Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nona's Christmas List of 1953

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
My wife and I were going through some old boxes when we found a small notebook with receipts and hand written notes from mother. On one page was her Christmas list from 1953. I was just eleven-months old that Christmas in 1953. Patty, my big sister, was four.
I was struck by how quaint Mom's list seemed. I can see the  care she took to plan this special day for us. The neatness of her figures are a tribute to her business training at Butler High School where she was the first in her family to graduate from the twelfth grade.  Years later she would put these skills to work in her first bookkeeping  job at Robert Halls clothing store in Rockaway, New Jersey, and later at J.C. Penny  in Dover.  But in 1953 she used her skills to plan our family budget.
Nonas Xmas List 1953
I can see her sitting at the kitchen table of our rented bungalow on Lake Parsippany. It was a log cabin that had been a summer cottage before being  converted to a year-round home.  It had a fenced in yard and an wonderful enclosed porch that overlooked the lake. The kitchen was just wide enough to accommodate a small chrome legged table with aluminum sides and a Formica top. Mom would sit there in the morning light after Dad left for work, sipping her coffee and enjoying a crossword puzzle or paying the bills. It was her quiet time before my sister and I were awake. It was probably one of these quiet mornings when she penciled this account of our Christmas.  She had gone though each receipt, punching holes in them to file them in her little black, ring bound notebook.
Dad usually left for work most mornings while I was still sleeping. He was an appliance repair man for Sears, which was called Sears and Roebuck back then (I always felt sorry for Mr. Roebuck when they dropped his name. I still think that the change in business model behind this was the beginning of the companies decline).  He worked his full eight-hour day, five days a week and was usually able to be home by dinner.  I have one early memory when I was three or four years old of waking up before Dad left for work and running to the front door to say good-bye to him. But in 1953 I was just an infant.
I don't know how much Dad was paid for his work. He was very skilled, some said gifted, at this job. I do know whatever he was paid was enough that Mom stayed home with us until I was in school. We weren't rich, but we had all the things we needed; food, a warm house, clothes, shoes, a doctor who took good care of us and a few nice things to open under the Christmas tree each year.  I know from bits of conversation I heard when I was older that Stretching the budget was always a challenge, but we managed.
Then, after reminiscing about the past,  I asked myself, how much did Christmas cost my parents in 1953?
Including the cookie cutters and cookie sheets, which would become fixtures of our childhood holiday celebrations, Christmas that year cost them just shy of thirty bucks.  But how much is that relative to today's dollar? It seemed like pocket change based on the numbers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, a dollar in 1953 was worth $8.91 today. That means Christmas cost our parents $288.93, not including food, beverages, gifts between my parents or gifts for friends and relative. And, of course, there was the cost of the Christmas tree. What follows is Mom's 1953 Christmas accounting in 2015 dollars:
1953 Xmas in 2015$
This suddenly seemed like a lot of money.  I looked it up. Half of all Sears appliance technicians today make between $16 and $22 per hour.  The current living wage for a family of four (two children and two adult with only one breadwinner) in Morris County is $24.93/hour. That means over half of all Sears repairmen make less than a living wage.  Living in Morris County as a full-time Sears technician today, means either working a lot of overtime or having a second income just to break even.  Mom was being frugal and wise back then, but I doubt our childhood family, with only Dad working, would be able to afford such a Christmas these days.
Now when I look at Mom's figures they seem less quaint and more savvy.  A family today that is like ours was in 1953 would never be able to save up for a house, own a new car, go on a family vacation or get by without occasional assistance from family, friends or the government.
We constantly ask families to do more even though they already do. In most families like ours both parents work. The hours most of us work per week are more numerous. Many parents have more than one job, and children get to be with their parents less and less.  Is it no wonder people say that families are falling apart these days?
Money can't buy love, but a living wage can make us feel good about ourselves once again as we can take proper care of our families.  And returning to a 40 hour work week would allows us to spend more precious time with our children who really do need us to be there for them. These simple conditions are what made America strong in the past. They would certainly strengthen our families once again today.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Great Abortion Divide - Part II

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Religious Dimensions of the Abortion Debate

Despite recent attempts by pro-life groups to bring science into the argument against abortion, the critical difference between conservative Christian anti-abortionists and pro-choice opponents really is religious in nature. I know that many people in the pro-choice camp resist this claim. It clearly isn't how they want to frame their narrative. But the religious nature of the abortion divide remains true because, when you drill down, conservative Christians, who are driving this debate, truly believe we are endowed with an immortal soul at the moment of conception, or even prior to conception. They deeply believe that a human zygote is sacred. This belief separates conservative Christians not just from most people in the pro-choice groups, but also from many who identify more closely with pro-life sentiments. Avoiding the religious dimensions of the abortion debate isn't the most constructive path forward, in my view.

