January 6, 2013
America – “She’s brain dead.”
Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.
– Sir Winston Churchill
Prime Minister of Great Britain
If Washington’s mishandling of the “fiscal cliff” demonstrated one thing to me, it’s that our elected officials can no longer govern on behalf of the nation. It’s as though the body no longer has a functioning brain to make accurate and timely decisions and give instructions to its other organs and to all four limbs. If the brain is essentially dead, the body can’t and won’t live on. Last year, I heard several news reports state that 30% of all health care costs are spent in the last year of life due to the many interventions performed by physicians in hospitals to extend a patient’s life for another breath, another day, week, month and year.
These interventions are breaking the system and they don’t necessarily translate in an improvement in the quality of life for patients. The primary factor driving these medical procedures is frequently the inability of the patient’s family to accept the impending death of their love one, as well as, their own mortality. We, as a society, value birth, avoid life and fear death. It’s completely unnatural. Animals in the wild don’t live this way, so why do we? When the golden moment arrives to say, “Goodbye” and let mom or granddad “go”, in peace, nobody speaks up in the affirmative instead this family in crisis usually asks, while in great agony, confusion and desperation, that the team of physicians intervene – that they “go to any lengths and at all cost” to save their family member for a multitude of reasons and interests.
And with those marching orders the doctors do just that – first, by ordering a battery of tests, many of which are unnecessary, and secondly by initiating numerous medical procedures that are all covered by Medicare. Sadly, physicians are no better at handling death even though it’s the nature of life and part of their business. Often they fail to properly address the end-of-life issues, on the outset, with their sick patient and the family. I’ve been told by a nurse working in the emergency room that physicians don’t even want a patient to die on their watch, maybe on their colleague’s shift, but not theirs. It’s no doubt an immature approach to caring for the sick and dying, but typical as far as most dysfunctional systems go. This same shallowness permeates our entire society including most of our other institutions and organizations. So, the blame can be spread around.
The United States has its own costly interventions, as well as, a team of “doctors” who keep our government and this society “functioning” by artificial means to extend its life or to put it another way to delay the inevitable – its death. Ouch! The use of these instruments don’t necessary translate in an improvement in the health of the State of the Union or in the quality of life for its citizens and taxpayers, at least, not in the long run. These days the pain and suffering has become evident with a slow economy, high unemployment and consumer debt, a home foreclosure crisis and a generation of new college graduates who are unable to find any real jobs and get absorbed into the economy. It can be seen everywhere and on almost everyone’s face. Years and decades of bad living have finally come home to roost. In truth, these government interventions are just another form of “life support”. The family that can’t deal with their dying love one is the society who can’t face the fact that their nation is dying or is already dead.
Our nation which feeds the world needs assistance in feeding itself. With an insatiable appetite for government spending and with so many mouths to feed, we’ve repeatedly turned to other nations to supply us with enough “food” in the form of loans to cover the budget gap, each year. Unrealistic tax policies signed into law, both, past and present keeps consumer spending up and the wheels of our economy turning while our government digs its own grave with a backhoe. America has been an emotional and spiritual cripple for way too long and is unable to stand on its own two feet. Instead, we depend on the labor of others (nations) to do for us what we choose to no longer do for ourselves. How sad. We’re lazy and spoiled; we refuse to do our chores before going outside to play. It’s become one big party with a massive hangover setting in. We have Filet Mignon tastes while living on a Hamburger Helper® budget. We need to grow up, we have no choice. Either, we grow or we go!
Try buying a brand-new BMW from the dealer’s showroom for $10k, you can’t do it. We enjoy the highest standard of living (ever so artificial and gluttonous) in the world, but we won’t pay for it and the meter is running. What should be “a pay as you go” public policy, creating a more natural ebb and flow, has been replaced with “a live for today, pay tomorrow” mentality. It’s a Ponzi scheme that only Bernie Madoff, himself, could appreciate and envy. The arms race of the Cold War also created an economic race that we won and the Soviets lost. They beat us into space and that sent us to the moon and beyond. We should have throttled down somewhere along way, but we never did. In the process, we’ve come to learn about economic booms and busts – the hard way. The steroids, in the form of favorable personal and corporate tax policies, that encouraged investing and reinvesting along with our government’s spending on infrastructure projects lifted our economy to the top, to victory are similar to the ones illegally used by our prized athletes who seek the same success, for themselves – money, power and fame.
