WHEN THE BLACK SWANS COME HOME TO ROOST

12 04 2020

Here in Nashville, our county-wide governance body has district representatives, whose main job is to be the intermediary between the citizens of their district and the city, and “At-Large” council members, whose serve more of an oversight function, kind of like deputy mayors. In 2015, I ran for  that office, largely on a platform that the city was acting like the good times were just going to keep on rolling, but that was not really the case, and we had better do everything we could to prepare for the collapse that was coming. Two of my suggestions were  that we ought to foster local food production and create co-operatively run local industries that would produce a great many of the essentials of life that now come from far away, like shoes, clothing, and tools. I’ll talk about the relevance of those planks of my platform a little later.

I confess that I didn’t campaign very hard. I showed up at the candidate forums, figuring that I was unlikely to win, but it was important for the winning candidates to hear what I had to say, and figured I would get my message out to the general public in an interview with The Nashville Scene. The Scene, unfortunately, chose to belittle my candidacy and mostly dwelt on what a peculiar guy I am, rather than on what I had to say.

I chose not to run in the most recent Metro Council election. I had thought about this a good deal in the years since the previous election, and realized that, given the genuine technical legal complexities of writing legislation, if I were going to run again, part of my platform ought to be that I would spend much of my salary to hire a lawyer to assist me in framing my proposals appropriately. But I don’t know any such lawyer, and, even if I did, it seemed to make more sense to cut out the middle man–me–and just help the lawyer run for office. So, I contented myself with expressing my concerns to all the candidates, and got fairly sympathetic responses back from several of them, as I detailed at the time. I figured it was preferable to have council members in office who are at least aware of our long-term possibilities, and was gratified that most of those who won the multi-seat election were candidates who had responded somewhat sympathetically to my concerns.

Let’s fast-forward to our current situation. Although I have mostly been staying home (which is what I usually do anyway), last Monday afternoon at around five o’clock I found myself driving on some of Nashville’s major commuting routes, which are usually jam-packed with cars at that time of day. There was hardly anybody on the road. I stopped by “The Produce Place,” a locally-owned store that specializes in selling local produce. It was closed, because the store has cut the hours it’s open due to the pandemic. I picked up a very skinny copy of “The Nashville Scene,” no longer fat from entertainment and restaurant ads, and read that the free paper is on the ropes financially and was hoping its readers would form a financial support group so it could stay in business. The Scene, which once prided itself on tweaking the sensibilities of “the bizpigs,” as the editors called the city’s elite, is now owned by one of the wealthiest people in town, and caters to “the bizpigs,” a phrase that has not appeared in The Scene since long before they dissed my Metro Council run. I’m not sure whether I should be sympathetic to their plight or not.

But, I digress….From our home, we can often hear the roar of rush hour traffic on another major thoroughfare. Not lately. We live a couple of miles from the private-plane airport in Davidson County, and are used to having frequent low-flying small planes in our soundscape. They have grown rare. Of course, another factor there is that a tornado blew through the airport a few weeks ago and did millions of dollars worth of damage, destroying hangars and the airplanes parked in them. The upshot is, private air travel, like automobile travel, is way down. I’m glad. I’ve often wondered why it’s OK for one person in a private airplane to destroy the peace and quiet of the thousands of people who have no choice but to hear the noise.

I certainly didn’t foresee that the economic shutdown of Nashville would be due to a pandemic, but here we are, right where I ‘ve been saying we’re going. Such an unforeseeable, catastrophic event, is called “a black swan.” One definition of “black swan” that I read says that “they are obvious in hindsight.” It’s true that worldwide flu epidemics have become an accepted part of modern life, although they have never been this severe before, so yes, we should have seen this coming. In fact, disaster planners in our government did see it coming, but were ignored for the same reason the concerns I raised in my Metro Council candidacy were brushed aside:  anybody who suggests that there’s anything dangerous in our future, whether it’s a pandemic, an economic collapse (which might be set off by a pandemic),nuclear war, or climate disaster, gets short shrift from those who run our society, who are engrossed with making money and exercising power nowWe are a species that is wired to deal with immediate threats and gratification, not the long-term results of our short-sighted actions. We are going to have to change that to survive as a species. In the interest of raising human consciousness, this post is going to examine the effects of this particular “black swan,” and also note a couple more that seem to be circling and getting ready to come home to roost. Read the rest of this entry »





A “LET ‘EM EAT CAKE” MOMENT?

