Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No Public Option, Then No Individual Mandate.

Apparently, the insurance industry is about to get it all: we will be required to buy insurance, and have no option except to buy it from the private, for-profit sector. Without there being a public option to buy, we will be forced to buy a product from people we don't trust, and whose purpose (making a profit) leads them to continually increase the cost while minimizing the services, at the same time they will get tens of millions of new customers. They must be salivating.

Is it the role of a democratic government to create a market, and then compel people to use that market? If the government is going to require its citizens to purchase health care insurance, then does it not seem to have an obligation to provide a policy that every citizen can afford? Under the individual mandate, and without the public insurance option, the government would be compelling its citizens to support the profit making enterprises of some citizens at the expense of others. What is the difference between being compelled to send money to the insurance companies, and being compelled to pay taxes? Only that taxes are set by persons elected by the people being taxed, while insurance companies are not democratic, do not see service to their customers as their reason to exist, and are free to raise the price as high as the market will bear - which will certainly be high if we are compelled to buy from it. I do not begrudge anyone the right to seek profit if the customer can refuse to buy, but to write it into law that citizens must provide profit to any other citizen, or even a non-citizen investor! - violates the essence of the democratic experiment - that we are all equal in the eyes of the law. By creating this mandate without the public insurance plan, Americans would be not equally protected by the law, because the law would be favoring some over others.

Before we lose this chance to get a non-profit, public sector health services payment system, we must link these two aspects. To get the individual mandate, there must be public insurance policy. We must tell those who oppose it, we will not accept the individual mandate without a public policy option. The insurance companies know they cannot meet the other mandates of the bills under consideration, without the increased number of customers. So we must tell them and their proxies in Congress: we will not create the market if they do not agree to a public insurance option. This will curdle their enthusiasm, because without the individual mandate, the insurance companies will not have 30 million new customers, and they will not have the surplus revenues needed to meet the new requirements. We must show them they cannot have the new revenues without also having the non-profit competitor.

This combination - the mandate to buy insurance without a public option to buy - cannot be allowed. It would be an assault on the principle of equality in the law, and a reward for an industry that has done a terrible job of meeting our needs. If we cannot have the public insurance option, let the other reforms go through without the mandate to purchase insurance. Then the need of the public option will be kicking down the door at the insurance companies.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Redefining Recovery: Wealth creation is not the problem, Poverty creation is.

Whether we would save Wall Street, Main Street, the industrial mile, the platinum mile, trailer parks, soccer parks, green belts or Park place, seems now to be a fight over wealth not yet generated, a scratching, cutting, blood-letting fight for survival. The competition for a share is like a dog fight, with teeth bared, flashing and slashing, and the choice is made for no reason better than “meaner is more deserving”. Those who have want to keep, those that have none want to get, and the argument serves no purpose greater than personal survival. In the language of economics, the justification is made in terms of jobs, protecting wealth, keeping the systems of the economy working. But does any one really know what this re-distributed wealth is supposed to accomplish, and whether it will do any good? I will offer my vision.

A friend said to me, “We need a new kind of fuel for our cars.”. I laughed out loud. “We NEED” I said, “clean water, shelter and food. We WANT cars and fuel for them.” Don't let me confuse you, I am not proposing to send everyone to the farm. But let us be clear about priorities. The driving force of any economy is the appetite for food, shelter, safety, health care, and clean water, the needs that get people to work and produce. If the economy fails to produce these things, people will be insecure and will not participate. If the economy does not produce these things, the people will find other ways to meet these needs, by stealth, theft or violence, if need be. If the people cannot meet these needs, they will suffer, rebel, get sick, self-medicate, or die. If the people who do the work cannot get their needs met, they cannot work, and the economy cannot flourish. The first priority of any economy must be to meet these essential needs.

If you are Hugo Chavez, you do this with oil wealth, by buying what your people need from other more productive economies. Not a sustainable solution.

If you are wise, you do this by planning investment into infrastructure that helps ordinary people to survive. For example, since clean water is a public good, you use some of the productivity of the economy to build treatment facilities. Since affordable housing is a public good, you configure property laws and taxes to favor ownership of an only home, to reduce pressure on property values. Since poverty is the failure to get needs met, you use some of the productivity of the economy to provide jobs to people who cannot otherwise find work, and you put them to doing things we need to do anyway, such as maintaining parks. The work contributes to the community, the worker has the stability of an income, the worker has pride in him or her self, and the local economy benefits from the money spent by this employed person whose previous income may have come partly from public dollars anyway.

As a mechanism for meeting the human hierarchy of needs, our economy has been upside down. By favoring wealth accumulation with low taxes, wealth has gone to those already possessing it, and has allowed those with the fewest resources with no means to acquire any. Those who have, in our system, have gotten more and more, while those with the least just keep losing, suffering more and more. The problem, as I see it, is not that anyone is wealthy, but that any one might have so little of what they need that they cannot pull themselves up out of poverty. The problem, as I see it, is not that anyone has more than they need, it is that anyone has less than they need.

Although many people distrust the government, and dislike that anyone would be dependent upon it, and most people prefer the dignity of being paid for their personal productivity, the market by itself follows wealth, minimizing employment, often leaving well educated and responsible people without work or access to a minimum income. Furthermore, the market place follows wealth for private gain, making it unable, because of conflicts of interest and the absence of profit, to provide a whole class of services which are essential to the community, and even to the functioning of the market place.

