD, depression, and anxiety.  After receiving conflicting medical diagnoses from two cardiologists in North Carolina (neither of which was a women’s heart expert), I sought at third opinion from women’s heart specialist Dr. Sharonne Hayes at the Mayo Clinic, where I was definitively diagnosed with Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), a genetic disorder that causes often fatal and spontaneous shredding of the lining of the arteries.

SCAD predominantly affects healthy women with no risk factors whatsoever – I am a long distance runner, non-smoker, long-time vegetarian, for example – and has only recently been studied, in large part because of discriminatory preexisting assumptions and attitudes about women and heart disease/attack.  For my heart, I take a low dose ace inhibitor, which takes some of the stress off of my damaged heart and allows the healthy part of my heart not to work as hard, and a daily low-dose aspirin.  For my anxiety, depression, and PTSD, along with seeking psychological therapy, I have tried Zoloft, Prozac, and Lexapro, with varying degrees of success.

At my annual physical in July of this year, I discussed with my doctor, Laurie LeMauviel, my continued struggles with the physical and psychological aspects of my heart attack; I don’t believe that the mind and body can be disaggregated and disengaged from one another, and I remain troubled that Western medicine (and Western insurance – even after the Affordable Care Act did significant work to address that issue) consistently refuse to recognize that treatment of one necessarily impacts the other.  My blood work indicated the my B12 levels were very low, and, given my battles with depression and anxiety and my seeming inability to find the correct medication to help me with those, Dr. LeMauviel suggested genetic testing for variants in my MTHFR.  Two abnormalities were diagnosed after this testing, and my knowledge of those abnormalities and their implications is absolutely medically necessary.  Here’s why:

The variations noted (677T and 1298C) are responsible for several factors that impact both my physical and mental health.  First, these variants are responsible for my body’s inability to properly absorb certain B vitamins, primarily B6 and B12, and this lack of absorption is probably the cause of some of my struggle with depression and anxiety.  Second, low levels of B vitamins contribute to elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood, which have been directly linked to increased risk for heart attack – including SCAD related heart attack.  This test may very well save my life.

I am concerned that this denial of benefits for this testing as “not medically necessary” is based on a failure to understand or appreciate the value of mental health in the service of physical health and vice versa.  Further, since being diagnosed with SCAD, I have been as vocal an advocate as possible for increased understanding and study of the ways that women have heart attacks, why women have heart attacks, and how the medical and insurance communities can more appropriately and responsibly respond to women’s heart attacks.  It is my sincere hope that this letter will do some positive work in the service of the discrimination that women have long faced, from medical providers and from insurers, with regard to heart and mental health.

Laura Wright

Cc: Wayne Goodwin, NC Commissioner of Insurance

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Scripting History: The Koch Brothers and the 2016 Presidential Campaign

I read somewhere that blogs shouldn't be very long because no one will read them.  Well, I'm sorry, but this one is long.  Please read it anyway.

There's a great scene in The Devil Wears Prada during which Anne Hathaway's character, feeling smugly superior and laughing disdainfully at Meryl-IS THERE NOTHING SHE CAN'T DO-Streep's character is completely taken apart by Dame Meryl in a moment that should let us all know that we have no free will whatsoever.  Here is it.  You should watch before continuing.

That's cerulean. 

So I'm reading Jane Mayer's Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, and I am Anne Hathaway to Charles and David Koch's Meryl Streep.  We are all Anne Hathaway.  In other words, and to mix all sorts of pop cultural references into a metaphorical hodgepodge, when it comes to how much information we have with regard to our current presidential election versus how much we think the have, we know nothing, Jon Snow.   Or, rather, Nothing we know, we who are Jon Snow.  As per Yoda.  Or something.  I'll stop now.

My education about the Kochs started some time back; I learned about how they basically decided to and then followed up on effectively owning my state, North Carolina, how Governor Pat McCrory put Art Pope, a Koch ally, in charge of the budget, and how Art Pope published the names of people arrested during the Moral Monday protests in 2014, a weekly civil disobedience action led by the NAACP's Rev. William Barber and other religious progressives that took place in Raleigh.  The protests were in response to increased voter restrictions (which have just recently been ruled unconstitutional), draconian restrictions on abortion availability, the undermining of environmental protections, and a host of various other republican led agendas promoted and funded by the Koch brothers.

Then I watched, in disbelief, after having protested and protested against it, as Western Carolina University, where I work and where my father graduated from college in the 1950s, accepted a $2 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation to fund the establishment of a so-called Center for the Study of Free Enterprise.   The "study" of.  Which, in Kochese, means the "promotion" of. But more on that in a moment.

And then I handed over my email to the Pope Center -- Art Pope's Pope Center -- in the inevitable public records request that it made after my vocal opposition to the Koch funding.  I did that because as a state employee, I apparently had no choice.  So I handed it right over to Jay Schalin, the dude who requested it for the Pope Center.  But not before I published all of that email and explained the circumstances for doing so here. 

Back to Mayer's book: it is a meticulously researched and supported accounting of how two incredibly wealthy oil barons, Charles and David Koch (but, seriously, mostly just Charles), have very stealthily purchased enough covert political influence to control public school and university curricula, environmental and social policy, and the outcome of political elections at all levels of government. The ideology to which they ascribe is the doctrine of the free market, of the evils of government control and intervention (in the form of health care, environmental policies, and taxes, to name a few examples). And they've polluted and consumed their way to the top all while effectively crushing anyone, including their older brother Frederick, who has gotten in their way. 

It's a chilling documentation of the ways that money, greed, and single-minded determination have allowed two people to effectively control the rest of us, often without our noticing, but it is also a story of fallibility: throughout Mayer's book are repeated examples of how, even as they have had amazing success in undermining public education, environmental regulation, workplace safety, and our very democracy, they have also on occasion fucked up.  They have committed crimes for which they have been heavily fined, if not imprisoned.  For example, in 1980, David Koch ran as the VP candidate on the Libertarian ticket . . . and he lost. In 1999, Koch Industries was fined $269 million in the wrongful deaths of two teenagers, Danielle Smalley and Jason Stone, in 1996; the truck they were driving exploded when the ignition lit a cloud of butane that had leaked from a corroded pipeline owned by Koch Industries.  And in 2000, Koch Industries plead guilty to a charge of concealing information in misleading regulators by underreporting the amount of benzene its Corpus Christi refinery emitted.  The company paid $10 million in fines and another $10 million in upgrades to its facility.  There are other instances of miscalculations and short sightedness on the part of the brothers, but the one that we should all be most concerned about at this present moment is the way that, despite the fact that both seem utterly baffled and displeased by this reality, they created the monster that is Donald Trump as our nation's republican presidential nominee.  And Mike Pence, his choice for VP, has deep connections to the brothers.

Below are some points that I hope demonstrate the ways in which we are all pawns in the Koch brothers' misguided efforts to undermine the democratic process, academic freedom, and government regulation of any kind.  I offer them compliments of Jane Mayer's careful account of the brothers' history -- and I offer them to let you know that whatever manner of rhetoric you are spewing and whatever ways in which you are holding forth about our current presidential election, the Koch Brothers scripted it for you.  And while the Kochs have given up on controlling the presidency this time around -- calling for their donors to drop support of Trump -- they are still very much on track to control who gets elected further down the chain.  Don't think they can do it?  Just look at North Carolina.  Get ready for the senate ads that they are funding.  Those should be a terrifying hoot.

Four more years....

1. As Mayer's book details in its first part, "Weaponizing Philanthropy," the brothers Koch have established a philanthropical network made up of 501c4s and 501c6s with far reaching and often hard to trace influence.  Via this network, the so-called "Kochtopus," the brothers "subsidized networks of seemingly unconnected think tanks and academic programs and spawned advocacy groups to make their arguments in the national political debate.  They hired lobbyists to push their interests in Congress and operatives to create synthetic grassroots groups [Mayers and others call these "astroturf," or fake grass roots movements] to give their movement political momentum on the ground.  In addition, they financed legal groups and judicial junkets to press their cases in the courts.  Eventually, they added to this a private political machine that rivaled, and threatened to subsume, the Republican Party" (Mayer 3).

This illustration is probably too small to read, isn't it?

2.  The agenda that these centers of vast influence has furthered is one of limited government, "drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry, particularly in the environmental arena" (4).

3. The brothers' strategy for furthering their political and economic agenda is two pronged: first, they focus on young people (via a strategy based on the Nazi Youth model) through the manipulation of curricula from grade school through the university level, and they then focus on influencing politics through the scholarship produced by faculty members who are effectively in their employ.  Charles has noted that young people constitute "the only group that is open to a radically different social philosophy" (qtd. in Mayer 56).  At the university level, the goal was to establish what James Piereson describes as "beachheads" at prestigious universities: establish "conservative cells, or 'beachheads,' at the most influential schools in order to gain the greatest leverage" and "fund the conservative intelligentsia in such a way that it would not raise questions about academic integrity" (qtd. in Mayer 103).  You can read about how this worked out for them at George Mason University as well as about their donations to other universities; all this money comes with ideological baggage and expectations.

According to West Virginia University Tech economics professor John David, "entire academic areas at universities can be bought just like politicians.  The difference is that universities are supposed to permit open dialogue and exchange of ideas and not be places for the indoctrination of innocent students with dictated propaganda prescribed by outside special interests" (qtd. in Mayer 156).  

I couldn't agree more.

4. With Obama's win in 2008, the Kochs freaked out.  Charles Koch said that his election constituted the "greatest loss of liberty and prosperity since the 1930s" (qtd. in Mayer 6), and the brothers engineered the various republican impasses that worked to keep Obama from realizing his election promise of working across the aisle to create policy and change.  They promoted the idea that Obama was African in his outlook, "even though he was born in America, abandoned by his Kenyan father as a toddler, raised mainly in Hawaii by his American mother, and never set foot on the African continent until he was an adult" (184).  David Koch claimed that Obama's father was a "hard core economic socialist," and that Obama was "a great admirer of his father's point of view" (184).

5. The brothers created the astroturf Tea Party movement.  Remember that?  According to political scientist Theda Skocpol and graduate student Vanessa Williamson, authors of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, the Tea Party was a "mass rebellion . . . funded by corporate billionaires, like the Koch brothers, led by over-the-hill GOP kingpins like Dick Arney, and ceaselessly promoted by millionaire media celebrities like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity" (qtd. in Mayer 168).

6.  They created the "permanent campaign" experience that has come to define our current political situation.  According to Mayer, this campaign is "waged not by politicians but by the people whose wealth gave them the ability to fund their own field operations with which they could undermine the outcome of the election" (169).

And now here we are in 2016, with this guy.

The Cheeto Jesus is the proverbial Tea Party chicken coming home to roost.  He is the monstrous version of the paranoid, selfish, manipulative, and socially irresponsible billionaire boys club that fed disenfranchised feeling Americans a bunch of false fear and fooled them into thinking all manner of things: that Obama was a radical, Muslim, socialist; that he wanted to take their guns away; that his health care plan would cost them dearly; that our borders needed strengthening.  This bloviating flesh bag, this clueless numpty (you do have to hand it to the Scots.  They are so much better with the insults than we are), is the Tea Party personified: inexperienced in politics, uninformed about actual facts and comfortable with that reality, and ready to blow shit up just because.  For freedom!

But the Donald isn't playing by the rules, because once again, Charles and David have miscalculated. 

That said, the fear mongering that has infused his campaign speeches has been scripted by the Kochs.  His ability to convince so many people that America is falling apart and needs to be made great again (whatever that means) is a narrative that was written written for him by Charles, David, the academics they paid off to give the air of credibility to their self-serving interests, and Fox news.  The cult of hyper-masculine misogyny that has been embraced by both the right and the left -- in the form of Bernie bros -- has also been scripted by these guys; it's the narrative of entitlement that allows men in whatever party to yell, incorrectly, that Hillary is a liar.  This is a story that was written for you guys; you didn't write it.  And it's not true.

What is true is that all of us -- republican or democrat -- are currently walking around acting like crazy people, accusing each other of being stupid or traitorous or what have you when, in fact, we are merely feeding into the destruction of our democracy in ways that were scripted for us ages ago by the Koch brothers and their operatives.  These guys want anarchy, even if they are pretending otherwise.  The good news is that they have proven to be fallible in the past, so they don't always get what they want.  We don't actually have to give them what they want.

Oh: and think being a Libertarian places you outside of our current political morass?  Not so fast, you laissez-faire, "liberty" loving mofos.  In 1976, Charles Koch wrote a blueprint for the creation of the Libertarian movement.  As Thomas Frank, who wrote the 2005 book What's the Matter with Kansas?, noted that Libertarianism is supposedly about "principles, but what it's really about is political expedience.  It's basically a corporate front, masked as a philosophy" (qtd. in Mayer 123).

* Congratulations! You've made it to the end!  

Friday, July 22, 2016

6 ways Trump's RNC speech sounded eerily similar to Hitler's 1932 Appeal to the Nation

I realize all the ways in which Hitler comparisons are dangerous, risky, and ill-advised.  That said, I’m going to make one anyway. It’s worth noting that Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at theRNC last night bears striking similarities to Adolf Hitler’s Appeal to the Nation, which he delivered on July 15, 1932.

With thanks to Forrest Caskey for posting this on FB

I am not saying that Trump would be like Hitler should he, goddess forbid, win the election.  Sounding like Hilter might not lead one to murder millions of innocent people, but sounding like Hitler, when Hitler first sounded like Hitler, certainly led to that outcome. So the similarity of Trump’s rhetoric to Hitler’s is worth noting – and, I hope you’ll agree, worth some concern.


Much has already been written about the ways in which the United States is poised precariously on the verge of fascism, thanks in large part to the efforts of such entities as the Koch brothers. In May, Robert Kagan wrote in the Washington Post of Trump’s transcendence of the Republican Party – an institution to which neither he nor the majority of his supporters feel any true allegiance.  Kagan asserts that

Republican politicians marvel at how [Trump] has “tapped into” a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public. But what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms.

Successful fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Führer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation. Whatever the problem, he could fix it. Whatever the threat, internal or external, he could vanquish it, and it was unnecessary for him to explain how.

Yes, Donald Trump is a fascist.The internet proverb known as Godwin’s Law warns of the increasing likelihood of a Nazi or Hitler reference the longer a conversation goes. That law would seem to apply to Donald Trump in a different way: The longer he runs in (and atop) the Republican presidential primary, the probability of him sounding like a Nazi increases.

In the case of Trump's speech last night, Smith’s assertion from eight months ago was manifest. And if we’re going to vilify Melania for cribbing from Michelle Obama – who Melania has admitted to admiring -- then we should also turn a critical eye towards who’s influencing the Donald, who he admires, who he’s cribbing. 

This is the best.  But not as best as man bun Trump

I’m sure Hitler’s family thought he was a nice guy, too.

1. On numbers:

Trump: July 21, 2016

Who would have believed that when we started this journey on June 16, last year, we — I say we because we are a team — would have received almost 14 million votes, the most in the history of the Republican party?

Hitler: July 15, 1932

Thirteen million people of all professions and ranks—thirteen million workers, peasants, and intellectuals; thirteen million Catholics and Protestants; members of all German Länder and tribes—have formed an inseparable alliance. And thirteen million have recognized that the future of all lies only in the joint struggle and the joint successes of all. Millions of peasants have now realized that the important thing is not that they comprehend the necessity of their own existence; rather, it is necessary to enlighten the other professions and walks of life as to the German peasant, and to win them for his cause.

2. On nationalism:


Tonight, I will share with you for action for America. The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America first. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo. As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America first, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect. The respect that we deserve. The American people will come first once again.


And millions of workers have similarly realized today that, in spite of all the theories, their future lies not in some “Internationale” but in the realization on the part of their other Volksgenossen that, without German peasants and German workers, there simply is no German power.

3. On class:


Big business, elite media and major donors are lining up behind the campaign of my opponent because they know she will keep our rigged system in place. They are throwing money at her because they have total control over every single thing she does. She is their puppet, and they pull the strings. That is why Hillary Clinton's message is that things will never change. Never ever.


Thirteen years ago we National Socialists were mocked and derided—today our opponents’ laughter has turned to tears! A faithful community of people has arisen which will gradually overcome the prejudices of class madness and the arrogance of rank. A faithful community of people which is resolved to take up the fight for the preservation of our race, not because it is made up of Bavarians or Prussians or men from Württemberg or Saxony; not because they are Catholics or Protestants, workers or civil servants, bourgeois or salaried workers, etc., but because all of them are Germans.

4. On unity:


I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals. These are the forgotten men and women of our country, and they are forgotten, but they will not be forgotten long. These are people who work hard but no longer have a voice. I am your voice.


For we are not fighting merely for the mandates or the ministerial posts, but rather for the German individual, whom we wish to and shall join together once more to inseparably share a single common destiny.

5. On fighting for you:


I am your voice. So to every parent who dreams for their child, and every child who dreams for their future, I say these words to you tonight: I'm with you, and I will fight for you, and I will win for you.


The Almighty, Who has allowed us in the past to rise from seven men to thirteen million in thirteen years, will further allow these thirteen million to once become a German Volk. It is in this Volk that we believe, for this Volk we fight; and if necessary, it is to this Volk that we are willing, as the thousands of comrades before us, to commit ourselves body and soul.

6. On promises and the call for support:


I am asking for your support tonight so that I can be year champion in the White House.

To all Americans tonight, in all our cities and towns, I make this promise:
We will make America strong again.
We will make America proud again.
We will make America safe again.
And we will make America great again!
God bless you and goodnight! I love you!


If the nation does its duty, then the day will come which restores to us: one
Reich in honor and freedom—work and 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Black Lives Matter and the Arrogance of White, Male, Heterosexual Politicians

Dear bickering idiots that we’ve for reasons unknown elected to represent us:

In particular, you can STFU, Paul Ryan.  I am about sick of you

Not that you seem to give even the remotest of remote shits, but there is a war going on.  Or maybe there are several wars.  Or maybe many. 

All of these wars are led by people who look like most of you: straight white men.  You are the ones who are overwhelmingly behind nearly every mass shooting that has taken place in our country.  You are the ones who kill women.  And you are the ones passing legislation again and again to keep women from being able to terminate a pregnancy – a right granted by our Supreme Court -- because you are so scared of women as to be ridiculous. 

Awww.  Were you feeling disenfranchised?  Because shut up already.  You talk too much.  You should smile more (except for Jared Laughner, who looks like a cross between a deranged clown and Varys from Game of Thrones)

You are the ones killing black people for being black. You are the ones passing voter restrictions to keep black people (and any person of color) from being able to vote because, let’s face it, like your unfounded fear of women, you are super afraid of darker skinned people. 

And all of this insane nonsense is leading to a completely intolerable and wholly indefensible loss of life.  And it's not a loss of life for white men.  It's a loss of life for the rest of us, and it's happening while you are out there schmoozing, enjoying your popularity and privilege, like a high school football star who will become obsolete as soon as you graduate.  And you all will.  For the rest of us, it's a loss of dignity, a loss of the right to even fucking live.  A loss of safety, of security in a country that you are supposed to KEEP SAFE FOR US.

And it's a space in which white men lose, over and over again, their humanity by the actions that they perpetrate on the rest of us.  Why am I targeting you, bra?  Because your white male hegemonic noise is perceived as a fragile thing.  By you and your fellow bras. 

Why am I targeting the rest of us? Because the rest of us are just sitting here upholding it, and we need to stop that shit RIGHT THE F NOW.

And our elected leaders are protecting it. Because they are it.

They are protecting a class of people who are at the LEAST amount of risk in our society while they turn their backs on WE THEIR PEOPLE with whose care they are charged, whose care they accepted, whose care they campaigned upon, whose care they promised to represent.  DO YOUR JOB already; we are sick of your complete and utter unwillingness to DO YOUR JOB.  

The rest of us would get fired. And I sincerely hope that we fire you because we should. Enough with your complete incompetence already.  You are failing us.  And I hope that we wake up to that fact very soon.

Our government passed a ban on assault rifles back in 1994. It expired a decade later, and you’ve done nothing reinstating it because your redneck brothers in arms, the NRA, have you in their pockets, you useless and immoral scum. You who have taken your jobs in order to serve your constituents.  You. You have blood all over you, not just on your hands.  But you. You don’t care: you have money. You get to be on TV!  You are an asshole! 

You have influence and power, and you are conscripted by your stupid paranoia.  Let that shit go, and, once again, DO YOUR JOB.  It’s the job you were hired – by us, THE PEOPLE -- to do.

Right on, ya'll.
But you won’t.  So here’s this:

The rest of us.  I mean those of us who aren’t white, heterosexual men – and also the white heterosexual men who aren’t afraid to call their brethren out for their racism, sexism, and homophobia (and I’ve seen precious few.  And I know lots of “progressive men”) because we want your allegiance even though you’re scared that giving it to us will make you a pussy and a faggot  -- vote these assholes out of office.  Do it now.  The rest of us have got your back.  I’ve got your back.  For reals, ya’ll.

Do the people we’ve elected to serve us look like us?  Most of them don’t.  Do they have a clue about us?  Of course not.  And my sense is that if our elected officials don’t start ACTUALLY serving the people that they represent, then we’re back to “by any means necessary,” which looks a lot like yesterday in Dallas.  And none of us, NONE OF US, want that, guys

A white, straight woman who believes that Black Lives Matter.  Who also believes that there is a concerted war on women (who continue to make up over 50% of the population.  Listen, ya’ll, WTF?  WE ARE ACTUALLY THE MF MAJORITY).  Who also believes that LGBTQ people are persecuted.  Damn, I live in the state that brought us HB2. 

So, seriously, ya’ll, do something.  Stop expressing sadness on FB and do something.  Write something.  Vote something.  Stop something in its tracks.  It’s about time.