Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Medical Insurance and a Small Business

I need to tell you my story about my running of a small business (27 employee law firm) and medical insurance. For years I insured my employees (and their families) with Blue Cross of Michigan. On the average the cost of doing so was fourteen thousand dollars a month, a tidy sum. We didn't have any frills with this policy as my thought was simply to provide disaster insurance to my employees as well as my own family. There was no dental, office visits, eyeglass, etc., you get the idea. What I provided was basic insurance with a healthy deductible ($500). In the middle of all this, I hired a young lawyer who had a history of low back problems (don't we all)? About two years after he started with us, he had a severe episode of back pain which required extensive surgery. The cost of this was ninety two thousand dollars ($92,000). How do I know that? Because I paid for it because Blue Cross refused to cover this expense because the young man had a pre-existing condition. My reasons for doing so were humanitarian, purely and simply. If I did not pay, the young man and his family faced financial ruin. Of course the financial impact on the firm was tremendous and this situation caused us to alter the way we did business when it came to hiring new employees. Preference in hiring was given to those who had spouses in a work place which already provided health insurance to my prospective employee, not the kind of consideration one wants to admit, but nevertheless a consideration. At the time, we were not supposed to even ask if someone was married or not, but the dynamics of hiring interviews is such that people do volunteer a certain amount of information. The net result, I am embarrassed to admit, was that uninsured and uninsurable potential employees also became unemployable, an altogether too-frequent decision. From my reading regarding the failure of the public option to pass yesterday, this cutthroat analysis by private insurance companies will be allowed to continue and flourish in an indirect manner, i.e. by increasing costs across the board in a non-competitive environment in which the emphasis of the insurance carrier is on making profits, not providing quality medical care.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More from Jeff and Tyler: Week Three

Week 3-ish: Gringos, Niños and Water

by tdepke on Sep.24, 2009, under Jeff and Tyler's S. American Updates
Written by Jeff Vredenburg and edited by Tyler Depke

Jipijapa is a town of undulating hills that drain (if there ever were water) into the center square. This is where everything happens, the market, the church, the pharmacy, the bus station and the people are always here. Every time I need to use the internet, buy a phone card, or catch a bus, I have a 15 minute walk down from where I live to the center where I can go about my business. A municipal water system doesn’t exist so people are used to procuring their water from giant water trucks and boiling it before cooking or drinking. The big news lately though is the government finally approved a water project to install water mains to create a city-wide water system. In the meanwhile, this means that there are huge chunks missing from every street all over the city. I think that somewhere in the planning stages they decided to start the pipes in random places and then eventually connect them, which makes navigating the city a maze of holes. The buses that we take to work never drop us off in the same place because they are constantly being re-routed because of construction.
It is also a town where trash is common. There are very few public trash receptacles, and I am not sure if the trash that people throw in them is ever collected. Instead, it is just burned every few days along with the trash from private residences, that is, if the trash even makes it into a receptacle. Nobody here ever thinks twice about throwing trash out of windows, on the street, or in the neighbor’s yard. In my class, the students wad up paper and throw it out the window where it winds up in the creek behind the school. This makes the city smell like smoke and creates a haze that lingers over everything which mixes with the dust for a great breathing environment.
Last weekend we went to Porto Lopez, a seaside town no more than an hour west from Jipijapa. Friday, after settling in to our hotel, which came complete with hot (well lukewarm) water, a dart board, a pool (table) and tables of people smoking weed (for which the minimum sentence is 15 years), we set out for dinner. We ordered Ceviche, a dish made with raw fish marinated in lemon juice, vinegar, and seasoning, and eaten cold. It hit the spot with the warm weather, and after an extended night photo shoot of stray dogs, fishing vessels, and the beach, we retired to our beds and wrestled with our mosquito nets until we fell asleep.

Saturday we woke and after a breakfast of fried eggs, rice, and fresh pineapple juice smoothies, we made our way to the beach to board our tour boat. We were going to La Isla de Plata, or Silver Island, so named because of the treasure that Sir Francis Drake buried during his short stay on the island (Marooned). For those looking for a less fantastic interpretation of the name, the bird guano that piles up on the rocks gives the island a silver color. On the way to the island we stopped and saw humpback whales playing in the surf. They can grow up to 33 tons and every year migrate from Antarctic waters to the waters off the coast of Ecuador to mate, birth, and raise their young.

