Monday, February 20, 2017

The Madness of King Donald

Did you know that the 25th Amendment to the Constitution outlines a procedure for removing a President from office due to mental or physical incompetence?

Did you know it before November 8th, 2016?

Yeah, me neither.

What I did know, and what I've known as far back as I can remember, is a thing or two about the consequences of crazy.

Mental health professionals of various stripes have lately been debating whether it is 1) ethical, and 2) possible to diagnose a public figure simply by observing his public words and behaviors.

I suppose this debate grew out of a hopeful reinterpretation of the 25th Amendment. Our President appears to be batshit. Can we use this obscure procedure to get him out of office? How would we begin? What diagnosis would be most compelling?

Forget all that speculation. Just put that debate right out of your head, while you still have a head, and listen up. That debate is not for you, it's for people with time and money and years of expertise on their hands, so leave them to it.

No, what you need to know, what we all need to know right now How Can Ordinary People Deal With a Disordered Personality? If a popular book on this topic existed (I'm sure there are many), we could all just buy one, but I'm going to save you some money.

Because I've had to do this for most of my life, and I have some tips and tricks.

How To Deal With a Disordered Personality

First of all, whenever possible, don't.

I'm not being snarky or flippant, I'm speaking from years of experience trying to sort things out with mad relatives, spouses, and friends. If you can just stay away from that, do it. Just because someone has a blood kinship with you doesn't give that person the right to verbally and emotionally abuse to you for the rest of your life.

You don't get to chose your family, but you can chose how much time you waste on them for no apparent good reason.

However, if you are in a close relationship with a person with Malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, or any other disorder with 'personality' as a distinguishing diagnostic feature, and you want to maintain the relationship, the first thing you have to do is save yourself.

Saving yourself means learning how to disengage and focus on your own needs as often as necessary.

Once you learn the art of disengagement and self-care  (and this isn't easy by any means), you may choose to engage with such a person for any number of reasons. Maybe your person is in a crisis. (Are they ever not?)  Maybe you care about this person and he or she has asked for your help. Maybe you feel forced to deal with this person for business or other reasons and you just can't get out of it.

If you know you must sometimes engage with a disordered personality:

    1)    Maintain a relaxed level of detachment.
    2)    Set limits on time and intimacy.
    3)    Communicate what you need to communicate in a calm voice using brief, repetitive sentences.
    4)    Recognize you may not be heard and will have to do it all over again at some future date.

Above all, don't take this person's personality personally. What he says and does isn't about you. The ongoing drama is always ALL about the disordered personality's entrenched methods of coping and the use of these methods to control other peoples' attention.

Disordered personalities are comfortable with chaos and drama. If there isn't any occurring naturally, they are absolute artists at creating some.

Controlling Through Chaos
Personality disorders are rarely diagnosed as a single problem. They usually occur in conjunction with other psychiatric diagnoses such as bipolar disorder, depression, or any of the anxiety disorders. Typically people seek treatment for the depression or anxiety, and the personality disorder is tacked on by a clinician so the next clinician will have a shorthand description of entrenched behaviors and emotional responses.

In other words, Narcissists don't seek treatment for their narcissism, and Borderline Personalities rarely seek treatment for being Borderline unless they end up hospitalized or are in repeated trouble with the law or some other social intervention interrupts their routine.

The reason why not is straightforward: These people have learned to control situations by creating chaos and the last thing they want to give up is that sense of control. Calm and sanity, the very conditions that reassure most of us, terrify them.

It's easy enough to see this in the behavior of our current president. His antics are nonstop, confusing, and exhausting. He lies so easily and so often that he sometimes spouts contradictory falsehoods in the same sentence. He clearly revels in this dysfunction and if he doesn't get enough of it he arranges rallies so he can conjure up some more.

Put any name you want on his disordered personality, I want you to recognize his effect on YOU.  HE'S a psychic vampire: a man who by his very presence sucks other people emotionally and mentally dry, spitting out the withered husks that used to be their souls when there is no 'juice' left and moving on to the next victim.

When you know a person is into baffling you with bullshit, you either dump that person entirely or learn to keep your distance and look for slip ups and behavioral clues about what is really going on. You know you can't listen to their nonsense. So you learn to read the situation.

Pay Attention to the Men Behind the Curtain
I don't mean to minimize the personal suffering of people coping with mental illnesses. People with personality disorders suffer, and I am not hardened to that suffering. I just know what I can fix and what I can't.

For instance if, like I did, you have a mom with a disordered personality you know that anything, no matter how small or petty, can turn into an occasion for drama and histrionics. Your attention is demanded on all these occasions--your total attention-- but it will never, ever be rewarded.

In fact, just as you are about to collapse from fatigue and confusion and throw up your hands, your attempts to 'help' end the mess and drama will be met with vitriol, blame, and spite. This makes sense once you understand that maintaining the chaos is the goal, not ending it. The entire crisis is just a ruse, a gimmick to suck you in and suck you dry.

After awhile, you learn to leave mom to it and let her describe your coldness to an endless parade of other marks who don't know her as well as you do.

My mother died nearly 30 years ago. From this distance I have a lot of compassion for her--her difficult upbringing, her fears and sorrows, her many humiliations. But up close and personal, while I was living with it, not so much.

