I became an artist because I hate math

CMYK

During my stint at the Dayton Daily News, I used to do career day at local schools. I think everyone at the paper just wanted a day off from me which is why they always nominated me to go. That’s ok; give me an open mic and a stage and I’m all over it!

So I showed up at a Dayton elementary school to speak to a classroom full of fourth-graders. There was the usual collection of policemen with their uniforms and shiny badges and fireman in hats — with firetrucks parked out in front for the kids to climb on later — lined up ready to speak.

….

Cheese curds at Kroger

We want Kroger to carry cheese curds. We think you do too. Every cheese counter has a Customer Feedback thingie. My cheeseologists at the Englewood, OH store says the manager looks at these.

So, could you all request cheese curds the next time you stop in at a Kroger? I’ll bet by the time the Packers are in the 2012 Super Bowl, we’ll see cheese curds at Kroger. And the rest of the year, all our Canadian friends can make poutine.

Cheese Curds

The real voting fraud in America

About two months ago, my 20-year old daughter needed to get a replacement driver’s license. I didn’t ask why because she came home, very excited and told me “I registered to vote. Now I can vote against SB-5.”

A few weeks later, she received her voter registration confirmation card letting her know where to vote and her specific precinct. All set, right? That was all she needed.

Not really.

About a week later, she gets this letter in the mail from the Montgomery Country Board of Elections.

This almost went unnoticed by her and me. Apparently, they could not verify her last name by her Ohio BMV records. The same BMV that issued her a driver’s license and maintained her identity for the past six years could not verify her last name which means she would not have been allowed to vote when she showed up at the polls in November unless she returned the “card.”

Seriously?

While I would not go as far as accusing the Montgomery County Board of Elections with purposely stalling adding a young, first-time voter to the rolls because she is likely to vote Democratic in a very Republican county, this sort of thing gives me pause.

A lot of pause.

Add to the fact that the letter was sent in a non-descript, non-official looking envelope, the letter looked like it was run through a copy machine several times and the “card” that needed to be sent back was just printed on the bottom of the letter, without perforation.

They are either trying to frustrate my daughter from voting or the State of Ohio is staffed with some incredibly inept employees. Either way, as a taxpayer of this state, I’ve got some serious questions.

And I need answers.

President Obama was a bad man on the twitter yesterday

Barack Obama tweets GOP twitter accounts

Shortly after his speech yesterday morning, President Obama started tweeting out the twitter accounts of the Republican members of the Senate and House of Representatives on his twitter stream. All in all, he sent out about a hundred tweets throughout the day.

And some people got so enraged they unfollowed him. Mashable reported that he lost about 36,000+ followers.

Seriously. A handful of ideological lawmakers are holding the faith and credit of the United States of America hostage and you are complaining about an extra hundred tweets in your twitter stream? And the “bad twitter behavior” pisses you off more than what is going on in the House of Representatives right now?

You self-absorbed bag of bones.

Look around you. Being in the United States of America is what makes something like twitter even possible. Your being incensed that the president would dare send multiple tweets to sully the purity of your twitter stream are the threads that will undo what has been built by men and women who have endured far more than the annoyance of a few extra tweets.

Seriously, have a little perspective.

I’m beginning to think that social media is bit like giving a loaded gun to a monkey.

There is no right or left, only power. The real debt ceiling crisis

us constitution article one

Before I begin, I would like to disclaim that I am not a Constitutional lawyer nor do I pretend to be. But I am an avid reader, one who has read a lot of literature surrounding the pre-Civil War through Reconstruction period. The “mood” of the country, including its values about government, is richly portrayed in these works. I can also read the Constitution, especially the plain language parts that have not been seriously mangled by case law.

Since the end of the mid-term elections last year, the media and Tea Party have been debating this issue of the debt ceiling, mostly as a taunting device against the Tea Party debt and deficit ideology. It made for a good story line of hypocrisy. Most Americans had never heard of such a thing before this, but it sounded bad. Real bad. And for the Tea Party, it also sounded like something that could be used for political leverage.

But since few Americans have ever read the Constitution, fewer still have any idea what the issue is really about. The issue has nothing to do with debt or deficits; it has everything to do with the separation of powers. Congress needs to avoid forcing the Supreme Court to “fix” a glaring hole that House Speakers have been successful at covering over since 1787.

John Boehner knows that. So does president Obama. And by sending a letter to the Speaker in January asking for a clean debt ceiling vote, Timothy Geithner demonstrated that he also supected how the markets would react if it were ever seriously brought to their attention.

And the Tea Party has done just that. Oops. Really, really big oops.

