Author Archives: thinkbannedthoughts

About thinkbannedthoughts

Sexual health educator and advocate. Political and social Ranty Pants. Word nerd and book slut.

Naming names, because all politicians are not the same.

This is the political post where I get real – and it is Colorado centric, so if you’re from elsewhere, feel free to skip this one (or forward it to your Colorado friends to remind them to VOTE DAMNIT.) or skim it and then apply it to your own state races.

What will you do with your freedom?

What will you do with your freedom?

I’ve got a few friends who are still on the fence about the whole voting thing this year. They’re convinced that all politicians are equally bad and no one deserves their vote and waaa-waaa-waaa, “If God wanted us to vote, He would have given us better candidates to choose from.”

Look, I get it, no candidate is perfect. Duh, they’re fucking human – and yes, they are absolutely operating under the influence of Big Money. But does that mean that all candidates are equal? Oh Hellz No!

Here’s a couple of examples right here in the Colorado races.

For Senate there are a few people on the ticket, but we all know the choice really comes down to Cory Gardner or Mark Udall.

The nice thing in this race is that you can completely ignore ALL of their political ads – the attack ads as well as their self-puffery ads – because they both have public voting records! Yatta!

Udall is the incumbent Colorado State Senator and Cory Gardner is the outgoing Colorado State Representative from my district.

Because both of them have been my elected representatives for the past couple of years I have had a few run ins with both of them. I tend to email my representatives, a lot. I also try to meet them in person when they are in town stumping. And, here’s the thing, on a HUGE range of issues from teacher pay to environmental regulations to gun rights to job creation to minimum wage to running the government to managing social service programs to education to climate change to separation of church and state all the way to, yes, women’s reproductive health – Udall has consistently voted closer to my beliefs, values and vision for the future than Cory Gardner. Further, when Udall replies to my emails (including the robo-replies) he has always talked up to me as if I was a real constituent with valid thoughts and concerns worthy of his consideration.

In contrast, Cory Gardner has repeatedly assured me that not only does he fundamentally disagree with everything I care about, he will actively work to make sure my voice and concerns are not heard or represented in Washington. Gardner has gone so far as to call me a little lady and told me to stop worrying and leave all this political stuff to the men.

I know most of my friends are voting no on Amendment 67, a new sneaky attempt at enshrining fetal personhood into law, doing away with female personhood entirely. Let me just say, for the record, that if you oppose amendment 67, you need to also oppose Cory Gardner as his name is still on as a co-sponsor of a federal personhood bill. If you’d like to keep that bill from making it to the desk of any president ever, we have to keep people like Cory Gardner out of the Senate, and the only way to do that is to vote for people like Mark Udall.

Udall isn’t flashy. I’ll admit that. He’s kind of a quiet guy. He’s thoughtful and considered. He doesn’t always tow the liberal line. He’s a whole lot more pro-gun rights than I’d like – but he does support some limited regulations around that right. I wish he would take a firmer stance on things like fracking and the keystone pipeline, but he’s trying really hard to find and create a middle ground that allows for increased domestic energy production and RESPONSIBLE oil and gas development. I’m pretty extreme on that issue. I am not sure there is such a thing as responsible oil and gas development. The town next to mine, Erie, can’t even find a space to build the new school they desperately need because there are so many fracking wells set up that they can’t find a safe site that meets the set-back restrictions! That’s a lot of damn drilling, and it’s being touted as responsible energy development.

But does Udall’s desire to take a measured approach make him the same as Cory Gardner? Not by a long shot. And this is where a lot of my liberal leaning friends and true independents seem to falter. We seem to think that because the Democrats are, by and large, playing for the middle ground, that they’ve abandoned us and become as bad as the far-right Republicans. (Just as many Republicans think that their middle of the road candidates are pandering to the left-wing extremists.) And so, we write them off and we don’t bother voting and then… The actual extremist wins.

Mark Udall taking a measured approach is NOT the same as Cory Gardner’s hard right approach.

Or take the race for Colorado Governor.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a huge fan of Governor Hickenlooper. We’ve butted heads on a number of issues. The biggest one is his unwavering and seemingly unconditional support of fracking. I am also over-the-top annoyed that in all the hundreds of emails I’ve sent him over the years, I have never once received a reply – not even an automated robo-reply that says he gives half a shit about what his constituents think. I have a HUGE problem with that.

And yet… He got my vote. Because… On balance, when I look at the LONG list of issues I care about, he’s on my side more than he’s not. And his opponent, Bob Beauprez, stands opposed to me on EVERY. SINGLE. ISSUE.

I’m a realist. I’m never going to find a candidate who sides with me 100% on everything, but I CAN find candidates who start with similar values and goals and give those candidates my vote. Because to me a candidate with whom I have a few disagreements is not equal to a candidate who stands fundamentally opposed to everything I care about.

Then there is the race for Cory Gardner’s old seat in the house of representatives which pits Ken Buck against newcomer Vic Meyers. It doesn’t take much to see that these candidates are not the same.

Ken Buck is a district attorney who has said on more than one occasion that he will not uphold Colorado State laws that he personally disagrees with . He’s also the guy who once said people should vote for him because he doesn’t wear high heels. He is militantly anti-abortion. I don’t think he can call himself pro-life since he doesn’t even support exemptions for the life of the mother. He’s another guy who should not get the vote of anyone who does not support Amendment 67 and fetal personhood that outweighs female personhood.

Aside from his blatant disregard for women as human beings, he also stands against everything I am for – education, environmental regulations, voting rights, job growth, expanding civil rights to include all citizens regardless of gender, sexual identity, race, ethnicity or class.

His opponent, Vic Meyers, by contrast is another one of those down-to-earth thoughtful candidates. We may not agree on everything, but I appreciate that he has actually considered the issues and the ways that government action – or inaction as has been the case all too often of late – will affect real people. I also love that he filled out this “Political Courage Test” and took the time to call them out for over-simplifying things.

This is a guy who got my enthusiastic vote, a guy I would appreciate having in office because he has values that shape his opinions, but he is still open to learning more and hearing from his constituents and representing THEM, rather than simply representing his own interests.

The same tools I used to spot the differences between the candidates can be used by anyone voting in any race. Non-partisan sites like Project Vote Smart try to give voice to candidate’s actual stance on the issues that voters care about so that we can make informed decisions.

You may not agree with my stance on the issues, and that’s okay. That means you’ll vote for a different candidate, but I do hope that you can see that they are not, in fact, all the same. I hope you can see that there are real differences in the policies they support and that those differences have real consequences in real people’s lives.

When I looked at each of the candidates in my state and in my district and checked off their stances on the issues I cared about it was clear that while there might not have been a perfect candidate who checked every single box I would have checked, there were absolutely candidates who came closer to holding the same beliefs and values that I hold and who would come closer to representing me and my vision for the future of my state and country than other candidates.

I agree that the American political system is less than perfect and that we often have less than ideal candidates to choose from, but that doesn’t mean that all candidates are the same or that our votes don’t matter.

Never surrender!

Never surrender!

I encourage you all to do the work, examine your candidates, look at their stances on the issues that matter most to you and give your vote to the person who comes the closest to representing your values and your hopes for the future. I can assure you, they are not all the same and the outcome of these midterm elections will have real consequences for us all.

Also, one last note to my Colorado readers, we have the opportunity to vote on GMO labeling in our state. A friend of mine had a great response to this issue for the fence sitters, “I’m not voting yes on 105 because I care about labeling. I’m voting yes on 105 because a corporation I really don’t like is spending millions to try to convince me to vote no.”

I voted yes because personally I think the free-market only works if consumers are informed enough to make real choices, but I also like the idea of voting yes just to spite Monsanto.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Health care vs FREEDOM!

This post is a follow-up to yesterday’s post – and bonus! My cold has mostly cleared up so this one might even be coherent! Yatta!

It is in response to a commenter who praised the woman who took personal responsibility for her health and reminded us all that here in America the battle isn’t limited to Medicine vs health, but also health vs FREEDOM! (You must read that as Mel Gibson’s William Wallace or it doesn’t work.)

I also want to clarify something that I failed on yesterday – namely that weight is not an indicator of overall health and that the woman in the example I used referred to herself as morbidly obese and her surgery as life saving while admitting that it would not have been life saving if she had not turned her life around and chosen a healthier life afterward. The surgery allowed her to START, it was up to her to follow through.

She also talked about the fact that while she was not ashamed of her previous size, there was a lot of pain around the trauma that led to her weight gain – and that is another conversation that I would like to have one day with all of you, the ways that trauma and internal pain manifest externally and the self-harming behavior many of us turn to in response to unresolved trauma. But that is a LONG and complex conversation, so I’m going to bench it for the moment.

