10 Rules: How Closed Minds Become Closed Borders

It is my intention to provide my readers with a very valuable and unique service.  I am a voracious reader and it is my special talent to distill complex subjects down to their simplest parts and principles (if indeed such principles exist).  Much of what is written, past and present, is intentionally obfuscated for political purposes or dishonest gain, whether of the material, intellectual, or emotional varieties.  It is designed to misinform or mislead.  Even when the ideas are simply muddle-headed rather than intentionally disingenuous, there is rarely an understanding of where those ideas originated, or historical consequences of their application.   These observations are particularly applicable to political discussions, but are not uncommon in virtually any serious discourse.

I am driven to know what is.  I grew up in an intellectually closed society, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I left that religious organization in mid-life only to find a whole smorgasbord of other closed societies, whether religious, philosophical, political, or social.  There is a vehemence and even fierceness of advocacy that inhibits civil conversation and betrays intolerance of different life experiences and conclusions.  What is most remarkable about all of these is that either side in any of these debates would passionately agree with my observations herewith stated, but only find them applicable to the attitudes and behavior of those with an opposing viewpoint!

As the polemicists outshout each other in the vain belief that raising the volume of their cranky bombast is the key to recruiting you to the cause or the sale, regard for evidence, logic, scientific method, clarity, and other calm pursuits are left behind like abandoned children.   Defense of our own position usually trumps all other considerations without any awareness whatsoever of the road by which we arrived at our convictions.  My most important takeaway from my own life-altering experience  is that I am the bouncer and doorman to my own mind, and I have sole discretion over what is permitted to enter.  I am the final arbiter of what I accept, because I become what I ingest intellectually.   This is a personal responsibility that I cannot delegate to any other person, institution, or authority. In my opinion, every one of my readers shares this same responsibility for themselves, for the same reasons and with the same rewards. Bitterness and anger about years wasted in misguided belief and defiance of reality are efforts to transfer responsibility for our own past choices onto others, but in every case it was we who negligently invited strangers, in the form of ideas, into our mind unidentified and unchallenged.  Even when we absorb faulty premises in our age of innocence, responsibility to identify and correct these later in life cannot be avoided with impunity.

I frequently include book reviews on this blog, on a broad range of subjects.  All of these book reviews are at least somewhat positive in nature, because I do not waste my readers time on books that are in my opinion without at least some important redeeming values.  I am neither Democrat nor Republican, neither liberal nor conservative, and these days, once you get past the rhetoric, it can be said their distinctions are often without differences.  I have no ideology except the value of the individual human being. Each of us is a minority of one.  Regardless of the comfort we find in each other, there is no collective brain.  Descartes famously said “I think, therefore I am.” What we think determines what we become.

I want to share some rules of the road from my personal experience.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me to eat everything on my plate at meal times.  It was axiomatic that to waste food was wrong, even though our young minds rarely grasped the contradiction in the fact that we didn’t overload the plate with all that food, the grown-ups did.  How could we possibly know that for the rest of our lives other BIG PEOPLE would be filling up our intellectual plates with the impassioned ideas, ephemeral notions, and absolute certainties they insisted we must ingest because it is “good for us.”  As in childhood, we trust the source, the same one we associated with survival itself.

Rule #1 :   The purpose of all propaganda is to become your “trusted source.” Read more..

Everyone, it seems, has the strongest notions of what is best for us, beginning with our immediate families and extending to all the institutions of our culture.  What is accepted and practiced in one generation may be repudiated by future generations.  The philosophy that someone else knows what is best for us is nothing more than delegating to strangers what gets put on our plate.  It makes no difference whether this authority figure or expert comes in the guise of clergy, government, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, media talking heads or television and movie script writers; all of them provide us with generous helpings of their opinions and rules and they expect us to eat it, even if it gives us heartburn.  They do not like to be ignored, and most of them are happy, if given the opportunity, to harness the coercive power of the state to enforce what they know is, if not for our own good, at least for the good of the greatest number.  After all, Daddy knows best.

Everything is based on core premises, and unfortunately these are usually absorbed unconsciously from the Influential People of our childhood and adolescence, parents, teachers, news media, friends, and church.

Rule #2:  At a tender age we are neither equipped nor qualified to evaluate  conceptual content, and we know little or nothing about possible  alternatives. 

Content becomes indelibly associated with the persons and institutions of authority that deliver it.  Because of this early childhood association between content and source, we begin to develop class distinctions based on these associations.  We are more inclined to trust and believe those who dress like we do, worship as we do, get educated where we do, and who earn their living as we do.  At the most mundane level it is often said that the best place for a young man to pick up a date is at a church wedding, because he benefits by association with the joy of the occasion and the trust placed in that institution by its members. A “no” response in a different context might become a “yes” at the wedding.

Rule #3:  As children, content becomes truth when it is delivered by those on whom we depend to survive.

Once imbibed, these childhood-acquired core premises become unchallengeable, eternal truths, the template against which all new information is evaluated.  We quickly learn to block dissonance, any new information that makes us uncomfortable.  As we build the rest of our lives around these core premises, our emotional investment in them becomes such that a challenge to their veracity becomes a challenge to our identity.  There is a crushing need to shut down, shut out, and utterly annihilate such threats, and this need is all the more powerful and insidious because it is experienced subconsciously, as in dis-ease.  We experience anxiety without knowing the cause. 

When you experience something that disturbs you, it may or may not mean it is bad for you.  A bad taste in your mouth may mean a poison mushroom, or it may only mean conflict with the taste of the previous mouthful, in which case you need to cleanse your palate before proceeding.  A mouthful of lemon juice may cure you of scurvy, but it could be intensely unpleasant right after eating a sweet.  Likewise you may have been led to believe that very wise people are looking out for your welfare, and this goes down pleasantly, like a sugar cookie.  You might have had great faith in the honest intentions and competence of Bernie Madoff in handling your life savings, or you may currently be planning an extended retirement on Social Security and Medicare as they currently exist, and it tastes sweet.

Rule #4:  What feels safe and tastes good may be the prelude to the financial equivalent of a diabetic coma.

In every case, we always trusted the source.  The doorman to our mind was sound asleep.  There were red flags about what we believed, but we chose to ignore them.

That’s why I write about labels.  I sit down to lunch with people of all stripes and within minutes I can hear, and feel, the palpable hatred as my temporary companions launch into diatribes about those who think differently than they do.  The emotional intensity and intransigence derives from the speaker’s sense of certainty.  A mere label such as the name of a political party, or particular belief or non-belief excites the passions and invites the derision of the group at the table.  To belong is to share in the laughter.  The opposite is equally true and commonplace; the willingness to blithely accept nonsense if it comes from a trusted source.  We will defend what we have already emotionally invested in.

Rule #5:  It is possible to have a lifetime investment in something that is indefensible by any rational standard.  

How long have we known, and has our government refused to acknowledge, that our Social Security is history’s largest Ponzi scheme ever?

I used to finish reading any book I had started.  Like cleaning my plate at dinner, I felt compelled to finish what I had started.  I don’t always do this anymore.  Life is too short.  I always seek to identify as quickly as possible  authors’ basic premises, and even if I disagree with them, I may continue reading if only because I enjoy the writing style or because an author occasionally drops in a redeeming original thought or new twist on something.  I no longer waste my time filling my mind with garbage, but there is a balance between that and closing one’s mind.  Periodically I have to remind myself to re-evaluate my own core premises to see if they still withstand close scrutiny.  The final questions are always, Who says so? Why?  Based on what?  I am always on the alert for the hidden agenda, the sugar-coated dodge.

If some distinguished authority figure makes claims that appear improbable and  unsubstantiated by the facts as you know them, assuming they know more than you is one possibility.  Another possibility is that they have reasons to be less than truthful on this occasion.

If their explanations more accurately resemble circumlocutions, going round and round in circles and making no particular sense, you could assume that their explanation is too deep for your comprehension, given their special training, or you could also entertain the possibility that their non-answer is because they really don’t have an answer but won’t admit it publicly.

How do you spot obfuscations, disinformation, and hidden agendas?    For starters, unless you’ve taken a serious course in statistics, distrust all statistics.  Most are not scientifically sound and are intentionally manipulated for uninformed public consumption.  I could say there are a thousand ways to do this, but that would not be a scientifically sound statistic.  So we’ll move on.  In commercial matters, follow the money.  In political and institutional matters, follow the power.  Look past the easy answers.  Look past the obvious beneficiaries of a particular group action.  The secondary beneficiary is always the real beneficiary.  The primary beneficiaries receive very diffused benefits.  They are the poster children of the much ballyhooed political action; the orphans, the poor, the children, the unemployed, the elderly, the American middle class, the racial minorities.   The secondary beneficiary receives very consolidated power;  the power to bestow or withhold.   Daddy isn’t interested in your growing up.  Daddy needs you to need him.  Daddy needs to be in control of permissions, punishments and perks.

Rule #6:  If someone is selling invisible clothes, let them run around naked.  

It is better to be underwhelmed by the titles and decorations and positions of power of the so-called experts.  Who even remembers yesteryear’s Nobel prize winners and Treasury Secretaries or Fed Chairmen?  If anyone makes claims that to your mind seem like the Emperor’s invisible clothes, let them wear them.  Plan your personal life and make your financial choices around your own perceptions, not theirs.  They will usually have agendas you will never know about, and disincentives to provide full disclosure or tell the unvarnished truth.  Do they really know better than you how to direct your life?  Most American households’ finances are looking better than the governments, perhaps for no other reason than we can’t print money like the government  does.  We have been acting to correct our balance sheets, to start saving and stop borrowing.  Does that sound like what they have been doing?  Do they care about you, or are they far more concerned about polishing their credentials to the largest blocks of voters?  This goes for anyone who is offering you advice on any subject.  Would you look to the Dalai Lama for guidance on improving your sex life, knowing he is a celibate monk?

In the end it’s the same.  Money is power.  But government is money plus guns.  By guns I mean the police power of the state.  With guns you can seize other people’s money.  If you get enough people behind you, even in a democracy you can decide whose money you will take, and how much of it.  This is REAL power, and this is why groups will spend a billion dollars to secure a position of power that pays only half a million.  The most expensive seats are reserved for those who hold court, who trade in favors and gifts, and who choose the winners and the losers.  These people are not producers; they are looters who talk as if they understand production.

All ideas have a history, and if you follow the thread of an idea back far enough, there are always surprises.  Every opinion, belief, and conviction—indeed every certainty, was arrived at in a certain historical and social context, and made perfect sense to those persons in their place and time, and was almost invariably the partial result of emotional turmoil in the author’s personal life.  In other words, intellectuals, philosophers, clergymen, or brick layers, we are all made of the same dirt.  Ideas all began with real people and every single one of them had problems, issues, and emotional dilemmas.  Some of them were morons.

