Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pushing Our "Buying Button"

I've been in the graphic design and marketing game for 25 years. It is my job to compose text and images in an arrangement that will coax the onlooker into buying the product or service communicated by that composition. I  like to think that I practice these techniques within reasonable limits.

I have learned about the psychology of color - selecting the appropriate colors to best convey a certain emotion or feeling. I've learned the decades-old maxim "You don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle."

This can be illustrated with any beer commercial, which usually portrays good-looking, energetic 20-somethings surrounded by friends at some festive gathering. The implied message doesn't focus on the quality or taste of the beer, but rather tells you "If you drink our beer, you will have lots of friends, go to lots of parties, and be insanely happy!"

Marketing gurus don't sell a mere product - they promise you an entire lifestyle upgrade if you buy their product.

The truth is, if you over-embrace a product like beer, you're more likely to find yourself perched on a barstool in some dank pub, your gut recklessly spilling over your beltline, staring at your own bloodshot eyes staring back at you from the mirror behind the bar. Fortunately, most people have learned to see past this ruse and have become sophisticated enough to avoid this kind of trap.

The marketing experts know this, and are working diligently to build bigger, better consumer traps.

This brings me to some disturbing trends modern technology, namely modern medicine. And as we know, technology can be used (to put it in simplistic, Bushoid terms), for good or evil. The same military/industrial complex that brought us the internet also brought us the cluster bomb.

That's not supposed to be the case with the practice of medicine. Any of you who have attended medical school are familiar with the Hippocratic Oath, in which physicians promise that they will use their medical skills ethically and "never to harm anyone".

There are many medical professionals, however, who choose to ignore this solemn oath, and instead exploit modern medical technology for nefarious purposes.  Do you know that doctors have been hired to practice their art in torture chambers to help torturers know the exact moment their victims are at the brink of death so they can pause for a bit, allow the victim to partially revive and so prolong the torture? Do you know that CIA psychologists are often present during torture episodes to help torturers cause their victims so much psychological anguish that they'll relinquish the information the torturers seek?

These are, of course, extreme situations that will hopefully never happen to you or me. But if, like me, you are trying to wean yourself from the impulse to go shopping and buy a bunch of crap you don't need, there is insidious medical research in the works designed to effectively short-circuit your resolve.

It's called Neuromarketing.

According to an article at Truthout.org written by the World Business Academy, Neuromarketing is based on the idea that "you have three brains: the new brain that thinks, the middle brain that feels and the old brain that decides". Neuromarketers are using techniques like brain scans to find the marketing visuals and messages that best stimulate the "old brain" (or as it is sometimes called, the "reptilian brain").

When this research is applied correctly, a well-crafted Neuromarketing message should override your sense of reason and make a product or service so irresistible to your reptilian brain that you will tell yourself, "Me got buy this thing now!"

You may think you've got the willpower and intelligence to resist such messages, but it's been proven that similar techniques like subliminal advertising are more effective than you realize. Currently, TV ads are designed to be effective even as we fast-forward past them on our DVRs. The ads contain potent graphics that our brains process even though they flash by in a split second.

Don't think for a minute that Neuromarketeers will limit their practice to goods and services. Now that the Extreme Court has opened the floodgates for wealthy corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political races, you can expect corporations to craft campaign ads that will convince your reptilian brain to tell you, "Me want vote for Palin! She cute. She clever. She wink at me!" (OK, maybe this scenario is a bit far-fetched, but then again...)

So what can we do? World Business Academy has a petition you can sign, but even better, the organization plans to list those corporations who pledge not to use Neuromarketing strategies.

Beyond that, the solution is obvious. Avoid advertising whenever possible. Watch less TV, read more books. If you feel the impulse to buy something, ask yourself if you really need it. If it's not an essential item like food, rent, utilities, etc., wait 48 hours. If the item is still that important to you after 48 hours, only then should you consider buying it.

