Saturday, September 29, 2012

'Laziness?' Perhaps not

About 12 years ago, while researching an enterprise story on the stigma of mental illness, I came across this clause: "Trying to find depression among the indigent is like trying to find emphysema among coal miners."  That is to say, all too common.

I can't say I was too surprised, because before then I had suspected that the problems in the 'hood weren't so much cognitive but emotional and thought that folks there might benefit from a good therapist.

For the past 30-odd years and even now, you have a lot of people complaining about "the poor" and their alleged freeloading from the rest of society. I have no doubt that it happens, but today I believe that there's more than "laziness" involved.

It might be clinical depression. I'm serious, as someone who has suffered from such since age 10.

Consider the symptoms: Sleep disturbances, whether sleeping too much or not enough. Changes in appetite, whether greater or less. Irritability. Feelings of hopelessness. Loss of interest in normal things, including hygiene. Thoughts of death or even suicide. That could very well be driving some of the nihilistic behavior that goes on there, including sabotaging economic or educational opportunities, gang violence etc.

And trust me -- it's not something that you can simply "snap out of"; some professionals have suggested that it's caused by a brain chemical imbalance (and thus often treated with medication).

So why don't folks simply go in for treatment? In the African-American community there's still a resistance to such things because of cultural mistrust of the medical profession. On top of that, there's still a stigma attached to mental illness -- the subject of my story in 2000 -- that keeps people from admitting that they need help. (In that story I wrote, one of the subjects was an associate pastor of a thriving evangelical church that had had a breakdown.)

Frankly, I don't know how to solve this problem on such a mass level, but from 1983-5, during my darkest hours, a group of students I met through a church rallied around me and gave me hope. They didn't judge me; they didn't think of me as weak. Gradually I began to take steps to rebuild my then-shattered life; to this day I shudder to think where I would be, if anywhere, had I not met them.

I've heard that the church referred to as a "therapeutic community," and that's what I was privileged to find. But we can't be that when we've already determined their character -- we need to learn the stories, hear the  pain, rail against the injustices -- in short, give them voice. I would say that such people need to be not demonized but heard.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

'2016: Obama's America' -- don't bet on that

You may remember four years ago that James Dobson wrote a hysterical screed complaining what might happen in America by 2012 -- of course, this year -- were Barack Obama elected president.  Any of you remember his predictions?

Of course, I don't.  And I also don't remember any of them coming true.

That's why I'm not going to bother with the current movie "2016 Obama's America," based on the book by conservative "scholar" and American Enterprise Institute fellow Dinesh D'Souza, which is supposedly based largely on Obama's books -- but which does pretty much the same thing.

Oh, I have every reason to believe that the movie will be more painstaking and more comprehensive than Dobson's rant, which I did read.  It will be slicker.  It reportedly has interviews, including with a half-brother in Kenya.  But the spirit of fear of change is the same, so it wouldn't be worth my time and money.

You see, D'Souza makes several mistakes.  One, he falsely assumes that everyone is driven by a fixed, unchanging ideology.  (Obama, in his renomination acceptance speech at last week's Democratic National Convention, said, "Times have changed, and so have I.")  Two, D'Souza apparently believes that Obama has the power to enact his agenda no matter what, conveniently forgetting that he has to deal with a Congress that can't get its act together and many of whose members intended to sabotage him from the outset.

What I'm seeing thus represents projection -- that is, that's what D'Souza would do were he in those shoes, which is a poor way to make an argument.

This represents also yet another desperate attempt to marginalize another sitting president, Bill Clinton of course being the first, that conservatives don't like.  With the passage and subsequent SCOTUS sanction of the Affordable Care Act, which the political right fought tooth-and-nail merely for political purposes; voter-ID laws either being threatened in court or running afoul of the Voting Rights Act; a campaign in several states questioning his eligibility to run in the first place; and his taking down of Osama bin Laden, they, clearly obsessed, simply paint themselves as just this side of crazy.

Which also tells me that they don't themselves possess the qualities to run a country.

The REAL theological implications of a Romney presidency -- not what you might think

The Republican candidate for President of the United States is unabashedly pro-life and pro-family.  He comes from and has always had a solid family life with not even a hint of scandal. He attends religious services regularly and tithes consistently.

Yet, according to one poll, 18 percent of evangelical Christians said that they wouldn't vote for him.

We're of course talking about Mitt Romney, the former governor of the state of Massachusetts who is not only a lifelong member of but also a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-day Saints, more popularly known as the Mormon Church.

Frankly, because we live in a secular republic and we're not electing a pastor-in-chief, I personally don't have a problem with his membership in what most orthodox Christians, myself included, consider a cult.

I do, however, had a problem with how he's made his money, which is where the theological problems come in.

I say that because too many Christians worship business leaders as the epitome of cultural virtue, fitting into the American myth of the "self-made man."  In Romney's case, however, it doesn't consistently apply.

