463 posts categorized "Politics"

Mourning Pat Trimbell, and the Senate Impeachment Trial

Before we get to the political turmoil we are currently living through, there is something else.

Last week we held a good discussion about the friends we make online and the hole that is left in our lives when they disappear. On Saturday, Kate Carlson left a note on that post about her mother, Pat Trimbell, whose name turned up regularly in the comments here for many years.

”My name is Kate,” she wrote. “I am reading this blog for the first time as I saw that it was bookmarked on my mother's computer. I now have her computer because she recently died...so this has been an interesting and timely blog for me to read.

“I have no idea if she (Pat Trimbell) was an active voice here or not. But I know that the content and people of this blog were a blessing in her life, so I thank you all for that.”

And thank you, Kate, for letting us know. Most often, we don't.

* * *

THE AMERICAN POLITICAL PREDICAMENT
[What follows may not be directly related to age or growing old, but as a U.S. citizen living through a crisis that makes Watergate and the Nixon resignation feel like a day in the park, I believe it is important to make some space for those of us who gather here to talk about what I see as our national shame.]

On Friday evening, the U.S. Senate voted mostly along party lines to reject including documents and witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald John Trump. (Before you read further, it might be helpful to read Maureen Dowd's weekend column in The New York Times if you have access.)

Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins did her usual “maybe, maybe not” tap dance about her vote for a few days, eventually siding with the Democrats in the hope it will help her re-election campaign which is under water.

Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, on the other hand, voted with the Democrats because, apparently, he believes a trial requires evidence and witness testimony. What a concept.

While the trial was underway, there were several leaks from John Bolton's upcoming book, The Room Where It happened, a memoir of his time as National Security Advisor in the Trump administration.

Bolton had said he would testify at the impeachment trial if subpoenaed but the Republicans were having none of it. Nor were they having any of it from Lev Parnas, the indicted cohort of Rudy Giuliani, who is eager to testify.

The president's legal team at the trial didn't deny the details of the leaks and didn't have much of a defense beyond stating, “He didn't do it.” The more awful truth, in fact, is that the defense came down to this: “If the king does it, it's legal.”

And that is where we are now – living in a monarchy.

Next up is the annual State of the Union address at which the president will address the entire Congress on Tuesday evening. At least he cannot crow that he was acquitted in the Senate (that won't happen until Wednesday) but never one to hide his light, he is certain to make the speech all about himself.

As, I suppose, befits a king.

The thing is, leaks and more books already in the pipeline along with photographs, videos, recordings and brave patriots like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Ambassador Fiona Hill and others will continue to tell the truth out loud. Eventually.

What worries me is what this president will do to our republic between now and eventually. It can easily be catastrophic from which there would be no return. In fact, I wonder if we have reached that point already. Certainly we have in regard to the Republican Party.

You may have noticed that the language in this post is a little more stilted than usual. That's because I couldn't trust myself to remain civil on this subject without coloring carefully within the lines.

The comments are open for discussion. Keep yours on topic. Do not attack other commenters or respond to attacks. Keep a civil tongue and respect one another. Violaters will be permanently blocked from future commenting without notice or recourse.


House Vote on Medicare Drug Prices This Week

What with “All Impeachment All The Time" news on television, in newspapers and the internet, it's hard to know there are other things going on in Washington, D.C. But I did come across one last week that is important to most of the people who read this blog.

According to a press release at the House website of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. House of Representatives this week will vote on H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The legislation will give Medicare

”...the power to negotiate lower drug prices and make those prices available to people with private insurance [Part D]. No longer will Americans have to pay more for their prescriptions than what Big Pharma charges in other countries for the same medicines.

“We are reinvesting the more than half a trillion dollars the federal government alone saves from lower drug prices to expand Medicare to cover vision, dental and hearing for the first time. We add billions to the search for breakthrough cures and treatments, confronting the opioid epidemic, strengthening our community health centers, and more.”

There are 106 co-sponsors of the bill, all Democrats. Text of the bill is here.

The White House opposes the bill primarily on grounds that it will prevent drug companies from creating new life-saving drugs. You can read the White House response here.

On the other hand, The Journal of Clinical Pathways reports

”Republicans in Congress have expressed concerns with the legislation citing, like the White House, that it would discourage innovation in new pharmaceutical product development, but the President has nevertheless praised Pelosi’s plan.”

Neither the publication nor I have a source for the president's praise.

Meanwhile, under current regulations, Part D costs to enrollees will increase next year. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis of changes for the year 2020:

”...Medicare Part D enrollees are facing a relatively large increase in out-of-pocket drug costs before they qualify for catastrophic coverage.

“This is due to the expiration of the ACA provision that constrained the growth in out-of-pocket costs for Part D enrollees by slowing the growth rate in the catastrophic threshold between 2014 and 2019; in 2020 and beyond, the threshold will revert to the level that it would have been using the pre-ACA growth rate calculation.

“For 2020, the out-of-pocket spending threshold will increase by $1,250, from $5,100 to $6,350.”

Here's the chart:

KFFPartD

Further increases for Part D enrollees, according to KFF, include

”...higher out-of-pocket costs in 2020 for the deductible and in the initial coverage phase, as they have in prior years.

“The standard deductible is increasing from $415 in 2019 to $435 in 2020, while the initial coverage limit is increasing from $3,820 in 2019 to $4,020 in 2020.

“For costs in the coverage gap phase, beneficiaries will pay 25% for both brand-name and generic drugs, with plans paying the remaining 75% of generic drug costs—which means that, effective in 2020, the Part D coverage gap will be fully phased out.”

There are additional changes (what else is new) that you can read here.

H.R. 3 is not the only proposal in Washington to modify Part D costs. There is a bill from the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) and another from the Trump administration's fiscal 2020 budget (TAdmin). They would cap enrollees' out-of-pocket spending as follows:

H.R. 3 – at $2,000 out-of-pocket
SFC – at $3,200 out-of-pocket
TAdmin - Unknown

Here's the chart:

CatastrophicPartD

Whew. I'm nearly cross-eyed from sorting out all this information and trying to translate it from the government-ese. With that, I've left out a lot but you now have the general idea. You can get more detail from the links above.

Even given that no House Republicans signed on as co-sponsors, H.R. 3 is likely to pass in the House this week.

Over the past three years we have learned what happens to Democratic sponsored bills when they get to the Senate. But if you think this is a good proposal, you should urge your representative to vote for the bill – even if you already know he or she will do so. At least their offices will have tallies of constituents' leanings.

The Congress telephone number is (202) 224-3121, then ask for your representative's office by his/her name. Or, go to the House of Representatives website and enter your Zip Code to reach your representatives page.



How the U.S. Can Survive Trump

Only once before have I done this and only two weeks ago. On 11 November in a post titled This is Wrong and I am Exhausted, I let loose about the frightening, lawless government President Donald Trump and his henchmen have made for us in the past three years.

It was a popular post with both pro and con advocates. An extraordinary number of readers unsubscribed in anger, a few making their point to me (mostly via email instead of publicly) in impolite terms I could not miss understanding.

But what the hell, here I go again. Because it is that important for everyone, even people who don't agree.

This time it is not what I have to say. Instead, in is an interview with the brilliant and estimable Yale University historian, Timothy Snyder – he of two remarkable books about the times we now live in: On Tyranny about how democracies can succumb to authoritarianism and The Road to Unfreedom about how Vladimir Putin is destabilizing western democracies.

