Wednesday, October 31, 2012

ObamaCare and Healthcare Costs: Revisited

A classical economics truism is that in an efficient market there is no way to make one person better off without making another person worse off. This is often used as an excuse not to make any changes. This could also be why the study of economics often seems to attract people who are invested in maintaining the status quo. This argument's weaker form is something that many people would agree with even though it tends to be associated with right-wing libertarians. This idea, famously made popular by libertarian speculative fiction author Robert Heinlein is TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). This means that every decision we make has costs and consequences. We need to account for these when we make policy choices. Again, someone who likes the status quo will piously invoke this saying and then refuse further investigation to see what the actual costs are. That's wrong.

But it's also wrong for someone who wants to change the status quo to ignore the unpleasant fact that there usually are costs. We have to at least review the costs to see if they're worth the change. This ultimately slides into a bit of utilitarian type of thinking, which is ok if you're trying to decide what a taxicab badge should cost or how much your property tax should be, but may not be the correct frame to use in questions of justice. For example no one, well few people anyway, will question the cost of liberating slaves or giving women the right to vote or stopping the arrest of homosexuals for being homosexual. If those things are right, then costs simply don't matter and you're probably a pretty cold heartless SOB for even bringing that question up.

So then if you want to change something but don't want people to think about costs you definitely need to frame the change as a question of justice. If you don't want change and wish to avoid arguments about justice you need to focus on costs and unintended and unforeseen consequences. We saw some of this play out in the arguments over ObamaCare. However as it turned out both sides (pro and con) strongly believed they had an excellent argument about justice (the individual mandate vs. the numbers of uninsured or the importance of universal birth control coverage) and as a result the popular discussions over the PPACA didn't really focus on costs. Rather cannily the Obama Administration and Congress set up the legislation so that most of the more unpleasant changes would arrive AFTER the 2012 election. Well that election will shortly be completed and absent an extremely unlikely sequence of events the PPACA is here to stay. As a result companies and organizations have begun to adapt to the law's less pleasant incentives. It's important to realize that these things aren't bugs. They're features.
Over the next 18 months, between one quarter and one half of Americans who get insurance coverage through their employers will pay more of their doctor bills themselves as companies roll out health care plans with higher deductibles, benefits consultants say. The result: sticker shock.
"They have huge out-of-pocket costs before they get any insurance coverage, it's a real slap in the face," said Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a health care advocacy group. High-deductible plans set a threshold for medical expenses that an individual must pay for, often in the thousands of dollars, before insurance kicks in. Studies show people on these plans are three times more likely to delay or skip care than people on traditional plans, where doctor or emergency room visits are covered by a relatively low co-payment.
These plans have been around for years, pushed by employers, insurers and industry experts who believe that consumers with "skin in the game" will drive demand for better quality care at a lower cost. It is a rationale also backed by President Barack Obama's Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
But now corporate America's adoption of high-deductible plans is accelerating, partly because of Obama's health care reform, which requires insurance plans to provide more expansive coverage such as preventive care.Several industry surveys forecast a two-percentage-point increase in the number of companies offering only high-deductible plans in 2013 to about 19 percent, and a larger jump of anywhere from 5 to 25 percentage points in 2014.
This is a really important concept. Because insurance companies are being forced to provide more expansive coverage, can no longer correctly and routinely rate coverage differently by gender and age and must include people on their parents' coverage until age 26, their costs will increase. In order to mitigate some of that cost increase the insurance companies intend to share this cost with the sucker insuree. As the article briefly references there is also a philosophical belief among the people who brought you "health care reform" that a big reason behind health care cost rises is that people just demand and consume too damn much health care. And how better to cut down that demand than to raise the price, hence the increase in high deductible plans. See how well this works out for everyone? Well maybe not you but heck at least more people will have health care coverage and everyone gets free birth control!! YAY!!!!

The problem with this line of thinking is of course that with few exceptions no one just runs down to his or her doctor and starts requesting hysterectomies, colonoscopies or angioplasties just for the heck of it. No one looks at their health care coverage plan, sees that he only has a $250 co-pay for major procedures and promptly books himself into the hospital for a weekend dialysis session. I mean for just $250, how could you pass up that deal?
People go to the doctor or hospital when they're sick, when a loved one urges it, when an insurer or employer demands it, or for a regular check up (yearly, quarterly, monthly, etc). Price isn't really a consideration. The demand for doctors is not very elastic. I will switch car washes if the new car wash costs $1 less and has the same quality. The same is not true of doctors. Trust is a huge element here. When I "shop around" for doctors I am more concerned with trust, experience and expertise than with cost. Lower cost doctors might actually give me a BAD feeling. Money matters but doctor and patient do not share the same level of knowledge. If my doctor tells me I need to undergo this procedure or take this medicine, generally speaking I am not qualified to question his decision or try to jaw him down about costs. At best I can go with a gut feeling or maybe get different opinions but if every doctor I see says "Yes you need to take this medicine and/or have this procedure done or you will die/be crippled/live in horrible pain for the rest of your life" then that's what I'm probably going to do. No one who is having a heart attack demands to be taken to Dr. X instead of Dr. Y because he has a 10% off coupon from Dr. X. Very few of us could afford to pay the true cost of a required procedure. That's why we have insurance. Delaying your car's scheduled oil change until next month's paycheck is one thing. Ignoring that new spot on your body or that cough that won't go away involves an entirely different set of consequences.

As the higher deductible plans roll out employed people will pay more out of pocket for health care coverage. This contradicts the President's breezy assertion that "If you like your health care plan you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away no matter what." I guess strictly speaking it's still your health care plan but the price will have gone up and the coverage may have shrunken. So it really won't be what you had before the PPACA. This makes employed people unambiguously worse off.

This really stinks because as an employed person I lacked real complaints about my health care coverage. And for those who didn't have health care coverage because they weren't employed or their employer refused to offer the benefit, I would have supported opening up Medicare/Medicaid for them. That would have made more sense than the PPACA but because the Administration was determined to keep the private health care industry happy it made the decision not to go down that path. So if you're employed you get to enjoy higher deductible plans and most likely higher premiums as well. Let the good times roll!!

