Sunday, December 27, 2009
Speaking of political, hasn't this been a marvelous Autumn? I've so enjoyed the daily internecine squabbling by the members of the august United States Senate. Call me crazy (as I most likely am), but I truly thought someone, anyone would make a stand, take to the lectern and declare boldly that it was insanity to legislate wholesale changes to an entire nation's healthcare system without carefully considering the details.
Leave aside the fact that a law mandating insurance coverage is unconstitutional on its face, how is it that any of these sterling citizen/legislators can look at us with a straight face and assure us either the House or Senate bills is just what the doctor ordered? I admit that I allowed myself to believe that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) was going to stand tall and buck his own party, slow down the runaway Obama train calculated now to save the next election cynical, I mean cycle. Alas, my dreams were sacrificed on the font of political opportunism. Weeks ago Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) started the leverage game and received $300 million extra for Medicaid subsidies in her home state. The scribes in the Senate are so contemptuous of us 'sheep' that they 'hid' the bribe in language so thinly-veiled that it remined one of gossamer. They needn't have bothered. Ms. Landrieu stood proudly and unabashedly aditted her scam. And I thought we got Louisiana back in 1803 with the Purchase. Apparently not.
Democratic Senators from Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming then demanded their own grease added to the proposed senate bill in order to assure their votes. So much pork was packed on that it makes a sty smell like ambrosia. Senator Nelson though, made a stand. He did so relative to some provisions relating to federal funding of abortion contained in the bill. I take no position on the abortion issue whether related to this bill or otherwise.
Senator Nelson, however, may have exceeded the shameless display by Senator Landrieu, if not in pure dollars, certainly in the measure of character. He got the hard-fought concession on the abortion language. That wasn't all. He also secured some $100 million in concessions and exemptions for the Nebraska-based Mutual of Omaha and Blue Cross/Blue Shield plus 100%--that's 100%--payment from the rest of us for Medicaid payments to Nebraskans.
Senator Nelson and his dispicable cronies stink of smoke and worse from their back-room dealing. I suppose we've known all along that most of these politicians are, by a more accurate appellation, whores. Now we know what they charge.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
This mentality seems to pop up regularly when I do a mini-rant about rap 'music'. It's not really music you see, but only noise with a beat. Music has melody, but about rap I can at least say 'Hooray for percussion.' I have contended in countless conversations that rap is representative of the myriad examples of the continued devolution of our society, a poster child if you will. Many more times than not, in response to my contention that rap is a sickness of someone's heart I hear the 'pshaw' tone. That is quickly followed of course by a variation of "Our parents said the same thing about our music" like that torpedoes my hypothesis. I gainsay this simple-minded reasoning and declare the counterargument to be specious. Yes, our parents were restive (some more strident) about the music of the '60's, but more so the '70's where drugs and 'free love' were glorified. I was in the middle of it and remember. I remember the outcry when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. And that was in response to She Loves You. Nevertheless, most lyrics in those days leaned toward the double entendre rather than being flagrant calls for degredation and worse. Not so with rap and that is my response to those who pooh-pooh my contention. Yes, our parents were 'shocked' and dismayed by our music, but they never heard lyrics akin to 'fuck the bitch', 'beat the ho' or 'kill the nigga'. These are at best misogynistic, at worst racist, but without argument antipathetic. And for those who would like to shuffle me off to get in line with the racists, you are mistaken. You don't know me.
I see grade-schoolers singing along with this chanting and I simply can't fathom the decision-making that led to it. For middle-school students and those a step up it's bad enough. This constant barrage of negative images numbs the senses, perhaps only for a while, but what if the numbness lingers. Of course, rap is not solely responsible for the depths to which American 'culture' has sunk, but the long-term effects are incalcuable.
In Richmond, California last week, up to 20 young people stood around laughing and taking pictures while a 15-year-old girl was gang-raped--for two hours. After her school's homecoming dance. They took photos, most likely on their cell phones. I suppose for a Memory Book. Probably emailed them to friends with a clever comment.
The girl was left unconscious, probably for dead, but was found under a bench. Six boys have been arrested. It is sick, twisted, iniquitous, repugnant, grotesque. How could this be? How ignorant of any moral code, any decency does one have to be to hold the life of another being as insignificant? How did they get there? Moreover, what kind of young people would watch and laugh while a girl's life was forever shattered? This in America? Not in the time when I came of age.
We are rearing a mob of sociopaths that have no concept of right and wrong. None. And the mob grows larger. Don't delude yourselves that this was an isolated incident. Only in the sheer, undiluted depravity was it singular. Only the statutes distinguish this criminal foraging from the brutal murder of a Chicago high school student who was beaten unmercifully with 2X4's by an insane mob of youths. Those are just two recent examples. And someone, anyone can reply to me that our society hasn't sunk to a low that shocks the senses? Don't you dare try to turn the tables, make excuses, defend these creatures and say we have failed them. No. Someone did. I did not.
The battle for our character, our souls has been joined and it happened not just recently, not only in Richmond, California or Chicago. The war has been raging within for some time, all around us and we blithely continue down the path where eventually we will reach the unexpected signpost with the message 'No Return' for all to see.
I guess we'll just keep 'picking our battles' until the war is lost.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
If we take all of that, swirl it around, then conflate it with the daily overdose of apochryphal dissemblage pouring from the Congressional sewers in the guise of paternalistic pap, it's well nigh impossible to focus. We get myopic, trying to fell the individual 'trees' that stand in the way of our rushing forth only to be strafed by even more amplified surround sound of didactic drivel. Counterintuitively we do this rather than taking the occasional hiatus to appreciate the wonder of the verdant forest through which we roam like Hansel and Gretel, trying to find our way home.
Tonight I had the privilege of attending a private reception honoring a friend of mine, Tommy O'Toole, for the decades-long effort he has poured into the game of golf. Yes, he does play the game, but by his own admission not as well as he'd like. He was, however, instrumental in the organization of the Missouri Amateur Golf Association years ago which ultimately became a springboard to the estimable position on the five-member Executive Committee of the United States Golf Association. He has traveled extensively over the years as a well-respected rules official and for other roles at U.S. Open Championships and many other USGA-sanctioned tournaments. Oh, and he's built a successful law practice 'on the side'.
Tommy sacrificed a lot for all of this, but his family always came first--always. And it wasn't always easy. His personal life suffered as did his health a few times. He had little time to devote to himself, but one thing he didn't give up, wouldn't allow it. He never lost sight of the things most important to him after family. His friends. And they are legion. In the past year, Tommy finally left his bachelor days behind and got married. He thinks he picked her. He didn't. No man ever does. We get picked. Our wives let us believe we're in control. We aren't. When Tommy took the plunge, he got a twofer--a son in the bargain, one who badly needed a dad and without any practice, Tommy slid into the role as easy as making a two-foot gimme. It's a tender scene to see them together, to see how gentle Tommy can be. Just as moving is listening to his friends talk about him, them.
I'm grateful I took time out to see the forest tonight, that I got to see Tommy with his new family, his mom and dad and so many people whose lives he's touched. He's gruff sometimes, blunt always and suffers fools madly, but I've not met anyone with a bigger heart. Tommy has been my friend sinced I moved to St. Louis, 29 years and counting. I've never kept ledgers with friends, never offered a hand with the expectation of something in return. I hope, though, that I've been as good of a friend to Tommy as he's been to me. Here's to you, TOT.
Monday, October 26, 2009
As I read the soporific that is the daily drumbeat of the news, I can't escape the $1.4 trillion dollar ($4 trillion; 10?) storm cloud of debt we can't pay and these Pied Pipers blithely pillage our pockets and add hundreds of billions more. Do we have to romance the stone, survive the Temple of Doom to learn the mystical secrets they know? Can the tendentious troika of Obama, Reid and Pelosi lead us on a magic carpet ride to enlightenment? Have Americans by the tens of millions been smitten by a Circean-like enchantress who has turned us into sheep? Or worse, lemmings? My head is like an IED, ready to explode at the slighted provocation. When I looked into the bathroom mirror this morning, staring back at me were the hopeless eyes of a futilitarian.
Please, will someone bring me back from the brink?
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Approximately 20% of our generation remained childless, so a full one-fifth will never have to battle the iniquitous, almost stygian affliction of Bleacher Butt. They are the ones who are likely supporting insurance reform as they don't face the misery for many of the rest of us who face long-term debilitation on our rear face, the one with the permanent vertical smile. The appellation of the diagnosis is an apt one and few terms can be more descriptive of a malady. It is a most disagreeable one. Clearly the disorder does not affect all Boomers equally which is ironic because we spent a good part of our youth shouting for 'equality'. But (no pun intended) no, we now stare into the maw of that which we wrought.
