On My Own Lack of Empathy…Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve known for a long time I don’t contain the natural empathy or feeling of the average person. This could be how it’s always been. This could also be (in part) desensitization from a career in social work…twenty years of witnessed experiences and darker narratives:

– Doing paperwork in a crisis house when a woman walked up to me with a towel over her arm, “I think I made a mistake,” she said removing the towel, uncovering a clean incision from elbow to wrist…I nodded sympathetically, “Okay, wrap the towel back around and I’ll grab my keys. We’ll go to the hospital.”

– In the emergency room, listening to a young woman with broken front teeth and a bloody eye detail the horrific abuse she had been receiving from her husband…while I made steady, softened eye contact, nodding appropriately and formulating a plan to provide assistance.

Screenshot_2018-11-17 Donald J Trump on Twitter

Twenty years of horrendous situations, traumatic stories from people dealing with  homelessness, abuse, people who have been beaten and thrown away. I’m not trying to say that I feel nothing. I do, but it’s muted, and comes less from an emotional response and more from an analytical choice of what the next correct decision should be given the situation. It’s learned. When my grandfather passed away, I left work early, not because I really felt the need to go home, but because the look of concern from my supervisor indicated that would be the appropriate response. When my client came to terms with her terminal diagnosis from untreated breast cancer, I sat with her for two hours as she tearfully processed this, leaving only to go get her some popsicles from the corner store because they were her favorite and seemed to be what she needed in that moment, or the times spent marching in the streets with thousands over the Chicago Police Department’s murder of another young man – this was correct because racism is wrong.

I used to try to see if I could fix this lack. I thought that perhaps my sense of humor was too dark or that there might be something wrong with the anger being my most frequent go-to, or strongest felt emotion. I knew, intellectually, that my muted responses made me a little different and also that my father was similar in these respects. I also learned from the myriad of social situations most everybody finds themselves in that certain responses are more socially acceptable than others, and if I was going to give up trying to fix what wasn’t going on within me that I was going to need to become practiced in what those responses should be, as well as really put in the time to develop a sense of ethics and social justice as an overall guide.

Screenshot_2018-11-17 Donald J Trump on Twitter Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now th[...]

This past month a co-worker unexpectedly passed away. I had known this person for about a year as we had shared an office with others, her sitting directly behind me. We’d gone to lunch once or twice, had conversations. We’d discussed the sadness she had felt recently when she’d had to put her dog down. I knew about some of her struggles, her difficulties with her family and some of the challenges she was working to resolve. I received news of her death via text while working at a different site. The person who sent me the text was pretty busted up over it, you could see it through the characters and while reading the successive texts I didn’t have too much of a reaction, but I also knew that would be the incorrect response.

So I answered in kind, “That’s terrible. How is everyone doing down there?” (south side clinic) and we engaged around this for a few more texts, and being this person’s supervisor I suggested that if they needed, they were free to leave for the day in order to take any self-care necessary. This was the right thing to say as a supervisor. Also being the right thing: knowing another co-worker at my site was very close to this person, and that it might be better if I told them in person rather than potentially finding out by group e-mail later in the day. So I found them and told them what had happened. I watched them cry. I watched another person sit next to them and put his hand on their shoulder, and made a mental note that next time, in this situation, that would be something I might do.

Screenshot_2018-11-19 Trump_s Puerto Rico tweets are the purest expression of his presidency

I once had a conversation with my wife where we discussed social work, a profession she also enjoys. She told me one of things she admires is the compassion I have and how much I care about people. I was a little drunk at the time, and a bit honest about it all as I told her the reason I felt I was good at my job was because ultimately, I didn’t care too much. Writing that might make me sound bad. I get that, and it’s not something I enjoy about myself, rather I’ve learned to accept it. I told her I was able to look at social work situations like Chicago, not like New Orleans, meaning my approach is more clearly analytic, unclouded by an emotional heart. I’ve been successful doing things this way, but I wouldn’t have been nearly so without constant interaction and correction by other people, by observation, by learning that even if I don’t necessarily feel any which way, the right thing to do is this or that; it’s the ethical thing, the thing most likely to get justice for a particular individual in a situation that inherently contains very little.

