GENEROSITY. MY FIRST MISTAKE.

My husband’s statement from Medicare showed a charge (paid by Medicare) for a doctor neither of us had ever heard of. This wasn’t the first time such a charge had appeared and I was fed up with phantom charges, even if they didn’t personally cost us anything.

I called the number on the Medicare summary to which one was supposed to address issues of fraud. After half an hour on hold, I got a person … who told me I needed to call the “Fraud Hotline.” Following some grousing (I was merely trying to be a good citizen … Medicare was the one getting hit with bogus charges, not us), I called the hotline.

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More like a cold line. Endless voicemail options. Press this, press that, press the next thing, press another thing … and then …

You got it. Wait on hold for another half hour.

When finally I get through, I provided the information. Then, I pointed out if they are serious about stopping fraud, they might want to make it less of a challenge to report it. She said that’s the way the hotline is, nothing to be done about it and I mentally threw my arms in the air and gave up.

It turns out it was actually Walmart (who we already paid for Garry’s eye exam), billing Medicare for yet another eye exam with the optometrist’s wife — who he had never heard of and never seen. Another $100 on top of the $110 he already paid to Walmart. Nice little scam, eh?

Apparently no one appreciated my attempt at good citizenship and like Calvera in “The Magnificent Seven,” I realized “Generosity, that was my first mistake.”

I spent nearly 2 hours trying to report a fraud … and no one cares. As far as Medicare is concerned, it is more trouble to track down scams than to just pay them off.

And here we sit, wondering where our money goes.

Wonder no more. I know where it goes.

MAJORITY DOES NOT RULE – RICH PASCHALL

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And the loser is Democracy, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

The majority of eligible American voters did not vote in the 2014 midterm elections.  As a matter of fact, according to the US News & World Report almost two-thirds of the people who could cast ballots chose not to vote.  In this election, as in many midterm elections, the electorate chose not to elect and in the process the balance of power shifted in the Legislative Branch of the US Congress.  Is this the outcome the majority wanted?  Why do so many people refuse to vote when democracy is supposed to be the most important part of our society?

With so many close elections, it is clear that a vote by more than 50 per cent of the people in any given state could have changed the outcome.  In fact surveys show that of non voters the vast majority were Democrats.  Why did they abdicate their authority when so much was at stake?

One of the things that make the rule by the few even more perplexing is the results of the many ballot referendum nationwide versus the candidates who were elected.  Voters in large numbers across many states supported ballot initiatives for what are largely Democratic supported positions.  Those same states, however, turned increasingly to candidates who opposed those issues.  Are we so uneducated that we vote for candidates who do not actually hold our views and who will indeed vote against what we want?

voting polls electionIn no state was the seeming paradox more striking than in Illinois.

The Huffington Post pointed out “The Irony Of Illinois Election Results Is Hard To Ignore.”  The few who voted strongly supported a rise in the minimum wage (as do most voters according to pollsters), yet the champion of minimum wage lost the election to a billionaire businessman who is not only against the raise, but indicated to one audience he did not think we should have a minimum wage.

The ballot referendum that passed in Illinois will find no support with the new governor.

Why were voters turned off by the elections?  Why did the voters who came to the polls vote the way they did?  Attack ads seem to hold the key.  It matters little where you live, you likely saw or heard a glut of attack ads.  This year an estimated 3.67 billion dollars were spent on political ads according to Mother Jones (MJ) website.  The same number is widely reported elsewhere.  The ads seem to work, but why so many?

In Kentucky, for example, Mitch McConnell who is now set to be Senate Majority leader was about as popular as President Obama in February.  In other words, his approval rating was in the tank.  Nevertheless, he won reelection and should move on to a very powerful position.

What happened?  Attack ads happened.  Afraid of losing the senate seat, a power political PAC without the same restrictions as candidates, got behind McConnell and outspent his opponent who was leading in the polls at one time.  The mud-slinging PAC dirtied the Democrat via 12,000 TV ads state-wide. The so-called independent PAC is run by a former McConnell aide according to the MJ website and hauled down money from some powerful people.

