homelessLicense

With all the hoopla over the recent report of the staggering increase of homeless children and youth, I’m taking it a step further. I want people to wrap their mind around the fact that over 3 million kiddos in our country have nowhere to go, so I got a custom license plate holder that says it.

 

The National Center on Family Homelessness just released their jaw-dropping America’s Youngest Outcasts: A Report on Family Homelessness.

Take that one word at a time.

America’s.

Youngest.

Outcasts.

What? This country discards children? They must deserve it, you might be thinking.

Uh, no. They’re kids. They deserve at least a basic place to live, and the other essentials, not to be discarded like trash in the gutter.  They’re kids, mostly with a parent or 2, who fit the definition of homelessness that makes sense to any person who uses their cognitive capacity.

It boils down to: They’ve lost housing due to hardship, and they have nowhere to go.

Hardship in these hard times is not hard to imagine, except if you’re our U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the beleaguered, mostly-dysfunctional housing provider for those opposite the 1%. HUD can't seem to count high enough to document homeless kids.

How many kids you ask?

Well, NCFH estimates at least 2.5 million kids have fallen into the abyss of homelessness this year. I take issue with that number—too low.

What are the causes?

From their report: 

Major causes of homelessness for children in the U.S. include: (1) the nation’s high poverty rate; (2) lack of affordable housing across the nation; (3) continuing impacts of the Great Recession; (4) racial disparities; (5) the challenges of single parenting; and (6) the ways in which traumatic experiences, especially domestic violence, precede and prolong homelessness for families.

None of that should come as a surprise for any thinking person. 

What’s the big deal?

Well, this number has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, but HUD didn't get the memo. They have a convoluted definition of homelessness that excludes millions of kids, with families and without, who have lost housing due to hardship and have nowhere to go.

The government miscounts lots of things, why is this different?

These are kids, damn it! We should at least be able to draw the line on our nasty attitude towards our neighbor when it comes to kids. Babies. Toddlers. Younger kids. Teens. Young adults. And being homeless as kids makes it more likely they’ll be homeless as adults. We shouldn’t be “growing” homelessness.

So, what’s the deal with the numbers?

The U.S. Department of Education, with a more realistic definition of homelessness, has a fairly solid census of homeless students, although everyone familiar with the homeless student count agrees that it’s probably way low. For the 2012-13 school year, the most recent data available, they reported 1,258,152 students identified as homeless. That number has increased an astounding 75% since the recession began.

The Outcasts report points out that HUD ignores 75% of homeless children, particularly those doubled up with others due to having nowhere to go. My organization, HEAR US Inc., recently produced a documentary on doubled up, Worn Out Welcome Mat, to give doubled up families and youth a chance to describe the hardships involved in bouncing place to place when you’ve got nowhere to live.

OK, OK, so we’ve got a bunch of homeless kids with nowhere to go. Now what?

A few things can be done, even if you’re lacking money to donate. For the sake of space in this post, I’ll refer you to my recent blog that lists some options.

Can I get one of those license plates?

I'd love for them to be attached to thousands of vehicles all across the U.S. Email me and I'll let you know how to get them. 

And I double-dog-dare someone to dispute the 3 mil. 

President Reagan gets a lot of deserved flack for his negligence in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Today, we learned that there needs to be some flack dispensed around because Reagan isn't the only person in his Administration who needs to be called to the carpet.

According to Right Wing Watch:
 
Anyone who is familiar with Gary Bauer's anti-gay extremism will not be surprised to learn that his bigotry goes way back. Just in time for World AIDS Day, we now know that when Bauer was working in the Reagan White House, he fought hard to keep gay people off the nation’s first AIDS commission.

Right Wing Watch published part of a memo he sent to Reagan regarding this:
 

 3. Millions of Americans try to raise their children to believe that homosexuality is immoral. In many states homosexual practices are illegal, including sodomy. For you to appoint a known homosexual to a Presidential Commission will give homosexuality a stamp of acceptability. It will drive a wedge between us and many of our socially conservative supporters. 

4. While it is true that homosexuals have been major victims of AIDS, they are also responsible for its spread. Recent students show the average gay man with AIDS has had over 150 different sexual partners in the previous 12 months. 

Bauer proposed instead appointing a relative of someone with AIDS, or a caregiver, or as a last resort, a “reformed” homosexual: “that is, someone not currently living a gay life style. We have identified several individuals that meet that criteria.”

 In the end, Reagan ignored Bauer’s pleadings and appointed Frank Lilly, an openly gay geneticist, to the Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic.

Right Wing Watch also goes on to say that Bauer undermined the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Reagan Administration by keeping then Surgeon General C. Everett Koop from gaining access to the Reagan and the cabinet after the president asked Koop to prepare a report on AIDS.
 

Bauer’s role as an anti-gay zealot in the Reagan White House was also revealed in "Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite" by D. Michael Lindsay.

As Kyle reported back in 2010, the book says Bauer interfered with the efforts of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop when he was tasked with drafting a report on AIDS for President Reagan:

 [In 1986] President Reagan asked the surgeon general to prepare a report on AIDS as the United States confirmed its ten-thousandth case. Leaders of the evangelical movement did not want Koop to write the report, nor did senior White House staffers who shared Koop's evangelical convictions. As Dr. Koop related to me, "Gary Bauer [Reagan's chief advisor on domestic policy] ... was my nemesis in Washington because he kept me from the president. He kept me from the cabinet and he set up a wall of enmity between me and most of the people that surrounded Reagan because he believed that anybody who had AIDS ought to die with it. That was God's punishment for them." 