“The government”, on the other hand, is the institutional realization of “community”, where the general and common goods have their voice and can bind on the productivity of the community, for their support. “The government”, we could say, is the only “business” in which everyone is a subscriber, and in which everyone has one vote. The Government is the only “business” whose “product” is paid for by those who can afford to pay, and received by all who need. The Government is the only “business” whose “product” is safety, clean water, roads, health care, community planning, education, and the power to set the rules of behavior and the power to force other businesses and people to follow those rules. The government is the one “business” to which people who are powerless can go for help and consideration, because other businesses – private interests - are uninterested. The government is the seat of the public interest which creates the environment for business and the market place to flourish in safety and with confidence in the supply of money, people and materials. The government is the seat of the public interest, with responsibility to everyone, with the responsibility to ensure that the basic structures of self-care are deployed. The government is where the appropriate private interest in wealth creation can be counterbalanced by a vision of common well-being. “The government” is the one source of sufficient power and authority to counterbalance greed and crime.

While the market provides opportunities to get wealthy, the government, as the sole guarantor of the public good, is the sole agent which can ensure that people have opportunities just to survive. This standard is very different from our custom, but provides ample room for driven motivated people to rise above the minimum. As a poor citizen, I do not expect any one to make my life comfortable beyond the provision of essential services, and for these I expect to work. But I need them to be there, at a price I can afford, and the opportunity to work for them.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Creation Stories of the Middle East , A Reaction

Ewa Wasilewska,

Have just finished reading your Creation Stories of the Middle East, and found it enlightening in many ways. Within your discipline, I am sure many are aware of the insights you provide, but for me it has exposed and detailed many key features in the evolution of how we, today, relate to each other, nature and the cosmos.

I am especially interested in the evolution of mind away from the flexible polytheism of pre-civilized peoples toward the more rigid and intolerant mono-theism of today. By contextualizing this process, you also relativize the duality of good and evil, showing it to be a natural outcome of the natural selection of ideas, and not absolute as so many religionists would have us believe. I am left to wonder whether urban life is not itself the explanation for the evolution of more rigid social and belief systems.

I also appreciate that you relate this evolution to ecological (resource) problems. I am interested in the carrying capacity of the planet for Homo sapiens, so it is interesting to see that the earliest civilizations recognized this problem, and that later mythologists (simultaneously to their invention of the single god and of good and evil?), chose to unmake this self-constraining vision and make a vision which promotes conflict, conquering and warfare as a solution to resource problems. If the alienation of physical from divine realities characterizes religion, then no wonder there are people who are as fervently anti-religion as others are fervently religious.

So I will need to read Creation Stories again to fully understand your explanation for the emergence of "religion". You seem to identify the term with institutions which propose a duality of physical reality and divine reality, where the divine reality cannot be understood without a transcendent and perhaps irrational faith. Because of this duality, you seem to be saying, the relationship between people and the divine ceased to be personal, daily, immediate, and more-or-less non-judgmental, and grew the relationship of power-over, of hierarchy, control, and, ultimately, suggested an irresponsible and narcissistic explanation for human life.

Hence, colonialism, corruption, resource wars, greed on Wall Street, consumerism and the cult of consumption, can - might be - explained in terms of a denatured humanity. Examples of human cruelty throughout time and across the globe challenge the idea of an innocent time ("the noble savage"), but then, the more poly-theistic characteristics of flexibility, cooperation, and mutual respect, have proven effective social and economic strategies, earlier in human history, for promoting survival, and to suppress them would result in the world we have, a world in which survival of life is not assured.

The intellectual and emotional substrate of polytheism remains in us and remains active, as does the mono-theistic drive for control. If the tendencies of, even sweeping assertions of the power of, these two minds, is revealed on the stage of world and U.S. politics at this very moment, we are given reasons for both hope and despair, that humanity can survive its impending ecological crisis.

Thank you for an introduction to the topic of the creation of the world as we know it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why White People Are Afraid, By Robert Jensen,

On AlterNet, http://www.alternet.org/story/36892/?page=entire
Posted June 7, 2006.

I hope Robert will forgive me posting his essay. I find it compelling and I certainly am not making money here!

What do white people have to be afraid of in a world structured on white privilege? Their own fears.

It may seem self-indulgent to talk about the fears of white people in a white-supremacist society. After all, what do white people really have to be afraid of in a world structured on white privilege? It may be self-indulgent, but it's critical to understand because these fears are part of what keeps many white people from confronting ourselves and the system.

The first, and perhaps most crucial, fear is that of facing the fact that some of what we white people have is unearned. It's a truism that we don't really make it on our own; we all have plenty of help to achieve whatever we achieve. That means that some of what we have is the product of the work of others, distributed unevenly across society, over which we may have little or no control individually. No matter how hard we work or how smart we are, we all know -- when we are honest with ourselves -- that we did not get where we are by merit alone. And many white people are afraid of that fact.

A second fear is crasser: White people's fear of losing what we have -- literally the fear of losing things we own if at some point the economic, political, and social systems in which we live become more just and equitable. That fear is not completely irrational; if white privilege -- along with the other kinds of privilege many of us have living in the middle class and above in an imperialist country that dominates much of the rest of the world -- were to evaporate, the distribution of resources in the United States and in the world would change, and that would be a good thing. We would have less. That redistribution of wealth would be fairer and more just. But in a world in which people have become used to affluence and material comfort, that possibility can be scary.

A third fear involves a slightly different scenario -- a world in which non-white people might someday gain the kind of power over whites that whites have long monopolized. One hears this constantly in the conversation about immigration, the lingering fear that somehow "they" (meaning not just Mexican-Americans and Latinos more generally, but any non-white immigrants) are going to keep moving to this country and at some point become the majority demographically.

Even though whites likely can maintain a disproportionate share of wealth, those numbers will eventually translate into political, economic, and cultural power. And then what? Many whites fear that the result won't be a system that is more just, but a system in which white people become the minority and could be treated as whites have long treated non-whites. This is perhaps the deepest fear that lives in the heart of whiteness. It is not really a fear of non-white people. It's a fear of the depravity that lives in our own hearts: Are non-white people capable of doing to us the barbaric things we have done to them?