Time will tell if PPACA was a good idea. I think not. Others may think differently. But at the very least we should all realize that it was not cost-free. There really ain't no such thing as a free lunch.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sununu, Powell and Racism

It's silly, a little tiring and probably bad for my blood pressure to keep up with and blog about every stupid utterance that comes from major party campaign surrogates, especially racial shots from right-wing Republicans. It is what it is. But every now and then someone says something which goes a bit beyond the normal silliness and fluff of election year political statements and reveals something a bit uglier.

This was the case with former Bush Chief of Staff, former New Hampshire Governor and Romney campaign adviser John Sununu who, when asked about General Colin Powell's endorsement of President Barack Obama, could only sputter that it must have been because both men are black. Right.

When you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to look at whether that's an endorsement based on issues or he's got a slightly different reason for endorsing President Obama," Sununu said, adding: "I think when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him."

 I don't usually pay attention to endorsements because I don't really think they mean what they used to mean but I think I would have read about or remembered the uproar if Colin Powell had endorsed candidates for President like Shirley Chisholm, Dick Gregory, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Cynthia McKinney or other humans who met the American standard for blackness. However I think all of those people struggled along the campaign trail without the Powell endorsement. Watch the Sununu video below.

This is a really interesting statement because it reveals some things about how Sununu sees the world and how he sees Black people. The immediate question that comes to my mind is whether Sununu will vote for Romney because both he and Romney are white? I would venture to guess that Sununu would say no and claim that he's voting for Romney because of issues x, y, z. But he's evidently unwilling to extend that same presumption to Colin Powell, strictly because Powell happens to be black. Never mind any of Powell's achievements, statements, beliefs, worldviews, experiences or the experiences of people who have worked with and for Colin Powell.  In a slip of the tongue Sununu showed that to him race trumps all. I guess all of those Black people who constantly voted for one white candidate or another are invisible. And when whites voted for whites that was just fine. But you blacks all stick together see. 

Many times people like to tell themselves that racism or us-them thinking is an artifact of the lower classes, the working classes, the kind of people who drive pickup trucks, own lots of guns, wave Confederate flags and have to take a shower as soon as they get home from work. Well, no it's not. Sununu is a very accomplished man and he's also a Mensa member. Chances are he's smarter than you are. But intelligence is no barrier to racist thinking. Sununu has eagerly taken on the role of Romney's attack dog, the Gregor Clegane that every now and then slips the leash and bites someone before the candidate rushes up and puts the muzzle back on the beast. Sununu has a history of race-baiting or outright racist remarks about the President and/or his supporters. So he's doing his job. His remarks are no accident. He didn't slip the leash; he was unleashed. He's appealing to a very ugly (small??) portion of the Republican base, one which doesn't really think that anyone black has any business being in the White House unless they're serving tea. The ironic thing is that given Sununu's Southern European/Middle Eastern origins, it wasn't that long ago in American history that his "whiteness" could be questioned. And in some places in Europe it still would be. And how in the world does someone who was born in Cuba of all places get the nerve to lecture the President of the United States on "how to be an American"? The only answer to this is that to a lot of people, too many people, American = whiteness. The election of a black man to the Presidency makes it painfully obvious that American <> whiteness. And it never did, really. This country was mixed from the start.

If you've read this blog before then you know I'm not really a huge Obama fan. There are legitimate honorable reasons to vote for either major party candidate or any other candidate that best suits you. The irony is that Obama has mostly governed (feminist and gay rights sympathies aside) as a center-right politician, as what used to be called a Rockefeller Republican. His race has excited the far right to primal screams of hatred and disgust at the idea of "losing their" country and constant evocations of Obama as "an affirmative action president" (witness Donald Trump's fascination with Obama's grades and birth certificate or Palin's fascination with Obama's blackness). But Obama's race may have also made people on the left who would otherwise be up in arms over unemployment, entitlement reform and civil liberties mute their opposition, precisely because they don't want to be on the same side as some right-wing yahoos. The fact that Sununu feels comfortable calling a woman journalist and a news organization "groupies" shows that should Obama win re-election some right-wingers will literally explode from the dissonance between what's in their heads and reality. Of course the same is true of some on the left if Romney pulls it out. And either way I'll be there to laugh at the loser. Count on that. But my bigger concern is that whichever millionaire wins the election there will still be numerous Americans who think just like Sununu does. And many of those people are comfortably ensconced in positions of power in businesses and organizations where they can hire, fire and promote people. Some of them are even in law enforcement or politics. Think they'll be fair minded? It's not for nothing that Col. Wilkerson said that the GOP, his party, is full of racists.

1) Was Sununu out of line?
2) Does he owe Powell or the President an apology?
3) Should the President make a stronger statement about Sununu?
4) Why hasn't Romney been pressured to drop Sununu?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Reviews-77 Shadow Street, Mickey Cohen, Ultimate Autos

77 Shadow Street
By Dean Koontz
I used to read Dean Koontz as avidly as I read Stephen King. Koontz was a favorite. I think he was a favorite of a lot of people since between them, King and Koontz titles used to easily take up one-half of horror section shelf space in many bookstores. However tastes change as we age and it's been a long time since I read any of Koontz's work. A few weeks back I saw this rather hefty paperback on sale for almost nothing so I picked it up. The story wasn't original but there are some talented writers who have claimed that there are very few original sci-fi/fantasy stories, just classic themes that are reworked according to a writer's individual taste and skill.

In this case the story is about The Pendleton, a old mansion with a troubled past that has been changed into a swank hotel. Every so often, usually about 38 years, there are problems, apparitions appear, people kill other people or simply disappear. So basically this is a haunted house story. Obviously this immediately reminded me of Stephen King's The Shining or Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House  or Richard Matheson's Hell House but not in a negative way. I was eager to see what a master writer like Koontz did with this format. I will have to go back and check some of his older works but my immediate impression is either that Koontz has become a lot more long-winded since last I read him or perhaps a writer of his skill and success has a slightly different relationship with editors than some neophyte would. I found myself struggling with this book's length. There are some long books where you find yourself frantically turning the pages because you can't wait to see what happened next.  For other books though you frantically turn the pages because you really want the book to end because you have other things to do. Don't get me wrong, uninspiring Koontz is still better than 90% of other genre writers but this story could have easily been chopped in half and not lost that much. It was over 500 pages. That was just too much for me. The story feels stretched out. There is a lot of detail about what each character is seeing. 

