Monthly Archives: June 2019

A Rose By Any Other Name

If there was ever an instance which proved my point that presidential candidates should not be judged by 60 second responses to questions it was the discussion at this week’s debates of the pros and cons of “Medicare for All. (MFA)”  This is not to say, candidates in favor of expanding the seniors’ program to the general population should have a better “elevator pitch.”  Or those who do not see a place for private insurers are proposing, not only an expansion, but a restructuring of the current program.  Or they should focus on the legitimate issues which need to be addressed during the process of getting everyone on board.

The best way for any candidate to sell (and I think it is a much easier one than even proponents believe) is two stage.  Start with a 60 second commercial which encourages people to take a serious look at what MFA might look like.  Ironically, the best model is the advertisements for new pharmaceuticals.  First, they acknowledge the symptom.  Second, they hit the viewer with an emotional appeal, e.g. the heartbreak of psoriasis.  Then, they tell you there is an alternative.  Finally, and most importantly, the point you to you a web site where you can learn more or encourage you to talk to a physician.

Some candidates have tackled the first part.  It’s no Herculean task to enumerate the negatives associated with the current health care system.  And we know the pain, e.g. having to choose among basic needs to cover health costs.  Then tell the audience, this need not be the case.  There is an alternative: MFA.  And to learn more visit (website) or stop by my local campaign office where one of my staff will explain why MFA is right for you.  This last point is critical.  Any candidate who seriously believes in MFA has to ensure there is at least one campaign worker in every one of his or her locations who can explain, in detail, the candidate’s proposal for MFA.

Although I am not a candidate for president, here is what I and my campaign workers would say to anyone interested in my plan to expand MFA for all Americans.

I know you have heard a lot of negatives about Medical for All from Republicans and even a few Democrats.  I don’t understand it.  Talk to anyone approaching age 65.  They can’t wait to get on Medicare.  It is one of the most popular federal programs.

And I’m sure you’ve heard that MFA will be the death of private insurers.  That gets to a major misunderstanding about what Medicare really is.  It is not an insurance program; it is a health care premium savings program.  Over the course of your working life, you pay into the system.  That money is then used to cover your insurance premiums.

And what most people don’t realize is 77 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries  get their coverage from a private insurance company through advantage or supplemental plans.  The only difference is the federal government sends the company your monthly premium from the Medicare account.  Ask anyone 65 or older.  When you become eligible for Medicare, you’ll be inundated with materials from private companies competing for your business.  And they will offer services (e.g. dental or eye care) above those provided by the basic program to sign you up.  And that is good.

To cover MFA, workers will have to pay a higher percentage of their income to the Medicare fund, but it will be no higher than the combination of current Medicare and health plan payroll deductions plus your out of pocket expenses.  For many it will be significantly less.  We know people like the fact their employers can contribute to their health care coverage.  But you realize they do this for economic reasons.  They provide benefits to attract the best workers.  And they will still be able to do that.  An employer will have the option of paying all or part of an employee’s Medicare deduction.  And CEOs tell us they like the fact they will not have to annually renegotiate health care contracts for their employees.  Moreover, the employee health care deduction would be pre-tax as it would for self-employed individuals.

And we know you are concerned you will not be able to keep your current doctor.  That’s where competition by private insurers work for you.  You can pick a plan that includes your current physicians and medical facilities.

And if you want more than Medicare offers, there are no restrictions on the costs or services provided by so-called “Cadillac plans.”  You simply pay the difference between Medicare’s monthly reimbursement and the premium for the enhanced coverage.

Don’t want to deal with a private insurer?  Medicare will still have the public option (basic coverage) which serves 23 percent of beneficiaries today.

Finally, some Americans will need assistance with their deduction.  Medicaid, just as it does for low income families under the Affordable Care Act, will still serve that purpose.

There you have it.  A health care program for all Americans. I’d be glad to answer questions or provide more information.

Now, how painless was that.  And there were no side-effects.

For what it’s worth.


The Masked Candidate

From 1967 to 1970, no episode of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in” would be complete without Jo Ann Worley putting her finger to her cheek and letting loose with a falsetto delivery of her signature expression “BORING!”  Last night, in the middle of the first Democratic presidential debate, Donald Trump channeled Worley and in a one word Tweet said the same of the first 10 candidates who want to replace him.

And of course, the print and broadcast media were quick to share Trump’s declaration with the world.  Yet, once again they missed the major point.  In six characters, “Mr. In Plain Sight” gave the single most important reason why he is unfit to be chief executive of the United States.  Governing bores him.

