Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Mouths of Babes

Every so often, children put we adults to shame. I've just read about one of those times. A bunch of homeless children, living in Delhi, India, have self-organized a workable, fair, banking system.

No derivatives. No exorbitant interest. No too big to fail. No golden parachutes for executives. Just a human-to-human banking system where kids work and save their money for important things for their future, and some take 'advances' or loans for stuff like a uniform so they can go to school, or to help their parents open a business. It makes me think of the Building and Loan in the movie It's a Wonderful Life. Every so often, children put us to shame. And, for a minute at least, they make me proud of being human.

Their story is here on RT today.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Next Right Thing

There's a saying common in twelve-step programs. It doesn't come from the program literature, but it's common wisdom in the meetings. It's the twelve-step equivalent of the golden rule: Do the next right thing.

It's probably so pervasive because by the time people make it to a twelve-step program, they've pretty effectively trashed their lives and just as effectively killed off brain cells and emotional development, so they need something very simple to focus on while the haze clears and the metaphoric chickens of their addiction come home to roost.

When I first heard the phrase early in my sobriety, it seemed a little too pat, a little too pollyanna-ish. Later though, I grew enough to see the wisdom in it, because there are times in life when you find yourself in a situation where there's so much wrong that it's difficult to know where to start and hard to believe that anything you can do is going to make any difference whatsoever. That is where the "next right thing" becomes useful.

You see, in recovery, the first little bit of time, when you sober up just a touch, you realize that pretty much everything in your life has to change, and you're so scared that you want to wet yourself. If you're lucky, you just hang on through it as best you can.

After that, there's the "pink cloud," as it's called, where you're so happy to still be sober and to have not wet yourself that you're euphoric for a little bit. That's when addicts become really annoying, talking about how "grateful" they are, and how their "higher power" is seeing them through.

And then, the third stage is when you're sober enough to see reality and past being so petrified that that's all you can think about, and suddenly your cloud changes from pink to grey, as you begin to see what a walking, talking disaster you are, even when you're not loaded all the time. You realize that the booze or the drugs weren't the "problem" after all--you were the problem. You and your fear and avoidance and self-centeredness, and immaturity, and refusal to face reality on reality's terms--those were the problems. Your chosen substance was just a really poor attempted solution.

That's when your problems can start to seem insurmountable, like there's no reason to stay sober, because there's just too much damage and stupidity to ever come back from. That's when a lot of people with a few months in the program decide to use again--to go back to the same stupid and ineffective solution they've always used. But if you're lucky, when you're in a meeting, you'll share something that shows that's where you are, and someone will say to you that you can't worry about all the past, and you can't figure out all the future, you just have to "do the next right thing."

As a society, I think that's just about where we are right now. There's a lot of people who get just how messed up our world is. I think the financial crisis and our government claiming the right to imprison and murder us without a trial have pushed a lot of people over that line, at least. Some people are still on the pink cloud, where some savior--Jesus or Ron Paul or the Oathkeepers or benevolent ETs or Kalki the destroyer or something--is going to come and fix it all up for us, all tied up with a pretty bow.

But a lot of people have passed that stage too (Ron Paul's son endorsing Mitt Romney took a lot of the fun out of that savior myth). If you're one of those people, right now, you are at that third stage--where you look around and see the magnitude of the problems we've caused and allowed, and see that the cavalry is not riding in, and you look at each other and say, "May I panic now?"

My answer is no. It's not time to panic. It's also not time to give up. It's time to do the next right thing.

Don't like Walmart and the other big businesses making a killing while exporting our jobs and destroying small merchants? Don't shop there. Even if paper towels are 9 cents cheaper. And tell other people why you've made that decision. Who knows? They might be trying to do the next right thing too.

Don't like big Pharma selling us risky, ineffective drugs and lines of BS and bribing doctors to help them get us hooked? Then take responsibility for your own health and stop buying the line of thought that you can eat fast food, frozen pizzas and bacon, sit on your butt 24/7, use and abuse your body in every way and fix it all with a magic pill that the nice man at Pfizer provides because he's a nice man and your health insurance is required to pay for, courtesy of government regulation.

Don't like the big bankers stealing the wealth out from under us regular people? Don't borrow from them, don't let them within half a mile of whatever money you have, and begin insisting, loudly, that those who have done wrong are accountable and are not in a position to do it again.

