Archive for October, 2010

It will be over soon

October 27, 2010

Soon, those terrible ads will stop. Soon, pundits will stop pointing fingers. Soon, we will be able to answer our phones without fear of taking part in a political survey. Soon, we can get our mail and not filter through the propaganda spouted out by politicians.

It will come to an end Wednesday, Nov. 3, after the mid-term election results are final, or at least most of them.

Political experts are predicting a Republican resurgence that could put the party back in control of the U.S. Senate and House. If that occurs, prepare for a wild ride during the final two years of the Obama administration.

On the local level, two Sussex County Council incumbents, Vance Phillips in District 5 and George Cole in District 4, are hoping they can ride the projected Republican tsunami into another four-year seat. Combined, the two have nearly 40 years of experience on council.

Partisan politics don’t influence as many decisions at the local level in Sussex County. Votes aren’t on party lines and land-use issues, which occupy most of county officials’ time, are not based on party politics. However, the political party of a candidate can matter in the voting booth.

Although the election can come down to a candidates’ party, since county council elections only occur in the candidate’s district, it usually comes down to how popular a candidate is.

Another alternative would be to allow council members to represent their district, but have the entire county vote in their respective elections since the decisions council makes are on a countywide basis.

No one other than someone in the Cole family has held the District 4 seat. George’s father, Charlie, was the first person elected to the position after the county changed from the levy court to the county council system in 1974. His mother, Kitty, finished out the last year of her late husband’s third term when he passed away in 1986.

On the Democrat side, Russ Melrath has a good organization and is working hard to get his name out to the public. He is also working hard to get his views on the issues out there.

Phillips, who has been active in Republican politics since he graduated from college, has run for national office and been a member of council since 1998, being elected president in 2009.

On the Democrat side, county retiree Denny Cordrey is running on the premise that as a former county employee, he knows how the system works.

There is a lot at stake in the council election. Should one of the two incumbents lose, there could be a swing to more anti-development stands by council. Currently, several votes on key projects, zoning changes and conditional use applications have been 3-2 votes. It appears both Melrath and Cordrey lean more to the camp that supports growth in areas with appropriate infrastructure in place.

Both Democrats have an uphill battle against incumbents who have been in office a long time and have a strong base to build on.

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It will be over soon

Soon, those terrible ads will stop. Soon, pundits will stop pointing fingers. Soon, we will be able to answer our phones without fear of taking part in a political survey. Soon, we can get our mail and not filter through the propaganda spouted out by politicians.

It will come to an end Wednesday, Nov. 3, after the mid-term election results are final, or at least most of them.

Political experts are predicting a Republican resurgence that could put the party back in control of the U.S. Senate and House. If that occurs, prepare for a wild ride during the final two years of the Obama administration.

On the local level, two Sussex County Council incumbents, Vance Phillips in District 5 and George Cole in District 4, are hoping they can ride the projected Republican tsunami into another four-year seat. Combined, the two have nearly 40 years of experience on council.

Partisan politics don’t influence as many decisions at the local level in Sussex County. Votes aren’t on party lines and land-use issues, which occupy most of county officials’ time, are not based on party politics. However, the political party of a candidate can matter in the voting booth.

Although the election can come down to a candidates’ party, since county council elections only occur in the candidate’s district, it usually comes down to how popular a candidate is.

Another alternative would be to allow council members to represent their district, but have the entire county vote in their respective elections since the decisions council makes are on a countywide basis.

No one other than someone in the Cole family has held the District 4 seat. George’s father, Charlie, was the first person elected to the position after the county changed from the levy court to the county council system in 1974. His mother, Kitty, finished out the last year of her late husband’s third term when he passed away in 1986.

On the Democrat side, Russ Melrath has a good organization and is working hard to get his name out to the public. He is also working hard to get his views on the issues out there.

Phillips, who has been active in Republican politics since he graduated from college, has run for national office and been a member of council since 1998, being elected president in 2009.

On the Democrat side, county retiree Denny Cordrey is running on the premise that as a former county employee, he knows how the system works.

There is a lot at stake in the council election. Should one of the two incumbents lose, there could be a swing to more anti-development stands by council. Currently, several votes on key projects, zoning changes and conditional use applications have been 3-2 votes. It appears both Melrath and Cordrey lean more to the camp that supports growth in areas with appropriate infrastructure in place.