Relatives are hard to deal with anyway, and we all have some madman or madwoman chained up in the attic (sometimes in our family it's me). But starting in January of 2017, a disordered personality became the leader of the free world.

Yikes.

That's not a new thing, but it's a new thing for the United States.

As a political strategy it was darkly brilliant.

Think of it: The richest people on earth freaked out when this dumpster-fire-clown-show was installed as King, but immediately afterward, while we are all having our souls sucked out reading his tweets and watching his antics and deciphering his populist word salads, these very same Uber-rich folks moved in and got busy robbing what few pennies we have left and plundering the planet, unmolested.

So we have to stop doing that. Stop watching the clown show, turn away from the dumpster fire, ignore the president's words and pay attention to the actions of those around him. Watch those around him very, very closely. 

You'll be amazed at what you see. Already some of his closest associates from his 'business' days are privately brokering a deal with the Ukraine that would install a Putin puppet as leader, giving these men a favored position from which to broker a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon and current Secretary of State, was all set, before US sanctions set were applied, to join with Putin on an oil deal worth billions of dollars to the both of them. Coincidentally, one of the first executive orders signed by the new president gave corporations the right to clandestinely pay off dictators of underdeveloped nations in order to secure access to oil, minerals, etc., within their boundaries.

And there's more. Much more.

Resistance in the Age of Crazy
None of this means resistance is futile. But it does mean that resistance, following the guidelines stated above, must be focused and simply stated, with easy to remember demands and clear consequences for when those demands aren't met.

In other words, when the government goes crazy, we have to go sane.

And here's the important part:

We can't expect that, even with our best, most disciplined efforts that these people will suddenly become pliable and responsive.

No, fuck no! These people are very rich and very crazy. They will stay that way. It works for them. And as for our efforts, they will of course hate us for trying.

The same is true of the president's followers. Stop trying to engage them, it can't be done, you will lose every time. Some people love constant drama and emergency. It releases them from any need to reflect or think or take responsibility for their own suffering in any way.

It's also enormously entertaining--at first. And even when it gets to be too much, it's too much in a pharmaceutical, self-medicating way--like too much ice cream, too much bacon, too much heroin.

What we can expect from focused resistance is that some of our needs may be met if we make big enough pests of ourselves.

Failing that, we will have to shoot these crazy rich people and poop on their lawns. (Anyway that's what usually happens historically speaking.)

Happily we do have some indication the focused pest strategy can yield results.

When the first act of Congress was to get rid of the Congressional Ethics Department, the phones in DC jammed up so bad they decided, "Oh never mind." When people started showing up at Congresspersons' offices, they started scheduling town hall meetings. When so many people turned out to protest the Muslim ban, three state attorneys sued to block it and won.

It's a lot of work, a lot of thinking things through, a lot of phone calls, a lot of protests, but what is the alternative? Yeah, that. So take care of yourself when you get tired.

It's going to be a long four years.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

White Power's Ugly Last Stand

Americans have been through a lot this year.

It's been especially hard on us because, for the past fifteen years or so, we as a people have become world famous mainly for 1) conspicuous material consumption, 2) overeating, and 3) bragging.

We also have a giant military and have been accused with some justification of being at the summit of a quest for empire. But that happens somewhere else while the rest of watch "Survivor."

Personally, I understand how eating and shopping can relieve chronic stress, (or at least seem to relieve it). I enjoy both of those activities. I'm no zealot. The biggest cause I've championed lately involved warning the world about *vegan baked goods*.

But then suddenly the 2016 elections were looming over us and all of our fear, dread, and loathing started ratcheting up by a factor of ten every week or so. For a solid year. More and more intense. By November 8th we didn't think it could get any worse.

Enter fat, comb-over Caligula stage far-right--A bloated, narcissistic orange demagogue who spent a solid year sucking so much air out of our cozy little room of a nation that half of us fell under his spell and immediately sold off our souls for more warm lies, while the other half plugged our ears and started singing "la la la" at full blast until, on that fateful November 9th, we woke the fuck up and started screaming for real.
Having fun yet?

A Buddhist aphorism observes that, "Everybody wakes up in hell."

It's true, I think.

Classically speaking, hell is just a synonym for 'cauldron': a fiery invitation to deep and painful transformation. You always have the option decline this invitation and go back to sleep, but if you go that way your dreams become more and more poisoned with echoes of suffering and pain.

The better but more challenging choice is to accept the invitation: to take a step forward, breathe. Then take another. Breathe.

Rinse and repeat for as long as it takes until you can take hell deep inside yourself, work on it, and spit it out as something kinder and gentler. Healing, even. It can happen, but not easily.

So here we are, five days into the reign of Hatey McHateyPants and already the U.S. looks and feels like some kind of bad reality-show/dystopian nightmare. Suddenly, without warning it feels like we all work up in some special American version of Hell.

But the truth is, it has always been thus.



Beautiful Dreamer/American Horror Story 

America has always been a beautiful dream unfolding beside a horrifying reality.

