Sunday, May 05, 2019

Can Democrats Manage Not to Lose Again to Trump?

Photo source: AP, from

Well, here we are. It's a year and a half before the 2020 elections and there is a bumper crop of Democrats running for President, and more may be coming. Those leading the pack so far are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg (yes, no one heard of him until this year) and Kamala Harris.

Others seem to be struggling to get traction, with media focusing on each "shiny new object" (to quote a Facebook friend of mine) as they announce their candidacies. The latest rumor is that NY Mayor Bill DiBlasio may throw his hat into the ring, a bad idea in my opinion, given he isn't even popular in his own city.

Last time we didn't have enough choice. This time we may have too much. But it's a better position to be in, since we have plenty of time for the field to thin out before things get really serious, and it gives us a much more robust field of qualified candidates.

In early polling, among the top 5 Democratic candidates, all but Warren would handily beat Trump in the general election if it were held today.  But of course, we are a year and a half out, and we know how that can change.

But the bigger question is, will Democrats show up at the polls if their favored candidate does not become the eventual nominee? Early indications are this could be a problem, especially if that nominee is not Bernie Sanders.

While I know that posts on Facebook and other social media are not representative of votes, my impression from Facebook and Twitter is that so far, Sanders fans are least likely to say they'll "vote Blue no matter who" in the general election. Are we heading into yet another debacle if Bernie doesn't get the nomination? Will Democratic/Progressive voters split again and give Trump the presidency for a second term?

I'm seeing more and more posts lately with Bernie supporters claiming the early polls are "rigged" against their candidate and favoring Joe Biden. The most recent issue that came up was the CNN poll that came out after Biden announced his candidacy.

The poll, which was conducted by CNN by research firm SSRS, was a pretty ordinary poll, conducted among a little over 1000 adults (913 voters), balanced by political stance, demography and geography, and weighted to make up for any undercounted groups. Respondents with both landlines and cell phones were included. In fact, more cell phone users were included than landlines, no doubt reflecting overall trends.

Subsets of respondents were broken out in the crosstabs. But they did not break out results for any group that had less than 125 raw respondents because small sample sizes may not be projectable to the group's size in the population.

This led to a number of very misleading articles and posts about the validity of the survey.

Bernie fans posted a Youtube video of the Jimmy Dore Show on a pro-Bernie Facebook page I follow, where Dore (who admits he is no expert) misinterpreted the results of the CNN poll, saying the pollsters "left out" everyone under 50 and those making less than $50k annually. Then later in the video he casually says "or didn't poll enough of them or something." He made it sound as if they purposely didn't include enough in order to skew the results.

Others posted the actual cross-tabs showing the N/As among the younger respondents, again misinterpreting the data to say it indicated they weren't polling Bernie's base, which of course is absurd.

They also post "polls" from Progressive sites like Daily Kos or Democracy for America which are just surveys of their OWN members - not balanced or weighted or in any way statistically valid - as "proof" that the mainstream polls are biased, since Bernie blows all the others away on those sites.

It is especially irritating to see this misinformation (dare I call it "fake news"? Yes, I do) being posted as truth, especially since all major polls showed the same results that were consistent with the CNN poll, with Bernie behind Biden.

Look, I get it. You want to believe your guy is really winning. And I'm not necessarily a Biden supporter. Like Hillary, he has a whole bunch of baggage and may not inspire younger people to vote. But he would bring in some of the lost voters from the states Hillary lost, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan. I would prefer a younger candidate than either him or Bernie - it is time to "pass the torch" to a new generation. But of course I will vote for WHOEVER wins the nomination.

Once again the media is going to play a big part. We're already seeing a lot of emphasis in the media on the white male candidates (incuding Beto and Buttigieg) vs. all the very qualified women who are running. Given the importance of Democratic women voters, and particularly, women of color, in the 2018 elections, it is concerning that the women aren't getting as much airplay and press as the men.

And of course, let's not forget about Russia stirring the pot, voter suppression and gerrymandering. While a couple of states' gerrymandering issues may make it to the Supreme Court, I am not sanguine that the Court will rule that their gerrymandered maps are unconstitutional, now that Kavanaugh is on the court.

But in the meantime, I wish the Bernie supporters would be team players. Instead of trashing the other Democratic candidates, they should just push positive information about Bernie. Maybe doubting Thomases like myself would be more pro-Bernie if we didn't feel such hostility from his fans and feel as if THEY are shoving him down our throats.

They need to stop anticipating or assuming that the "mainstream media" and the "corporate Democrats" are going to push Biden and spurn Bernie. It never seems to occur to them that not everybody loves Bernie. I know I don't. I like some of his ideas and I am pretty liberal. But I'm also practical and don't see how he can get his ideas through a recalcitrant Congress (it is unlikely the Democrats will regain the Senate, absent some miracle - or a very motivated Democratic electorate).

Bernie's fans complaining about the Democratic establishment and continuing to relitigate 2016 and the DNC debacle is not going to get him nominated by the overall Democratic electorate. Not everyone is ultra-progressive and not all will support Bernie. But any Democrat would have better policies than Trump.

I think Bernie would have trouble being elected in the general election vs. Trump despite current polls. Trump will ream him out about his "socialism" if he is actually nominated. He'll be Crazy Bernie this or that. And he won't get the kid glove treatment he got in 2016 from the GOP in general. They were fine with him challenging Hillary because of how much they hated her. But if Bernie is the nominee that would change abruptly, in my opinion.

Do Bernie supporters really think that all Democrats are "just as bad" as Trump? If so they are sadly deluded. What about climate change? The environment? LGBTQ rights? Women's rights and health? There are CLEAR differences.

No candidate is going to be perfect. But we can't afford purity in 2020. Too much is at stake. Those who insist on that purity are insisting from a position of privilege; it is not their rights or lives being marginalized by Trump. It's easy to be righteous and pure if you have nothing to lose by not voting, or voting third party.

Sadly, I am seeing a lot of Bernie supporters saying yet again that if he doesn't get the nomination, they will refuse to vote for whichever Democrat gets it. (Not all, of course. I know many who voted for Bernie in the primaries in 2016 but voted for Hillary in the general election).

But there is a substantial subset that is dead set on repeating the mistakes of 2016. Here are some examples from a Progressive/pro-Bernie Facebook page I follow:

"I refused to vote last time. I just COULD NOT vote the lesser of two evils. I WILL NOT fall in line this time either. I will fucking revolt."

"f you really cared about the things you claim you wouldn’t settle for any corporate establishment hack to be President because in the long run it will lead down the same path as electing Darth Cheeto again "

 DNC cheats again I vote Green."

I will NOT Vote.. if Bernie is not the nominee. Period. The other oligarchs aren't going to rectify much of anything. And.. I would work to grow the MovementforPeoplesParty. End of story."

...And that scares the hell out of me. We can't afford another four years of Trump. Wake up people!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Day 166 and Counting

Source: Getty Images
Well, it's been a long 8 months since the election, and an even longer 5-1/2 months since Trump officially became president.