The Constitutional issue:
Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts” and “To borrow Money on the credit of the United States.” In short, it gives Congress and Congress alone the power to tax, pay debts and borrow. Despite what the Republicans would like all of us to believe, the president has no taxation, spending or borrowing power. Zip, nada, nothing.

Article 1, Section 9 says specifically, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” That means that not even one dollar can be spent that is not appropriated by Congress. The president may have a discretionary budget for the various executive branches, but all of them exist and get paid for through the laws Congress passes.

The US Treasury is responsible for managing the money and cutting the checks, but it can only do so under the authority of the Congress. Blaming the president for spending is like beating up the newspaper boy for bringing me a paper with bad news in it. It is dumb and misdirected. But, since he is right there, he’s smaller than me, and there is only one of him, not 535, it is easier to focus my rage. The bottom line is the president has no legal authority to spend money the Treasury does not have.

Or does he?

The Constitution makes no mention of what to do if the Federal Government has run up bills because of laws enacted by Congress for which there is no money to pay. The Constitution says that only Congress can borrow money, but it does not obligate them to make sure money is there.

But then along came the Fourteenth Amendment that cemented the obligation of the United States to pay its bills for laws enacted by Congress. “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” Still, it does not spell out specifically what to do if the United States Treasury runs out of money.

That, specifically, is the glaring hole raising the debt ceiling covers over and has for a very long time. Neither the Congress nor the President really wants the Supreme Court to decide how to fix this Constitutional issue. For each branch, it would be ceding power to the third branch; something that is even more loathsome to Republican legislatures (actually, all of them regardless of their party) than taxes.

More than likely, the Supreme Court would rule to compel Congress to act by either raising taxes or borrowing money to cover the shortage. And the debt ceiling approval from Congress would be lost forever as leverage. The House does not want to risk that.

But the Supreme Court could also rule that the Treasury Department can continue cutting checks without the approval of Congress, adopting the Gephardt Rule that had long been in place as law. Basically, the Gephardt Rule says by default, Congress is authorizing an increase in the debt ceiling when it enacts a new law. (More complicated than that, but you get the general notion. Google has more info.) That would put the president in the undesirable position of being responsible for increasing the debt and deficit of the United States of America. No more blame game. It would also destabilize the “borrow” powers, much like “declare war” and “wage war” is right now. Congress does not want to risk that.

The effect of pledges
I always found it somewhat perplexing that George W. Bush did not advocate to raise taxes after 9/11 to fund the War in Afghanistan when he clearly had the political capital to do so. Instead, Congress opted to borrow the money, mostly by selling US Treasuries to China. As it turns out, since most Representatives and Senators signed Grover Norquist‘s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, raising taxes was not politically possible. But borrowing money was. The pledge allowed for drunken spending by incurring unsustainable debt, but not increased taxes.

That was the first major step in plunging the United States into the debt it now finds itself. Add another unfunded war, Iraq and Medicare Part D on borrowed funds coupled with revenue reductions that Bush tax cuts created , the largely unregulated banking and mortgage industries and in short order, you clearly have a growing debt issue that is not easy to hide.

Follow the money
The first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton understood the United States of America was only as powerful as its ability to pay its debts. As a new country, the States could bluster all they wanted about life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, blah, blah, blah, but if it could not pay its debts, none of that mattered. The policy has held up well throughout history. We are after all, a market-driven race, sprinkled here and there with altruism. Sparingly.

But times have changed. The stock markets have gotten more global. There is no patriotism in corporations, only profit. The goal is to make money, whether you bet on or against the US Government. From what we have learned with the collapse in 2008, a lot of people can make a lot of money betting against the United States.

What has held and made Congress blink first in years past when the debt ceiling card was played with the threat of the Constitutional hole being exposed and the ability of the president to be able to clearly articulate the issue to the American people. Newt Gingrich tried it and quickly learned how skilled Bill Clinton was in talking plain language with ordinary folk. George Bush was never really challenged on raising the debt ceiling as he operated mostly with a GOP Congress, bound by the Norquist pledge.

But Barack Obama was something new. The GOP leadership — while apprehensive about going to the mat on the the debt ceiling issue — gambled that Obama would not be able to articulate the issue clearly enough to get the American people on his side. And they are kinda right. But what the “mature” GOP leadership did not understand fully is how cancerous and ideological the Tea Party would be.

I’m not sure if the legislators the Tea Party got elected are oblivious on the Constitution, are singularly focused on debt, deficit and taxes to the exclusion of their other responsibilities or are just stooges for the greater monied bosses that got them elected. I don’t believe in conspiracy theory, but I do believe in the power of mobs and the infectious contagion of simple ideology in favor of nuanced, reasoned thought. We are, after all, the country of fast food, the sound byte, CNN Headline News, Twitter and Snooki.