Four hundred years ago, the vast American forests and shorelines seemed to promise European settlers untold space and timber for homes, barns, farms, churches, businesses--and yet the unforgiving climate and the wildness of the land itself confounded these hopes in ways white people like to leave out when we tell the story.

For example, there is evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown, the first American settlement, a travesty built in a swamp. Fevers and other ills were harvested in the damp and heat, damp and cold, but not much else. When winter came the few settlers froze. The food vanished.

There are human bones at Jamestown that show gnaw marks from human teeth.

The first slaves were shipped to the Americas in 1619, about the same time that the Lord Mayor of London began to round up orphan children from the streets and send them to the American continent to work. It is doubtful these children even made it across the oceans. Because the ship captains were paid up front to transport prisoners (or orphans), it was easier to just throw them overboard early in the journey.

The first thieves and debtors sentenced to transportation met the same fate as the orphans. Only about 20% actually made it to an American port. Pressed by horrified members of the English middle class, the government eventually insisted that money per transportee be paid upon delivery of that laborer in one piece to an American land owner. Once that change was made, the numbers flipped and about 80% of the transported lived long enough to be shoved off a boat and put to work.

For awhile in the mid to late 1600s, slaves, transportees and indentured servants of various races were treated in similar ways and were able to help each other. However, plantation owners soon realized that slave labor was much cheaper than indentured servitude, and then the slave ships started arriving more and more frequently.

Even the Pilgrims we so revere in our beautiful dream about the first Thanksgiving did not escape  America's original sin. Puritans allowed themselves to own slaves if 1) the slave was captured in battle, or 2) if the person had sold him or herself into slavery under his or her own volition, or 3) if the person was a child of a slave.

The slave trade became so lucrative many major banks became investors. White people pushed westward, Indians were massacred, and dreams of a small plot of land and a home as often as not turned into nightmares of starvation, disease, or massacre.

I could go on. But you get the picture.


Wake up!

Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up 

Some white people seem to think that White Power is good for them, even if it is bad for everyone else. That is why political pundits are now busy telling us that Donald Trump won this election because Hillary Clinton wasn't nice enough to working class white men.

This is bullshit. 

Donald Trump won because a bunch of white men and their white Church-Lady wives decided to sell themselves to Satan and throw the rest of the country into the depths of Hell just so they could have a self-destructive racist temper tantrum.

Working class white guys are suffering, the pundits say.

Guess what? We're ALL SUFFERING.

Trump's constituency thinks that their suffering should come first, and also that anyone who gets attention or sympathy or help reduces the size of a finite, tiny pool of resources. They are playing a zero sum game that says any minority's gain is their loss.

In this twisted world, women's freedom reduces masculine authority. Freedom of religion threatens Christianity. LGBTQ agendas create rampant immorality that will result in a world where men suddenly go crazy and start sucking penises willy nilly, bringing about the collapse of civilization.

In their world, if Black Lives Matter then White Lives Don't Matter. If immigrants get health care, white children will starve. If black children get free oatmeal the economy will collapse.

The world of White Power is a world of perverse fear combined with self-righteous rage, and now, thanks to people who thought they'd "give Trump a chance" because they wanted "change" have now accomplished what no terrorist attack ever could: They've transformed the US into a fascist state.

Some of us can see this clearly.

We are the ones who are awake.

We now have a grave responsibility to the sleepers to face the fascist threat directly, to stand up, to speak out, to be willing to feel uncomfortable, to listen when our brothers and sisters speak their pain, to cry when we grieve, to show anger when faced with oppression and hate, to stand with the vulnerable and the targeted, and most of all, to survive.

This isn't complicated.

Remember: tolerating hate speech for the greater good is like being a little bit pregnant.

If you thought putting up with some ugly words was going to get you a better job, you're in for a nasty surprise.

If you knew that was bullshit all along, welcome to the resistance.

You may feel like everything depends on you now, like the whole world is suddenly on your shoulders. But that's only because it does, and it is.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.











Monday, October 10, 2016

Why We Need Politicians in American Politics

If you live in the U.S., the first thing you probably think you know about politics is that politicians are lying, corrupt bastards and the world would be a much better place without them.

Let's think that through for a few paragraphs, shall we?

It's true that politicians are often evasive and love to answer questions that have nothing to do with the question asked. It's also true that politicians can also be corrupt and greedy, or at least they can seem to be overly-focused on campaign money and political 'pork'-- that is, projects and laws that benefit only the people who live in their own districts and states.

Current common sense dictates that these qualities have damaged our nation so severely that we should now seek to elect only people of pure ideals and ideas, or businessmen, not politicians, and certainly not 'political insiders'--a term that can mean a lot of things but usually refers to a politicians who have been around Washington for many years.

I think that the second part of this phrase--the part that wants to clean up Washington by ridding it of nasty, murky politicians--is where common sense gets it dead wrong. 

Although it might sound strange in this acid historical moment, I would argue that what looks like evasiveness (lying) and greed (corruption) to the American public, is actually part of a whole set of political skills necessary to the process of getting anything done. By purifying government of people who know how to use these skills, we, the public, have created paralysis and division--so much paralysis and division that our government has ceased to function normally.

In short, we need politicians. Plug your nose if you must, but we need skilled politicians badly.

