July 2009 Archives
The second shared characteristic driving prices upward is that the federal government has intervened in a big way to make "access" more universal. The feds' ham-handed, one-size-fits-all approach has caused massive cost-shifting, from people who cannot afford it to people who can. For instance, Medicaid and Medicare were supposed to cure insurance problems for the poor and elderly, but have simply led to driving up everybody else's costs. The rate of reimbursement to doctors for these two programs is far below what they normally receive from other patients and has led doctors and hospitals to pass these losses onto the rest of us. This, in turn, gets passed onto the insurance companies, who raise rates, making insurance more expensive, which leads to fewer people being covered, and causes the federal government to step in and fix the problem. The problem they had a huge hand in causing. The problem they have no clue on how to fix.
"The Price is Right" was in reruns this week, so my TV was on the Senate hearings on Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. I must say that I found it a sad spectacle indeed.
Given that her confirmation is all but a foregone conclusion, I was left wondering how each of the 300 Senators on the committee would occupy their allotted 30 minutes asking her questions. I thought that maybe the first couple would get all the good ones out of the way early, and the second half would speed right along with the later questioners just saying "Uh, I was going to ask a question, but someone already did, so, uh, I yield." Boy, was I wrong.
It was only after the first couple of Senators posed their questions that I realized that they did not ask any questions. Like I said, Sotomayor's confirmation is a done deal, so why would you, as a Senator, waste an opportunity to talk for a whole half hour uninterrupted? You wouldn't because you a narcisistic attention whore.
If I were a US Senator, my line of questioning would go something like this:
Chairman of the Committee: We now yield to Senator Fat Kid, from the great state of Arizona.
Sen Fat Kid: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you Judge Sotomayor. Judge, I would like to ask you a few questions....
Judge Sotomayor: OK, Senator
Sen Fat Kid: First of all, how does my hair look? I mean, I hear that the TV can add, like, 10 or 15 pounds. I already have kind of a squash-shaped head, and I just want to know how it looks from your angle. Do I look like a freak?
Judge Sotomayor: Ummmm, what?
Sen. Fat Kid: Judge, I would like to get into some of your opinions, if I could. Specifically on the justice system. First of all, who is lamer: Aquaman or the Wonder Twins?
Judge Sotomayor: Excuse me?
Sen. Fat Kid: I mean, the Wonder Twins had really lame costumes, but most superheroes do, so you can't hold that against them. But when they activated their powers, one would always be something completely weird and helpless, like a roll of duct tape or a glass of water or a lava lamp. And the other would be forced to take the shape of an eagle or of a bulldozer, and have to lug the other (useless) one around. But they did have a monkey, so they have that going for them. But Aquaman, he lived under the ocean. What sorts of crimes ever occur at 10,000 feet below the sea? I'll tell you: none! (*pounds fist on desk*) And Aquaman didn't actually do anything! He just summoned creatures from the deep and had them do all his crime fighting. What kind of "superhero" is that?
Judge Sotomayor: Umm.....
Sen. Fat Kid: I'll tell you what kind: A lame one! (*pounds fist on desk, smiles and poses for cameras*) Now, moving on to your views on freedom of speech.....Does the Congress have the authority under the First Amendment to declare the mullet to be the official hair style of weird dudes who drive Camaros?
Judge Sotomayor: Huh?
Sen. fat Kid: Now, don't play coy with me, Judge. It's a simple question: Can the US Congress codify into law something that we all know to be true - that weird, creepy guys with 'staches and tank tops all drive Camaros and wear mullets? Yes or no?
Judge Sotomayor: What's a mullet?
Sen. Fat Kid: Well played. Finally, one last question. Should the federal government officially recognize David Lee Roth to be the legitimate and true lead singer of Van Halen? Can we simply refuse to establish relations with the Sammy Hagar era and (heaven help us) the Gary Charon fiasco? The American People have a right to know who is going into the studio and out on tour when Van Halen hits the road this summer, do they not Judge Sotomayor?
