Sunday, February 27, 2011

Charlie Sheen: Batshit crazy or Comedy genius?

Back in January, after Charlie Sheen's "briefcase full of coke" episode, we posited the query of what would have happened had Bud Fox never turned on Gordon Gekko?

Well...Charlie apparently heard our questions and has decided to provide the answer. Since that episode in January, it's fair to say that Charlie has decided to take his "Fuck You" money and tell everyone to...well...Fuck Off.

In case you missed it, CBS shut down Two and a Half Men this past week after Charlie went on Alex Jones radio show and conducted what may be the greatest unintentional comedy performance of all time. Or was intentional. And that ladies and gentlemen is the elusive question Mr. Sheen poses. Charlie Sheen: Batshit Crazy or Genius? Before answering, keep in mind that this man did in fact make CBS a ton of money with what was, quite possibly, the stupidest sitcom to ever air.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Uncle Leo...Goodbye...

This past Wednesday, the Seinfeld world lost one of the more memorable recurring characters, Jerry's Uncle Leo, aka veteran actor/comedian Len Lesser. Lesser died from cancer-related pneumonia.

Tidbit we had forgotten: Lesser was Abe, one of the two gunmen that think they've caught themselves the great outlaw Josey Wales...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mayor Wukela announces State of the City address

Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela has announced that the annual “State of the City” address will be delivered at 6 p.m. Feb. 24 in the Stukes Meeting Room of the Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation Library, 509 S. Dargan St., Florence. The address is open to the public.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Laying the 2010 NFL Season to rest...

As we lay the 2010 NFL Season to rest and hope there's such a thing as a 2011 NFL season, let's take a look at how the BTPC fared over the season. No surprise, we've long maintained that we are almost a dead even coin flip in picking games and the numbers bear that out.

Our final numbers after picking the Super Bowl right last week are listed below. Whaddya know...we hit 50.54% for the season as a whole, including playoffs (for which we were a healthy 64%), which lines up nicely with our 50.86% career mark. What can we say...we're even steven.

So...hope you enjoyed football and here's to hoping the millionaires (players) fighting the billionaires (Owners) don't wind up killing the golden goose.

Last Week, Super Bowl: 1-0
2010 Playoff Record: 7-4 Upset Special: 2-0
Season to Date (including playoffs): 140-128-9
2010 Regular Season to date: 133-124-9 Upset specials 11-2-1
Career to date: 266-240-17

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

SC Lawmakers look to screw SC residents with new bill

SC Lawmakers are set to take up a bill today that would serve two purposes: to protect the profits of insurance companies and screw over South Carolinians who had suffered horrible injury.

According to the AP's Meg Kinnard:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Lawmakers in South Carolina are to consider plans to set new limits on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in lawsuits.

The South Carolina House plans Wednesday to debate a measure that would limit people winning lawsuits to either a maximum punitive damage award of $350,000 or three times the actual damages awarded.

The measure has been a top priority for House Republicans this year.

The House passed a similar measure last year, but it died in the Senate.

The legislation also sets new requirements for the state's attorney general and local solicitors to disclose details of contracts with outside lawyers and imposes limits on fees they can be paid. For instance, they could receive no more than 4 percent of a $100 million settlement.
The insurance agency has been pushing the red herring of tort reform for years as a cure for spiraling-out-of-control healthcare costs. It's complete bullshit.

The health economists and independent legal experts who study the issue,
however, don’t believe that’s true. They say that malpractice liability costs
are a small fraction of the spiraling costs of the U.S. health care system, and
that the medical errors that malpractice liability tries to prevent are
themselves a huge cost– both to the injured patients and to the health care
system as a whole.

“It’s really just a distraction,” said Tom Baker, a
professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author of “The
Medical Malpractice Myth.” “If you were to eliminate medical malpractice
liability, even forgetting the negative consequences that would have for safety,
accountability, and responsiveness, maybe we’d be talking about 1.5 percent of
health care costs. So we’re not talking about real money. It’s small relative to
the out-of-control cost of health care.”


“If you were to list the top five or ten things that you could do to bring down
health care costs that would not be on the list,” said Michelle Mello, a
professor of Law and Public Health at Harvard.