13 06 2009

It’s old news by now, but the utter arrogance of Senator Max Baucus and the rest of the Senate Finance Committee as they had no fewer than thirteen single-payer health-care advocates arrested and removed from the room for protesting the utter arrogance of declaring single-payer health care “off the table” may have been the high water mark of corporatism in the United States.  May have been.

Two of the main foci of the debate so far have been whether to include a “public option”–an expanded version of Medicare for those unable to afford private insurance–or simply require everybody to buy private insurance, and subsidize the purchase.  That leads into the second focus, which centers on how to pay for the whole thing and how to keep costs within bounds.

There’s a lot to chew on here.  The insurance industry is rightfully afraid that a “public option” will shrink their market share, but there is widespread awareness of their greed, so they get little sympathy from the public for that.  In Congress, it’s another matter, unfortunately.   All those insurance premiums buy a lot of Senators and Representatives–like, f’rinstance, Max Baucus.  The last time Baucus ran for re-election, he faced a little-known, sacrificial Republican whom he beat handily.  Baucus, nevertheless, found it necessary to raise eleven million dollars for his campaign–about ten million of it from donors who do not live in Montana, and nearly two million  from “big health”–insurance, pharmaceutical, and health care companies. The other members of the Finance Committee, not all of whom had to run for office in 2008, collectively received over eleven million dollars from big med.  Can you say “campaign finance reform,” boys and girls?

Parenthetically, Baucus, who has received nearly five million dollars in contributions from combined finance, real estate, and insurance interests over the course of his career, was one of the Democrats who helped shoot down Obama’s proposal to give bankruptcy judges the power to lower the value of inflated  home mortgages.  With Democrats like him, who needs Republicans?  Another reason to go Green….

The first rule of politics in this country is, “don’t bite the hands that feed you,” and this scale of feed makes it obvious that we can’t trust Baucus, among others, to really reform our health care system any more than we can trust Tim Geithner to reform Wall Street.  These guys are not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem, foxes guarding the hen house–and you and I are the hens in this situation, folks.

Republicans are, of course, staunchly opposed to “the public option.”  They have declared it prima facie evidence that Obama is engineering a socialist revolution in the US.  Look, people, I really am a socialist, and I’m here to tell you, Obama ain’t one of us.  To use somewhat antiquated rhetoric:  to me, , Mr. Obama looks like a slavering lapdog of the Capitalist system–giving all that money to Wall Street, no strings attached, and you Repuglycans are calling him a socialist!!??  Truly, either your ignorance or your gall, or more likely both, know no bounds!  But, I digress….

Anyway, the Repuglycans’ “right to life” principles appear to apply to insurance companies much more strongly than they do to people who cannot afford medical care, because they are pushing for a plan that will simply, a la Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts, require people to buy private insurance, and provide some level of subsidy for those who can’t afford it out of pocket.  Everybody is being too polite to point out that requiring individuals to support bloated corporations  or face fines is fascism–the marriage of government and big business for their mutual benefit–at its very worst, so I guess I’ll have to do the dirty job of pointing it out myself:  Republicans are fascists…got it?  The sad thing is that many Dimocrats, in the “spirit of bipartisanship,” are thinking about “being reasonable” and capitulating on this, severely limiting the “public option” one way or another, essentially guaranteeing that the alarm in the hen house will only go off when the fox wants to ring it.  It’s enough to make you wish for a strong Green Party presence in Congress.  The GP has never wavered in its support for single-payer, not-for profit health care.

Since Obama’s solution to the piracy on Wall Street has been to throw money at the pirates, it’s not surprising that the knee-jerk reaction of many of our politicians in both major parties has been to try and find a way to subsidize private, for-profit insurance companies so they can offer some kind of coverage to everyone–and let’s not forget that one of the chief causes of bankruptcy and foreclosure is medical expenses–even among people who actually have insurance.

