Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Letter to President Obama

Okay, we elected you, Mr. President-Elect. We're really happy that you made it to the White House, but now it's payback time, big guy.

I'm going to give you my Top Ten Issues to work on. How you do it is your business. But these are the issues that are most important to me.

  1. Revoke all harmful environment deregulation from the Bush era.  I need you to take back all those horrible laws and policies like the "Clear Skies Act" and "Healthy Forests."  We know what they really were - giveaways to the corporations who wanted to do logging in our national parks and pollute our drinking water and air.
  2. Stop all the wars. I know you've said you will create a plan to bring our troops home from Iraq. To tell you the truth, fighting a war in Afghanistan isn't going to help find bin Laden either.  This is a matter of cooperation with those governments, not a policy of war.
  3. Restore America's luster abroad.  This is so important. I would like you to meet with foreign leaders worldwide and tell them that we want to be their friends again. Start with the top twenty most important countries, and don't forget the former Eastern Bloc countries like Poland and the Ukraine.
  4. Use the Internet to involve the citizens.  Help us redefine what it means to be a citizen of America. Help us think of ourselves in terms of being citizens instead of consumers.
  5. Move our healthcare system toward cheaper, safer, more effective holistic healthcare and away from drugs and surgery.  You haven't mentioned this in your campaign, but I think it is definitely one of my Top Tens.
  6. Make it cool to work for the government. You said you could do this in a Rolling Stone interview. Public service should be a badge of honor.  I know you see it that way.  Now help the rest of us to see it that way also.  Teachers and government workers of all walks of life should feel so proud to be serving their country.  I believe you can help us make that happen.
  7. Put your renewable energy plan into effect.  From everything I can tell, you have followed the Apollo Alliance plan pretty closely.  Solar panels, wind turbines, hybrid plug-in cars, getting utilities off coal (including "clean" coal), a mixture of decentralized and centralized power generation, etc.  I couldn't be happier about that.  Now put it into place, as an absolute top priority.
  8. Rebuild our country's infrastructure.  We need new bridges, roads, public transit.  I know that these things need to happen largely within states and communities, but you can help with funding tweaks and using the bully pulpit of the presidency.
  9. Put a strong focus on civil rights and women's rights.  I trust you very much to do this, Mr. President-Elect. Give us Supreme Court justices who will uphold Roe v. Wade and let's continue our helpful policies towards minorities and women in the community and the workplace.  I don't think quotas and most affirmative action are that helpful, however, but you've mentioned a number of ideas in your books and on your Website that make more sense for all of us than those older ideas of civil rights.
  10. Put a sharp focus on Internet policies.  Revise outdated laws like copyright and patent to reflect the Internet age, and please make net-neutrality a reality.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

My Photos from Obama Rally in Downtown Columbus Today

Here are my photos on Facebook from the Obama Rally that I went to today in Columbus, Ohio.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Why You Should Vote for Barack Obama

Here's why you should vote for Barack Obama. We so seldom get a chance to put someone in office who is simultaneously a) smart, b) has good morals and c) is hard working. This is our chance to do that by voting for Barack Obama.

Oh - and you get a chance to tell your grandchildren that you gave American racism a good, hard kick in the teeth when you made history by putting a black man into the White House.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Review of The Predator State

Here is my review on "The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too" by James K. Galbraith.

What an interesting book. The American Economy was in a much different state when I began reading this book than when I finished it (last night). I think what I learned from this book has helped me think about possible solutions for our economic meltdown.

Here are some points from Galbraith's (yes, Kenneth's son) book. I'll give indication of my opinions on his ideas as well.

I had no idea how long this post was going to be (even though my notes while reading the book were copious.) Maybe I should summarize my summary as well. Here goes:

Galbraith says that liberals who are for the following things should reverse their thinking: balanced budgets, free trade, open markets / monetary policy, tax cuts and the importance of savings.

He attacks each idea with an obvious depth of economic prowess and an even more obvious bias towards big government thinking.

His argument against balanced federal government budgets is perhaps his most compelling. He provides a simple equation that shows that the U.S. federal government (unlike all other countries) is positively incapable of balancing its budget and should not even try. To do so results in pain for consumers and business in the U.S. Galbraith actually won me over on this point. (See below for details.)

Galbraith isn't exactly against free trade itself, but against the unfettered access we seem to have as a goal where environmental and labor regulations aren't part of our agreements. He seems to have a fairly typical liberal view on this point, and I agree as well. He aggressively debunks the notion that the free trade agreements are remotely linked to job loss in the U.S. Instead, he blames deregulation and union-busting for the job losses.

Galbraith deftly points out the failures of the "open market" and, in many ways, foreshadows what happened in the weeks and months after his book was published in August 2008. He was right on almost every account on this point. Just this past week we saw Alan Greenspan admitting to the "flaw" in his own thinking about markets and monetary policy. Galbraith must have had a giggle about that. He points out that the countries where open markets were most vigorously applied were dramatic failures (Argentina, Brazil, Chile). He says that Milton Friedman's motto of "freedom to choose" is actually just "freedom to shop." He shows how the big industrial companies lost their brain trusts in finance and technology to Wall Street and Silicon Valley respectively, and the damage this has caused. He shows how extravagant CEO pay has been a destructive force in the economy. He says that government "planning" is needed because "markets cannot think ahead."

I didn't take many notes about tax cuts. He saw the George W. Bush tax cuts as irresponsible and, in general, the trickle-down economics as a joke. I think most people would agree, including me. On financial inequality in general, he says that we must use government controls to close the gap between the rich and the poor, and if we do so, we will experience a better and better economy. He uses Denmark as an example of high equality and low unemployment.

With the importance of savings, I think Galbraith is of two minds. It seems that he is opposed to supply-side economics, which emphasizes the importance of savings, but he also, later in the book, says that he is in favor of the government having some control or influence over how/when people save money, so I ended up a little confused on this point. I, personally, am a crazy saver and I think Americans need to have more of a saving/investment mindset than we currently do.

When I first picked up this book, I did so because the title and sub-title was threatening and abusive to my own thinking. I had to find out what an accomplished economist knew that I didn't know about my deeply held beliefs about capitalism and economics.

I found out a lot of things. Perhaps only a handful of books I've read in my life have forced a bigger shift in my thinking than this book. I cannot say that I am a far-left liberal like Galbraith himself, even after reading this book. However, I can say that I've shifted left-ward knowing what I know now, and I'm sure my opinions have also been drastically impacted by the lurchings of the American economy this fall of 2008.

With that said, here now are my detailed notes on Galbraith's book.