Politicians do the ugly, hard, thankless work of bargaining and negotiating that most of us do not want to even see much less do, and without them we are left with a bunch of egomaniac loudmouths who like to go on talk shows and cable news programs but don't do much else.

A few of these zealots (Ted Cruz, are your listening?) enjoy pitching infantile tantrums that shut down the government over figments of the public imagination but keep the representatives in the public eye. This tactic is even less helpful than simply blathering on about your high principles and refusing to compromise those principals while Rome burns down around you.

It's easy to see how after Nixon and Watergate we confidently ushered in this era of political purity.

It's somewhat harder to see how to rewind this particular tape and try something more traditional and boring.

The Art of the Deal in D.C.

Jimmy Carter makes the point that in any political negotiation, every faction has to feel like it is secretly winning. If one faction holds most of the cards, that winning faction has to leave an opening for the other side to back off gracefully and save face.

If this sounds complicated that's because it is, and not everyone is good at it.

If you are a businessman, you may be able to take a scorched earth attitude and push through hostile takeovers and humiliating deals that leave your opponent resentful and grinding an axe. But if you are a public servant and you behave this way, you soon find yourself isolated and unable to push through the simplest piece of legislation.

Business and public service are not the same thing. Business is about making money. Public service is about, well, serving the public--doing the greatest good for the greatest number, even if the action that accomplishes that is not the action that creates maximum financial profit.

Michigan elected a corporate businessman to be its governor in the last election. That catastrophic bit of wishful thinking resulted in the permanent poisoning of thousands of children in Flint, MI in an effort to save, literally, a few cents per gallon on public water.

From the point of view of a corporation, which has very limited liability for such things, this was a smart move. From the point of view of public service, it was an unforgivable betrayal.

One Man's "Pork" is Another Man's Paycheck

For decades Alaska's Ted Stevens specialized in "pork", doing so well at bringing home the bacon for his constituents that Alaskans received yearly checks from the oil industry instead of paying state taxes. That is what got Stevens reelected term after term.

Stevens' focus on political pork is an extreme example, but it illustrates how what looks excessive at the national level looks quite different locally. Before Washington became so divided and dysfunctional, pork was one of the most powerful chips in getting landmark legislation through Congress.

Lyndon Johnson used promises of pork to get the Civil Rights Act passed. Lincoln used the same technique to pass the Emancipation Proclamation. In the process of negotiating these historic changes for America, both Presidents kept many cards close to their chests, and both were ready and able to politically push their fellow poker players against the wall if necessary.

Politics is a game, and the game has rules, and you can cheat and win. But if you throw the game out and just beat your chest in fury, nothing gets done.

Chasing Out the Good Guys

For the last decade the Republican party has been purging its members of moderates and insiders, men (mostly men) who had years of successful across-the-aisle politicking under their belts. Intelligent men respected by both sides have walked away in disgust.

In Indiana, where I was born, the exodus started with Evan Bayh and continued on to Dick Lugar, a man so universally respected on the topic of foreign policy that members of both parties relied on his expertise. These men were replaced with Tea Party zealots, newcomers who believe being a good representative means compromising nothing. The GOP now even includes Congressional representatives who don't believe in government.

Lest Democrats get too smug here, it's worth noting that the Democratic Party shows signs of following the same self-destructive pattern, insisting on the ejection of "insiders" (read: people who know how to get shit done) with politically correct satisfactorily left-leaning speech givers. Witness the Bernie or Bust phenomenon during the current Presidential campaign, a movement that became so insistent on ideological purity that Bernie himself was no longer good enough.

Reality is Not a Reality Show

Reality shows are cheap, filled with drama, and not much happens in them. Their main appeal is spectacle. Viewers get to watch people behaving outrageously and often cruelly and best of all, to feel superior to the people on the show. 

Reality, on the other hand, is expensive. Reality sucks the life out of everyone sooner or later, and that is why people cluster together in communities--so the strong can help the weak, knowing that other strong members will be there for them when their hard times come. To negotiate reality, as opposed to a reality show, we really are stronger together, but working together is hard.

If you think working with other people isn't hard, join any committee formed to accomplish anything, and see how that works out for you. I once was put in charge of a community that was to make PNB sandwiches and lemonade for a street fair. The internal discussion on how to get this done got so heated and acrimonious that after many, many hours of fruitless arguing one member mutinied and ordered all of it catered before anyone could stop her.

I could have made fifty PNB sandwiches and 5 gallons of lemonade for under twenty bucks in an hour or so, but we had to do it together, so we spent over $100 in the end.

You Monster, You Miscreant, You Public Servant!

So many surreal political moments have been floating by lately that I'm kind of losing track of them all, but one of the weirdest was surely the way Donald Trump kept flinging the ultimate insult at Hillary Clinton in the second televised debate. Not that she was married to a hound. Not that she set up her own email server. But that she had been working hard behind the scenes in Washington DC, doing the grunt work, the negotiating, the behind the scenes politicking that almost no one knows how to do anymore for THIRTY YEARS!!

He said this over and over again, and it started to make me a little woozy. There was a time when pointing out a public servant's longevity in DC would have been the highest praise and most genuine compliment. But we are now living in the age of the Reality Show, not actual reality, a time when competence in public service is considered a liability.

