Virtually everyone I know is obsessed with the dumpster fire that is our current federal government. It’s certainly understandable; we have a President whose manifest deficiencies become more bizarre by the day, and a Cabinet filled with ideologues who are  incompetent or racist or both. And if you want to know a lot about our “Christian” vice-President, this (very amusing but really totally accurate) site is worth visiting.

Watching what is happening in the nation’s capital is obviously important, but so is the ongoing, on-the-ground work of local governments and nonprofit organizations. In fact, those nonprofit organizations are more important than ever; in a country where the federal apparatus is stuck in neutral (if not reverse), and few of the elected officials in Washington seem to give a rat’s ass about the common good, the steady presence of these voluntary and charitable organizations is often a life preserver.

What made me think about all this was an email announcing an event to support Hope Academy, a “recovery high school” that is attached to and affiliated with Fairbanks Hospital.

I had visited Fairbanks Hospital and Hope Academy a few years ago, at the invitation of a good friend who was then the President/CEO of Fairbanks, and I was duly impressed. As local folks know, Fairbanks Hospital addresses substance abuse in adults, and it has been a compassionate and supportive lifeline for people hooked on alcohol or drugs. At the time of my first visit, my friend and her board had just established Hope Academy.

A couple of months ago, on a return visit, I talked at length with teachers and students, and was once again struck by the importance of what Hope Academy does.

The individual stories really got to me: “Jeremy” was using and selling hard drugs, blacking out and failing tests in his high school. He was in jail at 17. After he was released, he found Hope Academy and he now has a college degree, a good job, and a wife and child. “Ben,” another graduate, has turned his life around and is working on a dual master’s degree at Purdue. There were many other stories, equally inspiring.

Medical science confirms that addiction is a disease, not a failure of will power or evidence of moral failure. Like other diseases, it can be cured–or at least sent into remission–if pproached with appropriate understanding, support and treatment.

That costs money, of course, and it’s no surprise that Medicare and Medicaid together account for only 27% of Fairbanks’ operating budget. Given what’s going on in Washington, Fairbanks’ staff aren’t expecting that to improve any time soon. Like so many other nonprofits, they depend heavily on volunteers and donors–on “the kindness of strangers.”

I’ve dwelled a bit on this particular nonprofit, not just because I recently visited, but because Fairbanks and Hope Academy are examples of the thousands of voluntary organizations supported by people of good will–people who have seen gaping holes in America’s social safety net and moved to fill them. (It’s like the tag line in that old TV series, “The Naked City”–“There are a million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them.”)

America has so many truly admirable people providing so many important services out of the goodness of their hearts–working in our communities to make life better for their neighbors, helping people who need that help, giving of their time and treasure to make  the worlds of those less fortunate just a little less desolate and forbidding.

Seeing compassion and generosity in action raises the question: why aren’t we sending those sorts of people to Washington?


  1. “Those sorts of people” are too busy working and helping people, and wouldn’t take the time needed to raise money, campaign, raise money, go shake hands, raise money, cross the country stumping, raise money……

  2. Thank you for posting this! We have to be reminded that there ARE people in the world, who are committed to doing the right thing, so I appreciate your uplifting article on these agencies and volunteers. I also appreciated your pointing out a very important fact about addiction – Medical science confirms that addiction is a disease, not a failure of will power or evidence of moral failure. Like other diseases, it can be cured–or at least sent into remission–if approached with appropriate understanding, support, and treatment.
    In order to address the addiction problem effectively, we need more research on how addiction physically, mentally, and emotionally affects the individual and best practices in place. Addiction, suicide, and bullying in schools are spiraling out of control in Indiana. It is heartbreaking. I also want to add that reading your blog is the first that I do each morning. As always, I appreciate your insight on the important issues.

  3. Those “caring people” do enter politics occasionally, only to leave sad, angry, or dejected. I follow many of the Young Democrats on social media who got involved in politics during the 2016 election. They wrongly believed that the Democratic Party was a party of the people. They had great ideas to help change the course of politics in their community.

    They were flushed out much like Bernie Sanders experienced in 2015-2016 at the national level.

    Many of these young people asked for advice from me before spending the last year of their lives trying to make a difference. I told them not to bother and gave them plenty of articles to read but we all know how passion works within people. They had to do this for themselves.

    Of the dozens who made this trek, all have abandoned their crusade by August 2017. Sadly, some of them refuse to vote in the future because they “don’t see the point”.

    I’ve also worked with Fairbanks and they do excellent work. How many Fairbanks exist in Indiana today?

    Once again, Indiana leads the country in drug addiction, but we closed all the addiction facilities years ago. I believe Mitch Daniels was behind their closure. What kind of people would close facilities in the midst of the worst drug abuse crisis our state has faced?

    Turns out, drug addiction counselors left the state because of lack of work. Guess what Indiana suffers from now as they try to help those suffering? A shortage of counselors.

    They are doing the same thing with teachers. A friend in South Florida recently told me the local school district has bought homes and offer them to teachers willing to move into their district to teach.

    If you look closely at these “FREE MARKET” capitalists, they all have the “rugged individualist” mentality. Ayn Rand’s name pops up frequently when you look at the ideologues on the right. They don’t give a crap about people. In fact, if you look closely, they believe collectivists are weak. They don’t even care for churches.

    I suspect this worldview helps them justify (to themselves) the actions they take as corrupt politicians. Cutting vital programs knowing it will hurt people has to be justified to oneself unless you are a sociopath. And guess what?

