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Monday, March 05, 2007

Why The Surpise at VA Hospital Conditions?

Congress is suddenly up in arms about a series of Washington Post articles describing horrific conditions in Veterans Administration hospitals across the country. Why is anyone surprised about this situation? What is it about this particular health care nightmare that is making people in the U.S. suddenly so upset? Veterans have been writing Congress for years describing the lousy health care they receive. Why are senators and representatives just now getting around to holding public hearings?
Korean War Memorial 13552
Think about it, the Army is an organization designed around the need to kill people. Essentially, the military maintains equipment and trains personnel to kill other people using that equipment. The very notion that we expect these same people to properly treat the sick and actually heal humans is absurd. Do Armed Forces recruiters tell prospective sailors, soldiers, and airmen that they will not receive proper treatment if they are injured while serving? One wonders how many people would still sign-up if they knew this fact. Furthermore, this is an organization based in the United States.

Few people in the United States seem capable of maintaining their own health and well-being much less helping others to do so. The majority of the people in the U.S. are grossly obese, taking various prescription medicines, and seldom get even a minimum level of daily exercise. The people of the United States are known for growing tobacco on their most fertile land, smoking cigarettes, and promoting this practice the world over. U.S. citizens are well known for drinking excessive amounts of alcohol pretty much on a daily basis wherever they go in the world.

Violence is an integral part of our way of life. We carry our guns to work and to school and shoot each other over running shoes, drugs, and fancy clothes. Health care means nothing at all to the average person living in an urban environment in our cities. The United States is the #1 source of weapons; a land stocked with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet several times. Our leaders order us to go around the world kidnapping, torturing, and starting wars. Healing others? What in the world does that have to do with manufacturing and using fighter jets, tanks, and cluster bombs?

Why are we surprised that the U.S. military cannot treat the soldiers it recruits who are subsequently wounded in combat? 45 million U.S. citizens are not entitled to any health care whatsoever. These millions are denied health insurance, the primary tool used to decide who gets health care and who dies a miserable death alone at home. Go to a doctor's office and try to get an appointment after you tell them you have no health insurance. In the U.S. we let little boys die for lack of basic dental care. For years we denied our effective AIDS/SIDA medication to the rest of the world because there was no profit in it. In the U.S. we drive too fast and drink before we do so, ensuring the possibility that we will kill others while we are behind the wheel of our over-powered cars and monster trucks.

Finally, we here in the U.S. spend far more than we ever expect to earn, as individuals and as a nation. We are buried under our national and personal debt and we know it. Patching the military health care system will cost more money, money that our dying nation does not have. We did not save enough to pay for health care for our parents and we will not have the money to pay for our own health care once we are no longer able to work.

The situation at the VA Hospitals is merely one more symptom of a sick and dying society. The sooner we all face up to this fact the sooner we can get back to our couches, light up another cigarette, sip that drink, and start flipping through the 200 channels of violence and smut we serve to ourselves each evening.

The Rise and Fall of the U.S. Empire

I can hardly believe that Americans are even "debating" the need to stop all forms of torture in secret U.S. prisons. It is beyond my wildest dreams that the Bush Administration would eliminate habeas corpus (the right to seek relief from unlawful imprisonment) for anyone in United States custody. An editorial in the New York Times lists these two items along with the need to stop illegal spying, close CIA concentration camps, stop disappearing people, and quit arbitrarily deciding a person is no longer a human being but rather an enemy combatant with no rights whatsoever. The list does not stop there. The author asks that we ban the use of tainted evidence, stop calling every single vital piece of evidence "classified", and respect a person's right to an attorney. It begins to sound like this country is being run by Caligula or Josef Stalin rather than democratically-elected leaders.
US Capitol 12231
Now we learn that Republican New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici violated Congressional Ethics rules by calling US Attorney David Iglesias to pressure him about a case against a Democrat. Domenici has served in the Senate since 1972. He knows the ethics rules perhaps better than most senators. He knowingly violated them and continued to pressure the Attorney General to fire Iglesias.

This same scenario has been repeated with 7 other US Attorneys, all fired in a political vendetta deeply rooted, where else?, in the Bush White House. It seems that if any Republican politician calls Alberto Gonzalez they get exactly what they want. This is not justice, this is deeply-rooted corruption throughout the entire U.S. Justice Department, rule by thugs working in torture chambers.

In the same way that U.S. military veterans cannot get proper care because of a corrupt Veterans Administration, U.S. citizens can no longer expect a fair trial. U.S. citizens can no longer expect prompt relief after a major disaster. U.S. soldiers cannot expect to be given the right equipment prior to going into battle. Young men serving as volunteers in the U.S. House of Representatives cannot be sure they will not be molested. People accused of a crime cannot present evidence to the contrary. People around the world cannot be sure that the U.S. will not suddenly invade their country and foment civil war. Finally, no one can be certain that George W. Bush will not suddenly call for their disappearance and torture.

What a great and glorious nation these so-called "leaders" have torn down and stamped upon. We have become our own worst enemy. The terrorists have won simply because the citizens of this country are too afraid to stand up for what they know in their hearts is the right thing to do. It will not be long before the world witnesses the collapse of the United States and all it once stood for.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ann Coulter and the GOP Politics of Hate

Recently a conservative GOP ideologue named Ann Coulter called Presidential candidate John Edwards a "faggot*." Coulter was simply trying to draw attention to herself and the GOP like the tough girl in a schoolyard.

