A Presidential Stain

Just like in every other aspect of his privileged yet miserable life, Donald Trump can see only the surface. His “shithole” description of nations like Haiti or those in Africa is apt if you only see the poverty and political chaos. A thoughtful educated person would see beyond that surface to the culpability for all that of white Europeans.

African tribes lived fruitful happy lives in their native state, just as did the natives of the Americas. But their natural progress was interrupted by those from more developed cultures who took them as slaves and exploited the resources indigenous to their lands. Since emerging from the dark ages, European countries have sailed around the world trying to enforce their religious beliefs while at the same time seeking slaves and resources to enrich their nations.

That’s how Haiti became a predominantly black society. When Spanish explorers arrived in 1492, they found a widespread population of the Taino people, a Native American tribe. Disease and genocide pretty well eradicated the Taino by 1625 when Spain’s grip on the island loosened in the face of French, English, and Dutch incursions. France seized control of Haiti and by 1700, France had established plantations for tobacco and cotton and imported African slaves to work the fields. Within the next century, the agricultural focus turned to sugar cane.[1]

Intimidating slaves with unimaginable brutalities didn’t require many whites. Accounts of horrific tortures are preserved in Haitian histories. The island’s populations suffered not only the brutalities of enslavement but also the irregular devastation of earthquakes and tidal waves. The current status of Haiti resulted from the most recent earthquake eight years ago with “a death toll estimated by the Haitian government at over 300,000, and by non-Haitian sources from 50,000 to 220,000.” The quake destroyed the country’s capital city and in the intervening years, hundreds of thousands have died of starvation.

Clone this story of Haiti into a long list of other “shithole” countries referenced by our Moron-in-Chief, with a few tweaks and details thrown in. No one in Africa asked for Europeans to come into their midst to enslave their people and steal their natural resources. Just as Native American tribes had enjoyed a sustainable lifestyle in the lands now called the United States,  African tribes maintained long-held religious practices and lived in stable communities.

Facts about the exploitation of places now referred to as “Third World” are available to anyone with a modicum of curiosity and reason. In a world before Trump, knowledge of these facts by a person elected president would have been taken for granted. Such knowledge would inform attitudes as well as foreign policy, most especially our immigration policies as, allegedly, the most advanced nation on earth.

Slavery became common within much of Europe during the Dark Ages and it continued into the Middle Ages. The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Arabs and a number of West African kingdoms played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade, especially after 1600. David P. Forsythe wrote: “The fact remained that at the beginning of the nineteenth century an estimated three-quarters of all people alive were trapped in bondage against their will either in some form of slavery or serfdom.”[2]

The conquest of African nations occurred for two reasons: Christian zealotry convinced of its supremacy and the acquisition of wealth. Christian and Muslim missionaries still plague Africa, preaching sin and redemption to people who originally possessed sophisticated spiritual beliefs that had served them well for millennia. Social disruption and war resulted—my religion is the true one and infidels must die. Much of the warfare in Africa today is based on conflicts between Christians, Muslims, and tribal traditions. This serves several objectives—it keeps the local people at a disadvantage so they’re more easily exploited and it sells weapons of war, fattening the wallets of First World industrialists.

As for the direct acquisition of wealth, in the ages before modern machinery, slaves were the machines who tilled, planted, cultivated, and harvested the crops. Crops for food, crops for textiles like cotton, and crops for rope and other industrial materials enriched farmers. More slaves equaled more money. If advancing social conscience hadn’t eliminated slavery, likely the advance of the machines would have accomplished much of the same thing. (Or, arguably, the elimination of slavery helped push the development of machines.)

But slaves weren’t the only wealth captured from these “shithole” countries and exploited by European conquerors.[3] “Africa has a large quantity of natural resources, including diamonds, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, but also woods and tropical fruits.”[4] Once European nations discovered these resources, they couldn’t keep their hands off. Using primarily enslaved indigenous people to perform the labor in mining these resources, European nations built their wealth on the backs of African people and their native wealth.

This smash-and-grab mentality continues today. Much of the chaos of Central and South American countries is a result of American agricultural interests controlling the vast majority of suitable cropland. Here in these winter-free zones, crops can grow year round and keep the supermarket shelves full even in January. The story of American exploitation and criminal interference among our neighbors to the south portends a timebomb waiting to go off in our faces.

Under previous presidents and as the United States has tried to become more than an imperialist power in the world, programs to help improve conditions in “shithole” countries have been an important objective. Unlike our current president, previous holders of that formerly-prestigious office have supported programs to help improve conditions for native peoples. Education, health care, and social reforms have been part of an outreach that included a proportioned immigration quota.

