The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘the elderly’ Category

REVELATION

Several years from now in America …

Due to the full implementation of Obamacare many medical professionals have either emigrated or left the practice of medicine.  As a result, even candy stripers are being pressed into service to perform some of the more mundane tasks with regard to patients and their needs.  What follows is a story about them.

Three very young nurses’ aides were in the hospital hallway awaiting their next assignment.  The senior ward nurse asked if they were familiar with prepping a patient for surgery.  “Mr. Robbins in Room 207 Bed 7 is due to undergo abdominal surgery in several hours and needs to be shaved before the procedure.”  All three of the young ladies said they had received training and one of them, Jeanine volunteered to prepare the patient.

Jeanine went in to Mr. Robbins’ ward.

Several minutes went by and Jeanine came out of the room and was blushing.  Her two friends asked what had caused her embarrassment.  She said, “When I was preparing Mr. Robbins, I couldn’t help but notice that on his “member” he had a tattoo.  It said, “Shorty.”  When I saw it I could hardly stop from laughing and I thought before I broke out into a guffaw I should leave the room.

Her two co-workers thought it was ridiculous that any man would choose to have a tattoo placed there so a second aide, Marta said she would take over for Jeanine and finish the job.

After several minutes in the room Marta came out, her face as red as Jeanine’s.

Jeanine said, “See, didn’t I tell you?  His tattoo says ‘Shorty’.”

Marta said,  “Well no it doesn’t.  Mr. Robbins got a little bit excited and I saw the full tattoo.  It says, “Shorty’s Bar.”  Jeanine’s eyes widened but the third young woman, Alicia didn’t believe any of it and thought her two friends were playing a joke on her.  So she decided to see for herself.

She went into Mr. Robbins’ room and in a few minutes stumbled back through the door and passed out on the floor.  When she was revived, her two friends asked her what happened.

Alicia, still gasping for breath said, “Girls, the tattoo actually reads, ‘Shorty’s Bar And Grill, Albuquerque, New Mexico’.”

I thought I would offer you a laugh to begin this post because what follows is anything but funny.  It is the story of how nationalized health really works when services are rationed.  It is the story of future medical “care” in the United States.

THE UNITED KINGDOM … TODAY

Following is a story about the “Liverpool Care Pathway.”  I was shocked when I read the article and would advise that it will be disturbing to those who are sensitive and might feel queasy reading about the way medical practitioners in the UK “euthanize” new born infants.

I became aware of this because of a re-blogged post I saw on www.Oyiabrown.com.  This blogger has helped broaden my perspective by offering a European view of the world and is a follower of mine and vice versa.

Before clicking on the link below to the story, let me repeat that this is not something that the faint of heart will want to read – as much as it needs to be read by all of us in America because I believe this will be our future under Obamacare.  Please understand that is not a political statement – it is a logical one.

Incidentally, this same procedure for ending the lives of elderly patients is followed as well.

I am not one of those single issue people whose lives revolve around Pro-Life or Pro-Choice issues.  I have clearly stated my position on the subject in many posts and explained my reasoning.  Some of you agree and others do not.  I respect your right to hold your opinion whatever it is.

I see abortion as a subset of a far deeper and more dangerous philosophy.

As I have cautioned, when we are willing to trivialize life (even the potential of life as in the case of an embryo), it is a short step for us to lose perspective of our humanity and to engage in the practices that the story describes.

I celebrate life in all its forms, human or animal or vegetable and even extra-terrestrial should I live long enough to encounter our brothers in space.  I have contributed financially to organizations that encourage animal conservancy and protection for many years.

To me it is amazing that many of those in that movement will go to extremes to preserve the egg of a Spotted Owl – which, of course, only has the “potential” of becoming an owlet yet do not extend that protection to a human embryo and even worse to a baby who has been birthed.

To me, greater than the one written by St. John the Divine, that is a true Revelation about who we are as a species.

http://vineoflife.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/now-sick-babies-go-on-death-pathway-doctors-haunting-testimony-reveals-how-children-are-put-on-end-of-life-plan/

I invite your comments.

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTING –PART II

It is the Tuesday before we turn our attention to our national day of Thanksgiving.  We have a lot for which we should be grateful despite the many challenges that lie ahead of us.

I began writing this blog a little over a year ago.  With the exception of about ten posts which were the work of others and which I re-blogged, the writing has been an expression of my thoughts and feelings, my hopes and my concerns.  There are now over 450 original posts which have been uploaded for your review.

