Category Archives: politics

On the road


 

Kickstarter update on the road away from prohibition.

This is an account of a one-day side-trip on the road in pursuit of the “Tales of Mary Jane”. Every day of that year-ending five-weeks was as interesting and satisfactory as (I hope you will agree) this one.

The first four chapters of the book have been distributed to the backers, and I’m polishing chapter 5 for posting soon.

Here’s to 2015 being better for you, and more productive for me.

Sincere best wishes,
Jack Large

PS to backers of either or both of my Kickstarter projects: Forgive the appearance of multiple identical updates, if you will. It takes a lot less time to apologize in advance than it does to forestall it when your tech skills are as sketchy as mine.

Cannabis is coming; can Korea catch the wave?


Korean national policy regarding the legal status of marijuana as, alternately, an intoxicant and a medication, and their future role in Korean agricultural economy, must undergo change in the near future. Legal recreational use of marijuana in the US states of Washington and Colorado is a done deal, and although attempts to roll it back continue, they appear less likely to succeed with each scintillating report of growing profits and tax yields from sales.
Simply put, the combination of growing interest in utilitarian products made of hemp fiber, and the combination of recreational and medical consumption of an ever-widening range of cannabinol (get you high drug) and cannabidiol (relieves your ailment with no high) drug products has become so robust that when the movement is fully developed, it will transform every society that embraces it.
What is Korea to do, then? The nation bought into the false picture painted by US demonizers of the plant, and lodged marijuana with those natural and pharmaceutical drug substances like opium and amphetamine and their derivatives. Once so grouped, strong legal penalties for use, and the promulgation of cultural taboos such as attach to any forbidden item, were made strong, sweeping and draconian.
Why all this fuss over a plant that over decades of prohibition, despite collecting millions of enthusiastic users, has yet to be blamed directly for the death of a single person? Compare this to the same statistic for alcohol or tobacco and any reasonable person should get a glimpse of marijuana’s future (and explanation of its past) now the facts about it become more widely known.
It’s understandable that, where so much official and press puffery and bombast have been launched against marijuana since its criminalization was urged upon other nations by the US, no Korean policymaker is likely to be the first to come forward and say, “Look, we need to talk about this.” One’s political game is motivated by the urgency of getting reelected. Giving one’s opponents ammunition, in the form of support for changes in Korean anti-drug laws, even if convinced of the wisdom of it, might still cost one the office.
Unless a public movement builds in support of public discussion about the legal status of a common plant that should never have been banned in the first place, Korea stands to miss a golden opportunity to expand its agricultural and medical sectors, and to gain a step on the inevitable global economic movement that will result from the decriminalization of cannabis. It’s economic potential is a big part of what lies at the heart of opposition to it from alcoholic beverage and pharmaceuticals industries. There is no question that legal weed will shrink their bottom lines, and that will be a good thing.
The point of origin for pressure on the Korean political community to do this is the agricultural sector. Even if marijuana continues to be banned for use by Koreans, farmers should be permitted and encouraged to start the process of creating a grow-for-export sector, with strong support for research and development. If we work openly to ensure that Korea becomes one of the earliest advanced producers of top-quality cannabis products, especially medical cannabidiol, and a robust medical research program to go with it, Koreans will benefit economically. There’s no reason for Korea to be left behind. All it will take is the political courage to kick it off.

Dogpatch Spy Provocateur: An American Original


There are so many holes in this story, it’s hard to know where to push in the probes. It began, the public part, with an incident Jan. 27, in Lahore, as reported in the New York Times.  An American driver stopped at an intersection, suspected two men on a scooter of being armed, and firing “through his windshield” with a Glock 9mm, killed both. He then emerged from his vehicle to photograph the corpses with his digital camera. Soon afterward, he was arrested by Pakistani police. A search and preliminary interrogation turned up a lot of suspicious gear and eyebrow raising documentation, setting in motion a chain of shadowy exchanges between US and Pakistani officials, and the New York Times.

