Living in a Fantasy World And Its All Good

Marshawn Lynch | Seattle Seahawks
Marshawn Lynch | Seattle Seahawks (Photo credit: Football Schedule)

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.  Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.  Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.

~ Dr. Seuss

The cell phone vibrated against my leg as I sat watching ushers move down the center aisle of the sanctuary carrying plates for its tithes and offerings.  It was communion Sunday – a service that often had a life of its own slipping past the expected time of dismissal.  I was restless as I saw the LED light flashing through my thin wool slacks.  If I could just glance at the…

A “don’t even think about it” Puritan laser penetrated my temple as I shifted ever so slightly away from my disapproving spouse to see if I could work my phone up to the top of my pocket.  I was in the last seat of the aisle with a perfect defilade from everyone except my partner who was determined to save me from damnation – and winning my game this week.

I had travelled all week and had been unable to complete my fantasy football roster.  I was waiting for text updates on certain injured players – attempting to gain any insights from the NFL hot stove of experts who would recommend a starter.  One of my running backs had suffered a concussion the previous week and I was desperate to find out if he had passed his cognitive readiness tests.  I was undecided between two receivers and was trying to find out if a certain all-Pro corner would be returning from injured reserve to defend one of my two wide-outs.  Earlier in the week I had begun following two of my players on Twitter hoping I might decipher their castrated missives to divine whether they were going to start.

It is called Fantasy Football because those who play it live in a parallel reality. At times, I prefer this reality to my real one.  To enable my addiction, the NFL launched Red Zone, a single station airing only seven hours a week on Sundays — dedicated to tracking every score across fourteen games. On any given Sunday, a total of 60 touchdowns might be faithfully recorded and shared with viewers while a masthead of Fantasy Football statistics by position and player streams live across the base of one’s television.  Just thinking about it makes me shiver with delight.

Each week, my fellow owners and I drown ourselves in statistical minutiae seeking any advantage the way a stock analyst might rummage through the footnotes of a 10-Q filing. If a player is a rookie, they want to know how fast he completed the three cone drill during the combine? What was his vertical leap?  How fast did he run the 20 yard shuttle?

Part of FFL addiction is bragging rights.  In a time of political correctness, we are less courageous at home or at the office and less inclined to dish insults or speak our minds.  Men need outlets.  Each week, I look forward to abusing my fellow owners for their missteps that may lead them to start an injured player or not understand the historical significance of how travel and time zones effect west coast teams that travel east to play away games.

When a fellow owner’s player is arrested in a pink ballerina outfit, driving the wrong way on an interstate in a car loaded with cans of Red Bull stolen from a Green Bay convenience store, it compels me to write my fellow owner a note of condolence. I’m sure he is feeling disappointed in his player and like a parent, only wants what’s best for his 22-year-old wide receiver making $22M.  The fact that the player brought to the NFL a rap sheet longer than Eminem, and was acquitted for manslaughter while in pre-school is of no concern. Can he score touchdowns?

A recent NYT op-ed by CD Carter complained that Fantasy Leagues dehumanize players – essentially turning them into cattle to be bought and sold without regard for them as people.  The author was deeply concerned. “Instead of a young running back on the verge of a contract that would mean financial security for his family, we see glistening yards per carry.  Instead of an aging quarterback making one last run at glory, we see completion percentages and red zone efficiency.”

Uhhh, yeah. I think he just summed up the entire universe of real franchise owners.  If you think my lens is a tad jaundiced to the dehumanizing world of professional sports, try looking at players through the eyes of the media, owners hungry for a return on multi-million dollar contracts and coaches whose livelihoods depend on those dehumanizing factoids like completion percentages on third downs, yards after catch and a young man’s probability to avoid arrest for making sexual advances toward beer cart girls at off-season golf tournaments.  Alas, there is no room for delicate sensibilities in either the real or imagined NFL. It’s brutal, degrading and dehumanizing — and then there is a bad side.

I realize some Fantasy Leagues can get really out of hand.  One could argue the credit default market was essentially an unregulated financial fantasy league where buyers and sellers were promising to indemnify one another based on whether a third-party debt holder paid or defaulted on loans.  That fantasy league turned out to have no commissioner and be all too real – ending with taxpayers, Lehman and the stock market taking a helmet to helmet hit on the chin.

