Jun 18 2012
We are told we need the law. We need a million rules to ensure everyone has a fair shake, a level playing field we rely on as we move through life. But if you are lesbian or gay, the majority have recently passed laws giving people who prefer heterosexual coupling an advantage. The federal government has done nothing to come to this minorityâs assistance. These laws are just the latest in a long litany of discriminatory laws.
We are told we need the law to define culture, to give the boundaries of permissible behavior. Yet, do you think you are aware of every law you live under? In every jurisdiction, outdated laws remain on the books. You are likely to have broken some of them without even knowing. In fact, most new endeavors begin with consultation of a lawyer. Legal professionals research for hours to ensure their clients wonât inadvertently break some little known law. Many of these laws unduly invade our private lives to restrict trivial actions, like putting a window in a wall of your home, so the state or some industry can make money.
We are told without the law, our society would crumble into brutish chaos. To me, the image of John Pike, dressed like an SS officer, strutting around a circle of passive students shaking a can of pepper spray, meant to be used at distance on an advancing crowd, is the image of brutish chaos.
Or perhaps those words conjure up the image of an octogenarian pepper sprayed in the eyes for speaking out against a government that coddles the rich and abuses the poor.
Or the Berkley students night-sticked in the bread basket to discourage peaceful assembly:
Yet, surely our teachers and parents are right. Surely we need the rule of law to guide society. We need some rules.
Today we crawl outside one of our deepest and oldest mental boxes to consider the unthinkableâthat changes in the law cannot cure societyâs ills, because the law, itself, is part of the problem. Today we take a walk on the wild side in a lawless society.
Apr 23 2012
[The conversations represented here took place over the last week and are compressed for your reading pleasure. My husband and I are real people and said the things represented here. The rest of the dialogue is provided by intentionally fictionalized characters that are not meant to represent any one person. All sentiments and facts expressed here are genuine to the best of my recollection, but the characters saying them were selected by drawing names from a hat. I, alone, am responsible for this content.]
“They canceled Andrianna’s tubals yesterday,” I inform Steve in the hall outside the conference room. “They didn’t even give her a whole day’s notice so she could talk to her patients before they did it.”
“I got virtually no notice either when they canceled mine on Monday,” he replies.
“Really?” I am shocked by this. I have never heard of a hospital canceling cases so abruptly without involving the surgeon. “Who ordered the cancellations like that?”
“Don’t know. We’re only told the surgery scheduler, but someone gave her the order.”
We enter the conference room to find Norm waiting for us. The other gynecologists filter into the room. Both the hospitals the Sisters of Orange own are represented: the hospital in my town, St. Joseph’s, and the one south of us, Redwood Memorial.
“We had hoped this would blow over but the sisters feel backed into a corner.” Norm starts. “They have no choice but to get tough on this issue.”
“What brought all this on?” Steve asks.
“The edict came down from the new Bishop in Santa Rosa,” Norm says, “but we got targeted when they pulled the diagnosis codes for the hospital. It was obvious we were doing more sterilizations than they were in Southern California.”
“In Southern California you can go down the street from any Catholic institution and run into a secular hospital.” I try to defend us. “The Catholic Church bought almost all the hospitals in this area. For the last six years they’ve been trying to drive the last secular hospital under.”
“Never the less, we were doing a lot of tubals for ‛psychological’ reasons.”
“We were hardly doing a lot of sterilizations,” I say. “Other hospitals preform far more tubals a year. The stigma the Church gives the procedure already curtails many woman from asking for sterilization.”
“So what’s the plan?” Steve says, rescuing the meeting from disintegrating into complaints about the Church.
“Nothing.” Norm states. “This is a game we can’t win. The more public pressure the Catholics face, the more they will dig in. We have to keep quiet and wait. That will take the pressure off the nuns. When you’re approached by the media, and you will be approached, my advise is to refer them to the CMO. That’s what he gets paid for. Don’t talk to the media, or write letters to the editor. Don’t talk to your patients about it. We need to keep the lid on this to stop it from blowing up.”
“Too late. The patients already know.” I inform him. We all know there was an article in the local alternative paper, The Journal. The “real” paper in town, the Times Standard, has been silent on the issue. “I spent half an hour at a Pap smear today with an irate woman who vented the whole time about how this was unreasonable and unfair.”
“I wouldn’t encourage her. And don’t talk to your staff about this either,” Norm says.
“How am I going to do that? I’m taking my patients to Mad River. They all know why I stopped operating at St. Jo’s.”
“What do you say to the patients?” Steve wants to know.