A final fear has probably always haunted white people but has become more powerful since the society has formally rejected overt racism: The fear of being seen, and seen-through, by non-white people. Virtually every white person I know, including white people fighting for racial justice and including myself, carries some level of racism in our minds and hearts and bodies. In our heads, we can pretend to eliminate it, but most of us know it is there. And because we are all supposed to be appropriately anti-racist, we carry that lingering racism with a new kind of fear: What if non-white people look at us and can see it? What if they can see through us? What if they can look past our anti-racist vocabulary and sense that we still don't really know how to treat them as equals? What if they know about us what we don't dare know about ourselves? What if they can see what we can't even voice?

I work in a large university with a stated commitment to racial justice. All of my faculty colleagues, even the most reactionary, have a stated commitment to racial justice. And yet the fear is palpable.

It is a fear I have struggled with, and I remember the first time I ever articulated that fear in public. I was on a panel with several other professors at the University of Texas discussing race and politics in the O.J. Simpson case. Next to me was an African American professor. I was talking about media; he was talking about the culture's treatment of the sexuality of black men. As we talked, I paid attention to what was happening in me as I sat next to him. I felt uneasy. I had no reason to be uncomfortable around him, but I wasn't completely comfortable. During the question-and-answer period -- I don't remember what question sparked my comment -- I turned to him and said something like, "It's important to talk about what really goes on between black and white people in this country. For instance, why am I feeling afraid of you? I know I have no reason to be afraid, but I am. Why is that?"

My reaction wasn't a crude physical fear, not some remnant of being taught that black men are dangerous (though I have had such reactions to black men on the street in certain circumstances). Instead, I think it was that fear of being seen through by non-white people, especially when we are talking about race. In that particular moment, for a white academic on an O.J. panel, my fear was of being exposed as a fraud or some kind of closet racist.

Even if I thought I knew what I was talking about and was being appropriately anti-racist in my analysis, I was afraid that some lingering trace of racism would show through, and that my black colleague would identify it for all in the room to see. After I publicly recognized the fear, I think I started to let go of some of it. Like anything, it's a struggle. I can see ways in which I have made progress. I can see that in many situations I speak more freely and honestly as I let go of the fear. I make mistakes, but as I become less terrified of making mistakes I find that I can trust my instincts more and be more open to critique when my instincts are wrong.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Missive to My Bank

As I consider what words will express my feeling, I get an image of a rampart, built of huge slippery, leg-busting boulders, and coils of tangled wires, rising high over my head. You, the culture of the corporation, and the humanity of the people who work there, are behind that rampart. From your side, it is a smooth building face, with entrances and exits, people coming and going. It keeps everyone "safe", but that safety is isolation. I, the customer, the user, approach the technology, the ramparts, hoping to interact with a person, and discover not a channel to a person or a relationship, but a thing, that demands that I struggle through this knee-cap busting, ensnaring landscape, before I can interact with a person. To meet my human needs, I find myself embroiled in a flawed and complicated technology. This is not good for you, for me, or for the sustainability of the institution. I begin to think about how to find a place to put my money which allows me to interact with real people.

Your system, with ticket numbers, and a phone tree, is apparently designed to use your time efficiently. But my time? Like the baby food flavored to appeal to the mother, how would you know what the problems are and that for me to use the system grinds away at my time? The frequent users, those who learn and adapt, obviously will not report problems, and those too intimidated by the system will just walk away, so you, the corporation, will seldom hear that there are any problems. But how much does technology interfere with communication, where you would hope it would facilitate relationships with your customers?

Phone trees are dangerous to users when the tree does not have an escape value. Get way out on a limb where you don't want to be, and if there is no "go back a level" or "return to root menu", the only choice is to fall out of the tree - hang up - and climb back up to the desired level. Then there is the directory. The system may offer logical alternatives, but I quickly found myself in a menu option I did not want, and then the call was terminated. Which frustration do I want to deal with today? the phone tree or the email?

The ticket system used is different from email anywhere else on the web. Bulletin boards everywhere support cascading threads to keep a conversation on track. But not here. Here, I am expected to realize that I need to copy and paste a criptic "ticket number". Then, if I have made an inquiry, I need to return here to look up my "inbox" everyday, just to see WHETHER someone has responded yet. I feel like you think I have nothing better to do than sit on a bench feeding pidgeons, waiting for someone to visit with me. Moreover, you do not ask for a regular email address, a phone number, or an account number. If you know all this, you didn't use the information when I didn't answer your secret message being posted inside the ramparts, and if you don't know it, How are you supposed to upgrade the conversation to personal?

So I could just call your gateway phone number, and hope to talk to the person who wrote to me. Oh, I remember, I tried that. There was a name, so I made the "directory" selection, but then I failed the techno-competency test and got dropped out of the phone system. OK, call again and select "real person". So, will I be talking with the person who wrote to me? Will I know the ticket number of my in-house-proprietary-secret-email? Will I need to explain, to someone different, from the beginning, what the problem is, each time I call? So which frustration do I want to deal with today? the technology that isolates me from real people, or the human-resource system that turns real human beings into generic computer monkeys? Am I ready, yet, to prefer the inadequacy of the technology that drove me to write in the first place, over the inadequacies of the technology for communication? Insert just one more slippery spot on that boulder I have to climb, and I'll give up. You won't have to deal with me. You won't know I went away. You won't have any idea that despite your emotional readiness to talk to customers and be helpful, the corporation through its technology has passively succeeded to reduce the number of customers that make it to the top of the rampart, and therefore, who demand attention.

Now two months have passed since I last posted a query, and now I am back to re-post the same query, and discover I have been answered and un-answered! I didn't check my secret Inbox, I didn't know I was supposed to (is this what I signed up for?)! Oh, this system runs so smoothly, don't you think? I'm ready for lunch. How about you?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Market Has Failed!

