Time to Retreat

All this grimness.

A shutdown.  Name-calling in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  Plots and games.  Finger pointing and standoffs.  A public reading of Green Eggs and Ham on the taxpayer dime by Harvard grad and newly minted Senator Ted Cruz.  All of it resulting in our legislators stumbling home from their government offices stinking drunk and depressed beyond all normal measures.

Okay, I made up that last part.

But you gotta admit, things are bad.

No one is getting along.  The Republican Party is a model of turmoil, its Tea Party butting heads with, well, pretty much everyone, including moderate colleagues.  Democrats are ridiculing the entire lot.

Hmmm.   What to do?

Perhaps a retreat?  I know we’re in the midst of a crisis but if we don’t invest in a little levity in the hopes of uniting factions then the possibility of progress seems unlikely.

A retreat would take place in the wilderness, far from cameras and reporters. Luckily, I am meticulously familiar with retreat culture and thus can offer descriptions on how such a gathering would look:

No Social Media: If you’re going to get all zen and cozy with the enemy, the first rule is to disconnect. Brrreeaatthhee.  Hug a tree!  (Some Congress members actually do this, which is kind of funny and makes me wish a photographer would have gone.) Congress members and Senators abandon their trusty internet connections, Facebook accounts, and twitter feeds for a whole weekend, except for Senator John McCain, who is addicted to his poker app., has a big tournament scheduled, and is really good at concealing his phone via a camouflage case. Hardly anyone hyperventilates over this rule, although a few retreat to their alcohol stashes. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who is known to openly text during Presidential addresses suffers severe withdrawal, as does special guest Anthony “Text My Wiener” Wiener.  Both are spotted entering the “medical” tent, which one rep claims is a casino.

Yoga: House Speaker John Boehner refuses to abandon child’s pose as well as his mega gavel. The Speaker softens when Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi adopts a warrior position, the single stance he finds inspiring.  He admires her from his balled-up crouch, now sobbing uncontrollably.

Campfire basics: It’s not a retreat if you don’t learn to start a campfire. And what’s wrong with a little healthy competition?  The soft-spoken Arizonan Senator and Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks he’s a cowboy so he enters the fray but quickly tires without a podium to lean on. Ultimately, Lynne Cheney, new resident of the Wild Wild West, a.k.a. Wyoming, wins by distracting fellow competitors with bird calls she learned from her father; she then flicks her Bic at a pile of dry leaves. Cheney’s staff poses the winner near the burgeoning fire, a fake bearskin rug — complete with fake bear head — clenched in her fist.  This, they cheer, will make an excellent 2016 campaign poster.

Skeet shooting with Dick Cheney: Speaking of the elder Cheney, he makes a limited appearance to demonstrate the “skill” of skeet shooting.  During the demo, Cheney fires bullets into the hat brims of two newly elected Democrats.  The former Vice thinks this is the height of hilarity, given the hoopla over his prior hunting mishaps.  The rookie legislators dash off as Cheney guffaws and makes chicken sounds, showing off a bird call most people assumed he knew but no one knew he knew for sure. The brimless Dems wait until they are literally out of the woods before turning and calling Cheney a wise-ass blow hard who owes them new Hope and Change caps.

Campfire stories: The first evening, legislators circle up and share stories, as stories are known to foster bonding.  They make s’mores, too, as s’mores are known to be delicious and make the lawmakers feel even more like kids than does their usual behavior. The long-winded Ted Cruz is made to tell his story last, after the keg has been tapped.

Where is Waldo: Saturday morning, participants are given maps with clues aimed at helping them discover the whereabouts of Congressman Paul Ryan, last year’s budget wizard who mysteriously disappeared during this year’s financial talks. Clue: He is likely not running a marathon.  He could be. If he lied about it.  Or if a marathon was defined as p90x.

