Hospital Food for the Mind

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Bernanke, Jackson Hole and the Importance of Being Wrong

And, lo, from the great wilderness, from the antlered gate of the Hole of Jackson, the voice of the Fed, the high priest of the economy, Ben the Reserved has declared what the fortunes of our land shall be; and verily he has declared that it shall be pathetic and the fault of those who…who…who…well, those whose fault it truly is, but now that we are mired in the trap of non-liquidity and are bound ever lower, his hands are tied. And great will be the suffering of all the people. All the people who don’t have a substantial personal fortune, anyway.

I’ve got a question.  How can everybody who declares they have the true answer to our current national economic morass be right? Doesn’t somebody get to be wrong; doesn’t somebody have to be wrong, when opposing theoretical positions and hermeneutical assumptions are irreconcilable? Ben Bernanke, as head of the Federal Reserve doesn’t automatically get to be right about the future of the economy simply by virtue of his office.  Alan Greenspan, his predecessor, is Exhibit #1 for the fallacy of that attribution.

Two Economists Fighting Over Who's Wrong. Photo: Yellowstone National Park

Even a brief foray into the cyberland of pundits, op-ed columnists, and bloggers reveals that every single one of them believes he or she is right about his or her solution to our economic woes.  The reason these folk cite for their veracity is that they can point out who is clearly wrong and therefore is an ignoramus. Only rarely does one find an inspired author who actually is working from a model that has been tested under the withering scrutiny of scholarly review and has been further field tested on the roiling surf of economic reality.

The ultimate test for intellectual honesty would be to have all these very-certain self-proclaimed para-ignoramuses stand under the great antler arch in Jackson Hole, during a wild Wyoming thunderstorm with its hurricane force winds and recite the principles of their economic “truth,” on the superstitious belief that if all they were blowing was just hot air, that would dislodge one of the antlers and…the result wouldn’t be pretty.  That’s certainly much more humane than pseudo-presidential candidate Rick Perry’s lynch mob approach. Of course, he has jumped head-first into the pool of para- ignoramuses who believe they are right because they can point out people who have to be wrong.  Perry evidently has exceptional talent for pointing out who is wrong, along with great hair, but that’s another post.

The World Famous Antler Arch of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Yes, they are real antlers. I've been there and walked through the arch. Note that I survived. Photo Courtesy: ALifeLessSweet.Blogspot.com

So, who’s going to be wrong? That in my mind is far more important with regard to our pathetic economy than who’s right. To sneakily slip in a biblical allusion, we really need the tares to be winnowed from the wheat.

The facts are that someone is wrong about their economic model/dogma/delusion being the one that will revitalize our economy. They need to either get out of the way or in an act of self-preservation we need nudge them out of the way so the folks with the model that will be guaranteed to work can get their economic engine running in high gear.  That we truly need.

From the pronouncements of Ben the Reserved, it’s increasingly clear that the folks who wrong are getting wronger by the day. After all, the economy stuck in pathetic is just plain wrong.

Detail of Antler Arch, Jackson Hole. Photo Courtesy Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce

Hospital Food for the Mind

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I had to be in a meeting at lunch yesterday, so I didn’t get to write this post in my normal manner: thumb-typing on my smart-phone between bites of food.  I hope that doesn’t affect the quality of this piece.  I have a question:

Is the Presidency of the United States obsolete?

Up front, I’ll admit that perhaps if I was more impressed with President Obama’s performance in the job, and thought that even one individual in the Republican pack of hounds bounding and baying after his job was truly qualified, I might not even ask the question.  That not being the case, however, I am asking the question: Is the presidency, as one of the three constitutional pillars of our Union, now an obsolete political paradigm best abandoned and replaced by something else?  Or anything else?  Okay, that second question is just for the sake of rhetorical sarcasm.

Here’s my beef with the current situation.  I was always taught that the three branches of government in the United States were specifically designed to provide a balance of power, and that principle was to be inviolable to the degree that no one branch could supersede another.  This idea is based on that handy little political doctrine called the Separation of Powers.

Looking back over my lifetime, I generally place the beginning of this nightmare on the near-destruction of the Constitution by Richard Nixon. Ever since it seems we have been sliding toward a full-blown night-terror (the infamous pavor nocturnus) complete with an Incubus sitting on our national chest.

