Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Have You Done To Yourself?

I work with alcoholics and opiate addicts who are in active physical withdrawal from their drugs. Night after night they are brought onto my unit on stretchers, in wheelchairs or on the arms of concerned family and friends. Often these people look and smell aweful, unbathed, unhealthy, and unhappy. My first task, once they get in, is to take their vital signs. I watch them through the corner of my eye, trying to be unobtrusive in their terrible moment, while the blood pressure cuff inflates. I wonder again and again, “What have you done to yourself?”

This is a question all of us need to answer and not to each other first, but to ourselves. Dr. Michael Stein wrote presciently in The Addict: One Patient, One Doctor, One Year of his experiences as a practicing internist. In his practice he treats people with maladies ranging from hypertension to diabetes to opiate addiction.

In his considerations, Dr. Stein put forward the idea that the most significant gains in overall health for people in the twenty first century will not be a result of science and hygiene, as in the previous centuries, but in lifestyle choices. The CDC reports on their website that two thirds of Americans are over weight or obese. It is not just the heroine addicts who resist making necessary lifestyle changes in the face of life endangering consequences.

What does this mean for the current health care debate? Work on the legislation that could change the way Americans access the health care system is under profound scrutiny perhaps as I write this. Our democratically-elected congress is literally pulling together new law that could make it possible for all American families to enjoy the security hundreds of millions of people in other modern democracies have in knowing health care is accessible and affordable to them. Let’s pray fairness reigns out over the bullies of industry this time.

But the possibility of these remarkable changes will not answer my question. Americans deserve excellent health care at affordable prices. However, health cannot be purchased. How we choose to live is the first and most necessary step towards good health. No legislator or doctor can hand that to us. It is something we must choose and then work towards every day.

Friday, November 6, 2009

An Educated Guess: Hasan Knew Difference Between Right and Wrong (He just didn't care)

The details of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's life, accused shooter at yesterday's Fort Hood horror, are few and far between. There is, what I feel, an explanatory tone to what details have been given and some of the commentary offered on network and cable TV. Some of this tone concerns me.

The New York Times is reporting from multiple sources Hasan is an American born of immigrant parents from Palestine, a Muslim, army-educated psychiatrist, and, in the latter capacity, second-hand witness to the horrors of war. It was reported he was to be deployed to a combat zone later this month, and that he told a cousin he did not want to go. He was also reported in the NYT as being a vocal critic of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and was acutely aware of the brutality some soldiers experienced in these wars through his work treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, a severe and persistent anxiety disorder, in returning soldiers.

The entire episode is a horror beyond my abilities to describe and the surviving victims will be the appropriate tellers of the story. I simply want to point out the emphasis given by some commentators of Hasan's exposure to second-hand trauma through his treatment of soldiers, and the implication this could have been partly to blame for his outrageous behavior, may be misleading.

I would be surprised if hearing the horrors of war from fellow soldiers didn't negatively impact Hasan. But it is the way in which it effected him that singles Hasan out from other mental health professionals, soldiers, and people in general.

In my work, I have had opportunity to do forensic interviewing with mental health professionals and am trained in the field myself. I have seen a therapist so effected by years spent listening to children recount their stories of abuse and neglect that this woman literally cried the entire time I spoke with her. A coworker happened across this therapist's garage sale around the same time and mentioned how the poor woman began crying in a casual conversation. This is an understandable secondary PTSD reaction in a therapist.

I worked on a case through the juvenile court system as a child advocate that became so upsetting to me I literally had an anxiety reaction to the sight of the social worker on the case. She had the same reaction to the sight of me, and we snickered sadly at how upset we must be to have such a reaction.

Some people in the helping profession who are experiencing what is called Compassion Fatigue, or "burnout," may have difficulty with personal relationships, develop compulsions and even commit suicide at least partly as a result of bearing too much witness to the agony of others. The line that connects these varied negative responses is one that did not intersect with Hasan's deeds yesterday. Burned out helpers generally cause harm to themselves. Of course, people closest to them may suffer, as is typical when a loved one is having a difficult time. But for Hasan to take aggressive action against the very people he was trusted to heal is completely out of bounds and has a different rationale entirely, I suspect.

Hasan's behavior points much more toward anti-social personality disorder or perhaps narcissistic personality disorder than it does a severe anxiety disorder. It certainly sounds in the reports that he was scared as hell of being deployed into a combat zone where he could not control the violence. So why would he walk in and do so much violence, likely aware he would be hurt or killed in the process? My guess is that it wasn't violence this man feared, but not being able to decide who does what violence to whom.

In short, he may have simply wanted control. Where this level of need for control exists, I believe, there cannot be empathy, as well. And empathy for the lives of more than forty people should be an easy thing for a psychiatrist to feel no matter how many horror stories he heard or negative comments he may have gotten from ignorant people about his heritage as a Muslim or Arab.

If I am correct, a desire to control so powerful that it entirely supersedes a person's natural ability to empathize with other people may have a lot to do with serious mental health problems and emotional limitations Hasan developed over a lifetime. These mental health problems, notably, a personality disorder, are distinct from other mental health problems in several ways and very importantly here, because someone with anti-social or narcissistic tendencies knows the difference between right and wrong (unlike people suffering from something like a psychotic stress response). They just don't care what they are doing is considered wrong, because they believe they are unique, separate from others, and not rightly subject to the rules the rest of us live by.

The distinction between knowing the difference between right and wrong and not for this surviving gunmen will become very important when he stands trial. It could become that of life from death. I doubt anyone will afford him any more control when it comes to those matters.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Threadbare Representational Government

Ms. Scozzafava’s withdrawal from a congressional race in up-state New York apparently under the pressure put upon her campaign by outside support of a puppet candidate, Mr. Hoffman of the "Conservative Party," may be another death rattle for our representational government. However painful to acknowledge, it is not only the Neo Cons who are working towards the end of any legitimacy to our government. Even our faulty news sources have inadvertently brought us word from all corners of corruption this week.

But starting with the Neo Cons, The New York Times reported this morning that, despite local Republican anger over manipulation of their electoral process, the Neo Con movement moved in aggressively against Scozzafava's moderate views on gay marriage and abortion rights. Perhaps directed by their relationship with "God" or perhaps out of pure ambition, mental giants like Sarah Palin and our own Tim Pawlenty, put their support strongly behind Hoffman. Hoffman recently demonstrated in an interview with the local newspaper, Watertown Daily Times, his unequivocal ignorance of issues in a district he does not live in, but which he apparently believes he is the fittest representative. But why should someone need knowledge of a people or an earnest desire to represent their best interests when you have the will of God on your side?

It is clear that having a competent, moderate African American man in the White House with his equally competent and moderate African American wife has literally driven the Conservative movement (and by that I mean the Conservative White Movement) completely off their rocker. They are running on fear with hair sticking straight out and hands flapping over their screaming heads. Truly ridiculous. But the very degraded state of our economy, financial institutions and every system that supports a strong citizenry, including education and health systems, leaves us very vulnerable. Fanatics are given an ear during desperate times. In fact, in the U.S., fanatics have been given an ear in flush times, as well.

Then there was the leak of information about congress people being investigated on potential ethics violations including several Dems last week. I cringe at the potential involvement of such people as Maxine Waters (D-CA) in ethics violations, but fully support an outing of any and all shady dealings. She has been a strong advocate for economic fairness for all citizens. We need to make sure she hasn't been using her position to advocate for her husband's business interests in a federally-bailed out bank. If this is simply an investigation into unfounded accusations, lets hear who those accusations came from. Any under-handed players potentially involved in this "leak" by political competitors to the Dems may be discouraged by the reactions of Dem supporters.

I say, "Lets have it!" The time for truth is nigh. We need to know, just tell us the truth, who exactly is our representational government representing at this point? Is it the small groups of wealthy folks who control the vast majority of wealth and easily manipulate our government to get that wealth out of the grocery and heating budgets of our citizenry when their business ventures collapse? Is it the angry, White, conservative Christians who consider themselves the foot soldiers of Christ as they work to pummel with their negativity and rage the people they consider less human than themselves? Do these groups overlap? Maybe, maybe not. What they have in common is a deep sense of entitlement to legal, cultural and/or economic resources at the expense of others.

My point is this, competent, moderate folks of all kinds need to stay very active right now. This is a vulnerable time for our nation and our people. Voices of reason need to continue putting pressure on our representatives to act in our interests. We want easily afforded health care, strong investment in our infrastructure, and the acknowledgment and support of all families including those that include a same sex couple. All of these are moderate positions that seek only fair and respectful treatment of our people.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nobel Peace Prizes for All of Us!

