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An Inconvenient Bruce

Updated: 2018-03-05T22:29:24.275-05:00


Baby Boom Delusions and Solutions (Chap.3, Part 2)


  Today's post was delayed as I researched the most current trends in using reverse mortgages as a strategy for aging at home, instead of in an institution. The housing catastrophe of the past 30 months changed much of what I had originally written in the early drafts of the book. I am still waiting on  Medicaid to provide some updates but decided to post this entry now, even if the final version of the book is somewhat different, based on those updates. Medicaid is currently overwhelmed with adopting changes related to the new healthcare legislation and my request for interviews and information are likely a low priority.****************************************** Chapter 3 (Part 2)A PLACE CALLED HOME The Reverse MortgageIn 2030 the youngest boomers will be 67, the oldest 84. The homeowners in this group--eight of every ten boomers are homeowners--will be perched atop a home equity money mountain worth $8.1 trillion. Unfortunately, unless current efforts and policies are improved, many of these house-rich and cash-poor seniors will struggle to find the money they need to pay for the help that would allow them to remain at home. Failing that, they will be forced to sell the house in order to pay for alternate living arrangements.A reverse mortgage—and there is currently only one type available—can unlock much of a home’s equity value, putting cash in the homeowner’s pocket immediately, without putting the house at risk. The cash can be used to make staying at home possible.A reverse mortgage is a relatively new, creative and promising financial service. Those seniors who need help at home but find themselves house-rich and cash poor deserve a reverse mortgage option that is affordable, well-designed, carefully monitored and delivered by trustworthy professionals. The roadblocks for making this happen on a large scale are apparent: (1) $8.1 trillion piled up in one place will attract a lot of additional flies and as seniors lose their mental acuity, advantage can be taken; (2) the lending industry has proven that it cannot effectively police its own; (3) policy-makers do not understand the service and its potential positive impact on lowering Medicaid costs; (4) seniors do not understand the service benefits and believe many negative myths and (5) the product could get expensive again.First, let’s understand the service. Below are the basics of the one service currently available, the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM, “heck’um”). This service was co-designed by AARP and The Federal Home Administration (FHA) and is underwritten by The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):1.    Every HECM applicant receives mandatory professional information counseling to insure that they understand the service.2.    Available to those 62 or older, the homeowner gets the equity advance (loan) but maintains title to the home.3.    There is no time limit on how long the homeowner can then stay in the home.4.    The loan is not due until the home is sold by the homeowner or his or her heirs.5.    The homeowner’s heirs will never be responsible for paying any part of the loan. Any negative gap in home sale price to loan value is insured by HUD. A positive gap goes to the estate.6.    The loan proceeds can be used for any purpose. 7.    Loan proceeds are not income and therefore, not taxed.8.    The homeowner must keep the home maintained, pay the real estate taxes and keep the    home insured.9.    A homeowner’s other assets, income or credit score play no role in qualifying for the loan.10.    The amount of the loan is based on a formula that includes the appraised value of the home, the homeowner’s age and current interest rates.11.     Currently, there is a cap of $625,500 on the appraised value of the home, an amount that includes the vast majority of American homeowners.12.    Interest on the loa[...]

Baby Boom Delusions and Solution (Chap.3, Part 1)


Today's post begins an in-depth look at the five overarching issues confronting the nation as a result of the Baby Boom's march towards old age. This chapter addresses the alternatives of how and where best to live dependently.************************Chapter 3 (Part 1)A PLACE CALLED HOME  “Can a man put on his socks? If not, he will soon need someone to dress and bathe him.”                                                                                             Frederick T. Sherman, M.D., Instructor                   Mount Sinai Hospital Cont. Ed. Seminar. Here is a common Baby Boomer Delusion: growing old and needing help with things that are now taken for granted will never happen to me. For about 20% of boomers, this belief will be true because they will die before becoming significantly infirm. Deborah Chase’s husband will be in this category; healthy enough to go on a golfing holiday but beset with the high blood pressure that will do its damage in a massive and immediate way. The rest of the generation will benefit from improved medical care, survive into advanced old age and eventually suffer the indignities of various physical and mental impairments. To determine whether or not a patient is “at risk” when living without help, clinicians observe a patient’s ability to accomplish five Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). When these activities become problematic, living without assistance is dangerous, unhealthy or both. Here are the things that an independent person must be able to do for themselves:  (1) get dressed and undressed (Dressing), (2) transfer food to one’s mouth, chew and swallow (Eating), (3) walk around (Ambulating), (4) get to the bathroom in time, take care of business and clean oneself afterward (Toileting) and (5) keep oneself clean and relatively sanitary (Hygiene). There you have it, Dressing, Eating, Ambulating, Toileting and Hygiene or, as the clinicians mnemonically and ironically remember them, DEATH. If you lose the ability to do one of these activities, you need a little help. Lose several and you need a lot of help. Either way, a person with one or more of these deficits has entered the realm of dependent living.Currently in the U.S. there are four basic dependent living alternatives, not counting the dangerous, but oft chosen, alternative of toughing it out alone. (1)    Stay at home. This is almost everyone’s preferred alternative and there is much to recommend it. First, some relatives are likely nearby. Also, you know and are known in you community and deep social roots are important. Staying put is less stressful than moving. And, there is compelling medical evidence that, done right, staying at home will add to the length and quality of your life. When you are dependent at home, you will rely on your mate, other family members, friends or someone responsible and trustworthy to come in and provide the required help. Unless the caregiver is a family member or close friend, you will pay for the cost of these care giving services privately. If the ADL challenges are in their earliest stages, the amount of necessary paid help could be just a few hundred dollars a quarter.  If you are eventually so impaired that you need 24/7 skilled care, privately paid assistance at home currently costs about $15,000 per month. It is a safe bet that costs will be a good bit more in 2031.  As Deborah Chase’s family learned, this “at home” alternative is often complicated, a[...]

Baby Boom Delusions and Solutions (Chapter 2, Part 3, Final)


With today's post, Chapter 2 is complete. Chapters 1 and 2 have set the stage for the remainder of the book; a close look at the five challenges and their potential solutions. While some of my solutions may prove controversial, their debate, final form and transition into policy and law cannot wait another generation. *********************************************Chapter 2 (Part 3, Final) A GREATER GENERATION?4. Demand Knowledgeable and Sufficient CareHere’s a fact that many in the medical community would rather you not know: they don’t know much about treating the elderly. Unless a medical student or resident is planning on being a geriatrician, the American system of training doctors almost completely ignores the unique needs of the elderly. If your reaction to this fact is “So what, I’ll just get a geriatrician when the time comes,” you are in for an unpleasant surprise. Geriatricians are a rare and shrinking breed in America. You are unlikely to find one. This situation is a result of relatively low pay for geriatricians, ageism and the issue of professional status. Compared to their specialist peers, who routinely earn $500,000+ per year, the geriatrician, similar to the family doctor or pediatrician, can expect to earn only about 1/3 as much. When many young MDs emerge from med school owing hundreds of thousands in student loans, there is little monetary incentive in becoming a geriatrician. And, our medical students and residents are not immune to the issue of ageism; old people with multiple complaints are just going to get older and develop other complaints. Then, there is the issue of professional status, where the pecking order surely does not begin with doctors whose specialty is geriatrics; it doesn’t sound glamorous and, relatively speaking, it doesn’t pay that well. Deborah Chase’s internist was not sufficiently schooled in geriatric depression and his ignorance ruined at least a year of her life.The demographic realities of America indicate that all physicians should be schooled in the basic aspects of health care for the elderly. Geriatric medicine is different in the same way that pediatric medicine is different. The training issues and pay disparities must be addressed through policy solutions.Broadening geriatric medicine expertise will reduce health care costs by reducing  the current mistakes in diagnosis or treatments that occur because a clinician doesn’t know that the aged often present symptoms and react to treatments quite differently than younger patients. At the very least, all 131 American medical schools should include an expanded, recurring and required geriatrics curriculum, regardless of the student’s declared specialty. For most of them, treating elderly patients will be a given not an option. Such schooling would also have a moderating effect on the issue of professional status as clinicians come to appreciate the complexities of dealing with the health issues of aging.America already has a nurse and nurse’s aide shortage, especially for those serving the dependent elderly. The trend of producing qualified new ones is down and we’re only 22 years away from the first of the Boomers turning 85. Without a measurable reversal in this situation, there won’t be enough qualified caregivers (RNs, LPNs and nurses aides) available to provide the help many Boomers will need to live dignified lives when they are dependent on help. This shortage will mean rationing of assistance and/or care provided by the inept and ill-trained. Although better than the geriatric educational in America’s med schools, the amount of geriatric training in America’s nursing colleges falls short on two fronts: (1) the shortage of classroom space and instructors to train nurses of all types, including geriatric nurses and (2) the same issues of ageism and professional status that plagues the med schools. Creating classroom space for the 92,000 qualified nursing school candidates who are turned away every year will be easier than trai[...]

