Friday, August 31, 2018

Witch Problems: The Clutter of Magic

I have read more occult books...well...I was counting up and realizing that I have self-identified as a Witch for 32 years now...and I am a librarian.  I have read a lot of occult books.  They warn you about all sorts of eldritch dangers...but the one I have never seen as a warning is that if you become even a half-serious practitioner, your life is in danger of being taken over by MAGICAL CLUTTER!!!  Now THAT is a serious bane.  I'm not entirely sure what Japanese Organization Lady would advise me to do since, "does this sealed arcane spell binding the power of a serial rapist bring you joy?" is not a sentence that should ever be uttered.  Or typed.  TOO LATE!  Because I am a witch and I say shit that certainly wouldn't be said in polite company and maybe shouldn't be said at all.

This post is coming from a Facebook post that I wrote, and I am memorializing it so it can serve as a reminder and cautionary tale for me in the future.

As an urban witch who lives in a one-bedroom apartment, I am incredibly fortunate to have a special nook just for my altars and magick.  Now...of course, I have altars and other stuff ALL OVER the apartment, but I also have a dedicated little personal temple space.  GLORY!  So superior to the years spent in the 400 square foot studio!  But it really, really needed to get straightened up.  But the STUFF.  How do I have this much stuff?  What is this stuff?  The occult books are very clear that one should not have a cluttered magical working environment.  Both, TRUE and HAH!  I mean, I live in a one bedroom apartment and have 9 altars, 3 of which get daily use and the other 6 get used over once a season.  Minimalism is just not the witchy way...no matter how much we romanticize our ancestors and their "simpler" ways.  And I consciously TRY not to do this.  Try and fail.  Try again.

Anyway, I needed to clean up my supplies.  So, I decided to clean house.  It went something like this:

What are these stones? Why are they together? There must be a reason...is that bark? Is this the molybdenite? Why did I buy this much selenite? I must have been planning to do something with it. What the hell was it? Is it disrespectful to throw this out? It was an offering at one point. I know I'm supposed to bury or burn it...but I think my apartment manager would be mad at me if I did that and I'm not in the mood to get caught digging in the park. Oh bloody hell...what is this? I know it's not one of the McCormick spices...I just used the bottle. And here are bottles of oils that the labels are no longer readable or that fell off. And save me from the collection of feathers and special bits of string and other ritual detritus. I really should have labeled my rocks better. The sacred waters are reasonably labeled at least. Note to self...I DO NOT NEED HYSSOP OIL!!! I HAVE PLENTY. Make a bloody inventory already! Why did I ever think it was a good idea to create a spell that leaves me having to keep a physical item until the end of time? That's just bad planning. Etc. etc. etc.


I know that part of this is because we feel like we need to be prepared for all sorts of unknown circumstances...so we collect all sorts of things with the "just in case" mentality.  My personal favorite, for me, was an early morning phone call from my sweetie (who is a magnificent Darren).  
I answered the phone and he excitedly burst out with a "Good morning, sweetie!  Do you need a snake in a bottle?"
 

I couldn't even fully parse what he was saying and was like, "Wha....?"


"Do you need a snake in a bottle?"

At this point, I was trying to think through whether or not this could be some really weird double entendre that was sailing over my head, or something.  Then he decided to explain."My friend at work gave me a dead snake preserved in a bottle of alcohol and I don't know what to do with it.  Do you need a snake in a bottle."  

"OH!  You mean do I need a SNAKE in a bottle."  And you know, for a witch, the answer to that question, taken literally, is "Yes...Yes I do.  I do need a snake in a bottle."  

I have a magnificent Darren.  He gave me a snake in a bottle.  Now, should there ever be an emergency in which we were thinking, "I could save the world with my wild edge-walking magicks if only I but had...a snake in a bottle..."  The struggle, it is real.  

But seriously...I am still not done organizing the clutter.  I did create an inventory.  I am thinking maybe I should capture and release some rocks back into the wild.  But I do think we need to be thinking about our magical detritus problem.  If I never, ever, ever get another random piece of special string or a candle I'm not supposed to finish burning or whatever in a ritual...this would be good.  And I am going to be much more conscious about what I saddle people with at the rituals I run.In the meantime, if I'm ever caught burying shit in the park...I promise you a weird trial.












Monday, July 30, 2018

The Abortion Debate is Not About Abortion

The abortion debate is not about abortion.  Abortion is not the issue, it is the battleground.

