Tag: greed

Confronting the inner teabagger

Read the article at HuffPo yesterday, got pissed and wrote something angry, then went to work. While at work I read some comments, though, admittedly, not all of them, and realized why so many people have a beef with HuffPo. I’m not trying to throw HuffPo under the bus, writing in anger leads to this, and I wrote in anger and put too much trust into a single source. Just because you are using a BIG NAME for a source doesn’t mean that source is right, they are just as likely to misinterpret something as you are. That is human. But there is a difference between misinterpreting and deliberately misconstruing, and since our political guard is always up about deception, and since many of us are partisans, we often frame things within our own pre-made narrative. All of these things I have been guilty of, but who among us can plead innocent among such charges?

More below the fold

The Continuing Saga of Our Broken Health Care System

Over the past several months I’ve continued to document my problems with our broken health care system, particularly focusing on the options provided by those who are either unemployed, disabled, or who work low-wage jobs in which their employer does not provide the option of coverage.  My hope upon doing so is that more people will recognize the depths of the problem beyond just the soundbytes, the smears, and the distortions.  I aim to record the truth, not the fear-based rhetoric that many accept as God’s honest truth.  What I have discovered is that the problem goes much deeper than a position statement and only modestly resembles the demonizing propaganda disseminated by those who would kill reform altogether.  The real issues are just as troublesome, though they are far more ordinary and less inclined to high drama.  

Today’s latest hassle involves a matter of incorrect bill coding.  An insurance claim for lab work was not processed properly, so I opened the mailbox Saturday to find an eye-opening bill for a mere $1,323.  To say that I couldn’t exactly pay it in full would be an understatement.  Along with the bill was an itemized statement listing the cost of the twelve separate tests that were run.  Those who have a chronic illness of their own recognize that upon seeing a new specialist or doctor, he or she will often order several lab profiles at first as a means of eliminating other extenuating circumstances that might complicate the treatment of a primary diagnosis.  Sensible enough, except that many these tests are very expensive.  A test for Hepatitis, for example, cost $366, and a full drug screen cost $217.  Those with excellent insurance never blink an eye about the prohibitive cost, of course, because for them it is almost always covered in full.    

For those with sub-standard or nonexistent coverage, however, the situation is quite different.  As I have mentioned before, I have bipolar disorder, and as such take Lithium to stabilize my moods.  Lithium is a notoriously difficult drug to regulate because the most minor changes in environment or other seemingly innocuous changes will cause the levels in the bloodstream to vary considerably over time.  There is no other way to accurately measure its concentration in the bloodstream except through drawing blood and over the years I have gotten used to it, as best as one can under the circumstances.  Still, I report with much frustration that even a simple Lithium serum level costs $64 without insurance.  Someone who also has bipolar and is living in poverty could not easily afford to spend this kind of money and would likely choose to either go off his/her medication altogether, or stay on the meds and go months without having a lab profile, both of which are extremely dangerous options.    

Dateline NBC: Critical Condition

Critical Condition: Are you covered in case of emergency? These families thought they were

Lessons Learned from the Demise of the Recording Industry

In college I was THE music snob around campus.  Or, at least I thought I was.  Friends of friends would stride up to me in the media center or outside of class, asking my opinion on this release or that release, or requesting names of albums that I deemed worth hearing.  I was, of course, only too glad to oblige, since I practically lived in independently-owned record shops and spent the majority of my meager income on CDs.  To some extent, I was the local in-house expert.  So when the recording industry began to tank, I managed to patch together a few credible guesses as to why it happened and for what reason, but I didn’t have the luxury of a full understanding, the way that only someone on the inside would really know.  

Steve Knopper’s recent book, Appetite for Self-Destruction:  The Spectacular Crash of the Recording Industry in the Digital Age answers most, if not all of my questions.  It is a work of interest to even those who are not ravenous audiophiles, since the music industry took such a massive role in the American consciousness, particularly with the rise of rock ‘n roll, and since its decline, a massive void has been left that has never really been filled.    

