Sneaking Suspicions

Archives-- April 7-13, 2002 (Week 14)

Commentary from a practical perspective

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This page includes posts from the site's fourteenth week, April 7-13, 2002 in the usual reverse order. Each week's postings are perma-linked to these pages.

April 13, 2002

Painful recognition

In a letter printed in the Internet edition of the New York Times, Cardinal Bernard F. Law told the priests in the Boston archdiocese that he intended to remain in his post. He also made the following statement:

It distresses me greatly to have become a lightning rod of division when mine should be a ministry of unity. My desire is to serve this archdiocese and the whole church with every fiber of my being. This I will continue to do as long as God gives me the opportunity.

The Cardinal’s expression of his emotional condition calls to mind something I tell my clients on too many occasions:

Self-inflicted wounds are among the most painful.

April 13, 2002

Shrimp and Sausage Creole

This recipe is based upon a shrimp creole recipe in Favorite New Orleans Recipes, by Suzanne Ormond, Mary E. Irvine, Denyse Cantin, 1989 edition, ISBN 0-88289-198-7 (Pelican Publishing Company, 1101 Monroe Street, Gretna, LA 70053).

2 pounds medium/large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound Italian mild or sweet sausage links
2 large green peppers, chopped fine
2 medium onions, chopped fine
3 ribs celery, chopped fine
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
2 bay leaves (remove before serving)
4 cups plum tomatoes, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
9 dashes Tabasco
® or similar pepper sauce

Brown the sausage in a skillet, and drain. Remove the sausage links from the skillet, and slice the links into pieces ¼ to ½ inch thick. Set aside.

In a large dutch oven or other high-sided skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Sauté the chopped onions for a few minutes, but do not brown them. Add the flour to the butter/onion mix, stirring until the flour browns. Add to the mix all of the other ingredients except the rest of the butter, the shrimp, and the sausage. Stir the mix until it comes to a slow boil, and then lower the heat to simmer. Cover the dutch oven/skillet, and let it cook on simmer for about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In another skillet, melt the other two tablespoons of butter, and then lightly sauté the shrimp until they turn firm and light pink. Add the shrimp and all liquid in the skillet to the dutch oven/skillet, along with the sausage. Simmer for 10 more minutes.

Serve over hot boiled rice. A loaf of heated Italian bread, lightly coated with garlic butter, is a nice accompaniment. Serves about 8.

April 12, 2002

Claude returns with a tax story

As the April 15 income tax filing deadline looms, the perennial tax stories make their annual appearance in the national media.

This event provided yet another opportunity for an unintentionally clueless headline, meriting at least a four-Claude rating:

Tax Evasion a Big Problem for Feds

Well, duh.

The actual story wasn't as dully obvious as the headline. In fact, AP tax writer Chris Anderson may have done a favor for some of the more disaffected taxpayers, who might otherwise have been tempted to follow up on some of the stupid ways to try to avoid paying income tax.

Reading this piece should disabuse them of that notion.

Anderson reported on the testimony of a convicted tax evader appearing before the Senate Finance Committee on April 11. Daniel Bullock, an orthopedic surgeon, fell for one of the more outrageous schemes, in which he shifted money to an offshore trust account, bringing the funds back home as an alleged "gift."

It didn't quite work like he planned. Bullock is now serving time in a federal prison.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti admitted that criminal tax scams like this one and others lead to estimated revenue losses in the tens of billions, Anderson reported.

A less obvious Claude event occurred in the middle of the story. Anderson quoted Senator Max Baucus (D), who was trying to make one point during the proceedings, and succeeded in making a separate point he probably didn't intend:

"We've got a problem," said Baucus, of Montana, who pointed out that the vast majority of individual taxpayers will do their duty by Monday's income tax filing deadline. "Everyone should help pull the wagon. ... Otherwise, we'll reach the point where honest taxpayers will feel like chumps."

Baucus is certainly right, but I doubt he really meant it.

After all, Baucus must surely know that millions of Americans pay no income tax at all; that the ones who do pay subsidize those who don't; and when those who pay income taxes realize how many millions of their fellow citizens do not share the burden, their resentment and feeling like chumps must surely increase.

