Off Topic

Ten Simple Questions

Dancer Deformed. Mendoza, Argentina, 2017
Dancer Deformed. Mendoza, Argentina, 2017

 

Try these on for size and see how “deformed” your general knowledge of current political events might be…

  1. ***Obama personally ordered the wiretapping of Trump’s communications in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.   True or False?
  2. The Trump campaign’s connections to Russia is an issue invented by the Democrats to distract.    True or False?
  3. The FBI specifically told Congress that Russia did not interfere in the electoral process.    True or False?
  4. Attendance at Trump’s inauguration in Washington D.C. was much larger than Obama’s in 2009.    True or False?
  5. Some 3 to 5 million non-citizens voted (and voted for Hillary) in the 2016 Presidential election.    True or False?
  6. Trump’s electoral college win in the 2016 election was the biggest margin since Reagan.    True or False?
  7. Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO.  True or False?
  8. Trump was responsible for bringing down the price of the F-35 jet fighter.   True or False?
  9. Terrorists from the countries targeted in President Trump’s two travel ban versions (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen) have been responsible for nearly all the terrorism-related deaths in the USA since 9-11.    True or False?
  10. Trumps current approval ratings are at an all-time high compared to the last four Presidents at this point in the term.    True or False?

Now, for the answers…

If you answered all of them “False”, congratulations, you are a well-informed citizen who likely uses credible news sources.

If you answered any of these as “True”, you might reconsider where you get your news. Avoid the temptation to listen only to news outlets, certain radio hosts, conspiracy theories, etc. that confirm what you would like to be true. (This last statement is directed at both lefties and right-winger types.)

[***NOTE: I may get some push back on this one. Apparently, there is an on-going investigation into ties between the Russians and the Trump campaign in which some Trump campaign officials may have had their conversations recorded. We will have to see how this investigation develops. However, I am taking Trump at his word, which is false. To wit: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! 4:35a.m. – 4 Mar 2017.” I read into words their traditional meaning IAW the Oxford English Dictionary. If Trump meant something else, well then he needs to be more precise in his use of the English language.]

Whenever you have the slightest doubt, use the fact-checking websites: Politifact, FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, Open Secrets, and the Washington Post Fact Checker.

Avoid out-of-the-mainstream news sources on either the left or the right–or at least take what they say with a huge block o’ salt and temper your findings with what you see elsewhere. Despite the talk these days of “fake news”, places like the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, Reuters, The Economist, USA Today, yes, even CNN and NPR, will have higher standards for what they are willing to publish than lesser outlets.

For various long lists ranging from left-biased to right-biased media outlets, check out the very good Media Bias/Fact Check site. For an explanation of their methodology for determining media bias, go HERE. It all makes for an interesting read.

The truth might be hard to swallow, pilgrim, but it’s pretty damned important we start agreeing on basic facts in this country.

American Ire

IRE. Near Mendoza, Argentina, 2017
IRE. Near Mendoza, Argentina, 2017

 

Ire: anger, rage, fury, wrath, hot temper, outrage, spleen, crossness.

 

This pretty much describes the current state of much of the electorate these days.

And rightly so, as we are now witnessing an unprecedented assault on American democracy from within.

Hopefully, our institutions–and the people at large–are up to the challenge.

I am very cautiously optimistic.

Emergency Room Charges

Triangle View. Cherry Creek Mall, Denver, Colorado, 2017
Triangle View. Cherry Creek Mall, Denver, Colorado, 2017

 

This might be humorous if it weren’t so…well…messed up. If you know me you know I support a single payer health care system in this country–this, based on my experiences living in Germany, Spain, and Argentina (all told, some 7-8 years out of country).

Here, it seems, we don’t mind having a private, for-profit, entity (your smiling insurance company) regulate our access to medical care (“Sorry, that was a pre-existing condition.” “Sorry, that procedure isn’t included in your plan.”).

What follows is a very small, very typical, but interesting example of how convoluted the system is…

We recently received a bill for $16,793.00 from a local hospital for my wife’s ER visit last year after a fall while rock climbing (she is fine, but the back and neck took a slight hit that definitely needed checking). The bill came to us because I failed to complete some additional paperwork for the insurance company and so they had not yet paid. I have since filled out the appropriate paperwork and the claim was paid.

Here is what we were billed:

–Three different lab charges: $119.00, $109.00, and $74.00

–Five different radiology charges (X-rays): $847.00, $770.00, $714.00, $693.00, and $565.00

–Two CT Scan charges: $5,011.00 and $5,011.00 (same charge, twice)

–One general “ER” charge: $2,789.00

TOTAL: $16,793.00

According to the hospital, if you have no insurance and you could fork over the cash, they would only charge you 60% of the full bill.

In our case, since our insurance company is federally-funded (TriCare), the amount the local hospital will ultimately receive for the bill is a mere $678.57. (Take that, and be happy!)

This begs some questions, of course…

–The same visit to six different ERs throughout the country would very likely net six very (wildly?) different total prices. Why?

