Archive for September, 2009

And the Advantage goes to…

Yesterday was Yom Kippur.  The day of atonement.  Most of it was spent in our local Ojai synagogue, enumerating my sins, asking forgiveness, fasting, and thinking about food.  My pledge to be less critical, think before I speak, and to remember the guy without feet before I complain about my tight shoes lasted about twenty minutes following the close of services at sundown.

My resolutions were further tested this afternoon when I visited the Times website and saw this screaming banner…Senate Panel Rejects Pair of Public Options in Health Plan.

The article made a special note that the Finance Committee had just completed a three day weekend because of Yom Kippur.  With the exception of Chuck Shumer and Ron Wyden, my presumption is that 21 of the 23 committee members were somewhere else on Monday, other than in shul.

Those 21 folks were spared nine hours of exposure to sin talk, making the world a better place and being my brother’s keeper.  All without the benefit of food and water.  Please, no offense to my Christian brethren is intended.

So, perhaps they should be excused for trampling the only thing that will keep insurance moguls from making an even bigger fortune at taxpayer expense…while simultaneously failing to control the ever-spiraling cost of health care.

Not to be left out of the party, our congressman, Elton Gallegly, posted an article in today’s Ventura Star.  Headlined Pelosi’s Healthcare Plan Cuts Medicare ,  Elton devotes a quarter page to extolling the benefits of the Medicare Advantage program and the crisis that will befall the elderly if the subsidies provided to it by us taxpayers are reduced.  A pretty interesting position for a guy who voted against the expansion of the State Childrens Health Program, protected pharmaceutical companies by rejecting the government’s request to negotiate Medicare drug prices, and voted against repealing the restrictions on stem cell research.

What is Medicare Advantage?  And to whose advantage is it?

—It’s a program designed by Congress to help reduce the cost of care to the elderly.  It provides benefits, like reduced co-pays, not offered under the standard Medicare program.  Other benefits vary by plan and can include things like dental care and drug benefits.

—All Advantage plans are run by private companies, e.g. Aetna, Humana, Cigna.  They are generally paid a fixed monthly payment for each Medicare enrollee.

—Services under these plans are usually offered through a limited panel of providers, ala PPOs and HMOs but can also include Private Fee for Service.

—About 20% of Medicare enrollees are in Advantage plans.

—There is evidence that the plans have fewer hospital admissions and shorter lengths of stay.

—Currently, Advantage costs us taxpayers 14% more than standard Medicare.  About $10 billion per year.  So much for cost savings.

So to whose advantage are such plans?  Well, they provide better benefits than standard Medicare, so they can be of advantage to us old folks.  And they are profitable for the insurance companies, so they like ’em too.

So who’s to complain?  For one thing, me.  I pay for those sweetened benefits and insurance company profits through my contributions to the Medicare Trust Fund.  A fund that is about to go belly up without some kind of action.  Any kind of special treatment given to one class of beneficiaries eats into what’s available to me.  Me, one of the other 80% of old folks not enrolled in Advantage programs.

Now I don’t begrudge folks from picking one of those Advantage plans.  What I do object to is paying more for their choice.  And that’s what the argument is all about.  Max and his Finance Committee cronies, along with Nancy and her minions, want to reduce the special treatment given to Advantage folks in order to level the playing field and help pay for enrolling the other 50 million folks in this country who have zero health care coverage.

So why does Elton write these dumb, misleading articles?  Why does he predict that a holocaust will befall Advantage members and then conveniently ignore the other 80% of us…not to speak of the other 50 million have-nots.   First, he didn’t fast yesterday.  But more importantly, it’s another way of raising the hackles of old folks.  Folks who can go to tea parties and help defeat any kind of meaningful health care reform.  Folks who can help maintain the status quo and enrich the insurance companies.  Folks who care more about what they’ve got instead of what others don’t.

Ok, so I complained.  I promise to do better next year.


Come to my Tea Party

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ said Alice. ‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the cat. ‘We’re all mad here.’

Sean, Bill, and Rush continue to ply their trade, hoping to grow their fan bases and their bank accounts, with only a passing interest in tearing down the Obama administration.  On the other hand, Fox’s Glenn Beck seems religiously intent on rallying the masses on a crusade to take back the country from that black guy and his Democratic supporters.

