Saturday, June 30, 2007

Medical Bankruptcy

Elaine Dowling wrote a short comment on her Consumer Law Updates blog regarding an article in The Buffalo News. She was responding to these statistics:

• Most medical bankruptcies were filed by people who had health insurance when their illnesses began.

• Nearly 40 percent of debtors who had a “major medical bankruptcy” had lost their insurance during the two years before filing, compared with 27 percent of filers citing no medical cause. In other words, loss of insurance is a primary path to bankruptcy.

• About 61 percent of those suffering a major medical bankruptcy went without needed doctor or dentist visits and about half failed to fill prescriptions. Both figures are significantly higher than those of respondents whose bankruptcies arose from non-medical causes.

Plainly, more than an insurance problem is at work here. Covered or not, if someone is too sick to work, he or she may lose paychecks and quickly sink into debt. And medical causes can include such behavioral issues as alcoholism and drug abuse.

Still, insurance is a key component. If you don’t have it, personal debt will rise even more quickly. What is more, illnesses that reduce the ability to work can result in loss of coverage and, with it, the ability to regain health, return to work and stanch the rising threat of financial ruin. Such is the internal contradiction of employer-provided health insurance.

Moreover, the survey results clearly show that it is not merely the lack of insurance that is a problem, but the insufficiency of insurance for those who have it. When Americans run into medical crises, their insurance may not be there for the long haul.


Elaine responded thus:

I will say that the numbers in this article don’t really match what I see in my practice. Mine are more depressing. I see far more people than this article indicates who have never had health insurance. In most cases, their employers don’t offer it. In some cases their employer offers it, but the employee’s share of the premium would be 40% or more of the employee’s gross income.


Part of it is Oklahoma; we live in a low-wage state. Part of it is the fact that employers have not had a lot of incentive to pay living wages as collective bargaining is very weak here (and, I suspect, across the country). And part of it is for the reasons that Michael Moore pointed out in his movie SiCKO.

Elaine says there are no easy answers. I disagree. It's not that the answers are not simple, it's that we don't have the will to implement them by public policy. We don't want to implement them because they will cost money (taxes that we will have to pay). But now the ounce of prevention has become the pound of cure. Health care dollars are now crowding out other important spending. (So are all the military entanglements the U.S. is engaging in around the world, but that is another topic.)


Image copied from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The neoconservative policy of Starve the Beast is also working in its perverse way. Our national debt is up to $6 trillion and the interest payments on the national debt equal almost 9% of our national budget. That may seem small, but that is just the interest. The national debt is currently equal to 38% of our Gross Domestic Product.

Deficit spending is nothing more than deferred taxation. The money that is borrowed to fund government spending today will have to be paid back somehow. Either taxes will have to be raised or the money supply will have to be inflated. We seem to be using the latter -- at least right now. But that also presents dangers due to the effect on America's financial stability around the world. At some point, the devaluation of our currency will lead Central Banks to start selling American dollars, further eroding confidence in our currency.

The ultimate point of all this is that it shows how our health care system is in serious condition and needs surgery -- and soon.

On its surface, it may seem like a national health care program would be too expensive to implement, but actually it's not. A national health care program would save money in the long term due to the implementation of the economy of scale. Furthermore, money recaptured due to no longer trying to turn a profit off of American's ill health would then be directed into productive areas. As long as the tax base was broadened to include those who are capable of paying (corporate, capital gains and estate taxes), it would be relatively painless to convert to a government-funded system. All we need is the political will.

Movie Review: SiCKO

I drove up to Tulsa yesterday because SiCKO is not showing in Oklahoma City until July 6 (and it will only be shown at the AMC 24 theater at Quail Springs Mall according to Michael Moore's website).

Most of the ideas have been shown in clips, but he goes into detail on how much better things are for ordinary working class people in other countries in regards to health care and other benefits that people have in other countries. He even debunks the canard that Canadians want to abolish their Medicare system and the argument that they have to wait weeks to get emergency medical care.

The movie clearly demonstrates the madness that is the American private, for-profit health care and health insurance industry. Americans spend more money and get less care than anyone else in the western world.

I am reminded of a stanza from Mark Heard's song Orphans of God:

But they have packaged our virtue in cellulose dreams
And sold us the remnants 'til our pockets are clean
Til our hopes fall 'round our feet
Like the dust and dead leaves
And we end up looking like what we believe


And the politicians sound like another stanza:

We have bought from the brokers who have broken their oaths
And we're out on the streets with a lump in our throats


Michael Moore is right and I have written about this before: the moneyed interests and the politicians want to keep us scared, sick and broke. They try to keep us in fear so that we will not pay attention to their misdeeds. And they want us to stay heavily in debt so that we will be afraid to lose our jobs (and our health care and pensions). That way, we won't be able to afford to march in the streets to protest our treatment.

Michael Moore points out how having a national health care system empowers the working class. He shows how often the French people march in the streets when they see a failure of their leaders to respond to their needs. Nicholas Kristof makes the same point in another way. Here is a passage from a book review that I have written about before:

Even when middle-class or wealthy families were displaced in, say, New Orleans, they mostly figured out how to get what they needed. For a start, they demanded it. Loudly. Insistently. But the people stuck in the shelters, black and white, were typically not only poorer but also less demanding, less assertive, less skilled in negotiating their way through the system. Poor families in the shelters were neglected precisely because they were suffering so patiently. After that experience, I caught myself thinking that the problem is not that the poor riot, but that they don't riot enough.


It makes you wonder why we don't have national health care. Maybe the reason is because we don't complain enough. Loudly. Insistently. At least Michael Moore's new movie is a good start. Go see it. The movie will make you mad. Maybe even mad enough that you will start complaining and vote for change. To turn a phrase that Jack Nicholson said as the Joker in Batman: this country needs an enema.

Friday, June 29, 2007

It's Raining Again

Here is an appropriate song for today in Oklahoma:

Supertramp -- It's Raining Again

Oklahoma!

The Broadway musical of the Rogers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma! is currently playing at the Civic Center Music Hall (now known as the Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre) in downtown Oklahoma City. The play is produced in conjunction with Oklahoma City's Lyric Theatre. They have added an extra show on July 1st at 6pm due to its popularity. Tickets range from $20 (plus the $7.50 sellers fee) to $50. I bought one of the $20 tickets. I hope I will be able to see the stage.

The original film version will be showing at Oklahoma Museum of Art on Sunday, July 22 at 2pm.

***Update***

Here is a medley of songs from Oklahoma! I found on YouTube sung by John Schneider and Pam Dawber many years ago:

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (Part 2)

It's raining again today. The local news reported that the farmers -- who had all thought we were going to have a bumper crop in May -- have said all of their wheat fields are a total loss. Why you ask? Yep, you guessed it: too much rain. Because the ground is too soggy, their combines cannot harvest the wheat. And because it would take ten days for the ground to dry out, by that time the crops would be destroyed due to rot.

This is so Oklahoma. Hope turns to despair, from the Dust Bowl of the Depression-era 1930s to now. In the 1930s, many Oklahoma farmers -- ruined by weather then -- moved to California to try to rebuild their lives. John Steinbeck wrote about this in The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck's novel is where the term "Okie" became well-known. It became a pejorative slang for a poor immigrant worker in California during this time (not necessarily limited to just Oklahomans).

While I am on the subject of The Grapes of Wrath, I should mention that the film adaptation of the book will be showing at the Oklahoma Museum of Art on Sunday, July 15th at 2pm as part of their Oklahoma Film series celebrating Oklahoma's Centennial.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

From Oklahoma City's KOCO TV (Channel 5, ABC)

POSTED: 9:16 am CDT June 26, 2007
UPDATED: 5:11 pm CDT June 28, 2007

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Rain fell in Oklahoma City Wednesday for the 16th consecutive day with storms forecast into the weekend, and a flash flood warning blanketing southwestern Oklahoma and areas north of Ponca City.


Make that the 17th consecutive day. It's raining cats and dogs right now.

So, here is a song from a guy born in Hugo, Oklahoma. You might have heard of him. His name is B.J. Thomas. Normally, I would post this on Sunday for my Sunday Music post, but the situation here just seems to make it more apt given the situation outside.

B.J. Thomas - Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

How To Spot A Scam, Part 3

Educating yourself against Investment Scams

A group by the name Invest Ed™ has started a web site dedicated to teaching potential investors how to avoid investment fraud here in Oklahoma. The group is supported and made possible by the Oklahoma Securities Commission and produced by the University of Oklahoma Outreach, College of Continuing Education.

