Color me bad

Elephant_LogoYou find the weirdest stuff on Facebook.

This morning, I stumbled across a new Facebook page that is dedicated to the idea of reclaiming the color blue for Republicans.

At first blush, I thought this was one of the silliest things. But then, I started thinking about it.

Why would the GOP want the color blue versus red? Isn’t red the traditional color for Republicans? Not unless you consider “traditional” as the last 15 years.

According to the Republicans Red No More Facebook page, “center-right parties around the world are Blue, and Social Democrat parties are Red, except in the U.S. where 13 years ago the media assigned Red to the Republicans. “

The page creators argue that for more than a century, Republicans were routinely associated with Blue and Democrats with Red.

That color association was changed, they say, by NBC journalist Tim Russert in 2000 when he assigned Red to Republicans on his electoral map.

Since then, they say, the media has adopted this formula, even though it runs counter to American history and worldwide practice.

Are they right? Well, take a look at the map that NBC used to portray the 1980 presidential election results between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

1980 mapBut do colors really matter?

Apparently so. At least to color psychologists:

Color is a form of non verbal communication.  It is not a static  energy and its meaning can change from one day to the next with any  individual.

For example, a person may choose to wear the red one day and  this may indicate they are ready to take action, or they may be  passionate about what they are going to be doing that day, or again it  may mean that they are feeling angry that day, on either a conscious or  subconscious level.

Experts say the color red can cause people to feel rushed, agitated or angry. The color blue, on the other hand is generally associated with serenity. It is also associated with trust, honesty and loyalty.

So, given this information it becomes easy to see why Republicans want to “take back” the color blue.

And what about the rest of the world? Are Social Democratic political parties generally red and center-right parties blue?

That would be true in a wide range of countries, including Finland, Israel and the Czech Republic. In fact, the more you look, the more you will see that conservative or centrist parties are associated with the color blue around the globe.

But I don’t expect the U.S. Democratic Party to go down without a fight in the upcoming color war. After all, the last thing Democrats want is to be associated with the color red (Think Soviet Union, the Red Invasion and all sorts of other negative stereotypes.

Who changed the color? Was it a mainstream media with a liberal bias? Was it an oversight or an intentional switch by the GOP? There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but one thing is for sure: you can always find some strange stuff on Facebook, which relies on the color blue.

 

Bridge over troubled water

Chris Christie (AP Photo)

Chris Christie (AP Photo)

By comparison, guys like Gary Hart and Bill Clinton had it easy.

Sex scandal? No big deal. Traffic jam in New Jersey? Now that’s how you infuriate people.

It remains to be seen exactly how the controversy surrounding “bridge-gate” will impact Christie’s dreams of a 2016 presidential bid, but watching the news this morning it appeared that the world was about to slip off its axis. The talking heads were beside themselves, questioning whether Christie’s political clout could endure the scandal.

Within moments of the fateful e-mail surfacing, DNC activists were all over the blogosphere, questioning the New Jersey governor’s credibility and his ability to lead.

“Is this the guy we want in the White House?,” wrote one woman on Facebook, mocking Christie for “not knowing” about every e-mail his staff had sent or received.

Strangely, it was only a few months ago when Democrats were eager to point to Christie as a welcome voice of sanity in the GOP. They praised his bipartisan nature because he was willing (gasp) to meet with President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, only days before the 2012 election.

Republicans, on the other hand, were infuriated, stopping just short of accusing Christie of orchestrating the hurricane disaster as a way to help Obama beat Romney. Sorry, but my cocker spaniel could have helped Obama beat Romney.

Back then, my friends on the left side of the political aisle celebrated Christie. They praised him as a rare Republican. They called him a moderate. They said he was a “common sense leader.”

They used to say the same things about John McCain: a maverick . . . a man of principle. Democrats felt good about being able to heap praise on someone from the other side of the aisle, right up until he won the GOP nomination.

The same dynamic began happening to Christie last year, despite his willingness to parody himself on the Jimmy Fallon Show. Because Hillary is the heir apparent for the Oval Office, and because Christie was holding his own in polling against her, he began to fall out of favor, especially with my friends on the left.

Christie, however, adamantly and repeatedly denies having any interest in the 2016 presidential race. Strangely, he sent a lot of Christmas cards to elected officials in Iowa a few weeks ago. Who knows? Maybe he just likes Iowa.

I don’t know how this crisis will impact Christie’s political future, but I do know this: I was lukewarm about him as a presidential candidate until this afternoon.

Christie did something today that is rare in today’s political world. He took responsibility. He said, “I own this.” He apologized. He held his subordinates responsible. He expressed regret. He answered every question the media threw at him . . . and then some. He talked, and talked and talked . . . and talked.

He did not run away from the problem. He faced it head on. He accepted the responsibility that comes with leadership. “The buck stops with me,” he said.

How refreshing. He didn’t blame his political opponents. He didn’t blame the media. He didn’t blame Congress. He owned the problem and pledged to fix it.

That’s leadership, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the left to give him any praise or even the benefit of the doubt.