Wilderness Survival: Ted Cruz demonstrates (but only to other Ivy League grads) how to sneak an RV into prohibited areas so as not to have to camp with the “common man.” He elaborates on how to use adult diapers when facilities are scarce or you just have a whole lot to say or you are plotting to shut down the government. McCain, who is roughing it in a sleeping bag and eating raw snails, skips this presentation, calling Cruz a wilderness lightweight.

Sing along: Music is the theme of the second evening, even though House Republicans had pushed for a discussion of Obamacare. Camp songs, including the often-unifying Kumbaya, are featured.  A handful of legislators mistake the lyrics for “Come buy us.”  They love these lyrics so much they want to tweet them, but alas the rules prohibit this.  They drink instead, singing louder and more off-key.  Happiness reigns but Boehner says it must end at midnight.

Final Words: No preachers or benedictions here.  Instead wildly popular New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who blames the shutdown on the President (whom he can skunk in arcade games, just sayin’) is tasked with motivating his federal counterparts before they head back to Washington. “It’s simple,” says the Gov, who reportedly aspires to be more than Gov.  “Grow a pair!”  His voice expands to a growl, his face reddens until it seems he might inflate and sail off like a hot air ballon.  “Be a man! That goes for you women, too.  Do your f-ing job!”

Yeah, that’ll work.


Is Political Ideology Embedded in Your DNA?

Could biology be responsible for our individual political views?  Could the tendency to be a liberal or a conservative be embedded in our DNA?

It’s a fascinating question and one that’s beginning to garner attention from psychologists and neuroscientists. It’s also raising the which-came-first, chicken-or-the-egg debate.

“The challenge..is that when looking at our brains, neuroplasticity can muddy the waters, calling into question the direction of causality,” says a statement by Academic Earth, an open-education provider that is currently entertaining the biology question on its website, AcademicEarth.org. “In other words, does our brain structure cause us to be conservative/liberal, or does our conservatism/liberalism cause our brain structure to change?”

Several studies suggest the former.  In 2005, for instance, researchers found that identical twins were more likely than fraternal twins to find agreement on political hot-button issues such as unions, divorce, abortion, and school prayer.  In 2006, research suggested that an adult’s political affiliation could be predicted based on personality traits he or she exhibited at age three.

Most recently, and perhaps most significantly, research from 2011 indicated that MRI brain scans of people who identify as conservative show distinct differences  from those who identify as liberal, and vice versa.

To be sure, more study is necessary.  Meanwhile, you can check out a roundup of what scientists have uncovered thus far in the short and entertaining video, “Born Republican? Born Democrat?”. Here’s the link: http://academicearth.org/electives/born-republican-born-democrat

“In the spirit of intellectual curiosity, we encourage our audience to share these provocative videos and launch their own discussions and debates,” Academic Earth representative Lisa Miller wrote in an email.  “We believe that only through questioning the world around us, can we come to better understand it.”

So, what do you think?  Is it nature or nurture, a combination of the two, or something else entirely that makes us liberals or conservatives?  (Or independents? What about Independents?) What accounts for your own political views? For those of your friends and family?

If the hypotheses of the studies mentioned in the video hold true, it may not be coincidence that we, as a nation, typically seem to be made up of roughly half Democrats and half Republicans.

It might be due to an evolutionary event that benefits society as a whole by keeping opposing forces in balance, posits Academic Earth.  And when this balance is harmonious — Remember the good old days of debate and compromise in the House of

Representatives and the Senate? — this “natural” dichotomy may be the critical force that moves us forward.  As one nation.

Or at least keeps us from capsizing.

Or not.


Departing for Fantasy Island

Imagine if honestly and decency and common sense ruled:

Then, women’s bodies wouldn’t be fodder for political debate.  A woman’s body and issues pertaining to it — pregnancy, birth control, disease, and preventive medicine — would be the business of a woman and her doctor.  The suspect medical opinions of paternalistic men in leadership wouldn’t matter.  Advancements in women’s health would become priorities, like they have been for decades in men’s health.  And if male elected officials dared to revert to the practices of old, then our female leaders — who, if common sense ruled, would be represented in significant numbers — would respond by, well, taking away their Viagra and subjecting them to mandatory prostate exams.

