Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wealth and responsibility

Who is John Galt?
Americans are undergoing a rough transition from the politics of the New Deal to one of No Deal. We have been transforming our social mores for the past 40 or 50 years beginning with the rise of Ayn Rand novels and the teachings of economist Milton Freidman. I have read, studied and followed these teachings to the point of outgrowing them. Much like Alan Greenspan, I had come to a point where the failings of these philosophies  in everyday life were too blatant to ignore.

With Ayn Rand, it was the late 1960's and I was sold on the idea of 'Atlas Shrugged .' I came to understand, I was in my 20's, that this was ego-centered, selfish behavior that was unsustainable in a life that included loved ones, family and an extended social circle. Being sold on the idea that I am the center of the universe and anyone that opposed my interpretation of events was a threat to my rugged individualism only lasted so long. Too many people had helped, and continued to help, me achieve my goals. That was an easy one to figure out.

A little more challenging was my experience in Graduate school in the late 1970's. I enrolled in the University of Rochester M.B.A. program to continue my career in health care administration. I enjoyed working with others in the hospital field to deliver quality health care in my community. Of course, I was young and on the rise in my organization and feeling great that they were giving me a recommendation and Fridays, with pay, to attend classes. The UofR program was staffed mostly with "monetarists" trained in Chicago by Mr. Freidman. It wasn't long before I was up against the same principles that Ayn Rand espoused, but with statistical and economic twists. It took me until my second year to figure it out but then my challenges to their teaching became somewhat disruptive; I wrote poems, made statements and left classes in a flurry of disbelief at the blatant propagandizing going on in the name of education. We were the elite and expected to swallow everything whole in order to advance in the corporate line-up. I declined.

The root of it all came into focus over the following years. In order to be successful at business one needed to concentrate on the details and ignore the bigger picture of life, not pay attention to anything that Ayn Rand wouldn't approve of. Developing a faith in the ability of the profit driven system to regulate itself was both a belief and a rationalization. By giving oneself to this mechanism one never had to question the outcome of ones actions nor come up with another justification for ones actions. This is what Mr. Greenspan held dearly to for so many years until the debacle of the banking collapse when he realized that greed trumped rational self interest.

Now we have a political movement overtaking the country based on these basic ideas, philosophies and economic theories with a large dose of anti-science and scapegoating thrown in. It isn't pretty and it isn't moral, or healthy, or good for the long-term good of the country.

I met a man who spent his health to gain his wealth, and then with might and pain, spent his wealth to gain his health, again.

When you collect your wealth using whatever means possible, one should endeavor to preserve it by being good to others. Keep some portion of it in reserve for charitable purposes. You might say that this is a process of atonement to maintain one's riches; a way to launder and atone for the actions taken to gain wealth with the exclusion of all else. This is more the way of the world, in fact.

In the pursuit of wealth most people neglect their eating habits, social interactions and family life; you have to follow a pretty strict regimentation if you want to stay rich. Then you have to spend it all to become whole again. Such is life.

Anger on either side of this transitional struggle will only deepen our divide. If you have an understanding of the shape of the problem facing us, then you are the one to begin building the bridge to the other side. It's those that have the tools that have to do the building.

So those with wealth in wisdom must share with those in the poverty of ignorance just as they expect those with wealth in riches to share with those in financial poverty. A way will be found... it always is, to come back into balance.

Many wisdom traditions of the East and West offer a different way of life that includes charitable giving of wealth and heart. It is by balancing out work life with our spiritual life that the puzzle is often solved.

"Money is a good servant but a bad master." F. Bacon
"Money is the means of exchanging love." W. Wilson

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How Libby, Montana, gets Medicare for All


By Kay Tillow
In 2009 when the Washington beltway was tied up with the health care
reform tussle, Montana Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the all
powerful Senate Finance Committee, said everything was on the
table--except for single payer.  When doctors, nurses and others rose in
his hearing to insist that single payer be included in the debate, Baucus
had them arrested.  As more stood up, Baucus could be heard on his open
microphone saying, "We need more police."