There are lots of articles (like this one on eHow.com), that offer tips to help you curb impulse purchases. And, there are lots of helpful organizations in your own neighborhood that will help you improve your money management skills. Avoid the private companies featured in big advertisements - instead, look for the non-profit consumer counseling agencies. Most of these reputable agencies offer some or all of their services at no cost. If you're in Western North Carolina, contact OnTrack. They have helped me immeasurably in the past year.

The marketing mavens continue to stack the deck against us, but in our quest to transform ourselves from consumers to citizens, forewarned is forearmed. Find all the help you need to spend your hard-earned money responsibly and don't let the marketeers (literally) get into your head!

And remember my favorite mantra: STOP BUYING WHAT THEY'RE SELLING!

A follow-up: Watch the video about Neuromarketing and sign the petition against it!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What Nation Do We Live In?

Perhaps a more accurate question would be, do we still have a Nation? So many Americans still wave the flag, and think of the United States as a cohesive set of states under an umbrella government run in Washington DC. I question whether that is still the case, or at least I wonder if these are the last days of such a Nation.

This week, the U.S. Extreme Court's ruling has gone a long way toward shifting the rule of our country from citizens to corporations. And this shift opens the door not just for U.S. corporations to control our electoral process - global corporations operating under shell companies in the U.S. will participate, too.

Find a map of the United States with a nice thick, black border surrounding the outer edges of our Nation. Now picture those borders dissolving away until you can't tell where the U.S. ends and Canada or Mexico begins. That's what is happening.

The Extreme Court's ruling is, (with apologies to Neil Armstrong), one giant leap for Corporate-kind. But it's by no means the first step in this process. There have been other developments setting the stage for the delegitimization of the United States, as well as other governments.

Plans have been proposed to create a North American Currency Union, which would abolish the U.S. Dollar and establish a currency called "The Amero".  To be fair, though this concept for some sort of North American Union has been the on the table in political circles for decades, government officials would deny that such a union has progressed past the planning stage.

However, one lynchpin in the plan to create a North American Union is more than idealist speculation: The NAFTA Superhighway. This link includes numerous well-researched articles about such plans, which would create a highway system inside the U.S. linking Canada and Mexico. Though the highway would be on U.S. soil, it would not be subject to U.S. law. Truckers transporting goods along the highway would be prohibited from belonging to any labor union. The ribbons of highway would operate much like many of the "free trade zone" gulags that corporations have established in Central America (which also are not subject to the laws of the countries in which they are located).

Workers on the superhighways would have no rights whatsoever, and would have to tolerate whatever wages and conditions decided upon by the North American Union (which would simply be a shell for a group of multinational corporations). The Bush administration was involved in plans to develop this highway back in 2006, and Texas Governor Rick Perry fought state legislators to begin development for some of the ports that would feed the superhighway.

The state of North Carolina's redesigned driver's license is "North American Union ready", and features a hologram of the North American continent on the reverse side. I just checked the back of my driver's license, and this hologram is proudly displayed in the lower right.

Most people don't realize it, but the international trade agreements already in place (like NAFTA and CAFTA) negate the domestic laws of the countries who have signed onto these agreements! Many efforts to improve labor conditions in the U.S. have been thrown out in court because the decisons made by the tribunals established by NAFTA trump our own laws.

We can continue to delude ourselves into thinking that we are citizens of a great nation governed by representatives that are still elected by the People (with the exception of the Extreme Court in the election of 2000), but that's no longer the case.

Our nation is quickly devolving into a shell operation that is controlled by multinational corporations, and the Extreme Court just gave those corporations a huge opportunity put the last nails in the coffin of U.S. sovereignty and democracy.

Don't expect this transformation to be drastic or speedy. It will be performed slowly, gradually and incrementally. The corporations will be clever enough to leave a facade that resembles a functioning government so most people won't notice until it's too late. It may already be too late, but I am holding out hope that it's not.