After a few people lost the battle to keep their cookies, we went to calmer waters (some of the swells were around 15 feet) where a group of sea turtles met us, poking their heads out of the water and diving down again, almost as if they wanted us to jump in and play. We debarked to land and walked the paths of the island, seeing blue-footed boobies, nasca boobies, and other species of birds and lizards that gave the island its nickname, “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” Silver Island is the closest land mass to said infamous islands, and many of the birds and plant life from the Galapagos have come to inhabit the island – birds by air and plants by air and water. Our tour group had warned us to wear comfortable hiking shoes for the tour, since we would be walking up and down steep, rocky hills on a dirt path. Heeding these warnings we were surprised to find that our guide choose not to wear shoes for the entire 2.5 hour tour. I took my shoes off for twenty minutes or so because my shoes were rubbing my heels (why did I forget socks?) and went barefoot on the paths. This man must have had heels of steel. I had to pick my way carefully through the rocks and dirt while he was able to walk unfazed through the toughest terrain.
Written by Tyler Depke and edited by Jeff Vredenburg
There is something fascinating about being the minority in another culture. The minority I talk about is us, gringos in a town of morenos.

When most people think about being a gringo in South America, the first and most common stereotype that comes to mind is money. People see the white skin from a mile away and try to charge more, take advantage of you, etc. They don´t have anything against us, they are just trying to get more out of what they are given. Once they get over this ´rich gringo´ stereotype they start seeing other things that are different about gringos that they usually don’t see everyday.

We were all sitting at dinner one day and my family asked me how tall I was. Of course I know how tall I am in standard, but in meters, not a clue, only that I am between 1 and 2. They asked me to walk into my room which is conveniently located right next to the dinner table. As I entered my room I heard the entire family laughing and as I turned back I was very confused as to why they were laughing. I guess it was because when I enter my room I have to duck to walk through the door because the doors here are smaller…they thought that it was the funniest thing they have ever seen.

I had my shoes off the other day while we were watching TV when I looked at my host who was staring wide-eyed at my foot as she nearly yelled, “Gringo’s feet are so weird! Look at your toes!” She pointed at my pinky toe counting them towards my big toe but stopping at my second-to-biggest toe laughing and saying, “What is that!?! Why is that one so long?” Well not all gringos have their second-to-biggest toe longer, but I will say that the average gringo who is a lot taller than the average Ecuadorian is going to have a lot bigger feet than the average Ecuadorian.

Now let’s look at the reaction of children to gringos. Baby’s usually stare at me like I look weird, but is there really ever a time when babies DON’T stare at someone new? After babies we have the 3-ish year old. They walk around without really knowing what’s going on, and THESE ones, OH, these are the ones that stare at me for 10-30 seconds trying to make up their mind if I’m actually human. My host niece here looks at me and if I attempt to make eye contact she looks towards her mom running to her as if I were going to kill her. I approached her trying to dance with her once and she immediately ran to her mother pushing the entirety of her body into her mothers stomach on what looked like the edge of tears. Finally, we have the 5 year-olds and up. Initially very shy and anything more than a “hello” makes them giggle. My host nephew qualifies in this category as he would run away from me with a big smile on his face, but eventually he even showed me his dance moves including a pretty decent moonwalk. With these kids you could literally say anything and they would smile. These are the interactions are the ones that make me feel welcome here. With all of these staring children, we often feel like we are in a zoo, and every move that we make is something either to be laughed at or documented. The best thing that we have found to break the tension is to dance, it`s universal and come on, who doesn´t laugh at gringos dancing?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"I Pray For War"

