The Myth of Islands

An Island is a lie.

On my way to work, I drive along Willapa Bay and pass by the two Islands that can be seen from the mainland. Long Island crowds just feet from the highway that hugs the shore. Heavily forested it stretches away to the horizon, appearing as solid shoreline. Long Island holds a grove of ancient forest and in days past was inhabited with settlements. There is a ferry landing just off the road that used to bring trucks back and forth across the narrow thread of water that separates it from the rest of Washington state.

A little farther on is a defiant little islet several hundred yards from where the tourist pass by on their way to the beach.. The US Geographic survey named it Round Island back in 1858. Locals call it Baby Island. Its shoulders’ hunched and spiked with snags and cedar that burl in the winter storms. Only a few acres of brush and trees, it appears a picturesque myth centered in the waters of the bay. Steep rocks rising from the silver gray waters and lonely alone.

We like to think of ourselves as islands, as individuals, as ecosystems wholly within ourselves. We like to believe that our actions affect no one beyond our ragged shore. We like to believe ourselves surrounded by waters isolated from the world outside. We like to think ourselves individuals, the center of our own solar systems -- centered yet separated by time and space from mothers, wives, children and friends who dip into our orbit for time only to swing away again.

It is easy to feel alone.

It is easy to think that our actions do not shatter the mirrored water that flows around us, yet the decisions we make ripple out into the world.

We see it in politics, where the temptation is to live and let live, assuming no responsibility for the community, the state, the nation or the world.

I hear it all the time. I’ll take care of myself, do what I want, and it won’t affect anyone else. If other people make bad choices, can’t access health care or mental health services or run out of money when they are too old to work, that’s their problem. It won’t affect me.

Yet it does.

I work as a nurse in an emergency room. It is the front line of the consequences of bad choices.
I meet a lot of people who until that moment thought that they were islands. Many thought their decisions affected no one but them and them alone.  Some have long suffering loved ones at bedside, others have long since burned those bridges to the mainland. Perhaps they justified this as a way to limit that damage they caused, or perhaps the connection was never very good in the first place.

If not family and friends, there are always the professionals -- the police officers, EMTs, nurses, doctors and socials workers -- who crash in waves trying to make a difference until the last breath.

Every wave recedes taking a little away from the beach and leaving a little of itself behind. Yet, the ocean itself is not unchanged.

I have watched as addiction destroys families and devastates public resources. I have seen suicide shatter communities. I have seen health care professionals struggle to make a difference in the face of increasing needs and decreasing resources.

I have seen doctors and law enforcement officers that I worked with take their own life.

Studies have shown that nurses experience depression at twice the rate of the general population. Doctors have a suicide rate that is at least twice that of the general population and that rate is even greater for female physicians. The stresses come from long hours, increasing work loads and the crushing expectations of health care systems that are always demanding more and paying less. Unfortunately, few seek professional help.

So too some of the stress comes from our own expectations. Physician Pranay Sinha, in a 2014 essay entitled “Why Do Doctors Commit Suicide?”  in the New York Times explained it this way:

“There is a strange machismo that pervades medicine. Doctors, especially fledgling doctors like me, feel the need to project intellectually, emotional and physical prowess beyond what we truly possess. We masquerade as strong and untroubled professionals even in our darkest and most self doubting moments. How, then, are we supposed to identify colleagues in trouble -- or admit that we need help ourselves?”

Individual strength, resilience  and freedom are cultural virtues in our nation.Yet we achieve most when we come together and recognize our connections and that through those connections our individual decisions have repercussions on the world around us.

This far north the tides are impressive - a dozen feet in sea level change can drastically alter your perspective in a few hours time. When the tide is low, the water drains out of old Shoalwater bay and Round Island is exposed as connected to mainland by mudflats that the unwary may be tempted to walk across.

Drain away the oceans that appear to separate us, and you will find underneath the connections that tie us all together. 

What we do and say and how we act affects those near and far.

How we treat each other and how we take care of ourselves matters.

If you think you are an island, just wait until low tide.


This essay was originally written for the The Daily Astorian and published on 4/29/2016.

What You Give and What You Get

Pictured: Ted Cruz haunts Bernie Sanders dreams.
While it is easy to complain about the taxes you pay, you have to compare it to the benefits you get.

That's also how you have to evaluate the tax plans of the Presidential candidates. has a great tool to see how you'd fare under each candidates proposed tax changes. Plug in your income, marital status and the number of kids and you can get an idea of whether your taxes will go up or down under President Sanders vs President Cruz.

I put my numbers in and I'd have to pay a big increase in taxes under President Sanders and I'd get a huge tax cut under Cruz and Trump.

However, you have to keep reading to get the rest of the story.
It's one thing to know how your taxes will change, but you can't view it in a vacuum. What the federal government does can affect your bottom line, too. 
For example, Bernie Sanders's plan would raise taxes on everyone, but it would also pay for health care, education, and other programs that you would no longer have to pay for. And it goes the other way, too. If Donald Trump's tax plan was implemented, everyone would get a tax cut, but it also means government services would be cut, so you would have to pay for them yourself.
So you have to look at each tax plan in terms of not just how much you would pay, but what you get as well. While there is some disagreement on how much these tax plans will cost, Vox seems to use the conservative estimates for their calculations.

Under Sanders my tax bill would jump $12,000 a year -- but that is less than a year of college tuition for one of my two daughters. So that might be worth it if my healthcare insurance bill would go down and tuition would be free at Washington State University.  (Sanders Proposal)

Under Clinton my tax bill wouldn't change much -- her tax increases are targeted more at the wealthy than Sanders -- but her promises are more modest. For example only community college would be free. (Clinton Proposal)

Before we go any further, can well all just agree that Republicans can no longer call themselves the fiscally responsible party? Since World War II, economists have found that the economy does better when Democrats are in the White House.

With the exception of George HW Bush, Republican Presidents over the last 50 years always cut taxes and increased spending - which is the same as quitting your job then running up your credit cards. That's not fiscally responsible.

That track record pales when you consider the proposed economic policies of the current GOP candidates.

Needless to say under Trump or Cruz, my taxes would go down according to the calculator, but at what price?

Both their tax proposals would DOUBLE the $9.5 trillion projected federal deficit -- massive cuts to federal spending. (Trump's Plan) (Cruz's Plan)

Yet, both are also proposing big INCREASES in military spending. There's also that wall they are planning to build and an elaborate federal police state to deport millions of illegal immigrants and oppress law abiding Muslim Americans. That's going to cost more than a few pennies too.

Indeed, another Vox story is worth reading to get the full picture. In "We've Lost Sight Of How Wildly Irresponsible the Republican Tax Plans Are," Ezra Klein explains that Trump and Cruz have spun off into the world of fantasy as far as their fiscal policies are concerned.

Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump are the top three contenders for the Republican nomination. Rubio has promised tax cuts amounting to $6.8 trillion, Cruz $8.6 trillion, and Trump a whopping $9.5 trillion, according to the Tax Policy Center (and that's not including interest on the debt they would rack up!). 
To put that in perspective, the tax cuts George W. Bush proposed during the 2000 campaign were $1.32 trillion — which would be $1.82 trillion in today's dollars. And taxes were higher in 2000 than they are today, and the country was running surpluses rather than deficits.
To get even close to paying for these tax cuts, Trump and Cruz would have to eliminate the Medicaid program and children's health insurance as well as all education spending and all transportation spending. Gone too would be all spending needed to take care of our Veterans.

However, that's not all. Trump's proposed cuts are so big that you could eliminate all military spending -- shut down the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines -- and still only pay for two-thirds of his tax cut. Don't forget, he's proposed INCREASING military spending.

"There's just no way to reconcile all that," Klein wrote. "Taken together, even the most sympathetic reading of Trump's plan dissolves into incoherence." 
Required Reading:
How each candidate's tax plan affects you
We've lost sight of how irresponsible republican tax plans are 
Why Does Sander's Tax Plan Increase Taxes So Much?
How The Candidate's Tax Will Affect You - In Four Charts
No One Can Agree On How Much Candidates Tax Plans Will Cost
Why the Economy Performs Better Under Democratic Presidents
Five Charts Prove that The Economy is Better Under Democrats

The Anti-Robot Party

This presidential election season has been all about jobs - despite an economy that is growing. Republicans and Democrats alike blame the loss of jobs to trade and immigration.

Both are wrong - sort of.

While it is clear that manufacturing jobs were lost to trade - that doesn't mean that more protectionist trade policies can bring back millions of high paying, stable manufacturing jobs.

First of all, we've demolished the unions that made those manufacturing jobs stable and high paying in the first place. That means new jobs that are created will have lower pay, lower benefits and less security than the ones we lost.

Moreover, as FiveThirtyEight's Ben Casselman writes this week, Manufacturing Jobs Aren't Coming Back because manufacturing itself has changed.

The reason the economy looks good on paper but feels bad all around is that the this has been a long "jobless recovery." Employers have invested heavily in automation and outsourcing to contractors and consultants over the past decade, using low interest rates to rebuild their manufacturing capacity without hiring new workers.

Productivity -- the amount of goods produced by an hour of work -- has gone way up, while unemployment has not.

One way that happens is just laying off a worker and making whoever is left do the jobs of two or three people. Certainly I've seen this in many American workplace. It is a very easy way to increase "productivity." Moreover, no matter how stressful it is for the remaining workers, they will put up with it because they fear the loss of their own job.

The other way to increase productivity is through automation. Robots don't need health benefits and don't call in sick. They don't complain when you pile on the work.

Automation in factories has been -- and will continue -- to increase. We lost jobs to cheap labor in China and Mexico, but lately manufacturing has been returning to the U.S. without the increases in manufacturing employment. The new factories are more automated and the jobs at these factories require a higher skill and education level.

So a new factory only needs a fraction of the manpower to run it as was needed a generation ago.

The trend is likely to continue and not just in manufacturing.

Just read the Robot Invasion series Slate magazine did last year to get an idea of the wide range of professions that can and will likely be replaced by software and automation. From lawyers to pharmacists to sports writers, software is getting better at the jobs that humans used to do.  Even pizza delivery is now being automated, with Dominoes rolling out automated pizza delivery drones in Australia. That's right, even the pizza delivery driver's job isn't safe.

So scream all you want about immigration and China -- it won't do any good.

The robots aren't even listening.

Required Reading:
Robot Invasion: Slate
Manufacturing Jobs Aren't Coming Back from 538
Delivery Robots Making Pizza Runs from Discovery News
Business is Thrilled that Automation Raises Productivity

Patrick Cooper Hunt: A Refugee's Story

Patrick Cooper Hunt left Westport in County Mayo, Ireland in 1849 at the height of the Great Famine. Gorta Mór killed a million Irish and sent a million more fleeing across the seas in search of something better.
Many died never touching shore. Packed as they were aboard the coffin ships, two-fifths died at sea of disease and starvation.
He was lucky to have had family in Lambertville, NJ and so he sailed for the port of Philadelphia. He was about 18 years old.
In America he found work for his uncles who had sponsored him. He found opportunities he would never have had in an Ireland occupied and oppressed by England.
Yet by 1850, more than a quarter of the population of Philadelphia was Irish and the flow of Irish Catholic refugees created resentment and discrimination as well. "No Irish Need Apply" was a familiar sign by 1851 -- a door slammed in a man's face, when he sought only pay for a day's work and food for an empty belly.
In America he found a girl named Mary Malone. She too had emigrated from County Mayo. She too had seen the Great Hunger of Gorta Mór and survived and together they made a life. They had five children and went on to become upstanding Americans. 
So on this St. Patrick's day dress in your green and lift your glass, but take a moment too to remember those refugees that America took in. Those men and women fleeing political and economic oppression who found a new life in this land of opportunity and hope.
Because that is what St. Patrick's day is all about. It is a story of refugees coming to America because they could no longer survive in their beloved homeland. It is an American holiday that only came to Ireland much later with the tourist trade. 
It is a celebration of immigration and an act of defiance by the immigrants and refugees that could not know freedom until they came to America.