Monday, August 21, 2017

Week of 08/21/2017

It Is Time To Truly End The Civil War
Leave it to the late and great comedian George Carlin to put things in perspective.
In his great recital of American history, he talks about how this country was founded with double-standards.  He basically described America’s founding fathers as “slave owners who wanted to be free”.  Insert uneasy laughter here.
Well, yeah, he has a point on that.  Most newly-made Americans were not allowed to take part in the actual voting process at the time.  Only white, Christian, land-owning males were allowed to vote for that new government at the time.
Eighty-or-so years later, we supposedly fixed that with the abolition of slavery.  But, as Carlin said, “Not so you’d really notice it of course; just kinda on paper.”  And that, of course, led to the Civil War.  Or, as my Southern neighbors cultishly chant, the “War of Northern Aggression”.  You know, where southerners threw screaming temper tantrums with rifles over the Emancipation Proclamation and wanted to form their own country and then lost.  Yeah, my collective neighbors are really nasty-sore losers over that, and they weren’t even alive when it happened.
Now the Civil War has been over with for over 150 years now... but, as George pointed out perfectly, “not so you’d really notice it.”  And while George was talking about the Civil War buffs who reenact the battles and joking suggest using live ammunition, it’s not the only part of that bloody conflict that is still around.
Yes, my friends, the South never really got over the fact that they lost the Civil War.  There are still plenty of good ol’ boys that fly the Confederate flag on their pickup trucks, they still try to subvert voting for certain people... or, as they call it, “goin’ after voter fraud”... and they still have their monuments.  And we’re not talking placards saying “So-and-so slept here” or “This general took a dump in this hotel”.  No, we’re talking statues.
Yes, the good ol’ boys in the South love their Civil War “heroes”.  The men who so hated being told what to do that they led armed insurrections against the United States of America.  Southerners really love that.  These are the same “patriots” who chant “our country, right or wrong” and “if you don’t like it, leave.”  Believe me when I say that the blatant hypocrisy does not go unnoticed.  It’s a double-standard worthy of those uneasy jokes of George Carlin.
But the truth of the matter is that these monuments of the Civil War were put up during times when the South refused to behave like they’re part of the United States.  First, they put up the Civil War monuments during the “Jim Crow” era, a few decades after the last battle was fought, when dominant white Christian males wanted the rest of the nation to know that they were still the ones in charge down there.  And the second time these things started showing up in large numbers was during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950’s, when “separate but equal” was challenged and overthrown like a third-world tyrant.  They were put up to remind the “little people” that they were still in charge, not those “Northern aggressors” or “Yankees” or them “damn lib-ur-uls”.
I want you to think about this for a moment... imagine Bostonians waking up one morning and seeing a statue of British Private Hugh Montgomery standing atop the site of the Boston Massacre, pointing his musket at the masses to reenact when he first opened fire on innocent civilians in 1770.  Imagine seeing a statue of King George III in Virginia instead of President George Washington.  Imagine a statue as large as the one for World War II memorial right next to the White House of the British soldiers that ransacked and burned that building in the War of 1812.  How about a statue of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito in Pearl Harbor?  How many of you would want to see that?
Oh, but we can’t tear those down, can we?  “Heritage!”  “History!”  “These are symbols of our past!  We can’t just throw them away!  We can’t throw away our history!”
Sounds silly, doesn’t it?
And yet, just a couple of weeks ago (as of this column’s posting), that’s exactly what people were throwing temper tantrums over.  Statues and symbols that were designed to reinforce the idea of social dominance of one group over all others.
Now remember those hypothetical instances I brought up?  If, one day, we saw statues of King George III and Emperor Hirohito and the British soldiers behind the Boston Massacre and the burning of Washington DC?  Do you know what else they have in common with the Confederate leaders?  They are all losers!  They are all on the losing side of history!
This is one of the reasons why we had a hard time putting up a memorial for the Vietnam War.  We lost that conflict.  We invested a lot into it, it divided America across political and generational lines, and we lost.  But at least with that, we were still able to say that it was over.
