Monday, September 18, 2017

CLICK


I was talking politics with a right-wing friend recently when we got onto the subject of the U.S. Civil War.  To support one of my points, I mentioned a book I was reading about Abraham Lincoln that was written by Eric Foner, a history professor at Columbia University. 

Before I could make my point, he interrupted me.

“Oh,” he said with a dismissive snort, “some liberal East Coast college professor, eh?” 

Just then, I heard a loud ‘CLICK.’  It wasn’t a series of sounds or anything.  Just one loud, distinct ‘CLICK.’

“Did you hear that?” I asked.

“Hear what?”

“That ‘CLICK.’”

“I didn’t hear nothin’.”

A few days later I was talking about universal health care with another conservative friend and I mentioned Michael Moore’s documentary, “Sicko.”

Before I could finish, he said, “Don’t quote Michael Moore to me.  Don’t you know?  He’s a George Soros puppet!”

As soon as he said it I heard the same loud ‘CLICK.’

I asked him if he had heard the ‘CLICK’ and again I learned I was the only one who noticed it. 

Am I going crazy?

This has been happening a lot lately.  Just the other day I was talking to someone about President Trump’s many broken promises, gaffes and outrageous statements.  He dismissed them all with a wave of his hand, saying, “You mean to tell me you believe the lies of the liberal media?”

Again, that ‘CLICK.’

This phenomenon has puzzled me of late but, following an extended period of Deep and Profound Meditation, I think I’ve finally figured out the origin of the ‘CLICK.’

It’s the sound you hear when someone switches off their brain, their critical faculty.

It’s a handy tool, that switch.  By flipping it, they save themselves the trouble of analyzing and refuting any arguments with which they disagree.  All they have to do is label the argument as coming from a despised person or group and, Presto!, it vanishes.  They’re Bad People, the reasoning goes, so everything they say is, by definition, untrue.  

 Full stop.  End of story.  Case closed.

Of course, use of that switch has its drawbacks.  Nothing’s perfect.  Chief among them is that it doesn’t really convince anybody but you.  I mean, anyone with their critical faculties intact will see right through it.  But it will soothe your fear of being wrong about something (or anything) without requiring any of that pesky thinking stuff.  (So tiring!)

The greatest danger is that, if you throw the switch too often, it breaks.  In other words, switch off your brain too many times and the switch will get stuck in the OFF position.  By accepting only those arguments that support your preconceived notions and dismissing all others without bothering to examine the facts that support them, over time you become…

…um what’s that term again…

Ah yes!  You become STUPID.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

America Haters

Blowhards on the far-right are constantly proclaiming that they are the True Americans.  They and they alone love our constitution and seek to defend our cherished freedoms.  Anyone who dares to disagree with them ‘hates America.’  Only ultra-right Fox News types, they tell us, can claim the title of Patriot.

To hear them tell it, anyone who speaks out against racism, police abuses, economic inequality, militarism, the rape of our environment or who stands in favor of religious tolerance or an adequate safety net for the poor is a member of one of two groups: 

Those who are plotting in secret, using lies and subterfuge to undermine our constitution and destroy our freedom, casting us into an infernal pit of _____

[…fill in the blank.  It could be a totalitarian communist state like Cambodia under Pol Pot, a worldwide Islamic caliphate, or the dreaded One World Government Under Satan; predictions vary].  

In other words, America Haters.

The second group is said to be comprised of those who are too na├»ve to realize that they are being duped by the first group.  

In other words, fools and tools of the America Haters.

I’ve been hearing this sort of self righteous nonsense from these guys for years, so imagine my surprise at learning of their utter, flaming outrage over the removal of confederate battle flags, statues and monuments in the South.  How can these self proclaimed America Lovers hold such reverence for the worst America Haters of them all? 

I mean, confederates didn’t just advocate policies that some people predicted would eventually lead to our downfall.  They did everything in their power to bring it about right then.  They seceded from our nation, abandoned our constitution and slaughtered hundreds of thousands in a war against our country.

You can’t get more anti-American than that.

