SB15-039: The Ploy by Colorado Senate Republicans to Privatize Public Lands

The Senate Republican talking points on SB15-039 are beginning to become unravelled.  I guess that was bound to happen, considering the size of the con that they are trying to pull on the Colorado people.  For those who don’t know: SB 15-039 is a bill that is sponsored by Republican Senator’s Cadman and Lambert.  This bill is copied, nearly word for word, from ALEC, a think-tank funded by free market ideologues, billionaires and major U.S. corporations.  In fact, this kind of copy and paste job would quickly get any student immediately kicked out of school for plagiarism.  Read for yourself and compare the bills: Here is SB39  and Here is the identical ALEC bill 


The original Republican talking points concealed their true intentions under the words of “sharing jurisdiction” with the federal government and “managing” the lands in a supposedly better fashion than the federal government.  Senator Lambert stated that this bill would give the state more control in dealing with wildfires.  And, yet, as an article by Democrat Senator, Kerry Donvan stated, Colorado Professional Fire Fighters are opposed to this bill because it would be harmful.  They stated, “Don’t mess with a working system.”


However, the Colorado Senate Republican’s don’t care what the experts in Colorado have to say about public lands; they’ve got a bill to push through from an east coast think tank that has corporate interests in mind, and not the Colorado public.  Furthermore, the Senate Republican’s press secretary, Sean Paige, is beginning to reveal the true nature of the bill as Colorado constituents and the Colorado Senate Democrats started pushing back against their privatization ploy.  In the past few days, Sean has been recycling his past far-fetched tweets.  


Here is a tweet from Sean Paige in February (before he was hired by Senate Republicans)


And here is yesterday’s tweet from the Senate GOP twitter handle 

First off, the nature of these kind of tweets is surreal.  They are essentially blaming the powerful forces of nature (pine beetle and forest fires) on the federal government for not having God-like powers to stop these acts of nature.  Ironically, these acts of nature are nature’s way of managing itself.  These Senate Republican tweets are nothing more than fear propaganda to sell a bill that seeks to privatize public lands under the guise of “we can manage it better.”

We know for a fact that this bill was written by ALEC.  This is indisputable.  So why exactly would a think tank that is funded by large extractive corporations, who are openly hostile to federal regulations and protected lands, spend large amounts of money to craft bills like SB15- 039?  Are we really to believe that these large extractive companies simply want the state to take control of these lands so that citizens can continue to enjoy Colorado’s public lands and wilderness areas?  Wilderness areas and protected lands that will somehow be better managed by a state with far less resources?  

No, these companies fund ALEC (and the campaigns of Senate Republicans) to write these kinds of bills so that states will eventually lease, or privatize, the protected public lands and wilderness areas to them.  That is the ultimate end goal here; the free market is the solution to them.  And their public relations ploy is to fleece the public with tales of “we can manage it better.”  Manage, of course, means selling and leasing protected public lands to the extractive industry because, you know, they believe that free market is the solution for every single problem in this world.

Just last night the Senate Republicans inadvertently revealed this to be true with a reply to my tweet.  My original tweet stated: “Sad that @ColoSenGOP is pushing free market #ALEC legislation under the guise of “managing” #publiclands.  Here is their reply:

  

First, notice how they have to twist the usage of my meaning of free market by suggesting that I am using it as a pejorative.  However, this is not the case; I simply don’t agree that the free market is the solution for every single problem in the world, especially keeping public lands public.  Second, notice how they inadvertently reveal that SB15-039 is, in fact, a free market based “solution.” 

The private market economy is a wonderful mechanism for organizing productive activities.  And, as the Colorado Senate Republicans pointed out, the market economy is, without a doubt, one of the reasons for the creation of the greatest economies in the world.  Few people would actually dispute that.  However, can anyone honestly say that the private market economy is a wonderful mechanism for keeping public lands and protected wilderness areas… public?  

I’m guessing the Senate Republicans who are trying to con the Colorado people right now with this bill are delusional enough to suggest such a thing.  Ideologues have a tendency to emancipate themselves from reality when reality intrudes on their ideological theories.  But in reality… keeping public and wilderness lands public and protected for the citizens’ recreational enjoyment, is the antithesis of a private market economy.  If anybody wants to argue otherwise, feel free…

The saddest part about this Senate Republican con job is that it removes any kind of honest public debate.  As they hide behind their facade, we miss the opportunity to have honest discussions about the limits of the market economy.  As political theorist Michael Sandel wrote, “One of the most striking tendencies of our time is the expansion of markets and market-oriented reasoning into spheres of life traditionally governed by non-market norms.”  Sandel is not arguing that markets are a bad thing, he actually recognizes the greatness of market economies.  But he simply believes that “unless we want to let the market rewrite the norms that govern social institutions, we need a public debate about the moral limits of markets.”  

In other words, do we want our public lands and protected wilderness areas (the commons) to be governed by market norms?  You are likely nodding your head in approval if you are part of an industry that stands to make extraordinary profits from the resources found in these areas.  And you are probably weeping at the thought of oil and gas rigs in these protected areas if you are the millions and millions of people who go to these wonderful national treasures to enjoy your respective leisures.

