A simple question for GOP legislators

After watching the testimony of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, a question comes to mind, one I have been asking GOP legislators. And, it is a simple one. “Is  Donald Trump the man you want to spend your dear reputation on?

We did not learn many new things, but Cohen provided a lot of context for the modus operandi of his former boss. There are many takeaways, but the ones that should be very worrisome to the GOP are the following:

– the New York prosecutors are looking at other possible criminal wrongdoings of the President;

– the President knew of the Wikileaks dump of emails early on;

– the President asked Cohen to lie about the Moscow real estate development.

But, a reaction to an ongoing line of questions from the GOP Congress representatives, should have given them pause. Cohen said he had done exactly what they are doing for ten years, protecting Donald Trump. He added it won’t end well for you.

So, the question is a simple one. Rather than remembering an oath to protect our constitution, blind loyalty to a someone because of tribe seems to be the preferred path. They have worked hard to build a reputation. Is this the man you want to spend your dear reputation on?

What would you say?

What would you say to a US President where the stock market grew at annualized rate of 12.8% during his tenure, excluding dividends.

What would you say to a President where net new jobs were added at an annual rate of 1.4 million, with a rate of 2.6 million per annum the last four years.

What would you say to a President where the unemployment declined from 7.6% when he started to 4.8% when he left?

What would you say to a President where the US economy had 91 consecutive months of economic growth, which eventually became the second longest in US history?

What would you say to a President that saved the largest car company in the US?

You would say thank you President Obama. The economic growth has continued under the current US President, but we should not forget he was handed the keys to a pretty good economy. It should also be noted the country was in a housing caused recession when Obama got the keys.

I mention this as the current President is too busy taking credit to give a thumbs up to others. With that said, Presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy. They only provide headwinds and tailwinds.

Yet, if people want to go there, Democrats need to do a better job of marketing. Under 12 1/2 four-year GOP Presidential terms as compared to 12 four-year Democrat Presidential terms since 1921, the number of jobs created under a Democrat President dwarfs that under a GOP President, by 2 to 1. Further, the stock market results since 1901 is markedly better under Democrat Presidents.

So, the Dems can rightfully claim they are the party of jobs and economic growth. I am delighted the growth continued under Trump, but the headwinds do not look favorable. The tariffs and added debt on top of expected increases is bothersome.

Note to Democrat Senators running for President – stabilize the ACA

The following note was posted on the website for the seven Democrat Senators running for President, with a copy to select others.

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I am an Independent voter and retired, but my career included being an actuary, benefits consultant and benefits manager for a Fortune 500 company. I have shared with Senators and Congress people a few thoughts on stabilizing the ACA, something Democrats campaigned on last fall and won.

Medicare for All deserves debate, but will require a more elongated and data-driven discussion. We need to have Congress take steps to stabilize the ACA now. To do otherwise, is a disservice to Americans.

Here are my thoughts.

– the GOP sabotaged the ACA in two specific steps which increased premiums even more. They defunded 89% of the risk corridors (for initial adverse selection) driving some insurers out of the market. The other is Trump reneged on reimbursing insurers for copays/ deductibles for people making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty level. My suggestion is to pay insurers what we promised in writing and invite those who left back into the exchanges.*

– I suggest the lowering of the eligibility age for Medicare to age 62 (the age when retirees can first draw Social Security). This could be viewed as a pilot for Medicare for All. This action would lower the Medicare premium rate for all and lower the ACA exchange premiums due to the age of those leaving the ACA and joining Medicare. In other words, both the average age of Medicare and the exchanges would be lower, so the actuarial cost per person is less in both.

– Actively encourage the expansion of Medicaid in the remaining states – this will help the economies, healthcare providers and people in those markets. There are now 36 states who have done so. GOP Ohio Governor John Kasich calls Medicaid expansion a “no brainer.”

– Finally, where only one option exists in a rural county, offer a Medicare option, again as a pilot. People should have choices.

