Archive for April, 2011

Genius From Ineptitude

April 30, 2011

You gotta love this one.  Three years ago, the Supreme Court ruled against the ban on handgun ownership in Washington, D.C.  The citizens of our nation’s capital were free to buy and own their very own handguns (as if they hadn’t anyway).  The only catch was that the D.C. government, such that it is, requires registration of said arms.  Unbelievable but nevertheless true, that last gun dealer has lost his lease and can no longer register guns.  There is no municipal department who is in charge of gun registration.  So much for our reliance on the “private sector.”

Thus, it appears that even though handguns are legal in D.C., they cannot be registered. In fact then, they are illegal.  Crying shame.  Hold on while I (and perhaps Gabrielle Giffords) wipe away my tears over the loss of our second amendment rights.  What a web we weave.  This stupidity and incompetent government in our capital seems to have produced a stroke of genius, totally by their ineptitude, of actually not feeding the frenzy of gun ownership in America.  Shall we celebrate the D.C.’s government continuing pathetic attempts at running a municipality, or shall we condemn them for their incompetency?

I, for one, couldn’t care less that no option for gun registration exists.  Looking at the net effect, I am thrilled that this little enclave is so incompetent that no new guns can be owned there until such a registration process is put into effect.

Imagine: inability and inadequacy actually having a peaceful effect.  Who said that the theory of entropy was all bad?  I am laughing all the way to the NRA rally.

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The Royal Wedding: Translating a Fairy Tale into Reality

April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding.  What a spectacle!  Quite the show to give the people a few hours to celebrate, meander through history, allow their own daily struggles to recede into the background and offer the ever-possible chance that anyone, royal and commoner alike, can become a princess.  With hope and goodwill, William and Kate have a huge job ahead of them.

My sentiments for good luck, health and amity supersede all of the regalia.  I tear up every time I witness a young couple take their vows of loyalty, caring and love to each other.  I hope this union works.  Today represents the chance, and it is only a chance that will be dependent on keeping their aura in check, that this couple can do themselves, their family and their future children justice.  I hope they get it right.

All the pomp and circumstance aside, the occasion is rife with the hope of a new beginning, with good wishes for a responsible life to their public, tempered always with their pledge to raise happy and productive children.  After all, the children are the future and a sane and considerate  marriage is imperative to continuing the lineage of the human race, royal or otherwise.

Good luck and hard work, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge!  The accoutrements, luxuries and niceties of life are meaningless unless they are grounded in love, dedication and mutual consideration.  Grounded —-  just like a cup of coffee:

Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth

April 27, 2011

So Barack Obama released his birth certificate today.  No surprises contained within.  Now the doubters, no doubt, will still insist on the lack of authenticity of that document and thus, the invalidation of the Obama presidency.  The Obama administration finally released the document because, as they correctly said, the attention to this matter served as a distraction to those issues that really deserve merit in our houses of government.  However, you know the old adage: “They’re gonna talk about you anyway.”

In typical Donald fashion, Trump held a news conference to pat himself on the back for being the catalyst who actually got this reveal done.  If nothing else (and truth be told, there is NOT much more there), The Donald is a master at self-promotion.  I remember, some 35 years ago, I was a stockbroker.  Back then, that job description entailed selling securities and servicing clients.  Financial transactions were not computerized as they are today: we still had individual wire operators in each brokerage branch and after the broker would hand-write the order, it then had to be marched up to the wire desk and the ever-important wire operator would send through that order to the floor of the appropriate exchange.

Selling skills were very important to success in this field.  I took a Dale Carnegie seminar on selling skills and to this day, there is one strategy that I always remember.  When a salesperson is trying to get an order and the customer brings up an issue that shows some reluctance on his part, the sales person was taught to first, acknowledge that negativity or obstacle.  Then however, the salesperson should move ahead and continue to emphasize the positive aspects of the product.  So the process was one of acknowledging a specific problem, but then progressing to stress the overall positivity of the product.

