≡ Menu

Mary Adams

Reflections on today’s elections:

I hesitate to write about politics on election day because it robs me of my sense of humor. There is nothing about Dave Potter, Dennis Donohue, or Donald Trump that lends itself to anything but stinging satire. I can’t muster a smile.

I am hoping that, in our own backyard, Parker and Adams win because of all the reasons the Partisan has enumerated in admirable detail.  (No other publication I know of here comes close to its investigative talent.)  Their adversaries have behaved execrably even while Parker and Adams have kept their cool. There is no telling what special interests or lack of voter enthusiasm or any other wild card will do, but let’s hope for the best.  They are the best.


clintonpodium_600_1As for Hillary vs. Bernie, I hope Hillary wins. Yes, Bernie has inspired thousands of fervent idealists, mostly white and mostly young, and as a committed progressive I admire many of his ideas.  I don’t think there is much difference in what Hillary wants to accomplish and what he has articulated, but there is no practical way much of what he wants can actually be achieved.  Among other unlikely events, we would need Congress to transform itself into Robin Hood and rob the rich to help the poor. No nonpartisan organization that has reviewed his ideas has given them any semblance of fiscal reality. I realize that idealism does not permit practicality to intervene. Bernie’s intentions are grand but his ability to achieve them just about zero.



And then there is the problem of his foreign policy creds.  Sanders has had a mostly undistinguished career in Congress. The international crises confronting the next president are daunting. They need to be handled by someone who has the chops to do it.  I don’t like Hillary’s past hawkish views and I hope she has been sobered by the horrible outcomes of our military exploits. Hillary has the experience on Day One to get in the game.  I have no idea what Bernie would do, and he hasn’t said.

Also, I wish Bernie had not crossed the line from evangelism to demagoguery. His followers look like they are about to burn down the barricades if he doesn’t get the nomination.  At this point, they have the affect of a cult. He has no chance of getting the nomination with the rules that he agreed to when he decided to run as a guest on the Democratic ticket, and he knows it.  His drive to the absolute finish line, with the crowds cheering him on, looks like someone who has finally tasted power and can’t give it up.

Yet, I am counting on him to beseech his followers to vote for Hillary, because we have to beat Trump. Bernie may leave the race a bitter man, but he cannot be so mad at Hillary that he would help Trump get in office.  If his supporters vote for a third party candidate as a protest, that is exactly what could happen. We cannot even contemplate handing over the future to one of the most racist ignoramuses ever to ascend to the head of a major political party. If Trump gets his hands on the Supreme Court, it will be far worse than not having Medicare for all, or not having free college for all.

This is why I have no sense of humor about these elections in particular. We have too many awful candidates running who need to be sent back to their lairs.  We have a lot riding on what happens today.

Here’s to Jane, Mary, and Hillary, who all happen to be women.  May they all win!

Meister is a writer who lives in Pebble Beach and who has contributed several pieces to the Partisan.


As we again enter the season for political campaigning, I find myself asking if there is better prism through which to view the candidates running for office?  Are we once again fated to cast our votes on the basis of each candidate’s unsubstantiated claims, meaningless platitudes and ambiguous promises, only to find a year or two later that those we elected are less interested in addressing our community’s major problems than in finding ways to reward their campaign contributors? We know a lot more about who they are since reading the list in the Partisan.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could begin shifting the campaign debate to the concrete proposals by the challengers and the actual results achieved by incumbents?

Hand Writing Time for Change Phrase Isolated on Gary Background.I was inspired to think about this when I read about the Social Project Index (SPI). The SPI was established in 2013 on the principle that economic development is necessary, but not sufficient, for social progress. The SPI’s originators focused on those metrics that best describe the values on which quality of life, not economic success, depend. As they are described in the SPI, these include

  1. Basic Human Needs, such as nutrition and medical care, shelter, personal safety
  2. Foundations of Well Being, such as access to basic knowledge and ecosystem sustainability, and
  3. Opportunity, such as personal freedom, tolerance, and access to advanced education.

Since the SPI is an international index that covers 133 countries, some of these would not apply to most of the U.S., but many do. It’s a matter of interest that of the North American countries in the group, the U.S. and Canada, Canada ranks sixth in the world on the totality of these components; the U.S. ranks 16th.

What is important about the Index – and what got me thinking about it – is that it measures outcomes, not inputs. Governments often put huge resources into programs that yield little for their citizens, yet claim credit for the mere fact of investing in them. The SPI doesn’t let them get away with that.

Here’s a very revealing outcome measurement: The U.S. spends far more than any other developed country on health care, but its health outcome in one key parameter, infant mortality, is well below that in many other countries, including Korea, Hungary, and Poland, and in fact has slipped over recent years, despite increasing investment. The obvious question is: what are our elected officials doing to adopt or adjust our policies so that our huge investment produces better outcomes?

