Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Speaking Maturity to Power

In my private practice, I teach that successful living has much less to do with the cultivation of intellect than it does with the nurturance of maturity. Living maturely means being in touch with your body and its life, its needs, and its messages; rather than subjecting yourself to whatever groupthink the government or Good Morning America happens to be feeding you at the moment.

So while the President tells lies amid a carefully (and expensively) staged setting, I am reminded that all conflict springs from an underlying immaturity. Every dispute, each barking stage of separation and divorce, every fight, and all the wars of mankind, are caused and perpetuated by the infantile mind.

Osama is not a Satanic symbol of Evil incarnate; he is just a rotten boy, a miserable adolescent living out a grotesque video game fantasy in real life. He is the poster child of regressive psychosis, and deserves no magnitude, no elevation into a symbolic monument of Evil. He is far too puny and insignificant a thing for all that.

The same is true of our President and his handlers in Washington. How clearly like a boy is he—nay, more like an infant. He squalls, blusters, stumbles over his tongue as if it were a stray shoelace dangling from his rubber face. He is the public mascot for dependent personality disorder, with his incoherent slavery to tyrannical corporate advisors and incompetent stooges who manipulate him like obsessive-compulsive nannies.

He has learned to externalize everything—especially blame. He casts it away from himself and his circle of controllers like a baby throwing food from its high chair. Listen to him tonight, if you can stomach it: every solution will be couched in violence or threat; every bromide of patriotism and the sacrifice of others besides himself will be painted in underlying strokes of conflict and hatred. Every lie will be told with the grim passion of a four year old who insists upon his innocence, even as he is covered and surrounded by the proof of his mischief.

People like Osama and Bush have never learned the first principle of maturity: that every conflict starts within the self, and that every conflict's resolution can be found in that same inner place. To look toward an external God is to become inevitably trapped in the quicksand of war, as the President himself has so helpfully demonstrated. To rely on weaponry is to explode the self—the first shot in a war is the last; it will inexorably return to its originator. To conduct government and diplomacy with the tools of threat and malevolence is to alienate those who would otherwise become your allies.

But there can be no alliances where there is tyranny; there is only death and fear, fueled by immaturity. A tyrant is, in essence, a brat: a self-aggrandizing runt who measures his own worth by the amount of damage he can cause. To deal with them, perhaps the best we can do is to speak and act so as to keep such miserable urchins off the stages of power and public policy; even as we turn within ourselves every day to nurture the humble love of self and other that truly, and maturely, leads the living personality.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Cancer of War: Iraq, the Home Front, the Planet Earth

According to Technorati's statistics, there are something like 25 or 30 million blogs out there now. One of my favorites is Eric Alterman's Altercation, which appears on MSNBC. Alterman's primary talent as a blogger is his ability to condense the essence of a big and complex story into two or three brief paragraphs, while not narrowing the reader's perspective. That's what he did today in his piece about the global warming issue (to refer to it as a "debate" is to slide beyond ignorance and into the agenda-driven denial characteristic of our leaders in Washington and our mass media).

Why are people swallowing this studied ignorance? Why is global warming (incidentally, it was near 60 degrees again in New York today) even remotely considered a "debate"? Just turn to the business section of today's newspaper, and there's your answer: Exxon raked in a record $10.7 billion in profits in its last quarter, and set another record for 2005—over $36 billion. That's six months' worth of the Iraq War, ladies and gentlemen. It all ties together.

Which brings us to our next contribution from Terry McKenna, who we heard most recently in his health care series (which, according to the Progress Center, is to be a major theme of the King's SOTU speech tomorrow night). Tonight, Terry demonstrates how the mindset of war sets itself into a tyrant's brain, so that foreign policy and domestic policy are no longer apart. Mr. McKenna:

The history of recent foreign policy is of old men sitting in a well-appointed room somewhere planning how to preserve the good. For them, the good is defined by what is good for the existing economic and social order. The two world wars show us that despite good intentions, we have a hard time controlling outcomes.

The first WW was a complete disaster—nearly everyone was destroyed by the process. The second WW was equally unfortunate to both winners and losers. France and Britain lost their empires; Germany was destroyed, and split in two for 45 years. Only the US and USSR improved their position in the world.

After WW2, the US and Great Britain decided on a mix of force of arms, direct subversion, and the use of armed surrogates to contain the Soviet Union and Red China; and to maintain access to the bulk of world oil reserves. We were smart enough to not blunder into another global war, but our efforts to strangle Soviet expansion faltered (remember the domino theory).

We are in a new era where the US is the single “super power” but now no one cares.

In Africa, from the Sudan to Zimbabwe, impoverished but corrupt dictatorships commit the worst sorts of atrocities without the least concern for “world opinion.” (Just check out the dominant members of the "20 Worst Dictators" Club). The middle east remains a mostly benighted place with the brightest spots (Iran and Palestine) residing the farthest from the US orbit – and yes, Israel is a democratic nation in the middle east, but that’s almost beside the point, given the massive shifts underway in the deserts of power. In Asia, China and India are emerging industrial powers competing with us for oil and steel and going their own way on foreign policy (hence China’s and India’s policies towards Iran).

What will we do now? Iran elected a fundamentalist extremist – after we suggested to moderates that they sit this one out. The results may have been the same regardless, but how can we pretend to support emerging democracies unless we allow for the give and take of electoral politics? In Palestine, Hamas won a stunning and shocking victory. In Bolivia, the Americas have their first indigenous president - left-leaning Evo Morales. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez thumbs his nose at the US. And in Chile, socialist Michelle Bachelet, will soon take power. And as far as the bomb goes, our “ally” Pakistan traded technology with (it seems) everyone. Iran should have a bomb soon. Korea probably has a few already. Who next?

How can we reassert control? Iraq shows us that a new war is out of the question; our army is stretched to the limit. But subversion won’t work either. Not anymore, not in the days of satellite telephones and the internet. (Nor will the arming of surrogates – remember Afghanistan! We essentially created the Al-Qaeda playbook and provided them with arms to do it). No… we have no options.

So what is a right wing president to do? Maybe that explains the secret domestic surveillance. Perhaps GW and Co. have decided that if they can’t control the world, maybe they just need to control the home front. That’s right, in the mode of Richard Nixon, they may have embarked upon a course of domestic spying against domestic enemies.

Paranoid? Over the top? Sure! But without congressional oversight, we’ll never know, until history, someday, tells the tale.

—T. McKenna

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Boy Who Taught the World to Dance

I have a story to tell tonight, about the best musical concert I have ever attended, and it weaves together two historical moments that are being observed today.

It will have been 20 years ago, about three days from now. It happened at Carnegie Hall here in New York, and the artist was Rudolf Serkin, the magnificent Austrian pianist. He played, as well as I can recall, two Beethoven sonatas (The Tempest and Waldstein?), maybe a Brahms piece, and then at the end of the program, the Mozart C Minor Fantasy. He walked onstage for this last piece, and before sitting down to the keyboard, he faced the audience and humbly announced, "This is for the astronauts."

If there was a dry eye in the house by the time he finished, I would not have noticed, for mine were streaming. It was one of those moments in which art and prayer merge; where you felt as if a hidden world was speaking directly through the hands and heart of an artist and his audience.

People say that language is the greatest and most uniquely human gift. I would answer, "well maybe, to the extent that it is a particular form of music." Perhaps, in the realm of non-form, the dimension of being that some must call heaven, everyone speaks and communicates in pure music, and all movement is dance. If so, it is no wonder that death is such a mystery—if it weren't, then we'd all be far too anxious to reach the blessed realm that the Buddhists call "the pure land."

For many of us, no artist in human history has ever brought us so near to that bliss-dimension as the man whose 250th birthday is being observed around the world today, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. For anyone who has ever experienced the sound of Fate breaking over the raging body of Don Giovanni; who has heard the mournful cantabile of the A Minor Clarinet Concerto; who has felt his heart melt to the prayer of the Ave Verum Corpus—Mozart is as alive today as he ever was in the Vienna or Salzburg of some two and a half centuries past.

Sure, much of what you may have heard and seen of his personality and life (most notably in Milos Forman's marvelous 1984 film, Amadeus, a link to the trailer of which is at the graphic above) is true. He was vain, often arrogant, childish and sometimes infantile (probably because of his truncated childhood, in which he was treated like the proverbial circus monkey), rude, impractical, and subject to bizarre mood swings. And it should also be noted in passing that much of what is told of him is pure bosh (and, incidentally, that the unfortunate Salieri probably had as much to do with his death as I did).

In the midst of it all, this little man with a crooked wig and a near-obsessive taste for women became the vessel of an art whose like had never been known, and never will be again. His music has inspired every musician who lived after him, whether or not they had ever consciously felt or acknowledged his influence. He moved the human race forward, by reminding us that it is our nature to be musical; by showing us that, no matter how fraught with pain a human life may be, it can still dance.

