Monthly Archives: July 2018

What About the Rest of Us?

Congress is scared.

Of you.

And the bad guys.

And about the possibility that YOU are one of those bad guys.

Scared enough that it’s seriously ratcheting up government spending, of your money, to protect – itself.

But not to protect you.

The online publication Roll Call explains.

At a time when steady significant growth for the Capitol Police looks sure to continue, members of Congress are confessing heightened concern they’ll never be altogether shielded from threats both old-fashioned and high tech — no matter where they are.

“Never be altogether shielded from threats” – is that a reasonable expectation?  Is that government’s expectation of how YOU deserve to be protected, too?

Roll Call continues.

The Senate on Monday, and the House three weeks ago, passed bills allocating more than $450 million for the congressional force in the coming year. It would be at least a 6 percent hike and produce a Capitol Police budget one-third bigger than just five years before. No other part of Congress, nor any of its support organizations, has seen anything approaching such generous and sustained increases in recent years.

 The bulk of the latest supplement would pay for hiring six-dozen additional cops and a score more civilian personnel, continuing plans to grow the force 20 percent in the final five years of this decade. But at more than 2,300 sworn officers now, the Capitol Police is already bigger than the departments in San Francisco or San Antonio and would rank 12th on the roster of the nation’s biggest municipal forces.

That’s a lot of cops, and a lot of spending, just to protect themselves.

And those sworn enemies of government spending in Congress certainly aren’t complaining about this spending.

As with other such boosts in the recent past, this one is sailing toward reality with almost no commentary — and essentially no dissent — during debate on the annual Legislative Branch spending bill. 

Congress is now intent, moreover, on extending its protective bubble even beyond its own facilities.

The Senate version of the Legislative Branch bill earmarks $1 million to boost protection of members when they’re off Capitol Hill but still in the Washington region, and it orders theCapitol Police to come up with a plan for expanding its protective bubble around members when they’re roaming in the D.C. area — including making regular threat assessments of charity dinners and other events that might merit a large congressional turnout.

 The police’s current mission is confined to protecting Capitol Hill, its workforce of about 25,000 and lawmakers whenever they feel threatened back home or on official travel.

 And there’s more proposed spending, too.

 Both bills would allocate $13 million to modernize the network of fencing, concrete barriers and security kiosks that was quickly constructed to surround the Capitol complex in the months after the Sept. 11 attack, during which a hijacked airliner crashed in rural Pennsylvania while on course for downtown Washington.

 The House is focused on bolstering the screening of cars and drivers using the garages underneath and adjacent to the three member office buildings. It is also preparing for $5 million in “security improvements” inside the House chamber — appropriators provided no more details — and $3 million for a new security screening center just south of the Capitol, because the current checkpoint is directly under the Speaker’s Lobby that’s adjacent to the House floor. (Plans are also being made for a more aesthetically appropriate structure to replace the rough-hewn security checkpoints outside the north door, on the Senate side.)

 Meanwhile, Congress has grown increasingly stingy with money to help us regular folks – you know, the people members of Congress were elected to serve.  Mostly, though, they now seem to be focused on themselves, not us.  They deny our cities and states money to improve police services, or even reduce the amount they usually provide, and they also won’t lend a hand by doing something that would cost taxpayers absolutely nothing:

Make it harder for the bad guys to get guns.

No, members of Congress are taking a very me-first approach to public safety:  out-of-control spending to protect themselves and a quick “good luck, keep your head down” to the rest of us.

Members of the U.S. Congress:  always looking out for number one.

Themselves.

 

 

 

 

Ears Pierced and Pockets Picked

Not that The Curmudgeon knows this from personal experience – he had to look it up to write this piece – but if you go to the mall and stop by the Piercing Pagoda, they’ll pierce your ears for free if you buy a pair of earrings there.  They sell a lot of earrings for less than $100, too, so if you really want your ears pierced, that seems like the way to go. Is it safe?  The Curmudgeon suspects it is:  after all, the 19-year-old with the lip piercing and tattoos who’s snapping her gum the entire time she talks to you probably pierces more ears in a week than your family doctor does in an entire year.

But it can cost more elsewhere, depending on who’s doing the piercing.

How much more?

So glad you asked.

The online site Pro Publica reports that the Children’s Hospital of Colorado recently charged a family $1877.86 to pierce the ears of its five-year-old.

Seriously.

We’ll let Pro Publica tell the story.

Two years ago, Margaret O’Neill brought her 5-year-old daughter to Children’s Hospital Colorado because the band of tissue that connected her tongue to the floor of her mouth was too tight. The condition, literally called being “tongue-tied,” made it hard for the girl to make “th” sounds.

 It’s a common problem with a simple fix: an outpatient procedure to snip the tissue.

