Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holy Bananas!!!!




Once a radical...always a radical:
 
 
 
I suppose I was first radicalized about 1965.  In many ways it was simply the next move of a practicing non-conformist, a refugee from the 1950's love affair with television and the blatant denial of all things unpleasant.  And too, by that sad point in history, the optimism; the warm hope of a young soul had been replaced by the stark realization that America will kill the messengers of any such broader ideals:  Kennedy, King...another Kennedy; Gandhi, Jesus...the list is endless, the decision final.  
 
Then came 1968.  The draft notice, the week of rage that was Chicago.  Rome dismantling the republicanism that was the peoples' senate.  Kill the messenger was back with a vengeance, for the storm troopers of Chicago targeted the media -- the journalists assigned the Constitutional mandate to uphold a free press -- a press that was already under a new, and relentless siege.  From that point on, I could never look at the American flag quite the same.  And while time passed, a grudging conformity returned to my life...business goes on -- those moments, those feelings, never really escaped the shadowy outskirts of my conscience.  In effect, I never surrendered -- instead, burying my soul in the comfort of a deep and enduring cynicism for all things now deemed the truth, or perhaps rooted in the nature of humans.  
 
In my last posting I stated that, "authors and independent film makers are now the last bastion of America's free and open press."  Perhaps that was a little naïve...a little narrow.  Technology and globalization have now made media suppression a truly planetary-wide pursuit, particularly by those entities that appear to have a lot to hide. And so much easier it would seem.  How else to explain the zealousness of one corporation's efforts to destroy one man and his short film about banana production in Nicaragua.  No, it is not about bananas.  It is about free speech as a threat to multi-national corporations of all stripes.  Perhaps too, this relentless injection of the dilatory beast known as self-serving propaganda. And in the end, the ultimate destruction of choice itself. 
 
Enter Swedish journalist and film maker, Fredrik Gertten.
 
 
His crime:  Exposing the harm being wrought on Nicaraguan farm workers by the use of a banned pesticide.  The who?  Dole Corporation, a multi-national and one of the largest food producers in the world. A controversial film?  Not really.  Just another example of farm workers being poisoned by a bunch of greedy shits in the US.  For corporations like Dole, just another day at the office. So why such a reaction?  The film was scheduled to preview at an LA film festival around 2007.  But even prior to that, Dole began sending letters, e-mails...all very threatening to Gertten and his producers, culminating in a 'cease and desist' order claiming that a fraud was being perpetrated against Dole's sterling image, and accusing the producers of malice, defamation of the company's character (a seeming oxymoron), etc. etc.. They also went after the film festival in a similar tone.
 
So anyway, we all know that corporations like Dole have more lawyers than Lima beans, so a whole bus load of legal machinations followed: eventually resulting in the film being withdrawn (via intimidation), from the festival, but screened at a private venue elsewhere in LA.  Issue finally resolved?  Hardly. Dole then went ahead and sued Gertten and his production staff anyway, folks who were hardly in a position to financially defend themselves.  Not because they were guilty as implied, but because they could not financially defend such an attack.  They could lose everything, including the roof over their heads.  So, after some deliberation, Gertten and his production company, to the surprise of everyone -- including Dole -- filed a counter-suit.  Then more legal nonsense, foot dragging in the courts...blah, blah.
 
Then something interesting happened.  The Swedish Parliament, with a little prodding, entered the fray.  Because the real issue wasn't a few dead Nicaraguans -- Dole had made that perfectly clear -- instead, the Swedish MP's viewed the suit as a pervasive attack on free speech, something that Scandinavians take very seriously.  So much so that they held a private screening in Parliament. And the publicity was generating a wide-spread boycott of Dole products throughout Europe. 
 
Long and short:  Dole withdrew its suit in Sweden with all kinds of caveats, addendum's...obtuse disclaimers, except that wasn't quite enough for Gertten and his people.  The film was still effectively banned in the US.  So, more court time, more delays and frivolous motions that still had to be heard by the courts.  But eventually the case came before a judge in LA -- after viewing the film, ended the charade right there. He found that the film had absolutely nothing in common with Dole's complaints...further, awarded Gertten and his production team $200,000 in damages.  Course, we're not sure where that left the Nicaraguans, other than somewhat grateful to Gertten for not only bringing their plight to the attention of the world, but having the perseverance to fight for his and their truth.   
 
So, back to this old radical.  Aside from playing with horses all my life, I have also been a writer, author, journalist...born I suppose in the age of the 'new journalism' espoused by the likes of PJ O'Rourke, Hunter Thompson and others...who felt that objectivity in journalism was a little too much to expect if some level of compassion and humanity was to remain in the story.  Made sense to me. However, two incidents occurred in my waning years of working in the print media -- both exemplifying what I would call the death of unbiased reporting in America...maybe even the world.
The first was about 1993.  I was working for a newspaper in California while concurrently pursuing some renewed academic studies.  I was doing a story on Stanford's LifeFlight...the hospital's helicopter transport system for critical or inaccesible cases.  Spent two-weeks flying with some of most incredible and motivated people I had ever met.  I had decided to approach the story in the 'new journalism' approach as there was simply too much emotion in the story to just wrap it in the cloak of who, what, where and how.  Hell, people died, we were constantly at risk flying under all sorts of conditions, both in the air and on the ground; the energy of these great professionals defined in sweat and tears -- not ink on a page. 
 
The editors tried three times to re-define my story.  See, prior to going to press, I own it, not the newspaper.  They were determined to eliminate the word death from the copy -- like telling a war correspondent to report only the glory of those that prevailed in the conflict.  You see, the advertising department was concerned over the potential reaction to the story by the Stanford University Medical Center -- a major advertising client of the newspaper.  At the third editorial board meeting, the issue was forced.  I refused again; they killed the whole story.  I packed my shit the next day.
 
The second issue arose around 1990.  I worked for a well-known (and missed), trade journal dedicated to a certain, specialized area in the horse world.  You might say we were the industry 'outliers' and in many ways cherished our niche.  But a story emerged that was (or should have been), of great interest to our readers and the industry as a whole.  Sadly, it was a 'dirty story' where the heroes and villains were hard to define clearly.  We had to go up against a major, foreign multi-national corporation, one that happened to be one of our major advertisers.  That created a moral dilemma for us, that in turn wrapped in a potential for a kind of economic suicide. 
 
We sat on the story a bit, tried to find a way to take the high road without being murdered along the way.  Like the film maker, Gertten -- when coercion failed, the threats began.  And continued until they went from possible to a done deal.  And in the end...the loyalties to our readers, the industry -- was never reciprocated.  We were just one more publication deemed DOA.  I never wrote in the print media again.
 
