Monday Reads: Changing your Ways, Changing those Surrounding You

Paul Gauguin, Interieur avec Aline Gauguin, 1881

Good Day Sky Dancers!

I spent the weekend avoiding the news mostly.  I did go out to vote for the one thing on our ballot here in Orleans Parish which passed. It was to increase the millage on our property taxes to expand the early childhood education programs here in our schools.  It passed although the number of people voting was small and appeared to be those of us deeply committed to universal preschool.

I got into a discussion with the vote workers.  It ended with they are all our children and they deserve it.  It felt good to vote for the benefit of the village children.  We all raise them.

Then, one of the forgotten headlines brought the news to me. Remember the Opioid Crisis?  It’s still out there. I was spending the evening with my neighbor across the street and decided to check on the ballot returns at about 8 p.m.  I couldn’t do it because I’d accidentally left my phone at home. I crossed the neutral ground about the same time I heard a series of shots coming from the abandoned naval base and the main buildings.  I’m so immune to the sound of gunshots from there I really thought nothing of it.

I couldn’t locate my phone so I went back across the street to have my neighbor call me and then back across again. By that time, I heard a series of 10 shots, coming from back behind my house towards the canal where a large encampment sits at the far end of the old base’s parking lot.  They live in the old gym facilities. They nearly burnt it down a few months ago.  But, that’s another story.

Henri Matisse, Portrait de Marguerite Matisse (The Reader), 1906, Musée de Grenoble, France.

I had just gotten to the sidewalk by my gate when I saw this huge white guy with a white t-shirt and Bermuda shorts on running straight at me followed by his much shorter wife having come from the bar on the corner where the base entrance happens to be.  I asked him what was going on.  His reply was “oh, usual New Orleans shit, I’m just getting my ride and getting out”.  At that time a van showed up in front of my house and he beat your basic beeline into it while his wife waited for him to negotiate the process.  (Such gallantry!)   I shouted these were white mostly rural folks dumped over there from Mississippi and other places because they don’t want to deal with their opioid issues there. I honestly have never met one New Orleans person hanging out there.

By that time, the street was a swarm of police cars and the ladder truck from the fire station down the street where I had voted earlier today. I headed straight for the side door to grab Temple, chase cats to the back, and head for my bedroom.  My evening out was over. The next morning I heard exactly what was going on other than it was a shootout between a man and a woman and was the usual domestic violence scene these days with guns on both sides.  Except, it poured into the street.  To be precise, it poured into my street. 

I know some of the people who live there.  I know some of their parents too that show up to look for proof of life and take the newly born grandchildren from their addicted daughters to raise.  That’s a village over there of someone’s children.

I’ve taken to writing my posts later and later because the news is filled with items that show that we’re not a functioning democracy anymore with a firm social contract to others. It causes me great sorrow and dismay.  Today, was no different.  The headlines are brutal be they from my neighborhood, our country, or our world. Dementia Don showed up in Nebraska Saturday night and created his usual hatefest, liefest, and bizarre mix-up of words.  This, of course, reminded me of that time Ronald Reagan dumped the country’s mentally ill on the sidewalks of America and no one ever looked back.

These series of embarrassing rallies have got to say something about the way Republicans ignore the real problems that people in this country live with day-to-day.  What family would let their elderly father appear in public like this? What merciful group of friends would encourage it?

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Pierre Renoir in a Sailor Suit, 1890,

I continue to think the bullies in this country are getting away with murder while the compassionate among us are derided as snowflakes.  The Supreme Court issued an astounding unanimous vote on a flag display in Boston.  I understand the logic but one of these things is truly not like the others. From USA Today: “Supreme Court: Boston can’t deny Christian flag if it flies other flags on City Hall flagpole. “This case is so much more significant than a flag,” a representative for the Christian group said. “Boston openly discriminated against viewpoints it disfavored,” when it excluded a Christian flag.”

So my first question is WTF is a Christian flag?  I’ve never seen anything like that hanging in front of any church I attended or visited. The second is that I’ve basically come to avoid a lot of Christians these days seeing them mostly as grandstanding bullies and this comes off like that.

