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Please Kill Me 


Heckled Woman in Wheelchair has a Message

Ocean Grove, NJ

You may have seen this event on MSNBC or You Tube:  At one of the many notorious August town hall meetings, a woman in a wheelchair ignores a barrage of heckling and stoically reads a brief statement in favor of health care reform.

Marianne Hoynes of Ocean Grove, NJ read on as Congressman Frank Pallone strained to hear her.  A man booed incessantly, eyes closed rocking in his seat.  Others repeatedly shouted the demand that she, “Ask a question!”

In the end, the leftwing pundits picked up on the opposition’s blatant incivility and the terror of this ugly vignette. 

Marianne got through her statement, but her message was lost.  She told me that during the entire two hours of the town hall session there was no real discussion of health care issues, no exchange of ideas, no questions intelligent enough to be answered with a rational response.

I wanted Ms. Hoynes to have a real chance to speak her mind.  She has a lot to say and her story is timely.  Please take a few moments to hear her out.

At 43 years old in 2005, Marianne was generally healthy.   She did weight training two hours a day, five times a week at a local gym.  But, she had occasional flare ups of a skin rash caused by Granuloma Anulare, a chronic viral disease that is usually asymptomatic. 

In 2006, she moved to South Carolina for a year during which she curtailed her work out regiment and her health took a sudden tumble.  Apparently, her strenuous exercise routine was masking an underlying illness.  Now, the pain and stiffness was impossible to ignore.

Today, at age 47, she has been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome, both associated with autoimmune dysfunction confirmed by high levels of antinuclear antibody (ANA).  Chronic back problems now limit her ability to walk.  She is being diagnosed for treatment of herniated disks.  She hopes this problem is not associated with her autoimmune condition as then it would be acute and untreatable.

Youthful health to critical illness in a matter of three years, it could happen to any of us and it does happen to many of us.

“This country is a completely different place to live in when you get sick,” she stated at the Congressman Frank Pallone’s town hall.  “Please protect me from the extortion of the pharmaceutical giants.”

In our conversation she elaborated.  “The minute I was diagnosis it was like the medical system strapped on the feed bag.”  She described how, even though she has Medicare, her medical costs are nearly $10,000 per year. 

“I made a big mistake when I became eligible for Medicare,” she explains.  “I had six months to purchase a supplemental plan and didn’t know it, and now that I’m sick no private insurer will cover me.”  The next chance she will have to purchase private supplemental Medicare insurance will be her sixth-fifth birthday.

She told me how the new biological drug Enbrel worked wonders after being bedridden for two summer months last year.  But when the free samples ran out she was unable to afford the $600 per month co-pay for the drug that was priced at $1,600 per month.  “I’ve chatted with people in other countries and these drugs are available and affordable.  The world is watching us have this debate and they find it appalling.”

One of the drugs Marianne now takes costs $389 every two weeks.  Marianne believes medical care is a human right and she doesn’t buy the argument that a government sponsored insurance program is socialist.  “We all pay in.  It’s much more a fee for service.”  Medicare’s out-of-pocket payemtns are similar to private insurance plans: a premium, a deductable, co-pays and don’t forget that Medicare Part D, the prescription drug program, is purchased from private insurance companies and has that huge “donut hole” in its coverage.

“In other countries, people don’t spend two months sick in bed,” says Marianne.  “Their medical care is accessible and affordable enough that they can get the care they need when they need it.”

When we talk about health care reform being watered down, Marianne worries.  “What scares me most about any compromise that doesn’t have a public option is the idea that everyone is forced to buy private health insurance, giving the insurance companies tens of millions of new customers to prey on.”

It was an ordeal for Marianne to make her public statement.  She waited two hours to participate in the second of three sessions held by Congressman Pallone of New Jersey.  While she waited, protesters chanted, “Hands off health care,” and “Don’t kill Grandma.”

“It would have been one thing to speak in a situation where the audience was respectful.  But to speak about something painful and personal in front of a crowd of screaming maniacs was quite another.”

“I was exhausted from the two hour wait and I considered not speaking, but I was just tired of taking it up the butt silently.  I shut them out.  I forced myself not to cry while I was reading my statement.”

Though Congressman Pallone stated clearly at the start of the session that anyone could ask a question or make a statement, Marianne was peppered by people yelling “Ask a question!” during her less than three minutes at the microphone.

“You don’t cry in front of bullies, right?” she says with a dose of pride.

Marianne told me that about two-thirds of the crowd was opposed to health care reform.  “People were told to state their names and where they were from.  A lot of the people were from out-of-state.  They were bused to the event.”