Koontz isn't a political ideologue but he does lean conservative and as he usually does in his books, takes a few shots, some deserved, some not, at liberal ideologies. But his real ire is reserved for those that think they have a right to control other people's lives, no matter what their politics may be. This comes through loud and clear in his writing and certainly is on display here. Koontz despises bullies, supernatural or not.
In The Pendleton, the thirty eight year period of calm has expired and the residents start seeing things that can't be real-things from other times and perhaps even from other dimensions. However as a few of them find out the hard way what they're seeing is real and can kill them. Until it's too late they don't try to get out of the hotel. I didn't like this because it seemed to me like they all should have left almost immediately. Anyway it will be up to the hotel residents (some plucky single mothers and their children, a lawyer, a no-nonsense ex-military man, some dedicated or lazy hotel workers, a mentally deranged contract killer with serious Oedipal issues, a drunk Senator, a scientist with a secret, etc..) to find out what's going on, how the events are connected to one of them, and save themselves and maybe the world. Portions of the story are also told from the POV of the entity behind all the strange events.

Again, I liked the setup but was just a bit disappointed in the delivery. YMMV. If you haven't read Koontz I would still strongly urge you to try him but would suggest his earlier works. When he's on he's as good a writer as anyone out there. He, like King, usually has some sharp insights into human nature. I just didn't think this book ranked with his classic work.

Mickey Cohen:The Life and Crimes of LA's Notorious Mobster
by Tere Tereba
When someone says Mafia you probably think of a Italian/Sicilian gangster who's going to make you an offer you can't refuse. In 20th century American organized crime history the Italian element was dominant. However although the Mafia is not an equal opportunity employer, organized crime as a whole certainly is. Until roughly the late forties or mid fifties the Italian element in organized crime was roughly equal in power with other Caucasian ethnics, primarily Jewish Americans. As one crime expert put it, "The Italians had the muscle, the Jews had the moxie and they all made money".
We don't speak of Jewish American crime families today because classic Jewish American criminal groups weren't structurally set up the same way as Italian American mafia families. The Jewish gangster organizations tended to be one or two generation operations, and often disintegrated upon the death of the founding boss. There doesn't appear to be a Jewish criminal analogue to the NY Five Families, which have been in their current form for almost a century. But from the late forties to the early sixties in southern California there was one dominant organized crime boss and his name was Mickey Cohen. He fought off all attempts to steal his crown, both from within and from outside the organized crime fraternity.

Cohen first came to prominence when he attracted the attention of legendary infamous crime boss and killer Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, the Syndicate big shot who arrived in California to organize rackets for the benefit of the New York and Chicago mobs. Cohen, then a robber and killer for hire, had robbed a Siegel backed gambling game and initially refused to return the money. After Siegel coldly explained the facts of life and death to him Cohen saw the light and gave the proceeds back. Siegel admired the younger man's guts and brought him into his West Coast operations. Cohen, who had his own Cleveland and Chicago patrons, rose swiftly in Siegel's organization, becoming Siegel's top bodyguard and second-in-command.

Siegel later ran afoul of boyhood pals and fellow organized crime bosses Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano as well as the Chicago Outfit when he refused to share the national wire service and was suspected of skimming casino gambling funds. After Siegel's assassination, Cohen took over his California operations and expanded them greatly. He was contemptuous of the local Los Angeles Mafia family and survived several assassination attempts from what was widely considered to be the "Mickey Mouse Mafia". Cohen had a severe case of OCD, perhaps bought about by his early poverty and STD infection. His OCD would save his life multiple times. Once when a would be Judas shook his hand to mark him for assassination, Cohen immediately left for the bathroom to wash his hands and so missed the ensuing drive-by. Another time Cohen noticed a scratch in his Cadillac fender and bent down to inspect it at the exact time that a rifleman from a rival mob was taking a shot. Some of the attempts on Cohen's life were set up by police. Loquacious, dangerous and rather greedy the dapper Cohen had his fingers in just about every major criminal enterprise in Southern California. Extortion, loan sharking, bookmaking, gambling, pornography, prostitution, and narcotics were his bread and butter. Cohen's legal businesses included clothing stores and ice cream shops. Cohen also had several links to the film industry. He ran an extremely lucrative sexual blackmail business. One of his employees, an bisexual gigolo named Johnny Stompanato, was the lover of film legend Lana Turner. Stompanato was allegedly killed by Turner's teen daughter. Angry at the lost income, Cohen released private and rather intimate love letters from Turner to Stompanato and threatened to release even more intimate film.

This book details Cohen's rise from desperate childhood poverty to lowly thug and goon to Siegel's gofer and later crime boss in his own right to his fall from grace via federal tax evasion convictions. The second conviction finally reduced and perhaps broke his power. This is the true life story which inspired most of the LA noir film and book stories from LA Confidential to Raymond Chandler's works. There is a lot of information about the LAPD. For whatever reason although I was used to thinking of that department as extremely brutal I didn't think of them as particularly corrupt. This book explodes that misconception. The original crime bosses in LA were often Anglo/Irish high-ranking police officers! 
It wasn't until the arrival of Siegel and Cohen that power was passed and even then there remained numerous ties between the criminals, the businessmen, the lawyers, the film studios, the judiciary and the police and prosecutors. Everybody was dirty. This was a fascinating story based on both primary and secondary documents. Tere Tereba did a really good job of setting the stage and telling the story here. I like all the information she dug up on old Hollywood. Heck, this book is as much about the underside of Hollywood as it is about organized crime. See if you can find the 60 Minutes interview in which Cohen insults LAPD chief William Parker as a "sadistic drunk degenerate". There are oodles of info on Richard Nixon, Shirley Temple, RFK, Frank Sinatra, Billy Graham and many other famous names. Cohen was always good for a snappy quote. During a Senate hearing when he was accused of living badly and being surrounded by violence, the pugnacious little gangster responded "Whaddya mean surrounded by violence? People are shooting at me!!!"

