What would you do?

reportersMany moons ago, when I was an editor at a weekly newspaper, we used to run a section in the paper that was known as the Police Notes.

It’s a common practice for smaller, local newspapers to run such police blotters, but we used to have a little fun with ours by giving each blurb a humorous sub headline,  and we never included names.

For example, a police report regarding a complaint about a neighbor’s dog doing his business in the neighbor’s yard might be titled “Canine Travels for Business” The blurb would read something like this ” An Elm Street man called police to report that a neighbor’s dog has been repeatedly defecating on his lawn.”

We sought out the most amusing police notes from the three communities we covered. More serious crimes were covered in other parts of the paper. But still, we had access to all police reports, so everything was theoretically fair game.

There are different standards when writing news stories. For example, if a city councilor were arrested for an OUI offense that story would likely be on the front page. If an average citizen were arrested for the same exact crime, it would likely end up in the police blotter without his name.

Police officers are also held to different standards than firefighters. Why? Because a police officer has authority over citizens and a sworn duty to uphold the law. A basic firefighter or public works employee has no such authority.

Bottom line: some people are treated differently by the media, most notably public officials and those who have thrust themselves into the public spotlight. An obituary for a long-time city volunteer and former school teacher would likely run longer than an obituary for someone who was not as well-known in the community.

These are always tough judgment calls for reporters and editors.

I remember one particular item that gave me pause. The adult child of a city official was arrested on a domestic violence charge.

Was this “news” simply because of the relation to a city official? I eventually decided it was not. Typically, domestic violence reports were covered in our Police Notes, not in the news section of the paper.

But if you were a newspaper editor, where would you draw the line? Do the actions of a municipal official’s relative (sibling, child or parent) warrant a news story?

What if the governor’s brother were indicted on charges of mail fraud? For me, that’s an easier question to answer.

On a higher level, the media usually keeps a clear distance when reporting on the children of the President of the United States, but President Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy, seemed like fair game.

These are all tough judgment calls, and they become more murky as we descend lower on the authority scale. Certainly a city councilor wields much less influence than a state senator or governor.

So, I made a choice. I decided not to pursue a story about this councilor’s adult son. The action’s of the son were not directly connected to the councilor. Thus, in my opinion, it was not fair game and would be in poor taste to publish such a news story. In short, it would be sensationalism and had no impact on residents in that community.

Where do you think the media should draw a line?

I never wonder whether I made the right choice. I am as confident in my decision today as I was 13 years ago.

But what would you have done?

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The Outsiders

outsidersUp until two months ago, most political consultants within the DC Beltway would tell you that you need a “moderate” candidate in order to win an election. That candidate, the consultants would tell you, should be a centrist, an establishment-type, someone who makes most people safe and secure. Someone predictable.

Outsiders, consultants explain, are unknown quantities; unable to steal votes from the sacred independent, middle-of-the-road voters who often carry much weight in so-called purple states like Ohio.

Conventional wisdom dictates that in order to win the general election, the primary candidate has to draw from the middle to outpace his/her opponent.

This presidential race is unlike many other races in recent history, for both the Democrats and the Republicans. But is there any truth in the theory that moderate candidates are effective for either party?

The establishment didn’t work for the GOP

Republicans bristle at the idea of an “establishment” centrist candidate. They point to the last 20 years, in which they have won only two presidential elections after unsuccessfully nominating Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.

In each of those Republican primaries, anti-establishment outsiders were quickly sent packing. Sam Brownback, Jim Gimore and Tom Trancedo were all anti-establishment outsiders in the 2008 GOP race. Rick Santorum, Buddy Roema, Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry were all anti-establishment, political outsiders. Where are they today?

The establishment rarely works for Democrats

In 2008, Senator Hillary Clinton’s star was shining brightly. She seemed to be the heir apparent for the Democratic nomination. She was, by definition, a Washington insider and portrayed herself in the same mold as her husband: a pragmatic moderate who could get things done.

But a war-weary electorate was looking for something fresh. They rejected all the insiders (Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, John Edwards and Bill Richardson), instead rolling the dice on a virtual poltical unknown with almost no experience in Washington DC.

But the election of Barack Obama was an anomaly in politics. It defied conventional wisdom. Clinton’s campaign consultants wound up with egg on their faces.

In 2000, the Democrats took the safe bet with Al Gore, who is about as establishment as they come. Of course, we all know that Gore came within inches of winning that election, and that he was able to sway independent voters. But still, it was not enough.

