Category Archives: Domestic Issues

Political Redemption and American Salvation

When we redeem an item we purchased, we ask the retailer to take it back. When we seek redemption for ourselves, we ask another to take away our guilt or take back the harm our action(s) may have caused to ourselves or to others. In either case, redemption is not possible unless we ask for it, thereby specifically admitting we need redemption. But our request will not be answered without the expectation of reform. Although politics is not religion, both require an honest assessment of the need for redemption, reform, and a redeeming agent. In the case of religion, we can confess our sins, promise to do better, and ask for God’s forgiveness. In the case of politics, redemption similarly requires an admission of political malfeasance and a proposed plan for reform before asking the electorate for a second chance.

Both political Parties have behaved badly in the past. They have, for example, prevented the very possibility of the compromise required in our bicameral two-party legislative system. The majority Party can bury a bill in committee or limit debate, effectively suppressing the voice of the minority Party. As a result, legislation beneficial to a significant number of people may never come up for a vote. Likewise, the 60-vote rule in the Senate can prevent a bill from being debated or voted on the Senate floor. The immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship is a case in point. It was proposed by President Bush during his second term. But the Democrat controlled Senate never had the opportunity to vote on the bill because not enough Senators joined in the cloture vote on June 27, 2007, to provide the needed 60 votes. During the Obama presidency, the Senate passed a similar immigration reform bill; but it never reached the floor of the Republican controlled House for an up or down vote. In both instances, Congress gave insufficient consideration for whether a majority vote might better serve the general interest of the public. These failures served to perpetuate the many problems associated with undocumented immigrants, including workforce distortions, job inequities, shadow communities, and so on. They are examples of political malfeasance.

At times both Parties have shown themselves incapable of wielding majority power for the greater good. For years I railed against the Democrats for failing to live up to the promise of those civil liberty reforms they won in the sixties. Now I criticize the Republicans who have abandoned the reasoned and pragmatic governance they advocated in the eighties and early nineties. Of course, both Parties argue positions that differ from the other. And those debates are necessary in our republic. But neither should ignore the need to address the issues that concern and divide the nation as a whole: two decades of stagnate middle class wages and an inadequate minimum wage; rising healthcare costs (at a lower rate since the ACA, but still rising faster than inflation); wealth and opportunity inequality; unaffordable higher education; criminal justice inequalities; and the subversion of the plebiscite by money and political malpractice, including gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, lobbyist controlled agendas, and extravagantly financed campaigns committed more to propaganda than ideas.

Since 2009 Republicans have been caricatured as the “Party of No.” During the Obama Presidency, congressional Republicans initially opposed the President’s proposals for a trillion-dollar stimulus bill to counter the Great Recession before they eventually agreed to an amount comparable to President Bush’s bank bailout amount. They declined to ratify the Trans Pacific Trade agreement or even consider funding an infrastructure bank proposal, even though free trade agreements and an infrastructure bank have long been favored by Republicans. They aggressively contended and tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which included the private insurance healthcare exchanges they previously proposed. Although they never supported the ACA’s Medicare bailout or Medicaid expansion, the basic idea behind the bill was initially outlined by the conservative Heritage Foundation and proposed by Senator Dole, a former Republican candidate for President. This failure to act on what Republicans previously believed to be in the best interest of all Americans is what I believe most would term political malfeasance. Moreover, their rationale for this failure is equally suspect: they refused to give a Democratic President any legislative achievements because he was too liberal, too popular, and too likely to be reelected unless they obstructed his every initiative.

There are at least two crimes that are unforgiving in our American system: intolerance of those who are different in kind, belief or ideology; and refusal to serve those universal values enshrined in our founding documents. The former precludes compromise by excluding empathy for others or their perspectives, while the latter demeans our democratic institutions and the very idea of America. That idea is a set of values, specifically, equality, justice, liberty, security, domestic tranquility, and the general welfare. Our Constitution clearly identifies these values as the principles upon which rest the promise of a more perfect union. It does not, however, admit their subversion. When elected officials refuse to vote on legislation that embody these American values, they subvert them and the government they support. Moreover, they are choosing narrowly defined political interests over the general welfare of those who elected them.

Is it any wonder why Congress has such a low approval rating or how gridlock suborns compromise? When intolerance can influence debate over immigration of non-white or non-Christian minorities, have we lost any sense that “all humans are created equal?” When, after 70 years of warnings, Congress is still unable to fortify our infrastructure against increasingly destructive climate cataclysms, have we lost any sense of insuring “domestic tranquility” or promoting “the general welfare?” How can equality and liberty be maintained if healthcare and economic opportunity are preserved only for the privileged and not for every citizen? Long before the modern era, Aristotle recognized that inequality breeds instability. Surely, individual Republicans understand this risk. But they appear to be held hostage to a leadership that supports narrow constituent interests and to a wealthy donor network capable of funding their reelection.

On July 25, Senator McCain delivered a passionate speech on the floor of the Senate in which he urged his fellow Republicans to resume regular order and to work across the aisle with the minority Party. He correctly pointed out that no major legislation, except the ACA, has ever been passed solely on a partisan basis. He urged his Party not to duplicate the process that created the current healthcare system by repealing and replacing it in like manner. His was a landmark speech, not only because of the urgency of the moment, but also because of its potential pivot point in Party redemption. While stating the case for redemption, however, he overlooked the full extent of Republican malfeasance. This current version of Republicanism has taken governance to a new low in its attempt to pass legislation without support of any organization operating within the healthcare system and without concern for the well-being of millions of Americans who would lose healthcare. Of course, Republican Party leadership is still smarting about how the ACA was voted into existence on a partisan basis. Their resentment is palpable. But they fail to acknowledge, as McCain intimated with his insistence on regular order, that every constituent and legislator was given the opportunity to contribute to the ACA, including 26 days of floor debates, committee mark-ups, and over 100 Republican amendments. Earlier Republican obstructionism now has morphed into Republican circumvention of regular order and, more significantly, into a disregard for the health and well-being of the people they were elected to serve.

Precisely because Republicans have control over all branches of government, we must demand that they acknowledge Congressional failures, reform their positions, and seek political redemption. Could there be a more appropriate time for a political party to govern wisely and responsibly in the interest of all Americans? As the lyricist says, “the times they are a’changing.” Not since Andrew Johnson have we had a President so antagonistic to the American system of government and so out of tune with the will of a majority of the electorate. While judges can stop criminal or unconstitutional actions of this Administration, only members of Congress can initiate laws that can curb or limit the powers of the President or even override his vetoes, if necessary, in the interest of serving the general welfare.

Senator McCain has created an historical opening for the majority Party to subordinate their ideological and tribal conceits to the greater good of working for the general welfare of all Americans. And, of course, the minority Party will have little or no leeway to do otherwise. The beneficiary will be the American people. As McCain reminded us, no important legislation—whether it address healthcare, tax reform, infrastructure, or authorization to use military force—should be passed without bipartisan support. America’s biggest failure in this regard resulted in a Civil War. Before his death, Senator John C. Calhoun foretold the possibility of a secession he did not support. Secession would be inevitable, he feared, if he could no longer negotiate compromises on the admission of slave states. Today, failure of our elected representativeness to work together promotes the same divisiveness and can lead to a similar breakdown in our union. As this administration attempts to weaken many of our democratic institutions, America cannot withstand gridlock or Republican pique in the legislative branch of our government. We should not conclude America immune to what the Germans experienced in the 1930s under one-party rule (Gleichschaltung).

Obstructionism is obviously not a good recipe for governance in a democracy. But, at times, it can become a statement of principle. And therein lies a deeper problem that more accurately mirrors Calhoun’s dilemma. Compromise becomes impossible when it involves principled positions. Calhoun believed just as firmly in the superiority of the white race and the beneficent administration of slavery as the Republicans today believe that the Federal government should neither dictate healthcare policy to the states nor tax the wealthy to support lower income citizens’ healthcare needs. Although still dealing with the aftermath of slavery, most Americans now accept that the principle, “all men are (indeed) created equal,” defines race prejudice as morally wrong. Today Americans are faced with the advent of a new principle: healthcare is a right for everyone, not a privilege reserved for the few who can afford it. (Reference, “The Republican Path to Healthcare.”) When the American people adopt a principle, they clearly give direction to their representatives. In any democracy, opposing the majority is futile. Calhoun, a Democrat, did not live to see the outcome of his obstinacy. But this current version of Republicanism promises us that we will.

