Disappointment – letter to a GOP Senator

Senator Burr, as an independent and former Republican, I have voted for you in the past. I have applauded you when you have gone out of your way to be bipartisan, especially with your and Mark Warner’s handling of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I did not expect the Senate to remove Donald Trump, even though the testimony I have seen and his actions to block evidence and witnesses indicate someone who is guilty. The why question I want an answer to is why did the White House try to bury the infamous phone call, if it was so perfect? And, frankly, I am troubled that we have a shadow diplomacy going on which keeps our diplomats in the dark. I would say this if the person was Mother Teresa, but Rudy Giuliani is a far cry from her exemplar.

What does trouble me is the insistence that the president did nothing wrong and the Senate’s lack of interest in getting at the truth. I have concerns that we have a national security risk in the White House. It is already clear, that he feels empowered to be regal. We are not a kingdom.

So, I am disappointed in your stance. What troubles me further, is many Republicans know that Trump is guilty, yet they cannot say it. The rationalization of his corrupt and untruthful actions and statements is wearisome and numbing. My question to you and other GOP leaders, is what will you have to defend next week, next month, and the months thereafter? Adam Schiff asked an important question that the GOP needs to heed – do you want to know now or later? To be brutally frank, the GOP may want to rethink allowing Bill Weld and Joe Walsh on the primary ballots in all states.

That is my two cents. I will not be voting for the junior Senator from NC nor will I vote for the incumbent president. I would consider Weld or Walsh as a candidate, but do believe they need a fair chance, which the president has denied. I want to look up to my president and expect what he says is truthful. Neither of these apply to Donald Trump.

Near universal health coverage achieved in six states and DC

An article by Michael Rainey of The Fiscal Times (see link below), called “How six states achieved near universal coverage” noted the success of covering at least 95% of their people. These six states are Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont. The District of Columbia also fits the bill. Per the article:

“A half-dozen states and the District of Columbia have health care insurance rates of over 95%, achieving near-universal coverage. Three researchers at the University of Pennsylvania — including Ezekiel Emanuel, a key architect of Obamacare — said Monday that the Affordable Care Act has everything to do with those results.

Here’s how the states achieved such high insurance rates, according to the authors:

Expanding Medicaid: States that expanded their Medicaid programs as allowed under the ACA had about half the uninsured rate (6.6%) in 2018 as states that did not do so (12.4%). ‘Nearly 5 million people would gain health insurance if the remaining 14 states expanded Medicaid,’ they write.

Extending enrollment periods: High-coverage states countered the Trump administration’s efforts to shorten enrollment periods and reduce informational assistance.

Lowering premiums: States enacted additional subsidies and reinsurance programs to keep premiums low, a crucial factor in maintaining insurance coverage from year to year.

Simplifying options: Some states limited the number of options available to counteract “choice overload,” which can reduce signups through consumer paralysis.

Maintaining individual mandates: Five low uninsured states maintain some kind of individual and employer mandates, which may help persuade healthy people to sign up.

The lesson, the authors say, is that near-universal health coverage can be achieved without national legislation. ‘While it is easy to dismiss the ACA and focus on the promise of Medicare for All, there is a more straightforward path to universal coverage,’ they write, ‘adopting a handful of relatively simple policies and programs at the state level can ensure health insurance coverage for nearly all Americans.’”

This article echoes what can be achievable if Medicaid is expanded and the other above steps are taken. The three states who drag the results down for the country – Texas, Florida and Georgia – did not expand Medicaid nor run their own Healthcare exchanges. Of the six states over 95%, it should be noted Iowa and Hawaii use the federal Healthcare Exchange, while the other four run their own exchanges.

I have long said Medicare for All is something to be explored, but it requires detailed analyses (and time) of its costs and impact. In the interim, I have strongly advocated improving the Affordable Care Act. The goal is access to care, in my view. The employment paradigm has been changing for some time, where fewer full-time workers are being used than before. We are seeing several industries move to a largely part-time workforce, such as in the retail, restaurant, and hospitality industries. We have seen contractual employment continue as well as the growth of gig economies. Health care access needs to come from somewhere.

What I do not care for is the hyper-politicization of this topic. Republicans (including the president) have actively sabotaged the Affordable Care Act, cutting funding to insurers, not mentioning the negative talk about it. It has still survived. Some Democrats choose to throw progress out and go full bore with Medicare for All. Again, that is a detailed undertaking and no candidate can accomplish this without buy-in from both parties.

So, let’s improve what we have. States who have not expanded Medicaid have been economically short-sighted and harmed their citizens. I have argued for repaying insurers who were harmed by the reneging on funding commitments, inviting them back into markets. Where choice is not available, introduce a Medicare option. I would also lower the eligibility for Medicare to age 60 or 62.

