Monthly Archives: October, 2009

Valuing Himself

If the name ‘Levi Johnston’ rings a bell with you, you might be guilty of reading the ‘tabs’ when you’re stuck in line at the supermarket.

Unlike the women in the ‘spas’, he is not risking arrest for selling sex, because it’s ‘Playgirl’ magazine. Rumors are it’s the Full Monty. It’s art. Or literature. Or gender-studies research. Or a political manifesto. Or a triumph of marketing. God bless America. Enjoy your fifteen minutes Levi, eventually you are going to have to get a job.

Change the Mission, Declare Victory, Move On

Three years ago a gathering of diverse groups and individuals formed the Coalition Against Human Trafficking. A year of work resulted in a bill against trafficking persons, and proposed amendments being debated in the legislature would strengthen that bill to offer better protections to minors.

The law sits unused. In hard financial times, with a Governor who has declared illegal immigrants to be the cause of all the state’s problems, where is the political will to rescue victims?

Much easier to go after the ‘spas’–the most visible face of prostitution in Rhode Island. It has worried me from the first that the workers in them– almost always female and Asian, had no voice in the effort to ‘rescue’ them. Now they are speaking, but too late. They are about to be put outside the law. Some of our legislators who have taken much unfair criticism for not ‘closing the loophole’ met with women to hear their opinions firsthand.

A woman who later identified herself only as Jasmine was among the most vocal.

Through a translator, she said she fell into prostitution three years ago after answering a newspaper ad.

“I was very hungry. That’s why I started,” said Jasmine, a petite woman of “older than 40” who wore a Ralph Lauren winter coat and now works at a Providence spa. “It’s better than stealing, or breaking the law. This is a way of life. There are people dependent on this.”

As Sunday’s meeting progressed, a collective sense of fear and frustration grew as the women realized an unwelcome political reality.

Many had hoped for a compromise that would protect them from jail. Jasmine suggested increased taxes on spas.

“For reasons that are hard for me to understand, the legislation is more harsh than we would like for the women,” Segal responded. “There’s still a small chance that the severity could be lessened… But you need to understand that’s a small chance.”

So it’s a case of bait and switch. We wanted to prosecute trafficking, we wanted to stop crimes like extortion, fraud, threats, kidnapping, rape and murder. Heinous crimes that urgently need to be prosecuted. Instead we get a law to arrest women.

There will be very few arrests of customers, because it will be almost impossible to prove the crime. When the city of Providence wanted to stop streetwalking, it was relatively simple to have undercover policewomen identify men who solicited them for sex. They didn’t have to entrap. These losers were cruising around bothering everyone. That’s why they were a nuisance.

But how on earth are they going to prove that a man solicits for sex indoors? Nope. They’re going to arrest some women and make a lot of lawyers richer.

The website of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RICAHT) hasn’t been updated since April. However, Happy Endings reports that RICAHT members were at the meeting to speak with the women. Prof. Donna Hughes started a splinter organization called Citizens Against Trafficking , allegedly because RICAHT didn’t support making prostitution illegal.

Meanwhile, real crimes of forced labor and forced prostitution are committed against those who have the least power to seek the protection of the law.

Polaris Project, a national organization against trafficking is active in Rhode Island, and they are working on behalf of victims, with many success stories. There are other advocacy organizations that reach out to people where they are, and quietly save lives. They will still be here when the moral crusade has declared victory and moved on.

Providence Daily Dose also covered the meeting.

Rhode Island’s Future has some constructive ideas on how to help trafficking victims.

In a related post on things no one should have to sell, ‘Desperately Selling a Kidney’. There’s always profit in finding new ways to use poor people as a human resource.