I don't have all the answers. In fact, I hardly have any answers. But I do think I have a sense of what the right questions are, and I do believe too many voters are not asking them.

I would also say, if you don't like the government you have, then step up and get involved in government.

Don't want to do that? Too messy? Too corrupt and smelly and time consuming?

Then maybe think about voting for people who are experienced in politics, not just good at shooting off their mouths.

You don't have to have a beer with them or even like them.

You just have to go to the polls and make an informed choice based on experience and facts.









Sunday, March 13, 2016

Five Good Reasons Why Donald Trump Will Never Be President

The past few days have been tough on just about everybody who pays even passing attention to media. 

In case you've been living in a cave under a mountain in Antarctica, what's got people stirred up lately is Donald Trump, the loudmouth Cheeto-Colored drunk at the end of the bar who decided late last year to run for President, just for shits and giggles. 

Well, it turns out he's pretty good at whipping up a certain sort of American person; so good at whipping these people up in fact that his rallies have been getting more and more unapologetically violent and more and more reminiscent of a phenomenon specific to the fall of Weimar Germany, circa 1933 and after. 

I admit it got to me too, especially the mess Trump created, on purpose, in Chicago Saturday evening March 12th.  As I write this, Trump is threatening to send "his people" to rallies for Bernie Sanders, a not at all veiled threat that gives his Trump-shirted devotees yet another green light to create chaos, do bodily harm, and spread hate. 

But I've had a day to calm down and take some deep breaths, and listen to me carefully:

Donald Trump will never be President of the United States. 

Why not, you ask?

Hey, I'm glad you asked that question!

Here's five good reasons why not:

1) Trump is courting the wrong demographic. Pissed off racist white people are now, believe it or not, in the minority in the U.S. The United States is already solidly multicultural, and within the next ten to fifteen years many academic types predict that there will be more brown people than white people here. Those of us who live and work in cities are not alarmed about this--we work and live side by side with the very people Trump demonizes. Neither time nor history is on Trump's side. He's talking to the past, literally beating a dead horse.

2) Millennials own the future, and Trump is the antithesis of what Millennials want. Most young people today know that their parents and grandparents generation pretty much wrecked the economy and the political system, which you might expect to make them bitter, but no. Millennials have embraced multiculturalism, racial equality and harmony, flexible work and gender roles, ecological responsibility, and creative endeavors. Trump is old. He's ugly. And his fans are longing for the bad old days. Not a good way to get the kids on board.

3) Trump can't do any of the things he's promising. Mexico is not going to build a wall all the way across the Southern border. The very experienced and often brilliant generals in the US military are not going to follow the orders of a demagogue. (Many have already said so.) Half of the country is not going to listen to him, even if by some cataclysmic accident he 'became' President. He can't govern. He can only shoot off his mouth and lose his temper.

4) This is not the Weimar Republic, this is the United States. Most of us came here to get away from the kind of government that Trump wants. Our ancestors (sometimes our parents or even us) took grave risks and started with nothing to speak of, just to escape that kind of totalitarian nightmare. Another large portion of the US population was brought here against their will to build this country and pick its cotton and clean its homes and more, only gaining their freedom after hundreds of years of slavery and abuse. We remember the bad times, and we don't want them back. We won't have that.

5) The RNC doesn't have to give the nomination to Trump. A brokered convention could hand the nomination to anyone, regardless of how many delegates Trump gets and regardless of how much spittle his deranged fans leave on windows and camera lenses. And if Trump, lacking the nomination, runs as an Independent, great. Split the vote, end of story, the Democrat wins.

So that, my friends, is that. 

This Trump BS has really gotten in the way of my Rick Snyder vendetta, and things at the state level with Governor Mealy Mouth and his progress in not fixing Flint are really heating up in dramatic ways that deserve way more attention than bloated middle-aged demagogues who import trophy wives from Slavic countries. 

Oh yes, and,

6) Mrs.Trump as First Lady? Girlfriend, please

Might as well have Kanye West as Secretary of State. 
Kim Kardashian as Head of FEMA. 
Bruce Jenner as Vice President. 

So let the press keep coming all over itself while covering this maniac. 

The rest of us have real problems to deal with, and they need our immediate and focused attention.

Monday, February 1, 2016


 How Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder, Committed Political Suicide and Woke Up America.



By now we all know, from a variety of sources' that Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder, is the man who engineered the poisoning of the water in the city of Flint, via a succession of incompetent, appointed(not elected) city managers. None of these city managers was remotely responsible to the good citizens of Flint, but served at the pleasure of the Governor. His desk is where the buck definitely stops.

 Though there are loud calls for his resignation and a gaggle of pending lawsuits, he's still on the job.   He hasn't figured out yet that, in a democracy, elected officials are responsible to the people who elect them. I can only hope that he will eventually get the memo, resign from office and toddle back to corporate America from whence he came. Some powerful people in high places are calling him a criminal, and even want to see him do jail time.  On the face of it, the slammer seems like a good place for him. Certainly his dream of capping a successful business career with a few years of public service in his home state has gone down the drain ( to coin a phrase).  He'll be lucky not to be tarred and feathered and driven out of town the way things are going.