I know that the abortion debate is not about abortion because, if it were, there would be common ground discovered and actions taken.  We know what prevents abortion and the vast majority of abortions could have long since been a thing of the past if the mis-named "Pro-Life" forces were working with, instead of against, us in trying to shape create the changes that would prevent most abortions by making them irrelevant.

This is how you eliminate the need for most abortions.

  • Eliminate all barriers to safe and effective birth control.  
    • If we were serious, we could make it state-subsidized, free, and easy to get.
    • Eliminate all stigma around women's sexuality that would prevent them from getting birth control.
    • Make it possible for minor women to get birth control without parental knowledge or consent, so long as it is medically safe.
    • Condoms are in men's control and can be sabotaged.  They are important for other reasons, but women need control of their birth control.
    • Put more public money into developing safer forms of birth control that have fewer side-effects.
  • Mandatory comprehensive sexual education for all of our youth that focuses on de-stimgatizing sexuality, gives comprehensive understanding of how to prevent pregnancies, and focuses on sexual consent and communication.
  • Make ending rape a cultural and societal priority by embracing a culture that openly discusses consent.
  • Strengthen the social safety net, especially funding childcare and parental leave, so that women who would want to give birth and keep the child if their financial circumstances allowed them to do so can make that choice.
There will still be some need for abortion in unexpected and tragic circumstances where the woman wants to have the baby, but there is something badly wrong--with her health or with the fetus.  These are, by definition, tragedies and NO ONE outside of the woman, her doctor, and whichever intimates she allows into that inner circle of decision-making even has a right to an opinion.  

When I have tried to find common ground with those who swear that they just want to save the unborn babies by suggesting we could work together on any of the above--which would actually prevent abortions--it became crystal clear that this is not about the unborn babies or abortion at all.  The so-called "Pro-Life" side actually works against all of the things that we know prevent abortions.  The abortion debate is not about abortions.

What the abortion debate is about is whether or not women have full ownership of their bodies, or if that legal, societal, and cultural right is contingent and they can be owned by someone else...be it the father of the fetus, the husband, her father, or the state.  If a woman's right to own her own body is not absolute, then she is not legally fully human.  She is dehumanized and becomes pseudo-property.  If I can be owned by someone else--if the state can tell me that I lose my rights to make medical decisions about my body should I become pregnant--then I am legally much lesser than any man, whether or not I am actually pregnant.  I believe that the ability of the individual to have ownership of their body, the very vessel in which we walk the earth, is essential to being fully human.  The abortion debate is about whether women are legally full persons or if their legal personhood is contingent.  If it is contingent, then women are in a position where they are legally dehumanized.

Abortion is the battleground out of biological necessity.  A fetus only exists inside a woman's body.  Until birth, the fetus is in a dependent symbiotic relationship with the woman's body.  There is no way around that fact.  Once the fetus is in a woman's body, she must either have control over her body or someone else has control over her body.  You can't act "for the fetus" against the woman, without denying the woman sovereignty over her own body.  It logically cannot be done.  

I this way women are simply biologically different than men and vulnerable to having their humanity stripped from them in a way that men are not.  This is the battleground.  There are ways to prevent most abortions without resorting to a battle about whether or not women legally own their bodies--but in the actual abortion debate, there is no compromise.  Women either own their bodies, or this basic human right is contingent and women are not recognized as fully human.  If you give the fetus rights that supersede the mother, you deny women their full legal humanity.    

There can be no compromise on this battleground.  

I have never been pregnant and I never will be pregnant, but my legal-standing as a full human equal to men stands in the balance along with all of my Sisters from all backgrounds.  This is not about abortion.  It is about the emancipation of women.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Great Invocation

The Great Invocation is from Alice Bailey and has become a part of my daily practice.  This version brings together all three versions that she wrote, many during WWII, which, on a spiritual level, feels, to me, like we are picking up some of those threads again....and not just the Nazis, who are back.  I also mean things like we never have truly dealt with the reality of nuclear weapons...and we need to.  We let the great promise of the end of WWII, the idea that we could really develop the cosmopolis, devolve into state rivalries and economic colonization.  We had such promise at the end of WWII, and we squandered so much of it.  Anyway, I digress.  The language has been altered to make it gender neutral (I received it in that altered state from the Order of Ganymede, edited by the amazing Arachne) and then I altered it again to change "warring of the nations" to "warring of the factions," which is now our circumstance.  