The denigration of nations and even an entire continent by racist labeling shows nothing about those places or their people compared to what it shows about the person uttering the denigration. What Trump’s profanity reveals is a man totally bereft of curiosity, respect, and knowledge about the world around him, a man whose only goal in life is self-aggrandizement. That his petulant narrow vision should spread such shame over our entire nation is a horror that can end none too soon.

~~~

This post is dedicated to Martin Luther King, a man who rose to the pinnacle of human achievement, unlike the man current soiling the White House.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Haiti

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploitation_colonialism

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_resources_of_Africa

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The Health of Arkansas

Yesterday, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson beamed as he announced a drop in the number of state residents receiving health insurance through Medicaid.

Today there are fewer Arkansans on Medicaid than when I took office in January 2015, while our state’s population continues to increase. In the last year alone, the rolls have decreased by 117,000 (10%). Because of the reduction in Medicaid enrollment, DHS is now projecting that it will spend roughly half a billion dollars LESS (taxpayer money) on Medicaid in SFY’19 than anticipated in the biennial budget.

Perhaps to some, this is great news. We’re saving money! Woopee! All those freeloaders out there sucking on the government teat are now out in the cold where they belong.

But wait. We’re talking about medical care here, people who are sick or disabled or otherwise unable to obtain health care because they can’t afford to buy insurance. By his own numbers, our governor just celebrated the fact that 117,000 people of Arkansas are no longer able to obtain health care.

Now maybe that’s not exactly true. Maybe some of those folks got well from cancer or liver failure or whatever caused them to qualify for Medicaid. Maybe some of them got great jobs and have insurance now through their employers. Maybe some of them became the sudden beneficiary of their Aunt Tilley’s fabulous estate. Or won the lottery.

Or maybe not.

The reduction might have something to do with the federal government’s deep cut in advertising about how to sign up for health care. Or the federal government’s reduction in the sign-up time period. Or the state’s questionable method of deciding who to remove from the program—the electronic data system currently in use automatically deletes anyone who doesn’t respond to a request for income information. As in, one lost piece of mail. One overlooked letter amid a pile of unpaid bills. One person’s inability to comprehend what is being asked of him as he undergoes chemotherapy.

Last year, the governor looked for all the ways he could reduce the amount of money Arkansas pays for health coverage. As reported in the Arkansas Times in the May 2, 2017, edition, the governor’s goal was to lower the income limits.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas expanded Medicaid via a unique policy known as the private option, which uses Medicaid funds to purchase private health insurance plans for low-income Arkansans. The concept was later re-branded as “Arkansas Works” by the governor. The expansion covers adults who make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level — that’s $16,400 for an individual or $33,600 for a family of four.

The governor’s proposed changes to eligibility remove anyone who makes more than the federal poverty line (that’s $11,880 for an individual or $24,300 for a family of four) from the Arkansas Works program. Only people who make less than the poverty line would qualify going forward. That includes not just the beneficiaries who are covered by private option plans but also those who were deemed medically frail under Arkansas Works (the 10 percent of beneficiaries with the greatest medical needs, who are currently routed to the traditional Medicaid program rather than private option plans).[1]

So just to be clear, any single person earning more than $990 per month or head of household with spouse and two children earning more than $506 per person would no longer qualify for government assistance in gaining health insurance. This hasn’t yet been implemented because the federal government has not yet responded to Gov. Hutchinson’s request for the change. But really, governor?

Even the 138% of poverty level leaves lots of people without access to care. In 2013, 21% of Arkansas adults went without health care because of the cost. Do bragging rights automatically come to Gov. Hutchinson because that number dropped to 15% by 2016? What is 15% anyway, besides a seemingly small number?

The state’s estimated population is 3,004,279. Take away 23.6% of that for people below 18 years of age (non-adults). That leaves 2,295,270 adults. Fifteen percent of that equals 344,290 adults in this state without health care. That’s a lot of friends and neighbors.

In a November 2017 report, the Arkansas Times explained another proposed part of Hutchinson’s Medicaid ‘reform.’

Those between the ages of 18-49 would be required to work 80 hours per month; if they were not working, they would have to participate in job training programs or certain approved volunteer activities. Beneficiaries must be in compliance for nine months out of the year or they would be removed from the program for the duration of the year. Beneficiaries 50 or older would not be subject to the work requirement; exemptions would be available for others who met certain criteria, such as caring for dependent children.[2]

Studies have examined the realities of financial need in the United States and have come up with a set of numbers that reveal just exactly how morally bankrupt is the governor’s reasoning (along with the increasingly evident moral bankruptcy of the entire Republican party).

For a family with two adults and two children, the average cost of living in the United States hovered around $65,000 per year in 2015. The figure excludes discretionary spending on nonessential goods and services, such as leisure, entertainment and luxury items.[3]

To be fair, another source gathering economic data specific to locations gives credit to a lower-than-average cost of living in Arkansas. For a family of four in Little Rock, the average monthly cost is $2876.46. For an individual not paying rent, the monthly cost is estimated at $819.24.[4] However, in the governor’s proposed lower income limit, in neither case is there any ‘leftover’ income adequate to buy health insurance. In case you didn’t notice, the estimated average cost of living for Little Rock is $400 MORE than the cutoff income level for those seeking Medicaid coverage under the governor’s preferred income guidelines.

It’s no secret that Arkansas is one of the unhealthiest states in the nation. We rank 48th. We have higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and general poor health both physically and mentally. In particular, according to a January 1, 2018, report published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, from 2013 to 2016, “the percentage [of Arkansans] who reported that their mental health had not been good in 14 of the past 30 days rose from 14.7 to 16.4 [percent.]”

The report I’d like to hear from Gov. Hutchinson would show data about the number of marginally-employed people who have gained better-paying jobs. It would show how many of those suffering mental or physical illness have gained any improvement in their health. I’d like to hear that Arkansas is spending more, not less, on health care not only in direct services but in education—I’m talking about nutrition education, cooking lessons, and everything else humanly possible to teach people how to eat healthy—which, tragically, probably doesn’t include toaster pastries for breakfast.

I’d like to hear the governor talk about how vouchers and private schools won’t be allowed to siphon money away from public schools. I’d like to hear his analysis of how inadequate education leads to poor self-esteem and how a positive self-image is key to a person’s ability to pay attention to diet and exercise. I’d like to hear him talk about how a person who doesn’t feel good either mentally or physically is a prime candidate for substance abuse.

I’d like to hear the governor discuss the abysmal status of substance abuse treatment options in the state, a crushing health care issue that gets short shrift in public discussion. More on that in another blog.

The governor needs to say that fundamentals like good health and proper education make all the difference in how a person participates as a vital member of society or how he/she gains and maintains sufficient employment. He needs to say, again and again, that a person who is well, who has learned how to reason, and who recognizes the responsibility of self-care and citizenship is the kind of person we absolutely must gain a lot more of in this state.

At any cost.

