Archive for March, 2012

Shopping for Health Insurance in America

March 29, 2012

My senator, Mark Kirk, had a stroke about 2 months ago.  He is still in the hospital. Not in a nursing home, or a convalescent center—but the hospital. He has excellent health insurance.    Why wouldn’t he?  He is an elite in America .  I want what he has.

He is one of those people who has health insurance— passing judgement on how the rest of us should  have health insurance. So are all the journalists who write for newspapers & magazines.  Seems the one thing they haven’t thought about  (in the age of  Obamacare—as the insurance portability act is being called), is…if we have to BUY  health insurance (and we can’t all be part of Medicare), who regulates what the insurance companies charge?

Here’s what happened to me when I  got my homeowner’s insurance renewal:  it went up 25%. The company, Farmer’s, claims the replacement cost of my house went up.  Maybe—but what more likely  happened is that so many homes are in foreclosure, that fewer home owners are buying insurance (see—to get a mortgage—you must have replacement insurance—usually called fire & casualty).  The  mortgage holders—the banks, don’t have to insure the  buildings they’ve foreclosed on—-so  the rest of us have to make up the profits the  companies are losing.

Same with health insurance.  You want to know why America s think liabilities are ‘toxic assets’ Assurant Health raises my health insurance premiums every 2 years by about 30%—then, tells me they are giving me a discount of 10% for  answering some questions. No joke!  I even have a letter from them.  They have to keep their profits, of course.  In this reality, shareholders are much much more important than people needing  insurance.

So,  stupid me, I shopped for health insurance on http://www.ehealthinsurance.com where  they tease you by having you answer a bunch of questions, tell you  that you qualify for a plan that costs $150 per month, & then…. you click &  suddenly it’s more complicated.  I answered all the questions, but  they wanted  confidential health records.

Ok, I call my physician, whose practice got taken over by a huge company:  Northshore University Health Systems, and the people in the office tell me I have to  fill out a waiver.  I have to  let my confidential records be tossed around.   I ask them to fax it to me at work (I don’t have a fax @ home—so they fax me where I work), I fill it out, fax it back (Feb.16)…& a few days later, someone from http://www.ehealthinsurance.com     calls me to tell me they haven’t gotten my records yet. I tell them I just made the request to my  doctor’s office, & the representative tells me it might take a few days.  Not to worry.

Then, on March 8, I got an email, telling me they (http://www.ehealthinsurance.com) haven’t gotten my health records yet(but it’s not really http://www.ehealthinsurance.com but Untied Healthcare, so, I  AGAIN called my  doctor’s practice, and  I am told they will go out in the next day or so.  But them, March 19, I got another  email from http://www.ehealthinsurance.com  (still ,    United Healthcare )  telling me they are closing my application.  HOWEVER, I call them, & they tell me I actually have to call their underwriter. It’s not like they won’t sell me insurance.

The next day, March 20,  I was a judge of election (primary—14 hours of nothing, but can’t yammer on the phone),  I could not call, but when I got home, I  had a letter from the http://www.ehealthinusrnace.com UNDERWRITER telling me they could not provide me with insurance.  I call Golden Rule– the underwriter—-&  it turns out they have a company that actually receives this CONFIDENTAIL information:  RSA medical.  So I had to call RSA.

But not only that—-it turns out my  doctor’s practice doesn’t send out the information, either:  they give my (YOUR)  confidential medical records to a company called  HEALTHPORT.

So, RSA tells me that they’ve been calling & calling Healthport, and have not been getting any response. So I call my doctor’s practice manager. She tells me she will look into this.  She calls me back. The reason Healthport is not responding to RSA is that they are waiting to get paid!  Huh?  So—if you want to get paid, how about responding & telling RSA you want to get paid!

& this—apparently—is—beside the profits the insurance companies must make for their stock holders—part of the reason health insurance is expensive:  so many people involved—ALL WITH HEALTH INSURANCE—-who  can’t  manage to communicate with each other…& deciding whether YOU get health insurance.

Damn straight—I don’t think this part of  Obamacare makes any sense. We wanted single payer, & we got this.  There is no logical reason I (or YOU) shouldn’t have the same  great medical insurance that Sen. Mark Kirk has…except the wars, & giving food aid to North Korea (so they can disrespect us & launch rockets instead of feeding their people).

If we must buy insurance—we must pay what the sellers want us to pay.  I’d go without, but I own a home, & have a few assets. My net worth is about $500,00. Any catastrophe, &  I am living in a tent.  They have us by the short hairs…as they say.

What’s interesting to me is that all the billionaires who claim to be progressive have not come up with a NON-PROFIT (Blue Cross? Don’t make me laugh) health insurance company based overseas—like everything else, which wouldn’t cost more than 1/2 a day’s pay.

