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As another nation, Ireland, now peers into the abyss of economic chaos, once again governments are being called upon to bail out the banking industry. Does this sound vaguely familiar? Of course it does . We have been hearing this tune for the past couple of years, perhaps the most loudly in the U.S. where those bastions of our economy like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and many more were once facing oblivion and financial Hell. A fate, perhaps, well deserved – but avoided by the intercession of our government. This act of semi-divine intercession is about to be repeated in Europe as that which must not come to pass is prevented from coming to pass.

Of course, I am referring to the collapse of the banking industry in Ireland. The current Irish government, similar in philosophy to the Bush/Cheney Republicans of the U.S., enjoyed the ride while they could. The run up in housing prices, the run up in wages, the run up in credit. It was all a bubble, no different from America’s bubble and equally unrecognized by the Republican economic philosophers at the time. Everyone thought it could go on for ever, except for a few economists. America had its Cassandra economist, Roubini.  Ireland had its Cassandra, McWilliams. Both were right. They called the collapse long in advance, but neither government will admit it, and neither will seek the advice of these bright economists to this day.  Why? We can only wonder.

Here’s another “why”. Why did the U.S. government feel the need to bail out the banks and why does the European Union feel the same? Does anyone know how to spell oligarchy? We are led to believe that the banks are the sine qua non of our economy. The loss of our banks would spell doom for civilization as we know it. Really? Just the banks, I suppose.  Oh no,wait. General Motors too. We couldn’t live without them either. But what about the thousands of individuals who lost their homes? What about the millions who are out of work? Do we not need them also? Apparently not. At least not with the same sense of urgency as the banks.

So let’s take a look at the banks. What, in essence, do they actually do? Well, at their core, they are a source of money. They make loans that people and businesses need in order to carry on their lives. But how does that work, you say? Here’s an example. Suppose old J.P. Morgan had a lot of money (which he did) and he decided to use that money to open a bank (which he did). You go into his bank and you borrow $1,000. Great! Now you only have to pay it back in easy installments of $49.99 for a period of about twenty – two months. Twenty-two? Wait, shouldn’t it be about twenty? Ah, we’re forgetting the interest of about $100, aren’t we? See, you borrow $1,000 but you have to pay old J.P. back $1,100. That’s how he makes money. As Ebenezer Scrooge said, “It’s business.”

But, here’s where the magic comes in: After you pay back old J.P. his money plus interest, he pockets his profit and then what does he do? He loans out that same $1,000 again! Yes! Isn’t that amazing? J.P. can loan out the same money over and over again and make money each time he does so, and his $1,000 never wears out! The best thing for old J.P. is that he doesn’t have to do any work to make money. He doesn’t produce a product, he doesn’t farm any land, he doesn’t build anything, he doesn’t even sell anything. Being a banker has to be just about the best job in the world because you don’t have to work to make money! Even better, bankers make more money than anybody and if they screw up and made stupid loans where they don’t get paid back, the government gives them all the money they lost so they can start lending all over again.

Now imagine you were a banker – like those Payday loan guys. You could loan out money  at $300% interest and get it back in a week! Or, what about if you were a different kind of banker – a credit card banker? You could loan money at 30% interest and it would take years and years for people to pay you back – maybe even a lifetime. Of course you would get your principal back pretty soon, but the poor credit card holder will be paying interest for a semi-eternity. But that is the beauty of the system – you can then loan out the original amount over and over again! And you don’t have to take risks like building televisions or cars that might not sell, or refrigerators that might be defective and people want their money back. No, banking is the ideal business for making tons of money – and the best thing of all is that our governments won’t let you fail! Who could want anything more?

How about the American people? Wouldn’t we want something more, something different? One might think so, but I don’t hear a lot of people complaining about our banking system. I guess that’s because if we change anything it would make us communist or something even worse – just like with health care, and public schools. Still, I have to wonder…why can’t our government run the entire banking system like a utility?  Do we really need privately owned banks that produce no tangible product and charge the highest interest rates possible? Why can’t we just get loans from a government bank at 0% interest? Why not? It would be our money anyway – you know: our tax money. Isn’t that a good use for our tax dollars? If the government, via the Federal Reserve, can print all the money it wants and then give it to the banks at extremely low interest rates, why can’t the government do the same thing for the citizens and eliminate the middlemen bankers who bleed us and our economy while doing no productive work at all? Is it really so un-American to even think about a redo for America’s banking system? Think about it….