According the Marianne, there was no discussion of the pending House legislation.  “People would take the microphone and ask Congressman Pallone if he read the bill, even though he had stated several times he had help write the bill,” she recalled.  “Others told the Congressman he was a domestic terrorist.”

“If you were there to learn about what was in the health care reform bill,” she laments, “you learned nothing.”

What would she tell President Obama?  “We elected him with a lot of hope.  I want to know, where is the audacity?  Sometimes compromise is not the answer.  Dr. King would never have settled for upgraded seats in the back of the bus.”


ACLU to Separation of Church & State: DROP DEAD!

Ocean Grove, NJ

As the summer chills to a close here, I received the sad news that the ACLU has turned down my petition to challenge an organization that accepts taxpayer money but denies beach access based on religious beliefs.

Organized as a non-profit corporation, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA), a religious ministry whose trustees must all be members of the United Methodist Church, receives an annual $500,000 taxpayer largesse in the form of a New Jersey open space tax exemption. 

For decades they have closed the beach to all on summer Sunday mornings during their worship services. 

No, it’s not just no lifeguards on duty.  They literally rope off the beach.  No one is allowed on the sand or near the water. 

The OGCMA’s beach property has also benefited from another taxpayer financed bounty.  In 2002, they were the recipient of a major Army Corp of Engineers beach replenishment project financed with millions of state and federal dollars.

I filed my complaint with the ACLU of NJ on Sunday, June 28, 2009, at the start of the beach season.  In the rejection letter, ACLU Intake Manager A. Herrarte said, “Unfortunately, the ACLU-NJ is unable to assist you in this matter.  We are a private, non-profit organization with limited resources; therefore, we must be very selective in choosing our cases.”

The ACLU-NJ has taken a number of cases to protect the freedom of religion for individuals.  I wonder why it’s not important when a religious organization steps over the line?  The OGCMA clearly accepts taxpayer dollars and then denies beach access for religious reasons to a space that, by law, should always be open.  In New Jersey beach access to the water line is a right.

Shouldn’t the ACLU at least want to make a few phone calls about this egregious case of discrimination based on religious belief?  Year after year, thousands of beach goers come to Ocean Grove on sunny summer Sunday mornings only to find their tax dollars hard at work keeping them off the beach. 

The OGCMA is also embroiled in another issue involving discrimination and denial of public facility access. 

Though gay and lesbian couples have the right to civil unions in New Jersey, the OGCMA claims it has a First Amendment right to deny civil union ceremonies in their boardwalk pavilion, where for decades heterosexual couples have celebrated the exchange of wedding vows. 

In this case, they have staked out the pavilion as a religious facility, a church by definition, in the midst of the tax exempt New Jersey open space.

A little background, Ocean Grove was a theocracy since it’s founding in 1896 as a Christian summer retreat.   Though the religious governance of Ocean Grove was abolished by a 1979 court ruling, many issues regarding the rights of residents have never been adequately addressed.  

Prior the court action, the town enforced strict blue laws with their own theocratic police force.  Cars and shopping were strictly forbidden in town on Sundays and, of course, the beach was closed until 12:30 PM.

Today, residents pay both a leasehold fee to the OGCMA and property taxes to Neptune Township.  The township never made a claim on the community’s open spaces including several parks and the beach, but it does provide all municipal services including police protection, road maintenance and garbage disposal.

I believe the OGCMA should remedy this situation in one of two ways: Abjure their New Jersey Green Acres Tax Exemption and pay all their back taxes.  This would allow the organization to run the beach anyway they wish within the confines of state beach access law.  Or, allow beach access, paid or otherwise, on Sunday mornings.

I am disappointed that the ACLU, which has done so much to preserve our constitutional freedoms, made a decision to forego this important case where taxpayer money is used to the public detriment. 


Bogus Barter Bucks

Recent letter from BARTER BROKER CORP to me as I still have an account with them worth some 2000 Bogus Bucks (BB) supposedly valued at $1 each.


You know the barter secret - so why not share it?

[Good idea. I will!]

You know that BARTER BROKER CORP can be an incredible tool to help you stay busy and profitable even in today's challenging business climate.

[Not true. For starters there’s the $20 per month fee payable only in U.S. $$$ and then there’s the 10 Bogus Bucks (my deliberately pejorative term for barter broker money) each month just for having an barter account, but that’s trivial since BBs aren’t worth shit.]

Why not share the benefits of being a BARTER BROKER CORP member with your business friends and earn a nice bonus for yourself?

[Why not? Because as soon as they find out what scam BARTER BROKER CORP is I won’t have any business friends anymore.]

