Monthly Archives: March 2011

Today’s Five Things That Are Making Me Crazy – I

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It’s all getting out of hand.

1.       Congress has taken leave of its senses and is considering making rape victims who seek abortions answerable to the IRS. I mean actually go in and tell them what happened, re-live the whole experience—and let little government bureaucrats decide whether or not it’s really a rape and an abortion is justifiable. But the Right (the inventors of the lie about a single-payer healthcare system resulting in “death panels”) says it wants smaller government. I think they want smaller government when it comes to letting them do whatever they want, especially where giving allowances to stupidly wealthy corporations in which they have a vested interest is concerned or keeping the tax breaks for the rich, but they want bigger government when it comes to controlling the masses.

2.       One example of another attempt to break up “evil big government” is to deregulate Monsanto’s genetically altered Round-up Ready Alfalfa (or whatever the hell it is) so it can be fed to cattle and end up in our diets. They say it’s not dangerous…Do you believe them? I don’t believe anything that comes out of their mouths anymore! Watch the documentary film “Food, Inc.” and you’ll never eat again. Haven’t you seen little seven-year-old girls with mature breasts from drinking milk from hormone-saturated cows? I have! It’s freaky! But if you want to buy natural food, food that hasn’t been processed to death, food that isn’t loaded with chemicals and hormones—you have to be rich! I can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods! I have to eat plastic food from regular grocery stores!

3.       Not only is our government divorced from reality on the whole economic front and the high unemployment issue (which they’re just ignoring!), but they want to deregulate any kind of safety measures currently in effect for workplaces! I watched this film called “The Race to the Bottom”, a short but extremely effective piece that I saw on Truthout. There was a fire in Bangladesh that killed over 20 people, very similar to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 that killed over 146 factory workers. Like the 125 women and 21 men that died 100 years ago in the Triangle fire, the people in the fire that occurred in Bangladesh couldn’t get out of the building because the main exit was engulfed in smoke and flames; the other exit was locked so they wouldn’t steal any of the clothes they made. They jumped out the windows from the 11th floor—just like the girls in the Triangle Factory. This just happened in December 2010. The factory they worked for makes the clothes you spend a fortune on at Gap.

4.       The workers in Bangladesh demonstrated for a raise in wages—to $0.35 an hour. Gap wouldn’t give it to them! Walmart won’t give it to them! A raise in those people’s wages would be “an impediment to free trade.” The film “Race to the Bottom” tells how the wage paid to the women of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory 100 years ago translates to a little over $3.00 an hour today. Those people in 2010 Bangladesh were beaten by the police for asking to be paid $0.35 an hour in today’s dollars! And Walmart and Gap said “No”. Now here in the good old USA, we have how many governors attempting to wipe out collective bargaining rights? It just makes me want to walk up to these guys, look them square in the eye—and kick them in the balls so hard they sound like Mickey Mouse for the rest of their sad little lives!

5.       What is with Obama? Whose side is he on? I liked the big push for the health care thing, but since Obama didn’t push hard enough, the people got shortchanged while the insurance companies won! You say “Single-payer system”, they say “Socialist pig! Burn the witch!” And ironically it’s the consumers that need their insurance that get burned. I liked that Obama hired Elizabeth Warren to start that commission to protect consumers; but he’s letting her get walked all over by the banks! She’s a smart lady with a lot of integrity—and they’re trying to eat her alive! It’s kind of like Obama throws a punch at the Right—and ends up shaking hands with them and making deals! He wants to build more nuclear plants in the US—using Toshiba, the company that brought threats of nuclear meltdowns in Japan and toxic fallout to our own West Coast! What is Obama thinking?

Oh, that’s not everything, but I better save some so I don’t explode tomorrow…

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Japan’s Nuclear Reactors…Coming to Your Backyard Soon!

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They’re talking about Japan’s nuclear reactors on Bill Maher this evening, and someone made the observation that the reactors were defective when they were built, people knew about it and hid it…How could this happen, and why is Obama so tepid about the whole thing?

Hm.

Well, a couple of days ago I read an article on truthout.org about this very subject. Obama is a big fan of nuclear energy. (Come to find out, there’s a very large nuclear energy company called Exelon in Illinois, Obama’s home state. David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel both had business ties to Exelon.) This article mentioned something about Toshiba-GE being signed to come over here and build some nuclear reactors, starting on the Gulf coast in Texas.