Not so with the Civil War, which is why Southerner still refuse to acknowledge it, why they still fly those flags, and why they still support the underlying supremacy ideas, even if they cannot bring themselves to admit it.  They still refuse to accept that they lost the Civil War.  They didn’t put those statues up to “honor” those men in their place in history.  They were put up in defiance of it.  They were put up to say “we refuse to accept that we lost!”
Let’s get brutally honest here… it is high time that we truly end the Civil War.  The South lost.  Period.  Accept it.  Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and the others who took part in the Confederate States of America were on the losing side of history, just like King George III and Emperor Hirohito were on the losing side of history.  That fact doesn’t subtract their respective places in history.  Rather, it puts them in the proper perspective.
How many of you supporters of Southern “heritage” were upset when we helped tear down the giant statues of Saddam Hussein in Iraq after we liberated Baghdad?  How many of you were upset when you see newsreel footage of us blowing up the old symbols of the Nazi regime that littered Europe after World War II?  How many of you were upset when the people of the old Soviet Union started tearing down images of Lenin and Stalin?  How many of you were screaming “heritage” and “history” at these instances?  I’m guessing the total number of you who were upset at these things was pretty close to - if not at - zero.  Funny how your appreciation of “heritage” and “history” is limited only to the things that you support.
Statues and monuments are powerful symbols of dominance, which is why insecure tyrants are fixated on putting statues up and why other people are hell-bent on tearing them down.  But, in and of themselves, they are neither historical nor accurate representations of heritage.
People in the South have waged a war of denial with the rest of the United States for a century-and-a-half, and it has done nothing but bring shame to themselves and the nation they claim to love “right or wrong”.  If you truly claim to love America, then you can’t keep holding on to the reasons that divided it, or to the symbols of that denial.  Let the statues and the other symbols of division go.  You won’t be forgetting history when you do; you’ll be putting it in its proper place... in the past.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Week of 08/14/2017

Marty Shkreli Is The Face Of Everything Wrong With Healthcare In America
On August 4th, 2017, a federal jury found former hedge-fund leader and so-called “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli guilty of three counts of securities fraud.
You remember Marty, right?  This is the man who bought the company that made the life-saving drug Daraprim and then jacked up the price some 5000 percent.  He then smirked as he invoked the Fifth Amendment in front of Congress over his actions. 
Yeah, that’s Marty.
Unfortunately, the convictions are not for what he did with Turing Pharmaceuticals.  They involved his actions prior to his infamous price hike, and it concerned another company that he took over.  Because, you know, it’s like potato chips; you can’t just stop at one.
Of course, that’s not all that he did to win the title of “Eternal Arrogant Prick”.  He did a few other things too.  Like buy the rights to an unreleased album by the Wu-Tang Clan and then said it will never be heard by anyone else but him.  And then later he promised a “one-time only” broadcast, and it was a live-stream of him playing the album while talking over it. 
And let’s not forget that he didn’t change his attire one bit when he was in federal court facing a judge and jury over his actions.  When most people are in court, they wear a suit and a tie if they’re not obligated to wear a prison jumpsuit.  Not Marty!  He shows up for the verdict in a polo shirt like it was traffic court.  No respect for the process or for the idea that he could be sent to prison.
What really bothers me, though, is that there are some people that think that Shkreli should be freed!
One author, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, penned a head-bashing argument for “The Week” magazine where he declared that Shkreli shouldn’t have faced charges in the first place, and that he should be hailed as an “American hero” for doing what he did.  I don’t know if Mr. Gobry is being satirical or if he needs to pee in a cup and be tested for hallucinogens.  Then again, brutal mob boss Al Capone was considered an “American hero” at one time.  So were Bonnie and Clyde.
And then I realized what was really behind the arrogant smirk just begging to be slapped off.