To my Friends in the Southern Hemisphere….

March 25, 2012

Life had gotten so unusual here in Chicago (in the Northern Hemisphere).

Part of what  motivates me to  address this is that I have been reading a lot of history lately.  I read an autobiography of William O. Douglass, the Supreme Court Justice, who was a hero of mine when I was a teenager in the late 1960’s…. & Sarah Vowell’s  Assassination Vacation, about the assassinations or our presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley—and the dynamics surrounding those killings.

We have (sort of) an odd dynamics going on now:  extremely, unseasonably warm weather, and a primary election which decides our canditates for the Fall elections.

1st, let me address the weather.  We didn’t have much of a winter.  We will usually have at least a week of below freezing temperatures—our cold weather usually lasts from November through March—in Winter.  Usually it’s several weeks at a time, or at least only a few days of above freezing, and then back to freezing (so the ground stays frozen) but this didn’t happen last Winter season. We had very few freezing days.  Almost no snow, so no Spring floods.  Lots of tornado activity (very sudden, dangerous storms)  We would be overjoyed (many people are), except—this is not right.  We didn’t have a proper dormant period for  perennial plants;   no ‘hibernation’ for those animals that generally do.  We have—essentially—a drought. Then BOOM!!! Summer weather…for the past 2 weeks. No gradual warming—& this has affected all the plants, & I am sure  bird migration patterns as well.

Several years ago, we lost a lot of wild birds to West Nile Virus. You’d find dead birds all over.  This might do them all in. No birds means a lot of flying bugs, & bugs on food crops.

Usually, the weather temperature is in the 50s—60s (Farenheit). We went immediately to 70—80s.  No rain for 3 weeks. Is there any doubt there is GLOBAL WARMING?  Yet, we call it Climate Change’ now.  & we still have a huge  segment of adults who believe God causes weather —it has nothing to do with science (& they are voting for Rick Santorum to be the Republican presidentail candidate).

We do a terrible  job making science education important in the USA. Just goes to  show you you can be rich & mighty without being smart. We are the new Russians—-without science literacy.

I wrote my master’s thesis on this in 1992—-& at that time, we had known since the 1950s that  due to political dynamics (politicians claimed the teachers unions prevented  science teachers from being paid more than  liberal arts teachers) we  import our scientists from other countries.  No joke!

So nobody believes that the inefficient use of fossil fuels, which we still depend on—-is causing CLIMATE CHANGE

The general  consensus is that if the Chinese can waste fossil fuel, why should we be more conservative or look for alternatives?  About 15 years ago, we had a horribly hot (90s—100s) summer with a drought, and many old and infirm people died. Thinning the herd.

So, what does this have to do with our election?

Fact of the matter is…some things have changed for the better under Obama’s leadership, but, due to a Republican legislature, so subtly you would not notice unless you were hoping.

The extremely rich have gotten richer, and have not been regulated or prevented from gaming the system or using their influence—& were, in fact, bailed out as  too important to lose.  Didn’t matter whether you were a Republican or Democrat. Rich is Rich–& that is why  nothing changed.  Obamacare (health care reform) changed NOTHING. ZIP—ZERO. Yet the Republicans running for president vow to get rid of it. Go right ahead.  My health insurance premium went up over 10% ( with no inflation otherwise). That should not have happened.

Meanwhile—& I have blogged about this before—so much of our economy was invested in real estate, where the vast middle class had our wealth—and the decline in value is up to 60% in many areas, with foreclosures  25—40% of all  residential homes….property tax revenues are down.  Big time. Foreclosures are no longer on the tax rolls. But the politicians still pay themselves as though the revenue is still coming in—& have funded the pensions of government workers  as though this money is still rolling in.

Michael Lewis, the writer who wrote The Big Short, and Moneyball, wrote about this several months ago in Vanity Fair magazine–how communities are laying off service workers—police, firemen, other maintenance—but the politicians are still on the tax rolls.  Now, they get their income from property taxes…but the Feds—they get  $$$ from income taxes (& fines, or permits…but taxes)—& they  don’t remember the Reagan years, where Trickle down did not work. The rich who did not pay taxes did not employ more people or make more investments in the USA—they expatriated their $$$ & bought baubles & art.

There are many frustrated people who don’t understand why  the economy remains messed up. Bush  put our whole surplus into the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, we are still  in Afghanistan—which never made any sense & still doesn’t.  You have the asshole Taliban—who seem to have a lot of integrity, & the corrupt Karzai people with none, & none of them are going to treat woman any better, so there are no good guys and we are not protecting ourselves from anything expect economic vitality.  How else can you understand that we burned Korans when it was socilly unacceptable, or that our soldiers go berserk & kill civilians—after over 10 years of this?  You can’t…& it doesn’t matter whether the Democrats or Republicans are in power.  Who benefits? Those  who make weapons.

