Santa Spendalot

Affluenza: Black Friday is America’s new high holy day

Originally published on 11/23/2012. It’s worse this year.

Black Friday is under way – has been since midnight, in fact. In many places around the country, retailers started kicking off the festivities at yesterdayover a quarter of Americans said they planned to go shopping on Thanksgiving. Or, as it will soon come to be known, Black Friday Eve. Or Black Thursday, maybe.

Want to hear some fun statistics?

2,470,000
The number of Google News results at press time for “Black Thursday,” the term for stores starting Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving instead of midnight after Thanksgiving. The general mood in the media is that Black Thursday is a terrible idea because retail workers should be able to spend the holidays home with their families (and potential shoppers should be home eating with their loved ones instead of out buying stuff). Black Thursday is already getting pretty ugly, with workers at stores like Walmart — where Black Thursday begins at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving — and Target threatening to strike. A number of petitions to stop the madness are also going viral online.

4,000
The number of Walmart stores that will have extra security measures in place on Black Friday. “Nobody wants to go into an event when they are risking injury for a video game,” Josh Phair, Walmart’s public affairs and government relations director told the Arizona Republic. Well at least they figured that out this year!

225,000,000
The number of people who shopped on Black Friday last year.

11,400,000,000
The number of dollars spent on Black Friday last year.

Imagine the stress on the workers who have to ride herd on these “doorbusters.” Imagine going to work – on a holiday - worrying that you’ll have to break up a fistfight over a toy. Or that someone might get trampled to death. Literally.

How about some breaking headlines?

What the heck. Let’s watch a video, while we’re at it.

No, folks, this isn’t a Mad Max movie. It’s Christmas shopping in America. Christmas. You know, birth of the savior. Peace on Earth. Three Wise Men, star in the east, baby in a manger, all that. I wonder if this year’s misbehavior will match last year’s carnage.

(A friend of mine works at Target. At 11:20 last night he reported that only one F-bomb had been lobbed at him so far. Of course, he still had over six hours left in his shift.)

[sigh]

America has a social disease

Have you read Affluenza? You should. This fantastic book examines, in uncomfortable detail, our culture’s pathological need for stuff. The editor’s review at Amazon sums it up this way:

The definition of affluenza, according to de Graaf, Wann, and Naylor, is something akin to “a painful, contagious, socially-transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” It’s a powerful virus running rampant in our society, infecting our souls, affecting our wallets and financial well-being, and threatening to destroy not only the environment but also our families and communities. Having begun life as two PBS programs coproduced by de Graaf, this book takes a hard look at the symptoms of affluenza, the history of its development into an epidemic, and the options for treatment. In examining this pervasive disease in an age when “the urge to splurge continues to surge,” the first section is the book’s most provocative. According to figures the authors quote and expound upon, Americans each spend more than $21,000 per year on consumer goods, our average rate of saving has fallen from about 10 percent of our income in 1980 to zero in 2000, our credit card indebtedness tripled in the 1990s, more people are filing for bankruptcy each year than graduate from college, and we spend more for trash bags than 90 of the world’s 210 countries spend for everything. “To live, we buy,” explain the authors–everything from food and good sex to religion and recreation–all the while squelching our intrinsic curiosity, self-motivation, and creativity. They offer historical, political, and socioeconomic reasons that affluenza has taken such strong root in our society, and in the final section, offer practical ideas for change. These use the intriguing stories of those who have already opted for simpler living and who are creatively combating the disease, from making simple habit alterations to taking more in-depth environmental considerations, and from living lightly to managing wealth responsibly.

Grist notes that in the wake of 9/11, affluenza seems to have evolved from social disease into official policy:

In each of the past four years, more people declared bankruptcy than graduated from college. On average, the nation’s CEOs now earn 400 times the wages of the typical worker, “a tenfold increase since 1980.” Although the United States makes up less than five percent of the world’s population, we produce 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions; since 1950, we “have used up more resources than everyone who ever lived on earth before then.”