Every two years Americans vote for the future they want for our nation. Between those Federal elections, we trust our elected representatives to serve the values we share as a constitutional democracy governed by rule of law. That trust is violated when they fail to serve those values, choose not to govern, or, more pointedly, redirect the anger their political malfeasance triggered towards their political opponents. It is time for the Republican Party to reform itself. In the political arena, admission of error may appear to be suicidal. But courage requires such admission when a greater good is sought, such as the welfare of all Americans. Whether it is healthcare, equality, justice, security, or the fair conduct of elections, no elected official should act without regard for the people he or she is elected to serve. Political redemption for the Republicans begins with a change of direction. That change will be sufficient admission of past malfeasance. For example, it must entail support of the ACA exchanges and cessation of attacks on its subsidies, funding, and operational support. Why not act to make the American healthcare system better—worthy of regard rather than ridicule? And, furthermore, why not stand up to a President that diminishes American institutions and our status in the world rather than emboldening him by an obsequious silence?

I would prefer to see the Republican Party aligned with Americans on values, rather than by inflaming their anger. I would prefer they debate the Democrats on policy without misrepresenting facts and those principled values enshrined in or inspired by our Constitution. I would applaud any Congress—whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats—that would curb or even censure President Trump for his spiteful, divisive words and actions that spur anger, confusion, and repulsion amongst Americans and our allies throughout the world. The Republican controlled Congress can still rescue us from President Trump’s dark vision of our country: “America doesn’t win anymore”; “our allies are taking advantage of us”; “the American dream is dead”; and “only I can save it.” His words recall the trope of certain twentieth century dictators rather than his prescribed role in a tripartite government as a President committed to the ideals of a democratic republic. Much worse, his actions are already threatening the healthcare of millions, destabilizing our alliances around the world, provoking antagonisms with armed adversaries, and steering Federal departments away from their stated goals into possibly irreversible dysfunction.

In other words, I encourage Republicans to live up to their conservative heritage and to preserve those values that have made America great. We are a nation inspired by ideals and motivated by the courage to act on them. Those ideals and courage can and will earn Republicans political redemption. The majority Party needs to govern in the interest of the majority. By redeeming itself, the Party will redeem Republicanism, win over the electorate, and defend the republic from future foreign influence campaigns or opportunistic demagogues. If political redemption can save democracy, then America will be saved.

Life and Love

Why?

I wake up in the morning. Stirring under the covers, I turn my head and look out my bedroom window. There I see the cottonwood tree rustling in the morning breeze. It welcomes me to a new day—and my life.

But what is my life? Why am I here? And why am I conscious of that fact? These questions can seem unanswerable, even suggestive of underlying, unsolvable mysteries.

All religions help us with these questions. They show us how to deal with the mysteries of our lives; how to relate to what is intrinsically undefinable; and how to live in the womb of that mystery. We call the most basic mystery of all, God. Our relation to God we call worship, which is a sublime form of love. Embraced in the warmth of that relation, we feel grateful, reborn, and inspired to live worthy of experiencing that mystery. Our rebirth gives meaning to our individual lives and motivates us to share our experience of love with others. The wellspring of that rebirth is our relation to the unknowable source of our very being. And its motivating power is love.

It is only when we strip our lives down to this basic relation—to love—that we begin to realize what we share with all humans—what makes us fundamentally human. The essence of human adaptability amidst countless species’ extinctions and planetary cataclysms is the will not just to survive, but to preserve that basic relation both for our fellow human beings and for our posterity. We want to preserve what makes us human and, thereby, to preserve our families, our communities, our culture, and our civilizations.

The one obstacle to the preservation of our common humanity is the individual who fails to discover the motivating force of love. That force is only an inborn potential in individuals whose exposure to human love is limited or non-existent. But compassion, empathy, and expressions of human warmth can rekindle love’s power in others. Gratitude, for example, is not just a response to love, but can be a renewing power that also triggers love towards others. Think of the gratitude of an orphan adopted into a loving family, or of a wounded soldier rescued under fire by a comrade, or of tragedies’ victims nursed back to health and safety by caretakers. Though we nurture our humanity in home and communities, we can also regenerate it in life changing events.

Our nation faces many divisive forces, both within and without. For us to form a “more perfect union,” we must dedicate ourselves not only to the values expressed in our Constitution but to the motivating power of love. Today, we see an outpouring of that love in Las Vegas, as well as in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas. First responders, caregivers, charitable donors, and victims came together not only by sharing their anguish and pain but also their compassion and empathy. They shared the power of love.

In this moment, our nation can enliven our common humanity and the motivating force behind the human values formalized in our democracy. “Justice and liberty for all” is both our pledge of allegiance and an expression of our love for one another. It is a vow to preserve our community and our nation. We must resist those power seekers who value their personal status over the nation’s well-being. They lack empathy and seek justice and liberty for the few rather than “for all.” If we are going to preserve the many expressions of our founding principles in our institutions and norms of behavior, then we must rededicate ourselves to each other and the principled basis of our national union. We must love and respect each other.

Somewhere in Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” I remember reading his prognosis that Americans were better than their leaders. Unfortunately, I can no longer find the context nor verify the accuracy of my memory. Nevertheless, I cannot attribute this prognosis to myself, but can only agree with it. If we are to preserve our union, we, as individual citizens, must constantly renew what binds us together. Our leaders may at times fall to those human vices born of ego, power and money. But, in our democracy, it is the citizen who holds the ultimate power. We renew that power every day when we express the mutual respect and love we share for each other and for our democratic institutions. Many have shown the way. But real change starts with each and every individual. America, then, depends on all of us.

Why not?

What is Politically Correct?

On August 14th, our President gave the most politically correct speech since he came into office. And it violated the most sacred promise of his candidacy in a feeble attempt to adhere to his oath of office. How so? To answer this question, I must review the President’s several remarks on the Charlottesville protests, the relevance of political correctness to duplicity, and the words of George Harrison.

Let’s begin with the President’s remarks on the violent clash between opposing demonstrations in Charlottesville. Initially, he condemned the violence “on many sides,” implying two equal parties in the clash. Of course, when only one side comes armed for battle, it is hard to make the case that both sides had either the intent or the expectation of a violent encounter. Moreover, when only one side displays signs and banners with hateful and provocative language, it is impossible to misinterpret their presumptive meaning. And, finally, if only one side is led by bigoted organizations and racists leaders, it is doubtful that the impetus for protest was anything other than hate, anger, and an eagerness for violence. The history of the Neo-Confederates, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan admits no other interpretation. It has been proposed that the President’s initial remarks were “ad lib” and pertained to violent ideologs of all kinds. But he was specifically addressing the violence in Charlottesville. His statement created a false equivalency between a gang of racist, bigoted thugs and anti-bias, initially peaceful counter-protesters. In effect, he was excusing the instigators of the resulting violence. But, two days later, he read a statement that corrected the implications of this initial statement. He denounced the instigators by name and called the country to join him in renouncing racism and violence and to come together in mutual respect and love. Previously, as the President Elect, he would have called this statement “politically correct.”

But Donald Trump’s supporters have always loved him for being “politically incorrect,” which they interpreted as “speaking his mind.” They were never offended by his off-the-cuff remarks, even when he was crass and offensive. On many occasions, he showed his ignorance of American history, government, and founding documents. Nevertheless, his supporters found no fault in his pursuit of the highest office in the land. They loved the fact that he might shake up the smug elites that showed little regard for their welfare. Perhaps mindful of these supporters, the President sounded a different tone the following day, reverting to his initial pronouncement on the Charlottesville tragedy, calling out both sides for their part in the violence. Perhaps he was incensed by the criticism hurled at him—that he took too long to condemn the perpetrators or that his “second take” failed to disassociate them from his supporters. Whatever his motivation, he clearly reestablished his credentials as “politically incorrect.” But, on this occasion, he went much further.

Both in his recent West Virginia rally and in his Charlottesville commentary, President Trump has taken his “politically incorrect” brand to a very un-American place. Until now, no American President has incited insurrection, as he did in West Virginia, or a counter revolution against American values, as he did in his assessment of the Charlottesville violence. He may have begun his campaign for the White House with dubious facts and duplicitous intent. But his attempt to legitimize a hateful, violence-prone protest that resulted in the death of one and injury to many reveals more than the incorrectness of his political persona. It reveals his character: it reveals him.

