On The Road Again….

April 1, 2013

Banner - Aside 2

on the roadStarting tomorrow we will finally be on the road again. These last six months seemed longer than most. Cabin fever was really getting me down.  I know several of you really enjoy my “On the road reports”. I thought about not doing them this time and instead taking a hiatus from blogging but I realized that I really do enjoy writing the reports. They allow me to sit back and think about how my day was and to record things in a “Travels with Charley” format similar to what John Steinbeck did about fifty years ago.

So my daily posts will be coming out at the end of the day instead of the beginning as it usually does. In one way I am taking a step back from blogging in that I won’t even attempt to do any aside posts in the afternoons as I have in the past.

See you tomorrow evening with the first report of a week-long trip.  I will leave it a mystery as to where we are headed this trip for the first post tomorrow. I don’t think anyone could guess where we are going.  Since these “on the road” reports are pretty much posted as they are written I hope you will excuse me in advance for the typos and such.

Warren Elizabeth“Most big corporations trade well above book value,” Warren said, referring to the measure of a company’s assets minus liabilities. “But many of the Wall Street banks right now are trading below book value. And I can only think of two reasons why that would be so. One would be because nobody believes that the banks’ books are honest, or the second would be that no one believes that the banks are really manageable.”

Warren’s comment on bank accounting came after she repeatedly — and apparently rhetorically — asked a panel of top regulators to cite the last time they had hauled a big Wall Street bank into court rather than settled. There were mostly halting responses and promises to get back to Warren with more information at a later time.

That question — why there has not been more accountability for top bankers in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown — taps into a deep vein of public anger on both the left and right. And it is Warren’s most potent political weapon.

Source: Elizabeth Warren strikes fear into Wall Street – Ben White – POLITICO.com.

I don’t think I am the only person who is shouting hooray for Elizabeth Warren, the new senator from Massachusetts. Ms. Warren is a former Harvard Law Professor who is currently taking the banking sector by storm or maybe I should say tornado. She is striking fear in the banking sector of both the big bank CEOs and the regulators. It is about time someone struck back for the people.

When the financial sector did an almost meltdown in the last year of the Bush administration there was rage throughout the country. Especially when the government had to fork over billions of bucks to keep them afloat. It seemed the “too big to fail” tag put on them by both the Bush and later the Obama administrations varnished over the severe faults found in the banking sector.  No one was prosecuted or otherwise punished for the gross risks they took in the pursuit of profits or for the regulators who were derelict in their duties in allowing them to do so.

People screamed about the “too big to fail” mantra for a few months and then  our government seemed to move on to the next  disaster without really addressing this one. Within a year the CEOs and upper management of the big banks were back at the trough getting their million dollar bonuses. It was not until this Harvard law professor went after them that anyone seemed to notice.

I loved the way Senator Warren chastised the regulators who were supposed to protect the taxpayers  for not doing their jobs either before or after the meltdown.  When she asked them how many Wall Street banks were prosecuted in court they were too ashamed, or maybe a better word was embarrassed, to say that none were; they settled all the matters out of court with usually a slip on the wrist. To me and I hope many of you, I don’t see any difference between what these guys did and a guy who goes into a local branch and robs it. That guy is probably behind bars for the next twenty years  while all the bankers are back to doing almost the same things they were before.

Here is to you Senator Warren. Keep up the attacks. I hope you can land some of these guys in jail. That would be the only way that future bankers would learn that actions have consequences and those consequences are jail time for them.

Banner -Inspiration

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi

For here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead… Thomas Jefferson

Remember, we learn nothing by speaking. St. Francis of Asissi

I thought I would pull up three inspirational quotes from some of my heroes for this inspiration Sunday.

Gandhi was a man of simplicity. He lived his life with very few luxuries. But his words were full of riches. We can’t just complain about something in life. Doing only that is a worthless task. Instead of complaining work to find a solution.

Thomas Jefferson left a huge legacy of writing for us to learn from. He spent his life as a seeker of truth. He questioned everything. Like me, that got him in trouble with some.

I bring out a quote from St. Francis of Asissi in honor of the new pope.  Even though I am no longer a Catholic I wish him the best of successes.

Favorite Barn Picture….

March 30, 2013

Barn Picture FavoriteOctober 2009 — This is one of my favorite barn pictures and I have over a thousand of them. It was taken in central Wisconsin

Feeding the Cynicism….

March 29, 2013

Banner - Aside 2

I have been thinking about all the partisanship and our legislative process lately.  We seem to be in a gridlocked pattern that is almost impossible to break. Washington is completely out of step with the rest of the country.  Poll after pole tells us that we the people want them to get off their butts and do something.

Doing nothing in the U.S. Senate feeds the cynicism in the country which enhances the Republican view that government can’t do anything right. The filibuster is the latest major tool used  to accomplish that task. All it takes now it for the representatives of about 10% of the U.S. population to shut down all activity in the legislative branch.

