They say there haven’t been any healthcare cuts

And they’re right—if they limit the word “cut” to mean only “budget cut.” There have been numerous cuts to healthcare services in the U.S.

Florida Medicaid recipients have all lost dental coverage and a $25 over-the-counter medicine reimbursement. Florida Medicaid has also been paying out decreasing amounts to healthcare professionals, causing patients to have to switch doctors numerous times as more and more providers drop Medicaid coverage.

Why are so many services being cut even as healthcare budgets are increasing?

First, more people are receiving government healthcare. The baby boomer generation is retiring and collecting Medicare benefits. Obama’s healthcare reform has expanded eligibility for Medicaid. And a sagging economy is causing people to reach out for help, such as Supplemental Security Insurance: a social program that provides financial assistance and Medicaid insurance.

Second, healthcare funds are being redirected from non-profit organizations to for-profit businesses. These businesses have higher administrative costs. They also have lower quality scores, probably because more healthcare funding is being packed into fat, for-profit wallets, leaving less money available to actually help treat the patients.1, 2

The future of healthcare in the U.S. looks bleak. Republicans are currently pressing for healthcare cuts in the deficit negotiations. Florida governor Rick Scott is proposing a 17% cut in disability programs. This is the man who was co-founder and CEO of a company convicted of the largest healthcare fraud case in U.S. history, pleading guilty to 14 felonies and paying out over $2 billion in settlements.

He may not have cut healthcare funding, but his company stole healthcare funds under his watch, which is far worse. Two whistle-blowers claimed that Scott was fully aware of the fraud, yet he was never put on trial. His penalty was being forced to resign with a $10 million severance package and $300 million in shares.

Since then he has passed Tea Party-endorsed legislation requiring welfare recipients to take drug tests—a policy deemed unconstitutional and fiscally irresponsible by the ACLU. According to the Department of Children and Families, 96% of recipients have passed the drug test, and the already failing program is costing taxpayers $180 million a year.3

What company is providing these drug tests? Solantic, co-founded by none other than Rick Scott. To avoid an unethical and illegal conflict of interest, he transferred his $62 million in shares to his wife.4, 5 Now they’re raking in taxpayer dollars.

The United States is the only developed nation without universal healthcare. Public healthcare is simply not as profitable as increased privatization to a privileged and dominant subculture that worships wealth and demonizes the poor.

Implications of Substrate Independence

Physicalism is a metaphysical theory that claims that minds and consciousness are products of physical brains. In other words, minds are the result of ultimately mechanical structures and interactions. Minds are conscious computers.

This leads to an idea called substrate independence (or substrate neutrality) which asserts that minds can be produced by anything simulating a brain regardless of the materials used. Computer simulations have become the most popular example of this idea, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence. Prominent philosophers such as Daniel Dennett support substrate independence and the corresponding ability for conscious machines.

Macro-minds

One of the more intriguing applications of substrate independence is a mind composed of other minds, or what I call a macro-mind. Imagine that people are given jobs that simulate brain neurons. If together they simulate a brain, then according to substrate independence, they’re creating a mind that is present somehow among the group yet independent of the minds of the individuals.

Minds have senses and feelings. Minds have thoughts and free will. Minds have a sense of self. A macro-mind would be something capable of influencing itself and its environment that was greater than any individual mind within it.

This raises an important question: What if this is already happening? What if we’re already acting like neurons in a brain, and our technology is facilitating and thus waking up this larger mind?

What’s the least complex structure and set of behaviors needed to form a mind? Maybe there are hierarchies and layers. Institutions, businesses, governments, cultures, industries, nations—could these organizations and groups literally have minds of their own? Minds with their own personalities, beliefs, and agendas?

It sounds bizarre, but it’s entirely plausible if substrate independence is true.

Micro-minds

Equally bizarre is the idea that what we call our unconscious mind could itself be a conscious mind—one that we only have partial access to. Given substrate independence, having more than one mind in a brain is possible. If the brain can create consciousness in one part, why not another? The fact that people can retain a mind after a hemispherectomy is evidence that only half a brain is sufficient to produce a conscious mind.

Suggesting the possibility of micro-minds, as I call them, is a condition called alien hand syndrome, where an entire appendage seems to have a mind of its own.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID)—formerly known as multiple personality disorder in the US—is another example. The alter egos (or alters) of people with DID each have all the qualities of being independent minds. These alters can have different personalities, memories, behaviors, knowledge, speech patterns, handwriting, moods, food preferences, and so forth.

Another example is patients with a “split brain.” These are people whose corpus callosum is severed, causing an inability for the left and right cerebral hemispheres to communicate with each other. There are numerous cases of split-brain patients displaying conflicts resembling differences of interests between two minds.

Identifying minds

If these micro-minds exist, how might we test to see if macro-minds exist as well?

Clues can be found in our communication. We already see groups as individual identities, e.g., “Google buys Motorola Mobility.” And we often personify groups, like when US political parties are depicted as the anthropomorphized elephant and donkey, or when an over-excited crowd is said to have a “mob mentality,” or when a news article reads “The Catholic Church believes …” What other than a mind possesses beliefs?