There are other changes that would help, but this needs a data-driven analysis and not whatever the GOP did in 2017, which was a horrible approach to legislation that resulted in horrible legislation. Had any of the GOP legislation passed to kill the ACA, the GOP would have lost even more seats and we would be talking about a recession coming our way.

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* Please feel free to Google these topics: “Marco Rubio and risk corridors” and Donald “Trump and ACA subsidy decision”. The former caused insurance premiums to increase more than they otherwise would have and some insurance companies left the exchanges with the US government owing them money.  The risk corridors were designed to tie insurers over until the initial adverse selection flushed out of the system.

The latter was frustrating because the subsidy helped people in need. Trump untruthfully claimed it will only affect insurer profits, but the carriers committed to the customers to do this under contract. The CBO said this action raised the deficit by $10 billion, since premium subsidies went up to pay for the increased premiums. In my home state of NC, BCBS said before the Trump decision premiums were NOT going to increase. After the decision, the premiums increased 8%.

Saying this in a more succinct way, the GOP screwed American people to win a political argument. Sadly, that is the truth, but very few people know of this. This also is an exemplar of the President’s lying affecting hard-working people. Lying is one thing, but setting policy off lying is another matter altogether.

Note, the ACA is imperfect and complex. But, it still has not been fully implemented in all the states with those who did not expand Medicaid. But, people need to be fully aware of the sabotaging of the ACA undertaken by the GOP, which I find interesting, as the ACA is largely based on a GOP idea. That is politics for you – you did it, so I must be against it.

Hate speech must be spotlighted and condemned

Our blogging friend Jill has written two excellent, but very troubling posts about the existence and danger of hate speech (see links below). Our leaders are too silent on calling out this extreme bigotry and hate. But, more rational heads must put a spotlight on this hate speech and condemn it in the strongest terms. It matters not what your political, religious or demographic group might be. This represents the ugly side of America.

Let me start with the immature and poor judgment of actor Jessie Smollett, who took advantage of the racism that has been associated with a small, but extremely strident group who are tolerated by those who wear MAGA caps. More on this below. The police feel he staged an assault to garner a higher level of income on his TV show. Not only is the idea without merit, it is shameful that he has made a mockery of real racism that is occurring in our country. He has been asked to leave his show and may go to jail.

Unfortunately, this story overshadows two very concerning stories. First, an Alabama newspaper editor named Goodloe Sutton wrote an article calling on the KKK to ride again and take care of what he called liberal socialist Democrats. Here is an excerpt of his hate speech.

“Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again. Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama… This socialist-communist ideology sounds good to the ignorant, the uneducated, and the simple-minded people. Seems like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there.”

When asked to explain, he said far worse things. This akin to calling fire in a crowded theater. It need only inflame one person to act, which makes the next story even more troubling. The same day I learned of the above article, a Coast Guard Lieutenant named Christopher Paul Hasson, was uncovered as a skin head who was plotting attacks on a list of Democrat leaders and media people. He had an arsenal to conduct such an attack. Here is some of his hate speech:

“Liberalist/globalist ideology is destroying traditional peoples esp white. No way to counteract without violence. It should push for more crack down bringing more people to our side. Much blood will have to be spilled to get whitey off the couch. Looking to Russia with hopeful eyes or any land that despises the west’s liberalism. Excluding of course the muslim scum. Who rightfully despise the west’s liberal degeneracy.”

We should not lose sight of the bombs sent to over a dozen Democrat leaders last fall from a man in Florida. These people are already wound too tight. They don’t need much to instigate hateful action. And, it should be noted those who feel they must fight hate speech with violence are not doing their argument any favors. The Antifa crowd needs to cease any violence. I recognize there is a difference between those who say your rights don’t matter and those who are defending that their rights do, but the latter must not resort to violence.

It is also unfair to paint the Trump base of supporters with a broad brush. Setting aside that all of us are prejudiced to a small extent, Trump supporters should not be labeled racist. With that said, people who are classified as white supremacists, neo-Nazis, skin heads are empowered by the President’s rhetoric and support his efforts. So, to ignore their existence as such is unfair as well.