Four years later, John Kerry, another insider and establishment type fended off political outsiders such as Howard Dean and Wesley Clark. He also beat other insiders Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich.

When outsiders make a splash

Many Republicans still blame billionaire Ross Perot for handing Democrat Bill Clinton a victory over President George HW Bush in 1992; and Democrats still seethe when they speculate about the damage that Ralph Nader played in 2000, supposedly stealing very critical votes from Al Gore.

This campaign cycle, both the Democratic Party and Republicans have their hands filled with so-called outsiders.

I don’t know how you describe Bernie Sanders as an “outsider” because he’s been a part of Washington’s infrastructure for nearly 16 years. But he is most certainly not an “establishment,” middle of the road candidate. He is a self-described socialist, but his poll numbers look good in both Iowa and New Hamshire. He will likely get crushed in South Carolina, but are Democrats fired up enough to “feel the bern” past Nevada?

And then there’s Donald Trump, a candidate who is all over the map. Trump defies every ounce of campaign logic known to man.

The establishment is beside itself. The National Review and Rich Lowry can’t stop him or slow him down. His off-the-cuff remarks about immigrants, Muslims and even war heroes only makes him more popular.

He is an egomaniac who has filed for bankruptcy four times. Yet, he describes himself as a fiscal conservative who can make “America Great Again.” (He’s just short on specifics)

So maybe, just maybe, this will be the year when Republican voters tell the consultants to just stuff it.

 

 

 

Money for nothing

Ben Chin (Sun Journal Photo)
Ben Chin (Sun Journal Photo)

There were a few lessons to be learned this week for campaign operatives and political junkies in Maine.

1.) A financial war chest does not necessarily win an election;

2.) Voters in small communities become weary of aggressive campaigning that lasts for more than two or three months; and

3.) Negative campaign tactics still work, despite the fact that most people will say negative campaigning is a turn-off.

Lewiston’s mayoral race, in which Robert Macdonald won a third term, garnered national media attention. Tuesday’s run-off results were reported by media outlets across the country, including NBC News and the New York Times.

Although Ben Chin, a progressive Democrat, got the most votes during a five-way race for the mayor’s seat in the November 2015 election, a runoff election was required by the city’s charter because he did not capture at least 50 percent of the vote.

Democrats tend to favor run-off elections and/or a concept known as ranked choice voting, but Tuesday’s results bit them in the ass, when Republican Macdonald came out on top, 53-47 percent over Chin.

What would have otherwise been a small community election became amplified when the campaign took an ugly turn in October.

Several signs that featured a caricature of an Asian man were hung on buildings in Lewiston. Those signs contained a blatantly racist message: “Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin. Vote for more jobs not more welfare,” according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Is cash really king?

Robert Macdonald (Portland Press Herald photo)
Robert Macdonald (Portland Press Herald photo)

Because of the national attention, Chin’s campaign was able to raise a whopping $87,800. Maine Democrats wanted to send a message and large amounts of money poured in from all over Maine and across the country. Chin, the political director for the Maine People’s Alliance, was able to turn on one of the state’s biggest political machines.

In total, Chin’s campaign raised roughly 15 times more than Macdonald’s campaign, which raised $5,800.

By contrast, in the city of Biddeford, a typical mayoral campaign raises somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. This year, however, Mayor Alan Casavant raised a paltry $1,270 and spent $818 of it to secure a third term. He got 2,494 votes at a cost of roughly 33 cents per vote.

Chin garnered 3,826 votes; spending nearly $23 per vote. Macdonald, on the other hand, garnered 4,398 votes; spending roughly $1.32 per vote.

Chin edged out second-place finisher Macdonald in November, but Macdonald won Tuesday’s runoff, despite being outspent roughly 15-1. Why?

Almost every one I speak to about this race has a different theory, but I think voters were turned off by an incredibly aggressive campaign that was raising so much cash from outside of the city.

It was a bit over the top.

Voter fatigue?

According to the city of Lewiston’s web site, 33.5 percent of the city’s registered voters cast ballots in the November election. That number dropped slightly on Tuesday, when 32 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots during the runoff election.

By contrast, slightly more than 30 percent of voters in Biddeford cast ballots in that city’s 2015 mayoral election.

Mayoral campaigns in cities like Biddeford or Lewiston usually have a shelf-life of between two or three months. Tuesday’s run-off election added another month to the process. I heard stories of voters being weary of door-knocking and incessant telephone calls.