It's been even worse than we thought it would be. I think some of us hoped his whole campaign was an act to get elected and that afterward he'd show that he wasn't quite the hateful right-wing bigot he had seemed when on the campaign trail.

But he immediately went to work showing he meant every bit of it. It all started with the appointment of his transition team and closest aides; then his inauguration speech, which was a vile and dark denunciation of the current state of the country. He then went on to appoint the worst of the worst as cabinet members, as well as doling out key positions to his immediate family members.

With the exception of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who seems to retain a modicum of integrity and actual competence in comparison to the rest, those he appointed to cabinet posts are all from some Bizarro World where they embody the complete opposite of what their department is supposed to support.

Betsy DeVos, champion of charter schools and school vouchers, for Department of Education; Jeff Sessions, a man with white supremacist ties, for the Attorney General, leading the Department of Justice; Rick Perry, who famously wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy - if he could have remembered the name - as Secretary of Energy; and worse yet, longtime EPA critic Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who is already doing everything he can to roll back as many regulations as possible.

And that's not all. Now we have Tom Price, a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act, as head of Health & Human Services; and Ben Carson (who outright said he wasn't qualified for a cabinet position despite having run for President) as Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, a topic in which he has absolutely no experience. I could go on. But you already know all that anyway.

The one bright spot is the uprising on the left, now known as The Resistance, that happened immediately after his inauguration, starting with the Women's Marches all over the world. As soon as we heard there was to be a Women's March on Washington, several friends and I immediately made plans to go. As everyone knows now, the march was so large that the members couldn't even actually march - the area was full all the way to the Washington Monument. We were tucked into a packed street next to the Air and Space Museum. Despite the crowds, it was a calm and peaceful demonstration of what "Democracy looks like," as one of the chants pointed out.

Then came the first Trump travel ban that spurred thousands to protest at airports and elsewhere. Then there was the march to support Science, and many others, demanding he release his taxes, be impeached, etc.

This is something I don't remember seeing happen under any other president since the Vietnam War. The response to the election of this self-aggrandizing, petty dictator has been visceral. And women are leading a lot of it. Part of that is our fear of having our rights taken away, part of it is the anger about the misogyny that played at least some part of the vilification of Hillary Clinton by both the right and by Sanders supporters from the left. Part of it is just plain disgust that a man who once bragged about grabbing women "by the pussy" actually got elected. And the fact that no matter how vile he is, how inappropriate and unpresidential his tweets are, nothing seems to matter to the Republican Congress or the voters who supported him. The frustration is all-consuming.

The endless speculation and drip-drip-drip of the administration's ties to Russia, and the possibility of collusion on the part of the Trump team with the verified Russian interference in our election, have just spurred further resistance. Trump firing Comey, reminiscent of Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre, fueled the fire and deepened the suspicions that there is something big to be discovered that Trump doesn't want us to find out.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is gearing up for a full-fledged investigation into every aspect of Trump's past, including his business dealings, possible money laundering and more. People keep asking why this process is taking so long. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the Watergate investigation took several years before culminating in Richard Nixon's resignation. And we have to make sure that Democrats win in Congress in 2018 so if impeachment becomes a possibility, there will be Democrats in power to initiate the process. Because the GOP never will as long as the president is able to sign off on any bills they bring him.

Another bright spot is, despite the many mean-spirited and harmful executive orders Trump signs, not that much actual legislation has taken place. Some reversed President Obama's own executive orders, many of which were put in place just before he left office. Others, like the travel ban, are still being litigated in court. Many of the loosened regulations pertaining to climate change, such as favoring coal vs. clean energy, or loosening restrictions on mileage requirements for vehicles, may not ultimately make that much of a difference, given the public and the rest of the world will continue to demand cleaner energy and better mileage for their cars. Companies aren't going to make special polluting vehicles or gas guzzling cars just for the (maybe?) 30% of Americans who don't care about climate change or clean air.

The biggest harm that Trump has been able to do is appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, which is all thanks to Mitch McConnell's unprecedented obstruction of the nomination of Eric Garland for the seat well before President Obama's term was ending. For now, although Gorsuch has been reliably conservative, possibly even more so than Scalia, the Justice he replaced, at least so far Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote, has not yet retired. That seat (or those of any of the more liberal justices, should they leave) will be the key seat that could change the course of justice in this country for a generation to come.

The Resistance must continue and must be effective. We need to make sure we don't get distracted by the tweets or by hateful memes about Trump and focus on the policies he and his cabal are promulgating that will do lasting harm to our democracy.

One thing we are lacking is real protest music. Where is Phil Ochs when we need him? Thankfully, since he is no longer with us, someone has already had the brilliant idea of reworking Phil's denunciation of Richard Nixon (which in itself was a remake of his earlier song about the state of Mississippi) for the Trump era. The words have not changed much at all from the Nixon version. Amazing how in 2017 so much has remained pertinent.

Follow me on Twitter - I never tweeted much until January 20. It is now the center of The Resistance.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

President-Elect Trump

Who would have believed two years ago that this could even happen? Well, it has. And there were a lot of reasons for it.

First of all, no one took him seriously at first. The media loved him because he got them ratings, so they kept showing all his outrageous speeches and his big rallies without criticizing their content or calling him out on his lies. Democrats didn't take him seriously. Pundits didn't take him seriously. And neither did I.

I had been aware of Trump for 25+ years, especially since I live in the Metro NY area. But I never really paid any attention to him, even when he was bloviating about Obama not being born in the U.S. I mean, who cares what a reality TV star who runs casinos and builds gaudy towers thinks about the President? I never even watched his Apprentice shows, not even once. I just ignored the guy as someone who was not worthy of attention.

Well, as it turned out, he was. And in a very bad way.

As for the Democrats, they had a three-way race in the primaries that the media narrowed immediately to Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton, totally ignoring Martin O'Malley, who, in the brief moments he had to comment during their primary debates, actually sounded like a decent candidate. I had not originally been a fan of Hillary Clinton, as I felt she had way too much baggage and the Republicans hated her. So I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary.

Then came the nominations - and it became Trump vs. Hillary. In watching their conventions, I felt it was obvious that Hillary had the advantage. Her convention was full of hope and positivity, while Trump's was dark and foreboding. Didn't we learn that Reagan beat Carter in 1980 because Carter had spoken of the "malaise" in America, while Reagan offered that sunny vision of  "a shining city on the hill"? I assumed history would repeat itself. No one wants to think America is no longer great, and believe a dark vision of the country that only Trump could save, surely.

Sure, there were some stumbles - Hillary didn't campaign much in August, devoting a lot of her time to fundraising; and then she had that bout with pneumonia in September. But she bounced right back with three solid debate performances, where she seemed to  best Trump in each one. Her poll numbers rose again and I was feeling confident she would do well in the election.

Then came the Comey announcement about the discovery of new emails "pertinent to" the FBI investigation discovered on Anthony Weiner's laptop, putting her on the defensive again and giving red meat to the Right. Nine days later Comey said "nothing to see here after all," and moved on. But probably by then the damage was done.

On election night, Trump won the electoral college and thereby the Presidency.