I suspect that Marty Shkreli really doesn’t believe that he did anything wrong... because he’s just mimicking the actions shown by the two biggest pillars in America today: Big Finance and Big Healthcare.
Take a look at Wells Fargo, one of the “too big to fail and too big to jail” banks that the American taxpayers helped bail out in 2008.  Just last year they got caught creating multiple fake accounts of their account-holders for services they never asked for or agreed to.  And that may be just the tip of the iceberg.  We are talking about rampant and systemic fraud in an industry that already got bailed out for their fraud and misrepresentation during the Great Recession without one single key player in that collapse ever facing trial for their criminal activities.  Not one!
Do you honestly think that anyone in the executive level at Wells Fargo – past or present – will ever face trial for their criminal actions?  Of course not!  The instigators and the people that profited the most from lies and fraud will never face justice.  Ever.
You don’t think people like Marty Shkreli don’t see this and learn from it?  If you have money, you can get away with anything.  That’s the lesson that was taught to America by then-Attorney General Eric Holder when it came to the banks: you can buy your way out of justice.  Hell, we just elected a man who boasted that he can do anything he wants as long as he has money into the White House! 
I’m guessing that Marty is thinking he didn’t know whose palms to grease.  Hey, if it worked for Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Chase, Capitol One, and Wells Fargo, why not “Pharma Bro”?
And then there’s Big Healthcare... and here it is easy to see where people like Marty get their arrogance.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here: healthcare in America has always been seen as a matter of financial privilege, not as a right.  Not only that, but it has also been a system that has been gamed for a really long time, and not just by the scam artists.  The real scams are done within the healthcare system itself, and they’re not only legal, but they’re considered normal business!
Think about the games played by Big Insurance and Big Hospitals, where you get stuck with the bill for out-of-network doctors that show up without your permission for a “consultation”.  Think about the number of instances where people get pestered from bill collectors because the “reliable insurance provider” is slow to pay a bill that they know they are obligated to cover.
And how about Big Pharma, Marty’s home turf when he isn’t snatching up unreleased albums and then taunting fans?  Think about all of the drugs out there that are needed that are in the hands of one company exclusively.  Isn’t that a blatant violation of federal anti-trust laws?  Well apparently not if the monopoly is created through corporate disinterest or government manipulation.  After all, Big Pharma is in it for the profit, not the people.
That, boys and girls, is the true purpose of healthcare in America.  It’s not about healing people or helping people.  It is about profit, plain and simple.  Sell a pill, sell a treatment, sell a program or a therapy, write up that extra expense, throw in that added consultation, drag out the payment until the next quarter and pocket the interest, and hope that the patient doesn’t die… or, even worse, get healthy.
Let’s get brutally honest here… Martin Shkreli is the arrogant smirking face of everything wrong with healthcare in America.  He is the epitome of greed… one might even say “American Greed”… that motivates the parasitic industries that prey on our mortality and on our misery.
This is the reason why every idea to “fix” the problem with healthcare in America is doomed to fail.  This is the reason why the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” is failing right now.  Here is a system that was almost literally written word-for-word by the industry, designed to give the billionaires insurance companies and billionaire pharma companies and billionaire hospital corporations and millionaire doctors access to every American and their wallets, and it still is not enough to satisfy their blind, stinking greed!  It is the very reason why people will push for the single-payer or government-controlled healthcare system, and it is also the very reason why every one of the Marty Shkrelis in Big Healthcare will fight it at every opportunity… because of their own blind, stinking greed.
People like Martin Shkreli are a product of the failures in our society. The failure of the financial sector to contain their greed.  The failure of those in government to represent the people and not big corporations.  The failure of the healthcare industry in not reining in the systemic fraud within their own ranks and instead whine about the external fraud.  Maybe we are holding Shkreli to account for the sins of the healthcare industry as a whole.  But we have to start somewhere, and the first place you go after to clean up a systemic failure is the loudest, the most blatant, and the most unrepentant. 
And that, Mister Martin Shkreli, is you.  Own it.