Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Sabotaging Medicine


First, a bit of information that every nurse, EMT, or first-year Biology student is supposed to know by heart: antibiotics must be taken for their full course.  Usually this is two weeks of three doses per day, sometimes it's weeks longer, and rarely it's only ten days.  This is because bacteria have several defensive strategies, just as the antibiotics have several attack strategies, and it can take a long time to deal with them all.  It's vitally important that the bacteria all be killed, because if even one survives, it will pass on the trick/immunity of its survival to its descendants.  This is how bacteria become immune/resistant to antibiotics, and particular antibiotics become useless.  The problem with giving antibiotics too much, too freely -- such as, to livestock -- is not that the livestock get too little, but that small amounts of the antibiotics get passed on to whoever consumes the milk or meat, and kill off only the weaker bacteria while leaving the stronger/resistant bacteria alive.  Under-dosing, by any means, with antibiotics creates bacteria resistant to those antibiotics.  That's what happened to the original form of penicillin.  All healthcare professionals are supposed to know this.  Keep that in mind.

Now my case was just the opposite;  when I was a little kid I got a severe case of pneumonia, bad enough to put me in the hospital, and the doctors shot me up with massive doses of penicillin.  The penicillin killed the pneumonia bacteria completely, but left me permanently allergic to penicillin.  Ever afterward, I had to rely on tetracycline to clear up all my bacterial infections.  That was all right;  tetracycline worked well with my personal chemistry.

The problem was that, over the past ten years or more, it's grown harder and harder to find doctors willing to prescribe tetracycline.  When I asked why, I got dozens of different excuses -- mostly revolving around a theme of "We have much better antibiotics these days".  A few personal experiences showed that those "much better antibiotics" cost about ten times as much as tetracycline, or even classic old penicillin.  Uhuh.

A little more research (gods bless the Internet!) revealed a few more interesting facts about both of those old standbys.  First, both of them were developed so long ago that their patents have run out;  this means that anybody can produce and sell them without paying royalties to the original -- or the last -- patent-holder, which makes them cheap.  Second, both antibiotics are easily found in nature -- penicillin derives from blue bread mold (I wrote a song about that), and tetracycline from an African beer-yeast;  it was only the refining process that could be patented.  The basic breeding-stocks can be readily found, collected, bred and refined -- just about anywhere, by anybody with the knowledge, which is likewise commonly found.  Third, both remain reliable killers of most kinds of bacteria, despite sloppy over-use by everyone from incompetent medics to corner-cutting factory-farm managers.  So, they're cheap, easily made and reliable: everything that big pharmaceutical companies hate.  No wonder doctors are discouraged from prescribing them.

However, I found that by insisting -- and maybe claiming "allergy" problems with the shiny-new expensive antibiotics -- I could still get prescriptions for tetracycline, which still worked just fine, thank you.

Then, about six years ago, I discovered at least one doctor at my local clinic using a new tactic.

I'd gone there with a pesky jaw infection, gave the usual explanation about my allergies, and asked for a "full course of tetracycline".  The doctor frowned, but wrote up a prescription and handed it to me, and started to head out of the exam room.  Fortunately I'm a very fast reader and have a habit of always reading my prescriptions as soon as I get them, so I caught the anomaly before the doctor could escape.

"Hey!" I snapped, "This is wrong.  This is enough for only one week;  a full course of tetracycline takes two weeks.  You'll have to change it."

He didn't like that, and he used the Argument From Authority: "Who's the doctor here?"

"Who's the doctor's daughter?" I countered, "And who's been taking tetracycline all my adult life?  It's never prescribed for less than two weeks."

He retreated to the second line of Argument From Authority: "I've could show you where it's ordered in the Official Publication."

I called his bluff: "Yes, please show me that exact page."  I didn't mention that I intended to xerox it as soon as I got my hands on it.

He shifted to: "It's not convenient.  If you don't like that prescription, give it back, and go see another doctor."  And he grabbed for the paper.

I snatched it out of his reach and replied: "You know perfectly well that it'll take me a week to get another appointment, so I'll make do with this for that long."  And I hurried out before he could come up with another excuse.  I also didn't mention that I wanted to have his signature on that prescription, in case he tried to squirm out of the clear malpractice.

First thing I did on my way home was stop at a copy-shop and get several xeroxes of that prescription.  Second thing I did was stop at a drug-store and get the original filled.  Third thing I did was take the best xerox copy, touch it up a little to make it look like a genuine original, take it to another pharmacy and get that one filled too, just in case (no, I'm not afraid that the DEA or somebody like them will come after me, these long years later, for illegally purchasing antibiotics).

Fourth thing I did was look up the phone numbers of the city health department, the county health department, the state health department, and finally the CDC in Washington, DC.  I spent the rest of the day phoning those various Expert Authorities, asking if anyone knew about this new -- and dangerous -- tetracycline policy, and who had ordered it.  All I was able to reach were various secretaries, none of whom had a clue about any policy of under-prescribing tetracycline, and somehow none of them were able to reach anybody who did know anything about it.  A few more days of phonecalling brought no different results, so eventually I phoned the biggest newspaper in town, told them my tale, and asked if they knew anybody who knew anything.  The reporter I talked to had an eager note in his voice when he promised he'd "look into it", so I guessed that he actually would do a bit of investigating.

He must have raised enough questions with enough of the right people, because the next time I needed to get a prescription for tetracycline, the doctor (a different one) had no trouble writing me a scrip for a full two-week course.  I thought that was the end of the problem.  Silly me!

A couple years later, troubled with another bacterial infection, I went to my local clinic here in Arizona, and tried to get a prescription for tetracycline again.  This time the doctor claimed that tetracycline had been "discontinued", supposedly because so many bacteria were now "resistant" to it, and nobody was even making it anymore.

Surprised by this, I made more phonecalls and Internet searches.  I found that tetracycline was really still being manufactured -- but only for "veterinary" use, and not much (just one company in the US) of that.  Nowadays, you can only find tetracycline -- and penicillin, for that matter -- sold for use in tropical fish tanks.  Other pet owners have advised me on how to calculate the dosage for other animals, but you have to mix the powder in distilled or boiled water yourself.  The interesting part is that these supposedly-useless old antibiotics still work on the majority of bacterial infections.

What I see happening here is a years-long deliberate campaign of sabotaging two old reliable -- and cheap -- antibiotics.  Now, who would have the ability to pull off a campaign this widespread and this effective?  And who would have motive?  Think.     
           
--Leslie <;)))><  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A REAL Federal Healthcare Bill


I don't usually write posts this close together, but the whole healthcare flap pretty well requires it.  Look, I've worked in the healthcare biz, have been a public healthcare recipient, and have friends in curious corners of the biz -- such as professional medical billers, coders, and clerks: the people who really deal with the nuts and bolts of healthcare funding.  I'm convinced that these are the folks that the federal govt. should be talking to.  But to start:

If Congress simply repealed the ACA/Obamacare bill, federal public healthcare would simply go back to what it was before.  That included Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans' Administration and, if you please, a division of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  The latter two consist of supplying hospitals, clinics, doctors, nurses and treatment to those two groups of citizens -- for free, or close to it.  The previous two consist of funneling tax money through the state govts. into health-insurance companies, with certain written limitations.  We've all seen repeated scandals about the insufficiency and lousy quality of the VA system, and nobody has asked the Indian tribes what they think, but they've been using the money they're earning through their casinos to fund hospitals of their own.  As for Medicaid, it's full of so many traps and pitfalls that social workers warn their clients against it.  Medicare is, and was, just plain insufficient;  its coverage falls far short, and its paperwork is horrendous -- as any medical clerk can tell you.  And all four of them wasted money at an unbelievable rate.  Those are the shortcomings that the ACA was supposed to deal with -- and didn't.

I recall that while the ACA was being debated, there were protesters marching around waving signs that said "JUST FIX MEDICARE", and looking back, that made far more sense than anything the fed. govt. has proposed since.  Here's how I think the fix could be done.

First, Congress should go, hat in hand, and humbly beg the Government Accountancy Office for another copy of that report it sent to Congress years ago, which was ignored: the report on redundancy, waste, and downright corruption in the federal bureaucracy -- which listed some 1500 govt. departments/offices/bureaus/etc. which should be completely abolished in order to streamline govt. services, save money, and reduce chances of corruption.  This time don't ignore that list, but take the GAO's advice and abolish all those departments, every last one of them.  Take the money that frees up, and dedicate it to funding the improved federal healthcare system.

Then, having shown sufficient respect to the GAO, set it to the task of putting together a healthcare bill that will work.  Tell it to pay due attention to communications from citizens who know something about the problem.  Yes, set it parameters:

1)  An absolute minimum of regulations, especially the sort that create paperwork -- which requires clerks/coders/billers/etc. to deal with the paperwork, which creates excessive bureaucracy and costs.

2) Abolish the ACA and Medicaid outright, but expand Medicare to cover everything that both of those did -- and more: pre-existing conditions, experimental treatments, and all.

3)  Make Medicare pay directly to the healthcare providers, not go through insurance companies.  Medicare is supposed to be the poor folks' insurance, not provide a cash-cow for insurance companies.  Add penalties for any healthcare provider who thinks they're too good to accept direct Medicare payments.  And insist on no co-pays.

4)  Launch a thorough investigation into the pharmaceutical industry, the FDA, and collusion between them to keep prices of medicine high and discredit non-synthetic -- and cheap -- treatments which are more effective.  Apply punishment where it's due.

Then stand back and let the GAO do its work, at which it has shown itself to be quite competent.  Once the GAO comes up with a workable bill, written as much as possible in plain English rather than Legalese or Bureaucratese, pass it with NO amendments.  Don't let anyone hide any cute little bits of pork in the bill.  If repairs are needed later, pass amending bills separately -- and only after fully transparent argument and discussion in Congress.