Yet when Senator Baucus needed a solution to a catastrophic health
disaster in Libby, Montana, and surrounding Lincoln County, he turned to
the nation's single payer healthcare system, Medicare, to solve the
problem.

Baucus' problem was caused by a vermiculite mine that had spread deadly
airborne asbestos killing hundreds and sickening thousands in Libby and
northwest Montana.  The W. R. Grace Company that owned the mine denied its
connection to the massive levels of mesothelioma and asbestosis and dodged
responsibility for this environmental and health disaster.  When all law
suits and legal avenues failed, Baucus turned to our country's single
payer plan, Medicare.

The single payer plan that Baucus kept off the table is now very much on
the table in Libby.  Unknown to most of the public, Baucus inserted a
section into the health reform bill that covers the suffering people of
Libby, Montana, not just the former miners but the whole community-all
covered by Medicare.

They don't have to be 65 years old or more.
They don't have to wait until 2014 for the state exchanges.
No ten year roll out-it's immediate.
They don't have to purchase a plan-this is not a buy-in to Medicare-it's
free.
They don't have to be disabled for two years before they apply.
They don't have to go without care for three years until Medicaid expands.
They don't have to meet income tests.
They don't have to apply for a subsidy.
They don't have to pay a fine for failure to buy insurance.
They don't have to hope that the market will make a plan affordable.
They don't have to hide their pre-existing conditions.
They don't have to find a job that provides coverage.

Baucus inserted a clause in the Affordable Care Act to make special
arrangements for them in Medicare, and he didn't wait for any
Congressional Budget Office scoring to do it.

Less than two months after the passage of the health reform bill on March
23, 2010, Nancy Berryhill of the Social Security Administration in Denver
joined personally in
setting up an office in Libby to sign up these newly eligible people. 
"This is a new thing," Berryhill told the Missoulian.  "No other group
like this has ever been selected to receive Medicare."  Berryhill issued a
nationwide alert to inform anyone who had lived or stayed in Lincoln
County of their eligibility.  She opened a storefront in Libby at the old
downtown city hall where she signed up 60 people on the first day.  She
plastered the towns of Whitefish and Eureka with pamphlets explaining the
program and added three new staffers to the office in Kalispell.

Berryhill said she did not know how much the care would cost.  That kind
of analysis was beyond her directive to sign the people up.  There have
been no reports of competition from the private for-profit Medicare
Advantage plans.  The sick are not profitable.

No one should begrudge the people of Lincoln County.  The mine wastes were
used as soil additives, home insulation, and even spread on the running
tracks at local schools.  Miners brought the carcinogens home on their
clothes.  The W. R. Grace Company dumped much of the clean up costs onto
the federal government.  A June 17, 2009, order by the Environmental
Protection Agency, the first of its kind, declared Lincoln County a public
health disaster.  The Libby Medicare provision in the health reform law is
based on the area covered by that EPA order.

Baucus gave his reasons to the New York Times for its only story on this
unique benefit:  "The People of Libby have been poisoned and have been
dying for a decade.  New residents continue to get sick all the time. 
Public health tragedies like this could happen in any town in America.  We
need this type of mechanism to help people when they need it most."

Health tragedies are happening in every town.  Over 51 million have no
insurance.  Over 45,000 uninsured people die needlessly each year. 
Employers are cutting coverage and dropping plans.  States in economic
crisis are slashing both Medicaid and their employees' plans.  Nothing in
last year's reform law will mitigate the skyrocketing costs.  Most
insurance is threadbare and doesn't cover.  More than 50% of us now go
without necessary care.  As Baucus said of Medicare, "We need this
mechanism to help people when they need it most."  We all need it now.

Bill Clinton recently stated that the U. S. could give coverage to all for
one trillion dollars a year less than we now pay if we adopted the system
of any other advanced nation.  (Unfortunately, he did not say this when it
would have mattered most during the 1993 and 2009 health care reform
debates.)