It is also worth knowing that after leaving the Reagan Administration, Bauer became the first president of an anti-gay group we all know well - the Family Research Council. Under Bauer's leadership, the organization created an ugly catalogue of homophobic lies and cherry-picked science which eventually led it to be designated in 2010 as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Bauer is presently involved in the  Campaign for Working Families and Our American Values; two organization which supposedly works for "family values and faith."  Bauer is also looked upon as one of the leading voices of the conservative evangelical movement.

In my eyes, Bauer has taken his place amongst such notables as 'Bloody Mary' Tudor, Tomas de Torquemada, and others whose manic religious zeal and self-righteous mindset caused untold chaos to a host of innocents.

To some folks, maybe I am being a bit hyperbolic. Perhaps, but then again perhaps not.  I remember when HIV/AIDS came on the scene and began knocking down members of the lgbt community like a goddamn hurricane. I remember the ugly things people said about those affected by HIV/AIDS, such as when columnist Pat Buchanan said that nature was reaping retribution on the gay community.

And I remember, even though I was too young to take part in, the demand that Reagan address this issue. No one knows what would have happened had Reagan addressed the HIV/AIDS crisis sooner than he did. But it is rather nauseating and disturbing that there was someone in his cabinet who worked to undermine the fight against HIV/AIDS because he felt that those affected "deserved" what they got.

So what can be done with this knowledge of Bauer's "activities?" Just a simple word of mouth. Don't let it be forgotten. Tell the story. Repeat the story. Shine a spotlight on the story every chance you get. 

History will not be kind to Gary Bauer, so long as we have something to do with it.

If you have not yet read Darren Wilson's testimony to the Ferguson grand jury which decided that he would suffer no ill consequences for his decision to kill Michael Brown, please do so.

Wilson's description of the events on the day that he decided to shoot and kill an unarmed person cannot be adequately relayed to you by a second party.

The absurd, unfathomable, and fantastical story which Wilson spun out of the whole cloth in order to justify killing an unarmed black teenager combines the deepest and ugliest white supremacist stereotypes and fantasies about black folks' humanity such as the "negro fiend", "black beast", and "giant negro", with white racist paranoiac thinking, and dialogue from blaxploitation movies.

Darren Wilson's grand jury testimony purports to be an accurate description of his encounter with Michael Brown. In reality, it is closer to an amateurish summer stock theater production of the movie Birth of the Nation as performed by the KKK and/or Neo-Nazis.

After submitting a blank police report that provided no substantive information, Darren Wilson was trained by attorneys from the police union (a common procedure when police kill civilians), and had many weeks to prepare his grand jury testimony.

During that time, Wilson was privy to the narrative and witness testimony that he would be confronted by in court.

Wilson was also aided by a prosecutor who was not at all interested in finding sufficient probable cause to proceed with a proper trial for the latter's decision to kill Michael Brown.

Ultimately, Darren Wilson was either 1) coached to recite a profoundly racist and bizarre version of his encounter with Michael Brown; 2) is deeply mired in the White Gaze and White Racial Frame to such a degree that he actually believes the white supremacist fictions he told the grand jury; or 3) some combination of the above.

The American legal system is not separate and apart from the social norms, cultures, values, and beliefs which produced it. Rather, the legal system (as well as schools, prisons, hospitals, etc.) is a crystallization of American society and its hierarchies of power.

Social scientists and others have produced volumes of research which have repeatedly demonstrated how the American legal system reinforces, perpetuates, and reflects disparate racial outcomes and white supremacy. For example, their findings include how black Americans face racial bias and unfair treatment at every level of the criminal justice system from initial police encounters to sentencing and parole decisions. Juries are influenced by implicit racial bias. Juries are also less likely to find black witnesses "credible" or "believable". And perhaps most troubling, white jurors can be subconsciously primed by images of apes and gorillas--this deeply racist association between animals and African-Americans in turn makes white jurors more likely to give black defendants the death penalty.

The empirical evidence for white racial bias in the criminal justice system is the context which produced the Ferguson grand jury's decision in favor of Darren Wilson. White supremacy makes Wilson's testimony an "intelligible" and "legitimate" type of truth claim as understood by the jurors, and the broader white society that supports Wilson's killing of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

White supremacy and white racial paranoiac thinking makes Wilson's following statements about Michael Brown believable and valid--as opposed to utterances and transparent lies that most certainly do not surpass the legal standard of "reasonable doubt".

Wilson told the grand jury the following:

1. Brown possessed super human negro strength as he effortlessly crushed the weak white man's flesh with one hand. "And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan...Hulk Hogan, that’s just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm."

2. Brown is so strong and possessed of giant negro powers that he could attack Wilson with one hand while using the other to give his compatriot Dorian Johnson the box of cigars.

3. Even though he was shot several times by Darren Wilson, Brown let out a bestial grown like a feral monster, seemingly impervious to the threat of bullets and harm, he then charged at the police officer:

"So when he stopped, I stopped. And then he starts to turn around, I tell him to get on the ground, get on the ground. He turns, and when he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he’s coming back towards me. His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does like a stutter step to start running. When he does that, his left hand goes in a fist and goes to his side, his right one goes under his shirt in his waistband and he starts running at me."