I would suggest that as the country has become more politically partisan, like a fault-line sending up waves telegraphing a coming earthquake, the election process has absorbed those toxic seismic waves. Apparently closest to the fault-line, the Judicial Branch has become all too often no more than a political equivalent of the Roman Coliseum, fought over by the conservatives and liberals in Congress–the Legislative Branch–the floor of each chamber devolving into an arena for ideological gladiating.  Only, there’s no emperor to give thumbs up or thumbs down, and so they just go on bashing each other, oblivious to their complete abdication of their Constitutionally sworn oath to govern.

Gone, in my humble opinion, is my confidence that the Justices of the Supreme Court (and the lower courts they oversee), selected once as the best of the best, view their appointment as a sacred duty to ensure their decisions rise above the everyday fray of American politics.  Yes, I know in reality it was never quite that noble, but in prior generations there was at least a generally accepted principle that the people who wore the robes and sat at that bench comprehended the high calling to which it is enshrined in the Constitution.

As for Congress, any sense of statesmanship is long gone, of dignity–even though they put on a show of being polite most of the time through gritted teeth–and an utter evaporation of “the loyal opposition.”  Factionism has permeated both the House and the Senate because factionism has permeated our political culture.  We have created this incubal demon through the ballot box and I fear it is only the beginning of a great price we will pay as a country for this gathering divisiveness.

So what of the presidency?  With the continuing deterioration of two of the three branches of government, can we expect the Executive Branch to weather the temblors and quakes unscathed?  I just do not think so.  The Legislative Branch’s warfare shows no sign of abating, even as we teeter on the verge of a double-dip recession. The Judicial Branch has become a hammer used by well-funded special interest groups to sledge their will into law, regardless of the damage they do to the rest of us.

Can one man or woman effectively push back the crumbling pillars to maintain the Constitutional integrity of the office of the President of the United States, like a reverse-Samson holding up the walls and roof, sparing the Philistines from certain death rather than bringing down the edifice upon them?  I don’t know the answer to this question.  Would the parliamentary model of governing be better?  Looking at all the problems our best international friends have (e.g., Great Britain) in managing that approach to government, I would not be eager to jump to that solution.  Nor would I ever endorse the fractured model currently used by the Russians in which two people apparently share power, but not really, but the one who is supposed to be the subordinate has figured out a way to actually control the other one and…  God protect us from a mess like that.

We are rushing headlong into another general election season (not that you can tell any difference, because the 2012 election has been in full-gear since the moment Barack Obama was declared winner in November 2008).  If I could work my will upon the country, the presidential election season would start six months before the actual date.  No one would be allowed to campaign.  No one, individual or business, would be allowed to contribute money to a candidate.  Political Parties would have to hold their nominating conventions 90 days before the election.  No political ads could air for any candidate or for any party until the parties had nominated their candidates.  I’ve got more to say on that, but it will have to wait for a later date.

Is the presidency obsolete?  Again, I don’t know the answer to that, but I know that it is every bit as battered as the other two branches of our government, and because of that, the future of the Republic is at stake.

I do hold one hope.  I continue to believe that we the people, by voting and exercising our right to petition our government, can reverse this earthquake of factionalism.  We are not beyond saving the Union.  But the day is upon us in which we must begin to do just that. To end this national night terror we must push the Incubus of Factionalism off of our chest, and, most importantly, wake up!

Less of Our Light for More Star Light

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I have participated in the GLOBE at Night program sponsored by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) for several years and continue to support it for two vitally important reasons:

As an amateur astronomer, light polluted skies wash out both the quality of what can be observed and can radically reduce the number of stars and other celestial objects that can be seen.  Light pollution affects all visual telescopes, no matter how large they are.  That is why the world’s greatest observatories are almost always built on very high peaks in very remote places far away from cities.

 

Light Pollution from the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory, Mt. Graham Int'l Obs., Arizona. Photo courtesy of Marco Pedani & University of Arizona

Every photon created by artificial light requires a human-manufactured source.  Measured in what is called “kiloWatt hours” (kWh) the electricity that is used to create unnecessary light (overlighting) is a nonrecoverable expense.  We waste billions of kiloWatt hours every year, costing us billions of dollars in the production and service used to create the light that wasn’t needed to begin with.  As we think about our energy production and the price paid to create the fuels to generate it (coal, oil, gas, hydro, nuclear–even solar, wind, wave, geothermal, and other cutting-edge energy-producing technologies require huge costs to meet our power demands), just the amount lost to light pollution cannot be justified from either a perspective of economic sustainability or the stewardship of the earth’s finite resources.

 

Large Binocular Telescope. Currently the world's largest optical telescope for total combined aperture, 16.8 meters, 662 inches (55.16 feet). Mt Graham Int'l Obs., Arizona. Photo courtesy of John Hill and LBTO, University of Arizona.