Politicians of both parties have been pushing for years the idea that reducing "runaway" jury "lottery" verdicts will somehow lower healthcare costs. First, there is not some epidemic of runaway lottery verdicts going on. Those that happen, are rare and subject to appeals if they are not substantiated by the facts of the particular case. But when they do happen, there's a reason. Take the recent SC case of Jerome Mitchell v. Fortis Insurance Co. (now known as Assurant). In 2004, a jury here in Florence awarded Mitchell $36,000 on his breach of contract claim, $150,000 on his bad faith rescission claim and $15 million in punitive damages arising from the bad faith. The SC Supreme Court later upheld the verdict, but reduced the punitive damages award to $10 million. The bill SC lawmakers are taking up today doesn't think that kind of award is "right." Let's see if we can figure out what is "right."

Mitchell was a college student from right here in Florence whose mother had gotten him an insurance policy when he went off to school. As part of the application, Mitchell filled out a questionnaire. One questions was: “Been diagnosed as having or been treated for any immune deficiency disorder by a member of the medical profession?” Mitchell answered “no."

In April 2002, Mitchell attempted to donate blood to the Red Cross. On May 13, 2002, the Red Cross contacted Mitchell to inform him that his blood had screened positive for HIV. The Red Cross suggested Mitchell get a confirmation test from his personal physician, and Mitchell immediately contacted Dr. Michael Chandler. On May 14, 2002, Dr. Chandler’s tests confirmed that Mitchell was HIV positive. That day, one of Dr. Chandler’s assistants noted on Mitchell’s intake chart: “Gave blood in March – got letter yesterday stating blood tested [positive for] HIV.” The handwritten chart note identified Mitchell correctly as eighteen years old, but was erroneously dated May 14, 2001.
That simple scrivener's error was all Assurant needed to try to deny Mitchell his coverage. In fact, this is the summary generated by one of their underwriters stated:

The only question misrepresented on the Enrollment form is #20 – “Within the last 10 years has any proposed insured been diagnosed as having or been treated for any immune deficiency disorder.” Can’t use the question re: AIDS as he does not have AIDS, he has tested positive for the HIV virus. This is the only question I’ve found that we can use – any other suggestions?
Technically, we do not have the results of the HIV test. This is the only entry
in the medical records regarding HIV status. Is this sufficient?

In other words, "Look guys...I think we can get off the hook!"

On September 5, 2002, they informed Mitchell they were rescinding his policy because of a "material misrepresentation on his application form." The letter that informed of this decision also stated they would "welcome any additional information you may have which would effect (sic) our decision to rescind your policy." Mitchell, knowing he had not misrepresented anything tried to do just that, to no avail. Despite efforts by his medical providers to assist him by explaining to Assurant that Mitchell had in fact NOT tested positive for HIV until AFTER he had gotten his policy with them, Assurant did not care. "There was nothing they could do."

Mitchell, having been spurned at every turn trying to handle this his on his own, hired an attorney. The attorney sent Assurant copys of the doctor's initial test results along with a letter informing Assurant that Mitchell was first diagnosed with HIV until May 2002.

Assurant "reviewed" their rescission of the policy, which if anyone has never had the pleasure of administratively appealing an insurance company's denial of something simply consists of a few employees of the insurance company sitting around a table, "reviewing" the file, before promptly upholding the decision of the company. Shocker.

The trial judge in this case, the Hon. Michael G. Nettles summed up this review by stating: "There were no rules, no minutes, no notes, and in accordance with instructions from general counsel, not even a record of who was present." In fact, the only information we know was before the committee consists of a single notation that read: "letter from attorney stating that the insured did not misrep[resent] coverage since the first diagnosis of AIDS was 5/14/2002." How about this: this review committee considered 45 OTHER rescission cases during a 2-hour meeting. How thorough a review you think that was????

At trial, Mitchell's expert testified that it was the insurance company's practice to shut down an investigation once a single piece of evidence was discovered that would support rescission. Assurant's own people could not even answer whether or not they had the responsibility to find out the truth" about a policy holder's medical conditions. This despite the fact that Assurant's own expert admitted they had a duty to investigate and find information that may lead to payment of a claim. Mitchell also presented evidence that Assurant had tried to hide evidence of their bad faith by sending illegible copies of forms and by the fact that call logs did not show a call between the insurance company and one of Mitchell's health care providers (the call trying to explain he had not tested positive until after getting the policy). Judge Nettles found there to be evidence that the insurance company had concealed information through their practices, which overall, resulted in a "pattern of secrecy and concealment..."

