The Worship of Sports in America

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How The Middle-Class Got Screwed (Video)

A most simplistic explanation of how the economic problems of the middle-class has become an actual threat to their well-being.

Why I'm Not A Democrat...Or A Republican!

There is a whole lot not to like about either of the 2 major political parties.

Whatever Happened To Saturday Morning Cartoons?

Whatever happened to the Saturday morning cartoons we grew up with? A brief look into how they have become a thing of the past.

ADHD, ODD, And Other Assorted Bull****!

A look into the questionable way we as a nation over-diagnose behavioral "afflictions."

Friday, November 27, 2009

It's Good To Be The King...Or Maybe A Congressman: Part 2

Continued Part 1 (

Whenever I think of the level and extent of the various non-compensatory benefits that our Congressional representatives receive—especially in relation to the week-to-week struggles that the rest of us must endure in these lean economic times—I am reminded of a now-famous line from Mel Brooks’ 1981 “History of The World, Part 1.” In one segment of the comedy classic, Brooks portrays King Louis XVI, lampooning the French Monarch’s penchant for personal excesses (such as demanding sexual favors in relations in return for requests from the peasantry) by repeating the phrase, “Its good to be the king” whenever he receives “compensation” for services rendered. So in the contemporary, if a member of the political class can be paid for their “service” with an amount that puts them in the top 10% of wage earners in the country, and receive an additionally valuable compensation such as affordable health insurance and health care while just one of the same is out of reach for 30 million or so of those they represent, what Congressperson wouldn’t be able to say “It’s good to be a Congressman/woman
For many Americans, myself included, we live with a reality that is markedly different from those we vote to represent us in the halls of Congress. For many of us, part of our week-to-week routine includes the difficult choice between paying for medicine or food, or going without basic health care altogether due to its inaffordability (and the ideologically intractable belief that the Free Market will eventually remedy this inequity). To be fair, the members of Congress receive the same health care plan choices that the other approximately 9 million plus federal government employees are offered. The most popular offering from Blue Cross/Blue Shield cost each individual member $175.08 per month, “with the government contributing an additional $363.16. The hypocrisy in this setup is that many of the same members of Congress often assert that if the government were to similarly subsidize health care for you and I, it would be an example “socialism;” apparently a practice that would herald the coming of Satan himself insofar as those who favor the notion that market forces will solve this dilemma (ignoring the fact of course, that if such were possible, in all likelihood it would have already happened). And in much the same way that 3/4ths of the actual cost of health insurance for members of Congress is subsidized by taxpayers, the life insurance options for the lawmakers is also likewise subsidized to the tune of 1/4th of the total cost to the average American.
Additionally, members of Congress don’t see the long lines outside emergency rooms one usually finds in [the] hospitals that dot lesser affluent areas of the country; they receive “free VIP treatment at military hospitals” without the wait. There is also the little known health benefit of on-the-Hill medical treatment by the capital-based Office of the Attending Physician of the United States

For an annual fee of $503, House and Senate members can designate the official congressional physician to be their primary care doctor—meaning they never have to deal with crowded doctor’s offices or be subject to the same type (lack of care) from a doctor as the rest of us (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Lawmakers Get Bounty of Benefits."

Despite this service being purely optional among Congressmen, it is an existing option that many of us common folk can only dream about.

The retirement schemes for members of Congress are even more—if one can believe it—favorable for this elite club of legislators. While many Americans have to face the very real possibility of having to delay retirement due to the plummeting net worth of their various retirement plans in the current crippling recession, members of Congress enjoy a taxpayer-sponsor variation of the corporate “golden parachute” which addresses the problem of post-retirement income for the aged. Like their salaries, Congressional pensions are determined by a combination of time in office, age at retirement, and the current salary of each member at the time they leave (or are voted out of) office. The rates at which these pensions accumulate value are second only to the pension value of the president in terms of generosity. Moreover, for many career members of Congress, the longer they have served the earlier they are able to collect pensions…an option unheard of among the majority of American employees, even within the federal government. According to the National Taxpayers Union, the end result is that, between the generous accrual rates, the eligibility of early retirement collection, and the likelihood that many members will serve multiple terms totally 10-20 years (or longer), today’s members of Congress can collect a million dollars or more in pension security…less than the luckiest corporate CEO, but significantly more than what the average American will make over their active working lifetimes. What’s more, members of Congress do not lose their pensions upon violations of the law, whether they are found guilty of misdemeanors or felonies; they are allowed to even keep the incremental cost of living increases they receive during their retirements (just ask those convicted former Congressmen who have no worries about their retirement futures). So the 1.3% of their salary that members of Congress must pay toward their government pension plans yields far more in bankable returns than the earnings liability it appears to be on the surface. And this pension scheme doesn’t even include earnings that could be collected if members of Congress participate in a separate 401(k)-style savings plan, which allows them to set aside part of their salaries with a 5% government match. If you’re not outraged yet, stay tuned…