Rule #7:  Many of the world’s greatest thinkers would be in therapy today.

Ideological sparks at the intersection of the right time and the right population periodically ignited the imagination of masses.   New truths became eternal truths that have often reversed themselves, sometimes over and over again, everyone so preoccupied with the minutiae of their daily routines they fail to notice the intellectual roundabout on which they have traveled for decades or centuries.    The grand ideas  have all come and gone, or splintered and evolved in almost unrecognizable ways, becoming innumerable dogmas and orthodoxies,  and today they make compelling narrative for the history or philosophy buff.  Those who take the time to look more closely are sobered by the awareness that in every time period of history there were those who were willing and eager to kill or enslave those who disagreed with them.    Our current democratic society provides some cultural and legal protections against this, but a basic meanness still often lurks beneath the surface of many human believers.  I hear it in conversations at lunch.

Rule #8:  There’s a troll under many a believer’s bridge.

When belief devoid of thought is extolled as a virtue, doubt becomes suspect, opposing opinions are demonized, dissenters are criminalized, and definitions of the enemy are crystalized.  Hatred is born and mob action is galvanized.  Ascendant mobs become the state. Other groups see opportunities to advance their respective causes by hitchhiking on the coattails of the rising group, with the idea that they will address their important differences after they achieve a more favorable situation in the power structure.   The state attempts to co-opt and harness culturally powerful forces (the most powerful of which is religion) and then moves to consolidate its power by weakening, neutering,  and eliminating competing groups.  There are no enduring loyalties, just the shifting sands of temporarily overlapping interests.

This is why I champion individual rights in my writing.  The individual is the smallest group in the world.  Protect individual rights and you protect the world.  Democracies are the competition and conflict between groups, but history is replete with the horrors perpetrated by one group (even elected ones) on other groups.  Great evil has been done repeatedly in the name of God or in the name of Society.  Even in a so-called free society there is nothing more fear-inspiring than observing an impassioned closed mind reflected in the eyes of another human being, so certain of his ideas in fact, that he will gladly sacrifice your life to prove it.  On their own, they are dangerous and capable of atrocities; organized into groups with their hands on the levers of power (duly elected or not), no one is safe.  Not even the members of their group.  Every group has its purges.

There IS a problem with championing individual rights.  It puts responsibility on the individual.  There is uncertainty, and results are neither equal nor guaranteed.  What is guaranteed is that no group can by itself or backed by the power of the state, make you do or be what you do not believe in.  And you can’t do that to anyone else either.  Not everyone is comfortable with that.

Individual rights are inalienable, meaning you were born with them and do not acquire them by permission from others–no one and no group can morally take them from you, even when those others are infused with certainty about their better idea.   They may seize your property and take your life by force, but they can never do so morally.  Individual rights mean the right to pursue your own life and happiness as your highest values, and you are free to seek and perform work that sustains those values.  This includes buying and selling from whomever you choose, to your own benefit.  Individual rights means essentially the separation of church and state and the separation of economic activity and state.

Individual rights mean the government is there to protect  individual rights of all, and no one is there to serve the government.  Individual rights in practice, of necessity mean small government because there just isn’t that much the government needs to do.  No modern state, including western democracies, will ever pay more than lip service to government based on the sovereignty of the individual because all governments derive their power from the purse, which includes both confiscatory taxation and gross interference with free trade of its citizens.  The power of government is in granting permissions.  That’s where the money is.

Rule #9:  The government’s favorite childhood game is “Mother, May I?”

You can recognize individual rights in action when your government fears to transgress against its citizens.  

Group rights, on the other hand, are acquired by permission from a majority of others in society, and those permissions can be revoked.  The herd sometimes gives little or no notice of intent to stampede.  The primacy of group rights derives from the belief that your highest value as an individual  is not yourself but your contribution to society as a whole.  Individuals can  expect to be sacrificed to the group when the group calls for it. Every single favor demanded of  government by a group always implies a request for the police power of the state to be used against someone else  who doesn’t want to do the group’s  bidding.  Otherwise, if the group could achieve its ends on a voluntary basis, arrived at through negotiation, documented and signed by the parties, why would they need to involve the state?  Groups only need the state to club minority interests into submission.   I use the word minority here in the very literal sense of anyone who does not have sufficient votes to protect their interests. Group rights are the inevitable political legacy of those obsessed with the certainty of their beliefs, so much so that in their minds the ends justify their means.  Sooner or later the means include the confiscation of human life and property by the state–for the benefit of the greater good, of course.  Group rights degrade into group warfare and lead to an indefinitely expanding state, with eventually the state dwarfing all other groups.

Group rights lead to totalitarianism, which is sanctioned and even welcomed by the public in the name of efficiency.  When the cacophony of bitterly opposed groups gets too rancorous and the machinery of the state grinds down, someone with the necessary stage presence steps forward and suggests temporary consolidation of power to get through the political impasse.  We all know the rest of that story.

You can tell group rights in action when citizens fear their government.

So what is my point?  Am I advocating political activism in favor of limited government and individual rights?  Not really.  You can, of course, if you want to.  All I am encouraging is to become aware of what is happening around you, and to be aware of the ideas behind the events.  Keep your finger on the pulse of the politics in your community, your state, your nation.  Be more careful what you believe in, and scrutinize documentation with a critical eye.  In almost every location it is possible to exercise a great deal of personal freedom as long as you don’t make too much fanfare about it.  Love your life, keep your mind open and your passport current, and

Rule #10:   Know where the border is.

Closed minds eventually become closed borders.

 

Why Voltaire?

If you have been following this blogsite, you are aware that it is in a state of renovation under the theme of The New Voltaire.  The revised graphics and other technical goodies are coming.  But much more importantly, I would like to address the question, why Voltaire?

Growing up, Voltaire was one of my heroes.  He still is.  His real name was Francois Arouet.  Voltaire was his pen name.  He had a very strict religious upbringing.  So did I.  He eventually left the church, and became its outspoken critic.  So have I.  He was a writer, a dramatist, playwright; he wrote biographies, histories, books on science.  While my meager offerings pale in comparison with the productivity of this 18th century prodigy, I also am a writer, including non-fiction books, literary economic commentary, and on matters of financial, historical, social, and political interest for today’s non-aligned and non-ideological seekers.

Most of what Voltaire wrote was banned during his lifetime, and therefore he often wrote anonymously.  I also write some things anonymously, as a ghost writer for others whose names adorn my work as the “authors” of record.  In my case, I do this not as protection from a coercive State (at least not yet), but as an artist whose work is commissioned and paid for by my clients.  In other words, it’s called making a living.

Voltaire evidently did not subscribe to the Platonic split of humans into an upper and lower self, a spiritual and material self, and he saw no reason to eschew the material comforts in life.  He was neither stoic nor monastic in search of his higher self.  He held no highbrow distinctions between the sciences, the arts, and the world of business and trade, and he applied himself equally assiduously and successfully to all of them.  This aspect of his character resonates with me, because all my life I have been a writer, but for 35 of those adult years I was a businessman for the simple reason that it provided for my financial needs and aspirations less tentatively than a writing career might have.  Or so I thought. Read more..

Voltaire wrote 56 plays, as well as countless other stories, novels, epic poetry, and what we would today call scientific “white papers”, book reviews, and over 20,000 letters.   But that didn’t prevent him from becoming a successful investor, bond, commodity, and currency trader, and becoming a millionaire by the time he was 40.  With his books banned, he relied on his business income for his lifestyle.

He was a champion of individual freedom, was imprisoned twice in the infamous Paris prison, La Bastille, and both the government of France and the Church were the targets of his rapier wit and excoriation.  He was beaten in the streets by hired thugs while an aristocrat watched from his coach.  He knew the importance of having cash on hand and living close to the border in the event that a hasty exit became necessary.  Voltaire lived in a time and place where the rule of law was arbitrary and capricious and its implementation often viciously politically motivated by those whose primary preoccupation was with the extension of their privilege and power over the masses.  So many laws were being made that virtually anyone could be construed as guilty, and their property could be confiscated by the State, and their life made forfeit.  Interestingly, the finances of the State were in such chaos, that in 1764 a law was passed forbidding publication of any criticisms of the finances of the State.  My oh my, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Much of what Voltaire wrote was set in the context of countries other than his native France, making it somewhat more difficult for his censors to claim that he was criticizing his own government.  Most of what he wrote was published and distributed outside of France for the same reason.

Last but not least, I am forever impressed with Voltaire’s taste in women.  He met Emilie, the Marquise du Chatelet,  in 1733, and eventually moved into the Chateau de Cirey owned by the Marquise’s husband, the Marquis du Chatelet.  Emilie’s marriage to the Marquis was one of convenience, and husband and wife led separate lives and each took lovers.  The Marquis was a military man, and a hunter, whereas Emilie was a genius in her own right, an intellectual worthy of the term.  By the age of twelve she could read, write, and speak fluent German, Latin, and Greek (bear in mind that her mother tongue was French) and she continued on to take private lessons in geometry, algebra, calculus, and physics; she spent her fifteen years with Voltaire studying mathematics, the sciences, philosophy, and metaphysics.  Like Voltaire, she was no ascetic seeking absolution or approval by a life of self-denial; she loved her extensive wardrobe, shoes, and diamonds, sang opera and performed as an amateur actress.  With no taste for gossip and small talk, she had few female friends and intimidated most men.  She met her match in Voltaire, and they were together until she died.

Voltaire was one of the intellectual giants of history, one of the few who defied the orthodoxy of his time and moved the world forward.  Voltaire was a contributor to the Encyclopedie, one of the primary French philosophical contributions to the Enlightenment.  He stood head and shoulders with his contemporaries, John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton.  He was a major intellectual influence on the founding fathers of the great American political experiment, the creation of a republic, the first of its kind in the world,  that championed individual rights as inalienable, and therefore not granted by the State. 

Voltaire’s father disapproved of his son’s choice of vocation; he kept telling him he couldn’t earn a living as a writer.

In today’s world where the omnipotent State is on the march as never before and liberty is perpetually in retreat, the voice of Voltaire needs to be heard, revived, and amplified.  This call needs to be taken up by anyone with a voice, a keyboard, and most of all, a good mind and the courage to use it.  But like Voltaire, do not live just to save the world; learn to love your own life and live in this world.  Keep your sense of humor, keep some cash on hand and remember where the border is.

The Allure of a Label (part 1)

Humans are tribal.  We tend to form groups with common interests.  Each of us experiences a life-long tension between our desire to individuate and our desire to belong.  We may form or join a group, and eventually the group will get a name, a label, to distinguish it from other groups.  Thus is born the concept of us versus them. Read more..