Those traitors caused the death of around 365,000 American soldiers!  What a profound insult to their heroic memory and what a slap in the face it is to their descendants to support memorials for their America-hating killers.  So much for honoring OUR veterans, the true patriots who fought, sacrificed and died at their hands to defend our constitution.

Now I can understand why Klan and neo-Nazi types oppose their removal, since they hate everyone who isn’t a white Christian (in other words, most Americans).  People who waged war in order to preserve slavery and white supremacy would naturally be counted among their heroes.  If they had their way, we’d all be living in a modern day confederacy, where non-whites would know and keep ‘their place.’

What I can’t understand is why anyone else who claims to love our nation and its constitution could honor those who did everything in their power to smash them both.  Would they also endorse memorials to other enemies of the United States, like the soldiers and leaders of Nazi Germany?  Would they support the erection of a statue of Admiral Yamamoto at Pearl Harbor? 

…I’d be lyin’ if I said I understood.

Monday, January 23, 2017

MARIJUANA'S UNSPEAKABLE MENACE



We’ve all heard those scare stories about recreational marijuana use.  Over the years I’ve heard government-sponsored horror tales warning against everything from lung cancer to male breast enlargement.  (Yes folks, they once told us that guys who smoked too much pot would grow tits!) 

Of course, none of these turned out to be true.  I’ve known a lot of male potheads over the years, and nary a one of them had anything approaching a decent rack.  Same goes for lung cancer.  The predicted rise in pot-related cancer cases never materialized.  Indeed, some studies in Europe (pot-positive research doesn’t get funded in the U.S.) have suggested that marijuana may actually slow or block the growth of some types of cancers.

And we’ve all heard about its many benefits for people suffering from a host of painful and debilitating maladies—from glaucoma to chemotherapy-induced nausea to multiple sclerosis to menstrual cramps—and all without significant side effects. 

I mean, people have been using this plant for at least the last 10,000 years, so it’s pretty damned hard to come up with some supposed danger that isn’t easily refuted by its millions of users.  And no one has ever—in all of those 10,000 years—died of an overdose of pot.  It’s safer than aspirin.

But our governments, who will prosecute us for using and enjoying this docile plant, don’t mind if we fill ourselves with other drugs.  As long as they have the approval of the medical profession and the drug industry, hey, no problem.  So we’re bombarded with advertising for drugs that are considered safe and effective based on five or ten years of testing, but are given dire warnings about a drug that’s been safely used for millennia.

…Or so we thought.  Several years ago, I discovered a peril that is never mentioned in the propaganda against pot.  It’s one so insidious, so vile, and every regular pot smoker has either experienced it or knows someone who did.  Yet it’s never written or spoken about. 

It’s a conspiracy of silence, I tell you.  Potheads know that if this Dread Peril became known to the wider public, it would be seized upon by those who seek to preserve and expand prohibition.  They’d finally be able to scare people away with warnings about a genuine danger, instead of their usual twaddle.

Unlike the anti-drug propagandists, I’m not merely repeating what some government-sponsored scientists say.  I know of this because I—personally—have suffered the Horrible Fate that I’m about to reveal.  I have experienced the disgusting filth and utter degradation that can come from the recreational use of marijuana. 

Allow me to explain.   

Many years ago, I worked the graveyard shift at one of those gas station/convenience stores.  Because I worked through the wee hours of the morning when robberies are rife, the store’s doors were locked and I did all my business through a sliding drawer.  My job consisted of punching gas purchases into the computer that controlled the pumps, making change and occasionally fetching a soda or pack of cigarettes from the shelves.

The place was well covered by security cameras, which could be a blessing and a curse.  Would-be robbers were dissuaded by their presence, but it also made it risky to do anything the boss wouldn’t like.  He rarely looked at the tapes when he came in the next morning unless something big happened.  But there was always the possibility that someone would rob you a half-hour after your girlfriend had paid a visit.

There were only two places in the store that weren’t covered by the cameras, the employee bathroom off the back office and the walk-in refrigerator.  The refrigerator had large glass doors opening into the store.  Behind the shelves there was a room where you could stock the shelves from behind.