Helping us to grow directly helps you increase the goods and services available within the Marketplace, and gives you direct access to new trading partners.

[Okay, business friends, this is how it’s suppose to work. You offer your service or product for Bogus Bucks that I’ve earned by selling my service or product for Bogus Bucks. Now, each time a Bogus Bucks transaction occurs BARTER BROKER CORP charges both you and me 5% in real U.S. $$$. Notice how they don’t accept Bogus Bucks. Hmmmmm? So on every “trade” they make a real 10% in real U.S. $$$.  Unlike BBs, U.S. $$$ are good everywhere like for paying the mortgage. Don't try paying the mortgage, or even your childsupport, with Bogus Bucks.]

As we announced in our July inaugural CEO email, we are adding nearly 1,000 new members to our Marketplace every month! Please take a few moments to contact your local Broker with a list of people who you have encouraged to open a BARTER BROKER CORP account.

[One-thousand new suckers every month! That’s great if you’re in on this game and want to take advantage of new players. Here’s why. The new “friends” tend to play by the rules, offering their products and services at their retail U.S. $$$ price or rate. That’s when you want to trade with them, like a new roof for 6000 Bogus Bucks. Poor sap roofer just paid $3,000 for roofing material and $1,500 in labor. So he or she has just traded $4,500 for 4500 Bogus Bucks and make a whopping 1500 BB profit.  And paid an additional $300 U.S. to make the trade.  Such a deal!]

BARTER BROKER CORP members who refer 3 new Preferred Members will have their own Association Fees waived for up to 13 full cycles (one year).

[Oh, yeah, I forgot their months are only four weeks each. That puts the annual fees at $260 U.S. That’s a lot of money.  And, remember, when Mr. Roofer goes to spent his 6000 BB he's going to be paying another $300.]

These members can be added at any time during the year. Your Association fees will be waived immediately for the year after the third member is added, as long as all 3 members continue to be Preferred Members.

[I have no idea what a Preferred Member is, but my bet is it’s even more expensive than being a run of the mill member and that no one stays a Preferred Member long. Let me tell you what happens after your first couple of trades. You realize you’ve got all these BB’s and you go to spend them and you find out:

A) Nobody, but nobody is charging their normal retail price, they inflate their prices because they already know BB’s aren’t worth a $1 each.

B) Nobody, save the fresh meat, will accept BB’s for material cost, anything they have to buy for the job they’ll want U.S. $$$.

C) Most of what is available is crap nobody wants. Time shares. Ugly jewelry. Overstock clothes. Seats at kiddy shows. Advertising space nobody wants. Gift certificates at bad restaurants that aren’t accepted for drinks, tax or tip. Cars that are lemons. Legal services. Oh, and that new roof? Forget it, that’s not happening.

I’ve been trying to spend my last 2000 BB for at least three years.]

Please take action today to save yourself some money…

[Another good idea. I’ve got to call tomorrow and tell them to stick their BB up the butt. I just keep hoping I can turn them in for something, anything half worthwhile.]

…and help new members join our dynamic Marketplace.

[Dynamic in that they’ve got to keep finding new blood or the entire scam crashes and burns. And, why did he capitalize marketplace? Oh, it’s a proper name not a reality.]

Thank you, Chairman and CEO, BARTER BROKER CORP

[P.S. If you thought there was a tax advantage to barter there isn’t. The states and feds got wise to this years ago. Full sales & use tax, no break on income or any other tax. Go Bogus Bucks!]


The Putrid Stench of Private Health Care Insurance

Nearly everyone recognizes something is rotten with private health care insurance. The crux of the problem, obscured by a a massive school of red herring, is rarely identified though it infects the entire medical services system. Once exposed all arguments in opposition to reform crumble.


Let's quickly net the red herrings, all of them.


At 4:00 p.m. on August 20, 2009, Brian Orelli, writing for the Motley Fool, published The Health Reform Witch Hunt.


Less than two hours later Motley Fools, money-minded individuals looking for salient investment advice, logged twenty-nine comments to Mr. Orelli’s article.


To summarize, Mr. Orelli made the following points regarding the present health care reform debate:

  1. Congressmen Waxman and Stupack are on a witch hunt to, Orelli’s words, “Show us why you can’t deal with a government-sponsored public plan,” in the form of letters to 52 health insurers requesting salary and bonus data for their top executives, costs of conferences and retreats, and the profit margins on their companies’ products.

  2. Five top medical insurers – UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint, Aetna, Cigna and Humana – have reported profit margins between a high of 7% and a low of 1.5% over the three years 2006 – 2008.