That’s where the plan to “solve” the problem by bloating the insurance business even further is running into difficulties.  There just ain’t enough loose cash left in the system to feed these vampires.  We gave it all to Wall Street and Detroit already.  Some congressmen thought maybe they could tax peoples’ health benefits and give the money to the insurance companies, but Obama campaigned against that, and he’s unlikely to do a U-turn on it.  They thought maybe they could require all employers to provide insurance, but too many people are unemployed and too many employers are already financially stressed.  So, gee, it starts looking like the only excess cash left around is…in the for-profit medical biz!  Gee whiz!  Who woulda thunk it?  So Congress is finally starting to listen to single-payer advocates, although there’s no guarantee of any results.

There certainly is plenty of fat to be cut from the illness care industry. ( Let’s quit calling it “health care,” because they don’t really care about keeping people healthy–it’s  when you’re sick and spending money on it that your contribution to the GNP skyrockets. )  As I detailed three years ago on this show, drug company profit margins are simply insane.  They take pills that cost them pennies to produce and sell them, frequently, for hundreds of times their actual production cost.  These are the people who solemnly promised us that they would shave one and a half percent off their future profit margins over the next decade.   How big of them!

Screw shaving their profits!  Big Pharma executives should shave their heads (or maybe quit shaving), give up their wealth, and walk across America on their knees in sackcloth and ashes, begging our forgiveness, and be pelted with rotten vegetables and the contents of bedpans at every opportunity.

Well, OK, maybe that’s a little extreme.  Maybe having them dump bedpans and other refuse in the proper receptacle  (a flyproof compost pile, imho) would be penance enough.  But, I’m digressing again…revenge fantasies…arrgh.

My point is that there is nearly enough slack to create a universal health care system if we take the slack out of the for-profit illness business and stress prevention and self-care.  Putting higher taxes on gasoline could contribute to this, as well as pushing more people to seek alternatives to driving.  This is one of the ways European countries have paid for their universal health care systems.

There is one other question I’d like to address while I’m talking about health care, and that is the social effects of our private, limited-access system.  It discourages small business startups, such as small farms, for example, because they rise–or fall–on the health of the entrepreneur.  One uninsured accident or illness, and your business is toast.  I cannot help but wonder if this is intentional, a way for big business to discourage outside innovation and competition.  At this time in our history, the old answers no longer make sense, and we need to do everything we can to encourage fresh thinking.  Universal health care will do that.

The various corporations who profit from illness in America, and the individuals who embody those corporations, are, in effect, vampires.   They get us in their clutches and, the sicker we get, the fatter they grow.  They are addicted to our blood, and will not give up their habit easily.  Maybe, just maybe, enough of our legislators will realize the time has come when there is no choice but to pelt the illness biz vampires with garlic and drive a stake through their collective hearts.  Maybe.

music:  William Burroughs/Bill Laswell, “Advice for Young People”





MICHAEL MOORE IS NOT HAPPY

27 02 2008

this just in from The Hill:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) proposal to mandate that all people purchase health insurance would be a boon to the industry, filmmaker Michael Moore said Friday.

“Can you imagine, every time Sen. Clinton says that, the licking of the lips that goes on with these health insurance executives?” Moore said during a conference call with reporters.

Moore, director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary “SiCKO” about the U.S. healthcare system, criticized both Clinton and her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), for failing to support a universal system of government-financed health coverage during their runs for the White House. “The two Democratic candidates don’t quite get it,” he said.

and a mostly conservative Canadian paper casually reveals that

Republicans have created budget deficits with their tax cuts for plutocrats, CEOs, Wall Street hedge fund pirates, lawyer ambulance chasers, overpaid doctors and insurance companies. (Their combined profits last year were nearly what provinces spend on providing health care to 32 million Canadians).





HEALTHCARE FLIMFLAM

9 12 2007

The Democratic front runners have prostituted the language again. “Univeral health care,” according to all three of them, now means subsidizing the insurance companies rather than actually providing health care for everyone. They’ve dropped the phrase “single-payer” from their vocabulary, largely at the behest of the insurance companies that support them. Hillary Clinton, for example, had taken over a million dollars in camaign contributions from the insurance industry back last summer, before the campaign had even heated up.

Ironically, this approach—mandating that people buy private insurance and subsidizing the purchase with government money—is the same program Republican candidate Mitt Romney pushed through in Massachusetts. This has not prevented Romney from attacking these copy-cat Democratic proposals as “European-style socialized medicine.”

