Saturday, June 24, 2017

You're Covered!

You're Covered! New reality show helps deserving Americans
access affordable healthcare.
New Reality Television Show Lets Patients Pitch Their Healthcare Woes to Wealthy Republicans

Fox announced yesterday that a new reality show, You’re Covered! will air as part of its weekly line-up this fall. The show, billed by its producers as “a cross between Shark Tank and The Apprentice with a warm, fuzzy Hallmark card ending,” features contestants who cannot afford their healthcare in the wake of the Republican Congress’s American Health Care Act reforms.

According to the producers, contestant preference will be given to the so-called “deserving poor,” described as hard-working, God-fearing white people from Rust Belt states who have lost their jobs in coal mining, construction, or other “traditional, American manufacturing” jobs. Women contestants seeking contraception or other reproductive healthcare assistance must consent to transvaginal ultrasounds and watch a series of video exposes revealing Planned Parenthood’s true role as a purveyor of aborted fetuses

The show’s format is simple and familiar. The person seeking healthcare assistance makes his or her case to a panel of five wealthy Republicans, all of whom have benefited from at least a $50,000 reduction in their annual taxes as a result of the Republican bill.  The panelists confer and decide who deserves to have healthcare. The show ends when former reality television star and current U.S. President Donald Trump makes a guest appearance to reveal the winner, saying in his trademark style, “You’re covered!”

In the show’s pilot episode, a 56-year old former steel worker from Scranton, Pennsylvania who suffers from erectile dysfunction as a result of stress induced by loss of his job, beats out parents seeking help with costly medications for their child who has chronic asthma, a young woman seeking psychiatric medications to manage her bipolar disorder so that she can continue her college education, and a 48-year old mother of three with costly complications from type-2 diabetes.

“Look, I’m not going to lie. It was hard to say no to that cute kid,” one male panelist said. “But this man—he has suffered so much. I could really relate on a personal level. It’s guys like him that are going to make America great again, no question. He deserves a second chance.”

Another panelist, who owns a small business that employs 100 workers at minimum wage, netting its owner more than $3 million per year, agreed. “I mean, mental illness, diabetes, let’s face it. Those are lifestyle choices,” she said. “When I was in college, I felt sad sometimes too when I didn’t have enough money for drugs. But I just asked my parents or borrowed from friends. And that woman with diabetes—she is so…well, let’s just say she should have shopped at Whole Foods instead of McDonalds. Maybe then she wouldn’t be sick. Besides, what kind of example is she setting for her kids? They need to learn that choices have consequences.”

When asked whether the show was perhaps the very sort of “death panel”  that Republicans once accused Democrats of creating through Obamacare, the producers disagreed. “All of these people have access to healthcare,” they argued. “They can still go to the emergency room, or they can try to buy health insurance on their own, without subsidies.”  

“Healthy people shouldn’t have to subsidize sick people for their bad lifestyle choices,” they continued. “It’s not fair. It’s not American. This show gives people who actually deserve care a chance to get it, by showcasing the compassionate conservative response—not a hand out, but a hand up.”

To those who deserve it.

Author’s Note: This essay is satire, in the same way that Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is satire. Swift didn’t really think eating Irish babies would solve Ireland’s famine, and I don’t really think a death panel reality television show should replace access to affordable healthcare for all Americans. Just sayin’.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Toxic Gospel of Prosperity

Lessons from The Book of Donald 5:1-12

Image from HuffPost Facebook timeline 
Now when he saw the crowds, the master tweeted, “Truly, we’ve had so much winning.” Then he began to teach his disciples, saying,

Blessed are the rich, for theirs is the Kingdom of Men.

Blessed are those who mourn the loss of white privilege, for they shall be celebrated

Blessed are the bold, for they will create jobs.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after Alex Jones, for they shall be righteously indignant.

Blessed are those who show no mercy, for they are good businessmen.

Blessed are the pure capitalists, for their God is the only God.

Blessed are the warmongers, for they shall use fear to control you.

Blessed are those who feel persecuted because they voted for me, for they shall see so much winning and walls and more winning.

Blessed are you when the Fake News and liberals insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of mean things about you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, believe me, it is so great, it is the best reward, and the rich people are going to make it happen, folks, I promise you, and I love all people, rich or poor, but in those particular positions I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense? Does that make sense?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Why I Won’t Comment on Donald Trump and Mental Illness

Who cares whether Donald Trump has mental illness?
(Hint: Whether or not he has mental illness does not matter)

Let’s be clear: I hate Donald Trump as much as the next freedom-loving American. Trump is a self-described sexual predator, a liar, a xenophobe, a racist, and a bad businessman. His friends and advisors include white supremacists  like Steve “Darth” Bannon, formerly of Breitbart fame, now wreaking his alt-right havoc on the entire world. Trump has openly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin, the autocratic Russian leader whose record is not likely to be enshrined in anyone’s Human Rights Museum any time soon.