In a rather breathtakingly unexpected manner, the Nobel Peace Prize was delivered this morning to our sitting President, Barack Obama. Wow. What could have motivated a body to shift from honoring individual accomplishments to honoring the possibility of future accomplishments? That is what many of us are wondering right now. I have an idea.

Obama has been under relentless, brutal attack by the religious and political right of our country for years (the attacks intensifying even since inauguration), buoyed by the millions of Americans whose opinions they mirror. Maybe the Peace Prize is being used by a progressive, liberal European body as a kind of friendly helping hand. When a person is embattled within the confines of their highly conflictual family of origin, sometimes higher functioning extended family members seek to help out by giving him or her a pep talk, some encouragement as this person must face again and again the challenges that go to the bone.

This Nobel Peace Prize may be akin to a pep talk or encouraging hand on the back for Obama and the rest of us who have supported his efforts to take the United State, like a backwards family where bullies run the show supported by followers of weaker wills but motivated entirely by fear, and make it a nation where respect for the basic dignity of human life is expressed through excellent health care, education systems, and public and private works.

I write again: the challenges that our nation is facing right now go down to the very bones of who we are and how we envision ourselves as a people, as a nation, as an expanded form of family. We are laid bare by our struggles over health care and the seemingly impossible choices to be made in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our people have been bullied by an unseeing industrial elite for decades, perhaps longer. The idea of personal responsibility has been used to club us over the head with exploding costs and reduced quality in our health care, our higher education, and ever-shrinking real wages.

The reality for young families is and has been one of a profoundly diminished quality of life set starkly against the dreams and expectations we developed as children that ours would be a country where an education and work ethic would interface with a basically equitable economy to create stability for our families and hope for our future. But these hopes have been repeatedly dashed by the realities of our profoundly uneven economic playing field. This system has been promoted and protected by people who appear to have utter disregard for basic human dignity. These people are not interested in an equitable, free market system where the best of the best win out. They apparently believe in the use of advantage to manipulate markets and political bodies to protect their vested interest in mediocre performance with outrageous returns.

Many of our political "leaders" have represented the interests of these elite few like dogs chasing a trail of fleshy bits left behind for reward by their masters. Through these dogs, unchecked corporate interests have been allowed open access to our government bodies including military. And millions of us have yelled, protested, read, voted, and written about the injustices. We have used our non-violent, legal forms of protest for years apparently to little avail.

And then Obama showed up on our political scene and he campaigned on exactly what we had lost- hope. Through him we began to allow ourselves to hope that our government could represent the best interests of all of us. We began to imagine, for the first time in a long time, justice for the people who have worked and toiled and benefited the larger system for years.

For us political wonks, we began to imagine a government led by people intelligent enough to recognize that there are environmental, political, economic, and military challenges to our nation right now that are so deep and so wide as to require us to dramatically alter our public and private sector behaviors. Even the very lifestyles of individual families need to significantly change if they are to be a part of the solutions.

With most of our hopes focused on the economic and political dynamics of the immediate family of our nation, Obama surprised many when he put forward an agenda for worldwide nuclear disarmament to the U.N. A world free of nuclear weapons. A world family no longer in any danger of blowing itself up. Over the entirety of my life, that dark, looming possibility of human annihilation has always been. The idea of it not being there anymore, the anvil hanging above our heads plucked and permanently removed as a threat, fills my heart with joy.

Yes, Obama has inspired hope. He is a kind and sane person within the profoundly dysfunctional American family. Forward-thinking people from our extended world family have offered through this Nobel Peace Prize award a kind of "atta boy" to Obama and all of us supporters inside and outside the government.

It feels like they're telling us, yes, you are on the right path. It is no easy thing to transform the dysfunctional meta-human relationships of economies and governments. It is no small hope to hope we can improve the quality of life for our citizens from being far below the quality of life for citizens in other developed nations, to being something comparable. And as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it is no small hope that our international policies are fueled not from power lust, but from a deep, intelligent desire for peace, prosperity and justice for the extended family of our world citizens.

These are our hopes, the hopes of millions of Americans. And perhaps it was in acknowledgment not only of Obama's efforts and dreams, but of our hopes that this Nobel Peace Prize was awarded.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Comparative Shopping

Following are some of the results from the U.N. report released today on worldwide standards of living. This index compared such factors as educational levels, life expectancy rates and GDP.

Anyone still standing in the way of such things as a public health option might want to take a peak at how much better many people in the dreaded "socialist" health care systems are fairing. (Here's a hint: they're doing way, way, better than we are).

2009 report

The 2009 report was released on October 5, 2009. It was titled "Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development". The following countries were classified under "Very High Human Development":[1]

  1. Norway 0.971 ()
  2. Australia 0.970 ()
  3. Iceland 0.969 ()
  4. Canada 0.966 ()
  5. Ireland 0.965 ()
  6. Netherlands 0.964 ( 1)
  7. Sweden 0.963 ( 1)
  8. France 0.961 ( 3)
  9. Switzerland 0.960 ()
  10. Japan 0.960 ()
  11. Luxembourg 0.960 ( 3)
  12. Finland 0.959 ( 1)
  13. United States 0.956 ( 1)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pawlenty Another Neo Con Hack?

Tim Pawlenty, a man of mediocre intellect and average capabilities, and also the current governor of Minnesota, spoke last weekend at the "Values Voter Summit." Along with break out sessions about "masculinism," a take-off of feminism, where such bold assertions were made including all pornography leads to homosexuality, the most homophobic people are prepubescent boys and we should learn from them, and that "science" has proven homosexuality is entirely a behavioral choice, the summit also provided a place for Pawlenty to go radical.

He was seen for a long time as the vanilla ice cream of the political world (and not that french vanilla stuff with the little extra something, something). Just plain old Pawlenty with his tired political positions, moderate man's mullet, and blocky-cut suits- the entire package of him being so unremarkable that I'm still convinced it simply didn't occur to many Minnesotans they were voting for him. He was a name on the ballot that looked familiar and safe.

And he's a Republican. Many Minnesotans seem to have a strong desire to strike a perfect, immovable balance in the universe, which leads them to vote both Democrat and Republican apparently in the hopes the two cancel each other out and nothing is much seen or heard from the state capital for a few years following each election season.

But we must toss aside our previous assumptions about Pawlenty. In his probable future running mate's terms, he's gone "rogue." He not only turned up at the ridiculous "Values Voter Summit" ("Values" here means that one believes his/her rights to express his/her religious beliefs usurps the basic human rights of other citizens), he spoke. He actually drew attention to himself with cameras in the room.

After making it clear to the summit attendees he does not believe in the basic acknowledgement of gay relationships through the legal bonds of marriage (Gay people in their belief system apparently are not full citizens or fully human), he went on to land blast the Obama administration for our national debt. Pawlenty said Obama should apoligize to our youth for the debt.THIS IS A NATIONAL DEBT THAT WAS WAITING FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION WHEN HE GOT IN THE DOOR. THIS IS A REPUBLICAN DEBT!

But shared reality, as we know by now, is not welcome among the extremist right. Theirs is not a reality based on evidence or even the observable, it is a doctrine based on religious and racial extremism. They do not read, explore, think and debate, they wait for signs from God and ridicule anyone who chooses another route for gaining perspective on decision making.

Pawlenty has chosen to steer hard right. And why? Well, it looks like his motivation is the same deep, underlying motivation that all of these extremists act upon. Take away the religious talk, and the pseudo-economic speak, and the angry protests of other people's private lives and what do we have? A will to power that is so fundamental, so bedrock to their psychology that one needs only know that about them to predict their next step.

Am I surprised by Pawlenty's choice to align himself with the extremist "Values Voters?" No.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Public Option to Health Care NOT Immoderate

I feel a strong need to correct the language being tossed around by our oft idiotic media in regards to "moderate" positions on health care reform. The Dems from such well-known progressive states as Montana are being termed by the media "moderate" in that they disagree with a public option for health care coverage among the most needy five to ten percent of our population. There is nothing "moderate" about a position that willfully refuses to acknowledge the suffering and immediate needs of millions of Americans. I argue that taking a stance against the development of a public option is akin to consciously denying our fellow citizens care that they need and piece of mind that we all deserve.