You can find the only tutorial at www.InvestEdOK.org.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

John Edwards: Two Americas

Presidential candidate John Edwards has revived and revamped his Two Americas speech to reflect causes of widening wealth disparity due to lack of savings, overuse of credit and the exploitation of these conditions by lenders.

Warren Buffett: Raise My Taxes

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton was all ears at a fundraiser Tuesday evening when famed billionaire investor Warren Buffett suggested ramping up the tax code on big businesses and the super rich.

...

Speaking to several hundred supporters of the U.S. Senator from New York, Buffett revealed his puzzlement that he was taxed at a lower rate than many of the lesser-paid individuals working for his company.

Buffett said he makes $46 million a year in income and is only taxed at a 17.7 percent rate on his federal income taxes. By contrast, those who work for him, and make considerably less, pay on average about 32.9 percent in taxes - with the highest rate being 39.7 percent.

To emphasize his point, Buffett offered $1 million to the audience member who could show that one of the nation's wealthiest individuals pays a higher tax rate than one of their subordinates.

"I'm willing to bet anyone in this room $1 million that those rates are less than the secretary has to pay," said Buffett.


To read the entire article, go to CNNmoney.com

Get Your "Hows" Right

In his New York Times column today, Thomas Friedman writes about the blogosphere:

When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer — and each of us so much more transparent.

The implications of all this are the subject of a new book by Dov Seidman, founder and C.E.O. of LRN, a business ethics company. His book is simply called “How.” Because Seidman’s simple thesis is that in this transparent world “how” you live your life and “how” you conduct your business matters more than ever, because so many people can now see into what you do and tell so many other people about it on their own without any editor. To win now, he argues, you have to turn these new conditions to your advantage.

For young people, writes Seidman, this means understanding that your reputation in life is going to get set in stone so much earlier. More and more of what you say or do or write will end up as a digital fingerprint that never gets erased. Our generation got to screw up and none of those screw-ups appeared on our first job résumés, which we got to write. For this generation, much of what they say, do or write will be preserved online forever. Before employers even read their résumés, they’ll Google them.

“The persistence of memory in electronic form makes second chances harder to come by,” writes Seidman. “In the information age, life has no chapters or closets; you can leave nothing behind, and you have nowhere to hide your skeletons. Your past is your present.” So the only way to get ahead in life will be by getting your “hows” right.

...

“We do not live in glass houses (houses have walls); we live on glass microscope slides ... visible and exposed to all,” he writes. So whether you’re selling cars or newspapers (or just buying one at the newsstand), get your hows right — how you build trust, how you collaborate, how you lead and how you say you’re sorry. More people than ever will know about it when you do — or don’t.


This is why I like reading Thomas Friedman: he frequently writes very thought-provoking articles. He makes me think. Good writers do that.

I am reminded of the line from the movie Sneakers wherein the character Cosmo (portrayed by Ben Kingsley), tells Martin Bishop (portrayed by Robert Redford): "No more secrets, Marty. No more secrets."

It is been said that it is important to start a blog because you want to define yourself before others do it for you. I am not so sure writing an online diary is such a good idea. Certainly sharing some life experiences are important to fill in the blank spaces -- it is how we build our philosophy of life, after all -- but I don't think that having secrets is such a bad thing.

The openness that the advent of the internet has brought us is both good and bad. We are fragile creatures, you and I. So treat others with kindness. "Respect the dignity of all living things" as it says in the Book of Common Prayer. And to quote a line from Letters from Iwo Jima: "Do what is right because it is right."

Monday, June 25, 2007

How To Spot A Scam, Part 2

Here is part 1

If you can answer "YES" to any of the following questions, you could be involved in a FRAUD or about to be SCAMMED:

Is the check from an item that you sold on the internet or Ebay such as a car, boat, jewelry or other easily sold or pawned item?

Is the amount of the check more than the item's selling price?

Did you receive the check via an overnight delivery service?

Is the check connected to communicating with someone via e-mail?

Is the check drawn on a business or individual account that is different from the person buying your item or product?

Have you been informed that you were the winner of a lottery? Was the supposed lottery in another country?

Have you been instructed to either "wire," "send" or "ship" money as soon as possible, to a large U.S. city or another country? (For that matter, are you being asked to "re-ship" a product to another country?)

Have you been asked to pay money to receive a deposit from another country?

Are you receiving pay or commission for facilitating money transfers (or product "re-shipments") through your account?

Did you respond to an e-mail requesting you confirm, update or provide your account information?

Have you been hired to be a "secret shopper?"

Have you been asked to help get money out of another country? (Another related method is to tell you that you will be getting part of an inheritance or business transaction.)

Have you been recruited to do any job and asked to keep it a secret?

If you answered "YES" to any of the above statements, go to your bank and tell them immediately.

AVOID BECOMING A VICTIM

Ultimately, whatever yarn is spun, most scams come down to getting a consumer to send money via a wire transfer overseas. It is never a good idea to wire money, particularly out of the country. Avoiding wire transfers would put a big dent in the success of scams from Nigeria, Australia, Canada, England, Mexico and other foreign countries.

Other advice for consumers:

Use Google. Dozens of sites now index large lists of names and other elements of Nigerian scams. If unsure, put parts of the story into the Google search engine (you can do that from my page here on the left side of the page) and click. If it is a scam, it is likely someone else on the internet will have published a complaint.

Verify the legitimacy of a bank. The FDIC maintains a database of federally insured banks on its web site.

Always use a credit card. Consumers have wide protection when paying for internet-based transactions with a credit card. Checks are easily forged -- even cashier's checks, sometimes called bank checks. U.S. consumers think they are guaranteed.

Banks can take up to two weeks to confirm authenticity of a cashier's check, according to the American Bankers Association -- even if the funds are made available to the depositor. If a check doesn't check out, the bank will take its money back. The consumer will be on the hook for any withdrawals made against that deposited amount.

Thanks to Bank of Oklahoma for much of this information.

How To Spot A Scam, Part 1

I have been seeing a lot of scams coming via email in my spambox lately. I would say that it consists 90% of the email that my filters catch.

One of my clients got suckered in by one he got through traditional postal mail recently. And now that he has been suckered once, he seems to have been put on their list that they pass around.

The particular letter that he fell victim for told him that he had won the lottery in Canada and sent a legitimate-looking check along with the letter. "This check needs to be cashed to pay for your 'government taxes'" the letter told him. He deposited the check, and the bank put a 10-day business hold on it. Had I known about it, I could easily have been able to spot the scam from the letter. The first clue was that the letter started out "Dear Winner." And, if I had been able to run the code at the bottom of the check, I would have been able to determine that the routing code did not match the bank to which the check claimed it was from.

Here is a link where you can input the routing number from the bottom of the check to see what bank it belongs to. The routing number is usually a 9-digit code on the left at the bottom of the check.

***Update*** If it turns out that the bank code matches the bank name on the check, call the bank with information you find on the internet to verify that the account number (usually the number on the right side at the bottom of the check) matches an account they have there. If it matches, then verify that the name on the check is the same as the name on the account.

Another thing to look for: if the letter, return address or the phone number to call is in Canada (especially Toronto), then that is another red flag. Here is a link that allows you to search by phone number.

If they tell you to cash the check and then wire the money via Western Union, that is another red flag as the money can apparently be picked up anywhere in the world (not just where you designate it be sent).

If they tell you that they are sending you a check to pay for taxes or some "handling fee" or any other fee, that is another clue it probably is a scam.

After having talked with the bank regarding the fraud that had been perpetrated against him, I made an appointment to speak with the fraud investigator. I met him at his office and he showed me hundreds of fake checks ranging from Versachecks (checks printed using a computer program and check stock you can buy at any office supply store) to sophisticated money orders that could only be told by looking at them very closely. (Check the watermark and the security strip on money orders which are like the ones in your dollar bills). Many of them had absolutely no water mark and/or only a slightly printed security strip on the outside of the check. (The fake security strip could not be seen through the check from the other side.)