"At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him.

And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way."

4. Brown apparently speaks like a blaxploitation movie character: "He grabs my gun, says, 'You are too much of a pussy to shoot me.'"

5. Brown, like other negroes, was irrational and crazed. Wilson was in a state of terror: "The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up."

6. Brown also has melanin powered super speed. Because blacks are apparently natural athletes with overdeveloped leg muscles, Brown ran away from Wilson so fast that he left a trail of dust at his feet in a manner akin to that of a Looney Tunes cartoon character: "When I look up after that, I see him start to run and I see a cloud of dust behind him."

7. Because Brown is a giant negro he towered over Wilson: "He then grabs my door again and shuts my door. At that time is when I saw him coming into my vehicle. His head was higher than the top of my car. And I see him ducking and as he is ducking, his hands are up and he is coming in my vehicle."

Darren Wilson's testimony to the grand jury mates a cultural script that views black people as inherently criminal with recent empirical research that demonstrates how white folks actually do believe that black people are "super human" and a mysterious type of Other.

Wilson's tale is also a reminder of how the near past of Jim and Jane Crow lives in the "post racial" present of the Age of Obama.

A black man is President of the United States of America.

But, a white cop can use language and white racial logic of 19th and early 20th century lynch law--with its fixation on "negro fiends", "imps of the inferno", and "noble" defenders of white society--to avoid going to trial for taking the life of an unarmed black teenager, while also being elevated to hero status (and financially enriched) by those sick and morally deranged white folks who want to live vicariously through the act of killing a black person.

Dred Scott is buried several miles away from where Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. Scott, in one of the most infamous United States Supreme Court decisions, was deemed to not have any rights that a white man is bound to respect. Almost 150 years later, Darren Wilson used the same white supremacist logic, and in doing so offered a version of events that would have been a perfect fit for a 19th century newspaper article about the lynching, disembowelment, and vivisection of a black victim of spectacular white violence.

"History is a moving train". Ferguson is a reminder of how those historical continuities of white supremacy as enacted through the American legal system (and other cultural and social institutions) are still killing and murdering black and brown folks with impunity in the present.

At the first Thanksgiving 383 years ago, Native Americans and Pilgrim immigrants gathered with mutual respect to share a bountiful harvest they’d produced together.

This Thanksgiving, though, there’s no respect or sharing in the homes of GOP nativists.

Suffering amnesia about their personal histories, nativist Republicans want to expel the 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants, the people who harvest America’s Thanksgiving vegetables and care for America’s toddlers and grannies. The GOP has threatened to sue, shut down the government and impeach President Obama to punish him for issuing an executive order giving fewer than half of the nation’s undocumented workers a limited ability to remain in the United States.

Americans would prefer if Congress fixed this problem. But Congress hasn’t. In the year and a half since the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, House leaders have refused to permit a vote on it. So now, President Obama, like all 10 presidents since 1956, Republican and Democrat,  has issued an executive order on immigration. The order says America will treat 5 million striving unauthorized immigrants with respect. 

Photo by Fibonacci Blue on Flickr.

Exactly one week before Thanksgiving, President Obama described his order to the American people. It broadens the “dreamer” program that provides temporary reprieves from deportation to unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children. It establishes temporary work authorization for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years and are parents of American citizens or servicemen. It directs the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to focus on deporting criminals and suspected terrorists and orders Homeland Security to help secure the border.

It disqualifies new undocumented immigrants. Anyone who has entered the United States recently or who enters now without authorization is excluded. The order is limited as well. It lasts only as long as Obama is president. The next executive could continue it. Or kill it.

If such a program had been in place 14 years ago, actress Diane Guerrero, who plays Maritza Ramos on the show Orange is the New Black, would have been spared separation from her parents and brother. Guerrero described her family’s deportation in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. She was just 14 when she arrived home from school to find lights on, dinner started but her family missing.

Born in the United States, Guerrero was a citizen. Her parents and brother were not. Neighbors broke the news to her that the INS had seized her family and would deport them to civil war-torn Colombia. In the op-ed, Guerrero pleaded for relief for families like hers. President Obama provided it. Thank goodness.

Immigrants like Guerrero’s family don’t enter the United States to take. Like everyone who has has arrived on America’s shores since that first Thanksgiving, these new émigrés work to give their children a better life. Some young undocumented workers today labor to give their parents in Mexico remittances that enable them to survive after NAFTA destroyed their ability to eke out a living from subsistence farms. Americans respect those family values.

Unauthorized immigrants are lured into the United States by the promise of jobs, whether it’s making hotel beds, washing cars or picking produce. Employers want their labor. Farmers who rely on the backbreaking work of unauthorized immigrants found themselves with produce rotting in the fields after some states passed anti-immigration laws in recent years.

As Americans bow their heads before passing the turkey platter this week, they should know that President Obama’s executive order is a blessing to native born citizens as well as immigrants. A study by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that immigration reform is good for the economy, while inaction is destructive.

The task force that produced the study, co-chaired by former governors from both parties, said immigration reform would be a powerful instrument of economic revitalization: “The results make clear that reform has the potential to significantly increase the number of young, working-age people in the economy. This influx of labor would spur economic growth, reduce federal deficits, help the housing sector and mitigate the effects of an aging population. By contrast, preventing unauthorized immigration without providing replacement labor would cause severe damage to the economy.”

