A message from Monica Lewinsky

I came across an unexpected Ted Talk by Monica Lewinsky about shame and humiliation.  There is perhaps no better example of a non-public figure being publicly humiliated to a global audience than Lewinsky.  As she describes, the mainstream news broke the story of her sex scandal with Bill Clinton at a time when internet access was becoming prevalent, and the internet provided a mechanism to share the details of that scandal across the globe with more content and detail than ever provided in print media and TV.  She was only 22 at the time.

She suffered from extreme cyber bullying, trolling, and online harassment.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to be despised and humiliated and joked about by millions of complete strangers all over the world.  It is not a situation I would wish on anyone, no matter what they did or said.

Here is a link to her Ted Talk:  https://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame

 

 

Gee, maybe we should privatize government agencies

The current political tone and the new leadership of federal agencies has made me consider options that I never thought were reasonable.  Privatization of certain government functions is one of them.

In spite of what party leaders are saying about “taking power from Washington and bringing it back to the people,” Trump’s leadership style seems to be a tight command and control operation with personal reprisal and public attacks against disloyal government servants.  This style indicates power centralized at the very top, with little room for disagreement or even experimentation at regional offices around the country.  As such, it is highly doubtful that Trump’s cabinet picks will actually give more power back to states (New York, especially) in order to experiment with local control where the feds previously had a hand.

In this context, I am starting to wonder if private corporations might develop and provide more equitable and efficient government services than the federal government would under Trump.  The least efficient agency that I know of is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  To my knowledge as a casual observer of immigration law, USCIS frequently loses paperwork, they take forever to make decisions, and they hold their own mistakes against the applicants if and when they do make an error.  This kind of ineffective bureaucracy would never stand if the clients it served were white, middle class American citizens, but because the clients are foreigners and immigrants, the level of service has not risen to the basic level we expect at Burger King or Domino’s Pizza.

Many other agency functions have already been delegated to the states, prime examples being the distribution of benefits such as Food Stamps, TANF, Medicare and Medicaid, accomplished by Department of Social Services at a state or county level.  So in a sense, the federal government has already given up on managing those programs.

One critique of this argument is that USCIS and other federal agencies would thrive and deliver amazing results if only they received proper amounts of funding.  That may be true.  But with a $14 billion wall in the works and Republicans at the helm, increased funding for any federal agency that does not primarily involve men with guns is unlikely to succeed.

So let’s give Google a try at it.  Let’s let CostCo give it a go.  Maybe a private conglomeration of immigration attorneys will materialize to run the agency with ease and accuracy.  Or maybe Rocket Lawyer will answer the call.  Who can resist a multi-billion dollar government contract to provide services indefinitely?

 

 

Avocados will pay for the Wall

I feel conflicted about the current administration’s proposal to cut back free trade.  Ever since I learned about NAFTA and the Zapatistas and the sweatshops along the Mexican border, I have opposed free trade agreements between the U.S. and developing nations.  The primary reason being that when you move manufacturing and industry to a country with cheaper labor costs, workers will be exploited and the environment will be polluted because the host country does not have adequate labor laws, environmental laws, and/or enforcement of the laws in those countries.  I witnessed both labor exploitation and environmental destruction in Mexico during a trip to the border region sponsored by my college.  (thank you, St. Lawrence University)

NAFTA also eliminated jobs in both the United States and Mexico in certain sectors.  In the United States, manufacturing jobs were shipped to Mexico, leaving blue collar workers out of work.  In Mexico, small family farms suddenly had to compete with U.S. agribusiness, which in the U.S. is one of the most heavily subsidized sectors of the economy.  Corn production in Mexico was all but wiped out when cheaper U.S. corn hit the market.  As a result, many farmers went out of business, and without a job, it became more appealing for agricultural workers to immigrate to the United States in order to find work.

Of course, automation technology took a lot of manufacturing jobs away from U.S. workers, regardless of the impact of free trade agreements.  Let us not lose sight of this fact.

What will happen if we cut back on trade?  Will consumer prices go up, and if they do, will local manufacturers step in to make products that are  no longer made in America?  Will American workers be adequately trained to step up production?  Will we have shortages of electronics since most electronics are produced in Asia?  What if we run out of rubber or bananas or anything that does not grow in the continental United States?

I am all for increasing the strength of local economies rather than creating dependence on vast global networks, but will any of Trump’s policies actually do that?  Most of his domestic policies seem to be directed at promoting concentration of wealth in the hands of large corporations and taking away social programs and health benefits from the people who would work in this new “America-first” economy.