While I have little else in common with Trump’s supporters, at least now I can sympathize with how that “birther” crowd felt when President Obama was elected in 2008. For reasons too numerous to list here, Donald Trump is #notmypresident. 

But while I welcome (and enthusiastically retweet) nearly all negative news and commentary regarding Trump and the Orwellian nightmare he and his evil Avengers have wrought on my beloved America, there’s one “criticism” of him that makes me cringe. Any time a layperson or even an expert weighs in on whether Trump has a mental illness that would make him unsuitable for office, I refuse to engage in the conversation.

The problems with linking mental illness and Trump include but are not limited to the following:
  1. As far as we know, Trump has not been diagnosed with a mental illness. In 2016, his own physician, in a report that was undeniably unusual in its hyperbole, described the then-presidential nominee’s overall health as “extraordinary.” 
  2. Armchair diagnosing, even for the professionals, is not considered an ethical pastime. The so-called “Goldwater Rule” that condemns this kind of behavior was named after 1,189 psychiatrists responding to a survey described the 1964 presidential candidate as “psychologically unfit.”   In 2014 (pre-Trump), Forbes contributor Cheryl Conners  summed up the ethical standard: “It is not okay to directly suggest a mental health diagnosis for public figures…[T]o address a person’s mental health in speculative articles, or to serve an ideological or political agenda, is…still a professional and ethical ‘no.’” 
  3. Discussing Trump’s (alleged) mental illness as a potential disqualifier under the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is inappropriate and stigmatizing. Here’s the language in question:
    Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President (25th Amendment, U.S. Constitution).
It’s likely at this point that you have read the opinions of people who want Trump’s alleged mental illness to disqualify him as president. But living with a mental illness would not and should not necessarily proscribe anyone from being an effective president.

Exhibit A: Abraham Lincoln. His spells of “melancholy” were well known by friends and foes alike. In his 2005 exploration of Lincoln’s likely clinical depression (the Goldwater Rule does not extend to deceased public figures), Joshua Shenk wrote:
In his mid-forties the dark soil of Lincoln's melancholy began to yield fruit. When he threw himself into the fight against the extension of slavery, the same qualities that had long brought him so much trouble played a defining role. The suffering he had endured lent him clarity and conviction, creative skills in the face of adversity, and a faithful humility that helped him guide the nation through its greatest peril. 
Let me be clear: I am NOT comparing Trump, whom I think history likely to judge as America’s worst president, to Lincoln, who to my mind still retains the title of America’s best president. I am, however, making the important distinction that it is not mental illness that makes a president great, or mediocre, or downright abysmal. People are who they are. In Lincoln’s case, and in many people’s cases, the challenges of living with mental health conditions may actually confer certain advantages in leadership positions, including empathy, resilience, and an ability to think creatively.

As a mental health advocate, I am asking my fellow Trump-haters for a favor. Please continue to shame Il Cheeto for his shameless behavior, and even for his tiny hands. Call out his cruel and un-American policy decisions. Keep demanding that he release his tax returns. But stop speculating about whether Trump has mental illness, and whether living with mental illness would make him unfit for office. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

My 2017 Resolution: Liberty and Justice for All!

“Ring out the false; ring in the true!”—Alfred, Lord Tennyson

As I scrolled through my friends’ Facebook feeds on New Year’s Eve 2016, noting the pictures of dumpster fires, the scornful expressions of “good riddance,” the laments of trepidation for the future, I also noticed that for many people, 2016 was actually a very good year for personal and professional growth.

2016 was certainly a good year for me. I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation on mental health advocacy and leadership. I started working full time in my dream job, teaching composition to first-year students at a community college. I spoke at several conferences, including the National Council for Behavioral Health, the Domenici Institute 2016 Public Policy conference, and the American Bar Association’s National Summit on the Death Penalty and Serious Mental Illness.

With other mental health advocates, I celebrated the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, which will hopefully provide more funding and support for people living with serious mental illness. My 2014 book, The Price of Silence, continued to be read and positively reviewed, and my brave son Eric spoke at 2016 TEDx Boise about what it’s like to grow up with bipolar disorder, and how people can help to end stigma one friend and one conversation at a time.
All in all, a pretty good year.

Except for that Trump thing.