And that is why I say that authors, film makers; some bloggers perhaps -- these folks now represent what is left of journalistic standards and integrity in this country.  News is relegated to the sewers of entertainment, corporations run the government and virtually own the very regulatory agencies once charged to temper the excesses of profit-seeking and greed.  The kind of heroin that big business can never seem to kick.  Education too is under siege -- the dumbing-down of America running at full throttle.  And much to my chagrin...my numbing fear perhaps, is that very soon we may lose "that last angry man."  The one guy that stands between our claim to humanity and the animalistic extinction we just might deserve.  We've been adrift for decades on this vile, dying ocean of blind ambition -- a wandering disease that is no longer welcome on any distant shore.  A despondent shark, awash with the realization that he has finally eaten the last fish on the planet.    
 
 
No, it is not just about bananas anymore.     
 
 
 
 
 
 
          
 
 
 

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Dyslexic Math-Hater Looks at the Economy:




Now I Get It!

Too Bad For Me...and You.
 
 
 
 
Once I had temporarily moved to Wisconsin, I decided to give up conventional television.  So I bought a Roku box and spent some time catching up on documentaries...things with intelligent content and no Christmas commercials, alligator assassins or Big Pharma's insatiable appetite to sell me drugs with more side-effects than a morning commute in Los Angeles.  Out of this initial experiment I have come to the conclusion that the real free press in this country has been relegated to authors and independent film makers.  That in itself, is a sad -- no, horrific realization for a nation that was once willing to die for the sanctity of a few fundamental truths.
 
 
The American Economic Model:
 
First off, America itself was founded as the world's first capitalistic state.  An experiment really in a full-circle mercantile-based society.
 
 
Ok...so I wondered:  "What the hell is really going on in this current, chronic and evidently doomed economic model we have embraced where we have gone to speaking in terms of millions, billions and on to trillions -- which for most Americans is like staring at a 55-gallon drum of moldy Cole-slaw.  Uh, huh...we're trying to understand a $5.00 pork chop while Congress is arguing about the exact definition of bankruptcy. 
 
 
So...here we go.  I suggest you crack a new bottle of Bourbon about now.
 
I first tried to connect the dots in the relationship between the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury Department and just exactly how these machinations relate to the continuing US deficit, the astronomical American debt and the wandering ghost known as the trade deficit.  Was I sorry I asked?  Yes and no.
 
Believe it or not, the current mess actually all started in August of 1971, when then US President, Richard Nixon dissolved the gold exchange on American currency and simply floated the dollar on world markets via good faith and air.  Which means that the dollar was now backed by a wink and a smile.  That seemed okay as the dollar still represented the strongest and most accepted currency in the world, and as such was quickly embraced as the standard for judging the value of every other nation's currency.  What followed in the US was a period of extreme inflation, created in many ways by the world-wide manipulation of foreign national currencies in a false parity on the dollar.  So if a Japanese yen is suddenly worth a US dollar, then what does that do to the value of that dollar?  Better yet, what does it do to the cost of a Japanese-made Toyota?  Hmm.  So like today's situation with China...there are suddenly two versions of the Chinese yuan.  One used at home at true value to pay the worker -- the other one floated on world markets as faux true-value currency.  The Jekyll and Hyde of world trade.  So the Chinese worker is paid shit -- the American consumer buying Chinese products then gets to make up the difference in value.  Great plan.
 
 
However, let's back up to 1945 to the little berg of Breten Wood, Vermont.  World War II was closing -- the culmination of the world's most massive economic misstep.  Sure, some other junk was involved, but both German and Japanese nationalism and expansionist desires, as well as the rise of Bolshevism, were driven by the horses of resource scarcity, economic inequality and money.  Since America was now the new economic 'Bull o' the Woods,' and most other nations were broke, destroyed or conquered it was decided that world peace was easier to maintain with gold than guns -- establishing both the gold standard and the US dollar as the currency of the realm -- in that all other currencies were based on the value of that dollar.  That is where the $35.00 an ounce thing came from.  Worked kinda okay in the decades that followed as the world enjoyed relative, if unreliable peace, sustained economic growth and something resembling income equality.  Remember that last one, please.  
 
Now, back to Richard Nixon.  The Breten Wood Conference created what was known as a gold exchange.  In this framework, gold could be lent or exchanged between nations to balance the books, carry-over short-term downfalls...get the Crown Jewels dry-cleaned...whatever.  Except that two things happened in America.  We got into the Vietnam War and the price of Kennedy's desire to check out the moon.  The bills started coming due and the US was suddenly running a deficit.  The thing about these massive piles of gold in the exchange is that the gold never went anywhere.  They didn't unload Fort Knox and send it to the Pentagon to trade corn for bombs.  The gold stayed and other nations just got a check.  Because of the growing US deficit brought about by trying to save the Vietnamese from a worse fate than...us I guess, these checks began to bounce.  That placed a very negative cloud over the assumed confidence the world had held in the US dollar.  Confidence.  Finish that first bottle of Bourbon and write the word confidence on your hand.  It will be really important later.
 
The more I study the French, the more I realize that this is a nation where Momma didn't raise no dummies.  On top of that, they had a pretty good idea where American intervention in Vietnam was was headed.  So along about 1970, France started an international stampede by simply informing the US Treasury that we'd like the gold...not another check.  Turned out we were a little short on the stuff, so Nixon said, "Hold on boys..."  He then abruptly withdrew the US from the gold exchange, claimed the dollar was sound as ever and ushered in the era of what is known as Fiat Currency.  Dollars backed by...well, nothing.  The real nail in the coffin was that an active gold exchange required discipline...subsequently, under this new Fiat system, discipline went out the window.  What followed was rapid inflation in the US -- a disease that spread around the world;  aggravated to a great extent by these folks:
 
 
Economics 101:  Try to understand that currency is NOT money; rather merely a medium of exchange and further, that governments have an inherent (invented) right to declare something as value.
 
Basically that means if Afghanistan decides to use sheep testicles against the US dollar...better find some sheep. 
 
 
The Federal Reserve:
 
 
[Illus: deesillustration.com] 
 
 Yes, this thing is a monster.   Around 2009, Arthur Greenspan, head of the Federal Reserve was called before a Congressional hearing to answer a few nagging questions.  The gist was: "Yo, Arthur! What's goin' on my man?"  Greenspan had, for quite some time been known as the guru of free-market capitalism.  However, in this particular case he managed to confess that "a flaw may exist in my [economic] ideology."  Really?  By then about 40,000,000 home owners across America had regrettably already reached a very similar conclusion.  But the mortgage collapse was a different can of worms altogether. That comes under the banner of America's insatiable desire for a 'free lunch.'  We engage in this orgy of denial about every 10 years or so.  Remember the dot-com thing?  The savings and loan thing?  Yep.
 
 
What Does This Monster Eat?
 
This is what the Federal Reserve does:  it prints money for the US Treasury.  It also plays with interest rates, monitors the flow of capital going into and out of the economy...you know, plays God.  Worked pretty good when US currency was backed by a tangible -- gold.  Doesn't work so good when the currency is backed up by little more than good faith...and as I mentioned, suddenly develops a clear lack of discipline, particularly when Congress is running for re-election or a standing president needs a pat on the back or a scape-goat for something as minor as the complete collapse of the American banking system, mostly because we didn't quite figure out how to pay for two drawn-out, murderous wars that failed to have either an exit plan or a defined purpose.  Hello Vietnam!
 