Both Democrats have an uphill battle against incumbents who have been in office a long time and have a strong base to build on.

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Across the pond

October 20, 2010

Eiffel Tower

London

At night



I’m going way off The Circle with this one with some reflections on a recent trip to Paris, London and Dublin.

Even in a global environment, those of us in the USA are insulated to some extent.

We think we are world-wise, but when we travel we find out those little secrets not discussed in travel books and on Travel Channel.

Take for example toilet (toilette or loo) facilities. It might come as a shock to some that men and women share some bathrooms – in their own stalls of course. It’s also a little unnerving when a woman enters the bathroom to clean up around you as you stand at the urinal. There are also still some squat toilets (that you have to pay for the joy of using) for women in the older cafes in Paris.

Then there are strikes. Although not commonplace in the total scope of things, they do happen, and sometimes without much notice. Currently, economic conditions in most European countries mirror, or are worse, what is going on in this country. High unemployment rates, rising taxes and attacks on sacred benefits (like retirement age) have some Europeans uptight. Unions, particularly those involved with transit, are responding with work stoppages and strikes, which can nearly gridlock cities such as London and Paris.

On a recent holiday across the pond, we ran into a pair of strikes in both of those cities, which forced us to change our plans. In Paris, we had a bus trip planned to fabulous Versailles, but when we arrived at the travel depot we were told workers might be on strike. We had three options: bag the trip; schedule another day; or take a chance and lose our money if the palace was closed.

We decided to reschedule and even on the second day, workers decided to strike for an hour, delaying the opening until 10 a.m.

THE GOOD NEWS

The good news is you can get just about anywhere without driving a car, which is not the case in the USA. I lived in Paris for a year 20 years ago and didn’t drive except for a brief time during a tour of Scotland.

However, getting around can be a little unnerving as you try to decipher the Paris Metro or London Tube, and although we rode buses in Dublin and London, we never felt confident we were on the right lines and had the right stops. Traveling during rush hours in the morning and afternoon can also be trying on your nerves.

BEST TIP

If you are planning a trip overseas to major cities, most offer museum and transit passes you can purchase in advance. The Paris museum pass was marvelous, as was the Metro pass. Not only did we save a lot of money in admission costs, in some museums they allow those with passes to get into quicker lines.

But, be aware, almost every museum now has security measures akin to those at airports.

WATCH OUT FOR

In Paris, it can cost as much as 50 Euros, about $70, to take a taxi from Charles de Gaulle Airport to center city. Several shuttles are available at about half the cost, but the one we chose forced us to wait about an hour outside the airport. After a 6-hour plane ride, that was not fun.

Underestimating the exchange rate. It’s not 1 pound, it’s $1.60; it’s not 1 Euro, it’s $1.40. A modest meal for two in Paris cost about $55 and about $65 in London.

The VAT (value added tax), which was added into every purchase, ranged from 13 percent to 21 percent.

Warnings are out everywhere for pickpockets and scam artists. Guess what? I was scammed by a young lady on the Pont Alexandre (bridge) in Paris near the Grand Palais. She said she found a gold ring on the ground and it did not fit her, so she gave it to me. “Take it, take it,” she said. She had her mark targeted in.

Five seconds later she was back asking for a small fee for giving me the “gold” ring. I gave her $1 Euro, which was not enough – she wanted 2 Euros. Of course I should have walked off, but caved in. I now have a $3 souvenir of Paris that is turning green.

BEST MEMORIES

Paris: Watching the Eiffel Tower light up with sparkles at night; people watching sitting outside any Paris café; eating crepes along the Seine; the majesty of Notre Dame; the opulent beauty of Versailles and its gardens.

London: The history that encompasses the city; Hampton Court’s mixture of architectural styles; getting a rare view inside Buckingham Palace (it’s only open two months each year); walking on Tower Bridge.

Ireland: The beauty of the green hills; the stone walls; the people who go out of their way to help you; the idea that around every corner is a piece of history dating back centuries.

Ireland

Louvre

Can’t find my way out of the insurance maze

October 15, 2010

I give up. There is no way I’m ever going to understand the ins and outs of our health insurance system as it pertains to prescription drugs.

Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, nonformulary, generic – the terms are developed to confuse.

Under my plan, which I’m thankful to have by the way, I have a $1,500 deductible to pay before most services and co-pays kick in.

