Rick Staggenborg is running for U.S. Senate in the state of Oregon as a Progressive. We spoke last week about: (a) what he plans to do once he's elected, (b) his background as a VA psychiatrist; (c) and what America needs to do in order to heal itself as a society. Here's our conversation:
CCJ: What issues matter to you most?
RS: Naturally, health care, election reform, and restoring the economy. But the most important thing to me is abolishing corporate personhood – that last point is especially critical. So I am reaching out and trying to connect to everybody. That’s the only way we’re going to succeed and get things done.
CCJ: What ticket are you running on?
RS: The Progressive ticket. It is the fastest growing Party in Oregon, having obtained ballot status in just over a year. We want people to know they don't have to choose between bad or worse any more. Both major Parties have sold out to the corporations who are bleeding the US economy dry while destroying the educational system.
CCJ: What do you think motivated you to get involved with politics and to follow it closely?
RS: My brother was in the Vietnam War, and I witnessed firsthand how devastating war can be, the kind of trauma it creates. It’s not just trauma at the individual level, but at a societal level. That’s one of our problems today. I intend to mend those problems as a Senator.
CCJ: How old were you at the time of the Vietnam War?
RS: I was 10 years old.
CJ: What's your political platform?
RS: If we abolish corporate personhood, i.e. this idea that corporations have a Constitutional right to buy out Senators, we can get rid of their tools in the Senate. Together, we will make sure our children will obtain a good education, decent health care, and all the basic rights. This will ensure that citizens will be prepared to lead this nation in the decades to come. We can end war and save the economy. If we abolish corporate personhood, we won’t have international corporations running the government and they won’t be outsourcing our jobs. Moreover, we will be able to end the corrupt system of corporate welfare that is bankrupting the country at the expense of those whom our Senators were elected to serve.
Indeed, people were up in arms about the recent bailouts - the finance/banking and auto industries - but most Americans don’t realize that the health care "reform bill" passed by Congress was yet another bailout. This time it was for the medical insurance companies that are bleeding school districts and making teachers the targets of average citizens. Too many Americans have bought the line that unions are destroying companies and driving up costs. They seem to want the U.S. to lead the race to the bottom by destroying what little power the unions have to protect workers rights. The fact is, unions today represent only a small fraction of U.S. workers and the largest represents some of the poorest workers. Even though the unions do little but fight for the right to decent medical care at the expense of all other benefits, SEIU declined to back single payer health care because the President is too cozy with a Democratic Party that criticizes unions for backing their own choice rather than that of the DCC.
Finally, most Americans have no idea that corporations are heavily subsidized by the U.S. Government, and that needs to change. The psychopathic [my emphasis] CEOs who buy our Senators have not delivered on the jobs they promised. The banksters are not lending the tax money we gave them and don't seem to realize that if President Obama were to make good on his threat that banks too big to fail must be broken up, they will lose their ability to make war at will for fun and for profit. Then our kids will have a choice to work in a "peace time" economy rather than being forced to join the military to obtain an education. The education they receive in war is one that they will take back to America, to their and our detriment. In France, the citizens there have received universal health care, worker protection laws, and a strong unemployment policy. That's to say, there is a relatively vibrant and locally based economy in France. We can do it here too.
CCJ: So to clarify, you are saying that we need to abolish corporate personhood entirely?
RS: Yes. Exactly.
CJ: With this in mind (i.e., corporate personhood dominating in the political sphere), what are your thoughts on the Supreme Court ruling?
RS: Umm . . . I was actually celebrating that night, and I knew that decision would bring conservatives and liberals together. For instance, I was at a so-called debate in Oregon in my district. The incumbent didn’t show up. However, the Tea Party candidate was there. He said the government owns the means of production and he called that socialism. I said to him, 'Well, it sounds to me like you’re actually talking about communism, not socialism.' He replied, 'No, I’m talking about Fascism.' I thought that was pretty telling that he admitted that.
CCJ: What about your politics? Can you tell us a little more about where you stand, i.e., how do you define yourself as a candidate?