  • Galbraith says that this book is for the liberal who today says they are for a) balanced budgets, b) free trade, c) open markets and monetary policy, d) tax cuts and e) the importance of savings. (Hey, that's me.)
  • It all started with Ronald Reagan and Paul Volcker.
  • Together, they gave the American economy a type of "shock therapy" when the Fed raised the interest rates extremely high in the early 1980s. They thought that this would encourage savings (supply-side economics) and all the market to work most efficiently. It failed. America fell into a recession immediately and they abandoned the supply-side theory very quickly thereafter.
  • He says that the combination of open, perfectly efficient markets and supply-side economics is incompatible. If we need to encourage savings, the markets must not be perfectly efficient. (This seems very academic to me, kind of objecting to it based on purely theoretical terms. The question for me is if they work together in reality or not).
  • He says there are no economic conservative academics left, and certainly none in the Bush administration.
  • One of the problems is that the only people who benefit from encouragement to save are the very rich. Tools for encouraging savings are things like IRAs and 401(k)'s. (I don't really see how these things only benefit the super rich.)
  • A good point that he brings up is that the countries who followed the Washington Consensus, like Argentina, Chile and some African countries, failed economically, while the countries who followed other paths, like China, did much better.
  • As a result, no countries trust the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to work with them anymore.
  • Liberals need to create their post-Reagan economic policy (this is so true. In fact, it needs to be neither socialistic nor Reaganistic, but something really different.)
  • Hurricane Katrina was to conservative government what Chernobyl was to communism
  • Milton Freidman's "freedom to choose" is nothing more than just "freedom to shop"
  • What is a free market anyway? It is a negation. "Not" government.
  • The only beneficiaries of a free market are the largest corporations (as a former small business owner, I can say this is very true).
  • To the free market proponent, there is simply something offensive about the redistribution of wealth from a moral point of view, since it robs a person of property to which the market has assigned a natural claim.
  • Supply-side causes companies to move capital out of their retaining earnings and into executive salaries. As a result, society gets mansions and yachts instead of factories and office buildings.
  • Galbraith actually advocates wage and price controls. (Yecch.)
  • He says that "deficit spending works." (More on this later. It isn't as ridiculous as it sounds.)
  • Macroeconomic principle --- A country's internal deficit - public deficit plus private deficit - equals its international deficit. (This was a big realization for me.)
  • Very interesting how, in the 1990s, consumer and business deficit (credit cards, loans, mortgages) drove economic growth even as the federal government cut their deficit to zero.
  • The surplus of the late 1990s did what government surpluses always do: a government running a surplus necessarily subtracts in taxes from private spending more than it injects in payments to private incomes. This forced the private economy to finance the expansion with a buildup of debt. (My comments: 1) This makes sense except, b) why doesn't he mention the cost of maintaining a debt (public or private), c) why does he advocate consistently using deficits, never surpluses, and therefore going into a neverending abyss of red ink for the U.S.?)
  • The budget deficit no longer depends on the federal budget policy decisions, but rather on international trade and the financial position of the private sector. So long as American foreign trade remains in a permanent state of deficit (an overall trade deficit with all countries), which the U.S. has to do, actually, so long as a growing and unstable world economy requires U.S. dollar reserves, then the federal budget deficit is basically permanent!! (This is huge. We have to run a federal budget deficit otherwise we force consumers and businesses to run up their debt. The non-U.S. countries use U.S. dollars as their reserves, and those dollars have to come from somewhere - that's us.)
  • Eventually, we may change the global financial system to alleviate this. This would be a very dangerous change, however, because the reason everyone uses the U.S. dollar for its reserves is because everyone else is using the U.S. dollar as their reserves.
  • (This is my own thought.) It is possible to look at George W. Bush's presidency as a resounding success. Remember when he claimed he would be the first CEO President? Well, if you look at what corporations do, they try to get value from a market in whatever way possible, and give value back to their shareholders. If you look at Bush's campaign as the corporation, as America as the marketplace, and at his contributors as the shareholders, he did everything he should have. He took money from the market (America) into his corporation (his campaign) and gave it to the shareholders (his contributors in energy, pharmaceuticals, insurance industries, etc.).
  • Back to Galbraith's ideas, NAFTA did nothing as far as job loss or gain. It simply made permanent the maquiladora system in place since 1965.
  • China's success has to do with their lack of mature capital markets. When a Chinese company does not turn a profit, their management is not automatically fired. (I don't get this. I guess he is saying that managers aren't worried about the super-short term like here in the U.S., but to me you would want some type of accountability and not just losses year after year, which is what he's implying.)
  • Labor markets do affect people's paychecks, but income inequity is only partly due to differences in pay. Other factors, such as capital gains, interest, dividends and proprietor's income have a large effect as well. So it is somewhat incorrect to say that the market forces of the labor market are solely the cause of income inequity. And further, to say that we will cause massive disruption in the labor market if we institute minimum wage increases or wage controls doesn't make sense. (It is a good point when he says that differences in pay are just part of the picture. But I do think that raising the minimum wage causes disruption, the question is just whether we are willing to live with the disruption.)
  • When California and New Jersey increased their minimum wages, unemployment dropped. (Yeah, okay, but what about other states?) The U.S. tends to have increasing pay inequality during bad times and decreasing pay inequality during good times. (That's an interesting statistic if true.) And, of course, unemployment rises during bad times and drops during good times.
  • In Denmark, there is high equality and low unemployment. (And what are their productivity numbers??)
  • Inequality means a few "good" jobs and a lot of "bad" jobs by definition. So a lot of people queue up for the good jobs, causing inefficiency, unemployment and market disruption.
  • It seems like Galbraith is against people donating to their alma maters and using it as a tax deduction. (I really don't get this.)
  • He sees universities most important contribution as a way to keep young people busy and diverted while they are at their least employable. (What???) Keeping young people occupied and away from the streets is more important than the skills they gain while in class. (What???) Schools provide a similar function in society to prisons and the military, all three of which keep our young people from causing disruption. (I guess I can see a glimmer of logic here, but I do think that universities - the good ones anyway - provide skills that help us when we go into the workforce, as well as business connections and social skills on top of the technical skills we may learn. This point is a bit crazy, I think, or maybe just overstated for effect.)
  • He says that when you add up the heavily government-influenced sectors of the economy - military, schools, universities, social security, healthcare (Medicare, Medicaid), and housing (HUD I guess?) - it makes up more than half the economy. And it has been a stabilizing force which has kept us from falling into another Great Depression. (I am willing to acknowledge this point, although he is very loose in defining what is "government-influenced. But I will agree that the private sector is not as large and as independent of government-influence as we might think it is.)
  • It was not our social institutions that had been damaged during the Republican presidencies in the 1980s and 2000s. It is the corporation that has been decimated (This is super interesting. Read on...)
  • The best financial people used to work inside the large corporations (Ford, GE, Sears, AT&T, etc.). But in the 1980s, 90s, and 00s, they all left the large companies and went to work for Wall Street. (Interesting point - I had never considered this.)
  • The best technical people used to work inside the large corporations. But they, too, left to join Silicon Valley startups like Microsoft, Cisco and now, of course, Google. (I would also say consulting companies too, because it is often noticeable that consulting staff seem to be more technically advanced than the staff of the client companies they serve. Maybe that's just my bias as a consultant!)
  • As a result of losing all this talent, the big corporations switched from being producers to consumers of financial knowledge and technical knowledge. They had to acquire the expertise of how to run their business financially from Wall Street and consulting firms, and they had to rely on technology solutions from custom software and packaged software from outside entities like Microsoft or IBM. (So they've had their heart and lungs removed and are on a kind of life support to these outside service providers.)
  • The big industrial companies have to rely heavily on Wall Street for their finances and therefore Wall Street is able to dictate how a corporation should perform without ANY ACTUAL UNDERSTANDING of how the corporation works. This causes the "short termism" we can all see in the stock market that is killing the long-term viability of all public companies.
  • The crooked goings-on at Enron, Tyco and WorldCom were not only not understood by Wall Street firms, but actually encouraged. The dual inability of Wall Street to understand the various industries (energy trading, telecom, etc.) and their singular focus on "the numbers helped to destroy these firms. (Remember that Galbraith is writing all this months before the economic meltdown of late 2008.)
  • CEOs, instead of being specialists in a particular industry, have become specialists in cutting costs and raising stock prices for Wall Street's approval. This new breed of CEOs often not have the slightest clue to the long-term implications of their decisions. And the capital markets, not understanding business needs for investment, do things like overinvestment in fiber optics installations by sixty-fold that happened in the late 1990s.
  • Galbraith explains the sub-prime mortgage crisis (this had already begun in early 2008 when he was still writing this book). Interest rates were set extremely low, which made T-bills unattractive. Big investment banks bought packages of home mortgages from traditional mortgage lenders as investments. These mortgages were on ultra-low teaser rates set up during the low interest period after 9/11. Once these teaser rates expired, homeowners could not pay the adjusted mortgage payments, as they had often been poorly qualified by the mortgage lenders, and the investment banks (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, etc.) were left holding the bag.
  • The Reagan, Bush I and Bush II administrations have not actually destroyed the public institutions of social security, Medicare, etc. What they have destroyed is the modern corporation. By pulling back on all types of regulation, they have encouraged the Enrons, WorldComs, Tycos, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers of the world. They've allowed transient, unaccountable CEOs to deplete the corporate coffers for their own personal gain. And by giving control of government to a subset of industry - the worst polluters, the flagrant monopolists, the technological footdraggers - they've made life worse for the businesses that have played by the rules. (I have to agree.)
  • Galbraith says that job training doesn't help! (He doesn't mention how many firms are searching for qualified people during times of high unemployment, but my own experience is that this is constantly happening. Employers cannot find the qualified people they need and simultaneously we have millions of unqualified or wrongly qualified people out of work.)
  • Galbraith quotes Keynes as saying "A supply curve for labor doesn't exist." (I don't understand this. All my experience says that there is definitely a supply-and-demand relationship with labor like anything else. Galbraith does a very poor job of explaining this point.)
  • He states that preschool isn't a help to anyone. (Really?)
  • He says, overall, he isn't advocating "abandoning the free market." He is really saying that "government planning" shouldn't be considered an evil thing and some relic of communism, but instead should be combined with the free market and used as a counterbalance to the problems of the free market.
  • He advocates planning a number of things: a) how much to save/invest, b) directions for new technology, c) how to deal with environmental issues, d) scientific knowledge, e) and culture.
  • Government planning is needed because markets cannot think ahead. (I have to agree here.)
  • Markets have two big flaws. Markets convey their signals only in proportion to the purchasing power of the individual, so the rich guy gets a thousand times more votes in the marketplace than the middle class guy. (Yeah, but there are a thousand times more middle class guys though. He doesn't mention this fact.)
  • The second flaw is that markets don't have a way to represent the next generation, the not-yet-born. (Very true.)
  • Galbraith argues in favor of certain wage regulations. In Norway, you are free to import, export and outsource as you like. But you are not free to cut your employees' wages. You can't go after cut-rate workers, whether native or immigrant. You cannot undercut the union rate. The effect of this on business discipline is quite wonderful. Businesses must find ways to compete that do not involve running down the wage standards of their workforces.
  • The middle class in America was built by unions, regulations and wage standards and it will be rebuilt the same way. (You know, this is kind of a good argument.)
  • Galbraith actually aggressively debunks the notion that free trade (NAFTA, CAFTA, etc.) has caused a loss of jobs. Instead, he blames deregulation for those issues in America.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Benjamin Barber - How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole

I heard Benjamin Barber's speech on the great, great podcast Big Ideas. This guy is worth listening to. I mourn my free market idealism as it fades thanks to this guy, Naomi Klein, James Galbraith and the damn American economy these days...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fuel Cells Powered by Sewage?

The ever fascinating blog EcoGeek gives us a story today about how sewage has been found to be a very cheap way to do hydrogen electrolysis by some researchers.  Read on here.

Colin Powell Endorses Obama

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Obama's Energy Plan

I hear people say that they aren't exactly sure what Obama's position is on this issue or that one, so I thought I would blog about his positions.  How do I know?  It's on his friggin' Website, detailed in minute detail.  But who's got time to read his Website?  (I guess)

Here are the high points of Obama's energy plan (infested with my opinions on each point):

Short Term Fixes
  • Emergency gasoline rebate ($500/individual, $1000/family) to consumers paid for with a windfall profit tax on energy companies  (I'm not crazy about this, it is politically expediency, but hey, it'll get him some votes)
  • Crack down on energy speculation a-la Enron-style by (this is important) closing loopholes and increasing transparency (this isn't our biggest issue in energy but the loophole-closing aspect of it is good)
  • Swap light and heavy crude, release oil from Strategic Petroleum Reserve (again, a short-term fix [as they note on the site] but might help bring prices down a bit)
Longer Term Strategies

  • Cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions - goal - 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 (I would prefer a commons trust approach, but cap-and-trade is a great start)
  • Work through the U.N. to make the U.S. a leader on climate change (smart)
  • Accelerate commercialization of plug-in hybrid cars, encourage energy efficiency, invest in low-emission coal plants, advance next generation biofuels, build digital electricity grid (this is cool stuff, except for the stupid, stupid, stupid clean coal stuff, but it is there to grab votes, so okay)
  • Create a "Green Vet Initiative."  Job placement for vets of Afghanistan and Iraq to gain skills in renewable energy jobs (love this soooo much - why isn't it talked about more on the campaign trail???)
  • Invest $1B per year into switching manufacturing areas over to renewable energy (how many birds did you just kill with that one stone???  Love this)
  • Increase fuel economy standards 4% a year (great)
  • Put 1 million plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015.  How can a government do that??  Well, guess how big the government's fleet of vehicles is?  Obama is going to switch the entire White House fleet to plug-in hybrids in one year, then half of the entire government fleet by 2012. $7,000 tax credit for people buying plug-in hybrid cars!!  (great idea)
  • A focus on "next generation biofuels" read: cellulosic, not corn.  (smart)
  • Better prioritization of current drilling efforts for oil and gas (this is good, although not that exciting)
  • Require 10% of all electricity produced to come from renewable sources (that ain't "clean coal")
  • Safe and secure nuclear energy (I personally am in favor of this, although I know a lot of liberals aren't - it is part of the entire energy self-sufficiency picture)
  • Big focus on energy efficiency (biggest, fastest payback)
  • A new building code, all buildings carbon-neutral by 2030 (great)
  • Reduce federal energy consumption.  The U.S. Federal Government is the largest energy consumer in the world.  Why not start there?????  (can you see why I love this guy??)
  • Build more livable, sustainable communities (super long-term, but what is wrong with thinking super-long term??)
I really have to apologize for my cheerleading on each point, but, Jeez, I can't help it.  This is one great energy policy.  Half the points are things I've been wishing to see from candidates for years and years, and there are a lot of points that I hadn't even considered until I read them in the PDF.

By the way, I'm hoping my short post here encourages you to read the original PDF on Obama's Website.  This was put together by some really smart people.

photo credit:  Felix Francis on Flickr (creative commons)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Singularity is Not Going to Come

Kevin Kelly's excellent blog "The Technium" featured a post this past week about Ray Kurzweil's idea of "the Singularity" when artificial intelligence will become so great that basically all of our problems will be solved.

In this post, Kelly shows how the Singularity may come and go, but it won't be the event that Kurzweil is hoping. In general, Kelly's blog is a must read. Although Kelly doesn't mention Gödel's incompleteness theorems actually mathematically disproved everything that Kurzweil is claiming could happen with artificial intelligence, now or ever.

Flickr photo thanks to GTM.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Electoral Vote

Click for

I find the Website to be sooooo useful. I refer to it everyday. It shows a map of red and blue states as compiled with the latest polls of the day. It changes every single day and shows which presidential candidate is leading based on the electoral vote count (which is the only thing that matters). My impression is that too many of the news outlets are focusing on popular vote counts and ignoring the electoral vote count, especially now that Tim Russert is gone. He was very good at giving us run-downs of how things could play out with this-or-that state going red or blue. We miss ya Tim!!