Because today was the best day that Hillary Clinton has had in a long, long time.

Take the money and run

Stack Of CashLike a lot of other people, President Barack Obama has a New Year’s resolution.

This week Obama pledge to return his focus to the subject of “income inequality.”

According to a story in the Washington Post, the president was a bit short on specifics about how he might achieve his long-sought economic goals. Instead, the speech — coming at the end of a difficult and politically damaging year — was designed to help define a populist argument that he and other Democrats can carry into upcoming legislative battles and into next year’s midterm elections.”

While most everyone can agree that a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots presents serious problems for the country, the real battles will come as various factions argue about how to narrow the gap between the poor and rich. You can expect these battles to line up in perfect symmetry between the two major political parties.

This is the year that I will turn 50. This year is also the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a “war on poverty.”

This is where it gets tricky for Democrats. Five years into Obama’s presidency, and 50 years after our nation declared a so-called war on poverty, there is ample evidence that the war is failing and President Obama’s economic recovery measures are falling short. The poor are still getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.  This is why today’s political battles are about extending unemployment benefits, expanding Medicaid, etc.

An Inconvenient Truth

Republicans will have their own challenges in this debate.

They will be labeled, generalized and demonized as rich, fat cats. No one will talk about John Kerry, the Kennedys or the Roosevelt Family. We will ignore Nancy Pelosi’s wealth. This, as always, will be about politics . . . not about solutions. It will be about Republicans trying to beat Democrats by pointing to failures; and about Democrats blaming Republicans.

It’s just too easy for most Americans to get behind the Robin Hood concept of taking from the rich and giving to the poor without realizing that you are simply relocating wealth.

Since both parties have challenges in this mid-term election year, you can expect a lot of talk about the “top 1 percent.” But here is an inconvenient truth that I stumbled across on Twitter:

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO),  the top 1% of wage earners make 14.9 percent of all pre-tax income in the United States, yet pay 24.2 percent of all federal taxes.This is a conversation we must have. We should focus on making poor people richer, not on making rich people poorer.

The best way to achieve that goal is to 1.) Focus on educating the nation’s workforce. 2.) Stabilize family units 3.) Drive down health care costs and stop focusing on expanding insurance (make health care more affordable, efficient)

Since U.S. poverty rates continue to climb, maybe it’s time to admit we’ve lost the war on poverty. Maybe we need a new strategy and a little less politicking. But don’t bank on it.

If you would like to read or download the CBO report, you can find it here

Hello, goodbye . . . and some predictions

DSCN1587I noticed something this morning. My dogs are oblivious to the calendar. The could not care less that it is Wednesday, or even the first day of a new year. They were ready to tackle the new day with the exact level of enthusiasm and ambition they display on any other day.

Dogs, unlike most people, live in the moment. They do not reflect on the past nor do they worry about what the future may bring. They have no regrets and apparently make no predictions.

Dogs are always more than ready to eat, play and love. I think that was the name of a movie starring Julia Roberts.

I have long since abandoned the idea of making New Year’s resolutions. I live by the motto that “expectations are pre-meditated resentments.”

Two years ago, I publicly pledged on these pages to do a better job in how I conduct political debates with friends, acquaintances and strangers:  I will listen more than I speak. I will ask those who disagree with me how they came to their conclusions; and I will push myself to consider and reflect upon the contrary arguments I encounter along the way.

That resolution seemed to go the way of so many other resolutions, but it still seems more important than quitting smoking, losing weight or better organizing my sock drawer. Thus, I offer the same resolution this year.

In many ways, 2013 was a good year, and I have much to be thankful for. But, there were also some challenges. I lost a good friend to suicide. My wife and I both racked up some huge medical bills and the future seems uncertain. But the future is always uncertain. That’s why it is the future. It is unknown, full of possibility and ripe with potential.

Dogs don’t make predictions. Dogs avoid resentment. Dogs have low expectations. Dogs ignore the calendar and live completely in the present.

We are not dogs, however. We are humans and strive to control our lives, our futures. We enjoy making predictions because it helps quell the anxiety of what is ahead: the unknown.

A few days ago, I asked some friends to submit their best predictions for 2014. Here they are:

The future’s so bright?

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

Bad News for the GOP: It would be hard to know that my friend John Lovell is a die-hard Democrat if he never opened his mouth or approached his keyboard. John and I spar frequently, and I have immense respect for his intellect, wit and compassion. But I was not at all surprised by his predictions, which included Republicans losing several Congressional seats. He predicted Sen. Collins will lose her bid for another term and that Gov. Paul LePage will lose his re-election bid, describing him as  “the worst governor in Maine history.”

Bad News for Democrats: Matthew Angotti of Saco has a different perspective: “Obamacare woes will continue, and partially, as a result, Republicans will keep the US House, take the US Senate and even take one Maine Legislative body. Further, LePage will be reelected as Governor with 41 percent of the vote. Also, Seattle wins the Super Bowl.

