Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Farewell until September

For the past few weeks, I’ve been busy with remodeling projects in and around my house, and those will be ongoing through the summer. That’s one reason I’ve decided to take a sabbatical from this blog for the next three months.

The other is this: There just doesn’t seem to me to be much to discuss right now on the political front. With Donald Trump’s ridiculous little attention-getting stunt over and done with, and Newt in trouble with conservatives for telling the truth, the focus for Republicans for the next few weeks will be on trying to identify a feasible candidate to run against Barack Obama in 2012. With Tea Party extremists ready to “primary” any candidate who fails their “litmus test” for fanaticism, that’s likely to be a painful process for the Party of No. For my part, I’ll leave them to go at it.

In a recent interview, Bill Moyers remarked that among subjects considered inappropriate for discussion in polite company in America is the fact that this country has become an oligarchy—a land in which a minority of the very rich and powerful make many of the decisions for the vast majority of us. With the help of fundamentalist churches, Fox News, and Citizens United, the Republican Party has become their party—of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

For anyone who has closely observed the behavior of Republican governors and legislatures since the last election—from union busting in Wisconsin to takeover of local governments in Michigan to mandatory drug testing of state employees in Florida—it must be obvious what greater consolidation of power in the hands of the GOP would mean at the Federal level. We got a taste of it under George Bush—to the continuing detriment of the U.S. and world economies, among other things. But now—with a Republican Party confident enough in its own power to talk openly about demolishing every social support program in America, from minimum wage to Medicare, I can no longer tolerate the tendency of even well-informed and well-meaning political observers to treat the two parties as equivalent.

The two parties are not equivalent.

One wants to consolidate the power of and influence of the already richest and most powerful—an elite group that includes oil barons, bank presidents, Wall Street CEOs, and owners of insurance companies (like Governor Rick Scott, whose company will be paid handsomely for all those unnecessary drug tests in Florida).

The other, the Democratic Party, works for the well-being and prosperity of everyone—for values like equal and universal education, the right to bargain collectively, freedom to vote, and—yes—access to quality health care for everyone.

Between these two world views, operating from very different value systems, there is little room for compromise (as even the president must know by now) and no moral equivalency at all.

So call me partisan—as I most assuredly am. But I no longer have any patience with batting around Democratic values and Republican lies as though the two are the same. Clearly there is no longer any sense in trying to pretend that the differences between, for example, a John Boehner and a Nancy Pelosi are just a difference of opinion about how things should be done. The differences are between what is right—morally right—and who matters.

Over the next three months, I will decide how to move forward in terms of my new, deeper understanding of the real political dynamics at work in America.

Have a great summer everyone!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When Death is a Beginning

It’s not often that we in America experience something unique in our long history. The death of Osama bin Laden is such an event.

Mass murderers and tyrants have died before, lifting the burdens of terror and unresolved grief from the shoulders of the people they oppressed. But never before has a single individual been so focused on the destruction of Americans for just being Americans. Never before has anyone committed such atrocities on America’s soil, ships, and outposts. Never before has evil been so personal for us.

Osama bin Laden robbed America of more than our security. In the past ten years, we’ve suffered immeasurable losses, indignities, and moral failures as a result of our government’s clumsy and incompetent response to his actions. We’ve engaged in two horrific wars, lost privacy, and tolerated torture in our name.

Bin Laden is dead, but we Americans have much work to do if we are to reclaim the integrity we lost as a nation after the events of 9-11. Now if we can just get beyond the pettiness of partisan politics and the habit of focusing our national attention on the antics of on nasty, infantile personalities (The Donald comes to mind), perhaps we can make the most of this new day dawning.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Common Sense and the Role of Government

Starting in August, an airline that loses your bag will have to reimburse you for the baggage fee you paid to have it safely delivered with you to your destination. The airline can’t lose your bag and keep your money, as is currently the practice.

Why will the airline have to refund your fee? Because the government says so.

That’s why we need government.

For many years, Americans have bought into the notion—a common theme among Republicans—that government regulation isn’t necessary because “the market” takes care of everything.

