Archive for March, 2017

In the “as if we needed to hear any more bullshit from you,” category, Donny Trump tweeted that “ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!”

This is just another indication of why Trump is not a leader, just a thin-skinned child who, when he doesn’t get his way, takes his ball and goes crying home…in this case, to his daughter, not his wife…hmm. It was the perfect opportunity to admit that ‘his’ congressional leaders were unable to develop a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act {ACA}. He could have followed it up with, “Now is the ideal time for Republican and Democratic leaders to reach across the aisle and, together, develop a plan that will replace the flaws in ObamaCare and that will ensure that all Americans receive appropriate health coverage.” That is something that a leader would have done.

Consider the number of times that Republicans attempted to repeal the ACA over the eight-year term of Barack Obama. The number, by the way, is sixty. It seems to me that rather than spending all of that time attempting to repeal a law, they could have more productively spent their time developing a plan to replace the Act. If you, as a member of Congress, felt that ObamaCare was such a terrible piece of legislation, wouldn’t you first come up with a better, stronger, more viable plan rather than behaving like a bunch of spoiled children? I’m sorry, am I being too logical here? Was it, perhaps, a case of, “We don’t want anything that the ‘foreign-born,’ n-word, SOB got past us to ever show up as part of his legacy! Oh, naw, that could never be the case…or could it? Was it that this first national health plan, for all its flaws, managed to get enacted by Congress?

You see, I’m rather a cynic when it comes to killing something just for the sake of killing it. I don’t hunt, but I used to enjoy deep sea fishing enormously. We kept the bluefish and stripers that we caught because people would eat them. If we were having a better than average day, it was catch and release. The Republican Party had seven years to put together a better health plan. They-didn’t-do-that. They-wanted-to-kill-a-program-that-had-been-legally-enacted-without-having-the-faintest-fucking-idea-of-what-to-replace-it-with. Now, I don’t know about you, but I might just have wanted to ask my Republican Congress person what he or she was doing to develop a plan to replace ObamaCare during those seven years, and if they didn’t have an answer, I might just have voted his/her ass right out of that Congressional seat. Am I being too harsh for you here?

Now, unable to come up with something to replace the Affordable Care Act, instead of uniting Congress, this idiot at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the “Greatest Deal Maker of All Time,” whines and moans and blames everyone without even considering the tremendous opportunity put before him, starts his surrender talk with, “Well, no Democrats were going to vote for anything the Congress came up with.” Note that please. It wasn’t “…anything we came up with,” it was, “…anything Congress came up with.” In other words, “It wasn’t my fault; it was the fault of those assholes in Congress.” It’s this lack of leadership qualities or even understanding the qualities of leadership that terrifies me about this man. He was a little king in a small village when he had his businesses that were being run by others. He was a television celebrity who could do as he damn well pleased when he was on air. He is now in a position that requires skills and qualities that he has never and probably will never possess, but because of his celebrity status and the bombast with which he conducted his campaign, he was the chosen one.

There is a need for our nation to have a health plan. There is a need for a health plan that covers the rich, middle, poor, and elderly classes. It can be done. Mitt Romney showed that it could be done in Massachusetts. Was his plan perfect? No, it, too, was flawed, but care was taken to correct many of those flaws. No plan, whoever, drafts it, is going to ever be 100 percent guaranteed to work for everyone. We are not a one-size-fits-all nation. Hell, we weren’t even a one-size-fits-all-state. From the hills of Holland to the tip of Provincetown and from Florida to Dracut and beyond, Massachusetts residents have different needs, but by God, Romney tried and did something no other governor had done. Now is the time for Ryan and McConnell, Schumer and Pelosi to sit down, shake hands, look at one another, and simultaneously ask one another, “How do we pull ourselves out of this deep shit,” for that’s what it is. Trump and his hooligans will do everything in their power to ensure that the ACA implodes, just to get back at Obama. It’s time for the adults in the room – those from both sides of the aisle – to come together and determine what is best for the country, for all 326,474,013 members of this country. Forget ‘Hairspray’ and his band of brothers, for he will attempt to sabotage your efforts. While sub rosa may be a term we don’t care to hear, it may be the only way that the nation will be able to make health care for all a reality. Demonstrate that you are true leaders even though we don’t have one sitting in the White House.

