Archive for October, 2017

Kneeling for La Borinqueña

Friday, October 20th, 2017

My city is likely to receive a bounty from the hurricane that trashed Puerto Rico. Hartford is home to tens of thousands of people with roots in the island culture. Over the coming days and weeks we should expect many hurricane evacuees to arrive here, where they can find friends and relatives. People from the Caribbean have enriched our city in my lifetime, and a wave of new arrivals is an occasion. Let’s hope our community can come up with a coherent strategy to accommodate them.

In the wake of the hurricane,you might have expected our national government to be at work on a coherent strategy for Puerto Rico. We hear that “the island” borrowed billions of dollars and can’t pay them back. To judge from published reports, the money didn’t go to “the island” or to most of its residents. Rather, it seems to have ended up in the pockets of rich people, who got richer in proportion to the money that was advanced. Poor people got poorer, but they’re the ones whose pockets will be emptied to pay the money back. No coherent strategy has been suggested  to deal with that situation.

Even though it’s part of the USA and its residents are American citizens by birthright, Puerto Rico is administered as a colonial possession. It’s subject to special federal laws that facilitate the exploitation of labor and natural resources for private profit. For a hundred and some years, capitalists have seen to it that the status of most islanders hovers slightly above that of livestock. Roads, bridges, utilities, schools, and public amenities of every kind are denied proper maintenance, making the entire infrastructure delicate and vulnerable to destructive weather.

Don’t look for a coherent strategy to deal with destructive weather. With the island reeling from two storms in quick succession, causing unprecedented damage, you might expect some suggestions for what to do when the next one strikes. Because forecasters say it will. I haven’t heard a thing. It appears that some residential neighborhoods at low elevations will have to be abandoned permanently. What will happen to the people who lived there isn’t discussed. By anybody. How and when normal commerce will be restored is anyone’s guess, and we hear no plan of action from any source. Here’s a place that ought to be a tropical paradise, and yet its future is bleak. Why?

Some think the problem is political. Puerto Rico isn’t a sovereign but a possession of the US government. Public policy for Puerto Rico is made not in San Juan but in Washington, DC. Given a chance, the people of Puerto Rico might achieve a better state of preparedness than the coalition of bureaucrats and businessmen that govern today and that have failed the people so grievously. This compact island could be generating electric power to a modern grid entirely with inexhaustible solar and tidal resources, if only the oil and gas industry were willing to give up the island’s lucrative market. It’s an island with ample high ground and no system to relocate people threatened regularly by flooding, which is predicted to get worse with each passing year.

Puerto Ricans will probably achieve some sort of equilibrium as they cope with the devastation. Many will leave the island. Many who are here on the mainland now will find ways to aid those who remain. Government and the mass media will almost certainly hinder efforts at recovery, as they maneuver to create opportunities for rich people to profit from the disaster. Because of the corruption of these institutions, Americans have no reliable knowledge of what sort of future Puerto Ricans want or need, further impeding progress. In places like Hartford, support for the recovery will be strong across all segments of the public, but Puerto Rico will soon be forgotten by most Americans. The resolve and resourcefullness of its people will determine the island’s future.

Nine to Five

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

In the struggle against sexual harassment in  the workplace, the first step must be accountability for notorious, justice-evading, serial sexual predators Clarence Thomas and  Bill Clinton. Thomas, whose victims were attacked by the  political establishment of both parties as liars and  opportunists, sits on the Supreme Court of the United  States. Clinton, whose victims were branded sluts by his  loyal wife, continues to draw enthusiastic applause from  Democrats of all sexes. Every honor we bestow on these  two is an endorsement of sex crime.

Notice how elegantly the mass media manage to talk about  sex harassment without mentioning either Clinton or  Thomas. In defiance of logic and the weight of available  evidence, the media decided to vindicate these two. It  was a cynical decision, but it enabled reporters to  avoid pointing out from time to time that an author of  historic court decisions and a much applauded president  are sex fiends. A reporter can’t pay proper respect to  these two without lying to himself and his readers.  Better just omit these two successful sexual predators  from the discussion.

We should note that there was no such thing as sexual  harassment until fairly recently. It was taken for  granted that men in positions of authority had absolute  power over their female subordinates. If your sister’s boss was a gentleman, it wasn’t because he had any legal  obligation toward her. I had a boss–a well-known  attorney placed in a position of authority over a staff  of young lawyers–who ordered one of my colleagues, a  shapely woman, to turn around to be displayed to a  visitor. She reported it, but in those days it was  considered harmless and trivial. Still is. We have legal obligations now that we didn’t have then, but they’re  weak, as the elevated status of Clinton and Thomas (not  to mention Trump) attests.

Almost 30 years ago, I was invited to coach a high-school mock trial team representing my alma mater. The  case involved a woman who was propositioned by her boss.  The common law was just then beginning to recognize that  employees ought to be protected from such abuses of  authority, and there were a few new cases that were meant to do just that. Sexual harassment was a  new legal term of art. Since then, I’ve represented several victims of workplace sexual abuse. In every case, the culpable party was the boss, and every one of these guys thought he was doing the woman a favor by paying attention to her. Like Clinton. Like Thomas.