These are practical options that may move the needle upward like in those six states. Let’s talk about that.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/6-states-achieved-near-universal-224827646.html

Just Mercy – a movie about a real hero

Between a seemingly endless list of movies about comic book heroes, it is nice to see a movie portray a real life hero. The social justice efforts of Bryan Stevenson are portrayed in the movie “Just Mercy.”

The movie was directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton (Andrew Lanham also co-wrote it) and stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson. Jordan plays Stevenson as he starts the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Alabama after earning a Harvard law degree and growing up similarly to his clients. Larson plays Eva Ansley, the director of operations from the outset.

EJI provides free legal support to disenfranchised people who have been wrongly convicted on death row. Not surprisingly, the significant majority of the people on death row in Alabama are African-American and were underrepresented by legal counsel. Also, not surprisingly, the efforts of EJI did not make all citizens happy.

NOTE: If you plan to see the movie, you may want to skip to the last paragraph.

Foxx admirably plays a convicted man named Walter McMillan who was railroaded based on faulty testimony and suppressed evidence. When Stevenson sought a new trial after the key witness (played by Tim Blake Nelson) recanted, a police officer said the crime scene was altered and seventeen witnesses said McMillan was at a fish fry at his house, the judge still did not grant a new trial.

So, Stevenson appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court and the court of public opinion on “60 Minutes.” The Supreme Court granted a new trial and after some posturing the new District Attorney agreed to Stevenson’s motion to dismiss the charges. Stevenson noted that seventeen witnesses were ignored because they were black. As they stood in the back of the new trial, before charges were dismissed, he noted that any one of them could have the same thing happen to them.

Stevenson has gone on to help free countless men on death row. A statistic revealed at the end is for every person put to death, there is 1 in 9 on death row who are innocent, a very high rate of error. A few final thoughts are as follows:

– the trial occurred in Monroeville, AL in the late 1980s, the home of Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
– the Sheriff who helped contrive the evidence was reelected six times and just retired.
– it amazes me that law enforcement who contrive (or suppress) evidence to convict someone don’t fully comprehend that the real killer is still out there – the family of the victim deserves real justice over expedience.
– McMillan’s story is not unusual. The story highlights at the end, another death row neighbor of McMillan’s was freed thirty years later.

I have seen documentaries about Stevenson. He is smart, soft-spoken, and determined. He cares about his clients, so when he cannot prevent an execution, it is disheartening. The movie is definitely worth your time, especially with the unnecessary divisiveness going on in our country that is fueling more hate groups. The key ammunition against this is education, awareness and advocacy.

Witnesses would help – draft plea to Senators and press

In addition to hearing from John Bolton, it would also be interesting to hear why Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats submitted his resignation on July 28, 2019 and why his well-respected right hand Sue Gordon was forced out in August, 2019. The timing of their departures is concerning and reinforces my concerns over the heightened national security risk by the alleged White House actions in Ukraine.

This independent and former GOP voter would also like to hear from Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence and his aide whose testimony was denied. We need to get to the bottom of this regardless of whose party is in the White House.

We cannot have a president acting the way the incumbent does and is alleged of doing. The nonpartisan GAO determined the withholding aid to Ukraine is illegal. Plus, 63% of Europeans find the US president untrustworthy, a worse ranking than that of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jingpeng. What does that say about us if we did not hold the president to account?

KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid

We should remember this acronym, KISS. It stands for Keep it Simple Stupid. Donald Trump certainly does. There is a reason why he speaks in a bumper sticker fashion. He does not know or care to know details. He just needs a prop, a message or a hook. Then, he repeats it over and over, sometimes a half-a-dozen times in one a short speech.

Whether people think Mike Bloomberg or Tom Steyer are the best candidates for the Democrat nomination, note how simple they are keeping their messages in TV commercials. They focus on how weary we all are of the current president. But, the ideas are straightforward:

– we must act on climate change (both)
– we must improve health care access (Bloomberg)
– we must help more people prosper under the economy (both)
– we must have better gun governance (Bloomberg)
– we must have term limits (Steyer)

Steyer has added another key element which I like, people are treating each other better than the folks in Washington treat each other. That has resonated with me and someone I know who voted for Trump because he disliked Hillary Clinton.

I am not saying these are the best candidates. But, I am saying they are worthy of people’s consideration. I encourage all Democrat candidates to boil their messages into simpler themes. And, stop the circular firing squad. A good idea should not matter from whence it came.

Those imperfect candidates

The search for nirvana, whether it is the perfect partner, job, setting, workout, dinner, vacation, etc. is an endless search. There is no such thing. The same goes for presidential candidates, regardless of party, country, state, locality, etc. And sadly, the better candidates get tainted once they have been elected as they make compromises and decisions which you may not like. Or, maybe when looked back on with a different context, those decisions look foolish.

