The Politics of Division

I don’t think anyone would deny that the country is very divided on a number of political issues.  The odd thing is this, I can talk to my liberal friends and my conservative friends, and this “gap” in general viewpoints is really pretty small on most matters.  So, what’s the deal?

For the past several election cycles, both major parties have hit hard on dividing people, usually on ideological social policy issues.   Using the vast power of all forms of media, they have convinced the public that these are huge issues, that the people should be divided over them, and that the point of view held on the issues defines what party you should vote for.  They have even convinced most voters that this handful of issues are more important than going to war or ballooning the deficit to give select portions of the populous, the 1%ers, a huge tax break.

Why?  By polarizing the country on such issues, and by screaming about them, they beat the drums to get their voters, their “believers,” out to the poles to vote for them.  They drive the heard.  And then once elected, if you have noticed, neither party tries to eliminate these issues or solve them politically.  Why?  Because they need them for the next election cycle.

Abortion, gay or transgender rights, and immigration are three primary examples.  Of course, guns are in the mix too.  Looking at abortion for an illustration, under the second Bush administration, there was a four to five-year block (2003-2007) where the Republicans had control of all three branches of government.  Both houses of Congress, the White House, and the U.S. Supreme Court.  Yet, they didn’t outlaw abortion, or even try to, although they claim that as one of their party’s major platforms.  They had the power to do that, but they would not have been able to use this issue in the next election cycle if they made it go away.  The Democrats, equally, play the same game.  Amazing how there is no “solution” for immigration, or was there ever really a problem to begin with?

They manipulate these issues, and the people, to get votes on issues they do not intend to fix.  Once in power, they follow their own agenda, which is usually doing things to help out their biggest campaign contributors and, of course, themselves.

The problem for the politicians that I don’t believe they saw coming, is they were too successful.  They have truly divided the country in ways that now threaten the existence of democracy.

Fear-mongering with false information is a primary tactic used to divide.  Beating the drum of White, European, Christian Nationalism is perhaps the scariest tactic I’ve seen of late.  Things are getting really ugly.  The flaming I see on the Internet is shocking.  We’ve had violence in the streets.  We have threats on the free press.

The government is militarizing the police, not just because criminals are using more advanced weapons, but because they are preparing for civil unrest.  If this purposely generated division spills into too much street violence, beware of Martial Law.

In the background of this purposely orchestrated hatred, the wealthy just received a huge tax cut at the cost of ballooning the deficit by 1.4 trillion dollars – even though 78% of the public opposed it.  Congress also just gutted the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Again, to benefit business interests over people.  It’s rolling back environmental regulations, allowing short-term corporate profits to take precedence over poisoning the planet and the people.  Wow!  You see, the dial hasn’t moved either way on abortion, immigration or guns – the issues people think they are voting on.  Once in office, the politicians ignore the public’s wishes completely and give themselves and corporate America huge payouts.

I could list out more issues in detail and offer data now, but I’ll save that for some individualized posts.  I realize people can have strong views on many issues, but I’d ask people to really stop and analyze situations and contexts, not just issues in isolation.  Examine how those in power might be manipulating.  I never expect complete agreement on such controversies, but I do appreciate civility and intelligent thought and discussion.  I like to have my thinking challenged.  It is even good for all of us to be proven wrong on occasion – just to get our minds to open.

Enlightenment comes in many forms.  Hating or vilifying others because they believe differently is not one of them.  We must learn to think, analyze, converse and compromise.  We can’t let sound bites, buzzwords and incendiary catch phrases divide and conquer.  The nation is stronger united.

***

Broken

** My prose was just published in The Urban Howl under the title: “I am Broken – Only to be Reintegrated Anew.”  It is wonderful to be a part of this inspiring publication !

 

I am broken.

Not in a bad way.

Not in a way that needs to be “fixed.”

Mangled, crushed, fragmented, contorted, pulverized, disintegrated,

But only to be reintegrated anew.

 

It has happened before.

So many times no memory can capture.

 

I do not wish to lose what is unique and pure,

The spark.

There are parts of light and wisdom I wish to regain,

Once held,

Having slipped away,

Under the continual weight of the illusion surrounding us.

Stripped away by those that try to consume us,

To break our hearts,

To kill our spirits.

 

No one is coming to rescue us.

No clichés with meaning can solve any problems.

No platitudes of value provide any answers.

No therapist can fix such fractures.

 

But there is within us a type of magick that can be reached,

If we can find it.

To break out, cut free, re-form, start again,

With clarity of vision,

Led by heart and soul.

 

And not waste a second but,

Instead,

Living every moment here and now. . .

***

 

Photo:  Some cottonwood trees stretch to the sky and the photo editor turns it surreal 🙂

The Objective Reasonable Person

Justice Antonin Scalia, noted for his scathing dissents, once opined, “If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

While I did not often agree with Scalia, and didn’t in that particular opinion, the “fortune cookie” analogy is not always far off the mark considering the wishy-washy standards applied by judicial decision makers. Yes, “The fortune you seek is in another cookie.”

In the law, one will invariably encounter standards that judges or juries are required to apply in order to reach “just” decisions. There are basic standards for applying the law to the facts of the case in the trial courts and then standards of review applied in the appellate courts when examining what happened in those trial courts. But there are so, so, many gray areas in the law that don’t conform themselves to a nice A + B = C result that require a judgment call. An educated guess, perhaps. Or sometimes little more than a blind stab in the dark in hopes of hitting some target, but a fair and proper target, right? (That’s a rhetorical “right?’)

Then again, there is also that phenomenon known as outcome bias, where decisionmakers decide and then conform the evidence to fit their decision – sounds a tad bit unfair or “unreasonable.” And yet, the concept of “reasonableness” is said to be the mainstay of our law and many of these legal standards incorporate that very word yielding such terms as the “reasonable person,” “reasonable-speaker,” reasonable-listener,” “reasonable aid,” “reasonable effort,” “reasonable anticipation,” “reasonable care,” and “reasonable doubt.” And conduct is deemed “reasonable” if it is “consistent with that of the prudent person in like circumstances.” But with that standard, we not only have to debate what is “reasonable,” we now have to debate what is “prudent,” or what would be “reasonably prudent?”

Such standards are supposed to accommodate all circumstances and uniformly fix any legal ailment, whether it is determining if someone reasonably thought their life was threatened to have exercised self-defense, or what constitutes extraordinary and unusual stress to a “reasonable highway worker” to be compensable under workers’ compensation. All similar puzzles should be solved the same way. What is equitable for one is equitable for all similarly situated. The law should be the same for everyone.

Standards supposedly allow stability and predictability for potential litigants so they can evaluate whether any potential legal controversy is a worthwhile endeavor. Will it result in the desired outcome or be a frivolous, and expensive, chase through the scared halls of justice? Or in criminal law, uniform application of the standards resulting in uniform penalties not only serve to treat everyone that is prosecuted equally, but the predictability of the outcome supposedly serves as a deterrent to criminal behavior. Nice to have a good idea of the result of your conduct ahead of time. You would hope that your attorney could accurately advise you of such, instead of finding yourself engaged in a giant crapshoot. And since we’re into definitions, “crapshoot” = “a risky and uncertain venture.”

Yet ask anyone, yes absolutely anyone, except perhaps a judge, and I think they will tell you that the law is not equal for everyone. It favors the rich over the poor, the majority over the minority, non-sentient corporations over living, breathing individuals, and people over all other life forms. And criminal legal procedure favors the prosecution over the defendant. You have to be a pretty lousy prosecutor to lose a case, especially since you get to pick which cases you’ll prosecute to begin with.

And these multitudinous standards are magically said to be “objective.” But how is that really possible, and just what do these terms really mean? Could the so-called reasonableness standards be just archaic, mythical devices entrenched by thousands of legal precedents? “Legal fictions,” if you will, to achieve and support virtually any decision a jury, a judge or panel of judges makes, “reasonable” or not? Reasonable in whose eyes? Your eyes? Mine? Reasonable is such a weasel-word.

A “legal fiction,” by-the-way, is defined as: “Believing or assuming something not true is true. Used in judicial reasoning for avoiding issues where a new situation comes up against the law, changing how the law is applied, but not changing the text of the law.” The “reasonable person” has been said to be a “hypothetical,” as opposed to a “fiction,” but then who gets to define the hypothetical reasonable person? It seems more to me to be a phantom assumed to actually exist.

Quoting court decisions and Black’s Law Dictionary, reasonable is said to be: “Just; proper. Ordinary or usual. Fit and appropriate to the end in view. Having the faculty of reason; rational; governed by reason; under the influence of reason; agreeable to reason. Thinking, speaking, or acting according to the dictates of reason; not immoderate or excessive, being synonymous with rational; honest; equitable; fair; suitable; moderate; tolerable.”