It is also another place that American Medicine failed her, because no one asked – no one asked about the weight gain, how or why it started, how she felt about it, if she needed counseling to help her resolve the issues that led to it. There was a medical procedure, it was done and paid for and then she was left to her own devices. She still struggles with some of the self-harming behaviors that led to her surgery. Beyond the surgery, she needed counseling to help her deal with the root causes of those behaviors. This is part of another larger conversation we need to have about how mental health is ignored in this country if there isn’t a pill that will take away the symptoms or a crime committed that can be punished with jail time.

Anyway, as we dive in, I just want to make it absolutely clear that I do not believe that fat = unhealthy or that thin = healthy. That is ridiculously over-simplistic, insulting and untrue.

That said – our nation’s obsessive love affair with junk food just might be killing us.

fake food

Here there be monsters.

People all over the country FREAKED OUT when NY Mayor Bloomberg tried to levy a soda tax and ban super-sized sodas, because FREEDOM!

Mind you, these are largely the same FREEDOM! fighters who railed against ObamaCare because they didn’t want any of their red cents paying for some slut’s birth control… Um, but you want everyone on your insurance plan to have to pay for your triple by-pass surgery? Interesting.

And here we get into the debate between individual FREEDOM! and collective responsibility – it’s a conversation that is WAY past due in my book.

If we are going to truly change health care in America and shape it into something that actually promotes health, then we have to change not just the medical culture – but the culture of America as a whole.

We have to accept that there is no such thing as absolute FREEDOM! because freedom comes with responsibility, and that responsibility extends beyond ourselves and to our communities.

While I agree that it is rad that the woman I was speaking about yesterday took personal responsibility to turn her health around, I think it is tragic that she had to do so without any true support.

Another commenter yesterday pointed out that it isn’t really more expensive to cook healthy food for yourself than it is to eat junk and she’s tired of hearing that excuse. And I hear her – and that is true especially if you factor in the health costs of eating shit. BUT, I say that as someone who lives near a grocery store that stocks real food, and who owns a car to haul groceries in. I say that as a person who knows how to cook (making that transition without help can be challenging, not impossible, but challenging. Internet helps, but not everyone has internet access at home.) I say that as a person who only has to work one job and thus has time to regularly cook real food from scratch. (Back when I was working two full-time jobs that was next to impossible. Cooking was a day-off activity, and I didn’t have many of those.) I say that as a person who has a partner who helps with both money and time, filling in the gaps. I say that as a person who can afford to spend 20 hours a week shopping, cooking and cleaning up in order to have real food.

I say that as a person who is incredibly privileged and who has multiple supports in place.

I am watching a friend go through this transition right now. And it is BRUTAL. Not impossible, but very, very hard. And it would be great if instead of shaming and blaming people like her for making “bad” choices, we as a culture, as a society, had systems in place to HELP her, and to help people like the commenter who also had to make this transition on her own. Again, it’s not impossible, but if health is a cultural goal – shouldn’t we be working to make it easier?

So how do we change this? How do we shift as a culture so that we truly promote health rather than just shaming illness and blaming people for making poor choices?

It would be great if SNAP benefits were worth double when you used them to buy fruit, veggies, whole grain products, healthy (unprocessed) meat and dairy products so that people trying to stretch those very few dollars didn’t feel compelled to “choose” cheap calories over healthy calories.

It would be great if Welfare benefits and SNAP benefits came with some in-home tutorials on cooking healthy meals and using vegetables, etc. (I would LOVE to go into people’s houses and help them learn how to cook awesome food that their families would eat, but the people who need this service the most can’t afford to pay me for it, and I can’t afford to work for free – yay capitalism?)

It would be ideal if (okay, everyone panic, I’m about to suggest a FREEDOM! killing FEDERAL government regulation!) every restaurant and cafeteria was REQUIRED to include at least one full serving of a fruit or vegetable with every meal. I pay close attention every time my family eats out and it is remarkable (absolutely fucking appalling) how easy it is to go an entire day without eating a single serving of fruit or veggies in this country. My sister took me to a SUPER-DUPER FANCY restaurant a while back. The dinner entrées were upwards of $50 and they did not include a single side, that was just the slab of protein. We had to order a $12 plate of asparagus separately and when it came out it only contained 6 sprigs of asparagus – so this is not just a fast-food/low-income problem.

(For the record, my husband and I are researching opening our own restaurant and this is one of our foundational principles, that every entrée will come with your choice of at least one serving of fruit or vegetables.)

Honestly, every time I eat out in this country, no matter the “class” of the restaurant I go to, I spend 80% of the time thinking about Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s book Good Omens and the character of Famine who has taken over the American restaurant scene and has split it in half. He runs the cheap restaurants by providing huge servings of nutritionally empty food, helping poor people die of obesity and malnutrition simultaneously. In the high-class restaurants he serves single sprigs of asparagus artfully placed on huge platters and skulks about watching the elite starve themselves. It hits pretty close to home.

If we want health, we might need to accept some limitations on FREEDOM! We might need to accept things like soda taxes, removing junk food options from schools, restricting junk food advertising, requiring businesses that call themselves restaurants to serve fruits and vegetables, requiring businesses that call themselves grocery stores to carry fruits and vegetables.

We might need to require more detailed labeling of foods, using terms people understand. What exactly is 8 grams of sugar? What does that look like? What about 150mg of sodium? Those are numbers pulled from reputedly “healthy” cereals and snacks in my pantry. Is the sugar naturally occurring as in fruits and milk, or is it added sugar? What exactly is a serving, and why do so many junk foods come in packages that are clearly meant for a single person to consume and yet simultaneously contain multiple servings?

Honestly, wouldn’t it be great if we expected businesses to be as responsible for the choices they made and the harm they caused as we expect individuals to be about the results of their choices?Is the consumer really the only one we should be holding accountable here?

In addition to regulations and limitations (the stick), we might need to take some pro-active steps to produce more opportunities for people to access healthy food and participate in healthy behaviors (the carrot).

We might need to incentivize businesses (ahem, job creators…) to include gym memberships in their benefits packages and replace their snack food machines with fruit baskets. We might need to help convenience stores and corner stores offer healthier foods to their customers. We might need to increase funding for nutritional programs like WIC and SNAP and school lunches, as well as increasing funding for education to help people learn not just what to eat, but how to shop for it, store it, prepare it and serve it.

We might realize that we need to stop subsidizing corn and soy and start finding ways to incentivize farmers to produce more fruits and veggies.

We might need to go so far as to raise the minimum wage to an actual living wage so that people don’t have to work two jobs to support their families, thereby giving them more time to do things like shop for and cook real food, play at the park and get outside.

And, if we decide we’re willing to go that far, we might just decide we want to go even further and ensure not only that every neighborhood has a store with real food in it, but that every neighborhood also has an actual park where people can get outside and play together, that they have lighted streets that are safe to walk or ride a bike on.

picnic at the park

How do we, as a society, support more of this?

If we decided we wanted to create an actual culture of health, we might go so far as to actually provide all of our citizens with real options and choices and FREEDOM! rather than just giving the processed food industry free-reign to flood the market place and the advertising space. We might realize that parks and community centers and street lights are cheaper than police raids and jail cells and hospital bills. We might realize that developers need to include things like open space and grocery stores and sidewalks and bike paths in their neighborhood designs. We might realize that collective responsibility trumps businesses’ “right” to profit at the expense of the people.

Whole generations of Americans have become separated from their food. It has stopped being something we grow and nurture and prepare and nourish ourselves with to something we blindly and casually consume. Food has become a commodity, rather than a source of health and nourishment. We’ve become separated from the outdoors, trapped in houses and cars and offices and shadowed streets that weave between skyscrapers.

Here in America, as one commenter pointed out, we’ve become separated from the idea that health is something we have to choose and work for, not something we can buy down the street at the discount store.

Health is not a commodity, it isn’t for sale. But in this capitalist society, we only value that which we can stick a price tag on – so, before we all scream, “but who will pay for it?”  realize, we’re already paying – in hospital bills and higher insurance premiums and lost days of work and poor educational outcomes (which are highly tied to health and nutrition) We don’t have a choice in whether we pay, but we do have a choice in what we pay for.

Think about it, what is the price of poor health, for yourself, your community, our country? Wouldn’t you rather invest that money in creating better options, better choices, better access to health – for everyone?