 

 

 

Republicans Really Love Science When it Comes to Detecting Pregnancy

Since the issue of abortion has been in the news lately, and Trump has recently nominated a new Supreme Court Justice who is avowedly conservative and follows the originalist approach to Constitutional interpretation espoused by the late Antonin Scalia, I will make my point on this issue.

Originalists believe that the text of the U.S. Constitution must be interpreted as its drafters must have understood it at the time it was written in 1787.  So-called right to life activists claim that the right to life mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution grant the protections of personhood to fertilized eggs inside a woman’s womb.

The problem is, the scientific discovery of fertilization of the egg by the sperm was not made until 1879 by Hermann Fol, in Geneva, Switzerland.  Without the internet that we all rely on today, it probably took a few years longer for this discovery to reach the general population in the United States.

Long before the scientific discovery of human fertilization (conception) in 1879, the general population had an understanding that sexual activity lead to pregnancy and birth after a period of months.  Furthermore, due to the occasional miscarriage, the general population had an understanding that a baby developed over time and grew inside the mother’s womb before being delivered.  These general understandings predated the drafting of the Constitution by a long shot.

It was not until 1976 that the early pregnancy test (“EPT”) for home use was invented, which could diagnose pregnancy rapidly without the involvement of a medical doctor.  So it was about 200 years after the drafting of the Constitution that women had the ability to determine in some scientific way that they were pregnant.  For thousands of years beforehand, women had to rely on physical indications such as morning sickness and missed periods to determine if they were pregnant, and they were not always accurate.

Today, the same Republicans who deny that climate change exists and claim that science is biased against their beliefs are demanding that women use scientific testing invented in 1976 to determine if a fertilization process that was first discovered by scientists in 1879 has occurred and thus the tiny cell inside their uterus is a human being and as such deserving of legal protections put into writing in 1787.  So they are heavily reliant on science to determine if “life” exists.  Yet when any environmental issue is brought up as a concern for human health, they question the science and act like science is a liberal conspiracy in favor of a certain policy agenda.

 

I love exercise

Whether I have had a rough day, or I’m feeling a little off, or I am obsessing about something and don’t know what to do, exercise always helps.  Cardiovascular exercise is the best, because it warms you up and cleanses the bloodstream and it makes you focus on the body and on movement, which in turn takes focus away from whatever mental distress you were experiencing.  Running especially has these effects, not only from the workout but also from the repetitive pounding on the ground, which has a natural calming and releasing effect.  Although your legs might get sore, the back and the shoulders will loosen up while you go on a run.

When I can’t run due to my recurring foot problem or any other injury, I do HASfit workouts at home in the living room.  They have great ab workouts, as well as legs and upper body workouts.  I’ve never had the patience or motivation for a workout  video that was 20 minutes or longer, but the 8 to 10 minute workout routines are great.  You can find them on youtube here:  https://www.youtube.com/user/KozakSportsPerform

All of the HASfit videos are free to watch, and there are no ads.  It’s really great.

Let’s all band together

What if the president was a musician?  Would that make a difference?

We already had a sax player, but he was just a casual part-time player.  What about a real, full time musician in the Oval Office?  How are the acoustics in there?

It would have to be a fiddle player.  They are already the commanding officers of most bands, and also bubbly personalities who will attract the necessary attention to win public office.  However, a guitar player could also shred some nasty chords in the White House.  they wouldn’t even try and they would fix the problems.  They would party all day and then at like 9:25 p.m. they would bust out the solution to Universal healthcare and immigration and stop climate change just like that.

A banjo player would be good the first day and then disappear for three months.  He/she would then appear, make a totally awesome speech about saving the economy, and then back to the secret white-house-of-the-woods he/she would go.  The cello player would get elected president and then be too busy practicing to do anything until the fourth year in office.  The drummer would win the election and throw a big party for the whole United Nations and then six weeks later would quit citing better things to do.

The singer would try and try and try to get elected President but never make it.

There’s nobody else in a band, right?  ; )

 

Replace the Courts with ADR

I do mediation, and in New York, the state provides a certain amount of funding for Community Dispute Resolution Centers in each county.  The centers provide free and low cost mediation/dispute resolution services to the community for cases including child custody and visitation, neighbor disputes, parent-child disputes, elder transitions, special education decisions, landlord-tenant disputes, and restorative justice.  Short of felony offenses that must be handled in criminal court, we could handle any type of dispute.  But we do not have the funding nor the capacity to take on the full array of cases because the state only allocates $5.4 million dollars a year to be divided by 20 mediation centers that cover all counties in New York.