Why wouldn’t it work?

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There is an old Thai saying that goes like this: “When elephants fight it is the grass that gets trampled”.

There is a massive fight going on now in Washington D.C., and while many Americans might feel they have a stake in this battle, the fact remains that we are the grass in this battle of elephants.  On one side we have the strong and robust Republican/Tea Party – the party of the already wealthy. They feel they can take care of themselves and the less government, the better. On the other side are the weakling Democrats, traditionally the party of the working class, who believe that only a strong government can protect the average person from the avarice of the wealthy. This is not a new struggle – it is the remnants of a struggle that began in England before this country was even a glimmer in John Winthrop’s eye.

The old traditions of Europe: a small and very powerful wealthy class that owns almost everything and a very large peasant class that performs all the necessary labor so that the wealthy might live in luxury, were left behind when the Puritans sailed to Massachusetts. It was a new, virgin land (except for those troublesome Native Americans who really had no right to the land because they were not part of the Elect – and the fact that they mostly all died in battles with the early settlers (who had all the guns) proved that God was on the side of the Elect!!)

For a time, it all worked out. Anybody could just grab the land they wanted and they could live in total freedom. But with success comes more people, and more people, and more people. Pretty soon the people realized this total freedom thing wasn’t working for everyone, so they made rules. Then they fought a war against the English King and the English people because the English still wanted to play the old game of rich man, poor man. So, with the help of the people of France, who had recently overthrown their own wealthy oppressors, they created a new country styled upon the democracies of ancient Greece and Rome (which is why the architecture of Washington D.C. looks like it does).

Unfortunately, the rules didn’t cover a lot of things so it wasn’t long before the fox was in the henhouse – so to speak.  The wealthy people, not above stealing from the poor, soon owned the banks and the big businesses and went on to steal from the poor and the unsuspecting, which led to the Stock Market crash of 1929, not to mention all of the previous bank panics and economic catastrophes before that. The point was that the wealthy manipulators of the economy always enriched themselves based upon the power of their wealth, their connections with other wealthy people, and their inside information.

The Great Depression pointed out (to some people anyway) the need for reform of the system, and President Roosevelt went about that reform. In fact he named Joseph Kennedy to be the first head of the Securities and Exchange Commission – perfect: who better to catch a fox than another fox? The country recovered from the abuses of the wealthy thanks to Roosevelt’s strong government that was genuinely interested in helping the people.

Now, many years since the Great Depression we are in the midst of the Great Recession – with the potential to fall off a cliff into a second great depression if the wrong decisions are made. However, unlike the 1930’s, we do not have a President with a mandate to save the country. We have a house divided. We have the Republican/Tea Party who wants to do nothing, except lower taxes for the wealthy (the source of all jobs, remember?) and then deregulate pretty much everything. Minimal government is best they say – all we need is a strong military to kill everyone who doesn’t like the way we do things. Are far as the poor and the sick and the homeless goes – well, they’re on their own – Will of God and that sort of thing, you know? (They seem to think that this is the teaching of Jesus. After all, they are the Elect.) They feel kind of sorry for those God-forsaken people – but, they say, why is that the problem of the wealthy who have only made their vast fortunes by honest means? Exactly.

Now for the Democrats – the voice of the working man – where do they stand? It seems they stand firmly in favor of compromise. They talk a good story but in the end they will cave – and the Republican Tea Party knows that. Like a lion waiting in the tall grass, they know the Democrats have no teeth and no stomach for a battle. And why should they – after all, every Senator in the U.S. Congress is already a multi-millionaire, so really – just who do these people represent? And just why should they fight for the working man? After all, they’ve already been elected, so who cares, right? As for the Congressmen, they know where their bread is buttered. Sure some poor working class man might have scraped up $10 to make a campaign contribution – but can that compare to the vast amounts contributed  by major corporations to the campaigns? Of course not. Who would you listen to? And now that the fools in our Supreme Court have declared that corporations have the same rights of free speech as living people, everything has changed. Would you want the corporations, with their semi-infinite resources buying unattributed TV ads against you in the next election?

