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

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The Poverty of Conservatism

 

A continuing crisis plagues Arkansas. Like a snake eating its tail, poverty, addiction and mental illness, teen pregnancy, sexual violence against women, and low educational achievement perpetuate themselves as a result of entrenched conservative thinking. Costs for addressing these problems continue to skyrocket while the state’s earning power lingers near the bottom.

Where do we cut the snake?

Arkansas ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of poverty. In 2015, 19.1% percent of the state’s households—one fifth—have incomes below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.[1]  For 2016, the state’s population of 2,887,337 included 550,508 people living in poverty.[2]

In a direct correlation to the poverty rate, the state ranks 39 out of 50 states in how well students are educated.[3] The state slips further down the scale for persons 25 years of age when considering the following factors: Only 84.8% graduate high school. Only 21.1% obtain a bachelor’s degree, a ranking that puts Arkansas at 48th out of 50. And only 7.5% obtain graduate degrees, a rank of 49 out of 50.[4]

We hover near the bottom at 46 in terms of mental illness in a compilation of 15 factors including all ages, availability of treatment, and addiction rates.[5] Between 2010 and 2014, over one third of teens in need of mental health treatment did not receive it while over 53% of adults did not. Only 20% of Arkansas residents with drug dependence and 10% with alcohol dependence received treatment.[6]

The state consistently ranks in the top five for teen pregnancies with up to 80 births per 1000 occurring among teen girls ages 15 to 19. Of these, 60% are white, 27% are black, and 11% are Hispanic. Counties with the highest rates included Sevier, Nevada, Arkansas, St. Francis, Mississippi, Jackson, and Randolph.[7]

According to a 2014 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Children born to teen parents are more likely to enter the child welfare or juvenile justice systems and to become teen parents themselves. Every year, thousands of young Arkansans enter one or both systems. Research shows that, nationwide, the children of teen mothers are twice as likely to be placed in foster care as their peers born to slightly older parents. Sons of teen mothers are 2.2 times more likely to be incarcerated than the sons of mothers aged 20 to 21.[8]

The crisis becomes most apparent in the number of Arkansas children in foster care. From March 2015 to March 2016, the total number of available and in-use beds in foster homes increased from 2,801 to 3,306, but the number of foster children also increased, from 4,178 to 4,791. A 2016 report states that substance abuse by caregivers accounts for over 50% of children in foster care.[9]

Despite such high rates of teen pregnancies, many Arkansas school districts do not provide any sex education. Many others offer abstinence-only education including a virginity pledge (14 districts[10]), a ridiculous non-starter since census records show that over 52% of Arkansas teens are sexually active. Only seven school districts provide comprehensive sex education addressing contraceptives, sexually transmitted infection, abortion, and sexual orientation.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 37.4% to 38.5% of women in Arkansas experience at least one event of sexual violence during their lifetimes. These experiences include rape, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.[11] Among sexually active teens, 18% of females report acts of violence (being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose by someone they were dating) and 16% reported being raped.[12]

Are Arkansas citizens somehow genetically predisposed to suffer these conditions? Is it something in the water? Or might the answer be found in the conservative mindset of a majority of Arkansas citizens?

Arkansas ranks 5th in the number of churches per capita. Seventy percent of adults define themselves as ‘highly religious’ with 65% saying they pray daily and 77% saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.[13] The predominant religion practiced in Arkansas is Southern Baptist, a conservative Protestant sect which believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Predictably, any push for sex education and contraceptives in public schools provokes conservative outrage. By religious thinking, unwanted pregnancies serve as punishment for illicit sex. The burden borne by women in unwanted pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare is God’s retaliation for the sins of Eve. As stated in Southern Baptist doctrine, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”[14] Prevention either through birth control or abortion upends the natural order of things as ordained by God.

The prevailing idea of conservative parents is that talking about sex and especially advocating for birth control of any kind creates a permissive attitude wherein teens are more likely to have sex. Data clearly dispute this belief. But the refusal to accept widely accepted evidence about the effectiveness of sex ed fits perfectly with the greater mindset of religious conservatives: willful ignorance about any and all information that doesn’t square with religious teachings.

Under the belief that addiction or non-marital sexual activity are moral failings, many efforts to address non-marital sex, sexual abuse or substance abuse rely on faith-based programs. Yet as noted by a counselor with twenty years in faith-based addiction treatment, “Often times, Christian programs view the secular approach to recovery as counterproductive to their message and will often discredit and even disregard medical or empirical based advice to addiction recovery.”[15]

While embracing some aspects of modern science and the advances of civilization such as automobiles, cell phones, DVRs, and medical progress, conservatives refuse to acknowledge other key findings of our times. Early religions strictly regulated a woman’s sexual activity out of concern for proving paternity and reducing conflict between competing males, among other things.  None of that matters today. Genetic testing quickly solves questions of paternity. But religion has become so institutionalized its practitioners can’t back up far enough to consider its origins or usefulness.