Embedded in my brain is a statement made inside a classroom at the United States Air Force Academy in 1959; "I pray for war". The speaker was our class instructor, a one star general in the Air Force who was a hero during World War II. During his talk, the general reminded us that as academy men we had the obligation to protect our country using all military means available. It was obvious from listening to the speaker that his opinion was that the only way to defend the country or advance the country's interests was by military means. He likened the role of the military to deer hunting. One didn't go into the woods and play nice-nice with the deer, or try to talk them into coming out of hiding so that they could be captured as a pet. The purpose was to kill. It was "kill or be killed", another statement from his mouth that day. I am writing about this now inasmuch as President Obama is wrestling with a decision that, in my opinion, carries far more significant potential impact on our nation than the Vietnam War. For the younger set, I must indicate that that war resulted in the deaths of more than fifty thousand young, brave men and emotionally isolated hundreds of thousands more as they returned to a hostile homeland which never quite figured out the difference between the so-called message (we must not lose) and the messengers (the young men who were sent to their deaths and oblivion by irresponsible politicians). As President Obama considers his options in expanding or walking away from the Afghanistan conflict, he should keep in mind that the top military brass does pray for war and that war is their solution for the resolution of every conflict. These men (and now women) are trained for war and their lives are geared for war in terms of looking at war as the "solution". The predicament facing Obama is that even if the war is "won" the question of who we hand over the keys to government in Afghanistan is open. Currently, we all know without a doubt that the present governmental structure is filled with corruption and is being run by unworthy scoundrels. The term 'quagmire' is heard frequently and perfectly describes the present situation. I recommend that we close up shop over there and spend the time and energy developing safeguards for our borders. I pray for peace.

History is Being Made Right Before Our Eyes

Two comments by way of prelude; Oftentimes, it is difficult to grasp a sense that history is being made when one is part of it and I need to remind myself that the real purpose of this blog site is to provide my grandchildren with an insight of who I am (or, historically speaking, was) so I take the liberty of reprinting this morning's editorial from Tom Friedman of the New York Times whose thoughtful insights fulfills these purposes nicely.

September 27, 2009
The New Sputnik

Most people would assume that 20 years from now when historians look back at 2008-09, they will conclude that the most important thing to happen in this period was the Great Recession. I’d hold off on that. If we can continue stumbling out of this economic crisis, I believe future historians may well conclude that the most important thing to happen in the last 18 months was that Red China decided to become Green China.

Yes, China’s leaders have decided to go green — out of necessity because too many of their people can’t breathe, can’t swim, can’t fish, can’t farm and can’t drink thanks to pollution from its coal- and oil-based manufacturing growth engine. And, therefore, unless China powers its development with cleaner energy systems, and more knowledge-intensive businesses without smokestacks, China will die of its own development.

What do we know about necessity? It is the mother of invention. And when China decides it has to go green out of necessity, watch out. You will not just be buying your toys from China. You will buy your next electric car, solar panels, batteries and energy-efficiency software from China.

I believe this Chinese decision to go green is the 21st-century equivalent of the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik — the world’s first Earth-orbiting satellite. That launch stunned us, convinced President Eisenhower that the U.S. was falling behind in missile technology and spurred America to make massive investments in science, education, infrastructure and networking — one eventual byproduct of which was the Internet.

Well, folks. Sputnik just went up again: China’s going clean-tech. The view of China in the U.S. Congress — that China is going to try to leapfrog us by out-polluting us — is out of date. It’s going to try to out-green us. Right now, China is focused on low-cost manufacturing of solar, wind and batteries and building the world’s biggest market for these products. It still badly lags U.S. innovation. But research will follow the market. America’s premier solar equipment maker, Applied Materials, is about to open the world’s largest privately funded solar research facility — in Xian, China.

“If they invest in 21st-century technologies and we invest in 20th-century technologies, they’ll win,” says David Sandalow, the assistant secretary of energy for policy. “If we both invest in 21st-century technologies, challenging each other, we all win.”

Unfortunately, we’re still not racing. It’s like Sputnik went up and we think it’s just a shooting star. Instead of a strategic response, too many of our politicians are still trapped in their own dumb-as-we-wanna-be bubble, where we’re always No. 1, and where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, having sold its soul to the old coal and oil industries, uses its influence to prevent Congress from passing legislation to really spur renewables. Hat’s off to the courageous chairman of Pacific Gas and Electric, Peter Darbee, who last week announced that his huge California power company was quitting the chamber because of its “obstructionist tactics.” All shareholders in America should ask their C.E.O.’s why they still belong to the chamber.

China’s leaders, mostly engineers, wasted little time debating global warming. They know the Tibetan glaciers that feed their major rivers are melting. But they also know that even if climate change were a hoax, the demand for clean, renewable power is going to soar as we add an estimated 2.5 billion people to the planet by 2050, many of whom will want to live high-energy lifestyles. In that world, E.T. — or energy technology — will be as big as I.T., and China intends to be a big E.T. player.

