With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled around the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. Gandalf staggered, and fell, gasping vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. “Fly, you fools!” he cried, and was gone.
Paulina (name changed) may have been born here in the US, but culturally her first 18 years were spent in the tiny Eastern European village her parents fled in the mid-1950’s. Her neighbors all came from the same villages, went to the same church, and sent their children to the same parochial school. Paulina was married prior to turning 19. Her husband, Alex, was a few years older and from the same neighborhood. This is what good girls did. And Paulina was a good girl.
It was not long after Paulina gave birth to her son, right around her 21st birthday, that she finally confided to her mother how desperately unhappy she was. Alex may have been doing OK financially, but he was a terrible husband. He was mean. Bossy. Abusive. Her mother looked at her as if all of this was expected and understood and told her daughter that none of that mattered. Paulina’s responsibility was to her child and to her husband. Her child needed a mother and a father. Her husband needed a wife. Paulina’s needs weren’t relevant. That was the last time she discussed anything with her mother.
It took almost five years for Paulina to get up the courage to seek the advice of her priest. She met privately with the senior priest of her church and told him of her pain. And when she finished he looked at her and asked one question. “Why is it that you have only one child?”
Five years. Courage came to Paulina in five year cycles. Paulina confronted Alex on her thirtieth birthday. She threatened to leave. He promised to be a better husband. She quickly forgave. He quickly regressed.
Alex and Paulina had a clear division of labor in their household. Alex’s job was to give the orders. Paulina’s job was to follow the orders and, when possible, anticipate his every wish and whim in advance.
The fight at thirty-five lasted a whole day. Paulina managed to not talk to Alex for a whole week sometime near Christmas 2007. Paulina was ready to move on, start over, be free. She and the kids. No Alex. It would take years to build up to the moment. She would wage her best battle. But Alex knew how to drag her back in.
We all have fought the Balrog. We have struggled to escape the spouse, job, parent, sibling, or even city and just when we think we’ve done it, we feel that whip wrap around our knees and drag us back into the abyss. But the solution isn’t to give up. The solution is to never accept that we are held captive by our personal Balrog.
Gandalf the Grey reappears later in the Lord of the Rings as Gandalf the White.
Paulina, now a little over 50, has an attorney. The court date is in mid-August.
Sunrise, sunset. Another day has come and gone laying waste to the conceit of Repeal and Replace. There has never been an alternative plan to provide access and payment for healthcare. There was no other option for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It is now apparent that the only unifying Republican ideology was their hatred for Obama. For seven plus years the Republicans in the House, Senate, Statehouses, and most importantly, on TV, have cynically stoked the twin fires of ignorance and resentment. And now they are forced to stop fanning the flames and search for a solution. They are failing.
A large part of the problem is that their base believed them. I was amazed how many of my staunchest Republicans saved money because of the PPACA. There was the unsuccessful professional with a passel of kids who, thanks to the Medicaid expansion, was finally able to afford healthcare for the entire family. There was the self-employed businessman who has saved over $1,000 per month since January 2014 when I was able to give him a policy that didn’t ask any health questions. But these and others continue to this very day cursing our previous president and the healthcare plan that bears his name. Why? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
We are being told that Mitch McConnell and Company may still deliver a bill tomorrow even while his medical providers back home in Kentucky beg him to reconsider. I honestly had a higher opinion of the Leader of the Senate’s legislative skills. I thought that he was holding his compromise, 50 vote special, in his back pocket. But I was wrong. He, like President Trump, are more interested in making a deal than they are in guaranteeing that Americans can access and pay for the healthcare they need. And any deal, anything that removes the name Obama from our system, would be a win for them. That appears to be all that matters.
The negotiations are happening right now, not in committee meetings, certainly not in public hearings, but behind locked doors. Will a couple of billion more for opioid addiction bring along Portman (OH) and Capito (WV)? We know that Rand Paul’s (KY) constituency desperately needs the Medicaid expansion. Can it be retained a little longer in a way that he can save face and vote for the bill? And what about Heller (NV)? Will an apology from Trump be enough? Any combination of fifty Republican Senators will do. And then Vice-president Pence will cast the deciding vote on how we structure, or more accurately deconstruct, nearly 20% of our economy.