In considering the question "Which Side Are You On?", we must reconsider our notion of who comprises the parties on each "side". We can no longer view our struggles in terms of the U.S. versus another nation, or the U.S. versus some ridiculous abstract like drugs or terrorism. These conflicts are canards that have been manufactured by those in power in order to divide and conquer - and to distract us while they rob us of our collective power.

If there is going to be a battle or a struggle, it will take place between what I call the Corporatists (or Capitalists) and the Humanists. The Corporatists/Captialists are those "persons" (be they actual human beings or fictitious entities such as corporations) who place acquisition of material riches and profit above the welfare of human beings. The Humanists, are of course, those who put the common welfare of all human beings ahead of profit and material wealth.

The current imbalance of wealth, the looting of the Commons by big business, and the obliteration of national governments and entities via international "free trade" treaties illustrate the massive gains that have been made by the Corporatists in the last 3 decades.

What can we do to reverse this trend, to embrace our fellow man and band together in defiance of any organization that doesn't mind harming people in order to boost its profit margin? As of yet, I'm not sure how to answer this question, but I am sure that the time to act is now.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Smart Choices

It's hard to get happy after this week's developments. First, Teabagger Brown won the Massachusetts special Senate election. Obama and the Democrats' response was to hang their heads and claim that  they won't be able to get anything done now - least of all, health care.

Second, and far worse, the Supreme Court ruled today that corporations can now spend unlimited piles of cash on political campaigns, which will make it difficult, if not impossible, for voters to make informed decisions when the go to the polls in future elections.

It's becoming painfully obvious that we, as average Americans, will not be able to change business as usual in Washington if we continue to sit around and expect the politicians to do the right thing and help us out. That'll never happen. Our government has devolved into a predatory institution that is working in collusion with big business. They're not working for our welfare, they're reaching for our wallets.

We can't change them, so we have to change ourselves. In other words, when it comes to corporations and our government, we need to STOP BUYING WHAT THEY'RE SELLING!

This needs to be more than a catchy slogan - it needs to become our way of life.

I was having a little back-and-forth on Facebook about this concept with a friend of mine from grade school. His basic (and paraphrased) response was, "Hey, I like my car, my computer, my cell phone, my TV, my heating and air conditioning system, etc. This stuff makes me happy and comfortable."

To be fair, my friend's response was mostly tongue-in-cheek. But for a lot of people, the thought of giving up some of our creature comforts or lowering our standard of living in order to challenge corporate power through good, old-fashioned demand-side economics is out of the question. However, that's exactly what we need to do, or else we will remain subservient to the Corporatocracy, who will continue upping the ante until they can charge us exorbitant rates for the very products we need to survive. By that point, sadly, we'll be desperate enough to pony up.

Listen, I know it's unrealistic to expect people to give up all the things they need to survive and be comfortable. Don't worry, I don't think that we should start making tools out of sticks and living in caves. But we need to start shifting our habits, gradually at first, and then pick up the pace. Technology innovations will help out, so long as we demand new, efficient solutions and refuse to use the old, inefficient technologies - this change will be gradual unless the price of oil forces our hand, (and it probably will, sooner than we think).

So for now, in this culture, we still need to buy stuff. I don't know anybody who can instantly start a garden, and never again walk inside a supermarket. Maybe back-to-the-earther Eustace Conway, but even he admits he still likes a plastic bucket.

Maybe the first step for many of us is to begin making smarter choices when we shop. The Better World Shopping Guide is a big help in this arena. It's not perfect (they still give Whole Foods a good rating - disregard this!), but their guide book will help you choose companies that are making smart, humane decisions, as well as avoid the "corporate villains", as the guidebook puts it.

The Guide rates companies based on five key issues: human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice. You'll find out which companies are running 3rd-World sweatshops, which companies are the worst polluters or union busters - and conversely, which companies are giving back to citizens and working towards being part of the solution. The Guide fits in your pocket and costs $10.

Better World Shopping's website reads, "As citizens, on average, we might vote once every 4 years, if at all. As consumers, we vote every single day with the purest form of power...money." We need to make those votes count, and this is an easy way to begin the transformation.

