Wednesday, November 27, 2013
My Annual Thanksgiving Message
With the Thanksgiving Holiday almost upon us, this year may be an occasion when Americans not only celebrate with traditional gatherings with family and friends, but perhaps we should all give special thanks that the American ideal is still celebrated during one of the most troubling and worrisome periods in our history.
With that in mind, following are some Thanksgiving messages that I thought you would find of interest:
First, a bit of humor:
They’re Coming For Thanksgiving
An elderly man in Phoenix calls his son in New York and says, "I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing. Forty-five years of misery is enough."

"Pop, what are you talking about?" the son screams.

"We can't stand the sight of each other any longer," the old man says. "We're sick of each other, and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her," and hangs up.

Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. "Like heck they're getting divorced!" she shouts, "I'll take care of this!"

She calls Phoenix immediately, and screams at the old man, "You are NOT getting divorced. Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back, and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don't do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?" and hangs up.

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. "Okay," he says, "They're coming for Thanksgiving and paying their own way"
Next, a Thanksgiving proclamation by the man who is arguably the greatest President in America’s history:
From The Heritage Foundation: “...enjoy President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation below.

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
Finally, a November 25, 2004 Wall Street Journal article, “A Very Christian Holiday,” by David Gelerneter:

"Fundamentalists" gave us Thanksgiving, and we should thank them for it.
The First Thanksgiving is one of those heartwarming stories that every child used to know, and some up-to-date teachers take special delight in suppressing. Many teachers approach children nowadays with the absurd presumption that they are triumphalist little bigots who must be taken down a notch and made to grasp that their country has made mistakes. In fact they are little ignoramuses who leave high school believing that their country has made nothing but mistakes, and they never do learn what revisionist history is a revision of.
It is especially sad when children don't learn the history of Thanksgiving, which is that rarest of anomalies--a religious festival celebrated by many faiths. The story of the first Thanksgiving would inspire and soothe this nation if only we would let it--this nation so deeply divided between Christians and non-Christians or nominal Christians, where Christians are a solid majority on a winning streak and many non-Christians are scared to death, of "Christian fundamentalists" especially.
Christian fundamentalists were the first European settlers in this country, and Thanksgiving is their idea. (Puritans were one type of Christian fundamentalist--"fundamentalist" insofar as they focused on biblical basics. The Pilgrims were radical Puritans.) Many Americans are afraid that fundamentalists are inherently intolerant and want to stamp out all religions but their own. Yet that first thanksgiving was celebrated by radical Christian fundamentalists, and American Indians were honored guests--as every child used to know. Obviously fundamentalists are capable of tolerating non-Christians on occasion. In 17th-century America, some Christians used the Bible to explain exactly why American Indians must be treated respectfully. But another fact about that first thanksgiving is also worth pondering: no one tried to convert anyone else. Most of today's fundamentalist groups don't fish for converts either -- but those who do ought to contemplate thanksgiving number one.
The Pilgrims celebrated that first thanksgiving in 1621; Edward Winslow describes it in a letter to a friend. "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours." There was a great celebration, "many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted." The Indian contingent "went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation."
The first settlers mostly wanted to be friends with the Indians--and not only for obvious practical reasons. Alexander Whitaker was an early Virginia settler. His description of America was published in 1613. He doesn't think highly of American Indian religion, but goes on at length about American Indian talent and intelligence. ("They are a very understanding generation, quick of apprehension"; "exquisite in their inventions, and industrious in their labour.") And after all, he points out, "One God created us, they have reasonable souls and intellectual faculties as well as we; we all have Adam for our common parent: yea, by nature the condition of us both is all one."
