Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Turn your head and cough.

Much of my time now is spent in the the Medical Delivery System. The medical industry has become, well… an Industry! The friendly family doctor has been replaced with a “Doctor Factory” where your health issues are processed. The System consists of three interlocking components, the medical Provider branch, the Insurance branch, and the Pharmaceutical branch, which are tied together under a single unifying goal: amassing huge profits from your illness! Here’s how the system works:

Provider Branch – These are the factories where the doctors labor in indentured servitude in a hopeless attempt to pay back their huge medical school indebtedness. Here the Provider employs a mult-pronged security team of receptionists, physician-assistants and nurses dedicated to one goal: preventing the Patient from having any contact with the doctor. The Physician Assistants are employed by the Provider to remind the doctor that he/she can be replaced with a lower cost alternative at any time.

Insurance Branch – These entities thrive, much like a parasite, to suck money from the patient and dole it out to their co-conspirators, the Provider. Insurance companies have worked out an extremely complex monetary transfer system with the Provider whereby the Provider accepts a lower fee than the Insurance Company wants to pay them, under the threat of breaking the Provider’s kneecaps. By the way, the Insurance Companies get the reduced rate – you don’t.

Pharmaceutical Branch – Like its street smart brethren in the criminal underworld, the Pharmaceutical Branch gets the public hooked on drugs through incessant television advertising. For example, convincing middle-aged men that they need have “Cialis for Daily Use” so they can be ready to spring a boner at any moment. The Pharmaceutical Branch also visits the Provider Branch, offering golf junkets and vacations to Bermuda to motivate the doctor to push unnecessary drugs onto their patients.

The system works flawlessly. The following is a working example of a typical Medical Delivery System event:
  1. Patient pays Insurance Branch a huge monthly premium.
  2. Believing they are sick, Patient calls the Provider for an appointment.
  3. Provider receptionist puts the Patient on hold hoping Patient will die in the interim.
  4. Patient persists. Provider receptionist gives Patient an appointment time, scheduling it far enough in advance in the hope the Patient gets better (or dies) before showing for the appointment.
  5. Patient shows up for appointment thinking they will be seeing a doctor. Patient is seen by a Physician’s Assistant instead.
  6. Physician’s assistant, not being a doctor, (therefore unable to determine if Patient is sick) advises the patient to quit their job, take Tylenol, and drink lots of fluids. Patient is sent home.
  7. Patient doesn’t improve, repeats steps 1 through 4.
  8. Patient shows for appointment and is now allowed to see a doctor - not to exceed 15 minutes in length. Doctor is only allowed to touch the computer, but not the Patient.
  9. Doctor asks what TV advertisements Patient has seen then prescribes the most expensive pharmaceutical. Doctor then plans his/her two week vacation in the Bahamas.
  10. Patient takes the pharmaceutical prescription to the drug store, which contacts the Insurance Company for payment.
  11. Insurance Company refuses payment for the expensive pharmaceutical suggesting instead, a more reasonably priced generic knock-off manufactured by a lead toy factory in China.
  12. Patient ingests the pharmaceutical which either, A) Does no good, or B) Side effects make the Patient sick.
  13. Patient repeats steps 1 through 11.
  14. Patient is now starting to irritate the Provider, so Provider, A) Refers Patient to a more costly specialist, in an attempt to intimidate them out of being sick, B) Sends Patient to a Lab to be poked with needles, in an attempt to annoy them out of being sick, or C) Convinces the Patient that they are fine and sends them home.
  15. Patient receives multiple separate bills for each individual contacted during Provider visit, and a statement from the Insurance Company explaining why it will not pay the bills.
  16. Patient pays Insurance Branch a huge monthly premium.

What’s the best part of the American system of health care delivery? It’s not considered "Socialism".

Friday, March 20, 2009

WTF R U Look-n At?

So I wandered over to my local community exercise room, expecting to use some of the weight equipment there to limber up my aching Rotator Cuff (shoulder, for those of you not anatomically astute). Sitting at the weight machine with his back toward me, is a young man. His head is down, he's not moving – I wonder, is he praying? No... maybe just getting into “the Zone” before pressing 280 pounds, I think. So I wait a bit… wait some more... Then I notice… he is sitting there “Texting”. He is sitting on the goddam weight equipment, thumbs dancing away, Texting.

Ok, I know… here comes “Old Man Rant”, but seriously, the attraction to typing out a text message on a 9-key pad COMPLETELY eludes me. Why doesn’t he just call and, you know, talk to the person?!

I encountered this same techno-phobia back when voicemail first came into vogue. I was a Welfare worker and my clients frequently (and I mean, frequently) called me to ask when they would get their benefits or if their Food Stamps were in. I almost NEVER answered the phone – why? Because I was almost always already talking to someone else. These morons never figured out how to use voicemail to reach me... Never!