Then check to see if the phone number on the back of the check is present. Many of the fake ones leave this information off (some only had internet addresses instead of the phone number). Here are the phone numbers to call if you think you may have received a fake money order or want to verify the one you have is real:














AAA Visa Traveler's Cheques 1-800-227-6811
American Express Gift Cheques 1-800-221-7282
American Express Travelers Cheques 1-800-525-7641
Bank of America Money Order or Cashiers Check1-800-756-3333
Circle K Money Orders 1-800-569-3585
Continental Express Money Order 1-714-569-0899
Travelers Express Checks 1-800-542-3590
US Treasury Checks 1-804-697-2605
US Postal Money Orders 1-866-459-7822
Western Union Money Orders 1-800-999-9660
Wal-Mart Money Orders 1-800-542-3590
CVS Pharmacy Money Orders 1-800-746-7287


In part 2, I will post questions you need to ask if you think someone is trying to scam you out of your money using internet, email or postal mail fraud schemes.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday Music: Hanson

In my continuing series of Oklahoma music artists to celebrate Oklahoma's Centennial, this week I bring you Oklahoma's pop sensation from a decade ago.

I saw the brothers Hanson at the Cleveland County fair before they were famous. Back then, their show consisted almost exclusively of old 1950's, 1960's and Elvis Presley songs. I remember I was about to leave when they announced that they were going to sing a song that they had written themselves. I decided to stay and see how good they were doing their own material. It was the song that eventually became their breakthrough smash hit MMM Bop.

They Tulsa trio have continued to make music (even releasing a new CD entitled The Walk just recently) and have had some minor hits since then, but nothing really to rival the success they had as pop idol sensations when they were teenagers.

Here is their big smash hit from their glory days:

MMM Bop


Friday, June 22, 2007

Religion in Public Schools: Do Students Have A Prayer?

This is a reprint of a paper I wrote either during law school or soon after. I am noticing that there is still a lot of confusion regarding religious expression in public situations. There may have been some changes to the law since then, but I don't think that any changes have been dramatic.

There has been much confusion in recent years concerning school prayer. Some have argued that the courts have declared schools "religion free zones." Others have maintained that the law of church and state is so muddy that ordinary teachers, principals, administrators or school board members cannot understand them. The former is simply a misinterpretation of the law. The latter, while having some justification, is still incorrect. While it is true that many school officials, because of their busy schedules, do not know the law as well as they should, the law is not as complicated as it might first seem.

State Action and the Establishment Clause

In order to understand the law concerning separation of church and state, it is important to grasp the concept called "state action." State action arises when an agent of the government abridges the rights of an individual. In the present case, since teachers and others in the education establishment are agents of the state, any action they take on behalf of the government can produce state action for the purposes of constitutional limitations.

One constitutional limitation placed on the government is that it may not advance nor inhibit religion. The main test applied to the Establishment Clause is the Lemon v Kurtzman [1] test (hereinafter the Lemon test). The Lemon test is a three-prong test. The three prongs are:

1. The statute (or other government action or policy) must have a secular purpose.

2. Its primary effect or purpose must neither advance nor inhibit religion.

3. The statute (or policy) must not foster an excessive entanglement between church and state.

A few cases have come out since Lemon that suggest the Supreme Court is unhappy with the Lemon test. In Lee v Weisman [2], the Court did not reject the Lemon test, but it at least modified it. In Lee, the school invited a rabbi to give a "nonsectarian" prayer as part of an official graduation ceremony. The Court held that "including clergy who offer prayers as part of an official public school graduation ceremony is forbidden by the Establishment Clause." [3] The Court reasoned that the practice at least suggests at strong endorsement of religion if not an outright compulsion to participate in a religious activity. The Court rejected the argument that the complainant was not compelled to attend. The court pointed out that "in this society, high-school graduation is one of life's most significant occasions, and a student is not free to absent herself from the exercise in any of the real sense of the term 'voluntary.'" [4]

In spite of Lee, the Lemon test is still the dominant test. The question that most often arises among teachers and parents, among others, is what kind of religious expression does the law permit? A pamphlet has been published by a coalition of groups that represent the whole spectrum of this debate. It is called Religion In The Public Schools: A Joint Statement Of Current Law. It was published in April, 1995 and it gives a brief outline of the law as it is applied today.

All of the main cases have dealt with state actors or actions that violate the Establishment Clause. However, the First Amendment does not restrict the actions of purely private actors. If there is no state action, there is no constitutional violation. For instance, a student can pray individually or with their peers as long as it is not disruptive [5]. Students can discuss religious topics or issues as long as the others are willing listeners [6]. As long as a student's religious activity is not carried out in a harassing or disruptive manner, it does not fall within the scope of the Establishment Clause. As a side note, it must be pointed out that religious speech is subject to the same time, place, and manner regulation as any other speech.

A more complicated issue is whether students may initiate a prayer at graduation on their own. Courts have split on this issue (mainly because the other students are a captive audience). (However, school officials may not delegate the duty to a student or student organization because under the principles of Agency, you cannot have someone else do what you are prohibited from doing yourself.)

Another issue that has arisen is whether a "moment of silence" is permissible. One case that mandated a moment of silence "for the purpose of meditation or voluntary prayer" was struck down by the Supreme Court [7]. This was primarily because it failed the first and second prongs of the Lemon test. Its purpose was not secular, and it had the primary effect of advancing religion. However, it might be possible to pass a law that required a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day as long as the Lemon guidelines are met.

Conclusion

The main thing to keep in mind is that agents of the state (in this case school officials) cannot further or hinder religious expression. The restrictions contained in the Establishment Clause do not apply to private parties. Therefore, students who act on their own can legally express their religious convictions as long as it is not disruptive or harassing."

[1] 403 U.S. 602 (1970).
[2] 112 S.Ct. 2649 (1992).
[3] Id.at 2650.
[4] Id.at 2651.
[5] Religion in the Public Schools: A joint statement of current law, 1.
[6] Id.
[7] Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38 (1985).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

John Edwards Advocates Debt Regulation

From John Edwards campaign website:

"The engine of our economy is not Washington, D.C., or Wall Street. It is the tens of millions of men and women in offices, factories, and fields across America who go to work every day. When we stand up for them, our middle class grows and our economy grows." – John Edwards

American families are working harder to get by. Despite living in the land of opportunity, most families' incomes have stagnated for the past generation. Meanwhile, George Bush's Washington has let corporate interests grow stronger than ever. The result is Two Americas, one struggling to get by and another that has everything it could want. As president, John Edwards will put our government and our economy back in line with our values. Today, he announced his plan to take on abusive lenders, create a new Family Savings and Credit Commission on the side of families who are investing and borrowing, and give families alternatives to high-cost debt.

The rest of John Edwards' proposal can be found here.

And Edwards is also seeking to have Americans reduce their debt.

New York, New York – In a speech today at Cooper Union, Senator John Edwards will unveil his plan to reduce the rising debt which is threatening our working and middle class families. Edwards will speak about the Two Americas that have grown further apart since the 2004 campaign—one America struggling to get by and build a better future and another that has everything it needs—and discuss how we can build One America that works for all Americans.

Edwards' plan will put our government and our economy back in line with our values and ensure economic security for families by taking on abusive lenders, creating a new Family Savings and Credit Commission on the side of families who are investing and borrowing, and giving families alternatives to high-cost debt.


From Elizabeth Warren:

Senator Edwards has put some hard-hitting proposals on the table. On credit cards, for example, he says he will work to end universal default, apply interest rate increases only prospectively, demand full disclosure of how long it will take a family to pay off a debt using minimum monthly payments, and restore ten day grace periods to late fees. He says he is ready to go after mortgage abuses and payday loans and initiate a plan to help families save for emergencies.

The centerpiece of the proposal is a Financial Product Safety Commission--renamed as a Family Savings and Credit Commission. This means more than outlawing any specific credit practice because, if done right, it would be the gift that keeps on giving--the reform that can provide consumer protection to match new products that the credit industry invents later on.

Talking about debt isn't sexy. It often takes time to explain where the abuses are and what responses would be effective. The credit industry can throw up a cloud of dust to obscure any public discussion. And let's face it--money is all on the side of the financial institutions. But Edwards is doing it anyway.


I'm glad one of the Presidential candidates is speaking out on the both the issue of American's penchant for debt and the abuses that it spawns.