But the markets have become spooked, whether by sheer stupidity brought on by ignorance of the Tea Party-backed legislators or a long-formulated master plan I don’t know. And since we have ceded power of our credit over to the world-wide credit rating agencies (and kinda pissed them off with things like Dodd Frank) the great power of the United States of America is no longer really in charge of its own destiny.

What I do know is to follow the money and to ask who is likely to profit exponentially from the credit downgrading of the United States of America. I’m sure that is where we will eventually find our answer to what is really motivating the Tea Party, whether they are complicit or not.

What’s next for NASA? Ummmmmm I dunno

Atlantis Space Shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center July 21, 2011

I watched the space shuttle STS135 Atlantis touch down this morning and I felt as if that was the ending of something really big. I think what is happening is something more than simple nostalgia even though I am part of the generation that saw the first man walk on the moon July 20, 1969.

I think something bigger is happening to the human race, something that is not so good as we think it is. I think we are losing our quest for meaning.

Colleges have turned into trade schools where there is very little learning and lots of job training. Professors are demonized and teachers are vilified. Lots of people have hopped onto the bandwagon of questioning whether or not a college degree is worth the money; not based on whether or not you come out thinking more clearly or having received a strong liberal arts education that gives you the tools to ask questions steeped in meaning, but whether or not the degree qualifies you for a job.

We’ve choked off stem cell research even though it holds the biggest promise in curing cancer, paralysis and other diseases. We’re starving education budgets and breaking unions in favor of giving wealthy capitalist barons tax breaks so they can employ a vast army of under-educated workers they will toss away when joints and muscles break down after years of hard work. We publish books by Snooki and Bristol Palin instead of talented writers. We argue about whether or not gay people are worthy of respect as human beings instead of just accepting the differences. We deny the dignity of health care as a basic human right. We throw away people when they get too old to work. We allow superstition, fear and faith to trump empirical facts and science. We are willing to bring down the most powerful government in the world simply because the man at the top is a member of the wrong race.

For what? A few extra short-term dollars? A few more minutes of power? What happened to our collective quest to discover who we are, why we are here and what our place is in the Universe? Did we give up or are we now satisfied that planet Earth is all we will ever have? Are we satisfied that the Universe really exists as one little race alone on a spinning rock in space, guided by a God we should seek out and worship?

Inevitably, the question of “What’s next for NASA?” gets asked in every newscast and with every interview. The answer is always the same; a short pause and then some mumbling about re-definging direction, cost-efficiency, saving tax money, blah, blah, blah that nobody really believes.

But the real question is: “What’s next for the human race?”

That is what we are really struggling with when the question gets asked.

*The we I am referring to is the human collective, not any one group. Whether or not you is one doing one of the above, you will most assuredly be swept along as the current gathers speed. It is already a raging torrent.

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Something to think about over this Independence Day weekend

This week, the Chinese unveiled the largest sea bridge in the world. It only took them four years to build this at a cost of $2.7 billion dollars. They used Chinese engineers and Chinese labor. No American intellectual capital was sought out as none was needed.

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story about how the Chinese were supplying the finished rails to replace aging infrastructure on the Oakland Bay Bridge. It was cheaper to build in China and ship over the Pacific Ocean than to make in the United States. My guess is there was too much pain-in-the-butt-ism on who was going to pay for it, some Congressman railing over rejecting stimulus money for infrastructure projects, stuff like that to make it worthwhile to “make in the USA” before the bridge collapsed on itself.

And this week, Congress spent most of the time on vacation or railing against the president on how he insulted them by “lecturing” to them like the dick he is. And all I could think of when Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell or John Boehner was talking is why the Chinese showed up for work, rolled up their sleeve and built bridges while these guys whined.

Something to think about on our Independence Day weekend. If the Chinese keep up this pace, I wonder how long we will be independent from them.

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How not to do customer service in the medical industry

Last summer, I developed some neurological symptoms that are more of an annoyance than anything. So I did what any responsible person would do; researched everything on the Internet and diagnosed myself into the worst possible case scenario. When that failed to cure up my symptoms, I went to see my doctor. He sent me to a battery of tests which were only limited by the amount of money in my bank account.

He could not come up with a diagnosis. Nor could a local neurologist. So, he shrugged and said, “I think you need to go up to the Cleveland Clinic and see what they think.”

Wow! These guys can make paralyzed people walk! Certainly they would have an answer. Or at least a wild guess. Or even a stupid notion. After some calls to my insurance company, clinic, etc., assuring me that things would be covered, I scheduled a day to drive to Cleveland and get poked and prodded and such. Long story short, they ended the day with the same perplexed head-scratching and “We dunno” diagnosis that my doctor gave me.