According to an article by Murray Waas:

Previously undisclosed records from Mitchell's case reveal that Fortis had a company policy of targeting policyholders with HIV. A computer program and algorithm targeted every policyholder recently diagnosed with HIV for an automatic fraud investigation, as the company searched for any pretext to revoke their policy. As was the case with Mitchell, their insurance policies often were canceled on erroneous information, the flimsiest of evidence, or for no good reason at all, according to the court documents and interviews with state and federal investigators.

As Waas' article notes:

Nettles also suggested that Fortis should have realized the date in the note was incorrect: "Not only did Fortis choose to rely on one false and unreliable snippet of information containing an erroneous date to the exclusion of other information which would have revealed that date to be erroneous, Fortis refused to conduct any further investigation even after it was on notice the evidence which aroused its suspicion to be false," the judge noted.

Fortis "gambled" with Mitchell's life, Nettles wrote.

Their motive, according to the judge, was obvious: "The court finds that Fortis wrongfully elevated its concerns for maximizing profits over the rights and interest of its customer." In upholding Nettles' verdict, the South Carolina Supreme Court similarly ruled that "Fortis was motivated to avoid the losses it would undoubtedly incur in supporting Mitchell's costly medical condition."


an investigation last summer by the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as earlier ones by state regulators in California, New York and Connecticut, found that thousands of vulnerable and seriously ill policyholders have had their coverage canceled by many of the nation's largest insurance companies without any legal basis. The congressional committee found that three insurance companies alone saved at least $300 million over five years from rescission. One of those three companies was Assurant.

The committee estimated that Assurant alone profited by more than $150 million between 2003 and 2007 from rescission.

Does anyone actually think an insurance company is going to be forced to stop such a practice if they get hit with $350k verdict given the type of "savings" described above? How about $1 million?

Feel free to click on these links and explore this case on your own, then decide what would be "right." The ability to allow juries to punish this type of conduct to the level that the punishment actually hurts some or "making our business climate more attractive" by limiting jury awards? When you do, keep in mind that testifying before Congress, Assurant's CEO had this to say about the insurance industry's rescission practices:

On June 16, 2009, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, held a hearing on the practice of rescission by health insurance companies, and among the industry executives who testified was Don Hamm, the CEO and President of Assurant Health.

Hamm insisted before the committee that rescission was a necessary tool for Assurant and other health insurance companies to hold the cost of premiums down for other policyholders. Hamm asserted that rescission was "one of many protections supporting the affordability and viability of individual health insurance in the United States under our present system."

He also suggested that those who had their policies rescinded by Assurant had attempted to intentionally mislead his company: "Unfortunately, there are times when we discover that an applicant did not provide complete or accurate medical information when we underwrote the risk," Hamm said.

Notice the date of that testimony? That testimony was given well after this case had been tried. Does it sound like these insurance companies are gonna own up to anything on their own, even after getting popped with that punitive damage award?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ronald Reagan: Who needs your truth if it stands in our way?

The quote in the title of this post is from former Chief Political Commisar of the Soviet Armed Forces, General Aleksei Yepishev, in response to complaints by former Marshall of the Soviet Union, Georgy K. Zhukov.

Zhukov was upset that his memoirs were being "edited" by the communist party, removed criticism of Stalin, and had "cameo" appearances of senior communist party officials written in (regardless of the fact they weren't there).

Yepishev's response made clear, the facts did not matter. In the Soviet Union, the Communist Party decided what was and what was not "history." We find the fact that Soviet commisar's quote would apply just as much for the Grover Norquists and other Reagan acolytes today.

With the observance of what would have been Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday this weekend, it's important to note the difference between the fact and fiction of Reagan. This icon of the modern conservative movement in the United States owes his image more to good post-presidency PR and much less to actual fact. Because the fact is, as our own Sen. Lindsey Graham noted last year, "Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today."

Ronaldus Magnus could be called a "serial tax raiser" having raised taxes 7 out of 8 years he was in office. In fact, "The Great Taxer" would be a more apt moniker than the "Great Communicator," as Paul Krugman noted in the NY Times:

But Ronald Reagan does hold a special place in the annals of tax policy, and not just as the patron saint of tax cuts. To his credit, he was more pragmatic and responsible than that; he followed his huge 1981 tax cut with two large tax increases. In fact, no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people. This is not a criticism: the tale of those increases tells you a lot about what was right with President Reagan's leadership, and what's wrong with the leadership of George W. Bush.
Reagan grew the deficit from $7 billion to $3 trillion. Reagan expanded government, granted amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, negotiated with terrorists, cut and ran from Lebanon, supported federal handgun laws, called for a world without nuclear weapons and and suffered from Alzheimer's before his first term was over.

