Bono For President

Bono For President

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Blue movement

I really like this idea of the "Blue" movement. It is a step up from the Green movement which only takes into account the environment. Blue adds people and animals - social justice plus personal health plus animal rights plus envirnomental responsibility. A guy named Adam Werbach is calling for this movement. Here, below is a snippet from a speech he made recently. (The link to the full text is above.)

In all of those places, I've seen people seeking something broader than a green or environmentalist solution to the myriad problems they face in their lives. Yes, they believe climate change is happening, but they also want to feel good about the way they look in the mirror and the way their kids look at them at the dinner table. They want to be part of something larger than themselves without having to sacrifice their identity. They want joy, not guilt, and a little money in their pocket so that they don't have to trade down on yet one more thing in their life.

Half the world's tropical and temperate forests are gone.
90 percent of the large predator fish are gone[3].
75 percent of marine fisheries are overfished or fished to capacity[4].
Species are disappearing at rate about a thousand times faster than normal[5].
A recently study found that there are 287 chemicals in the cord blood from babies in the U.S.[6].
America now has 2 million people in prison and about 960,000 farmers[7].
An estimated 35 percent of cancer deaths are directly attributable to diet[8].
CDC estimates that 50 percent of today's health care costs are attributable to health risks that can be modified by lifestyle behaviors[9].
The U.N. says 826 million people are hungry; however, a much larger number, roughly 1.6 billion, are overnourished and overweight[10].
Consider that fact for a moment. Twice as many people on the planet are dealing with the problems of too much food as are dealing with the problems of too little.

We can't diminish the need to make sure that everyone has enough to eat, but today's world requires that we have a solution for people who have too much as well.

Action Items from the speech:

Start by setting your own PSP (Personal sustainability plan) if you don't have one already. The process of personal improvement is never-ending, and if you already have a practice, recommit to it or begin another. Once you have your PSP, share it with a friend. The possibilities for PSPs are endless.

Start placing plants next to light switches, since people conserve more when they see nature. If you travel a lot, get your company to declare a no-fly week once a year. Start buying concentrated detergent and washing your laundry in cold water. Eat one less meat meal a week. Write a thank you letter to someone you haven't spoken to in a while. Each individual personal sustainability practice does matter.

President Bush just sent out a $150 billion stimulus package to boost the American economy. How are you going to spend your $600?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


While the topic of food may not be considered a traditionally "social justice" topic, I have been thinking a lot about it and I think, certainly, justice can be applied to animals, at least in some ways. See post on title "animal friendly" (early March 08) for the general idea.

All I want to do here is pose a few questions for you to consider.

Where is your food coming from? Down the road? Across the state? Country? China?

How much fuel and storage is involved in what you eat? How much of what you are paying goes to those costs?

If you are eating meat, what was that animals life like before it died? How did it die? If you've already decided you don't care - that fine. But have you considered that you don't care just because you are so far removed from that living animal? What if you had to watch it die? Or kill it yourself? Would you feel differently?

Are there hormones in those meat and dairy products? What about antibiotics? Are you ok with that? Have you thought about how that affects your body?

If the food is a plant, what was sprayed on it? Who picked it? From where? Would you recognise it if you saw it growing in nature?

What about the place you bought it from? Do they treat their employees well? Do they support local nonprofits? What is their role in your community?

Just some umm, food for thought. I like to think that I am living thoughtfully and responsibly. I realize this is an area that needs some more thought and probably some real changes for me. Are you willing to consider these questions and allow yourself to consider that you might need to make some changes to live with a truly clear conscience?


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Sicko, etc.

I saw Michael Moore's latest movie, Sicko recently. I'm sure you've heard about it but an extremely brief synopsis is this: Michael Moore sets out to show what a crappy, unethical and even tragic healthcare system we have in the U.S. by showing a lot of emotional stories of people who have been screwed over by it, and also by showing an enviable portrayal of the systems that other nations such as the UK, Canada, France and even Cuba have. I have to admit, I pretty much swooned over the services offered and was really moved by how different of an experience sick people in those countries have. At least in the movie, the service providers are kind, helpful and most concerned with the patients' well being, not their HMO group number or their copay. Doctors get incentives for making their patients healthier instead of medical directors of insurance companies getting incentives for denying them treatment. The patients, in turn, seem able to concentrate on their health and avoid the stress of tallying up the costs they are incurring vs their deductible and the max out dollar number of their coverage, instead of their health issues alone.