We are born into some groups.  Religion, nationality, family, ethnic or racial groups are examples of these.  Our families are given to us, but we choose our friends.  At different times during our lives we may identify more strongly with groups we have joined by choice than those we are in as an accident of birth.  We may abandon family ties, or change religions, or become citizens of a different country.  Such conversions usually include some rite of passage, some ceremony publicly indicating that we are now a part of this group, and have severed our relationship with that group.  There may be a baptism, or a taking of an oath, or even a marking of our body in some way.  We publicly take on the name or label of our group, and we usually want the world to know of our new means of self-identification.

Over many years or generations, our long-standing association with a certain group may become a matter of great pride to us, a time-honored tradition.  We may no longer even know why our ancestors originally joined this group, but our own membership has been integrated into our  sense of self.  For some, the question of why you are a Catholic or a Democrat or Republican may seem incomprehensible, like why is there a moon in the sky?  It just is.  There doesn’t need to be an explanation.   Our membership is marked by certain traditions, rituals, ceremonies, festivals, and of course, friends.  Over time the why of our membership becomes less relevant.

As the traditions and creeds of acceptable behavior and thinking for members of the group become entrenched, they are treated as behavioral norms, and breaches of those norms are considered deviations and their practitioners deviant.  Deviants are treated differently, ranging from reduced status to outright eviction from the group.  In every religion for example, there are the orthodox devout and there are the cafeteria believers, those who pick and choose which of the rules and beliefs they will actually adhere to.  Most groups will tolerate deviant behavior, particularly if the group continues to receive financial support from the slackers.  What cannot be tolerated is assimilation or loss of group identity, any weakening of the us versus them.  Demonizing the enemy builds cohesion in the home tribe.

Sports Brands

In time all groups degenerate into power struggles, and joining a group allows us to participate in the power struggle either directly or vicariously.  Take for example our fondness for identifying with certain professional sports teams.    We may root for the Baltimore Boas because they have an incredible pitcher and a powerful batting line-up.  But if over the years those special players get traded to other teams, our loyalties do not follow the players, but generally remain with the local team.  And if, God forbid, the owner of the Baltimore Boas uproots the entire team and relocates them to Baton Rouge, we will abandon our beloved Boas and switch loyalties to the new replacement Baltimore Pythons.  So what exactly are we doing here?  We have not attached to a coach, or the players, or any specific group of players.  We have attached to a label.  To a brand.  We exult with their triumphs, and we share the agony of their defeats, and we will argue endlessly and passionately about what they could have or should have done.  We belong.  We are a part of things.  This is our team.  As individuals, we are faceless fans; in the aggregate we fill their stadiums.

Political Brands

We identify with political and religious labels in much the same way.  For example, am I a Democrat or a Republican?  Suppose for example I see myself as a Democrat.  What exactly does that label mean to me?  Does it mean I espouse every plank in this year’s national or local election?  Maybe, maybe not.  Perhaps I believe a woman should have the right to her own body, but I am fiscally conservative and do not agree with bailouts of the big banks, or of our nation’s myriad undeclared wars and projection of force on people who want to self-govern.  Or vice versa.

A hundred fifty years ago, the Democratic Party politically controlled the South, creating and implementing Jim Crow racist laws to maintain white supremacy in post-Reconstruction.  The Democrats were the conservatives of the era, in the sense that their intent was to preserve the status quo power structure, the aristocracy of the slave-holding South.  The Republican Party as we know it today was formed in reaction to this.  At their first convention in 1880, they stated:  “Resolved:  That in view of the necessity of battling for the first principles of Republican government, and against the schemes of aristocracy [the slave-holding South] . . . . we will . . .  be known as Republicans.”

Over the following century, the Democratic Party did an about-face and became the major political force behind the Civil Rights movement.  Would a 1960s Democrat have been proud to call himself an 1870s Democrat?  Probably not.  By the 1960s the parties had flip-flopped and the Republicans had become the conservatives.  Eventually the Democrats lost political control of the South.  The labels changed meaning.  For some Democrats, nothing ever changed.  They were cafeteria Democrats.  They approved of some things their party stood for, and disapproved of other things.  But they were still Democrats.

The same of course is true of Republicans.  They may see themselves as fiscally conservative, but social liberals.  They don’t care if you are gay or not, but they don’t think their government should recklessly forge ahead with more and more debt.  They may strongly disagree with certain elements of their party platform, but to get their team elected they will have to put up with disagreeable content in their party’s platform.  And of course those wanting to lead the parade have no choice but to pander to all significant subgroups.  After the election is over, let the infighting and the scrambling for positions in the power structure begin.  Again, the group will tolerate dissidence, particularly if the financial support of the group continues.  Leadership of groups comes at a price, and clarity of purpose (other than winning), transparency and integrity are the first values to be sacrificed.  The benefit for members is that they get to belong.  Our team.  Our triumphs and our defeats.   Our iconic leaders.  As individuals we are faceless voters; in the aggregate we put leaders into power.

Labels and Group Warfare (Part 2)

Sometimes one group finds it useful to appropriate the label used by another group and adopt it as their own.  Those who called themselves liberals 200 years ago most likely would today identify with the label classical liberals or libertarian to better distinguish themselves from the progressives who arrogated the label of liberal to their cause.  Why is the label so important?  Because folks buy labels.  Once a brand is established and trusted, it becomes invaluable. 

Very broadly speaking, Democrats became known as the party of the poor and minorities.  Republicans became known as the party of the business-rich (not to be confused with Hollywood-rich) and the financially savvy.   For perhaps the majority of voters, once these identifications become fixed in their minds, little or no further research is necessary.  These instant mental associations do not need to be accurate to be effective precisely because they serve as a shortcut for thinking and make decision-making easier.  From the point of their acceptance  on, the only reinforcement that labels need is brief but frequently repeated sound bites in the media.  As with sports, the names may change and even the entire team can be transformed or relocated, but it is still our team.  We are loyal to our brands. Read more..

Because of the blurring of boundaries when using labels, we are often unsure who we should hate.  During periods of intense competition for control over resources, we find our leaders fanning the flames of our differences, because assimilation usually means loss, defeat.  Republicans don’t want their membership showing interest in or empathy for some of the Democratic Party’s platform. (And of course, vice versa.) There can be no weakness, because we have a winner-takes-all system.  The rank-and-file then behaves much like sports fans, learning to hate people they don’t know, people with families like themselves.  There is too much at stake, or so it seems at the moment.  Politics is group warfare, and the grandstanding of the candidates has little to do with the maneuvering for the levers of power in the back rooms of the State.  The power they seek is to control resources confiscated by taxation and regulation of the producers, to be redeployed to the fulfillment of the winners’ personal vision of a better world and rewarding the pillars of their personal power structure.

Racial Brands

When I was growing up, white people called black people colored.  It wasn’t terribly important because in my neighborhood we were friends and we were all just people.  Well, somewhere along the line colored people became blacks.  I never really understood this because a lot of my colored friends were not very black.  They were just not white.  It didn’t matter.  We were friends, we went to the same church, and I thought a couple of the girls were hot.  But our new abbreviated labels made it clear we had been de-peopled.  Dehumanized.  It became easier to know who to hate.  Black versus white.  Us versus them.

Then black people became persons of color.  As Americans we were in search of better, more politically correct labels.  In trying to mitigate prejudice, we became more focused than ever on differences.  Our labels reflected and exacerbated those differences.

At one time, people who came to this country wanted to become, and be called, Americans.  What was important was not where they came from, or where they had been, but what they had become.  This was the New World, and they were thrilled to begin a new life.  The world changed on us again, and today we are distancing ourselves from our homogeneity and resurrecting and re-emphasizing our cultural differences.  People of color have now become African-Americans.  Perhaps this is because some people came here to become free, and others came here to be slaves.   That would certainly have an impact on my attitude.

But the fact is, today none of us regardless of color are free.   There are growing limits on our autonomy and our lives become increasingly circumscribed by the intrusions of the State.  In New York City as of this date, it is illegal to donate food to homeless shelters because the government does not have the manpower to monitor the salt, fat, and nutrition content of the donated food.  Read about it here http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/03/19/bloomberg-strikes-again-nyc-bans-food-donations-to-the-homeless/.   Are there really people who  imagine such micromanagement as being part of the founding fathers’ vision for freedom? The sad truth is, yes there are—a lot of them.  And obviously they have the power to turn their opinions and whims  into law.  One has to wonder, are they really concerned about the nutrition of hungry people, or are they simply trying to starve undesirables out of their city?

Do we want to be perceived and judged as individuals or as members of our group?  Is being a hyphenated American a good thing, or simply one more sign of our fractured society?  If you haven’t traveled much, you may be unaware that prejudices of one group against another are everywhere.   There is no place on this planet that is prejudice-free.  This is just what groups do.  Us versus them.  So by hyphenating ourselves, emphasizing our group-ness, are we celebrating our differences or deepening the divide already between us?  Are our labels the herald of our rise or the stigmata of our fall?  As individuals we might like each other; in the aggregate we can demonize and hate each other.  Divided we fall, while the ascendant State continues to metastasize.

The American Brand

Americans are a group.  What does it mean to be an American today?  What do we stand for?  How would a European watching our elections answer that question?  I used to think being an American had something to do with our Constitution, but today that document seems to change in meaning daily, if not hourly when Congress is in session.  Is there any philosophical bedrock to this racial and ethnic medley called America?  Some few people came here because they were tired of groups, but most came here because they were tired of their group being told what to do by another group.  America meant freedom from harassment from other groups who didn’t approve of your group.  For me, the meaning of the Constitution was simple.  In the words of Erwin Griswold, one-time Dean of Harvard Law School in a speech to Northwestern University Law School in 1960:  “The right to be let alone is the underlying principle of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.”  America was an experiment in upholding the rights of the individual.  America was not about your freedom to conform, but your freedom not to conform.

Our politicians from both sides see that Constitution as a rubber document.  Yes, some of them pay lip service to a strict construction of the founders’ intent, but those philosophical pretensions evaporate as soon as they get their shot at winning a prize for their group.  The Constitution was formed to protect the smallest minority in the world—the minority of the individual.  If you protect the individual, including those individuals we don’t like and don’t agree with, then you have defanged the power of groups.  Individuals need protection from groups.  When we lose sight of that one fact, we have opened Pandora’s box to endless possibilities for injustice and evil.

 

Beware the State (Part 5)

Groups are a mask  for power seeking.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and a group can know no rest until a leader vanquishes all other comers.  Then groups compete with other groups, and groups align themselves in larger and larger packs, until finally nation states emerge.  At every level there is a struggle for power and dominance.  It becomes even harder to maintain power than it is to achieve it.  The vanquished go underground to live and fight another day.   I am forever reminded of the comment of Russell Baker, NY Times columnist, who wrote:  “What I despise the most about all minorities is their implied assumption that if the tables were turned, they would be different.”   Or as Eric Hoffer put it, “It is doubtful if the oppressed ever fight for freedom.  They fight for pride and for power.—power to oppress others.  The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate.”

