A Modern Modest Proposal

Brexit – the United Kingdom’s referendum vote to leave the European Union – has inspired crockpot ideas for a “Calexit” – California going it alone, or various combinations of Blue States leaving the Union. Some Texans believe that state has the right to secede, and should. Some states tried that in 1861. If you took U.S. History in high school, you may remember how that turned out. And there is the State of Jefferson, convinced it will become the 51st state.

Writer Kevin Baker has decided it is time for the Blue States to secede. Not formally, but by letting the conservatives realize their dreams and let their Red-State constituents enjoy all that freedom from taxation and government oppression.

“For more than 80 years now, we—the residents of what some people like to call Blue America, but which I prefer to think of as the United States of We Pay Our Own Damn Way—have shelled out far more in federal tax monies than we took in. We have funded massive infrastructure projects in your rural counties, subsidized your schools and your power plants and your nursing homes, sent you entire industries, and simultaneously absorbed the most destitute, unskilled, and oppressed portions of your populations, white and black alike.

“All of which, it turns out, only left you more bitter, white, and alt-right than ever.

“So here’s my modest proposal: “You go your way, we go ours.

“We give up. You win. From now on, we’ll treat the animating ideal on which the United States was founded—out of many, one—as dead and buried. Federalism, true federalism, which you have vilified for the past century, is officially over, at least in spirit. You want to organize the nation around your cherished principle of states’ rights—the idea that pretty much everything except the U.S. military and paper currency and the national anthem should be decided at the local level? Fine. We won’t formally secede, in the Civil War sense of the word. We’ll still be a part of the United States, at least on paper. But we’ll turn our back on the federal government in every way we can, just like you’ve been urging everyone to do for years, and devote our hard-earned resources to building up our own cities and states. We’ll turn Blue America into a world-class incubator for progressive programs and policies, a laboratory for a guaranteed income and a high-speed public rail system and free public universities. We’ll focus on getting our own house in order, while yours falls into disrepair and ruin.”

Read his entire rant, published in the New Republic.

How’s That Wall Coming?

Our President’s budget proposal designates $2.6 billion to design and begin to build the wall along the Mexican border. Estimates of cost to build the whole thing range as high as $25 billion. So far, no details on Mexico’s paying for it. (The simplest way, based on the history of Trump projects, would be to hire Mexican contractors and then not pay them.) The budget also requests money to hire twenty additional attorneys to pursue condemnation of privately-owned land for the wall. Some landowners in Texas have already received notices.

Congressman Henry Cuellar with constituents

Congressman Henry Cuellar, whose district includes 180 miles of the Texas-Mexico border has been hearing from his constituents, and they are not happy. Ninety percent of the Texas border is in private ownership. One constituent property has been in the family since a Spanish land grant in 1767. “Once the land is destroyed, it will never be the same,” the owner said. “We have oaks and mesquite that have been there for generations, foxes and other animals and an ecosystem that has been untouched.”

At the present, 670 miles are fenced. Only 1,263 to go.

Why CEOs Are So Giddy

“We’re bringing back jobs, we’re bringing down your taxes, we’re getting rid of your regulations. I think it’s gonna be some really very exciting times ahead.”

Donald Trump to a gathering of CEOs from large corporations

One of those at that meeting in February with the new president was Jaime Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase. He is also the current chairman of the Business Roundtable, “…an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies working to promote a thriving economy and expanded opportunity for all Americans through sound public policy.”

Mr. Dimon certainly advocates less regulation. Under his leadership, JPMorgan Chase has paid $23 billion in penalties for various transgressions. (Here’s a list through 2013.) As a result, Mr. Dimon’s last annual bonus was a paltry $5 million. (The rationale for the bonus was his effectiveness in negotiating down all these settlements.) This, plus base salary of $1.5 million and $11.1 million in stock awards and $621,060 “miscellaneous” compensation, for a total of $18,221,060, is hardly enough for bragging rights at the CEO club.

Here’s hoping that JPMorgan Chase and its CEO will thrive as America is Made Great Again.

For more about JPMorgan Chase, read Matt Taibbi’s expose on their vendetta against an employee who tried to do the honest thing.

ACA and HCA and Cheesecake Factory Medicine

(In what other first-world country do people regularly come together to raise money to help pay a friend or neighbor’s medical bills?)

Put aside for a moment all the headlines about repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Paul Ryan’s handiwork. (You knew he was serious because he presented his PowerPoint overview wearing rolled-up shirtsleeves with not one, but two U.S. flags behind him.) The U.S. spends more, way more, per capita on health care than any other country. The U.S. ranks near the bottom in life expectancy, infant mortality and obesity.

Click to enlarge

Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, and a professor in the department of health policy and management at Harvard School of Public Health and in the department of surgery at Harvard Medical School, compared our health care processes and results to the processes and outcomes at the Cheesecake Factory chain of restaurants.

At the Cheesecake Factory, for preparation of Hibachi Steak:

“…the instructions were precise about the ingredients and the objectives (the steak slices were to be a quarter of an inch thick, the presentation just so), but not about how to get there. The cook has to decide how much to salt and baste, how to sequence the onions and mushrooms and meat so they’re done at the same time, how to swivel from grill to countertop and back, sprinkling a pinch of salt here, flipping a burger there, sending word to the fry cook for the asparagus tempura, all the while keeping an eye on the steak. In producing complicated food, there might be recipes, but there was also a substantial amount of what’s called “tacit knowledge”—knowledge that has not been reduced to instructions.”

At the hospital where the author is a surgeon, he gives the example of knee-replacement surgery:

“…there was now, for instance, a limit as to which prostheses they could use. Each of our nine knee-replacement surgeons had his preferred type and brand. Knee surgeons are as particular about their implants as professional tennis players are about their racquets. But the hardware is easily the biggest cost of the operation—the average retail price is around eight thousand dollars, and some cost twice that, with no solid evidence of real differences in results.”

Read Dr. Gawande’s report, published by the New Yorker, here. Definitely will stimulate your thinking.

Chuck Berry Miscellany

Brian Wilson put new lyrics to Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen,” for the Beach Boys’ monster hit, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Berry sued and got songwriting credit… and royalties.

Chuck Berry put new lyrics to “Wabash Cannonball,” for his hit, “Promised Land.” No copyright disputes, as the old folk song was in the public domain.

Longtime pianist sideman and collaborator Johnnie Johnson sued Chuck Berry in 2000 claiming co-composing credit for dozens of songs. The suit went nowhere because too much time had passed since the songs were written.

Chuck Berry: The Autobiography is slightly less self-serving than many, and is no great literary feat. But it’s an interesting read and gives some insight to a complicated personality.

Chuck Berry toured regularly without a band. The promoter was responsible for hiring musicians to accompany him. Berry figured it was not a problem because everyone knew his songs. When Berry turned sixty, Keith Richards decided an appropriate birthday gift would be a decent backup band. The movie “Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll” chronicles this and the head butting between Berry and Richards.