Then came all the recriminations and the blame. The polls were wrong. Comey did it. Wikileaks did it. The Russians hacked it. It was the DNC's fault for cheating Bernie out of the nomination.The media was complicit by giving Trump too much air time and touting false equivalencies between his flaws and Hillary's. The Democrats didn't turn out in sufficient numbers. There was an underground white working-class rebellion everyone had missed. Clinton's campaign hadn't focused enough on states like Wisconsin or Michigan. They took African Americans and Hispanics for granted. Trump supporters were voting against their own self-interests. Bernie supporters refused to support Hillary. And so it goes.

All of these factors came into play and led to the result that most thinking people hadn't believed could happen. America voted in a president who has no knowledge of how government works, knows nothing about policies - neither foreign nor domestic - has spouted various stances on every issue imaginable and has no actual moral core. However, his campaign was run by Steve Bannon, who headed up Breitbart news as it became a vehicle for the "alt-right" movement, and who has now been chosen as Trump's strategist in the White House. He picked Mike Pence, a far right religious conservative whose policies as governor of Indiana show he is a formidable opponent of women's and LGBTQ rights. Other names being touted as potential cabinet members are equally concerning, especially when it comes to the EPA.

And let's not forget that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is champing at the bit to get rid of the ACA, Medicare, Social Security, and various other programs. And of course, that Trump will be able to pick at least one, and likely more, Supreme Court Justices. It all adds up to a total disaster for the Progressive cause, and a huge setback for so much progress that has been made over the past 8 years.

So what went wrong?

I had an uneasy feeling about the election since the spring when Bernie Sanders' movement got under way, and I saw the enthusiasm for him, and not so much for Hillary Clinton. It all felt a lot like 1968. I remembered how Eugene McCarthy's followers had refused to get behind the winner of the Democratic nomination, Hubert Humphrey, and how the former candidate himself had refused to endorse Humphrey until the last moment, when the damage had already been done. And Nixon was elected President.

I was pleased that Bernie did endorse Hillary immediately after conceding the nomination to her. However, that did not please his followers. Looking back, maybe McCarthy's followers wouldn't have cared if McCarthy had endorsed Humphrey earlier either. The result might have been the same in 1968 just as it was in 2016. Some called Sanders a traitor for endorsing Clinton. Others just didn't care. There was so much bitterness left from the hard-fought primary, and also from the revelation that the Democratic National Committee had favored Hillary, revealed in the Wikileaks release of emails among DNC members. Some Bernie supporters weren't Democrats at all and maybe they would never have voted for Hillary in the first place. But others probably would have, if they hadn't seen another choice.

I was one of the people who supported Bernie, but not blindly. I knew his policies would be hard, if not impossible to implement. I just wanted to protest about having Hillary Clinton being presented as our only choice, as I felt she would be a flawed nominee..

However, once she got the nomination, I was committed to her, and the more I saw of her, and the more I learned about her, the more I actually liked her on top of supporting her politically. I could put myself in her place and remember what it was like for women of our age (I am 63) back in the day; how hard she had to work to get to where she was. Whether or not you agreed with everything she has done (or that Bill Clinton did) - which I didn't - she was strong, she was brave, and she was qualified. Trump was none of those.

Trump is a weak, insecure bully with no pertinent experience for the role he will now be playing. His thin-skinned, easily offended nature terrifies me. Will he, as someone on Facebook said today, start a war because of a tweet? One can only hope there will be cooler heads in his administration who will control him insofar as international relations - and the use of nuclear weapons - are concerned.

I must say the results of this election have gotten me angry and fired up to a degree I have not felt in many years. If any ordinary Republican - say Romney, Jeb Bush, or Rubio - had been elected, I would be unhappy, but not like this. I immediately sent a small donation to about ten different organizations that work for LGBTQ rights, racial justice, women's reproductive rights, and the environment. And I'm going to the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017. But I feel rather helpless as the GOP will be controlling all three branches of government; there will be no checks and balances. They will have carte blanche to do the things they've always wanted to do.

We cannot let them succeed.

One of my big concerns is that many avid Bernie supporters refuse to join with those who supported Hillary to work to defeat the Trump administration's agenda.

They cite the fact that the Democratic Party has done things they disagree with - from using drones that kill civilians, or allowing fracking, to supporting foreign governments that allow human rights violations - to say that both parties are equally evil and they say they want no part of the Democratic Party. They say those of us who are calling for them to work together against Trump are acting "privileged" or "self-satisfied" and "sanctimonious." They say we didn't try to create a force that would have destroyed the oppressors.

I have done some soul-searching as I am always open to constructive criticism. I do not see what we could have done differently under the current system to reject both parties and somehow become powerful enough to have influence over what this country does.

Whether it was the fault of the DNC, rigged voting or just plain not getting enough votes (and you can argue any one of those points all you want), Bernie did not win the nomination. I'm sorry. He just didn't. If he had, I would have supported him wholeheartedly against Trump.

As far as voting for a third party - which I know many Bernie supporters chose to do rather than vote for Hillary - that would not have worked either. First of all, our system is completely rigged against third parties winning, so that is a problem that needs to be addressed at another time. This year was not the time. I also did not even agree with Jill Stein's perspective on a lot of things (let alone Gary Johnson's!) and felt she was supremely unqualified to run a government. So please spare me the idea of "Well, if everyone had voted for her she would have won." I wouldn't have WANTED her to win.

So that leaves this question for the Bernie supporters who reject the Democratic Party: What is your solution to the mess we are in? I am open to all suggestions. To me there are two things at stake:
(1) How to prevent the GOP from reversing all of the progress that has been made in terms of civil rights and a cleaner environment; and (2) Longer-term, how do we ensure that true Progressives gain power in Washington?

For (2), there are also two things that can be done. One is to work from within the Democratic Party to reform it and bring it back to its original Progressive values, by working at local and state levels to get Progressives in office in state legislatures, governorships, and Congress. The second way, if you think the Democratic Party is a lost cause, is to champion a Progressive third party that can develop real power - not the Greens who barely run any candidates on local levels and then trot out an unqualified candidate for President every four years, if that. (And yes, I am aware there are SOME Greens in office in some parts of the country but not nearly enough). Those third-party candidates have to start at the grass roots level. Run them for town council, for freeholder, for assembly representative, for state senator. Then run them for governor and Congress, and finally for President. Only then will it be possible for a third party to have power, and not before.

If anyone has other solutions to the mess we are now in, please, let me know. Because we have no time to waste.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Sad Goodbye to Baxter

Hello Blog Friends. It is with great sadness that I must report that Political Blogger Extraordinaire and Cat-About-the-House Baxter passed away suddenly in April. He had numerous health issues, from an overactive thyroid to what we think was inflammatory bowel disease, which was mitigated by Prednisilone - but that caused diabetes. So he was getting two pills and a shot of insulin, twice a day, for the previous six months, and was doing pretty well, until one evening he just collapsed in the upstairs hallway. He went into a coma and died the next morning after spending the night on our bed. We didn't take him to the vet as we could tell the time was near, and didn't see the sense in stressing him out with a vet visit in the middle of the night. He was 15.