~~~

[1] https://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2017/05/02/governors-proposed-cuts-to-medicaid-eligibility-will-increase-costs-for-working-poor-likely-to-increase-uninsured-rate

[2] https://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/state-still-awaiting-federal-approval-on-medicaid-expansion-changes/Content?oid=11322951

[3] Cost of Living https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/cost-of-living.asp#ixzz53JNGsNLI

[4] https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/in/Little-Rock

How to Grow More Ignorance in Arkansas

Arkansas continues to shoot itself in the foot with the recent passage of new regulations governing home schooling. As a new year begins, public hearings on the latest revisions are open only through January 17. After the public comment period, assuming comments fail to arouse concerns at the Arkansas Department of Education (under the leadership of evangelical Christian Johnny Key), the new rules will be submitted to the state Education Board for approval.

Members of the evangelical right have taken an increasingly militant stance about public education. Partly white flight from integration, partly concern over exposure to gay or minority students and the so-called liberal agenda, and partly public school difficulty in maintaining high educational standards in the face of inadequate funding alongside demand for extraordinary services in mainlining students with special needs, reasons abound for conservative parents to seek alternatives.

But by far the greatest reason for parents choosing to homeschool is their determination to teach religion. Evidently church alone isn’t enough to satisfy this need.

According to the surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, 91 percent of homeschooling parents are more concerned about the environment of schools and want to offer a religious (64 percent) and/or moral (77 percent) alternative.

Smaller-scale studies of parental attitudes have found the same thing, from the conservative fathers who try to form a moral cocoon around their children, to African-American families who want to foster a sense of racial pride in their children, to “quiverfull” families trying to have enough children to Christianize the United States by demographic transformation.[1]

Obviously none of these interests coincide with the need for good citizenship in a blended American society.

In Arkansas, where fundamentalist religious teachings flourish under the guidance of such groups as the Family Council (a conservative research, advocacy, and education organization), the self-explanatory Clark County Christian Home School Organization, and the even more self-explanatory Texarkana Organization for the Resolute Christian Homeschoolers, state lawmakers have signed off on the radical Christian agenda.

On the surface, it might seem a worthy effort to give parents more control over the education of their children. After all, parents love their children and want what’s best for them. The problem lies in the parents’ judgment about what is ‘best.’

Is it best for parents to be the sole instructor and judge of their children’s education? Is it best to prioritize religious beliefs over the U. S. Constitution? What if parents don’t care much about history or math or computer skills, but prefer their children only understand the Bible?

What is the responsibility of the state to ensure that it doesn’t end up with a significant number of young adults incapable of holding down a job, getting along with their neighbors, or functioning as a thoughtful voter?

The latest round of regulations, promulgated during the 2017 legislative session, clarifies requirements for homeschoolers moving in or out of the public schools  and in particular their participation in sports and other extracurricular programs. (Never underestimate the importance of football—and, to a lesser extent, other sports—as the state’s second religion.) As the numbers of homeschoolers have grown, so has the burning need to allow an overlap of public school football and homeschoolers.

Most importantly to anyone concerned about the nation’s future and the potential for our very own religious war, the new regulations remove the state entirely from any oversight of homeschoolers.

“[The statute] eliminates all state-mandated testing and reporting of courses taught and grades earned.”[2]

No one will know if home schooled students are learning any of the reasoning skills or basic facts essential to the maintenance and advancement of our society. No one knows or apparently even cares whether the parents are capable of teaching or well-educated themselves. Most of all, no one seems to care that isolated segments of the population are being given free rein to seclude themselves harboring potentially seditious motivations.

Parents wishing to cloak their children in fundamentalist Christian beliefs can blithely ignore scientific evidence of the earth’s geologic age or evolution of species. They can sidestep entirely the subject of human reproduction and its greater context in biology. Thousands may emerge from their ‘education’ with no knowledge of how babies are made or the use of birth control, much less how lifetimes of suffering might be avoided through pre-natal testing.

No one will know if students are learning that government is evil. No one will interfere if children are taught to ignore the political process or the vital responsibilities of citizenship. The state is stepping back, washing their hands, of the original dictates of the nation’s earliest leaders who recognized the importance of education. Will any of these children, or their parents for that matter, comprehend the urgent truth in the statements of our Founding Fathers?

George Washington: “The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.”

James Madison:  “Learned institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.”

John Jay: “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at at cheap and easy rate.”

James Madison: “What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on each on the other for their mutual and surest support?”

Thomas Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. …Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

Surely not all homeschooled children will turn out to be close-minded religious zealots incapable of reasoned understanding of complex issues such as immigration, minority rights, or the nuances of gender and sexual orientation. But as the numbers of homeschoolers continue to increase in Arkansas and the state continues to back off any meaningful oversight, the potential for rabidly ignorant and potentially treasonous segments of our population increase exponentially.