Recently, Chauncy DeVega, a staff political writer at Salon magazine, interviewed Snyder about the state of the United States after three years of Trump in the White house. A couple of not-so-random excerpts.

SNYDER: Mr. Trump must be opposed, because if unopposed his administration is capable of doing damage that future generations won’t be able to repair. That structural and moral damage will get in the way of making America a more just country.

SNYDER: What has to be normal instead is an America which can renew itself, because it’s capable of thinking about the future and drawing conclusions from the past. Donald Trump’s specific terrain is that there is no truth and there is no future. If you cannot keep yourself in a world where there is truth and therefore there’s a future, then Trump is actually winning.

SNYDER: But I think the harder question, and the one that I personally worry about most, is what to do when he loses. We need to think about catching up on all this lost time. These last three years are lost time, in terms of our survival as a species. We needed to have climate policy. Instead we just messed around.

SNYDER: I worry that the Democrats will win and not hit the ground running...If the Democrats do not hit the ground running it will seem as though they are not a real alternative to what came before. We’re going to need political leadership which says, “Yes, really good things have to happen really fast right now.”

Professor Snyder is so clear-headed, so clear-thinking, so informed that he should be required reading. Here is a great starter – DeVega's interview below. It is only 20 minutes long and more wide-ranging than my excerpts. Why not give it a whirl.

Or, there is a transcript of most of their conversation at Salon magazine.



This is Wrong and I am Exhausted

It is Saturday as I type out these words and with coffee at hand, my intention is to spend the morning writing Monday's blog post – something about growing old.

But. But. First, there is the day's news – if not familiar in precise detail, it has certainly become ad nauseam in its never-ending repetition.

ITEM: The president announced that on the same day public impeachment hearings begin in the U.S. Congress this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodğan will visit the White House. Really? The man who just recently sicced his armed forces on U.S.-allied Kurds in northern Syria?

ITEM: The president dangled a White House visit in front of the president of Ukraine but made clear it would be forthcoming only if said president would dig up dirt on Trump's possible election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

ITEM: The president was fined $2 million this week for using his charitable foundation over several decades as his and his children's personal piggy bank.

ITEM: On Friday, the president said he doesn't know Gordon Sondland. You know, the man who gave Trump a million-dollar campaign contribution to purchase an ambassadorship? Is anyone counting the number of people Trump has thrown under the bus so far?

ITEM: It was revealed that for two years the Trump re-election campaign has been running fraudulent fundraising contests in which at least 16 winners were promised a meal with the president that never materialized.

Look at that list, a quick compilation of some of one day's main headlines and all of it, every item, is petty, chintzy or corrupt. Trump is such a small, vulgar, little man, a two-bit grifter, a chiseler who never met a person he didn't want to cheat.

He makes me feel grubby, embarrassed and ashamed. Ashamed to be an American.

Angry too. To go with the above headline news, the president began the paperwork last week to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement – just when the scientists are telling us it is more dire than anyone had thought.

And don't get me started on Congressional Republicans. Are they the clowns they show us every day or are they playing every person who voted for them for fools?

Not to mention Republicans appointed to high positions by the president who have refused Congressional subpoenas. Isn't there a penalty for that? But before it even gets that far, it must be asked where their principles are. Their patriotism. Do they even believe in the Constitution, in the rule of law?

Apparently not, which if true, makes the mess President Trump has made of the American government even worse than any of us could have imagined.

Nearly every move the president and his henchmen (there is no other word for them now) make has been and continues to be a disaster for our country and for the world.

It didn't have to be this way and as bad as you may think it is, it's worse. Even if we could replace Trump today with a president of known integrity, it would be decades until the ship of state is on an even keel again.

We all have our personal list of presidents we didn't like, but none shook the foundations of our country as this one has.

I'm angry but I'm more exhausted. I want this to end. Please, I am calling on all the gods who ever lived, make this stop.

(Thank you, dear readers, for indulging this tirade today.)



How Old Should a U.S. President Be?

On Tuesday last week, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders suffered chest pain at a campaign event and was taken to a hospital in Las Vegas.

At first doctors said the senator had a blockage in an artery but when he left the hospital on Friday, the campaign issued a statement saying Sanders had suffered a heart attack.

“'After two and a half days in the hospital, I feel great, and after taking a short time off, I look forward to getting back to work,' Sanders said in the statement quoted in Slate.

It was announced on Thursday that Senator Sanders will attend the 15 October Democratic debate in Ohio.

Bernie Sanders is 78 years old and until this past week, few journalists had dipped their pens into the quadrennial presidential age conversation. But his heart attack seems to have loosened reporters' reticence and there has been a sizable uptick in the number of opinions on the matter in the past few days.

After skimming through a number of them, it seemed to me to make better sense to have a bunch of old people like us at this blog discuss the presidential age issue. So here we are today.

This year, in addition to 78-year-old Sanders, there are 76-year-old Joe Biden, 70-year-old Elizabeth Warren not to mention 73-year-old Donald Trump running for the office of president.

Former President Jimmy Carter turned 95 last Tuesday. A couple of weeks earlier he told a crowd that he hopes there is an age limit on running for president:

“'If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger,' Mr. Carter said, 'I don’t believe I could undertake the duties that I experienced when I was president,' according to The New York Times.

“'One thing is you have to be very flexible with your mind,' he continued. 'You have to be able to go from one subject to another and concentrate on each one adequately and then put them all together in a comprehensive way.'”

It's hard to argue with a guy who's been there, done that so I won't try. Another age limit proponent, Andrew Ferguson, writing in The Atlantic back in June, had a different reason for wanting a younger president: “to break the gerontocracy” of the Democratic Party:

”There is a huge gap between where the energy and creativity of the party lie, with a group of dynamic activists and House members in their 30s and even their 20s (thank you, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), and the ruling class of 70-somethings layered far above like a crumbling porte cochère...

“The trick for old folks is to adjust their search for purpose and meaning as they follow nature’s course and give way to their juniors.”

I'm ignoring that “crumbling porte chochere” crack along with the false assumptions about age stuffed into so short a quotation to offer the notion that some experience – as you might have noticed over the past two-and-a-half years – wouldn't hurt.

I think The Squad and some other young newcomers to Congress are terrific but I don't think one year is Congress is quite enough to tackle the biggest job.

Personally, I oppose a cutoff age for presidential candidates for the same reason I keep arguing against lumping all old people together. Come on now, you can sing it with me: People age at dramatically different rates.

Some 50- and 60-year-olds would be incapable of keeping up with the demands of the top job. Some 70-somethings and even 80-somethings can. But you don't need to hear that from me. Almost any geriatrician or gerontologist would agree:

”Gerontologists and other experts in aging say there is simply no way to definitively address the question of an upper age limit on the rigors of the presidency, reports The New York Times.

“'There’s no answer. It’s unknowable,' said Dr. Mark Lachs, co-chief of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian. 'It’s true that rates of physical and cognitive impairment are age dependent but there’s all kind of variability.'”

And, hoping I'm not being too flip about it, what do you think vice presidents are for?

