Archive for June, 2012


While various faith based organizations, political conservatives and deficit hawks bemoan the Supreme Court’s ACA decision, I look around and wonder what they cannot apparently see. From my perspective, the current healthcare system creates a division that encourages instability, weakness, and vulnerability. In short, if you’re poor, uneducated or have no insurance, your pretty much classified in the ‘screwed’ section.

For instance, on a Sunny day in October for 2011, over 3,000 people in Los Angeles waited in line for a little known and little reported event: a chance to get free medical care in a massive temporary clinic. In March of 2012, hundreds of uninsured and underinsured waited near the Oakland Coliseum while Hundreds gathered on June 23rd at the “Care 4 the IE” free healthcare fair at the National Orange Show Events Center. Similar events occur across the nation.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, quality medical care for low income and rural communities is hard to locate. As technology pushes mainstream urban hospitals toward the future, consistent medical care in rural America leaves a lot to be desired.  Recent studies estimate approximately 50 million Americans living in rural America has little access to consistent primary care.

Regardless of one’s viewpoint, there are positive benefits of the ACA healthcare reform. Just to name a few:

  • Insurance coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and the creation of a national high-risk health insurance pool to offer coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions.
  • New resources will help provide health care professionals with tools needed to improve health care quality, reduce errors, and decrease costs.
  • Rural communities will receive investments in telehealth technologies that will enable rural areas to access the care of physicians outside of their local community, increasing the range of services that are accessible.
  • The ACA supports the training, education and placement of thousands of new primary care providers for small towns.
  • Makes it easier for rural doctors to serve their communities, it increases Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates and expands the capacity of Community Health Centers.

Resources are finite and our society does provide healthcare to those who haven’t cared for themselves.  Being a Buddhist, even I struggle with ethical choices made at the community level. Our own personal actions cause tremendous strain of available resources. We eat too much, do not exercise properly, miss various medical checkups and do not accept personal responsibility for the lives’ under our direct care. Basically, as individuals (including myself), our personal healthcare compass sucks.

Thus, the hard question is, should we refuse treatment? Should we deny healthcare to a rich man who can afford healthcare services but abused his body versus a poor man whose health suffers simply because he couldn’t eat? If we deny such patients, can we claim to serve the whole? In other words, is healthcare a ‘right?’ And if so, is there a greater perceived right in a metropolitan area versus a rural area?

Regardless of our own personal choices, I know the existing healthcare system determines who gets what. And as I travel the highways and backroads of rural America, one thing is clear: poverty is the great arbiter that hinders one’s access to quality health care. Thus, the poorer one is, the greater the barrier to quality medical care. If you’re rich, you’re in. If you’re poor, you’re allocated a lifetime of bare-bones, basic at best.

Like a teen going through puberty, the ACA has many pimples. Yes, the ACA has an individual mandate. Yes, there is a ‘tax’ for those who choose not participate. Yes, health plans may have to cover levonorgestrel and potentially other contraceptives. But simply repealing the ACA is not an answer and would force many rural Americans to skip preventative care; thus increasing both health problems and costs in the long run.

From my own Buddhist viewpoint, the ethical principle of social justice is important. All of us have a moral obligation to ensure fiscal stinginess on our part does not result in the unnecessary loss of human life. As a Buddhist, we have a moral obligation to ensure income level is not a sole barrier to access of quality health care.

The famous quote “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made” definitely applies. Rather than entrenching political positions, can’t we use this time to mold, craft and mature the law into something everyone can live with?  If we repeal progress, we must be prepared to answer the questions of what we would do different … today!

Business Ethics

Buddhism has always accepted the truth that happiness is an essential part of ethics, but then again, the world has changed significantly since the time Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha walked the earth. Buddhism believes that the mind leads all kinds of actions. And to be honest, after working in the business world for over 30 years, the following five precepts seem at times … ah … a little lacking:

  1. Do not kill
  2. Do not steal
  3. Do not indulge in sexual misconduct
  4. Do not make false speech
  5. Do not take intoxicants

For instance, precept 3 states not indulge in sexual misconduct.  Yet I have seen numerous cases where business leaders have conducted sexual discrimination on a day-in-day-out basis.  Still, when I compare these against the Buddhist precepts, discrimination or harrassment, specifically in and of themselves do not have a true fit. Pardon an old pun, “… like putting a round peg into a square hole.” The peg can fit, but it won’t be pretty.

