Duterte Shouldn’t Be Condoned

Based on my personal and growing professional experience, the best approach to substance abuse is “harm reduction,” which means treating people who use drugs with compassion rather than punishing them. It’s not only humane, it works.

The exact opposite is happening in the Philippines, where president Rodrigo Duterte has waged a “war on drugs” that includes killing suspected drug users in the street. At least 2,000 people have been killed since June by police with no due process.

Earlier this week, Duterte and Trump spoke on the phone. Duterte reported that Trump endorsed his actions, and even floated the idea that Duterte come visit him in New York.

Click this link and scroll down if you want to see what Trump has endorsed (warning- graphic images):

You might say to yourself: that’s far away, nothing like that can happen here. You’re probably right, to an extent. Trump has appointed Jeff Sessions to Attorney General, a man eager to escalate the war on drugs and further criminalize drug use. “Law and order” doesn’t stop addiction. It breaks up communities and causes suffering, which is often why people abuse drugs in the first place.

Those of us who have watched someone struggle- or struggled ourselves- know that the best medicine for addiction is love and tolerance. Not brutality.President Duterte should not be condoned, let alone by the president-elect.

Where do we go from here? There’s no use in feelings like guilt or despair, unless they motivate action:

  1. Love people in your life who struggle with substances and support them in making changes they initiate
  2. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, talk to others about how he should not be endorsing the actions of Rodrigo Duterte (sharing this article is an easy way to do that)
  3. Contact your local legislator and let them know you believe in compassionate and pragmatic approaches to substance abuse
  4. Educate yourself
  5. Last but not least: take care of yourself, because you can’t give away what you don’t have

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How I’m feeling

I walked into the school where I’m interning and several children were crying. The staff looked subdued. The Hispanic cleaning crew wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

Many Christians model themselves after Jesus, a man who served lepers, prostitutes, and the outcasts of society. Now they support a billionaire who mocks disabled people because of a single-minded obsession with abortion and the supreme court.

I watched the election with a black friend who fears for her own safety, that cops will act with even more impunity. I have a Muslim neighbor who thinks she can’t visit her family in Egypt because she might not be allowed back home or worse.

I have family who supported Trump. I struggle identifying with them because I’m with everything under target by Trump. I’m with queers, Black Lives Matter, Muslims, people who rely on government programs (because we all do, in one way or another), Mexicans, and radical feminists.

I’m not going to say this is like Germany in the 1930s because I can’t even consider that a possibility, but it’s a helluva lot like Germany in the 1920s when a man told a country: you’re not as great as you used to be and it’s their fault.

No checks and balances. Republicans have the senate, the house, and a majority of state governors. Get ready for Paul Ryan to slash and burn programs, replacing public schools with for-profit ventures that will fail to cultivate critical thinking.

Some people compare Trump to Andrew Jackson as if that were a good thing. Check out the Indian Removal Act  and tell me it’s a good thing.

Today was a victory for Corrections Corporation of America, a business that makes money putting people in cages.

Pence is even scarier than Trump. This is the man that tried to legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community (to which I’m a part, by the way) and signed a law requiring funerals for fetuses. 

In more ways than one, this was a huge blow to the field of mental health.

White people, white men especially, got it good. But they feel threatened and that they don’t got it as good as they used to. These people who for years demanded that others take responsibility now display no responsibility themselves.

I spit on white supremacy. I commit to doing everything I can to dismantle my own privilege.

Fox News has poisoned the well of too many minds with fear, hatred, and misinformation. They have conditioned millions of otherwise good people to react with fear and hate when they hear the words “Benghazi” or “Islam.”

My generation is going to have to clean up this mess. This is beyond partisan politics.

The worst part is everything Trump has said and done seems vindicated. I assure you that me and people like me will never let that be the case. I’m feeling sad and motivated as hell.

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Election Day! (An argument for Clinton based on one issue, treatment for drug abuse)

We all know who is at the top of the ballot. But if you’re looking for information about who is running in your more local contests, visit ballotready.org. It’s a really neat website. Type in your address and see everything from state races to appellate judges. Who knew 9 people were running for Cook County Water Reclamation District Commissioner!?

Now back to the top of ballot. I early voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton weeks ago. If you haven’t voted yet, I really hope you vote for her, too. Especially if you’re my family in Wisconsin, a swing state. I could belabor every reason why I think it’s absolutely imperative to vote Democrat, but instead I’m going to focus on one issue that is important to me. Substance abuse. 