Don’t look to the Democratic Party to save the country this time. They don’t have the stomach for a fight – they like the good life too much. But, if we only look at history we can see that we are heading for a fight. We are a polarized country – the haves against the have-nots;  and the polarization is deepening. The Republican/Tea Party people are too stupid to see this, nor do they care, and the Democrats are equally blind to the danger that is building. When the Republican Tea Party proceeds to heartlessly cut the lifelines of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare, and all other assistance to the poor – the fight will inevitably come. It has to. It will be a fight for survival. It won’t be the weaklings of this Democratic Party that lead the charge, but it will come anyway.  It always does when people refuse to learn the hard lessons of their own history.

And it is always the grass that gets trampled.

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As the health care reform legislation wends its way through Congress, it appears that some sort of Public Option may be included in the bill.  The latest talk is that it will only be available to those who have no health insurance. If you already have health insurance through your employer you won’t be able to get it.  It also seems that individual states will be able to opt out of the program, thus denying residents of those state the opportunity to purchase the Public Option.  Meanwhile it appears that the vast majority of the American public are in favor of the Public Option – an option that most of them won’t be able to exercise.

Is there a message here? You bet there is. The American people are fed up with private health insurance.  It costs too much and provides too little.  The American people have seen the excellent quality of health care in Canada and much of Europe- all provided by national health care systems and most of the people seem to be saying that they would rather have something like that. The primary opposition to some sort of national health care comes from the hard core Republicans who are held in thrall to the insurance companies and the banks of America.  The thing to remember is that while the Republicans are a very loud voice they are at the same time a very small voice. Only 20% of Americans now consider themselves to be Republicans. That is a pretty small minority and it shouldn’t have the power to dictate national priorities. Actually the previous election that booted them out of office sort of says the same thing.

So, is there a solution for this upside down manner of thinking? Is there some sort of compromise that can worked out with the party of the politically flirtatious Olympia Snow that would make the majority of Americans happy and yet satisfy the cravings of Republicans to pay a lot of money for very little insurance? You betcha!

The solution is really remarkably simple. Create a national health care system and use Canada or another country that has a very successful national health care system as a model.  We don’t have to just make it an expanded version of Medicare. Make the national health care system such that it covers everyone by default.  You don’t have to be employed or live in a certain state or have no preexisting conditions. If you are alive, you are covered. However, knowing the extreme disappointment the Republicans are sure to feel about being covered by the government, we should provide them with the option of buying expensive insurance that doesn’t necessarily cover all possible ailments and might be revoked at any time for any reason. We will call that the Private Option.

If you ask me that is a compromise worthy of Solomon himself.  Everybody will be happy, everybody will get their way and we will all be healthier in the process.  I would bet even Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh would go for it.  I mean they would run right out and buy the Private Option. Right? Wouldn’t they?

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In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about the role of the banking industry in our government and how, via the lobbying industry, they were able to influence our government to create or remove laws regarding the banking industry.  You might call it a buyout of our government.  One of the rather unique features of the banking business is that it doesn’t create a tangible product, like washing machines or automobiles.  It just loans money to you and then its meter starts running, and you have to pay back the money plus an additional amount – and that additional amount can be enormous.  For example, if you take out a $100,000 mortgage on a house at 5% interest for 30 years, by the time you have paid back the bank you will have paid $193,255, almost twice the purchase price of the house. If you have the misfortune of having an adjustable rate mortgage you might find your total repayment to be a lot more. Which is one of the reasons we are now in a worldwide recession.

There is another financial industry that is a close cousin to the banking industry.  It also produces no tangible product, but unlike the banking industry, where if all goes well you eventually wind up owning your own house, in this other financial industry, if all goes well you wind up with no return on your investment at all, i.e. you get nothing.  I am, of course, talking about the insurance industry.  Little more than legalized gambling on the probability of personal disasters, the insurance industry is one of the big money-making businesses in our country, and if we care to recall the activities of AIG and credit default swaps, it is also one of the leading causes of the worldwide recession too.

Like the banks, the insurance industry is in the business of taking more money in than it gives out.  Today we have insurance for life, health, accidents, fire, hurricanes, you name it.  You can get insurance for just about anything.  If you are an average American you will never collect as much money in claims as you pay in premiums.  It has to be that way, otherwise the insurance companies would lose money – and that isn’t going to happen.  Like the state lottery, your chances of winning when you buy insurance are small – and the insurance companies want to make your chances ever smaller.