Now that would produce a really efficient and workable federal healthcare bill, one that would allow people with enough $$ of their own to get their own private health insurance but would provide a basic healthcare safety-net for the rest of us.  It would also give Congress the time and space to concern itself with other serious matters of government.


--Leslie <;)))>< 

The Wave Begins To Crest


The next-to-next-to-latest news gem in the ongoing saga of Trump and the Russians is that Trump is supposed to have questioned some loose-lipped lawyers in the White House about pardons -- i.e. whether he could pardon unnamed people, or even himself.  As more than one news pundit has noted, this is a remarkable echo of Richard Nixon's actions during the Watergate scandal.  Coincidence, or a deliberate tease?

Along with this was another leak by a loose-lipped White House insider that Trump was checking to see if he could fire Mueller.  Oooh, shades of Watergate again!  Enough to keep the Liberals panting.  Mueller himself made it clear that he would not go down easily, nor be swayed by any such threats.  And of course Trump took absolutely no action in that direction.  And why should he?  He was only poking at Mueller to see if he'd fold or fight -- plus teasing the Democrats/Liberals again.  He really wants a guy with guts and integrity in charge of the investigation!  

The next-to-latest juicy bit is that Trump is now throwing Jeff Sessions under the bus, supposedly because Sessions recused himself on the Trump-and-the-Russians investigation when he should have stood fast.  Uhuh.  I'm sure that excuse will satisfy the foaming-reactionary segment of Trump's supporters, seeing that Sessions is the last of their crowd whom Trump appointed to high office -- and who were shot down for various reasons (leaving their jobs to more "moderate" -- or at least rational -- candidates, which I suspect was Trump's plan all along).


Ah, but the latest and greatest piece of news is that Jared Kushner is testifying to Congress -- in a closed (secret) session -- under oath, about all he knows of the Russian Caper.  I daresay they'll get quite an unexpected earful.  Just how much of it they'll be able to leak, in turn, to the media and therefore the public, is a good question.

Pause here for a couple flashbacks. 

Remember that when Trump had that fateful last meeting with Comey, that the then-Director of the FBI at first claimed that there was nobody else in the room.  Only later did anyone mention that there actually was a third person there, whom Comey had overlooked as a mere secretary -- but who turned out to be no less than the Director of the CIA.  How did Comey miss that?  Either Comey was incredibly inept at his job or CIA directors -- like their agents -- are very good at not being noticed.  Or both.    

Second flashback: recall that when Trump Jr. had that meeting with the Russian lawyer in Trump Tower 'way back last June, the number of people at that meeting was enough, as Rachel Maddows pointed out, to have filled the elevator.  There was Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, various other members of the presidential campaign, two or three Russians, and... on the Trump side of the table, an overlooked translator.  An overlooked and forgotten translator.  Uhuh.

So what is Kushner telling that congressional committee in closed session?  My bet is that he'll tell them about his connection with the CIA, and that just might lead into his father-in-law's CIA connection too.  And who/what do you think that "assistant" was that filed the paperwork for his security clearance?  Now think about the implications of that.  It means that the Russians went trawling the Trump campaign, and called up a school of sharks.  No wonder they only talked about the trade-sanctions in distant terms of international orphan adoptions, and Kushner arranged to leave the meeting early.  The Russians, when they exited, left a dossier on the table which was supposed to contain juicy dirt on Hillary, but the Trump team never used it -- most likely because that "overlooked translator" grabbed it first, trotted it over to the CIA office, and then pronounced it untrustworthy.  We do know that the hacked Democrat emails which showed up soon afterwards on Wikileaks didn't have anything really good on Hillary -- and really didn't effect the outcome of the election.

Now, how much of this will Mueller and company agree to reveal to the public?  Tell all, and they pretty well exonerate Trump, embarrass hell out of the Democrats, and discredit huge chunks of the media.  Tell too little, and of course they look as if they're covering up for Trump and the Russians.  Besides, the Democrats and the media will only yell for more blood and demand that the committee put Trump himself on the stand -- and he could reveal a helluva lot more.  The other shoe has got to drop sometime -- and the longer the wait, the bigger the impact.

I think (and I suspect Trump does too) that Mueller will do the honorable thing and tell all.  That means the political wave is cresting and about to break.  The whole Get Trump movement will be discredited, disintegrate into the embarrassed/quiet and the hysterical/loud. 

And you'll hear long laughter from the briar-patch.


--Leslie <;)))><           

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

One Toe Over the Edge

I was going to write a post about the fun and hi-jinks of WesterCon this last 4th of July weekend, but the political games in Washington make it clear that I've got to hurry up and make my personal predictions before they come true.  Therefore...

First, let's back up a ways and take the long view.  Remember back during the Bush administration when Bush and Co. put together a collection of assorted American capitalists to develop Russia's Siberian oil-fields and help rebuild Russia's collapsed economy?  Remember that one of those capitalists was Donald Trump.  Now, any such gang of influential rich guys going off to do business in Russia back then would inevitably have had a few visits and briefings from the CIA or the NSA or MI, or any combination thereof.  Trump, as I've often said, is no fool;  he would have listened and learned well.

One thing I'm sure he took to heart, if he hadn't already, was the importance of secretly recording himself and everything that happened around him -- especially when dealing with the Russians.  Another thing he would have learned was that you can never trust any Russians who have even the smallest connection to the government -- and the higher the rank, the greater the efforts to lie, spy, swindle, blackmail, and manipulate.  Trump, who had been swimming with the sharks most of his professional life, would have thoroughly understood that.  The third thing that he would have learned, not to mention seen for himself, is that Russia's economy was in shambles, even its famed military was and is an economic wreck, and that the only thing that keeps China from marching in and conquering it is that China's economy -- and culture -- is secretly just as bad if not worse.  Both countries, and a few others whose names I'm sure you can guess, are 90% pose -- Showoffsky -- and very little power.  Of course, when that power includes nukes, it has to be taken seriously.  I'm sure Trump would have seriously considered the implications of this.

A fourth thing he would undoubtedly have considered were the advantages of remaining very cosy with the CIA, at least.  Remember, this was decades before any thought of running for president had entered his head.  The idea of being a "civilian supernumerary" Secret Agent of the CIA would have been very appealing.  You can bet he kept those contacts!  Keep that in mind.

In any case, that contact helped make Trump quite successful in Russia.  He wasn't robbed of money or building materials (a serious problem in Russia), wasn't blackmailed (as note his laughing off that Russian story about the whore peeing on the bed), built his buildings and came home with a large amount of Russia's money.  What's more, back in the US he kept on selling buildings and real estate to rich(!) Russians at exorbitant prices -- and collecting large amounts of Russia's money.  Seeing how much of Russia's economy (better than 50%) is done on barter, one has to wonder why so much of Russia's money has been transferred to the hands of an American capitalist.  Democrats have sneered that Trump is money-laundering for Putin & Co., but it isn't money-laundering if he doesn't give it back.  And there's no evidence that he's given it back.  I really don't think that he could have pulled off a scam like this without a little bit of CIA "oversight".

Pause here and consider what Putin wants, what Russia wants to get out of all its political/economic fancy-dancing.  Why, what else could it want -- desperately, with its economy staggering as it is?  Why, trade with wealthier countries, of course!  Obama's trade-sanctions taken off.  And maybe some way to get that money back from Trump.

Trump has strongly indicated that, out of all those foreign economically-staggering but nuke-armed countries, he'd prefer that Russia survive and the rest go down in flames.  Why?  Because for all its totally corrupt society, Russia's government at least has to be realistic about its survival -- and can be reasoned with.  The reasons why Russia is that rational and other countries aren't would take another whole article, and this one is already long.  Suffice it to say that during all the decades of the Cold War, when only the US and the USSR had nukes, neither side ever used them.  I'm sure we can all think of other countries that would not be so forbearing.

Consider also that Trump is a more-than-slightly-shady businessman, who loves to brag and talks like a used-car salesman -- when it suits him, but I daresay few people on this planet know more about economic warfare.  The CIA would gladly make use of his expertise.  It's a perfect partnership.

One more thing to ponder is Trump's claim that lots of other countries have tried to "meddle" in our elections -- by giving large chunks of money to particular political campaigns, dropping assorted lies and half-lies into respectable news media, trying to hack our voting systems -- and have been trying for a very long time.  None of them have had much success, for reasons that would take another long article to explain.  Only American politicians themselves have ever been any good at American election fraud. 

Only now are the Democrats trying ferociously to spread the story that any foreign government tried -- and, they hint endlessly, succeeded -- to manipulate the presidential election, and only so they can howl that Trump really, really shouldn't have won.  You'll note they never mention the fact that the Chinese government filtered money into Hillary's various campaigns, which should certainly count as foreign election-meddling.  And never mind the long financial and propaganda campaign funded by certain Arab/Muslim countries!  Oh no, it's all Trump and the Russians, and it's never happened before.  Yep.   

The interesting bit is that, aside from saying it's all fantasy and flatly denying the charges, Trump hasn't come right out and shown evidence to refute them.  If anything, he's allowed his backers to fan the flames of Liberal hysteria into a raging inferno -- which has begun to catch some of the hysterics themselves, most notably in the mainstream media.  Note how CNN got caught trusting too eagerly in unverified stories from "an unnamed source in the Intelligence community".  Note too how Rachel Maddow, a very clever woman, exposed a very good forgery of an NSA document (purporting to confirm that members of the Trump campaign "colluded with the Russians") and revealed that, if MSNBC had run with this story, it would have eventually been discredited as badly as CNN. She speculates at length upon just who in the Trump camp could have perpetrated this fraud, and her favorite choice is Jared Kushner;  this isn't surprising, since the smarter Democrats have figured out some time ago that Kushner too is quite smart, in fact probably Trump's major tactician, and desperately want to get rid of him.  It never seems to occur to her that the perpetrator might have actually been someone in the NSA, or the CIA, or even MI -- all of whom, remember, support Republican administrations as firmly as the FBI supports Democrat ones. 

