A Walk Down Memory Lane
I wrote my first piece on this blog exactly four years ago today. It was an essay about how Trump had tweeted that day about Obama (at least he referred to him as President) going down as the worst President in history. Mind blown. Now here it is four years later and as I look at the landscape of what we used to call America, there is a pain in my soul for what has become of the country we all cherish.
I said at the time that it was unfair to judge or rank a sitting President without a historical context. I was wrong! I probably said that because in all honesty, I did not believe, as others did, that Barack Obama was one of the great Presidents in our history. He was certainly competent and I could be proud of how he led our country for the eight years of his administration. Now, I'm not so sure. The best thing that could ever have happened to the Obama legacy was for him to have been followed by Donald Trump. A study in competence and dignity versus a study in incompetence and iniquity.
The United States has confronted challenges in its history and has always found the path back to solid ground. A civil war, the great 1918 Spanish flu pandemic on the heels of a great war, the great depression of the late 1920's and early 1930's, a second World War, the upheaval of the civil rights era of the 1960's but never in our history have we had to face three such cataclysmic events in the short span of six months. I can't help but believe that many of the challenges we face at current were self-inflicted by a President who was totally and completely unprepared and ill-equipped to handle the current environment. His particular brand of malignant narcissism has brought us to this point in history and the path to solid ground is not yet within our grasp.
As for the issue of ranking Presidents in terms of historical context, I believe we have enough of a context to rank Donald Trump as one of, if not the worst Presidents in our history. Nothing he has accomplished, what little he has accomplished, has enhanced or improved the quality of life for anyone living within our borders and a strong argument can be made for the complete and total destruction of decency and morality for which America was envied the world over. Now, the world laughs at America and pities those of us who saw this coming but were powerless to stop it. I have hope that brighter days are ahead of us and that we will get back to solid ground but I know without a doubt that we will never get there until we expel Trump and Trumpism from our government and restore the qualities and principles that made us a once-great nation.
People Vote For People
"All politics is local" - Tip O'Neil
It's political season again and candidates are out on the stump preparing for America's favorite quadrennial blood sport, a Presidential election. In addition to a President, Americans will go to the polls this November to elect local, state and federal representatives along with twenty some odd Senators as well as the President. This is the season when candidates dust off their policy proposals, consult with the wonks and tout their best ideas. Sadly, for fewer and fewer number of voters, these policy proposals mean less and less. Don't misunderstand me, I like policy proposals and like to know where a candidate stands on certain issues. Many however, don't really care about the nuances of policy.
I was listening to a discussion recently about why so many people vote against their interests and the moderators of the discussion could not answer the question. Really? In terms of the electorate, I am entirely convinced that less than 20% of voters cast their ballots based on policy proposals or the actual stance of the candidates from a philosophical perspective. Most people cast their ballots based on the person running. They don't really care about specific stances on the issues or even their political ideology. People vote for people. After all, most people in this country believe that all politicians are liars making campaign promises they never intend to keep so why get bogged down in the policy wonk world of where their candidate stands.
How else would you explain a person voting for George W Bush twice, Obama twice, then Trump? Believe me, it happened. It also explains how so many Sanders supporters voted for Trump in 2016. They obviously were not voting on policy, they were voting on personality.
I remember years ago when the aforementioned W. was running for President, he was the candidate most voters wanted to have a beer with. Apparently, that was their criteria of how to vote and who to vote for. I realize that in a primary battle, more emphasis is placed on a personal narrative and what is referred to as "retail politics" but in a general election should we not pay a little attention to what a candidate stands for and how they might likely decide certain issues? Seemingly not. Sadly, it seems that most politics is now retail politics.
I am convinced that the reason Democrats did so well in the 2018 mid-terms is the fact that the Democratic Party recruited and supported a dynamic bunch of candidates who ran for office. They were smart, articulate and struck a chord with the voters in their districts. In other words, Democrats are finally learning what Republicans have known for decades; people vote for people and too often in the past, people liked the people Republicans nominated. Forget their policies that were bad for many of those voters, they just liked the people.