While the concept of "soul" is fundamental to Judaeo-Christian theology, the origin of a soul, and how or when it enters human flesh, is a matter of conjecture. There is no scriptural guidance on this point in the Old or New Testament, nor in the Koran. You won't hear much debate in churches or synagogues even though matters of the soul are unsettled questions. It is a fact that there was no concept of "soul" at all in the Hebrew tradition prior to the conquest of Alexander the Great, who brought Greek philosophy to the Middle East.

There has been religious and philosophic differences for centuries regarding the origin of the soul, and how we come to be "ensouled." Most people today, however, are not well equipped for this discussion. People prefer instead to take positions based on what seems morally right. They have a sense for what it means to be human and they recognize when actions or procedures are inhumane. This guides the thinking of many. Disrupting the growth of a few human cell in a woman's womb may not fit their understanding of what is inhumane, while calling a zygote a human stretches their idea of what "human" means to them. Then there are people of other faiths and people who aren't religious who hold entirely different notions on what it means to be "human." America is a pluralistic society with a great variety of different beliefs, so attempts to create a social norm around the most conservative Christian views on the sanctity of life aren't likely to succeed.

If you are a Christian who believes a fertilized human egg is endowed with a soul, then the immorality of abortion is an obvious and immutable fact. Abortion is simply murder. But If your religious beliefs don't specify when human flesh receives a soul, or if you believe the ability to terminate the pregnancy of a twelve-year-old rape victim is really answered pray, your views on the morality of abortion may differ. It is not theologically unreasonable to assume an all-knowing God knows which pregnancies will result in live births and which will not. Spontaneous abortions are a part of nature, so why would God ensoul a fetus that will never be born? Is it an automatic process over which God has no control?

And if God does control which human flesh receives a soul, an omnipotent God already know what decision a woman will make in her pregnancy. Why would a loving God condemn a young woman by intentionally ensouling a fetus that God knows will never be born.

The theology and theory of "soul" is seldom publically debated, yet the sanctity of a fertilized human egg is the position of the Roman Catholic church and most conservative Christian sects. Many otherwise faithful Jews and Christians instinctively resist this view and the moral position it requires. For them, for those of other faith traditions and for non-religious people, the morality of abortion remains an open question, which make it a personal matter. The decision to terminate a pregnancy is therefore a private and personal choice. This group does not want governments dictating morals that are not universally shared and they do not want governments telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies on religious grounds.

I believe these observation correctly demonstrates that there are more than two sides to the abortion debate. The duality of our public discourse on the subject is a fiction created by our mass media. Mainstream media tends to over-simplifies and reduce most issues to a polarized duality. The effect of this media bias benefits conservative views on abortion because it suppresses public debate on the underlying theology. This creates an impression that there is more religious support for banning abortions than is actually the case. Confident that they are making progress on theological grounds, the religious right is reaching out to the secular community to continue building towards an anti-abortion social norm. This brings us back to the effort of conservative Christians to incorporate science into the abortion debate.

Science and the Anti-Abortion Debate

In an article entitled "The Best Pro-Life Arguments for Secular Audiences," author Rob Schwarzwalder counsels believers on how to use scientific arguments to persuade non-believers that abortion is wrong. It is clear from the beginning that the author assumes human life begins at or before inception. He writes:
"At the moment when a human sperm penetrates a human ovum, or egg, generally in the upper portion of the Fallopian Tube, a new entity comes into existence. "Zygote" is the name of the first cell formed at conception, the earliest developmental stage of the human embryo, followed by the "Morula" and "Blastocyst" stages. Is it human? Is it alive? Is it just a cell or is it an actual organism, a "being?" These are logical questions."

These questions, however, obscure more than they illuminate. The author is asking, "Is a zygote human?"

First, we must ask ourselves, what is a human? This latter question does not have a single clear answer. Is "human" defined by a collection of qualities, state of being, a class of species or is it the presence of that spark of deity we call spirit or soul? Do all cells have some sort of divine being? Does DNA determine what sort of being a cell will have? Are all cells autonomous? Do they have agency? And even if they have a cellular being, does that make a human cell a human being?

When we think of "human" we most generally intend the word as shorthand for a "human being". But what do we mean by "being"? According to dictionary definitions, the first definition of " being" mean a state of existence. This would cover everything in the universe, from stones to photons and beyond. So in this sense the quality of "being" merely refers to that which exists in this world. This definition of "being" doesn't advance our understand of "human being" very much.

The second meaning of the word "being" refers to living, as opposed to inanimate. Beings are alive. This eliminates most of the known universe of things but still leaves a planet full of beings, from bacteria to mushrooms, tomatoes and whales. In this sense a human being can accurately be distinguished from other living things as a member of a specific species. This definition is somewhat more satisfying, but it still doesn't explain how a zygote can be a classified as human since it is only one cell and not the fully developed organism with all the attributes that allow us to be identified as a species. If we only ever existed as a single cell zygote we would not be capable of classifying our existence at all.