I would.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant

Medicine vs health care

I have a cold and my head is doing that underwater whomp-whomp pulsing thing and every sound feels like someone driving an icepick into my ears, like typing right now is excruciating and I really should just go downstairs and hide in the dark and the quiet with my book and my sticky tabs, but…

An interesting conversation started (on twitter, where else?) and then my one in particular picked up a different thread of it here at home and now it’s all swirling with this other post I’ve been meaning to write. So, here in my virus addled state, I’d like to dive in, because why not.

I want to talk about Western Medicine and how it is NOT health care, and how if we want health care we need to a. change the conversation and b. change the way we do pretty much everything that we consider “health care” now, but which is really medicine.

Disclaimer – This piece is going to read like I am doctor bashing – I want to make it clear that I think most doctors WANT to help their patients, they want to help them to have healthy lives. However, the medical system we have created in America doesn’t have room for doctors to practice health, only to practice medicine and the two are VERY different. So please, understand I am not attacking individual doctors, I am attacking a broken system that incentivizes and rewards the wrong things.

This does NOT mean "Intervene at all cost!"

This does NOT mean “Intervene at all cost!”

Okay, quick history lesson – WAY back in the day, in China, people used to pay their physicians every month – but ONLY if they were healthy. When you got sick, you stopped paying. This created a culture where doctors were invested in keeping people healthy, because that was how they made money. It also created a culture where once people were sick, doctors were incentivized to make them healthy again so they could go back to earning. Doctors did not profit from illness or hardship, they profited from wellness and health.

Here in America not only do doctors not profit from wellness, they also don’t profit from many of the things that promote wellness and long-term health. They are incentivized to look for, find, and treat illness – not to actually improve health.

The conversation that started this morning was about how this woman used to be morbidly obese, and how when she thinks about those days and remembers what she ate compared to now, it’s like night and day. Now she drinks a glass of water every morning before anything else goes inside her. Her house is filled with fresh fruits and veggies. She cooks her own meals from real ingredients most days.

She is no longer obese or even overweight. Her skin condition has cleared up, her hair is healthy – She is healthy.

Her doctors did not do this for her. They did not recommend this course of action. I mean, yeah, sort of, they told her to lose weight and exercise, but they didn’t say – drink water, eat fruit and vegetables, go outside. They did not prescribe a healthy lifestyle.

What the doctors did was perform weight loss surgery, which ultimately would have failed if this woman hadn’t been invested in making these lifestyle changes and committing to living a healthier life on her own. There was no “physical therapy” or “food therapy” or mental health consideration in her post-surgery plan. The doctors simply took her money (or her insurer’s), did the surgery and sat back. Their job was done. What she did next didn’t concern them because they were not paid to follow-up, to create a nutrition plan, to develop an exercise routine… They were not invested in creating health because that is not what pays their bills.

This woman was lucky that she was able to make those lifestyle changes – not everyone is able to afford to switch from a processed food diet to a real food diet. Real food is expensive in this country, and it takes time to cook meals at home. Time and money are both precious commodities these days as the middle class shrinks and slides ever closer to poverty and the minimum wage refuses to budge toward a living wage, forcing people to work multiple jobs for inadequate returns.

But “health” insurance doesn’t cover vegetables. It doesn’t cover fruit. Or gym memberships, or the purchase of a bicycle so you can ditch your car and exercise your way to work. “Health” insurance covers medicine, surgery, intervention. It covers the things that Chinese physicians used to have to do for free to return their patients to health, those last-ditch efforts – not the first line prevention. And this is because health insurance used to be “Oh-shit” insurance. Insurance is supposed to be for when things go wrong, which is supposed to be rare. But for that to work, we need health care that focuses on health, not medicine.

There are a lot of things health insurance doesn’t cover, but the most important thing it doesn’t cover is a conversation with your physician. As a result, more and more physicians are being told to reduce the time they spend with patients.

We see the results of this in everything from my friend whose young daughter was just diagnosed with diabetes and who had to go home and learn what that meant and how to care for her child beyond the daily insulin checks and shots – She had to learn on her own how to cook for her child, what snacks were okay and what snacks were dangerous… Because that is not the doctor’s job. His job was to deliver the diagnosis and write the prescription for insulin. Educating my friend on how to keep her daughter healthy is outside his purview.

We see it in the three trips I had to make to the doctor to diagnose a skin condition on one of my kids because the doctor didn’t actually look at her skin the first two times!

We see it in my other friend whose son was diagnosed as learning disabled when actually he just had an ear infection that made it hard for him to hear, and therefore hard to learn to speak – when all the doctor had to do was look in his freaking ears!

My one in particular picked up the failures of Western Medicine in a completely different place – the recent resurgence of heroin use in our country.

Apparently this resurgence has come about as a result of the over-prescribing of opiates combined with a distinct lack of a plan for how to ween patients off of them when they no longer need them, combined with the fact that many patients are being given what amounts to life-long prescriptions of these powerful “habit-forming” (read addictive as fuck) drugs, combined with the fact that street heroin is CHEAPER than prescription opiates!

So, what is the solution?

Well if the goal is to create improved health as opposed to simply treating pain, then I can think of a few – first, if someone has chronic pain that will last them the rest of their life and the goal is to manage the pain without reducing health, why not look into less addictive treatment options?

Lets start with massage which can greatly reduce all kinds of chronic pain. Acupressure & acupuncture have also been shown to be highly effective and less harmful treatments for chronic pain than prescription opiates, but these are not covered by most insurance plans and are not considered/prescribed by most doctors. (Thanks to Veronica below for reminding me to include these options! Stupid cold.)

If those low risk interventions fail to help the problem, Cannabis has been shown to be incredibly effective for many types of pain and is non-addictive in its natural form. (Don’t get me started on the shit-show that is synthetic cannabis.) But for doctors to be able to use that, we’d have to get the federal government to change its classification, we’d have to start allowing more research to be conducted into the medical benefits of this drug, and we’d have to go back and dig up all the previous research that got buried in the height of a racially charged fear campaign against this plant.

Second, for patients who are not using these drugs forever, doctors should be creating plans to help patients wean themselves off these potent and addictive drugs once they no longer need them. They should not be cutting them off cold-turkey. And this plan should be discussed in advance with the patient.

We talk about a patient’s right to know, but when it comes to these drugs, it’s up to us to read the warning label. NO – doctors need to sit down with their patients and tell them about the risks of these drugs and create a plan to mitigate those risks. It should not be up to the consumer. The doctor should not be off the hook as soon as his or her pen leaves the prescription pad. (And no, I’m not advocating for more malpractice lawsuits, I’m talking about returning to a time when doctors had a relationship with their patients.)

Last, prescription drug prices should be regulated and reduced. Before anyone screams “But capitalism!” at me – most of the funding for new drugs comes from government grants anyway, so once again we are socializing the cost and privatizing the rewards. Let’s stop that.

These are just two tiny examples of places where medicine trumps health in our culture. There are a bazillion more.

We could talk about the medicalization (not a word, I know, roll with me, I’m sick) of pregnancy and the resulting insanely high rates of cesarean sections in the USA compared to other countries and how in other countries healthy pregnant women who do not require intervention have midwives or nurse midwives as their primary attendants which reduces cost AND improves outcomes!

We could talk about how many kids are being given high potency ADD and ADHD drugs rather than a prescription for better nutrition and increased exercise. I’m not saying that some kids don’t benefit from those treatments, I just don’t think they should be the first option.

We could talk about the number of doctors prescribing antibiotics for viral infections, even though they know better – but their patients have gotten so accustomed to getting some sort of medicine that doctors no longer feel like they can say, “go home, drink herbal tea with honey, eat some chicken soup, watch bad TV, rest.” First, that takes too long and doctors aren’t paid to consult, and second prescribing health doesn’t pay, prescribing drugs does.

We could talk about diet pills and mood pills and the number of unnecessary and often invasive procedures done on patients who do not need them.

We could talk about the ways doctors are trained to look for ailments to treat rather than look for health to boost.

We could talk about the increase in allergies, both food allergies and other allergies and what that means and where that is coming from and how we are treating the symptoms rather than the causes…

We could talk for DAYS about end of life care that promotes quantity of breaths over quality of life.

Pick any area of “health” and you’ll soon see that it has become an area of medicine, often at the direct detriment of actual well-being.

Doctors get paid per action – per prescription, intervention, surgery, shot… They do not get paid to sit down and talk about what is happening in their patient’s life that might be causing poor health. They are not paid to talk about diet and nutrition and exercise and stress and work and all the other things that feed into who we are and how healthy, or unhealthy, we are. They are not paid to promote or create health – they are paid to treat illness, disease, pain and trauma.