And the sun will rise and the sun will set. That doesn’t change. It appears that was has changed are our priorities.
I was not expecting the questions. Last year’s health adventure had the side benefit of really interesting conversations. Both friends and acquaintances wanted to know about my near death experience. Several of my Christian friends wanted to know if I was given a glimpse of the Hereafter. Did I see a bright light, the gates to Heaven, possibly You Know Who? Others asked if I reflected on all of my regrets and what I could have done better in my life.
I treated all of these questions seriously, because they reflected the faith and fears of the people who asked them. I didn’t see a welcoming light or reruns of high school and I didn’t hover over the room. I firmly believe that we don’t change as we get older, we just stop hiding who we really are. Me? I am an analytical, Point A to Point B kind of guy. Only one thought occurred to me as I was lying in that room listening to the doctors failing to stop my bleeding and control my vitals. “These guys have a real problem. How can I help them?’
My questioners were uniformly disappointed.
* * * * *
I was in the hospital for a week and at home for ten days before I got behind the wheel. My first drive was to the store. I was like a sixteen year old looking for any excuse to take a ride. I needed some shampoo. It didn’t matter. I was just thrilled to have the keys in my hand.
My daughter wanted to know how I would commemorate the one year anniversary of my surgeries. Jen was anticipating a blog post on April 13th. I told her that I had a more meaningful milepost in mind.
Giant Eagle carried two sizes of the shampoo. The large size, 30 ounces, was a good deal, even better when it was on sale as it was that day. Last May I stood there in the aisle and hesitated. I knew it was just another dollar, but looking at that bottle I wondered if it was a waste of money. That was a lot of shampoo, a lifetime supply. Perhaps someone like me should buy a smaller bottle. In the end I took a leap of faith.
I bought a new bottle of shampoo yesterday.
I spent most of the last two days in Columbus. As many of you know, I go to Washington DC and Columbus to meet with legislators and to get the latest news from the leaders of our industry. We heard from several elected officials, Carrie Haughawout, Deputy Director of the Ohio Department of Insurance, and Miranda Motter, President and CEO of the Ohio Association of Health Plans. As always, Ms. Haughawout’s presentation was worth the drive to Columbus. She is a knowledgeable public servant who truly understands both the mechanics and the politics of providing health insurance coverage to Ohioans.
I had the opportunity to meet with both legislative aides and elected officials. A group of us were scheduled to meet with newly elected David Greenspan of Westlake. Since he was stuck in a committee meeting, we met with his legislative aide, an engaging young man who took good notes and asked better questions. Representative Greenspan got back to his office as we were about to wrap up, and instead of quickly shaking hands and moving on, sat down for a real conversation. He was clear that his biggest concern was “not knowing what I don’t know”. I doubt that Representative Greenspan and I agree on many issues, but I left his office confident that he would work hard to do a good job for his constituents. Is there really anything more we can ask of our elected officials?
I had only been in the car for a few minutes, just on to I 71 but still in Columbus, when the news broke that Trump had fired Comey. Who amongst us doesn’t have mixed emotions about James Comey? Did he cost her the election? Did he save her from a trial and possible worse? He was a hero to some when he slowed certain excesses of the Bush White House. He always struck me as an honorable man who overthought the gig and couldn’t understand why everyone was so upset. So, I don’t mourn the loss of FBI Director James Comey.
Lynyrd Skynyrd released the song Sweet Home Alabama in June 1974, but I had heard it earlier when the band played Adelbert Gym on Case campus that March.
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth.
Sitting on the floor, my freshman year, consumed by the news and the issue, YES, Watergate did bother me. And as per my conscience? Well, I’m Jewish. That whole thing about guilt is played mostly for laughs. And here was a rock band, a really good rock band, pooh-poohing what would be Nixon’s downfall.
Lynyrd Skynyrd wasn’t alone in 1974. There were more than enough parents, teachers, and talking heads on TV suggesting that we get over it and return to other concerns. But for many of us there was something gnawing at the very core of our beings telling us that there was more to Watergate. We were convinced that this challenged our democracy. It seemed as if the U.S. was in the balance.