Many of us also know that bigger houses, bigger cars, more gadgets, and more expensive clothes do not make us more content, despite the glossy promises of advertisers. Yet consumer spending has long been used as an indicator of both the national economy and the national mood. The more we spend, the better off we are — or so we’ve been told. This mantra has been particularly insistent in the past year, as the great blooming bubble of stock market riches began to deflate and the Bush administration chose instant gratification as an economic strategy. Since Sept. 11, national leaders have been telling us with ever-increasing urgency that consumer confidence must and will rebound. While confidence — as an indicator of our faith in the future — should return, it’s equally clear that the past few decades’ rate of consumption is neither sustainable nor desirable. Moreover, we must assume — and hope — that tragedy has made us wiser, and tempered the impulse of so many Americans to affirm their existence with a pleasing new purchase.

To be honest, reading Affluenza is one of the hardest things I’ve done in some time. I not only saw the moral emptiness of my society laid bare, there were entirely too many pages that described my own life. Even in instances where I feel like I’ve won the battle against consumerist addiction, I still had to acknowledge that once upon a time I was eaten up by a craving for material things that not only couldn’t have made me whole, they would have made the hollow space even larger. I had to slog through passages that seemed specifically written about people I know, people close to me. Worst of all, the book flogged me relentlessly with details about how our obsessions with status and toys are annihilating the physical world that sustains us … for the moment.

Affluenza ripped at my guts in ways that brought me literally to the brink of illness. Or maybe past the brink. I’m currently battling at least a couple of medical conditions that may ultimately be the result of affluenza. One of them is certainly a product of the American food complex: if you drink, on average, a liter of soda a day for the better part of 25 years, how many milligrams of high-fructose corn syrup have you strained through your body? I’m not blaming anybody for my stupidity, which was considerable, but let’s not pretend that our consumption patterns exist in a vacuum, either.

The physical impact pales next to the psychological, though. I grew up desperately seeking the sort of validation that comes with success in America, and if you aren’t careful you can fixate on all the wrong goals. Is success a certain income level? Is it a house in a trending neighborhood? Is it the security that comes from knowing that your children have newer, cooler and more expensive basketball shoes than their friends? Is it a Lexus or Beemer or Mercedes? Is it having a particular number of people reporting to you?

Is it the satisfaction that comes from working so many hours your wife doesn’t recognize you when you come home? Is it the number of ulcers you have? Is it having a physical stress level so consistently high that your body is more or less always sick in some way?

Affluenza made me think about the lies we tell ourselves about success. About happiness. About the “American Dream.” We grow up enculterated into a consumerist assumption (unless our parents raise us in the woods, miles from the nearest television – and then we have a whole ‘nother set of problems). At some point we realize that we’re not happy (although “realize” may be the wrong word – one thing affluenza seems to do is systematically kill off our self-awareness – in any case, we aren’t happy). Everywhere we look, though, we see happy people (they’re in these things we call “advertisements”), and the happiness we see always – always - emanates from a thing. A car, a haircut, a shirt, a house, an iPhone, a gaming console, a next-generation tablet…whatever it is, it’s something that can be purchased. So purchase it we do. If this means we leave the family on Thanksgiving (or worse, bring them with us) to queue up around the block at Best Buy so we can be ready to kick the door at 8pm, so be it.

We never seem to notice that after a few minutes, we’re not happy all over again. Clearly, we need to go buy something else.

I once watched a young boy on his first big Christmas morning. The monetary value of the presents he had under the tree was probably triple the value of all the presents I’d ever had under all the trees during my entire life. I mean this literally. He was the first child of affluent parents and everybody they knew was competing to outspend each other on this precious little boy.

He ripped into the first present with gusto – it was spectacular. He looked at it for a few seconds, then dropped it and ripped into the second one. Then the third. And the fourth, and fifth, and so on. He never paused to play with any of them. The holiday experience wasn’t about having or enjoying, it was only about more, more, more. When there were no more, he still didn’t sit down to play with them. I will never forget the look on his face at that moment: it was as profound a disappointment as you’re ever likely to see in a child. There were no more.

I had never seen anything like it, and I was as horrified as he was unfulfilled. That boy is a teenager now and has had many more Christmas mornings since then. As best I can tell each one has been little more than a ritual re-enactment of that first one, only with escalating price tags. He’s a smart kid and a very good kid in many ways, but I shudder to think of the hollowness that now threatens to consume his entire life.

I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that he’s one of the millions and millions out shopping today – assuming he didn’t make it to the stores last night.

Can I complain about the parenting decisions that have been made in this child’s life? Well, I could, but in truth the significance of the story isn’t what happened to him, it’s that what happened to him happens millions of times a day all across our consumerist nation. The more we have, the emptier we are. We’re a nation of addicts, and all the stuff that we’re Jonesing for is a million times more addictive and destructive than crystal meth.

