Is The Price Right? – An Early Look Into H.R 2300 – One Proposal for GOP Replace and Reform

This overview is a very early attempt to get you up to speed on the areas of health reform that are likely to emerge from the confirmation process of Rep Tom Price. There’s a temptation to dismiss everything being discussed as rhetoric or too early in the regulatory process. However, there are key themes and elements that will impact employer-sponsored healthcare that are likely to survive. In addition, other market trends are unlikely to change and as a result, require our continued vigilance and strategic discussion. In other words, the cavalry has not arrived in our battle with rising costs.

Tom Price’s Empowering Patients First Act (H.R. 2300) is of particular interest. It is unlikely to be accepted as a “replacement” bill but it offers keen insights into the GOP mindset guiding the notion of “repeal and replace”. It is likely if any legislation is approved, it would take years to completely implement and not unlike the ACA, reform could be whipsawed by another sudden political shift. Given the profile of the 2018 mid-term elections, its unlikely the GOP grip on the WH and Congress will change – at least until 2020 – more than enough time to drive a new legislative solution.

H.R. 2300 is important because its the only GOP-authored proposal that incorporates many elements of a “repeal” plan; and, despite the partisan acrimony of today’s confirmation interviews, Price is likely to gain confirmation and guide Health & Human Services and those charged with setting policy for commercial insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

It’s impossible to summarize H.R. 2300 in one page but we wanted to underline and key talking points for you should you get cornered by anyone requesting a point of view on what employers should expect over the next four years. With the help of a recent Kaiser Foundation white paper, we want to offer an opinion. Clearly, it’s going to be a challenge to confidently predict whether the new administration will/can meet its promises. Yet, we are taking the liberty of staring deeper into the crystal ball and offering some insights. In no particular order:

H.R. 2300 Key Elements: Repeal ACA entirely, including individual and employer mandates, private insurance rules, standards for minimum benefits and maximum cost sharing, and premium and cost sharing subsidies. Provide refundable tax credits of $900 to $3,000 based on age to individuals to purchase insurance in the individual market. Require insurers to offer portability protections for people who maintain continuous coverage. Pre-existing condition exclusions and rate surcharges based on health status can otherwise apply. Implement state high-risk pools with federal grant support for three years. Establish Association Health Plans and Individual Membership Associations through which employers and individuals can purchase coverage. Permit sale of insurance across state lines.

Encourage use of Health Savings Accounts. Cap the tax exclusion for employer-provided health benefits and permit employers to contribute toward workers’ premiums for non-group health policies. Permit enrollees of public programs, and employer-sponsored group health plans to opt out of coverage in favor of private non-group insurance with tax credit subsidy. Repeal Medicaid expansion. Repeal Medicare benefit enhancements, savings provisions, and premium for higher-income beneficiaries, taxes on high earnings, and quality, payment and delivery system provisions. Eliminate certain constraints on private contracts between physicians and Medicare beneficiaries and the amount that can be charged for services. Individual mandate no requirement for individuals to have coverage

Commentary: This legislation is about establishing universal “access” to the individual market and to create a robust range of products whose coverage and cost will vary dramatically – well beyond the percentage of AGI and actuarial values mandated by the ACA. The creation of tax credits and vouchers to purchase in the individual market and guarantee issue based on coverage continuity could create opportunities for employers to offer financial incentives for employees to opt into coverage pools other than those of the employer. H.R. 2300 relies on financing much of the legislation through a cap on the taxation of benefits

Premium subsidies to individuals – Provide a refundable, flat, tax credit for the purchase of health insurance in the individual market ($900 per child, $1,200 age 18-34, $2,100 age 35-49, $3,000 age 50 and over; indexed by CPI.) Tax credit can be applied to any individual health insurance policy sold by a licensed insurer, including short-term policies, but not excepted benefits (e.g., insurance only for specific disease); excess credit can be contributed to HSA. Permit individuals eligible for other health benefit programs to receive a tax credit instead of coverage through the program. Repeal ACA cost sharing subsidies.

Commentary: It’s likely the number of those insured under reform will reduce if the government moves toward less generous tax credits as well as grants Medicaid block grants to states to manage those expenditures as they see fit. The increasing of uninsured and a greater emphasis on high deductible plans could lead to higher incidents of bad debt and increases in unreimbursed care.

Benefits Design/Reporting – Repeal ACA essential health benefit standards, preventive health benefit standards, mental health parity requirements for individual market and small group market policies. Repeal ACA prohibition on lifetime and annual limits. Repeal ACA limits on annual out-of-pocket cost sharing. State flexibility to mandate benefits; state benefit laws preempted for policies sold through associations, or by insurers selling across state lines. Proposed Price bill/legislation is silent on self-insurance exemption for larger self-insured employers.

Small employers can buy coverage through association health plans (AHPs). For fully insured small group AHPs, state rating laws and mandated benefits are preempted. Self-insured AHPs permitted; for federally certified self-funded associations with membership of at least 1,000, State regulation is preempted. Maintain dependent coverage to age 26. Repeal ACA minimum loss ratio standards, rebate requirements for insurers with claims expenses less than 80% of premium revenue (85% for large group policies). Repeal ACA right to independent external appeal of denied claims. Repeal ACA transparency standards, including requirement to offer standardized, simple summary of benefits and coverage, and requirement to report periodic data on denied claims and other insurance practices.

Commentary: Insurers are likely to benefit from specific changes although Price has historically been at odds with insurers – particularly in areas where insurers attempt to intervene between a treating physician and a patient. Employer reporting requirements should be simplified and the most cumbersome elements of the ACA are likely to be eliminated.

Employer requirements and provision – No requirement for large employers to provide health benefits that meet minimum value and affordability standards; repeal prohibition of excessive waiting periods. Cap annual tax exclusion for employer-sponsored benefits at $8,000 for self-only/$20,000 for family coverage, indexed annually to CPI. Require employers that sponsor group health plans to offer employees an equivalent defined contribution for the purchase of health insurance in the individual market. Permit employers to automatically enroll individuals in the lowest cost group health plan as long as they can opt out of coverage. Wellness incentives up to 50% of cost of group health plan permitted. Encourage use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) with one-time refundable tax credit of $1,000. Also raise annual tax-free contribution limit to $5,500; Allow tax-free transfer of HSA balances at death to any beneficiary. Repeal ACA prohibition on pre-existing condition exclusions. For people with at least 18 months of continuous prior coverage, no pre-existing condition exclusion period can be applied. For people with less than 18 months of continuous prior coverage, exclusion periods up to 18 months are permitted, but must be reduced by prior continuous coverage.

Commentary: Capping the annual exclusion for health benefits at $8k/$20k is credible foreshadowing that the taxation of benefits is on the horizon. Those that breathed a sigh of relief that delay and subsequent change of POTUS meant the defeat of the Cadillac tax, must be prepared to review the value of their plans. Taxation could set in motion a mass migration toward high deductible plans. Offering an equivalent defined contribution to employees to purchase on the individual market could give rise to associations and individual purchasing groups competing with or attracting employees into alternative purchasing groups. The emphasis on defined contribution could further accelerate the move toward private exchanges.

Health system performance- Health care professionals engaged in negotiations with private insurers and health plans over contract terms are exempt from federal antitrust laws. Create a health plan and provider portal website to provide standardized information on health insurance plans and provider price and quality data. Provide states with funding to implement the standardized health plan and provider portal website.

Commentary: Doctors can now organize purchasing cooperatives and in doing so likely to drive up unit cost through more collective bargaining with insurers.

Tax revenues – Repeal ACA tax changes, including the individual and large employer mandate tax penalties, Medicare Health Insurance (HI) tax increases on high earnings, Cadillac tax on high-cost employer-sponsored group health plans, and taxes on health insurers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and medical devices

Commentary: Revenue increases from new cap on tax exclusion for employer-sponsored group health benefits

Source of policy insights on H.R.2300: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation http://kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/proposals-to-replace-the-affordable-care-act/

Breaking News: Overweight Humanism Party is Announced 

We’re forming a new party. It’s called Overweight Humanism. So far, it’s just me and my buddy Bob. But we have big plans and even larger appetites. 

We believe that big is beautiful and that actions speak louder than words. Where we can convince individuals and corporations to actively seek to help solve some of societies issues, we can and should shrink government. 

We believe the Kardashian family should be deported to Alaska where they must live with The Palin family. 

We advocate value added and consumption taxes. Our focus is on reducing corporate tax rates if domestic jobs are created and the return of manufacturing as a percentage of the GDP to 30%. We want the ratio of public to private workers to be reduced by 25% in the next decade. 

Bob and I have also decided to run for POTUS and VIP. If elected to office, we will ensure:

Vin Scully’s photo will be printed on every US five dollar bill 

We will pick three national social priorities and give an unlimited tax credit for contributions to any prequalified federal or community based agency that serves our troika of public need. Tax deductions will continue for other non- profits serving essential needs. Our first three priorities will be unemployment, drug/alcohol abuse including non-violent offender incarceration alternatives and our aging infrastructure. 

The definition of Body Mass Index will be changed to 40 to define obesity. You have to be an ex-POW to qualify as having a normal BMI with your company wellness plan. 

Affordable housing will be a required part of every community receiving any matching federal or state funds with priority will provided to all emergency and law enforcement employees who serve the town. 

Reality shows can only be aired between 1 and 5 am. 

Every kid will be taught the safe word, “Trump” to be used as a social 9-1-1 when they feel threatened. 

Any medical student that choose to study and practice primary care medicine can receive free tuition from their home state medical school — provided they practice and serve an acceptable ratio of Medicaid, Medicare and commercial patients within their state for four years following after graduation. 

Any film starring Pauly Shore or Carrot Top must be destroyed. 