Karen Moore, a Biddeford native who now lives in Colorado, is one of my favorite political foes. She is feisty, stubborn and thoughtful. She is an enigma to me, and I doubt she has any idea how much I love debating political and public policy issues with her. Karen offered a hodgepodge of predictions, saying former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will be found guilty of murder during his trial this year.

Karen also predicted that George Zimmerman will kill again; and that Paul LePage will lose the Blaine House to Democrat Mike Michaud, who will then become Maine’s first gay governor. She also predicted that Republicans will lose their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and that Democrats will maintain control of the U.S. Senate; and says that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in favor of gay marriage in 2014.

Beyond politics, Karen predicted two “hurricane super storms” next fall – one of which, will hit Rhode Island, Mass and Maine. Sadly, she also predicted another mass shooting incident that will involve “50+ children” and  will be committed by “a card-carrying NRA member who passed background checks and was formerly “responsible”.

Zimmerman will kill again?

Zimmerman will kill again?

She also predicted that there “will be a huge pipeline disaster on US soil,” and that John Boehner will resign in disgrace. On a final note, Karen predicts that a former U.S. president (unnamed) “will pass away and there will controversy at the State funeral – such as Putin won’t be invited but the North Korean or Iranian dude will attend.”

Let’s pause here to pop a couple antidepressants or partake in some recreational drugs. Whew.

On a much lighter note, my friend Ernie Corrigan, a former reporter and political advisor to Tip O’Neil, predicted that Sarah Palin will travel to Maine to advise Gov. Paul LePage on “how to stop saying every crazy thing that comes into his head.” Coincidentally, he says,  Columbia Pictures announces the release of Dumb and Dumber III.

Corrigan also predicted that “Republican leaders will announce they are going to continue to try to scuttle ObamaCare with legislation they say will provide affordable health care insurance for all. They are calling it The Affordable Care Act and it is instantly embraced by Republicans as the cure for ObamaCare.”
Corrigan also predicted a major shift in federal domestic policy, when Congress “announces that it wants to spend $100 billion on mental health, saying it will reach out to people who appear to be talking to themselves while walking down the street.”  Verizon, Corrigan predicts, will immediately file a class action suit in federal court, claiming the government is targeting their customers.
Racial tensions will continue in 2014, according to Corrigan’s predictions: Democrats, he says. will announce they are going into federal court and charging Republicans with a persistent pattern of federal election violations aimed at keeping African-Americans from voting.  “During simultaneous press conferences, only African-Americans attend the Republican press conference and only white Americans attend the Democratic press conference.”
 Corrigan also places a high degree of confidence in U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Corrigan predicts that Kerry will engineer a peace accord in the Middle East with agreement from Israel, Syria, Iran and Iraq and the PLO. Soviet leader Putin attacks the accord as an attempt to destabilize the region, he adds.

Palin: Coming to Maine in 2014?

Palin: Coming to Maine in 2014?

Corrigan also says the U.S.  jobless rate will drop below 6 percent for the first time in 15 years, and that Leonardo DiCaprio will win Best Actor for his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street.  Wall Street CEOs, according to Corrigan, will say the award confirms the strong work ethic of traders on Wall Street, despite the  film’s depictions of excessive patterns of group sex, infidelity, massive drug abuse and a persistent pattern of stock fraud and greed.”

Keeping it local, State Senator David Dutremble (D-Biddeford) predicts that Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, facing term limits, will challenge him in the June 2014 Democratic primary. Reason for this prediction?  “She has openly asked me to swap seats so she can have one term as Senator and I could take her Rep seat,” Dutremble said. “She previously said she didn’t originally run to play games and step down just so someone else could just have the seat, but now she has publicly endorsed another person for her  seat, leading me to believe she will challenge my seat. I have no proof, just a prediction.”
Former colleague and award-winning columnist John Swinconeck kept his tongue firmly in cheek with his predictions for 2014:
“Early one morning in 2014, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will wake up on a bed of Hefty bags outside a Portland night club wearing a torn, black cocktail dress,” Swinconeck opined. “Hung around her neck like a pendant will be the severed ear of “Fox and Friends” co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. She’ll have no memory of what transpired the night before, she only knows that she is filled with a sense of peace she has not felt for years. That day, Sebelius sneaks aboard a freighter bound for Cairo. As the vessel sails from Casco Bay, Sebelius will offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the god of second chances, grateful that the voices in her head have finally ceased. Back in Washington, the tumult over the Affordable Care Act will continue.”
My friend Harvey Ardman, an accomplished writer and journalist, predicted that “Eliot Cutler will withdraw from the Governor’s race  two months (or more) before the election and [Mike] Michaud will collect most of his votes, winning handily over LePage.”
Jesse Ventura: Maine's next governor?

Jesse Ventura: Maine’s next governor?

See if you can guess the political leanings of my friend Sally Melcher McKeagney: Jesse Ventura moves to Maine in January 2014. He is drafted to run for governor. Ventura  wins in November. Governor LePage is very angry about the loss, so angry , he tries to blow up the PPH building. Though the explosions are little more than smoke and soft pops, LePage is forced to flee  to Jamaica.  He applies for refugee status.  Jamaica doesn’t really want him. They  offer to extradite him–they say they will even pay us to take him back. But the State of Maine cites his residency status–which is not Maine–and tells Jamaica “You’re on your own!”  Jesse Ventura turns out to be just as interesting as Paul LePage, and Democrats wonder how they can get Ventura to Jamaica.”