Wow, seems to be a wide berth between “equitable” and “tolerable,” and “appropriate to the end in view” sounds like a forced contrivance, whose view? But hey, that’s just me talking. And it is duly noted that the architects of these standards ordain that a “reasonable person” “is one who gives due regard to the presumption that judges act with honesty and integrity and will not undertake to preside in a trial in which they cannot be impartial.” Humm, so those writing the rules get to declare they are objective and impartial and demand we agree, otherwise we are unreasonable.

In addition to rambling through the gray pastures of the dictionary, stringing chains of circular non-speak together, i.e., “reasonable means governed by reason,” which means nothing at all, courts tack on that great adjective, “objective.” Reasonableness standards are supposedly objective. And my favorite definition of “objective,” and the one I believe to be the most accurate is “having reality independent of the mind.” This, of course, means not subject to personal biases or as Merriam-Webster states: “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.” But MW added that subjective word “perceived” spinning us down another corridor of deception, because even our minds can lie to us about what we are perceiving, or form it into the shape we desire.

Black’s Law Dictionary would say that an objective standard is a “legal standard that is based on conduct and perceptions external to a particular person,” as opposed to a subjective standard “that is peculiar to a particular person and based on the person’s individual views and experiences.” Really? Our programming starts the day of our birth, and we are constantly told how the world is, what it is we are perceiving, what to like and what to hate, what is legitimate and what is unauthentic, how one should feel or not feel, when to have empathy and when to ignore the needs or suffering of others. Our minds are filled with innumerable prejudices that become so inherently ingrained that we no longer see them as being biases.

Yet, the legal system would have us believe that all of this social programming has absolutely no effect on how a case will be judged, how a verdict or judgment might be reached, or what the assessment of remedies or penalties will be, by people magically commanded to be objective and set aside all of their life experiences when deciding the outcome of your legal entanglement. Yes, the legal system, created by humans and all of their prejudices, supposedly being the bastion of objectivity with those sitting in judgment possessing that detached, dispassionate, external “God’s eye view” or “view from nowhere,” transcending any subjective interference as Plato might pontificate, will dole out justice equally on the basis of reasonability. And basically, that’s Bullshit, with a capital B. If it wasn’t Bullshit, there would no market for attorneys that are taught how to strategize and manipulate, how to argue, how to spin, and how to select venues, judges, and jurors based upon their very subjective prejudices. Wordsmithing is a skill taught to attorneys so they may shape outcomes, not based upon what’s “reasonable,” but based upon what favors their client’s preferred outcome, the client’s subjective view of justice.

The existentialists would certainly have a great laugh over this concept of objectivity. For there really is no way for a human to exist other than through their subjective and continuing contact and experience with the world. Thoughts do not exist independently of circumstances and context. But you don’t have to be an existentialist to see how the legal system essentially pits the subjective, particular views of those sitting in judgment against the subjective, particular views of those being adjudicated – hypothetical reasonableness notwithstanding.

I would be remiss if I did not mention another favorite legal standard, the abuse of discretion standard. This standard is employed by an appellate court examining if the trial court abused its considerable discretion with a ruling on a particular controversy like the admission or exclusion of evidence. An abuse of discretion by the trial court “occurs when a trial court’s ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances and is sufficiently arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration.” That’s a mouthful. And, “If reasonable minds can differ about the propriety of the trial court’s ruling, there was no abuse of discretion.” “Reasonable minds?”

So how does this play out if several judges in an appellate court panel decide there was an abuse of discretion, and the remainder decide there was not. Well, if the judges all agree, the standard works. If the majority of the panel, the most judges, decide there was no abuse of discretion, then the standard works. But if the majority of the judges decide there was an abuse of discretion, and a minority decide there was not, the standard fails because “reasonable minds,” and surely the judges have “reasonable minds,” have, in fact, differed and there can be no abuse of discretion. Yet the appellate court decision that there was an abuse of discretion stands, so “reasonable minds differing” creates an absurd result that ignores the court’s own standard. That might seem unreasonable.

Irregardless of my pontifications, for all of these reasonableness standards, how many court decisions, in your own view, just seem to defy “reason” and exhibit great bias? Good luck if you find yourself in that objective reasonable crapshoot called a court of law, for “Person who eats fortune cookie gets lousy dessert.”

***

Photo: I found the scales on the Internet n the public domain and could find no other attribution.  I added the text – a favorite quote I came across in a case while studying property law in law school.

“Angel Dusting”

I remember when all employment practices, like hiring, firing, policy formation, etc., were handled in the “Personnel” office.  And then the wave of new management-speak began and the name was changed to “Human Resources.”  My colleagues and I were quite offended.  To us, we had gone from being “persons” to “resources.”  Just another log to throw on the corporate fire to be burned out, burned up, and our ashes discarded.

Then all of us employees became “Human Capital.”  Now management was using banking terms to describe people.  This was, perhaps, a little better in that the connotation was that employees were an “investment.”  This term evolved when employers realized half of their workforce was getting ready to retire, and they needed to invest in new logs to burn.  Some employers may have actually valued the loss of institutional knowledge that was going to be exiting when all those bodies walked out the door, never to return.  I can’t say for sure.  The places I’ve worked always seemed to value replacing long-term employees with unskilled cheaper ones.

I always love it when new terms like this are coined.  Sometimes they’re good and sometimes they are bad, but they are almost always entertaining because those creating the new terminology don’t always understand the messages they are conveying.  But I also love it because I can see other applications of the new phrase.  That’s where some of the real fun begins.

The one I heard yesterday was “Angel Dusting.”  And I absolutely love this one, seriously.  The context in which it was applied was in the way manufacturers of body-care products mask the toxins they are conning us into spraying on ourselves.  Or maybe “masking” is not the proper term, maybe “hyping” is better.  You see, these manufacturers put all forms of toxic compounds in things like lipstick, body wash, fragrances, sun screen, shaving cream; you name it.  Beauty products manufacturers don’t even have to disclose what all is in their concoctions and potions. They get to hide the bulk of their ingredients in the name of preserving “trade secrets.”  Tune in to the Heavy Metals Summit if you’d like to learn more about these toxins.

The “Dusting” occurs when the companies add a dash of vitamin A or E, or oatmeal, or vanilla, maybe an essential oil, and even yogurt.  But that’s all they add – a dusting.  These additives are in such small quantities that they have no beneficial value at all.  It’s a great marketing ploy, and it steers you away from all the bad stuff in there like parabens, synthetic colors, undefined fragrance, phthalates, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, formaldehyde, and toluene.  Check out this article: “10 Toxic Beauty Ingredients to Avoid.”

The connotation of “Angel Dusting” is that they give just a minute amount of the good, to get you see past or accept the huge quantity of bad.  And, I can see this term being applied in all sorts of situations.

How many of us have put up with an extremely bad job, or bad boss because of the small perks that come around every once in a Blue Moon.  Or personal relationships.  They could even be abusive relationships, but we get a “dusting” of good, just enough to keep us holding on.  Believing that things are all right or that they will get better.  Flowers after a verbal or physical assault.  Promises of treating us better, of respecting our needs or desires.  The narcissist that dominates and controls while gaslighting you (another fun term) into believing they are the nice, sane partner in the relationship.  All the while, we are being poisoned.  Having the energy drained from our bodies, our spirits crushed.

Perhaps it’s a phony spiritual leader, dusting us with promises of acquiring wealth, happiness and spiritual union, all for a donation of $99.99.  The language sounds so sweet, so believable.  There are testimonials from saved souls – more dusting phonies on the payroll.

How about legislation that is named in the opposite of what it actually does.  My favorite is the Patriot Act.  It allows highly questionable government intrusion into personal privacy, basically violating constitutional rights in exchange for a mere dusting of the idea of increased security.  Maybe it has worked in small measure, but at what cost to liberty – but angelically, you are a “patriot.”

Unfortunately, it takes time for the toxicity to increase to the point where we finally realize we are poisoned.  Detoxing is extremely difficult and the long-lasting effects of the toxins can be catastrophic.

In terms of environmental pollutants this can lead to the devastation of entire landscapes, displacement of families, and the need for Superfund cleanups.

In terms of personal exposure to toxic chemicals, it can manifest as autoimmune diseases, severely impairing the quality of life and leading to early mortality.

In terms of spirituality, well just remember Jim Jones, Jonestown in Guyana, and the poison Kool-Aid.

In terms of lawmaking or executive action, it can be when we realize the action taken was all to benefit a special interest at the expense of everyone else – the public treasury already raided, billions of tax-payer monies gone, like the banking bailout.  Too big to fail, right?