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We all know that there are inequities and inequalities in this world. Well, at least anyone with half a brain knows these things. I’m a big believer in this funny little thing called equal pay for equal work, which makes me just a wee bit pissed that women, on average, receive only eighty-two cents for every dollar that a man makes for doing the same job. When Mary Barra took over as head of General Motors, I’m told, she received a compensation package one million dollars lower than that of her predecessor. Her compensation package last year consisted of a $1,750,000 salary and other compensation that brought her package up to $28,576,651. Admittedly, this is probably one of the few cases where a CEO has earned every penny. Even within the male population, there is inequality. Tell me, if you can, why the head football coach at the Air Force Academy is making eight times more money than the Secretary of Defense of the United States? When one considers the international considerations of each position, it would appear reasonable to assume that the roles really ought to be reversed. Additionally, if the president of the University of Michigan is making $750,000, and the head football coach is making $9 million, how does one justify that inequality…and please, don’t tell me that old saw about the alumni fund depending on a winning season. It may be true in part but is it really true to the extent of such imbalance?

What does one have to do to earn millions of dollar each year? It certainly helps to have a history of achievement and demonstrated leadership qualities. According to Chief Executive Research, executive compensation is a “strategic tool.” “…having the right senior executives on the team and aligned are key drivers of business success, yet far too many companies don’t approach executive compensation strategically.” It seems to me that far too many companies hire more based on ‘old boy networks, school ties, or religious affiliations. After that the 300 multiple appears to take effect, that is, the CEO makes about 300 times what the average worker in his/her company earns. Is this fair and equitable? The answer is complex.

If you hire the very best person for the job as CEO, everyone benefits. The new ‘boss’ plans strategically for a five, ten, or longer period – one Japanese executive created a strategic plan 150 years out. If the plan works, the chief executive should certainly be compensated appropriately. Should the compensation be 300 times what the worker in the factory, on the floor, in the sales office or the secretarial pool? My answer to that is an unqualified, “No!” What if the chief executive increases the profits of the company by 300 percent of his/her strategic plan? The answer is still, “No.” We have allowed executive compensation to get out of control, according to Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, but, “Corporate apologists say CEOs and other top executives are worth these amounts because their corporations have performed so well over the last three decades that CEOs are like star baseball players or movie stars.” This is nonsense. The economy has grown. The stock market has grown. People have either amped up their spending or gone into greater debt just to “keep up with the Joneses.” CEO’s aren’t any brighter today than they were in 1965 when that multiple we talked about earlier was 27:1. In addition, legislation – until Trump came along, but it still will – favored big companies that wished to outsource, either to other states with more favorable tax rulings and lower labor costs, or overseas where labor costs were markedly lower.

In 2015, “The SEC passed a new rule for large corporations: Starting in fiscal year 2017, they must disclose their “pay ratio,” the multiple by which the CEO’s pay exceeds that of the median worker’s.” In his article in Politico, Michael Dorff states, “The point of the rule is to both bring down CEO pay and to improve the compensation of rank-and-file workers. The theory is that CEOs and boards of directors will be so embarrassed when they have to admit just how much more they pay their chief executives than a normal worker—300 times is typical, though some companies’ ratios may stretch into the thousands—that, in their shame, they will simultaneously lower the CEO’s paycheck and grant their workers a raise.” Personally, I have strong doubts that CEOs and boards of directors that are currently paying outlandish compensation packages give two hoots in hell about their workers, are too narcissistic and self-centered, and it will not become effective until labor unions and workers themselves take action against those same CEO’s and boards of directors.

The idea that a CEO and his/her top four or five executives bear a responsibility only to their boards of directors is ludicrous, although it appears that many of the S&P 500 still adhere to such a belief. You figure it out. If the CEO reports to the board of directors, it figures that he/she also has some input regarding who sits on that board. In an article in The Atlantic, they cite, “…Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried, [who] in their 2004 book Pay Without Performance, argued that this procedure is a comforting fiction. They wrote that skyrocketing executive pay is the blatant result of CEOs’ power over decisions within U.S. firms, including compensation. Being on a corporate board is a great gig. It offers personal and professional connections, prestige, company perks, and, of course, money. In 2013, the average compensation for a board member at an S&P 500 company—usually a part-time position—was $251,000. It only stands to reason that board members don’t want to rock the CEO’s boat. While directors are elected by shareholders, the key is to be nominated to a directorship, because nominees to directorships are almost never voted down. Bebchuk and Fried showed that CEOs typically have considerable influence over the nominating process and can exert their power to block or put forward nominations, so directors have a sense that they were brought in by the CEO. Beyond elections, CEOs can use their control over the company’s resources to legally (and sometimes illegally) bribe board members with company perks, such as air travel, as well as monetary payment.

In other words, get your foot in the door as CEO of a major corporation via the old boy network, make the shareholders and your board of directors your primary concern, and you could well be set for life. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but I believe you get the general idea.