The strong will prey on the weak.  Government is given a monopoly on the use of force to protect us from those who would harm.  Unfortunately government has always done more harm to its citizens than those others who supposedly threatened.  With a monopoly on guns, government has always found irresistible the temptation to use that power to solidify their position by eliminating their competition.  Read more..

The question has always been how to govern without letting the beast of power out of its cage?  Democracy is not enough, because any majority can and usually will turn on the minority for all the usual reasons.  Majority rule only makes sense if legal restraints are placed on the majority; that some things cannot be decided by majority rule, because some rights are inalienable and not subject to a vote.  The Constitution was the founding fathers best effort to limit the ability of our government to harm us.  Let’s be clear:  what is a government?  A group, that is all, some group of people like you and me with very bright ideas about how to make the world better for you and me, better than we can do on our own.  Of this they are quite certain.  So certain, in fact that they find it necessary to make their notions into laws as acts of coercion.  Every road to tyranny has been built with intentions for the greater good.  Every tyrant has demanded sacrifice for better tomorrows.

Today our national government passes 600-700 new laws every year to define and better refine the wonderful world they are making for us, or the better to protect us from our own foolish longings.  Every citizen in this country breaks laws every day, and should the government so choose, every single one of us could spend time in what is already the world’s largest prison system.  This is the price we pay for a century or more of steadily chipping away at the Constitution’s protections of individual rights.  Why have we done this?  Because over and over again, individual rights got in the way of something a group wanted, and each small victory for a group imposed a burden on others, who sought protection in groups of their own.

Since the State is nothing more than the conflict of groups, do you want to limit the power of those groups to interfere with your life, or would you give those groups free rein?  My experience is that those who are in favor of ever-expanding power of government are the same ones who are confident of final victory for their vision, with themselves experiencing the satisfaction of imposing the vision of their group  on those less enlightened.  There is a word for that:  tyranny.  No tyrant stands alone.  He has the support of groups, each of whom plays the odds as they jockey for advantage in competition with all other groups.  At best, the individual is only a footnote in the annals of history.

Emotional Response to Labels

Look at this list of labels.  What are your associations with each?  What emotions do you experience as you look at each item?  You are experiencing the power of labels, the power of branding, both positive and negative.

 

Drug addict                 Sex molester              Alcoholic

Ex-convict                   Mentally ill                 Tea Party member

Prostitute                     Atheist                         Occupy Wall Street

Televangelist               Lawyer                        Factory worker

Jew                                  Catholic                       Jehovah’s Witness

Social worker              Teacher                       Union organizer

Rich-celebrity            Rich-business           Rich-doctor

Liberal                          Conservative              Socialist

Gay                                 Straight                         Bi-sexual

 

Each label above brings a vivid emotional message to someone’s mind, and that message doesn’t have to have any basis in fact or reality.  Most likely it has to do with identification with one group or another and hostility to the perceived opposite.  Social media is powerful because we find strength in groups.  It is a rare person who is willing and able to think alone and stand alone for any length of time.

Groups use labels to narrow the field of who we are willing to learn from.  Judgment becomes pre-judgment.  Pre-judgment becomes prejudice.  Thinking is no longer required.  We know who the enemy is.  We know who to hate or fear.  The door to civil discourse and scientific inquiry quietly closes.  The individual is helpless.  Power to the people!

Which people?

The group with the control of the most resources; the group with the most access to the coercive machinery of the government; the group with access and control of propaganda, including media and state-sponsored education.  Power is ephemeral.  No group provides eternal safe harbor.  The only enduring legacy of groups is endless struggle for power.  What an irony that America became a magnet for freedom lovers from all over the world because of its Constitutional protection of individual rights, and then became an empire corrupted and mired in group warfare.

 

 

Democrats and Republicans Compete for Magician-in-Chief

I did not watch the first presidential debate when it took place.  I watched it two days later on a video replay.  The first ten minutes, that is.  That was all I could stomach.  This country is at the biggest crossroads since its founding, and the candidates were given two- minute segments of time to address the most complex and dangerous issues.  In some cases the candidates simply ignored the questions and used their time allotment to make a pre-scripted pitch directly to the voters, or to bandy about accusations and labels in sound bite form.  And indeed, there wasn’t much time for anything else.  It was the triumph of form over substance, as indeed is the entire electoral process.  I think we could have learned as much from the candidates if we had turned the sound off and simply watched their mouths move.

Apparently it doesn’t matter all that much.  The country is split down the middle ideologically, with a lot of hatred flowing both ways.  The Democrats and Republicans will vote along party lines, and there’s about 5% of the electorate that is still undecided and could be swayed one way or the other in the final days before the election.  No matter who wins, about one half of the country will be quite certain the wrong choice was made and will be wringing their hands and preparing for Armageddon.  No matter who wins, very little of substance is going to change.  Political debts will come due, and favors will be rendered.  The spoils of victory will be parsed out.  Our military-industrial complex will continue with its global adventures, the Fed will continue to expand the money supply, and the warfare/welfare state will continue in imitation of the universe itself—expanding ever outward.

Congress will pass another 600-700 new laws each year, most of which probably will be read in their entirety only by the congressional staffers who wrote them.  Each of these laws will benefit a focused few that passionately pushed for passage, and will be ignored by the stupefied, confused, and disorganized masses.  And no matter who wins, economists, like trained seals, will flip fantastic numbers back and forth like bright colored balls, orbs containing mostly hot air.  But the delighted crowds will applaud and award prizes to those with the prettiest algorithms and formulas and prognostications.  We will still have millions of unemployed we don’t

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count, debt we don’t include, cost-of-living numbers we manipulate, and GDP figures that mesmerize us—because every dummy on the continent knows we’re going to “grow our way” out of $70 trillion in debt.

When Gridlock is Good

We voters in this land of Oz look on in suspended animation, waiting for someone, anyone, to please perform some magic, some sleight of hand, to make all this go away.  We bemoan the stubborn, irrational, and obstructionist position taken by the other side, and fantasize about how much better everything would be if we didn’t have the political opposition to deal with.  I would caution my readers, regardless of which side of the political aisle you come from, that our nation and our economy is like a big 18-wheeler rig loaded with 80,000 pounds of freight picking up  speed on a steep downgrade,  and the brakes are acting funny.  The only thing between us and certain disaster is the runaway truck ramp, and that ramp is the political opposition.  Why do I say that?  Because our government, and its handmaiden, the Federal Reserve, are making everything worse.  Some congressional gridlock is the only brake on a runaway government that currently exists.  That and an election just three weeks away.  Both sides are going to do a lot of talking, but very little doing.  No one wants to set off a land mine that loses the election.  That’s good for everyone.

The Operation Was a Success, but the Patient Died

Let me illustrate it another way.  Our government is like some incompetent doctors; it doesn’t know when to stop treating the patient and simply let the patient’s body heal itself.  Like that doctor, our government must do something, because the voters expect it.  And like that doctor, our government prescribes unnecessary treatments, increasing the possibility of unexpected side effects and increased possibility of infection.

The voters, like that ignorant, vulnerable and unsuspecting patient, look at their government and demand action. So they get action, and the patient dies from complications of the ill-advised adjuvant therapy.   Is the doctor going to come out of the operating room and approach the survivors of the deceased and say, well, hindsight being what it is, maybe we shouldn’t have done that?  Not in our lifetime.  When the economic sepsis of endlessly printing money triggers all the monitors and this nation goes on life-support or flatlines, the politicos and the Fed are going to put their hands up in the air and say, sorry, we did everything we could.  Nothing worked.  And we voters will grieve and feel sorry for ourselves, or angry at the injustice and unfairness of life.  Who knows, we may even feel sorry for Mr. Bernanke and the experts on his team—after all, they did the best they could.  The government’s very predictable response will be more treatments, for us, those still left standing, some new and better interventions so that what just happened will never happen again.  Of course.  Is any of this beginning to sound familiar?

Political and Financial Sleight of Hand

True sleight of hand requires psychology.  We saw that in the first debate, and we’ll see more of it soon.  This means our candidates need to understand what the voters want, and then they need to convince them that they can have it, in defiance of all odds.  Yes, we can spend our way to prosperity.  There will be no unintended consequences.  As a matter of fact, now that we have belatedly learned this, who needs a budget anyway?  Such unnecessary unpleasantness!

Then comes misdirection, getting the public’s mind off of what you’re really up to.  A good crisis usually serves the purpose, possibly domestic, but preferably foreign—a crisis created by an enemy outside our borders.  If no one is challenging us militarily, we can always invoke some foreign demons of economic warfare. China will do nicely.  Something will have to be done about their being smarter and more efficient at producing the goods we want and providing them to us at lower cost.  This has to stop.  New tariffs, perhaps, to force them to charge higher prices.  Then we Americans will have to pay higher prices for goods produced domestically and less efficiently.  Higher prices means the buying power of our dollar went down.  We just got poorer.  Now there’s a good move to improve the economy!  True, it will hurt your and my economy, but it will do wonders for the economy of the handful of companies who are protected by the tariff.  Their sales go up, their profits go up, and their contributions to their PAC go up.  No crisis should be wasted.   The experts tell us jobs were saved, and that’s what it’s all about right?  Not your job, and not my job.  A handful of jobs were saved, and fees will be paid, but you’ll never see it.  The magician is too clever and he had us looking in the wrong direction when the favors were exchanged.

Timing is important too:  sometimes we need enough time for the amnesiac voting public to forget what we said or promised, or manufacture and release some “good news” before the vote, or deliver the hammer right after the vote.  There is a time to loudly publicize the jobs that were saved, and there is a time to be silent about the domestic jobs that were lost when our foreign competitors retaliate and impose tariffs on our goods we sell to them.  Trade wars have a nasty habit of leading to shooting wars.  But wars are good for our economy.  Think of all the jobs we create or save!

Do Pickpockets Declare their Earnings?

Illusion is important; the voters need to be led to see what they expect to see.  Like magic, something has to come from nothing.  As with every good magician, this usually requires picking the pocket of some unsuspecting someone to please the audience.  We are ready to believe.  We are ready to be persuaded that nothing is what it appears to be.  We need to believe that we can achieve a painless recovery, or at least, with someone else bearing the pain.  Just not us.  If we can  get out the vote, we can make sure we get ours.  It’s not our fault some have more than they deserve.  As we pick the pockets of those above us, it never occurs to us that there are those below us waiting to pick ours.  I can’t help wondering, do pickpockets add to GDP?