In terms of relationships, it can destroy trust and self-esteem and set us up for a life of loneliness and alienation – and that’s if the poisoning was mental.  Physical abuse, perpetuated and repeated with doses of retaining Angle Dust, can be fatal.  The victim wasn’t able to escape in time.

“Angel Dusting.”  What a concept.  A way to profit off of poisoning the healthy by adding a minuscule speck of honey to entrap us . . .  I bet you can think of some more applications of this term.

***

Photo:  A beautiful lake in northern Montana.  It was one of the most amazing places I’ve visited.

Dark Poetry

* This is a piece I posted on LinkedIn a couple of months back.  It seemed appropriate because the story originated there, but no reason not to share a bit a humor about social media here as we continue our Earthwalk . . .

***

Ok, so postings on LinkedIn sometimes careen off the finely paved highway of a career-oriented social media network. There are countless political posts, good morning photos, clichés and miscellaneous other postings by connections that are used to generate profile views, likes, or that serve as just plain attention getters. It simply comes with the territory. Leave expectations outside the door when you foray onto these pages, because there are also times where there is clearly a drunk driver behind the wheel with a stuck accelerator and no brakes rocketing towards that “bridge out” sign at 140 miles per hour.

This morning I was greeted with one of those uplifting messages designed to start everyone’s day off in a positive frame of mind, particularly if you were returning to work after the three-day holiday. The post was simple enough.

Post: “Peace Dances in the Heart of Every Human Being.”

Now there is an inspiring quote that picked my heart rate up a notch along with my morning cup of java. But it was one of the replies that really caught my attention.

Response: “I have not experienced this perspective. There are those who carry bloodlust and predatory darkness in their very beings as reflected in their actions, words and raptor-eyed huntings, or even seemingly random inactions. Their hunger walks life eternally through and with time.”

I didn’t quite expect to see the words “bloodlust,” and “predatory darkness” this early in the day. After all, the divide and conquer rhetoric of politicians was just beginning to generate the usual wave of hate-speech responses, name calling and tantrum throwing. I re-read the whole response, and I have to give this guy a little bit of credit. I mean “raptor-eyed huntings,” now that’s creative writing. And “Their hunger walks life eternally through and with time.” That’s poetic, not necessary uplifting, but definitely poetic.

I wondered if this guy wrote novels for a living, or, perish the thought, he was so cynically jaded as to make my own touch of cynicism seem bleak and dismal in comparison. Or maybe, this guy was just pitching a bit of sardonic, very, very sardonic, humor into that dance of the heart. I certainly hope this gentleman’s life is not so horrid as to have never experienced peace of mind, another heart’s love or the dance and laughter of life.

At any rate, a fine good morning to your sir; and may you dodge those raptor-eyed, blood-seeking demons eternally stalking you in the never-ending empty dark void that fills your soul  : – )

***

 

Balance

I’ve noticed on social media that the hosts are doing things to try to keep their participants engaged.  It makes sense, there is so much going on and we all can’t be tweeting, linkingin, facebooking, instagraming, blogging, emailing, texting, etc., all at the same time. There simply isn’t enough time in the day; at east not if you expect to take a deep breath once and a while, or keep your life in balance.

When I lapsed in making posts on Twitter they began sending me summaries of my followers’ tweets.  I guess to try to pull me back into interacting on their forum.  “Come back, come back,” they cried.  They probably have advertising dollars at interest – more viewers, more money for them.  Sorry, that’s the cynic in me.

On LinkedIn, I suddenly began receiving notifications called “Daily Rundown.”  Now these I actually like, because they give brief synopses of trending news stories in the business world.  You can skim them fast and be on your way.  And, two of these posts caught my attention in the past couple of days.

First, I learned that: “The world got a new billionaire every two days last year — a new record, according to a report from Oxfam International. Wealth is “increasingly concentrated” at the top, the charity says, with 82% of money generated last year going to the richest 1%. The world’s 2,043 billionaires saw wealth surge $762 billion in 2017, and billionaire wealth has grown an average 13% per year between 2006 and 2015.”

Second, in America: “We don’t have a shortage of jobs, but we might have a shortage of employers — and that could explain why wages aren’t rising. Hourly pay, adjusted for inflation, has grown by a meager 0.2% a year since the early 1970s. A group of economists argue in a working paper that limited competition between employers — due to mergers and other forms of industry consolidation — may be a prime culprit, reports Slate. The economists found that, between 2010 and 2013, local job markets were dominated by a disconcertingly small number of employers. It’s called a monopsony: A situation where a company is pretty much the only game in town, giving them major sway over suppliers, business partners, and employees.”

So it seems that 1% of the people world-wide control 82% of the world’s entire wealth, and their wealth grows at the current rate of 13% every year.  And I’m not sure what wages look like in other countries, but in America, wages have only been growing at the rate of 0.2% a year for the past almost 50 years – that’s 10% growth over 50 years.  Wow!  What a disparity.  Things certainly seem out of balance, especially from a socioeconomic humanitarian point of view.

It seems, at least in some circles, there is more concern for consolidating individual wealth and power than there is for helping our fellow humans or contributing to the growth of community.

I remember back to my senior year of nursing school.  I was in a professional development course and the topic was centered on socioeconomics and health.  I don’t remember how the conversation started but I remember adding that I would be willing to lower my standard of living to help improve the standard of living of others.  The instructor asked the class if anyone else agreed with me.  Not a single student raised their hand.  And perhaps there is an illustration of the problem.  I don’t blame the individuals, it is the way people are socialized and the values they are taught.

We can all do things, even small things, to help achieve balance.  Balance in ourselves, balance between work and home, balance between taking and giving.  While certainly not in all sectors, the scales seem to have tipped away from humanitarianism.

Thoughts?

***

Photo:  From a Japanese Garden in Idaho.

Update: Some new numbers to mull over, but I wouldn’t let the numbers get you down.  I put a premium on happiness and peace of mind.  They aren’t measuring these when they take these surveys.

From LinkedIn this morning (Jan. 27th, 2018) – a success survey to show what Americans think defines “Making It.” “For the average American, the picture of success is about $150,000 in annual income, marriage, a couple kids, a 10-minute commute, and a generous amount of vacation time, reports MarketWatch, citing survey data from ThermaSoft.”

Last time I checked the average income for a family of four was around $50K, but that number included benefits. And over half of Americans had only $1000 or less in savings. It looks like the materialistic brainwashing is way out of step with reality, or basically, very few people are “Making It.”

From the article: “This is what success looks like to the average American” in MarketWatch.

Making It Graph

Another Update – March 11, 2018: We now have a dollar amount of what equates to “happiness.” It apparently takes earnings of $60 to $75k a year to be “happy.” But you have to earn $95K to achieve “fulfillment.”  See the full article: “How Much Money Do You Need To Be Happy? More Than Most People Are Making.” Again, I don’t believe happiness is measured in terms of material wealth, but we do live in a society that does.

Another Update – March 15, 2018: I try to keep updating this post with relevant material and another piece of the puzzle came along today.  This one is about health care and what happens to our income if we need to be hospitalized.  I’m quoting from the article “Getting Sick Can Really be Expensive, Even for the Insured.”  “On average, people in their 50s who are admitted to the hospital will experience a 20 percent drop in income that persists for years. Over all, income losses dwarfed the direct costs of medical care.”  Also:  “A 2015 survey conducted by The Upshot and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, among people struggling to pay medical bills, 29 percent said their illness or injury had led to a drop in household income.” It seems, the US is behind other advanced countries that offer some form wage insurance.  Since the leading causes of bankruptcy in this country are divorce and a single serious illness, medical treatment represents a huge factor in individual wealth and security.  A healthy lifestyle and insurance goes along way to help maintain economic “balance.”  These are strong arguments for a universal health care program.

Update – March 26, 2018: The average Wall Street bonus in 2017 was $184,220, according to the Washington Post.  This represents a 17% increase from the previous year.  It is also the closest the industry has come to its pre-2008-crisis high of $191,360 in 2006, according to data from the New York State comptroller. The financial industry’s revenue increased 4.5% last year to $153 billion. Wall Street accounts for less than 5 percent of local jobs but 20 percent of private sector wages in the city.

Update – May 17, 2018: I think this study sums up something I’ve been saying for a very long time.  The stock market is not an actual measure of the wealth of the average American.  Historic stock market highs only mean a few selective people are getting wealthy.  The study found that 34.7 million working U.S. households live above the official poverty line, but below the cost of paying ordinary expenses.  That is double the 16.1 million that are in actual poverty.  “These are households with adults who are working but earning too little — 66% of Americans earn less than $20 an hour, or about $40,000 a year if they are working full time.”

You can find the summary of the results of the study here: 40% in U.S. can’t afford middle-class basics, and the full report here: Do You Know Alice?  As with all web links, they are subject to “link rot” and the article may not be there forever.  “Alice,” by the way, stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.”