So in this moment of planetary peril and seemingly irreparable human suffering and institutional ignorance, it may not be a bad thing to pause for a moment to listen to the music of this man whose life, though a mere breath of 35 years upon the endless web of time, somehow received and recreated the song of all Life.

Hear Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus(3MB, 2:45 playtime)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fundamentalism: Dung for the Tree of History

First off, a message for Oprah: I feel your pain. I can assure you, I've got two books that are real, true, and thoroughly non-sensational. And they're selling worse than a bowl of Hamas in Jerusalem (sorry about that, really I am). If you can just give me a passing endorsement, Oprah, I know I can make Idol, now that those twins have been removed: folks say I can belt out ancient Chinese poetry with the best of 'em.

We live in a world where fools are adored, and arrogance rewarded. We live in a time when real work is paid with scorn, as if it were a disgrace, and when the sham of busyness is given credit, and often stock options. Ours has become a nation so obsessed with image that the once living substance inside has rotted into a stinking lump of darkness.

Every morning, on the subway, I see people reading God, in black or tawny red books with gilt lettering on their dark covers. I wonder, "is god there—in those books?" Surely it is there, somewhere, though not in the language. I look for god in the same places where the great scientists have, though without even a shadow of their insight and ability. I look between the lines, in the atoms comprising those pages, in the quantum space that patiently carries the images. But god can't control whether those images are the pictures of a delusion. Only you can.

Is God in His heaven, talking over a golden phone to a squint-eyed, vapid white man in Washington or Crawford who can't string two sentences of decent English together at a time? Is He magically engorging the cranial vasculature of an old white minister of state in Israel, as punishment for having divided a desert filled with bullets and fables? Is He silently plotting the murder of a socialist leader in South America, for the greater glory of Himself and His appointed television spokesmen? Is He intelligently designing a world where cruise missiles decapitate children, and white phosphorous melts the skin of widows?

The real god that you breathe in and exhale in every moment, that dances through your bloodstream and even your bowels—this god is in your flesh—you are it and it is you. This god is the subatomic ocean that sparkles in the lips of lovers or the eyes of children. It is always at rest, and never stops moving; and will never be trapped in the slimey snares of fundamentalism. So let the dead rot—fundamentalism is shit for the compost heap.

Have you ever wondered why tyrants are never assassinated? How can you kill what is already dead? Every tyrant kills the god within himself, until only a shell, an empty image, remains. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and all their ilk, are hollow husks whose rot will feed the tree of history, and thereby nourish the next generation, and fertilize the coming transformation.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

State of the Union: CYA

Before we begin tonight, I want to point out another reason why I feature the work of Terry McKenna in this space: it seems he's repeatedly ahead of the progressive curve on the issues that matter most. If you've been following along here, you know that most of last week's posts came from Terry on the subject of health care and the woeful state we're in as a nation, both medically and economically, with respect to health care. Well, today I notice that American Progress—my personal favorite among all the progressive online truth shops—is rolling out its own analysis of the health care problem. I would encourage you to read it, because it adds even more statistics and sobering observations to what we had from Terry last week. Sure, the crimes, depredations and incompetencies of the Bush administration and the necon Congressional hegemony are important; but still I have a feeling that when it comes down to crunch time at the polls this November, health care could be the one big issue on which the Democrats can take back the majority on Capitol Hill.

Now perhaps you have noticed a certain theme developing over the past few weeks (or years): the people and institutions that have bludgeoned us with the message that they are here "to protect America" seem to spend far more time defending themselves than they do protecting us!

Welcome to the CYA Administration: Clueless from Crawford is at the NSA today (after his former NSA czar publicly fumbled a simple explanation of the Fourth Amendment yesterday); meanwhile, his Secretary of CYA is busy denying the conclusions of a report on the state of the American military that was ordered by...um...the Pentagon itself; and the legal staff over at 1600 Penn is very busy obstructing the flow of information on the Katrina debacle.

Once again, I ask: how can you possibly have any energy for protecting America when you spend all your time covering your own fat, stinking, diseased butt? Hell, these people have to be corrected by journalists on the actual language of the Constitution, so let me remind them of one of its crucial clauses, while the rest of us click on that graphic above and left to get our Congress to show some sense of responsibility toward this benighted nation:

Article II, Section. 4.
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Headline Acts

I came home from a long day at work, anxious to check out the news on the Internet. What new developments had there been in the physical and diplomatic hot spots of the world—Iraq, Iran, Georgia, Africa, or Capitol Hill? I went to two trusted media sources that typically deliver on the big headline items.

On CNN, a picture of Mickey Mouse and a giant red robot from some well-known movie greeted me. Oh, Disney bought Pixar...major news. So I went over to MSNBC, which had a big-time scoop for me: brain scans reveal that both Republicans and Democrats tend to ignore factual reality. Over at CBS, Goofy and the Toy Story guy were featured, apparently to announce the aforementioned Pixar purchase.

Now wait a minute, I thought...somebody's got to have some real news. You know, journalism. I went over to ABC to see what they had, and there was some improvement: a story about Al Qaeda and its possible "resurgence" following the release of the recent bin-Laden tapes. I didn't know they had exactly gone into hibernation in the first place, so this story didn't quite shock me, though ABC claims it's an "exclusive" with never-before-divulged details and revelations. There weren't any of those, but the story was worth reading for its comparison between the realities of Al Qaeda recruitment and terrorist activities in Pakistan on the one hand, and the "everything is beautiful" glare cast into our eyes by the Crawford Coward and his opposite number from Paki. Not bad, ABC.

The Times here leads off with a recitation of the obvious: the Altio nomination got out of committee. OK, all the more reason for a lot of us to remind our Senators to do their damned jobs. Then finally I went to BBC, where I can usually be confident of finding journalism as it was meant to be. Their lead story was on a statement from acting PM of Israel Ehud Omert, who is calling for increased withdrawals from the West Bank. Otherwise, it was the Pixar story again, along with the Pope's first encyclical.

I was getting desperate now...somebody has to be scratching the surface a little harder than this...there's a war on; the U.S. government is threatened with the darkest scandal to hit the White House in at least a generation, and Capitol Hill in perhaps a century. Canada, embroiled in a similar stew of corruption, just voted to completely turn its own government upside down. Georgians are accusing the Putin government of malignant and life-threatening decadence in the "gasputin" scandal.

So the mass media online had clearly forgotten its job again tonight. Before giving up on the search for journalism as a bad job, I checked one of my personal favorites, a rather obscure online entity called Editor and Publisher.

Paydirt: there, I found a story about a former director of the NSA who had given a talk about the Constitution and (in particular) the Fourth Amendment, to a group of reporters—one of whom, Jonathan Landay of Knight-Ridder—had the gumption to question the general's mastery of the actual terms of the Fourth Amendment. It's an amazing, revealing vignette of the kind of institutional ignorance that has defined the Bush administration from day one.

Here's part of the exchange between journalist and powerful newsmaker—I offer it as a sterling example of what journalism is supposed to be:

QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I'd like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use --

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But the --

GEN. HAYDEN: That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says --

QUESTION: The court standard, the legal standard --

GEN. HAYDEN: -- unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: The legal standard is probable cause, General. You used the terms just a few minutes ago, "We reasonably believe." And a FISA court, my understanding is, would not give you a warrant if you went before them and say "we reasonably believe"; you have to go to the FISA court, or the attorney general has to go to the FISA court and say, "we have probable cause."

And so what many people believe -- and I'd like you to respond to this -- is that what you've actually done is crafted a detour around the FISA court by creating a new standard of "reasonably believe" in place of probable cause because the FISA court will not give you a warrant based on reasonable belief, you have to show probable cause. Could you respond to that, please?

GEN. HAYDEN: Sure. I didn't craft the authorization. I am responding to a lawful order. All right? The attorney general has averred to the lawfulness of the order.

Please note, good pilgrims, that the journalist, Mr. Landay, is actually citing the law—that is, the Constitution of our country—to make his point, while the Bush official is citing...authority (the word of the AG). Now, which one would you rather have leading your government? My vote goes to Mr. Landay, and I see his approach as a model that we might be well served to follow.

So here's an idea: what I would like to do now is to re-visit the Constitution and see what else lurks in that document that our government and its leaders (and maybe even a certain Supreme Court nominee) are entirely opaque to in their understanding. If you'd like to get in on this exercise, just write me and let me know. This is bound to be instructive...I know I'll learn something.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Osamah's Book Club

Now you tell me the world hasn't gone crazy: Chris Matthews, as we saw yesterday, is comparing Uncle Osama to Michael Moore (and I'm waiting for my turn to be placed beside Al-Zarqawi on Hardball). Moore is firing back with his "Jihadball" Photoshop collection. Meanwhile, we hear that an obscure wonk-book has gone from somewhere around 200,000 in its amazon rankings to #30 in a couple of days, thanks to a mention in the real Osama's latest audiotape diatribe. Move aside, Oprah.

