Home » 2015 » October

Monthly Archives: October 2015

Advertisements

The Great Abortion Divide

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.

Advertisements

Big Media the Big Loser in Democratic Debate

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

According to a headline at Alternet.com:

“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.

PRIMARY DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION – RISK FACTORS AND PROTECTIVE FACTORS

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

kidsNdrugs

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 need. 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 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 are youth feel connected and engaged with their families and the community is a protective factor that reduces the risk of substance abuse.]

  • 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 tea. Today they 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 academics 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 afterschool 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 strengths parents and families 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 their 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 us 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 we even realize we are addicted. Recognizing this, and providing youth with developmentally appropriate information about the risks associated with substance abuse is a protective factor.]

http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/drugs/why-do-people-take-drugs.html

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.]

  1. People see family members, friends, role models or entertainers using drugs and rationalize that they can too. [What are your thoughts?]
  1. People become bored and think drugs will help.  [What are your thoughts?]
  1. People think drugs will help relieve stress. [What are your thoughts?]
  1. 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.

  1. People get physically injured and unintentionally get hooked on prescribed drugs. [What are your thoughts?]
  1. People use drugs to cover painful memories in their past. [What are your thoughts?]
  1. People think drugs will help them fit in.
  2. People chase the high they once experienced.

http://ezinearticles.com/?9-Reasons-Why-People-Abuse-Drugs-and-Alcohol&id=6276647

[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. https://www.ncjrs.gov/ondcppubs/publications/policy/99ndcs/iv-b.html

[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. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/bul/112/1/64/

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. http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwche/drug%20curriculum.pdf

[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 endemic in the community the pressure to act become overwhelming and the actions that need immediate attention focus on law enforcement interdiction of drugs and treatment for the addicted. These are expensive, complex and time consuming community actions that can quickly overpower and underfund primary prevention efforts. Yet it is the primary prevention efforts that are the most cost efficient and effective ways to reduce the problem. Arresting drug addicts doesn’t reduce the availability or cost of the products, and is ineffective if it doesn’t involve treatment on demand. Treatment on demand requires more of a financial and social commitment than most communities can afford. Interdicting drugs and arresting drug dealers can raise the cost and availability of drugs, but it 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 balanced approach to community substance abuse prevention that properly prioritizes primary prevention efforts, the problem of drugs will continue to be a major public.]

Please feel free to comment.