458 posts categorized "Politics"

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):


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.

* * *

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.

Independence Day 2018

Americans are here today to celebrate Independence Day which is set aside from all other days to recall the United States' declaration of independence from Great Britain.

The document itself, The Declaration of Independence, was signed in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) at Philadelphia in 1776. (I like this copy with the edits.)


Actually, the document was not signed until August 2 and August 3, 1776, but it was adopted on the Fourth of July so that is when we celebrate.

Like last year on this date, today the republic is looking a raggedy around the edges and some of us are worried, even frightened of what the current regime in Washington. D.C. is doing to our imperfect but always, until now, striving nation.

They are intent on trashing the reasons we have a Declaration of Independence in the first place.

Nearly every day, the president and his self-appointed minions in high places commit more outrages. Baby jails. Rollback of environmental protections. Vicious trade wars with allied countries. (Canada???) Open, overt racism and sexism. Lies, lies, lies. And – well, to track it is a full-time job.

The ultimate irony of today's holiday is that as we celebrate (or try to) the nation's rejection of a king 239 years ago, the president has made it abundantly clear that he doesn't like being president. He wants to be king, a tyrant like his “pals” who rule by fiat in Russia and North Korea.

We are heading in that direction, folks, and there is no one we have elected who can or will stop him.

There are many inspiring quotations from great thinkers about what the maintenance of freedom entails. I've chose three that speak to what we are up against during this assault on our nation's very existence:

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” - George Bernard Shaw
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” - Thomas Paine
“It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority.” - Samuel Adams

That's our job now. Every one of us who believes in the Declaration of Independence (which, by all reports coming from the federal government, does not include the president), must do what we are capable of to help preserve its ideals.

Take some time today with your family and friends to enjoy your barbecues, the parades in your town and fireworks tonight. We can do that even when we are worried and maybe frightened – we can use the respite for a day.

And here is a little history of fireworks I found online. I have no idea if it's true, but it's a good story.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

America's Shame – A Turning Point?

EDITORIAL NOTE: In a departure from the usual TimeGoesBy fare, today's post has nothing to do with growing old unless, like me, you didn't believe you would ever see concentration camps in the United States. Second, I finished writing this on Sunday but things move so swiftly in Trumpworld that god only knows what will have changed in regard to the border crisis by the time you read this.

* * *

Here is the latest New Yorker cover from artist Barry Blitt.


It took long enough but at last, this past week, the U.S. is paying attention to the cruel, merciless and inhumane policy of President Trump's administration at the country's southern border.

Did you ever, in your wildest imagination, think that the government of the United States would snatch infants and toddlers from their parents and stick them in baby jails behind chain link fences?

How about all those teenage boys in tents in 108-degree F temperatures? Do you believe the government when it says those tents are well air conditioned?

And what about the girls? Where are the girls? Why won't the government tell us?

It was only after hundreds of protests and marches around the U.S. that President Trump capitulated and signed an executive order to end family separations at the border late last week.

And it was not until this weekend that a few members of Congress were allowed inside one or two detention centers in Texas. But no pictures allowed.

”The lawmakers didn’t know exactly how many children were at the facility,” reports Bloomberg News, “and complained about being unable to get numbers and other specific responses.

“They were told, though, that 26 minors brought to Tornillo had been separated from their parents at the border, and that three of them have since been reunited with their families.”

The Trump government doesn't know how many kids are in their tent jail? Doesn't know???

And that figure of 2,342 children snatched from their parents arms between May 5 and June 9 that the media keep repeating? What kind of number is that? How many were taken away before 5 May and since 9 June? Can we trust these numbers? Can we believe anything the federal government says about their zero tolerance border policy?

No one from the press has been allowed to take photos or videos inside any the camps. What is the government trying to hide?

It has been obvious for a week or more that when Trump's “zero tolerance” policy was enacted and they started grabbing kids from their parents, no one – not a single federal employee including the president and cabinet secretaries – had any intention of keeping records of the names and contacts of the parents and their children.

Why would they? If you believe it is a good idea to lock up children without their parents, keep them in empty warehouses in chain-link cages and not allow anyone in to verify who is there and under what conditions, why would care about returning the kids to their parents?

What else would you expect from a president who spends his time name-calling people he doesn't like, lying once every two minutes or so about pretty much everything, and is generally nasty in word and deed?

As bad as all this is, now the government will no longer split up families, they say. Instead...

”The Navy memo outlines plans to build 'temporary and austere' tent cities to house 25,000 migrants at abandoned airfields just outside the Florida panhandle near Mobile, Alabama, at Navy Outlying Field Wolf in Orange Beach, Alabama, and nearby Navy Outlying Field Silverhill,” reports Time magazine.