News channels must be reclassified as “Views” channels unless they can meet non partisan reporting criteria

Our Congressional and national election primaries will last two months followed by a four month general election. Overturn Citizens United decision and reduce corporate influence on election cycle. 

Claw back provisions will be built into the compensation agreements of all municipal, state and federal public officials where up to 20% of pay will be forfeited in a subsequent year for their inability to achieve a balanced budget. 

Cargo pants will be outlawed. 

Anonymous comment threads will be considered malicious libel and subject to prosecution. No police blotter reporting for anyone under the age of 21. 

All fines associated with white collar crime will help finance investment in non violent crime alternative incarceration, education and offender rehabilitation. 

The nation’s focus will be on equal opportunities not equal outcomes. 

All states and municipalities must tender a four year plan to balance their budgets and to fund to 80% of remaining pension obligations. This includes a 10% pay cut and hiring freeze until target is achieved. 

All air conditioners will be calibrated to weight instead of temperature with default of 220lbs. 

Division 1 athletes will be eligible to participate in dividends equally to 20% of university income arising from athletics. No more clock stoppage after a first down in college football – except in the last two minutes of a half. 

Prayer will be allowed in all public schools. 

Every national bank will be required to establish a domestic microfinance arm that offers lower denomination loans to underserved communities. Families can also sign up to sponsor tax deductible domestic and immigrant families to support their efforts to assimilate in our communities. 

The corporate tax rate will be decreased for targeted industries such as domestic manufacturers and service based firms employing US workers. 

Medicare will be offered to everyone as a public option in insurance exchanges. Medicare must operate at a loss ratio of 90% to avoid having tax payer dollars underwrite sustained low ball pricing to gain market share and jeopardize the private market. 

Employers can offer incentives to employees over 50 years old to opt out of the employer plan to purchase insurance in public exchanges. 

Every high school senior must read and demonstrate understanding of the following books:

1) To Kill A Mockingbird

2) The Road To Serfdom

3) Chaos Monkeys 

4) The Diary of Malcolm X

5) The Killer Angels

6) The Grapes of Wrath

7) Leaves of Grass

8) A Tale of Two Cities

9) A Confederacy of Dunces

10) Bonfire of the Vanities 

Finally, every student will serve one year between high school and college in public service or a non profit activity. This can be deferred until after college or if the individual has a full-time job. 

 Anyone recieving social assistance in the form of healthcare or economic aid must have at least one annual physical at a primary care providers office and consent to an electronic medical record. 

The Grateful Dead will be inducted into the Hall of Fame and Pete Rose will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

That’s about it. Be sure to write in the Overweight Humanists. Future fundraisers will be held at Krispy Creme and Dunkin Donuts. Our mantra is “overweight humanism and underweight self interest”…

See you on CNN. 

Sharknado 2016 – The Anarchy

I guess it was about 4pm on a humid east coast afternoon when the cop stopped me on Elm Street. It was the day after the GOP convention and I was was talking to myself – waving my arms in what the police later described as someone “engaged in a threatening debate with the an imaginary combatant.” The cop rolled down his window.

“Sir, have you been drinking?”

“Drinking? Hah!” I scoffed. “There’s not enough alcohol to medicate my reality — or yours, Officer…” I walked over and searched his chest for a name tag.”…Officer Blue.”

“Sir, you’re spooking the locals and exhibiting  erratic behavior. It’s bad for business and you’re being a public nuisance. Are you on any medications ?”

“I’m just tired. Hell for all I know, I may have the Zika virus. Feels like my brain is shrinking. Speaking of Zika, the way our athletes are dropping out of Rio, I may be named the third alternate on the US archery team.Actually, officer if you must know I’ve been watching the Republican convention. It’s an orgy of D list celebrities and people who get their instructions from space ships. The only guy they did not trot out to endorse The Donald was Carrot Top.”

He could see I was legitimately troubled. I had been hiding at home for almost a week tweeting inane comments on Morning Joe and The Hill under the name “Carlos Not So Dangerous”.  I had been waiting for some post convention sanity to return like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano. The Democratic gathering had not been much better but I had to admit they stayed more on message. The days of civilized debates hosted by a spinsterish librarian from the League of Women voters had been replaced by a Jerry Springer paternity fight  The dignified party conventions of my father had declined into a mud-slinging WWF show-down.

The cop tried to commiserate. “Sir, everyone is upset with the potential that Hillary Clinton could get elected but we can’t act out in public.”

“Hillary?” My head whipped around to confront the young officer. “What about freaking Trump?”

“Well I just assumed if you lived in this town you were a Republican.”

“Frankly, I don’t know what the hell I am anymore. I’m not L,B,G,T,Q…E-I-E-I-O!  I’m feeling kind of left out of the funny farm.”

He looked through his windshield and sighed. “Yeah, I hear ya. Law enforcement can’t trust anybody — our Union or the public officials. They reneg on retirement and benefits commitments. They kick the can down the street and refuse to fund retiree plans. It’s a tough gig being dressed in blue right now. We don’t know who to trust.”

I nodded in sympathy. “Hell, I hear you. There is no worthy Presidential candidate. One is a corrupt, public trough piglet who has fed on the public dole teat for years while the other is a dangerous self promoter who make outrageous statements like he invented the question mark. He gets a permanent get out of jail free card granted by his constituents. I’m in a permanent state of disbelief at what Trump is doing to the electoral process. He has immunity from accountability and says whatever comes into his head. By the way, there’s a lot of room in there for garbage. No one seems to give a shit if he doesn’t make sense.”

The cop tilted his head toward a woman pushing a stroller.

“Sir, your language.”

The officer glanced at his watch and smiled. “You remind me a lot of my old man. He’s retired in Florida. He’s home every day with the TV blasting the Fox Channel while he writes large-font emails to my sister and I and everyone he knows about how the world is going to end. I guess I get it. Listen, why not follow me over to Zumbachs and we can grab a cup of coffee.

A half hour later I was spilling my guts to this thirty something. He could feel my frustration.

I looked out the window as the Metro North blared its ubiquitous horn.

“It’s official. We’re screwed. We’re living in a bizarro world of opposites and doppelgängers. Nothing surprises me. Anything is now possible. In the old days, once you betrayed the limits of authenticity, you lost the People. Presently, I can no longer separate the sacred from the profane, truth from rhetoric or Sunnis from Shias. Truth is optional.”

The officer shook his head. “It’s even worse for us. People are actually shooting us. We are expected to serve and protect. I used to work some tough areas and did two tours in Iraq. I know a lot of about what hyper-vigilance and anger can do to anyone in enforcement. The anxiety and resentment builds and can flare up during a routine traffic stop. Being a cop in certain areas is like assuming the role of a UN peacekeeper. You can’t afford to live where you are policing or you don’t want to. Now, its like we’re soldiers returning from Vietnam. They give us that baby killer look. Hell, I was rescuing a cat from a tree the other day and the kid who called filmed it on his phone and ager said I was rough with the cat. It’s total BS.”

“Tell me about it. My son told me he hated capitalists and then asked me for $100.”

I held up two fingers to Will, the friendly barista wearing the Choose To Be Happy tee short. “I guess the good news is I believe anything now. Halloween and Christmas will be fun this year. It also means 70 % of all TV is now available for my viewing pleasure. Last night I watched Sharknado.”

The cop perked up. “You too? Hell, I found myself crying when Fin jumped into the maw of that cyclone-spun great white to rescue Tara Reid. Man I thought she was a goner. You know she still looks pretty good.  If I wasn’t married…”

I elbowed him as two high school girls walked in. “Sir, your language.”

I laughed. “Remember the scene where Fin used that chain saw to cut his way out of the 20 foot megaladon, it was awesome. You know, I want a chain saw for Christmas.”

The officer sipped his coffee.

“Same”

I perked up. “Megaladon” is actually a perfect portmanteau word to describe Trump.”

The officer rolled his eyes. “I actually don’t know who I’m going to vote for. I think Trump would be better for cops but as a father and citizen, he scares the crap out of me. Hillary’s a dirt bag but she’s just better at corruption than the average official who has long forgotten politics as public service and the art of compromise.”

I smiled.”Look at it this way. The world is a more dangerous and magical place now. We have stepped off platform 9 3/4 and are on a train to Hogwarts. We can now believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, Valdemort, and the lost city of El Dorado. Maybe the next time I go to the market to buy some groceries I’ll meet someone with some magic beans. I’m ready to take on a giant and a beanstalk.

We sat across three more coffees and compared notes on the polluted political process we call two-party democracy. His dispatch called and he sped off to interrogate a man who was arguing with the traffic attendant over using a handicap spot to get a quick latte at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Yes, life had become Sharknado and it was getting more bizarre with each week.

My world is leaching with the pollution drift of dislocated people, terrorists, disease, social fault lines, greed, corruption and demagoguery — and that’s just in youth sports. “Remember”, my friend Carll reassured me. “It is all just the buzzing of flies.” Maybe so but where there are lots of flies, there’s usually a pile of something else.

I am now in mid-life shuffling toward my next doctors appointment and the snap of latex glove. “This may feel a little uncomfortable.” I am searching for a new tribe — Perhaps there is a Facebook page for October Ovines — middle aged smart-aleck, slackers who can’t lose weight and wont watch Game Of Thrones. I secretly want to attend a Day of Rage March so I can rail against the man — even though it is clear that I am now the man. Friends are fleeing our overmatched Governor to new homes in the Carolinas, Florida, Texas and other far off red state economies where the ratio of public to private workers remains tolerable and the fiscal spending is not so disjointed as to portend calamity.

A staggering 40% of Americans over age 50 have zero saved for retirement and another 20% have less than $100k. I suppose one will work until they die. And in a world where artificial intelligence has jumped from the pages of Assimov to the world of knowledge workers, I’m not sure what dislocated generations of Americans will do for a living wage.