Don't like the government telling us that we're expendable cattle to be spied upon, put on hit lists, sent to die in their eternal wars and paid food stamps to keep quiet about it? Tell them no. Do whatever is in your power to be non-compliant, and to be particularly noisy about it.

Want there to be less violence, hate and division in the world? BE less violent, hateful and divisive.

Worried about people who are having a hard time? Surely there's some you know or know of. Help them. Hand them a bit of money, or a casserole. Or if you haven't got those to spare, a supportive note or kind word certainly couldn't hurt. If your life is stinking, you'd love to have it fixed, but the next best thing is to know that someone at least is thinking kindly about you.

Et cetera. Each of us may not be able to fix the whole world, but if a lot of people fix their own bit of it, the world will fix itself.

At the same time that we're doing the next right thing, we have to be careful to resist the temptation to recycle old and stupid solutions. For example, we've seen that easy credit and bigger social programs are not the answer to a system that's fundamentally unfair. We know that stuffing our fingers in our ears to avoid hearing about all the butchery committed by our government in our names isn't saving us from decline in the world's esteem. We're becoming painfully aware that all the extra "security" we've bought at the cost of financial solvency and personal freedom has brought us not safety, but living on the perpetual brink of World War Three. We've already tried avoiding the consequences of a lack of integrity and compassion by the 'bread and circuses' tactics of keeping people half comatose in front of a TV, plugged into an I-pad and a smartphone, so we won't notice the suffering of our fellow humans. Those were stupid solutions to our problem of national or worldwide fear, just like getting drunk is a stupid solution for the alcoholic's individual fear. And stupid solutions don't get smarter if you try them more often.

So we need to just leave that stuff behind and each one of us do the next right thing.

I know I'm at odds with just about everything else you might see or read. That information is telling you to: 1) ignore all the evidence that things can't go on like this much longer; or 2) hoard canned goods and bottled water, buy gold, and prepare to defend you and yours to the death, or 3) make a date with a running automobile in a closed garage.

Well, sorry. I'm always the renegade. I can't ignore the evidence, and I'm too stubborn and have too much residual Catholic guilt from my upbringing to take myself out. As for the rest, I'm middle aged, 5'4", 120 lbs, and own two guns: a .22 rifle my hubby bought with S&H green stamps when he was 12 and a .380 pistol that's missing its clip. I'm probably screwed if violence and survivalism is going to win the day.

So I'm going to keep doing the next right thing and figure that if any significant segment of the populace is doing the same, we're all going to be fine.

If I'm wrong:

1) I can always panic later;

2) If I've been nice to people in the meantime, someone may give me a sandwich; and

3) If the saviors do show up, they probably won't mind that I started saving the world without them.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Looks like it's been a series of fairly bad days for big-Pharma megalith Merck, although you'd never know it to look at the mainstream news. In late June, a lawsuit that has been pending since 2010 was ordered "unsealed." That means, in real world terms, that the Defendant must now stop pretending to the public that it doesn't exist.

Two former Merck virologists allege that Merck defrauded the federal government when it sold millions of doses of vaccine that it knew to be of waning effectiveness. In a special kind of whistleblower lawsuit that allows private people to stand in the position of the government to stop fraud in government contracts, the former Merck scientists claim that Merck knowingly phonied up study results about effectiveness of the mumps vaccine in its famous MMR (measels, mumps, rubella) concoction, to hide the fact that the vaccine was becoming less effective as the virus mutated.

They allege that Merck, in its effectiveness studies, only used the "domesticated" version of the mumps virus--the one its vaccine was made from--and not the wild versions of the virus that people would actually be exposed to in the real world. They also allege Merck overstated effectiveness of the vaccine when it directed its scientists to "count" the viruses killed by animal antibodies that are sometimes added to samples to make it easier to find the human antibodies generated by the vaccine. So basically, Merck's effectiveness numbers included not only the viruses killed by the patient's immunity, but also those killed by a separate agent--sort of like if it poured Clorox on the samples and then claimed that its vaccine killed all the viruses the Clorox got. Finally, the virologists say that Merck fired labs whose results didn't agree with theirs, and threatened their employees with jail if they contacted FDA about the phony results. Nice.

And, only a week after the 2010 whistleblower case was unsealed, a chain or primary-care medical clinics also sued Merck, alleging that it intentionally overstated its vaccine's effectiveness to maintain a monopoly on the MMR vaccine market and make some extra money.