Then, fundamentalist-leaning religions and their respective followers, who regularly plead for tolerance, would start to show some themselves.  All faiths would be sources of goodness, acceptance, equality, and love-thy-neighbor compassion, not triggers for war and divisiveness or know-it-all judgments.  People of faith would embrace all as equals — gay, straight; male, female; rich, poor; atheist, believers; black, white, and purple.  Fights over who has the right to be protected from rape and domestic violence, who has the right to marry, and who can join or lead the Boy Scouts of America would fizzle.  Accepting another and treating him or her as an equal doesn’t imply you see eye-to-eye.  It does mean you are giving understanding a chance.  It does mean that you are acknowledging that each person has the right to make his or her own choices, as long as such choices don’t harm another.  It means that you are choosing peace and love over conflict and hatred. Way to go, Girl Scouts of America, by the way, for remaining above the fray.

Then, all poor American citizens would not reflexively be labeled as lazy.  The majority of the poor want to work and be productive; they don’t intend or want to be poor.  Many do work — two and three jobs but still can’t afford basic essentials, like electricity, healthcare, and groceries. Some who have no jobs have fallen on hard times: they’ve been laid off in middle age, lost the ability to afford mental-health services or medications that keep them well and functioning, been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or have a child who has fallen ill, or have never had a chance to go to college or afford training that would enable them to seek higher paying work.  Many are hungry. Some live on the streets; others live in their cars or in tent cities.  Tent cities.  In America. We should be appalled.

It’s funny how rich and middle-class Americans often turn their brains off when it comes to the poor and the suffering.  Especially when the poor are immigrants. They point and say, “Those people,” and turn their noses up.  But those people are us or our parents or our grandparents.  We all came here from somewhere else.  It’s mind-boggling how folks who are enjoying the good life and the pretty good life can’t imagine how things might have turned out differently, how they might have lost traction or might still.  They forget the dues their forefathers paid. They forget the help they received along the way, some of it provided by the government. They insist they conquered the mountain on their own.  They view “poverty” as an ugly disease rather than a sad reality of well-meaning people. They scoff at the thought of raising the minimum wage yet they believe CEOs should receive staggering bonuses and pay no taxes.  They believe in entitlement. They want to be served in restaurants, work in office buildings and stay in hotels that are clean and well-managed.  They order room service, employ yard workers and nannies, shop in clothing stores and grocery markets, and park in public garages. They depend heavily on a blue-collar labor but refuse to lobby on its behalf, refuse to pay a living wage.  Instead, they seek to bust unions and frame the lower class as lazy, rather than recognize these workers as the backbone of this country.  Government programs to help laid off, injured, and unemployed workers recover and retrain are ridiculed.  Under a decency rule, such initiatives would be lauded.  And your waiter and waitress, your babysitter, your car washer, would be treated with the utmost respect.

Then, bridges wouldn’t be collapsing and roads would be smooth. A crumbling infrastructure would be a source of shame (and new jobs) rather than a political pawn. America is rusting and creaking toward oblivion while much of Europe is looking more sleek, efficient, and polished. Calls for impeachment would never be made until or unless an investigation warranted such proposals.  A gun registry and background checks would be no brainers. The National Rifle Association would be seen as what it is: a bully with deep pockets and no conscience. Budgets would be approved and factions that attempted to stand in the way would be called out by their colleagues.  Tenure in the once esteemed U.S. House of Representatives and the once revered U.S. Senate would be about getting stuff done — big stuff — and not about repeatedly saying no to the party holding the White House. Leaders would stop bashing a president whose skin is darker than that of former presidents.  They would stop calling him arrogant. Funny how black men in leadership are arrogant and white men are just good ol’ boys doing their job with passion and personality. You want to know the epitome of arrogant?  Google Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, who has already predicted that President Obama will be impeached.  Under a decency rule, Reince and his posse would stop saying we “need to take the country back.”  Back to what?  A country led by all-white, all-straight, all-rich men who call themselves Christian but whose actions strongly suggest otherwise?  We are a diverse country where everyone has the right to participate and everyone has the right to pursue a dream.  If we were honest and decent, there would be no place for favoritism and childish emotions of cowardly politicians who care about little else than protecting their own longevity.

