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“Well, then, why don’t you write a travel piece?”

“A what?” I asked.

“Oh, you know, a piece about where you’ve been and what you’ve seen; the fascinating sights, restaurants, museums, and so forth?”

“You talkin’ to me?” I queried.

“Well…sure…” he replied, now growing a bit hesitant.

“The places I’ve been; the fascinating sights, restaurants, museums, and so forth?” I said, looking quizzically at this person I thought I had known for over 50 years…and actually turning around to see if he might be speaking to a complete stranger behind me.

“I DON’T TRAVEL,” I screamed as though speaking with a dolt, adding, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT?”

That brought the conversation and companionship to a rather rapid close as he stormed off, waving his hands in the air in an “I give up; what the hell’s the use,” fashion. This, by the by, is not the first, nor will it, in all probability, be the last time one of our conversations has ended in such a manner, ie, with one of us throwing our hands in the air – why do we do that, anyway – and trudging away.

So, here I am, stuck with a blank page on the computer, still in a quandary over with what to fill this clean white sheet of screen. “Why write anything?” you ask.

“Well, writing is what keeps my sanity intact, what remains of it that is.” I enjoy writing. Actually, I enjoy writing pieces that make people think…one way or the other. They agree or disagree with my postulations, and it doesn’t matter a damn to me which way they go. As a matter of fact, I prefer it when people violently disagree with me – well, not violently perhaps, but you know what I mean – and they respond with their own clearly stated – most of the time – positions.

My options are limited. To write about any of the five presidential wannabee’s merely gets my blood boiling since there’s not one who is worthy of the highest office in the land. Seriously, think about it: Trump wants to build walls, allow his cronies to do anything they damn well please, up to and including criminal behavior. He wants to make abortion a crime and he hasn’t a clue about foreign policy. Ted Cruz wants to carpet-bomb the Middle East and tough tomatoes for anyone in the way. The way he’s talking, all Muslims would wind up in WWII-like ghettos. John Kasich and Bernie Sanders would each get eaten alive by Congressional foes, and that brings us to Hillary. Sooner or later, she will be indicted for something. I liken Hillary to John Gotti…she’s the Teflon pol to whom nothing seems to stick; Whitewater didn’t stick; Benghazi didn’t stick; e-mail messages aren’t sticking so far. Not a damned thing seems to stick. Ergo, who is going to run the country? As Felix the Cat (for those who remember) might say, eeeeeeeeek!

So politics is out. Perhaps I should write about Senate Bill 524…it’s a pisser! It’s called the “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016,” and its purpose is to “authorize the Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use.” What, we’re now making the Attorney General find a new way to fight the drug war. I guess we’ve given up trying to fight the cocaine war. It appears that Congress, in its investigative role, has found that, “The abuse of heroin and prescription opioid painkillers is having a devastating effect on public health and safety in communities across the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths now surpass traffic accidents in the number of deaths caused by injury in the United States. In 2014, an average of more than 120 people in the United States died from drug overdoses every day.” My reaction to this is that it’s a great way to reduce the gene pool! Who are these 120 people who have chosen to die by drug overdose?  The circle of Kumbaya singing, well-meaning-but-wearing-rose-colored-glasses crowd will call me harsh, but that’s okay, because these 120 will not breed and they will not vote. Let them die and then let’s go after the doctors who prescribed a 20 or 30 day prescription for Percocet, oxycodone, OxyContin, or hydrocodone. I have had nearly 20 surgeries in my life, and I believe I’ve taken one Percocet pill. Did the surgeries hurt? You bet your butt they did? Were they as painful as some others might be? No! However, if doctors don’t warn patients about the addictiveness of these pills, the docs aren’t doing their job. Why did some of these addicts turn to heroin? Because (a) it can be cheaper than some of the prescription medication; (b) they couldn’t find another doctor who would authorize the pills; and (c) heroin worked better and faster. As a consequence of all this, Congress now wants to play nursemaid to people who don’t have the intelligence or desire not to become drug addicts. Sorry, that’s not where I want my tax dollars spent.

