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.
2016 is finally in our rearview mirror. It is time to crown the new winner of my quadrennial contest, Everyone’s A Genius In Hindsight. A quick recap – You were given the chance to impress your friends and wow your coworkers by predicting the outcomes of major contests in 2016. This year’s version included:
- The Republican presidential nominee
- The winner of the presidential election
- The winner of the Ohio Senate race
- The Super Bowl winner
- The number on Indians regular season wins
- The number of Browns wins
- The Academy Award for best picture
- The Dow Jones closing on December 30th
- The number of Supreme Court justices at year’s end
- The price of a gallon of milk mid-summer
As always, there are far more pundits, market timers, and general know-it-alls than participants. I had 18 brave souls volunteer to lose the right to claim that they were not surprised by any of the shocking events of 2016.
This is a lot harder than it looks. Don’t believe me? How many can you answer now? The average contestant got two right. Two! No one correctly predicted the Super Bowl winner. And the closest answer for the number of Browns victories was the 4 that several of us guessed. I always include the Supreme Court question as an homage to Broadcast News. Four of us correctly guessed that we would only have 8 justices at the end of 2016. We might have 10 by the end of 2017.
Jim and Karl had the Dow at 19,500 and almost everyone thought that Rob Portman would be reelected. Only Sally had the Indians winning over 90 regular season games. She also had Trump as the nominee. Sally and four others tied for second at 3 correct. Allison won the tie breaker.
Our winner, and new champ, not only predicted that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, she was also the only contestant to pick him to win in November. Our winner also was also one of the three who expected Spotlight to with the Academy Award. The winner is TASHA!
For the purposes of full disclosure I also had four – Portman, Browns, Supreme Court, and the price of milk, but I can’t win my own contest. I hope that those who played (whether or not you submitted an entry) had fun and that more of you will consider participating three years from now.
And the tie breaker, what is Jack’s profession in the song Sweet Jane? Now Jack, he is a banker, but you knew that.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017. 4 AM
Pres. Jr. now on the board of American Widget. Super Innovative. Boeing should pay attention. @realPresidentTrump
The morning shows dutifully reported President Trump’s latest Tweet a few hours later. They did this daily. The usual lawyers, pundits, and good government types bemoaned the obvious conflicts of interest. Speaker of the House Ryan issued a terse, “No Comment”. Senator McConnell just laughed as he walked past the press pool. The markets didn’t move. American Widget’s stock went up the week before when it had been announced that Donald Trump Jr. had been appointed to the board. This morning’s Tweet had been anticipated. A Boeing spokesperson announced that the company would be meeting with American Widget within the next week. “Promise!”
Friday, May 12, 2017. 3:45 AM
Jerold’s new catering company, Kushner Katering- HUGE! All of the embassies of our TRUE Friends love him. @realPresidentTrump
The repetitive nature of the reporting and the banality of the heavy-handed self-dealing became nothing more than background noise. All visiting dignitaries stayed at the Washington Trump Hotel. Attendees at White House dinners all seemed to wear Ivanka’s jewelry, many purchasing the pieces directly from her. It is all transparent. It is all out in the open. We have surrendered the public good for a very, very limited private good.
Oh yes, I am tired of winning.
We were told that the Trump presidency would operate in this fashion. The Democrats warned us prior to the election. The Republicans celebrated it after. Sean Spicer, the National Spokesman for the Republican National Party, noted in early December that Trump would be the very model of transparency.
“Conflicts of interest arise when you’re sneaky about it, when you’re shady about it. If you tell everyone, here’s what’s going on, here’s the process, here’s the people who are playing a role, that’s being transparent.”
And that is my problem. I keep thinking that it is 2017, and it isn’t. We are living in New York City. The year is 1905 and we are under the thumb of Tammany Hall. Sean Spicer was providing the up to date definition of Honest Graft. Donald Trump is the ultimate George Washington Plunkitt. Welcome to the Trump Kleptocracy.
There was talk prior to the election that Trump admired Putin. Who knew that it was Putin’s ability to enrich himself at his people’s expense that Trump envied?
Joe Jackson gave us a song about immortality. In The Man Who Wrote Danny Boy, the artist doesn’t try to make a pact with the devil to live forever, but to achieve immortality through his music, to be remembered forever. We lost two artists in the last week who had achieved that immortality, two mortals who will live forever.
In this week of loss I found myself comforted by the music of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell. And covers. Gosh I have heard more Leonard Cohen covers in the last week than one normally experiences in an average year. And each was better than the last. The most notable may be the Kate McKinnon cathartic rendition of “Hallelujah”. My favorite has been Daniel Kahn’s version in Yiddish. I’ve listened to it daily.
And Leon? It is difficult to grasp how important Leon Russell was to popular culture over the last 50 years. He played with everyone. But a melody? Listen to David Sanborn and George Benson as each perform Leon’s “This Masquerade”. For many of us though, Leon doing Leon was always the best.
This is a post about covers and music that will live forever. Below are a few of my favorite covers in no particular order. Each honors the original author and yet adds something new and original to the performance. I hope that you will enjoy the links.
All Along The Watchtower The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Rock ‘N’ Roll Detroit
Take Me To The River Talking Heads
Gimme Shelter Grand Funk Railroad
Me and Bobbie McGee Janis Joplin
Lake of Fire Nirvana
Proud Mary Ike and Tina Turner
With a Little Help From My Friends Joe Cocker
Time to recover,