Update – May 23, 2018: Well the economic data just keeps coming.  This time it is from the Federal Reserve’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017.  I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves, but it looks as though few Americans are going to be able to afford retirement.

Economic Well-Being

A large majority of individuals report that financially they are doing okay or living comfortably, and overall economic well-being has improved over the past five years. Even so, notable differences remain across various subpopulations, including those of race, ethnicity, and educational attainment.

• When asked about their finances, 74 percent of adults said they were either doing okay or living comfortably in 2017—over 10 percentage points more than in the first survey in 2013.

• Individuals of all education levels have shared in the improvement over the past five years, though the more educated still report greater well-being than those less educated.

• Over three-fourths of whites were at least doing okay financially in 2017 versus less than two-thirds of blacks and Hispanics.

• Three in five urban residents describe the economy in their local community as good or excellent versus two in five rural residents who offer this positive of an assessment of local conditions.

The latest SHED interviewed a sample of over 12,000 individuals—roughly twice the number in prior years—with an online survey in November and December 2017. The anonymized data, as well as a supplement containing the complete SHED questionnaire and responses to responses to all questions in the order asked, are also available at http://www.federalreserve.gov/ consumerscommunities/shed.htm.

In an effort to understand how the opioid crisis may relate to economic well-being, the survey asked questions related to opioids for the first time. About one-fifth of adults (and one-quarter of white adults) personally know someone who has been addicted to opioids. Exposure to opioid addiction was much more common among whites—at all education levels—than minorities. Those who have been exposed to addiction have somewhat less favorable assessments of economic conditions than those who have not been exposed.

Income

Changes in family income from month to month remain a source of financial strain for some individuals. Financial support from family or friends is also common, particularly among young adults.

• Three in 10 adults have family income that varies from month to month, and 1 in 10 adults experienced hardship because of monthly changes in income.

• Nearly 25 percent of young adults under age 30, and 10 percent of all adults, receive some form of financial support from someone living outside their home.

Employment

Most workers are satisfied with the wages and benefits from their current job and are optimistic about their future job opportunities. Even so, challenges, such as irregular job scheduling, remain for some. Three in 10 adults work in the “gig economy,” though generally as a supplemental source of income.

• Less than one-fifth of non-retired adults are pessimistic about their future employment opportunities, although pessimism is greater among those looking for work or working part time for economic reasons.

• One-sixth of workers have irregular work schedules imposed by their employer, and one-tenth of workers receive their work schedule less than a week in advance.

• For many, stability of income is valued highly. Three-fifths of workers would prefer a hypothetical job with stable pay over one with varying but somewhat higher pay. Those who work an irregular schedule in their actual job are somewhat more likely to prefer varying pay in the hypothetical choice than those who work a set schedule.

• Three in 10 adults participated in the gig economy in 2017. This is up slightly from 2016 due to an increase in gig activities that are not computer or internet-based, such as child care or house cleaning.

Dealing with Unexpected Expenses

While self-reported financial preparedness has improved substantially over the past five years, a sizeable share of adults nonetheless say that they would struggle with a modest unexpected expense.

• Four in 10 adults, if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, would either not be able to cover it or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money. This is an improvement from half of adults in 2013 being ill-prepared for such an expense.

• Over one-fifth of adults are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full.

• Over one-fourth of adults skipped necessary medical care in 2017 due to being unable to afford the cost.

Banking and Credit

Access to bank accounts expanded further in 2017. However, substantial gaps in banking and credit services exist among minorities and those with low incomes.

• Nearly 95 percent of all adults have a bank or credit union account. However, this varies by race and ethnicity. One in 10 blacks and Hispanics lack a bank account, and an additional 3 in 10 have an account but also utilize alternative financial services, such as money orders and check cashing services.

• One-fourth of blacks are not confident that a new credit card application for them would be approved—twice the rate among whites.

Housing and Neighborhoods

Satisfaction with one’s housing and neighborhood is generally high, although notably less so in lower income communities. Renters face varying degrees of housing strain, including some who report difficulty getting repairs done or being forced to move due to a threat of eviction.

• While 8 in 10 adults living in middle- and upper income neighborhoods are satisfied with the overall quality of their community, only 6 in 10 living in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods are satisfied.

• Nearly half of adults age 22 and older currently live within 10 miles of where they lived in high school, but those who have moved farther from home are more likely to be satisfied with the overall quality of their neighborhood.

• Three percent of renters were evicted or moved because of the threat of eviction in the past two years.

Higher Education

Economic well-being rises with education, and most of those holding a postsecondary degree think that attending college paid off. The net benefits of education are less evident among those who started college but did not complete their degree; the same is true among those who attended for-profit institutions.

• Two-thirds of graduates from bachelor’s degree programs feel that their educational investment paid off, but less than one-third of those who started but did not complete a degree share this view.

• Just over half of those who attended a for-profit institution say that they would attend a different school if they had a chance to go back and make their college choices again. By comparison, less than one-quarter of those who attended not-for-profit institutions would want to attend a different school.

Student Loans

Over half of college attendees under age 30 took on some debt to pay for their education. Most borrowers are current on their payments or have successfully paid off their loans, although those who failed to complete a degree and those who attended for-profit institutions are more likely to have fallen behind on their payments.

• Among those making payments on their student loans, the typical monthly payment is between $200 and $300 per month.

• Nearly one-fourth of borrowers who went to for-profit schools are behind on their loan payments, versus less than one-tenth of borrowers who went to public or private not-for-profit institutions.

Retirement

Many adults feel behind in their savings for retirement. Even among those who have some savings, people commonly lack financial knowledge and are uncomfortable making investment decisions.

• Less than two-fifths of non-retired adults think that their retirement savings are on track, and one-fourth have no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.

• Three-fifths of non-retirees with self-directed retirement savings accounts, such as a 401(k) or IRA, have little or no comfort in managing their investments.

• On average, people answer fewer than three out of five basic financial literacy questions correctly, with lower scores among those who are less comfortable managing their retirement savings.

Update – May 28, 2018: A new survey by the Pew research center that examined issues facing rural and urban households found many similarities.  A couple of the interesting responses are that some 60% of the respondents say they cannot afford the life they want, and that workers across all areas in the US have seen their wages drop by 1 to 3%.  You could compare that with the wage stagnation cited above when I made the original post.  The Pew report is here:

Five charts prove urban and rural Americans have the same problems

Update – June 24, 2018:  Home prices and mortgage rates have outpaced wages so fast that now 75% of US wage earners cannot afford the median price of a home, which has risen to a record $264,800.

U.S. Homes Prices Least Affordable in Almost a Decade

Update – August 12, 2018: The 2018 World Inequity Report

So here are some of the take-aways from this report with respect to the U.S.

2.4 Income inequality in the United States

Information in this chapter is based on the article “Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States,” by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, forthcoming in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (2018).

Income inequality in the United States is among the highest of all rich countries. The share of national income earned by the top 1% of adults in 2014 (20.2%) is much larger than the share earned by the bottom 50% of the adult population (12.5%).

Average pre-tax real national income per adult has increased 60% since 1980, but it has stagnated for the bottom 50% at around $16 500. While post-tax cash incomes of the bottom 50% have also stagnated, a large part of the modest post-tax income growth of this group has been eaten up by increased health spending.

Income has boomed at the top. While the upsurge of top incomes was first a labor-income phenomenon in 1980s and 1990s, it has mostly been a capital-income phenomenon since 2000.

The combination of an increasingly less progressive tax regime and a transfer system that favors the middle class implies that, even after taxes and all transfers, bottom 50% income growth has lagged behind average income growth since 1980.

Increased female participation in the labor market has been a counterforce to rising inequality, but the glass ceiling remains firmly in place. Men make up 85% of the top 1% of the labor income distribution.

Income inequality in the United States is among the highest of rich countries
In 2014, the distribution of US national income exhibited extremely high inequalities. The average income of an adult in the United States before accounting for taxes and transfers was $66 100, but this figure masks huge differences in the distribution of incomes. The approximately 117 million adults that make up the bottom 50% in the United States earned $16 600 on average per year, representing just one-fourth of the average US income. As illustrated by table 2.4.1, their collective incomes amounted to a 13% share of pre-tax national income. The average pre-tax income of the middle 40%—the group of adults with incomes above the median and below the richest 10%, which can be loosely described as the “middle class”—was roughly similar to the national average, at $66 900, so that their income share (41%) broadly reflected their relative size in the population. The remaining income share for the top 10% was therefore 47%, with average pre-tax earnings of $311 000. This average annual income of the top 10% is almost five times the national average, and nineteen times larger than the average for the bottom 50%. Furthermore, the 1:19 ratio between the incomes of the bottom 50% and the top 10% indicates that pre-tax income inequality between the “lower class” and the “upper class” is more than twice the (1:8 ratio) difference between the average national incomes in the United States and China, using market exchange rates.