Truthfully, the election of Donald Trump won’t directly hurt me or my family too much. We’re white, heterosexual, middle class folks who live in Idaho, that “reddest of the red” states. Though my husband and I both have progressive leanings, we have behaved like good Republicans in our financial lives. We live within our means. We work hard, save aggressively, and donate as much as we can to charitable organizations. We have health insurance through my employer, and when we didn’t, we used a Health Savings Account and a high deductible policy, exactly the “solution” that Republicans are likely to offer as a replacement for Obamacare.

My family has not relied on public benefits like food stamps, even though both my husband and I have experienced periods of unemployment, and my husband, like many white men his age, remains underemployed and would prefer to work full-time.

Still, we have been lucky.

No, Donald Trump’s election (barring the frightening possibility of global nuclear war) likely won’t affect us. We’ll read the horrific headlines and shake our heads in disapproval. We’ll continue to call our elected officials and express our concerns about Russian hacking, gender discrimination in healthcare, and the frightening prospect of erosion of legal protections for marginalized people who should have the same rights as the rest of us.

We are so lucky.

Here’s where I admit something that most of my friends probably don’t know. I’m a registered Republican. In fact, when I consider only my own circumstances and experiences, I’m very attracted to libertarianism, with its inherent meritocracy and limited federal government focused on defense and facilitation of commerce.

When I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 10th grade, I was completely sold on the gospel of personal accountability. I was a faithful member of a conservative religion that reinforced those values of making good choices, working hard, and reaping the blessings that would come from pulling myself up by my own bootstraps. In that world, financial success was (and still is) visible evidence of good character, of God’s approbation.

Then I grew up. I read Peggy McIntosh’s essay on white privilege, and it resonated. I read bel hooks’s critique of white feminism, and that stung, too. I realized that social justice was not a fashionable accessory to my life; it was the meaning of life.

I learned that life in fact was not fair, that all people did not have equal opportunities, that even when I’d faced challenges, the world had been uncommonly gracious and accommodating to me.

This shift in perspective took several years of sometimes painful self-examination. It took losing my religion, my first marriage, and most of my friends. In fact, the process is still ongoing. I still make so many mistakes. But I have learned a few things.
  • It’s not about me.
  • Past performance is no guarantee of future returns
  • Gratitude is the key to happiness.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes.
  • Being present—for yourself and for the people you love—matters.
  • I should give all I can, whenever I can, to those who are not as lucky as I am.

One of my father’s (and my) favorite hymns begins with these words: “Because I have been given much, I too must give.” For those of us, like me, who have more than enough, giving to those who have less is the only moral choice. In fact, as C.S. Lewis wrote, we should give until it hurts.

And then give more.

Sure, on a superficial level, Donald Trump may not hurt me personally. But the sudden erosion of our democracy hurts all of us. My 2017 resolution is to fight like hell whenever I see others’ rights trampled on. It’s to join my voice with others who are calling out for justice. It’s to give all I can, and then give more.

I’d still like to see the Republican ideal of equal opportunity for all. But today’s Republican Party seems to be dedicated to a very different platform, one that robs from the poor to pay the rich, that excludes minority religions, that suppresses free speech, that appeals to fear rather than calling people to love. These are all dangerous signs of authoritarianism, and they must not continue unchecked.  

In 2017, I will defend my country's promise of liberty and justice for all. I will stay awake.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Love Trumps Hate

I have been composing an annual Christmas carol since 2001, when I wrote, "A Stable, a Manger, a Star in the Sky," inspired by Alfred Burt's lovely "Star Carol." This year, as I sat down at the piano on Christmas Eve, the phrase "Love Trumps Hate" was foremost in my mind.

Like many who lived through the U.S. presidential elections of 2016, I am afraid. I fear for my three sons, who will all be draft age during President-Elect Trump's first term. I fear for myself and my daughter, as we struggle to come to terms with the fact that we live in a nation that is still dominated by the patriarchy, a country where the highest elected official in our country can boast casually about sexually assaulting women. I fear for my students, many of whom are refugees who came to this country fleeing unspeakable horror, or who were brought to this country as children and now face the prospect of being forced to leave the only home they have every known. Most of all, I fear for our country and its promise of freedom, now subjugated to a twisted and evil white supremacist interpretation of Christianity that rejects the stranger and marginalizes the other. 

But love trumps hate, and love trumps fear. That is the message of hope we have at Christmas in 2016 and beyond. Merry Christmas! 

On a hillside in Judea 
On a silent sacred night 
Shepherds heard the angels singing 
And they saw the new star's light 

In a manger lies a baby 
Sent in love to all the earth. 
Let us celebrate our Savior 
And the wonder of his birth.  