Recently, I was jogging in my Midwestern neighborhood. Mine is a working and middle class neighborhood where everyone take the time and pride to trim their lawn and paint their house. I am proud to say I live in a place where there is a pride in where one lives, whether it is owned or rented, large or small. We like living here, for the most part, and it shows in our little neighborhood. I passed a woman in her forties with a bandanna covering a bald head, large, homemade signs reading "Help Me Please!" and apparently all of her jewelry neatly organized on pin boards for sale on her lawn.

One sign explained she was trying to get some money together somehow to pay for her cancer treatment. I acknowledged her and kept jogging, but couldn't stop thinking about her. When I turned to jog back, I failed to find her home again or she had taken down her makeshift shop. Either way, I was at a painful loss as to what to do about the very sad situation. I emailed my legislator and hoped for the best.

I find nothing moderate about supporting a status quo that has enabled large companies to take away profits without adding into the system of health care what they have extracted from the public. I find nothing moderate about a system where a woman must sell her modest jewelry collection in front of her home apparently to pay for chemo. There is nothing moderate about a country where some people are cared for, some people are not, and some people gain wealth off that terrible equation.

Changing the status quo is not an extreme measure when the system it seeks to change is corrupt, inefficient and indefensible. One needs only do the briefest review of this country's history to know the large, powerful economic systems we employ are not loath to loose a few on the way to green pastures. And there's nothing moderate about that.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Van Jones Taken Out By School Yard Sucker Punch

Van Jones, leader in the profoundly progressive movement to train people in impoverished American communities into Green jobs, has resigned from the Obama administration saying,

"On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide. I have been inundated with calls - from across the political spectrum -- urging me to 'stay and fight.' But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future."

An admirable position for him to take. I'm not so impressed by the position the administration took.

This uprising against Jones got started and fed by Glen Beck on his hateful tripe of a Fox TV show. Beck is a man whose work is actually banned in Britain. Beck, who appears to completely lack the moral center, intellectual abilities, and skills in emotion regulation to add anything of merit to the current national dialogue. Beck,who essentially is the school yard bully with a deep, unacknowledged desire to be the center of attention in a room full of adults. This Beck is the one who SUCCESSFULLY unseated a man like Van Jones, who has been doing that whole community organizing thing not for a few years, but for decades and seen POSITIVE solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

As hard as it is in the face of the deeply wealthy, politically entrenched and apparently soulless cancer of corporate opposition to health care reform with its legions of easily-manipulated hysterics as followers, to act with integrity, the need for integrity persists. There is no "negotiating" when the opponent completely lacks a common moral ground. These are people actively working to gain the support from millions of people who themselves depend on government assistance, particularly in health care. Our opponent here is so sadistic as to work diligently to convince people to surrender what little safety they have in the world in order to gain a sliver of advantage. And this advantage they would immediately use to tear apart the very government organizations that assist their supporters!

The Obama administration will not, through strategic resignations and obfuscated policy positions, tame and integrate the opponent into an alliance. The administration cannot make these opponents more like them. In fact, if the current course becomes the deep channel followed, the reverse may be true. Because these battles do not end the day the health care legislation is passed. That's just one moment in an on-going battle to reorganize a system where the profoundly powerful and wealthy few have stood squarely atop the disadvantaged to gain their height.

There is some ground that cannot be surrendered towards the ends of passing changing legislation because it is that ground that defines the difference between progressive legislation and repressive legislation. That's the moral high ground. We must stand up for our friends when they are under unfair attack. We must stand by those who do the good work inspired by love and passion to help out their fellow human beings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Obama's Daemon

I am a huge fan of the Philip Pullman series, "His Dark Materials," a three part fantasy series that is akin to the Harry Potter series on steroids. One key part of the story is the relationship between a person and his/her daemon. The daemon is like an externalized part of self and takes the form of an animal. During childhood, the daemon shape shifts depending on the mood of the child. During puberty, the daemon takes one shape.

I am reminded of this part of the story when I read about the relationship between Rahm Emmanuel and Obama. One is cool and collected, the other a kind of tazmanian devil whirling around in a cloud of profanity and influence. What Obama cannot express, it seems, Emmanuel can (including the word "fuck"). What Obama cannot do (cozy up in the carriage with any person of power and wealth at any time and clop down the road whatever direction he or she decides to take him) Emmanuel can't seem to help but do. And Obama and Emmanuel seem from the news and newspaper reports to be connected with a kind of psychic tether of influence.

The last weeks have made it clear, Obama' administration is in its childhood. I suspect his daemon, in the form of the preternaturally large-eyed, tiny framed Emmanuel, seems to be everywhere in the engineering of this monster mess of health care reform. I'm reliving parts of the campaign through Richard Wolffe's book "Renegade" and am reminded of how clear the Democrats, including Obama, made it that they would radically reform health care if put into office.

What we've gotten instead is a president seemingly allowing his daemon to jerk him around by that tether. Meanwhile, the entire health care issue has run amock. The constant shifting forms of the health care "reform" being put forward by the democrats is, at this point, indecipherable. This is not what we voted for, this is not what we need, and these half-assed measures being suggested by the president will not restore the integrity of a wealthy, powerful, and utterly corrupt government.

Keep this in mind, Americans are the MOST productive workers on Earth, according to a U.N. report (2007), and we have millions of individuals and families underinsured or uninsured. Millions of families must make that call in the middle of the night, "Do we bring our sick child to the hospital tonight and risk loosing the house for the bills, or do we hold off and hope for the best?" Some of the people I love most in this world have made that call.

We need an adult in office capable of putting bullies in their place, looking after those in need, and STAYING HIS GROUND when that ground is unequivocally solid. Children, women, men, workers, and the unemployed, all human beings deserve to have access to medical care. The greed of the few and the powerful have the daemon's ear, it seems. And apparently our child president can't make up his mind about what form those who influence him will take.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Town Hall Meetings- The Two America's

I have been as flabbergasted as anyone watching footage of the town hall meetings being held around the nation by publicly-elected officials to discuss health care reform. Working my gears, I have not come to any explanation that truly settles my mind or stomach. Aside from the shitty avarice of special interest groups hiring enraged (though what they actually are enraged about has not been touched on by the media covering them except for Jon Stewart)citizens to use violent language and behavior to control the discussion and neutralize the national push for health care reform.

Did you see the man who actually strapped a gun to his thigh to intimidate folks at a town hall meeting where Obama was to speak? The guy arrogantly accepted an interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews where he demonstrated his profound lack of understanding of the issue or ability to use reason.

Aside from the paid-for assholes, there are still legions turning out to shout down their representatives over an issue so critical in the lives of millions of Americans at this point, that it's like shouting down the scientist who came up with penicillin ('Ta hell with 'ya Alexander Flemming). How fucking dare you try to save our lives!

I'm afraid, watching the footage, this is simply about two America's: those citizens who regularly use the fancy, new-fangled frontal lobe that helps with reason, and those who can't give up the hormonal pay-offs of the tried and true reptilian brain. There is reason and there is emotion and those capable of moving between the two cannot deny the obvious, which is that if good medical care capable of improving quality and duration of human life is available, all humans have a right to it. To believe otherwise is something akin to subscribing to the brutal logic of wolf culture where resources are dominated and distributed by the most aggressive in an attempt to control genetic representation in future generations.

There are parts to this "debate" that are downright laughable. When Senator McCaskill asked the legions of screaming citizen protesters how many received Medicare, many in the crowd raised their hands. She asked how many would like to give up their benefits because they're government provided. No hand was raised. This astonishing lack of insight and understanding about the very system they depend on profoundly disqualifies the validity of their position. But they don't realize that.

Even less understandable to me was the woman my age crying, literally weeping about the loss of her country to socialism. Considering the downright forceful Obama policies launched to save our capitalist economy save no expense, the use of the word "socialist" is a weird, inaccurate cover word for "Black." Obama is Black, his wife is Black, there's that Hispanic lady on the supreme court now. She's not black, but she is brown. When folks from the Obama administration go in front of cameras, it's not uncommon for the person to be non-white, non-male.

And then there's all this caring from the administration for the poor.It's almost as if some of these protesters are offended that powerful men would care about the health and welfare of the poor. These seem to be people most comfortable with being abused then disregarded by their government.

Or maybe it really does come back to the wolf analogy for many of the protesters. People of political and economic power have come from the European ethnic groups for the last several hundred years. To acknowledge and accept leadership from outside of the Euro-American male background, say maybe Black people, women, dare I even consider it...Black women, is to acknowledge that something truly remarkable and perhaps even unprecedented is happening here.