Screenshot_2018-11-19 Trump_s Puerto Rico tweets are the purest expression of his presidency(1)

So next week Saturday, I’ll be going to a memorial for my co-worker who passed away, deep on the south side of Chicago at a small park where a tree will be dedicated in her memory. This gathering will be attended by friends and family of the deceased as well as many people from the non-profit where I work. Emotionally, I feel no real compunction to go, but do I understand it is the right thing to do.

And I want to do the right thing. It’s important.

Have a nice day, and Happy Thanksgiving.

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Setting aside my cynicism…Occupy Wall Street

Whatever man...it's your pensions, your jobs, your savings, your energy assistance, medicaid, medicare, social security, school lunches, pell grants...etc...

I freely admit, I can be cynical…really cynical.

Which is probably why when I heard of the Occupy Wall Street protest, my first question was: if they are trying to cause trouble on Wall Street, why the hell are they doing the protest on a Saturday? At the time, I didn’t know it was going to be an ongoing thing, but even when I found that out my cynicism remained. I expected the usual mish-mash from the left, individuals with individual signs representing each and every cause, from PETA to Anti-Police Brutality, from ending the wars to ending whatever else they now wanted to end. I used to live in San Francisco and it would oftentimes seem not a week could go by without some kind of march down Market Street, just like it also seemed that the same people came to every protest; there was no unified message, just everybody cradling their pet cause, making a lot of noise, but really, doing very little.

After all, the civil rights era is long over and the police/government have had forty plus years to figure out how to marginalize a march into nothingness. Sure, maybe marches help build community, but what do they actually accomplish?

So, Occupy Wall Street…cool, yeah…okay.

Well, I’ve been working on my cynicism of late, trying to mute it a bit, which doesn’t mean I now feel protest marches are effective.

I don’t.

But this occupy Wall Street thing?

Been watching it build over the past couple of weeks and yes, their appears to be no unifying message beyond anger at the banks for screwing over this country and anger at the government letting them do it, and believe me you, I get that. I personally wouldn’t have a problem if Wall Street erupted in flames, burned all the way to the ground. Nope. I’d bring beer and marshmallows, celebrate…just like I celebrate these rumors about Bank of America being in real financial trouble, especially now that Kamala Harris and California have backed out of the mortgage fraud settlement. Good. Bank of America belly up? No problem. Fuck ’em. All those bank bail-outs, too big to fail? Government gives the money directly to the banks rather than giving it to the people in trouble with their mortgages so they could then give the money to the banks…you know, banks still get rescued, plus the people get to keep their houses too. Might have been a good idea. Apparently, politicians thought not, you know, because banks give politicians way more money than home-owners and banks wanted to cut out the middle man so yeah, okay, fuck the politicians too, but…I digress. Point is, hell yeah I get it.

So like I said, I been watching the occupation protests, the arrests, the developments, the growth, the union endorsements, the increase in news coverage, their unwillingness to be moved and over time I realized something…

I don’t want to sit around and be a cynic anymore.

That cynicism is too self-defeating.

True, at the end of the day…after the occupation is all said and done, who ya gonna vote for, whatever sociopath the GOP puts up or Barack Obama’s austerity-lite? Those choices won’t change, but something else could, something more important than two political yahoo’s running for president, and that something is the narrative.

That’s what the Occupy Wall Street protests seem to be changing right now.

For the past few months all we have been hearing from politicians, both Democrat and Republican is how this is the age of austerity, cutbacks, tightening our belts. The mainstream media outlets echoed it, the commercials preached it, the banks and corporations nodded their heads in assent…but that is beginning to change. The occupation is helping to prompt questions, getting people to think about Wall Street greed just a bit more. Fucking Sean Hannity actually called in and interviewed/trashed a protestor on his show, so yeah, even the corporations/banks/GOP apologists are now paying attention to the occupation, at least inasmuch as they are trying to discredit the whole thing, and that acknowledgment is change.

And it isn’t just 5000 people in the park in New York anymore, yesterday it was also 3000 people marching against Bank of America in Boston.