Truth to tell, CEOs and their organizations owe a far greater debt to a larger audience than their shareholders and boards. These stakeholders, as they are known, can also exercise some control over the pay of the CEO. Stakeholders include workers, product consumers if a product is involved, suppliers, creditors, and many others. R. Edward Freeman introduced the concept of stakeholders in business in 1984 in his book, Strategic Management. “The book proposed that effective management consists of balancing the interests of all [of] the corporation’s stakeholders – any individual or group who can affect, or is affected by, the achievement of a corporation’s purpose. The stakeholder concept provides a new way of thinking about strategic management – that is, how a corporation can and should set and implement direction.” Only by involving, completely involving, all stakeholders in the decision making processes, will CEO compensation, a major component of directing the organization be brought back into line. It seems to me that as long as CEO’s have any ability to influence who is on their board of directors or that the boards’ only interest is in lining their own pockets, this idea of multi-million dollar compensation will not be curbed, but will, in fact, flourish. The losers in this situation are too many to mention, and it only further grows the gap between the one percenters and the rest of the nation.

In the second part of this two-part series, I will take a look at the health care industry and the compensation of those in it.

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The world’s happiest country survey for 2017 just came out. Once again, a Scandinavian country has grabbed the honor of being number one. I don’t know quite how they manage it, but then, I happen to be a warm weather kind of guy so what do I know? This time around, it’s Norway in the numero uno slot, displacing Denmark which had held the top ranking for the past three years. Now here’s my question: Do you believe that the Danes are all going to jump into the Baltic or North Seas like the lemmings leaving Norway? Or, do you believe they really don’t give a damn and have no clue as to what it’s like to be viewed as the world’s former happiest country? And how about the Norwegians, jumping from the number four slot to take top honors? Are they holding parades or are they just going about their daily business.

The United States? Oh, we’re there somewhere…can you say “number fourteen,” dropping a spot from last year [Note the opportunity for political comment that is not being exploited here despite the wringing of hands and the gnashing of teeth]. Asking around at the gym about the world’s happiest country, people look at me like I have two heads or something…I must remember to leave one of my heads at home in the morning before going to the gym…little wonder my heads-aches have been getting worse.

Just to give you a bit of background, “In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognized happiness as a ‘fundamental human goal.’ In 2012, in the first ever UN Conference on Happiness, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that the International Day of Happiness would be celebrated on March 20 every year. It was celebrated for the first time in 2013. Since then the world has come a long way. Increasingly, happiness is considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy. In June 2016 the OECD committed itself ‘to redefine the growth narrative to put people’s well-being at the center of governments’ efforts.’ In February 2017, the United Arab Emirates held a full-day World Happiness meeting, as part of the World Government Summit. Now on World Happiness Day, March 20th, we launch the World Happiness Report 2017, once again back at the United Nations, again published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and now supported by a generous three-year grant from the Ernesto Illy Foundation.”

It appears to me that the United Nations, once more, has done something that is just about as ineffective as anything else that the UN has ever done. I have no quarrel with world happiness. In fact, I think that world happiness is a hell of an idea, as I’m quite sure the members of ISIS, the Taliban, Al Queda, and the rebels in Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Togo. In East Africa, the countries include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda. What the hell does the UN know about happiness or unhappiness for that matter? Can you imagine the United Arab Emirates holding a full-day World Happiness Meeting when twenty percent of the population is living below the poverty level? Who the hell is trying to kid whom?

Norway, for all of its happiness, still has a poverty problem, and for children, it is a growing poverty problem. How can any country bear a title such has been given to the Norwegians as long as there is one, yes one person living below the poverty level? In Africa alone, there are 332 million people without access to clean water. In Latin America and the Caribbean, that number is 32 million. According to the United Nation’s International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), “Nearly 1/2 of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day. 1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.” And some other group within the UN is talking about a frigging world happiness day? Come on, folks, get your shit together and spend a little more time and money on alleviating the ills of the world. How about, instead of world happiness, we concentrate on world crisis day, where every man and woman living above the millionaire or billionaire line donates $100,000 to alleviate world poverty. However, this money should not be turned over to the UN or to any single country. Put it into the hands of people who can make it really work. If the UN wants to establish a committee to determine what the best charities are, and who will make the best use of the collected funds, fine, but keep governments and politics out of it.

World’s happiest country is a joke and it’s unconscionable to believe that anyone in the UN would even consider such a ranking. This brings idiocy to an all-time high, and until such time as Chad or Cameroon, Guatemala or Suriname become the “world’s happiest country,” I will continue to believe that the majority of UN committees are nothing but boondoggles for poor little rich folk to spend a few years in New York City.