Well, whoever has been feeding the Democrats fuel for their fantasies is clever enough to have quickly abandoned the tactic that Maddow exposed.  Instead, mirable dictu, we have Trump's own son admitting -- at least partially -- to the current scandal about the Russian lawyer, back during last summer's campaign, enticing him to come talk to her about stolen emails that supposedly revealed dirt about Hillary.  The story goes on to claim that not only Don Jr. but -- of course -- Jared Kushner took the bait and went to the meeting.  Ah, but there the story sort of fizzles out;  Junior claims that the Russians (the lawyer and her "friend") only talked about adoption laws.  The stolen emails wound up being publicized, first on Wikileaks and then (in fairly innocuous excerpts) in the media.  Trump joked about stolen emails but never exactly quoted them.  In other words, although the Liberals are drooling buckets and already howling for impeachment, charges of treason, and mental fitness examinations, there's still no proof or even direct evidence of that legendary "collusion".  Nonetheless, the story has gained so much momentum that all the people involved will soon, soon, be hauled in front of Congress to testify -- certainly including Kushner, and possibly even Trump himself.  The game is rushing toward its conclusion.  As Maddow herself noted, this is "either the end, or the beginning of...something really weird."

I vote for "something really weird".

What if, having lured lots of blood-lusting Democrats and a good number of hostile Republicans into exposing themselves as dupes and hysterics, Trump finally reveals the real story -- with proof -- and discredits the lot of them, in front of the whole world? 

Maddow commented, about this latest story, that if she had been sent that enticing email from a Russian official, the first thing she would have done would be to call in the FBI. 

Well, why not the CIA instead?               

What if Trump has been working with the CIA all these years, brought his smart son-in-law into the game, and steered the lesser lights (including Junior) accordingly while keeping them blissfully ignorant?  What if Kushner made that little bureaucratic error about registering as a go-between for a "foreign power" because he had already been working with the CIA for years, and automatically thought of himself as a government agent?  What if Trump and his cronies know perfectly that all those foreign powers, including the Russians, who had repeatedly tried to "meddle" in our elections had failed laughably -- because he'd seen the proof?  What if, in fact, he'd scr*wed the Russians royally and had Putin by the short hairs? 

What if he could prove all this with decades' worth of video/audio recordings -- which, he could honestly say, weren't "tapes"?  After all, almost nobody uses clumsy old tapes and clunky "wires" anymore;  for many years, state-of-the-art recording devices have used electronic data transmission and storage, sent from cameras and microphones that could be disguised as jacket buttons.  You know who has access to state-of-the-art spy gear like that today, and it isn't the Russians.

Well, that's my prophecy.  I daresay we'll see very soon if it's true.

--Leslie <;)))><        
 

 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

An Unexpected Medical Scam -- and Solution


Now for something completely different (how many of you can identify that quote?);  a scam nobody else has mentioned, and an easy way out of it.

Rasty has been steadily losing his hearing for the past 10 years, which is a real tragedy, since he used to be one of the better sound-engineers in the San Francisco Bay area.  He also used to be a very good electronics engineer, who built proof-of-concept models for Bill Hearn -- designer of the UC Berkeley Exploratorium.  We learned the hard way that his Medicare, and its associated HMO, don't cover hearing-aids.  We also learned, after fairly extensive shopping around, that the average price for commercial hearing-aids is somewhere between $2000 and $3000 a pair.  The cheapest we could find anywhere cost $600 a pair, with no guarantee or warrantee.  This p!ssed Rasty off to no end, since he knew, from his years of electronics and sound-work, that a good hearing-aid requires no more than $10 worth of electronics.  He swore that if he'd still had access to Bill Hearn's old lab, he could have easily made a pair for himself with just a couple hours' work.  He did in fact put together an adjustable amplifier, with earphones, out of cheap parts bought at Radio Shack.  It worked only moderately well, since he couldn't make it compensate for distortion in the lower range or balance the high range.

He gave up trying to get anything better after the second time we followed up on a TV ad for a "free hearing test" as part of a come-on for a hearing-aid company.  Yes, we went and got the free test, and Rasty read the results -- which pretty closely confirmed what he'd already figured out.  The intriguing part was the way the doctor (of what?) kept hinting broadly that seniors who can't hear words clearly tend to fall into "dementia".  He then offered us a great deal on hearing-aids: just $2200 a pair.  Uhuh.  We made polite excuses and got out of there fast.  Rasty drove home muttering all the way, swearing that he'd make do with whatever he could pick up at Fry's Electronics.

Ah, but our luck was about to change.  The next day we got a package in the mail from one of Rasty's clever daughters, containing her husband's old (3 years) model smart-phone.  He got bored with the old model and bought a new state-of-the-art smart-phone (that was guaranteed not to catch fire), and decided to send the ol' man the ol' phone rather than dumping it on Gazelle or someplace like it.  'Twas a lovely piece of electronics, but it came without the manual and Rasty had no idea how to transfer his old phone's information to it.  Fortunately, Bill and Carol came for another visit before Rasty's blood-pressure could get any higher.  Bill, who's much more hacker than electronics freak, found the original manual in short order, also found Rasty a much cheaper phone-company (through Fry's), transferred his card-info for him, and -- purely as an afterthought -- added a free app called "hearing aid".  A pretty good ($20) pair of Fry's Electronics' earphones-with-microphone completed the set.

And it worked!  ...Well, partly.  Any phonecall Rasty got through that phone and earphones he could hear perfectly.  Overjoyed, Rasty spent the next couple days calling up his daughters and all his old pals and having long clear conversations with them for the first time in years.

The catch was that it didn't work so well on live sounds -- better than the cheap Radio Shack amplifier, but not by much.  Nor to mention that his rather broad fingers had problems with the persnickety phone's taps and swipes, and he has to get used to using the stylus.

Still, this is a great start -- and Bill's coming back tomorrow, so Rasty can go over the problems with him.  Maybe he'll need a better earphones and mike set, maybe he'll have to pay for a better "hearing aid" app, maybe it'll be something else -- but in any case, we're off to a great start.

And besides, we've discovered a great way for poor folks -- or even ordinary folks -- to beat the hearing-aid price scam that's been going on unhampered, and even unnoticed, for all these years.

 --Leslie <;)))><       

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Gathering Tease


What a disappointment -- for Democrats -- Comey's testimony turned out to be!  For all his earlier hints and promises of juicy revelations about Trump, once under oath Comey squirmed and weaseled and said nothing that could be used as evidence that Trump "obstructed justice".  If anything, he dug his political grave with his mouth;  not even the most frantic Democrat will love him now, and his days of political power are over.  What made him switch positions like that?  I have a theory, but I'll hold it back for awhile.

And then there's Sessions' testimony today -- which was tangled, confused, and full of contradictions -- and made Sessions look like an idiot (without, again, providing any solid testimony or evidence against Trump).  Pretty clearly, Congress will now pile on Sessions too.  I expect he'll be out of his job by the end of the summer.  Was this planned?

I note also the particular question the Senators on the committee made a point of asking: "Did you have any contact with any Russians on... ?"  This is a question guaranteed to confuse, especially to confuse a person who doesn't think fast, as Sessions clearly doesn't.  What do they mean by "any contact"?  Shaking hands and saying hello at a convention rally?  Probably everybody on the Trump campaign -- and probably everybody in Washington -- has had that much contact.  Hell, I've had more contact than that with Russians, at Science Fiction conventions.  If "any" contact with any Russians is evidence of crime, then all the reporters of all the major media, and most of the elected and appointed members of the federal government can be hauled in front of the firing squad.  The fact that Sessions wasn't smart enough to deal with questions like this shows that he just plain isn't smart enough to be Attorney General.  Surely Trump knew that when he offered Sessions the job.  Why?  Again, I'll hold off on my theory for now.

Just in case the dickering in Congress today wasn't exciting enough, Trump let (nudged?) a junior (and obviously not too sharp) staff member tell the media outright (not just "leak") that he thought that Trump was wondering if he (Trump) could "fire the Special Prosecutor".  Of course Trump made no such move, and the rest of his staff insisted he had no such intention, but hoo-hah, did that ever stir up the media!

The icing on the cake is the revelation according to Bloomberg from the "intelligence community" (Just which agency?  Not specified.) that Russian hackers, before the 2016 election, hacked into the voter-registration lists of "39 states" (How many counties in those states?  Not specified.). 

And what did the Russian govt. do with the names and addresses of all those voters?  ...Not a damned thing.  I doubt that this was because the US govt. learned about the hack and told Putin & Co. to cut it out.  Although various pundits have speculated about what an enemy govt. could do with that knowledge, I suspect that the real reason is that the Russians really don't know what the hell to do with the knowledge.  For one thing, they have to know that the computer lists are backed up by hard-copy, and any computer-games would be quickly revealed.  For another, they know that Americans -- as voters or anything else -- are unpredictable;  they can't understand us, and they think we're all crazy.  Meddling with us, they know, would be about as safe as playing catch with a bottle of liquid nitroglycerin.  For a third, Russia has never been a democratic country, and have no idea how such a system really works.  When Stalin bragged "It doesn't matter how people vote;  what matters is who counts the votes" he revealed himself as an amateur.  Americans have had more than two centuries' experience with conducting elections, cheating on elections, and countering election cheats;  our election process -- being different in every one of the 50 states -- is so complex (as I can personally attest!) that most Americans can't keep track of it, and absolutely no Russian can.

So, what's the point of revealing this Russian voter-registration-list hack now, and then revealing that absolutely nothing came of it?  Why, keeping the Democrats and the media fixated on the whole Trump and the Russians flap, of course.  It's all part of Trump's don't-throw-me-in-that-briar-patch tease!  He's got everyone absorbed in two questions:  what is Sessions not saying about Comey's firing, and why was Comey really fired?  Trump is confident enough to keep pouring fuel on the fire -- clearly waiting to be called into the hearings himself.  He's whipping up the tension for more than dramatic effect;  the longer he holds out, the more hysterical the attacks by the various folks who don't like him will get, the worse the excuses by the frantic conservatives will get, the more they'll reveal themselves as idiots and incompetents, and the more excuse he'll have to fire them in droves.  This is a neat way to get shed of those troublesome troglodyte reactionaries his election obligations required him to hire, and also a fine way to flush out the stealth Democrats in the federal bureaucracy.