To Be Continued…

It's Good To Be The King...Or Maybe A Congressman: Part 1

It’s Black Friday, the shopping debacle that marks the day immediately after Thanksgiving. And unless you’re one of the federal lawmakers we vote into Congress to represent us every 2-to-4 years, you’re probably one among the besieged masses of this current economic climate struggling to not only find the money to even buy your loved ones a present, but to—at the same time—maintain the necessities of a marginally decent livelihood. But if you are a member of Congress, these are great times. Despite being the authorities who determine how much we as citizens are to contribute in taxes, the amount to be appropriated to operate the government from year-to-year, and whether or not the rest of us are to even have access to affordable health care, the members of Congress not only don’t have such concerns, but enjoy a level of benefits above and beyond what can reasonably be attributed as fair compensation for their “service.” What’s more, the plethora of perks that permeate almost every part of Congressional lawmakers’ professional lives seems to create an atmosphere of entitlement thinking in and around Washington D.C., which translates into a double-standard between this “political class” and the rest of us serfs.
Although the idea behind my criticisms of Congressional perks has been in the back of my mind for some time, yesterday’s article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (“Lawmakers Get Bounty of Benefits." provided me with the motivation to chronicle this long overdue revelation. In the article, reporter Bob Keefe highlights among other things the basic salaries of Congressional lawmakers, which start $174,000 for “rank-and-file House and Senate members,” and puts them firmly among the top 10% of income-earners in America. In and of itself, this is not an unreasonable amount of compensation. However, considering the fact that many members of Congress are quick to label their positions as “public service” and that 237 members of Congress are already millionaires, this level of compensation amounts to one among many perks that lawmakers enjoy beyond their duties. And for higher-ranking members of Congress the financial perks even sweeter; the majority and minority leaders of the House of Representatives receive about $193,000 annually, with the speaker earning even more. Additionally, members of Congress can and do vote themselves pay raises, even though the majority of Americans have become victimized by stagnant wages during the last decade. Sadly, although money seems to be at the root of most perks, it is hardly the only one.

To Be Continued…

Monday, November 23, 2009

Death & Taxes...OK, Just Death Then.

So I’m watching CBS’s 60 Minutes last night, and right off the bat, the very first story catches my attention; “The Cost of Dying.”
The piece was about how the average American is willing to incur tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical fees and costs in the hope that medical science can (vainly) stem the one immutable universal fact of existence—eventual death—despite being irreparably ill in many of the cases. On last night’s broadcast, the producers focused on the cases of two older individuals who were suffering from different but mutually advanced medical conditions that required extensive hospitalization. That in turn, consisted of constant and virtual round-the-clock attention, which was apparent by the array of monitors, ventilators, and a host of other medical machinery the individuals were connected to. The conclusion is that, in addition to the high financial costs, many Americans are willing to pay for a few precious weeks or months of life by trading quality of life for a marginal existence. The subject got me to thinking about the issue of end-of-life care in America from different perspectives.

First, as someone who is a stern advocate for affordable universal health care, I realized that every American has not only a stake in such an endeavor, but a responsibility as well. Our demand for good health—despite our unhealthy and overindulgent lifestyles—contributes to the high cost of health care, which in turn contributes to the prohibitive costs of health insurance for those who simply cannot afford it. For some insane reason, we tend to ignore the fact that what we eat, our vices, and the stressors we allow to creep into our lives is how we ultimately end up like the individuals showcased on last night’s 60 Minutes piece…straining for a few more moments of life in spite of the cancers, cardiovascular, and other lifestyle-related diseases we inflict on ourselves. It’s somewhat analogous to another aspect of our paradoxical obsession with maintaining our health in the face of counter-productive behavior; we are too quick to go to the hospital for every little sniffle, sneeze, and paper-cut, over-medicating ourselves despite knowing that what will be will be. In order to make insurance affordable, we have to put an end to unnecessary procedures, medicines, and paranoid-inspired office/hospital visits; that includes wasting time with questionable practices such as putting frail 90-year-olds on transplant lists, which leads to a second observation.
We Americans need to change our perspectives on the end of life. As I watched last night’s piece, I became somewhat annoyed at the fact that the individuals who were fighting to vainly prolong their lives knew that they had only a couple months left under the best of circumstances, and that all of the medical personnel, monetary, and other resources were essentially being wasted. We need to understand that death is a natural progression of the natural order; we all die, it’s just that simple. Obviously I’m not saying that we should just walk freely into the night simply because it’s out ultimate destiny.