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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Stand Your Ground" Law - Am I An Artist? - Electronic Thieves - Sid's Doctor Bills - Common Core



Sveta and MeI have long  admired the paintings of Sveta Esser in a local gallery.  I would like to own one but unfortunately, they are rather pricey, starting in the four figures, although giclees may be available for less.  Having more ambition than skill, I recently took brush (or rather a palette knife) in hand and using some acrylics I found in a closet, tried to paint my own version of her work.  I call it “Homage to Sveta” and it hangs in a dear friend’s home, as shown above, where it is greatly admired by all who view it.  (Reproduced directly below it is a copy of a typical Sveta Esser work.)  Not having done anything like this before, I am rather proud of the results.  Nevertheless, at this time, I am not accepting commissions for additional paintings.

Born in Russia, Esser lived in Israel for many years but now resides in Berlin with her husband, who also is an artist.   I reside in Boynton Beach, an artists' colony on the east coast of Florida, where I also publish a blog and usually lose at poker and gin rummy. 
Jack Lippman


Stand Your Ground” Law and Perceptions

How does a "reasonable" person see things?  In Florida, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.  Deadly force is permissible then, if they find themselves in a situation where they perceive that they are exposed to death or serious harm if they do not “stand their ground.”   So how an individual sees things, their perception, is very important.  This, coupled with liberal laws permitting many to possess and carry weapons, is a recipe for trouble.  It enabled George Zimmerman to be found not guilty of murder and most recently, it enabled Michael Dunn, who will spend the rest of his life in jail because of being convicted on other counts, to avoid a conviction for the actual murder of a teenager.

Dunn and Zimmerman

Because it is a foregone conclusion that gun laws will never be tightened in the otherwise pleasant banana republic of Florida, it might seem that the best strategy, short of repeal of the “stand your ground” legislation, would be to better define what “the perception of a reasonable person” would be in such situations.  Sadly, such a definition is hard to come by because it would have to be based on an almost infinite number of variables.  To quote from Wikipedia’s review of some case law, “as a legal fiction, the ’reasonable person’ is not an average person nor a typical person. Instead, the reasonable person is a composite of a relevant community's judgment as to how a typical member of said community should behave in situations that might pose a threat of harm.” 



What such a definition, and there are many more in the law, comes down to is that its meaning in a given case is left up to a judge and/or a jury based on their insight into a community’s collective judgment, and that insight very well might differentiate between what different people in that community (such as physicians, law enforcement officers, strong people, weak people, people licensed to carry weapons, librarians, storekeepers or homeless people for example) might be expected to reasonably believe in given situations.  What might be a “threat of harm” to one person might not to another.


Hence, refining the definition of the perception of a reasonable person seems to be an impossible task. That leaves only one alternative for Florida in trying to avoid this issue muddying future George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn type prosecutions, in both of which cases, the burden of framing that definition was left to the jury. 

I feel that task is too much to ask of a panel of jurors, however representative of a community they might be.  It requires them to not only evaluate the evidence brought out in the trial, but to get into the head of the defendant and determine the way he perceives and responds to situations and measure that against a standard with which they are not provided, but are asked to develop in their deliberations.  This cannot be done objectively.  Therefore, I feel that Florida's “stand your ground” law must be repealed or significantly revised.  Interpreting its meaning is too great a task to assign to jurors.

Killing someone “in self-defense” should be argument enough without the added reinforcement of a law which encourages unnecessary aggressive behavior on the part of legally armed Floridians.  If you live in Florida, ask your State legislators to work to repeal “stand your ground.”


For your information, here is the full and unabridged text of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law (I have highlighted certain passages.)

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.
776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.
(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.
(2) The presumption set forth in subsection (1) does not apply if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person; or
(b) The person or persons sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used; or
(c) The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or
(d) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.
(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
(4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
(5) As used in this section, the term:

(a) “Dwelling” means a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night.
(b) “Residence” means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest.
(c) “Vehicle” means a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, which is designed to transport people or property.
776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.
(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.
(2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.
(3) The court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution as provided in subsection (1).
776.041 Use of force by aggressor. —The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:

(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.


Electronic Thieves

There are thieves out there.  And they are just as bad as the ones who might approach you on some dark street, pushing a gun in your back, and asking for your wallet.  If one of those traditional thieves is apprehended, he goes to jail.  But the scurrilous variety of criminal who operates electronically rarely is apprehended or jailed.

The other day I received a text message on my smart phone reading as follows: “Due to suspicious activity your debit card has been temporarily locked.  In order to unlock, PLEASE contact us immediately at 1-713-988-6565 end verify your I.”  Well, this smells bad, thought I, since I don’t even have a debit card, the text message was never completed, they left out a comma and they even spelled the word “and” wrong. 

But I called the number anyway, figuring I might be able to identify and report the thieves to whomever such skullduggery is reported.  A mechanical voice asked me to repeat my debit card’s sixteen digit number, omitting spaces or dashes, so it could be “unlocked” and advised that there would be no human being available to speak to me.  So, of course, I hung up.