Sometimes, too much of a good thing (grassroots campaigning and cash) can be a bad thing.

One friend of mine recently speculated that Lewiston’s voters are conservative (and perhaps just a tad racist). He failed to explain how Chin, a progressive Democrat, came out on top in November if a majority of Lewiston’s voters are bigoted or conservative.

In fact, Lewiston, which is a lot like Biddeford, has historically been a bastion for conservative, traditional Democrats (mill workers and Franco-Americans).

Macdonald, a former police detective and Vietnam War veteran, is  a blunt speaker and has a propensity for being “politically incorrect.”

When you consider all these factors, it’s no wonder that a small Maine city’s mayoral race attracted national attention.

It was a campaign that defied conventional wisdom, and it offered some lessons for all of us.

 

 

A plea to responsible gun owners

Note: The following was penned by my friend and former colleague Tobey Williamson who now lives in Hawaii. It is provocative, and I thought my readers may want to consider his point of view.

police lineDear Responsible Gun Owners with Good Hearts:

I know more than a few of you, and I want you to keep your guns and buy more of them. Buy as many as you want. Keep them locked up. Safe from the [mentally ill] and from the kids. Keep them ready in case we really do one day have to organize a militia to fight against an extremist government that knows everything about its enemies and employs drones to kill us remotely. At least we’ll be able to shoot a few of those fuckers out of the sky before we run out of bullets.

In the meantime let’s teach our kids to hit a target at 1000 yards in a gale force wind with their hearts racing at 100 beats per minute. Teach them to respect these weapons, these tools of food security, these protectors of our freedom. Make sure they know never to point them at any person unless they intend to pull the trigger—and that they understand the inevitable consequences of such a decision. Bring them hunting and show them the proper reverence when the spark leaves the eye of the animal we take to sustain our own through the winter.

However, I implore you to look into your heart and consider that it is only flesh and that it beats for your loved ones. Who are themselves flesh and blood that can never be put back together once torn apart by bullets. Think of them when you begin to change the conversation we are having as a country, when you become the voice of reason that leads us away from this chaos. No one else has the credibility or the common sense that you have. Nor does anyone else shoulder the same responsibility.

Rights do come with responsibilities; at least they do in a world that makes sense. So, as a rightful owner of as much firepower as you can buy, it is your responsibility to speak out and take real action against this mayhem and senseless violence that can strike any of us at any time. This is a deadly serious issue and at the moment not only is the violence insane, but so is the conversation about it.

The vast majority of people just want to go about our business without fearing for our lives. When we hear that new laws are not the answer because we do not enforce the ones we have, or that its because we have poor mental health services we say, “ok, lets fix all of these problems.” When we hear that a person intent on killing another person will find a way with or without a gun, we say, “ok, lets make it as hard as possible for them to do that.”

When we hear that the only answer to the problem of gun violence is more guns, we are incredulous. This is the same absurd logic that created the nuclear arms race. Must we all endure escalating shootouts started by the heavily armed people everywhere in our midst who eventually draw at the slightest crooked glance? Is that when we can decide that this default strategy is not working?

Seriously, think through the scenario of the “good guys with guns” argument. It is not like the bad guys are all wearing black and white-striped jumpsuits or something. If everyone has guns out, who knows whose got a good heart then? Just imagining the situation in the comfort of your heavily armed home should give you pause. Within the chaos, will you really know who to shoot at? Are you sure the other guys packing heat would know not to shoot you? The rest of us caught in the crossfire don’t want any part of it, thanks.

End the insanity. Stand up for your rights. But for fuck’s sake, for our kids’ sake, take care of your responsibilities. Come to the table and be a part of the solution.

Sincerely,
A non gun owner who does not hate guns but hates gun violence.

Orange Crush

donald-trumpThere is no doubt in my mind that this blog post is going to cost me some friends.

In fact, it may cost me some other things too, but I can’t sit here and be silent.

I am watching as my country is gripped in fear. I am watching as politicians scream about safety. I am watching and listening to heated debates among my friends about the Paris terror attacks, the Syrian refugee crisis and the role of Muslims in the United States of America.

It is like a nightmare, and I wonder: has everyone forgotten their history?

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said philosopher George Santayana.