My friend Bob Meyers predicts that the Times Record newspaper in Brunswick will cease publication as a daily in 2014 and go to 2 or possibly 3 issues per week.
My friend Bob Mentzinger, editor of the Times Record, also predicted that George Zimmerman will kill again.  Mentzinger thinks LePage will be re-elected because Independent Eliot Cutler will remain in the race too long, waiting for a repeat of the 2010 surge.  On a final note, Mentzinger predicts the Carolina Panthers will win the Super Bowl, it will snow through April; and that the Dow will hit 18,000.
So there you go! Let the games begin and bring on 2014! Be careful out there, and remember: it’s never a bad idea to hold hands and keep your expectations in check.

Another Tricky Day

Angus King (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Angus King (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

It was — at best — a bit of a stretch.

The Maine Chamber of Commerce held its annual dinner and awards ceremony Friday and landed U.S. Senator Angus King as its keynote speaker.

Thus, the event’s theme was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

You probably remember the 1939 movie that made actor Jimmy Stewart a star, especially the famous filibuster scene that portrays the young and somewhat naïve Sen. Smith as an adorable champion of integrity, truth, justice and the American Way.

As the movie began production in 1937, Stewart was only 28 years old, two years shy of the minimum age requirement to be a U.S. Senator.  Angus King, on the other hand, will soon celebrate his 70th birthday.

In the movie, a young, ambitious and principled man from an unnamed western state is reluctantly chosen by a somewhat corrupt governor to replace a deceased senator.

Back here in Real-ville, King’s trip to Washington D.C. happened much differently.  He launched his campaign only days after Olympia Snowe abruptly announced that she would not seek another term in the senate.

King, a very popular, former two-term governor, instantly crushed the hopes of more than a dozen political hopefuls who all dreamed of sugar-plum fairies and huge PAC donations. He adroitly skipped the banality of the primary process by pulling his worn and tattered “Independent” card from his breast pocket.

He quickly raised $3 million, half of which probably came from the sale of a decked-out RV that he purchased to “tour the country with my family” after leaving the Blaine House.

Maine Democrats hung their heads in shame because they knew that they’d been beat. The state GOP, full of pride after taking back the Blaine House and the Legislature a year prior, hoisted up no fewer than four candidates, including three members of Gov. LePage’s cabinet.

Cynthia Dill, a far-left Democratic state senator from Cape Elizabeth — virtually unknown outside the three-mile perimeter that surrounds her home — bravely accepted her party’s nomination for Snowe’s seat and walked dutifully — with her head held high — toward a political slaughter.

Meanwhile, King coyly teased the Maine press corps, saying he wasn’t sure which party he would caucus with if he were elected. The gag order had been issued. The emperor had no clothes, but no one seemed brave enough to say: wait a second . . . dude is a Democrat!  Instead, we lathered ourselves in the premise that Governor King would be “independent” and fix all that was broken in DC.

In essence, King won his election approximately 38 seconds after he called Congresswoman Chellie Pingree to tell her what was what.

Mr. Smith? Hardly.

One hit to the body

So, there we were on a Friday night: various members of Maine’s business community, mingling near the cash bar, sampling local foods and waiting to hear from Maine’s junior senator.

Regardless of how you feel about King’s political positions, no one can deny that he is an incredibly smart guy and a skilled politician. He exudes warmth and confidence. He is likable, smart and often — sometimes painfully so — very human; revealing an unabridged and honest insight of “how cool and fun it is” to be a U.S. Senator.

King is also an exceptional public speaker and usually a diligent student of history.

While working as a reporter, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angus King. I spent nearly 45 minutes with him, one-on-one; and it was damn hard to walk away unimpressed from that conversation. In the years that followed, I also greatly enjoyed hearing King speak at numerous public events.

Therefore, I was surprised on Friday when King — for the first time ever — didn’t mention his favorite historical figure: Civil War hero and Maine native Joshua Chamberlain. Instead, King ran through a laundry list of frustrations about the current dysfunction in Washington. And who could blame him?

Currently, public opinion polling of Congress as a whole is running just three points ahead of Osama Bin Laden’s popularity rating.

King led off his assessment of beltway politics - – quite surprisingly — by delivering a pointed jab to President Barack Obama and his signature legislation: the Affordable Care Act. It’s not like Obama needs another critic these days. The President’s own approval numbers are hovering perilously close to George W. Bush numbers.

As we feasted on our salads, King relayed an anecdote about a text message he sent to his chief-of-staff a few weeks ago, when the healthcare.gov site was rolled out.

“If you want to know what the Soviet Union was like in the 1970s, go to this website because nothing works like it should,” King said. There were a few nervous laughs in the room as people turned to one another with puzzled expressions.