Here is the edited text. https://theophaniadcdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/the-great-invocation.pdf

LET THE FORCES OF LIGHT BRING ILLUMINATION TO HUMANKIND.
LET THE SPIRIT OF PEACE BE SPREAD ABROAD.
MAY PEOPLE OF GOODWILL EVERYWHERE
MEET IN A SPIRIT OF COOPERATION.
MAY FORGIVENESS ON THE PART OF ALL BE THE KEYNOTE OF THIS TIME.

MAY THE SPIRIT OF PEACE APPEAR
AND END THE WARRING OF THE FACTIONS.
MAY THE REIGN OF LIGHT AND LOVE AND JUSTICE BE BEGUN!

MAY THE POWER OF THE ONE LIFE
POUR THROUGH ALL TRUE SERVERS. 
MAY THE LOVE OF THE ONE SOUL
CHARACTERIZE THE LIVES OF ALL WHO SEEK TO AID THE GREAT ONES.

MAY WE FULFILL OUR PART IN THE ONE WORK
THROUGH SELF-FORGETFULNESS,
HARMLESSNESS, AND RIGHT SPEECH.

OM!   OM!   OM!

LET THE SPIRITS OF LIBERATION ISSUE FORTH!
LET THEM BRING SUCCOR TO THE CHILDREN OF EARTH!
LET THE LIGHT FROM THE SECRET PLACE
COME FORTH,
AND COMING, SAVE.
COME FORTH, O MIGHTY ONES!

LET THE SOULS OF ALL AWAKEN TO THE LIGHT,
AND MAY THEY STAND WITH MASSED INTENT.
LET THE FIAT OF THE LIGHT GO FORTH:
THE END OF WOE HAS COME!
COME FORTH, O MIGHTY ONES.
THE HOUR OF SERVICE TO THE REDEEMING FORCE
HAS NOW ARRIVED.
LET IT BE SPREAD ABROAD!

LET LIGHT AND LOVE AND DEATH
FULFILL THE PURPOSE OF THE MIGHTY ONES.
THE WILL TO SAVE IS HERE.
THE LOVE TO CARRY FORTH THE WORK IS WIDELY SPREAD ABROAD.
THE ACTIVE SERVICE OF ALL WHO KNOW THE TRUTH
IS ALSO HERE.
COME FORTH O MIGHTY ONES,
AND BLEND THESE THREE!
CONSTRUCT A GREAT DEFENDING WALL THAT THE RULE OF EVIL END!

OM!  OM!  OM!

FROM THE POINT OF LIGHT
WITHIN THE MIND OF GOD
LET LIGHT STREAM FORTH
INTO THE MINDS OF ALL.
LET LIGHT DESCEND ON EARTH!

FROM THE POINT OF LOVE
WITHIN THE HEART OF GOD
LET LOVE STREAM FORTH
INTO ALL HUMAN HEARTS.
MAY LOVE BE BORNE THROUGH US!

FROM THE CENTER WHERE THE WILL OF GOD IS KNOWN
LET PURPOSE GUIDE
OUR LITTLE WILLS OF EARTH.
THE PURPOSE WHICH THE GREAT ONES
KNOW AND SERVE.

FROM THE CENTER
WHICH WE CALL THE HUMAN RACE
LET THE PLAN OF LOVE AND LIGHT WORK OUT.
AND MAY WE SEAL THE DOOR
WHERE EVIL DWELLS.

LET LIGHT AND LOVE AND POWER RESTORE THE PLAN ON EARTH!

OM!  OM!  OM!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Paganism Has a Creepy Guy Problem

Paganism has a creepy guy problem….and we need to face and address it.  This is a call for looking in the mirror and then having productive conversations.  So, let me talk about what I see, how I understand it, and also my hope.

First, I should be clear that I am talking about men in the Pagan community who are attracted to women.  I don’t know if this situation is also present in men who are attracted to men.  Even if so, it is likely that the dynamics are a bit different.

I believe that Paganism, writ large, is an audacious project…one in which we are establishing the nascent foundations of alternative cultures that are meant to challenge the dominant culture in which we are embedded.  We are striving to re-enchant the world.  We are trying to create ways of living that build positive, caring and meaningful relationships with beings who are non-human (including invisible/spirit beings) and all of the natural world.  We are creating traditions and structures that encourage the development of human potential at all levels of being and inculcating an orientation that holds all aspects of human nature as having sacred value.  We are developing alternatives to the dominant culture that challenge not only gender roles, but the valuation of those roles.  We want to create alternative cultures in which human beings can embrace and develop their full natures and thrive. 