Yesterday

Most of us are too young to remember the horrors of WWII, when millions of Jewish refugees fled Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party.
Then, under the authority of the Third Reich, Jews were required to register with the government and to report their movements and whereabouts.
Eventually, Jews were rounded up and sent to prison camps. They were systematically executed during Hitler’s reign of terror.
How could this horror take place? What gave rise to the Nazis? How could Hitler lead an entire nation into a campaign of loathing that eventually turned into mass murder and one of the most significant atrocities in human history?
The answers are difficult to imagine, but it was an incremental process. Germany was reeling financially and on the brink of hyper-inflation fueled by crushing debt that stemmed from their obligations for reparations after World War I.
So, Germany’s economy was in rough shape. But beyond their terrible economy Germans were also concerned about the growing threat of communism in their country. They needed some scapegoats to blame this on.
Hitler came onto the political scene as a magnetic and charismatic speaker. He promised the German people safety and security. He had a stunning ability to whip up the masses with his rhetoric. He delivered scapegoats in the form of Jewish financiers who he blamed for the country’s economic woes.
Sound familiar?
The German people were complicit, either by their silence or by their support of Hitler and the Nazis.
Polls taken in 1938 and 1939 found that the majority of American citizens did not want the government to allow Jewish refugees from Europe to settle in the United States.
A couple of decades later, another gifted and charismatic speaker came onto the political scene; this time in the United States.
Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy led America through the “Red Scare” of the 1950s.
McCarthy spent nearly five years trying to expose communists and other left-wing “loyalty risks” in the U.S. government during the early 1950s, at the height of the Cold War against Russia.
Even mere insinuations of disloyalty by McCarthy were enough to convince many Americans that their government was packed with traitors and spies. McCarthy’s accusations were so intimidating that few people dared to speak out against him.
But Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a fellow Republican to McCarthy, did stand up to him with her Declaration of Conscience speech. One part of that speech that I find especially relevant today is this:
“The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny –Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”

Today

Donald Trump, so far the leading candidate for the GOP nomination in 2016, endorsed the idea for a database to collect information about Muslims living in the United States. At a campaign event in  Newton, Iowa, NBC asked [Trump] whether there should be a database to track Muslims. “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems,” he said, according to The Atlantic. “We’re going to have to—we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques,” Trump added. “We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

When challenged to explain how his policy ideas differed from those used in Nazi Germany, Trump’s only response was ” You tell me. You tell me.”

What scares the bejesus outta me is that Trump’s leading poll numbers surged again this morning, fewer than 24 hours after he refused to elaborate on how his policy idea differentiated from those used by the Nazis.

What scares me more?

So many of my friends really like Trump.

“He (Trump) says what I’m thinking, but what political correctness won’t allow me to say,” said one friend, adding that safety is the most important thing a politician can do for the nation.

But should we sacrifice liberty and American ideals for safety?

I always thought this was the land of the free and of the brave, not the land of bigotry and fear.

What was it that Ben Franklin said?

“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

 

 

Je suis navré

eifelOver the last 24 hours, many of my Facebook friends changed their profile pictures with a backdrop of the French flag.

I did not.

I have no criticism for my friends who did this, I can only explain why I did not.

What happened in Paris last night was an outrage. Those were cowardly acts perpetrated by cowardly people. Of course, we should stand in solidarity with our fellow men, women and children in Paris. We want to show that we are united.  There is nothing wrong with that.

We are saddened. We are outraged. And yes, we are afraid that this form of terror will soon land again on own shores.

Paris was not the first attack coordinated by ISIS. The loose-knit terror organization has struck other nations, albeit not members of Western Civilization.

I did not change my Facebook profile when ISIS beheaded journalists. I did not change my Facebook profile when ISIS attacked a hotel in Tunisia. I did not change my Facebook profile when ISIS attacked a French Gas plant or when they attacked and killed people in Kobane or Hasakah in Syria; or in Libya or Egypt.

I was a newspaper editor when the 9-11 attacks on the United States took place. Shortly after those attacks, my publisher and I had a lengthy conversation about whether to place an American flag symbol on the top of the front page. Another local paper had made that move, but we decided not to. It was a difficult decision, but I think we both realized that we were dealing with raw emotion, rather than sound logic.

For example, how long would the flag symbol appear on the front page? Would it be like a Christmas tree, which should be taken down after six weeks? Were we suddenly becoming patriotic because we were attacked? Why didn’t we have the flag on the front page on September 10, 2001?

To us, it seemed like being exploitative in the days following a horrific attack on our nation.