Baby Boom Delusions and Solutions (Chap. 2, Part 2)


Today's post highlights the first three of five policy issues confronting and/or caused by the Baby Boom. These issues will significantly impact all 77 million Boomers, their children their grand children and the fiscal viability of the American Republic.*************************************Chapter 2A GREATER GENERATION?(Part 2) See previous posts for backgroundIn brief, here are the challenges:1. Completely Re-Think Long-Term Care Putting mom or dad in a “home” after they have lived a lifetime at home is a decision that usually causes immense family heartache, anger, guilt and division. Do you want to live in a nursing home? Deborah Chase certainly didn’t. Statistics indicate that you and Deborah probably will spend some time there at the end of your life—unless we begin changing policy and nursing homes now.There is a reason that nursing homes are so universally feared; it’s because they are rarely good places to finish out a meaningful life. Nursing home owners and managers will likely take exception to this viewpoint. Many of these professionals are devoting their careers to making their nursing home(s) the exception to the rule. However, you know what is said about pigs and lipstick. You can gussy up an institution with flowers, homey furniture, sun rooms or allow pets and it’s still an institution. It is not and will not feel like home. America’s institutional nursing homes develop rapidly in the mid-20th century in response to the fact that Americans were beginning, in large numbers, to live beyond their ability to live independently. Not only was advanced old age a new norm for America, it was new to mankind, thanks to better health care and new medicines. American politicians did their best to resolve this challenge and passed appropriate legislation to encourage (through financial incentives) the creation of beds to serve this growing infirm population. In the 1950’s this new industry borrowed the clinical hospital model as the template for building. There was no other model that seemed to fit. Today there are better alternatives (many involving staying at home or moving into a truly home-like setting) and, here’s the promising part, these alternatives are budding just as the old institutional nursing home infrastructure is aging and crying out to be replaced. However, without the right incentives and public demand, the private sector will likely just tear down the old nursing home and put up a new, bigger institution. If so, one of those oxymoronically named “semi-private” rooms will be waiting for you and Deborah Chase, whether you want to live there or not.Creating ways for people to age in-place--in their homes, or in a home-like setting--requires that we (1) provide more substantive support and tax relief for family caregivers, (2) re-direct public funds from institutional care to in-home care, (3) be creative and sensible in using the equity value of home mortgages so that the costs of in-home care do not translate into a higher tax burden for subsequent generations, (4) provide incentives for long term care facility providers to expand on a building model that mirrors a home environment and (5) insist that long term care insurance (including Medicaid) not be skewed toward institutionalization, as it is today.2. Re-Design Social Security, Medicare and MedicaidAny talk of trimming the big three entitlement programs makes politicians grow pale and wet themselves. They react thus because, once a benefit is established, it’s political suicide to suggest taking any of it away, even if the original benefit no longer makes any sense in a dramatically changed demographic and financial environment. As a result, we now have a Social Security system designed to serve the conditions of a 1935 America when there were 16 wage earners supporting one pensioner. Today, the ratio is about 3 to 1 and about to get worse. Politics has generated a popular Medicare system that focuses on cure but shifts the cost of long-ter[...]

Baby Boom Delusions and Solutions (Chap. 2, Part 1)


With this post begins Chapter 2 of Baby Boom Delusions and Solutions. This chapter focuses on five demands that the Baby Boom must make on our policy and law-makers. If these demands are not realized, the negative experiences visited upon Deborah Anne Chase and her family--as recounted in Chapter 1--will be visited upon millions of Boomers and their families.********************************Chapter 2A GREATER GENERATION?Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book, The Greatest Generation, tributes his parent’s cohort, the one that mobilized, fought and helped the Allies win the Second World War. Millions of relevant examples can be recounted that illustrate the effort and sacrifice of the American generation born between 1910 and 1924. They rose to the challenge of a world threatened by the ideologies of fascism and militarism. Many did it enthusiastically. Others grumbled and groused but did it anyway. The overarching reality was a national effort and sacrifice in blood, money and deprivation. The Greatest Generation’s contribution from 1941 to 1945 was primarily as the military muscle. When blood was spilled, it was mostly theirs. They didn’t choose to play this role but they did it when history brought it to them.Here are a few examples of that effort. Deborah Chase’s father piloted an Army Air Corps C-47 Skytrain and ferried airborne troops to North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France. He was wounded by flak fire on D-Day just after he had dropped paratroopers behind German lines. Deb’s grandparents, her mother and the others on the American home front endured shortages of critical raw materials, lived with rationed gasoline and foodstuffs, tended “victory gardens”, gathered scrap metal and bought War Bonds. It was a brief time of effort and sacrifice for the common good. Brokaw has a case.When the war was over, the Greatest Generation then produced Deborah’s generation, the Baby Boom. Using Brokaw’s yardstick to compare the Baby Boom to the Greatest Generation, how do we Boomers measure up?In terms of sheer numbers there is no doubt that the Baby Boom can claim the title of America’s biggest generation. Those of us born between January 1, 1946 and December 31, 1963 make up the largest generational cohort in American history: 77,000,000. Raised and educated in a prosperous post war society, the Baby Boom is the bull in America’s demographic China shop. Being big, however, doesn’t mean being respected and it certainly doesn’t mean general popularity.Even a cursory review of things written and said about the Baby Boom will often include such descriptions as: “selfish, self-absorbed, entitlement mentality, navel gazing, irresponsible, immature, self-important, smug, frivolous….”, you get the drift and may agree. As a Baby Boomer, I squirm a bit considering that these descriptors could be more right than wrong. But are we as bad as our general reputation?Very few voices have risen to defend us. One of those voices is sociologist Leonard Steinhorn whose 2006 book The Greater Generation, In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy, suggests that the Baby Boom is generally getting an unfair evaluation. Steinhorn says that Boomers “created, reinvented, invigorated or sustained the great citizen movements that have advanced American values and freedoms” since the mid 20th century. Among these movements he includes environmentalism, consumerism, women’s rights, civil rights, gay and lesbian rights and openness in government. Well, maybe.To be sure, Boomers took up many of these causes and provided the ground troops and some ballot muscle to change America for the better. However, in virtually all cases, the visionaries who first stepped out of line to challenge society on these seminal issues were from the generations that preceded the Baby Boom; Martin Luther King, Jr. (civil rights), Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan (womens’ rights), Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Bob Hunter (environmental awareness), Franklin [...]

Baby Boom Delusions and Solutions (Chap. 1, Final)


Final Installment of Chapter 1, "A Baby Boomer's Life and Death". See previous posts for Parts 1 and 2.************************************One morning the other bed in Deborah’s room was empty and neatly made. She haltingly asked an aide where the other woman was; the aide said that Deborah “needn’t worry about it” and quickly left the room. Death was not spoken of in this place, although it occurred regularly. Two days later, another woman moved into the room with Deborah. The new roommate was ambulatory, talked incessantly about the same topics over and over and pawed through Deborah’s chest of drawers when she thought that no one was looking. She took clothing and small items. The aides recovered most of Deb’s stuff but it was a constant activity. Deb had never suffered fools gladly but here, she was forced to endure them; and, to endure this place along with them. They were all inmates.Because Deb’s step-daughter made regular and unannounced visits, Deb was kept relatively clean and dry. When the daughter considered her mother’s care unacceptable, she made a fuss. The aides soon learned that Deb’s daughter could be a problem if they didn’t attend to her mother’s needs. Since there were too few aides for this 120 bed facility, taking good care of residents-- especially those who had regular visitors--meant that those residents with no one routinely stopping in for visits received less care. Often, when being wheeled past particular rooms along the long linoleum corridor, Deborah could smell the residents who were left to marinate in their own filth until the aides could find time to clean them up, sometimes hours later; too much work, too few workers.In mid-September of 2035, Deborah developed an infection in an ankle wound suffered when an aide accidentally banged into her with the footrest of a wheelchair. The infection spread up her leg and proved resistant to the regime of antibiotics. After years of taking antibiotics for various infections, Deborah’s bacteria were well armed to resist eradication. The infection turned ugly and her leg gangrenous. Deborah was sent to the ICU at a large Atlanta teaching hospital. Her leg was amputated at the knee. The surgery site contracted another and different infection, a bug from within the hospital. The new infection spread to her lungs and they quickly declined in function. The medical team, none of whom her family had known prior to this hospitalization, recommended that Deborah be placed on a ventilator to “ease her breathing”. What they did not tell the family was that it was very unlikely that Deborah would ever breathe on her own again, ever.Deborah’s kidneys began to fail. A young resident arranged for her to be gurneyed to the dialysis three times a week. Her daughter agreed.The amputation site was painful and Deborah often teared silently and furrowed her brow when the doctors or nurses asked her how she was feeling. Pain medication was administered but never enough to do the job.The wounded stump required another surgery to clean up additional gangrene. Deborah’s eyes were now sunken hollows, seeing little but still registering pain and misery. Her med-student grandson argued with one of the residents about failing to provide sufficient pain medication. The resident insisted that to give Deborah more drugs would make her dependent on the morphine; he said that she would become addicted. The grandson also argued with his own mother about her decision to allow Deborah to have dialysis. His argument was based on the medically obvious; Deborah was dying; doing anything to prolong that process was simply extending her suffering.The daughter called Deborah’s doctor for his advice. He deferred to the hospital’s medical staff. It was clear, he felt that his role as a healer was over because Deb couldn’t be healed. Cure trumped care.Deborah had never filled out an advance medical directive, although s[...]