For its part, faced with public allegations that it phonied up test results, Merck says, "It's important to understand that none of the allegations in the complaint relate to the safety of M-M-R II and we remain confident that M-M-R II helps protect against measles, mumps and rubella as described in the labeling for the vaccine." Sort of a non-answer to the question whether it lied about the drug's effectiveness, isn't it?

So, just in the last several months, we've seen revealed that the statins people take to lower their cholesterol (so they don't have to eat right or exercise to do it) cause diabetes, muscle weakness, and memory loss. We've seen GlaxoSmithKline criminally convicted and fined $3 billion (about 10% of its profits for selling the drugs in the first place) for fraudulently marketing its antidepressants and diabetes drugs despite knowing of potentially fatal risks it wasn't disclosing. Now, Merck and its cash-cow-give-it-to-everyone-MMR. Kind of makes you wonder whether drugs are really helpful, or just very profitable.

So, how many prescriptions are YOU taking?

Read more about the lawsuits against Merck here, here, and here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Not Anymore

Apparently, this clip came from a new series on HBO. All I can say is WOW. Someone clearly forgot to pay the censors to keep this off the air. Kind of makes me wish I watched TV.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


For the last few days, the news reports, online and otherwise, have talked about the Barclays bank scandal involving LIBOR, which is one of the main rates the big banks set as the price at which they'll lend other banks money. One can be forgiven if their eyes roll back in their heads and their mind goes into hibernation mode upon hearing this, since the whole subject of how interest rates are set isn't exactly a pulse-quickening notion.

But even if it's not exciting, let me assure you--this is a BIG DEAL. A big F-ing deal, in the immortal words of our Vice President. So this post is permission to freak out, just a little, over the news.

The LIBOR scandal, if it's pursued to its end, will wind up demonstrating that the entire banking model is corrupted, made-up fakery--basically Al Capone-style organized crime with a nicer suit. In essence, what the scandal means is that the supposed "market" price of money that we all have signed on to with our credit cards, adjustable rate loans, etc.--you know, so many points over "prime," has been a racket--a fixed deal with extra profits built in for the banks. This means that everyone whose had a mortgage or a credit card in the last couple of decades has probably been ripped off, because the "market" has been rigged. It also means that everything about the money "market," from interest paid on savings to the BAZILLIONS of dollars paid by taxpayers for supposed "debt" for government operations hasn't been a fair bargain, but instead one that was being fixed by conspiracy and collusion of the large banks, who, coincidentally, own the central banks.

Here's a cool video that explains it.

So, this is big. If anyone in the Western World still has any brain cells left after years of Angry Birds and pharmaceutically-induced coma, it may just spell the end of the road for the banksters doing pretty much as they damn well please, while the world says, "thank you sir, may I have another?" Wouldn't that be nice?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Money and Mouth

In this country, we talk a lot about "values." Freedom. Family. Education. God. Helping people. The word value means to assign something worth relative to other things. And our "values" are supposed to be the things we esteem more highly than other things. We assign a higher "worth" on things we value, right? And surely, in this country at least, we think of "value" as a monetary concept. We all know that the phrase "good value" means that we get something that's well worth the money we paid for it, relatively speaking. So, let's have a look at what Americans value.

My first listed value was freedom. So lets look at some things that we see as important to freedom. Well we're told (ad nauseum) that the military protects our freedom and dies for it if necessary. A staff sergeant (E6) in the US Army makes $34,636. Not much "value" there. The Press-that's important to freedom. Even Thomas Jefferson said so. A journalist in the US makes an average of $58,467. Well, that's a little better, but still pretty low for a bastion of our "values."

What about family? Well, we all know how much you make for being a parent. Zip. Zilch. Nada. But that's a volunteer gig, so it doesn't really count. But how about someone who helps a volunteer parent keep a family together--a nanny. Average: $31,200. Yikes. Housekeeper: $21,955. Daycare worker? $19,300. Ouch. So much for valuing family.

Education. That's certainly an American "value," isn't it? Well, a high school teacher makes an average $43,668. Other grades make less. A liberal arts college professor makes $80,627. Not much evidence that we care a lot about education, is there?

Well there's helping people. Yeah, that's it. Here we go: a cancer researcher makes an average $160,000. Brain surgeon can make up to $602,538. That's certainly more like it.

And what about God? Certainly that will make our list favorably. Well, the median income for a pastor: $85,455. Not bad, but on a scale of eternity? Meh.

So, what DO we value?
Pounding people to a pulp over a little brown ball, aided by assorted pharmaceuticals. Average NFL player: $1,900,000.