Baucus's comments show once again that my alternative minimum tax is the path toward a fair tax system.

Click here for this week's golf column, if you'd like.

April 11, 2002

Whatever floats your boat—oh wait, not that boat

Something about personal watercraft drives people crazy.

The brands I usually see scooting about in the Atlantic Ocean, Rehoboth Bay, or Chesapeake Bay include Sea-Doos and Waverunners. (To avoid trademark or other problems, I’ll refer to them as PWCs.) To me they’ve always looked like floating offroad motorcycles.

These little powerboats, usually one-seaters, are the essence of high-speed fun on the water for thousands of people.

Nonetheless, at least an equal number of citizens would rather not see or, especially, hear any PWCs anytime soon. In fact, "never" would be a good schedule for the anti-PWC crowd.

The National Park Service now faces a nasty little issue concerning these boats. The situation is a pretty good example of the balancing act governments find themselves forced into making when dealing with how the general public can use a common resource such as our national parks.

During the Clinton Administration, the NPS entered into a settlement with an environmental group called the Bluewater Network. The deal required the NPS to conduct environmental assessments on PWCs and their use in 21 national parks. If the assessments weren’t completed and subsequent regulations enacted by the deadlines later this year, PWC use would be outlawed.

Naturally, there were problems meeting the deadlines. The Justice Department asked Bluewater for an extension to complete the studies, but Bluewater refused.

PWC owners and others representing the PWC industry then sued in Federal District Court in Texas to block the automatic bans and permit the studies to be completed before any final action under the settlement. A hearing is scheduled for next week on the injunction request.

According to an AP story by Robert Gehrke, the Bush Administration won’t seek to delay the automatic ban, but the story also gives the distinct impression that the restriction won’t necessarily be forever.

The National Park Service had considered trying to push back the deadline at the five parks where rules were being crafted, but didn't have the legal authority to do so, said Kym Hall, regulations program manager for the Park Service.

"We are going to have to close temporarily," she said. "We didn't want to have to do that, but we're going to have to."

The House of Representatives is also considering a legislative delay in the ban, but it’s presumed that Senate Democrats would bottle up any such relief from the prior deal’s terms.

At the NPS web site one can read the full range of attitudes expressed about PWC use in national parks. The summary of comments on the Lake Crescent management plan’s environmental impact statement is a good example.

Many writers simply don’t see any purpose in permitting PWCs to be permitted on the lake at all. Some aren’t so happy with any motorboats, but most single out the PWC for their special contempt.

The pro-PWC bunch, on the other hand, seem to focus their efforts on regulatory limits to reduce perceived problems, while continuing to permit PWC use on the lake. These conditions include no-wake restrictions, decibel limits, time of day restrictions, and speed limits. Some compare themselves to waterskiers, and suggest requirements for PWCs to leave the shoreline on a perpendicular path for a defined length before turning.

Gehrke points out that so far the Park Service decisions favor those who don't want PWCs in the parks:

The National Park Service has already prohibited watercraft use on 66 of the 87 bodies of water under its jurisdiction.

Clearly, the anti-PWC group has been remarkably successful in pushing their agenda. However, it appears that some would not be satisfied unless they achieve a total ban:

Kristen Brengel of the Wilderness Society said there is evidence that personal watercraft damage the park environment and wildlife and are a public safety risk.

"These machines are designed for speed. They're designed for pleasure that has nothing to do with viewing the scenic value of these national parks," said Brengel. "The science and public safety impacts are there, and we believe Jet Skis don't belong on our national parks."

Naturally, the Personal Watercraft Industry Association has a slightly different take:

"We're not saying that personal watercraft should be allowed in every park," explained [executive director Monita] Fontaine. "Clearly, each park is unique, and motorboats may not be appropriate in some environments. But we are confident that objective, scientific studies will find that today's personal watercraft have come a long way from those sold just five years ago and are among the most environmentally-friendly motorboats on the water. We welcome the National Park Service's scrutiny."