Book Review: How We Do Harm–A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America, by Otis Webb Brawley, M.D.

Otis Brawley says that the system of healthcare in this country is not broke.  He says it is “functioning as designed.  It’s designed to run up healthcare costs.  It’s about the greedy serving the gluttonous.”

Otis (he prefers to be called by his name rather than his title) should know.  He is an M.D.  He is a graduate of the Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago, and he completed a residency in internal medicine at University Hospitals of Cleveland, Case-Western Reserve University as well as a fellowship in medical oncology at the National Cancer Institute.  Today he is the chief medical and scientific officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society, and he also serves as a professor of hematology, oncology, medicine, and epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta.

And if I have the misfortune to contract a serious, life-threatening disease, I am going to call Otis and ask who I should go see.  I want him on my side.

But for right now, I am going to refer to him as Dr. Brawley.  Without having personally met him, it just seems more respectful, and this book he just published commands respect.  Dr. Brawley is a brawler.  He has had to be, just to survive, and certainly to achieve the level of professional distinction he now enjoys.  Growing up in the streets of Detroit, Dr. Brawley says that of a group of twelve from his childhood, only three got out.  Nine are dead or serving life sentences.  Dr. Brawley is black.

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Educated by nuns and priests, Dr. Brawley was helped and mentored by many who obviously gravitated to his sincerity and determination.  As a child he learned to duck bullets, and as a highly educated adult, he remains a keen observer of human nature and the nature of his profession at all levels.  He has overcome suspicions of a culture that would exclude him, but he remains empathetic to those who justifiably retain those suspicions.  Dr. Brawley is a skeptic.

As a practicing physician, a scientist and clinical researcher, an epidemiologist, and political activist, Dr. Brawley knows where the bodies are buried (sorry, couldn’t resist), and few are spared in his scathing criticisms of healthcare in America. And Dr. Brawley pulls this off still sounding humble, self-effacing, and passionately dedicated to his cause.  His book is part memoir, part jeremiad at callous and profiteering colleagues, and part exposition of what constitutes scientific clinical research and how findings are corrupted, repressed, or ignored by special interests. Consider:

 

  • America is #1 in dollars spent per capita on healthcare, but 50th among the world’s countries in life span, and 45th in infant mortality rates—behind even Cuba and Slovenia.  Shouldn’t that tell us there’s something wrong here?  Or should we just go to Cuba to have our babies?

 

  • “When you look at outcomes, our health-care system is closer to Communist states . . .

 

  • “Economic incentives can dictate that the patient be ground up as expensively as possible with the goal of maximizing the cut of every practitioner who gets involved.”

 

  • Of the 51 million Americans with no insurance, he says:  “Often they get care of appalling quality or no care at all until they become sick enough or old enough for government benefits to kick in.  As soon as this happens, the system welcomes them as sources of revenue, because even at Medicare and Medicaid coverage rates, you can make money on uncontrolled diabetes, kidney failure, heart disease, and late-stage cancer.”

 

  • Of the wealthy: “If you have more money, doctors sell you more of what they sell, and they just might kill you.”

 

  • “We doctors are paid for services we provide, a variant of “piecework” that guarantees that we will err on the side of selling more, sometimes believing that we are helping, sometimes knowing that we are not, and sometimes simply not giving a shit.”

 

  • “Doctors who own labs have been shown to order more tests than doctors who don’t.”

 

  • Of free prostate cancer screening:  “The blood test is free, but the cascade of follow-up services will ring up considerable sales for treatments that leave guys impotent and incontinent.”

 

  • “I know doctors who are just plain bad.  Why do they continue to practice without impediment?  The answer is simple:  because no one is looking over their shoulders, no one files a disciplinary complaint, no tribunal of peers punishes them unless they do something spectacularly awful. . . our professional societies tend to choose misguided collegiality over the well-being of our patients, the people who trust us with their lives.”

 

  • About patients:  “The majority is placid at best, confused at worst . . . [they] need to understand that more care is not better care, that doctors are not necessarily right, and that some doctors are not even truthful.”

 

  •  The importance of employer sick leave policies:  Some breast cancer patients with enough insurance will opt for a radical mastectomy, because the better option of a lumpectomy requires a regimen of radiation for weeks afterward and the patient can’t get the time off from work to make the appointments.

 

  • “Wallet biopsies”: You receive treatment in the emergency room of a private hospital until they learn you have no insurance.  You fail the wallet biopsy.

 

  • Insurance companies are sued by patients who want a certain treatment, and the insurance company has denied payment because the treatment is experimental or potentially unsafe.  Many patients have won their lawsuits only to discover (or their survivors) that the treatment was worthless and the side effects terrible, even lethal.  Be careful what you pray for . . .

 

  • Cancer treatments can easily reach $1,000,000 or more and surpass the lifetime maximum of a policy, leaving the patient without further recourse, uninsured and uninsurable.  Some, or many, of the treatments that ran up the bill may have been  spurious, ill-advised, or even harmful to the patient, but were cash cows to the providers.
  • Doctors’ pay is increasingly incentive-based, and they are under pressure to overprescribe.  Nurses in their practices are often trained to ask patients leading questions, such as asking a cancer patient if she experiences fatigue.  What cancer patient doesn’t?  This question predetermines an affirmative answer, which then segues into the sale of  a remedy for a novel medical condition ‘manufactured’ by the pharmaceutical company:  “cancer fatigue”.

 

The book contains about a dozen real-life case studies of catastrophic results from poor science and greedy practitioners.   Adjuvant therapy, which is additional therapy that is prescribed after the primary disease has theoretically been eradicated by other, earlier treatments, is singled out for special and extensive treatment in this book.  Adjuvant treatment is performed as insurance against the return of the disease.  Adjuvant therapy is sold as a no-brainer easy and lucrative source of revenue for physician practices and big pharma.  Adjuvant therapy is eagerly accepted by vulnerable, poorly informed,  and traumatized patients who will not be paying the bill out of their own pocket.  Unnecessary and overprescribed adjuvant therapies have inflicted excruciating harm and even killed patients, not to mention exploding  the cost of health care.  There is little or no malpractice risk for even a mediocre doctor as long as the treatment was within “evidence-based guidelines”, guidelines often written by the subspecialties of medicine whose members will profit handsomely from their application.

First of all, cancer survivors have been thoroughly traumatized by their disease and want to do anything to make sure they never have to relive this nightmare.  They are emotionally vulnerable and an easy sale for an unethical doctor who may (or may not) know the desired adjuvant treatment will most likely do nothing good for the patient,   and which  in some well-documented cases has actually done great harm by promoting the growth of new tumors where none existed after the primary treatment was successfully completed.  Many patients get very sick and even die from adjuvant therapies that physicians are all too happy to provide, but were not indicated by a now-symptom-less patient.  The cost of these therapies, for just one patient, can often run into five and six figures.  For a physician with a revenue quota to fill, this is easy money that is rarely passed up.  Ironically, the patients most at risk are the wealthy and the well-insured.  If you are uninsured or poor, you are not part of this particular target market.

In other cases, terminal patients are desperate and will grasp at any straws offered to them, including clinical trials of new drugs.  Very few of these patients are aware that Phase I of a clinical trial has only one purpose, and that purpose is NOT to cure them or even benefit them.  It’s only purpose is to determine the correct dosage of the new drug should it get approved.  Too little and it does no good; too much and it incurs catastrophic results.  Care to guess how the researchers determine what the magic dose is?  They start small and keep increasing it until something bad happens, then they back off from the cliff and hope they can rescue the patient.  In interviews very few patients in clinical studies really understood what was going on, and they were certain they were being cured.

Dr. Browley says the only ethical course for a physician is to “Tell the patient what I know, what I don’t know, and what I believe, and label all three correctly. Patients need to be informed about uncertainty in order to sit out the game or roll the dice.”

Everyone with a good mind and a ninth grade reading level should read this book.  The stories are compelling, even frightening.  The book is an educational tour of what really goes on in the hallways and offices of medicine.   Once we grasp the frightening concept that not  everyone we interact with as a patient is looking out for us but may instead be focused on their own self-interest, we will get off our duffs and take a close personal interest in what decisions we will need to make should we become sick, or what decisions others will make for us.  We also need to become less intimidated or awestruck by our health care providers.  They can be lethal.

Here’s a meaningless statistic of my own for you to ponder:  Fifty percent of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class.  When you are done laughing ask yourself,  was your doctor one of them?  Do you subconsciously judge your doctor by outward appearances?  Is the waiting room of your physician palatial? Is your doctor a prominent social pillar in your community?  Does your doctor belong to your country club?  Is your doctor the department head of  his specialty at the hospital?  Do you find particular comfort in his/her conspicuous affluence and projection of unquestionable almost god-like authority?  What do you really know about your doctor?  The practice of medicine changes by the hour.  Do your doctors stay up with the literature, or were they at their best only the first year they were out of their residency?  If you spent more time checking the references of your interior decorator than you did your physician, Dr. Brawley’s book may give you a few restless nights.  How We Do Harm  is a wake-up call for thoughtful readers.  The practice of medicine is this country is not a transparent profession.

Dr. Brawley’s book is predictably well documented and far more than a handful of mesmerizing, heart-wrenching case studies.  His book provides clinical detail for those who wish it, and if you are not a medical practitioner it is quite likely you will improve your vocabulary, which is always a worthwhile ancillary benefit to reading any good book.  If you are a physician, unless you are professionally engaged on the academic and research side, you don’t want to miss how Dr. Brawley connects the dots between academia,  scientific (usually) research, the pharmaceutical industry, clinical practice, hospital and institutional life, insurance, and, oh yes, let’s not forget the patient.  At every level of our system, ethical issues are constantly confronted, and unfortunately too often the financial incentives are  in all the wrong places.

The book is not an academic white paper; it is not boring.  Dr. Brawley is a good storyteller.  He is an original, and the kind of guy you would love to have as a neighbor or good friend.  The worst things I can say about his book is that in my opinion,  structurally,  it could have been pulled together a little tighter.  I wasn’t always sure where we were going, from one chapter to the next.  And of course, as a patient, at the end of the book, I wanted a prescription.  Where should I go next to find out more of what I don’t know? Perhaps that book isn’t written yet.

I admire Dr. Brawley, his attitude, his competence, his integrity and passion.  Dr. Brawley is an activist, and he believes the solutions lie in a massive grass roots movement to overhaul healthcare in America.  Perhaps I would agree with him if I had gone through what he has experienced.  But absent that, I have to content myself with appreciation for his having raised my awareness of how much we take for granted and how naive and ignorant we are, and I take his book as a call to action for me to educate and prepare myself and my loved ones for the day when  we may have to enter the healthcare system and hope to come out alive.  If each of us does that, we have reduced the problem by one.  Read this book.  Save yourself.  The world will be there (probably) when you get to it.