Big breasts, big muscles, lack of taste or brains. Cast member on Jersey Shore, Season 4: $1,400,000.

Siphoning money out of the real economy and stifling real business and competition. Average Goldman Sachs employee: $367,057 or more. Corporate Bond Trader: $1,000,000 . Mergers and Acquisitions Banker: $2,000,000

Yup. It seems that in "values," just like in everything else, you get what you pay for. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Here's to Your Health! Now, Who's Going to Jail?

So, it's being reported (here, here, and here are some examples) that Pharma-Giant GlaxoSmithKline has just pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it fraudulently marketed some of its big sellers, anti-depressants Paxil and Wellbutrin--in spite of grave risks that the drugs caused a greatly increased likelihood of suicide, and that it withheld required data showing that its diabetes drug, Avandia, caused potentially fatal heart problems.

What's now been admitted by GSK is that, despite knowing about, and covering up data that showed Paxil caused a risk of suicide 8 times greater than placebo, especially in young people, GSK marketed Paxil for off-label use--that is, use that's not approved by the FDA--in young people!

The also admit that they marketed anti-depressant Wellbutrin as a treatment for obesity, anxiety, addiction, and ADHD, although it was not approved for those uses, and posed risks that, because it was "off-label" use, weren't fully disclosed to patients.

And, just to make sure that their deadly snake oil could get maximum distribution, GSK gave perqs to doctors, like fancy-pants spa visits, hunting trips, and vacations to Jamaica to induce them to prescribe the drug, and helped to publish a journal article that misrepresented data about the drug's effectiveness.

In the case of Avandia, whose use was severely restricted in 2010 after it was linked to heart risks, the company admitted that it had failed to report data from studies that indicated Avandia could cause possibly fatal heart problems. It also admitted to making false or exaggerated claims of its safety and effectiveness, ironically touting it as good for your cardiovascular health (all except for those possible fatal heart problems, that is).

For all of this, GSK has agreed to pay about $3 BILLION in criminal and civil fines--the largest penalty in big-Pharma history. They'll probably also get the socks sued off them by families of teens who tried or succeeded in committing suicide because of their unapproved use of Paxil. Please, please, can I PLEASE be on the jury?

Who could have known that drug companies don't really care if people die, just so long as they buy their pills first? Oh gee, I don't know---maybe all of us, if we'd actually thought about it. You know, how pharma companies (whose ONLY legal purpose and obligation in life is to make the most money possible for their shareholders) might have a disincentive to actually cure a health problem, when it could make money like clockwork every month by keeping you sick, but selling you pills to "manage" your condition. I think I might have mentioned that once or twice in the past.

Notably missing from all the reports of GSK's now-admitted wrongdoing: Which marketing genius, CEO, or other muckety-muck is going to do time because of it? Oh yeah, I forgot. If you kill someone while robbing a convenience store of $38.40, you do life. If you kill people while making obscene profits for your corporate overlords, you get promoted.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Who Knew?

A while back, in a post titled, When the People Win, I talked about the situation in Iceland, as an example of what could happen if we just flew the interdigital bird in the direction of our friends, the Big Banksters, and said, "no, sorry, won't be paying you to tank our economy anymore, and by the way, we won't be paying you your protection racket money anymore to keep you from tanking our economy, either."

Back in 2008, when the banksters crashed Iceland's economy, Icelanders refused to give them trillions of dollars as a reward called "bailouts." Then they refused to accept "austerity," which is code for take the money from regular people in taxes, cut all the programs that benefit regular people, and give all the money to the Big Banksters and Big Business, then collect fat campaign donations from Big Bank and Big Biz, so you can do it again later on. What did they do instead? The arrested a bunch of furry bankster behinds, took out their corrupted politicians, defaulted on the fake debt the banksters had run up, and began to run their own country again.

I thought that it sounded like a pretty dang good idea--one we should emulate. Well, the edgiest of the mainstream media, the Young Turks show, has finally caught up with a little housewife in the midwest. The video is below. I still think the Icelanders are on to something here. Shall we meet at the Capitol? I'll bring the rocks.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Only Time is Now

I've been getting indications that you all have noticed the scarcity of my postings of late. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to get motivated to do things that require discipline, planning, or forethought, like thinking about or researching blog subjects. On the flip side, I'm finding it easier, even natural, to do things that I feel like doing. I've been living in the present.