“The truth. I don’t think it’s fair to deny all the women in an entire county a procedure on religious grounds. And the patients agree with me. I have an eighty year old woman who lives as far south in the county as you can go. I told her why I was taking my patients north, but seeing where she lived and considering her age I told her I would make an exception for her and operate on her at St. Jo’s. She told me, ‛Don’t you dare. I don’t want to support that any more than you do.’ This octogenarian wants to drive past the two hospitals the Sisters own to have her surgery at Mad River Hospital.”
“This hospital is facing hard times right now.We’re barely holding on ourselves. We can’t afford to lose any patients. We don’t want to lose patients or doctors.” Norm seems genuinely alarmed.
“Great. Go back to the way it was, and I’ll bring my surgeries back to St. Jo’s.” I feel for Norm, but I will not be moved.
“Look, if they made us take all the hysterectomies to ethics committee, the way they threatened to, then I would do the same thing.” Wendy said. “But it’s just the tubals.”
“The only reason they didn’t is because they found out the insurance companies already reviewed all our hysterectomies and would not pay without an adequate medical diagnosis.” I tell her. “They weren’t being magnanimous. They just didn’t want to duplicate the work.”
“You can’t take your surgeries to Mad River.” Quinn, always the practical one, tells me. “I’ve looked at the labor numbers. St. Jo’s is hemorrhaging money in Obstetrics. The hospital will take the Laborist program away. The only reason you came here was for that program. You don’t want to see it die, do you?”
“I don’t.” Everything he says is true. Medicaid doesn’t even cover the cost of deliveries for most hospitals. The one wing devoted exclusively to women is a loss leader for most hospitals in the nation. Obstetricians get treated like the red-headed-step-children of the family of physicians because we don’t make the hospital any money. Having a Laborist program is a rare luxury. It meant I could sleep through the night for the first time in years, watch a whole movie in a theater, have a conversation with my husband–uninterrupted by the other woman…one with vaginal discharge. I do desperately want to keep that indulgence. “It’s not just about what I want. If they take the Laborist program, there’s little reason for me to be at St. Jo’s at all. I’ll not just take surgery to Mad River, I’ll take my labor patients as well.”
“If we don’t support the hospital it won’t be there to care for us.” Wendy says. “I for one want a hospital here when I retire.”
“Not taking care of the needs of half of the population is not caring for us.” I can feel my control slipping. “If they are unwilling to serve half the population’s health care needs, what are they doing in the business in the first place? They should sell the hospital-preferably back to the community to be run cooperatively.”
“This happens every seven years or so.” Elroy, the oldest member of our tribe, says. “The last time it was a new nun sent to take over the hospital. She had all the tubals canceled too.”
“How did that get resolved?” I ask.
“She died and it got forgotten.”
“So we’re waiting for the Bishop to die? Or just waiting for him to change his mind?” I say with more than a little heat. “The Bishop isn’t the only one with strong feelings on this.”
“The hospital can make it hard for you.” Adrianna has arrived late to the party due to her patients. “Remember Tony? He got in that spat with the hospital and started talking to people-even people in the Foundation. It got back to the Board of Trustees and they dragged him into Medical Executive Committee. Now he has that mark on his record forever.”
I know she is trying to warn me. I’m no stranger to this tactic. Though I have not seen it used at St Jo’s, I’ve seen it used elsewhere to strike fear into doctors. A hospital will use its power to remove incompetent doctors on a doctor who is medically competent but has a disagreement with the hospital. They sacrifice one physician, ending his or her career, to scare the other physicians into compliant silence. There are even courses for hospital administrators instructing them how to do this effectively. I’ve avoided such abuses of power so far, but I’ve seen it used time and again on colleagues.
“Look, it’s not just our patients. I was already scheduled to talk about this subject on a national level. I can’t act like it’s not happening to me on a personal level as well. You see, I’m an editor of this blog…”
Jan 01 2012
en-TEL-uh-kee\ , noun;
1. A realization or actuality as opposed to a potentiality.
2. In vitalist philosophy, a vital agent or force directing growth and life.
My husband pecks my cheek and heads off through the cacophony of clanging metal, buzzers, and ringing bells that is his playground. We are on the road, and have forgotten to get cash for lunch. It would be an easy crisis to remedy, but it gives him an opportunity to show off his talent. I stand at the edge of the action, unable to banish my ill ease at seeing the money in our pockets put at risk so he can exercises his inexplicable power.