If you can grow a garden, by all means, do! And please make the effort to buy as many of the products you need from local and/or smaller, independent companies. Spend less, spend wisely.

We need to do much more in the long run, but becoming more conscious of how we spend our hard-earned money and making better consumer choices would be a great start!

PS - my intrepid fiancee Beth just found another great site to help you shop more responsibly.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Absence of Drama

What a nice weekend. What happened? Nuthin' much.

The moody, rainy sky gave us permission to laze about and enjoy a late breakfast both Saturday and Sunday. Beth cooked a pork roast with almond and tomato jam crust for dinner; I'm following up with a garlic rump roast tonight (it's roast weather, what can I say?)

It's been wet, but mild, and I can feel the tension dissipate as my body realized that the bitter cold it had pushed back against for the last month has finally abated.

Beth and I discovered a ponderous used bookstore very close to our home, and now we can't wait to scour our shelves and storage areas for books we can trade in for credit towards the books we will enjoy in the near future. I came home and wrapped myself around a light novel about life in Provence. It feels nice to give my inspirational/healing/spirituality books a rest for a few days. I can resume such conquests tomorrow.

Today, our daughter went off for a play date and Beth and I took advantage of a cozy afternoon alone. I prepared a snack plate of boucheron de chevre and pecorino cheeses with thin medallions of pork roast and slices of sorpressata sausage surrounding a pile of pecan nut crackers (the conveyance for the other delicacies). I watched a film about the founder of Atlantic Records, spared from daughter Rebecca's usual and plaintive wail of "NOOOOoooo! Not another documentary!"

We even managed a whirlwind cleaning that was mercifully short-lived, but gave us the satisfaction of a partially orderly house (that's the most we shoot for these days!).

I kept up with my commitment to meditate both days (40 minutes for 40 days, as part of the Winterfeast For The Soul celebration), though I have to confess I may have dozed towards the end of today's meditation. At least I didn't tip over.

I was thinking that drama is nice when it's portrayed on a movie or television screen, but otherwise, I am happy without it most days.

Drama can be quite handy when you want to have a good story to tell, however. Tomorrow, if anyone asks what I did over the weekend, I won't have any verbal bling to offer, just the simple and understated "nuthin' much". But I'll be able to voice that phrase with loose shoulders and an unfurrowed brow.

Often, it's easy to take weekends like this for granted, or worse, complain of boredom. This one goes in the gratitude file.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Repeating the Mantra

A few days ago, I wrote, "Now there's a mantra worth repeating as often as possible: 'I already have everything I need!'"

But something happened today to remind me that I haven't truly adopted that mantra yet.

It's a simple thing: a small dome of ice had formed over the fountain nozzle on our pond. It looked like the dome on an old-fashioned percolator, reminding me instantly of the old Maxwell House coffee commercials.

I grabbed my camera to take a picture of the ice with the water flowing underneath it. However, a still photo didn't do it justice. "I wish I had a video camera!" I thought, as I stared down at my knob- and button-festooned camera.

I invested in a decent digital camera a few years ago. I couldn't afford a fancy SLR, so I bought a good "pro-sumer" model. It has an attached lens with a nice zoom, and includes most of the bells and whistles that the nicer cameras have, including white point balance. I've been able to take some very nice photos with this camera.

As I looked at the "mode" knob, I noticed an icon that looks like a movie camera. I selected it. Lo and behold: in my viewfinder, I saw a "Start" button and a timer that let me know I could shoot almost 30 minutes of video with the memory card I had installed.

Amazing! I have owned this camera for 3 years, and have been so focused on taking still images, I never bothered to find out if my camera had video capabilities! I shot a short video of the water percolating under the ice and posted it on facebook. It was easy!

How many times have I wished I could have captured a moment on video, thinking that someday I would get a video camera? Granted, my still camera doesn't offer all the features of a full-fledged video camera, but it does a pretty good job, and would have worked fine for many of my needs.

