Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Very Big Days

By Carol Gee

In selected sectors big events are being marked, even though much remains to be done in the case of each of these events. There is not yet a peace for Israel and Palestine, 60 years later. The earth is imperiled due to climate change. And the Democratic primary season continues with the nominee's identity not yet resolved.

Israel is celebrating 60 years of independence. Haaretz has a few stories.

Earth Day was April 22. The Nature Conservancy has some ideas for what you could do to help. The first Earth Day was held in 1970. It was originally proposed by Senator Gaylord Nelson.

Pennsylvania had its primary elections Tuesday, and the Financial Times provides perhaps the best analysis of the current 2008 election situation. Politico says that Senator Clinton sees her win as a sign of strength. Their Mike Allen asks if Clinton is on life support and if Obama is a paper tiger.

What are we supposed to make of the election results in Pennsylvania and the political situation in general? I have had these impressions recently:

When listening to others I get the impression that some do not have a lot of faith that our nation can right itself, ever again.

People I know think that the Democrats stand a good chance of losing the general election due to their complete disunity.

I have friends who think Hillary Clinton has gotten a raw deal from the press, that she is a victim of gender bias, sexism, etc.

Occasionally disgruntled people openly say, "We'll never recover. It will be just like the fall of Rome."

With these statements, is it possible to pick out cognitive distortions that keep some in the political process more upset than is necessary? Can perfectly sane members of the body politic of an entire nation be thinking irrationally, have symptoms of emotional instability?

During my professional working life as a therapist I dealt with a number of conditions that pained people to the point of asking for professional help. These are the kinds of things some of the individuals reported or were experiencing when they came into my office.
  • Depression is characterized by sadness, loss of hope, and feelings of helplessness.
  • Generalized anxiety symptoms include inability to relax, disturbed sleep, irritability, and unremitting on-guard behavior.
  • More specific anxiety disorders also include panic attacks, phobias, and obsessions.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is to be suspected when a person is too easily startled, is reliving an event -- intrusive memories or nightmares, becomes numb to life, or experiences anxiety or depression that is otherwise unexplained.
  • Psychosis is indicated when someone is out of touch with reality, unable to separate feeling from fact, beset by delusional beliefs or hallucinations.

Some of my clients, however, were not experiencing any of the listed conditions above. They often came in merely to get assistance in adjusting to unmanageable changes in circumstances, or to get to a difficult decision, or work through a painful loss, or other perfectly normal adjustment needs.

The body politic does not need a formal diagnosis, in my opinion. We just need help with our perfectly normal adjustment needs. We might need to have an argument with the following thinking distortions:

Not this -- When listening to others I get the impression that some do not have a lot of faith that our nation can right itself ever again. But this -- There is no logical reason that our nation is not capable of making a normal adjustment.

Not this -- People I know think that the Democrats stand a good chance of losing the general election due to their own disunity. But this -- It is OK to believe both candidates' stated commitments to party unity. They will be able to lead their own followers.

Not this -- Her supporters think Hillary Clinton has gotten a raw deal from the press, that she is a victim of gender bias, sexism, etc. But this -- Obama has also experienced racial bias, class bias, etc. That's politics and normal media bias.

Not this -- Occasionally disgruntled people openly say, "We'll never recover. So much damage has been done that it is like the fall of Rome." But this -- Our nation has a good history of resilience and recovery. History shows it may be the end of a conservative cycle.

Democrats need to stay very well focused, in any event, on the fact that the Bush administration will be leaving quite a legacy -- A letter to the editor I caught my eye a few days ago brought this stark reality home to me. I am quoting the main points of the letter, and following it with links to background information on a number of Mr. Kelly's claims:

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX), 2008-04-21/ Opinions:

According to the government's own figures, the following things have increased during the Bush administration's tenure: The number of uninsured, unemployed and underemployed; Americans in poverty; CEO salaries; pollution of our air and water; opium production in Afghanistan; the national debt; nuclear proliferation; and home foreclosures.

The following have decreased:

The value of the dollar; the amount of taxes paid by the largest companies; your income adjusted for inflation; your rights as an American; jobs; retention of military personnel; military induction standards; and America's standing in the world, morally and economically.

. . . If you believe that this administration is the reason we haven't been attacked since 2001, I'd seriously suggest that you make an appointment with a good neurologist.

