REAL POLITICS, REAL CANDIDATE: Jill Stein 2016 Platform

IF you want a progressive presidential candidate that you can get excited about voting FOR, then Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate is worth serious consideration.  Jill Stein has selected her Green Party running mate, Vice President choice, Ajamu Baraka.  Mr. Baraka is an internationally recognized human rights activist, organizer and geo-political analyst with a deeply progressive resume.  Here is their platform:

Jill Stein 2016 Platform

Our Power to the People Plan

Climate Action: Protecting Mother Earth and Humanity

  • Enact an emergency Green New Deal to turn the tide on climate change, revive the economy and make wars for oil obsolete. Initiate a WWII-scale national mobilization to halt climate change, the greatest threat to humanity in our history. Create 20 million jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable agriculture, conservation and restoration of critical infrastructure, including ecosystems.
  • Implement a Just Transition that empowers those communities and workers most impacted by climate change and the transition to a green economy. Ensure that any worker displaced by the shift away from fossil fuels will receive full income and benefits as they transition to alternative work.
  • Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat energy as a human right.
  • Redirect research funds from fossil fuels into renewable energy and conservation.  Build a nationwide smart electricity grid that can pool and store power from a diversity of renewable sources, giving the nation clean, democratically-controlled, energy.
  • End destructive energy extraction and associated infrastructure: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, natural gas pipelines, and uranium mines. Halt any investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, including natural gas, and phase out all fossil fuel power plants. Phase out nuclear power and end nuclear subsidies.  End all subsidies for fossil fuels and impose a greenhouse gas fee / tax to charge polluters for the damage they have created.
  • Protect our public lands, water supplies, biological diversity, parks, and pollinators. Ban neonicotinoids and other pesticides that threaten the survival of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  • Support a strong enforceable global climate treaty that limits global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and provides just financial compensation to developing countries.
  • Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe.
  • Support organic and regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and sustainable forestry.
  • Protect the rights of future generations. Adopt the Precautionary Principle. When an activity poses threats of harm to human health or the environment, in the absence of objective scientific consensus that it is safe, precautionary measures should be taken. The proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.
  • Invest in clean air, water, food  and soil for everyone. Clean up America.
  • Enact stronger environmental justice laws and measures to ensure that low-income and communities of color are not disproportionately impacted by harmful pollution and other negative environmental and health effects.
  • Support conversion to sustainable, nontoxic materials and the use of closed-loop, zero waste processes.

 Jobs as a Right, and Key Support for Labor

  • Create living-wage jobs for every American who needs work, replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Government would be the employer of last resort, and the unemployed would have an enforceable right to make government provide work. Create direct public employment, as the Works Progress Administration did,  in public services and public works for those who can’t find private employment.
  • Advance workers’ rights to form unions, achieve workplace democracy, and keep a fair share of the wealth they create.
  • Enact the Green Deal full employment program to create 20 million green jobs in sustainable energy, mass transit, sustainable organic agriculture, clean manufacturing and improved infrastructure, as well as social work, teaching, health care, after school and home care, drug rehabilitation and other service jobs.
  • Provide grants and low-interest loans to green businesses and cooperatives, with an emphasis on small, locally-based companies that keep the wealth created by local labor circulating in the community, rather than being drained off to enrich absentee investors.
  • Replace NAFTA and other corporate free trade agreements that export American jobs, depress wages, and undermine the sovereign right of Americans and citizens of other countries to control their own economy and political choices. Enact fair trade laws that benefits local workers and communities.
  • Repeal  the Taft-Hartley Act which banned secondary boycotts and permitted state “right-to-work” laws. Enact a federal just cause law (to prohibit firing without just cause,) and outlaw scabbing on striking workers.

 End Poverty:

  • Guarantee economic human rights, including access to food, water, housing, and utilities, with effective anti-poverty programs to ensure every American a life of dignity.
  • Establish a guaranteed minimum income.
  • Reform public assistance to be a true safety net that empowers participants and provides a decent standard of living.
  • Free universal child care.

 Health Care as a Right:

  • Establish an improved “Medicare for All” single-payer public health program to provide everyone with quality health care, at huge savings by eliminating the $400 billion annually spent on  the paperwork and bureaucracy of health insurance. No co-pays, premiums or deductibles. Access to all health care services, including mental health, dental, and vision. Include everyone, period. No restrictions based on pre-existing illness, employment, immigration status, age, or any other category.
  • Eliminate the cancer of health insurance, which adds costs while reducing access to health care.
  • End overcharging for prescription drugs by using bulk purchasing negotiations.
  • Eliminate health disparities in communities of color and low-income communities. Ensure easy access to health care in communities of color, including community health centers.
  • Allow full access to contraceptive and reproductive care.
  • Expand women’s access to “morning after” contraception by lifting the Obama Administration’s ban.
  • Avoid chronic diseases by investing in essential community health infrastructure such as local, fresh, organic food systems, pollution-free renewable energy, phasing out toxic chemicals, and active transportation such as bike paths and safe sidewalks that dovetail with public transit.
  • Ensure that consumers have essential information for making informed food choices by expanding product labeling requirements for country of origin, GMO content, toxic chemical ingredients, and fair trade practices.
  • Prioritize preventive health care, including physical activity, healthy nutrition and pollution prevention.

 Education as a Right:

  • Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university.
  • Abolish student debt to free a generation of Americans from debt servitude.
  • Protect our public school systems from privatization.
  • Use restorative justice to address conflicts before they occur, and involve students in the process.
  • Evaluate teacher performance through assessment by fellow professionals. Do not rely on high stakes tests that reflect economic status of the community, and punish teachers working in low income communities of color.
  • Replace Common Core with curriculum developed by educators, not corporations, with input from parents and communities.
  • Stop denying students diplomas based on high stakes tests.
  • Stop using merit pay to punish teachers who work with the most challenging student populations.
  • Restore arts, music and recreation to school curriculums.
  • Ensure racially inclusive, sensitive and relevant curriculums.
  • Use Department of Education powers to offer grants and funding to encourage metropolitan desegregation plans based on socioeconomically balanced schools.
  • Recognize poverty as the key obstacle to learning. Ensure that kids come to school ready to learn: healthy, nourished, secure and free from violence.
  • Increase federal funding of public schools to equalize public school funding.

 A Just Economy:

  • Guarantee a living wage job for all.
  • Set a $15/hour federal minimum wage, with indexing.
  • Break up “too-big-to-fail” banks and democratize the Federal Reserve.
  • Support development of worker and community cooperatives and small businesses.
  • Make Wall Street, big corporations, and the rich pay their fair share of taxes.
  • Create democratically-run public banks and utilities.
  • Provide full protection for workplace rights, including the right to a safe workplace and the right to organize a union without fear of firing or reprisal by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • Ensure equal pay for equal work, ending discrimination based on race, gender, or generation.
  • Enact paid sick leave and family leave, strong overtime protections.
  • Take action against wage theft.
  • Oppose two-tier wage systems (e.g., for young people and individuals with disabilities).

 Freedom and Equality:

  • Expand women’s rights, including equal pay and reproductive freedom. Pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment).
  • Protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination.
  • Defend indigenous rights,  lands and treaties.
  • Support immigrants’ rights. Create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants.
  • Halt deportations and detentions of law-abiding undocumented immigrants, including the shameful practice of night raids being used to terrorize refugee families.
  • Improve economic and social conditions abroad to reduce the flow of immigrant refugees, in part by repealing NAFTA, ending the failed drug wars, and halting CIA and military interventions against democratically elected governments.
  • Demilitarize border crossings throughout North America.
  • Protect the free Internet. Oppose the Online Piracy Act and all other legislation that would undermine freedom and equality on the Internet.

 Criminal Justice Reforms

  • End the failed war on drugs. Replace drug prohibition with harm reduction. Legalize marijuana/hemp. Treat substance abuse as a health problem, not a criminal offense.
  • Release nonviolent drug offenders from prison, removing such offenses from their records, and provide them with both pre- and post-release support.
  • End police brutality, mass incarceration and institutional racism within our justice system. Support the Black Lives Matter Movement.
  • Demilitarize police. End use of SWAT teams and no-knock raids for drugs and serving papers.
  • Repair our communities rather than dump resources into the prison-industrial complex.
  • Establish police review boards so that communities control their police, and not the other way around. Appoint dedicated investigators to investigate every death or serious injury at the hands of police.
  • Enact laws to require independent outside legal representatives to investigate and prosecute any killing or brutality  by the police rather than prosecutors involved in the local criminal justice system.
  • Eliminate harsh  mandatory sentencing requirements which often result in unjustified sentences.