I invite you to join in the effort to change this one vital part of preserving our natural resources, not just those from the Earth but also those of the sky.  Please watch the short video, and then read the letter from Dr. Constance Walker, PhD*, Director of the GLOBE at Night campaign, and then follow the links to join in the fun of walking out your front door, looking up (I’ll bet you haven’t intentionally looked at the sky in a long time!), and with the very user-friendly GLOBE at Night instructions, instantly become an important participant in a global research project with such important implications.

Please note that the results for people living in the Northern Hemisphere must be submitted by April 4, 2011!

Note: Any connection between exposure to artificial light at night and cancer remains under investigation. The statement in the video represents that of the producers and not necessarily the views of Extreme Thinkover or GLOBE at Night.  See links below for more information**.

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Join the 6th worldwide GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign:

March 22 – April 6

With half of the world’s population now living in cities, many urban dwellers have never experienced the wonderment of pristinely dark skies and maybe never will. This loss, caused by light pollution, is a concern on many fronts: safety, energy conservation, cost, health and effects on wildlife, as well as our ability to view the stars. Even though light pollution is a serious and growing global concern, it can be one of the easiest environmental problems you can address through responsible lighting on local levels.

Participation in the international star-hunting campaign, GLOBE at Night, helps to start the process of addressing the light pollution issue locally as well as globally. The campaign invites everyone all over the world to record the brightness of the night sky. The campaign runs from March 22 through April 4 in the Northern Hemisphere and March 24 through April 6 in the Southern Hemisphere. The campaign is easy and fun to do. First, you match the appearance of the constellation Leo or Crux with simple star maps of progressively fainter stars found.  Then you submit your measurements, including the date, time, and location of your comparison. After all the campaign’s observations are submitted, the project’s organizers release a map of light-pollution levels worldwide. Over the last six annual 2-week campaigns, volunteers from more than 100 nations contributed over 60,000 measurements, 30% of which came from last year’s campaign.

To learn the five easy steps to participate in the GLOBE at Night program, see the GLOBE at Night website. You can listen to this year’s 10-minute audio podcast on light pollution and GLOBE at Night. Or download a 45-minute powerpoint and accompanying audio. GLOBE at Night is also on Facebook and Twitter. (See the links at the end.)

The big news is that children and adults can submit their measurements in real time if they have a smart phone or tablet. To do this, you can use the web application. With smart phones and tablets, the location, date and time are put in automatically. And if you do not have a smart phone or tablet, there are user-friendly tools on the GLOBE at Night report page to find latitude and longitude.

For activities that have children explore what light pollution is, what its effects are on wildlife and how to prepare for participating in the GLOBE at Night campaign, see the Dark Skies Rangers activities. Monitoring our environment will allow us as citizen-scientists to identify and preserve the dark sky oases in cities and locate areas where light pollution is increasing. All it takes is a few minutes during the 2011 campaign to measure sky brightness and contribute those observations on-line. Help us exceed the 17,800 observations contributed last year. Your measurements will make a world of difference.

Primary Mirror, Gran Telescopio CANARIAS, world's largest single aperture, 10.4 meters, 664 inches (55.3 feet). Photo courtesy GTC & ORM, Canary Islands

Primary Mirror, Gran Telescopio CANARIAS, currently the world's largest single aperture optical telescope, 10.4 meters, 664 inches (55.3 feet). Photo courtesy GTC & ORM, Canary Islands

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GLOBE at Night: http://www.globeatnight.org/

Star Maps: http://www.globeatnight.org/observe_magnitude.html

Submitting Measurements: http://www.globeatnight.org/report.html

Web App for Reporting: http://www.globeatnight.org/webapp/

Audio Podcast: http://365daysofastronomy.org/2011/03/07/march-7th-globe-at-night-2011/

Powerpoint: http://www.globeatnight.org/files/NSN_GaN_2011_slides.ppt

Accompanying Audio: http://www.globeatnight.org/files/NSN_GaN_2011_audio.mp3

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GLOBEatNight

Twitter: http://twitter.com/GLOBEatNight

Dark Skies Activities: http://www.darkskiesawareness.org/DarkSkiesRangers/

The Milky Way as you've probably never seen it under excellent dark skies. View inludes Sagittarius, Libra, Scorpius, Scutum & Ophiuchus from Cerro Tololo, Chile. Photo courtesy of W. Keel, Univ. of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.