There’s a blind adherence to the tradition of making babies as the primary goal in life.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that teen pregnancy leads to lack of education which in turn leads to poor employment opportunities, or that a state with a high rate of poorly educated adults won’t attract many employers. It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that poorly educated people with poor job opportunities are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol or suffer other forms of mental illness. Inadequate nutrition also plays a role, another cause and result of mental illness and poverty.

Further, an embattled position in poverty with subpar education leads people directly to unreasoned fear of Other—xenophobia and racism.

We have to start with the head of the snake. If we hold any hope of interrupting this vicious cycle, our state and national educational standards must require sex education. Such requirements must be imposed even in private, religious, and home school settings.

The requirements can’t stop there. All children must be required to learn the basics of science, history, political science, and other fields that serve as major elements in critical thinking about the modern world. While the state cannot dictate whether someone embraces any particular religion, we can dictate that our children are adequately prepared to make an informed choice about what to believe.

We cannot allow reactionary religious beliefs and tribalism to undo what civilization has achieved thus far.

The hue and cry against such reforms in education will be loud and long. State and federal legislators will be hard pressed to maintain a firm stance in the face of entrenched dogmatic beliefs. It will take true leaders to enact reforms in a time when leadership seems missing from public life. That means we must elect educated progressives who will carry the weight. The future of our nation depends on it.

~~~

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_poverty_rate

[2] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/arkansas-2016-report/

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education  The

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_educational_attainment

[5] http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/ranking-states

[6] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2015_Arkansas_BHBarometer.pdf

[7] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach,” Ginny Monk. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Sunday September 24, 2017. Page 1.

[8] http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/teen-pregnancy-in-arkansas.aspx

[9] “Children in foster care in Arkansas reaches all-tine high.” Brian Fanney. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 22, 2016. Online access October 18, 2017

[10] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach”

[11] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-StateReportBook.pdf

[12] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescent-reproductive-health/arkansas/index.html

[13] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=arkansas

[14] http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp

[15] http://www.addictioncampuses.com/resources/addiction-campuses-blog/3-reasons-christian-rehabs-dont-work-according-to-a-pastor/

 

Conscious Evolution

Conscious evolution. We know enough. We know why. We know how.

Back when we wore skins and only knew our own tribe, we needed clues to identify the ‘Other.’ They would kill us, take our women and homes and food. We noted their skin color, how they dressed, what insignia they carried. We didn’t need to greet them or get to know them. We killed them before they had a chance to kill us.

Our fear and hatred of Other has followed us. It’s embedded in our DNA. Our survival depended on it.

Today, our survival no longer depends on fearing and hating Other. Now our survival depends on recognizing shared humanity. The majority of people understand this. But there’s that tiny minority, emboldened now by Trump, who just don’t get it.

We need to investigate what some white men fear that pushes them to march in the street with torches. Why they resort to violence. Why they feel oppressed.

They fear losing their concept of themselves as the best, most important, top-of-the-food chain guy. Their very identity is threatened.

Their fear derives from

  • Ignorance, a failure of our public schools in educating about history and anthropology. Supremacists assume that because whites have been predominant in the development of machines and other hallmarks of modern civilization, whites are therefore superior. This view fails to acknowledge the advanced machinery of ancient cultures like China, India, and the Middle East—non-white civilizations. This view also fails to reflect the harm machines have brought to all life forms on the planet—pollution, disease, and arguably a pace of living that destroy human peace and health.
  • Rapid change in requirements for earning a living. It’s no longer enough to hunt, fish, manage livestock, plow fields, and stack rock fences, occupations that served men well for thousands of years.
  • Loss of primacy in male-female relationships. That’s not to say alt-right men don’t seek out submissive women who will stroke their egos. Many do, and sadly there are plenty of women who accept, even enjoy, this kind of relationship. But in the workplace, on the streets, and elsewhere in our culture, women have gained a more equal position. They can vote, earn a living, and walk away from men who refuse to relinquish outdated ideas. They can abort rape impregnation, an age-old tool of male domination.
  • Loss of control over formerly subordinate groups. Such as slaves (African). Such as field workers (Hispanic). Such as ethnic groups (Jew). Now their kids go to school together. At least, until pressure from the alt-right succeeds in shifting sufficient tax dollars to private and ‘religious’ schools to allow low and middle income racists to send their kids to the same segregated right-wing private schools that the more affluent racists have been sending their kids to since integration.
  • Loss of power to control the terms by which our society operates. Through the courts, America’s promise of liberty and justice for all has gradually gained greater implementation. This has fueled the swelling alt-right push to place sympathetic right-wingers on the SCOTUS as well as lower courts across the country. They want courts that will give men the primacy they once enjoyed over women. They want courts to reinforce alt-right beliefs about marriage, sexuality, race, and all the other arenas where white male dominant beliefs have been challenged.