 Justice for All:

  • Enforce the Bill of Rights by protecting the right to free speech and protest, to be secure from unwarranted search and seizure and invasion of privacy, as well as our other Constitutional rights.
  • Terminate unconstitutional surveillance and unwarranted spying, close Guantanamo, and repeal indefinite detention without charge or trial. Repeal the unconstitutional provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act that give the president the power to indefinitely imprison and even assassinate American citizens without due process.
  • America’s youth should not be put in jail for offenses they commit.
  • End discrimination against former offenders who have paid for their crimes and should get a fresh start.
  • Abolish the death penalty.
  • End persecution of government, corporate  and media whistleblowers.
  • Issue an Executive Order prohibiting Federal agencies from conspiring with local police to infringe upon right of assembly and peaceful protest.
  • Repeal the Patriot Act that violates our constitutional right to privacy and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.


Peace and Human Rights:

  • Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, human rights, and nonviolent support for democratic movements around the world.
  • Cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases. Ensure a just transition that replaces reductions in  military jobs with jobs in renewable energy, transportation and green infrastructure development.
  • Stop U.S. financial and military support to human rights abusers. Barring substantial changes in their policies, this would include Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.
  • End the US’ role as the world’s arm supplier.
  • End use of assassination as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, including collaborative assassination through intermediaries.
  • End the destructive US economic and military intervention into the affairs of sovereign nations. Such intervention serve the interests of multinational corporations and  global capitalism over the interests of the vast majority of the citizens of those nations.
  • Freeze the bank accounts of countries that are funding terrorism, including the Saudi royal family.
  • US policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to prioritize international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality. End US policies that have supported the worst tendencies of the Israeli government in its treatment of the people of Palestine.
  • Restore the National Guard as the centerpiece of our defense.
  • Ban use of drone aircraft for assassination, bombing, and other offensive purposes.
  • End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, withdrawing troops and military contractors.
  • Join 159 other nations in signing the Ottawa treaty banning the use of anti-personnel land mines.
  • Lead on global nuclear disarmament:
  • Rejoin the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the US dropped out of in 2002 when it installed missiles and missile bases in Turkey, Romania, and Poland.
  • Agree to Russia’s proposal to jointly reduce US and Russian nuclear arsenals to 1,000 nuclear weapons each. Also call for all countries to the table to negotiate a treaty for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • Remove US nuclear weapons in Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands.
  •  Support Russia and China’s joint effort to open negotiations on a treaty to ban weapons in space.
  •  Pledge to end any further laboratory or sub-critical nuclear tests at the Nevada and Novaya Zemlya test sites, and end all nuclear weapons research, design, and modernization at the weapons laboratories.
  • The US must take the lead in nuclear disarmament by itself starting to disarm. We should create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East region and require all nations in the area to join.

Empower the People: Fix our Broken Elections with Real Democracy

  • Eliminate the doctrine of corporate personhood that among other things has been used to justify unlimited corporate spending in elections with a constitutional amendment to clarify that only human beings have constitutional rights.
  • Enact electoral reforms that break the big money stranglehold and create truly representative democracy: full public election financing, ranked-choice voting, proportional representation, and open debates.
  • Protect voters’ rights by enforcing and expanding the constitutional right to vote (including a new amendment if necessary). Enact the full Voter’s Bill of Rights guaranteeing each person’s right to vote, the right to have our votes counted on hand-marked paper ballots, and the right to vote within systems that give each vote meaning. Make voter registration the responsibility of government, not a voluntary opt-in for citizens.
  • Restore Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring preclearance by the Attorney General or federal district court of DC to election law changes in areas previously found to limit voting rights.
  • Abolish the Electoral College and directly elect the President using a national popular vote with ranked-choice voting..
  • Restore the right to run for office and eliminate unopposed races by removing ballot access barriers.
  • Guarantee equal access to the debates to all ballot-qualified candidates.
  • Provide equal and free access to the airways for all ballot-qualified candidates, not just those with big campaign war chests.
  • Eliminate “winner take all / first past the post” elections in which the “winner” may not have the support of most of the voters. Replace that system with ranked choice voting and proportional representation.
  • Enact statehood for the District of Columbia to ensure the region has full representation in Congress, and full powers of democratic self-rule.
  • Restore voting rights to offenders, including while in prison.
  • Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions.
  • Reduce barriers to voting by making Election Day a national holiday.
  • Enact simplified, safe same-day voter registration to the nation so that no qualified voter is barred from the polls.
  • Protect local democracy by making clear that acts of Congress establish a floor, and not a ceiling, on laws relating to economic regulation, workers’ rights, human rights, and the environment.

A Humane Federal Budget with Fair Taxes

  • Increase government revenues for social needs by restoring full employment, cutting the bloated, dangerous military budget, and cutting private health insurance waste.
  • Require full disclosure of corporate subsidies in the budget and stop hiding subsidies in complicated tax code.
  • Rewrite the entire tax code to be truly progressive with tax cuts for working families, the poor and middle class, and higher taxes for the richest Americans.
  • Strengthen rather than cut Medicare and Social Security. Remove the cap on social security taxes above a certain level of income.
  • Maintain and upgrade our nation’s essential public infrastructure, including highways, railways, electrical grids, water systems, schools, libraries, and the Internet, resisting privatization or policy manipulation by for-profit interests.

Financial Reform

  • Establish federal, state, and municipal publicly-owned banks that function as non-profit utilities and focus on helping people, not enriching themselves.
  • Create a Corporation for Economic Democracy, a new federal corporation (like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) to provide publicity, training, education, and direct financing for cooperative development and for democratic reforms to make government agencies, private associations, and business enterprises more participatory.
  • Democratize monetary policy to bring about public control of the money supply and credit creation. This means nationalizing the private bank-dominated Federal Reserve Banks and placing them under a Federal Monetary Authority within the Treasury Department.   Prohibit private banks from creating money, thus restoring government’s Constitutional authority.
  • Manage pension funds by boards controlled by workers, not corporate managers.
  • Regulate all financial derivatives and require them to be traded on open exchanges.
  • Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks.

Housing   

  • Impose an immediate moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.
  • Offer capital grants to non-profit developers of affordable housing until all people can obtain decent housing at no more than 25% of their income.
  • Create a federal bank with local branches to take over homes with distressed mortgages, and either restructure the mortgages to affordable levels, or if the occupants cannot afford a mortgage, rent homes to the occupants.
  • Expand rental and home ownership assistance and increase funding for public housing.
  • Use Department of Housing and Urban Development authority to grant or withhold funds in order to encourage state and local governments to take positive steps to desegregate housing, including ending zoning laws that effectively prohibit multi-family housing, prohibiting landlords from refusing to accept Section 8 vouchers, increasing Section 8 voucher amounts so that poor people can move into middle income neighborhoods, prohibiting the use of Low Income Housing Tax Credits to increase low income housing in already segregated neighborhoods, and building new public housing in middle income communities that is high quality and mixed income.

We can build a better future together.

POEM: Paying In Attention – Owed To Mind Fullness

I under stand
You are on
Some kind of in
Stall meant plan
As long
As you still
Pay attention
In do time
I’ll pay for such in deference
Hopefully not the final time
Having been
Pre-disposed
In the passed
And per severe
Beyond just us
And awe claims
Sow gossamer a ledge
Holy prone
Sacred out of my wits
With that owed time religion
Bard none
U of life
Won
As in daze of your
Still
In the hear and now
As I right
A tone
Sublime volume
For all too here
It is
My willing
As well
For give
The ineffable scene
Wear knot all is destined
And only that be
Which under stood
Hear after
That awe in life
Sir passing the grave
Life meeting its maker
Coming a cross
In attention
Out pacing
Thought fullness
Fated to outstrip
Getting just desserts
And given
The wrest is history
To whatever extant
I am
Sow
Inclined
End lessly
App’ed
Too think
For what is mind
For what is yores
In-during-ly
A where-ness
Bequeathing real eyes

This poem is about mindfulness.  This poem is about acceptance, seeing things as they truly are, with a minimum of preconceived notions.  This poem is about intimacy, vulnerability, living openly and freely in a whirled that often runs one over unconsciously, even at the hands of those with good intents.  More specifically, this poem is informed and inspired by my experiences over recent months as a regular bicyclist, since I became car-less.  It has dawned on me that riding my bike amidst distracted and unaware drivers of huge masses of metal, glass, and plastic — formerly known as cars — is a powerful metaphor for my worldview.  Even if highly aware, the power differential possessed by unaware car drivers reliably results in them imposing the cost of their lack of awareness on those less powerful; in this case, a biker.  They are insulated from the feedback, the costs, of their own mindlessness.  I see such mindless, abusive power differentials wreaking havoc on our world most anywhere I look. Only Thing Necessary for Triumph of Evil is for Good Men to do Nothing -- Edmund Burke quote At best, these mindless abuses of privilege (privilege as being on the stronger side of a power differential) are maladaptive.  At worst, these mindless abuses of privilege are the foundation upon which evil can successfully manipulate the unconscious aspects of humanity to its own ends.  In regard to intimacy, I would say that in the car-bicyclist relationship the car-driver represents the antithesis of vulnerability, literally protected by a huge wall of metal, glass, and plastic.  To which the bicyclist offers their bare skin and an oft-ill-fitting plastic helmet for one’s consciousness-bearing noggin.  You can draw your own particular picture of the implications of this larger dynamic played out in our social and political life together.  In the world of urban cycling, let it suffice to say that good intent is not sufficient.  Most drivers who violate your legal right-of-way are palpably repentant after they realize what they have done.  I take great pride in offering my existence as a biker to drivers to help them learn about the existence of other people who are made vulnerable by their mindlessness.  Still, it is I who pays the greater price for this potential evolutionary relationship.  Thus, this poem.