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Richard Steeves has killed six people, yet he believes that he should be a free man. The last time he was released from prison was in 1984. He had gone on a three-state killing spree that maxed out at five victims. It appeared that he had regained his sanity and was sufficiently rehabilitated to be out on his own. Less than six months later he killed a shopkeeper in Maine, his final victim. Wheelchair bound and 75 years of age, he’s asking to spend his final years in freedom. What do you think? Personally, I’d rather just see someone take him out in a field, give him three deep breaths of fresh air and then put a bullet in his head…but that’s me. Six people? You do not deserve to breathe the air that your victims never got a chance to breathe.

Our legal system is flawed. It always has been and it always will be. There are innocent men and women locked up for crimes they did not commit. There are guilty people roaming the streets who will never be caught and convicted. We try to do the very best we can, from the police who catch them to the district attorneys who try them to the defense lawyers who attempt to defend them to the judges and juries who listen to the cases and attempt to be fair and impartial. One prosecuting attorney once told me, “It depends entirely on whose whores you believe, those of the prosecution or those of the defense.” Wow, that’s a tough call.

No, our system of justice isn’t really fair and impartial. It’s because our justice is dispensed by people, and people aren’t fair or impartial. Oh sure, most of us will say that we are but, truth to tell, we’re only people and we have chinks in our own armor, whether we admit it or not. In my personal experience, which is somewhat limited, I believe that 86 percent of law enforcement people have untouchable integrity. There is always that fourteen percent that are questionable, and most folks I’ve met in law enforcement will admit to that. Jurors, too, generally find some axe to grind during a trial, and while they may try their damndest to be fair, there is always something in their mind that niggles away until they swing one way or another.

Steeves is not the only one who has been freed only to kill again. After a bit of research, I found that a number of convicted killers have been released and gone out only to do the same thing over again. For example, the case of Dwaine Little. In 1964, he was convicted of raping and murdering a 16-year old girl and received a life sentence. Ten years later, the State of Oregon granted his request for parole. Good old Dwaine went right back to work and it is considered highly likely that he murdered a family of four while they were on a camping trip. He was never tried for the murders but went he went back to prison on a parole violation, the skeletal remains of the family were finally found. Three years later, Dwaine was once more on parole and out on the streets. This time he waited until 1980 before he raped and killed a pregnant hitchhiker. He is now serving two life sentences, so the likelihood of his being paroled a third time is rather unlikely.

Cases such as those of Steeves and Little really give me pause to wonder why the death penalty has been abolished in so many states. Between them, it is highly likely than ten people paid the ultimate price for their being free. We have a problem with prison overcrowding. People who have been convicted on more than one murder, should themselves be removed from our population. I’m pretty liberal on most things (as many of my former students would tell you), but the senseless killing of others assures me that the murderer has forfeited his or her right to continue to live. Take the case of Howard Allen. He beat 85-year old Opal Cooper to death while robbing her. That was in 1974. A decade later, the State of Indiana granted him parole. He made it until 1987 until he really began to kick up his heels. In August of that year he was linked to twelve robberies and assaults on the elderly as well as two new murders. Although sentenced to death, that sentence was vacated after it was determined that Howard was mentally ill…excuse me but what does his mental illness have to do with whether he lives or dies. Perhaps Opal Cooper and another victim, Ernestine Griffin, might just have something to say about that.

Had enough? Staring to feel a bit nauseous? Allow me the privilege of telling you about one more serial killer who was paroled and went on to lead a less than exemplary life. John McRae was only 16 when he slashed the throat and genitals of eight-year old Joey Housey in 1950. He was sentenced to life but Michigan governor, William Milliken commuted his sentence and in 1972 John was paroled. He married, had a son, and – get this one – became a prison guard in the state of Florida at a facility for youthful offenders. Over the next several years, McRae tortured and murdered four more boys before being caught and convicted and sentenced to life in 1998. In 2005 his sentence was overturned, but, fortunately, he died in prison the same year.

These are not isolated cases, but neither are they a majority. For the most part, our justice system, for all its perceived failures, does it right. Nancy Mullane, author of Life After Murder, said that, “…she was able to determine that 988 convicted murderers were released from prisons in California over a 20 year period. Out of those 988, she said 1 percent were arrested for new crimes, and 10 percent were arrested for violating parole. She found none of the 988 were rearrested for murder, and none went back to prison over the 20 year period she examined. I guess there’s hope after all.

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Ninety-one people in the United States die every single day from an opioid overdose. According to ‘Riding the Beast,’ whatever the hell that web site is, “There are 91 similar solar systems to ours which turn around the great central sun. The mass of this great central sun is 91 thousands of times larger than the mass combined with all the 91 other solar systems. Moreover, the galaxy of the 91 universes of which the earth belongs is included in another larger galaxy including also 91 galaxies turning around a central core or sun of which the mass is 91 times higher than the previous. This formula is reproduced almost indefinitely by being multiplied each time by 91.” Now that you’ve read that bit of bullshit, drop me a line and let me know if it made sense to you. I was under the impression that science was constantly unearthing [like that one?] new galaxies and new solar systems, but then, what the hell do I know?