But, I guess, therein may lie the good part.  Colorado citizens are overwhelmingly in support of protecting Colorado’s public lands for their enjoyment.  Thus, the Senate Republican ideologues who are trying to con the Colorado public by pushing ALEC legislation may just turn out to be their own worst enemy.  

Sincerely yours,

Mark Olson 


P.S. – I have no copy editor, nor do I swim in the donor pools who will give me money to shill for their interests.  Thus my perspective and any grammatical errors above are all mine.

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A Democratic-Republic or the American Empire?

Statue-of-Liberty-Face-Covered-288x260

 

When the word empire is used in the United States it is generally used to describe things like the Roman Empire, or the 19th Century European empires, or the Galactic Empire in the movie Star Wars.  The idea that the U.S. might be an empire is a foreign concept.  Empire is a term that is derived from the Latin, Imperium.  And that is why we hear political scientists using the term imperialist, or imperialism when speaking about empires.  Imperialism is what empires do.  The most basic examples of imperialism that are currently taught in U.S. history and political science classes is what has become known as the “Age of Imperialism” in which nineteenth century empires would dominate and exploit weaker states, generally in the underdeveloped world, and would set up colonies in them to maintain control of their resources.

One thing that is clear is that the old way of empires engaging in colonial imperialism is no longer in existence.  But does that mean that imperialism simply ended after World War II?  Some experts who have studied and written about imperialism argue that the amassing of colonies by the stronger state is the only way the term imperialism can be applied.  Therefore, the U.S. cannot be considered as a genuine empire that engages in imperialism.  Chalmers Johnson, professor emeritus at the University of California, argued persuasively that those who suggest imperialism is no longer in existence are using an “historically circumscribed view” and that “today imperialism manifests itself in several different and evolving forms and no particular institution – except for militarism – defines the larger phenomenon.” Professor Johnson defines imperialism when he wrote, “The simplest definition of imperialism is the domination and exploitation of weaker states by stronger ones” (Johnson 2)

So what exactly is the United States?  What definition should we give to a country that has more than one thousand military bases (or lily pads), located in over one hundred fifty countries, spends more money per year on military expenditures than the top twenty-five other countries combined, and is actively dropping bombs in at least five different countries?  Sheldon Wolin, professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University, writes:

While all empires aim at exploitation of the peoples and territories they control, the United States is an Empire of a novel kind.  Unlike other empires it rarely rules directly or occupies foreign territory for long, although it may retain bases or “lily pads.”  Its power is “projected” at irregular intervals over other societies rather than institutionalized in them.  Its rule tends to be indirect, to take the form of “influence,” bribes, or “pressure.”  Its principal concerns are military and economic (i.e., access to bases, markets, and oil) (191).

Think about that.  One of the most brilliant political theorists in this country, supported by one of the more prestigious universities in this world, is openly writing about the U.S. as being an “empire of a novel kind.”  So why isn’t President Obama and Mitt Romney, or the Democrats and Republicans, or any of the mainstream media sources, talking about the American Empire?  The word empire is rarely ever mentioned by politicians or media pundits even though they do speak about it.  However, the language they use to describe the American Empire consists of euphemisms like, “the lone superpower,” or “indispensable nation,” or “reluctant sheriff.”  And the euphemisms used to describe imperialism are “spreading democracy and freedom,” or “humanitarian intervention,” or “globalization.”  Regardless of these euphemisms, the U.S. has become an empire that engages in imperialism, and the creation of terrorism, the erosion of our Constitutional rights, and the country’s bankruptcy issues are all consequences of empire.

Before September 11th the idea that the U.S. was an empire was only spoken about in far-left intellectual circles.  The global garrison of military bases that was built up during the Cold War was justified as necessary to stop the spread of Russian communism.  But after the fall of the Soviet Union the U.S. did not dismantle most of these bases and actually continued to increase military spending even though the communist threat was no longer in existence.   After September 11th we begin to see even right-wing intellectuals come out and openly admit that the U.S. is imperialist.  Charles Krauthammer of the Weekly Standard writes“We are not just any hegemon.  We run a uniquely benign imperialism…it is a fact manifest in the way that others welcome our power” (Wolin).  This statement begs the question:  Do others really welcome American power?  Surely the oligarchic families that use authoritarian dictatorships to rule their countries, and are supported by American power, welcome it.  But do the common people of third world countries love American power?  Overwhelmingly, American power is being rejected by mass social movements throughout the globe.  All throughout Latin America populist movements have sprouted up and toppled U.S. supported dictatorships in favor of forming democratic governments.  In the Middle East we are seeing “Arab springs” looking to free themselves from dictatorships – the same dictators who received billions of dollars per year in military aid from the U.S. government.  So clearly Krauthammer was only speaking of a certain sector of people who welcome U.S. power.