“The memo also proposes a camp for as many as 47,000 people at former Naval Weapons Station Concord, near San Francisco; and another facility that could house as many as 47,000 people at Camp Pendleton, the Marines’ largest training facility located along the Southern California coast.

“The planning memo proposes further study of housing an undetermined number of migrants at the Marine Corps Air Station near Yuma, Arizona.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Some people younger than you and I may not recall those evil places called concentration camps in Europe during World War II or that other shameful episode in American history of rounding up Japanese-Americans and placing them in internment camps during the same war.

Apparently there is no time limit for holding families in these new camps. The word “indefinitely” has come up in the discussions.

There are plenty of useful and humane possibilities to deal with undocumented immigrants coming to our country but this administration didn't bother to look into it. They chose the racist answer.

I'm sure none of this is new information to you – all of the U.S. and much of the world has been watching this brutal practice for days. But I don't want to end this post without one more comment.

First Lady Melania Trump went to Texas one day last week to see the children. She wore this jacket:


When objections erupted, a spokeperson for Mrs. Trump said it is “just a jacket,” no message intended. No, it is not just a jacket (price: $39) when a woman who regularly spends thousands of dollars on a single dress wears it. It is a choice she made, a message she wanted people to see.

In the past, I've had some sympathy for the First Lady. No more. And from the public response, millions of others feel as I do.

God knows I could be wrong, but I sense that we have reached an inflection point in the politics of the United States. That throwing babies and toddlers (even teenagers, in my mind) into detention camps without their parents has been a bridge too far for a majority of Americans and maybe, just maybe things will begin to change now.

Net Neutrality Died on 11 June

In a three-to-two party-line vote, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015 and that repeal, despite massive, nation-wide objection, went into effect on 11 June 2018.

We have discussed this often enough in these pages that you probably know what net neutrality is all about. But just in case, the idea at its most basic is that before this vote, internet providers could not, for example, block websites they don't like or slow down load time of websites whose owners have not paid a fee for speedier service.

Now they can do that along with pretty much anything else they can think up to charge more and/or control access to information.

Rolling Stone notes that now,

”...service providers have carte blanche to strike deals with powerful Internet companies. A company like Amazon, for instance, could pay service providers to make their content stream faster, thus making it more appealing to consumers than its competitors.

“Any company looking to game the system is now able to do so, and those whose pockets aren't so deep are now at a marked disadvantage.”

The FCC repealed the common-sense, net neutrality rules despite unprecedented public approval of it. As The Hill reports (emphasis is mine):

”Americans like net neutrality. Surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all support the 2015 net neutrality rules.

“For example, one survey from April found that 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats opposed the FCC’s move to repeal the rules, echoing similar numbers from other surveys, including those funded by the cable industry.

Most technology reporters I've read are pessimistic about the chances of reversing the net neutrality repeal. State of the Art columnist at The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo, goes further:

”As I’ve noted often in the last few years, big companies have been crushing small ones over and over again for much of the last decade,” he wrote on the day repeal took effect.

“One lesson from everything that has happened online recently — Facebook, the Russians and Cambridge Analytica; bots and misinformation everywhere — is that, in the absence stringent rules and enforcement, everything on the internet turns sour. Removing the last barriers to unfair competition will only hasten that process.

“It’s not going to be pretty.”

Nevertheless, there is strong pushback from a majority of states. In a variety of forms, more than 30 are producing their own net neutrality legislation. Here is a map of those efforts from the National Regulatory Research Institute (NRRI). The legend in the main image is too small to easily read so here is a larger version of it:



Follow this link and scroll down to view details of the efforts in the states.

It is not clear that all these attempts to restore net neutrality locally are legal or that all will succeed. Some of those some states and a few others are suing the FCC over net neutrality. Here is that map:


The Times reporter, Farhad Manjoo, spoke with one of the two Democratic commissioners at the FCC:

“'History shows us that companies that have the technical capacity to do things, the business incentive to do them and the legal right — they will take advantage of what is made available to them,' said Jessica Rosenworcel, an F.C.C. commissioner and a Democrat, who voted against the repeal of net neutrality last year.

“'Now they can block websites and censor online content,' Ms. Rosenworcel said. 'That doesn’t make me feel good — and if you rely on the internet to consume or create, it shouldn’t make you feel good, either.'”

Also, there are continuing efforts in the House of Representatives to restore net neutrality. You can add your name here.

It is easy in such circumstances as this to feel impotent. But it takes only a small amount of effort and it couldn't hurt to telephone your representative or at least, send an email. You can get that information here.

What Trump's Proposed Drug Plan Does for Elders (and Others)

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is long-ish and gets a bit wonky in places but it is important to know this stuff.