On Friday I was clicking through the NY Times website and stumbled on David Herszenhorn’s article  recapping the more than 500 amendments submitted to the Baucus health care reform bill.  I scrolled down to the readers’ comments and found this as the very first…

Health care is fine.  Leave it alone.  I hate all Democrats.  They should all die.

And the maniac even signed it.  A star is born.

The President of the United States lies.  The country is controlled by Socialists and Communists.  White people are a disadvantaged majority.  Bring your guns to Tea Parties and political forums.  Children shouldn’t be exposed to the President’s politically biased call to stay in school and study hard.  Obama is a Fascist.  Obama is a Communist.  Obama is an Indonesian Muslim.  Obama is an illegal alien from Hawaii.

I admit to sharing the angst of those who suffer.  I share their need to lash out and express themselves from street corners and dark alleys.  After all, I’ve been there too.

I was there when their President cut $1.3 trillion in taxes — and gave nearly all of it to people who didn’t need it.  Then turned an inherited surplus into a deficit.

I was there when Wall Street was de-regulated,  when former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas rewrote the securities laws, created unintelligible financing fantasies, and gave home loans to people who didn’t have a pot to piss in. Then rewarded us with Bernie Madoff, a zillion foreclosures, and banks begging for bailouts.

I was there when their President said let’s go to Iraq.  That’s where the weapons of mass destruction are.  And don’t worry about the cost in lives and dollars.  It’s worth it.

I was there when their President violated our rights of privacy and penciled out those laws that he didn’t feel like following.

I was there when their President appointed Justices Alito and Roberts.  Two men who, like Thomas and Scalia, are constitutionally insulated from caring about the little guy and overly-protective of corporations.

I was there when their President shackled stem cell research and let Granny die.

Yes, I was there.  And I’m sure that the folks who are Tea Partying today were there too when their President was in charge.  Surely, they must have been ranting about spending too much, giving Wall Street hell, and chastising their elected representatives for ignoring the will of the people.  Weren’t they?

I’m sure their elected representatives got up in Congress and called their President a liar.  Didn’t they?

My President.  Their President.  Our President.

Tea anyone?


Clever guy, that Baucus

I was rowing this morning and watching CNN.  No, not at Lake Casitas.  On my Concept-2 machine while the sun was coming up.  Been doing that for a couple of years and I can see definite improvement in the callus development on my palms.

There was Max Baucus walking down the aisle in the Senate office building being pursued by reporters looking for blood.  CNN’s Briana Keilar, who looks much too young to be out alone, collared Max and asked “What do you think about the lack of Republican support?”  Max smiled and while continuing his happy-go-lucky stroll down the corridor said “I’m sure by the time all is said and done, we’ll get some of them to come on board.”

Come on board?  They should be hanging from the Capitol chandeliers yelling whoopie.  What a bill that Max has produced for us.  And it only took a millennium or so to get it off his desk.  Something for everybody.  Especially the insurance companies.

Everybody has to have insurance under Max’s plan.  From the same guys that brought us double digit health care inflation rates, cancellations of insureds who actually needed care and rejections of folks whose only crime was to have had acne as a fifteen-year-old.  Oh, and under the Max plan, if you lose your coverage you have to wait six months before getting new coverage.  Meanwhile you can hold your breath and hope that you don’t get swine flu.  As my sainted mother-in-law would say “I was shocked.”

I finished my row, showered, and donned my only-mildly-stained Upper Ojai Search and Rescue t-shirt.  I proceeded to analyze the situation without emotion.  Was Max really in the pocket of the druggies and insurance moguls?  Or is this some kind of clever ploy?  Was Max only baiting the Republicans hoping they would show their true colors for all the world to see?  Did Max know that no Republican would support any bill?  Of course.  That was it.  No other rational explanation is possible.

I can hear Max now, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, lathering up…

Let me think about my options…

I can give them a bill that has what we really need.  A public option with teeth.  Open enrollment anytime, for any reason.  A new reimbursement system that isn’t based on fee-for-service.  Reasonable tort reform that even the trial lawyers would be embarrassed to oppose.  Pay for it all by bringing everyone home from Iraq and Afghanistan, now.  And a three percent increase in taxes on those making more than $500,000.

Oh, but the wailing and moaning from every Republican, the want-my-cake-and-eat-it Blue Dog Democrats, and a bunch of conflicted Independents.  Woe is us, they’ll say.  A Socialist takeover.  My grandmother will be dead in a week.  My deficit-burdened grandchildren will be put in the workhouse and have only gruel three times a day.