An old Buddhist teacher practiced the belief that one must produce one’s own benefit first, because if everyone could bring about his or her own benefit, the result would also benefit others and society as a whole. But to contrast that, I relive the following story:

Many years ago, in a business room of company executives I attended, a Chief Executive Officer told the Vice President of Human Resources, “If our company hires someone from a poorer neighborhood, we should pay them less. Since they reside in a poor area, the cost of the employee’s standard of living isn’t as high.”

In my first person account listed above, the first precept doesn’t quite fit since its ethical core is based upon not physically harming someone. Yet, in truth, discrimination does harm, if not physically. Pay inequality of this nature tends to be rather illegal (if proved) and in some cases, while not illegal, highly unethical. In business, I am constantly fighting the ‘not illegal, but highly unethical.’ I absolutely detest these practices, but I cannot simply ignore their existence either.

Since I cannot put my head into the sand and forget the world, I recognize human beings must inevitably be involved in material things, because their lives are naturally dependent on them. We must have material things like food, clothing, dwelling places and medicine in order to live. Since human beings have to be involved in material things, they inevitably have to be involved in one economic system or another.

Thus, for me, the best essence of the concept of producing benefit according to Buddhism lies in that benefit leading to happiness both for oneself and for others benefit is received not only by oneself and not only by others. Thus the Buddhist idea of creating benefit refers to a harmonizing of the interests of the individual and society.

I believe that we, as leaders, must look after the people dependent on us, such as employees and their families, participate in social services that run our society and help support the dissemination of a better life for all.

Unfortunately, we can’t expect it to be easy.

Precept 3: Saving Face

I have always had problems with Buddhist Precept #3: avoid sexual misconduct. So what does that mean … exactly?  The problem I have is that this precept was created a few centuries ago.  From my point of view, the Buddha could not have imagined the number and forms of sexual visual images available today: MPS movies, pictures, online reading material, books, magazines, cell phones and various other items. Is it possible t still retain the same intent so many years ago?

For instance, the movie ‘Mystic River,’ implies sex of young children while the very graphic ‘Gia’ focused on the horrors of AIDS. Monster, Based on the life of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who became a serial killer while Saving Face is a wonderful love story that addresses the pros and cons of Chinese-American family life and specifically how Wil (Michelle Krusiec) navigates her world as a lesbian.

On the other hand, the $10 – $14 billion dollar porn industry is simply making a profit versus saying much, if anything of value. One cannot tell Hustler, Playboy, Playgirl, and others really promote anything of value, although Playboy has said to have some well written, no sexual, content and hard hitting journalism.  But the image remains the same.

In the end, precept 3 has been problematic for me. I guess in my world, for good or bad, I had to simply limit the precept accordingly:

We can either treat other people and other elements of our environment as objects of our calculation, exploitation and consumption, or we can see other people as we see ourselves.

While I am heterosexual, I want to be just like the characters in the movie ‘Saving Face’ and continually move toward seeing people as I want them to see me … regardless of how darn difficult it is.

Three quotes instantly came to mind while listeening to a psychologist friend tell me how God lead people to her for healing: “All politics are local;” “It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose your own,” and the most infamous, “God will not give you more than you can handle.”

What a crock of shit, especially the last line.

Paul’s writing in Corinthians was meant to console, but try ripping those words to someone in pain and you may be in for a bad day. For instance how any of the following handle such words:

  • Any of the 8.8 million jobs lost during the downturn;
  • Homeowners of Live Oak, Florida who lost their homes during the latest tropical storm flooding;
  • 32,000 homeowners evacuated from Colorado Springs due to the monster fire;
  • A cancer patient;
  • Someone suffering from divorce.

But wait a minute, that’s not really what the Bible says. It says you won’t be tempted beyond what you can bear. When Paul writes that God will not tempt us beyond our ability, he means that we are never in a situation where we have no other choice but to sin.

So, regarding handling situations more than you can bear. Basically, all I can really say is “stuff happens.” I can’t explain it. I myself can remember being in an accident and not being able to walk for a year and I currently live with Multiple Sclerosis each and every day. But like everyone else, I get up every day and continue forward. Ultimately, when we are at our lowest, God becomes His greatest.