Baby Boom Delusions and Solutions (Chap.1, Part 2)


See previous posts for background.***********************************************Deb’s daughter and stepdaughter arranged for a series of private duty in-home helpers. The first woman was good for the first few months and then began to skip days, show up late or leave early; but, she was always sweet to “Miz Chase” and Deborah liked her. The woman asked Deborah for a loan of $10,000, claiming that her husband “needed emergency surgery”. Deborah wrote her a check. The woman cashed the check but never returned. The second woman lasted one week. The third, referred by an employment agency, turned out to be in the country illegally, had a drug habit--which she partially funded by fencing Deborah’s jewelry--and left the country before she could be arrested. Frustrated, the family hired bonded help through an in- home companion service agency. As Deborah’s confusion mounted and her memory slipped, the tag-team of companions had to be with her nearly 24/7 and the monthly bill exceeded $15,000. Because Deborah’s care needs were not directly related to medical treatment, Medicare paid not a penny. While well-to-do by most standards, Deborah’s nest egg could not stand a nearly $200,000 per year tab for trustworthy in-home assistance. Her children might have pooled resources to keep her at home but they were already paying over 22% of their incomes to fund Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Their generation was financially struggling to fulfill the government’s entitlement program promises now that the entire living Baby Boom was over 65. It was rumored that FICA would increase another 2% in 2030.After much rancorous family discussion, Deborah moved to an Atlanta assisted living facility. She left behind her spacious home with its beloved art collection, her craft studio, beautiful kitchen and peaceful screened deck. She gave her cat to her granddaughter because pets were not allowed at Heritage Gardens. She moved into her new small apartment an unhappy camper. She hated the community dining room with its cliques of “ins” and “outs”, social butterflies and overly attentive gentlemen. She despised the cafeteria-style food. She wanted nothing to do with the group outings to local attractions, all of which she had seen before and several for which she had served on the boards or fund-raising committees. She only admitted it to herself, but the thought of returning to those local attractions as just another senior citizen shuffling off of the van was humiliating. She made one or two friends, was attended to by the facility’s health and daily care staff and life for her scattered family returned to nearly normal. It wasn’t normal for Deborah and she developed clinical depression, a condition that went undiagnosed for over a year. Her doctor had no training in geriatrics. He mistook her symptoms as the natural state of the elderly. The woman that her children, grandchildren and friends visited and phoned during this time was a heart- breaking shadow of the vibrant woman Deb had been for nearly eight decades.In March of 2030, Deborah’s daughter, by then living in Santa Fe, received a call from Deborah’s tax attorney. The attorney, a long-time friend was in the process of preparing Deborah’s 2029 return and had come across some banking transactions that were problematic and of no small consequence, nearly $80,000. She suggested that the daughter come to Atlanta right away. Within the week it came to light that Deborah had been contacted via untraceable wireless phone by “Dr. Someone” (she just couldn’t remember his name) in Nigeria. He claimed to have gotten her name from the director of Deborah’s favorite charity, one that indeed did good work in Nigeria. The ”Dr.” indicated that there was a very large pool of money—Deborah thought it was $4 or $5 million, or maybe he said $45 million--available there, left over from a[...]

Baby Boom Delusions and Solutions (Chap.1, Part 1)


With this post, I am making good on an earlier threat to use this blog to pre-publish the book that I have toiled over for more than three years: Baby Boom Delusions and Solutions. Given its length, this will be accomplished via serialization. The end result will either be a ticker-tape parade in downtown Peoria--with me riding in the convertible--or a blog readership that shrinks to nada, as if it were the wet witch in the "Wizard of Oz". Either outcome could be good, depending on your vantage point. No guts, no ticker-tape.Please take note: The person of "Deborah Anne Chase", featured in Chapter 1, is referenced throughout the remainder of the book. This is a literary device that allows me to provide examples of the topics covered in the subsequent chapters. Therefore, a reader who begins reading at some point after Chapter 1 would be confused by any "Ms. Chase" references. Therefore, in this blog version, I will parenthetically remind the reader to ("see Chapter 1") when these references occur. For those of you who start at the beginning it will be but a minor annoyance. Mea culpa.Also, the subject matter is serious. Therefore, I try to respect the content appropriately************************************Chapter 1A BABY BOOMER'S LIFE AND DEATHThis is a story for those Americans born between January 1, 1946 and December 31, 1963, the Great American Baby Boom. The narrative will be true with some details altered to avoid unnecessary angst for Deborah Anne Chase and her family in the future. The details of the story are based on the facts of a real life and the realities of growing old, dependent and dying in America in the 21st century. Barring significant changes to current policies, programs, health care systems, institutions, ethics and attitudes, this story mirrors how the great bulk of the Baby Boom Generation will decline and die when their independence wanes. While this happens, America will financially struggle to keep its promises to a generation who thought mostly of itself. Only the Baby Boom has the financial and political power to demand the necessary changes so that this story is not their fated future or that of the country. Only a truly great generation would have the will and capacity to demand and institute these changes. May 4, 1950, Greensboro, North Carolina, 8:52 a.m. Deborah Anne Chase gulped in her first air and cried. December 14, 2035, Atlanta, Georgia, 3:35 p.m.Deborah’s final breaths were raspy and labored on this cool late fall afternoon. A tear pooled in the corner of the one eye that remained open as she slowly grew still. This was as close to crying that her body would allow. Her eyes hadn’t seen much in that sterile hospital room, the final 90 days of her 85-year life. A respirator had softly and inexorably shuffled air in and out of her useless lungs. Nutrition, one recoils from calling the milky liquid “food”, had dripped directly into her small intestine through a surgically inserted abdominal tube. It had been nearly four years since she had eaten a pleasant meal, cooked in her own nicely appointed kitchen. She had once, and for a long time, been a creative cook. Now, in her desperate silence, her clouded mind conjured long forgotten favorite recipes in great detail. Strange how the failing mind can manage to recall the specifics of small things loved.Her daughter had finally insisted on the removal of the respirator and nutrition support. She left the room in tears a few minutes before her mother’s labored breathing finally stopped. She was simply not prepared to observe her mother struggle to breathe. Remaining in the room were Deborah’s youngest grandson who was a third-year med student, the shift nurse who had removed the feeding tube, a hospital administrator and a young resident who had agreed to turn off the respirator. None of them thought to hold her hand in those final [...]

Uh, About That Raise You Want...


I stumbled across the following post while doing my morning blog reviews. It's written in a style that leans toward the condescending, which, given the topic (health care reform) and the current mood in many quarters (populist anger), seems highly appropriate. I wanted to share it for three reasons: (1) I mostly agree, (2) I love well-deserved condescension and (3) the writer saved me a lot of work. ************************************ (posted on Craigslist, Chicago, January 28, 2010 by anonymous) WHY you keep getting screwed--MR. (Tea Party Patriot): Hey you. You there in the Glenn Beck T-shirt headed off to the Tea Party Patriot rally. Stop shouting for a moment, please, I want to explain to you why you're so very angry. You should be angry. You're getting screwed. I think you know that. But you don't seem to know that it doesn't have to be that way. You can stop it. You can stop it easily because the system that's screwing you over can only keep screwing you over if you keep demanding that it do so. So stop demanding that. Stop helping the system screw you over. Look, you can go back to yelling at me in a minute, but just read this first. 1. Get out your pay stub. Or, if you have direct deposit -- you really should get direct deposit, it saves a lot of time and money (I point this out because, honestly, I'm trying to help you here, even though you don't make that easy Mr. Angry Screamy Guy) -- then take out that little paper receipt they give you when your pay gets directly deposited. 2. Notice that your net pay is lower than your gross pay. This is because some of your wages are withheld every pay period. 3. Notice that only some of this money that was withheld went to pay taxes. (I know, I know -- yeearrrgh! me hates taxes! -- but just try to stick with me for just a second here.) 4. Notice that some of the money that was withheld didn't go to taxes, but to your health insurance company. 5. Now go get a pay stub from last year around this time, from January of 2009. 6. Notice that the amount of your pay withheld for taxes in your current paycheck is less than the amount that was withheld a year ago. That's because of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan, which included more than $200 billion in tax cuts, including the one you're holding right there in your hand, the tax cut that's now staring you in the face. Republicans all voted against that tax cut. And then they told you to get angry about the stimulus plan. They didn't explain, however, why you were supposed to get angry about getting a tax cut. Why would you be? Wouldn't it make more sense to get angry at the people who voted against that Obama tax cut? But taxes aren't the really important thing here. The really important thing starts with the next point. 7. Notice that the amount of your pay withheld to pay for your health insurance is more than it was last year. 8. Notice that the amount of your pay withheld to pay for your health insurance is a lot more than it was last year. I won't ask you to dig up old paychecks from 2008 and 2007, but this has been going on for a long time. Every year, the amount of your paycheck withheld to pay for your health insurance goes up. A lot. 9. Notice the one figure there on your two pay stubs that hasn't changed: Your wage. The raise you didn't get this year went to pay for that big increase in the cost of your health insurance. 10. Here's where I need you to start doing a better job of putting two and two together. If you didn't get a raise last year because the cost of your health insurance went up by a lot, and the cost of your health insurance is going to go up by a lot again this year, what do you think that means for any chance you might have of getting a raise this year? 11. Did you figure it out? That's right. The increasing cost of health insurance means you [...]