  • For many modern men, their ability to consider themselves men has been compromised by loss of sexual function or diminished genitalia as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals. This is only going to get worse as exposures increase. If such exposure doesn’t affect them personally, it may affect their sons. If they have any. Researchers confirm that sperm count continues to drop at a rapid pace. They also remark on the increase of boys born with compromised genitalia, now up to one in 350 male births. ‘Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are substances present in the environment that can interfere with normal hormonal balance and thus exert potentially adverse health effects on the human organism. Male reproductive system development and function may be susceptible to the effects of such environmental toxicants.’ Endocrine disruptors include multiple chemicals routinely appearing in pesticides, herbicides, plastics, and many other products as well as in chemicals that have now been outlawed such as PCBs, DDT, and atrazine, to name a few. Effects of exposure to these chemicals can carry through to subsequent generations.  (Also this article.)
  • Fear of Other derives from conscious and subconscious effects. A man may have a normal penis size and function fine sexually yet still feel insecure about his sexuality. He may experience urges that he can’t explain, which repulse him and defy his religious beliefs, such as same-sex attraction. In many cases, a man’s ability to feel secure in his sexuality depends on his ability to see himself in a dominant role both at home and in society. Yet many jobs require men to work under the supervision of a woman or a gay man or a racial or ethnic minority, all of which some men consider subordinates.
  • Desire for clear lines of authority. Hierarchy serves men well by defining exact ranks of dominance. Men can accept not being at the top of a hierarchy if at the same time they see that others rank below them. With hierarchy come prescribed methods of moving up through the ranks as well as methods for working within the system. Complaints flow up the chain of command. Men know who they’re working for and what to do if problems arise. In our modern world, traditional chains of command have been interrupted. Even in the military, men today may find themselves working alongside or even in lower rank than a woman or a transgender person. This flies in the face of many men’s instinctive expectation that those within the hierarchy are their peers, their own kind. Admiration and support for Trump derives in part from his authoritarian stance, his willingness to invoke violence, and other aspects of his personality which hearken back to old white hierarchical traditions. Hierarchy as a mind-set also dictates that people believe what their parents believed, and before that their grandparents.
  • Authority for racist views are encoded in the Old Testament, at least as alt-right adherents believe. “Genesis 9:18–29 has been popularly understood to mean that Ham was cursed, and this understanding has often been used to justify oppression of African people, the descendants of Ham. In this view Ham offended his father, Noah, and because of this his descendants are also cursed, and Ham is presented as the father of African people. The text does give the impression that Ham was cursed, but a more careful reading of the passage reveals that this is not so.” (quote source)

Efforts to stamp out alt-right beliefs only succeed in escalating the problem. We must re-think our approach to this threatening yet benighted portion of the population and consider them as injured children who must be nurtured through a re-training process. Many are under-employed, and must be taught how to perform jobs that fit into the modern workplace. Many are suffering severe emotional and psychological problems and need the best therapy our professionals can provide. Many also suffer illness including obesity, sexual dysfunction, and other medical conditions that impinge on their ability to feel whole. Many may suffer the effects of poor nutrition either from ignorance about proper diet or insufficient income.

For all these ills, men of the alt-right seek someone to blame other than the person they see in the mirror.

  • It can’t possibly be that they themselves have fallen into poor health through lack of exercise or poor nutrition. Rather, the reason they feel bad is that ‘commies’ and Jews have taken over their country.
  • It can’t possibly be that their workplace exposure to hazardous endocrine-disrupting chemicals has caused their impotence. Rather, it’s ball-busting women in general.
  • It can’t possibly be that their lack of curiosity or inability to learn has caused them to slip to the bottom in job skills or educational achievement. Rather, it’s the government sending their jobs overseas. It’s immigrants taking up jobs they might have had.

The alt-right is a manifestation of a pervasive illness affecting a certain portion of our population. They are the unevolved among us. We need to immediately start to design interventions that will effectively address their fears and failings. We need to tighten the standards of education to significantly limit homeschooling and improve curriculum for political science and history. We need to implement laws that punish those advocating violence against others and require attendance in appropriate therapy, job training, and/or health and nutrition treatment, just as in earlier years we have required certain groups to attend ‘sensitivity’ training.

These challenged humans suffer from delusions that they alone see the truth. Without an effective strategy to encourage their conscious evolution, there will be more blood in the streets.

The Luddites Were Right

On March 11, 1811, hand loom weavers swarmed the streets of Arnold, Nottingham in the dark of night. They broke into textile factories equipped with the latest technologies, smashed pieces of factory equipment and burned the mills. Over the next five years, the movement spread throughout England. Industrialists invested in safe rooms inside their factories to protect themselves from attack.

The movement died in its tracks when the government stepped in with mass trials, with over thirty men ultimately executed or transported to penal colonies in Australia. The government went on to pass legislation making equipment destruction a capital offense.[1]

The Luddites didn’t start with violence. Rather, like regular hardworking people, they expected their industrialist employers to make nice as new machines were brought in to replace workers. The employers didn’t bother because nobody made them. They found that higher profits fit quite nicely into their fattening pocketbooks.

The Luddite eruption speaks to a trend that ticked up to light speed in the twentieth century.  More and more workers are forced to find new careers. No one could argue that this has been a bad thing. Gone are the backbreaking labors of producing food, clothing, and life’s many necessities. We have refrigeration, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, automobiles, and iPhones. But for each of these inventions, there has been a devastating impact on jobs.

Without the sense of accomplishment and self-respect that a job well done provides, modern people face an unexpected dilemma. Latest job forecasts say if you want a job in the next twenty years, you’ll need to plan for one of the following careers: registered nurse, retail salesperson, home health aide, personal care aide, office clerk, food service, customer service representative, truck driver, laborers and movers in freight, or post-secondary teaching.