But that's only the beginning: the nuts really come out of the bag when it's time for Duhbya to get up and answer a few questions. Here's how the Crawford Cashew spins his way out of the illegal domestic spying net: “I’m mindful of your civil liberties and so I had all kinds of lawyers review the process.” You know, all kinds—an ambulance chaser or two, maybe a tax expert and a copyright attorney who had been a Pioneer level donor for the last election...

Um...gee, thanks, Dub. That really makes us feel all warm and fuzzy now. You spent god-knows-how-much-of-my-tax-money on obtaining the blessings of some stray chunks of legal lint that happened to be sitting at the bottom of your wallet pocket.

Now if we as a nation are going to swallow this, then pass the arsenic.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Google of My Eye

Terry McKenna arrives again today with some thoughts on domestic spying, search engine surveillance, and pornography control, all in the context of his ongoing quest (evocative of Diogenes) for an honest Bush agenda.

I've also got a few words on the matter, particularly with respect to Google's firm response to the challenge of government intrusion. Google, in case you haven't heard about it, was asked to provide historical search data from its records to the government—presumably to help the Bush dicks in their ongoing domestic surveillance activities. But while AOL, Yahoo, and MSN all said yes, Google stood up and told the Bushies to go take a shit.

So before you join the whining chorus about their new video service, or lament the $35 a share hit their stock took on Friday, maybe you should give Google a call at (650) 253-0000, and let them know that you're grateful that they alone among the major search operators are taking a stand for privacy and personal freedom (remember them?) in this country. And while you're at it, let Yahoo, AOL, and MSN know how you feel about their cowardice in rolling over for the Bushies.

Oh, and by the way, one note for Michael Moore: you owe Chris Matthews a check for promotional services. I'm betting that about 50,000 copies of Fahrenheit 9/11 left the shelves after Chris compared you to Uncle Osama on national TV. Oh, and Chris, if you happen to read this post—I wouldn't mind being slapped around a little on Hardball. I'm a tough guy, and I'm sure I can take it. And my books aren't selling very well...so maybe you could somehow compare me to Al-Zarqawi...I sure would appreciate it.

And now, to Mr. McKenna:

What are Bush’s priorities? We are nearly 1/3 of the way through his second term, so this may seem a peculiar question, but hear me out. Something in the news has prompted this.

It turns out that the government has asked web services to provide information about random internet searches. The news reports suggest that all have complied in at least a limited way, except Google. The purported reason for the search is that the feds want to find out how easy it is for kids to access pornography on the internet. Somehow, I don’t believe that that is the reason.

Why do I doubt them? Because they lie all the time. But even if they were in earnest, is pornography a big issue?

Why not just try a search and see what happens? Let’s see… oh, yes, type in a dirty word or two into a search engine – hmmm, let’s try cunt… what do we get?

I won’t list the websites, but it looks like we hit pay dirt. The following site titles are just a sampling: Free Porn uncensored, Looking for XXX Porn?, Want XXX Free Porn?... you get the picture. If I were a teenager with access to a credit card, I’m sure I could get all the porn I’d want.

So then what? After they confirm the obvious (that porn is available), what next? Random checks of video iPods?

Does the government want to stop pornography? And if they do, what else do they think will happen? Do they think 15 and 16 year olds won’t figure out what to do anyway?

And why now?

There are lots more urgent matters that are appropriate for federal scrutiny. We’ve just scented the first whiff of the K Street scandal (you know, Jack Abramoff and Co.) and just a few weeks ago we found out that federal mine safety laws seem to be a sham.

And how about weapons that get from gun dealers to criminals? Or how about drug companies that hide significant data from the research they send to the FDA? Or illegal immigration? And labor laws? And the desperate poverty that seems to impact African American and Hispanics disproportionately? Is there no reason to look harder for possible civil rights concerns?

Maybe after all these matters are dealt with, then we can get on to the much less pressing matter of pornography, but then again, it’s all in the priorities.

—T. McKenna

Friday, January 20, 2006

Going Forward, Into the Past (2,600 Years and Nothing has Changed)

While Terry McKenna has been kind enough to keep the blog rolling over the past week with his excellent series of pieces on health care in this country, I have been completing a final version of my translation of the poems of Lao Tzu (who we have heard from in this space before).

If you would like to have a look at some of Lao Tzu's poems in this translation, please have a look here. And if you then decide you'd be willing to consider purchasing my book, use this link (and please accept my deepest thanks). I am also going to produce an audio version of this translation of the Tao Te Ching—for a sample of that, try this selection (mp3 format; 2.5 MB download; reproduced in print below).

In this era of accumulation, artifice, governmental deceit, arrogance, and rapacious, seemingly omnipresent violence, I think that Lao Tzu has a great deal to teach us—not merely about enduring the decadence of our age, but about transcending and transforming it.

Shut down your intellect, and answer:
Between yes and no, spoken from within,
How little a difference is there,
Compared to that between success and failure?

Why would I fear what others do?
Why must I give my inner consent
To the values of the collective?

Oh! How the desolation around me
Has reached its utmost sunken limit!
The lusty mob is buried in busyness,
As if gathered for a sacrificial feast
(Yet who or what is being sacrificed?)
But I alone—as if from an outpost of vigilance—
Am apart: blank and unmoved,
Like an infant who hasn’t yet learned to smile.
Isolated and withdrawn, I am like a homeless man.

Others are absorbed in getting and spending;
While I appear broken and bare of influence.

Others shine with the luminous glow
Of progress, brilliance, and daring;
But I am like a simpleton, vapid and raving.

The world around me teems with cleverness;
I alone retreat into dullness.

With what fathomless depth,
Like a sea-born whirlpool of sound and storm,
Do they ponder and debate—
Ceaseless, directionless, and adamant—
But I alone am obtuse, disturbed, thickheaded,
Like some coarse cloth, unrefinable
And therefore worthless.

Yes, I am different, as are my values:
For I drink from the breast of the Sublime Mother.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Unmanaged Care: The Bush Way

Terry McKenna is back to conclude his series on health care and the unfathomably destructive Bush proposal for further sickening the people of this country. I call the Bush model "Unmanaged Care", because it puts all the burden of preventive care and health maintenance on the back of the little guy, while offering catastrophic insurance for dealing with...well, you know...catastrophes. That, after all, is what our foreign policy is all about—why should things be any different here than they are in Iraq?

Mr. McKenna, onstage:

In Paul Krugman’s column in the Monday (January 16) New York Times($$-trial subscription required), he pointed out the wrong-headedness of the Bush health care model, which features a de-emphasis of managed care in favor of catastrophic-illness insurance coupled with tax-advantaged health savings accounts.

Mr. Krugman used the example of diabetes to point out how little we get from relying on catastrophic care – and how much more expensive it is. Thus, a catastrophic insurance plan may spend $30,000 for an amputation but not pay for regular preventive foot care (as little as $350 per visit). Under the Bush model, the individual is responsible for day-to-day care (paid for by the health savings account).

I thought I’d add my own experience with health care – my health insurance follows the HMO model. My plan delivers both catastrophic care, and gives me access to a doctor (I see the same one each time) at $10 per visit.

My visits are typical for a middle-aged man. I started seeing my doctor regularly after she noticed that my blood pressure was a bit high. (Until then, I saw her only for small matters like poison ivy). I was not yet 50 when first diagnosed. We settled on a regimen of one drug, quarterly doctor’s visits, and an annual physical. The annual cost of care is probably $2000. My costs are $600 out of pocket for drugs (I take two, one is for mild asthma) and maybe $1200 for my share of the group health care premium.

In the course of my annual physicals, we cover cancer (skin checks, urine tests to pick up blood in the urine) heart disease and stroke (the doctor listens for heart sounds and to the carotids); and via blood tests, she screens for liver disease, kidney disease, and for diabetes.

But the president’s model presupposes healthy clients who recognize when they need to seek care. In real life, this is almost never true. The hypertension that I had was minimal. I had no symptoms – no headaches, no heart palpitations. Left untreated, maybe in 6 – 10 years, I might finally notice a problem. But by then, either my heart would have enlarged, or my blood vessels burst somewhere – or I would have kidney disease - and there would no longer be a way to return me to health.

Diabetes behaves similarly. The damage to the kidneys and to the circulation can occur long before an undiagnosed diabetic experiences symptoms.

And we all know about colon cancer. It is a silent killer – unless you get periodic colonoscopies - every 5 years for those 50 and over.

But if we de-emphasize regular care in favor of big ticket items—as the current system and the Bush model do—we have the worst of all cases. The spending goes up and outcomes are worse.

And by the way, we are not all equally educated about health care options. What sort of decision would the proverbial “Joe Six Pack” make about when to spend his health care savings – that is if he had any!

But the president and his cronies are so much against any solution but the “free market” that they will force us down the wrong road no matter the consequences. Is it any wonder that Western Europeans (despite higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption) experience higher life expectancy than we do?