Income is very concentrated, even among the top 10%. For example, the share of national income going to the top 1%, a group of approximately 2.3 million adults who earn $1.3 million on average per annum, is over 20%—that is, 1.6 times larger than the share of the entire bottom 50%, a group fifty times more populous. The incomes of those in the top 0.1%, top 0.01%, and top 0.001% average $6 million, $29 million, and $125 million per year, respectively, before personal taxes and transfers.

As shown by Table 2.4.1, the distribution of national income in the United States in 2014 was generally made slightly more equitable by the country’s taxes and transfer system. Taxes and transfers reduce the share of national income for the top 10% from 47% to 39%, which is split between a one percentage point rise in the post-tax income share of the middle 40% (from 40.5% to 41.6%) and a seven percentage point increase in the post-tax income share of the bottom 50% (from 12.5% to 19.4%). The trend is also of relatively large proportionate losses in income shares as one looks further up the income distribution, indicating that government taxes are slightly progressive for the United States’ richest adults.

Update – August 19, 2018: This one is on CEO compensation, and it comes to us from Pacific Standard and their article titled: “CEOs Got a Big Raise in 2017.”  We can sum this one up with a few quotes from the article.

“In 2017, the ‘average CEO of the 350 largest firms in the United States received $18.9 million in compensation, a 17.6 percent increase over 2016,’ the report states. (By another measure, which includes stock options granted, average CEO compensation rose from $13.0 million in 2016, to $13.3 million in 2017.)”

“Between 1978 and 2017, CEO compensation (including stock options realized) increased by 1,070 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute report. During this same time period, compensation for the typical American worker increased by 11.2 percent.”

“Today, as a result of this surge, the average CEO’s compensation (including stock options realized) is 312 times that of the typical worker, a ratio that’s dramatically higher than the 1980s (although still not quite as high as in 2000).”

“The Trump administration maintains that wage growth for average Americans will come, although even fans of the tax reform legislation suggest it may not be ‘immediate.’ In a report released yesterday, the Tax Foundation, a center-right think tank whose modeling of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s effects has typically been more optimistic than most other models, projected that long-term wages will increase by 1.5 percent. Nicole Kaeding, the Tax Foundation’s director of federal projects, told the Washington Post that they ‘definitely think it’s going to take a few years for this to obviously manifest.'”

So there you have it.  The CEOs win the lottery every year while the average wage earner’s income can’t even match inflation.

Update – December 18, 2018: Even rent is becoming unaffordable and contributing to the growing housing crisis. “Since 2001, gross rent has increased 3 percent a year, on average, while income has declined by an average of 0.1 percent annually, falling from $56,531 in 2001 to $56,516 in 2015.  This widening gap between rent and income means that after paying rent, many Americans have less money available for other needs than they did 20 years ago.” See the PEW research article American Families Face a Growing Rent Burden for more.

Update – January 27, 2019: I came across two articles of interest today.  One discusses how the super-rich are becoming younger, not by working and earning wealth but through inheritance.  The big take-away from this study is not about the wealthy, the big news is that typical Americans saw their net worth plunge 41% between 2007 and 2016.  From the article:

Even as more young people entered the top 0.1 percent, most of their Millennial and Generation X compatriots were struggling. Americans 75 and older are the only age group whose median net worth rose from 2007 to 2016, according to the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer of Finances released in July 2018. Typical Americans age 35 to 54 saw their wealth—heavily concentrated in housing—plunge by more than 41 percent in that time frame.

Source is Bloomberg News:  Super Rich Americans Are Getting Younger and Multiplying

The next article addresses the issue of how older Americans can no longer afford to retire.  The factors contributing were: (1) the financial crisis in 2008 that wiped out many nest eggs; (2) the inability to save for retirement, i.e., low wages and wage stagnation; (3) children no longer earn enough to help support their parents; (4) the shrinking birth rate resulting in less paying into Social Security and Medicare; and (5) the decrease in immigration due to current White House policy.  The lack of low-wage earning immigrants means child care costs are higher, which discourages population growth.  And less immigration also means there are less immigrants that pay into our safety net systems because they pay more in to it than they receive in benefits.

Source is Bloomberg News: Too Many Americans Will Never Be Able to Retire

***

Note: All web links are subject to link rot and I cannot guarantee the links will take you to those sites forever.

 

Toxic

Toxic is a word I seem to be hearing a lot more lately.  It’s original meaning applied solely to substances or chemicals that were dangerous to people.  But it has now been widely applied, in the figurative sense, to include such things as relationships and workplaces.  When you think about it this way, there are many types of “toxins” when it comes to individual beliefs or behaviors including hatred, envy, bigotry, racism, and sexism, just to name a few.  I could be wrong, but I don’t image that a single dose of a particular person or a job could outright kill you, but maybe the stress of such encounters could, over time.  Of course, there are those jobs that can expose a person directly to toxic substances, and those could definitely kill you and kill you instantly.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has numerous definitions of what constitutes a toxic or highly toxic substance.  OSHA relies on the LD50 for it’s classifications.  This stands for the Lethal Dose or amount of a solid or liquid material that it takes to kill 50% of the test animals it’s used on.  This same measurement, frighteningly enough, is used when testing medications.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a test subject, voluntarily or involuntarily, taking a 50-50, live or die gamble on handling or ingesting some chemical at work, or a medication my doctor prescribes, especially if the lethal doses they are talking about are only in milligrams or parts per million.

I wonder if there is an LD50 for doses of people or personalities 🙂

Now I usually don’t endorse programs or products and the like, but I have to say that I’ve enjoyed a couple of series this past week.  I watched the docuseries on Netflix called “Rotten,” which addresses multiple issues with modern agricultural industry practices including international market coercion, blind-eye regulation or unregulation, monocrop culture, use of toxic chemicals and crime.  I’ve also been watching the docuseries “Broken Brain” that is examining the effects of multiple environmental insults on the body, the diseases that manifest, and a functional approach to cure.

The common theme is these programs, and more and more literature I see as well, is that humans are starting to reap what they’ve sown.  We have violently exploited and poisoned the planet, and vast arrays of illnesses are starting to increase exponentially as a result.  The outdated algorithmic medical model of name it and pick a drug to treat symptoms is failing because it is simply not getting to the cause of these illnesses.  And because the causes can be multiple toxin exposures over time, it may not be easy to put your finger on the exact source and where to target treatment.  So, when I see people talking about eliminating the negative or toxic influences in their lives, and by that they usually mean toxic relationships, we might want to add to that list detoxing our planet and our bodies.

As you may have noticed, I have a number of categories of postings on my blog.  Soon, I’ll be adding a new one – “Environmental,” where I hope we can explore some of the issues where we can all truly make a healthy difference in the way live, breath, work and relate . . . it starts by shinning a light on them.

***

Postscript:  I kicked off this section by reblogging a piece from Nipslip titled: “Having an Eco-Conscience. Does it Matter and Is It Even Possible.

*  Photo Credit:  I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain and was unable to locate a source to give an attribution, but this one is not mine.

Another update:  There is a free web-presentation series coming up on Heavy Metals beginning January 29th through February 5th, 2018.  You can register to watch these presentations at the “Heavy Metal Summit: Detox Demystified.”

Update – January 30, 2018. I have to give Netflix credit again for launching another docuseries “Dirty Money,” which is exposing corporate fraud.  The first episode exposed Volkswagen’s deception on how their diesel cars, advertised and sold as “clean” were, in fact, some of the worse polluters adding to the toxins we breathe.

Update – February 3, 2018: You might want to reconsider what foods you are eating, especially cereals and snack foods that are composed largely of major mono-cropped grains.

“A FDA-registered food safety laboratory tested iconic American food for residues of the weed killer glyphosate (aka Monsanto’s Roundup) and found ALARMING amounts.”

Check out the article: “Monsanto is Scrambling to Bury This Breaking Story.”

Update – August 19, 2018:  I’m back to endorse another docuseries put together by Netflix.  It is called “Afflicted” and it follows the lives of seven people struggling with environmental or mysterious illnesses.  This includes Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Electro-Magnetic Sensitivity; Toxic Mold Syndrome; and Lyme Disease.  All of which can be tied to our ever increasing poisoning of the planet.

These disease processes can be devastating for the sufferers and their families.  And for most, the mainstream medical community has abandoned those afflicted.  When they figure out a way to make a profit, I’m sure they will rise to the occasion.

The hyperlink above will take you to the trailer if you’re interested.  Kudos to Netflix for taking on this subject matter.