The third meaning of "being" is a living thing with an essence that is divine in it's nature. He the author writes, ".. Is it just a cell or is it an actual organism, a "being?" The implication is that if it is "just a cell" it is not an organism, but if it is an organism it might be a "being". Since both a cell and an organism actually exist in the universe and are also alive, this use of the term "being" clearly doesn't refer to either of the prior definitions. It refers to "being" as a living entity containing a spark of the divine. It refers to a soul.

To be fair, there are many other definitions of the word "being" but each of these fails to solve the riddle of how a zygote and a human being are the same thing.

To solve this the author states the following: " The zygote is composed of human DNA and other human molecules, so its nature is undeniably human and not some other species. The new human zygote has a genetic composition that is absolutely unique from itself, different from any other human that has ever existed, including that of its mother."

All molecules are chemical in nature, and most are not unique to humans. That said, DNA can be undeniably human and unique. The distinction between mother and embryo is evidenced by activation of the mother's immune system to rid her body of this foreign organism. From shortly after inception, the embryo releases chemicals to trick the mother's body into not rejecting it. In the early stages of pregnancy this drama is often manifested as morning sickness. Later in pregnancy the relationship becomes more symbiotic and less parasitic. What science proves is that a fetus is a unique organism, but it is not separate and apart from the mother's body. It cannot exist except in the womb. So it isn't the viability of a fetus that makes a fetus human in this view, but its unique DNA signature. In essence, a human cell becomes a human being if it's DNA signature is unique. It begs the question, Is a unique pattern of DNA the essence of what it means to be human?

The author answers this by writing, " Finally, is the human zygote merely a new kind of cell or is it a human organism; that is, a human being?

Here again we see that the difference between a ordinary cell and a single celled "human" organism is whether or not the cell has a complete and unique set of human DNA. If it does, this single cell is a "human being," according to the author.

This seems like a biologically flimsy distinction from both a religious and scientific point of view. If you have two human cells, one that shares a DNA signature with other cells and one that has a unique DNA signature, why would one be a cell and the other something more? We know we can take DNA from any cell in our body and insert it in a human egg to grow a clone. This clone would have DNA identical to the human donor. Is this clone not a human? Would it matter that it does not have unique DNA? Any reasonable person would say a human clone is fully human. Even the author would probably admit a cloned person has a soul, so is it a distinct new soul or a shared soul. Either way, it isn't the uniqueness of the DNA signature that makes a human cell a human being.

Despite incorporating science into the abortion debate The position of those who hold that life is sacred from birth cannot be advanced by incorporating scientific knowledge into their debate. The abortion debate isn't about science, it is about theology, morality and humanity and personal liberty. It is about religion and philosophy. Until we push beyond the didactic constraints imposed on our public debate and grapple with the underlying philosophies and theologies, we will never get beyond our present deadlock.

In the next essay I will offer some perspectives on the philosophic evolution of the human soul as a means of opening up the broader public discussion that we need to have.


To read Part I of this series please go to

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Great Abortion Divide - Part I

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The abortion debate is mixed up and convoluted to the point that it seems it can't be sorted out, but let's try. Let's step back from the edge and consider how it began.

For the anti-abortion movement it has always been a moral issue. For the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade was a constitutional question about the limits of government and the privacy rights of women. The question before the court was essentially this: Does government have a right to impose a Christian moral value on individual citizens?

Ignore that the "Christian moral value" involved is a belief that life is sacred from its inception and the framework of the question itself is one most conservatives would still accept today. Roe v. Wade was about limiting big government. In this narrow sense, the decision didn't make abortion legal so much as placing it beyond the reach of politicians to govern.

The initial recourse for those who passionately believed that abortion is a sin was to build a consensus for their views across all political and religious lines while condemning the practice in their churches. This was the initial focus of anti-abortion activists. It required acceptance of the ruling while working to alter America's social norms. This did not remain the focus of the anti-abortion activists for long.

It became apparent that changing social norms is a long, uphill battle. A majority of Americans, including majority of Christians, continued to see Roe v. Wade as a question of personal liberty. The result was a growing moral imperative for Christian activists that became too powerful to wait for social change. Accepting that the abortion decisions could be a "legally protected" private choices was too much to bear, so they took a different next step . They began to run for public office. They decided to take matters into their own hands and directly influence the law.

This was an unprecedented change in American Politics. It was the beginning of the Christian Conservative movement. It required believers to suspend the separation between church and state. The leap to impose a Christian moral law on a recalcitrant society required developing an ideological view of America as a Christian nation. Secular government became the enemy.