Paganism provides a strong corrective to values in the dominant culture that simultaneously cast sexuality as something morally negative and use a “market” approach to sexuality that leads to objectification of humans, especially (but not exclusively) women.  Paganism has an extraordinary degree of sexual openness.  Within Pagan circles, there is a high level of acceptance of LGBTQ members of the community.  A broad range of sexual orientations and practices are accepted and celebrated as part of human experience.  If it is safe, sane, and between consenting adults, Pagans are generally fine with almost anything.  Female sexuality is fully accepted as a valuable part of human experience and women are supported in claiming and developing their sexuality in a positive way.  Given the misogyny of the dominant culture, this is revolutionary.  In general, Pagans have a strong desire to be sex-positive.

Here’s the bad.  Sexual permissiveness is not inherently sex-positive.  Sexual positivity, at its foundation, requires full consent of all partners.  Any form of coercion is antithetical.  While it is critically important that Pagan women can be fully sexual beings, this can morph into an expectation that they are always going to be sexual.  There seems to be an expectation on the part of some Pagan men that Pagan women are always open to being hit on.  This is a huge problem.  I cannot even count the number of Pagan women who have complained to me about unwanted sexual attention to the point of relentlessness.  And it isn’t just at parties.  Sex is appropriately seen as sacred, but this belief can morph into obnoxious to oppressive behavior when every moment and every context is seen as an opportunity to hit on women. 

Now, there are bad guys who I suspect are drawn to Paganism because they can get away with things in their constant prospecting for women in Pagan circles that they can’t get away with in the dominant culture.  These are the ones who know full well that their attention is unwanted and are doing it anyway.  These people need to be shamed and shunned.  If they’ve been called out and continue, they are not unaware.  But getting rid of these blights would not fix the problem.  I think that a good portion of the instances that I hear about are from men who would be horrified if they understood that their behavior was creeping/freaking women out.

I think a significant root of the problem is that they are not understanding the experiences of women or what we are bringing with us into our interactions in the Pagan community.  First, as the #MeToo campaign made glaringly apparent, there are barely any women in this culture who HAVE NOT been sexually assaulted and/or harassed.  That is part of our lived experience.  For pretty much any woman you are dealing with, you can expect that she has memories of gendered/sexual violence that make up part of her psyche.  Secondly, no matter how “nice” a guy you think you are, all Pagan women are embedded in the dominant culture also and what we know with absolute certainty is that we are all in far more danger from men we know than from strangers.  Violence against women is an epidemic….virtually all of us experience it and we all have mechanisms of trying to protect ourselves. 

So, our histories and our experiences teach virtually all women several things.  Women are in danger from men.  That is not an exaggeration--that is real.  I think most Pagan men want to change that.  Good.  We need your help.  Secondly, much like the most dangerous time for the victim of domestic violence is the moment an abuser realizes his/her victim is going to leave, the most dangerous moment for any woman is when the man who is hitting on her realizes she is not going to have sex with him.  That is when, as a woman, your risk of being assaulted sky-rockets.  It means that for most of us when you are hit on and not interested, it is a fraught exchange and this anxiety is often invisible to men. 

What does that mean?  There are a bunch of tactics that most women know and use to lessen that risk…most of which have to do with indirect ways of communicating a lack of interest/consent.  We try to keep things kind of superficial and flirtatious and avoid having them advance to a real proposition, sometimes by trying to get a third party present or involved.  We try to disentangle without having to directly say “no” to somebody because it is often fraught and frightening to get to the point where you have to be that direct.  (I know some women don't have anxiety being that direct, but many do).  One of the most time-honored and effective but nauseatingly oppressive methods is to assert that you “belong” to some other man (my husband, my boyfriend, see my wedding ring) because it is a proven fact that men will respect the property-rights of other men more than they will respect the autonomy, sovereignty and basic human rights of a woman.  (Just typing this sentence and knowing it is true almost made me vomit and cry simultaneously).  It also means that we psychologically rely on some of the divisions about when we expect to be in contexts where we may be hit on (like at a party or a bar, or going out to dinner with someone), and when we do not expect to be hit on (like at work, or in the grocery, or walking down the street, or in a class on divination, or getting ready for a ritual).  When we are suddenly put in a position where we are dealing with sexual advances in contexts for which we are not prepared, that is often disturbing if not frightening. 