I have four children, the oldest 23 and the youngest 18. I married a Catholic girl and she took her procreative obligations seriously to counterbalance my apostacy I presume. I digress. While I'm unable to pinpoint the exact date, my recollection is that I attended my first youth soccer game in the Autumn of 1991. Of course, being the new generation of parents that we were and riding in on the heels of our 'liberation', all the ideas, the answers were ours. We thought organized sports were great for the very young. We found out too late that we were badly mistaken. We kept our children from backyard pick-up games where each became a famous player if only for an afternoon. We were determined to make certain each child had 'self esteem' so we declared every game a tie and bestowed a medal or trophy on each child at season's end--just for showing up. No self-esteem was built by that as the kids were smarter than we were. They figured out early that the tokens had no value. My kids have hundreds of worthless trinkets. Parenthetically, I wonder what happens when these kids become adults, begin a career and expect a reward for arriving on time. In any event, we created the monster and it stomps through our time like Godzilla through Tokyo.
I estimate that I have sat on my hind quarters through more than 1,200 soccer, basketball, T-ball, baseball, softball, team handball, dodgeball, field hockey, lacrosse and hockey games; I've gotten a sore neck at tennis matches, fought boredom at cross country courses, sat through four-hour track meets watching a child compete for a total of less than five minutes; I've refereed flashlight tag and capture the flag; I've even celebrated at games of Red Rover and cheered at three-legged races. The sum of that my friends begat a lot of sitting. And not in a plush luxury box. Not in a nice theater seat. Not in the high-priced area. No. I've sat on bleachers in grade-school gyms so hot the concession stand served hot dogs without cooking them. I've planted my buns near sidelines on days so cold that the aluminum bleachers stuck to me like ice on a wet tongue. Only once was I fooled by the gentle contours of the modern fiberglas bleachers and only until I planted the buttosky. I've breathed a tribe's quota of stale air smelling of dark gym bags. There were days where a child swam through a monsoon in a game of water polo which was supposed to be a soccer game. Perhaps that's how water polo was invented. I've parked my fan-fan in snow storms during which some kids stopped and threw snowballs. There were a few times--far too few--where we were blessed by what can only be described as divine intervention: Lightning. Oh, for those days when the officials called a game because the crackle of electric current spidered through the sky. The kids never heard cheering like they experienced when a game was called. It must have exploded their self-esteem to new heights.
And all the while we assumed that kids understood everything we did about the games we coached, the rules, terminology and not hitting. My favorite was at a T-ball game with a group of first-graders. The coach, one of the kids' dad of course, was a little harried trying to herd the bevy of boys and yelled, "Who's on deck?' whereupon one of his players said, with a bit of a superior smirk on his face, "On deck? Coach, we're ballplayers, not sailors." Art Linkletter was far ahead of his time.
The years rolled by like flotsam and jetsam down the Mississippi. With hubris born of generational success, we irrationally clung to the belief that immortality awaited us. Some still do. They are mistake. We got older. So did the bleachers. Wood, aluminum, fiberglas--it didn't matter. They were all hard. Like a block of ice hard; like a steel bat hard; like the glare of a woman scorned hard. I mean they were unforgiving. It didn't matter whether I sat leaning back with legs extended over two rows or hunched over with elbows on knees. Leaning one way or another helped until the disfavored cheek was benumbed, torpid. I had a heightened sense of the point at which gangrene began to rear its horrific head, so I'd simply shift to the other side sending it back to its dark recess. By the end of an event, I couldn't walk normally, so I shuffled. So did the other parents. It could have been a new dance. Sometimes my buttocks had hot flashes as the blood returned to the capillaries with a vengeance. I found it interesting after games watching the parents nonchalantly kneading the rear flesh in an attempt to de-anesthetize the hump.
Age and gravity have now taken their course. I wasn't blessed with much of a butt, so I always had less to work with, but now I have reached the point of 'saggy bottom'. I'm one of those guys with baggy pants that look like bloomers because I have no booty to stretch the seams. All things considered though, my bum has served me well. It never went on 'injured reserve', never missed the call to arms, I mean buttocks. Only 223 days remain till my youngest graduates from high school. Soccer season is winding to a close, but basketball bounces into view less than a week later. When the last shot swishes, we take a short break for Spring to spring and then on to track and field. At the end of that road will be a history, 18 years of taking a seat to watch our kids romp and play, compete and learn about 'team'. Mostly, not always, I suffered the pain in silence, the backside silently screaming. I was and am willing to suffer the indignity for the opportunity to see unbridled joy for just a while.
My gluteous maximus won't miss the courts and fields. I won't know what to do.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Much has been made of late about the parallels between the current devolution of the American system as the same were acutely drawn in the brilliant Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged. Ms. Rand began the lengthy tome in the early 1950's and it took nearly a decade to finish. I read it while in my '20's and picked it up again a few years ago. It startled me when I re-read it though at the time I was blissfully ignorant of our out-of-control economic bobsled run. As the economy cascaded into a canyon even grander than the Grand, commentators of all stripes dissected Rand's message as a metaphor of America today and how we fell so far to this still-precarious perch. Sales of Atlas Shrugged have skyrocketed and many are echoing the 'doomsayer' denouement as set out therein. It is obvious from the conclusion penned by Ms. Rand, at least to me, that she was being somewhat allegorical. But only somewhat.
Are there others from the roots of American literature that could be touted as predicters of the future? I suggest a reading of You Can't Go Home Again, the tour de force by Thomas Wolfe, published in 1934, partially as a chronicle of American excess leading to the Great Depression. He described the populace in the far reaches of this land who read and heard about the Stock Market crash who wondered if they would be affected or if life would proceed apace. Much like the pap that an olio of economists peddle to us every day, in the early 1930's the same nonsense was being ballyhooed early on. Bromides like "the fundamentals of the economy are sound" were then touted as gospel by serious looking men with furrowed brows. Sound familiar? The only difference is that today the creased brows are commonly found on women as well. Either way, can we swallow 'fundamentally sound'? Even after the timeline for the 'recovery' keeps getting pushed further into the future? Hell, I'm not even sure any more what the 'fundamentals' are. Moreover, the definition of 'sound' seems to change daily.
Wolfe was right when he wrote his book and if alive today he would be making the rounds of all the Sunday morning political mosh pits as well as pilgrimages to Oprah and David Letterman. He would be lampooned on Saturday Night Live. But he was right: We can't go home again. 'Home' doesn't look the same, isn't quite so, well, homey as it was in 2007. We know that it feels different, but we can't quite put our fingers on it yet. There is a chill in the air and it's not from October.
We are not starving (yet) as we're being spoon fed 'change' spiced with a sweet 'optimism' so it's yummy. By the time we are billeted at the 'home' that sits in the subdivision of this new reality, it will look like a mansion, but will be more akin to a small pied-a-terre. Many won't even remember 'before'. And we never saw it coming. It came in fits and starts, in bits and pieces, stealthily, cunningly as we kept gorging ourselves in this land of plenty. Had we bothered to look into a mirror, really look, we might have done something to stop the madness. The primary blame lies at our feet. Not in Washington or with the big banks or 'big business' (though they certainly share), but with us. We were happy to take all that was 'given' as a birthright, to use a huge wad of our cash to engage in riotous living, then we wasted the rest. It was a mirage, a chimerical vision like being in Las Vegas. We bought in, doubled our bets because we wanted to believe it, wanted the bacchanalia to go on and on.
In a chillingly accurate description of the climate in the 1930's, Wolfe wrote, "America had come to the end of something, and to the beginning of something else. But no one knew what that something else would be, and out of the change and the uncertainty and the wrongness of the leaders grew fear and desperation, and before long hunger stalked the streets."
Compelling wouldn't you say? While lately there have been only droplets of civil unrest, I sense a growing alarm even among the illuminati and clearly we see daily images reflecting the desperation of the jobless millions. And more bad news is coming. A commercial real estate meltdown. Hundreds of bank failures. An unemployment rate going ever higher and still not reflective of the real statistics. I acknowledge that other economic signals are mixed, at least as far as we're told, and I fervently hope I am 180 degrees wrong about Wolfe and Rand being ahead of their respective times. It is difficult to be optimistic, however, when one sees and hears the despair of so many. And all of this comes on the heels of promises from Washington that the 'stimulus' would create (or save, however that's calculated) 3.5 million jobs? What are these people to do during a 'jobless recovery', during this beginning of 'something else'?