God is with us still today. 
We can hear the angels say: 

He came for love! 
He came for love! 
He came for love of you and me. 
He came for love! 
He came for love! 
And his love will make us free. 

Now the world is full of hatred 
And the night seems dark and long. 
No one seeks the humble manger. 
No one hears the the angels' song.  

But the good news still can save us
If we only stop to hear. 
We must learn to love like Jesus, 
And our love will conquer fear. (Chorus)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Modest Proposal to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence Regarding Abortion

 We can end abortion in ten months—if we do one simple thing.

Dear Governor Pence, 
In 1729, Jonathan Swift proposed a solution to
unplanned pregnancies. In 2016, I have a better
idea. One that does not involve cannibalism.

You and I don’t have much in common. I didn’t vote for you. But you’ve suggested that you are interested in being a vice president for all Americans, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with you. We both love America and want the best future for our country, even if we don’t agree on the specifics.  From what I’ve heard about you and your record, I do think that we agree on one thing: Abortions that terminate unplanned or unwanted pregnancies are morally wrong.

As my progressive feminist friends fall off their chairs and prepare to block me on Facebook, let me repeat myself: As a mother of four beautiful children, I don’t think women should ever use abortion as a form of birth control for an unplanned pregnancy. I’m not alone in this view; about half of all Americans agree with me.   

Now, we—stronger together—finally have a chance to end abortions of convenience once and for all. We can ensure that no woman ever aborts an innocent child simply because she doesn’t want the hassle of pregnancy and child-rearing. Even better, we can also end unplanned pregnancies that result from rape or incest.

We don’t even have to overturn Roe v. Wade to accomplish this miracle. Thanks to the wonders of science, there will soon be a better way.

We will have to pass a new law though. To end all abortions of convenience, we should immediately urge Congress to pass legislation mandating male birth control. Under this brave new law, all males between the ages of 12 and 112 will be legally required to get regular birth control shots for the rest of their lives. The men will only be permitted to stop taking the medication, which by some accounts causes some pretty serious side effects like acne, mood swings, and depression, when a heterosexual woman obtains a court order expressing her affirmative consent to reproduce with a specific man, or alternatively, when, at the age of 40 or older, men affirmatively seek and provide the court with evidence of permanent sterilization. Men who do not comply with the requirement will potentially face penalties and jail time.

It will totally work. Abortion procedures to end unplanned or unwanted pregnancies will effectively end. Taxpayers will save all that money we currently spend on social support services for children of singlemothers.  And women will take charge of their reproductive rights—not by wearing modest clothes, or taking purity vows, or avoiding dangerous situations, but by controlling the real cause of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies: men. 

Since you’re a man, you’re probably saying, “That’s not fair! The government doesn’t have the authority to control my reproductive rights!” I tend to agree with you. But if you’re comfortable trying to control women’s reproductive health but not men’s, I want to know why. Why is it acceptable to pass laws that affect women’s access to reproductive healthcare but not to do the same (but much less invasive) thing to men?

And now you know how many women feel when men like you talk about overturning Roe v. Wade.

Governor Pence, it’s time to admit that your stated opposition to abortion isn’t actually about ending abortion. It’s about controlling women.

No pro-choice woman I know wants to have an abortion of convenience. Not one. But pregnancy, in addition to creating the Miracle of Life, is also a medical condition for the woman involved, one that comes with very real risks including the risk of death to the mother and/or fetus. While I believe that abortions of convenience are morally wrong, I also think abortions of necessity are an unmitigated tragedy for all involved. These babies are wanted. They are loved. But a serious medical emergency occurs, and mothers have to make unthinkable choices. For them and their families, we should have nothing but compassion—not laws threatening punishment or preventing necessary and life-saving medical care

It basically comes down to trust. We should trust that all women, when provided with education, options, and support, will make the right choice, the moral choice. In fact, when women have access to reliable, affordable birth control, abortion rates plummet. While I think that abortions of convenience are morally wrong, I also think that no abortion should ever be illegal.

And this, Governor Pence, is precisely why I support PlannedParenthood.  Because you know what? I don’t care how we do it. I just want to end abortions that terminate unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. And Planned Parenthood, which provides affordable reproductive health services to men and women, does just that. 

Since I doubt you’ll accept my proposal for mandatory male birth control, I hope that instead you’ll take action that will actually end abortions by fully supporting women’s—and men’s—access to reproductive healthcare. To my mind, that’s the only moral choice.