(By the way, Barack has been ahead on electoral votes counts almost the entire time, with a very short Palin-bounce for McCain after the convention. The badge at the top of my post is accurate for the day you are reading this.)

The site also has great information on the close congressional races as well, although it does not focus on the individual polls for those.

And, if you're trying to figure out who should get your vote in November, go to It looks at the various issues-of-the-day and tries to match your views to Barack Obama or John McCain. This was especially fun when the primaries were going on. A lot of people I know found out that their views closely matched Dennis Kucinich, and boy, were they surprised!!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Hemp Revolution

We just watched a sort-of documentary called "The Hemp Revolution." It looks like it was produced in the 1980s but it is really informative on the many, many, many uses of hemp. A source of Omega-3 oils, of protein, the best fiber for making clothing (from silkier-than-silk to jeans) and a great way to produce cellulosic ethanol. And it is illegal to grow hemp in the U.S. ... why??? 

(No, it isn't good to smoke. Hemp is different from marijuana.)

You've gotta see this movie.

NOTE:  I say "sort-of-documentary" because it is really slanted toward the good side of hemp and doesn't give any information on the (there's gotta be) downsides of the crop.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Cutting the Cable

Okay, we are trying something new. We stopped out DirecTV satellite TV service this month and we're going without. We are going to use the Internet and NetFlix as our only entertainment sources.

Wish us luck! I'll update this blog as we progress.

(photo by afred on Flickr)

Darwin Awards - One of the Best Movies

My wife and I just watched one of the best movies we've seen in a long time. The Darwin Awards with Joseph Fiennes and Winona Ryder is billed as a "dark comedy" and, while a lot of people do die, it is truly funny and insightful. Fiennes is hilarious (don't miss the shower scene) and Ryder is lovely and a great kick.

I can't recommend this movie highly enough. Why didn't I hear about it in 2006 when it came out?? And why does it only get 5.8 / 10 on

Thursday, August 28, 2008

T. Boone Pickens Has An Energy Plan, Dammit!

T. Boone Pickens, recalcitrant oilman, has a plan to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  It involves wind power and natural gas.  Click below to hear him tell it plain-like.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

My Review

Beautiful Mailbox Post

By Daryl Kulak from Westerville Ohio on 8/9/2008


5out of 5

Pros: High Quality, Good Value, Durable

This mailbox post is so beautiful. We installed it with the Hummingbird Curbside Mailbox and the two go together great. We're so happy with the results. Our neighbors are jealous.


My Review of Hummingbird Curbside Mailbox

Originally submitted at More Mailboxes

Special Lite mailboxes have quality you can see. The striking Hummingbird details on both sides of this piece make it stand out far more than the average mailbox. The deeply embossed designs show your love of nature and will last through a lifetime of weathering. It is also available ...

Best mailbox in the neighborhood

By Daryl Kulak from Westerville Ohio on 8/9/2008


5out of 5

Pros: Attractive Design, Sturdy

Describe Yourself: Novice

This is such a great mailbox. Our mailman even said that he likes it because it has an extra lip over top of the door so the water won't leak into the box on rainy days. We love it. The design and color is so beautiful and the box is very sturdy and well designed.

No complaints! We've installed it already with the Albion Mailbox Post and Floral Bracket. The two go nicely together.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Barack Obama Comments on How the Internet Will Assist His Government

These comments, taken from an article just published in Rolling Stone (available online) show that Obama is taking the role of the Internet very seriously in terms of shaping policy, getting feedback, increasing accountability.

A few times in the past few years there have been "anonymous holds" on bills going through the Senate. How slimy is that? Some senators want to keep a bill from getting voted on but they don't want to do it publicly, for shame of what they're doing. Hopefully we can stop this type of behavior.

Here are a few lines from Obama's interview with Rolling Stone:

How are you going to connect your support among young people to the governing process?
This is where the Internet is so powerful. One of the things that surprised me in this campaign is how well we were able to use technology to organize people. There's enormous promise — but we've just scratched the surface of what's possible when it comes to making government work for people. Virtual town-hall meetings, increasing transparency, accountability on legislation. You think about all the inefficiencies in government. We basically have a New Deal government in a 21st-century economy. We've got to upgrade it.

So you're consciously aware that this will have to be part of how you govern?
Yes, absolutely. The Internet gives young people a tool to be informed continuously. It gives them an opportunity to speak to each other and mobilize themselves. It gives them the opportunity to hold me accountable when I'm not following through on promises that I've made. It gives me a powerful ally if Congress is resistant to measures that need to be taken.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Rethinking Health Insurance

Health insurers have certainly been beat up in the past few months by the political candidates. In some cases, I think it's right, when insurers are withholding payments for legitimate operations that might save a life. But in other cases, I don't think health insurers are the only ones to blame.

Here is an article written by Dr. Pam Popper, nutritionist, naturopath and President of the Wellness Forum in Columbus, Ohio.

I think she is right on with some views on how insurance companies could easily become the real innovators in our move to a better healthcare scenario.

There is so much wrong with health care that it is almost impossible to fix the existing system. And, in my opinion, we are focusing on the wrong things and blaming the wrong organizations for some of our problems.

For example, health care reform often involves criticizing insurance companies for not paying for certain types of treatments. For the record, I'll state that insurance companies are guilty of many things and do their part to contribute to the poor state of health care today. But forcing these companies to pay for any treatment offered by drug companies and desired by patients may be causing our problems to worsen, not get better.

For example, I have written before about Avastin, originally approved for colorectal and lung cancers, and recently granted "accelerated approval" by the FDA for metastatic breast cancer. It's actually almost worthless for all cancers. Avastin extends life by a few months for colorectal and lung cancer patients, and about 5.5 months for metastatic breast cancer patients. The side effects, according to an article in The New York Times, include death. Offered by Genentech, the drug costs $92,000 per year. Genentech acknowledged in an editorial that it "does not claim that the drug is cost-effective for advanced breast cancer but believes it will be clearly worth the cost if shown effective in earlier stages of breast cancer."

In spite of this, Avastin has already been prescribed off-label to over 11,000 cancer patients with advanced breast cancer, and the recent FDA approval would increase the number of patients who qualify for it to 43,000. Genentech acknowledges that the drug only extends life for only a few months. Using half of the $92,000 annual cost of the drug (since patients are almost always dead within a few months), the revenues to Genentech for this drug have grown to a potential of close to $2 billion dollars per year. Where does the money to pay for this drug come from? Insurance companies and Medicare/Medicaid. And if some of our political candidates get their way, we will add universal health care coverage, meaning more taxpayer-financed reimbursement, to the pool of available funds.

This is not the only example. Billions of dollars are spent annually on unnecessary back surgeries and other procedures, mammography and other useless diagnostics, as well as drug treatments that are completely ineffective, and often hurt people. Can you blame the insurance companies for refusing to pay for this?

Unfortunately, the insurance companies also deny reimbursement for treatments that do work, such as dietary intervention. They've thrown the baby out with the bath water, attempting to deny coverage for anything different or progressive.

Insurance companies are in a great position to be innovators in the health care field if they decide t do so. They could develop policies for people who choose to practice dietary excellence and optimal habits, and reimburse these people for the counseling and other support needed to learn how to do so. There is evidence that this will work, and can save enormous amounts of money. The average patient who gets bypass surgery spends $86,364 over a 5-year period; the average patient who has angioplasty spends $63,897 during a comparable period of time. A consultation with Dr. Esselstyn (who has an excellent track record reversing cardiovascular disease through dietary intervention) costs $500; a membership to The Wellness Forum, complete with books, CD's and DVD's costs only $221. Reimbursing for these types of services and refusing to pay for bypass surgery and angioplasty unless the need is clearly demonstrated (it rarely is) would result in huge savings for both private carriers and Medicare.