Be all that as it may, it still doesn’t answer the question of why the hell 91 people in America die each day from an opioid overdose. I mean I can understand those who die from a heroin overdose – heroin, of course, being an opioid – and it’s perfectly understandable that people can die from a ‘hot shot’ or just getting a bad ‘bag’ or whatever, but heroin, while a problem, is not what calls the majority of ‘the 91.’ Oxycodone, OxyContin, fentanyl, methadone, Percodan, Percocet, and other synthetic opioids are among the other pain killers on which people are overdosing. Why? Who is to blame? Is it the patients who don’t know how to use these drugs? Is it the doctors who continue to prescribe the drugs long after the patient should have finished using them? Is it the pharmaceutical companies who, back in 1986, unleased a marketing program proclaiming the safety of these drugs without having all of the facts in hand about their dangerousness? How about an answer that says “…all of the above and more to boot.” There are only two of these drugs that I haven’t tried, fentanyl and methadone. I’ve used every other one of these synthetic opioids and I have yet to overdose or even come close to overdosing on any one of the damned things. Do they kill pain? Absolutely. Can you get high on these? Well, hell, I haven’t a clue…I never did. Can they constipate you to the point where you want to shove a stick of dynamite up your ass? You’d better believe it, and if you think a bowel blockage is fun, you’re not of the humanoid species. In addition to being hind-bound, these drugs have some other interesting side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, sleepiness and dizziness, confusion, depression, itching and sweating, and – get this one guys – low levels of testosterone that can lower your sex drive, energy, and strength.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “During 2015, drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 U.S. deaths, including 33,091 (63.1%) that involved an opioid.” Have we become more sensitive to pain in this country? I rather doubt it. My own take on this is that the pharmaceutical companies have over-marketed the prescription pain killers to physicians and that they have blatantly lied about the addictiveness of their product. In turn, doctors have been too eager and willing to continue prescribing these synthetic opioids to their patients who are too goddamned stupid to understand that getting off these prescriptions is a hell of a lot better than staying on them.

What can be done about this public health menace? Again, I turn to the CDC which states, “There is an urgent need for a multifaceted, collaborative public health and law enforcement approach to the opioid epidemic.” The CDD has established guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. These are very clear but I question if medical practitioners are following them or, if they are, if patients are actually listening to them. Whatever the case, whenever I hear that a fire department, police department or EMTs have administered Narcan to someone suffering an opioid overdose, it irritates the daylights out of me. Perhaps, rather than Secretary of State Bill Galvin spending money trying to get rid of the $2.4 billion in people’s names, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should spend some money on an educational program to let viewers and listeners understand that Massachusetts is one of five states where the opioid epidemic is not decreasing but is on the increase. Administering Narcan to someone who has overdosed is merely inviting them to overdose again. You overdose and your life is saved, you belong in a detox facility where you can be cleansed and educated. If you OD once more, sorry, it was your choice to disregard what you were taught. Yes, your friends and family will be distraught that you’re gone. Sorry, we did what we could, but you elected not to listen…bye bye.

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A Rant

Okay, that’s it, one of the adults has to take away Donny’s phone. It appears that every time he has to go to the bathroom in the early morning hours, he becomes delusional. I mean, come-on, the next thing you know, he’s going to want to try needling his face for better skin appearance. It’s already bad enough that the hair spray manufacturers are scrambling for his endorsements, but saying that your phones were wiretapped without any evidence, that’s a bad one. It causes even some of the saner people in his inner circle to say WTF!

With all due respect…and that’s not right either….because how can anyone respect a person who is so obviously paranoid, but with as little respect as possible, number 45 should really consider speaking with a psychiatrist about his mental state. Sad to say, but we have an occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who is a little above or flying wildly over the cuckoo’s nest. I don’t know whether it’s the birds nesting in his hair, his White House diet, a lack of exercise – bowling is not exercise – or perhaps that his ratings are somewhere south of a snake’s belly, but little Donny needs adult supervision. The alternative, of course, is to change his medication so that it doesn’t wear off before six in the morning. It’s either that or wait until his morning meds have taken hold and he has come to his senses…well…as much to his senses as is possible in this particular case.