As I’ve said before, these folks are not your mother’s Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc. Church ladies who attend their church potluck in the basement over prayers and scripture. Nor are they the social justice arms of the “normal” churches that care about drug addicts, early childhood education, and the provision of appropriate senior care. I’ve got a small group of nuns in a convent around the corner who are likely horrified by the entire flag idea.  These are the ones that provide the local free clinic and the senior living center down the street.  This is the kind of good trouble Christians of my youth used to take on.  We visited rest homes, fed hungry people, and fixed up homes. We never flew flags.  Just did good. But, anyway, here we are.  This is from USA Today.

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Boston may not deny a Christian group the ability to raise a flag at City Hall alongside secular organizations that are encouraged to do so to celebrate the city’s diversity.

The unanimous decision was the latest in a series of rulings from the high court favoring the protection of religious groups, though in this case the issue was more about the First Amendment’s protection of free speech than its promise that Americans may practice their religion without government interference.

“We conclude that Boston’s flag-raising program does not express government speech,” Associate Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court. “As a result, the city’s refusal to let (the group) fly their flag based on its religious viewpoint violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

A mix of conservative and liberal justices joined the court’s opinion, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. There were no dissents.

That vote appeared to reflect the fact that the religious group had support that transcended traditional ideological and partisan lines. The Biden administration, for instance, sided with the group and against Boston in the case.

Vincent van Gogh, Mother Roulin with Her Baby (1888).

Well, I’m sure that’s going to attract all kinds of flags that we never imagined showing up there in Bean Town. I foretell the entire display coming down shortly before the Grand Wizard and other groups have a go at it.   I’m not sure free speech is supposed to be a free-for-all of toxic one-upmanship.

This is not the proper interpretation of free speech or exercise of it either: (via Axios and Mike Allen) “Scoop: Esper says Trump wanted to shoot protesters.”

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper charges in a memoir out May 10 that former President Trump said when demonstrators were filling the streets around the White House following the death of George Floyd: “Can’t you just shoot them?Just shoot them in the legs or something?”

Why it matters: The book, “A Sacred Oath,” contains vivid, first-person revelations by a top Cabinet member, bolstering outsiders’ accounts of extreme dysfunction in Trump’s White House.

That moment in the first week of June, 2020, “was surreal, sitting in front of the Resolute desk, inside the Oval Office, with this idea weighing heavily in the air, and the president red faced and complaining loudly about the protests under way in Washington, D.C.,” Esper writes.

  • “The good news — this wasn’t a difficult decision,” Esper continues. “The bad news — I had to figure out a way to walk Trump back without creating the mess I was trying to avoid.”

Behind the curtain: The book was vetted at the highest levels of the Pentagon. I’m told that as part of the clearance process, the book was reviewed in whole or in part by nearly three dozen 4-star generals, senior civilians, and some Cabinet members.

  • Some of them had witnessed what Esper witnessed.
  • During the book’s security review, Esper sued the Pentagon over a classification dispute.

Context: Esper enraged Trump by publicly stating in June 2020 that he opposed invoking the Insurrection Act — an 1807 law that permits the president to use active-duty troops on U.S. soil — in order to quell protests against racial injustice.

  • Michael Bender — then with The Wall Street Journal, now with the N.Y. Times — reported last year in his book, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election,” that Trump repeatedly called for law enforcement to shoot protesters during heated meetings inside the Oval Office.

Breakfast in Bed’ Mary Cassatt, 1897

So, the most cogent take on all of this I feel is out there in The Atlantic with this piece by Derek Thompson: “This Is How America’s Culture War Death Spirals. Why Disney vs. DeSantis is the future of politics.”  Declaring an end to the Republican-led culture war might make us more of a compassionate, caring, and functional democracy.