*Constance Walker, PhD, director, GLOBE at Night campaign (www.globeatnight.org)
chair, International Dark-Sky Association Education Committee
chair, IYA2009 Dark Skies Awareness Cornerstone Project
member, Astronomical Society of the Pacific Board of Directors
associate scientist & senior science education specialist, NOAO
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Universal Health Care Confronts the Nuclear Option

The Nuclear Option (just for those of you who are stilled mired in Bush-speak, it is pronounced “new-klee-ur” not “new-cue-lar”).  In this case I’m not talking about the U.S. Senate rule called “reconciliation.”

No, in this case I’m wondering what is going on in the minds of those who have so adamantly and vociferously have opposed Universal Health Care in the United States.  Yesterday, Paul Krugman New York Times columnist, wrote in his blog,

Yes, we can

Get more or less universal coverage, that is. The CBO scoring on an incomplete bill sent everyone into a tizzy — and also led to an avalanche of bad reporting, with claims that it said terrible things about the public option. (There was no public option in the bill.)

Now the real thing has been scored — and it’s OK. Something like 97 percent coverage for people already here, at a total cost somewhere in the $1 trillion range. Bear in mind that the Bush tax cuts cost around $1.8 trillion over a decade. We can do this — and have no excuse for not doing it.

In the minds of the opponents of UHC, however, nothing has changed.  That’s what worries me.  In fact, as the evidence mounts that assuring every American has access to health care can be a reality and not doom the economy (as they have so desperately hoped), the opponents are realizing the End-Game is upon them.  They are losing.  Not only has every traditional method of obstruction not worked, or not worked well, the vast majority of Americans are solidly against them.  Heard any good anti-health care spin from Rush, Karl, John Boehner, or Mitch McConnell in the past couple of weeks?  If they were gaining ground with their argument, neither the election in Iran or Michael Jackson’s death could drown them out.  Not even South Carolina Governor Sanford’s adventures in Wonderland would diminish their clarion call for Big Medicine.

Their voices have faded to background static.

Do not assume for a micro-second they have given up.  They are preparing the Nuclear Option.  One all-out attack on universal health care, with no regard for collateral damage, just the health of America.  In the Board Rooms of the Insurance Megacorps, Big Pharma, Corporate Hospitals, and dozens of other stakeholders firmly anchored in the Status Quo, they are planning to bring this down.  Once and for all, to obliterate the very notion of universal health care so completely, that  it will never threaten their companies and profits again.

Am I paranoid?  Well, even if you are not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you anyway.

I’m not paranoid, actually.  I’m well read in organizational theory (it was the corner stone of my doctoral dissertation in educational policy and management), and I understand how organizations respond in unstable ecologies and economic turbulence.  When resources are threatened, the people running the organization will tend to react in predictable ways.  When the operational environment changes more quickly than expected, or in ways unanticipated, the predictable management responses are more and more stressed.  If those responses lack the ability to guide the organization through transformational change (like, oh, General Motors), the likelihood of the company failing is very high.

Keeping all that in mind, when the entire global environment, e.g., the country’s health care system, begins to collapse because of a rapid set of ecological changes so powerful the only way to survive is to change transformatively (an analog of the evolutionary concept of “punctuated equilibrium”), only those institutions that have the capacity to change at the same rate and direction required for survival will likely survive.

How, then, does the Nuclear Option fit in this model?  Organizations use their resources to influence and improve their ability to survive in the existing ecological conditions, and eliminate competition for both the resources they need to exist and to improve their chances for greater access to those resources.  But here’s the rub: Organizations are “communities of fate.”  They are actually aggregates of individuals whose investment (personally and professionally) in the success of the organization varies from person to person.  In a corporation, those who have have highest investment are typically the Board of Directors and the Shareholders.  But they have to rely on managers and workers, to both produce and protect their investment.

The managers and workers have a much different perspective on the degree to which they consider the company their community of fate.  When the organization encounters increasing turbulence in its environment, the willingness of the people actually doing the work to cast their fate to ensure its success is much less certain.  If the situation worsens to the degree the survival of the company is in question, the confidence the managers and workers have in the Board’s decision making ability to, specifically save their jobs, can change very quickly.  Some workers will leave the company and look for more stable employment.  Others will stick with it until the bitter end, if it comes to that.  But if you work for an Enron, the house of cards can collapse on top of you regardless of your loyalty.