Obviously, when he's called to testify, he'll say that he fired Comey for other reasons -- and he can prove it. 

And how will he prove it?  I've seen a few hints.  Note that Comey started trimming his sails (and contradicting himself) when, according to a reporter who happened to overhear, Trump commented that Comey had "better hope that our meeting wasn't taped".  Click! -- as we used to say back in the early days of Women's Lib.  I also note that one of the cannier senators in the committee hearing asked Sessions if he knew of any recordings that might have been made of meetings with Trump.  Sessions promptly said no, and you could see that the idea was new to him.  The senator, clearly thinking of Nixon, then asked if he knew of any federal law that would forbid the president from erasing any portion of those recordings, and Sessions admitted that he'd have to go look that up.

Heheheheh.  No fear of erasure, folks.  I'm convinced that Trump's ace up his sleeve is that he's been recording everything he's done, audio and video,from waking to sleep, for a very long time -- and he has no intention of erasing any of that.  I believe he has recordings that will show up Comey for a liar and worse, and will show that -- far from being Putin's tool -- Trump screwed the Russians seven ways from sundown, and possibly still has their balls in his pocket.  And the gods only know what else. 

Yes, Trump too remembers Watergate.  And he's no fool.

--Leslie <;)))><                        

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The War of Appearances

I saw something on MSNBC News tonight that made me give a double-take, and then crack up laughing.  It was a brief shot, during all the gabble about Trump And The Russians, showing a Russian official heading into a building for an EU meeting -- and being hounded by papparazi.  'Twas amazing.  There was the Euro reporter sticking out his microphone and questioning a mile a minute over what was the Russian position on Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Accords, and the harried Russian repeating: "No comment, no comment". 

That by itself would only have been funny, but it was followed a few minutes later by a clip from an American TV news interview with Vladimir Putin, wherein the veteran KGB man contradicted himself within 30 seconds.  First he insisted that the Russian government was not responsible for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee's emails -- that hackers could be anywhere in the world, and he named a few countries -- and just a few seconds later he claimed that the hack had been done by "patriotic Russians".  Now of course Putin, being a Russian politician, has made a career out of lying -- but never before have I seen or heard of him lying so clumsily.  Also, I noticed that the pictures of him were carefully angled and cropped to disguise the fact that his hair has gone totally gray -- and pale gray at that.  His well-trained face showed his usual politely-blank expression, but the lines in his cheeks and forehead were deeper than when we saw them last -- just a couple weeks ago. 

Given how important appearance, bluff, "showoffsky" is to Russian politics, my conclusion is that something is coming apart in Russia.  Given how uncharacteristically quiet Trump has been for the past couple days, I daresay he knows all about it.  The news-media, happily trading speculations about whether there's proof that Trump committed "obstruction of justice", don't seem to notice.

Another odd fact, largely overlooked by the preoccupied media, is that the government of China -- China! -- made a public announcement that it would not tolerate North Korea's "provocative" nuclear program.  To anyone who's been watching developments in Asia over the past few years, this means that Kim Jung Un is doomed -- and soon.  Trump is one person who has to know what this means, but again, he isn't saying a thing. 

So what, besides the obvious, is the media full of?  Proclamations of doom, predictions that the US has lost its position as "leader of the Free World" -- and that France and Germany are vying for the position -- because the US pulled out of the Paris "carbon-footprint" accords.  Despite the frantic predictions of Al Gore and friends, none of this will have any effect on "Global Warming"...  Oops!  "Climate Change".  As I've mentioned a few times, excess CO2 in the atmosphere is readily taken up by plant life -- the bigger the better, the more the merrier -- so the quickest and cheapest and surest solution to "greenhouse gases" in the air is to plant more crops, more ground cover, and especially more trees.  A concerted media campaign encouraging  planting would do far more to clean up the atmosphere than all the "carbon reduction agreements" in the world.  Yet the Paris agreement, which was never binding anyway, is being treated like the rejected salvation of the Earth.

What I see going on here is the classic failing of both the media and the politicians who make use of them: being sucked in by your own propaganda.  When you make your living creating phony appearances and using them to stampede the public, you can easily fall into the illusion that the appearance is as good as the real thing.  From that point, it's all too easy to grow more and more careless about the appearance's connection to reality, and that's the kiss of death.  Reality always snaps back and bites you, sooner or later.

I get the insistent feeling that the whole Get-Trump frenzy is about to blow up in the gleeful media's and Democrats' faces, sooner rather than later.


--Leslie <;)))><    




Friday, May 26, 2017

The Red Phone Remembered


Does anyone remember the infamous Red Phone?  It was a reliable, secure, private phone line between the White House and the Kremlin.  The Red Phone sat on the President's desk throughout the Cold War, for the express purpose of preventing World War III, as shown in various movies -- including the classic "Dr. Strangelove".  Everybody knew about the Red Phone, and nobody complained about its existence. 

Since Glasnost, however, knowledge of the Red Phone has dropped out of sight.  Does it still exist?  Is it still connected?  Whom would you ask to find out? 

In particular, whom would you ask if you were a President-elect who was extremely unpopular with most of the federal bureaucracy -- whose staffs are preponderantly Democrats, including the FBI -- not to mention the mass media, who can be relied upon to put a negative spin on everything you say or do?

Well, why not send a smart, trusted relative to go to the Russian embassy and simply ask the Russian ambassador? 

The ambassador might indeed be surprised at your unorthodox method of determining whether a communication line of great importance to national security was operative or not.  It might give him ideas about how trustworthy your federal bureaucracy was.  His communications back to Putin might be full of speculations as to how they could use this knowledge.  You can be sure that Putin's instructions would have been, basically, use it in any way that makes Russia look powerful and clever and scary and deserving of respect in the world.  And what could give Russia more respect than to tell of Jared Kushner asking about a "secure communication line" with the Russian government --at a time when the Useful Idiots in America are trying to paint their President as a tool of Russia?  Wow, wouldn't that make Russia look like the biggest, baddest kid on the block!

The only problem with this impression is that both Trump and Kushner himself are entirely too confident.  All the Democrats in any branch of government, and the media, and academia, and even in the medical/pharmaceutical business, are drooling buckets at the thought of actually being able to convict Trump of something and impeach him -- but Trump is still calmly saying that The Russian Connection is "a fantasy", and Kushner -- whom the congressional special investigating committee has finally called upon -- is coolly saying that he'll be happy to answer any and all questions they have for him.  This is the confidence of someone with an ace up his sleeve, someone with overwhelming evidence that his accusers are dead wrong -- and biased idiots.

That should have signaled a warning to the gleeful Democrats.  Indeed, older and wiser experts from both parties, in both government and media, have cautioned their colleagues that there could be perfectly "legal, if not moral" reasons for everything Trump and Co. have done with Russia.  Perhaps they too smell a trap being set, ready to  spring.  They have to know that Trump is not a fool, and neither is his son-in-law.   

When it springs, it will reveal just who/where the leaks and covert Democrats are in the White House staff, in the federal bureaucracy, in the "intelligence community" and just about everywhere else -- and Trump can gleefully fire as many of them as he can reach.  The ones he can't reach directly will still be exposed with egg (or worse) on their faces.  It will be a tremendous Machiavellian coup, and the world -- and the Russians -- will have to respect him.

And I'll do my damnedest not to say "I told you so."

--Leslie <;)))><           

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Briar-Patching Redux


Last month I warned that Trump was "Briar-patching" the Democrats in government and especially the Liberal media: teasing them into believing their own favorite fantasies and making ever more outrageous claims, until the undeniable facts show them up as idiots -- in public.  I mentioned that, given the downright hysterical claims of the Liberal media, Trump was doing quite a good job of it.  Well, given the claims of the media today, they're Briar-patching themselves marvelously with no further assistance.

First, there's the firing of FBI Director Comey, at a time when the FBI (along with a few other federal agencies) has been investigating connections between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government.  Of course the Dems/media make the obvious conclusion: Trump fired Comey to stop the FBI's investigation!  Of course!  There couldn't possibly be any other explanation, could there?

Well...  Comey -- following the tradition founded by J. Edgar Hoover himself -- was always much more a politician than a policeman.  Trump called him a "showboater...a grandstander", and (it takes one to know one), as more than a few ex-FBI employees claimed, he wasn't wrong.  Another old FBI tradition is that the agency protects and supports Democrat administrations, much as the CIA does for Republican ones, and Comey had been a faithful lapdog to Obama and Hillary over the years of his tenure.  On his orders, FBI personnel avoided using the term "Islamic terrorism", the FBI hired spokesmen from CAIR as advisers rather than investigate the organization, and made a priority out of collecting and investigating reported "hate crimes" against Muslims.  When Hillary's election committee received surprisingly large donations from the government of China, the media soon dropped the story and the FBI declined to investigate.  These would have been reason enough for any Republican president to replace Comey.

The icing on the cake was Comey's handling of the Hillary Unsecured E-mail case.  When Congressional pressure demanded an inquiry into Hillary's misuse of the email account, the Democrats and media turned on Comey and demanded that he be fired.  What Comey did was call a press conference on July 5, 2016 during which, according to at least three FBI Assistant Directors -- James Kallstrom, Bill Gavin, and Ron Hosko -- Comey assumed the role of a prosecutor and recommended no charges be filed against Hillary.  This put him back in the Derms/media's good graces again, he thought.  Kallstrom claims that the investigation itself was a sham, and this action "threw the reputation of the FBI under a bus.  That's what I'm very mad about".  Gavin agreed that Comey's firing was "something that had to happen", that "when he made a prosecutive opinion in an investigative matter, he made a mistake."  The FBI, being part of the Department of Justice, has to be very meticulous about such things.  Hosko agreed that "that is, reasonable minds can agree, the province of the prosecutor."  The move may have seemed like good politics, but it was bad law and made Comey's firing inevitable, no matter who was president.  In the end, it wasn't even good politics;  Democrats blamed the investigation, and it's "tarnishing" of Hillary's image, for sabotaging her campaign and costing her the election -- and again started howling for Comey's resignation.