He had a good long life, of course, but we always want a longer time with our furry family members. It's strange to no longer have a cat. And given  our dog Angel thinks cats are a type of snack, we probably can't have another cat as long as we have Angel.

Diva is now close to 15 as well, but thankfully is in good health except for arthritis. She is still as demanding as ever and she and Angel are best friends and both sleep on the bed with us now that Baxter is gone. (Angel used to have to sleep downstairs and Baxter and Diva shared our bed with us  before). Here they are both giving me the stink-eye about something. Angel (right) learned how to do this from Diva, of course.

So, sadly, there will be no more blogs from Baxter. He had started his last entry back in February and never finished it. But, for old times' sake, I am leaving the unfinished version here below. It's interesting to see what was happening 5 months ago and to realize things have only gone downhill since then!


Baxter here.

Well, here I am Again. I took a Break for awhile to see how Things Worked Out. And here we are in mid-February and Things are Just as Weird as ever.

Donald Trump is continuing to Lead the Republicans in their Primary race, which I find Unbelievable.

My Female Human says her now-deceased Mother would be Spinning in her Grave at the idea of President Trump. Her Mother was Amazed that Ronald Reagan became President. "Only in America," she would say, "could an ACTOR become President." She should see what's Happening now!

And worse yet, in Second Place is that Cruz guy; he makes my Fur stand on end. He's the one who some believe has been Anointed by God to be the next President. And oh yeah - his Dad is one of them.

To Me, those Overtly Religious Types are really the Scariest of all. Now, you know we Cats don't hold much Truck with Religion. Yes, there is Ceiling Cat. But Ceiling Cat kind of minds His own Business. Ceiling Cat doesn't expect us to Worship Him all the time (except for an Occasional Offering of a Dead Mouse or something). And certainly we aren't Required to have Specific Beliefs or to kill Other Cats if they don't Believe in Ceiling Cat. Basically we Cats can do Whatever we want and Nobody Butts into Our Business.

But some of these Religious Types who call themselves "Christians" (not to be confused with Real Christians who try to live Life by the Golden Rule, as instructed by the actual Christ that Humans call Jesus), seem to think they should Rule the World. In Fact, this Cruz fellow is part of a Sect called Dominionists, who actually believe the United States should be run as a Christian Nation and that Biblical law trumps Civil law. In Other Words, he wants the United State to become a Christian Theocracy. Now I find that Highly Ironic, considering these Types of People are the ones that are So Afraid of Muslim Theocracy (i.e., Shariah Law) becoming the Law of the Land. Pray tell, what is the Difference?

Then we Get Down to Marco Rubio. This guy is just Too Young and doesn't really Know What He's Doing yet. Give him another ten years maybe. He was supposed to be the Big Deal among the Republicans, before Trump came along and Blew that idea out of the Water.

Oh, and Jeb Bush - I think the Genes were spread out Too Thin - by the time they got to him, he didn't have Anything left. Not that there was Much to Begin with, when you look at W. But he has not had the Success I would have thought his Name might have Brought him.

Thankfully, by now some of the Field has Dropped Out, so I don't need to go into people like Christie. I'm a New Jersey Cat. Enough said. We in New Jersey know this man is an Idiot and a Bully. It just took a while for the Rest of the Country to figure it out.

Ben Carson should have Dropped Out ages ago. But I'm glad Governor Kasich did not. Out of All of Them, he may be the most Sane. Of course, that isn't saying a Lot.

Who do I think might win? Hard to Say. But I hope it's not Cruz. Frighteningly, Trump seems like a Safer Choice, overall. And again, that's not saying a Lot!

Thank you, Baxter, for your last thoughts on the election.

Note that Baxter hadn't even gotten to the Democratic race. Now we have Hillary as the presumed nominee, and she and Trump (who believe me, I do find terrifying, especially now he's picked Mike Pence as VP, since he brings all that religious nonsense along with him and especially his anti-LGBT attitudes). But I also find it highly concerning that Hillary is disliked and distrusted nearly as much as Trump as this does not bode well for November.

The Republican convention starts on Monday. I wonder how crazy it will get. I look forward to watching Stephen Colbert Monday night, as I hear he and Jon Stewart are planning to do some convention coverage!

Watch this space... I haven't given up on blogging for good and hope to get back to writing a little more often. Facebook's format isn't formal enough to do any real writing, so I would like to address some issues over here, even without Baxter to help. Maybe Diva, being an old and wise dog, could help out now...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Cat's Eye View: In it for the Long Haul

Baxter here. I am Complaining because there are Too Many Republicans. Here at My House, we were Thinking of Maybe watching the Republican "Debate" but in the End could not Bear to do it. How can there be any Sense made out of ten people answering Stupid Questions for Two Hours. What kind of Substantive Conversation can be had?

The Worst Thing is, there isn't even One Candidate that would make a Good President out of the Bunch of them. I don't know What this Country is coming to. And I think those with No Support Whatsoever (I'm looking at YOU, Chris Christie!) should Drop Out and let the other Bozos get more Air Time so Everyone can see what Idiots they all are.

Then on the Democratic side, there is the whole Hillary vs. Bernie Problem. Hillary supporters say Bernie can't Win so people should be Rooting for Hillary. They say don't Waste Your Vote on Bernie because he Can't Win. Bernie supporters, on the Other Hand, say Hillary is as Bad as the Republicans and if you Vote for Her you are as Bad as a Republican too.

Neither of these Opinions are True, in My Own Not-so-Humble Opinion. Why not Wait and See who Wins the Primaries? If you really Agree with Bernie, vote for him in the Primary. If he doesn't Win and Hillary is the Nominee, then vote for her in the General Election. Isn't that Simple? Oh, you are one of Those who say Hillary is no Better than a Republican? Have you SEEN who the Republicans are? Do you KNOW what they Believe? Check out this link.

You will see their Views on Many Subjects are direct Opposites of Hillary's OR Bernie's, especially when it comes to Family Planning and a Woman's Right to Choose. Check out their Views on Energy and Oil and Alternative Energy Sources. Compare their Civil Rights records and their Views on Global Warming. If you are a Democrat, you will realize there IS a difference between the Parties and that Hillary's views are a Lot Closer to Bernie's than You May Realize.

Then Keep in Mind that there will No Doubt be Supreme Court Appointments to be made in the coming Presidential Term. If Hillary is the Democratic Nominee and you Stay Home or Write in a Candidate You Prefer, then if one of these Republican Candidates wins the Election, you will have Only Yourself to Blame if we get a Completely Right Wing Supreme Court as a result.

Me, I am in it for the Long Haul. First, let's see who Emerges among the Republican Crew as the Actual Nominee. Then let's see who the Democratic Nominee is. And then things will Get Interesting. Right now it's all a Big Show.

So... Carry On with the Debates. Maybe by Next Spring they might Mean Something. In the Meantime, I think I will enjoy some Catnip and Relax.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In Memoriam: Farewell to Doris

Of course, I never called her Doris. I called her Mom - because she was the epitome of a good mother and I didn't feel the least bit odd about calling her that even though she was my mother-in-law, not my own mother. But once she was in the nursing home for a long time, a lot of the people who cared for her referred to her as Doris so I started to think of her that way too.