I saw this tweet this morning and it encapsulates exactly my point. Now I cannot assure you that Mr. Oz Dillon will indeed vote for Mr. Rashid this November but my bet is that he will, because people vote for people and that's not always a bad thing.
Thoughts On Impeachment
I have some thoughts after watching the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. I am not sure how germaine these thoughts are but at least to my mind, it helps to explain some things. After the vote yesterday blocking additional witnesses, I, like many of you were disheartened and in disbelief at the actions taken in the Senate. While watching the post vote coverage, one of the talking heads made the point that over 50% of the population of the US now lives in nine states; California, Texas, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia and North Carolina. Now, as we know, each state has 2 senators. From these nine states that represents over half the population, 10 of these Senators are Republican and only 8 are Democrats. The point I am trying to make here is that, yes 75% of the American people wanted additional witness testimony and additional documents but, when you start to do the math, not enough of the people who wanted more evidence were represented by enough Senators.
Clearly it was a political calculation. Thanks in part to Donald Trump, the Republican party is losing ground and they are trying everything possible to cling to power. I am dismayed and more than a little disappointed that more Senators did not see the facts for what they are and have the courage to stand up to a clearly lawless Executive. Politics in this 21st century has become more about maintaining control and less about governing the country. I don't like it, but on some level I understand it.
I'm not sure if Trump understands the dynamic at work currently in the US. The way he has conducted himself and the mockery he has made of our government has awoken a large majority of voters who have not typically voted in the past. He has energized a large voting block and yes, he has energized his base but he has energized the opposition even more. The backlash to Trump will be a political movement like we haven't seen in this country for generations. The task at hand is to mobilize, organize and energize those forces opposed to the current administration and make sure the voter turnout this year is the highest percentage in history. We know that the more people who vote, the better the chances that we will end up with the government we deserve.
The Presidential election of 2020 is shaping up to be a watershed election in American politics. I've heard it described as the most important election of our lives and a seminal moment in American political history. But consider for a moment the following scenario: two weeks ago, President Trump made what seemed like an emergency visit to Walter Reed for as yet an unknown condition. The "official" word was it was for part one of a routine physical but I doubt anyone with any knowledge believes that. We all know that stress is a major contributor to heart problems and can exacerbate conditions that cause a stroke. I do think it is interesting that this visit to Walter Reed came at the end of a very damaging week of testimony in the House impeachment inquiry. Could Donald Trump have had a minor stroke? Is he suffering from heart problems here to fore undisclosed to the general public? Since that visit to Walter Reed, Trump has been seen less in the public and he is slurring his words (note "sock rocket" at a recent rally) and he seems to be favoring his left arm in public appearances. Add to that some of his delusional tweets since then and I fear something is terribly wrong with the President.
Now let me state that I do not wish ill on anyone but I cannot help wondering if the President may indeed be suffering from a medical condition he has not disclosed? If you have studied Trump's behavior, you might understand that he is not the kind of person who would step aside for health reasons for the good of his party. Seriously, Trump cares little about his party, he only cares about himself. I could see Trump covering up a serious medical condition in order to ride out this President thing as long as he can, even if he were to keel over in say February or March as the impeachment inquiry winds to a close. Then what?
If President Trump were to be incapacitated or were to die in office in early spring where would that leave us? It would almost be too late for any other Republicans to mount a serious campaign for the primary season and in fact, several states have already cancelled their Republican primaries. I guess that would leave Mike Pence as the accidental President the standard bearer as incumbent as the Republican party nominee.
As much turmoil as it would cause in the Republican party, on the Democratic side things might actually be worse. As much as I hate to say it, because of the set of facts presented, many Democratic voters might automatically disqualify, in their minds, another septuagenarian candidate for President. That encompasses Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Mike Bloomberg and perhaps Elizabeth Warren. It also takes away the primary rationale now prevalent in the Democratic Party: who can beat Donald Trump? At that point, Democrats will have to re-group and decide which path is best for America and who is best to lead us on that path.