This was the perfect spot for anything that demanded privacy.  As long as you could tolerate the cold, you could do anything you wanted, free of scrutiny.  Better yet, you could see out through the glass doors—so you knew when a customer came to the cash window—but it was too dark in there for them to see you.

I was introduced to this information by a co-worker who used the refrigerator for the same reason as I did: to smoke grass.  I liked how, at around three in the morning when the boredom was well nigh insufferable, I could become a child; fascinated by all of the bright colors of the store, the wonderful people who came to my cash window, and the many interesting conversations I had in my head.

It was much preferable to spending those lonely hours as a bored, thirty-something earning chump change in a dead end job. 

Whenever I needed to sneak away for a few minutes—either to smoke or to use the toilet—I taped a handmade sign on the window saying I’d be back in a few minutes.  Often, this was a mere formality because, by three o’clock, we only averaged one or two customers per hour. 

So that was the best time to sneak off for a bowl—be it a pot bowl or a toilet bowl.

One night after business died down, I did just that, spending five or ten minutes in the refrigerator getting high and doing what I call the Bong Hit Shudder.  If you’ve ever smoked pot or been in the company of those who do, you know what I’m talking about.  It’s that heaving of the shoulders and the beet-red face that comes from trying to hold your breath—despite an overwhelming urge to cough—until all of the active ingredients have been absorbed into the lungs. 


“No cough—no get off,” as we used to say.

This was amplified by the fact that you had to cram your smoking into the shortest possible time period, since a customer might come in at any moment and you didn’t want to risk a complaint to the boss.  Instead of smoking a bowl slowly, over the period of a half-hour or so, you had to bang it out in five or ten minutes.  Your lungs took an extra beating because they didn’t have sufficient time to recover between tokes.

So on that particular night, I emerged from my low-temperature smoking lounge still coughing.  I continued to cough sporadically for several minutes after returning to my stool in front of the cash window.  Following a particularly nasty cough I felt a sort of rushing, a flowing in the seat of my pants.

Oh NO!!!!!  The Dreaded Hershey™ Squirts!!!!  No, No, No, God No!!!  Please, not now!!!  Not Here!!!

Only this was more like a Hershey Flood!  The combination of the Bong Hit Shudder and the crappy (pun intended) snack food I ate each working night had wrought an awful toll. 

A steady diet of withered hot dogs, potato chips and Snickers bars doesn’t lend itself to comfortable digestion.

Worse was the suspense, nay! dread that gripped me once the initial shock had worn off.  Would my thin cotton boxer shorts contain this noxious flood or would I have to lock up the store and slink the three miles home for a shower and clean clothes?

Needless to say, I fairly lunged at the crude sign I’d crafted earlier and was about to tape it in the window and hurry to the bathroom when…a car pulled up.  I was sure he saw me, so it wouldn’t do to slap the sign up and walk away, especially as I was sure to be gone awhile.  No, I had to wait until there were no customers in sight.

 “Gimme ten bucks on pump thirteen and two packs of Winstons,” he drawled. 

I wondered if he noticed anything strange as I waddled—like a ruptured duck—to the cigarette rack.  I cringed as I stretched to get his smokes.  Winstons were, of course, kept on the very top shelf.

He was followed by a procession of customers, each perfectly timed to give me hope as one finished pumping his gas, only to dash it to bits as another customer pulled in.  Again and again.  Never before had we had such a sales boom at this hour!

 (sigh)

This went on for about forty-five eternal, agonizing minutes.  Every move I made, each can of soda and each candy bar I fetched became a Death Defying stunt. 

 “Will he survive???  Will he make it through the complex physical maneuvers of his trial period and go on to win our Grand Prize (a sink and paper towels), or will he plunge headlong into Shame and Degradation?  Can this evil tide be contained or will his foul affliction be exposed to a host of disgusted onlookers? 

“Watch our hapless contestant squirm in disgust with each new customer’s request!  I tell ya, I can hardly bear the suspense, folks!  Stay tuned and see what happens on tonight’s hilarious episode of Can You Fucking Stand This?