In addition, reform means immigrants no longer need fear deportation for reporting violations such as wage theft, perilous working conditions and workplace violence. This protects native-born workers because employers who become accustomed to impunity for illegal exploitation of immigrants quickly attempt to abuse all workers.

While unauthorized immigrants have long prayed for reform, 57 percent of native born Americans now believe those entreaties should be answered. The number is higher – 74 percent– if reform includes a path to citizenship, fines, back taxes and background checks.

But a president’s power is limited, and Obama stopped short extending citizenship. That’s the responsibility of Congress. President Obama asked lawmakers to act: “Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”

At a press conference held last week by groups supporting President Obama’s executive action, Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Vote Latino, told the story of one of those strangers.

During the holidays four years ago, she recounted, a young man who had just finished boot camp and was on his way to deployment in Iraq called her for help. He’d just learned that his father had been detained by the INS. On Christmas Eve, the soldier lost his father to deportation, and his family lost a breadwinner.

That is not how Native Americans treated the strangers who arrived on the shores of Plymouth. Those Native Americans broke bread with the immigrants

I’ve never thought of myself as much of a performer, but this week I responded to an invitation to take part in a circus. While the clowns did their routine in formal business attire and the "big top" was an imposing construction of marble, granite, concrete, and steel, I can still only describe the spectacle I participated in as a circus... a sad and pitiful circus, controlled and manipulated by fundamentalist Christian monsters, which calls itself the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee in the United States Congress.

Let me explain.

As the President and Founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), for nearly eleven years I’ve devoted my life to fortifying the once sturdy (now rapidly disintegrating) wall separating church and state in the U.S. armed forces. As such, I’ve been privy to the ordeals of nearly 40,000 servicemember victims (about 96% of them Christians themselves) of unconstitutional religious tyranny and oppression: the hazing, bullying, and proselytizing, the mandatory sectarian Christian prayer services, the subtly (and not-so-subtly) embedded religious references in training material, the massive imbalance and evangelical overrepresentation in the denominational breakdown of the chaplaincy, et al. While we at MRFF have spared no effort trying to rally the American people around the noble cause of safeguarding the religious liberty rights of the servicemembers who defend our nation, we’ve faced bitter opposition from the entrenched, extremist Christian Religious Right. Indeed, far, far more than merely just a few elected officials have ceaselessly covered the flanks of those bestial Christian fundamentalist forces that are actively commandeering our U.S. military.

Thus, it was with cautious enthusiasm and guarded optimism that I accepted a formal invitation from the House Armed Services Committee to testify live before a Congressional hearing on Religious Accommodations in the Armed Services on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 (rescheduled from an original date in September).

"Finally!" I thought. "Perhaps I may be able to shine a heretofore-unseen light on this seething national security crisis of divisive religiosity and sectarian proselytizing that’s tearing asunder military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, morale and discipline within the ranks of the armed forces." Yes, I’m well aware of the dismally derelict culture of Christian Talibanesque "lawmakers" such as Congressmen John Fleming (R-LA), Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Walter Jones (R-NC), to name just a few, in regards to Constitutional, church-state separation matters of dire import. Nonetheless, I was trying mightily to remain somewhat hopeful as I headed into the largest hearing room of the Rayburn House Office Building, not realizing the abhorrent faux-legislative mummery that was in store not only for me, but also for every American who cherishes their freedom of (or from) religion. The seating gallery was standing room only and the press bay was flush with electronic and print reporters and journalists abuzz with expectations of what might transpire. 

In my introduction, I was blunt. I noted the abject fecklessness and Christian supremacy and exceptionalism of the present regime of religious oppression in the armed forces. I highlighted the one, and only one, U.S. Supreme Court case, Parker vs. Levy, which is directly dispositive of the spectrum of Constitutional legalities being questioned at the hearing and my trademark phrase "tsunami of confusion" resonated in the headlines of both Military.com and The Christian Post’s coverage of the hearing. That phrase isn’t hyperbole. As I stated to the assembled Congressional representatives, the supposed ‘confusion’ of the legions of fundamentalist Christian predators in our military’s chains of command is wickedly willful, purposeful and quite intentional. Indeed, it is the product of a carefully cultivated pretense of a plea of feigned ignorance disingenuously designed to circumvent long-standing Department of Defense directives, instructions, and regulations. However, one doesn’t need to be a lawyer to understand that ignorance, especially "pretend" ignorance, is no defense.

Rather than concerning themselves with the voluminous data, servicemember testimonials, and compelling Constitutional arguments that I provided, what I was treated to instead was patently ridiculous and transparent McCarthy-esque questioning by Rep. Randy Forbes about whether public statements I made on the record were, in fact, made by me.  In the deliberately delimited amount of time that I was provided, I proudly acknowledged that I did in fact make these statements, and also decried his absurdly immaterial line of questioning. Prior to fielding Forbes’ idiotic queries, Rep. Walter Jones asked me for a one word answer of either "fair or unfair’ to yet another interrogatory of inept ignorance prefaced on the stupefyingly bizarre statement that "the end of the world” is a possible result of the upholding of Constitutional protections from undue sectarian proselytizing. As Jones tried to talk over me (he failed), I forcefully reminded him and his fellow Christian triumphalist outlaws sitting in front of, next to and behind me in the enormous and elaborate hearing chamber that, in the United States military, there can be both mandatory formations and religious formations but NOT "mandatory religious formations." After getting my answer, Jones shot up out of his chair and abruptly departed, seemingly in a fit of spite and huff prior to the called recess by Chairman Joe Wilson (R-SC).

