Quick Hits – It costs what?

Those of you who follow me on Facebook already know my wife had cardiac ablation surgery yesterday. It’s an outpatient procedure whereby rubber “catheters” are inserted into a vein in your groin and, using an IV medium that allows the quick detection of a misfiring nerve, they apply extreme heat or cold to destroy it, thus, fixing the abnormal heart rhythm or “arrhythmia.”

Prior to that process, my wife’s heart rhythm was a lot like a drunk salsa band.

But the cool thing is, she went into the operating room at 10:30 a.m., she was out of it at noon, she was home by 4:30, and with the exception of the expected soreness, she’s fine. Now she can go back to drinking caffeine which will make my life so much better.

Modern medicine can truly be a miraculous thing.

But as we were sitting in that Presence Mercy admissions office, my wife pointed to a chart of general operating room expenses and exclaimed, “Two-thousand dollars for anesthesia?” To which I responded, “I thought it was gonna be more.”

It was at that point that the admissions person casually remarked, “The entire procedure is actually $144,000.”  And that doesn’t include the doctor’s bill. It was at that point that I nearly had to be treated for cardiac arrest. At least I was already in a hospital.

The good news is, as an East Aurora middle school teacher, her excellent insurance means our total out-of-pocket expenses will be a scant two grand. Don’t worry! I’ll make her work it off. The lawn does need a good mowing.

Medical Debt

Of course, this led to another brief fascinating debate with my good friend Paul, who asked:

My question is, what should the price be? I mean, when you consider the extraordinary research, technology, advances in methodology, the education required to perform such life-saving procedures, what is the price that is not “outrageous?” I don’t have the answer, but I’m interested in what people think IS the right answer.

To that very question, my wife told me that the operating room, with its myriad of flat panel monitors hooked up to various medical apparatus, looked like something right out of Star Wars.

But whether the operation was worth it wasn’t really the question. I quickly explained to Paul that it wasn’t the astronomical cost, it was the fact that this single simple procedure could bankrupt so many American families in one swift stroke of red ink.

Thirty-five million of the least of our brothers and sisters are uninsured, and another 44 million are underinsured, and those ranks are rising thanks to President Trump doing his damndest to destroy the Affordable Care Act.

What that means is, as we’ve previous covered, between 500,000 and one million Americans resort to bankruptcy every year as a result of overwhelming medical bills. And vast irony is, we’re the only First World country that allows that kind of regular cruelty to occur.

Sure! Blue Cross will knock that cost way down before they pay a single cent, and uninsured folks can negotiate with hospitals to mitigate that massive cost, but I can’t see that bill going any lower than $50,000. And how is someone making just $15 an hour possibly supposed to pay that off?

No one should have to mortgage their life in order to have one!

Heart arrhythmias generally aren’t fatal, but they do affect your quality of life. My wife had to make all kinds of adjustments to deal with hers until it got bad enough that she finally had to deal with it.

But what baffles me is how those good conservative Christian Republicans consistently get poor and middle-class white folks to vote against their own national health care interests. Though that’s changing as indicated by red states rebelling at the thought of giving up Obamacare, it’s not changing nearly fast enough.

Health care isn’t a privilege, it’s a right.

So, I’m gonna keep hammering it home. The Bible is very clear on the whole “least of our brothers and sisters” thing. In fact, I’d say it’s downright unequivocal about it. How can we reconcile our self-proclaimed Christian nation status against a health care system that’s so totally out of whack that it crushes the people who can least afford to be crushed?

Let me answer that that question for you, we can’t!

Really Sheriff Hain?

What do you do when you get caught hiring an unqualified Elgin City Councilman to a $72,000 a year part-time job? No! You don’t go to Disneyland! You shamelessly hop on the coattails of an injured seven-year-old girl in an effort to salvage some positive publicity.

Hanson

That’s Lexi Hanson in the photograph, the St. Charles girl who was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver.