So now we have amassed a huge...no monumental debt.  Forget the trade deficit for a second because that's already in the Gulag of Lost Causes.  The US Treasury tells the Fed that we need more cash.  So much cash that the FED keeps running out ink and paper.  This cash is then converted to Federal Bonds, which are auctioned off in open world markets.  They are back by the US government; aka, the Treasury under the assumption that the "US is too big to fail."  Yes, take a time-out here to swallow your tongue.  The cliché's just get funnier.  So, who's buying?  Who's got any money left?  Oh, the Chinese.  And why do they have money?
 
 
Time Out! 
 
 
Anyone remember the mid-1960's -- I mean the other 60's where American business concluded that the Japanese could build our junk cheaper than we could.  Following the 1973 oil embargo this really took off because when you export the manufacturing of your widget, you also export the technology.  Ta, da!  The Datsun!  And here we thought the Japanese were dumb just because they lost the big war.  Well, they won the 'car war' by a long stretch and America's memory; better yet, its hindsight, is always a bit myopic. Enter Boeing, GE, Microsoft ad nausea, and now the Chinese manufacture everything that we once did...and probably do it better.  It is estimated that 96% of everything you'll find in a Wal-Mart is Chinese-made.  Including that cheap toilet paper Americans so love to buy.   What we did export during this period was toxic assets, which managed to bankrupt half of Europe and take down at least three governments. And meanwhile our wars of vengeance are now in their 10th year -- twice as long as it took to fight all of World War II.  Price tag:  Ha, remember that 55-gallon drum of moldy Cole-Slaw...it is now 1,000,000 barrels and climbing.
 
Back to why China has so much money...oh, it's our money actually.  Two-thirds of what we buy comes from China, so we pay the mark-up and the disparity created by the yuan/yuan shell game.  American government does nothing because China also buys the vast majority of those US Treasury bonds that go to sustain all this foreign interventionism -- those trillions that make up the United States debt.  And since we sold our technological souls to the Chinese, it would appear completely impossible -- absurd would be a better word, to ever, ever resolve the existing trade deficit.  Except through war.  Lovely thought.  And this brings us to:
 
Yep, that's Charles Ponzi.  See, what the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury are conducting is really the world's greatest Ponzi Scheme...this of course with the backing of America's multi-national corporations, who pay absolutely no taxes and are already comfortably ensconced with their billions...overseas. 
 See, the nature of a Ponzi Scheme is quite simple:  you pay old investors (at the top) by recruiting lots of investors at the bottom.  Of course, when you run out of investors and/or their capital at the bottom, the scheme collapses and the originators are in Jamaica working on their tan.
 
However...America's version is a little different. 
 If America uses these funds (the Treasury bonds sold on open markets), to pay off internal debt,
then how do they then pay back the bonds?
??????????????????????????????? 
 
 
Could be the rat in Greenspan's cheese box because this economic scenario is 100% fatal.  Not 50% or 62% or 27% -- 100% percent doomed.  The bond is the Ponzi in the Scheme.  And it is all floated by a little word I shared earlier: confidence.  You see, if you borrow a dollar to pay off a previously borrowed dollar + the accrued interest -- then where are you going to get that second dollar...or second trillion dollars?
 
If the average American...meaning the 95% occupying the expanding discomfort of this critically wounded economy are a little shell-shocked, what in the hell is the rest of world thinking?  What are the Chinese thinking?  They have a new middle-class of 300,000,000 souls who have discovered that expectations and hope DO exist.  If we collapse, they collapse....and that should be a very sobering thought, particularly in a world that is already tipping from the ravages of climate change, resource depletion and geo-political instability. 
 
 
 
Logically Then, We Have/Had a Trade Deficit 
 
 
 
How does this figure into our very crowded can of worms?  And why do foreign governments (particularly the Chinese), keep buying our rapidly degrading bonds?  Ah...they buy these bonds in order to keep their OWN currency value LOW, thereby remaining attractive for US manufacturers to continue to use their resources and labor, who are paid via this devalued currency...the yuan/yuan thing.  AND...this is further exasperated by the fact that American corporations have off-shored millions of jobs, along with the extended economy these jobs create...and the money and profits stay off-shore, hence we are accumulating debt concurrently with a massive loss of tax revenues. Kind of like the guy who bought pickles for a dollar and sold them for 50 cents.  "I don't make much money, but I sure as hell sell a lot of pickles!"  Yeah, sounds sustainable all right.  
 
On the horizon?  Quite likely a bout of hyper-inflation following the implosion of our 40-year love affair with Fiat Currency and all it has wrought.  It is the one model that remains predictable over time.  It was the core issue in the conflagration that was World War II.  Revolutions swept Europe, governments fell, communism raised its ugly and unrealistic head.  Not since 1929, has income inequality reached the levels in the US as is seen today.  We are a nation of consumers that can no longer afford to consume.  We have created a rock that can only roll down hill.  My grandparents went through this in post-war Germany.  Then, as now, the solution seemed to lie down the avenues of anarchy and war.  The structural problems were so deep, the despair so high, the confidence so eroded...that simple word once again.  And the dollar is no longer immune to such an assault. But given the rancorous nature of our current leadership...any affirmative action; really even the acknowledgement that such an immense problem exists...seems unlikely as long as all fingers remain pointed elsewhere. We've ridden the brink longer and harder than any ground can support. 
 
 
 
Laugh if you like...but when I was closing out my grandfather's estate in Germany, I found dozens of these stuffed around the windows for insulation.  This is what happens when confidence is lost in a country's currency...that perception of value.
 
 
*Addendum:
 
Got to thinking...yeah, bad idea at my age, but after trying to understand, explore -- perhaps locate a sane and logical point of reference to the current (chronic) system we refer to as the 'US economy,' I actually discovered an unexpected bonus that incompetency can sometimes generate.  Yes, hyper-inflation.

 
But first off, an important point:  Most Americans do not know or understand that the Federal Reserve is NOT a government agency of some kind.  It is a private cartel formed by the nation's most powerful central banks.  As such, it is kind of like having your own private loan shark -- in this case, the US Treasury...aka, your tax dollars at work; or maybe at play.  So when some politician coins a new phrase, like "too big to fail," they aren't far from the truth for a change.  Unrealistic truth perhaps, but then reality hasn't been too popular for decades anyway.
 
So as I was alluding to the other day, the US economy is currently operated like a giant Ponzi Scheme, with the Federal Reserve simply printing more and more money that the US sells around the world as Treasury bonds, many of which seem to end up in China.  The only reason these fools buy the things can be summed up in one word: confidence. Because today, the dollar is backed up by...I don't know -- polyester farms?

Oh, my point?  Well, when the dollar finally loses face value...inevitable it would seem; inflation follows. As the truth spreads and confidence erodes further, you get hyper-inflation. I had in friend in Brazil (1990's) who owned a restaurant and explained that he had to raise his drink prices on Monday, food on Tuesday -- then drinks again on Wednesday, ad nauseum. And within a year or so this nonsense, Brazil's government collapsed. Kind of a riotous 'no-confidence' vote.  You mess with the price of necessities and people will emerge from their complacent slumber.