I have been watching the circular firing squad of the Democratic party candidates for several months. I see more fanatical followers of candidates use a scorched earth mindset to destroy the candidates that are not their favorite. I witnessed this in 2016, when some Bernie Sanders were so adamantly against an imperfect Hillary Clinton, they could not bring themselves to vote for her. The current US president used this ammunition to create even more distaste and get those voters to stay home, vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or even vote for him as a change agent. It worked as he needed less than 100,000 voters spread among three states to win.

Every Democratic candidate has good selling points. And, every Democrat candidate has faults. I will not belabor either one of these lists, as my purpose is not to analyze the veracity of one or the other here. I will save that for a future post, when the slate gets more manageable. I will add every Democrat candidate has a better moral and ethical compass than that of the incumbent president. Conservative writer David Brooks noted that Trump does not seem to be able to show empathy. Almost every situation is exploited to elevate himself. Yet, in so doing, he reveals a very shallow and egomaniacal person. At times he reveals his corrupt nature.

Yes, I want the next president to focus on climate change, healthcare, career training for new and emerging jobs, better gun governance, etc. Yes, I would like them to deal with the debt and deficit. Yes, I would like them to restore America’s reputation as a trusted, fair and reasonable global partner. But, I would like my president to represent our better angels, not our worst demons. The current one does not. Issues are used to divide, not galvanize. I want a president to shine a spotlight on poor behavior, not condone it or discount it.

So, as people look for perfect candidates, remember this biblical example. We had only one perfect person walk the earth – and we killed him. Let’s not kill the Democrat candidate in search for nirvana.

A tribute to Jim Lehrer

One of my main sources for televised news is the PBS Newshour. It is an even-handed news report, that offers expert commentary in a civilized way. This approach traces itself to initial and long-time host, Jim Lehrer, who died on Thursday. He began the show with Robert MacNeil, primarily covering the Watergate impeachment hearings. It is apropos he died during the current impeachment trial.

From a CBS News report, the following is an excerpt about Lehrer.

“Over a career that spanned 50 years, Lehrer moderated a total of 12 presidential debates, more than anyone in history, including all the ones held in 1996 and 2000. He also wrote 20 novels, three memoirs and several plays and earned dozens of journalism awards and honorary degrees. Former President Clinton bestowed the National Humanities Medal on Lehrer in 1999. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected him a fellow and, alongside Robert MacNeil, Lehrer was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999.

Mr. Clinton honored Lehrer in a tweet on Thursday, writing ‘I liked and admired Jim Lehrer. He believed news is a public good, not a commodity. And he was always completely on the level in reporting, interviewing, and moderating debates. His life was a gift that strengthened our democracy.'”

Key themes of the news he broadcast included rules like:
– don’t make the story about you
– keep news clearly separated from editorial opinion
– assume there is more than one side to a story
– respect those being interviewed and covered
– ask simple questions and let the interviewee provide the answers
– guests must be civil to each other and the hosts and vice-versa

To many do not follow these simple rules. Last month, he noted the challenge that news broadcasts have now. In a news world of division, it is difficult to report when the news includes lying, so as to avoid being called divisive. He said we are not there yet. But, we must try.

Join me in honoring an honest and informed newscaster. David Brooks said tonight, “Jim had a moral ecology” which is similar to what MacNeil said saying “Jim had a moral intelligence.” He sought the truth and did it with a civil demeanor. Well done, Jim Lehrer.

A few climate change tidbits

There was good news, bad news and ludicrous news that occurred this week. Here is a Friday rundown.

On the good news front, The Charlotte Observer did an excellent editorial called “Federal disaster relief: Tossing cash in the ocean in NC.” The gist is the US Army Corps of Engineers is spending “$237 million to rebuild dunes and widen the beach on 10 miles of Topsail Island shoreline.” The sad part is the rebuild is occurring only a year after an earlier rebuild. Per Orrin Pilkey a Duke emeritus professor of geology and an expert on coastal erosion, “‘These projects can only be characterized as madness. The sea-level rise is clearly accelerating, increasing intense storms are expected as has happened in the last four years, and the amounts of money spent on these beaches will need to be expended again and again for years into the future.'” Per the Observer, “piling cash into the sand won’t stop that for long.” Ten years ago, the largest global pension trustees did a study that noted the cost of addressing climate change was in the multiple tens of trillions of US dollars.