To bring this concept to the local level, it has been announced that Monterey County will launch a pilot program to cover the gap in health services for the uninsured. Although at the moment uninsured patients can see doctors at health clinics on a sliding scale, their prescriptions or lab work or radiology needs are not covered. The pilot program would be funded by a $500,000 grant from the county, which would cover most of the currently uncovered services, although with some co-pay and some very expensive medications not covered. The services would continue until the grant runs out, and then the data will be analyzed to see if there are better clinical outcomes and more cost-effective care. That sounds like a great approach. It’s dependent upon the Board of Supervisors approving the $500,000. We’ll know on Sept. 15 if it is, and who on the board votes for or against it.

Affordable housing is another matter. Although in this county it is often mentioned as a critical need, and there are literally pages of programs to address it, what have those programs actually accomplished? Is there anyone here who believes that Monterey County has affordable housing?

There is a litany of other components that we might wish to include in our own Social Progress Index. Water is the hot one, but there are also education, personal safety, land use, criminal justice, as examples. Having decided on what components to use, we can then take a hard look at the results our elected officials have achieved in the time they have been in charge of their management. What haven’t they done that they had the power to do? And what concrete proposals are aspiring candidates offering to achieve better results?

Holding them to the Monterey County SPI index would eliminate support for campaign positions such as, “I will represent all the people of Monterey County,” or “I will work everyday on behalf of the people,” or “I will create good paying jobs through my economic policies.” Those are platitudes that the SPI abjures.

My proposed list of Monterey Social Progress Index parameters may be incomplete or even in some cases irrelevant. Thus I invite other readers to contribute—either by proposing additions or deletions from my list, or by initiating a dialogue on a specific issue (similar to that which has been occurring on the desal project in recent months), designed to develop a factual basis on which voters can make an informed decision in the 2016 county supervisorial election. I invite experts in these areas, once the parameters have been agreed upon, to submit views and information on which they would base their own outcome assessments. They have access to data that regular citizens don’t have, and having a forum in which to present their analysis will be invaluable.

Let’s use the Partisan for a community dialogue, something it has excelled in, and create a fully developed, fact-based analysis of competing claims and proposals on each of the issues to be measured in our local SPI. If we wait for the Herald or the Pine Cone and the candidates’ fliers to enlighten us, we will be blinded by claims versus fact.

It is at the ballot box that we have our most powerful say, so this time, let’s demand fact-based outcome assessment for those who have occupied the office of supervisor, and fact-based analysis of the claims of those who aspire to it. Then let’s continue our vigilance and make the fact-based assessment of outcomes the standard for all current elected officials to meet.

Meister is a journalist who lives in Pebble Beach. She is a regular contributor to the Partisan.


Zen waterOn April 7, the End of Life Option Act (SB128), the bill co-authored by California state Senators Bill Monning (D-Carmel) and Lois Wolk (D-Davis), cleared its second committee hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, by a comfortable 5-2 margin.

At the hearing, news was made: Assemblyman Luis Alejo, whose district includes Salinas and who chairs the Latino Caucus, has signed on as a principal sponsor of the bill. This is notable because he represents a constituency that has traditionally opposed such legislation on religious and/or cultural grounds. His support is indicative of the attitudinal shift in confronting the challenges of end of life care on the part of both voters and physicians.

A recent poll indicates that over 70 percent of Californians favor an aid-in-dying law, mirroring the national percentage. For the first time, a majority of physicians – 54 percent, up from 46 percent in 2010—also favor it.

For those of you unfamiliar with this bill, it would allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults, who meet a number of strict requirements, to end their lives with medication that they must be able to ingest themselves, at the time of their choosing. Two physicians must certify that the patient has a terminal condition. Other safeguards in the bill address concerns about coercive family or financial pressures. Patients must initiate the request and they can decide at the last minute not to use the medication, making the process entirely patient driven.

The End of Life Option Act is modeled on Oregon’s very successful Death with Dignity Act, which has been in place since 1997 without a single complaint of abuse to any authority. A very small percentage of the Oregon population has requested medication under the law; an even smaller percentage has taken it. It seems that merely having the medication available is such a comfort that many terminally ill patients feel no need to use it. Oregon and Washington passed the Death with Dignity Act via ballot initiative; New Mexico and Montana allow it by judicial order. Vermont’s legislature is the only one that has approved it, which is the best way in the view of experts to embed the required safeguards into the law. California now appears poised to do the same, though if the bill does not pass the many hurdles ahead of it, especially in the Assembly where many more votes are needed, it is sure to appear on the 2016 as a ballot initiative.

The traditional opponents of such bills include the Catholic Church – which has already signed on an expensive lobbying organization to oppose SB128. Some organizations representing the disabled, who are very aware that being disabled or old does not meet the strict rules under which one would qualify for aid in dying, are able to raise a lot of money by opposing the legislation on a “slippery slope” rationale made moot by the many years of data from Oregon. It is also opposed by some medical organizations, including oncologists. In the past, the California Medical Association (CMA) has opposed it, though it is hoped that this time around the CMA will take a neutral stance and allow its members to decide whether or not to participate in carrying out provisions of the bill, which would be strictly voluntary. (For reasons difficult to comprehend, the CMA opposed the End of Life Notification Bill recently signed into law by Governor Brown, requiring physicians to inform terminally ill patients of their options end of life options at the time of diagnosis.)