The consciousness of the majority of our voting public has risen above the confining, base impulses to protect the interests of one group above other groups-one tribe over the others. Millions of Americans are considering the actual gifts, ideas and abilities of individuals regardless of their skin color or cultural background. When true individualism is respected, somehow it seems to work that the best interests of the larger whole are also served. Go figure. But there are many citizens left behind in this evolutionary leap and many of them are showing up at town hall meetings promoting, or rather, forcing down our throats their reason-less debates.

The reasonable majority must continue to put pressure on our political process right now. If we are not showing up to the town hall meetings, we need to give our senators and representatives a call on the phone. They need to know most of us can use reason, and if they come up with a reasonable bill, we will support it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh What A Night That Was

Yesterday, my family was puttin' around our neighborhood and passed the high school where our district's Democratic Caucus was held a year and a half ago. It seems like longer ago than that since I found my classroom in the large building I'd never had reason to enter before. On that fucking freezing February night, I participated in an entirely ad hoc, peaceful, representative democratic process. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

By mid-winter of last year, I was already profoundly preoccupied with the dramatic, compelling and utterly surprising twists and political turns the Democratic primary season had issued forth for a national and international public. It really was like a dream come true for a progressive, Gen Xer like me who got to decided between a competent, intelligent woman and competent, intelligent bi-racial man for the top of the ticket. Life experience does inform perspective, focus and drive. Obama's way of approaching issues intellectually and communicating his perspective won my political allegiance almost immediately, but I appreciated that the other choice was digestible, too.

So when I drove up to the school and turned into the frozen parking lot, I was genuinely excited to participate. There were no legitimate parking spaces left and I was a half hour early. The packed parking lot was, I felt, a good sign for Obama. The extra enthusiasm that political season was definitely spun up by the Obama campaign. I pulled my car onto a small stretch of ice-clad concrete, looking around to see if someone would make comment or implement punishment for my aggressive parking strategy. A teenage-looking girl who had just pulled the same parking scheme I had looked at me briefly then turned and walked towards the school.

There was some confusion inside, but a round middle-aged women in mommy jeans and a puff paint sweatshirt figured out my room for me using my address and a clipboard of worksheets. I climbed up a couple flights of wide, cement stairs and turned into my classroom. A beautiful women who's accent and appearance placed her in my mind as being one of Minnesota's many African immigrants was seated at a desk just over the doorway's threshold. She asked me my address. I asked her how the process in our room was working and she smiled nervously saying wasn't sure. She was given the job of managing the lists and checking people in a few minutes after arriving in the classroom. She did not know anymore than I did about how a caucus was run, but she was managing. By the end of the evening I had also been recruited to count and report the votes. I was as excited as a child picked by the teacher to do a special job.

The room filled up and the time to begin arrived. I mentioned how busy the streets had been and suggested we take a look outside to see if people were still arriving. I looked out the window of our room, then ran out of the room to look out other windows, too. The memory of what I saw still bring tears to my eyes. In every direction, for as far as the eye could see in that dark, freezing cold night, people were coming. The road to the highway was a solid line of lights. People were parking everywhere in the surrounding streets, in front of houses, businesses, anywhere a car could be negotiated out of the way of traffic.

I went back into the room and suggested we wait for any important votes, as there were still people coming. We took the time to decipher the instructions, elect officers and generally get our democratic process in order. There were people there of a surprising ethnic, age and gender background in our room given the reputation of the Minnesotan suburbs for human homogeneity. However, there was a large number of old, white, men. I admit here my prejudices at that moment. I didn't really imagine who they were there to vote for, but I assumed it was not Obama.

I was quite wrong.

In fact, when we finally made it to a vote, the room was split between Obama and Clinton with Obama winning by a significant margin. One Hillary supporter, a man I knew from other political events around our community who always came with a list of unrelated complaints, was so flabbergasted by Obama's win that he cried out. Seeing the solemn looks on the old men's faces and their nod that indeed, the vote was correct, he resigned himself loudly, "Well, okay then!"

I went out, reported our results, then quickly made my way back home in the black, frigid night. From the comfort of my home, I watched the tallies coming in. It was Obama, Obama, Obama.

Now Minnesotans are not an easily dazzled bunch. In fact, I've never met so many people whose personalities are best described as "laconic" in my life. Of course, I haven't been to the ancestral homes of Norway and Sweden, yet. I hear it's a similar emotional landscape there. We do not get too excited about things over here. But we got excited about Obama.

Though the putrid muck of Washington politics seems to be sullying our golden child, it is important to remember the reason we voted for him in the first place. He inspired us to be good citizens and to believe better things are possible for our kids and for ourselves. Be good citizens, read the legislation available on-line and make up your own mind. Tune out the din of commercial TV and find some media sources that seem fair and balanced. These are important times, tough, but important.

We have already seen some positive things happen since Obama became our president. Personal savings rates are way up, Americans are returning to more measured consumption practices, the economy is out of a tailspin and leveling off, ready for a positive return, and our government is finally fighting back against a health care system that makes millionaires of a few, and peasants out of millions.

Have faith, remember the caucuses. With focus, determination, and a willingness to participate this time, we can make this a fair and good place to live.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Little Ecological Story: Trying to Write Ourselves into the Scene

This morning my husband told me one of many charming tales he uses to illustrate his point when teaching the biological principle: you cannot do one thing. The Army Corp of Engineers built a couple bridges along the Mississippi River near where we live in Minnesota a human generation or two ago. The purpose was to manipulate the channel and river's current to assist the human endeavor of large container shipping up and down its course. A side effect of these changes was the accumulation of silt in one slew in particular (particular to this story). Muddy, marshy land developed where before there had been water.

A community of turtles, long-time inhabitants in this ecological community, found the new property quite appealing. As the rest of us would, the turtles settled into their new home and grew their families. Currently, this is one of the most robust turtle populations known to local scientists and turtle enthusiasts. My husband was working in the area yesterday, and noted with delight the time he spent watching the little faces of the turtles pop up through the thin membrane of the water's surface.

There is talk by the Army Corp of "rehabilitating" the slew to its "original" state by means of a dredge to remove the accumulated silt. An interested turtle enthusiast and local biologists involved in this stretch of river front are questioning the utility of "rehabilitation" in light of the clever group of turtles enjoying the sloppy interzone between dry land and water where they prosper.

Here's the trick in imagining our environment, imagining ourselves in it. My husband noted the irony of humans, while engaged in their own business of survival, unintentionally helping a few turtles out to the point where trying to undo what was done would harm our new friends. You cannot do one thing.

Humans have phenomenal imaginations and I would argue this alone truly distinguishes us from any other known species. But imagining ourselves in our environments is extremely difficult. Seeing ourselves in our mind's eye, then evaluating and anticipating how we interact with our physical and relational environment is something akin to cognitive yoga- stretching in all manner of directions we're not entirely sure we were meant to go.

Despite the brain discomfort, I argue we need to develop the cognitive skills (and make sure our children do as well!) to be able to stretch and manipulate our minds into significantly more sophisticated poses than generations previous have needed to manage. We must be farther seeing than our human ancestors and turtle cousins. Finding a nice little mud slew to hole up in and raise a family without worries beyond this season will not do. To survive and survive well, we need to be able to deeply imagine our species in ecological systems.

Those turtles were opportunistic in an altered ecological system. If that land had been drained and paved over, not even our crafty reptilian neighbors would have managed to survive. There are man-made changes to ecological systems that complex life forms (like us) cannot adapt.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Three Cheers

I have three cheers for media I have found useful and/or informative of late.

1. Cheers for Repower America,, associated with Al Gore and pushing hard to create a national network of people interested in advocating for the renovation of our energy system into one that is both environmentally and politically sustainable. This is an organization that is promoting the kind of drastic change needed to actually address environmental degradation. And this is a pretty good time to invent new industry.

2. My friend Brent's new blog,, where he has begun a series of essays on the last year in which he has survived oral cancer, the end of his relationship with a long-time partner, and further illness in his family. Brent and I have been friends for nearly twenty years and he happens to be a very gifted writer. I encourage anyone with a particular interest in cancer survival, or simply in the mood for a good read to check this one out.

3. The book "The Addict" by Dr. Michael Stein. He is a internist who has, as part of his practice, a buprenorphine clinic. The drug buprenorphine is used to assist opiate addicts in recovery. He writes with clear-eyed honesty about his experiences treating drug addicts with special attention on one young woman. The book really offers insight into addiction that is worth the read.