Why is it that the most affluent among us suffer from fear — self centered angst about losing what they have or not getting what thy want. Fear permeates everything these days and makes any optimist look like a buffoon drunk on the nostalgia of some old movie where the bad guys lose and social fractures are healed. Boy gets girl. Kid learns valuable lesson. Clarence gets his wings.

Depend upon it, Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

I’m focused again but I still can’t believe what I’m seeing. Tomorrow night they are debuting Sharknado 4. Perhaps I’ll be able to find some answers.

I’m Building A Safe Place And You Can’t Come!

             So the kids are coming home – from college, from new jobs in far away cities and out from underneath a mountain of college applications. The age-old axioms still hold true. While life is ephemeral, this time of year is a cunning psychosocial re-run that is as perennial as Jimmy Stewart racing down the snow covered streets of the mythical town of Bedford Falls, NY.

My eldest is now a businesswoman and has developed a range of opinions. Her latest revelation is the 38% withholding being faithfully absconded from her bi-weekly paycheck. To her fraternal grandfather’s delight, she is rethinking her political convictions. Thanks to Obamacare she can almost bridge the period where our insurance and Medicare cover her so she might never have to actually purchase it for herself. Yes, George Bailey, it really is a wonderful life!

My college sophomore arrived in a cloud of dust – disgorged from a massive SUV full of teens, filthy laundry and a cacophony of coughs that was reminiscent of a TB ward. He is the middle man on the homo sapien evolutionary chart — not quite upright. He can hit a jump shot from thirty feet but cannot seem to find a trashcan or hit a toilet. As with all mid-semester collegiates, he is paler than a cue ball and unaware that most people go to bed before 3am. Within moments of his arrival, the foyer looks like an alleyway in Mumbai as discarded clothes and food wrappers litter the floor attracting an adoring entourage of cat and dog who will swim under him like pilot fish for as long as he is home.

My final child, a high school senior, is in the process of breaking up with us. We recognize all the signs – curt but polite  responses, unreturned texts, and a palpable annoyance at the littlest peccadilloes like my breathing or how I chew food. Between the avalanche of completing his college applications and a young person’s burning ambition to march toward the front-lines of manhood, he is ready for reassignment.

Holiday expectations quickly morph into resentments and I’m getting annoyed that no one is paying attention to me. Even bribery to spend time together is not working as they have their own money. Most years, I become a grump – silently wallowing in self-pity, overeating, and talking to the dog as he sympathetically receives my latest Martin Luther list of complaints about the decline of the modern pater familus.

Yet this year, it’s different. There is a movement across America that is warming the mud of my holiday self absorption. Contrary to some people’s opinion that I am wearing a garland of pity fashioned out of misguided self-interest and rice-paper sensitivity, I have learned that I am actually a victim of discrimination.

I knew it – ageism, mildly overweightism, suburbanism – you name it; these subtle forms of overt exclusion seep from the pores of a hyper-judgmental world. After carefully reading up on the demands of a legion of determined students across America’s universities who are bravely confronting the meanness and unconscious prejudice of their cocooned educational institutions, I declared my own independence.

After emerging from football hibernation in my man-cave on Thanksgiving Day while my wife had been spending her day in the kitchen, she had the audacity to ask me to peel potatoes. I was naturally upset as I did not expect a request for support – after all, food preparation is traditionally women’s work. My wife is also British. I explained that since half of my family was Irish, I could not understand her insensitivity to asking me to peel potatoes. Having immigrated to the US during the last potato famine and having endured the poverty, racism and tyranny of English colonialism and US slum lords, I was appalled that she would be so culturally unrealistic to expect me to peel a few praties on the graves of my ancestors.

As she smirked and raised an eyebrow, I stomped my foot.

“I won’t stand for this micro-aggression. Your making me relive my forefathers’ humiliation as they stepped off the boat at Ellis Island.”

She handed me a bowl and the peeler. “You’re lucky that we both love the same person.”

Church was no refuge. The stewardship sermon encouraged me to reach deeper into my pocket to support those less fortunate. This made me feel bad. I don’t like it when people make me feel bad and I made a mental note to petition the Worship committee to be more understanding that sermons should not discriminate against anyone who does not feel like helping poor people. The worship challenge now is to find a lowest common denominator subject that can appeal to every soul in our hyper-heterogeneous congregation. My suggestion included a primer on how to operate a lathe or make a bird feeder – but perhaps I was now being bigoted because some members may not know what a dowel is.

Micro-aggression was everywhere. Clients wanting me to work on their projects without regard for how I was feeling or what I had going on. “Look, Homeland is on tonight and I’m feeling kind of fragile today.”Bosses expecting me to meet deadlines and conform to their definition of performance. Like who knows better than I do about how I perform? Later, while deep in thought at a traffic light, a woman bullied me by honking her horn. Here I was worrying about Kim Kardashian’s latest pregnancy and I am attacked.

The micro-aggression storm grew in intensity as my supposed “Friends” did not press “like” on my latest posting on Facebook. The accountant called. The IRS, ever the aggressor, was expecting me to pay increased taxes to keep funding our inefficient and dysfunctional government. The biggest insult arrived from my son’s safe haven college asking me to remit this semester’s full tuition – a bloated payment that helps fund a majority of other students who are on financial aid. Gratefully, I learned that many of those receiving my support were my brothers and sisters in self pity.

 I was depressed. It seemed wherever I looked, ageism, body-ism, sectarianism ( I’m convinced Methodists and Catholics keep secrets and won’t share them ) and discrimination followed me like cheap cologne. I declared to my family that I needed a safe place (aside from my bathroom) where I could feel unthreatened.

I emailed our First Selectman to ask if He would consider converting the local teen center to a fat-guy, judgment-free zone where late boomers could watch football, play Christmas music year round, eat pie, smoke a cigar, not have to answer client calls, or help anyone with anything unless we felt like it. I would want the front desk clerk at this Shangri-La of lethargy to weigh 300lbs to make us feel thin. Best of all, I’m going to demand that someone else pay for this as compensation for years of dislocation.

My Selectman wrote me back.

“Thanks for the terrific suggestion. I’m not sure where things stand with the re-purposing of this location but we will certain circle back to you. I can completely understand how you feel and want to better understand your issues. Sincerely, Rob”

His note was riddled with undercurrents of aggression and sarcasm. How you feel? Clearly he was singling me out. Understand? What, I’m not speaking well enough for you to comprehend my concerns? I bet you think I have a couple of Krispy Cremes tucked in my cheeks? It’s because I’m over fifty? Or maybe you don’t like the fact that I’m in healthcare or drive a Ford. Note to self: Demand his resignation. I’m not going away.

I’m going to find my safe place and when I get it, he won’t be invited. In fact, I’ll make sure all those people that made me feel like a middle aged, silver-haired baby will be in the parking lot being told they can’t join my carnival of conceit. I’ll show them that it does not pay to be judgmental, exclusive and close-minded.

It’s sad that they will never understand what it means to be me. Once I’m in my safe place, I’ll never have to waste time away from Homeland trying to explain it to them. They will be out of my life – expunged by the segregation that they once subjected me to.

I may need to find a new job, new clients, maybe even a new family, and well, a lot of stuff. But I’m not going to be intimidated. I’m going to demand someone reimburse me for all those things.

By the way, has anyone seen my U-9 participation trophy?

 

 

Why Conservatives Bother Listening To Trump 

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I recently published a post ( The Orange Man Inside of Me ) on why I think Donald Trump is bad for America and how “Trumpism” is tainting public opinion and polarizing parties.

I admit that my politics are a mongrel confusion of liberal and conservative beliefs based on personal experiences and influenced by the true north of Karma and the practical GPS of different moral and real world coordinates — data points provided by my friends, my own education, upbringing, sense of justice and my business experience. My DemoIndependican views do not fit neatly in a box and at times, are at war inside of me as the fiscal conservative battles the open-minded altruist for a solution where peace and prosperity can reign supreme. Human nature does not always allow for happy endings. Sometimes we have to choose between civil liberty and national security. It’s not always simple to know the right answer.

I love my friends because they care enough to engage. One close friend, Kaleb, chose to take some umbrage with my recent manifesto about Trump — although we both agree we would like Trump to go away. He felt the need to defend the core of the Conservatives. Interestingly, many of his views and beliefs guided my early years and to this day, give me a healthy respect for those Conservatives like my father who have stuck to their guns. It seems everyone’s message is being attacked these days. You can’t raise the public’s political IQ without giving equal time to help us all find the truth in the middle.

I’m reprinting Kaleb’s response as it is articulate and spot on in reminding us of a platform that has not been able to get traction in Wsshington despite a majority presence for Conservatives inside the beltway…I yield the floor to my colleague from California.

“Turp, Conservatives are not mad because the number of minorities are increasing. We’re not racist, sexist or homophobic. We don’t hate nature or love war. We believe in American exceptionalism, law and order, and liberty and equality under the law – not in the fairness of an outcome. We have observed in human history that progress is made when energy, intelligence and free markets pick winners. Governments are incapable of doing that for long. We have a wise approach to solving the world’s problems that is based in reality and achieving results, not sitting in a coffee bar and enlisting support of “do-gooder” causes that are actually counterproductive to addressing the causes – rather than the symptoms – of many socio-economic problems.   

We view people as individuals, not as members of tribes or groups incapable of thinking in ways other than identified by the mass media. With remarkably few exceptions compared to the mounds of demonizing crap heaped on us by the Left, we don’t demean our opponents or impugn their integrity or motives unless they do it themselves. We can win on the merits of our own social and economic arguments and don’t need to resort to Clintonesque tactics outlined in Rules for Radicals. 