A Crisis of Confidence

From thereisnospoon's diary at Daily Kos:

The confidence rating numbers are below (it's simpler to read in graph format at Gallup's site, but I'll present the numbers in a table):















InstitutionJune '06June '07
The Military 73% 69%
The Police 58% 54%
Church/Organized Religion 52% 46%
Banks 49%41%
The U.S. Supreme Court 40% 34%
Public Schools 37% 33%
The Medical System 38% 31%
The Presidency 33% 25%
Television News 31% 23%
Newspapers 30% 22%
Criminal Justice System 25% 19%
Organized Labor 24% 19%
Big Business 18% 18%
HMOs 15%15%
Congress19% 14%

...

[W]hat these numbers say more than anything is that neither party has large reason to rejoice: the truth is that Americans are sick and tired of the status quo, and they don't believe that anyone is working in their best interests right now--not the schools, the courts, the churches, the government, business, the media, the police, not anybody. That is fundamentally a very scary thing because our entire society runs on trust in major public and private institutions: without that trust, democracy, representative governments and entire economies fall into ruins. While we Democrats laugh at Bush's low approval ratings and the Republicans laugh at Congress' confidence ratings, America is falling into grave danger of a crisis of confidence in itself and its ability to maintain a functional society.

I don't know that thereisnospoon's conclusions are correct on how to repair American's increasing lack of confidence in our public institutions, but I suspect that his conclusions of the consequences of the failure to repair it are very accurate. It's true that everything stands on a foundation of trust. One way or another, this needs to be rectified.

Philanthropy As Bribery

In a New York Times blog entry, Richard Conniff has proposed a New Rule: the Rule of Decent Interval. The new Rule goes something like this:

It holds that the value of a good deed decreases in direct proportion to how badly you need the resulting good will.


He then shows how many high-profile and wealthy people acting badly (or, at least, charged criminally of acting badly), have promised to make, attempted to make or actually have made philanthropic donations as a way of trying to buy good will. He gives four examples of his new proposed Rule of Decent Interval: Sean "P. Diddy" "Puffy" Combs attempting to give $50,000 to a scholarship fund; Richard Scrushy facing trial before a largely black jury, suddenly finding Jesus and brotherhood with the African-American community, worshiping -- and contributing -- at a largely African-American church; Chung Mong Koo pledging to make a $1 billion donation "to society" when questioned about shady financial dealings; and Lee Kun-Hee, when caught trying to finagle the inheritance tax, had to make an $825 million donation (also “to society”) by way of apology.

Mr. Conniff goes on to say:

All this reminds me of a lesson I learned growing up in New Jersey. The nuns at St. Cassian School used to tell us about an imaginary mob boss who’d led a wicked life but went to heaven anyway because of a sincere deathbed confession. They meant to show us that confession is powerful, and God forgiving. But some of my classmates took it to mean they could get away with murder, as long as they managed to eke out a good Act of Contrition at the end. Others (possibly including some of the nuns, behind those starched white wimples) felt that God was no fool and would pack the mobster off to roast in hell regardless.

I would humbly suggest that the latter attitude is entirely appropriate for violators of The Rule of the Decent Interval.

...

Just-in-time philanthropy...says flout the laws and damn the community. If you get caught, you can just make the whole mess go away with a well-placed act of contrition, or rather, “charity.” Perhaps I am being obtuse, but it’s hard to see how this is any different from bribery.

Philanthropic organizations, and just-in-time donors, ought to be nervous about that. Violations of the Rule of the Decent Interval tend to remind people of the terrible alternative — not hell, perhaps, but almost as ominous: Enforce good laws, punish violators, and instead of depending on the whim of self-serving donors, make basic social services a function of government — even if that means you have to tax wealth more heavily.

Meanwhile, I like to imagine that Sister Immaculate’s take-home on the Rule of the Decent Interval would sound like this: Do good deeds now. Do lots of them. You never know when you will need the good will. But pray to God it won’t be any time too soon.


I have come to the same conclusion as the bolded sentence above. People who need help should not have to wait for some act of charity. There are some (probably most) acts of injustice that cannot be corrected in any afterlife. We need Justice now. This proposed Rule of Decent Interval shows the fallacy of making health care dependent on charity. As a mobster once is quoted as saying: "It's easy to be generous with other people's money."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fake Job Ads



Hat Tip to Daily Kos writer BobOak for bringing attention to this information.

Apparently, many job ads put in American periodicals and internet job sites are placed in order to prevent Americans from getting jobs. This is essentially a type of fraud as the employer has no intention of hiring any applicants for the position -- even if they would be willing to accept the position at a lower salary and the applicant is highly qualified.

This is an indication that there is no shortage of American workers, there is a shortage of American employers willing to hire American workers.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Whitewash

Seymour Hersh recently wrote an article in The New Yorker wherein he reports on what General Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, found during his limited investigation.

But even with the limited investigation, General Taguba doesn't believe the official story that the soldier's were renegades acting outside the military command:

“From what I knew, troops just don’t take it upon themselves to initiate what they did without any form of knowledge of the higher-ups,” Taguba told me. His orders were clear, however: he was to investigate only the military police at Abu Ghraib, and not those above them in the chain of command. “These M.P. troops were not that creative,” he said. “Somebody was giving them guidance, but I was legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority. I was limited to a box.”


And from a report in the Washington Post:

In interviews with New Yorker reporter Seymour M. Hersh, Taguba said that he was ordered to limit his investigation to low-ranking soldiers who were photographed with the detainees and the soldiers' unit, but that it was always his sense that the abuse was ordered at higher levels. Taguba was quoted as saying that he thinks top commanders in Iraq had extensive knowledge of the aggressive interrogation techniques that mirrored those used on high-value detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that the military police "were literally being exploited by the military interrogators."

Taguba also said that Rumsfeld misled Congress when he testified in May 2004 about the abuse investigation, minimizing how much he knew about the incidents. Taguba said that he met with Rumsfeld and top aides the day before the testimony.

"I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib," Taguba said, according to the article. "We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable."


Not allowed to ask questions that will get to the ultimate truth of the matter? Sounds like whitewash to me.

***Update***

Here is a video report:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Help Stop Teenage Affluenza

I found this funny video on YouTube that has a serious message. The spot might have shown on Australian TV.



Here is the website: 40 Hour Famine. You won't hear this message very often in America, so I will do my best to spread the word via my humble blog.

Sunday Music: Flaming Lips

You might get the impression that all of the artists from Oklahoma are Country and Western (many of them are), but certainly not all of them. The Flaming Lips are an alternative rock band from Oklahoma City who have achieved Top 40 success.

I got this information from Answers.com:

The Flaming Lips formed in Oklahoma City in 1983, when founder and guitarist Wayne Coyne allegedly stole a collection of musical instruments from an area church hall and enlisted his vocalist brother Mark and bassist Michael Ivins to start a band. Giving themselves the nonsensical name the Flaming Lips (its origin variously attributed to a porn film, an obscure drug reference, or a dream in which a fiery Virgin Mary plants a kiss on Wayne in the backseat of his car), the band made its live debut at a local transvestite club. After progressing through an endless string of drummers, they recruited percussionist Richard English prior to recording their self-titled debut, issued on green vinyl on their own Lovely Sorts of Death label in 1985.

...

With new guitarist Ronald Jones and drummer Steven Drozd, they cut 1993's sublime Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, which they supported by playing the second stage at Lollapalooza and touring the nation in a Ryder truck. Initially, the album stiffed; however, nearly a year after its initial release, the single "She Don't Use Jelly" became a grassroots hit, and against all odds the Flaming Lips found themselves on the Top 40 charts. They took full advantage of their requisite 15 minutes of fame, appearing everywhere from MTV's annual Spring Break broadcast to an arena tour in support of Candlebox to a memorably surreal lip-synched performance on the teen soap opera Beverly Hills 90210, where supporting character Steve Sanders (portrayed by actor Ian Ziering) uttered the immortal words, "You know, I've never been a big fan of alternative music, but these guys rocked the house!"


Here are a few videos of some of their most popular songs I found on YouTube. The first song was their breakout hit.

Do You Realize??


The next song was a hit on Top 40 radio and is a video of their live performance at the Zoo Amphitheatre in Oklahoma City.

She Don't Use Jelly (Live From Oklahoma)


The last song is their song which has received the most views for the band on YouTube. Where they ask: "What would you do with power if you had it?"

The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song


Here is their most recent release at Amazon.com.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Aging Bankruptcy Boom

From Consumer Law Updates:

[W]henever I tell anyone my age or older that I am a Bankruptcy lawyer, I get treated to the lecture about how we shouldn’t be letting these 20 and 30 somethings go around charging every toy they want and then filing for bankruptcy. My response is not generally regarded as polite cocktail party small talk.