Even before reading the book, I had not much in the way of sympathy for the recording industry.  Avarice is one of the easier sins to spot and since it is so omnipresent, we are fine-tuned to detect each and every instance.  Sometimes we are mistaken, but often we are not.  Even a few minutes skimming through the book could provide a tremendous body of evidence for anyone inherently skeptical or openly hostile to capitalism, or at least unregulated capitalism.  What I personally found most interesting is just how many times that the recording industry has crashed, only to revive itself, Phoenix-like based on a combination of dumb luck and embracing the future rather than being stubbornly rooted to the tried-and-true.  

An additional irony to add to all of this is that the compact disc, which revolutionized the industry and temporarily made it wealthier beyond belief, was very nearly vetoed by suspicious major label executives whose reservations primarily stemmed from the fact that they were unwilling to take a chance on something that wasn’t a proven seller.  The demise of the industry is a combination of a metaphorical compulsion to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs and an often childish desire to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face.  In an earlier era, the backlash against Disco brought the industry to its knees, but the invention of MTV  and the promotion of Michael Jackson and Thriller removed it from life support and returned it to profitability.  A decade or so later, billions upon billions of dollars flowed into the coffers due to the adoption of exploitative profiteering.    

By the late 1990s, the record business had boiled down much of the business to a simple formula:  2 good songs +  10 or 12 mediocre songs = 1 $15 CD, meaning billions of dollars in overall sales.  Cassettes, too, gradually fell victim to this formula, and were phased out.  Attempts to resuscitate the singles market, like the “cassingle” and a shorter version of an album known as the EP, ultimately failed.

“It’s no coincidence that the decline of cassettes and the rise of CD burning arose simultaneously,” says Steve Gottlieb, president of the independent label TVT Records.

Despite withering criticism and tremendous hostility at first, once the CD became the chosen format, it quickly became a cash cow, and suddenly all the initial reservations were mysteriously cast aside.  Music industry execs willfully revised the history of the proceedings and sang hosannas, claiming they had been in favor of this exciting new technological advance all along.  But yet again, they never even considered restraint or long-term consequences.

Or, as it is written,

But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! “Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!”

The perverse are hard to be corrected, and the number of fools is infinite.  


In the context of modern capitalism, it would be easy to draw parallels.

Cycles of boom and bust have been our fate over the course of centuries, often for identical reasons.  The difference between the recording industry and the major power brokers on Wall Street is that much thought is given to keep the system profitable and stable, since its lasting health is of paramount importance to all with a dog in the fight.  This doesn’t mean, as we have recently discovered, that the American economy or the Wall Street pirates don’t take dumb risks at times or play fast and loose with otherwise sensible strategies, but most of the time it is fortunately not one unforeseen development away from complete meltdown.  Part of the shock among many during our latest financial crisis was that the existing framework, designed to prevent another Great Depression, completely collapsed, and with its demise came the discrediting of theories that had stood unchallenged for years and years.  Economists will have their theories and counter-theories for years to come, but in this circumstance, how it happened is not nearly as important as the fact that it did.  

Any industry reflects in large part its clientele and those under its employ, and musicians don’t tend to be the most fiscally conservative bunch, nor the most inclined to restrain their impulses.  Record executives often partied as hard as the acts they signed, which often necessitated a desire to keep pumping out inferior product.  And it is for this reason that I believe that the industry has only itself to blame.  Indeed, if there were a way for us to rip apart any major corporate entity, I would surely advocate for it.  This is a bold pronouncement, and I justify it from a moral stance, since the more I read about the way any massive conglomerate functions, the more it makes me want to take a hot shower.  As for the recording industry, major movers and shakers acted like low-level mafioso, and none of them comes across the least bit sympathetic or personable.  I believe that the demand for certain services will always exist and since necessity is the mother of invention, someone with a good idea will step forward to satisfy a need.  In time, the systems proposed by today’s enterprising soul will probably grow corrupt, but I see human progress as a constant cycle of building up, revising, tearing down when necessary, and then building up again.          