Other industrialized countries have found that to cover everyone for less
they must remove the profit-making insurance companies.  Congressman John
Conyers has reintroduced HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for
All Act, which does exactly that.  There are 60 cosponsors.  It would
cover all medically necessary care for everyone including dental and drugs
by cutting out the 30% waste and profits caused by the private insurers.

So as the Ryan Republicans try to destroy Medicare and far too many
Democrats use the deficit excuse to suggest cuts in its benefits, let us
counter with the Libby prescription to clean up the whole mess.  Only a
single payer, improved Medicare for All, can save and protect Medicare,
rein in the costs, and give us universal coverage.

Medicare will celebrate its 46th birthday on July 30, 2011, and all are
invited to join in the festivities.  Medicare was passed in 1965 and
implemented within less than a year.  When we pass HR 676, this single
payer bill, we can all be enrolled in the twinkling of an eye.

Distributed by:
All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care--HR 676
c/o Nurses Professional Organization (NPO)
1169 Eastern Parkway, Suite 2218
Louisville, KY 40217
(502) 636 1551
Email: nursenpo@aol.com
http://unionsforsinglepayerHR676.org

Friday, May 6, 2011

The 'Donut hole'

Things you won't see in an Iyengar Yoga class...
I've just asked another Senior Iyengar teacher why detailed points are given to strengthen the back body and virtually no details, and few asanas, are given about this 'donut hole' of the body. After throwing a rolled up belt at my mid-section, declaring 'would you do that to a 6 year old', 
the explanation was given that the core, or abdominal, area contains vital organs that shouldn't be stressed. But many of us are not like 6 yr olds in yoga and strength from practicing for over 10 yrs and still no specific instructions... even at some higher 'levels' of training. The answers are vague even with Junior Intermediate practitioners I've talked with.
I hasten(ed) to add that this is a searching question for me, a 64 yr old 30 yr practitioner of yoga, not a macho oriented quest for firmer abs at any cost. 


One person asked, "what about Ardhanavasana? Paripornanavasana? Do you not feel abs get their necessary attention with correct alignment in sirsasana variations? I query you with sincere desire to read your response. I agree that Iyengar discipline spends no time addressing the "donught hole" but if the abs benefit structurally from asana practiced thoughtfully and in correct alignment is that not adequate?"


Think about the amount of time, effort and detail of instruction devoted to the back body. Think about the instruction in the poses of navasana. The sheer number of poses developing, in minute detail, the attention to the back body is staggering yet we have very little about the 'donut hole'. When asking questions about this I find the answers opaque, only focusing on the seeming fragility or un-disturb-ability of this area of the body. In many of the 'abdominal' poses, urdhva prasarita padasana and navasana, much of the instruction is on the back body, ribs, side body, and the legs. What is said about the abdominals? I don't pretend to know how this has come about, but do know that other traditions have stronger emphasis, and therefore instructions, on the 'donut hole.' I simply, and continually, wonder why? And the answers I get only answer indirectly at best. 


As to the question, "if the abs benefit structurally from asana practiced thoughtfully and in correct alignment is that not adequate?" The answer in many cases is no. Incorrect alignment abounds because of lack of attention to the area from ribs to pelvis in my direct experience. 


By the way, my questions and comments are focused on non-acute back pain. I totally understand work done to rehab the back in the traditional Iyengar manner as well as recent studies on back pain and rehabI had years of back problems until Iyengar Yoga. There is no doubt that it helped. That isn't the real question here. What prompts my question is my personal and teaching experience once I began more detailed work in asana WITH more detailed and intelligent action on and in the 'donut hole.' The combination was beyond what I experienced with what may be the limitations of the current method. I have a suspicion it may have been different in the past, like many things. Much of the reaction to my questions seem to stem from a defensiveness of the method, and rote learning of the "don't do abdominals" from somewhere. It doesn't seem to be an either/or situation to me. This seems to be a Both/And situation that can work effectively to 1. reduce back problems with intelligent strengthening of the torso support muscles wrapping the area from the ribs to the pelvis, and 2. integrate more intelligently those same muscles that are uncoordinated and out of touch for many people to more fully perform Vira III, A. Chandrasana, inversions and the posses you mention. Once again, it is not adding a system of crunches; it is working as intelligently with this area of the body as any other and not leaving one to work with a vague notion of drawing strength from the work of other areas, arms, legs, etc.