Ultimate Autos
by Tom Stewart
What car or truck do you drive? Why do you drive it? Do you enjoy driving it or was it simply something that was practical or within your budget? Do you care about style and performance and showing off or do you simply care about safely getting from point A to point B? Well with gasoline remaining above $3/gallon most of us have to at least consider the fuel economy of what we drive. And most of us are not millionaires or billionaires so even if we wanted something much nicer than we have, chances are we couldn't afford it.
But if money wasn't an option, would you get something different? If so, then Ultimate Autos: The Kings of Bling might be a good place to start looking. The book is somewhat dated; it was first published in 2006. However many of the cars listed within are still in production in later updates. All of them are head turners. These are cars I will probably never own or drive but a man can dream can he not. If you need to ask the dealer or manufacturer how much any of these vehicles cost, you really need to go buy something less expensive.

The coffee table book lists cars which are the prettiest, the highest performing, the most expensive and the most well made. The book is broken up in seven sections (GTs, Convertibles, Euro Supercars, Sedans, SUVs, US Supercars, and Concepts). Each vehicle gets a number of lavish photographs, (the book's paper is glossy and fits the subject matter very well) ,detailed specs and price, and historical production analysis and comparison. Some of the vehicles discussed include the Ford GT, Brabus Maybach, Ferrari FXX, Aston Martin Vanquish, CXT 7300, Hummer H1, Holden Efijy, Maserati MC12, Pagani Zonda, Bentley Azure and many others. Since I happen not to have a spare $400,000 (roughly the median price of the vehicles listed) laying around I won't be purchasing any of these in the next few weeks but if you happen to have that sort of cash and aren't doing anything with it this book might excite your interest and a trip to your local dealer or made-to-order manufacturer.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Music Reviews-This May Be My Last Time Singing, Doin' Hard Time on Planet Earth

This May Be My Last Time Singing-Raw African American Gospel 
There are three basic building blocks of American music (well four if you include country). These forms are blues, jazz and gospel. Just about every other music that grew up in America came from some version, combination or descendant of those genres in one way or another. In 2012 of course there is a lot of water under the bridge. Many fantastic musicians have come and gone, leaving their mark on the world and changing music in unforeseen ways. What is understood as rock or blues today doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with what was understood as rock-n-roll in the fifties or before. But if you go back far enough as I like to do you can find music that call it what you like, is not easily or simply restricted to one category.

This would be the case with the sublime collection This May Be My Last Time Singing. This is a three CD collection of hard core indie Black gospel 45's from 1957-1982. Some of the singers are well known, most aren't. But this collection from top to bottom boasts an authenticity and soul that is really hard to find in popular music or for that matter even modern gospel these days. And although the collection is made up of people who generally first and foremost considered themselves gospel musicians there are very obvious links to blues, soul, country, and even a little rock-n-roll. Ironically one preacher inveighs against the evils of rock-n-roll while singing over a riff that would not have been out of place on a Funkadelic album. Blues and gospel are just different facets of the same thing. This collection is gospel but you can always hear hints or occasionally outright nods to whatever the popular music of the day might have been. Just like with today's rappers some of the singers here spent time in prison and used those experiences to emote.

The swing that is obvious in early American rock-n-roll but generally disappeared after the British invasion often came out of the church (especially Baptist, Pentecostal,etc). It's no accident that so many soul singers and even blues and rock-n-roll singers started out singing in the church. The musics are a little different but definitely share family relationship stretching back to Africa and to a lesser extent Europe. Some gospel songs that are today almost completely identified with black gospel were initially English or Scottish hymms. If you are into soulful singing and alternately mournful or joyful choirs, that is on display here. If you are looking for outrageous guitar solos and weird tones you can find those here as well. Everyone here has their own sound. This really impressed me. Some of the music could have been recorded better but the dynamics generally carry everything through. This is truly magnificent stuff. If you don't have it you should get it. I don't know how anyone could not start dancing or singing along with something here. Whatever your religion may be or even if you have no religion, this is the kind of music that makes you happy to be alive. This brings back happy memories of my youth. If you are unfamiliar with gospel this could be a good introduction. If you like gospel you might enjoy some of these rarities. I REALLY like the Skylifters' version of "You Better Mind". "Baptized"'s vocalists were rather obviously giving a nod to Sam Cooke but in 1962 a LOT of people were trying to sound like Sam Cooke.

The Devil's Trying to Steal my Joy  Peace In the Valley  You Better Mind

Cloud Hanging Low (Part 1 and 2)  Baptized Life is a Battle
If I could hear my mother pray again

2 Black 2 Strong MMG, Doin' Hard Time on Planet Earth
I no longer listen to a lot of rap music. It's a combination of having aged out of it, moved to a different place in my life and just being somewhat bored with much of the subject matter, language and frankly the skill sets. But a long time ago in another life I did listen to more rap than I do now. One group that I liked a lot was Harlem NY's 2 Black 2 Strong MMG. They combined a nasty streak of gangsterish nihilism with black nationalism and afrocentric history. These things didn't really go together of course. As a result a few songs teetered on lyrical incoherence but the group's primary rapper, Johnny Marrs, had the skill and style to pull this off. As far as I know they only ever released one album Doin' Hard Time on Planet Earth, back in 1991 and then either broke up or dropped off the face of the earth. I couldn't find any other information on them.

Compared to much of today's rap this album is sonically stripped down. There's not a lot of fat. The album makes judicious use of samples from classic soul and funk, most famously Bob's and Earl's Harlem Shuffle, which I am including here simply because it is an awesome song. The vocals on Doin' Hard Time on Planet Earth are loud and in your face but the album itself is not recorded so loud that it's unlistenable.
The lyrics are  often always profane and definitely not fit for polite or mixed company but are perfect for listening to if you are lifting weights or getting ready to punch somebody in their muyerfuying face. Well. I haven't punched anyone in their face in a while but I do like using this music as backdrop for exercise. In some very real ways this music is the spiritual descendant of the blues music that I like. "Iceman Cometh" is one of the best protest songs against police brutality I've heard. I like how they sampled the bass line from The Temptation's "Ball of Confusion" for "War on Drugs". The song "2 Black 2 strong" remains a necessary corrective to some historical myths.

