Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Abolish Lifetime Supreme Court Appointments

USA Today has an article in today’s paper about the Supreme Court, and the fact that there are currently no vacancies. It also speaks to how there have been some cases where appointees to the Supreme Court have won their seats by seemingly just being in the right place at the right time.

But as I read the article, I find myself more concerned that the high position of Supreme Court Justice is an appointment for life – or, until the person retires/resigns, which usually doesn’t happen until they are very old and have been on the court for a long time.

We need to change this. There shouldn’t be any lifetime appointments in the United States. There should be no position that the people can’t somehow have a choice in making a change. I’m not saying that the court should change with every presidential election; I am suggesting that there should be term limits imposed on these positions to allow for new appointments, and with it, new energy and maybe a new outlook on matters. I would think that 10 years would be long enough to serve.

How can the American people change this? Does it take and act of Congress or something else to do it? I don’t know. But I wish someone higher up in our government would tackle the issue. With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, it seems the people of the United States spoke strongly that they want change. Maybe this is one more place where we can try to change things? No one in this country should be given a lifetime appointment for anything, and the highest court in the land should be no exception.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Madoff Ponzi Scheme – How Can This Happen?

At one time, I thought nothing could be worse for the state of our financial markets than the recent dive in the stock market, the problems with our financial institutions, and the greed of people who invested in real estate that they couldn’t afford.

But, I was wrong. Now we have the shame of a swindler by the name of Bernard Madoff, who masterminded probably the biggest Ponzi scheme ever, putting even Mr. Ponzi himself to shame.

If you don’t know what a Ponzi scheme is, it is a pyramid scheme where people who get in on the deal early on reap the benefits of the system, which are usually funded by the hapless fools who enter the program farther down in the process, instead of an investment which is paid as a result of true profit from a business venture or investment. The scheme was named after the man who took this type scheme to new heights in the early 1900s. And 100 years later, we have another man, Bernard Madoff, who found a way to make the fraud even more spectacular, hoodwinking tons of smart and not so smart people in order to bilk $50+ BILLION (yes, billion) from them. Sadly, many charitable organizations have been hurt in the process. Keep in mind that Madoff had also recently served as the chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange, so I suppose some thought that this meant he actually had scruples, morals, and was honest.

What I don’t get is how, in this day in age with all kinds of supposed financial controls, that no one caught this sooner. Publicly head companies have to be audited regularly to make sure that everything is kept on the up and up, and that there is no fraud. I am not sure if Madoff’s company was considered public or private, but regardless, isn’t anyone watching these kinds of businesses or investments? Is our financial world so filled with MBAs that are so out of touch with the real world that they can’t spot fraud and deception? I just don’t get how Madoff “made off” with so much money with no one even blinking and eye. Had the stock market not taken a massive nosedive, precipitating some of those investors asking for their money, the scheme may have gone on a lot longer.

I can understand why some people think it’s safer right now to just keep their saved money in their mattress. Is there no one in control of making sure that our money is safe? Also, while I feel very sorry for the charitable organizations that will lose out because of this deception, I feel no sympathy for those people who in some cases invested all they had with Madoff, and now are whining they are left with nothing. That’s what greed can do. I can’t recall what specific news broadcast where I saw this particular story – it may have been NBC Nightly News – where an older couple was sitting in the beautiful home with nice furniture and with their manicured landscaping, whining that they now have nothing. Sorry, but to me they look like they were able to afford living a nice life without that money, so maybe they will just have to change their lifestyle, like the rest of the people who have lost their jobs, or their investments, because of the recent downturn in the economy. If a person makes an investment hoping to get a big return, there is usually a big risk that comes along with it. That’s the price one has to pay.

Still, Madoff should be forced to pay restitution – with whatever they can liquidate out of him – and pay the charities first. Then, they should lock him in jail and throw away the key, and maybe force him to watch CSI Miami reruns for the rest of his life. Yeah, I know it’s harsh, but he deserves it.

We do need better financial oversight in this country, though. Is there no one out there with the integrity and the brains that we can trust to take on this task? I can only hope that there is, because we could sure use him or her right now.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Migraines and Wonder Drugs

When I woke up this morning at 3:00 AM, I had a migraine. Not just any migraine, but one that was fully in progress. For those of you who get migraines, there is nothing worse than waking up with that feeling that someone just slammed you in the head with a baseball bat and then turned your stomach upside down.

I’ve gotten to the point that I usually get some sort of signal in my dreams that a migraine is coming so I know that I have to wake up and take something immediately. Sometimes it’s a dream where the colors suddenly get very bright and lights flash on and off, or a dream where I am trapped somewhere and can’t get out, or that I start feeling strong emotions in my dream such as anger, fear, etc. I have very vivid dreams as a rule, so I tend to see anything extreme in my dream as a warning that a migraine is coming.

But last night, there was no such signal, so by the time I did wake up – probably from the sheer pain – it was already so bad that I couldn’t stand it. I get up and take an Imitrex immediately, and lay back down in the dark, hoping that it would work very quickly. While waiting for what seemed like an eternity, I found myself reflecting on those days when there wasn’t such thing as Imitrex, or at least nothing like it in pill form. I had heard of people getting injections of Imitrex from their doctors but there was no way I could run to a doctor every time I got a bad migraine. I recall getting blinding headaches that would knock me off my feet for sometimes days on end. And when they hit on a day that I had to work – which is when they usually hit – it was sheer torture having to work while office noise, phones, fluorescent lights, and someone’s awful perfume made me feel worse.