Meet Raymond Davis, identified as the American at the center of this brewing storm in relations between the two countries, and a figure so enigmatic at this point that one is hard-pressed to think of his equal in international spy fiction. An International (Express) Tribune story has identified him as either a CIA spook, or a US State Department adjunct working out of Lahore, Pakistan. He certainly looks like the sort we became so uncomfortably familiar with in the bad old days before  Blackwater, forced by a growing number of incidents eerily similar in type to the present one, rose Phoenix-like from its own ashes, reincarnated as Xe (pronounced “Kaiser Seozay”).

What is wrong with this picture?
What is wrong with this picture?

David Lindorf, writing on the growing debacle in Truthout,makes it very clear that, although the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post were all slow to seize on this story, perhaps due to pressure from the Obama administration, the story is so far out ahead of the traditional news outlets that, whatever damage it has the potential to do US-Pakistani relations is unlikely to be mitigated anytime before a lot more damage-causing information, and possibly disinformation, has been revealed.

Raymond Davis seems a most unlikely choice to be out in front of the kind of covert shenanigans he is being accused of perpetrating in behalf of whoever his shadowy masters are. At first glance, he seems utterly lacking in either the formal education or cross-cultural sophistication, to pull off anything nearly so tricky. And that is precisely why the story, focusing as it does on dueling spy agencies carrying out leftover missions from the W Bush era, seems so abjectly plausible. Stay tuned. This story is going to get a lot uglier before it goes away.

The Best of the Billionaires


Since I put the idea out there for them to embrace with the alacrity and verve we find so appealing in them, America’s billionaires have been slow to recognize the real opportunity my plan represents. This is hard to explain. After all, who’s better known for seizing an opportunity to become even more financially rotund than the commercial behemoths produced by the US system of trickle down, Hoover up freemarket capitalism.

The plan in a nutshell, you may remember, is a unique combination of reality TV and game show, with an American Idol twist. It starts with a move every billionaire can get behind, and divides up the planet between a number of the most competitive billionaires (weaklings under $2bn net worth need not apply.) Each billionaire is allowed to compete with up to one billion of his or her own money, and whatever profits are gained from their enterprise in the competition are theirs to keep, after all expenses have been settled.

Every day brings new ideas and insights to the scheme, and today’s come from the sale of the Shine Group, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, to the mogul himself, price tag: $672 million. The old fellow wants the company, we are told, because of all the great things it’s goint to add to the content-creation arm of his behemoth media empire. He may envision improvements to his FOX Broadcasting unit, where the need for help with quality content is sorely needed, if we can’t believe what we’re hearing and seeing there, and it seems we can’t. Good luck with that.

So here it is, Ms Murdoch, here is the gem that will help ensure that the new Shine on the Murdoch fortunes is real, and not just a reflection of the stage lights on Dad’s ego. Pick up the option on this program and produce an instant hit. I say start with the 50 states and give one each to a billionaire with no current financial holdings in that state. Charge them with building a team of idea people, researchers, managers and engineers, and public relations and marketing people who are presently unemployed in that state. Start by landing one or more of the many unemployed human resources professionals wandering around looking dazed and confused and go from there.

All they have to do to get started is to verify that they have placed $US one billion in escrow for the project, and the game is on. Round up the local media teams to keep an eye (and a camera) on their their every move, as they begin to shape a new industry for the state, or to improve its existing resources to a level of fiscal productiveness. Make sure they all get exactly the same breaks, in terms of obeying the local laws. Air weekly or even daily reports on the action, answering questions on the minds of local viewers: Who’re the players? What’s the action?; How much is being spent, and on what?

Empanel a group of experts to evaluate the moguls’ projects in terms of whose ideas are generating the most good for the most citizens of each’s respective state. Finally, set up a method, a la American Idol, where the citizens can make their own opinions count, in terms of how they are receiving that which is being put in place for them. Use an algorithm combining the findings of the panel with the votes of the public to allot a number of points per week to each player. The billionaire with the most points for the week is the “Best Billionaire”.