This last part about U.S. power leads to one of the first serious and unfortunate consequences of imperialism: when the fury of the dispossessed strike back against the empire, and the people living within the empire don’t understand why.  The Central Intelligence Agency invented the term “blowback” to describe this phenomenon that “refers to the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people” (Johnson 1).  The most extreme case of blowback is the September 11th terrorist attacks.  “Terrorism is both a response to empire and the provocation that allows for empire to cease to be ashamed of its identity” (Wolin).  The people who supposedly perpetrated the attacks of September 11th were violently reacting to U.S. imperialism and military occupation of their nation.  This attack then provoked U.S. leaders to retaliate, instead of honestly dealing with the consequences of empire, and by doing so they chose “to repress their involvement in the vast expanse of power of empire and globalization” and propelled our country into the realm of mythology.  This mythology is wrapped up in a good verses evil theme that is predominantly religious in nature.  It has made “terrorism appear [to be just] irrational violence, without apparent cause or reasonable justification” and “[at] the same time, the character of absolute evil assigned to terrorism… works toward the same end by allowing the state to cloak its power in innocence” (Wolin).  Professor Wolin had this to say about U.S. leaders and mythology:

When myth begins to govern decision-makers in a world where ambiguity and stubborn facts abound, the result is a disconnect between the actors and reality. They convince themselves that the forces of darkness possess weapons of mass destruction and nuclear capabilities; that their own nation is privileged by a god who inspired the Founding Fathers and the writing of the nation’s constitution. (14)

This type of mythical thinking can clearly be seen in how the Bush administration tried to convince the public that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was going to use them against us here in the U.S.  However, there were U.N. weapons inspectors who intimately knew that this was not true.  Scott Ritter was one such man when he publicly stated, “I bear personal witness through seven years as chief weapons inspector in Iraq for the United Nations to both the scope of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs and the effectiveness of U.N. weapons inspectors in ultimately eliminating them”  (Ritter).  Stubborn facts abound, indeed.

The mythical response to the September 11th attacks by the American Empire also works to increase terrorist threats, rather than eliminating them.  There are conflicting reports as to how many innocent men, women and children living in the Middle East have been killed or seriously injured by U.S. attacks in their homeland.  Here in the U.S., apologists for Empire simply write these deaths off as “collateral damage.”  However, to Iraqis, Afghanis, and Pakistanis these “collateral damage” deaths are their sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, grandfathers and friends.  And their deaths can only work to increase the hatred of those who are so horribly affected by these U.S. imperialist policies.  It seems like this would be such an obvious concept, but U.S. leaders ignore such simple concepts.  They also have ignored reports from the National Intelligence Agency that have reported that the Iraq war has made the U.S. less safe, and “has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.”

Terrorism and the government’s mythical response to it have also allowed the U.S. government to “quickly expand its intrusive power abroad and here at home.”  Some political scientists are now engaged in asking key questions about whether or not a constitution designed for a republic, and intended to limit power, can co-exist with a totalizing power that reaches across the entire globe.  Professor Wolin writes, “Imperial power is not about restraint” (192).  Therefore, the simplest answer to these questions is that empire and a constitutional democracy cannot co-exist.  A simple example of the Constitution being violated was when George W. Bush unilaterally declared that the nation was “at war” more or less forever against terrorism.  This declaration was a clear violation of Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution which explicitly says, “The Congress shall have the power to declare war.”  The Constitution was set up to strictly prohibit the executive branch from unilaterally declaring war.  James Madison, one of the main framers of the Constitution, wrote of the dangers of continual warfare and the executive branch:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other… In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. . . . [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and . . . degeneracy of manners and of morals. . . .No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare (Madison).

It’s ironic, if not just sad, that most U.S. leaders will praise the Founding Fathers in one breath, and then ignore the hard-learned lessons that they have left for us.  Madison’s warning about continual warfare is hauntingly coming to fruition as U.S. leaders continue to pursue “their involvement in the vast expanse of power of empire and globalization.”

Another example of the American Empire violating our constitutional rights can be seen when the Obama administration recently declared it reserved the right to assassinate any person in the world, including U.S. citizens, without due process of law.  This is by far one of the most extreme violations of the Constitution that any U.S. president has ever engaged in.  Other such violations can be see with the passage of the Patriot Act, the FISA Act and the recent signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allows the government to detain and imprison anybody in the world, including U.S. citizens, without due process of law.  A recent federal court case ruled in favor of seven plaintiffs who sued the U.S. government for violating their First and Fifth Amendment rights by signing the NDAA into law (Greenwald).  All of these bills clearly show that the totalizing power of the American Empire cannot co-exist with a constitutional democracy that is designed to keep power in check.

The last consequence of the American Empire is the bankruptcy issue.  Maintaining a military empire is an expensive business.  Nearly a trillion dollars was needed in 2011 to feed the military-industrial-complex.  This figure is scheduled to increase in 2012, and also excludes the costs of two unfunded wars and Homeland security operations.  Nobel-prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, has estimated that Iraq alone will end up costing the American taxpayer three trillion dollars.  So how will this affect the majority of U.S. citizens?

I say the majority of U.S. citizens because if you are somehow tied into the profit mechanisms of the American Empire then business is booming for you, but you are in the minority.  Professor Johnson wrote, “Our militarized empire is a physical reality with a distinct way of life but it is also a network of economic and political interests tied in a thousand different ways to American corporations, universities, and communities” (Johnson 2).  An example of how this “distinct way of life” and the “network of economic and political interests” tie together can be seen when Professor Wolin writes:

Halliburton’s power begins in Texas, extends to Washington, and then connects with projects (often without competitive bidding) in Afghanistan and Iraq; it returns to the “homeland” enriched and eager to invest its profits in politicians.  Politicians, in turn, become responsive to the new sources of pressure, contributions, and lavish favors.  The district or constituent back “home” shrinks in significance (193).