The pressure on the Board and the managers to keep the organization both alive and solvent can increase rapidly, especially in the situation where the environment and resources are changing at a rate unprecedented in history.  Even organizations that survived earlier transformational evolutionary changes may not survive the current one.  Because of the anxiety generated by the environmental turbulence, the shareholders put more pressure on the Board and managers to preserve their investment and continue to pay dividends.  The workers who are loyal to the company also put pressure on their supervisors to help preserve their jobs.  But loyalty to the community of fate by the worker is always much riskier, because the Board and the managers can, at  any time, cut positions that can eliminate the most loyal employees under the stated intent of protecting the viability of the organization by reducing personnel costs.  This trauma to the community of fate, however, is no guarantee the organization will survive the changing ecology.  It may, instead, guarantee its demise.

Now, here’s the part, as I build the case for the Nuclear Option, that I as an organizational theorist suggest sets the stage:  The critical decisions of the Board over time to adjust to the turbulence is a not a function of taking the most conservative stance in context, but is a function of the individual members of the Board and the Executive Managements’ ability to manage their anxiety in the midst of the turbulence, and at the same time abandon the mimetic* solutions traditionally used to control that anxiety across the organizational or industrial environment.  [*mimesis: from “mime.”  A concept in organizational ecology that says Company A will observe Company B, and adopt a successful process to “avoid reinventing the wheel.”  Over time this mimed process may become an industry standard.  The down side is that when the environment changes, continuing to adopt the mimed process may limit innovation and increase the chances of organizational failure.]

Therefore, if the individuals on the Board and the Executive Management fail to manage their anxiety about the turbulence and the implications of transformative change in motion, and as they realize their historical resources for influence (i.e., lobbying) are waning, they will tend to take the most conservative stance to defend the survival of the organization, and that stance will tend to be to preserve the status quo at all cost.  As organizational rigidity increases, adaptibility and innovation are stifled.

The door for the Nuclear Option is now open.  Why?  Because the real-life environment to which we are applying my theory is not  just one company; we are applying it to a multifaceted industry that has for decades successfully resisted and obstructed the move toward universal health care.  And they know that by conspiring together and pooling their resources, they can potentially create a huge wall of resistance.  This strategy has a flaw, however.  A significant percentage of companies in the industry are supportive of UHC, and are already changing the practice of their organizations to successfully ride the transformative wave.  This fact only serves to increase the opponents’ anxiety.  Who has the most to lose?

The portion of the industry that opposes UHC has powerful political and social connections.  The Republican Party, although reduced in its influence at the last election still has significant resources at its disposal, as well as a core of voters, who for numerous reasons at least state they don’t want to pay for UHC.

This set of circumstances, powered by huge finances, politics, ideology, and desperation creates the possibility that those who have the most to lose as they perceive it are going to try and “drop the bomb” on the universal health care.  Whether they make their move before the Congress acts, or, have a strategy to destroy it even after it has been signed into law, I can’t tell.  But I believe they are well into their planning and will indeed act.

A final note.  Another principle, not from organizational theory, but from psychohistory, is also undoubtedly in play in this situation.  Speaking not literally, but figuratively:  “Violence is the final refuge of the incompetent.”

1,935,960 Minutes Later: The Free Market’s Failure to Uphold the Right to Health From Day One

Correction: Bad math strikes again.  Please read the comment  submitted by Tyler, he correctly points out that my math in the title is wrong.  The number of minutes should be 116,157,600.  I decided to leave the post title as is (so this correction comment will make sense), but change it in the text.  And I have to admit, 116 million minutes is way more dramatic to the point! Now, on to this serious topic:

The United States Constitution will celebrate its 221st Anniversary on June 21, 2009.  It was ratified on June 21, 1788.

The Preamble of the Constitution declares,

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

On June 21st, 116,157,600 minutes will have passed since it became the law of the land.  That is how long the Free Market System has had to figure out how to create a health care system so that every single American can live the healthiest life possible, out of which directly flows “the general Welfare, secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” for each individual citizen.

At the time of the official first census in 1790, the population of the United States was 3.9 million people, of course, not counting all the people they didn’t count.  Health insurance did not exist, although it had been conceived by an English doctor in 1694. Health care, prior to the modern age had been almost exclusively fee-for-service.  Today, after 221 years, the Free Market System has sucked up such huge chunks of the health care market into its for-profit maw, 50 million Americans cannot only not afford the fee-for-service for a visit to the doctor, they can’t afford insurance either.  And that appears to suit the aims of the Free Market System just fine.

In their minds they have succeeded.  They are the American Disease Industry.  Pain, suffering, disease, chronic medical conditions, a public clamoring for relief.  Pills, pills, procedures, tests, pills.  Newer, always newer.  Cutting edge–procedures must always be cutting edge.  Americans grows unhealthier by the year.  That’s the growth part of the plan.  It makes no difference that millions can’t afford care.  That’s a problem for the non-profits to handle.  How they must smirk in their Board Rooms at the not-for-profits.  Unfettered by any meaningful regulation of their industrial juggernaut, they know they are the medical messiahs of the modern age.  They have the advertising campaigns to prove it.  The drugs must flow.  All hail the Free Market System.