However, what’s good for American capitalism isn’t tolerated in baseball, football or cycling. Publicly held companies are encouraged and pressured by analysts, traders and their shareholders to trim all the fat while adding muscle to increase productivity, to maximize profits and yet a body without any fat is dangerous and potentially deadly to its own well-being. In the 2008 stock market crash, companies and whole industries like banking, investment banking, insurance and real estate overheated and imploded leading to a $7.7 trillion government bailout (Federal Reserve). Some of these banks and corporations suffered the equivalent of a massive heart attack, keeled over and died. The chief obsession, both, in “the C-suite” (CEOs, CFOs, COOs…) and on Wall Street are two things, the company’s current stock price and the latest quarterly earnings report, which the CEO is solely responsible for and has to explain to the satisfaction of those mentioned above. All other matters inside the company play second fiddle to the CEO’s singing and dancing.
As a result, labor has become seen as just another cost reducing the worker’s value and influence, be it Americans or foreigners, down to a mere cell or unit that can be easily quantified and replaced if it suddenly goes bad. The healthy fat in the form of decent wages and benefits that once fueled an economy and created a middle class has been shifted from the wallets of the line worker to the compensation package of their top executives. The injection of steroids into capitalism seems no better for the lives of these companies, their workers and society than their use in man. Meanwhile, the well-being of the employee has shifted away from being the company’s responsibility to that of the employee and the social programs of our broken government.
Both, past and present Congresses and presidents (Barack Obama and George W. Bush, respectively) have lacked the political will to correct the government’s unsustainablephysical policies (of taxing and spending) out of fear of harming or killing the economy on their watch. Like our doctors, their private thoughts are to let the next Congress or president address the issue, but nobody ever does. In the end, capitalism at its best can’t function if mail service stops running because our postal service has gone out of business or if Congress can’t allocate enough financial resources to keep our roads and bridges properly maintained so cars and trucks can move people and freight across the country.
Several interventions are routinely mentioned in the media by journalists and pundits, by our politicians and government officials. The use of these mechanisms is simply an assortment of Band-Aids covering up nasty infections and not the surgery that’s so desperately needed. Congress and our presidents have repeatedly raised the debt-ceiling limit to allow the federal government to continue borrowing more and more money from other countries just to keep the lights on, to pay our bills and not for investment purposes. Raising the debt-ceiling limit is akin to raising the limit on one’s credit card. This doesn’t increase your income or cut your spending. It simply allows you to buy more, but you’ll have to pay it all back plus interest. To borrow more when you can’t even pay back any of the principle on your current debt is morally irresponsible. Our nation is 234 years old, yet we’re behaving like a bunch of teenagers. Compared to the ages of Egypt, Persia and Greece, we really are. We always want more and we’re never satisfied with what we’ve already got. That’s a recipe for social unhappiness.
To give some context, the debt-ceiling limit was raised eighteen times under Ronald Reagan, eight times under Bill Clinton, seven times under George W. Bush and three times under Barack Obama, as of August 2011. If you’re already having trouble paying your current bills and repaying yours debts, this tool will only delay your day of reckoning. However, that day along with the pain will soon arrive and the cost of deferring it just might kill you. The cost of allowing the institution of slavery to persist in America for another eighty years led to the Civil War which almost bankrupted the nation and lead to the loss of 500,000 lives plus one American president.
What’s the cost of doing nothing going to be this time around? Will the United States be able to survive it? How many lives will be lost? Much talk has been made of President Obama simply minting a $1 trillion platinum coin to bypass the upcoming debt-ceiling limit fight with the Republicans in Congress. The Republicans are threatening to shutdown parts of the federal government to force spending cuts rather than go along with raising the debt-ceiling limit once more under President Obama, many Democrats and their pundits in the media are encouraging the president to go ahead with minting the coin.
