Monthly Archives: February 2018

Counterbalance: Good News Wednesday

It’s Girl Scout cookie time!  Head out to one of their usual haunts in front of retail stores (usually a grocery store) and buy some!  No, I am not a Girl Scout but I think they’re a great organization.  And their cookies are good!

Besides the Great Cookie Arrival, since this is the last Wednesday of the month, this post will be all about good news.

One of the biggest pieces of good news is that Rick Gates – former assistant campaign director for 45 – has had all charges dropped by Mueller in exchange for his full cooperation.  Some people are angry that he got his charges dropped, but I say, “whatever works” and anyway, if Gates goes back on his agreement, Mueller will refile charges (“Robert Mueller Just Flipped His Third Former Trump Aid”, Andrew Prokop, Vox website, 2/23/18).

Aside #1: Mueller wouldn’t have made this deal if the information he was going to get out of Gates wasn’t substantial – and about higher-ups.

Next good piece of news is that a W. Virginia judge has dropped a defamation suit filed by a coal industry executive against John Oliver (comedian and host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight). Mr. Oliver referred to Murray Energy Company CEO Robert Murray as a “geriatric Dr. Evil” (“Judge Dismisses Coal Magnate’s Lawsuit Against John Oliver, HBO”, Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone online, 2/24/18).

Aside #2: The judge ruled that Mr. Oliver’s speech is protected by the First Amendment.

A California judge has ordered the Dept. of the Interior to reinstate the ruling (that was made during the Obama administration) restricting methane emissions.  The agency can no longer stall and refuse to enforce this.

Judge William Orrick stated that “the delay is untethered to evidence and is likely to cause irreparable injury to California, New Mexico, and other states” (“Second Judge Says Trump Can’t Keep Stalling Clean-Air Rules”, Matthew Daly, Associated Press via the U.S. News website, 2/23/18).

Aside #3: For more on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his awful policies, go here

The Supreme Court has rejected 45’s appeal of an injunction in January of this year that stopped him from ending the DACA program.  45 had ordered the phasing out of DACA to begin next month, in March (“Supreme Court Rejects Trump Over ‘Dreamers’ Immigrants”, Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung, Reuters website, 2/26/18).

Now that can’t happen.  Hooray!

Aside #4: It’s going to be a long fight, but I think eventually it will be won and DACA will endure.  A huge majority of Americans support this program.

A U.S. Appeals Court has ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does include protections for workers against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (“U.S. Appeals Court Says Title VII Covers Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation”, Daniel Weissner, Reuters website, 2/26/18).  This is great news!

Aside #5: This ruling was in response to the 45 administration filing a brief that claimed sexual orientation was not intended to be protected under Title VII.  Because Republicans are all about “keeping government out of peoples’ business”, unless they don’t like you – then it’s ok for them to do it.

And, finally, this bit of nonpolitical good news…

Music icon Dolly Parton founded an organization called Imagination Library, which donates books to children aged 0-5 in the U.S, the U.K., Canada, and Australia.

The organization donates 1.1 million books every month!

Yesterday, they donated their 100 millionth book to the Library of Congress, and announced a partnership between the two organizations – an “Imagination Library Storytime” streamed live from the Library of Congress to libraries across the U.S. (“Dolly Parton Donates 100 Millionth Book, Announces Partnership with Library of Congress”, Maggie Jones, Knox News website, 2/27/18).

I have always liked Dolly Parton.

Ok, on to the weekly weird news…Here’s an interesting slide show about daydreaming:

“Daydreaming Again? 5 Facts About the Wandering Mind”, Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, Live Science website, 9/15/16

It asserts that, while daydreaming can help motivate people to accomplish goals, it also can cause you to forget what you were thinking about before you…wait a minute, let me go back and look at the slide show again…oh yeah, forget what you were thinking about before you drifted off.

I am a chronic, lifelong daydreamer.

Recommendation for the week: The Cost of Living Calculator on the PayScale website.  You just enter where you live now, where you want to live, your current salary and job title (or the title of the job you want in the new city), then hit the calculate button.  I stumbled across this as I was looking into a move back to Memphis, which I’ve been daydreaming about lately heh.

Don’t know how I am going to manage it, so any suggestions would be appreciated.  I have a new grandbaby to meet!

Be good.  Be kind.  Don’t give up on your dreams.

 

 

 

 

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Guns & Mental Health: Missing the Point Again

As we all know by now, there was a horrific school shooting in Florida on Feb. 14.  17 students and teachers were killed when a former student shot them with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

There have been 34 mass shootings since January 1st of this year…and it’s only February 21 (“Mass Shootings”, Gun Violence Archive website).