[From a 2012 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette]: The latest count of home-schooled students in Arkansas shows about 400 more students are learning at home compared to the previous year. The Arkansas Education Department said 16,405 students completed the 2011-2012 school year as home-schooled students. That’s compared with 16,003 in the prior year. …State records show that in 1986, 572 students were home-schooled in Arkansas. By 1992, the number was 3,140, and by 2002, 12,497 students were being taught at home. The 16,405 children home-schooled last academic year is equal to 3.5 percent of the state’s 468,000 public school students.[3]

The count in 2017 was 19,000.

~~~

To voice your concerns, view the draft rules at http://bit.ly/2BTClJb or email your thoughts to ADE.RulesComments@arkansas.gov

~~~

Yes, I’ve blogged about similar topics before.

The Poverty of Conservatism

Conscious Evolution

Treason in the Name of God is Still Treason

A Sword Cuts Both Ways

~~~

[1] https://newrepublic.com/article/122987/does-homeschooling-make-children-more-religious

[2] “Home-school rules redo gives parents more rein,” by Cynthia Howell. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Northwest Arkansas edition, December 30, 2017. Page 5

[3] “Number of home-schoolers in state rises again,” Associated Press. Arkansas Democrat Gazette, September 10, 2012.

America’s New Greatness

It’s been a crushing year. One after another, hard-won social advancements have been blocked or dismantled in the rush to “Make American Great Again.” But what does that even mean?

Exactly when was America greater? When everyone used outdoor toilets? When women couldn’t work outside the home? When skin color decided who could marry whom, or vote, or eat at a lunch counter?

Is ‘great again’ a worthy goal, the best we should expect? Is the conservative mantra right, that free enterprise and individual liberty “under limited government” was and forever will be the pinnacle of human achievement? If only we could rid ourselves of this ‘big government’ and free ourselves of onerous taxation, would the U.S. of A. become the shining star of the days of yore?

No, no, and no.

Let me explain. At the time of the Founding Fathers, ‘free enterprise’ applied to white male landowners. The constitution ignored the rights of women and non-landowners. Voting rights for Natives or slaves never entered the discussion. The founders conceived of a nation of educated, well-to-do white men who used women, natives, and slaves to meet self-serving goals in creating heirs, seizing ever greater slabs of the continent, and forcing labor from non-whites in order to sustain and increase their wealth.

They weren’t evil men. That’s just how things had always been. No wonder certain white males today would see those as the glory days.

But there’s no lack of free enterprise. Men and women of any class or color routinely open their own businesses. Three out of ten workers in the U. S. are self-employed or are hired by self-employed persons.[1] The ‘small business’ community provides the majority of American jobs.

…large businesses only employ about 38 percent of the private sector workforce while small businesses employ 53 percent of the workforce. In fact, over 99 percent of employing organizations are small businesses and more than 95 percent of these businesses have fewer than 10 employees. The reality is that most Americans are employed by a very small business that has little in common with the tiny sliver of the business demographic represented by corporate America.[2]

The complaint of conservatives is that free enterprise is hindered by big government. They rail against requirements that employers pay into insurance policies that provide medical care for workers injured on the job or that provide health care that meets the employees’ needs. Employers also must pay into Social Security and Medicare funds on a 50-50 basis with the employee’s withheld funds. Employers are required to deduct the appropriate amount of state and federal income tax from employee wages and to deposit this tax into government accounts. Employers also must provide a wage statement at the end of each year (W-2, 1099, etc.).

These requirements annoy the hell out of employers. When I operated my own café, I spent hours working on payroll. I resented spending money on workman’s compensation insurance – I never had an injured employee and all that I paid was money down a hole. But I understood the reason for it. If an employee had become injured, should I expect the government to pay for medical care? Should I personally pay for it? Should the employee be abandoned to pay himself?

These are old problems solved incrementally over a long period of American history back when a majority of legislators worked for the people instead of themselves. We stopped sending disabled or aged persons to poor farms where a pitiful stipend from the state supported them along with the random generosity of wealthy donors who might drop a few crumbs from their tables. We stopped allowing employees to be injured or killed in unsafe workplaces. We required people and their employers to set aside funds for retirement.

Like the Affordable Care Act, social support systems developed by our elected representatives to better provide for the ‘general welfare’ are an evolved safety net for all of us. The simplistic idea that these systems should be dismantled in pursuit of some long-vanished ideal of “free enterprise” fails to recognize all the reasons these systems came into being in the first place. We need them. They serve an important purpose.

‘Individual liberty’ is another often-touted phrase by deconstructionist conservatives. What that concept meant to the founders no longer applies in our current reality. The founders lived on the edge of an unexplored country with such a vast reserve of lands that no one could imagine a time when there weren’t new horizons where young men could ‘go West’ to make their fortunes. Individual liberty was possible only because men gained forty acres or more by simply staking a claim or, in many cases, serving in the military after which they received land grants.[3]

What land is free now? None.

What we took from the Natives was a virgin continent full of natural resources. The lands of Europe had been exploited for over two thousand years and here was a whole new start. Individually and collectively, we harvested those resources while patting ourselves on the back about how smart and industrious we were in building a fabulous new nation. We never considered that sooner or later, the last farmland would be plowed, the last gold nugget would be found, and we would run smack up against the end of the bonanza. We did the same thing here that our forefathers had done in Europe.

Conservatives, enraptured with these myths of a glorious past, believe we can return to times when anyone who wanted to work hard could simply plow his way to success with a mule and a compliant wife. Women, keen for their own ‘individual liberty,’ aren’t so compliant anymore. Farming is no longer a viable path to sufficient livelihood.

Obviously our living standards have changed. No more outdoor toilets or working the fields from dawn to dusk. We’re dependent on electricity and modern medical care and automobiles, all things that as recently as a hundred years ago simply did not factor into the picture for a majority of Americans.

Ever in pursuit of their bankrupt myth, the conservatives’ last gasp is the current grab of political power, attained by selling the myth to those who don’t understand. The conservatives are busy ending food and medical care for the aged, the homeless, and other needy segments of the population. The entire social net crafted over decades is being dismantled in a futile grab for a long-lost past.

The descendants of European colonialism want the glory back. They don’t agree that taking from the rich and giving to the poor is the right approach for modern societies. European nations have already grasped this concept. America today and in the future can never be the America of 1800 or 1900 or even 1950.

Making profit off of sick people or school children is immoral. Just as government regulates utilities, so it must regulate other services required by everyone, including health care and the internet. This is not an appropriate arena for capitalism. Government, not profit-driven capitalists, serves as the most efficient provider for the common welfare –healthcare, affordable housing, education, public transportation, infrastructure like bridges and railways, and a vast network of social services.

Reducing the tax burden for the wealthiest among us accomplishes nothing but the impoverishment of our entire nation. The current imbalance of wealth is clear evidence that the rich should be taxed even more. Expanded social programs should ensure that those at the lowest income levels are brought into counseling, health care, education, and training programs in order to improve their economic status.

We’re a largely urban, multicultural society now, completely different from what the Founding Fathers knew. Just as the founders were right to declare the rights of personal liberty, so were progressives right to end discrimination against minorities, women, and the handicapped and to provide mechanisms by which the damages of such long-term discrimination could be healed. It’s the progressives who have understood that the safety net must be available equally from state to state, a service that only the federal government can ensure.

The personal bankruptcy of a small number of men like Donald Trump and Steve Bannon cannot be allowed to dictate the future of our country. Such men long for a culture where white maleness guarantees ascendancy. Without a white male-dominated social structure, they cannot gain the power they so desperately crave. These are weak men dependent on the subjugation of others for emotional and economic support. They will die off just as the Neanderthal died off.

It’s called failure to evolve.

Here’s a toast to 2018 and the continuing evolution of our great nation.

 