Taking this action would allow the president to keep borrowing money to run the federal government for some period of time. If this in fact does happen, it would be my conclusion that the United States has a constitutional crisis on its hand because the legislative branch failed to approve this action or any action relating to spending. Stay tuned. The Federal Reserve which controls the nation’s monetary policy has been given the burden of jumpstarting the economy. First, it cut the interest rate deeply to no avail. Next, the Fed launched a self-admitted experiment called quantitative easing (QE) that’s meant to increase the economy’s money supply.
One controversial way that the Federal Reserve has gone about trying to achieve this goal is through buying $40 billion worth of U.S. Treasury bonds, every month, to drive down interest rates and bond yields in order to stimulate lending and spending in the private sector to parallel government buying and spending. The first round of QE has come and gone with the economy still struggling. The Federal Reserve went on to launch another round, known as QE2, and it has just announced plans for QE3. Currently, the Fed holds $1.66 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds and $926.7 billion in mortgage-backed securities.
The Fed plans to continue purchasing U.S. Treasury bonds through the end of 2013 or until the economy improves and the unemployment rate drops to 6.5%. This much activity was never intended and that has many economists concerned about just how the Fed will reverse its efforts. With Congress and the president at a stalemate over the government’s physical policies, these monetary tools being used, by the Federal Reserve, are failing to stop the patient from hemorrhaging to death. In this case, all these “doctors” are incompetent, but most of you don’t see it. They don’t see it, either. To me, it’s a simple case of political malpractice or pure insanity. The lack of honesty and transparency in government by Washington and the secrets that they keep from us, the informed electorate, has cost all of us dearly.
America, as an experiment and in its present form, is a complete failure in terms of the ideals first expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence (“…Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”) and by the framers of the U.S. Constitution. If there’s going to be a rebirth of this country, America 2.0 must go in a more organic, spiritual and harmonious direction or this nation’s recovery could take decades, not years to dig itself out of this self-made hole. How can the most educated country in the world be in this big of a mess? We’ve become dishonest, we’re closed off to any and all criticism from, both, friend and foe including from that of Osama bin Laden. You can kill the man, but not his ideas and so the fighting continues. Denying the truth is turning out to be an expensive way to conduct business.
Since 2007, I’ve written about the spiritual crisis affecting America and the manifestation of an emotional, mental, physical, sexual and financial disease (dys-ease). In a nation of 317,000,000, it’s guesstimated that there are 20 million alcoholics maybe more due to its shameful stigma and the symptom known as denial in the alcoholic, among family members, friends and co-workers. All become deeply affected by the alcoholic’s drinking and their insane actions. Due to the nature of denial, no one knows the true number of alcoholics living in the U.S. It’s estimated that there are another 8 million drug addicts (both, illicit and prescription), millions more who are heavy consumers and debtors, gambling, food, work, religious and sex addicts. Almost all addicts have more than one drug of choice and multiple personal problems.
The sole purpose of a drug, of all these drugs is to numb the central nervous system of pain. Americans and America are facing a crisis of survival and yet the brain (Washington) doesn’t know this information (there’s no signal coming from the body), nobody knows this information because the body has been put to sleep. Given America’s spiritual crisis, our emotional and financial crisis, our mental and physical crisis, there’s no appropriate response by the body to fend off this deadly infection. It’s like the body has no warning system and thus the immune system doesn’t know to attack the tumor, to attack the virus that’s growing unchecked. We’re getting sicker and this disease just might kill us, the brain has yet to order a response. It doesn’t know to.
Given all the crises facing America, the streets and campuses should be overflowing with demonstrators, but there’s hardly anyone to speak of. Apparently, all is well, in America. So it seems. Nobody is feeling enough pain to cry out loud or take to the town square in protest. Instead, we’re trying to laugh away this disaster. Just watch daytime game and talk shows, primetime sit-coms and late night comedy. They’re full of celebrities and comedians telling us funny stories and jokes and yet I find that there’s little to laugh about in America. Only fools would laugh at their own wake.
