Saturday, January 26, 2013

We don't need no stinking charities!

Every day I get three or four letters requesting money for some charity. They often come from organizations of which I have never heard or of whose legitimacy is uncertain. My email is even more stacked but deleting email is easier than shredding mail; you have to open it to make sure your address is shredded or shred the whole package which wears out the shredder.  Where do they get my address?  The obvious answer is that organizations to whom you have contributed sell their "sucker" lists.

Why do private charities even exist?  Eliminating the charities which are charities only because they are called that on the tax deduction schedule and religious related charities that are limited in the scope of beneficiaries and carry a spiritual connotation,  charities exist to aid the poor and assist in relief from disasters - things which, arguably, would be better done and more cheaply by government.  Make no mistake about it, aid for the poor comes from the public whether it be through a charity or through a government agency.  Charities, to a large extent are fueled by tax deductions.  For example, in Sweden, private charities barely exist:

Compared to America, Sweden has a smaller private philanthropic sector and a larger public sector. Yet, in proportion to the size of its nation’s economy, the government of Sweden gives more than three times as much money to help the world’s poor as America does in governmental and private-sector aid combined. That contrast should make us question whether America’s present system of charitable tax deductions is the best way of aiding the truly needy.

Why are private charities more inefficient than government agencies?  There are a number of reasons in spite of a widely perceived perception, mostly attributable to conservative anti government political groups, of government inefficiency and awkward bureaucracy. Foremost among them is cost.  For example, the most conservative estimate of the salary of the CEO of the Red Cross, Gail J. McGovern is $500,000; and that is just base salary. The CEO of United Way, Brian A. Gallagher is paid over $700,000 according to Snopes which also places McGovern's salary at $1.2 Million. It's true that both the operation of both these operations transcends the USA but the major source of their funding is in this country. Craig Fugate, the FEMA Director, on the other hand receives a salary of around $100,000 per year. The operation of both these funds could easily be assumed by FEMA and other government agencies with the addition of staff. In addition to higher salaries of the CEOs, there are enormous advertising costs. Their total budget is $3.45 Billion and their fund raising costs are estimated at nearly $128 Million a year.  Estimating the savings by eliminating deductions for charity is beyond my pay grade but it would be significant. The bottom line is the American public pays for it either way.

Personally, as far as my charity contributions are concerned, they would not be altered.  The majority of mine are religion related and the thought of taxes doesn't enter into the equation. Of course, taxes would go up but the burden, since we ostensibly have  progressive tax rates, would ostensibly lie more on the higher income groups; just as are the majority of funds for the large charities.

And the best part of all, we could cut down on the time we spend on the shredder.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Medicare vs private insurance - a true story

My wife and I have been covered by Medicare for years - over ten years for both of us.  We have been very satisfied with it.  I have had two knee replacement surgeries, oblation surgery, a stent surgery and bypass surgery. My wife has had brain surgery and a thyroidectomy.  Of course we have had countless concomitant medical treatments.  Without health insurance, we would be either broke or dead, or both.  These expensive surgeries have cost us virtually nothing.  But it is not charity.  We pay a premium and have paid into Social Security for a combined total of over 60 years.  Government haters like to refer to "entitlements" in the government budget as an evil thing.  It is in fact an entitlement.  We earned it.

Private health insurance sycophants would like to turn it over to private insurers so there can be a profit. Not only would it cost more, it would be less efficient.  No one administering Medicare is paid 7 figure salaries or fly around in corporate owned jets. Those, like Ronald Reagan, who predicted that Medicare would be a precursor to Socialism and a government takeover of the health care system were more than just wrong, they were liars.  In all the years we have had been covered by Medicare, we have never seen a government employee.  Our doctors, hospitals and pharmacists are all private.  The only time we have to talk to a government employee is when a private provider tries to cheat us.  The true story of Natiline Sarkisyan and Cigna tells an all too typically tragic story of the health-for-profit industry.

The difference between private insurance companies vs Medicare was brought home all too painfully, and potentially lethally, last week.  My wife was having chest pains so on 1/7/20013 I took her to our cardiologist.  She was examined and given an EKG.  Our doctor said she appeared to be OK but she needed to be in the hospital over night for further testing and observation. It was a dangerous situation.  His insurance coordinator called SACH (San Antonio Community Hospital) to make a reservation and they told her that she would have to go to the ER because her insurance wouldn't cover a hospital stay. We were astonished.  It seems that, somehow, Medicare had been replaced as her primary insurance with Anthem Blue Cross. According to the hospital records, we would have to go to "My Family Medical Group" in Chino for treatment.