Ed Kilgore, writing in New York magazine last June came down on the side of no age limit:

”So from a historical perspective, Trump, Sanders, and Biden (and Elizabeth Warren...) aren’t too old at all as compared to the rest of the population. From a health point of view, it’s hard to say if they are riskier propositions than younger pols.

“There is the cautionary tale of Reagan, whom many observers thought was showing signs of serious cognitive impairment during his second term. On the other hand, another president who was clearly impaired, Woodrow Wilson, only 62 when he suffered a debilitating stroke...”

Now it's your turn, dear readers. Should there be an upper age limit for presidential candidates?



Let's Talk About Threats to Social Security

Fifteen years of experience at this blog tells me that when I write about Social Security, readership that day drops by about one-third, sometimes more.

Of course, I have no way to prove it but I'm pretty sure that a vast majority of U.S. TGB readers, most of whom collect Social Security, would have serious challenges to face if the program's benefit was reduced.

Some people would not fill prescriptions or they might cut dosages – the poorer among us are known to do this. Others would go hungry.

The Social Security benefit is small enough but it is also the most successful social program in the history of the United States raising, according to 2017 statistics, 22 million Americans in all 50 states above the poverty line. That includes 15 million elders.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of Congress members and some presidents who have been and still are hell bent on cutting Social Security. So you of the TGB one-third who skip Social Security stories – maybe take a couple of minutes to skim this post so you'll understand the threats.

During the 2016 campaign and beyond, President Trump repeatedly said he would protect, and not cut, Social Security (and Medicare, Medicaid). Here's the compilation video from the Washington Post:

Since his election, Trump has mostly ignored Social Security and then, in his 2019 proposed Budget last March, he called for “$25 billion in cuts to Social Security over 10 years, including cuts to disability insurance” according to Vox.

The president's budget is not legally binding and Congress is free to ignore it or any parts of it whe they craft each year's budget for the country. However, it does provide Congress a sense of the chief executive's priorities, budgetary objectives and recommended spending levels.

Since Social Security was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, Congress members, especially Republicans, have been eagerly standing in line to not just cut Social Security benefits but to kill the program entirely.

The most recent is Republican Senator Joni Ernst who is up for re-election next year. She spoke at a town hall in Estherville, Iowa, about Social Security and how to “maintain” it:

The audio was poorly recorded so if you missed it, here is Ernst's salient point on Social Security (emphasis added).

”...as various parties and members of Congress, we do need to sit down behind closed doors so we’re not being scrutinized by this group or the other, and just have an open and honest conversation about what are some of the ideas that we have for maintaining Social Security in the future.”

“Closed doors.” “Not scrutinized.” “Open and honest.” All in one sentence. And in public, too. Which, I suppose, isn't too bright when you're holding secret conversations about cuts that would impoverish millions of people.

This is not imminent. Most of Congress and the president are caught up in election fever now so changes to social network programs (and most everything else that needs attending to) will not be attempted until 2021. But it behooves us to understand what could happen and what the consequences would be so we are prepared when the time comes.

All this is not to say that Social Security doesn't need some shoring up, something that has been known but Congress has ignored since 1984. Here is a quick overview from The Motley Fool which starts out saying that Social Security is in “some pretty big trouble.”

”According to the April [2019]-released Social Security Board of Trustees report, the program won't bring in enough revenue over the long term (the next 75 years) to cover outlays to beneficiaries, inclusive of cost-of-living adjustments.

“The silver lining for seniors who are dependent on Social Security as a major source of income is that the program is in no danger of disappearing or going bankrupt.

“Recurring sources of revenue, such as the payroll tax and the taxation of benefits, ensure that there will always be money to divvy out to eligible beneficiaries.

“But the bad news is that Social Security is facing an estimated funding shortfall of $13.9 trillion between 2035 and 2093. If this shortfall isn't dealt with by adding revenue, cutting expenditures, or some combination of the two, retired-worker benefits could fall by as much as 23% within the next two decades. That means Social Security's future is in our elected lawmakers' hands.”

For all the years I've been writing about attacks on Social Security benefits, there have been numerous solutions to the shortfall many of which alone or in combination would work without burdening beneficiaries.

We will discuss some of these here in the future because it is vital to increase Social Security revenues and our Congresses have let us down since the aforementioned 1984 by doing nothing in all that time.

Meanwhile, Nancy Altman is the number one expert and advocate for Social Security in the U.S. Even when, like now, Social Security is not a front-page item, she keeps us informed on the program, what officials are or should be doing about it at Forbes and other publications around the web.

Or just Google her name and click on the “news” header in the results.



One More Political Post – Just One: On the Debates

Friends and others have asked me what I thought of the Democratic debate last week. Short answer: Phooey.

I had thought to skip them (two in two nights????). Nevertheless, I tuned in at the top of night one and tuned out 30 minutes later. Nothing to see here. Same old political platitudes carefully memorized from debate preparation, each one calculated by paid consultants hoping to “create a moment” that would go viral online.

In the weekend following the debates, TV hosts, pundits and candidates themselves stretched any thinking person's credulity trying to make these debates the most important event of the campaign. And crown a winner too.

HELLO! IT IS 17 MONTHS UNTIL THE 2020 ELECTION. But the media is already in the tank for Kamala Harris. Well, until the next shiny object appears.

Doesn't anyone in the media know how much can – and will – change between now and November 2020?

Given who the U.S. president is, some things at least as disturbing as the current southern border crimes are likely to occur.

The president may sound like a buffoon most of the time, but as we have seen in the past two-and-a-half years, he can do deep and lasting damage to our country and beyond (it seems to me to be his goal), and he will do that many times in the next 17 months.

In addition, especially because she is being anointed so early in the campaign, Ms. Harris will suffer slings and arrows similar to those Joe Biden is currently experiencing over his forced busing comment at the debate which caused a 10-point drop in his favorability ranking.

It is absurd to be conducting a presidential campaign this long before the vote. Absurd and stupid. In England, they announce an election and the campaign period follows for only 25 days, then the vote. That sounds about right to me.

And the number of Democratic candidates? Also absurd. No more than 25 percent of them deserved to be on that stage. It looked to me like they know they don't have a chance of getting far but they are betting they can raise their national profile enough for a future run.

Again, phooey. And don't get me started on the reported tiff between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over last week's border bill.

It doesn't matter which one of them you think is right. The Democrats have a decades-long history of screwing up every advantage they've had and they are already well along that path again. You can't trust the Democrats to organize a picnic let alone a winning political strategy.

In the nearly four years since Trump descended that escalator in Trump Tower, I have come to despise his voice and have made myself master of the mute button.

As soon as his face appears on the screen, I silence him. Or, if the clicker is too far away, I can hum loudly to bury his voice in brain noise until I can get to the mute button.

With Trump's insatiable need for constant attention and the media's insatiable need to supply it, I'll get a lot of exercise these next 17 months lunging for the TV clicker.

And then, mark my words, the campaign for 2024 will begin the morning after the vote.



The Unimaginable Becomes Real at U.S-Mexico Border

For 15 years, Time Goes By has reported on and contemplated aspects of age and ageing, expanding that topic two years ago to include a terminal diagnosis, something that afflicts elders in greater numbers than other age groups.

A month or two ago, I strayed from that topic for one day to give us a chance to talk about the horror that is the executive branch of the U.S. government. I've lost count of how many times I have thought Trump et al could do no worse. I was wrong.