No one either lives or writes in a vacuum.  If a person were to write the “Great American Novel” and no one read it, would its existence matter?  And so I remember that when I began and started to learn to navigate a little bit around Word Press, the excitement I felt when someone first clicked the “like” button on something I had written.  I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, somebody actually read what I had to say.”  I guess we all need a little validation for our efforts.

As my blogging journey continued, I suddenly had a “follower”.  Just one – but that was exciting.  And then another and a few more.  As I began reading other blogs, it was only natural that I noticed how many followers some of them had.  Hundreds and hundreds, which led me to feel that what I had to say was probably only important to me and perhaps a handful of others.

And while I wanted to stop and enjoy a private pity party for a bit, I realized that if what I had to say mattered only to an audience of one – myself – I was honor bound to say it – with or without the acclamation of others.  It seems to me that is what personal honesty and responsibility are all about.

Perhaps one of the nicest compliments I have heard about my posts has come from two different people at the dog park who are not “followers” but are regular readers.  In the past week both of them have commented on specific posts and have described them as being written with “passion”.  I can think of no higher accolade and I am grateful to them for those words of encouragement.

And it is to all of you have taken the time either to click the “like” button and especially to those of you have taken your time to leave a comment to whom I want to express my gratitude and thanks.  Although you may not have realized it, your comments were a sustaining nourishment that enabled me to get as far with this blog as I have.

And there is one more thing about your comments which needs to be said.  You have provided the inspiration for many of these posts by causing me to think about things which otherwise I might have overlooked.  Such is the case with this post’s predecessor – which before reading the three comments that are currently posted, I considered a completed work.  But your thoughtful commentaries have now given rise to this post, and two more which will follow in the next few days.

So with a grateful heart, I say to all of you, “Thank you.”

And now – on to the subject of this post which I dedicate to all those who have taken their time to comment in the past.

When Gracie and I returned home this morning from the dog park I was sitting out back enjoying a beautiful morning and a strong cup of coffee.  Gracie, who in many ways is my muse, was happily munching on a homemade dog biscuit and I was thinking about the comments that “illero” and “irishsignora” and “William Lawson” had left on the first episode of “Government Accounting”.  And then I was inspired.

I agreed in my reply to “illero” that the amount of money deprived our seniors through SSA’s accounting gimmickry was chump change, although we both felt that the practice was petty and wrong.  But then I read “irishsignora’s” comment about how she is teaching her children about the value of things.  The combination of the two caused me to think about the real story here – one beyond that which I reported in the first post on this subject.

That caused me to think about Albert Einstein who understood the importance of “compounding” (read more in the next post) and that led me to think about the implications of this practice not just in one year but over periods of time.

If you followed my logic in “Government Accounting” (I wonder if I have to go back and rename it Part I – nah), SSA is currently saving $200 Million a year through their practice of always rounding down to the next lowest dollar the benefits that they pay out to seniors.  When you have a government running a $1 Trillion annual deficit, that is truly small potatoes.

But think about it for a moment.  According to the SSA, the “average” beneficiary receives a payment for a little over 16 years.  So, assuming that there is an annual increase in benefits of any amount (we just had a three year period where there were no increases – but that is an all time first in the history of the program), each year this accounting gimmick is going to compound the savings to SSA by an equal amount.  So in year two, the savings will amount to $400 Million, in year five, $1 Billion and in year sixteen, $3.2 Billion.  This is no longer “chump change” – and I think the late Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen would strongly agree.

And what is the cumulative amount denied our senior Social Security recipients over this sixteen year time horizon?  It totals up to a rather staggering $30.2 BILLION.

Those of our elderly who may occasionally have to resort to eating canned cat food could certainly trade up and buy a whole lot of filet mignons with that much money.  Even at the current market price.

TRANSFORMATION

It was only a matter of time and the transformation was inevitable.  Those with a WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) mindset are rapidly becoming the LGIFT people.  That, by the way, stands for “Let’s Get It From Them”.  If they have not come to understand that there is no such thing as a “FREE LUNCH”, they’re darn sure that having eaten, they don’t want to be the ones to pay the check.

But reality is starting to take root in those among this group with IQ’s that are greater than your average snapping turtle’s.  Sadly, that only comprises a small percentage of this collective.  (My apologies to snapping turtles everywhere).

Apparently those who are the targets of the collective’s “wealth-equalization” strategy never saw the T-Shirt which said, “When rape is inevitable, lean back and enjoy it.”  And darn those curmudgeons, they’re not going to go down without a fight.