What happens when we run out of fantasies?

We are the age of insubstantiation,
a generation of digital bells,
loose change on the sidewalk.

Our days are loops,
our nights tight spirals,

and if the virtual is
even better than the real thing

it’s only because the real thing is so goddamned empty.

So here’s my theory/hypothesis/question. We’re a hollow nation, a society that provides nearly all of us with rampant access to more material goods than we know what to do with. But we cannot find happiness in the material because there is not happiness in it. On the contrary – it’s a system that’s rigged to feed us a shiny, pretty lie that hollows us out some more, all the while whispering that only more of the lie will make us happy. Our consumerist society is a church that, instead of communion wafers, dispenses crystal meth. This is my body, broken for thee….

Welcome to the American reality: We have everything that this world can offer and we’re bored to tears.

Black Friday is our new high holy day. We’ve always looked at Christmas, the most sacred of holidays for a majority of our citizens, as our most important cultural celebration. Whether we’re reveling in the unbridled secular glee of exchanging gifts or ranting about the “war on Christmas” and the ways in which everyone has lost sight of the “true meaning of Christmas*,” December 25 has been our unquestioned national holiday.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink things, though. In truth, it’s Black Friday that most typifies the American pathology. Christmas is the big reveal, to be sure, but in a culture addicted to acquisition, the day that matters most is the one where we camp out, line up, bust doors, fight each other and trample each other to death – both figuratively and literally – in order to buy. To throw money at the retail giants that are our true church, to beseech the managers and cashiers, priests and acolytes, in the name of commerce, to fill the sucking holes in our souls with stuff so that we might at last be happy.

Thanks, but I’ll pass. I like playing with fun toys, too, but I’ve long since realized the truth about them. I won’t be venturing out to shop today and I salute those of you who are boycotting the madness, the utter sickness, and the corporations who promote it. To hell with Black Friday, Black Thursday, and the retailers who are cranking up the Christmas shopping music before Halloween.

My friends and family will be receiving what I think are some really nice gifts this year, but none of them are coming from Target and Walmart and Best Buy, and I’d encourage them to do the same, especially when it comes to getting me something. In fact, if you’re having a hard time deciding what to do for those you love, how about a gift that makes a real difference in the lives of people who need help the most: think about donating in their name to Heifer.org. If my friends are family are reading this, know that there isn’t much you could do that would make me happier than to give some chickens or a goat in my name.

I wish everyone a happy holiday season. And when I say “happy,” rest assured that word has nothing to do with stuff.

*That, of course, would be the imperial Christian appropriation of pagan solstice celebrations.

Portions of this article were adapted from a post that originally appeared on Sept. 9, 2009.

The most important lesson we should all learn from the 2012 election

“You idiot! Get back in there at once and sell, sell!”

As we set about the process of compiling and canonizing the 2012 election post-mortem, one thing we keep hearing over and over is how utterly stunned the Romney camp was at their loss. Republicans across the board apparently expected victory – the conservative punditry seemed certain of it – and now we’re hearing that Romney himself was “shellshocked” by the result.

Mitt Romney went into Election Night expecting a victory and was “shellshocked” when he finally realized he had lost, CBS News reported.

Despite early signs of a stronger-than-expected turnout for President Obama, it wasn’t until the crucial state of Ohio was called for the president that Romney began to face the likelihood of defeat.

Even then, he and his team had trouble processing the news, senior advisers told CBS News.

“We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory,” one adviser said. “I don’t think there was one person who saw this coming.”

Well, Nate Silver saw it coming. His projections called the final outcome almost down to the precinct, and it’s not like he doesn’t have a track record.

Silver’s final 2008 presidential election forecast accurately predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia (missing only the prediction for Indiana). As his model predicted, the races in Missouri and North Carolina were particularly close. He also correctly predicted the winners of every U.S. Senate race.

It wasn’t just Silver. Almost all the polls showed Obama with at least a slight lead in the battleground states, and if we can believe CNN’s election night insiders, Mitt’s own tracking showed him five points adrift in Ohio as late as Sunday (which explains why he set up camp there when many expected him to focus his energies elsewhere).

In other words, all the data, all the nonpartisan analysis, all the evidence, made clear that Romney’s chances were slim. It’s understandable that he and his people would be disappointed, and mightily so. But surprised? How does that happen?