The only real question about Comey's dismissal was when and how it would be done, and Trump's method was guaranteed to Briar-Patch the media.  Note how readily he agreed to that TV interview about it, and especially note exactly what he said.  After Trump gave technically accurate but vague explanations for the firing, the anchorman asked if he hadn't worried about "how it would look" that he fired Comey in the middle of the "Russia investigation" -- and Trump replied that he "thought about it", but then remembered that the supposed scandal was "a fantasy, a made-up story", and blithely went ahead with dismissing Comey -- leaving him find out about it on the TV news.  Right after that interview was aired, no less than Rachel Maddow (usually a quick and intelligent woman) claimed that Trump had "admitted" that he fired Comey to stop the investigation -- when in fact he said no such words, and the taped interview shows it.  This is an example of the hysterical lengths the Dems/Liberal media will go in pursuit of their own fantasy.

Then, merrily adding fuel to the fire, Trump invited the Russian ambassador and foreign minister, and even the head of the Russian news agency, to a private meeting in the Oval Office -- from which the US news media were firmly barred.  The reaction of the media remarkably resembled a jealous tantrum thrown by bratty children who haven't been invited to a swanky party.  First they howled that Trump had no right to hold a "secret meeting" with agents of a foreign government, until embarrassed legal experts pointed out that, a) far from "secret", the meeting was announced by the White House staff, and b) the President of the US has not only the right but the duty to meet and talk with agents of foreign governments -- in fact, that's a big part of his job.  Next, the news-hounds claimed, with no facts whatever, that Trump was "giving highly classified material" to the Russians -- until, again, legal experts informed them that the POTUS also has the right to decide what "classified material" he deems fit to give to foreign governments.  Perfectly legitimate White House staffers reported that what Trump had discussed with the Russians were matters of mutual concern in the middle-east, specifically dealing with ISIL, and the media went into an orgy of speculation.

Finally, a few days later, an outraged Washington Post claimed that Trump actually had revealed "highly classified information" to the Russians -- details about an ISIL terrorist plot involving the use of laptop computers on aircraft, among other things.  Obviously, Russia was one of the intended victims of this plot, and the information would be very useful to Russia's security.  Of course Trump asked for some favor in return, and the most likely guess is that he got the pledge of more help in destroying the whole Jihadist movement, something that the Russian government would be quite willing to do, if it could.  Why should the Dem/Liberal media crowd be upset by this?  Well, according to the Post, "Trump's disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State", information provided by "a US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the US government, *officials said.* (emphasis mine).  The partner had not given the US permission to share the material with Russia, and *officials said* Trump's decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State.  After Trump's meeting, *senior White House officials took steps to control the damage,* placing calls to the CIA and the NSA."

Really?  Just where did the Washington Post claim to have gotten this information?  From unnamed "current and former US officials", the Post said.  Uhuh.

Now, supposing the Post story is true, just which "US partner" would fit the description?  The only possible candidates are Turkey, which is becoming less of an ally every minute, and one-third of the government of Pakistan, which was never an ally in the first place.  To be blunt, the only valuable assistance we can expect, or have gotten, from either of those is bought for money and unreliable.  You can be sure that our "intelligence community" verified this information from other sources before trusting it enough to use for a bargaining chip with the Russians.  That means there are other information sources in place which our spies could use for that verification, and those are still there.  The US didn't lose anything of value by giving the Russians information which could save them from some nasty Jihadist attacks.

And is the story true, after all?  H. R. McMaster, the White House national security adviser who was actually present at the meeting, claimed that "At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly", but the media have largely ignored him.

The Post appears to have gotten a real scoop on this story, for everyone else reporting the tale quotes it, in a wonderful display of blind faith.  Other assorted Liberal Dems are having a field day with the story, crying for appointment of a "special prosecutor" to investigate the "Trump-Russia Connection", already chortling about impeachment, and a group of psychologists are happily labelling Trump a sociopath, psychopath, and everything-else-opath that they can think of, ignoring the fact that the usual label for a doctor who diagnoses a patient he's never met is "sued".  Only a few cooler heads have urged caution, such as the famed Alan Dershowitz and Jonathan Turley, who noted that Trump should appoint as new FBI director "someone absolutely above reproach" and "support a special investigative commission, not an independent prosecutor, because I don't think we have any probable cause, yet, that crimes have been committed."

Could it be that this is exactly what Trump wants to do, because a special investigative committee would reveal that he's innocent, and his accusers are biased, hysterical liars and idiots?  Could it be that this particular tease has revealed leaks and hostile members of the White House staff, whom Trump can now happily fire?  Could this be the cliff that he's hoping to stampede the Dems/Liberal media over?  It's the sort of plot that Trump's smart Jewish son-in-law could have thought up.

Be careful of that briar-patch!

--Leslie <;)))><





  

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Healthcare Studied -- Finally


When the ACA/Obamacare was first passed, the bill was over 2900 pages long and nobody in the Senate, at least, had read it all the way through.  I don't recall offhand the name of the politician who said that they had to pass the bill to find out what was in it, but she was a political idiot.  Would you dive off a cliff in the dark just because some charming speaker said 'Trust me'?  Ah, but the Liberal euphoria at having elected Our First Black President distracted Congress from all those citizens complaining "Just Fix Medicare". 

It was the bureaucrats tasked with the details of making the new law work who noticed the several little bits of political pork hidden in the nooks and crannies of the bill, such as a gift of $100 million to repair the infrastructure of... Gaza.  The law they finally put into operation was *only* 2100 pages long, and none of the media were so rude as to ask exactly what was in those missing 800 pages. 

It was the army of medical finance accountants who began noticing problems with the new law, and issuing alarms, which government and media took care to ignore.  People who noticed and spread these warnings were usually denounced as "right-wingers", "racists", and worse -- as if criticizing what was considered the crowning achievement of Obama's administration was blasphemy, much like any criticism of Islam.

Only after the election, when Trump started his attempts to replace the ACA, did it finally become acceptable to seriously question our current system of public healthcare.  As it turns out, there's a lot to question. 

The first federal public healthcare system was the Veterans' Administration, which was obliged to provide free hospitals and medical treatment for veterans, and did a repeatedly bad job of it.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs did something similar for the Indian tribes.  All that could be said of these free hospitals and clinics is that they were better than nothing.  There actually was a bill passed in the 1970s that would have provided the same services for the definable poor, but a concerted campaign by the AMA and associates kept the bill from ever being funded.  That law is still on the books, forgotten and still unfunded.

Medicare was passed in the '60s, and was intended to be the safety-net health insurance system for the poor, funded out of Social Security, which would pay directly for medical treatments.  Medicaid was intended as a supplement, to fill in the gaps in the system, but has turned out to be a trap;  any mistake in the complex paperwork -- regardless of whose fault it is -- can result in its clients being robbed of everything they own.  Any social worker with any sense today warns their clients to apply for Medicare, but avoid Medicaid like the plague.

The major problem with Medicare was that in providing direct payments, it cut the health-insurance companies out of the loop, and out of all that juicy money.  No one in particular has every been prosecuted for this, but the insurance companies entered into a conspiracy with the medical industry to exploit a particular loophole in the law;  any medical practitioner could refuse to accept direct payment from Medicare, so that the Medicare money had to be diverted through middlemen -- certain health-insurance companies that were favored by the state governments -- and the insurance companies would then pay the medical providers, who gleefully accepted those payments.  This system did nothing to reduce medical costs.  More, the insurance companies would pay only 80% of the costs, leaving the clients to pick up the other 20% in co-pays.  And never mind the added costs created by the paperwork itself, which deserves a whole article of its own.  The ACA only increased these costs, building up a snowballing debt, which is what those accountants tried to warn the public about.

Put them all together, and they describe a system built to fail.

Yes, the ACA has to go, Medicare needs to be severely overhauled, Medicaid should be thrown out completely -- and, incidentally, both the Indian-reservation and the VA hospitals and clinics need to be reorganized from the ground up.  The various regulations have to be simplified, the paperwork must be cut to the bone, and the bureaucracy with it.  Most of all, those middleman insurance companies must be cut out of the loop.  Medicare payments must be made directly to the medical providers -- hospitals, pharmacies, clinics, doctors and all -- and there must be some federal enforcement to keep them from refusing those direct payments.  Possibly the fed.-govt. could take away the license to prescribe medicines from any refuseniks, which would cut drastically into their incomes.  Also the FDA has got to be overhauled -- and marijuana re-scheduled as an over-the-counter medicine -- and the whole drug-approval system re-examined, but that's a different can of worms and needs a bill of its own.  The health-insurance companies can continue to offer their services to the public, but they won't get an automatic slice of the taxpayers' money through Social Security via Medicare anymore.  They might even have to compete honestly for the market, which will mean improving services and cutting costs like any other business.

The problem with getting to a sensible bill like this is that not only will the insurance and pharmaceutical companies scream bloody murder, but the rich reactionary-conservative faction wants to inject its own politics into the healthcare system.  They don't just want to de-fund Planned Parenthood (which, frankly, survived quite well on private donations for nearly a century before Medicare began paying into it), they want to ban all abortions, all fetal-tissue research, and even all contraception -- which the majority of the citizens will never stand for. 

Now, these groups contributed heavily to the GOP in the last election, so Trump has to at least make a convincing show of trying to please them.  Of course, he's already done that with his first attempts to replace the ACA, which famously failed, so he can convincingly say to the reactionaries and insurance/medical/pharmaceutical companies that he's done all he could to please them -- and then he can go on to more sensible attempts at healthcare reform.  The current bill will probably fail too, and then he'll have to come up with something better yet.  No doubt he knows this;  he's not a stupid man.