“I’m a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, but boy, have they screwed up the implementation,” King went on to say. “It’s really frustrating that they can’t even do a website right.”

Someone just got themselves removed from the President’s Christmas card list.

Shiny, happy people

King continued his rather populist bashing of DC’s political climate, focusing most of his energy into the sometimes stunning changes of a hyper-partisan Congress.

He bemoaned a lack of civility and expressed frustration about his colleagues who are genuinely worried about re-election in 2014 because of an ever-increasing gap of political polarization on both the left and right ends of the political spectrum.

He relayed a story about his interaction with another member of his incoming senate class, Republican Ted Cruz, by saying he found the conversation “interesting and productive” but drew a laugh when revealing that his wife witnessed them talking on C-SPAN and immediately castigated him with a call to his cell phone. “She wanted to know, why are you talking to Ted Cruz?”

It’s easy to be a populist and a centrist, but King’s story revealed that it’s a lot easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. King seems sincere about his willingness and eagerness to find bi-partisan solutions to our nation’s problems, but his own wife went ballistic when he spent just a few moments chatting with someone from the other side of the aisle — albeit someone from way over on the other side.

King also shared insights about some fellow members of the senate, revealing the human side that is often missed by MSNBC, FOX or CNN. For example, King said he learned that Senator Orrin Hatch, a patriarch of the GOP, grew up literally dirt poor in Pennsylvania. Hatch’s family lived in a home with dirt floors and one wall in their home was erected from a salvaged billboard that Hatch’s father was able to drag home.

Of course, King spent a fair amount of time Friday evening rigorously patting himself on the back, portraying himself as the great white hope in the U.S. Senate. He’s a politician, so it’s to be expected; but he conveniently skipped over some remarks he made just a few weeks ago during the government shutdown.

King, who doesn’t hesitate to show his annoyance, told a reporter earlier this year that Republicans who were stalling implementation of the ACA are “guilty of murder.”

Apparently, King’s pleas for a more civil discourse are reserved for those who disagree with him. It’s also surprising, given his penchant for history, that King buys into the half-cocked notion that our Congress is more hyper-partisan now than ever before.

King didn’t win his landslide election because of money or better television ads. Maine voters are smarter than that, especially when they speak so loudly and clearly.

Maine’s voters sent Angus King to Washington simply because they knew he was the right guy for the job. Even King acknowledges that he has difficult shoes to fill, pointing out the state’s legacy in sending remarkable people to Washington: Margaret Chase Smith, Edmund Muskie, George Mitchell and Bill Cohen.

Maine’s voters know that Angus King is stubborn, especially once he buys into an idea. They know who he is, and they respect his feisty temperament and keen intellect. They also know he’s a politician and will sometimes disappoint but rarely back down. King has a long road ahead. He’s not Jimmy Stewart.

King is a real person, complete with all the quirks and inconveniences associated with being human. He proudly led the charge to integrate technology into public classrooms, but yet goes old school with markers and an easel board to make his points. It’s damn hard not to like or respect the guy.

He’s human, and thus, flawed. And if you ask him, he will gladly tell you that being a member of the U.S. Senate is pretty damn “cool.”

Mr. King is not Mr. Smith, but if he wants another term in the U.S. Senate, all he has to do is call Chellie Pingree and tell her to wait another six years.

A whiter shade of pale

gun-k92I found it in the most unlikely of places. It was written by the most unlikely of authors. It intrigued me, and its aftermath terrified me.

It was a column headlined: “Let’s talk limits,” a well-written and balanced piece about the hype and rhetoric that surrounds our nation’s gun control debate.

It was published in Guns & Ammo, which describes itself as “the world’s most widely read firearms magazine.”

It was written by Dick Metcalf, a staunch Second Amendment supporter, who had the temerity to opine that reasonable gun regulations do not necessarily constitute an infringement on civil liberties.

“Way too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement,” Metcalf wrote in the December issue

“The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.”

Gun advocates went ballistic. They felt betrayed by one of their own.

Jim Bequette, the magazine’s editor immediately apologized to readers for his goal of generating “a healthy exchange of ideas on gun rights.”

But that did not calm the storm. Metcalf was fired, and Bequette resigned his post a month earlier than he planned.

Apparently, too many of those who so staunchly support the Second Amendment have little use for the First Amendment.

If gun advocates feel as is if they are being discounted by the so-called mainstream media as “unreasonable,” perhaps they should try listening to other points of view and refrain from shooting any messenger with a set of talking points that don’t align perfectly with their own script, especially when that message comes from one of their own.

.

If you believe in forever

US_CapitolAnd so it was — amidst all this talk of a government shut down, an “unfair” system of health care delivery and a skyrocketing national debt — that my youngest son was assigned to read Animal Farm.

As so many of us learned in high school, George Orwell wrote Animal Farm as an allegorical reference to the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Matthew finished reading the final chapter last night, and now it appears that our government is about to end yet another temporary shutdown.

Which political party will be blamed for this fiasco remains to be seen. We’ll likely have to wait a little more than a year for that answer.