It’s not as if the Sheriff’s Office had to “crack” the case. The alleged driver, who turned himself in the next day, left his truck and wallet behind.

So, what’s next? Photobombing children’s birthday parties? Why does the word “despicable” suddenly come to mind? And, of course, the Daily Herald just goes along with it! I can’t wait to see what Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain does for an encore!

Quick Hits – A Will County update

Journalism, especially these days, is a always a long-term consideration. If you expect your columns to have an immediate effect, not only will you be sorely disappointed, but your mental health will inevitably suffer.

So, it’s certainly rare, but every now and then a column does have the immediate desired effect as did yesterday’s piece on Will County considering the prospect of suing inmates to recoup the cost of their jail stay.

Will County

A number of Will County Board members reached out to say they weren’t aware of the initiative and it was such a bad idea that they had it removed from the board agenda. That means it won’t even come up for a vote.

So, I’m pleased to say that common sense still reigns in Will County.

The moral of this story is, don’t ever believe that your opinion doesn’t count and that you can’t change the world.

Quick Hits – Let’s go back to debtor’s prison and coerced confessions!

Silly me! I though Republicans had cornered the market on truly terrible political ideas! Just 120,000 troops to the Middle East? What could possibly go wrong with that?

Not to be outdone, the predominantly Democratic Will County Board is considering something that would make their GOP counterparts green with envy! They want to sue former inmates for the cost of their incarceration.

Hmmm! Forcing people to pay for being held against their will? That sounds an awful lot like a ransom demand to me.

Prison costs

And what a wonderful way to encourage recidivism! Put the ex-con, who already can’t get a job, behind the financial eight ball from square one. That way, you can ensure a continuous revenue stream by reincarcerating them and filing yet another lawsuit.

The impetus for this utterly irrational Will County initiative is, finally realizing that cash bonds, court fees, and fines have gotten completely out of control and disproportionally affect minorities, the Illinois General Assembly is spearheading a drive to standardize and reduce those bonds, fines and fees.

That, of course, begs the question, with the exception of Chairman Lauzen and Kane County, has any predominantly Republican Collar County ever considered holding the line on taxes, much less reducing them?

To be fair, most of the court cost, fee, and fine edicts emanate directly from Springfield, but as Will County just demonstrated, our local counties aren’t above adding their own brand of larceny into the mix.

And it starts with the fact that your circuit clerk gets to steal ten percent of your bond regardless of innocence or guilt. A judge regaled me with a tale of how he insisted that an exonerated defendant get every last penny of his $150,000 bond back, only to discover that 15 grand would be skimmed off the top because the statute gave him no leeway to return it.

There’s nothing quite like State sanctioned embezzlement, is there?

And that’s if you can even make bond which many minorities can’t. So, until very recently, those folks would rot in jail for two months or more waiting for the disposition of a case that would never put them in jail to begin with.

So, they lose their jobs and have to turn to “alternative” means of income when they are finally released.

If you make a deal or are found guilty, the court costs, fees and fine can run into the hundreds of dollars for a simple traffic violation. Please tell me why a DUI sentence should ever include $100 to an outside group like Mothers Against Drunk Driving? That’s nothing more than an outright shakedown.

It’s no better in civil court, either.

Filing a simple $2,500 small claims court suit in Kane County will run you $200. I understand we want to deter frivolous lawsuits and you get your court costs back if you win, but those kinds of absurdly high fees deter justice, too.

If you avail yourself of the full weight of the Kane County civil court system, your attorney will have to pay a $230 appearance fee “tax” just to walk through that courtroom door. How is that possibly jusitifiable?

The judge got it wrong – and they get it wrong all the time – and you want to file an appeal? Not so fast Sparky! First you have to fork over hundreds of dollars to the circuit clerk to have a low-lever staffer copy the court files. Then you have to pay thousands of dollars to court services to get the trial transcripts.

Since going before an appellate court pro se is pure folly, count on at least five grand for an attorney, and if they make the most minuscule formatting error in the brief, those fun-loving Second District Appeals Court judges will throw it out without a second thought.