A coworker recently asked me how I deal with the pain of MS so well. “Well,” I explained, “I simply reflect upon the moment, and remember that I am not having a bad day. My body is, but I am not.”

Of course I have ups and downs, moments of pain intermixed with relief. I forgive myself and continue on. There’s something magically healing about spending time with others who’ve had or are having painful experiences similar to your own. Often by holding someone else’s hand, by becoming their support, you’ll find your own pain lessens just a little bit.

When you shine a light to guide others on a dark road, your own way is also lit. The very nature of guiding is both very Christian and very Buddhist.

For the record, I liked Emily Ellyn. But if there’s one overriding lesson in last night’s episode of Next Food Network Star, it’s this: don’t have an identity crisis.

The Star Challenge was for the contestants to ‘meet the press’ by serving selected media representatives from Entertainment Weekly, Entertainment Tonight, and Serious Eats. Each judge was served, along with a 90-second electronic press kit explaining the prepared dish and something about themselves.

From my perspective, Martita was the worst performer, as she dropped 30 seconds of television time with utter silence. Paraphrasing the guest judge “…if I left thirty seconds of silent air time, I would be fired.” Neither Bob Tuschman nor Susie Fogelson fired Martita. Then again, Dan Rather left his job for 7 minutes and he wasn’t fired either. Sorry, I digress.

By singling out Emily Ellyn, judges felt disappointed she didn’t talk more about her “Retro Rad” perspective and further questioning by Alton Brown brought forth her beauty, but alas it remained mostly hidden. That’s the Emily we all should have seen. Unfortunately, she did not complete the assignment and was ‘Trumped’ (as I call it), i.e., sent home.

And it is for this reason we can learn much from Ms. Ellyn’s time on Next Food Network Star. In truth, it’s about living life: you have to be real. And to truly live and connect, one must be willing to be vulnerable.

In Matthew 19:23, Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  I am not stating Ms. Ellyn was a smug rich. No! I am not a Bible expert, but I think what Christ was telling the rich man was to drop all the illusion, be real, become vulnerable. Whether you want to be connected to Christ, Buddha or your true calling in life, you must be willing to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to dig deeper into the well and have strength to draw up true inner water.

From a Buddhist perspective, you have to throw away the illusion. Throw away all illusions by focusing on the problem. If we become aware of illusions they will disappear. If we focus our ‘whole’ mind, day and night, without any dualistic consciousness, then naturally, the inward and outer worlds, subject and object, commentator and audience, artist and painter, joy and peace become one.

Why do I consider myself such an authority? Well, I myself have led everyone in my life to think something I was not and no matter what I do I’ve got no way to change their mind. Even after many years as a Buddhist, one cannot rewrite history. As Christ would say, “It is written … “ Just like a bad Twitter or Facebook post, once it’s out there, it’s out there … forever.

I love Emily. But most importantly, at the end of the episode, I believe Ms. Ellyn learned deeply about why she favored that ‘Retro Rad’ look. And I know she will succeed in whatever and wherever she goes. For viewers, if Emily’s lessons are really learned, she will inspire thousands. To that I say, “Well done – good and faithful servant.”

Rene Lynch of the Los Angeles Times was right: Emily, take us with you!

So I just finished watching Falling Skies: Compass. Quite an episode.

After watching the first second and the second season’s first three episodes, I am truly amazed at the grappling of ethics.  Having been a former military member myself, I often think ‘strategy’ much the same as the character Tom Mason. I am believer of thinking things through, looking at various angles and prepare for potential problems (business leaders call it Potential Problem Analysis).

As a Buddhist, I like the character Captain Dan Weaver. If there is anyone who is the most Buddhist, Cap’n Weaver be it. So far, the Cap’n in season two reminds me of the old Shaolin monks, who teach from ever being the aggressor, and instructs him to use only the minimum necessary defensive force. By becoming skilled and have a better understanding of violence, they are able to use sophisticated techniques to avoid harm – but always using only the amount of force needed to refuse the violence that is being offered to them. Now that may be because the have only 17o or so fighters left, but none-the-less, an interesting viewpoint.

As far as the episode ‘Compass,’ one would figure that when Churchill arrives in a plane, that someone would pickup a shortwave radio to see if they could hear anything.  Secondly, all the characters wear the same outfits episode to episodes. So how do they wash their clothes. Lastly, is there a toilet paper truck? I mean the second mass has a food truck, medical truck, ammunition and various others. But Lord above, I would be searching for some toilet paper. 🙂

Peace

From face value, the trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and Monsignor William Lynn appear unrelated.  Yet each is similarly connected by the willful inability to rise up and take an ethical stand against the vile the corruption surrounding them.