Now I am not predicting nor hoping for this scenario but with what I have witnessed over the past four years, nothing would surprise me... stay tuned.
Stupid Social Media
Modern society has officially become stupid! I must admit, there are some things in this crazy world of ours that I don't understand. No surprise there. When the social media buzz began several years ago, I jumped on the bandwagon like most others. I have a Facebook account and a Facebook page for my radio station. I have Twitter accounts, an Instagram profile, a Pinterest account and used to have a Myspace page, an Ello account, a Google+ page and even dabbled with Tsū before it died. I did all this, not because I was a social maven of any sort, I did it because I had started a streaming radio station and was looking for exposure. To this day, I keep up with the Facebook page, the Instagram account and post on Twitter but the Pinterest account has been lagging, auto-posting certain items but not really engaging. I logged on to my Pinterest account this morning for the first time in several months and something I saw prompted me to write this post.
If there are any Pinterest experts out there, please get in touch with me and explain to me what this is, its significance and how it came to be. I saw a Pinterest board to which I am a follower, I guess, don't know how I got to be a follower but it is a board called 'stairs'. The board has only two "pins" of the same set of stairs from two different angles. The board has 3,632 followers! Are there really over three thousand people in this word who hold such fascination with these two pictures of the same flight of stairs, or is there something else going on? I am truly at a loss to explain this. I suspect it has something to do with a bot somewhere and involves scraping information from the followers of this board. Something to do with "clicks" or some other nefarious scam. I have to believe that or I will drive myself crazy contemplating someone knowingly and willingly following this board obsessing over these two photos of the same set of stairs.
Sorry for the rant, just something that made me go hmmmmm.
Musings on Health Care
If there is anyone reading this that could not live comfortably for the rest of their lives on the average single year salary of the top 8 CEOs in the health insurance industry, stop reading. You just don't understand.
After watching the Democratic debates and hearing so much talk about Medicaid for all and the health care system in general, I started to do a little research. The conclusions I reached actually did not surprise me. The health care system in this country is horribly broken and needs a radical fix, not an incremental one. Much was said about how we get to a solution, how much will it cost and whether or not there will be a role for private insurance in a new system. In any political poll taken in the past few years, the number one issue concerning American voters is health care. What can be done, and how can this country guarantee the right of health care to every citizen of this country? Vexing questions to say the least.
The first and most obvious solution is a common sense one that tends to run contrary to our collective philosophy as Americans. In order for anyone to even begin to reform the health care system we must remove the profit motive from the industry. What? You mean people can no longer get filthy rich off sick people? Yes, that's what I am saying. Until we can remove the profit motive from health care, nothing will change. How, you may ask, can I propose such an un-American thing? Here are some sobering facts.
Looking at the top 8 health insurance companies in America, the average annual salary of the CEO was just over 27 million dollars a year. Net profits for these same 8 companies topped 32 billion dollars. Since the Affordable Care Act passed back in 2010, their profits have actually increased, the result of allowing industry insiders and lobbyists to help write the law. Until the profit motive is removed from this equation, nothing will change. Would you willingly give up over 32 billion in profits for the sake of the National good? Of course not. Let them eat cake!
So, how does this get us to closer to a solution, you may ask. A health insurance trust fund for all Americans might look something like social security. A small percentage taken out of your paycheck each week matched by your employer would get us most of the way there. Also removing the cap for individuals with incredibly high compensation could get us closer and reasonable deductibles and co-payments could get us even closer. Cutting overhead in the cost of administering insurance could save millions of dollars a year and that money could actually go back into the costs of administering health care instead of administering the mammoth insurance industry. In terms of overhead, here is a small example. Remember we said that the average salary of a CEO of a health insurance company is north of 27 million a year? Guess how much the administrator of Medicaid is paid annually? Keep in mind she administers a budget of over 1 trillion dollars a year; far higher than any of these private companies. She is paid $165,000 per year. That's not a misprint. How's that for overhead?