And… Even if they were – out here in the real world, outside their offices, there is little to no support for people who try to make that shift on their own. It’s not like fruit and veggies cost less for people on food stamps. Whole grain bread isn’t cheaper than white bread. There’s no system in place to help someone who is already struggling just to eat make the leap to eating well. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but every time I take out my calendars and start color coding my days I find that I have way more things to do than time to them. Imagine if I was working two jobs while raising children without a partner – where in the world would I possibly find the time to exercise or cook from scratch? And how would I learn how to cook? There is no support for that. No one is stepping in or stepping up to help people balance their life better, because that costs money and we’re all broke.

So, we need to change the conversation. We need to acknowledge that when we’re talking about medicine, we aren’t talking about health. And health is where it starts – with reducing stress, with increasing nutrition, with making sure that EVERYONE has time to go outside and take a walk (and that they can do so relatively safely).

We need to make sure that doctors have follow-up plans with their patients after procedures and after prescribing drugs. I keep hearing that homeopathy and naturopathy don’t have the backing of science because in blind trials those treatments are no more effective than placebos – and yet in study after study in the real world, they actually do work. Why? Science says it’s because those practitioners SPEND TIME with their patients, they talk, they create wellness plans, they do the work to promote and create actual health rather than just treating ailments and allowing their patients to resume poor habits that create bad health again in an endless (but highly lucrative) cycle.

If we want better health outcomes, we need to smash this broken system all the way down to the ground and rebuild it from scratch, centering actual health and wellness (including helping all people access healthy food and active lifestyles) and pushing medicine back to the fringes of last resort where it belongs.

 

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Filed under Uncategorized

What’s at Stake in the Midterm Elections? Or – VOTE DAMNIT.

I don’t want to tell you how to vote. (Well, that’s not really true, I desperately want to tell you how to vote – but I’m not going to. Because what’s best for me might not be what is best for you, and I respect that.) And I’m not going to tell you how I voted. Anyone who knows me can probably guess with at least 80% accuracy. (I say 80% because I surprised even myself on a couple of issues and people this year.)

What I want to do is remind you what is at stake, in your town, in your county, in your state, and in our country this mid-term election. Because, I keep hearing how close the polling is on a bunch of candidates and a bunch of issues this year.

The infamous They say it is because many people tune out during the mid-terms and don’t bother getting themselves to the polls, or in my state – filling out the ballot they send you in the mail using the information they send you weeks before hand to make sure you’re at least minimally informed and then sending the ballot back.

SERIOUSLY – it’s not hard.

THEY SEND YOU THE BALLOT.

IT COMES TO YOUR DOOR.

YOU JUST HAVE TO HAVE A PEN AND TWO STAMPS.

If you are in one of these states – THERE ARE NO EXCUSES.

But hey, maybe you live in a state where you actually have to leave your house to vote, and where voting only takes place one day a year and there are HUGE lines and you have to miss work, which you can’t afford to do, and you have to have special ID that isn’t required in your regular life and costs money that you need for groceries or… Maybe you live in one of the states where they have made it so freaking hard to vote that it feels impossible to do, even if you wanted to, which you’re not sure you do because hey, your district has been so gerrymandered that your vote won’t count anyway…

I can *almost* sympathize with those folk. And I say almost because, if you don’t make that HUGE sacrifice to vote, it’s not going to get any better.

Vote for change

It’s up to us to be the change.

Or maybe none of the candidates really represents you, your wishes for your town/state/country. I get that. Sometimes, and I truly hate it when I have to do this, but sometimes I have to vote against someone rather than FOR someone. It happened this year and I’m super annoyed by it. I even wrote to the person and party that got my vote to let them know that it was NOT a vote for them, and why and what they needed to change/improve if they did want my vote for real. Personally I blame the two party system and the way that often forces us to vote for the lesser of two evils rather than the candidate we really want. This is something I hope we all get annoyed enough by that we work to change it.

Just remember, if you don’t vote – you are letting others vote for you.

Or maybe you’re one of those people who thinks that voting doesn’t matter – the game is rigged, all politicians are the same, government is owned by big business anyway, your vote doesn’t count, blah, blah, blah…

And look, I feel you. Sometimes it does feel like none of it matters.

The very first presidential election I got to vote in was Bush Jr. vs Gore. Remember that one? The one where I thought Gore won, and then I woke up to a Bush victory and then maybe it really was Gore and then we all waited, and waited, and waited and then the supreme court picked our president for us?

Yeah, after that it was a little harder to drag my ass to the ballot box. But even so, I voted. EVERY CHANCE I GOT.

Because if voting doesn’t matter, then why are some people trying to make it so hard to exercise that right?

If voting doesn’t matter what are they so scared of? Heck, let everyone vote if it doesn’t make a difference…

But voting DOES matter, it does make a difference, ESPECIALLY in the off years, the mid-terms, the non-presidential years.

Here in America we often make fun of the Brits for still having a royal family. And yet, every four years we all rush out to elect a president who doesn’t change our day to day life all that much, who is mostly a symbol, a person who has much less power than we all seem to think. And every other year we pass up the opportunity to vote on people and issues that REALLY matter, that really will affect our everyday lives.

So, this midterm, I’m asking, begging really, please – VOTE. And if you live in a state with a mail-in-ballot and you just don’t have the stamps, tell me. I’ll totally front you a couple. Seriously. I will send you stamps.

If you have to take time off work, and stand in line for 13 hours, and purchase a new ID – first, remember your boss CANNOT fire you for taking time off to vote. That is illegal. Second, bring snacks – and water. Last, I wish I could front everyone the money they need to get the proper ID and to pay for the time you have to take off work to get it since those offices are only open during regular working hours and… But I’m not that rich. If I ever win the lotto –  I pledge my winnings to the cause. In the meantime – maybe you can crowdfund it? Or ask on social media. You can certainly ask in the comments. Maybe we can all get together and help. But seriously – VOTE, because this shit isn’t going to get any better if you don’t.

So, now that YOU ARE GOING TO VOTE – let’s talk about some of the issues you’re likely going to be seeing on the ballot this year.

1. Voting Rights

I feel compelled to start here – if you want the right to vote – you better exercise that right. AND as you exercise it, you need to think about your candidate’s stand on this issue. Do they believe that all Americans should be able to access and exercise their right to vote, or do they believe that right should be curtailed for people who cannot jump through an increasingly complex, time-consuming and expensive series of hoops?

2. Women’s reproductive rights and health issues.

In light of recent Supreme Court rulings regarding buffer zones, birth control access and abortion access, lots of states have reproductive rights issues on the ballot. My state is voting yet again on a fetal-personhood bill and wishing that there was a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy on introducing legislation to voters so we could finally put this issue to rest for good.

Regardless of your personal stance on abortion, fetal personhood goes too far. It usurps FEMALE personhood and comes with a whole host of secondary problems, like criminalizing miscarriages and poor pregnancy outcomes if the mother’s behavior during the pregnancy was less than perfect. This is already happening in multiple states.

Even if women’s reproductive rights are not directly on the ballot in your state, there is a good chance that your candidates have strong positions on this issue. This is one of the many issues where I would argue that not all politicians are the same – and it matters!

I’ve been told for years now that this is a red-herring/straw-man/make-believe issue. But all you have to do is look around the country to see heinous abortion restrictions being implemented over and over again. And yes, some of them are being blocked in the courts, but many are not. Reproductive justice is no longer universal, our nation is covered in a patchwork of laws and barriers and hoops that must be jumped through for a woman to make a decision about her own health care.

Pay attention to the politicians you are electing. Not only do they have the power to enact legislation that can harm or liberate women and families on this issue, they also have the power to appoint the judges who  may one day be called in to determine just how many barriers present an “unreasonable burden” to reproductive health care access.

3. Social Services including Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Mental Health funding, SNAP, Section 8 Housing, education, libraries, roads, emergency services etc.

Yes, I know someone who knows someone who told someone about a family who was getting rich on welfare. Damn those lazy bastards gaming the system. BUT, I also know a much larger number of actual people who are working their asses off to make ends meet and need a little help to get there. And even more people who already worked their asses off for a few decades and have earned the right to stop working their asses off and still expect to have a roof over their head, food on their table, clothes on their back and access to competent medical care. All of that is at risk in this midterm election.