But, Congress responds, “According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (“NIDA”), the number of prescriptions for opioids increased from approximately 76,000,000 in 1991 to nearly 207,000,000 in 2013, and the United States is the biggest consumer of opioids globally, accounting for almost 100 percent of the world total for hydrocodone and 81 percent for oxycodone.” And “Opioid pain relievers are the most widely misused or abused controlled prescription drugs (CPD) and are involved in most CPD-related overdose incidents. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (“DAWN”), the estimated number of emergency department visits involving nonmedical use of prescription opiates or opioids increased by 112 percent between 2006 and 2010, from 84,671 to 179,787.

Feel free to give me reason after reason for drug addiction in this country, but don’t tell me; please don’t tell me that I have to be part of a legally-adopted payment plan to help junkies rid themselves of an addiction.

Perhaps I should have written that travel piece after all…here goes. I’ve driven and flown from Massachusetts to LA and to Florida. I’ve driven the northern route which is New York State through Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, etc., and I came back the southern route through Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, etc. Our son was married in a hillside chapel in Tennessee, so I’ve been to Gatlinburg, and driven over the Smokey Mountains into North Carolina. My travel has been limited to the United States, parts of Canada, and four unforgettable trips to Bermuda. Unlike many other people, I have not been to Europe or any exotic locales. I’d like to have seen the pyramids, but I have a thing about suicide bombers or kneeling in an orange robe and a drugged stupor while some jerk removes my head from the rest of me. Could I be more expansive about my travels? Certainly, but this little essay is now approaching 1,200 words – go ahead and count, ya damned fool – and my fingers are getting tired. Hope you enjoyed the tirade and that you’ll return again soon.

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Is a seat in the United States Senate worth over 100 million dollars? Is it worth $86 million? How about $78 or $72 million? What is worth spending those kinds of dollars? It seems that ever since the Supreme Court struck down the ruling on campaign contributions, PAC’s of all types and sizes are going wild with the money they are throwing around to get their candidate into a Senate seat. Senator John McCain was disgusted when he recently spoke to a Washington reporter. McCain, as we know, was one of the authors of campaign finance reform.

Back to the big bucks…Democratic incumbent Senator Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, the state House Speaker who is challenging her, could retire for life with the money that is pouring in from their party as well as from “independent” sources. In Colorado, Democratic incumbent, Mark Udall and his challenger, Republican Cory Gardner are wooing voters with over $86 million. And Udall is in trouble, in part because of his support of the Affordable Health Care Act.

If the Republican Party takes control of the Senate as it has the House of Representatives, it’s time for many people to be frightened. Obama might as well take the next two years off because he sure as hell isn’t going to get any bills passed by a Republican Congress. Senior citizens may as well take classes in shoplifting and other crimes to supplement what will surely be a reduction in Social Security…if it’s not cut altogether, along with Medicare benefits. Am I sounding like an alarmist? You-are-goddamned-right, because while Obama care is not perfect, the Republican House tried more than 40 times to get it repealed and failed each time. Can you imagine how fast it will go down the tubes if the entire Congress is controlled by Mitch McConnell and John Boehner? Neither has the courage to stand up to the Tea Party extremists like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Joe, “You’re a Liar” Wilson and other crazies who put themselves ahead of their constituents and the Republican Party they are supposed to represent.

If the 113th Congress was the least productive group ever to occupy the halls, the 114th will be one of the most productive, and Barack Obama may go down as the President who vetoed the greatest number of bills. The question then becomes, will Congress, with majorities in both houses be able to override those vetoes? If so, what will that mean to Mr. and Mrs. Average American?

How have we come so far away from where we started? Our founding fathers didn’t agree on everything that appears in the Constitution, but they at least had the ability to discuss questionable phrases and clauses within that document. In addition, there has always been a certain degree of rancor in both houses, but in the overall, things were accomplished, and we, the people, were better off because of it. That’s not so today.

Twice I voted for this President. I believed his rhetoric, and I still believe that he has the best intentions for the nation in his heart. Today, I believe he was not ready for the job; today, I believe that if he had waited; had gained more experience; had learned to listen to some of the more seasoned members “on the hill,” that he would have been better prepared. His failure to involve members of Congress from the onset of his presidency has cost him dearly with both parties. His inexperience in foreign policy has alienated many of our allies. His choices for department and division heads have been questionable, at best, and downright stupid in a number of cases. Could I have done a better job? Don’t be ridiculous. Could Hillary Clinton, his opponent for the nomination, have done a better job? I have no idea. Personally, I believe that Mrs. Clinton has a long list of people who did not serve her husband during his time as leader of the free world, and should she ever win the presidency, those folks would be wise to hunker down and hide.