So, suddenly, in a Pagan context, all of the indirect ways of communicating fail.  Even the time honored “I have a boyfriend” doesn’t work because the acceptance of polyamory frequently morphs into an expectation that the woman might be into it.  The expectation is that a woman who is not interested should just say “no,” but that doesn’t take into account all of our experiences, not just in the past, but as soon as we walk out of Pagan spaces.  It doesn’t take into account how much that really requires of many women and the anxiety-load it creates.  And for people who think that it is only men in the dominant culture who react badly and get scary when a woman doesn’t want to have sex with them…dream on.  I’ve seen it.  Additionally, there is not as clear a division about when it is and is not appropriate to hit on somebody, which also increases the anxiety load.  Plus, what many men, including many Pagan men, never seem to understand is the extreme cognitive dissonance that many women live with in which it is flattering to be told that you are attractive and also terrifying…in the same moment.  This is especially important when you consider how the dominant culture trains us to believe that our value is dependent upon being attractive to the same population who will use that attractiveness as an excuse to degrade and assault us.  That’s just a part of the lived reality of being female in this culture.

I believe that most Pagan men don’t want this for any women, especially for their Pagan sisters.  I believe that they, far more than most men, want to see the patriarchy overturned and an end to misogyny.  I think most Pagan men are aware that women are suffering and don’t want that.  I don’t have answers, but I hope that we can have some real conversations that are not about blame, but are about finding ways we can turn Pagan culture into a truly sex-positive culture and maybe provide models beyond ourselves.  Here are some ideas for future thinking.

1.  We need to kill out language and thought patterns of rejection.  The language of rejection suggests that if someone does not want to have sex with you, it is because you are less valuable and in some way it hurts you.  Instead, the default expectation should be that people do not want to have sex with you and if they do, it is because they want to share something with you.   It is easy to say this, but it is harder, in the moment, to stand strong in your center.  As Pagans, I think we need to build and strengthen the understanding that the worth of each human being is not conditional and that we are strong in our center and self-worth.  [As a related project, I think we need to be developing models of intimate relationships that are not erotic because if you are ONLY intimate with people you are sexually involved with, then there is no way to address the issue of feeling like a lack of sexual interest is a rejection of your worth].   

    2.  We need to set up some contextual understandings about when it is and is not appropriate to be hitting on each other.  Much like the Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson exercise for the workplace (imagine you are talking to Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and treat your female colleague like you would him) we need to set up some shared understanding about what behavior is appropriate when. 
  
3.  We need to find ways to make it safe for people to express desire and facilitate hooking up, but in ways that don’t require women to use behaviors that are potentially dangerous.  Again, putting women in situations where they have to say “no” is potentially threatening.  It also doesn’t take into account a common adrenaline response, which is to freeze.  Not saying “no” is never the same thing as saying “yes.”  I think we need to have some conversations about how we can get assent in ways that are not threatening…especially in situations in which people are likely to remain in community with each other.

EDITED TO ADD:  Based on comments in the Facebook feeds, I want to make a couple of clarifying points.  First, I am not saying that women are not also sometimes creepy...but I am not assuming that the dynamic would be the same, so that is not my topic.  Out of scope is not the same the same thing as denying it occurs.  Point two is similar.  Yes, the world has a creepy guy problem.  Many other contexts have a creepy people problem.  I am Pagan.  I am interested in having the conversations about  how to make the interactions between men and women in Paganism healthier for all parties.  Point three...if your comment in any way resembles, "Not me!  I am shy and afraid of being humiliated!  How DARE you talk about this!  Violence against women is overblown!  What do you mean by creepy any way, feminist."  Your answer...creepy. And I'm not sure you aren't a Russian bot anyway.

In the interest of trying to move things along in a more productive vein.  If any women are willing to put some ideas in the comments.  What would a GOOD exchange look like if a guy was hitting on you and you were not interested?  What would feel safe that does not require the guy to be a full-blown telepath?  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

What if Reincarnation is Real?


This post is a contemplation concerning the practical ramifications of reincarnation and how it should affect our priorities if we take it seriously.




Saturday, May 13, 2017

We are not in a failed state...yet. May it never be so.

I am seeing a lot of posts from friends and articles written for the left that are essentially declaring us a failed state and that our democracy is over.  Donald Trump is a Tyrant and we can't rescue the system, seems to be the gist of these posts and articles.  
While I understand the despair from whence this comes and I DO NOT want us to fail to realize the seriousness of the danger we are in, because we are in the balance and close to falling into authoritarianism, we haven't lost yet.  We are not yet in a failed state.  