Total stats on gun violence (from January to February 2018), including “unintentional” shootings and “defensive use” are as follows:

Total # of incidents: 7,481

# of deaths: 2,072

# of injuries: 3,543

# of children (0-11 years) killed or injured: 79

# of teens (12-17 years) killed or injured: 395

Home invasion: 308

Defensive use: 213

Unintentional shooting: 240

This doesn’t include suicide, police deaths, or death by cop (Ibid.).

Contrast these numbers with the pediatric death rate (so far) during this year’s flu season (December until now in February): 84.

And this is considered an epidemic.  People are being urged to get a flu shot, get their kids flu shots, wash their hands, be wary in public spaces, and so on.  As well they ought to be.

But talk about gun violence?  Sure, as long as no one mentions guns.

I think that’s crazy.  “Deaths due to guns” is the only topic I can think of that doesn’t usually address what is a major reason for all these deaths – guns.

7 of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in the country have involved the AR-15, or similar weapons:

The Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada (Oct. 2017, 59 killed, including the shooter)

The Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida (June 2016, 49 killed) *

Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut (Dec 2012, 27 killed, including the shooter)

First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (Nov 2017, 27 people killed, including the shooter) *

U of Texas, Austin, Texas (Aug 1966, 19 killed, including the shooter) *

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida (Feb 2018, 17 killed)

Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino, California (Dec 2015, 16 killed, including the shooters)

*Weapon used was similar to the AR-15.

The point is, semi-automatic weapons can kill a lot of people in a very short time.  That is their purpose – to kill people.

They are not used for hunting.  They are military weapons.  There is no need – I don’t care who you are – for a private citizen to own these types of weapons.

If you must buy a gun, buy a handgun.  Buy a shotgun.  Buy a hunting rifle. You can defend yourself with any of these.  Banning assault weapons or military-grade weapons does not violate anyone’s Constitutional right to bear arms (“Supreme Court Justices Allow Ban on High Capacity Guns”, Lyle Denniston, Constitution Daily website, 11/27/2017).

Which brings us to the “mental illness” component.

Many people, including the Idiot-in-Chief, are calling for stricter controls to prevent “mentally ill people” from buying guns.

Aside #1: You ought to be wary of any stand 45 takes, as it inevitably is the wrong one.  This case is no exception.

Let’s look at this logically, ok?  For which mental illnesses are you going to prevent people from owning guns?

Depression?  Ok, that’s 8.2% of the population (19.4 million adults).

Anxiety/panic disorders?  Ok, that’s (in total, all forms of anxiety) 22.3% of the population (49 million adults).

PTSD? Ok, that’s 3.5% of the population (7.7 million adults). (“Facts & Statistics”, Anxiety and Depression Association of America website)

And those are just the people who go for help.  The actual numbers are higher.

“Well, hey now,” you might be thinking, “I mean really crazy people, like psychotics or people with bipolar disorder and the like.”

Ok, here are more facts for you:

Only 3-5% of all violence, including gun violence, can be attributed to people with severe mental illness (“Gun Violence and Mental Illness: Myths and Evidence-Based Facts”, Joel Miller, American Mental Health Counselors Association website, 10/3/2017).

Most gun violence is perpetuated by people who are, well, violent.  As in, people who engage in domestic violence, have severe problems with drugs and/or alcohol, have a history of being violent towards others in general…you know, the kind of people who often get referred to “anger management classes”.

Having conducted those kinds of classes, I can tell you – they don’t work.

They don’t work because people who are violent do not see their anger as unreasonable.  They don’t see it as odd, or a bad alternative to other ways to handle conflict, and sometimes they see it as “self-defense”.

As in, “He called me a (insert insult here) so I hit/shot/threw something at him.”

I cannot even count how many times I heard that.  They really think that retaliating with physical violence against any form of disrespect constitutes “self-defense”, and no amount of reasoning can convince them otherwise.

And that point of view cuts across all race and class lines.  I’ve seen every kind of person express that idea, from the Mississippi Delta to inner city Memphis to Central Pennsylvania, and beyond.

It’s not a big leap to imagine that someone with a grievance against someone – or against people in general – who has that attitude towards anger and revenge is going to go out and buy a weapon that can kill as many people as possible.

Is that “mental illness”?  No, in my opinion, that’s not clinically “mental illness”.

Some could argue that yeah, it is, no doubt due to a personality disorder.  I might agree with that, as there are aspects of that kind of thinking.

But if we made that the criteria, who is going to evaluate folks for that?