Greed, corruption, negligence and plain old corporate politics is what is killing health care in this country and it is well past time for us to confront the problems and devise radical solutions to fix the issues and finally provide health care as a basic human right for every citizen of this country. It won't be easy but nothing that is worth it, ever is.
I don't have the answers, I never claimed to, but I am sure glad the conversation is happening and that certain politicians are focusing on the systemic change necessary for us to reach a solution.
Let me just say at the outset that I have never really been a big fan of Facebook. I have been a subscriber since the early days of the service but really don't post much of a personal nature. In the past year, I have posted 5 times about my personal life. The bulk of my postings are to promote this blog or to re-post articles I find interesting. About five years ago, I started a Facebook page to promote the online radio station I started in 2014. The Mad Music Asylum page posts items of rock and roll history and rock and roll trivia virtually every day. I use a service called hootsuite to automate daily or specific timed postings and another service called social jukebox that automatically posts evergreen items like promos and specialty weekly programs. I like these services for which I pay a small monthly fee because I can set it and forget it. I also have a twitter account for the radio station and, as a matter of fact, a distinct twitter account for all four of the streaming stations I have created. The aforementioned services also work with twitter postings. I have not had problem one with twitter. Facebook is another ball of wax.
Let me now tell you about my experiences with Facebook over the past month or so. As I said, I like to schedule my posts and then let them run. I don't check my facebook page on an hourly, daily or sometimes even a weekly basis. I try to interact with facebook as little as possible, mainly because recently I cannot log on without Facebook prompting me to spend money boosting a post. I admit I have done this in the past but I doubt I will spend another nickel with Facebook. On March 28, two weeks ago, I posted an item about the release of Led Zeppelin's album "Houses of the Holy" which was released on that date in 1973. As is my custom, I always post a photo along with what ever item of trivia I am mentioning so I posted this photo along with the item.
This album cover photo has been in the public consciousness for over 45 years and I have posted the same item many times in the past (every March 28th for the past few years). This year, however, Facebook, in it's wisdom, flagged me and cited me for violating their community standards. My 22 year-old son just got a laugh out of it saying "I can see an ISIS beheading video on Facebook but can't look at the butt of a three year old kid. That is why I have deleted my Facebook account". Sad to say but I hear that a lot from younger people and especially millennials. Facebook has become passe for many of them. They think of facebook as a place where their parents hang out and, really, did you want to hang out with your parents? Anyway, back to community standards, I looked back and saw that none of my daily posts had uploaded to facebook in about a week. I thought it had to be a stupid oversight and asked that the review team reevaluate their decision. They did and came back with the same answer.
At this point, its no use arguing with Facebook so I have let it go. My page is posting again so I guess that is that; or is it? In looking back through my facebook postings none of my evergreen posts have been showing up since February 22. I first thought it was something on my end through the socialjukebox site. After checking, there is nothing wrong with socialjukebox but there is something bad wrong with Facebook.
As we have come to know, Facebook's motto is "move fast and break things" and I do indeed believe that they have now moved too fast and are well on their way to breaking themselves.
In truth, prior to this shutdown, spending bills would routinely get passed at the eleventh hour with no time to spare or a continuing resolution would be passed to avert a catastrophic shutdown of our Federal government. If for some reason an agreement could not be reached by the deadlines, the government would shutdown temporarily until an agreement could be reached and usually the party who was suffering in the polls would blink first because in those instances, the reasons were complicated and clear responsibility was not immediately evident. This is not that case. The President is clearly responsible for this shutdown an no amount of "spin" can suggest otherwise.
President Trump's view of government is terribly simplistic and he cannot or does not realize the toll this shutdown is having on the 800,000 or so federal workers affected by the halt in government services. Many government workers do not make a lot of money and many live paycheck to paycheck. They did not inherit $4,000,000 from their fathers to start a business or else they would not work for the Federal Government. For them, there is no safety net and the longer this shutdown goes, the harder it will be for them to get back on top of their mortgage payments, their credit card bills, and their normal living expenses. None of the money these federal workers should have been paid in the past month is making its way into the economy causing ripple effects throughout the US in ways that are incalculable at this point.