 

Move Your Body, Move Your Mind

Yesterday, I didn’t post anything in my category “Daily Musings.”  And that’s ok.  As writers, we don’t always get things on paper, or we may be working on multiple projects and simply not make it to the blog.  Of course, there are times when the well just goes dry.  No words.  What do we do then?  It’s pointless to get frustrated, so you might as well free up your mind by doing something else.

In the book, “Brain Rules,” by John Medina, he talks about how our evolutionary past affects our thinking and creativity today.  The first of his twelve rules is to exercise, and he outlines the “performance envelope” where “our brains are designed to solve problems, related to surviving, in an unstable outdoor environment, and to do so in nearly constant motion.”  Yes, motion.

From an evolutionary view, our brains developed while we were on the move – walking as many as twelve miles each day.  Constant motion was necessary to forage for food, water, and to scurry away from predators.  While these skills may have deteriorated in an age where some only get their exercise by walking to the vending machine, no longer fearing that saber-tooth tigers might surprise them on the well-worn carpet path to the office break room, multiple studies have borne out that exercise increases our cognitive abilities.  And it doesn’t matter what type of exercise as long as gets the blood flowing.  More circulating oxygen to the brain transforms to increases in substances promoting and enhancing brain activity and even stimulating the grown of new brain cells.  This is why sitting in a class room or an office has the opposite effect of making our brains grow tired and numb.  Moving increases brain power.  Moving stimulates creativity.

Now you don’t have to walk twelve miles every day, but motion is good.  Any motion.  I’ve found its best to carry something to jot down those ideas while I’m on the trail, or use the voice recorder on the cell phone.  Because once I start moving, and take my mind off writing, words just magically appear.

Yesterday it was 4 miles out in the woods. I wrote a lot in my mind that will hopefully be on paper soon.  Today, my chosen activity was cleaning house.  And as I did, numerous ideas for numerous stories kept popping up in my mind.  So many ideas and words that my house cleaning was disrupted by many returns to the keyboard.  Or maybe I just didn’t want to clean.  I don’t know.  But, if you want to forage for words, move your body . . .

***

The Mythical Arrowhead

This piece was published under the title of “Found Your Arrowhead? Seek This Counsel In The Natural World,” in The Urban Howl on November 8, 2017.   I highly recommend you check out this wonderful online publication at http://theurbanhowl.com/.  I have since completed a more expansive version of this article.  If you would like to read it, let me know in a comment.

“Found Your Arrowhead? Seek This Counsel In The Natural World”

by Harold Stearley

Knowing, or believing, something exists doesn’t mean that you will find It, or that you should search for It.

As with many people I know, the past couple of years have been a time of great change, of searching, a call to become whole again. We have searched and found before, but we’ve lost pieces of our soul going through the grinder of daily existence in a world that values the material over the spiritual, that places labels over substance, illusion over reality.

My current search began with the “dissolving” of a marriage and the loss of a career by forces seemingly outside the realm of personal control. Or did I somehow manifest this destruction to force myself to rediscover my true nature? The answer to that question is now irrelevant to the path I walk.

The marriage hit a melting point when my wife evolved into an end-stage alcoholic and nothing could persuade her to seek treatment.

The career flame was extinguished as the result of internal office politics – I would not succumb to playing their corrupt games – outsiders and misfits are usually left outside, perhaps with a note begging for adoption.

So now what, where do I go from here?

Where do all of us go from a starting point of what we perceive is darkness and despair – a contraction of space and time? Do you start believing the crowd of voices in your head entrenched there from years of social “domestication,” the “mitote” as the Toltecs call it, telling you that you are not good enough, not beautiful enough, not smart enough, don’t make enough – the ever-gnawing feelings of inadequacy – the ever-present need to acquire more? More what?

Will all of the “shoulds” injected into your mind from the moment of your first breath predominate every step you take – fill every “rational” conscious thought? Will the search for a definition and identity of your ego be satiated by finding a new label?

Will another hollow paycheck somehow provide “meaning” to the fabricated definition of who you are? Will the ever-turning wheels in your mind condemn you to the prison of living in the past and in future projections, instead of experiencing the here and now?

Perhaps it’s time to awaken to the fact that the true journey is inward. Answers, awareness, enlightenment, and true happiness do not come from external sources.

My search began externally with looking for a new job, a new living location, perhaps a new partner. After a year of re-learning to live alone, of constant rejection of job applications, and upon finding defects with every possible living location I explored, I woke from my slumbers. I awakened to realize that I was enjoying, in the present moment, the things that had come to fill my time.

The daily ventures into nature, the meditation of motion and stillness, the re-connection with “reality.” The “real world” that surrounds us is filled with infinite riches and beauty, which most overlook. Like the caterpillar, I was transforming. I was repossessing what I had lost.

Upon achieving some balance, real magick begins to happen. New connections materialize. Some of these connections are there to show you that you’re on the right path, others to show you what to avoid. Your intuition is developed. Just like the mole who has sacrificed vision in return for all its other senses becoming heightened, you sacrifice illusion, a life style, possessions, sometimes even rationality, in exchange to feel and experience truth, to know in your heart what nourishes your soul.

False messages still come and can gain intensity; beckoning you to return to the land of illusion.

The bait to step back into that world of darkness and confusion can take many forms. In my case, I am presented with a job opportunity, which has now acquired a sense of oddness since the beginning of this walk when I spent hours seeking some job that was seemingly always beyond grasp. And, as I mechanically prepare for an interview, I ask, why now?

To contemplate this change in direction, a possible new path that could really be a return to an old one that no longer serves, I seek out counsel with the natural world.

It has never misled me or given me false promises. I hike. I find myself standing in a creek bed, surrounded by the sound and essence of moving water and by hundreds of thousands of pieces of limestone and chert. Chert is a very hard silicate-based, sedimentary stone that when struck forcefully enough and at the right angle produces conchoidal fractures with extremely sharp edges.

Most people know the variety of chert called flint that can give rise to fire – a powerful nature indeed – that of transformation, illumination, or destruction. Because of its fracturing qualities, chert was also the perfect stone for the Natives to craft arrow and spearheads and other cutting tools – sharp as a razor and stronger than steel.

I know as I stand here, contemplating and seeking guidance, that there is an Arrowhead among these stones.

Missouri Creek - Rocks

It is a given that rivers, streams and creeks are the best places to find them, where the earth has been eroded by the waters – the feminine universal womb, the source of all potentialities. Many treasures are revealed by the waters’ power to purify. And a natural curiosity, plus a desire to acquire such a power object, sparks the urge to hunt for it, to search it out, to discover its mystery. Being more intuitive now, however, I ask, what is the real message I’m receiving? And why did this imagery suddenly pop into my mind from nowhere? Time to consult the symbolism and ancient wisdom of the Earth.

The Arrowhead is said to represent the hunter and adventurer in each of us, as well as alertness, for it takes a good eye and strong arm to use a bow and arrow. It is also believed to indicate protection and courage and to signify direction, force, movement, and power.

Arrows pointed in opposite directions meant war, while a broken arrow meant peace, and crossed arrows meant friendship. Arrows are piecing, representing the masculine. The flight of arrows can symbolize the accent to the celestial. And an arrow, once let loose from the bow, results in consequences that cannot be undone, whether the arrow hits or misses its intended target.

As I stood there in that creek bed reflecting, I couldn’t help but notice the obvious. I was not moving in any direction. I was static. To stare and search for this Mythical Arrowhead amongst a million other stones, is not advancement down any path. The Arrowhead is not mythical in the sense of being a falsehood, it does exist. And, it is not some traditional story involving supernatural beings that somehow speaks to the psychology, or customs, or ideals of a society either. Rather, it serves as an allegory – not a cold definition but full of warmth in its meaning.

I could spend many hours being static in a search that produces no results, that hits no target, that creates little more than frustration. This speaks a little to the past years’ events. Or one might find the Arrowhead, secure it to the shaft and let it fly, it’s effects being unchangeable.

It may miss the intended mark and not fall on the path of enlightenment and happiness. But even if it hits the target aimed for, if that target is based on illusion and false “shoulds” that bring no spiritual advancement, then you’ve hit no target at all. You have to have both, a proper path or target, and you must lodge that arrow squarely in that target with a clean shot. So, if you’ve found the target, then, perhaps, it is truly worth the search to find the arrow to strike it.

But, the real message I believe I’m receiving is not to seek out something mythical with a false believe of attaining Bodhi in a place external to your soul. And once one realizes that, and takes the inward journey instead, then perhaps there is no reason to seek out the Arrowhead and all its power at all, perhaps we’ve already found it.