Most people with personality disorders do not seek treatment.  They don’t see anything wrong with the way they think.  And, quite honestly, they are notoriously treatment-resistant if they ever do find themselves in counseling (usually forced by family or the law).

We even reward people with personality disorders in our society.  Look at 45.  Look at a lot of famous and wealthy artists/musicians/actors/politicians/CEOs and so on.  Many have personality disorders because the kind of profession they’re in lends itself to a certain ruthlessness involved in rising to the top of it, and attracts people with personality disorders. They can behave very badly and most of the time they get away with it

Aside #2: Let’s face it – a diagnosis of some kind of personality disorder is not going to carry the same kind of stigma that other mental illnesses do.  Some people now even brag about having one, or try to make nonclinical distinctions between “malignant narcissism” and just regular plain old “non-dangerous” narcissism.  Any clinician who has treated folks like that, or any victim of folks like that, knows that this distinction is bullshit.

How about people who have been committed to a psychiatric facility?  Even those who are held for 72 hours against their will for being “a danger to themselves or others”?  Surely they should not be able to own guns?

Besides the problem of the profit hospitals make from involuntary commitments – and they do, I’ve seen this in my workplaces – there are also the facts above that I mentioned about violence.  Most people are committed due to “suicidal ideation”, not usually “homicidal ideation”.

Should someone who is suicidal have access to a gun?  Well, no.  Usually we tell family members to get guns out of the house or lock them up.

But we don’t usually say, “do this forever, he/she is never going to get better.”  Especially in hunting country, that would just be stupid.

Aside #3: I am not a hunter.  I am not a fan of hunting.  I do respect people who hunt for food, as many do in rural places.

And what about involuntary commitment for false reasons?  I’ve seen that, too.  That goes on your permanent health record, you know.  So someone who has no reason to be committed other than due to a dispute over an elderly “patient’s” money, or in other suspicious circumstances is marked for life and cannot get a gun if he/she needs one (like in the case of abuse)?

Or how about medical records of any kind that mention a mental illness?  Are you going to tell me that a woman with PTSD or depression due to domestic abuse hasn’t the right to get a gun to defend herself in case her abuser tracks her down?

See, I am not against gun ownership.  I am against owning firearms that are used to kill a lot of people.  This is not a “ban all guns” vs “gun rights” debate – that’s a false dichotomy the NRA promotes.

This is about innocent people dying.  And the common denominators are semi-automatic rifles.  Rifles that are not necessary to own.

Let’s take those out of the equation.

Weird news of the week: This is why the British are considered so civilized – “Police Officer Accused of Taking the Biscuits”, Sky News website.  The article states that “it has not been clear what kind of biscuits he took” and the representative of the Met Police is quoted as stating that the theft “showed a fundamental lack of integrity”.

(Well, heck, if they were Penguin biscuits, I would definitely agree!)

Recommendation of the week: The Shibutani’s skate to Coldplay and a bronze medal. It’s worth sitting through the Coke commercial, trust me.

https://www.nbcolympics.com/news/maia-alex-shibutani-make-history-their-own-pyeongchang

Be good.  Be kind.  Don’t let anyone scapegoat people with mental illnesses, it could be you or someone you love someday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mulvaney: Commodity Boxes are “Blue Apron-Like”

Hey Micky, you’re so cruel!

You’re so cruel and you’re a tool!

Hey Micky!  Hey Micky!

Yesterday – though not getting a whole lot of attention – the White House released its proposed budget, and, as expected, it featured cuts to entitlement programs.

Of particular interest/abhorrence is the cut to the food stamp program.  Mick Mulvaney’s idea is to cut peoples’ EBT balances by half, then provide a box of commodities to make up the difference.  The food included are beans, canned meat, canned fruits, canned vegetables, dry or evaporated milk, grains, cereal, pasta, butter, peanut butter, and other staples.

Aside #1: Mick Mulvaney is the head of the Office of Management and Budget, appointed by 45.  He is a loyal Tea Party member and, of course, very far to the right.

He insists it’s healthy food.  I disagree.

Especially for the elderly or people with chronic health problems, this kind of food is not healthy.

A lot of people try to eat healthily to either manage a medical condition or keep from getting any of the diseases that plague people (especially when older) such as hypertension and diabetes.

Myself, I can’t/won’t eat any of that.  I am trying to manage my seemingly never-ending digestive symptoms (courtesy of my still-mysterious ailment), so currently my diet is low fodmap, high fiber, unprocessed, fresh, and low sodium…and while I do eat cheese I don’t drink cow’s milk (because almond milk is high in calcium and it has fewer calories than skim milk).

I haven’t opened a can of vegetables or fruit in years.  Ditto for canned meat. High in sodium and sugar.  Processed to death.