However, when it was the turn of the representatives of the evangelical, fundamentalist Christian organizations to speak, the tone from the assembled subcommittee quickly became stunningly deferential, if not nauseatingly fawning. By the end of the hearing it became exceedingly clear that the entire spectacle was inconsequential, and the lawmakers' heads remained firmly lodged deep in the sands of injustice and unconstitutional infamy (if not likewise lodged in some dark crevice of their respective anatomies).

Yes, I took part in a circus. The impresarios of this revolting and shameful spectacle were having a joke at America’s expense, sure, but I find it hard to believe that anyone was laughing. I also can’t think of a clearer sign that the wall separating church and state in America’s armed forces has long since collapsed into a pile of dust and rubble. Lady Liberty is weeping inconsolably over the pitiful and dangerous state of religious affairs in the U.S. military. 

However, it’s not too late to rebuild the wall barring unlawful religious extremism in our armed forces. The only caveat? It won’t be easy. Defeating monsters of this magnitude of influence never is a walk in the park.

Nor is it, my friends, a day at the circus.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.
Michael L. "€œMikey"€ Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra"€ Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side"€ (2006, St. Martin'€™s Press) and "€œNo Snowflake in an Avalanche"€ (2012, Vireo).

 

I think I Have Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, I heard about it on TV!

Have you ever noticed how Big Pharma in the United States has things exactly backwards? Instead of developing new pills that people need like non-addictive painkillers and antibiotics for resistant infections, it develops new diseases.

 

Who remembers Restless Legs Syndrome? It sounded ridiculous but Big Pharma made a lot of money with drugs to treat it. Who remembers Shift Work Sleep Disorder and Non-24-hour Sleep Wake Disorder? Sleep disorders are lucrative for Big Pharma because everyone sleeps--or watches TV when they can't.

 

Whenever a reporter writes about such highly-advertised rare diseases they get veritable hate mail. "How dare you imply that Can't-Wake-Up-in-the-Morning disease doesn’t exist? I have suffered for years!" they scream as they threaten us and our editors and claim we are trying to take their drugs away. "I have adult ADHD no one can tell me I don't!"

 

Okay, we tell them--we are sure you have whatever you have. The point we are making is information about diseases should not come from companies who stand to make money from the diseases growing. There should not be symptom quizzes to encourage your suspicion that you have the advertised disease created by the people who make money on it.

 

You should not be telling a doctor the disease you have and the drug you need--it should be the other way around. Which is the party who went to medical school? Ads for proton therapy even encourage patients to tell their doctor what kind of radiation they need. What?

 

Direct to consumer advertising in the United States has galvanized a lot of people who, for one reason or another, like to have a health problem or condition. For example, problems with money, jobs, family, marriage, mood, self-esteem and body image used to be called "life." Now, they are called "depression" and almost a quarter of the U.S. population is treated for it.

The very fact that a drug is advertised on TV means it is an expensive brand name drug. When people decide they need it rather than a cheaper drug or no drug at all-- hello?--everyone's health care costs go up. Also, the real risks of new drugs advertised on TV are not known because they have not been widely used yet. Many of the drugs withdrawn from the market for safety reasons were highly advertised, blockbuster drugs until they were in wide use.

 

This fall, North Chicago-based AbbVie rolled out another disease people may have never heard of but might have. The disease is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) and its symptoms include frequent diarrhea, gas and bloating and stomach pain according to the website Identify EPI. AbbVie's drug, Creon can treat EPI but it also "may increase your chance of having a rare bowel disorder called fibrosing colonopathy" and may cause "frequent or abnormal bowel movements; bloating." Sounds like you'll have problems  with or without the drug-- but with the drug Big Pharma will make money.

Don't be embarrassed to tell your doctor about your "poop" say awareness ads for EPI. Seems like Big Pharma should be embarrassed for selling diseases to move its medicines.

 

My cartoon-filled book, Born with a Junk Food Deficiency, explores more sales tactics of Big Pharma and the food industry. It makes a great holiday gift for health-conscious people on your list.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

I believe one of the litmus tests by which a society can be judged is the ways it treats its young people, for this opens a window projecting how that society operates generally.

Adultism, as defined by John Bell includes “behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement. This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes.” Within an adultist society, adults construct the rules, with little or no input from youth, which they force young people to follow.

Even the terminology our society employs to refer to youth betrays a hierarchical power dynamic. For example, we refer to young people as “kids,” a term originally applying to young goats. By referring to youth as farm animals provides adults cover in controlling and maintaining unlimited power over human beings. (We must treat and respect animals more than we do as well.) Even the term “child” implies an imbalance of power. When people refer to an individual of any age as “the child of,” we automatically place that individual in a diminutive form.

Of course, parents and other adults have the inherent responsibility of protecting young people from harming themselves and being harmed by others, and of teaching them how to live and function in society within our ever changing global community. In Freudian terms, we must develop a balance between the individual’s unrestrained instinctual drives and restraints (repression) on these drives in the service of maintaining society (civilization), and to sustain the life of the individual.