Please, if you get text messages (or Emails or phone calls for that matter) like this, ignore them.  If your credit card or debit card should actually be compromised, you will be contacted by your bank directly, and they will so identify themselves, and not just say they are calling from something like "the fraud prevention office"  but without your the bank's name,  But even in such a situation when they say they are callling from your bank, you should always advise the bank’s caller, texter or sender that you are busy at the moment, and then call back your bank’s local number, rather than whatever number the caller, texter or sender gave you.  Electronic thieves are very clever.

It is my personal feeling that such electronic crime should be considered a felony of at least as high a level as that thief on the street with a gun in your back is perpetrating, with something like a twenty year minimum sentence hanging over the thieves' heads.  And if the call is coming from outside of the United States, our government should advise that nation's government to put a stop to it, or we will cut off any economic ties we have with that country.  And that includes China.


 Sid's Corner


Sid Bolotin                                        

I’m writing this to factually illustrate the exorbitant, illusionary charges that inhabit our Medicare system.

I just received the first of my bills incurred by my recent visit to a hospital emergency room for treatment after falling in my bathroom here in Florida.

This was just the bill from the doctor in the ER who examined me, cleaned the gash under my jaw, ordered blood tests, CT scans, xrays, and then put in four stitches to suture the

One inch long cut.  All told, he was hands on with me for no more than twenty minutes.

The visit charge was $1147 to which $653 (that’s $163 per stitch) was added for the actual suturing for a total of $1800. (By deciding to stitch without shaving my beard the doctor probably saved me hundreds of more dollars of fees for tonsorial services.)

After this was first reduced by a $1554.78 Medicare adjustment, Medicare actually paid $195.38 to the doctor for his exam and suturing. That left me owing $49.84, which was sent to my Medicare secondary insurer. My questioning of the billing department as to the unreasonableness of charging $1147 for the doctor’s ten-minute look-see, followed by $653 for the actual ten-minute stitching was met with giggling about that’s the system. When she quieted down, the rep did express surprise that the suturing was an added charge separate from the visit. Furthermore she could not explain why Medicare is not simply billed their contracted approved amount instead of this waltzing with adjustments, except to say that a patient without insurance would have had to pay the $1800. This “system” reminds me of a flea market bazaar.

My last go-round with out-of-orbit medical billings was last year when I had my hip replaced. The starting point for hospital charges was $103,000 before being whittled by the Medicare adjustment knife.

I can’t wait to see the ER charges for the use of the exam room, scans, Xrays, radiologist’s readings, blood tests, and supplies.

As producer of this blog, I am moved and privileged to comment on Sid's essay 

Hospitals, whether for-profit or non-profit institutions, must have money coming in so that their doors may remain open, so that people like Sid have someplace to go when they fall in their bathrooms.  They have salaries to pay, facilities to maintain and most importantly, medical services to provide to patients.  All of this costs money, so they put a price tag on all of the services they provide.  Patients with Medicare or other government programs, as well as those with private insurance with certain companies, can take advantage of discounting arrangements with the hospital, so they do not have to pay the full price for the services they receive.  The hospitals pretty much know what percentage of patients will end up paying a discounted price.  They also know the number of patients who will be billed the full price because they are uninsured or impoverished. Some of these sticker price bills will be paid, some will be negotiated downward and others unpaid.  Collection agencies, dunning letters and bankruptcies are some of the tools hospitals use to try to collect these sticker price bills.  The budgets of most hospitals are based on the amount of money from all of these sources they anticipate receiving in a given year. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, as it now stands or as it will evolve, is aimed at remedying this problem by making private insurance, usually the kind with discounts off of hospital sticker prices, available to everyone. 

If the ACA does not solve the "flea market bazaar" problem Sid alludes to, we will then have no alternative than to adopt a "single payor" program, as many other countries have, where taxation replaces premium payments and the government acts as the insurance company for everyone.  This would be similar to our Medicare, available to seniors, which features discounted prices, the bulk of which Medicare pays, subject to deductibles and co-payments which can be eliminated or reduced by the purchase of supplementary plans by individuals.

It is very sad that there are people in our country who feel that any involvement of government in the payment of medical bills, including the ACA, any future "single payor"  plan or even the existing Medicare program, is a heinous intrusion into the rights of individual Americans.  


Common Core Conflict in Education

Common Core, about which I am sure most have been reading, is a set of educational goals for children in each grade level that was created by a National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  This state-based pedigree should make it clear that Common Core, although supported by the Secretary of Education, is not a program of the Federal Government nor is it the scheme of a group of wild-eyed subversives.

Nevertheless, opponents of Common Core’s standards, at a recent Florida state Board of Education meeting in Orlando, objected to them as promoting curriculum that in the view of some critics, was pornographic, communistic, as well as Marxist, indoctrinating students in socialist and  “social justice” agendas as well as being akin to child abuse. (Some people think “social justice” is a bad thing and really just a mask for a communist takeover. I suspect they also look under their beds every night before retiring.)  A Lynn University professor even termed Common Core to be a “grand experiment with our children as the guinea pigs.” (Most of this information comes from the Palm Beach Post article describing the meeting.)

People have the right to voice their opinions, but we should be very careful not to confuse opinion with fact and permit a vocal minority’s opinion to exert a disproportionate influence on public policy in regard to education, or otherwise.



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Jack Lippman