The joy-side of the information age!!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy Fourth of July, Soldier

On the evening of the most recent Fourth of July holiday I was at work in a substance abuse treatment setting. A young man was brought in by his father and was attended by a security guard. The security guard is typical accompaniment for new patients and does not necessarily indicate any behavioral problems with the attendee. I did notice immediately that the young man was huge, like professional football player huge. He was a statistical anomaly of muscle laid over a monster frame. And he was loud.

Within moments it became clear there was a problem. The young man wanted help, but didn't want help in our program. Attempts to explain how the process worked for substance abuse treatment fell on deaf ears because he was too agitated to process auditory information. He explained quickly he was a veteran of the current war in Iraq and had PTSD. This information was either a warning or an excuse for the coming behavior, I do not know which.

He quickly decided he wanted to leave, and bolted when one of the two locked doors was opened for a staff person. Security followed him into the hall and a seasoned staff working the scene identified the man as hostile and perhaps dangerous to the staff and other patients. The staff called for help.

I worked to get the other patients to the safety of their rooms and returned to try to be of some help. I saw that the young man was in the hallway between the two locked doors letting fly the F-bomb and generally posturing in a very threatening manner to the security guard, who was sweating and seemed to be cowering a few feet from the soldier. And just for the record, anyone not fighting heavy weight in the UFC would have been scared shitless, too. Even with a tazer and mase, the first few men to try to control this soldier, if it had come to that, were likely going to the ER with injuries.

This huge, reportedly specially-trained soldier was a kind of physical threat to our safety like I had never seen before. If a human being can be considered a weapon, this young man would be one. And he was making verbal and nonverbal threats.

The staff on the floor were able to deescalate the situation and get the young man to sit down and consider his situation. His father, who had witnessed the scene, but did not seem particularly effective at controlling his son, seemed unhappy with the staff suggestions for the next step. However, the soldier considered his options, made up his own mind, and agreed to get the help he needed in a setting appropriate for him. The situation ended as well as it could.

In all, it took two hours to address the situation and everyone, including the other patients, had been stressed out by the goings on. The young man reported he had been in treatment for PTSD for several months. If his behavior was explainable by the PTSD, then the treatment needed to continue, perhaps for several more years. This guy had a ways to go.

After the fact, I spoke with people who had dealt with him before he came onto our floor as well as the staff on my floor. Most everyone suspected the man had been doping. The steroids would have helped explain his aggression and his unnaturally large size. Others offered that he was a bully who enjoyed frightening us. Whatever the deal with this soldier, we were not equipped in our community setting to deal with his level of threatened violence and probable skill in causing physical harm.

Reintegrating some of the veterans from the Iraq wars may end up being a profoundly difficult challenge. None of us want a repeat of what happened to many Vietnam vets who did not get the psychological treatments or the community support that they needed to successfully begin life again as a civilian. But the challenges we may be facing with these newer vets are quite different in some ways than from previous wars. Access to help has been spotty at best. Even in parts of the country where sophisticated treatments are available, they may not be sufficient for getting these people back on track.The brain trauma many soldiers have sustained has been highly associated with PTSD and treatments for those traumatic brain injuries may not yet be adequate.

Also, there are new dangers to people trying to heal their minds as well as their bodies after tours, particularly repeated tours, in Iraq including availability of drugs and other substances that have been manufactured by drug companies to be of help and make money, but have ended up being just another albatross on the shoulders of soldiers. And those are legal drugs available through docs, which doesn't begin to address illegal drugs and booze. Even the seemingly innocuous activity of playing video games has known negative neurological effects as it can activate the parts of the brain associated with aggression.

We need a strong VA system that can take these soldiers in and help them get better. There must also be the expectation that they do learn how to be in the world again in non-violent ways. We need them to contribute in positive ways to our nation and in our communities both for the betterment of us all, but very importantly, in order that their lives and what they have been through have meaning and purpose.

I would hate to think of the soldier who shut down my workplace for a couple hours becoming a drag on society. Instead, I hope he keeps up the work on healing his psychological and substance abuse issues and goes on to become an invaluable member of his community. It would not be fair to him and to the service he provided our country if he is lost to the war wounds that we cannot see. I hope very much that he gets better and gets on with it.

His apparent ability to make a tough call to accept help even when he knew someone he loved might not understand or agree may have been a sign of his internal fortitude. That could be the strength he learns to draw upon when life gets tough and scary instead of the threat of his brute, physical force.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Misadventures in Clothsline Hanging

I decided recently to return to the tradition I learned from both my grandparents and, for a few years, my parents, of hanging washed clothes on the clothesline during the summer. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, there was really no point trying to use the clothesline in the spring, fall or winter. It used to rain a lot during those seasons.

Currently, I live in Minnesota and, though moderated, our winters are still long and below freezing. I can imagine the protest I would get from my family for freezing the laundry. But now it is warm and sunny most of the time, a perfect time to begin utilizing the natural, clean energy sources of wind and solar power to cut down on my electric bill, and perhaps help out a tiny bit in the global problem of excessive CO2 emissions.

So I loaded up the kids in the car and headed to one of those home and garden megastores. Having made it through the parking lot safely with the kids, and through the first temper tantrum when my youngest saw the only available car-shopping cart hybrid so popular among the under 3 years demographic, snatched up by another mother/child duo, we were in the store. I asked for help locating the detractable clotheslines I saw on-line and was so impressed by. Just think of the convience, I could pull it across the yard when there was laundry and detract the ugle thing into a tiny eye nuisance descretely screwed into the side of the garage when the laundry was done.

I found what I was looking for, but instantly became suspicious. It was a plastic number made in China. I was recently burned after purchasing a couple very simple contraptions for around the house that broke within weeks. These products became just more plastic garbage after their brief lives that included being manufactured thousands of miles away, shipped using huge amounts of petro products, finally to arrive in my home, where they were of use for a profoundly brief moment then shipped off to their final resting places for something like an eternity. Screw that.

I bought instead a length of rope and some wooden clothspins, leaving the store with five dollars worth of materials that will likely be with me to my dying day and hopefully not too long afterward.

Once home my kids watched with wonder then anticipation, "What is she doing and do I get some of that rope to play with?" It took a few minutes to put up the clothesline and the extra length of rope I lent them to play with until such a time as I need it for another clothesline or to tie one of my cats to the ski rack on my car (kidding).

I washed a load in my washer in cold and was actually excited about hanging the laundry. It was a sweltering hot day and I expected to be able to get all the laundry washed and dried in a few hours. I pinned the laundry to the line and took off with the family for a couple hours on an outing. We got back tired and cheerful. I quickly unpinned the laundry and dropped it in the basket.

That night we had a terrific storm which dumped inches of much needed rainwater. I enjoyed the stormy weather and slept comfortably. The next morning I looked outside at my new clothesline while sipping coffee and generally feeling optimistic about my new environmentally-conscious choices. And then I noticed it, the laundry basket with a day's worth of wash sitting atop a soaking lawn, uncovered.

I later mentioned the fiasco to my sister who noted that it is a challenging thing indeed to change one's habit. How right. Next time I'll remember to bring the laundry in from the rain.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Awake now, it is time again"

I enjoyed the Bill Moyers interview with poet W.S. Merwin aired last night on PBS. One of the quotes read from Merwin's poetry was the one above, "Awake now, it is time again." This was a line in a poem about, in part, the ancient tradition in Macedonia of women singing the land awake again after a long winter.

This line resonated very deeply with me as being an expression of such ancient intelligence. These women called out what they knew, that they were a part of this natural world, and all that was in it began again anew.

Although I love the big ideas, it occurs to me that I need to live the small ones. Moyers and Merwin talked in the interview about tossing and turning at night awake with the terrible knowing of the world they leave behind them. Moyers in particular spoke about being haunted by the thought of his grandchildren inheriting a terrific mess.

Of the multitude messes, one is most immediate: the degradation of our environment. Being married to a biologist, I am continually aware of the burgeoning research. Having lived in the far north for a few years and still having friends there, I hear of the climactic changes so obvious to them and predicted decades ago by the scientific modeling of the greenhouse effect. I know that our industrial complex has reached a level of interaction with our ecological systems where a recursive cycle is under way and is gaining momentum.

If all industrial pollutants were to stop being added into the system today, the effects of what we have already done would continue for generations. To continue as we are is expediting the process and making a solution less likely. We're shutting our life support system off on ourselves.

Folly. Human folly is so well known throughout the entirety of recorded human history and one assumes, as long as humans have walked upright, we cannot hope to escape it entirely. But this particular folly could pull the curtain on us entirely. Human drama cannot continue without the Good Earth as stage.