My own sentiments about PWCs and this issue are decidedly mixed.

If I’m out on the water, tootling around in a Flying Scot or a Sunfish, and one of these PWCs blasts by, I daydream about taking careful aim with my handy RPG launcher and seeing if the little bugger is still within range.

On the other hand, a total ban on all PWCs on the lakes and waters of all national parks is just too extreme. I prefer the regulatory framework of time and use restrictions. Those desiring to enjoy a national park without seeing or hearing PWCs will have that opportunity, while not denying to PWC owners the limited privilege of enjoying the same recreation resource in their own way, romping along on their little speedboats.

April 10, 2002

So why did you move your practice here, Doctor?

A story today by AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard outlined some disparities in reporting of disciplinary and other problems among health care professionals subject to state licensing boards.

According to a Public Citizen study, the states vary widely in the amount and quality of the information they provide the public concerning sanctions imposed against doctors for various sins of commission and omission, whether on the Web or by more traditional means of disclosure.

... Public Citizen annually argues that patients who live in states with less aggressive medical boards are more at risk for doctor-caused injury.

Now the consumer group says problems with the new Web sites – touted as ways to provide patients more information about questionable doctors – add to the concern.

"State boards need to evaluate whether they are effectively disciplining doctors and whether the public is able to get access to that information," said Public Citizen's Dr. Sidney Wolfe.

Neergaard noted the existence of the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), but there are limits on access to that information:

The federal government keeps a comprehensive list of doctors who have been sanctioned by state licensing boards, as well as malpractice payouts and hospitals' own discipline of staff doctors. But by law this National Practitioner Data Bank is kept secret, with only hospital administrators and licensing boards given access.

The NPDB may not be open to the public, but it certainly has an effect or two on the medical profession.

For example, when a state board disciplines a doctor for abusing drugs, that disciplinary record is forwarded to the NPDB. If the doctor had already moved to another state before the board caught up to him, the NPDB will give the second state’s medical practice board the information it needs to then go after the doctor for the same problem.

In fact, the legislative intent in creating the NPDB specifically included the purpose of preventing the successful flight to avoid the full consequences of outrageous behavior.

That fact also causes an interesting side effect in prosecuting these cases before the medical boards.

Several years ago I presented a fraud case against a doctor before the state medical board. By the time I received the assignment, the doctor had already left Delaware and was working in another state.

The case involved the use of diagnostic tools the doctor owned and used in his practice. He would use the devices more often than medically necessary. In addition, the documentation his office provided to Blue Cross/Blue Shield to justify the testing charges didn’t match the information in the patients’ medical records.

I was initially surprised at the ferocity with which the doctor and his attorneys fought the case. It was based on records and expert testimony for which there was little if any medical or legal defense. The Board agreed with the prosecution, and so did the appellate courts.

I found out later that the fact that the results would be reported to the NPDB was the main reason for the scorched-earth defense. Even if the Delaware board might impose a modest punishment, its decision would not limit the disciplinary options available to the board in the state to which he had moved.

The NPDB law is a nicely practical means of dealing with one of the risks of federalism. It may not meet the perceived need for wholly open access to information. Nonetheless, if used correctly it is a valuable tool in preventing harm to others.

BTW, I'm back from the golf trip. Good friends, good times, bad golf. There will be a full report, eventually.

April 5, 2002

Time for spring training--for my golf game, that is.

Four brothers invite their friends to join them each spring for a four-day golf trip to the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area. I believe this is my eleventh year as a guest, and it's a great time, even if our collective golf skills are quite a bit short of professional standards.

My buddy and I have the farthest to travel, so we're leaving tonight to make the 1 p.m. tee time on Saturday.

While I'm not writing any essays for this site, please browse around at your leasure.

You can also click here for this week's golf column, if you'd like.

Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969

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Official small print disclaimer: This is, after all, a personal web site. Any opinions or comments I express here are my own, and don't necessarily reflect the official position of my work as a government attorney or any of my clients.

That fact may become obvious later on, but it needs to be said here anyway.

© Frederick H. Schranck 2002