Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

I ran across a story that finally hit the Internet news only this morning though it was first published 2 months ago (at least as far as I can find.)  The gist of it is that  70% of the nation’s young people 17-24 are ineligible to enlist in the armed forces because of inadequate education, criminal records or being physically unfit – ie obese.  While issues of early childhood education and poverty obviously matter, what struck me about this as well as the debate on health care is the lack of discussion about the food industry and agribusinesses’ role in destroying the nation’s health – purely out of greed. Then last night I watched Frontline’s documentary on the Medicated Child. It’ll make you cry to see little kids on as many as 8 behavior-controlling drugs, with devastating long-term impacts on their lives and health.

We live in a money-driven society.  The role of corporate greed in climate change, war, and ill health comes ever more into focus.  Follow the money. Where are the profits?  They’re in the arms industry, the food industry, the drug industry, the insurance industry.  Until the collective we faces up to and deals with this elephant in the living room, we’re putting a death wish on this country, and most likely on our species.

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What time is it?  Right now it’s beginning to feel like “0 dark 30” to quote our friend Dana. Losing 5 minutes of daylight each day we still have 7 weeks to go to winter solstice with its 6 1/2 hours of daylight. For today sunrise is at 8:07am and sunset at 5:15pm, so we’re basking in 9+ hours of day. Not bad, especially since the first part of October had a lot of dry and sun. But now it’s gone back to being true to it’s usually rainy form and the darkening of each day is palpable. The upside is that overnight the snow line crept down Mount Juneau and  a white paintbrush passed over the evergreens up the hill from our house. A good reminder of how beautiful this place can be during the winter.  And, we took our evening tub on the new deck last night around 9pm.  What a privilege to sit under a roof of spruce branches with drops of drizzle on our faces, soaking up the healing warmth of the tub’s 104 degree water.

Interesting news item on the ‘Net – herself is now 40 years old. That means we’re living with two generations that don’t know what it was like without her.  Me, myself, I didn’t even see TV until I’d passed 21. Who knows what the next few decades will bring in the way of technological advancement.  Wouldn’t it be nice if our collective social and political skills advanced at the same rate?

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“Under communism, man is manipulated by man – whereas under capitalism, it’s the other way around.” John Kenneth Galbraith.

I work out at the Juneau Racket Club 3-4 four times a week – mostly for (a) the exercise but also for (b) the view, and (c) the subsequent sauna treat. It’s a short 5-minute walk from our house to the downtown branch, where the equipment is stashed in 3 long rows facing a swath of big windows looking out over the Gastineau Channel. It’s a blast to watch the cruise ships arrive in the early morning and inch their way carefully towards the dock or, as the case may be on a busy day with 5-6 of them coming in, anchor.  Framing the top of the windows is a strip of TV displays – thankfully, all muted to their various channels so you have the choice of wearing earphones if you want to listen.  Mostly I don’t, but usually a row of text appears at the bottom (what the heck is the word for that?  I’ve lost it….) so if I have my glasses on I can follow what’s being said.

The point is, that one day last week I had an eye on two adjacent TV monitors.  One featured Robert Reich talking about his new book Supercapitalism in which he writes that power has shifted from the individual’s role as citizen to his/her role as consumer and investor. In the aggregate, we no longer value life as prime, we now value money as the most important element. This shift has alienated us from governance and community.  To see what he meant, all I had to do was switch to glancing at the adjacent screen showing a thirty-minute commercial about cosmetics, with beautiful young women coating their faces with all kinds of (possibly cancer-inducing) crap while smugly simpering and making sexy eyes at the camera. The contrast was mind-boggling. A truly pathetic if entertaining illustration of the kind of manipulation Galbraith was talking about.

But then, Friday a strong boost of community still going strong.  We walked down to the ribbon-cutting at the newly refurbished Harborview Elementary School, where one of our grandkids still goes.  Nice speeches from assorted state and local elected officials recalling their days through those doors 50 years ago, not to mention an engaging prescence of current student hosts for the event.  Cookies, fruit and punch served in the new “Commons” area to background music from two youthful string quartets. The renovation has produced an outstandingly functional and beautiful interior, bright, airy, colorful and practical learning space in which one can barely discern even a ghost of the previous dark and somewhat grimy rooms.  From there to the Canvas as part of the First Friday art walk through downtown to look at the beautiful bird paintings of by local artist Alan Munro. Home for late supper of halibut chowder – locally caught just yesterday.  So, in Juneau at least, clear evidence that community is still alive and well.