As could have been predicted, that other newspaper stopped with printing the flag on their front page long before the end of the year.

Social media is different, however. I see nothing wrong with wanting to show solidarity. I see nothing wrong with wanting to affirm our common connection to the human experience, including its shock, grief and outrage.

I just fear that we are dealing with something so much larger than what we can comprehend; a force of evil that we cannot imagine.

Some say the United States is unable or unwilling to face this latest form of human terror. Some say we are complacent, self-absorbed and don’t have the will to fight any enemy like ISIS. Some even criticize western leaders like President Obama for being “weak” on terrorism.

To those people, I say you are wrong. The same things were said about America and her president on December 6, 1941. We proved the world wrong, if only reluctantly and waiting until we were attacked.

People have criticized Generation X, yet Armed Forces recruiting stations were filled in the days after Sept. 11, 2001.

America has what it takes to confront ISIS, but this will need to be much more than a social media campaign of altered Facebook profile pictures. This will need to be a worldwide effort, and it will require both resources and tremendous sacrifice.

I am not a foreign policy expert, and more than likely, neither are you. I do not know how to bring the world together on this issue, but I do know that it will require much more than symbolic gestures.

We stand with Paris. But we must also stand with Berlin, Tunisia, Prague, Beirut and people of every stripe across the globe, not just the ones who look like us.

 

 

 

Pretty Persuasion

boehner-resignDo you argue about politics on social media? Do you find yourself getting angry and often one step away from “unfriending” someone or blocking them?

And what happens when you argue about politics with someone right in front of you? Are you able to keep calm or do you feel your blood begin to boil?

I have an interesting mix of Facebook “friends,” and follow an eclectic mix of folks on Twitter.

Most of these people are relatively outspoken about their political views, and many of them are political junkies just like me. Hence, we are connected via social media.  My social media contacts are pretty much equally divided between the two dominant political parties, but most of them could be described as political moderates.

Lately, however, I am seeing an increasing number of my friends becoming more extremist, whether they sit on the left or right side of the political aisle. I’m not a big fan of the word “extremist,” I prefer to describe these particular friends as passionate.

Passion, however, does not equal reason or even common sense. You can be passionate about something, but if you’re leading with your heart or your gut instead of your brain, you are bound to cross paths with someone who has a polar opposite point of view.

Witnessing those interactions is like watching a train wreck. Nothing good comes from it.

Passionate folks often decry the role of moderates. They say we lack convictions, courage and principles. I would counter that passionate people rarely pause to use their brains when trying to make a political point.

So there, I just lost the art of political persuasion.

Define winning

We live in a culture of winners and losers. We love to root for our teams, and politics has always been a blood-sport.

We have cliches such as “elections have consequences,” a modern adaptation of “to the victor go the spoils.”

But what is the point of winning a political argument? If you win, does it really help your candidate or cause?

What is more important: your PRIDE or your GREED?

Pride is defined as your way of doing things, your personal view of yourself and tactics. Greed is defined as your goals, the object of your desire.

So, first ask yourself: am I arguing to beat someone or am I arguing to help them better see my point?

Instead of bashing a candidate or cause, why not vest your energy into making a more compelling argument for your candidate or cause?

Why are you arguing? To thump your chest, to make a point or maybe to win someone over?

Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner abruptly announced he would be leaving his post at the end of October. That announcement drew cheers from many of my friends on both sides of the aisle.

I don’t think Republicans understand fully how much Boehner helped his party. He was a fundraising machine and held together one of the most challenging caucuses in recent memory.

I also don’t think many of my friends on the left appreciate Boehner’s dedication to his country, his willingness to compromise and the leadership he offered in the House.

If it is to be all out war between the two political parties, then the casualties will be counted in losses for our nation.

So let’s all take a stab at better approach to arguing. Let’s persuade instead of attack.

Persuasion is much more difficult, but it is far more rewarding.

And it will likely help keep your blood pressure in check.

For a complete style guide about how to really win a political argument, check this link from New York Magazine.

No easy answers

Joining other mental health advocates in discussing stigma
Joining other mental health advocates in discussing stigma

In the wake of yet another senseless crime — this one, which struck close to home in Saco — there is a renewed debate about what to do with people who suffer from a mental illness.

Earlier this month, Connor MacCalister allegedly slit the throat of an unsuspecting grandmother, Wendy Boudreau, in a Shaw’s supermarket.