His Sister Was a Thespian

Some people don’t get satire, and some people don’t look things up. Here’s a good example of a political triple-cross–

Part of American political lore is the Smathers “redneck speech,” which Smathers reportedly delivered to a poorly educated audience. The “speech” was never given; it was a hoax dreamed up by one reporter. Smathers did not say, as was reported in Time Magazine during the campaign:

Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.[7]

The Smathers campaign denied his having made the speech, as did the reporters who covered his campaign, but the hoax followed Smathers to his death.[8]

You’d think it would be easier to avoid falling for this kind of thing now, with the internet and all, but some right-wing pundits got all excited about a Barack Obama college thesis that he never wrote. They failed to notice the word, ‘satire’ on the post.

Yes, Leeden and Limbaugh got all worked up, trashing the president for a paper he didn’t write in college 25 years ago, relying on a satirical blog post. And for real entertainment value, notice what Leeden and Limbaugh did when they realized they’d fallen for a dumb joke — they blamed Obama anyway.

Leeden conceded he was wrong and apologized, but added, “It worked because it’s plausible.” Limbaugh said the text he touted was fake, but it didn’t matter because, “I know Obama thinks it.” Yep, even when they’re wrong, it’s only because the president makes it easy for them to be confused.

Wow, that’s a way different approach to the facts. For instance, it’s plausible to me that Rush Limbaugh is a secret cross-dresser. If you can picture J.Edgar Hoover in a dress, Rush could be his sister. And I know he thinks about cross-dressing. I know what lots of people are thinking. It’s a superpower I have. So that is the same as knowing what he does. Right? But maybe he’s a thespian and he’s auditioning for a revival of ‘Some Like it Hot’. Or maybe it’s his sister who’s a thespian. If he has a sister. But don’t quote me on any of this. IT’S SATIRE.

War on Halloween–More Plastic

There’s a wonderful meditation on the circle of life circle of plastic by Mark Morford. He had an epiphany in a discount store while shopping for Halloween party decorations.

Who makes the plastic eyeballs full of bubble stuff that never actually work? What happens when we throw them away? Whence all these screaming skulls for $1.99?

Now I’m not going to do a Bill Donohue and get all aggrieved about the War on Samhain. ‘Put the ‘Sam’ back in Samhain’ doesn’t make sense in any language. And as much as I love my Celtic heritage, my passport doesn’t say ‘Irish’, even though I have relatives there. I’m made in America, where citizens– wherever born and of whatever religion, are citizens. Despite much grief and injustice in our founding. Despite the many ways and times we failed to live up to the ideals of justice and equality. Our aspirations exceed our reality, but we never codified a second class or a state religion.

If any Pagans are reading this, you will understand where I’m coming from. The following are Pagan ‘dog whistle’ phrases. We practice an Earth-based spirituality. Watch out for these subversive ideas–

When you put out the trash, it doesn’t just disappear.
Every manufactured thing you encounter was made by someone.
They needed materials to make it.
Also energy.
Don’t buy junk you don’t need at the super-cheap store. It was probably made in a factory where low-wage workers are hungry and tired and worried about what tomorrow will bring.
At this time of year the veils between the worlds are thin. Do you feel the fingerprints of someone a half a world away? She made this cheap ornament.
And speaking of disappearing trash– diamonds get stolen, plastic is forever.

As Mark Morford observes…

I envision some sort of massive, teeming, low-rise slab of a Chinese factory that was, not a month or two prior to my visit to this particular store, stamping out a zillion plastic skulls, shiny tinsel and all sorts of junk, then shipping it to the nearly 1,000 Targets in the United States. It is simultaneously a dazzling testament to the power of capitalism and human ingenuity, as well a thoroughly depressing statement of holy crap we are so screwed.

It’s also just another reminder that we are, as voracious consumers, still famously detached from the true source of our beloved stuff in nearly all we devour, from iPods to meatballs, T-shirts to coffee cups. The Green movement aside, we still give little thought to where those truckloads of goods come from and just what resources were used/abused in the making of it all, not to mention how our actions, purchases, decisions fit into a larger schema, how these tiny plastic spiders essentially connect me with the world. Amazing.