People I know who have met Ann Coulter tell me she talks like she is surrounded by a crowd of schoolgirls who have been shunned by most of the boys in school. Everyone else has a problem except her. Just after September 11, 2001, Coulter had this to say about the women who lost husbands in the World Trade Center collapse, "I've never seen women enjoying their husband's deaths so much." The GOP leadership knows she said this and has continued to pay her huge sums of money to speak at their events ever since. The politics of slash and burn paid off handsomely for them in the 2006 midterm elections.
White House
Instead of speaking out against racism and bigotry, George W. Bush acts out his true feelings. Why do you think he refused to help the people of New Orleans for 5 days after Hurricane Katrina? Actions always speak louder than words.

U.S. Senator Trent Lott continues to praise segregation and the other supporters of de-facto slavery like Strom Thurmond decades after the Civil Rights Act was passed.

John McCain comes out insisting that members of the U.S. Military who died serving their country in Iraq "wasted their lives." He believed this when he said it and did not retract his words immediately.

People with a limited vocabulary resort to these expressions because they really have nothing better to say. They mean what they are saying because they do not immediately correct themselves. It takes days and many reminders for these people to apologize and many never do issue sincere apologies

My grandmother once told me that a person's vocabulary tells you a great deal about the company they keep. NBA players, street gangs, and the Republican leadership from George Bush on up start to use sickening language the moment they think the microphone is turned off. Cheney talks trash on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Bush uses foul language every day, including the days he is at diplomatic forums. Their mouthpieces in the mass media including Rush Limbaugh, Fox Television, and O'Reilly only echo the Republican speaking points filled with hatred and bigotry. They deliberately hire mouthpieces who echo the politics of hate like Tony Snow and Ann Coulter.

When a ship is sinking the crew will use the most vile profanity to gather people around them.

UPDATE
Here is Coulter's apology: "C'mon, it was a joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean."

*Ironically, in the late 16th Century the term "faggot" was used to describe an old or unpleasant woman, i.e. someone exactly like Coulter.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

My Investing Strategy

With all the market ups and downs this week my phone and INBOX have been busier than usual. I promised a few people I would revisit my investing strategies again so here goes.

I don't have an NASD license so I hesitate to teach investing in my classes. My broker/analyst friends continually bug me to take all those tests and get to work for their clients.
New York City 8670
I've shared some of my insights on this blog in the past:
How To Invest Or Buy Anything

Day Trader Do Your Homework

Even those thoughts really do not completely express my investing strategy. My grandfather (Chief Engineer at Cadillac Buick Oldsmobile for many years) held stocks throughout his life and did very well. I inherited nothing from him but the knowledge that putting your hard-earned money to work in equities leads to a comfortable retirement.

I get out in the world and talk to people that make the economy move. I let people call me at all hours from all over the world and pick my brain. I swear my clients call me to help them streamline some business process but really just want to ask me about good international investments.

People in India contribute a boatload to my knowledge base, in return I encourage people to consider their economy. Love the action on the BSE/SENSEX, many beautiful minds at work there. Get to India every couple of years to ride the trains and brains from Mumbai to Kolkatta to Chennai. I wait for invitations rather than go it alone to Asia but I like to surprise my friends in the UK/EU.

I keep, let's see, four screens running here in my office, telling me all about business and world news. I don't subscribe to cable TV. I teach and learn from others every weekday, even those funny GOOG discussion groups get factored into the mix. I am not a day-trader, never buy stocks on credit, and rarely sell holdings that are less than a year old. I read most of the 8K, 10K, and 10Q reports and listen to Quarterly conference calls.

The unique thing I suspect sets me apart from many individual investors is that I have been taught not to panic. Living in Haiti and getting shot at a few times there and other places taught me to keep my head down and stay cool. When the stock markets go wildly up and down I sit back and watch. Then I buy just slightly past the lowest point the next day or week. How do I know that will be the lowest point? Historical trends, an accurate stock ticker, and intuition developed from decades of market watching. If I within a buck of the lowest point on $50 shares heading to $80 I consider myself as having nailed it.

Do I ever lose money on investments? Sort of. I never sell losers unless I need the write-off for tax purposes. I buy in smaller increments than the big boys but usually sell the entire position when it is time to sell. I save like the Japanese and like to be as punctual as the Germans. My biggest losses have occurred because I was forbidden to sell when I wanted to, stock option rules slammed me. I no longer work as a full-time employee at corporations, just consult, we all get along better that way!

Some people suggest I am using insider information but I never buy shares in my client's firms while I am under contract to them. I look around and see what equipment and services people are actually buying. So much money has been going into China and India I look to see where that money is being spent. China is spending millions in South America and Africa, especially in natural resources. So I invest in South America and Emerging Markets. India often invests in itself, in America, and in the EU. Basic infrastructure improvements to roads, trains, and airports are revolutionizing India and China.

I use funds only when I cannot buy the underlying equities myself. I like T. Rowe Price managers but Blackstone and others have attracted my attention and money. I am not invited to the Venture Capital party but that does not mean I cannot peek in the window to see what's going on at Carlyle or Blackstone. The London Financial Times does a great job covering VC and international markets. The Wall Street Journal is always a day late on the key stories, in my opinion.

That's about all I can say without getting the NASD knocking on my door...