I bring up this topic of selling skills because this is exactly what The Donald does.  This issue of President Obama’s birth certificate was used by Trump as a means to sell himself.  He stated today that not the Clintons, not the GOP nor the Tea Party have been able to get the White House to make public this certificate.  But The Donald did.  No surprise at all then, that this issue was presented by Trump as a victory for himself.  Despite the fact that The Donald lost this battle, as the President’s birth certificate is valid, it will be interesting to watch how The Donald now twists the birther issue into another positive for his own fame.  Those wonderful selling skills come into play: although Trump lost the fight about Obama’s birth, he assumes victory in that he claims it was the pressure that he exerted that produced the release of the certificate.  In no way are good selling skills a replacement for good governing.  That is the major disconnect that Trump embodies.  In running a nation, the leader cannot sell himself while ignoring the people, AND expect to win elections.

By the way, it came out today that The Donald’s political contributions, over the years, were 54% for the Democrats.  Combine that figure with his ferocity in attacking the President, and I think there is a chance that should The Donald throw his hat in the ring, it will be on the Democratic side to try to unseat Obama.  Trump couldn’t care less about responsible governing; he will use this opportunity to advance Donald Trump.  The bigger the challenge, the more he loves it.  Thus, why wouldn’t he go after the Democratic nomination?

Additionally, the field of GOP contestants is still quite weak.  And that is putting it mildly:

While the expected front-runners of the GOP are still biding their time on the sidelines, The Donald is grabbing every single bit of media attention that he can generate.  Presidential material?  Nah.   More like President Obama said today, explaining his rationale in disclosing his birth certificate, that “We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”  In one simple sentence, this President shooed off The Donald by implying that he was just a carnival barker.  Perfect, because that is exactly what The Donald is —- a barker working the crowds at the midway of a carney, “The Greatest Show on Earth”, the Donald Trump extravaganza for the sole benefit of Donald Trump.

Ha Ha! A Third War. Just What We Need.

April 24, 2011

Call me silly, but is this statement by Lindsey Graham a bit off the wall?  What with America finally acknowledging the need to cinch in our budget belts, now he wants us to finance and participate in a THIRD war?  We don’t have enough money to support our schools nor a cleaner environment nor basic health care for our citizens and yet, we should yield to “higher” ideals of global freedom?

I find the entire debate of taking care of the world before we take care of ourselves here at home to be laughable.  Get real.

What is truly funny is The Donald’s thinly veiled run for the Presidency.  He would no sooner take that job, as the protocol and serious nature of the office would very much crimp his style.  The best article I have read on Trump’s non-campaign is right here, written by Charles M. Blow.  Ha ha ha!  Is this the best the opposition has to offer as the alternative to Barack Obama?  Ha ha ha!!!!

By the way, as much as the GOP detests President Obama, they want to be just like him and have exactly what he has and enjoys.  They will resort to any and all strategies to remove him from office.  Most of this entails extraneous issues, like the legitimacy of his American birth.  The GOP is well aware of President Obama’s tremendous successes in office (not to mention his intellect, excellent educational credentials, stable and loyal family life) so they naturally go for the extreme social issues, their favorite staple when reason fails, like abortion, death panels, equal rights in the work place, organized labor and religion in our public places.  Nothing new and indicative of an empty agenda.

To relate Graham’s statement with The Donald’s run with the rest of the GOP’s platform, perhaps their rationale is the hope that a third war will bring us out of our economic doldrums, something war number 1 and war number 2 never did.  In fact, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are responsible in large part for the bankrupt situation of our homeland.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me a third time, don’t even ask.  Ha ha ha!!!!

Health Care: Capitalism and Consumerism

April 23, 2011

It could happen.  War costs to assuage our never-ending lust for domination, energy dependence, environmental catastrophe, an out-of-control deficit and soaring social needs might signal the end of America as we know it.  However, as serious as those issues are, health care could be the item that finally tips the scale.  Faced with the ever-growing need for medical attention and an aging population, coupled with America’s staunch reliance on capitalism and exceptionalism, medical care could cause our actual downfall.