So here’s the background for understanding Trumpism. Trump is an egomaniac and an ass. The only reasons he’s given prominence by the left wing media are because he “sells papers” and more important, his approach will do long term damage to the GOP campaign prospects by pitting “law and order” Republicans against those who have a more common sense approach to immigration issues. He’s the perfect candidate for the left wing media. Through the Trump campaign they can cover and embarrass Republicans while feeling good that they have been “fair” in covering the waterfront of political positions. 

“Trumpism ” is about Republicans who are pissed: not about losing power – but about having gained it and having it not exercised in Washington for conservative solutions. We have the largest number of Republicans in Congress since Hoover, a majority in the Senate and on the US Supreme Court, 31 governors, the largest # of state legislatures under GOP control (68 of 98 partisan chambers) and the most GOP legislators ever elected. Yet the taxing, spending, regulating, Constitutional lawlessness, record borrowing, executive orders instead of legislation, withdrawal from international obligations, using moral equivalency to undermine allies and support terrorist organizations, implement treaties w/o Senate approval, impose more federal mandates, use government intimidation of conservatives … it just keeps going on and on. So Trump calls BS on this, as someone needs to. Good for him. I hope he now gives way to someone responsible who can win the presidential election and turn the tide so that those majorities rule. Isn’t that what democracy is about?”

Mr. C’s America

imagesI never thought of him as a bigot. For as long as I can remember he’s been an opinionated old man. Half the time, I didn’t really get the specific issue he was ranting about. He was just my neighbor, “Mr. C”. It was not until years later that I was old enough to recognize the fear and uncompromising distain that tinged his political diatribes.

He never seemed concerned that I heard him swear or cast aspersions on a particular ethnic group or politician. If it was happening on his property, he behaved like he had a sovereign’s immunity from consequence. We’re both older now — he well into eighties and me in college. I still go over and talk with him. I tend to cut older people slack and excuse any outburst as a symptom of mental deterioration — a circle of life where an adult once again passes through adolescence on his way to an increasing dependence on others. It’s got to suck, you know — getting older.

I fundamentally don’t agree with his views or the way he plants them like posts that support a barbed wire fence. We all make choices and should not be given a free pass to say whatever comes into our head without regard for others feelings or facts. People sometimes hide behind physical or emotional limitations and use them as an excuse to be exempted from social consequences. We too often give old people a get out of jail free card if they express hyper-orthodox views on sex, religion and politics.

Octogenarians don’t seem to care what they say. Hell, some older people don’t even zip up their pants or wipe their butts. I suppose I’d be cranky too if my body was failing me and the society I grew up in was moving away from the values that had served me as such a reassuring set of guideposts. I guess I’d feel everything was going to hell and I’d look to blame someone for the decline of the world, as I once knew it.

Mr. C was brought up by depression era immigrant parents – a silent generation where everyone feared everything and for good reason. There was high unemployment, poverty, diseases and other immigrants taking jobs. Every town had some kind of social hierarchy based on economics. Your goal was simple: stand on other people’s shoulders and use your God given talents to meet or exceed your parents’ standard of living. If that situation persisted today, it would weigh heavily on me. I’m used to the instantaneous resolution of a pill or a computer app. Today’s average person does not abide by lack of resolution and persistent uncertainty.

It seems his generation had to muscle through difficult times and accept uncertainty as a constant companion. In those days, a guy had to run over fear or be paralyzed by it. Mr C. clearly spent his life running shit over. He went into the Army to finance his college. He hated the Army but honored his commitment. No one ever gave him anything. He had to work for everything. As a result, he has little empathy for people who blame society for letting them down.

“A ‘victim’ is someone who is dead. Any one else is a survivor and must dust themselves off and get on with life. The world is not fair. There’s no such thing as society letting you down. Only you can let down society. The more we make it about ‘me’ and less about ‘we’, the closer we are to the moral decay of ancient Rome.”

I liked listening to him talk to nobody particular. Mom hated that I hung out at Mr. C’s but he paid me $4.00 an hour to weed his yard.

“Listen, charity is important part of any society but helping one’s fellow man is a personal decision and should be driven by those who feel the need to serve. Legislated charity is a slippery slope. It starts with the best intentions as a critical safety net for the less fortunate but when we introduce government into the mix, it quickly becomes a hammock. Beware of those with good intentions. It’s human nature to stop working hard if you can get things for free.”

The condition of dependence and rationalized victimization seem to my Mr. C to be most prevalent among American blacks. He points to Asians and Latinos as more cohesive communities that are anchored by a strong work, family and religious ethic. Bolstered by stronger values, they do not suffer disproportionate incarceration, poverty and mortality rates.

“I don’t know what happened to the black community. They can’t seem to elevate themselves above their circumstances and don’t realize that liberal politicians have kept them in perpetual bondage by validating their misguided sense of being victims. Give them welfare and buy a vote. Jesus, slavery ended 200 years ago. When are we going to stop allowing them to use Jim Crow as an excuse and take responsibility for their inability to win their own futures? ”

Nowadays, Mr. C’s political diatribes are prompted by an email forwarded to him by one of his retired friends or the Fox Channel that blares in his house every day like a loud speaker in some Pol Pot political reeducation camp.

He seems to fit all the traditional definitions of being prejudiced. He clearly has a problem with blacks as he feels they represent the most broken part of our society. He is quick to point out that blacks have much higher rates of incarceration, single parent homes and kids being born out of wedlock. The high school drop out rates are staggering and college graduation rates are sickeningly low. The mortality rate for urban African American men under the age of 25 is as high as Marines in Iraq.

I wonder why. Did we do this to them or did they do this to themselves? Who is responsible? Is it someone’s legacy? When does the current generation own their circumstances? Is that fair? How do you break the cycle of poverty and prejudice?

For someone who shows me so much unconditional love, my neighbor has no empathy for people he feels won’t help themselves. It’s a strange paradox to be loved by someone who is not family and at the same time, has so much disregard for and sectarian fear of others. I see so many things in him that I admire and I also see this great stain on his heart.

I guess it’s natural to see contradiction in people, as you become an adult. It’s that way with your own nation too. As a child, you idolize your parents. They are the center of your universe and they can do no wrong. Their views are your views.

Eventually, you develop your own opinions and values formed out of experiences. These nascent interpretations come in conflict with the dogma you so easily accepted as a child. You question and occasionally challenge adult’s simplistic views to complex issues. Some of these views are insensitive to the realities of now. One day, you come to the realization that you still love your parents but now see them for what they are — human beings with contradictions and biases influenced by their own lives.

It can be the same way with America. You love your country but as you mature and become more well read about alternative forms of government and the diversity of the world, you don’t fully buy into American actions with unequivocal support. You begin to question things and at times, disagree with Monroe Doctrine manifest destiny and the claim that we permanently occupy moral high ground because we are a free market democracy.

Yet, that’s the beauty of freedom. You aren’t required to be black or white, right or wrong. Much of life is indeed a color bar of shades of gray. The only sure way to raise your intelligence around racial, social, moral or political issues is through experience and informed debate. You must seek to understand people before being understood. I suppose bigotry is at its core, the refusal to engage in any other point of view.

I don’t know what’s happened in the seventy years that separates my Mr. C and I. I know that the 1960’s were a time of great social upheaval. A new generation tore away the fabric of nuclear family, white picket fence suburbia that had defined their generation’s goals and held them together during WWII and the Korean War. Mr. C deeply resented this disregard for American ideals and felt threatened by those that actively questioned the institutions that he felt made this country great. They had yet to pay the dues necessary to earn the right to bite the hand that fed them.

The further from crisis a society grows, the wider the generation gap between those that lived it and those who are raised on its distant mythology. Mr. C and I clearly use a different yardstick to measure success and progress in life. My generation wants to be happy and is not hung up on social conformity or political solidarity as a basis for belonging. We have been brought up to celebrate diversity and to cut other people slack for being different instead of challenging them to conform to a moral and social two-party system that does not adequately represent today’s diverse society composed of so many different voices and views. I don’t care if you’re gay, straight or transgender. You have a right to choose and to not die broke paying off a healthcare bill. It’s your life. Be happy.

I can see his eyes narrow and react to my occasional Rachel Maddow bleeding heart commentary. He calls me a “commie” even though Communism has passed the scimitar to Islamic fundamentalism as the greatest threat to the West. It’s clear to him that I’m not buying in to his generation’s notion that the best societies are Darwinist meritocracies where people must have the discipline to succeed or reinvent themselves to better compete. Yet, many who fail don’t reinvent themselves. They become wards of the criminal justice or welfare systems.

Prisons are supposed to rehabilitate men as they pay back society for their crimes. Welfare is intended to be a stopgap hand up until one becomes self-sufficient. The linchpin to his system working is personal transformation — private change with as little help from government as possible to ensure public debt does not grow and personal and corporate taxes stay low to enable to strong economy. “Jobs do more for self-esteem than a welfare check.”

It all sounds great but this change does not seem to be happening as more wealth gets concentrated in fewer hands and jobs get shipped overseas. The trickle down economics of Ronald Reagan seems to be drying up for the majority of the U.S. middle class.

I encourage my surrogate grandfather to read Jill Leovy’s book, Ghettoside, a non fiction detective story which helps deconstruct and frame the tragedy of unsolved murder rates of young black men in South Central LA. It provides an explanation for the rage in the black community as it deals with institutional urban neglect and the effects of uneven policing. Sometimes the problem is not aggressive policing but the lack of resolution investigating and prosecuting the murderers of young black men. When the community feels nothing will be done and that crimes will go unpunished, the community takes the law into its own hands and lawlessness reigns.

He listens to my statistics and my facts regarding the cycle of poverty and the stacked deck of social and economic barriers that make it hard for young black men to rise above their own circumstances. He can’t hide his racism. It’s subtle, the way a white man unconsciously pats his back pocket for his wallet when he sees a young black man walking towards him and then argues that there is no such thing as racism. “We have a black President, don’t we?” Dude, your bigotry is deep and its still in there. When you deny it, you just make it that much more real.