I think it is a great way to straighten out this mess.  Hyper-inflation is very egalitarian, non-partisan (after the blame game goes stale) and every single American gets to enjoy the mess equally.  Gas prices might be a bearable annoyance for many, but basic necessities never, ever are.  So, let the games begin.  Think I'll stock up on peanut butter.  Right now, it looks better than gold.  
 
Now go ahead and finish that second bottle of Bourbon.  You've earned it!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Observations...the personal kind.

Afterthoughts on:
Ken Burns’ 7-part series: “The War.”





I freely admit to having a life-long fascination – morbid perhaps – with the machinations of the world-wide convulsions that tragically and inevitably led to World War II.  “Why?” A question you might honestly ask if born of another time, perhaps another place – a separate experience of the heart and mind.  Yet the answer lies deeper and travels much further than one war among history’s many.  The experience, the absolute horror remains locked within the deepest realms of human perception for decades; perhaps centuries, as a generational warning to those who assume that peace begins at the moment such atrocities end.  No.  It lingers on the senses, in the rarely visited chambers of what we call our soul, at the ragged outskirts of our intellectual capacity, like some lesion that can only scar, but never completely heal.  And quite benignly, we pass the disease on to our children and our children’s children in a never-ending cycle of an oddly perverse affirmation of right and wrong, good and evil…our god or all gods; as if such evil, such loss of our claim to humanity is external and distant from a crime we all readily committed.

And no, it is not a matter of nations, of tribes, of religions.  It is much deeper, a much more personal and banal human defection.  As in my family, all loyalties were severed under the screaming banners of nationalism; of borders, of a casual dismissal really, where any god’s message of compassion was redefined – usurped – brokered for the comfort and sanity found in the sweet embrace of our uniquely western definition of good and evil – black and white.  The duality that excludes by a necessary force, all shades of gray.  And it is here, at this point of reckoning that we would much rather welcome this orphan of madness into our home and hearth than to admit that the beast is, and always was, a child of our creation.  So we nurture it, educate it in the vile contradictions of our sense of righteousness and godliness and assume, as we too assumed, that God will sort out the filth from the flowers later.  And the centuries ceaselessly roll on…and on.

I imagine that I discovered this notion of god around the age of cognizance.  Every night I prayed to this ghost and every morning I confirmed his disinterest in my existence.  For the now-distant war doggedly waged on in the sanctuary of home…the familiar, the comfortable; more and more the trenches and bulwarks of a spirit under relentless siege.  So the child quit praying to this great and disinterested god, for there was no benevolent force in this, my private and purely human world.  And so it remained, for no compromise could be found, no peace to be negotiated, far too little strength left to battle the antithesis of a flawed doctrine; so embraced by so many…yet wrapped in the impenetrable veneer of a necessary contradiction.

I often believed that the conduct of war required either the highest pillar of morality or absolutely none at all.  This too turned out be a convenient dismissal of a nagging rationale – in a wholly western mind – a denial of my own capacity for moral tyranny under the guise that I could actually distinguish any moral right from a litany of perceived wrongs.  For the definition would remain as private property – locked behind those barbed fences of the well-being I had already chose to vigorously defend – at most, if not all costs. 

However, later in this life I became a somewhat mediocre observer of the Buddhist philosophy.  Not the religion, which like many others merely masks a political agenda in the clothes of social salvation; rather as a way to reconcile a long-simmering internal conflict over the necessity of a god – any such god one wishes to celebrate on a loftier, perhaps more altruistic plain.  Do I need a moral compass?  Not really.  Would an invisible friend lessen or maybe just antagonize my existing antipathy?  Most likely, particularly the latter.  I already knew well the ramifications of keeping my integrity upright – felt the shallow pangs of the fool – where naiveté and self-delusion erode the high and troubled road of selflessness.  But still, in those times where the heart becomes the trampled invalid of honest intentions, I would still seek out the balance desired in karmic reckoning; the currency of my realm, a metaphysical tribunal reserved for those gifted with an enduring and infinite amount of patience.  And while masquerading this ploy as humility –  chivalry perhaps, the darkness of night would reaffirm the lingering distrust that stood like a sentry guarding what was left of my fragile sanity.  A difficult choice in a culture where the hyenas of validation swallow the prey whole and merely defecate the left-over ideals in a shallow, unmarked grave. 

I know well that one life-time will not be sufficient to unravel this puzzling enigma known as the animal-human – nor this enduring propensity to continue this cancerous cycle of madness that has infected a millennium or more of human development; somehow driven along this well-trodden path -- destined (or doomed), to finally attain enlightenment, or perhaps more realistically, the deserved extinction of a hopelessly flawed specie.  Will the great gods weep at our passing or simply perish with the dementia of time itself?  That I do not know.  Yet in spite of this greater ignorance of purpose, I have come to accept that the dominoes of apocalypse are highly personal in nature and that just maybe, the true language of enlightenment – the unbridled horses of true human happiness can be found in one simple word:  “No.”

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Perfect Combination....

 
What could be better?  History AND horses
...all in one book!
 
 
 
 
Available at most retail outlets and some questionable bars... 
 

 
Everybody's reading it...




And a minor apocalyptic distraction or two...




Approved for Humans by
The United Federation of Planets, 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Terrorists...hmm


Who is Calling Who, What?



Musing on one of many distasteful and openly racist postings that seem to find so much traction around social media these days.  This one the comparison between arming Islamic extremists versus efforts at gun control in this country -- another case of the logic train derailing on that frequent curve of righteous distraction.  And in these propaganda debates, history is discarded in favor of a subtle kind of perversion.  See, America invented terrorism in the semi-modern world.  We kind of broke that civilized protocol where everybody dresses up like a wealthy pimp and shoots at each other until somebody finally gives up.  Instead, we hid behind trees, assassinated officers (to disrupt command and control), stole stuff, blew things up randomly and generally refused to play fair.  Assuming that war and revolution has anything to do with fairness anyway. Conflict is about attrition -- however you can deliver it to the enemy.  And if you are a marginalized group on an uneven playing field, the rules are for the other guy.  He can afford them.  And throughout this unpleasantness, the French were more than willing to help us kill more Englishmen. All the less bodies and guns they'd have to deal with sooner or later.  Big difference?  The French remained friends and allies.