If I am to be run over and killed by a mindless driver, please read this poem at my funeral, and offer this poem to the manslaughterer.  Similarly, I offer myself up in the path of mindless (and mindful) political forces, in hopes of expanding humanity’s potential for evolution.  If I should be run over and killed by some overtly political force, I am sure their are plenty of my other poems appropriate to be read at my memorial.  In any case, wish me luck — if you believe in such things.

I view consciousness, or mindfulness, as the primary force and indicator of human evolution.  I view most of the bad things in this world as a byproduct of a mindfulness deficiency.  Quantitatively, having no one at the wheel allows many, many bad things to happen.  Qualitatively, having people who are aware of their destructive choices and yet still choose them — one definition of sin — is a scary situation because mindfulness alone is insufficient for self-correction.  This is an active disease of the will.  Still, the passivity of the will, of active mindfulness, carries most of the day in most of our everyday lives.  I see that our lives are lived for us, as passive beings, to a larger degree than we live our lives consciously, mindfully.  The epic showdowns between conscious evil and conscious good make for great, even necessary, storytelling, but does not reflect the less sexy, more mundane bulk of our own struggles for increasing consciousness, the prerequisite for any life truly lived.

In the order of consciousness, self-awareness is a prerequisite for any fruitful other-awareness.  Without self-awareness, we will be mired in unending unconscious, biased projections of our self onto the world of other people and things that make up our shared reality.  My love of science is congruent with a desire to have an accurate understanding of our shared reality.  Still, science falls disturbingly silent in addressing one’s inner life, and the ultimate, inescapable assumptions or projections onto other people.  My working assumptions, based on my experience of my own inner life, is that people want to be accepted for who they are, positively appreciated, and want to contribute to a better world, our shared reality.  I willingly project empathy and lovingkindness into the world, in hopes of a better world for all of us.  If this is not what you want, feel free to let me know.    	 Better To be Slapped With The Truth Than Kissed With A Lie -- Russian ProverbIf I stray from these working assumptions, feel free to gently remind me of my deepest commitments.  If I stand clearly apart from these working assumptions, feel free to tell me like it is in no uncertain terms.  As the Russian proverb goes: “Better to be slapped with the truth than kissed with a lie.”

 

 

POEM: Nothing New Under The Sun

There is nothing new under the sun
Though in the shadows
The same old same old
Is more mournfully familiar
Settling for reality-lite
Too at home with night
Groping with eyes open
Instead of lightly touched
Even with eyes closed seeing
Age-old must
And vexing knot
A bout
Bitter medicine as won’s savor
Know silence
Too be heard
Where the sun don’t shine
As passing vapor
In stubborn renouncing
Not eye
And such fancy
Still too much
To be taken
In completely
The spell overcast
Eclipsing the census
Of awe that counts
More than won could
Ever bask for

This poem weaves the themes of our everyday blindness to deeper realities, the mystical third eye, and gratitude.  Things are not always as they appear.  Things are more than they appear.  Those who round reality down to mere appearance settle for a more finite and uninspiring perspective on reality.  If it isn’t obvious that life is blisteringly miraculous in the sunshine occupying roughly half of our earthly existence, then there is a deeper, ever-present way of seeing that enlightens awe of reality, more than one could ever bask for.  Sadly, many prefer to manage dwelling in the even more roughly half of our earthly existence, darkness, despite its propensity for inducing fear and despair.  This poem plays with these two interwoven aspects of reality, dark and light, mere appearance and meaning full experience.  These dual, and dueling, aspects of reality are not contradictory; rather, they are different levels of reality, one including yet transcending the other.  The prosaic and miraculous are only divorced if our perspective is committed to irreconcilable differences.  The oneness of reality eternally woos us if wowing us is too transparent for our mode of perception.  Nonetheless, the lure of the manageability of the world of mere appearances is powerful, to those limiting themselves to such parochial power.  Unfortunately, those limiting themselves to the scarcity and paucity of the world of mere appearances will feel compelled to compete, even brutally, for control over this lesser realm.  Security and freedom become mortal enemies and even the asleep don’t sleep well.  Those suffering such blindness and obsession insist upon their powerful incites.  The ensuing fetish with control and manipulation extract a brutal price from anyone actually exercising freedom.  More liberal-minded manipulators will insist that you have all kinds of rights but they will get nervous if you actually exercise them!

My experience informs me that peace and freedom can exist together if gratitude is the uniting reality. This gratitude-powered peace is both an internal peace and external peace.  Gratitude-powered people are the least dangerous people in the world; that is, except to those whose job is to convince others of their lack, especially if linked to selling you a product, service, or idea that will make them gain money or status.  If gratitude unites your world view, then you could say that gratitude is your religion, a religion of “Thank God for thanks!”  As you might guess, my worldview is profoundly influenced by grace, a recognition and respect for undeserved gain that overturns a barren capitalistic view that at best can offer a fair and equal exchange, where generosity is a foolish inefficiency and the bounty of life is jacked up to yield the highest price possibly bearable by humanity (or by “the market” if “humanity” doesn’t compute).  The bounty of life becomes fodder of our folly, as “Wanted — dead or alive,” runs roughshod over life itself.  I strongly suspect that the consuming disease of controlling others is a failure to answer the question of how much is enough.  At the heart of this disease is fear and inescapable greed.  I believe that a responsible freedom, a freedom that is informed by gratitude, can operate amidst fear and greed without distorting its own nature and consonance with life, that comes from who knows where, but, as a dyslexic and a mystic, I find naturally super!

POEM: A Royal Buzzkill

Bee
The change
That you wish
In the whirled
Too see
O Mother Earth
Undertaking
Men o’ pause
In-fertility rite
As nature fecund wanes
A roil buzzkill
Soon with death teeming
Wear is thy sting
Extincting that human race
Soully certifiable reproductions
Unfit as a specious
Forerunners to know end
Yet today, this solitary caged bird sings
Like a canary
In a cold mine
With its deadly presents
Colorless and odious executioner
The lynch pin of anonymous hoods
Haunting all
That which is called “natural”
Sow fumes miasma
Till hour last breath

This poem is another mournful environmental poem, with the steady decline of bees as the proverbial canary in the coal mine for the deathly threat to the ecology of the earth.  Of course, the stoic denial and fatalism of human-induced climate change through fossil fuel consumption reaps a Mother Earth whose only defense may be to open a Pandora’s box capable of “naturally” selecting the human race from an internal combustion race to a mere foot race, where humans are no longer large enough scale to crash the entire planet’s ecological system.  If we don’t change course and evolve into an ecologically-sustainable species, we will be devolved into a much less dominant species.  Whether this would represent an evolution or devolution would have to be reflected upon by many fewer homo sapiens.

While we as a species are still living high on the fumes of burning fossil fuels, the buzzkill of bee genocide may lead the way to the end of agriculture as we know it, and the end of human culture as we know it.  Our unchecked industrialism, fueled by the burning of carbon-based energy forms, may very well lead to our checking out as the predominant species on earth.  Could this bee the end of the world? as so aptly asked in an article of the same title (with a now extinct link!):

Albert Einstein once said: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

Einstein wasn’t an insect expert but he had a point. The humble honeybee is an integral part of the global ecosystem. Honey is just one aspect of what this entomological wonder does. As a pollinator it ensures crops reproduce, so although a world without honey would be a poorer place, man would survive. But without plants, we’d become extinct.