***

Arrowhead

Seeding, Misleading, Switching, and Stealing: The Vocabulary of Competition in Today’s Pharmaceutical Industry

* Disclaimers:  The image for this post was found on the internet in the public domain and it is in no way identified or affiliated with any entity or particular drug manufacturer.  While the article references specific companies in relation to a Wall Street Journal publication, it is in no way implying those companies, or any other specific companies, have engaged in the practices identified by Dr. Kessler, former Commissioner of the FDA, which are described in this article.

** This article was published in the editorial sections of the Columbia Missourian on July 12, 1995 and in the Columbia Daily Tribune on July 18, 1995.  Please see my Daily Musings post called “Detours” for an introduction to this flash from the past.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that several pharmaceutical companies increased their donations to the GOP to influence legislation that ultimately saved them $1 billion dollars.  It seems Abbott Laboratories, Bristol-Meyers Squibb and American Home Products donated more “soft-money” to the Republicans this past year than the previous six years combined in an effort to eliminate rebates to the government from the sale of infant formula to the Women, Infants and Children program.  Paying off legislators, however, is just one method of dominating the pharmaceutical market, and these corporations go to great lengths to promote products that are much more lethal than infant formula.

More than $58 billion a year is reaped by the U.S. pharmaceutical companies, but each individual company commands only a small share of this monetary battlefield.  Merck and Co., for example, controls the largest market share, dominating only 6.2 percent of the industry.  The fact that each drug manufacturer controls such a small portion or total pharmaceutical revenues fuels fierce competition to influence your physician to prescribe, or misprescribe, medications.  David Kessler of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research cites increasing evidence of illicit drug marketing practices that mislead or literally buy physicians’ prescribing practices.

One such technique is called a “seeding trial.”  The company identifies physicians, not based on qualifications, but by their habits of prescribing competitors’ products.  These doctors are then enticed to prescribe a given medication by signing them on for a drug trial of no scientific value.  Already FDA-licensed, these drugs require no additional studies.  The only criteria for participation is the physician’s willingness to write prescriptions.  Little to no data is collected, and no control groups are used to compare effects of medications.  The physician is paid a flat fee for each patient enrolled, which usually varies from $85 to $500 a head.  Essentially, these false studies are designed to change a doctor’s prescribing habits to a medication with no appreciable benefits to the patients involved.  In a marketing memo intercepted by the FDA, one company highlighted the importance of one such trial in this manner: “If at least 20,000 of the 25,000 patients enrolled remain in the study, it could mean up to a $10,000,000 boost in sales.”

This type of payment for questionable research has resulted in other problems.  In his article “Institutional Conflicts of Interest,” Ezekiel Emanuel documented that institutions and physicians receiving royalties and payments associated with drug research were more likely to fail to provide informed consent; to ignore adverse reactions and complications endangering their subjects; and to introduce bias into the collection and interpretation of data.  If drug companies are eliciting false drug trials and physicians are altering results based on payment for these studies, how can any patient trust that [they are] being prescribed the correct product for [their] ailment?

If physicians cannot be coerced into false studies to change their prescribing habits, then drug companies simply misrepresent the benefits of their products.  Unsubstantiated claims of superiority, minimizing or failing to mention risk and adverse reactions or presenting pharmacokinetic distinctions with dubious relevance are all part of a well-orchestrated false advertising campaign.  A study conducted at the University of San Diego School of Medicine demonstrated that, at best, pharmaceutical representatives were only 89 percent accurate in their advertising statements.  This 11 percent falsification of data could be all it takes for your physician to prescribe a lethal combination of medications.

If “seeding and misleading” can’t get your physician into the manufacturer’s camp, then how about the “switch campaign?”  Insurance companies encourage the use of cheaper generic drugs to hold down health-care costs.  To avoid this loss of revenue, however, pharmaceutical corporations offer direct payments to physicians to “switch” to another dosage form of the same product or to another product in the same therapeutic class.  No real benefit surfaces for the patient, but now there is no generic substitute for the switched classification and no loss of profits for the manufacturer.

If all of this doesn’t make you reach for your antacid, then consider the newest trend in the pharmaceutical industry: stealing.  Drug companies are trying to create alliances with insurers that will allow them to guide the patients’ care, provide their medications and bypass the physician altogether.  A nurse would monitor the patient by phone while hospital and physician visits are discouraged.  The drug company would provide only its products, eliminating the physician’s option to decide form a wide range of medications.  I guess “stealing” prescriptive authority is certainly one way to eliminate the competition, but then again just who is practicing medicine here, and whose interest do you think these companies are representing?

In the Nov. 15 issue of Hospital Practice, Robert Schrier documented a drug-dosing crisis in America that accounts for 60,000 to 140,000 unnecessary death each year.  Adverse reactions resulted in 10.8 percent of all hospitalizations and 14 percent of all in-patient hospital days, and once hospitalized there was an additional 18 to 30 percent chance of experiencing and adverse drug event.  Medication producing dizziness and sedation in the elderly population caused 32,000 hip fractures last year, and potentially life-threatening mixtures of medications were found in 88 percent of all elderly patients prescribed three or more medications.  Prescription medications, taken the way they are ordered, account for more deaths each year than guns (35,000), than high risk sexual behavior (30,000) or even motor vehicle accidents (25,000).  In fact, each year prescription medications kill more people than the entire 16 years of the Vietnam War, during which we lost 57,147 Americans.  With these types of statistics, it is not very comforting to know that our drug manufacturers are illicitly influence the way our doctors treat our ailments.

***

Kessler, D. A., et. al. (1994).  Therapeutic Class Wars – Drug Promotion in a Competitive                        Marketplace.  The New England Journal of Medicine, 331(20), 1350- 1353.

 

Photo:  This photo was found on the Internet in the public domain.  No other attribution could be found.

Update June 3, 2018: It looks like nothing has changed since 1994, except there are probably more zeros after the profit margins of Big Pharma.  Check it out: “Why Prescription Drugs Cost So Much.”  All links are subject to link rot.

 

Time – A Wound Healer or A Defense to Wrongful Death

By Harold Stearley

Not too long ago, the Missouri Supreme Court encountered two homicide cases where family members brought actions for the wrongful death of loved ones. One case involved a woman dying from multiple gunshot wounds in her home. The other was a consolidation of five cases involving five patients in a medical center that allegedly died at the hands of a respiratory therapist. Both cases involved homicides that were not the result of negligence, recklessness or passion – they were, by definition, murders. Both cases involved civil wrongful death actions, separate from any criminal prosecutions, that were filed after the three-year statute of limitations for wrongful death actions had passed. 

In the gunshot case, the trial court denied a motion to dismiss asserting the case was time-barred, but in the medical center cases the trial courts involved granted the hospital’s motions to dismiss on this same basis. The gunshot murder and the five consolidated medical murder cases ended up in the state’s highest court to determine whether the doctrine of equitable estoppel tolled the statute of limitations because the defendants had allegedly, fraudulently concealed their wrongdoing causing the plaintiff family members to miss the statute of limitations for bringing their claims.

The high court, however, delivered two different and opposing decisions. In the gunshot case, the court held the common law (judicially-created) doctrine of equitable estoppel applied, and the court upheld the circuit court’s denial of the motion to dismiss. But where the medical center allegedly concealed the facts from the family members (the facts supporting the claim were discussed in detail in the dissenting opinion), the high court affirmed the circuit courts’ grants of the motions to dismiss stating the common law doctrine did not apply. Both decisions were handed-down on the same day – August 18, 2015.

So what’s the difference? In one case one supreme court judge did not participate and a special judge sat on the bench. Did a one judge replacement result in opposite outcomes? While this could spark a whole range of discussions regarding the judicial process, I’ll leave that to other commentators. What I think is a tragedy is that, it appears the medical center prevailed by concealing the facts surrounding the suspected murders of five of its patients by one of its employees. In this case, the statute of limitations certainly matched the slang meaning of the abbreviation “SOL.” Time does not always heal all wounds. Sometimes time allows you to escape liability. . . 

***

See: State ex rel. Beisly v. Perigo, 469 S.W.3d 434 (Mo. banc 2015) and Boland v. Saint Luke’s Health Sys., Inc., 471 S.W.3d 703, 704-07 (Mo. banc 2015).

 *Photo Credit:  I found this image on the Internet in the Public Domain.  I was unable to find an attribution to the source, but it is not my photo.

 

 

 

Writing’s a Bitch, So is Soul Searching

By Harold Stearley

This article appeared in The Urban Howl on January 10, 2018

http://theurbanhowl.com/

Warning: This might get heavy. If you don’t like reading more than 140 characters stop now. If you don’t like introspection and self-examination, turn around. If you don’t like thinking about the writing life, expansion of consciousness, freedom or soul searching, well you know…

We all know it, writing is a bitch.

Some days, while standing in the line at the grocery store, the words just flow, like we are channeling from the Universe, and we’re scrambling for a piece of paper before they’re gone. We know that they can never be recalled in the exact fashion we first held them.