The thing to keep in mind here is that it was your tax money that enriched Halliburton.  And now they are eager to invest your tax money into politicians who will give them more favors.  Tax breaks for them, and not for you; more bid free taxpayer money for further projects.  This one Halliburton example is amplified in hundreds of other ways.  A quick look at the top one hundred recipients of federal contracts shows that the top twenty are all defense contractors.  So what does this all mean?  It means the people who are not tied into this “network of economic and political interests” are being impoverished because an overwhelming percentage of their federal tax money is being funneled into funding the American Empire and all of its imperialist operations across the globe.  The majority is paying for the American Empire, while a few run away with the profits.  Any person who is tied into any of the social welfare programs that are being threatened in this country with more cuts has a serious stake in this debt-ridden game.  This includes teachers, social workers, police, fire-fighters, nurses, environmentalists, small-business owners, and students.  Countless teachers and social workers are having to accept pay cuts, or are losing their jobs because federal funding is drying up to fund the empire instead of these social programs.  Students are being driven further into debt from the rising costs of tuition at state universities because Federal subsidies and grants to states are drying up to fund imperial operations instead.

The chain of people negatively affected by empire could go on and on, but the point should be clear by now: The American Empire is bankrupting the people of this country.  Since the politicians and the mainstream media never even mentions that the U.S. is an empire, let alone honestly discusses with the public about the consequences of empire, is it any wonder why these “networks of economic and political interests” only seem to suggest that this country is going broke because of social programs at home?

So the real question that “We the People” need to start asking is: a Democratic-Republic or the American Empire?  Which one do you want?  Because you can’t have both.  And it would seem obvious that since Empire is creating more terrorism, eviscerating constitutional law, and bankrupting the people of this country that choosing the Republic and a return to the rule of law would be the intelligent thing to do.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Edemariam, Aida.  “The True Cost of War.”  The Guardian.  27 Feb. 2008

FedSpending.  “Top 100 Recipients of Federal Contract Awards for FY 2011” fedspending.org

Greenwald, Glenn.  “Federal court enjoins NDAA” Salon.com 16 May 2012

Harrison, Todd.  “Analysis of the FY 2011 Defense Budget.”  csbaonline.org

29 June 2010.

Johnson, Chalmers. Blowback: The Cost and Consequences of American Empire.

First Owl Books, 2001.

Johnson, Chalmers. The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic New York. First Owl Books, 2005.

Madison, James.  “The Most Dreaded Enemy of Liberty.”  <www.fff.org/freedom/0893e.asp>

Mazetti, Mark.  “Spying Agencies Say Iraw War Worsens Terrorism.” The New York Times.  24 Sept. 2006.

Ritter, Scott.  “Is Iraq a True Threat to the U.S.”  The Boston Globe.  20 July 2002

Vine, David.   “The Lily-Pad Strategy: How the Pentagon Is Quietly Transforming Its Overseas Base Empire and Creating a Dangerous New Way of War.” Tomdispatch.com. 15 July 2012.

Wolin, Sheldon. Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Princeton University Press, 2008

Ideology Verses Objective Solutions in Healthcare – Part II (update)

Part II – A brief update on ACA.

The ACA has now been up and running for over a year, and I still stand by what I wrote over 2 years ago in Part I.  I left that essay with a… we’ll see how it all plays out.

So let’s take a brief look at how it is playing out.

Democrats are pointing out that costs are coming down for the first time in a long time.  They are also pointing out that millions and millions of people now have coverage for the first time.  It is a fact that the ACA is helping millions and millions of people. I can attest to this because it is helping me.  And I can imagine that anybody who was formerly denied insurance coverage because of a pre-existing condition is incredibly happy today.

However, the part that the Democrats seem to ignore is that there are people who have been negatively affected.  There are reports of small business owners and middle-class folks who have seen large increases in their monthly premiums.  I have a few friends who are furious how much more they are now paying for their monthly premiums.  One of them may have to opt to go without insurance and pay the IRS fine, leaving his family worse off than before.  To make matters worse, the Democrats don’t seem to be addressing their voices, rather when this issue is brought up the Democrats deflect to all the stories of those it is helping.  It would behoove the Democrats to honestly address these voices because not all of the unhappy people are solidly Republican voters.

As for the Republicans, they don’t seem to want to admit that the ACA has, in fact, helped millions of people.  They have been continuously trying to undermine the ACA through congressional acts, and also through challenges to it through the judicial system, with zero regard for the people it has helped.  But, as is obvious, they do not have any solutions to replace it with something better.  Why?  Because their typical “market will solve everything” mentality does not work for the health care industry (for reasons already stated in Part I.)  But their opposition to the ACA is allowing them to win over the dissatisfied people to their side.  