So, 116 million minutes later this system is anything but free.  It is an engine for unfettered greed exercised by a few, distorting every good potential of free enterprise into power for themselves, privilege for themselves, and domination over all others.

It is a great business plan.  With one exception.  The American Disease Industry made one critical error.  They cured too many diseases.  And over the past forty thousand days or so, here and there, now and then, individuals realized they could be healthier.  And Americans have this thing about talking to each other.  Freedom of speech and all that.  But more importantly communications technology, advancing at a rate unprecedented in history.  Radio.  Television, Telecommunications, Satellites, computers, cell phones, fiber optics.  The Internet.  All over the world, people just like us were figuring this out.  They got healthier as we got sicker.  That had to change.  It’s not the American way.

We the People figured it out.  We could be healthier.  We wanted to be healthier.  And we didn’t want to continue to be the serfs of the American Disease Industry.  And we realized:

The Unfettered Market System, led by those who duplicitously espouse it as the purest manifestation of the Ideals of this Preamble, has failed utterly to fulfill its demands, to ensure without exception the rights it promises to every citizen to live in this “more perfect Union.”   These rights are not mere constructs of a clash of cultures in which Capitalism and Socialism battle for supremacy to the destruction of the other.  These rights are virtually what define us as human.

The Unfettered Market System has driven us back to the epoch of tyranny, to that moment before the Constitutional Clock began, not for the blessings of Capitalism, where profit flows like a great current feeding the abundant life in the ocean of time, but to a new and insidious feudalism, crushing the very People for whom that Preamble was written, the ones whose blood was shed in sacrifice for the Blessings of Liberty, under an economic millstone of debt, disease, subservience and corruption.

The Constitutional Clock still runs, no longer the notch of gears, but with the seething quantum foam of Cesium atoms.  So, too, We the People no longer will tolerate our rights being ground away by the Houses of Greed, old and festering, oppressing us as they did to untold generations for under the banner of the Divine Right of Kings, Robber Barons or faceless Global Megacorps.

We are people of the Light, riding the very photons that power the universe, shrinking our globe’s girth to micronic seconds, a web of bioluminescence that no tyrant of institution or government can control.  We the People, knowing we are the stuff of stars, knowing we are of a Most Splendid Spark, knowing within our minds is the brilliance of a pulsar, knowing within the form that makes me, me, and you, you, that our right to Life is the right to Health.

116,157,600 minutes into this great constitutional experiment called the United States of America, we claim our right to health.  And this minute is as great a victory over tyranny as the very first one!

Where the Republican Budget Really Came From

I’m feeling cranky.  I’ll spare you the extended list.  If you’ve read a few of my more recent posts, you’ll remember that life in hospital land has been stressful.  It ain’t over yet, unfortunately.

Granted, the whole country is cranky.  And irritable or irritating, depending on your perspective.

Gail Collins, NY Times columnist, in her column today, makes a compelling case that the Republicans have become even more irritating than the French, a feat that would seem to defy the very laws of Nature herself:

While the G-20 was finishing its business, members of Congress were showing how they did theirs by passing a budget resolution. The spending plan was somewhat smaller than the president had requested. The Senate also added the Republican priority of reducing taxes on people who inherit estates of $7 million or more – a move that would increase the deficit while stimulating the economy approximately as much as eliminating a sales tax on square potato chips.

But even so, not a single Republican voted yes on the budget. In the House, the G.O.P. came up with an alternative that would cut more taxes for the wealthy while clamping down on nondefense spending. House Republicans think we invest way too much on these government programs and try to cut back on them every single year that their party is not actually in power.

In the Senate, Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire predicted that the budget plan “will absolutely put this country on an unsustainable path.” This would be the same Judd Gregg who agreed to join the Obama cabinet as commerce secretary before a last-minute discovery that the president is a Democrat.

Actually, it’s no contest when you think about it. The French aren’t even in the ballpark.

(I’ve made my irritation with the former Veep very clear in a previous post.)

The Republicans are really cranky, after that whole election thing.  And, when it comes to the financial crisis, the budget, trillions of dollars of deficits, and the fact they have to cover-up and evade the the fact their  policies are responsible for a humongous part of it, they are in a tizzy of biblical proportions.