And if you do prevail, please don’t think for a second that circuit court judge will refund your legal fees for completely screwing the whole thing up.

Having covered (and been through) the court system for 13 long years, the truly fascinating thing is, if you walk into any non-felony Kane County court call, despite the fact that Elgin and Aurora have their own branch courts and our County is 75 percent white, two-thirds of the defendants are always black and Hispanic.

That makes absolutely no sense because I’ve seen how most of you Caucasians behave.

The Collar County court systems have become nothing more than an institutionalized extortion racket intent on propping up old white male prosecutors and judges on the backs of minorities who already started 25 yards behind the rest of us in the human race. And most judges can’t even be bothered to work a full day.

Like I said, Illinois is trying to change this BS, but faster than you can say the word “reform” counties like Will are putting the onus right back on the people who can least afford it. And that County Board is virtually bragging about it.

And by the way! If Will county jails what turns out to be an innocent defendant pending trial, are they going to pay them for all that lost time? The legal sword cuts both ways!

So, why stop at suing inmates for their incarceration? Why bother with any pretense whatsoever? Let’s go right back to debtors’ prison, lopping off thieves’ hands, and torture generated confessions. Shame on every last Will County Board member for even considering this kind of abjectly cruel institutional abuse.

Quick Hit’s – Breaking News

When a source told me that Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain had hired, fast friend, campaign compatriot, and Elgin City Councilman Corey Dixon to what amounts to a very well-paying part-time job, my first thought was, “Ron Hain couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to try to pull off that kind of blatant patronage stunt.”

But then I received this morning’s FOIA response which clearly proved that theory completely wrong.

Dixon 3

Councilman Dixon, a former Department of Human Services caseworker, is the Kane County Sheriff’s Office newest “Senior Assistant Director of Administration,” a 35-hour a week job that pays 72 grand a year. And those County jobs come with a very generous benefits package, too!

To make matters even more interesting, somehow, only three other people managed to apply for a position that most of us would kill for, and from the look of their resumes, they were all more qualified than Dixon. C’mon! Caseworkers are great and necessary people, but it’s quite a leap from that gig to the Senior Assistant Director of Administration of a $26 million Sheriff’s office.

Considering how Dixon has repeatedly thrown Elgin Police Lieutenant Chris Jensen under the bus, it’s gonna be fascinating to see how local law enforcement reacts to this fascinating hire. Sheriff Hain certainly knows how to make friends and influence people, doesn’t he?

I’m also guessing the reason the job is part-time is so Dixon can continue to pursue his political career. It certainly helps to have friends in high places, doesn’t it?

I briefly spoke with Undersheriff Pat Gengler this morning, who correctly said he’d have to defer to the Sheriff on this one. So, since I simply can’t wait to hear his answer to all this, I’ll defer the full write-up until Monday (May 20).

Meanwhile, I’ve passed the story along to the Daily Herald and Shaw Media because this is exactly the kind of political BS that needs to be fully exposed. I’ve really gotta stop helping people get elected!

Quick Hit’s – “Satanic Jews?”

Is that a subset like the Hasidic or Orthodox branches? Could it be a death metal band? And exactly how can Louis Farrakhan tell the difference? I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many Jewish men and women over the years and not a single one of ‘em has introduced themselves to me as being the “Satanic” variety.

Perhaps I didn’t ask the right questions.

Please also note that I did not, and will not, refer to Mr. Farrakhan as “Minister” or “Reverend” because he has neither earned, nor does he deserve either title. If he was referred to as “The Race Baiting and Hate Spewing Bleep Louis Farrakhan, I’d be down with that.

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out two things.

First, I’m sure you’ve heard that Facebook and Instagram just banned Alex Jones and Infowars, Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, and Louis Farrakhan under their “dangerous individuals and organizations” policy.

“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook spokesperson declared, “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”

Yeah! And some of you regular folks are so much worse on social media and they don’t do anything about it!