 

Would Everyone Please Stop Shouting?

“To believe is very dull.  To doubt is intensely engrossing.  To be on the alert is to live; to be lulled into security is to die.”

This quote by Oscar Wilde is the purpose of this newsletter:  an honest inquiry into the nature of what is, a rigorous intellectual effort to sift through the barrage of information, disinformation, and misinformation available; to distinguish the credible from the propaganda, the reality from the rant.  Am I the only one who has noticed that anyone with the temerity to ask any question of political, economic, or financial significance in polite society these days risks being immediately overwhelmed with passionate polemics about Read more..

 this ideology or that political dogma?  Names and labels are immediately brought up which were not mentioned in the question, and the entire conversation is promptly hijacked and redirected to the vilification of opposing beliefs, groups, and parties.

It is the view of this writer that the intense human need for belief, for certainty, and for ultimate truth is probably the original sin, for once armed with such belief, we close the door of our minds to new and possibly contradictory information.  For intellectually honest persons to admit to contradictions would require a re-examination of cherished premises, and an admission that their current perception of reality may be incomplete or (gasp) misguided.  Therefore this newsletter is not an advocate of any group; not the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Tea Party, the Occupy Wall St. party, or any other party.  Nor am I an anarchist, survivalist, or conspiracy theorist.  I have no “position” to defend other than the inviolability of individual human rights.  As stated in the American Declaration of Independence, these rights are inalienable, meaning that they can only be taken from us by force, whether that is at the point of a gun, or voted away by some group with the backing of the State, which enjoys the monopoly on the use of the guns.  The individual is the smallest minority in the world, and rarely does anyone rise up in his/her defense.  It seems the individual is only valued as one member of the herd.  It is the herd, the collective, the group which is championed, and it seems the only rights that matter much anymore are group rights, and civil discourse has deteriorated into group warfare.

We are human animals, and we have survived by herding together into packs either defined by ethnic origin or religious and ideological associations.  As adults we are no different than we were as small children, determined not to commit ourselves to an answer without surveying the level of support we will enjoy if we expose our opinion.  Political correctness is socially enforced conformity.  We see this conformity everywhere, from our college classrooms to our churches to our political parties, and even, or especially, among our media.  The newsroom has ceased to be about news, but only a coveted tool with which to bombard the public with sound bytes of advocacy.  And our politicians have no beliefs until a survey or their financial sponsors tell them what their followers want them to believe.  Actually, what the politicians believe in private isn’t all that relevant, as long as they publicly espouse whatever will gain them access to the levers of power.  Facts and accurate information are rarely sought after in honest inquiry or the pursuit of truth.  These are only the masks we wear to disguise confirmation bias, status and power seeking.

Several years ago I was invited to a friend’s house for a party, and in due course became involved in a conversation with another guest who shared that he was a stockbroker by profession.  Being a financial writer, I welcomed this opportunity to get his learned feedback on some recent financial events.  I asked a question, and for the next ten or fifteen minutes listened to his erudite discourse.  It was only later that I realized that I did not understand one single thing he said.  It dawned on me that this person’s response was not intended to educate, but to impress, motivated by vanity or an ingrained professional habit of selling by intimidation.  (He knows so much more than we do, things that we could not possibly understand, that the best we could do is put our financial future in his competent hands.)  Nothing is more indicative of such motivations than the intentional abuse of statistics and graphs to achieve desired ends.  We are all presumably sophisticated enough by now to approach all such “evidence” with caution.

I became interested in financial literacy when I realized that few were really interested in informing or educating the public, but only leading them to certain conclusions and actions that empowered those controlling the flow of information.  In reading the financial papers and magazines, I realized that society was divided between those few who “know” and the vast majority who will be told “what they need to know” by the talking faces.  I read the Economist for years before I admitted to myself how much of their financial language I still didn’t understand.  When I asked friends and colleagues questions, many of them with advanced degrees, much to my surprise I learned they didn’t know the answers either.  It made me wonder how much of such “communication” is to convey understanding and how much is the use of specialized jargon to impress, confuse, or worse, to obfuscate or conceal real intentions.  Knowledge, after all, is power.  And power is the name of the game.  The world has changed.  Human nature has not.

To my layman’s eye, much of economics has about as much validity as Tarot Card reading.  I went to such a fortune teller once, and I noticed the questions she asked me during our “interview” and how cleverly she fed my own information back to me.  She confirmed my original bias.  I thought she was brilliant.  One of these days I expect the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to show up with a red bandanna around his head, and a gold hoop in one ear.  Is he not doing the same thing, feeding back to us (and his bosses) what we all want to hear, that we can have what we want without the money to pay for it?  We can masturbate our minds as long as we want in this hall of mirrors, but reality still awaits us on the other side of the Exit sign.  It’s not a good sign when our leaders insist on staying inside the Fun House, explaining their actions with impressive circumlocutions.  Which means we haven’t got a clue what they just said.

The desired goal of much communication is not fostering independence of spirit and action, but obedience and conformity.  It is easier to control and move the herd than it is to control independent and well informed minds.  If the explanations given to us by the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, the bankers and investment counselors seem vague, complicated, dubious, or contradictory, how and when do we know if this is intentional or not?  Since they are the experts, who are we to challenge them?  (It is precisely when we feel this way that we should challenge established wisdom.)

To understand how the world really works requires knowledge of history.  There are two things a person needs to know about history.  1) History is never boring.  There are only boring history teachers.  2) History is written by the victors, because real history is the natural enemy of the State.  The State benefits from the shortage of accurate information, and the State always seeks to control the flow of information.  Much of what children are taught in every nation is heavily influenced by what the State apparatus wants them to learn.  We frequently call this public, or State-sponsored education.  History is where we have been, which means history is how we got to where we are.  History holds many secrets, which is why most interested parties are obsessed with requiring more acceptable versions of it.

The internet of course is changing everything.  Access to information, so far, has been harder to control.  The internet does not have the appointed gatekeepers to information as do the mainstream media outlets.  The internet is changing the face of education, and the sacrosanctness of our universities where we fashion the thinking of our thinkers is being eroded by non-traditional sources of learning. Students have increased exposure not merely to what a tenured faculty member would have them believe, but to more unfiltered global perspectives and experiences.  The income gap in the future is going to be between those few with independent minds and the ability to think critically, and those who choose to follow.  With massive grade inflation in the public school system, a four-year college degree today is often the equivalent of a high school diploma only a few years ago.  In the better schools, very little is being taught to actually help the graduates survive in an economic sense, and perhaps the best assets the students have purchased with their parents’ money are the social connections they develop with their classmates.  Some of those classmates will end up in positions of power, and proximity to power often translates into wealth and privilege.

Government is changing because of the internet.  The bargain between any government and its citizens is changing, as it becomes more difficult or even impossible to identify one’s enemies, or to stop them at the borders.  Economics and world trade are changing, and money circulates the globe at the touch of a button, and corporations become bigger and more powerful than nation states.  Financial instruments of trade are created faster than regulatory environments can identify them, and systemic complications threaten to bring the whole system down.

When the body politic is fragmenting and pulling in different directions, when each group is trying to outshout every other group, when everything is for sale, and the wealth of the nation and the future of its taxpayers are up for sale to the highest bidder, who do you want to believe?  And if you wish to cling to a group for security, which group do you want to trust your financial future with?  What happens to your future when your group is outspent by a better funded one?  Which dogma feels safest to you right now?  What does it tell you when a politician raises almost a billion dollars to buy an office that pays $400,000 per year?

There are those who fail at communication because they have a poorly developed ability to put their thoughts in order, to define what they believe, or enunciate the supporting arguments of what they believe.  These are the folks who have not arrived at their beliefs through rigorous and honest evaluation of facts and evidence, but who most likely absorbed their beliefs from their culture at large, meaning the media, family, church, schooling, college professors, friends, work associates, and other influential people.  Any critical analysis they do is mostly criticism of opposing viewpoints, and their analysis is nothing more than a search for information that confirms their existing prejudices.  In today’s information society, to even have a position is to imply that the end of all progress has been attained.

Take for example, the most amazing bias in favor of government intervention in the economic affairs of consumers.  Usually this is framed in David-and-Goliath terms, i.e. that we as individual (David) consumers are not capable of managing our transactions without the government to protect us from the Goliath of global enterprise.  The bias I refer to here, and take exception to, is the belief that government workers are somehow immune to the same selfish striving, the same or similar ulterior motives as anyone, anywhere else in society.  Somehow, by labeling commerce as profit-motivated (admittedly self-motivated), we are granting government an enormous benefit of the doubt.  For more information on this, go to http://www.financialliteracysource.com/money/why-the-federal-reserve-exists/#more-231.

Now if government is populated by the same Homo sapiens as free markets, how is it that only government workers are sin- and greed- free?  Again, history comes to our rescue.  Throughout the millennia of human existence, it has always been government, with its attendant monopoly on the use of force that has enslaved humanity.  The primary concern of the intellectual founders of this country was to protect the future generations from the grasping, insatiable, and inevitably expanding reach of their own government.  The limitation of powers enshrined in the Constitution was to protect us from voting ourselves into slavery.  Democracy by itself provides no such protection.  Nine foxes and a hen voting on what to have for dinner doesn’t bode well for the hen.

We live in a brand new, technology-driven world, a world the founding fathers could not even conceive.  They lived in an agrarian society, which evolved into an industrial society, and we are now in a post-industrial, information society.  Governments can no longer protect their citizens with any degree of certainty, neither economically or militarily.  The enemy is no longer other nation states, but ideologies that motivate and empower fanatics of every stripe to attain their goals with weapons of mass destruction. MAD, or mutually assured destruction policies have been rendered obsolete.  Likewise, financial and political decisions from Wall St. to Greece to Southeast Asia threaten to derail the financial stability of the rest of the world.  The inability of our existing government structures to provide the basic security that is implicit to the bargain with their citizens can in time undermine their legitimacy, a weakness that will be exploited whenever possible by their enemies, both within and without.

The world has never been a more dangerous place; and our future as a species is by no means assured.  This is not fear-mongering or apocalyptic scare tactics:  I have no doubt the people at the hubs of power who know far more than you or I about what goes on behind the closed doors of government and foreign policy would not disagree.

Now more than ever, Oscar Wilde’s probably offhand remark applies in a very literal sense: “To be on the alert is to live; to be lulled into security is to die.”

I am not pretending to be an expert here.  I am 62 years old at this writing, and I have lived a very varied, but always “examined” life.  I welcome your comments and open debate, and so would my other readers.  This re-launch of this website is intended to be your forum, not my pulpit.  Tell us what you have heard, know, researched, read, or wondered about–in the Comments section below.