According to a variety of sources, our government is currently keeping hundreds of children – infants, some of them – in cages without adequate food or water and without soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and showers. For days. To sleep, the children lie on concrete floors in their own filth covered only by alumfoil blankets.

This is so far beyond the pale, I think we who are old enough to remember and who know a concentration camp when we see one, need to have a say.

In case you missed it on the news this past week, this is a clip from a hearing in which a Department of Justice lawyer, Sarah Fabian, tries to argue that toothbrushes and soap are not required to be provided to detainees:

(It is worth noting that one of the judges at that hearing, A. Wallace Tashima, an American-born (1934) Japanese, spent World War II with his family in Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona. I suspect he has a reasonably good idea of what a concentration camp is.)

Earlier this week, a father and his two-year-old daughter were drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande River into the U.S. Here is a video with the story of what happened:

Is it possible not to weep watching that video? Every day when Trump unleashes another sadistic horror, is it possible not to weep?

When you're in your comfortable home, small or large, having showered, put on clean clothing and now sit reading news on your tablet, laptop or desktop maybe while drinking coffee or tea, is it possible not to weep?

There is a reason the federal government does not allow cameras, cell phones and, most of the time, reporters themselves inside the buildings and tents that hold these children in unspeakable conditions.

A week ago in The New Yorker magazine, Russian-American journalist, Masha Gessen, made note of Representative Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez's (OAC) tweet reference to the facilities holding these children as “concentration camps.”

Uproar ensued at the expense of OAC but she stood her ground. The next day, according to Gessen's New Yorker story, OAC tweeted that

”Andrea Pitzer, a historian of concentration camps, was quoted making the same assertion: that the United States has created a 'concentration camp system.' Pitzer argued that 'mass detention of civilians without a trial' was what made the camps concentration camps.”

What followed, for days, were editorials and op-eds on the subject of calling these detention centers “concentration camps” followed by more attacks and counter-attacks.

In her New Yorker piece, Masha Gessen has some interesting things to say about this:

”Ocasio-Cortez and her opponents agree that the term 'concentration camp' refers to something so horrible as to be unimaginable. (For this reason, mounting a defense of Ocasio-Cortez’s position by explaining that not all concentration camps were death camps misses the point.)

“It is the choice between thinking that whatever is happening in reality is, by definition, acceptable, and thinking that some actual events in our current reality are fundamentally incompatible with our concept of ourselves — not just as Americans but as human beings — and therefore unimaginable.

"The latter position is immeasurably more difficult to hold — not so much because it is contentious and politically risky, as attacks on Ocasio-Cortez continue to demonstrate, but because it is cognitively strenuous. It makes one’s brain implode. It will always be a minority position.”

“Never again” is now.



Some Politics and The Alex and Ronni Show

With way too much on my to-do list yesterday, I never got around to writing a “real” blog post so let's try this.

My former husband and I recorded our bi-weekly video chat on Tuesday and unlike so many of them in the past, we hardly discussed health issues.

Instead, we talked mostly about something I hardly ever write about here, national politics: Trump, the Mueller report, crime in high places, and those 437 Democratic presidential hopefuls (at least it feels like that many).

Of all those potential candidates, I told Alex I have a leaning toward Mayor Pete Buttigiag. Still, it's a long way until the 2020 election and god only knows what will happen or what we'll learn about the candidates by then that will change our minds.

So, here is the video. Take a look and then have your go at the campaign so far, in the comments below.



New Social Security Legislation Plus The Alex and Ronni Show

On Wednesday this week, Representative John Larson (D-CT), Chair of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced the introduction of the Social Security 2100 Act.

There are more than 200 co-sponsors for the legislation – all Democrats – even though the bill includes some conservative elements. As long-time Social Security and Medicare advocate, Nancy Altman, explained in Forbes:

”These include a tax cut for middle-income seniors and other Social Security beneficiaries who are currently required to pay federal income tax on their benefits.

“They also include the restoration of Social Security to long-range actuarial balance for three quarters of a century and beyond.

“In addition to requiring the wealthy to contribute their fair share, the legislation would gradually increase the Social Security contributions (FICA) of workers and their employers. FICA, which currently applies to wages up to $132,900, would also apply to wages above $400,000.

“The FICA rate, currently at 6.2% on employees and employers, would increase by .05% a year — 50 cents a week for an average worker — until it reaches 7.4%.”

Even with such strong support among House Democrats, the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate or White House this time. But in the past few years, the political atmosphere about Social Security has shifted from all talk all the time of cutting it because the program is bankrupt (it is not) to expanding it.

Representative Larson is committed to holding hearings throughout the country to debunk such myths and educate the public on the importance of Social Security to all Americans:

“'We need to educate and unmask so many of these myths,' Larson told [Reuters reporter Mark Miller].

“'We need to talk about why Social Security is an earned benefit and not an entitlement. Certainly it is something you are entitled to, but the word makes Social Security sound like a poverty program or a handout. Nothing roils people who have been paying into the program their entire lives more.'”

Keep that in mind: don't let anyone tell you Social Security is a “entitlement”. It is an EARNED BENEFIT that every working American pays for through payroll deductions during his and her working life.

Be sure you let your Congress person know you support this legislation and remind them every now and then how important this is – even if they already support the legislation. You can do that here via telephone, email or postal mail.

The legislation may not make it through the Senate this year, but it will happen eventually. A majority of American support it – even President Trump during his 2016 campaign (although I do know that he can change his mind on a dime).

* * *

My former husband, Alex Bennett, and I had our regularly scheduled Skype conversation on Tuesday.

Somehow it turned into mostly a bitch session - complaints about minor things that are unlikely to get fixed so what's the point. Maybe it's just blowing off steam on entirely unrelated issues going on with the government in Washington, D.C.



Quotation of the Year: “Truth Isn't Truth”

This seems to be happening a lot lately – that time gets away from me and I can't finish a proper post in time to publish. Mainly, it just takes longer for me to do everything these days than in the past so I get backed up.

I put this together quickly on Wednesday as I knew I would be gone all day on Thursday getting my new chemotherapy infusion – seven hours (!) of it at the chemo clinic.

It's hard to know if this list is funny or horribly worrisome.

* * *

Yep. That Rudolph Giuliani quotation took the top spot this year in Yale Law School librarian Fred Shapiro’s annual list.

A few of the others in the top ten should bring back some political memories from recent months:

“I liked beer. I still like beer.” — Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh

“While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.” — Sanofi drug company

”(I am) not smart, but genius...and a very stable genius at that!” — President Donald Trump

Do you have any favorite quotations from these past 12 months you think should be included?

You can read the rest of Shapiro's picks for quotations of the year at Huffington Post and AP News.



The Day After the U.S. Midterm Election

On the morning after the 2008 presidential election, the first thing I heard on the news was an announcement of who intended to run for president in 2012.

And so it has been ever since. If we have not heard yet today who will run in 2020, we soon will (they can't help themselves, these politicians), thereby continuing what has become the perpetual 24/7/365 political campaign.

There is no governing in the U.S. anymore - just campaigning.

Except for issues that affect old people in particular, Time Goes By is not a political blog. But yesterday's election is different.

As many have said, it is a referendum on President Donald Trump and probably by the time this post is published today or you are reading it, we will know whether he succeeded in helping the Republican party maintain control of the entire federal government or if the Democrats managed to take the House and/or the Senate.