We as a society, nonetheless, must set a line demarcating protection from control, teaching from oppression, minimal and fundamental repression from what Herbert Marcuse terms “surplus repression” (that which goes over and beyond what is necessary for the protection of the individual and the smooth functioning of society, and enters into the realm of domination, control, and oppression).

Reading and watching The Hunger Games series of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins released in 2008 and recently made into a sequence of movies, I was quite fascinated by what I interpreted as a commentary on our oppressive (surplus-repressive) society. The author presents the story through the perspective of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, which takes place in Panem, the post-apocalyptic nation where the former countries of North America once existed. The Capitol (as it is named), a technologically advanced metropolis, exerts total political control over the entire nation. The Hunger Games denotes an annual event in which one young woman and one young man aged 12-18 from each of the twelve districts are selected by lottery to compete in a televised brutal and deadly battle. Of the 24 “contestants,” only one will survive, though in the initial installment of the series, two contestants contest this rule, and they begin to forge a crack in the wall of domination.

One of the primary ways oppression in any and all of its varieties operates is when the dominant group, in this case adults, pit members of minoritized groups, in this case youth, against one another through competition for gold stars and grades, for supposedly scarce resources, for attention, love, and affection, for financial and career success, and, in the metaphor of The Hunger Games, for life itself.

In terms of education, however, philosopher and author Alfie Kohn calls for a radical rethinking of the competitive structure on which our educational system is based, away from what he calls the “I win, therefore, you lose” viewpoint. Kohn refers to competition as a “disease,” an “addiction,” a “poison” on which we are raised, something trained and not born into us. He argues that students and workers can enjoy, learn, and produce more with other people rather than against them, and he advocates for cooperative education.

In addition, those of any age who bully often do so, though sometimes unconsciously, to reinforce dominant group scripts established and forced onto minoritized individuals and groups to memorize when they enter the stage called “life.” When youth bully other youth, very often those who bully “pass down” the bullying they receive from others, often from adults. Youth killing other youth, as depicted in The Hunger Games, epitomizes the most extreme form of bullying.

Teräshjo and Salmivalli argue that those who bully fulfill the social “function” of establishing and reinforcing social norms. They found that students often justify bullying behaviors by blaming the targets of their attacks, and emphasizing that they somehow deserve the peer aggression or that they in some ways deviate from the established social norms. This I contend is a form of ruthless socialization.

Social rank theory, as used by Hawker and Boulton, proposes that aggressive individuals actually hold a higher rank, power, or status within a social group. Therefore, aggressive behavior, and bullying in particular, may provide those who engage in aggressive behaviors a sense of belonging. Hawker and Boulton contend that peer victimization serves a number of functions. First, it establishes and maintains a social hierarchy within a given group (an “in-group”), and second, it maintains distinctions between members of the in-group, from members of other groups (“out-groups”).

Adultism also operates as a continuum from subtle to extreme, from adults ignoring or neglecting young people, to statements like “Children should be seen and not heard,” “You’re too young to do that,” and “Just grow up,” to “You’re stupid,” and “You’re ugly,” to “When you are living in my house, you follow my rules,” to circumscribed or qualified love, to corporal punishment, and eviction by family from one’s home, to sexual and other violent assaultive acts, to murder. As a society, we deprive youth of their basic civil and human rights only somewhat less than we deprive these rights from convicted prison inmates.

What if, however, youth joined together to defeat adultist oppression – the surplus repression establishing and maintaining adult privilege and control over youth? More generally, what if all minoritized groups joined together to challenge dominant group privilege and oppression in all its forms?

In actually, youth and other groups of our vast society are, indeed, standing up, speaking out, and joining in coalition to contest the barriers built throughout time and space. This is true in The Hunger Games as it is outside of science fiction tropes.

As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the downfall of the once virtually impenetrable Berlin Wall, we must join together to take down the “freedom” of people to deprive other people of their freedoms. In other words, we need to dismantle the walls constructed by individuals, institutions, and societies that stand only for the purpose of maintaining power and control over others.

We can begin by considering our real motives next time we attempt to restrict or punish a young person.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

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At a chemical plant called Point Pleasant in a town named Apple Grove in a state John Denver labeled almost heaven, a man known as Freel Tackett helped negotiate three collective bargaining agreements that provided raises and decent benefits for workers and retirees.

Heaven ended in 2007 for Tackett and other retired Point Pleasant workers. That’s when the corporation that now owns the plant betrayed them by refusing to continue paying the full cost of retiree health benefits. These days, it’s almost hell for retirees. For seven years they’ve lived under a dark shadow, as if Point Pleasant’s most infamous denizen, the monster Mothman, immortalized in the book and movie The Mothman Prophesies, had returned.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union told the U.S. Supreme Court last week that these workers had labored a lifetime to earn retiree health benefits. The court should forbid the company from rescinding earned benefits, the USW argued. The corporation, M&G Polymers, asked the court to validate its reneging on its pledge to workers because, it contended, the collective bargaining agreement is insufficiently specific. M&G insisted that vagueness gives it carte blanche to shift costs to workers.

