417 posts categorized "Politics"

Some Good News About His Excellency

When the Republican candidate won the U.S. November election for president, I vowed to never utter his name in these pages again (aside from quotations) and to reference him as just an asterisk: *.

I have changed my mind.

There is a remarkable letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin that formally addresses our president-elect as "Your Excellency." (Can you hear me laughing again even though I've read it a dozen times by now???)

When he released the letter to the media, his excellency described it as "A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct." (You can read the entire letter here - scroll down.)

Of course such a man would crave such an exalted title. So until something better comes along, in this space * will become "his excellency." In a post-ironic world such as ours, how could I resist.

Here is what Russia expert Nina Khrushcheva, who is professor of international affairs at New York University, had to say about the letter and the response to his excellency in Russia on an MSNBC News panel a couple of days ago:

On Christmas Day, The New York Times published a big story telling us that although his excellency still insists there are no legal conflicts of interest between his businesses and his new position, he and his family have announced the will close foundations and end some development deals.

In the past few days, he has also ended a long-running labor dispute in a Trump hotel in Las Vegasv ending his demand for a 15-foot fence at an ocean-front golf course in Ireland. Ivanka is said to be "looking at" donating proceeds from an upcoming book to charity and Eric Trump announced he will no longer attend administration meetings. These are among a fairly lengthy list of divestitures. However,

"While the family may be removing some of the most obvious problems," reports The Times, "critics say Mr. Trump will still know what properties his family owns and which policy decisions will benefit them, no matter how careful he is.

"The portfolio of assets might influence his interactions with leaders in nations such as Turkey and the Philippines, where Mr. Trump has prominent marketing deals.

"In places where he has allowed the use of his family name and even his image, Mr. Trump will soon be confronting foreign policy decisions, such as how to confront human rights violations or fight terrorism.

"The family, at least so far, has not announced how it will resolve other issues, such as the lease at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which was issued by the federal government’s General Services Administration, an agency Mr. Trump will soon oversee."

This is good news but perhaps not for the reason you may think. As The Times makes clear, this is a start but the changes get nowhere near clearing the table of his excellency's conflicts. But here is what this news otherwise tells us:

His excellency (or his lawyers, I suppose) responds to public pressure that, in this the case of conflicts, has been non-stop since he was elected.

Keep that in mind: he responds to public pressure if it is loud and unrelenting. That means that on any upcoming issue, enough noise, enough media attention, enough commotion, uproar and outcry can make a difference.

It's not just Congress we will need to repeatedly and resolutely lobby in the coming year(s). Add the White House to our list of Congressional representatives because on so many issues, nothing can become law without the signature of the president.

That is what makes even this puny divestiture good news - news we can use in our fight against the coming Republican onslaught against the virtues and values of our country.


The First Salvo in the War on Social Security Has Been Fired

Is this attack on Social Security serious? Who knows, but we cannot afford to assume otherwise. This is a long and detailed post. Please try to read it anyway (if you're an American).

BackOffSocialSecurity

Last Thursday, Representative Sam Johnson, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee's subcommittee on Social Security, released a plan to “preserve Social Security for generations to come, reward work, and improve retirement security” - as the first page of the bill states.

It does nothing of the kind. It is a nasty, vicious bill that would impoverish a majority of beneficiaries. Daniel Marans, reporting about the announcement of Johnson's bill at Huffington Post wrote that it

”...would drastically reduce benefits. The bill would make the program less of a universal earned benefit and more of a means-tested safety net that aims only to provide basic support to the poorest retirees and disabled workers.”

Here is the short version of the bill from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM):

”Johnson's bill

Cuts Social Security benefits by one third
Raises the retirement age from 67 to 69
Changes the benefit-computation formula in a way that cuts benefit amounts
Cuts Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs)

“The resulting benefit cuts will affect Americans of all ages, at all income levels, including the middle class and those with very low incomes.”

Representative Johnson's goal with this legislation, to make the program more solvent, he says, does it entirely by benefit cuts - Draconian cuts. Democrats and progressives, including Senator Bernie Sanders, have for years proposed fixes to Social Security that not only avoid cuts but actually increase benefits.

Nancy Altman is a leading expert on Social Security, the founding co-director of Social Security Works and the co-author of Social Security Works!, the definitive, fact-based explanation of this crucially important program. Over this weekend, she wrote a clear explanation of what this legislation does. Pay close attention to this excerpt:

"Remember the ubiquitous mantra of those who propose to dismantle Social Security: no benefit cuts for those aged 55 and older?" asks Altman. "That is out the window. Every single one of the more than 57 million current beneficiaries will experience a cut, under the just-released Republican plan.

"And for some of them, the cut will be extreme. Take a worker who contributed to Social Security for 43 years and earned $118,500 just prior to retiring this year at age 65. At age 95, he will, under the Republican plan, receive a benefit that is less than half ― 48.7 percent, to be exact ― of the value of the benefit he is receiving today.

"And for tomorrow’s workers, it’s even worse. Today’s 45-year old worker with the same work history will receive, at age 65, a benefit that is 74.8 percent what today’s 65-year old receives. And, if he or she lives to age 95, the benefit will be about a third ― 34.6 percent ― of what it would have been under current law!

The Republican proposal raises benefits for long-term low-income workers who qualify for a minimum benefit, but don’t be fooled. It is window dressing, hiding what is really going on.

"Under the Republican plan, a 45-year old worker earning $12,000 a year, who has contributed to Social Security for twenty years and is able to hold off claiming his earned benefit until age 65, will receive a benefit that is twenty percent lower than current law. And that is if he or she can hang on until age 65!"

As Ms. Altman writes, this (along with the coming attacks on Medicare) amount to a war on elders. Please read her entire article here.

Nothing will happen on this bill before Congress shuts down for the year-end holidays on Friday and does not return until Tuesday 3 January 2017 – but Johnson will undoubtedly reintroduce it in the new 115th Congress early next year.

According to Talking Points Memo, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement “slamming Johnson's bill”:

“Slashing Social Security and ending Medicare are absolutely not what the American people voted for in November," Pelosi said. "Democrats will not stand by while Republicans dismantle the promise of a healthy and dignified retirement for working people in America.”

Good for her but she cannot do it alone. This holiday hiatus is a good time for a first call to your two senators and congressional representative, as we discussed in this post a couple of weeks ago.

Tell them what you think of Representative Sam Johnson's Social Security bill. You will find phone numbers of local offices in your states here (Senate) and here (House).

Of course, if any of your representatives are retiring or were not re-elected, you'll need to wait until January to get phone numbers of the newly elected.

Here is a sample script you can edit to suit yourself. It's short, strong and to the point:

I'm [full name], a constituent calling to ask [Senator (name) or Representative (name)] to publicly oppose the Social Security Reform Act of 2016 from Representative Sam Johnson of Texas.

This bill would slash the program's benefit not just for future beneficiaries but for current ones too, and destroy Social Security. There are many other, well-known ways to preserve Social Security and I am asking the (senator or repressentative) to block this legislation with all (his/her) might.

It doesn't matter what party your representatives belong to. Make the call either way.

And ask everyone you know to do so too. If you have a blog or Facebook page, you have my permission to copy and post any of this you want without a link back if that is inconvenient. In this case it is much more important to get as many people calling as possible and as regularly as possible than worry about citations.

Thanks for sticking with this entire post. Your wellbeing in your old age is at risk as is that of your grown children and their children and beyond. We must not let this legislation happen.

Read the press release about the bill here

Read a short overview from Representative Johnson here [pdf]

Read the full bill here [pdf]

And here is another link to Nancy Altman's story


That .3% Social Security COLA in 2017 Might be Zero for You

And it's not even the Republicans' fault.

This will be as short as I can make it today and still be clear because I can hardly speak, let alone type.

Social-security-card

If you are an American retiree, you know that sometime in December, you receive a mailing from the Social Security Administration (SSA) titled “Your Benefit Amount.”