Across the 110  Up in the Mountains  Iceman Cometh  Only The Strong Survive
Ghetto Blaster  War on Drugs  Burn Baby Burn (with Chuck D)  2 black 2 strong (with Jamillah Shabazz)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Detroit woman forced to live with house squatter

Believe it or not I really don't like writing negative blog posts about my home town. So this will be the last one for a while. There's good people in Detroit. You should know that. But there are also some dirty no good bottom feeder parasites. Every time I think I am finished writing about foolishness, lo and behold here comes another story. This story touched a nerve because I think it provides a perfect example of what plagues Detroit. This situation has a legal twist. Hopefully The Janitor or Old Guru can explain it because I am simply not understanding what is going on here.

Imagine that you left town for an extended period of time to work, have a baby, take an overseas vacation, visit a terminally ill relative, settle an estate, wait for repairs to be made on your home, wander the earth or whatever. Let's say that upon your return, you discovered that someone (a previous tenant? mentally challenged write-in presidential candidate?) had moved into your home, changed the locks, altered the wiring and plumbing, taken out liens, thrown out or sold your belongings, and otherwise taken possession of the home that you bought and paid for. Now I think that even the most peaceful person on the planet might get a little upset. And let's say that when you called the police, fully expecting that that they would remove this insolent interloper and drag them away to a richly deserved jail cell, the police said "Hey this is a civil dispute. We're not qualified to make decisions about who owns what. Tell it to the judge. Don't do anything rash. Stop bothering us. Don't call us again!"

If this happened to me I think that someone (not me) would have a rather serious problem. I don't want to think about what other people I know who are not as levelheaded, peaceful and calm as I am would do in that situation. This hard to believe event allegedly occurred in an area I know very well. Watch the video.

To be blunt, this is why many people have fled Detroit. In Detroit, there is a serious chronic problem with lack of respect for law and for other people's property. I have occasionally considered investing in Detroit property or in certain Detroit business opportunities. However I would have to spend an inordinate amount of money on lawyers, insurance and security. All else equal, who would do that if they could invest in another city where there's some basic understanding of the difference between yours and mine?

So when a burglar enters your home, don't call the police. Call a lawyer to start a case to prove you actually own the home??? Does that make any sort of sense? There may be excellent reasons for society not to allow violence to be automatically used in so-called civil disputes. I am sure our legal experts can think of many. But squatters don't squat in places where they will be immediately ejected and subjected to pain for even trying. Say what you like about the Koch Brothers or any other millionaire or billionaire but I bet that they don't have to worry about this problem because anyone trying it would get removed and/or hurt just as soon as they did. If you attempted this in a rich area security would immediately toss you out and maybe throw you a beating before the cops arrived to take you away.

Must we all hire private security to watch our homes and cars 24-7? Squatting lends credence to the idea that law is whatever the strong say it is. Therefore, increasingly people will just ignore the law. If you don't then you're just a sucker looking to get taken. Whichever woman is lying here, she's a predator. She's sought out a weak herd member and is trying to bring them down. You simply can not have a functioning market place without the ability to make and keep contracts and own property. You can't. Economic activity will move to places where people don't think that they somehow deserve to just take your property. I don't mean to sound like a crazed Ayn Rand disciple but even a broken clock is right twice a day. It's almost enough to make you vote for Mitt Romney.* If this attitude spreads, and it has, Detroit will remain largely bereft of good businesses, good schools, and young families. Property tax revenue will continue to dwindle and Detroiters will wonder why their city continues its long decline. About a decade ago area home prices were close to eight to ten times the price quoted in the story. I wonder if increased crime, poor city services and squatters had anything to do with that price fall? Nah. Couldn't be. Could it?


What's your take? Can you believe this? Can this story be real?

What's the difference between a home invasion and a squatter?

Should the proper owner take the law into her own hands?

*Grand Central that's a joke....

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Movie Reviews-Taken 2, King of New York

Taken 2
directed by Olivier Megaton
People should know not to mess with Liam Neeson, his friends or his family. He gets upset and kills people. The first Taken initially hid Liam Neeson's awesomeness. The villains were surprised. If you've ever seen Rob RoyGangs of New York, Next of Kin, Michael Collins or Darkman this was no surprise but apparently the mental midgets in Taken didn't see those movies. Taken depicted Bryan Mills' (Neeson) frantic search for his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) before she's sold into Third World sex-slavery to some depraved Middle Easterner. Both Taken and Taken 2  play up the sexual threat of the "dark" man to the "light" woman.
In Taken Mills eliminated roughly half of the Albanian male population, who evidently had nothing better to do than rape and pimp out American girls. Taken was convincing because the Albanian sex traffickers didn't know who they were messing with while Mills' daughter and ex-wife had no clue that the man they thought of as a loser or amiably clueless was actually a lethally protective and scarily intelligent guardian. Mills had to do a lot of sharp detective work before locating Kim's assailants and starting his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. The film was surprisingly (that word again) entertaining.

But in Taken 2, presumably everyone, including Mills' daughter, ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and the half of the Albanian male population that Mills DIDN'T kill now knows that Mills is not a man to be f***** with.  Do so and you die. And if Mills has the time you might die painfully. So there is no surprise about who's the Big Dog.
The Albanian junior varsity bad guy team is upset that Mills wasted their relatives. Led by their bearded patriarch Murad (Rade Serbedzija), they want revenge. And Mills is going to unwittingly make it easy for them by inviting his ex-wife and daughter to join him in Istanbul, once he completes some security work. But didn't the bad guys see what happened to the first team? So there's really no reason for them to try again. I guess like Wesley Snipes said, some people really are always trying to ice skate uphill.
I will have to watch the first movie again but I don't seem to remember Maggie Grace either being that curvy or showing that much flesh. Not that I'm complaining,(snicker) but it insults belief rather than suspends it to pretend that  this is a 16 year old(?) teen girl who doesn't even have her driver's license yet.