Congress used to work 45 weeks a year in the 1970s. They now are only in session for about 32 weeks. Last year set numerous records as being the least productive senate in our history. Only 2.5% of the bills submitted were even acted upon. When I think about this I get upset.  There are so many things that need done. But then again maybe doing nothing is what is right for these times.  We need to move both of our political parties back to the center. What it will take to do that is anybody’s guess.

Source: Are you getting overcharged by your hospital? Time to become a Smart patient | VentureBeat.

Time Cover  MedicalIf you’re a patient represented by Medicare or Medicaid, you’re well served because these programs have significant market muscle: They negotiate prices below what it costs to treat patients. …..

With few exceptions, private insurers tend to be relatively weak when bargaining with hospitals, so that hospitals can extract from them prices substantially in excess of the full cost of treating privately insured patients, with profit margins sometimes in excess of 20 percent.

Finally, uninsured patients — also called “self-pay” patients — have effectively no market power at all vis-à-vis hospitals, especially when they are seriously ill and in acute need of care. Therefore, in principle, they can be charged the highly inflated list prices in the hospitals’ chargemasters, an industry term for the large list of all charges for services and materials. These prices tend to be more than twice as high as those paid by private insurers.

A fellow blogger clued me in on this report about why our medical bills are so high. I now have an electronic copy of this Time issue and plan to do several posts on it in the coming weeks.  We have a major problem with out present healthcare system. We are currently spending twice as much as any other country in the world on our healthcare and actually more unhealthy and dying earlier than most.

It seems that most in Washington, especially the conservatives, want to solve our problem by denying care to those who can’t afford to pay the full bills. They want to reduce coverage for those on Medicare and Medicaid and want to repeal Obamacare; they say that will fix our problems.  That and suggesting that people die early if possible. The Time article above shows us a very different scenario of the causes for our exorbitant spending.

I certainly hope that the results of this study are taken to heart by our legislatures. But since the article basically puts much of the blame on our hospitals and caregivers I doubt it will get much response from them.  The medical lobbies in this country are among the strongest around; they spend millions every year to keep these sort of reports in the background of life.

The quote above is the crux of the problems that are further explained in the article.  The guy that can afford it the least is the one to bear the brunt of hospital overcharges as they have no market power. While Medicare and Medicaid patients are “well served” as the quote says there are still many ways to reduce costs even further. The most obvious one that the Republicans in Washington so object to is the ability of that system to bargain with the drug manufacturers for reduced rates. That seems a no-brainer to me. It would reduce costs in those systems by several billion dollars every year.  It is indeed a low hanging fruit in healthcare containment that has been left untouched because of lobbying power.

Somehow or another we need to convince our lawmakers and regulators to start looking at cost containment instead of service denial.  I will be posting several more times about what this article found on “why medical bills are killing us”. I hope you will be as astounded by the facts as I am and possibly spurred to some sort of action.

About Gerrymandering….

March 28, 2013

Banner - Aside 2Source: Republicans Win Congress as Democrats Get Most Votes – Bloomberg.

gerrymanderingThe 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seats across the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 — even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

Gerrymandering which is what is described by the article above is something that subverts our democratic process to such a degree to jeopardize our country similarly to what the filibuster has done to the Senate. I know gerrymandering totally takes place at the State level and is endemic of almost all fifty States by the political party in power.  Instead of eliminating the Civil Rights bill as the SCOTUS is likely to do they should be enlarging it to cover gerrymandering.  But since the Supreme court seems to have a deaf ear, like they do so many other things now, on this issue that is unlikely to happen.

Wrongly Convicted….

March 28, 2013

Banner -In The News

jail cellIn the decades since a jury convicted him of murder, nearly every piece of evidence in this case has fallen away. A key witness told The New York Times that a detective instructed him to select Mr. Ranta in the lineup. A convicted rapist told the district attorney that he falsely implicated Mr. Ranta in hopes of cutting a deal for himself. A woman has signed an affidavit saying she too lied about Mr. Ranta’s involvement.

Detective Scarcella and his partner, Stephen Chmil, according to investigators and legal documents, broke rule after rule. They kept few written records, coached a witness and took Mr. Ranta’s confession under what a judge described as highly dubious circumstances. They allowed two dangerous criminals, an investigator said, to leave jail, smoke crack cocaine and visit with prostitutes in exchange for incriminating Mr. Ranta.

Source: Brooklyn Prosecutor to Seek Freedom of Man Convicted in 1990 Killing of Rabbi – NYTimes.com.

One of the things in life that disturbs me much is injustice. That is people being punished for something that they had no responsibility for. I am pro-life in all its regards. I am against abortion, against needless war deaths, people dying from preventable health causes, and  especially capital punishment.