If honesty and decency and common sense ruled, as they should and could, Priebus and his ilk — Limbaugh, Beck, and other extremists motivated by greed — would be en route to their very own Fantasy Island. They would be announced by the short-statured Tattoo, who climbs into a watch tower and, upon spotting the prop plane, points skyward and utters his famous phrase, “De plane.  De plane.”  Only in this case, the plane would be arriving not for a vacation, but for an eternity.  That way, folks who can’t acknowledge the diversity and complexity and real struggles of this country could live out their odd fantasies, whatever they may be, far away from the real world.

Calling All Heroes

I’ll give you a minute to fill your glass with your holiday beverage or cocktail of choice.  Go on. I’ll hum carols while we wait….

You back?  All set?

Raise your glass!

Here’s to seeing more heroes emerge in Washington, D.C. in 2013!

(Glasses clink “virtually” as we toast.)

Way to toss back that martini, merlot, or cola!

What?! Spiked eggnog?!  Sounds yummy, if a little heavy, but, what the heck. It’s the holidays. Calories, schmalories.  We can start the diet-exercise regime in the new year, right?


Hold on.

Mind re-filling those glasses?

What?  No humming this time?  Alright. I’ll just plug in the tree lights. But, I’ll have you know I was a member of my junior-high chorus!

Ready? Let’s try a Take Two because I’m suddenly stressing over the likelihood of procrastination.  Huh? No, not in terms of your fitness regimen.  I know you’ll hit the gym on Jan. 1. You’ve done it before.  The mojo will happen, especially when you discover you can’t zip those new leather pants under the tree.

I was referring to our elected leaders. We can’t give them until 2013. Procrastination is their mantra. We can’t allow it. Not when they haven’t completed their 2012 responsibilities. Not when they have failed to avoid the fiscal drop off, fiscal slide, or whatever you want to call it. Not when our country’s economic recovery is at stake.  I mean, we can hope for better leadership and cooperation in the new year. Better yet, we can insist upon it. Did you happen to see Wayne LaPierre on Meet the Press this past weekend?  Talk about an anti-leadership and anti-cooperation mindset! But I digress.  More on that in a second….

We need to demand that heroes in our government step forward. This minute! A deal on taxes, expenses, and our fiscal future must be approved before the new year if we are to avoid risking destruction to our financial markets akin to those that occurred last year, when irresponsible Congress members  — mostly the obtuse Tea Party faction — refused to compromise on the debt ceiling.

The bigger the deal the better.  Why must every bill that’s ultimately approved be a scaled-down, watered-down version of WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN?

Spokespersons for fruit-cake-stuffed and hung-over Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom are hunkered down in their comfy tax-payer-funded homes, are murmuring about maybe having a conference call today.  You know, if the spirit moves them.  The leadership promised its members that it would give 48 hours notice if it wanted members to return to work.  So far that hasn’t happened.  So the earliest we could see Congress in action is Friday.

They need to be here yesterday.  They need to sacrifice their remaining holiday to address vital interests of our nation.

Sacrifice. Not sure our elected leaders know its meaning. It’s what heroes do.

Compromise.  They do this, too.

President Obama is cutting short his Hawaiian Christmas tonight to return to the White House. He, House Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid need to demand that ALL members of Congress return. Immediately. Forget the 48-hour pledge. What about 24 hours?  Twelve? Zero???

Leaders lead.  Heroes sacrifice.  They get the job done.  On time.