These issues are on the ballots not just in the candidates we vote for, but also in more direct ways. My state has a law that makes it so people get to vote on any/every proposed tax increase or extension. The problem is, people hate taxes, no matter what they are for. I have a friend who totally shot herself in the foot by voting no across the board on all tax proposals and then she was upset when some of her benefits got cut. DUDE – WHERE DID YOU THINK THAT MONEY WAS COMING FROM!?!

Services cost money. If we want services to exist, we have to vote yes on taxes from time to time. If the taxes say they are going to something you wish was funded better, or funded at all, vote yes and try to get your people to vote yes with you.

4. Prison reform and the militarization of the police

This is another issue that probably isn’t directly on the ballot, but which you should be paying close attention to – where do your candidates stand on these issues. What are they saying about military style SWAT raids, about police killing unarmed youth in the streets, racially biased mandatory drug sentencing laws, prison overcrowding (is their solution to build more prisons, reduce sentences, or change laws?), a for-profit prison system that rewards high incarceration rates and penalizes rehabilitation programs… etc. Remember, beyond creating policy and law, the people you vote for also have the power to appoint justices who will ultimately decide about the legality of some of these actions.

5. Gun regulations and gun rights

This is one of those touchy issues. In this country the right to bear arms is seen as more basic and protected than the right to vote, the right to access medical care, and even the right to life. You want to talk about sacred fucking cows – talk to someone who thinks that all people everywhere should have access to all the guns and all the ammo all the time. (Unless they are black and living in Ferguson…)

Personally, I think there is some room for nuance. I promised I wouldn’t tell you how to vote, so instead I will just ask you to look at the candidates on your local ballots and look at their voting records if they have them, listen to what they themselves have said on the issue (as opposed to any attack ads their opponent has funded) and think about the world you want to live in and who will best represent your vision for that world.

6. Campaign Finance Reform

I’ve heard that this is a lost cause, that Citizens United is the law of the land and we will never put the genie back in the bottle. Call me a naive idealist, but isn’t the whole point of a democracy of the people and for the people that we can change anything we don’t like if enough of us get together and raise hell, ahem, VOTE.

7. The Environment

From climate change to smaller, more immediate environmental issues - local droughts being exacerbated by certain water hungry/water killing businesses, extended wildfire seasons, water contamination from unregulated chemical storage facilities, exploding train cars that weren’t voluntarily upgraded to be safe to carry their contents without exploding, dying bees and colony collapse disorder which will affect our food security far into the future, pollutants in rivers, streams, lakes and the ocean which is killing fish – again putting our food security at risk…

I keep hearing that I should shut up about the environment because, JOBS! whatever the fuck that means. I’m pretty sure without air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat I’m not going to need a fucking job… Sorry, that came awfully close to telling you how to vote. But seriously, why would anyone vote for a candidate who thinks we can afford to trash our home, or who doesn’t believe that trashing our planet carries real consequences?

8. Immigration reform

Those are some loaded words – depending on who you are they either mean – “Send them all back and build a giant wall to keep them out!” Because, ya know, that worked so well for China. Or, they mean, “Hey, let’s create a process to help people who have come to America become contributing members of our society beyond doing all the shit jobs we don’t want to do.”

So, whichever side of that line you fall on – again, look at who your legislators are and what their position is on this issue. It’s not an issue that is likely to go away any time soon, and it’s an issue that really matters to real people. I’ve seen so many families torn in half because of our broken immigration system, not to mention all the unaccompanied minors who are stranded in legal no-man’s land.

9. WAR!

The war drums are beating again and we haven’t even started paying for the two longest wars in American history. So, unless you want deeper reductions in service programs, or seriously high tax increases, or most likely both – see where your candidates stand on increasing our use of the military in our efforts to police the world and maintain a constant flow of cheap goods to our borders.

10. Minimum wage and worker’s rights

A few decades ago people literally fought and died so that the average American could have weekends, bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, an 8 hour work day… We still don’t have a guaranteed living wage, parental leave, sick pay, vacation days… Unions are being busted and not all workers even have the right to unionize. Minimum wage employees are being asked to sign non-compete clauses and getting paid with fee-riddled debit cards, wages are being stolen in ridiculous (or ingenious depending on your political leanings) ways. CEOs are now earning about 300 times more than their lowest paid employee. That means every day a CEO brings home what it takes their employees an entire year to earn.

Look at what your candidates think and say about this issue, what does their voting record say? Do they think that all workers deserve a living wage, or do they think that only the workers who were privileged enough to graduate college and land a coveted job deserve the right to live?

11. Health Care

Beyond just ObamaCare and whether it gets repealed, revisited, rewritten, or possibly improved… Health care access is at stake in many ways from reproductive health care, covered above, to insurance law, to various states toying with their own levels of opting into or out of ObamaCare and medicaid expansion. There are also issues on some ballots that will directly affect access to mental health care vs imprisonment of mentally ill people. If you’re tired of prisons being used to house people who need rehabilitative mental health care, pay attention this year, and listen to what your candidates are saying about this issue.

12. Gay rights, trans* rights, civil rights and other social justice issues

Equal rights for all people are absolutely on the ballot this year, from gay marriage to protections for trans* people to equality under the law regardless of skin tone or gender – think long and hard as you vote for your candidates and listen to their definition of liberty and justice – are they talking about liberty for businesses, or for actual people?

13. Judicial Appointments

I touched on this a little above, but please keep in mind as you vote for your candidates that some of them have the power to appoint justices to state supreme courts, appellate courts, etc. AND others have the power to confirm or block those appointments. Who we vote for in the midterms matters – it matters WAY more than who we vote for for president.

Now that you’re all fired up to VOTE because you see how important it is – make sure you’re registered to vote – If you aren’t registered, check your state’s laws and see if you still have time. Check and see what the voting laws, regulations and restrictions are and make sure you’re all set to vote when you show up at the polls.

Get yourself educated on the candidates and issues that are on your ballot. If you live in a state that sends you a non-partisan information book, take the time to read it. Read the for and against arguments on the issues, read the full text of the measures and the summaries of what they will mean for your state or town.

It’s easier than ever to do the research into candidates and issues, we have The Google and there are non-partisan organizations trying to get past all the noise filling the airwaves and deliver real information to voters. Use them.

Ignore the attack ads, even the ones that confirm your biases. Attack ads are crap.

AND – If I missed an important issue that is on the ballots this year – drop it in the comments.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work

Remembering the cost of war

This post has been building for a while, but as we creep into our third middle-eastern war, I mean conflict, I mean police action, I mean… bombing the shit out of another nation or two… it seemed like a really good moment to stop and reflect.

It probably doesn’t hurt that I picked up yet another novel about World War II last night (This has been the year of WWII novels for me. There is a lot to be learned there…) and was reminded about The Way Things Were.

So, let’s take a minute and talk about war – and the cost of war – and the potential benefits of war – and the way we used to balance these things versus the way we appear to be balancing them now – and then, let’s see if we can’t all get together to riot in the streets a little bit…

As I was starting this new novel last night I suddenly realized that my country, our country, has been at war longer than I have been married! And that’s a really long time, like a third of my life long! My children have never lived in a nation that wasn’t at war.

Never, not for one single breath of their lives!

And yet… Most days for most people in the USA, it’s really hard to remember that.

As my friend noted this morning when she woke up to my late night twitter rant on this subject, if you’re not part of the 1% that is fighting these wars, there really isn’t anything being asked of you. There are no reminders. There is no sacrifice.

We still aren’t being shown images of caskets coming home. We aren’t having our goods rationed. Our taxes haven’t gone up to pay for these wars. Uncle Sam isn’t asking us to buy war bonds, or drafting soldiers or even asking anyone to enlist. He’s just stop-lossing the people already enlisted and recruiting people with “prison or war” deals.

America has been at war in two nations for over a decade and the majority of our citizens haven’t been asked to sacrifice a single thing.

Or… have we?

Because while there aren’t any fuel lines at the pumps, and no one is being asked to grow victory gardens, the money for these wars IS coming from somewhere.

In World War II, the conservative congress agreed that the war had to be paid for and they agreed that in order to pay for it, they would have to increase federal revenue – that meant taxes. LOTS of taxes! The top marginal tax rates were 81-94%. Yeah, you read that right. And yet, World War II is often credited with pulling us out of the Great Depression – because with all that money, the government created jobs. We manufactured airplanes and bombs and parachutes and uniforms and guns and everything else our soldiers needed for war.

Soldiers come first in war time.

Soldiers come first in war time.

Meanwhile, not only were tax rates increased, but the minimum income for having to pay them was lowered meaning that more people than ever before were required to pay federal income taxes. So everyone felt the squeeze.

But that wasn’t all.