Which brings us to the topic of health insurance.  Until Barack Obama became president the insurance companies were pretty content with their system of health insurance, i.e. don’t insure high risk people and set the cost of insurance high enough so that even when the expected number of people have legitimate claims there will still be enough money left over for a fat profit.

Enter President Obama.  Without waiting to hear the details of his plans for health care reform the insurance companies began their anti-reform campaign.  Why? Were they worried that the American consumer would be hurt by reform?  Were they concerned that it wouldn’t be fair to some citizens?  Were they worried that some people might be left out?  Were they worried that our medical system would be inundated with millions of new patients when everyone had insurance and therefore the quality of healthcare would deteriorate? No.  They were worried about losing money, that’s all.  They had a good thing going by only selling insurance to people who would probably never use it.  That last thing they want to do is to sell insurance to someone who is going to run up a big medical bill.  So, they had to take action.

The health insurance, and entire health care industry, began a massive spending campaign on lobbying Congress – much larger than their usual massive campaigns. In the first quarter of 2009 this group of businesses spent over $35, 000,000 lobbying members of Congress. Ummm, let’s see now… there are 100 Senators and 435 Representatives…so 35 million divided by 535 is, uh, $65,420.56 per person.  Not bad. Of course that’s just in the first quarter too.  Who knows what the total amount will be by the time the voting is done.  And, naturally, the money is not spread around evenly.  You can bet there is strategy involved. There are certain key Senators and Congressmen whose votes might make the difference.  It’s a great system we have. If you own a business, you send your money in to Congress and then you tell them how to vote so that your business makes a fat profit. The fact that by so voting a Congressman might actually harm rather than help his/her constituents is just not part of the equation for many members of Congress.

The direct link from wealthy owners of major companies to our government representatives via lobbyists is well known.  The remarkable thing is that the American people do not seem to be very upset about our system.  Of course, when things don’t turn out good in the end the people always vote out the bad Congressmen and even Presidents, but these people are just replaced by a new and eager crop of recruits, eager to participate in the same process – i.e. pocketing money from lobbyists. We have the best government that money can buy.

That of course is the problem.  It is the wealthy who have the money to spend in this way, and it is the wealthy who hire the lobbyists, and it is the wealthy who then tell our elected representatives how to vote.  In Part 1 of this series I showed how this invisible hand of the wealthy directly led to the failure of our banking system and the worldwide economic meltdown. Now we have the same process occurring in one part of our insurance industry – namely the health insurance industry – and the result could well be as catastrophic, because if health insurance reform doesn’t happen the cost of insurance will continue to escalate while the insurance companies continue to find reasons to disqualify treatment for certain diseases, even for people who have paid their premiums.  This is what the insurance companies want – maximum profits and minimum losses.  Our government should be protecting us from these vultures, but how can that happen when the elected members of our government are receiving millions and millions of dollars from them?

The invisible hand of the wealthy isn’t really all that invisible, but it is very powerful because it pervades the entire economy and budget of the country.  We have already seen how the banking and the insurance industry exerts its control over our government.  However, the wealthy are involved in other industries too.  We’ll look at that in Part 3 of this series.

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It is John McCain’s greatest fear: the redistribution of wealth.  He’s not the only one who is afraid of course, there are plenty of other people like him.  They have made their fortunes one way or another, and they are damned if they are going to share it with anyone.  Good Christians all, I suppose.  It’s a touchy subject for the very wealthy – they would rather we talk about something else, like lowering taxes or the right to bear arms or freedom of choice in health care.  All good subjects, no doubt, and all emotional trigger issues that are guaranteed to distract the easily distracted from something they would rather not dwell upon.  America has become a country polarized by unequal – very unequal – distribution of its wealth.  Current estimates are that the total wealth of the United States is about $53 trillion. That is a lot of money.  The thing that John McCain would prefer that you don’t know or dwell upon is that, of this amount, about $18 trillion (a bit more than 1/3 of all the wealth of the U.S.) is owned by only 1% of the population.  The other thing that Johnny doesn’t want you to think about is that at the other end of the spectrum, the total wealth of almost half the people in the country – add up the wealth of 150 million Americans – is only about $0.5 trillion, i.e. less than 1% of the total wealth of the country.  Of course John McCain and the other rich folk think this is perfectly OK – and let’s talk about something else, can we? Like freedom, or the enemy, or taxes, or big government, or something.  Anything else. This is America, right?  Anyone and everyone has an equal chance to be a billionaire, don’t they?  So stop whining.