M&G Polymers is Point Pleasant's new Mothman

“I think a lot of corporations these days are doing the same thing,” Tackett said.  “I am just hoping the Supreme Court will prohibit it,” added Tackett, who is one of three named plaintiffs representing the class of 492 Point Pleasant plant retirees and spouses. Workers at the West Virginia plant are members of the USW.

Tackett talked about the appeal as he prepared to go to a funeral for a friend from his days in the plant. That man will never know the ultimate outcome of the case that the retirees won at both the trial and appeals levels. The man’s widow is struggling financially and told Tackett she thinks she will be forced to sell her home to cover the cost of her husband’s unpaid medical bills. Tackett urged her to try to hold out for the high court’s decision.

Tackett told her that if the justices rule for the retirees, then M&G Polymers will likely have to reimburse her the nearly $20,000 that her husband and other retirees paid to maintain their company health insurance until the trial court ordered M&G Polymers to resume paying the full premiums.

“We have several people who passed away,” as they awaited the outcome, Tackett said. “We have several people who passed away,” as they awaited the outcome, Tackett said. “We just don’t know how many of them died as a result of not going to the doctor when needed or not getting medication they needed" because they couldn't afford the insurance, he said.

Court records show that as of Dec. 14, 2011, only 96 of the retirees were still paying the costs imposed by M&G Polymers to cover themselves and their spouses. Some retirees quit the company plan because they found less expensive insurance elsewhere. Others, the court records show, went without coverage.

The fees M&G charged retirees rose dramatically each year. For those old enough to receive Medicare, the initial cost was $144.44 a month. But for younger retirees, it was $856.22 a month. By 2011, those charges rose to $452.01 a month for the Medicare eligible and $957.92 a month for the others.

“It is a huge amount of money when you are on a fixed income,” Tackett said, “I had to spend a big part of my pension on health insurance.”

Tackett started working at the plant when Goodyear owned it. He negotiated contracts and served for four years as president of the local union in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before Goodyear sold the plant to Shell in 1992. Shell sold it to M&G in 2000.

Throughout that time, Tackett said, he believed that language in the collective bargaining agreement guaranteed the company would pay the total cost of health benefits for workers who were eligible for full pensions when they retired. The lawsuit quotes the collective bargaining agreements as saying that workers earning a full pension “will receive a full Company contribution toward the cost of [health care] benefits.”

And the collective bargaining agreement says that if a retiree dies before his or her spouse, then the spouse remains entitled to health benefits until death or remarriage.

The agreement never says the retiree loses the benefit after so many years or must pay a portion of the costs. It also doesn’t say benefits earned by retirees over their work lives end with the expiration of any given collective bargaining agreement.

Even conservative Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to agree with the retirees on that point, saying during the arguments, “It is a reasonable assumption, call it a presumption if you like, that any promise to pay those benefits continues after the termination of the union contract.”

The fact that the collective bargaining agreement never specifically says the benefits must be paid in full by the company for the retiree’s lifetime is not unusual. A law firm with no financial interest in the outcome of the case reviewed collective bargaining agreements providing health insurance for retirees and reported to the Supreme Court that only 26 percent contained at least one clause suggesting that the benefit must be paid for life, while 14 percent contained ambiguous language and 16 percent were silent on the issue.

Previous owners of the plant never questioned the obligation and paid the benefits in full until the retiree and spouse died. In addition, M&G’s demands of Shell show that it knew the obligation was not limited.

When Goodyear sold the plant to Shell, it retained responsibility for the workers who retired during its ownership. Shell did not want to do that. So M&G hired actuaries to calculate the cost of the benefits that would be owed to the workers who retired in the eight years Shell owned the plant. That would include costs for Tackett who retired in 1996.

Shell allowed M&G to subtract that amount from the price of the Point Pleasant plant. As a result, Shell paid M&G the costs for those retirees. Now M&G is trying to get paid a second time by demanding those Point Pleasant retirees pay part of their premiums. 

Tackett, who lives in Bidwell, Ohio, started work at the plant in 1966. That, coincidentally, is the year that Mothman began terrifying local residents.

As Mothman did, M&G has stricken hundreds of families in this rural West Virginia region with fear. They’re scared they won’t be able to afford health insurance they believed they’d earned. A decision by the Supreme Court affirming the lower courts’ rulings would relieve retirees like 78-year-old Tackett and restore justice in Point Pleasant. 

Looking for answers
Bad as the newly-elected legislators may (likely) be, a certain segment of the population better brace for what will likely be the Dickens’ “worst of times” in the years to come. 

The millions of kids and adults who find themselves on the far end of the economic spectrum—living at, under or near the poverty line—will undoubtedly learn what hard times are in ways we haven’t seen before. Most at risk, millions of children and youth experiencing homelessness.

The National Center on Family Homelessness just released their report, America’s Youngest Outcasts, citing an all-time high surge of homeless children: 1 in every 30 children lack a place to live in…America.

As someone who’s been around the poverty arena for 3 decades, I viewed the 2014 election results with justified horror. My memories include the “beloved” (by some) Ronald Reagan’s reign, thinking it can’t get worse, followed by the constant deterioration during the Bush years,  with Clinton’s dismantling of the flimsy safety net for families, aka welfare “reform,” in the middle. No, Obama’s terms have been no picnic either. I’m bipartisan pissed. 