“For the last three years, the U.S. has led the world in new wind generation,” said the ecologist Lester Brown, author of “Plan B 4.0.” “By the end of this year, China will bypass us on new wind generation so fast we won’t even see it go by.”

I met this week with Shi Zhengrong, the founder of Suntech, already the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. Shi recalled how, shortly after he started his company in Wuxi, nearby Lake Tai, China’s third-largest freshwater lake, choked to death from pollution.

“After this disaster,” explained Shi, “the party secretary of Wuxi city came to me and said, ‘I want to support you to grow this solar business into a $15 billion industry, so then we can shut down as many polluting and energy consuming companies in the region as soon as possible.’ He is one of a group of young Chinese leaders, very innovative and very revolutionary, on this issue. Something has changed. China realized it has no capacity to absorb all this waste. We have to grow without pollution.”

Of course, China will continue to grow with cheap, dirty coal, to arrest over-eager environmentalists and to strip African forests for wood and minerals. Have no doubt about that. But have no doubt either that, without declaring it, China is embarking on a new, parallel path of clean power deployment and innovation. It is the Sputnik of our day. We ignore it at our peril.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The World Traveler

My grandson Jeff, the world traveler, is off on another venture. Briefly, Jeff will graduate from Hope College next spring and in the short four years since graduating from high school he has spent one year studying in France, nine months in China and is now in South America. He is fluent in French, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. He and a friend, Tyler Depke, are teaching in Ecuador. They are sending short descriptions of their experience on a weekly basis. Let's join them on Week Two:

Week 2: Thats a lot of BUS!
by tdepke on Sep.19, 2009, under Jeff and Tyler's S. American Updates
Written by Tyler Depke
As we left Nazca, we didn’t realize that we wouldn’t even have a semi-permanent home for the next week and that we would also be traveling over 50 hours of buses to our final destination: Quito, Ecuador.
So basically our adventure started warming up as we left Lima heading north. The sandy desert continued for the entire day as we followed the coast up to a town called Chicalyo. This was the first stop that we´ve ever been that we hadn’t read anything about because it wasn’t in our guidebooks, and now we know why.
We arrived quite late into the evening and once again got a nice taxi driver that took us around to multiple hotels looking to get the best price as he solicited his personal transportation service to the nearby city of Sipan, which has a whole bunch of archeological remains, pyramids, etc. Jeff and I walked the streets to find a good restaurant. We found construction workers digging up an entire street, casinos on every other corner, kids playing spin the bottle in the plaza, and finally a mediocre spot to sit down and have dinner at about 11PM. We ate duck and goat with the usual side of rice and some kind of salsa. After our meal, we walked down the main street back to the hotel where we were surprised to see that the only people on the street were prostitutes on every other corner soliciting themselves to everyone, including us, the two six-foot gringos that they probably don’t see everyday (or night). It felt pretty awkward to see this kind of thing in real life, especially as we passed by having them say things like, “My love, lets go to your room”, whistling at us, or borderline stalking us when we made eye contact for half a second across the street. We woke up the next morning to find the city quite different with everything and everyone walking around, selling trinkets, food, live ducks…etc. We found our cheapest and rarest breakfast, which cost just under $2 for both of us.
Another 8 hours north we found ourselves in a town called Tumbes, which seemed a little nicer, so we decided to stay two nights. Most of the day we spent walking around, although the highlight of the trip was that Jeff got a haircut and a massage, while I enrolled in an Afro-Peruvian dance class. I basically got a private lesson for 15 minutes where the instructor did the best he could to teach a gringo his smooth moves. I almost fell over multiple times because my legs were so tired within 3 minutes of dancing. For the next hour I continued being taught by little girls who all wanted to teach me different things at the same time, most of which were not the guys dancing parts anyway. The dancing is pretty epic and I basically learned that I need more leg muscles and I actually learned how to pop my chest like I mean business.
Another 10 hours north from Tumbes across the Ecuador border and thousands of banana trees later, we stopped in the industrial city of Guayaquil. Nearly starving all day left us with big appetites so we walked the main strip to dominate some food. Spending US dollars in a place other than the US is definitely a weird feeling, especially when we bought tickets to the IMAX (the only one in South America) for only $4 a piece. I must say Transformers 2 dubbed over in Spanish without subtitles is about as good as it is in English. We also found something that I haven’t had in over a year since Sweden…Magnum Ice Cream Bars and instead of paying $3 in Sweden for one, they are $1.25. DANG!
Upon arriving in Quito, we made it to the foundation`s housing with only a little bit of trouble where we met Virginia, the leader of the project. She gave us the low down on everything in the house, and we immediately learned that she was going to enjoy our cheesy jokes and ridiculous sense of humor as much as we were going to enjoy hers. We ALSO learned that the entire house was inhabited with 7 German chicks (and one Polish) who were all stationed there volunteering for projects in the city. Jeff and I woke up to eat breakfast with an entire table filled with girls our age speaking in German with some Spanish while Jeff and I tried to comprehend how ridiculous the situation seemed compared to the previous week where we only talked to people on the street. We spent the weekend hanging out with them, went to a reggae, funk, and rock concert which was pretty cool, and later celebrated one of their birthdays. It was a tough day without knowing any useful German although if we really wanted to, their English was perfect, and most of their Spanish was workable or otherwise fluent.