Yeah, even poor folks try to eat healthy.  We’re not dumb.

Mick thinks we are, though.  He touted the food boxes as being “Blue Apron-like” (“Trump’s Insulting Food Stamp Plan Is Nothing Like Blue Apron”, Sidney Fussell, Gizmodo website, 2/13/18).  Blue Apron is a home-delivered box of ingredients that you use to make an entire dinner without having to buy anything else.  But the thing is, Blue Apron includes fresh, high quality ingredients.

I can just hear him now…

“We’ll market it like those fancy boxed meals.  They won’t know the difference!”

But Blue Apron Is not like a box of commodity food, the kind the USDA gives out to low-income people over 60.  Just because a person calls a mudpie a chocolate pie does not make it so.

Believe it or not, we poor folk can tell the difference between mud and chocolate.

My initial reaction to ol’ Mick’s plan was “hell no!”  Then it was, “I bet they won’t do it because the logistics are too much.”

Nope, they can use the USDA system already in place, I reckon.  Mick’s plan is essentially just an expansion of that program.  That worries me.

Aside #2: I didn’t even know we still had a commodity distribution program until I did a Google search.  Remember government cheese?  It’s like that, but with more food – none of it fresh or unprocessed, except maybe butter.

In case you think, “Well, that’s not so bad,” then let me tell you how it might affect you indirectly.

We food stamp people shop in the same grocery stores that you do.  We buy vegetables and fruit and organic food and fresh meats and…well, anything that isn’t considered “hot, ready-made food” (like rotisserie chicken).

We food stamp folks make up a decent amount of grocery store consumers.  What do you think will happen to prices when we stop buying or cut down on how much we purchase?

What do you think will happen to the workers in the stores, the truckers who bring the food, the people who make the food, and so on, when we reduce our purchases?

It will affect YOU whether or not you use food stamps, in the way of higher prices, store closures, layoffs, or fewer types of products to choose from.

Aside #3: This will affect farmers who sell their produce at farmer’s markets, too, as food stamps can be used there.  

Don’t believe it?  Think there aren’t that many people who could affect the economy this way?

Well…the number of people using food stamps is 45.4 million (“SNAP: Frequently Asked Questions”, Snap to Health website).  That’s a lot of shoppers.

Also, unhealthy diets can lead to more illnesses and more trips to the doctor/ER.  That means higher wait times for everyone.

Oh, but Seema Verma and Mick have a plan for that, too.  They want to charge Medicaid recipients a monthly fee – or face losing that benefit – and they also want to privatize Medicare (which will inevitably raise premiums).

And since Medicaid and Medicare patients comprise a good portion of healthcare consumers, a reduction of our business can result in hospital closing and staff shortages.

That affects YOU, too.  Maybe even your own job.

You see, as I say a lot, we are all interconnected – and I don’t mean spiritually.  Economically, nothing happens in a vacuum.  Draconian public policies affect us all, even if not directly.

Aside #4: By the way, one of the reasons Mick gives for food stamp cuts is “widespread fraud.”  In reality, the fraud rate is about 1% (Ibid).

We knew these cuts were coming after the latest tax bill was passed.  Republicans have done this before – given tax cuts to the wealthy and to corporations, then screamed about the deficit and “balanced budgets”.  They have no problem spending money as long as it is for other people in their income brackets and higher (their donors, in other words).

Or the military.  45’s administration wants to give a massive increase in funding to the military, even bigger than some Republicans are comfortable with.  I guess it might be because they don’t want 45 lobbing missiles at North Korea or something.

Anyway, the plan for changing the food stamp program is a bad one.  it was crafted by someone who is hostile towards social support programs overall.  It is supported by Paul Ryan and other Republicans who have made no secret of their hatred of the poor, the elderly, the chronically ill, and the other-abled.

Please contact your congress people and ask them to fight these changes.  Find out who your representatives are here.  Thank you, allies.

Weird news of the week: This story is not only weird, in my opinion it reflects an extension of the tendency for some people to take themselves way too seriously (kind of how they do when they feud on social media).  I’m surprised Disneyland doesn’t just ban all these “social clubs”.

Control freaks in Disney garb.   “Lawsuit Alleges Mafia-Style Tactics Aimed At A Disneyland Social Club”, Laurel Wamsley, NPR news website, 2/12/18.

Recommendation of the week: Why, the Winter Olympics, of course!  I can’t think of anything better to lift your spirits, watching all these athletes from around the world compete.

Be good.  Be kind.  Stay strong.

Clear Waters and 1% Mud: Social Division in America

 

I stated last week that I would provide the transcript link to Maxine Waters’ response to the State of the Union address, so here it is.  You can also see the video on the same site.