I'm not upset with the insurance companies for saying enough is enough as it pertains to reimbursement for medical services that do not work. And I do not think universal health care, which will result in all of us as taxpayers shouldering more of the burden for useless diagnostics and treatment is the answer either. The answer is to continue to educate people to make different choices, and to target the purveyors of misinformation as the real culprits - our government, national health organizations, medical schools, unenlightened doctors and others who continue to promote ineffective and harmful treatment.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

How To Get GIMP to Work on Mac OSX Leopard (And Get Focus Follows Mouse)

NOTE: This post is fairly old. One of my commenters below (Green) has given a solution that seems to be working for people more so than what I suggest here. I would say read my post briefly and then jump to his comment.

When we upgraded my wife's Mac Mini (PowerPC) to Apple's Leopard, we needed to reinstall X11 so she could run her favorite graphics program GIMP.

This turned out to be quite a hassle. Let me tell you how we should have done it.

  1. Upgrade to Leopard using Apple's DVD.
  2. Apple will immediately ask you to upgrade to 10.5.3 (or the latest version of Mac OSX), so do that through Software Update. Trigger it yourself if you have to.
  3. DO NOT use the X11 in the Optional Installs folder on the Leopard DVD! This is old and GIMP will not work.
  4. Instead, go here and get XQuartz (use the link that says X11-2.2.2.pkg), which is a newer version of X11 that works much better.
  5. Now download the latest version of GIMP from here. As of this writing it is Gimp v2.4.
  6. Ah, but now you've lost your additional brushes, haven't you? Well, you can re-download those, our favorites are here and here. (Remember, GIMP can now use Photoshop brushes seamlessly). You just copy them into the right directory of the GIMP application.
  7. Now GIMP should work pretty well in X11. will find that you need to click on each GIMP window twice because you need to bring focus to the window first before you can do anything.
  8. Ha! This is a fun one. I could not actually find the right command to fix this, but eventually we figured it out. Open up the Mac OSX Terminal (in the Applications folder) and then type this command on the command line:
defaults write org.x.x11 FocusFollowsMouse -string YES

If you find that this was a mistake, you can go back to Terminal and type the same command with the word NO instead of YES. That should reverse it so that focus does not follow the mouse in X11.

I think that's it! I'll continue this post if we find any other problems, but for now, it looks like GIMP is working pretty well in Leopard. This is all running on an old Mac Mini with a PowerPC chip. You just have to make sure to download the right executable of GIMP for the PowerPC vs Intel.

Good luck. Please post a comment if this works (or doesn't work) for you.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Quote from Barack Obama's Book "The Audacity of Hope"

Here's why I'm voting for Barack Obama. I see him introducing Politics 2.0, in word and in deed, an end to the partisan bickering and gridlock.

Just wait until he introduces Government 2.0.

A quote from his second book "The Audacity of Hope:"

Maybe the critics are right. Maybe there's no escaping our great political divide, an endless clash of armies, where any attempt to alter the rules of engagement is futile.

Or maybe the trivialization of politics has reached a point of no return, so that most people see it as just one more diversion, a sport, with politicians as our paunch-bellied gladiators, and those who bother to pay attention, just fans on the sidelines. We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side, and if it takes a late hit or cheap shot to beat the other team -- so be it. For winning is all that matters.

But I don't think so.

They are out there, I think to myself, those ordinary citizens who've grown up in the midst of all the political and cultural battles but who've found a way, in their own lives at least, to make peace with their neighbors. And themselves.

I imagine the white southerner, who, growing up, heard his dad talk about niggers this and niggers that, but has struck up a friendship with the black guys at the office and is trying to teach his own son different; who thinks that discrimination is wrong, but doesn't see how the son of a black doctor should get admitted into law school ahead of his own son.

Or the former Black Panther, who decided to go into real estate, bought a few buildings in the neighborhood, and is just as tired of the drug dealers in front of those buildings as he is of the bankers who won't give him a loan to expand his business.

There's the middle-age feminist who still mourns her abortion, and the Christian woman who paid for her teenager's abortion, and the millions of waitresses, and temp secretaries and nurses' assistants and Wal-Mart associates who hold their breath every single month in the hope that they'll have enough money to support the children that they did bring into the world.

I imagine that they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and what cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point. They don't always understand the arguments between right and left, conservative and liberal, but they recognize the difference between dogma and common sense, responsibility and irresponsibility. Between those things that last, and those that are fleeting.

They are out there, I think, waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Benefits of Train Travel

EcoGeek points out the unexpected benefits of train travel.  Watch this mode of transportation (for shipping and people transport) come back in a big way.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

What To Do With All That Carbon Dioxide? Make Chalk!

EcoGeek reports that a new startup called Carbon Sciences is proposing to make chalk out of excess carbon dioxide, preventing the CO2 from going into the atmosphere.

Their idea is to turn the CO2 into chalk, or calcium carbonate, which is used in toothpaste, yogurt, PVC piping, paper, wallboard and many other things.

Click over to my new favorite blog EcoGeek for more details and an interview with the founder of Carbon Sciences.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Top 10 Trends in Healthcare

America is undergoing a dramatic shift in healthcare. Actually, ten distinctly different shifts.
Although the changes are unsettling, and will cause dislocations in our economy, the overall trends are positive and will help us all be healthier and wealthier when it all shakes out.

1. Western Medicine Costs Continue to Rise

It's hard to imagine, but the cost of going to a regular MD or hospital is going to get more and more expensive. This is not because doctors or hospitals are getting greedy, but instead because their own costs are rising every year. Malpractice insurance for risky surgical procedures, pharmaceutical drug reactions and deaths with accompanying lawsuits, complex medical equipment for diagnostic testing – everything is rising dramatically in cost. Pharmaceutical drug costs will continue to escalate also, leaving consumers holding the bag, because...

2. Health Insurance Opt-Outs Surge

For many years, corporations and small businesses have provided health insurance as an employee benefit. Often, employees would choose a job based on who offered the best health insurance. No longer. Small businesses have almost completely opted-out of the insurance game, and large corporations are not far behind. General Motors complains that health insurance costs them more per year than steel for their cars. In a few years, health insurance through your employer will be only a memory. Everyone will be buying health insurance the same way they buy home insurance or car insurance – independently.

Because of this shift, consumers will begin treating health insurance the same way they treat car and home insurance. Which is to say, they will treat it like INSURANCE.

Today, many Americans run to their doctors for even the smallest maladies, and they expect their health insurer should pay for everything. In fact, they're incensed when they don't. “What, you're not paying for this bottle of antibiotics for my kid's ear infection? How terrible!”

This is opposite of how we treat car insurance. Imagine expecting your insurer to pay for oil changes, car washes, pockmarks in the paint job, a broken cupholder. Can you picture it? Of course not. It would be ridiculous.

Yet, with health insurance, it's been okay. Why? Because the employer is picking up the tab. Not anymore, they're not.

As a result, Americans will pay more attention to preventive healthcare, like regular exercise, good diet and meditation, etc. They will also do more cost comparisons between all their healthcare options, including a trip to the doctor, or...

3. Alternative Medicine Becomes the Dominant Healthcare System in America

I feel bad calling this a future trend, since this has almost already occurred. Alternative medicine, including naturopathy, hypnotherapy, Chinese medicine, chiropractic, yoga, etc. is fast overtaking Western medicine (drugs and surgery) as the dominant healthcare system of America.