Related imageI confess I did not  watch the debate last night.  First, as I have already shared in my June 10 post “Sound Policy v. Sound Bites“,  I do not understand the fascination with debates when we should be holding job interviews.  But, I am also cognizant of the difference in perception of those who watched the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon debates and those who listened to it on the radio.  I took it one step further by reading the transcript uninfluenced by how a speaker looked or sounded.  I would have even preferred if the transcript had assigned numbers rather than use the candidates’ names.  There is a reason serious research is done through “double blind” tests. Eliminate the biases and pay more attention to the substance.

Which brings me back to the incumbent’s belief bluster and name calling trumps (I know) content. Without the benefit of video or audio one thing was clear.  It did not matter whether the individuals on that stage were men or women, young or old or people of color.  Some had stories to tell and hoped their respective life experiences were enough to convince voters they understood what Americans want in a president.  Others offered specific remedies for what they see as shortcomings in the founders’ vision of “a more perfect union.”  And some stuck to broad-brush platitudes identifying needs but little in the way of solutions.

These three approaches to getting voters’ attention explains why Trump’a assessment of the debate as “boring” is such a self-indictment of his misunderstanding of his oath of office and the responsibilities associated with that oath.  Life stories are fascinating but not debatable.  Statements of intent are inspirational but are no substitute for action or competence.  It is that third category, specific strategies and tactics, which result in change and have impact on the citizenry.

And the process of defining and codifying such plans is “boring.”  It is done away from microphones and cameras.  It is accomplished through analysis of data from multiple sources.  And most importantly, it is achieved through reconciliation of diverse interests.  Good decision making should not be a polar opposite response to one’s predecessor or based on the preference of the last supporter to whom you talk.

I am sure I was not the only person who passed on the debate last night.  Many of us are tired of the saber rattling on both sides of the political spectrum.  Sadly, our leaders equate being in the public eye with governing.  And those who want to be disruptors, think they must be in our face constantly.  For me, “the good old days” were when our leaders valued being out of the spotlight.

In my own experience, I keep coming back to one session during my time at the National Governors Association (NGA) when five state chief executives and the CEOs of five major U.S. corporations met privately to discuss state economic development incentives.  No posturing.  No showboating.  Honest conversation.  The result?  A multi-year initiative to recognize entrepreneurship, not smokestack chasing, as the primary American economic growth engine.

Yes.  I want a president who does not constantly lie.  I want a president who champions global democracy and human rights.  I want a president who does not believe in moral equivalency.  But most importantly, I want a president who understands the difference between campaigning and governing.  Even if that means he or she, as Jo Ann Worley would say, is “BORING!”

For what it’s worth.


Putting a Human Back on the Story

The common journalistic technique of focusing on one individual in order to bring attention and clarity to a global, complex issue is referred to as “putting a human face on the story.” There are numerous examples, many Pulitzer Prize winners, which remind us behind every statistic there are living, breathing human beings.  Perhaps the most iconic was Nick Ut’s photograph, taken during the Vietnam War of a young, naked girl suffering from napalm burns running down a road ahead of U.S. soldiers.  Some claim the image was a factor in their own shift of sentiment away from supporting the war effort.  Something the daily U.S. and Vietnamese casualty rates could not initially do.

Sometimes we need not even see the face.  Consider Jeff Widener’s 1989 picture of “tank man,” a solitary protester standing in front of four Chinese tanks the day following the massacre of students in Tiananmen Square.  Or Spider Martin’s snapshot of a woman’s blistered feet after a day of marching in Selma, Alabama on “Bloody Sunday.”

Many people prefer not to look.  Some find the pictures more obscene than the events they chronicle.  They are shocked the media would reproduce the images.*  But that is the point.  They are designed to shock us.  Shock us out of our apathy.  Our complicity.  And out of our lack of connection to the individuals, often innocent people, captured in horrific situations and unbearable conditions.

This morning we were again exposed to one of these personal moments behind the headlines.  The Associated Press “put a human back,” actually two backs, on the narrative of the continuing and unnecessary tragedy on our Southern border.   Julia Le Duc’s photograph depicts an El Salvadoran father Oscar Ramirez and his 23-month old daughter Valeria who drowned attempting to cross the Rio Grande River, only because the family had been denied access at a border crossing to the LEGAL (yes LEGAL) procedure by which refugees can seek asylum under UNITED STATES and INTERNATIONAL LAW.

If their sacrifice in any way contributes to an easing of the suffering Donald Trump has inflicted on those who look to America with hope and promise, it makes me wonder, when Trump refers to “bad hombres” invading America, should we be more worried about the “bad hombres” in the White House?