I’m looking your way, Ms Murdoch, for the same reason I first offered the idea to Donald Trump. I figured he’d jump at the chance to do it, and earned a well-deserved Nobel, thus putting him a giant step closer to the US Presidency that he feels so uniquely qualified for. He’s ignoring me, possibly because it’s easier to just keep building projects that shave money off those of his own class. Who can say?

I reckon that, if you know anything at all, Ms Murdoch, you must know media. I think you will see the merits in this plan, if your imagination is as good as we imagine. This project has the potential to produce more media revenue in the first year alone, than Diddums is forking over for your Shine Group. Here’s your chance to build another one, even bigger and better, and in less time, without even breaking a sweat. Call it Spit Shine. Call it whatever you want, once it’s yours. Call me.

Jack Large

Seoul

The reality TV show I’d like to see


The United States, according to Forbes Magazine has a minimum of 400 billionaires. Almost half that number are worth $2 billion or more, give or take. When you’re standing on the mountain, its hard to know the size of it.

Donald Trump, at $2.6 bn, has his eye on the top of the pile always, and not just the money pile. He wants to be president. Fair enough. We’re taught from a very young age that, in America, we can be president if we want it badly enough, and if we work harder to get there than the runners-up do .

The Donald has once again inflated the trial balloon, and once again generated as much ridicule as support for the notion, partly because he claims the right no to decide until after the current season of his hit reality show, The Apprentice, has been put to bed.

I have given the matter a lot of thought (strangely enough) and I have divined a path, a Yellow Brick Road, if you will, that ends with Mr. Trump elected POTUS. It is not only plausible, but if he can just go out and pull it off with the same deftness he demonstrates in getting the members of his class to spend on other Trump enterprises, I will vote for Donald Trump myself.

The reader who doesn’t know me will be muttering “Here’s another fool with a disposable vote!”, and that’s fair enough, at least in part. I am a kind of American socialist; our votes are, thus far, the very definition of disposable in our country. Yet, that here is a socialist acknowledging even the possibility of voting for a man whose life e, should give any politically literate person a double-take. So here it is; it needs a name and yours may be better than mine. I call it American Mogul. I am not shy in my triteness.

Four hundred billionaires, if parity was possible, would mean eight per state. Only half of them have enough money to play in this contest, cutting the total number of billionaires eligible for it to four. Eligibility rests on one qualification. Each would-be mogul must be willing to place, at the outset, one billion dollars in escrow if they mean to play. The eligibility pool will contain but 50 contestants, or one per US state. An entry fee of one million dollars will be collected from the escrow funds.

To become the American Mogul, contestants will be judged by a method combining the small administrative skills of an expert panel, a la The Apprentice, and American Idol, with the local perceptions in the state theater of performance, by a panel composed of judges from the ranks of government, education, business and the public-at-large, and finally, by the tally of phone-in votes for candidates as regarded by the national citizenry.

A lottery would pair each mogul with a state. Ground rules requiring each to reveal the extent of their current business activity in the state allotted to them, so that the likelihood is minimized of their approach doing no more good than merely adding substance to an already substantial holding there.

The action required of each mogul, is to devise and implement an investment plan, to be completed within a set period of, say, 4-5 years, that can be shown to produce the greatest amount of financial, social and tax benefit to his/her allotted state, and as the demonstrated result of the mogul’s plan.

The economic spin-offs from media presentation, employment opportunities, bandwagon-jumping investor mogul wanna-bes should be significant and fun to watch. Close scrutiny to guard agains cronyism, corruption, insider trading, sweetheart deals, offshore accounts, and outsourcing of key elements should be recognized as real risks, and rules put in place to minimize and penalize their occurrence.

The perception of most people is that most moguls got their money the old-fashioned way: they inherited it. Furthermore, it is generally perceived that, without teams of lawyers, accountants and managers, most moguls would end their lives with less than they started with.

Here is a chance for them to put us all in our places. Donald Trump can lead the orchestra, and if he does so, successfully, he would deserve the Nobel Peace Price, the one that would make believers of us all, and put him in the White House.

So come on, Mr Trump!  Stand and deliver, you other billionaires! Show us what you’re made of. Prove to us, all and sundry, that Laissez Faire capitalism, even the taxed and regulated kind, is the way to the Promised Land. Or don’t, and continue to confirm our worst suspicions.

