Tuesday Truisms

While Monday is like getting reacquainted with the workweek, Tuesday is when it begins in earnest. In no particular order, I have noted a few truisms for this Tuesday.

Looking out at the rainy early evening, it is wonderful to see how green everything looks. The trees frame an enchanting view.

On a more sober note, on our travels to visit our son a few hours away in NC we saw two huge confederate flags flying boldly off the highways. I know the flyers do not care, but when I see a flag like this, especially having grown up white in the South, my first thought is bigotry. This flag represents Jim Crow and the KKK as much as it does the Confederacy. When I see a Confederate flag side-by-side with an American flag, the hypocrisy that one flag represents rebellion against the other is not lost on me.

I mention this as the persona non grata NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick won a global award from Amnesty International for human rights this month. He was made an example by the US President for his very brave protest of kneeling during the national anthem in deference to black Americans not having the same rights and opportunities in America as whites. His courage and understanding of our constitutional rights far exceeds that of the President who resorted to flaming fires of jingoism among a dutiful base against this man. I am reminded that MLK was equally unpopular when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. People outside the US are watching if we are living up to our ideals which mean far more than an anthem.

A final thought on our ideals includes the freedom of the press. It should not be lost on others that reporters for The Washington Post and New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism for their coverage of the Russian meddling. It is important to note that the US President has called this fake news and a witch hunt. Apparently, the Pulitzer people disagree. Let’s see, if the man is lying about that, what else might he be lying about?

I started with how green everything looks with the rain. Maybe our country needs a good cleansing rain to wash away our fears and demeaning of others and our ideals.

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Letter from Senator Thom Tillis regarding Mueller

I received the following letter in response to my calling and writing Republican Senator Thom Tillis to compliment him on his bipartisan  legislation to make sure Robert Mueller is given a fair hearing if he is fired. The letter speaks for itself.

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Thank you for taking the time to contact me about S. 2644, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act. I appreciate hearing from you.

I believe in the rule of law, regardless of who occupies the White House or which party leads the Justice Department. That is why in August I introduced a bill to create a judicial-review process to prevent the removal of a special counsel without good cause.

Over the past several months, Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE) and I have been working with Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), who introduced a similar bill, to reconcile the differences between the two proposals. On April 11, 2018, we introduced the compromise, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.

Last May, when the Justice Department named former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel, virtually all lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — praised the choice. Mueller has had a distinguished career in law enforcement and public service, and he has a well-earned reputation for impartiality. I have confidence that he will follow the facts, wherever they may lead. I also have confidence that he is leading the investigation without bias toward either side of the political spectrum.

Letting his investigation run its course is in the best interest of the country, and it is the only option to ensure that the American people have trust in the process. This is critically important because it means when the investigation concludes, our country can move forward together. Our bill will help ensure that happens.

I have received a good deal of criticism from my own party for introducing special-counsel legislation, with the common refrain being that it is harmful to President Trump. It isn’t, for two main reasons.

First, if the president actually removes the special counsel without good cause, it would likely result in swift, bipartisan backlash and shake the country’s faith in the integrity of our legal system. Talking heads and pundits on television encouraging the president to make such a drastic and counterproductive move most certainly do not have his best interests at heart. The result would not be good for the American people, my own party or the president.

Second, the constant headlines and rumors that President Trump is considering or has considered removing Mueller — “fake news” or not — are a distraction from the president’s agenda and successful policy initiatives. While the president is understandably frustrated with the investigation, I don’t believe he would ultimately remove Mueller, and the White House and the president’s legal team have indicated that he does not intend to do so. This bill becoming law would remove that narrative from the conversation.

Political grandstanding requires no courage — independence and compromise do. The focus needs to be on achieving a legislative outcome, not a talking point. There are members of my conference who want to get to “yes,” and can get there, especially because the bill will be subject to an amendment process in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill can be improved. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle who support the bill for the right reasons and want a result will be working hand-in-hand to build consensus and get us closer to 60 votes.

The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act is about protecting the rule of law and producing an outcome that is good for our country. It’s not about producing an outcome for one political party.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. Please do not hesitate to contact me again about other important issues.

Sincerely,

Thom Tillis
U.S. Senator

That healthcare thing

In more than a few surveys, the majority of Americans have noted that healthcare is a key dinner table issue. In several surveys, shoring up and stabilizing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is preferred by a smaller, but still majority of Americans, than its repeal.

With a background of being a former benefits actuary, consultant and manager of benefits, here are a few facts and observations that I encourage you to research and verify.