Other fantasy leagues can get downright bizarre.  Consider About2Croak.com – the too close for comfort fantasy league where you get points if your celebrity dies during that particular year. You pick 25 celebrities and get points based on a system that subtracts the dead celeb’s age from 150. Obviously, your portfolio must include a few sure bets like Betty White but you get more points if a dark horse celeb like Miley Cyrus or Lindsay Lohan choose to steer their Bentley into a telephone pole.  Yes, it’s sick but hey, that’s why I like it.  It is Schadenfreude on steroids.  It’s not enough to revel in other’s misfortune or death, you want to profit by it.  Wait, that’s what the insurance industry is for…

Sometimes you need to retreat into a world of fantasy.  If medicating your difficult day with M&Ms and Manhattans does not move the needle, it may require disappearing into a parallel universe where you can manage a stable of warriors and win fame with shrewd trades and cunning insights.  You can be king or queen for a day and the master and commander of your private cabal of friends.  In my case, it’s an eight man, breakfast club that convenes most weekends to commiserate and compare notes on life, sports and trends that make life worth living – like friends and Fantasy Football.

So I’m back in church and I am still distracted.  Who should I start, Andre Johnson or Josh Gordon.  Maybe I’ll sit Gordon and put in Chris Ivory as my flex player. What to do? I need a burning bush.  Actually, I wish had Reggie Bush but someone else got him.

My minister reads a piece on world mission and discusses the riches of ancient times. Gold, silver, ivory…

Did he say, “Ivory”?

It’s a sign.  I reach for my phone to add Chris Ivory of the Jets.  My wife frowns and whispers.

“Put that away, right now.”

“I have to submit my line…”

She has a black belt in emasculating looks of disapproval. I roll my eyes and abandon the phone. I know better than to take on my commissioner.

After the service, my minister greets us.  Knowing his passion for the Chicago Bears and the memory of my wife’s lingering disdain, I confessed my act of spiritual insubordination. He smiled and leaned in, “Go with Josh Gordon.  Schaub is playing terrible and can’t throw the ball to Johnson.  Besides Cleveland is up against Atlanta and they rank last against the pass. Both corners are injured.”

I pursed my lips and raised my eyebrows in approval.  I knew I liked this guy. As I walked out to the Common Room. I heard him call behind me.

“But remember, God is a Bears fan.”

The T-Rex Takes on Healthcare Reform

images “Americans have always been able to handle austerity and even adversity. Prosperity is what is doing us in.” James Reston

His emails arrive at night and land like scud missiles. He is an Old Testament retired CEO who is appalled at the state of America and as a thirty year healthcare system veteran and dutiful son,  I am expected to interpret the complicated tea leaves of the Affordable Care Act ( ACA) and warn him if Armageddon (any form of change) is imminent. He needs three hours notice to hide his coin collection.

Today, his instant messaging is in large case font; He has forwarded an email that was forwarded to him from a friend of a friend of a friend – all retirees convinced that our current President is an operative for a hostile foreign government.  I have to give high scores to his email chain author for his/her detail, veracity and creativity.  Many of the stories are purportedly authored by retired Generals, Navy Seals, and in one case, a dead President.

I often scroll down these emails to see if I can find its genesis and author – perhaps it is Karl Rove or someone incarcerated for white-collar crime.  The email offers me “the truth about Benghazi” or a grainy photo of the President giving out nuclear codes to Al Qaeda operatives behind a District of Columbia Stop & Shop.  I am not always inclined to believe these missives but I love my Dad and his loyal concern for America.  At 83, his draconian solutions are not always politically feasible and carry a decent chance of arrest if one actually tried to act on them. However, he has a 160 IQ and understands economics.

With my status as a registered Independent voter, I remain a point of frustration to my father – a lost sheep naively wandering in a forest of good intentions not understanding how close I am to the wolves of Socialism.  As an ex-CEO who made many freshman mistakes, I am a tad more sympathetic to anyone dumb enough to want to run America, Inc.  To assume the role of CEO for a company that is losing $1T a year, sitting on $17T in debt, massive underfunded retirement liabilities, a dysfunctional board of directors, angry, bargained employees and a confidence rating of less than 35% – is a job that only a masochist or megalomaniac might aspire.  And even someone as naively altruistic as moi would not have chosen to take on US healthcare as my signature legacy.  There is a reason why it has been viewed as the third rail of American politics – “you touch it, you die.”

My father and his friends have a huge stake in the future of healthcare as their day is spent inventorying each creaking part of their own frail physiology, wading through a confusion of doctor appointments, specialists and endless prescriptions. He is now messaging me wanting to understand how the inept roll-out of Healthcare.gov will impact the future of Medicare.  The email message appeared with a large “ping” as it thumped into my in-box.

“FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: MICHAEL, IF THIS IS TRUE WE ARE ALL IN DEEP (You fill in your favorite noun)”

The note went on to ask if his Medicare policy and supplement might be cancelled as so many individual policies had in the last month.