This change of strategy was a shock to pro-choice activists and to a majority of citizens alike. It hastened formation of both the pro-choice and pro-life movements and dramatically escalated the polarization of American politics. Establishment Republicans quickly welcomed the Christian Conservative movement and nurtured their development. The Republican party elite somewhat cynically added conservative Christians to their otherwise dwindling political base and adopted family values as wedge issues to win elections. This gave the GOP a new life and a new focus to stay vital. At the same time, the focus of the anti-abortion argument moved from refuting a woman's right to choose to protecting the rights of the unborn fetus. In effect this extended the inclusiveness and full protections of our constitution from adults to the unborn. This is not a concept considered by our founding fathers who never even attempted to define children's rights.

Fast forward to today and we see a backlash in the Republican party between social conservatives and the GOP establishment who failed to deliver on all the cynical promise made to Christian conservatives in exchange for their votes. Today there is a large contingent of uncompromising Christian right conservatives in Congress who believe their positions on policies are the will of God. A recent Public Policy Polling survey revealed that 44% of the Republicans now believe we should make Christianity the official religion of the United States.

So we find ourselves hopelessly deadlocked with a large portion of the population believing abortion is murder in both a religious and legal sense and about half the country still believing it is an issue of personal morality to which government has no business enforcing a different ideology. Holding that the U.S. Constitution confers on a fertilized egg the right to be born may be a legal stretch, but others hold that at some point the fetus becomes viable and constitutional protections may then apply. The remainder of the population still sees a live birth as the point where constitutional protections begin. In effect, we are having two separates debates on the subject. What the constitution intended is one debate and what is morally unacceptable for humanity is the other.

The great abortion divide has polarized us like no other issue since slavery. As was true then, the abortion divide has severely damaged our institutions and our ability to self-govern. It has impacted all aspects of our politics and our society. Even our fidelity to the Union and our commitment to majority rule are being tested. How we eventually resolve the abortion issue may be over the horizon right now, but an effort to reconnect with the true nature of our differences would be a good start. It doesn't help to think of anti-abortion activists as terrorists or of pro-choice activists as murderers. We have to stop talking past each other to achieve a new national consensus on the limits of government and the role of religion in public life. Most certainly that will involve renewed patience and a willingness to accept some degree of compromise on all sides. The alternative to a solution is unthinkable.

To continue on to Part II of this series, please go to:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Flashback to Paul Tsongus' Candidacy in 1992

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once said, "The more things change, the more they remain same. That is often true in politics, for while the actors come and go and specifics change, the same underlying forces continue to drive the ship of state. It requires a keen historical perspective to see it, Or sometimes sufficient longevity and a chance encounter with an old letter written when you were much younger is all you need, That is the case here below.
Long before Twitter and Facebook, before blogs and chat rooms, we expressed ourselves in letters. The one below from twenty-three years ago was my letter to then Presidential candidate Paul Tsongas. It explains my deep reservations about both the Republican and Democratic party on issues of the economy and governance. It was written at the point where the ascendancy of corporate domination of our politics had become obvious to me. It is also the point where I began to fully appreciate the asymmetrical level of dysfunction between both political parties. Having to support the less dysfunctional political party as both parties sink into the corporate pocket has been the political burden of my adult lifetime.

I think this is a valuable look back at the root of problems still plaguing us today, These issues have only grown significantly worse. It is also an insight into this authors thinking and a personal reminder of my own evolution, which is relatively minor compared with my growth in understanding as to just how far down the rabbit hole we've gone in the last two decades.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Establishment Media Isn't Supporting Hillary

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The Establishment media isn't about supporting Hillary, at least not in a personal sense. The corporate media is all about supporting the best, viable establishment candidates from each of the political parties. They end up providing an assist for candidates who will play along, to the greatest practical extent, with the game as it is rigged.

This should come as no surprise. We've seen the pattern before. Each election cycle certain establishment candidates receive more favorable media treatment than certain "insurgent" candidates, as the media likes to call them (sounds subversive, right?). First the media floods the market with favorable press and subliminal messaging. We are told who is viable and who can't get elected. Then big media contracts with polling organizations to conduct a poll to measure how effective their marketing efforts have been. Next they readjust their coverage methods and take another poll. They "track and adjust" as they go about molding public opinion until the two favored establishment candidates from both parties are ahead in the polls.

Sad to say, but even Obama, who I support, was (is) an establishment candidate. He was selected for favorable treatment by the media over Hillary at some point because he became a viable Democratic establishment candidate who would generate more interest and boost ratings more than Hillary, although either would have been fine.

Romney, I think, was the favored Republican establishment candidate from the start, he self-destructed in the end and became careless. He got caught speaking his true self to a room full of wealthy establishment donors. In either case, the corporate establishment had two suitable candidates from which we could choose the next president, same as always. The whole anti-establishment sentiment in both parties during this cycle is now actually presenting some challenges for establishment politics.