It is with great frustration that I listen to the health care debate, and that the Democrats allow the Republicans to control the terms of the debate without salient, charged rebuttal.

In particular, there is the accusation that any government plan would ration health care. This may be a legitimate concern for people who can afford to buy anything they want, already, if they are afraid that they might be prevented from paying for their extra services. Which seems absurd. But Health care is being rationed now, for the middle and lower class, in at least two ways. First, many people have no care at all, or the care they get is at emergency rooms, which does not provide a full spectrum of care. Second, even those who have health care insurance do not have the security of knowing that their care is guaranteed. Each plan, to start with, is limited in the procedures it will allow, and then, insurance companies may refuse to pay for catastrophic care, for opaque, unpredictable reasons. The patch work of health care provision now available to Americans amounts to being the most rationed system in the industrial world. A public system which does not exclude anyone (Universality), which provides a reasonable and standardized package of services(Completeness), and does not refuse payments capriciously (security), would be less rationed than the current system.

There is also the charge that a government sponsored option would cost the taxpayers, and drain customers away from the existing system. But taxpayers are consumers and consumers of health care services - even those who do not need many - are already paying heavily for services. Why is our system the most expensive in the industrial world, with the lowest quality output? When Republicans charge that the system would cost too much, Democrats must answer, loudly, that the system costs too much NOW, and that when the cost to the private sector is added to the cost to the public sector, the overall cost of health care may be slightly more, and possibly even less, but ALL Americans will have health insurance! This will result in a dramatic improvement in the health of the American workforce and therefore the efficiency of the economy.
And the competition provided by the public program will drive costs down. (Of course if you want efficiency, you need a single-payer system.)

This, for many Republicans, is a cause for complaint. They say, "Competition by the government is unfair". I say "The market has had a chance to prove it can provide services efficiently. It cannot. It is extremely expensive [is not EFFICIENT], it is extremely discriminatory of both persons and services [is
neither UNIVERSAL to persons, nor offering a COMPLETE range of services], and it routinely denies care to those whom it does insure by refusing payment for particular services, or by un-enrolling them entirely, [enrollees have no SECURITY that payment will be made or that they will remain insured], nor does the market provide reasonably-priced insurance THROUGHOUT LIFE. That the market cannot guarantee Efficient, Universal, Complete and Secure health Care services Throughout Life, is dangerous for both citizens and the nation. The Market has failed. The time has come for market advocates to get out of the way and to let the people, through their public institutions, create a system of their own.

The system currently under consideration is not the most efficient possible, nor will it provide Efficient, Universal, Complete and Secure Care Throughout Life [EUCS-CTL]. Trying to get to an EUCS-CTL system via this plan is like trying to get fire wood by splitting knots. It will be painful and difficult, and compromises to meet Republicans half way will result in a system that is everything the Republicans are worried it will be: Expensive and Cumbersome. In effect, a perfect whipping horse. But we have a chance if we meet their arguments with effective salient rhetoric of our own:
1) Health care is being rationed now and a public plan would be would be less rationed than the current system.
2) When the cost of health care to both private and public sectors are added, the new system will not burden the economy more than the current system, and ALL Americans will have health insurance!
3) The Market has failed. The time has come to let the people stand up their own health care system.


I am sure that Democrats generally understand these issues, but I have not heard the vigorous rebuttals to Republican arguments that success in this debate follows. We truly need to answer them. THE MARKET HAS FAILED! COUNT THE WAYS! WE NEED A HEALTH CARE SYSTEM FOR PEOPLE, NOT PROFITS!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Open letter to our leaders: Fight Indefinite Detention.

Every person being held under police powers is either guilty of a crime, or innocent. The Constitution does not contemplate an intermediate state in which due process might be ignored. Every person being held under military powers must have a sovereign state to which he/she answers for participation in a bounded war, or else turned over to police authorities for charge and trial for a crime. International law does not contemplate an intermediate condition, for which the normal procedures of law are suspended.

Indefinite detention contemplates such intermediate conditions.

Under the U.S, Constitution, Indefinite detention violates the fundamental protections against violence by the state against its people. Even used against foreign nationals, Indefinite Detention opens a loop-hole in the law through which crimes against actual citizens might be perpetrated.

Under international law, Indefinite Detention violates the primary notion of sovereign responsibility, that a person is either fighting for a state, or violating the law of a state. It would extend to state-less persons, militants and terrorists the credence of statehood without the accountability of a known sovereignty.

These splitting-the-differences to create Indefinite Detention is dangerous for the rule of law, dangerous for the stability of international law, dangerous for the human rights of others who have committed no crimes, and contrary to the ideal of democracy.

While some persons being held may be dangerous, or know too much about our security systems, their disposition cannot be held in suspension for indefinite periods. Each case must be resolved according to one of the existing categories. The difficulty of doing so is a burden of the state which the state undertakes to protect the freedoms and prosperity of the people of whom it is made.

Mr. Obama, Mr. Representative, and Mr. Senator, please do not capitulate to the Bush/Cheney agenda, whose violations of Americans values and the constitution were so flagrant and despicable. Do not create a third category under the law, of someone who is exempt from the protections of the law. This only invites lawlessness and the collapse of the dream of opportunity and prosperity offered by the rule of law. To create a third category under the law would create a change we cannot believe in.

I urge you to reject any policy or proposal that would deprive individuals of access to a legal process, indefinitely imprisoning them without charge, the chance of a trial, or the protections of the Geneva Convention.