As I write this on Tuesday, I am worried about either outcome. If Trump prevails, it is frightening to imagine what legal and illegal acts his sense of empowerment will unleash on the country and the world. It will not be pretty.

And if the Democrats manage to wrest control of some part of the government, it is frightening to imagine what legal and illegal acts (in addition to his claiming victory anyway) Trump's sense of empowerment will unleash on the country and the world. It will not be pretty.

This election is my last. I was first allowed to stay up late to track the vote count in the 1952 election between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson - I was eleven years old – and I have been doing it in every election since then.

When Trump was elected in 2016, before I knew of my cancer diagnosis, I told anyone who would listen that whatever else happened, I would be pissed off big time if I did not live long enough to see how the Trump era ends (everything ends eventually).

Count me pissed off. And count me pissed off further that if special counsel Robert Mueller III drags his feet, I may not know that outcome either.

But at least I have seen this election and because nothing else today is as much on anyone's mind, let's see what we have to say about it in an open political thread below.



The Most Important Vote of Our Lives

Many have said that next Tuesday's midterm election in the U.S. is the most crucial in our lifetimes and they are right. It is. It is.

Much is at stake, perhaps even democracy itself, but for certain, if the Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress, one of the first things they will be gunning for next year is what they call “entitlements” - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The GOP likes that term “entitlements” because it sounds like a free giveaway, which the programs are not. They are “earned benefits” and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Every worker pays into them all their working lives.

We know the Republicans will come for these programs because unlike the president who just lies when he says he will protect them, the Republicans tell us right out loud what they intend to do.

Referencing comments from television personality and now economic adviser to the president, Larry Kudlow, in September, Alternet reported,

”...the White House will push for cuts to life-saving safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security if the GOP retains control of Congress in November.”

When they say we must “reform” Social Security and Medicare, that's code for “massive cuts”. Here is a chart of more Republican code words from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM):

CodewordsMedicareSSA

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has never, in his long career in the Senate, made it a secret that he wants to cut the entire social safety net.

Now he's insisting that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid must be slashed. Here's how his lies go, according to the The New York Times last week:

”This month, the Treasury Department recorded a $779 billion deficit for the 2018 fiscal year, stemming in large part from a sharp decline in corporate tax revenues after a $1.5 trillion tax cut last year,” writes Jennifer Steinhauer.

“'It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem," Mr. McConnell told Bloomberg News in an interview. 'It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future...'

“That is code for wanting to tackle entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, which Republicans say need to be reined in to address the ballooning federal deficit,'” McConnell continued.

Yes, you read that correctly. McConnell wants to pay for the massive, unnecessary tax cut for the rich on the backs of the poor, the sick and the old.

And the Republicans can do that, they can get away with it if they retain control of both houses of Congress.

It's not like the country supports McConnell, Kudlow and the rest of the Republicans. As Business Insider reported early this week:

”According to the Marist/NPR/PBS poll, 60% of Americans would rather reverse the GOP tax law to deal with the growing deficit. Just 21% of Americans would rather make cuts to entitlement programs of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.”

Don't think this is just an old-people's issue. It affects everyone of every age who works, children of workers too and spouses of workers. Yes, the earned benefits programs need some shoring up. But there are a lot of good ideas from smart people about how to do it.

In fact, many of those ideas have been around since President George Bush tried to privatize Social Security 13 years ago and failed because the American people saw through the sham then and they do again now. But if the Republicans continue to control the entire federal government after next week's election is the huge cuts can happen.

Living in a vote-by-mail state, I sent in my ballot last Monday. If you live where there is early voting and have already done that, good for you.

If you intend to vote in person on Tuesday, please keep all of the above in mind and more: If you can help some others get to the polls, please do it. But most of all, whatever it takes to get it done, please, please vote.

It will be the most important vote of your life.



The Age of Presidents and The Alex and Ronni Show

A couple of days ago, TGB reader Jean Gogolin asked me when I believe a person is too old to be president of the United States.

This year's midterm election is still weeks away but politicians are already been testing the waters for a presidential run in 2020. So I did a background check to see how old some of the possible contenders will be on inauguration day 2021. Here are a few of them in alphabetical order:

Joe Biden – 78
Cory Booker – 51
Kamala Harris – 57
Eric Holder – 70 (the day after the inauguration)
Bernie Sanders – 79
Donald Trump - 74
Elizabeth Warren – 72

For no good reason other than just because, during our Alex and Ronni Show recording on Wednesday this week, I put Jean's question to my former husband.

Here's the video we made; the presidential age question begins at about 11:30 minutes from the top. As you will see, we disagree.

I'm more articulate on paper than verbally and what I meant to make clear is that because humans age at remarkably different rates, I don't believe it's fair or possible to put an age limit on the presidency. Nor would I want to. There are people who might not be able to handle the job at 50; others would be fine at 80 and up.

An important question in placing an upper age limit on the presidency is when it would be imposed. If, arbitrarily, the limit were 65, would that mean a person could be elected at that age or would the candidate need to be 61 or 57 when elected to not pass the 65-year limit before the end of a four- or eight-year term?

At the other end of the age scale, the Constitution requires a president be at least 35 years of age. That seems to be a rational choice of the Founding Fathers to me. Although I might like to see a bit more seasoning that most of us have gained at that age, it is probably enough time for any serious person to be up for the job.

More to the point and after having somehow survived these past two years, it might be prudent for the country to consider a political science test to be sure a presidential candidate has a working knowledge of how government operates. Maybe a psychological test too. And is there such a thing as an ethics test?

Okay, I'm kidding in that last paragraph. But not by much.

What's your take on the presidential age question?



The Penis Legislation Act

Even with all the controversy and accusations surrounding the hearings of Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, last week, the people who are supposed to know such things are still saying that his confirmation is a done deal.

They may be right. It does not seem to register with Republicans in Congress that polls repeatedly show a majority of Americans want abortion to remain legal, and many people – legislators and voters - are convinced that a Justice Kavanaugh would become the fifth Court vote needed to overturn Roe v. Wade.

My friend Jim Stone sent me a link to a recent post at McSweeney's satirical section by a writer/reporter/author named Devorah Blachor. I had not read her work before but she sure does have my attention now that I have read her latest story.

Below is the first half or so of Blachor's “Why Are Men Getting So Hysterical About The Penis Legislation Act?” At the bottom, there is a link to the rest of it at the McSweeney's website.

This is a great piece of serious fun. (Links within the post are from the original.) Enjoy.

”We get it. Men are overly emotional. Just look at Alex Jones and Donald Trump. Ok, don’t. But the point stands. Your reaction to a perceived threat of the Penis Legislation Act being overturned is overwrought and hysterical.

“Yes, female politicians have been promising to overturn the Penis Legislation Act since it was enacted. And sure, the Vice President has vowed to send the Penis Legislation Act to the 'ash heap of history.' And fine, I concede that even the President has said she will overturn the Penis Legislation Act, which is so strange since she has clearly made use of it multiple times in the past.

“Still. Why do men have to be so loud and disruptive? The Penis Legislation Act is established and totally safe from being overturned, even though so many powerful women keep promising to get rid of it and seem to have no compunction about taking away men’s rights over their own penises.

