Saturday, December 19, 2009


Those four syllables are the only things that arise in my mind to counter my growing suspicion that I should maybe have ridden the Kucinich train all the way into the wall in 2008. I knew Dennis couldn’t win; in fact, his intransigence may have made him a poor and ineffective President. But casting a vote for him would at least have informed the world that I didn’t think anyone else in the candidate field was sufficiently progressive for me.

So instead I gritted my teeth and worked for Barack Obama, my second-to-last choice for the nomination. I grew to like him more and more, to foolishly start projecting my hopes upon him. He promised things. Not everything I might have wanted, but enough. I believed him. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” I told myself. In a very large room full of other Democrats, I watched him win. We were ecstatic. I was on a natural high for a week.

I had hoped for an FDR-style commitment to the people and the infrastructure of the nation. Here is our great chance to turn an impending disaster into a grand opportunity to put the nation to work building ourselves a modern infrastructure for the new millenium. High-speed rail, a new power grid charged with green energy, a fiber-optic network, universal internet, universal health care to lift that terrible burden from the poeple and revitalize our small businesses…

Now it’s 13 months later. The American Empire is doing well under the new management.

Maybe we have a few less troops and mercenaries in Iraq, but we’re building up and digging in for the long haul in Afghanistan. We have twice as many mercenaries of various stripes in our national defense system as we do government troops.

The criminals of the last administration are at large, doing their part for the new gang by raging and raving against them, helping to maintain the illusion that we now have something fundamentally different.

The banks are bailed out and doing nicely. They have successfully bought off any feeble attempts to re-regulate them. They are busily engaging in the same shady gambling schemes that brought the crisis down on our heads in the first place. Small local banks are folding, and people are losing their homes to foreclosure.

Foreign sweatshops continue to pour their plastic trash into our big-box stores, where we line up to buy that trash and drag it home. Our labor unions continue to fail.

Our privacy rights have evaporated virtually unnoticed.

We have become ever more deeply embedded in our role as serfs in the service of corporate America, and, ever increasingly, the corporations have life-and-death power over us. Whether you live or die will be decided, to a degree even greater than before the Health Care Deform debacle, by how much money you have to feed into the maw of the machine. The IRS will be there to exact the punishments for those who resist.

And who are the villains, the obstructionists, the social saboteurs in the view of la Regime Nouveau? None other than lunatic-fringe moonbats like Howard Dean, Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders. And St. Dennis, of course.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Is $200,000 a year an "excessive" income?

This question was asked by somebody on an online political forum; what follows was my reply to the inquirer:

Nobody is saying $200k is "excessive"-- depending on what you do to earn it. There are things I wouldn't do for $200k a year.

I think what you're getting at is whether people who make a lot of money should pay more taxes. That is a complicated issue. First, recognize that people who make, say, $200k a year pay the same rate as everyone else on the first $50, 100, 150k of taxable income. If a new higher tax bracket is placed at $200k, only that portion of his total income above $200k is taxed at the higher rate.

And recognize that people are generally only talking about income and estate taxes when they get themselves all worked up about the unfair taxation of the rich. In today's system, someone who makes $100k pays the same amount into Social Security as does that $200k guy. They both pay the same sales tax on a tube of tooth paste. They both pay the same amount of property tax per dollar of assessed valuation. And, to the extent that the rich guy's income derives from capital gains that he didn't work for, he will pay a lower rate than that $50k guy who had to actually go out and sweat for his bread. Warren Buffett summarized the situation nicely when he famously pointed out that his secretary pays a higher percentage of her income in taxes than he does.

Third, take note of the fact that the rich guy is likely to make more use of government services than the poor guy. Not only do the courts devote 90% of their resources to settling disputes among businesses, but the fire departments and police forces are primarily concerned with protecting the property of the rich. Even the streets in the rich part of town are likely to have fewer potholes than in the working-class neighborhoods so those Bentleys and Ferraris ride smoother and retain their resale value a bit better.

And lastly, recall that our gigantic military, on which we spend nearly as much as the rest of the world combined does on their collective armed forces, serves mostly to guarantee the free flow of oil from parts of the world that we have seriously annoyed with our political and military meddling. Money that could be much more wisely spent on building a green infrastructure at home instead goes to maintain and protect the flow of oil dollars into the coffers of America’s most profitable corporations--corporations that even now, in the midst of a worldwide recession, continue to chalk up record profits thanks to the generosity of American taxpayers.