Jobs that have no future include farming and ranching, postal workers, sewing machine operators, telephone operators including answering services, and data entry.[2] Some might argue that even these forecasts are overly optimistic. Consider this May 2017 report from Pew Research:

Machines are eating humans’ jobs talents. And it’s not just about jobs that are repetitive and low-skill. Automation, robotics, algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) in recent times have shown they can do equal or sometimes even better work than humans who are dermatologists, insurance claims adjusters, lawyers, seismic testers in oil fields, sports journalists and financial reporters, psychological testers, crew members on guided missile destroyers, retail salespeople, and border patrol agents. Moreover, there is growing anxiety that technology developments on the near horizon will crush the jobs of the millions who drive cars and trucks, analyze medical tests and data, perform middle management chores, dispense medicine, trade stocks and evaluate markets, fight on battlefields, perform government functions, and even replace those who program software – that is, the creators of algorithms.[3]

Observers from all sides are split pretty much 50-50 on whether the result of increased technology in the workplace will be a vast reduction in available jobs or a burgeoning growth of new jobs. One could argue that for every robot providing legal services, there will be a robot repair person lingering in the hallway. Yet present-day robotics in factories don’t require a repair person for every job lost to a former factory worker, and there’s no reason to believe this would change in the future.

Especially since robotic repairs are increasingly performed primarily by robots.

Complicating the labor marketplace of the future is the rapid rate of change in our technology. Retraining workers for new jobs, some argue, can’t keep up with the rate of change. John Sniadowski, a systems architect and participant in the Pew Study noted:

By the time the training programs are widely available, the required skills will no longer be required. The whole emphasis of training must now be directed towards personal life skills development rather than the traditional working career-based approach.[4]

Whether or not education and training programs can keep up with the rate of technological change, none of that addresses the more personal issues of job loss. Does a former factory worker yank his kids out of school to move to another city? What about trying to sell the family home in a city that has become a ghost town? What about the aging parents who live down the street and depend on you for care?

What about that skill set so laboriously learned now heaped in the trash bin as a machine produces a crude facsimile?

Personal losses mount up as jobs disappear, even if free training and relocation costs are provided—which mostly they aren’t. Loss of community means, in many cases, loss of identity. Who are you in a new town where nobody knows your name?

The success of Donald Trump in playing these emotions depended on his promise to workers to get their old jobs back. In just a few months since he took office, it’s become increasingly clear that those were empty promises. Coal jobs aren’t coming back. Factory jobs aren’t coming back. It doesn’t matter how many grandstanding press conferences Trump holds.

In opposition to Trump’s promises to turn back the clock, the harsh realities are that not only is automation and not immigration increasingly displacing America’s middle and lower-class workers but also that the government must step in to provide relief. While conservatives fervently argue that shrinking government will reduce taxes and therefore provide much needed economic relief for Americans, the opposite is true. Government is the only entity that can solve the problem of job loss resulting from increased automation. Government must grow in order to accomplish such a gargantuan task.

Luddites didn’t hate machinery nor did they wish to turn back the clock to eliminate machinery. They recognized that a reduction in body-breaking labor served people well. At its core, their movement hoped to bring workers together into unions that could bargain for better working conditions, protection in cases of sickness, and in general promote solidarity among workers. This in turn would offset the power of capital’s investment in machines instead of workers and its disregard for labor as a disposable element in production.

As noted in a recent Smithsonian article:

People of the time recognized all the astonishing new benefits the Industrial Revolution conferred, but they also worried, as Carlyle put it in 1829, that technology was causing a “mighty change” in their “modes of thought and feeling. Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand.” Over time, worry about that kind of change led people to transform the original Luddites into the heroic defenders of a pre-technological way of life.[5]

The same anxiety led to the ‘back to the land’ movement of the 1960s and ‘70s where college-educated young people left the cities to occupy remote rural farms where they consulted with old timers and publications like the Foxfire books about how to farm, tend animals, and put in sufficient stores to survive the winter in makeshift homes.

Once traditional knowledge is lost, whether it’s how to grow and preserve food or how to build hand looms to knit stockings, how many millennia would it take to re-invent those skills? What repository of knowledge exists, outside of libraries which require literacy and—even more fragile—digital information, that can transfer thousands of years of human learning to the next generation?

Once we rely on automatons to build our homes, provide our medication dosages, and produce our crops, what happens when they fail?

At its core, the Luddite movement sought protection for workers so that in the case of advancing technology, mechanisms installed by the industrialist and enforced by the government would provide for the workers’ welfare. Whether retraining, retirement, or a modest stipend in unemployment income, some provision must be made to care for those displaced by technology. After all, machines vastly increase profits by speeding up production. Some of those profits should benefit the former workers instead of lining the pockets of the already wealthy.

The discussion needs to be had. We need to understand that corporate investment in advancing automation does not necessarily mean that it rests on the workers alone to solve their under- or unemployment problems. They didn’t cause the problem. Corporations should be taxed at rates sufficient to provide better options for cast-off workers. Increased profits resulting from automation should automatically be taxed at a very high rate to offset worker losses from displacement.

Modern culture needs to recognize that as we move deeper into a post-industrial, automated world, increasing numbers of people will not have jobs as we understand them today. Political leaders are sorely needed who will clearly voice this reality and put forth meaningful alternatives to ridiculous and empty proposals like Trump’s promise to bring back coal jobs.