“Just consider how the latest SCOTUS nominee was chosen. A small group of women who are famously hostile to the Penis Legislation Act carefully selected the best possible candidates.

“One of the women, who is especially committed to overturning the Penis Legislation Act, was an advisor to the President on this weighty decision. And now the nominee, an affable soccer mom, has refused to commit to upholding the Penis Legislation Act and secret emails reveal that she doesn’t believe The Penis Legislation Act is even settled law. Does that sound like The Penis Legislation Act is in peril? Calm down, gentlemen! Smile!

“While you’re smiling (you look so pretty when you smile!) why not consider, for a moment, that men might not actually know what’s best for their penises? What with their hormonal emotions and everything, might it be possible that we women should make the relevant decisions about men’s health, particularly those that are penile-related?

“When you really think about our track record of valuing male life, the answer is clear. You can totally trust us to decide for you.”

You can finish reading “Why Are Men Getting So Hysterical About the Penis Legislation Act? here at McSweeney's. There is no place to comment on that page but if you've got something to say, you can come back here to let us all know.

And, if you like what you've read, you can find out more about Devorah Blachor here.



What About Medicare For All

As soon as someone says “Medicare for All” or “single-payer healthcare” or “universal coverage”, someone else will argue about definitions. And there are important differences.

But today, we are going with what most of us mean when we use one of those phrases: a system of health care under which everyone is covered, however it is paid for.

Most western democracies use some form of this system. As VeryWellHealth explains:

”...several countries have achieved universal coverage, with 100 percent of their population covered. This includes Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.”

No one in these countries worries that a major illness will bankrupt them as happens in the United States.

Currently, in 2018, about 88 percent of Americans, according to Gallup, are covered to one degree or another depending on what they can afford from private insurers.

Among that number, however, there is one group of people in the U.S. who do enjoy universal, single-player health coverage. It's us old folks, 65 and older. It is of course, called Medicare and as it happens, over the past 15 months I've had a crash course in how it works in real life when something deadly serious comes along.

First, back up to 1965 when Medicare went into effect. I paid into the program from that time forward until I stopped working in 2004. Currently, the Medicare tax is divided between employer and employee, 1.45 percent each.

Many people believe that the Medicare tax covers it and that Medicare, once you are old enough to join, is free. Not so. Use me as an example (this is about traditional Medicare, not Medicare Advantage Plans which I'm not discussing today):

Part A - hospital insurance: free.

Part B – medical insurance: a premium, calculated on income, is deducted from the Social Security (or railroad, etc.) benefit each month. There is a deductible, $183 in 2018. Part B covers about 80 percent of Medicare-approved expenses.

Part D – prescription drugs: provided by Medicare-approved private insurance companies. Premiums vary dramatically.

Supplemental (Medigap) coverage: helps pay the 20 percent of medical costs Part B does not. Premiums currently range from about $74 to more than $400 per month.

In addition to all the personal fears and concerns I had when first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, I was terrified at what the surgery and accompanying care would cost me, and if I could even afford it. I decided to deal with after I recovered from the surgery.

What I learned is amazing: Medicare is a whole lot like universal coverage in those other countries: So far, I have paid not a dime for medical treatment.

My biggest expense has been Part D, prescription drugs. Just this month, I finally climbed out of the so-called “donut hole” having paid $5,000 out-of-pocket for drugs this year. I am now in what the program calls “catastrophic coverage” where I pay a small fee for each prescription until next year when the process begins again.

Until I was thinking about this blog post, I had never added up what I pay per year for Medicare coverage. I was surprised to find that the premiums for Part B, Part D and supplemental come to just over $4500 per year.

That sounds like a lot until you know that my treatment costs are, so far, close to $1 million.

Most of the objections to Medicare for All are about cost. I have seen estimates of between $2.4 trillion to $2.8 trillion per year. Who knows if that is anywhere near what the reality would be.

For decades, in certain quarters of the population, a few politicians talked about Medicare for All. Recently, during the 2016 presidential campaign, it was presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, calling for Medicare for All. The idea began to spread and catch on.

In April this year, Paul Waldman wrote in the Washington Post:

”Right now Democrats are coalescing around a new model for health-care reform. This November’s election could validate it in a way that practically settles the issue among Democrats. That will then determine the discussion in 2020, and in 2021 it could become the basis for a hugely ambitious overhaul of the system.

“Right now we could be witnessing the genesis of one of the most important domestic policy changes in our history.”

Also in April, Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Senator Christopher Murphy of Connecticut introduced S.2708, the Choose Medicare Act, that would open up Medicare to anyone who wants it and isn’t already eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.

It is such a good idea to just expand Medicare to everyone rather than start of scratch on a new program. The main infrastructure is already in place, it works well, and could be built upon for the entire population.

Of course, the Choose Medicare Act has gone nowhere due to the Republican control of Congress but if there turns out to be a blue wave in the November mid-term election, that bill – or some others with similar intentions - could come to the floor of Congress.

It won't happen that easily or that quickly, but it would be a fine start to the conversation and eventual reality.

Those countries that have had universal coverage for decades pay a lot more in taxes than we Americans do but I sure wouldn't care if everyone could be as free of economic worry as I have been granted, thanks to Medicare, during the wildly expensive treatment I've received.

Most of all, it is the right thing to do. Health care is a human right and the United States, that so glibly repeats that all men are created equal, that the rights of all persons are diminished when the rights of one are threatened, etc. etc., cannot possibly claim those principles if some cannot afford health care.

The United States desperately need this policy change. If you put more than a minute's thought to it, how can we do differently. Are people without coverage or inadequate coverage just allowed to die in the U.S.? I can't find the answer to that question – or maybe it would be too painful to know.

You might want to think about all this as you consider who to vote for in November.



Reasons to Vote in 2018

The 2018 mid-term election in the United States takes place 58 days from today and it may be the most important election of our – the people who hang out at this blog – long, long lives.

Now I know perfectly well that no one here would skip voting. Right? But just in case you know someone who doesn't vote or who thinks is it not important or doesn't believe their vote could make a difference, let's talk about that today.

Let's start with the fact that voting is a fundamental right of all citizens in a democracy. We have the privilege (that many in the world do not) to select our leaders rather than having them imposed or inflicted upon us which gives us a moral duty to take part in that choice.

We cannot take the right to vote for granted. Don't forget that there was a time when only certain citizens – while male landowners – could vote. Changing that took a long time. Here is a reminder of how that went:

There are still too many impediments to voting and right now the majority of legislators trying to change voting laws are the ones who would further restrict the right to vote.

In addition to the high-minded, patriotic reasons to vote, there is the real chance that if too many voters of one persuasion or another stay home from the polls, we are stuck with a leader or leaders who do not reflect the views of the entire electorate, and there is no telling where that takes us.

Elected representatives have the power to affect vital issues of everyday life: taxes, roads and highways, food, health care, education, public safety, air quality, even fair elections, to name only a few. Certainly, you want your voice heard for the people who make those choices.

Don't forget the importance of local candidates in your state, county or town. The voices of the full spectrum of citizens need to be heard to produce a more balanced local government rather than the views of just one faction who turned up at the polls in larger numbers.

And one more thing: you cannot complain, not one word, about what elected leaders are doing if you don't vote.