We first met in 1983 when my then-boyfriend, now husband, Ed, was admitted to the hospital with appendicitis - a perfect way to meet one's future in-laws without any pressure! I still remember my first sight of her and my future father-in-law in the waiting room at the hospital. It worked out well for me since I am the one who brought Ed to the hospital and made sure they took good care of him. I was in their good graces from Day One.

My mother-in-law was always kind, generous and loving. She never made me feel like an outsider. In fact, later on my father-in-law told me that she always considered me a real daughter, not a daughter-in-law. I feel honored that she felt that way. We were good friends and always found a lot to chat about. Sometimes Ed or his dad had to break in to our conversation in order to get a word in edgewise.

Mom was born in 1928 and grew up in South Amboy, New Jersey, the oldest of five. She went to Catholic school and graduated from St. Mary's High School in 1946, just after the war ended. She then worked as a secretary in a doctor's office for awhile. She met Ed's dad at a local dance - soon after he had returned from serving in the Army during World War II. How could she resist this dashing young man, who was still in uniform when they first met? From the pictures I found in an old photo album, they made quite a handsome couple as they were dating.

They married in 1948. She was 20, he was 22. Mom only worked until their son was born in 1952, and then became a homemaker. Dad, who had become an engineer, was the breadwinner.

During her last illness, Dad said over and over what a wonderful wife and mother she was... but he also revealed they were truly a product of that pre-women's liberation era.

He said when they got married, she had wanted to go to school, and he said she could -- but he told her she would not work afterward. He said he told her she was to stay home and take care of any children they had, take care of the house and have dinner on the table, and he would earn the money. So she did. "You know," he reminisced, "We never had an argument in all those years."

When Ed was older and in college - they only had the one child - she did work briefly as an administrative assistant in a doctor's office and as a secretary in the local high school. Ed said she loved it. But by the time I met them she was home again. As she once told me, "Dad wanted me home." He wanted to know he could call her any time of day and she'd be able to talk to him, or run an errand if need be.

Mom was kept busy with all of her homemaking duties. The house was always spotless; no speck of dust would dare appear on any surface. She was an excellent cook, able to make everything from roasts to fried fish that was light as a feather. She made a pumpkin pie that was everything a pumpkin pie should be. She made fabulous cakes. She was an expert seamstress and made a lot of clothes, including men's jackets, and drapes for the living room. She helped a friend's Girl Scout troop earn their sewing badge by teaching the little girls how to sew. She wrote a weekly social column in the local newspaper. And she was president of the Women's Club, the Garden Club and the PTO.

Every summer the whole family would go on a road trip, including four cross-country journeys where they toured the national parks and other sites of interest. A map still hanging on the wall of the family room marks with red pins the various spots they stopped along the way on each trip. They also took trips with Ed's grandparents, to Florida a few times, and once to the Bahamas.

Right before I met her, Ed had told me his mom had just gotten her real estate license. She later explained to me that Dad was getting close to retirement age and she thought it was something they could kind of do together - she could do the selling and he could help with the paperwork, which would keep him busy in retirement.

But it was not to be. Dad's whole division was laid off when he was 61 and he suddenly found himself retired a year earlier than he had planned. After the first shock wore off - which took only a weekend - he adjusted with lightning speed and immediately started planning all the trips they would take. And Mom never did sell a single house.

Don't feel sorry though... they had a grand time. They went to Hawaii for 4-6 weeks each year (several times with us); they drove up the coast of California repeatedly, and visited the Blue Ridge Mountains multiple times, as well as taking trips with us to Portugal and Italy. They went on a tour of China and walked on the Great Wall. They took a cruise that stopped at various ports of call in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. They skied every winter in the French Alps. When they were home they skied locally in the winter and spent time at the town pool each day in the summer.

It sounds as if they were rich, doing all this traveling, but they weren't. They were very frugal and saved their money.

They had moved from Perth Amboy, where they lived when they first married, to Holmdel, New Jersey, in 1958. The house they bought was part of a new development going in where an old apple orchard had once stood. Generous to a fault when giving gifts, they didn't splurge on material things for their home. Instead, they spent it on travel and family.

Dad still lives in the house today; they never "traded up" to something fancier. It's a modest split level home with 3 bedrooms, two of which are quite small. The house still has its original kitchen, and they had the same furniture and carpeting throughout most of their married life until Dad had to spend down some of their money to make Mom eligible for Medicaid in the nursing home, and he installed new carpeting and central air conditioning at that time. I think that was the only improvement that was made to the house, other than painting it, during most of their marriage.

Here are a few pictures of them from their early retirement years. The top left picture is from a cruise they were on, the group picture was taken on Maui, the one below is on the Asia cruise, and the bottom left photo is in our living room at Christmas one year.

Sadly, my mother-in-law's dementia began to gradually become noticeable in the early 2000s, when she was in her mid-to-late 70s. She started to forget things and ask the same questions over and over. Then she began to lose her vocabulary. She still went on trips to Hawaii and California as long as she was able to function, but on the last trip to the California coast, Dad realized she couldn't cope with traveling anymore. She was too confused.

He carried on, taking care of her at home, until he was struck with illness in early 2008. He ended up in the hospital and we ended up caring for Mom for a few days. It was then we realized how bad her condition had become. We were still working at the time, and couldn't keep taking days off to care for her, and Dad was going to be in the hospital for a couple of weeks after a severe intestinal bleed and surgery.

So we researched and found a nursing home, Laurel Bay in Keansburg, about 15 minutes from their home, that was able to take her on a temporary basis until Dad recovered and we figured out what to do. Mom at that time became easily agitated and we were very grateful to the wonderful staff who were able to care for her despite the difficulties. Once Dad was out of the hospital he agreed he couldn't care for Mom properly at home anymore. We looked at a few other nursing homes in the area but none were as cozy and homey as Laurel Bay. So that is where Mom stayed, and we are glad she did.

For almost 8 years, Dad went to Laurel Bay twice a day and helped Mom eat her lunch and supper (she had by this time lost the dexterity to feed herself). He knew everyone there and they knew him. Sometimes he drove them crazy because he always made sure his Doris got the best care of anyone there, and let them know if he felt they hadn't lived up to his expectations. But they all understood he did it out of love for her.

Sometimes he'd take a break and go shopping (usually to buy her something) and I would go down and help her eat her lunch. Even though at this point she could no longer speak much at all, she knew me and always gave me a big smile. She knew me right until the last few months, I think. I would chat with her as if she could answer back and let her know what was going on. I always wondered whether she was just trapped in her mind and couldn't speak but did understand. It must have been so frustrating for her.

She had a wonderful caregiver, Obai, who is originally from Haiti. She and Mom developed a very special relationship. They understood each other and Obai truly loved her. A former hairdresser in her native country, Obai loved to dress Mom up for the "elegant dining" events they had three or four times a year, and she'd always do something special to her hair.