On the ludicrous front, US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin decided to follow his boss’ lead and pick on Greta Thunberg. In essence, Mnuchin said she needs to go back and get an economic degree and then explain why we should fight climate change. OK, Mr. Mnuchin, please tell me how spending cash to rebuild sand dunes over and over again makes financial sense? Help explain why the present value cost of renewable energy such as wind and solar, which includes the cost of acquisition, transportation, environmental degradation, production, maintenance of byproduct, and litigation is far cheaper than the present value cost of coal energy? And, while your at it, why did a Mayor, with an accounting background, in a Texas town choose a 100% renewable energy proposal over a fossil fuel one due to cost and guaranteed pricing for twenty-five years? What this shows to me is grown people are trying to denigrate a young girl as if they do, then climate change is not an issue.

On the bad news front, the courts threw out the climate change inaction case against the US by twenty-one children and now young adults. The case had merit and moved up to a district courts where it was dismissed by a 2 to 1 vote. The courts did agree with the plea to do more about climate change, but did not feel the case warranted further action. It has spawned other cases in other cities and helped fuel an advocacy to do something about climate change. What the plaintiffs will do next is uncertain at this point. It should be noted the suit against Exxon Mobil by three states is still pending. Using Exxon’s own data, the lead state New York Attorney General, is arguing that Exxon Mobil misled its shareholders and possible investors on the impact of climate change on its financials. That is securities fraud under the guise of the SEC.

The takeaways from the above are clear in my mind. Dealing with climate change is a “pay me now or pay me later” proposition. A key is we cannot put the climate back together again if we wait too long to act more aggressively. I have quoted Pilkey before, but one message bears repeating. People would be foolish to buy property on the shore and should think about selling what they have now. That cuts to the chase.

The other takeaway is the young people get it. The older people in positions of power either don’t get it or cannot say that they do, as they take so much funding from the fossil fuel industry. Coal is in the demise and more coal plants have been closed under this president than under his predecessors. That would be a good question for Messers. Mnuchin and Trump that Ms. Thunberg might want to ask. She might also want to ask why the Trump Organization petitioned, in writing, the Irish government to build a sea wall at a Trump golf course to hold back the rising ocean due to climate change. It does not take an economist to call BS on that one.

Check your sources

The following is a condensed version of earlier posts. I have forwarded it to my local and hometown newspapers. Feel free to adapt and use.
****************

When Lt. Col. Ralph Peters resigned from Fox as its military advisor, he was critical of the opinion hosts, while holding the news group in higher regard. Too many of us are treating editorial opinion as news, be it Fox or MSNBC. Further Sinclair Broadcasting owns about 1/3 of the local TV stations requiring each to read verbatim, corporate prepared editorial pieces at the end of each show. There are many good news outlets who try to get it right, but check more than one source. And, be very careful of social media, as it is easy to pass misinformation along, and that includes the US president.

Visiting people and places is the ticket

I wrote a few years ago about the wonderful visit we had to New England, made more enjoyable because we reconnected with some relatives. The combination of using a visit to a place to visit people can be marvelous, the caveat is to make sure it is people who you want to be around.

The past few days, my wife and I did a similar kind of visit to my home state of Florida and roots in south Georgia. Starting with my hometown of Jacksonville, we stayed with my brother and visited with his oldest daughter who is temporarily staying with him. The next night, we had dinner with his son, who we had not seen for a few years. It was wonderful to catch up. Earlier that day, we had yet another four hour lunch with my three best friends dating back to grade school, along with their wives. We did hear a few new stories, along with the old, and got to catch up.

The next day we drove to Tampa where we spent a couple of days enjoying its wonderful River Walk and a cool place called the Oxford Exchange suggested by our niece, my brother’s youngest daughter. The key to our trip was to visit with her, which was lots of fun. But, while there, we got to meet our blogging friend Gronda, who I had never met in person. She is a delight and has lived a wonderful life with various experiences, which she shared. We walked to and from the restaurant with Gronda, which was on the River Walk, as we sat outside and enjoyed the meal.

As for meeting our niece, it is lovely to meet her now as a wonderful young woman, as contrasted to the child we saw grow up. Meeting her alone in her new home city was quite fun. We had a nice brunch at the Oxford Exchange which is a rehabbed old building filled with shops and restaurants.

Finally, we ventured north and had a wonderful meal with members of my father’s family in south Georgia. I won’t mention the town, because everyone knows everyone else. There were eight of us, which included the three children (and their spouses) of a man raised with my father after his parents divorced. My dad was brought up largely by his aunt and her husband, who had two children as well. This aunt had helped raise his mother, as her biological mother was not part of the picture.

We had so much fun catching up, trading stories and filling in gaps in other stories. I hope the visits spawn reciprocal ones. It did with our New England trip. In fact, another niece we reconnected with in Maine is coming down for a few days later today.

I cannot emphasize enough how happy we are to have made these trips. I recognize this may not be newsworthy, but let me say don’t wait until it is too late to connect or reconnect.