Even if we wanted to lower the bar, which we don’t, adults compromise and avoid childish blame games and power plays aimed at promoting their own agendas. If our kids behaved the way our elected officials do they’d be in timeouts until they graduated high school.

Here’s to growing the F up!  (You can toast this. Sorry it wasn’t phrased more eloquently.)

Honestly! On the fiscal cliff.  Each side had been so close you could practically smell a deal.  Then poof, everything crumbled.

THE CURRENT MAELSTROM: On the Right, Speaker Boehner, he of the failed Plan B (what the hell was that?!), hasn’t demanded compliance.  He’s been too weak to propose a bill that would depend on votes from both Dems and Republicans.  He’s failed to say to factions of his caucus (yes, you, Tea Party), that he’s willing to disappoint them, to forge ahead without them.  He’s failed to convey a sense of urgency. He’s failed to risk his own ass.

On the Left, the White House has been too proud to schedule another meeting with Boehner to convince the leader that the more moderate members of each party are ready to act. That they are too close to a deal to back down now.

You won the election, Mr. President.  Stop bowing down; you’re allowing others to dictate the process.  You’re even allowing Republicans to direct appointments to your cabinet.  Seriously?! Channel Nike and Just. Do. It.

Now…to the violence debates that have re-emerged since the Newtown tragedy.

Neither a heroic vibe nor a sense of sacrifice were evident in answers provided by National Rifle Association CEO and Chief Lobbyist Wayne LaPierre when he was interviewed by David Gregory on NBC this past weekend.  LaPierre refused to throw into the mix of possible school-massacre solutions — along with his (and other’s) proposed mental-health initiatives, security upgrades in schools, studies of violent films and video games — any gun-related reforms. First-graders are capable of more common sense and compromise.

LaPierre seemed so sure that no change would come from banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, tightening gun-owner qualifications, or increasing background checks that he wouldn’t even risk putting such issues on the table. Hmmm. There’s a hero for you.

More like a Coward. One more to add to the mix on Capitol Hill. One more whose selfish, shameful, and moronic defiances we can no longer tolerate.

If you truly believe assault-weapon bans or restrictions on high-ammo magazines won’t help, Mr. LaPierre, why not prove it by backing a test ban that’s more inclusive (assault-style weaponry and high-capacity magazines) than the short-lived one passed during the 90’s?

Step up.  Real men and women don’t hide behind their machine guns.

Real heroes are willing to try anything and everything to safeguard their children and their country.

Let us demand heroic action. Quickly. Noisily.

Even among ourselves, the average citizens.

Here’s to calling and emailing one’s federal representatives and demanding action on fiscal matters and on safety from violence in schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, movie theaters, post offices, office buildings, and college campuses.

Before it’s too late.  Again.


The Obtuseness and Insensitivity of the NRA

They called it a press conference.  But what the National Rifle Association conducted today in Washington could be better termed a commercial.

Wayne LaPierre, the group’s top lobbyist, stood before media representatives and called for placing armed officers in American schools. If the President and other leaders are deserving of armed protection, so are our children, he reasoned — the underlying message being that we need more guns, not fewer.

What stood out almost as much as packages under the Christmas tree for children who are no longer alive to unwrap them, was the bull-headedness of this organization and its unwillingness to channel real change.

The whole affair was a giant cop-out. The NRA did nothing unexpected.  Nothing courageous.

Mr. LaPierre spoke of violence in our movies and video games, issues of mental health, and parenting problems.  He blamed the media.  He blathered.  He danced around the truth. He repeatedly put forth the idea that the only solution to bad guys with guns is good guys with guns.

He failed to propose any meaningful discussions or solutions surrounding military-style weapons.  Let alone an assault weapons ban.

It was business as usual.  The NRA demonstrated it is willing to protect its brand and its pocketbook, not our children.  LaPierre refused to risk possible financial setbacks to the organization in order to safeguard our kids.  His plan calls for a more militarized society.  To say he and the NRA don’t get it is an enormous understatement.  Talk about dense.  Talk about selfish.  Talk about cold.