So now that the election’s over and we know what we’re stuck with for the next few years, business people are finally able to lay out some strategies.  And here’s what is happening:

*** Hostess Brands, Inc. has filed for bankruptcy.  The company manufactures “Twinkies” and “Wonder Bread” among other “food” products.

I never ate a Twinkie but I have seen people pop them in their mouths and looked at the pseudo-creamlike insides as it oozed around the outer pastry container – which is why I have never eaten a Twinkie.  And as to “Wonder Bread”, I remember as a kid Mom saying, “It’s a wonder they’re allowed to call it bread.”

Net result of failing to reach an accord with the Baker’s Union representing Hostess’ workers:

Probably an improvement in the general health of those who eat this stuff and may no longer find it on their grocery store’s shelves;

Hostess will lay off 18,500 full-time employees.  (Oh, by the way, the Baker’s Union that refused to budge on the principle of WIIFM only represents 5,600 people – so they were effectively able to deprive an additional 12,900 working class stiffs of their jobs).

Way to go, folks.  Did I hear someone say, “Union, Yes!?”

*** Obamacare, though 13 months from full implementation is starting to take it’s toll:

This morning at the dog park, one of my friends who is 74 mentioned that he had received a letter on Saturday from his primary doctor that effective 01/01/13 he will no longer treat patients who are insured through Medicare.  You can be darn tootin’ sure that millions of elderly patients will be getting that similar notification.

I guess that’s okay.  We know that “end of life” medical costs represent by far the greatest medical expenditures a person will typically experience during her few brief years on planet Earth.  So if we merely let the elderly die through neglect we can save all that money – not to mention future Social Security payments they might have received.  Now that’s one heck of a way to try to get our financial and healthcare system back on track;

There is good news in this.  Obviously, the funeral industry will be a major beneficiary of these deaths – so that may provide an opportunity for those Hostess workers who are getting laid off.  How long can it be before we start seeing ads from those on-line Universities offering training in “Mortuary Science?”  I just wonder how they will provide the “hands on” training necessary over the internet.;

Those evil doers that run companies are, of course, taking defensive measures that any rational person would.  They are cutting the hours of formerly full-time employees and making them part-time to avoid having to cover them with the proscribed insurance that Obamacare mandates.  So employees who are now covered with insurance will lose this benefit and will have to find and pay for it on their own (with a reduced income) or will have to pay a tax for not having insurance and will have to rely on Medicaid for their health needs.  Good luck having a decent quality of life with those choices.

To make matters worse, insurance premiums are going to skyrocket.  They have to in order to accommodate the influx of new, unhealthy patients who will be added to the rolls.  If you apply the same lack of logic to auto insurance as Obamacare applies to health insurance, what would you, a careful driver with a twenty year-long record of no tickets or accidents think if suddenly your auto insurance company advised that because now, all drivers are “equal” risks, your premium is going to quadruple since they have to insure people at the same rate as you, who have been arrested multiple times with DUI’s on their record?  The phrase “p*ssed off” comes to mind.

Well there still is good news I could find in this scenario.  At least one CEO of a major casualty insurance company, Peter B. Lewis of Progressive Insurance, a major Obama contributor, might see a significant increase in his company’s bottom line.  And the better good news is that Flo wouldn’t have to apply to an online University to get training in Mortuary Science.

But let’s do just a quick recap on the situation of the average now full-time, soon to be part-time employee:

She will take a pay cut of approximately one-third of her income;

She will now be forced to pay for insurance out of her own pocket at rates that are far higher than those today, which are already unaffordable;

Failing that, she will have to pay a $695 penalty to the government on her tax return for not having insurance;

The only healthcare available to her will be Medicaid – arguably only one or two steps better than going to a witch doctor – and thus will add to the burgeoning cost of that program which is already bankrupt;

And she will now probably qualify for assistance for food stamps because of her reduced income – another program that is rapidly bankrupting and enslaving us both financially and morally.

What’s not to like?

I see a few hands being raised on the left side of the auditorium.

“Yes, sir?  Do you have a question or comment?”

“I think it’s disgusting that those fat cat, money grubbing people who own companies are going to lay-off or reduce the hours of workers just because of their own selfish self-interest.”  (I cleaned up and deleted the expletives in this statement as this blog is designed for a general audience.)