Despite his depiction of American life in his time, Thomas Wolfe appeared optimistic even in 1934. He wrote further, "Through it all there was only one certainty, though no one saw it yet. America was still America, and whatever new thing came of it would be American." He was right, of course, and after the machinations of FDR and his merry band of Robin Hoodians followed by WWII, American once again became the land of plenty, building bigger, better and more. Lessons along the way were taught, but not learned. So now we have landed here. But where is 'here'?
We've come to the end of something and the beginnig of what? We are on the threshold of where exactly? We have parachuted into someplace. Oz? At least it had a real wizard.
I don't know Toto, but I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Didn't they/we just use our money to give to the banks, then use more of our money to buy the same bad loans we just bailed out? Did we somehow get Madoffed on that? On a parallel path down a different hole than Alice's, the federal government was ordering the banks (nicely, but sternly) to give a break to homeowners at risk of foreclosure. The banks are trying mightily to cleanse their balance sheets, but now they are risk averse, refusing many loan requests unless the risk of loss is virtually nil, i.e. a borrower has 99% equity. This posture is born of fear that bad loans may soil those very same sheets once again. Someone tell me again the rationale for banks getting to charge interest if no risk is taken. Oh, because they can.
Meanwhile, banks keep failing around the country. Hundreds more are expected to implode in the next year. Perhaps the blasts could be coordinated by the FDIC for July 4th thereby saving many communities the expense of a fireworks display. The only reason many banks haven't yet barred the doors is because the FDIC simply doesn't have enough people in its army to go in and take over. All it would take is one bank in some burg where rumors started followed by a 'run' complete with hysteria and civil unrest--pitchforks and torches. Wouldn't play well on the news. Oh, I forgot. The media wouldn't show it.
Virtually all of the sinking banks have depositors whose funds are insured against loss by the Federal Depositors Insurance Corporation, better known as the FDIC. The FDIC is funded primarly by assessing its member banks a fee, though the U.S. government (us yet again) is the insurer of last resort. In other words, if the FDIC doesn't have enough money and the blossoming banks can't pay assessments sufficient to cover all insured losses, then the federal government (yep, us) will have to make the angry depositors whole. Unfortunately for banks that cling to life, the FDIC's assets are at the lowest level since the early 1990's when the last lending debacle, known far and wide as the 'S&L Crisis', visited us. Remember the RTC? It was the government entity that used our money to purchase the toxic assets from the failed savings and loans nationwide, selling them for pennies on the dollar.
Now how do you suppose the FDIC is proposing to fill its coffers so it can absorb all the expected insured losses by depositors in the teetering banks? Why it is proposing a prepaid assessment for 2010 through 2012 on the banks which have been fortunate enough to survive either by having acted prudently during the American consumer's 'Ive Got Plenty But Not Enough' era or by taking a handout from us (isn't it odd that 'us' and 'U.S.' are spelled the same?). The FDIC is not asking for a handout. Only a hand. To the tune of $45 billion. Only $45 billion. So far. It likely won't be enough to get the FDIC through the next two and a half years. And this new proposed assessment comes on the heels of a hefty assessment already paid in 2009. But hey, the banks and the FDIC are like bacon and eggs. They go together, kind of like dating I suppose. Going steady. I can just hear the new anthem of the American Bankers Association, voices raised in song, "The FDIC ain't heavy, it's our brother."
Of course, all of these machinations will leave the banks with less capital as they tithe to the FDIC which in turn will deflate the assets on the old balance sheet leading to decreased lending because that would make the balance sheet even less acceptable to bank regulators. What, oh what is a banker to do? My supposition is that the federal bank regulators will 'relax' the rules or their enforcement or both, waving a magic wand as if to say, "I'm OK, you're OK."
My head is like a top. And a very merry unbirthday to all of you here in Wonderland. Care for some tea?
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I am overwhelmed with data, self-serving Tweets from politicians, shreiking demagoguery, daily dissembling, adroit artifice, and the hubris of paternalistic politician bloviators who condescend to the point where I want to vomit. These people have set themselves apart as a separate caste, a place where the rules that apply to you and me simply have no applicability in their parallel universe. I am naively amazed as each day dawns to find that, despite numerous polls to the contrary, the national nitwits continue to believe we are all too stupid to know what is best for us. Some of us are not.
All of this aside, the cynic who lives within me daily whispers more loudly that the time has long past for anyone, elected representatives or the rest of us great unwashed, to stop the madness. The train has left the station. The horse has escaped the barn. The toothpaste cannot now be put back into the tube. Well over a majority of the trillions (000,000,000,000) of dollars 'we' spend every year are earmarked for either established, ongoing government programs or for interest payments on the national debt. Interest payments. So, not only have we been living irresponsible lives personally, but also vicariously. We've been content to watch Rome burn a second time. Statistics show that we have grown a national conscience in the past year. We have ceased our reckless ride through the retail jungle. We have increased our savings rate. It doesn't matter.
The National Debt keeps rising. Its avoirdupois is so enormous that we cannot see around it whichever way we look. The bloat of the Federal Government has proven time and again that it channels Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars. It's great at giving orders and making threats, but, it is simply too fat to get up and address crises like Hurricane Katrina, the largest natural disaster in the history of the planet. Too damn fat. Once we get past the primary reason for a federal government--defending our borders--isn't responding to the dramatically unexpected a primary reason we send our blood money to the IRS each April?
Yet, here we are. We have arrived at our destination only to find that our country spends billions (only) of dollars every single day for interest on the debt. Billions. Every day. And the number is heading north. Quickly. What could be next? What indeed. Look what we've left our kids.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Isn't this easy to decipher? Maybe I just don't get it, but my take is that no matter how much scratch a guy has socked away for that rainy day, who is going to turn his number 4 jerseyed back on a figure north of $10 million and closer to $14 million? For five months work? I mean for goodness sake, Brett must have lost a little as the rest of us did during the recession that we're coming out of right now. Oh, not for you? Me neither. Do the math, though, for Brett. Fourteen large (really large) can take the sting away better than, say merthiolate or Bactine (ancient bacteria fighters).
Moreover, while I sit here listening to "Telstar", can someone explain why Favre isn't pronounced 'favor'? Kind of like Gil Faver (or was it Favre) in the old TV show "Rawhide" where Clint Eastwood got his start. "Through rain and wind and weather . . . keep them little doggies by your side." How was that for a segue?
Sunday, September 20, 2009
It baffles me as history has reported that FDR eliminated the class of 'poor' with public payments under the welfare system. It was a redistribution of wealth from those that had to those that hadn't. It was initiated in the 1930's when far more of the latter existed than did the former. Apparently it didn't work. What interests me about all of that is what happened in America before that framework was established and even after. The ones we sometimes euphemistically refer to as 'the less fortunate' were mostly cared for by churches and local communities in the early part of the 20th century and continued through the 50's and 60's. Nothing worked.
In any event, I've been boning up on the 'poor', poring over article after opinion as the case may be, attempting to understand the concept. I've learned that 'poor' is like an onion. I kept peeling back layers in my mission to reach enlightenment. For some time now, I have considered myself on the nation's 'tuition poor', a parent who monthly contemplates how to balance tuitions for three kids (mercifully one is now gainfully employed), i.e. make the payments. Somehow, the rabbit comes out of the hat, though there are many days when I think that the ranks of rabbits is thinning and the chapeaux less plentiful. Nevertheless, I am daily confounded by the drumbeat that I am one of the 'rich', 180 degrees from the 'poor'. Funny, I don't feel rich, though I am employed, we have a comfortable if not palatial home, cars that aren't of recent vintage, but are usually operable and food on the table. I suppose that passes for 'rich' in these polarizing times. All these unconnected threads pull together to form the covering of The Few Things I've Recently Learned About Poverty.
And I'm lead immediately to the U.S. Census Bureau. The bureau has been much in the news of late, all relative to ACORN, it's 'partner' for the 2010 Census. Of course, last week elected officials were like turtles in a pet shop, climbing all over each other to see who could most loudly disavow ACORN, to get their hands on the basin in which lay that baby as it was tossed out the window with the bathwater of government support following recent scandals. It's not ACORN, however, that concerns me, at least not for the moment. Regrettably, ACORN is like an acorn. It will germinate and live to fight again under the name of PISTACHIO perhaps. I digress.