The issues surrounding the closing of Guantánamo are difficult and incredibly complex, but we cannot afford to habituate ourselves to laws that we know would violate our Constitution, or international law. I respectfully ask that you do what is in your power to fight indefinite detention -- It, more than any evil combatant in a criminal conspiracy to terrorize the world, is the true danger to our country, our values, and our Constitution.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Open Letter to Vermont Public Radio's President, Robin Turnau

I told myself that "VPR is my radio station." I would listen. Determined, unhappily, I would listen.

During the hour of the Conversation, I wanted to call. But I wanted to call about being cut off, about being limited to a brief comment with no follow up, and I could not imagine getting my whole point out before - what? - being cut off. If I cannot express myself because the idea is multilayered and too complex to compress into a single short paragraph, if I cannot make my point, because no one asks "Did that answer your concern?", if I cannot make my point because I never get a chance to answer the uncomprehending or evasive response of the radio guest, how am I ever to call the station president in the hour of conversation given to listeners, and make plain the problems with VPR call-in policies? These policies prevent callers from engaging guests in true discussion, in true conversation. And today these policies prevented a listener from challenging these policies. The policies, designed to maximize listener input, today prevented me from raising my objections to these policies. Today I felt shut out of the conversation, and today I felt disenfranchised. VPR has stopped being my radio station. I have stopped believing in VPR, I have stopped trusting that VPR belongs to its listeners.

This year, other listeners complained on related issues. In the past, I wrote to point out the problem -- that the call-in policies insulate the guest from being compelled to give a good, real, meaningful answer; that VPR hosts often do not comprehend the question being asked, or fails to insist on a meaningful answer, and the call-in policies prevent the listener-caller from clarifying the question, or correcting the host; that listeners often have excellent, sharp questions that other listeners want to hear the answer to, but the call-in policies prevent the listener-caller from saying "No, that didn't answer the question"; that the call-in policies really prevent any real conversation from happening on VPR - and when I wrote, I proposed alternate ways to handle the problem. But in the 12 or 15 years of these policies and my discontent, no one at VPR has ever answered my concerns, and these policies have not improved.

In the past, I have called and asked for a chance to ask a follow up question, and without any courtesy, was simply locked out of the conversation. Recently, I called with two points to make about the health care debate, and I was literally cut off, razor like between two words, when I was ready to make my second point. The call-in policies used by VPR may maximize the number of listeners who get on the radio, but for the other 999,992 listeners who do not call in, these policies make for radio that is less interesting, less informative, less challenging, less insightful. Since I have written before, since I have suggested alternate ways to handle these problems, and since I have seen no improvement in VPR's quality, I am frustrated, and I despair that VPR will ever address my concerns.

But VPR IS my radio station, is the only radio that brings NPR and BBC and WBUR to Vermont, reliably, anywhere in the state (prettymuch). I can't get this stuff without holing up with my computer! I need VPR and I need VPR to make meaningful improvements to its call-in policies. I need VPR to reduce the padding which insulates it from the messy concourse between listeners and radio station. Please. I need you to at least suspend these policies during the thrice-annual conversation with listeners, so that a listener can call and make his case to the entire listenership.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Israel Has the Power to Make Peace

Since the Palestinians were evicted from their lands, they have resisted Israeli occupation for the same reason that anyone would. While we condemn violence in any form, the absolute control of the land by Israel has left the Palestinians without any means of recalling to the world their plight, except that terrorism dropped on Jewish communities by their few and imprecise rockets. If even these rockets stopped, would Israel give up Palestinian land? What pressure would Israel feel to yield anything at all? This terror is all that is left to a disenfranchised, disempowered, oppressed people, to express the desperation they feel.

While we condemn terrorism in any form, we cannot expect the Palestinians to do utterly nothing in the face of Israeli terror. Considering the magnitude of terror and devastation brought upon Palestinian communities by rockets, tanks, soldiers, water theft, land theft, crop theft, and the lost dignity of a productive economic life, in response, and considering the vastly greater power of the Israeli state, whatever criminal liability falls on the Palestinians, falls on Israel 100 times more. Considering the trajectory of Israeli actions, we must wonder whether Israel thinks it needs a "final solution".

The Palestinian resistance is not a threat to the existence of Israel. With or without Palestinian ascent, Israel will continue to exist. But while Israel holds Palestinian recognition of Israel's right to exist as a precondition for peace, Palestinians are and Palestine is torn apart, bombed, robbed, and killed, in magnitudes vastly huger than anything done to Israel by Palestinian terrorists. This insistence on recognition is a childish shibboleth. Or more to the point, it is an excuse to avoid making peace.
Given the relative powerlessness of the Palestinians, and the power of the Israeli state, peace can only come when Israel acknowledges the right of the Palestinians to peace in their own home state.

To make a just peace with the Palestinians, Isreal must stop using the Palestinian lands to relieve its own population pressures. Isreal must stop settlement activity of every kind, must give back what was taken to put up the fences, remove all settlements, let the people have the land that remains to them, and let them live. When the terror wrought by the Israeli state ends, when people are allowed to live in peace and to develop their economy, the will to violence and terror will fade. Peace will come when Israel acknowledges the Palestinian right to live.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Common Arguments in Health Care Financing

When we say that the cost of health care in the United States is the highest in the world for the least over all benefit, we are including both private and public funding. **When we debate the cost of universal health care, WE MUST ALWAYS USE THE SUM OF PRIVATE AND PUBLIC FUNDING, to place the emphasis on the savings that result from that system.** Then, increased public funding is offset by decreased private funding, and TAX PAYERS SEE THEY ARE GETTING A BARGAIN.

Opponents of a public system have said for years that a government operated system could not be cost effective, because the private sector is inherently more efficient. But now that the numbers are being added up, and public financing is seen to be more efficient, they are charging "unfair competition". So which way do they want to spin their argument?