~~~

More discussion on this:

Michael Coren’s article “Luddites have been getting a bad rap for 200 years. But, turns out, they were right.” at Quartz

David Auerbach’s article: “It’s OK To Be a Luddite.” at Slate

Bryan Appleyard’s article: “The new Luddites: why former digital prophets are turning against tech” at New Statesman

Paul Krugman’s column: “Sympathy for the Luddites” in the New York Times

 

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

[2] https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https%3A//www.forbes.com/pictures/efkk45fmhd/the-jobs-with-the-brightest-future-2/&refURL=https%3A//www.google.com/&referrer=https%3A//www.google.com/

[3] http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/03/the-future-of-jobs-and-jobs-training/

[4] Ibid

[5] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-the-luddites-really-fought-against-264412/

On Legalizing Drugs

“Americans must confront the reality that we are the market,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this past Thursday. “We Americans must own this problem.”[1]

Meeting with his Mexican counterpart, Tillerson acknowledged the role of American drug consumption in the proliferation of violent Mexican drug cartels. Citing the enormous demand for heroin, cocaine, and marijuana by Americans eager to get high, he argued that “drug trafficking had to be addressed as a ‘business model,” attacking cash flow, gun procurement, production and distribution.’”

Oh, please. You’d think that an administration that promised new approaches would make some tiny effort to think outside the prohibition box. But never once in Tillerson’s comments or those of his colleague Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly did a new idea appear. Never once did they hint at any effort to consider the success of other nations where various types of legalization and regulation have greatly reduced drug problems.

Take, for example, the success of states like Colorado now in its fifth year of marijuana legalization. Sales of the legal herb generated tax revenues exceeding $150 million between January and October 2016, $50 million of which the state is using to pump up its school systems.[2] Significant shares of this revenue stream will support improved drug treatment, drug education programs, and various projects targeting at-risk populations.[3] All these expenditures help increase education, job skills, and opportunity for persons who might otherwise fall victim to substance abuse.

Yes, Americans are the market. But instead of devoting resources to learning more about why Americans are uniquely prone to drug use and abuse, outdated policies continue to treat Americans as children to be scolded and punished. This attitude helps foster voters’ disgust with government.

Punishment has become increasingly more severe as subsequent generations of policymakers have embraced the government-as-nanny model. Any incremental step away from prohibition has come wrapped in controversy, implemented only in states where the voice of reason has a chance to be heard. Now with the Trump Administration and its appointment of Jeff Sessions as head of the Justice Department, we face the prospect of a full-bore return to the good old failed policies of the past.

Why is there no discussion of legalization and regulation? A modest approach might be similar to that of Portugal, who years ago legalized all drugs. “Weed, cocaine, heroin, you name it – Portugal decided to treat possession and use of small quantities of these drugs as a public health issue, not a criminal one.”[4]

While our nation’s drug warriors lament that such an approach would lead to higher use rates among the young and greater ease of availability would increase use rates, the fact in Portugal is that youth aren’t using more, adults are using slightly less, the rates of HIV and Hep C infection are down, and – hear this – hardly anyone dies of overdose.