He might as well have stood behind the podium hugging a machine gun.

Mr. LaPierre took no questions, and QUESTIONS are what make a press conference a press conference. Just sayin’.

But, make no mistake, there will be questions.

Apparently, Mr. LaPierre hasn’t followed recent polls in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy. Americans are not willing to settle for the same-old ignorance and short-sighted solutions.

We owe the victims and their families more.  Much more.



A Vote For Reality TV

One convention down.  One to go.  Then we will arrive the moment of greatest anticipation, the moment when America truly shines: the start of the new Fall TV season.

If I was a happy-face person, this is where I’d stick them. Yay, Fall!  (Happy Face). Yay, Sunday night football. (Happy Face). Yay, TV that doesn’t bore me to tears or embarrass me over how moronic (Clint Eastwood) and how deceitful (Paul Ryan) some humans, even those raising kids, can be! (Double happy face).

The worst reality shows can sometimes offers more “truth” than a political convention.  Often it’s ugly truth, but at least it’s authentic.

We can only hope that speakers at this week’s Democratic Convention consider history and facts and the welfare of all Americans, not just the rich or the white or the overtly religious. We can hope that Betty White turns up for humor and inspiration. Otherwise, we’ll have to install some realty-like judges and on-the-spot fact checkers at upcoming mass political gatherings.  Maybe there could even be a gong!

There were a few worthy moments at the Republican National Convention.  Former Secretary of State Rice, for instance, seemed to address all Americans when she spoke of the importance of creating quality educational opportunities.  Other speakers mainly riled up the red-meat-craving crowd by playing on their emotions. What’s a convention without emotion? Mostly, though, the words were hollow, spewed without regard to fact.

Virginia Govern Robert McDonnell, better known as “the ultrasound governor” for wanting to control the uteruses of pregnant women, spoke, ironically, of how government needs to step back and cede more decisions to its citizens. Umm…question:  Are women citizens?  Just wondering.

Rick Not-Sane-torum spoke about the family. Apparently, he has a direct line to the Almighty because he firmly conveyed that single mothers and gay couples who are raising children are not, technically, families?  It seems, family is a technical thing, not a love thing.  Who’d of thunk it?

Then Paul Ryan, the buff, boy-next-door-version of a vice presidential nominee, conveyed mouth-dropping inaccuracies about the closing of an auto plant in his Wisconsin hometown, about medicare, and about welfare, to name a few.  Ryan, who likes his iphone but apparently doesn’t use it to bone up on American history, failed to acknowledge 1) that the plant he identified actually closed under President Bush’s watch and that President Obama rescued much of the American auto industry with a courageous bailout that he (Ryan) voted for; 2) that he and Mitt Romney are planning to turn medicare into a voucher program for seniors while President Obama is planning to retain the program in its current user-friendly form, 3) and that welfare still involves a train-for-work component. Republicans are channeling racism in their inaccurate characterization of welfare — implying that it is for lazy people (i.e. minorities) who don’t want to work.  What is it that the Bible preaches about our actions toward the less fortunate? C’mon conservative Christians.  Help me out here.

Then came Big Mitt with his big lie: claiming that Republicans initially supported the President.  Maybe they thought the home audience would be drunk by this point of the evening. (If only!) The Romster said we are a “forgiving” and understanding people who initially pulled for Obama to succeed.  So, let me get this straight: Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and others who met the night of Obama’s inauguration to determine how they might defeat every proposal the new president made, were actually rooting for him?  Wow, that’s some crazy-ass strategy — pretending to plot against someone.

Beware Republican and Independent voters.

Beware of being guided strictly by emotion. Vote with your head.  Know that yes, things are tough, but that in every month since Obama was elected, he has added jobs. He has reinvigorated the auto industry. Neither could be said for Bush.  Obama has had an impact on the war on terror (a little guy known as Bin Laden is no more and many of our troops are coming home) and has improved healthcare for millions.  If Romney repeals healthcare, as he says he will, he will rob millions of twenty-somethings of automatic coverage and make pre-existing conditions a reason to be turned down for people of all ages.