Right now, there are over 1,000 hate groups in America, the significant majority of which are white supremacists groups. A report on PBS Newshour last night noted that hate crimes have increased over 500% the last two years. By not condemning these groups, they are emboldened to act.

We live in a country where we have freedom of speech. Yet, hate speech is a bridge too far. We cannot condone violence, nor can we can condone inflammatory writing or speech that promotes such. This is well beyond name-calling and labeling.

We must demand our leaders to be our better angels. This is one of my key frustrations with the US President, as his base instinct is to do the opposite of what a real leader would do. But, he is not alone. We need people in leadership roles to spotlight and condemn hate speech and actions. They need to do this loudly and consistently. The President needs to tell some of his extremely strident base to cool their jets. In so doing, he can ask others to do the same.

We must do our part as well. Do not be afraid to call out such hateful behavior. You need not name call or even raise your voice. Just say that kind of verbiage or action is inappropriate, not welcome or does not serve their argument. Civil discourse over issues is our goal and is essential. As an independent voter, I can say without question both political sides have some good ideas and both have bad ideas. Hate speech is mob discourse as it takes those labels and puts violence behind it.

A Renewed Call For Hate???

Dodging Bullets …

Racing in Texas

My grandmother had a lot of character, but she also was a character. She loved to tell stories, the funnier the better. And, we have learned from her keepsakes, she would write down funny stories she came across. Going through my mother’s things, we came across the following story her mother recorded.

Racing in Texas

A preacher wanted to raise money for his church. Being told there was a fortune in horse racing, he decided to purchase one and enter it in the races. However, at a local auction, going prices were so steep, the preacher ended up buying a donkey instead.

He figured since he had it he might as well enter it in the races. To his surprise, the donkey came in third. The next day the racing news carried this headline:

“Preacher’s ass shows”

The preacher was so pleased, he entered it in the races again and this time he won. The news read:

“Preacher’s ass out in front”

The bishop was so upset with this kind of publicity, he ordered the preacher not to enter it in another race. The newspaper head lines that day read:

“Bishop scratches preacher’s ass”

It was too much for the bishop. He ordered the preacher to get rid of the animal. The preacher decided to give it to a nun in the nearby convent. The headline the next day:

“Nun has best ass in town”

The bishop fainted and informed the nun she would have to get rid of the donkey. She found a farmer willing to buy the animal for $10.00. The next day, the paper stated:

“Nun peddles ass for ten bucks”

They buried the bishop the next day.

My grandmother died almost twenty years ago, but her memory lives on. She was indeed a character. So, were her many brothers and sisters. We called her Big Mama, just like the matriarch in “Cat on a hot tin roof.” Unlike the character in the play, my Big Mama was very much her own person and would have given it right back to Big Daddy.  I miss her.

Tuesday’s gone with the wind redux

One of my favorite songs from a hometown band called Lynyrd Skynyrd is “Tuesday’s gone.” Using the above song lyric, let me provide a wisp of several issues of the day.

To convince all of us that the sky is falling and we must build a wall, the US President was particularly windy last Friday. Self-created facts were being blown all around, yet when reporters tried to use real data points provided by people who worked for him, he told the reporters that was fake news. The reporters should have said they came from his buddy Vladimir and he would have believed them.

Our British friends are headed for a hard Brexit, unless the lawmakers realize they are not arguing from a position of strength.  There are three options – get more time, take another vote, or seek only minor changes. Brits need to know the Scots and Northern Irish might have remain votes if a hard Brexit occurs. The answer is blowing in the wind, but the obsinate leaders need to check their pride and party warclubs and act.

Speaking of wind, a cold wave blew in responding to the two Mikes – Pompeo and Pence – coming for a visit in Europe. An unlearned lesson on the Mikes and their boss is one cannot pee on people and tell them it is raining. Relationships must be more than transactional. They must be nurtured. If everything is viewed through a lens of short term transactions, then everyone is short-changed.