From medical education  to the research and development of new drug therapies to the invention of innovative health technology and care, America must reduce their expectations to a more realistic level.  The question must be asked, “How can we pay for a champagne plan of medical care on a beer budget?”  Privatization is only part of the answer, oftentimes used as just a method to kick the can down the road.  To initiate and put into practice a health care system as vast as ours is requires a federal structure on the provider side, not that that would guarantee against corruption, unequal access and price gauging, which flourishes in just about all of our other private industries.  On the consumer side, patients can expect the best care possible, those treatments and procedures that are cutting-edge, AS LONG AS THEY PAY FOR IT.  No one would deny them the care they expect.  They just have to pay for that Cadillac program of health care if that is what they so desire.

A little bit of history and perspective is needed.  About 20 to 30 years ago, managed care became the salvo for delivering adequate, cost-controlled health care.  The minute I heard that doctors were to be referred to as “health care providers”, I knew our gooses were cooked.  The thought behind that new labeling was that the term “health care provider” would take the once cherished relationship element out of the doctor/patient encounter, thus reducing our health care experiences to just another aspect of American consumerism.  The insurance companies believed that by de-personalizing our patient/doctor visits, our costs would somehow decrease.  And as long as the costs were kept affordable, Americans had no problem with this downgrade in their health care.  So what if every time they visited their physician they were examined by a different doctor.  So what if there was no continuity of care.  Just the fact that their insurance premiums were kept low while getting to see a health care provider seemed sufficient.  Everything was just hunky-dory —- until perhaps they got really sick and they expected a higher standard of care. Then, the doctor du jour did not seem so acceptable.  That is when the patient wants their physician, not their health care provider.

Furthermore, the current proposed policy, that of requiring electronic medical records, is likewise just an attempt to further de-personalize health care.  Sure, the supposed reason behind this is to make health care safer for all of us.  Hogwash.  This system would enable any health care provider to supposedly step in and assume the delivery of care.  Since the patient’s history is so neatly electronically available, there would be less talking necessary during the visit and thus, less fees would accrue.  However, I daresay that there would also be less attention to personal details which could result in poorer medical treatment.  Also this electronic charting would enable employers, insurance companies and other capitalistic entities to have access to personal medical records.  And we have already seen the lack of privacy rampant in computer record-keeping.  It is very important for the patient to make clear, if they care enough to do so, that when they visit a doctor, they are hiring that particular doctor for one’s care, not the entire practice.  Old fashioned?  Perhaps.  Yet it is still the one basic thing a patient can do to ensure some quality control.

HMO’s, PPO’s and every other combination and permutation of health services came to the forefront of health delivery systems claiming to keep costs down all the while making preventive care and exceptional sick-care the cornerstones of American health care.  Medicare and Medicaid developed fee systems based on total care, rather than each individual item or procedure of care.  Slowly but surely, doubts arose as to the true availability and standards of care delivered, influenced by the principles of capitalism on one hand and the rights of entitlement and expectations on the other hand.  Managed care came to satisfy no one, not the insurance companies touting its benefits nor the patients who subscribed to those plans.  Thus, through the ensuing years, the controversy continues to flame the debate on cost versus decent and the expected state-of-the-art care.

Paul Krugman wrote an Op-Ed yesterday on consumerism in American health care.  Read it carefully and then proceed.

Medical tuition today can top out over $250,000, and that is just for the costs of medical school, not including college.  Prospective physicians are beginning their careers with a crushing amount of debt.  Once they are out of school and into practice, third-party payers determine reimbursement rates.  Capitalism and consumerism have no place in medicine: unregulated fees for services rendered will break our system, yet the regulation of fees will likewise kill our patients.  Perhaps one answer is that if medical fees are going to be regulated by the government, the costs of educating our doctors should be backed, or at least subsidized, by those third-party entities.  If our goal is to strictly regulate the health care fee structure, the entire system should be equally integrated with that goal in mind, and it should start with helping future doctors pay for their education.