Health Care in Korea: Y’all Come


I am watching this video clip of Keith Olbermann on Countdown embedded in a story about Bill Clinton refusing to join an Olbermann-touted health care event in behalf of free clinics in Arkansas because Olbermann has “politicized” the event. I clicked on the story in Huffington Post because it had the instantaneous whiff of crap about it. Olbermann’s anecdote about the pharmacy visit to score anti-fungal cream for hundreds of dollars that could be gotten over the counter in, say, Canada for around ten bucks, rang a bell.

My daughter started college in the US this fall, and the cost will eventually break me. Yet compared with the cost/benefit ratio of medicine, even those tied to saving life as opposed to killing a fungus or clearing a respiratory passage, is a damn worthwhile way to spend one’s money. The reference to respiratory is not apocryphal. The kid recently went to a pharmacy to get the inhaler she has needed periodically since she was a small child, when she gets over-stressed or fatigued by the rigors of a kid’s life these days. Here in Korea, the inhaler was five bucks. In Philadelphia, the prescription was $295. I’m not making it up.

My best pal, a gifted painter, is growing cataracts on both eyes. He expects to need surgery before too many more years are out. His vague perception, at present, is that the surgery alone will cost on the order of 8 grand. Eight thousand dollars will be the cost to hang on to his vision. It almost seems like a bargain, and the medical authorities carry that proclamation around on a shingle hanging from their neck in lights that flash when the patient gets close enough to trigger the heat detector built into it.

I asked a doctor friend here in Seoul if he could find out what the same expense would be for a foreigner without the Korean health insurance that covers about half the cost for every man, woman and child in this small, densely populated and public welfare-conscious nation. He informs me that the cost of the surgery would be around $1500 per eye. I jumped on the news as predictive that I might get a prolonged visit from my friend, but it probably won’t happen. I had to agree with him when we discussed it that it was difficult to see him doing it, because he has passed up many chances to travel in his life, for reasons never entirely clear to the large number of friends who would be waiting expectantly at the other end of the flight.

Okay, I can accept that, but I see a much bigger picture here, and this is it: I am willing to discover and pass along the estimates of medical procedures in Korean hospital and clinic facilities, performed by well-trained and educated practitioners of their respective specialties, and for those opting to follow up on the information and undergo the procedure, I will help you with the arrangements in Korea.

Americans will have to take a lot of different steps to bring the American health care ship about and set it on a course that doesn’t include robust health care for insurance and pharmaceutical corporations while millions of Americans get sick and die, even those who succumb as a result of mind-numbingly stupid behaviours. Medical tourism is one way to accomplish that.

If the reader thinks this is something they want to explore, they may contact me by responding to this post.

No Adult Left Behind


Growing up in the Fifties was an exercise in out-of-body experience. One unforgettable first-time encounter was with the term “brainwashing“, as applied to citizens of the former Soviet Union and their indoctrination with the tenets of Marxism-Leninism. Distorted, mutated, warped and terminally twisted by Stalin and other totalitarian apparatchiks, they were the subject of great derision by the American pundits of the day. The idea that propaganda and indoctrination via repetitive training and education practices could result in mass acceptance of principles so obviously false to us more discerning citizens of Freedom and its enterprises, had Uncle Sam’s collected heads shaking for over two decades.

The Soviets were spectacularly successful at brainwashing, if we accept as given a complete surrender to and subjugation of the citizens’ free will and thought to the prerogatives of the Soviet State. The accomplishment is all the more remarkable given the comparatively primitive state of delivery mechanisms then (blackboard, reel-to-reel audio, hypnotism, etc.) and those of today. The influences on public thought and discourse are nothing if not numerous, diverse and undifferentiated by the usual constraints of cultural respectability at one extreme, and cultural tabu at the other.