Mills' ex-wife and daughter had no clue that their worlds might intersect with rapists, killers, pimps and child molesters. But they do now. So why throughout the entire film when their ex-husband/father tells them to do something NOW, are they instead babbling that they don't understand, can't do it, screaming hysterically, breaking down crying, insisting on detailed explanations while people are SHOOTING at them and so on? It's just annoying. No, honeybunch I can't explain everything right this second because PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO KILL US!! No of course I am sorry for yelling at you. The women aren't the only people who act like their brain cells underwent apoptosis. Again, the Albanians KNOW that Mills is a bad muyerfuyer. They've buried friends and relatives who didn't know. So why would they make incredibly stupid decisions like not killing Mills immediately once they have kidnapped him and Lenore. In their place, at the very least since you know that Mills is very resourceful, incredibly dangerous, and has a downright mean streak, wouldn't you search him thoroughly, keep him under 24 hr armed guard, bind him with iron and steel instead of plastic or rope and just to be on the safe side, cripple him to forestall any escape attempts? I mean just what are they teaching in Evil Overlord Boot Camp these days? 
Through bad guy incompetence and quick thinking by Mills, Kim avoids getting kidnapped. So now, using some very special skills, Kim must help free Papa Wolf so he can wreak havoc on those airheaded Albanians and their thickheaded Turkish allies who thought it would be a good idea to step in the ring with the heavyweight champ. And Mills doesn't believe in letting people tap out. If you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound as far as Mills is concerned. You bought the ticket so you're going on the ride. If you don't like it well that's just tough! Mills doesn't stop.
Serbedzija, who has a striking resemblance to the Most Interesting Man in the World, (I kept expecting him to say "I don't always kidnap Americans, but when I do I prefer blondes. Stay thirsty my friends") does what he can with his role but it's cartoonish. It's also limited after his revenge speech at the film's opening funeral. His remaining work is primarily reacting to goons telling him that his plans aren't working. If I were him after the second or third time this happened I would have just called it a day and gone home or started shooting incompetents myself and saved Neeson the time. Neeson's gravitas is wasted here. He looks tired. The fight scenes? Ehh. The fights are disjointed and with one exception near the end don't flow well. Lastly what does a movie have to do to get an R rating? Nudity? There's none here though Grace shows some skin. Violence? This movie has tons of violence. I guess unless you show brains or guts in exquisite detail you don't get an R. Taken 2 is halfway mediocre if you didn't see the first film but a serious disappointment if you did. Lots of stupid people get shot in the head. The end.

King of New York
directed by Abel Ferrara
I love this violent 1990 cult film. It's aged well. It's among the best modern (last 25 years) crime movies. I also like this film because it is filled with people who later become stars or "I know that guy from somewhere" familiar character actors. Here they were young and hungry. They had more hair and weighed less. There was some very good acting, especially by Laurence Fishburne. I think Denzel might have watched Fishburne's work here for his own turn as leather clad bada$$ in Training Day. Such actors as Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, David Caruso, Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Janet Julian, Steve Buscemi, Roger Guenever Smith, Giancarlo Esposito, Frank Adonis, and Theresa Randle all had roles. Christopher Walken brings his trademark deadpan tics, cold stare, jazz inspired verbal rhythms, and graceful physicality to the title role.
King of New York (KoNY) is a modern film but also nods (accidentally?) to the older Warners Bro. movies which usually had an anti-crime message. Like older films though, any anti-crime message is lost in KoNY's nonstop actions, smooth style and cool rhythms. KoNY seductively depicts NYC night life and the city's warring tribes of cops and criminals. The film's soundtrack makes effective, if now somewhat cliched, use of rap and classical music as counterpoint to delineate the different worlds that crime boss and drug dealer Frank White (Walken) inhabits. That music contrast is old hat today but in 1990 it was still a relatively fresh idea. White is equally comfortable discussing artwork and architecture at wine and cheese charity fundraisers or calmly explaining to recalcitrant rivals that if a nickel bag of heroin gets sold in the park he wants inKoNY's color schemes are intoxicating. Often filmmakers don't get the right lighting for black actors. This can result in black actors either looking much darker or lighter than they actually are. Ferrara didn't have that problem. The cinematography is very warm and lush. You see all the wonderful varied tones and textures of human skin, especially the female kind. 

KoNY's most unusual aspect is its opposing teams. Apparently, race is unimportant to Frank White or his would be police captain nemesis, Roy Bishop (Argo). Both men lead cohesive multi-racial groups. The film itself references this almost mockingly by bringing attention to Tommy Flanagan (Wesley Snipes), the Black cop with the Irish name who is married to a presumably Irish-American woman and is enjoying himself at his buddy's Irish wedding. The other bad guys, the Colombian, Italian, and Chinese gang leaders, all head mono-ethnic organizations and strongly prefer to keep it that way. Mafia Boss Arty Clay (Frank Gio) makes this point in a suitably profane manner.
Legendary drug dealer, gang boss and charming dancer Frank White is released from prison. His friends, manic top enforcer Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne), accountant and fixer Lance (Giancarlo Esposito), and chemist Test Tube (Steve Buscemi) herald their boss' return by eliminating rival Colombian drug dealers Emilio Zappa and King Tito. Fishburne chews the scenery throughout the film but in a very good way. 