So, here are a few facts for you. According to a study done at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (and who better to know), Americans over 55 are filing bankruptcy at a far faster rate than the general population. The culprits are mortgage and health care costs. In 1994 only 27% of all bankruptcy filers were over the age of 45. In 2002 that percentage increased to 39%. This is in stark contrast to filers under the age of 25. Only 4% of all American adults under the age of 25 filed for bankruptcy in 2002. That was down from 11% of that age group in 1999. So, the twenty-somethings are filing at less than half the rate that they were in the ’90’s; and the Boomers are filing at basically 1.5 times the rate they were in the ’90’s.

These findings are consistent with what I see in my practice. I have far more senior citizens who racked up their credit card debt in pharmacies then I do people under 35. By the upper 30’s the numbers start to pick up, but I am 42 and in the last year of the Baby Boom. Easily most of my clients are older than I am.


You can see more here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Short People

Paul Krugman in his editorial in Friday's New York Times, America Comes Up Short, says that Americans are literally shorter in stature than Europeans.

To the casual observer, Europeans — who often seemed short, even to me (I’m 5-foot-7), when I first began traveling a lot in the 1970s — now often seem tall by American standards. And that casual observation matches what careful researchers have found.

The data show that Americans, who in the words of a recent paper by the economic historian John Komlos and Benjamin Lauderdale in Social Science Quarterly, were “tallest in the world between colonial times and the middle of the 20th century,” have now “become shorter (and fatter) than Western and Northern Europeans. In fact, the U.S. population is currently at the bottom end of the height distribution in advanced industrial countries.”

...

So what is America’s modern height lag telling us?

...

“U.S. children,” write Mr. Komlos and Mr. Lauderdale, “consume more meals prepared outside the home, more fast food rich in fat, high in energy density and low in essential micronutrients, than do European children.” Our reliance on fast food, in turn, may reflect lack of family time because we work too much: U.S. G.D.P. per capita is high partly because employed Americans work many more hours than their European counterparts.

A broader explanation would be that contemporary America is a society that, in a variety of ways, doesn’t take very good care of its children. Recently, Unicef issued a report comparing a number of measures of child well-being in 21 rich countries, including health and safety, family and peer relationships and such things as whether children eat fruit and are physically active. The report put the Netherlands at the top; sure enough, the Dutch are now the world’s tallest people, almost 3 inches taller, on average, than non-Hispanic American whites. The U.S. ended up in 20th place, below Poland, Portugal and Hungary, but ahead of Britain.

Whatever the full explanation for America’s stature deficit, our relative shortness, like our low life expectancy, suggests that something is amiss with our way of life. A critical European might say that America is a land of harried parents and neglected children, of expensive health care that misses those who need it most, a society that for all its wealth somehow manages to be nasty, brutish — and short.

So basically, we work ourselves to death, we don't eat right and we don't exercise enough -- and the latter two are directly or indirectly related to the first cause. The average American gets one or two weeks of paid vacation, if any. Almost all of the jobs I have worked at had no vacation time at all. If you wanted some time off, you had to take it without pay.

Another problem is that too many Americans fail to realize that that big house, fancy car and credit card debt for consumer purchases (not to mention the health care and college tuition costs) are costing us quality of life. We are so busy chasing the almighty dollar that we fail to see the simple beauty and enjoyment right around us.

Part of it is also that Americans have so far failed to appreciate just how underpaid they are. When they do get paid a decent wage, they spend it on frivolous bric-a-brac that adds very little to their overall happiness.

Life needs to be enjoyed. Go out and see a park. Take the kids to the zoo. Walk along the beach. You would be amazed at how much zest you can squeeze out of life for not much money. All you need is time. It is the sort of thing very few Americans enjoy because we don't demand it enough from our employers (or our elected officials).

If we could do more of these things, we could stand tall -- no matter what our stature.

American Embassy In Baghdad Built With Slave Labor?

In a compilation of news and commentary, a post over at Daily Kos alleges that the American Embassy in Baghdad was built with forced labor.

(sarcasm) Yeah, that's what we want America to stand for. (/sarcasm)

From a story at MSNBC.com:

Whistleblowers who worked on the embassy have told officials at the State and Justice departments, as well as NBC News, that the contractor, First Kuwaiti International Trading, had brought workers, mostly South Asians and Filipinos, to Baghdad under false pretenses, then abused and threatened them while there.


Then the Bush Administration's State Department did an "investigation" and found "no wrongdoing":

The State Department inspector general, Howard J. Krongard, found no wrongdoing last year in what he describes as a "limited investigation" but acknowledges the company knew he was coming three months before he arrived. Still, his report states: “Nothing came to our attention as a result of the foregoing procedures that caused us to believe that TIP (Trafficking in Persons) violations … occurred at the NEC (New Embassy Complex).”


And the Bush Administration's Justice Department is seeking to wash our hands of it:

In addition, two lawyers in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Andrew Kline and Michael J. Frank, have been talking to former First Kuwaiti employees about the charges. U.S. officials tell NBC News that they have not decided whether Justice even has jurisdiction in the case since the alleged violations occurred overseas.

An American Medical Tragedy

They call it a "bizarre" tale of a woman that dies after not receiving treatment at an emergency room. I call it for-profit health care.

The story doesn't say it, but what do you bet that she didn't have health insurance?

Los Angeles woman dies on emergency room floor

Companions tried to get an ambulance to take her to another hospital

By Charles Ornstein and Francisco Vara-Orta
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved

LOS ANGELES — In the 40 minutes before a woman's death last month at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, two separate callers pleaded with 911 dispatchers to send help because the hospital staff was ignoring her as she writhed on the floor, according to audio recordings of the calls.

"My wife is dying and the nurses don't want to help her out," Jose Prado, the woman's boyfriend, told the 911 dispatcher through an interpreter.

He was calling from a pay phone outside the hospital, his tone increasingly desperate as he described how his 43-year-old girlfriend was spitting up blood.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department dispatcher struggled to make sense of his predicament, then urged him to contact a doctor or nurse.

"Paramedics are not going to pick him up, or pick his wife up, from a hospital, because she's already at one," the dispatcher said.

Eight minutes later, an unidentified woman, apparently another patient, dialed 911 and reached a different dispatcher. After a short debate about whether the call was an emergency, the dispatcher scolded her and insisted that it was not. The 2 1/2 -minute call ended on a hostile note.

"May God strike you too for acting the way you just acted," the frustrated caller told the dispatcher, just before 2 a.m. on May 9.

"No. Negative ma'am, you're the one," the dispatcher responded before disconnecting.

The patient, Edith Isabel Rodriguez, was pronounced dead at 2:17 a.m., the victim of "inexcusable" indifference by staff at King-Harbor, county health officials later acknowledged.

Rodriguez lay untreated on the ER lobby floor for 45 minutes before dying. A video camera captured the episode, showing that staffers and patients stood by as a janitor cleaned the floor around her. She was buried in Tehachapi on Tuesday.

The county coroner ruled that Rodriguez died of a perforated bowel, with the injury probably occurring in her last 24 hours of life. Experts have said that the condition might have been treatable if caught earlier.

...

Rodriguez's death was just one of the King-Harbor issues discussed Tuesday during a meeting of the county Board of Supervisors. Also at that meeting, the county health services director disclosed that the hospital had replaced its medical director, citing his handling of an unrelated lapse in patient care. In that case, a man with a brain tumor languished without treatment in the ER for four days before he was taken elsewhere by family and friends for emergency surgery.

In Rodriguez's case, the 911 recordings were released by the Sheriff's Department in response to California Public Records Act requests by The Times. Both illustrate how confounding it was for the emergency response system to handle a bizarre scenario in which a patient dying in plain sight at a hospital could not get treatment there.

"What's real confusing ... was that she was at a medical facility," said Sheriff's Capt. Steven M. Roller, who is in charge of the Century Station, which handled the calls. "That poses some real quandaries."

...

In the days leading up to her death, Rodriguez had sought care in the King-Harbor emergency room three times. Each time she was released after receiving prescription drugs for pain. On May 8, however, she did not leave the hospital but instead lay on the benches in front of its main entrance.

County police officers found her there and helped escort her to the emergency room. There, a triage nurse told Rodriguez that nothing could be done to help her.