Robert Rector in National Review Online recently explained that for "nearly three decades, in good economic times and bad, Census has reported more than 30 million Americans living in poverty." Rector's response to this revelation is difficult to refute. In the past year alone, we the taxpayers (not 'the Government' as is the nameless, faceless ogre) have spent $714 billion on "cash, food, housing, medical care," and social services for the 'poor'. In one year. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that $714 billion could pretty much take care of the poverty issue--in one year. Do the math. If I did it correctly (no sure thing), that equates to $23,800 for each person in "poverty" just for the past year. Not bad, especially if it inured to the benefit of a "family of four" as we now know to be the benchmark for everything. The multiple for that symetrical family is $95,200. Wow! And isn't that tax free? No wonder Rector postulates that a full 40% of those classified as 'poor' own their own homes complete with many of the trappings (e.g. plasma TV's) assumed to be the sole province of the 'rich'. What be the cause then of this mass of poverty? Rector argues that out-of-wedlock births and dysfunctional families are to blame. Perhaps. No reasonable person can deny they are factors, but then again, reason has been lost in this nation, common sense has become uncommon indeed.
Relative to Rector's conclusion, I would offer only this: My understanding of the system is that a mother receiving 'welfare' is penalized by a reduction or loss of benefits when the father is in the home and their combined income is too 'high'. What kind of logic is that? It's not. It's insanity. It's counterintuitive, counterproductive and runs counter to any legitimate platform to fix the problem. There is no denying, none, that absent some kind of abuse, a family operates better if both parents are in the home. The result of this systemic lunacy is, of course, to provide a twisted incentive to have even more children so as to increase monthly income, dooming yet another generation to come of age believing that this is all it deserves. I'm cynical enough to believe that it's done purposefully in order to secure political allegiance to those beneficent souls that screech about helping the poor. I think the politicians who foster the system like it just the way it is.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
First up, for those of you located in distant climes, is the follow-up to yesterday's local story about a boy beaten up on a school bus. The entire sordid episode was videotaped by a security camera. Yesterday, the thrashing was termed 'racial' by the local police, amazing in light of the fact that it involved at least two black youths beating a white schoolmate while others cheered on from the cheap seats. Today, of course, the story has been downgraded from racially motivated to 'bullying'. Police Captain Don Sax said his original comments about the attack were "premature". My take on this about-face is simple: An attack on a white kid by black kids cannot be 'racially motivated' by definition. Such a thing as reverse racially motivated mugging doesn't fly. Apparently it cannot exist, at least not in Belleville, Illinois. But perhaps I'm being 'premature' in my comments. Oh, and the school district's response other than booting two of the miscreants: suspend the bus driver. What a country.
Next up in the continuing series of "Too Much Time On Your Hands" are candidates Lori Weinstock of suburban St. Louis, surpassed only by D.J. Grothe, vice president of the Center for Inquiry, whatever the hell that is. It supposedly promotes "science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values" according to Grothe, an apparent atheist who lives next door to the store. As a sidebar, what exactly are "humanist values"? Psychobabble. In any event, these two are upset bordering on apoplectic because Tom Collora, a 40-year employee of local grocer Schnuck's Markets dared hang a crucifix on the wall of the customer service area in a store he manages. Just to be clear, I don't own a crucifix and I'm neither Jewish like Ms. Weinstock nor Catholic like Mr. Collora nor atheist as is Mr. Grothe. Frankly, like Rhett Butler, I don't give a damn what any of them are. My question is why this entire episode is considered 'news'.
Ms. Weinstock was "startled" when she saw the offensive religious object. She opined that grocery shopping "should be welcoming to all and exclude none." What a revelation. And here I thought grocery stores wanted everyone to come so they could make a profit. Mr. Grothe, however, ratcheted the rhetoric to new heights (or lows as the case may be). I'm not kidding with this quys quote: "It's just another example of the disrespect that those without religion . . . get in our society. It's bad taste and bad for business. Who wants to (shop) where someone else's faith is being pushed down your throat?" Is this guy for real? What, did Mr. Collora try to give Grothe a sample of some nice brie with a rosary tucked neatly inside? What happed to his voice of "reason"He says it's "another example". What's the first one? My suggestion to Ms. Weinstock is to lighten up. For Mr. Grothe, perhaps he should have an 'A' tatooed on his forehead. Then we can see him coming and hide any religious paraphenalia so as not to offend his righteous sensibilities. Oh, and shop somewhere else, Mr. Grothe. I suppose Andy Warhol was right. The two of them just used up their fifteen minutes of fame.
Then of course, the event for which we've all awaited on the edge of our collective seats: The official reprimand of Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) who foolishly lost his head and said "You lie" in response so some spillage by the president in his lecture to Congress last week. It was clear that it would come, but once again someone had to make it a racial issue. Just had to. Henry Johnson (D-GA), the highest ranking black member of the House of Representatives castigated his colleague saying in part "there's a fringe element that has staked out a racial position towards (Blacks) that never has been open for public display". What? I don't in any manner defend Wilson's boorish behavior, but racial? What kind of inductive argument is that? Is Johnson's view that it is somehow ethically or morally wrong to declare a black person a liar under any circumstance without it being racially motivated? Or perhaps only if it's about a black president. Good grief.
Finally, was the 2008 election the swan song for ACORN? The avalanche has begun, but I'm not certain it can be sustained. The Census Bureau has turned its back and the Senate has voted to prohibit HUD from giving any more housing money. Partisanship aside, ACORN is apparently riddled with thugs who used just about any means to help secure the election of President Obama. The voter fraud it perpetrated was widespread, but a blind eye was turned by those who sacrificed their ethical responsibility to shine a spotlight on such behavior. I'm less than convinced that the organization has a stake through its heart yet. Until then, it could germinate into another tree. Beware.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Through a recent analysis of traffic patterns in the mid-West, kind of mid-South, kind of mid-Southwest, I've concluded that this country is on the cusp of another War between the States, Civil War 2.0 if you will. Yes, you read this correctly. Based on the tinkering with the EPA regulations and the updating of the CAFE standards through 2015 by our peerless legislators in Washington, D.C., while not imminent, a potentially serious conflict is just over the horizon. The sole question is whether it can be averted. Color me with a glass half-empty.
What, you might ask, could trigger the repeat of such a horrific chapter in American history? What could the conflation of the automotive industry and federal regulations have to do with a Civil War 2.0? Ah, the answer is at once simple and complex: Pickup trucks.
Yes indeed, the plain vanilla as well as the fully loaded pickups are the key. Like 76 trombones, Ford Tough F-150's, Like a Rock Chevy's and Ram Tough Dodges will lead the big parade. The various Honda's, Nissan's and Toyota's follow close behind. The research is ongoing, only anecdotal at this juncture, but a preliminary conclusion is inescapable, simply unavoidable. The day will come, sooner rather than later, when pickup owners will unite, rise up and say in a chorus that will echo from sea to shining sea: "NOOO. We will not give up our trucks. Never. You cannot legislate away our right to have pickup trucks. We draw a line in the sand. Here we make our stand. Our cause is grand. Strike up the band." No fife and drums for these hardy, intrepid souls, men and women alike.
While traveling to through Missouri and Oklahoma recently on pilgrimage with one of my daughters to college in Texas, I looked over on I-44 and noticed a couple of pickups and then some more. In order to accelerate the passage of time (yes, I realize that such is impossible), I began counting the number of vehicles that passed between pickups. I did this for two hours. My daughter confirmed her suspicion that her dad may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Nevertheless, my scientific mission was a 'go'. The results were well past surprising as you will see.
The largest number of vehicles between pickups was 22. The next largest was 14, then 10 (twice). Other than those four anomolies, the numbers were much lower. Mind you this was on an intersate highway, not on some two-lane back road goin' noplace. Multiple times I spied two and even three of the ubiquitous trucks close together like a pack and in one instance, there were four. There were GMC's, Ford's, Chevy's, Dodge's, Toyota's, Nissan's and Honda's. I even saw an old Datsun for you folks who remember when Nissan wasn't Nissan. And for you guys from the '60's, I'm certain I saw a Ford Ranchero. Or was it a Chevy El Camino? After distilling the data, my conclusion was that pickup trucks accounted for about 20% of the vehicles on the road. One in five? Surely not, I thought. It must be just on this highway, perhaps only in Oklahoma where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain. But no, the trend continued down I-35 all the way to the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex--even in the metropolitan areas. Moreover, after flying home the next day and hopping on I-55 for a 2-hour trip south, lo and behold the data collected in Oklahoma and Texas were consistent with those as I closed in on the Bootheel of Missouri (where they love me, where they know me, where the show me--thanks, Sara Evans). Eureka! The evidence had clearly entered the realm of empirical.