* * *

We have all known or have read about elders who don't fill medication prescriptions or cut them in half because the cost forces them to make the choice between life-saving drugs and food.

Just recently, I had a personal encounter with such an issue. A newly prescribed drug I inject twice a day costs me hundreds of out-of-pocket dollars a month which is way beyond my means and at first I told the doctors it was out of the question; find something else to help me that I can afford.

Then someone in the meeting realized they had neglected to note that I need the drug for only three months. I don't like dipping into my emergency fund for that much money, but I suppose that's why I call it an emergency fund. And I can handle three months.

I'm lucky to have that fund. Millions of American adults who can't afford their prescriptions with or without insurance converage just don't fill them, endangering their health and their lives.

Why, do you suppose, are prescription drugs so expensive in the United States, higher than in other countries. Here is an explanation from CNN:

What reporter Christine Romans overlooks in this video is that pharmaceutical companies do not bear the entire of burden of new drug development. A great deal of money and help comes from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In the White House Rose Garden on Friday, President Donald Trump unveiled a proposal he says will lower the prices of prescription drugs for consumers. It tells us something that minutes later, the stock market price of pharmaceutical companies soared:

”The stock prices of Pfizer, Merck, Gilead Sciences, and Amgen all spiked after Trump’s speech,” reported STATnews. “Wall Street analysts said the speech posed few threats to the drug industry on the whole.”

Do you think that outcome could that have anything to do with input from the man accompanying Trump at the podium Friday, the one who will be in charge of implementing Trump's proposed drug plan, Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Alex Azar?


Until last year, Azar spent a decade employed at pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly and Company first as the firm's top lobbyist and later as president of Lilly USA LLC.

So what does Trump's proposal, disingenuously titled American Patients First, include? NBC News reports:

”The plan, presented as a thinly described set of executive actions...focuses on four elements, according to the Health and Human Services Department:

Increasing competition
Better negotiation
Creating incentives to lower list prices
Reducing patient out-of-pocket spending."

That is a far cry from Trump's campaign promise to

”...allow Medicare to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers... The industry is now having the last laugh,” reports The Atlantic. “In a speech Friday on drug pricing, President Trump completed his 180-degree turn on Candidate Trump’s promises.

“The White House’s new plan, as outlined, does seek to address high prescription-drug costs. 'We will not rest until this job of unfair pricing is a total victory,' Trump said. But it doesn’t directly challenge the pharmaceutical industry and the direct role it plays in setting prices.

“Indeed, the new policy largely meets the goals of big pharma, signaling an ever-tightening bond between Trump and drug manufacturers.”

Trump didn't say much about how his proposals will lower prices and what is conspicuously missing, despite the second item on that list, is any plan to allow Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Big Pharma won that one when Medicare's prescription drug plan, Part D, was introduced in 2003; the legislation specifically disallows price negotiations between Medicare and the pharmaceutical companies. Trump's proposal does not change that.

During the Rose Garden speech, Trump attacked what he called “global freeloading” by countries where citizens often pay much less than Americans for the same brand-name drugs:

“He directed his trade representative to make fixing this injustice a top priority in negotiations with every trading partner,” reports Robert Pear in The New York Times...

“It is not clear,” continues Pear, “why higher profits in other countries would be passed on to American consumers in the form of lower prices, and officials in those countries pushed back hard.”

The Times also reported on another of the proposal's items:

”Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, said the Food and Drug Administration would explore requiring drug companies to disclose list prices in their television advertisements.”

It is equally unclear how that would reduce the cost of advertised drugs. It is worth quoting Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley who served as President Bill Clinton's secretary of labor, at some length on this:

While it’s true that Americans spend far more on medications per person than do citizens in any other rich country – even though Americans are no healthier – that’s not because other nations freeload on American drug companies’ research,” writes Reich in Eurasia Review.

“Big Pharma in America spends more on advertising and marketing than it does on research – often tens of millions to promote a single drug.

“The U.S. government supplies much of the research Big Pharma relies on through the National Institutes of Health. This is a form of corporate welfare. No other industry gets this sort of help.

“Besides flogging their drugs, American drug companies also spend hundreds of millions lobbying the government. Last year alone, their lobbying tab came to $171.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“That’s more than oil and gas, insurance, or any other American industry. It’s more than the formidable lobbying expenditures of America’s military contractors. Big Pharma spends tens of millions more on campaign expenditures.”

And you wonder why your drugs cost so much.

"'This [proposal] is not doing anything to fundamentally change the drug supply chain or the drug pricing system,' said Gerard Anderson, a health policy professor at Johns Hopkins University,” quoted at CNN.