I shudder to think how much money will be spent on the 2016 Presidential campaigns. My singular hope is that between now and then, a campaign finance reform bill will be passed by Congress, one that the Supreme Court will find acceptable, and that will make campaign spending more respectable. It’s time that “We the people” take back our rights; that instead of being led like sheep, we begin to howl like wolves and say that the rich may not be allowed to buy the United States Congress; that the rich may not be allowed to buy a President they can control; that there is a middle class in America, and we are sick and tired of being screwed by those who believe they can control us with their money.

 

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“I used to read your blog, but then you got boring…but I’m back now.”

Boring? Me, boring? Moi?

Damn straight, Skippy, and don’t you forget it.

The reader who sent me that comment was absolutely correct, and I thank him or her for doing so. There’s no question that there are plenty of times I climb up on the soapbox and pontificate about this happening or that. In so doing, I get diarrhea of the mouth compounded by mental constipation. The result is what can often be found on this blog. I think I may have said this before, but let me reiterate that I really don’t write for any reason other than to get people like that reader quoted above to react; good, bad, or indifferent, I don’t care.  If someone reads something I’ve written and thinks I’m mistaken in my view, I want them to come back at me with an opposing view. If the man or woman can back it up with research, I’ll even print the response on the blog.

Right now, for example, I’m somewhat irritated with the President of the United States and his minions. The problem is that I haven’t read the Affordable Care Act in its entirety so I’m on shaky ground when I begin to criticize it. First, it was late being rolled out; part of the reason for that was that the House of Representatives kept trying to get it repealed – Forty-one freaking times they’ve tried – but it was still rolled out to the public…late. Not only late, but people couldn’t get on the web site to sign up. The company that built the web site screwed it up…badly. Therefore, why was it rolled out? Why didn’t the President, as chief honcho of this bill, have the balls to come right out and say, “We’ve got some problems here, and we’re going to hold off on this thing until we get those problems resolved?” That would have been the transparent thing to do. There is no shame or embarrassment in saying that you moved to quickly in an attempt to bring a health plan to the public – “which seven of my predecessors were unable to do” – and that you, as Prexy, are going to have a bipartisan committee review portions of the Law – note upper case – because it is a Law, passed by Congress and signed by the President, before putting it before the public.

There is no question in my mind that people like Rand Paul, Eric Kantor, Ted Cruz, and some of the other Tea Party Crazies – that’s how I’ve come to describe them; even capitalizing the last word – will look on this as a significant victory, but we all know they’re so full of crap that when they breathe, they smell like great granddaddy’s outhouse, so who cares about them. And some members of his own party will have harsh words about the President’s inability to stand his ground, but frankly, that’s bullshit!

In its current format, the Affordable Care Act is a bad law. It hurts people. In some cases, people can’t even keep their own doctor…after having been told by their leader that this would not be the case.  In other cases, people are going to have to choose between food and medical insurance after having been told that the insurance would be “Affordable.” In other cases, people can’t get the care they need because the hospital that can give that care is “outside of their circle.” Listen to the American people, Mr. President. This act that you signed into law is not good. There is not one person in this country who wouldn’t agree with you that the nation is in need of a national insurance plan. In addition, what works here in Massachusetts, may very well not work in Mississippi, Minnesota, or New Mexico. Personally, I believe you would have been wiser to demand the governors of the fifty states to present plans for their states to a Federal health agency for approval. At the point of approval, the plans could be launched with the backing of some federal dollars, raised by a national sales tax of one or two percent on everything from dog food to diapers and allocated by population density. Plans from one state would be honored by those of other states. Don’t worry, abuses would soon be noticed.

Mr. President, you and I both know that the health care needs of the people in West Virginia are not the same as those in the people of Colorado. I’m not into making invidious comparisons, but attempting a national health care law seems to me like make a one-size-fits-all shoe. Yes, we are fifty states that are united, but in health care? I have no idea what governors do at a governor’s conference, but when the issue of health care became so important, it seems that the governors should have recognized the problem, taken their heads out of their butts, and gotten busy. There’s no question there would have been some ‘foot-draggers,’ but that’s where the federal government could have stepped in and provided a little incentive to get things going, e.g., no more federal funding for a governor’s pet project. Certainly, this wouldn’t have been a feather in any President’s cap, but spinning a story is done every day in Washington; what’s one more?