Trump alluded to his stance during the speech in which he announced his candidacy. He stated that Mexico is sending “drug dealers” to America. He expanded upon his position since then, arguing that the epidemic of fatal heroin overdoses is due to drugs poring over the southern border.

For those of you who know me, you know I know this topic. And let me state unequivocally: Trump is absolutely wrong.

Data suggests that 4 out 5 people addicted to heroin got started with prescription drugs prescribed by doctors. That means Trump is right if and only if 100% of doctors came illegally from Mexico, which we know isn’t true.

What is Hillary’s stance on drug abuse? It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot more grounded in reality.

On her campaign website, she uses the language of addiction being “a disease.” Calling drug misuse a medical disease instead of a moral failing or criminal problem is a huge step from the dark ages, but it is still not as progressive as I would like. We should drop the language of “disease” and describe problematic substance use as a challenge fueled by biological, psychological, and social factors (what mental health professionals call the bio-psycho-social approach). This is a huge topic for another day, but suffice it to say that this means drugs aren’t automatically addictive; according to research, drugs are more likely to be addictive when people are also struggling with isolation, other mental health challenges, financial deprivation, situational stressors, and/or other psycho-social issues. Therefore, it shouldn’t be called a “disease” as that’s too reductionist.

But that’s splitting hairs! And that aside, Clinton’s website mentions naloxone, the medication that REVERSES opiate overdoses. As I’ve previously written, naloxone is fucking important. The Chicago Recovery Alliance, an organization I volunteer for, saved almost 6,000 lives in 2014 thanks to Naloxone.

Did Trump mention naloxone on his website? No, he repeated his complaints about Mexico. 

Now, abstract this one problem- drug abuse- to every other issue in this campaign. Trump is uniquely uninformed, racist, and unhelpful for those of us trying to address serious, complex problems with serious, complex solutions. Clinton is far from perfect, and far ahead of Trump.

Hillary Clinton is imperfect, but leaning in the right direction. It’s not just the lesser of two evils. It’s a B+ compared to an F.

And if the emails or Benghazi are still bothering you, just forget it. These pale in comparison to someone who won’t release his tax returns, is on trial for fraud, and has been involved in nearly 3,500 lawsuits. 

 

I hope everyone puts country over party (or allegiance to Bernie) and votes for Hillary Clinton. Whatever the outcome, we have a lot of rebuilding to do.

 

 

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What I learned from Donald

There’s a saying from Confucius: when walking with a sage and a fool, you can learn as much from both. Indeed it’s true, for Donald Trump taught me a few things in this week’s debate. What may surprise you, dear readers, is that he taught me something about myself.

I have always prided myself on being able to think on my feet, to improvise ingeniously, to barter in bullshit. I have passed college classes without doing the work, navigated situations for which I had not prepared via charm and wit. More often than not, the world has responded warmly, affirming my actions. Looking back, in a few instances I really did deserve to fail. The question is: how much of this is a function of being a white male? A whole lot.

The notion was succinctly expressed by a coffee mug I saw recently: “God, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.” Exactly! How many white men behave in ways that would lead others to be called lazy, shallow, or disrespectful; to be suspended, fired, or jailed; to have their negative traits attributed to their race and/or gender? Alas! many a white men are overvalued as they underperform.

That’s the first thing I learned: that it looks really bad when you do not do the work that others (e.g., Hillary Clinton) do. If Ms. Clinton was as ill-prepared as Trump, we might be talking about how maybe women are not ready to be president. Instead, we write it off as Donald’s own foibles.

The second thing I learned was that I need to step back and listen. By some estimates, Donald interrupted Hillary Clinton 40 times to her 1. But this is larger than Donald. As one commentator tweeted, “To the men amazed Clinton hasn’t snapped: Every woman you know has learned to do this. This is our life in society.”

The day after the debate I was in class. A female student was making a point when a male student began talking over her. Everyone started listening to him. We’re so accustomed to men talking over women that it takes a fool like Trump to show us the way. I brought up the presidential debate in class and commented how a “manterruption” was happening in real time. It led to a discussion of how (white) men are socialized to be arrogant and self-promoting, whereas women are expected to play nice.

I promised the class that for the sake of equity I would shut up more often. They said I didn’t have to but appreciated the intent. The fact remains that unless I censor myself, it’s unlikely that anybody will because we’ve all been conditioned to accept and respect white men in a way other identities are not. My goal here isn’t to feel guilty; rather, I plan to use my white male privilege to call myself and other white men out.

By the way, Confucius didn’t recommend voting for the fool.