Thus we can see that the Republicans and Democrats are still clinging to their ideology, or respective partisan loyalty positions, rather than seeking objective solutions for the health care issues in America.  So who will have the courage to say what is necessary: 1) the private insurance industry offers ZERO value to our society.  In fact, their business model creates a negative value to society by sucking money out of actual health care spending.  2) A medicare-for-all Part D plan is the solution.  We would save hundreds of billions of dollars per year and ensure that every single person has a basic Part D coverage.  And if you are doing well in life, then buy a private supplemental insurance plan.  A medicare-for-all system would not kill the private insurance companies, but it would certainly cut them down to size.  

But who cares!  We need a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt to bust up these “too big to fail” corporations down to size anyway.  And if you think Washington DC’s Revolving door, and the billions of dollars insurance companies have spent to rig the political system in their favor is a good thing… well, as the saying goes: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”


Yours truly,


Mark Olson

Ideology Verses Objective Solutions in Health Care

As the recent Supreme Court ruling came out partially in favor of the majority of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) an outbreak of debates and speculation spread across the media and into people’s everyday conversations.  There appear to be two main arguments being put forth.  The first comes from the Republicans who don’t want the government to interfere with the private sector and believe that only a market-based solution is the answer.  The second comes from the Democrats who believe that the private sector has failed to address the problems of health care access and that government needs to step in to regulate insurance companies.  However, is it possible that both parties are not honestly addressing the health care crisis because of their own ideological cant?

A basic understanding of economics shows us that a market-based approach to solving the health care crisis is not possible.  And a basic understanding of how the insurance companies operate shows us that banning bad insurance practices and forcing all U.S. citizens to buy their product may also not solve the health care crisis.  The unfortunate casualty of this ideological short-sightedness is all U.S. citizens because the best solution to the health care crisis, a medicare-for-all system, has been ignored in a rush to push ideology ahead of objective solutions.

The conservatives are upset about this bill because they would rather have the government stay out of health care and let the market solve everything.  But have they ever stopped to ask if the market is even capable of such a thing?  Empirical evidence has shown us that it is not a good way to deliver health care because that is not the market’s primary purpose – which is to maximize profits.  A research paper written by two leading public health policy experts, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. David Himmelstein, has also provided evidence to show how the private health industry is increasing costs, and not decreasing costs like the theory suggests it should.

There are a few basic elements that are required for an efficient market to work properly.  In order for the producers to operate under conditions of perfect competition requires a rigorous set of conditions – perfect information, a uniform product, many sellers and buyers, and freedom of entry and exit.  All of these things support the basic idea that sellers are price takers, producing at the lowest possible cost in the long run and earning profits.  In the health care industry the number of sellers is limited and restricted, while the number of buyers is uncontrolled and could be considered almost infinite. Add to this fact is that buyers have no freedom of exit from the health care industry. For example: The buyer says, “Well, I disagree with how much you are charging for a heart bypass, so I’ll just skip on down the street to the next guy who is doing them for cheaper.”

The above elements, along with the massive lopsidedness of information, the monopoly power of hospitals, and the atypical nature of health care are all clear violations of the perfect competition requirements for the market to function as the theory suggests.  Furthermore, in a market the price is supposed to be established not by the buyers or sellers, but through a thing called market forces – supply and demand.  In the health care industry the market forces fail to institute either price or quantity because demand is price-inelastic.  So the market has failed to establish price and quantity and the health care providers have become price-makers.  This phenomenon in economic speak is called, market failure.  So why do Republicans continue to promote privatization of health care if the private market is failing?  Market reform is a nothing short of a joke because of the inherent non-market nature of this industry. And this is all before the insurance companies even step into the picture.

The inherent function of insurance companies is to maximize shareholder value and profits, and not provide health care, as their number one objective.  This basic understanding of the health insurance industry is why the Democrats believed it was necessary to curtail some of their worst abuses.  The New England Journal of Medicine published a research article by three public health policy experts that explains how thirty-one percent of health care spending in the United States is wasted on administrative costs.  To compare, the overhead cost of running the non-profit Medicare system is three percent.  Take a moment to think about that.  Thirty-one cents of every dollar is wasted on profits for insurance executives and shareholders, advertising and the bureaucratic mess of running a patchwork system of for-profit payers.  So why do the Democrats believe it is a good solution to force all U.S. citizens to buy insurance from a system that siphons so much money out of actual health care?

The Democrat’s argument claims the ACA bill is a step in the right direction because it regulates the insurance companies from engaging in bad practices.  Ending rescission policies, ending denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, ending of lifetime caps, and expansion of Medicaid are all good things.  But what of price controls?   According to experts there are no price controls in the bill.  The idea that an insurance company can no longer deny customers insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions is a great concept, but how great of a concept can it really be if there are no mechanisms in the bill to stop insurance companies from charging whatever they want for monthly premiums and co-pays?   To make matters worse, the ACA bill forces all of us to buy into this situation.

The curious fact about the ACA bill is that so few seem to know who actually wrote the bill.  It turns out the majority of the bill was written by Liz Fowler, a former Wellpoint insurance executive.  How comfortable should we all feel that the “solution” to our health care crisis was written by a person with an obvious conflict of interest?  Liz Fowler may be a credible expert in maximizing profits for insurance corporations, but she is definitely not an objective public health policy expert like those who run Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP).