So, to the thrust of the hypothesis; as per the norm, one of the left arms of the Federal Government doesn't know what one of the right arms is doing. What an octopus the government has morphed into or even multiple decapi (de' cuh pie)(if that's not a word it should be). In this case, eight isn't enough. You see, the EPA has its mileage standards and the NHTSA has promulagatd the CAFE standards. Don't you just love government acronyms? Do you think there's an Acronym Czar? In any event, the CAFE standards are as much as 10 MPG higher than the EPA ratings. As far as I can tell, the way all of this will devolve between now and 2015 won't affect pickup truck owners--IF the average MPG for the national fleet of light trucks conforms with the CAFE standards. That is an enormous 'IF'. In translating the laws and digging through like an archeologist, it appears that the manufacturers must collectively manufacture a sufficient number of 'green', light trucks that get high enough mileage to offset the red, white, black and blue trucks that only get 15-22 miles per gallon. R-i-i-i-i-ght. That will be top priority for the drawing boards. Uh huh. Which company will blink first and build trucks for the weekend cowboy and cityfied high school kids? And what about the EPA standards? Hell, I may have this all wrong, because it's impossible to sort through all of the government mumbo jumbo and I'm a damn lawyer. Any of the Washington bureaucracies, including the Federal Aviation Administration for all we know, may revise the definition of 'light truck' between now and then. Brewers do it with beer all the time.
So, cutting through all this, where are a great majority of the pickup trucks licensed in this country? Exclude Southern California because it will either be broke or under water when a major earthquake occurs. Exlcude Florida because with the mess Governor Crist has made of the property insurance market, one hurricane will wipe it out as well. That leaves mostly the red states. Or are they blue? I can never get that straight, so let's just call them a nice shade of violet. Whatever they're called, if the gubment attempts to enforce these standards, thereby depriving truck buyers of their inalienable right to a nice extended cab, multi-purpose, 4X4 pickup, I'm thinking all hell will break loose. Texan's won't go easily. Oklahoman's have been through the Dust Bowl and are tough. Missourians will rise up and declare "Show Me". Arizonan's and Michiganders, Dakotans and Mississippians, Coloradoans and Carolinians, Kentuckians and Wyoming cowboys among others will just say "No". And when Congress addresses this uprising with the 'Red Neck Roundup Law' declaring all used pickups to be 'clunkers', the confiscatory language will require seizure and destruction--of the vehicle and gun racks where applicable. Hoo boy. Civil War 2.0. And it will be about states' rights just like the first one. But it won't just be some southern states. General Robert E. Lee is rolling over in his grave, whistling for Traveler and gittin' ready to rumble.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I realize this is old news (if there can be such a thing) but on August 20th, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill (Kenny? If not 'Kenneth, how about 'Ken') announced that convicted terrorist Abel Basset (Hound) Ali Megrahi was to be released from prison and returned to Libya on "compassionate grounds". Huh? He was convicted of coldly murdering 259 passengers on a Pan Am Flight and 11 more on the ground in Lockerbie. So, the Scots need to have compassion? The stench of a dissembling government stooge was immediate, the fettor overcoming anyone with sense enough to know that this explanation was reeked of some sort of 'deal'.
Making the entire episode into another nightmare for the families of the victims, Megrahi returned on a private jet to a hero's welcome in Tripoli. Too bad the Marines weren't on the Shores of Tripoli or the entire country would be a memory. As the days following this stunning announcement sped by, the initial skeleton of a 'compassionate' act began to flesh out. Or is that be flushed out? I think the toilet connection is poetic. What a surprise.
The U.S. government knew about it and protested. Strongly no doubt. Very strongly. Really, really strongly. Now that's a surprise considering we've apologized to every other country in the world for our lengthy past transgressions, so why not add Scotland and Libya? Lo and behold, it turns out that English PM Gordon Brown in London was likely behind it all and guess what? Yep, it was about money, oil, politics. Is there a difference? Once again, paternalistic governance reared its head to let us all know that the special class of people called politicians, wherever they may be, crawled out of the same foul-smelling sewer, methane gas wafting around them. Doesn't matter which party, which country. They are all the same. Strip them bare and there's nothing there--all empty suits.
So where is the outrage on our shores on behalf of the scores of Americans slaughtered? Does our President, our Congressman, everyone wish not to divert attention from their pet projects? Oh, I forgot, they're still on 'holiday' calling us "mobs". Pitiful. Ronald Reagan should have finished the job in Libya in 1986. Remember when he sent American fighter jets there in the dark of night even though the Frightened French Frogs (they of the unused weapons and White Flag Factories) wouldn't allow us to cross their airspace--what a surprise. Nevertheless, the jets did a surgical strike on some manufacturing facilities. The message was, "You are a third-world pissant country. Do not screw with us again or we will blow you off the face of the Earth." Old Gadhafi or Khadaffi or whichever of the 17 ways his name is spelled got the message. There wasn't a peep out of him for years. Now he's emboldened to take on the West and what is the answer? By going along, we tacitly apologize for past wrongs. Sure Moammar Moron o mar or whatever. We'd love to take a ride on your magic carpet, General. Pathetic. Where is President Reagan when we need him?
Yeah, yeah, I know there are all sorts of classified, clandestine geopolitical issues and maneuvering going on behind the scenes. So what. America is still the most powerful country in the world and it can't (won't?) put its foot down to defend the memory of those victims and their families? Why are those who died any different than those who perished in Pennsylvania, Washington and New York on 9/11? They're not. But the response was. Does anyone really believe that the Washingtonians didn't know exactly what was coming? That the responsive news releases hadn't already been vetted and approved? Can't these politicians (such a dirty term now) ever just stand up and do what's right without always having some ulterior motive that they hide from us because they believe we're too stupid to understand? No. They can't. As a caste they are condescending buffoons. Throw all the bastards out, everywhere, in every damn country, including my bastards.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Mom was a woman who lived life on her own terms. An only child of a lawyer father and a mother who graduated from the University of Missouri Journalism School, Mom was raised by an extended family after her dad died when Mom was only five due to lingering effects of a WWI injury. She went off to Hollins College in Virginia to be 'finished' after attending John Burroughs School in St. Louis and then returned to complete her degree at Washington University.
She and Dad were married in November 1948 and had their own 9/11 (no disrespect intended) when my brother Tucker was born 9 months and 11 days later. I arrived 13 months thereafter. Two more siblings quickly followed, then a miscarriage, then another and another. I was always uncertain the last two were exactly planned. Thinking about it now though, I am less than convinced that any of us were. Perhaps Mom and Dad never discovered how it kept happening. When Mom announced she was pregnant with my brother Clayton, I was 13. The thought of my parents doing it was mortifying--and I had to tell my friends at school.
Ours was a home of barely controlled chaos with family and friends coming in and out through a revolving door of the large, somewhat kempt abode where all were welcome. There were no 'class' distinctions, no caste system, no religious or racial intolerance. Kids loved to come to our house because we had one of those 'milk machines' like restaurants had. The milk was plentiful and really cold. All were treated as family, so they came often even though Mom's culinary skills were suspect at best. She could grill a mean cheese sandwich and a special was Campbell's Tomato Soup. Past that, however, things descended rapidly. Ah, the memory of the pasta smothered in the thin, warmed V8 Juice. What did we expect? She was out of tomato sauce. her theory was 'heat plus groceries equals food'. Who could argue with that?
I've long thought that Mom's parenting style was 'benign neglect', but not in a perjorative sense. Parents in 'the good old days' didn't interfere in every single aspect of their children's lives. Mom and Dad may have stretched that a little. They let plenty of rope play out and only yanked back when any of us were about to fall off a cliff. I still have the scars from the rope burns--a lot of close calls.
Each of us managed to survive it all though and go on to happy and productive lives. We blessed Mom and Dad with 18 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren with number 12 due in October. More to come. All the while, Mom worried, cringed at the late-night phone calls, but never overwhelmed us, smothered us. I called home maybe twice a month from Colorado during college. Kids today call twice an hour. Our parents allowed us to fall, to fail, to arise, to grow up. My five siblings succeeded. At a minimum I was provided the opportunity. I did at least come of age.