Elegant dining was a really nice event; they had a singer there who would sing a range of songs from the old standards to more modern rock-and-roll from the 50s and early 60s, to accommodate the various age groups at the nursing home. The cooks would make a special dinner, complete with appetizers and desserts, and they served wine. Mom enjoyed these events a lot when she was first there. Later she was less responsive but I still think she liked the music and she always ate all her food.

Here are a few pictures where Mom is dressed up for these events. The black-and-white picture is her with Obai.

Dad did get away for some respite from caring for Mom. We had bought our cabin in the Adirondacks just after she went into the nursing home, so he started to come up for long weekends about once a month or so to relax. While he was away, he called the nursing home, without fail, at noontime, to make sure Doris had eaten her lunch and that she was doing well. For a long time she was.

In the past year or so, though, she began declining. She was having more trouble chewing and swallowing and they put her on thickened liquids and pureed food. I knew, from experience with my own father, who had had dementia in his later years, that this was the beginning of the end. But Ed's dad never looked at it that way. To him, anything that went wrong could be fixed, as long as he tried hard enough. And try he did. He blamed her problems on everything possible except the dementia. I don't think he ever admitted that it was a terminal disease.

Just before she truly could not swallow at all anymore, we had a discussion about whether he would choose to put in a feeding tube if she could no longer swallow her food. At that time he said no. But when the time came, about two weeks later, he couldn't let her go. There was even a piece of paper, in her own handwriting, that had been found among her belongings at home a couple of years ago, that said she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means. "Let me die in peace," she wrote, and signed and dated it, in the mid-1990s. She had seen her own mother die in a nursing home from dementia. She knew what awaited her if she got it too.

Dad didn't agree that a feeding tube was "artificial means." He said he "couldn't let her starve." So she got the feeding tube, and he got three more months with her. He was happy just holding her hand - he said she squeezed his hand so tightly he knew she knew he was there. I hope that was true and not just some reflex she had.

The end finally came despite the feeding tube, or maybe because of it. She got pneumonia, ended up in the hospital for yet another time (she had had pneumonia several times in the last year of her life due to her inability to swallow properly, which causes aspiration pneumonia, even when someone isn't being fed by mouth). She then began vomiting blood. The doctor, who was a very compassionate woman, said it was common for people with feeding tubes to get bleeding ulcers. She gently told Dad that "it is time to let her go." He finally agreed to sign a "do not resuscitate" order. Mom was put into a private room and Dad kept watch over her for three days, going home only to sleep. We were there as well for much of the time. She finally drifted peacefully away on October 20, 2015.

It was Dad that couldn't bear to let her go. And it is heartbreaking to see his grief. But the next morning when I woke up, I felt her presence around me, and a great sense of joy. I am not a big believer in an afterlife or religion, but I do think there is something out there after death. I do know I felt that she is finally free and able to express herself again and is happy, wherever she is. I am not sad for her, I am happy for her. I hope Dad will feel that way someday too. I know she would want him to.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fighting the Rat of Death

It's been a rough year. First Baxter was sick and we weren't sure if he was going to make it - thankfully, as he explained in the last post, he is doing well.

Then my mother-in-law, who has dementia and has been in a nursing home for nearly 8 years, started declining rapidly, after being relatively stable for a long time. Looking back, we realized she had been declining all along, but so gradually we didn't really notice it until this year. By June she had forgotten how to swallow properly and had started getting recurrent cases of aspiration pneumonia. Finally, she wasn't able to eat at all. DH's father made the decision to have a feeding tube inserted to enable her to continue to eat. "I can't just starve her," he said.

DH and I had looked into this back in 2005 when my own father was in a nursing home with dementia and was no longer able to swallow. All of the literature we read online and elsewhere said that inserting a feeding tube when someone has dementia and has lost the ability to swallow does nothing to prolong life and just results in numerous, constant complications.

Unfortunately, after 67 years of marriage, in the end, DH's dad couldn't let her go. He wanted just a few more months with her. So, the feeding tube was inserted after a few days of angst and tears on all sides. (Except for my mother-in-law, who, thankfully, had no idea of the drama circling around her). She hasn't been able to speak, other than occasional grunts or simple yes or no answers, for years, and at this point she was hardly even doing that, and was sleeping most of the time.

Next came a problem with our 13 or 14-year-old dog Diva. We adopted her 10 years ago, but were never really sure how old she was at that time. Given her arthritis and very grey muzzle, we are thinking she may have been as old as 4 when we adopted her, making her 14 now.

We started to notice changes in her behavior over the summer. She gradually stopped coming upstairs to sleep on our bed, preferring to stay downstairs on her own bed nearby her adoptive "sister," Angel.

Then in September we realized she was getting very deaf, and more and more sensitive to odd noises. She had developed a fear of thunder and fireworks a few years ago, but now she became afraid of acorns falling on the tin roof at our cabin in the Adirondacks, nail guns, hammering, and any other abrupt noises. She started shaking whenever one of these objectionable sounds occurred.

Then we went to Cape Cod for a week and she acted nervous in the car going up, panting and restless; then at the cottage, a new one for us that we hadn't stayed at before, she started acting nervous and pacing around every evening.

We had gotten a prescription for Xanax from the vet for her since we had started noticing this nervousness before we left, and that calmed her down but didn't cure the problem. She decided the bathroom was the only safe place to sleep, so we put her bed in there. Not very convenient when we got up in the middle of the night to use the facilities, but at least Diva was happy. We were afraid she was developing doggie dementia and that it was a sign of age and it would only get worse...

Then, the day after we got home, we finally realized what might be part of the problem - she had a urinary tract infection! She started asking to go out and urinate every half hour and we realized there was blood in her urine. We rushed over to our local emergency veterinarian clinic and had her checked out and the vet gave us antibiotics and painkillers for her. After only a day on the antibiotics and painkillers, her behavior became much more normal. After two weeks she seems back to her old self; but she still won't sleep on our bed.

We were up at the cabin this past week while she was still getting better, and we were still worrying about her, as well as DH's mom, who was back in the hospital with yet another bout of pneumonia. She had also developed a C. difficile intestinal infection from the antibiotics she was being given for the pneumonia, and was not doing well at all. Based on my experience with my own mother, this infection could very well be what swept her away.

One night while we were at the cabin, DH had a terrible nightmare. I woke to find him pawing my shoulder and making odd noises. I finally shook him awake and said, "What's wrong?" He said, "A rat. A huge rat."

The next day he remembered the dream: He had been dreaming there was this huge, snarling rat attacking Diva, and he was trying to beat it with some kind of a stick and get it away from her. He had been calling for our other dog Angel to come kill it but she was nowhere around in the dream. He said it was one of those dreams where you can't do anything -- you can't hit the rat, you can't move fast enough, nothing works.

I told him it must have been that he was fighting the Rat of Death and trying to keep it from Diva, and that Diva might be representative of his mother as well, since he was so worried about both of them.

The next day one of the doctors taking care of his mother in the hospital in New Jersey called to tell us that his mom had taken a turn for the worse and it was really time to let her go; he said it was unfair to keep having her go back to the hospital for treatment over and over, and make her suffer further (which of course we did agree with).

