Somebody give me a cheeseburger

Livin in the USA

Stand back, dietician / Stand back, television / Stand back, politician / Stand back, mortician

Oh, we got to get away / Living in the U.S.A. / Come on baby, Owwww

I see a yellow man, a brown man / A white man, a red man
Lookin’ for Uncle Sam / To give you a helpin’ hand
But everybody’s kickin’ sand / Even politicians
We’re living in a plastic land / Somebody give me a hand, yeah

Doot do do do do doot doot
Living in the U.S.A.
I got to be free
Doot do do do do doot doot
Living in the U.S.A.
Come on try it, you can buy it, you can leave it next week, yeah
Somebody give me a cheeseburger

— Steve Miller, 1968 from his second album, Sailor

Doot do do do do doot doot indeed. If anybody can tell me what this song is about I’d really appreciate it. Is he criticizing the helpin’ hands or the world that needs them? Pro-U.S.A. or ironically smearing it? In any case, I heard it on the classic rock station and it prompted a meditation as I have just returned from two weeks in Poland and am happy to be back livin’ in the U.S.A. I’ll return to that.

Steve Miller’s story is pretty interesting. Born in Milwaukee. His Dad a doctor and recording geek, Mom an amateur singer. Dr. and Mrs. Miller were good friends with Les Paul and Mary Ford and they frequented the Miller home. Later the family moved to the Dallas area and his parents became friends with T-Bone Walker and others in the Dallas music world. He moved to Chicago and became a part of the 1960’s blues scene there, which featured Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy–and he played with them all. He also met blues vocalist and harp player Paul Butterfield. Later he found the San Francisco music scene and moved there.

Miller’s band launched the careers of William Royce “Boz” Scaggs and Ben Sidran. No sad ending for Miller, thankfully. He has recently taught at USC and released a 2010 album of blues covers. Lives in homes in Idaho and Washington with his 3rd wife and 450 guitars.

Which brings me to the Polish trip. [clunk] I attended the wedding of Justyna and Pawel. Justyna the daughter of my wife’s brother Zenon. Except for those two, the rest of the immediate family has relocated to the U.S.A. I spent two weeks there and the contrast was interesting and got me thinking. The European Cup football tournament (co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine) were also on, making for a happy buzz among the Poles. And fantastic wedding. Food on the hour, vodka on the half, over 12 hours of dancing and merriment. We made it home by 4:45 am but the hardcores put two more hours in. My thanks to the Mlody Pare and their parents.

When I was there 22 years ago, the country was just getting started on its trip to Capitalism. A decade earlier, Lech Walesa and Solidarity had successfully forced the government to hold nearly-free elections. In the end the influence of Communism was diminished and the Soviet Union lost its grip on the collar countries it used as a buffer. The people in power stayed in power, e.g. government employed factory directors became the factory owners instead, but the spirit of entrepreneurism started to bubble up and guys like Zenon made a good life owning small stores. Note to Occupy: study Solidarity.

There’s still a lot of private businesses run out of offices and homes. They haven’t consolidated to large companies a la the Walmart cancer so far and most shopping is done in 500 sq. ft. (or smaller) shops. In 1990 the bread store would close at 2:00 and I would say, jeez, if just one guy stayed open until people got off work they could make a lot of money. It’s better now, but the towns mostly close up business by 5:00. Advertising billboards and cloth banners are everywhere (even on private fences), to the point where it’s unsightly overkill. The larger cities are a different story and have large home stores, supermarkets, and malls. I also saw tons of graffiti suggesting that the youth are pretty disenchanted with the state of affairs. Overally unemployment is slightly worse than ours, with a lot of self-employed people, but youth unemployment is at 25%.

In the U.S.A. we see the road signs showing us the benefits of the ARRA. Over there, it’s EU money. The European Union is helping to build roads and bridges and signs were everywhere. I really got the feeling that the Poles were in a transitional stage that would lead them to being on par with any of the western European countries. English isn’t spoken commonly in the countryside, but I had no trouble in Krakow. The dollar went a long way. Things are expensive by Polish standards but to Americans getting a full meal for 5 bucks or a 4-star hotel room in a tourist destination for $175 dollars was pretty sweet. Income there is around $12,000 per year for a nurse, $9,000 per year for a mechanic or postman.

I sincerely hope they ride the prosperity forward and manage the societal illnesses of unfettered capitalism that we choke on daily. Which finally brings me to my first point. I rode on the airline LOT, Polskie Linie Lotnicze. It is 68% government-owned but ran as a private business with a balance sheet approach that caused it to recently cancel popular flights from Chicago to Krakow. The seats were cramped and the padding minimal. I was afraid I’d broken something down there after the 9 hour flight (other boomer men may sympathize with the loss of personal padding in the ass area as we age). The service was acceptable but not exceptional. My vegetarian meal request did not make its way from the travel agent’s office to the flight crew. I had to argue about not taking the chicken dinner. Like Bobby Dupea in Five Easy Pieces, “Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven’t broken any rules.”