“Do you, sir?  As I understand your statement, you object to their doing what they believe is in their own best self-interest?  But let me ask you – isn’t that exactly what you and millions of people who share your view did when you voted for a President who created this whole mess?  You thought it would be a good thing for YOU.  So why should anyone else act any differently?”

At this point a significant contingent of those in attendance left the room.  So to those remaining, let me offer a suggestion.

Just so we know what we’re really dealing with, I propose renaming the President’s healthcare bill to what it really is:  “The Obama-I-Couldn’t-Care-Less Act.”  Because less care is what we really can all expect – and the lower you are now on the financial totem pole, the worse it’s going to be for you.

Mark my words.

GOOD NEWS FOR SENIORS

If you don’t like pizza – well, you’re just un-American.  I’m a good and loyal American so it goes without saying that I not only like, I LOVE pizza.  Hot, cold, thin or thick crust – other than throwing pineapple and ham on it (or peanut butter), it’s almost impossible to ruin this all-American favorite.  (We did invent it didn’t we?)

Well if you’re thinking that under our ever-beneficent radical socialist leaders in Washington, seniors are going to be able to get all the pizza they can eat, I’m sorry to report that you’re wrong.  (At least for the moment – but who knows?)  No, I’m referring to new job opportunities which those who rely on walkers to perambulate may soon have available to them.

You see, there’s this law that passed called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a/k/a/ Obamacare).  And a mighty law it is indeed – as we’re only beginning to discover.  Fortunately, it doesn’t fully kick in for another year so that allows us time to think and pine and fret over its implications as they begin to further unfold.  But there are a few things about it which we do know.

(This includes those Democrats including my own former Congresswoman Shelley Berkley who recently failed to advance her career to the United States Senate and is now out of politics.  The good Congresswoman followed leader Pelosi’s advice and voted to pass the bill without bothering to read it.  Details, details.)  And, by the way there are a lot of details.

One of the details that we do know is that employers will be required to provide health insurance for all employees who earn less than $15 per hour.  If they fail to do so they will be subject to a fine of $2000 per employee.  But the cost of the insurance is likely to be at least five times as expensive as the fine.  So, in essence, the reasonable employer will make the choice between spending $2000 per year or $10,000 per year – and which number do you think she will select?

But, wait – there’s a way around this.  You see this only applies to those employees who are considered “full time” employees – that is to say that they work (or at least show up) for 30 hours or more a week.  (Whatever happened to the 40 hour work week?  I guess I owe myself a lot of back pay at an overtime rate!)

So, as an alternative, an employer can cut back on her full-time staff, reducing them to part-time status and thus skirt this provision of Obamacare.  Apparently when our esteemed Congress passed this bill and the President signed it into law, they overlooked this eventuality and the consequent reduction in income and standard of living that those whom the law is intended to benefit will undergo.  I guess it’s just another example of unintended consequences.

But in my musings, I have arrived at a solution which I would like to share with all those small business owners (and little pizzerias that I love to frequent).

HIRE THE ELEDERLY

You see, if we merely raid the retirement homes to find the able-bodied among our senior citizens, we can recruit them to work in our stores and businesses and avoid this provision of Obamacare since they already have insurance, Medicare.

And this works out well for our seniors.  Not only will it provide them with additional income that they need to compensate for the rising prices of food and gas (the kind you put in your vehicle) which are far outstripping the increase in their Social Security benefits but, since their doctors are now becoming veterinarians, there’s no need for them to worry about missing their appointments – since there won’t be any.

And this works out for the pizza-eating public as well.  I mean really, would you rather see some acne-pimpled teenager tossing the dough for your pizza, or some lovely silver-haired lady who reminds you of your grandmother?

“I’m here to pick up my extra large pepperoni, mushroom, green pepper and onion pizza, Grams.  Oh, wait.  Don’t strain yourself.  Let me help you lift that.”

THE AARP AGENDA

I was approaching one of those milestone birthdays – you know, one of those ending in a zero.  It happened to be my 50th and several months before the actual day I had a new friend who didn’t want the day to go by unnoticed.

The American Association of Retired Persons as it was formerly called, began sending me solicitations to become a member of their organization.  A number of my friends were members and the cost to join was inexpensive, so I returned my invitation together with a check.

AARP efficiently returned an informative membership packet and I began receiving a copy of their bi-monthly magazine.  As it turned out, I was already getting the travel and hotel discounts that they offered from other sources, their offerings for Medicare health insurance supplements were not available to me because of my age and I found I could do better shopping on my own for auto and homeowner’s insurance.