Here's what happened in a nutshell. To save money, Governor Snyder signed off on a plan to change Flint's water supply from pristine Lake Huron, to the less than healthy but much closer Flint River. Water from the new source began to flow into Flint's homes and its remaining businesses at the end of April,2014. Problem is, the water was toxic, the pipes carrying it corroded, and what came out was brown and full of lead and other goodies. Consumers began complaining just days after the switch but city officials turned a deaf ear. Protests grew. There were demonstrations. State and City officials went into defensive mode. The water may look bad and smell worse, but it definitely is safe to drink they assured worried citizens.  Yeah-- sure. Drink that brown stuff. Bathe your kids in it. Cook with it.  It is totally safe.  NOT.  An estimated 8000 children under the age of six will live with the lifelong effects of lead poisoning in Flint because of Governor Snyder's decision and the subsequent state and city cover up. Talk about having the blood of innocents on your hands.....so much for Rick Snyder's political ambitions.

  By August of 2014, Flint's water supply had tested positive for e coli and citizens were advised to boil it before using. By the beginning of 2015, the water was testing positive for lead and other carcinogens and people were getting mad. .  The mayor and city council were still saying it was safe to drink( although now it turns out that bottled water was being trucked into Flint for state workers at this time. Nice, eh?) Calls for the governor's resignation got louder. By the end of 2015, President Obama weighed in and declared Flint a Federal Emergency .  Access to bottled water, testing kits and the like were provided to residents and Governor Snyder finally apologized for the whole mess and announced that Flint will soon return to Lake Huron water at a cost of 12 million dollars.  I really do not understand why this man has not yet resigned.  Can he possibly think that he has a political future after bungling so badly? Flint is the canary in the coal mine of crumbling American infrastructure.  Watch this CNN video and weep. 



All across America, an antiquated infrastructure is crumbling.  The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our dams, bridges, roads, and public transportation a resounding D+ in its most recent report.Where  I live in central New Jersey, the bridges and highways are only marginally safe for the morning commute.New Jersey is a leader in polluted industrial sites as well. New York City has three 19th century water tunnels which bring fresh water into the city. The clock is ticking on those babies while the politicians haggle about replacement.  It is ticking as well on the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, Manhattan's lifeline to the mainland.  Our nation's trains run on track that was laid out in the 1870's and the service sucks when compared to any European or Asian country.  Ditto our airports.  We're great at building bridges to nowhere in Alaska, but decent public transportation? nah.Where's the short term profit in that?

A decade ago,my local municipal water company was sold to United Water, itself a subsidiary of a massive, multi national corporation based in France.  A couple of years ago they put new smart meters in all the basements in town and beefed up the water storage supply.  Since then,  my water rates have increased...a trend I expect to continue. This is not a municipal authority. It is a multi-national, profit making, corporation.  There is nobody to complain to except their customer service.The fox is guarding the hen house again and the one percent is happy with its dividends. The customer is a profit opportunity, not a tax-paying co- owner of the business.

Flint's water crisis is a warning for the rest of us.  Let's get our house in order. It is amazing that so little time is being spent by a broadcast media seduced by the phony glitz of Presidential campaigning on the disaster in Flint.  It is more surprising still that the man who caused it all is still in office and not being held accountable. I hope he will be before this is over.  In the meantime,  Wake up my fellow Americans, the clock is ticking.  The next water crisis could be yours.

photo Credit:  DonkeyHotey, Flickr



Thursday, January 28, 2016

Flint Michigan: Urban Disaster, or Just Good Corporate Governance?

Michigan Politicians
When Rick Snyder, Michigan's former CEO & self-professed 'Nerd' governor discovered that his personal decisions were directly responsible for turning Flint, Michigan's water supply into a toxic, lead-infused mess, he took immediate action (well…two years late), the same kind of immediate action that any powerful, effective CEO would take in such a situation:

He hired two new PR firms and conceded at a national press conference that the situation in Flint would "probably be a stain on (his) legacy."

Yikes. 

Priorities, huh? Good thing he got right on that.

Actually, by revealing his priorities in such a bald and tone-deaf way, Governor Snyder unintentionally shone a surgical-wattage light on why good governance and good corporate management are not the same thing, nor should they be the same thing.

No matter how many political sound bytes we hear to the contrary, being a successful businessman is not a credential for being a decent public servant. 

It's worth doing a little thought experiment at this point:

Just imagine, if Rick Snyder could do this much violence to the people of Michigan in four years just by running it like an efficient corporation, what could Donald Trump do to the U.S. over the same period of time by applying the same methods?

If that thought doesn't scare the pants off you, keep reading.

The Rick Snyder Guide to Ridding Your State of Pesky Poor People

A lot of political progressives believe that corporations are immoral and evil, but corporations are not immoral by design. Corporations are amoral. The purpose of organizing a business as a corporation is not to create evil but to generate the most profit with the least liability. 

A corporation is essentially a profit-making machine. Should this machine end up taking harmful actions in the pursuit of profit, the individual people running the corporation can't be blamed because the corporation did the harm, not the people. The corporate structure protects the individuals running it. 