You, Mr. President, and many members of your inner circle, will say, “It’s too late. It’s the law of the land and we will stand our ground and work this thing out.” That’s all well and good, but you know damn right well that the next Republican president is going to try his/her damndest to repeal that law…and they will succeed.

These things I know: In 2016, the country will have a new leader. I will be 82 years old. Tom Brady will still be the quarterback of the New England Patriots and LeBron James will still be leading the Miami Heat to NBA titles. Gay marriage will still be the issue it is today although many of the homophobes will have gone quietly away. America will still be at war somewhere, but we won’t call it a war, and caskets of young men and women will still be landing at Andrews, mothers, dads, and siblings will be there with moist eyes, but whoever is the new leader will find some excuse for continue the slaughter. The NRA will still be saying that guns don’t kill people, but there will be more shootings at schools and colleges and nothing will be done. We still won’t be free of our dependence on fossil fuel and cancer will not have found a cure-all.

These are the things I know. What I do not know would fill the Smithsonian a thousand times over. What I’d like to know is if our current President has the courage to say, “This isn’t working, but I’m going to make damned certain that before I leave office, each state in this Union will have health care for all of its citizens supported by both state and federal funds.” Isn’t that worth a try?

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When you work your ass off for over 50 years; when you pay union dues…for which you get absolutely nothing; when you contribute to Social Security – I got a raise this year that amounts to thirty-five cents a day – and when you contribute to a pension fund where the foundation president makes over half a million dollars a year, you hope that just maybe, just a tiny wee bit of maybe, that fixed income on which you’re going to retire will be all it takes to get by until they plant you or scatter your ashes somewhere pleasant. If you happen to have saved a few bucks along the way or invested your income wisely, so much the better. I took advice from a broker [former] friend of mine and was taken for a little bit of a bumpy ride, and since that didn’t work out so well the first time, there was no second. It’s rather like the old expression, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

The thing that I have learned is that anyone who attempts to retire solely on Social Security may as well just shoot themselves and be done with it.  Now hold on there, just a minute; I’m not saying that Social Security isn’t worth the powder to blow it to hell. The principles of Social Security are quite grand indeed. They stem from the English ‘Poor Laws.” In England, as economic security began to depend more and more upon the crown rather than upon guilds and “friendly societies” such as the “Freemasons (which came to America in 1730); the Odd Fellows (1819); Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (1868); Loyal Order of Moose (1888); and the Fraternal Order of Eagles (1898)” relinquished some of their efforts to aid those less fortunate than their organizations.

According to the history of Social Security, “When the English-speaking colonists arrived in the New World they brought with them the ideas and customs they knew in England, including the “Poor Laws.” The first colonial poor laws were fashioned after those of the Poor Law of 1601. They featured local taxation to support the destitute; they discriminated between the “worthy” and the “unworthy” poor; and all relief was a local responsibility. No public institutions for the poor or standardized eligibility criteria would exist for nearly a century. It was up to local town elders to decide who was worthy of support and how that support would be provided.

“As colonial America grew more complex, diverse and mobile, the localized systems of poor relief were strained. The result was some limited movement to state financing and the creation of almshouses and poorhouses to “contain” the problem. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries most poverty relief was provided in the almshouses and poorhouses. Relief was made as unpleasant as possible in order to “discourage” dependency. Those receiving relief could lose their personal property, the right to vote, the right to move, and in some cases were required to wear a large “P” on their clothing to announce their status.

“Support outside the institutions was called “outdoor relief” and was looked upon with distrust by most citizens. It was felt that “outdoor relief” made things too easy on the poor who should be discouraged from the habit of poverty in every way possible. Nevertheless, since it was expensive to build and operate the poorhouses, and since it was relatively easy to dispense cash or in-kind support, some outdoor relief did emerge. Even so, prevailing American attitudes toward poverty relief were always skeptical and the role of government was kept to the minimum. So much so that by as late as 1915 at most only 25% of the money spent on outdoor relief was from public funds.”