I know this sounds like the indulgence of an irresponsible urge--a childish failure to live up to my obligations--but in fact, I'm becoming aware that it's really the development of an essential skill that I've lacked for pretty much my entire life. You see, I'm a worrier. A control freak. Always have been.

I've always been one of those people who will endlessly, circularly, wonder and fret about how everything will play out in my life. I will think about how I will pay for my kids' college, how I will have 'enough' for a good retirement, how I will get everything done that needs done, when I'll pay the utility bills, whether I should get the oil changed in my car, what I will say to someone, what I should have said to someone, what someone will think about me, etc. For quite a while, I've understood intellectually that worrying, pondering, and planning every detail of my life is fruitless. You can't actually change anything by worrying about it, and you can't actually make things happen the way you want by "planning" them. But, know that as I might, I still did it.

Lately though, I've been increasingly understanding that, so long as you're spending your energy on thinking about the past or worrying about the future, you're actually using up all the time and energy you're allotted for right now. The import of this may not be obvious, so allow me to belabor the point for just a moment.

In our culture, we are taught in all kinds of ways, to focus on the past. We have "reunions" that are all about trying to live up to, or overcome, who we were when we were in high school. Yikes--thank goodness I've never attended one. We spend untold billions of dollars on "beauty products" and "procedures" designed to help us pretend that we're still young and stupid, instead of being proud of who we are, and how we've cared for ourselves, in the present. I don't know about anyone else, but you couldn't pay me to go back and be who I was at 20, or 30, or even 40. I view my wrinkles and spots and veins as proof that I've made enough mistakes to know better next time. My age is a warning to people not to mess with me. :-)

Speaking of mistakes, even our version of morality has you scour and examine your past for "sins." You are then told that you are to spend your time today "making up" for those missteps, by praying or performing some ritual, or doing good deeds or whatever. We're told that it is only after we've spent time doing whatever is the recommended penance can we move on from our mistake. Now, I've got no problem with the idea of praying or doing good deeds, but why dedicate those things to the idea of stuff you did wrong in the past? Rehashing and then trying to make up for your past errors actually doubles the time in your life you waste on your own stupidity, and frankly, in my life, I've made enough mistakes that I just don't have the time. I've decided that, for me at least, just recognizing that I've made a mistake and deciding to do better next time should be enough. Then, get on with life--right now. Pray or do good deeds because it improves today, not because it makes up for something yesterday.

Our culture also teaches us to obsess about the future. We're supposed to plan for our retirement, save for a rainy day, book a wedding venue two or three years ahead, sign on for thirty years of debt to have a place to live, open a college savings account when our kid is two, have six months of liquid assets in the bank, yadda, yadda, yadda. None of this stuff is a bad idea. But if it results in doing stuff that makes you worried, obsessive and unhappy now for the supposed promise of some satisfaction years down the road, it's the height of stupidity. If it causes you to forego doing something that would really enrich your life today so that you can have more dinners at a cafeteria when you're 80, well, sorry, but I don't much like canned green beans anyway.

So many people put off happiness and satisfaction for the supposed safety or security of what we might get, have, or need, someday. Ask the people who put their savings in trading accounts at MFGlobal, or with Bernie Madoff how well it worked for them. They would have been better off giving fists full of money to perfect strangers than how they wound up. At least they would have made somebody's day. And even if there's no financial funny business, we don't know if we'll be alive at the end of the mortgage, when the kid is old enough for college, or even tomorrow. So all most of us are doing with all this focus on the future is trying to convince ourselves that we have control over something tomorrow so that we can conveniently ignore that we're giving up our control (and enjoyment) of today.
I'm not sure what has occurred to make this very obvious truth finally penetrate the rigid little pores of my consciousness all of a sudden, but something has. And so I've been trying to spend my energy in the present--enjoying one of the last years where I'll have both my girls home for the summer, gardening, playing games, walking dogs, knowing that the past is best left right where it is (in the past), and trusting that the future will be here when, if, and how it's supposed to be. This isn't a recommendation to be stupid or thoughtless or frivolous. It's just a recommendation to just go ahead and BE. Now.

So here's some cool thoughts about focusing on the now. I'm going to keep working on it.

Eternity is not something that begins after you are dead. It is going on all the time. ~Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Forever is composed of nows. ~Emily Dickinson
Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness. ~James Thurber

We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow. ~Fulton Oursler

Pile up too many tomorrows and you'll find that you've collected nothing but a bunch of empty yesterdays. ~The Music Man

People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. ~Albert Einstein