He cruises up and down the rows of noisy machines, looking from side to side. Other patrons sit with their backs to him, focused on their own trials with fate. A Native American woman offers him a drink, but he declines. Instead, he tilts his head, like a spaniel listening to a whistle pitched too high for the human ear. He turns away from her, and takes a seat in front of a one armed bandit. In five pulls, the machine gives up its bounty with the loud clang of coins dropping into the metal tray below the spinning symbols of fruit. He scoops up the riches and stalks another machine. Eight pulls later he has enough for both our meals at the best restaurant in the casino.
The first time he did this, the logical one in the family informed him that he was playing into the casino’s evil plan by deluding himself that he had some sort of gift. The house plays the odds, which clearly can not be altered. He might win here and there, but, over time, they have the better odds, and will always get more money than they give. Now, I have seen him do it so many times, I no longer try to make my case.
As it turned out, science weighed in on the talents of gamblers and handed the logical one her ass in the process. Not only is my husband right to believe that he can sense a gambling machine about to pay out, but part of his talent is probably altering the odds that it will pay with nothing more than the power of his resolve.
So shove that testy white rabbit out of the way, and follow the girl with the apron down the hole. On this day of resolutions, I am taking you on a walk through the Wonderland of science. Today, we peer into the power of intent.
Dec 18 2011
The police arrest you for reading the Constitution in a public space during an Occupy demonstration. Later, you get a letter saying that reading the Constitution in a loud voice, in that place, at that time, broke a small statute of the law, and therefore you will be fined $1,500. If you disagree with this assessment, you can plead your case in a letter to the Chief of Police at the station where the arresting officer works. If they don’t hear from you in, oh, I don’t know, 20 days, then they will assume you agree with the fine.
Oh, and by the way, everything in their letter is top secret and you have to get the Chief of Police’s permission to share it with your lawyer, your husband or your…well let’s say readers.
What? You have a problem with that?
So do I…
Dec 18 2011
What is Government?
Why do we submit to the law?
We can’t run very fast. We have no sharp teeth or claws. Long ago it became obvious that it was in humanity’s self interest to ban together for our mutual security. We each give up a small amount of personal freedom, for the greater good of the whole. That is the basis of the social contract.
As citizens, our responsibility is to uphold the laws of government. The government, in turn, also has obligations. The bare minimum of those obligations are to protect the majority of people from enemies both foreign and domestic. What enemies do we wish to protect ourselves from? At the very least hunger, disease, invasion by hostile forces (external security), and threats to our self-governance (internal security).
So how are we doing in that respect? Lousy.
We all but wiped out hunger in the US shortly after the Kennedy administration (ended 1963), but the government intentionally reintroduced it in the Reagan administration to drive down worker wages. What is left of our health care system is sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Foreign NGO’s have been invited by the Supreme Court to financially manipulate campaigns and thus our government. Internal threats to self-governance are too numerous to recount here, and in any case the Supreme Court has abandoned all pretense that this was a democracy and officially ruled the US a plutocracy.
We are in essence living in a failed state. Just because I am writing about the US, don’t think your country is doing any better. Most of the Western world is in the same boat.
Other articles have detailed the complex road we took to get here. That is not the purpose of this series. This series discusses how we get out.
Specifically, how to tell our government “No!”
Dec 05 2011
I sit on the floor of the Duck House with thirty others, brainstorming for the January action. Neither men nor women dominate the group. We are young, and surprisingly old. Counter-culture and conservatively clad. We question whether it is nobler to seek permits or just show up unannounced. We speak of banners, flyers and street theater-anything to educate the public about our goal.
Even when I still lived in Arizona, I had heard of this place. Democracy Unlimited Humboldt County (DUHC) or “Duck” was on the forefront of the war against corporate power. In 1998, they helped pass a ballot initiative establishing the Democracy and Corporations standing committee in Arcata’s city council here in California.
The Committee’s primary functions are: to research and present to the Council options for controlling the growth of “pattern restaurants” in the community; to cooperate with other communities working on socially responsible investing and procurement policies; to make recommendations to the Council, and/or with the Council’s approval, provide educational opportunities to promote “fair trade”; to inform citizens of corporations with negative social and environmental impact; and to provide advice on ways to foster sustained locally-owned businesses, publicly or locally owned services and worker-owned cooperatives and collectives.–City of Arcata
The committee was hailed by Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Jim Hightower. Ralph Nader commented, “I look forward to Arcata being a luminous star in the rising crescendo of democracy in our country.”
Embolden by this success, they passed Measure T in 2004. It forbid nonlocal corporations from contributing to local political campaigns. Two corporations immediately challenged the initiative as unconstitutional. Before the case could be decided by the courts, Humboldt’s Board of Supervisors succumbed to corporate pressure and declared this popularly elected law nullified.