So once again, "I already have everything I need!"

This incident started me thinking about the mindset of scarcity, how ingrained it is in my skull, about how much I want to un-ingrain it!

My guess is that my behavior is the product of modern marketing combined with being parented by people who grew up during the Great Depression. (The most taboo subject in our house was not, sex, not politics, not religion - it was money!) Even during some of my self-employed dad's most prosperous years, my mom would have a full-blown panic attack if the cash flow suffered a short-term blip.

My mom's bi-polar approach to all things fiscal helped mold me into an overgrown boy scout. I am prepared!

Worried that I won't have everything I need in case of emergency, my car is stocked with maps, water, jumper cables, tie-downs, a towel, a space rescue blanket, pens, a flashlight, and who knows what else?

When I had an office, my briefcase was stocked with notebooks, pens, reading glasses, emergency flashlight, a little zippered pouch with mini first aid kit, brass whistle (in case I get lost downtown, I guess), aspirin, wet naps. I think I even carried a snake bite kit for a 5-year stretch!

No matter how well I stocked my larder, whenever that impulse that said "I need this!" shot through my synapses, I immediately assumed that I lacked whatever I needed. If I was at work, I assumed what I needed was at home, and vice versa. Worse, I often went directly to the store and bought what I needed (without first looking to see if I already had what I needed).

This practice has lead to a substantial overstocking of my environment. (Please remind me not to buy any more kitchen sponges. I have over a dozen of them under the sink because every time I go to the store, I convince myself I'm out of them.)

The challenge is: I'm not sure how adopt the concept of abundance so that it sinks into my marrow. Do I get obsessive about cataloging all my possessions in a database so when the urge to go get something hits me, I can perform a Boolean search to determine if I already have what I need? Nah, that sounds too time-consuming and too focused on material "stuff".

Do I need to meditate on abundance every day? Do I need to chant "I already have everything I need" 100 times a day? (Thinking back to the 1970s, I wonder if that's the translation for 'Nam myoho renge kyoh'?) I'm not sure how to best approach this. As always, suggestions are welcome.

I want to shed this illusion of scarcity I've carried with me all these years. I want to automatically assume that whatever I need in any moment is most probably right here, easily within my reach. When I need something, I want shopping to be the method of last resort (however, I will make a few exceptions for impulses like hunger).

So how do I accomplish this change of mindset? Not by going to Amazon.com to find a self-help book on the subject (free super saver shipping or no!).

I'm guessing the answer is right here, within my reach. I just need to look around a little.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Generosity - Now, More Than Ever

A client of mine (I'll keep his name anonymous, but let's call him Bob), contacted me to update an existing promotion. Normally, this would be a good thing, but I cringed when he called. Bob has 5 invoices outstanding, ranging from 30 to over 90 days past due.

A few days ago, I figured out my January budget. I really needed Bob to pay me, or else I wasn't going to be able to pay all of my bills this month. I vowed that I would not do any additional work for Bob until he at least paid a few of the most delinquent invoices. Almost as if on queue, here was Bob asking for additional work!

The project Bob needed was pretty simple; it would take about an hour to do. After he described it, I asked him when I could expect a payment. I knew Bob's business was at least as slow as mine. His story confirmed my suspicions. Bob is at the point where he is printing all his correspondence in black and white because he can't afford to replace his printer's color toner cartridge.

In all the years we have been working together, Bob always paid me. He wasn't always as prompt as I would have liked, but he always paid his bills. When he got behind, Bob would commit to a payment schedule and chipped away at the balance until it was paid off. This time, however - and for the first time in our business relationship - Bob told me he had no idea when he would be able to make the next payment.

I could feel my teeth clenching. Before I could respond, Bob told me he would harbor no hard feelings if I decided to suspend working for him until he could pay me.

So I had a decision to make. I took a deep breath. I would be totally in my rights to suspend my services in the hopes that it would motivate Bob to meet his financial obligation to me.