Compare that to the alarming rise in U. S. deaths from opiates which more than tripled between 2010 and 2015.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin.[5]

It’s way past time to face reality: people are going to use drugs. As far back as we can peer into human history, people have consumed everything from beer to cannabis to opium to hallucinogens. These practices are part of who we are, part of our religions, part of our ability to think outside or within ourselves.

Legitimate questions await answers about why various types of drug use throughout the millennia have transformed into today’s raging torrent of human suffering, but we’re not devoting any resources to answer those questions. Have the pressures of our fast-paced modern age forced us to seek refuge in intoxication? Is our multicultural society at fault in erasing old customs and rites of passage that could help us confront our existential crisis? Have the conveniences of our technological age created too much leisure time? What is the impact of a pharmaceutical industry’s marketing campaign flooding us with ads suggesting that the solution to every human ill is a drug?

We simply don’t know.

We should have learned a hundred years ago that criminalizing a popular intoxicant only creates bigger problems. Those who championed alcohol prohibition wanted to stamp out drunkenness. The blissful concept assumed that if alcohol were made illegal and its producers and users criminalized, everyone would simply stop drinking.

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watching agents pour liquor into the … New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-USZ62-123257)

Far from it. For their trouble in passing the Eighteenth Amendment, the “dry” crusaders found their cities overrun by heavily armed criminals fighting over territory. People flaunted the law, patronizing highly popular speakeasies where drinking served as joyous rebellion against overweening authority.[6] No matter how many barrels of liquor were spilled into public gutters, ever more enterprising moonshiners set up shop in hidden hollows.

It took just over fourteen years for prohibition fervor to sour. Amendment Twenty reversed it in 1933.

As Lincoln famously said in 1840:

“Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”[8]

Sadly, it seems little of this lesson actually sank in. Prohibition policies continue to frame our national approach to substance use and abuse, siphoning money into hit squads of heavily armed urban police and burgeoning prisons instead of desperately needed research and treatment of addiction.

Reality is that prohibition does nothing to reduce the market for drugs, but it does create a thriving underworld where dealers make huge profits. Stamp out every drug producer/dealer in the nation and tomorrow another crop will rise to the surface. Among the poor, especially those in marginal economies of Mexico and other Latin American countries, the potential benefits far outweigh the risks. Our inner city youth’s only hope of achieving the American dream seems to lie in the profitable drug trade. It’s about supply and demand.

The economics of prohibition can’t be overstated. Trade in illegal drugs generates so much profit that gangs can afford all the expensive weapons they might ever want. The spiraling up of urban warfare now involves military gear and tactics among the police and armor-piercing bullets in automatic weapons carried by adolescent criminals. The payoff comes in fancy cars, jewelry, and a lifestyle not achievable by legal means. Tax free.

A war on drugs is, after all, a war on our people, with rising collateral damage to our cities, institutions, and most of all, innocent bystanders.

Ironically, prohibition policies fail utterly to accomplish the goal of eradicating drug use/abuse. A smattering of evidence from states with legalized marijuana shows that teen use has dropped, suggesting that by removing the ‘forbidden fruit’ aspect of the drug, rebellions teens may lose interest. Meanwhile on the black market, no ID is required for purchase, and studies have found that teenagers can obtain marijuana more easily than beer. [9]

We the people have to decide what we’re going to do about this, because our so-called ‘leaders’ won’t make the first move. We have to decide and then make our voices heard. Compare:

  • a militarized police force versus friendly neighborhood police to protect and serve.
  • urban warfare versus reclaimed neighborhoods and inner cities
  • illegal search and seizure and loss of property even you’re not convicted of a crime versus government butting out of private lives
  • an overwhelmed judicial system versus our Constitutionally-guaranteed due process
  • half of federal prisoners in jail for drugs and the fact that drug offenses comprise the most serious offense for 16% of state prisoners versus an enormous reduction of prison population
  • our ever-growing investment in prisons versus a renewed investment in schools, mental health care, and state-of-the-art addiction treatment centers.
  • taxpayers struggling under drug war costs versus a regulated, taxed drug industry ensuring purity, restricting sales to adults only, and producing substantial new revenue streams
  • American citizens treated as children by government deciding what they can do in their personal lives versus each person responsible for his/her welfare. Want to be homeless, die in a ditch? Go ahead. Ask for help, we’ll be there for you.
  • overdose of drugs like heroin often resulting from zero information about purity or strength versus a regulated market that includes labeling for purity and precautions about use.

There are no upsides to the drug war. By any tally, this approach has been an enormous policy fiasco partly responsible for the decline of inner cities and disrespect for government in general. Government has never bothered to assess the effectiveness of its policies. No one can cite data showing that getting tough on drug traders and users has reduced supply or demand.