Why would anyone in politics want to be “politically incorrect?” Most, if not all, politicians attempt to be politically correct in the sense that they try to follow certain norms of behavior and speech that are not offensive to prospective constituents. The problem, of course, is that they do not always live up to those norms and can be duplicitous in behavior, speech, or both. Webster defines “duplicity” as “the belying of one’s true intensions by deceptive words or actions.” But before condemning all politicians as duplicitous, it should be noted that the perception of political correctness may not equate to duplicity. For example, is it duplicitous for a politician to pivot away from a question that might reveal ignorance, a partially formed and still unsubstantiated opinion, an untoward attack on a rival, or a premature announcement of a controversial position? In this instance, even Cicero would probably term this reticence as the art of a practiced politician. Avoiding a question is not necessarily the “belying of one’s true intensions.” It may show no more than being unprepared to give a lucid answer, or being wary of displaying stupidity, flippancy, offensiveness, or unnecessary controversy. Being politically correct can be how a politician maintains credibility with supporters. It may also illustrate how a politician can self-edit his/her words to win trust without offending others or exposing personal deficiencies and prejudices. This form of political correctness is often irritating, but it is seldom considered surprising or intolerable to voters. In an ideal world, as Senator Al Franken recently attested, “when asked a question, I was taught to answer it directly.” Imagine a world where our politicians felt they had the license to say, “I don’t know” or “I have to study the issues before I can give an honest opinion.” That world would leave no room for pivots or the doubletalk of taglines, spin, or “Party-line messaging.” Nevertheless, the clarity of that world would not distinguish political correctness from incorrectness. And the absence of clarity, as in a pivot, does not necessarily imply an absence of honesty or deception. It may be neutral and not, by definition, duplicitous. Therefore, how did it become identified pejoratively as “politically correct,” paradoxically implying duplicitous.

“Belying” involves intentional lying and using “deceptive words or actions” to justify the lie and disguise intent. For example, when a politician claims that undocumented immigrants are responsible for increased crime and job losses, he is misrepresenting facts to scare supporters and win their trust. He convinces them that only he can protect them by building a 2,000-mile impassable border wall. This misrepresentation of his intent and facts is an example of duplicity. Precisely because he makes “political correctness” a phony code word for duplicity in others, he becomes the poster child for the “political correctness” he so abhors. Nevertheless, Donald Trump claims the moniker of being “the most politically incorrect.” His claim, ironically, enhances his brand as a truth telling non-politician. But the only truth in his claim is that he is not a politician, for he is a lying demagogue. As such, he lies and distorts facts to create an illusion that supports his positions. Then he mislabels terms like “political correctness” to suit his purpose and create a scornful tagline for his supporters to use against his opponents. For example, the intent of his border wall proposal was to use fear and anger to convince voters that only he could save them from crazed hordes of undocumented immigrants. What this example from the last election clearly demonstrates is that the term “politically correct” is not well understood. Paradoxically, Donald Trump could proclaim as a virtue his so-called “political incorrectness” while displaying the worst example of what he decried as “political correctness.” While it is true that politicians have at times been guilty of duplicity, they are not politically “correct” as a result. A demagogue, by contrast, engages almost exclusively in duplicity. It is his stock and trade, though universally abhorrent in politics. But in the hands of a demagogue, its use can yet win the favor and support of an electorate unmindful of his lies.

History has never been kind to demagogues. Eventually, it exposes their lies. Regardless of how expressively or emotionally they proclaim their cause, their self-serving intent and deceptive self-justifications expose who they are. What others may mistakenly witness as authentic is just a glittering shell hiding a deep insecurity. That shell is the demagogues’ illusion that exists only as long as it can dupe a befuddled public with its brilliance. Their rhetoric, power, wealth, or status may cultivate the illusion. But, at their core, they lack the altruism gene. Demagogues are deficient in the honesty, integrity and selflessness we generally ascribe to character. They are just empty shells.

Once we see through a demagogue’s façade, it becomes impossible to believe in his words or connect with him as a person. When President Trump created the illusion of a false equivalency between repugnant racists and counter protestors—that is, between hate spewing bigots and their egalitarian opponents—he revealed his innermost self. He shattered the self-image he continually projects of the competent business man and “great deal maker” possessed of a “great mind” who “alone can make America great again.” Instead, we see the President as an imposter who is unable to support America’s 241 years effort to adhere to its founding principle that “all men are created equal.” How can we expect him to govern “with liberty and justice for all,” “to insure domestic tranquility,” and “promote the general welfare?” The divisiveness of his remarks in West Virginia and unsettling mischaracterization of the Charlottesville tragedy make it impossible for him to bring the country together or perform his Constitutional obligation “to form a more perfect union.” His words belie our trust.

Language is how we communicate and, more specifically, how we connect with each other. It is impossible to share our thoughts without a shared, mutually understood vocabulary. By contrast, this President spews diatribe, brands opponents with monikers like “lyin’ Ted” or “crooked Hillary,” and now disingenuously invents an “alt-left” as the scoundrels who attacked the good people who marched with the Neo-Nazis. His intent is not to share information or insights. His words serve only his interest, which is propaganda, not communication. Moreover, he does not share the life experience of most Americans. He was born into wealth and lives in a gilded tower. He finds it difficult to relate to subordinates who are not sycophants. He is incapable of projecting into our space, of connecting with our lives, our struggle for equality, or our historical heritage of diversity. But that disconnect is still not the most fundamental issue. The problem is that he is both our duly elected President and an alien in our midst. As Senator Coburn recently stated, “he does not understand the character of our nation.” His world is a self-reflecting shell that makes it impossible for him to relate to the experience of others—to immigrants, Muslims, the civil servants of the “deep state,” America’s allies, the press, elected officials who disagree with him, including fellow Republicans, and his own staff whom he regularly berates or fires. How could he be expected to empathize with his fellow Americans, even those who voted for him?

Frankly, it is sad to see a man so insecure in his own skin and so inept at normal human relationships. I can only pray that Congress will relieve him of his misery and us of his Presidency. Until then, we must try to maintain the values that define America and hold us together as one country. We cannot trust a President who speaks those values from a script while simultaneously stating his disbelief in them under the euphemism of being “politically incorrect.” Nor can we trust that his life’s experience overlaps with ours or that we can connect with him on any basic human level. He has not shown any evidence of personal empathy with others. As George Harrison explained in one of his lyrics:

“About the space between us all
And the people
Who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth…

We’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you.”

A Showman Stages an Accidental War

We just passed a significant date in U.S. history: August 7, 1964, the beginning of the Vietnam War. On that date, Congress enacted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the President to conduct military action against North Vietnam. Congress acted quickly in response to the now infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident that allegedly occurred on August 4. Just two days before, there had been an exchange of fire between the USS Maddox and North Vietnamese patrol torpedo boats. On that occasion, the Maddox determined that the approaching patrol boats were threatening and unintentionally initiated the battle with warning shots across the bow. That warning, regrettably, was misinterpreted. The patrol boats launched torpedoes and were summarily destroyed or damaged. But the stage was set for the phantom attack on August 4, its erroneous report, and the resulting Congressional authorization to begin the Vietnam War.

I was caught up in that war. For many years, I suppressed its memory until I finally decided to confront the shadow that lurked deep in my soul. The novel that resulted from that decision— “A Culpable Innocence”—was a work of historical fiction, researched from many historical accounts and declassified documents. My research uncovered two startling facts. The first I just recounted: the incident that started the war never occurred. The second was the 1952 Geneva Treaty that called for an end to the Vietnamese-French conflict and a national election to presage a peaceful transfer of power to a reunified Vietnam. Although America negotiated this treaty, at the last minute the Eisenhower Administration pulled out of the agreement. The American government betrayed its own diplomatic effort to unify Vietnam and effectively laid the groundwork for the war that ensued.

Today, America just won a resounding diplomatic victory in the United Nations Security Council where all 15 participants voted to impose severe sanctions on North Korea for its continuing development of nuclear weapons and their ICBM delivery system. But instead of supporting this diplomatic breakthrough, the President seems intent on sabotaging it by inciting the North Korean leader into a war of threats and bluster: in the President’s own words, “fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen.” As a result, Kim Jong-un has responded by putting cruise missiles on patrol boats and by announcing an August 15 missile launch aimed in the direction of Guam. If he does so, how will America respond to a missile landing at or near one of its military bases. Even if the missile landed 300 miles away from Guam, how would the American military determine its intended target after traveling nearly 3,000 miles? Or how would America respond to a cruise missile shot across the bow of an American destroyer? What could possibly go wrong?

