Crisis is Over, Forgive, Forget, and Don’t Repeat

White House spokesman Jay Carney said there were no winners in the shutdown feud.  That’s true from my point of view as well.  Oh, there is relief that it’s over but there’s also amazement that it lasted so long.  You almost feel grateful until you realize it’s like being happy that some mugger didn’t kill you.  

The President and John Boehner have said there are no hard feelings, and I’m sure they mean it.  Now that it’s over, I’m willing to forgive and forget too–I’ll forgive the politicians but I won’t forgive the shady PACs with their dark money.  I see them as the enemy at the gate.  

That’s why somewhere along the way it occurred to me that if I could do something to help, I should.  In the process, I took the chance of looking like the blogger with imaginary visitors.  If you had any idea how much time and energy I’ve spent trying to avoid that kind of situation, you’d know how worried I was about the default.  I really resent those who forced that fear on me and on the world.  

By the way, the idea that I could do something began with that article about the stock of a certain company.  When I wrote it, I was under the impression that I didn’t have enough visitors to influence a stock price.  Coincidence maybe… 

Anyway, now that the crisis is over it might feel like we’ve avoided a horrible fate when in reality we’ve spent two weeks dreading an economic collapse, worrying our friends and creditors and wasting time that we could have spent talking about something else.  We didn’t really avoid it at all.  We lived through everything but the actual default.   

President Obama has said the new bill would insure the government no longer operates in crisis mode.  If anything would make the last two weeks worthwhile, it would be that.   Congratulations to the President and all those who kept a cool head.  

 

 

It’s Time for an Executive Order

According to the Daily Kos, Fitch just put the U.S. on a downgrade watch. [ref name=”Fitch puts U.S. on Downgrade watch”]Clawson, Laura, Fitch puts U.S. on downgrade watch, Oct. 15, 2013. Available: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/10/15/1247581/-Fitch-Ratings-puts-U-S-on-downgrade-watch [/ref] That’s it. They have already waited too long. It’s time for the President to issue an executive order to avoid default, and I’m not the first to suggest it.

The House still has to vote on their new bill, and then the Senate. This won’t do. We have to seriously consider that this Republican faction intends to take us down.

The Republicans Really Are that Crazy

If it is true that the conversation about healthcare has focused too much on who pays for it, it’s also true that American business is right to be concerned. Healthcare legislation affects employers. However, the conversation gets messy when the recipients of healthcare dollars weigh in on the same side as industry and business. This has happened through campaign contributions. For example, insurance companies are among the top ten contributors to Republicans fighting Affordable Care, even though the same politicians have gladly accepted donations from business and industry. This conflict of interest was demonstrated when business lobbies failed to bring an end to the government shutdown. In fact, the Republicans have obviously chosen to turn against the country as a whole.

Because of the disconnection between the PACs and think tanks, and the voters’ ability to punish them, the threat of default is real. If you seriously considered the employee walkout I recommended yesterday, it looks like the mere threat would not have been enough to stop it anyway, and Thursday would have been too late. An employee walkout would have to begin immediately to make a difference. Again, employers who fire employees as a result would have to be boycotted. I leave it up to you.

If we survive this manufactured crisis, there is still a lot to talk about concerning healthcare. Consider the work Public Citizen is doing on a single-payer plan. This plan doesn’t involve a fight to repeal Affordable Care. States can already create their own healthcare system under the ACA.[ref name=”Single Payer Movement”]Sterrett, Dave. Public Citizen Reignites Single-payer Movement. Public Citizen News. September/October 2013. Available: http://www.citizen.org/pc_news_issues/2013/current/files/assets/basic-html/page1.html[/ref]

Will Business Leaders Take This Lying Down?

I have recommended that taxpayers cut off discretionary spending as a response to the government shutdown and looming default.  However in the last week there has been little Congressional response to the lobbying efforts of business groups.  There is a simple explanation for that: the shutdown is fueled by ideology rather than political and economic expediency.  It has come to the point where a radical group of Republicans feels free to ignore the money interests that helped get them elected.   Unfortunately, they are still listening to the biggest of these money interests, think tanks and PACS which are run by people who don’t have to worry about votes or balance sheets. 