The United States government is so numb to reality. Case in point, the FBI, in Washington, repeatedly ignored their own field agent’s concerns of Arab nationals taking flying lessons at U.S. flight schools and the agents noted that the students weren’t even interested in learning how to land the planes. The warning flags were raised and the impulses were sent from various parts of the body (multiple field offices) up the nervous system to the brain (FBI Headquarters in Washington, to The White House), but this information didn’t “fit in” with Washington’s version of reality so the reports was quickly discarded.
This breakdown between the severed head and the body was made crystal clear on September 11, 2001 when three of four American commercial passenger jets were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center buildings and into the Pentagon. We watched in horror and in shock as the world’s remaining superpower, with its mighty military, was impotent to stop these well-planned attacks. So numb and in shock, we did absolutely nothing. There was no defense mechanism. We did little or nothing to prevent it and everything to cure it, by the payload, for the past decade in the skies over several Muslim countries.
The trajectory of the United States ever since has been a downward spiral. Sadly, few Americans seem to realize it because we’re all addicts in one way or another. We’re all high on something avoiding reality. On December 15, while speaking at a conference in Turkey, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev said that the U.S. is disintegrating in the same fashion that his country did. The world sees what’s happening to us, but how many of you can? I would argue that our society and our government have relapsed back into our old ways. We’re behaving in a similar manner in the days and months leading up to 9/11 – we’ve become deaf, dumb and blind to reality. We’re going from one crisis to the next, from one failure to the next putting out the fires, but never at the source. We’ve gone insane and death is imminent.
In 1997, the blockbuster film, Titanic, was released starring Leonard DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Titanic got great reviews and America loved it, the world loved it. The film grossed over $2 billion dollars at the box office. Do you remember how, both, this film and the love story ended? Well, I would argue that the attacks on 9/11 and our reaction to them by starting two “ego-driven” wars, on the other side of the world, was the moment our ship of state collided with an iceberg. If not then, I would surely argue it happened during the 2008 stock market crash and the global crisis that’s followed. The instruments used to measure our economy’s output are no different from the ones used to measure a ship’s speed. Currently, we can see some economic activity, some forward movement. The question is, is this propulsion coming from our running engines or is it just momentum after the collusion?
I think our government officials are “chasing all the wrong rabbits”. The Fed is trying every which way it can to give our ship’s engines more fuel as to get more power, but if the engine room is already flooded with seawater it may be pointless. If we don’t understand the crisis that were facing then we could be wasting critical time that could be better spent stopping the flooding of the ship or getting on with abandoning the ship, altogether. Last week on the evening news, it was reported that wealthy Afghanis left their country, in 2012, and took with them over $4 billion in anticipation of the U.S. military winding down its operations and leaving their country, in 2014. If and when wealthy Americans lose confidence in the federal government’s ability to function and there are calls for them to pay more in taxes, they, too, will be out of here with their money in tow. Our own millionaire politicians may well do the same. Who will be left to savage what remains of a sunk America – us po’ folks? All of us who want to be rich just like them – “the jet-setters”.
I eat lunch most days of the week with a stockbroker who just celebrated 40 years with his Wall Street firm. Recently, I asked him, if America were traded on the NYSE, what would be its stock price? His snap response to me was, “It would be bankrupt”. I said back to him, “Our politicians never come out and put it that way.” Of course, no one ever dares to ask them to. Given everything that I know about the United States including its trending since 2000, if Las Vegas had a line on the demise of the United States, I would bet against this country and I don’t ever bet. With each passing day and new crisis, it seems like a no brainer.
President Truman famously said that, “The buck stops here.” Today, in Washington the buck is passed around like a hot potato before getting spent. No one will take responsibility for the mess they’ve created – not Congress, not the president. No one ever admits to being wrong about anything, so why would they? Where’s Harry Truman when you need him? I’m the messenger, the whistleblower, a truth-teller of what I see, hear, smell, taste, feel happening in America. I like to think that I have my fingers on the pulse of this country. Please don’t shoot me, if you don’t like my message. I hope this essay roughed you up in some way — made you think, made you angry. Many of you will be retiring soon handing over the keys to our institutions with its many problems to my generation. I have little faith in your generation and even less in mine. If you won’t cough up the truth and set the record straight before you retire then my generation won’t have a fighting chance to turn this situation around.