All in all, it's hard to see how the rich are going to be hurt much, or even manage to argue they are being treated unfairly in any sense, if they are asked to come forward with a few more cents on the dollar so that some less-fortunate people can have adequate health care.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans days always make me feel weird.

Veterans days always make me feel weird.

Especially when someone says "Thank you for your service." You see, I was an infantryman in Vietnam, but I did not serve willingly. I was drafted, forced into a deadly form of involuntary servitude, and whatever illusions I might originally have had about the rightness of the war were quickly torn from me when I saw what we were doing to the innocent people, the sacred soils, the beautiful waters and jungles and mountains of that tormented land.

"No, don't thank me," I want to say. "Forgive me. Forgive me for participating in that awful event in your name. If you must thank me for something, then thank me for joining the movement to stop the war when I got home. Maybe thank me for the things I have tried to do for the castoffs of society--the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, the emotionally damaged products of chaotic and abusive homes who have gone on to fill our jails and prisons. But don't thank me for going off to participate in the destruction of a foreign land whose residents never intended any harm to you or me."

Monday, September 21, 2009

People on the left often make a fundamental error in thinking about the right.

We keep thinking that the so-called conservatives are simply misguided and deluded. If we could only educate them, if we could only share our insights with them, they would then give up their destructive impulses and join with us in making a better world. We call them stupid when they fail to see things our way.

This perspective is wrong. It's not about intelligence, It's not about knowledge. it's not about an inability to understand the issues that marks the difference between the right and left in today's America, whether you're discussing corporate power or universal health care or global warming. They are not stupid. They are doing exactly what they need to be doing in order to advance their interests as they see them.

There are plenty of smart people in the corporations, plenty of smart people fighting to deny us a publicly financed health care system, and plenty of smart global-warming deniers.

The issue lies not in intellect but in something more fundamental. The Ojibwe Indians I knew in my youth would have called it "good-heartedness." It is variously expressed in small and inconspicuous acts of charity, or in great ways, as when a President pushes through a national retirement plan intended to keep the elderly out of poverty. It is about love and empathy. It is about valuing other people. It is about simple decency.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It happened again.

Someplace attained a record, unseasonable cold temperature, so my favorite wingnut sent me a link to the story with a snide comment about “Global warming, huh?” This happens every time there is an unusual snowfall or late frost or whatever.

Now, the fact of the matter is, every one of these incidents can be seen as further evidence for the global-warming model. As the earth absorbs heat, it does so very unevenly. There are certain hotspots that warm up more quickly, and other cold spots that take on heat more slowly. The result is that there is more total heat energy in the system, and the atmosphere of the earth functions like one large and very complex heat engine that becomes wilder and more unpredictable in its actions as more energy pours into the system.

Yes, overall, the temperature is going up (very rapidly on a geological scale, but apparently much more slowly on a human scale). But what is increasing much more rapidly than the mean temperature is the total craziness in the weather machinery. More energy, absorbed very unevenly at various points on the globe, means greater turbulent variation in high and low-pressure systems, dramatic and unpredictable shifts in ocean currents, and a general increase in events that are outside the norm.

Put in statistical terms, the variance is increasing much more rapidly than the mean. The net result is that the wild swings in the weather are much more dramatic than are the comparatively small, but cumulatively disastrous, upward trends in temperature. We observe a set of record low temperatures in some locations that seem to cancel out the string of record high temperatures that are occurring elsewhere. But when we attend merely to the individual temperatures, we are missing the main point, which is that we are seeing unprecedented extremes in the weather, and it is these extremes--both high and low--that are the signature of global warming.

Friday, July 24, 2009

In Defense of Lou Dobbs

Lou Dobbs has apparently been giving air time to the "Birthers," i.e. the loonies who question President Obama's birth certificate, believe he was born in Kenya, etc. The Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter to CNN calling for Lou to be fired for his racist lunacy. I see the issue somewhat differently, so I wrote the following letter to CNN:

July 24, 2009

Jonathan Klein
1 Time Warner Center
New York, N.Y. 10019-6038

Dear Mr. Klein:

Please do not give in to the demands of the Left that Lou Dobbs be censored on the topic of Obama’s birth documentation. Doesn’t the political Right deserve fair treatment? If, as Stephen Colbert once observed, “The truth has a well-known liberal bias,” then isn’t the Right entitled to present a counterbalance of disinformation and deception? As your rival Fox News has so effectively demonstrated, there is ample room for half-truths, deceit, and outright lies in American journalism. Story fabrication in order to advance conservative causes has a long history in the American press, and there is no good reason why you should surrender this viable and even lucrative market to the likes of Hannity and O’Reilly. Put simply, if we don’t have Lou to lie to us, we will have to turn elsewhere to find the fuel to sustain our bigotry and otherwise indefensible hatred, and your viewership can only suffer if you shortsightedly deny a voice to the opinions of the batshit-crazy segment of the population.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Another Take on Freedom of Information

I'm a psychologist, and have to do a fair amount of reading in order to keep up with my field--reading that requires access to professional journals. Unfortunately, it is difficult for me to get to the journals I need because I am a private practitioner with no academic affiliation. I do have access to some journals because of (expensive) memberships in professional societies, but there are many journals I cannot get to online. As a result, I end up having to submit individual article requests to libraries, write to authors for reprints, beg copies of articles off colleagues, etc.

There are starting to appear some open-access, peer-reviewed online journals. This is a development I heartily applaud. I hope this trend becomes the norm for scientific and professional publishing in the future.

In the meantime, however, in most cases we're stuck with the old model of journals put out by for-profit publishing houses and the consequent profit-driven limitations to access. I don't mean to denigrate the profit system per se, but the restricted nature of primary-source scientific information pisses me off, especially when I consider that my tax dollars go to support much of the research to which I am being denied access. But beyond that, I think everyone should have access to this kind of public information. Why should a poor person be blocked from knowledge easily available to the oppressor class?

There has to be a better way to finance the journals. For example, why not add a small amount onto each research grant sufficient to pay for the dissemination of the findings of the research? Or, for those rare research projects without public or corporate financing, perhaps some scheme for government subsidization of publication. Any journal that publishes publicly financed research should be reimbursed from public funds for publishing the results of the research. Seems like a simple and nearly perfect solution to me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Curmudgeon's Guide to Health Care

I must say I favor a free-market approach to health care: a system in which you can choose your own providers, and where you don't get punished for being taken to the wrong hospital by the wrong ambulance while you're unconscious. You know--a truly competitive system where the good providers get lots of patients and the poor ones get driven out of business because word gets around and nobody will go to them. A system where you and your provider decide what's needed for your care without interference from the corporate beancounters.

Our present system anything but a free market for consumers. Your insurance company dictates what doctor you can see, what hospital you can go to, and whether or not you're going to get that expensive test or procedure. As long as you are well, you are a profit source for them. If you get sick, you become a problem. If you get too expensive to them, they're pretty good at finding ways to dump you. And, as a side-effect of our ingenious employer-based health care payment system, if you get too ill to keep your job, you will automatically end up on the discard heap.

Very few of us can actually afford the kind of care that we might someday need--bypass surgery, say, or cancer treatment. We therefore must have a system in which relatively small payments from the many who do not need expensive interventions help to pay for the relatively few who do need expensive care. That means that the young and healthy need to pay in to the system during those periods of their lives when they aren't using much health care so that their elders can be cared for--and so that someday they too can be cared for in their time of need.

No for-profit insurance scheme will ever provide free-market health care. By their very nature, insurance companies are structured to make profits by denying needed services. They reward the providers who cost them the least, not the ones who save or improve the quality of the most lives.

The great paradox of the Western world is that only way to provide a free market for providers is through universal, tax-funded single-payer health care. In this system, the government serves as the collector and disburser of health care funds. You pay into the health care system--ideally through income taxes--and when you need health services, you go to the doctor of your choice, she treats you, she submits her bill to the government, and they pay. That's the way it works in much of the civilized world, and that's the way it should work here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Something strange is happening in America--

something no virtually no living American has seen as an adult.

People just aren't drinking the Kool Ade any more. The cat's out of the bottle. The genie's out of the bag. There ain't no goin' back now. We have the power, we have the popular will on our side. There's a new game in town, and the politicians had better learn it.

A new poll says 52% want to legalize pot despite a decades-long, intensive propaganda campaign to keep it illegal.

65 or 70% support Obama and/or his supposedly liberal policies, despite a concentrated effort by the M$M media to sink him.

Harry and Louise be damned--57% of Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for universal health care.

A large majority would gleefully see the rich start carrying their share of the tax burden.