The objective solution to our health care crisis is a basic medicare-for-all system, or a single-payer system as some call it.  A single-payer system is not socialized medicine; it is a non-profit financial mechanism run by the government.  After all, why is a middle-man corporate entity allowed to make billions in profits from the sick and dying?  The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) agrees that implementing this type of system would help solve spending problems and ensure universal coverage. The GAO stated: “If the universal coverage and single-payer features of the Canadian system were applied in the United States, the savings in administrative costs alone would be more than enough to finance insurance coverage for the millions of Americans who are currently uninsured.”  So why is the objective solutions coming from the GAO and PNHP ignored in favor of the solutions of an insurance policy expert?  This question and many more will definitely be things to think about as we watch how the ACA bill unfolds in our everyday lives.

Yours Truly,

Bloomberg, ALEC and Oligarchical Ponies

pony

 

George Orwell once wrote, “[T]he more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity.” [1]  I keep thinking of Orwell’s wisdom when I read people accusing the Colorado Democrats of taking billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s campaign donations and then implementing “his” gun legislation in the Colorado legislature.
Now, I wouldn’t doubt if this claim were true.  I even think I saw some possible evidence of it back in the maelstrom of Colorado’s 2013 legislative session.  Plus, those who pay attention know full well that Bloomberg pushes for gun control legislation.  However, one of the interesting things about this claim is the misguided outrage that is placed on the issue here.  “Oh my God, the Democrats took an already drafted bill from an east coast billionaire and implemented it here in Colorado, word for word!  Stupid socialist, statist, communist, liberal, progressives can’t even think for themselves.”  As if the Democrats are the only ones who implement already drafted legislative bills from billionaires in other states.
Well, in fact, the Colorado Republicans do this too.  In the current legislative session there are four legislative bills that are near mirror image bills that originated from the ALEC organization, a think-tank funded by right-wing billionaires and major U.S. corporations.  For those who don’t know about ALEC read here and here.
For example: SB 15-039 is a bill that is sponsored by Republican Senator’s Cadman and Lambert.  This bill is copied, nearly word for word, from the ALEC’s long list of copy and paste bills.  In fact, this kind of copy and paste job would quickly get any student immediately kicked out of school for plagiarism.  Read for yourself and compare the bills: SB15-039 and ALEC’s Resolution on State and Political Subdivision Jurisdiction Act
A few days ago the Senate Republicans were debating the merits and reasons for Senator Balmer’s SB 15-101 – a bill about employee pay cards.  Here is the ALEC Electronic Pay Choice Act.  This bill is not copied word for word, but it is the exact idea that has been implemented in other states.  And this bill has even created problems in New York, so much so that the NY Attorney General launched an investigation into the pay card option.  
Now, I could go on about the other ALEC bills being pushed by the Colorado Republicans, like Senator Neville’s “Parental Bill of Rights” SB15-077, or Senator Cook and Sonneberg’s SB 15-092 on Carbon Emissions, but this would miss the point that I would actually like to make here.
Both the Bloomberg gun bills and ALEC bills are examples that clearly show why the latest study from Princeton political scientists is exactly right: the U.S. more closely resembles an Oligarchy rather than the often proclaimed “greatest democracy in the world.”  What the in-depth study by Professor Gilens and Professor Page discovered is that the vast majority of policy being implemented in the U.S. are what billionaires and influential corporations want, and not what the average citizen wants.  Thus, today’s heated debates surrounding policy issues such as environmental issues, economic issues, worker’s rights issues, etc, are being driven by the interests of oligarchs.
This is it, folks.  This is current state of our country.  Can it change?  Of course, and the hard task of reforming our campaign finance system comes to mind.  But if you are angered by Colorado Republican, who are simply implementing state legislation that is drafted by billionaires and corporations, or by Colorado Democrats who are implementing bills from billionaire Bloomberg, or taking money from Tom Steyer, make sure to appropriately direct your anger at the oligarchical political system that threw the average citizens overboard a long time ago.  Because, in all honesty, you just look like a silly partisan if you think that “the other” party is the only one doing these things.  Or in light of the Orwell quote above, you have no intellectual integrity.  Partisan hackery has a way of doing that to a person…
So go ahead and pick your oligarchical pony and buy into their proposed solutions for a better future.  Here is the list of the today’s most influential billionaires.  Some of them have the entire ‘we know what’s best for all of society’ package, and others are just pushing a few agendas; like Tom Steyer’s climate change agenda, or Bloomberg’s gun control, or Nick Hanauer’s $15 dollar minimum wage agenda.  And I hear even a few of these ponies have their own personalized re-written versions of history to make their image look squeaky clean (the Jeffco School Board knows a little bit about this.)  So get up on that pony!  Maybe even see if they will give you some extra cash for shilling for them, and ride off into the sunset believing it will pay off.  I’m sure your children will thank you for giving up on the idea of “We the People” and deciding to put your faith in the Oligarchs instead.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Olson
P.S. – I have no copy editor, nor do I swim in the donor pools who will give me money to shill for their interests.  Thus my perspective and any grammatical errors above are all mine.

[1] Orwell, George.  Why I Write, page 1084.