Several studies have shown that Americans spend more out-of-pocket on alternative medicine than on Western medicine. They've also shown that people are making more trips to these alternative practitioners than they are to regular MDs. These are positive developments. The downside is that people are reticent to mention their alternative therapies to their doctors, because they're afraid of disapproval by their doctor.

But the trend is clear. Alternative medicine is often less expensive (especially outside of insurance), equally effective and produces less harmful side effects, as was evidenced by the flurry of pharmaceutical drugs this past year that were removed after being prescribed to hundreds of thousands of patients.

People's trust in Western medicine is diminishing, and their relief in finding alternatives is rising.

Major institutions are now doing large numbers of studies on alternative medicines, including herbal remedies, bodywork, meditation, dietary changes and many others. Randomized, controlled studies are available on almost every type of alternative healing practice, and they typically show good results.

The rise of alternative medicine and the opting-out of employer-funded health insurance has led us inevitably to an era of...

4. Consumer-Driven Healthcare

People are making their own choices in healthcare and health insurance. They want to make their own decisions.

This is extremely positive. One study after another shows that hospital patients who are disruptive, picky, nosy and non-compliant are the ones who fare best with any surgery or recovery from illness. The patients who are compliant and put their fates in the hands of their doctors are the ones who fare most poorly. Taking charge of one's health is part of consumer-driven healthcare.

This term also refers to how people are deciding to use whatever treatments they think will work best, based on their own research. Fewer people simply accept their “doctor's orders” and instead they find out for themselves what is available and make informed choices. This also means they are deciding to use a different kind of health insurance, which is more compatible with their free-will healthcare style...

5. High-Deductible Health Insurance and Health Savings Accounts (HSA)

As corporations drop their employees' health plans, the employees are choosing to buy high-deductible health insurance policies, which are much cheaper.

In fact, a high-deductible policy ($2,500 deductible or higher) is almost always so much cheaper, that even if you had to pay the entire deductible yourself every year, you'd still save thousands of dollars. The monthly premiums are reduced MORE than the amount of the deductible.

Along with high-deductible policies, people are choosing to use the Health Savings Account (HSA), introduced in 2003. This is a tax-deductible savings account that can be used for any medical treatment (Western medicine, actually), which is basically a tax savings for everyone who buys their insurance independently.

High-deductible policies and HSAs allow people to have Western medicine waiting in the wings when they have serious health problems that require expensive drugs, tests and surgery. But until then, they are able to use alternative medicine as the best service for prevention and small day-to-day health problems.

Alternative medicine provides a “first line of defense” while Western medicine provides the expensive, dangerous, but necessary backup.

Since alternative medicine has taken such a major role in healthcare, the state and federal laws have had to adjust, which has meant...

6. The Rise of Health Freedom Laws

Health freedom is a term applied to a particular kind of legislative bill. It is a bill that allows alternative medical practitioners to practice their healing arts, as long as they stay out of the areas where extensive Western medical training is required:

  • performing surgery
  • prescribing pharmaceutical drugs
  • administering injections (like vaccinations)
  • knowingly contradicting an MD's orders

If alternative medical practitioners are caught doing any of these, they can be arrested for practicing medicine without a license. But otherwise, they can use any other type of healing art, including bodywork, dietary changes, movement therapies, hypnosis, etc. to help their clients.

This bill is needed in many states, because current laws state that no one can practice medicine except medical doctors, and the definition of practicing medicine is anything that helps people with their health! This means that if someone has a cold, and they go to a massage therapists who recommends echinacea, that massage therapist is breaking the law! Ridiculous? Practitioners have been shut down in many states for doing less.

Health Freedom laws are common sense. They've been passed in four states already – Minnesota, Rhode Island, California and Idaho. These states have had excellent results from these bills, including patients from neighboring states making trips to their states to seek relief from health problems. Can you say “boost to the economy?”

For more information about Health Freedom initiatives, visit the National Health Freedom Website.

With Health Freedom information, and alternative medical options available, it is only natural that people turn to...

7. The Internet As a Healthcare Information Resource

The Internet has become the first stop for someone who has a health concern. Feeling low? Do a search on depression remedies on the Internet. Just been diagnosed with cancer, and the doctor says it's chemotherapy or die? Jump on the Internet and see what your other options are.

Of course, the Internet has its benefits and its problems. There is a tremendous amount of misinformation about healthcare on the Internet. Much of it comes from well-meaning entrepreneurs who have been sucked into a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme and are trying to pitch some health elixir or other. A second source of health misinformation comes from the Western medical establishment, who seek to discredit alternative medical therapies that could take significant revenues away from their invested therapies. A third source of misinformation comes from the anecdotes of individuals who experienced relief from one therapy or another, but who do not (and cannot) actually represent a proven cure to a particular health problem.

Even with all these caveats, the Internet's influence in healthcare decisions will gain momentum. People will understand the “good sources” and “bad sources” of information and new portals will crop up that separate the wheat from the chaff.

The reason people are turning to the Internet in such numbers is due to a lack of trust...

8. Distrust in Existing Medical Institutions

At one time, you could hold no position of higher trust than to be a doctor. My wife's father was a doctor in a small town in Ohio. When he died, the funeral was packed with his patients over the years. People appreciated his caring and his dedication to keeping them healthy.

Now, doctors are viewed with suspicion. Will my doctor let me die by not revealing an alternative therapy that could help me? Is my doctor getting kickbacks from the cute, young, female pharmaceutical rep who visits him twice a month?

The system has gained the pallor of corruption, even when it's not really true. Big medicine has become big business, and the number one concern is no longer the patient, it's dollars and cents.

But hospitals and doctors are not the only things that Americans distrust...

9. Distrust of Socialized Medicine

People in government and in society seem to feel that some brand of socialized medicine will be the magic solution for America's healthcare problems. The “single payer system” of healthcare, successful in other countries, must be implemented here, they say.

But America is a different kind of country, from its very beginnings. Americans praise the independent spirit, the entrepreneur, the underdog.

Socialized medicine will not work in America. And Americans know it. They do not want a government-run system. What is the least efficient organization you can imagine? It's the government. Do you really want a government worker making decisions for you about healthcare?

Yes, America needs to find a way to insure every single person in this country. But socialized medicine is not the cure for this illness. Having been born in Canada and living there for the first twenty-eight years of my life, I can say that Canada's socialized medicine program leaves much to be desired. It does cover every person, but in a way that benefits no one.

I understand that the person in the middle of this entire crisis, the professional who has the most to gain or lose, is the doctor, the general practitioner. They will be devastated by a socialized medicine system, and they will also be affected greatly by the other trends in this article.

Because of this, I see the emergence of a final trend...

10. Doctors Incorporate Alternative Medicine Into Their Practices

Doctors will have no choice but to use pieces and parts of alternative medicine in what they do day-to-day with patients. “The customer is always right,” as they say, and the customer definitely wants a choice.

Although doctors are increasingly using alternative medicine in their own practice, and hiring alternative practitioners to work in their offices, the independent alternative practitioner will still be the rule, not the exception. There are just too many alternative practitioners (massage therapists, chiropractors, yoga instructors, etc.) for doctors to absorb everyone. And people will want a choice. A Western medical experience, or perhaps an alternative medicine experience.

And a choice they will receive.

The Western medical practitioners who are clearly leading the way are nurses. Nurses are much more open to alternatives than doctors, and they are increasingly opening their own offices, as nurse-practitioners sometimes, and treating patients with a wide variety of healing methods. Patients appreciate the nurses Western medical knowledge, and also their openness to a new set of options.

Overall, the outlook for healthcare is extremely positive for everyone involved. Tremendous change, yes. But upheaval can create some wonderful new circumstances.