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‘Lazy Projector’ by Andrew Bird

lyrics

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More (Functional) Government, Please

Parks, bridges and streets. Social security, medicare and libraries. Police officers, teachers, the armed forces… the list could go on… it’s comprised of things that have traditionally been provided for by the government. That list is shrinking, and here’s why you should care:

Since 2008, ambulances and fire departments that have been run by private equity firms show longer responses that in some cases resulted in undue death. Just as alarming, for-profit prions have taken cost-cutting measures (decreased mental health services, reduced pay for guards) that have led to more dangerous conditions for both the inhabitants of prisons and those who staff them.

Yet, some welcome the demise of government in favor of privatization. I will concede that state control over the entire economy does not lead to the best outcomes. I will also concede that at times government can seem opaque and outside our influence. However, there are certain services that we all rely upon which, when corrupted by the profit motive, turn to shit. In fact, even conservatives in Kansas are waking up to the fact that by re-branding public schools as “government schools” (a semantic ploy meant to impede supposed governmental overreach), they are now putting their children’s intellectual and vocational development at risk.

All of this came home for me recently when I took two subsequent trips on the interstate, requiring a stop to pee in each instance. The first time, we stopped at the Lake Forest Oasis. This is your typical oasis, replete with McDonald’s, Sbarro’s Pizza, and the toxic odor of Cinnabon buns. The bathroom was crowded, the floor covered in piss, and when I got back into the car I just pretended that the soles of my shoes weren’t, too.

In contrast, on the second trip we stopped at the Wisconsin I-94 Visitor Information Center. A government-run institution. The restrooms were as spotless as they were spacious. A family enjoyed walking their puppy on the verdant lawn outside. A special nozzle allowed me to fill up my water bottle with filtered water for free. Granted, there weren’t any restaurant chains to visit. But in their place, there were pamphlets for local restaurants, tourist attractions, and public parks and forest preserves. I also met a state employee by the name of Ted, who told me about his five grand-kids that he enjoys watching growing up.

Here’s the thing: most services provided for by the government are like that second rest-stop. They are so understated, so matter-of-fact, and so taken-for-granted that you don’t even realize how functional they are until they’re gone and you’re left standing on dry piss waiting for an ambulance that won’t come in time because it’s not fiscally advantageous to save your ass.

Sigh.

The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel (1770- 1831) argued that the first step in achieving freedom is what he called “negative freedom,” that is, overthrowing oppressive government. But that’s only the first step. He called the second, more arduous step “positive freedom”: establishing government that actually works for the people by the people. Hegel wrote about this in the wake of the French Revolution, where he saw the revolutionaries take the first step (overthrowing the monarchy) but failing to take the second step (the best Rule of Law they could establish was the guillotine).

A more tangible metaphor might be the prototypical teenager. They rebel against their parents, but give them actual freedom and they don’t know what to do with it.

I feel the same way about conservatives whose only task for the past eight years has been to obstruct good orderly direction, whether it’s not conducting hearings for a Supreme Court Justice nominee, failing to pass a state budget for more than a year, or refusing to fund basic services such as our nation’s infrastructure.

Admittedly, Democrats need to compromise when it’s politically and humanely necessary. But one thing I refuse to compromise is this idea: private interest does a worse job than collective action when it comes to certain issues such as parks, bridges and streets. Social security, medicare and libraries. Police officers, teachers, the armed forces… stuff that shouldn’t be tainted with the scent Sbarro’s, dried piss, and profit.

Whatever this means to you: Vote positive.

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WTF, Wisconsin?

Which of these doesn’t belong: Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah, and Georgia. On Wednesday, these 11 states filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its directive to public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. This follows the lawsuit filed by North Carolina earlier this month in defense of HB2, a bill that effectively legalizes discrimination against the LGBTQ community, especially the T.

The wave of discriminatory legislation is couched in the premise that girls in bathrooms need to be protected from “men masquerading as women”. For one, this reveals an ignorance of the fact that trans people exist; they are not pretending. And two, this argument bears a striking resemblance to the discredited assertion that gay men are more likely to molest children than straight men. Also not true. Moreover, it’s been well-documented that a large majority of rapes are committed by people whom the victim knows- not a stranger.

The individuals who need protection right now are trans students. They are statistically more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted, and in some cases murdered. As my friend Nico Lang recently reported, some teachers are even encouraging non-trans students to carry pepper-spray to use on trans students. Not to mention, more than 50% of transgender youth will attempt suicide before the age of 20. This last statistic has everything to do with being told they don’t exist, as is the case with the HB2.