Ironically, blacks don’t help one another as much as they could. I read in sociology class that when many blacks beat the odds and succeed, many leave their communities and never look back. They believe they are worthy role models by the simple virtue of the fact that they overcame overwhelming odds. When they leave, they don’t rush back to their community. They depart for good — leaving others behind without a rope to climb out or an experienced hand to help. The class shared the story of an affluent black couple that tried to patronize black only business for one year. In the year of this noble experiment, the couple found there was one black owned grocery chain in the entire state of Illinois. Prior to the passage of Civil Rights Act, there were thousands of black owned businesses patronized exclusively by blacks. Ironically, when given the opportunity to eat and shop at white establishments, many blacks abandoned their own businesses to patronize white establishments. The forbidden fruit was now in their reach and in buying white, a generation inadvertently condemned another to decline and economic struggle. Ironically, the law that was passed to level the playing field, tilted it further in the wrong direction.

Harper Lee once wrote that bigotry and faith are disturbingly similar in that they both begin at the same place — where reason ends. I’ll always care for Mr. C like a grandfather but I realize that we have chosen different paths to interpret a world that often ceases to make sense.

I choose faith – faith in the better nature of people and optimism that I can find a new tribe that works toward an inclusive solution governed by a colorblind justice and economic system.  My old friend’s fear blinds him to any solution other than tougher laws, longer sentences and punitive consequences for the bad choices that young men make each day in these communities. Self-centered fear seems to be the trigger for many of the unattractive aspects of the human condition. It’s clear that while fear and faith start at the same place, they can’t occupy it at the same time.

It’s time to leave Mr. C. I throw a few weeds in his green garbage bag. We hug and I can see he is proud of my independence – the son he never had. Unconsciously, he betrays his belief that eventually I’ll convert to his cynical ideology. If he’s right, I will find myself one day at war with a government that wants to tax me and redistribute my money to those who won’t work. “Welfare is a trap to ensure the poor’s continued dependence on politicians and social re-engineers.” It’s a cynical way to see the world but he’s been walking the earth seventy years longer than I have. I can’t dismiss him as a heretic without first accumulating my own experiences as data points to refute him.

Somewhere between his rigid conservative ethos and my altruistic belief that change is possible, the truth stirs and struggles to the light. Victor Hugo said that the truth will always find the light and the deeper you tried to hide it the more explosive it is when it’s finally revealed. Truth rests in the shadows and along the black and white edges of reality. It’s ironic that when it comes to black and white, the issues and solutions always seem to be gray. It takes courage to define them and to not allow ideologues to hijack the truth to pander to those who are afraid.

I do not doubt for a moment the pride he feels as he as he lives my life vicariously. He is now watching me leave and enter the world of men. We are so different. Sometimes, I wonder if I am as strong as him. Am I a more evolved version of my neighbor or a naive changeling that will eventually come to see the world on his rigid terms

To have the capacity to love someone who has such a different point of view strangely reassures me. It validates my belief that love is a stronger force than hate. We are all humans on a spiritual journey and in my case, I’m taking my first steps in search of meaning and purpose. It begins with my trying to navigate and understand the black and white landscape of Mr. C’s America.

The T-Rex Takes on Healthcare Reform

images “Americans have always been able to handle austerity and even adversity. Prosperity is what is doing us in.” James Reston

His emails arrive at night and land like scud missiles. He is an Old Testament retired CEO who is appalled at the state of America and as a thirty year healthcare system veteran and dutiful son,  I am expected to interpret the complicated tea leaves of the Affordable Care Act ( ACA) and warn him if Armageddon (any form of change) is imminent. He needs three hours notice to hide his coin collection.

Today, his instant messaging is in large case font; He has forwarded an email that was forwarded to him from a friend of a friend of a friend – all retirees convinced that our current President is an operative for a hostile foreign government.  I have to give high scores to his email chain author for his/her detail, veracity and creativity.  Many of the stories are purportedly authored by retired Generals, Navy Seals, and in one case, a dead President.

I often scroll down these emails to see if I can find its genesis and author – perhaps it is Karl Rove or someone incarcerated for white-collar crime.  The email offers me “the truth about Benghazi” or a grainy photo of the President giving out nuclear codes to Al Qaeda operatives behind a District of Columbia Stop & Shop.  I am not always inclined to believe these missives but I love my Dad and his loyal concern for America.  At 83, his draconian solutions are not always politically feasible and carry a decent chance of arrest if one actually tried to act on them. However, he has a 160 IQ and understands economics.

With my status as a registered Independent voter, I remain a point of frustration to my father – a lost sheep naively wandering in a forest of good intentions not understanding how close I am to the wolves of Socialism.  As an ex-CEO who made many freshman mistakes, I am a tad more sympathetic to anyone dumb enough to want to run America, Inc.  To assume the role of CEO for a company that is losing $1T a year, sitting on $17T in debt, massive underfunded retirement liabilities, a dysfunctional board of directors, angry, bargained employees and a confidence rating of less than 35% – is a job that only a masochist or megalomaniac might aspire.  And even someone as naively altruistic as moi would not have chosen to take on US healthcare as my signature legacy.  There is a reason why it has been viewed as the third rail of American politics – “you touch it, you die.”

My father and his friends have a huge stake in the future of healthcare as their day is spent inventorying each creaking part of their own frail physiology, wading through a confusion of doctor appointments, specialists and endless prescriptions. He is now messaging me wanting to understand how the inept roll-out of Healthcare.gov will impact the future of Medicare.  The email message appeared with a large “ping” as it thumped into my in-box.

“FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: MICHAEL, IF THIS IS TRUE WE ARE ALL IN DEEP (You fill in your favorite noun)”

The note went on to ask if his Medicare policy and supplement might be cancelled as so many individual policies had in the last month.

“OBAMA SAID PEOPLE COULD KEEP THEIR POLICIES”

After two strokes, caring for my Mom with Parkinson’s and a bout with prostate cancer, he is a grizzled veteran of the system but he still does not understand it. He wanted to know why millions of policies were cancelled and now being rewritten at higher premiums.  In some cases, single men were seeing their lower cost ala carte policies replaced with higher cost coverage that included such essential benefits as maternity coverage.  Other than male sea horses, it would be hard to find someone who purchased a bare bones policy with eyes wide open willing to support a new plan that would cause their premiums, in some instances, to double.

I wrote back with earnest detail.

“Got your IM.  The botched roll-out won’t impact Medicare.  There are no provisions in ACA to modify Medicare benefits although at some point, the government will begin to change how they pay doctors for the services to try to slow spending and improve quality.  The public exchanges you are reading about are being created in every state in the US to cover the uninsured and subsidy eligible Americans.  Where a state has refused/declined to create their own exchange, the federal government is stepping in with their portal, Healthcare.gov. It’s been a disaster as the technology has not worked.  In addition, the government got an even bigger black eye because Obama promised people they could keep their policies but did not realize his own legislation would force insurers to cancel, rewrite and charge higher premiums for his new and improved minimum levels of coverage.  His announcement to delay the policy cancellations for a year will create huge problems for insurers and put them once again in the position of being bad guys if they decide they don’t want to reinstate policies they have eliminated.  It’s a huge mess!”

“A CLUSTER IF YOU ASK ME. WONT ONLY SICK PEOPLE JOIN THE EXCHANGES?”

“Yeah. The first few years you will see only those who had no coverage and those who were overpaying for policies due to age or health status will benefit by purchasing through community rated public exchanges.  Yet, community rating only works if young people join and don’t use the benefits. The problem is the penalty for not purchasing insurance is only $95 a year in 2014 and the cost to buy a bronze level plan (the lowest cost policy approved by ACA) could cost up to $300 a month. 50% of the uninsured are under 30 years old and think they are invincible.  My guess is they won’t join the pools initially and the public exchanges will have to be subsidized by the reinsurance taxes. The government expected some of this and will assess employers a reinsurance fee as of January 1st to create a fund to reimburse insurers who end up losing money on the expected adverse selection.  The taxes last only until 2016.  It will prop up the exchanges for two years possibly giving exchanges the ability to argue they are working. Once the reinsurance fees run out, public exchange loss ratios will deteriorate and costs will increase.”

”IS IT A COINCIDENCE THAT THE EXCHANGE GETS PROPPED UNTIL HILLARY GETS ELECTED IN 2016?  I NEED TO THROW UP.”

“Seems suspiciously well-timed.”

“THEN THE DO-GOODERS RAID THE PUBLIC COFFERS TO SUPPORT THE FAILED PUBLIC POOLS? LENIN WOULD BE PROUD!”

“Careful, remember you are also benefiting from this messed up system.  You and Mom are enrolled in a nationalized healthcare plan called Medicare whose cost is being subsidized by future generations.  You love the coverage because you can go to any doctor you want.  You have more specialists than Imelda Marcos had shoes and no primary care doctor calling the shots.  Your kitchen looks like something out the TV show Breaking Bad with scales, baggies, pill sorters and enough drugs to medicate all the animals in the LA zoo.

Your Medicare contributions bear no relationship to the true cost of the benefits you will receive in your lifetime. CMS still collects premiums under actuarial assumptions that expect retirees to live to age 68.   We now are living into our 90’s.  Medicare is $50T underfunded. We only have two workers for every retiree versus 6:1 when we started in 1964. Medicare makes the cost of Obamacare look like a dime store candy.  Between our sovereign debt and Medicare, we are witnessing the greatest intergenerational wealth transfer in the history of the country.”