To return to the subject at hand, with the CD boom came excess of all kinds.  Major labels hired far more staff than was necessary and in an effort to keep everyone on payroll, they went for the low-hanging fruit in the form of copycat bands.  For every original act, ten sound-alikes were signed, purely to bleed dry the record buying public and generate the maximum possible revenue.  Profit became more important than discovering new talent and facilitating musical advances.  It was this degree of sustained unethical business practice that led frustrated consumers to embrace wholesale file sharing and illegal downloading of music files.  Though the industry managed to shut down Napster, Pandora’s Box had already been opened and it has never been shut.      

To summarize from the book,

Labels were fat and happy, although some executives worried about a market peak.  “You have the huge infrastructure of people…on a ton of floors and all of a sudden you’re stuck with these huge costs.  And its harder to cut people than it is to hire them,” says Lyor Cohen, chairman of the Warner Music Group.  

“All these companies did was try to find fabricated s**t so they didn’t go through having to let people go.  Then you go into an era of fabricated, highly promoted, highly advertised stuff–it’s very flimsy, it sells quickly, and we’re also hurting our credibility with the long term music lover.  And then [the fans] go away to college.”

Teen pop was one last squeeze of the sponge to get the world to spend millions and millions of dollars on compact discs.  It wouldn’t last.

As for the music industry, well, Knopper seems to think that it has finally destroyed itself for good.  I wouldn’t disagree with his conclusion.  What I am waiting to see is what means of music dispensation the future will provide.  Today we cling to our ubiquitous iPods with the omnipresent white ear buds.  If recent history reveals anything, it promises that in the immediate future we’ll be using something else altogether.  As for the established powers, the industry itself is in a bit of a death spiral, running in a million different directions, desperate to find a Messiah.  I admit I do feel pangs of nostalgia at times for the excitement I once felt when looking forward to the latest release by a favorite band and the gratification of buying a CD copy to take home.  Still, there’s enough of the DIY anarchist left in me that enjoys the ability to focus more on live music and the amateurs who play for the love of it, not for the love of money.  I have always been a believer that there is something eternal about art; art always survives.  In stating this, I note that I have always believed that it simply isn’t compatible with capitalism and never really will be.  Some of the most awkward compromises I have ever observed attempt to bridge the gap between the two with minimum success.

When we discuss change in any context we find that its enemy is a system designed to resist, not facilitate reform.  I honestly can’t think of any gathering or organization off the top of my head whose stated agenda is to eventually pass along the torch to new ideas and new generations.  Change we can really believe in is not change in the abstract, rather it is change that is both well said and well done.  It may be against human nature to predicate any organized group on the assumption that incorporating new strategies and new plans of action is a matter of course, not just a a good suggestion and an interesting proposal worthy of contemplation.  Pushing forward in time rather than stubbornly clinging to the here-and-now is a discomforting notion to some, since we often relish control, and in so doing believe ourselves to be obsolete to some extent the instant when we pass the baton, but it is the only way we will ever accomplish anything worthwhile and lasting.  

We as humans are frequently paradoxical creatures, and each of us wishes to leave our mark, to some extent.  We prefer edifying experiences, shall we say, in which we might be remembered by subsequent generations and thus find a way to live forever.  Here in DC, this is evident by the number of public buildings bearing the name of some elected representative or all around important person.  For a time, people might hold close to them the memory of someone who rose to a position of high authority or accomplished something supremely influential, but the passage of time renders that memory fainter and fainter.  Eventually, inevitably, most people see merely two proper nouns and a building, not some rich legacy of accomplishment.  Our greater accomplishments might not be measured in individual achievement, but in the immeasurable elements that go well beyond personal gratification.  The edifying tendency keeps those who have always had power from sharing when it justifiably becomes the duty of a younger generation to take the reins.