According to a story about the incident in the Portland Press Herald, “[h]orrific crimes like this, committed by individuals with profound mental illness, are rare in Maine, yet each time they occur, the same question arises: How could someone like that be out on the street, in a position to commit such a brutal crime?”

Though I consider myself a self-appointed advocate of mentally ill people, I struggle with the question because it hits home for me.

As mentioned several times throughout this blog, I suffer from a mental illness, with a range of diagnoses.

As of this writing, there are more than 67 reader comments on the Portland Press Herald story. Those comments run the gamut of reactions. Some say we need better access to outpatient mental health services. Others say mental illness is nothing more than a ploy to escape responsibility for a crime. Still others say, patients should be forced to take their medications, while others say we should go back in time and warehouse individuals with mental illness in institutions like AMHI (The Augusta Mental Health Institute).

Admittedly, it’s pretty damn hard to argue for the civil liberties of the mentally ill, especially in the wake of a horrific murder. Where are the advocates for Wendy Boudreau’s civil rights?

Ms. Boudreau’s only mistake was to go to a supermarket to buy ice cream. She had done nothing wrong other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Stigma on a slippery slope

On the other hand, we tread a slippery slope when we generalize mental illness.

For example, how exactly do we define a “profound” mental illness, as the Press Herald story did? How do we know in advance that a mentally ill person is going to commit such a heinous crime?

In fact, violent acts committed by people with serious mental illness comprise an exceptionally small proportion of the overall violent crime rate in the U.S.

Mentally ill persons are far more likely to be the victims of violence, not its perpetrators, according to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

In its March 2011 article, “Budgets Balanced at Expense of Mentally Ill,” the NASW newsletter also mentions a new report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that documents a nationwide decline in behavioral health care spending as a share of all health care spending, from 9.3 percent in 1986 to just 7.3 percent, or $135 billion out of $1.85 trillion, in 2005.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in five Americans suffers from some sort of mental illness. Of course, the statistics include depression, anxiety and treatable bipolar disorders. Put me in that category.

But what do we do with people who suffer from more extreme cases of these symptoms and other issues including paranoid-schizophrenia.

There have been times when I have been in that category, too.

Should the government force me to take medications? Should I be confined to the Riverview Psychiatric Institute?

Every day, I get up, take a shower, get dressed and go to work. Just like you.

I pay my taxes, enjoy the company of my friends and take care of my home and pets. Just like you.

I have been married to the love of my life for nearly 13 years. I successfully raised two stepsons. I give back and volunteer in my community. How do I do all that if I have a moderating mental illness?

First, I take a wide range of medications every day. Two, I see a therapist every two weeks; and third — perhaps most importantly — I have a support network of caring family members and friends, not to mention safe and stable housing.

These things are unfortunately out of reach for many people with a mental illness.

A broken system

I have relatively good and comprehensive health insurance, but even so it took me weeks to get connected to a psychiatrist after my last hospitalization, some two years ago. There is a profound lack of psychiatric beds in the state of Maine.

There are budget constraints to consider. Many mentally ill people — especially those with more profound illnesses — do not have access to premium health insurance. They live on the edge, relying on the minimum benefits of Medicaid (Maine Care). Still other insurance plans offer minimal coverage for mental health services, both for outpatient and inpatient care. For example many plans will pay for only 12 sessions of outpatient therapy (capped).

Supposedly, after three months, you are cured and ready to hit the streets.

Mental health providers do not choose their occupation to “get rich,” as suggested in the reader comments of the Press Herald Story. Social workers salaries are among the lowest of college-educated professionals. A manager of a fast-food restaurant typically makes more than a social worker.

Social workers do not choose their occupation as a way to get rich quick off the back of taxpayers.

Psychotropic medications are some of the most expensive on the market. Patient records are confidential, and sharing them between providers is a complex, burdensome task.

So what do we do? How do we fix a broken system?

Is it a matter of more money? Do we round up everyone we think might have a mental illness and lock them away? Do we criminally charge people for crimes they may commit in the future?

I do not know the answers to those questions. I do not know if Wendy Boudreau would still be alive today if we had better community-based mental health services. I do not know if her murder was preventable.

But I do know that Wendy Boudreau’s death was utterly senseless, and she did not deserve what happened to her on that hot August day in a supermarket.

 

 

 

#Black Lives Matter

Seattle Times photo
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: Seattle Times photo

I had a little bit of an epiphany yesterday during an especially long drive home.