The magazine which AARP publishes is very informative and I highly recommend it to people who do not have the time or are unwilling to make the effort to do their own research.  I have always preferred learning things on my own, comparing several sources so that I get a variety of views and then drawing my own conclusions.  So after perusing several issues, the remainder of my subscription went into the recycling bin unread.

At the end of my year’s membership, AARP sent me a renewal form which also went into recycling as have many solicitations that I received from them over the following years.  I have chosen not to renew my membership in AARP.

If you’ve watched any television recently, you will certainly have seen some ads for “AARP endorsed” Medicare supplement plans.  That is because the period between October 15th and December 7th is “open enrollment season” when seniors on Medicare can choose to switch or change their supplemental coverage for the following calendar year.

I admit that with my sometimes twisted sense of humor, when I hear “open enrollment season” I think of hunters going after our senior population, armed with bazookas to bring down their targets.  There is big, very big money in selling Medicare insurance supplements – a fact that is not lost on AARP.

As part of our regulatory system, both “for profit” and “not for profit” organizations must file financial statements with the Federal government.  What is required of “not for profits” is less than for their counterparts.  But reviewing these statements can still be informative.  So that’s what I did.

In the year ending December 31, 2011, AARP received more than two and one half times the amount of revenue from “endorsing” insurance products than it did from its membership fees – a rather staggering, $704 Million.  By anyone’s standard, this could hardly be considered chump change.  The vast majority of this income was derived from royalties paid by United Health Group based in Minnetonka, MN, but some of it was derived by its “affiliate programs” with other insurers who provide auto, homeowners and life insurance to AARP members.

If you can recall any of United Health’s ads for Medicare supplements, to promote sales of their products they include the phrase, “the ONLY Medicare supplement endorsed by AARP”.  The implication, of course, is that AARP wouldn’t “lend” its name to a product that it hadn’t thoroughly checked out in much the way that consumers used to look for the “UL” label on an appliance to make sure that Underwriters Labs, an independent organization, had thoroughly tested the product before passing on its safety.

There is a big difference between the UL seal on a product and the AARP endorsement of a Medicare insurance supplement.  Underwriters Labs provides an independent assessment of each product it reviews.  It is not compensated by any company for passing or rejecting their products.  AARP has a significant vested financial interest in promoting products by United Health because they receive a royalty for each one of these supplements which are sold.

United Health Group is a fine and reputable company.  It owns the largest portion of the Medicare supplement business with a 30% market share.  I am not suggesting that their products are in any way inferior to those offered by their competitors.  In fact, if I may cite one example in which government regulations have actually proven effective, it is the Medicare supplement business.

Our seniors can choose a “lettered” supplement which will pay part or all of the costs which Medicare does not cover.  The government has standardized these different options and each insurance company which underwrites them must offer the same government-specified coverage for that particular contract as does its competitors.  The only difference between them is the cost that a particular insurer charges and the service that the insured receives from the underwriter.

Considering that fact, an AARP endorsement, or lack of one, makes absolutely no difference to the consumer when they select a Medicare supplement.  It all comes down to the cost of the product and the service that they will receive should they need to file a claim.

According to the financial statement which AARP filed for calendar year ending December 31, 2011, of its $1.35 Billion in income which the organization recorded, more than 50% of it was derived from royalties from insurance contract sales.  In other words, AARP has a vested interest in making sure that there is no threat to its primary source of income – the royalties it receives from the sales of insurance contracts.

And that brings me, together with another item in its financial statement, to question its motivation in criticizing the Romney campaign for statements that they have made regarding Medicare and Obamacare.  Are these criticisms that have been leveled by an independent organization whose mission is to defend and protect our senior population?  Or are they self-serving statements made by a business, intent on protecting its own interests?

The other item in the financial statement which stood out to me was the income the AARP received from “grants”.  The amount that it recorded was $101 Million, and of this amount $92 Million came from the Federal government.

My friends in academia used to sweat bullets when it came time for their “grants” from Uncle Sam to be reviewed for renewal.  Although they may have lived in ivory towers, they realized that the individual who made the determination of continuing or stopping their grants had the power of financial life or death over them.

I would suggest that AARP is in much the same position as my academic friends.  If you combine the royalties it receives from the sale of Medicare supplements and the money it receives in grants, AARP is dependent on the Federal government and its programs for over 60% of its income.

Is it, therefore, any surprise, that AARP took Mitt Romney to task for challenging the administration on its healthcare programs calling his statements “false and misleading?”