Donald Trump has all of the characteristics of a tyrant and is causing constitutional crises (plural).  But we have not yet lost and that is important because if we believe that we have, prematurely, it hands him the victory.  

It took a while for Nixon to get ousted and, although it looks and is really bad (worse than Nixon) things are moving in that direction. It was always political pressure that did it. The reigning party must be more afraid of the voters than anything else. Of course, we have terrible gerrymandering and this is all desperately dangerous...I am in NO WAY trying to get us to think we are safer than we are, but we also need to avoid freezing in despair and proclaiming it to be over....or being too fast to throw our system overboard - although we clearly see places where it has to be strengthened.

Trump has the lowest approval ratings of any President at this point in time.  We have a couple of gerrymandering cases that could dramatically change things in 2018.  We have some of the biggest enemies in Congress and in government who are weakened.  The courts are upholding the constitution.

Yes…there are really horrible things happening and McConnell has done more to undermine our democracy than virtually anyone in our history.  But just because he and his cronies have blocked a special prosecutor and independent commission right now, doesn’t mean that this is over.  First of all…did people really think he was just going to turn around and do it?  If so, you had different expectations than me.  I expect us to have to put pressure on EVERY DAY for six months at minimum to get it.  If we do it and do it right, we will destroy McConnell in the process…which is a worthy goal because he has shown himself to be quite willing to re-write the rules for his own success regardless of their impact on generations to come.  He is unworthy of office.  We need to make this as much about him as about Trump.  I am going on the assumption that he may be implicated.  

McConnell and Sessions need to be as strongly targeted as Trump.  There is reason to believe that they may be implicated.  We know Sessions lied under oath about Russia.  He is supposed to recuse himself and has not.

So, when do we give up?  When do we proclaim that our democracy is over and it is no longer worth trying to fight for the system?  (And I believe it is important for us to fight for our system both to prove to ourselves it can work and to prove to the world…we are the oldest democratic system standing…we owe it to the world to try with everything we have to make it survive.  And all of you radicals who want socialism or some such?  The dangers from a GOVERNMENTAL perspective are the same, so we have to survive to prove it is possible).

These are the four things I am looking for:
  1. 1. Trump suspends the government for some sort of emergency (a Reichstag fire) and is not immediately deposed.
  2. 2.  The 2018 elections fail to meet the standard for fair and free elections (and with voter suppression…we are more dangerously close there than most of our citizens realize).
  3. 3.  The courts block Trump and he refuses to abide by their ruling, using the executive branch power to ignore them.  If he is not virtually immediately removed…we are a failed state.
  4. 4.   He orders our military to act against our citizens and is obeyed.
If these things happen, we are in a failed state.  The fifth, which is a little slippery in terms of when to call it, is the suppression of the press.
We edge closer and closer to it the more Trump flouts rule of law (over and over again) and is not checked by Congress.  If the GOP does not check him and then the Dems do not regain control after 2018, we will have to re-evaluate from there.
But, again, I would expect us to have to scream CONSISTENTLY about the need for a special prosecutor and to start implicating McConnell and Sessions for six months or so to get action.  Part of our problem is that these four months have felt like a decade and people are tiring out and giving up.  That is what they are expecting.  We have to remain focused.  

And then, when we win, we’ve got to very seriously revisit our form of government and see how to strengthen the protections.  Unfortunately, in any system, a huge amount of it is always upheld by societal norms.  Society is always a compact.  It just always is.  And our system is grossly imperfect and there are things we can do to tweak it.  But the biggest problem is that any democratic form of government is prone to what we are currently facing because people can be ignorant, hateful, tribal, and downright stupid.  That’s a human condition problem.  There are other forms of government that would theoretically be better, (the old meaning of aristocracy means rule by the best…which is not supposed to be hereditary, oligarchy just claims that you are ruling according to who has the most wealth which is usually hereditary, but can let new wealth in) but they tend to degenerate rapidly into rule by hereditary lineage.  The dangers of socialism as a form of government are essentially the same as a democracy.  
Until we all manage to achieve enlightenment…some form of democracy is probably best for us.  