But then I started thinking about the history of our business relationship. Bob and I have worked together for at least a dozen years. It wasn't long before Bob trusted me to the point that I didn't have to furnish an estimate before beginning a project - Bob had a ballpark idea what each job would cost, and he trusted that I would communicate with him each step of the way, especially if a project looked like it might be more expensive than usual.

Bob was easy to work with. I knew his sensibilities and could produce designs he liked, with a minimum of revisions. The workload suited me perfectly. There were always new programs and projects that allowed me creative freedom. And when I completed each job, Bob would always express his appreciation.

Bob was what I would describe as a "dream client". We worked together well, and nature of the work and the workload were perfectly suited to my talent and personality. The more I thought of this, the more my shoulders relaxed.

I wish we could have continued working together at the same pace for another dozen years, but that simply isn't possible right now. Rather than gripe about how Bob was currently unable to give me any work right now, let alone pay me, I chose to consider the value of having a dream client for so many years. If we never worked on another project together, truth be told, I was grateful.

What is having such a great client worth to me? If I add up all the intangibles - well-paying, stress-free work, a steady reliable workload, having a well-organized, reasonable, pleasant client who shares much the same philosophy on life - I quickly realize that I have profited far beyond the monetary compensation I have gained. If Bob never pays his outstanding balance (though I know he eventually will), I will still have come out ahead.

My initial impulse to cut Bob off until he paid me was based on scarcity, fear, disappointment and selfishness. It felt stiff, cold, stingy, and out of balance. If Bob and I had any chance of surviving these hard times, this wasn't the attitude that would turn things around. It was going to take gratitude, generosity, flexibility and compassion.

I cleared my desk, completed Bob's promotion, and sent it off to him, free of charge.

It felt right.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Capital Solution

Until recently, my philosophy has been: "Have a problem? Throw money at it! Have a project? Throw money at it!" Under that philosophy, I squandered more hard-earned money than I care to think about!

One of the most challenging shifts that I am making these days is to learn how to solve problems and accomplish goals while keeping as much money as possible in my wallet.

As I examine my buying behavior, I realize that my old philosophy still tempts me today.

When I hacked off the tip of my thumb last week, my initial impulse was to rush to the emergency room. Sounds like a rational reaction, right? And if money wasn't so tight, I would have done just that. Instead, I sought advice from off-the-clock medical professionals I knew, and checked the internet for advice. Though many advised taking care of the wound myself, I stared at the missing portion of my thumb and felt crazy for not going to the ER.

After the holiday weekend, I had my family doctor examine my thumb, and found out that I was doing everything right, and with continued care, my thumb would be fine.

The ER would have probably cleaned and dressed the wound, and discharged me with a bill somewhere between $500 and $1000 dollars.  In retrospect, skipping the ER was the prudent thing to do, but it took a lot of persuasion by my fiancee to convince me that my injury would not lead to complications resulting in gangrene and sure death.

I am now left with the task of caring for the wound until it heals. My initial impulse was to dash to the drug store and clear the shelves of gauze, bandages, ointments, and whatever new state-of-the-art wound dressing kits caught my eye. I wanted crisp, new boxes filled with shiny, new hermetically-sealed goodies, because as I thought, only the newest products would do a proper job of nurturing my thumb back to life.

My astute fiancee reminded me that we have stockpiles of first aid materials in our cabinets (which we had thoughtfully organized last Spring). My impulse was to discount the items we had on hand, because in my mind, they were old, outdated, ineffective, and by gum, I wanted something new and shiny for my brand-new wound! The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle bandages we had were so passé  - I couldn't be seen wearing something so out of style - I had to at least find some South Park-themed wound dressings to save face.

I started thinking about this mindset and marveling (as well as being horrified), at how ingrained my consumer thinking is. It's like a scarcity mentality. There's a voice in my head that constantly tells me, "You don't have everything you need - you must go to the store and buy the things you lack."