  3. Medical costs, at 82% of every premium dollar, are the main reason health care insurance premiums are so high, and by mathematical extension, a public plan could only save 5%.

  4. He then postulates that private insurers will innovate and find ways to compete even if there is a public option.

None of the above points matter. This is no witch hunt. There is a real, live monster on the loose that needs to be caged.


If the goal of the piece was to stir the pot and incite a response from the “Fools,” it did just that. What’s your guess as to the reaction from what can only be described as people with a bit of money to invest?


By my count: 7 opposed to most health care reform; 18 in favor of substantial health care reform and 4 for which I could not determine a position from their words.


Over 62% acknowledged that changing the current system is necessary.


People hate change. People who are happy don’t want any change.  Yet these individuals, who have money to invest, want significant change in our health care system. 


“Why?” becomes an important question. What is it that truly bothers us about the current system? We can point here and there. This is unfair, so is that. But to see the monster we have to step back, far back, because up close having private health care insurance is warm and fuzzy.


Those who posted comments to Mr. Orelli's ...Witch Hunt struggled to get their arms around the hairy beast.  Many posts were over 500 words long. Some brief passages deserve repeating here in the context of visceral instinct that something stinks.


From among those I counted as opposed to most reform:


“Health Care COSTS is where it’s at [sic]. The current system could stand a little make over. Tackle tort reform. Do the obvious things first, people!”


“…the uninsured are not all needy people, but for those that are, there are ways to make reasonable health care available. It is important to allow competition between insurance companies across state lines.”


“Being opposed to ‘Obama Care’ does not imply that those opposing it are satisfied with the status quo. The issue is the kind of reform, not the reform itself.”


And from those in favor of reform:


“I agree the health care companies make way more than you realize its time for a public option I feel it is a necessary evil [sic].


“Not surprised to see MF (Motley Fool) join the chorus of right wing mis-informers… Tell me how anyone can justify the salary of UnitedHealth Group CEO William W. McGuire… who has made 342 million (dollars) over the last 5 years?”


Regarding medical insurance tied to employment, “It deprives individuals of the freedom to quit their job and sell their skills in the open market, especially if they have a preexisting medical condition.”


But, making a profit is not unfair. Then what is the inequity that pushes our buttons to the max? Scoobrs, who wrote at length, shot the monster point blank:


“The insurance provider who expunges the most or signs up the fewest unhealthy Americans always wins. From a national productivity perspective, this is damaging our economy in multiple fashions.”


Yes it is, and there lies the rub. There is no free market capitalism in the medical insurance system. These are not capitalist enterprises. What we have, and what we are reacting to, is a predetermined system of profiteering.


We recoil from the stench of a scam where the taxpayers pick up the bill for nearly everything: the government run insurance programs, much of the cost of our own medical needs, and the cost of “uncompensated services rendered” to those who cannot afford to pay.


A bombing campaign of sound bites is in order. How about:


“Why do the insurance companies think they should only insure people who are healthy? If you've paid for insurance for years and years, shouldn't we expect them to keep you and pay when you get sick?”


“What the insurance companies have done is say: if you're a little sick we'll pay. If you get very sick you pay. While you're healthy, we'll take your money. Once you're old, we don't want you.”


“For all the years you're healthy and can afford coverage, insurance companies love you. When that's no longer the case, you're history.”


“The way medical insurance works now you pay for coverage when you're healthy. But once you have a terminal illness, the insurance ambulance boots you out at the next stop.”


“Those poor medical insurance companies. How can they make money if they have to insure people who may get sick?”


When seen for what it is, I challenge any free market capitalist to, “Go ahead, defend that.”


Put Your $$$ Where Your Mouth Is

Our priorities are inverted when it comes to two commodities: food and money. We reward Wall Street and stiff the local farmer. This upside-down situation is driving us toward a dystopian future.

Kerr Ridge Farm, Hopewell Valley, NJ – August 15, 2009

I believe we Americans and our corporate state called America have our priorities inverted when it comes to two commodities: food and money.

Money. Think a twenty dollar bill; Wall Street; corporate bailouts; your bank account; your earnings; corporate CEO compensation; the federal deficit; the cost of the Middle East wars; prices at Wal*Mart.

Food. Think a fresh, tasty summer tomato salad; fast food tainted with e-coli; a great steak with caramelized onions; a chocolate soufflé hot out of the oven; mad cow disease; a sweet cantaloupe; melt in your mouth sushi; a microwave dinner.

We think of money as expensive. We think of food as cheap. We crave money. We stuff our faces. We’ll do almost anything for money. We don’t worry about our next meal.