I am reminded of a new song written by a very good Irish songwriter, Jimmy McCarthy, called The Sky Road.  It tells about a young man named Danny who, I suppose, left Ireland long, long ago – centuries ago.  It starts like this:

Danny’s made his mind up

He’s leaving for America

He’s leaving for America

Leaving all of us behind.

He says there’s nothing here not drenched in beer

In blood and retribution

And the wealth distribution’s

Been weighing heavy on his mind.

Allow me to put this in a little perspective:

In the aftermath of nearly a thousand years of defending itself from constant invasions from England, Ireland finally fell to Oliver Cromwell’s extraordinarily savage attacks in the mid-1600’s. (This was at exactly the same time that English colonists were busy taking America from the Native Americans in the “New World”).  Ireland now belonged to England (soon to be called The British Empire) – all of it.  Mostly,  Ireland belonged to a very small number of people – the English aristocracy.  They had promptly declared it to be  illegal for any Irish person to own land in Ireland.  There was little for people like Danny to do except leave, particularly when the potato crop failed in the mid-1800’s, and the Irish starved to death, literally by the millions.  All the while, the English-owned plantations in Ireland continuously exported massive amounts of food (beef, pork, butter, grain, and so forth) to England.  It’s a story of genocide not usually taught in our American schools, is it? One can only wonder why…

The society in Ireland before the famine in the 19th century had become polarized into two classes: a small but enormously wealthy upper, aristocratic class, and a very large class of poor, landless laborers who worked for the aristocrats.  For all practical purposes, nineteenth century Ireland was a feudal society – and the English aristocrats were delighted with that.  The important thing to note here is that the aristocratic class, those who had attained their wealth through theft and murder, hadn’t the slightest care about the welfare of the poorer class. Good Calvinists, they felt justified because they believed it must be God’s plan – otherwise things wouldn’t be that way, would they?

Today, in America, a nation of equals (at least theoretically), we find ourselves in the midst of an argument about health care. Is it a right for all?  Should it be paid for by taxes? Why should the wealthy pay for the medical needs of the poor?  The Wall Street Journal has leaped into the fray calling our Congress “reckless” for even considering higher taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for a health care plan. We are hearing commentators talking about possible class warfare and the evils of the coming wealth redistribution.  The important thing to note about all this talk is that the extremely wealthy people in America, the ones who have benefited the most from the Bush tax cuts and the elimination of the estate tax, feel entirely justified in tightly grasping and hoarding their billions of dollars while they do absolutely nothing to help those who are suffering.  After all, this is surely God’s will isn’t it?  Otherwise it wouldn’t be this way.  And therefore, aren’t these wealthy people demonstrably God’s elect? Surely they have no need or obligation to help the poorer people – let them help themselves.  Didn’t John Calvin say as much?  Christianity at it’s best.

I can still hear John McCain’s voice from the campaign trail as he warned about class warfare and wealth redistribution.  He is typical of the new class of would-be American aristocrats.  Content to sit back and do nothing while they watched the people of New Orleans drown, they are equally happy to bomb the people of Hanoi or Iran or anywhere else that suits their needs.  This new society of American aristocrats, led by their genius, George W. Bush, are without a conscience, caring only for their own wealth and intent on deceiving the American people that health care for all is the worst thing that could happen in America.  The fact that their Republican political party has aligned itself with the so-called “Christian” churches in America is an extraordinary irony.  Never mind “What would Jesus do?” What would Jesus say?

History has shown time and again that when a society becomes extremely polarized, and a small number of very wealthy people dominate, an unstable society is produced.  It is always the case that the poorer people suffer under the domination of the wealthy and that the wealthy use all their power and wealth only to amass even more wealth. We are in such a situation now.  For the past eight years, the extremely wealthy have used their power to enrich themselves, while in the process bringing the world’s economy to its knees.  The extremely wealthy have used their power to rewrite our tax laws so they could significantly decrease their tax burden while simultaneously increasing the tax burden on the poorer people.  We need only to look at the catastrophe of Czarist Russia to see what happens when a large poorer class is continuously abused by the wealthy few. It is the lesson of history  that has occurred over and over again.  And this lesson is what our current American aristocracy fears the most, which is why we hear the cries of “class warfare” and “wealth redistribution”.  Even so, they won’t relent.  They don’t believe they should subsidize anyone’s health care, and so they propagate their lies about European health care – which is in fact, far superior to U.S. health care.