Or, I can give them the opposite.  Give them something that they would have thought of themselves.  A plan to promote the current morass, to drag millions more into it, unwillingly.  Bigger profits.  Less accountability.

Wait for them to call out their tea-party’ers.  Wait for Rush, Bill and Sean to raise their minions.  Produce some moronic signs.  Wait for the rest of the world to see who the naysayers really are.  Then hoist them with their own petard.

I’m brilliant!


Baucus 2

If life was that simple

It was hot last week.  Let’s go to the Casitas water park.

I thought Isaac and Bella would get a kick out of it.  Checked it out.  “Closed except on weekends”, the kind voice at the other end of line said.  What now?  An eleven and a thirteen year old stuck with two old folks on the outskirts of the Ojai metropolis with nothing to do but fight over access to the computer.

Call the Athletic Club, I thought.  “Thirteen bucks and you can use all the facilities for the day…except for the tennis courts”, she said.  “You mean it includes the pool”, careful me said.  “Sure thing.”

Wait a minute.  Shed and June have a pool.  “Hi Shed.  I’ve got these two kids who would rather be somewhere else…like your pool.”  Not a moment’s hesitation.  “Get ’em over here.  Somebody has got to use that money pit.  I’ll even throw in free drinks and anything else you can find in the fridge.”

Put on my fancy, fifteen year old, macho bathing trunks.  The ones that make me look hunky.  At least that’s what Sweetie says.

Up we went.  Hot, hot, hot.  Brought my camera and the new 50mm lens.  Dangerous around water but what the hell.  Kids jumped in the pool.  I took off the lens cap, sat on the edge and shot pics of cute kids.

Put away the camera and jumped in the pool.  I love other people’s pools.  Sort of like going out on other people’s boats.  Who cares if they leak?  Sat around, smiled at the kids and thought how lucky I am.  An hour flew by.  Kids were fashionably waterlogged.  Time to go.

Home again.  Put the camera away.  Where’s the lens cap?  Must be in the pocket of my trunks.  Nope.  Under the car seat?  Nope.  Back up to Shed’s.  Not there either.  Lens caps are like elephants.  They end up in a mysterious graveyard never to be seen again.

For those among you who only have one lens, you probably think one lens cap fits all.  Not so.  There are as many different lens caps as there are stars in the galaxy.  And just as hard to find.  Time to Google one.

B&H in New York is my favorite photo equipment supplier.  Not this time.  No replacement cap.  Maybe there’s one on Amazon.  Sure enough.  Nine bucks plus six bucks shipping.  Wait, how about E-bay?

Look there’s one from some guy named Atnexthk.  A regular household name.  $2.79 including shipping.  How can that be?  I was sure that Atnexthk would run away with my $2.79, sell my credit card number to some Zimbabwean and I’d never see the lens cap.

But, being the greedy bastard that I am, how could I pass up the deal?  Click.  Off the order went.  Probably to the son of Idi Amin.

Five days later a funny looking four by six inch brown envelope arrived.  By Air Mail, it said.  A customs declaration stuck to the back of it.  Return address:  Ka Yue Mak, Cheung Sha Wan Road, KLN, Hong Kong.  I was sure there would be a note in it …Too bad, sucka.

A lens cap.  Nice and black.  It fit.

$2.79 including postage from Hong Kong.

Why can’t health care reform be so simple?


Eat some worms

Nobody likes me,
Everybody hates me!
I’m gonna eat some worms.

I listened to NPR this morning.  Scott Simon and Juan Williams were schmoozing about the world’s problems.  Particular emphasis was placed on Obama’s popularity numbers, his botched health care reform initiative, the continuing economic uncertainty, and the looming quagmire in Afghanistan.  There was more.

Jabs at the rising unemployment rate, the falloff in car sales after the end of the cash for clunkers program, and the California fires rounded out the ten minute segment.  The only thing missing was the cover-up of Obama’s involvement in the Octomom adventure and his apparent fathering of at least half of the eighteen, soon to be nineteen, Duggar children.

Seven months in the Oval Office and all the problems of the last decade are his.  Nicely tied up with a red ribbon.   George who?

Then I made the mistake of visiting the NY Times on the web.  The lead editorial  shouted at me…

As is the case with so many economic indicators these days, the only good thing to say about the August jobs report is that it could have been worse.