Mom was smart, stubborn, opinionated and suffered fools madly. She was also kind, generous and stood up for things that were right. She had great character. She loved our dad, us, her friends, playing bridge, drinking coffee and spending time at our home in Michigan. No one will ever fill her chair at the dining table. She soldiered on through the last few years and defied all medical prognosticators. Then, like the dust of a thousand warriors coming over the horizon, came the stinking bastard Cancer. Before it revealed its nightmarish, pernicious head, Mom had refused to stop, refused to give in to anything despite her infirmities. She was determined to squeeze every single day she was alotted. And she did.
Finally, mercifully though, Emily Dickinson's words rang true. Because Mom refused to stop for Death, it kindly stopped for her.
We miss you Mom. Here's to a life well-lived.
Friday, August 21, 2009
I don't write of all cities and towns that are home to institutions of higher learning, but of those burgs that grew up around what were mostly called 'colleges' . Of course, this was before the cognoscenti changed all the names to 'university' in what I submit was a vain attempt to appear larger, more important. Mercifully, the term 'college towns' has never been updated, never followed conventional wisdom to become 'university cities' or worse.
I had the good fortune to spend ten years in college towns early in life, delaying the inevitable slide into the 'real world' as long as possible. If I'd been any good at science, I might have tried med school. In any event, I love college towns, every one I've visited. Despite the general liberal bent of the professors, these are enclaves of literacy, art and science surrounded by entrepreneurial businesses--coffee shops, diners, music stores and the like that have quietly emerged around the borders of campus to address the whims and fancies of the students fortunate enough to matriculate. These towns seem lost in the '50's to a degree, many being quaint, but which inflate to bursting like festive balloons in school colors for home football games and Family Weekends and graduations. Despite the antics of kids who mostly have been cut loose from home for the first time, there is a wholesomeness about these places. Yes, yes, I know many kids take part of the tuition money and spend it on beer and worse. I guess the good news is that they spend the rest on riotous living. Kidding. We as parents tell them that the years in college will be "the best years of your life". I've parroted that bromide to our kids as I took a trip down Nostalgia Lane recalling those 'coming of age' days. Notice I didn't say 'growing up days'. I'm not sure I believe those were the absolute best years as I've been blessed with so many, but my years on campus were pretty damn good--all ten of them.
And our daughter couldn't wait to return to campus. After a half-day's drive, we arrived in her college town. It's one of those places that "you can't get there from here." We negotiated all of the twice-a-year, move in move out traffic, played 'chicken' with another family for a parking space (not a hint of guilt when I won) and joined this most American of migrations. I was going to hold onto to that space as long as possible before the annual trek to the nearest Wal-Mart to buy even more 'essentials'.
My vessel called 'heart' overflowed with joy for our daughter as we hauled all of her stuff' up the stairs to her room. She loves this place. Packing the car for the trip was one thing, but finding nooks and crannies for the bits and pieces of a young girl's (woman's?) life presents other challenges and this is before the annual trek to the nearest Wal-Mart for more 'essentials'. And her roommate had yet to arrive. The two spoke by phone no fewer than six times to determine the ETA. Our daughter has learned easily how to share limited space and enjoy this secret life, known only to those who sit cross-legged on their beds far into the night sharing pizza, but more importantly secrets and laughter.
Coeds are different when it comes to the reunion following the first summer back at home. I've born witness to it more than once. For the unitiated, the ritual involves plentiful squealing, jumping and hugging, but most of all there is smiling and laughing. And then the chatter. Like keys on a keyboard. Nonstop. In a patois all their own. Books and classes are but distant clouds on the horizon, a necessary adjunct to the socialization.
With modern technology, it's not as if the girls didn't communicate every day while separated--talking, texting, emailing, Facebooking and iChatting. Those disembodied discussions, however, pale in in front of the brilliant fireworks that explodes when, like salmon to the origin of their friendships, kids who have eased past the nascent stage rejoin as if never apart. They are bright young people who come from near and far to this town where each Fall life begins anew. It has a special smell, a taste to it. Like our skin, college towns are places of constant renewal, cells falling away only to be replaced by new ones. In college, seniors are gone, but uncertain freshmen take their places on the lower rungs of the undergraduate ladder while the others move up in the inexorable process of life. College towns are places set apart from the rest of us, and not just by the vagaries of highway engineers. For the most part, they are havens, safe from much of the ugliness in the world. They are not quite Utopian, that has been lost to us, but they are the next best thing. Students do dumb things in college towns and in all but a few instances they enter the pantheon of 'no harm, no foul'. The hilarious part when questioned about the rationale of such hijinks is the answer, as if it were self-evident: "I'm in college." Duh. Like, what did we expect? It's college for goodness sake. It is an excuse for knucklehead behavior in their evolving minds. I well know as I was once one of the knuckleheadiest. Perhaps still am.
As many schools now begin the Fall term in August, the nip of Autumn is not yet in the air. It soon will be. The campuses in college towns will be aswarm with kids running to and from all sorts of things, learning, growing and edging up that ladder until the day the cap and gown go on. Only then is it time to leave the security of the college town, to venture forth into the wider world. Or not.
Tomorrow morning another daughter and I embark on a ten hour marathon drive to college. I get to do it again. Ain't life grand?
Monday, August 17, 2009
Here's what I know and it isn't much. I know that our health care system could use some tweaking, just a little at a time. Kind of like making lemonade and tasting it a few times so you don't put too much sugar in it. Want it to be just right or you have to throw the batch out and start over. We can't afford to start over. Just cannot. Lemons cost too much and in the meantime we'd be really thirsty.
Speaking of sugar, we eat too much of it. I'm very guilty. We eat too much of a lot of things in this country. We are the fattest in the world. The scales reveal that some 60% of Americans are 'overweight', whoever decides that sort of thing. It doesn't surprise me. Just look around. I realize that, at least on the 'weight front', I won the genetic lottery, but even still I work at it. Moreover, estimates are that 25% of our fellow citizens are morbidly obese. Is it any wonder then that our life spans are shorter than those in other countries, that we have more heart disease, more cancer, more everything. I suppose it's because we have more money. Aha. That's why I'm not overweight. Tuition poor.
Because I've been told over and over and over again, I've assumed the truth of the argument that we spend more of our hard-earned cash for health care (as a percentage of GDP, of course) than we did 10, 20 or 30 years ago. A lot more. But didn't we get something for that? Don't we have the best system on the planet? If not, why do all the heads of state and other big shots come here when they are really sick? We bagged a lot for our bucks. I can testify. But for the invention of MRI as a diagnostic tool in the past 15 years or so, one of my daughters would not have been diagnosed with a rare brain condition and it's likely she would be paralyzed by now, requiring full time care instead of being on the cusp of joyfully entering her sophomore year in college in fine fettle. I also know that the continuing advances in treatment for various forms of cancer bought my kids 33 months with their mom--and she with them--time that would have been lost to all ten, even five years ago. Am I willing to pay more for the kind of incremental improvement in care that can do that? Are you? The answer is a simple one for me.
It may not be so simple though for someone who's never faced such questions of life. It's easy to bellow back and forth in a vacuum. It's more problematic when one is parachuted into a war zone, fighting for health or life and being reduced to begging beseeching medical science for something, anything that will heal. I hope it never comes your way.
So, here are a couple of things, simple ones I think, that we can do to make our system work a little better. Only one involves the government.
1. Do something to fix Medicare before even looking at anything else. It's a mess because the government runs it. A pediatrician friend of mind loses money every single time he innoculates a medicare patient--every time. It's not just the value of his time. He loses money on the reimbursement for the actual drugs. He continues to treat these patients because of his adherence to the Hippocratic Oath and because he is a good guy. Is it any wonder though, that doctors run like wild mustangs from taking any more Medicare patients? Whatever your business, would you elect to lose money on many of your customers? One 'fix' for this bureaucratic nightmare would involve legislation, though I shiver at the idea. I am a big believer in the freedom of choice in this country. For example, I wear a seatbelt always, but don't think it should be a law (except in the case of kids). It should be up to me. However, should I be in an accident without one and require medical care, guess what. No help from the government. My problem. I elected to take the risk, so I take the penalty. Same with refusing to wear a motorcycle helmet or smoking cigarettes. Okay, I have the right to choose, but I don't get to have your tax dollars pay for my reckless behavior.