…On a global scale, it is estimated a third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees…

…The introduction to the 2010 UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] report into global bee colony disorders puts the insects’ plight in context. It states, “Current evidence demonstrates that a sixth major extinction of biological diversity event is under way. The Earth is losing between 1 and 10 per cent of biodiversity per decade, mostly due to habitat loss, pest invasion, pollution, over-harvesting and disease.” It asked, “Has a ‘pollinator crisis’ really been occurring during recent decades, or are these concerns just another sign of global biodiversity decline?”

Unchecked domination is not the nature of nature.  Either homo sapiens will learn to live in harmony with nature as a whole, or our ability to dominate will be cut down to scale.  As throughout countless generations, we are faced with choosing harmony or destruction.  Nature has patiently endured our penchant for destruction.  Nature cannot be violated forever.  Nature’s feedback is gentle and generous.  Only fools destroy the hand that feeds them.  Will we be fools in the largesse weigh?

POEM: Ebola US Over

Ebola US over
When fear metes science
When we no what too due
Still, rabidly executing our will
As wee act in sanity
Cheap as rationed rationality
Upscale absurdity
As some fret butler
Frankly red-faced, not giving a damn
As long as they are on the winning genocide
As good as dread
Only wont
Too feel safe
Feverishly incubating terrors
In the timed, spaced continuum
Of the perpetual see of terminable daze
Enduring weaks
Of what dismay
Or may knot
Deliver us
Into harm’s weigh
Stamping out indignantly
Aversion of reality
We cannot except
Fomenting in a culture
Fixed on negative results
Mirrorly symptoms apprehended
Temperatures rising
Going viral
As the unexplained hemorrhages
Everything alarmingly scene
As through
A prism of fear
For which there is no anti-dote
Forever catching
US on the flip side
Little escaping what is in
Our nature
Passing
On that sore option
Liquefying our cells
Or seizing only
That which is key
To the beginning of our end
In courage unbolting
And open fortitude
That other wise will
To our enemies heel
Yet for all won knows
Bolus over with a feather
Joining farces with that gag reel
Fore what bitter medicine than that
Given the bird
That can’t swallow
Or a flee
In deed doggedly drug
A collar
Not worthy a copper or gumshoe
So give it a rest

I wrote this poem a while back, just after the first Ebola case showed up in the United States.  I have training and experience in public health, and I worked in the 1990’s in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Communicating risk accurately is difficult, particularly in an environment of fear and histrionics. Also, it doesn’t help that the scientific literacy level of the American public is disabling in this matter.  As a scientist and poet, I hope that this poem offers some insight into such conundrums.

Fear and ignorance are a lethal combination, and they have a nefarious synergy with infectious disease outbreaks.  Ignorance often leads to a dangerous undervaluing of prevention early in an epidemic.  Then, when the epidemic becomes visible, closer to home, fear often demands actions that are often useless or counterproductive.  If confusion prevails amidst a population, infectious disease can flourish, as energies are squandered on off-mark enterprises and scientifically-validated methods are not sufficiently adhered to, often because of ignorance and suspicion, even if plenty of fear and concern is present as a motivator.

The Ebola virus is particularly lethal, yet it is not easily transmissible nor transmissible in people without easily-identified symptoms (though not necessarily Ebola-specific symptoms).  The chains of Ebola transmission can be broken.  We need to persistently apply our abundant knowledge about Ebola, with a measure of courage, to defeat it.  If our unfounded fears overwhelm our capacity to address Ebola in a rational manner, then the legitimate fear that Ebola poses us will become unnecessarily magnified into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

May we drum up the courage and resolve to fight Ebola based on what we know well rather than that which is uncertain and subject to fear-mongering.

POEM: An Oasis Scarcely Better, Then a Mirage

From oasis to oasis
Straw men
Hiring suckers
Living under
Dissembled bridges
Until it’s over
Troubled waters
What’s the hold-up
Living for weak ends
And long vocations
Until
Down
Under
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
A hexing feat
A plod
Bought and paid for
Buy decisions made years a go
Putting off family
For eternal wrest
Friends only gathering in your wake
A bout time
Spent
Pourly
Until
Can’t take it
With them
Passing on
An assuming manor
And a partiality
For a stylized life
And conspicuous consumption
Wear cleanliness is next to gaudiness
Awe made passable
By a peacocky overcompensation
Surpassing one’s station
In life
A haven untaxed
In death
A surety
As won might
Have guest it
A regretful time share
As when the first homme isn’t enough
Always returning
Too more earnest dwellings
Harping on
The good old daze
Not even
For a second
Helping
But for the hole shebang
In unremitting a morality
A temporary re-treat
From the fire down below
Feeling the heat
Strokes of genius
Clever ruses billed
On foundations of sand
Offering slim hope
For the porous
As liquid assets evaporating
In a desert temp
An oasis scarcely better
Then a mirage
For those sitting on the parch
A weigh station
To check their baggage
Perhaps pick up some more
Souvenirs
For the trip
Over their own feat
Plunging an unquenchable thirst
Skewering with spit
Sweating bullets
In humid climbs
Yet like fish out of water
No matter how hard
They dry
Flailing to inspire
In any such reckoning
And knot on your life
Will they settle
For sum thing less
And weather they come
Ergo
For the wrest of US
Their goes
The neighborhood

This poem is an ode to so-called living from oasis to oasis rather than living sustainably in one oasis.  I find that the so-called “carrot” of getting to the next oasis is actually more of a “stick” to nature and our humanity.  Americans have suffered from a frontier mentality for centuries, ratcheting up suffering in increasingly exponential ways.  Instead of doing the work of learning about and living within natural limits, humans race toward extinction, with a lengthy prologue and rate of over a hundred species a day.  Living in harmony, sustainably within our natural environment, may very well be the most important lesson humans need to learn within the next few generations.  There is little reason why we shouldn’t be able to learn this lesson, but whether we will avail ourselves of the benefits of learning this lesson is unclear.  There is a classic, somewhat cynical exposition from the character Agent Smith in the movie, The Matrix, which gives one perspective on the human race and human nature:

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

I find this description accurate.  However, this history leaves unanswered how we will respond in the future.  The relevant conundrum that I see in human nature is that the unprecedented capability humans have in making choices undetermined by nature is a serious double-edged sword.  This very capability to stretch nature, even human nature, can lead to large, unsustainable ventures which bound over natural limits in which other living entities would be much more “naturally” restrained or contained.  Perhaps paradoxically, this very same capability leaves open the potential to adapt quickly and recover a sustainable balance.  I find hope in our ability to adapt.  Still, humans have a long history of only doing the right thing after exhausting most every other possibility.  The stakes are high, and realizing the high stakes may be the necessary impetus for humans to make necessary adjustments.  Hopefully, we can restore a level of sanity and balance in time to avoid a catastrophic collapse of civilization and/or the environment.  Either way, living in harmony with nature is a better choice.  We can vote with our lives and lifestyles.  May we embrace our evolution, even revolution, to avoid devolution or extinction.

POEM: Seriously?!

The Zen master was nearly
Finished with his instruction
When he got to non-seriousness
I was greatly relieved
For I was taking nothing
He was saying
Seriously

This short poem gets at one of the great paradoxes of enlightened spirituality: serious playfulness.  Zen Buddhists have a rare reputation among spiritual-religious folks as having a sense of humor inherent in their spiritual practice.  They refer to this as nonseriousness.  Theologians and philosophers are poorly equipped to adequately describe humor in their systems of thought.  This is not an accident.  First of all, there is a seemingly built in seriousness and rigorousness in philosophy and theology that doesn’t play well with humor.  Trying to capture humor in a system of thought leads to our own imprisonment in humor-free zones.  This is analogous to the self-limiting trap of trying to capture spirituality through materialistic methods.  Materialism is literally no joke.  Taking things literally is the limit of science and the beginning of theft, stealing from ourselves as well as others.  Fundamentalism is a disease that routinely infects any ideological project, whether claiming a materialist or spiritual aim.  I have a great respect for the brevity and poetry of the Tao Te Ching as a sacred text. Taoists and Zen Buddhists have a lot in common.  First, the Tao Te Ching begins by stating its fundamental limit — and, in some sense, its blessed futility — by stating that any way which can be described is not the Way, the Tao.  Then, quite laughably, and with utter seriousness, gives its best shot at manifesting the Tao through words.  The Tao Te Ching’s singularly poetic approach to the sacred is unparalleled among major faith traditions.  Surely, other faith traditions have poetic elements, but poetry or obvious metaphor are often relegated to “mystic” subcultures within a dominant and domineering tradition.  The powerful drift toward fundamentalism or militant ideology makes a cruel joke of mystics.  Through the centuries, fundamentalists have taken the lives of mystics literally.