To my profound relief and utter astonishment, when I finally got to the bathroom—miraculously—my once-proud boxer shorts had contained the deluge.  Nary a spot could be found on my pants!

After about a half-hour spent with an almost endless succession of paper towels dipped—one after another—into the tiny bathroom sink and applied vigorously to my backside, I was finally clean enough to reemerge. 

I gave my shorts honorable burial in a hermetically sealed plastic bag.  It was a brief but heartfelt memorial as I solemnly lowered them into the dumpster out back.  Their noble martyrdom for the cause of hygiene, personal pride and the integrity of my trousers brought tears to my eyes. 

Alas, the forgotten hero!!!  Is it not ever thus?  No stirring ballads will be written of your demise.  No headstone will mark your lonely passing.  No one but I shall ever know of your terrible sacrifice.  And yet you saved me this night.  You gave your very life that I mightn’t stink and offend!  That I might walk proudly with legs outstretched, free of the fear of scatological migration and befoulment!  That others would not shun me, noses wrinkled and scurrying away in disgust.  This you did for me and I shall never forget, my ragged old friend, never forget.  Too late I realized that you were not just holey, but holy!

During the time I was washing up, I heard several frustrated customers pounding on the glass outside, but I didn’t care.  Mine was a more vital business.  And I wasn’t about to explain to the few who had the patience to wait all that time. 

I think you can understand.

So the next time someone tells you that marijuana is harmless, kids, tell ‘em you know otherwise.  If they disagree, you can be sure they’re either potheads or stealth-marketers for the underpants industry.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

OBAMACARE BAIT & SWITCH



I was delighted when I was finally able to complete the application process and get enrolled for Obamacare last May.  I had been struggling with their website since the previous November and was very happy that, for the first time since 1988, I could afford health insurance.

A few particulars:  My wife is out of work, with little hope of finding even the most menial job, thanks to the shambles the Big Shot financial gamblers have made of our economy.  We have to get by with the high cost of living in Philadelphia on just my paycheck.  I estimated my 2014 gross would be around $28,000 at the time I completed my application.  (My income varies depending on work availability, so I couldn’t give an exact figure.) 

Based on that, I was pleased to discover that we could get coverage in 2014 for 53 cents per month.  And not just any coverage.  We got a Silver plan that had a zero deductible and low co-pays.  The government paid the remaining $878.32 per month.

It couldn’t have come at a better time.  At 58 years old, I’ve had hip and back pain for three years which has worsened to the degree that—beginning about 2 months ago—I can only walk about two blocks before the pain is too much to take.  It takes several hours for me to fall asleep most nights because I can’t find a comfortable position.  My wife is five years younger and has several medical issues as well.

So you can imagine our relief at finally acquiring health insurance.  I mean, we didn’t even have a primary care physician because we couldn’t afford one.  Like many of our nation’s poor and near-poor, prior to obtaining insurance we went to the emergency room when we had health problems.  It was the only place an uninsured person could go that didn’t demand payment in advance for diagnosis and treatment. 

True, it’s ridiculously wasteful and you get some enormous hospital bills with this approach but, like millions of others in our predicament, you can usually avoid paying charges that you could never afford (without foregoing such niceties as food on the table and a roof over your head, that is).  It just means you can never again answer your telephone.  (Thank god for voicemail!)

Because my pain wasn’t as bad last May as it is now, I put off finding a doctor and getting treatment.  Hey, I have health insurance now,’ I reasoned, ‘so there’s no rush in getting to the doctor.’  My job requires working seven days a week in order to get in my 40 hours (or less) and my schedule is varied and unpredictable, so I never seemed to find the time to select a doctor and set up an appointment.

So imagine my shock on receiving the renewal letter from my insurance company a few weeks ago.  In order to keep the same good plan that we had received, I would now have to pay $177.38 per month!  The letter suggested two other plans that cost less:  One for $104.89 per month and the other for $24.05.

The total price—including the government subsidy—of our plan had gone from $878.85 to $1055.60 per month, an increase of approximately 20 percent.  This is roughly 10 times the medical inflation rate!  