Written by Jeff Vredenburg

The leader of the Chiriboga Project is also a tour guide, and wanted to take us on a tour of the area around Quito. We started at the statue of the Virgin Mary, way above the city where she described the areas we were seeing and the volcanoes that surrounded the valley where Quito is located. The city is surrounded by seven or so active volcanoes, some which if they erupted would destroy huge sections of the city. After we were done there we traveled 60 km out of the city to the museum of the center of the world, where they have measured the exact line of the equator. The museum had sundials and other tools that the Incas used to calculate where the line was thousands of years ago as accurately as modern science can now. There were also some examples of how the indigenous people lived and their customs. A real shrunken head attested to their practice of taking heads as trophies of war; there still exist tribes that continue the practice to preserve the custom, although they use animals not people. The most impressive thing that was there though was the tests that we could do to determine that we were standing on the equator. We all were able to balance an egg on the head of a nail with little difficulty. (The wind was a factor) and what I thought was the best, they had a bin of water with a plug at the bottom. Our guide started with it exactly on the equator, and when she pulled the plug the leaves floating in the water went straight down the drain. Next she moved it 5 feet to the southern hemisphere, refilled it, and pulled the plug. The water spun clockwise. Next, she moved to the north and the leaves swirled in the opposite direction. The most impressive thing was that the difference between the two directions occurred within 10 feet of each other.
We arrived in Jipijapa early last week, which is the city where we are stationed over the next few weeks to teach kids in the local schools computer skills, English, and talk to them about the environment. Jipijapa is a coastal city in Ecuador that has the worst education system in the country, so bad that none of the teachers from the area could achieve a 50% on the state-issued test to certify teachers. (The new government wanted to see the level of teachers that were in the school and issued the test a few years ago.)
Tyler and I are each staying with different families, each wonderful, and they are a great resource for our Spanish. We eat their traditional food and we are learning a lot about the local customs and normalities including the wide variety of banana types used to make gravy, chips, salsa, mushy goodness, fries-ish, and to add extra flavor. Also noteworthy is the lack of water in the city, every drop of water used has to be purchased in giant tanks or is put in cisterns by water trucks that come around a few times a week. Needless to say, every drop of water is used to its maximum potential, and showers must be kept short (and hot water is not common).
The program we are doing is trying to fill in the gaps that the teachers leave (some even cancel school for parties and travel without warning.) We each teach in two different schools every day, as to cover the most ground. We stay here teaching until the 1st of October, when we travel to a cloud forest near Quito for a conservation project.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are You Number One?


We hear the old cliché: Walk quietly and carry a big stick. But what does it really mean? It has always been about modesty and self-effacement when dealing and promoting one’s own accomplishments and activities. As I currently understand it, the reverse of this humility is called “swag”, a short hand version of ‘swagger’. Because I am an old guy, meaning I have been around to observe firsthand this monumental switch from modesty to braggadocio, I now thump my chest and proclaim that I am the world’s greatest expert on the subject.