We have hundreds of cable channels, the Internet, designer drugs, free porn, mass marketing, commercials, haute couture, Play Station, peer pressure, competitive consumption, Word of God, NeoCon men and women, poor physical health born of self-destructive habits, -its a lengthy list getting longer. It takes little time in the presence of these pervasive influences to develop the kind of serious mental and emotional dependency on them that produces withdrawal discomfort in withdrawal. A slang word for such withdrawal from heroin is “jones”, noun or verb. “Keeping up with the Joneses” thus produces the tastiest double entendre we’re likely to discover for awhile.

We are beginning to glimpse a future when the human proponents of unbridled material consumption and behaviours associated with it, are called to the streets by their dealers in the name of “grassroots organizing”. Wiser heads have tagged this an “astroturf” movement, marshalled and bankrolled by those whose obscene affluence came from producing, promoting and dispensing the products, e.g. the information, disseminated by such choice purveyors as Fox Broadcasting (no, make that anything possessed by Rupert Murdock), big insurance, big pharma, big for-profit health care, big banking, big chemical, big petro, big mining, and big a-hole (as in the vote-for-hire GOP/Dem hacks who live in their pockets).

Our disdain for the Soviets turns out to have been spot-on, for at their most influential, given that their people didn’t have the facts at their disposal when they swallowed the Big Red Lies. On the other hand, US citizens today have more facts at our disposal than at any time in human history. Virtually nothing stands between us and comprehension of our current precarious national condition but our own apathy, disinterest, arrogance and the self-assuredness that we already know all we need to know to fight Obama on any and every issue.

There are, roughly estimated, maybe 100  million adult US citizens who are free to operate vehicles, buy and use firearms, range across public lands unhindered, or to disrupt public meetings on healthcare reform, but are incapable of naming more than a handful of government officials in agencies as obscure as the Cabinet, the Supreme Court or the House and Senate. They can name 10 brands of beer, every sports franchise in every city that has one in the NBA, NFL, two major baseball leagues, and pro golf and tennis, but they can’t identify the Group of 8 advanced nations on an outline map of the globe.

This is our big problem. It’s big enough to warrant special attention in the media, and study by Congress and thinking people everywhere, to look for remedies that will de-program these citizens and get them learning to think for themselves again, instead of for those whose entire business it is to maximize profits on discretionary goods and services to which their business practices have addicted so many of us.

As long as the minds of so many of our countrymen are abandoned to the forces of greed and consumption, our collective future is mortgaged to them. Until the problem is acknowledged, quantified and addressed by policy and programs, it mightn’t be a bad idea for those of our “friends” who have accepted US military presence in their countries to wonder out loud in their national press, and between diplomatic communicants, exactly when such efforts might get underway.

When other nations have, or aspire to get, weapons of mass destruction, we speculate about the outcome should a country succumb to widespread civil disruption of the sort that might create conditions where control of the weapons should end up in the hands of less than rational forces. The recent Bush Administration was such that this very situation might have come about in the US. It wasn’t someone else’s country. It was an administration of The United States of America that showed itself willing to torture and invade and snoop and lie and steal and terrorize and break any law if it would serve the prevailing neo-con ideology to do so.

We elected President Obama intending that his administration would divert (one wants to say arrest, but)  this dismal current. They have barely slowed it down, but already many of us show signs of subsiding into the lethargy and inattention necessary for matters to get as bad as they did in the past. If the election result had turned out their way, our lives would already be immeasurably worse, for the people who are sending these mobs of brainwashed citizen tea-baggers, birthers and America uber alles mokes spawned in the hundreds by the ideological centers of vested interest, would be running the show instead of screaming from the astroturf outside  the doors and windows of public meetings. These, our fellow citizens, are not the root cause of the problem. They are but one of many symptoms. They are the cannon fodder placed in the path of refoms by those of the deep pockets and the kind of cynicism about notions like the social contract that these have characterized these force historically.

Something must be done to deprogram  and educate fools and true believers, and for no better reason than to save them from their own folly. They have been left behind, accidentally or by their own option. We who are their kin should accept the responsibility to point out for them the full extent to which they have been duped into the embrace of lunacy, to serve as simple tools for shaving policy and intimidating policy-makers in the decreasingly United State of America.