It was not a long speech, but it was right to the point and straightforward.  That’s not surprising, as Rep. Waters (D-CA) has never been one to mince words, nor has she ever backed down when others – mostly white men in Congress – have tried to shut her up.

 

She began by saying:

Yesterday, Donald Trump had the audacity to call upon people to set aside differences, when in reality, he has divided Americans in ways no other modern president has done. We must look at his State of the Union address in the context of all of the ways he defined himself during his campaign and throughout his first year as President. (“Maxine Waters Delivers Scathing SOTU Response: ‘Make No Mistake, Trump is a Dangerous Racist’ “, Tess Koman, Cosmopolitan website, 2/1/18)

She then listed how 45 has defined himself: his response to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville (“violence on many sides”), his travel bans targeting Muslims, his description of Mexicans as rapists, his mocking of a reporter who is other-abled, his tendency to blame people of color for the problems in the US, his attack on NFL players and their mothers, and his disrespect for women.

She went on to relate his policies that alienate our allies around the world: withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement, his refusal to certify the Iran nuclear agreement, and his tendency to insult other democracies while cozying up to Putin.

She mentioned 45’s refusal to acknowledge that he inherited many economic gains from the policies of our first Black president Barack Obama (for example, the unemployment rate drop to 4.7%).

She finished up with stating what the Democrats stand for:

We as Democrats are committed to a growing economy that leaves no one behind. We’re committed to an economy that protects consumers and provides good jobs with fair wages, quality health care, and affordable housing. These are the policies for which I have worked all of my life and on which I will continue to work despite the constant chaos and distractions of this administration. (Ibid)

You know what I wish?  I wish that the Democrats had made one televised response, featuring Joe Kennedy III, Bernie Sanders, and Maxine Waters.  I wish they had split it up and each taken a point or two to expound upon.  I think that would have shown how much unity there is in the party (yes, I know Bernie is not technically a Democrat).

Right now, the Democratic Party is feeling the heat from the (mostly) younger, more progressive members.  I think we progressives make up the majority of the base right now, and it would behoove the party to move along into the 21st century with us.

Considering how the hard right, and even the moderate right, are dwindling in numbers, it makes no sense for the Democrats to even entertain this ridiculous notion of “but what about the white men over 40” anymore.

Look at how society, in general, has moved in terms of how the majority of Americans think.  Most Americans support DACA, think racism is bad, think women should have equal pay and not be sexually harassed, aren’t afraid of people of other religions, support the Constitution (and not just some parts of it), and support legalization of marijuana – to name just a few.

Our society is generally liberal and tolerant.  Why should we cater to people who don’t like change, don’t like progress, and who hold onto disgusting and hateful ideas about their fellow human beings?

One big reason – ha, and you thought that was a hypothetical question, didn’t you? – is because it serves the 1% to keep the divisiveness and hatred going.  Stoking this fire of reactionary ideology is what 45 and the GOP do…and it serves them well, when they can pull it off.

The 1% funds candidates.  Divisiveness serves the interests of the 1% because it keeps people from focusing on understanding how wealth is generated, and keeps them from concluding that some form of redistribution of wealth is necessary for the good of all Americans – even under capitalism.

As long as the GOP, or any other politicians or parties (I’m looking at you, Libertarians and Greens), continue to turn Americans against one another, the 1% is safe.

Bear in mind, the 1% will not tolerate any redistribution of wealth, no matter how small.  They want all the wealth.  And the easiest way to get the populace to give it up is to convince each class that the other class “deserves” to lose income and benefits.

When you consider all the wealth that is generated in this country, really consider it, we could ensure no one lived in poverty, everyone had enough to eat, people had homes to live in, everyone had access to healthcare, and opportunities such as jobs and/or education were available to all.

We could do that, and there would still be rich people.  They just wouldn’t be the filthy, unnecessarily “I-have-10-cars-and-5-homes” kind of rich.

You know, they could still buy Gucci handbags and Tesla cars, they just wouldn’t be able to buy one for every day of the week.

Think about it.

Weird news of the week, speaking of Tesla’s…Elon Musk sent his red Tesla into space – yes, the actual car – with a dummy sitting in it.  Playing “Space Oddity” by Bowie as it travels, headed towards the asteroid belt.

Recommendation of the week: Here’s a site that lists things for cats and their humans, everything from “Da Bird” toy (string and feathers) for $10 to an $800 cat tree house.  They even list a how-to book for making your cat an internet star…hmm…might look into that myself!

Be good.  Be kind.  Think, and do it often.