We Has Met the Special Interests and They Is , Etc.


Angry Populism has burst forth across America, and high time. We haven't had any good quality Populism since Huey Long, unless you count the 1994 Gingrich-led hoo-hah. Let's do. So, take 2010, subtract 1994...let's see, borrow from the "tens", repeat from the "hundreds" column and...krimanee, it's been 16 years!That's almost a generation of aimlessly bobbing around without the common folk steering a sensible course for our wallowing ship of state. I would never have thought that the elites could have insinuated themselves back into control so soon after Gingrich reached the "Contract With America". Guess the conservatives have a few elites of their own who think that they know how to steer, maybe even navigate. Bush/Cheney, now those boys could navigate and steer; in their time they reminded me of Columbus, the Italian who thought that he had reached the outskirts of China when he was actually in the Bahamas (and, he used Spain's money; attaboy Chris, a typical gummit project).Anyway, it's "us" versus "them" now, the Real Americans (RAs) against those Elite Special Interest Bastards (ESIBs). The ESIBs don't care what is good for the Republic; they just care about what's good for them. And, the ESIBs have the ear of the lawmakers. But, methinks the tide is turning. Thanks to a recent split-decision by the conservative Roberts' Supreme Court, the RA Populists seem delighted that those ESIBs will now have even more money to wield in their....hmmm, wait, something's amiss here. Aren't most RAs fed up with big money influencing politics? So then...why are they cheering...oh, well, consistency of ideology was never that important to a staunch Populist. Anger, that's the ticket, consistency is for sissies.I'm sure that Sarah Palin, RA in Extremis, will explain it in her charming, convoluted and somewhat tortured way on FOX. The other RAs will, no doubt, understand.Just who are these ESIBs anyway? Let's review.1. Anyone in the financial services business is an ESIB. They got bailed out by the RAs. As a result, they still have their fancy-schmancy 9 to 5 cushy jobs. CEOs, CFOs, loan officers, trust officers, check verifiers, tellers, branch managers, custodians and on-and-on. Schmucks. The RAs have seen through their game and insist that the government squash them like the bugs they are. I hope this doesn't mean that we can't still be friends when I need a loan.2. Auto industry employees are ESIBs. Yo, fat cats, the RAs saved your behinds and your jobs; starting with the suits right down through the union guys bolting the axles onto the GMC Sierras. Morons, you couldn't build vehicles that RAs wanted and so you came whining to the RAs for money. Have you no shame?3. Education Employees are ESIBs. Sure, educators claim to want better education for our little tykes. So, how come RAs can't fire a teacher's incompetent butt when it becomes clear that he or she couldn't teach a chimp to peel a banana? I'll tell you why, it's because they are part of a large and powerful ESIB group (a.k.a. a union).4. Health Care Workers are ESIBs. This is a powerful group because of its size, 17% of our GDP: doctors, RNs, LPNs, lab technicians, hospital administrators, home health workers, makers of durable medical equipment, drug makers, ambulance companies, EMTs, etc. etc. Greedy Gus's the lot of them. A chicken pox on all of their houses. RAs are tired of the 8% health care price inflation every year and have risen up to kill any legislation that might slow it down even a littl.....wait, this inconsistency seems to need a Sarah Palin explanation.5. Health Insurance Employees are ESIBs. As the premier category of ESIBs, this group causes slime to appear on my keyboard when I write about them too much. Ergo, I'll stop.6. Agri-businesses (farmers) are ESIBs. Thought that you could hide from the wrath of the[...]

Wait, Wait, Where Are All the Angels?


Come with me now, thrill-seekers, to that land where even angels are affeared. It's the land where the talk is of racism, religion, political correctness and women's studies.Senator Harry Reid, the mild-mannered Mormon from Nevada has come under withering political fire from conservatives. For the better part of a year the criticism has focused on the Senator's role in shepherding health care reform legislation through the sausage grinder known as the U.S. Senate. Just recently, however, it has come to light that not only is Harry a Mormon, a bit of a sad looking sack, a legislative "water-carrier" for the Obama administration on health care but also a racist pig.From no less an authority than Liz Cheney, a Washington pundit who proves that the "mean gene" can indeed be passed from generation-to-generation, we learn that, unlike the morally superior Republicans, not a single one of whom has ever harbored a racist thought, Harry Reid isn't fit to serve as Senate Majority Leader. His crime, in case you have been in the Gobi Desert until just today, was to utter the perfectly benign truth that Barack Obama is a "light-skinned African American"--for which he can blame his Kansas hippie white mother--and who "speaks without a Negro dialect unless he chooses to". The latter observation is also something for which Obama can blame his mother plus his grandmother and grandfather, none of who be talkin' a Negra dialeh 'round de howz when Barack was a tad. Further, none of them likely spoke as iffin he'us raised up in the holler a fur peas back 'round yonder. Ergo, Barack does not talk like Reba McEntire either.(An aside: Had Barack been raised by his father, he would likely speak with a Kenyan accent and, to our American untrained ears, sound like Nelson Mandela.)In any case, he wasn't. So, for many Americans, who would otherwise be uneasy with a presidential candidate who looked like Robert Mugabe and/or sounded like Ludacris, Barack Obama was a politician who looked and sounded like a reasoned and reasonable candidate. It's the same thinking that led Colin Powell to be considered a promising Republican presidential candidate. Liz Cheney will, no doubt, deny that this Powell observation ever arose around the Cheney family dinner table, given that the Cheney's are, apparently, completely free of any racial prejudices (except as relates to Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims, all of whom should be legally tortured to extract "ticking time bomb" information in order to "Keep America").The conservative gas bags claim that Reid's "racist statement" is equivalent to that of Trent Lott who was forced to relinquish his Senate leadership position after suggesting that the country would have been better off if Strom Thurmond--that paragon of racial harmony--had ascended to the presidency in 1948, thus maintaining racial segregation as the national standard.So, let's review: Reid's statement, "because Obama is a light-skinned and well-spoken Negro, it was possible that he could get elected president" is equated, by the likes of Liz Cheney, to Lott's statement suggesting that America would be a better place if blacks kept to their own restaurants, rest rooms, schools, movie balconies, rear bus seats and water fountains. For my racial entertainment dollar, the comparison would be laughably priceless if it weren't so hypocritical and ludicrous; Ludacris would likely agree.I believe that Mark Twain said, "If you want to make people angry, lie to them. If you want to make them purple with rage, tell them the truth.''Here's my truth. All of us are racists; we only differ in degree. At the most harmless end are people who are probably much like Harry Reid and, hopefully, you, my dear reader. At the other end is the neo-Nazi skin-head. To claim that being positioned a[...]

"The doctor will see you now......bwahahahahahah"


Perhaps you've noticed. When you visit your PCP (primary care physician), your time schedule and the doctor's time schedule are not in sync. This is the reason that you have ample time to fill out your entire medical history, beginning with your polio shots from third grade and then additional time to read and review a Sports Illustrated or Better Homes & Gardens issue from 1994.Then, just as you are fully engrossed in learning about the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding dust-up, a nurse flings open an unmarked door, bellows your name and briskly leads you to a very public hallway scale where you are weighed, despite the fact that you still have your clothes on, are carrying a coat and toting a briefcase with a laptop inside; nurse clucking and scowling ensue. Then, you are taken to a small, chilly room, your blood pressure taken (more clucking and scowling) asked to disrobe, don a paper gown, not to be confused with anything Halston would design, and told, "The doctor will be right in". This is the medical equivalent of the phrase, "Of course I will respect you in the morning."You spend enough time alone in this chilly room, in your non-insulated paper gown to discover and read more not-too-recently issued magazines--usually vintage 2003 to 2006 -- and to have various parts of your body react to the chill; depending on your gender, either enlargement or shrinkage.Then, just as you are absorbed in an investigative Newsweek report about Dick Cheney having accidentally shot a fellow quail hunter in the face, in comes the doctor, looking confident but somewhat harried. There is brief small talk, a question or two, a quick look down your throat and into your ears and tah-dah, you're done. "What, what, wait; I forgot to ask about that burning sensation when I pee." Too late. You peek out the door one way, then the other, clutching the paper gown so as to keep your dignity, but the doctor is gone and, in that gown, there never was any dignity.The nurse tells you that the burning sensation is "very common in people your age" and to try "cutting out spicy food." Total time at the doctor's office, two hours and twenty minutes; portion of that time with the doctor, twelve minutes.However, if you have an appointment with a specialist, particularly some arcane medical specialty such as "Reproductive Organ Cosmetic Surgery" (I'm not making this up), you barely have time to hang your coat, grab a complimentary cup of Irish Mist Mocha Java and begin searching for reading material before you are graciously escorted into the inner sanctum. There, you are asked to disrobe so that the body part of interest is available for convenient inspection. You are provided a warm terry robe and the doctor and his or her assistant whisk efficiently into the room almost the moment you loosely knot the sash.The specialist listens attentively, types notes in a laptop, clicks from screen to screen checking your medical history and the net present value of your previous procedures. Then, only after you have completely covered the reason for your visit and your vision for the eventual outcome, the doc carefully examines your present condition, followed by providing a thorough explanation of the procedure alternatives, likely outcomes and risks. There is a tasteful discussion of price ranges for the procedure and some clever banter about "lifestyle improvements". The doctor suggests that you call later if you have questions. He or she will take the call personally. You get dressed and you are done. Total time at the doctor's office, 45 minutes; portion of that with the doctor, 35 minutes. Who needs magazines?Your primary care physician likely sees 30 or more patients every day and earns about $170,000 a year, less if he or she has a lot of Medicare patients.The sp[...]