So, we had a primary election.  We know who the Democratic nominee is:  Obama. Let me tell you about the  Republicans running for president:

All claim to be socially conservative…& are to varying degrees.

1. They wall want to ban abortion & are not opposed to making birth control impossible to get—even for married people…at the same time talking about getting government out of our lives…no joke;

2. They all want all environmental laws scrapped.

3. Businesses should not have to pay taxes at all.

4. Neither should citizens…but where the  money to run the government & pay their own salaries will come from—they seem to have no clue….or think their will be enough if there is no social  security (old age pension—which working people pay into).

5. They haven’t mentioned drugs, but all think that everyone should be jailed for using—except alcohol (& except Ron Paul—who leaves all decisions up to the states…he also believes in a smaller military, as a Libertarian…& doesn’t stand a chance;

6. Homosexuals should have no rights at all.

Foreign policy?  Believe me , they could not find your countries on a map even if they were pointed out.  Romney was a missionary in France, so he knows where that is, but Santorum was shocked to learn that Puerto Ricans (our territory) speak  Spanish.  He thinks they want to be a state, & he would make them all speak English. Fact is, they don’t want to be a state—they want to be their own country.

Climate change? They believe it is God punishing us for our godless ways…and has nothing to do with science.

Many of us know we will have to expatriate ourselves…why?

Property taxes to support local government functions are down because so many  properties are foreclosed & off the tax roles.    That means the banks took them back—& they don’t have to pay taxes on them. What a system .No money to even support the pensions of government workers, let alone ourselves, but the politicians haven’t voted themselves a pay cut.

We are beginning to look like  both Egypt and Greece, but won’t admit it.

Had I not been so overly optimistic about the economy 12 years ago—during the Clinton era—my mortgage would have been paid off, but I was encouraged to take a calculated risk.  Whatever. That was then, this is now. There is no longer a middle class in America. It is an illusion you see in the movies or on TV.

book review: Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell

March 14, 2012

If you are an American, you started learning about American history in first grade. You  learn about the American Revolution, the presidents, Lincoln freed the slaves….blah blah blah.  In high school , you have to learn about the Bill of Rights, and how the founding fathers met to  determine what it should be. You  might have seen paintings depicting battles.  You got brief phrases (“Remember the Maine”), but the way we teach history in the USA is  that we teach wars, and the  chronology of presidents.  In high school, I learned a bit about the transcendentalists, and even (because of my personal interests) the Oneida community in Ithaca, New York, which developed  Oneida silver and Coates & Clark thread. I had to pass a constitution test to graduate high school, and college.

When I was in grad school, I took a course in the economic history of the USA:  the westward expansion, and the taking of Native American lands  with the justification that they were not putting their lands to the best economic use. I learned about the  canal system, for transport,and the  stewardship of lands for national parks.   But I didn’t get an in depth history. How could you? Nobody has the time to teach anything  except what  you’d be questioned about on Jeopardy or playing trivia games at bars.

Yet, because we don’t know our history, and because our neighbors are easily swayed, as Santayana said, “…we are condemned to repeat it.”

I just  read William O. Douglas’  autobiography, Go East, Young Man, and got a great insight into  economic and political history during FDR’s time,  and was pleasantly surprised by Sarah Vowell’s book.

Having heard her on Ira Glass’ This American Life, I found her voice  captivating.  She is a mass of neurosis and phobias, but a gifted teller of tales. In fact, she is a gifted researcher.

The book is about her quest to learn about the deaths of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, and, along the way, we learn, also, about their assassins and their families, times, and what influenced them to kill these leaders.

Leon Czolgosz, who shot McKinley, said of the war in the Philippines, that, “It does not harmonize with the teachings in our public schools about our flag…”  Interesting. We could have said that about our wars in Iraq…or Viet Nam….

Theodore Roosevelt, who became president upon McKinley’s death, loved war and battle.  Vowell details the history surrounding what we call the  Spanish American War, and the annexation of the Philippines.  She  includes information on  much of the social goings on at the time of these murders.

Vowell is also  part Native American, and understands the impact that presidential decisions have had on her family.

Your gut reaction is, as one of her friends put it when she told a him that she was writing about the McKinley administration, might be, “Why the hell would anyone want to read about that?” Her response:  “Oh, I don’t know…maybe because we seem to be reliving  it?”