In the end, the struggle is not about freedom and values and patriotism;  it’s all about money and wealth.  And greed.  Lots of greed.  The wealthy American class has tried mightily to convert us into an aristocratic society – and they have succeeded.  Now they want to keep it that way.  It’s worth remembering that two hundred years ago, when Danny left Ireland for America, he had a reasonable hope of being treated fairly in a new country where the English aristocracy didn’t already control everything.  However, our situation is different from Danny’s.  If we quietly allow our fair country to continue to spiral downward into a John McCain/George Bush style aristocracy, where only a very small number of people own all the wealth of the land, we won’t have anywhere else to emigrate to, because there is no other America.  This is it.

It is time for the vast numbers of ordinary people in the United States to stand up against the lies of the wealthy, otherwise they must inevitably surrender and forever live under the heel of this new and heartless American aristocracy.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the swine flu is now “widespread” in the majority of states in the U.S. In those states where it is not officially “widespread” it is mostly categorized as either “regional” or “local”.  In other words, its pretty much everywhere – right now.  Today, the very first swine flu doses of vaccine are being distributed to health workers. This is only a very small batch of vaccine, the amount of vaccine that could be used to inoculate most of the U.S. population is still far off, and it is unlikely that the huge amounts of the vaccine will be available before the flu is officially “widespread” in just about all parts of the country.  At which point one might wonder if it makes sense to get vaccinated at all.

Here’s something to think about: what if this disease were more deadly? Or, what if it just left lasting effects that didn’t kill quickly but just made your life miserable as long as you lived?  Would we all still be sitting on our couches, still changing the channels to see what else is on TV?  Could it be that this flu pandemic teaching us something that we aren’t learning? You bet it is.  The thing is this, however, the lesson has already been taught to us before – on more than one occasion – but it is one we don’t want to learn.  That’s because it’s about money.

It was almost 100 years ago that the Titanic set sail from its last stop at Cobh harbor in Ireland on its way to New York.   It already had a reputation as being unsinkable, even though this was its maiden voyage, due to its construction, which included a number of water-tight compartments.  Tragically, it turned out that the watertight compartments could not prevent it from sinking.  Even more tragic was the fact that there were not enough lifeboats on the ship.  Perhaps less well known is the fact that a sufficient number of lifeboats had actually been provided for the Titanic, but the ships management company, White Star Line, decided to offload almost half of the lifeboats because they felt the decks of Titanic were too cluttered.  And besides, the existing regulations didn’t require all those lifeboats anyway.  The result, of course, was the most famous maritime disaster of all time.  The lesson was that all ships in the future had to have sufficient lifeboat capacity no matter what anyone says.

There is, however, a further lesson we can learn from both the Titanic and the swine flu – but it is one we are unlikely to learn until it is too late.  The lesson is this: when we entrust our safety to profit-making corporations we have given the option to these corporations of choosing between profits and safety – and they will always choose profits.  The simple fact is that safety doesn’t make money and therefore only an entity that has the safety of the people in mind, and not profit, will make the correct decisions concerning public safety.  That entity is, and can only be, the government.

The simple fact is this: we don’t have enough swine flu vaccine.  We will not have enough swine flu vaccine in time to help prevent that vast majority of cases.  More people will get swine flu that will be protected from it by a vaccine.  The reason for this is simple: we don’t have the capability to make enough a vaccine fast enough.   Of course, when I say “we”, I mean the vaccine industry because there is no government vaccine production capability.  So why is this? Why isn’t there enough commercial vaccine capability to produce a vaccine for everyone in time? It’s because it doesn’t make sense from a profit-making perspective.  How often would these companies use this prodigious capability?  No too often. How would it pay for itself? It wouldn’t.  It would sit idle most of the time.  The Capitalist equation works for the business owner, not the general population.  It is the government (i.e. the people) that has to intervene when the for-profit system fails to provide for the safety of the people.  After the Titanic disaster strict lifeboat regulations were passed – by governments, not by the ocean liner industry.