As I head out with Gracie for our morning visit to the dog park, the old adage comes to mind.

“You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW

When I was growing up, a cartoon appeared in one of the evening New York newspapers entitled, “There Oughta Be A Law.”  It was a one panel piece which depicted some of the stupid things that people do.  Perhaps I should substitute the term “nonsensical” for the word stupid.

The cartoon ran for quite a few years.  Apparently there is no limit to the goofy stuff of which mankind is capable.

Some of the idiotic things in which these people engage are caused by those who seem to live there lives by using as little of their gray matter as they possibly can.  Most of their activities merely inflict disaster on themselves.  But, occasionally, they take their ineptitude into the public sphere where they have the ability to impact any innocent citizen who has the misfortune of being in their presence.  An obvious example is people who drive drunk or use cell phones or text while driving.

To protect ourselves from these people how does our society respond?  Our answer, as in the cartoon is, “There oughta be a law.”  And we do just that – we pass laws and hope that will solve the specific problem addressed in the legislation.

Certainly, until such point that each of us is innately a good citizen, a caring person, a responsible individual, (that day is far in the future), we will need laws so that those who are irresponsible may be punished when they infringe on the rights of their fellow citizens.  But those need to be good laws – laws which truly offer deterrence to misbehavior.  Merely passing a law does not, in and of itself, resolve the behavior we are trying to discourage.

Allow me to offer a simple example.

We all wish that disease did not exist.  I have never met anyone who felt otherwise.  If someone in Congress were to propose a law banishing disease from the United States, I am sure that it would pass unanimously in both houses and would be swiftly signed into law by the President.  Would disease miraculously disappear as a result of this enactment?  Of course not.

The first two years of President Obama’s administration produced two laws, The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Dodd/Frank (intended to make sure that we never again faced a similar banking crisis to the one we endured).  Both laws, as they have been presented to voters seem, on the surface, to be good things.

I come from the K.I.S.S. school of management (Keep It Simple Stupid).  Both of these laws exceed two thousand pages – hardly what anyone would consider to be simple.  In fact, they are so complex that to date no one, including those who voted to adopt them, knows what they actually contain and for what they provide.

Why are these two laws so important?  Because, if you listen to the voices of small businessmen, not understanding their implications is the primary reason that they have been reluctant to hire new workers.  And that is the reason that our economy is still sputtering along at a 1.3% growth rate rather than the 4.0% rate that President Obama predicted as a result of his stimulus plans.

Should this matter to any of us?  Well it certainly matters to those who are still actively seeking work and continue to be unemployed.  And to those of us who are fortunate to have a job it matters because it is one of the primary reasons that our national debt load (what each man, woman and child owes) now exceeds $200,000 per person.

I have no doubt that these laws were passed with the best of intentions.  Nevertheless, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

This entire concept might be lost on the average person – particularly if he or she does not own their own business.  So let me offer an example of how laws can affect real people.

Many years ago in Chicago I was approached by a gentlemen whom I knew from the neighborhood.  Pete was a real estate agent, but his interest was less in selling houses than in trying to develop run-down properties and turn them to productive use.

One such property housed several small retail stores but the major tenant was a package liquor store.  Together with a number of merchants who operated their businesses in a part of Hyde Park known as Harper Court, which was directly behind this row of buildings, we were able to buy this property.

The buildings had become rundown and the liquor store was a haven for people who would panhandle outside it from anyone walking by – hoping to collect enough change to buy a cold quart of beer or a pint of alcohol.

The constant presence of these people, sometimes they were very aggressive and would follow a possible donor down the street until the person gave in and “contributed,” meant that the police spent a lot of their time patrolling the area and asking these people to move along.  Robberies near this property were frequent.

When we acquired the property the package liquor store’s lease was six months from expiration.  We chose not to renew it.  We performed all the maintenance which had been deferred, spruced up the outside and found a new anchor tenant to rent the space which the liquor store formerly had occupied.  It was an upscale restaurant which became one of the more popular, nicer places to eat in the neighborhood.  The neighborhood saw a significant improvement in terms of appearance and safety and the investors got a decent return on the capital which we had risked.

With that background, when Pete came to me with another real estate venture, I was naturally interested.  But this project was significantly bigger in scope and size.

Hyde Park had a fairly high percentage of the elderly – so many so that a number of residents coined the phrase to describe it as, “The Florida of the North.”  While there was one “old age home” in the neighborhood, run by the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, it was small and insufficient to accommodate all the elderly who lived alone and would benefit from being in a more closely-supervised environment should they take an unexpected fall or experience a medical emergency.