So, to counter the budget they disdain, despise, and dysphagiate (figure it out), they have concocted their own version.  Ta-da!  For us mere mortals, they have released an 18 page summary of the absolute best, paramount, pinnacle of Republican fiscal theory and solutions.  I read it.  You can read it here: “Road to Recovery.”

At least look at it.  That way you’ll understand my following comments.

I give it very high marks for:

  1. Expansive use of white space in a policy document
  2. The incomprehensible use of bubble pictures connected by lines
  3. Text in a font and use of Italics (!!) popular at the time of Abraham Lincoln
  4. No numbers, well, sort of.  The ones that just happen to be included are for the most part those nasty Democratic ones
  5. Exhibiting a level of hubris and claiming a doctrine of infallibility that exceeds the wildest dreams of the Papacy.

I could stop there, but, in my crankiness I wrote a short piece a couple of weeks ago that I titled, “A Long Time Ago in a Beltway Far, Far Away.”  It tells the tale of where the ideas for the Republican budget really came from.

A word of forewarning. This piece is a very edgy satire and in a style in which I usually do not write.  You can access it here: “A Long Time Ago…” (I apologize in advance to George Lucas.)

Michigan, the Big Three Automakers, & the Death of Reaganomics

UPDATE: Dec. 19: I am feeling just a bit prescient (just a bit). In the post below, if you haven’t read it, I somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggest the Michigan could jump the U.S. Ship of State and join Canada, because the Canadians would probably welcome the chance to have their own auto industry. Turns out, they already do, and it is The Big Three. Just today, Ottawa announced that they were providing the Detroit automakers with $3-$4 billion in financial support because the auto industry is such a huge part of the Canadian economy. The conditions for the money, aimed at GM and Chrysler initially, but to Ford, too, if it requests aid, are similar to the ones coming out of Washington and the Obama office. What I find curious, from the perspective of media reporting, is that USA Today broke the story. At CNN.com it was buried as an add-on on their CNN Money page, and I couldn’t find it at all on MSNBC, ABC, or the New York Times’ websites. Read on!

Neoconservative Republicans (are there any other kind left?) apparently hate Michigan. Specifically, they hate Detroit’s Big Three automakers, General Motors, Chrysler and Ford teetering on the edge of the abyss. The Neo-cons see this peril as the moment to throw their last tantrum for “Free Market Economics” in a dramatic demonstration to avenge their losses, against the American electorate in the 2008 elections. (It might also be called political suicide by ideological obstinance.)

That is such a good idea! The economy is shedding 500,000 jobs a month, the economy is in shambles, the world is in a staggering recession, and so, of course, the absolutely most reasonable thing to do is enact, create, or threaten every possible wall to ensure another whole sector of the economy is beaten to a pulp. Yep, no bailout for the auto industry!

Abraham Lincoln may be rolling over in his grave over the Blagojevich affair in Illinois, but Ronald Reagan must be standing and saluting in his, as the standard of Reaganomics is hoisted high by the neo-cons: “I meant TRICKLE down. Fire the Lazy Socialist Bastards!”

Hmph. So, there.

Senator McConnell, tear down that wall!

There must be more than a hundred books written on unintended consequences in political, social and economic policy, but evidently the neo-cons have never read any of them. The primary unintended consequence of free-market Reaganomics, and its fatal flaw, is not that it abhors government regulation, but that it allows the individual to believe that morality and ethics are compartmentalized within that individual. Therefore, what happens to other people is of no consequence, as long as you are making money. The biblical Golden Rule is rewritten “Do unto yourself as you would have done unto yourself at a profit.” That whole idea of “doing unto others” in the original text is rationalized away by an ideological delusion that the others have exactly the same opportunity to succeed as you do, but they are completely on their own to get it done. If they don’t have the same opportunity to succeed, it’s their fault, because, despite any mitigating circumstances, they are supposed to have them because they are. Therefore, if others can’t succeed, it has nothing to do with you, but it’s all their fault, and they, not you, have not lived up to the Golden Rule -2.0.

Clever. Handy. Utterly immoral.

Where does this insight come from? I, with remorse, confess that I am a former Reaganomicist. Back in the early 1980s, fresh from graduate school, uncertain about my financial future, and having voted for Ronald Reagan (Jimmy Carter, after all, had been such an ineffectual president–although even Nostradamus hadn’t predicted George W. Bush and the cataclysms he wrought upon the world these past eight years), and so upon the invitation of a college friend, my wife and I joined up with Am___. (It is a word that must not be spoken.) And for the next five years we attended dozens of rallies and seminars, listened to hundreds of hours of tapes, all about how we would become fabulously rich by Am___ distributors who had become fabulously rich. We, however didn’t. We did spend a lot of money attending all that stuff, supporting all those SUCCESSFUL distributors telling us how easy it really was. To be fabulously rich.