To assure you stay in the loop, please subscribe by entering your email address at the top right side of the Home Page.  There is no fee or obligation of any kind.  You can expect to hear from my corner twice a month.  Tell me what you want to know more about.  We’ll find someone with some intelligent, understandable answers.

 

An Open Letter to Robert Kiyosaki

 

In case you don’t know, Robert Kiyosaki is the author of the Rich Dad series of books on financial literacy, and he and his beautiful wife Kim are the creators of the board game called Cash Flow, a marvelous financial learning tool for young and old alike.  I am a fan of Robert Kiyosaki.  I met him and his wife in a bar in Pittsburgh, PA.  They are very genuine, down-to-earth, and friendly people.  They are for-profit educators, and they clearly have a passion for their subject.  And yes, I really believe Robert’s story about his rich dad and his poor dad.  I don’t think Rich Dad is a figment of Kiyosaki’s imagination.  So I am a believer.  I don’t make statements like that very often.  I have something to say to Mr. Kiyosaki, a disagreement I want to air with him.

Dear Mr. Kiyosaki:

If you are reading this, you already know we are kindred spirits and I admire what you do and share your commitment to financial education.  In a recent article you wrote that some of your best financial advice is to not be average.  That comment was the source of considerable outrage on the part of your readers, judging by their comments.  Perhaps they wanted your message gift-wrapped in softer language, but I couldn’t agree with you more. 

Very few people truly comprehend the mind-numbing reach and power of their government, and its insatiable appetite for their earnings and its religious zeal to dumb them down and control their lives.  Therefore they do not understand how much the odds are stacked against them in their endeavor to break free from the rat race.  They do not understand that to be average is to have no chance.

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Up until a few years ago, if you were to ask any young person on the streets of the European Union what he wanted to do when he was of age, a most likely response was ‘I want to move to America’.  In Europe it was hard to fail, but it was impossible to succeed in a big way.  Success as in break free, to rise above; to know that your life could embrace more than go to work to the same place at the same time and then come home to the telly at the end of the day, till the end of your days . . .   Success in Europe is measured by your ability to obtain employment with a large firm or the government, work as few hours a week, month and year as possible, protect prices and businesses mostly from themselves, and hope the rest of the world goes away. 

For over a century our intellectuals and thinkers have yearned to take us to the same place.  And our politicians don’t seem to care much one way or the other as long as they get to ride in the front of the wagon. . . . .whatever keeps their free ride intact.  These ideas and ideals have become firmly entrenched in our public school system, to say nothing of the Humanities Departments of our universities that promoted them.  America, like Europe before us, is being suffocated under a wet blanket of bad ideas and the false ideals of altruism and egalitarianism.  In our overweening and fanatical quest for equality, if we cannot bring the bottom up, we are committed to bringing the top down.  We have given up our freedoms in the name of ideas whose consequences we do not understand.  As George Orwell once said, “Some ideas are so preposterous only an intellectual could believe them.”  Until of course, they work their way into the culture at large and achieve acceptance by their sheer ubiquity and mindless repetition.  So yes, Mr. Kiyosaki, if we are average, we have no chance of breaking free. 

On the other hand, one man with courage constitutes a majority.  And this is where I disagree with you.  In your writings you always emphasize the value of cash flow.  I understand what you are saying, but I have observed even in playing your own game of Cash Flow that the only way to break out of the Rat Race is to hit it big with a lucky break,  which means either starting a business or buying an asset (real estate or stock) low and selling it high.  I think there were many, many people during the real estate bubble who were attempting to do just this; catch a wave in order to bootstrap themselves up.  A fortunate few did; most drowned.  The smart ones who caught a wave invested those gains in cash-flowing assets later to preserve their gains.  They knew enough to leave the party early and take their money with them.  In your own case, it would appear the wave you caught (or created) was your invention and successful promotion of your board games and your first book, Rich Dad Poor Dad.  Without knowing what to do with your ideas, your ride might have had very different results.

Luck does have a part to play.  Financial literacy has a part to play; you have to know enough to recognize a lucky break when one comes along, and some clue how to get up on your surf board and ride it.  Cash flow becomes your salvation later in the game, after you have gotten up. Courage matters; the courage to seize opportunities and build on them, or the courage to create opportunities where none appeared to exist.  There is risk involved, risk of failure, risk of drowning.  If you succeed in getting up, you may not change the world, but you can certainly change your life.  In that way you are the one person with courage who now constitutes a majority. 

Whether they succeeded or failed, I take my hat off to all those who tried.  And some of them now have the courage to dust themselves off and try again, a little smarter, and more aware of what they don’t know.  These ones are your, and my, best customers.  Let’s help them weigh the risks and direct their courage.  Let’s help them get up.  And sometimes that means they may find an undervalued asset that they need to buy low and sell high.  Financial literacy will help them get it right and know the risks.  I don’t think we should tell them to walk away from an opportunity.  They have to get up on their board before they can ride the wave of cash flow.  They have to establish reserves they don’t have in the present, and without reserves even a cash flowing asset can be a huge liability if anything goes wrong.  Yes, they are in a bad place and they are coming from behind, and yes, their chances of success are low.  Unless, of course, they’re not average.

Above all else, none of us can give up.  Without our dreams, we are nothing more than peasants under a new name.

I read your books, love your games, and I created the Greenville, SC Cash Flow Club.  I applaud your efforts and the way you lead the financial literacy parade.  If you send me your Fed-Ex-deliverable address, I will send you a coffee cup with a photo someone took of you, Kim, Tami, and I in Pittsburgh all those years ago.

Warm regards,

John Bechtel

 

 

Why the Bank Always Wins

The BIG BANKS, that is.  The Big Banks always win.  And Big Money.  R-e-a-l-l-y BIG Money always wins.  Money so big it moves around the globe swiftly and silently and at the speed of light, and you can’t even attach a name to its owners.  We’re not talking about the neighbor down the street with the new Mercedes that he is so proud of.  We are talking about money so big it can bring down governments, and prop up governments, dictate terms to governments.  We are not talking about the millionaire next door.  Nor am I talking about your lovely neighborhood bank, or even the biggest bank in your state.  I am talking about the people who decide which banks fail and which ones don’t.  I am talking about the people who allow some banks to fail so that  THEY can buy up the failed bank’s  assets with pennies on the dollar—oh, and that’s pennies on YOUR (tax) dollar, not THEIR dollar.  The politicians are their pawns, who are rewarded and punished according to their compliance and cooperation.  The only thing these people fear is, well, YOU.  You are part of the herd, and they fear the herd.  These people don’t like democracy, they don’t like the light, and they only pretend at transparency.

 Empires have always been about the control of the many by the few.  It was said that the sun never set on the British Empire, and the most amazing feat of the British Empire is that it controlled so much of the earth’s surface with the tiniest of military garrisons and outposts scattered around the globe.  In most of those places, if the local populace had risen up against them, the tiny British garrisons would easily have been overrun and sent packing.  They had the greatest navy in the history of the world, but no navy could have kept them safe everywhere, and especially inland.  The secret of their superiority was the quality of their information.  They knew the value of information; they knew that information was power.  The maintenance of power required keeping the masses in ignorance.  And as long as the masses could be fed, amused, and kept poor, nothing would ever change.  It was important to keep the masses poor, because that kept them too busy and too tired to interest themselves in anything other than the tyranny of survival.  And the purpose of empire was to extract wealth from far flung lands and bring it home to a privileged few.

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For centuries there was a great diaspora, or scattering, of Islamic peoples throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Pacific Basin.  These were all tribal peoples who constantly warred against each other and competed for resources.  Since they were largely theocracies, and ruled by their imams, muftis and caliphs, their religious differences (and there were many), resulted in religious wars among themselves.  Occasionally they would unite against a common enemy, and then break apart again to fight each other some more.  If they had ever succeeded in uniting themselves, they could probably have become a world power, but their greatest enemy was their own ignorance.  Most of the populations of these parts of the world were illiterate; they could not read, and they knew little or nothing about what went on beyond the borders of their village or province.  When power brokers sought greater hegemony in one of their regions, the source of their power was always control of the information that got to these people.  Control the information and you control the herd.  People only react to what they know, or what they think they know.

In this country the same applied to the black slaves.  It was a case of the many controlled by the few.  It was illegal in most areas of the south for a slave to be allowed to learn to read.  Education was the enemy.  Why?  Because information is power.  Control the information, and you control the herd. 

Now ask yourself who has been controlling the information in your life.  How much of it have you been carefully spoon fed by the power brokers who benefit by your compliance?  And how much of your own ignorance is of your choosing, because you either think you know more than you do, or you think what you don’t know doesn’t really matter anyway?  Do you have any idea of the awesome consequences of ignorance in this Information Age, when what you know is almost obsolete by the time you have digested it?  Believe me, dear Reader, I am NOT being condescending in asking these questions, but if you are not yet alarmed, you need to be.  You are living through the greatest crisis of the new millennium, and quite possibly the most critical tipping point in the history of mankind.  Our attitude has got to be that we can’t ever know enough, and we can’t stop learning, and we cannot possibly limit ourselves ideologically anymore.  This is no longer a liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican, us-them issue.  This is about survival.  This is about information, and the control of information.

What do you really know about the world you live in?  And how much of what you have taken on faith is true?  Folks, we are IN the herd; we are part and parcel of the masses, and we have no chance of making informed decisions that will affect the rest of our lives, for ourselves and our families, if we go on assuming we are being taught what we need to know.  When have the Power Brokers of the Universe ever indulgently, and out of the goodness of their hearts committed themselves to real education of the masses and full transparency?  The higher you go in any power structure, the greater and thicker the walls of obfuscation and misinformation.  Power always works to perpetuate itself.  The few over the many.  And if you gain any temporary respite, any imagined breathing room, however brief, as you momentarily congratulate yourself that your group, your tribe, your ideology, rides triumphant, remember that the great lesson of history is that it will not last; that it is easier to get to the top than to stay there.  Once in front of the herd, you spend the rest of your existence trying not to be overrun by it.

Let’s take for example, what you think you know about the Federal Reserve.  It is NOT federal, it is NOT a bank, and it has NO reserves.  It is NOT American.  The Federal Reserve Banks are not banks.  And not all of the owners are American.  But they ARE some of the wealthiest people in the world.  So who are they, and who are they looking out for?  Not YOU.  You, dear Reader, only matter as a miniscule member of the herd.  The HERD matters.  The herd makes very rich people much richer.  Control the flow of the information to the herd, and the herd obeys.  You hear this, and you say, well, even if this is all true, this has no relevance to my life.  Therefore, So what??!!