—T. McKenna

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Health Care: The Agenda and the Alternative

As promised yesterday, Terry McKenna is back to continue his expose on the Bush administration's attempt to make our citizenry a little sicker than it already is, through an act of blunt robbery that they call "tax reform". Today, he reveals the agenda behind this half-decayed skeleton in the Bushies' closet, and offers a truly progressive alternative.

By the way, stay with us for the rest of the week on this topic—there will be more. And if you've missed the earlier posts on this subject, look here, here, and here.

Mr. McKenna, take it away:

Yesterday, we asked: "Why would you change the deductibility of employer paid benefits unless you had an agenda?"

And what would the agenda be?

Well, here it is. “They” believe that only if we each pay directly for our own health care will we make more responsible choices and thus begin to reduce the costs. The vehicle of choice is individually owned, high deductible health insurance, coupled with tax advantaged health care savings accounts.

It may be an earnest notion, but that is all that it is, an unproven notion. Behind it further is the idea — central to conservatism — that, no matter how grave the matter, the government should not undertake to provide the solution (except via tax savings). They believe that we are all better off when we rely on ourselves (our families — and “faith based” groups).

Self-reliance was the grand notion behind welfare reform. It has helped motivate some of the poor – disabusing a few of the notion that they could manage their lives around government benefits. But this works only for the most capable and healthy among them. For the rest, especially for the hard-core poor — those who have never held a regular job, or for the chronically ill (including substance abusers) — they have not done so well. Yet the news media have forgotten about welfare reform as the national debate moved elsewhere. Welfare reform is old news now, and its initial success is now part of the national memory. But the failure to impact deep poverty has been unreported until Hurricane Katrina exposed the sad truth – that there is a desperately poor underbelly to our society – no matter how prosperous some of us may be. And neither welfare reform, nor the trickle down theory have made a difference. It may be true that we cannot afford to do more, but there is no reason to lie to ourselves about the consequences.

So… tax reform will not reduce health care costs – except gradually as the system becomes impoverished (as it collapses) and it won’t deliver health care to more of us (as I’ve already said in one of my previous missives). Nor will it help individuals to make more informed health care choices.

Here is what will work to reduce health care costs:

1. Stop the advertising of prescription drugs to consumers;
2. Put a stop to the drug patent shell game: keep pharmaceutical companies from extending patents by a simple reformulation of an already patented drug. (See Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker on how Prilosec morphed into Nexium);
3. Use non-doctors (statisticians and economists) to review data on the effectiveness of new treatments and drugs. We must prevent the scandalous waste of money for limited gain (thus we spend many thousands on implanted defibrillators that save little more than a regimen of diet of diet and exercise);
4. Test new drugs against existing drugs, not just against a placebo;
5. Mandate that ALL drug study data must be presented to the FDA for review and approval (create accounting controls for ALL raw data);
6. Mandate that all health care must follow NIH guidelines if it is to be covered by insurance;
7. Study how we use hospitals. Most are now part of profit-making corporations, but the free market has not made hospital use cheaper. Implement the recommendations;
8. We spend significant dollars on the last 2 months of life. This makes no sense. Study the problem and implement the recommendations.

The cost of health care behaves very differently from how every other good or service behaves. Whereas for a typical product, innovation leads to lower costs, for health care, innovation drives up costs.

Then, take the money that is currently spent on health care (including all group insurance premiums) and find a way to channel it toward a new single payor system.

—T. McKenna

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Health Care and the Thinly Veiled Agenda

Terry McKenna continues his series on healthcare and tax reform today. For the rest of the week, we'll be following him through the labyrinthe of the Bush administration's insidious efforts to perpetuate and worsen the robbery of the poor and middle class of this country in the matter of what should be considered one of the inalienable rights mentioned by Mr. Jefferson in his famous document. Unfortunately, the reality is that we are all, but for the very wealthy, in danger of entirely losing access to competent and complete health care. And if you think this is a low-priority issue compared with Iraq, domestic spying, or the environment, think again and imagine what it would be like to have to (for example) pull out your own rotting teeth with a pair of pliers.

And now, Mr. McKenna:

More on healthcare and tax reform.

Here is how they do it. First, they take an idea that has popular appeal – such as tax reform. Then they insert a provision into the mix that seems innocuous. Then – by the time we find out what happened, we have a radical re-ordering of the system that for almost 60 years has provided protection for the majority of American workers.

This is what “they” were charged with:

The Advisory Panel will submit to the Secretary of the Treasury a report containing revenue neutral policy options for reforming the Federal Internal Revenue Code as soon as practicable, but not later than November 1, 2005. These options should:

• simplify Federal tax laws to reduce the costs and administrative burdens of compliance with such laws;
• share the burdens and benefits of the Federal tax structure in an appropriately progressive manner while recognizing the importance of homeownership and charity in American society; and
• promote long-run economic growth and job creation, and better encourage work effort, saving, and investment, so as to strengthen the competitiveness of the United States in the global marketplace.

Nowhere was health care mentioned.

Who are they? They are the right wing cabal who manufactured the Bush presidency, and whose agenda is behind all that has gone wrong over the past few years, from the outsized Federal deficits, to the Iraq war, to bloated Medicare reform – to the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina.

Please go to this website to read the entire document.

The progressive nature is an illusion. I’ll review just one example – but trust me, the entire proposal is salted with tidbits that favor owners and investors over workers and the poor. Whereas under the current system, taxable income for low wage workers is reduced to almost nothing (via the $10,000 standard deduction and the additional deductions for dependents); the new system replaces the standard deduction with paltry credits and forces everyone to use the equivalent of itemization. The proposal is REGRESSIVE not progressive.

Then there is healthcare.

Why would you change the deductibility of employer paid benefits unless you had an agenda?

And what would the agenda be? Tomorrow, the answer to that question, along with a proposal for real reform.

—T. McKenna

Monday, January 16, 2006

A True Leader

I've never felt comfortable with holidays, especially those that purport to honor the birth of a man—Jesus, Washington, Lincoln—or of a nation, be it our own or another country's independence day. For one thing, the people and institutions that these days monumentalize are either not worthy of the honor (no one is, come to think of it); or else they would be the first to tell us what a silly idea it is to celebrate their birthdays, long after they are dead.

But MLK is a different story. This is a man who lived what he taught; who practiced what he preached. He knew, unlike Lincoln, that once you commit yourself to violence, you are trapped in its iron meshes. You can prevail in a war, but you cannot win it. Violence is a snake devouring its own tail; it is a cancer on the heart of Nature.

But my words are weak compared with those of the man whose memory we are observing (and need to observe more frequently). So the rest of our space today will be to let his voice remind us of what he did, and what remains to be done.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction....The chain reaction of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars--must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

Somehow this madness must cease. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Historic Day in Geekdom?

Some techno-wags pointed out that on the day following Apple Computer's lavish rollout of Intel-based Mac computers, the company's stock price closed at exactly $80.86 per share. Now this may not seem very amusing or significant if you're not a geek, so I'll explain. 8086 is the numerical branding code used for the first set of Intel processors ever introduced into commercial personal computers. The original 8086 evolved into the 286, 386, 486, and Pentium processor families.

So all right, it's a really lame joke (any joke that has to be explained by a paragraph of text is, of course, lame); and I'll leave it to you to decide whether there is cosmic or numerological meaning in the coincidence. But the fact is that Intel CEO Paul Otellini actually arrived at Steve Jobs' keynote address on Tuesday morning wearing the geek-bunny costume that Apple derided in its turn-of-the-century TV ads; it is also true that Intel calmly endured Apple's first round of derisive ads for their Intel machines (though Intel was clearly not thrilled to be a part of Apple's PC-bashing publicity stunts); and finally it is a fact that the 140 pound Pope of Redmond himself passed his hand in blessing over the Apple rollout, promising a "universal binary" version of Microsoft Office in the near future, and assuring the Mactel faithful of his holy approval of Apple's cool embrace upon the idea of running Windows XP and Mac OS X on the same machine (as long as it's made by Apple).

But what about the new machines themselves? Well, what we know is that an Intel-powered iMac (those marvelous machines in which the computer's components are all nested within the display itself) has arrived and is in the stores as we write, no doubt surrounded by curious PC users and drooling Macophiles. They're selling for the same prices as their IBM PowerPC-driven relatives—$1,300 for a 17" model and $1,600 for a 20"—and they come bundled with a fresh upgrade of the Apple iLife software suite. We've also seen and heard about a new "pro" level laptop, called the "MacBook" which will be shipping next month. This is an Intel-powered version of the "old" Powerbook that promises to run at 4 times the speed of its G4 predecessor.