Take, for example, Ted Cruz.  He would not be a Senator today without the help of The Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund.  Together, in the 2014 cycle, they gave him $1,021,648.  This is more than 55 percent of his total contributions.  His other top contributors are banks, lobbying firms, and of course Goldman Sachs.  You might expect Goldman’s input since his wife is a vice-president there, but the bank shows up as a contributor to other radicals as well.  Cruz wants to wipe out Affordable Care.  What he doesn’t say is that it won’t affect him either way; he has health insurance from Goldman Sachs through his wife.  Then there is the other disturbing contributor that keeps coming up when you look at the finances of Cruz and others in this radical group, Berkshire Hathaway.  

Before I get to the main point of this post, I would like to point out the irony of this situation.  Business has always thought it had an alliance with the Republican Party, and against the rest of us. That is, against employees.  Consumers they like.  They didn’t seem to object when women were being called sluts, maybe because they sort of liked the idea of not having to pay for employees’ birth control.  And of course, they’ve always been fine with holding down the minimum wage.  A weak labor union is a good labor union.  Affordable care?  Not if it means they have to pay.  And yet it never occurred to them that the stingy, mean, unjust spirit behind this thinking would turn on them.  What did they think would happen?

On second thought, my main point might backfire.  I was going to suggest that business use its clout to end this, but who would they be most likely to help?  We already know the answer to that question.

If the Congress hasn’t resolved this by Thursday I recommend the following: no one goes to work, no one drives, we buy only necessary food items. Employers who fire anyone at that time for any reason should be boycotted.  

[I don’t have positions in Goldman Sachs (GS-PC) or Bershire Hathaway (BRK-A).] 

Update:

I’ve been thinking about my recommendation.  I don’t think it was too extreme considering the seriousness of the threat, but because  I wouldn’t be risking as much as many of you I’ve decided it’s not a good idea.  Things seem to be looking up so it may never have come to that, but at least I can remove the stress of thinking about it.  

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

Forget About Saving Face: Open the Government and Extend the Debt Limit

After reading Eric Alterman’s article in The Nation, [ref name=”Saving Face: Falsely Balanced Accoutability is the New False Equivalence”]Alterman, Eric, Saving Face: Falsely Balanced Accoutability is the New False Equivalence. The Nation Magazine. October 11, 2013. Available: Saving Face: Falsely Balanced Accoutability is the New False Equivalence[/ref]I think I’ve been influenced by those calling for face-saving gestures from the Democrats.  Such gestures are necessary, they say, so the Republicans will let the government carry on its routine business.  

In any relationship, face-saving politeness is cause for concern–both for those who find themselves being excessively polite, as well as for those on the receiving end of the politeness.   Politeness toward those responsible for the government shutdown begins to look like the behavior reserved for an abusive spouse.  It’s based on fear.

If we want to discuss negative tendencies in government, we’d eventually have to include both parties.  However, theoretically, the government is us. Fear has no useful purpose in it. Still, it is increasingly difficult to police the government, mostly due to the role of corporate money.  And corporate money favors the Republican Party.  You would think they would be more worried when even large amounts of money are not enough, and hostage-taking becomes necessary.  

But let’s assume for a moment that the Republicans have a point when they say the President won’t negotiate with them any other way.  Ignoring the fact that Affordable Care is the law the next questions ought to be, do Republicans have a better answer to the medical crisis, and do they really care whether the poor have healthcare?  Apparently not, judging from their rhetoric and previous legislation.  

Alterman is right…we should forget about the face-saving.  New memo to the Republicans: Open the government and extend the debt limit.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

Speaking of Affordable Care: Big Ideas at the Town Hall

If you were hoping for a debate over Affordable Care on September 25 in Phoenix, you would have been disappointed. What was clear at the town hall conducted by Mayo Clinic and ASU Foundation was the panelists’ exasperation with the political debate about who pays for medical care. Contestants are so wrapped up in their squabbling that substantive issues never enter into it. In the meantime, people are dying.