Daryl Kulak is the author of Health Insurance Off the Grid, a book that provides a simple, effective plan to reduce insurance costs for the self-employed and underinsured. The book puts the new Health Savings Account (HSA) together with alternative medicine to create a workable, cost-effective plan for many Americans. The book is available at this Website.

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Top Ten Trends in Healthcare

10 Big Problems We Must Overcome to Make Alternative Medicine the Major Healthcare System

(photo courtesy of feelgood_paradise at Flickr)

There is no doubt that alternative medicine is becoming a popular option among patients in the U.S. and Canada. We love it! We are choosing it in greater and greater numbers, even though we have to pay for many of these services out-of-pocket. Americans spend over $27 billion on out-of-pocket expenses on holistic healthcare each year. Fully one-third of us use some form of holistic services, and total visits to holistic providers exceed the number of visits to medical doctors each year.

But Western medicine is still considered the “major healthcare system” in Canada and the U.S. What will change this?

I've discovered that there are at least ten factors holding holistic healthcare back. In this article, I'll outline each factor, in the hopes that this will spur you, my readers, on to action to fix each of these ten issues.

#1 – Get Organized

Holistic healthcare, for all its popularity among clients, is extremely disorganized. In my city of Columbus, Ohio, we have various cliques of practitioners who isolate themselves from others and seem to consciously limit communication and interaction with other practitioners. I know this is true in many communities. Holistic healthcare must become a “profession.” It must have univeral standards, professional associations across modalities, and lots of professional networking. This is what makes Western medicine so powerful. They have a very organized and powerful professional association, in the American Medical Association (AMA) and they have strong links in to all levels of government and community. Holistic healthcare must do the same, although we must do it in our own way. We are an industry. We are professionals. We must act this way. We must get organized, professionally and politically.

#2 – Change the Laws

The laws in many U.S. states and Canadian provinces discourage use of holistic services. Here in Ohio, everyone from naturopaths to reflexologists to nutritionists are illegal, according to the letter of the law. It's antiquated, yes, but the licensure boards feel they must enforce these antiquated laws and they often do, shutting down legitimate practitioners who are helping their clients and not harming anyone, just because the law is wrong.

We've organized the Health Freedom Coalition of Ohio here in this state, and many other states have similar groups. Check the national Health Freedom Website for groups in your area. Join us in changing the laws to reflect the needs and wants of holistic healthcare patients and practitioners. As far as I know, no Health Freedom groups exist in Canada. However, international laws like those coming from Codex Alimentarius are threatening healthcare freedoms everywhere.

#3 - Reject the Gold Standard of Controlled Trials

Holistic healthcare is, by definition, holistic. Controlled trials, also called randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled controlled trials, are meant to measure patients' reactions to drugs. In a vain attempt to “fit in,” many holistic healthcare advocates are submitting holistic practices to these controlled trials to provide “objective proof” to Western doctors that these practices work.

Using positive results from controlled trials is a reasonable short-term strategy to making holistic healthcare pallatable to Western doctors and their followers, but it will not work in the long term.

The reason it can't work for holistic practices goes back to the nature of holism. A holistic practitioner treats a patient as a “whole person – body, mind, spirit, environment.” These aspects of the person are inseparable. You can't reduce a person down to a single organ, a single disease, or a single symptom. And, unfortunately, reductionism is inherent in the nature of controlled trials. Each controlled trial attempts to eliminate all “outside causes” and reduce the study down to “the effect of one drug on one part of the person.” This is categorically impossible in a holistic perspective.

Holistically, energy fields exist. We must take a person's energetic profile into account with their physical body. We must understand the person's relationships in the family and society. We must know their history. We must understand their mental state.

No controlled study can eliminate all these factors. Controlled trials are not the way to test holistic healthcare modalities. We must come up with a better way of testing our modalities, which is every bit as scientific and rigorous as controlled trials, but does not have the downsides.

#4 - Patients Need Road Maps

Holistic practitioners must be able to provide each patient with a road map of treatment, given the patient's problems and circumstances. This is a marketing issue. If the practitioner asks the patient just to “play along” with the practitioner tries this and that, patients will not likely stick with the program, because there really isn't a “program” that they can see.

Practitioners need to give patients an understandable set of steps that practitioner and patient will take together that are likely (although not guaranteed) to solve the problem at hand. The roadmap will include the services the practitioner can provide, the services needed from other practitioners, and the activities the patient needs to accomplish.

#5 - We Need Truly Integrative Clinics

A true integrative clinic is not just a bunch of practitioners sharing the rent and referring patients.

True integration means that a patient sees themself as a patient of the clinic, not a patient of a particular practitioner. The patient expects that the clinic will provide him with the right services at the right time, and feels that he is supported and led through the maze of various modalities to the right ones for his situation, background, needs and beliefs.

This means that the clinic has what I call a “holistic patient manager,” who is independent of holistic modalities and who's sole purpose is to guide the patient through the process of getting healthier. The patient manager works with the patient to create a road map (see Point #4) and answers their questions and concerns throughout the process.

It also means that the practitioners working in the clinic have faith in the overall processes, and are constantly giving their input to improve it. It means that practitioners compare notes on each patient and strive to give consistent advice to the patients (NOTE: HIPAA compliance on patient record confidentiality will be necessary.)

#6 – Practitioners Must Serve Their Clients' Need Above All

I've noticed that many practitioners feel that the main reason they are practicing their particular modality is for the love of that modality. For instance, a massage therapist feels that the whole reason for her practice is that she can “do the work she loves.” While it is important to do what you love, the main reason for a holistic practitioner's business is to serve clients. When times get tough, and the practitioner needs to do things that they don't love (taking out the laundry, collecting money, etc.), this incorrect focus gets messy. A practitioner must remember, first and foremost, to focus on the needs of the clients, and then to focus on enjoyment of the work. If this is backwards in the mind of the practitioner, the business will not survive.

Here's a test to see if your business is client-focused or modality-focused. Look at your list of services. If the list is simply a list of modalities (massage $50/hour, reflexology $60/hour, nutrition counselling $70/hour, etc.) then you are modality-focused. If your list of services is a list of client problems (fatigue revitalization $200, headache relief $250, etc.) then you are client-focused.

#7 - Health Insurance Must Change to Include Holistic Healthcare

The day that health insurance begins to include holistic practices will be a major step towards our becoming the major healthcare system in North America.

Health insurers are well-advised to include holistic practices like naturopathy, massage therapy and herbal remedies into their programs. Their insured clients will be healthier, will cost less, and happier.

However, there is a limit to what insurance should provide. Insurance, by definition, is meant for expenses that we (the insured) can't pay for ourselves. That means that when a car accident occurs, and my legs are broken in five places, this is a time for insurance. When I am diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, insurance needs to be there for me. When I fall down the stairs and need an emergency room visit, insurance should help.

But insurance is NOT for day-to-day health needs. The yearly or twice-yearly trip to the doctor or naturopath should NOT be covered by insurance. Monthly massage therapy appointments should not be included in health insurance, unless they are a defined part of a recovery from injury or trauma.

Why? Because if we include regular medical needs in our insurance plans, the costs will be unaffordable. There is no reason to pay your insurance company extra money, only to have them pay it right back to your doctor, naturopath, massage therapist or nutritionist. It doesn't make sense. The insurer will take their cut out of the money and you'll be paying much more for that regular care than if you had paid the practitioner out-of-pocket. Insurance has no place in the world of day-to-day prevention, health maintenance and wellness.