I am not naive enough to think there is a simple, easy answer to this. We've dug a hole here, for starters, and switching to a totally different system would be a massive, expensive undertaking. Additionally, there are several concerns that Moore's film does not fully address, one being this: Currently, the U.S. is pretty much the only country that pays full price for the drugs that the drug companies develop. We essntially subsidize the rest of the market. Yes, you can get the same drug in Cuba for five cents that you pay 100 bucks for in the U.S. But at some point, someone is going to have to pay if it's not us, driving those costs up everywhere. Or, the worse alternative, which is if countries won't pay for the drugs, and the drug companies can't make a profit, the drug companies will stop their expensive research which is what drives the development of these drugs. You know that cervical cancer vaccine they recently developed? Imagine how much research, testing, etc. went into that. All of those anti-retro-viral drugs for HIV patients, the newest cancer treatments...all products of research driven by a market where big money can be made. Clearly this is an issue that needs addressed.

There are two ways to look at this mess. 1. Consider this question: Do you think health care is a basic human right or a privilege of the rich? 2. if it is a basic human right, then what is the most effective, efficient way to get the highest number of people the best services possible? In my opinion, as Presidential wannabes draft their plans, this is what they are considering. Republicans and Democrats prbably fall along obvious party lines on the first question. Maybe not, but probably. The second question is trickier and incredibly complex.

Right now, we have this system that already provides govenment regulated services to certain populations of people. We call it Medicare (for old people, federally funded, no income restrictions) and Medicaid (for poor people, but only some, like children, parents of children and people with disabilities; federally mandated and regulated but state or county run, I believe it offers wider coverage than Medicare) I have no idea how many people are served under each of these, what the restrictions are, or how costly it is - But I do wonder why no one is really talking about expanding this program to the middle class, since, obviously, most middle class people can't really afford optimal health coverage anyway. It's not the perfect answer to these problems by any means, but it seems like one option to explore.

I have a lot to learn about this situation and I look forward to the continued public debate and how the presidential candidates address this issue which has finally truly been brought to the forefront. Below is a pretty interesting article from Slate. This guy happens to advise Barack Obama on economic policy and he is kind of in half agreement with Michael Moore's film. I think he makes some good points and sees the situation from an informed and realistic viewpoint.

He's got the indictment of health care right, but not the fix.
By Austan Goolsbee
Posted Sunday, July 1, 2007, at 11:55 PM ET

Michael Moore's shtick cracks me up. As entertainment, most of his movies are great fun. In Sicko, though, he goes beyond his usual ranting. After spending the first half of the movie railing against the American health-care system, he actually puts forward a policy prescription. Moore thinks the United States should adopt a free, single-payer, national health system like Canada, the United Kingdom, France, or Cuba—socialized medicine, in the words of his critics.

So, how does the movie stand up on policy grounds? Moore is right in his indictment of the American health-care system but overhasty in his readiness to blow it up.

Moore begins by blaming the profit motives of health-insurance companies for the main ills of U.S. health care. While it's easy for free-market types (and I consider myself one of them, mind you) to dismiss his critique of a profit motive, in the case of health care he isn't so far out there. He has a bead on one of the classic examples that economists use of market failure.

If you set up a market-based health system, allowing insurance companies to pick and choose who and what they will cover, you give them overwhelming incentives to dump, deny, avoid and neglect the sick people. And when you operate the system mainly through employers (as we do), you impose intense costs on U.S. industry and you ensure that the pool of people without insurance tends to include the unhealthiest, costliest cases around. Economists call this "adverse selection" and when there is too much adverse selection—when the health of the people in the uninsured pool is extremely different from the average person in the country—the market may fail completely. Insurance companies may just deny people coverage entirely.

This is a problem at the core of our health care woes. Moore finds scores of examples—people with tumors, heart problems, lost limbs and digits, you name it. And in each case the insurance company finds a way to deny paying for people's illness even though the people actually have health insurance. He also shows people who simply cannot get insurance because they have pre-existing conditions, are too heavy, are too light, and on and on.