Everybody, from both parties, is Goddamn sick of seeing bailouts of the corporate criminals who caused the current economic mess with their greed.

Hell, even the teabaggers, if they could figure out exactly what it is they're mad about, would discover that they too are just damned sick of being exploited by the corporate ruling class.

The Republicans and DINOs (who, combined, sadly constitute majorities in both houses of Congress) ignore these signs at their peril. If they manage to thwart the public will on these and a few other hot-button issues, I suspect they are going to find themselves confronting some unwelcome and unexpected turns of events in 2010.

The fact is, the rules of the game seem to be changing. All that corporate lucre will only guarantee your re-election if the public is willing to buy your propaganda message. The poll data I mentioned above indicates to me that this is not necessarily the case any more. People are finding new sources of information, largely online, but elsewhere too. Just as the establishment forces managed to capture public radio and turn it into a corporate mouthpiece, Amy Goodman appears on a thousand little low-power FM stations across the land. Internet radio, satellite radio--new voices appear everywhere, singing songs the corporations don't want you to hear.

Since the beginning of the Republic, with a few slips (such as in the period between 1932 and the end of the War), the rich have controlled public opinion. "America is a center-right country," they screeched.

Well, despite the best efforts of the propagandists, the public doesn't seem to be falling for it any more. The majority is discovering itself. That is to say, we are becoming aware of the fact that we are indeed the majority. There is perhaps nothing more powerful on the political scene that a populism that has suddenly discovered its own popularity.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I've been hearing a lot lately about some Liberal Agenda that President Obama is about to inflict on us unwilling Americans any second now. Well, this kind of talk scared me as much as the next red-blooded patriot, so I did what any right-thinking person would do under these circumstances. I rushed out and bought up all the 9mm pistol ammunition I could find in the local sporting goods stores. (In case you didn't know it, 9mm is by far the most popular round for home defense.) Turns out all I could find was 3 very overpriced boxes because everyone else seems to have thought of doing this before me. Well, maybe that was for the best, considering that I don't own any 9mm firearms.

Then I started to wonder--what exactly is this Liberal Agenda, anyway? I asked around and nobody down at the Dew Drop Inn seemed to know exactly for sure, so I started searching with the Google and whatnot, and I finally actually found a copy posted on one of those liberal socialist websites. So, without further ado (whatever that is), I present to you--


All NASCAR events will immediately be outlawed.

Alcohol will no longer be served in public places, but tavern and bar owners may apply for re-licensure to serve marijuana and effete coffee-based beverages.

Abortions will be available on demand for everyone, and will be mandatory for any pregnant woman who is not a card-carrying Democrat.

Gay marriage will be legalized, as will inter-species domestic partnerships.

All military vehicles such as tanks, airplanes and ships will be painted in rainbow colors to signify inclusiveness, and will be emblazoned with pink triangles.

Atheism will immediately be proclaimed the State religion. Anyone refusing to evolve into an atheist will be sent to a Darwinian re-education camp.

Illegal immigrants will be given preference in federal hiring.

Church services will be outlawed everywhere and replaced with Sunday-morning sensitivity training and yoga.

All guns will be confiscated immediately. People who voluntarily turn in three or more firearms will be awarded free surfboards.

All faith-based charity funding will cease immediately, and the funds will be diverted to the new Adopt-A-Terrorist programs that will be starting up in every state.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Life Sentences for Teens

CNN is carrying a story today about kids sent to prison for life. According to their story, "at least 73 U.S. inmates -- most of them minorities -- ... were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison for crimes committed when they were 13 or 14, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization in Alabama that defends indigent defendants and prisoners.

"The 73 are just a fraction of the more than 2,000 offenders serving life sentences for crimes they committed as minors under the age of 18."

As I read these unGodly statistics, I am once more reminded that in Ameria, life imprisonment is for retail killers only. Wholesale murder isn't illegal.

Case in Point #1: The Ford Pinto Memo.