Instead, they would try to get to me through the receptionist. And being the kind-hearted and enabling simple soul that she was, she would transcribe their message onto those little colored phone message pads then drop them on my desk. And even though I repeatedly reminded her that the clients could leave forty-colored-while-you-were-out notes worth of information in a ten-second voicemail – it was all to no avail.

When I would wrap up my initial intake interview with new clients, I would point out to them that it would be a rare occurrence for me to answer the phone because, just like I am talking to You right now, if somebody calls, I can’t talk to THEM because I'm already talking to YOU!! -- Get it?? Leave a detailed message – that way, when I call you back, I will already have your answer. But they never got it… which was probably a good indication why they were in the Welfare Office to begin with.

E-mail makes way more sense than "texting". Hell, stuffing a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean makes more sense than "texting". I’m pretty damn fast typing on a standard “qwerty” keyboard -- but no matter how fast I am, I can ALWAYS talk faster than I can write. Besides I love the sound of the human voice. IMHO

From the tonight show with Jay Leno – the top text messengers versus Morse Code.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Myth of the Market - Pt 3

I have two LG cell phones and a washing machine. When my GE microwave burned up after only one year, I replaced it with an LG. Zenith was a great American innovator of consumer electronics – they invented the TV remote and HDTV. Zenith sent its American workers home and went bankrupt in 1999. Zenith now belongs to LG.

Since the 1970’s, the income (adjusted for inflation) of the American middle class has not kept pace with the cost of living. Living wage manufacturing jobs have steadily declined, and in some sectors of the economy, they are gone for good. We have turned from a county that used to “make” things, to one that mostly “buys” things. Stuff that we INVENTED, like almost the entire electronic industry (TV, a
udio, cameras), are no longer made here. Zenith, Marantz, RCA, and dozens of household names are now gone from the domestic employment landscape. Most all of our clothing is imported, as is much of our food. Even American flags are made in China. Steel manufacturing in the US is gone – our largest export is now scrap metal.

For years CNN news anchor and author, Lou Dobbs, has been warning that corporate America has been laying-off their own customers. Dobbs even has a new book out about it. When you think about it, the corporate mindset in this country is pretty schizophrenic – My Company reduces overhead and increases profit by laying people off. But My Company wants the Other Guy’s Company employees to spend their wages buying My Company’s products. Of course, Other Guy’s Company wants the same thing. They both (all) suffer the same cognitive disconnect.

Therein lies what American corporations don’t understand: “Employees” and “Consumers” are the SAME PEOPLE. This simple, elegant and apparently, unknown fact has me screaming at the TV news every night. Laying people off makes the economy WORSE! If your boat is sinking, you don’t drill more holes in the hull to let the water out!

To their credit, a (significantly) scant few companies have figured this out. For example: locally in Corvallis, HP (Hewlett Packard) instead decided to reduce the salaries of their employees rather than lay people off entirely. Laid off people don’t keep spending – but employed people do. Spending makes the economy work. People spending money creates jobs (tax cuts do not).

Don’t believe it? Look at China. Asia has replaced our manufacturing base; Japan, then Korea, Taiwan then China all raised the living standard of their middle class by MAKING stuff for American consumers and benefiting themselves by creating a new class of Asian consumers. But then our financial crisis, and the subsequent laying off of millions of workers/consumers, has reduced our ability to buy stuff made in Asia, causing their economy to go south.

The parable of the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg is most apt when describing the corporate mindset – the story goes that the golden eggs are not being laid fast enough to satisfy the greed of the goose’s owners, so they cut it open to get at all the golden eggs -- They kill their only source of income. Laying off their employees may satisfy a company's short-term needs, but that only causes a snowballing-effect throughout the entire economy, causing others to need to do the same. Being unable or unwilling to see the bigger picture does not reflect well on the reputation of “American Innovation” that we as a nation like to pride ourselves on.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Myth of The Market - Pt 2

In eight short years of Republican excess, our country has gone from an unpresendted budget surplus under the Clinton administration to the largest budget deficit in the county’s history.

Soon after Karl Rove and company moved into the Oval Office back in 2000, they declared “Parr-Tee Time” in Washington and process of dismantling the middle class, begun during the Reagan era, got down to serious business. The Democrats weren’t invited to the party; so they sat on the sidelines while Corporate America was given new rules, which essentially said that there were no longer any rules. But before we completely demonize the Republicans here, it is wise to remember that, Republican or Democrat, they are all pretty much wealthy (for the most part) men who tended to support their own personal financial interests.

The “Fifth Estate”, supposedly our public watch dog, eagerly rolled over and begged for scraps from the Whitehouse Press Office. The Rove administration cheerfully tossed substantive information aside, replacing “news” with mindless sound bites lapped up by the eager, and increasingly placated, media. Investigative reporting apparently was a lot of unnecessary work, so why not have paid policy wonks do all the heavy lifting for you?