Meanwhile, police ran a computer check on Rodriguez and found that she had a no-bail warrant for her arrest. As she was being taken to a squad car to be placed in custody, she became unresponsive. She died a short time later in the ER.


Here is the real reason why she probably didn't get treatment:

On Tuesday morning, Rodriguez's family gathered at a Pico Rivera memorial chapel to bid farewell to the California native, one of 13 siblings. They had delayed a funeral service for more than a month because they didn't have money to pay for it. One of her sisters arranged fundraisers, selling homemade tamales to pay the about $7,500 tab.


This is another one of those "this shouldn't happen here" stories.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sunday Music: Toby Keith

In my second installment of Oklahoma artists as part of my series based on Oklahoma's Centennial, Toby Keith, who grew up in Moore, Oklahoma (a southern suburb of Oklahoma City), has become a legend for his crossover country hits.

He played football for the University of Oklahoma for one game. He got hurt on his first play on the field and had to be helped off. Maybe he was thinking about that experience when he wrote this first song; or maybe he was just singing for all of us aging Baby Boomers.

As Good As I Once Was


The song that really vaulted him to the top of the charts was his song Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American). The song got him into a little bit of a conflict with the Dixie Chicks. You might get the impression from this song that he is some sort of right-wing Republican. Many Republican candidates for public office have the same impression and ask him for support in their campaigns. But you would be wrong. From CBSnews.com:

"It's amazing how many Republicans call me for support. And then they go, 'You're a Republican right?' And you go, 'Well I'm actually a lifetime Democrat,'" he said. "And then they go, 'Oh, sorry.' And the Democrats want so bad — the real liberals really want to hate me. And then they go, 'I still hate you, but I can't believe you're a Democrat.' So I'm not a real political guy. I'm a very patriotic guy."

And you might get the impression for the song that he is rabidly pro-war, but again you would be wrong:

"When the Iraq war started, I was a little mad because we didn't finish what we started in Afghanistan," he said. "Our troops had to move on into Iraq. Our government asked them to go do it for whatever reason. We won't know for probably 20 or 30 years whether it was the right thing to do or not."


Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American)



A real man's ode to our relationship with women:

I Wanna Talk About Me


Mr. Keith also owns a restaurant right in the most prime location on the canal in Oklahoma City's Bricktown. The restaurant is called I Love This Bar & Grill. It obviously was inspired somewhere by his hit I Love This Bar . I've eaten there a couple of times. The food is good and the atmosphere is too. When the restaurant opened, they featured local country artists several nights a week. I don't know if they still do (I'd go, but I'm honestly not much of a country music fan), but if you are ever in Bricktown in Oklahoma City, Toby Keith's restaurant is one you should seriously consider visiting. Toby Keith and his attitudes he sings about in his songs are consummately representative of attitudes you will find in Oklahoma.

You would think that his success would help him garner at least a little respect...but apparently not. In the CBS news interview linked above, he reiterated an experience his daughter had trying to join a sorority at the University of Oklahoma:

"Some sorority chick called my daughter a — said she shouldn't be in the sorority cause she's just white trash with money," Keith said. "And she laughed. And my wife was all upset. But I thought it was a great album title."


I know just what he is talking about; and the legal profession isn't completely immune from such prejudice. There are some within the legal profession (albeit rare) that feel that someone from my part of town (the other side of the railroad tracks) shouldn't get the same chance as those who went to the "right" schools. They think of me as "white trash with a law degree."

The funny thing is that I have never been part of that "beer-drinking" cowboy culture, but I identify with his daughter's experience. There are snobbish rich people everywhere who feel they are entitled due to their pedigree. Paris Hilton is starting to learn her lesson the hard way.

If only they could learn from my experiences. It's hard enough to work your way up from the bottom; you shouldn't have to worry about someone impeding you because they were born into money. It's not like they earned it. Maybe that's the problem. They have never bothered to walk a mile in our moccasins (or shoes, or boots as the case may be).

Friday, June 08, 2007

Congress May Restore Habeas Corpus



A transcript from mcjoan at Daily Kos:

Olbermann: Supporters of this act, the Military Commissions Act ... point out that other administrations have suspended habeas corpus without destroying the republic. Is this time different, and if so how and why is that pretty much a sophistry argument?

Turley: It's hardly a convincing case that you have to have the collapse of the republic. It says more about the republic than the actions of the earlier presidents. This is a system of government that was designed to be idiot-proof and God knows we've tested that through the years. But it was actually designed for multiple idiots, and it means that we can go a certain period of time with the denial of rights and we have tended to correct that and it looks like we're about to do that now. This was one of the most disgraceful moments of the last Congress and it will be equally disgraceful to see many Republicans vote to fight the effort to bring back the great writ.

Olbermann: ... It is easy to imagine Americans who are patriotic but scared, who could just sort of dismiss habeas corpus and other civil liberties as luxuries that make us weak right now. Explain why that's exactly backwards, why they're not luxuries, why they're necessities that make us strong.

Turley: First of all, habeas corpus is sometimes treated like some trick by a Philadelphia lawyer. It is actually the foundation for all other rights. When the government throws you into a dungeon for what you say or who you pray to, it's habeas corpus that's the right that allows you to see the enforcement of the other rights. So without habeas corpus, the rest of it is just aspirational and meaningless.

The danger when you walk away from these values, these rights that define us have been proven by this president. The greatest irony of the Bush Administration is that his legacy will be to show the dangers of walking away from those rights that define us. We’re very much alone today. He can’t go to Canada without people protesting, Miss America can’t even go to Mexico without being booed. We’re viewed as a rogue nation and it is a dangerous world to live in when you’re alone. In Italy, they're prosecuting in abstentia our own agents. This doesn't make us safer.... It's very interesting that the lesson this president may leave for his successors is that whether you are inclined to walk away from those core rights or not, that is what puts us in the greatest danger.

Olbermann: The right to bear arms, to believe your religion or to not believe any religion at all, to say what you want, these rights get people fired up, no matter what side of the debate they're on. Is not habeas corpus essential to all of them? You don't have that, it doesn't matter what the second amendment says?

Turley: That's right.... all those rights are meaningless [without habeas corpus] because it's habeas corpus that allows you to get to a court who can hear your complaint. So without habeas corpus it's just basically words that have no meaning, and this president has shown the dangers of the assertion of absolute power. He has asserted the right to take an American citizen, declare them unilaterally an enemy combatant and deny them all rights. The courts have said otherwise and now Congress will say otherwise. [Any transcription errors mine.]

Debt Buyers Gone Wild



On Warren Reports at TPM Cafe they are discussing The Debt Divide here in America. Anyway, one poster, BabyBelle, posted something that I think is very pertinent to the issue of overcharging for debt that is being collected by collection agencies and "debt buyers":

Maxed Out is available on DVD at Amazon now. I just ordered a copy. Looking forward to seeing it.

These debt buyers should be outlawed.

I had a debt sold to one and I was scared and agreed to make monthly payments. They kept me in the dark about the interest they were charging me.

All the while I thought I was repaying a debt when they were not applying any to principal. It was only when I started asking questions that I found out the truth. I never seriously consided suicide, but I was in a deep depression when I realized I had sent so much money and believed I was doing the right thing, only to be lining the pockets of these crooks!

As long as debt buying is allowed there should be [strict] laws and enforcement. One of those laws should be the only interest they can charge is for the amount they purchsed the debt for. So if they buy debt for pennies on the dollar which I have heard they do, then charge interest on those pennies. I personally feel they should not be allowed to charge any interest though.


(Editorial comment: This used to be the law, I think. I seem to remember a time that the interest could not be collected once the debt was turned over to a collection agency. That may have changed in recent years, or perhaps no one has successfully challenged it in the courts. -- OkieLawyer)

The debt I had that was sold to them was ALL interest and fees that Citibank had piled on. The original amount of the debt had been paid. Then these bottom feeders piled on more. I thought interest was charged for money borrowed. I didn't borrow money from any collection agency!

Woe to anyone who is foolish with a credit card or has unexpected problems and gets behind. You'll get screwed by the [credit card companies] with loan shark interest which will lead to you going over the limit if you are unable to pay the balance...and then you will get over the limit fees, even though you have not purchased a thing! And then if the the bottom feeders get your debt they will get their chance with you.