–Why the secrecy with the billing codes? No amount of digging on Google could find them. I had to call a human bean at the insurance company to find out what the codes meant.

–Why the five bills for X-rays? And, especially, why the two separate bills for a CT scan when she was in the tube once?

–What specifically is included in the “ER charge”? Or is that just the price of the bed space for three hours?

–Why can a cash customer get a 60% “discount”?

–Why can our insurance company get away with paying pennies on the dollar? If our insurance company is underpaying, how does the hospital make it up? Do they jack up prices to other insurance companies or to private payers? (That’s probably why our bill was so high–had we actually paid it..ha! ha!…it would have helped them make up for other losses.)

–Why can’t a person with no insurance simply pay $687.57 and call it good? After all, that is what the insurance company ended up paying.

–MOST IMPORTANTLY: What was the real, no-kiddin’, actual cost of the services performed? What should we really be paying for our health care? Does anyone really know?

The ugly thing about all this is that it seems like it is all very hush-hush, double secret probation-type stuff. Getting information is difficult. The system is complicated, creaky, unwieldy, and inefficient.

Fact: In the US of A, we spend, as a percent of GDP, a much higher percentage for our health care than any other high-income industrialized county. Why? Are our health outcomes better? Not necessarily. 

Fact: The number one cause of personal bankruptcies in this country is the need to sell off everything to pay for emergency health care. This affects not just the uninsured, but the insured as well (“Sorry, that was a pre-existing condition!”). Does that make any sense at all?

Sadly, I have absolutely no hope that this country will ever join the rest of the civilized world with a national health care system. (Especially now, given the change in government that is about to happen on January 20.)

Yes, any significant change would require a major torch-and-pitchfork revolt (with much raucous shouting and angry fist-waving) against the very, very powerful health insurance company lobby who have a “yuuge” influence over our wonderful politicians and how they vote.

No, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

In the meantime, many Americans will just keep sneaking off to Mexico, Colombia, and India for their medical and dental procedures…and, in our case, to avoid all this nonsense we will likely elect to retire to my wife’s home town of Barcelona, Spain.

Trump-eting a Few Predictions

Trump as Genius. Boulder, Colorado, 2017
Trump as a Genuine U.S. Genius. Boulder, Colorado, 2017

 

Well, in regard to the 2016 Presidential Election, I certainly missed my predictions by light years.

How about if I try again?

Here is what I predict:

–Trump will not complete his four-year term without a major personal scandal, a major war, and/or another major recession. (The first possibility I rate as highly likely, the other two as somewhat less likely).

–Indeed, there is a better than 50% chance that he will not complete his four-year term at all due to impeachment and removal from office. (Begged Question: Would Pence be worse???)

–At least one of his Cabinet picks, or a high-level White House official/advisor, will be involved in a major scandal (due to incomplete vetting) and will resign in disgrace.

–Tapes from The Apprentice will be leaked and released and will be found to be quite disgusting.

–Someone will leak more of Trump’s tax returns showing him to be deeply in debt and not nearly as rich as he has claimed. The tax returns will also reveal conflicts of interest on a level never seen before.

–Economic inequality in the USA will reach even higher levels than ever before.

–There will actually be a few good things that happen–with the economy, foreign relations, etc.–that Trump will take full credit for (naturally!). However, they will have occurred not as a result of Trump’s genius but rather as lucky unintended consequences of his policies.

–Democrats will make only very slight gains in Congress at mid-terms, but will make huge gains in 2020, regaining the Presidency and both Houses of Congress (it’ll then be their turn to screw things up!). The Republican Party will leave power in disarray.

For a detailed list of what I think the future trend might be over the next 2-4 years, see my November 9, 2016 blog: Post-Election Day Hangover (2016).

Check back on November 4, 2020 to see how I fared with these guesses.

Happy Holy Holly Days to All!

Happy Holidays. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Happy Holidays. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Overheard at a shopping mall today somewhere in this fine country:

Shopper 1: “Wait just a damn minute! Did you just say ‘Happy Holidays’?”

Shopper 2: “Well…uh…yes. Why?”

Shopper 1: “Are you one o’ them damn libtards that’s wagin’ war on Christmas? Prolly a Muslim-lover, too, eh?”

Shopper 2: “Well, then, Merry Christmas to you, then! I was just trying to be all-inclusive. Not everyone in our country is a Christian, you know.”

Shopper 1: “Well, it’s a Christian country and, dammit, everyone should say ‘Merry Christmas’!”

Shopper 2: “I take it you are a Christian then?”

Shopper 1: “Yer goddamn right I’m a Christian! And I’m packin’, too, so ya better stop with that ‘Happy Holidays’ crap right now!”

And so it goes…(sigh)…

Diversity (and the food that goes with it!) is so much more interesting, don’t you think?

December 8Bodhi Day

December 12Milad un Nabi

December 15Dhanu Sankranti

December 21Winter Solstice

December 23Festivus for the rest of us!