This form shows your new full monthly SSA payment based on the cost-of-living (COLA) increase (when there is one) along with the new amount of the deduction for your Medicare Part B premium for next year.

(Some recipients may also have deductions for the Part D prescription drug premium and/or voluntary federal tax withholding.)

Because SSA does not date this annual mailing, I could not tell from previous years when it ought to arrive so on Monday, as I was working out a personal budget for 2017, I phoned Social Security to get my numbers for the new year.

Recall, please, that as announced a few weeks ago, Social Security recipients have been granted a miniscule .3 percent COLA for next year – the smallest in the history of Social Security.

It won't amount to much even for those who receive the maximum, full retirement SSA benefit: the increase on the average payment of $1360 per month will be about $5. Only twice that for the maximum payment of around $2,600.

While I was on hold waiting to speak to someone at the Social Security office in Washington, a recording announced that the Part B premium for most beneficiaries would increase by about $30. I nearly dropped the phone – for me that's close to a 28 percent increase. Huh?

(There are several different Part B premium amounts depending on a bunch variables.)

When I was connected to the SSA representative, I asked for an accounting of three items: my new full monthly payment, my Part B deduction and the amount of the check I will receive each month.

Perhaps you know that there is a “hold harmless” clause in the Social Security regulations. It means that whatever increases such as Part B premiums are imposed each new year, a monthly benefit payment cannot be less than it was in the previous year.

That is what has happened to me: I will not be charged the actual new Part B premium because that would reduce my 2017 payment to less than what I receive now and, in fact, even less than I received in 2009.

So in such circumstances, the Social Security Administration jiggers with the Part B premium so that I will receive the same amount as last year - and not a penny more - while, of course, all fixed expenses have increased.

Now for sure I am not going hungry, I will not do without – so I do not mean this to be a personal whine.

But one of the few things I have learned in life, on my own, with no help from anyone else – as I mention here now and then - is that if it is happening to me, it is happening to thousands, maybe millions of other people.

And a whole lot of them – I know some personally - have a lot less than I do and not having even a small SSA increase for next year while faced with the usual increases in utilities, food, insurance, prescription drugs and other expenses they watch closely will become a further hardship in 2017.

As I said at the top, this is even before the Congressional Republicans start taking a hatchet to Medicare and Social Security. More reason we must fight with all we've got against threatened repeal and privatization of those programs.


The Republican War on Obamacare and Medicare

It's getting complicated, my friends - and hard, too - to keep up with the fierce Republican war on healthcare.

In that regard on Sunday, New York Times cartoonist Brian McFadden pretty well captured all you need to know about what happened during the past week. (For easier reading, click here for full-size strip).

Safety Net Cuts Cartoon

The amount of posturing, threat and pushback between Republicans and Democrats in Congress make it difficult to know what's real and what is bluster. I'm going to try to simplify what we know.

One thing is certain: we've heard more about Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – what most of Washington falsely calls “entitlements” - more in the past week or two than in the past four years.

Democrats and media pundits spent their time denying that it is possible to get rid of Obamacare and Medicare as we know them without dire consequences, and they are probably right. But the constant drumbeat of "they won't be able to repeal or privatize" sounds an awful lot to me like "* cannot win the election."

What bothers me most about all the leftie predictions that it can't be done is that it allows the people – you and me - to relax, to think that everything will be okay. Well, don't you believe it.

So while Congress and the presidential transition team continue to cross swords on these issues, we need to educate ourselves for the coming onslaught – probably soon after the 20 January inauguration. I'll do my best to keep you up to date.

NOMINEE FOR HHS
Last Tuesday, the president-elect nominated Representative Tom Price (R-Georgia) to head the Department of Health and Human Services, the cabinet-level agency that oversees Medicare and other services for elders such as home delivery of meals.

Medicare_card400

If approved by the Senate, he will also manage the effort to dismantle of Obamacare.

Here is what the Washington Post had to say about Price, who is a physician:

”The 62-year-old lawmaker, who represents a wealthy suburban Atlanta district, has played a leading role in Republican opposition to [Obamacare] and has helped draft several comprehensive bills to replace it...

“Under his vision, [Medicare and Medicaid] would cease to be entitlements that require them to provide coverage to every person who qualifies.

“Instead, like many House Republicans, he wants to convert Medicaid into block grants to states...

“For Medicare, Price favors another idea long pushed by conservatives, switching it from a 'defined benefit' to a 'defined contribution.' With that, the government would give older or disabled Americans financial help for them to buy private insurance policies.”

With only slight variations, the Republicans are all singing from this playbook.

THE DOG WHO CAUGHT THE CAR
However, what the Republican lawmakers have finally realized is that it could be political suicide to repeal Obamacare and privatize Medicare without having reasonable replacements ready to go.

By Thursday, the Republican dilemma was becoming almost funny. Josh Marshall reported at Talking Points Memo (TPM):

”Both on repealing Obamacare and phasing out Medicare, Republicans are now realizing they have to ask Democrats for help, despite the fact that they control every branch of the federal government...

“One key reason is that on both Obamacare and Medicare, the GOP - especially the House GOP - is the dog who caught the car. What do they do now...

“Republican Senators are now telling pretty much everyone who will listen that they don't want to get dragged into phasing out Medicare this year...You can only push through so much at a time. But don't believe the hype,” writes Marshall. “They know that killing Medicare is toxic politically...

“They're getting a similar message on Obamacare.”

REPEAL AND DELAY?
At the end of the week, the latest word is that the Republicans have renamed their kill-Obamacare initiative Replace and Delay. As this new story goes, they would quickly vote to repeal it early next year but delay implementation for up to several years while they figure out what to replace it with.

Meanwhile, Texas Republican Kevin Brady who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is telling people he wants to “overhaul” Medicare in 2017. Another TPM story:

” While House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has boldly doubled down on his own proposals to privatize Medicare or what he calls 'premium support,' Brady was less clear about what he wanted to do.”

DOES THIS ADD UP TO ANYTHING?
Well, it's obvious the Republicans haven't got their act together yet. Now that they own all the federal government, “repeal” is their mantra but I think Josh Marshall nailed it: they're the dog who caught the car.

As messy as this political tap dance is, do not get complacent. The GOP will not let their ownership of the entire federal government pass without doing everything possible to seal their ideological advantage for years to come.

Due to the Republican disarray, right now is not the time for action from us, not the time to be badgering our representatives because there is nothing yet to aim at. Instead, we need to keep our eye on what is developing and do our homework.

As I mentioned in last week's Medicare post, the single best source of information about the Repubican war on healthcare is Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo.

He covers it reliably, thoroughly and intelligently. So if you don't read anything else about this, TPM will keep you better informed than most people are.


Saving Medicare and Contacting Congress

Capitol-diagram

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is a nuts-and-bolts post pulling together some information we are going to need before long. I know some readers don't want any more politics, but emboldened Republicans are hard bent on killing Medicare and they want to do it right after the New Year.

Discussion of Medicare privatization may come up sooner than we expect; Congress reconvenes today, none of the Republicans are shy about pressing their political advantage.

I spent some time over the long weekend, locking down details of one way we can make our voices heard. There will be others, but contacting your representatives is basic to the effort, and there is a right way to do it. Maybe you will want to bookmark some of these links for future use.

* * *

REFRESHER
As I wrote here last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has been pushing a plan to privatize Medicare for at least half a dozen years and is willing to lie to the American public to accomplish it:

”What people don't realize,” Ryan told [Fox News host Brent] Baier, “is because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke, medicare is going to have price controls because of Obamacare, Medicaid is in fiscal straits.

“You have to deal with those issues if you are going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Medicare has serious problems [because of] Obamacare.”

This is exactly opposite of what is true which you can read about on my most recent Medicare post here.

