Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why All the Anxiety (and Self-Destruction)

Cold Hard Fact: Incidents of chronic anxiety, clinical depression, and suicide are taking place at epidemic rates in America.


Is it because we are a nation of weaklings who can’t deal with ‘real life’ without resorting to freaking out, falling into deep depressions or killing ourselves?

Or is it in our collective DNA, or ‘something in our water’?

Or could this thing we call ‘real life’ actually be a collective cultural nightmare we’ve unconsciously constructed by repeating the same actions over and over that make us feel anxious and self-destructive?

The highest rates where these chronic ailments and lethally self-destructive behaviors take place is among two (relatively) small but important segments of our nation’s population: our military personnel (including their families) and the working poor and unemployed.     

Unfortunately, too often these two groups converge.

But taken separately, the first group, active and former military, can hardly be blamed personally for showing the wounds of the physical and emotional damage they experience while defending our nation on the  front lines. There does not exist, nor will there ever exist, a pill that can make one immune from the effects of partaking in the horrors of war.    

But if we are going to continue to ask, and depend on, literally 1% of our population to physically defend  the rest of us, shouldn’t the other 99% be willing to do whatever it takes, or costs, to insure that they are taken care of when they come home – including, especially, receiving counseling and jobs that pay a living wage?

Now imagine yourself in the latter category, trying to support yourself and a family by making a wage at or near the national minimum ($7.25/hr.)?  I hope you have a good imagination, because you simply  cannot do it in realty.

In 20012, it cost the US economy (its taxpayers) more than 40 billion dollars in uninsured medical care to cover the cost of ‘collateral damages’ done to people (inlcuding many veterans) living at or below poverty in America.   

Would it not be cheaper, and more humane, for us to simply provide proper care for our veterans and provide livable wages to our working poor.  It would cost less in the long run, and not have such a devastating effect on our fellow citizens.      

Please read and consider signing the petition below:

Help  Reduce Poverty & Homelessness

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Human Cost of Maintaining Our Economy & the Creative Challenge to Change It

Contrary to some modern myth-making that suggests our economy was created organically by ‘market forces’, (or 'blessed' winds of fate) the economy we find ourselves in is the one we have created for ourselves.  

If it were a purely free market capitalist system, we would not have government financed assistance programs for the aged, unemployed and disabled;  and if our economy was engineered exclusively by socialist dictates,  the ‘super-wealthy’ would no longer be welcomed here, and the ‘horse-trading’ of our basic living commodities, including money itself, would not be tolerated.

We have a hybrid system that combines elements of a variety of economic practices and social ideals.  

Which is my point: it’s an amalgam, and a peculiarly American one that we have collectively created over time. As such, does it directly reflect our attitudes about how an economy and nation should function?

To me, it seems there is a fundamental contradiction between the values most Americans maintain and promote, and the economic system we find ourselves in. On the one hand, when there is a major catastrophe taking place in the world -- be it an earthquake, tsunami, or other form of natural disaster – Americans, through their government and individually, are usually the first and most generous providers of aid. 

Even while, at the same time, there exists an ongoing tragedy of catastrophic proportion taking place right here in our own nation, affecting the lives of one out of every six Americans. It’s a problem that we largely ignore and deny, squabble over briefly during election cycles, but do nothing to fix: domestic, American poverty. And the real potential social, political and economic cataclysm is that it’s getting worse, not better.

Right now, there are more than 40 million Americans living at or below the official threshold of poverty; that’s nearly 20 percent of the population. These are the highest rates of poverty since The Great Depression; and, from the 1990s until the present, the most dramatic reversal of fortunes in our history.   

If you’d like to throw around a political football trying to guess at the causes for this dilemma, go right ahead. But the fact of the matter is that this crisis is devastating the lives of millions of Americans, and at the same time depleting the government’s financial resources and helping it to rack up unprecedented and arguably insurmountable debt.

So who or what is benefiting from this socially bankrupt and financially bankrupting situation?

Statistics bear out that it’s the wealthiest Americans who are benefiting the most by owning larger and larger portions of the nation’s economic pie.  Plus, recent judicial legislation has virtually allowed the wealthy to own politicians outright.  The system is, undoubtedly, a mess. And, during this particular swing of the political pendulum, political and economic power appears to be moving decidedly in favor of people who already own wealth.   

But the wealthy do not as yet live here by themselves (or with the rest of us in debtor prisons).
This, I feel, must make one wonder whether or not the wealthy know how the rest of America lives? I would argue that a central reason why the problem of more and more Americans living in poverty is being ignored, and is persisting and growing worse,  is that most wealthy Americans are oblivious of the devastating effects living in poverty has on their fellow citizens.