There may or may not be big answers to this mess. But there are small answers everywhere. It is a matter of the very mundane, the way in which we live. I am in the process of remembering what I knew as a child, what I was taught by my grandparents. I am learning to see my small yard as a solution to the problems of my lifestyle. I am researching ways I can reduce the impact my family is having on the environment within our economic realities.

I have begun with modest projects. I'll write about this ongoing process of relearning how to be in the world in a more careful and sustainable way. Please, anyone reading this with simple ideas on how to better align our lifestyles with ecological realities, respond to my blog. Changing lifestyles is no easy matter. It will take inspiration and commitment.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Need for Long Term Care of Mentally Ill Unmet for Decades

Having worked with people living with serious mental illness for several years, I have seen the sad cycle many of their lives rotate through. During times of severe impairment due to psychotic episodes, severe depression, and/or extreme substance abuse, people with chronic mental illness will often find assistance in local hospitals. The staff will help them get stabilized on medications and sober then send them to outpatient programs that often are short of duration. Within weeks or months, many will be suffering again with serious symptoms and unable to care for themselves or make good decisions.

I first worked with the children of people with serious mental health and substance abuse problems. Unfortunately, many people who are unable to care for themselves have children that they cannot take care of either. Many of these children end up in the truly unhappy and often utterly dysfunctional child welfare system. I have seen families where the children of mentally ill people grow up and suffer with mental illness and themselves have children who are put into the foster care system. It's a devastating cycle for those in it and can be deeply saddening for those professionals who work with the families.

It is a system of perfect madness.

During the 1980s, under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, state run institutions lost federal funding and the hospitals that provided long term care for mentally ill people went by the wayside. Community programs were supposed to take their place and provide less restrictive environments so that people with mental illness could interact with the community. Unfortunately, this variation on the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" theme has failed to address the serious needs of millions of people. Many of the people who previously lived in state facilities are now basically homeless. This situation presents many dangers both for people with mental illness, and often to family and community members when some of these people become violent.

We need a system like whole cloth that sanely addresses the needs of people with mental illness. For those most afflicted, on-going, life-long care is simply needed. Finding funding for this kind of care is a tough task, especially right now. The U.S. systems for resource distribution aren't even managing to get basic health care to millions of children, let alone sophisticated mental health care to the chronically mentally ill. We have such a distance to go back towards our humanity when it comes to the care of our most vulnerable.

But I argue that the emergency only care many people with mental illness receive is extremely costly as well. One of my current patients is in a facility that costs thousands of dollars a day and is designed for acute, short-term care. Unable to find appropriate housing, he's been at our unit for weeks. As with anything else, failure to plan often ends up more costly in the end.

Our nation needs determined leadership in the field of psychiatric care.There are highly effective and economical systems being developed to address the needs of the nation's very large elderly population. Perhaps we in the mental health field could borrow some of these ideas.

Having facilities that can address a spectrum of functioning levels as they have in retirement communities could work. People in these communities have options for fully independent living through end of life care in one facility. A comparable facility for people with mental illness could function similarly except people may be able to live in different sections at different times during their illness. For example, people stable on their meds could live in less restrictive environments, but people whose symptoms become more severe or who abuse substances are moved to more restrictive environments.

Innovative answers are out there. This, like the other issues that need to be addressed in our country, requires great will to support follow through.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Domestic Terrorism

If it is legally established that the killer of Dr. Tiller, a man who provided legal abortions in Kansas, was motivated to kill Dr. Tiller because of his profession, then the killer should be charged with terrorism. If this is the case and he isn't charged with terrorism as well as murder, it will be an injustice.

Dr. Tiller was attending church when shot and killed. He had survived a previous murder attempt ten years ago. The killings of physicians who perform legal, safe, medical procedures including abortions are blatant acts of terrorism because they have a political objective. It is a heinous act of violence against an individual and a message to other medical professionals who provide women's health services that religious fundamentalists often find objectionable.

Just as people killing in the name of Allah is of particular offense against humanity, so too is killings that find their inspiration in the religious texts of Christianity. We, as Americans, should come out strongly against anyone who would seek to terrorize our citizens. The networks that provide information on doctors who perform abortions to individuals considering and/or planning violence need to come under serious review by federal agencies and prosecuted vigorously. Terrorism, whether foreign born or domestically grown must be rejected on every level.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Add Meaning to "Family Values"

Social progressives have in front of us a time of real opportunity for having our positions more accurately represented within the political and cultural milieus. Further, this opportunity allows us to influence public policy and popular culture currently and in the future. Simply put, we have the floor- politically, socially and, I argue, morally.

It is the latter that I focus on here. Towards the end of bringing about a broadening and deepening of the dominant culture's understanding of and sanctity for human life, I suggest we shift then expand the meaning of the language put forward by the politically right of center folks over the past thirty years. Specifically, I believe we need to adopt the term "family values" and define it in a meaningful way for the twenty-first century.

If we are to be effective in shifting the direction of our political, economic and environmental systems, we must shift the idea of "family values" off of its fundamentalist Christian foundation and secure it as a cornerstone of secular cultural, political and economic values. Lets simplify the meaning of "Family Values" to family values, the valuing of families. If we adopt this shift of meaning, the public policies and private choices become less convoluted and more direct. When facing questions on such varying topics as tax code, marriage eligibility, school funding initiatives, or cause for war, we need to begin with two questions, "Does this serve our families?" and "Does this serve my family?"

Answering these simple questions will often become a complex endeavor, as the two answers may sometimes conflict. But at least we would have a clear focus on the conflicts as they arise. And the resolutions to conflicts would likely have a far greater humanitarian emphasis than we would otherwise have.

Certainly, answering these questions with the previous definition of family values has incited great eruptions of deep pain in many families. The previous definition of family values has little to do with the welfare of many families and everything to do with serving an ancient and often vague doctrine followed in a very specific way by a minority of Americans. A befuddling task indeed is serving this answer.

Focusing the debates on all manner of issues addressed in the political and economic sphere to answer "How does this serve our families," and "How does this serve my family," incidentally, would also clear up the Gay marriage issue. Does allowing Gays to marry cause immediate harm to my or other families? This question invites concrete answers that may help dispel the ether of religious doctrine that confuses the mind and seems to leave people unable to discern the difference between an idea and the agreed-upon "reality" that, by definition, must be shared in order to be valid.

Answering the questions, "Does this serve our families," and "Does this serve my family," may also lead us to conclusions that many among the more liberal left may find disconcerting. For example, does massive expenditures on failing individuals and failing families always make sense? Are there times when supporting the programs that benefit the higher functioning individuals and families make more sense when answering "Does this serve our families," even if the answer conflicts with the more individually focused, "Does this serve THIS family."

For example, does dumping hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars attempting to rehabilitate wayward individuals end up hurting the school programs that promote and support excellence in our communities when push comes to shove in the local government budget debates? Are there far less expensive ways to treat low-functioning individuals and families in a community setting?

Huge issues face the Gen Xers and those younger than us. Our strength is definitely our creativity. We have to come up with and follow through on the big answers, but we must ask the right questions before we can even begin. Let's ask the right questions, lets start with our families. And lets adapt family values to mean actually working on projects and policies that demonstrate our valuing of families.

Friday, April 10, 2009

You Don't Get Something For Nothing

My family and I are in the process of buying a home in the twin cities area. This is an uncomfortable process, to put it mildly, even for those of us lucky enough to be solidly employed and in good financial standing. We are also fortunate in that we are able to buy a home without trying to sell another. A significant advantage. Although the process for us is more straight forward than it is for some in the market, I have noticed something about today's real estate market: you can't get something for nothing.

Being inspired by the record number of available properties and many anecdotal stories of people getting five bedroom estates for a hundred and fifty thousand, we stepped eagerly into the market. However, we have not seen these stories to be accurate. There are incredibly good deals on newer homes in our area, but these homes are in suburbs built up thirty or more miles out of the cities. Living in these far flung fifth and sixth tiered suburbs would significantly increase our already considerable commute. Long commutes take away from our own well being, that of our children, and require a significant use of economic and environmentally-degrading resources. A low mortgage does not equate with reduced individual, family, and environmental stress.