The week before I’d flown on United Express to and from San Antonio and those planes had more legroom than the long haul flight from LOT. Of course, for a healthy premium you could fly Business Class and get a wider chair, WITH padding, and legroom. So the point of the story is that the marketplace should be driving quality of experience at LOT (or AA or United etc.) to entice passengers. But in a world where wages are flat and expenses are rising than we end up taking whatever they serve us to save a buck and get stuck with sore butts and grumpy attitudes and vows “never to fly that airline again!”

I can’t help but think that companies that focus only on the profit motive and treat the customer like dirt do just fine. There is no visible invisible hand guiding the marketplace. It’s them 10 and us 0. Our self-respect is thrown out the window because we’re given the meager dregs instead of a few extra percent of the CEO pay and like herds of sheep we obediently climb the walkway to the Mexican country bus amenities of the airline company.

But after all that griping, I’m very happy to be home. Eating the food I want to, sleeping in the bed I’m used to, and facing the mountain of work that awaited my return.

—————–

So the Supreme Court says that the mandate in the ACA is Constitutional. Son of a bitch. That was a shocker. No time lost turning the conversation to “I promise to repeal Obamacare.” Wait a minute dude, there’s good stuff in there. Some people see it as a victory for Obama, I see it more as a defeat for demagoging (obtaining power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace). I don’t think even the president could stand proudly in front of that baby, but it’s what the politics of the times and the pocketbooks of the special interest groups made it. 

What’s good about it? The Kaiser Family Foundation has done tons of work to simplify the bill but the monster is still a lot to read. This summary helps but it’s lengthy in itself. The administration takes a shot at Obamacare for Dummies with this page at Healthcare.gov.

Here’s what ACA has done for us lately:

  • Insurers are now bound to increased mandatory reporting of administrative data, coverage of children under their parents’ policies until the 26th birthday, strict limits on reasons for discontinuing coverage, and free preventive screening services for adults.
  • Nonprofit insurers faced a new requirement that they maintain a loss ratio of 85% or higher in the large group market and 80% or higher in the small markets in order to take advantage of Internal Revenue Service tax benefits.
  • Tax credits became available to small businesses (25 or fewer employees) to help with employee premium costs and the expansion of Medicare to small, rural hospitals and facilities.
  • Medicare beneficiaries began to receive free preventive care as well as a 50% discount on the cost of covered brand-name prescription drugs to tighten the Medicare Part D coverage gap (doughnut hole), and grants became available to states to develop programs aimed at delaying the onset and reducing the prevalence of chronic conditions in their Medicaid populations.
  • Hospitals also began to feel the impact of ACA this year when the federal government stopped paying states for Medicaid services related to certain hospital-acquired infections – a prelude to the planned reduction in Medicare payments for preventable hospital admissions scheduled to take effect in 2012. However, it’s important to note that HCA, a large for-profit hospital corporation, had a 10% jump in stock prices on the day of the SCOTUS announcement.

2013 will see some more Medicaid money to States to cover preventive care for recipients and additional funding for CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). 2014 is the final year of implementation and lifetime limits and pre-existing condition limits will be gone, state managed insurance exchanges will become a reality, and for-profit insurers will have to limit their profit-taking. The bundling of payment for procedures continues, that’s the provisions that say we won’t pay you for every effing thing you can think of to do to that patient, only the things that constitute good care–and if you screw up hospital, you eat the extra costs.

The mandate is a bitter pill to swallow (chuckle) but what the cons don’t understand is that it’s a protection against the free-loaders who don’t have insurance because they don’t think they get anything out of it–until they need it, can’t pay, and push the costs onto the rest of us. It’s like not buying car insurance and getting in an accident and expecting the community to pay for the repairs.

It’s not easy to keep a country as healthy as it can be, and it works best if everyone has their own responsibility to pay. If we stop caring about it then disease epidemics are more likely and the extreme costs of last-ditch-effort care drain valuable resources from the system. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep their neighbors as healthy as possible.

**********

Many are writing that the Robert’s Ruling will be a plus for the GOP because the mandate was defined as being more like a tax (which I always thought it was) and that now Republicans can run against tax-and-spend liberals (which they would have done in any case) and demagog a tax increase to individuals that doesn’t exist. Oh well, one thing we need to learn to live with is the legions of dumb white people who get manipulated oh so easily by the right wing and their self-serving pro-gun, anti-abortion, phony freedom pitches. Yeah Tea Party, talking about YOU!

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