Two months before I was born, in June of 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in recognition of my mother’s impending birth of a new star in the firmament – did you ever hear such drivel in your life? – informed Congress that he was going to create a Social Security program. Its two major components would be “Title I- Grants to States for Old-Age Assistance, which supported state welfare programs for the aged, and Title II-Federal Old-Age Benefits. It was Title II that was the new social insurance program we now think of as Social Security. In the original Act benefits were to be paid only to the primary worker when he/she retired at age 65. Benefits were to be based on payroll tax contributions that the worker made during his/her working life. Taxes would first be collected in 1937 and monthly benefits would begin in 1942,” which eventually began in 1940.

As our society has advanced, Social Security has found it difficult to keep pace. While, as I have said, the intent of the program was terrific, it never quite achieved what its originators hoped to accomplish, and pension plans became part of retirees’ hopes and dreams.

The problem that many retirees face today is that while their income is more or less fixed, the cost of living is increasing at a more rapid rate. For example, it costs me approximately one thousand dollars more per year for groceries than it did in 2011. Health insurance has increased at almost the same rate during the same period. Real estate taxes have increased by nearly three thousand dollars. At the same time, Social Security and pension benefits have increased by $200. For many of us, aging also means an increase in the number of prescription drugs we are required to take. Certainly, Medicaid or a health insurance program covers much of the cost, however, I recently paid nearly $350 for one drug, and that is not noted as a particularly expensive medication.

Am I advocating more help from the government? No, that would be farcical at best and a tragedy at worst. No, I’m not advocating anything other than to warn those who are in their forties and fifties to plan, if you haven’t already, for a retirement that will be far more expensive than any of which you can conceive. I don’t have any sound financial advice for you other than that. Poo-poo my advice at your peril, and if you think you can keep up with the Joneses, remember, the Joneses are in debt!

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What if I elect to drink and smoke, eat fatty foods that taste good, and probably die at 50? So what if I don’t give a damn and think that you’re a fool for eating healthy, going to the gym each day and don’t think I’m particularly bright? Which one of us is correct in our thinking? The answer is that we both are. It may sound rather insane but at the very least, we must consider that we are following our own paths and not allowing others to influence our thinking…or are we?

It seems to me that there comes a point in time when we are so besieged with messages of how bad smoking is; how bad obesity is; how much we should be following federal dictates about what to eat and what not to drink, etc., that a form of rebellion may set in. If I want my mother to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my school lunch, why should I be forced to eat somewhere isolated like a leper? Let the kid with the peanut allergy eat elsewhere; there are more of me than there are of him or her, right? You’ve forced me to have a smoke outside the building where I  work; you won’t allow me to smoke in bars, restaurants, on beaches or in city-owned parks, and now you’re trying to tell me what I can and cannot do inside my own car? When you take over the car payments, then you can tell me what to do. I’ve gotten along just fine without health insurance for 40 years [actual case] and now you plan to fine me if I don’t buy health insurance from a government that cannot even allow me access  because its site shuts down regularly…like, I’m supposed to believe that’s going to solve my problems; are you nuts?

About 43 million people or 19 percent of adults over the age of 18 smoke tobacco. That’s a significant minority to me. Right now, 27.1 percent of Americans are obese. Depending on how you look at figures, that’s also a whale of a lot of people – pun intended. And would you believe that 15 percent of Americans are considered to be alcoholics. Holy, moly Batman!

Time out; time out…what does all of this actually mean? Well, first of all, it means that we sure know how to keep statistics. Remember, “figures don’t lie…but liars sure can figure.” It also means that we haven’t made cigarettes so prohibitively expensive that people who are addicted will have to turn to something else or quit altogether. In addition, since the tobacco lobby in Washington is allowed to continue to flourish, we all know that cigarettes, while costing an arm and a leg, will continue to be smoked in the closet or out. You can’t pass a prohibition law on smoking in the US. We saw what happened when that was tried with alcohol, so don’t even bother thinking about it.  Of course, what could be done is to pass a law stating that anyone who contracts lung cancer from smoking can be refused medical treatment for the disease. If you want people to stop smoking – and from first-hand experience, I can tell you that it is a horrible addiction – make the consequences so frightening that fewer and fewer will be tempted. Unfortunately, there will still be those who have the “it won’t happen to me attitude,” and will smoke anyway.