Psychology is sometimes called a “black box” science because it can’t actually see the internal mind, so it develops theories based solely on observing people’s external behaviors. Are social groups external minds? Can studying their structures and interactions reveal how internal minds function?

In sociology, a social organism is a theoretical concept in which multiple organisms act collectively as a single organism. How might we differentiate between the body and mind of a social organism?

The concept of the macro-mind can be taken to the cosmological level. Models of the universe appear to resemble brain slices to an almost uncanny degree as depicted in this image from a New York Times article. The implications of substrate independence are literally astronomical.

Determining whether micro- and macro-minds exist is a matter of defining what a mind is. And that, unfortunately, is a matter that’s been debated for thousands of years.

Bad luck?

I recently quoted a line from the documentary Fault Lines: The Top 1%, saying “the reason poor people are poor is because there’s another group of people, rich and powerful people, who generally have a lot of control over social policy.”

A wealthy individual responded, “This brings to mind my favorite quote from Robert Heinlein:”

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as “bad luck.”

Stranger in a Strange Land is one of my favorite novels. But I disagree with this particular Heinlein quote, though I admit I’m unaware of its context since I haven’t read Time Enough for Love.

The documentary I posted concerns the present economy. And at present we live in a developed nation where poverty is not the normal condition. By definition, developed nations have relatively high standards of living. So I don’t see how a historical paradigm that presumes poverty is normal applies here.

Moreover, I disagree that poverty is the default condition of humankind. Poverty exists only when the available resources are insufficient to meet the population’s basic needs, or when those resources are kept from the people. Humans flourished in their early years because they were not impoverished. Resources were abundant. Human advancement has always been a combined effort of nature and innovation.

Innovation comes from every economic class. Although it’s more likely to arise from the educated, who themselves are more likely to come from wealthy families. This inequality is being addressed in nations such as Sweden, Denmark, and Finland—who leads the world in education. Their public school systems include college, giving academic opportunities to every citizen regardless of their financial background. A more educated population has a greater potential to maximize innovation, because it’s not limited to only a few elite members of society.

History shows us that the only time the elite are despised and cast aside by citizens is when they’ve been oppressing or otherwise taking advantage of those citizens. There has indeed typically been a period of poverty and a degree of chaos afterwards. But the new model that rises up in the aftermath tends to be an improvement upon the one that fell. I call that “progress.”

Why I oppose Republican fiscal policy

When given the choice between cuts to social programs that hurt the lower and middle classes, and tax increases on the upper class and large corporations that inconvenience the rich, Republicans choose to cut social programs. They choose to cut teachers’ salaries. They choose to cut support for the most needy among us, including children, the disabled, and the elderly. Clearly the GOP is putting the interests of the wealthy ahead of the vast majority of Americans.

Add to that Republican politicians like Michelle Bachmann who regularly lie to this country, inventing fictions like “Obama’s trip to India will cost taxpayers $200 million a day.”1 Far more of the GOP is lying to the public when they claim the money will “trickle down” from the millionaires and billionaires. Because it doesn’t. The rich are getting richer. And what I see is a pathetic, deceptive game that is ultimately tearing this country apart. Even John McCain has recognized the folly of his party in present fiscal negotiations, calling the actions of his fellow conservatives “deceiving” and “foolish.”2

This is not a conflict between the left and the right. This is a conflict between the top and the bottom. This is a conflict over money. And for whatever reason, it’s been largely the GOP that has sided with the rich. Surely there are plenty of conservative politicians out there with sane economic agendas. They’re just not the ones in congress.


1 http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/nov/04/michele-bachmann/rep-michele-bachmann-claims-obamas-trip-india-will/
2 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/mccain-erupts-conservatives-are-lying-to-america/2011/03/03/gIQAUm2HdI_blog.html

First impressions of the Federal Reserve System

I’ve taken an interest in economics after struggling financially these past few years. After learning the basics, I turned my attention to the present economy. I found that the organization with the most influence over the US economy is the Federal Reserve. The following is a tentative assessment of the Fed. Feel free to correct me, preferably with citations.


The Federal Reserve functions to set national monetary policy and to supervise and regulate the U.S. banking system by controlling the supply of money and changing interest rates. Specifically, it’s mandated “to promote sustainable growth, high levels of employment, stability of prices to help preserve the purchasing power of the dollar and moderate long-term interest rates.”

How can the Fed make a profit when so much of the money in circulation is its own? I can see two or three ways. The first is by currency that existed prior to its inception. The second is by money gained from foreign trade and borrowing. I also recall hearing that commercial banks have the power to create money by employing something called fractional-reserve banking. That would be a third way the Fed can profit. But I don’t see how being paid back in money that it itself produced can be considered profit. Then again, it makes money without any backing. Perhaps it can make a profit because profit is literally what it makes.