Allow me to pause here for a moment to ask you a question. Are you surprised that our elected leaders have behaved so foolishly over the past several days? Really?

Maybe we shouldn’t be blaming Congress. Maybe we should be blaming ourselves.

Consider this. Americans elected a man (Republican) who believes that wind turbines “slow down” the wind. We also elected another man (Democrat) who believes that the island of Guam could actually “tip over.”

We have elected members of Congress who enjoy taking pictures of their own genitals and then sending those pictures to porn stars. We have elected members of Congress who believe the internet is little more than “a series of tubes.”

Take these people, put them together in a room with broad Constitutional powers and tell me that is not a recipe for disaster.

But a penchant for stupidity does not end at the DC Beltway. It extends into every nook and cranny of our great nation.

Despite all the rapid advances in technology, we humans have changed very little over the last 2,000 years.

The popularity of Wikipedia should have been a wake-up call. But still, so many of us keep doing the same things and yet expect different results.

YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. We have access to so much information, yet we operate politically as if children still learn on chalkboards

We all want a chicken in every pot and repeatedly fail to understand the consequences of actually believing political candidates who make such promises.

All politics is local

In my hometown we will soon be asked to choose a mayor and new city councilors.

The lawn signs have begun popping up all over town. The candidates are working their campaigns and making their promises.

This is where it starts. This is where the numbing process begins.

One of our mayoral candidates is promising “lower taxes” and “more jobs.” Although he is short on specifics, I’m almost certain that he also likes puppies, French fries and cold beer. Why wouldn’t you vote for that guy? Sounds good, right?

Most of us are too busy to peel back the layers of such a perfunctory campaign. We have jobs, families and the Red Sox are playing.

Some local folks are upset about property taxes. They are planning to take out their frustration on an incumbent candidate who is seeking re-election.

Sounds smart, right? Toss the bum out. Vote for one of his opponents.

There’s just a few things you should consider. The incumbent has only been the mayor for two years, and the city council decides the budget.

Why is this important? Four years ago, under the leadership of a different mayor, the city’s voters overwhelmingly voted to approve a $35 million bond in order to finally complete a long overdue renovation at the high school. I supported that bond question but sometimes it feels like I am one of the few people who read the fine print on the ballot.

Yeah, taxes went up because we borrowed $35 million to finally fix a project we ignored for decades. Duh!

When I purchased my truck, I drove it off the lot with no money down. A few weeks later, the bank had the nerve to start asking for payments. How arrogant of them! I am going to get a new bank!

Voters are not blaming the former mayor for the tax increase. In fact, the former mayor is today hoping to get her old job back, a prospect made much easier by blaming the current mayor for a situation that happened on her watch.

Our city has several infrastructure problems that need to be addressed. For decades we have ignored and stalled many of these projects to keep taxes low.

The front stairs of our high school were literally crumbling and the gymnasium roof was leaking before we were willing to invest a dime. Stalling those repairs did not make them less expensive. In fact, we stalled right past the deadline to qualify for some state funding for those repairs.

But hey, let’s blame the guy who has been in the mayor’s office for 22 months. It’s all his fault, right?

For 30 years, our city bitched and moaned about a controversial trash-to-energy incinerator that was located in the center of our downtown area. The stench of burning trash became a humiliating calling card for our community. Merchants and businesses complained. Economic development was thwarted and diminished.

The city spent decades in court, racking up huge legal fees in fighting against the facility’s former owner. Every mayor in the last 20 years pledged to get rid of the facility. It was politically popular rhetoric.

Then, after 30 years of complaining and wringing our hands, our current mayor (the new guy) led a team that was able to negotiate the closure of the facility. The problem is now gone. No more wasted time, energy and resources will be spent on that particular problem.

Results matter. Talk is cheap and empty promises are politically convenient.

We have a responsibility to pay attention. Otherwise, the wind may begin to slow and islands could start tipping over.

An open letter to my fellow Republicans

Dear Congressional Republicans,

It is well past time for me to speak up and to make my own attempt to wake you from your delusional slumber.

Like you, I did not vote for President Obama in 2008, nor in 2012.

Like you, I have serious concerns and reservations about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Like you, I have concerns about our nation’s debt and federal spending that seems out of control.

Yes, I know that not a single member of our party voted in favor of ACA. Yes, I know that the law was passed with all sorts of political maneuvering and manipulation that left our party on the wrong side of the door, standing in the cold.

But none of that matters much today, does it?

Yes, before I proceed any further, please allow me to disclose that I am one of those despicable RINOs you hate so much. You know, a Republican In Name Only.

Why do you call me a RINO? Maybe it’s because I am unafraid of science. Maybe it’s because I believe ALL people are created equal and have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of their gender, race or sexual orientation. Maybe because I believe our country is stronger when we provide a basic safety net to the most vulnerable among us. Maybe it’s because I own guns, but I just can’t figure out how so many of my brethren seem to ignore the very first words in the Second Amendment. You know, the words “Well-regulated.”

But enough about me, let’s talk about you.