During a pre-operative visit, the surgeon offered to throw in a surprising perk. Should we pierce her ears while she’s under?

 O’Neill’s first thought was that her daughter seemed a bit young to have her ears pierced. Her second: Why was a surgeon offering to do this? Wasn’t that something done free at the mall with the purchase of a starter set of earrings? 

 “That’s so funny,” O’Neill recalled saying. “I didn’t think you did ear piercings.”

The surgeon, Peggy Kelley, told her it could be a nice thing for a child, O’Neill said. All she had to do is bring earrings on the day of the operation. O’Neill agreed, assuming it would be free.

 Her daughter emerged from surgery with her tongue newly freed and a pair of small gold stars in her ears.

Well, that’s nice, right?

Wrong.

At first, O’Neill assumed the bill was a mistake. Her daughter hadn’t needed her ears pierced, and O’Neill would never have agreed to it if she’d known the cost. She complained in phone calls and in writing.

 The hospital wouldn’t budge. In fact, O’Neill said it dug in, telling her to pay up or it would send the bill to collections. The situation was “absurd,” she said.

So if you ever find yourself with your kids in Colorado and they need a children’s hospital, be sure to stick your wallet in your front pocket or your purse firmly under your arm because the folks who run that place can’t wait to try to pick your pocket.

An Alternative View of Trump’s Meeting Today With Putin

In the wake of the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for various acts that sought to undermine the 2016 presidential election, a lot of people think President Trump should have canceled his meeting in Finland with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

Trump said no, he’s going, they have business to discuss, although he said he will absolutely confront Putin about the allegations and tell him the U.S. will tolerate no further interference in U.S. elections.

But he’s not terribly convincing when he says this.

“I guess this makes me your bitch, Vlad.”

And The Curmudgeon suspects there is at least a chance that Trump will deliver a very different message to Putin when they meet today.

A much simpler message.

“Thank you.”

Look What The Curmudgeon Found!

At a Philadelphia hospital recently, while visiting a sick relative.

When was the last time YOU saw one?

Disease of the Week

Capgras syndrome.

Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

According to the Washington Post,

Capgras syndrome is a psychological condition that prompts a person to believe that loved ones have been replaced by identical duplicates of themselves.

Seriously.

And where do these duplicates come from?  Some people

…have dismissed loved ones as aliens, robots, or clones.  A number of cases have involved shocking acts of violence toward the delusional misidentified person.

Also,

Some individuals with Capgras syndrome claim that doubles of themselves exist.

Every year, representatives of the medical community come before Congress to plead for more money for medical research.  When you read about things like Capgras syndrome, though, you have to wonder whether we’re already spending too much money on medical research and whether some of these researchers might be better served, and might better serve society, by going out and getting real jobs.

A Soft Landing Place

If the name “Bill Shine” doesn’t ring a bell, you’re not alone.  Shine was a Fox News executive who was pushed out the door – no one uses the term “fired,” although that’s what it sounded like at the time – when Fox decided it was time to clean up its sexual harassment quagmire.

At the time of Shine’s departure from Fox News he was co-president of the network, taking that job after working as the right-hand man of Roger Ailes, the network’s chief sexual harasser.  Shine allegedly knew about the antics of Ailes and those of Fox’s deputy chief sexual harasser, Bill O’Reilly, but did nothing about them and possibly even facilitated some of them himself.

With a resume like that, you’d think it might be hard for Shine to find another gig. Fortunately, he found one:

He’s the new White House deputy chief of staff for communications.

Because if ever there was a place where a guy who doesn’t see sexual harassment as a problem would be welcome, it’s the Trump White House.

Strange Priorities

From 1965 until 2001, the city of Philadelphia’s public school system was run by a board of education appointed by the mayor.  When the school system fell into a deep financial hole the state agreed to help but the price it exacted was disbanding the existing board of education and replacing it with a new oversight body, the School Reform Commission, whose members were appointed by the governor and state legislative leaders.  For years Philadelphians called for return to local rule – not that it’s going to make a difference – and they’ve finally gotten their wish:  on July 1, a new, locally appointed board of education took over and the School Reform Commission faded into the sunset (except for two of its members, who were part of the School Reform Commission that Philadelphians found unacceptable yet who were inexplicably considered acceptable to serve on the new, locally appointed school board).

The new board of education is off to a roaring start, too, offering a clear demonstration of its priorities that is as startling as it is disconcerting:

It’s redecorating.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that even before the new board took over, it undertook a $500,000 renovation of its offices that includes pulling school district-owned stained glass out of storage, restoring it, and hanging it in the new board’s office.  One board member said this was proof that the new board means business.

Sure, if its business is to have nice offices.

Other aspects of the $500,000 renovation include a new meeting room with a long table for meetings and a new, open-plan office to replace the individual offices previous board members occupied.