We left the cabin earlier than we'd planned and returned home, arriving late in the evening The next day we received a morning call from the doctor overseeing my mother-in-law's care to tell us she'd had to entubate her after she had stopped breathing earlier that morning, because DH's dad had not made a decision to put her on palliative care. She said Mom had been moved to intensive care.

We met at the hospital along with DH's dad, and told them we would like her taken off the respirator, expecting her to pass away an hour or so later.

As it turned out, after the respirator was removed, she stabilized and has been holding her own ever since. She is being given morphine and is no longer receiving any curative measures. But she continues to fight against the Rat of Death a little longer.

My father-in-law asks, "Why? Why am I going through all this at this stage of my life?" I can't give him an answer.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Cat's Eye View - Baxter has returned just in time for the election season!

Well, here I am again. I expect Many of you have wondered where I have Been; I suppose a Few have also wondered about the Disappearance of my Female Human over the past Year or so. Of course, not as many as would have missed Me. That Goes without Saying.

On My part, I have had a Bad Year, health-wise. In Fact, I may have used up one of my Nine Lives this past Year. It all started Last Fall when I started Losing Weight. That Female Human who sticks needles into Me and pokes at Me in that Office we go to (my Humans call her a Veterinarian, whatever that is) suspected I had something wrong with an Organ I apparently have called a Thyroid. She decided my Humans would have to shove some little White thing down my throat at Periodic Intervals in order to Fix the Problem.

Well, Needless to Say, I tried my Best to trick them out of being able to do this. If I see one of them coming, I Hide under the Bed until all risk of having that Thing shoved down my Throat is over. If it’s at Night, I just wait till they go to Bed and turn out the Light and then I can come out. Sometimes they try to Trick Me into eating it in my Food but I am Too Smart for them.

Nonetheless, I eventually had enough of these things (I believe they call them Pills) shoved down my Throat that the Veterinarian thought I should be gaining back the Weight I had lost. But I wasn’t. She got worried there was Something Else Wrong. After Several Months they finally decided I needed something called an Ultrasound. I was Dropped Off ignominiously at 8 a.m. one day at the Veterinarian’s Office and left in a CAGE (the horror!) until the Procedure was done. As it turned Out, I have some kind of Thickening in my Guts somewhere that could either be Cancer or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The Veterinarian and my Female Human agreed that at My Age it wasn’t worth doing a Biopsy to find out which it is; the Treatment would work on either, one more long-term than the Other. I think they called it Prednisilone.

So now – to my Horror – I have to have TWO of these Pill things shoved down my Throat twice a day. I had gotten Very Thin – down to 8-1/2 lbs. -- when I was once a Hearty 23 lbs.! My Humans said I looked like a walking Furry Cat Skeleton. Lo and Behold, after 6 weeks on these New Pills, I have gained back 4 lbs. and am looking much more like my Old Self! On top of That, I have enough Energy to jump up on the Bed again instead of using the Cat Steps my Humans had put there for my Use. How do you like my New Look?

Sure, I sometimes still Manage to avoid taking the Pills but I know underneath that they may be what is Doing Me Good. So I get enough of them to Do the Job. My Humans hope it is the IBD and not the Cancer. Seems to Me if it were the Latter, I wouldn’t be doing as Well as I am!

So, now that I am feeling Better, I thought it was About Time that I went back to Blogging, as one of my Fans suggested to my Female Human recently on Facebook.

And just in Time, too – the Presidential Election Season has Already Begun! Oh my, I can’t Believe the number of crazy Candidates there seem to be on the Republican Side! And the Leading Candidate so far is that Donald Trump person – what on Earth is going on when more Republicans think he would be a Good President than any of the others? I am only a Cat, but even I can see he has no Qualifications to be President.

Then there’s the Neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Being a Neurosurgeon doesn’t mean you’re smart. It means you are a Good Mechanic. You can cut open someone’s Brain and make a lot of delicate changes that require Steady Hands and a Knowledge of what Nerves are located Where. That is something you Memorize. But when it comes to Knowing Things outside of Medicine, or even Thinking Right in general, there is no need for that in that career.  And obviously, this one lacks both of those types of Knowledge. I mean, he doesn’t believe in Evolution, for One Thing. How can you be a doctor and not believe in Evolution? Even I know that we Cats weren’t always in this form. We are related to Big Cats like Sabre Toothed Tigers! I am proud of my Tiger heritage! It is obvious we Cats of all sizes have Common Ancestors. How can it not be Obvious to these Evolution-Deniers? He actually said that the basic Tenets of Evolution are "fairy tales" and compared the Similarities between various Species to different models of General Motors cars! 

Secondly, he obviously doesn't believe in the Constitution. To think that he would Say Outright that he would not "advocate" that a Muslim be "put in charge of this nation"! He later amended that to say “a Muslim who believes in Shariah Law.” Either one is Reprehensible given the Constitution says there should be “no religious test” to be President. But even if you go by his Amended Statement, what about Christians who are Fundamentalists and believe the nation should be governed by the Rules in the Christian Bible, which they believe unconditionally? Shouldn’t they also be Barred from the Presidency under his principle?

Then there’s Carly Fiorina, failed CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Another one with No Political Experience.  For what other Job would people with NO experience in the Job be the leading Candidates to get the Job? None, I daresay!

If they all Fail then Ted Cruz may have a chance to Win. I can’t even Go There…

The even halfway-reasonable Candidates like Kasich and Jeb Bush (I can’t Believe I am Saying that) haven’t Got a Chance! The Republican voters are Out of Control! It is Scary.

Of course, the Democrats have to have their own Drama too. Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the shoo-in for the Nomination – but of course, being a Clinton, there has to be a Scandal that comes out. Is it her Fault the Republicans jump all over her for everything they can dig up? Well, yes and no. She had a private email System at her home that she used for emails during her Tenure as Secretary of State. Maybe it wasn’t Technically Not Allowed at the Time she had it but it Didn’t Look Good. It seems as if the Clintons are not very good at avoiding things that Don’t Look Good. Sure, it may all depend on what the definition of “is” is, but in the End, if you are Smart, you don’t do things that Don’t Look Good at all, and then you don’t have these Problems.

So Bernie Sanders saw a Weakness and realized he might have a Chance! Bernie is probably the Least Likely to Succeed Candidate the Democrats could come up with in the current Climate of a Country constantly edging to the Right… he’s not even a Democrat, he describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist.” And you know how the Right loves to call anyone to the Left of Barry Goldwater a “Socialist” as a Pejorative Term. This guy actually calls HIMSELF a Socialist. That can’t go well.

That said, he embodies the Beliefs of a Whole Bunch of my Female Human’s Facebook friends, and, in all honesty, hers as well. She took one of those Tests where you answer Questions about various issues and then it tells you which Politician you most agree with. What did she get? Yep, 98% Bernie Sanders. And apparently a lot of other People agree with Bernie too. He is going up in the polls vs. Hillary, which will present a Quandary for Many practical Democrats. Do you vote for who you believe in, or who you believe will win in 2016?