The private sector long ago proved itself inefficient at providing good health care to the American public, and there is no sound economic reason to protect private profiteering in health care. So many efficiencies would result from a single payer system that building it would be like cleaning out an old barn that's been filled with junk and old hay, and setting up a proper work shop or office.

All of the savings that would result would be a terrific stimulus to the economy, and all of the people put out of jobs at the insurance companies would find plenty of new opportunities, as businesses would prosper, without the burden of health care insurance, and with workers arriving to work healthy.

In our present system, profit competes with health. While the wealthiest Americans get excellent care, other Americans have no care or inadequate care, because insurance companies place profits ahead of health. HEALTH MUST WIN OVER PROFITS.

Conservatives like to dichotomize the public and the government, making the government an evil. But for us, the government IS us, the government is our means of organizing a universal system, it is how we build that system that will take care of us. We must assert our right to use government, the institutional incarnation of community, to serve our interests, to serve the interests of the people of the United States.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pax Equilibria Qua Non

Humanity - brilliant, destructive, generous, powerful, compassionate, obsessive, selfish - has within its reach the power to make any future it wants. Humanity, through ambitious or wise individuals, arrogant or foresightful states, criminal enterprise or democratic process, can direct its own evolution. Humanity, following the imperatives of its own wild mind, thoughtless to consequences beyond immediate wealth and survival, could easily destroy itself and life, or condemn us to miserable lives. Humanity, following deliberate, considered, educated, generous purposes, could easily design for itself a future with room for every living thing, for every person and people, to live entire lives without wars, famine or mass extinction. Any future is possible, even a future in which we choose the direction of our own evolution. But what future?

I have visited futures in my imagination as terrible and more as any in history or the present. So to imagine a future not flooded by terror nor a humanity diseased by nano-machines nor captured and enslaved by reproducing, evolving and sentient machines, So to imagine the world in which I would want to live, that is safe to children and life, not plagued by warfare, starvation, and ecocidal destruction, I have sought that vision, that explanation of the role of humanity in nature, that rationale and philosophy, which could unite humanity, could rationalize a clearly desirable, welcoming future. I have hoped that with such clear guiding principles, we - the whole of humanity - could agree on a future we would choose together, and go there instead of going to the hells of my imagination. But as living beings, we are survivors: scrappy, independent, idiosyncratic, and ever seeking the advantage in the opportunity someone else declined. If we could agree on a future for our evolution which did not compromise any one's interests, we might choose it, but any conscious choices to manipulate our evolution would necessarily compromise an opportunity someone else would like to pursue. So a future guided by a mindful love of life will not follow from an agreed set of principles and a consensus among us. It may follow from thousands or millions of tortuous, violent struggles over a millennium, but not because of choices we today make. At this point in our evolution, enough of us are violent, do seek the thrill and satisfaction of killing and dominating, and remain driven by a conceited over-valuation of our own reproductive success, to obviate any such consensus. In short, in a tragedy of the commons, we will willingly over tax the Earth with our own children, and kill others to make room for them. We are not ready to implement a concensus, even if we could find one. To see the need for such a consensus, and be unable to implement one, is the current state of our evolution.

I have resisted this conclusion my entire life. That no such guiding philosophy or set of principles, for a pan-humanity consensus, is possible. From questions about my own values and family life, onto questions about educational practice, social policy, and goals appropriate to the sustainability movement, I have plumbed an ever deeper well of inquiry, seeking and never finding a solid bottom on which to rest the querulous bucket of my fathom, from which to draw a clear, irresistible and necessary philosophy. Questions muddy every answer, every question prompts another. I have wanted, needed, a vision on which to rest my well being, and it comes in the form that there is nothing on which to rest.

Following what lines of inquiry I thought were the richest, having the most potential, being most significant to the fate of humanity (and my own stature in it), I have discovered humanity in the midst of a radical evolution... Not on a long gradual incline toward some sort of an epochal sustainability infused with a pax equilibria, but in an accelerating evolution toward evolutionary and ecological revolution, possibly an eco-spheric collapse, probably rapidly evolving into a new species of Homo, bounded not by mountains or the temptations of specialized food supplies, but by the choices we make, of where to go to school, to work, to live, and with whom to associate, prior to choosing mates. We are in this discovery not a culmination or even a plateau in the emergence of intelligence, but a primitive transient form, pointing to a vast new ecology of a multi-layered humanity. If there is kindness, gentleness, generosity, justice, caring, sustainability and ecological equilibrium in our antecedents, it is natural selection which will deliver it. And may well. But it does not matter what we do, and the future does not care what we think of it. We are of it, not masters over it, driven by forces beyond our perception and beyond our management toward ends we cannot predict. Hence, we have no rules to obey, no truths to honor, in service to any cause greater than the satisfaction of the inner roiling torment of sentient survivors. All is choice, and turns on our own minded wills, because the laws that matter cannot be violated, and the laws that can be violated do not matter.

The final authority is natural selection. Haven't I said this before? It's my invocation, my article of faith, the thought and idea that bridges my living aware life across the darkness of our cruelty, intelligent destructiveness, and the thoughts of futures too scary to dwell upon. All of human history, past and yet to come, is governed by the compelling dictates of natural selection. For better or ill, it is natural selection which cultivates our aesthetics, our morality and our emotional drives, and it is natural selection which will govern those aesthetics, as we evolve with technology and the consequences of our effects upon the eco-sphere. Whatever I may feel about the choices and futures I imagine, the people who will control and decide what is "good" or "not good", are those who will then be alive, being who we have become and as they are, as the products of a natural selection interacting with the same conceit of human beings (that they are wise enough to reverse roles with natural selection, to master nature), which came to us through natural selection, as a tool in our survival kit. Not only do I have no power to affect our futures, not only do we have no power to effect any choices we might make, I and we have no authority to speak to it. As I cannot give what is not mine, the future and evolution of humanity are not within my domain of judgment. They are not mine, or ours, to assess or to judge. What a relief!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Telecoms Unveil New Technology Exploiting Intelligent Design

Expecting huge response, Telecoms Offer New Technology To Promote User Satisfaction.
New York, N.Y. - A consortium of telecom providers today announced a new service they are calling “Intelligent Call Loss”. Intended to lower stress and induce generally higher levels of happiness in its customers, this service is designed to promote phone calling, and thus increase profits. Although the technology was expensive to develop, this service will be offered for free.