This isn't to disparage that Reagan is not worthy of praise from conservatives. Reagan did some pretty good things. In fact, in 2003, the Washington Monthly caused a stir by running a cover story titled "Reagan's Liberal Legacy." But as Benen notes, conservatives deification of Reagan seems to be more likely the result of a lack of other candidates amongst Republican presidents.
Over the last 146 years, exactly how many GOP presidents do contemporary Republican activists actually like? There's Reagan, and there's no one else.

Dems have a more diversified list, ranging from Jefferson to Jackson, Roosevelt to Truman, JFK to Clinton, and maybe someday, Obama.

Reagan, conversely, gets all the love, because his party isn't proud of anyone else except Lincoln. That makes the adulation understandable, but it doesn't give it value.

BTPC picks Super Bowl XLV

It's that time: SuperBowl Sunday. Time to...Get. It. On. After picking the conference championship round a perfect 2-0, can the 'Pine keep it up and close out the NFL season with a 3-0 run?

Steelers (+3) v. PACKERS

The line opened with the Pack laying 2 and has now moved to them laying 3. It would appear the public is jumping on the Pack as Vegas is obviously trying to push money towards the Steelers. The over/under is 45.

Or course, the fun part of the Super Bowl is the crazy ass prop bets one could make if gambling were legal. Since it is not in most of the country, we'll just have to look with envy on all those living in Las Vegas and offshore who can bet on stuff like:

-Will Christina Aguilera's anthem be over (-200) or under (+160) 1 minute 54 seconds? BTPC says go with the over. Christina has let herself go, gotten divorced and needs to make a statement.

-First missed FG: Wide left (-120), wide right (+110) or short/blocked (+1000). BTPC says go right simply for the better odds.

-We like the score in the first 4 minutes 30 seconds of the 1st for (+205) prop.

-How about a safety for either team being the first score being (+5000)?

Anyway, click on that link to see all kinds of crazy props.

So who do we like? It's hard not to see the universal balancing effect of Aaron Rodgers getting the win. First, it would be the football gods rewarding the "good" QB once again. Good has already triumphed over evil so far as Rodgers has, in the past several weeks, defeated Brett Favre (alleged masseuse sexual harrasser and unsolicited naked photo sender) and Michael Vick (former owner and user of a "dog-rape-stand). It seems only natural that he would take down Bathroom blocker and junk-exposer Ben Roethlisberger. Plus, it's hard not to pull for Rodgers after the whole Favre drama. Personally, we'd just love to see Rodgers win it to twist the knife just a tad more in Favre's season-of-demise.

Big Ben has played remarkable and has singlehandedly carried the Steelers this far. But Dom "Helmet Hair" Capers will have the Pack schemed up. And while the Packers have had an unbelievable amount of starters go down to injury, most of their injuries happened early on and the team they come into the game with is the team they've had for most of the season. The same can't be said of Pittsburgh. Their best defensive player is not healthy. Troy Polamalu is not the same player he has been in the past. Green Bay's havoc maker, Clay Matthews, is healthy. That along with the Pouncey injury is gonna make a big difference between the effectiveness of the defenses.

We heard an interview with Trent Dilfer this week (the Sportsguy's podcast) where Dilfer had a good point. He looks for the team with the harder edge. And we think Rodgers and the Pack want this more than the Steelers, who already have two, do.

BTPC pick = Pack laying the 3.

Last Week, Conference Championship Round of Playoffs: 2-0
2010 Playoff Record: 6-4 Upset Special: 2-0
Season to Date (including playoffs): 139-128-9
2010 Regular Season to date: 133-124-9 Upset specials 11-2-1
Career to date: 265-240-17

Celebrity Couple All-Stars

Buzzfeed has put together a list of "Impossible Celebrity Couples." We can all admit that it's good for the self-esteem of the human race that George Clooney and Grace Kelly never did hook up, as their offspring would have been so beautiful, that they would have been like solar eclipses: we would have been unable to look directly at them.

Another one that caught our eye, was this one of JFK and Anna Nicole Smith. Looks like something, or some things, were catching the man from Camelot himself. Move over, Marilyn...