~~~

 

[1] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/10/22/three-in-ten-u-s-jobs-are-held-by-the-self-employed-and-the-workers-they-hire/

[2] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristie-arslan/five-big-myths-about-amer_b_866118.html

[3] Bounties of up to 1,100 acres were granted for Revolutionary War service between 1775 and 1783 and up to 320 acres for the War of 1812 through 1815. Additional free lands went to men fighting in the Mexican War 1846-1848 and in Indian Wars from the 1780s through the 1890s. While outright land grants ended in 1855, Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War received homestead rights along with others meeting certain criteria. Much more on land grants and homestead rights at Wikipedia.

 

The New Censorship

The latest absurdity to emanate from the Trump White House is the edict to scientists at the Centers for Disease Control that they cannot use seven words in a report that will be part of the 2019 budget request. The words are vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based.

If I were a scientist working on that report, I would be strongly tempted to go through the draft that contains those words and simply black them out. That would remove them from the report, as requested. Let those who don’t want to see those words guess what’s under the black mark.

My second temptation would be to replace the words with a first letter and a following blank, as in t__________. Since all the forbidden words begin with different letters, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the reader to figure out the missing letters.

Alternatively, authors less willing to be openly defiant could resort to lengthy talk-arounds. For example, “vulnerable” could be replaced with “persons who through birth defect, age, illness, or other conditions are less able to resist potential harm from…”

“Entitlement” would become “the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something, or the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges), or a type of financial help provided by the government for members of a particular group.” Readers get to choose which meaning they prefer.

No reasons were given for the banishment of these seven words. Observers are left to speculate whether more words might be forbidden in the coming months and what they might be. Already we’ve learned that agencies may not refer to “global warming” or “climate change,” all part of this administration’s fervent embrace of denialism. Such an approach speaks volumes about the close-mindedness of the Republican right.

In the psychology of human behavior, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality, as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.  Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, when a person refuses to accept an empirically verifiable reality. In the sciences, denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favor of radical and controversial ideas.[1]

Explanation is also missing about who in particular requested these restrictions. No one would be surprised if the proclamation came from the petulant-child-in-chief himself, since he prefers monosyllables. Maybe the four-syllable “diversity” is too much for him to move his lips over as he attempts to read it. With his utter disregard for science as a discipline and the exacting process science pursues in developing “evidence,” he might prefer, in the possible instance of his developing prostate cancer, that his doctor explains “there’s a bigly bad problem in your thingy down there.”

However, advisors whispering at the Big Baby’s elbow surely find political hay to be made from eradicating the word “fetus” in the hopes that report authors would be forced to use a preferred term such as “unborn child.” However, a fetus is not a child, born or not, and scientists would probably be picky about technicalities like that. They might resort to using a phrase something like “a being in the stage of prenatal development between the embryonic state and birth, occurring after the first eleven weeks of gestation.”

If the report isn’t specified to contain a limited number of words, perhaps no one would mind that a concise single-word scientific term like “fetus” would require twenty-two words to replace it.