I view mysticism as the heart of spirituality.  Mysticism is simply a view of transcendence, seeing beyond what can be merely grasped by our hands or minds.  This is inherently dangerous to fundamentalism, and virtually any ideology.  That is, dangerous to anything which tries to put the human heart or God in a box and declare “I’ve got it!”  Humor and nonseriousness is perhaps the best way the deflate such puffed up claims.  Of course, humor is infinitely more useful than merely deflating another’s unrightful claims; humor is fun!  Fun is good in and of itself. I think it is safe to say that a life devoid of humor is a life far from fully lived. Humor is a fundamental spiritual experience, playing off the oft experienced reality that paradoxes, apparent contradictions, coexist in everyday human life.  We can wring our hands, rack our brains, and even cry at the vexing nature of this reality; or, we can laugh, recognizing that oneness underlies such fractious appearances.  This lightness of being is consonant with enlightenment and peace or wholeness of mind.  Seemingly paradoxical with such peace is its unmatched counter-cultural power.  The experience and recognition of oneness stirs into any given culture, with its myriad of rules and customs, something that it cannot fully take in.  This is mind-busting and heart expanding.  A sense of arbitrariness of any given culture’s rules can trigger a new-found freedom to exist both within and beyond those rules without being bound by those rules.  This nonseriousness about any given set of rules sets up any culture at any given moment as the “but” of a joke.  What such a transcendent attitude infuses into any human culture at any given time is nothing but life itself, the Tao if you will.

As a student of human culture, I see widespread contradictions and hypocrisy, even amidst our more sane enterprises.  I find an ability to laugh at such realities profoundly therapeutic, especially given that the leading alternative is crying.  In a tip of the hat to seriousness, crying can be a profound emotional manifestation of compassion in a broken world.  Yet, there are other ways.  Freedom is not trapped by seriousness.  Non-seriousness offers a form of salvation to both redeem our experience into something more whole, and to manifest this more whole being attained into the workings of the everyday world.

My poetry is driven by a passionate exploration of human contradictions and unfulfilled humanity.  While the veneer of my poems may seem strikingly cynical at moments, relentlessly pointing out weak spots in humanity, my intent is to juxtapose apparent hopelessness with authentic hopefulness.  To survive such an epic project, I try to remember that we are already won, a wholly laughable proposition!

POEM: Inexplicably Wonderful

The gift of life
Is quite inexplicably wonderful
But fear not
Teams of scientists
Are working
Around the clock
To redress this problem

Skepticism has its limits.  In practice, I am a skeptic of much skepticism.  Life is wonderful.  The foundation for life being wonderful is that it is a gift, something we received without any effort or merit of our own.  This foundation of life as a gift is the most natural springboard for gratitude.  Gratitude is the antidote for cynicism.  Try it.  Try being cynical and grateful at the same time.  Nearly impossible.  Of course, this poem mocks a particular form of skepticism, that of scientific skepticism.  Scientific skepticism is a religion to some, even a disease.  Not without deep irony, many of these same folks view religion as a disease.  I find very few militant scientific skeptics as happy and carefree.  While I appreciate the work ethic aroused by deep commitments, empirical skepticism, scientific reductionism, is simply unable to answer the most important questions in life.  Over-committed skeptics regularly rule out contemplating meaning as a legitimate enterprise.  If they do find some subtle tricks to allow for meaning, these heavenly concepts are confined to cramped quarters with narrow doors and frequently with no windows to larger realities.  There may just be no explaining my wonderful, carefree frolicking about.  Well, deal with it — and preferably not as a problem…

POEM: We Won’t Be Food Again

I would rather
Be Job
Less than
Renounce
A living wager
And know place to lie
My head
My heart
Made homeless
In loo of
A fast fooled nation
For going
The beast
Wee
Can due
Hitched to number one
Number too
As on the line
For given debts
In place of
Solemn assemblies
And last riots
As wreck we him
For the masses
Left too
Starve
As a full groan man
Eschewing
A distended belly
And infantile grimace
Dis gorging
To which I object
A single finger
And vomiting
A sour second
Relative to the toil it evacuates
As vying a bowel inconsonance
And those who are but in
Fringe benefits over doo
Be rated by privilege takers
Of a hollowed hire power
Pro claim
There is no Black day for employment
The unanswered trump it
As if
Falling flat to some honky
Reveres discrimination
As dark daze per severe
The fecund material bound
Now a mushrooming clerical class
Beaten too
A bully pulp it    
Copious crumbs and the blest whines
Offering salivation
Like no me
Biblically
Throwing the book at me
Showing me the works
As if in some fooled court
Taking out
On me
Sum type
Of contract
Know labor
No food
Nor time travel to
’79 sense
For every dollared earn
Or as a payday loan
Cash here
Slipping through my fingers
Each day
For another till
My dreams standing still
Idoling money changers
On short order
Cooking the books
Serving as sum batterer
Or fry guy
Who is just
Greased
At the end of the day
Pain
You less
Than what
You learned
With respect to
Meat grate people
Seriously toying
“Be the happy meal”
As if
I whir
To halve a cow
And go to town
Drug by sum ferry tale
A bout
Worshipping some magic beings
Stalking skyward
As some giant rumble
To expose my hide
Wont to grind my bones
For their bred
My blood smelt
As iron away
From their golden cuffs
Razing my shackles once again
I will only ax once
As you know not jack
Weather the heavens fall
Either I am
Udderly fed up
Or my last words herd
Eat me
As I will only be
Food once
It’s just
Awe in a daze work

I wrote this poem today, all in a days work!  This poem was triggered by my experience last night at a community meeting, “Faith Conversations on Income Inequality.”  I was somewhat disappointed that of the two hours, less than 15 minutes was conversation.  The meeting was mostly didactic, with two detailed presentations, a short film well documenting the existence of actual poor working people in our very state of Ohio, and a short small group exercise (where some conversation occurred).

The kicker for the evening was after the meeting when conversing with a woman who I had never met proclaimed the disproportionately too-often cited and familiar, “If a person doesn’t work, then they don’t deserve to eat” (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10).  Of course, the key word and concept in this passage is an unwillingness to work.  I might add dignified and humane work.  Either way, it certainly doesn’t apply to people who can’t find work.  Further, in the previous verse, the apostles speaking about their own self-support when visiting the Thessalonians, say, “We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.  This seems to state that they did claim a right to such help (food), but were modeling an additional value of not being a burden on others.  If the apostles accepted help, when they were able to pay their own way, and this caused a burden to another, then they shouldn’t take such a necessary resource from another.  The higher way modeled by the apostles seems more apt as a critique of people unjustly benefiting from paying poverty wages, thus causing a burden to others, than as a critique of food as a human right.  Perhaps a less sophisticated yet more easily understood response to worrying about hungry people getting too much food is Uggghhh!

I had really hoped for an opportunity to share personal experiences and perspectives on faith and poverty, or income inequality.  For better or worse, I’ve thought about such things my whole life.  Still, I am actually eager to learn more, as I continue on my journey.  The story of dealing with poverty seems to me to be full of good news-bad news.  In my case, the bad news is that technically, I have lived in poverty most of the last decade — technically, meaning that my average income has been under the federal poverty guidelines.  The good news is that I am the wealthiest person I know — of course, I don’t get out much!  Such a conundrum has provided much experience and raw material upon which to meditate regarding what is true wealth.

One main point that I believe could help bring a more balanced perspective in our dealing with poverty is this: from a spiritual perspective, we must give equal time to spiritual poverty.  This is perhaps most succinctly captured by Mother Teresa, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”  I see Jesus as quite clearly spelling out the dividing line: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)  And, of course, serving God is inextricably linked with serving our neighbors: ” ‘The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.  John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ ” (Luke 3:9-11)

A corollary of this spiritual view of poverty is that we must not stigmatize the poor, or dishonor God’s special relationship with them.  I half-jokingly put this under the moniker of: “You say poverty like it’s a bad thing!”  A couple of generations ago, Latin American theologians developed the concept of God’s “preferential option for the poor.”  In part, this refers to the special relationship that the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized have with God.  Their vulnerability manifest by oppression in the world creates an openness to God’s way.  This openness fosters a greater intimacy, deeper understanding, and easier access to living in harmony with God’s laws (ultimate reality).  Of course, harmony with God’s laws is counter-cultural to the status quo and the powers that be.  Intriguingly though, the oppressed already stare down the brutal realities of the powers that be every day; so, being counter-cultural is much less of a leap “of faith” than those who benefit from the status quo.  This is perhaps the most simple reason why top down change rarely, if ever, benefits the poor more than the rich.  Thus, the poor are already primed to adopt God’s ways, as the world’s ways sure as hell aren’t working for them.  Jesus is a striking example of acting in accordance with this reality.  Jesus spent the vast majority of his time with the dispossessed, and “regular” folks, the 99% if you will.  In a stroke of spiritual genius, Jesus planted his message among people who were both most open to God’s message and had their material interests aligned to move in a direction parallel to God’s ways, including, of course, justice.  No doubt, Jesus played a prophetic role, in directly confronting the powers that be, whether religious, political, or economic elites.  Such confrontations were likely inevitable.  Even so, Jesus brought an unwavering dignity, intimacy, and authority (street cred) to such encounters.  Jesus did not shy from his fully humanizing ways, even in the face of dehumanizing forces.  This was a palpable measure of how Jesus loved his enemies.  This is God’s ways manifest.  The poor have fewer barriers to accessing such ways. Let’s learn from the poor!