Driving back from Columbus, switching on the radio from CNN to MSNBC to FOX, waiting to hear the reason (and probably the revised reasons) for this unprecedented move, I no longer thought about my last two days and any progress I may have made on behalf of my clients. What does any of this matter when we may be witnessing the transition to an entirely different type of government, one that no longer worries about the outcome of an investigation but simply eliminates everyone involved? We watch as prosecutors and US attorneys get sacked, as Mitch McConnell runs interference, as the subject constantly changes while the money continues to pour in and wonder if the United States we knew a year ago will be remotely close to the one we’ll have a year from now.
And I started singing Sweet Home Alabama.
A real estate agent was talking with one of her clients:
I won’t look at any house that doesn’t have a pool.
But you don’t swim! I’ve known you since high school. You’re afraid of the water.
True, but I must have a pool.
There is no way that you are going to take care of a pool.
Of course not.
Pool services cost a lot of money.
Yeah. I would never hire one of those.
Then let’s skip the pool and find a home that fits your needs.
NOPE. I won’t look at any house that doesn’t have a pool.
I know what you are thinking: ridiculous. No one would press so hard for something that they really didn’t want and couldn’t imagine using. That’s silly. We are all willing to go to the wall to defend our core values, our families, and our homes, but no one would waste time and energy negotiating something they neither wanted nor needed.
And that brings us to the American Health Care Act (Trumpcare). The link will take you to the actual bill, but not the last minute amendments which have yet to be published three full days after the vote. If that strikes you as odd, then the rest of this is really going to throw you. The Republicans want to assure us that coverage is going to be better, prices are going to be lower, and deductibles are all going to plummet if this bill is signed in its current form. They only went to the wall for the right to eliminate all consumer protections and the illusion of coverage because they needed a new hobby.
The administration’s master of doublespeak is the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price. He was on CNN this morning trying to convince Jake Tapper that less is more. Here is the link. Let’s be clear and state plainly that less is less. We are looking at a significant change in Medicaid funding. Americans earning less than 250% of the federal poverty level will be adversely impacted by cuts in both who may charge for services (Planned Parenthood defunded) and how much money is available to pay for care. The Freedom Caucus Republicans fought hard for the opportunity to eliminate the Essential Health Benefits and the other key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). How will they utilize that victory? What benefits would be eliminated first?
The Los Angeles Times has prepared an excellent comparison of the two laws. This is the link. The original reporting had been done in March. This link has been updated with all available information.
We can create cheaper policies. It isn’t that hard. If we could go back to not covering maternity as part of the policy, if you had to pay more for a policy that covered mental, nervous, and emotional disorders, if we could segregate the unhealthy and unlucky into separate insurance pools from the rest of us, insurers would be able to offer policies that would be a lot less expensive. And if you purchase one of these “skinny” policies and then get sick? Sucks to be you. And more likely, when it turns out that the policy you thought would protect you doesn’t, well you should have read all of the fine print.
I watched the Republicans celebrate an (im)moral victory Thursday afternoon at the White House. They proved that they could pass a bill, any bill, that might kill Obamacare. But it takes a better man than Paul Ryan to kill Obamacare.
My friend Lori has a secret. Yes, I’ve changed her name, otherwise Lori would no longer have a secret and I wouldn’t be much of a friend. So, Lori has a secret.
Lori has owned a small business for most of her twenty-five years in America. She is a proud U.S. citizen. She and her family fled communism for democracy, totalitarian regimes for free elections.
Vladimir Putin and his cronies have been a topic of our conversations for years. She has a healthy concern about his control of Russia and the way his opponents are executed, sometimes in public. She worries about the obvious similarities between Donald Trump and Putin.
Imagine my surprise when she whispered her confession. Lori didn’t vote in November. Couldn’t. Lori had voted in every previous election, but not this one. She was adamantly opposed to Trump. That part was easy. But voting for Hillary Clinton became difficult last year. In January and February she would have been OK with either Bernie or Hillary. Then the stories started. Things got fuzzy. And finally by November she just couldn’t pull the lever for Mrs. Clinton. Another win for the disinformation campaign.