RS: I define myself as a radical centrist, meaning that I want to include everyone when considering my responsibility as a Senator. I am running as a Progressive because everyone knows that we need radical change to take back our government and make it work in the interests of the People. That is the definition of progress, in my view. Conservatives and Liberals are engaged in a Civil War at a time when we should be getting together to finish the American Revolution. If the People of this country took back control of their language instead of letting the corporate media define the debate, we would see the end of the two-Party system in the U.S. and the rise of Parliamentary-style democracy in America.
CCJ: Tell us a little more about your education and your background.
RS: I treated former military service members in the VA. Most of my patients were combat veterans and were victims of rape in the military. The vast majority of patients thus suffered from PTSD. The job seemed easy at first. After all, I’ve been doing treating PTSD and other trauma-induced conditions my entire career. But after more time with these patients, it became really interesting. My veterans forced me to look at the balance between my use of medications and the use of my skills in listening, empathizing with their experiences, and helping them recover from their trauma by accepting that the horrible violence that they suffered and inflicted upon others does not irretrievably damage their souls. In a word: redemption is possible. It is easier to deliver this message to people of faith, which fortunately most combat veterans are.
Before that I worked in a County Mental Health system treating the poor. I built several mental health programs. These included a major upgrade of the County program and again at the Bandon, Oregon VA Community Based Outreach Clinic. I was the Acting Associate Chief of Staff for Mental Health for ten months during the roll out of the Uniform Services Benefits Package for Mental Health Services in 2008. During that time I took the lead in establishing a new program for mental health in Brookings, Oregon that expanded to serve Crescent City, California. Our clinic nurse manager did the lion's share of the work in the Crescent City expansion project, however.
I always used some therapy in my work, but prior to the VA the load was too heavy to do much in-depth work with those who needed it the most. So it was generic counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy until I started working with veterans. I really began to listen to their experiences. I really think I understand what it’s like to be in combat. Stop The Madness : The Diary of a Soldier For Peace in the War to Take Back America is a book of essays that I am writing online at the website of Soldiers For Peace International, an organization I founded. It is comprised of a group of veterans and active duty service members from around the world who are dedicated to bringing permanent peace to the planet. In the book, I wrote about it in American’s borderline split. I discussed how people have trouble integrating the good and bad. That's why we so oftentimes we regard one another as enemies.(Incidentally, I wrote an essay about this subject, too, and it's entitled, "Healing American Borderline Split." It's a look at society from a psychiatric perspective).
CCJ: So what does your take on trauma and treating soldiers with PTSD mean when it comes to democracy and American society at large?
RS: We cannot have democracy when we live in a country whose citizen's believe that they are not capable of governing themselves [my emphasis]. If we cannot govern ourselves then an oligarchy will inevitable arise that will do it for us. That is how we ended up with a fascist government in America. Sinclair Lewis warned us about this in It Can't Happen Here. That was written before the start of WWII, but the warning was forgotten in the wake of victory. That is, if we fall into the trap of thinking it is best to accept the claim “We’ll lead you, we’ll protect you,” we accept a Fascist perspective. Moreover, it’s a disturbing part of the so called "conservative" mentality we’re seeing right now in this country. They are fearful of change, and yet screaming for it. They need to know that the real enemy of democracy is the corporations that can afford to buy our Senators off with a fraction of the tax money they get in return. When they do, we will take back our country together, as good Americans should.
CCJ: What are your thoughts on President Obama’s work so far?
RS: I read The Audacity of Hope and I think that he knows what’s wrong with the country. He could do a lot more. One example of what he could have done on his own is to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ by Executive order. Truman desegregated the military that way and it is much stronger as a result. The only thing stopping him is that he has to pander to the religious fundamentalists who are a driving force in the conversion to fascism. They reject the First Amendment, accepting the corporate version of American history and trying to force-feed it to our children by taking over the Board of Education in Texas and trying to do the same in California, between which the texts the children use across America are selected.