In recent posts, I have been highly critical of both the media and the evangelical community, but coverage of the Trump administration’s actions and defense of those actions which require infants and children to live in sub-human conditions seems to have turned a few hearts, even among Donald Trump’s staunchest supports.  Yesterday, in response to the Associated Press stories about the detention center in Clint, Texas, Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted:

The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences. Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this.

One could expect no louder clarion call from the religious right to remind Donald Trump and Mike Pence of Jesus’ teachings.  Sadly, some turned the other cheek (or should I say a deaf ear).  Among those was Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty College, who responded to Dr. Moore as follows:

Who are you @drmoore? Have you ever made a payroll? Have you ever built an organization of any type from scratch? What gives you authority to speak on any issue? I’m being serious. You’re nothing but an employee- a bureaucrat.

Maybe Falwell missed the Bible lesson when, in John 2:16, Jesus says of money changers, “Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

Was I surprised?  No and yes.  No, this is the same faux Christian who gives more mulligans to Trump than revelers hand out strings of beads at a Mardi Gras parade. I am, however, bewildered he could not come up with a more clever retort.  Maybe, “I’ll say it with great respect, these children are not my type.”

*NOTE: USA Today, after warning readers of the graphic nature of Le Duc’s photograph, wrote, “We believe the photo is important in telling the story of what is happening at the border.”

For what it’s worth.


Hillary Was Half Right

On September 9, 2016, Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton gave a speech which many thought was a major mistake.  Just to remind you…

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?  The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.

The other half feel that the government has let them down and are desperate for change.  Those are the people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

Related imagePolitics aside, it is time we face the truth.  She was only half right.  Not about the 50 percent in paragraph one.  This morning as I listened to MSNBC’s Julia Ainsley describe the conditions she observed at detention centers on the Texas border, of infants and children living in cages following separation from parents seeking asylum in the United States,  I thought of Edmund Burke.  How many times have we been reminded of the following excerpt from his 1770 treatise on “The Cause of Present Discontents.”

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

But it is the longer version, which suggests that a dispersed population, when not called to a common ideal by its leaders, are more likely to veer from a path of moral decency.

Whilst men are linked together, they easily and speedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose it with united strength. Whereas, when they lie dispersed, without concert, order, or discipline, communication is uncertain, counsel difficult, and resistance impracticable.

And that is where Clinton is wrong.  It is the sins of omission that make the other half in paragraph two of her speech just as deplorable, if not more so.  They do not deserve our understanding or sympathy.  In contrast to those who she said Donald Trump lifts up, these enablers lift him up.

They lift him up when they do not speak out against the atrocity of caging babies and children without the barest of life’s necessities.

They lift him up when evangelicals support his policies and actions which violate the teachings of the gospels of the person they claim provides the path to heaven.

They lift him up when they refuse to stand up for the rule of law and the Constitution.

They lift him up when they say they know he lies but it does not matter.

They lift him up when they accept reparations for unwise trade policies but reject compensation for those who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow.

They lift him up when they follow his lead and see themselves as victims of multiple bogeymen.

So, I’m sorry Hillary, but I have no empathy.  Or understanding.  In fact, I take pride in not understanding what motivates these lemmings.  Just the opposite.  When they talk about the Trump base they are not kidding.  Just look up the word “base” in Roget’s Thesaurus.  Vulgar. Low. Corrupt. Depraved. Foul. Offensive. Shoddy. Coarse.  Contemptible. Loathsome. Worthless.  Wretched.

If only the following official statement by the Southern Baptist Church were true.

The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.

It would be enough to make this devout agnostic believe, just maybe, there is a God.


Twice on Sunday, Mike Pence passed the buck when asked what he and Trump could do to alleviate the conditions in the youth detention centers.  Echoing his puppet master, he claimed he was hoping Congress would get them out of this mess by appropriating additional funds to provide assistance for these innocent victims of Trump’s immigration policies.  Mr. Pence, just in case you forgot, let me remind you.

You and Donald found $35 BILLION to bail out farmers who are suffering from your trade policies.

You and Donald found a way to shift funds from other Department of Defense projects to begin building your unnecessary border wall.

And your boss never seems to have a problem finding the $3.4 million it costs every time he flies down to Mar-a-Lago (according to official estimates by the General Accounting Office).

I wonder how many sleeping bags, tooth brushes, toothpaste, soap and diapers these same dollars would have bought.  You seem to have money for everything else.

For what it’s worth.


Random Thoughts June 21, 2019

Sunni or Later

Final Jeopardy Question:  So the president cannot be cornered.
Final Jeopardy Answer:  Why is the Oval Office an oval?