I am proud of you for fighting the good fight. You have made more than 40 attempts to overturn the ACA. You lost every one of them, but your spirit and principles persisted. The fight was taken to the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice (a Bush-appointee) ruled against us. This all happened in compliance with the Constitution.

Bottom line? They won. We lost. Period.

Earlier this week, the person I love and cherish more than any other was lying on a hospital gurney and experiencing incredible pain. She was hooked to all manner of tubes and wires, she had been bleeding through the night. The doctors scrambled to figure out what was wrong.

Right then, right there, I did not care about anything else. I did not ask about the cost of her treatment. I was not afraid of bankruptcy or losing my home or my job. I cared about one thing, and one thing only: I wanted my wife healed.

My wife has MS. A few days before landing at the hospital, her doctor ordered her to stay home from work. She is a government employee. You know, one of those blood-sucking, lazy, incompetent freeloaders who is straining our local, state and federal budgets. Her work is rather meaningless. She investigates and helps prosecute people who seem to enjoy raping three-year-old girls or burning the arms and legs of 11-year-old boys.

She is an advocate and defender of these innocent children. She has been doing this work for the better part of two decades.

Now back to the hospital.

Yes, we have health insurance. But can you imagine what would happen to us if we did not? Even with health insurance, the incident is taking a toll on my family’s finances: deductibles, co-pays, prescriptions, outpatient appointments for follow-up. Gas and transportation costs to and from those appointments.

I work in the private sector. My productivity plummeted more than 90 percent last week.

The good news for the economy? There were no homemade dinners for me and my two boys. Sure, it was our choice, but we ate a lot of fast food or dined out at inexpensive restaurants: Rapid Rays, Pizza Hut and the Happy Dragon.

There were better uses for those dollars: savings, college funds, retirement, but we did not care. We were too distracted.

What were you doing during this time? You had your heels dug in, bloviating about principle and how damaging the ACA would be to our national economy.

Yes, I know the Democrats were calling you “murderers, thieves, terrorists” and so on . . ., but let them be silly children and petulant. Yes, I know that the president was doing everything possible to make the GOP look bad. So what? Put on your big boy pants and let’s take the White House in 2016.

I do not give a rat’s ass about who is to blame for the shutdown. I am looking for leaders. I care about who is going to return our country to a fully functioning status. That’s who I am going to vote for.

We have many fights ahead, but we lost the fight on the ACA. And frankly, it’s our fault.

Why? Well, think about your own wives, husbands, children or grandparents. Now imagine what it feels like when your insurance company says it will no longer pay because your loved one is too sick. You faithfully paid your premiums, but the insurance industry does everything in its power to limit your benefits.

Can anyone look me in the eyes and say rescission clauses and pre-existing condition clauses makes sense. Why did you let the Democrats outflank you on this?

Yes, maybe the ACA will be a complete disaster. But let the American people decide. If the ACA is really as bad as you proclaim, and if you stand back and accept your loss during a good and noble fight, then I assure you it will be 40 or 50 years before a member of the Democratic Party can get elected as a dog catcher.

I guarantee no one will blame the GOP if the ACA becomes a miserable failure.

The Republican Party is better than this. It’s time to show America leadership. This could be our finest hour, an hour of dignity, grace and conviction.

But we will not help anyone see our point of view more clearly by giving them a black eye. Let the Democratic Party sink or swim on the merits of legislation that our party never supported. I only suspect that the ACA is not quite as flawed as some of you believe.

I want to see our party survive to fight another day, to become strong enough to modify and improve the ACA by including more free-market principles, such as allowing consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines (There’s a Constitutional argument that could win).

I give you all an A+ for theatrics, but you have failed miserably in leadership.

 

 

 

 

I think I’m turning Japanese

Two stories I found on the pages of the Portland Press Herald today:

  • [Maine's] Riverview Psychiatric Center faces the loss of an estimated $20 million in federal funding because the federal government has decided that the hospital in Augusta has not solved staffing and governance problems.” Full story
  • The mother of a Connecticut woman who was shot to death by police after trying to breach a barrier at the White House said her daughter was suffering from post-partum depression. Mother: Daughter in Capitol chase was depressed

Considering the earth shattering news that Republicans are opposing Democrats, it’s understandably tough to remember things that happened a couple of weeks ago, like the Navy Yard shooting where Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist, used a shotgun to begin a massacre that left 12 people dead.

A few weeks before, Alexis called police in Rhode Island, telling them that he was getting messages from his microwave, according to the Associated Press.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” wrote Henry David Thoreau.

But just look what happens when those desperate folks stop being quiet.

It’s easy and sexy to argue about the Affordable Care Act, gun control . . . my guy versus your guy.

But the silence becomes deafening if we dare mention other topics that (not surprisingly) have a direct and immediate impact on all the other stuff we love to debate.

Fewer than 24 hours after the incident in which a depressed woman was shot (justifiably) by Capitol police, that story has already become buried under the weight of Congressional bickering.

And the Aaron Alexis story did not fit into any of the convenient arguments for or against gun control. Don’t expect any tearful Congressional testimony there.

I return you now to the sport of pointing fingers and assigning blame. Enjoy.