Without any rules against cream-skimming, the insurance companies have every incentive to keep dumping the sick people—often retroactively, after they become sick. Moore shows the insurance companies literally giving bonuses to the reviewing doctors who deny the most claims. If you can pay premiums to your insurance company for 30 years and then they can just drop you when you have a stroke, the system is seriously broken.

So first half, so good. Moore's public policy indictment is pretty much on target. And it's easy to buy his thesis that it persists because of the massive political contributions by insurance and drug companies. His telling evidence: The 14 congressional aides who left to become lobbyists following the recent Medicare changes; the $100 million spent to defeat President Bill Clinton's reform proposal in 1993; former Rep. Billy Tauzin's jump from helping to move the prescription drug bill through Congress to heading a major lobbyist drug company association, at a salary of $2 million a year.

Addressing cream-skimming is at the heart of every responsible program for U.S. health-care reform, in states like Massachusetts and proposals from presidential candidates John Edwards and Barack Obama (to whom I'm an economic adviser). These plans take aim at "pooling," for example, by allowing insurance companies to insure an entire state or region as a whole in exchange for serving everyone in that pool—no dropping, no denials, no shenanigans. The insurance companies get the certainty that the group they insure has the same level of health problems as the general population; they give up the cream-skimming.

For Moore, though, the answer is not reform of the current system. It is having the government run it all. He sets out on a worldwide tour to show us how great a single-payer system is in countries that have it. And here's where his policy prescription goes into overdrive.

At the most simplistic level, giving free health care to everyone costs a lot of money. Especially since people tend to use things more frequently when they are free. Let's say the universal and free coverage part cost an additional $200 billion a year. How do you pay for it? This is the vexing question for single payer. Most advocates counter that health costs in single-payer countries are dramatically lower than in the U.S. private-care system. Switching to a U.K.-like single-payer system would cost a great deal of money initially, but if it would eventually get our costs down to U.K. levels, we could afford it.

But that's a big question mark. The U.S. system differs for a lot of reasons, and the insurance industry is only one of them.

Our doctors are paid substantially more than British docs, for example. To get costs down to a comparable level, a single-payer system in the United States would have to seriously cut doctors' pay. Moore seems to anticipate this critique and thus interviews a doctor in the U.K. who makes $200,000 a year and drives an Audi. But this time the anecdote is at odds with the data.

Nor do these countries have the same costs associated with malpractice lawsuits that we do. A single-payer system here would have to also include some truly major rearrangment of the tort system to bring those costs down.

You would also need to dramatically slash drug prices. Moore takes some neglected 9/11 workers to Cuba, and an inhaler that cost them $100 in the U.S. costs 5 cents there. The price differences are also present, to a less extreme degree, in Canada and the United Kingdom. The problem is that these places get cheap drugs only because they are free-riding off the massive profits made in the American market. If our government required medicine here to be sold at no more than the lowest price charged abroad, the drug companies would drive the costs up in the other markets rather than reduce them here.

Each of these caveats is important. But the main problem with Moore's policy solution is that a national health system wouldn't fix one of our health care system's main flaws—one that people really hate—the denial of service. It just changes who decides, so that the government makes the call.

In one heart-wrenching case in the movie, a woman whose husband has kidney cancer is told by the insurance people that they won't allow an experimental treatment that might save his life. But that scene would likely play out just the same way in a nationalized health system. In those systems, cost-effectiveness decisions get made all the time. Care is rationed. That's what happens if you offer something for free—you have to make rules about who is allowed to get it. So, you forbid smokers from having heart bypasses, or, in a more recent debate in the U.K. about a new hay fever medicine, you just say the medicine is too expensive to be used.

In Sicko, Moore tries to skirt the issue of rationing by going to a Canadian emergency room and finding that people have only had to wait there for 20 minutes. But that's not the relevant comparison, of course. The emergency room is less crowded in places where everyone has health care. The question is what happens for the vast majority of expensive procedures that you don't go to the emergency room for. And for those, patients in single-payer countries tend to wait much longer than in the U.S. and can easily be told that they can't have a particular treatment at all.

So, to do as Moore wants in the United States, you would need to do more than just overcome the insurance industry. You would need to cut the salaries of doctors, reform the legal system, enrage our allies by causing their prescription drug costs to escalate, and accustom patients to a central decision-maker authorized to determine what procedures they are and are not allowed to get. Unless every one of these changes comes together, Moore's new system would end up costing an enormous amount of money.