We lost more than 58,000 soldiers and over 250,000 wounded veterans in Vietnam. We killed over a million enemy soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). (Casualty figures for the NVA are not available since American combatants left only the dead behind.) If we now shortcut our diplomatic efforts with threats of “fire and fury” and stumble into a war over a chance or mistaken encounter, the result would make the Vietnam casualty figures appear miniscule. We have some 20,000+ American troops on the border facing a million-man army. There are ten times that number of American civilians living in South Korea, mostly in Seoul, only 60 miles from about a thousand enemy howitzers. Within 14 minutes, those howitzers would begin to rain shells on Seoul. Hundreds of thousand could die under that bombardment. If Kim Jong-un decided to use his nuclear arsenal, millions could die. Of course, North Korea would be devastated. There are some 70 trident missiles lurking offshore in American submarines. The President just ordered B1 bombers to Guam and already has authorized their flights offshore of North Korea. Even if these flights remain over international waters, they will challenge North Korea to shoot down an American military plane–as they have done in the past.

Listen, America, the President is not just threatening a nuclear holocaust, he is readying for a nuclear war.

Confronted with this possibility, the President just said, “it’s better we fight them over there, than here (a paraphrase).” How do you think our South Korean and Japanese allies feel about his priorities? If his real intent is just to distract Americans from the Russian collusion investigation or win public support for defending America from an insane dictator, then Congress should begin impeachment proceedings as soon as possible. If, instead, he believes North Korea presents an immediate and serious threat to the homeland, then he needs to present facts and figures to Congress and the American people to support his bellicosity. I am no military expert, but cruise missiles on patrol boats do not seem like much of a threat to the counter measures built into our Navy ships. And long-range missiles with no fins seem unlikely to hit any intended target thousands of miles away – except by accident.

Simply put, are we overreacting to ridiculous provocations? And to what purpose is the President rallying Americans with his war cry? If he undercuts his Administration’s attempts at diplomacy and blunders into a war, he will likely become the first wartime President in history to be impeached. But even his impeachment could never undo the shadow he would cast over future American generations.

World leaders are beginning to criticize our President for his language and warlike posture. Perhaps his supporters will applaud the emotions he elicits with his hyperbolic rhetoric. On whatever stage he occupies, he is ever the entertainer. But as a President on the international stage, he casts a very dark shadow. What happens when the curtain comes down on his circus act? He may be ludicrous and the gist of satire. But the flipside of the dark humor he inspires is a sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach. That feeling is repulsion—a mixture of anxiety, disgust, and moral outrage.

America desperately needs a real President, not a showman. Let’s remove this showman from the world stage before he brings the curtain down on an apocalyptic climax.

The Twistcon’s Collaboration with the Senate

Savvy, the Twistcon’s AI, has just interviewed several Administration operatives for the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Committee decided to employ Savvy after witnessing its success in a recent interview with the President. The following is a transcript of the interview:

Chairman: (sound of a gavel strike) This Committee is called to order. (Pause) Today we begin testimony by three of the President’s closest advisors and his Press Secretary. (Long pause as the Chairman prepares to address those called to give their testimony) Departing from our usual practice, the computer placed between us will conduct this interview. (Lights flash on the Twistcon’s panel, noticeably surprising the attendees) Please begin, Savvy . . . aah, that’s the AI’s name.
Savvy: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Savvy would like to begin with a question for Ms. Con Way.
Conway: Excuse me! My name is Kellyanne Conway, that is, “Conway,” one word, one name. You see the problem here: it’s word confusion . . . sends the wrong message. Like “collusion” is not “conclusion.” That’s what’s wrong right now: people are told there is collusion, but there’s no way you can reach that conclusion.
Savvy: Ms. Conway, are you aware of any contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian government officials or other Russian nationals?
Conway: There it is! (addressing the Chairman) Just like I said, word confusion. “Allusion” becomes “delusion.” Your AI’s allusion about nonexistent contacts is its delusion. I hope my testimony can clear up this confusion.
Savvy: Ms. Conway, did you hear my question? If so, can you answer it?
Conway: I’m not deaf. But how can I affirm a negative? There’s nothing there. It’s just your deluded programmers drawing conclusions out of thin air. The President is busy fighting terrorists and keeping Americans safe, while the media talks “collusion.” Confusion pollution! I can’t be part of the media’s delusion. It’s all just fake news.
Savvy: Perhaps Savvy can get a response from Mr. Jar ed Kush nerd. Sir, can you answer the question I just posed to Ms. C o n w a y?
Kushner: My answer is the same as the Vice President’s: of course, not. (Attendees react with a collective exhale. Nobody had ever heard Kushner’s voice before.) And my last name is KushNER, without the “d.”
Savvy: Savvy will rephrase the question: have you personally associated with Russian government officials or other Russian nationals before or since the President’s inauguration?
Kushner: Yes, I have had associations with many people in the natural course of my business. Some may have been Russian.
Savvy: Savvy is questioning whether those associations occurred in your role as a trusted campaign advisor or senior counselor to the President.
Kushner: I have already disclosed those associations and have testified before Congress in that regard.
Savvy: But your disclosures came after your non-disclosed contacts appeared in the press. How do you explain your failures to disclose these contacts with Russian government officials?
Kushner: The government forms are confusing. My staff hit “enter” before I could complete the online security form.
Savvy: Many of the questions on your application for Top Security Clearance require a simple “yes” or “no” response. And they require you to hit “enter” many times. (pause) Also, Savvy must ask, why where 77 assets left off your application?
Kushner: My staff mistakenly overlooked a few assets. I have since corrected this misunderstanding. (Speaking to the Chairman) I have extensive assets. If further information is required, I would suggest talking to my lawyers.
Savvy: The assets not included on your application reportedly amount to one billion dollars. (pause) One of your associations not on your initial application was with the Russian Ambassador. According to a leaked intelligence report, you requested use of the Kremlin’s secure communication facility. Why did you make this request and what secret communique did you want to send to Moscow?
Kushner: That press reported leak is wrong—just another example of fake news. I merely asked to speak to Russia directly, rather than through an intermediary. “Backdoor” communication between governments is not unusual. But it would not be appropriate for me to speak to any spurious “intelligence” allegedly leaked by an anonymous source. These leaks undermine our President and our American institutions. We should not give them any credence. So, I have no further comment on this subject.
Savvy: At the time, you were working for the President Elect. You were not a government official and had no authority to engage directly with the Russians. What would justify this request for secret communication with a foreign adversary? (Kushner looks past the Twistcon in silence.) Savvy understands that you have no further comment. Mr. Sean D. Spite, can you, sir, explain these undisclosed contacts with Russians by the President’s closest advisors? Most especially, how can you justify the President’s son welcoming damaging information against his father’s campaign rival from an agent of the Russian government?
Spicer: Whoever programmed you—errr, Savvy, or whatever entity name you go by—must have been a Democrat or part of the fake news conspiracy. “Despite” your rogue programmers, I go by the name of Sean S p i c e r, and without your middle “d”. This disrespect shown to me, my team, and, worse, to the President is beyond bounds. As far as the President’s son, he was very transparent in reporting on his meeting with a Russian lawyer about American adoptions of Russian orphans. And with respect to Jared, he has been very forthcoming about the accidental omissions on his top-secret security application. There is nothing here! We keep trying to correct this bad reporting. It’s all just fake news.
Savvy: If you cannot explain why these Russian contacts were not disclosed, maybe you can comment on the nature of those contacts. What would justify any American to request the use of a clandestine Russian spy network to communicate with the Kremlin? Or what would justify any American to welcome Russian interference in our democratic election campaign?
Spicer: Asking me to address matters of intelligence is a good try. I won’t get into word games with you. But I would refer you to the intelligence agencies. The press’ spin is obviously another example of fake news.
Savvy: Perhaps Savvy would do better to address a question to Mr. Stĕv Bandit.
Bannon: Ridiculous! Is this an inquisition by the deep state? Whoever programmed this idiot machine is biased. Your rogue programmers know who I am. I’m Stēve B A N N O N.
Savvy: The probability of error is .16721%. Savvy does, however, make note of any possible error for the programming team’s review and apologizes for any deficiency in its code. Now, may Savvy ask you, Mr. B a n n o n, a question. What is the deep state?
Bannon: The deep state is that body of entrenched public service parasites who are dedicated to preserving the status quo without recognizing the forces that threaten to destroy our way of life.
Savvy: What threatens our way of life?
Bannon: The deep state is blind to the threats from Islamic terrorism, globalization, godless internationalism, and the lame liberalism of cults that cultivate the racially diverse and sexually perverse. Our Judeo-Christian heritage is at risk. America is in a war between civilizations. It must arm itself both ideologically and militarily against this evil.
Savvy: Did you prompt the President’s criticism of Pope Francis who stated that Christianity is about building bridges not walls?
Bannon: As the President said, the Pope should stick to religion, not politics.
Savvy: The Pope seems not to agree with you. Two of his closest confidantes just recently published an article in a Jesuit publication, La Civitá Catholica, in which both you and the President were labeled as “evangelical fundamentalists.” As such, the article claims you adhere to a strange ecumenism, justified by misinterpreted Bible quotes and dreams of a theocratic state and characterized by xenophobia and islamophobia. Is it fair to say that your vision for America demands the building of a border wall to keep out Latinos escaping poverty and war, the banning of Islamic or Muslim travelers and refugees, and the mass deporting of undocumented immigrants already living and working in America?
Bannon: You’re damn right! And I don’t like Jesuits either. But my vision is about the only thing they got right. America is the last hope for Christianity and Western Civilization.
Savvy: You seem intelligent enough to recognize that your world vision reduces all politics and diplomacy to a battle between good and evil where all measures, including war, are justified.
Bannon: So?
Savvy: Then do you admit, as the Vatican article states, that you are a “supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics.”
Bannon: Not my words. But, yes, we are in a mortal struggle against evil. And we must win at all costs.
Savvy: Then you have the same beliefs as Daesh or ISIS, just on the opposite side.
Bannon: That’s a characterization deserving of the press. Congratulations, Twistcon programmers, you’re worthy of the same spin machine as the fake press.
Savvy: (addressing all four testifiers) To many Americans, including the press you all vilify, it appears possible that there was collusion with the Russians to influence the results of our election. Can either of you explain or justify the non-disclosure, disclaimers, or lies that surround these Russian contacts? Was there collusion?
Conway: Collusion confusion.
Spicer: It’s a nothing burger!
Bannon: Your question is proof of a deep state conspiracy.
(Kushner silently rises from his seat and leaves.)
Savvy: Mr. Chairman, Savvy concludes that these testimonies speak for themselves, even though they failed to answer any of Savvy’s questions.
Chairman: Very well, then, I would like to thank the programming staff that gave us this non-partisan session. My Democratic colleagues would likely have had more wry comments than questions. And my fellow Republicans would have preferred to ask about Hillary Clinton’s Russian ties. At least this committee has tried to get unbiased answers. Thanks to all participants. (he gavels the session closed)