With prescriptions, at least as I understand it, the deductible only applies when I purchase nongeneric drugs. With generic drugs and preferred formulary drugs I can get by paying co-pays ranging from $10 to $45. So, I head to the drug store this past weekend and end up paying more than $90 for a generic drug. What? I thought generic drugs were subject to co-pays.

After speaking with three insurance representatives I learn that this particular drug, which I was forced to take because the nongeneric drug was not covered by insurance at all, is now nonformulary and not subject to co-pays. That’s even though the drug is a generic of a generic – you can’t get much more generic than that.

“Call your doctor and get one on our list,” the insurance lady says.

I’ve already done that twice before. The real thorn in my side is that this particular drug for acid reflux, which millions of Americans have, is widely prescribed and is not that not expensive – around $120 for a month’s supply. My insurance company has moved me from aciphex to protonix to pantoprazole.

After checking around on line, I was hit with a surprise. Pantroprazole is the most expensive of the three at $4.13 per pill. In the mail, I could get the other two for prices ranging from less than $1 to $2. Even on-line, pantroprazole is the highest cost of the three. I didn’t pick the drug; I can’t even pronounce it. What is wrong with this picture?

So who picks what drugs we can take? To find out I went to several health insurance companies’ websites. Guess what? It’s a committee of doctors and pharmacists who decide what drugs end up on formularies based on the “most value. Huh? The most value? Shouldn’t drugs be included because of what people need and doctors prescribe?

Unless we want to pay the full bill, it’s the insurance company that dictates what type of medicine and care we receive. It doesn’t matter that your doctor prescribes a certain kind of medicine; what matters is whether or not your insurance company will help with the cost. This may seem like sour grapes because some people have no health coverage at all and struggle to pay medical bills. Even with insurance, I still pay around $4,000 a year, including premiums, co-pays and the deductible, so don’t tell me I can’t complain.

It’s like opening a present every time you step up to the pharmacy counter because you never know exactly what you are going to get ­– or pay.

Time to make some decisions

October 13, 2010

We all know government moves at a snail’s pace, but some recent inaction by Sussex County makes snails look like rabbits.

County council has yet to hire a county planner, although the job has been posted. Insiders tell me the amount budgeted for the position, about $42,000, is not enough to attract a registered planner. In the meantime, the county is relying on a consultant from Urban Research and Development Corp. in Bethlehem, Pa. The county has been without a full-time planner since the retirement of Rick Kautz in May 2009.

Neighboring Kent County, which is smaller than Sussex County, has five certified planners with one vacant position. Sussex has nearly 40,000 more people and 300 square miles more than its northern neighbor.

Here’s another telling statistic from the U.S. Census: In 2009 Sussex issued 1,555 building permits, compared with 806 issued in Kent County. In addition, Sussex has more than 118,000 housing units, compared with 64,000 in Kent County.

Council President Vance Phillips is on the record saying hiring a planner is not a high priority under current economic conditions. Not everyone agrees with that opinion, including council members Joan Deaver and George Cole.

Council has also been dragging its feet on the appointment, or reappointment, of two members of the county board of adjustment. The terms of Dale Callaway of Milton and John Mills of Laurel ended June 30. Ironically, Callaway remains as chairman of the board.

Councilwoman Deaver has made it clear she will not renominate Callaway for the position, one he has held since 1992 (Mills was appointed the same year). Council shot down her first nominee, John Walsh of Rehoboth Beach, and a vote has never come up on her second nominee, former Lewes Police Chief Beau Gooch of Milton. The appointments have until now been low key and made without any discussion, but I don’t think that will be the case anymore.

Some residents are upset the board has an approval rate of more than 80 percent, and they want some new faces. These same residents want the board to follow its own rules and regulations and grant variances only when all criteria can be met. Board members admit that is not always the case.

One can only wonder why council is dragging its feet on these decisions, which are deemed critical in many circles. Could it have something to do with what happens the first Tuesday in November?

Biking to work European style

October 6, 2010

Rental bikes in London.

On a recent trip overseas I was infatuated with how people get around. Coming from a rural area, it’s amazing to watch how millions of people commute twice a day in large cities like Paris and London.

I was amazed how many people are now riding bicycles, which is a big change from the last time I was across the pond about 20 years ago. Rental bikes are available at locations all over both cities. Bike lanes have been established to allow some safety, but cyclists still contend with unbelievable traffic.