Fishburne was originally supposed to play a different role but fortunately convinced Ferrara otherwise. Jimmy Jump is a terrifying but quite funny killer. Be glad if he's on your side. Be very worried if he's not. He has a soft spot for poor children but that's about  the only kindness that runs through his veins. Fishburne's swagger is off the charts. He's channeling James Cagney. All the ladies love Jimmy Jump. Jump is a dedicated practitioner of John Woo Guns Akimbo style. He always has at least two .45's which he never seems to need to reload. Fishburne keeps up with Walken and arguably steals the film. This is much different from his later roles as Furious Styles or Morpheus. His incongruously high pitched laugh, which is usually punctuated by a nasty baritone insult, is a quirk that makes for a memorably dangerous character.
The police, led by world weary veteran Bishop, keep an eye on Frank White. They would love to arrest him. Bishop also has to confront challenges from younger officers, particularly the hotheaded Gilley (David Caruso) and his best friend Flanagan, who suggest that extra legal methods are the only way to deal with White. Bishop doesn't mind occasionally stretching the law but he'll be damned before he lets anyone openly break it, especially other cops. Gilley's and Flanagan's resentments arise in part from financial jealousy. White has no qualms about his crimes. He's not going to stop killing or drug dealing. What he would like to do, besides having sex with his lawyer and favorite lover Jennifer (Janet Julian) is provide capital for a Harlem hospital that will be state of the art and provide much needed medical care for inner city men, women and especially children. Although White's wealthy, he needs help from other groups to do this. He patiently tries to explain this to rival mobsters.
The other drug dealers and gangsters in NYC have exactly zero interest in helping White achieve this goal. Their consensus is that White has lost his ever loving mind. They all dislike White's Rainbow Coalition of whites, blacks and hispanics. Undeterred, White starts a war to take over all drug dealing in NYC. Either you deal him in or you get a bullet in the head from Jimmy Jump and his crews, not that White himself is shy about pulling the trigger. Cop or not, you get in his way, you have problems.  White says he's not the problem, drugs are. Imprisoning or killing him won't slow drug sales. White claims to just give people what they want instead of exploiting them through extortion, child prostitution, illegal immigrant smuggling and slavery, or slumlord behavior like his rivals. But moral distinctions or pretensions aside, White is a killer. 
The movie lets you decide whether White's dangerously delusional or just a bad man trying to do one good thing. Walken infuses White with so much coolness and confidence balanced with coldness and flat evil dead eyes that it ought to be illegal. White is so cool that rather than get upset when interrupted mid-fondle with Jennifer by would be muggers, he just shows them his gun, throws them a fat wad of cash, and offers them a job. Confidence is his middle name. When White looks at people it's as if he's from a different moral universe and is trying to remember the words needed to communicate. The classic vampire movie Nosferatu is referenced here. Frank White could very easily BE a vampire. He's mostly seen at night, is rather pale and has numerous loyal minions. This is a violent verbally aggressive sexually audacious movie. It may be more style than substance but it entertains! Ferrara hit the ball out of the park. I loved it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Cleveland Bus Driver Uppercuts Girl

Last night many of us watched Vice-President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan launch verbal bombs at each other (and then heartily congratulate each other and their families after the debate). Nobody used profanity, nobody insulted anyone's mother, and nobody made bloody threats about what they were going to do to the other person.

However on the Cleveland bus system recently a different sort of debate took place, one that evidently started with profanity and threats and escalated to violence. I don't know what started this fracas as the video starts in the middle of an angry tirade from a teen girl young woman against the bus driver (a grown man). It is difficult to even make out much of what she's saying. But she clearly threatens the driver who responds that he will have his daughter or granddaughter handle her. Often times, especially in areas that are EXTREMELY touchy about personal honor and disrespect (any inner city) a mutual exchange of insults and threats would have been enough and both parties, honor having been upheld, could go about their business. I've seen that more times than I care to recall.  For whatever reason though this young lady decided to get physical with the man. And then... well just watch the video.


Now I am not a person who automatically thinks that a man never has reason to hit a woman. There are violent, brutish women out there. Domestic abuse can be a two way street. Self-defense is a human right.

Would I have handled it this way? The fact that the man got up and walked towards the teen woman would seem to indicate that self-defense was not really the case. But on the other hand if you let someone hit you once, they'll hit you again. And if you start a fight, well you never know the capacity or the mindset of the other person. That girl woman is probably comparable to that bus driver in terms of size or strength as I am to Clay Matthews, Ray Lewis, Mike Tyson or Vitali Klitschko. And if I walked up to them talking stuff and then hit them and they retaliated I suspect that once it appeared on various tube sites that people would fall out laughing. I would NEVER hear the end of it from blog partners, other friends or ESPECIALLY relatives. That's why you would never see me do such a remarkably stupid thing. Don't let your mouth write a check your behind can't cash. It's too late for the teen's woman's friends to talk about "that's a female" after she stepped in the ring. People talk a lot about "equality". To steal a line from Inigo Montoya, "People keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means".

I am a traditionalist in some aspects. Men-women relations is definitely one. Men should not hit women but neither should women hit men. Basically everyone should keep their hands to themselves. This is also why I am not a fan of public transit.  People just can't act right. No home training. =)


1) Was the bus driver justified? Should he be arrested? Fired?

2) Does the girl have a lawsuit against the City of Cleveland?

3) Should there be police or security guards on buses?

4) Why on earth would that teen hit a grown man?

5) Is this evidence of something wrong in gender relations or just something wrong with a teen girl?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

NYPD officers abuse teen-caught on audio

It is often instructive to look back at the history of white supremacy in this country and see how non-whites had to deal with openly racist whites who had no problem being violent. When we look at the pictures or video of peaceful civil rights protesters having dogs set on them or being beaten with tire irons or having things thrown at them it is hard, in 2012 not to at least occasionally question how people could allow that to happen or why didn't more people stand up and fight back or so on. Those are painful questions to be sure. At any given point in time most people are just trying to survive. By definition, most people are not heroes. Cemeteries are full of would be heroes. People did what they had to do to survive. There is no shame in that.

But although those days are thankfully gone, there are unfortunately quite a number of people who would have fit right in working for Bull Connor or Ross Barnett. Evidently many of these people are NYPD police officers. We've written before on the stop-and-frisk program that Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have instituted that is primarily aimed at Black and Hispanic men, especially young men or boys. This program doesn't catch many people carrying either drugs or guns but it does put a lot of fear, anger and rage in many New York Black and Hispanic citizens. Unfortunately until very recently this has not received any attention in the mainstream press and what attention it has received has been cautiously positive or only mildly critical. Generally speaking the people that write or edit for the New York Times or the New Yorker or the Wall Street Journal or the American Enterprise Institute are not the people being stopped and frisked so they tend not to have the mad rush of killing rage I had when I saw the below video. This is a racial quota which doesn't seem to excite their delicate constitutional sensitivities.