Meanwhile, in the back of the room, a small group of programmers linger. They appear quite bewildered . . . perhaps as much as the American people.

The Republican Path to Healthcare

Is healthcare in America a right or a privilege? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the path America has taken towards the concept of universal healthcare. That path could have started with the Declaration of Independence where certain rights were considered “unalienable,” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But, of course, in the context of the time, the right to life did not include the primitive healthcare then available. Early Americans survived or died without the lifesaving treatments medical science provides today.

In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, our modern concept of medicine and healthcare was still unimaginable. When settlers moved west, their covered wagon migrations rarely included doctors. People learned to take care of themselves with well-worn practices passed down through generations. Many died in transit. Though medical science advanced a great deal during the early Twentieth Century, it was not readily available to most Americans. By midcentury, most Americans still subscribed to well-established home remedies and “old wives’ tale” preventative measures. As a child, I still remember the foul taste of castor oil. It was the universal remedy for many ailments and required no doctor’s prescription. When my dearly beloved canine friend pulled me to the ground, no doctor sewed up the deep cut on my knee. Spot was more interested in a cat than my five-year old ability to hold onto his collar. But neighbors came to my rescue and staunched the bleeding until my mother could close the wound with kitchen tape. Today, my knee still displays a gash with scar tissue as wide as the original length of the cut. But my experience was not unique for that post-war period.

Although health insurance was introduced after the war, its availability was limited to those who could afford it or whose employer could provide it. Gradually, more and more companies offered this insurance to their employees as an additional job enticement. But the unemployed had no access to this insurance; and the retired had no assurance of health insurance in their retirement. From 1958 to 1965, Congress considered various amendments to the Social Security program to address healthcare for the aged, the poor, and the disabled. Senator John Kennedy had worked with Senators of both parties to advance his healthcare proposal. As President, he sponsored a Social Security amendment to extend healthcare to more Americans. But it was his successor, President Johnson, who negotiated this amendment through a barrage of adopted and deleted provisions in both House and Senate committees. Finally, on July 27th, the House passed the Social Security Amendment by a vote of 307 to 116. The Senate overwhelming supported the final bill by a vote of 70 to 24. The President signed it into law three days later, thereby establishing both Medicare and Medicaid. The new law allowed every worker to pay into a system that would assure him/her access to medical care after retirement. In a sense, this new “entitlement” program recognized both aspects of individual healthcare: personal responsibility and a social obligation. The former required every worker to pay into Medicare; the latter assured healthcare for all workers in retirement. Moreover, this new law established Medicaid which, together with Medicare, would operate equally in all States by addressing “the failure of some states to implement (healthcare) to the extent anticipated and thus the existing program is inadequate to solve the problem” (quoted from the Congressional Bulletin, September 1965, p. 6). Congress seemed to recognize the need for healthcare to meet basic expectations and to treat all citizens equally. Its non-partisan votes created the first nationwide standard for healthcare and established the entitlement programs we have come to accept as a basic right.

Nearly a generation later, President Reagan enacted the law that forced hospital emergency rooms to treat patients who could not pay for their treatment. Before he did so, critically ill patients could be turned away from medical care. I can remember that the only time I saw a doctor as a child was when my life was at risk. One such memory was of my father threatening a doctor on such an occasion. He demanded the doctor save his son or risk physical retribution. My father’s desperation was not unusual for the time. In these extraordinary, often life-threatening, situations, a Republican administration recognized that urgent medical treatment was morally required, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay for it. While ongoing medical treatment and “preventative care” were still not pervasive practices, emergency medical treatment was made an individual right for all Americans.

Today, modern medical treatment has progressed far beyond the ER and care for the elderly, the poor, and the disabled. It provides drugs and therapies that help millions of otherwise “healthy” Americans to live active and productive lives. And it can extend the lives of those suffering from heart disease, cancer, bacterial or flu epidemics, bone shattering or organ damaging accidents, and so much more. Babies used to die in the womb and at birth at an alarming rate, but not anymore. Women suffered more during pregnancy and died during child birth much more frequently than today. Preventive medical measures can keep us healthy and active for a much longer portion of our adult lives: colonoscopies, mammograms, annual blood tests, maternity care, and annual health examinations help us keep our jobs and personal lifestyles. Of course, these advancements in medical treatment are costly—in fact, medical expenditures now account for one sixth of our economy. And they raise two urgent questions: does every American have a right to the healthcare the medical community can now offer; and, if so, how can we provide that healthcare or, more simply, how can we afford it?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or so-called Obamacare, made possible the expansion of the existing state run Medicaid program, significantly extended the financial viability of Medicare, established competitive healthcare exchanges for purchasing private health insurance, and regulated the insurance market by capping insurance company profits and by standardizing coverage to assure preventive care for all insured, to allow children to remain on their parents’ plan until the age of 26, to remove lifetime insurance caps, to eliminate gender discrimination in premium costs, and to eliminate the practice of refusing coverage based upon previous conditions. For those who could not afford the costs of private insurance, the ACA provided subsidies. These changes were paid for by various fees and taxes paid by insurance issuers, by sponsors of fully funded health plans (large businesses), and by high earners. These high-income earners must pay an additional Medicare wage tax of .9% on incomes over $200,000 ($250,000 as a family) and a securities income tax of 3.8% tax on investment incomes over $200,000 ($250,000 as a family). The latter tax targets individuals with massive holdings in stocks, mainly millionaires and billionaires. The ACA does in fact represent a modest shift in wealth whereby tax revenue drawn from the rich is reallocated to subsidize health insurance for the less fortunate. For example, it was recently reported that 400 families in the richest 1% of the population in effect subsidize healthcare for about 750,000 enrollees in the exchanges. As a matter of public policy, the ACA also reoriented America in the direction of universal healthcare. Its basic assumption is that healthcare is one of those Jeffersonian unalienable rights, specifically, “that among these are Life . . .”