Meanwhile, just about everybody in the federal government is -- finally! -- studying the federal healthcare system with a magnifying glass, going over all the laws with a fine-toothed comb, looking to clean up the whole mess -- everything that should have been done before the ACA ever passed.  It's more than a shame that this took so long.

In any case, yes, the ACA will eventually be repealed and replaced.  It's just a question of when, and how well.         

--Leslie <;)))><  



Monday, April 24, 2017

Photo-Fakery and Abu Ghraib, part 4


Going on with the Abu Ghraib "abuse" photos at www.antiwar.com/news/?articleid=8560 --

When we move down to the next picture, #5, it begins to look familiar.  To the right, in a corner formed by a spotty concrete floor, one apparently plastered wall and one wooden wall, kneels a man in an orange jumpsuit with his hands behind his back.  He has a narrow, tanned face, close-cropped dark hair, and a somewhat dismayed expression that doesn't quite look natural.  To the left, fairly close to the wooden wall, stands a medium-sized black dog, facing the kneeling man.  The dog is standing with its legs straight, not pulling forward or back.  Its ears are half-cocked back, its mouth is partly open with its tongue partly out, and it's panting.  Its expression is calm and patient, and it has a pad of grayish callus on its visible elbow, showing that it spends a lot of time lying down on rough surfaces.  It's wearing a narrow chain-link collar with nothing visible attached, and a wide leather collar with a leash attached.  Holding the leash taut, standing beside and somewhat behind the dog, is a man in a desert-camouflage uniform, a thick flak-vest, black gloves and a tan knit cap.  He has a grayish five-o'-clock shadow, and his face is slightly more pink and less tanned than the kneeling man.  The focus and resolution are sharp and clear, and the coloration is natural.  The lighting is strong and bright, and is coming from above and somewhat to the left.  That's all we see.

Yet at least two of these figures are familiar;  we saw that dog, and the man holding its leash, in the first photo -- in a similar pose, but with much worse lighting and resolution.  In fact, the man in the orange jumpsuit in photo #5 looks very much like the supposedly-naked man in photo #1, but we can't be sure because the lighting and resolution are so poor.

The text accompanying the photo says (emphasis mine): "A US soldier in a flak jacket appears to be using both hands to restrain a dog facing an Iraqi detainee in the Abu Ghraib prison."

"Appears"?  The dog is standing four-square, not pulling against the leash, calm and panting.  There's nothing but his darker tan to indicate that the man in the orange jumpsuit is even Iraqi, and nothing to prove that he's actually a detainee.  He doesn't look believably frightened, and -- despite that soldier's two-handed grip on the leash -- the dog doesn't look threatening.  In short, this picture looks staged.

Now compare this with photo #1.  Despite their position in the list, there's reason to think that photo #5 was taken first -- and that is its "stagey" look.  Photo #1 appears more brutal and "abusive" precisely because the lighting, focus and resolution are so bad that we can't see any details clearly.  Since all the other photos in the series are quite clear, so we can only assume that this mis-focus is deliberate, done to cover up the "detainee's" shortcomings as an actor -- not to mention the dog's.

Again, why?  Consider the real story of Abu Ghraib as revealed by both the army's and the Red Cross' investigations as we venture further into the collection of photographs.  Stay tuned!

--Leslie <;)))><      

Photo-Fakery and Abu Ghraib, part 4

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Photo-Fakery and Abu Ghraib, Part 3


(I thought I'd best hurry up and publish this before the media comes up with more headlines about Trump.)

Moving on with the Abu Ghraib photos at www.antiwar.com/news/?articleid=8560 --

The third photo down shows an odd image: a naked man (we can assume from his muscular shoulders, despite his broad buttocks) with pale skin and dark hair, his back to the camera, standing with his arms outstretched and his legs crossed, in the middle of a bare corridor lined with barred doors.  His legs are visible down to the ankles, which wear manacles, and we can see part of a chain between them. The man is splattered with brown stains, from the back of his head to his buttocks, with streaks on his legs down to his ankles and on his arms down to thick smears on his outspread hands.  The smears are exactly where we would expect them to be if the man had fallen on his back, with his arms outstretched in front of him, into a large puddle of mud and then wiped off what he could reach with his hands before being stopped.

The corridor is clearly inside a prison unit;  beyond the naked man we can see two men's hands and forearms, darkly tanned, wearing broad white wristbands, sticking out from between the bars.  The arms are resting on the doors' crossbars, and the hands are relaxed.  At roughly the same distance beyond the naked man stands another man, dressed in military boots, camo pants, medium-wide black belt, brown T-shirt, and apparently black gloves on what we can see of his partly-concealed hands.  His skin is pale, but darker than that of the man in the foreground;  his face and neck are slightly-sunburned pink, but his forearms are tanned -- though not so darkly tanned as the arms sticking out of the cells.  He has dark hair and a mustache, and is holding an 18-inch long black tapering rod in his visible hand.  There is no one else in the corridor, and he has no other visible weapons.  The light is coming from apparently neon lamps above the doors, but primarily from somewhere near or behind the camera.  The photo-resolution is crisp and clear, and the color is naturalistic. 

This is what we see, and all that we see.  Now, what does it mean?

The added caption (emphasis mine) claims, cautiously: "A baton-wielding US soldier, appears to be ordering a naked detainee covered in a 'brown substance' to walk a straight line with his ankles handcuffed."

But is it really?  Note that lawsuit-evading "appears".   Also note the coyly emphasized "brown substance", meant to imply manure rather than mud.  In fact, the supposed detainee is not walking a straight line but crossing his left foot to the right of his right foot -- a dancing move -- and this may be a quibble, but his ankles are wearing manacles, not "handcuffs";  handcuffs will not fit around the average human ankle, and have little or no chain between them.  The man further down the corridor may well be a US soldier, and the rod in his hand may well be a light expanding baton, but is the man in the foreground a "detainee"?  Note the evidence of the suntanned forearms.

The soldier has a slightly-pink face and neck, showing that these usually avoid the hard sunlight of the region, but his forearms have clearly endured a lot of it.  One gets this pattern by going out in the sun as little as possible, and then only to drive a vehicle;  that's commonly known as a "truck-driver's tan".  This could be expected of a prison guard.  The forearms sticking out of those barred doors are much more darkly tanned, as if they belonged to people who had spent their whole lives -- and probably their ancestors for six generations had too -- living in that climate.  Given what prisoners Abu Ghraib got, we can safely assume that these belong to real POWs -- and they're carefully watching what those two men in the corridor are doing.  I think, given the fact that there's an unseen cameraman present, that this was planned.  In other words, this is a show put on for the benefit -- and intimidation -- of the prisoners, whose culture has a fascinated horror of nudity.

Now let's look closer at that supposed "detainee" in the foreground.  Note that despite the excellent musculature of his shoulders, arms, and legs, he still has that broad butt -- as if he'd been trained to very good physical condition, but then spent most of his working day sitting in an office chair.  Also note that, out of everyone present, he's the only one with untanned forearms;  they're as pale as the rest of him -- which is paler than anyone else.  There's not even a trace of slight sunburn.  What this spells is that he's not an Arab;  he's part of the military, but an office-worker.  We can't see the front of him, but I'd guess that it's likewise plastered  with mud -- to disguise the fact that he's not really a "detainee".  This scene was staged.  Precisely because there was a cameraman present, I suspect that it was not planned only for the benefit of the prisoners.

So just why, and for whom, was this picture taken?  For that matter, why were all the rest of them taken?

For that we'll have to reconsider the army's (and Red Cross') Abu Ghraib report -- and look at more of those photos, with an analytical eye.  More to come.  Patience!   

--Leslie <;)))><  
    

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Ooh, Please Don't Throw Me In That Briar-Patch!


Since Rasty loves to listen to MSNBC, I've been obliged to spend much of the day listening to the bellwethers of the Liberal Media gloating over bits of rumors about possible transgressions of Trump and the Russians (and yes, they do make it sound like the name of a disreputable rock-band).  Oooh, Trump concealed this, one of his staff avoided mentioning that, and Flynn's Asking For Immunity before he'll testify to one of the half-dozen or so Investigative Committees.  You can almost see them drooling, over really no evidence, so sure that when they finally dig up the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth they'll be able to throw Trump out of office and put Hillary in.

*Sigh*  You'd think they'd know better.  For one thing, throw out Trump and what you'll get -- Constitutional law is quite clear about this -- is Mike Pence.  Are you sure you want that, Rachel Maddow?  For another, there's no solid evidence there -- just hints, innuendo, and a bunch of amateurs' procedural mistakes -- like Nunez going straight to the White House to tell Trump & Co. that yes, there is evidence that somebody really did some "electronic surveillance" inside Trump Tower sometime.  

Now I'm sure that Obama never really called anybody from the FBI and told them "Go tap Trump's phones"; no, nothing so direct.  But consider that historically the FBI has supported Democrat administrations (while the CIA has supported Republican ones), that there are plenty of federal, state, county and even municipal police departments with the capacity and legal permission to use "electronic surveillance" and the willingness to earn brownie points with the FBI.  Also, in their eagerness to lambast Trump, various of these agencies have admitted that they were following "some of Trump's people" around, looking for a "Russian connection";  nothing would be easier than to walk somebody into the building wearing a wire.

For that matter, it wouldn't be necessary to walk anyone inside at all.  'Way back when I was a student war-protester and Hippie activist (never mind how many years ago that was!) the local police Red Squad spied on our apartment simply by parking an unmarked car out front and aiming a shotgun-microphone at our front room window;  even in those days, they had microphones sensitive enough to pick up the vibrations of voices bouncing off window-glass.  We had to conduct political business and grass-buys in writing while singing along with the radio.  I leave it to your imagination how spy technology has advanced since then.  Yes, I'm sure that somebody spied on Trump Tower.  Just what they heard is another story.