The spokesperson for the industry stated that a key player in the development refused to participate if users were to be charged, and then proceeded to decline royalties. Under these conditions, the industry spokesperson asserted, it was in their interest to provide the service for free.

The technology, apparently, pre-screens all phone calls for the effect they will have on the recipient. Those calls which are deemed to induce stress are terminated, or in the parlance of the technology, “lost”.

“I'd like to see their algorithm” said one industry observer. “I can't imagine how they make those predictions”.

Another observer, looking startled, asked whether missed phone calls wouldn't often induce more stress later, to which the spokesperson replied, “This is a very powerful program. It utilizes key proprietary services that ensure that the long term effect of lost calls will be positive..”

On the subject of privacy, the spokesperson asserted that the service would be provided “when requested”, but that the industry was confident that the service would sell itself, and that customers would willingly allow the privacy intrusion to gain the benefit of the service.

The technology, according to the press release distributed at the time of the press conference, is based on new artificial intelligence algorithms and proprietary hardware that tap into “intelligent design”. “On the theory that the evolution of the universe and of life has followed intelligent interventions”, scientists were quoted in the literature as saying, “we reasoned that traces of these interventions ought to be discernible in the fundamental fabric of the physical world. Tracing what we believed to be the end product of these intelligent interventions, the human soul, back through brain structure, chemistry, and physics, we found inequalities in the physics equations more or less where we expected them to be. We were thrilled, of course, but not surprised. We had faith they'd be there.”

Utilizing new work in evolutionary software and artificial intelligence, researchers were able to use these “trace inequalities”, as they are called, to engineer algorithms that would pipe knowledge of future outcomes directly into a data base.

“From there, it was simple. All we had to do was compare the future outcomes with the real-time phone calls.” the press release stated.

The idea of data being piped from the future to the present struck many present as fantastical and un-credible. “We realize this will be difficult to believe, but the technology has been thoroughly tested. It works.”, the spokesperson stated.

A key event in the research was construction of a computer whose information processing is affected by one of the physics inequalities. “The output”, a scientist is quoted as saying, “isn't at first comprehensible. This is why we needed an intelligent designer to intervene. Luckily he did. It was just a message typed onto the screen of the inequality computer, but it was very soon obvious that he knew what he was talking about. It was like talking to an engineer somewhere, seeing some code show up on your screen, and suddenly knowing you have met the answer.”.

Asked who the key player was, and how they were key, the spokesperson blushed and answered, “Umm, we're not sure. However I can tell you that we communicated through the computers that were built using trace inequalities, and that we could not offer this service with out this key player's intervention and cooperation.”

In private conversations later, the scientist reported that there was a brief on-screen negotiation over rights of use, further assistance and other key improvements to the system. This scientist also declined to name this key player.

When asked whether the use of “intelligent design” might be a direct reference to God, the spokesperson stated that the engineers who built the system could not rule out this interpretation, but that they had no way to prove it, either. "Other interpretations do not satisfy" the spokesperson agreed.

In later developments, Lawyers for consumers groups and business groups separately announced they would probably challenge the right of the phone company to “lose” phone calls, to which the consortium spokesperson answered that intelligent design of the system would prevent any lawsuits from prevailing. “Someone wants this to work, and when we raised that objection – invasion of privacy and all that – he said 'Don't worry. Success has been designed in.' After all, those people have to use phones, don't they?"

Asked for their response to these developments, several federal security officials expressed bemused doubt and anxiety. "This could prove advantageous, if we can use it to predict national disasters or terrorist strikes, but it could also prove problematic if terrorists got their hands on it." said one, on conditions of anonymity.

In Congress, several members reacted with outrage. "How can they think of doing this without the approval of the FCC?" steamed one. It was later reported that he was taken to the hospital for a brain aneurysm. Another, who vowed to pen a bill preventing such a service from coming into operation was later heard demanding from her staff a pen that would write.

Monday, February 23, 2009

To Live Not Alone.

I don't want to live alone, not knowing my neighbors, in that self-imposed degradation of community we call “the american dream”.

I have lived that way, suspended above abyssal dark by stretched straining ropes I alone maintain repair rethread rewind if I can, breaking because I cannot.

I have fallen that way, evicted to car, to tarp, to hidden places, to
patches of wood, to rentless backyards within friendly bounds.

I have parachuted that way, letting go “the dream” to find arms and encouragement, friends and fresh starts.

Gravity itself has upended me that way, rooting me in a richness of souls, reaching
me toward the sky, growing me in the nutrients and water and light of the web of us.

I want to live not alone, to know my neighbors, soiled and growing the root works of long days and years to come.

I want friends around me, not at the end of a phone line or ten miles away, but there, to sup with coffee in the morning and plan a day, to carouse with books and the news by night fall, to sweat with in the sun over picked dirt boulder, chain-sawn firewood logs, long line fences, and to cry over in the end.

I am a human being and when else in human history until now did we live without the many souled super-self to cradle and nest old lives and new lives that make lives entire?

I want that crowd around in that middle bond between couple and stranger, given capable hands and loving hearts to share the undercourse of life.

I want not to blot the limitless sky of the newest America, interlaced with wires and satellites to any point any place any person on our planet, but to place our dreams in the solid soil of souls redeemed to living in place!