In a nutshell, the GOP blindsided themselves. The reason should be obvious to anyone who has paid any attention at all to American politics in recent years: an overabundance of blind faith. I don’t mean this in a religious sense (although the political and socio-scientific manifestations of the phenomenon issue from strong religious antecedents). Instead, I’m referring to the broad, swelling inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish between belief and knowledge.

As noted, nearly all the polls showed Romney in trouble. Most broke out their results in ways that clearly suggested why he was in trouble. The rational response to such information is to take it onboard, adapt and adjust. But that’s not what the GOP did. Instead, they dismissed the data that didn’t align with their beliefs. They went so far as to “unskew” the polls because they were clearly biased in favor of Mr. Obama. How do we know they were biased? Because they favored Mr. Obama. UnskewedPolls.com performed some ideological/mathematical hijinks and produced “corrected” polls that demonstrated how Mr. Romney was actually leading. By a lot.

The resulting projected electoral map was positively Reaganesque.

You might argue that the rational response isn’t to adapt and adjust if there is actually reason to believe that all the polls are, in fact, skewed. This objection is fair, so long as your reasons for doing so are driven by factual concerns instead of ideological ones. I think it’s more than clear, by now, that GOP faith in a Romney win was driven by belief instead of knowledge isn’t it?

The upshot is what we saw Tuesday night and in the days following: shock, dismay, confusion. Romney and his people (here I’ll include the GOP’s media relations arm, FOX News) didn’t see the obvious coming and some were melting down as reality began to assert its ugly presence in ways that even Megyn Kelly couldn’t ignore. Sure, Karl Rove had an excuse for going all Randolph Duke on the set. He’d just spent $600M of rich folks’ money and had a pack of nabs to show for it, an outcome with dire implications for his future career prospects. Of course he was losing it – he was seeing his political life pass before his eyes as the Ohio totals ticked in. Again, though, this was a live, nationally televised case study in self-delusion: it isn’t true because sweet Jesus it just can’t be.

I keep using these terms “knowledge” and “belief.” I suspect that many people across the country might initially grapple with the difference (in fact, I know this to be the case). So let me define these terms, at least operationally, for the benefit of those who don’t understand the distinction.

  • Knowledge is a process whereby conclusions derive from information and reasoning.
  • Belief is a process whereby preconceptions govern the pursuit of information.

In other words, with knowledge, you learn all you can in as rigorous and intellectually honest a fashion as possible, then you figure out what it means. With belief, the conclusions are given from the outset and data is selected and discarded according to whether or not it supports the point you’re trying to make.

Accepting facts that run counter to what we believe, and what we want to believe, and even what we desperately need to believe, can be hard. I understand the difficulty as well as anyone. I personally now believe pretty much the opposite of nearly every important thing I believed as a young man, and I have frequently noted how many times my beliefs changed because I was proven wrong by the very smart people with whom I insisted on surrounding myself. I’ve always been a fan of the famous John Maynard Keynes quote: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

As hard as it is to investigate contrary information and opinions, though, it’s imperative that we do so. With gusto. The Republican Party had all the evidence there before them throughout the entire campaign. There is precious little that we know now that we didn’t know a month ago. Their decision to pretend it was all skewed led to what? They lost the White House (in a race that was surely theirs for the taking). They lost ground in the Senate. Thanks to gerrymandering they still control the House, but their candidates nationwide received fewer votes than their Democratic opponents. Gay marriage initiatives passed in a couple of states. Gays and lesbians were elected to Congress.

All because the Republican Party privileged belief over knowledge.

Plenty of debate is already under way within the Republican Party as to what the results means and what might be done about it. Some conservative analysts are paying heed to the knowledge they have gained. Others, not so much.