This points up the deeply ridiculous aspect of the seven-word ban. Our society – and societies worldwide – agree on words like “fetus” to describe a precisely-understood concept. It’s not that the current administration doesn’t understand what a “fetus” is or feels that it needs a bigger explanation. It’s that the word is involved in a political debate about a woman’s right to choose whether to produce a child. The word “fetus” doesn’t trigger the warm fuzzies that make an evangelical want to rush out and murder a gynecologist or chortle over the prospect of an illegal abortion causing a woman to bleed to death.

Similarly, the word “transgender” triggers instantaneous outrage among the more benighted among us. Ready to drag out the Bible to point out where it clearly states that God only made man and woman, these folks aren’t going to listen to reason anytime soon no matter how clearly it’s explained that there’s a whole other world of gender- and sexual identity-reality out there. They still haven’t accepted that men and women can love and desire members of their own sex. Despite their abysmal ignorance and visceral terror over anything other than their mirror image, the prurient interests of these folks prod them to inspect and judge the more intimate details of Other People’s Lives.

Wikipedia:

Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Transgender people are sometimes called transsexual if they desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another. Transgender is also an umbrella term: in addition to including people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex (trans men and trans women), it may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine (people who are genderqueer or non-binary, including bigender, pangender, genderfluid, or agender). Other definitions of transgender also include people who belong to a third gender, or conceptualize transgender people as a third gender. Infrequently, the term transgender is defined very broadly to include cross-dressers, regardless of their gender identity.

Being transgender is independent of sexual orientation:  transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, or may decline to label their sexual orientation. The term transgender is also distinguished from intersex, a term that describes people born with physical sex characteristics “that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”. The counterpart of transgender is cisgender, which describes persons whose gender identity or expression matches their assigned sex.[2]

It might be difficult to sum up all that in a short phrase in order to replace the word “transgender.”

Our collective intelligence and good will has been insulted repeatedly in the electoral-college victory of Donald Trump. Both before and after the election, he has intentionally incited violence, misunderstanding, prejudice, racism, and division. His performance as president is an international embarrassment. It’s difficult to believe he actually thinks about anything much less reasons. He’s the worst possible person for the role he managed to grab off the gut wagon.

We’ve been forced to accept a presidency of an essentially illiterate man with such a record of abuses, deceptions, insults, sexual assaults, adultery, and overarching greed that it’s difficult to maintain an appropriate level of disgust. While we may hope for a favorable outcome of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election, meaning Trump himself would be found red-handed and subject to prosecution, we face the clear possibility that even this last glimmer of faith in our system will also fall by the wayside. And although we hope for a reversal of Congressional control in the 2018 election, even that will not remove the idiot currently occupying the Oval Office.

But this — this censorship of important words — is alarming evidence of the danger facing our nation.

Whether the seven-word ban is a result of Trump’s petulant desire to get his hands on an easier read—not that anyone thinks for a moment he’ll actually read the CDC report—or his acquiescence to the manipulations of people like Stephen Miller, the remarkably under-investigated wizard whirling the bells and whistles behind Trump’s curtain, no one can say. The most terrifying aspect of the straight-jacket this latest outrage places on scientists is the mentality behind it. Words that describe troubling issues are to be eliminated, as if banishing the word somehow banishes the issue.

These are manipulations of a tyrannical dictatorship, not the supposed world leader in freedom of thought and expression. The very idea of banning certain words from anything violates the fundamental concept of our nation and the stated protection of free speech enshrined in our First Amendment,  facts that are no doubt incomprehensible to this moronic president and the one-track extremists behind his agenda.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denialism

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender

Oh, the Opioids!

It’s the season of giving, of looking back and looking forward as one year ends and another begins. What better time to consider a fresh outlook on drugs?

Here we are amid the Opioid Crisis, the latest in a long line of similarly heralded events sparking fear, outrage, and call for action. One hundred years ago, it was the Cocaine Crisis quickly followed by the Marijuana Crisis, then the Heroin Crisis. By the late 60s, it was LSD that elicited our fear and loathing.

Doomed to fail from the start, the so-called Drug War was about ‘just saying no’ alongside arming our friendly local cops with military weapons. What we’ve since discovered is that ‘saying no’ meant not talking about it, and that’s a direct route to where we are now. Even worse, we failed to recognize that a war on drugs was actually a war on Americans who use drugs. Now we have embattled inner cities rampant with gun violence and police who dress/act/think like commandos.

What we as a society desperately need to realize is that DRUGS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. Substance abuse is a SYMPTOM of a much larger and more insidious problem. We’re self-medicating for existential despair.

Existential philosophy arose in the 1950s and early 60s as a way to discuss the unique condition of modern man. Due to mechanization and urban living, the ancient traditions that have helped us cope no longer apply. We are isolated from Nature and its rhythms and lessons that used to sustain us. We are isolated from the sorcery and magic we used to believe was God. We are isolated from our fellow man, often living alone or in nuclear family settings instead of tribal or extended family groups. And most difficult, we are isolated from ourselves, distracted from our thoughts and feelings by constant chatter and material diversions. This is, briefly, the four-fold alienation that describes modern existentialism.

Exacerbating the problem of our modern age are the failures of education, lack of job opportunities, lack of self-esteem, and poor health.

Public or private, schools are missing the target for many youngsters who desperately need logic and critical thinking. Trades we’ll always use, from plumbers to carpenters to seamstresses, are not taught nor are the fundamentals of operating a self-owned business.

Our culture fails to offer a buy-in for young people who need to know they matter. Public service options in avenues other than military are few and far between. Self-esteem has been relegated to displays of material wealth even when no such wealth exists. Debt to last a lifetime is the price we pay for these trappings of social status.