Second, the self-appointed Pope of Chicago’s inner-city St. Sabina Church, Father Michael Pfleger, invited Farrakhan to speak to his congregation after the ban because what would a Thursday night Catholic get together be without a little hate speech thrown in for good measure.

Pfleger Farakhan

And sure enough! It was at that very gathering that Farrakhan, after proudly proclaiming his abiding love for Jews everywhere, said, “I just know the truth. And I’m here to separate the good Jews from the Satanic Jews.”

It sounds like he’s doing the laundry. And please tell me who appointed him as judge and jury of Jews anywhere? So much for “Judge not, lest ye be judged?” I know the truth, too, and I certainly know a big mouth racist bigot when I see one, because this bilge is just the latest in a long string of anti-Semitic comments.

Here are some of this abject reprobate’s despicable greatest hits:

It is now becoming apparent that there were many Israelis and Zionist Jews in key roles in the 9/11 attacks.  Israelis had foreknowledge of the attacks…  We know that many Jews received a text message not to come to work on September 11

Apparently those 400 Jews who died in the Twin Towers didn’t get the text.

The false Jew will lead you to filth and indecency. That’s who runs show business. That’s who runs the record industry. That’s who runs television.

“False” Jews? What happened to the “Satanic” ones?

The white people running Mexico are Mexican-Jews.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a white Mexican Jew! The concept sounds a lot like a unicorn.

The false Jew will lead you to filth and indecency. That’s who runs show business. That’s who runs the record industry. That’s who runs television.

You mean Barry Gordy was Jewish? First Sammy Davis Jr. and now this?

And then there’s my personal favorite:

Pedophilia and sexual perversion institutionalized in Hollywood and the entertainment industries can be traced to Talmudic principles and Jewish influence. 

The man certainly possesses a rather vivid imagination, doesn’t he?

C’mon! This is the same tired old “common enemy” scapegoat BS that Adolph Hitler used to come to power in 1933 Germany. The only things missing here are the colorful armband and funny little mustache.

Perhaps Mel Brooks could write a musical about him.

I expect nothing less from Farrakhan because I couldn’t possibly expect any less of him. He’s always been an anti-Semitic gay bashing self-appointed “prophet” who will do or say anything to stay in the spotlight.

But as bad a Father Pfleger can be, especially when it comes to any form of publicity and self-aggrandizement, I never thought he’d stoop to the level of inviting a world-class hatemonger to infect his parish. And they lapped it up, too!

And when Chicago Cardinal Blaise Cupich admonished Pfleger thusly:

Minister Farrakhan could have taken the opportunity to deliver a unifying message of God’s love for all his children. Instead, he repeated smeared the Jewish people, using a combination of thinly veiled discriminatory rhetoric and outright slander.

Pfleger responded by saying, “I think that Jesus said in the scriptures, that leave judgement to the Father.”

That’s funny! Because when it comes to malt liquor manufacturers, cigarette companies, the Illinois Lottery, drug paraphernalia stores, rappers, Howard Stern, and gun shops Pfleger has no problem standing in for God. In fact, he frequently thinks he is God.

But what really frosts my cookies is my liberal compatriots love to believe that Donald Trump has cornered the market on intolerance. While the President is certainly no role model, if it comes down to expecting more from a con man or two high-profile “spiritual leaders,” you know where that bleep is gonna to land.

I cannot believe that, in 2019, we’re still dealing with this level of institutionalized anti-Semitism. It simply refuses to die. And for it to come on behalf of any priest is simply beyond the pale. Does the Catholic Church really need any more bad publicity?

Cardinal Cupich! Remove Father Pfleger from St. Sabina’s now if you have to personally drag him out. It’s something that should’ve been done years ago.

Talk about false prophets. Bruce Cockburn was right! You really do have to “kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”

 

Addendum 1

One of my favorite readers noted that NBC 5 Investigates will be covering the disastrous Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles on their Tuesday evening broadcast (5/14). It’s about time that fiasco moved beyond The First Ward.