If you’re a conservative wondering where all this Millennial corporate activism is coming from, try to see things from the liberal perspective. Trump is a wannabe authoritarian who desperately tried to overturn a democratic election. He failed, but his clownish followers still stormed the seat of government, apparently thinking they could accomplish by force what the president couldn’t accomplish by law. State-level Republicans are purging bureaucrats who refused to go along with Trump’s attempted cancellation of the election. Meanwhile, Republicans have moved ever further to the right on LGBTQ issues; they are empowering citizens to enforce severe anti-abortion laws in Texas and many other states; and the Supreme Court’s conservative majority may soon overturn Roe v. Wade.

If Republicans have reasons to feel paranoid about liberal companies stomping on their values, Democrats certainly have reasons to feel paranoid about conservative lawmakers flirting with authoritarianism as revenge. Looking around at their political leadership, Democrats are bereft. The president is feckless, the Senate is pathetic, the House of Representatives is powerless, and the courts are strewn with Republican appointees. What lever of power is left? The cultural lever. This is the context in which LGBTQ Disney employees find it necessary to urge their executive team to act as their proxy army in Florida politics.

To review, today’s culture-war death spiral is being accelerated by reactive polarization on both sides. Republicans, freaked out by what they see as cultural disempowerment, are yanking politics right; Democrats, freaked out by what they see as political disempowerment, are pulling institutions left.

The Three Ages of Woman,1905, Gustav Klimt,

And ah yes, ladies, they are coming for our birth control, our uterus, and our basic right to our moral agency with aplomb. This is from the Washington Post and Caroline Kitchener: “The next frontier for the antiabortion movement: A nationwide ban. Advocates and some GOP lawmakers have started mobilizing around potential federal legislation to outlaw abortion after six weeks of pregnancy”. These folks are on the edge of the fight against democracy. They are theocratic fascists.

Leading antiabortion groups and their allies in Congress have been meeting behind the scenes to plan a national strategy that would kick in if the Supreme Court rolls back abortion rights this summer, including a push for a strict nationwide ban on the procedure if Republicans retake power in Washington.

The effort, activists say, is designed to bring a fight that has been playing out largely in the courts and state legislatures to the national political stage — rallying conservatives around the issue in the midterms and pressuring potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates to take a stand.

The discussions reflect what activists describe as an emerging consensus in some corners of the antiabortion movement to push for hard-line measures that will truly end a practice they see as murder while rejecting any proposals seen as half-measures.

Activists say their confidence stems from progress on two fronts: At the Supreme Court, a conservative majority appears ready to weaken or overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that has protected abortion rights for nearly 50 years. And activists argue that in Texas, Republicans have paid no apparent political price for banning abortion after cardiac activity is detected, around six weeks of pregnancy.

While a number of states have recently approved laws to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy — the limit established in the Mississippi legislation at the heart of the case pending before the high court — some activists and Republican lawmakers now say those laws are not ambitious enough for the next phase of the antiabortion movement. Instead, they now see the six-week limit — which they call “heartbeat” legislation — as the preferred strategy because it would prevent far more abortions.

And no matter what lies they spin, that ain’t a heart.  It’s a cluster of vibrating cells.  The good news is that Women’s Groups are not asleep on reproductive rights issues.

BTW, Covid-19 isn’t done with us.  New York Numbers are escalating into the yellow zone and there are still new variants on the horizon?  Will that be the next public health issue thrown on the heap of let’s ignore the opioid crisis, let’s toss grandma out of her facility, and let’s just let women die of childbirth while we discuss pet religious and economic fetishes like tax cuts to rich people and corporations based on something other than science and reality?

Field Workers, Ellis Wilson, circa 1958-41

Oh, and back to my original concern.  States are now determining what they will do with the Opioid settlement today.  It’s time to make sure the people with the issue get the help they need.

The Sackler family and Perdue Pharma are being forced to confront their victims. (Via NPR) 

For the first time during the long legal reckoning over the opioid crisis, members of the Sackler family who own Purdue Pharma heard directly from people who say their company’s main product, Oxycontin, wrecked their lives.

David Sackler, Richard Sackler and Theresa Sackler listened and watched during the roughly two-hour long hearing as people described surviving addiction and spoke of losing loved ones to the epidemic.