As it looks now, Ryan's new, private Medicare coverage would compete against traditional Medicare. New York Times reporter, Robert Pear, who has closely followed Medicare and Social Security for many years, wrote about Ryan's plan last week and noted this about how it would work:

“'Beneficiaries would have to pay much more to stay in traditional fee-for-service Medicare,' said John K. Gorman, a former Medicare official who is now a consultant to many insurers. 'Regular Medicare would become the province of affluent beneficiaries who can buy their way out of' private plans.”

According to many reports (but who knows what applies in a * administration), Ryan intends to push Medicare privatization (also called voucher plan) legislation as soon as the 115th Congress convenes in January.

Last Friday, in response to the Republican Medicare threat, Senate Minority Leader-elect, Chuck Schumer (D-New York) issued a defiant statement reminiscent of actor Clint Eastwood in a certain movie [emphasis is mine]:

“Medicare is one of the most successful government programs ever created – it’s been a success story for decades. The Republicans’ ideological and visceral hatred of government could deny millions of senior citizens across the country the care they need and deserve.

“To our Republican colleagues considering this path, Democrats say: make our day. Your effort will fail, and this attack on our seniors will not stand.”

I hope Senator Schumer is right but with a Republican-controlled Senate, he will need a lot of backup from the people of the United States and it is we, elders, who best understand the consequences of Medicare privatization.

For when that time comes – and it may be as soon as early January – I have collected some information about how to take our message to Congress and make it as effective as possible. Having this information now will keep future posts on the issue much shorter.

THE BEST WAYS TO CONTACT CONGRESS
I found instructions from a former six-year Congressional staffer, Emily Ellsworth, with an excellent list of what does and does not make the biggest impact.

Twitter and Facebook do not work. Staffers hardly ever check them.

Emailing your representatives is better, but the staffers get so many emails and are so busy, they just use an algorithm to “batch them” and send out form letters in response. (Snailmail is, apparently, dead.)

At Lifehacker where I found this information, the reporter notes that Ms. Ellsworth specifically recommends phone calls:

”...phone calls have to be dealt with when they occur and they can’t be ignored. A large volume of phone calls can be overwhelming for office staffers, but that means that their bosses hear about it.

“Which office you target also matters. Members of Congress have offices in DC, but they also have offices in their home district that they represent. Target your letters and phone calls to your local office and you’ll have an easier time getting their attention.”

Also, says Ms. Ellsworth, “If you want to talk to your rep, show up at [local] town hall meetings. Get a huge group that they can't ignore. Pack that place and ask questions.”

These and other instructions are included in Ellsworth's (irony alert) Twitter chain that is reproduced in full at Lifehacker.

CONGRESSIONAL EMAIL ADDRESSES AND PHONE NUMBERS
U.S. Senate contacts including D.C. and home district offices: You might have to search around to find the state office contacts but with a few exceptions, they are somewhere on the main page.

U.S. House of Representatives contacts including D.C. and home district offices – the latter sometimes called satellite offices: Although I have not looked at the web pages of all 435 Congress people, listings for district offices were on the pages I spot checked.

Over the years here, I've recommended other websites that list Congressional phone numbers but after my latest scrutiny, these appear to be the most thorough and best organized. New members of both the House and the Senate are sworn in on 3 January 2017. Obviously, newly-elected representatives may not have web pages yet on day one.

SCRIPTS FOR PHONE CALLS
Congressional staffers – at home and in Washington – are busy people. Another excellent suggestion is to prepare a short, to-the-point script you can read when you telephone your representatives.

A Google Doc by Kara Waite is messy but is packed with great information – especially this page of scripts (click on "Calling Scripts" at the top of the page). And in the future, I will create some sample scripts as a starting point you can personalize.


Medicare Part B Premium Increase and Normalizing *

There is a spiral-bound notebook on my desk where I keep a running list of ideas for future TimeGoesBy posts. Some of them are terrible ideas I never use (well, mostly). Others are mainstays – such things as updates or threats to Medicare and Social Security that our age group needs to know.

Mostly, the book is a reminder so I won't lose thoughts I had in passing while doing something else, and I add maybe three or four a week. Since election day, however, there are four new, tightly-hand-written pages now that there are deeply worrying potential dangers afoot in Washington, D.C. that will affect Americans of all ages.

I am telling you this in explanation for what is a new kind of post here now and then that will cover two or three unrelated items that seem to me to be important right now as opposed to having a decent shelf life or, sometimes, even being evergreen.

So here goes with the first one.

MEDICARE PART B FOR 2017
As you know, there was no increase in the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the past two years. That means that for most Medicare beneficiaries there was, also, no increase in the premium for Part B which covers expenses for doctors, other outpatient care and durable medical equipment.

Now, due to the measly .3 percent COLA to Social Security for 2017 (which does not begin to cover inflation that most elders experience) an increase in the Part B Medicare premium is allowed.

The increase in the average 2017 Social Security payment is about $5. It will be wiped out for 70 percent of recipients because the Part B premium, which is deducted from the Social Security benefit each month, rises by 3.9 percent from $104.90 to about $109.

High earners will have an even larger increase in the Part B premium as will certain other categories of beneficiaries. You can see more detail at this PBS page.

It's not that I will go hungry or anything drastic, but so many other fixed expenses are increasing in the new year, by up to 10 percent in at least one case, that I will be cutting back and I expect many of you will be doing so too. This has happened every year for the decade I've received a Social Security benefit and I keep wondering in what year it will become a serious hardship.

In addition, the Part B deductible for 2017 will increase from $166 to $183. The Social Security Administration will soon be sending their annual benefit update letter so you will see your new numbers then.

NORMALIZING THE * ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES APACE
As I mentioned last week, it took less that 24 hours after the election results were in for pundits and most of the media to call for giving the president-elect “a chance” - as if we didn't already know what kind of man he is.

As Rohit Chandan, writing at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) on Friday about normalization:

”The danger is that by normalizing Trump—a candidate distinguished by an embrace of political violence and open appeals to ethnic nationalism who boasted of getting away with sexual assaults — these commentators will make racist and sexist bullying an acceptable way to run for public office.”

No kidding. His way of speaking has already brutalized public discourse in general. Here is FAIR's accompanying cartoon laying out the media's excuses for normalization:

NeNormalCartoon

Over the past year, Seth Meyers, host of Late Night on NBC-TV, has become my favorite of the late night hosts – I can't stay awake that late but I record his show every night to watch the opening 10 minutes the next day. Meyers is smart, funny and fearless.

Last week, in his “A Closer Look” segment that airs at the top of each show, he pilloried the media and * associates trying to insist * is a normal person. Enjoy.

It is easy, when outrage after outrage is repeated hundreds of times a day in the media, to fall victim to accepting it as normal. Please be vigilant of yourselves and don't let it happen to you.


Medicare in Peril

TolesMedicare

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has wanted to privatize Medicare ever since he first went to Congress 18 years ago. Now, with a new president on deck, he sees his chance.

And just in case that “privatize” word feels a bit toxic, he has renamed the effort to kill the program, Medicare Phase Out. Don't be fooled; it is the same thing as privatization.

But something else may come up in Congress before Medicare Phase Out legislation that will make the first inroads into killing Medicare. Let me explain.

REPEAL AND REPLACE OBAMACARE
The president-elect appears to have backed off somewhat his campaign promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Now he says he wants to keep the pre-existing conditions provision along with one other that allows parents to keep their children on their coverage until the kids are age 26.

As we have learned in the past 19 months, it is impossible to know if what * says has any relationship to what he will do about anything. But until we know differently, we can only work with his statements.

So, in regard to repealing and replacing Obamacare (except for those two provisions), let us remind ourselves what Obamacare has done for Medicare beneficiaries:

Thanks to Obamacare, the donut hole in Part D, the prescription drug plan, has been gradually closing and will be gone by the year 2020. This has already saved elders billions of dollars and will continue to do so.

Also thanks to Obamacare, there are no copays for wellness visits to physicians and certain preventive services, among them annual flu shots, mammograms and colonoscopies.