Infinite warehouse

SB128 is appropriately named the “End of Life Option” Act because the authors and supporters have made clear that aid in dying is part of a continuum of care for the terminally ill that includes both palliative care and hospice — vital options even though they are not always available or effective in relieving the pain and suffering of the terminally ill. The recommendation to consult palliative care and hospice experts is included in the bill, though it is not a requirement because access might be a problem, especially in rural parts of the state.

Many supporting this bill believe it is a basic human right to determine how to exit an untenable situation when one is terminally ill. Opponents like to call it “assisted suicide,” a politically charged phrase that summons distaste. The very definition of “terminal” connotes the inevitable ending of life, whereas “suicide” connotes the possibility of a future that is willingly foreclosed. When all viable treatment options have been exhausted, the only issue remaining to those patients is how peaceful their end will be, not whether or not there is an end. If the End of Life Option Act allows those facing the emotional and physical pain of a prolonged and painful death a peaceful departure, it is difficult to imagine why it would be opposed. Neither religious doctrine nor a misconceived notion that everyone can be healed should stand in the way of a crucial personal freedom.

If you agree, your voice needs to be heard. The next hearing – as yet unscheduled – will be before the Senate Appropriations Committee where the sponsors are not certain that they have the votes to send SB128 onto its next legislative gantlet. This link will take you to a list of members, and you can send emails to them by clicking on their names. You may not be in their district, but theoretically they represent all Californians, and so far, the majority of Californians say they want the right to decide how they die when their circumstances are grievous and irremediable. It would be far more expedient for our state legislators to agree than force an expensive ballot initiative, but for that to happen, we need to make ourselves heard.

Meister is a journalist who lives in Pebble Beach. She is a frequent contributor to the Partisan.


SUSAN MEISTER: Books worth remembering on a desert isle


Desert tropical island with palm trees.Larry Parson’s reflections on reading made me think about my OLLI class, the one I chose because its chief focus is Tolstoy’s “Ann Karenina,” a book I read as a late teenager contemplating the dark world of adulthood. Reading this book many years later is a very different experience. Maturity lends perspective, and my perspective is that nothing much has changed in the many layers of social and political life depicted in fanatical detail in that book. It took place in late 19th century Russia, but not so much has changed in 21st century America: the pettiness and ineffectiveness of bureaucracy, the war between the classes, the rejection of change even while it is barreling towards you at warp speed. Especially in regard to the role of women: has anything changed all that much in Mississippi or Arkansas or Texas? The themes of great books are of course universal, but you do not expect to see glimmers of your own society in the meeting rooms of a Russian agricultural committee as described by Tolstoy.

My reading habits have changed a lot. I once was a devotee of fiction, especially the world of the Victorians, with their repressed sexuality set inside intensely romantic settings, the weather wild and the country houses dominated by faultlessly clad swains. “Wuthering Heights” was an early favorite, my vision of Heathcliff aligned perfectly with the screen image of Laurence Olivier raw and manly against the Scottish moors. Soon I migrated to George Eliot, and “Middlemarch,” perhaps the greatest English language novel ever written, not only because of the compelling plot and the complex characters set in their rigid social setting, but because of the scathing intelligence of Eliot herself, an observer of character so precise and so deep that even today readings of her work provoke the surprise of yet another insight depicted in her pages.

But now I have little patience with most contemporary novels, perhaps because I have not ranged out into the international world of literary fiction enough, or perhaps because the real world, with its conflicts and tragedy, seem the plot of the greatest novel that might ever be written. Now George Packer, just about any essayist in The New Yorker, including Atul Gawande and Anthony Lane, claim my focus. My night table is sagging with biographies of Bach and Lawrence of Arabia; and I have essay collections by the amazing Rebecca Solnit waiting, too, along with books on contemporary issues by the great Thomas Friedman. I am now much more into fact than romance, though I occasionally dip into my vintage edition of poems by Auden and my old mentor Donald Hall.

Reading is my ultimate form of self indulgence. There are so many reasons not to read: Netflix, music practice, editorial writing, a new political campaign to which I am devoting myself, lunch with friends. I have every reason to duck the hard work of reading, because unless you participate with the author in his or her world, you are not really paying attention. My nearly greatest fear is not having enough books in my actual possession that are awaiting me. While I know there is little chance of that, I worry. And what if I were kidnapped and placed into solitary confinement? What books could I remember well enough to be my companion through whatever hardship might be on offer?

Here is my abbreviated list of fiction:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
David Copperfield (and almost everything else) by Charles Dickens
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Pride and Prejudice and Emma by Jane Austen
Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Art is long, life is short. Next time, my list of non-fiction. If you’re interested

Susan Meister is a journalist who lives in Pebble Beach. She is a regular contributor to the Partisan.