I don't think you can under estimate the full power of big media on our politics (or in our lives). This isn't conspiracy theory because the facts are self evident. Big media outlets are big, publically owned corporations that make their profit in the service of other big corporations and big political campaigns. To expect them to act like they are something else is unrealistic.

Post note follow-up:  Just one day after I published this blog entry the New York Times came out with an article about campaign funding patterns so far this year. Pay attention to the word choices in describing non-establishment candidates.

"Establishment-backed presidential candidates in both parties, facing stronger-than-expected challenges from insurgent campaigns, are rapidly losing one of their few remaining advantages in politics: money.

In the Republican and Democratic primaries alike, upstart candidates shunned by their parties’ major donors are now financially competitive with — and, in some cases, vastly outraising — opponents who have spent months or even years wooing the big-name donors and fund-raisers who have traditionally dominated the money race."  NYT, October 16, 2015

To highlight the rhetorical jiu jitsu this artical contains, let me attempt a re-write of this article from a slightly different perspective: 

"The quarterly campaign finance reports are out for the 2016 presidential hopefuls and the big loser appears to be Citizens United and the wealthy establishment donors. The breakout candidates representing the authentic voices of their respective parties appear to have found a way to fund their campaigns through social media and small donor contributions. 
On the Republican side, Dr. Ben Carson and Ted Cruz have raised millions in small donor contributions allowing them to compete with the self-funded billionaire, Donald Trump and the billionaire backed Jeb Bush for the Republican nomination. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders came in second over all in fund raising. He remains competitive with Hillary Clinton who raised a few thousand more. Nearly all of Senator Sanders contributions came from small donors giving around $32 on average. For the first time in decades presidential candidates are free to push policy ideas popular with party voters but not popular with wealthy special interest groups." 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Big Media Is The Big Loser in the Democratic Debate

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

According to a headline at

"Bernie Won All the Focus Groups & Online Polls, So Why Is the Media Saying Hillary Won the Debate

Good Question! Let's first see some of the more objective measures on how well Bernie Sanders did with ordinary people during the debate:

  • In the Salon live debate poll Bernie won by 72% to Hillary's 12%
  • The Time Magazine poll had Bernie winning by 56% with Jim Webb coming in second at 31%. Hillary came in at 11% in their poll.
  • A US News and World Report live blog poll conducted on Facebook had Bernie winning the debate by 85% to Hillary's 12%
  • A majority of CNN's own focus group felt Bernie Sanders won the debate.
  • On Fox News, the Frank Luntz focus group in Florida unanimously felt Bernie won the debate. Half the group of 28 Democrats supported Hillary at the start of the debate and less than half of those supporters continued to support her after the debate. 
  • On Facebook, Bernie Sanders was mentioned 107,000 times to Hillary's 131,000 mentions
  • On Twitter Bernie was mentioned 407,000 times, the most of any candidate. His name was mentioned in 12,000 tweets per minute compared to Hillary's 8,300 tweets per minute.
  • A content analysis of tweets for Bernie and Hillary showed that 69% of his tweets were positive compared to 56% positive for Hillary.
  • During the debate people Googled Bernie Sanders twice as often as Hillary Clinton.
  • On Facebook, Bernie attracted 24,000 new followers to Hillary's 7,700 new followers.
  • On Twitter Bernie attracted 42,730 new followers to Hillary's 25,000 new followers.
So what were the corporate media newspaper headlines the day after the debate?

The New York Times: "Hillary Clinton Turns Up Heat on Bernie Sanders in a Sharp Debate"

The Washington Post: "Hillary Clinton won the debate"

The Boston Globe: "Hillary Clinton wins, with an assist from Bernie Sanders"

The Business Insider: "Everyone's declaring Hillary Clinton the big winner of the debate"

The New Yorker: "Hillary Clinton Wins Big in Vegas"

The Guardian: "Hillary Clinton won the Democratic debate, simply by saying 'no'"

The New Republic: "Hillary Clinton Nailed It in the Democratic Debate"

So what is going on here?

I listened to Chris Matthews on MSNBC extolling the way Hillary dominated the debate during his show that immediately followed it. The next day, on his own show, he expressed real doubt about who won. He said that on the night of the debate he was listening to what the producers were saying in his ear. Wow!

I believe that Hillary Clinton was pitch perfect in the debate. She gave the best performance of her life. This was very reassuring to her big donors and to those who are already among her ardent supporters. But despite her outstanding performance it is clear that she didn't win the debate. Bernie Sanders performance was also very good. The match up of their good debate styles, however, only served to amplify Senator Sanders' ideas, and his passion clearly caught the public's attention. For the "establishment media" this was an incongruent moment. It isn't what they expected, and it is now very clear it isn't what they wanted either. I believe that the corporate (establishment) media has finally tipped its hand:
  • It is not an independent and neutral party in American politics.
  • It serves the for profit interests of its owners and its advertizing clients. 
  • It takes an active hand in shaping public opinion and framing our public debates.
  • It is responsible for the rise in political polarization and the sharp divisions we have experienced in recent decades. 
  • It is responsible for the unhinging of the Republican Party and the entertaining, carnival like atmosphere that characterizes it today. 

The Citizen's United Supreme Court decision was a windfall for the main stream media. All that money pouring into political PAC's from anonymous wealthy donors ends up in the media's pocket. The have every incentive to grab as much of it as they can and very little incentive to remain faithful to their journalistic mission.

I talked about how Bernie Sanders represents a double threat to the establishment media and establishment politics in a recent post. In an article entitled "Covering Politics For Profit Has Warped Our Democracy" I said:

"Many of the issues Sanders holds, such as the need to break up big banks and tax billionaires to pay for free college tuition, hurt the financial interests of the mainstream media's biggest corporate clients. This creates a conflict of interest for the corporate owned media. Covering the Sanders campaign on his terms forces them to report on issues that don't serve the financial interests of their advertisers.
The Sanders campaign also poses another challenge to the corporate media's business model. Much of the organizational work by his campaign is organized from the bottom up. It makes extensive and creative use of free or low cost social media platforms. This means the Sanders campaign is spending less money on media buys than any other candidate except for Donald Trump, who is getting his media attention for free.  [snip]
Senator Sanders, on the other hand, attracts even more actual voter attention than Trump without the help of the mainstream media. Major news outlets are just starting to cover the Sanders campaign as news events in order to preserve their legitimacy as news organizations."
And then, when it was clear to viewers that Bernie Sanders has something important to say that doesn't fit the establishments narrative, main stream media outlets simply pivot and declare their preferred candidate the winner.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

PRIMARY DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION - Risk Factors and Protective Factors

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Every instance of drug use is also a transaction between the users and the suppliers, whether the supplier is a dealer, a friend trying to be helpful or a parent that leaves prescription pills in easy reach. On the user side of the transaction the decision to partake always meets some need or desire on the part of the user. How strong the need or desire to take a drug is a variable, and therefore potentially controllable. It is important to understand what needs are being met when a young person decides to partake in drugs or alcohol. The lists below are among some frequent motivators that lead to drug transaction and drug use. Each of these factors can be modulated by family or community interventions. Still, this is just one side of the transaction. 

On the other side of the equation is the availability and cost of the product being consumed and the economic pressures on the supply side of the equation. Just like any transaction, the lower the price or available the product the more likely a transaction will occur. Factors affecting price and availability includes not just law enforcement interdiction but market factors in the legal and illegal drug trade, the strength of a profit motive for individual dealers, the  pain management and prescribing practices of doctors, the economic pressures of small business owners selling cigarettes or alcohol to minors, the amount of peer pressure being applied to sell or give drugs to others, the vigilance of parents in keeping products in the home out of the reach of their children, etc.

Primary prevention is all the things we can do as families and a society to forestall or eliminate an individual's preliminary exposure to addictive substances. It is the efforts undertaken to eliminate the various needs (or demands) that initiate drug transactions in the first place.

The following is a collection of ideas on the topic from a variety of sources with the URL links to some of the material and my own thoughts provided in the bracketed text. My purpose is to initiate or support public dialogue about what can be done to fix our drug problems. Let me begin with some ideas as to why children try drugs in the first place.

Here are some of the reasons young people have given for taking drugs :
To fit in
[The need to belong and feel accepted and valued is a powerful and universal human need that is denied to children who are marginalized, bullied or made to feel incompetent in their social environment. This leads youth to seek acceptance in alternative and sometimes more socially maladaptive peer groups where they are more at risk for substance abuse. Making sure our youth feel connected, engaged and valued within their families and the community is a protective factor that reduces the risk of substance abuse. Anti-bullying efforts in schools, identifying and intervening children who are being marginalized by their peers and teaching teachers how to be more effective manages the social milieu in their classrooms are other step that should be taken.]

To escape or relax
[The ever growing competitive trends in education and youth sports programs has placed unprecedented pressure on today's youth beginning at an early age. This places youth at ever increasing risk of turning to drugs to relieve their stress. Little league sports programs once focused on the social development that helped children learn how to work together and support each other as a team. Today there are increasing focuses on developing the individual talents of star players and on winning as the major objectives. We may need to rethink our whole approach to both academic achievements and youth sports programs. A protective factor in preventing substance abuse might be to find ways to reduce the stress we place on children in school and in organized sports.]