There are lots of Loris. We will never know how many people didn’t vote last November, not because they were barred from the polls but because they were too frustrated / overwhelmed to vote. I don’t know how to measure this. Will Congress be able to determine whether this manipulation of our electoral process was just dumb luck on the part of our adversaries or part of a concerted effort by one of the campaigns? And if they find out, let’s hope they don’t keep it a secret.
No! Members of the Freedom Caucus have declared that they can not / will not vote for Trumpcare. The American Health Care Act. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have declared that the las is DOA. The law fails to adhere close enough to Conservative Orthodoxy. Senators such as Rob Portman (R-OH), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and others that represent states that expanded Medicaid worry that too many Americans will lose coverage.
Based on public pronouncements, you might think that Trumpcare, the bill Paul Ryan is rushing through Congress, is about to be defeated. Don’t count on it. The ACHA ain’t dead yet.
The American Health Care Act has certain built-in advantages.
- The Republicans truly hate Barack Obama, so much so that cutting off their noses to spite their collective faces has become a way of life. They have spent seven years nursing this hatred of Obamacare. Their base has failed to understand that Obamacare is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act!
- Obamacare needs significant changes.
- President Trump has no interest or patience for details.
- The Republicans have been campaigning against entitlements for 80 years. Social Security. Medicare. Medicaid. With the exception of Medicare Part D (Rx), they have consistently fought against all federal programs that provided for the poor, the sick, or the elderly.
But the real TRUMP card is the power of the presidency.
Let’s go back to February 2010. The PPACA was on the ropes. Dennis Kucinich (Iconoclast – OH) was suddenly very important. He was threatening to vote NO, even if he was the deciding vote. He swore that he wouldn’t approve any law that failed to include a public option. Was the law changed to meet his demands? No. All it took was a ride on Air Force One to sway Congressman Kucinich.
There will be a lot of chest beating, threats, and grandstanding this week. But it is too early to buy the urn. Trumpcare is not dead yet.
There were five words that we never wanted to hear. I have to wash my hair. It was the ultimate insult. Dating, at least back when I was in high school, was a process. We, the boys, called the girls for a date. There were no guarantees. First, you got up your courage. One friend used to put on cologne. And then you made the call. Sometimes the answer was YES. Sometimes it wasn’t. But the cruelest response was the dreaded I have to wash my hair. It was a terrible excuse.
Today I was given the second worst excuse. This is the actual email:
Thank you for your interest in our Breakfast Meeting with Congressman Joyce to have taken place on Friday, March 3rd.
I’m sorry to inform you that the event has been canceled due to dental issues that our Congressman is experiencing at this time. We more than likely will not be rescheduling this breakfast meeting during 2017 but hope to put this event on our 2018 calendar.
If you have paid for the event you can expect to see a refund from our office.
Thank you and I apologize for any inconvenience.
Linda Reed Executive Director
Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce
It appears that this is a terrible toothache. It is scheduled to last until 2018 when Congressman Joyce is up for reelection. A client, a dentist, was in my office when this came. She laughed and laughed.
I was in Washington DC to meet with members of Congress about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Over a thousand insurance agents were there to deliver a simple message, Market Stability. We were welcomed by some of our elected officials and ignored by others.
One morning Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) addressed our group. To be clear, I disagree with Mr. Kelly on almost every major issue. He talked about the Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership, started by his father, which he owns in Butler, a small town in western Pennsylvania. And as he discussed the difficulty of meeting payroll and the importance of employer provided health insurance, I realized that this man possessed great empathy. And that is our word for the day – Empathy.
Empathy allows you to not only hear the concerns and problems of others, but to actually give a damn. Empathy rounds the sharp edges of ideology. Empathy may be the first step towards finding a solution that serves more needs than just your own.
Empathy is not universal, even in the halls of Congress. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (A Better Way) and Representative Mark Sanford (The Appalachian Trail) are touting Obamacare replacements that disconnect health insurance from employment. Like plans from some representatives from Texas, their plans would limit, and eventually eliminate, the employer exclusion, the ability of employers to deduct health insurance premiums. The majority of privately insured Americans (non-government) get their coverage at work. This could negatively impact a lot of people. But would it hurt a Congressman from Texas or South Carolina?