I really have tried to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. On the campaign trail he sounded like a nut, but I figured, “Hey, against Hillary, you had to be different. Everyone was already crowning the queen, and that just wouldn’t be right.” Then he gets elected and the posturing doesn’t stop. He signs a travel ban that damn near every AG in every state sues him over, and that one gets flushed down the toilet. He makes Cabinet nominations that make no sense whatsoever, e.g., an environmental secretary who has already sued the EPA 14 times and believes that climate change is a “hoax.” Then he claims that his predecessor tapped his phones in the Trump Tower without presenting any evidence of the wiretap or without studying the requirements to even conduct a wiretap. Next he claims that “wiretap covers a lot of different things.” Like what, putting a microphone in your jockey shorts? C’mon, Donny, admit it, you’re a paranoid schizophrenic.

In less than the 100 days that Trump has been in office, the Fed has raised the interest rate three times. While this may be fine for the big banks and other credit lenders, it does nothing for those who are trying to save. Can you say, “We’re looking to help the wealthy and harm the little guy…again.” The same holds true for this so-called American Health Care Plan. Over 24 million people would lose their health insurance over the next decade under the ‘new’ GOP plan. I don’t know about you, but my health care premiums just keep going up and up while my income keeps getting less and less. To all those people in Logan County, West Virginia, the ones who helped put little Donny in the White House, “The joke’s on you, folks. He and the programs he’s proposing will put you in the ground faster than a coal mine cave-in.” I will tell anyone who will listen that the Affordable Care Act was not a cure-all for national health insurance, but it was a start. While the Republican Congress kept trying to repeal it in toto, they had nothing with which to replace it. What they have cobbled together now is merely fulfilling a promise to their constituents to “repeal Obama-care” without having the courage to say that they didn’t have a clue as to how they would roll out something better.

Where does Congress sit with all of this? Well, it appears that the only legislation they have sent to the White House for signature is that which favors industry versus labor. They are now allowing polluters to foul up our rivers and streams once more and have enacted legislation to protect the petroleum industry. In other words, the Republican dominated Congress is doing what every Republican Congress has done, that is, to favor big business over labor and the wealthy over those beneath them. It would appear that unless you are a millionaire or above, Congress doesn’t give two hoots in hell for you. Just what we need, a further separation of the classes.

I fear for my children and my grandchildren. My bet is that I won’t live to see Trump impeached – I’d prefer that to any alternatives, if it’s all the same to you, but my descendants will. I would prefer that they be proud of the leaders we elect in this country, not ashamed of them and their behavior. Reagan had class. Bush’s I and II had at least a form of class. Obama had class. Donald Trump has shown, from the campaign trail all the way to the White House that he is classless, petty, vindictive, and in need of serious psychiatric treatment. God Help America!

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Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

These are the first and last stanzas of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” The last was written when his father was going blind, but it’s really the first that is of greatest interest to me. You see, the 21st Century appears to be the province of the young. Youth appear to be creating all of the new inventions that make our lives, if not easier, at least, less complicated. We alarm our houses, talk to the teachers of our children, order food, find mates, teleconference around the world and perform myriad chores simply by tapping icons on a ‘smart’ phone. It seems impossible that less than half a century ago, I heard Kenneth Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment, ask the question, “Why would anyone ever want a computer in their home?” I later heard that he indicated didn’t it wasn’t what he said…even though these two ears were paying rather close attention. He maintained that his statement was, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Pure bullcrap, Ken, pure bullcrap.

I am not attempting to downplay what has been created by the likes of Olsen, Jobs, Gates, Wozniak, or Zuckerberg or any others, but I also believe that the elderly who have raged against the dying of the light have made contributions that too many of us take for granted or credit a younger person for the invention. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, (NBER) “Innovative thinkers are innovating later than they used to. While conventional wisdom holds that creative thinkers do their best work when they are young, a study by NBER researcher Benjamin Jones shows that over the past century the average age at which individuals produce notable inventions and ideas has increased steadily. Jones considers data on Nobel Prize winners in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, and Economics over the past 100 years, and on outstanding technological innovations over the same period. For comparative purposes, Jones also considers the ages of track and field record-setters and ball players who have received Most Valuable Player awards.”

Perhaps one of the classic examples of inventions by the elderly is that of bifocals, created by Benjamin Franklin at the ripe old age of 78. Galileo was the same age when he perfected the telescope. At the time he invented the printing press, Gutenberg was in his early 50’s, considered quite elderly for the period in which he was living.

It doesn’t really matter whether one is old or young, just as long as men and women remain curious throughout their lives. Remember the story of Thomas Edison conducting experiment after experiment, until finally an assistant told him, “It just won’t work, Mr. Edison. We’ve tried and failed in all 999 different ways.” Supposedly, Edison succeeded on the 1,000th try. It’s old, it’s tacky, and it’s probably untrue, but it makes a hell of a story. Just think, however, if Edison had stopped inventing when he created the electric light bulb at the age of 22. He went on to invent the phonograph, motion picture cameras, batteries, and during his life received no fewer than 1,093 patents for his inventions.