Well, are they that fast, and will Win XP run on them? Clearly, some water will have to pass under that bridge before there is certainty, but the answers appear now to be, yes, these machines are lots faster than what Apple had before; and "not now" to Windows and OS X running side-by-side. As to the latter, Apple is officially saying that it's fine with them if it can be done, but some experts are saying that a variation in the architecture platform will prevent running Windows on these new Mac machines (this is heavily geeky stuff here, but if you'd like to see the details on this issue of EFI vs. BIOS, look here).

With all that taken into account, the buying decision is still up to each individual. Here are a few points to keep in mind, in case you're deciding whether to fork over cash (preferable in today's world) or plastic (use, if at all, with extreme caution) for one of these gorgeous looking machines.

 The new Apple machines, especially the MacBook, are not cheap. In addition to the iMac prices starting at $1,300, the MacBook starts at two grand. Before you even think about buying one, make sure you've got the cash to do it. Seems obvious, but it's amazing how many people overlook this simple factor when they are blinded by object-lust.
 TCO: Once you've taken the above into account, consider the Total Cost of Ownership factor. I've owned a Mac (one of the "old" dome-shaped beauties with the display gracefully rising out of the top) for nearly three years, and have spent virtually no time whatsoever in maintenance, repair, or upgrading of the machine itself (nothing more than opening Disk Utility to fix the permissions on the hard drive every so often—a process that requires two mouse clicks and less than five minutes). This is a radical departure from my 15-odd years of Win-tel ownership, where fixing registries, downloading patches (and correcting the problems they inevitably caused), and navigating driver conflicts and other such technical minutiae was a standard and time-consuming practice. As I tell other Windows users who complain of spending so much time on maintenance and repairs, keep track of the time you spend at such tasks, multiply by your hourly rate at work, and add that to the cost of your PC. Then you can take into account other expenses such as Security/Antivirus software and upgrades; spyware blockers; and upgrades or replacements of the rather lame proprietary software that comes with Windows. Keep in mind that, as with cars, the sticker price on the box is not necessarily the final price you pay for owning a product.
 Don't let anyone snow you with the nonsense that going from Windows to the Mac is a whole new learning curve fraught with time, effort, and expense. Nonsense: it took me all of two weeks to accustom myself to the basic (and minimal) differences. You use the Command (or "Apple") key instead of the CTRL key for simple keyboard actions such as Cut (Command-X), Copy (Command-C), Paste (Command-V), or Select All (Command-A). The file management has modest variations between Windows and Mac (a few of them, it must be admitted, to the advantage of the Windows platform); but the basics are the same: they're both windowed graphical environments featuring folders and files. If you're the least bit computer-literate, you'll move effortlessly from Windows to Mac.
 Another myth that you might hear is about the need for buying all new software. Clearly, what there is of this problem may well be mitigated by the arrival of the Intel Macs. But even without that, the basics are, once again, simple and non-strenuous: if you need a copy of MS Office on your Mac, you can get a Macintosh version for around $120 (for the Teachers and Students edition, which includes full versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Entourage, the Mac-specific email client). Compatibility is not an issue here, since MS has ensured that the files created by Office for Mac are readable by Office for PC. Sure, if you've got a lot of games and PC apps, you won't want to give up your old Win-tel box (I have one of those, too). Just don't let software become an obstruction to getting into the Mac.
 Security: this is obviously a key, and perhaps a fluid issue. Will the Intel Macs be more vulnerable from a security standpoint? We probably won't know for months. I've been very grateful for the security of owning a Mac, and frankly, I personally don't believe the fluff you hear from the Win-tel crowd to the effect that "Macs only seem secure because no one uses them, and virus writers won't bother with writing malicious code for machines that amount to less than 3% of the computer marketplace." Mac OS X has been out for over four years now, and Apple has sold tens of millions of their computers in that time (at least 3 million Mac Minis alone last year): wouldn't someone have found this a nice crowd to disrupt, if they could have written some viral code to do it? I'm sorry, all you Gatesians: there's more to it than that. But will the new Macs (especially if they take another chunk out of Dell's market share) eventually fall prey to the virus writers and spyware hackers? Should the new Macs be oufitted with antivirus software? My own feeling is that anything—whether it's running Linux, BeOS, or DOS 3.1—that's connected to the Web should be protected, and that includes the Mac (I have the McAfee product on my Mac, and I call it "the Maytag repairman of the software universe"). Still, I feel loads safer running the Mac than my Win-tel box: if I've got to go to a website or check an email that may be suspect for its contents or associations, I'll do it on the Mac first. The Jobs box is stronger, safer, and smarter at handling this sort of stuff.
 The OS: For me, the quality of the operating system is a really big deal. Mac OS X is, to my mind, the best OS out there, hands down. It does more, looks better, navigates easier, and is simply more elegant than anything Redmond or anyone else has ever produced. With the advent of OS 10.4 ("Tiger"), Apple upped the ante in the OS contest, and MS is basically parroting (that is, plagiarizing) OS X screen designs in its Vista OS, now in Beta. But it probably won't be able to copy the speed and elegance of Spotlight, the Mac desktop search function; or the versatility of its system maintenance tools. My Mac is set to turn itself on, load the email client and browser, and then download the morning's email, at exactly 6:00 AM on every weekday. Try doing that with a Win-tel machine from a simple command in the operating system's Control Panel.
 Harmony: It makes a difference in how you experience the hardware and software we use in our machines. If you like things that are free of trouble and fussy maintenance issues, you're ready for a Mac. How come you get more stress-free computing with an Apple product than one from Dell, Gateway, HP, or Lenovo? Probably because Apple makes both the hardware and the software, and has done so for a long time (30 years this April, believe it or not). The problems with PCs are not all Bill Gates' fault (though many are). Every night I start my PC, the thing has to be restarted at least once after the display locks up because of a device driver conflict between ATI's software and XP's device handler. Time was when I would have spent hours trying to fix this issue (and I'll admit I have put in a couple of hours on it, until I realized I didn't need to). Having the Mac around takes care of that.

So, in the end, my only caveat as we enter this new world of Intel Macs, is curiously not for consumers, but rather for Apple itself. Steve, you're building an empire. Your stock has gone through the roof from where it was near the end of 2004; you've had your first billion dollar revenue quarter; you've got an 85% market share stranglehold on the music player industry; and you're taking giant strides toward leveling the playing field of the consumer market in personal computers. Just be very careful: you know how things get with empires—just look at Redmond and the manifold problems it lamely faces all around the world. Look at Dell, and how the quality of their product has declined since they've become the favored techno-tool of corporate America. Look at the various food, media, and service empires that have grown into cancerous beasts over the years. In short, your David rhetoric is beginning to ring rather hollow, because you are becoming a Goliath. Whenever there is an imperial size and mindset taking over an organization, creativity is stilled and the voice of innovation goes silent. What has Redmond come out with in the past year or so that's new or creative? Yep, a new xbox. Wow.

How Apple and Google deal with their growth and runaway profits while still keeping alive the culture of innovation that propelled them to the place they occupy in the techno-world will show us, once again, whether it is possible to think like an artist and live like a king at the same time. Frankly, I doubt it is possible. But I am willing to be proven wrong. Steve, maybe you can start by listening to the advice of an old Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, who wrote the following some 2,600 years ago as advice to the leaders of nations—it will apply equally well to the leaders of corporations:

Therefore, let your nation follow Nature’s way:
If it is big, let its actions be small.
If it is small, it is already complete,
So it need not strive for greatness.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Life Lessons in a Time of War, 10

Belief is a poison upon progress; perseverance is the antidote. Do not worry about which of the god-camps you will join: they are all equally toxic in their varying images of the cut and color of god’s beard, or the length of his sword.

Self-awareness is knowing that all of these pictures are distortions of reality. Burn them inwardly and you will not have to destroy their manifestations. For violence, as the crusading and carnivorous religions have shown us, only stops up the voice of god, and makes Life itself a malignancy.

Kill belief, and you will awaken trust. There is such a vast gulf of meaning between them—like the difference between a plastic sapling on a highway median and a majestic redwood whose roots stretch to the depth of Atlantis.

Belief is an aged paralytic, unable to move without assistance, something that has been kept seemingly alive past its natural span. It is a rootless, gaping, drooling lump that cannot move or create; it is the voice of a machine that pledges allegiance to a pair of rocks or a lifeless shred of colored cloth. Belief is fixed, inflexible, immobile, and dead.

Trust is a dancer: it turns inward and reaches outward in one fluid movement. Though it has lived a hundred years, its face is young, its breath sweet, its body strong, its spirit free. It is always in order, though never fixed or unyielding. It emanates the oxygen of its own essence, and is nourished in return by all that it touches. Trust nurtures trust: it creates, responds, and creates anew; in a cycle of beneficence that never tires, never ceases in its dance of renewal; its sparkling and spontaneous rush of Life.