The Sacklers spoke briefly to confirm their presence, but did not respond to the testimony.

“You created so much loss for so many people,” said Kay Scarpone, whose son Joe Scarpone, a retired Marine, died of an opioid overdose.

“I’m not sure how you live every day. I hope you ask for God’s forgiveness for your actions. May God have mercy on your souls,” Scarpone said.

Many of the people who testified held up photographs of dead loved ones.

“As a physician and a mother, I have been consumed with grief,” said Dr. Kimberly Blake, whose son Sean died of an opioid overdose.

“In 2020, I was hospitalized with depression because I couldn’t face another Mother’s Day without him,” she said.

Here’s an update of what’s happening from  BioSpace located in Seattle. 

Arguments regarding the Purdue Pharma opioid settlement continue to be heard in court. On Friday, attorneys representing the Connecticut-based company and the Sackler family squared off against the Department of Justice over the question of whether or not legal wording can protect the family from future lawsuits.

On Friday, Bloomberg reported the Department of Justice is wrangling over a cornerstone provision of the settlement agreement that will provide a level of protection for the Sacklers against future opioid-related lawsuits. The settlement agreement locks the Sackler family into paying approximately $6 billion into the nationwide fund that will be used to manage the opioid settlement.

While the deal has been widely supported by state attorney generals, a division within the Department of Justice is questioning if the U.S. Bankruptcy Court has the power to craft an agreement that provides protection against future legal action, such as the one granted to the Sacklers.

The legal question will play out in court and, if the DOJ is correct, could dismantle the opioid settlement and clog up the courts with additional opioid-related lawsuits, according to Bloomberg.

The latest settlement agreement includes a provision that the Sackler family gives up all ownership of Purdue Pharma. It will allow the company to move forward with its reorganization plan and rebrand to Knoa Pharma. A majority of the new company’s profits will be used to lessen the ongoing crisis.

Purdue isn’t the only company to see legal action. Texas-based Natera is the subject of a securities-related class-action lawsuit that alleges the company withheld information regarding the reliability of its prenatal test, Panorama, and screening test for kidney transplant failure, Prospera.

There are updates on many states via Google as well as this site.  I can speak from experience that ensuring these addicts have some form of treatment or care is important.  Most of our major cities have issues that are worse than mine here in New Orleans.

I still try to work and vote local. If we all improve our neighborhoods and care about our neighbors, we build a better world. Most of us don’t need to let our religious flags fly. What we need to do is let our personal values and beliefs take flight with action.  Love one another. Take compassionate action. Be kind to yourself and others.  These are my daily mantras in these difficult days.

Have a good week Sky Dancers!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Shaking the Tree

by Peter Gabriel

Souma Yergon, Sou Nou Yergon
We are shakin’ the tree
Souma Yergon, Sou Nou Yergon
We are shakin’ the tree
Waiting your time, dreaming of a better life
Waiting your time, you’re more than just a wife
You don’t have to do what your mother has done
She has done, this is your life, this new life has begun
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
Souma Yergon, Sou Nou Yergon
We are shakin’ the tree
Souma Yergon, Sou Nou Yergon
We are shakin’ the tree
Turning the tide, you are on the incoming wave
Turning the tide, you know you are nobody’s slave
Find your sisters or brothers who can hear all the truth in what you say
They can support you when you’re on your way
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
Souma Yergon, Sou Nou Yergon
We are shakin’ the tree
Souma Yergon, Sou Nou Yergon
We are shakin’ the tree
Changing your ways, changing those surrounding you
Changing your ways, more than any man can do
Open your heart, show him the anger and pain, so you heal
Maybe he’s looking for his womanly side, let him feel
You had to be so strong
And you do nothing wrong, nothing wrong at all
We’re gonna break it down
We’re gonna shake it down, shake it all around
No no no no no no
No no no no no no
No no no no no no
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
It’s your day, a woman’s day
You had to be so strong
You do nothing wrong, nothing wrong at all
We’re gonna break it down
We’re gonna shake it down, shake it all around