And the parallel universe:
 
 
Fast forward.  1980's or so.  The Soviet Union decides to winter in Afghanistan.  Bad idea, but one worth repeating by us.  See, nuclear weapons made it difficult for US to kill Russians so we hired, then armed the local Mujahideen.  You know these guys...uh, think we call them Taliban now.  They had been marginalized, suffering badly on that uneven playing field so we suggested that a little terrorism might be just the right medicine to send the Soviets packing.  So we kind of Fed-Xed them all kinds of fun stuff.  And we promised...well, we're not very good at that, but we did say that if you guys kill enough Russians, we'll get you schools, electricity, doctors...cable TV.  So they did.  In fact, they killed so many and so terrorized the Soviet Army that they said, "The hell with this."  And they went home.  Trouble was, so did we.  Oh, the presents?  We conveniently forgot about that.  You know, we had an election, so that meant we sent the gifts elsewhere.  So the slightly miffed Mujahideen changed their name to Taliban and overthrew the Kabul government with that nice hardware we sent them.  And they became sympathizers with all the other folks in the Islamic world that had also received those IOU promises we handed out over the 50 years or so we spent entrenched in our little Cold War with the Soviet Union.  That didn't sit well with the new guy in our White House...another case of foreign policy via Alzheimer's, so we invaded Afghanistan to make things...sorry, but it is here I get completely lost.  Win the hearts and minds?  No, we tried that once before with uneven results.  Finally build those schools and power plants?  Well, no.  Oh.  We had a grudge about that whole 9/11 thing.  The 'thing' we failed to fully understand in the first place.  Those 50 years of insincerity and unkept promises we kind of failed to live up to?  Even bother to remember or even reconcile.  Hmm.  So if they are terrorists, where exactly does that make us?  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

We've met before....



On a Street...It Seemed to be Raining
 Ashes that Day...


 


"I saw you in Sarajevo...uh, 1942.  Near the train station. I mean, what was left of it"
 
"Yes, I remember.  But I had seen you earlier that day.  As Napoleon's cavalry finally took Innsbruck."

"Yes, it was cold that day...bitterly so."

"Which day...they were all so very cold as I remember."

"I meant to stop, but it seemed like I should go on."

"We all died that day anyway...despite your efforts to make it otherwise."

 
Why is that do you suppose?  These recurring connections over time, history...often in those moments when the world or the person is gripped in some emotional maelstrom of unending conflict.  Where the smoke clears briefly from a distant, yet highly personal battle, and suddenly there is this person you know, or are demanded to know by some unknown force, standing silently in front of the burned-out buildings that were once a city, a town...a place of refuge...lost.  No, not reincarnation, meddling aliens, nor a previous life; certainly not the unconscious wanderings of a time traveler.  Something else....But what?





The Human Genome Project produced the first complete sequences of individual human genomes. As of 2012, thousands of human genomes have been completely sequenced, and many more have been mapped at lower levels of resolution. The resulting data are used worldwide in biomedical science, anthropology, forensics and other branches of science. There is a widely held expectation that genomic studies will lead to advances in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and to new insights in many fields of biology, including human evolution.  [Wiki]


Is it possible that there is much more to a strand of DNA than one could possibly imagine?  And I muse on that notion a lot because for some reason -- some demand I fail to comprehend, they wander in and out of my life.  Over my years, I have visited with many ghosts -- most benevolent by intent, as if they too are suddenly lost on a vaguely familiar field.  I've stood on foreign ground and seen my own footprints in the dust;  shed blood on countless battlefields not of my choosing.  Questioned deeply whether my sanity is intact -- or merely infected with a deep desire to dwell in some other century, some other place that the heart craves, but the boots can never find.  I could ask God, but then I don't believe in God, nor do I choose to seek a moral compass that I already possess;  no, earned along the low and high roads of a strictly personal history -- further, that all good and all evil lives within the bounds of my being and accountable only to the artificiality of conscience.  I seek no redemption elsewhere.  It is here.  It is now.  But it has also been now; elsewhere. 
 
Science scratches away at this mystery...though it is very much like searching a colony of ants for one leader among billions.  I have blue eyes.  It was said once that I was of Nordic/Germanic descent.  I am also considered an American.  Yet I claim no nationality because I became a human long before there were maps, boundaries...borders.  And today, it has been revised -- that I was of the Neanderthals...those blue eyes carried over the millennia...the physical baggage of antiquity.  Ancient, primal, perhaps a decent sort of savage in an era where perhaps decency ended in early death.  Before there were nations, before there was humanity as a whole of something much smaller.  Another animal, a predator...one that still knows the arts of predation 200,000 years later.  And what is the why and how of such an unnecessary skill...to crouch in silent waiting at Safeway...then leap upon an unsuspecting can of corn?    

And how to explain my affinity for the horse?  Ah...a relative was a horse breeder, stable owner, leader of a armed rebellion in the late 1700's.  My great-great grandfather was a blacksmith who came over from Norway in the 1800's.  My grandfather kept a silver-capped horse's hoof -- simply engraved with the name Oluf.  Why did I know it, covet it...keep it with me when all else was lost in those storms within a difficult mind?  Why perhaps, did I become a horseman, a farrier... a lover of fast horses long before I knew these people even existed?  Coincidence?  Possibly.  But then, how did the horses know me, accept me as easily as they did?  Just maybe, we too, had crossed similar paths, fought distant battles...perished together on some blood-soaked field long forgotten.  We left our bones to mark our passing, but perhaps the core of what we were, what we saw...the sounds and scents of distant eras traveled forward in the intricate pathways of our singularly unique fingerprint -- that DNA.    
 
gene  (jn)
n.
A hereditary unit consisting of a sequence of DNA that occupies a specific location on a chromosome and determines a particular characteristic in an organism. Genes undergo mutation when their DNA sequence changes.



[German Gen, from gen-, begetting, in Greek words (such as genos, race, offspring); see gen- in Indo-European roots.]




Dreams.  We all dream.  Mine are in color, sometimes black and white...in the deep Rem sleep of early morning, when the mind attempts vainly to put the day's files in some kind of rational order...I often dream in languages or subjects I know nothing about.  Yet I do.  And upon awakening, I do not.  And most have a veil  of anxiety wrapped about them...a distant fear unresolved or simply carried forth into another era, seeking perhaps the same solution for a millennial of unresolved conflicts.  The workings of a mind both brilliant and complex...yet truly ancient in origin, still living primal by a necessary kind of hindsight.  But oddly kinder, more compassionate perhaps than what daylight affords me.  Two paths of sub-consciousness in conflict  -- the day and night of mere human existence -- the antithesis and agony of owning this stray dog of conscience...that follows at a distance, holds no true loyalties, yet still tolerates the fleas upon his back.  But then he is so much like this world.  For the wrong choice, the wrong road to cross...he dies.  And so do the fleas.  But never in a dream, for in dreams we merely cover the ground between the many deaths that mark our passing.        

 

A gene is a long stretch of the staircase. It contains a particular sequence of A’s, C’s, T’s, and G’s. The sequence is the code for the specific protein the gene is “for”. (A simplification, but fine for today.) A DNA molecule contains millions of bases — steps of the staircase — a gene may contain thousands of them.


And perhaps much, much more.  It is estimated that a huge portion of DNA has no known or recognizable purpose...much like a blank spot on an unfinished canvas. 