“OBAMA SAID PEOPLE COULD KEEP THEIR POLICIES”

After two strokes, caring for my Mom with Parkinson’s and a bout with prostate cancer, he is a grizzled veteran of the system but he still does not understand it. He wanted to know why millions of policies were cancelled and now being rewritten at higher premiums.  In some cases, single men were seeing their lower cost ala carte policies replaced with higher cost coverage that included such essential benefits as maternity coverage.  Other than male sea horses, it would be hard to find someone who purchased a bare bones policy with eyes wide open willing to support a new plan that would cause their premiums, in some instances, to double.

I wrote back with earnest detail.

“Got your IM.  The botched roll-out won’t impact Medicare.  There are no provisions in ACA to modify Medicare benefits although at some point, the government will begin to change how they pay doctors for the services to try to slow spending and improve quality.  The public exchanges you are reading about are being created in every state in the US to cover the uninsured and subsidy eligible Americans.  Where a state has refused/declined to create their own exchange, the federal government is stepping in with their portal, Healthcare.gov. It’s been a disaster as the technology has not worked.  In addition, the government got an even bigger black eye because Obama promised people they could keep their policies but did not realize his own legislation would force insurers to cancel, rewrite and charge higher premiums for his new and improved minimum levels of coverage.  His announcement to delay the policy cancellations for a year will create huge problems for insurers and put them once again in the position of being bad guys if they decide they don’t want to reinstate policies they have eliminated.  It’s a huge mess!”

“A CLUSTER IF YOU ASK ME. WONT ONLY SICK PEOPLE JOIN THE EXCHANGES?”

“Yeah. The first few years you will see only those who had no coverage and those who were overpaying for policies due to age or health status will benefit by purchasing through community rated public exchanges.  Yet, community rating only works if young people join and don’t use the benefits. The problem is the penalty for not purchasing insurance is only $95 a year in 2014 and the cost to buy a bronze level plan (the lowest cost policy approved by ACA) could cost up to $300 a month. 50% of the uninsured are under 30 years old and think they are invincible.  My guess is they won’t join the pools initially and the public exchanges will have to be subsidized by the reinsurance taxes. The government expected some of this and will assess employers a reinsurance fee as of January 1st to create a fund to reimburse insurers who end up losing money on the expected adverse selection.  The taxes last only until 2016.  It will prop up the exchanges for two years possibly giving exchanges the ability to argue they are working. Once the reinsurance fees run out, public exchange loss ratios will deteriorate and costs will increase.”

”IS IT A COINCIDENCE THAT THE EXCHANGE GETS PROPPED UNTIL HILLARY GETS ELECTED IN 2016?  I NEED TO THROW UP.”

“Seems suspiciously well-timed.”

“THEN THE DO-GOODERS RAID THE PUBLIC COFFERS TO SUPPORT THE FAILED PUBLIC POOLS? LENIN WOULD BE PROUD!”

“Careful, remember you are also benefiting from this messed up system.  You and Mom are enrolled in a nationalized healthcare plan called Medicare whose cost is being subsidized by future generations.  You love the coverage because you can go to any doctor you want.  You have more specialists than Imelda Marcos had shoes and no primary care doctor calling the shots.  Your kitchen looks like something out the TV show Breaking Bad with scales, baggies, pill sorters and enough drugs to medicate all the animals in the LA zoo.

Your Medicare contributions bear no relationship to the true cost of the benefits you will receive in your lifetime. CMS still collects premiums under actuarial assumptions that expect retirees to live to age 68.   We now are living into our 90’s.  Medicare is $50T underfunded. We only have two workers for every retiree versus 6:1 when we started in 1964. Medicare makes the cost of Obamacare look like a dime store candy.  Between our sovereign debt and Medicare, we are witnessing the greatest intergenerational wealth transfer in the history of the country.”

“ALL ENTITLEMENTS ARE PONZI SCHEMES. THE ROAD TO SERFDOM IS PAVED WITH DEBT.  IT’S TIME FOR TOUGH CHOICES.  NEXT, NANCY PELOSI WILL BE PROPOSING TO MOVE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS INTO OUR HOMES.”

“Well, Dr. Zhivago, at least the stock market is up.”

“I’M IN T-BILLS AND BONDS. I DON’T TRUST WALL STREET”. There is a pause. I can almost hear the television blasting in the background as he cranes to hear someone yelling at him from downstairs.

“YOUR MOM WANTS TO WATCH SOME MOVIE I’VE SEEN BUT CAN’T REMEMBER.  A DIVIDEND OF OLD AGE.”

“Glad you feel better.”

“GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND DO SOMETHING.”

“Love ya.”

“You too.”

I realized he had sent me his final message in lower case font. I typed my next email in upper case.

I was now fired up.