Know, if you pull that lever for Romney, that it was the Republican Congress that refused to compromise on even the most basic legislation proposed by Obama, that they were the Party of No, not the Party of Now.  That never in the history of America have elected “leaders” screwed the American people so royally by refusing to pass every common-sense bill the President proposed, from the Jobs Bill (yet they regularly gripe about how nothing is being done to resolve unemployment) to measures to correct credit-card fraud.  And they threw up these seemingly criminal road blocks at a time when citizens of this country were scratching for every foothold they could find.  Yet, these very legislators slept at night — in a comfortable home, with plenty of food, and the best health-care plans our tax dollars could buy.

Know that Obama cares about availing opportunities to all citizens, not just protecting the wealthy — and that this is NOT socialism, it is giving every citizen access to his or her inalienable rights.  Remember that Pledge of Allegiance that, every so often, Republicans panic will be removed from our public schools, the one that ends with, “and liberty and justice for all”?

While we’re on the topic of screwing, Republican lawmakers in half a dozen states, from Texas and Ohio to Florida and South Carolina, are attempting to sway the upcoming November election by requiring special voter IDs and by eliminating or restricting early-voting opportunities. These measures have been overturned in numerous cases by state courts.  No matter, the bully-like Republican legislators intend to appeal.

Normally, I’d place the entire blame of such underhanded tactics — tactics designed to discourage minorities and the poor from getting to the polls — on legislators alone.  But it’s clear that regular Republican voters need to stand up here.  If you don’t; if you allow it to happen, then you are party to a crime. All it takes is a phone call.  Tell your state representatives that winning at all costs is not winning.  Women and minorities fought too hard for the right to vote.

Fight for your candidate. Cast your vote. But do it under fair and honest circumstances.  Do it with every eligible voter having access to the polls.  Otherwise, you will indeed be “taking America back,” as conservatives are wont to say — back to the 1800’s.

That’s pre-realty TV — heck, it’s even pre-black-and-white TV.

Your Health On Politics

Forget about the current push to defund Medicare and the on-going tirade over the new but heavily watered-down federal healthcare plan, which benefits some but still leaves a lot to be desired. If you think those are the only battles being waged over medical care, you’ve been living in a cave.  Healthcare in the United States is among the most politicized systems ever established. It’s politics on steroids.  It is about money, power, and greed; rarely, and sadly, is it ever about what it should be about: the well-being of patients and daily life-and-death battles waged by real people and their usually well-intended caregivers.

Each of the following will likely be a blog in the months to come, but, for now, simply consider the multitude of ways in which politics — not government — is affecting the way our medical care is focused and dispensed.

**On Obesity: We say we’d like to address the obesity epidemic in this country.  Certainly, First Lady Michelle Obama is doing her share with her “Let’s Move” campaign for children.  But are state and local governments — as well as businesses and insurance sectors — backing her?  Until obesity is recognized as a disease, like diabetes or mental disorders, its treatment will not be covered by insurance companies, meaning that only the well off will be able to afford treatment. Until the federal food-subsidy program is overhauled so that the healthiest foods — fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins — are more moderately priced than say, a starch-laiden extra-value meal — then obesity will continue to rule.  Until schools and corporations get serious about physical education and fitness as well as food services then youth and adults will continue to struggle with weight problems and productivity will suffer.

**On Health Insurance: Fewer doctors, psychologists, and other providers are accepting insurance, which, once again, means that quality healthcare is a privilege of the elite. We can’t necessarily blame the providers; they have to make a living.  We can blame the insurance industry, which makes it nearly impossible for doctors and psychologists to receive reimbursements that match the quality of their services.  But Republicans in Congress don’t want to overhaul the system.  Citizens, the GOP says, should be responsible for their own healthcare needs. What they really believe is that, were they to vote to make insurers behave ethically, were they to create an efficient and fair system, then they and their colleagues would lose millions in campaign funding and perks piled on by crooked insurance companies, who, frankly, don’t give a lick about your health or mine.