“ALL ENTITLEMENTS ARE PONZI SCHEMES. THE ROAD TO SERFDOM IS PAVED WITH DEBT.  IT’S TIME FOR TOUGH CHOICES.  NEXT, NANCY PELOSI WILL BE PROPOSING TO MOVE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS INTO OUR HOMES.”

“Well, Dr. Zhivago, at least the stock market is up.”

“I’M IN T-BILLS AND BONDS. I DON’T TRUST WALL STREET”. There is a pause. I can almost hear the television blasting in the background as he cranes to hear someone yelling at him from downstairs.

“YOUR MOM WANTS TO WATCH SOME MOVIE I’VE SEEN BUT CAN’T REMEMBER.  A DIVIDEND OF OLD AGE.”

“Glad you feel better.”

“GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND DO SOMETHING.”

“Love ya.”

“You too.”

I realized he had sent me his final message in lower case font. I typed my next email in upper case.

I was now fired up.

Searching For His Clubhouse

There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.  ~Alexis de Tocqueville

My son recently approached me as he worked his way through a Government assignment at school.

“Dad, I need to write a paper that outlines my political ideology and shares what party best represents that point of view.  I kinda know but there’s so much stuff and I am not sure I agree with all of it.”

“Welcome to the real world.” I said with a mouthful of food.

I am now only asked to kill spiders, give out car keys or money.  This was a rare bridge building moment for father and son. We all get nostalgic when we see our children clawing at the chrysalis of their hermetically sealed suburban life — trying to understand the bigger world picture and define themselves.  What should I say?

I hesitated, plunging back into the ancient waters of my own adolescence and a similar conversation.

“Dad, I have a project where I need to share what my political views are and why.”

“Let me see that? Who gave you this assignment anyway?  Was it that new teacher, that commie Berkeley grad with the long hair?  Tell Professor Trotsky that as long as you breathe, eat my food and live in this house, you are a $#@! Republican.  Is that clear?  If you would like to join any other party, I suggest you sleep outside near the garbage cans so you can get used to the life that you will be living if you vote people into office who promise you something for nothing.”

“Okay.  So we are all Republicans?”

“Yes. We are not simpleton, do-gooders who give away other people’s money.  We don’t want to live on the public charity.  We work for a living and believe that small government and low regulation creates a vibrant economy and jobs for everyone who is willing to work.  If you won’t work, get the hell out of here and go live in Europe where they give you free stuff in exchange for your votes.  We believe in God, a strong defense, small government, no debt, low taxes and personal responsibility.”

“What about poor people?”

“Well, if they can work, they need to work.  If they can’t, we help them.  If they won’t, we throw them out of the lifeboat. Can’t feed everyone on the lifeboat, you know…”

After submitting my paper, my Social Studies teacher gave me a passing grade.  It was a safe and politically correct gesture for a liberal teacher in a homogenous, conservative suburban middle school.  He clearly wanted to give my father the middle finger and my paper a “D+”.  Instead, he offered me a “B” and a perfunctory smile.  He had carefully written questions at the bottom of the paper.  “Good paper.  Think about the other side of every argument. Why is welfare a bad thing?  Do you believe people born in poverty like being poor?  Does a kid born in Downey have the same chance at success as a kid born in San Marino?”

I showed my father “our” paper and the B.  “Jesus H Christ, the commie gave us a B!”  He seethed as he read the commentary. “Jesus, Ruth – (we all thought at one time or another that our mother’s name was really Jesus Ruth) – the district is dredging the bottom of the LA River with some of these pinko teachers.”  Once again, there was a Communist in the woodpile. I had heard enough at dinner to know that a pinko was a Stalin-loving, freedom snatcher and not someone afflicted with conjunctivitis.

Over the years, I would cling to my father’s views and wear them like Kevlar – protecting myself from all the unseen forces that conspired to strip me of my hard-fought gains in life. It was not until I moved abroad that I began to form an almost unwelcome and more complex ideology that did not fit neatly into an orthodox two-party bucket.

I would now sit down with my son and hear his views on a variety of social, fiscal and geopolitical issues.

He glanced at his cell phone for messages. “Well, for starters, I don’t see what the big deal is about gay rights, abortion or immigration.  We need to be more tolerant. “

I interrupted. “Okay, well it sounds like you are a Democrat.”

“Yeah, but we have also been talking about the debt.  I don’t like the national debt.  I mean I have to pay for it when I get older and I didn’t even get to enjoy it.  It’s gonna be hard to find a job when I get out of college and the government is still spending more every year than it has.”

“Hmm.  You sound like a Republican.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think we should be involved in foreign wars and we should cut defense spending.  We should become energy independent as long as we don’t trash the environment trying to achieve it. I don’t want to have to worry about the Middle East.  It’s just oil, oil, oil and terrorists…”

“Yes. Good points. So maybe you’re a….”

“And, when I make money I guess I’m willing to pay higher taxes to support disadvantaged people but I want people to show some responsibility and work.  I don’t think we should make it easy to not work. I think we should spend more on roads and education and less on bailing out banks and Wall Street.  Big companies seem like they are ripping us off and the government can’t do much about it. Small government is good but only if you can trust Capitalism.  I’m not sure we can. And I don’t even understand the healthcare stuff.”

Neither do I…and I work in the industry.

“Well, son, you have just summed up the American conundrum.  We are socially sympathetic but fiscally conservative.  People want jobs and they don’t want to pay for anybody else’s problems unless they are in real need.  If government is small, it falls to business and individuals to try to solve for the holes that inevitably occur in society. If you can’t close those holes, they widen causing more people to fall through until one day, the minority is the majority and then, the tables get flipped.”

He looked at me with a bored, vacuous expression. “What? So, which party is closer to all that?”

“Buddy, I have no freaking idea.  But, if you find their club house, will you let me know?”

An Idiot Abroad

Greater Middle East
Image via Wikipedia

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Winston Churchill

My father recently sent me an on-line geographic quiz that required that I assign the names of countries to over 30 nations that make up the strategic region we broadly refer to as The Middle East.  The area remains a radioactive Jenga stack of oil rich nations stretching from arid Northern Africa, through the Southern and Northern Gulf States into a creche of red-headed newborns known as the ”Stans”.  Despite my time working and travelling across this area, I was surprised how confused I was over where everybody actually lives.

As a young adult, I suffered from the normal provincialism that afflicts many West Coast Americans.  I was disinterested in Europe’s Rubik’s Cube of nations that seemed like aging actresses – temperamental and well past their prime. My orientation to the shifting sands of Middle Eastern geo-politics was ancient maps of Mesopotamia, odd and even days for sitting in line for gasoline during the 70’s oil embargo and a strange production monopoly called OPEC which sounded like CHAOS, the evil organization bent on world anarchy in the TV show, “Get Smart”.  To me, everything beyond North America was a wasteland of sand, bananas and crumbling infrastructure.

The US seemed mired in perpetual Middle Eastern Peace Talks. When the Iran and the Shah fell, I asked my father why we had such a keen interest in what happened to this regime.  It was in our national interests, my father explained, to always have a hand in the Middle East. When my militant older brother scoffed at the notion that US had a right to interfere with the politics of another sovereign nation simply because it coveted its natural resources, my father quickly put him in his place. “Would you rather have the Russians or the Chinese calling the shots?  You’ll be paying $3 for a gallon of gas before you know it, mister.”

It was a time of Cold War, cartels and counter-espionage. The battle for the soul of the modern world was distilled to a point where one could either sip from the West’s grail shining with its thousand points of light or toss back a shot from the community based cup of socialism.

It all seemed so clear.  There were good guys and bad guys. The West extended invitations to enjoy liberty while Communism took away your right to decide. The world was not a colorful mural of elementary school book cultures and happy independent countries but a canvas to be fought over – – and ultimately covered by the brush stokes of red or white ideologies.

In college, I read Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom, published in 1944, which reinforced the notion that any society that mistakenly yields to a vision of collectivism eventually degrades into totalitarianism.  Hayek’s thesis contended that any “vanguard“ form of socialistic or fascist government is eventually corrupted by its own power and never fully yields to society the self-governance it has promised to transition.  When there is a void of social and political power, it is not filled by utopian democracy but instead by absolute control. Hayek warned that citizens willing to cede personal liberties or greater dependence on entitlements provided by a larger, more prescriptive government led to the same end – serfdom.  Democracy was the fragile middle ground between bankrupt liberalism and suffocating fascism.

The danger of equipping an 18 year-old with Hayek is you create a libertarian with anarchist tendencies. In the mid eighties, it was a time of conservatism and I became an opinionated critic of our foreign policy in Central America and Monroe Doctrine unilateralism.  I was armed with a powerful arsenal of convenient academic views that I had gathered in earnest in class rooms, lectures and in left-wing coffee houses.

Years later, while living and working in Europe, I realized that I had become, what comedian Ricky Gervais coined, “an idiot abroad.”  My apologist views were simple on issues that remained highly complex.  I had never visited many of the nations of whom I had such devout opinions.  As I travelled the Middle East, I came to view these nations as ancient ceramics broken by two World Wars – – only to be haphazardly reconstructed across deep tribal fissures and religious fault lines.

In England, I met a post-colonial empire with a richer past than future. British history in the Middle East was embodied in the tumultuous 1800’s when colonialism sewed the seeds for WWI.  A great global land rush began for control of resource rich, weaker nations in strategic locations across the globe.  Britain, Spain, Russia, England, Japan, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Belgium, France and the US, all rationalized that these underdeveloped countries would benefit profoundly from Western culture, infrastructure and oversight.  In 1918, while the Ottoman Empire was receding from Europe, leaving pools of ethnic conflict and seeds of internecine war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist, and an impoverished Germany would witness the slow strangulation of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the national socialist party.