According to the U.S Census Bureau, Texas still leads the country with the highest percentage of uninsureds. Texas was down to 17% in 2015. South Carolina, thanks in part to Obamacare, is down to 11%. You might think that these elected officials would be trying to make coverage easier to get, not harder. You’d be wrong.
** ** ** ** ** **
The client wanted to talk. In truth, he is a nice guy who attends Mass daily and means well. And he was in pain. Sitting in my office yesterday, Anthony told me about his sister, now in her late fifties, who once had an abortion. He told me about his brother who is gay. And he told me that even though they were all close growing up in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, neither of them are talking to him since the election. At first they only wanted to argue with him over his support for Trump. And now they aren’t talking at all. They didn’t even come over for Christmas. Sure, in his heart of hearts, Tony is convinced that they (and me) are doomed to eternal suffering in the pits of Hell, but he couldn’t understand why his brother and sister would no longer spend time with him. Perhaps it was the constant judgement. Maybe it was the fact that he refused to accept that there were other options. Or it could be his lack of empathy. And Empathy was the word for the day.
Republican friends used to complain about the liberal hatred of President George Bush. Not me, per se, but Liberals. They would point to Molly Ivins’ book, Shrub, and accuse all Democrats of blinding hate. The funny thing was that I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone that hated George Bush. Don’t get me wrong, I knew/know lots of people who didn’t respect him and plenty of people who questioned his intellect, preparation, and even his 2000 election. But hate? No. George Bush wasn’t big enough to hate. You could dismiss him and vehemently disagree with every decision he/Cheney made, but you couldn’t hate him.
And then we got President Barack Obama. And with him we got a true understanding of the word hate. Many of my friends and readers have spent the last eight years referring to the sitting president as Hooosein, Obummer, and worse. Actually much worse. Nice people, educated people, people who should KNOW BETTER questioned every aspect of the man and his family. We seldom saw anyone attempt to debate policy. Instead there was a barrage of insults dealing with religion, gender, species, loyalties, and education. And it has not ended. Just a few weeks ago Trump ally and former New York gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, proved again the ugliness of pure hatred.
I noticed how hatred consumes people. By the way, please don’t point to the Republicans in Congress like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and say that they have profited by their hatred of Barack Obama. Grow up. McConnell and Ryan don’t hate Obama. They are just two of the most incredibly cynical, intellectually dishonest people to have ever roamed the halls of Congress. This is all a game to them. And riling up the masses is just one more move on the chessboard. They don’t hate, but maybe some of you do.
I watched people that started every conversation by cursing Barack Obama. It became their entire focus. Every Facebook post and every tweet was just one more insult normally drawn from an unending source of memes from places that seemed familiar. And when their friends pointed out that the story or picture was fake, they became defensive. “Who is Snopes to say that this is false?” And as friends, family, and business associates abandoned them they sought solace among those who harbored the same hatred. And it fed upon itself and just increased their alienation.
And now we have President Trump.
Salena Zito of The Atlantic covered a Donald Trump speech in September. After a particularly fact-challenged presentation she noted:
It’s a familiar split. When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
And we were all wrong. We needed to take Donald Trump both literally and seriously. As Saturday proved, more than a few people have decided that what he plans to do and the team he is assembling are not what we had anticipated. Less than a week into the Trump presidency and I have already seen hate. IT IS TOO EARLY FOR HATE. We cannot let ourselves get dragged into that hole.
- Fight for your values.
- Stand up for your beliefs.
- Argue policy.
- Challenge the politicians and ignore the wife and 10 year old. Really, if he is half the jerk you think he is, they are already paying a ridiculous price.
It has only been a few days. We are going to need to organize. We are going to need to find real leaders, preferably under age 60, to right this ship. Every moment given to Mr. Trump’s ego and small crowds is a moment given to the Ryan / McConnell legislative agenda. We don’t have the time or luxury for emotional outbursts. And we don’t need to be consumed by hate.