We were sure she was mistaken and I called the number on my wife's Medicare card.  I got through immediately and talked to an agent.  I was told that Anthem had notified them that my wife had signed on with them.  I convinced the agent that it was either a mistake or fraud (my wife has been a repeated victim of ID fraud) and he reinstated her effective 2/1/13. In the meantime, to get hospital help, she would have to go to the ER at SACH.  With the flu epidemic, we decided to take her home and put her to bed for a day or two and wait.  It worked out - her pain subsided and she had no heart attack...but she could have.

The next day, 1/8/13, I called Blue Cross of California, located in Thousand Oaks, CA,  the agency that the system now recognized as my wife's primary carrier.  I waited 25 minutes before I could talk to a representative. After a lengthy dialogue, I was told that my wife had filed an application for coverage and her signature was on the application.  She had not done so.  The representative agree to send me a copy of the signed application.  On 1/14/13, it hadn't arrived so I called the number in Thousand Oaks again.  I waited 30 minutes to talk to a rep.  After a 20 minute plus dialogue involving several holds, I was told that the "grievance was still under investigation" and there may or not be a signed application; it could have been done on the phone.  The rep couldn't or wouldn't tell me why I was told that there was a signed application and why I was told that I was being sent a copy.  I was given a grievance number and encouraged to contact the police and that their investigation was still pending (not even started). We called "My Family Medical Group" in Chino and they had never heard of my wife.

In addition to the superior care provided under Medicare, the absence of any patient required paperwork along with the contrast in the bureaucracy involved in my inquiries belies the common claim by conservatives that government is too clumsy to handle health insurance. I have met bureaucratic red tape and it is them!

Friday, January 11, 2013

More on the nuts; gun variety and House variety...

First the gun nuts.  I'll start out by saying anything more than hunting rifles and a defensive weapon in the home is redundant.  Personally, I am against killing animals for sport but I'm not normal, I guess. Also, personally, I have a two inch Smith and Wesson revolver that I have kept since my law enforcement days. I like to have it, fully realizing that it is virtually worthless.  I know this!  I'm not guessing. Most firearms discharged in the home have resulted in a suicide, murder of a spouse, accidental shooting; or they have been taken in a burglary.  I know, I've written the reports or approved the reports for 13 years as a patrolman, detective, patrol sergeant of watch commander. I have read in the papers of an occasional defense of a home intruder with a gun but rarely.

Let's tall about the 2nd Amendment; probably the most anachronistic, useless and over-hyped amendment of all:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. 

In parsing this one sentence, what it is saying is that people can keep arms and carry them as part of a well regulated militia in order to defend the state from outside governments. In this case,inferentially the loose federation of states that was coming together as a nation to fight for independence from England. It is true that cases have been brought before the court referring to the English law giving right to keep arms for self protection, but the English law was for the purpose of preventing the Catholic King from disarming protestants without authorization of the newly formed parliament.  Parliament still had the authority of maintaining regulation or disarming.

There is no inherent right for people to keep guns for any purpose other than participation in the militia, most of which today have been made subject to the United States military.  Most of the so called militias have served at the command of the Department of Defense in the oil wars. Still, a reasonable person, and that includes me, would not deny the right for someone to keep hunting weapons and defensive weapons in the home. There is nothing in the 2nd amendment assuring the right to keep machine guns, mortar, rocket launchers or nuclear weapons in the home.  You don't need an ammo clip to shoot a deer.

Not lets talk about the democrat nuts who are going to fixate on this again, and put the republicans back in control.  Will they never learn??? We lost this war, this war is over.  For one thing, our arguments are somewhat specious.  Domestic shootings are not done with assault weapons. Those would continue.  A complete ban on the possession of assault weapons would not have prevented Columbine, the theater shooting of the most recent one in Connecticut. If someone wants to shoot up a classroom, they can find the weapon. They're not going to be worried about breaking a gun law...neither are they going to be worried about a teacher carrying a gun.  Teach will duck and cover with the first shot, if he/she is not taken out with the first shot. The only way to stop the shooting is to eliminate all guns and that isn't going to happen.