How might people spend their time if they don’t feel compelled to debate the Affordable Care Act? They might address the problems that still exist regardless of whether the Act goes into effect.

The panelists at Wednesday’s meeting were ASU president, Michael M. Crow; Mayo Clinic Vice President and CEO, Dr. Wyatt Decker; and Dr. Richard Carmona, Surgeon General of the United States from 2002 to 2006. This town hall was part of a collaboration between Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University, but similar collaborations have been taking place with Mayo in Rochester and Mayo Clinic in Florida. Although Mayo Arizona has been working with ASU for about ten years, there was a new development in June of this year, a $1 million grant awarded to Mayo Clinic by the American Medical Association. Mayo Clinic is one of eleven applicants who received the grant, part of the AMA’s Accelerating Change in Medical Education program, aimed at the creation of a new model of undergraduate education, but its effects will go beyond these eleven schools. Selected schools will form a learning consortium to spread best practices to other schools. ((Mayo Clinic News. Available: http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2013-rst/7539.html))

The panelists were all justifiably proud of Mayo’s record. First, Mayo Clinic is the safest teaching hospital in the nation. Also, Mayo’s costs are lower. Lower costs were attributed to the fact that doctors are employed and not in private practice, so they don’t benefit from any procedures and tests they order. And Mayo charges a flat fee for procedures. This means that if there is a poor outcome, it is the clinic that loses money, not the patient and her insurance company. Great care is taken to make sure things are done right the first time around. For more on Mayo’s Model of Care see: ((Mayo’s Model of Care. Available: http://www.mayo.edu/pmts/mc4200-mc4299/mc4270.pdf))

However, in spite of Mayo’s good record, none of the panelists claimed to have the answer to the medical crisis. On the contrary, they made it clear that the system is unsustainable and that it can’t be saved as it is–not by money nor by increased efficiency.

Not only is the system unsustainable, it is self-perpetuating. In other words, it is difficult for those already in the system to think of a way to solve its problems. Therefore, their goal is nothing short of the creation of a new kind of person through educational reform; a new kind of doctor with a broad and comprehensive understanding, not only of the medical system, but of human behavior and the structure of society.

I appreciated the humility of the panelists in the face of the looming medical crisis, but I hope this town hall was merely the beginning of the discussion because I have a few concerns.

Dr. Crow shared a quote to the effect that industries fail because they don’t understand what people want. I would hope the panelists remember that the survival of the medical industrial complex is not the concern of medical consumers. If the industry is at fault in this crisis, maybe it should fail.

He also stated that the system used to work, but because times have changed it no longer does. Is this true? What is the definition of a working system? I’d like more discussion about that.

Finally, I would like to suggest that the proposed additions to the curriculum are part of the old way of thinking Mayo is trying so hard to escape: evolutionary theory, psychology, cultural anthropology. I’ve discussed some of the problematic ideas that stem from these disciplines, but my main objection is they’ve been used to justify the categorization and control of human beings. They shouldn’t be accepted without question.

I think the town hall was a positive start, so I say these things in the spirit of a conversation. The panelists’ initiation of this conversation certainly beat the competition in the House of Representatives.

Now about Affordable Care. Although nothing was said about it at the town hall, Mayo’s FaceBook page does provide a link to a video with the following information: The clinic estimates that doctors will see a decrease in payments for services of at least 10 to 20 percent. On the patient side, insurance premiums will go down but many policies will have high deductibles, ((cnbc video: Mayo Clinic and Affordable Care. Available: http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?play=1&video=3000201514&6415814=1.))

Of course, insurance policies already have high deductibles. If the Republicans have plans to improve that situation, they aren’t saying.

Hermes Trismegistus and American Healthcare

The process by which Hermes’ caduceus came to symbolize medicine is full of confusion and mistaken associations. There may have also been an element of guile worthy of Hermes the trickster.