If you know young people or you yourself have ideas, don’t let anyone stop you from promoting your thoughts. The success of others just might be your springboard to the world’s next great life-saving or life-affirming invention. Don’t forget, even Albert Einstein was once a clerk in a patent office.

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I am a man, just a man. I bear the burdens of all other men. I have the flaws of all other men. And yes, I even have some of the assets, skills, and intelligence of all other men. I have seen my grandparents die, and I loved them both. I have watched cancer kill my Dad, and I loved him. I loved my Mother, but we had quarreled over a period of time, and I was not there when she died. I watched my wife die at home of the same disease that killed my father. I loved my wife as only a spouse can over a fifty plus year period. I still speak to her every night as I’m quite certain other spouses speak to their own loved ones who are deceased. Love is love is love, and loss is loss is loss.

There is one loss that I have not experienced, nor do I believe I could ever survive. It’s the loss of a child. Yes, Joan and I lost three children before our first was born. However, these were miscarriages. We never knew our child or even its gender. Our first is now in her fifties and has three of her own. Our second is a year behind her, and he and his spouse have three of their own. Our youngest is also blessed with three. If any of these twelve people died, I know I would soon follow. The spouses? Yeah, they’re great, but they aren’t mine. My children are mine. My grandchildren, strange as it may sound, are mine…and I would die.

Where am I going with this? I’m going where, perhaps, I should have gone a long time ago. We see on television and in the newspapers that this 16-year old was killed walking on the railroad tracks, and we, or at least I, wonder, “What the hell was he doing walking on railroad tracks…oh, well.” And I think little more about it. Then my eldest calls and asks if I saw the news. “Oh, shit,” I think, and she goes on to explain that he was the only child of a young woman I knew very well when she was a student. She goes on to explain that the boy’s uncle and his wife were at dinner with my daughter just a couple of nights before. I knew the uncle, too, as a student. Then it dawns…what are these people going through? What could possibly be said to comfort them? The answer, of course, is nothing. There is nothing you can say to someone who has lost a child. There is no “closure,” oh God, how I hate that word. “Closure” implies to me that something good is going to come of what happened. A child is dead, not just that, but in this case, an only child, and I sincerely doubt there will be another for this family. What will they do? What can they do? How the hell will they get through the rest of their lives together? Will this make their bond stronger or will it turn into a blame game ending in divorce and two more lives destroyed? Pause for a moment and consider this…every time, this young couple sees a train while they’re out driving, every time they hear the mournful whistle of a train as they are going to bed or getting up in the morning, they will probably be reminded of their son’s untimely death. Not a particularly pleasant thought, is it, to have such an obvious reminder of this terrible tragedy.

If this is all too morbid for you taste, tune out now because I’m just getting started. Over 20 years ago, friends of this same eldest daughter lost their first born to SIDS. He was under a year old. I had held that child and then he was gone. I guess I was just trying to be a good Dad when I accompanied my children to the funeral. I remember thinking that I was going to have to be the ‘good’ one, the one who held my family tight as the funeral progressed. Pall bearers carried the tiny white casket to the front of the church. The Mass began. Everything was fine. My kids were weeping and I had my arms around their shoulders in comfort. “Stay strong,” I remember repeating to myself, even though I was fully aware of just how close I was to not staying very strong. Then a soprano in the balcony began to sing Michael Joncas’ On Eagles Wings. That was the end of my ‘stay strong’ period. It’s one of my favorite hymns, and, frankly, I fell apart. When the service ended, it was my kids propping me up as we made our way to the car.

Children who die before adulthood, think of what the parents have actually lost. There will be no pictures of high school or college graduations. There will be no pride of having a son or daughter join the military because it’s something they had always dreamed of doing. For Dads, there will be no walking her down the aisle or the joy of seeing him standing at an altar, watching his life partner walk toward him. There will be no grandchildren to love and to hold…and, of course, to spoil rotten. No, all of those things will be denied, and that means that the word, “closure,” is a nothing word. It connotes nothing to the parents who have lost everything.

Perhaps this is my way of saying that I will never, ever, take the loss of a child quite the same again. Whether it’s because the kid was speeding and he/she survived while others were killed, or because all were killed because the 17-year old had found someone to buy booze and was drunk at the wheel. It just doesn’t matter. It’s a child or children who are lost and cannot be reclaimed. The SIDS death mentioned above was, in its own way, favorable in that the couple went on to have two more kids who are now young adults, but that’s just not always the case. So whether it’s a child shot in a drive-by, or a teenager who overdoses on fentanyl, it’s still a child who is lost to this world, and that’s a burden that you or I never wish to shoulder. To every family who has ever lost a child, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that it took me so many years to understand the depth of your loss.” May the Good Lord find other ways to bring positive blessings into your lives.