Christmas, the Grinch, Tocqueville and a Personal Insight

 

grinch

 

There is something about the holidays that intensifies the recluse nature in me.  I find the holidays to be annoying, so I would rather hide for a few weeks and wait for it to be over.  I know, I can already hear your response, “Why are you such a Grinch?”  Well, allow me to explain because it goes much deeper than being a Grinch.

The truth is is that the Grinch story doesn’t fit my annoyance for the holidays because I am not opposed to others enjoying the holiday season and don’t want to steal Christmas for others (if you are having an amazing holiday with friends, family and loved ones… I’m genuinely happy for you).  Nor am I greedy, and I generally maintain a good attitude during the holidays.  And suggesting that I don’t like the holidays because my heart must be “two sizes too small” would only feed into my annoyance because that response is an incredibly shallow and misleading answer to what I see as a larger issue, personally and culturally.

I do remember a time when I loved the holidays.  It was a time of innocence and the love of playing with my sisters and cousins, and being showered with love by my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents.  It was a time where the little boy couldn’t wait for the magic of Santa to bring surprises and toys.  So as I walked my dog around the park today I asked myself when it began to turn for me.  When did the holidays turn into an annoyance that feels the same every year in the pit of my stomach?  The answer came to me fairly quickly, and strangely enough it came to me with the help of the wise words of Alexis de Tocqueville that I had recently read in his famous political work Democracy in America.

He begins the book by describing how he was going to trace the roots of the newly created American phenomenon by going back to the colonialist beginnings of America.  The analogy he used to describe why he was doing this struck a chord in me for a few reasons.  One was because I saw how I was going to use his insight to help me in the future as I try to further my understanding of various political and social phenomena here in America, and also because I saw how his insight could be used on a personal level.

Tocqueville’s insight:

After the birth of a human being his early years are obscurely spent in the toils or pleasures of childhood.  As he grows up the world receives him, when his manhood begins, and he enters into contact with his fellows.  He is then studied for the first time, and it is imagined that the germ of the vices and the virtues of his maturer years is then formed.  This, if I am not mistaken, is a great error.  We must begin higher up; we must watch the infant in its mother’s arms; we must see the first images which the external world casts upon the dark mirror of his mind; the first occurrences which he witnesses; we must hear the first words which awaken the sleeping powers of thought, and stand by his earliest efforts, if we would understand the prejudices, the habits, and the passions which will rule his life.  The entire man is, so to speak, to be seen in the cradle of the child.

This insight of Tocqueville is profound in that it was so far ahead of its time.  Nowadays there are psychologists who would conclude that understanding the childhood is part of their every day work with helping adults deal with their personal issues.  My own experience with doing inner work resonates perfectly with his insight.  But this type of critique in trying to understand an “entire man” seems to be scarcely found in our mainstream culture.  One example can be seen in the story of the Grinch.

I don’t want to get too caught up in over-analyzing the original Dr. Seuss story, but I think there is a connection to be made here for my purpose.  I do realize that it is just a children’s story and that it can be interpreted in various ways, by variously different people.  I also understand that the holidays mean many different things to many different people.  However, I also see this story being used all of the time by adults to explain another adult’s dislike or misinterpretation of the holidays.  So that leaves room for me to insert my own interpretation as well.

In the beginning of the story, Dr. Seuss explains how the Grinch hated Christmas, and then explicitly requests that the reader not ask why he hated Christmas and accept that it might be because “his head wasn’t screwed on just right,” or his “shoes were too tight,” but most likely it was because his heart was “two sizes too small.”  The story immediately perpetrates the great error in understanding people by suggesting that we should just accept that the Grinch was an adult with a heart that was “two sizes too small” without understanding any of the social conditions of his youth that may have lead to his contracted heart.

The plot of the story then goes on to further explain that the Grinch simply hates Christmas because he is greedy and dislikes the materialistic nature of Christmas.  And only upon learning that the spirit of Christmas doesn’t depend on material things does he begin to learn about the joy, love and blessings of Christmas – which then results in his heart growing three sizes in one day after 83 years of being “two sizes too small”.  If only it were so simple to understand how to cure a contracted heart.

To go beyond the shallow diagnosis of why the Grinch disliked his society and the holidays would require people to “begin higher up”, as Tocqueville suggested, and first “watch the infant in its mother’s arms” and then try to understand “the first images which the external world casts upon the dark mirror of his mind [and] the first occurrences which he witnesses” and those throughout the rest of his life because all of these things work to create “the entire man.”

In anthropological speak this phenomenon is called enculturation.  Or in other words, his heart didn’t just suddenly become “two sizes too small” later in his adulthood; his prejudices, habits and dislike of society and the holidays began to take form as the child Grinch experienced living in his external world.  By suggesting that his heart was too small without any meaningful understanding of why, and that it is as simple as just understanding the true spirit of Christmas that can cure a contracted heart spreads a dangerously false message.

I’m going to bring back my personal experience to explain why I feel it is a dangerous message.  In the past when I would express my dislike for the holidays the quick answer from a wide assortment of friends, family and co-workers was that I was just a Grinch.  Although, a few of the people that I expressed this with would agree and belly up to the bar with me to share our “Grinchy attitude” together.  But, the issue of being called a Grinch is the message that it sends to the people who may not like the holidays, for whatever their reasons (and there are a lot of them!).  It’s a message that deeply alienates a person for not following along with others.

Take a look at the message that the Grinch story tells:  If you don’t like Christmas it is just because “your head is not screwed on right”, or “your shoes are too tight”, or your “heart is too small.”  What could be more alienating than this?  I can remember how I felt on a few past occasions when somebody, without really thinking about what they were doing, would throw out the stop being a Grinch line.  It only intensified the dislike for the holidays for me and the people who said such things.  I couldn’t articulate why that was so in the past.  And how much worse could it be that the story even suggests to not go deeper into trying to understand the real reasons for why a person may dislike the holidays?  I would never have been able to even begin understanding why I disliked the holidays had I not dug a little deeper.

Today, on my walk, I began to see the beginnings of my dislike and annoyance for the holidays.   Like I said earlier, there was a time when I was a very young boy with nothing but unconditional love and curiosity in my heart.  I remember it vividly.  The holidays were so exciting.  Then it all came tumbling down when my family broke apart.  Like many children of the 80’s to the present, I am a part of the broken family era where divorce and family feuds are as common as the liquor stores and bars of America.

At such a young age the crucial things that would keep me appreciating the joy and blessings of the holiday season were squashed; I was left wondering why I no longer saw one set of aunts, uncles and cousins verses the others; and I was left wondering why my family story was so different than the ones being told in books, TV shows and movies.  It was the beginning of my heart contracting to protect itself from the broken and feuding external world; it was the beginning of the time where I decided I didn’t need anybody in this world because it was much safer to go it alone; and it was the beginning of my dislike for the holidays.

Those are all personal issues that resulted in my own reasons for not liking the holidays.  They are things that I am already dealing with in my own private way.  And they are things that I don’t hold against and blame any of my family members for happening.  But here is where the cultural stories, like the Grinch, enter into the equation to amplify my reasons for disliking the holidays.  After my family went through the divorce and family feud stages we went on as best as we could.  Holidays were never the same for me though.  It turned into a little boy wondering why his world didn’t match the stories of Christmas that were being told by his culture.  And what I am just now realizing is that this experience was the beginning of my distrust for people and the stories that were constantly told about how it was supposed to be.

Here I was as a young boy who had a traumatic experience of watching his family break apart, and in a very short period of time we no longer resembled the perfect little cultural stories that are told in books, TV shows and movies.  So in the following years the stories all started to become so fake to me.  I recognized that my family loved me and I loved seeing them during these times too, but the pretense for why we only gathered once or twice a year was shallow to me.  And the worst part about it was that as I expressed my dislike for it, in a young boys way, the cultural stories would then work to alienate me even more by making me feel like there was something wrong with me – my heart must have been too small, or maybe it was my head that was not screwed on right.

And that leads me to the other danger that the message of the story of the Grinch tells a person: that the antidote to a personal issue is as simple as just opening up your heart to let the spirit of Christmas come rushing in.  I’m calling bullshit on that one.  This is just another example of a long list of Lifetime TV-like specials that suggest life’s problems can be fixed in a half hour time slot, minus the commercials, with simplistic antidotes.

I personally know that it is very hard work, and takes enormous courage and support, to break down the walls that have been built up to protect yourself from a chaotic and broken world.  I was lucky enough to have found that support and the courage to dig deep down into the painful memories that resulted in my heart contracting in the first place.  I’ve been doing this on and off for about 6 years now, and I still struggle to completely understand what it all means.  Imagine now a person who has no support and fails to find the happiness, love and joy of the Christmas spirit as the story’s antidote suggests.  The result is likely to be more alienation and more contraction of the heart.

Also, try to imagine, if you can, all of the other endless stories of people who don’t live in the perfect towns of Whosville with caring family, neighbors and friends who so perfectly understand what the holidays are supposed to be all about.  My parents did the best they could after everything had changed.  I have much love and respect for them for doing everything they could to patch up the family and move on.  But others aren’t so lucky as me and live in much worse situations than I experienced – many live amongst families who are stressed out, deeply in debt, down and out, over-worked and struggling to get by.  Well, by now you should start to see the point I am trying to make:  that the mainstream cultural stories being told about Christmas and the hoards of people who peddle these shallow “happy go lucky” stories are only deepening the alienation of those who dislike the holiday season, much less the rest of the other 350 days of the year.

The last part about dealing with the other 350 days of the year makes me want to expand this essay to touch on the other areas where I see shallow stories, with simplistic antidotes, being spread to address complex issues.  But I won’t go there today, and will save this expansion for another day.  However, I do want to say that I can’t help but see the correlation with people thinking that the mass school shootings could have been stopped with either more gun control, or more people with guns.

I kind of think these folks tend to use the simplistic Grinch-like stories the most to wash away their struggle to understand the deeper realities of how a human came to be.  If only more could take a deeper approach to understanding the “entire man”, as Tocqueville did, we might begin to understand why a person may dislike the holidays, or worse, turn into a monster and kill innocent people.  Instead it is more likely that people will continue to be alienated by the cultural stories and those who choose to peddle such simplistic stories, like the Grinch, to understand complex social issues.