Hermes Through the Ages

Ancient historians knew of several different Hermes. Their characteristics vary, yet it is often assumed that all traits belong to the same god. Dr. Walter Friedlander separated historical accounts of Hermes in this way:

1. pre-Homeric Hermes
2. Homeric or archaic Hermes
3. Traditional or classical Hermes
4. Thoth
5. Pseudo-Hermes Trismegistus or Hermetic Hermes.

Pre-Homeric Hermes

Pre-Homeric Hermes was associated with stone boundaries, or Herms. Herms were phallic symbols and thought to avert the evil eye. This Hermes was a fertility god, but not a vegetation god. He was a psycho pomp and so was associated with ghosts. Herms were often put at crossroads.

Homeric (or Archaic) Hermes

In Homer and Hesiod, Hermes may have had weak ties to medicine. He cured impotence, bestowed sleep, and brought the dead to life. He continued to be a psycho pomp, but he was also a messenger, ambassador, bringer of good luck and wealth, the god of athletic contests, and inventor of shoes. He taught people how to make fire with sticks, played the lyre and pipe or syrinx. He had bawdy humor, was a schemer, a thief, and associated with the number four.

Traditional or Classical Hermes

There are two divisions for Classical Hermes; traditional Hermes and Hermes-Thoth.
The attributes of archaic Hermes persisted in traditional Hermes with changes in emphasis. In both versions he was a messenger, psycho pomp, trickster, inventor, and craftsman. He was concerned with those who used the roads, those who bartered, and those who wanted to prophecy. But he was explicitly made more than a messenger. The biggest change from the archaic was the emphasis on commerce and merchants. He became the inventor of buying and selling. This was probably the influence of Rome, which resulted in Mercury’s power becoming identified with the Greek Hermes. Hermes was not adverse to lying and fraud. Basically, he had characteristics that were not unique to healers.

Traditional Hermes

According to Greek myth, traditional Hermes was also involved in the birth of Dionysus and several others, often taking the child from a dead mother. The Roman Aesculapius was himself the son of Coronis and Apollo. In a jealous rage Apollo killed Coronis, not realizing she was pregnant. Apollo then sent Hermes to deliver the baby while the mother lay on her funeral pyre. (It is possible that Aesculapius was considered a healer because of his association with the goddess Hygeia.) Hermes also delivered a baby from the dead Callisto. He delivered Pan, Helen, and Heracles. He assisted in the birth of the Dioscuri, Castor and Polydeuces. Aristaeus was the keeper of bees, son of Apollo and Cyrene. Hermes took him to Gaia and Horae, the hours or seasons, who fed him nectar and ambrosia and made him immortal.

Hermes-Thoth

Both Hermes-Thoth and Hermes Trismegistus were Egyptian. In the 5th century B.C. Herodotus referred to Hermopolis as the place where ibises were buried, and where Thoth was worshipped. Hermes became associated with Thoth through the Greek creation story. The gods ran to Egypt in fear of Typhon and disguised themselves as animals. Jupiter was a ram, Apollo a crow, Bacchus a goat, Juno a cow, Venus a fish, and Mercury was an ibis. Greco-Roman authors assumed on the one hand that the Egyptian god Hermes-Thoth had different characteristics than Aarchaic Hermes, but they spoke of them as one. Much of Egyptian religion was connected with magic and so Thoth probably had more connections to medicine than Greek Hermes.

Hermes and Thoth Compared

Thoth’s other attribute was a scribe for the gods. He was Thoth, lord of writing and of books, at least by 2900 B.C. Thoth was the heart and tongue of Ra, or the reason and mental powers of Ra, and the means by which his will was translated into speech. However neither archaic nor traditional Hermes were the mind of Zeus. Thoth’s wisdom had to do with accumulation of knowledge, but also with prudence of heart. He invented astronomy and math. His statue was in the library of Egyptian scholars. Both Thoth and Hermes were associated with magic, but Thoth’s magic was that of a serious god, the essence of right and truth, not a trickster. Plutarch and Diodorus Sisulus thought Egyptian Hermes was a psycho pomp, but did not consider that to be a characteristic of Thoth. It is not clear why the Greeks chose to associate the two.