And a big one, Obamacare extended Medicare's solvency by more than a decade, until 2029, giving more time to figure out how to make the program permanently solvent.

If Obamacare is repealed and replaced, these benefits will disappear and more important for Ryan, he will have already made a major inroad into killing Medicare without even needing to make a targeted effort.

And, he is willing to lie to make Medicare Phase Out happen.

PAUL RYAN'S TACTICS FROM *'S PLAYBOOK
Here is an interview with Ryan from last week with host Brent Baier on Fox News - transcript and commentary from Talking Points Memo:

”What people don't realize,” Ryan told Baier, “is because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke, medicare is going to have price controls because of Obamacare, Medicaid is in fiscal straits.

“You have to deal with those issues if you are going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Medicare has serious problems [because of] Obamacare.”

Now, here is editor of Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall, who has saved me hours of research in his ongoing attention to and coverage of Medicare's peril for which I am enormously grateful:

”First, Ryan claims that Obamacare has put Medicare under deeper financial stress.” writes Marshall. “Precisely the opposite is true. And it's so straightforward Ryan unquestionably knows this. The Affordable Care Act actually extended Medicare's solvency by more than a decade. Ryan's claim is flat out false.

“Second, I've heard a few people say that it's not 100% clear here that Ryan is calling for Medicare phase out. It IS 100% clear. Ryan has a standard, openly enunciated position in favor of Medicare Phase Out. It's on his website. It's explained explicitly right there.”

As the new administration prepares to take power in January, both health programs are in trouble and those who want to kill them will continue to lie. It is up to us to stem that tide and when the time comes to take action.

Meanwhile, keep your eye on Talking Points Memo, also known as TPM. Josh Marshall and his crew are doing a sensational job tracking this issue.

ONE BRIGHT SPOT
The bright spot in this scenario to trash both Obamacare and Medicare is that in addition to the 22 million people with Obamacare who like that pre-existing condition provision and 26-year-old children's coverage provision, there are an additional 56 million insured with Medicare who like that program – even love it.

With all those people, I suspect we, the American people, may have some leverage over this health coverage threat.

There is much more to know about it and plans to make but geez, this has been a hard week for most of us, working out how we feel and what to do about our new world order.

And I haven't made it any easier – the posts this week have been dense to wade through, including this one.

So let's give ourselves a break. There is a holiday coming up next week, time to relax a little – not that I won't be here on the usual days, I just won't ask as much of you or me for a few days.

OH, WAIT A MINUTE: I woke this morning to a pertinent Op-Ed from economist Paul Krugman in The New York Times. It is titled "The Medicare Killers" and you should read it. Here is the link.

If you don't subscribe to The Times or you have used up your monthly allotment of stories, email me (Contact link above) and I'll send the text to you. Well, I'll be out of the house today until mid-afternoon west coast time but after that I can do it.


Advice for Living in an Autocracy

Jan Adams, who keeps her own blog – never more appropriately titled than now, Can It Happen Here? - left this message on Monday's post:

”So glad that TGB will be here, NOT normalizing this catastrophe. Many of us may not live to see a turnabout from this white-lash (Van Jones' appropriate phrasing.) But we sure need to do everything we can in our own age group to help people understand that another way is possible.

“There will be avenues, campaigns, resistance to mistreatment and injustice in which we can participate. We may sometimes feel we have less to lose than younger folks and under conditions of autocracy, that can be freeing.”

Jan has been organizing political campaigns, protests and resistance for liberal and progressive causes all her life and she knows well whereof she speaks.

Soon enough I will alert you to some of the first acts of the * administration that affect elders. But before that, we need to go to school.

As Jan suggests in her comment, we are now engaged in a sustained struggle and we need to ground ourselves in exactly what it is we are opposing and how, generally, to go about it.

That's what today's post is for. It is much longer than even my wordier ones in the past but the information (not my own) is deeply useful and important for us to know. So I hope you will sit back and read it all or take a little at a time here and there throughout the day.

AUTOCRACY: RULES FOR SURVIVAL
We now live in an autocracy. Some people have been tossing around the word fascism but history makes that a more loaded term than I am willing to embrace. Yet.

That section headline just above, as it happens, is the title of an article published last week in The New York Review of Books. It is a survival manual for living in such a country as it names, written by Masha Gessen.

Gessen is a Russian/American journalist and activist who is the author of several books about Russia, including one on the Russian feminist punk rock protest group Pussy Riot, and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.

Autocracy is something Ms. Gessen knows about from first-hand experience and which you and I know little.

As I read it the first time (and in each subsequent reading, it rang true in every way making me want to say to you, “take heed, take heed.” Here are some excerpts from the main points:

”[*] is also probably the first candidate in history to win the presidency despite having been shown repeatedly by the national media to be a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax-avoider, and race-baiter who has attracted the likes of the Ku Klux Klan.

“Most important, Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won.

“I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now:

Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. “He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization...

“Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture.

“More recently, the same newspaper made a telling choice between two statements made by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov following a police crackdown on protesters in Moscow: 'The police acted mildly—I would have liked them to act more harshly' rather than those protesters’ 'liver should have been spread all over the pavement.' “Perhaps the journalists could not believe their ears. But they should—both in the Russian case, and in the American one.

“For all the admiration Trump has expressed for Putin, the two men are very different; if anything, there is even more reason to listen to everything Trump has said. He has no political establishment into which to fold himself following the campaign, and therefore no reason to shed his campaign rhetoric.

Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. “Consider the financial markets this week, which, having tanked overnight, rebounded following the Clinton and Obama speeches. Confronted with political volatility, the markets become suckers for calming rhetoric from authority figures. So do people.

“Panic can be neutralized by falsely reassuring words about how the world as we know it has not ended. It is a fact that the world did not end on November 8 nor at any previous time in history. Yet history has seen many catastrophes, and most of them unfolded over time. That time included periods of relative calm.

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. “It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed...

"The national press is likely to be among the first institutional victims of Trumpism. There is no law that requires the presidential administration to hold daily briefings, none that guarantees media access to the White House.

“Many journalists may soon face a dilemma long familiar to those of us who have worked under autocracies: fall in line or forfeit access. There is no good solution (even if there is a right answer), for journalism is difficult and sometimes impossible without access to information.

Rule #4: Be outraged. “If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock.

“This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself.

Rule #5: "Don’t make compromises. Like Ted Cruz [did]..."

Rule #6: "Remember the future. "Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either.

“Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election. They offered no vision of the future to counterbalance Trump’s all-too-familiar white-populist vision of an imaginary past.

“They had also long ignored the strange and outdated institutions of American democracy that call out for reform—like the electoral college, which has now cost the Democratic Party two elections in which Republicans won with the minority of the popular vote.

“That should not be normal. But resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged—should be.”

Read – in fact, study - Masha Gessen's entire article at The New York Review of Books website. You won't be sorry and you will learn a lot.

Here, then, are half a dozen other good articles I found about how to resist in this frightening new world we find ourselves in:

SOME IDEAS ABOUT WHAT TO DO NOW
Michael Moore is an experienced protestor and he is highly visible which helps get people to pay attention.

“This is his anti-* to-do list. Among the items: commit to a vigorous fight and push for an amendment to eliminate the Electoral College.

EMBRACE POLITICS AND NON-CORPORATE MEDIA
John Schwartz at The Intercept has some ideas, too, about what to do next: Make politics one of the centers of your life; * succeeded by telling a story – now we need a story; support non-corporate media; and more.

STAY ANGRY
At the Washington Post, the esteemed Leon Wieseltier – writer, philosopher and son of Holocaust survivors - ends his essay titled “Stay angry. That’s the only way to uphold principles in Trump’s America,” thusly:

”The prettification of Donald Trump has begun. When a crushed Hillary Clinton graciously asked that Trump be given 'a chance to succeed,' I confess that I felt no such graciousness. This made me as small as Mitch McConnell, I know.