Here are some more thought on the question, Why Should I Vote:

We have 58 days until election day on 6 November. Here are some things you should do before then:

Make sure you are registered to vote

Mark your calendar so you don't make other plans on 6 November that would keep you from voting

Check out voter ID requirements in your location and be sure to have the correct identification documents

Make sure you know where your polling place is. You can do that at the Polling Place Locator

Check out all the other preparations you might need to know at this well-done page titled, Voting in Person on Election Day, for additional voting information

Unless you live in Oregon or Washington, the two states that vote by mail, make arrangements to get to the polling place if you need to on election day. Or, offer to drive or accompany people who can't easily get there on their own.

If you happen to live in Oregon or Washington or other states that vote by mail, your ballots arrive two or three weeks before election day. Be sure to mark your ballot and mail it before the deadline. There are drop-off areas in your town or city too.

This may be the most crucial election of our lives. Please vote and get everyone you know to vote too. Our entire way of life may depend on it.



Our Poor Bedraggled USA

WTF just happened this week?

(NOTE: Sorry for the length but all this happened - and much more I haven't mentioned - in only four days.)

It's been a month since I announced here that I believe our national emergency is important enough that now and then we should trade in our single topic of age on this blog for our current political debacle. If any week ever called for it, this one does.

Whatever else we do in life, it is a requirement of citizenship that we pay attention to what our elected officials and their appointees are doing for (or against) our people, our country and our Constitution.

Although it has not been a pretty week, it has surpassed previous ones only in drama, not outrage. The president now stands accused of real crimes, not that the rational among us have doubted that all along.

But now it's official, on the record, hanging out there in the breeze waiting for those elected officials to damn well do something.

Is there anyone else, like me, who believes that the Republicans, who are in control of Congress, will pretend it didn't happen?

I'll circle back to the week's dramatic turns in a moment but first, here are a few other things that happened in Trumpland this week:

A new climate proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), admits within the proposal itself that the relaxed regulations will kill 1,400 people per year from power plants burning more coal.

"'We're canceling Obama's illegal anti-coal destroying regulations, the so-called Clean Power Plan,' [Trump] said during a rally in Charleston, West Virginia” reports CNBC.

“'Just today we announced our new Affordable Clean Energy proposal that will help our coal-fired power plants and save consumers — you, me, everybody — billions and billions of dollars.'"

The EPA likes to keep busy. As a bee, perhaps? The agency this week quietly delayed its final determination on bee-killing pesticides called neonicotinoids even after the European Union and now Canada have banned them.

In case you haven't kept up with the growing worldwide problem of bee decline, here is a little video about what will happen to all of us if they die off much further. (The video no less factual for have been produced in 2015. It just means you can skip the ad in the final 20 percent of the video.)

You can read more here and here.

In the “what could possibly go wrong” department, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoss (she who registers at least one of her many yachts in a Caribbean nation to save a few bucks) announced she is considering allowing states to use federal school funds to arm teachers with guns.

Such a move, reports The New York Times appears to be unprecedented,

”...reversing a longstanding position taken by the federal government that it should not pay to outfit schools with weapons. And it would also undermine efforts by Congress to restrict the use of federal funding on guns.

“As recently as March, Congress passed a school safety bill that allocated $50 million a year to local school districts, but expressly prohibited the use of the money for firearms.

“But the department is eyeing a program in federal education law, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, that makes no mention of prohibiting weapons purchases.”

This change is not imminent but it is not unlikely to become reality given the massive number of other rollbacks of protective measures have been made during this administration. And how long after that will the first kid be killed, I wonder?

That's just some of the so-called boring news. What's got everyone banging on is the legal news. As you undoubtedly know by now, on Tuesday, former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud by a jury in Virginia.

Not 90 minutes later, President Trump's attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen confessed in court, under oath, that the president directed him to pay

”...hush money to two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, to buy their silence in the run-up to the 2016 election...” according to New York magazine, “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”

Since then, there has been a wall-to-wall news flurry of speculation about Trump's involvement in criminal activity, while resurrecting talk of impeachment that had been tamped down for the past few months.

Trump has praised Manafort for “refusing to break” - meaning he has not plead guilty to anything (some say Trump signaling that he will pardon Manifort), while trashing Cohen for “flipping”, an act the president told Fox and Friends on Thursday should be illegal.

Here is Trump's take on impeachment from the same Fox interview. (If the video does not play for you, here is the Twitter page.)

The president's response brings to mind his earlier boast that he is so powerful, he can pardon himself. For the record, he cannot. According to Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution,

”...[the president] shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

Meanwhile, the Republicans, who have total control of Congress, have nothing to say. They just want to cram through the confirmation of their Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, and ignore their Constitutional duties.

Here's my question: what about the children? According to the U.S. Department of Justice and the ACLU, a month after the deadline to reunite immigrant families, 565 children (!) remain in government custody. Is anyone doing anything about the kids?

Now it's your turn. Have at it.



Living in the Medicare Part D Donut Hole

Now and again I am reminded of how many TGB readers live in countries other than the United States so let me first supply a short definition of the evil donut hole.

Part D is a supplement to standard Medicare health coverage which itself does not provide prescription drug coverage. Part D is a voluntary purchase for which consumers pay an extra premium but the cost doesn't stop there.

Without going into arcane details, in general, when the consumer's total out-of-pocket payments for drugs reach $3,750 in a calendar year, the “donut hole” kicks in during which the consumer pays a higher percentage for the drugs until his/her out-of-pocket cost hits $5,000.

After that milestone, the insurer pays all but five percent of the drug costs until the accounting starts over again from scratch in January of the following year.

Until I was diagnosed with cancer last year, the only prescription drugs I had taken were antibiotics now and then, the price of which was paid for by my health insurance so I had no idea how expensive many drugs can be.

I sure do now, having entered the donut hole about two months ago and from which I will emerge, if my calculations hold up, fairly soon.

Quick story: At the beginning of my chemotherapy treatment last fall, I was handed my first month's supply of the oral drug along with a piece of paper with a figure of $5,000.

At first I felt the blood drain from my head and then I laughed. “You're kidding?” I said to the pharmacist. “I'll have to skip this treatment and hope for the best.”

As often happened during my year-long cancer ordeal, I got lucky. “Oh, I'm sorry,” the pharmacist said. “I didn't mean to scare you. That's the actual price the computer spit out but you don't pay anything.” (Long story, not worth the effort here today.)

The chemotherapy finished in January but the price of the four prescription drugs I take now are, if nothing like that oral chemo treatment, scary enough while I've been in the donut hole - they've busted my small budget all to hell.

That's the thing about money, it's relative. If you've got enough, all good. If not, you could die.

Here's the story I really came here to tell you today.

Three or four weeks ago, I was next in line at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription and although I was behind the separator that gives customers privacy while talking with the pharmacist, I could clearly hear most of the conversation at the window.

The customer, older than I by a decade I guessed, did not have enough money to pay for her prescriptions. I overheard the phrase, “donut hole.”

There are some programs that can help certain low-income patients with payment but apparently none were available in this case and the two women – one a young-ish professional, the other knocking on frailty's door – were at an impasse, neither knowing what to do or say next.

Something came over me and without thinking it through, I marched up to the window, gave the pharmacist my credit card and said, “Use this.”