A normal President would have blinked by now and the government would be back in business but as we know, Trump is not "normal" in any sense of the word. For the self professed greatest deal maker in the world, he cannot make a deal. Perhaps now, conservatives will realize their blunder and see that their emperor has no clothes.
Fix This Mess
You would think that with all the technical savvy and innovative spirit that exists in this great country, we could finally develop a system of voting that doesn't make us look foolish every two years. In the aftermath of this year's midterm elections, I must say I am embarrassed and ashamed of this society. Let's face it, we tout ourselves as the greatest democracy on earth but almost every two years, we look like idiots. Voting machines are antiquated and don't seem to have any standard. Some communities are still using paper ballots and punch cards others are using computerized machines circa the 1980's. It is frustrating and disheartening. Here, ten days after the midterm elections, there are still at least six races for a seat in the House of Representatives that have yet to be called. That, to me is shocking. Why can't this country get it's act together when it comes to its citizens casting a ballot?
Now, I am no expert in computers or frankly in anything but I can envision a system whereby a citizen walks into a voting booth at a designated precinct and meets with a computer installed with a proprietary operating system and proprietary voting software. the vote is cast and once the process is completed, a paper ballot is produced in case a recount is necessary based on various state statutes and as an optional feature, a copy of your ballot could be sent to your cell phone so citizens can be assured that the votes they meant to cast were actually recorded. Each precinct would be in charge of its own vote and each individual machine would not be connected to a central hub. Trust me, I know the arguments. How can we be assured that the computers cannot be hacked and votes manipulated by outside forces? If you are telling me that a computer system with a proprietary operating system cannot be verifiably secured, then I think we need to have a broader conversation about our computerized world.
Security and absent of hacking, I cannot see why a system could not be developed to modernize our voting procedures. I suspect there are several other arguments against such a system, for example, who will develop it and who is going to pay for it? There are details to work out, for sure but for the sake of our democracy and the sake of our reputation for conducting non-partisan elections, please, someone get involved and fix this mess.
The New New Normal?
Go back in time with me to November of 1994. Imagine, if you will, waking up one morning to news reports that Hillary Clinton had demanded the ouster of then- Deputy National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. I imagine the incoming speaker of the house, Newt Gingrich would have lit his hair on fire and would be demanding investigations into this obvious overreach of the first lady's influence. Can you for one minute imagine the Washington Republicans letting that pass without so much as an inquiry into the situation? If you are honest with yourself the answer is a resounding no.
So I ask you, why, now 25 years hence the exact same scenario plays out in Washington and no one seems to bat an eye. This past Tuesday, in the aftermath of the mid-term elections and the removal of Jeff Sessions from the Justice Department, the First Lady's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham issued a statement that read in part, "It is the position of the Office
of the First Lady that she [Mira Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House." Mira Ricardel is a staunchly partisan government official and since 1986 she has served as an aide to Bob Dole and in the Bush Administration from 2001-2006. She was raised in Pasadena, California and her father was a Croatian immigrant and a supporter of the Ustache, a fascist, ultranationalist terrorist organization in Croatia. On the surface, she seems like a perfect fit for the Trump Administration. Ms. Ricardel, it seems, can be brash and abrasive in her dealings with both subordinates and superiors and she apparently clashed with the first lady and her staff on her recent trip to Africa. It is said that Ms. Ricardel does not suffer fools easily so it is as clear as the nose on my face why she had such trouble in the Trump White House, the house of fools.
All this intrigue and upheaval in the Trump Administration has lasting consequences. Is this the new normal? One day, in the not too distant future, a Democrat will again occupy The White House and I dare any Republican to speak out about anything that goes against tradition or the norms that existed prior to the Trump Administration. Trump has broken almost all the rules and norms of governmental actions at the highest level and as long as he goes unchecked, these will be the new norms of the future. Chew on that for a while.