The real problem is not the guns anyway, it's the nuts who want the guns. Even more of a problem is the guy, Wayne Lapierre who wants everyone in America to carry a gun, concealed or not, automatic or not. A nut who wants a cop (apparently, this cop wouldn't be working for the government) on every school yard and every citizen in the USA "carrying" and, apparently shooting it out in the bar like men, or women now, instead of invoking the sheriff who works for a tyranical government. LaPierre would have us believe that the fact that he works for an association bribing legislators with money from a $12 billion a year gun industry, selling assault weapons to the gun nuts, has nothing to do with his patriotism and fervor in encouraging the nuts that their government is communist/fascist; and will inexorably use the UN and black helicopters to enslave them by removing the machine guns from their homes.

Getting back to the fundamental nut factor.  They cherry pick the constitution, They ignore the fact that gun regulation has already stood the test of judicial review.  They claim that judicial review is itself unconstitutional because it is perfect as written by the framers and needs no review...whoops that is except for just the 2nd Amendment. Having the self-defense rug pulled out from them, the nuts have fallen back on the "minuteman" argument.  Were it not for the weapons that they had in their homes, we would still be slaves under the tyranny of Great Britain; ignoring the fact that the weapons they had in their homes were woefully inadequate and they would have failed had they not been armed with guns purchased by their new General -  George Washington and  with guns and cannons purchased by money borrowed by the Continental Congress - government!  It wasn't the minutemen with their home muskets fighting off the British, it was an organizized (somewhat organized, anyway) army, organized through the Continental Congress and aided by foreign governments, without whose help we most likely would not have prevailed. And the cold hard facts are, that with a few exceptions, our soldiers were not totally committed to the war and did not fight so heroically. The exception being their leaders, the ones who actually held land and had a dog in the fight. The very ones who became the new government.

The gun nuts like to use the Declaration of Independence to justify their fear of a tyrannical and despotic government which necessitates their squirreling away all these lethal weapons in their attics, basements, storage units and trunks of their cars so they can run through the woods in camouflage pants, jump boots, blackened faces waving their weapons and shouting hooyah. They are totally unaware of the nature of the Declaration of Independence which was one government pulling free from another government with a specific and lengthy list of grievances, none of which are applicable to this government or likely to be. So modern day minuteman wannabe heroes, will have to look elsewhere for a a justification for their phallic symbols. James Yeager, who has threatened to start murdering people if Obama takes one more dictatorial step toward gun control, is typical of the danger of people in love with guns.  If his freedom was in danger, he would be in jail right now for these remarks.  But never fear, gun lovers won't have to justify it, the deep pockets of the gun industry and the greed of those in this government you call corrupt who actually are corrupt will keep your toys safe.  Guns don't kill people, people who make the guns available kill people. But the true nuts, or more accurately and fairly foolish ones, because their intentions are good, are the ones who will elevate this argument above the real danger.  Our real danger today is the nuts in the Teaparty who want to destroy the government. They are as logical and approachable as those who have convinced themselves that they must have rocket launcher on their pickup truck. Those are the nuts, the ones in congress, we should fear; and obuscating the problem we can resolve by obsessing on one we cannot resolve will only result in losing both fights.

These unholy alliance of 51 members of the Teaparty caucus campaigned on the only two issues they could agree on, we hate an African American in the White House and we don't think government works. Once elected their goal has become to make sure that government doesn't work so they can blame it on the African American in the White House. The competition in house races has been virtually eliminated by gerrymandering. Today, only 35 of the 435 seats are competitive. Consequently, most or at least many, of members of the House look more at local election results than at the needs of the nation.  Unfortunately, 51 of these seats are held by members of the Teaparty caucus. Although there are members from many states, the membership comes primarily from Texas, Louisiana and Florida.  Members from other states comes from districts carefully gerrymandered to eliminate any democratic competition.

Their announced agenda is the "fundamental principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government and strict adherence to the Constitution" but that never stopped most of the members from voting for the Bush tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq.  Fiscal responsibility certainly is not refusing to pay debts that have already occurred, debts that they approved. Their frugality in government is more concerned with taking benefits away from lower classes and favoring government assistance to oil companies and lower tax rates for the wealthy.  Of course their official agenda is mother hood and apple pie unless examined in the context of what they do and say.  As said earlier, two issues they agree on is hatred for Obama and government.

There is nothing anyone can say or do to get their cooperation in raising the debt ceiling. Unfortunately, they are joined by a few in the Senate who share their hatred for Obama and obligation to international corporations like the Koch Brothers and the FreedomWorks foundation.  Obama cannot let them destroy the world economy by defaulting on the US debt.  He has sworn he will not but he also swore he would not compromise on the fiscal cliff. It's time for some nuts to show up in the White House.

Good reading.