The so-called American Patients First proposal is not a bill and while a small number of the proposals would require Congressional legislation, most can be put into effect with regulations or guidance documents.

So much for lowering the price of prescription pharmaceuticals. Like most everything else in the Trump administration, this proposal is gift to big business.

You can read the full, 44-page proposal here [pdf].

Brain News for Elders, Ageist Headline and Net Neutrality

Often I run across stories of interest to elders that are too long for an item in Saturday's Interesting Stuff and too short for a full blog post. Here today are a three of those.

and although counter-intuitive, that's a good thing, according to a new study, especially for elders.

”There's not much debate on the subject,” reports Curiosity, “a more chaotic brain is a more effective brain. They call the quality 'brain entropy,' and it measures the complexity and irregularity of brain activity from one moment to the next...

“We generally associate entropy with chaos or decay, but in this case, it's a sign of a brain working correctly...An effective brain is one that doesn't always rely on the same patterns of thinking, and one that can solve problems in unexpected ways.

“By contrast, a brain with lower entropy is characterized by order and repetition. The most orderly brains of all? They belong to comatose people and people in the deepest sleep.”

More than 90 percent of American adults regularly consume caffeine, reports Big Think:

“Despite decreasing blood flow to the brain, caffeine leaves individual regions more stimulated. The stimulating effects are uneven, however, creating a chaotic balance of energy when the stimulant is in full force. The greater unevenness in stimulation throughout the brain, the higher the entropy.”

In addition to drinking coffee, Curiosity notes that there is one sure way to increase entropy in your brain:

”All you need to do is age. Yes, entropy naturally increases with age — we suppose that's just the wisdom of the years accumulating. After all, the longer you've been alive, the more types of thinking you'll have encountered or come up with on your own.

“And with that kind of broad experience, your brain will have a million different possible ways to think.

For the scientifically-minded among you, there is more detailed information about the study at PLOS and at nature.com

Earlier this week we discussed one type of ageism, age discrimination in the workplace. But ageism manifests itself in many other obvious and/or devious ways which hardly anyone recognizes as demeaning to elders.

The latest I came across was published at New York magazine this week.

Before I show it to you, let me say I am far from being a Rudy Giuliani fan, never have been going back to his mayoral stint in New York City. That, however, does not make this headline acceptable:

”Trump Worried Aging, Loudmouth New Yorker Can’t Stay on Message”

“Aging loudmouth.” “Can't stay on message.” The slur is repeated in the story's lede: “Donald Trump is starting to wonder if it was a mistake to trust an elderly, New York celebrity...”

These are among the most common insults – nay, beliefs – regularly used against elders: that we are forgetful and untrustworthy. Further, that "loudmouth" crack is just another version of "get off my lawn" gibes. Even the word "elderly" is used disparagingly in this instance.

The byline on the story is Eric Levitz, a young reporter at the magazine but youth does not absolve him. I'm pretty sure that were he writing about a black person or a woman, Levitz would not have used the N word or "chick' as a description.

It's not that I mean to pick only on Mr. Levitz – hundreds of writers and reporters of all ages use these slurs (and worse) against old people every day with nary a consequence. And that is wrong.

It's ba-a-a-a-a-ck, net neutrality. It can seem to be a complicated idea but it isn't, really. Here is a succinct explanation from a February post here quoting Engadget:

”'Net neutrality forced ISPs [internet service providers] to treat all content equally; without these rules in place, providers can charge more for certain types of content and can throttle access to specific websites as they see fit.'

"So, for example, big rich companies could afford hefty fees to providers so their web pages arrive faster in your browser than – oh, let's say political groups that depend on donations or blogs like yours and mine that are throttled because they can't bear the increased cost."

After a vote by the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission (FCC), regulations to trash net neutrality, the 2015 rules will cease on 11 June.

Now, the Los Angeles Times reports that the fight for net neutrality is back.

"The effort formally begins [last] Wednesday as backers file a petition in the Senate that will force a vote next week to undo the FCC's action. Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google and other online giants support the move...

"Although they're poised for a narrow win in the Senate, net neutrality supporters acknowledge the attempt to restore the Obama-era regulations is a long shot. The hurdles include strong opposition from House Republicans and telecommunications companies, such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp., as well as a likely veto from President Trump.

"Regardless of the outcome, the debate over net neutrality — and by extension, the future of the internet — appears headed for a key role in November's congressional midterm elections.

"'There's a political day of reckoning coming against those who vote against net neutrality,' warned Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who is leading the Senate effort to restore the rules."

It is said that despite the FCC and its chair, Agit Pai, 86 percent of Americans support net neutrality. You could do your part to move the initiative to restore the 2015 rules by contacting your representatives in both houses of Congress. You can do that here.