My Humans have me up at that place they call The Cabin in the Mountains somewhere this Week and we can’t get CNN so I wasn’t able to watch the Democratic Debate the other Night. However, I hear Hillary acquitted herself Nicely and it went well for her.

It’s Too Soon to Tell how this will all Play Out, because we don’t know which Crazy Republican will be running in 2016! It all hinges on that.

So Stay Tuned. It should be an interesting Year! I hope my Health will Hold Out and I will be able to See What Happens! In the meantime, I can only Hiss at the craziness that is the United States election process…

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Curing Childhood With a Pill

I have had this post percolating in the back of my mind for over a month now, ever since reading an article in the New York Times about a newly-"discovered" mental disorder in children called Sluggish Cognitive Tempo or SCT. According to the article, "the condition is said to be characterized by lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing. By some researchers' estimates, it is present in perhaps two million children."

Over six million children in the United States, according to the article, have been given diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), usually treated with one of several drugs. Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta,all stimulants, are among the drugs used to treat kids with standard ADHD symptoms.

Eli Lilly makes Strattera, a non-stimulant type of drug used for ADHD. Lilly recently funded a study to learn whether Strattera can help symptoms of SCT as well. The conclusion was that Strattera did have significant effects on children with the condition, which may or may not be an official mental disability. It may just be a subtype of ADHD. It is not yet listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a separate condition even though symptoms have been recognized for several decades.

Then I saw yet another article in the Times, this one saying that 10,000 toddlers are being medicated for ADHD - these are children of 2 or 3 years old - many of them children who are on Medicaid. These medications haven't even been studied for safety or efficacy in children this young, and using them on toddlers is outside the standard of care for pediatricians. And yet, this experiment on our youngest citizens is taking place across the country. Young children, practically still babies, are being given powerful drugs with unknown consequences when their behavior patterns could be the result of poor nutrition, poor family life, lack of sleep, etc. Toddlers develop at different rates and this age group is in flux - some children are precocious; others may be a bit behind and find it harder to settle down. Shouldn't their physicians be looking deeper, or waiting longer to see what happens as the toddler matures, rather than prescribing a pill to "cure" him or her?

I am not denying there are children who do have real learning disabilities and that they have been helped tremendously by these medications. This new or renamed disorder may be another type of ADHD or a separate condition and there may really be kids who might benefit if properly diagnosed and medicated. In fact, I am usually a strong proponent for "better living through chemistry."

But - I do wonder whether it is true that this many children in our country truly have something wrong with them, or whether adults' expectations of children's behavior have changed in the last 30 years or so. Schools and teachers are being judged on how well they are functioning by how well the children they teach do on tests. Many children worry about things like getting into college at an age which my generation wasn't even thinking about it yet. They take expensive classes just to ensure a high SAT score; something no one did in my day. Heck, in New York City, parents compete  - and even cheat - to get their children into the "right" preschool.

When I look at the definition of SCT, I think of some other students in the past who may have had those symptoms - students like Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison, for instance, both of whom were considered problem students.
"He [Einstein] was a poor student, and some of his teachers thought he might be [ mentally handicapped]; he was unable to speak fluently at age nine. Still, he was fascinated by the laws of nature, experiencing a deep feeling of wonder when puzzling over the invisible, yet real, force directing the needle of a compass.... Einstein's formal secondary education ended at age sixteen. He disliked school, and just as he was planning to find a way to leave without hurting his chances for entering the university, his teacher expelled him because his bad attitude was affecting his classmates." (Source)
"Edison was a poor student. When a schoolmaster called Edison "addled," or slow. his furious mother took him out of the school and proceeded to teach him at home. Edison said many years later, "My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had someone to live for, someone I must not disappoint." At an early age, he showed a fascination for mechanical things and for chemical experiments." (Source)
And think about Mark Twain - who also left school early and was a dreamer who preferred going on escapades with his friends and aspired to become a riverboat pilot. Most of his learning thereafter was self-taught, and he eventually became the journalist, and finally the esteemed writer that we are so familiar with today.
"In his youth, Twain was a mischievous boy, the prototype of his character, Tom Sawyer. Though he was plagued by poor health in his early years, by age nine he had already learned to smoke, led a small band of pranksters, and had developed an aversion to school. Twain's formal schooling ended after age 12, because his father passed away in March of that year." (Source)
What about Winston Churchill, who also struggled to conform to formal education?

I wonder what would have happened if these notable men had received medication for their conditions when they were children? Would they have gone on to be the geniuses that they eventually became? Or would their creativity and inventiveness have been stifled and would they have just gone on to be cogs in the wheel of commerce instead? The truth is, none of them were suited for the rote learning in standard schools and excelled when able to learn in their own way and pace, and to learn about subjects that interested them.

How many of these children currently identified as suffering from ADHD (or SCT) would blossom if they were given the opportunity to learn in their own way rather than the way the school expects them to learn? Would they still need medication? Some of them, probably. But there might be a good number that turned out not to need medication, but instead have their needs better addressed.

I am not ordinarily a fan of charter schools, because diverting tax dollars to private enterprises just robs the public schools of much-needed funds. But there are innovative schools, whether charter, public or private, that are trying out new ways to teach children. They should be viewed as laboratories for learning what works best and for whom. If some of these innovative methods are successful, then they should be transferred to regular public schools as well so that all children can benefit.

Magnet Schools are public schools that focus on a specific discipline, such as math, science, history, performing arts, music, etc., and often use innovative teaching methods as well. While these schools do promote integration in some areas, the fact that they cannot accept every student who wants to attend them generally leads to less diversity in socioeconomic status than in public schools.

Charter schools, of course, are the latest idea for disrupting the status quo of the public schools. Those schools that do well for their students tend to use innovative teaching techniques such as project-based learning, portfolios instead of grades, thematic, multi-grade classrooms, and more.

AltSchool, based in San Francisco, is an example of a private school that is using innovative techniques to help children learn. Their website defines AltSchool as a network of microschools, which provide "personalized learning plans" for their students and address the needs of the whole child. At $19k annual tuition, it costs as much as many colleges; however, there is a tuition assistance fund.

Now, mind you, I am not a teacher, have no experience in the education field, and have no children. I am certainly not up on the latest and greatest when it comes to curricula, or the challenges teachers - and school administrators - face every day. There is no magic bullet and I invite all of you with more experience in this field than I have (and you are legion) to comment and add your perspective.

But it seems as if there has to be a better way to deal with children who have difficulties learning in the standard classroom other than medicating them into lock-step with everyone else so they can fit into a mold.

I'll leave you with Harry Chapin's classic song about the kid who didn't fit into the mold - Flowers Are Red.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Haiku Wednesday

Is such a lonely talent
At which I excel.

I should be cleaning
And laundry is a-waiting;
And yet here I sit.

Articles to write,
A resume to update;
And yet here I sit.

A trip to pack for,
Instructions to write for pets,
And yet here I sit.

The dogs should be walked,
The kitchen must be cleaned up,
And yet here I sit.

Blame it on Facebook,
And the videos of cats,
And so here I sit.