PS, I got it.  Close-captioned.

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I’ve thought for some time that humans might be in the process of diverging into two species. The recent increasingly ugly fight over health care policy (money versus the common good)  illustrates what I think is happening. Please bear with me as I try to explain this.

First, listen to Al Gore: “The politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith has combined with the degradation of the public sphere to create an environment dangerously hostile to reason.”

Second, note the many pointers suggesting  we are at the brink of some kind of massive change involving both the Earth and humanity – not to mention all other affected beings on our planet. Just the kind of times at which rapid evolutionary changes occur.

Third, it seems likely that human beings inherit a set of genes that predisposes them to believe in a higher power – an evolutionary advantage that helped overcome the terrifying fear arising from the conscious awareness of our own death. This may no longer be an evolutionary advantage.

Fourth, note what Texas psychologist Clare Graves wrote in a 1974 article titled “Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap.” It describes a new theory explaining human nature as

an unfolding, emergent, oscillating spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as an individual’s existential problems change. Each successive stage, wave, or level of existence is a state through which people pass on their way to other states of being. When the human is centralized in one state of existence, he or she has a psychology which is particular to that state. His or her feelings, motivations, ethics and values, biochemistry, degree of neurological activation, learning system, belief systems, conception of mental health, ideas as to what mental illness is and how it should be treated, conceptions of and preferences for management, education, economics, and political theory and practice are all appropriate to that state.

The Spiral Dynamics Model of Human DevelopmentTwo of Graves’ students (Don Beck and Chris Cowan) created an approach they named Spiral Dynamics to explain why there is so much conflict in the world:

Individual and cultural development is a process of changing world view, of changing value systems. Each person (or culture) sees the world through a window/filter that matches its stage of development. For most of their development, a person believes that the way they see the world is the way the world is, and people who’re looking through a different window are uninformed, just plain wrong, stupid, or evil. Even though one may think s/he is open-minded, until one reaches higher tiers of the spiral one habitually disregards or discounts information that is out-of-step with one’s current mind set. (To quote Don Beck: “Keep your hands on your knees. Notice when they jerk!”)

It’s a fascinating theory and offers a profoundly incisive, dynamic perspective on complex matters such as:

  • HOW people think about things (as opposed to “what” they think);
  • WHY people make decisions in different ways;
  • WHY different people respond to different motivators; and
  • WHY and HOW values arise and spread;

It seems to me that, under the immense stresses of our times, one branch of humanity is moving steadily up the spiral towards a level of global conscious awareness, and another branch is turning down the spiral towards the kind of magical, instinctive, survivalist thinking that dominated early feudal societies.

It is my opinion that (a) humanity is differentiating into two branches according to world view, and (b) the split is happening at a younger and younger age. Because we tend to self-select breeding mates from those with a similar world view, the likelihood of genetic diversion follows. That is if we don’t exterminate ourselves in the process.

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There have been two articles in the “My Turn” section of the Juneau Empire this week:  Yesterday “What Kind of Ferry System Do You Want?” by Bob Doll, and this morning “Southeast Residents Need to Take Action to Protect our Ferry System” by Dixie Hood.

So, if you care about our ferry system, it’s time to act.  I did.  Unfortunately neither of the two articles gives the link to submit comments online – I eventually found it: http://www.dot.state.ak.us/stwdplng/projectinfo/ser/newwave/SATP_FINAL/thoughts.shtml

Here’s what I said:

“I strongly disagree with any decision to eliminate ferry transportation from Bellingham, WA. This would strand (more likely eliminate) visitors from the lower 48 wishing to visit southeast by flying to Seattle and traveling up the Inside Passage by ferry.  The option of renting a car and driving the 1002 miles to Prince Rupert to catch the ferry there, or booking an expensive flight to Prince Rupert  for the same reason, would be a huge disincentive to visitors.   This ferry trip is a magnificent attraction to tourists visiting southeast, not to mention a godsend for those of us who need to go south to make major purchases which cannot be shipped back home by air.  In the last three years I’ve made the trip three times, and each time I am extremely grateful that we have the ferry to Bellingham.