You can see, then, why many reformers (like Edwards and Obama; Hillary Clinton hasn't gotten as comprehensive yet) argue that we should start by fixing the most glaring problems of our system without junking it and starting over. We could use pooling to move away from the dump-and-deny insurance we have now. We could reward doctors for doing a good job, the way they do in the United Kingdom. We could focus more on preventing sickness, the way they do in Cuba, to reduce the number of illnesses. These step-by-step changes would go a long way to alleviating the most damning problems with the U.S. system.

I used to have an old, old car that my friends called The Beige Bomber. It constantly had problems. Every time something went wrong, I had to decide whether to pay the $300 to fix it or shell out many thousands to get a new car. Eventually, yes, it completely died and I had to buy a new car. But I held out as long as I could.

As the credits rolled on Sicko, and I still sat in Michael Moore land, I couldn't help but think that we've got ourselves a Beige Bomber of a health system. A lot of stuff goes wrong with it, but to replace the whole thing would cost a hell of a lot of money. Moore thinks the car is already broken down beyond repair. The metaphor isn't perfect, though, I realized after I left the theater. All cars have to be replaced; our health-care system, if improved, could live for a very long time. And so we shouldn't forget that Moore is glossing over the huge costs of an overhaul, in his urge to rush.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


So it looks like President Bush is finally doing something about the grave situation in the Sudan. This situation has been increasingly devastating. If you're not familiar, a quick summary: For over three years, a governent backed militia known as the Janjaweed (translates to "man with a gun on a horse") has been slaughtering, raping, starving and displacing people. A secret Arab/Muslim extremist group began forming in the 80s, attacking non-arab Africans with the intention to achieve Arab supremacy. The government did not become involved until non-arab Africans began to unite and fight against these attacks. Now, the Janjaweed continues to terrorize the people of this western part of Sudan known as Darfur. Over 400,000 have been killed. 3.5 million have been displaced and now are in refugee camps completely dependent on humanitarian aid. While this sutuation has been depicted at times as Muslims against non-Muslims, this is not exactly the case because there are Muslims on both sides of the confict which has spread into neighboring countries, Chad and the Central African Republic. Arguably, there has not been a humanitarian crisis this severe since the situation in Rwanda.

OK, so it's really bad - we're on the same page now.

The Bush administration has finally decided to act. Here is an article from explaining the recent pledge.

President Bush ordered new U.S. economic sanctions Tuesday to pressure Sudan's government to halt the bloodshed in Darfur that the administration has condemned as genocide. ''I promise this to the people of Darfur: the United States will not avert our eyes from a crisis that challenges the conscience of the world,'' the president said. The sanctions target government-run companies involved in Sudan's oil industry, and three individuals, including a rebel leader suspected of being involved in the violence in Darfur. ''For too long the people of Darfur have suffered at the hands of a government that is complicit in the bombing, murder and rape of innocent civilians,'' the president said. ''My administration has called these actions by their rightful name: genocide. ''The world has a responsibility to put an end to it,'' Bush said. Beyond the new U.S. sanctions, Bush directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to draft a proposed U.N. resolution to strengthen international pressure on the Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir. Save Darfur Coalition director David Rubenstein welcomed the sanctions, but said they might be too little, too late. ''President Bush must not give further months to determine whether these outlined measures work -- the Darfuri people don't have that much time,'' he said. ''The president must set a short and firm deadline for fundamental changes in Sudanese behavior, and prepare now to implement immediately further measures should Khartoum continue to stonewall.'' Bush said he delayed imposing sanctions last month to allow more time for diplomacy, but that al-Bashir has continued to make empty promises of cooperation while obstructing international efforts to end the crisis. Over the weekend, however, al-Bashir reiterated his opposition to the deployment of a 22,000-strong joint U.N.-AU force, saying he would only allow a larger African force with technical and logistical support from the United Nations. The new sanctions target 31 companies to be barred from the U.S. banking system. Thirty of the companies are controlled by the government of Sudan; the other one is suspected of shipping arms to Darfur, the officials said. Meanwhile, Liu Guijin, China's new troubleshooter on Africa, defended Chinese investment in Sudan Tuesday as a better way to stop the bloodshed rather than the sanctions advocated by the U.S. and other Western governments. ''I didn't see a desperate scenario of people dying of hunger,'' Liu said at a media briefing. Rather, he said, people in Darfur thanked him for the Chinese government's help in building dams and providing water supply equipment.
................... has been organizing people toward activism with various online/email campaigns. I have personally sent many emails at the web site's request to the President to urge him to act. Maybe we're actually getting some results. Sign up at to get involved and get regular updates.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