For openers, he was reared with that some of that money, his late father George an executive at American Motors and a former GOP presidential candidate in his own right.  Later on his former firm Bain Capital practiced what has been derided as "vulture capitalism," tearing firms apart and making huge profit but at the expense of their workers and supporting his numerous homes and foreign tax shelters  (That's why his tax returns, more accurately his refusal to release them, have become such a hot topic in the campaign, especially considering the last Republican in the White House, George W. Bush, whose absolutely insane economic policies helped to wreck the economy, constantly cut taxes for the super-wealthy -- including Romney.)

So where's the "theology" in all this?

Well, consider what the Bible says about the rich, in too many passages to mention here.  There's nothing wrong in itself with having that kind of wealth; however, folks can become so attached to it that they forget that God gives it for specific reasons, to be a blessing to the community.  (One of the lessons of the parable of the rich fool, not mentioned in the text but understood in that culture, was that he never consulted with his neighbors as to what he should do with his bounty.)  Moreover, those of us who "have it" too often lord that privileged status over everyone else and develop an "entitlement" mentality, assuming that, "if we can get it, you can too," not understanding the opportunities that we were given that others may not have had (and we also don't talk about how to expand such opportunities).  One reason the Pharisees hated Jesus was that they subscribed to such a "health-and-wealth gospel" which He exposed as fraudulent.

Please understand that I'm not talking about "welfare handouts" or "economic redistribution"; doing so just muddies the waters  More to the point, because virtually everyone wants to work, folks need to know where jobs are and how to get them, an important issue these days because of the unstable economy.  Oh, one other thing:  Simply giving more leeway to "job creators" hasn't done the trick for some 30 years now because all they do, and will continue to do so, is pocket that money and spend it on lobbyists to maintain their status.  (Virtually all employers are rich people; however, most rich people are not employers.)

I will not tell you whom to vote for -- that's between you and the LORD.  I will say, however, that the consequences of your vote are not just political; they're ultimately theological in nature and say something about your relationship with Him.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Why Romney can't win

The Tampa-based pep rally called the Republican National Convention ended on Thursday with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney officially emerging as the standard-bearer and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his sidekick to face the Obama/Biden ticket on the Democratic side.

Although the election apparently will be closer than I had originally predicted -- last year I was thinking a blowout of Johnson/Goldwater proportions -- I still don't foresee any scenario of "regime change."  That's especially the case after what will likely be a campaign bounce for President Obama after the upcoming Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Here are my reasons:

1) In all the time that he's run for president, Romney has never, ever articulated a comprehensive, inclusive vision for this country that contrasts to Obama's -- in other words, he has become little more than the "not Obama," and that's not good enough.  In 1996 and with reality setting in, Bob Dole was reduced to saying, "I"m not Bill Clinton!"  True dat. Romney has had to shift his positions so radically over the years that no one is sure just what he actually believes; remember that he was elected governor of arguably the most liberal/Democratic state in the union but moved rightward during the primaries after going up against a number of fellow Republicans with more conservative bona fides.

2) Romney's support as a result is suspect. According to Bloomberg News columnist Jonathan Alter and quoting from a survey by Public Policy Polling, Virgil Goode, the candidate of the Constitution Party, has 9 percent support in the swing state of Virginia -- 9 percent, more than enough to give the state to Obama, that would normally go to Romney.  Let's also not forget about Ron Paul, who was refused a speaking slot at the convention because he wouldn't endorse Romney.  (Paul's support, while not particularly wide, is very, very deep.)

3) Republican "dirty tricks" to try to keep Democratic voters from the polls are being fought in court and thus creating more of an incentive to vote not only for Obama but also against the GOP.  The Justice Department has invalidated recently-passed voter-ID laws in several Southern states, including Texas just a couple of days ago, because they went against the 1964 Voting Rights Act.  Just yesterday a Federal judge in Ohio allowed early voting in that state, favoring urban (and thus pro-Obama) voters when it was previously permitted but recently outlawed by the Republican governor and legislature in that state.  Earlier this year, another statute was declared unconstitutional in Wisconsin.  And as I write, Pennsylvania's voter-ID law has gone to the state Supreme Court, with a ruling to be delivered later this month.   (Interestingly enough, Gov. Tom Corbett had wanted the court to delay a ruling until October.  Wonder why?)

4)  Ronald Reagan is still dead. Reagan remains the only conservative political candidate whom moderates actually liked; the trouble is that the conservatives still haven't learned that the country voted for him as a person, not as a conservative.  As such, the likes of Newt Gingrich and Joe Scarborough are saying that "when we promote a strong conservative message, we win,"  If that were the case, we'd see a Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain or Rick Perry leading the charge against Obama, but voters -- Republican voters, mind you -- didn't buy any of them.

Furthermore, the tea-party movement, which officially is non-partisan but so far has backed only Republican candidates, wants to cause political change but only from the outside, without being involved in the actual process.  Its insularity and resultant unpopularity have become such that, at least here in Pennsylvania, Democratic political candidates actually ran campaign ads that they "stood up to the Tea Party."

Romney will thus need to find a way to counteract all of these things working against him.  I see no way for him do that.