Geordie Kerr, a young farmer still on the fence about his inherited position in the family business of four generations, told me a story about one of his customers. This customer was amazed that one prosciutto (thinly sliced cured ham) Proscuitto di Parma at $19.99 a pound could be so much better than another proscuitto for which he paid $14.99 a pound. I’ll tell you the punch line to this story later.

When we shop, we Americans tend to want it cheap. We shop price, price, price to nearly the exclusion of all else.

Price is the reason we shop at Big Box Stores and eat at McDonalds.

Price is also the reason you cannot find an American made men’s dress shirt, or pants, or socks without a diligent search of the internet. It’s why we drink wine from Australia. Why all our electronics are made in China and, I venture, why I have to return some of them because they’re defective.

Price is why lead based paint was used to make play things for our children. And, it’s why almost nothing we eat is grown locally. Why much of the better food is imported. And, why so much of our food is now mass produced and subject to recall for fear of death and disease.

Price is not value. Price is not cost. This is why young not-sure-he-wants-to-always-be-a-farmer Geordie doesn’t like working his farm stand, Kerr’s Korn Stand, where he sells nearly all of his fresh grown produce. Reason?

People want to haggle with him, down from fifty-cents for an ear for the sweetest freshest white corn on earth. Or, they balk at $2.99 a pound for his just picked “Fourth of July” tomatoes that sparkle in your mouth. And, it’s where if he could only get a bit more for his crops, he would definitely commit to farming as his passion.

But right now he can’t get that twenty-five cents more an ear or dollar more a pound.

He weighs the long hours against the time he’d like to spend with his family. “It’s difficult getting a balance between family and work,” he says.

I’m thinking that’s true for nearly all Americans. By far we are the hardest working people on earth right now. But we heavily reward the money changers and give short shrift to our farmers.

We’ve declared money is more important than food. Hmmmm, what’s wrong with this picture? Which one can’t we live without?

If Geordie could get that twenty-five cents more it would mean a decent livelihood. Like all of us, he loves his wife and little girl. He knows they deserve some of the things money can buy, like higher education and decent healthcare. “My wife loves the Jersey shore,” he tells me. “Unfortunately, farming is about working long hours all summer.”

But Geordie is no victim. He blames no one. He recognizes he has options, even though he’d prefer to farm. We discuss how European farmers ban together to standardize high quality, protect a trademark, market and distribute their products in ways that gain them fair trade, i.e. a fair cut of the profit.

But money is precious and we shop price. Price is driving jobs overseas. Price begets manufactured food that risks lives. Big Agra has yet to lose its license over the people it’s sickened and killed. So, we literally risk our lives for a cheap meal. Money over food.

Geordie informs me that there are new farming regulations to stop food contamination. Certain manure fertilizing is now restricted, for example. The regulations, born of mistakes made by industrial agriculture are making Geordie’s life harder and driving up his costs.

I ask him, in the entire history of the family farm, had they ever sold food that made anyone ill. “No,” he reports, “but people occasionally complaint about worms in the corn.” Truth is any small food business would be sunk should they cause any significant illness, much less a death.

 “We’re careful,” he says, “We have to be.”

Last year’s fast food e-coli contaminations were most likely caused by field hands that didn’t have access to bathroom facilities, not normal farming practices. In other words, Big Agra wouldn’t spring for a port-a-john, and some desperate moments for workers picking the crop, turned into what can only be called manslaughter. Who pays the price in increased regulations that may or may not be necessary? It’s not just small farmers, we all do.

Now, here’s what Geordie’s customer thought about the cost of Proscuitto di Parma, a product “handcrafted” from old lineage pork and cured the same slow way for hundreds of years. He retorted, “When was the last time you ate a twenty-dollar bill?”

To that I add, when was the last time a twenty dollar bill was your job? Or, your shelter? Or, your clothes? Or, your family?

My point is we have to stop shopping price and start thinking about what all this cheap stuff we buy really costs. Our coins and paper bills have no real utility except as a means of exchange.

The true cost of cheap food, or cheap anything else for that matter, includes surrendering our lives as more and more power rises to the top of Big Greed corporations who claim they are the low cost leaders. They’ve convinced us to nickel and dime all the people around us whose work and services and products provide authentic value and could sustain us locally.

When cheap oil ends, when all the manufacturing jobs are gone, when all the farms are overseas, and all we are left with is taking in each other’s laundry, how do you think that twenty dollar bill is going to taste?

Oh, wait, no! There’s always Soylent Green. It’s much better than Soylent Red or Yellow. Trust the Soylent Corporation.

Chaz Valenza