P.S. Just in case you don’t want to donate to Planned Parenthood yourself, Governor Pence, 20,000 people took the literal liberty of donating in your name. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

My Nevermores

Halloween Insane Asylums, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton’s Emails

A month or so ago, I took the unusual (for me) step of unfriending and blocking someone on social media. The woman in question is someone I consider to be a friend IRL (in real life). But after delivered several polite but increasingly stern private warnings about her posts on my personal Facebook page, she crossed a line. 

When I ebulliently shared my and other advocates’ successful attempts to convince Knotts Berry Farm and Six Flags to close their offensive and stigmatizing Halloween asylum attractions, my friend felt compelled to share her point of view that advocates were reading way too much into this “fun” and that we were in fact ruining Halloween in the name of “misguided political correctness.” 

To be fair, my friend knows firsthand the real and painful struggles of caring for someone who lives with severe mental illnessShe’s also very smart. When I blocked her, she sent me a long email missive entitled “Offended by logic?”  

My response? “I have made up my mind on this issue. Discussion is over for me. Find someone who is interested in having this discussion. 

I don’t take this kind of step lightly. I love learning new things and hearing alternate perspectives on just about every subject you can imagine. 

But I also believe we all have our proverbial lines in the sand. There are a few things I have made up my mind about, and I don’t want to “debate” these issues further.  

In fact, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging and enforcing these personal boundaries, which I’ve decided to brand as my “nevermores” in honor of Edgar Allen Poe’s taciturn raven. 

Here’s a partial list of my “nevermores,” or things that I have made up my mind about: 

If you want to ask me about my carefully thought out, researched, reasoned position on any of the above, I will be more than happy to share it. But these are not things I’m interested in debating. I’m not saying other people can’t hold other points of view than mine—of course they can! I’m just not interested in conversations on these topics, because I have already made up my mind. 

“But!” you might be saying. “New information! James Comey! Emails again!” 

No. It’s the same story, and the same emails. And frankly, like the majority of Americans, I don’t care about Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails.” Mrs. Clinton is a woman about my mother’s age, with the same level of technophobia. She made a mistake, and she admitted it. This kind of mistake (fortunately!) really has proven to be the definition of “no harm, no foul.” 

But for the men who have repeatedly tried to destroy Hillary Clinton, there was definitely harm, and there have been plenty of uncalled fouls. 

Every time I see Julian Assange’s smug smirk, all I can think is “sexual predator.”   

Every time I see the unfortunately named Anthony Weiner in the news, all I can think is, “sexual predator.”   

Every time I see Donald Trump disparage another minority group  or mock someone with disabilities  or denigrate a slain soldier's family   or threaten to sue the women who have bravely come forward to share their stories of abuse at his (tiny) hands, all I can think is “sexual predator.”   

And yes, to be fair, every time I see Bill Clinton, I think of how he betrayed l his wife, his daughter, and the nation—for sex with “that woman,” Monica Lewinsky, who has now emerged as a brave and powerful voice for women everywhere.i  

It’s ironicno, more like terrifying—that all of the prominent men standing in Hillary Clinton’s way are connected with sexual assault. It’s even more terrifying that women’s voices weren’t enough to legitimize this fear, and that even though Trump’s own words have exposed him for what he truly is, he is still considered a viable candidate for President of the United States. 

I’ve already voted—and I wouldn’t change my vote based on this “new” (aka, same old, same old) information about emails. But to journalists everywhere, I would issue this plea. 

Set boundaries. 

James Comey failed to set boundaries when he issued his cryptic letter to Congress, and in this failure, he has allowed you—and Trump—to “write the book” on what the FBI may, or may not, find. 

Don’t write that book. It’s likely historians will categorize your unfounded speculation as fiction. Even worse, with a week to election day, your irresponsible reporting may destroy our republic. 

It’s not that hard to do this the right way. When you weigh in on whether this new email discovery may lead to a reopening of the investigation that could harm a Clinton Presidency, it is only fair and balanced to ask the same questions about Donald Trump, who is currently facing a civil trial for defrauding students with Trump University and has a post-election December 16 hearing on allegations that he raped a 13-year old girl.  I hope—though in the current climate of rampant institutionalized misogyny, I cannot assume—that a rape case would seriously harm a Trump Presidency.   

Granted, Hillary Clinton is not perfect. I don’t know many people who are. But she is more qualified than any other male—or female—candidate in the United States today. And she is our best chance to break that “highest, hardest glass ceiling.”  

So I don’t want to discuss Hillary Clinton’s emails with you anymore. It’s time to vote for the most prepared, qualified candidate in the history of the United States. It’s time to make herstory a reality. 

Because if Donald Trump wins, there's a frightening chance that too many Americans' hopes and dreams will be "nevermore."