The narrative is altering, and the narrative can be more urgent and more important than both the politicians and corporations combined.

People, in their homes, in the bars, in the parks, in the restaurants and at the grocery stores…people talking about the wealthy, the top 1% and how they don’t pay their fair share. People are talking about Wall Street, not as that faraway place with the stock markets and the investors and whatnot, they’re talking about the role of Wall Street, of those markets, of the costs those who work there are exacting on the rest of the country. People are talking about the banks, about withdrawing money from the big banks and going local to their community institutions.

It’s much more talking than usual, and that ain’t a bad thing. This could be the beginning of something bigger and this is not the time for cynicism. Alas, true, this whole episode could fizzle out rather quickly, kind of fade into just another series of left wing war story, like more lost tales from the Seattle WTO uprising, but it doesn’t have to. Much will depend on our cynicism, both individual and collective…yours, mine and theirs.

If you want to write these protests off, dismiss them as nothing, as hopeless, you certainly can, just as you can slag the protestors because maybe you don’t particularly care for their methods…or because they look funny, they’re disorganized or more importantly…maybe you trash them because they haven’t given up. Well, if that’s the case, then you have two choices really, you can leave well enough alone and go figure out why you thought it better to complain from the sidelines, or you can suspend your doubts and get involved, be creative, help, give it a chance and be a part of building a newer narrative because really, what else we got going on?

What?

Sitting around, waiting to vote next year?

Besides, cynicism is precisely what politicians and Wall Street are counting on and I’d rather not give them what they want.

From the Occupation’s first statement, voted on and approved this past Thursday night, here are just a few of their grievances against the wealth that is Wall Street and their practices:

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage. They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses. They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions. They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay. They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce. They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them. They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil. They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit. They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

Seems pretty reasonable, these and many other concerns, most based on problems with a system and its institutions that place profits over the lives of people, both at home and abroad, oftentimes accomplished through the contribution of large sums of money from the banks and corporations, and the wealthiest few of this country, making sure they are heard by the politicians…not the other 99% of us.

So yes, the protestors are out there getting heard, and asking for others to join them in being heard and yes, we can certainly make fun and do nothing, but when done with that, what do we got but the same fucking problems we had before so…

Nah, don’t want to be cynical anymore.

Rather read up on what’s going on, be a part of it and think about change with an open mind and a sense of the possible as opposed to the safe self-conceit of the negative…

It’s our choice, they’re our freedoms.

And we might want to think hard, because if this should continue to grow, if this should eventually provoke change, if this should teach a new generation about what they can do, what they can make happen…do you really think the banks, the mainstream media and the powers that be are going to let something like this ever happen again?

Nope.

Sometimes all you get is one shot.

So, make it count, seek solutions and let’s all change this narrative for good.

Read on:

Occupy Wall Street Begins Third Week With Greatest Numbers Yet, Aims Still Uncertain

Union president: We and ‘Occupy Wall Street’ are ‘singing the same song’

Hot off the Press: The Occupied Wall Street Journal

As movement grows, thousands protest in Boston protest against Bank of America’s Greed

Labor Movement Rolls Into Wall Street Occupation

No Excuses — Join the Occupy Wall St. Movement or Stand on the Wrong Side of History

United Steelworkers announce support for ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest

Occupy Los Angeles

Have a nice day.

Dear Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California State Senate…A-A-Ahem…

Sleep well you sons-a-bitches...

Fuck you.

Really…when all of you, both Democrat and Republican are finished congratulating yourselves on how you finally reached a budget “deal,” may each and every one of you then immediately lose every dollar you personally have and wind up on the streets with no contacts, no accounts and no visible means of support so that you will finally understand the damage that your politics are about to do to the state’s most vulnerable. Really…go to hell, you hummer driving, “tough choice” making, non-tax raising, elitist jack-asses that no matter how much you claim to understand the pain you inflict, truly, really…don’t understand a thing, except how to sleep comfortably in your large homes, the ones not at risk of foreclosure and then, well rested, drop your infant children off at your employer provided daycare so you can go to a doctor appointment, paid for by your excellent employer provided health insurance coverage.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout your history, the poor, the mentally ill and the vulnerable are never too big to fail.