There is a myth that all obese people are only those in low-income groups. While this holds true for women and children, for some reason, it doesn’t hold true for low-income men. If you attempt to interpret what is said in some of the studies that have been released, you come away with nothing. My conclusion is that people are obese for two reasons: (a) they eat what they can afford, and; (b) they don’t care. There are also studies, most of which are controversial, that intelligence also plays a role in obesity, i.e., that those with a lower I.Q. are more likely to become obese in their middle years. What can be done? Well, one of the things that we have learned as we have ‘matured’ as a nation is that education about social issues rarely works. It appears to have failed on a variety of social issues, eg, smoking, and even on legal issues…buckle up; it’s the law…yeah, right! Okay, so what can we do? What I’d like to see is food manufacturers take a greater role in reducing the ingredients in their products that cause obesity. I’d like to see teachers able to express their true feelings and be able to say, “Your kid is fat and so are you; bring him back when you’ve both lost a hundred pounds!” I just don’t see that as a feasible alternative.  School cafeterias have revamped their menus; restaurants are noting healthy choices for their customers who are serious about keeping off the pounds. Unfortunately, if people wish to eat unhealthy foods, they’re going to do so. At one time, the military had an interesting way of ensuring fitness. During basic training, soldiers were required to pass a fitness test. It combined strength, fitness, and stamina. If you failed the first test, you might find yourself in a special group that ran a bit more, did more sit-ups and push-ups, and ate apart from others in the dining area. Fail the second time, and you were worked harder. If you failed the third time, you had to repeat basic training.  Yes, those were harsh measures, but if we’re so concerned about obesity in America, why not require that a physical fitness test also be passed before a high school diploma is received? Some would argue that physical fitness has no place in an educational environment. I happen to be among those who believe that physical fitness and mental alertness go hand in hand. While one is being taught to maintain a healthy body, they can also be taught how to bring those lessons into their home life. Earlier, I spoke of buckling up when you’re in your car. As a family, we never did it, at least not until our youngest was taking driver’s education. It was at her urging or noodging – depending on how one looks at it – that we began to buckle our seatbelts religiously…and that was before it was the law. The children really can become the teachers if we do it properly.

Well, we’ve covered tobacco usage, and obesity; what about this thing called ‘alcoholism’ or ‘problem drinking.’ Long before Joan was even diagnosed with cancer, we had stopped drinking. The stated reason was that we had lost the taste; the real reason was that we both felt we were on the border of becoming alcoholics, and it was getting too damned expensive. Do I drink today? Sure, if I want a drink, I’ll have one, but it’s usually overpowered by something that takes away the alcohol taste.  Since her passing, I have had a single drink the first time I’ve been back to any restaurant we ever frequented. I’ll offer a toast to her and, just as often, not even finish the drink. For some reason, people who drink to excess don’t bother me as much as they might.  I’ve worked with people who were functioning alcoholics. I’ve even told one or two that I knew what they were and that I never wanted them to come to work drunk. They get pissed at first, but that’s okay, they get over it. Thankfully, no one ever accused me of any kind of harassment, so I guess things worked out for the best.

WOW…we’ve covered a lot of ground here. Please don’t get the idea that I have the real solutions to these problems; I don’t. Far wiser heads than mine are looking at these problems daily and if they have yet to reach any solid solutions, who am I to believe that I can? Smoking? Yeah, it’s a problem because it can kill, not only the user, but those around the user. It killed my wife; it’s damaged my lungs; it’s a terrible, terrible addiction and anyone who allows themselves to become addicted is a fool. Obesity is another question; why wasn’t it a problem when I was growing up? Do we have too many food choices today that are bad? Are we disinclined to take physical fitness seriously? Anyone I have ever known who works out on a regular basis says that they hate working out but that they love the feeling they get from exercise.  I have belonged to three gyms since 1994. Each has had its own personality, but each also has had its own commonality and that commonality is the way people speak about how they feel after their workout.

As we begin another year, forget the resolutions, just do something right…for you and for others.

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It’s no longer enjoyable to give or receive Christmas presents.

Like you, I think, I’m not crazy about Christmas promotions that begin sometime in late September. Also like you, I recognize that need for merchants to sell goods, make a profit, even create jobs to help keep the economy growing, but I truly believe pushing some of this crap that you never see advertised at any other time of year is just plain tacky, tacky, tacky. For example, when else do you find ‘Clapper’ ads being pushed so hard, or the plush animals with all of their pockets? Want to drink fizzy flavored water, buy the stream dream or whatever the hell they’re calling it this year? I must admit that Chia Pets don’t appear to be big this year, but energizer bunnies are getting another shot in the arm.