Be sure to let me know if someone comes up with answers that don't have the tinge of 'Taboo' area on them. I'd really like to know.


Some time has passed since I wrote this and I've had some insights:
Okay, I think I've answered my own questions. Despite the notion in Iyengar Yoga of the taboo abdominal area, due to vital organs being there, we do have something else that gives insight here. In Iyengar yoga we tend to give actions from the muscles to align the bones. Instructions are honed to move a certain area of the body in a specific way that leads to alignment (of the bones). We don't use anatomical terms for muscles, but that's much of what's contained in the instruction set. The abdominals can only move towards the spine and tend to tighten and grip the vital organs. That has been clearly understood. However, the breath can be used to gently and intelligently move the abdominal muscles, thereby preventing 'crunches' from taking over. The slow or rapid exhalation can bring the important muscle, tranversus abdominus, into the field of perception and thus begin to close the 'donut hole.' Unfortunately, we would need to amend the Iyengar Constitution that says we don't teach breath in that way, only in pranayama or when we use breath to initiate action. So I advocate amending the method, as I have described it above, to include a special case for using breath to teach the connectivity to these muscles. Because it works; because we can gain so much from having intelligent action in students; because without it students flounder needlessly waiting for the "benefit to come from asana practiced thoughtfully and in correct alignment." That is, peripherally. Once the 'donut hole' begins being filled in by proper use in this way more can be done to support the body in challenging poses without gripping or crunching. 
This works well in Navasana. The 'aware breath' could be taught prior to introducing this pose, or earlier, and used to instruct correct action in the pose. The proof is that in order to maintain the stability and balance of this pose, the breath must be very restrained and focused. Or, to demonstrate the opposite effect, try doing Navasana while doing so-called "deep belly breaths."  Not pretty.

Certification: income guarantee not guarantee of competency in the long run

Teacher training conveys a vast amount of information in hopes some of it will stick to the student. Over time, Certification is more a guarantee of income than of competence as individuals forget, modify and improvise. To counter that trend, organizations demand continuing education which tends to make the practice rigid, formulaic and without insight. Such is life in the big city...


In some cases, continuing education creates a two-tiered system: 1. pass the exams by telling them what they expect to hear, and 2. teach in a more intuitive style when not being examined. Now that's a stressful life.

Yoga-nomics - Let them eat cake!

What is astonishing to the writer of the article http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2011/01/21/treasurys-astonishing-statement-on-us-default/ is the idea that payments to Social Security recipients should come before payments to US bond holders. But that's what should be done, I think! Some hold the wealthy lenders as having a prior right over the poor and elderly and will cause untold suffering, if they have their way. To their way of thinking, if we don't pay Senior Citizens the consequences are not nearly as catastrophic.


Their policy is "Let them Eat Cake!" 


A more complex and less obvious set of circumstances occasionally occurred in the 1980s, when the advance tax transfer could not be invested in certificates of indebtedness because the limit on Federal debt had been reached and the Treasury was prevented from issuing new debt. Longer-term obligations then had to be redeemed in order to pay benefits. When the Treasury's cash balances became extremely low, these obligations were redeemed prior to the payment of benefits in order to create borrowing authority and use it to borrow from the public the cash needed to make the benefit payments. This practice also enabled the Federal government to continue other, non-Social-Security financial transactions for a longer period than otherwise could have occurred. As a result, the Treasury action was viewed by some as an inappropriate use of Social Security funds and was the source of considerable controversy. In retrospect, however, it was agreed by most knowledgeable observers that Treasury had few options and had taken the best course of action during a very difficult period. http://www.ssa.gov/oact/NOTES/note142.html
We have a situation of sustained low interest rates for Treasuries. This, it seems to me, is a guaranteed way to deplete Social Security faster. If this is so, isn't this the wealthy exploiting the elderly in a form of class warfare?