Other days, we sit staring at the screen and nothing comes, the mind is numb. And some days, you just need to jump in the car and drive 1400 miles to that cabin in the middle of nowhere to kill off all of the distractions, to force yourself inward, to open the gate, to find the words, your true voice and, similarly, to find your soul.

I just completed the drive.

I do a lot of driving in the early morning hours. Up at 1:00, out the door by 2:00. You can cover a lot of distance before the rest of the world is stirring. But there’s an eerie quality to driving at that time of day, depending on where you’re at. Good highways, good lighting, good signage, city lights, and especially the moon can all be warming — they add definition to that dark and empty landscape.

But then the navigator wants to save you some time and you’re off on that two-lane, undivided highway, with no shoulders, no lights, few reflectors, and sometimes no center lines, and you wonder what the hell are you going to run up on as you fly down that gray ribbon at 70 miles per hour, give or take.

So, I latched onto a truck, a single, box-like entity sharing this 100-mile radius. I know that guy will light the road ahead of me, and he’s going in my direction. I can tell he is following his navigator too — headed straight for the left-hand turn we are both supposed to take down that next stretch of lonely highway.

He comes to a stop, no turn is there; a concrete barrier instead. We both sit in silence, then slowly head down the road a mile, execute a U-turn and come back to where the mysterious road is supposed to be, but this time from the other direction. A right turn appears and we are headed south.

I guess navigators don’t see all of the barriers — neither do we, especially the ones we create for ourselves.

As we speed away, I suddenly see a blast of dust kick up on the roadway. The trucker’s trailer, blowing sideways in the high winds, dipped off the edge of the road into the dirt. The trailer heaves up to the right as the dirt grabs hold of the tires, left-sided tires leave the pavement, skyward bound. I thought it might flip, but it doesn’t roll. He somehow pulls it back on the road. I’m glad for him.

Time to back off a bit, back into the darkness. Sometimes we spend time there figuratively as well, avoiding our own light.

Our minds are jealous beasts. They want to control the environment, to tell you what it is you are seeing and experiencing, but there is little you can see in this time and place. The mind wants to fill the darkness, fill that void with something familiar — give it shape, give it form. And so it does.

Outlines of mountains that aren’t really there. Cloud formations. The moon, three-quarters full, slowly becomes round and full — the circle complete, but then it sets. You realize these things aren’t there and you still can’t really tell where you are going. Nothing but headlights punching a momentary hole in the darkness and tail lights glowing red behind.

Nothing in front of you and nothing behind you beyond where those lights can reach, where their rays dissipate, swallowed by the night. You hold on for dawn and pray for it. And when it finally comes, when those first slivers of light pierce the darkness, you’ve traveled some 300 miles and you awake in a different landscape. No longer the flat Texas panhandle.

Instead, there are mountains and cacti and desert chaparral. A freight train appears to the east momentarily dissecting the plain and the road, from the mountains. You instinctively count cars, register if they’re carrying grain or coal. It’s hard to shut that brain off.

But the new world floods your senses and it is pleasingly disorienting. It stops the mind, the internal dialog. All you can do is experience, take it all in. Time and space have expanded from the simple act of driving out of your boundaries. You see, people’s worlds seem to be in a constant state of contraction.

When we were children we experienced those endless days of summer because we lived freely in the here and now. Our imaginations raced, we played, we observed, we wondered, we were always wowed. Nothing was taken for granted. We weren’t reined in by fabricated definitions or borders. The sky could be red if we wanted it to be. We played in foreign lands. The thickets and woods were a jungle. A cat, a mountain lion. We weren’t bound by math or history or science, only the limits of our senses and what we could dream up. Our worlds expanded. Time stood still.

The essence changed slightly in our teens. Still free of societal responsibilities, we became invincible. Play took different forms, sometimes more dangerous, stretching the limits, but there was always laughter. We swung the world by its tail. We owned the here and now.

But as we age, the boundaries and borders come. We have been force-fed society’s definitions and bound by its rules. We are assigned roles to play. Told dreams aren’t real, and never can be. We are given work. Our identities narrow. Time and space begin to contract. Our worlds shrink. At first to a community sphere, family and friends, a home and job, and eventually a smaller home when the kids have grown, then a room as we become feeble, and then gone.

We fill our shrinking world with distractions and we’ve created massive amounts of media to do just that. Television, movies, computers, social media, smartphones — these all make us feel like we are interacting with a larger universe. No longer confined to that commute to and from work in a box on wheels, in a ten-by-twelve living room, in that eight-by-eight office space. These prisons without bars.

If we’re lucky, and perhaps diligent, we can maintain some of that childlike view of the world. We might even travel while our bodies are able, and we should. Travel expands space and time. Travel, breaking out of our self-imposed boxes, is freedom. Freedom to experience anew.

One thing we seem to want to avoid, that is always available to us, is that inward journey. We are always filling our voids with outside experiences, seeking solutions outside of ourselves, searching for another person to be with, anything to keep from looking inside. Not all of the external is bad, and it should still be pursued.

We are social animals, and the unfamiliar internal world can be frightening. And so, we often do anything we can to avoid truly engaging in introspection and self-examination, figuring out who you are, and exploring the soul.

It can be painful work.

Some even lose themselves to a communal identity. They speak in clichés and platitudes, and they exercise as little independent thought as possible. They meld in. They try not to think or reason, punch the time clock and become a job, wrap their identity up in an external definition.

“I am a mother, a father, a teacher, a wife, a husband, a homeowner, a gardener, a doctor, a forklift driver.”

They don’t mention that they’re a spirit soul. Or that they’re here to find a soul purpose. Or that they’re preparing for a spiritual life after the body is gone.

People will do anything to avoid their true self. And if you start down that road of soul-seeking, you won’t come back to the mundane world of clichés, you won’t be “right as rain,” or “roll with the punches,” or “go with the flow”.

What you will be is authentic. You’ll see with a clarity that you’ve never had before. You’ll be true to your word. You will feel the world’s vibrations, sense its moments.

Your intuition will magnify, you’ll know people before you meet them. You’ll know your own heart. You’ll feel it when another beats in synch with yours.

So I drove. Travel, motion through the external world, tears down walls, eliminates those borders, returns us to the world of no boundaries, frees our imagination, takes back our minds, and recharges our spirits.

It’s back to that endless summer, clouds that form faces and animals, feeling the grass between my toes, living in the here and now, no distractions from the expansive world around me. I can look into my soul here, for when the world expands, it expands in all directions, including inward.

Funny thing, I was stopped by the Border Patrol — literally this time instead of figuratively — and I had to declare where I was coming from and where I was going. I could just imagine that officer’s reaction if I had told him I was coming from the world of illusion and going to the real world, the place where the spirit roams free.

Our bodies will eventually fail, our worlds will contract, and freedom of movement will be gone. We’ll be trapped inside with only ourselves for a while. We might want to get to know our real selves, make that spiritual journey inward, and free the spirit before that happens. Why wait to be dancing in the light?

***

* Photo:  This was one of my one-handed, over-the-shoulder, while driving pics 🙂

Consciousness

Consciousness has many definitions, ranging from being awake and aware of one’s surroundings, to being aware of something within oneself, or simply being aware of your own existence.  Consciousness can be viewed from an individual perspective or a collective one.

Carl Jung spoke of unconsciousness.  The personal unconscious embodied all repressed, forgotten, or subliminally perceived experiences.  And the collective unconscious refers to things shared among all being of the same species.  For humans, Jung believed these elements were composed of instincts and archetypes.

post

I recently read an article in the journal of Behavioral Sciences titled: Carl Gustav Jung, Quantum Physics and the Spiritual Mind: A Mystical Vision of the Twenty-First Century, authored by Diogo Valadas Ponte and Lothar Schafer.  The authors did a great job of weaving spirituality, psychology, science, and philosophy together – a quantum view of the spiritual wave form and its many potentialities.  Yes, you can be in two places at once.

One might more colorfully refer to this as examining the metaconsciousness – a state of being where the border between physical reality and spiritual existence dissolves.

This blog will wander down the pathways of consciousness and all it forms and manifestations – the way it is expressed or exploited by humans.  Philosophy, law, the environment, health care, spirituality, politics, poetry, dreaming, meditating,  journeying, and just plain old-fashioned storytelling.  It’s all on the table during this Earthwalk.

***

Photo: Can’t always predict how a camera will capture something – kind of like surprises in life – especially when you point it directly at a light source. For this pic, I used a Canon T1i EOS base with a Promaster Zoom lens set at 400mm, Night Landscape mode, 1 second exposure time, held on a tripod to avoid my shaky hands – And you get Magic

 

%d bloggers like this: