Just as we occasionally see community fundraising efforts surface with donation collection cans in convenience stores for local folks experiencing medical emergencies, today the progressive community is working to save one of its own.

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Just as we occasionally see community fundraising efforts surface with donation collection cans in convenience stores for local folks experiencing medical emergencies, today the progressive community is working to save one of its own.

Andy Stephenson is an activist, a vigilant worker on behalf of clean voting in America. He has worked tirelessly to help uncover details of electronic voting fraud in the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections. He's devoted years of his life to making America a more democratic nation.

And now his friends are passing the hat to help pay for surgery to save him from pancreatic cancer. The surgery will cost around $50,000, but the hospital wants $25,000 up-front before they'll begin. People can send contributions to Andy Stephenson, P O Box 25624, Seattle, WA 98165-1124, or can visit Paypal and contribute to email address Andy_Stephenson@comcast.net .

We are the only developed democracy in the world where such a spectacle could take place.

Dickens wrote about such horrors in Victorian England - Bob Cratchit's son, Tiny Tim, in need of medical care that was unavailable without a wealthy patron like Ebenezer Scrooge - but the UK has since awakened and become civilized.

Even the tyrants of Communist China provide health care to their people, a bitter irony for the unemployed American factory workers they've displaced, and the Wal-Mart workers who sell their goods.

Andy Stephenson's story is something that could only happen in an oligarchic banana republic - or in the USA.

We live in a nation that can afford for Bill Frist's family to make billions of dollars by taking formerly public hospitals and health-care facilities and privatizing them, adding to an explosion in the cost of health care, but claims it can't afford national health insurance.

We have the most expensive health-care system in the world, but are 27th in the world in the quality of our health.

We've produced health-care billionaires and millionaires in America, but have 45 million uninsured.

And even health insurance in America is not much damn good - about a quarter of all bankruptcies last year in this nation were among insured people who were wiped out by co-pays, deductibles, and "non-covered" hospital and health care expenses. (Of course, thanks to the efforts of the good Dr. Frist, along with 100 percent of Congress's Republicans, George Bush Junior, and a toxic handful of Democrats, such bankruptcies will be infinitely more difficult in the future.)

Ever since Democratic President Harry Truman proposed a national, single-payer health insurance system, Republicans and "conservative" Democrats have fought it. Nonetheless, LBJ did manage to slip a single-payer system through Congress, in the form of Medicare.

And Medicare terrifies the corporate cons, because it has the potential - with a single stroke of legislation - to overnight become a program that covers every American, a national single-payer heath insurance system.

This is one reason why Republicans inserted a poisoned drug benefit into it - mandating that Medicare cannot negotiate wholesale prices with drug companies but must always pay full retail. Thus Medicare's "crisis" - the next domestic terror attack by the cons - isn't forty years down the road, but will come in the next year or two.

Medicare is today tottering on the edge of running in the red, and the drug benefit will push it over that edge. Cons in the right-wing think tanks and in Congress are hoping the upcoming Medicare financial "crisis" will provide a good excuse to then privatize it and kill it off.

Yet Medicare is spectacularly successful. While private for-profit insurance companies (and HMOs, PPOs, etc.) keep anywhere from $15 to $35 of every $100 that passes through their fingers to pay for stockholder dividends, profits, multimillionaire CEO salaries, private jets, marketing, fancy headquarters, and an army of phone banks to deny claims, Medicare keeps only $2 to $3 of every $100.

There are some things that government does do better than private for-profit industry, and providing affordable health care is one of them (as you can see with a visit to Japan, Germany, or any other advanced nation whose system isn't under assault from corporate cons).

While George Bush Junior (who hates to be called "junior") whines about a Social Security system that won't face a crisis for another forty years, Andy Stephenson is facing a crisis today. As are tens of millions of other Americans.

We can help Andy to survive and return to his work by sending him a donation today. And we must help America awaken and become the sane and civilized nation we have always thought ourselves to be by expanding Medicare to cover all Americans.

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