“But if Trump succeeds, America may fail; and it is America, its values and its interests, whose success matters most desperately to me. No cooling off, then. We must stay hot for America.

“The political liberty that we cherish in this precious republic is most purely and exhilaratingly experienced as the liberty to oppose.”

THE PROPER RESPONSE IS STEELY RESOLVE
Jonathan Chait writing in New York magazine about what we should do now:

“Trump’s allies in Congress are prepared to collect on their devil’s bargain. House Speaker Paul Ryan described the election as a 'mandate' — a curious term for an election in which his party will finish second in the national vote — and Republicans will move with maximal haste on plans to cut taxes for the rich, deregulate the financial industry, and cut social spending for the poor.

“There is no other conceivable course of action: The Republican Party in Washington has been organized over the last three decades as a machine to redistribute resources upward....

“Despair is a counterproductive response. So is denial — an easy temptation in the wake of the inevitable postelection pleasantries and displays of respect needed to maintain the peaceful transfer of power.

“The proper response is steely resolve to wage the fight of our lives.”

HOPE FOR THE BEST, PREPARE FOR THE WORST
A couple of days ago, Van Jones, co-founder of Color for Change and president of the social justice incubator Dream Corps, gave an interview to Mother Jones about our new predicament:

”...we need to put pressure on Trump, to speak out very forcefully that he's the president of all Americans including Muslims, and that his administration, including his law enforcement, is going to take very, very seriously any crimes against any Americas based on their race or their faith, including Muslims.

“He needs to send that signal very, very soon and very, very clearly. Otherwise, he's going to be seen as culpable. And his silence may be interpreted as encouragement, rightly or wrongly.

“I think we have every reason to hope for the best but expect and prepare for the worst. It is conceivable that maybe he won't feel the need to throw so much raw meat at his base and might govern reasonably, but it seems more likely that he'll follow the usual pattern of demagogues.”

I encourage you to read all of these in their entirety. But if you have time only for one, please make it Masha Gessen's rules for survival in an autocracy – because that's where we live now and we need to know more about how to do that.


John Oliver on the 2016 Presidential Election

This is not the usual quadrennial shift in politics we're having in the United States. It is a new world. Everything is upside down. There is nothing we can count on. All we are accustomed to is up for grabs.

Right now, most of the media – big-time newspapers, cable and network television news, a variety of news websites and a bunch of self-important, know-it-all pundits including Oprah Winfrey – are busy normalizing the president-elect. “Give him a chance,” they say, “things will be fine.”

No, things will not be fine.

His second appointment to the highest tier of White House advisers is a man who has spent recent years promoting, even celebrating, white nationalism in addition to publishing vicious anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration attacks at Breitbart News where he was chairman before joining the * campaign.

Does anyone think it gets better from here? How about Newt Gingrich for secretary of state? Rudy Giuliani for attorney general, anyone? Or Ben Carson for education secretary? Sarah Palin's name has been bandied about too.

* is not a normal politician, not even a normal person. Do not allow the media to convince you he is. His sexist, xenophobic, racist and hateful statements are not just another policy position.

We will talk about all this later but Tuesdays at TGB are usually a day off so I'll keep it short.

Sunday night on his HBO program, Last Week Tomight, host John Oliver warned against normalizing * and made a passionate call for action by all of us.

He makes a good start on some of the steps we can take to fight back and there will be additional ideas at this blog in the coming days, weeks and months.

This is the final Last Week Tonight show of 2016. It will return early in 2017. (As is often the case with Oliver, there is a lot of profanity, a quite prolonged section of it toward the end. It's okay. It won't harm you.)


An Elder's Notes on the New World Order

We often talk about how time speeds up as we grow older. It's true. Almost every morning when I brush my teeth, I look in the mirror and think, “Didn't I do this just a few minutes ago?” It feels that way.

Quite the opposite last week. After the election results were in, it felt like each day would never end. It must be lunch time, I would think, glance at the clock and see that it was 10:30AM. The next time I had that thought and checked the time, it was 10:45AM. And so on all throughout the week, like trudging through waist-deep mud.

Lifelong media maven that I am – both professionally and personally – I let go of most of it, particularly television news channels because I cannot bear to see or hear that person who is now president-elect.

I do not expect that to change much in the coming months and years and I have plenty of practice. In the two terms of the Bush II administration, I became adept at automatically pushing the mute button when his visage appeared.

That doesn't mean I haven't kept up – mostly via print media - just enough news to know how regime change is moving along in both official circles and among the public.

Along the way, I ran into some interesting thinkers who are grappling with options for those who oppose the new order in government and which I will share with you soon.

Today, however, some scattered notes and thoughts from the past week.

THE TGB CONVERSATION
What an extraordinary outcry from dozens of you last Friday – a record number of blog comments and Facebook likes.

There is a lot of shared pain, confusion and disbelief among us and I was grateful, reading it all, that somehow TGB has become a safe haven for people who reject the bigotry, misogyny, hate and authoritarianism that is the bedrock of the administration that will take power in January.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THAT COIN
There was an unusually high number of email unsubscribes from TGB on Friday and through the weekend.

The email distribution service I use offers several choices of reasons for people who unsubscribe to let me know why they are leaving and the most popular in this case was “Offensive, strongly disagree or disapprove.”

Some others - apparently lacking the courage of their conviction – chose “Other or will not disclose.”

However, there is a satisfying number of new subscribers too who, I hope, will soon be joining our conversation.

TWO GOOD PROTEST SUGGESTIONS
The Republican party will soon control it all - the White House, both houses of Congress, a majority at the Supreme Court before long and, as of this election, in 24 states, both the governorship and the legislature.

It is a total takeover and that requires response. I'll be talking a lot about what we can do in days and weeks to come but today, two small things from your comments.

ASTERISK *. Last Friday, a couple of people asked what SFV stood for in my post. It is an acronym for “short-fingered vulgarian” which is my favorite epithet for the Republican candidate to come out of the campaign.

I thought I might use it in place of the president-elect's and eventual president's name which I now will not say or write. But several of you used the asterisk a la Doonesbury and that, I think, is a better idea for this blog: * in place of the name.

SAFETY PINS. Several of you on Friday mentioned safety pins and I have not left the house without one on my jacket, sweater, lapel, etc. since then.

If you are unfamiliar with this protest, it began in Britain last June when people who disagreed with the Brexit vote began wearing safety pins to show solidarity with immigrants and people of color who were victims of racist attacks, and now Americans have adopted it.

Safety Pins

(On Saturday morning, MSNBC host Joy Reid took off her safety pin to give to an obviously pleased Michael Moore.)

That same day, I bought a box of safety pins and in addition to always wearing one, I keep a few with me to pass out when people ask what it means. This is a good thing for all of us to do – think of it as today's POW bracelet, a symbol to call attention.

THE ELDER VOTE
There are a zillion ways to slice and dice the electorate. By political affiliation. Gender. Income. Education. Issues. Ethnicity. Religion. Special interests. And, ahem, age.

Pundits and reporters have attributed the outcome of Tuesday's vote to these divisions and others too. As with all previous elections since I made ageing my daily work, elders as a group have again embarrassed: 53 percent of people 45 and older voted for *. Here's the graph:

Vote By Age Chart

We must not forget this – that old people bear some of the responsibility for the fix our country finds itself in. Maybe if more of my age cohort had voted differently we wouldn't be where we are now, facing what is likely to be an unfortunate future for all age groups.

WHAT CAN WE DO?
The last time I felt this strongly about working for change was in the 1960s during the civil rights and women's movements. Like many of you, I marched and petitioned and canvassed and in my case, produced a lot of radio shows to help spread the word.

It's half a century later now and I can't do as much in person as before nor can some other elders due to waning energy, illness, disability and other normal changes of age.

But this time we have a powerful and effective new tool that did not exist 50 years ago: the internet. That is a great advantage. It widens of the field of activists and while we will rely greatly on younger people to show up in person, old people can help too. Watch this space for more to come.