Putting the Hype into Hypocrisy


Immediately after signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Founding Fathers began to rancorously bitch at each other and disagree on many a political issue. For instance, Jefferson was a champion of "states rights" while Madison and Hamilton were leading "federalists". Here's the primary difference: State's Rights = the states get to boss the fed around; Federalism = Washington gets to boss the states around. Even today, this argument isn't totally settled but the Feds have had the upper hand ever since that pesky Civil War back in the mid-19th century. The current Supreme Court is trying to re-balance the scales.From the outset, one of the primary "state's rights" issues was slavery. Jefferson argued that the states should each decide for themselves. At the time, Jefferson was busy making babies with his slave, Sally Hemmings, and probably didn't want the federal government legally messing with a really sweet arrangement. (I'm nearly certain that Miss Hemmings was given a binding "yes-no" vote regarding sleeping with Massah Thomas, but it's just my intuition.)Well, this slavery argument festered for the better part of 80 years until it was finally settled by force of arms in 1865 (politics at an extreme level). The Federalists won this particular skirmish. If they hadn't--and if you currently live in one of the original Confederate states and you are white--you could own your very own darkie today. Given current demographic realities, however, contemporary slaves would likely be Guatemalans. On second thought, were slavery still legal in the south, there would likely be far fewer Central and South Americans blithely scurrying across the border. I'm sure that some conservative or libertarian talk-show host has already proposed "the slavery solution" as an effective curb on illegal immigration (I'll check Lou Dobb's Twitter posts as he is the most likely candidate).All of this is to illustrate that early in our Republic, politicians argued, scuffled, occasionally dueled and voted based primarily on contrary beliefs and differences of ideology. Today's politics, although they are often elaborately cloaked in ideology, are really, truly, actually, no kidding about money. I give you, as example number one, the junior Senator from Connecticut, Joseph I. Lieberman. As a observant Jew, Joe would like you to think of him as Joseph I. Liebermensch, a "man" yes, but one who stands out as particularly reliable, stalwart, brave, true and independent in a robust and very self-reliant independent way; sort of an Adult Jewish Eagle Scout.Joe, having had no chance of being re-elected as the Democratic candidate from Connecticut in 2006 by losing the primary, peeled himself away from the Democratic Mother Ship and ran as a faux independent (actually he called his campaign the "Connecticut for Lieberman" party). It worked and Joe returned to Washington as Senator. His actions chapped off a number of really important Democrats and Joe repaid their bad attitudes by endorsing and campaigning for John McCain and Sarah Barracuda in the 2008 election. Joe can torch a bridge, push come to shove.Now we come to Joe's most visible, if not shiny, hour since 2000 when he actually made Dick Cheney look good during the V.P. debate.Health care legislation has returned Joe to center stage. In Joe's hands rests the outcome of the entire nation's dysfunctional health care contraption.Joe has recently risen up, done an airborne 180 that would make Nureyev proud, and, mid-leap, tossed a wrench directly into the cogs of the Congressional sausage-making apparatus.Let's keep Joe's stated and actual reasons for his behavior simple.Joe "Remember, I am an independent and self-reliant mensch in a very independent way" Lieberman's [...]

Outing the Coca Cola Santa


It's always about this time of December that my thoughts turn to Saint Nicholas. I can't explain it. You would think that his being such a culturally important figure, Santa would also enter my thoughts in, oh say, July or May, in much the same way that thoughts of the Pope, Augusto Pinochet or Tiger Woods occasionally pop into my head unbidden throughout the year. But, as far as I can recall, that doesn't happen. Nope, on the Santa front, it is just one of those December things.And, unlike many, I don't conjure up the the Coca Cola version of Santa, the morbidly obese one, a condition caused partly by his habit of chugging sugar-laden Cokes from breakfast until the cocktail hour. This St. Nick would likely have such a caffeine buzz going that Mrs. Saint Nicholas, nee Earlene Goldberg--a long suffering saint in her own right--couldn't get the old boy to calm down and make anything before 2 or 3 every morning. Of course, at the North Pole, it's hard to keep to a regular circadian schedule what with 24 hours of daylight half the year and 24 of dark the other half. Seems to me that Santa ought to relocate to improve the efficiency of his operation. I'd suggest somewhere near the equator in southern Asia, closer to lead paint suppliers and where most of the toys are jobbed out to third-party providers anyway. It would way shorten his supply chain.No, the St. Nick of whom I think is the one from the Clement Clarke Moore poem, the one that I read to my children so many times that I can still recall it from memory. I sometimes intentionally made mistakes when I read it to my son as a way to determine if he was asleep or just listening with his eyes closed. If it were the latter, he would stop me mid-poem, insist on a correction by reminding me of the right words. He would do this without opening his eyes..."Dad, it's not, Vomit, Stupid, Dagwood and Nixon, it's Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen."....or, "Dad, it's not a 'bowel, foul and smelly' it's a 'bowlful of jelly'". Tykes demand accuracy.Moore's poem describes Saint Nicholas as a "little old driver so lively and quick", a description that runs quite contrary to the dressed-in-red slab of humanity that I saw today at the Mall, posing stoically with screaming toddlers and greedy pre-teens with lists of "demands" in hand. In fact, later, as I left the mall by my usual side door route, there was "Santa", next to a dumpster, beard hanging from one ear, sucking on a Marlboro Light and looking haggard. I strongly doubt that this was the real Santa. He seemed neither lively nor quick and he was at least 250 lbs. past "little". If this Santa tried to come down our chimney, there would be a prolonged interruption of his intended delivery schedule.The poem also describes the flying reindeer as "tiny" and the sleigh as "miniature", additional clues that if one were to plop the Mall Santa or the Coca Cola version onto the sleigh, there would likely be some serious issues with The International Brotherhood of Flying Reindeer, Local 001.Moore was the scion of a prominent New York family. His father, Bishop Benjamin Moore, officiated at the inauguration of George Washington, invented lead paint and was personally responsible for the creation of the accent wall color "Tangy Tangerine" in 1808. But, as so often happens, I digress.The magical St. Nick in Moore's poem is dressed "all in fur, from his head to his foot", a sartorial decision that has just caught the attention of PETA, an unusually irritating organization that plans to station members with buckets of fake blood on rooftops across the globe this year in hopes of creating a media event. My bet is that they just freeze their butts and get coal in their stockings. I suppose St . Nic[...]

The Bob of Rights


In 1789 the U.S. Congress wrote the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. These amendments, for those of you who were out with the Chicken pox during this 5th grade class, are known as the Bill of Rights and were adopted in 1791. I don't know exactly who "Bill" was but there were a number of "Williams" who were involved in the Revolution. I assume that someone (probably that jokester, Franklin) slapped some poor William's nickname on the legislation and it just slipped through.These 10 Rights were added to the Constitution to satisfy those members of Congress who were concerned that without them that the Federal Government could become tyrannical, much like the central governments of Europe at the time and similar to today's DMV offices. These amendments were vaguely written in one or two areas, e.g. armed militias, gun ownership rights, privacy issues, the government's relationship to religion, liberty and such. Many folks these days believe that they know exactly what each of these amendments means because they can divine the writers' specific intent, i.e. "I can own a rocket propelled grenade launcher if I want to, the Second Amendment guarantees it."I'm a bit more guarded in my interpretation given that the 1789 framers were unfamiliar with grenade launchers. "To bear arms" does suggest that the writers had in mind personal firearms and not more advanced weapons of war. Citizens, for instance, were not guaranteed the right to "bear howitzers" or "naval gunboats". I'm sure that there are some out there in reader land who disagree and plan to build their own naval gunboat for back yard defense, local ordinances and lack of water be damned. Go right ahead. The construction and maintenance activity will likely preclude you from positioning yourself for a Supreme Court slot or starting your own talk show.In any case, the Bill of Rights has been and will likely continue to be, at the heart of contentious issues. People of intellect on both sides of the divide will disagree and the pendulum of legal interpretation will swing left and then right as the makeup of the Supreme Court evolves. Currently, Antonin "Batman" Scalia and Clarence "The Quiet Robin" Thomas bat from the right side along with Roberts and Alito with Kennedy as the switch hitter whose stats are a little weaker from the left side, if you get my drift.But I take keyboard in hand today to talk about the "Bob of Rights" not the Bill of Rights. The Bob of Rights, named after fellow Georgian Billy Bob (he asked that his last name not be revealed) are founded on his observations of fellow Americans as they go about their daily routines. These Rights are based on many citizens' sense of entitlement regarding a number of issues and activities and they exercise these Rights with abandon.And so, with no further to do, here they are.**************************************************************************************************The Bob of Rights (2009)Be it knowneth hencefortheth and forevermoreth, not including Federal and State holidays, weekends and regular work days, by all who are in the literate to non-literate continuum and who are bona fide legal residents of the United States of America plus Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the American Virgin Islands and Canada (just a joke, you overly-sensitive Canadian readers) that the following are apparently guaranteed Rights of Individuals in spite of the fact that they do not appear anywhere in the U.S. Constitution but have been observed time and again by Billy Bob (and others). To whit: An Individual, because he or she is very special, has the Right to: 1. Ignore the line of cars patiently waiting in the exit lane and speed down the adjoini[...]