In all “outside PACs” spent an estimated $301,000,000 this year, but that’s nothing compared to the total.  We will never know what the real total is because of “Dark Money.”  Politifact.com says there is no way to tell the real amount  spent by organizations who keep their donors anonymous.  They report these groups include “trade associations, unions and nonprofit social welfare organizations like the Koch brothers-founded Americans for Prosperity.”

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Not long ago we ran a “cautionary tale” about two brothers who put together an organization to essentially buy elections and hold power over America by the candidates they supported.  It was a work of fiction, but consider the reality.  It is estimated the Koch brothers together spent 300 million dollars of their fortune on this election alone.  Was it successful?  MJ website credits them with an 85 percent return on investment.  Even at that, why would anyone set out to buy the Senate.  What is in it for them?

The long-delayed Keystone Pipeline may now get approved by a Congress favorable to such a project.

The controversial project could be a windfall for the Koch Brothers.  According to the Huffington Post, they could benefit by 100 billion dollars.  Yes, you read that right.  100 billion!  So, voters, do you feel used?  You non-voters, do you regret passing up the chance to make your voice heard?

We have seen 9 months of continuous job growth. The stock market is close to 10,000 points higher than it was when Obama took office. Inflation is low, powered by a significant drop in gas prices.

Not having to spend so much hauling goods keeps prices down too.  The banking industry was saved, so was one of the America’s largest employers, the auto industry.  Yet we voted against the President and returned to power the Congress the party who was there when the economy tanked.  We will not even go into the war we fought under somewhat questionable reasoning.

Why America?  Why?  We eagerly await your comments below.

CAPITALISM EXPLAINED – FINALLY!

I don’t usually publish stuff I find on Facebook, but there’s an exception to every rule. This made me laugh and I really need a laugh. It didn’t get to me until I got to Canadian Capitalism. Then, I lost it. Happy Election Day!

WARNING: This is a joke. It is not intended to make a serious point. It’s silly and funny. Please, let’s not turn it into a political debate.

capitolism-explained

2014 – ELECTION DAY

Our polling place is at the intersection of “Fair Street” and “Dead End.”

We are a microcosm of this country … but we also different. We’re live in a liberal, highly educated and urbanized state, yet ours is a rural community. We express the characteristics of rural, urban and suburban areas. We are every-man and every-woman while remaining uniquely ourselves.

We vote. Our polls are busy, but lines move briskly. I could vote by absentee ballot, but I enjoy going to the polls. I even like waiting on line.

Last time I voted, Barack Obama was reelected. Two years later, the results of that election are troubling. The U.S.A. is divided along racial lines. The south still votes white, but it’s not just the south. In many regions, white men vote for other white men and their “issues.”

Women and minorities are losing traction. Socially, culturally, we are moving backwards. I thought these issues were settled decades ago, when I was a young woman and I’m appalled to find them back on the table.

How come we are still debating a woman’s right to have an abortion or have free access to birth control? At what point do we finished debating and get on with living? When are women, who are actually a majority in this country, become permanently free to choose what is done to our bodies?

How did religion get in the mix, creep back into the body politic? How did we allow a religious fundamentalist minority to become kingmakers in a country where freedom of religion and separation of church and state are fundamental tenets of our way of life?

How come we are still fighting the Civil War?

How is it possible so many Americas are so ill-informed about their own history they have never heard of the Articles of Confederation? They don’t know how their proposed “fixes” to today’s problems already failed? That their “new proposals” are historical disasters?

When did we become a nation of ignoramuses?

Around here, voting is a different experience than in more populous areas. Massachusetts is as far from a battleground state as you can get. No doubt we have our share of die-hard Republican voters, but we are as “blue” as an electorate can be.

It’s one of the reasons, although I would love a less harsh winter, the political climate suits me well. The idea of moving to a state where racist, anti-gay, and anti-woman attitudes are major political forces makes my stomach heave. The idea of living under the tyranny of fundamentalism makes me ill.