These same people support the privatization of education through a voucher system at the taxpayer expense, and this amounts to a subsidy of the rich who can afford decent private schools to brainwash their kids while poor people can only afford education for profit that gives a cut-rate education where kids get the same corporate propaganda. Once again, they are feeding the race to the bottom, at least for those who are not already rich. They are trying to create a "separate but equal" system of education. The only thing equal in this scheme is that are children are being exposed to a Bolshevized version of our history.
Nevertheless, I think President Obama is doing good things, like de-privatizing student loans. But he needs to scrap other worthless programs such as the ‘No Child Left Alone’ program. In my view, it should be the states who Truman desegregated the military that way and it is much stronger as a result. The only thing stopping him is that he has to pander to the religious fundamentalist who are a driving force in the conversion to fascism. They reject the first amendment, accepting the corporate version of American history and trying to force-feed it to our children by taking over the Board of Education in Texas and trying to do the same in California, between which the texts children use across America are selected.
CCJ: I realize you are running as a Progressive, but it sounds like you align yourself more closely with Democrats, correct? So, let’s presume you side mostly with Democrats, should you distance yourself from President Obama? The media is playing this idea up at the moment.
RS: Well, he’s our president and we need to support him. We certainly need to criticize him when he’s not doing the right thing. But it’s a shame, because he doesn’t have a Senate behind him to help him get things done. We need to treat him with civility as any president ought to be treated. If we’d criticized Bush in a way that wasn’t so personal, we might have gotten things done or accomplished things. The corporate media divides for the benefit of the politicians and the corporate interests who back them. They’re deliberately drawing parallels, so that we say, 'well, what’s the point? Nothing will ever change. I’m giving up.' That means people will be more inclined to just abandon their rights as citizens. We are bringing up an entire generation that depends on us to properly educate them in their duties as citizens, but their parents have already given up trying to sort through the corporate propaganda. This sets us up to lose our democracy because our children no longer understand what that even means.
CCJ: What author matters to you, and why?
RS: Robert Putnam, a Harvard Sociology professor, wrote Bowling Alone. It extensively documents the decline of civility and social capital in American society dating back to the Vietnam War. My Senate campaign, as well as Soldiers for Peace International, is built upon the premise that we need to rebuild the infrastructure of society in order to heal the world and ourselves, too.
We can restore a vibrant economy that provides real jobs for Americans by eliminating corporate personhood. Few Americans know or appreciate how much of our tax money goes to privately owned corporations that exist only to generate [their own] profits, some of which is used to continue feeding the public trough by supporting the campaigns of their tools in the Senate. The financial bailout is just one example of all of this systemic corruption. In my view, that is what is bankrupting our country. We could bring those jobs back from overseas, get out of WTO, forget NAFTA, and all the other ‘aftas they are after. An important point is that we need to convert an economy and a decentralized green power generation that is owned by the people in their communities. The profit could help fund local health clinics and schools, but senators overall are only interested in keeping their jobs, and these problems don’t matter to them. I think that they will be in for a rude surprise when the voters of America turn to third Parties to solve the problem of the wholesale purchase of our government by special interests.
CCJ: So what's your view on government and economic benefits . . . ?
RS: We need to help build communities. All politics is international and everything we do nationally reverberates locally and vice versa. Our Federal Government could get this off the ground by subsidizing micro-business – solar power is just one example of how they could help locally. For instance, it would be a great investment to emulate the German system of subsidizing low-interest loans to homeowners to install wind and solar generators on their rooftops. They pay back the loans at an accelerated rate by making the private power companies buy the excess at ten times the market rate until the homeowner pays back the loan with interest, thus feeding the program so that it can be extended to even more citizens. In the end, everyone benefits. The people get free power and money to fund local services, the government gets a return on their investment, the power company is spared the expense of building dirty coal, nuclear and oil power plants and the general public is not forced to pick up the bill for these in inflated power rates.
CCJ: Thanks you so much again for this interview. We will support your candidacy and look forward to your victory, Rick!
RS: Thanks for the interview, Cryn. I look forward to staying in touch and hope your readers reach out to me and support my run for U.S. Senate in Oregon.