My conclusions.  
  1. We are in real, serious danger…do not forget that and resist with everything you have got.
  2. We are not yet in a failed state, so don’t give up in despair and it is not yet time to chuck the system.  That hands the victory to the enemies of Democracy – which includes Trump, it includes the oligarch funders of the GOP, and it includes the oligarchs in Russia.  Don’t do it.
  3. We need to scream EVERY DAY for the next six months at minimum for a special prosecutor and special independent bi-partisan commission to investigate whether there was collusion with the Trump campaign and Russia and whether there IS a cover-up or continued collusion.  Don’t let the narrative wander (the media will let it wander if they don’t think it will sell).
  4. McConnell and Sessions are working to block a reasonable investigation – we very publicly ask the questions about whether they are implicated.
  5. Work very hard beginning now on 2018.  And this is about the survival of our democracy.  We must elect people who will be willing to stand up to the executive branch, if necessary…even against their own party.  Frankly, if this was a Democrat doing the same, we need to be willing to be as vigilant and outraged.  It is unlikely to be since Democrats tend to work for the system and the GOP has been trying to undermine it since the oligarchs have gotten control of their party…but our loyalty should be to the system, not the party.
  6. Anything that starts to slide on any of the four pathways to a failed state…we have got to be immediately up in arms. 
  7. We have to fight with everything we’ve got against suppression of the free press.


There are a lot of issues.  Tons of them…overwhelming us and overwhelming the narrative so that we don’t stay focused.  But the Russia issue, we need to get to the bottom of it.  At this point, if we don't want to lose our form of government entirely and end up in civil war, we focus on protecting the Constitution...just like every government employee, including every member of the military, has sworn to do.  May the oath breakers be held to account.



Monday, May 8, 2017

Some thoughts on healthcare

I am rethinking how I am going to talk about healthcare with people.  I think that it is important that we fight what is, essentially, a repeal of the ACA, but recognize that the ACA is a woefully imperfect bill.  I think we need to force the discourse to move in a different direction and be careful about how we do it.

One thing that is dangerous is debating pieces of Trumpcare - although we can point some of it out.  I'd really rather have us just start talking very differently about our entire healthcare system.  Take the debate where we want it to go rather than being on the defensive.  

To me, the real question--and it is a moral question--is, should profit-making motives have anything to do with healthcare?  Do we really want a system of healthcare that is designed to generate profit for corporations?

The reason that we have governments is that there are times in which "the market" is the wrong instrument for social organization.  There are many reasons why this might be the case.  Sometimes they are social "goods" that are just never going to make a profit, but that we recognize as contributing to society in important ways, so want to support them.  Sometimes it is because if the services were run like a business, it would be dangerous for society - imagine if the military was not a government entity, but was loyal to companies and shareholders - we would be back in the days of warring petite fiefdoms.  I believe that healthcare is one of these instances in which the market is just the absolute wrong instrument for healthcare.  The goal of healthcare is to prevent illness, heal the sick and the injured, ease the suffering of the dying, and to help the members of the society thrive.  As such, there needs to be enough money in the system to fairly compensate all those who work in healthcare, to ensure that facilities are top notch, and to encourage continued research and development into new treatments, but they should not be about profit.  And I'm going to point out that I know A LOT of people who work in the medical professions, and not a one of them got into healthcare with profit as their main motive.  They got into healthcare because they wanted to serve humanity as healers....because they care about people.

The ACA was an attempt to move the needle, but it was a compromise, and not a very good one.  What we really need is to get medical care free of the insurance companies by moving to single payer - to Medicare for all.  This would cut way down on the administrative burden.  A huge amount of the business that doctor's offices have to deal with is trying to get claims paid.  Medicare for all would dramatically simplify that.  With all the population in the pool - it would balance out the younger and healthier balancing the older and sicker.  Rather than returning to the horror-show of pre-existing conditions exclusions, Medicare for all would eliminate the terrible risks to people who have employer paid insurance if they lose or change jobs.  The government could negotiate for actually reasonable drug prices.  We could kill the UCR tables where every bill I ever get from a doctor says things like "Hospital services, amount charged $39,541.60, Allowed amount $4,466.50, Amount paid, $4,466.50."  (This was from my surgery).  So, what this says to me is that my surgery costs around $4500, but in order to get that amount, they jacked up the price by almost $35,000 and if I didn't have insurance...I'd be paying almost $40,000 for the surgery I just had...which means I wouldn't be having that surgery because I don't have $40,000.  I mean, who does?  What reality are we living in?  I guess I'd just continue to go through life with sinus troubles and not being able to breathe.  I suspect that if we had single payer, they could negotiate what they are going to pay and there would be no more of this crazy math.  And before anyone says, "But wait! SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!!!"  That is a red-herring.  Nobody says in hysterical tones, "SOCIALIZED STOPLIGHTS!!!"  There are things that it makes more sense if they are run through the government rather than the market.  Medical care is one of them.