Belief is the voice that says, “thou shalt”; trust is the voice that says, “I can.” Every day, discard another belief; every day, awaken trust. There is only a little effort to it, at the beginning; and then it is the dance of the liberated god within you, the vibration of a jewel in the web of nature—reflecting and resonating with the tone of every other gem in the boundless sea of being.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Cowardice of Tyranny

I wrote a book on the subject of living amid a time of medieval darkness, and even I wondered occasionally whether it was an exaggeration to call our age a feudal one. But I've since stopped wondering, and now suspect that I probably understated the case for the 21st century being a revival of the 13th.

Case in point today: this story, which is enough to make any remotely sane person put his fist through a wall, even as his tears fall to the floor. Many of us tune out such news, because it threatens to destroy what remaining trust we may have in the quality and future of our human species. Unfortunately, our mass media also tune out those who remind us that such things happen more often than we might bear to believe. This is sad, because some of those voices can also teach us how to build a world where children are no longer tortured and murdered.

My favorite among these voices is Alice Miller, of whom I have written several times before, both here and in my books. For a simple and brief summary of her extraordinary contribution to the forward progress of the human race, see this article (Word doc download), which I wrote last year.

I teach that violence as a response to conflict or trouble starts small and soon mutates into a malignancy of destruction that can reach to catastrophic proportions. Others have taught this as well: one of the more notable such teachers of our era is the man whose birthday we will be celebrating in America on Sunday and Monday. So, after you read about the horrible story of the death of Nixzmary Brown, it may help to read some of Dr. King's work.

We call ourselves a rational, higher, and even a spiritual race; yet many of us affiliate ourselves with an ideology—Judaism, Christianity, or Islam—that adheres to the false principle that problems can only be solved through violence; that children can only be raised through violence; that people can only be governed with violence. It becomes a lifestyle after a while: backed by a vengeful and hideously violent God, Tony Blair can play the Dad-God, smacking his kids around, and then wage war on a nation that had not attacked his own. The consciousness from which such disparate acts spring is the same: I have a problem, someone is bothering me, so I will hurt them.

It is, of course, the coward's way of living; the coward's narrow, myopic response-pattern to personal or geopolitical misbehavior. Let me submit, then, that if we are going to truly evolve into a peaceful race, we humans had better start looking within ourselves for alternatives to the habit of externalizing our own conflicts and hurting or killing whatever arouses those inner demons. Otherwise, the feudal era of the 21st century will continue in a spiraling vortex of murder, torture, war, and the slow suicide of an entire species.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Health Care: Off the Oven (Part 2)

Tonight we continue with Terry McKenna's series on health care. In case you've missed the first two parts, they are here and here. First, two site notes:

1. Later in the week we'll have a roundup of today's Macworld Expo, at which an Intel CEO dressed up as a bunny, and another CEO—one of the few in this country truly deserving of the title, by the way—donned his trademark black turtleneck and showed us why Wall St. pundits have been putting Apple Computer, Inc. at the tops of their "buy" lists. The sound of Michael Dell grinding his teeth could be heard all the way from Texas. Still, loyal Mac-o-phile that I am, I've got a few concerns about Apple's rise toward imperial status in the world of technology, and I'll air them in a couple of days.
2. The sidebar link at right to Eric Francis' Planet Waves subscription link that has been added is in support of his outstanding annual compendium of insight, political and cultural analysis, psycho-spiritual reflection, and astrological readings. Whether or not you think astrology is a load of new age hoo-hah, I would recommend springing for a subscription, if only to get the benefit of this writer's voice and perception on our world and the dangers it faces—perhaps most of all because he has something substantive to say about what we as individuals can do to allay those dangers.

And now, back to Terry McKenna (by the way, when Terry mentions his experience in this piece, take it with a grain of salt—I know for a fact that he is understating his qualifications to write about this issue):

Yesterday, we considered the problem posed by economists who take a narrow, laissez-faire approach to social issues that reach beyond mere formulaic dimensions, and carry consequences that can't be captured by a theory. These are the economists who are supporting the change to the tax law re. health insurance, discussed yesterday. Of course, the group who proposed this change has a hidden agenda – they are “pro-growth” - and so look to benefit the entrepreneurial class above all others.

From my perspective, here is the downside to the suggestion. Sure, I’m not a professional economist – but I am an insurance professional, with years of experience in both group and individual insurance.

To start with, if health insurance is not mandatory, the bulk of low paid workers will not purchase it. And, whether well paid or not, most young single males are not likely to purchase health insurance. So, the money that would normally come into the healthcare industry via premiums paid for these two large segments of the population would vanish. Yet claims would likely remain the same. Thus premiums for the rest of us would rise.

And, although individual health insurance would be technically portable, it would be unaffordable, so after a job loss, the unemployed would quickly become the uninsured.

The result - the numbers of uninsured would be increased by young and low-wage workers (who formerly had insurance) and by young pensioners too young for Medicare. The cost of emergency healthcare for the uninsured would continue to be borne by the paying customers. But, without nationalized cost sharing, the burden would lie heaviest upon highly urbanized states, and within those states, by urban and close suburban counties – and by the hospitals that serve these.

Using an example from my home state, New Jersey - counties like Essex County with Newark at its core would continue to need higher and higher taxes to support the shared cost of the uninsured and the poor. Rich Morris County – 15 miles from Newark at its closest – has many fewer poor and thus would not bear a proportionate share of our state’s costs. Those in low tax states (which have meager benefits for the poor) would share even less. Nor would corporation share the load.

And there is more. Since state and local taxes would also no longer be deductible – the high taxes born by states that try to do what is right would no longer be moderated with federal tax deductions.

Yes, I’m preaching, and screeching a bit too, but it’s hard to remain calm in the face of disaster.

—T. McKenna

Monday, January 9, 2006

Health Care: Off the Oven

For the next two days, Terry McKenna will be continuing his series of pieces on the crisis in health care and health insurance here in America. This is one of those issues that, in the midst of a tyranny such as we have had in government these past five years, doesn't merely gets moved to the back burner—it gets pushed clear off the oven.

And there it will lie, on the floor between the range and the wall, collecting dust with the other debris that's been shoved over the edge of the stovetop: Social Security (in the sense of a real and enduring solution); taxation; immigration; poverty; education; the trade and budget deficits; the degradation of the environment; and a dozen or so other issues that have been left to rot in a heap of willful ignorance by this administration and its media lapdogs.

The time may soon arrive when we can get back there and recover some of that forgotten political debris; for somewhere amid that neglected pile of social waste are the issues that will bring us back to life—as individuals and as a democractic nation.

Mr. McKenna, the blog is yours.

While no one was watching, the president slipped in a proposal that would completely destroy the existing health insurance system – and at the same time, remove any responsibility for the uninsured from the well to do and from corporations.

Actually, the president did not do anything, but his agents did (thus he preserves his ability to deny responsibility). His “Advisory Panel on Tax Reform” has generated a wish list of right wing tax provisions. Included among them (see the box above) is the removal of the tax deductibility of employer paid health insurance premiums. We are offered instead the right of individuals to pay for health insurance with pre-tax dollars. Thus, the world of employee benefits is turned upside down. And take note how much the experts expect healthcare to cost. Note the $100 - $300 per month that most employees pay now for family coverage, but amounts up to $1,000 per month.

The theory behind the proposed change is simple:

1. Customers of group health plans are shielded from the true cost of health care. Only if they see the real cost, will they make a genuine effort to contain costs;
2. Group health insurance is not portable, but private health care insurance would be;
3. The cost of employer health care artificially depresses wages. Wages would go up and health care costs go down simultaneously under the new rules.

Before you say BULL SHIT, you should know that many economists like this plan, though not all.

Of course, economists are often wrong. For example, about 30 years ago a few economists decided that the way corporate executives were compensated (mostly salary) was wrong. At the time, most senior managers were paid salaries and provided with performance bonuses tied to sales and expense management. It was thought that the true measure of corporate value was stock price; that if executive compensation were tied to a company’s stock price – executives would make decisions more likely to increase shareholder value. Again, this was a theory, and it took time for it to become common practice – but eventually, it did. The consequence of this practice hit full force in the ‘90’s when senior officers of most corporations took most of their compensation as stock options. What happened was not the creation of more shareholder value, but outright fraud; the collapse of Enron, WorldCom and the like are tragic monuments to this formerly bright idea.

Another example of how economists of are often wrong is epitomized by the Chicago School of Economics. Sure, they are good with monetary policy. But, in favoring a laissez-faire approach, they demonstrate an inability to understand the prosperity of Western Europe. Yes, Europe must confront how to deal with an aging industrial base, where employees are overpaid compared to those of Europe’s global competitors, but we face the same problem – and have no better idea of what to do, other than to mothball American factories. On the other hand, if you want to see a region with wide spread literacy, excellent public health (life expectancy and infant mortality) and a fair distribution of income, you would do well to study Europe, not America.

So… economists don’t have a clue about the consequences of their ideas. Yet they persist. And we keep listening.

—T. McKenna

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Geek Update: Redmond, We Have a Problem...