Judge Sotomayor: Are you mental?
Sen. Fat Kid: Yes. I am. I am mental.....like a fox.
Judge Sotomayor: I think you're mixing your.....
Sen. Fat Kid: I have another one last question, since it seems that I haven't used up all 30 minutes in front of the cameras. Now, you have taken a lot of heat over your comment that a wise Latina judge would come to better decisions than a white male judge. Now, this may surprise you, but I see where you were going with this. I see this very thing all the time.
Judge Sotomayor: You do?
Sen. Fat Kid: Yes! Paula Abdul always makes much more sense than Simon does. He is completely clueless, but she is almost always more empathetic with the contestants. But I still prefer Randy to the others, especially that new fourth judge. She's just a tart I mean she thinks she's such a great singer and all......
Judge Sotomayor: That's not what I meant......
Sen. Fat Kid: But here is where you fail, judge: Paula Abdul is not - contrary to what you have written - a wise Latina because she is not.....wait for it......Latina! Her father was Syrian and her mother Brazilian. So, your theory is completely wrong, and, therefore, I find you unfit to sit on the Supreme Court. Court is adjourned. Bailiff, take her to the holding cell to await processing.
Chairman of the Committee: Senator Fat Kid, you are out of order.
Sen. Fat Kid: I'm out of order?! You're out of order!! The whole system's out of order!!!
Chairmain of the Committee: Somebody please cut the Senator's microphone.
Sen. Fat Kid: You want the truth?! You can't handle the truth!!
The federal government wants kids to know one thing: Smoking is bad. Evil. The worst thing you could possibly do to yourself and others. Second hand smoke kills. It's probably contributing to Global Warming and putting a huge hole in the ozone layer right over your head. Smoking is so evil and so yucky and so dirty that some anti-smoking advocates have called for an automatic R-rating for any movie that features characters smoking. "Tobacco" is the new Hollywood T-word.
Bottom line: smoking kills. The federal government is doing everything in its power to eliminate it and to keep kids from trying it.
Unless, that is, we are talking about smoking marijuana. Then, the opposite is true. The federal government is starting to take a hands-off approach with states who are seeking to decriminalize the Wacky Weed. Many states have reclassified possession of small amounts of marijuana from criminal offenses to civil offenses, which garner only a ticket and fine rather than jail time. Some have even gone so far as to seek full blown legalization, touting its "medicinal benefits." Oregon has a Medical Marijuana Law which allows patients and caregivers to possess up to 24 ounces of the stuff.
Clearly, marijuana is becoming more mainstream while tobacco is becoming marginalized.
It is not too hard to imagine this conversation between a mother and father occurring in the not too distant future:
Mother: Billy's school called today. He was caught smoking in the bathroom
Father: Oh no!
Mother: It's OK. It was only marijuana.
Father: Thank God!
Just for the record, I have never smoked either tobacco or marijuana. Very few of my friends did it when I was growing up, and those who did were usually burnouts and losers, so the appeal just wasn't there. So, when I say that I think marijuana should be legalized it's not because I am just dying to light up without worrying about the Five-0 knocking down my door. But it doesn't make sense to me to put casual users into the criminal justice system, which should be dealing with hardened criminals. Pot smokers aren't hurting anybody but themselves with their habits, and they want to be stupid and fry their brains, who are we to stop them?
But, at the same time, the same thing should be said of tobacco smokers. Smokers have been hit with repeated hikes in cigarette taxes, meant to punish them for lighting up. So-called "sin taxes" aimed at tobacco are the easiest taxes to enact because of the way that smoking has been demonized. The common rationale that is always trotted out is that the effects of smoking have huge affects on the health care industry and cost the state lots of money, so smokers should pay extra. The cost estimates associated with smoking vary widely and are little better than made up numbers. But whatever the costs, it is ridiculous to single out smoking as the sole cause of this added cost. Obesity is more widespread than smoking. So is a sedentary lifestyle. These also put added stress on our health care system, yet fat, lazy people are not being forced to cough up more money to pay. Unless, of course, they also smoke. And only if they smoke tobacco. If they are fat, lazy, and smoke pot, they're good.