WHAT'S NEXT
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is beside himself with glee at this election. He has wanted to privatize Medicare and Social Security for as long as he has been in Congress and this is his best chance yet.

It is likely he will make his first attempt at about two minutes after the inauguration ceremony ends on 20 January so we need to be prepared and we'll be discussing that here soon.

With Republican control of every lever of government now, we must be vigilant and ready to move quickly all the time.

MEANWHILE
Breathe. It is the healthiest thing we each can do for ourselves and just in time, The New York Times is on it:

”Studies have found...that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder.

“'Breathing is massively practical,' says Belisa Vranich, a psychologist and author of the book Breathe, to be published in December. 'It’s meditation for people who can’t meditate.'”

You can find the story and several simple breathing techniques here but for those of you who do not subscribe to The Times and have used up your monthly allotment of stories, here is the most basic technique:

  1. Sitting upright or lying down, place your hands on your belly.

  2. Slowly breathe in, expanding your belly, to the count of five.

  3. Pause.

  4. Slowly breathe out to the count of six.

  5. Work your way up to practicing this pattern for 10 to 20 minutes a day.

ONE MORE THING
When Time Goes By began 15 years ago, the intention was - and still is - to explore growing old in all its aspects and it has hardly deviated in all that time. But now, an event of this magnitude needs regular attention too.

In no way am I abandoning the original mission – just expanding it to include what I believe is a national, even international emergency. This is a great time to be a white male; not so much everyone else and I cannot ignore that. So TGB will handle both of these issues now.


U.S. Election Day 2016

Yes, yes - I don't usually publish on Tuesday but even is a small way it seems right to mark the end of what John Oliver calls below, our long election nightmare. Or could it be just the beginning? I suppose, now, we will soon know.

Here are two short videos, John Oliver's final words on the campaign from his Sunday HBO program, Last Week Tonight. I couldn't decide on the best order to present them so if you think I've erred, just rearrange them in your head.

See you back here tomorrow, rain or shine, win or lose.


Nothing Else is Important This Week

With close to zero exceptions, every post on this blog for 15 years has been about ageing. I've broken that rule a few times toward the end of this presidential campaign because I don't think, in the nearly 15 year life of this blog, anything more important has happened in the United States and, possibly, the world.

So again today, and probably for the rest of this week, TGB will be about the 2016 election. It is that important. Whatever the outcome tomorrow, political life in the United States is now irrevocably changed - we just don't now how things will be different yet.

For going on two years, we have lived on a daily political diet of misogyny, racism and xenophobia from one of the candidates along with all the worry and terrible feelings that diet engenders.

I had a paragraph here recounting a couple dozen of the most loathsome things Donald Trump has exposed us to and I even dropped that word we're not supposed to say that begins with an "f" (the political one) but then I ran across Andrew Sullivan's story about his fear for the country. Here is a bit of his introduction beginning with the thought that "an accurate account of the past year...

"...is that an openly proto-fascist cult leader has emerged to forge a popular movement that has taken over one of the major political parties, eroded central norms of democratic life, undermined American democratic institutions, and now stands on the brink of seizing power in Washington...

"I find myself wondering if I have lost my marbles. It seems far too melodramatic...there are times in discussions with friends when the catastrophic scenarios we’ve been airing seem like something out of a dystopian mini-series designed for paranoids.

"Please, therefore, discount the following as the product of an excitable outlier if you see fit. I sure hope you’re right. But as it seems more evident by the day that Donald Trump could very well become the next president of the United States, it is worth simply reiterating the evidence in front of our nose that this republic is in serious danger."
You might agree with Sullivan or not - maybe he is right that he is an "excitable outlier" making melodrama of our predicament but I'm not so sure. I urge you to read his piece at New York magazine. Whichever person wins tomorrow, his words will be relevant in the days and years to come.

Somewhere on television over the weekend, I heard it said that for the rest of our lives (more important to young people than you and me, I suppose, but you get the point) we will be asked how we voted in 2016. And if Donald Trump becomes president, the next question will be about what we did – each of us - when the very principles of American democracy were challenged.

Elsewhere, Keith Olbermann has resurfaced during this election campaign after a years-long exile on some obscure TV channel. He is profane and sometimes irritating but I had not realized how much I have missed his bombastic version of righteous anger and indignation.

In his new-ish video show called The Closer on the GQ magazine YouTube channel, here is Olbermann on the crucial importance of Tuesday's election:

As he said, vote in defense of your birthright and our democracy.

MEDIA ANNOUNCEMENT: The New York Times executive editor announced yesterday that the paper is making their digital platform available for free to everyone for today, Tuesday and Wednesday. So if you are usually constrained at the Times website by the 10-article-per-month limit, that won't be this short election period.


John Oliver on the Latest Political Email Mess

Just when you think the 2016 election campaign can't get any worse, it does.

Last Friday, FBI director James Comey sent to Congress a particularly opaque letter – which was, of course, immediately released to the press by the Congressional Republicans – about more Clinton emails.

These, Comey suggested in the letter, were emails to and/or from Secretary Clinton residing on disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner's computer which (again, Comey was unclear) may or may not have been shared with Weiner's now-estranged wife Huma Abedin who is a top aide to Secretary Clinton.

Are you following this? It's not easy given factual information is nearly non-existent.

One of the few facts that is known, however, is that when Comey wrote the letter, the FBI did not even have a subpoena yet to look for Clinton-related emails on that computer.

On Sunday night, the FBI did receive judicial permission to search the computer for Clinton emails which they are now in the process of doing. The search might not be finished before election day if it is true that the computer holds 650,000 emails. (Huh? 650,000?)

The uproar Comey's letter has caused can be heard around the world and is bipartisan: many Democrats and many Republicans are furious that

A: there is no reason to have sent the letter to Congress (some even say it may be illegal) and

B: it appears, even if not intended, that the letter weights the election against Clinton and in favor of Trump and

C: if that was not Comey's intention, he should have know that would be the outcome.

So far (Tuesday), Comey has made no public comment about the turmoil he has caused.

By the way, did you know there has been a devastating earthquake in Italy this week? That on Tuesday, Iraqi forces managed to breach the city limits of Mosul? That there was a terrible crash between a commuter bus and a school bus in Baltimore that killed several people?

Maybe not, since news unrelated to the presidential campaign does not make it to the front pages of newspapers (online and off) nor the top of TV news programs.

One could hope that this will change after the election post-mortems are finished but I doubt it. On the night of the 2008 election, I (in Maine) was on the phone for several hours with a friend (in New York) as we watched the returns together.

When we finally hung up, one of us the said, “Just watch. Tomorrow morning, some Republican will announce he is a candidate for the presidency in 2012. Sure enough, as I watched the news the next morning with my coffee, someone threw his hat in the ring; but I don't remember who.

This is all so depressing and miserable that we could all use a laugh.

Saturday night, on his HBO program, Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver opened the show with this latest Clinton email development. Thank god for John Oliver to give us a lift. Enjoy. (As always, there is some profanity.)

As I neglected to mention above in regard to Comey's letter, of course Trump and his surrogates are gleefully convicting Secretary Clinton of “worse than Watergate.” Yes, Trump said that.

Oh, one more thing: if you want to see the entire video of the dog and the giant Gumby, click here.


Measly Social Security COLA Increase for 2017

Anyone who reads this blog undoubtedly knows this already: on Tuesday, the Social Security Administration announced that the annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for 2017 will be .3%.

That's right, three-tenths of one percent.

If you apply that to the average Social Security benefit of $1,238.00, it amounts to less than four dollars a month. That is on top of no – read: zero – increases for 2015 and 2016.

Are we supposed to be grateful this year, do you think?

I just received a 4.5% increase in my Medigap premium, a more than 10% increase in my Comcast internet bill and a 5.1% increase in my auto insurance premium (and we won't know about the annual increase in the Medicare Part B premium until November.)