– The ACA borrows from a Republican idea implemented by Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts which was advocated by de facto Tea Party leader Senator Jim DeMint for the whole country. Some elements can be found in a healthcare idea of Senator Bob Dole when he ran for President in 1996. These are reasons Republicans had a hard time with other ideas to repeal and replace it.

– The ACA is designed to require employer and public plans to offer certain minimum level benefits. The non-employer benefits are delivered through healthcare exchanges of policies and the expansion of Medicaid for people near or in poverty (32 states and the District of Columbia elected to do this).

– The biggest benefits of the ACA are guaranteed issue and renewability of coverage and the premium subsidy for people with incomes up to 4 x poverty limit. If you or a child has a preexisting condition, guaranteed issue and renewability are huge benefits.

– The botched roll out of the online exchanges sits at the feet of President Obama. For this to be such an important issue, it deserved better planning. The online exchanges are doing much better now, but you don’t get a second chance for a first impression. And, this poor roll out was used as fodder to nay-say the program, even though the problems were fixed.

– The ACA has experienced higher premiums due to adverse selection (pent-up demand and more high risk than better risk customers), but it is frustrating that the Republican Senators and President have masked their role in making premiums even higher. Senator Marco Rubio led an effort to strip 89% of the funding to insurers for initial adverse selection a couple of years ago and President Trump stripped out funding for co-pays and deductibles for lower paid people last year. Both of these changes cause premiums to increase even more than they otherwise would have.

– The lack of expansion of Medicaid in 18 states means the ACA is still not fully implemented. Per The Commonwealth Fund, this implementation would help people, rural hospitals and state economies. GOP Presidential candidate John Kasich called Medicaid expansion a no-brainer when he did it in Ohio as Governor.

The ACA is not perfect, but it is working OK. It could work even better if it were stabilized and improved. Taking away the mandate will be harmful and cause premiums to go up even more. What troubles me in our zero-sum game of politics is we are foregoing improving an imperfect law, which we have done countless times before on major changes. The way I see it, Congress and the President own this law now. If it fails, people should look to them asking why did they let it happen. This impacts people.

I have mentioned before several changes to consider. National healthcare is not going to happen in our country as it is too political and the healthcare industrial complex is strong. Yet, I advocate expanding Medicare in a targeted way down to age 62 (or maybe 55). Unlike the more complex Medicaid, Medicare actually works pretty well and strips out the profit load embedded in insurance premiums. This will reduce exchange premiums and Medicare premiums, as it makes both audiences younger on average.

I think we need to reconstitute the adverse selection and co-pay subsidies to insurers. The federal government needs to repay insurers they stiffed and invite insurers who left back into the exchanges. I would also recommend the remaining states expand Medicaid and I would add back the mandate for coverage, even though this feature is unpopular. If there are areas where competition is not significant, select use of Medicare (or Medicaid) could be deployed in those counties.

There are other changes that should be considered, but we need to shore this thing up. Congress and Mr. President, the ball is in your court as well as the legislatures for those eighteen states.

 

He is lying, she is lying, they are lying

Many things puzzle me these days. One that is near the top is shouldn’t a man who says everyone else is lying and that people should only believe him, be viewed as the lone constant in a world of lies?

Using the science principle of Occam’s Razor, we should consider the simplest answer may be the most believable. A man who says everyone else is lying may be the one who is lying. It becomes even more believable when the man has a history of untruthful commentary as measured by his five biographers, an attorney who worked with him for years, and  Politifacts.

Of course, I am speaking of the man who occupies the White House. I was thinking of this for two reasons. This week, Pulitzer Prizes were awarded to both The Washington Post and New York Times for reports on Russian meddling. You may recall this as being labeled “fake news” by this man, but apparently the Pulitzer people disagree.

The other reason is former FBI Director has been labeled as a liar, leaker even a criminal by the man in the White House. I have seen several people who know Ccmey vouch for his truthfulness and integrity. While I have seen people attack Comey on behalf of Trump, I have not witnessed people saying how truthful the President is.

A PBS/ NPR/Marist poll this month noted while 61% said the FBI is just doing its job, 31% said the FBI is being unfair to Trump. As an Independent, to me the only people the FBI is unfair to are people that lie to the FBI. Five people have pled guilty to Robert Mueller for lying to the FBI, one person is due in court and one had his office and home raided. There seems to be an awful lot of lying going on around and including the President.

As SC Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy said, if the President is innocent, it would help if he started acting like it. The only person being unfair to Trump looks back in the mirror each morning while he shaves.

Let me close with the story of over 200 former Justice associates of both Messers. Mueller and Comey writing a letter to Congress to make sure Mueller and team are allowed to finish their work.