It started with Muhammad Ali who proclaimed himself the “greatest” in the mid-sixties. To summarize the impact of his claim on others, try to think back to the last time you saw a sporting event on TV in which the fans of the winning team did not hold an index finger in the air toward TV cameras proclaiming their team “number one”. Or how about the guys on the bench when the camera pans that area at the close of any game, no matter how big or small, how important or insignificant? Society is now taking its next step along this evolutionary pathway in the form of idiots like Joe “you’re a liar” Wilson and K. West who grabbed the microphone away from Taylor Swift during the MTV awards this week to proclaim his disagreement with her award. It seems like every politician who has a single thought that occurs to him or her needs to bring it to our attention in a press conference, not to mention the TV crowd and the media in and of itself. Sarah Palin is the prototype in two of these genres having been a sportscaster before she became a politician. I always get a kick out of the local TV station in the Traverse City, Michigan area which constantly claims to have the number one weather reporting team (which consists of three people who read weather forecasts prepared by the National Weather Service) in the area. By my count it is the only local channel in the area, so isn’t it number one by default? There is no end to this as reflected in the bumper stickers which boldly proclaim that the driver has an honor student in the second grade at the local grade school.

This bombast has repercussions. The citizens of our nation are struggling mightily right now with a president who insists on talking to us like adults. Instead, his modesty and gift of understatement is interpreted as weakness and high-browed. The further to the extremes, the left and the right, the less the appreciation for the nuances of the man who is derided as a pointy-headed intellectual. Some of the signs seen on TV from the weekend’s march on Washington equated Obama’s speech making ability with Hitler’s. This derision is the direct off-shoot of the “I’m number one” mentality.

As for me, I’m trained in the old school. I have actually done a lot of things of which I am proud. From time to time I am tempted to write about the things I have done and am currently doing because I want my grandkids to know about me. I had all A’s in grade school once, well before bumper stickers. No one said anything to me about it. It was expected that a kid would try to do his best, and I did. I am still trying to do my best. ‘Nuff said.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Basic Writing Skills and First Draft Mentality

There has been an ongoing discussion by Professor Stanley Fish in the editorial pages of the New York Times about his observation that our system of education has morbidly failed to teach students the art of writing. I submitted the following comment to the second of his third articles in response;

"For nearly thirty five years I was a busy trial lawyer. I had occasion to interview, hire and review the writing of more than one hundred law clerks or new lawyers. My most frequent notation on the work they submitted to me was 'Please do not submit work to me that is your first rough draft.' Most of the work I received was of poor quality composition-wise; incomplete sentences, dangling participles, etc. I refer to this type of effort as the 'first draft mentality.' Writing is the sum of knowing how to write plus the willingness to re-write a work until one gets it right. The key to that, of course, is knowing what is grammatically correct in the first place. Our current educational efforts, as Professor Fish and some commentators have pointed out, have failed our student population in that regard." Published Sept. 2, 2009

As to my own writing efforts I have found that it is necessary for me to constantly re-write what I have written until I am satisfied that I have gotten what I want to say right. As an example, during the course of my legal career I handled sixty appellate matters. In appellate matters, the writing of a thorough legal brief is the most important activity. I found myself on occasion writing more than thirty drafts until I was saying what I wanted to say and was comfortable submitting my effort to the courts. I submit that the second half of the writing process, the re-write, is the more important of the two (first draft and re-write(s)), and that the same process process ought to guide our speaking and thinking processes as well as writing. Witness the incredible amount of bonehead statements made by our politicians everyday. I rest my case.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Principle Number One: Never Negotiate Against Yourself

President Obama is a lawyer and was an instructor of constitutional law. His handling of the public option portion of the health care debate (first you see it, now you don't, there it is again) tells me that he needed some experience as a practicing trial lawyer as well. Let me explain:

In the course of my legal career I had the opportunity to assist in the development of several fine young lawyers. In a manner of speaking, I was kind of like a big league baseball manager cultivating a new young pitcher. Both types of tasks demanded a systematic approach to allow the young person to fully develop without doing too much too soon Just as the baseball manager wouldn't dream of allowing a fresh young face to make 125 pitches in a game, the boss lawyer wouldn't think of allowing a one or two year lawyer to conduct a full-blown complex scientific-based trial. The exposure was always incremental; let the new lawyer present one or two witnesses to the jury and sit the remainder of the trial at the side of the more experienced lawyer. Then turn the young lawyer loose on a dog bite case, or something similar, to handle by herself/himself. In every case, big or small, the subject of settlement always came up. it was absolutely necessary from day one to teach the principles of negotiating to young lawyers. The principles were and are always the same, whether the cases were big or small.