Well yeah, and don’t think that the people who labor on the assembly lines just disappear when the season is over. What goes around, comes around. America is a nation of workers who searched for an opportunity in the global market. All of us who are not Native American are descendants of immigrants, or descendants of those who were kidnapped from Africa to supply cheap labor. And, incredibly, Halloween is made in America. A minor Celtic custom that meets a need for a little misrule in a Puritan culture.

The best thing that Halloween can do is to slip though the noose of commercialization that strangles everything that is original in American culture and be its anarchic self.

Halloween was brought here by Irish workers who just needed to vent after a year of scrubbing floors and walking the beat. And the Irish do know how to party till dawn and still make it to Mass on time.

The Celtic wheel of the year is based on astronomy, (not to be confused with astrology). For skeptics, (you Unitarians know who you are) it can be a set of guideposts along the way, so that our time does not get past us. The Narragansetts, who can make a fair claim to being the Real Americans, observed the change of seasons. There’s something to be said for deities who can be depended on to bring the light and the dark on schedule.

The Christian calendar is not indifferent to the cycles of nature. The ‘prosperity gospel’ may preach that you can get something from nothing, but our ancestors lived closer to the land. They had to sweat for everything they ate. So after the harvest, they were careful. A feast on the cross-quarter day of November 1st, and then Advent– a time of moderation. A glorious celebration at Christmas/Solstice. Then the food is running short. It’s Lent. Bless the sacrifice we must make past the Equinox until Easter/Eostre marks the time that you can get some green sprouts from the Earth again.

November 1st is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic calendar. All Saints Day. A fine time to remember all those who have passed sainted by none but the One who knows all. And wouldn’t it be funny if–

Some of the saints were people who spent twelve hours a day, seven days a week making plastic eyeballs for Halloween? Some of those who were certain that they had title to a condo in the gated community of the Elect– find themselves in the slammer. With an ankle bracelet and a parole officer whose first language is not English. But Officer Heraclito is not a bad guy if you can just get past his voice mail. Meanwhile, you spend eight hours a day stamping out plastic eyeballs for the amusement of the heavenly host, who will recycle them back to you– and if Heraclito doesn’t call you back the fiends will send you to the level where the recycling is sorted.

Is that a scary Halloween story or what? So thanks to Mark Morford for opening the crypt of mindless consumption. And here’s a public option for Halloween fun. Drive out to a local farm and buy some local cornstalks. This is Rhode Island. Stop whining. You could walk there. Or just pile up your yard waste. Or hang a sheet over your porch rail. Bill Donohue will not give you an Imprimatur, so it’s okay to be messy.

Buy a pumpkin and decorate it. If you’re too tired to carve– there’s cake icing. Put together a really weird home-made costume. It’s your chance to be creative.

Enjoy. If October 31st is clement, it’s a certainty that following days will be colder. The veil between the worlds is thin. Look across and wave.

More on home-made costumes here.

Protecting the Family

Here is a fun story about defending the family by making changes that ease the burden on working parents. As the story explains, a cost-saving measure in the state offices in Utah has had an unexpected benefit for working parents. The intent was to save on energy costs, and the savings were smaller than expected. But they saved big on overtime pay.

SALT LAKE CITY – Closing Utah state offices on Fridays has delivered an unexpected bonus: a big saving on overtime pay.
New calculations show Utah saved $4.1 million in the first year of a government experiment with a four-day workweek.

A working mother is happy with the change to four ten-hour days…

[Carolyn] Dennis leaves the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan at 5:45 a.m. with her youngest, a 2-year-old, in tow. she drops him at a day care center near work in downtown Salt Lake City. Her husband, a business owner, drops the couple’s 7-year-old son, a first-grader, at school.
Dennis works from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., skipping lunch hour and leaving a half-hour earlier than normal. That allows her to cut down a long day for her youngest.

She spends the extra day catching up on housework. One other benefit is less time spent commuting and the cost of gas, cut by one fifth a week.