We often are confused because our hearts lead us one direction and the world leads us another.  The world tells us to put our own selves first and our heart compels us to use our talents and gifts for the betterment of others.  Perhaps those things that do not threaten another person, no matter how unintentionally, and cannot be perceived for any reason as a direct challenge to someone else’s competitive spirit and personal insecurities are those that truly stand the test of time.  The memory of sales figures may fade and so too a lifetime’s worth of legislative accomplishment, but a contribution to the ongoing business of finding ways for people to live in peace proves to be immortal.  Proposing the means to co-exist based on love and not fear will live on beyond a few paltry decades.  Compassion and kindness cannot be commodified or copyrighted, nor should they, else they soon be the domain of the archaeologist.    

Daring to Dance to No One’s Funeral

Taking the time to contemplate the vast amount of right-wing smears that have been either facilitated, advanced, or concocted by conservatives over the past several months is an overwhelming task.  Within each of these petty, partisan, often nonsensical parries and thrusts I am reminded again of the excesses of the Pharisees.  Wishing to have everything on their own terms and in accordance with every selfish demand, modern day Pharisees are found not merely in the opposition party, but regrettably sometimes among our own ranks, particularly in the form of people who fail to neither understand nor respect the vast amount of indignation felt when crucial reform legislation is watered down or vaguely outlined due to nothing more than political expediency and self-preservation.  If this sort of thing was limited to politicians, it might be more easily challenged, but one sees it everywhere.  Most recently, those well-connected business types who long ago lost their souls in selling the whole world are also guilty as charged.


Another Health Care Horror Story: Big Pharma Edition

At the outset of putting fingers to keys this morning, I wasn’t intending to write about this topic. I changed my mind, however, because if one more documented instance of Big Pharma’s greedy, hypocritical, exasperating behavior means that we might all benefit from substantial and lasting health care reform, then I am certainly not above sharing my personal story. In particular, this highly frustrating anecdote refers to the unnecessary hassle it has been to obtain one of the three medications I must take on a daily basis to effectively treat my illness. This forthcoming narrative also underscores the perfidy of the industry itself and, in particular, its automatic assumption that anyone who uses its free or reduced cost services must be trying to cheat the system. It shouldn’t surprise any of us by now that this underlying attitude somehow isn’t portrayed in the self-serving television advertising advancing the program’s merits.

You may have seen the commercial. It was pretty ubiquitous for a good long while. A soothing voiceover, couched in hushed tones meant to intimate gentle sympathy, states that American’s pharmaceutical industry might be able to help those who are uninsured attain their prescription drugs at a deep discount. We are led to believe that an imaginary bus tour is underway, looking for all the world like the kind favored by political candidates on their way back and forth from event to event. A series of different looking people from all walks of life announce proudly their allegiance to their own particular state of residence. A man who once led a daytime TV show which frequently showcased the results of paternity tests and established the true identity of baby daddies smoothly performs his role as spokesperson. That this ad aired constantly in the immediate period before Health Care Reform became a political and ideological football was no accident. The implication was that Big Pharma could regulate itself just fine, thank you, and not only that, the industry was so altruistic as to offer medications for needy Americans without need of government arm twisting. I admit at the time I viewed these ads with much suspicion, but after I unexpectedly lost my Medicaid coverage at the end of July, it was an option I had no choice but to pursue, since paying $700 a month out of pocket for a thirty day supply isn’t exactly an viable alternative.

Matt Taibbi – Sick and Wrong

This is a teaser. Read the whole thing here.

Sick and Wrong

How Washington is screwing up health care reform – and why it may take a revolt to fix it

By Matt Taibbi

Let’s start with the obvious: America has not only the worst but the dumbest health care system in the developed world. It’s become a black leprosy eating away at the American experiment – a bureaucracy so insipid and mean and illogical that even our darkest criminal minds wouldn’t be equal to dreaming it up on purpose.

The system doesn’t work for anyone. It cheats patients and leaves them to die, denies insurance to 47 million Americans, forces hospitals to spend billions haggling over claims, and systematically bleeds and harasses doctors with the specter of catastrophic litigation. Even as a mechanism for delivering bonuses to insurance-company fat cats, it’s a miserable failure: Greedy insurance bosses who spent a generation denying preventive care to patients now see their profits sapped by millions of customers who enter the system only when they’re sick with incurably expensive illnesses.