“The Alaska Marine Highway is one of the features that makes Alaska unique, and its value to the state in informing tourists and others about our unique geological and cultural heritage is priceless.  The designation of the Marine Highway as a national Scenic Byway speaks to its scenic, natural, historical, and cultural value.  Abolishing the already tenuous link to the lower 48 by eliminating trips to Bellingham would be disastrous.”

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Strange to find myself easing back into employment after nearly a decade of retirement. As indicated in a previous post, now that we’ve settled in one place I began to realize I don’t seem to have quite enough to do – plus watching our retirement nest egg dwindle made the option of a paid job shine more brightly than a volunteer one.

After a few applications for part-time jobs advertised in the paper, I’d settled with myself that I would accept pretty much anything that seemed (at least marginally) worthwhile.  Ah well.   Three “Dear John” letters later I swallowed the fact that I’m over qualified and over age.  Hmmmm. Interesting noticing how it feels to be rejected – I’ve been lucky enough in life not to have too much of that. Empathized with the currently laid off, and felt extremely grateful that (for me at least) it isn’t a bread-on-the-table issue.  Then, by word of mouth, a job found its way to me. A good fit for my skills and values as well as (hopefully) for the organization.  I started on Monday. Since I intend to continue skirting around occasional hot-button political issues on this blog, it’s best that I not say where.  Better keep opinions and work separate.

So, skirting along, here’s my opinion on the current health care policy debate.  A column in the Juneau Empire reminds us that in this country 31% of  medical dollars are spent on administration (claims forms, insurance processing and profits.) The elephant in this living room is that the USA is the only country in the developed world where health care is a for-profit industry.  Thus, the current debate is not about health care or health policy, it’s about profits. It’s about how to keep the health care dollar as a corporate goodie and stop its switch to a public benefit. Paul Krugman explains why the market doesn’t and can’t work for health care – unlike cars or TVs it’s not a market-type of commodity.

The line-up of corporations swilling at the health care trough is long and entrenched: pharmaceutical companies (we abolished advertising for cigarettes and booze on TV, why don’t we abolish advertising for drugs?); insurance companies (ditto); laboratories; for-profit hospitals; for-profit HMOs; for-profit nursing homes; for-profit doctor groups; equipment manufacturers; etc.  They won’t give up their feed bags without a huge fight.  It’s a classic case of the big guys against the little guys.  Us little guys better get out there and do a little fighting – if we care that is.  And this includes the individual people who make up corporations.

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Bill, my other half, has a way of cutting to the chase with quick pithy sayings that nicely illuminate what’s going on in a situation.  It’s a gift I don’t have and treasure in him. Here’s one of his sayings: “Once you label or stereotype a person, you start responding to the label and not to the person.” [See more of Bill’s wisdom on our website.]

In our culture we label people as liberal or conservative, and we each tend to put ourselves in one of those camps  – and then discount what’s said by those in the other.  It’s the great divide of our country.  When I must, I label myself a liberal or progressive.  And, like those in both camps, I prefer to read material written by those on my side of the divide.  However, believing that an open mind is one of life’s most precious gifts, I do make an effort to read what some conservatives say.  Of course I’m making value judgments about which of them are worth listening to – I value intelligence in public discourse above anything else. David Brooks and Peggy Noonan are two who come to mind.

Peggy Noonan has a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal (a conservative rag not usually at the top of my reading list) that has a great deal of wisdom in it.  It’s about Sarah Palin, the Republican party, and the immense challenges facing the USA. I dare say it strikes such a positive note with me because I value intelligence in our national debate so highly and this quality is so rarely in evidence.  I urge you to read it.

Updated July 12:  Frank Rich’s column in today’s New York Times points out that the essence of Sarah Palin’s support is emotional, not idealogical. He says:

“Palin won’t go gently into the good night, much as some Republicans in Washington might wish. She is not just the party’s biggest star and most charismatic television performer; she is its only star and charismatic performer. Most important, she stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity as the country hurtles into the 21st century and leaves it behind. Palin gives this movement a major party brand and political plausibility that its open-throated media auxiliary, exemplified by Glenn Beck, cannot. She loves the spotlight, can raise millions of dollars and has no discernible reason to go fishing now except for self-promotional photo ops.”

Scary stuff this if you value intelligence. She’s turning to demagoguery in place of politics – seeking to become a political leader by appealing to grievances and prejudices with not even a wink to rational argument.

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