This year, Christmas ads are vying with health care promotions; thus, it would appear making it unnecessary for writers to develop scripts too complicated. While there may be rules and regulations regarding how many minutes of advertising can be crammed into an hour of programming, I get the gut feeling that those rules are suspended between Halloween and the Super Bowl.

The one market that has yet to be tapped by the advertising agencies or the manufacturers is the over 70 group. Since some are saying the, “Seventy is the new fifty,” there must be a Christmas market there somewhere.  You can’t really sell them a “year’s supply of…” anything because while you’re preaching youth to these folks, the fact of the matter is they could go anytime…and they know it. Since so many seniors are computer literate, selling board games (a) isn’t particularly profitable and (b) can easily be found as an “app” somewhere. Pushing a Nook or a Kindle also becomes a complex issue when dealing with seniors, most of whom will tell you they “…like the smell of paper and ink” that a book gives them, and what do you say in a thirty-second spot to counter that one. Gift cards are great but for how much? Is the degree of importance measured by the amount of a Walmart card? Not only is it a gift card – which shows just how little you think of me” – but to what store…”you know I never shop there” – which means you’re just going to regift the card anyway. Understand something very, very clearly: When you are searching for a gift for a senior citizen, there is a ninety-nine point nine percent chance that you will screw up!

I sort of came to an agreement with my three kids years ago, after they were married and had children of their own…I won’t give to them and they don’t give to me. I will give only to the grandchildren and because I have no idea what they like – our ages being as separated as they are – I give money. Obviously, it can never be enough but I figure that’s their problem, not mine. If I have a rough year, they have a rough Christmas…my answer to their downturned-little-mouths is a very silent, “tough shit; get over it!”  I say that the agreement to give or not with the children versus grandchildren only, because the kids will sometimes try, but then, they don’t know my tastes, nor do they know that I really don’t need anything. I’d rather they put what money they spend on me into reducing their mortgage or buying something extra, like a good steak, for their refrigerator…”I don’t friggin’ need anything.” That’s not to say I have everything I want. Sure, I’d love the winter home in Boca or the Grand Caymans. The jet to get me there and back would also be nice, but who the hell is kidding whom. At my age, I like my bed at home; I don’t like flying anymore; and Boca in the winter is just as bad as it is in the summer – it’s God’s waiting room and who wanted to be reminded?

When Joan was alive, I would give a gift in her name to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. It was her favorite charity. If you asked her why, she wouldn’t have been able to give you a good reason, but she loved what they were doing. She may have seen a story on television or something that impressed her. To me she would give a gift in my name to the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge to help benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center. I have lost so many friends and family to that insidious disease that anything that can be done to find a cure makes me happy.

Christmas is a great Holiday. It’s also a great Holy Day. Sure, scholars can prove six ways to Sunday that Christ was not born on December 25th. I don’t care; that’s the day we have chosen to celebrate the birth of Christian’s Lord and Savior. My rabbi next door and my Jewish friends at the gym all wish me a Merry Christmas and, tomorrow being the first day, I will wish them a Happy Chanukah. Our faiths may differ but I’d like to believe we all have faith. My prayers may be a bit longer around the Christmas Holiday, but that’s not to say that my faith is weaker throughout the rest of the year. It seems at Christmas I just like to spend a little more time talking to the Big Boss. Gifts don’t seem as important as prayers that He somehow help to unscrew this screwed up world.

My gift to myself is to watch White Christmas and a few other movies on that day. It’s a day when I cry some because Joan is no longer here to celebrate with me; and I cry some because I have a wonderful woman with whom to celebrate the holiday. I’m a pretty lucky guy when it comes right down to it. I pray that you feel lucky too.

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I’m kinda funny about certain things. Like…if you want to piss down my leg and tell me it’s raining, I won’t believe you but generally speaking, it’s no big deal. However, if you tell me that I won’t lose my health insurance because you’ve got some great new deal coming my way, well, I get rather pissed when I find out that you’ve lied to me. Right now, I’m just a wee bit pissed at President Obama.