Even more critical is our declining health. Not only are fast food and prepared meals low in nutrition, they’re more expensive than basic foods prepared at home. We’re overeating and starving at the same time, piling on calories in sugar and fat while missing out on the micronutrients, vitamins, and proteins that lead to an uplifted mood and greater energy. No one is advertising chard sautéed with garlic.

Yet the greatest fraud about drugs is perpetuated by the very industries that bear the name of ‘drug manufacturer.’ Since the 1950s, the insidious promotion of drugs by companies like Pfizer, Eli Lilly, or Merck (to name a few) has increased proportionately to the nation’s substance abuse problem.

Slick advertising convinces consumers that with one magic pill, all of life’s ills will go away.

Television especially holds out the false promise. The suffering victim is cast in a muted gray-tone atmosphere while around them everyone else is blissful. With the magic pill, suddenly the victim joins the bliss, bathed in golden light. Meanwhile the precautions about negative effects from the medication are described in a hurried low monotone that fails utterly to overcome the visual imagery.

The message? Consume a drug and your life will be better.

It’s a message that’s not lost on the audience, young and old alike. Who doesn’t want to be part of that golden bliss? Who doesn’t want to live without pain, without worry? All you have to do is take a drug.

It’s exactly this message that has led to the current opioid crisis. It’s not that doctors are overprescribing, although some are. It’s not that manufacturers falsely claimed that OxyContin and its family of synthetic opioids are safe to use, although some undoubtedly did. It’s that all of it is part of a bigger scam wrought upon the American citizenry—that the inevitable aches and pains of life can be made painless.

When we read about the pioneers and ‘old timers,’ we’re aghast at what they endured. No indoor plumbing? No central heat? No food unless they grew it? We marvel at their toughness, their ingenuity.

Yet amid all the labor saving devices and easy consumer goods, we find ourselves without any test of our endurance or strength. We spend too much time in activities that show us nothing at the end of the day. How can we prove ourselves without any proof?

We’re looking for adventure and new horizons. Our natural tendencies as humans drive us toward activities that may result in trauma, pain, or even death. How do we turn back the very features of our make-up that have brought us out of the caves?

The hazard of certain drugs that lead to laws against them is the fear that persons under the influence will harm us. By escaping rationality through intoxication, people may unleash violent tendencies. No abused substance in history lives up to this threat more than alcohol, but our failed war on alcohol should have taught us important lessons about the harm such policies cause.

The need for a national conversation about drugs is long past due. All drugs. Pharmaceutical advertisements should be banned, particularly those requiring a prescription. After all, why are we encouraging people to decide what drugs they need instead of allowing doctors to do their job? Profits for pharmaceuticals should be heavily taxed despite the persistent whine that the money only funds research.

… evidence that Gilead itself uses its profits to “innovate” is thin at best. In 2016, the company reported profit of $13.5 billion. It spent $11 billion to repurchase its own shares, and about $2.5 billion on stock dividends.[1]

Drug manufacturing ranks among the most profitable industries in the world.

Until we set aside our conditioned response to the drug problem, we cannot solve this escalating crisis. We are throwing people away by failing to address fundamental issues that lead people to hide in a drugged haze. We are throwing them away a second time when we stigmatize their drug problem by involving them in the criminal justice system. Or when we force them into a drug court program with limited resources and over-dependence on 12-step programs and which fail to address underlying conditions such as inadequate nutrition.

Treatment programs generally fail in many ways partly because they are set up to create profit. Instead of looking to make money off of people suffering from addiction, we should be looking for ways to express our collection compassion and concern. We should make sure that intake is immediately available for any and all comers, that they’ll be offered a safe setting full of comfort and light, that individual counseling is the best money can buy. When we invest in our fellow man, it’s a win-win for everyone.