 

Addendum 2

To the anonymous individual who mailed me two of my Beacon-News columns, one from 2008 and the other from 2010, you made my day. Those former Sun-Times newspapers were always a difficult proposition, but I do have some very fond memories of specific editors and reporters that those clippings brought right back.

Thank you for saving them and taking the time to send them to me!

Quick Hits – Conservatives can’t govern – part 1

Or they simply refuse to govern, which is even worse. Having never quite recovered from their terrible twos, they mount a Quincy Adams Wagstaff “Whatever it is, I’m against it!” assault on anything that didn’t materialize in their very own stilted minds.

Critical thinking? What fun would that be?

Case in point! When Elizabeth Warren, one of the shrieking Republican multitude’s favorite targets, came up with a plan to cancel some college loan debt, you’d a thunk she’d just released Trump’s tax returns.

So, now conservatives are supporting loan sharks? Those new lows just keep coming, don’t they!

Warren’s proposal might not be perfect, but she is on to something and it’s something that should be considered. The irony is, the student loan racket, which is nothing more than a glorified Ponzi scheme, should’ve been on the Republican radar a long time ago.

It starts with usurious interest rates. You can get a 0 percent interest car loan. If you pay the bill within a year, you can get 0 percent credit card financing. And the going mortgage rate is scant 3.6 percent.

student-debt

But student loans, which are backed by the full weight of the federal government, somehow carry a 5 to 7.5 vig. On what planet should companies that bear NO financial risk be allowed to charge double the going rate?

Like I said, it’s called loan sharking.

But what makes it even worse is these loan companies target teenagers who don’t understand the ramifications of going into the kind of debt that, in many cases, will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

You and I know that degree in Russian Literature, Art History, or Anthropology will never turn out to be the path to financial security, but most starry-eyed immortal 18-year-olds don’t understand that! Flush with the thought of seemingly unlimited options, when these loan sharks dangle that kind of easy money, they leap at the opportunity without a second thought.

That, in turn, creates an artificial demand that’s sent college tuition skyrocketing.

When I attended Loyola University of Chicago in the early 80’s, I thought six grand a year was outrageous. But now that tuition is an absurd $42,000 a year. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good school, but by the end of their college career, some graduates could end up owing 170 grand – if they don’t go on to graduate school.

Warren’s plan should’ve focuses on getting the government out of the student loan business altogether. This would destroy this Ponzi scheme by sending college tuition plummeting such that regular folks could afford a college education without mortgaging the rest of their lives.

“So, how does this affect me,” You say?

When these fine folks finally graduate with those useless degrees, saddled with unsupportable debt, they can’t participate in the regular economy. They can’t get a mortgage, they can’t get a car loan, and screw any luxury purchase.

So, the housing market, already beset by millennial’s inability or unwillingness to buy homes, while in a temporary recovery, will continue to crash. So, good luck making any profit when you sell yours.

Unable to afford anything but basic purchases, and they tend to go online to get the biggest bang for the buck, brick and mortar retailers, already closing by the bucket load, will continue to fail.

Since Amazon doesn’t pay local property taxes, Collar County municipalities will have no choice but to move that burden on to homeowners. And our generally conservative Republican school board members have already jacked our property taxes up to some of the highest levels in the nation.

I know that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but not by much. We’re already feeling the ripple effects of this unsupportable dynamic. Have you noticed how popular apartments have become?

You’d think those “less government” conservatives would be the first ones to call for the feds to get out of the co-signing game. But because it was Ms. Warren who came up with what’s turning out to be a very popular proposal – 73 percent of voters support it – they’re against it.

If ‘What’s Happening in’ Facebook page owner Paul Stukel and I can agree on this issue, it’s gotta be a no-brainer!

In the end, this is nothing more than more Republican governing by temper tantrum, and much like the college loan scam, it’s going to come crashing down around them. And when you consider that the average age of a Republican is a ripe old 50, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is just the beginning!