Pete knew that there was a large apartment building for sale in east Hyde Park.  It needed extensive renovation and work to bring it back to its former standards.  But it would have been an ideal place to situate a retirement home/skilled nursing care facility.  This was a big project and so Pete presented it to those of us who had invested in his first project, as well as a number of new potential investors.

Pete had, as in the first case, done his homework.  He had prepared detailed financial projections for the cost of acquisition and renovation and had secured a guarantee of financing from the Hyde Park Bank.  We were enthusiastic about the project.  Most of us knew elderly people who lived alone and we saw the need for this kind of facility.  There was only one possible fly in the ointment.

The building was sixteen stories tall and had two stairwells servicing its two sections.  It had been constructed in the 1940’s with the solid materials with which buildings at that time were built – real lath and plaster rather than the plasterboard which is used today and the water was delivered to each apartment by copper pipes, not PVC.  It was a rock solid building but needed a new roof and tuck pointing – both very extensive items, the cost of which Pete had incorporated in his analysis.

The fly in the ointment was that the risers in the stairwells did not meet the current city standards for retirement/nursing homes.  They were 1/8” too high.  In order for us to obtain licensing to operate that sort of facility, we would have to rip out 32 flights of stairs and replace them with stairwells that met code.  Despite the involvement of community leaders, all testifying that this project would be a tremendous asset to the neighborhood and would be a great benefit to our many elderly citizens, the city administrator who had responsibility for oversight remained inflexible.  “The law is the law.”

The cost of redoing the stairwells made the project impossible to accomplish.  The building we had hoped to acquire continued to deteriorate to the point where it was an eyesore and it was twenty years before the Episcopal Church replaced “The Church Home” with a new, modern and larger facility when a motel which had fallen into disrepair was purchased and demolished by them.

Think about what was lost through bureaucratic astigmatism.

This could have been a home where 280 of our elderly neighbors would have received first rate care and attention which was denied to them; renovating the building would have meant giving six months’ work to roofers, tuck pointers, plasterers and painters, carpenters and mechanics – all of whom would have been union workers; and we never hired the staff of 60 permanent people who would have overseen the care of the residents and provided for their comfort.

Now think about the illogic of requiring that we gut the stairwells and rebuild them.  The stairwells in a high rise are designed for emergency use.  Most of us would prefer taking the elevator either to climbing or descending 16 flights of stairs unless we absolutely had no other choice.

Because the building was well-constructed, it was unlikely that, should a fire occur, it would spread uncontrolled, requiring the evacuation of the entire building.  But let’s say that were required.  Would a 90 year old with a walker, be any better or worse off with stairs that were 1/8” lower than the ones which had been constructed when the building was erected?

There are laws which we pass that are so complex that they have a negative impact until their specifics are clear.  There are other laws which are so specific that they have a negative impact despite their original good intentions – such as the city ordinance regarding the height of stair risers.

If we feel that “there oughta be a law,” we should be certain that the ones we pass are good ones.  Otherwise, we may wind up getting far more than that for which we bargained.

SUNDAYS WITH SARAH

I called my friend, Sarah on Friday to wish her a Happy Birthday.  It was the 90th time that she got to celebrate this event.

Sarah and I have been friends from the first time that  we met.  She is one of the most delightful and fun people I know.  Well, actually, she is more like two of the most delightful and fun people I know.

It’s almost as though she is a female version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  On the one hand, she is refined, genteel and delicate in the way I pictured Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  But when she gets started on one subject – politics – she transforms into a gruff version of Ruth Gordon complete with the salty language that would embarrass the most hardened merchant seaman.

Sarah and her younger sister were born in Munich, Germany.  Her father was the Cantor at their Synagogue but he earned his living as a diamond cutter.  As a result, both the girls received an extensive exposure to classical music – something which Sarah and I shared and loved.

In 1934, seeing the storm clouds arise in his country, Sarah’s father moved his family to Antwerp.  But after four years in Belgium, the Nazis signed the “negotiated agreement” which annexed Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland and he feared, quite correctly, that this was merely the start of something far bigger on Hitler’s part.  Her father, Saul had a friend who owned a  wholesale jewelry business in Chicago and offered him a job – so the family left Europe and moved to the Midwest.