Drug research and development concerns are also faced with the dilemma of costs versus innovation.  Bringing a new drug to market is an enormously expensive venture.  The research, the regulatory process and the government rules for repetitive effectiveness and safety testing is a cash cow for billions of dollars.  Finally, when a drug is approved and sent to market, should there be controls on the cost of that medicine for the benefit of those that need it?  If so, how will the drug companies make back their investment and stay afloat?  If they are not permitted to recuperate their investment, they will no longer work on new drugs.  Working for the greater good has its benefits, but in the end, who will pay the bills?  If you think this process is unfair for those drugs that could possibly help millions of people, think about the orphan drugs which are just as important yet have a very small market share.  People with very rare diseases, who are screaming for a drug solution, must consider the huge costs associated with a cure.  The expectation that the need has priority over the cost of development is, quite frankly, unrealistic.

Medical technology and care also face the same obstacles.  The costs of inventing and producing new scanners, treatments and protocols are extremely cost-intensive.  Then, should our general policy be that just because we have it,  everyone should be entitled to it?  It goes without saying that corruption, greed and good old American capitalism rule the health and insurance industry just as they do all of our other enterprises.  That said, Americans still need to make their own provisions and take personal responsibility for their expectations of medical care.

Krugman was correct when he wrote that there is not much room for consumerism in health care but at the same time, we have to start saying “No.”  Americans should have access to the best medical care, but they are also going to have to pay for it.  The time for entitlements is over.  Additionally, 40% of our Medicare dollars goes towards care in the last month of life.  Call it “death panels” or call it “rationing”: something’s got to give.  American health care cannot be everything to everybody.  Until we can design and implement a fully integrated system, encompassing prevention, treatment, malpractice reform, fair reimbursement, responsible drug costs, and helping out with medical tuition, our health care program will be simply another band-aid on a festering wound.

My stand on health care might be considered brutal by some.  I am all for everyone having access to the best medical care that exists.  Truly I am.  However, those people should be aware of the costs involved and should be prepared to pay for the coverage and treatments.  There should be a decent level of health care for available to all of us.  Then, for those who want to cover all of their bases, additional plans should be purchased.  Americans might have to forgo that big screen television or that late-model, shiny, new car for an investment in their future health care needs.  If we persist in applying capitalistic principles to health care along with consumerism to the patients, then the chips will have to fall where they may.

On a lighter note, The Onion had a great article on Romney and medical care:

http://www.theonion.com/articles/mitt-romney-haunted-by-past-of-trying-to-help-unin,20097/

Spring in Full Swing

April 21, 2011

Finally, spring has sprung in Virginia.  The rains have been plentiful, the buds are bursting into blooms and the green is getting brighter every day.

River Bend Park in Great Falls, Virginia

The Potomac River spilling over its banks.

The boat ramp under spring rains.

Dogwood entwining a neighbor.

Dogwood and gazing ball.

Beautiful form, no embellishments.

Take a deep breath and smell the lilac.

My namesake, the bleeding heart.

Splendor in the grass.

The blooms precede the fruit.

Pink dogwoods, the fave of G-Momma.

While we are talking about new beginnings, let me update you on the eagles’ nests.  The Decorah, Iowa eagles continue to be exemplary parents.  Their three eaglets are thriving, despite the snowfall they had again yesterday.  Also, the feathers of the babies are turning darker.  It is a wonder to watch this family and cheer for them every day.

Not such good news about the eagles in the Maine aerie.  They have a much more dysfunctional history.  Now it appears that they have abandoned the nest.  Chat on the website mentioned the possibility of another eagle invading the nest the other day and eating the one egg.  We always have next year.  Sigh.

A Mountain of AAA Debt

April 19, 2011

Yesterday, Standard & Poor’s lowered their outlook on the United States’ creditworthiness.  While the stock market understandably tanked in response to this negativity, keep in mind that S & P retained their AAA rating for our national creditworthiness.

More than anything, I think this latest opinion reflects not necessarily the full faith and credit of our nation, but a despair, and worrisome at that, in our political structure to effect any change.  The paralysis of our government to actually make significant budget cuts is so wrapped up in political mechanization and dysfunction that the focus and initial goals are lost, as are remedies.