So I urge you to give it some thought and talk about this over the holidays as you meet with friends and family. Enjoy that glass of wine as you celebrate the season. Acknowledge the difference between use and abuse. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be part of the change we so desperately need.

~~~

[1] http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-gilead-profits-20171023-story.html

Is Rock and Roll Dying?

As soon as the caller identified himself, my heart sank. Not another one. I let him explain—barely making it, bandmate working three jobs, time to cut back.

This truth hit them suddenly. No time for thirty days’ notice. He’d moved all their stuff out early that day—amps, speakers, drums, guitars, miscellany only musicians know. All of it now crammed into corners of already cramped living space, it won’t see use. It will sit there until their finances improve or until, on some forlorn day, they decide to sell it.

My vacancy rate now hovers at twenty-five percent – four studios out of sixteen. It’s actually worse than that. I’m down to three actual bands plus one unit occupied by a drummer who needs a place to practice when his band isn’t on the road and one unit occupied by a retiree who used to be a big time guitarist. He and his wife live in an RV, no place for him to play.

Then there are the hip-hop and rap guys, three studios without a drum or instrument, nothing but a computer set up, comfortable furniture, and microphones.

The other rented studios are occupied by an accountant, a masseuse, a writer, and an artist. I’m actively advertising the units as office space, work space, a place to store things if someone needs a temperature- and humidity-controlled room. There are two bathrooms including one with a shower for rinsing off that after-gig smoke-and-booze film that mixes with sweat and sticks to hair, skin, and clothing. There’s a break area with microwave, bar sink, and coffee maker.

There’s a loading dock leading to an entry with a keypad lock, steel doors set in steel frames set in concrete block walls. Another key code is required for each tenant to enter his individual studio. Surveillance cameras further enhance security for tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear acquired over time—keyboards, sophisticated mixing boards, smoke machines plus t-shirts, CDs, and other promotional items. Most of all, the studios provide sound control. Heavy metal played at two a.m. does not leak outside because the walls and ceilings are double-layered, offset with sound clips.

It’s a niche business, something I got into by accident. Back in 1989, I gained ownership of an old railroad property where my dad and I had operated our piano repair business since 1981. The ramshackle buildings stretched along a block of spur track once served as warehouses, a 1940s Quonset hut among them. We used only half of one building, leaving room for multiple renters. As it turned out, the greatest demand for space was rock and roll bands who needed rehearsal space.

Many repairs and changes in those old buildings over the coming years created eleven rehearsal units. Even at that, I usually had a waiting list. Nothing about those old buildings worked well for bands—except the price, ranging from $200 to $300 per month. Sound leaked out so badly that police forced rehearsal shut-downs on a regular basis. Keyed doors meant a continuous drama over lost keys or the need for new locks because the drummer lost his mind and they wanted him locked out. No humidity control, no central heat or AC.

Around 2003 when retirement rolled around and we shut down the piano business, real estate development was exploding all around me. I caught the fever. Perfectly positioned between the university, downtown, and the entertainment district, the property could be the home of a profitable development of apartments or condos alongside commercial space. One of the questions that came up during that two-year frenzy of architects, engineers, city planners, and financial shenanigans was: What about the bands?

The bands. By now hundreds of bands had sojourned there, some famous, most of them not. Some lasting a few months, some for years. I continued to have a waiting list.

So I spent considerable time looking at affordable properties where I could create the best possible rehearsal studio space. I borrowed money for a down payment and contracted with various trades for a remodel of an existing building. I went into debt for a quarter million dollars.

On opening day, April 2006, the studios filled up. Except for a few dark months at the bottom of the recession in 2008-9, they stayed filled. At some points, bands shared space in the larger units and still there was a waiting list.

Then, inexplicably in spring 2016, all that changed. Rent was paid late or in partial amounts along with fervent promises—soon as we get this recording deal done, soon as we get back from tour. Vacancies didn’t get filled. By the end of the year, four vacancies existed from month to month. By mid-2017, there were five.

I’ve talked about this with some of the musicians who have rented from me for years. The sad truth is that the local scene has changed dramatically over the past twenty years, especially in the last ten. Back in the day, a person out for a night of revelry could stand on the sidewalk on Dickson Street and hear rock and roll leaking out into the night from clubs up and down the street. Live music brought in the customers, eager to support their favorite bands with a small cover charge. The money added up for the bands, and the club owners made money off the drinks.

People thronged the dance floor, shouting and laughing as the heavy beat and guitar riffs joined them together in a primal celebration of life. These were songs of the soul in the glorious tradition of rock and roll, an expression too heavy for mere words. This was the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, and all the greats and not so greats who tapped into the zeitgeist of the times in protest of war, of social injustice, of human angst in the unspeakable onslaught of life itself. We needed the music to get us through.

Do we not need it anymore?

One club owner explained to me that the whole scene changed as more people got iPhones. Patrons wanted to be free to circulate up and down the street, meet friends at one place, go to another. It was about seeing and being seen. Texting ruled. No one wanted to pay a cover or cared whether there was live music. Now on any given night, a person standing on the sidewalk finds the street mostly silent. Two or three clubs still invite live performance and there are occasional music fests. But the bread and butter money has dried up.

More than the loss of local venues is the lingering impact of economic downturn. Prices for food, rent, and everything else has gone up but wages haven’t. For young men and women hoping to move forward in the music industry, there simply isn’t enough to go around and still cover a modest $250 to $300 per month studio rent even when shared among three or four bandmates.

And why should they? Since music went digital, the scaffolding holding up the music industry has mostly collapsed. People routinely steal downloads. Whatever tiny increments of profit someone’s CD might generate are siphoned off by the recording studio and the promoters leaving the band with barely enough to cover the costs of touring.

People take music for granted. It’s ubiquitous. In every office and marketplace, every movie and television show, every waking moment, music undergirds our voice-overs. If someone suddenly pulled the plug and music disappeared, we would stand aghast at the disconcerting silence. The musical background spans awkward moments in conversation, social unease as we crowd together as strangers in increasingly jammed spaces, and in long private moments when we don’t want to face whatever is going on in our own minds.

We rely on music in ways we hardly realize. But we’re mostly not willing to pay for it. It’s not only that musicians are often forced to play for free, it’s that the economy places little value on it.

Four vacancies is my break even point. Fewer means I gain a slim profit to bring home to supplement my meager Social Security. More means the operation isn’t meeting its expenses. A continuation of the status quo means I have to think seriously about selling the property, and I’m not sure that the property will bring what I still owe.

At the time I jumped into the new building, spent weeks learning about acoustics and building materials and security systems, I diligently wrote out my business plan. In the part where I needed to describe my exit plan, I described how the spaces could be used for offices or work spaces or even living quarters. But, I added, rock and roll will never die.

Maybe it won’t. Maybe this is just a weird bubble on the local scene that has little relevance to the future of this art form. Maybe in the near future, local talent will again seek out space to create musical statements about the emotions and challenges we face. The big concerts still draw tens of thousands of fans, and a handful of stars still earn their fortunes in the trade, so there’s still the hope of fame and fortune for those intrepid few who gut out the hardship and keep playing.

I hope I can hold out and do my part to keep the dream alive.