To help the family, look at the real needs of working parents– flex time, family leave, safe neighborhoods, good day care and schools. Hardworking parents like Mr. and Mrs. Dennis deserve a break.

Re-brand It

I think some of the resistance to the Public Option is the name. Kind of drab and prosaic. Like public school. Or public parks. Or public streets. Or public libraries, or public safety. Yeah, these things provide essential services, but they sound so darn dull. ‘Public option’ after all, is a generic term. If it were a package it would be white with a bar code on it.

Take a hint from the insurance companies. They spend millions on branding, and come up with cute names like Tenet, and Blue Cross, and Cigna.

We want something that says medical, but feels caring…I’ve got it–Medicare! We can let people opt-in to Medicare. Medicare is a popular, well-tested insurance program with a good record of keeping administrative costs down.

You can color the logo red, white and blue. I think it will work.

Last year the insurance industry spent almost 500 million dollars lobbying against the public option. So you can understand that they can’t afford to let sick people latch on to their plans. Let’s make everyone happy. Drop the public option, open Medicare to everyone, let the insurance companies keep on doing what they do, and let people have a real choice.


Branch and Douglas Avenue, Providence

Branch and Douglas Avenue, Providence

Some time back, Don Roach asked in a comment what’s meant by the term ‘fundamentalism’. A good question, and it got me searching for the definition, only to find that it’s kind of like the word, ‘cult’. A cult is whatever religion you don’t like.

Wikipedia has a good overview, but in the Christian religion there are as many degrees of fundamentalism as there are denominations. A good thing, too. We would not want people plucking out their eye, (Mark 9:47), which would be both disgusting and destructive. And think of the social chaos if people took literally the scriptures against usury, or declared a year of Jubilee.

I’ve heard Christians say that God appoints our leaders, which makes you wonder if it’s worth voting. We are a secular democracy that in principle treats all citizens equally under the law and respects religious freedom. For some, this system is a means for establishing a theocracy. Using the power of the majority, Christians can claim public spaces and institutions. We are not a JudeoChristian nation. But if I ever meet a JudeoChristian I’ll ask them how their faith got so much prominence.

When I was a kid, there were only two religions, Catholic and non-Catholic. Why did things have to get so complicated? I can’t say I miss the sense of certainty, and insular grievance– it was oppressive and the Knights of Columbus guys scared me. But Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League, took time out from arming for the War on Christmas, to write an op-ed for the Washington Post. It’s hardly worth having all those Knights of Columbus swords if you can’t create an enemy…

The only way secular saboteurs can be stopped is by an alliance of religious conservatives across faith lines. The good news is that this is already happening. In the fight over gay marriage, the scorecard is 30-0: traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Mormons, along with a big contribution from the Latino and African American communities, have succeeded in throwing a roadblock at this crazy idea.

The culture war is up for grabs. The good news is that religious conservatives continue to breed like rabbits, while secular saboteurs have shut down: they’re too busy walking their dogs, going to bathhouses and aborting their kids. Time, it seems, is on the side of the angels.

I doubt it. For one thing, you can get in trouble disparaging multiculturalism while asking for contributions from the Latino and African American communities. They might not want to write the checks. And as for the children…

Scratch a Unitarian and you’ll find an ex-Baptist, or an ex-Catholic. You can’t keep them locked up forever. Growing up in a rabbit hutch might make them want something different, when they have the choice.

House Moves on Public Option

The dawn of reason…

House members leaving an evening meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a “robust” public option was gaining support, buoyed by preliminary estimates from budget analysts putting the cost of a bill with the option at less than President Barack Obama’s $900 billion target.

“The robust public option clearly outperforms the others,” Representative Robert Andrews said after a two-hour meeting to discuss the choices. “Members are searching for the best way to reduce the cost of the bill and this is the best way.”

Think about it. The principle of insurance is creating a large risk pool, so that the cost per subscriber is kept low. Then, to best serve the public, keep administrative costs down and put most of the money into care and services. That’s the public option. Of course it saves money.