We are in the process of learning a lesson similar to the Titanic lesson again.  However, it is one I believe we won’t learn well.  That’s because the swine flu is not deadly enough. A lot of us will get sick and a lot of us will die – but not enough, not enough to galvanize the public into demanding action. The result will be that our government won’t create a capability that could immunize all of us at some future time when we are confronted by a truly deadly killer. And then of course, it will be too late.

One can only wonder at a government that designs and builds enough nuclear weapons to kill every man, woman, and child on the planet many times over, all in the name of defense.  Yet, when it comes to defending its own people from disease, our government turns a blind eye to the possibility and its own responsibility, and leaves our lives at the tender mercies of the for-profit medical industry.

Capitalism at its best.

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A few days ago, during a rare joint session of Congress, a Republican Congressman, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, shouted out that the President of the United States is a liar.  Perhaps, just by accident, President Obama is the first black President of the United States.  Perhaps, just by accident, Joe Wilson is from South Carolina, the first state to secede from the United States and become the founder of the Confederate States of America. The first battle of the U.S. Civil War began when Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter, in Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederacy was created to preserve the right of Americans to enslave Africans, and South Carolina led the way. So, perhaps South Carolina’s Congressman Joe Wilson’s calling the first black U.S. President a liar is simply a coincidence, an accident of history. But I don’t think so.

Joe Wilson and the good ol’ boys in South Carolina are not alone in their animosity towards this man who was elected by the majority of the American people.  Ever since last November’s election fear and rage have been increasing, most ominously evidenced the extreme increase in the sales of guns and ammunition in the U.S.  The story goes that the gun buyers fear that President Obama will put restrictions on the sales of guns, but he hasn’t.  Even so, there is a movement that has spread to many states that attempts to restrict the power of the federal government to control the sales of firearms. Meanwhile, it has been a good year for Smith & Wesson and the other gun manufacturers. Even though firearms can be very expensive, items like the AK-47 and AR-15 and their ammunition are selling like hotcakes. It’s pretty much these same people who are enraged about the healthcare debate who are buying up all the firearms and ammo.

In 1993 President Clinton tried to bring about change in health care in America.  He wanted to create a universal health care system, much like the rest of the civilized world.  There was strong opposition in Congress and among many citizens and his plan was defeated.  However, even though there was strong opposition to the Clinton plan, the rage that we see among Americans at Town Hall meetings, and now even in the halls of Congress, was not there.  While the health care debate was heated, it was civilized. Today it isn’t.  Back in 1993 the debate was about the nature of the proposed plan and whether there would be too much government interference and mismanagement in health care – reasonable issues for discussion.  Today the issue is “death panels”.  The difference between the then and now is the lies and fear.

Ever since the day Barack Obama was elected many Americans have been arming themselves to the teeth with the purchase of assault weapons and massive amounts of ammunition.  Why? Why does the average American need a weapon that is intended for use in war – a weapon that can easily kill tens or hundreds of people. Is there a sensible reason for owning one of these, or are these people preparing for some sort of new Civil War?  Why is it that when America’s first black president proposes health care reform his message is met with outright lies and vitriol? Why is it that Joe Wilson not only shrieked “You Lie!” to the President, when he was in fact telling the truth, but now he says he refuses to apologize to the Congress – a Congress for whose rules of decorum and respect he abandoned. Why is it that people like Sarah Palin can create the lie about death panels and no one from Republican Party objects?  Why is it that a member of the  Party of the Liars calls the President a liar and then receives a million dollars in campaign contributions?

Stand back and take a look.  We are a nation divided – and heavily armed too.  Our radio and television “news” media no longer deal in news. It is political propaganda that now permeates the airwaves, led by uneducated former drug addicts and alcoholics, who only seem to care about ratings. Truth is accidental.  It is more important to whip up the uninformed American people into a frenzy and then use their rage to influence our lawmakers – who are already heavily influenced by the weight of all the money the lobbyists stuff into their pockets. The question we need to ask ourselves is this: where is this heading?

Our nation has lost the ability to have rational discourse.  The fires of emotion have been stoked by irresponsible people intent on using the rage of the uninformed for their own profit-making purposes.  Now the uninformed and enraged people who have swallowed the lies of the media, as well as their leaders, seem to have lost the power of reason. These irrational people no longer believe in civility or reasoned argument, and they have guns – assault weapons – lots of them.  Think about that for a minute.

And then tell me we are not on the eve of self-destruction.

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