Production of durable non-war goods like cars, vacuum cleaners, home appliances, etc. were all stopped until the war ended.

And then the rationing of goods – like tires, food, and gasoline. Families were given 3 gallons of gas per week. That’s it. That’s all. So… No driving ya’ll. And as for the food rationing – the soldiers got first dibs on food, so families were asked to grow “victory gardens” to supplement their rations. Neighborhood gardens popped up, not because it was trendy or because fresh veggies were for food-snobs, but because without them people wouldn’t eat. Of course, it wasn’t sold that way.

Are you doing your part to help the war effort?

Are you doing your part to help the war effort?

In World War II, everyone was required to pitch in to the war effort, it was considered unpatriotic to engage in certain frivolous activities and leisure spending. We were at war, and everyone was expected to participate in whatever capacity they could. As part of that, people were asked to save money, preferably by buying war bonds which fueled the government and then, when the war was over, provided a nice savings windfall that helped truly rebuild the American economy as everyone rushed out to buy new housing, new cars, new clothes and other consumer goods.

Yes, there was A LOT of propaganda fueling WWII, but there had to be, because they had to pay for the war, they had to convince the American people that war was worth sacrificing for, because EVERYONE was expected to sacrifice.

Fast forward to the Vietnam war. For people of my generation, we think of the war and we think of protests and hippies and counter-culture. Even my father-in-law who is a Vietnam veteran returned home from the war and joined the protests. My uncle served in the war at the same time his family helped deserters and draft dodgers escape to Canada, because while they respected my uncle’s “choice” to join the war effort my grandparents were both veterans themselves who knew that war is Hell and did not believe anyone should be forced into it.

My parents’ generation talks about the lines at the gas station that would stretch for miles and take hours to get through. They talk about bread lines and canned goods lines and grocery stores simply running out of food. During the Vietnam war, as in WWII, many factories that produced consumer goods were retooled to produce military goods to support the war. This created a drop in consumer spending which, combined with increased war spending not balanced by increased tax revenue created huge deficits and a national budget crisis and economic slump. Times got tougher for everyone.

WheatlessKitchen

One of the biggest war costs we hear about is the draft because the Vietnam War wasn’t seen as a “good” war by so many, or at the very least, it wasn’t our war. It wasn’t something that had anything to do with us or that we needed to fight and kill and die and sacrifice for. The draft was no longer seen as a patriotic duty to submit to, but a government intrusion to be railed against.

The draft was one of the biggest symbolic “costs” of the war. It was one of the big reasons people protested. And those protests are one of the big reasons America did away with the draft. It’s harder to rail against a war when the people fighting volunteered.

But… Have the people fighting our wars volunteered?

My uncle fought in Vietnam. He served for two deployments (which is less than many of our soldiers are serving now). He wasn’t drafted, but he didn’t exactly volunteer either. He was arrested for some misdemeanor drunk and disorderly type of offense and given a choice between jail time and a permanent record or one deployment overseas to fight in Vietnam. He chose a clean record, VA health care and the promise of a VA loan for a house and school when he came back.

He got the clean record, the rest of the promises never quite materialized, despite serving for an extra deployment beyond his plea deal.

Fast-forward to present-day.

We don’t have the draft anymore. Nothing to protest or get upset about there.

We want to think of our all volunteer military as the best and brightest and most patriotic – and certainly those soldiers exist. But many more enlistees join up out of desperation – they see the military as their ticket out of now-where-ville, or a way to escape a bad family, or a way to avoid jail time. We lure them in with promises of decent pay, free health care for life, housing loans, student loans, debt forgiveness, job training and placement… But after two wars stretching over a decade, that have gone largely unpaid for, the money isn’t really there to deliver on those promises.

We don’t have rationing, price fixing, wage fixing, tax hikes, or war bonds.

rationing_points_article

The gas prices at the pump might be a little high, but they are still lower than everywhere else in the world – and we are allowed to purchase as much as we want. There are no shortages, no lines, no riots. My grocery store is fully stocked day after day. This February, I’ll still be able to buy fresh strawberries if I want to. And guava. And avocados. And tomatoes. And… And that’s in the dead of winter after a decade of continuous war. I don’t have to stand in line to get a ration card to buy bread, or rice, or pasta, or canned goods. I can still buy clothes. New cars are still being made for consumer use. And new washing machines and vacuums and dishwashers and ATVs and leaf blowers and lawn mowers and… No one in my family has been drafted for the war efforts or recruited to work in factories or on farms to produce goods for the soldiers or the war effort in general.

Speed limits haven’t been dropped to increase fuel efficiency, we don’t have curfews on lighting to save energy – in fact any efforts to encourage or require people to conserve energy is met with shouts of “impeach the commie pinko socialist!” perhaps because the requests are being made in the name of global climate change science instead of patriotic war mongering? (Even though we are at least partially fighting over oil ie; energy… and conserving here would make war less necessary over there…)

My taxes haven’t gone up, Uncle Sam isn’t shouting at me to buy war bonds or support the war effort. In fact, Uncle Sam has been awfully quiet about these wars almost from the get-go, as if he’d rather we forgot we were in them at all…

I look around my house at all the waste – at the truly ridiculous and frivolous amount of stuff that fills every nook and cranny and then I think about a decade of war, I think about the nearly 14,000 American lives lost (roughly 7,000 soldiers and 7,000 contractors) and the 875,000 Americans disabled by their service in these wars, the 200,000 Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani civilians killed, the 3,000,000 Iraqi refugees this war has created, the THREE TRILLION dollars already spent on these wars, and the trillion more that is obligated for veteran care – and I wonder… If it isn’t coming from me, from us, where is it coming from?

How are these wars being paid for?

And then I remember… The federal budget cuts for schools and cuts in the safety nets and cuts to entitlement programs and shrieking over deficit spending that can only be solved by eliminating every pathway of hope that poor people in America have for a better life outside of joining the military.

And I remember the cuts to the VA programs and the news that our soldiers are going off to war without proper boots or armor or equipment and that their pay is barely above a poverty wage and I realize that none of those trillions of dollars actually went to people, to our soldiers.

And I realize WE ARE PAYING for these wars, we’re just paying in ways that we don’t see. We don’t see the connection between cuts to federal service programs and an ever increasing pentagon budget. We don’t see the connection between the insistence that entitlement spending is out of control and the truth that WE HAVE BEEN AT WAR FOR OVER A DECADE WITHOUT RAISING TAXES. We don’t see the connection between a decade of war and our crumbling roads and bridges and the continued blocking of a federal jobs program that would put people back to work, including the veterans coming home from war desperate for a job that pays a living wage. Because government doesn’t create jobs, at least not without raising taxes, which we won’t do, even to pay for a four trillion dollar war.

So we pay in other ways.

We pay in services, we pay in security, we pay in lost opportunities for growth…

The only way to pay for a decade of war without raising taxes is to steal that money from somewhere else and convince the people that war is free, or better yet, that war will save us money – war will keep our goods cheap, our gas prices low, our refrigerators stocked… War isn’t the problem, programs that help people, they’re the problem. They’re what’s bankrupting the economy.

But history shows us that even in times of war – programs that help people – HELP PEOPLE and help the country grow. And history shows us that wars are expensive and have to be paid for. Look at the difference between WWII and the Vietnam war – one was paid for and pulled our country out of the Great Depression, the other was put on credit and plunged our economy into a deep recession. Granted, the Vietnam war was a hard sell based on lies and fear mongering, so maybe we shouldn’t have gone in to begin with. Sound familiar?

So… If you’d like to have schools and roads and bridges and job training and health care and safety nets (a large percentage of military families – both active duty and retired – rely on food stamps and other social wellfare programs.) and retirement… Start fighting to pay taxes, start fighting to figure out how to pay for these wars in honest ways – or end them.

We can’t have it all, we can’t use tax cuts to fund war, and we can’t balance a growing war budget without increasing revenue.

It’s easy to forget that we’re at war, they’ve removed the cost from our daily lives, sheltered us from the grim realities, convinced us that the real problem is all those service programs that help keep people out of poverty… But we’re about to start a third war. That money has to come from somewhere. The boots on the ground have to come from somewhere. If you’re not willing to pay, to contribute, to sacrifice some of your comforts to the war effort – then you better get your butt to the streets and start marching, because the war drums are beating.

I’ll be there with my food not bombs sign.

it will be a great day

 

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant, Uncategorized

What I mean when I say it isn’t the victim’s fault

The world is an inherently risky place.

There are all kinds of things out there that can, and will, hurt us if given the chance.