One reason for this – despite the fact that anyone who has not been living in a cave knows about the glaring growing disproportionate gap between the poor and wealthy in America – is that no one,  rich or poor, wants to be reminded of it all the time.

Another reason, I observe, is that we are becoming an increasingly segregated population: the ‘haves’ are safely ‘gated'  in communities among themselves, while the’ have-nots’ flail around where and if they can. For the most part, wealthy and poor Americans live in separate worlds within the same nation. This is not a successful blueprint for maintaining a healthy society, democratic or otherwise.    

I propose that what is needed are not more stats and facts on the issue, or political discussions, legislation,  and 'resolutions'; but more real human interaction with one another and increased actual interface with the problem.

How do we do that?

 First, it starts with individual initiative. Whatever your view is on the subject, express it. If enough people agree with you, that will then lead to group endeavors and eventually the formation of a social movement. This is also something Americans do peculiarly well:  we are very good at expressing ourselves individually, and creatively, and in the process setting in motion movements that in time lead to progressive changes in our society.  

I believe that the social movement of our time, the one that affects more Americans than any other, is addressing the issue of the increasing numbers of Americans living in poverty -- before the problem expands, destroying us individually and socially and bankrupting us financially.    

If you agree (or disagreed) express yourself!

(One small way that you can begin to express yourself is to review the following petition:)

Help  Reduce Poverty & Homelessness

Saturday, February 9, 2013

An Ode to the Petition Slinger

The idea of creating a petition to reform some aspects of Social Services did not come to me until I received a suggestion to write one from -- the petition-initiating branch of the populist progressive group

So now that I've agreed to launch it, what do I hope to get from doing so?

In a word, CLOUT.

Okay, then why do I want CLOUT and what do I expect to do with that?

First of all, it is very difficult for a simple private citizen like myself to get the attention of the politicians and bureaucrats who run a large entity like Social Services. (Throwing a brick at their window didn't help -- but that's another story/play...).

Now, the above mentioned 'Pols' and  'Crats' make a fairly decent income for running Social Services.   I, the petition-slinger, have no interest in doing their jobs for them for free (nor would I want to do it even for money). Nor do I want to get personally involved in the homelessness situation (again).  I'll explain that shortly. 

A person working in/for the Social Services system is not in a position, nor does he or she have the power, or CLOUT, to initiate changes.  If you have ever had the pleasure of being in the Emergency Services office of Social Services, then you know that the people working there feel pretty much like they are the small band of Injuns getting overwhelmed and run over by the Calvary in an epic John Houston Western.   Reform What?!

Those who work there also have never been on the other side -- receiving Social Services. They know how to dole out what the state has to offer someone in an emergency situation, and how to smile and say 'Good Luck', or 'Have a Nice Day,'.  But they have no actual idea of what it would be like to try to not only survive on the assistance given, but, and even more importantly, to try to get one's life back on track so you won't be visiting them again -- soon, or ever. (Now, that's a Nice Day!)

So the social worker doing the ground work is too overwhelmed by the sheer number of people they have to serve in order to have time to think about how to change things. Plus, they don't know what to change because they have never experienced what it is that might need reforming ( or changing). And certainly the higher up politicians and bureaucrats don't have any better perspective on the situation.

So then who or what is to step in?  'It's a bird, it's a plane...'. Nope. Wrong movie again. It's your humble petition-slinging private citizen.  

And how did the petition-slinger get such a special perspective? Well, this petition-slinger also happens to be an author, and perhaps a bit of a masochist, because he wrote a book on the subject: An Odyssey in the Great American Safety Net. So if you enjoy gory details, read that; but suffice to say, as the title of the book indicates, that the petition-slinger has first-hand knowledge of the workings of Social Services. (Or as Jimmy Hendricks would put it:  He's Experienced.) 

But as this petition-slinger wrote earlier, he does not want to either work for Social Services or be personally involved with the homeless.  Well, that certainly deserves some explaining?

In a nutshell, (again I refer you to the book if you prefer the fruit of the nut) if you've ever lived through it --an 'Emergency' -- you do not want to revisit it, up close and personal.  It is simply not healthy to do so.  

Which gets us back to the petition. If the petition-slinger can get enough signed petitions to earn some CLOUT,  he can then, from a safe personal distance, explain to the 'Pols & 'Crats' about some very simple changes they could initiate that would allow the state to get more bang for its bucks, and those in need to get more realistic and fruitful help.  

Here's the petition. Please consider signing it and passing it along:

Help Improve Social Services to Reduce Homelessness

Thank you.

The Petition-Slinger.