Rather than point to massive policy changes needed, let me point out the one thing that helps, the “something” that gets scant media attention but exists everywhere, that will not only help the most vulnerable survive these next troubled years but will also nurture a grassroots movement capable of restoring some semblance of humanity to our hurting world: compassion.

compassion [kuh m-pash-uh n] 1.a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. 

Throughout my travels across the U.S., now beginning my 10th year, I’ve witnessed countless instances where compassion has bridged unimaginable gaps between both those homeless and not. Even within the ranks of homeless families and individuals, compassion regularly occurs. Compassion keeps humanity alive. It can be accomplished in small, even negligible seeming ways (here’s a starter list). It can be as simple as a smile or as vital as giving food to the hungry person on the street.

Attempts to stifle compassion won’t work, as blatantly illustrated in my former hometown of Ft. Lauderdale where officials seem to have a vendetta against not only people enduring homelessness but also the 90-year-old do-gooder taking a stand against their cruelty. Too many unsung champions still exhibit kindness and love. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s simple reminder is worth pondering, “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”

My prescription for these next years leading up to the drudgery of the next round of elections (when voters better come out in droves) is simple. Practice compassion. It’s contagious. It can be done with little to no money. It establishes and promotes kindness. It pisses off those who want to control society by dividing the ultra-rich from the peons—people like you and me that think all people should have a meal, a place to sleep and the basics to stay alive and thrive. 

I’m asking you to be part of the “compassion epidemic” that will defy attempts to destroy humanity. My HEAR US website has a page to get you started. You can take this simple action aimed at reformulating how our nation defines homelessness.

Now get away from your computer and get your hands dirty in a sink of pots and pans at your local soup kitchen. Oh wait. Congressman Paul Ryan already washed them.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

“Go f-ck yourself,” Jon Stewart said in a moment of perceptible anger.

This wasn’t the usual, lighthearted barb during a satirical segment, nor a playful expression of ire diluted by audience laughter. It was sincere and seemingly raw, uttered during an interview with Jon Dekel and directed toward those Jews who have called him anti-Semitic, self-hating, or a kapo for critiquing Israel on The Daily Show.

The verbal barb didn’t come out of left field during Dekel’s interview, conducted in advance of the release of Stewart’s movie, Rosewater. It came near the end of a series of focused questions posed to Stewart on the topic of attacks he’s withstood from the American Jewish community. Attacks he’s suffered for treating Israel honestly on his show, for having the temerity to highlight its misdeeds.

They are the same attacks I have felt repeatedly, both for my own critiques of Israel and for my reconciliation with a Palestinian family after an encounter with terrorism. They are the same attacks an increasing number of committed Jews are feeling – Jews invested in Israel who are willing to speak out about Israel’s misdeeds. Of course, anyone who critiques Israel these days is subject to such attacks, from Steven Salaita to Conflict Kitchen.

However, as a Jew, Stewart passionately focused on those attacks which have been made against him by fellow Jews. In doing so, he crafted a rebuttal so on-point that I felt as though he were speaking not just for me, but for the countless other Jews who have critiqued Israel and paid a price for doing so.

Responding to the idea that ‘pro-Israel’ Jewish institutions and hawkish Jews now gauge one’s Jewishness by a political metric – a willingness to fervently back Israel’s government – Stewart first offered a measured insight:

It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are … You can’t observe (Judaism) in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.

Stewart’s analysis is spot on. As I’ve written in the past, the conflation of Israel with all Jews, itself an anti-Semitic trope, has become a staple for ‘pro-Israel’ discourse. Israel is viewed as the ‘Jew’ amongst the nations by such people, which means that anyone who critiques or condemns Israel’s actions are, by definition, attacking the Jewish people. Within the Jewish community, that means anyone – even someone like myself, a Jewish educator and author – can not only be smeared as anti-Semitic, but castigated as a Jew worthy of being exiled from the community.

On this topic I get pretty emotional sometimes. Stewart eventually did as well when Dekel confronted him with the idea that he’s not only less Jewish because of his critiques of Israel, but an outright enemy of the Jewish people. Witness Stewart’s emotions crescendo as he opens up:

How are you lesser? How are you lesser? It’s fascistic. And the idea that [other Jews] can tell you what a Jew is. How dare they? That they only know the word of God and are the ones who are able to disseminate it. It’s not right. And it’s something that they’re going to have to reckon with.

I always want to say to people when they come at me like [I'm an enemy]: “I would like Israel to be a safe and secure state. What’s your goal?” So basically we disagree on how to accomplish that but boy do they, I mean, you would not believe the sh-t. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just … go f-ck yourself. How dare you?

How dare they, indeed.

Such people who are otherwise often rational individuals, sometimes even deeply liberal or progressive, become deeply hateful and irrational when it comes to Israel. And it’s an irrationality borne out of fear. Fear developed by a history of trauma. Fear borne in the Holocaust’s wake. Fear for the existential survival of Israel – the metaphorical lifeline for some American and diaspora Jews who constantly wait for the rug to be pulled from underneath them.

On this point, Stewart had his most poignant thought:

I think [their irrationality] comes from abuse. The danger of oppression is not just being oppressed, it’s becoming an oppressor.

This is precisely why I challenge Israel’s occupation, its settlement expansions, and those Jewish organizations which stand idly and silently by as the country devolves into a one-state entity.

I refuse to stand silently by as the once-oppressed, my people, become oppressors.

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.