In the 1970's, Ford put out the Pinto with a defect that caused the car to explode in a ball of flame if rear-ended. They then ran a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether or not to modify the car to eliminate the defect. Here is their calculation (from Wikipedia):

Fatalities Associated with Crash-Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires

Expected Costs of producing the Pinto with fuel tank modifications:

* Expected unit sales: 11 million vehicles (includes utility vehicles built on same chassis)
* Modification costs per unit: $11.00
* Total Cost: $121 million
<= 11,000,000 vehicles x $11.00 per unit>

Expected Costs of producing the Pinto without fuel tank modifications:

* Expected accident results (assuming 2100 accidents):
180 burn deaths
180 serious burn injuries
2100 burned out vehicles
* Unit costs of accident results (assuming out of court settlements):
$200,000 per burn death*
$67,000 per serious injury
$700 per burned out vehicle
* Total Costs: $49.53 million
<= (180 deaths x $200k) + (180 injuries x $67k) + (2100 vehicles x $700 per vehicle)>

Thus, the costs for fixing the Pinto was $121 million, while settling cases where injuries occur was only $50 million. With such a difference in costs, Ford decided to manufacture and market the Pinto without fuel tank modifications.

Nobody was ever held criminally responsible for this decision.

*By the way, the $200k and $67k figures for the average value of a lost or injured adult life is drawn from the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) calculation of the estimated costs to society of automobile accidents. It is not a low-ball figure fabricated by Ford. (For example, the $200k for death was calculated by adding estimated direct costs of $163k -- such as loss of future earnings, plus $37k of indirect costs -- such as hospital and insurance costs, legal and court costs, victim pain and suffering, funeral costs, and property damage.)

Case # 2:

The Bush Administration prevaricated their way into an elective war using supposed intelligence information that they knew to be bogus. Total cost, at least 1 million lives, and the ruin of the cultural artifacts of an ancient civilization.

Penalty? None.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Every Democratic President in my lifetime has disappointed me in some measure.

And I was born during the reign of King Franklin and Queen Eleanor.

You expect that of Presidents. They just aren't going to do everything to your satisfaction. I still have high hopes that Obama will be a far better President than any of his predecessors since FDR, but I don't expect him to do everything to suit me. And I reserve the right to squeal, tantrum and pout when he does not. There has never been a President, at least a Democratic President, who didn't need his feet kept to the fire by the very ones who voted for him.

Yeah, I'm unhappy with the appearance of several major policy thrusts right now, particularly the apparent shuffling off of single-payer health care and the apparent giveaways of taxpayer money to the super-rich. However, I also recognize that, in the case of the health care proposal, we don't know anything about what sort of plan is shaping up, and Obama has something of a track record of feinting toward his opponents and then, if they don't cooperate to the extent he wants, veering away from them and essentially doing what he intended to do in the first place. The case of the stimulus package and the the Recalcitrant Republicans is an example; the current GM situation is maybe another. So he could end up putting out a health care plan that is much better than it now looks.

Likewise the bailout of the American financial empire. The fact of the matter is that I am not an economist, I don't fully understand the ramifications of everything that Obama and his advisers have to be considering, and anyway there may still be a feint-toward-the-enemy move in there somewhere.

I am glad that the Keynesians are back in force--Stiglitz, Krugman, Roubini, Galbraith--and I have the sense (following Robert Reich's analysis) that the Obamites are Keynesians at heart. But there is a vast world of difference between being an academic (or even applied) economist and being a politician who has to balance off many different factors, economic and otherwise, in arriving at a policy for a nation. The economists only have to deal with one part of reality--a part that doesn't include the political realities, or the need to sometimes make moves that appear to be 90 or even 180 degrees from the place where you want to end up.

So I know where I want to go with health care in grand terms, and I know that ultimately I want the common people to have a greater share in the wealth they produce, and I want to have a clean, thermally stable, and healthy environment. But sometimes you just got to trust they guy you hired to do the job for you. You need to keep reminding him of the outcome you want, but you have to let him turn the knobs and levers to get you there.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Call to Action. The supposed Democratic majority in the Senate

is a MINO--a Majority in Name Only. There are all these Blue Dog types running loose, and neither Obama nor God seems to have a way of getting them into line. Somehow, even while they're effectively decapitated and bleeding to death out their neck, the Republican corpus seems able to keep its components in line. They can get those votes without intraparty dissent in the House, and can get within maybe 3 votes in the Senate. I don't know what their secret is, other than threatening not to support dissenters in upcoming elections, but their Congressional leaders got some kinda mojo on the rank & file.

We don't have anything like that. It's not even a matter of herding cats. It's a matter of herding cats who think they're ocelots. It seems obvious that neither the President nor the leadership can get them with the program on the major legislation that not only defines us as a party, but that lays the groundwork for the resurrection of the nation. THIS IS NOT TOLERABLE. If the Goddam leadership can't break their lips loose from the asses of Corporate America, there is only one force left that can do it.