I tend to believe that one day science will discover that among the thousand's of different functions, the human genome may also have the capacity to record individual human experiences over the many centuries...if specific genetic lines are never completely severed.  Just as we have barely uncovered the contents and purposes of individual chromosomes;  the ants among the colony -- we have also failed to understand the purpose of that 2/3 of the brain we leave unused.   Maybe we don't want to know, maybe such knowledge would be the final breach between science and religion -- man as merely another animal, beholding to no other power than survival.  But I know for me...when my awareness is at its peak;  heightened by circumstances, danger, the gentle touch of a passing ghost...that stranger on a corner; a face filtered through the passing blackness of a sudden, startling realization...is no longer the stranger I believed them to be.  And neither am I.



For Those Who Know There is Always More...
 
 

Collages: A. Juell (2nd grade art class revisited) and a tip of the hat to: John Royce's, "The Legend of the Great Horse" trilogy.
Found at TheGreatHorse.com.  Imagination is a gift shared by all.     


In many species, only a small fraction of the total sequence of the genome encodes protein. For example, only about 1.5% of the human genome consists of protein-coding exons, with over 50% of human DNA consisting of non-coding repetitive sequences.[90] The reasons for the presence of so much noncoding DNA in eukaryotic genomes and the extraordinary differences in genome size, or C-value, among species represent a long-standing puzzle known as the "C-value enigma".[91] However, some DNA sequences that do not code protein may still encode functional non-coding RNA molecules, which are involved in the regulation of gene expression.[92]


C-value enigma?  Hmm......

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Syria...a Symptom of a Far Greater Disease




Within Syria  
 
                                                                       
 A fascinating week, though by no means a description the Syrian people would share or appreciate. In the background are the falling dominoes of perhaps the more progressive, educated tiers in the ever-developing world. Countries that have in some ways embraced the Western economic model at a time when the model has fallen into the hands of the brigands and raiders...and the rolling rock that is a one-sided globalization where personal initiative and the labor of the individual has been degraded far beyond the cost of doing business. Yes, behind all the zealous voices, the religious sectarianism, the old grudges, lies a world economic system that has become the spoiler of personal ambition...an unseen, heavily veiled stealer of dreams.  If you look carefully; behind the angry eyes, the clenched fists...the man in the street brandishing that weapon could be you. This is what happens when an emerging middle class cannot meet the aspirations they hold for their children. And fueling them are the religious and cultural fanatics that are more than willing to plow that anger into violence.  And yes, Hitler was not an anomaly by any means.  They sprout like daffodils in the spring when the ambitions of the individual are sacrificed for a the seat on the throne.

II
                                      Outside Syria                                                         
                        

Britain says no, Israel says 'no thanks,' Turkey is highly distracted on the home front -- The Arab League late to the game and impotent it would seem. France with perhaps the will, but not the stamina to go it alone. Russia's Putin, still stuck in the Cold War.  And the American President, reluctant as he should be -- credit due for at least recognizing the failures of this option in the recent and ongoing suffering delivered by the policies of previous administrations who chose the gun over the voice of reason -- granting that most of the world has given up on reason anyway.  But then the caveat appears:  toss it to Congress, the same group that has fought loudly and bitterly to defeat every proposal this president has put on the table, while simultaneously screaming to the rafters about the abuse of power by the executive branch...a trend that has really gone on for the last 40 years -- the result of a Congress more interested in self-serving politics than doing the job they were hired to do.
I imagine that was a very unexpected move by the President, but in many ways, one that a democratic republic has always demanded, often ignored and suffered equally by those very inaction's.  I seriously doubt that most presidents do not consider the ramifications of setting the armed forces loose when the avenues of diplomacy fail.  Particularly in these third-party, distant divorces left over from an era of colonial and imperialistic ambitions -- of which the western and old eastern rivalries actually set in motion decades, even centuries ago.  But then history in this country seems to last about 20 years before it is revised, re-packaged or simply forgotten...along with the untended graves -- the collateral damage of the faces and lives that once walked an earth they simply called home.
So now Congress gets to share the mirror that peers into the soul -- the regions the eyes seek to deceive.  The rare chance to place their finger on the trigger of righteous indignation...to smote the animal that carries the disease of all humankind.  Yes, the enemy is us and the children will pay the price, continue the game...fill the graves reserved for all the bystanders in the long and violent history of this planet.  So jump in the sandbox, you boys and girls of Congress.  It is familiar ground after all.  Only this time instead of merely paralyzing the nation and lining your pockets, you get to take it full circle:  your vote now represents the errant bullet behind the mask of a purely partisan will.  So enjoy the moment...you haven't earned it, but you sure as hell deserve it.

III
Pragmatism vs. Idealism
 
And that is perhaps the conundrum of today's rather unbalanced balance of power. Sure, smote the despot, ride that white horse, but then what?  The question for the interventionist to ponder -- before the righteous fist first strikes is, "Is who has a stake here?"  As in the case of North Korea's last round of belligerence, the answer was China.  The PRC, as the major supplier of goods (oil and food), has the leverage to step all over North Korea's Jung.  A conflict on the Korean peninsula could have disastrous consequences for China/US relations -- compromising an already tenuous economic relationship, i.e., bad for business. 
 
In Syria's case, the only real outside influence lies in Moscow; a case where some of the obsolete Cold War alliances could still prove useful.  America has no friends, no traction and certainly no business in another middle eastern country, where the regional balance of power has already been irreversibly damaged by the same kind of meddling proposed here.  It is a domestic dispute and as any cop will tell you -- when the police show up -- all parties turn on them.  Much of the unrest, unhappiness, animosity...however you call it -- has deep roots in the history of colonialism and imperialism shoved down the regions throat for over a century.  And there are deep economic strains driving the unrest. Sadly, this is a process of adjustment, a leveling of a false reality and it is and will be costly -- in lives, in dislocations, in resources.  And it will take a generation to remake the face of all these countries.  They need time, compassion, aid...not another gun in the room.     

Thursday, August 29, 2013

World Health...and Closer to Home.



Personal History...Not the Other Kind:
 
America's Medical/Industrial Complex


President Lyndon Johnson signing the Title IX amendment
to Medicare, July 1965.



"In the United States, Medicare is a national social insurance program, administered by the U.S. federal government since 1965, that guarantees access to health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older and younger people with disabilities as well as people with end stage renal disease (Medicare.gov, 2012) and persons with Lou Gehrig’s disease. As a social insurance program, Medicare spreads the financial risk associated with illness across society to protect everyone, and thus has a somewhat different social role from for-profit private insurers, which manage their risk portfolio by adjusting their pricing according to perceived risk."


"In 1965, Congress created Medicare under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older, regardless of income or medical history. Before Medicare's creation, only half of older adults had health insurance, with coverage often unavailable or unaffordable to the other half, because older adults had half as much income as younger people and paid nearly three times as much for health insurance. Medicare also spurred the racial integration of thousands of waiting rooms, hospital floors, and physician practices by making payments to health care providers conditional on desegregation."  Wikipedia
 
 
Health Care in America should really be named after Christopher Columbus, for it is indeed, a voyage of discovery.  And not the overly pleasant kind, for in this business, the Earth is flat and you can sail off the edge.  In my lifetime, that has occurred three times...working on my fourth as I speak.  You know the drill: mystery 'caps,' pre-existing conditions, trying to ascertain which deductible level will still allow you to eat...though being either sick or in the deeper valleys of economic depression might make food less than palatable -- if still affordable.  And of course, if you happen to be self-employed, engaged in something more strenuous than day-trading commodities, you are bound to have a long list of pre-existing, unplanned and future conditions.  I believe the last time I applied for a health insurance policy (while I was still playing with horses), the company finally agreed that they could insure my left ear and most of my right leg -- below the knee.  Medical records are a lot like a parolee's rap sheet -- they follow you everywhere.
 