But sometime in the early 1990s, when I went to the doctor because I was desperate for relief, she ordered a CT scan, but also prescribed me some Imitrex. I was fearful about taking it at first because the side effects sounded awful (the info sheet at the time listed “death” as a possible side effect). But, the pain in my head had to go, and I figured if the drug killed me maybe it was all for the best!

Now, many years later, I realized last night that I have taken the drug for granted. It works so well that it made me forget all those days of misery. When I was watching The Today Show this morning, that annoying Dr. Nancy Snyderman was going on about how many drugs that people take, and was strongly suggesting that people look to drugs as the easy way to solve their pain problems. She even commented something about people years ago just toughing out those bad headaches. Sure, I toughed out many of my own, thank you. But I wanted to talk back to Dr. Snyderman to tell her that just because humans CAN experience pain doesn’t mean we HAVE to. I have to say that Imitrex helped me to function as a normal human being and allowed me to live life the best I could. Along with a daily dose of a beta-blocker, I get far fewer migraines and they are far less severe. I make no apologies for avoiding all the pain and suffering that a bad migraine can bring.

There are people out there that do look to drugs to solve all their problems. But there are millions and millions of people who need them to help them live normally, or help them to simply survive. While Nancy bemoans people taking too many drugs, I can only bemoan all the years that went by when doctors offered no solid help in order to alleviate my pain just because they thought as Nancy does – that people could just work through the pain.

So, the next thing I am hoping for is for something like pain transference, where you can just pass your pain along to someone else. I would just “transfer” my next bad migraine to Nancy Snyderman and tell her to handle it without the drugs.

Whew. Now I feel better!

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Selling a Senate Seat

It’s bad enough that some New Yorkers are unhappy at the prospect of Caroline Kennedy taking over Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat when Hillary takes the position of Secretary of State. I think Carolyn is an intelligent person and could probably do very well, but I can see where people don’t think that her last name should mean she inherited good political sense or experience. Some see the possible appointment as a payback for Kennedy throwing the weight of her name to the Obama campaign. I will admit that I wondered when she endorsed Obama for the office of the president if there would be something in it for her later on down the road. But her career and personal life have always been so low-key and on the up-and-up that I still can’t imagine that she expected something in return for her endorsement.

But news that the Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been arrested by the Feds for corruption - one of the things being that he tried to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s open Senate seat - is the real cause for concern. According to CNN:

“In a 76-page affidavit, federal authorities say wiretaps caught Blagojevich conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat in exchange for financial benefits for himself and his wife, Patti.

The governor also often weighed the option of appointing himself to the Senate seat, saying he was "stuck" at governor and might have access to more resources as a senator than as a governor, the affidavit says. A Senate seat could also help him remake his image ahead of a possible presidential run in 2016. "If ... they're not going to offer anything of any value, then I might just take it," he said in one conversation….Federal authorities also allege the governor and Harris schemed with others -- including convicted real estate developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko -- to obtain financial benefits for himself, his family and others, including his campaign committee, Friends of Blagojevich.”


This seems to be a pattern with Illinois governors, seeing that the state’s previous Governor, George Ryan, was convicted in 2006 on racketeering and fraud charges.

If anything, maybe this matter means that we need to find a better way to appoint replacements for open Senate seats. Rather than have them be appointed by one person – the governor – maybe there should be a vote with all remaining members of the senate and congress for the state, plus all the state senators. The party who held the seat being vacated can nominate their candidate, and the others can either ratify or vote down. How hard could this be? It certainly would be a lot harder for someone to sell – or buy – the open position.

I hate to add more bureaucracy to a process, but is seems that in light of the concern over the Kennedy appointment, and the allegations that the Illinois governor tried to sell an open seat, it’s clear that the current method of appointment doesn’t quite match what the people want. It’s a shame that they can’t have a general election and let the constituents themselves vote. Now that’s a radical idea – actually letting the people chose!

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Be Wary of Stealth Price Increases

Prices have been going up everywhere on just about everything. It’s easy to notice when something that you buy frequently raises in price. But there is one kind of price increase that creeps up on you in a stealth mode: packaging and quantity changes.

I did my usual twice-monthly stocking up of household items today at Wal-Mart and my local supermarket. Not only were the price increases very noticeable, but the packaging changes were so dramatic that they were obvious not only to my eyes but to my HANDS. There were several times that I picked up that I could tell that the size of the package had changed. In one case, my shampoo, the bottle size had grown, but so did the price – per ounce. It seems like you're getting more for the overall price, but you're getting more at a higher ounce price. One item – my dishwasher rinse aid – was clearly in a smaller bottle, and the size changed enough that my hand could tell immediately as I picked it up off the shelf. And the price went up, too. The other area is with cereals, where boxes have become thinner in depth, or in breads, where you may get the same amount of slices, but the slices are smaller (the bread delivery man tipped me off to the latter).

I understand that price increases are necessary these days because the cost of making the product and simply moving it to the stores and getting it on the shelves has risen. But I cry foul when a company changes their packaging without making note of it to the consumer, and then selling that lower quantity for either the same price or higher. It seems like cheating or stealing to me.

Now that I have noticed the change, it’s time for me to start re-evaluating some of the products I use often, and I may decide to make some changes in what I buy. The companies that I have been loyal to in the past that changed the package size AND raised the price already have a big strike against them. So instead of getting more money from me by delivering less of their product, they may find that they get no money from me at all.

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