As you may know, Jerry Sandusky will likely spend the rest of his life in jail after a jury convicted him on 45 of 48 counts related to sexual abuse of boys, ending a painful chapter for victims and the entire university.  Monsignor Lynn could face up to seven years in prison for his conviction on a third-degree felony.

In the wake of insurmountable evidence, Jeffrey Lindy, the attorney for Monsignor Lynn derided the decision not to let his client remain free on bond prior to sentencing, calling it “an unspeakable miscarriage of justice (for) a 61-year-old man with no prior record and long established ties to the community.”  Hmmmmm … “an unspeakable miscarriage of justice?” Seriously?

The unspeakable miscarriage of justice of all these cases is ‘silence.’ It’s the unmistakable inability to do nothing in the wake of grave criminal actions.

Think such abuse is limited to the Catholics? Nope! In 2007, the Associated Press reported three insurance companies receive upward of 260 reports each year of children under 18 being sexually abused by Protestant clergy. A Chicago Tribune review of sexual abuse cases involving several Theravada Buddhist temples found minimal accountability and lax oversight of monks’ accused of preying on vulnerable targets.  Four New York Orthodox Jewish men have been indicted for attempting to impede the prosecution of sexual conduct against a child in the first degree.

Every year 3.3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States involving 6 million children; that’s because reports can include multiple children. The United States has the worst record in the industrialized nation – losing five children every day due to abuse-related deaths. For Sandusky and Monsignor Lynn, it’s hard to know exactly how many victims were abused simply as a result of inaction. If Wikipedia citations are correct, there are over 25 countries where the Catholic clergy has committed sexual abuses.  For Sandusky, no will ever know the totality of his crime.

The most important element of all these tragedies, the questions that should receive the most attention but won’t, is why predators are allowed to prey by the very people who have the power to stop them. Why did so many well-meaning leaders do nothing?

Ironically, the Catholic Church actually has a Respect Life Office in many cities across the country. The New York ‘Respect Life Office,’ states:

The efforts of the Family Life/Respect Life Office are born of the belief that every human person is created out of love by God, made in His image and likeness, and is destined to live forever. Out of this awareness of the profound reverence due to every person and a great desire to draw each one closer to Christ, we provide programs to prepare couples for marriage, to support the family, and to build a culture of life. 

While I concur with their statement, much of the activities appears devoted to pre-abortion/post abortion activities.  And I honor their mission. But in light of today’s decisions, maybe all of us must reevaluate our own personal mission statement and consider that ‘respect of life’ actually seeps further than pre and post birth activities. At the core, what’s the point of saving a child only to murder them psychically via a sexual predator or abuse? What have we personally done to help end this cycle of hidden violence?

From a Buddhist perspective, the third precept includes sexuality. A Buddhist should be mindful of the possible effects on themselves and on others of improper sexual activity. In cases of rape and child abuse, one steals the dignity and self-respect of another. The perpetrator also causes both mental pain and physical pain. Thus, one causes harm to another. Therefore, such behavior breaks several precepts.

We all have a responsibility to stop the insanity.

At 18, I left the comfort of my home and headed to west. I did not realize that by joining the military the westward gales would deposit me in Asia. Once there, I drifted hard looking for the relationships and comfort reminding me of home: a few good friends, hearty laughter with the few critical conversations that dominated the late 70’s and early 80’s.

While I looked hard, my attempts yielded little reward. The Officer’s Club, Airman’s Club, local Bible studies at the Presbyterian Church, sporadic luau’s brought me no closer to elusive dreams. Why? Why couldn’t I find the peace and love so often heard in the stories of old?  Why couldn’t I find my own Snow White, be the Spock to my own Captain Kirk or the Andy and Red (The Shawshank Redemption) in later years?

In truth, what tended to come my way was filled by the “near enemy” of love, i.e., conditional love. I was simply too young to understand the depth and maturity required for such deep friendships.  The agape form of love Christ discussed is unconditional and requires both courage and acceptance. I was never prepared, either by my school or parents, for this level of commitment. Thus, the ‘love’ of my world view comprised of old television shows, various long-forgotten motivational speakers of the 90’s and overly rosy picturesque themes painted by guest artists upon my canvas. Never once did I stop to question the drawings presented. Instead, everything was absorbed like a sponge, but never once rinsed.