And over at UnskewedPolls, well, see for yourself:

*sigh*

The GOP 2012 experience holds important lessons for us all as we move forward. The world in which we live, the nation in which we live, the neighborhoods and communities and cities in which we live are what they are, not what we wish them to be. For instance:

  • Some among us might wish that we lived in a uniformly white, Christian, heterosexual, nuclear family culture. We don’t. Whatever policies we seek to implement are doomed to failure unless we acknowledge our new multicultural reality.
  • Some of us believe that there is no such thing as climate disruption. There are Nate Silvers and Karl Roves in the natural science world, too. Our future and the future of generations not yet born depend on whether we’re smart enough to know to which of them we need to listen.
  • Many of us believe that cutting taxes on our wealthiest citizens creates opportunity and shared prosperity for everyone. All data on the subject shows this to be pure ideology – the precise opposite is true and the refusal to pay attention to the basic facts of economic history have grave implications for us all.
  • Dollar for dollar, the US pays three times more for health care than any other industrialized nation and by any measure we generate significantly worse outcomes. You might believe that only those who can pay outrageous prices deserve to be healthy, but the actual number of people who agree with you is diminishing rapidly.
  • The president was born in Hawai’i. If you insist that all proof is forged (it has to be, because it doesn’t conform with your beliefs), you will find that you’re damaging the credibility of other positions you hold. Also, people won’t sit next to you on the bus.
  • We are not a theocracy. A growing majority of voters are rejecting candidates whose views on how America should be governed more resemble the 1st century than the 21st. The coalition includes every facet of the electorate, but is especially pronounced among segments that are increasing in numbers.

The things are not beliefs, they are facts supported by every scrap of credible evidence that we have. The existence of facts doesn’t automatically suggest what the best policies might look like, but the refusal to acknowledge them assures disaster.

All of us – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Green and none of the above – would do well to learn from the GOP’s hard 2012 lesson.

Yet another "study" telling me organic food isn’t any better for me than the usual crap

Jeez, how many of these are there going to be? Several months ago, recall, we had a large study under the aegis of Stanford University, that told us in no uncertain terms that organic food wasn’t any better for us than the ordinary industrial agriculture garbage that litters the aisles of American supermarkets. Well, to be more precise, the study claimed there was no additional nutritional benefit from organic food. This, as is now pretty clear, is a worthless claim.
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Elections are educational! 14 things we wouldn't have known without Campaign 2012

Everybody seems to be so negative about campaign season. They hate the ads, they hate the mudslinging, they hate the lying, they hate the candidates.

Not me – I LOVE campaign season. Why? Because it’s an opportunity to learn stuff that not only didn’t I know before, but that I’d never learn any other way.

For instance, look at some of the Science lessons I’ve learned in the past few months:

And what about History? I’d never have learned this one:

  • Slavery was a blessing in disguise for black people. (Granted, in parts of the country students can learn that most slaveowners were kind and that many blacks preferred being slaves, but it’s nice to have this kind of high-level, official validation.)

Many schools have slipped in their responsibility to teach Civics, but our candidates for public office are doing what they can to plug the gap:

How about Economics? God knows we need to learn how to be more fiscally responsible.

Then there’s Engineering:

And Behavioral Psychology:

And, of course, Political Science:

Finally, Geography:

  • You don’t have to share a border with a nation that has coasts on three large bodies of water in order to be their gateway to the sea.

We’ve got a couple weeks left and I’m carrying my notebook with me everywhere I go.I feel certain that I’m not through learning interesting and important lessons about our wonderful world.

Just because it's natural doesn't mean it's safe

I woke up to the radio this morning like I do most mornings, and as I was grumbling to myself that I really should have got to bed earlier last night, I heard an advertisement for a supposedly inexpensive “erection enhancement” pill that you could get without a prescription. Annoying, as I’d rather have been listening to music, but whatever. Then I heard this gem of advertising “brilliance”

[Product] is made from all natural ingredients so you know it’s safe.

Um, no. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

There are two fails in this sentence, one of which should be obvious to anyone with a functioning synapse in their skull. Continue reading

A few words on the subject of abortion…or, what do words even mean, anyway?

Humpty_Dumpty_TennielJust the other day I encountered a euphemism for abortion that I hadn’t seen before: “the death penalty for accidental trespassing.” But honestly, I had no earthly idea what that meant. Is the fetus “accidentally trespassing,” i.e., didn’t mean to be there, but, voila, there it is anyway? That’s the only thing I could come up with, considering it’s the fetus that gets the “death penalty.”

As it turns out, in searching for that exact phrase using Google, I located precious few references to it. One was to the comment on a blog article by Russ Wellen here at Scholars & Rogues where I first spotted it (see comment #4 by one Tangle Eye Blues). Another was to a CBS News article about Sarah Palin (where the phrase does not actually occur, alas, not some cranky Palin-ism). A third was to the comments page for that CBS News article, where the phrase actually appearsContinue reading

CBO's overlooked caution: 'ObamaCare' impact on deficit 'highly uncertain'

I don’t think anyone in this town believes that repealing ObamaCare is going to increase the deficit.