Our clients showed great courage in taking their bosses to court, especially considering how things turned out for victims of celebrities like Clinton and Thomas. The fact that these two men still command respect puts a chill on any victim of workplace abuse. Weinstein, Cosby and Trump are beneficiaries of the lax-enforcement doctrine adopted by the media to accommodate these two. The cost is placed on working women, millions of whom, ironically, voted last year to put a sex fiend and his enabler back in the White House.

If we were living in a work of fiction, Clinton and Thomas would both have broken noses. Fiction can return us to an age when our value system included an  inclination to protect the weak from the strong. We  abandoned that value when we became what we  euphemistically call a “superpower.” As a nation, we’ve  destroyed some of the weakest peoples on earth, yet  we’re unapologetic, even boastful. Like Thomas. Like Clinton. Like Trump. Can’t maintain that  attitude and a binding moral code at the same time.  Victims of bullies are left to sink or swim by people  like us. If we lived in a work of fiction, the victims  would band together and buy some muscle to inflict  retribution, and values would be restored by force.

But we don’t live in a work of fiction, and in real life there’s no security for working women until we insist on justice for the sex criminals that walk among us. We can’t excuse our sons for their sexual misconduct and affect shock when our daughters are molested.

Ope Springs Eternal

Monday, October 9th, 2017

I had a call from a doctor conducting a study of Veterans Hospital patients who had been prescribed “opioids” for pain. Two years ago, after some major surgery to my digestive tract, I got a big bottle of oxycodone, which is a tiny pill that kills pain like magic. It mimics the effects of heroin and is every bit as addictive. The researcher wanted to know who had prescribed the drug and how much warning I’d received about the risks. I didn’t have much to offer in the way of details. I’d spent a month in intensive care with 20 different nurses and a dozen doctors, and they all merged together. I’m sure somebody told me about the risks of the pills, but I already knew about addiction, which I’ve seen at pretty close quarters. 

The interview, which was recorded, went on for about 15 minutes with questions probing how much I knew about opioids and what I might recommend in the way of precautions, counseling, intervention and other possible means of reducing risk. I told her she might want to consider calling the drugs “narcotics,” which they are, instead of “opioids,” which might not be so readily recognized as addictive. I suppose that’s just what the drug-dealers intended, to disguise the addictive potential of the drugs our doctors are giving us.

I was a little surprised that in 15 minutes my interviewer never asked about the euphoric effects of the drug I’d taken. Did she think I hadn’t noticed that two pills not only relieve your pain but also get you high? Take two more in two hours and double your pleasure. No VA doctor or nurse ever talked to me about that, and this researcher seemed to be censoring it out of our conversation. I suggested that patients probably ought to get at least this warning: “If you want to get high, don’t use this. Use something else. Unless you’re dying, in which case addiction’s not a worry.”

Instead of probing that subject any further, my interviewer veered off to ask the question that made her regret she’d called me. “Is there anything we haven’t talked about that relates to your experience with opioids?”

“Duh! Cannabis! Ever hear of it? Legal in my state, but not for VA patiens. It’s a pain killer. It’s a euphoriant. It’s not habit-forming. In fact, it cures addiction in many cases. Doctors and nurses won’t even talk about it, even though most of you use it.”

She stammered out a few expressions of surprise. I asked her directly if she used cannabis. No answer. Totally discredited. So be on the lookout for a study of veterans prescribed “opioids.” Whatever they tell you, stay skeptical.

Keep and Bear

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

At least some measure of blame for the mass shootings in Las Vegas yesterday must be assigned to five right-wing justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. With four justices dissenting, the court majority made a decision a few years ago that guaranteed this killer’s personal right to carry firearms. The judges were not bound by any law or doctrine to sanctify that guarantee, but, rather, were persuaded by the arguments of a powerful cabal of weapons manufacturers. If that decision had gone the other way, the Vegas shooter might not have found it so easy to open up with long-range, automatic, military-grade weaponry on a crowd of concert-goers a quarter mile away. 

The high court decision involved a Washington, DC, statute that would have effectively disarmed DC firearms owners. In overturning this law, the court majority had to ignore the language of the Constitution. Unique among the ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights, the second amendment has a condition attached. It doesn’t say, simply, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Rather, that language follows the acknowledgment of a condition under which the founders lived, namely, that a “well-regulated militia” was in those times “necessary to the security of a free state.”

In our jurisprudence, words are considered to have meaning, and this condition wouldn’t have been inserted into the amendment without some purpose. It marks a recognition among the founders that a time would come when the security of our free state would be maintained not by a militia but by a standing army and navy, as it is today, and a federal guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms would no longer be necessary.

The five justices decided otherwise. The guarantee is personal and entitles individual Americans to carry guns “for self-defense.” The clause referring to a well-regulated militia is as quaint and anachronistic as it sounds and in no way diminishes the right guaranteed by the main clause.

The practical effect of this counter-logical decision is that the record toll achieved by the Vegas killer will be surpassed sooner or later unless we repeal the second amendment. The high court’s decision gives us no alternative. Not that repeal would bring any radical changes. Repeal would not place a ban on firearms, but it would make regulation possible. We might expect some states to enact laws like the draconian statute that the court invalidated, while others, maybe Nevada, might allow residents to carry assault weapons on the street. But if Nevadans suddenly wanted to follow a more prudent course, they could. Repeal of the second amendment is an idea whose time arrived yesterday.