Here I go, not for me against you, but for me for you for all pulling toward all living
amicably, healthily.

I will I declare only once live, and in this once give and get as much as I make the exchange alive!

I alive, hands open, mind open, heart open, look to you.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When the Market Collapses

I strain under the objections to spending. I ask, which would be better for the economy:

1a: Federal Government incurs debt,
1b: gives money to people (spends money on tax refunds),
1c: people spend money on private needs (stimulus #1),
1d: no common needs met (stimulus #1 undermined),

2a: Federal Government incurs debt,
2b: pays people to work (spends money for productive work),
2c: People spend money on private needs (stimulus #1),
2d: Common needs are met through work they do (Stimulus #2).

Is there something I am missing? I am not hearing it in the public debate. Government spending packs twice the stimulus value, or more, of just giving tax breaks. What is so horrible about improving the public infrastructure? (I have heard Obama suggest this point.)

I just bought a van - for two months of my income, $1500 - from someone who wasn't using it. It will make a huge difference in terms of what I can accomplish, And my neighbor now has money to spend.

How much would it hurt me just to borrow the money and GIVE it to my neighbor? I would be NUTS!

Do I not do us both more good by getting this vehicle or his services in exchange for my money? Then I have improved my situation AND he has money to spend.

Please tell me, when will Progressives and Democrats finally bring this huge rhetorical lever to bear on the debate? Why are we not speaking this obvious and huge distinction?

The United States Government does not need debt. The People of the United States DO need to rebuild things we SHARE, AND WE ALL BENEFIT FROM, - like roads, schools, Broadband, Green energy infrastructure, US parks, etc. To meet economically beneficial common needs, debt is acceptable.

Suppose, as was told to me yesterday, that the entire stimulus package was sent directly to tax payers (That disenfranchises me) and everyone got $50,000. They would all, of course, spend the money to meet personal needs. How would the Government recover any of this to pay for common needs? By TAXES of course!

So either, without taxes, the universal infrastructure continues to decline, or, with taxes, all that money that was sent to taxpayers under government debt, has to be returned to the government. What is the stimulus value of this?

The stimulative value of tax rebates or refunds is unitary: People have money to meet their needs, which is then lost because these same tax payers must repay those loans. Even if the economy expands under the tax-relief-only, how does the government recover funds to pay off the loans? By skimming off the extra value produced by the economy! This is self-defeating.

The stimulative value of work has two parts 1: the general value to the economy of the product of the work, and 2: the income that enables people to meet their needs. Then, when government spending adds the double whammy of the huge productivity of all the labor it bought, PLUS the money it injected into the economy, the economy will improve dramatically enough to pay off the loans without depressing the economy.

The relative value of the work may vary, but the most useful way for the US Government to spend money is by buying labor. As demonstrated by the New Deal Works, the benefits can be felt a century later. Public spending is one way we become a nation with a vigorous economy.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


It was pain he wanted to feel. Or Passion. Epiphany. Dire thirst for carnal bliss, brilliant compassion, or commensurate rage! Willing, wanting, Hammer bruises, Public pubics, Seen stripped, Being naked, Vulnerable, True, by Sun fire light, or by ice cuts under dark skies. To be clay formed unformed reformed never quite formed, dried out and re-wetted. To begin again, to tire of mindless mindfulness, to redact the absurd and listen for bird song, spring leaves growing, voices in the wet escapees from snow and ice. Spirit bounced above voices of ridicule, skating over ignorant chatter and accusations. Free! From the need to be free. Who gave him this chance? He wants the fever, prayed it would build, and, under the last strain, to break, to spill, capturing tears, and legion beginnings.

Strained he, with the ordinary anxieties, of food packed between teeth, of a motor that won't start, of a drop of pain in every step, of humiliated success and exalted failure, of loving and loathing and telling the difference. Strained he, with redawning memories and convictions, preconceptions and neuronal engravings, dragged across the mind, as if important. Strained he, his longing desire to raze and rout the ordinary, the anxieties and the hope for hope. Strained he, to build the fever, hoping it would breach the well built inhibitions, break the bonds of restive doubt, wash out the dirt of debt and loneliness. Straining he wants, not to please, but to play, his life.

A child it was who looked into the sky and saw vast space and stars dispersed in un-patterns, burning privately in full view, owing to the dust and gas of which every other body has been made, its own existence.

An old man it will be, denuded of pitch and rumble, of tearing across life, by small frictions and cuts, by the bruises of lost dreams, slowing him to a walk, a crawl, a collapse. At long last the fever is broke, no more to strain: what ends a life? The heart stop? Hair ceasing to grow? The final kiss? The orgasm after which none is? The gentle setting of eye lids down over blank eyes? The last thought? The final gossamer memory of desire? He leaves, not knowing, not feeling, not giving, not receiving, any more, the rites of passage. He passes, not to, only from.

While they leave, pondering “Where did he go?”. Feeling sadness, anger, loss, wonder, still, in their lives, giving, receiving, from and to. “He is gone,” they will say “What will we do?” And asking, they do. They love, loath, make babies, pick fruit, compete for standing, make art, write books, observe history, list and die, too.

And were they together, after life, watching, perhaps over time they would not recognize their kind in the descents of them, and then the Earth would die, too, and their attentive disembodied selves would have no more an anchor. To what would they attach? Remnant heat and gas and dust? Those untold billions of other disembodied selves? In some roiling boil of cosmic glowing super-nature?

But then, really, simply, they just are not. Their home only ever breathed them. They came, in, went, out, birthed blinked history unnoticed in the vastness of time.

Seeking hoping driving planning working making love, leaving it all behind – what did he want? What had he wanted? He didn't know. HE DIDN'T KNOW. He had spent his life asking, because HE DIDN'T KNOW.