Who knew that the Affordable (sic) Care Act allowed such flagrant gouging?  It appears that Congress and the President have given the insurance moguls a license to steal.

But that isn’t the worst part, since the numbers that matter most to consumers are out-of-pocket costs.  Well, the out-of-pocket cost for our premium went from $0.53 per month to $177.28.

This represents a price increase of 33,449 PERCENT!

Now we could afford either of the two alternate plans—albeit barely—but get this:  The first has a $12,000 deductible per year for my wife and me!  The cheaper plan has a $13,200 deductible per family.  We would have unlimited visits to a primary care doctor for $40 each with the first plan without having to meet the $12,000 deductible.  We would pay $30 per visit with the second plan—but only for the first three, then the deductible kicks in. 

But we all know how it goes.  The primary care doctor must make a diagnosis which—in most cases (including mine)—would require expensive diagnostic tests which are subject to the deductible.  Then I would need even more costly treatment by specialists—also subject to the deductible. 

Translation:  If I want to get treatment for my hip, I’ll get the initial visit for $30 or $40, but will have to pay the entire remaining cost up to either $12,000 or $13,200, depending on the plan.  In other words, I would be paying my monthly premium for what is, in effect, no coverage at all.  I can’t afford to impoverish my wife and myself paying many thousands of dollars to meet the deductible.

OK.   Plan B.  I called the people at healthcare.gov in hopes of finding a less expensive plan from another provider (…and was kept on hold for 1-1/2 hours).  After reporting my estimate of a slightly higher income for 2015, I was told I would still qualify for $798 per month.  Good.  The bad news was that the cheapest Silver plan she could find would cost more than $300 per month over the subsidy.

(sigh) 

Very well.  Plan C.  The cheapest tier is Bronze coverage.  The best price I could get for a Bronze plan is $94.74 per month.  Although it would be a stretch, we could afford that.  Problem is, it has a $10,000 deductible per person!  Anything other than a primary care visit is subject to that deductible.  In other words this plan, like the others, offers no affordable care at all.

In exasperation, I asked the representative what would be the penalty for having no insurance.  She said it is either $650 or 2 percent of your annual gross, whichever is higher.  For $28,000 income, 2 percent would be $560, so I would have to pay $650 for not getting coverage. 

This is painful but, with Obamacare, I would have to pay the monthly premium and receive no meaningful coverage anyway.  In all but the cheapest plan, it would cost me less to pay the penalty for no healthcare than to pay the premium each month (and still not be able to afford any healthcare beyond the initial doctor visit).

True, it would be cheaper just to take the plan that costs $24.05 and never go to the doctor unless I could pay the bill myself (as I have for the last 26 years).  But I refuse to do it.  Why?  Because it galls me that some insurance company will be sucking up $798 from our taxes each month and offering NOTHING in return!   

I refuse to be the victim of such a naked bait-and-switch con.

While I felt it didn’t go far enough (I support Single Payer, i.e. Medicare for all), I used to be an enthusiastic supporter of Obamacare.  But now that I see how they lured us in with affordable prices only to allow the insurance companies to jack them up to obscenely high levels, I realize that Obamacare is just another swindle by the rich and powerful to take away what few coins remain in our pockets.

In reality, Obamacare is nothing more than a gigantic taxpayer subsidy for the (insanely profitable and corrupt) insurance industry.  By forcing millions of citizens to trade down this year to policies that offer no protection at all, they can continue to collect billions in subsidies in return for policies that are effectively worthless.

It’s now clear to me that this was the plan all along.

So I went from having no health insurance for 26 years to having to pay $650 per year for the ‘privilege’ of having no health insurance.  Thanks a lot, Mr. President!  Thanks a lot Congress!  In serving your corporate Masters, you have radicalized me to the point that I am boycotting Obamacare and urging all within earshot to do the same.  It’s just another tool of the Big Shots for fleecing the rest of us. 

And we’re all just about fleeced-out.  I, for one, am mad as hell.  You?