My observation this past week.  I hope the Ayatollah also has an oval office.  Too many times we’ve learned that a cornered animal is the most dangerous.  And history tells us, the resolution of a precarious situation is more likely when both parties come away with something.

Even when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were within a hair’s breadth of nuclear war, John Kennedy understood this.  While many believe the eventual agreement between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev was one-sided in favor of the American demands, the Soviet leader was given an opportunity to save face.  First, Kennedy assured Khrushchev the U.S. would not invade Cuba.  Second, the U.S. agreed to dismantle nuclear missiles in Turkey which were part of the NATO defense against Soviet aggression.  Some military historians suggest Kennedy would have removed these weapons without the Cuban crisis as they were obsolete and too costly to maintain.

This morning, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson raised what should be the critical question based on previous Trump approaches to foreign policy and his decision last night to call off a limited military strike in response to the downing of a U.S. drone.  Following the North Korea model of diplomacy:  Act I is belligerence.  Act II is an offer to meet.  What is Act III?

On their ESPN talk show Pardon the Interruption, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon have a segment called “Who would you rather be?”  In this case, I believe the Iranians have the easiest path to solving the stand-off and giving Trump an opportunity to save face.

  1. Demand the U.S. rejoin the nuclear agreement and lift any sanctions imposed following withdrawal from the pact.
  2. In return, Iran agrees to engage in discussion with the U.S. to extend the terms of the nuclear agreement beyond the initial 15 years and possibly include missile testing in the expanded accord.
  3. U.S cancels arm sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
  4. In return Iran agrees to join multi-national talks among Arab nations to resolve civil wars in Syria, Yemen, etc.
  5. Trump proposes bilateral trade talks (“See, I’m a great deal-maker.”) with Iran pending verification of Iranian commitments to non-proliferation and stabilization of Middle East conflicts.

I know, it takes rational people to think rationally.  But sometimes you can make a offer even irrational people cannot refuse.  Equally important, we may finally learn who in the White House is making Middle East policy.

An Undying Wish

When a friend of mine passed away 18 months ago, I honored his family’s request that in lieu of flowers, people should donate to a designated charity.  Which I did, accompanied by a letter which indicated:

  1. I was making this donation in memory of my late friend at his family’s request.
  2. This is not a charity which I regularly give to and do not plan to make additional donations in the future.
  3. Please honor my friend by using this donation for your primary mission, not to raise additional funds.

As you may have guessed, that letter was a waste of time, energy and paper.  For the past year and a half, I have received solicitations from this organization, often on a weekly basis.  And while I’ve not tracked the cost of these appeals, I am pretty sure it has come close to if not exceeded my donation.

This is a nationally known service organization and one could assume it was not one of those fly-by-night efforts where the a third-party fundraising agent makes more money than the charity ever sees.  However, I decided to check its statistics on Charity Navigator, only to find, because its primary funding comes from a single source (a family trust), it is listed as a private foundation and is unrated.

Lesson learned?  While my friend is no longer with us, fundraising based on his passing has eternal life.

Fake Math

Our local paper occasionally carries an op-ed column by a Pittsburgh writer Phil Purcell.  Today, Purcell, an admitted English major in college, decided to tutor us about the national debt.  A long time proponent of the Trump tax cuts, he ‘splained that the rising deficit was due to spending.  After all, “The economy is doing well, causing tax revenues to swell.”  Yeah, at the same rate as Trump’s inauguration crowd.

For those Republican senators and congressmen suffering from amnesia, let me remind you that you bought into the hooey that the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would generate $1.8 trillion in new revenue, more than covering the $1.5 trillion cost.  And don’t forget the cuts you made to domestic spending to ensure the tax cuts would be within the 10-year budget resolution deficit targets. How did that actually play out?

In FY 2018, the first year in which the tax cuts would impact federal revenues, that figure rose to $3.33 trillion from (drum roll) $3.32 trillion in FY 2017.  In other words, Republicans added $180 billion to the deficit (call it their investment to grow the economy) and got $10 billion back in revenues (call that the present value).  Now just imagine, at the beginning of any year, you or I invested $1,800 in a venture, and at the end of the year, we had $100 to show for it.  The last thing we would do is brag about our financial acumen.  In fact, we would never mention it to anyone.

Perhaps that’s why Republicans did not run on the tax cuts during the 2018 mid-terms and only the delusional will run on them in 2020.  When someone suggests imaginary invasions by brown people are an easier sell than cash gifts, it’s a good sign they know the electorate is not as stupid as they might hope.  Sadly, Phil Purcell has not come to that conclusion about his readership.

For what it’s worth.