Well, the market doesn’t take care of everything. In the words of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, “Competition has not taken care of these problems. We would not be addressing them if competition had done that.”

Airlines are businesses, and their moral compass is profit. Without pressure of some kind to be fair, a business such as an airline has no incentive to do something that may be inconvenient and unprofitable, such as refunding a fee for a lost bag.

Banks had no reason to stop escalating the already usurious interest rates they charged for credit card purchases, or to refund unfair or unwarranted fees and fines, until the government stepped in and provided some firm, fair guidelines. Without government, processors have no incentive to be sure our foods are safe. It’s government that makes sure no company can dump toxic waste in your back yard—convenient as that might be for the company.

It’s an imperfect system, but it beats saying to a major corporation, “Please, sir or ma’am, I know I’m only one person, and I’m not rich or famous or powerful, but would you please be kind enough to . . . .”

Good luck with that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dragons Are Lucky . . . and Other Silly Beliefs

We all have our weaknesses. One of mine, I confess, is Mahjong. During the past few weeks, while my husband has been laid up after knee surgery, we’ve spent more time at home than usual. Unfortunately, home is where my computer is, and my computer is where I play Mahjong.

This addictive little game simply requires the player to click on sets of matching tiles, arranged in different configurations, to make them disappear. Depending on their location, the tiles may be “free” or blocked by other tiles that have to be removed first. There are 36 sets of 4 tiles each for a total of 144.

It sounds easy, but the tiles are often arranged in such a way that, as you get further into the game, it’s harder to find matching tiles that are not blocked.

With practice, a player develops strategies that improve performance but also expectations that have nothing to do with reality. For instance, I’ve noticed that I’m likely to win if I start a game by matching dragon tiles—or at least I feel that I’ve noticed it, which is a very different thing.

Actually, when I’m thinking with the rational part of my brain—the frontal cortex—I’m absolutely certain that my percentage of wins over time is about the same whether I begin a game by matching dragons or by matching any of the 35 other sets of tiles. But my deep, old, emotional brain—the limbic system—still gives me a little jolt of confidence and satisfaction if, in the first moves of a game, I kill a few dragons.

With all the chatter in the media about politics, no one ever seems to allude to this absolutely critical distinction between intellectual and emotional thinking. Barring a serious brain disorder, most of us use both parts of our brain every day, switching back and forth between using intuitive or emotional “logic” (which can be very useful in some circumstances) and using actual, fact-based reasoning skills—which is the only way to understand things having to do with, among other things, money.

Thus we have a situation in which a goodly number of well-intentioned Americans march off half-cocked to Tea Party rallies, chanting about budget cuts and tax relief. The Pied Piper leading this pathetic parade is Big Business, represented by Dick Armey, the Koch brothers, and others who are either very rich or who have been (like Scott Walker) bought and paid for by the very rich. Relieved (in large part by the Bush tax cuts) of their responsibilities to help fund the government, they’ve convinced a very large contingent of the “little people” that they should panic about the government going broke and make up the deficits by sacrificing their own meager, middle-class earnings and benefits.

Thinking with their emotional brains, millions of Americans now routinely vote against their own interests, victims of years of successful GOP propaganda that says the country is broke and only more sacrifices by the poor and middle class—and even more tax relief for the very, very rich—can save the country from bankruptcy.

In fact, as all reputable economists know and have been saying, spending is good during a serious recession. Injecting more money into the system fuels a recovery by supporting manufacturing, small business, and other vital aspects of the economy. Cutting taxes and increasing revenue for common folk so that they can buy more food, clothes, and cars makes sense. Increasing revenue by allowing corporations and the very, very rich to pay their fair share also makes good sense.

What doesn’t make sense is for General Electric, Exxon, and Wall Street financial firms to suck money out of the economy while paying little or nothing in taxes.