 

Knife wielding suspect subdued (and lives)

The title gives the climax away, but that is not the whole story. A man wielding two knives was threatening people in the halls of his apartment complex.

Three police officers showed up and told the man they had a taser and asked him to put down the knives. After a lengthy discussion and pleas, one officer moved toward the man who lunged at the officer and was tased. Remarkably, the man kept trying to knife the officer, who was able to avoid getting stabbed. The man was taking away to face a court date and jail time.

There are two other keys to this story. It was in Australia, not the US. In Charlotte last year, a man wielding a knife was shot dead by police with nine shots. I understand police have a difficult job, but the eagerness and frequency in which assailants are shot seems much higher here on the US. Plus, the number of shots stymies me – nine, eleven, sixteen shots are too representative.

The other issue worth noting is the man was white. I often use the story of how a 65 year old white man was disarmed by Detroit police after an hour conversation. Tamir Rice, an adolescent black boy, was killed within two seconds due to the toy gun he was carrying. Why? Why is there such haste to unload a weapon when the alleged perpetrator is black?

We must do better at addressing these issues. The police are doing a hard job, made harder as they don’t know who is packing heat and what firepower such heat has. I believe this adds even more tension to any police encounter where there is uncertainty. And, race plays a huge factor. Another black man was gunned down at a Walmart by police yesterday.

We cannot overtrain police at identifying threats and de-escalating tense situations. And, we must treat every shooting like the pilots investigate crashes. We must be transparent and learn how to avoid poor or hasty decisions. Other western countries do not have our overall and police gun death rates. We must do better.

A little Bread goes a long way

Those who follow my post know that I do like my rock-n-roll. Yet, what I find most fulfilling is good music paired with great lyrics. While I love Eric Clapton, Styx, Heart, Stevie Ray Vaughan, et al,  I am equally thrilled to listen to Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, etc.

On the softer side of all of this is a band called “Bread,” whose lead singer and songwriter, David Gates wrote some terrific lyrics. He mostly sang of love lost, so his music will take you down a melancholy path.

My favorite of Bread’s is simply called “If.” Here is a sample of the lyrics from memory.

“If a man could be two places at one time, I’d be with you

Tomorrow and today, beside you all the way

If the world should stop revolving spinning slowly down to die,

I’d spend the end with you and when the world was through

Then, one by one the stars would all go out

Then you and I would gently fly away.”

One of his more painful songs is called “Diary,” about a boy who feels his love is unrequited until he finds his girlfriend’s diary. He is surprised by the intensity of her feelings and then he reads on.

“I found your diary underneath a tree, and started reading about me,

The words you’d written took me by surprise, you’d never read them in your eyes.

They said the love you’d found was someone else, not me.

Wouldn’t you know it, she wouldn’t show it.”

A little more upbeat song is called “The Guitar Man.” Here is a sample of the lyrics:

“Who draws a crowd and plays so loud,

Baby, it’s the guitar man.

Who’s on the radio, who steals the show,

Baby, it’s the guitar man.”

A few other favorites include “It don’t matter to me,” “Everything I own,” “Make it with you” and “Baby I’m a want you.” Later Gates had a solo hit when he wrote “The Goodbye Girl” for the Neil Simon movie with Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfus.

If you are not familiar with their music and like the softer side, check them out. If you want to rehash some old memories, break out the CDs, albums or add to your playlist. A little Bread goes a long way.

That pledge thing

We Americans know how it goes as we did it every day in school. I pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…It is more important than the national anthem, as its words have greater meaning and depth than the song.

I want to call attention to what is not included. It does not say I pledge allegiance to the Democratic Party, the Republican Party or one of the other parties. Nor do we pledge our oath to a splinter group or specific individual. And, while many are faithful, our pledge honors a commitment to allow people to worship how they see fit.

Our tribe are the citizens of the United States of America. We pledge to a republic  which is indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Those last two words are not caveated. It also does not say my freedoms are more important than yours. And, the converse is not true.

When our leaders do not honor this pledge like we do or turn their heads when other leaders are not upholding their end of the bargain, we need to be critical of these shortcomings. As an Independent voter who has been a member of both parties, neither party has all the good ideas and both have some bad ones.

What I have less tolerance for is American citizens ignoring the obvious. We have an elected President who daily is attacking our democracy. Very few people would want to work for a person like this. Do not tell me he is telling the truth as his lying is routine. Do not tell me the mainstream media is unfairly criticizing him as I don’t see that. Do not tell me this is not impacting us when our allies think we are less trustworthy and civil discourse continues its decline with this man at the helm.

We have serious problems in our country and it is hard enough to solve them when we consider the truth and consider each other’s opinions. When we do not, we stand little chance In hell to do so.