Is that how Obama plans to create jobs?

I’m sure the Gulf coast is thrilled. They haven’t had enough problems, what with their entire coast enveloped in oil. How’s that cleanup going, by the way? Anyone heard anything lately, or did BP and Big Brother successfully manage to black out all the news?

But then again, it’s Texas…they like oil wells and nuclear plants.

For the first time this evening, I heard the term “fracking”, also on Bill Maher. I googled it and found out that fracking is drilling into the ground and injecting water and chemicals into the holes to release natural gas, a cheap and easy way to harvest natural gas—and pollute the ground water, destroy the environment—oh, and cause earthquakes! The places they’re fracking in, or want to frack in? New York, New Jersey, the Delaware basin, Pennsylvania; I’m sure they’ll venture even further west and eventually start fracking around the New Madrid fault. Oh…yeah, there’s a great big, long fault line running right up through the Midwest…right up to Illinois, in fact, the headquarters of Exelon.

My WHAT hurts?

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I’m getting another cyst on my spine. I feel it when I first get up in the morning and it takes a while to straighten up. The pain starts in my lower back, crawls down my leg and curls around the outside of my foot. In another few months, the pain will be paralyzing and I won’t be able to straighten up at all, or walk easily. If you’ve ever wondered about the term “exquisite pain”, I’m very familiar with it.

I live on Long Island. The last couple of times I had an orthopedic problem—rotator cuff repair in 2005 and surgery to remove a spinal cyst in 2009—I went to a place I’ll call We Want Your Dough Orthopedic Group, located all over the place on the south shore. And I do mean all over the place. They have their own physical therapy facilities, diagnostic centers, and, of course, doctors’ offices, with a large staff of physicians and surgeons. I went to them in early 2005 because they were so convenient, and because my shoulder was so sore I could barely lift my arm. The waiting rooms of any and all of their facilities are constantly packed, zoo-like, cacophonous with hoards of people in pain and their extended families, waiting to see a doctor…and waiting and waiting and waiting. The staff, who make the appointments and man the desk, are annoying, disorganized and ignorant. I figured WWYD Orthopedic Group were keeping their overhead down by hiring underpaid dopes to handle the administrative part of their large and humming business.

When I finally got to see one of the doctors—I’ll call him “Dr. A”—an X-ray revealed a bone spur on my shoulder. Dr. A said, “We’ll send you to physical therapy.” I said, “How will physical therapy take care of a bone spur? It’s a bone spur. It has to be removed surgically.” He assured me that he didn’t like to do any invasive surgery unless it was absolutely necessary; after all, the rotator cuff wasn’t torn…yet. Wasn’t Dr. A a fine and ethical physician!

So, for a few months, I went to bi-weekly physical therapy sessions, which seemed to help…sort of. After the physical therapy ended, I went about my life for a while until the pain came back with a vengeance. By this time, my arm was considerably weaker and the shoulder was screaming with pain. A second X-ray showed that the rotator cuff was now officially torn, thanks to the bone spur (and I would bet all the gardening and weed-pulling I was doing at the time really helped do the trick.) So, now surgery was definitely needed, followed by months of physical therapy, because as everyone knows, rotator cuff repair is a real bitch.

Except that WWYD Orthopedic Group had never dealt with me. I tend to heal very quickly, so after only 6 weeks of physical therapy, I was 100% fine. Even my son, who once worked as an insurance adjuster said that it usually takes several months for someone to recuperate from a rotator cuff repair. While the doctors and physical therapists were all impressed with my speedy recovery, I’m sure they were also disappointed that they couldn’t wring more out of my insurance company. The way I saw it, they already got their fair share of income from physical therapy, with the time I put in before the surgery, which obviously didn’t do anything except possibly forestall surgery until the condition was considerably worse. That way they could expect to receive a much larger income for the physical therapy, because, assuming I took the usual six months to recuperate, rather than six weeks, they had expected to make oodles of dough! Oh, well.

Fast forward to 2009 when I started getting lower back pain for no apparent reason. Hot baths and Epsom salts didn’t help; soon the pain began shooting down my leg. I knew what that was; my sister had had sciatica years ago. So, back to Dr. A at WWYD Orthopedic Group, since I was familiar with him and he’d helped with my shoulder…eventually. Dr. A had me X-rayed in the office that day, and upon reading the films, said that he could tell I was in pain because my spine was very straight and tense. Thank you for verifying that my pain was real. He asked if there was any numbness in my leg; well, not really numbness, I told him, but the outside of my leg felt as if it were tingling. He prescribed physical therapy. Of course.