No extra services, of course, in any for these increases – just an additional $35 or so a month. You might say that's not much except that increases for other fixed expenses haven't arrived yet and, most important, it happens this way every year.

Here is a chart from USA Today showing the Social Security COLA changes for the past 10 years:

SSAIncreases

Pathetic compared to actual costs. I can't be the only person who, each year, cuts back a little here, a little there and wonders how long until all of life's little pleasures are gone.

The president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), Max Richtman, sometimes asks attendees at town hall meetings how much they believe the COLA represents the true cost of living:

”...laughter is always the response,” he wrote Tuesday in a news release following the COLA anouncement.

“We should move to a COLA formula that takes a more accurate measure of seniors’ expenses,” he continued, “which is a CPI for the elderly. The CPI-E has been in the experimental phase since 1982. It’s time to finish the job by fully funding the development of a more accurate COLA formula.”

The CPI-E is a much more realistic calculation of elders' expenses compared to working people but recommendations to change to it have been ignored in Washington for more than 30 years.

There are at least two bills to strengthen Social Security that have been sitting in the House and Senate for a year or more with no action from our do-nothing Congress. I cannot imagine that the bills will come to the floor before a new president is sworn in.

Which brings me to that tiny mention of Social Security and Medicare in the final moments of the Wednesday presidential debate. There was no real discussion to speak of. Here is Max Richtman's full statement after the debate:

“Rather than focusing on the candidate’s plans for improving Social Security and Medicare’s long-term solvency, strengthening benefits and tackling the retirement crisis looming for millions of workers and retirees, last night’s viewers were stuck with the same old crisis calls that ‘entitlements’ are bankrupting America.

“No doubt, Washington’s billion dollar anti-Social Security lobby was happy to have some life pumped back into their middle-class killing campaign to cut benefits; however, America’s voters deserved far more from this debate.

”Make no mistake about it, the choices between Clinton and Trump couldn’t be starker. Donald Trump’s Social Security shape-shifting leaves voters with no idea of how he plans to improve solvency and benefit adequacy. Doing nothing isn’t an option.

“Contrary to his insult last night, hearing Hillary Clinton tell the truth about how to strengthen Social Security's funding isn't ‘nasty,’ it's just reality. As long as America's wealthiest are allowed to avoid paying their share of payroll taxes, Social Security suffers. Period.

“While Clinton supports expanding benefits, Trump’s only policy promise last night was to repeal Obamacare. That cuts years from Medicare’s solvency and billions in preventive care, prescription drugs and cost-reducing benefits to seniors.

“Most Americans know that our nation faces a retirement crisis. Our economy depends on strong Social Security and Medicare programs and improving benefits is vital to keeping millions from poverty. Too bad voters weren’t allowed to hear any of that debated last night.”

Perhaps in a new administration some progress can be made in Congress on this kind of legislation. Stay tuned here after the January inauguration for ideas on how you and I can make a difference.

Meanwhile, don't spend your COLA all in one place.

Oh, wait. One more thing from our friends at the NCPSSM coming off Trump calling Hillary a "nasty woman" at the Wednesday debate:

NASTYWOMAN_FINAL


The Day After the Final Presidential Debate of 2016

Like all previous debate moderators, Chris Wallace reminded the audience of thousands at last night's final debate in Las Vegas that they were spectators, not participants and he admonished them to withhold applause, laughter, boos and cheers. But he left one out of the forbidden list: gasp.

And that was the audience's spontaneous response when Republican nominee Donald Trump refused to say he will accept the outcome of the November 8 election.

“I will look at it at the time. What I have seen is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt, and the pile-on is so amazing.”

His refusal is so unprecedented, so shocking, so demeaning of precedent and our democracy itself that Mr. Wallace gave Trump a second chance to answer. Trump stood firm: "I'll keep you in suspense," he said.

Secretary Hillary Clinton called his answer "horrifying" and actually, it was much worse than it seems in print. Here is the piece of video that will undoubtedly live in infamy:

There is only one answer, a one-word answer, to that question and Trump blew it.

The analysts and particularly those who lean Republican will tell you that Trump performed better at this debate than the previous two but that doesn't matter in the face of his answer repudiating a bedrock foundation of America, the peaceful transition of power.

One other thing - minor in comparison. Chris Wallace saved his announced topic of "entitlements" to the very end when there were only a couple of minutes left in the debate and answers were sketchy. Secretary Clinton pledged to use tax increases on the wealthy to preserve Social Security and Medicare. Trump said his plan is to - well, it was hard to tell - perhaps "make America great again."

I won't quote all the morning news outlets for you - it's easy to find them online. But now, it's your turn to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment space below. Because it is the internet, space is unlimited – have your say at whatever length. Just, please, paragraph it if it's long so that it is easier for old eyes to read.


Final Presidential Face-to-Face Tonight

ClintonTrumpImage

Here we go again - one last debate tonight just 20 days before the 8 November election.

Before I get to the nuts and bolts of what you need to know for tonight and a nice surprise at the end of this post, here's a short video from John Oliver on his HBO program, Last Week Tonight last Saturday with his own kind of recap of Donald Trump's previous week:

You probably don't need me to find all the information about tonight's debate - it's everywhere. But in the interest of completeness, here are the details.

• TIME: The debate begins at 9PM eastern U.S. time and lasts for 90 minutes. There are no commercial interruptions.

• MODERATOR: The anchor of Fox New Sunday, Chris Wallace, is the moderator.

• LOCATION: The debate is, of course, live and being held at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

• FORMAT AND TOPICS: Like the first debate, this one will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each with topics chosen by Mr. Wallace. They are:

Immigration
Entitlements and debt
The Supreme Court
The economy
Foreign policy
Each candidate's fitness for the office of president

You can pretty well bet it will not go well for us older folks when the moderator refers to Social Security and Medicare as “entitlements.” I cannot wait to see how misinformed Wallace is about those programs. Wouldn't it be terrific if Clinton began her response by saying, “These are 'earned benefits', Chris, not 'entitlements'. Every recipient paid into them all their working lives.”

Don't hold your breath.

The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. Candidates will then have an opportunity to respond to each other.

The moderator will use any remaining time in the segment for a deeper discussion of the topic.

• WHERE TO WATCH: These television channels will carry the debate:

ABC
CBS
Fox
NBC
PBS
C-SPAN
CNN

Fox News
MSNBC

The debate will also be streamed online at least at these locations and there may be others:

Most networks' websites
Facebook
YouTube
debates.twitter.com

Also: Undoubtedly at a bar or two near you. As with the previous two debates, Time Goes By will be open tomorrow, Thursday, for discussion of this final confrontation between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Now for the treat:

Even though the latest polls look good for Hillary Clinton, I don't entirely believe them and I've been concerned all along that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein will pull just enough votes from Clinton that she might lose.

As it turns out, that is precisely what John Oliver talked about in his main essay Saturday on Last Week Tonight: third parties. You're gonna love this.


What It Means to be Human


Isn't that a splendid story? It's barely a minute long yet it is filled with a world of love, understanding, grief, joy, compassion, insight and maybe some magic.

There isn't much of that these days. At least, not in public life. For the past 18 months, one person and his various enablers have been force feeding us a daily menu of hatred, ignorance, malice, lies, vulgarity and general thuggery that has tainted any whisper of human kindness trying to break through.

Yes, I'm bringing Donald Trump into this.

On Monday, the post updating some thoughts about elder loneliness I was trying to write for today was not going well. The words refused to come together, I was distracted and couldn't focus – instead surfing political websites and clicking on cable news to see who was saying what about Sunday's presidential debate.

None of it was uplifting in the tiniest degree. The more I saw, the more I read, the grimmer I felt. Let down. Kind of dirty. Craving a bit of patriotism maybe – words like freedom and liberty and justice that are missing from this horrible, endless election campaign.

I had wasted several hours unable to write about loneliness before trashing the piece and hoping for overnight inspiration.