Now let’s take another example.  AIG is an insurance company that insured swaps, which means that there was no money behind the insurance, which there would have to be by federal law if you called the transaction by its proper term:  insurance.  But call it a swap, and there is no cash behind the protection.  When the cards fold at the end of the hand, AIG has no money to honor the insurance that wasn’t really called insurance, and the very powerful creditors had to be paid.  Some of them were foreign banks.  About one year ago almost exactly, AIG posted a quarterly loss of over $60 billion.  You hear these numbers and they mean nothing to you, because they appear to have no relevance to life as you live it.  You say, So what??!!

You watch enraptured as the national debate on government healthcare rages on.  You hear statistics bandied about, but you also know that statistics serve their Masters, and you don’t always know who or what to believe.  The rant is deafening!  The conflicting ideologies are overwhelming.  All you want to do is stay alive and stay healthy.  Yes, you know everyone wants the same, but the chances are if someone is living next door to you without health insurance, you have probably not volunteered to pay his monthly premium for him, have you?  So at a micro-economic level you behave one way.  But in a macro-economic way, you have no problem with someone else paying his premium, do you?

But let’s get beyond the personal for a moment, and put on our educated hat for a moment.  We all understand about supply and demand, right?  At least if you’ve been reading this blog, you do.  We all know that the government subsidizes healthcare, and we all know that the existing subsidies, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as Social Security, are unfunded liabilities to the tune of $67 trillion dollars.  That means in the red, folks.  The mortgage is due and Momma has no money.  Okay, when something is free or almost free (subsidized), Demand grows and lines form.  If Supply was equal to Demand, prices might remain stable.  But unfortunately Supply is limited, largely due to mind-boggling regulation, which strangles the delivery system.  Same old story as starvation in the world; there is plenty of food to go around, but the delivery system organized by governments is routinely compromised.

The paper work becomes more important than the healthcare itself.  A year ago I had a personal experience with this phenomenon.  Shortly after major surgery, I accidentally fell out of my hospital bed.  I was on a morphine feed for pain, and I was hanging over the side of the bed with my head almost touching the floor, and my one arm was tangled up in the tubing connected to my arm.  Somehow through the post-operative fog I found and pushed the red Assistance Button and asked for help, and I was informed by the Shift Supervisor that they would get to me when they finished their reports.  Which they did—25 minutes later!

Back to the principle:  Big jump in demand, restricted Supply = Prices Rise!  When prices rise, lines form, and service is rationed.  My point is, does a knowledge of economic principles help you to cut through all the ideological rhetoric and see things for what they are?  You still have to make a decision for yourself, but you can make a more informed decision.

Now we have been told that the government is not going to replace the insurance companies, but is going to compete with them.  Okay, let’s think about that.  Your family owns a small pizza shop on your street.  The government is going to open up a pizza shop across the street.  If you don’t make any money in your pizza shop, you can’t pay your bills and you have to close and go clean toilets for a living.  If the government pizza shop doesn’t make a profit, they go in the back and print money to pay the bills.  At the end of the day, you tell me who’s going to win and who’s going to lose.  But wait, it’s not that simple.  The government won’t lose.  Of course not.  But the insurance companies won’t lose either.  Why not?  Because they pay their politicians well, and they will be taken care of.  Who knows how, but they will.  So who loses?  You do, TWICE; you lose as a patient, and you lose as a taxpayer.  The government now controls your healthcare, and it controls your healthcare choices.  You have been dumbed down one further notch.  Congratulations.  To listen to the idiots in the media, we don’t really care, as long as we are all dumbed down equally.  After all, we are only members of the herd.  Do you think for a minute that our politicians and the money people behind them are going to be limited by the choices imposed on the rest of us??  Do you still say So what??

The relevance of economic issues is that over a period of time, you are becoming poor, and you will never know how it happened or who did it to you.  You will never see the face of the enemy.  Or if you do, it will be the face of a pseudo-enemy created especially for you.  Life will get harder and harder; you will work harder and harder for less and less.  You may still think of yourself as middle class, but you will live more and more of your life as the working poor.

This article is about why the Big Banks Always Win.  I digressed to give a number of examples of how all through history the many were controlled by the few, and this was accomplished by the control of information to the herd. My examples ranged from the hegemony of the British Empire, to the subjugation of Muslims by their own kind, to control of black slaves in America, to our own ignorance about the Fed, the bailout to AIG, to how our lack of understanding of economic principles in the current debate on healthcare in this country can come back to haunt us in the form of a lowered standard of living.   The first act of all Power Brokers is to control and manipulate the flow of information and disinformation.

Only if  you can understand the link between raw power seeking and the control of information,  can you understand how Central Banks have been engaging in the greatest cash heists of all time, and yet it never gets mentioned in the history books.  As Adolf Hitler once said, history is written by the victors.  Or the Golden Rule, if you prefer:  He who has the gold, rules.

So why do the Big Banks always win?

  • Money came into existence organically, as a natural desire of humans to trade goods and services with each other.  The most tradable commodities began doing double duty as money.  Gold and silver came to be the global currency, because it was universally recognizable, divisible, portable, had high value to weight and volume, with continuity of value over time largely due to a relatively fixed supply.
  • Governments of every description immediately moved to expropriate control of money as the most efficient way to extract wealth from their societies.  Each society developed their own coinage.
  • Governments usually needed more money than they had, usually to finance their endless wars with each other.  They expanded their money supply by minting coins of the same size, weight, and appearance as the originals, but they debased their currency by adding “filler” base metals to make the gold and silver content go farther.
  • Governments eventually linked their currencies to gold as a means to develop sensible exchange rates between their currencies and their trading partners.
  • About 500 years ago fractional reserve banking came into existence, created by goldsmiths who learned they could charge interest on more gold than they actually had by expanding the money supply through warehouse receipts.  The more receipts accepted as the equivalent of gold, the greater the money supply.  The more receipts in circulation, the more interest accrued for the banks.  This accelerated trade, but it also became a license to steal for the banks.  Because under this system the bankers were earning interest on money that didn’t exist, they feared their depositors more than they feared bank robbers.  Banks borrowed from their depositors (repayable on demand) and then loaned this same money out by contract on long terms (months or years).  The banks borrowed short and loaned long.
  • In 1913 The Federal Reserve was created, and the name adopted for it was an intentional misnomer designed to deceive people into thinking it was part of the government.  It was not; it was a cartel of banks patched together to pool the risk of runs on a bank.  Reserve requirements were set.  The big banks now had control of the nation’s money supply.  Since a nation’s entire economy is a function of Supply, Demand, and the Money Supply, the big banks now had their finger on the trigger of the Money Supply of the nation.  The government granted them this authority in exchange for an agreement that the new Fed would buy Treasury debt!!  Now the banks could create money at will, and move it into the economy through loans to borrowers, and they could earn interest on every dollar of that new money.  The government could print money at will also, by creating Treasury Bills and selling them to the Fed.  The Fed had a license to steal, and the Treasury had a license to spend.  A marriage made in heaven.  Without central banks, the modern welfare state would have been impossible.
  • The Federal Reserve System is composed of 12 regional “banks” that are owned and controlled by other banks in each respective region;  a co-op arrangement of sorts.  The only one of these regional “banks” with any power is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  The Federal Reserve System has a Board of Governors  appointed by the President of the United States.  The great irony is that the Fed is an agency of banks, for banks, but when instituted was deliberately misrepresented as an institution subject to government authority to protect the public from Congress and those ‘rapacious commercial bankers’.  The voting public was duped, entirely.  Perhaps now you understand why I went to such great length in the introduction to this material to demonstrate that Power Brokers always begin with the control and manipulation of information and disinformation.  The creation of the Fed was a giant step away from a market economy and in the direction toward centralized, bureaucratic planning and control of the economy.  It was a giant step away from capitalism and towards a mixed economy (and only another half-step to socialism).
  • In 1919 the United States decided against joining the League of Nations.    There was a global power vacuum, and Benjamin Strong, then President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York joined forces with Montagu Norman, head of the central Bank of England, to create money at the Fed, some of which was loaned to European nations, especially Britain. We sent our dollars over through these loans, and then the recipient nations used these dollars to buy American goods from us, thus improving our exports.  At the time virtually all of these nations owed huge amounts of money to the U.S.  The European nations exported their goods to us, and we purchased their goods with dollars, and this gave them dollars with which to repay their debts to us.  It was a round-robin of moving dollars around the table, and it helped maintain the pretense that those nations were in fact going to repay us.  This situation had considerable similarities, IN REVERSE, to our relationship with China less than a hundred years later.
  • In 1944 at Bretton Woods, Maine, the U.S. dollar became the reserve currency of the world.  This means that the dollar became the currency for all transactions and trade globally.  This also meant that the United States could borrow money anywhere in the world, in its own currency, which of course was an invitation to irresponsible borrowing, which we were quick to do during the sixties, when we borrowed to wage the Vietnam War and pay for Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society welfare programs simultaneously.  Our profligate increasing of the money supply plunged the world into inflation, and the system collapsed in 1971.
  • In 1971 we went off the gold standard, and through the IMF and the World Bank, we pretty much took the rest of the world off the gold standard with us.  Since then the world has been on “floating” exchange rates between currencies, mostly controlled and manipulated by individual governments.  The dollar remained the reserve currency of the world, and our presses went into overtime, and have ever since.
  • The United States has borrowed so much money in its own currency from creditor nations, that its ability to repay is being quietly challenged.  Behind the scenes, nations are looking for ways to move beyond the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.  It continues to inflate its money supply by staggering amounts, now borrowing from itself, by the Federal Reserve serving as the U.S. government’s lender of last resort.  The Fed is not the government; it is a cartel of the nation’s largest bankers.  At some point the question has to be asked, what happens when the Fed no longer is willing to loan to the U.S. government?  What happens when we have to print money to pay the interest on the money we just printed?  At the end of the day, the very super rich are ultranationals and they will preserve their own wealth before they will sacrifice it to this nations politicians.  At the moment it serves their purposes to create money and loan it, because they earn interest on every dollar loaned.  When they change their mind, we are looking at the end of the welfare system and the disintegration of our social fabric as we know it.

So why, dear patient Reader, are we not now experiencing hyperinflation, considering the massive inflating of our money supply?  The short, short answer is the effect of countervailing deflationary forces, all of which are holding our economy in the most precarious, nerve-wracking balance.  We are walking on a razors edge.  If we fall to one side, we will have a Depression that will eclipse the one in the 1930s and 40s.  If we fall to the other side, we will experience hyperinflation, probably Zimbabwe style.  Everyone, so far, is hanging together, because the global leaders know that if we go down, we take the world down with us.  No one wants that.  No one is foolish enough to even predict what that would look like.  All we know is that we don’t want to go there.  And in the meantime the rich nations of the earth are violating every common sense principle of economics in the hopes that if they do enough of the wrong thing, it will work this time.  Even though it has never worked before.

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