It’s Time to Deliver

Yesterday there was a gathering at the Federal Building, downtown Providence at Kennedy Plaza. Again, I was struck by how many busy professional people were able to make the time to be there. I counted two doctors, two nurses, a social worker, a retired rescue captain– all there to petition our representatives in Congress to give us real health care reform.

One nurse who spoke gave me permission to post her testimony, so here are the words of Kelly Shinners, RN…

I’m here to talk about the crisis of care that exists today in the area of mental health treatment–specifically the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction.

Day after day I see patients discharged too soon, often without access to medications essential to the prevention of relapse. I hear people tell me that yes, they will relapse if they are discharged before they are ready. Too often these people are back a week later, with all their previous treatment wiped away. All too often I hear nothing more about a person like this until I read his or her obituary in the paper.

This kind of situation does not happen because a doctor or caregiver has failed to do his or her job. It doesn’t happen because a social worker is ignorant or unaware of appropriate aftercare programs. And this is not because the patient doesn’t want to get well. The reason patients are going out the door–early and unequipped–is because they are being pushed out by insurance companies which set limits on patient care which cripple and undermine the efforts of the healthcare professionals to provide patients with appropriate care. By denying claims for these patients, insurance companies are taking the decision out of the hands of the caregivers, an act that is dangerous and sometimes even deadly for the patient.

For someone dealing with the disease of addiction, proper treatment is a matter of life and death, because the next drink may lead to organ failure or a fatal accident, the next drug to an overdose. To Big Insurance, these individual are nothing more than numbers on a list; they might tell you that everyone is getting adequate treatment but every day I see a different story playing out, over and over.

I wish I could say that what the insurance companies are telling us is true– that patients who are denied treatment or who slip through the cracks are few and far between, that everything’s just fine the way it is. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and I know because I see it every day in my work. In actuality, the denial of care is the norm rather than the exception, because that’s how the Insurance game works–PROVIDING HEALTH CARE IS CONSIDERED A LOSS TO THEM!

It’s obvious to everyone, no matter their political slant, that there is a crisis in healthcare today. Healthcare professionals and workers have been more than reasonable in giving insurance companies a chance to participate in healthcare reform, but this is not enough for them.

Rather than work for their money under a ‘Medicare for All’ system, or prove that they can deliver the same care for less money as they claim by competing with the ‘Public Option’ as the ‘Private Option’, insurance companies are spending millions of your premium dollars to insure that nothing changes.

They cover the young and healthy (as long as there are no preexisting conditions, of course) and leave the elderly and the sick and the desperately needy to rely on charity, and on the government-supported healthcare already in place: Medicare and Medicaide.

If Big Insurance doesn’t want to operate in honest competition, in the spirit of legitimate concern for others–if they continue to treat the addicts, the mentally ill, and others as abstract numbers on a page–then my suggestion is that they be cut out of the equation entirely. We institute a single-payer system, one that’s been proven to work over and over, in country after country around the world.

It isn’t just a slogan. We need real healthcare reform, and we need it now.

Loving Tough Guys

George Bush loved tough guys, like Dirty Harry and Richard Carmona, his swashbuckling surgeon general. He almost put Bernard Kerik in charge of Homeland Security. Wouldn’t we feel secure then?

Unfortunately there was a nanny problem, a minor oversight about immigration status. Then there were other problems, and Kerik was out on bail fighting conspiracy and fraud charges. He just got his bail revoked…

Before revoking the bail of Mr. Kerik, Judge Robinson described him as a “toxic combination of self-minded focus and arrogance, and I fear that combination leads him to believe his ends justify his means.”

“He sees the court’s rulings as an inconvenience,” Judge Robinson said, “something to be ignored, and an obstacle to be circumvented.”

He might have been another J.Edgar Hoover. Security level florescent orange, security level panic green, security level psychedelic. Close the borders and send those nannies home.

George W. loved tough guys, especially if they were team players who knew how to go with the program.


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