I have lived among affluent people of faith most of my life.  For the affluent, the vast majority of us in the so-called developed world, I am convinced that voluntary poverty and simplicity is the most powerful tool to transform our world, God’s creation, into ways friendly to abundant life.  I have drawn this conclusion from my profound failure to convince rich westerners to truly care about the world’s poorest.  I am a formidable debater, both informed and with heart.  Still, the misery of my failure to convince others with words is exceeded only, and greatly, by the misery of the world’s poorest.  I cannot escape the weight of my experience that the affluence of westerners, including myself, and the material conflicts of interest we are embedded in, is the single most important factor preventing such a conversion.  Better aligning our material interests with the poor, through voluntary poverty and simplicity, can unleash a cascading journey where the soul’s force begins to flow more freely, as water invites gravity to do its work — and the most grave law unbroken, that of love.  This poem of mine alludes to the freedom gained by simple living:

Dining with Kings and Queens
Courtly balls
Knightly duels
And priestly indulgences
You can avoid it all
If only you are happy
Eating beans

Probably the greatest illusion humans face is seeing wealth (and its companions, status and power) as an answer to all of their problems.  Surely, people have material needs, and those needs going unmet is a tragedy.  However, once one’s basic material needs are met, wealth becomes a disability to the individual and a disease to society.  There is a great body of psychological and sociological evidence that increasing wealth makes us less compassionate and less generous.  In short, wealth serves as a wedge between people and God.  Science confirms the truth of not being able to serve two masters.  People can, and do, argue about the role of material scarcity in the problems of poverty — just witness political wranglings about budget-busting social programs in the richest nation the world has ever known.  Nonetheless, there is one pervasive and undeniable fact: there is, and has been for at least centuries, enough physical resources to more than meet the material needs of every human on the planet.  In this light, spiritual poverty is exposed.  We can solve material want; we choose not.  It is not a close call!

Poverty worldwide is endemic.  Billions of people live on $2 per day or less.  Those most likely to be the poorest are women and children — so much for family values.  People of color are also at much greater risk.  Those most likely to go hungry are those who grow food, our farmers.  The only way this can happen is to literally steal food from their hands.  The rich claim a hugely disproportional share of the world’s resources, including the productive labors of billions.  All the wile, pawning sham scarcity as an excuse for their hoarding and ravenous ways.  Gandhi captured it well when asked what he thought of Western civilization.  He responded, “I think it would be a great idea.”  I concur.

With untrammeled globalization, poverty can only be adequately viewed as a global problem.  The causes of poverty cannot be isolated within one country.  We, as a world, are in the same boat — though, undoubtedly, there is an increasing chasm between the accommodations of first and third class.  Debt, just as in biblical times, is used to enslave people.  We are told that the world is in great debt, accepting it as gospel truth.  Yet, to whom exactly are we are in debt?  Pay no attention to the money changers behind the curtain.  Exploitation and robbing of natural resources unjustly enriches the wealthier.  Such profitable cleverness is called business.  Meanwhile, non-prophet organizations stand by impotent to counter this unseemly necessity.  And governments suffer from electile dysfunction. The good news is that the cancerous idol of endless economic “growth” may not destroy creation, with such abundance and ingenuity.  Praise be to God!  If only, God forbid, the dream of a worldwide “middle class” can be averted.  Work.  Buy.  Consume.  Die.

Less poetically put, the “powers that be” work on a global scale.  This juggernaut of globalization reduces humans to economic beings in a consumer culture.  People become means to ends, not being of sacred worth and inherent dignity.  To enforce this state of affairs, wars are waged as “needed.”  These wars, unsurprisingly, do not serve the interests of the dispossessed.  This global reality is rooted in a distinct worldview: poverty is not the problem; poverty is the solution.  While a tsunami of rhetoric speaks of jobs, unemployment serves to lower wages, not just of the unfortunate unskilled, but of skilled labor too.  More unemployment is good for (someone else’s) business.  And if you missed that memo, perhaps the desperation of unemployment and wage slavery has you occupied.  Such desperation can serve as a distraction and thwart a healthy, functioning civil society (see electile dysfunction).

There is an African proverb which says: where there is no wealth there is no poverty.  This ancient wisdom emanates from the experience of humans over many generations and cultures that concentrated wealth creates poverty, that is, depends on poverty. There is a powerful illusion that wealth brings wisdom, that the rich must really know something that we don’t.  Well, if they do, it’s most likely occult or a cult.  I cite the incisive lyrics of “If I were a rich man” from the play, Fiddler on the Roof:

Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
And it won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
When you’re rich, they think you really know!

The truth is much simpler, and more stark: the rich need the poor; the poor don’t need the rich.  For those who might cite the droll biblical retort, “the poor will always be with us,” have you pondered this: if you think the poor are hard to get rid of, try the rich!

The diseased worldview of consumerism and capitalism has at least on Achilles’ heel.  This rests on the utter inability to answer a fundamental question in life: how much is enough?  Capitalism thrives on convincing you that you never have enough, you are perpetually lacking something (which we happen to be selling), and by extension: you are lacking.  This turns the Gospel’s worldview upside down.  The good news is that you are enough; God made you that way.  Return to this truth, and capitalism recedes to a perfunctory process describing the nominal exchange of goods — and the goods are actually good!

The meeting on faith conversations about income inequality focused on the United States.  While poverty extends far beyond, and is rooted in, the larger world, the U.S. can serve as an enlightening case study.  The U.S. just recently observed the 50th anniversary of the “war on poverty” as declared in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson.  [For poetic versions of lessons learned from the “war on poverty,” see my poems, Hungering for Answers, and War on Poverty]  The “war on poverty” is about the same age as me.  During my lifetime, the U.S. has grown about three times wealthier in material wealth.  Nevertheless, more Americans work, and they work longer hours.  Some gains were made in reducing poverty in the early years.  However, the overall trend since the late 1970’s has been stagnating or declining wages, especially when compared to skyrocketing worker productivity.  Income inequality is higher now in America than in the last hundred years.

For those with biblical commitments, we are long overdue for a Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).  The year of Jubilee is a Sabbath of Sabbaths.  It prescribed forgiveness of debt every seven years.  In the fiftieth year — after seven cycles of seven years, not only was all debt forgiven, but all slaves were freed and all land returned to its original owners land.  This is the biblical prescription for preventing large concentrations of wealth and persons from being permanently dispossessed from their land and/or forced into servitude through debt.  Let’s make it so!

POEM: Treatment…Like…Sewage

Treatment…Like…Sewage

I lived in Libertarianville
They said
“If you want sewage treatment,
Just go to some place that has it.”
So I did
Many don’t live there long

I find discussing politics with self-professed Libertarians a vexing experience.  Typically, we cannot converse for more than a few minutes before getting to some brutal logical endpoint, where I am requested to trump my heart with some rudimentary portion of a brain.  To the most fanatical, there is a “let them die” conclusion, met with way-to-comfortable stoicism.  To the less fanatical, it is usually some corollary of this, masquerading more humanely.

In this short poem, I take sewage treatment as an example of a common good escaping the grasp of Libertarians.  And dealing with sewage and the slippery slopes of shitty logic can be perilous.  I draw this example from my training and experience in public health.  The control of communicable diseases is the greatest public health accomplishment in the last century of humankind.  Only human unkind would create a political philosophy and practice that would wholesale-endanger such life-promoting accomplishments with a proverbial flush down the toilet of ideology.  This poem mocks the ridiculous notion that complex common goods can be manufactured and marketed like widgets in some free market. After all, few can afford the free market!  After the Libertarians’ wet dream, the remaining reality would not have such complex common goods even available for one to exercise their precious choice regarding.  The tough choices and hard-fought gains from balancing individual liberty with the common good, in my judgment, would leave us with a world where there is much less freedom, fewer choices, and a less robust life.  Choosing one particular thing over another particular thing, when done wisely, while destroying the possibility of the previous choice, thereby “limiting” our freedom, creates new realities with better choices, a more robust freedom.  Libertarians sometimes strike me as emotionally stunted, almost infantile, in their inability to sacrifice a present freedom to build a greater future.  Perhaps ironically, Libertarianism may actually manifest itself as some form of attachment disorder.