To relieve boredom
[Students whose parents work and who are not in some after school programs come home to an empty house. Some researchers say that the most at risk time for children to abuse substances is this after school period before parents come home from work. Younger children especially need guidance and leadership in structuring their recreational activity. Children also need appropriate socialization opportunities. Unstructured leisure time leads to increases in time spend on passive entertainment such as watching TV or in playing video games or in engaging in online activities such as chat rooms. These can lead to lethargy and depression as well as boredom. It places kids at greater risk of substance use to relieve boredom and depression. An alternative would be after school efforts to help children identify and develop their interests and skills other than traditional sports activities.  We need a strength based approach to helping children develop skills in dance, acting, music, art, debate,, chess and other such alternative activities]

To seem grown up [There are several aspects to this one. First, parents are primary role models in younger children. What parents do helps define what seems normal for adult behavior. If parents smoke, drink and use drugs this greatly increases the likelihood that their children we try these activities as part of their social development. Then there is the aspect of a child's exposure to the social behavior of older cohorts in the family, schools or the community. To the extent that substance abuse becomes a community wide problem the younger cohorts will see the substance use by older youth as grown up behaviors. Then there is the impact of media depiction of drugs on television and in the movies. Parental monitoring and the exercise of discretion in what shows children watch has an impact on a child's future behavior is an example of a protective strategy to lower the risk of future abuse.]  

To rebel [I believe that most youth rebellion has an origin in family life. Dysfunctional families, overly lacks or severe discipline, weak parent/child bonding, unreasonable expectations, parental hypocrisy, cultural clashes between immigrant parents and children raised in American culture, extreme economic or social stress are among the many factors that can lead to rebellious youth. Children who can't relate appropriately to family or social norms, can't respond positively to adult supervision and guidance or who reject cultural norms are a great risk for substance abuse. Every social policy and community based support system that strengthens parents and families, prevents or ameliorates child abuse and strengthens family functioning help to protect children from substance abuse as well.]

To experiment [For kicks! This is no small reason. Researchers have discovered that the human brain is not fully developed until a person is in his or her early to mid-twenties. The last area of the brain to develop is the area responsible for evaluating risky behavior and modulating impulsive behavior. Yes, there is a reason why youth are impetuous. It is part of natures plan that young adults should be risk takers. It is suggested that this help facilitate sexual exploration and the necessary social separation that must take place for people to become fully autonomous adults. Unfortunately it also promotes many other risk-taking behaviors that never existed in our distant past. This now includes experimenting with dangerous substances that can produce physical addictions before people even realize they are addicted. Recognizing this, and providing youth with developmentally appropriate information about the risks associated with substance abuse is a protective factor. Enhancing risk awareness through public education increases the chances that youth will not engage in such risk taking behaviors.]

Here is another, slightly more comprehensive list of reasons:

1. People suffering from anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression or other mental illnesses use drugs and alcohol to ease their suffering.

[Early screening and identification of mental illness or psychological disorders in children is essential to help prevent substance abuse. They need both treatment for their condition, help in developing social coping skills among their peers and the development of more tolerance and understanding of mental illness in the general population to reduce the stigma and added barriers that these children face.]

2. People see family members, friends, role models or entertainers using drugs and rationalize that they can too. [What are your thoughts?]

3. People become bored and think drugs will help.  [What are your thoughts?]

4. People think drugs will help relieve stress. [What are your thoughts?]

5. People figure if a drug is prescribed by a doctor, it must be ok.

[Here is where doctor's and the whole medical profession needs to rethink their approach to pharmaceuticals in general and pain management and mental illness treatment specifically. Pharmacies need to keep better records that are regionally integrated with other pharmacies in order to identify suspicious patters of  certain classes of prescription drug sales. Doctor's and medical staff need better training in identifying not just the symptoms of drug addiction in patients, but in identifying patients who may be at risk before prescribing potentially addictive drugs.]

6. People get physically injured and unintentionally get hooked on prescribed drugs. 

7. People use drugs to cover painful memories in their past. [What are your thoughts?]

8. People think drugs will help them fit in.

9. People chase the high they once experienced.

[Let's not forget that addictive urges from prior use of addictive substances is another major factor here. Researchers have discovered that tobacco is so addictive that smoking just one cigarette for the first time can produce neurochemical changes that trigger an urge for nicotine up to six months later. This points up a curious aspect about addiction that is often overlooked. Urges and desires have very different neurochemical origins in the brain and urges are far more powerful controllers over our behavior. But urges and desires are virtually indistinguishable from each other when we simply choose to fulfill them, as we do in the early stages of addiction. It isn't until we choose to resist the behavior to fulfill what we believe to be a desire that we discover the full power that neurochemical urges have over our behavior.]