One thing that it is really important to understand is that the stop-and-frisk program, which has been expanded to include public housing and some private rentals as well is NOT a program in which someone does something suspicious and only THEN receives police attention NOR it is a program in which Officer Friendly and Dudley DoRight stop you and politely ask you a few questions before apologizing and sending you on your way after some sports discussions.


It is as the video shows, a program in which young men of color are criminalized just for existing. It is a program in which showing signs of manhood and citizenship like demanding to know why you were stopped, asking for badge numbers, looking in someone's eyes or refusing to answer questions causes insane and profane racist rage, insults to your family, threats of arrests or beating, and occasional actual beating. This is the kind of stuff that was supposed to have gone out of style in 1960s Mississippi but as we can see it is thriving in 2012 NYC, under a supposedly enlightened Mayor, a relatively liberal Governor and a President that claims to understand civil liberties.

This is why come what may, with no offence intended to anyone who is a police officer, or is related to or married to a police officer, I really really don't like cops. Period. Never have and never will. Fortunately I have never had an experience to the extent of the young man in the video but I've had a few run-ins in my time. This is also why I do not like NYC and have little desire to visit, though I have friends and family there. Imagine if Alvin was your son, brother, cousin or husband. What does that sort of physical and verbal abuse from so-called authority figures do to racial relations? This is why it is ridiculous to claim, as some do, that affirmative action is harming racial relations. No, the NYPD is harming racial relations!  

The NYPD has a serious problem and it needs to be fixed yesterday. I simply do not get why Black and Hispanic New Yorkers have not gone after Bloomberg the same way they went after Giuliani. Malcolm X once joked that anywhere south of Canada is Mississippi and this video shows the truth of that joke. Honestly if I were in that situation I would definitely be in fear of my life and have to act accordingly. I'd rather be judged by a jury than those two beasts. Listen to full audio of Alvin's stop here, courtesy of The Nation.


1) Ever been in a similar situation with police?

2) How can we fix the police department?

3) Is the teen a hero?

4) Should the police officers be fired?

5) Where are the Feds?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Detroit Police Sex Scandal: Ralph Godbee and Angelica Robinson

If it's Tuesday it must be time for another Detroit political sex scandal. Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick fired two police officers who, in a separate investigation, were close to discovering evidence of Kilpatrick's infidelity. In the resulting civil trial for damages, text messages confirming Kilpatrick's adulterous relationship with chief of staff Christine Beatty were revealed. Since that time and Kilpatrick's subsequent resignation I would have thought that people would have changed. If you absolutely and positively just HAD to cheat at work, I would have expected you would be prudent enough to avoid creating proof in the form of text or phone messages, emails, Facebook posts, tweets or other electronic droppings that made it clear that your mule was kicking in somebody else's stall. I mean that's in the player's handbook-bolded and marked in red just for any extra special stupid player out there.

That's not how we roll in Detroit. The disturbed woman depicted is Detroit Internal Affairs police officer Angelica Robinson, who is currently (probably not happily) married. Officer Robinson was having an affair with Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee. She posted the picture of herself with her city issued sidearm on her twitter account. She learned that Chief Godbee (who is married but proceeding to divorce) allegedly was also dipping his nightstick into another woman. I don't know if the other woman is also a Detroit Police Officer. I wouldn't be surprised. To paraphrase Moe Green from The Godfather, no wonder we can't get police response in Detroit. The chief was banging officers two at a time!

Godbee only became DPD Chief when the previous DPD Chief Warren Evans was forced out for having a relationship with yet another police officer, Monique Patterson. Evans and Patterson were single during their dalliance. Godbee, who is a minister, was also seeing Patterson. Godbee got the gold mine (promotion to Chief) while Evans got the shaft. So when news of Godbee's troubles first hit, Evans was obviously, shall we say, somewhat less than sympathetic.
Video below:

Detroit doesn't need more bad publicity. So Godbee is no longer DPD police chief. Whether it was a firing, tantamount to a firing (asking for a resignation), or an actual resignation is really something that is only of interest to Godbee and the Pension Board. Occasionally there are different consequences for pension and severance pay depending on how you leave. I couldn't care less. He's out (retired).

What I do care about is that at this time Officer Angelica Robinson has been cleared to return to duty and has been given her gun back. This seems wrong to me on at least two levels. Firstly, unless she is going to allege some sort of sexual harassment, extortion or rape, Robinson was a willing participant in whatever she and Godbee did together. If Godbee didn't scream, she didn't holler. Apparently there is no written policy in the DPD against supervisor/subordinate relationships. On a local radio show other officers questioned Robinson's assignment to Internal Affairs and hinted she was unqualified for the position.
She has no right to make snide comments or judge Godbee or really say anything about him. She was doing wrong herself. She calls him a "sex addict" but if so then evidently she was the dealer. Godbee lost his job for setting a poor leadership example. Robinson should lose hers as well. If you are a Detroit police officer who discovers corruption, shocking idea I know, are you going to take that information to Internal Affairs, knowing that Internal Affairs is LITERALLY in bed with upper management? Is Robinson the sort of sober and judicious person you want in Internal Affairs? She can't handle her own internal affairs. This delicate flower and paragon of purity is now supposedly planning on suing the City of Detroit. Again.

Secondly, what ever happened to the idea of everybody plays the fool? Maybe Robinson got played. Maybe. But she really played herself. She was checking out but someone else was checking in.  Robinson didn't mind cheating on her husband but lost it when she thought Godbee was cheating on her? Since when does that entitle you to angry self-righteousness? Since when does that mean you put a photo of yourself on social media sucking on the business end of a pistol? Should that really be the public perception of the Detroit Police Department? Not only are they telling people that the city is too dangerous to visit but they're threatening suicide? I really don't want suicidal people given weapons and the awesome authority of a police officer. Because when they decide that it's their time to go they might decide to take me with them. And it might not be my time to go.


1) If you're cheating with someone, can you really get upset if they're cheating with someone else?
2) Does Officer Robinson (who has sued the city before over wanting (paid) light duty for pregnancy) have any legal case against the city?
3) Should Robinson be fired?
4) Is it ever okay for a workplace supervisor and subordinate to be intimate?