So, you think Google is not coming after Microsoft? Well, just check out the Google Pack, which I installed this morning on my Win-tel box. It contains Symantec's anti-virus software, Google's desktop, toolbar, and Picasa photo management products, and it will update Firefox for you, and throw in an adware blocker and a screensaver.

Not much, you say? Nothing to raise any hairs on the back of Redmond's neck? Not yet, maybe: but I see a software suite developing, to which (as we've suggested before) the StarOffice product will soon be added, as a result of the Google partnership with Sun. Meanwhile, Wall Street pundits are openly wondering whether Google's stock price will break $600 a share in 2006.

So yes, Redmond, we have a problem. And about time, too.


Thanks to Nicky the Geek for the link to the photo of the Google babes. You see, when you're a healthy male geek, this is what you feed your fantasy-mind upon, rather than the swimsuits at SI. Just look at the size and shape of that cranial vault on the blonde! Oh, my posterior hypothalamus is having a massive transmission of pituitary luteinizing androgens...

Friday, January 6, 2006

The Line and the Arc: Making Sense in a Senseless World

I'm passing along another from my "Life Lessons in a Time of War" series tonight. But first, how about a gut-busting dose of Jon Stewart?

And now that I've completely lost my audience to American television's breath of fresh air, I can indulge a private meditation on this day of death. In West Virginia, Mecca, and of course, Iraq—death by greed, compounded by misinformation. The cycle of misery, fear, and ignorance continues apace, and I, like you, have more questions than answers. Perhaps you'll find a little help here, and I know from experience that these folks can definitely help. Just remember, to recover the dignity and beauty of your human life does not require that you save the world, quit your job, lose 30 pounds in a month, write the great American novel, or have a photo-op with God. You just have to make the commitment, and then start ridding yourself of images—both your self-images and those programmed into you by your culture. You will thus avoid the only death worth truly fearing—the rotting away of your quantum self, your light body.

Life Lessons in a Time of War, 9

Nature calls us outward, yet we press grimly forward along the line that someone carved on the face of Reality.

True growth is not confined to the grid: it proceeds along dimensions that haven't yet been discovered. But the grid, as perhaps you have observed, is just the door of a cage; the facade of a gilt prison.

God—the quantum mother of consciousness—didn't create you to live in a grid, a cage. It made you to be free. It made you to fulfill your destiny. It made you to actualize your uniqueness. It made you to evolve.

Evolution is not something that happens on a grid, tracing a forward-charging, upward-racing line. Evolution proceeds outwardly, expansively, in ever-broadening circles of growth and awareness.

Look at the line: how little an area it covers; how narrow its breadth and depth; how limited its scope; how plain and monotonous its direction. Now look at the circle: just one of its arcs covers so much more, encompasses more, than the line, even if its length were drawn to linear infinity.

Do you believe the lie they told you since you were young, that your mind is made to follow a line? Conform to the line, and your grave has already been opened; your being is already dead. Conformity carries the stench of death, and screeches with the shrill Medusa-voice of hate. Conform to the line—of religion, of a corporation, of your government, of the talking heads on television—and you put your life under a tyranny such as no dictator could equal for its oppressive force. Meanwhile, Love will be there, in the lake where you tried to drown her. She may be paler from your suicidal absence, but she, unlike you, does not choose to die.

Please do not die: your path is the one that isn't yet a path, because no one has ever walked it. Your way is omnidirectional, stretching and arcing toward a thousand points that have never been, because they were never known. You will touch them all; you will know each one. Just step off the line; open the door of the cage. Spread your being across time and space until the wall dividing them has dissolved, and there is only light, penetrating limitation until it reaches back to the ultimate goal—the place where you started.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Can't Tell the Players Without a Scorecard

As usual, Think Progress has the goods on the Abramoff debacle, with a complete roundup of members of Congress most likely to get tangled in this thing. Bookmark the page and refer back to it as this thing unravels, because this is going to be one hairy, roaring beast. Mr. Abramoff is now facing about 10 years in stir (maybe he'll be out on parole after 5 to 7), provided he cooperates fully. And, it must be added, provided he lives.

No, that's not a backhanded prediction (neither, of course, does it imply a wish). I'll only say that there's some heavy beef—some very big shooters—implicated here; and it may well go to the very top: to Uncle Dick and Crawford George themselves. These are people who thought nothing of murdering innocent Iraqi women and children in the most horrific ways, all for getting control of an oil supply (the latest story of this rap sheet of atrocity is here). These are folks who believe that planning to swat off an up-and-coming Venezuelan politician with socialist leanings is sound foreign policy. Do you think they'll pause at the chance to ice a guy whose testimony could bring them all down in a heap, right to the door of the federal pen? Well, if you do, then you can just dream on.

Me? If I was Jack, I'd be asking for a 24 hour guard and a safehouse. No visitors except immediate family, and a flak jacket to wear to every court appearance. Paranoid? Please, pilgrims: we're talking about tyrants whose blood runs colder than the waters of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, which they also seek to plunder for oily profits. Just go to this page and take a look at that fellow's face in the picture: now, would you feel cozy and secure if you were Jack Abramoff today?

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Remembering Ambassador Wilson's Wisdom Teaching

Back in October I wrote a post on the extraordinary reaction of Joseph Wilson to the Libby indictment, and this may be the right time to recall the lesson Mr. Wilson taught us then. So, for all those who are tempted to party and celebrate the fall of Jack Abramoff, remember this:

Notice carefully, ladies and gentlemen: Mr. Wilson did not appear before his audience with a "Mission (almost) Accomplished" banner unfurled behind him. He did not crow over his seemingly imminent victory over those who attempted to villify his family. Instead, he offered us a beautiful lesson in humility.

Exultant victory is the mark of the tyrant and the voice of the fool. When you have won a victory in either Justice or in a simple game, the best response is gratitude. I'm sure that, assuming the appropriate people are indicted and made to answer for their crimes, Mr. Wilson will feel a sense of gratitude at the justice he and his wife will have received. But he refuses to gloat over another man's misfortune, no matter what that man might have done (or attempted to do) to him.

In short, this is not a time to celebrate; it is a time to be grateful for the justice that is being done, and otherwise to mourn the fact that our government has been so pervasively poisoned by greed, arrogance, and complacency. Let me assure you, it comes from the very top down; and so it will require the perseverance of every freethinking citizen in this land—maybe unto the next generation—to fully cleanse the toxic infestation that has taken over every corner of Washington.

This is barely the beginning of the revolution to come. So let me submit that if you are partying over the fall of Jack Abramoff, you are no progressive, but a grandstanding fool.


Read of the week (and, so far, of the year), from one of the wisest men of our time, Howard Zinn: "After the War". When you're through with that, try his masterpiece, A People's History of the United States. This man is a national treasure.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

The Sick Elephant in the Room

Terry McKenna is back again with a post that affords us a comprehensive view of the social and economic payoffs to be discovered if the politicians will only wake up to the necessity of a single-payor health insurance solution, such as many other more civilized nations than ours have done.

Others writers—most notably, Paul Krugman of the New York Times—have pointed out the clear disadvantages—the corruption, inequity, and economic waste of the system we have. (Note: to read Krugman's work, you'll have to take a trial "Times Select" subscription. It's well worth the $50 a year to have access to Krugman, Rich, Dowd, Kristof, and Herbert; but if you can't afford it you can do the two week trial and remember to cancel it before they tap your credit card). As Krugman has repeatedly observed, the existing system is so loaded down with administrative costs (that is, buck-passing exclusions, along with investigative and administrative overhead) that its effect is to put all the burden onto the middle classes and their employers.

So Terry offers us a view of what we all can get out of a public health insurance solution. In his words, it's all a matter of killing two birds with one stone. Perhaps, but the only birds I see worthy of death by stoning are Republicans and Democrats. Onstage, then, Mr. McKenna:

Conservative (Republican) think tanks have generated lots of answers to public policy questions, but by and large, their solutions sham solutions. To every public ill, they propose yet another asset accumulation vehicle that benefits the wealthy.

The Democrats, on the other hand, avoid serious solutions. They are capable of identifying social ills, but only to generate campaign noise. They say nothing about solving problems because they know that once they do, the Republicans will remind us that solutions cost money, and that means raising taxes. And raising taxes is political death right now.

So it is up to us in the Blogosphere to take up the slack. This essay addresses the health insurance crisis. If solved, we will kill two birds—maybe three—with one stone.

The stone would be the creation of a single payor health insurance system. The birds (problems) are:

1. the uninsured
2. the urban hospitals, which disproportionately serve the uninsured
3. American manufacturers, which must compete against foreign manufacturers who pay low wages and provide little else.

It would work much like employer paid health insurance. We have had 60 years of experience with group health insurance. We know how to deliver high-end expensive coverage and how to cut costs via managed care techniques. We also have the experience with Medicare and Medicaid. Managed care can work. The problem with employer provided coverage is that after a while, litigation and state legislation defeats cost controls. But if the system were run by the federal government—and therefore immune to lawsuits—the cost controls could not be defeated. With thought and care, we could devise something like mid-range coverage for everyone. Some might get less coverage than they have now, but these would be offset by the much larger group who would fare better. Thus the large numbers of low paid service sector workers, who now have nothing, would have real health insurance.