New Light Through Old Windows


In the late eighteenth century, America's Founding Fathers (salute) came together in Philly, declared the colony's independence from England, established a constitution and very possibly invented the cheese steak sandwich. The first two accomplishments are irrefutable facts.We remember many of these Founding Fathers (there were no Founding Mothers, and this is an important fact as you will see directly) as literate men of property, education and creativity. Most of them were Christians--with the exception of a handful of the most influential--all of them were Caucasian and all of them wore silly pants, which were the rage at the time. Many wore wigs, a style that has pretty much faded away, except in some sectors of the entertainment business. These men clearly saw themselves as qualified to lead the country and to be selected and re-selected by voters who were similar to them: literate, educated, land-owning white men.I suspect, that if the Founding Fathers were to learn that in today's America we encourage to vote anyone who is at least 18, can prove legal citizenship and can fog up a mirror, they would be horrified. Women voting? Nonsense. Negroes? You surely jest. Illiterate workers? Outrageous. Indians? Now you are just being silly.The "All men are created equal" thing was limited to the aforementioned "men" and to a certain class of capable men, in other words, the Founding Father archetype.Eschewing current political correctness, let me opine that our Founding Dads had a point. Wait, put down that rock and hear me out.I strongly believe that citizens of the female persuasion, Blacks, Indians, non-property owners, laborers, et al, who were originally left out of the voting equality equation should be included, just as they are now. However, if any of these folks is a certifiable moron, I don't want them helping me select representatives or to run for office themselves. Moron inclusion is the standard now and it is a major contributor to the fact that we get a fair share of morons in state and federal legislative seats. The fact that we don't have effective moron screening as part of the voter or candidate registration process is unconscionable.Let me be clear, I don't mean to denigrate morons and for those of you who are morons, "denigrate" means to "put down" or "to make fun of".Seriously, we don't let people drive cars who can't pass the driver's test but we let people vote--no, we encourage people to vote--who know virtually nothing of the policies, implications and nuances of the issues at hand or the machinery and purposes of the three branches of government. Many of these voters likely don't have the capacity to be informed voters, much like some people can't safely merge onto a freeway. Both are dangerous types in their own special way.There is a faint but growing wail building in the distance as the liberals amongst my readers began to understand my rather conservative take on voter's rights. My take is simple: an adult U.S. citizen has a right and duty to vote but only as long as there is some evidence that he or she has the mental capacity to think clearly and independently.Along with the right to vote comes the obligation to be informed instead of merely influenced by those who would twist and spin the facts. If one is unable to think rationally for themselves, someone else will always be available to think for them, rationally or not. Based on much of what I see and read on the Internet, it's clear that some citizens, many of whom would probably make good next door neighbors and/or drinking companions, should be kept away from the polling station through threat of force because they are political and[...]

Full Disclosure


Some readers likely missed the announcement on October 6 that the FTC has set new product and service endorsement rules for blogs. We bloggers, however, straightened up and took notice.Many bloggers, my-own-self included, were shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that some of our less ethical peers were using their world-wide communication platforms to earn money and receive free stuff from the marketing departments of various for-profit, capitalistic firms.See, when these devious bloggers have the chance, they sing the praises of a particular product or service, without mentioning that they are actually on the touted provider's payroll. Scurrilous, just scurrilous.When I first learned of this practice I was so upset that I had to take a break from reading the WSJ online and kick back with an ice cold and amazingly refreshing bottle of caffeine-free Coke Zero, the only sweetener-based drink that really does provide a pick-me-up without causing caloric intake guilt. I recommend Coke Zero without reservation. I've tried the Pepsi version and it just doesn't have it going on, you know what I mean; it's kinda flat.Where was I? Oh yeah. Anyway, marketing sharpies are constantly trying to find ways to make people buy stuff that they don't really need; worming their slimy way into the social networking arena is just the latest trickery.Speaking of worms, my dog is now completely worm-free thanks to Interceptor Flavor Tabs, a palatable monthly tablet that has kept my dog completely free from heartworms, adult hookworms, adult roundworms and whipworm infections. I mean, this stuff is amazing. If you have a dog that you treasure and you can't stand to see him or her dragging a wormy butt across your $4,000 imported Persian, Interceptor Flavor Tabs are the answer. Of course, that's just my opinion; I'm not a veterinarian or anything, just a simple blogger.The FTC is "...taking this nefarious endorsement practice quite seriously," according to Rick Calvert, chief executive of the blogger conference, Blog World & New Media Expo. Fines of up to $11,000 per violation can be imposed on bloggers who fail to reveal to readers that their endorsements are compensated, either through direct payment or the receipt of free goods and services.Speaking of services, I recently experienced some of the best that I have ever had on a Carnival Cruise ship adventure to the Caribbean. Just a sensational trip, start to finish. Not a want went unattended. I've tried all the other cruise lines and, what with all of the vacationing sales managers, dentists, insurance agents, blue hairs and Midwestern families with their strange Fargo accents who usually end up at my table, they couldn't deliver the faux royalty experience that I was looking for in a four-day, three-night romantic get-a-way for under $1,000 per. But, Carnival came through with colors flying. I've even coined a slogan based on the experience: "Carnival, the cruise line for the particularly picky."Of course, the practice of product placement in television and movies is an established and hoary marketing deceit. History suggests that product placement in movies began with the release of "Gone With The Wind" in the late 1930's. Apparently, in the scene where Rhett tells Scarlett that he "...(doesn't) give a damn", in the background, sitting on a foyer table behind Scarlett, is her Blackberry. One has to look very quickly to see it but the power of subliminal advertising is well-known among marketing gurus.Speaking of "quickly", I want to share with you my high regard for Levitra, the erectile dysfunction drug. Those folks at GlaxoSmithKline Corporation put the[...]

Like Summer Camp Without the Chiggers


Wow! What a weekend!!!!I just returned from the Anti-Obama March on Washington. They called it a "march" but we actually took a bus. From the looks of some of the other "marchers" it's probably a good thing too, because many of them didn't appear to be prepared to march any further than from the La-Z-Boy to the fridge and back (ha-ha).We staunch true Americans came from all over this great country to wave placards, shout slogans and basically de-rail Obama's plan to convert our great country to socialism, communism, Marxism, fascism, Moslemism, Muslimism, tyrannyism, feminism, Bolshevism and all the other evil "isms". The good "isms", the ones that we support are: Americanism, capitalism, individualism and freedomism.According to FOX News and Michele Malkin, our protest group was 2,000,000 strong. Of course, the D.C. police department claimed that there were about 70,000 demonstrators but then what would you expect from a department that has to kiss up to the new and illegitimate president and whose Chief of Police is probably some uppity with a hidden agenda. Oh, my bad, the D.C. police chief is a white woman by the name of Lanier. Makes you wonder if she can do the job AND take care of her family. She'd have to be a regular Sarah Palin and that's unlikely.Anyhoo, in a country of 300 million people, the difference between 2 million and 70 thousand is a rounding error isn't it?I was amazed at the diversity of our group (whatever its actual size). We were a veritable cross-section of true Americans. There were young white women, middle-aged white women, elderly white women, young white men, middle-aged white men, elderly white men, short white people, tall white people, thin white people and husky white people. There was even one women who looked sort of Oriental or Asian or whatever it is that slopes prefer to be called these days. I didn't actually see her in person but I saw a YouTube clip where she was praying in front of the camera. I couldn't tell from the video prayer exactly what she was praying for but it had to be something good because it was a prayer, right? She kept opening her eyes to see if the camera was still running and as long as it was, she would close her eyes again and continued praying. What a trooper!!!!I'll bet that if Jesus were alive today and on earth, instead of being alive today but in heaven at the right hand of God, taking names, he would certainly have joined our crusade. Like us, Jesus was a rebel and he loved poking fun at people like that illegitimate president, Obama, who is just an uppity nig...a man with an evil agenda and certainly not one of us.The creativity of our group was just too much fun. I was impressed by many of the signs and slogans. They just made me proud. Some of my favorites include:The placard that read "The Zoo has an African (picture of a lion) and the White House has a Lyin' African" (ha-ha).There was a great sign that read "Bury Obama with Kennedy" (ha-ha). What a clever way to say that a dead Obama would be good for the country without actually, you know, threatening the president which, apparently, is against some law. If you ask me, free speech regarding presidents has taken a real beating ever since the Kennedy shooting (John or Bobby, take your pick).One large man had created a t-shirt with this message across the front: "We're mad but we came unarmed. This time." (ha-ha) It's subtle, I'll admit, and I had to think about what it meant for a few minutes. Here's my take; his message makes the point that unless things change (or not change) the way we true Americans want them to change (or not c[...]