A final wind analogy relates to another mass shooting, this one in Aurora near the Windy City. Five people here, five people there seems to be a weekly occurrence. The greater tragedy are these and smaller shootings which are routine. The real wind is the usual rhetoric from NRA funded politicians blowing smoke to avoid changes to improve gun governance.

This post may seem at odds with my radical kindness one that precedes it, but the people I am being kind to are the disenfranchised, when politicians fail to act or act foolishly. These are not games to assuage egos. People are being hurt. We could start with the truth and more accountability.

 

Radical kindness

Last week, the excellent documentary called “Would you be my neighbor?” on the life and mission of Mister (Fred) Rogers, won an award from AARP’s Movies for Grown-ups annual ceremony. Morgan Neville, the producer/ director summed up his reflections of Mister Rogers with the words “radical kindness.” He noted we need his wisdom more today than ever.

In the film, Rogers, who was an ordained minister, puppeteer, and musician made it his mission to teach children about how to understand and address their feelings. His shows focused on issues that were previously avoided with children – anger, hurt. grief, confusion, jealously, greed, love, etc. He told these kids it is OK to be angry, but you should not hit others in reaction.

Through words and examples, often delivered through his puppets (and his modified voice), he discussed death, divorce, bullying and bigotry. A key example is his having an African-American in a recurring role as his Officer Friendly and friend. This sounds rather innocuous now, but he did this in the late 1960s. He made a further point of having both share the same wading pool to wash their feet, a purposeful lesson that could come straight from the bible.

Among several powerful moments in the movie, three stand out. The first is his testimony in front of a Senate committee chaired by the ornery Senator John Pastore to petition the committee not to cut $20 million funding of PBS. He focused on what he tries to do and asked if he could say the words to the following song:

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ―

“I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime … And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

A visibly moved Pastore said he would make sure the funding continued.

The other two moments are more visual. He filmed an episode with Coco the gorilla who could do sign language. This enormous beast was quite visibly moved  by Rogers. Coco seemed to feel the radical kindness that exudes from Rogers, hugging and petting the man and signing that he loved Mister Rogers.

The other visual is of Rogers inviting Jeff Erlanger, a wheel chair bound young man on to his show. Erlanger explained to the audience what had happened to make him a quadriplegic, the result of a spinal tumor. In a very poignant manner the two sang a song together that left both my wife and me a little teary eyed.

Mister Rogers came along after my formative years. I would watch an occasional episode as I channeled surfed. Yet, seeing this and another documentary about his work, left me with a very favorable impression. As a producer noted, Rogers did the opposite of what other TV shows did. He talked directly to the children with radical kindness. We adults sure could use a large dose of that.

 

 

 

Hey Dems, focus on these four issues

One of this Independent voter’s frustrations with politics, which is exacerbated by this President, is pressing issues are not getting discussed. And, some are made worse or are sabotaged by the current White House incumbent as we are told to focus our attention on issues he has overstated in importance or sold on fear.

While there are many issues, it is hard to boil the ocean. So, my advice to all politicians, but especially the Democrats who are pushing these ideas, is to narrow the focus to the following four issues.

– Stabilize the healthcare system and have a good debate on Medicare for All, which is a hard sell. The GOP has failed to realize that a reason they lost the House is not listening to most Americans, instead sabotaging the ACA reneging on commitments to insurers and trying to repeal it. As a retired benefits actuary, consultant and manager. I would suggest an idea to stabilize the ACA is to expand Medicare to retirees at age 60 or 62 and measure the impact for its veracity. But, we need to start by paying insurers what we committed to them.

– Climate change is real, is happening and is man-influenced. AOC is dramatizing a little about the end of the world, but the data point she is citing is if we do not make huge strides by 2030 (12 years), our ability to stop the warming trend impact is minimal. She has been ridiculed for he Green New Deal by the GOP, but I would rather discuss her plan than Senator Marco Rubio ignoring the fact the largest city in Florida is the most at risk city on the planet and is seeing a larger number of sunny days flooding from the rising tides. Who is the crazier person, the one speaking to a problem or the one ignoring it altogether?