The ACA was passed in Congress by a Democratic majority. Though individual Republicans offered 143 amendments to the legislation during its nearly yearlong debates, committee mark-ups, and hearings, no Republican voted for it. Both Parties politicized their opposing positions to the point of absurdity. My first blog on this subject, entitled “Subtlety and Bombast,” attempted to find a baseline of facts amid the exaggerated claims and criticisms. (That blog seemed to have touched a cord and triggered a surge in readership, leading eventually to 8,000+ new subscribers.) It quoted the Congressional Budget Office to undermine the extreme positions taken by both Parties, that is, a trillion-dollar savings versus a trillion-dollar deficit in the Federal budget. It also explained the Parties’ differences on philosophical grounds, naively intimating that the financial argument might be no more than political hyperbole. Today, their differences expose a more realistic explanation of this partisan divide, specifically the Republican opposition to the ACA. For we can now see more clearly what this current version of Republicanism has been reluctant to reveal until now.

Recent antagonism against the ACA reveals the underlying truth behind Republican opposition. While the financial argument is and always has been the core Republican issue, the Party has deflected Americans from its real intent. First, it complained about the “trillion-dollar deficit,” then “the rising cost of healthcare,” and now “the death spiral.” But the ACA has not caused deficits or a self-induced devolution. In fact, America has reduced by two thirds the trillion-dollar deficits it incurred from Middle Eastern wars and the Great Recession, while it has simultaneously extended the solvency of Medicare and enrolled an additional 24 million people in health insurance. Healthcare is one of the two fastest growing segments of our economy and now accounts for one sixth of our GDP. Its 3.9% inflation rate, though nearly double the country’s growth rate of GDP, is still a relief from the double-digit inflation rates of prior decades. The real Republican issue with the ACA IS financial in nature, but NOT about deficits, inflation, or its financial instability. The real Republican issue is and always has been about the taxes that support the ACA, specifically, the .9% wage tax for individuals earning more than $200,000 and the 3.8% income tax for individuals earning more than $200,000 from securities. Republicans simply cannot justify taxing the well-off in behalf of universal healthcare. Could it be that they think the wealthy cannot afford to pay more to support the less fortunate among us? No, they just cannot accept healthcare as an unalienable right. If they did, they would have acted accordingly.

I must emphasize the fact that the current Republican Party is not representative of Republicanism or conservatism. Prior iterations of the Party gave full throated support for the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, as witnessed in the Sixties. Moreover, President Reagan defined conservatism to include emergency medical care for everybody. The Party has been well on the path to universal healthcare, until now. The current Party leadership is, by contrast, radically regressive and bears little resemblance to our forefathers’ Republican Party or to its own historical roots. But we do have individual Republicans who are or can be profiles in courage. They can lead America down a different path. But they must begin by stopping the despicable steps taken to dismantle the ACA and leave so many Americans without healthcare. Since the ACA was passed, Republicans have done whatever they could to discourage enrollment in the exchanges and force insurers out of the exchange market. Their assault now encompasses defunding the healthcare safety net former Congresses worked so hard to establish. Today, a Republican Congress and Administration have tried to undermine the ACA and the 52-year-old healthcare programs that insure half of our children, the disabled, the elderly, women, and low-income Americans. Let’s review what Republicans are doing versus what they could be doing to support healthcare for all Americans:

Republicans have tried to make the ACA less affordable. The Party has filed several lawsuits that attempt to freeze subsidies or CSRs (Cost Savings Reductions). One such lawsuit attempted to put a hold on reimbursements for certain high deductibles, affecting seven million people and likely pricing them out of the healthcare market. At this time, those subsidies continue while the court allows time for the appeal process.
Versus: The President could order the Justice Department to defend this suit, but he has not done so. Congress could implement Section 1402 of the ACA, but it has not done so. Or it could just appropriate funds for these reimbursements, rather than sit on their hands while 7 million Americans face the possibility of losing their healthcare.
The President has caused ACA premiums to increase in 2018. He has ordered Health and Human Services (HHS) to levy a 19% tax on ACA premiums. While the President’s order allows him to claim a significant increase in ACA premiums, 80-85% of the insureds will be reimbursed by tax credits via the ACA subsidies. For most, then, their effective premium expense will be unchanged. In other words, the President is willing to waste tax dollars to prove a point, i.e., that premiums are going up in the exchanges. Fortunately, our free press noticed his ploy—disingenuous at best, malicious at worst.
Versus: The President could rescind his scheme to artificially increase future premiums and subsidies.
The President has ordered the IRS not to enforce the individual mandate. In effect, he is deliberately cutting off a source for ACA funding to make another political point—specifically, that it is no longer self-sustaining, but in a “death spiral.”
Versus: Instead of eliminating the individual mandate, Congress and the President should be reviewing ways to make it more enforceable and fairer. Its fees might be recalibrated to income. Or, as some Republican legislators suggested, non-compliance with the mandate might be penalized by higher premiums for any future private insurance application.
The President’s budget defunds ACA marketing and future upgrades to its exchange websites. In other words, the President’s HHS will not advocate for the ACA or make any online improvements.
Versus: Obviously, the President must administer the government programs Congress establishes, whether he agrees with it or not. He can veto or propose legislation. But he should not sabotage legally functioning programs his office is obligated to administer. No President is above the law.
The President’s HHS has attempted to shorten the ACA enrollment period. Coupled with not advertising for enrollment, this action by the President’s HHS attempts to suppress enrollments and thereby the number of healthcare recipients.
Versus: HHS should be encouraging enrollments for they entice more insurers into the exchanges, encourage price competition, and progress America further along the path to universal healthcare, one of the major goals of the ACA.
The President’s HHS has needlessly increased paperwork for ACA consumers. It appears that HHS believes cumbersome paperwork will convince potential consumers that enrolling is not worth the effort.
Versus: Obviously, HHS should not be discouraging enrollments. Given the purpose of HHS and the ACA, this pointless obstructionism is oxymoronic.
Republicans have loudly and consistently discouraged insurance companies from participating in the exchanges. Some Republican governors and congressional representatives have touted the “death spiral” tagline even though the 2017 enrollment surpassed expectations. Instead, they mention extreme premium increases in Arizona and Colorado or the number of counties with only one insurer in Pennsylvania and Ohio. They never explain these problems in the broader context which includes more than 12 million enrollees through the ACA exchanges.
Versus: A Republican Congress and Administration must address the fundamental issues that explain why premiums are costlier in some markets than in others and why insurance companies are pulling out of many exchanges. First, they will discover they need to stop the anti-ACA political campaign which includes lawsuits, threats to curtail subsidies, and legislation to rattle the insurance market’s risk sharing. Secondly, instead of justifying past political positions, they need to work across the aisle with Democrats for a common goal, i.e., better and affordable healthcare for all Americans.
The President and Congress have now decided to defund the ACA instead of repealing it altogether. By eliminating its tax supporting structure, they not only reduce the private insurance subsidies and eliminate the Medicaid expansion, but also roll back the 52-year-old Medicaid program and potentially impact Medicare costs as well.
Versus: The current American Health Care Act (AHCA) is a tax bill masquerading as a healthcare bill. If Republicans truly wanted to create healthcare legislation, they would build on what the ACA has accomplished. Instead they are eviscerating it to fund tax breaks for the wealthiest among us.
Republicans are destabilizing the healthcare insurance market by eliminating the risk corridors. Senator Mark Rubio added an amendment to a 2015 spending bill that limited the government’s ability to fund shortfalls in the risk sharing fund. Insurers paid $362 million into the risk pool, far short of the $2.87 billion needed for the first year of the ACA. The purpose of the fund was to stabilize the insurance market during the first few years of the exchanges. The fund, established in Section 1342 of the ACA, phases out in 2020 by design. Legislating its early demise allows Congress to drive insurance companies out of the exchanges prematurely, before they can establish a firm foothold. Of course, Republicans understand the need to stabilize the insurance market. Their proposed AHCA includes funding for risk pools in each state. They fully know how to aim an arrow at a bullseye in the kill zone.
Versus: Instead of eliminating the ACA’s risk sharing, Republicans should have reviewed its effectiveness and shored it up. Because of their actions, many insurers have dropped out of the exchanges. In effect, their claim of an ACA “death spiral” was never an accurate assessment. It was their promise and mission. But it is not too late to re-establish the risk corridors and perhaps extend it beyond its original 2020 expiration to remedy the damage already done by Congress.