So the new board’s first step on the job is to make itself more comfortable.  As an expression of priorities, this does not bode well for the more than 125,000 children who are counting on these officials to help them learn.

 

His Parents Must Be Soooo Proud

How else would parents respond when they see a headline about their son that says

Man breaks Guinness record by stuffing 459 straws in his mouth

As reported by UPI,

An India man is headed for the Guinness Book of World Records after stuffing a staggering 459 drinking straws into his mouth at once.

Guinness confirmed Manoj Kumar Maharana, 23, of Odisha, broke the world record for most straws stuffed in the mouth without using hands by cramming 459 straws into his pie hole.

Maharana, who was allowed to use elastic bands to keep the straws together but not his hands, has to have all of the straws in his mouth and keep them there for 10 seconds without falling to obtain the title.

Maharana was allowed to use his hands to get the straws into his mouth, but not to hold them in place.

The winnah!

You have to wonder who makes up these rules – and on what basis they do so.

The previous record holder, British man Simon Elmore, stuffed 400 straws into his mouth at an event in Germany.

Poor Simon; he’ll have to find solace in the old adage that “Records are made to be broken.”

A Mean-Spirited State Government

There’s a new trend among state governments around the country that’s been inspired by the new, mean spirit of the federal government:  states are starting to impose work requirements on their Medicaid population.  If you want to receive Medicaid benefits, you have to work a certain number of hours a month.

In states where such a requirement has been adopted, it doesn’t apply to all Medicaid recipients.  It doesn’t apply, for example, to children.  Or the disabled.  Or elderly Medicaid recipients who are also on Medicare.  Or to people who are already working but have jobs that don’t provide health insurance and who make so little money that it’s not reasonable to expect them to be able to afford health insurance.

That leaves people who are somewhat recently unemployed.  They lost their jobs, for whatever reason, and that’s why they signed up for Medicaid.  There’s no reason to believe these people are avoiding work, so the state wants to make sure they work in exchange for their Medicaid benefits.

The Curmudgeon doesn’t agree, but he understands this – though he wishes the state governments that do this would understand that most of these people used to work and would work again if they could find jobs, in which case they wouldn’t need Medicaid at all.

But that’s not what’s got The Curmudgeon’s knickers in a bunch today.

The idea of a Medicaid work requirement is fairly new, and when the state of Kentucky announced its new requirement, someone did what someone always does when government introduces a new policy:  they sued.

And won.

A federal judge called the new policy “”arbitrary and capricious” and told the federal government, whose permission was necessary to implement such a policy, to reconsider that permission in the light of certain concerns that the judge specified in his decision.

So how did the state of Kentucky respond?

It cut off dental and vision benefits for nearly 500,000 Medicaid recipients in the state.

Effective immediately.

That’ll show the judge – and all those Medicaid freeloaders:  hell hath no fury like the state of Kentucky scorned.  The folks who run that state are some pretty heartless and mean-spirited people.

 

When You Know You Don’t Even Need to Bother Reading the Second Sentence

The Curmudgeon’s often torn when he writes these pieces: should he just say what’s on his mind the way he wants to say it or does he need to do something from the start, in the very first sentence, to grab your attention?

He’s generally arrogant enough not to worry about that; after all, he’s well past trying to do anything to increase his readership because that’s clearly not going to happen.  Once in a while, though, he’ll refer to a specific piece in a family conversation and The Curmudgeonly Sister, who’s a fairly regular reader, will say something to the effect of “I didn’t read it.  Too serious.”  Or “Too cerebral.”  Or “too long” (ouch!).  Still, he understands the importance of giving someone who’s done him the courtesy of reading his first sentence a reason to hang in there to read the second, so he does try to pay attention to this.

At least a little.

And at least sometimes.

This popped into his head yesterday when he opened up to the “Talk of the Town” feature in the March 19 edition of The New Yorker (he’s catching up!).  “Talk of the Town” consists of three or four short pieces, usually about the exploits of some quirky New Yorker or a visit to the city by a C-list celebrity.  Some of these The Curmudgeon reads and some of them are so essentially New York-y, or about people who seem so incredibly annoying, that he reads a paragraph or two and moves on.

On this occasion he came to a piece titled “Caffeinated,” which came right after a piece about a woman who had just seen the musical Sweeney Todd for the 106th time (after seeing 200 performances of Urinetown, 170 of The Wedding Singer, and 533 of Spring Awakening), and read the first sentence.

The architects Louise Harpman and Scott Specht began collecting takeout-coffee lids when they were in college, in the nineteen-eighties, and continued the practice as graduate students at Yale.

And The Curmudgeon knew, absolutely and without question, that there was no way in the world he was going to read the second sentence.