Some of these risks come in the form of natural disasters, toxins, disease, allergies, loose rocks, animal attacks – whatever. They are risks that stem from living on a volatile planet in the middle of space. We have little to no control over these “When nature attacks” kind of threats. I mean, yes, we can talk about global climate change, and human settlements encroaching into wildlife habitat, and how in our desire to over-sanitize the world we are simultaneously creating super-bugs and increasing the instances and severity of allergies… But that is a whole other blog post.

This one is about the risks of living in society – with other people. This is an important point to make because often when I try to have this conversation many of the arguments against putting blame on perpetrators of certain types of violence instead of their victims use these kinds of “false equivalence” comparisons to try to make their point. But taking steps to avoid the risk of falling off a cliff is different than taking steps to avoid “provoking,” “inviting,” “encouraging,” or “inspiring” violent behavior from another person.

Because the risks inherent in living in society stem from the reality that we cannot control each other’s behaviors or actions. We are only ever directly responsible for ourselves.

This is not to say that there are not things that we can do to reduce many of the risks of cohabitation – not eliminate them, but reduce them.

We can look both ways before we cross a street. We can lock our doors. We can avoid certain venues that have a reputation for being violent or dangerous.

As a society we can enact laws that say, “We as a group have decided that this action is not okay and there will be artificially imposed consequences for anyone who commits it.” We do this to deter actions such as theft, murder, drunk driving, consuming certain intoxicants and then getting behind the wheel of a car…

But taking those actions does not eliminate risk, taking those actions does not guarantee our safety.

And choosing not to take those actions is not the same as consenting to violence.

Most of the time we, as a society, remember this.

I drive a piece of shit car. I rarely, if ever, lock it. I don’t leave the keys in the ignition (usually) but if someone wanted to go in and dig through the mountains of garbage littering the floorboards to steal my old CDs, there’s really nothing stopping them. If they wanted to hotwire my car and take it for a joyride, they wouldn’t even have to smash the window first.

And yet, if someone did decide to take my unlocked car, society at large would still call that theft. If I called the police and reported it, they would still investigate and arrest the thief. Because me leaving my car unlocked (or even unlocked and running) is not the same as me giving someone permission to take it.

We understand that.

If someone comes into my house without my permission, even if I left the front door unlocked – I have the right to shoot them. Yeah, I can take away their “right to life” just because they stumbled into the wrong house. If I choose not to shoot them, I can still call the police and they will be arrested for trespassing. They might also be charged with attempted burglary, or attempted assault, or attempted whatever potentially criminal act we think they were trying to do when they opened a door that wasn’t theirs.

I don’t have to post “No trespassing” signs on my front door to invoke this right, or lock my door, or even close my front door. My home is my castle and you don’t get to come inside unless I invite you.

But… my body?

Not so much. At least not according to current legal rulings. Not according to people looking for a way to excuse certain types of violence directed at other people.

Too often when it comes to personal violence, especially sexual violence, we (as a society) try to use the victim’s actions against them to excuse the actions of the perpetrator.

This is called this “victim-blaming.” And no, it is not feminazi’s attempt to make it so that victims are not held accountable for their actions, or so that victims can do anything they want consequence free. We are simply saying that perpetrators of violence should be held accountable for their choice to commit violence regardless of how “easy” their target made it for them.

When a bunch of TV personalities support the thesis that the biggest threat to fraternities is drunk girls coming in and tempting all those upstanding young men – that is a case of victim blaming. It also erases the long and storied history of fraternities throwing parties for the express purpose of getting women too drunk to say no. (Because in a “no means no” model of consent, that isn’t rape. But in the up and coming “yes means yes” model, which so many people are freaking out about, that is rape.)

So, when I say that it does not matter if a victim is drunk, dressed in skimpy clothing, completely naked, flirty, passed out or otherwise making themselves an “easy target” for violence, what I mean is that the victim’s behavior should not alter the sentencing of the perpetrator of the violence, nor be used to excuse their behavior or actions.Did the victim make a choice to engage in certain actions? Yes. Does that mean they consented to violence? No.

Simple.

I am not asking for victims of violence to be coddled, or saying that actions shouldn’t have consequences – I am saying that violence is not the price someone should have to pay for being in public or living in society. I am saying that violence is not the price that anyone should be expected to pay for enjoying the same social privileges as their peers such as enjoying a drink – or several, wearing revealing clothing, walking at night…

not asking for violence

Clearly asking for it.

I am saying that the victim’s actions and choices do not negate the responsibility of the perpetrator, nor invalidate THEIR actions and choices to commit a crime.

Let’s look at a couple of specific examples.

Late last year a Montana judge sentenced a teacher who repeatedly raped one of his students to only 30 days in jail. Why? Because, he claimed, the student was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation as her teacher.”

Here’s the thing, there is a reason that there are rules prohibiting teachers from having sex with their students – there is an inherent power-imbalance at play there. This is also why there are statutory rape laws, because a 49-year-old man should know better than to have sex with a 14-year-old, but 14-year-old children more often than not don’t have the information, emotional maturity, or psychological understanding of long-term consequences, etc. to make that call. Again, there are power dynamics at play in that age differential, not to mention differences in knowledge about healthy relationships, sex and sexuality, etc. Those differences are easy for the older person to exploit to their own ends, severely damaging the youth in the process.

The victim in this case committed suicide while the case against her attacker was still pending.

This is a case where a judge seemed to be trying to do everything he could to create wiggle room for the perpetrator of a violent crime. In defending his sentencing of the teacher to only 30 days, the judge said, “This wasn’t forcible beat-up rape.” which is a way of saying that the victim wasn’t victimized hard enough to punish her attacker even to the MINIMUM requirements laid out by the state in which this judge presides.

We also have a case out of Texas from earlier this year in which a young man plead guilty to raping a 14-year-old girl. Both the victim and the accused testified that the girl said “no” and “stop” repeatedly. The man was facing 20 years in prison for this crime, the judge instead handed down a 45 day sentence because the victim “was not the victim she claimed to be” according to the judge, because the victim had had consensual sex with three other partners at some point in her life prior to the rape.

There are two problems with this argument – the first, if we take the judge’s statement about the victim as truth, is that it assumes that once a person has consensual sex once with someone, they are somehow consenting to all sex forever with everyone. This is a common argument in rape cases, as if people lose the right to sexual discretion once their “cherry” has been popped.

I don’t understand this argument at all. I don’t believe we lose the right of refusal once we’ve said yes once, or twice, or a thousand times. I don’t think that a person who has consensual sex becomes magically unrapeable.

The second problem is that the victim claims she was a virgin before the rape. While the judge says she has access to confidential medical records that show the girl had three previous sexual partners and gave birth to a child – both the victim and the victim’s parents deny this. That is worthy of an investigation right there. How did the judge get these medical records – and why? Shouldn’t it be the perpetrator being investigated, not the victim?

But all too often in rape cases, defense attorneys are encouraged to go for the “slut” defense – “The victim slept around, so this couldn’t have been rape.” and both judges and juries are willing to give those arguments weight.

We saw this in another big news rape case recently, Steubenville, OH. Where, despite video footage of the rape taking place, the defense still tried to go for the “she was a slut” and “she was asking for it” defense. I am not sure how someone who is passed out drunk can ask for anything… But then we are back at only “yes means yes” rather than, “See, the victim didn’t say no.”

Did this girl’s actions make it easier for someone to rape her? Yes. Does that in any way excuse the actions of her rapists, or the crowd of peers who watched, photographed, filmed and cheered on the rape? NOT ONE SINGLE BIT. Does she deserve rape as the natural consequence of getting drunk at a party? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Should she be allowed to report her rape and, with the support of a thorough police investigation, be able to prosecute her rapists? YOU BETCHA!

Just as the woman who left her car running to dash into the store made it easier for someone to steal her car, that did not excuse the actions of the person who took advantage of that opportunity. Her actions did not prevent police from investigating the crime, nor did they absolve the criminal of choosing to commit their crime.

When people say they are not victim blaming, they just want to help victims protect themselves from rape, I think that they are forgetting – we’ve already heard it. What we are asking for is that we talk to perpetrators and potential perpetrators as well, that we focus at least half our energy educating people on what rape is and how to avoid committing it. We are asking for police, medical personnel, judges, advocates and allies to step back from asking what “don’t get raped” rule the victim may have broken and instead focus on what the perpetrator chose to do wrong.