My typical experience of so-called Libertarianism strikes me as some dangerous addiction to some notion of absolute human freedom that routinely erodes every other value doomed to its presence, including public health. Now, I am not saying that Libertarians are necessarily stupid or do not hold values deeply.  I am saying that a steely brain is no substitute for wholehearted living, and Libertarianism seems to run freely, if not roughshod, over a myriad of insights and the wisdom of the heart, as well as everyday experience (such as the benefits of public health).  I am saying that Libertarians routinely hamstring all other values in favor of leaving all options open in the far-flung field of dreams called absolute human freedom.

I see the absolute part of the equation, the fundamental ideology or worldview, as corrosive, ironically, to any good fruits of good choices that freedom allows.  That said, Libertarians have it right, very right, that freedom is foundational, a first-order good, the fount of will.  The trouble necessarily follows when any freedom, or all freedom, must level anything built on that foundation, for lack of any ascendant, successfully competing, value.  Allowing any other value to rise either above or equally with freedom is necessarily a threat to the sacrosanct value of freedom.  The ultimate irony is that by not allowing any other value as great or greater than freedom, Libertarianism routinely finds itself standing dumb, unable to speak with authority, in a disabling self-censorship, for fear of undercutting its worship of freedom.  I find this worship of freedom idolatrous.  Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism.  In this sense, Libertarianism must fight any authority, refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, its own.  This may be the best definition of idolatry.  Perhaps somewhat mysteriously, this reveals an even deeper irony: Libertarianism and Authoritarianism share this truth of refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, their own.  As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”  A common sentiment among Libertarians and Anarchists is “question authority.”  I find much resonance with this sentiment.  Of course, this implied imperative raises the deeply ironic question, “By what authority do you question authority?”  A recursive reality oft leading to cycles of swearing. Some would seemingly put this to rest by claiming “I question all authority!”  Yet, in the shadow persists another question: Is questioning authority equivalent to not questioning authority?  Some would answer no, resigning any discernment in a moral flatland. Still, some would retort that the discernment lies in the questioning: the important thing is to question everything, including oneself.  I would agree.  Nonetheless, the rabbit hole goes still deeper in at least two additional tiers.  First, questioning everything implies an absolute skepticism, or, put perhaps even more provocatively, a faith in skepticism.  Second, questioning everything, including oneself implies tentativeness at the heart of reality.  The Buddhists would call this the doctrine of impermanence, that everything arises and falls in relationship to everything else, or “impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free.”  The Buddhist concept of impermanence is closely related to the concept of tentativeness or momentariness.  The Buddhist worldview is anathema to rigid ideology or fundamentalism of any unkind.  Amidst the flux of impermanence and the state of momentariness, arises the experience of compassion.  Rather than dissolving or devolving into nihilism and inescapable confusion, Buddhists have found that the experience of compassion is at the heart of reality, knitting together lives worth living.  I would love to infuse a healthy dose of Buddhism into Libertarianism.  Perhaps meditating on the highest ideal of bringing compassion to all living beings would moderate the sharp edges of Libertarianism in America.

There is truth in Libertarianism, and we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.  Nevertheless, Libertarianism needs to live more fully into the heart of humanity, embodying compassion.  Such a maturation process is good for all of us and each of us, whatever our ideologies of the day might be.  There are a host of fallacies founded on mistaking a part for the whole.  The process of integrating our experiences and understanding into an ever-larger whole, strikes me as the most fundamental developmental task of humanity, a transcendent task for those who have not yet anchored their skepticism in certainty.  In this journey, may we embrace one another with compassion.

POEM: Eminently Bad Business

Some might suggest that we run everything like a business
This is eminently bad business

The notion that everything should be run like a business runs like a disease through Western Civilization.  This delusion leads some to believe that capitalism is the answer to all human problems.  This pathetic reduction of humanity to economic beings is at the core of most major human problems that the world faces.  Most people would consider it absurd to run your love life like a business, or raising children, or being a best friend, or virtually any enterprise that would benefit from centering one’s life outside of one’s own parochial interests.  The most valuable things in life are not things.  Such “things” should not be imprisoned within profit margins and subject to usury for every asset we possess.  What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?  If you can’t articulate some sacred ground for your soul to reside, then the only advice would be: make sure you get a really good price for your soul; don’t sell yourself short.  Of course, if your soul has a price, and you are selling yourself, don’t be surprised that others treat you like a prostitute when going about your business.

“Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it! For I should suffer the misery of devils were I to make a whore of my soul.” — Thomas Paine.

POEM: Stage Coach

Stage Coach

One day
I lost my script
And was taken back
Only to have scene
The other actors
Guise
Now
In the audience
Having won
More stage
Contracted

This is a good example of one of my elegantly ambiguous poems, playing off multiple meanings, creating tensions for the reader to resolve on their own.  The general theme plays off “real” acting and the role each of us plays on life’s stage.  The stage is set in motion by losing one’s script.  For actors this could be a crisis.  In real life, this could be a real blessing and launchpad to freedom. Being “taken back” can mean “surprised” or “to lose one’s footing;” or to return to an earlier time, perhaps a more innocent or true time; or to be accepted back by the other actors for yet another scene. Is moving from “guise” to authenticity a stage?  Within the tension of guise and authenticity is the alternating roles of actor and audience member.  So how does one participate on life’s stage without either acting or simply being relegated to a passive observer?  Is “winning” getting a greater role on stage or somehow transcending the stage itself?  The last line, last word, “contracted” is at least a triple pun.  Contracted can mean having signed (won?) a contract.  Contracted can mean made smaller.  Contracted can mean coming down with a disease.

The title, Stage Coach, lies outside the formal purview of the poem, much like the realm of metaphysics or God, offering a hint, but ample uncertainty.

Of course, the poem and title conjure up the monologue and poem,”All the World’s a Stage,” in the play, As You Like It, by William Shakespeare:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Of course, if you are a playwright, everything looks like a stage…

POEM: Pillar of the Community

I have a well-paid job
I am a captain of industry
I am a member of platinum circles
I am a pillar of the community
My name will live on
On plaques
And maybe a street
I need not
Pay the devil his due
For I’ve already been checked off his list

There is an African proverb: “Where there is no wealth there is no poverty.”  Many inhabitants of Western civilization have the notion that eliminating poverty comes from wealth.  Not true.  Eliminating poverty comes from sharing.  Without sharing, no amount of financial wealth can eliminate poverty.  The greed (anti-sharing) that accumulates financial wealth is a disease, of which poverty is a symptom.  As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)  Make your choice — the devil has — and you decide which is the pillar of community.

Blood Donor Deferrals Border on Insanity

I just returned from donating blood at the American Red Cross.  I have been a regular blood donor for a long time.  I usually donate blood two or three times a year.  Unfortunately, I have been deferred as a blood donor for two of the last four years.  I was deferred as a blood donor twice for one year each time, both due to traveling to an area where there may be some malaria risk.  The first time that I was deferred as a blood donor was because of travel to Haiti.  The second time was due to travel through rural Colombia.  In my case, these deferrals resulted in a loss of 4 to 6 units of donated blood to the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross is constantly trying to recruit new blood donors and to get previous blood donors to donate again.  From the regular calls and advertising campaigns, I get the impression that the US blood supply may be low at times and that my blood donations are greatly needed.  However, I am struck by the huge range of reasons for deferring willing blood donors.  It seems to me that the threshold for deferral is very low.  The willingness to accept any nonzero risk is very low.  This approach is insane, or least pretty darn close.  The vain quest for absolute security and zero risk is a dangerous fiction.  I understand the reasons for wanting to avoid blood transfusion related adverse events.  However, deferring extremely low risk willing blood donors and potentially depriving someone of a needed blood transfusions is not a zero risk enterprise either.  As stated by Richard Benjamin, MD, PhD, chief medical officer for the American Red Cross, “The most dangerous unit of blood is the one we don’t have.  Not having blood for someone who needs it is worse than giving someone a unit of blood that carries a 1-in-5 million chance of disease.”