So closer to our workplace and schools we go looking for homes. In the well-established working class and middle class neighborhoods, there are some very good deals. Banks are getting more efficient at pushing through paperwork for liquidating their repossessed properties. The past headaches associated with buying foreclosed-upon properties are lessened, and in some instances are far less painful than dealing with a private seller!! But these properties are often abused and neglected. The money needed to get them into good shape would likely bring the price tag up to something closer to a traditional-seller situation. For the perennial fix-er upper type, these could be a good deal, but not so for the rest of us.

So what our family is left with is looking at well-maintained properties for sale by the owners, for the most part. Prices have been pulled down on these properties as well. But the prices are nothing close to the pre-bubble levels a few years ago, and I don't think they will ever return to those levels. Real wages have continued their downward momentum over the years and this isn't even factoring in unemployment rates and the life situations for families facing that difficulty. My question is this: why should housing prices be many, many times that of the average yearly income? How is it good for the economy to force working families into a form of indentured servitude to get into a home? Those top-market prices were entirely absurd and should not have been allowed to rise to those levels.

I am aware that if my family had been looking for a home only a couple years ago, we would have been stretching to afford a home that needed significant work and was the size of a large shoe box. And we would have gone for it! It is only through luck that we didn't find ourselves hugely upside down in our mortgage because of being in the wrong market at the wrong time. For those families, especially the ones with small children, I feel deep sympathy.

What many of those families can do is refinance their debt at much, much lower interests rates. The President was on TV advocating for this approach yesterday. Although this will not solve the big ass housing and personal finance problems faced by millions, it may help many families eek by until a more prosperous day breaks. And it is coming, that brighter day is coming.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Cosmic Dance: Why We Need Capitalism and Collectivism

I strongly believe capitalism is an ingenious system that plays boldly to the best in humanity. Also, it is equally powerful in its exaggeration of the worst in humanity through silence on all issues of broader social concern. How can one system provide the opportunity for the expression of the best and worst in us all: by respecting the free will of the individual.

But here's the rub, we are social beasts evolved over millions of years to live in interdependent groups. When one person acts within her/his own free will towards outcomes of self-interest, the spinning cosmic dance of tension between opposites can quickly become one person stepping all over someone else's toes. This has been the inherent conundrum within our economic/political system which we have been dancing with for hundreds of years.

How do we learn to dance gracefully between individual and collective needs? Is this even possible? I believe it is, and it is the next evolutionary step in human thinking, living and governing.

We must see beyond the false separation of individual/collective needs to the truth of opposites. At the most basic level, we are all of equal import and value and our basic needs cannot be in competition if the integrity of the individual and the collective is to be supported and protected. At the same time, we must promote a system that encourages and rewards the spectacular possibilities of individual expression. We must learn to live with both seemingly conflicting truths in tandem. We must learn to tolerate and move between the opposites in our own minds and get beyond our childish need for certainty and absolutes.

When we can mentally allow opposites to exist within our own minds without reflexively choosing a position on one side or the other, we will begin to think in more fluid ways and see novel solutions to real time challenges.

As our ability to do this develops, we will find that in many situations, the needs of both individual and collective somehow, quite magically at times, get met. For example, the real collective human (and all other life forms), need to have a healthy environment must outstrip individual interests in personal wealth. However, within our economic/political system, the people who find the best solutions to our environmental woes will be rewarded with extraordinary wealth. Come up with a cheap, easy way to convert all cars on the road to electric and you will become a billionaire. Develop and implement a plan to use the unused lands in the American midwest and west to produce enough wind and sun energy to run our country, and you will become a billionaire.

Here's another rub, the people who have become billionaires off of fossil fuels will not be the same people to become billionaires of of clean energy. But lucky for 99.99% of us, we are not part of the first group and would benefit hugely from the actions of the latter group!!! And in this becoming, the tension of the opposites resolves into one happy forward direction for the collective and each individual who makes up the collective.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I Don't Know, Either, Bill Maher

The documentary by Bill Maher, "Religulous," was released last week and I had to rent it. I already saw it in the theater last summer, but decided it was worth a second viewing.

The theater I saw it in is located in a conservative 'burg of the twin cities. I drove to the show with much anticipation and a little trepidation. Would the viewing have the local Baptist ministries picketing outside on a warm summer eve? Or worse, would the church elders have purchased tickets and be waiting for their affront to everything good in the universe in that big, dark room? I thought, "God, if you're out there, it's me, Patty. Please, please, I beg thee, don't let a group of religious zealots talk through the whole thing."

I got my agnostic fix and then some in the well done, very funny documentary that was one part exploration of the world's religions and two parts crusade on behalf of the world's not-knowers. I wouldn't say the movie was for nonbelievers, though my husband thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was more a nod then shout to those of us who say earnestly and honestly, "I just don't know what happens after this life."

This seems such a moderate position, this not-knowingness. In most of the modern, Western world it is considered a moderate position. But here in the states those of us with a position of not-knowing the answers to the ultimately unknowable still hold a quiet, tongue-biting minority.

But this is my response to Maher's challenge to those not-knowers out there. I'm putting it out there in a public, if rarely viewed website. I say it loudly, "I don't know either, Bill."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pawlenty: Party, Not County, First

Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota made a point to get himself heard and seen nationally in opposition to the stimulus package that got signed in Denver yesterday. I strongly suspect he's positioning himself to be the leading GOP presidential candidate in a few years. His nod from McCain for the running mate job then cold shoulder must have stung, but he kept up his party-first attitude through the entire failed GOP run last fall.

No matter how absurd and painfully ignorant McCain and Palin exposed themselves to be on the most important issues facing our country, Pawlenty was there on Morning Joe or whatever cable tv show would have him putting party first. The country, it seems these GOPers think, is for their enjoyment to rule over, not a solemn responsibility to their fellow Americans.

What makes Pawlenty an excellent example of the profound failure of Republican political imagination, intellect, and integrity is that not only did he fail to provide any new, well-considered alternative suggestions to the stimulus bill, his hand flew from his side to accept the monies being offered in it to the state he is governor of. What a worn position is yours, Mr. Governor: support failed policy, promote opposition to attempts to solve our country's truly horrendous problems while offering no real helpful alternatives, then accept whatever advantage comes your way no matter its source.

If you truly believe this stimulus package is bad for our country, Mr. Governor, why don't you refuse the federal monies being sent our way and pool your energy into getting other Republican governors to do the same?

Why won't Pawlenty do this? The answer is painful and obvious, it's will-to-power before responsibility-to-people with these folks.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

That's How It's Done

Congrats to the House and Senate for managing to put together the last great hope for rescue from the sinking ship of our economy. The Huffington Post is reporting today that insiders tell the story of Joe Lieberman when talking political shop on how this bill got put together. Apparently, the process was floundering as the Dems struggled to keep their focus (big surprise) and keep each other behind closed doors and away from the cameras (no easy job when dealing with this population). But it was that homely old man, a regular "blood traitor" for you Harry Potter fans, that stepped up when he saw things going sideways and got the process moving in a forward direction.

Now this is how politics is done.

One of the most amazing things to me about the previous thirty years is the strong-hold people of modest to non-existent political gifts have had on politics. By making party loyalty akin to fidelity in a marriage, the Republicans somehow managed to pervert a perverted system. Over the last thirty years (and it's hard to discount the Clinton years all said and done) mutated the low-grade case of political Clap that keeps the lawmakers alert and motivated into a deadly, thrill-killing kind of political AIDS that destroys its host by attacking the very systems in place to protect its long-term survival

Our ingenious political system influenced not only by great European thinkers of old, but also the forms of government our founding fathers observed in the Iroquois tribes of the Northeast (their longhouse counsels provided a framework for the two houses of Congress) is designed to tolerate low-grade infection. The new administration understands this. By bringing the wandering Lieberman back into the fold, Obama created a necessary ally.

In the end, the possibility of service for the people was made available. It remains to be seen if this new rescue plan can act as lifeboat for the people whose livelihoods are sinking with the ship. But I'd rather have something done than nothing. And I hope this most recent political intrigue is further evidence that Obama is able to minister to our sick political system not to its perfect health, but at least to its relative health.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Plane in the River Apt Metaphor

The US Airways plane that ditched into the Hudson River a few weeks is, for me, a remarkable story and a useful metaphor when seeking to imagine our current economy. Even more unlikely than a large plane being taken down by a flock of geese, was the extraordinarily competent landing of the plane by the pilot onto a body of water and the survival of every person on board. I was watching my favorite news/commentary show last night and became agitated by the frenetic energy of the journalists and policymakers. I had to turn it off and consider the matter in silence. When trying to arrive at an understanding of our current economic situation that rises above fear, I remembered the story of that airplane and its passengers.