I have lerrned my lesson. Every credit card offer I receive is shredded. I have savings and I live within my means now.

As far as ways to save, if you need furnishings and don't mind some hard work , check out Craig's list.

I have always admired those who could take an old piece of furniture and refinish it, but I was reluctant because of the dire health warnings on some of the products used to strip the paint off. There are now safe products for this work with no harmful fumes. I have found some beautiful solid wood furniture on Craig's [list] for low cost and even free and refinished many nice pieces of furniture. It looks great and is better quality than many things sold brand new.


An interesting fact about the movie MaxedOut, it was inspired by a scheme whereby my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, received $3 million for allowing credit card companies to market to students on campus. I highly recommend the movie.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Michael Moore Wants To Hear Your Health Care Story

The Middle East Mess

Today in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman in his column entitled What a Mess lays out the conundrum in the Middle East:

Just look around. Gaza is turning into Mogadishu. Hamas is shelling Israel. Israel is retaliating. Iraq is a boiling pot. Iran is about to go nuclear. Lebanon is being pulled apart. Syria is being investigated for murdering Lebanon’s prime minister. I could go on. Yes, this mess is so big and so tall. Who knows where to pick it up at all?

In Israel, officials are mulling all alternatives — from the Saudi peace initiative to negotiating with Hamas to opening talks with Syria to reoccupying Gaza to looking for a “trustee” for the West Bank — because no one is sure anymore what to do.

That is, the Left’s way — land for peace — was discredited by the collapse of Oslo. The Right’s way, permanent Israeli occupation of all “The Land of Israel,” was made impossible by Palestinian demographics and two uprisings. The third way, unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza, has been discredited by Hezbollah’s attack from Lebanon and the Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza.

“Israel is in a place it has never been before,” said Moshe Halbertal, a Hebrew University philosophy professor. “It does not have a picture of where to go and how, so people are looking for a fourth way.”

...

Israel’s real choice is between dealing with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority or watching it collapse into little pieces, which Israel would have to pick up. (Think Iraq and Somalia.) West Bank and Gaza unemployment is now around 40 percent. Talking with Palestinians in Ramallah, the phrase I heard most was not “Israeli occupation” but “Palestinian disintegration.”

Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told me that as bad as things are today, his polls show most Palestinians still don’t blame Hamas. They blame Israel and America for withholding funds from the Hamas government that Palestinians elected. The best way to diminish Hamas’s influence, or to moderate it, is by forcing it to assume responsibility. Ask it: “Do you want Palestinians to be able to work in Israel? Then sit down with Israel and work out the details.” We need to “force Hamas through a corridor of difficult decisions,” said Israeli strategist Gidi Grinstein. If America can talk to Iran, Israel can talk to Hamas.

Second, Hamas says it will only offer Israel a long-term cease-fire. Fine, take it. Fact No. 1: the real history of Israeli-Arab relations is: war, lull, war, lull, war, lull — from 1948 until today. Fact No. 2: “Since 1948,” said Mr. Yaari, “the Jews have always made better use of the lulls than the Arabs.” Israel doesn’t need Hamas’s recognition. It needs a long lull.

The third new reality is that Hamas’s shelling of Israel from Gaza means Israel can never hand over the West Bank to the Palestinians, without an international trustee — because from there Palestinians could close Israel’s airport with one rocket. Only Jordan, or an international force, can be that trustee.

Bottom line: I don’t know if there is a fourth way, but, if there is, it will have to include these new realities. Otherwise, this mess will get even bigger, deeper and taller.


Thomas Friedman is right: what a mess!

New Toyota Prius To Get 125 MPG

Click on the title above to see the full article.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Despair

I try to see the humor in my life experiences. If you have read my blog entry today Seven Years Of Bad Luck (just scroll down the page), you might think that it became the inspiration of the site Despair.com.

Here are some good demotivational posters that describe my recent life experiences:

Mistakes

Misfortune

Change

Doubt

Failure

Overconfidence

Potential

Success

House Of Broken Dreams

Does this sound like an appropriate song to describe my life in recent years? (See Seven Years Of Bad Luck and Live Like You Were Dying posts.)

House Of Broken Dreams

Hear the whistle blow
It echoes down my soul
It's something I have always known
Nothing sounds so sad
A cry to the unknown
The fundamental sigh of all who've gone this way before

Lay me down to sleep
Come and comfort me
I'll sleep in peace
In a house of broken dreams

I'm old enough to know
That dreams are quickly spent
Like a pouring rain on warm cement
Or fingerprints in dust
Nectar on the wind
Save them for tomorrow and tomorrow lets you down again

Lay me down to sleep
Come and comfort me
I'll sleep in peace
In a house of broken dreams

Give me the reasons to go on
Soften the sorrow that shatters and bends
And mend broken dreams

Sentimental hearts
Hungry for the past
Penniless at the wishing-well
Memories will last
And cover certain scars
Acquired in the daily grind of being what we are

Lay me down to sleep
Come and comfort me
I'll sleep in peace
In a house of broken dreams

Written by Mark Heard © 1990 Ideola Music

This song can be found on the CD High Noon.

Seven Years Of Bad Luck

This is going to be a long post, so bear with me.

June 5, 2000

It was a hot late spring day. The temperature was close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I had just finished all of my work at the law office and decided to head home early just after 4pm. Almost as soon as I left the office, I got a page on my pager. I stopped in at a local gas station to return the page. All of the public phones were being used so I parked my truck and waited for one to come open. One around the corner of the parking lot became available, so I started walking toward it. After walking a few steps, a guy in a large car had just hung up a pay phone that was closer to me, so I started walking toward it. However, that is when a horrific event happened to me that will stick in my mind much like September 11th, 2001 will stick in the minds of many Americans.

The driver behind the wheel of the car turned the car toward me. He then peeled out and headed right at me. Worse yet, he was looking directly at me in my eyes and he had a look of rage about him.

I had a split-second "deer in headlights" moment as I couldn't believe that some guy that I didn't even know would try to run me over with a car and with the intent to kill me. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. When I came to my senses and realized what was happening, I turned around and started running toward my truck. I figured that the only way I was going to survive would be to jump in the bed of my pickup truck before he got to me. I almost made it. Almost. I had just leapt off my left foot and my right foot was just getting on the bumper when his front bumper caught my left leg and crushed it in between his car and my truck.

According to the damage of my back bumper, the body shop repairman estimated that the angry driver was going about 30 miles per hour when he struck me. After he hit me, I tried to move my leg, but I couldn't. I was jammed in between his car and my truck, so I couldn't move.

Then he revved the engine back up again and peeled out again. His front bumper caught my right foot and threw me backwards onto the hood of his car. He came to a stop on the side of my truck. Then he revved up his engine all the way and peeled out again. However, this time the tires were screeching very loudly. When he peeled out the first time, the tires were not screeching loudly at all. As his car started moving forward, my body was bouncing up and down on the hood. I had landed facing forward on my back with my feet dangling over the front of the car. My first thought was that he was going to drive off and I would be thrown from the car at 60 mph and be killed from the impact on the cement.

Then he started turning. He was heading straight for the gas pump. My next thought was that I would be thrown into the gas pump and be killed either by the impact or an explosion. He kept turning. At this point, I started sliding off the hood of the car and I landed smack flat on my back on the pavement. I turned and looked and saw that the white lights had come on his car, indicating that he had put the car in reverse. I tried to get up and run away, but it was at that moment that as I tried to get up on my left leg, my leg just turned sideways. It was broken. Later, when I got to the hospital, I found out that the impact had caused a compound fracture of my left tibia and fibula.

Realizing that I couldn't get up, I screamed "SOMEBODY HELP ME!" What I didn't know was that a police officer had rushed out from inside the gas station, opened his door and turned off the angry driver's engine. They then moved me to the side of the parking lot. I started to go into shock. The pain was unbearable. On a scale of 1 to 10 -- with 10 representing the most pain -- it was a 10. About 30 minutes later, the ambulance arrived. They asked me if I had a preference of which hospital to go to. I told them to take me to the closest one.

If you have never been in an ambulance when you have a broken bone and you are laying on your back, let me just tell you: it's not fun. They don't have the best shock absorbers in the world. The pain I was feeling was exacerbated by the rough ride in the ambulance.

My parents arrived at the hospital just as soon as I did. They took me to an emergency room and starting giving me painkillers. They weren't helping much. Especially when they had to move me to take the x-rays. It really was excruciating.