John Boehner, speaker of the House, Jan. 6, 2011, at his first press conference as speaker.

The Congressional Budget Office, in response to a request from John Boehner, opined Tuesday in a letter to the speaker that GOP-sought repeal of the Affordable Care Act would increase the nation’s federal spending deficit, adding $109 billion from 2013-2022.

And, as might be expected following the release of the CBO’s letter, partisan voices are either assailing the nonpartisan CBO estimate as illusory or using it as a cudgel against the health care law’s opponents.

Virtually all miss the nuances of the CBO’s letter regarding the fiscal impact of H.R. 6079, the Repeal of Obamacare Act. No one really knows if the deficit will increase or decrease whether the ACA survives or is repealed.
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When is an epidemic really an epidemic? Or not? Just let the media tell you

My search for evidence to support the claim began with this tweet sent 9 minutes after midnight:

CBS Radio News ‏@CBSRadioNews

US appears headed for its worst year for whooping cough in 50 years with the number of cases rising at an epidemic rate http://bit.ly/cbsnewscast

Step 1: Click on the provided link. It led to the current newscast. All Aurora shootings; nothing on whooping cough.

Step 2: Google “whooping cough.” Story number one from Reuters:

SEATTLE (Reuters) – The number of U.S. whooping cough cases has risen to around 18,000 in an outbreak that is on track to become the most severe in over a half century and could in part stem from possible waning vaccine protection, health officials said on Thursday.

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Roundtable: What do Americans really "deserve"?

Scrogues ConverseEverybody else’s job seems easy. The guy at the gym is certain he has a simple herbal remedy that will cure almost anything. Doctors think it would be a few minutes’ work to sort out the tax code. And engineers have quick and easy solutions for the most difficult social problems. People understand that what they do is complicated—no doctor would entertain the premise that ginseng will cure anything nor would any engineer ever suggest that designing a bridge is simple or quick, but things other people do, now that’s a snap.

Blogging is no exception. If you don’t actually do it, it seems pretty easy. Just sit down, type for awhile, hit “post” and voila. Of course, it’s not at all that easy. Continue reading

Why can't America have better maternity leave laws?

by Kate Lewis Torok

Eight weeks ago, I had a baby. Three weeks from today, I will be returning to work. While my wallet is hurting, my heart is hurting more. It aches, actually. My daughter is still a tiny peanut, working on her neck muscles so she can hold her head up to see this world like the rest of us. It hardly seems fair that in just 21 days, work will come between us. I am the one she has come to know so well over the last 11 months – from my womb to my arms. Continue reading

Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow: forecast calls for a deluge of teabagger human kindness. Or not.

By Patrick Vecchio

I am waiting to see if—no, make it how—the Tea party and other way-right-leaning Republicans react to this week’s barely-qualifies-as-news that TV journalist/personality Anderson Cooper admitted he is gay. (Details here)

Another story from this week also has me worried about the backlash, but first, Cooper:

I have no idea how much courage it takes for a public figure like Cooper to come out. Nor do I have any idea about the extent and tone of the flak that will be fired at him and how he’ll deal with it. Continue reading

Q: Was the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare a victory or a defeat? A: Yes, it was.

Depending on your perspective, Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the “Obamacare” program was either a thumping victory for progressives everywhere or a clever corporatist / conservative flanking maneuver that makes it even less likely American citizens will ever enjoy the kind of basic access to healthcare that the rest of the developed world takes for granted.

I’ve been harshly critical of the president on the healthcare issue because I see it as something that helps a few people here and there, but that’s mainly designed as a gravy train for private health insurance interests. Many of Mr. Obama’s … I know I should say “supporters” here, but part of me is dying to use “apologists” instead … argue that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is an important foot in the door. In their view, this may be a small victory, but it paves the way for ever greater incremental reforms that lead us ultimately to a single-payor system (or at least a robust public option). Continue reading

Good week in the courts for the Obama Administration

It’s been a good week in the federal courts for the Obama Administration.

On Tuesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Environmental Protection Agency – and against a legion of state Attorneys General and industry groups – on the EPA’s greenhouse gas Endangerment Finding. The states and industry groups had asked the appeals court to overturn the Endangerment Finding based on a host of arguments ranging from “there’s too much uncertainty in the science” to “the EPA abused its authority” to “the EPA misread the Clean Air Act.” The court disagreed, emphatically and occasionally sardonically, and dismissed every one of 26 separate petitions that the various states and industry groups had filed. S&R is analyzing the 82 page opinion in detail and will be publishing several posts about it in the coming weeks.

And today, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional. Continue reading

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: photographer seeks support in fundraising efforts

Editor’s Note: S&R recently published a photoessay from Sarah Allegra, who suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Allegra’s struggle with this condition is ongoing, obviously, and she recently contacted us about her efforts on behalf of the CFIDS Association of America. We’re pleased to provide her the space to share this initiative with our readers and we encourage you to help out however you can.
_____

by Sarah Allegra

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is an illness which is still an enigma. This sly disease is characterized by a persistent, heavy fatigue which rest does not lift, muscle and joint pain, insomnia, migraines along with a scattering of other hanger-on physical symptoms. Continue reading

Three reasons not to get kidney stones. You know, in case you were considering it.

By Patrick Vecchio

I visited my local hospital’s emergency room in the middle of the night back in March because a kidney stone had barged into my urinary tract. It woke me from my deep, pharmaceutically induced slumber with a pain best described as being stabbed with a knitting needle — from the inside. The stone is still causing pain, but not of the physical variety. But first, what’s a kidney stone story without a description of the physical pain?

In the wee hours of that March night, the stabbing pain attacked my back midway between my last rib and my hip. Here’s how my sleepy brain figured out what was going on: Man-that-hurts-like-hell-did-I-pull-a-muscle-doing-the-yard-work-today? Let-me-feel-around-back-there-it-doesn’t-feel-like-a-pulled-muscle-OH-FCK-IT’S-A-FCKNG-KIDNEY-STONE. Continue reading

Nature publishes instructions on how to make a Frankenstein monster

My doctoral dissertation addressed what I called the “Frankenstein Complex.” So guess why this story bothers me.

Today, a scientific journal published a study that some people thought might never be made public at all.

The paper describes experiments that suggest just a few genetic changes could potentially make a bird flu virus capable of becoming contagious in humans, and causing a dangerous pandemic. Continue reading

When doctors follow the rules, are they violating the Hippocratic Oath?

- I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.

I went to my doctor a few weeks ago for the first time in months. During the course of conversation about my health and how I was doing, etc., we stumbled onto the question of why I hadn’t been in for a visit in so long. I told him that in the wake of my separation from my wife I had lost my insurance coverage (I was on her work plan) and had been unable to get insurance as a result of my pre-existing condition.  Continue reading

Denver EMS takes 24 minutes to respond to call in downtown; Mayor Hancock, this is NOT acceptable

Welcome to the 5280Earlier this afternoon, while watching the Chelsea/Barcelona Champions League match at the British Bulldog in downtown Denver, a young woman collapsed. It was unclear what happened, but my best guess from what those closer to her were telling me was that it was an epileptic seizure and she may have hit her head on the concrete floor. I immediately dialed 911 and provided the dispatcher with all the information I could. I think some others in the bar were probably also calling, so the message that we had a woman down, nature of the incident unknown, please hurry was clearly communicated.

I noted the time. After about five minutes those around me were getting restless, wondering where the paramedics were. Continue reading

Another heart attack on the pitch: RIP Piermario Morosini

A few weeks back Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field during the team’s FA Cup quarterfinal match against Tottenham Hotspur. He was attended to by emergency staff on the pitch and eventually stretchered off and rushed to a hospital. Despite being “in effect, dead” for 78 minutes Muamba survived and is now recovering.

Today, another elite footballer had a heart attack during a game, and this time the news is tragic: Livorno’s Piermario Morosini died after collapsing early in the Italian Serie B side’s match with Pescara. Continue reading

Pointing out the glaringly obvious to the USDA

by James Boyce

You’d think the USDA would see the flaw of logic in letting the people who make the food inspect the food and decide if it is actually safe to eat.

The USDA has decided in its infinite wisdom, despite pink slime and a few other debacles of the food industry, to test a program allowing chicken companies to check their own livestock and decide whether or not the chickens are safe to eat.

The USDA claims this will save them tens of millions of dollars.

Well, USDA, I can save you even more. Continue reading