The cost of all of this to society, in illness and death and lost productivity and a soaring federal deficit and plain old anxiety and anger, is incalculable – and that’s the good news. The bad news is our failed health care system won’t get fixed, because it exists entirely within the confines of yet another failed system: the political entity known as the United States of America.

Just as we have a medical system that is not really designed to care for the sick, we have a government that is not equipped to fix actual crises. What our government is good at is something else entirely: effecting the appearance of action, while leaving the actual reform behind in a diabolical labyrinth of ingenious legislative maneuvers.

Over the course of this summer, those two failed systems have collided in a spectacular crossroads moment in American history. We have an urgent national emergency on the one hand, and on the other, a comfortable majority of ostensibly simpatico Democrats who were elected by an angry population, in large part, specifically to reform health care. When they all sat down in Washington to tackle the problem, it amounted to a referendum on whether or not we actually have a functioning government.

It’s a situation that one would have thought would be sobering enough to snap Congress into real action for once. Instead, they did the exact opposite, doubling down on the same-old, same-old and laboring day and night in the halls of the Capitol to deliver us a tour de force of old thinking and legislative trickery, as if that’s what we really wanted. Almost every single one of the main players – from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Blue Dog turncoat Max Baucus – found some unforeseeable, unique-to-them way to fuck this thing up. Even Ted Kennedy, for whom successful health care reform was to be the great vindicating achievement of his career, and Barack Obama, whose entire presidency will likely be judged by this bill, managed to come up small when the lights came on.

We might look back on this summer someday and think of it as the moment when our government lost us for good. It was that bad.

WWJD about Health Care? aka. Where are the Good Samaritans?

What would Jesus Do about Health Care?

Good Question.

Well it sounds, like he understood how Sick People need Doctors:

Mark 2:17 GWT

When Jesus heard that, he said to them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor; those who are sick do. I’ve come to call sinners, not people who think they have God’s approval.”

(emphasis added)

GOP Health Care Obstructionists, are you Listening???

The Pharisees, thought they were doing God’s work too.

Imagine their surprise when this upstart Carpenter, from the old neighborhood, dared to stand up to their blatant self-righteousness … and dish back to them some cold, hard truth …

Heartless bastards

Clueless, arrogant, cynical, stupid, greedy, heartless bastards.

It Has to Stop!

I think some the angst I’m feeling comes from my fear that, even with our historic victory, that too little will change in time to make a difference.  Generals always want to fight the last war, while politicians want to wage the last campaign.  It’s easy to look backward and hard to look forward, and far too few seem to realize the extent to which the stakes have been raised.  Our circumstances have really become quite dire.  That doesn’t sink in easily for the many who want to pretend that the world is always going to be the way it’s always been.

The politics of yesterday are not going to serve us any longer.  We need more than change.  We need more than a mid-course correction.  We need the crazy to stop.

And I don’t mean just slow down a little, or be a little less crazy.  I mean it has to stop.  We have to reverse course in this damned country, not just modify it somewhat.  


“almost homeless”

Wearing ‘almost homeless’ sign, ex-executive seeks work

Paul Nawrocki says he’s beyond the point where he cares about humiliation.

The Next Financial Mess!!

Dealing in Debt!!

Everyone, almost, is in a complete Rage at what is happening, and has been allowed to happen by not only soft regulation but the ease on any regulation in the Banking Industry, Morgage Industry, Wall Street, and in a Rage you should be.

But want a better picture of the who got us here any why, leave your computer and go to the nearest mirror and take a Good Hard Long Look at the reflection coming back, Yep Folks, it’s most of you, and the rest of the shit hasn’t yet hit the fan, but it’s quickly coming!

Remember the clowns you hire to represent you in Washington, and local and state, are your clowns, you pay them.

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