Most employers and employees are already paying a lot for health insurance. If we converted these costs into taxes, and shared them nationally, we would be on our way to paying for a new program – so the costs would not change for large segments of the population. Furthermore, since costs for the uninsured are already being absorbed by the paying customers, hospital prices could lowered as the hospitals begin to be reimbursed for what is now charity care. And health care for the formerly uninsured would move from the ER (or clinics) to a family doctor’s office – where crises could be prevented.

We have shown the benefit to the uninsured. How about the rest of us? The advantage here would be with regard to employment decisions. Employees would be freer to move to a new job because health insurance would be truly portable. On the other hand, low cost employers (like Wal-Mart) would lose some of their unfair cost advantages, as they start paying for employee health care through the new national program.

Another benefit would go to industries (like manufacturing or the airlines) that are in decline. Declining employers are often saddled with retiree health care costs that can no longer be paid for by worker productivity. If these costs are redistributed to all of society, these businesses can have a chance to regroup. An example of the benefit to all of us would be that business like Bethlehem Steel or Delta Airlines might not have to declare bankruptcy.

And the benefits grow larger. Medicaid is a tremendous drain on state and county budgets across the nation. Some states are solving this by drastically cutting eligibility. But doing this just downloads the costs of indigent care back to local hospitals – or to more generous states as some of the poor flee to better benefits.

But no one is talking about real health care solutions. As stated above, the Democrats are afraid to do more than make noise. Here is a bit from their website:

Affordable Health Care
"In the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth, no one should have to choose between taking their child to a doctor or paying the rent. Democrats are committed to making sure every single American has access to affordable, effective health care coverage.
We can make sure every American has that access while preserving the high quality of our health care and keeping the choices that we enjoy. We can leave decisions about health care to patients and doctors, keeping the government and insurance companies out.
Democrats will not stop fighting this battle until every single American has access to affordable health care."

What we need now is the political equivalent to George Bailey. Remember him (Jimmy Stewart), in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life? He got up before a mob of panicked depositors (customers of his savings and loan) and reminded them that if they stick together, they will get through this panic (a run on the bank). George Bailey raised his voice in favor of shared responsibility. But when it comes to healthcare, all we get from both sides of the political ideology cockpit is bullshit and spin.

—T. McKenna

Monday, January 2, 2006

The Door on the Left: Entering the Room of Requirement

"Dobby knows the perfect place, sir! It is known as the Come and Go Room, sir, or else as the Room of Requirement! It is a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker's needs. It is a most amazing room, sir."
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, from Chapter 18

Yesterday, while introducing Terry McKenna's thought-provoking piece on the state of our erstwhile democracy, I made a veiled reference to a certain problem with hope as the primary talking point of most New Year's observances. I should now expand a little on what I meant there. To do so, I'll call on the assistance of a certain well-known billionaire author and her boy wizard from Little Whinging. As anyone who pays the mildest attention to what goes on in Washington on a daily basis knows, the real children are the ones holding the gavels.

The Democrats of this nation need a Room of Requirement—some common ground where they can cleanse the mud of complacency that has covered this nation's heart, and meet the emergent needs of a moribund but still living democracy. They are not alone in their need, but they are certainly prominent. Today, I checked the websites of my state's two senators in Congress, Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton. Neither have a word to say, it seems, about the threat to democracy that Terry McKenna wrote about here yesterday; that Representative Conyers has raised to the attention of Congress (see the "Constitution in Crisis" download in the sidebar at right); that Barbara Boxer of California is investigating; that Senator Byrd of West Virgina is addressing in the most clarion terms (see quote and link at right).

Why does it take a crisis to shake these people out of their collective torpor? Why do we have to fall under the shadows of tyrants before Chuck Schumer gradually awakens to the fact that standing up to a criminal in the White House takes precedence over standing up for hunters in upstate New York? The War Powers Act has been in effect for nearly a quarter century, and no one—and I mean no one—has paid it the mildest lip service, let alone attempted to see its provisions enforced upon a bellicose executive. All right, the neocons in Congress wailed a little about the WPA amid their vendetta against Clinton (who, strange to say, prosecuted the one successful war in our generation—that is, the genocide in Eastern Europe was stopped and Yugoslavia is at peace unto this day); yet for a fairly serious and extensive piece of legislation, it has been met with a laughable disregard from all branches of government.

History is written by the winners, and law by those in power. Both can be, and frequently are, ignored. Thus, it will take more than hope to create prosperity in 2006, or some semblance of justice and balance in Washington after the mid-term elections are done. Hope, like faith, is a weak and mulish projection. We need a stronger, more vibrant consciousness if we are to have accountability and firmness returned to our leadership, and validity to our democratic forms. In short, we need wisdom. Not from a few elected officials or institutional symbols, but from every freethinking and independent citizen left in this land. Nothing less will save our democracy from the tyranny that currently owns it; nothing less will salvage the republic.

We have to consult our own experience, each of us, and make that the acid with which we test our leaders' performance and our candidates' promises. We have to apply a practical wisdom, based on whole-being experience, to our lives, and then elect politicians who stand up to the same measure within themselves (there are, believe it or not, still a few of them out there). Faith-based politics have failed miserably: we see the failure in Iraq; in the estrangement that America faces all over the globe; in the reckless course of our economy and our increasing servitude to the Chinese; in the murderous non-performance of our institutions in the face of natural disaster and public accountability; and in the moral decrepitude to which the highest officials of our government have sunk.

The same is true of hope: we hoped that an under-manned and under-equiped army sent to start a war based on false intelligence, a trumped-up rationale, and thinly-veiled financial designs would win, enforce order, and install the moving parts of a democratic (or at least friendly) regime. We hoped that handing massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans would somehow raise the fortunes of the lower and middle classes. We hoped that torture, extreme rendition, and domestic espionage would somehow protect America's borders from another invasion (even as legislators moved to once again legalize the very same kind of implements on airline flights that were the instruments of destruction in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington).

Well, faith and hope have both failed us again—just as they do in our personal lives. Because when we rely on faith, we ignore our own living truth; when we are slaves to hope, we forget reason; when we are married to doctrine and dogma, we divorce common sense and practical wisdom. But as I mention in my book, The Tao of Hogwarts, there is no need to toss out the baby with the water: you can have a psycho-spiritual practice without faith, and you can find both achievement and fulfillment without that weak and porous projection of hope. It's all about finding your own room of requirement within yourself, and then looking for leaders that apply that same practice to themselves and the institutions they serve.

Throughout Harry's journey within the magical world, he is brought the help and blessings he needs—often at the very moment when he has relinquished hope and expectation. For hope is to outer life what faith is to the inner: a grasping projection of belief and demand, which tries to reach beyond the arc of experience. This may fool us for a while; it may even offer us temporary or passing comfort; yet it does not bring us all of what we truly need from life. But to let go of hope is not to pass over into despair: it is instead to return to our center, to Te. This return to the center of being has the effect of removing the force of power and inner manipulation from the expression of need; instead, we simply acknowledge our desire and allow the Cosmos to respond. It also engages the extraordinary natural energy of "unforced action" from within us—what Lao Tzu calls wu-wei:

The greatness of modesty is fulfilled
In harmony with the Cosmic Source.

Its nature seems elusive, ephemeral;
It is evanescent, indefinable;
But only because its action is unforced.

It is the very center of the self,
Yet we don't know where it is.
It is the active voice of being:
Formless, and impenetrable to thought,
Yet manifest in every natural act
Through the furthest memory of Time.

It never arrives, never departs;
Its expression fulfills Nature.
It is the child of discernment,
The parent of action.

By what do I know this Essence?
From the formless truth within me.
(Tao Te Ching, Chapter 21)

In his classic novel, Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse has his principal character offer his own perspective on wu-wei. Siddhartha appears before the beautiful courtesan, Kamala, and almost instantly attains goals that most people might strive mightily to reach through years of forced effort and struggle. He explains the principal that guides him to this seemingly magical kind and pace of achievement:

"Listen, Kamala, when you throw a stone into the water, it finds the quickest way to the bottom of the water. It is the same when Siddhartha has an aim, a goal. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the affairs of the world like the stone through the water, without doing anything, without bestirring himself; he is drawn and lets himself fall. He is drawn by his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes his goal. That is what Siddhartha learned from the Samanas. It is what fools call magic and what they think is caused by demons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait, and fast."

Lao Tzu, Hesse, and J.K. Rowling are each teaching us the same lesson about wu-wei, from differing metaphorical perspectives: whenever we are in tune with Nature, with our deepest inner nature, then everyplace you go is Hogwarts; every moment you are living is a magical one.