The First Principle: Never negotiate against yourself. Let me give an example; A lawyer wants to settle a case for his client for $5000. He started out by telling the other side that he'd like to settle the case for $10,000. Without the other side offering any money, the usual response to the initial demand was, "what would you really take?" If the young lawyer responded that he'd be willing to take $5000, any experienced negotiator knows at this point that the case will settle for $2500. The young lawyer has negotiated against himself.

In the present situation, President Obama has violated this principle by negotiating away the public option in various pronouncements along the way. If he was prepared to give in to the opposition on this important issue, its importance should have been held in reserve to be used as the ultimate bargaining chip in obtaining real change on the many other issues that are part of the debate. Instead, he is going to get $2500 instead of the $5000 the public rightfully deserves. In my law firm, he would have been assigned dog bite case duty for a couple of years if he pulled a stunt like he has on the public option issue.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Health Care is a Right

One of my friends of a more conservative bent has challenged a statement I made in writing that I considered health care to be a right. In fact, I do consider that any person, irrespective of ability to pay, should be able to receive health care appropriate to their needs without forcing the person, or family members, into bankruptcy because the costs exceed the ability to pay. Does this constitute a right that is embodied formally within the language of the U.S. Constitution? No, but it is in part, instead, a recognition of a certain reality that does exist together with a sense of compassion born of that reality. Let me explain by example.

Hypothetical number one: A young single man with no medical insurance runs his motorcycle into a tree and suffers a life-changing severance of his spinal cord at the cervical level. This injury will render him permanently quadriplegic. He is taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital where his medical problem and his uninsured status are recognized. Does the hospital refuse to admit and treat him? [Note: This type of scenario was probably the source of President George W. Bush’s confusion about everyone in America not needing health insurance because all they had to do was go to the local emergency room.]

Hypothetical number two: A young mother, takes her child to an inner city private clinic run by a pediatrician who treats the child without charge. The pediatrician knows that more than one half of the patients in his practice cannot afford his services, but he provides treatment to them anyway. Can this kind doctor afford to routinely provide services free of charge?

In both situations, the health care provider must make some sort of correction in the charges that are made to people who can pay (either via insurance or in cash) so that the care provided to the two case hypotheticals can be rendered free.

In both of these situations, the tough conservative point-of-view may be the asking of the question as to why should these people who are so careless or lazy should be supported by others. I must admit that at times, I have felt some anger at the thirty or forty young men who lay in beds at the Rehab Institute while our taxpayer dollars support their care to the tune of millions of dollars annually. If they had stayed away from their damn motorcycles, we wouldn't have all this cost.

There is another hypothetical. Number three is the young family man who does have health care insurance and a good paying job who, for one reason or another, is denied coverage when his medical needs exceed the amount of insured coverage. The young man loses his home through foreclosure and is forced into bankruptcy. This scenario is by no means just hypothetical, but is the most common reason for the foreclosure crisis today.

The basic feature that these three scenarios have in common is the sense of compassion of medical professionals that says ‘no one should be denied care simply because it cannot be afforded.’ The costs of treatment received by those who cannot afford it are routinely borne by those who can. Although not embodied in the constitution, there is a common law right to receive decent medical care if and when the need arises and society has always paid, or at least tried to pay, for it.

In the good old days, homeowners had to hire private firefighting companies to save their property. Nowadays, we have our fire departments remaining on standby 24 hours daily. I just re-read the Constitution and it does not mention fire fighting as a right of all Americans. The same could be said of most services we have come to routinely accept from our various branches of government.

The argument about health care should not be based on entitlement considerations. It should be based on a purely economic assessment as to who should bring more bang for the buck.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

All I Can Say Is 'Whew"!

As a trial lawyer, I represented a lot of children and adults who suffered a wide variety of physical deformities as a result of drugs administered to their mothers during critical period of organ development during pregnancy. These people were always amazing to me because of the myriad ways they adapted to their disabilities and, in many instances, they functioned as though their disabilities were an advantage rather than a detriment to their life. One young man from Kansas farmed 600 acres by himself although he had been born without arms. A young girl sat before the jury and dressed and undressed her baby doll with the nubbins of fingers protruding from her shoulders. Another thalidomide victim told me, and later a jury, that it was a good thing that he was the one who was injured by the drug because he was mentally and spiritually strong enough to cope with the situation whereas others may not have been able to do so. For those of you who struggle at playing golf, as I do, I offer this amazing video that will astound and truly humble you.