We should be so lucky. None of the plans that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are proposing will do anything to curb the profit-driven excesses of America’s unique, Byzantine private insurance/medical complex. They don’t even talk about doing that. They want to feed the vampire, not drive a stake through his heart. They ‘re not going to limit what insurers can charge their government-mandated captive audience. They’re not going to regulate the insurance companies’ ability to restrict choice of doctors, hospitals, and treatments, or rein in their profit-driven tendency to deny claims. The limited expansion of Medicare that some of them propose will become an expensive catch-all for seriously ill people that the private insurance companies don’t want to risk their profits on, and the fat subsidies to private insurance companies that would be generated under the Democrats’ plans would only feed their high overhead and do nothing to bring down the cost of medical care.

These plans are not European socialism. They are corporate welfare, another example of what happens when government is run for the benefit of big business, aka “fascism.” And it’s the Democrats that are proposing it. Magic! Presto chango! They will invoke the warm feeling of “healthcare for all” and thereby funnel billions into their corporate sponsors’ pockets! More of your blood goes to the vampires! Wow! What a trick!

Of course, the Republicans aren’t even that faux-compassionate. Their proposed solution is limited to tax breaks to help people buy health insurance, and if you don’t pay enough taxes for that to make a difference to you, tough beans, you don’t deserve to live. If that makes you want to vote for a Democrat, ”’cause they’re a little better, anyway,” please be informed: you have been hypnotized!

Let’s look at what these proposals really mean. The typical cost of full health insurance for a family of four in the US is $12,000 a year, which is about the gross take-home pay of somebody who makes minimum wage. Median family income in the US is about $43,000 a year, which is not really that much more than minimum wage, because if, as is usually the case, both partners work, that means the average is about $21,000 per person, which works out to about ten bucks an hour—like I said, not that much more than minimum wage, and clearly not enough to afford 12k a year for health coverage.

Under the typical Democratic candidate plan, how much would a median-income family be expected to pay for health insurance? We have two models to work from. One is Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts program, which, he boasts, brought the per person cost of health insurance down from $350 a month to $180 a month. So, for a family of four, that would be an insurance bill cut from $1400 a month—above the national average I just quoted—to $720 a month, about 20% of their pre-tax income. Still not very affordable.

Or we can go from the claim that the average Democratic proposal will pay $2400 per year per person, which is estimated to be half the typical cost of insurance by some reckonings. It’s also about what countries such as France, Canada, and England pay for health care per person per year. (That’s a 2001 link…I had a more recent reference, but lost it…sorry!) Here, it’s less than half what people pay. Well, we all know how poverty-stricken and uncivilized they are in Canada and Europe. Backwaters of medical technology, y’know? But, I digress….So, if the subsidy pays a family about ten thousand dollars a year, does that leave them two, four, or ten thousand dollars to make up out of their own pockets for government-mandated private insurance? You must pay the corporations money or be penalized!? Yow, I’m still digressing….on the lower end, an additional payment of $160-$320 dollars a month might be affordable, except that the reality of most families’ budgets is that they are already going into debt just to survive, and don’t have room for another $160 dollar a month payment.

And, speaking of going into debt, these dim Dems are living in la-la land to think that the government is going to have money to give the insurance companies. When Cheney and Bush started the Iraq war, and the Democrats bought it, they started a fire that was guaranteed to burn up any possibility of increased spending on social needs in this country. I think the Junta did that on purpose, but I’m sorry, Hillary, there ain’t no $110 billion to spend on that. We’ve about maxxed out our Chinese and Saudi credit cards on that war you voted for, dontcha know?

Well, if we can’t afford to spend any more money on healthcare, then how in the world can we afford universal single-payer healthcare?

We can afford universal single-payer healthcare because we’re already paying too much for healthcare. If we cut out the corpulent corporate middlemen, there’s plenty of money already in the system to take care of everybody. According to Physicians for a National Health Program, ”private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $350 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.” Health insurance would be covered by prorated taxes instead of flat-rate insurance premiums, and everyone except the extremely wealthy would end up paying less for health coverage.

Single-payer health coverage is part of the Green Party platform, but the only Democratic candidate who endorses it is Dennis Kucinich—and the party bosses are trying to figure out how to take his seat away from him. Most Americans support single payer healthcare, but our current major political parties are too in thrall to their corporate masters to listen to the people they claim to represent. Time to ring some changes.

music: Rumors of the Big Wave, Echo of a Scream








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