Pseudo-Hermes Trismegistus or Hermetic Hermes

Two additional characters became identified with Hermes-Thoth, philosophic pseudo-Hermes Trismegistus and alchemic pseudo-Hermes Trismegistus. These together are Hermetic Hermes. According to Clement, both Plato and Diodorus Sisulus attributed invention of the arts, philosophy, science and medicine to Hermes Trismegistus. However, he is connected to western medicine mostly through alchemical medicine.

Hermes Trismegistus and Medicine

There are actually three Hermes in the Hermetic Corpus. About the second century A.D. there appeared writings ascribed to a certain Hermes Trismegistus. Friedlander thought the true authors may have been Egyptians teaching philosophy and religion with the ides of Plato. They lived near Alexandria and may have been influenced by Jewish, Persian and/or Gnostic thought. The oldest philosophical/religious text was not written before 100 B.C. Most were written by 300 A.D. and all were written by 400 A.D. They were put together by 1050. A “huge historical error” was derived from these writings when Lacantius (260-340 A.D.) and Augustine (354-430 A.D.) accepted Hermes Trismegistus as ancient and authoritative because he predicted the rise of Christianity.  Friedlander thinks Philosophical Hermes is connected to medicine mainly because of Augustine and Lactantius and this may be why some European doctors in the 16th century began to use the caduceus.

Three Times Great

In 1182 Robert of Chester said that there were three Hermes, and “three times great” was changed to “triplex” or 3-fold, although in Egypt, “Three times great” had been an honorary title for Thoth. Chester said the three Hermes were Enoch, Noah, and the king-philosopher-prophet reigning in Egypt after the flood. Francis Bacon repeated this idea and said that King James (1605) was a king-priest-philosopher.

Alchemical Pseudo-Hermes

Alchemical pseudo-Hermes came into being some centuries after the philosophical one, although alchemy was known in earlier times. Alchemical Hermes Tristmegistus was considered authoritative since the 7th century, although he is not currently distinguishable from the philosophic Hermes Tristmegistus. Egyptian alchemy claimed to change metals into gold, based on the theory of transmutation, which was based on the “unity of matter”. This required the use of a tincture–the philosopher’s stone. Greco-Egyptian alchemy came to Europe by the 12th century by way of Arabia.

Mercury was considered an essential element since ancient times. The symbol is the same for the element Mercury and for the god Hermes/Mercury. In the field of medicine, Paracelsus (1493-1541) replaced Galenic medicine and its humors with three principles, sulfur, mercury, and salt. Mercury was the spirit, sulfur was the soul, and salt was the body. In medicine, alchemy tried to heal by correcting the body’s chemical process.

Alchemy and the Soul

American General Ethan Allen Hitchcock (1798-1870) said that alchemy concerned the soul.  This was popularized in the literature of psychology by Herbert Silberer and Carl Jung.

The Caduceus in the United States

In the early 20th century a debate arose in the United States over the appropriateness of the caduceus of Hermes as a symbol of the medical profession. Fielding Garrison and Colonel John Van R. Hoff, U.S. Army retired, defended its use. Others, such as Colonel C. C. McCullock Jr., Medical Librarian of the Surgeon General’s Office said it was not appropriate. There were also dissenting articles in medical publications. However, the defenders of the caduceus symbol in medicine were unmoved by arguments against its use. The U.S. recognized the caduceus as a symbol of medicine in 1917, although some organizations later returned to using the staff of Aesculapius. These include the American Women’s Medical Association, the Arizona Medical Association, and the Medical Library Association. (This may explain why Mike Stathis mentions Arizona’s Mayo Clinic favorably.)