“But we need to schedule you in about 4 months for some more testing because we think you still have some money left in the bank. Would that be ok?”

Sure, no problem. Until I got their bill.

It turns out my wonderful insurance company discovered that Cleveland was not merely a suburb of Dayton but a whole other city outside my treatment area. They would reimburse at a much, much lower rate than they said. Sorry. You understand.

I didn’t. What could I do?

Call the clinic. Perhaps they can help.

They couldn’t. Or rather, wouldn’t. 90 days, Mr Dogg. You must pay the balance in full within 90 days. “But you guys didn’t actually do anything!”

It is not like I didn’t have the money or was unwilling to pay. I have been paying them; just not at the rate they wanted me to. I even sent them two letters explaining my payment plan with no response. As we were both disappointed in the visit results, I felt that we at least owed it to each other to share in our disappointment, to learn from the experience and grow together. To my surprise, they did not share my point of view and have since sent me to a “goon squad” over the last few hundred dollars.

Bummer.

So, I called them this morning. Surely, they would see the folly of their mistake and call off the goons. Again, I was very, very wrong. I had forgotten for a brief moment that I was not their customer. My insurance company was their customer. How happy or disappointed I am was irrelevant to them.

I will pay them in full eventually. But instead of them this week, I will pay my landscaper. He has not disrespected me. Maybe I’ll pay them next week.

But this little story should not go without a lesson to be learned by the medical industry. After all, you guys will be getting more and more business from us as we all get older and need more care. Health insurance companies are kicking us off plans left and right, employers are jettisoning full-time people in favor of two part-timers they don’t have to pay benefits for and Congress is cutting Medicare. You should probably learn to handle us a little bit better, or at least with some more flexibility. Tightening the deadlines and being quick to send bills into collections rapidly is short-sighted at best. It is not a sustainable strategy.

And then you have folks like me who just shrug and say, “I was gonna pay them today, but I’ll just wait a bit longer.” In truth, if the Cleveland Clinic let me say my piece without being being hard-nose pricks, they would have had their money today. Bummer that, too.

So, with that goal of keeping us both in business, I have some feedback you may want to take to heart.

What you say:
We printed the payment terms on your statement.

What we hear:
You dumbass. Can’t you read the crap you put on your bill with edge-to-edge printing? It’s your fault you are in this mess. We told you 90 days, damn it. Did you think we were kidding? We are an unfeeling, inflexible cold-hearted corporation that needs money paid on time, you deadbeat.

What you say:
Would you like to talk to a supervisor?

What we hear:
I’m getting tired of talking to you and will give you to someone who has no heart and is immune to anything you have to say. He will be a bully to you and will belittle your concerns. At the end of the conversation, you will not only not get any concession from us, but you will feel like a worthless piece of crap.

What you say:
According to the terms of your contract…”

What we hear:
I have stopped listening to you a long time ago and think that you are just too stupid to even be able to read.

What you say:
I can adjust the terms, but I won’t.

What we hear:
I am an arrogant prick. I have power over you and I will wield it without mercy, you piece of crap.

After all is said and done, we all know you are a business. We know that you hold all the cards. We know you can wreck our hard-fought FICO Score with one keystroke. We do not need to be reminded that we are merely walking wallets to you. What we would like to believe is that we have a personal relationship with you, with our doctors. We want to believe you care about us as a whole person, not just our ability and willingness to pay.

If you can’t fix what ails us physically, can you give us that one little lie at least?

AFTERTHOUGHT
It occurs to me that the supervisor I spoke to this morning failed miserably at his job. He got so caught up in his own ego with proving me wrong that he forgot his primary job was to collect money for his employer, The Cleveland Clinic. It occurs to me also that I now have the upper hand in this arrangement as I and the collection agent are in a position to cost CC money they would have had to spend by working directly with me. The direct cost of ego is the fee the collection agency will charge CC. I wonder what sort of deal the collection agent will make with me? It’s now worth a phone call. Are stubborn, combative people in your customer service department costing your company money? Bet they are.

*I don’t mean to pick on the Cleveland Clinic specifically. They were just the organization in my experience. But they did hire some pretty heartless, unempathetic people in their patient financial department who could maybe use some sensitivity training. But, maybe it’s working for them. I won’t ever go there agin, but that should in no way affect your decision to see them if you want. In truth, all these hospitals are getting like that. I won’t go to one local hospital for services any more simply because they start the harassing calls on day 31. There is another hospital across town that waits at least until day 60 to start calling. And they are nicer people.

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