Around here, many incumbents run unopposed. Most are Democrats, but a couple are Republican and a few are unaffiliated. I guess people figure if our representatives are doing their jobs well, there’s no reason to make it into a battle.

At what point will the virulence of partisan politics ebb? When can we remember we are Americans? All of us are Americans regardless of our political affiliation.

If we can’t hang together, we will surely hang separately. History has proved it time and again. Empires fall from dissension within. It can and will happen here unless most of us start to behave like members of one nation.

The frothing at the mouth rage and rhetoric is killing us. Unless we let go of the hate, I don’t see how we can continue to be any kind of nation. Under God or not, we need to be a people, not a bunch of ill-mannered children whacking each other with our shovels in the sandbox.

ELECTION DAY – NOVEMBER 4, 2014

vote today

If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain about the government.

Get off your lazy butt. Go to the polls. Instead of whining about it on Facebook or ranting on your blog, be a citizen. Stand up and be counted. Vote!


We voted. The rest of the world is discussing the pluses and minuses of electronic and online voting, but here in Uxbridge, we have paper ballots. And black ballpoint pens with which to fill them out.

We also have really long referendum items. It took half an hour to just read all that fine print.

Do we want casinos in Massachusetts? And, by the way, how about expanding the greyhound racing so they can abuse even more dogs? (No, we don’t. Casinos do not improve the economy. They just bring in crime and infrastructure expenses.)

Would we like to  have our commonwealth charge us even more for a whole bunch of new things to recycle? Like we don’t pay enough? (No, thank you.)

Would we like the tax on gasoline adjusted based on the cost of living index? (I think so. Probably better than paying and paying and paying forever at the highest possible rate.)

Then there were all those school board people we never heard of. The one or two we knew (one of them is our neighbor) we voted for, the others were left blank. They are all running unopposed and unaffiliated, so asking for our vote is pro forma.

The lines were longer for parts of town where houses are closer together. Yay for living in the middle of nowhere.

The governor’s race should make interesting viewing. It was, last we heard, too close to call. Elections are my favorite contact sport, after clearance sale shopping.

LIPS THAT TOUCH LIQUOR

Once upon a time, Americans had national fit of self-righteousness and decided alcohol was the root of all evil.  To rectify the perceived problem, the nation rose up on its collective hind legs and passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment established a legal prohibition of recreational alcoholic beverages in the United States.

The separate (but closely related)  Volstead Act specified how authorities would actually enforce Prohibition, including the definition of “intoxicating liquor” — for anyone who needed an explanation.

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The folks who needed an explanation were not your average Jill or Joe. Jill and Joe knew how to get drunk just fine, but apparently lawmakers, politicians and gangsters-to-be needed clarification. The gangsters needed to know what they had to do to cash in on this opportunity and the others, how to persecute people in the name of the law. Many beverages were excluded for medical and religious purposes. It was okay to get drunk as long it was accompanied by an appropriate degree of religious fervor. Or you could get a doctor’s note.

That left a lot of room — a barn door-sized hole — through which an entire generation strolled. Many people began drinking during Prohibition who had never imbibed before. Whereas previously, alcoholism had no social cachet, during prohibition it became fashionable. As with most things, making it more difficult, expensive, and illegal made it more desirable and sexy.

Regular folks, society leaders, and criminals all basked in the glow of joyous illegality. A whole criminal class was born as a result of prohibition. If that isn’t clear proof that legislating morality doesn’t work, I don’t know what is. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Whether the issue is booze, drugs, abortion, prayer, same-sex marriage, or term limits … law and morality don’t mix.

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Passing a law limiting how many times you can elect a candidate rather than letting you vote for any candidate you want isn’t going to improve the quality of legislators. You’ll just wind up voting for a bunch of clowns and opportunists who don’t give a rat’s ass about government while dedicated potential candidates won’t bother to run because there’s no future in it. Making drugs illegal, especially marijuana, has created an entire drug culture — exactly the way making booze illegal created an entire criminal class based on rum running.

There are no fewer gay people because we make their lives difficult, any more than segregation made the world safe for stupid white people.