The story above is about a high-profile case in New York City in 1990. While this one is not about capital punishment it is about injustice. For those who clicked on the source above you can see that many glaring errors were made to wrongly convict an innocent person in order to close the books on this high-profile case. The only good thing to come out of this particular story is that he was not killed by the State before all these gross errors were eventually uncovered.

Injustice just drives me up a wall so to speak and there are so many injustices in the world, always have been, to keep me up that wall.  In order to maintain my sanity it is often necessary to do what so many others do and frequently just turn a blind eye to it. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and his primary demand of me is to be my brother’s keeper. That is a hard row to hoe.  I can’t understand how so many who call themselves fundamentalist Christians seem to ignore injustice and other keeper issues as much as they do.

Thank heavens for Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project who are righting so many wrongs when it comes to injustice.  It was very ironic that Mr. Scheck was part of the “Dream Team” who got O.J. Simpson off from killing his wife. I think personal guilt pushed him into the Innocence Project. Thank heavens for that.

Why did it take twenty years for this story to finally unfold? Why was someone left to rot in our prison system who looking backwards was so wrongly convicted? What worries me is that there are probably thousands of others sitting in jail cells or who have died by lethal injection who were innocent of the charges against them.  Yes, I realize that almost everyone in our judicial system claims their innocence so it is easy to ignore those who might actually be innocent.

It is up to us as our brother’s keeper to make sure that justice is served especially for the least of these who cannot defend themselves……

Banner - Aside 2

The state has been scarred by some of the deadliest incidents of mass gun violence in recent U.S. history, including the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School and the Aurora movie theater shooting that killed 12 last July. The state’s gun control bills have gained national attention since they were first proposed, drawing the ire of those who oppose any new restrictions on gun purchases or ownership.

“We’re all in shock here,” state Senator Greg Brophy, a Republican, said on Wednesday. “It turns out this guy who everybody thought was a moderate Democrat is actually a gun-control governor.”

“I think the governor will be replaced by someone who has Colorado values instead of New York City values,” Brophy said. “If Republicans are returned to control we will repeal these bills immediately.”

Source:  Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper signs landmark gun-control bills – U.S. News.

I am heartened to see some common sense legislation from some of the States. Colorado has certainly been hit with more than their share of violence due to too many guns in our society.  Of course no real progress is made without the ranting by those of opposite interests.   I just can’t understand why the country is so split on this issue. Are guns really that embedded in our society?

Banner -Off The Top

Source:  Thinking outside the box – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


BoxThinking outside the box (also thinking out of the box or thinking beyond the box) is a metaphor that means to think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective. This phrase often refers to novel or creative thinking. The term is thought to derive from management consultants in the 1970s and 1980s challenging their clients to solve the “nine dots” puzzle, whose solution requires some lateral thinking.

Ironically, telling people to “think outside the box” does not help them think outside the box, at least not with the 9-dot problem. This is due to the distinction between procedural knowledge (implicit or tacit knowledge) and declarative knowledge (book knowledge). For example, a non-verbal cue such drawing a square outside the 9 dots does allow people to solve the 9-dot problem better than average. However, a very particular kind of verbalization did indeed allow people to solve the problem better than average. This is to speak in a non-judgmental, free association style. These were the instructions in a study which showed facilitation in solving the 9-dot problem…

Quote Inside the BoxI have always prided myself in thinking outside the box.  That is taking a different view of things than is commonly done. I love being unconventional. It is just my nature to ask “why” on almost everything I encounter in life.  It makes me different and one thing I am convinced about life is that all of us want to think that we are different. We are not from the vanilla cookie cutter of life.

I have come to accept that thinking outside the box gets me in trouble on occasion. I’m sure I was passed over for some promotions in my professional career because I questioned some of the things that my boss said or did.  I would have made a terrible soldier in that regard as a primary aspect of being a soldier is to obey orders without question. I just can’t seem to do that. I know asking questions, or maybe looking for answers, got me thrown out of my church of almost ten years.  I just did not mindlessly jump through all the “sola” hoops demanded of me by a strict fundamentalist Lutheran pastor.

I am also proud of being a progressive. I actually embrace change where others seem to fear it.  That also gets me in trouble once in a while. It seems most people want to take the safe way in almost all circumstances. The safe way usually means doing something the way “we have always done it”. That just doesn’t appeal to me.

I am also a pragmatist. That is I am always looking for the best way to accomplish goals or tasks in life. If I can mimic something that someone has managed to find to solve a problem then I usually leap at the chance but of course I usually put my own spin on it. I am not a “not invented here” person. I don’t mind giving credit to others who have already found a good solution to current day problems.

I guess I am a pretty complicated guy when it comes to life. At least I think I am…..

If you haven’t figured out how to do the 9-dot problem click the source to see the solution.