Once again, back to bi-weekly physical therapy sessions, electric stimulation and ice packs, stretching exercises. Some days I thought it was really helping; others weren’t so pleasant. It was starting to feel like I had a steel rod going down my leg that pinched and cramped all the time. My foot felt like a rag doll appendage. Several weeks after starting the physical therapy, I noticed that the tingly feeling on the outside of my leg was gone; now it was just numb. If I touched it, all I felt was pressure. I mentioned this to the physical therapist and he said, “Uh, that’s not supposed to happen. You’d better call your doctor.”

When I went to see Dr. A again, he was very quick to say, “You never mentioned numbness.” I replied, “No, I didn’t, but I did say there was a tingling sensation—which I don’t think of as numbness.” He pretended not to hear me and then told me to make an appointment for an MRI, which I did immediately. The pain was starting to gather and assault me to the point where I took several days off from work because I couldn’t drive. My cats studied me in wonder as I got slowly up from the couch to feed them, freezing for minutes on end while the pain coursed from my lower back down my leg and I could only stand there gasping. I wondered if I collapsed and couldn’t move at all, would the big cat—the one who thought he was my owner—start to chow down on me after a day or two of not getting his Fancy Feast?

I had the MRI on a Saturday morning. Monday I heard nothing, so I figured they hadn’t yet gotten the results. Tuesday I called and left a message that I was waiting for my results. No one called back. Wednesday I called back; Dr. A was unavailable and hadn’t seen the MRI yet; no, they didn’t know where he was, and they couldn’t reach him; I would have to wait. Meanwhile, I went to work when I could and hobbled around like Quasimodo. I called WWYD every day, and they started getting annoyed. No, Dr. A wasn’t available, he was helping to set up a new facility in Bohemia. When I called out there, he wasn’t around and they couldn’t reach him. I called his regular office again; wasn’t there someone who could help me, another doctor filling in for Dr. A in his absence? No. I was in mounting pain and could barely move, what could I do? “Do what the doctor told you to do.” He didn’t tell me anything; he ordered an MRI and I still hadn’t heard the results and it was over a week! “Sorry, can’t help you.”

When the AWOL Dr. A finally came back to this planet from whatever vacation he was on, he finally called back and informed me that there was a cyst on my spine. He would have to hand me over to one of his colleagues, Dr. B, since Dr. A didn’t do spinal surgery. I would have to make an appointment to see Dr. B. He talked fast and didn’t give me a word in edgewise; I was sure there was a line of patients waiting for him, pitchforks in hand. I never even had a chance to beg for something to alleviate the pain! I immediately called Dr. B and made an appointment for the next day.

The next day I eagerly went to see Dr. B and he showed me the MRI. There was the cyst, squashing my sciatic nerve flat; if it wasn’t removed ASAP, the nerve would die and good luck trying to walk.

I liked Dr. B almost immediately, especially when he told me that the pain would end instantly with the surgery, and there would be no need for physical therapy afterward. I wondered if the heads of that medical corporation money mill would approve of his telling me that, but I didn’t say anything. I was thankful I’d finally gotten a doctor who wasn’t going to use me to make his boat payment, and he instantly earned my respect. And God bless him, he prescribed pain medication for the interim between that day and the day of surgery.

Dr. B was right; the pain in my leg was totally gone after the surgery, and the only discomfort left was from the surgery itself. I was back at work a week later. Doctor B said, “Most people take at least two weeks off after this kind of thing; you’re amazing!” Yeah, and I was also looking at the fact that if you’re out of work on medical leave for more than five days at my company, they automatically put you on disability. New York State “generously” doles out a little over $100 a week as your “benefit” when you’re disabled. How ironic; NYS’s ridiculous idea of financial assistance for disability is a disability in itself! It might buy you groceries, but where do you live? And forget gassing up your car!