There were some “oh no, I couldn'ts” and “please don't mention its” between the older woman and me but we sorted it out and I was relieved to see – having realized by then what I might have gotten myself into - that at a couple of hundred dollars and change, it was nowhere near that oral chemo price.

This story is not to tell you how wonderful I am. There are plenty of people in the world who will tell you otherwise and they are not wrong. Not to mention the voice in my head that day yelling, “What are you doing, screwing up your budget that's already a mess from the price of your own drugs?”

But nowhere near as much a mess as that old woman's. Here's the real problem:

No one should go without health care of any kind – treatment or drugs – because they don't have enough money. No one.

Some small help for prescriptions drugs is due soon thanks to former President Obama's Affordable Care Act which included a provision, when it was enacted in 2010, to gradually close the donut hole by year 2020, now changed to 2019, although some healthcare experts suggest the insurance companies will increase premiums and/or deductibles when it happens.

That prediction is of a mindset with the many politicians who want to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security too. President Trump campaigned on a promise not to do that but if we didn't know before, we surely do now that you can't count on anything Trump says.

It would be a good thing for all Americans, as we make decisions about which candidates to vote for in the midterm election in November, to think about increasing moves toward universal healthcare or Medicare-for-all that are stirring in some enlightened political circles.

Would it be difficult to do? Yes. Would it take a long time to happen? Yes. Would it be expensive? Yes. Would our taxes go up? Yes. But the time has come, it is the right thing to do and we have a lot of examples to study and learn from: just about every western democracy already has such a system.

Excuse me now while I go worry about what will happen with that old woman next time she needs to fill her prescriptions and is still in the donut hole.



A Time Goes By Manifesto for Our Political Era

We are living in precarious, uncertain and frightening times when new crimes, corruption and lies are revealed nearly every day and no one is held accountable.

It would not be wrong to call this a national emergency - a world (who of us could ever have imagined this in our lifetimes?) where a U.S. president gives himself permission to commit America to god-knows-what with a foreign adversary, does it in secret and never tells anyone – anyone at all – what those commitments are.

At the top of my list of concerns for the moment (it vacillates by the hour) are the baby cages and asylum-seeker jails which more rightly should be called concentration camps with all the shame of 20th century history that attaches to them.

In the greater scheme of things an argument might be made that in service to the longer term, a president who sides politically with our country's greatest enemy and is willing to turn over American citizens to that government for interrogation requires more attention than those kiddie camps.

But do we really want to try to rank what are all deeply evil horrors?

It has become apparent that no one in charge of anything has the power or the will to stop what increasingly looks like a headlong dive into a new American regime of authoritarianism which, of course in everyday usage, is just another word for fascism.

And it's not only the United States. Terrible things are happening almost daily to the ideals of liberty and democracy abroad.

In the latest event to send a chill down the spines of most people, a far-right politician in Austria last week put forth a plan to require Jews to register with the government in order to purchase kosher meat. Some have wondered if registration will soon apply to Muslims who purchase halal food too.

So I think that although for 15 years this blog has been dedicated 100 percent to an ongoing conversation about “what it's really like to get old,” something else too big and too serious to ignore also needs our attention.

It took a lot of pondering to make this decision until I realized that especially during a period when there is a sufficient threat to America's people, our Constitution and to the world order to which my country belongs, it is necessary.

It is necessary, I have come to believe, for this blog by, for and about elders, to make our voices heard even if only among ourselves, even if only to try to understand among ourselves what is happening and what or if we can do anything. Not an easy goal.

Most of all, I have come to believe this because if I continue in these pages to ignore our unprecedented political predicament, I then am complicit with the culture at large I regularly denounce for sidelining old people by ignoring them, dismissing them and removing them from the public stage.

So from time-to-time, I will take a day for us to address these urgent troubles. Certainly not every day and not even every week. But when it feels necessary.

Let's give it a try for awhile.

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Today's Blog Post
At the risk of making this post too long for you to endure, here is the first entry in this experiment.

During the days and weeks I spent working out whether I would run with this idea, I pulled out my copy of a little book of essays published in 1954 that I read in about 1960: Portraits from Memory which I haven't dipped into in at least a decade, maybe two.

It was written by then-80-something Bertrand Russell, the Nobel Prize-winning philosopher, mathematician and peace activist.

Most of the essays are from the years surrounding his 80th birthday and as you might expect, there is a summing up quality to them. What surprises me is how much his thoughts on social and political issues from more than 60 years ago could almost have been written last week.

Perhaps there really is nothing new under the sun, and these short excerpts should give us some perspective on our current difficulties. In reading these, recall that in the mid-1950s, the outcome and meaning of World War II were still being debated.

It is worth keeping President Trump in mind while reading Russell's estimate of what makes a good life and a good community:

”A readiness to adapt oneself to the facts of the real world is often praised as a virtue, and in part it is. It is a bad thing to close one's eyes to fact or to fail to admit them because they are unwelcome.

“But it is also a bad thing to assume that whatever is in the ascendant must be right, that regard for fact demands subservience to evil. Even worse than conscious subservience to evil, is the self-deception which denies that it is evil.”

Keep President Trump in mind again as Russell tells us that the ideals he thought were primary when he was young should still prevail:

”I think I should put first, security against extreme disaster such as that threatened by modern war. I should put second, the abolition of extreme poverty throughout the world.

“Third, as a result of security and economic well being, a general growth of tolerance and kindly feeling. Fourth, the greatest possible opportunity for personal initiative in ways not harmful to the community.

“All these things are possible, and all would come about if men chose.”

Although Russell exhibits an overall optimism for the future (viewed from the mid-1950s), he also has doubts, certainly for the immediate future at that time, and again seems to describe our situation today:

”The last half of my life has been lived in one of those painful epochs of human history during which the world is getting worse, and past victories which had seemed to be definitive have turned out to be only temporary.”
I have had always a certain degree of optimism, although, as I have grown older, the optimism has grown more sober and the happy issue more distant.”
”In the modern world, if communities are unhappy, it is because they choose to be so. Or, to speak more precisely, because they have ignorance, habits, beliefs, and passions, which are dearer to them than happiness or even life...

“To preserve hope in our world makes calls upon our intelligence and our energy. In those who despair it is very frequently the energy that is lacking.”

Again, it is uncanny to me how Russell's words seem almost to be in response to today's daily headlines. A couple more:

”Diversity is essential in spite of the fact that it precludes universal acceptance of a single gospel. But to preach such a doctrine is difficult especially in arduous times. And perhaps it cannot be effective until some bitter lessons have been learned.”
”Communists, Fascists and Nazis have successively challenged all that I thought good, and in defeating them much of what their opponents have sought to preserve is being lost.

“Freedom has come to be thought weakness, and tolerance has been compelled to wear the garb of treachery. Old ideals are judged irrelevant, and no doctrine free from harshness commands respect.”

At the end of the essay titled, “Reflections on My Eightieth Birthday” (1952), Russell retains his hopeful belief that humankind will eventually attain a world of harmony and good:

”I have lived in pursuit of a vision, both personal and social. Personal: to care for what is noble, for what is beautiful, for what is gentle; to allow moments of insight to give wisdom at more mundane times.

“Social: to see in imagination the society that is to be created, where individuals grow freely, and where hate and greed and envy die because there is nothing to nourish them.

“These things I believe, and the world, for all its horror, has left me unshaken.”

Now it's your turn.