In time, attitudes changed. American settlers and American Indians fell to treating one another savagely, and the Indians got the worst of it. But human greed and violence, not Christianity, brought those changes about. Christian preachers did not always condemn them--but, Christian or not, they were mere human beings after all.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony--settled by fundamentalists only slightly less radical than the Pilgrims--declared its first thanksgiving in 1630. By the late 1700s, independence was in the air, and the Continental Congress proclaimed many days of thanksgiving. President George Washington lost no time declaring the first thanksgiving under the new constitution in 1789. Each of these early proclamations was good for a single occasion. But after President Lincoln had proclaimed thanksgiving days in 1863 and '64--specifying the last Thursday in November both times--this characteristically American festival became a yearly custom. Lincoln was not only America's greatest president; he was our greatest religious figure, too. In his last speech--four days before he was murdered, with the Civil War at an end at last--he proposed one more day of thanksgiving. "He, from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for national thanksgiving is being prepared."
What to conclude? In a democracy where the majority is Christian, you can no more nitpick public life free of Christianity (as if it were so much lint on a frazzled sweater) than you can hold down the top on a pot of boiling water. Public life in this country has been fundamentally Christian since the first European settlers arrived. It continued Christian when the new nation won its independence and proclaimed its Bill of Rights, and will stay Christian forever, or until a majority decides otherwise--no matter how many antireligious rulings are extracted from how many antidemocratic power-mad judges.
Yet the fear of Christian fundamentalism that haunts a significant minority of Americans ought not to be casually dismissed. Some groups still see it as their duty to make converts of non-Christians. History suggests that they had better approach their mission with exquisite tact, or their designated target populations will soon come to hate their guts. I spend a fair amount of effort trying to convince friends and colleagues that their hostility to Christianity is ignorant and bigoted. But when a deadly earnest young Christian approaches, displays an infuriating though subliminal holier-than-thouness, and tries to convert me--it happens rarely, but occasionally -- I metamorphose for an instant into a raging leftist.
But that long-ago First Thanksgiving still speaks to and for every American, and we ought to listen. It speaks to Christians; they thought it up. It speaks to Jews -- Pilgrim Christianity was a profoundly "Hebraic" Christianity; the Pilgrims saw themselves as a chosen people arrived in a promised land; their organizations were based on "covenants," and they were devoted to the Hebrew Bible.
(Late in life the eminent Pilgrim father William Bradford began studying Hebrew, so he might behold "the ancient oracles of God in their native beauty." More than most American Jews can say.)
Those who are neither Christian nor Jew are also present in spirit, represented by the great king Massasoit. Everyone is "entertained and feasted," and everyone leaves with the same faith that brung 'im.
Thanksgiving speaks for Americans too: it is just like us to set a day aside for a national thank you to the Lord, or (anyway) to someone. Americans continue to be what Lincoln called us, the "almost chosen people," struggling to do right by man and God.
Finally, I would like to wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
© 2013 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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Monday, November 25, 2013
Don’t Miss These CNBC and CNN Reports That Shine Light on VA Crisis
Here’s yet another heartrending story on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) dysfunction leading to the deaths of veterans: after at least three veterans died at the Memphis VA hospital as a result of substandard care, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is launching a probe of the facility.
 A VA inspector general's report released Oct. 23 said one patient was given a medication despite a documented drug allergy and had a fatal reaction.
 Another patient was found unresponsive after receiving multiple sedating medications.A third had critically high blood pressure that was not aggressively monitored and experienced bleeding in the brain about five hours after going to the emergency room, the report said.
While these stories now arrive with almost numbing regularity, they do serve to prove why we can’t afford to be complacent about exposing the VA’s failures. The fact is that veterans’ lives are on the line, and it’s critical that we continue to shine a light on the VA’s failure to take their mission of service seriously.