It's like there is this never-ending void that is my state of being, a void which can only be addressed by buying something new and shiny - a void that can only be sated temporarily, at best.

What concerns me even more is this other aspect of the mindset, which states, "Things are valuable and coveted while they sit on the store shelves, but once you get them home and in your possession, they are immediately sullied and lose their value." That's probably true empirically, like the new car that jettisons $10K in value when you drive it off the lot, but it's the emotional belief that causes so much trouble.

Once I pull a product out of the shopping bag, tear open its box (or its infuriating impenetrable plastic blister pak), and place it among my other stuff, its newness suddenly vanishes, the item becomes commonplace, and the burning desire to dash out and buy another new shiny thing is rejuvenated.

My fiancee looked through the first-aid supplies we had on hand, and produced telfa pads, gauze, antibiotic ointment, and first aid tape. She was right. We already had everything we need.

Now there's a mantra worth repeating as often as possible: "I already have everything I need!"

Repeating this phrase is helping me work my way out of the consumer mindset much like an ice climber digs in his or her crampons to struggle out of a dark blue ice chasm (I know, it's a schmaltzy simile, but that's what comes to mind when it's 13° outside).

I'm learning that when faced with a project or problem, the first thing to do is look around. 90% of the time, I find that I already have the resources I need. If I don't have what I need, step two is to try and fashion a solution using available materials. Only when all else fails do I pull out my wallet, and even then, I scour the planet for the best deal, and buy second-hand if at all possible.

I'll leave you with a quote I once read in the book "Hard Times" by Studs Terkel. Terkel spent part of the 1950s interviewing people who had lived through the Great Depression. His book is packed with insights. One woman Terkel interviewed said this: "Security is knowing what I can do without."

I'll add that security is also knowing that most of what we need, we already have.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I give our health care system two thumbs down!

On New Year's Eve, I hacked off the tip of my left thumb with a hand axe. (No I had not yet begun the festivities when it happened.) The photo on the left shows how much of the tip I lost.

I probably should have gone to the ER, but with little in the bank and a $5,000 deductible on my health insurance policy, I anguished over what would be the correct thing to do. Many friends urged me to go to the ER, but I was afraid they would simply dress the wound and charge me $750 for the privilege.

I probably should have gone to the ER, but the holidays have been especially tight, so I would have been giving the hospital my food and mortgage money - what a crappy choice to have to make.

So 4 days after the injury, I am finally going to see my family doctor, though I am cringing over the amount he will charge. If my doctor advises referring me to a wound care specialist, I will have to tell him that I can't afford to comply with his advice.

I can't believe this is my life.

Just a few years ago, I had a decent 80/20 health care plan, and didn't think twice about visiting the doctor when I needed to. Then, from 2006 to 2007, my premiums doubled. I had to downgrade to a crappy Health Savings Account policy. And since 2007, my business has dropped by more than half, so I haven't been able to put any funds into the account.

If you had told me back in 2006 that in a few short years, I wouldn't be able to afford to take care of a relatively serious physical injury, I would have laughed at you.

I'm not laughing now.

This injury really is a wake-up call. I can't believe how vulnerable I feel.

And there's no relief in sight. The so-called health care reform bill offers lots of perks to the insurance industry, but little to the average American - and even those crumbs won't kick in until 2014, because the politicians don't want to piss off the health care and insurance industries that donate to their campaigns. So the politicians aren't thinking about the 135,000 who will die because they are delaying reform - they're only thinking about their re-election.

I keep looking at my bandaged thumb in disbelief. I want to fool myself into thinking that there is still a complete, intact thumb under all that gauze. I want to fool myself into thinking that I am still a member of middle-class society, where there is a chicken in every pot, and a robust health insurance card in every wallet.

But I know better. Health care is simply another one of life's essentials that has been stripped from us by the corporatocracy. If this can happen to me, it can happen to you, too.

Call your Congressional Representative and your Senators and tell them if re-election is that important to them, they need to offer us real health care reform now!