The family settled in Chicago’s Hyde Park.  At the time, a significant percentage of the population in this neighborhood was Jewish – in part because many of them were professors at the University of Chicago.  And directly abutting Hyde Park on the north was Kenwood, a neighborhood that was filled with 10 and 12 bedroom mansions.  K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple, Chicago’s oldest synagogue was located there and had a congregation of people who tended to be politically conservative.

But the large Jewish population on Chicago’s south side began moving north, particularly when the “Gold Coast” area became more fashionable.  Unlike some of their fellow religionists, Sarah’s parents stayed in Hyde Park and it was there that I met her 30 years ago.

I was working as the “precinct captain”  of my own precinct, making sure that every Republican vote got to the polls and was voted (if not necessarily counted) on election day that year.  Of course, this was volunteer work and was far from taxing.  Of the four hundred registered voters in the precinct, there were only about 20 who identified themselves as being Republicans.  By comparison to other precincts in Chicago, that was actually a pretty decent showing.

The Republican voters in Chicago’s 5th Ward fell into one of only several categories.

The first were older conservative Jewish voters who had not migrated to the north side, preferring the almost suburban and wonderfully inter-racially mixed neighborhood to the near-ghetto atmosphere which had been crafted by the nouveau-successful about 10 miles north.

The second were professors and students at the University of Chicago’s School of Business.

The third, (and they were few in number) were students at the University’s School of Divinity who had experienced a close, personal encounter with God.  As I said, there weren’t many who fell into this last category.

Sarah was a member of the first group and was the stalwart who rounded up the 10 Republicans in her building so that I could drive those who were too frail to walk to the polls and, when they had finished voting, drive them back to their apartment.

That was how Sarah and I met.  But there was something insightful and interesting in this wonderful lady, substantially older than I, that caused us to become close friends.  In part, it was the Sunday crossword puzzle.

Sarah loved to do the crossword in the Chicago Tribune (and I later was able to talk her into doing the Quote Acrostic as well).  But when she would get stuck on a clue, she would call me, knowing that I always was able to complete the puzzle, and ask me to give her a helping hand with it.  As the years went by we maintained this ritual of speaking at least every Sunday.

I would, if I had plans for Sunday afternoon after church, start on the puzzle early so that I was prepared for our conversation.  We continued to do this for 20 years – until I moved to Las Vegas where I found it impossible to get the Chicago Tribune.

Over the years I noticed that these conversations became longer and longer as Sarah had more difficulty with the puzzles.  A one hour conversation to complete the puzzle became somewhat standard.  At first I would simply create an alternate clue to the one that was given in the puzzle to try to help her out.  But as time went by, my assistance became more direct.  “Okay, Sarah, the next letter you’re missing is a vowel.”

I could see myself, thirty or forty years down the road, hoping that I had a friend who would similarly be able to help me out as my memory faded and although these conversations were a little boring for me, I tried to put myself in her place and realize that there was nothing more special than being able to help out a friend.

Despite her advanced age, Sarah is still vibrant and active – but annoyed that she now has to rely on the use of a cane to get around.  She still takes her mile long walk every day, although I suspect it takes her longer to finish it than when I first met her.  And she is still politically attuned – and incorrect.

I have been sending her copies of my posts as I write them, and she is probably my most severe critic.  She thinks that I’m far too polite in my comments about the President.  I know because she has told me so in no uncertain terms.

As I said, when she gets on the subject of politics she is expressive in a downright earthy way.

On my most recent call congratulating her on her birthday, she said, “What the hell is wrong with you?  You’ve got brains.  Why don’t you talk about that SOB (she used one word implying an illegitimate birth status) in the White House and tell people that he’s the biggest piece of sh*t that we’ve ever elected?  Look how he’s abandoning Israel.”

“What the hell is wrong with all these liberal Jews?  Don’t they remember what the holocaust was all about?  Don’t they remember what happened when they tried to find excuses about why Hitler wasn’t so bad?  Don’t they remember that 6 million off us died in that SOB’s gas chambers – only because he couldn’t find the rest of us and kill us too?”

“This guy is just as dangerous as Hitler – it’s just that people are too stupid to see that.”

As I said, Sarah has some pretty deep feelings when it comes to politics.

I don’t think that I’m going to mail this particular post to Sarah.  But I know that she will appreciate the cartoon.  (I owe credit to Rick and his blog “Billericapolitics.org” for it).  So I guess I’ll just make a copy of the cartoon and send it to her in the packet I’ve already assembled.

I’ll find out Sunday if she enjoyed it when we have our weekly call.

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