The government needs to get out of the business of telling people how to live. Let people be free to be stupid if they so choose.
You don't have to spend very much time with me to figure out that I am a ginormous football fan. NFL, college, high school, flag, two hand touch, X-Box football....it doesn't matter. If there's a pigskin and an end zone, I am into it. The game of football has everything you could want in a sport - intense competition, controlled violence, a cast of colorful characters, and the possibility of a game-changing play every single down.
Football players come in all shapes and sizes - from the scrawny (sometimes chubby) place kickers to the behemoth offensive and defensive linemen. It is these linemen who control the game by controlling the line of scrimmage. Weighing in at over 300 pounds each, these guys work harder than anyone else on the field - and they can't take a single play off. While a quarterback drops back to pass only half the time he takes the snap, and a workhorse running back can expect to get the ball only 25 times a game, the linemen scrap and claw roughly 70 plays a game, with equal intensity on each play.
You can imagine that with all these large men pushing, pulling, rolling, and gouging in a large mass, people can get hurt. The most common injury to linemen is the knee injury. From sprains to tears, the knees are used and abused and damaged. To help prevent catastrophe, many guys on the line will wear knee braces. The knee brace is a barely flexible, mostly rigid appliance that fits over the knee and prevents side to side movement. The brace helps to stabilize the joint, keeping it from being forced into the unnatural positions that lead to injury. After injury, the knee brace can also allow a player to return to the field earlier, as it provides support to the ligaments and tendons. But a large proportion of linemen do not wear them, as many have played for years without them and see them as limiting to their movements, hindering their play. The rigidness of the appliance has also led many to complain that it slows them down, especially when making cuts from side to side. However, given the number of players, the violence of the game, the number of plays each game, and the number of games played each year, there are remarkably few season- or career-ending knee injuries each season.
This, however, has not prevented the National Football League from imposing sweeping new rules, with the goal of there being no knee injuries to linemen whatsoever. Under the new guidelines, all players of every position must wear knee braces at all times. Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, quarterbacks, wide receivers, kickers, line backer, running backs, etc. It doesn't matter what position you play, what protective gear you already have invested in, or what you injury history or risk are. The NFL is mandating braces for all. But it is not stopping there. The League is providing all the players with braces and prohibiting players from wearing any other type. And it goes even further. The NFL leveraged their buying power to get a great deal on the knee braces, but the catch is that they could only buy one size. So, everybody - from the 150 pound place kicker whose name you can't pronounce to the 325 pound center - will be forced to wear the same sized gear. Players can be fined for either not wearing their league-issued knee braces or for wearing one of their own choosing.
You can imagine that this has caused something of an uproar. Many players are perfectly happy with their current set of protective gear, and believe that being forced to wear the league-provided stuff will actually put them at greater risk for injury. For them, this "one size fits all" (even if it really doesn't fit anybody) approach is harmful rather than helpful. Besides the increased risk of injury, they argue, it slows them down and prevents them from playing at their highest level, which, in turn costs them money. These players ask these simple questions: If the goal is to prevent knee injuries to linemen, why does the whole system for everybody need to be changed? Why force players to give up their chosen protective gear and wear something that does not fit them, does not help them, and may actually harm them?
If you are wondering why you have not heard of this rule change before, it's because I just made it up. The NFL is not considering forcing everybody to wear knee braces in order to prevent knee injuries to linemen. But people in this country are advocating something just as sweeping, just as revolutionary and destructive, and just as foolish: universal health care. It makes just as much sense to force everybody into the same sub-standard health care scheme as it does to make every player in the NFL wear the same sized pads. The truth is that the vast majority of people have health coverage, and most of them are content with the coverage they have. I can't for the life of me understand why people would like for the federal government to take away those people's insurance coverage and replace it with a single payer system in order to provide health insurance for those who currently don't have it.