Most historians contend that while the Treaty of Versailles marked the end of the fighting of WWI, it only served as the mid-way point in a political and ideological war that dates back to the Crusades. The ideological war between Islam and the West inflamed with the birth of Israel and was fanned as communism and democracy waged a dozen proxy wars across the globe.  Many still argue that WWII did not really end until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In time, colonialism revealed its ugly underbelly.  In “King Leopold’s Ghost”, the world read about the crushing repression of Belgian colonialism as the tiny European nation raped the Congo of its rubber and respect, plunging the African nation into a darkness from which has still to recover. Many world powers ultimately fashioned the snare that would entrap their own feet. The French were bloodied in Tunisia and Algeria.  The British were driven from India and Palestine.  Russia became ensnared in Afghanistan and across the Balkans.  The US left 55,000 dead in Vietnam.  Western interests in the Middle East, Africa, Central America, South America and the Pacific Rim began to unravel as smaller protectorates sought self governance and strived to drive out their protectors.

As we watch the wild-fire of social protest sweep through the Middle East and North Africa, many of us are filled with a mixture of dread, elation and anticipation.  As each nation’s army serves either as a vanguard for a transitional government or a hammer to shatter rising resistance, many are uncertain how to distinguish between protecting our interests and indulging the drum beat for democracy.

As protesters rush head long into the center of Manama, Bahrain, there is a growing angst building across a world that runs on fossil fuel and has keen interest in a region that has delivered as much stability as the San Andreas Fault. Each day is now filled with inspired Berlin Wall moments and at the same time, trepidation as firebrand clerics and moderates compete for the hearts and minds of a population where 50% are under 20-years-old.

2011 is the year of living dangerously and we are not sure what to make of it. Some credit former President George W Bush with threading the first fragile filament of democracy through Iraq so that it might illuminate a region shadowed by the permanent twilight of autocratic and fundamentalist regimes. Detractors of the war in Iraq draw no comparisons and feel these protests are a natural result of human social evolution.  They argue that any sustainable change – whether personal or collective – arises from within and does not normally come about as a result of outside influences attempting to be a catalyst for change.  Still others argue that certain regions will always need despots ‘lest they fracture into sectarian violence and civil war.  So, how can one tell a good despot from a bad one? Is it the shoes?

Broken nations, like the proverbial fish, rot first from the head. Broken nations begin with broken governments. Most of the world’s 6.9B people want the same thing – peace, economic opportunity, freedom and legal certainty.  For this idiot – now at home, I am uncertain whether one can achieve the underpinnings to support a free society without some form of democratic government.  However, in the process of allowing for majority rule, one must always be prepared for alternative forms of government – coalitions, theocracies and even forms of socialism. The strictly American part of my brain wants the best of all scenarios – democratic allies whose economic and global aspirations mute their more fundamentalist minorities. The social activist part of my brain wants to support the process however it plays out.

Some find it hard to condemn Yemen, Libya and Iran’s violent reactions to protesters while condoning Qatar’s, Bahrain’s and possibly Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia’s future hard-line responses to those who seek to end decades of autocracy, oligopoly, monarchy or theocracy. Does the preservation of national interests afford a nation the justification for interfering with the politics of another nation? Is nation-building only work when the nation is constructed in your own image? Do some of us just need to grow up and face the facts that the oil-addicted West must always have a hand in this part of the world?

After all these years, I remain, faithfully, an idiot.  I am always left with more questions.  While some have come to see the world through a black and white lens,  my sunglasses only see shades of  gray. One can only imagine what it must be like to be our President.  All eyes are watching and the answers are about as clear as a viscous pool of oil.

Dreams of the Bosphorus

image“In reality, the great question remains: Who will control Constantinople?”  Napoleon Bonaparte

It was a cool May evening, as our passenger ferry coursed northeast along the Bosphorus. A warm breeze tumbled down from the Black Sea rising up only to be split by the prow of the pleasure ship. The black hole of a far eastern night was periodically interrupted by the glowing safety lights of dark, hulking freighters working their way past us to burst free into the Marmara Sea.  As the cargo ships passed,  our view was obscured to the east – a vision of ancient forts, modern apartment buildings and mosques bathed in ethereal green and blue lights.

My host, Nazim, appeared at a window, peering out to find me.  He was now sliding open the Captain’s door to the foredeck, allowing a burst of raucous laughter and music to escape. He moved silently across the wooden planks and gently clasped my shoulder.  “Our city is magnificent and mysterious, hey? – – Just like her.”He pointed through the bridge window down into a main cabin where a group of clapping men and women had formed a crescent surrounding a sultry, caramel skinned belly dancer.  Her silk hip scarf quivered and flashed with golden sequins as her body moved rhythmically to the Rom Sulukule music.

Earlier we had crossed under The Boğaziçi Köprüsü (Bosphorus Bridge), a grand arcing achievement of zigzagging suspension cables and pylons that stretched almost a half-mile across the horizon line connecting Europe and Asia.  The bridge, built in 1957, was the fulfillment of a vision to join two continents dating back to 500 BC and Darius I whose ambitions to invade into Greece and Europe would eventually clash with a 25 year old Macedonian commander named Alexander at the battles of Thermopylae and Gaugamela.  In the soft silk of this Istanbul night,  we moved through continents, time and space.  The sprawling city was a vast, milky way of motion – streaking automotive comets, black holes of collapsed history, and a thousand years of lights.

I had been dispatched against my will to work with our local Eastern European and Middle Eastern offices to better understand what investments were required to grow our indigenous business.  Much of our revenues had been historically derived from foreign multinationals doing business in countries like Turkey.  We relied on our offices in Istanbul and Ankara to coordinate our activities on the ground but never invested much to grow our local presence and brand. I preferred to work in our larger countries – – those with more revenues, mature infrastructure and developed markets.  I did not think I was being provincial in wanting to avoid these rough, and hardened pockets of raw commerce.  They were turbulent, risky and forever lashed to a fragile economic mast that would be tested over and over by winds of a political unrest.

Yet, my boss felt the opportunity was compelling. Turkey was the world’s 15th largest economy with a GDP of $880B.  It was hardly the chaotic, backward kingdom that I perceived to be constantly teetering uneasily on the edge of the 20th Century. This was a nation rising to meet the newly consummated European Union and the Western world.  It remained the only secular government in the Muslim world – a country with 73M practicing Muslims that trusted their army infinitely more than their government officials or financial institutions.  The army ensured appropriate stability and gave legitimacy to a government that sought to achieve greater regulatory, fiscal and legal certainty – – critical prerequisites to any country’s acceptance into the $12T Euro-zone.

Like  Rome, Istanbul grew to stretch across seven distinct hills – offering a skyline marked with the spires and minarets of mosques whose muezzins fervently called out for prayer five times a day to 11M residents.  Upon deplaning, I experienced that immediate sense of imbalance as I was engulfed by a miasma of scents – sewage, cumin, diesel, perfume, smoke, salt water, and concentrated humanity.  I unconsciously caressed the oddly shaped coins and bank notes that jingled in my pocket having exchanged my British pounds for Turkish Lira.  In developing countries, your Western brain cannot process quickly enough a culture with so few filters.  People do not speak, they shout.  Cars do not cruise, they cough, sputter, screech and honk.  Animals dart in and out of traffic dodging mopeds, motorcycles and bicycles swirling like twilight gnats.  Women move like phantoms swirling in hot wind and flowing bhurkas while a thousand eyes seemed to follow my every step.

Yet, I was unprepared for how Constantinople had transformed from a dusty, underdeveloped Ottoman relic to Istanbul, a wonderfully complicated city dominated by banking, telecom, infrastructure and textile companies. It was as intricate and unique as its precious Iznik tiles and patterned ceramics that accentuated its palaces and public markets.

This was the last stop on the fabled Orient Express releasing passengers into a seething anthill of antiquity, religious fervor, tradition and raw capitalism.  It seemed that with each minute, Turkey was building momentum toward inevitable and irreversible change.  Above the rail station on a peninsula that commanded a view of the fabled Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmar rested magnificent Tokapi Palace.  This golden age palace of Sultans dated back to the fifteenth century when Mehmed the Conqueror subjugated the final remnants of the Eastern Roman Empire.

In my travels to Istanbul, our country head, Nazim Mahmud became my guide, historian and lens to a world that Western culture had conspired to depict as backward and broken. Nazim was a passionate ambassador for his country.  He educated me on every detail of Turkish history ranging from Medmed’s capture of Istanbul to the successful Ottoman repulse of an invading Anzac invasion force at Gallipoli in 1917. As we walked, he led me into the Grand Bazaar, a cavernous domed labyrinth of over 4500 shops and stalls.  On this trip, he had stopped and purchased a book, The Long White Cloud- Gallipoli, by Buket Uzuner.  “I can see your fascination with WWI” he shared as he handed me the Turkish best seller.  “We perhaps picked the wrong side to support in WWI but we showed Churchill that we could defeat the world’s greatest navy.

The Grand Bazaar has been continuously the epicenter of commerce in Istanbul since the 16th century.  Gold, silver, ceramics, clothing and magnificent rugs are all distributed here through designated stalls and shops.  The art of purchasing any item is many ways a metaphor for all business.  It is hardly a sterile transaction. Commerce is a social, economic and cultural dance.  Negotiation is vital economic foreplay to Turkish business.  Any potential transaction is preceded by a courtship of mint tea, conversation leavened with grand, sycophantic compliments and finally, the merchandise.

A young shop owner, Mehet, offered me tea.  He discussed his desire for Turkey to join the EU and his cynicism over whether the West will ever truly accept an Islamic country as a member.  He shared fears that if Turkey’s ambition to join the European Union is rejected that it will make the country vulnerable for fundamentalism and more orthodox foreign and domestic policies.  “ We are on the edge of a falling into our future or plunging back into the past.”  For a young man in such a tiny business, Mehet seemed to contradict the region’s reputation of provincialism.  He certainly understood the complicated choices that lay ahead.