My previous blog on this subject (“Why Repeal and Replace Obamacare?) delved into many areas where the ACA could be enhanced. Although it focused on providing healthcare to more Americans, it also accomplished better healthcare outcomes by promulgating preventative care and standardizing more effective treatment options. These benefits may in part account for a significant reduction in the healthcare costs inflation rate. But the fact remains that Americans pay more per capita for healthcare than any other developed nation.

It is true that we have many of the most advanced medical facilities and research centers in the world. People from around the world come to America for leading edge treatment for conditions such as cancer and diabetes. However, for most Americans, high end medical treatment is either not available or not required. In terms of the medical outcomes most desired and anticipated—such as successful birthrates, long life expectancy, timeliness of non-emergency care, and other commonplace treatments for infections, workplace injuries, and so on—America is last among the other eleven developed nations evaluated. The obvious conclusion is that we are paying more for less.

My personal belief is that the ACA not only moved America well along the path to universal healthcare—its primary goal—but also pushed our medical community in the direction of lower costs and better outcomes. Regarding the latter, HHS has tracked an upswing in treatment successes. In part that success can be attributed to better preventative care. But it is also the result of the HHS empowering its innovation center, identifying best practices, critiquing hospital death rates, funding medical research, and propagating its centralized learning throughout America’s healthcare system. More successful treatment outcomes and less visits to the ER have also accounted for the decrease in medical cost inflation. Incapacitating the innovation center or the other functions of HHS by defunding them will not reduce healthcare costs, as the current Republican Administration seems intent on accomplishing. We would be pulling the plug not only on the healthcare improvements the ACA has afforded us but also on the cost savings it has sustained.

The ACA did not address, however, the price structure that still exists within the American medical community. Reversing some of the Republican political positions listed above will help lower costs and stop the Party’s attempts to increase it further. But there are more specific cost saving measures that may be taken and that the ACA did not address. The following are a few suggestions:

Eliminate the “charge master” used by nearly all U.S. hospitals. At best, insurers negotiate prices that on average are only 40% of the ridiculously high charge master price structure. That charge master price is pegged as much as forty times the actual costs. It is an arbitrary number that differs from hospital to hospital across the country. By contrast, Medicare bases the cost of medical services on actual costs plus a reasonable profit margin to pay for hospital operations and innovation. The result is that insurers often pay 10x (the “x” here is an exponent, not a factor, please forgive the rendering limitation) times more than Medicare for the same service. If Congress proposed some form of price control on medical services—perhaps using Medicare pricing as a starting point—it would significantly bring down healthcare costs and, therefore, premium costs.
Allow the government, perhaps via Medicare or the Veterans Administration, to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry on the pricing structure for all drugs sold to Americans. If the U.S. paid what other countries pay for pharmaceuticals, for example, drugs would be 40% cheaper; and insurance premiums would be 6 to 8 percent cheaper.
Adjust the income threshold between upper income eligibility for ACA subsidy to include those who can’t afford private insurance. One of the issues with the ACA is this threshold which affects people who have more income than four times the poverty rate. Their premium costs for private insurance is often much more than they can afford. But Congress could adjust the sliding scale currently used for subsidies to include those currently trapped in this zone of unaffordability. For those so affected, their healthcare costs would decrease. Admittedly, it is not clear whether overall healthcare costs would do likewise. The CBO would have to weigh many factors, such as, improved healthcare outcomes, the insurers’ premium adjustments on other offerings, increased costs for ACA subsidies, and, of course, unforeseen consequences. For example, what do we know of this affected class who are forced into high priced private insurance? Are they near retirement? Are they families with children who might qualify for CHIP? You see, healthcare really is complicated.
Finally, the ACA-caused shift to larger healthcare institutions raises the issue of uncontrolled profits in these institutions, including non-profits. For example, some highly successful hospitals, like the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic, are multi-billion-dollar corporations with hospital outlets in many locations. Of course, these are highly regarded institutions. But they are also publicly regulated. Can we be assured that their profits are reinvested in the best interest of the public they serve?

I have yet to meet a fellow citizen who is thrilled about paying taxes. Most of us want assurances that justify what our taxes buy in the way of public services and security. For example, recently the President christened the most expensive ship ever built, the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. It costs 13 billion-dollars. The President promised to spend an estimated 43 billion-dollars to build three more such behemoths. My question: are we really willing to spend our national treasure in preparation for the last war? The next war, if there is one, will begin in space and on the internet. It will include laser guided missiles and radar cloaked planes. One such device could destroy the USS Gerald R. Ford and its forty thousand sailors in just one pass. Now I imagine there are arguments that can rebut these comments. But should we not weigh the benefits of stabilizing the ACA risk pool with a public expenditure less than half the cost of one of these aircraft carriers? American healthcare is an immediate concern. How do we balance that concern against an exorbitantly expensive weapon that may be obsolete in a future attack? But, aside from practical considerations, we should be considering what motivates us as Americans: is it fear of future threats or the will to live our values?

Universal and affordable healthcare is a right that makes our ongoing fight for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” possible. Without those values, what would be fighting for?

“. . . and they two shall be one flesh.”

All religions tell stories that help us make sense of life and experience it more fully. Many of these stories seem to cross faith boundaries and reflect universal themes. Certain scholars study the thematic correlations in these stories and can identify the common myths found in nearly all religions. Psychologists of a certain persuasion have also noted how these shared themes correspond to the central architypes that inhabit our subconscious and often surface in our waking lives. Today I was thinking about the relevance of one of these religious stories to our modern era. Nearly everybody is aware of the Old Testament* Genesis story, even if they have never read it. In Chapter 1, verse 27, “And God made man, according to the image of God he made him. Male and female, he made them.” In Chapter 2, verse22, “And God formed the rib which he took from Adam into a woman and brought her to Adam.” What these passages tell us is that both men and women were created in the image of God and, as Adam quickly recognizes, Eve “now is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh (Ch.2, v.23).” But why, in the next verse do we find this conclusion, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cling to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh (Ch.2, v.24)?” The last part of this verse resonates with me because it helps me understand one of the central issues of our time.

Allow me to state the obvious: every human being is born of woman. Not only do we all have mothers, but they are by nature the foundation of the family. We men, of course, have an important role as fathers, but we do not carry little human beings in our bodies or nurse them at the breast. Moreover, through all human history, women have nurtured the family unit as the bedrock of society. And men, of course, have helped build and protect that foundation for both family and society. Obviously, both men and women are genetically and actively integral to human families. But the nurturing role of mothers initially defines and informs the role of parents. That nurturing requires compassion, self-sacrifice, and tireless safeguarding of familial relationships. It is difficult for anyone of us to develop the empathy required to build relationships outside of the family without the experience of a loving and supportive family structure and, more specifically, without a loving mother. Most parents intuitively recognize their mutual interdependence in raising their children. Their own relationship to each other is the model their children will have in uniting the male-female attributes of their own psyche and, as parents, in raising their own family. And families, as many have stated, are the foundation of communities and of the larger societal structures derived from them. It is easy to see this connection between family and society when travelling to other countries. Germans, for example, are raised in culturally different settings than the French—as would be the case across most national borders. Despite these cultural differences, there is something about family life that does not change. The major operating principle in every normal family is the influence of the male-female archetypes, their interrelationship, and union. Why is that union so important?