Corporations may or may not be required to redress those harmed by their actions, but often, even legal consequence turns out to be inconsequential. How badly was Wall Street harmed after nearly tanking the world economy? World Con? Dow Chemical?

You get my drift.

Corporations may do evil in the pursuit of profit, but that's more of a side effect, not an expressed intent. 

Running a government like a corporation therefore means valuing what and who is profitable above all else, and taking no personal responsibility for harmful outcomes in the process of applying those values. Rick Snyder is doing exactly that and he is doing it consistently and well.

Sadly, representative government gets in the way of efficient corporate management, especially when it comes to unprofitable segments of the governed. Immediately recognizing this troubling conflict of interest between government and good corporate management, Rick Snyder decided to simply wave the rights of citizens in poor cities and instead appoint his own city managers to take over and make all their decisions for them.

OK, the jury is still out on whether that is even constitutional (because so far there hasn't been a jury or a constitutional inquiry), but Snyder did it anyway. 

When a statewide ballot initiative calling for the repeal of the city manager provision passed overwhelmingly in the last election, Snyder and the GOP-controlled legislature changed a few phrases of the old law and simply reinstated it under a different name, immediately. 

So, if you live in Michigan and your city is poor, you have no rights. Sorry. 

This policy had far-reaching effects almost as soon as Snyder took office, and not just for cities.

School teachers instantly became the target of brutal cost/benefit analyses and many teaching positions were eliminated in poor cities and towns across Michigan. State employees similarly became the butt of severe ridicule and their access to unions, pensions, and decent wages was slashed. 

Benton Harbor, a city consisting pretty much entirely of desperately poor blacks had its local government shut down and taken over by a state-appointed city manager in 2008. That city manager decided that what would really help the poverty stricken people of Benton Harbor would be to sell their Lake Michigan access and empty land to a private developer. 

That developer is currently building an exclusive private golf resort with an expensive beachfront hotel on land that once belonged to the citizens of Benton Harbor. 

Benton Harbor's citizens will be priced out of that resort and that golf course. The likelihood that they will be employed in these exclusive developments is not looking good either. 

Back before the days when we thought corporations and governments were the same thing, that used to be called a 'land grab'. Now it's just an example of maximizing your profit margin: giving to the profitable the spoils of the profit-less

No one should be surprised that Rick Snyder's city managers are people he knew from his CEO days, his friends and cronies and familiars. The fact that his CEO days were at Gateway, that 90's computer retailer that sold desktop PCs packed in witty cow boxes seems not to matter. 

Gateway is long gone, sold to China, and the cow box thing was kind of stupid. 

The point is, if you are a CEO of something, even outsourced cow boxes, people figure you know what you are doing, even if all you know how to do is delegate and hire PR firms.

Maybe we need to start examining this government=business equation more critically.

Eat the Poor

Have you noticed that, except for random general complaints against food stamp recipients, no one talks about poverty anymore? 

Most Americans today think of themselves as "middle class", and this seems to be so whether they make $12,000/year or $120,000 or $400,000; whether they are employed, between jobs, retired, or other; whether they live in shared efficiency apartments or trailers or gated communities. 

The reason everyone has decided to be middle class these days is that we've pretty much accepted the proposition that poverty is shameful.

We don't talk about poverty, and we most especially don't talk about our own poverty, because we feel ashamed. Good hard working people are rewarded with wealth, right? So if you don't have enough, you must not be enough.

This shaming of the poor is great for rich people and even better for corporations. You don't have to pay people well or treat people well if they have already proven their unworthiness by having no money. 

When a government-run-like-a-corporation steals land from the poor, or takes away their rights to representative government, or poisons their water to save a paltry amount of money then refuses to repair the damage done, no guilt or liability is admitted, because these people, these poor people, are not profitable concerns. They have no wealth, they generate no profit. 

And what's more, most of them are black.

Swift's Modest Proposal doesn't read as satire in such a world, it reads as a poor business plan, since even the corporate elite have a negative reaction to consuming cooked babies. 

Why should they have to consider such a thing?

They can afford that  $45/pound steak and the right wine to go with it. 

And the poor?

Never mind cake: Let them drink the water in Flint.


As Flint Goes, So Goes the Nation

I live in West Michigan, roughly 130 miles southwest of Flint. The city where I live is also an aging industrial center that has recently seen jobs dry up and blow away, specifically northward, to the GOP-leaning city of Grand Rapids. 

It is another unintended artifact of corporate governance that the cities most likely to be unprofitable are also the ones most likely to vote Democratic: Flint, Detroit, Kalamazoo.

I retired at 62 when I could no longer get a decent job to save my life, and that makes me just another unprofitable person in an unprofitable city in Michigan, but that, for me, was an upgrade, since before that I lived in Indiana. 

A couple years ago, the worst inland oil spill of all time happened where I live now, and not long after a half-assed clean up effort, the corporation responsible for that spill hired a PR firm to make TV spots about how the oil spill actually made the rivers and wilderness areas better than before. 

Nothing like a buttload of sticky, toxic, tar sand oil spilled all over field and stream to improve the beauty of nature, huh?