DUHC learned from this experience. They won’t be going it alone, this time. They are but one small seed of democracy, but they are amassing with others to change the political landscape in America. They have joined Move to Amend in a miliary campaign, and this time their aim is not a city ordinance in some far off town on the edge of America, but changing the highest law in the land.
Nov 20 2011
November 18th on the Quad at University of California, Davis:
A friend sent me the video. Perhaps because it was my alma mater. It opens on a damp, leaden day, so typical of Northern California in November. Yet, the weather has not deadened the mood of the students on the quad.
The police have come to evict their occupation. The students respond to the dismantling of their encampment by sitting in a wide circle around the officers. They sit with their heads bowed and their backs to the cops destroying their camp. Nothing more than that, just sitting with arms linked. The officers pass through the ring and the students make no effort to stop them. A crowd gathers to watch.
Some officers attempt to remove students from the ring and drag them away. The police seem compelled to force any behavior not scripted for us into submission with force. They never seem to ask themselves if the behavior is dangerous, or if it even matters to their mission. What would happen if the police simply ignored the ring of protestors sitting around them? But the people in the ring are saying “no” to authority with their bodies and that can not be allowed.
The commanding officer waves his men off the protesters. He crosses the ring to spray the entire line of students in the face with pepper spray. He does this with a casual air of a man spraying an insect. Batons are used to pry people apart. Police force the protesters to the ground and kneel on their backs to cuff them.
Nov 16 2011
The hotel shuttle pulls up to San Francisco’s airport half an hour late. I push a dollar into the driver’s hand and grab my bag. Less than an hour remains to negotiate San Francisco’s ever present chaos to make my flight. I join the line snaking back and forth through an infinite channel of nylon belts and down the backs of airline ticket booths, tapping my finger impatiently on the handle of my bag. There are no other flights to Albuquerque until late tonight and that would mean missing work.
I make it past the first ID screening and still the line crisscrosses for a mile in front of me. Then, the Goddess of Travel intercedes. Right in front of me, a TSA officer unclips the nylon belt holding us at bay and announces they are opening a new screening area. I thank the Goddess, and follow the woman beckoning with her hand.
“Can we get to United’s gates from back here?” a man asks, mirroring my own growing unease as we travel well past the last ticketing booth.
“Yes, all gates from here,” our guide replies with confidence.
Finally, we round a bend in the deserted hall and stop. I suck my breath in and curse the Goddess of Travel. That witch, she’s tricked me again. The Rape-U scans have finally come to San Francisco.
Nov 14 2011
Oct. 17, 2011
Albuquerque International Sunport Security Checkpoint:
I pass a camera crew filming the ticket counter. I stop and consider telling them what I am about to do, but decide against it. They probably won’t care. Instead, I wheel my baggage to the security area.
I can feel my heart beat in my chest. I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve always said “Yes sir,” even when I didn’t agree. Even this simple act fills me with conflicting emotions.
New Mexico is far warmer than my native Pacific Northwest. I’m sweating by the time I reach the first inspection of my ID. I’m sure I already look like a terrorist. The TSA agent, perched on his stool, takes no notice. I look enough like my driver’s license and I have a valid airline ticket. He black lights my ID and lets me pass with hardly a glance.
I’ve come here to moonlight from my real job. My daughter had an operation, and I had to come up with thousands in deductible. She’s in college and, so far, I’ve managed to keep her from becoming a debt slave, like her mother. I took eight extra weekends of work in the Land of Enchantment to cover the cost. I’m lucky, I guess, I can do that. Others, with fewer job opportunities, have no choice but to go bankrupt.
Come on, I tell myself, what are they going to do? Confiscate your toothpaste? Say something mean to you? So what. Relax. You can do this. You should do this. You have to do this.
I take off my shoes and strip my backpack of computer and the baggie of incidentals. I stand in line while my armpits grow embarrassingly moist and I feel my heart race. I think, Get a hold of yourself. You’re being a drama queen.
When it is my turn, I decline to go through the monitor that scans under your clothes, as I always do. The TSA agent starts his spiel about how safe it is. I’ve done my research. His statements are questionable, but that is not why I am doing this. I start my own spiel.
“The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution reads: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrant shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, an particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Oct 15 2011
General Assembly–Arcata Plaza, Oct 12th
A seagull careens overhead and trills its high pitched cry as it makes an acrobatic dive for some crumb left on the plaza. My eyes follow the dive though I continue to be present with the circle. I am unaccustomed to such a glorious day. The sun is uninhibited, actually warming my skin, and there is only a gentle breeze. No sign of the more typical bone chilling North Coast cold, gray wind.
