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Five signs that the world is going nuts

Over the Labor Day weekend, five situations came to my attention that suggest to me that the world is going nuts. I'm an optimist, but this list of five is most discouraging.

Which is the craziest? The first involves a dispute between two church members of Thy Kingdom Come Church in Wheaton, Minn., during a prayer service. The church is lead by Rev. Danny Barnes, a former drug addict with an extensive criminal history. The two members got into an argument about which one should get a used washer and dryer that had been donated to the church. During the dispute, one of the two members swung a baseball bat at the other. He missed, but hit the head of a 14-month-old daughter of the man he was swinging at. The little girl died in the hospital at 2 a.m. that night. You mean to tell me a 14-month-old toddler gets killed with a baseball bat at a prayer service in a church because of a disagreement over a washer and dryer? Yes -- can you believe it?

Try this one. Florida resident Steve Valdez was born without arms and has prosthesis on both sides. He has a bank account in one bank and his wife Lori has an account in another. Lori was working and needed cash so she wrote a check to her husband and asked him to cash it at her bank, the Bank of America. The check was for under $2,000. The bank teller asked Steve for a thumbprint for identification purposes. He explained that he had no thumbs. She said he had two choices -- you can bring your wife in to cash the check or you can open an account under your own name. Valdez said he had two forms of identification but that neither option was acceptable and asked to speak to the branch manager. The branch manager heard the same explanation and gave Valdez the same two choices. She said, "this is our policy." Apparently he could have deposited the check there in an account of his own with his two I.D.'s, but couldn't cash the check without a thumbprint. No thumbprint, no cash. The lesson: if you have no judgment you can still become manager of a Bank of America branch in Florida.

Today I heard a woman speak who had gone on a mission trip to do her part to help the poor of Tanzania in Africa by bringing flour, building churches, digging wells, teaching them about planting crops and teaching them good health practices. The folks where she was had no electricity in their homes, no indoor plumbing and only a few wells to provide fresh clean water. But everywhere on the streets people, young and old, were walking around talking on cell phones. There are transmission towers all over the place and those phones work. You probably had no idea that cell phones are more important than electricity and indoor plumbing in Tanzania.

Then I read that President Obama intended to deliver a message to the school children of America on the opening day of classes. He intended to give much the same message as that given by Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush during their presidencies. The message: study hard, do your homework, study math and science, read books, stay in school, don't drop out, take personal responsibility and wash your hands. But having the president talk to the school kids about hard work and good habits was obviously very scary for many parents who viewed the speech with suspicion -- it could be a cunning, insidious, scheming, partisan attempt to brainwash little minds. So many of them kept the kids out of school to avoid the poison. Grow up folks. We have plenty of real problems to worry about without imagining new ones.

Finally, there was the story of excessive bonuses for the top executives of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Dakota. This non-profit company was found by the North Dakota Insurance Commission to have paid $418.3 million in administrative costs over a five year period, of which, over two thirds was spent on employee compensation. The lion's share went to the top 15 executives of the company. The CEO of the company had been fired for violating his contract but was paid a $2.5 million severance package. His bonuses had mushroomed 111 percent over the five-year period. Incentive bonuses were paid for sub par performances. For example, in 2008, the company expected an underwriting loss of $15 million. When the loss was only $9 million, bonuses were paid because the target was exceeded. Bonuses for losses! One executive, who retired in 2008, was given a $34,800 farewell party. The report also disclosed over $400,000 of charter aircraft costs for out of state meetings out of a total of $15 million in travel expenses. All this was paid for by policyholder premiums. Why is the cost of health care increasing?

Is the world going nuts? Just part of it actually. But don't get discouraged, the report here next week will be more cheerful.