December 24Hanukkah (through January 1)

December 25Christmas

December 26Kwanzaa (through January 1)

December 26St. Stephen’s Day

December 26Boxing Day

December 28Holy Innocents

December 31Watch Night

January 6 – Epiphany, or Día de los Reyes

Salary Inequality and Our Values: Pro Athletes & Teachers

Assuming us profligate human beans survive…I suspect that anthropologists of the far-off future of, say, the 25th century, as they study a recently discovered cache of salary data from our ancient 21st century times (on some oxidized Seagate hard drive found in an old methane-bloated landfill), will be shocked and appalled. They will see, for example, that the average salary for a professional basketball player in the NBA was $5.15 million way back in the 2010s while the average salary for a K-12 teacher in the USofA was somewhere around $56,000.

These anthropologists might comment: “Wow, what a distorted sense of societal values!” And I fully agree.

You might say: “What! That’s just the free market at work–those players EARNED it! The fans willingly bought the tickets and the official jerseys and the hats and the beer and the hot dogs, after all!”

I say: BULLSHIT. And BULLSHIT, again.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In this case, the free market is seriously f@#%ed up and has actually become a very corrupting influence.

[Here, cue up the catchy new tune Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by the latest hot group, Romulus Augustus and the Corrupt Senate Chorale.]

When I was young, I played baseball, slept with my perfectly-greased and formed glove and a grass-stained ball…and my dearest and most earnest dream was to play for the New York Yankees just like my heroes–the Babe, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, et al. You wouldn’t have had to pay me more than a simple and decent living wage and I would have been absolutely ecstatic to take the field in those famous pinstripes. It was all about love of the game.

I suspect most pro athletes these days still have a deep “love of the game” and good for them. Unfortunately, perhaps some now also have a growing sense of entitlement to those huge…er, yuuuge…salaries and bonuses. They (and many of us) think they deserve them.

So, here is my very simplistic, idealistic, naive proposal: A salary cap of $500,000 maximum on all pro athlete salaries, indexed to inflation and cost-of-living in whatever area of the country they might live. Maybe we could do the same with Hollywood salaries that go above that half million mark. All extra money above those limits would go to raise teacher salaries. (It might not actually raise salaries for educators a lot, but it would be quite a statement, don’t you think?)

But, Dan, those athletes are really dedicated! They train hard, they EARN those salaries! 

Again, I say, BULLSHIT. I don’t believe anyone in the world is worth $5 million a year no matter how hard they work–yes, even CEOs, brain surgeons, race car drivers, and any other job you care to name. You should be building a company for love of the game…a doctor for love of the game…careening around the oval track for love of the game.

And, I would add that the best teachers are very highly trained as well, and they put in just as many hours–perhaps more–as any pro ball player does. Many are extremely skilled at what they do. The teaching profession ought to be as valued, as publicized, and as romanticized as those who choose sports–even more so, actually.

And ultimately, which is most important to the strength of our social fabric: a basketball player, or a teacher?

Election Day, 2016

At Mile Marker 263. Colorado, 2016
At Mile Marker 263. Colorado, 2016

 

Finally! We thought the day would never come…

The fact that this election appears to be so statistically close between the candidates really blows my mind. How can that be? Don’t people fact check anything?

I understand that there is frustration out there. I understand the desire to find a new solution…a new path. We certainly DO need to remove the gridlock in Washington and move forward…reduce the unparalleled economic inequality that is crushing the middle and working classes…

But please, use your analytical powers (use your head for something besides a hat rack!)…go to the fact check sites…look at a variety of news sources–reputable ones, not the ideological ones that dish out what you want to hear…don’t simply vote based on your emotions and prejudices…Google “confirmation bias” and avoid it…

If you do that honestly and objectively, you absolutely can’t avoid the conclusion that Donald Trump is absolutely NOT the solution. No, not by a long shot.

Here’s hoping the country does the right thing.

POSTSCRIPT: It didn’t. See November 9, 2016 post

2016 Presidential Election Prediction

Doudy Draw. Boulder, Colorado, 2016 (What the hell path are we on, anyway!?)
Marshall Mesa. Boulder, Colorado, 2016 (What the hell path are we on, anyway!?)

 

OK, I am going to scoot out on a dry, dead, diseased, and cracked branch here and make some predictions about where that path above might be leading us–knowing full well that some catastrophic world foolishness could toss me miles away from my current observational perch.

Here they are:

#1: Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency in an electoral landslide and by at least 10 points in the popular vote.

#2: Donald Trump wins somewhere between three and ten states.

#3: The Dems regain a majority in the Senate.

#4: The Dems also make gains in the House, but the Republicans retain a solid majority there.

#5: Merrick Garland is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice sometime between November 9, 2016 and January 20, 2017.

I’ll add a P.S. in the November-January time frame once all the manure dust settles.

[November 9, 2016 POSTSCRIPT: Well, I certainly have no career in political prognostication. I was wrong on all counts. See my blog posts of November 8, 2016 and November 9, 2016.]