And yes, I'm still whining about that new ball-joint I need on the left hip.  But now it has turned into something else -- a fool's crusade maybe; Don Quixote confronting another malevolent windmill.  And in the background is the happy/unhappy news that I might qualify for Medicare in October.  Well, not so fast.  Sure, the selfish shit in me says, "Whoopee!"  The other part, you know the one I mean: the conscience, the pragmatist, the childless man that still tries to consider the costs to all the children down the road -- a path that seems to be collecting more potholes by the hour. That little portion of my soul.  Which is beginning to make me think that kids should be allowed to vote. Because every idiotic thing us adults dream up...they are going to pay for sooner or later.  
 
 
 
 
Medicare:
 
Let me run the numbers -- on second thought, you already know them because we are all living them.  The demographics alone argue against anything short of insolvency -- sooner, than later.  And no, Medicare is not an entitlement. Free congressional health care however is.  Medicare is the nation's largest insurance company, one that works for us -- the taxpayers -- not a group of stockholders that wouldn't know a spleen from cantaloupe. And for a quasi-government agency with more paperwork than the IRS, they do manage to do a remarkable, if not impossible job.  So why not take it one step further.  Give this shark the teeth to swim with all the sharks. Yes, let Medicare go toe to toe against all the insurance conglomerates, corporate medicine peddlers and the rest of the Medical/Industrial Complex...including the pharmaceutical companies.  And at the same time...force the FDA to re-instate the ban on advertising prescription drugs directly to the consumer. Just like veterinary medicine, more and more the 'doctor' is prescribing via patient pressure, not the parameters of medicine...and right behind them, those 1.5 million attorneys that ply (plow) America's courtrooms. And yes, there are twice as many lawyers in this country as doctors.  Another demographic you might want to chew on.
 
"Agh!!" You scream.  Sounds like nationalizing health care!  Well, guess what?  With the aging population, the economy incapable of producing real jobs (as in full-time, living wage type) -- not just brokering the efforts of others or simply exporting them; the young in this country will be incapable of supporting the health care needs of the old, through the conventional sources: income-generated taxes.  Math 101: what goes in must pay for what goes out. (An idea grown stale in this society.)  And since we are so good at 'bailing out' the corporate sector, how about bailing out the elderly?  Yes, rhetorical question, but it will come to that point in very short order.  And if you would like an analogy (I do!), look to China.  Mao's one-child policy was good as a short-term remedial action for a social/state burden almost unimaginable here; now, decades later with a hot economy, an exploding middle-class and severe labor shortages due to that one-child policy, men cannot find wives and the elderly are left with no children to support them in old age. Fair comparison?  Yes and no. The lesson is that nothing stays the same and both government and the private sector must develop the agility to change with a shifting social dynamic, while embracing the type of forward-thinking that extends beyond next week, the next election cycle or Congresses constant need for 'vacations.'
 
 
Vouchers:  
 
So along comes a few Republican senators spouting the notion that Medicare is broken and the solution is a voucher system.  Well gosh, wouldn't the insurance cartels just love that idea! But actually, I like the voucher system -- trouble is the Republicans have got it all wrong.  But first, a brief opposing argument -- no, not by me...by:
 
 
Kenneth Davis, President & CEO, Mt. Sinai Medical Center. Exerted from his blog, 10/08/12.
           
"Turning Medicare into a voucher-based system is not a solution for our seniors or what ails our health care system in this country. With over 100,000 visits to Mount Sinai last year by Medicare beneficiaries, I am acutely aware and concerned about the changes that are being proposed to the Medicare system. The voucher model -- which essentially gives seniors a check and sends them off into the private marketplace -- is based on the notion that competition, facilitated by a free market, will bring down the cost of health care. Putting private insurers into the ring with traditional Medicare, it is presumed, will change the trajectory of overall health care costs, and solve our cost crisis. Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple.

There are three major reasons why private insurance simply cannot -- and should not -- compete with traditional Medicare. First, private insurance is fundamentally more expensive than the Medicare program. Private plans have significant overhead costs that the Medicare system does not, including stockholder profits, administrative costs, and marketing expenses. Medicare does not have these additional costs. Further, while reforms are still needed, the fact remains that the single payer Medicare system is extremely efficient. Indeed, 97 cents of every Medicare dollar goes to medical care. In contrast, only 80 cents on every dollar goes to medical care in the individual insurance market, where seniors would be taking their vouchers. Prior to the new health care reform law, the number was even lower.

The second major problem with the voucher-based system, and perhaps most concerning, is that it hurts those seniors who are already hurting the most. We must recognize that the voucher system is a fixed benefit plan. It is designed to control the government's contribution to Medicare. If health care costs continue to grow -- driven by numerous factors including the aging of the baby boom generation -- Medicare costs will inevitably grow at a rate taxpayers cannot afford. However simply setting the share that the government will pay through a fixed benefit voucher is one of the least humane ways to save the system. With this approach, the fixed voucher will simply "buy" less and less in the private marketplace.

As a result, the wealthy will supplement their vouchers to buy adequate insurance, while the average senior living on social security and perhaps a modest pension will likely not have the resources to purchase today's level of coverage. Lower-income seniors will find themselves with unaffordable copays and the inability to afford comprehensive health care. At Mount Sinai, we will see the effect first hand. Our hospital is located between the most and least affluent communities in New York City, and while many patients from the Upper East Side may be able to budget for these increased costs, those visiting us from lower-income neighborhoods will not be able to afford the care. This simply is not right. Medicare was never intended to provide two levels of care. Medicare was created to provide reliable, affordable, comprehensive care for our grandparents and parents after retirement. It was a safety net for all. Under a voucher system, that safety net may only catch a handful of seniors -- it is no longer provides piece of mind that we will all have healthcare in our golden years. With so many of our seniors already trying to make ends meet on Medicare and Social Security, we should not be dumping our debt on the most vulnerable."