Another good book about American history  is Dee Brown’s book of the early 1970’s, Bury my Heart At Wounded Knee, but  that is a very sad book.  Sarah Vowell’s book, if not  funny, is amusing, ironic, and really helps us to understand the dynamics of the moment.  It was published in 2005.  Check for it in used books stores, and then if you can’t find it, try Amazon.com

Guy kicks dog, gets jail time. Now what?

March 7, 2012

I have to admit, straight away. I am NOT a  nice person. I am not personable. I do not suffer fools gladly. I am sarcastic, and snarky.  But I am funny, and I am  compassionate in an intellectual way (as Temple Grandin is).

I have always liked animals, been curious about them, and I’ve always been interested in justice.  I am to the left of center.  I am aghast at the  goings on in this country that  are not fair, but are legal—like the guy exonerated for a rape & murder he did not commit after 15 years in jail.  His face—mugshot, is up on a website called  WWW.MUGSHOT.COM &  they will not take it down unless he pays them. I’d call it extortion—but until the owners of the website are prosecuted for extortion, it  is legal.

However, some things are a judgement call. We have to  err on the side of caution.

There is a group in my area, started by both dogs lovers and people interested in justice and addressing violence.  It is http://www.D.A.W.G. org   They work with another group called http://www.SafeHumaneChicago.org .  I knew one of the people who started the group, and felt the concept was  what I wanted to support, but, being an independent contractor, and having an odd work schedule, I could not commit specific hours or days.  However, I could be a court advocate/ observer.

You just have to show up in court and wear a badge. Sometimes, the prosecuting attorney will acknowledge you, sometimes not.  Sometimes, they will give you a history of the case, and what they know about the judge.

In Illinois, the least experience attorneys are assigned to  prosecute  these cases.  However, they are not jaded, they have integrity, ans we are all working for justice.  I urge you, in any locality, to contact your local police, local sheriff,  the district or state’s attorneys, work with others, form a group, and  ask that violence towards animals be taken seriously.  & if you can, volunteeer at Domestic Violence Court as well.

I am changing a few of the  facts of this case to protect a bunch of people, but  because it made the news, and was not  totally plausible, here is what happened:

The dog kicker was walking down the street with some friends. He did not know the police were  on the street in an unmarked vehicle, behind him. They were not watching him, they were just on random patrol in an inner city neighborhood.  Statiscticly, that is where crime occurs.  They saw the guy kick something, it went high into the air. The police did not know what it was until it landed, and then they realized it was a puppy.  So, they immediately got out of the car, & pulled the guy over.

Now, in Chicago, as in many inner city neighborhoods, the police don’t immediately tell you if you are under arrest, or why they pulled you over—especially if you are walking while Black.  They usually use some pretty insulting language as well. They presume you are guilty until proven innocent. This is a fact, every person of color knows this.  He was searched for weapons & drugs, and the police even looked around the vicinity to see if there were any drugs hidden. Nobody went up to the animal, which crawled a few steps & laid down (so you know it wasn’t compassion that made the police stop).  The guy could not believe he was being arrested for kicking a dog, and even  said to the police  that there were 5 murders in the neighborhood that week, and  he was incredulous about his arrest.

Granted, all the people involved—the defendant and the police, need charm school. A lot of swearing ensued, and the police were rough. But the fact is they arrested this guy for animal cruelty…..but  it was a little more complicated because….the dog kicker was out on parole for felonies.

There are a bunch of reasons he could have been on parole. His crimes were non-violent, and are jails are full.  But that  arrest for anything was an immediate go directly back to jail card.

I am not going to defend this guy’s behavior, but the fact of the  matter is—he didn’t have a clue. In some communities, violence is the norm.  I have  lived in Africa and Asia, and what people do to  animals—hey—what they do to women  and kids —is shocking.  Michael Vick, the football player/dog fighter, can tell you this. This is not adefense. It is  real, and that is why we are working on all aspects of the problem.

So….dog kicker had a trial, and got more jail. Now what?  Because he is going to get out of jail, and be the same loser.  He is not going to Lake Forest, or Beverly Hills, or the Hamptons. He is coming back to inner city Chicago.

& this is why I am looking  at restorative justice and alternative sentencing, so we can work with these individuals and try to correct his perception that violence against  those weak is ok.

I urge you to look up the concept of Restorative Justice, if you want to deal with  the bad guys.  Someone asked me if we wanted the dog fighters and those accused of cruelty —punished.  We want justice served.  We want our communities made whole.  Punishing will not solve the problem. having these guys live in a community of neighbors who let them know that violence is not tolerated, and why empathy & kindness is what we do, is part of the solution. Then, if they don’t ‘get it’—that’s what jails are for.