I have some questions.  I know many of my readers have impeccable and impressive educational credentials in the financial area, like Competent Kate and Sweet Sabowtage.  I am relying on you to clarify some issues for me.  First of all, it was such rating services as S & P and Moody’s that erroneously gave higher than deserved ratings to such knee-deep-in-shit players of the financial crisis, i.e. Bank of America, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, etc.  So just how valid are the opinions of these companies who hand out ratings that are supposed to be objective and independent but actually are susceptible to the cajoling, influence-peddling and arm-twisting of the entities that are being examined?  Is S & P’s outlook downgrade of the U.S. government really an honest interpretation?  How much credence should  we invest in these credit arbiters whose past actions have been far from stellar?

Secondly and more importantly, this downgrade has implications for the next Congressional battle, that of raising the debt ceiling.  Should we not allow an increase in the ceiling, thereby impacting our future borrowing and interest-paying activities?  This could have a dramatic effect on our credit rating and our solvency.  Or should we raise the debt ceiling, thereby increasing our debt load and weakening our financial position even further?  Which poison is more beneficial to our country?  It appears that at this point, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Got any answers?  Please help me out here.

The Passover Post

April 18, 2011

Passover is once again upon us, so let’s celebrate!

The story of Passover encompasses the exodus of the enslaved Jews from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan.  This trek lasted 40 years.  Can you imagine struggling through 40 years of desert conditions, experiencing trial after tribulation to boot?  The following video therefore, is no surprise as to why “Jews Don’t Camp:”

Furthermore, imagine how much easier the Jews’ journey would have been had they had the technology that is available today.  Oy, the humanity of it all!  A modern day exodus would be so different from the original exodus.

Finally, here are some definitions of new-fangled words, totally appropriate for those of us celebrating Passover:

Jewbilation (n..) Pride in finding out that one’s favorite celebrity is Jewish or that your offspring is marrying a Jewish person.

Bubbegum  (n.) Candy one’s mother gives to her grandchildren that she never gave to her own children.

Chutzpapa  (n.) A father who wakes his wife at 4:00 a.m. so she can change the baby’s diaper.

Jewdo  (n.) A traditional form of self-defense based on talking one’s way out of a tight spot.

Meinstein  – slang. “My son, the genius!”

Re-shtetlement  (n.) Moving from Brooklyn to Boca Raton and finding all your old neighbors live in the same condo building as you.

Yidentify (v.) To be able to determine Jewish origins of celebrities, even though their names might be St. John , Curtis, Davis, or Taylor.

Feelawful  (n.)  Indigestion from eating Israeli street food, especially falafel.

Dis-kvellified (v.) To drop out of law school, med. school or business school as seen through the eyes of parents, grandparents and Uncle Sid. In extreme cases, simply choosing to major in art history when Irv’s son David is majoring in biology is sufficient grounds for diskvellification.

Impasta (  n.)  A Jew who starts eating leavened foods before the end of Passover.

Schmuckluck (n.) Finding out one’s wife became pregnant after one had a vasectomy.

HAPPY PASSOVER!

Special thanks to Ms. Seven Striper for her unbeatable skills as my humor editor.

Missing Nancy

April 17, 2011

With John Boehner now holding the Speaker of the House position, the leadership just isn’t what it was with Nancy Pelosi in charge.  The gamesmanship continues on both sides, but the GOP majority is not effecting closure on the issues so near and dear to their hearts.  A crack has appeared in their facade, and it continues to widen.

Back in February, House Republicans failed to deliver a vote having to do with jet engines.  This vote, which the GOP lost, was seen as Boehner losing his caucus.  As every trial lawyer will tell you, never, ever, put a witness in the box and ask him a question to which you do not already know the answer.  This process occurred again this week in Congress.  Boehner lost a significant number of his own party representatives.  Although the Democrats pulled a procedural “prank” on the Republicans, Boehner once again had not done his pre-vote homework:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/15/house-democrats-republicans-budget_n_849715.html

Does Boehner and his GOP colleagues think they are above the planning, hard work and nuts-and-bolts legwork it takes to walk a bill through Congress?  Do they believe that just the fact of holding the majority will get the job done?  Have they no sense of the struggles involved in actually passing legislation?  Do they think that, during the last two years, Pelosi and President Obama had a cake walk in enacting new legislation?