With that in mind, I’d like to recommend two sterling reports on the VA for you to check out and to share with your friends and family:
•Earlier this month, CNBC broadcast “Death & Dishonor: Crisis at the VA,” a powerful half-hour documentary that details the myriad ways in which the VA is serving veterans poorly. It’s a must-see for anyone who cares about this issue—veterans, family members, military personnel, taxpayers, all Americans.
•On Wednesday, CNN offered this explosive investigative report on how veterans are dying due to long wait times at VA facilities. With a focus on poor patient care at the Columbia, South Carolina, VA hospital, the piece also notes how long wait times and poor care are a systemic problem at VA.
While the situation at the VA, and the Obama administration’s “head in the sand” approach to fixing it, are infuriating, I take some measure of reassurance when I see major media outlets taking the problem seriously by developing compelling exposés like these. Kudos to CNN and CNBC for shining a light on a pressing national problem with these high-quality journalistic offerings. Let’s be sure to share them far and wide.
Darin Selnick, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is an independent consultant and a member of the Concerned Veterans for America’s organizing committee. He served as special assistant to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from 2001-2009.
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Monday, November 11, 2013
A Billion Here and A Billion There
During the Watergate hearings in the mid 1970s, Senator Everett Dirksen, said, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” 
His humor made headlines back then, but we seldom heard anyone talk about another aspect of his observation. That is, just how much money is a billion dollars?
Today, we hear the word constantly. Government budgets in the multi-billions are debated and approved all the time, and we seem to think nothing of it. Hardly a flicker from anyone.  
As a matter of fact, it’s more often the opposite. What we usually see is “pork” being piled onto appropriations bills as if the economy were a bottomless pit for our politicians,
who ignore the public good for private benefit. California is a prime example of unrestrained political excess gone astray, to the point of bankruptcy. 
I can remember a time when the idea of a billion dollars was a source of wonder at the sheer scope of that amount of money. It no longer seems to elicit any response at all, except perhaps boredom. 
But, a billion dollars does add up to “real money,” especially when you look closely at what it can buy.
With that in mind, consider the following illustrations of just how much money a billion dollars really is:
In California, where the average annual salary is around $51,900, it would support over 19,000 families for one year. Or, in the nation’s capital, it would pay the salaries of the entire Congress
plus those of the complete Congressional staff and their combined office expense budgets for one year, with money left over. Which is the better buy?
In many third-world countries, where the average annual income is about $1,000, it would provide for a million families for one year.
At $8,400 per student, it would pay the costs of schooling for almost 119,000 children (K-12) for one year; or for the entire college education of over 9,300 students (at, say, $26,700 per year each). 
At a median salary, nationwide, of about $52,100 a year, it could pay for more than 19,000 secondary school teachers for one year.
Five million doctor visits at $200 per visit adds up to $1 billion. That’s a lot of patients. Or, at an average Rx expense of $200 a month, one billion dollars would pay the prescription costs for over
416,000 people for one year.
For apartment dwellers, at $2,000 a month rent, a billion dollars would provide shelter for over 41,000 families for one year.
For the investment minded, the earnings on one billion dollars, at 5% per annum, would be $50 million a year. Think you can retire on that? Looking at it from the viewpoint of seniors who receive Social Security, with the average retiree receiving about $1,230 a month, one billion dollars would provide annual retirement payments to about 67,700 people. If a one billion dollar endowment fund were invested at 5%, the $50 million investment income it would earn would help support almost 3,400 seniors with the equivalent of their Social Security payments, without dipping into the principal. 
Isn’t that how Social Security should work, instead of as some type of “Ponzi scheme,” which would be illegal if it were not the government doing it?
Are we getting our money’s worth from government? Or, is too much of it being wasted? 
Like the man said, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”
© 2013 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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Friday, November 8, 2013
Veterans Day
Veterans Day is an official United States holiday honoring armed service veterans.