    Journalist Matt Taibbi and economist Jeffrey Sachs have both mentioned sociopathy in Washington. 😉

  4. Todd,

    Forgive me for saying this, but you are part of the problem. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of work to effectively bring about a turnaround in any large organization. There is no “magic bullet” to cure all the ills of the Democratic Party, nor of the Federal Government.

    Telling young people not to bother because they didn’t get their way the first time they participated in the electoral process does more harm to us than 45 can do in four years. You should be advising the young people you talk to to get involved and stay involved, to vote in every election, to run for local office if they are able. Be strategic. Make a plan that looks forward five years or more. Don’t encourage them to drop out before they’ve even really begun.

  5. The piece on Pence was funny and, sadly, accurate. It’s clear that Indiana’s Law School will graduate almost anyone from the convenience store background. Isn’t Indiana in more or less the same economic shambles as Kansas, another tax cut state? Did Pence channel Sam Brownback, or was it the other way around? Where did these guys learn their economics? Milton Friedman was already dead when these guys were in politics, wasn’t he?

    Sheesh. The next time the people of Texas feels sorry for themselves by having Bush, Perry and now Abbott as their governor, we’ll take heart that this is only a temporary condition. SAD.

  6. Well, the Indivisible group here in Southern AZ is having another (yes, another) session tonight about Civic 101. This is to help us understand the government process and how we can be more active. They had a session on Monday evening and there were at least 40 people there. I hope tonight has just as many and I hope to be one of them. I couldn’t make it on Monday evening but there is a photo on Facebook that shows the people that attended. Tonight’s session is closer to home and hopefully, the monsoon rains will hold off so I can get to this one. I haven’t given up but I would never want to be a politician. I don’t have thick enough skin for it and as we all well know, #45 doesn’t have the skin for it either.

    Follow the money…that’s what I think.
    Great post today. Very inspiring! Thanks Professor.

  7. The one rule of business is make more money regardless of the impact of others. Authoritarians and freeloaders (Libertarians) have been sold on the idea that that one rule is all that’s required to run society.

    The depth of their thinking? More for me is good.

    There is in my opinion no hope for their recovery so we either have to take back or relinquish power to that shallow thinking.

    Peggy has it right. It’s not going to be easy or quick and it requires organization, patience and above all the will to never give up on Democracy.

  8. Those who are dedicated to helping others when the government takes a hike are to be congratulated for their humaneness, a quality apparenly in short supply among politicians. There are also some unsung heroes in states and municipalities who are raising minimum wages within their borders because federal politicians are too busy dreaming up tax cuts and less regulatory control of their campaign-contributing people such as the Kochs and Mercers. Not all is lost, as Todd suggests, or at least not yet. Now is the time to come to the battle field, not desert it, and surrender is not an option unless we want to see our democracy go down the drain.

  9. Vernon,

    Pence openly claims to have been a member of ALEC “before ALEC was cool”. This is where Pence has obtained his extremist views that are pro corporate and against regulations of any kind. Unless, of course, he wants to regulate religion – then that is perfectly legal and fine.

  10. Gerald, your mention of some municipalities raising the minimum wage brought a question to mind.

    To those of us in Indiana: Did our legislature pass a bill last spring that denied Indiana cities the right to raise the minimum wage? I seem to recall that this happened under the control of a Republican legislature that constantly rails against the Federal government forcing rules upon the states. You know – Do as I say, not as I do.

  11. Pete — YES! Thanks for posting the link to Lt. General Amy McGrath’s campaign video. Maybe I’ll move to Kentucky so I can vote for her!

  12. The average voter turned the tide on repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Thank God for the do-gooders and average folks who spoke up.

    Democracy is not a spectator sport. Self-government requires involvement, and the more involvement there is, the more likely it pays off. Remember the old saying – all that need happen for evil to prevail is for enough good people to do nothing.

  13. Nancy – I don’t know whether the Indiana legislature passed such a law or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case. The supermajority is all for home rule unless it means that Gary or Indianapolis would pass laws that increase the minimum wage in the direction of a living wage – can’t have that – gotta keep the peasants poor and despairing. I just wrote and published a post on minimum wages today in which I name several cities who have increased minimum wages in their jurisdictions over the pitiful $7.25 federal standard, a standard based on a plantation owner-slave model. I noted in my research that Indiana is one of the dwindling number of states that still maintain the federal standard. Figures.

  14. Your post today seems to support the Conservative proposition that if all safety net programs are removed, private institutions and abundant good people will spring up to take their place. Too much confidence expressed in “abundant” do-gooders will inadvertently encourage more people to join the far-right movement to remove governmental safety net programs. Praise for people who contribute time, energy and money to non-governmental help organs should always be accompanied by strong warnings that these kinds of good people ARE IN SHORT SUPPLY.

  15. Thanks, Sheila, for today’s post and the mention of the outstanding program offered at Hope Academy.

    As a community volunterr, it often amazes me that so many of my fellow citizens are unaware of all the support which their neighbors are offering up locally to help the less fortunate, and not just through the churches. And the fact that so many donate money, and time, to international NGOs when there continues to be a need around the corner.

    Once again I bring the idea to mind that we are all in this together. If we continue to blame the politicians, and the people with the purse strings, we are not addressing the problem, just undermining our own power of citizentry. Perhaps worth thinking, in quiet, about.

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