Pelosi, aside from her devotion to the liberal cause and loyalty to her President, was a genius of organization.  She knew exactly how each House member was going to vote before the vote was held.  She was the Queen of Congressional Mechanics.  If she did not have sufficient votes for passage, she would not allow that vote to even come to the floor.  That is called leadership.

The larger significance of Pelosi no longer being the leader of the House is the effect on President Obama.  She was one of his guiding lights on liberal, progressive and yes, DEMOCRATIC principles.  Being a centrist (if not a bit right of center), the President needed the ideological influence of a die-hard Democrat, which is exactly what he got with Pelosi.  This is not to belie the fact that both Obama and Pelosi compromised and ceded some valuable policies in order to pass the legislation at hand.  The health care reform act is the primary example that comes to mind: no public option.  But folks, nothing would have been passed without the carefully calculated nose-counting abilities and persuasive powers that Pelosi demonstrated.  She always knew the vote result before it was ever taken.

I do not know if Boehner’s lack of leadership is a result of laziness, a comfort with his Republican elitism or his general blowsy, boozy mien.  I do know that since his reign began, he has lost votes in the House, which were directly related to his lack of work before the votes.  Even if a particular party is in the majority, legislating entails much hard work to ensure its passage.

The GOP continues to avoid the  work necessary to pass their policies.  Instead, they use the process to legislate their social agenda and save face on the real policies at hand.  With the recent budget dealings to avoid a government shutdown, Boehner got President Obama to cede D.C. abortion rights for low-income women.  In the upcoming battle to raise the debt ceiling, I wonder if the GOP will once again turn to social legislation to soften what of course will be another compromise.  Perhaps religion in our schools will again be on the table as the Republicans will have to consent to an increase in the debt ceiling, as not passing that increase could lead to defaults in U.S. bonds.  Abortion and religion will placate the GOP for now, as they have no clue how to negotiate a bill, based on its own merits, through the legislative process.  So they settle on social policy “victories” to save face and cover up their laziness.

Trust me: Boehner is no Pelosi.

Truth in Advertising

April 16, 2011

On this gloomy, stormy Saturday, I have given my mind permission to wander.

Truth be told, there is not much truth in advertising.  There is however, effectiveness in blowing one’s own horn.  The ultimate goal of advertising is to increase sales.  That is a given.  However, there are some advertisements that are enjoyable solely for their content that may educate, sooth or entertain.  One can appreciate some commercials as a stand-alone experience, with no intent to act on its selling skills.  Some negative and positive examples follow.

Jane Lynch’s Comcast/Xfinity commercials just grate on me.  Lynch, who plays a  sharp-tongued, down-right mean teacher on “Glee”, is capitalizing on that character in these ads.  This portrayal, in no way, shape or form, could never motivate a person to buy the product.  Have a look:

Why would any potential consumer choose to identify with the Jane Lynch in this ad?  Moreover, to a viewer just watching the commercial, the experience is worthless, void of any pleasantries or redeeming features.

On the other hand, I find Kaiser-Permanente’s “Thrive” campaign to be pleasant.  Without giving any credence to the value or honesty of Kaiser’s health care plans, the commercials themselves are thoughtful, soothing and offer advice that is useful.  The message of “Thrive” is to live a healthy life.  The delivery of the voiceovers by Allison Janney is wonderfully soothing.  Eat properly, exercise, reduce stress, be kind to others and take responsibility for your own life are the hallmark messages of this campaign.  Not unreasonable advice.  I am sure you have heard many of Janney’s commercial narrations over the last four years.  In addition to the Janney ads, Kaiser has offered some other effective commercials, which follow:

While there isn’t a chance in Hell that I would subscribe to a Kaiser health plan, I do enjoy their commercials.

Finally, a T-Mobile advertisement has been viral on the Internet.  No, I will not switch my cellular phone service to T-Mobile, but I sure do love this commercial:

There is not much truth left in anything today.  Advertising is particularly susceptible to this unfortunate situation.  I am too old and jaded to believe there is any truth in advertising.  However, as long as I am going to be bombarded by the media, I expect commercials to entertain and enlighten me.