ok, here's a question for you

If you could teach inner city (mostly low income) kids about one concept or issue, what would it be and how would you go about it? I'll give you an example. We started an initiative about three months ago in the after school program that I oversee that combines teaching environmentalism with advocacy - basically teaching the kids about the environment, how to protect it, and how they can be active in getting others to protect it. We had the kids start a recycling program in our agency - they are responsible for putting out the bins, emptying them, reminding people to recycle, etc. We also started a garden project to teach them about growing your own food and how pesticides are bad for the earth, etc. So...what's your idea?

Monday, May 14, 2007

mentoring is where it's at

Since I last blogged on this site, a lot has happened - I've been maried for 8 months and I have a new job. I work at an agency that provides human services in an neighborhood of Pittsburgh. I am the director of the youth programs and I really like it. Every day, I get to see kids and families who are struggling to make it through. The parents look tired and stressed. Many of them, I've never met because overseeing their children's after school care is simply not on their to-do list. The kids, well, they are as unique and diverse as any group of kids. Some are charming, some are disturbed. Some are smart and polite. Some are so unmotivated they complain if they have to get up out of their chairs. I have been thinking about how Oprah decided to put a great deal of money and publicity into her school for girls in Africa. She has been the target of much criticism because she took her resources overseas instead of directing it toward American children. her reason for this is very interesting. She says that she does not see the drive, passion and motivation in American children that she sees in African children. She wanted to give a chance to kids who would grasp it with fervor and make the most out of it. I completely understand what she means. It is frustrating, the sense of entitlement that even America's poor children have. If you buy them a pair of shoes, you may get a look of distaste if they are not the latest, greatest brand that everyone is wearing. Certainly not all, but many of these kids don't have a drive and desire to make it on their own and become educated and successful - they want to be basketball stars and rappers. Television has convinced them that these things are equal to success. Becoming something like a teacher or a carpenter or a mechanic (things well within their reach if they put effort into it) are not of interest.

I think about this constantly and wonder, with my position of influence, how I can mold my program into a catalyst for change. How can I make the goal of becoming a lawyer or an engineer or a construction worker or a radiologist look sexy and appealing?

My husband is a big brother with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. I mentored a couple of boys a couple fo years ago, focusing on the college testing and application process. I am starting as a volunteer for a new program where I will be mentoring two low-income college freshman, helping to encourage them through the challenges they will likely face in their first year. These kids got where they are through a lot of monitoring and hand holding through a program for high achieving, low income students in their high school. Because they will all be first generation college students and most come from unstable homes, the program directors feel that they still need that support so they don't feel abandoned and give up.

I think this program and other mentoring programs are a crucial piece in all of this. I think it is necessary for kids to have regular contact with adults who are caring, responsible and have simply worked hard to get where they are. I encourage all of you reading this to consider how much you have to offer a child who has not been brought up with skills that include goal setting and attainment. This is the part that is missing for these kids. Instilling the value of a work ethic and persistence is not an easy task - you'd have to be in it for the long haul. I think if everyone we know became a mentor, we could change the world.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Yes, I know, it's been far too long.

You know, it's interesting. I think that people "like us" you know what I mean by that if you're reading this...we have the best intentions about things like social justice and serving the poor and advocacy, etc. But sometimes things like an engagement and a wedding and a crazy job come into play and pretty much everything else gets put on hold. Plus I was really annoyed with those SPAM "comments." I'd get all excited that someone had something to say and then it's like "Earn your college degree at DeVry!" Grrrrrr!!!

But for all intents and purposes, I'm back on track. We still have the upcoming honeymoon to contend with, but I quit working for that woman who was ruining my life and I'm in a much better place mentally. I may soon have the opportunity to be part of a big project from the ground level. We have a very important meeting in a couple of weeks that will largely determine my fate in some ways. More on that if anything substantial transpires.

Anyway, back to why you're here.

I was reading this fiction book. I actualy gave it to Bethany, and a smal amount of the book was dedicated to describing this fictional character's experience in prison. But it was the kind of description where you could tell the author had done her homework about how prisons work.

I've been inside a hard core prison. I was 18 and I went to Reicher's Island, where NYC's murderers and rapists go to serve time. I went with a pastor and three other people to a ministry church service, where men who were interested in faith and the bible would come to meet and pray and read and worship together. The thing that struck me at that time was how the men seemed rather content and not at all unhappy. I imagine part of this had to do with the fact that only well behaved inmates who were pursuing faith in God were allowed to attend. After that experience, I kind of figured that prison must not be that bad. But I've heard some pretty bad things since then and read some accounts and I've met people who have spent years in prison.

I think that the simple fact that most people who go to jail, end up going back again, is the most important piece of information in considering whether our criminal justice system is effective or not.

One question to ask in considering this issue is: Are we trying to provide a situation where people who commit crimes will come out of the experience changed and equipped to avoid the temptation to steal, engage in violence, etc. OR...are we a society that just seeks to punish. If we just want to punish, from what little I know, we are doing a fine job. But what is the point of simply punishing? If the end result is a continued compulsion to re-offend, then the only thing our system is doing is giving the offender a negative experience.

If you could, with proof, show parents that a spanking would absolutely never ever in any situation deter their child from disobedience (which some studies support) and that the spanking only delivered pain to their child, caused them to distrust the parent and made them fearful and secretive, would most parents continue to spank? I don't know the answer to this question, but I would say that if the parent did continue to spank, it would be only to satiate their own anger at the disobedience. Perhaps this is why we send people to prisons and our prisons operate in the way that they do.

Here is an essay I thought was interesting.

My Alarming Tour Thru
Camp Hill Prison
The Lost Men and Boys Of
BY: Sandra Feigley,

Along with other members of the venerable Pennsylvania Prison Society (an organizational strongly recommend and endorsed), I took a tour of one of Pennsylvania's most notorious prisons, the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill. It's in Central Pennsylvania, across the river from Harrisburg, the state capital. The prison is widely known as Camp Hell.
I came away from my experience with a haunting sense of how badly civilized people have failed to deal with imprisonment. I will never forget the look of the men's eyes.

The day I visited was one of those warm, hopeful day which introduce autumn. It was a distressing contrast to the conditions I witnessed behind the banks of concertina wire.

The most distressing part of the tour was my visit to the SMU, or "Special Management Unit," a dirty wall of dark cells. When the Department of Corrections ("DOC") fails, it sends the man to the SMU for months or years of torment. A man can be required to endure ten, even twenty years in this status.

The SMU is a quick walk through the prison infirmary, through a maze of gates and fences into an isolated building. Three guards with nothing to do, watched the totally locked down block from inside a protective glassed-in bubble. A member of the so-called treatment staff conducted us through the block. We were told of the various phases of "treatment" and the "program" the prisoners are suppose to use to "earn" their way out of the unit. Of course, all of this was from the staff. One should always weigh what she's told by the prison staff. Honesty is not one of their virtues.

Construction changes were being made to the doors, so just one back of cells were being used at the current time. We walked the tier to see into the cells, to see the mem clutching the door to see us. Our small group were the only persons on the block -- it is devoid of human contact. The men cannot see the other men who are also locked in. They are alone, alone for many hours, to just sit and waste away and go mad with the isolation. The men were of all ages and some were white, others black and others hispanic. Cruelty seemed to hold no prejudices. I am sure many were quite ill, some were raving.

The prisoners in the SMU were/are considered the DOC's "we don't know what to do with them" men. I was surprised to learn that "antisocial" was the term ascribed to most of these prisoners. Surely, the staff realizes that being "antisocial" may be a reason for crime, but, indeed, being in one of these cells for even a few days would twist any person into being antisocial. We learned that at least one man is facing 10 years under these conditions.

We were walked around the cellblock. The cells were dark, the men almost invisible. Many of the men cried out for attention, voicing a wide verity of complaints. Each one wanted to be noticed, to'have someone, anyone, listen to him, to find someone who would help, someone to understand. I felt so helpless, close to tears ... How can we, a supposedly civilized people, do this to others. How can we treat them so badly while expecting them to treat us well?

When I asked the "white-shirt" the lieutenant) about the complaints, he explained them away as "misbehavior," or "routine pattern of behavior." Working in a job such as this seems to breed insensitivity. There is no regular help for those in need of psychological care. Indeed, one man who pounded on his cell window in a desperate effort to'get the attention of those outside, was punished by having the window covered over so that he got no sunlight or view of anything but his cell; treatment certain to drive a person insane

My heart hurt as I walked away and my tears came to my eyes. These men were left to languish and the system pretends to wonder why they "act-out." There is nothing to stimulate their minds or to motivate them to improve themselves. There is only reaction to torment. It's certainly true that we treat animals better than we treat many prisoners, yet every one of these men treated our tour with respect. The treatment makes the inmates far worse. Most alarming of all, in many cases, these men will "max-out" their sentences from the SMU. They will be released onto society after having endured years of the most cruel tormenting.

Before going into the SMU, we'd toured the RHU or "Restrictive Housing Unit," the prison hole. This is the prison within the prison where men are punished for offenses such as "disobeying" orders or "disrespecting" a guard. Here, as in the SMU, the men were housed singly. In the rest of the prison, two prisoners shared each of the little cells. There were two tiers of cells and my first impression was how it was such a stark contrast to the Indian summer day that I'd enjoyed outside. As I entered, I saw a sign saying that we would be video-taped and audio-taped. The DOC wants to carefully censor what the public learns about the conduct of the prisons. A row of open windows did little to cool down the cellblock which must have been close to 90 degrees. Hot air was being pumped out of the radiators. A white-shirt complained how the guards had to open the windows during the day and close them at night. This task would take perhaps 10 minutes. Personally, I wondered what we pay them for if not to do a little work.

The rule in the RHU as in much of the SMU is that the men receive only an hour of recreation five days a week. Their exercise is in dehumanizing "dog-cages." They are allowed only an hour a month to visit their loved ones and get no "privileges."

While we were there, men were being shaved. A guard went around with a battery operated shaver. He used the same shaver on each of the men who wanted to be shaved.

Some of the cells had Plexiglas bolted over the cell bars further isolating disfavored prisoners. The staff said that the Plexiglas was because that particular man threw things out of his cell. I witnessed none of this. I only realized that the men's air was greatly restricted in cells where the ventilation was already poor.

Most of the men looked out at us to say hello or voice complaints. Two men were verbally abusing one another, causing a terrific racket. One had supposedly snitched on the other. I wondered why the guards had decided to bait them by celling them side by side.

Before leaving this unit, we asked to see the showers. There have been many complaints about the showering procedure. The men are taken in handcuffs to the individual showers which look like a modified cell. After being locked in, the man will put his hands through a hole in the door and the handcuffs will be removed. The showers last 5 to 10 minutes and there is no control the the water temperature, so the first men obviously get hot water and the last will get cold.

We also toured a unit where men are prepared to suffer the indignity and abuse of Pennsylvania's so-called "boot camp," Quehanna. Our escorts fed us the established party line that the program is a rousing success. Of course, the truth is that by enduring the abuse, younger prisoners (18 to 35) hope to obtain early release from prison. They will leave having learned how to be the most vicious of persons; ideal gang and mob members.

The boot camp is supposedly military style "training." The men are harangued, badgered and drilled with marching and similar adolescent nonsense. The whole operation made me feel uncomfortable. I wondered if training men to be a little more gentle might not be a better aim.

The staff claimed that there's a long waiting list for the program and its early release, but the dropout rate is 30%. Cells in the boot camp section are segregated from the general prison population partly because the other prisoners make fun of the "cadets." The inmates are allowed no possessions on their little tables except religious materials. A picture of a family member must be stored in a small box under the bed.

The campus of the prison was different that I had anticipated. I saw very few prisoners outside. The many buildings were widely separated with numerous areas of grass and innumerable walkways. There were fences everywhere dicing the compound into tiny areas where the timid guards wouldn't feel frightened by too many prisoners at once. There are many "newer" buildings constructed at very great expense since the riot in 1989.

The tour left me with haunting images of destroyed lives. I learned that some guards feel that they are making a change and take pride in their employment. I learned also about pompous men who feel it's too burdensome to afford the least comfort to prisoners. Worst of all, I learned about inmates who are unable to improve their lives; man's inhumanity to man.