Dear Children: I Apologize


I should have done this long ago but I kept hoping that things would work out; praying that I wouldn't have to humble myself with an apology. However, it has reached a point where the inevitable is, well, inevitable.So, (deep breath), here goes.I am deeply sorry about the Baby Boom; no really, very deeply, remorseful even.Being one of the very oldest Boomers my-own-self, I take great responsibility for our unusually irritating generation, much as an oldest child often takes responsibility for his or her siblings. We had good intentions. At least the road to hell is well paved.There are a number if specific failings that deserve full disclosure. However, before I go down that inglorious list, let me acknowledge that we actually did pretty well in the music department.The Baby Boom rescued the 1950's music scene from, among others, Gogi Grant, Kay Starr, Frankie Lane, Jo Stafford and Mario Lanza. And, although there was a brief 1956 "Hit Parade" uprising by the "old schoolers" when Hugo Winterhalter released "Canadian Sunset", rock-n-roll beat back the challenge easily.Launched in 1955 by Bill Haley and his Comets, rock-n-roll never much looked back. Almost immediately it gave us Elvis (pre-Army, authentic,"I ain't fat yet", bad boy), The Platters, The Champs, The Coasters and Domenico Mudugno. The magic fuel in the R&R tank was the introduction of the Les Paul solid-body electric guitar. In all of its various designs, the electric guitar was, and is, the bedrock requirement. It gave rise to such Baby Boomer rockers as Dion and the Belmonts, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Palmer, The Eagles, Bon Jovi and scores of others, some of them wimmin', like Martha and the Vandellas and Bonnie Raitt.There were the occasional lapses, I'll admit, like the unfortunate Sheb Wooley "Purple People Eater" release, but in the main, the music created and supported by the Boomers is still classic, hummable and endlessly covered by contemporary pretenders. I think that even the most ardent Boomer haters will have to admit that our music is far superior to rap, krunk, ska, grunge, punk, bitpop, filk or skronk.I'm also sure, however, that even with the music, the Baby Boom's multiple sins outweigh this singular contribution. And so, let us commence the secular confession and apologia.I'm ashamed that you have to endure Viet Nam War stories. The Boomers weren't responsible for this particular dust up but we contributed most of the blood in the "blood and treasure" part of the equation. Now, at any gathering that includes Boomer men, someone will launch into a primarily fabricated account of their heroics during the Tet offensive or some such. In my experience, having been on active duty with the U.S. Army (salute) from 1969-1972, those who actually had "in country" combat experience rarely want to re-visit the experience and those who tell the tales were probably somewhere safe and warm, like Toronto.We lied about Woodstock, sorry. It was a lot more fun if you weren't actually there. Crawling in the mud, sleeping in the rain, worrying about tainted drugs and arguing with some dipwad from New Jersey about the meaning of Joe Cocker's version of "A Little Help From My Friends" is only fun in hindsight. Personally, I was doing most of these same things when Woodstock occurred, except that I was in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood. I can assure you that "fun" was not how we thought of it then, or even in hindsight.We ask forgiveness for our George McGovern support. Not that George isn't a fine fellow, he is, and not because we[...]

Slip Sliddin' Away


The American Public says, "We're mad as hell and simply won't take it anymore. Kick the rascals out. Give us a new and promising administration; we'll even vote for a nearly black guy.""What do we want? A growing economy! When do we want it? Now!""What do we want? Victory in Iraq! When do we want it? Now!""What do we want? Higher employment! When do we want it? Now!""What do we want? Affordable health care! When do we want it? ....hummmm, well, sometime soon would probably be good but let's not rush into anything that might possibly impact us personally because, you know, we don't really like our insurance companies all that much but, then again. And, we can't actually afford the brand-named drugs that keep us from having a massive health problem, like dying, but if we don't eat on Thursdays we can squeeze the pills into the budget, so there is a work-around. Plus, we can see 'ol Doc Wilson for a physical if we don't mind waiting until after the holidays and he is, after all, one of the last family docs in our area. Yes, yes, the uninsured are in a tight bind but, as W reminded us back in the day, they can always go the emergency room. So, on reflection, and with plenty of very helpful information from the insurance industry, drug companies, the AMA and bona fide experts like Glenn Beck and Senator DeMint, it seems prudent to kick this particular can, you know, down the road, again, I think."President Obama campaigned, in part, on the promise to fix the American health care system. In other words, to stick his ungloved hand into the beehive, bless his heart.Obama and his budget sidekick Peter Orszag made a strategic decision to put "health care cost inflation" at the very tip of the reform spear and then aimed that spear at the for-profit health insurance industry. However, the other health care players (docs, hospitals, drug companies, durable medical equipment manufacturers, et al) know that their time is coming. So, they have circled the wagons, even though they don't much care for the guys in the insurance wagon with its big bull's-eye on the canvas.In the meantime, big chunks of the American public have gone all wobbly on health care reform. It sounded good until the details started to emerge and then the opposition had something to spin. We Americans do love our spin cycle.New York Times conservative columnist, David Brooks has noted: "Voters often have only a fuzzy sense of what each individual proposal actually does,....(but,) it must involve big spending, big government and a fundamental departure from the traditional American approach."So, support is flagging. Americans are anxious about the unknown and this is perfectly reasonable. The unease is primarily a "big spending, big government, big deficit and self-interest" defensive response.Here's Obama and Orszag's strategic mistake: they have not effectively communicated that to do nothing assures an even bigger spending government that, in the very near future, gets pulled into a nearly bottomless financial abyss by health care costs. Medicare will be leading the group over the edge, leaving its heel marks right up to and over the precipice.I find that reviewing facts often helps to steady a wobbly thinking process. The following facts have nothing to do with what health care reform should look like. They are simply facts that focus one's thinking, sort of like a firing squad with you as the guest of honor. Final cigarette?1. In 1993, nearly all health insurance providers in America were not-for-profit. Back then, for every $100 of premiums collected,[...]

Bumper Sticker Solutions Needn't Apply


If I were a much smarter and more analytical writer, I might have written the article to which I now direct you. Alas, David Goldhill gets the credit and all I can do is to say, "Attaboy" and pass it along. I thank my son-in-law, Travis Thomas, and my friend Pat Morgan (knuckle dragging conservatives, both) for bringing this article to my attention.

If your tolerance for reading about health care solutions is limited to Twitter-length messages, this piece is likely wasted on you. If, however, you could benefit from some well-researched straight talk about the real (but politically unrealistic in the short-term) changes needed to heal a dysfunctional "system" and introduce true free-market cost discipline into American health care, then your time and reflection will be well-spent.

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Observoid of the Day: Dude ranch horses and lemmings have much in common.

Just Shoot the Old Geezer


Regarding proposed health care reform legislation, pundit Charles Krauthammer ("Kraut" in certain salons) wants to "be honest about death counseling" according to his syndicated column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, August 21, 2009. In this op-ed, Kraut quickly distances himself from Sarah "death squad" Palin. Her comments on this aspect of the House's proposed legislation clearly proves that Ms. Deathacuda is a cup, saucer, salad plate, butter knife, dinner fork, spoon and water glass short of an entire place setting. This fact makes her the darling of voters who live in a parallel universe called the Paranoid Dimension, aheeeeeeeooooo.Some of these voters have shown up at the recent and infamous town hall meetings waving posters of Prez BHO altered to make him resemble Hitler. Apparently, Kraut (not unlike my-own-wizened-self), doesn't believe that these voters will be dissuaded from the "death squad" belief so he attacks the end-of-life-counseling provision from a different angle to widen the dissenting audience to include the less creepy elements. While not a fascist plot to euthanize the infirm and helpless, he says, the counseling and attendant outcome (the creation of a Living Will) "mean nothing" at the end-of-days and is, in a strange and illogical flip-flop, a subtle government push toward a less expensive end for the elderly.In Section 1233 of H.B. 3200, there is a provision allowing for the payment to doctors for their time to meet with Medicare patients and discuss the patient's end-of-life health care wishes. Doctors can do such counseling now but it's a freebie. Kraut asserts that introducing payment into the equation is bad thing. Doctors, he claims, would bring the subject up "whether the patient asked for it or not," because there would be a financial incentive to do so. Such discussion may then lead to the creation of a Living Will and we know what Kraut thinks about those.Kraut, no doubt, is glad that Terri Schiavo avoided that conversation with her family doctor and let Congress decide about her end-of-life care. Oops, isn't that government involvement in health care decisions? Damn those ideological hard places and contra-logical rocks.Further, Kraut argues, "Living Wills" are literary, not legal, documents. Here's Kraut's take on his personal Living Will (note that Kraut has one in spite of his professed belief about them): "I've had some good innings, thank you. If I have anything so much as a hangnail, pull the plug." From a literary perspective, and one does write their own wishes in the document, his is but one long cliche. From a pain and suffering perspective, Kraut is apparently deathly afraid of hangnails. Specificity in a Living Will is good but hangnails seem a pretty low bar. Well, we all have our quirks. I am, for instance, morbidly afraid of the "erection lasting longer than four hours" that I hear so much about on the telly. If this condition arises on my deathbed, UNHOOK THE VENTILATOR!For those of you who think that Charles Krauthammer is the epitome of measured and objective observation, stop reading now, call your real estate agent and ask about buying a lot in a Paranoid Dimension subdivision, aheeeeeeooooo.The way that most elderly Americans die in 2009 bears little resemblance to the way it occurred even as recently as 1950, thanks to giant advances in medical care. This fact is a double edged blade. American medicine has been successful in lengthening life but lousy at recognizing when life lengthening effor[...]