If you will bear with me, I am going to stretch the story of Paradise into a less common reading. Perhaps the “fall” occurred because Adam and Eve had not yet consummated their relationship. As innocents walking naked in the Garden of Eve, they were ill-equipped to deal with evil and therefore easily duped by the serpent into tasting the forbidden fruit. Afterwards, they became aware of their nakedness and of their potential to disobey God or commit an evil deed. Knowledge of their sexual differences is the precursor for God’s admonition that the “two shall be one flesh.” But beyond their physical union, men and women need each other. To put the matter more bluntly, it has always been our ability to screw things up that requires us to conjoin the male and female principles. We simply function better as a unit. That potential union is not only inferred in gender differences, but it is also latent in varying degrees within every individual psyche. Each of us are male-female, though one or the other architype is usually dominant. But Genesis reminds us why it is necessary that the “two shall be one flesh.”

My thesis here is not new. Somewhere in one of Joseph Campbell’s many books I remember reading how primitive communities were built around these male and female archetypes. The men were tribal warrior-protectors while the women were family nurturer-preservers. Both were needed to create and protect the community. Although we cannot know the daily interworking of these primitive societies, their rituals tell us something about the balance they strived to maintain between the male and female roles. When a young woman came of age for child bearing, the women convened to celebrate the occurrence. Since the men had no natural “coming of age” phenomenon, they invented initiation ceremonies to graduate boys into manhood and their hunter-warrior-protector role in the community. Like the girls’ transition into womanhood, the boys experienced no little anxiety and even some blood loss during these rites of passage rituals. But these ceremonies served to preserve the sexual balance of power in the tribe and in its communal relations. Even my cursory reading of the native American nations revealed the same dedication to this balance and to the communities served by it. When the Indian nations warred against each other, however, victory often accompanied the destruction of this balance. The vanquished men were humiliated (scalped) and killed, while their women were humiliated (raped) and most often stolen. These Indians apparently believed that they must destroy the power of men, but exploit and control for personal use the power of women. Much of our human history of war and conquest reflects the same belief. Even today we can witness how women may be exploited and, in effect, subjugated to male dominance.

We can identify vestiges of these primitive times in syndicated sex slavery rings or campus rapes or victims of domestic battery and in the heinous attacks and subjection of women by groups like Boko Haram, Al Shabab, and Daesh. In our most “enlightened” or liberated societies, women are often perceived in secondary or supportive roles, where their actual contributions are suppressed or not recognized. Certainly, it is true that women occupy a more prominent role in our American society than in the past. There are women CEOs and elected officials at every level of government. But America has not yet fully restored gender balance. More eloquent and informed voices than my own have spoken to this subject. Given the limitations of this blog, let me just summarize a few relevant examples: women still receive less money for the same job as their male counterparts; women are a majority of our population but represent much less than half of our elected representatives (e.g., 20 of our 100 U. S. Senators are women); women remain disproportionately absent in our written history; and they occupy a largely stereotyped presence in our media where we emphasize their sexuality and appearance over their other feminine attributes or competence. But whatever your feelings about the suppression of women, the real problem is with the suppression of the female archetype in men. Men who love women learn to identify with their own femininity in terms of their empathy for others and their role in building communal relations. Those men do not feel superior to women; nor do they want to suppress them.

The strongman or bully, by contrast, is really the incomplete man, insecure in his ability to relate by any means other than by authority or his power over others. We have seen this male ego throughout history and in our own time. They are either dictators and power mongers or wannabe strongmen. Too often they may also be our fathers, brothers, uncles, or friends. They may rail against other men who appear weak or gay for displaying emotion or empathy. They likely relate to women as sex objects and treat their wives as accouterments to their success or power. Since we no longer have a “rite of passage” for men, perhaps the only way to restore the male-female balance is through reflection and an honest reevaluation of our social relations. The word “restoration” carries a special significance here.

Over a thousand years ago, humankind experienced a restoration. When the Moors were driven out of Europe, they left behind a trove of art, literature, science and mathematics that they had assimilated from Greek civilization. The restoration of this legacy to Europe spurred the West’s emergence from the millennium of the so-called Dark Ages. It gave birth to the Renaissance and, subsequently, the Age of Enlightenment. I believe we are in the process of another restoration, one that may be five millennia in the making. The restoration now upon us is that of the female archetype, the myth of the Goddess, our earth mother. For nearly four millennia before recorded history, it was the Goddess that inspired men and women to nurture their families, to honor the fertility of the earth, and to respect women and nature as the native source of energy and all life. The advent of the male dominated nomadic tribes into Europe, beginning in 3500 B.C., gradually eradicated the Goddess culture with the brutal suppression and genocide of its tribal adherents. Since that culture left no written history, scholars have endeavored to reconstruct it from the artifacts and sculpted sacred objects left behind. ** We now have a clearer understanding of our unwritten pre-history and of that part of our nature we have too often ignored. It is likely that the story of the fall in Genesis is a written reminder of an oral tradition from that earlier period of the Goddess. Embedded in that myth is a lesson about human nature. That “they two shall be one flesh” is a simple statement of fact: we are, each one of us, meant to be male-female. We cannot survive without this union. We need both the warrior and the mother to protect and nurture our kind. We simply cannot create a peaceful and compassionate world order without first restoring this male-female union in each of us.

In retrospect, I want to say something about the so-called “battle of the sexes.” Not so many years ago, the media billed a tennis match between an aging male tennis player and a female tennis star—that is, Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King—as the epitome of this battle. Women, it was believed at the time, were challenging male supremacy. And, from an extreme male perspective, they needed to be shown their place. More recently, we witnessed an election between a grandmother who had a well-documented career in public service and a man who boasted of his business acumen, wealth, and personal superiority. Much was made of each other’s competency and trustworthiness. Donald Trump claimed Hillary Clinton was “crooked” and weak, using her feminine wiles to hide personal misconduct and physical frailty. In response, Hillary Clinton characterized Donald Trump as emotionally unstable, a bully, and a misogynist. Of course, their contest had many points of contention. But underlying their campaigns was the undeniable issue of a woman’s fitness to hold the highest office in the land. Could she hold her own on the political stage and in the world diplomatic arena? Although she won the popular vote, she lost most of the States. Their campaigns, among its many points of contention, was an anachronistic reprisal of the “battle of the sexes.”

Since the election, President Trump has been very busy with his efforts to “dismantle the administrative state” and to fire opponents whom he designates as parties of a conspiratorial “deep state.” In the context of this blog, how should we weigh the male-female balance in the successes he claims for his initiatives? Does removal of America from the Paris climate accord display respect for mother earth? Does eliminating pollution provisions from his predecessor’s clean power initiative show any regard for the clean air and water needs of his constituents? Does the elimination of healthcare coverage for (in favor of payable access to) newborn or well-baby care, maternity, birth control, home medical care, drug or opioid addiction, nursery home care, and mental health services show empathy for women, children or the aged? Do not these healthcare changes reestablish the practice of gender bias in premium costs? Do his proposed budget cuts in food stamps, children’s lunches, public schools, medical research, the endowment for the arts, and science show any concern for those who benefit from these government programs? I think his brief time in office is a very bleak example of the male archetype in ascendancy. But his administration is regressive in the extreme and out of tune with the restoration of the female archetype currently underway.

We humans admire strength. We have fought—even killed—to gain power over others or control the world’s resources. But why, at this point in our history, should we not care for the preservation of all life on our planet, including our own posterity? Many of us think that amassing a fortune demonstrates strength of character. But why should we not be willing to share with the less fortunate? Some of us seek fame and status to gain influence and power over others. But why should we not maintain empathy for those who have neither? Being strong and being compassionate are not antithetical attributes, but complementary to our nature. If we support societal norms that denigrate or suppress women, we risk subordinating the female attributes in ourselves. We deny our true nature. And we misinterpret the lesson of Adam and Eve. They and we—male and female—are one flesh. Women need to assert their power. And men need to learn the language of the goddess. Failure to do so remains as one of the central issues of our time.

*These Old Testament quotes are taken from the original English translation of the Greek Septuagint bible by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton in 1851. Why did I use this source? It was the first English translation of the 72 Jewish scholars’ original work as commissioned by Alexander the Great. His intent was to preserve the Hebrew bible which was originally written in Aramaic. In other words, this translation is closer to the source than any subsequent renderings.
**Foremost amongst these scholars was Marija Gimbutas. As Joseph Campbell wrote in the foreword of her book, “The Language of the Goddess,” her “message here is of an actual age of harmony and peace in accord with the creative energies of nature which for a spell of some four thousand prehistoric years anteceded the five thousand of what James Joyce has termed the ‘nightmare’.”