Why do the mediation centers receive $5.4 million while the Unified Court System receives approximately $1.9 billion dollars each year?  The fact is that the state, the courts, and people in general do not see the centers as a clear alternative to the courts.  We are seen as part of the court system, and currently our funding is allocated within that framework… but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Imagine a world where the mediation center is a large stone building with a dome and security guards and rotundas and clerks offices and meeting rooms.  Imagine a world where people only go to court as a last resort, after they have tried to work things out with the opposing party.  Imagine if you could handle a dispute with any person or company in a confidential setting.  Imagine knowing that you will always have a say in the outcome of the dispute.  Imagine if we had a system that built and maintained relationships instead of fomenting adversity and distrust.

New York State could create an alternative dispute resolution system that equals or exceeds the jurisdiction and power of the state courts.  And it would not cost $1.9 billion.  I have not done the budgetary projections, but I promise you that it will be cheaper than $1.9 billion per year.  I would bet that it would cost less than half that amount.

Statewide, 74% of the people who come to a mediation center reach agreement, and 92% are satisfied with mediation.  Are 92% of the people who go to court for a civil (non-criminal) matter satisfied?  I doubt it.

Should you force things?

Often times I am faced with a challenge or a project or a plan, and I don’t know whether to force an outcome to materialize or to toss it into the river of life and see where it ends up due to circumstance and chance.

On the one hand, with patience, practice, and skill, a person can achieve a stated goal by following a timeline of particular action steps directed at that goal.  But sometimes, unforeseen circumstances get in the way, and other times, you loose interest in the goal while you still have a lot of work left to achieve it.  Another possibility is that you expend as much effort as humanly possible and the goal stands yet unattained due to a mismatch between ability and outcome desired.

A different approach is to state your intentions around a particular goal and then keep an eagle’s eye out for opportunities popping up in your community and your known world, taking action only when an opportunity becomes visible to you.  For example, you tell your friends you are looking for a job in a different field, and two months later, one of your friends sees an ad for a job and shares it with you.  You apply and get the job.  You are qualified for the job because you went to grad school, although at the time applied to grad school you had intended to go into a different field of work but the education changed your mind and opened your eyes to different career paths, etc.

On a scale of 1 to 100 percent, what is the ideal quantity of effort to expend on a daily or weekly basis?  It would be really nice to know.  If you expend 100 percent effort on one stated goal, you will neglect the other aspects of your life.  But is 100 percent effort for seven or eight hours a day really necessary for any hoped-for result?  What if you do nothing except keep your eye out, and the perfect opportunity drops in to your lap?  Is that an achievement, or is it “meant to be?”  Is anything that happens meant to be?

Sit down to eat

I have some friends in an intentional community in Colorado who always eat sitting on the floor.  They focus on their food, never having phones or devices or books in front of them, trying to taste the food and to experience the food.  They sit on the ground so that they are more “grounded” – after all, eating is a grounding experience to begin with… might as well ground all the way?  Food grows on the ground, you have to bend over to pick it.  Even if you kill an animal to get the meat, it falls to the ground before you pick it up and take it home.  So then you put something from the ground in your mouth and call it food, and it is delicious and nourishing, but don’t forget that you are eating something that came from the dirt.

They also believe that if you focus on your food, you will taste more flavors and generally enjoy what you are eating more than if you are distracted while you eat.  Please give it a try sometime – have a dinner party – where you sit on the ground and really enjoy eating.

Regulations

Isn’t it hilarious that the Republicans’ main agenda items are to restore “law and order” and to get rid of “regulations?”  What do you think creates order, if not a regulation?  A regulation is none other than a subpart of a law.  What they are really saying is that they want to amplify and expand the use of police (lethal force) to enforce a code of morality (the criminal code) while simultaneously excluding from morality anything that has to do with economic fairness, protecting the environment and animal rights, equality and nondiscrimination based on race and gender, ethics and transparency in government, and a right to public education.

What’s even funnier is that these folks pretend to stand up for state and local control of decision making.  If that’s the case, what about pot legalization?  What about locally funded addiction treatment centers?  What about strict green building codes in towns and cities?  What about publicly funded gay pride parades?  What about high property taxes used to pay for public schools?