But it’s no use trying to tell that to Tea Party folks. They’re too busy marching off to kill dragons.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Affordable Health Care: One Year Old Today

My husband recently had knee surgery. (My role as caregiver is part of the reason I haven’t been posting much recently.) He’s mending nicely now, and it looks like that knee might be good for another half million miles or so.

The whole episode might have ended tragically, however. A few days after surgery, the patient woke me up at 2 a.m. It seemed like he was urgently trying to tell me something, but he couldn’t speak. He just kept starting sentences that led nowhere, like “I, . . . uh . . . feeling . . . .” Then he’d start again, without ever telling me what was wrong. Figuring that driving him to a hospital would be faster than calling an ambulance, I got him into the car and off we went. He wasn’t thrilled about going, but I was in no mood to negotiate.

Nurses at the hospital couldn’t get a blood pressure reading at first, but when they did, my husband’s blood pressure was a very dangerous 240/180. Drugs brought it down quickly, and he seems to have suffered no ill effects from the incident. His doctors have two schools of thought on what caused the episode, including the possibility of a small blood clot caused by the surgery that went to the brain. Happily, in any case, he did not suffer a stroke.

We have excellent insurance—partly because I have made quality health care a priority throughout my working life. At various times, I considered the possibilities of opening a small business or doing free-lance writing and consulting work. However, the need to feel secure about health care kept me working for large employers who could offer quality insurance plans. Those decisions might have been responsible for saving my husband’s life the night his blood pressure went through the roof.

People without insurance hesitate to go to a hospital. They know that even a short visit or a minor problem can break their budget for the month, or for the year. A longer stay or a serious illness can mean bankruptcy. So they wait to be sure something is wrong. By the time they are convinced they have no choice but to get to a doctor or hospital, they may be very ill—or dying.

Had we waited to see if my husband’s head cleared the other night, he might have been among the 45,000 known deaths that result every year from our antiquated, inadequate, and often cruel health care system.

The good news is that one year ago today, things started getting better. By the time the Affordable Health Care Act is fully implemented in 2014, no one in America will have to risk death or disability out of fear of getting help when they need it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Peter King is Right about Radicalization

For once, I agree with a GOP representative. The danger of violent, “lone wolf” extremists operating in America is real. These are often people with strong but perverted religious affiliations. Examples, unfortunately, abound, including the following:

Timothy McVeigh
Scott Roeder
James von Brunn
Jared Loughner
Seung-Hui Cho

However, King doesn’t need to knock himself out. People with much better credentials than he has study and report regularly on the dangers of radicalization and dangerous extremism.

Those who want to do something about these dangers—rather than simply adding to them by stirring up hatred and paranoia—can donate to the cause here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How to Increase the Number of Abortions in America . . .

. . . defund Planned Parenthood.

The nature of my job is such that several times a year, teens or young adults confide in me about unplanned pregnancy. Their fears are many:
  • What will my parents say?

  • Will my friends or partner reject me?

  • Will I be able to continue my plans for school and a career?

Girls worry about pain and physical complications. Boys worry about losing their freedom or figuring out how to provide for a child. Kids in these situations often feel alone, terrified, and trapped. Many consider abortion as a way out of what may feel like an impossible situation.

In my community, probably the majority of young people in this situation find their way to Planned Parenthood for a free pregnancy test. But what they get there is so much more.

First, they have an opportunity to share their dilemma with caring, professional adults who will not judge or condemn them. That often gives them the courage to share information with others, including family and friends. Once their "secret" is shared, the sense of panic subsides.

Secondly, they receive objective, factual information about how to care for themselves, how to care for an unborn child, and how to avoid unexpected pregnancies in the future. Should they choose to continue the pregnancy—and the vast majority do—they get information they need about community services to help them and their child.

Virtually every week, a story hits the national news about the horrendous life or death of an infant or toddler at the hands of tragically unsuitable parents—parents who may be addicts, mentally ill, or abysmally ignorant about a child's needs. If such parents never conceived, the world would be spared a great deal of suffering.

I have no doubt whatever that without Planned Parenthood, there would be a lot more unplanned pregnancies than there are—and many, many more of them would end in abortion.