The truth is that I’m not quite as pissed at the President as I am at those who drafted the Affordable Care Act. This had to have happened one night when a small group of complete idiots were sitting around a table in Georgetown, drinking bourbon or whiskey sours, gnoshing on peanuts and pretzels. Somebody asked, “What can we do to really fuck up the new guy in the White House,” and some other genius reminded the group that seven presidents before him had failed on national health care…”So why don’t we convince him that that will provide his lasting legacy.” I’m certain there were belly laughs and guffaws around the table; even a few pats on the back. Then they began putting notes together.

Shitfaced and filled with the free snacks from the bar, the fools began writing and by morning had drafted…drum roll please…the first national affordable health care bill that stood a chance of passing…ta dah! Of course, it then had to be given to their aides who gathered the following evening in a small bar at the far end of Wisconsin Avenue – they couldn’t afford Georgetown – and over draft beer and anchovy pizza – they further refined this proposed bill, changing much of the meaning, muddying the clear parts and clearing up the muddy parts. The following day, this proposed bill, now a tome of over 600 pages was given to a group of secretaries from the various offices of the first group of fools and told to “…and put this in order so that it makes sense.”

These secretaries, now called Personal Assistants – to whom they never knew because it seemed to them that they were at the bottom of the hill from whence the shit flowed downward – met over coffee in the office building of the aides and the legislators – bourbon, whiskey sours, or beer – hell, they were lucky to afford the single two-room apartment twenty miles away on Route 50, and for two days they talked about the document they were being asked to ‘translate.’ That was the only word they could think of for what had been put before them. Mary Ann, the one with a husband on his third tour in Afghanistan and the three kids was elected ‘consolidator’ of the shit pile, as it was called. Joanne, the most senior accepted the title of ‘shit kicker,’ which meant that the most obvious pieces of garbage would be pulled out and turned into appendices. Sarah, the most senior of the group, would be the ‘creator,’ meaning that she would take what remained after the shit pile was coordinated and the garbage removed and attempt to make sense of the remaining shit pile. Roslyn and Meredith, as the two most recent additions to the various staffs, would be stuck with entering the data into the computers. Of course none realized that Roslyn was a graduate of the University of Edenborough, with a masters in Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State or that Meredith also had a background that qualified her to make intelligent insertions into her typing. A graduate of Columbia, Meredith also held an advanced degree from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU.

If ever a bill of any kind didn’t stand a chance, it was one put together by a bunch of drunken politicians, congressional aides who thought they were God’s angels on earth, and personal assistants who had more brains in their heads than the politicians and aides put together…but who didn’t understand the inner workings of the political scene in the nation’s capital.

From this amalgam came “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” 900 plus pages of gobblygook that would never be read through completely by any elected legislator in the House of Representatives or Senate. Somehow…and it must have been by the Grace of God and the Blessings of the Devil, the bill passed. The personal assistants congratulated one another and went out for coffee. The legislative aides gathered at the bar on the upper end of Wisconsin and slapped one another on the back for the great job they had done. The fools who put the original plan in motion met at the Inn in Georgetown, chugged down their first bourbon and/or whiskey sour, and asked one another, “My God, what have we done?”

Since no one had read the bill, no one had the vaguest idea of how to put it into effect. The President, having signed the bill on March 23, 2010 [without reading it, one might add] paraphrased Larry, the Cable Guy, and said, “Get ‘er done!”

No one in the United States government appears to know what happened after “Get ‘er done,” but somehow, the same firm that fucked up the Canadian Health Care Program was hired to put a computer program in place that would enable uninsured Americans to sign up for this wonderful new patient protection and affordable care act – has it ever bothered anyone that the word, ‘health,’ is not included – within a brief period of time.

The rest, as they say, is history – as doubtless as the affordable care and protection act will be in the future. Members of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have attempted more than 40 times to kill the bill in one way or another. The Democratically-controlled Senate has defeated these attempts, but so much time has been spent arguing that nothing else seems to have gotten done. The eventual rollout of the bill was nothing short of disastrous. The computer firm that designed the rollout package has left the country and is now deigning a similar program in Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia far from the reaches of the FBI, CIA, NSA, or the Keystone Kops. President Obama is now the public apologist which is exactly how the crowd at the Inn in Georgetown had planned it in the first place.

Ain’t democracy wonderful?

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