And we have to start right now. Critical votes, votes that will decide parts of our destiny for much longer than the next generation or two, are coming up. Health care. War or peace. Our energy and environmental future. We can't just sit around and hope for Primary challenges in 2010. We can't wait for public financing to eventually happen and decrease their reliance on deals with the Devil for campaign funding. We have to get their attention right now. To put it into technical terms, we have to scare the living shit out of them.

They need to smell torches burning in the night, and see the glint of fork tines in the flickering light of the flames.

Can we do that? Frankly, I don't know. But I do know that there is nothing more important in national politics right now.

Here are the steps.
1) We identify our blue-dog targets.
2) We let them know precisely what we want
3) We convince them that if they don't do what we want, we will have their heads.

For step 3, each BD's constituents will have a special role of communicating with them, but you don't have to be a constituent. All you have to do is let them know, preferably in writing, exactly what you want on a case by case basis. One letter or fax for each issue. Let them know that you are watching and that, while you cannot vote directly in their election, you will be sending a campaign contribution. It will go to them if they have proved themselves to you, or it will go to a more liberal Primary opponent if they have not. Then people start bombarding the papers with letters to the editor, holding rallies, calling them out wherever they show up in public, and generally making them painfully aware that they are dealing with a wave of united public activism, and the choice is theirs. They can either ride the crest to victory or be smashed beneath it.

The only problem with Madoff's Ponzi scheme

is that it wasn't big enough.

At $50 billion they give you a prison term. At 5 trillion they give you a bailout.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Nightmare of Universal Health Care

The whole purpose of a health insurance company is to collect fees from the insured and to distribute as much as possible of those funds to the executives and owners of the insurance company. This is done by several means--for example, by increasing the cost of the insurance premiums, by denying and restricting services, and by reducing or withholding payments to providers after they deliver authorized services. Health insurance companies are among the most efficient methods in our economic system for transferring wealth from the lower classes to its rightful owners, the wealthy.

It should be clear to anyone who thinks about it that any single-payer, universal health-care plan would totally defeat the whole purpose of health insurance. The “owners” of the system would be the public at large. The executives would either be government employees or bureaucrats operating under the government’s thumb, who would be perversely motivated to provide actual services to the insured.

In fact, the whole enterprise would end up frittering away virtually all the money put into it on providing care for the wretched masses rather than enriching its owners. Moreover, as experience in the rest of the industrialized world shows, once any such system gets put in place, it will be virtually impossible to ever return to a normal and sane profit system, because the public will very quickly become addicted to the idea of getting health care that actually meets their tedious little needs rather than being satisfied with whatever the insurance companies decide to let them have.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Why so many homeless vets? And what should we do about them?

Every war has left us with a hard core of spiritually injured veterans who subsist somehow on the margins of society. With the unprecedentedly high incidence of subtle brain injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and similar conditions in our new crop of veterans, combined with our failure to evaluate and treat them during the Bush years, I suspect that we may be facing a set of problems that will profoundly affect the character of our society for many years to come.

The vast majority of vets from previous wars have managed to reintegrate themselves into society, not always quickly, and usually painfully, but nevertheless in some measure successfully. What's different about the ones who didn't make it, the ones living under the bridges or sleeping on heating grates or freezing to death in an abandoned basement somewhere, dressed in tatters, hand locked around the neck of a liter of rotgut?

Well, most of those people are addicts or alcoholics or both. Some are psychotic as well. Most of them began their addictions when they were still in the military. The psychoses mostly showed up a little later.

A funny thing about addictions and addicts--people say "He's an addict" and lean back as if they have not only explained something, but have given themselves an excuse not to get emotionally involved. They treat the addiction as if it were the root cause of the problem, then they assume that the addiction arises because of some moral failing in the addict, so it's really the veteran's own fault that he's sleeping under the bridge, and that relieves us of the obligation to be concerned. What a wonderful, comforting blanket of self-justification for inaction one can weave.

The problem is, addictions don't just arise out of thin air. People start using drugs and alcohol for a reason. And, incidentally, the addictions are not primarily physiological problems. Cut off the supply to one drug, and they will simply switch to another. The meth epidemic began when people could no longer get cheap cocaine.