Is it Nuts in Here or is it Just Me?


American political dialog (for public consumption) and reality are conveniently shielded from one another by a wall of fear. That fear is composed of the politician's fear of election (power) loss and the voter's fear of hearing about entitlement loss. What follows is an example of what is said and heard versus what is real but not heard.I will paraphrase the Obama health care dialog: "We need to reform the system so that everyone can be covered by affordable insurance and can receive affordable care and no one will have to sacrifice if we do it right."Here is a shortened version of reality: "The health care cost crocodile is eating the American way of life, currently it has swallowed an entire leg and is going for the other, so we must cut the first leg off at the hip to save our entitled ass."Here's another example: Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said on The News Hour last week that "the entire country should look to the examples of the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics where costs are relatively low and the outcomes good and replicate those models as a way to moderate health care cost inflation."Here's the reality that he didn't mention: Both of those facilities pay their doctors--not for procedures--a salary. It's the primary reason that the care in those facilities is less invasive and less expensive. The day that Senator Alexander introduces Republican-sponsored legislation that puts all American doctors on salary is the day that Nancy Pelosi and Jim DeMint are caught in a compromising embrace in the Senate cloakroom.You want more examples? No? Well too bad.Here's a paraphrased version of the conservative push-back on reforming anything about American health care: "We have the greatest health care system in the world and if we change it there will be.....wait for it......wait for it, rationing!"Here's the reality: America has great health care if you can afford it, otherwise it's mediocre at best and non-existent at worst. We already ration health care in America; we do it through cost and it's rapidly slipping out of the reach of even those with basic health insurance.Speaking of rationing, let's do a little exercise inspired by a recent op-ed column by Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton, a small university in New Jersey (not that there is anything wrong with that).Suppose that there is patient in your insurance pool who has aggressive liver cancer that will kill him in 12 to 24 months. There is a drug called Sutent that slows the spread of the cancer and could give this patient an extra six months of life if he starts taking it now. Whatever the insurance pool pays for this patient and others like him in the pool will impact future premiums for all pool members. Please answer "yes" or "no" to the following questions.1. The Sutent costs $50 per month, should your insurance pool pay?2. The Sutent costs $1,000 per month, should your insurance pool pay?3. The Sutent costs $10,000 per month, should your insurance pool pay?4. The Sutent costs $100,000 per month, should your insurance pool pay?5. The Sutent costs $1 million per month, should your insurance pool pay?If you answered "no" at any point in this continuum, you believe in rationing; you must be a realist and therefore, according to the conservative right, a leftist "socialized medicine" pinko. Otherwise, you are a strict non-rationer; you can march with Glen and Rush, gasbags who never take the "no rationing" argument to a thoughtful conclusion. You can bea[...]

The AntiChrist Wears FootJoys


I snuck out to the golf course earlier this week. As is so often the case, I was alone because none of my friends are dumb enough to play golf, which spelled in reverse is "flog". The friendly first tee starter matched me up with a pair of brothers, I'll call them Daryl the Younger and Daryl the Older.The Younger was an investment manager for a national brokerage firm, married, the father of two teens and, in outward appearance, a pretty standard suburban fellow. Daryl the Older had been in sales for a telephone equipment manufacturer but was "between opportunities", married and the father of a 20-something who was soon to go to college. He too was a typical-looking once-a-month golfer: Bermuda shorts, Polo shirt, anklet socks and a baseball cap with a University of Georgia logo.We were an agreeable threesome and exchanged pleasantries, golf cliches--"never up, never in", "You da man", etc.--and bits and pieces of personal information.It came to light that I was a writer of sorts and they asked about the nature of my latest efforts. They were hoping, I imagine, that I was a famous author of crime fiction or, given that I have a rainbow hued umbrella on my golf bag, romance bodice rippers. They tried to hide their disappointment when I explained that I wrote policy-wonkish non-fiction with nary a sex scene, except for occasional comments about various politicos and their penchant for having sex with those other than their spouses.After grabbing a cold one at the turn, we arrived at the 10th tee. The Younger asked what I thought of the proposed health care reform currently being turned into sausage by the congress. My response indicated (1) that I thought that both political parties were avoiding the core problem of America's health care crisis (provider cost inflation) and (2) although Obama was addressing insurance coverage for all, he was not providing cost inflation solutions, a combination that would prove too expensive.Apparently, my answer indicated that I was not an Obama worshipper because Daryl the Younger followed on with this question, asked without the slightest hint of irony, jest or sarcasm and apropos to nothing that we had been discussing, "What do you think about Obama being the AntiChrist?"I am, if I do say so my-own-self, pretty quick on my 9.5 B width feet but to this question I could only manage a weak, "I beg your pardon?"Given a few hours I did come up with one or two clever rejoinders such as, "I thought that Cheney had a lock on that", or "Barack's new dog is going to be very disappointed." However, as with all bon mots, better never than late.The Younger continued, "He matches up on many of the signs of being the AntiChrist. You should check it out."I did a quick take over each shoulder to make sure that Allen Funt and his camera crew were not lurking in the bushes. No, I was quite alone with Daryl and Daryl. I turned to my companions, took a deep breath and said in a clear, if somewhat tremulous, voice, "So, how 'bout those Braves?"This being Georgia, I could have used "Dawgs" instead of "Braves" and the result would have been the same. We immediately launched into a sports conversation unrelated to politics or religion and thus it remained for the last nine holes.The incident, brief as it was, is unsettling on a number of levels. One would think that for a person who believed that a sitting U.S. president was the Biblically prophesied AntiChrist, drastic action would be warrant[...]

Miss Elainy


There has been much in the news recently that deserves comment. Reams have already been written about certain people and issues. You may think that all pertinent information on the following topics has made it into the public domain and that any additional perspective would be redundant. Of course, you would be wrong. In my review of available information on these stories, there is a glaring gap and that gap is the perspective of an aging white guy transplant from the mid-west who is currently living in the deep south. This is a gross oversight that must be addressed.So, without further ado--and there has been a gracious plenty of that--I present said perspectives.Michael Jackson. From all indications, Mr. Jackson is still dead. As a business model strategy, one that closely parallels that adopted by The King his-own-self, Elvis Presley, when your act is popular primarily because you have become a parody of your own-earlier-self, death is an excellent career move. Reportedly, there is a large cache of unreleased MJ recordings which will now be packaged and relentlessly marketed via Infomercials. These new recordings, along with collections of MJ's "Greatest Hits", MJ's "Mediocre Hits" and MJ's "B Sides" will continue to create millions of dollars of revenue. The most interesting aspect of this looming marketing juggernaut is the question of who, exactly, will benefit. My prediction, given the early indications based on recent child custody discussions, family comments to the media and such, is that the scramble for a place at the MJ lucre trough will make the family squabbles over Dr. MLK's money-producing legacy look like a pillow fight at a Brownie Scout pajama party.Sarah Palin. For my personal entertainment dollar, Ms. Palin is still the most interesting nut job in the Republican party, and recall, this is the party of Governor Mark "I love your tan lines" Sanford, Newt "Hey, here's yet another new idea" Gingrich and Nevada's Senator John "The wife and I joined the Promise Keepers (wink, wink)" Ensign. These are tough acts with whom to compete but the Thrilla from Wasilla is more than up to it. It helps, of course, to have an entire family, a daughter's former main squeeze and a hairdresser at the Beehive Beauty Salon who are attracted to media mics like liberals to Birkenstocks. Some say that Ms. Palin is "crazy like a fox" and, in part, I agree. If you want to sharply focus your mind, imagine that Ms. Palin, given the right set of circumstances, could eventually have access to the U.S. nuclear arsenal codes; David Letterman should watch his tasteless remarks.Swine Flu. This illness is now officially called the H1N1 virus after a well-orchestrated outcry from the U.S. pork industry claiming that the handle "Swine Flu" was a pejorative, reflecting poorly on pigs and, more to the real problem, ruining bacon sales. The moderately serious influenza has spread worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. It is thought to have incubated and first spread from porker to human in rural Mexico. Apparently, pigs are no longer needed to spread the bug and neither are Mexicans. One could assume that if the bug can jump from pigs to humans that it can also jump back, a possibility that the Chinese government is suppressing lest its population of 2 billion pigs becomes restive and takes to the streets like unhappy Uyghurs. Ironically, a report out of Michigan this week indicat[...]