In this world, the Gospel according to Ronald reigned unchallenged. Salvation by free enterprise. Liberty through personal wealth. Step into the great economic trickle-down and be showered by your wildest dreams. Ronald Reagan was a god to these people. Big problem, though. The masses at the rallies were nearly all professing born-again evangelicals, so their adoration had to be kept in the dark recesses of their souls, for to speak plainly of this truth would be an admission they were worshiping mammon and not the Lord.

Naively, I thought I’d be a shoe-in. I had a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. I was smart and well-educated, so moving up through those “diamond” levels was going to be a great ride to my dreams.

During that time, I learned two things about my “higher education.” One, was that in this crowd (many of whom would morph into Neo-conservatives when Newt and the Boys hit Washington), “liberal” education was not only looked at with open disdain and suspicion (unless you were a male athlete), for you might not believe in Biblical Literalism, but that you probably had been brain-washed by liberal faculty into thinking “liberally,” which meant, obviously that you were not to be trusted. I also had not attended one of the “right” seminaries (i.e., Wheaton, Dallas, Fuller, Bob Jones, etc.) so I was suspect right off the bat. Alas, I was evidently, one of those damned liberals (in the biblical sense).

The second thing I learned, despite my P.R. issues, was that, due to my education, I actually possessed the ability and capacity to think about what was being said in these mass rallies, and I began to have doubts that the party line had a basis in reality. Any basis. Hmm. This became troubling. I had been part of the organization long enough by that time to understand dissenting from the orthodoxy of Reaganomics would be called, at the very least “stinkin’ thinkin” and at worse, evidence that a SOCIALIST had infiltrated the ranks of the Chosen, and should be ostracized. Or have to buy a lot more cassette tapes.

That chapter passed. By the time Reagan’s second term finished, I was done with Am___ and Reaganomics. I still believe in free enterprise, as well as capitalism. But I will not, I cannot, rewrite the Golden Rule for my personal profit. Therefore, I hold to the principle that capitalism can be moral only in the context of how it protects those who are most vulnerable to impoverishment, and gives to them opportunities, with the benefits of assistance to raise their quality of life, while they, too, contribute to the common good. Now, I make no pretense that I am the first to view capitalism from this perspective; not being an economist, however, I just don’t know who to cite for the attribution.

Now, back to Michigan. First, I admit feeling some sympathy for those neo-con Republicans in the state’s government, as well as their Congressional delegation. They probably think they’ve been condemned to some new lower level of Dante’s hell. The one where the most faithful are hung out to dry by the leaders of the most faithful, because they are the “faithfuller” and do it, because they can. I shudder.

The good people of Michigan have a couple of other options. First, they could secede from the Union and petition Canada to be a new province. (None of that Alaskan miscreant secessionist baloney, however) After all, Detroit sits right on the border, now, and Lansing is about the same distance from Ottawa as from Washington, D.C. Canada would instantly have its very own auto industry, and the Parliament’s motivation to make it work would be enormous. The Queen could visit her new subjects so everything would get a fresh coat of paint. Think tax revenues! It would look a lot better on the maps, too, especially if they gave the upper peninsula to Wisconsin. That whole border outline thing always looks so messy in its current form.

The other option, which I find devilishly humorous, is for Michigan to declare itself as Upper Tennessee. Then watching Senator Bob Corker (R-Nissan) run for reelection would be the most fun we’ve had since watching that Iraqi reporter throw his shoes at W.

I do have one non-negotiable requirement regarding Chrysler (and I currently own a Chrysler product): Cerberus is a financial beast that should not be trusted for all the reasons I have discussed above. Before they are given a single buck of taxpayers’ dollars, they should be required to put up $10 billion in cash of their fund’s moneys to provide for the well-being of Chrysler employees, and then they can apply for a loan. They should be treated as Robber Barons until they show full faith through the common good that they are not! If you choose for your institutional identity an unrestrained ravenous beast, you should expect to be regarded to be exactly that (remember the fable of the rat and the scorpion) until you prove–beyond a shadow of a doubt–that you are domesticated and will faithfully contribute to the common good!

The common good. That is what I am saying is the only morally acceptable route to deciding how to deal with the automobile industry. And that will involve the United States government acting on behalf of the people who depend upon the industry, now. Require change? Yes. Require accountability? Yes. Require that they pay back America at a profit? Absolutely.