Remember, whatever else Trump is (con-man, sloppy speaker, jockish horn-dog, and plenty more), he's not a fool.  However close he skirts to the edge of the law, he's managed -- in all these years as a somewhat-shady businessman -- never to go provably over that edge, at least not far enough to ever get slapped with more than a bearable fine.  Recall that the forensic bookkeepers who went over the books for his foundation were impressed at how every penny was accounted for, every time and date of every activity meticulously recorded, and verified.  Also recall that he grew up during the days of the Cold War, and purely as a businessman he would have known about the dangers of dealing with the Russians.

Never mind where I picked up this information;  let's just say that as a political activist, a Wobbly, and a filksinger, I've talked to a lot of interesting people, in interesting places, under interesting conditions.  Also I've noticed that Russians, who can slug down Russian (or even Polish) vodka as if it were water, become surprisingly relaxed and merry after just a few shots of good golden whiskey.  Anyway...

Anyone who's done any kind of business in Russia knows the following facts: culturally, politically, and economically, Russia is the world's largest Third-World Country.  Economically, it's been staggering one step ahead of disaster for a century, and often enough it stumbles;  then we see (as we often have!) Russia unable to even feed its own people, obliged to buy grain from its oft-proclaimed worst enemy.  28 years ago we saw it collapse completely, taking the USSR with it.  Glasnost happened because Russia needed to make friends in a hell of a hurry, simply to keep its people from starving to death.  For years afterward, the Russian government could not pay its army.  Soldiers and officers had to moonlight at any jobs they could get, and sold their uniforms, insignias, various weapons, even furniture, anywhere they could -- even on the budding Internet.  Half the country's economy ran on barter, and more than a quarter of it still does.  The factories that are still running work at 50% capacity, on average.  The farms work because the managers ignore political policy and let the working staff use as much of the communal land as they want for their own crops, often seeded from their own personal gardens (which have been the mainstay of Russian agriculture for more decades than any government official wants to admit).  Worse, actual production quality is wretched, and not just because so many working stiffs show up hungover on Monday;  they also commonly have vodka for lunch, and afternoon production drops off precipitously in quantity and quality.  This is true of all mass manufacturing, including military.  At any given time, at least 15% of Russia's weaponry, from nukes on down, doesn't work.  The non-military production is worse.  And that's just the economy.

The way the Russian government has kept up its facade as a super-power is by making a major industry out of constant propaganda, "showoffsky" posing, and generally lying like a rug.  Managers lie about production, generals lie about the condition of their troops, medical administrators about the state of public health, and so on.  They also sweeten the lies to their higher-ups with "gifts", as well as artful excuses -- quite often by blaming personal and political rivals.  Bribery with anything as obvious as cash is fiercely forbidden and punished, precisely because corruption is so common, so one has to be subtle about the payoffs.  Nonetheless, the truth about shortcomings of goods and labor eventually makes itself obvious.  This means that nobody can trust the official news, the government's statements, their bosses' claims, or really anybody except very close and proven personal acquaintances.  There is no "public trust".  Think about what that implies.

Among other things, this means that the government's other major industry is spying -- on everyone it can afford to -- to see what they're really doing.  This has led to a secondary industry of blackmail, which is successful often enough to encourage its continued use.  And of course it means that nobody can rely on any government services.  This has encouraged the growth of the Russian Mafia, which is often more reliable than the official system.  When the economy collapsed, the only organization capable of maintaining any reliable flow of goods or services was the Russian Mafia;  as a result, much of Russia's recovered economy -- such as it is -- is Mafia-run.

As a result, anyone with any experience doing business in Russia knows that to do any kind of business in Russia means dealing with the Russian government or the Russian Mafia, or both;  the only way to tell them apart is that the Russian Mafia tends to be more honest and less interested in spying.  But in any case, you cannot trust the Russians on anything;  only the simplest of transactions can be in any way relied on.  This is why not many companies want to do business in Russia. 

Random  peculiarities:  1) If you check into a better class of hotel in Russia, be assured that there are hidden cameras in the bedroom walls, and possibly microphones too, and be prepared to deal with them.  2) If you intend to construct anything, import the materials and machinery yourself, and arrange to have them guarded 24 hours a day, preferably by imported guards;  otherwise as much as half of them will be stolen.  Keep these in mind.

Now one resource which Russia had after the collapse was the immense untapped petroleum fields in Siberia, oil reserves greater than Saudi Arabia's, enough to rebuild its economy from the ground up.  The problem was that nobody in Russia had the resources, or the skills, to develop that industry.  In desperation, the Russian government quietly sent a delegation to talk to President Bush, an old oil-man himself, to negotiate a deal.  Bush happily complied, because a notice appeared in the American media -- with no fanfare -- that the Bush administration had put together a consortium of international industrialists to develop vaguely-described "Russian oil-fields".  The story wasn't followed up and soon faded from public awareness, but whoever wants to can track it down and get the details.

One of the companies involved in that consortium was owned by Donald Trump.

I think we can be sure that Trump was not naive about the peculiarities of dealing with Russia.  Note that when that story circulated about Trump entertaining Russian whores in his hotel room, and getting them to pee on the bed, he did not react to it as defensively as he usually does to real threats or challenges;  he simply laughed it off.  This implies that some Russian agent or other had previously tried to blackmail him with that story, and Trump knew perfectly well that the tale wasn't true -- and he could prove it.  Note this pattern.

What Trump primarily did for most of his life was to buy and sell and build large buildings.  What was he doing as part of that development consortium?  What else but building at least one large building?  He would have been aware of those interesting problems with large-scale construction in Russia -- indeed, he may have been the person who made that information common in the business community.  I think we can assume that Trump took care not to robbed, scammed, blackmailed, or otherwise ripped off by the Russians.  He might even have brought an electronics expert with him who shorted out those hidden cameras and microphones.  I would like to see a study on the building that Trump put up in Russia, and how much Trump got for it.  In any case, I don't think Trump gave the Russians anything except the building.  My guess would be that, when everything is finally revealed to the public, it will turn out that Trump royally screwed the Russians -- and he can prove it.

So why would he keep quiet about it, why be so evasive, why make it look as if he had something juicy to hide?  Well, what I'm seeing here is a fine case of "Briar-Patching": teasing his all-too-eager political detractors into stampeding themselves over a cliff by pretending he doesn't want them to do something.  This is a classic technique for manipulating excitable teenagers.  Then again, the Liberal/Democrat media have been acting younger than that, even unto inventing blatant hoaxes, as I personally attested on my Facebook page.  I'm waiting to see the result when Trump finally does reveal all his records, including his tax reports, and the over-eager media pundits are left with egg on their faces -- in public.

Now, who would think up such an elaborate red herring?  Well, maybe a certain smart Jewish husband of a smart businesswoman who just happens to be the daughter of Donald Trump -- a canny political observer, much beloved by the family, who has been keeping a low profile since well before the election.  I can see Trump laughing like hell when the idea was first presented to him.  It would be such a fitting revenge on the arrogant left-wing bigots of the media!                                                                                                                                                                                                                           --Leslie <;)))><                                                                                                             

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Out of the Mouths of... Cracked?

Yet another week I'm going to put off the next lesson in photo-fakery, because this is just too damn important not to re-post -- especially since it explains the GOP's budget plan so well!

--Leslie <;)))>< 

5 Reasons Why The Middle Class Doesn't Understand Poverty


Poverty is a well-worn subject here at Cracked. John Cheese has talked about it a lot, C. Coville discussed legal loopholes that can screw the poor, and we've also covered myths the media perpetrates. And now it's my turn to moderately wealthsplain the subject.
Unlike John and others, I grew up one year's worth of acoustic guitar lessons away from being the most stereotypical middle-class white kid ever. I didn't take yearly vacations to private islands to hunt men for sport, but I also never wanted for clothes and video games. And while us suburban kids were taught that it's good to help the poor, we were also accidentally taught to treat them with disdain. Here's how.

5
We're Constantly Told That "Money Can't Buy Happiness"

If you're friends with the right kind of insufferable people on social media, you've probably seen pictures like this:
Pinterest

Or, God help us, this:
Quote Addicts
It's all variations on the same theme: Money can't buy happiness, true wealth comes from friendship and experiences, you don't need the solid gold butt plug when the polymer one feels identical inside of you, etc. Movies teach it, music teaches it, our parents teach it -- money is useless if you aren't living. It's not an inherently bad message, but try telling people at the homeless shelter to count the blessings that money can't buy, and see how long it takes before you'll feel blessed that you can afford health insurance.
Outside of images that the Care Bears would find insipid, "Money can't buy happiness" is what middle-class people tell each other when someone is trying to decide between two different jobs. "I make 70k right now and the new gig only plays 60k, so I wouldn't be able to travel as much. But I'd have more free time to play Ultimate, the benefits are better, and there's no way my new manager could be any worse than my current one." That's an important decision to the person making it, but they're debating between two different kinds of comfort. It's safely assumed that the money they will need to exist will always be there. It would be nice to have more -- to be able to go to more restaurants or to justify buying a second Roomba because deep down you know that the first one is lonely -- but there's always enough to keep the lights on and the kitchen stocked.
Pinterest, God's Punishment For Our SinsIf the Minions are on your side, you might want to reconsider things.
Continue Reading Below

You may have seen the study that claimed $70,000 a year is the ideal salary -- after that, more money generally doesn't make you happier. Well, that's great news for people hovering around that benchmark, but if you're poor, more money will abso-fucking-lutely make you happier. More money means healthier food, or a chance to get out of the house and have some fun. It can mean knowing the rent is paid for next month, or being able to afford medication.
The middle class isn't immune to money problems, especially if there are kids in the mix. Getting laid off at the wrong time sucks, no matter what your income is. But the middle-class people with money problems I've known were generally suffering from self-inflicted wounds. They had no savings because they wanted the new car or the luxury vacation. They wanted one of those experiences they were constantly told was more important than money, because the money for day-to-day necessities was always there, right up until it wasn't.
My Destination UnknownA sentiment that will read differently when employers start asking about the gaps in your resume.
That's part of the reason, I think, so many middle-class people laugh at campaigns to raise the minimum wage. "You want 15 bucks an hour to flip burgers? How about you just hold off on the new TV until you get a real job?" The middle class generally fluctuates between being able to afford a nice vacation one year and having to settle for a few trips to the movies the next. The poor can fluctuate between paying bills and being out on the street. But the idea that such essentials could just go unpaid is unfathomable, right up until you experience it.