Obamacare: Myths and Facts, Part I

health-care-debateSome say that the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act ( aka Obamacare) will provide the final nail in an already sluggish national economy, cost millions of jobs and further entrench every American into greater government dependence.

Others say the new law is a landmark piece of legislation that will literally save thousands of lives by making health care more affordable and accessible to all Americans.

Which argument is correct?

Given the hyper-inflated and strictly partisan rhetoric, it’s hard to know the answer and history will be left to judge the law’s merits and flaws.

In the meantime, I will attempt to examine the new law from both sides of the debate and offer some of the research I have conducted about the law. This week’s installment:

Comparison to Medicare: Myths and Facts

Supporters of the ACA enjoy pointing to the federal Medicare program as a primary defense of the new health care law.

This, in my opinion, is a dangerous proposition for several reasons.

1.) Medicare applies almost equally to all Americans, unlike the ACA, which primarily targets those Americans who do not have (by choice or income restraint) access to health insurance in the private marketplace. In fairness to the ACA, however, it’s important to note that the new law does offer universal protection to all Americans from rather abhorrent practices that were all too common in the health insurance industry, especially rescission clauses, coverage limitations and denial for pre-existing conditions.

The insurance industry argues those practices were necessary to stabilize costs, yet it remains difficult to assess how those savings were passed onto consumers. Thus, one of the more popular components of the new law requires insurance companies to direct a minimum 80 percent of premium revenue toward actual health care costs.

2.) Unlike the ACA, Medicare is not a mandate and you are not fined or otherwise penalized for choosing not to participate as a consumer in Medicare. Both programs, however, are supported by federal tax dollars. Supporters of the ACA argue that mandated participation is the only way to ensure an affordable marketplace. They also say that mandating purchase of health care coverage is no different from a state government mandating required liability insurance coverage on registered motor vehicles.

Comparing mandated auto liability insurance and requirements to purchase health insurance from the private sector is a seriously flawed rationalization that does not hold up under its own weight.

This is a matter of definition and it is outlined in law (both federal and state).

In the state of Maine, you are required by law to have liability auto insurance to drive a vehicle, as pointed out by Senator Angus King during his defense of the ACA on the senate floor earlier this week.

Senator King, formerly the governor of Maine, should know that both the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles and the Maine Legislature define driving as a privilege, not a right.

Maine’s law requiring auto liability insurance makes a lot of sense. It acknowledges and reinforces our shared responsibility to be accountable if we cause damage while driving, but it does not interfere with our rights to make choices, to exist as free people. We have the choice not to drive, whether we like to admit or not. Each of us has the option of walking, biking or using public or private transportation to get to and from wherever we want to go.

The ACA, however, requires, under penalty of law, every American to have basic health insurance. There is no choice. Either you have health insurance or the government is going to levy a fine upon you. Period.

Enter Chief Justice John Robert of the U.S. Supreme Court, a Bush-appointee who is considered a conservative. During a challenge to the ACA, Roberts tipped the scales of justice by opining that the ACA is a tax, and thus; the new law does not violate the Constitution because the power to levy taxes rests with the Congress and can be applied to all citizens.

ACA supporters, including President Obama cheered Roberts’ decision and validation of the new law. Strangely, those cheering previously argued that the new law is not a tax. But none of us should be surprised by the process of politics.

While participation in Medicare is voluntary, it should be noted that this federally subsidized form of health care is universally popular among both Republicans and Democrats.

3.) On a final note, Medicare was a bipartisan piece of legislation. The ACA was not. In fact, the ACA was passed via a straight party line vote only a few months before the Democrat Party was about to lose its majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the Senate, all eyes turned to the razor-thin party lines and the election of Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts  who would stunt a filibuster-proof majority.

On Christmas Eve in 2009, the Senate voted 60-39 in favor of the ACA. (Not a single Republican voted in favor, including Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who voted to approve a senate version in the Senate Finance Committee on the condition of subsequent changes she was promised in the final bill.)

The Senate version of the bill was approved in the U.S. House by a 219-212 vote on March 21, 2010 (Again, not one Republican voted in favor and they were joined by 34 Democrats in opposition. President Obama signed the bill on March 25, 2010.

Comparatively, there was a lot less drama regarding passage of Medicare in 1965. Of course, this happened before the internet.

In fact, Medicare was the result of much more compromise and its passage showed bi-partisan support.

In the Senate, 57 Democrats and 13 Republicans voted for passage of Medicare; seven Democrats and 17 Republicans voted against it.

In the House, 237 Democrats were joined by 70 Republicans in support of Medicare; 48 Democrats joined 68 Republicans in voting against it. The law was signed by President Lyndon Johnson on July 30, 1965.

Those who would say modern-day partisanship is to blame for the party line vote on the ACA, should be reminded that Democrats and Republicans have been able to hash out bipartisan compromises regarding updates and amendments to Medicare as recently as this year. Of course, this dynamic gives credence to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s statement that the ACA can be “tweaked” as it moves forward.

Next: The financial implications and benefits.