**On Women’s Health — Several states are lobbying to cut funds for women’s health clinics; others have already done so.  Such officials are balancing their budgets on the backs of poor and lower-middle-class women in need of health services. Then there’s the lack of more acceptable screening tools for breast cancer.  (We now have mammography that produces higher quality images while also producing more radiation. Swell.) And women’s heart disease awareness continues to lag.  I’ve interviewed women who’ve said they were having heart-attack symptoms when they were turned away from emergency rooms, simply because they “didn’t look like” a heart-attack victim, i.e. an overweight middle-aged man. These women’s lives were saved only because of their own insistence that something was wrong. Reality check: Many, many women with heart disease don’t look like they have heart disease and don’t manifest it in the same way as men.  If the system treated men and women equally, this would have been a non-issue years ago.

**On Doctors and Drug Companies: Too many doctors in clinical practice are accepting money from drug companies.  This is a clear conflict of interest, especially when it is not declared to patients and then those same patients are prescribed a medication that their doctor’s employer manufacturers.  In such cases, the drug companies are directing your healthcare, not the doctor.

These are some obvious examples but they only scratch the surface.

Stay tuned!

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Thank you.


Taking on the Politics of Friendship

Taking a brief respite from the fire-breathing, migraine-inducing world of national politics to ponder the politics of friendships.  Politics, in the general sense, refers to a set of beliefs or principles relating to a particular theory, group, or thing, like how the Republicans supposedly stand for smaller government. (Recent attempts to legislate women’s health, voting rights, and other matters raises questions about this so-called small-government viewpoint, but this will be taken up at another time).  The term can also be more rigidly applied to activities designed to improve or elevate one’s status.  So, with such definitions in mind, why not ponder relationships?

There hasn’t been a lot of study devoted to this topic.  Some argue there isn’t even an agreed upon criteria for what constitutes a true friend.  Hard to believe, seeing as friendships have been around for eons. But it would seem, according to a few thinkers, that there are certain friendships and decisions involving friends that are more political than others.

Take, for instance, the decision of whether or not to “friend” someone on Facebook.  Political?  Not always, but it can be.  Perhaps, for instance, you can’t stand someone who has sent a friend request.  He slurps his coffee, is a jerk at professional conferences, and makes fun of the people you date.  Still, you ultimately accept the request, not because you worry he and his friends will hate you forever if you reject him, but because you believe he’d be a good business contact. A  shrewd political maneuver?  Uh-huh.  Maybe you should consider a run for office.

So, you get the idea — friendships can be measured in degrees of usefulness or degrees of love, among other variables.

One thinker who attempted to sort it all out was Aristotle. He divided friendships into three types: the friendship of utility, the friendship of pleasure, and the virtuous friendship.  Wondering how you’d categories relationships in your life.

Friendships of utility occur mostly between the elderly and between those in middle or early life.  They involve individuals who are pursuing their own advantage, or, as we like to say, their own agenda. These “friends” do not spend much time together; often, they aren’t even fond of one another.  This is a relationship based on need and usefulness and it ends when the useful quality expires.   Friendships based on pleasure, according to Aristotle, are entered into mostly by the young, whose tastes change as often as the wind changes direction.  Fleeting romantic or erotic relationships fall into this category as do all friendships of the moment.  People who pursue friendships of pleasure seek gratification in the moment and are not concerned with building a lasting relationship. Finally, friendships based on virtue are the most authentic (and least political) type.  These, Aristotle wrote, are based on goodness.  Each party desires goodness for his friend and each loves the other for what he is. Aristotle maintained that such friendships last for as long as both individuals remain good. This is the most lasting and permanent type of friendship, for obvious reasons.

So where do you and your friends fall?