Addictions are not about poor moral fiber, and they are not primarily about physiological dependence. They are about something else. They are about drugging away psychospiritual pain. People do drugs for the most part because the drugs quiet the demons in their heads. People get those demons, for the most part, as the result of experiencing severe, emotionally damaging abuse, neglect, or trauma. The dry psychiatric term for these demons is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short.

There is nothing quite as effective as a war for creating psychospiritual demons. Thousands of veterans are still living with the demons they acquired in Vietnam, and we are about to be flooded with hundreds of thousands of new demon-haunted veterans from Iraq.

Most drug and alcohol treatment programs are quite ineffective. One massive study of inpatient VA programs showed that only 20 to 25 percent of the graduates were still abstinent after one year. The reason for this is that the treatment programs work on what is often termed a "medical model." They believe that they are dealing with physiological problems, that the major issue for the user is coping with physical cravings for a substance to which his body has become habituated. But the physical habituation is only part of the problem, and in most cases is the least part of the problem. Conventional treatment does not address the real issues, which are the psychological ones.

We have a new generation of techniques for coping with PTSD and related emotional problems brought on by exposure to extreme abuse and trauma. One such method is called EMDR (short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Another involves a combination of brainwave biofeedback and talk therapy. However, these methods are relatively expensive because they are conducted in series of individual treatment sessions and require extensive training on the part of the therapists.

Thus the veteran problem is by no means an easy one. Most of these individuals will require a combination of expensive psychotherapy and substance abuse treatment. Some of them, particularly those with severe mental illnesses, will require hospitalization while treatment is provided. They will need help learning new job skills. They will need housing, food, clothing, medications, training, and jobs.

We will only manage to cope with the problem of homeless veterans when we own up to its enormity and commit ourselves to providing the care and help that they need. Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to do that at a time when we find ourselves trembling on the verge of a new global depression?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Whine, whine, reform this, reform that, whine, whine. Now get this:

The American system of government is totally fair.

It permits the poor, as well as the rich, to hire Washington lobbyists and bribe politicians with campaign contributions and promises of high-paying sinecures after they leave office.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fixing the Banks

As bank stocks continue to plummet, bank executives scramble to loot the assets of their institutions while working the politicians for yet more bailout money with which to pad their bonus packages before the whole system collapses.

They are already into the American public to the tune of $4,000 for each man, woman and child. It is long past time to bring this insane game of squeezing the blood out of the common folk to a halt.

Here, in broad outline, is what I propose we do about it--if, that is, we can find any politicians with enough courage to take on the psychopaths in the boardrooms:

First--get an accurate accounting of the true value of the assets and liabilities of the large banks. This will require outside auditors, preferably government auditors. If private contract accountants are used, they should be assigned to tasks in such a way as to preclude their co-optation by the entities being audited. For example, accountants from different firms should be teamed together and nobody should be assigned to audit a bank with which they had a prior professional relationship.

Second--nationalize these banks. Using the data from the audits, determine the true present market value of each bank. Shareholders will be reimbursed by the Federal Government for the actual value of their shares.

Third--restructure the banking system as needed for efficiency. The restructuring may remain as an ongoing process so that the banking system can evolve as needed for changing economic circumstances in the future.

Fourth--disassemble the Federal Reserve and reassign its functions to the nationalized banking system.

And fifth--As evidence of prior criminal activity is turned up in the audit and accounting process, prosecutions of the bank executives will proceed. The IRS will be assigned to track down hidden assets. Given the worldwide scope of the financial crisis, the US will seek treaties with other nations that will permit the opening of bank records around the world to investigators for purposes of locating and repatriating the fruits of fraudulent activity.

Small privately owned banks will be permitted to operate, but strict rules will be reinstituted to define their bounds of operation, and they shall in no case be permitted to operate in more than one state.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

First they took the food stamps away from the lazy poor

First they took the food stamps away from the lazy poor, and I was glad because they told me I would pay lower taxes.

Then they took the homes from the subprime mortgage holders who were in over their heads. I was glad because I had no mortgage.

Then they took people’s jobs so that they lost their livelihoods and their health insurance. I was glad because I would not have to pay for them, and I still had a job and health insurance.

Then they took the benefits from the social security recipients, and I was glad because I was young and hated to see the old people getting something for nothing.

Now I am old and poor and homeless and ill, and I have nothing to eat. But I am glad because I know that I am not a burden on the deserving rich.