What is really going on here?
Oh, and the government has borrowed money from Social Security for decades leaving behind approximately $2.5 trillion in IOU's. I'm not sure how much interest is charged on these IOU's...
I've only found one reference to the interest rate that the Social Security Trust fund get's from IOU's at http://www.tscl.org/NewContent/101188.asp

More background at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Security_debate_(United_States)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Tao of Enron - excerpt from the book Dead Boys

Dead Boys by Gabriel Squailia
"Our Goddess isn’t gracious, nor loving, nor any of the other fine words we impute to her in our prayers; she’s fickle, fickle as a kitten, and yet we think the same old blessings repeated for eternity can win her affections. Not so!” He cupped his hands above his brow. “We have to shake her up to keep her close! And feeling that truth in my bones, I placed what little time remained to me on the tabletop, and cursed the Lady with all my might,...-- and lo, when I stood up again, I was richer..." From the preaching of Brother Griswold

When I read this excerpt from Dead Boys by Gabriel Squailia, I thought, "Maybe blasphemy really can bring luck to some people if the ruling gods' attention is gained by spitting right in their eye." This is a dangerous path, for sure. But greed brings people to perform strange acts. It has the tinge of the 'left-handed' paths in various spiritual traditions; going so far in the 'wrong' direction.


One of the curses further on in this chapter is very contemporary:  “May all statistical improbabilities impact thee unfavorably!” This was the downfall of the stock market in 2008 when all the mortgages went South as a result of banks poorly assessing the statistical risks of sub-prime loans. The improbability (black swan) manifested itself but only after making tons of money for the blasphemers!!! Of course, few were punished.


So, how  did the author come up with the Tao of Enron?

Perceptive, but the perversity of attracting god's attention through misbehaving is twisted.


"There's a scene in the documentary, "Smartest Guys in the Room" where these two traders are talking while they're forcing power blackouts in California during the forest fires, and it's really obvious that they equate the grandmothers they're killing with the money they're making on some cosmic level," answered Gabriel.


Dead Boys is a novel chock full of such insight as well as entertaining banter, inspired characters.



Light-hearted and macabre, Dead Boys’ comic-book flash illuminates a framework of Buddhist philosophy and classical allusions that give it an appeal far beyond the boundaries of generic fantasy. http://squailia.blogspot.com/

Strong Reactions


In all my hate-ful relationships I've always found the way out is through understanding the pain and suffering of the oppressor, or hated one. This is different from pity, forgiveness, or condescension. Often, I find that I can trace the very qualities I revile in others to my own behaviors, thus understanding the root of the aversion.


When I react strongly to some external object, person and/or occurrence, there lies the bed of karma. Usually it is rich with insight. If I do a little work, the true self is revealed!

This applies to my reaction to the killing of Ossama bin Laden as well as the woman who condescended to me over the weekend. It is in my perception of the offenses that freedom lies. The stronger the reaction that arises in me, the more I am dealing with something from my past, out of touch from my conscious mind. Fear arises and one strikes out.

In Yoga, we are led to not dwell on these occurences of the fructification of karma, but rather see our true Self more clearly through the acting out. This way we can see out habitual patterns more clearly and perhaps free ourselves from aversion and attrachment.

For really difficult personalities, where denial and avoidance are strongest, other techniques are required. In cases of drug and alcohol addiction, for example, denial is strong and consciousness of the implications of our actions is weak. Then the only course of action is to look at the behaviors in detail and set out the exact nature of the wrongs done. In this way karma is revealed; through seeing, finally, the repitition of similar behavior. Also, it is necessary to make amends as a way of rejoining the flow of the community, be it family or society.

Knowing where to start is often the biggest step on any journey.