Adding to my anxiety, Charles Blow’s Prince of Dispassion  piece, anticipating Obama’s next foray into resuscitating health care reform, offered the following depression producing observation…

Let’s hope someone among these Ivy League oracles will convince the president to come down from his cloud and speak to the Costco constituency. As we witnessed during his presidential campaign, he can have a hard time speaking to everyday people in everyday language.

His opponents don’t have that problem. Death panels. Death books. Taxpayer dollars for abortion. Kill Grandma. Take away choice. Is some of this rhetoric blatantly silly? Yes. But, also brilliantly simple.

Conservatives speak in bumper stickers. Obama speaks in thesis statements. In fact, he sometimes seems constitutionally incapable of concision.

With friends like these, there’s not much point in visiting Fox-TV, the National Review or Pat Boone.  Rush Limbaugh can kick back and laugh his drug-laden ass off.

This mind-numbing assault took me back to last evening.  We had a delightful dinner at Kathy and John’s home.  Yummy toast spread with god-knows-what, shrimp with a mysterious coating that begged you to have just one more, and great wine.  In the middle of that Kathy, a flaming liberal with family ties to Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Hubert Humphrey, rose to her full five foot height and proclaimed…

I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more.  Who does he think he is?  He promised us.  He said he wouldn’t let us down.  He said he was the tooth fairy.  I’m pissed, crushed and up to here with him.  The fascist!

And then we had dessert.




Yesterday was a good day.  I saved $21.64.  And got a million dollars of satisfaction.

A little over two weeks ago I bought a flash drive from E-Tailer.  It’s one of those little things that looks like your thumb but holds more digital data than the original room sized Univac.  A marvel of technology that defies explanation.  Sort of like cell phones, the internet, and women.

The device worked spasmodically.   Sometimes the drive would be recognized by the computer.  Sometimes not.  Needing to devote my full attention to healh care reform, I put it aside vowing to contact E-Tailer and get a refund.  Procrastination set in.

Finally, yesterday I logged on to the E-Tailer site.  Navigating effortlessly, I found my purchase and looked for a way to ask for a refund.  A flashing box, like the one near LAX that advertises Totally Nude, extolled the virtues of “chatting with a customer representative…real time…on line”.  Why not?  I clicked and entered the chat mode.  Comfy.  What follows is a blow-by-blow replay of my E-chat…

CSR Jones has entered the session.

FRED: I have a problem with an item I purchased.  My order number is 234323411-001

CSR Jones: Thank you for contacting the E-Tailer on-line assistance team.  I have been assigned to your query.

CSR Jones: Could you please explain your request?

FRED: The flash drive does not work consistently.

CSR Jones: Would you like to return the item?

FRED: Yes.

CSR Jones: I am sorry since you received the item more than 14 days ago we are unable to process a Return order.

FRED: If you do not take it back, I will be a very unhappy customer.

CSR Jones: In order to service the item kindly contact the manufacturer.

CSR Jones: I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused.

FRED: Frankly, I don’t understand why I should do that…why don’t you contact the manufacturer?

CSR Jones: One moment please…

CSR Jones: I am sorry we do not have authorization and facility to contact the Manufacturer.

FRED: Neither do I.

FRED: I am one week beyond your self-imposed 14 day return policy…which I did not agree to when I purchased this defective item. If you have any business sense, you will take it back.

FRED: If you can’t authorize the return, please give me to a supervisor who can.

CSR Jones: the manufacturer # is 1-877-654-4357

FRED: Good… you call them.

CSR Jones: I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused.

FRED: I appreciate your apology…but that does not help.

FRED: Do you have a supervisor?

CSR Jones: I have processed an Credit only Order Number: 34567671-001 for the defective item.

CSR Jones: So you will receive a Credit of $21.64

CSR Jones: As well as you do not need to return the item.

CSR Jones: You can keep it with you like a gift.

CSR Jones: Is there anything else I can assist you with today?

FRED: Thank you very much. Does that mean it will be applied to my next order?

CSR Jones: No you will receive a credit in 3 – 5 business days to your Credit card.

CSR Jones: Is there anything else I can assist you with today?

FRED: Wonderful. You have been helpful in resolving the problem. Much appreciated.

FRED: Goodbye and keep cool.

I am sending this blog, special delivery, to President Obama.  Maybe he can use it when he speaks to Congress about Health Care Reform.




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