The Jackpine Manifesto

The workplace has proved itself incapable of providing adequate health care and retirement plans for its workers. This is particularly the case with small and start-up companies, who lack the advantage of large employee pools. The result is a damping of creativity in the marketplace. People are less likely to engage in risk-taking and innovation when they must sacrifice access to adequate health care and retirement financing in order to do so.

Thus universal health care and a fully funded government retirement system would result in the creation of many new small businesses in new areas such as green technology, precisely where they will answer the emerging needs of society. I believe this system has the potential to stimulate what is best about the profit motive while eliminating some of the worst problems of the current system.

A model for a company in the coming age:

The company will be worker-owned. You will earn increasing shares in the company as a function of the number of years you are employed in that company. If you leave the company for any reason, you may hold your shares until your death. However, when you die, the company will give your estate a fair cash settlement for your share and the remaining workers will retain ownership of the company. This is necessary in order to keep ownership from spreading out among people who have no vital interest in the company.

Not all workers will have an equal share in the company. For example, it would be expected that the entrepreneur who starts the company will retain a larger share of ownership than the other employees. Also, shares in the company may be differentially assigned on the basis of the type of work done. Each worker will receive wages or salary commensurate with their job responsibilities, and in addition each will receive a share of the profits commensurate with the number of shares they hold. Thus every worker will have a stake in making the company more profitable in the long run.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Hate and Retribution

It's pretty natural to hate certain people for what they have done. I think a majority of people of my political stripe would admit to hating Rove, Bush, Cheney, and a lot of other members of the recently departed Administration. We want them to be brought to justice: we want them tried, convicted, and given some sort of harsh punishment.

I have been thinking a lot about this hate thing lately. For starters, I notice that I don't do my mind, my body, or my spirit much good by hating. Hate is a corrosive emotion, and I have seen people become progressively more twisted by hate over time. I don't want to become like that.

The Hopi, I am told, have a very different world-view than ours. If someone commits a very heinous crime, they see the offense as proof that the perpetrator is spiritually sick, and they hold healing ceremonies for the criminal. To them the situation is obvious: the person has done something that no normal, mentally and spiritually healthy person could have done. Therefore there is a terrible defect within the person that it is the business of the healers to remedy.

For the past few years, and for an unforeseeable time into the future, military and mercenary fighters have been and will be coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and many--maybe most--will be very injured. The preponderance of the injuries will be subtle and hard to detect. There will be very many brain injuries, that only sophisticated medical and neuropsychological testing can detect. There will be the emotional sequelae of trauma. Not just classic PTSD, but a whole range of what are coming to be called Disorders of Extreme Stress (not yet in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, now in its fourth edition, but watch for it in DSM-V). And there will be something else--something that we saw in a number of Vietnam vets, but which I think will be endemic in the Middle East returnees. It doesn't have a name yet, and there will be great efforts from officialdom to deny its very existence. For lack of a better name, I will simply call it Spiritual Sickness. It is the product of long-held guilt. For some, the guilt will be due to having killed a child who was mistaken for an armed enemy. For others, the guilt will be from deliberate acts of cruelty and inhumanity like those we know of from Abu Ghraib.

Even as you read this, our land is being populated by increasing numbers of people whose injuries of body, mind and spirit will create severe problems for generations to come. Some of them will be emotionally unstable and dangerous. Others will simply be unable to hold jobs. Many will drift into addictions to whatever substances or behaviors they can find to blunt their physical and emotional miseries.

Our immediate response will, no doubt, be the same as it has always been in the past. We will deny the existence of their injuries so that we don't have to pay to treat and support them. We will build more jails and prisons for them. We will perhaps find ways to make more use of the death penalty.

Would it not be better to learn from the Hopi? Let us treat our veterans with compassion, recognizing that, if some of them have become monsters, they did not ask to be made into such creatures. Let us try to heal them, and if we can't heal them completely, let us find ways to care for them humanely and provide for their needs.

But in order to take this path, we must give up something. We must give up our hate.

And that, you see, is the rub.

I believe, with the Hopi, that people who commit monstrous behaviors do so out of a spiritual sickness. I believe that is true in every case. I think this principle applies no less to George Bush than it does to Lynndie England.

Surely we must protect ourselves from those whose disorders render them dangerous. Again, this is no less true of a George Bush than of a Jeffrey Dahmer. But, while providing for our own safety, we must treat our damaged people with generosity and compassion. In the land of an Eye for an Eye, everyone ends up blind; however, we are about to enter a time in world history in which we will need every bit of vision we can muster.