Indeed, judging by the rhetoric of our newest batch of politicos and the news flowing to our ears and eyes on a daily basis, we can say with certainty that drug prohibition continues to be an abysmal failure.

~~~

[1] http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washington-updates-tillerson-puts-onus-of-drug-trafficking-1495131274-htmlstory.html

[2] http://fortune.com/2016/12/13/colorado-billion-legal-marijuana-sales/

[3] https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/15-10_distribution_of_marijuana_tax_revenue_issue_brief_1.pdf

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/05/why-hardly-anyone-dies-from-a-drug-overdose-in-portugal/

[5] http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition_in_the_United_States

[7] http://www.autofoundry.com/293/the-best-moonshine-cars-of-all-time/

[8] http://www.americanantiquarian.org/proceedings/44807229.pdf

[9] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/teens-pot-easier-to-buy-than-beer/

The Critical Need for Dental Care

A friend of mine I’ll call Tom is a Vietnam vet. His back is so wrecked he has to take a pain pill before he gets out of bed. He lies there in pain waiting for the drug to kick in. Then he stands in a hot shower until the muscles relax enough for him to walk. For years, he did this each morning before packing up his tools and heading out to work. Now he can’t work.

Jumping out of helicopters into the jungle with a heavy pack did this to Tom’s back. He was a skinny little kid to start with. But his back is not why Tom is in crisis now.

For years, Tom had bad teeth. He finally managed to save up enough to get them pulled but it took more months to save sufficient money to buy dentures. Tom’s down to skin and bones because he couldn’t bear the pain of chewing.

Two years ago, the Veterans Administration Hospital discovered Tom has COPD. Since then, he’s been on oxygen plus inhalers and struggles for each breath. The damage from a lifetime of work as a painting contractor can’t be undone, all those jobs of clearing away old asbestos insulation and sheetrock dust without wearing proper respiration masks. It wasn’t just a matter of not having money for a mask or not wanting the hindrance of something that restricts vision and mobility, although both those things applied. It was even more a matter of not realizing what atomized paint and volatile chemicals could do inside his body.

Now the VA has found that he has a faulty heart valve. Fixing it will be tricky because the vessel adjacent to the faulty valve has an ominous bulge, otherwise known as an aneurysm.

Inhaled particulate aside, how much of Tom’s predicament can be attributed to years of living with bad teeth? Plenty. As it turns out, respiratory disease can be a direct result of poor dental health:

Bacteria from periodontal disease can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs where it can aggravate respiratory systems, especially in patients who already have respiratory problems. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology uncovered a link between gum disease and an increased risk of pneumonia and acute bronchitis.

Or how about dementia, a condition increasingly suspect in Tom’s case?

Tooth loss due to poor dental health is also a risk factor for memory loss and early stage Alzheimer’s disease. One study, published in Behavioral and Brain Functions, found that infections in the gums release inflammatory substances which in turn increase brain inflammation that can cause neuronal (brain cell) death.

The U. S. Surgeon General in 2000 stated: “…oral health is intimately connected to general health and can be implicated in or exacerbate diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and complications during pregnancy.” And that’s the tip of an iceberg of ailments including erectile dysfunction and even cancer.

… a study published in Immunity earlier this year also hinted that a bacterium implicated in gum disease, Fusobacterium nucleatum, can reduce the ability of the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Veterans theoretically get all their health care needs met. But there’s no veterans’ coverage for dental. Medicare and Medicaid also don’t cover oral health. It’s as if our mouths don’t matter.

In the seventeen years since the surgeon general issued his report clearly outlining the devastating systemic harm caused by poor dental health, nothing has been done to expand dental care to those who need it. Awful images jokingly posted on social media about “Walmartians” invariably include people with horribly decayed teeth. Or no teeth at all.

A 2016 Alternet article, “Why in Heaven’s Name Aren’t Teeth Considered Part of our Health?,” reveals that over 106 million Americans have no dental coverage and that one in four has untreated dental decay.

The social cost is as high or higher than the medical cost. We are immediately disgusted by those with visibly bad teeth. People with rotted teeth have a hard time finding employment and are shunned in social circles. Bad teeth are a marker of the lower classes. As noted by Susan Sered, author of the Alternet article,

The reality is that tooth decay signifies poverty in pernicious ways. Without expanding insurance to cover oral health, millions of Americans will continue to live with pain, stigma and the risks of systemic diseases that could be averted through an accessible and integrated system of dental care.

Even before the surgeon general issued his report, common sense told us that decaying teeth sent infection into our bloodstream and compromised our immune system. A steady drip of pus into the body’s blood and lymph systems overwhelms not only the body’s ability to resist infection but also damages otherwise healthy tissue in vital organs.

No wonder Tom has a diseased heart, diseased lungs, and a poor prognosis. He lived with rotten teeth for years. Nobody in the VA stepped up and advised him about this problem. It’s not in their job description.

Likewise, as noted in the Alternet article, the lack of dental coverage in Medicare and Medicaid leaves out large segments of the population most in need of care. It’s estimated that 70% of seniors lack dental care precisely at a time in life when dental problems are most likely to appear.

Except for the random ‘free’ clinic for those qualified (and those lucky enough to live near one and who find their way through the tedious process of discovering where and how such clinics function), those without expensive dental insurance are on their own in addressing this vital and overlooked medical need. Many, like Tom, go without attention to their dental health until they can literally pluck teeth out of their inflamed gums like so many ripe plums.

There’s no excuse for this country to continue to ignore dental health. As one of the fundamental causes underlying so many severe medical conditions, dental disease should rank near the top of conditions covered fully by all insurance programs. In addressing oral health, insurance companies could help prevent or reduce many long-term ailments that cost untold millions and generate incalculable pain and suffering.

There’s no help for Tom. Even after saving enough of his meager pension to purchase dentures, he has continued to decline. It takes all his effort to simply walk across the room. While the VA gropes with surgical options for his heart and keeps him supplied with pain meds and oxygen, Tom lives at home alone without access to Meals on Wheels or other resources that could bring him at least one hot meal a day. He lies in bed watching television, dependent on liquid nutrition drinks and microwaved meals for food. His family chips in when they can, but that’s not a daily meal.

Tom insists he’s not interested in assisted living in the veterans’ home because he’s heard bad things about how people there are treated. He’s also not close enough to death to qualify for hospice. He’s stubborn and proud and thinks he might be able to work again.

This travesty stems largely from the failure of our nation to recognize the insidious creeping harm of poor dental health or the true preventative nature of proper dental care. It’s hardly news that there’s little to no respect for prevention—the lack of understanding about nutrition and poor food preparation skills are a big part of the nation’s mushrooming health care costs, driven in part by the rise of fast food and the barrage of advertisements for unhealthy foods.

“We are what we eat” has never been a more important thought. Especially when we consume bacteria from rotting teeth.

His Fight, Our Fight

According to the brief description that accompanied this photo that crossed my Facebook timeline the other day, the funeral of Pretty Boy Floyd drew the largest attendance of any such event in Oklahoma history. The image gives me goosebumps, almost puts a lump in my throat. It’s not the coffin—I can’t even discern where it is. It’s the people, backs straight, their attention focused entirely on the dead man.

On what he represented.

My dad sometimes talked about Pretty Boy Floyd although at the time of Floyd’s death, my dad was only seventeen. For him, like so many, Floyd stood as a heroic symbol to survival in their times. Dust bowl, economic depression, most of all the shift of worlds. From the independent farmer working alongside his wife and children to wrest of living from the land to the new reality of the need for money and consequently, jobs in town.

Giving up the farm and its creeks and horses and the smell of fresh cut hay. Learning to work for someone else. Breathing exhaust. Street lights burning the dark. Rigid hours to serve someone else’s profit. Dependent on the dollar instead of the land.

There were men who couldn’t make the change. Men who rebelled, who clung to the old ways. Men who’d rather die than portion out his life in the 9 to 5. They didn’t willingly give up the tradition of their fathers, but rather borrowed money on the hope of better times, more rain, abundant crops. The loans came due before better times arrived.

According to his biography in Wikipedia, “[Charles Arthur] Floyd was viewed positively by the general public. When he robbed banks he allegedly destroyed mortgage documents, but this has never been confirmed and may be myth. He was often protected by locals of Oklahoma, who referred to him as ‘Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills.’” He was thirty when he died.

Floyd’s robberies of banks made him a target for the fledgling FBI and the true manner of his death became one of the agency’s earliest cover-ups. After he was downed by rifle shot, another agent shot him with an automatic weapon at point blank range. Not widely known at the time, the unfairness of his killing nevertheless was understood at a visceral level by the common man.

Woody Guthrie, a native of Oklahoma, penned a song about it in 1939, five years after Floyd’s death. Called “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd,” the song has the form of a  Broadside “come-all-ye” ballad opening with the lines:

If you’ll gather ’round me, children, a story I will tell ‘Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an Outlaw, Oklahoma knew him well.

The lyrics recount Floyd’s supposed generosity to the poor and contain the famous lines comparing foreclosing bankers to outlaws:

As through this world you travel, you’ll meet some funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen. And as through your life you travel, yes, as through your life you roam, You won’t never see an outlaw drive a family from their home.

Many other artists have recorded this song, among them Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and James Taylor as another generation’s anthem to the tragedy of corporate takeover.

It’s easy to see Floyd as a martyr. In his short life, he did what so many others wanted to do. Like the young Chinese man who dared to stand in the path of an oncoming tank, Floyd like similar ‘criminals’ of the early 20th century defied the banks and credit systems that threatened everything that mattered in rural American lives. They instinctively understood they were being swept into a capitalist system that had no sense of morality, no obligation to human circumstance. They fought back the only way they knew how.

The battle that cost Charles Floyd his life has not ended.

~~~

 

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Boy_Floyd