A Connection Not Mentioned by Friedlander

One connection that has not yet been made with Hermes’ caduceus concerns the historical struggle by male doctors for supremacy over traditional female healers. Hermes, a male figure loosely associated with medicine, may have been useful in the efforts of the men of “science” to replace women in the healing arts, although the question remains as to why they chose Hermes rather than Aesculapius.  Perhaps Hermes’ other attributes, such as his connection with commerce, were important to them.  In Europe this process took place earlier than in America, which would explain Europe’s earlier use of the caduceus. The last bastion in this assault was female midwifery. In America, Garrison’s defense of the caduceus took place about the time a new anesthetic, “twilight sleep”, was being offered to women who gave birth in the hospital. The changeover from midwives to male doctors continued during the decade following the adoption of the caduceus of Hermes. Hospital birth had largely replaced midwifery by 1930.

Among medical professionals who complete most of their work outside of the operating room, OBGYNs are the best paid. Overall, they are the third highest medical earners in the United States.

See also: Hermes in India

Sources:

Friedlander, Walter. “The Golden Wand of Medicine: a history of the caduceus symbol in medicine. Greenwood Press. 1992

American Healthcare and the Caduceus of Hermes

I have already cited Mike Stathis’ book, “America’s Healthcare Solution,” which is the source of the following summary.  I chose a few connections that seem the most crucial.  It’s not my purpose to fully describe the debate and the proposed solutions, only to use this information in pursuit of a new way of talking about healthcare.

At this time, healthcare is the fundamental national security interest of the United States.  To put this into perspective, Libya could never match healthcare in economic urgency.  Further, the decision to ignore Libya will not cure what ails us.  The healthcare crisis has overriding potential for harm largely because of its effects on American business, especially since the advent of NAFTA. It is well known that healthcare costs have increased much faster than other basic necessities.  Because health insurance in America has been employer-based since World War II, high costs have directly affected employers’ ability to compete with foreign companies whose governments provide universal healthcare.  This turn of events leads to strategies of outsourcing, freezing pensions, and relocating overseas.  For Americans the ensuing loss of jobs means the loss of health insurance.

Regardless of politicians’ claims, there is no fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans on this issue.  The democrats have proposed and continue to defend a plan that won’t solve anything.  It is claimed that forcing the uninsured to buy insurance will help solve the crisis.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, many Americans with full health insurance are not covered adequately.  “Of the two million personal bankruptcies each year in America, more than one-half are attributed to medical bills or medically related events, accounting for the nation’s number one cause of bankruptcies.  Furthermore, of the one million Americans filing for medical bankruptcy each year, most had full medical insurance…in fact one could argue that America’s health insurance system does not provide true medical insurance.  Rather, it resembles a pre-paid medical plan with co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses that can add up fast.”  For their part, the Republicans simply obscure the issue with patent lies meant to retain the old system with all its fatal flaws.

It can’t be denied that lobbyists who continue their treasonous activities for the “medical-industrial complex” deserve much of the blame.  Whatever the initial cause may be, their activities have led to widespread abdication of responsibility on the part of lawmakers and even healthcare professionals.  Again, the same interests control both Democrats and Republicans, so any perceived differences are illusory.

As so often happens, once the seriousness of the problem is understood, it only seems to illustrate the impossibility of a solution.  One begins to wonder whether healthcare is the problem, or something more fundamental?  How can a solution be found or implemented when all parties have become so invested in the status quo?   On the surface, the question provides the answer.  Feasible, short-term corrections have been proposed; the failure to act indicates a lack of will.  The problem with this analysis is it lumps all the players together as the source of the problem and discourages further attempts at reform.

That said there is an interesting element of the current reform legislation that might tie this debate to its underlying structure, the bedrock of principle.  I refer to the use of the commerce clause as a legal basis.  In order to discuss the significance of the commerce clause as a justification in current healthcare reform, it will be necessary to examine the history of the symbol of medicine in the United States since 1917, the caduceus of Hermes, god of messengers and merchants.