From Rawstory:

In mid-May Schwarzenegger unveiled plans to plug the deficit by slashing billions of dollars worth of funding for services designed to help the state’s poor.

His budget proposal called for 12.4 billion dollars in spending cuts, including the elimination of California’s welfare-to-work program and virtually all child care for low income families.

Schwarzenegger’s proposed spending cuts would also eliminate 60 percent of funding for community mental health, and low income families would also lose access to state-subsidized day care for children.

California, the most populous and wealthiest US state, was hit hard by the housing crisis.

Analysts and legislators say California’s seemingly eternal fiscal gridlock is a consequence of the state’s constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass a budget or raise taxes.

Schwarzenegger has refused to raise taxes to narrow the shortfall and described the proposed cuts to spending as “painful” but essential.

Right, Arnold…”painful but essential?”

Not quite, you had choices, and you chose to close the budget gaps created by bad banking and investment practices the same way you always have…on the backs of the poor.

Read the article,

Schwarzenegger, California lawmakers in budget deal

Have a nice day.

Headlines – Gulf Coast and Beyond…

Oil...what oil? Nothing to see here...just ask Commandante Dudley

Thank God for the Whistle-Blowers – Robert Scheer – Truthdig

Bated breath in Gulf ahead of oil well ‘kill’ operation – AFP

UC Berkeley’s BP Deal Tainted By Oil Spill: $500 Million Research Agreement At Stake – HuffingtonPost

BP ‘carpet bombed’ Gulf with chemical dispersants, says congressman – Al.com

BP scaling Back Cleanup Efforts After Pretending Oil is Disappearing in the Gulf – Video Cafe

The Founders’ Worst Nightmare – Firedoglake

BP Gulf Oil-Spill Fishing Waters Opened East of Mississippi River Despite Oil Just a Few Miles Away – Alexander Higgins Blog

Democrat-backed terror bill would ‘gut Miranda rights’ – Raw Story

California Storing DNA of Innocent People – Alternet

Man in body armor wounded in Tenderloin – SFGate – “Sigh, my old neighborhood”

Have a nice day.

Yeah, and no one anticipated the breach of the levees, either

I solemnly swear to tell the whole truth, so long as I remember what that version is...

In hearings yesterday on Capitol Hill, Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior under Bush, said no one anticipated such a large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Accompanied by Dirk Kempthorne, who succeeded Norton when she resigned in ’06, he affirmed that nobody did, not Congress, not the President, not the oil companies, no one. Okay…so, don’t blame it all on Bush, it’s Obama’s fault too. I get it, however an argument could be made that Bush and Cheney were in such a mad rush to deregulate the oil industry that as Henry Waxman said, an “air of permissiveness” pervaded the Interior Department, which led to the Mineral Management Service not doing an adequate job. This reasoning would also seem fair.

What isn’t fair is that in these two instances, be it the Army Corp of Engineers or the MMS, under Bush and Obama neither agency did their jobs and in one instance thousands of people died while in another, tens of thousands of people lost everything while an ecosystem is being destroyed.

Yes, we can sit back and say, as in the case of Norton and Kempthorne, nobody anticipated either one of these man made disasters so it’s okay they didn’t too, as their comments would seem to imply, or we can ask, why not? Why didn’t Congress ask about such a huge oil spill, why didn’t the MMS? Why didn’t Ken Salazar, Gale Norton, Dick Kempthorne, Bush, Obama…why didn’t anyone ask about it, or the levees?

Answer that question, studiously and with an eye for solutions, and then make sure it never happens again, not just in Louisiana but across the United States. For example, take the levee system that is disintegrating, rupturing in the valleys of California…will the Department of Interior start asking now? Or will it wait until another community goes through another tragedy that could have been averted, maybe even a community the United States Government gives a damn about?

Maybe it’s even past time for asking questions. Perhaps, it’s time for demands.

Perhaps, just perhaps…it’s also time for somebody to go to jail.

Read the article:

Former Bush administration officials: No one anticipated large oil spill

Have a nice day.