2. Stop eating Big Macs, Whoppers, fries, two-pound burritos and drinking Big Gulp sodas all the time. Push away from the table occasionslly. 'Abstemious' is an adjective that would fit us all well without having to go on the 'Cardiologist Diet: If it tastes good, spit it out.' None of us has to give up everything. We need food for the body as well as food for the soul. Without the latter, life would be grey indeed. However, anyone who continues the porcine habits and develops diabetes or heart disease, don't expect me, i.e. my tax dollars to pay your medical bills. Take some stinking responsibility. It's genetic you say? Even more reason to drastically change your behavior.
3. Every insured family would be required to have a Health Savings Account--including members of trade unions and Members of Congress. We're told we seek and/or our doctors recommend too many tests because for us, it's only a co-pay--little fiscal pain. Why worry about it? Here's why. Some of it isn't necessary, overkill. There's plenty of blame to go around for the 'why'. Look in a mirror for some of it. I went 'cold turkey' starting two years ago when I first tried an HSA. The first $5,000 of cost were on me--doctor appointments, prescriptions, tests and everything else for my family. Believe me that I started giving some more thought to where exactly that money went. I selected that amount because I felt I could swallow an average of $400 a month, though I had no clue how it would evolve over a years. The kicker was that my monthy family insurance premium decreased to the point that the total was about what I'd paid for coverage in the prior year. The bonus is that if I didn't spend $5,000, my annual total was less. In the first year, we had a couple of significant costs and blew through the $5K. After that, every dollar was paid by the insurer. This year, so far so good and no major issues have arisen. The HSA amount each family can afford is different, of course, but I guaranty the structure will cause people to alter behavior. That will translate to lower relative costs for all.
4. One of the provisions of the myriad Congressional proposals floating around is that insurance policies should be portable, i.e. an insured can take it from job to job. That makes sense to me, but perhaps I'm uninformed. Enlighten me.
5. Lifetime caps on an the amount of coverage for any one insured under a policy is a complex issue. Many if not most policies establish a $1 million cap per insured. Sounds like a lot doesn't it? It's not. Judging from my own experience, when dealing with a serious illness, that amount can race over the horizon without warning and I can testify that I had no idea until the end. Maybe there is a larger number that makes sense or maybe there should be no cap. That's fine, but it will be reflected in the premiums we pay. I'd rather pay.
6. Pre-existing conditions - That's a tough one as well. I tend to think that as the mindset of our population changes, that has to change as well. I read somewhere that my generation has or will change jobs an average of 3 or 4 times in a lifetime. The next generation are likely to change careers more than that. Translation: More movement and under the current system, many would be excluded from coverage at a new employer. I don't think any of us believe in a slavish existence, tied to a job we don't want simply because of the need for insurance. It's not good for either employer or employee. I'm not sure how many people are cut out by insurers today other than the ones trotted out for media coverage, but it seems they could be absorbed in some manner. I don't know the monetary effect, but emotion rules on this one.
7. Give hospitals statutory liens on the property--including government assistance--of any patient who comes into an emergency room for treatment and refuses to pay.
8. Ask our doctors to come down from the pedestals upon which we placed them. I have many friends, many, each of whom is dedicated to saving lives and relieving suffering. They are good decent people, but they are not gods. They are humans. They deal mostly from symptoms. They are not infallible. They make mistakes. They should be held to a standard that befits their education, experience and gut instinct. Conversely, we should be forbidden from suing a doctor simply because we didn't care for an outcome. We shouldn't sit on a jury and give fellow citizens money from doctors and their insurers simply because it's there for the taking. Yes, in egregious instances where a doctor ignores the evidence, doesn't exercise the care which is common to his specialty or worse, consequences should follow. Sometimes though, money is no compensation, but mere a windfall. I well know. No amount of money, not Bill Gates' money, can buy us what we really want when a loved one is sick. Or worse. We should stop looking around when something bad happens and assuming that someone must pay for our pain. Sometimes, it's nobody's fault.
So, a couple of suggestions that would modify our current system, but not subject us to an unknown that may not be workable, not because it doesn't have merit in theory, but because the government has shown it can't run anything efficiently. Though some would argue otherwise, the bellwether that are the systems in Western Europe are not ones to emulate.
What about the '46 million uninsured'? First, subtract the illegal aliens. Then require those that can afford coverage to actually buy it. Those two groups removed from the total will reduce the number substantially. There are other sub-groups that can be deleted as well. The gross number has become 'conventional wisdom' simply because the media have repeated it so often. After stripping out those that can be accommodated, the remainder can come under the aegis of Medicare even as it is being overhauled.
I admit to the simplistic approach outline herein and that it has not been researched to the nth degree, though I have read about the matter ad nauseum. But then is this all as complicated as we've been led to believe by those on both sides of this uncivil war? I think not. Perhaps we should add just a little sugar to the lemonade and see how it tastes.
Friday, August 14, 2009
The Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League signed Michael Vick to a contract yesterday. You might recall that this is the same Michael Vick who was once the highest paid player in the game, brought low by allegations of and subsequent admission to engaging in some sort of sordid enterprise involving dog-fighting. I don't defend what he did. It was illegal. At best it was repugnant and engendered widespread antipathy. Michael Vick payed dearly for engaging in this miscreant behavior. He lost his job (suspended from the NFL), his money (declared bankruptcy), his fame and most imporantly, for 21 months he lost his freedom. He was released from his prison sentence a short while back and he is now re-employed.
Commentators have engaged in self-indulgent analysis of the entire matter, pre- and post-hiring by the Eagles. One common theme is that Vick has paid his debt to society and now has a right to rejoin our ranks and make a living. Now, however, the lynch mob questions whether he has paid his 'moral' debt, whether he has 'learned his lesson', whether he is unsuitable to walk among us. What is that? The First Amendment guaranties each of us the right to freedom of expression, so the PETA fanatics and other animal lovers can continue to vilify Michael Vick until he retires and thereafter. What I don't understand is the 'why'. He did what he did. He was punished. He apologized and has expressed remorse. Does he now have to tithe to the ASPCA?
I abhor the killing of innocent animals as much as the next 'rational' person, though I admit to wearing leather shoes and support using lab rats in medical research. I do eat meat from time to time. I've even purposely stepped on ants. Does that make me morally reprehensible?
Is what Michael Vick and his cohorts did more egregious than the conduct of the thugs in the NFL who beat their female companions or otherwise engage in illegal and immoral conduct? Yes, we read the news reports and a few editorials which fade quickly to yellow. To my recollection, the majority of the outrage when at least one NFL player killed a woman while driving drunk lasted a month. Maximum. Sure, we see mentions of it occasionally as the player continues to ply his trade a decade or so later. And now another player has been charged with a similar crime. A current star in the NFL was suspected of murder after the Super Bowl a few years ago. Of a human being. No conviction, but he is celebrated each year he adds to his football legacy on the field. The judicial system was unable to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I'm okay with that as that's how the system works. But what am I missing here? I hold sacred human life more than many as one doesn't really appreciate its value until it's no more. There is a quantum leap, however, from there to our canine friends. We had to euthanize one of our family dogs about a month ago. I didn't think it would bother me. I was mistaken. But I'd be a liar if I said that I held the life of our dog on the same level as that of a family member, or any human for that matter. Castigate me if you choose, show up at my house with placards and chants. I just don't see it. Perhaps my view is way beside the point anyway.
What is Michael Vick supposed to do? How is it that he can ever satisfy the rabid lynch mob that surrounds him? Perhaps he cannot. Maybe they've been awaiting the blessed 'poster child' for too long and now that they have one, they aren't about to let go--like a dog with a bone (pun intended). Or maybe the cacophony will die down in a month. If it doesn't, then how do we judge those that protest Michael Vick's legal right to earn a wage while staying silent about those like Leonard Little who took human lives? In decades past, why weren't the rabble rousers marching in front of Ted Kennedy's house after Mary Jo Kopechne drowned at Chappaquiddick?
I'm mystified as to the origin of the moral authority assumed by this tribe of bloviators who chasten Michael Vick. Do they define 'redemption'? I think not. George Carlin opined about us when he said, "Think of how stupid the average person is and realize that half of them or stupider than that." It is I or them in the bottom half.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
At least in my presence, she has neither bemoaned her fate nor laid blame at the feet of Big Tobacco. She has taken responsibility for her own actions, her free choice. That is an American ideal, assuming responsibility for what we seek and paths we take. Mom is in the hospital and may not leave. She is receiving any and all care she requires despite her advanced age and critical condition. Her mind is lucid mostly, but her body is frail and withered like old fruit. Her eyes have slowly gone dark and she only sees outlines and shades now. She is like a doppelganger of herself. She needs full-time care for the simplest things in life, things we take for granted each day. Mom has arrived at her personal gethsemane. Being with her is to be enveloped by memento mori. Dad is gentle, vigilant and constant in his efforts, but it has gone beyond his ability to go it alone.