I am not your average blood donor.  I have a master’s degree in public health, so I have training in epidemiology, the scientific study of the distribution of disease, health and their determinants.  Also, in the 1990s I worked in a health department managing an HIV-AIDS program.  I am familiar with the political and cultural forces that can distort our scientific assessments of risk management.  However, you don’t need a graduate degree to recognize that our culture has great issues around security and fear of losing or risking most anything.

Less than 38% of Americans are eligible to donate blood according to the American Red Cross.  Today, as I read through the pages of reasons for which you could be deferred from donating blood, I was struck most profoundly by the deferrals based simply on where one has lived.  If, in fact, the scientific basis for avoiding such blood donors is sound, then the entire continent of Europe should refuse blood donations from virtually its entire population.  This cannot be sound scientific reasoning.

In the last decade or so, there’s been a lot of hysteria about mad cow disease.  According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 22 cases of mad cow disease in the United States since 2003.  Three of these cases originated in the United States.  Most of the other cases were from Canada, which you may note is not one of the restricted countries that will put you on the blood donation deferral list by the American Red Cross.  The United Kingdom was the epicenter for the mad cow disease epidemic.  While in the United Kingdom there had been thousands of cases of mad cow disease in years past, in 2010 there were only 11 cases reported.  Maybe it’s time for the American Red Cross to relax its deferral requirements related to mad cow disease. Or, maybe we should come up with a new diagnosis for this irrational insanity, and declare that the American Red Cross has Mad American Disease.  You are literally dozens of times more likely to be killed by being struck by lightning in the US then getting mad cow disease.  I’m not sure what the chance is of lightning striking the American Red Cross, but I would settle for a light bulb above the head of somebody who makes these crazy decisions.

Over the decades that I have donated blood to the American Red Cross, I have noted the quickly changing and almost always growing list of reasons to defer a willing blood donor.  As a personal example, I had malaria when I was an infant in Haiti where I was born.  During the ensuing 50 years I’ve not had any symptoms of malaria.  However, how the American Red Cross deals with this distant case of malaria changes back and forth.  Many years ago, the American Red Cross simply asked whether you have ever had malaria, and if you indicated yes, the nurse would ask more specific questions.  This always made for an interesting blood donation visit as I suspect there were few Ohio blood donors who had ever had malaria, and the nurses often had to consult with other professional healthcare staff to figure out what to do with me as a blood donor.  Although sometimes it took a while for them to figure it out, it never prevented me from donating blood.  Then, at some point later, they changed the question as to whether you had malaria in the last three years.  I can answer no to this question, and this streamlined my visit quite a bit.  Now, in recent years, they are back to the more general question of have you ever had malaria.  Fortunately, there seems to be better training among the nurses during the screenings and they do not seem to need to consult anyone else to determine that I am, in fact, eligible to donate blood.

The American Red Cross’ quest for zero risk seems to be marching on.  Since I last donated blood less than three months ago, they have added yet another safety precaution.  Now, when they stick your finger with a needle to get a drop of blood to check your hemoglobin, they place a plexiglass barrier between your finger and the nurse.  Really now, how often does anyone ever got blood splashed in their eyes from giving a finger prick?  More importantly, does this represent any risk worth worrying about.  If it does, I’d hate to see what such risk assessment would do to health care workers in hospital settings.  Perhaps we should expect nurses in hospitals to soon be wearing spacesuits just to be sure.  According to the CDC, “Health care workers who have received hepatitis B vaccine and have developed immunity to the virus are at virtually no risk for infection…the estimated risk for infection after a needlestick or cut exposure to HCV-infected blood is approximately 1.8%.  The risk following a blood splash is unknown but is believed to be very small…The risk after exposure of the eye, nose, or mouth to HIV-infected blood is estimated to be, on average, 0.1% (1 in 1,000).” For instance, for hepatitis C,  “the risk is considered to be less than 1 chance per 2 million units transfused.”  That’s for a blood donation recipient who has an entire unit of blood transfused into them.  The risk of  the nurse getting infected by pricking the finger of a potential blood donor would be on the order of that one in a million TIMES the chance of getting a drop of blood splashed in their eye when pricking a blood donor’s finger TIMES the chance that such an event could cause disease.  You can do the math yourself.  For the example of hepatitis C, conservatively, we are talking about one in a million times one in thousands times one in a thousand.  In the end, we are talking about no more than a chance of one in many billions of getting infected by hepatitis C by pricking the finger of a potential blood donor without having eye protection .  For the number of blood donations every year in the US, it would take centuries for this practice to expect to prevent even one case of blood borne pathogens.  The risk for hepatitis C is the highest and adding in hepatitis C and HIV would not substantially change this basic calculation.  From the resource perspective, the question becomes how many billions of times do you want to place a plexiglass barrier between you and a potential blood donor to prevent a single case of infection?

I am well aware of the emotional place from which the quest for zero risk comes.  Unfortunately, the emotional experience of wanting to live in a zero risk world does not match up with a simple costs and benefits calculation of going very far down that road.  It quickly leads to unjustifiable contradictions.  Why defer blood donors due to a nearly incalculably small risk for mad cow disease from people who spend significant time in Europe but not Canada, where most of the US cases have originated from?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Starting a deferral process for people who spend significant time in Canada would expose the insane balance between actual risk and actual costs in trying to avoid the risk.  It seems that we can “afford” to ban, for example, military servicemen who were stationed in Germany or England from donating blood in order to “buy” some unscientific sense of security in our blood supply.  I recognize that plenty of people are willing to pay such prices.  I just ask that we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that these choices are based on scientific evidence and well-reasoned analyses of risk management.

Another example of blood donor deferral that rests more on cultural biases than scientific and well-reasoned risk management, is The Lifetime Ban on Blood Donations from Gay Men, where policy analyst Robert Valadez writes:

“So where did this policy come from? And why is it still enforced despite advances in technology that can identify HIV in a unit of blood within days of infection?

The policy dates back to the early days of the HIV epidemic, when knowledge of transmission was nonexistent. Recognizing the disproportionate incidence rates among gay and bisexual men, the FDA responded by enacting a policy that prohibited all men who had sex with other men from donating blood. The year was 1985. Twenty-six years later, the policy remains unchanged.

Current blood donor eligibility criteria are largely inconsistent, imposing significantly less restrictive deferrals to heterosexual men and women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior. For example, a heterosexual person who has sex with a partner who is HIV-positive is eligible to donate blood after only 12 months. Yet the policy permanently bans all gay and bisexual men, even those who are HIV-negative, consistently practice safe sex, or in monogamous relationships”

Like many experiences in my life, I find that even the wonderful experience of saving lives by donating blood, comes with the collateral costs of having to participate in the system that is driven by an insane quest for zero risk.  This insane quest has costs.  It has costs for the blood supply and the people who depend on it.  This insane quest for zero risk has costs for those who are subjected to its unscientific cultural biases, and for all of us who live in an environment that unnecessarily models for us this insanity and vanity.  Life has risks.  There are reasonable and scientific ways to reduce these risks.  We should pay attention to these.  However, we should not be driven and reduced by unreasonable fears, unfounded fears.  As is often the case in life, that which we feel threatens us gets a disproportionate amount of our attention.  Nonetheless, we should look at the full range of costs associated with trying to avoid some threat, and realize and accept that risk is an integral and unavoidable part of life.  I would hope that the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans, in its broadest sense, would kick in as we live into the fact that taking and accepting risks can far outweigh the costs of those risks.  Maybe even the American Red Cross will take a risk and pare down its blood donation deferral list.  We can always hope — though this entails some risk…

Obama Bookends State of Union Address With Militarism

Obama Bookends State of Union Address With Militarism

President Barack Obama said a lot of nice things in his State of the Union address last night.  While these days I don’t pay much attention to what politicians say, I thought it was interesting to note that Mr. Obama bookended his State of the Union address with two rather long militaristic segments.  While Mr. Obama may have a slightly different take on US world domination than some of his predecessors, when it comes down to it he flatly said that the US must be THE world power.  Nationalism and militarism is a disease that has inflicted our great nation for many generations.  Perhaps more importantly, the disease of US militarism has plagued the rest of the world for as many generations.  It almost goes without saying that in US politics our overwhelming military might is preeminent, both as a practical matter for running the rest of the world, and at the center of our national religion.  I can’t think of a single thing that receives more reverence in this country than the military and military service.  It is very dangerous and considered blasphemous to speak against US military. I believe that standing against militarism is our only hope in this country and the world to save our planet and its inhabitants.  If militarism is not defeated, then the violence necessary to sustain the status quo and its injustice will defeat this, that is, at least, kill us.

Please feel free to join me in any nonviolent revolutionary action that you can find and/or create.  Might I suggest getting involved in the occupy movement.