Now that I feel another cyst growing on the other side, having been through this before, I can plan ahead. Unfortunately, Dr. B at WWYD who removed the first cyst no longer accepts my insurance; therefore, I will have to see someone else. It won’t be at WWYD Orthopedic Group; I refuse to go back there and have some other doctor, who does take my insurance and has dollar signs in his eyes send me back to physical therapy twice a week for something that has to be addressed surgically, just so they can line their pockets and keep driving those expensive cars with their vanity plates. That first time I went to see Dr. B, his office was at a facility I’d never been to before. In searching for a way into the building, I ended up wandering into the underground parking area where all the spaces are reserved for doctors. All the cars were incredibly high-end, of course, with vanity plates. There’s an elevator right into the building from the parking area so the doctors aren’t inconvenienced. (The patients have to park across the street in a metered lot and hope they can hobble across the street fast enough to avoid speeding SUVs driven by Long Island princess-housewives talking on their cell phones while driving, trying to beat everyone else to a convenient  parking spot so they’re not late for their nail appointments.)

In the exclusively-physicians underground parking area, I saw the vehicle belonging to Dr. A, the first doctor, the absentee doctor; it was a brand new Porsche. I knew it was his because the vanity plates had his name on them. A Porsche, eh? I smiled as I fantasized about letting my key drag down the passenger side, leaving a nice jagged silver scar on the shiny red paint, and maybe kicking in his tail lights for good measure. But I didn’t; I didn’t have time to appear on the 11:00 news and be prosecuted for vandalism. Anyway, I didn’t want to hurt myself trying to kick anything; too bad I hadn’t been using a cane. Hey, if you’re an orthopedic surgeon working at a medical conglomerate, you have to expect a patient might stumble into your car and accidentally mar the glimmering new finish with the metal handle of her cane! It was hard getting up! Scratch! Scratch! Dent! Geez, I hope your insurance company understands! Hope they don’t raise your rates!

Okay, so if I’m never going back to WWYD, why bother to bring them up now, two years later, aside from the fact that a cyst is now growing on the other side and I have to have it taken care of? What brought them so vividly to mind was the bill I received from them just last week, $980.00, from the surgery two years ago, for a doctor I’ve never heard of. He wasn’t Dr. A—who would have had no business charging me for anything having to do with that surgery—and it wasn’t Dr. B, who was the surgeon. It turned out to be Dr. B’s assistant “surgeon”, who wasn’t a surgeon at the time, but an LPN; I vaguely remember a young intern roaming in and out of the room during office visits, and I think he might have taken my blood pressure. I called my insurance company; they had requested identification of this doctor almost two years before when they first received the claim, because he wasn’t in their records. WWYD had sent in the claim multiple times, and each time it was denied because…the paperwork was incomplete! See what I mean about their administrative staff? They finally got it together a month ago—a month ago!—and this particular doctor—isn’t in their plan! So, WWYD billed me. When I received a second bill (only a week after the first), I called the insurance company back and they were nice enough to say that they were going to reconsider paying the guy, since at the time of surgery I had gone in network with the doctor and the hospital, etc.

But the real kicker is that I called another spinal surgery place that my GP recommended, and they turned out to be out-of-network. However, they told me that if I choose to go to them, my entire out-of-pocket cost would be $700, and they would accept whatever my plan paid them. But my former in-plan doctors want to charge me $980!

Life is just so full of ironies!

Dump Your TBTF Bank

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What if everyone stopped using the big banks?

Back in 1977 when I’d just graduated from college, the first job I got with my brand spanking new English degree was…a bank teller. My salary was something like $600 or $700 a month. I don’t know what they pay tellers now, but back then it was a decent wage. Crazy, eh?

I remember the people in upper management being very impressed with me and offering to send me to school so I could make a career in the banking industry. The thought of working in a bank was so far from what I envisioned for myself that I thanked them and turned them down. In those days, banking wasn’t anything like glamorous, and it certainly didn’t have anything to do with writing or creativity—which was what I had in mind for myself in deciding a career. Banking then was boring, boring, boring.

Looking back and seeing how monstrously powerful the banks have become, I see that there was actually much more room for creativity than I’d ever dreamed possible. Look at the creative things the financial industry has come up with: sub-prime mortgages; hedge funds; mortgage-backed securities; derivatives. There have been some busy little minds romping around the once oh-so-boring financial and banking industries! And those once modest salaries and bonuses (hey, I got a frozen turkey for my Christmas bonus in 1977!) have grown phenomenally, in leaps and bounds!