The images were remarkable. A large plane landing so gracefully on the water that one observer said it took him a moment to realize the plane wasn't supposed to be landing on the Hudson. This may be the best our economy can do at this point, a purposeful ditch. Our economic vehicles, especially in the forms of the banking and automotive sectors, have run straight into difficulties that, though foreseeable, were not, in the end, avoidable. The plane is going down and the most this administration and those with significant power in these matters can do is decide how and where to land it in a way the manages to do what is most important, save the passengers.

When watching tape of the airplane story, most of us were not thinking, "Oh no, US Air lost a plane. And it's been generally such a tough year for airlines." Of course not. We were thinking, "Holy shit, every single passenger survived their plane getting ditched in the Hudson!" (Or something to this effect). With an economic ditch, this too should be our most fundamental intention. It doesn't matter ultimately what becomes of the outer vessel. Our economy is a system by which the goods that sustain life are produced and distributed. This is its most sacred purpose and should be our primary concern.

It seems that there is much posturing around what form the stimulus package should take and how our economy should look in the end. But we can take a lesson from the US Air flight situation. There were life rafts in the plane already, as there are some safety features built into our economic system, but it was ferry boats that provided the vessels that brought people to safety. Captains paying attention headed over to the crash site immediately and a transport system became a rescue mission.

What do our people really need? What does our economy really need in order to provide these things? People must have housing, food and clothing. Our economy must have a banking and credit system to make those thing available in large part through supporting businesses that provide jobs. The economic stimulus package may do well to abandon it's flight plan and focus on finding a safe way to ditch the plane and identify economic rescue vessels that can be used to get our people safely to shore. Fund jobs (jobs that will create more jobs), food stamps, figure out some quick, temporary fix for keeping people in their homes or help fund organizations that find affordable rental properties for families who lost their homes, and shore up enough banks to keep the system afloat (saving every bank need not be a priority, just the ones that can help the most people the fastest).

If our economy, and thus our people, are in as dire straights as the president is saying we are, then he and everyone else need to make decisions from an emergent perspective. Get as many people out of the water as fast as you can. The rest can be worked out from the relative safety of a stabilized economy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Will Obama's Achille's Be Deep Irony for Electorate?

Obama demonstrated his awe-inspiring acumen in understanding other people through extending an open hand when he gave his first interview from the White House to an Arabic TV news reporter a couple weeks ago. The remarkable peace with which Iraqis went to the polls over the weekend may be in part an expression of the disarming of international tensions Obama seems literally designed from conception to promote. However, peace is not the order of the day here at home with the economic stimulus package heading up nearly every news half hour and front page.

There is much ado about this package now going in front of the senate after sailing along the Democratic majority in the house. Unfortunately, the ado may not be about nothing. The package is deeply unpopular among Republicans, who in typical "C" student fashion didn't stay until the end of their microeconomics class where the other side of the balanced budget equation was revealed: cut spending when you cut incoming revenue. But the irony here is going to be revealed if the Democrats, in holding to their fiscal ideals of middle class tax cuts and increased government spending, fail to turn this outgoing economic tide back towards land.

The reality seems to be that we cannot afford to cut taxes to middle class families who are currently enjoying stable, reliable income. This campaign promise needs to await a new day. What Obama and the Democrats can do is insist, better yet, impose ethical reform to tax laws particularly in terms of the upper-most income brackets and run-away corporate tax breaks. Make this a fair equation and most reasonable people will tolerate the continuation of income taxes at this rate without deposing the Dems next election cycle. That is, however, if jobs are created quickly, national debt stagnates then decreases, and the war in Iraq dwindles into a small, police-action-sized endeavor.

I believe Obama is uniquely qualified to create a sense of political understanding between peoples that will greatly expedite the ends to both the Iraq and Afghan wars. Further, the Democrat impulse to spend government monies are future-reaching projects like infrastructure and clean energy development as well as honoring American human potential through challenging schools and parents to produce world-class students. But making nice with the middle and working class right now with tax cuts across the board is folly.

Obama told us he would be honest with the American public. The honest truth is that we must pay our taxes and find innovative ways to help each other out through these difficult days without bankrupting our future in a misled attempt to get ourselves out of hawk right now.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blago Just Another Psycho

I have been unwillingly exposed to excessive media on the subject of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich over the last few weeks. I did not want to make comment on this guy, as I truly believe any attention is bad attention for a guy like this. However, after so much input, now I must output, just a bit.

No commentators in the media that I've heard or read have touched on what I find excruciatingly obvious: the guy acts like a psychopath. While wringing their hands and hurting their brains in an effort to comprehend the going's on in the man's head, they have greatly over-thought the matter.

I would not dream to diagnose someone without even meeting the fellow, but his behavior, particularly on talk shows this week, smacks of good old fashioned psychopathy. I don't mean the watered-down, likely racist and classist new-fangled DSM III & IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual- used to described identified mental disorders) diagnosis Antisocial Personality Disorder. This anemic newer addition looses the imaginativeness and accuracy of its predecessor, Psychopathy.

Blago's behavior seems to indicate the traits Dr. Robert Hare, of University of BC, describes in his Psychopathy Checklist particularly remorseless and a disparate understanding of social mores. Basically, people with this disorder don't understand what the big deal is. When viewed from this prism, perhaps Blago's behavior follows a known pattern. He makes grandiose references to Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi when discussing his situation not necessarily because he feels persecuted- his demeanor is astonishingly lacking in tells for anxiety or passion of any kind. Instead he seems unnaturally calm and cheerful. I suspect he might make these absurd comparisons between himself and history's greats because he thinks that's just what people do. They relate their stories to highly sympathetic ones in order to inspire a similar feelings of sympathy.

But Blago just doesn't seem to understand what makes some people very special while other people are simply spectacles. If any attention is good attention then he must be pretty important, just like those other guys. Right? Perhaps he lacks the same ability most people have to feel deeply inspired by other people and so cannot comprehend the crassness of his comparisons. In fact, I would wonder if the likely outcome of all of this for him really will take him by surprise. What's the big deal? No one really cares about sincerity, justice and truthiness (Colbert), do they? This is all just a game where everyone is looking to get some fame and some cash, right? Those other guys were like him underneath the self-sacrificing facade, right?

What really disturbs me about this is a man with a demeanor that reeks of a serious and dangerous personality disorder as well as a nose job that should have lost someone their medical license, was elected to a position of real power. And I bet he was just the best pick on the ballot that year. Scary, scary stuff folks.

It is time for new leadership on every political level, especially state and local.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Obsessive Compulisve Lawyers and American Justice

There is a growing drumbeat among Americans to have the Bush administration prosecuted for crimes committed during the last eight years. Krugman in the NYT was the most recent op ed I've seen on the subject. I completely agree. When in Argentina a few months ago, I asked what a group of Argentine scientists liked about their current government, among the many complaints they had, and they cited the prosecution of crimes against the people from the "dirty war" more than twenty years ago. People need justice and time does not change this. The American people deserve justice and specific parties harmed by illegal government activity deserve it doubly.

The Obama folks on Capital Hill signaled in the confirmation hearings last week that they do not intend to pursue legal justice for our citizenry. This is a grave mistake. Yes, there are many, many problems to get straightened out right now, not the least of which is processing the detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere around the world. But it doesn't take an army of lawyers to make a lot of trouble for people. Remember Ken Star? That was one guy literally tying down an entire administration over a blow job!! And how did he do it, just one gangly-limbed dork? Will, he had the will to pursue the story of that blow job to the salty end.

A small, elite team of prosecutors is all it would take. Have any of you ever worked with lawyers? They're bloody relentless. I say put a handful of well regarded, obsessive-compulsive prosecutors on each potentially big legal problem for the outgoing administration, including the dubious circumstances around bogus intelligence used to get us into Iraq, the Valeria Plame disgrace, and the Halliburton contracts as well as the circumstances of soldiers being harmed in subcontractor's facilities, to name just a few. Give these lawyers some freshly-trained, obsessive compulsive (I'm telling you, more bang for your buck with the OCD types) lawyers with a stipend to live off of and student loan forgiveness option, and let those folks go to work.

We need justice for our people and the people of Iraq. There is nothing as persuasively pro-democracy as seeing the former president and his men go to prison for crimes committed when in office against the people of America and the people of the world. Democrats, our moment is neigh, show the people of the world and the Republican party that we have the political will to bring justice and punish those who deserve it. I know it's like a buzz kill, man, but sometimes we're going to have to be the heavy.