America has become increasingly corporate over the last three decades, and that corporatization has mostly benefited the super-rich, who are now the super-duper-rich and getting richer by minute. 

The rest of us, not so much.

Millions of middle class people are falling into poverty, while clinging to the middle class title to cushion the anger and shame. 

I didn't like working for corporations, and I like being governed by them even less. All over the U.S., infrastructure is crumbling at an astonishing rate. In some places, like Flint MI, that decay is helped along by callous GOP governors. In others, like Porter Ranch CA, amoral corporations who only care about money neglect toxic situations of their own making. 

In still other places, like San Francisco, the new techie elite are pushing people out of their own neighborhoods and turning entire cities into expensive Whole Foods-Starbucks-Sushi-bar meccas accessible only to young hip millionaires. 

The midwest may be on the crest of this new and destructive wave, but it's what's on the menu for everyone who didn't inherit a whole lot of Benjamins. If that seems like a good thing to you, by all means, continue carrying on as if you are perfectly safe and everything is fine. 

If not, you might want to think about making some noise. 

Like, now.
  

Friday, January 15, 2016

The NPR White People's Introduction to Poverty

According to several recent reports on NPR, middle class white people are falling into poverty at a rate unseen since the days when children still worked 18 hour days in garment factories and gentlemen wore spats. 

As I write this, in January of 2016, expensive prescription opioids are being thrown over for cheap heroin faster than your grandmother can flip flap jacks; artisan meth manufacturing has become a growth industry; over half the US population takes anti-anxiety/depression meds (until they can't afford health insurance anymore); and the most suicidal group of people in America are now middle-aged Caucasian men. 

If you listen to a lot of NPR (I do), then there's a real good chance you already are a white person, and you might think, wow, this is news? You might think you'd damn well know if you were falling into poverty or not, thank you very much. Falls of any kind suck and most human beings do notice them, even white human beings. 

But you'd be wrong. 

Many of the universal features of poverty are more or less unknown to middle class white people, and the few aspects of poverty we do understand tend to get chalked up to someone else's laziness or lack of character. So when these things happen to US, after we feel we've been GOOD and done everything RIGHT, it seems that we freak out comically and grab for the hypodermic or start attending Trump rallies and taking over bird sanctuaries. 

It's not that we are bad people. We are not bad. 

It's just that many of us have never been poor before. We take it personally because it's new and we don't understand what it means. We think it's about us. Isn't everything about us?

We're just ignorant, that's all. But we can learn. I believe we CAN learn. 

I personally have been poor more than I've been anything else in my life, and I don't let it freak me out anymore. All you really have to do to stay mellow is recognize that you ARE poor and that it just is what it is. It really isn't about you. It's about other people hogging all the goddamn money--something they won't ever ever quit doing just because you don't like it.

Once you realize this, once you learn to go with the flow and just lean into it, you can even grab a chunk of serenity now and then during the giant lull between your shitty temp jobs, should you be so lucky to get any. 

So if you are white and confused, please don't jump off a bridge or start foaming at the mouth at Mexican dishwashers just because new, unpleasant things are happening to you. Instead, check out the following list, and if you recognize yourself in more than one of these normal facets of poverty, take a deep breath and adjust your expectations to zero. 

You'll feel a lot better, I promise.

So here goes.

You might actually be poor if:

You've ever pilfered toilet paper from public stalls or napkins from fast food places so you can wipe your ass until payday. 

You enjoy a filling Sunday meal composed of three different starches. (Noodles over mashed potatoes with biscuits! Beans with rice and cornbread! Boxed Mac & Cheese with white bread!)

Some of your favorite sweet treats contain no actual food. 

You can't get a bank account and have to cash your sporadic paychecks at storefront loan shops.

You rent sleeping space in your step-uncle's trailer but some other guy is always in your bed.

You shop for new furniture and household items on trash day.

You are an adult person and have more than four roommates. 

Your TV only gets three channels and two of them are in Spanish.

Your last three jobs required a hairnet, a stupid hat, or a name tag that says "I like to help!"

You've ever taken expired veterinary meds instead of going to the doctor.

You've had your electricity or water shut off more than once.

Crack addicts won't break into your house because they are afraid you'll rob them.

You buy black market laundry detergent.

You sell black market laundry detergent.

You have four jobs and three of them are conducted out of your garage.

You dream of the day when you can move back into a luxurious manufactured home community.

You think the women shopping at Walmart are hot.

Your idea of a romantic evening involves a candlelight spaghetti dinner with canned Ragu sauce, Velveeta, and a fresh bottle of Wild Irish Rose. 

You think that someday you really might win the lottery. 

Your beloved is missing more than three teeth. 

You consider ketchup packets and soda crackers to be versatile cooking staples. 

I could go on, but I think you get the drift. 

Maybe none of this seems all that funny, or maybe you are still clinging to the delusion that "middle class" refers to any person making between $12,000 and $240,000 a year. If that's how it is, carry on, don't mind me. I'm just a bitch.

But if, on the other hand, you are starting to realize that the other side of 'lonely at the top' is 'crowded at the bottom', then pull up a chair, pop a malt liquor, and pass the soda crackers. 

Mumbly peg anyone?