We live in a country where only 50% of rapes are even reported, and it is estimated that only 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a jail. Rape is a hard crime to report – the victim’s body becomes the evidence and collecting and cataloging that evidence for trial is invasive and unpleasant and often performed by people with little sympathy. While I fully support the “innocent until proven guilty” judicial standards in our country, when other violent crimes are committed we rarely try to deny the existence of the crime in order to set the perpetrator free, we instead acknowledge that there was a crime and simply quibble over who committed it.

When we focus on what the victim did wrong, or what the victim did to invite this crime, or how the victim wasn’t victimized enough to take seriously we are giving perpetrators of violence a pass and telling them that their actions are justifiable because they picked a an easy victim. So many rapes, the majority of them, are opportunistic rapes. Serial rapists know which victims to prey on – the kind who won’t be taken seriously, the ones who are a little too tipsy to be reliable witnesses, the ones who have a reputation for sleeping around, the ones who are too young or immature to fight back…

But if we treated rape and sexual assault the way we treat other crimes – by starting with the assumption that the crime being reported actually happened, and that the job now is to discover the perpetrator and bring them to justice, instead of questioning the integrity of the victim, this dynamic would shift in really important ways.

First, it would help victims come forward, knowing they would be respected, listened to, trusted. Knowing that they would be believed. Second, it would help encourage a culture where bystanders would want to intervene lest they be charged as accessories. Third, hopefully it would make perpetrators of this kind of violence think twice, if they knew that their victims would be heard.

Last, it would let people know that social freedoms, privileges and responsibilities are the same for everyone, shared by everyone and that violence is not an okay price to pay for exercising them.

In fact the first social responsibility we all share is the responsibility to treat others with decency and respect and not violence, and I’m pretty sure that we as a society have agreed that violating that responsibility should come with some judicially imposed consequences.

asking for justice

The only thing she’s asking for is justice.

 

 

 

 

 

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No Time to Die

A couple of years ago now I discussed and recommended a book called Living Proof by Kira Peikoff.  It was an intriguing book with a deep moral theme and a solid dystopian twist.

Kira has recently published her second book, this one called No Time to Die and true to form, she again engages us in a moral thriller.

beating death

What if Death and Taxes weren’t absolutes after all?

Someone is out for blood—Zoe Kincaid’s blood. She’s a 20-year-old trapped in the body of a 14-year-old girl and her DNA could hold the secret of immortality. Could it be the Columbia University researchers who see her as the key to fame and tenure? The shadowy figure, known only as Galileo, who is kidnapping the world’s best researchers? The Justice Department head who seems a little too intent on getting her alone? Or the maniac who just fed a leading scientist to his chimpanzees?

Zoe knows that unlocking the secrets of genome could save her beloved grandfather, a retired physician and former Olympian who grows frailer by the day. Can she trust the rogue physician whose secret lair hides discoveries that might just save her grandfather? Heart-pounding twists just keep coming in Kira Peikoff’s stunning biomedical thriller, NO TIME TO DIE (Kensington Publishing; August 26, 2014.)

Science has barely begun to unlock the secrets written in our DNA. Researchers are relentlessly hunting for the answers to chronic diseases, cancer, rare disorders and the biggest mystery of them all—aging—but at what cost? Bioethicist Peikoff asks the most troubling scientific question of our time in this taut thriller: when does medicine cross the line?

I love the question at the heart of this book – If science can stop the aging process, should it?

Humans have long sought a cure to aging, to cure death and disease really. We crave immortality. What if science had a breakthrough, one that could halt the aging process? Should scientists pursue that breakthrough and cure aging?

The secondary question this book asks is, who is our regulatory system really designed to protect? And how much medical science are Americans missing out on because of the burdens placed on scientists by the FDA and other regulatory agencies? Should consumers have more freedom to try experimental drugs and protocols?

This book challenged me in ways that Living Proof did not. It challenged me to think about issues of aging and death and medicine from an angle that I tend to ignore because of my personal beliefs around death.

Kira holds a somewhat different set of beliefs on this topic and she was kind enough to drop by and shed some light on them, and on what drew her to this story.

NO TIME TO DIE focuses on a 20 year-old woman who stopped aging at 14 years-old – where did you get this idea?

A few years back, I saw a documentary on Discovery Health about a young woman who had inexplicably stopped aging. She was almost 20 years old but had stayed frozen as a toddler her whole life, baffling doctors and scientists alike. The case caught my attention because I’ve always been interested in medical mysteries, and like many people, I’m also fixated on the promise of eternal youth. Yet staying young forever, as welcome as it might be, could also be a curse. I decided to explore it further in a novel, but I didn’t want my protagonist stuck as a toddler without much mental or emotional capacity.  So I decided to trap her in the worst possible page for maximum drama and frustration. What could be worse than 14?

What is Syndrome X?

Syndrome X is the name researchers have given to this phenomenon of total stunted development. To date, at least 6 people have been identified.

Why is our culture so interested in defying aging?

I think it probably derives from our collective fear of death. It’s very painful to face down our own mortality and to grasp how temporary our lives are. Religion may provide people with some measure of comfort, but there remains no scientific consensus on an afterlife. So we’re forced to accept that all we really have is the here and now. Defying aging would be the ultimate way to prolong our time and avoid oblivion.

Do you think scientists will find a cure for aging?

Some leading researchers believe the end of aging is within reach–perhaps in the next century. One respected scientist, Aubrey de Gray, thinks that the first person who will live to age 1,000 is already alive now.

What are some of the benefits of not aging?

On an individual level, endless time–time to spend with family and friends, time to pursue infinite knowledge, passions, careers, hobbies, etc. No longer having to worry about outliving your parents or grandparents. Knowing generations of your own descendants. Living in the prime of life without breaking down physically after 70 or so years.

On a societal level, much less spending on health care, since the diseases of aging (cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s) would be greatly reduced. A more robust economy, thanks to workers who retain full strength and energy long past retirement age.

What would be some of the negative results of not aging and becoming almost immortal?

Individually–people might suffer from a kind of idle purposelessness if they are living so long that there’s no point in “seizing the day” or making the most of life. They might start taking their time for granted and losing their ambition. But of course, you’d still have to support yourself with food, shelter, etc. And you could still get hit by a bus and die, or get sick. It’s very different from actual immortality.

Societally–we would have to deal with how to avoid overpopulation. People would have to have fewer children, or maybe skip generations before having children. We’d have to figure out how to make existing resources and infrastructure support the growing population. Social security would end. I don’t know if people would retire anymore.

You’re studying Bioethics at Columbia University, how did you choose bioethics?

I’ve long been interested in the intersection of cutting-edge biology, politics, and philosophy. Specifically, in the ways that exciting new advancements stand to improve human health, but are also raising unprecedented moral dilemmas. Our very definitions of life and death are being challenged by the latest innovations. It’s a thrilling field to study because it’s constantly evolving, and no one has all the answers yet.

Your book explores a secret network of scientists – why is it important to regulate what happens in science labs?

This is a controversial issue. On one side, you have people asserting that government regulation is necessary to protect vulnerable human subjects from exploitation by unethical researchers–which sadly happened a great deal in the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries, before notions of patient autonomy and informed consent were popularized. On the other side, you have researchers who now feel stifled by the layers of bureaucracy, like IRBs, ethics committees, and the FDA, that they need to bypass to carry out their studies. Many people, including me, are concerned that these protections have been taken too far and actually hurt more than they help, by holding back and even dis-incentivizing innovations that could save lives. In my book, the best and brightest researchers have become so frustrated with the slowness and inefficiency of the system that they form their own secret community to speed up progress. I think it’s possible for a group of researchers to self-regulate and still treat human subjects 100% ethically.

What do you hope readers will gain from reading NO TIME TO DIE?

First and foremost, that they will be transported on a thrilling and satisfying journey with characters they’ve become invested in. Then: that they’ll possibly think about their own positions on the controversial subjects the book raises, and finally that they will be shocked by the big twist ending.

KIRA PEIKOFF is a writer based in New York City. She graduated with high honors from New York University in 2007 with a degree in journalism, after four years of various reporting internships: covering street crime for The Daily News, writing about Capitol Hill for The Orange County Register in Washington, D.C., reporting on business and technology for Newsday, and researching feature stories for New York magazine. After completing her first book, Living Proof, Peikoff worked for several years in the editorial departments at two New York publishing houses, which gave her an invaluable inside look at the publishing process and the rapidly changing industry. Peikoff is working on her third thriller, freelancing for a variety of major media outlets, and attending Columbia University’s Master of Science program in Bioethics.

Me again – I think No Time to Die definitely raises some interesting ethical questions around personal responsibility and autonomy vs government oversight and regulation. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 

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