One of my favorite useless catch-phrases incessantly rolling around was the term: “Tax-and-spend Liberal”. This concept perplexed me greatly - Isn’t that precisely what government is supposed to do? -- Tax a percentage of income and spend it on features and services to make life better for all Americans. When you think about it, aren’t taxes the “dues” one pays for the benefits shared by society.

I live in a residence that has a home-owner’s association (HOA). I pay monthly HOA “dues” but essentially you could call it a tax. In return for my dues/tax, I am relieved of the responsibility of painting my house, repairing the roof or mowing the lawn. Now I could choose to live someplace where HOA dues are not charged, but then I would be expected to be responsible for all my own house maintenance. For now, my expectation is that my HOA will “tax” us, then “spend” the funds to keep me in a comfortable lifestyle. Republicans apparently believe this system is somehow out of whack?

This of course, is a bit oversimplified – the tax code is long and complex as are the diverse needs of the public and the huge scope of government. Yet we all seem to feel we are being overly and unjustly taxed. But in America, unlike other civilized countries, we are pretty much expected to be on our own for health care, housing, clothing, food and a lot of life’s basic necessities. Individually, it seems that as long as our own personal needs are being met, and someone else is paying the bill, we don’t seem to have a problem with that.

But recent events have proven that the status-quo is not sustainable. It is a scary prospect - what are we going to do when that “someone else” no loner can pay the bills? Some victims of “The Market” are just now starting to find out what this really means.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Myth of the Market – Pt 1

In the 1980's I wore a leisure suit, tapped my toes to Funkytown and was a card-carrying member of the Republican Party. I worked for US Bank and firmly believed that president, Jimmy Carter, was a nice guy but a complete wimp. The country was wallowing in recession and inflation and I felt that Ronald Reagan had a plan -- Get government out of the way and free up business to generate jobs and prosperity. A rising tide, surely, would raise all boats.

I had just entered my 30’s in 1980 – hell, what did I know? Not much, as it would turn out. The biggest transfer of wealth in our nation’s history had begun under my nose; “trickle-down economics” as it was called.

So I waited patiently for my share of the pie. Instead, what I got was a “pink slip”. Corporations got their tax breaks and the money flowed. Unfortunately the “trickle” was plugged off just inside the board room of US Bank, and every corporation in America. Soon, US Bank announced the first “downsizing” (layoffs) in its long history as an Oregon corporation. My share of the trickle dribbled to me in the form of an unemployment compensation check.

I was fortunate and soon landed a job with the State of Oregon as a Welfare worker. I was given the rare opportunity to see how the other half lived. This experience was one of many that caused me to split from my family tradition and became a Democrat. Up to this point, as a staunch Republican, I had firmly believed that people had a responsibility to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But now as a Welfare worker, I discovered that many Americans didn’t have bootstraps.

The backbone of Reaganomics, was the dependence on tax cuts - Just lift those burdensome taxes off the backs of business, and they will, out of sheer delight (apparently), open their hearts and their doors and hire people. Uh, well, not living-wage union people, though… minimum wage people. As if to underscore the “we mean business” message, Reagan fired all of the rebellious Air Traffic Controllers. It was great theater - and highly effective. And wages (adjusted for inflation) in all sectors of the economy began a sure and steady decline – a decline which continues to this day. The exception to this trend being the skyrocketing rise of executive compensation to obscene levels. So much for “the Market”.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Paradise lost

With several months of “writers block” (hopefully) behind me, I can maybe catch up on some thoughts that have been rolling around in my cranium a while.

My wife recently helped to extricate me from the quagmire I got myself into with Facebook. I had been told that this social network would be a great way to promote my documentary film, “Andrus” – which left me puzzled a bit as Facebook is not actually supposed to be used to sell stuff.

Anyway, I opened a Facebook account and promptly accepted every friend, group and relationship anyone offered me. Hence the, uh… quagmire. So I was more than open to having a helping hand clean up my presence there.

One of the things we added was a reference to my high school; San Carlos High School, class of ’67, to be exact. Now I was never very socially connected in high school, in fact, there was a time in my life when Iactually considered tossing out my high school yearbooks. After all, I’ve never had any interest in attending a reunion; and figured nobody would remember me if I did anyway.

Suddenly, I experienced a renewed interest in my Wonder Years as Facebook began suggesting I connect with other SCHS alumni on the network. I’m straining to figure out just exactly what my connection is to many of the “friends” on my profile, but the high school friends, we were THERE. With the black-and-white senior class pictures to jog my memory, I now remember them… and fondly!

As mentioned, my high school years were not my best… I was socially inept and rather nerdy back then. There’s a lot of blank pages in my yearbook. Yet, the one note I cherish, was written by my track coach, Jim Luttrell – a guy I idolized in high school. Coach Luttrell penned: “Lots of luck in the future. You should do a lot of good in life. Hope you continue running.”

Well coach, I’m sorry to admit that I stopped running right after high school... but the other stuff, well I’m happy to say that all came true.