I remember in the 90’s how banks seemed to be merging and changing hands and sprouting like cancer cells, and it didn’t make them more efficient or more customer-friendly. It seemed as if the bigger they got, and the more they changed hands, the less efficient they became. Say you had a line of credit with a bank, with an interest rate of 4 points over prime. Your monthly statement arrived at the same time, you could figure out the interest rate on Excel (or Lotus, which was the big spreadsheet at the time) and you knew exactly what your payments should be and how many you’d have to make before the balance was zero. You made your payments on the same day every month and you knew exactly where you stood. Then some larger, more prosperous bank came along and took them over. Suddenly, your statements looked different, your interest rate went up, you couldn’t figure out how the hell they were calculating it, and they seemed to be withholding the posting of your payments until the very last moment, so they could get as much interest as possible. Sometimes you’d get a notice that you hadn’t paid, when you had, and it would require yelling at people on the phone, sending them copies of canceled checks, having them tell you it was all straightened out, and then it would happen again.

Or consider the banks that raised your credit limit so you could roll over balances and pay a nominal interest rate for a period of time before the real rate hit. And a couple of months after that, they would send you a nice letter stating that you had too much debt sitting out there, so they had to raise your interest rate even more. And let’s not forget how they urge you to get insurance on your account in case you get sick or die; you don’t want your credit to just die out altogether, or leave the debt in the hands of your poor, mourning family!

Here is one thing I learned after finding myself in debt to the banks to the tune of $50K: Don’t buy their insurance, for one thing. If you get sick and can’t work, you call them up and make a deal. When my elderly mother ran up a $14K credit card debt and forgot to make a payment (she was 87), they harassed her and threatened her until my brother-in-law called them up, told them what idiots they were to force their credit card on a senior citizen with aging faculties, and explained to them that they could recover ten cents on the dollar or nothing at all; which would they prefer? They took the ten cents on the dollar. And if you die, well, you don’t have to worry about paying anyone anymore, and your family doesn’t have to pay them. The banks might try to get something out of your estate, but if there aren’t enough assets, it’s called “write it off as a bad debt, bank boys”.

When I had my money in Bank of New York and needed a new car, I called them about a loan. They didn’t even let me finish the sentence: 11%, that’s the rate, period. So, I contacted a local credit union that was affiliated with my employer. They said that they were now open to anyone who “lived, worked or worshipped” on Long Island, so you didn’t have to work for an affiliate company anymore. If there wasn’t a convenient branch near your home or office, you could bank at any other credit union on the island and it would be free; the money would go to your account regardless of which credit union you went to. They had ATMs at every Walgreen’s drugstore and free use of the Citibank ATMs at all the 7-Elevens. How did you join? Open up a savings account with $5 (that’s five dollars) and you were a member. Their car loans were 6%. I ran right over there and joined; it took less than 24 hours to qualify me for a car loan and get me a check. And there was no penalty for an early loan payoff.

When Citibank bought Bank of New York right around the same time, I closed my account there. They couldn’t understand why: “But it’s all the same people who will be working here!” Yes, but you’re now owned by Citibank. Sorry, can’t do business with you anymore. (Citibank was the biggest whiner when I did my debt reduction program to wipe out the $50K credit card debt they helped create. It took me six- or seven years, but I did it. They got 100% of their principle, just not the juice rate interest they thought they were entitled to.) I moved everything to the credit union, where I now have checking, savings and money market accounts. When I paid off my car early, true to their word, there was no penalty.

The difference between a credit union and a bank is that credit unions have a vested interest in the community where they operate. They give personal service, their interest rates are lower, and they’re not too big to fail, so they care.

So, what if everyone decided that investing in their own community was a better idea than lining the pockets of bankers, who have already proved that their interests lie with their organizations’ ratings on the stock exchange and their own bank accounts rather than in the communities where they do business? What if everyone in the whole country just said, “You know what? We bailed you out. You foreclosed on our houses and jacked us around a hundred different ways. You’re just itching to find new ways to pick our pockets, and what’s your big gripe against regulation if you’re so honest? Thanks, but I’ll just take my money–ALL of my money–and put it into this nice little community credit union over here, where you can’t touch it. Go cry to your friends on Capitol Hill. I’m just not interested in hearing your sad little story. Go away; you’re bothering me.” Wouldn’t that be fun to watch?