Illegal abortions kill not only fetuses, but their mothers too. You may not approve of abortion, but do you approve of forcing women to risk their lives to not have babies they don’t want? How is that better or more moral?

This kind of knee-jerk “lets solve social issues by making bad laws” causes a lot of pain and suffering. As often as not, you end up legislating your way into a vast sea of exciting new problems you didn’t have before.

Throughout history, laws designed to force everyone to do what someone else deems “right” have failed. Monumentally and spectacularly failed. You’d think citizens and lawmakers alike would notice this recurring theme, but remarkably, we seem unable to connect the dots.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

We haven’t learned anything at all, probably because no one is aware history is repeating itself. Many of our citizens apparently don’t know any history, so how could they?

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcoh...

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol

The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and took effect a year later, on January 17, 1920. Immediately, the demand for liquor increased. Producers, suppliers and transporters were turned into criminals, but drinkers were not prosecuted. What could go wrong with that? The entire justice system — courts, cops and prisons — was buried under a landslide of booze-related busts. Organized crime went from being a minor group to a major social force. Progress?

Having achieved results way beyond the wildest dreams of the amendment’s creators, prohibition was repealed in 1933 via the Twenty-first Amendment, the only time in American history an amendment was repealed.

Every time I hear someone on Facebook declare how we need a constitutional amendment to solve a political or social problem, I contemplate how successfully we got rid of alcohol in 1920.

No one has had a drink since!

The next time someone tells you history is meaningless, tell them without history, they are meaningless. They won’t understand what you mean, but a bit more confusion can’t hurt them. Saying it might make you feel better.

THE END OF THE REPUBLIC – IMPERIUM, ROBERT HARRIS

Cover of "Imperium"

Imperium, by Robert Harris

Random House – Sep 7, 2010

Fiction – 496 pages

It’s déjà vu all over again as we travel back with author Robert Harris to Republican Rome just before it became Imperial Rome. We complain loudly and frequently about government corruption, speculate about conspiracies. Brood darkly on the failure of government to address issues of inequality. Deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell.

Except that government went to Hell a long time ago and you could easily argue that government — all government — was always a bit hellish. Compared to Imperial Rome, our government is a clean machine, clean as driven snow. It’s all a matter of perspective. Republican Rome was in most ways a model for good government, but over the centuries, corruption ate away at it. By the time it became imperial, it was heading into its final days.

Reading history puts the world in which I live into perspective. Whatever problems we face, we — the human family — have faced them before. We survived. It’s important to remember our ability to survive is greater (for the most part) than our ability to screw up.

English: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rom...

Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Roma Italiano: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rome (Photo: Wikipedia)

Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve probably heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, even more famed as an orator, Cicero rose to fame and power during a critical cusp in history as Rome was about to change from republican to imperial. Julius Caesar had just stepped onto the stage of history. It was the beginning of the greatest imperial power the earth had ever seen … and the end of the greatest republic the world ever knew. Perspective.

Marcus Cicero started his journey to power as an outsider from the provinces. His first significant legal case put him head-to-head with the dangerous, cruel and utterly corrupt Gaius Verres, governor of provincial Sicily. Using his stunning oratorical abilities and dogged determination in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making friends — but far more enemies — along the way.

Cicero seeks ultimate power — imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave, Tiro — the inventor of shorthand — is the “author” of this biography of his master. Tiro was at Cicero’s right hand throughout his career, by his side, through triumph and catastrophe. Through his voice the world of ancient Rome is brought to life.

It’s a fascinating story. Pompey and Julius Caesar stride across the stage of this deeply corrupt, depraved, dangerous and strangely familiar society.

Robert Harris is a brilliant story-teller and author of historical fiction. He lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics simultaneously exotically different from and startlingly similar to our own. I read it on Kindle, then listened to the very fine version available from Audible.com. I recommend both most highly.

This is part one of a duology.  The second volume in the American printing is titled Conspirata. In Great Britain the same book is titled Lustrum.

Both books are available on Kindle from Amazon and as a paperback from most sellers.