 *****

Now sure, Medical Directors of large medical institutions have their own fish to fry in this conglomerate we so euphemistically call 'health care,' but his point mirrors many other opinions both inside and outside the medical loop.  And contrary to political musings (from both sides of the aisle), Medicare is NOT broken, but certainly headed for a funding crisis...a condition that will accelerate as more and more Americans reach retirement age.  And let's see...can health care options possibly get more confusing?  Particularly for a vulnerable population?  Just more fish food for those emaciated sharks out there in fine-print land. If I can't figure it out, a 70-year old guy with cataracts certainly can't either.  And of course, it is here where the lawyers and bean-counters thrive, for the details of health-care are written for and by the lawyers.  Why? Because America is the land of litigation and the house that punitive damages built. Everybody screws up.  Life is tenuous at best.  100 years ago, appendicitis was 100% fatal. If I shod every horse like it was a lawsuit waiting to happen -- well, there would be lot more barefoot horses walking around. Both patients and medical professionals need to sober up -- quit hard-selling expectations to yourself or others and lock out this public-sector pandering by the various drug peddlers and spare parts sales people that undermine the doctor/patient relationship. Look around. Every new 'miracle drug' advertised is followed by 6 commercials for class-action lawsuits generated by 'side-effects' already printed on the box. The doctor knows, the patient knows...so you sue when you get what was already a given risk to your health?      


 
However, as I stated earlier, a limited voucher system could produce some interesting fall-out in the marketplace. Returning to my hip for a moment. Now here in this country, a hip replacement would run between $80-120,000.00 -- truth is nobody really knows. It would take 3 lawyers a week to answer that simple question.  France or Belgium, $13-15,000. all-inclusive. No mystery charges, no 'whoops' stuff. Further, no lawyering up if things don't go well. Which is fine -- waking up every morning is risky.  Oh...forgot, the $80-120,000 is only 80% of whatever the list price actually is, so I would have to pony up the rest. So, why not negotiate? Medicare can give me (or anyone else that wants to go shopping), a voucher for $15,000 and I'll go to France. Save Uncle Sam $100,000 in the process and probably receive better care than here. (Noting that health care quality is ranked #1 and #3 in those European countries -- #34 in America; CDC Estimates.) 
 
 
 
But you see, this is NOT the kind of free enterprise and market competition these voucher exponents want. They want instead for Americans to compete for the insurance, not the product.  Meanwhile, the insurance executives, the lawyers and the drug companies continue to run the show...not the doctors, the health care professionals and certainly not the patients.              
 
 
The idea is fairly simple. A hip joint is a lot like buying tires for the SUV. You don't buy the first set that comes along, or the set the car dealer or the bank that holds the note demands.  No, you shop around because it is your damn hip...SUV, I mean.  And instead of an absurd bill (like the one on the right), you are not billed for renting an operating room, or every Band-Aid and enema you did or did not get. Some hospitals must have at least a half-dozen nurses just manning the cash registers...you know, like check-out time at Safeway.
 
The theory is fairly simple overall.  If medicine is going to be a business (course, there is already something wrong here), then truly make it an open, free-market system where competition is lively, real and unhampered by this cartel of private insurers. Make the hospitals, the incorporated medical centers...even the doctors, compete for the customer.  Medicine may be considered a higher calling by some, but if we are going to define it here as for-profit -- well, then it is just another service-sector endeavor that may or may not kill you. 

Another area of abuse is centered around the 'compartmentalization' of medicine. As journalist Elisabeth Rosen [New York Times], pointed out and the above medical statement shows, medicine in this country is conducted by many disconnected segments. As a Belgium hospital administrator pointed out: "How can you can charge an operating room fee? Where else would we operate?" Good question. And oddly, it is the doctor that is charged for that and passed on to the consumer. Unless the doctor happens to be a 'rock star cardiologist' - a term I didn't coin, but the CEO of a well-known American hospital did. Side deals...professional courtesy based on profit margins, the idea of a doctor's reputation being a selling point for a hospital that needs to fill beds.  You know...like billable hours.  In reality, today's doctors are more like corporate plumbers.  They only show up to 'fix' the pipes.  The rest of the medical process has been sub-contracted out to a myriad of independents who in many cases operate no differently than the local 7-11.  

How this came to be is a story of how Wal-Mart came to be. There is money in selling crap to humans and there is money in selling health care repairs -- not prevention. No profit in telling somebody to eat more Kale...unless you happen to be a Kale farmer. The motivation was two-fold: profit and risk sharing.  But the result was added expense to the consumer and a huge replication of services tied directly to the price of real estate...i.e., geography = money.

As an example: I lived for about ten years on the peninsula below San Francisco. Normally, a somewhat affluent area mixed with a large immigrant population; Asian, Hispanic. Within 20-miles of my residence, I counted 6 major hospitals, including Stanford Medical Center and the regional County Hospital. All offering the same services, same so-called specialties -- many owned by (ha, ha.) overriding corporate entities spouting religious affiliations or non-profit status. Sure, some mystery foundation may be non-profit, but the hospital certainly is not. So instead of focusing on medicine, all these institutions are engaged in a mad-cap competition for customers...to fill beds, to keep the operating theaters running 24/7, ad nauseum. And yet, in the spirit of this false-competition, prices rise -- they do not fall.  And they love Medicare!  Because they have a lock on it.  Guaranteed profits at our children's expense.

So why not globalize medicine?  Take the experiment one more step into the unknown. Medicare, as an agency of the Federal Government (and a faux non-profit) has the power to level the playing field. With the government's backing, they can be the 'big stick' in negotiating reasonable costs. And Congress? Go around this body of herd-bound steers and force the change through a public plebiscite. Or simply send the recalcitrant 'my party or my life' bunch to the unemployment line.  Better yet, abolish their free health-care ride altogether. Let them swim with the sharks before they allowed to dictate policy to the other fish. Free rides do not create free thinking or any form of affirmative action.  Never has.

Love this photo. Mostly because I was younger, more dashing...yeah, yeah.  China, just post-Tiannemenn. Before the great capitalist surge in the world's most populous state.  You notice it doesn't say "GREAT," just good. And no, I am not advocating blatant socialism -- merely saying that all democracies (and other fairly benevolent forms of government), must have a social conscience as an adjunct to their political lip-service. Particularly here, where we tend to wave it around like a gym sock that doesn't smell. At least to some of us.

Of course, everybody will scream about government control, blah, blah, blah. Sure, less would be better, but sadly governments were and are formed, maintained and accepted because humans are incapable of being accountable to themselves or other humans, animals, bushes...pretty much everything below our overblown status on this planet. So we bitch about the constraints placed upon our ability to run amuck; conversely, refuse to be a part of constructive change because opinion is more fun than logic. Why people spend hours on Facebook and have never even read something as fundamental as "The Federalist Papers."  (One critique of perhaps many that formed the basic tenets of this nation's troubled founding.)

Lastly, a little patient responsibility. Learn how to say, "No!" Be a consumer, not a lemming. Turn down ridiculous tests, learn to negotiate personally on fees, shop around or as many have done, take your business overseas and leave your lawyer at home. Most indicators have actually shown a greater quality in health services, extremely competitive prices and fewer risks.  Sure, a procedure can go badly in Belgium...so can a favorite recipe you've made a 100 times. As I said, life is risky.  And poverty makes it even more so. We have a fundamental right to medical care.  But not at the price of everything else.  

And no, I don't necessarily know what in the hell I'm talking about. However, I have worked inside and outside the Medical/Industrial Complex and have personally (and painfully) experienced, as many others have, just how cruel and how financially devastating the current system can be.