4
We're Taught To Associate Low-Paying Jobs With Failure

When I was growing up, there was never a question of whether or not I was going to college. That's partially because the idea of my spindly idiot ass learning a technical trade or doing manual labor is the first step in creating an "Epic Fail!!!" YouTube video, but mostly because my parents had a fund set up for me. (It helped that I live in a country where a post-secondary education doesn't cost roughly eight quadrillion dollars a semester.)
Continue Reading Below

So jobs that didn't require a degree were presented to us as warning signs. "You better study hard, or else you're going to end up just like that bull masturbator for the rest of your life! And I didn't intend that pun, so don't giggle!" Becoming a janitor or a gas station attendant or an internet comedy writer would have been considered a disappointment, an inability to take advantage of the gifts that were offered to us. Poverty was considered a moral failing.
SeanShot/iStockI'm sure he regrets not studying harder for that ninth-grade algebra test.
No one ever just came out and said that, but the implication was always there. We tend to assume that other people are basically like us until they prove otherwise, which is why I'm constantly shocked to discover that most people don't like my favorite homoerotic golf academy anime, Wood Strokes. So we were never taught that working as a dishwasher or a grocery store clerk or a sperm bank fluffer could be an important stepping stone for someone with a different background than us. We were also never taught that, you know, it's still a goddamn job where someone shows up and puts work in and gets paid for their time. They were always just associated with squandered potential.
And man, when you hear that message constantly, it's hard to shake. It's easy to glance at a middle-aged dude working the checkout counter and automatically think "Well, I bet he's not the brightest guy around" or "Oh shit, is that what happened to Matthew Lawrence?" It's not malicious -- not initially. Being told to take advantage of your opportunities is not a bad message. But when that message is driven into you for decades, it creates a stigma around certain jobs. And from some people, it produces plenty of snide remarks about how the people working those jobs should get better ones, as if the person who's been a server for seven years has never considered just popping


 down to the job store and picking up a career in architecture.  Janitors and baristas keep society running as much as anyone else. If all of America's coffee shops shut down for a day, the country would experience a nationwide narcolepsy epidemic crossed with The Purge. But when you grow up in the middle class, the only thing you're taught about such jobs is that you should get one as a teenager to build character, and then thank God that you'll never have to work one again as long as you don't fuck up in life. And as long as we consider that a sign of our superior work ethic instead of birth luck, we're going to keep dismissing as pathetic the jobs we'd all get angry about if they vanished tomorrow.

There Are Always Certain Things We Take For Granted

An education isn't the only thing that most middle-class kids can assume they'll get. A car to borrow, a phone, 20 bucks for when you really want to take a girl to what you assumed was a bad movie so you could make out in the back row but then it turns out that she's actually super into the plot of Gigli and wants to focus on it even though you were all set to reach second base and so you end up getting a confused erection to Al Pacino and it inadvertently shapes your formative years ... you know, all the little things that are part of growing up in Middle America.

That's the end result of assuming that a good job awaits you, and that money is for throwing at problems and buying pizza instead of something to stress out about. Water heater broke? No worries, we'll just have to eat in the rest of the month to make up for it. Shoes all worn out? Well, you can't go to school like that, so go get some new ones. Gone on a losing streak at the Pokemon Card League and the groupies have started drifting off to the other players? Better pick up a few booster packs to get back in the game. You know you can't get greedy and start buying Armani, but as long as your needs are modest, the money will always be there.
So the idea of 20 bucks making or breaking someone is impossible to appreciate. It's just not a concept that clicks in our heads. It makes sense on a logical level, sure -- you need money, and you don't have it, and that sucks. But when you're raised in comfort, you can't put yourself in that head space emotionally. You can't understand the stress, or the fear that you might not be able to feed your kids. The closest we can get is watching Gwyneth Paltrow try and hilariously fail to live on a tiny food budget before going back to her $4,000 kale cleanses. That's kind of like empathy, right?

And because it's tough to relate to, it's tough to talk about. If someone tells me that they never got Christmas presents growing up, all I can respond with is "Uh, yeah, that sounds like it sucked. Well ... one time my grandma accidentally got me Super Murpio 67, so ... I hear you." Starting a conversation with a bunch of middle-class people about poverty is like bringing up Trayvon Martin at a country club. Everyone trips over everyone else's words to talk about how tragic it is, but then they distance themselves from the problem and the "buts" start coming out. And to further compound the issue ...

2
We Don't Witness Poverty, So We Don't Understand It

When I was growing up, my exposure to poverty was largely limited to sitcom families who would talk about how poor they were, but were still able to go on a wacky adventure every week. The Simpsons kept running into money troubles in their early years, but their house looked the same as mine. Even the family from Roseanne, the classic working-class sitcom, owned a house that's a palace compared to what a lot of people live in. The problem with portraying poverty in sitcoms is that it's hard to get laughs out of eviction and early deaths caused by crippling medical debt, so the lesson always ends up being "Poor people struggle with money sometimes, but in the end they alays get by, and they have lots of laughs while doing it!" Sitcoms make being poor look fun.

Beyond that, once or twice a year, I'd go to some kid's birthday party and notice that his house was a lot smaller and more run down than mine. One of the kids who always got talked about in a slightly different tone of voice by the adults. I never gave it much thought because we went to the same school and both liked Nintendo -- how different could our lives possibly be? Maybe I'd see a story on the news that would put a positive spin on the issue. ("Look at how many volunteers with beautiful families showed up to the soup kitchen to help feed these filthy hobos!") Beyond that, the middle class just doesn't think about poverty.


We're always looking up, always wanting to go to the Christmas party at the rich friend's house so we can get a taste of what we're aspiring to. There's rarely a reason to go to the poor part of town. Tell jokes about it, sure, but go? We never have to leave the bubble, so we never learn what real poverty looks like. Poor people become invisible, this mysterious Other, a group that serves you food, and in return, you throw a couple of non-perishables and toys into donation bins for them over the holidays.

Oh yeah, the middle class loves to donate food and toys and clothes and gently used ball gags and all sorts of other crap that we weren't using anyway. Food banks actually need money far more than they need your creamed corn that's going to expire in two weeks, because money just goes further. But people who will gladly part with 12 boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese and some Funyuns they found under the sofa get leery when it comes to handing over money, even though we're supposedly under the impression that we don't need it ourselves to be happy.
That's partially just because it's more satisfying to give stuff instead of money -- you can imagine some happy kid playing with your old Lego, and you get to clean out your closet. But remember, we're taught that the poor are stupid and lazy. We sit around telling each other stories about how our friend's cousin's boyfriend knows a guy who spent his welfare check on beer and weed. These are campfire horror stories for the most tedious suburbanites, and they're told in the hot tubs that they probably shouldn't have bought until the next mortgage payment cleared. We can't trust those people with money, because if they were smart enough to manage it properly, they'd be smart enough to have a better job. Also, they probably all have hooks for hands and murder teenagers while they're making out in their cars. Hey, we learn so little about poor people that it's just as believable.

1
We're Taught To See Ourselves As The Victims

I've known people with movie theaters in their homes and four cars in their garage who are convinced that society is against them, that life is a gloomy parade of suffering because their property taxes went up a bit. That's stereotypical rich people behavior, but it's there in the middle class too, in subtler ways. I live in a city where the economy revolves around a boom and bust industry, so people tend to make good money while complaining about taxes for a few years, then get laid off and go on government benefits for a while, and then get a new job and go back to complaining about the government. And if you watch the cycle, you see the same "us against the world" mentality, just with fewer BMWs in the mix.

When middle-class people get laid off and go on welfare, they blame the economy, or their former employer, or the government. They never blame themselves. And they shouldn't! Much like a whale's erection, economies are big, confusing things that can't be controlled by the average person. It's not like they left photocopies of their asshole on the boss' desk. They paid into the welfare system with their taxes when times were good, and now they're using the system for exactly what it's intended: helping you out when you're unlucky. It's bridging the gap until you, a hard-working person who just caught a tough break, gets another job.
Except when poor people use the system, it's none of those things. Suddenly they're not getting help; they're just dumb, lazy leeches. Plenty of middle-class people are more empathetic and generous than I'll ever be, but the worst instinct of the middle class is to blame the system when the system fails us, then lecture poor people when the system fails them. I've heard the condescending explanations about how the world really works (which usually come out after a few beers when no actual poor people are around because the speaker would never be brave enough to say it to their faces) more times than I can count.

The middle class has a weird relationship with the rich -- we alternate between complaining about them and wishing we were them. Money can't buy happiness, but a yacht certainly wouldn't hurt matters. Even if we don't like the rich, there's always the pipe dream that we could be them. But no one dreams about being poor, unless you're into an incredibly specific kind of role-playing.
Being poor is a problem (practically, not morally), and a problem is either the fault of the person or the fault of circumstances beyond their control. The latter means we in the middle class might have to do something about it -- or, God forbid, reflect upon our lifestyles, which is just the worst. It's much, much easier to assume that we're fine, that ultra-rich politicians and celebrities and investment bankers are the ones being condescending and awful to the poor, but also that poor people could probably stand to work a little harder. So, uh ... sorry about all of that. I'll donate some food at Christmas, though!
Mark is on Twitter and has a book that's made him rich in experience.
For more, check out 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Poor and 4 Common Morals Designed to Keep You Poor.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel, and check out Disney Thinks You Hate Poor People, and watch other videos you won't see on the site!