Sunday, December 07, 2008


Non-profits don’t get bailouts—introducing Panetic governance

by Larry Geller

Sometime soon -- probably within the next 60 days -- our agency will file for bankruptcy protection. Nearly 200 employees, including child-care workers, case managers and social workers, could lose their jobs. The hundreds of children we serve will lose the protection we have provided for them. They are homeless, abused, abandoned and neglected. It would take $3 million to $4 million to save the day. That's million, not billion.

Where's my bailout?

Social worker Teresa DeCrescenzo’s article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Nonprofits in a faltering economy, 12/1/2008.

As this illustrates, nonprofits are part of government’s support system. Governments provide some services directly and pay nonprofits to supply other services.

DeCrescenzo again:

Nonprofits depend on government funding and the generosity of business and individual giving, and those of us in the healthcare field are facing the bleakest of landscapes. Where is the storm of media coverage, the persuasive rhetoric, the public outcry to save critically needed services, such as child care, assisted living, home healthcare and hospital services? Who is documenting our agony? Where are the desperately needed cash infusions to help us restructure in this troubled economy?

In Hawaii we are also tearing at the fabric of our social safety net. With medical and mental health services already cut back, it’s just a question of time before suffering spreads throughout the islands. No, the millionaires in Kahala won’t hurt much, but they are vastly outnumbered by those who will.

The Panetic Principle

It should be a fundamental role of government to reduce human-inflicted and avoidable suffering. This principle has been named Panetics, and there is an International Society for Panetics. I have been a member of ISP for many years. In truth, with governments, including and especially our own, engaging in wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians, this particular non-profit cannot be said to have been very successful in its mission. But no one has so far been able to stop this country from torture and other direct inflictions of suffering, so this is not a surprising failure.

Taking the principles of panetics local, we should be very concerned about how we let the current economic difficulties play out. It is not a bad thing to assert that governance should always work to avoid the infliction of suffering through its actions and institutions. Good times or bad, the principle is the same, and in hard times it is critical.

Hawaii’s city and state governments have a lot to learn about panetics. They don’t seem to care whether people get healthcare or not, or whether they sleep in the rain on the beaches. Our governor is happy to withhold funds that the Legislature apportioned to feed and care for vulnerable seniors. This does not compute.

The Legislature seems aware of the need to minimize suffering, even if it does not formulate its actions in exactly those words. Our governor, on the other hand, seems entirely indifferent to the suffering that she causes when she withholds funds only to release them (if ever) later on for a photo op.

An elderly person who is forced to return to the hospital because money was not available to provide short-term support for housecleaning and meal preparation not only is made to suffer, but the healthcare system is strained by having to care for one more person. The suffering is unnecessary. It happened. It could have and should have been prevented.

Hawaii now has a waiting list for rehabilitation services for the disabled. Our governor refuses to join with other states in negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs for those with low incomes, for those with disabilities, or for seniors. Nevermind that it’s state law to do so. Another law should provide lower-cost drugs through overseas purchase, but the administration won’t implement that one either. $3 million that should have gone to pedestrian safety improvements was never released.

Through its deliberate action this administration causes suffering rather than reduces it. A person who goes hungry because they need to spend money on life-giving medications is suffering without question. Thank you, governor. Not.

If we all observe the simple panetic principles, we’ll be better able to navigate ethically and morally through hard times as well as good times. Our leaders cannot exempt themselves from their responsibilities to us. If they fail to consider this fundamental principle, we should remind them of it.

I don’t understand why government seems oblivious to its obligation to minimize human suffering. You’d think that this would be the most important thing on their minds. One theory:

William Lanouette, past President of [The International Society for Panetics], explains that Ralph Siu--who proposed the founding formulations for panetics--was fond of citing Eastern wisdom to explain Western events.His favorite example involved the Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai. Ralph said that in the 1970s a French journalist asked Zhou what he thought of the French Revolution. Zhou's reply: "It's too early to tell." In Zhou's Eastern perspective, which measures time in millennia, the French Revolution that had occurred a mere two centuries ago must have seemed a recent event. And in many ways its results certainly are inconclusive. So it is with Panetics, Ralph Siu's focal achievement in a commanding synthesis of Eastern and Western thought. Ralph himself once told a Washington Post reporter that "with ideas like Panetics it usually takes a generation for a new idea of this magnitude to catch on."

So maybe we are simply unevolved at this point.

When you can, urge our governor to support non-profits that are doing good work, and to always choose to cut the budget in ways that minimize the suffering of Hawaii’s citizens. This means preserving health care and other services as a priority.

Our city, too, seems indifferent to suffering. We’re building a multi-billion dollar train on the backs of desperately needed social services. Mufi chases the homeless out of the parks and has illegally arrested advocates when they protested his actions. Where is compassion? Where is panetics? This does not compute.


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