It is a federal holiday that is observed on November 11 and coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, which are celebrated in other parts of the world and also mark the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.)

Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.


U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. In proclaiming the holiday, he said

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."

The United States Congress passed a concurrent resolution seven years later on June 4, 1926, requesting that President Calvin Coolidge issue another proclamation to observe November 11 with appropriate ceremonies. A Congressional Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U.S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday: "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'."

In 1945, WWII veteran Raymond Weeks from Birmingham, Alabama had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I. Weeks led a delegation to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who supported the idea of National Veterans Day. Weeks led the first national celebration in 1947 in Alabama and annually until his death in 1985.
President Reagan honored Weeks at The White House with the Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982 as the driving force for the national holiday. Elizabeth Dole, who prepared the briefing for President Reagan, determined Weeks as the "Father of Veterans Day."

U.S. Representative Ed Rees from Emporia, Kansas, presented a bill establishing the holiday through Congress. President Dwight Eisenhower, also from Kansas, signed the bill into law on May 26, 1954.

Congress amended this act on June 1, 1954, replacing "Armistice" with "Veterans," and it has been known as Veterans Day since.

The National Veterans Award, created in 1954, also started in Birmingham, Alabama. Congressman Rees of Kansas was honored in Alabama as the first recipient of the award for his support offering legislation to make Veterans Day a federal holiday, which marked nine years of effort by Raymond Weeks. Weeks conceived the idea in 1945, petitioned Gen. Eisenhower in 1946, led the first Veterans Day celebration in 1947 (keeping the official name Armistice Day until Veterans Day was legal in 1954).

Although originally scheduled for celebration on November 11 of every year, starting in 1971 in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October. In 1978, it was moved back to its original celebration on November 11.

Veterans Day in Norway was instituted in 2010 by
Norway's Cabinet and falls on Victory in Europe Day—May 8. The choice of day has been criticized by leader (Bjørnar Moxnes) of political party Rødt, saying one must differentiate between a defensive fight against an occupation force and offensive military operations outside Norway.  

© 2013 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Obamacare sucks!
OK, so I spent 45 minutes on the Covered California web site today and then 30 minutes on their 800 "help" line. The result after spending 75 minutes registering/applying/shopping for good quality affordable health insurance on this so-called health-care "exchange" was access to the Blues: An Anthem Blue-Cross individual policy for $289 per-month (for just myself). Or an Anthem Blue-Cross Health Savings Account (HSA) policy for $291 per-month. These were the only two policies under $300.
Right off the bat there's something seriously wrong with the pricing of these contracts when a PPO with some, albeit very limited, first dollar coverage is less expensive than a health savings account. The HSA should be the least expensive insurance contract in the insurance company's portfolio. Why? because the low monthly premium is supposed to help free up after tax dollars that can be deposited into a tax-deductible health savings account, similar to the way you deduct annual contributions to an Individual Retirement Account. The money then grows tax free inside the HSA and can then be accessed penalty free when you pay for qualifying health care expenses. But I digress.

The better policy of the two I found, has a $5,000 annual deductible, a $6,350 out-of-pocket maximum (this includes my deductible but NOT my monthly $289 premium). So in actuality my annual out of pocket max with this policy would be $9,818. This in and of itself isn't a bad thing. I think any maximum out of pocket between $7,500 and $10,000 is cost effective assuming a functioning market place. But that is not we have anymore thanks to Obamacare. So as you will see it gets worse.

Plan Benefits:

·         $60 regular office-visit co-pay AFTER my $5,000 deductible.
·         $70 co-pay for specialists AFTER my $5,000 deductible
·         $60 co-pay for "other practitioner office visits" AFTER my $5,000 deductible
·         $300 co-pay for emergency room services AFTER my $5,000 deductible
·         $120 co-pay for urgent care AFTER my $5,000 deductible
·         30% co-insurance for hospital stays AFTER my $5,000 deductible
·         30% co-insurance for lab work, diagnostics & ex-rays AFTER my $5,000 deductible
·         $50 pcs co-pay for name-brand drugs / $19 pcs co-pay for generic drugs (probably the most reasonable feature of the plan, however the generic co-pay is a little high).
Usually a generic pcs co-pay is in the $10 to $15 range. And an important question that should be known is what happens if there is NO generic equivalent available? Or, another scenario, which happens on occasion, is what if your doctore insits on the name brand drug. Most good insurance contracts will allow the insured to pay the generic co-pay in that situation.
So frankly the benefits above are pretty awful. Incredibly high co-pays but only after extremely high deductibles. I have never seen this sort of thing before. At least not here in California.
But here's some good news. If I get pregnant and use my prenatal and postnatal benefits, I pay ZERO co-pays and ZERO deductible! Only problem is I'm physically incapable of getting pregnant as I am a male. Moreover, I am incapable of getting a woman pregnant as I had a vasectomy in 2001 after my 4th child was born. So this benefit is absolutely worthless...but very costly to include. In essence I am paying for a benefit I could never use.

As some of you know, I sold health insurance here in California in the individual and small group market between 1998 and 2006. I had over 100 small businesses insured and over 250 individuals insured. And I can honestly say this is the worst insurance policy I have ever come across. Indeed if I had come across a prospective client who had this policy I would’ve had a guarantee sale. In fact, I would've starved to death is this was all I had to offer my clients.

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