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“From the day you’re born, you begin to die.” I have heard this so often from so many bloody pessimists, that I’m rather disturbed by the statement itself. Furthermore, nothing could be less truthful. It would be better if it was said that, “From the day you are born, your destiny is to die.” Not one of us can foretell whether or not we will be a great chemist or teacher, mathematician or bus driver, doctor or physicist, but we all know that from the moment we begin to understand life, our final destiny is death.

Obviously, I think about death. What 82-year old do you know who doesn’t consider it to some degree or other? Oh, don’t know any 82-year olds? Hell, you don’t know what you’re missing. We are, alternatively, joyful, cynical, hypocritical, positive, negative to a degree you wouldn’t understand unless you were 82, and at times, we are absolutely youthful and playful. In other words, we’re just about as screwed up as the rest of the world’s population…but we can be one whale of a lot of fun at a party…as long as it ends by 7 pm.

So no, we do not begin to die when we are born. In fact, we begin to grow. As usual, I’ve bounced around the Internet to learn when we actually do begin the process of dying. It appears that our brain, lungs, and skin are the first to go. According to a column in the London Daily Mail, and confirmed by a few others, “As we get older, the number of nerve cells – or neurons – in the brain decrease. We start with around 100 billion, but in our 20s this number starts to decline. By 40, we could be losing up to 10,000 per day, affecting memory, co-ordination and brain function.” Now, I don’t know about you, but the math would indicate that it won’t be long before I become a blithering idiot. No, of course that’s not true. Our neurons can regenerate, if only in certain portions of the brain. Hey, and guess what helps this ‘neurogenesis?’ There are a couple of things, and one of them is physical exercise. I’m not going to ask my neurologist why this is so, but I would add this: On days that I exercise really hard, I have more energy and can attack with greater success such things as crossword and jigsaw puzzles, and have more interest in taking on new challenges. In addition, I find that my attitude is more positive than on those days when I don’t make it to the gym.

Like the brain, the lungs also mature at about age 20 – 24, yep, even those that haven’t been messed up by smoking. Since I happen to be one of those jerks who didn’t heed the Surgeon General’s warnings when they first appeared in 1975, you can just imagine how bad my lungs are. Hell, I didn’t quit until 1998. I now have emphysema as well as COPD, and I can tell you firsthand, it “ain’t no fun!” If you happen to be a smoker, give quitting a chance. I know it’s a bitch, I’ve been where you are, but believe it or not, you will feel better in about three weeks.

As far as our skin is concerned, let’s face it, most of us treat our skin brutally. We’re sun freaks; we don’t ‘lotion’ up to keep the skin soft and supple, particularly men, so it really is no wonder that our skin, by the time we’re 20, is ready to rebel…can ya blame it?

Let’s talk about the heart. The heart begins to age at around 40. Referring again to the article in The Daily Mail, The heart pumps blood less effectively around the body as we get older. This is because blood vessels become less elastic, while arteries can harden or become blocked because of fatty deposits forming on the coronary arteries – caused by eating too much saturated fat. The blood supply to the heart is then reduced, which can result in painful angina. Men over 45, the time of my first heart attack, and women over 55 are at greater risk of a heart attack. What can you do to prevent becoming a victim of the number one killer in the US? This one’s going to hurt so hang on tight. The first thing you can do is to watch your diet. I didn’t, but I sure as hell do now. The second thing is exercise…yes, I know I’m beginning to sound like Bob Harper or the male equivalent of Jillian Michaels, but it’s truly impossible for me to tell you just how much better you’ll feel. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to begin a regime of daily exercise, but it works. I didn’t begin regular workouts until four years after my first heart attack. I didn’t have the time. I didn’t want to join a gym. It was too much work. You think of the excuse and then recognize it for exactly what it is…you’re lazy. Start off by taking a walk around the block three times a week. Okay, so you have to get up half an hour earlier to do it. Your loved ones as well as your heart will thank you. Oh, by the way, before you do it, check with your Doc. After all, he’s the one who’s been telling you for years that you don’t get enough exercise.

I’m not going to go through each and every organ in the human body, but I was a bit surprised that our breakdowns occur a bit earlier in some cases and a bit later in others. Our hair begins to leave us after age 35. The eyes begin aging at 40. Men, you can expect your gut to become noticeable by 55, and ladies, sorry but the boobs begin to age at 35. All in all, while death may be our final destiny, it’s probably a good idea to take care of what we’ve got while we’ve got it. But whatever you do, enjoy life; far as I know, it’s the only one we’ve being given.

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