As one of Mom's six kids, I can only try to find a way to negotiate this path for myself. Sadly, I already know well the tale of watching a loved one waste away. To call it 'painful' is giving it short shrift indeed. For everyone. This is of a different kind though, watching my mom. For the entirety of my life, in the labyrinth of the subconscious dwelled the notion that no matter how difficult the times, how far I might have fallen, Mom would always take me back. Always. I came from the mystery of her womb as she did from her mother's. Mothers are supposed to take us back. Despite Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again.
Mom regularly caps her praise of any of us with the deadpanned tagline, "But remember, even a baby skunk smells good to its mother." I know it's not personal, though many times in my life I have played the polecat and far worse. Even though grown and on fairly solid footing, I can't yet imagine what it might be like when that comforting subconscious thought is no more, that she won't be here to take me back. A feeling of emptiness I suppose, a soft cushion on which to land snatched away.
Mom is stubborn and more than once the studied members of the medical community have passed judgment and given her up. Each time she rallied, so as to spend more time with her kids and the two following generations. Health care debate? It won't play a role in my Mom's final journey. Will it for me? Time, as always, will tell.
Mom and Dad celebrated their 60th anniversary last November with a weekend celebration befitting a coronation. Here's to hopes of 61. Mawkish? Perhaps. But read the title of the blog--No Apolgia.
While I was too self-absorbed at the time to realize the later impact these visits would have on me, they were epiphanic for Charlie. He veered suddenly from his career path of joining the family business. Instead, he continued his education until receiving a Master's degree in special education. He then devoted his life to enhancing the lives of all differently-abled people in Colorado. My friend Charlie made a difference, changed the world for the better and did so until the day we lost him.
At the same time we were enjoying our lunchtimes with the kids, half a continent away Eunice Kennedy Shriver rolled up her sleeves and boldly went public with the trials of growing up in a large family with Rose Mary, her sister. Rose Mary was 'mentally incapacitated' and institutionalized for much of her life. This was not an unusal occurrence in that generation nor in our own, but Eunice Kennedy Shriver set out to change not only the perceptions held by 'normal' people, but to enrich the lives of all who to some degree shared Rose Mary's differences. That she did.
The Special Olympics were born of her Herculean efforts and from around the world, people young and old now participate in these unique competitions between athletes who had previously stood outside the fence, invited only to spectate. I've seen this, had the privilege of a reserved, up close and personal seat in the grandstand to see the evolution, the revolution. I have watched the daughter of dear friends grow from childhood, participating, growing, learning. I have done so through the film of tears more than once.
A decade ago I was coaching a softball team made up of ten-year-old girls including our youngest daughter when Isabel's dad called and asked if she might be a bat-girl for the team. My response of "No", but followed with the thought that, while the team didn't need a bat-girl, Isabel could be on the team if she wanted. She wanted. Her dad was overjoyed and I'd like to say my gesture was heroic. Frankly, it never occurred to me that mine was an unusual decision. It came on the spur of a moment.
The result was beyond conception, well past any expectation. Parents watched humbly as pitchers from our foes moved up a step or two and softly lobbed pitches for Isabel. No adult gave instructions to do so. Kids made the decisions. When Isabel hit the ball, opposing players had no thought to throw her out. It was sportsmanship in the purest form. Isabel was joyful each time she pranced to first base, waving all the while. This experience jump-started an athletic career which has included playing field hockey for her high school team, a 'normal' team, as well as performing with her partner as guests at the National Figure Skating Championships. All she ever wanted was to be like her brother and sister, competing on the field, court or ice. And she is. Talk about self-esteem. Her high school classmates voted her Homecoming Queen her senior year. How about that. Isabel embodies all the good things that Eunice Kennedy Shriver must have envisioned for the future.
For all of the faults, warts and pimples attributed to members of the Kennedy clan, and there are many, Eunice Kennedy Shriver stood apart. She understood the concept of the 'Bully Pulpit', the power of the media and grasped them by the throat. She set sail on a journey to a land even she could not have imagined. She changed the world, though. She changed us all. Now that is change we can believe in.
In the words of the late, great St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck, "Pardon me while I stand and applaud."
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
With four kids of my own, the youngest of whom is now finishing high school, I have been left with many cartons full of the detritus from youth sports. Because I miraculously figured it out early on, the kids also concluded that the tangible rewards they received had no meaning. What did have meaning were the times a teammate said, "Nice job." We're reaping what we sowed, however, and now we are seeing the manifestation in what I refer to as 'The Trophy Generation'. The train didn't stop as the kids moved on to middle and high school. With a few exceptions, everyone gets to be on a team, no cuts. I've seen many instances of college-coddling akin to this, but outside of the athletic arena. Often young people expect a reward just for showing up. Who could blame them? It's always been that way. Guess what? That's not exactly how the 'real world' operates.
I know, I know, our parents said we were softer than they were and nothing could be more true. They wanted us to have what they didn't, but our kids have come of age in a time of plenty, not knowing a world without iPods, plasma televisions and the ubiquitous cell phone. These 'things' are simply an integral part of their life's template. These 'things' aren't considered luxuries, but necessities. Some reach driving age believing a car is some kind of birthright. We've done this and now kids are coming back home because they can't afford the TV, the Beemer payment and rent as well. So what goes away? The rent.
Finally, there is the school in Florida that has banned the cheers "air ball" and "overrated" at basketball games and other athletic contests as they hurt the self-esteem of the visiting players. Sow. Reap. The harvest is in full motion. Kids these days. Do I sound like my parents?
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
As an example of this insanity, the information form to be used in the upcoming census will not include any question regarding citizenship. The latest American Commuity Survey concludes that California alone has 5.6 million plus illegal immigrants that will be counted as residents in the census. So what, you might say. California has run itself onto the shoals of economic ruin, so why worry about its problems. The answer is that California stands to gain as many as 9 additional congressional seats under the new rules. Doesn't sound like much until one considers that California will then have 57 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives (and I use the word 'representatives' loosely). Do the math. That's about 13% of the total in the House. From one state. Texas and other states stand to benefit as well. But there is no 'free lunch'. Other states, perhaps yours, will lose seats. Even if a huge majority of the populace of a 'losing state' are U.S. citizens. Apples to oranges it appears to me.
The entire mess makes President Obama's comments yesterday about pushing immigration reform into 2010 a bit problematic. California's economy is the eighth largest in the world. The world. It will become an entity unto itself if it hasn't already. Perhaps secession wouldn't be a bad idea--even if involuntary. This could be the harbinger of the Balkanization of America.
None of this should be surprising when one considers that, should the aforementioned scenario materialize, in today's climate it is likely that those new representatives would add to the Democratic majority. If that's the will of the people, so be it, but it should be the will of American people, legal residents of America, people who want to be Americans, not just avail themselves of the benefits of this country. Being a citizen of America is a two-way street. Politicians don't want to offend the sensibilities of any voting bloc that might be tied to the illegals so, like an ostrich, they bury their collective head in the sandbox. Immigration reform aside, the census for 2010 needs to count citizens of the United States and only them. Can anyone provide a rejoinder to that position? I'd welcome the points of argument.
For too long in this country, we have railed about Congress, threatened to throw them all out. We didn't. Re-election is nearly guaranteed barring hypocritical sexual escapades or outright selling of influence. We wanted everyone else to do it, but we wanted to keep our own because he/she 'brought home the pork'. It didn't matter if the 'pork' wasn't beneficial to the country at large. It was good for us. Look at the mess we've made. We've reached a stygian place in our history. We blame it on greedy Wall Streeters, unscrupulous mortgage brokers and Big Banks, even on the government itself. Take a look in the mirror folks. That's where the ultimate blame belongs. We are the government. It's our money they take and then waste on nonsensical things. The federal government is not some disembodied corporation. It's our money. We let them do this.
The new mantra for all Americans at election time, irrespective of political bent, should be 'Throw all of the bastards out, including my bastard'. Every two years. No matter who it is. No matter what. Until candidates get the message and go to Washington to 'do the People's business' and come home, what use do they have? After all, most are just people who didn't get on Student Council, belatedly taking their revenge.