– Job retraining is key, but we need to understand the major reasons the jobs are going away are technology/ robotics and CEOs chasing cheap labor. It is not immigration or trade, which are down the list. This especially true in those impoverished areas where industry has left them behind moving or closing a plant.

– Finally, the debt and deficit are critical to discuss. The debt just passed $22 trillion and is headed to $34 trillion by the end of 2027. The annual deficit will pass $1 trillion this year, which is nearly 1/3 of our annual revenue. My former party and, in particular, the Freedom Caucus, are as hypocritical as they come. When the Dems had the White House, the Freedom Caucus screamed bloody murder when the debt was $8 trillion, then $13 trillion. But, I give the same caution to Dems I give to the GOP, we must reduce spending and increase revenue. The math will not work otherwise, so says the CBO, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, The Concord Coalition and Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee.

Of course, there are other critical issues. But, if you focus on the important few, it will resonate. This is especially true for younger folks – climate change, debt, future jobs and healthcare are important. In my view, the GOP has lost its way on issues of import. When I left the party twelve years ago, a key reason was its global warming denying stance. My thesis is if you are denying the greatest threat facing our planet, how can I trust you on resolving other issues?

We are behind the eight ball on too many issues. We are leaving our problems to our children and grandchildren. They will ask us, why did you do that? Why, indeed?

Happy heart day to all

Although it is a corporate-based holiday, let’s take a moment to wish a healthy heart for all on this Valentine’s Day. Here are a few random thoughts to sink your sweet tooth into.

– Walk more, drive less. If possible, walk with a friend. Holding hands is optional, highly dependent on the closeness of the friendship.

– Dark chocolate is better for you than milk chocolate, but far worse for your pet. The latter should not be fed to a pet either. I will let you judge if it is an aphrodisiac. That would not be bad for your heart, if it were.

– Those little candied sweet hearts are nice for fifth graders, but I would rather waste my sugar limit on something else. See dark chocolate above.

– Fewer carbs, more fruits and nuts. But, I do miss good bread, potatoes and pasta. Well, maybe just a little every now and then.

– Work on your core. Yoga, Pilates, calisthenics or all the above work. It only takes ten to fifteen minutes a day and alter your routines to keep it fresh. Also it may help with that aphrodisiac thing.

– More hugs, more laughter. Hugs may be the best medicine of all. Laughter is right up there as well. If we can bring warmth, comfort and humor to each other, we could solve more problems.

– Singjng out loud regardless of talent is good for your soul. It is also good for your heart. Getting the words right is optional.

– Finally, a helping hand makes you and the recipient feel better. Doing good for others makes you feel good about yourself. And, guys always remember a man will never be shot while doing the dishes.

A virtual hug to all. Peace be with you. Now, where is that dark chocolate?

Close talkers

One of the Super Bowl commercials that continues to be aired is a toothpaste commercial starring Luke Wilson. In his role, he is a self-professed and proud “close talker.” This is someone who violates another’s personal space, speaking only a few inches from the person’s face.

This commercial is a little unnerving, primarily due to my history of working with a close talker. My colleague was an otherwise pleasant and charming person, but this habit was not his best attribute. Plus, he was in senior management.

My boss would do his best to have some form of interference in-between him and our close talker. He would use a desk, a table, a couch, et al, anything to provide distance. I followed his advice as well, but it was not fool-proof. Elevators were risky with our close talker.

There was an instance when our close talker cornered the company CEO in an elevator. He got the full force of close talking and left the elevator shaking his head.

I recognize cultures vary. I also recognize the US culture is more informal than many. Yet, invading personal space is still a no-no when talking. It would have been so very helpful if the CEO called him aside in private and shared a few tips. In our case, we just need more tables.