The police officer on the scene came by my room and told me that they had simply let the guy leave. They didn't even arrest him. I was shocked. I tried to explain to the police officer that he had done what he did "deliberately." I remember using that same word at least twice at the scene. I remember someone asking me "you mean he did it on purpose?" "Yes," I replied. My pleas went unheard. The guy was never even arrested.

According to the police report that I had read later, it said that he claimed that the accelerator had gotten stuck and that he couldn't control the car. Right. The police officer stated that he drove the car forwards and backwards three times, but the accelerator didn't stick for him.

Back in the emergency room, I was immediately prepped for surgery. The surgeon operated and cleaned the wound with distilled water. They then admitted me as an inpatient for approximately a week. I was discharged and sent home with my parents, but this was just the beginning of my ordeal.

A couple of weeks later when I returned for a follow-up exam, they cut a hole in the cast to take a look at my leg. It was dark black and deep red in color. Something was wrong. My leg had gotten infected. The doctor took a sample and sent it to the lab for testing. It turned out to be a bacteria that could not be treated with either penicillin or Keflex, your two main antibiotics. Because the infection was in the bone itself, the doctors had to fit me with a catheter to inject me with the antibiotics. The antibiotic they had to use was brand new drug in the Quinalone family. The antibiotics cost $8000 per week. I had to have a twelve week treatment intravenously and had to be sent to an internist. Once I completed the intravenous treatment, I required another 10 weeks of oral antibiotics. That cost a "mere" $100 per week.

I remember the internist telling me that I was relatively healthy and that my chances of survival were roughly 80%. When you are in that situation, you (well I) tend to think "that means I have a one-in-five chance I won't make it."

When I took the antibiotics, I had to get up first thing in the morning at 7am and load the machine that injected the medication over 30 minutes. I had to do it again at 3pm and 11pm. I remember always being afraid that I would fall asleep while waiting for the medication to finish injecting. Somehow, I made it through.

Six months and six operations later, with no health insurance and with the other driver only having the minimum $10,000 auto insurance policy, there remained approximately $100,000 in medical bills left to be paid. To make matters even worse, I had not been working for over six months due to my injuries. I believe to this day that I did not receive the best care possible. My leg is crooked because the bone did not heal straight. I believe it might be due to the fact that I was not given a walking cast to keep my leg straight. I don't know that for sure, but I still have my suspicions. The care I received did save my life and I did beat the odds in that I am able to walk (even run) again (I was in a wheelchair during the six months I was in a cast), but I became a victim twice: once by the angry driver and once by a health care system based on profit rather than one based on giving the best treatment with payment guaranteed from a common source. I don't blame the doctors or even the hospital administrators. Medical centers are a business.

Inevitably, with mounting medical bills and not having been able to work for over six months, I ended up in bankruptcy. To make the situation even more unjust, the guy who ran me down with his car had two rent houses. They were not taken to help pay my medical bills. Imagine that: I lost everything in bankruptcy and the guy who was responsible for my condition neither suffered criminally or civilly. He got to keep his rent houses and all. The defense was able to drag out the lawsuit long enough (and convince my attorney that his assets weren't worth pursuing) that he didn't lose anything.

During the time that I was in bankruptcy, my mother died of a heart attack. According to bankruptcy rules, if you are entitled to receive an inheritance while you are in bankruptcy (chapter 13) or up to soon after you are discharged (chapter 7) you must forfeit your inheritance to the bankruptcy court trustee for the benefit of your unsecured creditors. Therefore, I lost the inheritance I would otherwise have received after my mother's death.

There is a famous English maxim: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." I tried to apply this lesson by becoming a bankruptcy attorney. I wanted to help people who had been through what I had been through and help them in a way that many other attorneys could not. I knew what it was like.

Then disaster struck again: the Republicans came to power in both houses of Congress and the Presidency. They dealt out their wrath on many attorneys who represented lower class people: bankruptcy attorneys, plaintiff personal injury attorneys, plaintiff medical malpractice attorneys, worker's compensation plaintiff attorneys, etc. All of them saw restrictions on their practice by making it harder for people to access the courts. In most cases, the attorneys were representing people who had relatively little financial power in relation to the opposing parties.

At the time, I didn't hardly have the time to worry about the upcoming changes in the bankruptcy law. In between taking care of clients, I was taking care of my dying father. After he died, I buried myself in my work and the increased caseload that came from people wanting to file bankruptcy before the change in the law.

Once the law changed and the work started to dry up, I immediately started looking for work with a regular employer. I applied with the federal government, state government and private companies and law firms.

I tried the hardest with the federal government. Several times I applied with the Bankruptcy Trustee's office that is part of the Department of Justice when the jobs were announced at USAjobs.com. But now I wonder if I was denied a job because Monica Goodling researched my voter registration and found out I am a Democrat. I had been willing (and am still willing) to relocate to find better opportunities. So if you know someone who's hiring, let me know. Serious inquiries only, please.

There is more to this story, but suffice it to say that I have learned how people who hit rock bottom get exploited as they try to recover from bankruptcy. I have seen and experienced (and still experience) the lack of palatable choices when trying to recover from insolvency. I have discovered that people in this situation don't have enough bargaining power. In theory, two parties to a contract have equal bargaining power. In many cases, however, that is not the case. It is therefore incumbent, I believe, on our elected representatives to write laws to prevent abuse of power by the more powerful party of a contract.

The fact that I possibly was denied a position in the federal civil service only aggravates my situation. I can only wonder if my recovery after the change in the bankruptcy laws was hampered by a wrongful denial of employment with the federal government because I was a member of the "wrong" political party.

If such is the case, who will give me Justice? Who will right the wrong done not just to me, but for others in my situation? Are federal judges now so compromised by their political ideology and dependence on their political connections that they will refuse to protect workers from such an abuse of power? Even if wronged persons can be found to bring a suit, it's not what you know, it's what you can prove. Look how difficult it is for the Democratically-controlled Congress to get information from the White House. Can you imagine how much trouble it would be for a private party? And then you would have to be able to prove that the specific plaintiff was passed over only for their political affiliation.

I have done everything that wealthy and successful people say you are supposed to do to increase your chances of financial success. I have never done any illegal drugs. I have never been drunk on alcohol. I delayed gratification and got my education. I applied the work ethic and when I couldn't get a job working for someone else, I started my own law business. But what can you do when those who have power literally and figuratively break your legs and pull the rug from underneath you? Isn't it interesting that they tell you to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" but then they take steps to knock you off your feet when you try to do just that.

It has now been seven years since that fateful day for me: Seven Years Of Bad Luck. But I have come to the conclusion that my luck won't necessarily change on its own. Someone needs to give me a helping hand so I can make it on my own once again. I think after all of my Series of Unfortunate Events I deserve some good luck.

It is for these reasons that I have come to a philosophy of life and political conviction that we need a national health care system, a strong social safety net, guaranteed protections for the worker's financial security to prevent companies from raiding worker's pensions (Barack Obama recently made this very point in a recent speech on how many companies are filing bankruptcy to avoid paying pension obligations) and a truly independent judiciary that will protect the weakest members of society. Too many people who have had bad luck have too many roadblocks preventing them from rebuilding their lives. Too many people who lack bargaining power are getting exploited in employment contracts by those who have too much bargaining power due to their money and political influence (which is partly due to their money power).

I have also come to the conclusion that while poverty does not create most problems, it does exacerbate problems that already exist. It limits the choices people have who are caught in its grip. It is like being stuck in a deep pit without a secure rope to help you climb out. And even then, many in that situation don't have the strength to make it out on their own. They need a helping hand. We need to start helping people recover from financial loss (and, for that matter, help people get up on their feet to begin with) here in America.

I am reminded of the lines in Mark Heard's song Everything Is Alright:

Just when I can touch clouds
There is rain on my fingertips
A personal apocalypse
In a land where such is not allowed
Do all the riders in these ruts
Break down and give the good things up?


Here in America, we don't tolerate failure very well -- not even when the failure is the result of circumstances beyond someone's control. We expect everyone to make it in spite of all of the stumbling blocks that might get in their way. This is a problem in our culture and this attitude needs to change.

Everyone who has become a success has achieved it because someone else helped them achieve it. No man is an island. Furthermore, those who have achieved should help uplift those who have stumbled or fallen. Sometimes they can't make it out of the pit by themselves.