That didn't happen but early Tuesday I ran across the above video clip that I had set aside some time ago for future use and had forgotten. Let me tell you about it.

It is from a movie released in 2015 titled Human directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, now age 70, who is a French photographer, filmmaker and environmentalist.

The film was produced over three years during which Arthus-Bertrand and a team of 20 others traveled to 60 or so countries where they interviewed more than 2,000 people, asking each one the same 40 questions.

All the subjects were shot on a plain, black background without any details about their identity and locale nor, during post production, any musical score. That way, Arthus-Bertrand explained to Wired magazine, he hoped to

”...concentrate on what we all share. If you put the name of a person, or what country they’re from, you don’t feel that as strongly".

Here is Arthus-Bertrand himself explaining his goal in making Human:

Now, a few more of the 2,000 stories.

Although I would hope so, it is hard to know if I am good enough to maybe, possibly, sometimes find the kind of forgiveness the man in that last video has. What I know with all my heart, however, is that Donald Trump cannot.

He is the opposite of love, devotion, kindness, understanding. And what he has done – or we have allowed him to do - with his non-stop bellowing of loathsome and repugnant speech is infect us all with his hateful view of life.

It is bad enough that with at least one-third of voters backing Trump, his abominable beliefs and behavior will not end with a Clinton victory. We are stuck with it for a long time.

Which is exactly why I need a break from it all and something uplifting to feed my soul. It took finding that video of this magnificent movie about all the many ways there are to be human for me to feel a little bit clean again.

You can watch Human yourself in a variety of places and formats. There is the official website or watch many short videos like those above at Google Arts & Culture. Or visit the YouTube page for more clips.

There is also a theatrical version and a TV version, among others (see here). Plus, there is this three volume version you can watch online:

Human – Extended Version Volume 1
Human – Extended Version Volume 2
Human – Extended Version Volume 3

I don't recall that I have ever in my 75 years felt as bad about my country and its future as I do now. This movie, Human - which shows us the family of man in all its glory, and misery too - is a good antidote.


The Day After the Second Presidential Debate

It was a small and pissy debate last night as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump badgered one another with attacks and slurs for 90 minutes. I think it was a disgrace and a degradation of public political discourse. Mostly, it was irritating. Ms. Clinton had lost her mojo from the first debate and although Trump apparently put some small amount of preparation for this one, the "facts" he flung around were, I would guess, about 75 percent wrong or fake.

Two or three moments stand out. In his misdirecting manner, Trump apparently confessed both to sexual assault and to not paying federal taxes for many years. But the most shocking statement was when Trump said that if he is elected president he would have the Justice Department investigate Clinton and would jail her.

Let me restate that as clearly as possible: an American citizen who is a candidate for the presidency threatened to jail his opponent if he is elected. Just like they do in third world countries. Do not minimize this as Donald Trump being Donald Trump. It is shocking, disrespectful of our country's values and, I believe, requires an apology to the entire nation. Which will not happen, of course.

I have a feeling the media will not see Trump's threat to jail Clinton if he wins as important as I do. That would be wrong. It reveals Trump's ignorance of everything the United State stands for as well as his inherent thuggery.

There was a nasty little bit of stagecraft an hour before the debate when Trump sat at a table in a drab hotel conference room with four women who, a couple of decades ago, accused then-President Bill Clinton of sexual misdeeds. The four women were later seated in the debate auditorium but there seemed to be no real purpose to charade.

Overall, Clinton held her ground and Trump did not lose any of his base voters. Neither moved the needle.

As with the first debate, I don't need to quote all the morning news outlets for you - it's easy to find them online. I've only read a couple of them so far and to give you a real feel of the debate from an expert who was there and who has followed the campaign from day one, I recommend Robert Costa at the Washington Post.

Now, it's your turn to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment space below. Because it is the internet, space is unlimited – have your say at whatever length. Just, please, paragraph it if it's long so that it is easier for old eyes to read.

* * *

In regard to this entire campaign, I want to share one of the most interesting things I read over the weekend about the rise of Donald Trump.

Stephen Greenblatt is a professor at Harvard and the general editor of The Norton Shakespeare. In The New York Times, he wrote about how Shakespeare took on the question of how a great country could wind up being governed by a sociopath.

”The problem was not England’s, where a woman of exceptional intelligence and stamina had been on the throne for more than 30 years,” writes Greenblatt, “but it had long preoccupied thoughtful people.

“Why, the Bible brooded, was the kingdom of Judah governed by a succession of disastrous kings? How could the greatest empire in the world, ancient Roman historians asked themselves, have fallen into the hands of a Caligula?”

Shakespeare tackled the question in his play, Richard III. Greenblatt identifies five enablers that made it possible for Richard to come to power and they are remarkably similar to what we are watching during this presidential campaign 420-odd years after Shakespeare's time.

”Shakespeare brilliantly shows all these types of enablers working together in the climactic scene of this ascent. The scene — anomalously enough in a society that was a hereditary monarchy but oddly timely for ourselves — is an election...

Richard III does not depict a violent seizure of power. Instead there is the soliciting of popular votes, complete with a fraudulent display of religious piety, the slandering of opponents and a grossly exaggerated threat to national security.”

Doesn't that sound familiar. As Greenblatt concludes:

”Shakespeare’s words have an uncanny ability to reach out beyond their original time and place and to speak directly to us.

“We have long looked to him, in times of perplexity and risk, for the most fundamental human truths. So it is now. Do not think it cannot happen, and do not stay silent or waste your vote.”

I think you will enjoy reading all of Stephen Greenblatt's essay here.


VP Debate: Little Noted, Long Forgotten

Although it began even earlier, we've been full tilt at this presidential election thing for 18 months. With the possible exception (although I'm not sure) of Hillary Clinton, nobody gets any better at it – not the candidates, not the media, not the pundits – and last night was not an exception.

PenceKaine.jgp

Confession: I lasted until exactly 6:34PM (Pacific time) before clicking away from the debate between Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine and and his Republican counterpart Mike Pence.

The wall-to-wall cross-talk and interruptions of one another made comprehension impossible. It sounded like gibberish and they both looked stupid.

Not to mention that Mike Pence apparently took his split-screen listening cues from his upballot running mate - rolling his eyes at Tim Kaine, shaking his head in smarmy superiority and faked indignation. And Kaine wasn't any better. These are grown men, for god's sake.

Moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News didn't help. She couldn't control the interruptions and even I could have told her that nine subjects in 90 minutes was about six too many as she rushed the two men through those first 30 minutes I saw.

Right now it is early morning, about 4AM as I write this, and I haven't looked at the reporting yet about the debate so I wonder if the ad-hoc fact checking during the debate caught Quijano's problem with her Social Security question.

The candidates' answers (if they had been audible) hardly matter when the question assumed that Social Security benefit cuts are imminent.

They are not. That's not to say that the program doesn't require some fixes to ensure future benefits, but the possibilities to do so are well known, are relatively simple and need only a functional Congress to enact.

And that brings me to the media itself which has been almost universally inept, lazy and uninformed throughout this long campaign. Among their many sins I'll mention just one this morning – not their biggest transgression but one (among others) that drives me around the bend.

It is their penchant to insist on how stupid “the public” is, especially the hosts and pundit round-tables of the cable news channels.

“The general public doesn't understand how...” they say. Or, “Wait a minute, the public isn't as informed about this as you and I...” Or, “We should tell our viewers how that works because they don't know...”

Oh yeah? You don't get to talk down to your viewers when one of your kind (and most of the rest of you) never get even the Social Security question right.

As one who spent many years working in the news media, it pains me to say that if not for the recent exceptional reporting of David Farenhold at the Washington Post and Ken Eichenwald at Newsweek, the political press would be pretty much a washout for this entire campaign.

And with that, I'm going to settle back now with my morning coffee. Your turn to speak up in the comments below.

PS: that headline is a quotation from James Carville - his assessment of last night's debate about ten minutes after it ended.