The important Buddhist teacher and philosopher Nagarjuna said,

“If there is love, there is hope that one may have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. If the love within your mind is lost and you see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education or material comfort you have, only suffering and confusion will ensue.”

Sitting upon the shore, I look unto the sunset and acknowledge my waning years. Into to sun’s last hue, I revisit all the opportunities of agape love God granted me. “Oh Lord,” sighing, “where did they all go?”

Another minute passes, “No need to answer Lord. I know.” Each was lost to time, to myself, to frugal dreams.

And now, there … in the dance between twilight and night, I see her once again. Standing in the prime of life. She should have been my family, my wife and lover.  But more than that, she remains beautiful. And for a moment, I want in.

But by living only in yourself, God allocates you only ‘moments.’  And these moments are not, as Nagarjuna would say, real.

I am haunted by what could have been real.

Skilled Workers Hard to Find

Courtesy of Marketplace. I added this piece, not becuase it’s Buddhist, Christian or otherwise, but more so because it higlights our inability to educate workers. And lack of training, is our country’s greatest economic risk.

______________________

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development— issued a report that said more than half of American companies are having trouble finding enough skilled workers to hire. That’s with 8.2 percent unemployment. We’re doing worse than Germany, China, England and Canada.

And get this: the skills gap — as it’s known — has actually grown in the past five years, in spite of more people looking for work and ever-more Americans walking around with college degrees and trade school certificates.

What gives? Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman reports.

http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/skilled-factory-workers-hard-find

Support NPR

42,000 Saved! 20.9 Million To Go

The U.S. State Department’s recent report on Human Trafficking is sobering: only 42,000 children and adults were rescued, leaving 20.9 million in forced labor. Of that 20.9 million, 4.5 million remain sexually exploited.

As reported, the offense of trafficking involves recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated, “… despite the adoption of treaties and laws prohibiting slavery, the evidence nevertheless shows that many men, women, and children continue to live in modern-day slavery through the scourge of trafficking …”

Think trafficking is uncommon in the U.S.? Think again. Akron, Ohio Police recently arrested a mother for prostituting her daughter. According to the report, the woman allegedly drove her daughter to different apartment complexes in their neighborhood and forced her to engage in sexual activities with men in exchange for money and drugs.  The activity went on for at least a year or more, mostly in 2007.  In October of 2011, San Antonio police arrested 44 year-old Sally Garcia for prostituting her daughter. Lastly, Upland, NE officers cracked a child prostitution case in which an Upland mother is suspected of forcing her 14- and 7-year-old daughters to have sex with seven men.

Slavery is also alive and well. For example, the International Labor Organization note that in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), most of the slaves are boys ages 12 to 16 who are trafficked from their homes to work on large cocoa plantations. Many of these boys come from the poorest of families, who are forced to beg for food. The slave traders offer jobs, which they accept, but then are forced to work long hours under extremely inhumane conditions for low pay. Most are barely better off than they were before. There are about 600,000 cocoa plantations in Cote d’Ivoire, with about 15,000 slaves in total.

Across the world, many child workers have no opportunity for a decent education. Many of their parents suffer from illiteracy and do not understand the importance of education. Moreover, the high cost of education is another obstacle for these children. With the government shying away from the education sector to be replaced by the private sector many children have to work to pay for their school. But many schools serving the poor are of such abysmal quality that many children drop out of school in frustration.

The eight-fold path of Buddhist beliefs explicitly teaches against the trade in living beings. According to Buddha’s “Discourse to Sigala” in the Sigalovada Sutta, an employer should care for workers by assigning work according to ability, paying just wages, providing health care, providing perks and granting leave time. While the Buddha did not directly address slavery, it is impossible to imagine slavery surviving in any area where these teachings are truly followed.

We must remember that all of us are interdependent. I encourage everyone to consider their personal responsibility to larger systems such as the global economy, as well as in smaller systems such as one’s attitudes toward others. This holistic perspective prompts Buddhists to ask if they benefit from slavery and slave-tainted products, even if they aren’t personally or directly involved in trafficking and slavery.

According to the Dalai Lama, “Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individual and nations are free.”

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