I feel very strongly on this point, and I hope that insurance companies take heed as they begin to step into the world of holistic healthcare. I've written a book on this subject called "Health Insurance Off the Grid," which you can reference at the bottom of this article.

#8 - Separate Holistic Healthcare From New Age Religion

To look at a person holistically, it means that you see the person's body, mind and spirit. The last one, spirit, seems to say that religion must somehow be involved in healthcare.

That assumption can be a costly mistake. Many Americans and Canadians are frightened of holistic healthcare for exactly that reason. They think the holistic practitioner will try to “convert them” to some new and exotic religion , which they don't want. They're perfectly happy being Protestants, Catholics or Muslims. They don't want religion encroaching on their healthcare, they just want a reiki session.

Practitioners must understand this. Religion of any type, but especially new age religions, must be kept away from the practices of holistic healthcare. Yes, spirit is involved in any type of healing, but that doesn't mean the practitioner needs to feature it front-and-center and go on and on about their particular religious icons, symbols and beliefs.

Mixing religion and healthcare is bad for business. I urge holistic practitioners to separate the two. Holistic healthcare will never thrive in the U.S. or Canada unless it is decoupled from religion.

#9 – Practitioners and Clinics Must Focus on Quality Marketing

The majority of holistic practitioners and clinics I've been exposed to have poor marketing practices. There often is no marketing plan, and the practitioners and clinic owners often have a distaste for the overall idea of marketing and sales.

No business can survive without high-quality sales and marketing. There does not need to be anything distasteful about marketing or sales. In fact, it is easy to see that these activities are actually “acts of love” in many ways.

I urge all holistic practitioners and clinic owners to learn everything possible about marketing and sales. The best sales training I've found is at the Sandler Sales Institute. You will not find a more “holistic approach” to sales. I can also say that the Sandler approach is decidedly a low pressure approach and something that anyone can feel comfortable working with in a holistic practice. Locally, here in Ohio, I can say for certain that the best sales training affiliate of Sandler Sales is Growth Resources, serving Central Ohio.

#10 - We Need High-Quality, Long-Term Apprenticeship Programs

In China, when a person decides to become a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, they go to school to learn the basics and then they become an apprentice of an experienced practitioner for many years before striking out on their own. The same is true for ayurvedic practitioners in India.

Although North America has a variety of schools teaching various modalities from massage to acupuncture to polarity therapy to energy healing, we do not have any long-term apprenticeship programs. Holistic healthcare modalities that I've encountered are multifaceted, complex therapies that often require years to master. The best practitioners are those who have practiced for many years, and who have attended one training class after another, year after year. They also usually found a mentor who was willing to teach them the subtle details of the modality, the art of it.

If we are to produce high-quality practitioners, we need a strong apprenticeship program like China and India. This will take time to create and may be resisted by young practitioners who wish to jump into independent practice too quickly. But it's a very necessary step to making holistic healthcare more popular in North America.

These are my thoughts about the ten major problems facing holistic healthcare today. What can you do? Can you join a Health Freedom group in your area? Can you help your holistic clinic become more client-focused? Can you help to change health insurance to include holistic alternatives?

Please consider what you can do to help holistic healthcare to become the major healthcare system in North America. This is something that will save many lives, people who are now dying because they aren't being helped by drugs and surgery, and yet aren't aware of the options.

Daryl Kulak is the author of "Health Insurance Off the Grid", a book to help people buy health insurance that will maximize the out-of-pocket money available for holistic services and products.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

The Tide is Turning

The Tide is Turning (Roger Waters on the album Radio KAOS, 1987)

Using Saltwater for Energy

Super incredibly interesting video. It leaves me wanting to know more! Things like this make me realize that there is no excuse for us not jumping into renewable energy to solve our oil crisis.

Of course, the big question is, how much energy does his machine require?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Understanding the Issues in this Election

If you'd like more of a focus on the issues in this election than the horse race or "poo flinging" aspects, read on.

A new Website has introduced a unique and simple way to evaluate the candidates on the issues.

With, you fill out two fairly short questionnaires (it will take you five minutes) and it tells you which candidate is closest to your views. Even better, it gives you a next best candidate, and the next, etc. It even will show you exactly how the candidate differs from your views, and what their basis is for determining the candidates views (text of speeches, Website, etc.).

Take the quiz. Wouldn't it be great if we all voted based on which politician was most likely to implement the measures we cared about, rather than based on fear or who made the best speeches?

For me, my top candidate was Mike Gravel. (Didn't know he was still in the running!) Second place was Barack and third was Hillary. McCain was a distant third (but I still love the guy - I'm sorry.)

As I've said before, this is a no-lose election for me. Any of the three top contenders will be a massive step up from what we've been dealing with for the past seven years.

In a related story, ThinkProgress has established a new blog called The Wonk Room. This will be a place where focus is placed squarely on the issues of the election, with no attention to the horse race or poo flinging. All from a decidely liberal perspective, of course, but it's better than nothing.

Hulu Doesn't Suck!!

The first part of this story is familiar. Young startup companies (e.g. YouTube, BrightCove, etc.) produce amazing Websites that are able to host television shows (or snippets), movies and homemade videos. The Websites become hugely popular. The television and movie studios, owners of the copyrights to the content, sue the startups.

With me so far?

The way the story is supposed to continue is like this. The television and movie studios finally (years later) come out with their own Website to host their own content and blow it. The Websites are hard to use, are cluttered with ads and nobody goes there.

But, this time, that didn't happen.

Fox and NBC did a joint venture, no less, to produce a Website to feature their content. This Website, announced long ago, would start out with a little bit of content, including movies, television series, news programs and even snippets of popular segments. It would be viewable online but no content would be downloadable.

Well, it's here. It's called Hulu. And guess what? It doesn't suck.

In fact, it's pretty amazing. I personally love the site. But my wife, she's gone bananas. Let me back up a second.

My wife is a seamstress. She does a lot of work in what we call "the cutting room" where she has a TV to keep her company during some of the most boring parts of sewing. That TV had gone on the fritz recently and we decided to replace it or change our service to fix the problem.

But Hulu fixed the problem for us. Now she takes one of my laptops into her cutting room, fires up Hulu and watches a show while she's cutting. Simple.

Here are Hulu's benefits:

  1. Hulu is incredibly easy to use. The placement of every button is intuitive, the behavior of every widget is predictable. It just works. It's the iPod of online video.
  2. Hulu is free. Every TV show and movie is delivered for no charge.
  3. Hulu's commercials are non-intrusive. There are commercials in every Hulu movie and TV show. But the commercial breaks are short (one commercial per break) and not that annoying. You cannot fast forward through the commercial. For me, that might actually be a problem, because I hate watching any kind of commercial, but my wife doesn't care. She's only half-listening most of the time anyway.
  4. Hulu's content is good enough for now. Hulu has a nice mix of new and old TV series, plus a couple of pages of movies. The on-demand feature is so nice. Just decide which movie you want to see and it starts right there. For free. And I am sure that Fox and NBC are working to continue populating the site with more and more content. I see the series and movies coming on-stream every day.
  5. There are even social aspects to Hulu. You can send a movie to a friend (e-mail them the link). You can send a snippet that you choose (a minute or an hour) to a friend (again - with a link).
  6. Hulu video is good quality. Jump to full-screen video and you've got nearly television quality video. It's quite nice.

Congratulations to Fox and NBC. Great job! I could give a rundown of the downside of Hulu but that is documented sufficiently elsewhere. For now I just want to give a high five to Fox and NBC for a job well done.

By the way - there are even competitors to Hulu. Veoh and Joost are in this same space - what you could call "legal commercial video" and also doing well. I still prefer Hulu, but it's nice to see several services popping up like this.