To prevent road boredom, I was a listening to talk radio, and a news segment about the Black Lives Matter movement caught my attention.

Before we proceed, a bit of disclosure: I am a white, middle-aged man.

Up until yesterday, I generally had a reflexive, knee-jerk reaction to the synergy building in the Black Lives Matter campaign: I would generally mutter: “All lives matter,” and while I still believe that is intellectually true, what is so wrong with acknowledging that Black Lives do, in fact, matter?

I began wondering, can’t we say Black Lives Matter without assuming that it is an automatic dismissal of other lives, races or ethnic backgrounds?

Why can’t we simply acknowledge that Black Lives Matter without feeling defensive and the impulsive need to correct those who deliver that message?

Like most white people, I want to believe that racism in the United States is a topic best left for the history books. I generally ignore it, or once in a while give it a passing nod as a present day and legitimate problem. I wrote about my own battles with racism previously.

But how can we ignore the rising tensions in black communities without actually sticking our heads in the sand?

I know and expect that I am going to get push-back for this blog post, but before you respond I would ask you to consider the following analogy.

Close your eyes and imagine that you and I are close friends. I have just been through a painful ordeal, one in which justice and fairness evaded me.

I say to you, “My Life Matters.”

Do you feel compelled to say, “Well, my life matters, too. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

Or could you say, “Yeah, your life matters. I’m sorry you are going through a difficult time.”

I really think it’s okay to acknowledge someone’s pain, sorrow or grief without lecturing them about what a politically correct response should be.

It is 2015, why is not okay for some people to hear the phrase that Black Lives Matter?

Why does that make so many people uncomfortable? No one is saying that white lives do not matter or that Hispanic lives do not matter.

A growing number of people in America are standing up, acknowledging reality and asserting that Black Lives Matter.

And they do.

#BlackLivesMatter

 

 

Bang and blame

Frank Underwood
Frank Underwood

Like most everyone else in the free world, I have finally finished the third season of House of Cards, a Netflix original series.

And like most other House of Cards fans, I have been consistently intrigued with Francis Underwood, a ruthless politician played by Kevin Spacey.

As Season Three begins to unfold, President Underwood hires a writer to help promote a new jobs program. The writer accompanies President Underwood to his childhood home of Gaffney, South Carolina. There, the president provides a tour of his hometown, including his family’s “farm,” a failed enterprise that went bankrupt because there was only a thin layer of soil covering deep bedrock.

Underwood explains the farm’s failure this way: hard work is sometimes not enough if you have nothing to work with.

From my own perspective, I have always doubled-down on the notion that success is achieved primarily by hard work. This mantra was driven into the soft-tissue of my brain since before I can remember. It is, after all, a family trait.

Don’t get me wrong.

Hard work is a virtue, but that one scene at the Underwood’s failed peach tree farm— out of 39 episodes — made me re-examine the Puritan values that course through my veins.

Even the losers, get lucky sometimes

Growing up, the game of Monopoly was one of my favorite games. I was an impulsive child, so at every opportunity I bought every property I could, resulting in depleted cash reserves and forcing me to mortgage the properties in order to pay my debts.

monopoly_originalOf course, while my properties were mortgaged they produced no revenue. Inevitably, I would go bankrupt, watching as my parents and sister finished the game without me.

But over time, I became more savvy. I was more judicious in my selection of properties. I focused on the utilities and railroads. I avoided properties that were beyond my means (Boardwalk and Park Place).

I kept no less than 50 percent cash reserves, and put houses and hotels on inexpensive properties such as Oriental and Baltic. The odds of another player landing on these properties was much higher than landing on Boardwalk. Thus, I had a nice revenue stream and owned properties on all sides of the board.

Playing Monopoly is a learning curve, but there is no mistake that winning at Monopoly is also driven by “chance” and luck.

Even at the beginning of the game, the players roll dice to determine who moves first.

One roll of the dice can provide a distinct advantage, but there are always things beyond our control: being forced into jail because of an unlucky roll of the dice, for example.

The game of Monopoly has been criticized as propaganda of greed, the worst trait of capitalism.

But it is also an exceptional learning tool that reinforces the harsh reality of life. No matter how smartly you play, there are always things you cannot control. And even at birth, it is a roll of the dice that can give you an advantage over the other players.

Sometimes hard work is not enough.

We should remember that lesson when judging the other players.