We sit on the grass in a loose circle. Two young men fight with mock swords behind us, laughing at their own missteps and brilliant parries. Beyond them a group of hitchhikers spange pedestrians likely to have money in their pockets. A single squad car and officer look on, disinterested. I am at peace. Despite my appearance, I belong.
The moderator is a gentle, open woman in a cowboy hat and well worn jeans. She keeps the meeting low key and the anger that bubbles up at other meetings is quickly dissipated by her soft spoken interjections. She has us introduce ourselves and say something about why we are here.
To my left a traveling college student introduces himself in English heavily accented by his native French. He has come here to see the differences between American revolution and French. Next to me is a man who arrived on bicycle in a worn denim jacket, decorated with various writings and hand drawn art. His gray hair is tied out of a weather beaten, bearded face. He tells about arriving in Arcata in the late 60’s, the last time revolution was in the air. He has waited a long time to see it resurface and glad that it has finally come.
The young man to my right says his name is Mango and the man next to him is Forrest. These are “forest” names, of course. A long tradition from Redwood Summer, when tree-sitters, trying to save the last of America’s Redwoods, gave arresting officers these false names, making conviction more difficult. Their speech is more angry than the rest, but it is redirected by the group away from aggression at the CEO’s of banks, toward education of their customers. The group decided on a lobby sit-in for two of the major banks in a few days.
Sep 22 2011
“Nothing differentiates people as much as their respective attitudes to the circumstances in which they live. Those who opt to make history and change the course of events themselves have an advantage over those who decide to wait passively for the results of the change.”
Over and over, I see commentary asserting we are stuck with our current cultural norms. The “rational” people of the world patiently explain to me how I am too idealistic. I am naïve and believe too deeply in the good nature of most people. Yet, the rational people only have their assertions to stand on. History is fraught with examples of people who fought for and won real change. People like the Basques in Mondragon. They created lasting change under deplorable conditions. Even a cursory review of history shows change occurs when and where people decide to change. You don’t live in a feudal monarchy rife with slaves and infanticide-all well ingrained institutions the Ancient Greeks considered necessary evils of civilization-because people decided to change.
In the first part of this series, I described how a Jesuit priest named Don Jose created a Basque cooperative–Mondragon. He could hardly have started from a more impossible position. Basque was severely oppressed, poor and under a harsh dictatorship. His Church considered him a pariah, and he was a poor speaker and sermon writer. Yet, he refused to dwell on his disadvantages, concentrating on finding Basque strengths, instead.
In part two, we examined Don Jose’s unique genius in organizing his local society. He felt it was never necessary for someone to win while someone else lost. That scenario showed a lack of ingenuity. He examined problems until he saw a solution allowing the common good for everyone.
Some argue Mondragon arose from Basque because a specific set of non-reproducible circumstances existed. To me, that sounds like rationalization to let ourselves off the hook for not seeking to better our world. While I agree Mondragon originated in Basque due to a specific set of circumstances, clearly those factors are not needed to reproduce cooperative society.
What may be necessary is a certain environment in order to affect positive change. This post will look at some of the factors influencing people’s willingness to change during the creation of Mondragon and how to use those factors to enable change in our own culture.
Aug 15 2011
It’s been a rather tough week for capitalists. With people waking up from the illusion of money and riots erupting in otherwise reserved England, I almost feel a little sorry for the advocates of Milton Friedman. Almost.
As you scrape together your last dollars to exchange for gold and throw another bucket of water on your burning London flat, have you considered abandoning this system? There is a choice, you know. We choose to have this system and all the pain that comes with it. Not offering opposition to a bad system is making a choice to continue with the dysfunction.
What’s that? You didn’t know you had choices? No one has explained to you the alternatives? Well, if you don’t feel obligated to ride this sinking ship to the bottom of the ocean, come along with us as we start talking solutions.
In Part I of this three part series, we discussed the history of a little known cooperative venture called Mondragon. This company went from a twelve-man paraffin stove manufacturing plant to a conglomerate that holds Wal-mart at bay in miniscule country of Basque, and employs 130,000 people. The cooperative has a remarkable 80% success rate in business ventures, far outstripping the typical success rate of 20% (less in this market). It has consistently helped the Basque people strengthen their communities with education, health care, housing and a robust social safety net. It creates jobs where none existed before, stabilizing their economy while nearby Spain and Portugal flounder.
How could this one company achieve such miraculous results? Well, it may actually be a divine intervention–through a Jesuit priest named Don Jose. In this segment, I delve deeper into Don Jose’s unique genius in devising the Mondragon system.