The Fed has little government oversight or regulation. It’s only required interaction with congress is an annual report. Its 12 banks are privately owned and operated, and their shareholders are commercial banks. Overall it lacks transparency.

I think that an organization with this much economic power needs transparency and supervision, otherwise corruption would be easily concealed. Why allow the Fed so much secrecy? Am I supposed to expect them to be acting in the public’s best interest while they operate in private? No person is perfect. No person will always put public interests ahead of their own. That’s why transparency is essential: to keep watch over those in positions of power. The Federal Reserve is a system practically designed to be exploited.

The news that didn’t make the news

Here are the top 25 censored stories of 2007 published by Project Censored, a media research group that specializes in disclosing important stories that don’t make it to the mainstream press.

In summary:

1. Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media
2. Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran
3. Oceans of the World in Extreme Danger
4. Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US
5. High-Tech Genocide in Congo
6. Federal Whistleblower Protection in Jeopardy
7. US Operatives Torture Detainees to Death in Afghanistan and Iraq
8. Pentagon Exempt from Freedom of Information Act
9. The World Bank Funds Israel-Palestine Wall
10. Expanded Air War in Iraq Kills More Civilians
11. Dangers of Genetically Modified Food Confirmed
12. Pentagon Plans to Build New Landmines
13. New Evidence Establishes Dangers of Roundup
14. Homeland Security Contracts KBR to Build Detention Centers in the US
15. Chemical Industry is EPA’s Primary Research Partner
16. Ecuador and Mexico Defy US on International Criminal Court
17. Iraq Invasion Promotes OPEC Agenda
18. Physicist Challenges Official 9-11 Story
19. Destruction of Rainforests Worst Ever
20. Bottled Water: A Global Environmental Problem
21. Gold Mining Threatens Ancient Andean Glaciers
22. $Billions in Homeland Security Spending Undisclosed
23. US Oil Targets Kyoto in Europe
24. Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Rose Over 3000 Percent Last Year
25. US Military in Paraguay Threatens Region

And here’s one more substantial story that received virtually no media coverage: Iraq government votes for US withdrawal

Is pornography degrading?

Last week I attended a presentation on pornography at New College Florida. During the discussion, a student voiced her opinion that pornography is degrading to sexuality and the people taking part. I disagree. Does filming a couple kissing degrade the act of kissing? Does filming someone bicycling degrade bicyclists? It seems irrational to think that putting something to video automatically objectifies, degrades, exploits, or trivializes the act or the actors.

Pornography typically depicts frivolous sex acts outside of conventional standards such as monogamy, privacy, and romance. It is that casual and unconstrained attitude that most people tend to object to. But regardless of one’s specific reasons for protest, disagreeing with how sexuality is portrayed does not constitute an absolute moral judgment. Such judgments are merely personal.

One might argue that pornography cheapens and objectifies physical intimacy. But I’d respond that it only has that effect if the observer unrealistically generalizes what he or she is watching. It is the viewer in this case, not pornography, that is objectifying sexuality. Sex is not a solitary phenomenon. It is a collective name for a large variety of similar behaviors and instances existing exclusively from one another. The manner in which others have sex is separate from one’s personal sexual affairs. Every consenting adult is afforded the right to define and engage in sex as they see fit for their own purposes. No more. No less.

In that vein, opponents of same sex marriage claim that marrying gays violates the sanctity of marriage. The sanctity of whose marriage?, I ask. If a homosexual couple gets married, how does that affect the marriages of heterosexual couples? Will husbands and wives turn to each other and say, “Our marriage doesn’t mean as much now that gays are doing it?” Again, the reasoning seems irrational. Likewise, pornography may depict sexual relations that deviate from critics’ personal ideals, but it needn’t have any effect on their own sex lives.

It appears that opponents of pornography, like those against gay marriage, are disapproving in order to prop themselves up on high moral ground. Anything can appear offensive or depraved from such a self-serving viewpoint. Having a particular idea of what sex (or marriage, for that matter) should or shouldn’t be doesn’t mean everyone else must abide by one’s personal preference. What gives someone the authority to be a moral dictator? I think contempt towards others for having different opinions or lifestyles is degrading.

Pornography is said to “lack the moral standards and values of our Judeo-Christian heritage” in the 1965 anti-pornography propaganda film posted below. The vacuous notion that sex and nudity are almost inherently immoral and “dirty” continues to impose on our culture today. That oppressive idea is sadly self-validating. Current laws force people to hide their breasts, buttocks, and genitals, thereby turning those body parts into objects of indecency. A two-piece bathing suit not only hides a woman’s unmentionables, it also draws attention to those distinct parts of her anatomy by the very act of covering them up!

Sexual behavior is obscured by the same irony. Aren’t our laws and standards explicit evidence that society itself is objectifying and degrading sexuality while helping to create an atmosphere of suppressed sexual curiosity and impulsion? Perhaps pornography’s extremes might be explained as a retaliation against—and even a reflection of—society’s stubborn disgust and condemnation of one of life’s most fundamental and natural activities.