— Stephen Kelly, Arlington

Here are the actual facts that help to back up Mr. Kelly's assertions. Bit by bit increases:

  • Number of uninsured -- U.S. Census Bureau: 44.8 million (15.3 percent) in 2005 to 47 million (15.8 percent) in 2006.

  • Number of unemployed and underemployed -- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Unemployment rates IV-2007 = 4.8%; March 2008 - 5.1%. For the year 2000, "The economy grew for the ninth consecutive year in 2000, with the unemployment rate falling to 4.0 percent, its lowest level in more than three decades."

  • Americans in poverty -- 2000 vs. current, from U.S. Census Bureau: Rate of poverty, families in 2000 = 8.7%; in 2006 = 9.8%.

  • CEO salaries -- The ratio of executive salaries to worker pay was highest in 2000, went down for a time, but has turned upward again. However, more than ever before, it pays to be the top executive in the company.

  • Pollution of air and water -- Voters can expect improvements to the environment with a new president.

  • Opium production in Afghanistan -- ". . . the IMF said opium production in Afghanistan had spiraled to 8,200 tons in 2007 from 185 tons in 2001"

  • U.S. national debt -- Current debt: $9,007,653,372,262.48 ; year 2000 debt: $5,674,178,209,886.86.

  • Nuclear proliferation -- In 2000 the talk was all about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; by 2008 the list had changed. Iraq did not have a nuclear program and Iran and North Korea have talked about nuclear arms. All the other nuclear states are holding on.

  • Home [mortgage] foreclosures -- In January 2008 the foreclosure rate was up by 57% over the previous January. In October foreclosures were up 94% over October, 2006. The housing bubble that began in 2001 has burst.

Bit by bit decreases, here are the facts:

  • The value of the dollar -- The value of the dollar has declined 40% in the last six years.

  • The amount of taxes paid by the largest companies -- Over the three-year period, the average effective rate for all 275 [Fortune 500] companies dropped by a fifth, from 21.4 percent in 2001 to 17.2 percent in 2002-2003. Almost a third paid no taxes. . . earning $102 billion in pretax profits.

  • Your income adjusted for inflation -- Average US income in 2005 remained below the 2000 peak (adjusted for inflation) . . . the top 0.25% taxpayer group (those making more than $1 million) "reaped almost 47 percent of the total income gains in 2005, compared with 2000." . . . 2000 is a considered a base year by analysts . . . is that . . . income listed on tax returns grew every year after World War II, with a single one-year exception, until 2001."

  • Your rights as an American -- have declined markedly. Here is an example of American Civil Liberties Union testimony.

  • Jobs -- Total number of American manufacturing jobs in 2000: 17,263,000. Total number of American manufacturing jobs in 2006: 14,197,000. Number of American manufacturing jobs lost between 2000 and 2006: 3,066,000. [Bureau of Labor Statistics.]
    Yearly average number of new private sector jobs created from 1992-2000: 1.76 million. Yearly average number of new private sector jobs created from 2001-2008:
    369,000. [Bureau of Labor Statistics.]

  • Retention of military personnel -- The stress of repeated deployments . . . show in the declining quality of Army recruits, retention of midlevel officers, desertions and other factors such as suicide, the Army's top general said Tuesday (2/19/08)

  • Military induction standards -- [General] Casey said it hasn't met its target for recruits with high school diplomas. The Army wants 90% of recruits to have diplomas; this year, records show, only 79% do. Further, it has accepted more soldiers who require waivers for felony convictions.

  • America's standing in the world, morally and economically -- Glenn Greenwald's July 2007 essay calls it a "tragic collapse" To quote:
    The new comprehensive worldwide Pew poll of public opinion conclusively disproves both of those views. The polling data demonstrates that while America's standing in the world is dangerously low on every continent in the world (the sole exception being Christian nations in Africa), pervasive anti-American sentiment has emerged only in the last six years. Prior to the Bush administration, America was respected and admired in most of the world, its values a source of inspiration, the ideals it espoused a source of widespread respect. Those are just facts.

Eight years of Bush was very well summarized in this letter to the editor. And the author was right on target in all his claims. Thank goodness there are only 271 more Bush days in office. And thank goodness one more primary is over and we can move on.

(Cross-posted in several posts at South by Southwest.)

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