The question then becomes, is the patient going to die on your watch or do you hope that she dies on mine? Americans deep-down are angry and we’re armed to the teeth. The vocal violence playing out between the two political parties, in Washington, on talk radio and cable TV serves as proof and as kindling, the spark could be as simple as a sudden sense of hopelessness settling in over America. If Americans find themselves having nothing to lose, what will hold them back from finding someone or some group to blame for our problems? Isn’t that what Hitler did? Know that the mess you’re leaving behind could trigger another civil war – not regional, but pit neighbor against neighbor. You can hope and pray that our ship doesn’t sink, like the Titanic did, or you can get busy by doing your part. Go figure it out, that’s what I had to do.
So many Americans oppose rationed health care for themselves, but it might happen to us, anyway. The time may come when our Chinese doctors, and others, walk into the room to inform us that they’ve done all that they can do to save the patient and that it’s time to flip the switch and take America off life support. No man or empire has ever escaped death, not yet. If I can’t convince you that we’ve got a big problem on our hands and to start doing your part by getting involved then maybe this writing exercise is solely for my benefit. Maybe it’s to convince me that y’all really don’t want to face reality and that you have some sort of death wish. That no one on board really wants to save their own life. If that’s true, please tell me. I will gladly climb into one of the many un-used lifeboats, lower it down into the water and row back to shore. I refuse to go crazy watching this ship, the USS America, self-destruct or to go down with it. I’ve already seen enough.
America has seen many revolutions in its history including an industrial, social and a computer including the internet. As bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, the barons of the industrial revolution, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon, Morgan Vanderbilt… saw a future that their parent’s generation the survivors of the Civil War were blind to. The pioneers of the personal computer who were all born in the 1950’s including Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen saw a future that no IBM-er could dare imagine – a computer on every desktop, lap and in the palm of everyone’s hand.
Today, I see a revolution underway where the self-centered, self-destructive thinking and behaviors of academia, capitalism, government, media, military, politics and religion is dead due to the inter-connectivity of the world and speed at which information travels. The old guard, the old monopolies are falling and new ones are forming and rising. All of these institutions have been telling us, for far too long, what to think and how to live. They’re getting in the way of humans simply connecting with other humans – free of conflict, free of ignorance and prejudice – who share this one and only planet. May it lead to cooperation over competition for our remaining resources?
We’ve hit a wall in our line of thinking and boy did it ever hurt. It’s time to take a leap forward and this requires having something that we’ve marginalized and pushed to the edges of society and into the back of our minds – faith. In order to grow you have to courageously step outside your comfort zone, you have go beyond your ego’s own control and hope that you live to tell about it. That’s faith in action.
In his now famous, “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of a day when his children would be measured by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. I think that day has finally arrived. Social networking and the Internet are breaking down barriers, at record pace, across oceans and continents, across countries and cultures, across cities and town, languages, politics, religion, age, gender, sexual-preferences and social standing. It’s taken me a longtime to shed the labels given to me and the lies told to me by my parents, by my religion and schools, the doctors, judges and society to see myself as being just another human being and a child of God. I’m no better and no worse than anyone else. It’s a rebirth, a return to one’s innocence. To know this truth, is to know freedom.
From this place, I’ve been able connect with anyone and everyone, with the most diverse backgrounds from, both, high and low living all over the world. This is something that I couldn’t have imagined being possible or much less doing just ten years ago. I’ve changed, I’ve grown and so has my world. It’s so beautiful, so colorful to see. Much has happened in my life since. It’s time for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech to be fully realized. There’s been too much fighting, too much killing in America, in the world and too little to show for it. I maybe alone in this opinion, but so was Jesus with his. Peace.
Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved. “America – She’s brain dead.” by Ted Burnett.