So now, I want to wind the clock back to before the ACA and talk about what I DO NOT want to go back to...and what I believe Trumpcare could re-create.

Obviously, there were a lot of uninsured people who would go to emergency rooms for everything because they didn't have care and you can't get turned away from an emergency room.  We will have a lot of people who will lose their insurance.  But, at the moment, I'm going to speak from the position of someone who works as a manager in an organization that has employer-provided healthcare because I want to point out several ways that tying employment to healthcare makes NO SENSE.

Without laws making it illegal to exclude pre-existing conditions, depending on how large and aggressive your company is in negotiations, you may or may not have a plan that has pre-existing conditions exclusions.  Now, this doesn't necessarily keep you from getting "care," it just means that the plan is not going to cover conditions that you had prior to being covered by that plan.  So, let's say you are in the job and you have something that you are concerned might be serious or chronic.  If you knew that no matter what you would be covered, you would go get the diagnostic tests as soon as you were worried about it...possibly catching a situation early, when it is easier to treat.  But instead, you think..."well...I may want to change jobs in a couple of years and if it is something chronic, then if I switched insurers, they might not cover me and I think in the long-run, I'm not likely to be at this job in ten years.  Maybe I should just wait and see if it goes away."

This kind of thinking is really common.  It keeps people from getting checked out when things can often be dealt with more safely and cheaply and then they finally end up in the doctor's office when it is really bad and much more expensive to treat.  This is one of the reasons why our healthcare costs were so ungodly high.

Another scenario goes like this.  You know you have a chronic condition that needs to be managed and that if you left your job, would be uncovered.  Maybe you need a drug that costs $200 a month for the rest of your life, a liver test that costs $1500 annually, and if anything ever went wrong with it, it could be quite expensive.  You hate your job and you feel trapped, but you don't dare leave.  On the other hand, you are a good twenty years from retirement.  Every day, you get up, feeling trapped and resentful.  You carry that into the workplace where you are angry, ready to take offense, frustrated in general and are a morale dark hole.  You are totally toxic in your workplace, but are not going anywhere.  You do your job well enough to not get fired, but negatively affect everyone around you.  Another variant is that instead of being angry, you are a hyper-anxious mess about the possibility of getting fired and losing your coverage...which is also a seriously negative hit on productivity and morale.  These were really common and are devastatingly bad to an organization.

Maybe you have an entrepreneurial spirit and would really like to try starting your own business.  Or you are an artist and can support yourself, living frugally, on your art and a part-time job.  Except you can't, because you can't get health insurance that would actually cover anything at a price you can afford.  So, instead, you never strike out and, instead, stay at a full-time job that does not allow you to take a chance on your innovation.  Is this good for our country?  I don't think so.

Finally, you have employer-related insurance for your children.  You have a teen that is showing some signs of a potentially chronic condition.  They are going to be off your coverage soon...do you wait on seeking a diagnosis and medical care in the hope that they can make it until they get a job that they will then be tied to?  Do you get them the care and then hope that they will be able to get into a job that is both large enough and has been able to negotiate strongly enough that they don't have pre-existing conditions exclusions...but what if they don't?  What do you do?  If it's a mental illness, you only have until they are eighteen where you can force them to get help, but then you set them up to be potentially without care the rest of their lives.  Yay.  This totally sucks and there is no good conclusion without pre-existing conditions being illegal.

We need, we absolutely need, the requirement that companies must cover pre-existing conditions and that those with pre-existing conditions should not be isolated into their own "high risk" pool.  What will happen if they are isolated is that they will be given an "opportunity" to buy health insurance that will be so cost prohibitive that no one who is not wealthy will be able to afford it.  That isn't "access" to health care.  That is a "bare opportunity."

Again, I think we need to step back and ask ourselves why we have for-profit health insurance companies.  Unlike, say, fire insurance - health problems happen to all of us.  It is part of the human condition.  There isn't anyone who is not going to get sick, get hurt, get old, and eventually die.  So, it isn't like the statistical odds of various forms of accident or fire insurance where you are paying a bit into the kitty on the off-chance that you are the one who will need it...but you may never.  You WILL need healthcare.  You will probably need health care at some point this year.  You SHOULD probably at least get screenings for something so that you can stay healthy.  Insurance is not the way to deal with this.

The clear solution is Medicare for All.