The following are selected excerpts from the Office of National Drug Control Policy - Preventing Drug Abuse

Prevention is most promising when it is directed at impressionable youngsters. Adolescents are most susceptible to the allure of illicit drugs. Delaying or preventing the first use of illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco is essential. Evidence from controlled studies, national cross-site evaluations, and CSAP grantee evaluations demonstrates that prevention programs work. Prevention programs are not vaccinations that inoculate children against substance abuse. Sadly, significant numbers of young people who participate in the best programs will go on to use drugs. The "no-use" message must be reinforced consistently by parents, teachers, clergy, coaches, mentors, and other care givers.

While all parents are critical influencers of children, parents of children aged eight to twelve are especially influential. Children in this age group normally condemn drug use. Such attitudes and attendant behavior are easily reinforced by involved parents. Parents who wait to guide their children away from drugs until older ages when youngsters are more readily influenced by peers or may have started using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, decrease their ability to positively influence children.

[This suggests that a comprehensive community drug abuse prevention program should include a parent education and guidance component for parents who have children between the ages of seven and eight years old. The idea would be to provide parents with the knowledge and guidance they need to strengthen their child's ability to refrain from initial use of harmful substances such as tobacco, alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs.]

Children whose parents abuse alcohol or other drugs face heightened risks of developing substance-abuse problems themselves. [Perhaps school based prevention programs should be routinely sending substance abuse educational materials and community treatment resource information home to the parents.]

There is significant evidence that carefully planned mass media campaigns can reduce substance abuse by countering false perceptions that drug use is normative. For all their power to inform and persuade, the media alone are unlikely to bring about large, sustained changes in drug use.

[Identifying specific individuals at risk for substance abuse and engaging them in a specific prevention effort is an effective component in a comprehensive community prevention plan. It requires the training and equipping of parents, teachers, physicians, coaches and others who have regular contact with young people in the community.]

[Some evidence] .. suggests that the most promising route to effective strategies for the prevention of adolescent alcohol and other drug problems is through a risk-focused approach. This approach requires the identification of risk factors for drug abuse, identification of methods by which risk factors have been effectively addressed, and application of these methods to appropriate high-risk and general population.

A general consensus in the literature on drug abuse prevention suggests certain school-based prevention programs can achieve at least modest reductions in adolescent drug use.

[School based substance abuse prevention programs can be an effective component of an overall community strategy for the early prevention of substance abuse. Research has identified eleven factors that contribute to successful school based programs. This information is helpful in selecting curriculum and evaluating school based treatment programs.]


Once a drug addiction problem become an epidemic in the community the pressure to act become overwhelming. The most immediate attention usually focuses on law enforcement interdiction of drugs and treatment for the addicted. These are expensive, complex and time consuming community actions that take time to ramp up and bear fruit. The pressure for law enforcement and treatment actions stretches local budgets and quickly overshadows our underfunded, under appreciated primary prevention efforts. Yet primary prevention efforts are the most cost efficient and effective methods to reduce our drug abuse problems. Arresting drug addicts doesn't reduce the availability or cost of the products. It is also ineffective if it doesn't involve treatment on demand for drug users. Treatment on demand requires more of a financial and social commitment than most communities can make. Interdicting drugs and arresting drug dealers can raise the cost and reduce availability of drugs, but if addicts go untreated this raises crime rates as they turn to criminal activity to pay for their habits. Unless there is a holistic, comprehensive and community wide approach to substance abuse prevention, where primary prevention efforts receive some priority, the problem of drugs will continue to a plague on our culture.

Please feel free to comment.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reforming The Political Campaign Ad. Thanks Bernie!

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The video link below is a nice summary of what Sanders is all about.

Many who see this may disagree completely on the issues and solutions Senator Bernie Sanders presents in this short video, but the content is not the main reason I am posting it here. What I want to point out is the style of the ad itself.  It stands in stark contrast to what we have become use to seeing.

This is like an old fashioned political ad that concentrates 99% on substance and 1% on personality or empty marketing. It is also 100% positive. It lacks the negativity that has so infected political content in the past few decades.

Most presidential candidates today can't run an ad like this either because they haven't thought through their positions so thoroughly, don't agree Sen. Sanders on these popular positions or, most likely, fear they will offend some sugar daddy donor by what they might say. Most candidates are groomed to say what will least offend the greatest number of people, which means they say very little of substance. They speak in generalities. They merely evoke emotional responses in people by touching lightly on their sweet spot issues as identified in slick, Madison Avenue marketing methods.

I am tired of being segmented and targeted for the political gain of big money interests behind most political campaigns. I want to hear clearly and exactly what each candidate intend to do with the power they are asking us to give them. We have to stop voting for candidates based on how we "feel" about them and start voting based on what we "think" about their ideas and priorities. We need to start demanding more from the campaigns of our candidates for public office.

So when you view this Sanders video, contrast what you can learn about his priorities and positions with what you learn about the priorities and positions of other candidates in this silly season of presidential politics.

(Full disclosure, I do support his candidacy and readers of my blog know I would be a hypocrite not to since his positions match so closely with my views published in this blog.)