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.