Another argument made by the plaintiffs is that the Obama administration is conducting a grand “social experiment”. If this were true, then the same could be said about the integration of schools in the 1960s. A lot of people back then, too, screamed that the sky was falling when all that was falling was their right to dominate, denigrate, and discriminate against minorities.

The Obama administration is not conducting a social experiment. They are protecting those who require legal protection. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in filing a counter-suit against North Carolina, essentially said one thing- Dear trans youth, we know you are there, and we will do everything we can to protect you.

I am sorely disappointed in Wisconsin, particularly Attorney General Brad Schimel for conspiring with Scott Walker to join the other 10 persecutors masquerading as victims.

A third argument by the gang of 11 is that their religious liberties are being trampled upon. Well, if you follow Jesus, read this and tell me where you think he would stand:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It may be the case that some people who resist making accommodations for trans students are motivated less out of hatred than a lack of understanding. In such an event, one can start reading here or add this book to your wishlist, which outlines nature’s propensity for creating more than two genders. Then, dear Wisconsinites, hopefully you’ll elect a new attorney general in 2018.

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What Might This Be? Two Aliens Giving Each Other a High-Five.

two aliens

This semester I learned how to administer the Rorschach, the famous inkblot test. Disbelief that the test is still used in psychiatric settings is entirely appropriate. Nevertheless, it’s a useful instrument for gathering data about how a person interprets the world because the images are ambiguous, requiring one to ‘project’ what they see onto the inkblots.

Thinking it unfair to administer a test I myself haven’t taken, I asked a colleague to administer it on me. I recorded my responses and turned them over to the Screaming Stars who added ambient backing, resulting in this song: Two Aliens Giving Each Other a High-Five.

Unless you think you’ll ever take the test, you can see all ten cards here.

 

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Trump Rally Cancelled at UIC Pavilion

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Last night my partner and I attended the protest of Trump’s rally planned at UIC pavilion. As you may know, the event was cancelled. I collected interviews with protesters, Trump supporters, and specators. It was a vivid experience. Please give it a listen.

The song playing in the background is ‘Anxious and Mortified’, written and performed by my dear friend, Mike Glader.

Should you have any thoughts or feedback, please feel free to share your comments below.

Thanks
– Ben

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The Post Modern Landscape: a view from the parking lot of the largest Cabela’s in the world

Back in 2012, I had a hunch to take my audio recorder and visit Cabela’s and REI, two outdoor sporting goods stores. I thought that the two businesses do a good job highlighting the divide in America.

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On the one hand you have REI: individualistic, urbane, and environmentally conscious. Liberal. On the other hand you have Cabela’s: large, sells guns, family-oriented. Conservative. Both companies idealize nature and believe in conservation. REI thinks of nature as a place you go to have an exhilarating, extraordinary experience- just make sure to ‘leave no trace’. Cabela’s thinks of nature as a place to go hunting and fishing- and, continuing the tradition of conservation started by Theodore Roosevelt, believes that nature is best preserved by hunters paying their hunting license fees.

picBoth businesses had giant, fiberglass mountains inside. REI’s was a rock-climbing wall. Cabela’s was covered with taxidermied animals. Both, in their way, represent human kind’s will to overcome and dominate nature.

My project never came to fruition. Nevertheless, I went to the archives and found some audio recorded during my visit to the largest Cabela’s in the world, which is located in Hamburg, PA. I collaborated with the Screaming Stars, who recorded the ambient music on this track. If you have trouble hearing my improvised poem, you can read the transcript as you listen along:

The Post Modern Landscape: a view from the parking lot of the largest Cabela’s in the world

Fresh, black top, parking lot. Huge.
Section A, B, C… you know the rest.
Section for RV, for trucks.
There’s a horse corall. A “pet exercise area”.
A woman plays fetch with her dog.
A Cross, across the way: the Appalachian mountains.
separated by
six lane interstate
mcdonalds
lowes
long john silvers
burger king
pizza hut
shells… shell

Looks like it would be hard to go there by foot
and once you’re up there, what’s there?
Nothing but disease, trees, threat, danger.
Better to stay here in the car and drive over there.

The actual town of Hamburg, Pennsylvania
is on another hill
across the valley
across the intersate.

It looks like from here we could lob canons
onto Hamburg and from there they would
launch canons onto here.
But I think there’s more guns in Cabela’s.

Standing on opposite hills like this is greater
than a mere town, greater than democracy.
It’s even rivalling the mountains with its presence.

 

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Wherever you fall on that divide, I love you.

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