Later that night at dinner, I discussed the shifting plates of a new world order with young Turkish executives from our office.  These highly educated twenty-somethings exuded a sober optimism believing that the battle for the soul of Turkey would continue to rage well into the next decade.  “In many ways,“ a young woman commented, “ the first World War is still being fought.  While, the physical war ended in 1918, the ideological war of the West versus the Ottoman Empire has never ended.  Until Turkey joins the EU, there will always be a battle between authoritarian regimes and democracies for the hearts and minds of our people.“  Another young man jumped in. “ We feel terrible for what happened on 9/11 in America but you now know what it feels like to have consequences of your foreign policy occur within your borders.  (The day before a bomb had gone off in Ankara killing eight and injuring 23).  We are all in this together and we believe building consumer economies is the way to undermine fundamentalists.” I recall calling my wife that evening and relating to her how progressive Turkey had become.

Two months later, Chechen rebels seized my hotel and held all the guests hostage before peacefully negotiating a settlement with the government.  I was fortunate to be back in London at the time but I was rattled by the brush with reality. I thought about my dinner with those young, dynamic Turks who convinced me that their future depended on the West’s partnership. Without engagement, Turkey might more easily buy into the demonization of the West and drift backward toward authoritarianism.

That had been weeks ago.  I was now back in Istanbul standing with Nazim, looking across the dark evening waters.  I had to ask him about the Chechens.  He now knew me well enough to know it was on my mind.

He laughed and sighed. “You know, Michael, we have an expression: ‘abuk parlayan çabuk söner. ‘It means ‘What flares up fast, extinguishes soon.’  Whether it is inflation, Chechens or our naughty neighbors (Iran, Syria and Iraq), we will fulfill our destiny as a respected nation despite our obstacles.  It is our destiny. “

As I looked over to the shoreline, the modern buildings, old forts and minareted mosques did not seem so diametrically opposed.  Perhaps with Turkey finally coming of age, it was time for the West to accept them into the European Union.  While there are many who bitterly oppose yet another member nation whose debt is 40% of its GDP, there is a recognition that Turkey’s fate will exacerbate or diffuse the growing pressure within the region. With Turkey’s acceptance, perhaps the ideological warfare still waged from WWI might subside, breathing new life into the notion that Muslim and Christian cultures can forge a foundation for the future together.

Operation Kiva

Operation Kiva

On December 26, 2009 – a day where most Americans were clearing away their Boxing Day holiday debris, Army Spc. Jason M. Johnston, 24, Albion, N.Y died in Arghandab, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.  Jason had been assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

To quote his local Albion, NY newspaper, “Johnston lived a heroic life.  He (had) a devilish grin and how he loved to sing, dance and be goofy. ‘To most people, he’s frozen in time as a 6 year old, climbing trees, doing crazy and wacky stuff to make people laugh,’ Brett Irwin said, eulogizing his friend. The congregation laughed, but as Irwin continued, his words became choked by tears.

‘I wish I could stand here and tell you people it was all good, it was all happy, but that wouldn’t be true … he had troubles, and pain.’ The Army was a way for Jason to change his life.  Irwin joked that, when he meets Johnston again in heaven, his lifelong friend will ‘be leaning against the wall, with a Coors in one hand and a Marlboro in the other … and he will say to me, ‘There you are, brother. Why are you so damn late for everything?’

Jason had joined the military to complete his education and to find a purpose that had been missing from his life. On the day of his fatal convoy, he reassured his senior officer that he was ready to meet the challenges of the day’s mission.

As I turned from my computer and allowed myself to drift across a winter landscape of frozen snow, I considered the young men and women being mustered across our nation to follow the courageous steps of Army Spc, Jason Johnston.   I sat restless and irritated, my middle aged suburban life insulated by this gauntlet of youthful brave souls, impotent to keep them out of harm’s way.

On a frozen December morning, 6000 miles away in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Said Pacha Mohammed Ali awoke to a knotted, sore back.  He had been working longer days — stocking the shelves of his retail store where he has recently expanded his business. Said Pacha has operated his retail shop for over ten years. His city, Jalalabad, is the largest urban area in eastern Afghanistan. It spirals from its center, swirling into a spider’s web of suburban countryside fields linked by fragile dirt roads and primitive housing.

Said is an older man who provides for an extended family and like so many, he longs for political reforms, security, peace and stability that might allow him to prosper. Pacha is a rational voice and respected elder in his neighborhood because he has known hard labor and hardship his entire life – – enduring the Russians, Taliban and the unstable Karzai regime.  He is like the rough gypsum rocks that litter the open fields and ancient geology of the jagged mountains. He endures but longs for a broader peace so his business might flourish. Pacha has suffered from the warfare, corruption and danger that has suffocated his country.  Until recently, he had been unsuccessful in expanding his business.  He desired to create jobs for relatives and dreamed of meeting the demands of a growing community. Investment, like peace, had been non-existent. Although he lacks formal education, Pascha clearly understands that a stable economy is the only sovereign capable of taming this harsh tribal land.

On the day, that Army Specialist Jason Johnston was killed, I joined a family from New Zealand, Santa Barbara, Germany and Massachusetts to loan Said Pacha 50000 Afghanis to enlarge his shop and purchase merchandise.

I found Said Pascha Mohammed Ali through KIVA – a non-profit global microfinance organization. Labeled “Barefoot Banking” by some analysts, microfinance is becoming big business for the world’s smallest businesses.  Kiva was founded in October 2005 by Matt and Jessica Flannery.  The couple’s interest in microfinance was influenced by a 2003 lecture given by Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker and economist who founded Grameen Bank. Yunus previously was a professor of economics where he developed the concept of microcredit loans given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. In 2006, Yunus won the Nobel Peace prize for his efforts to spread micro-financing as an essential thread binding together a wealthy but removed Western society with a frayed network of disenfranchised individuals who subsist on less than $ 1 a day.

I had joined a Kiva loan consortia hoping to create enclaves of small consumer investment.  I labeled my end of year altruistic efforts “Operation Kiva” hoping that I could invest ahead of the next soldiers that would land in Afghanistan.  Perhaps a more stable economy and hope in a brighter future could defuse the dark arguments of those who might try to convince Said Pacha Mohammed Ali to put down his broom and pick up an IED.  Could a $100 loan save a life?

Per a recent web article on micro finance, Kiva had distributed $110,671,610 in loans from 631,345 lenders as of December 25, 2009. Kiva coordinates with established micro finance institutions around the world, called “Field Partners”, to post profiles of qualified local entrepreneurs on its website, http://www.kiva.org. Lenders can search the globe for an entrepreneur that they wish to fund. Kiva aggregates loan capital from individual lenders and transfers it to the appropriate Field Partners to disburse to the entrepreneur chosen by the lender. As the entrepreneurs repay their loans, the Field Partners remit funds back to Kiva. As the loan is repaid, the Kiva lenders can withdraw their principal or re-loan it to another entrepreneur. The average loan size is $401.66 and the repayment rate is 98.13%.  The best part of Kiva is the opportunity to be repaid so one might reinvest those dollars in another underserved community.

Kiva and other institutions like it, have the ability to touch over 3 billion of the world’s poorest individuals, especially women, who are often marginalized in their home societies as a result of life events that prevent them from working or providing for their families.  Kiva empowers, stabilizes and restores self-esteem and most importantly, helps create a consumer economy that can do more to stabilize and sustain a nation than any amount of foreign aid or military intervention.

Consider the case of Maria Guadalupe Licona, of Tulancingo, Mexico who needed to expand her herd. She borrowed $100 for six months from a microlender and purchased additional sheep and pigs. Or perhaps you would like to meet Wafeek,  a 53-year-old Lebanese man who lives in the Bekaa with his wife and their five children. Wafeek has been working as carpenter for over 30 years. Wafeek requested a $ 300 loan from a Kiva partner, Al Majmoua to purchase wood for his work. You could be his fourth loan and he has always repaid on time.

Someone once said, “ give a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, you feed him for life.” Kiva allows anyone willing to make a small loan the ability to reach into pockets of despair and begin to sew seeds of change and economic growth.  In regions of the world where 50% of the population is under 25, unemployed and disaffected, an investment in economic development can diffuse dangerous breeding grounds for fundamentalists or despots who prey on those who feel they have been forsaken.

Microfinance is not a panacea for poverty but it is a message of hope.  It is manna from a temporal heaven -sustaining those who desperately want the same things we want.  Economic vitality is an antidote to the poison of religious ideologues and political charlatanism.  It is a lifeline that may prove more powerful than any sentinel, drone or security force.  One might never know whether their investment saves a life by stabilizing a neighborhood in Yemen, Lebanon , Palestine, or Afghanistan.  However, we do know that a micro-loan could save a family and create a future.  Perhaps, with each future we rekindle, we breathe oxygen into a fire that burns brighter and more powerfully than any military ordinance.  Our generosity can fuel embers of democracy that push back the twilight of bitter ideology – – long shadows that one day crept across a lone road in Afghanistan and took Army Specialist Jason Johnston from us well before he had the opportunity to find his own future.

Dude, Where’s My Party ?

They say women talk too much.  If you have worked in Congress you know that the filibuster was invented by men.  ~Clare Booth Luce

I just renewed my license at the DMV and was once again asked to register to vote.  I reviewed my two choices – – the party of Pelosi, “we’re all going to get free healthcare” and “look, there’s an investment banker, get him!” or the party of Sarah “ run Nana, there’s a death panel truck” Palin, dyspeptic John Boehner – (actually can you even name five Republicans ?) and Blackwater. I checked the box marked: “Independent”.

Yes, I know that raising politics in a small town is tantamount to taking enriched uranium yellow cake out of your pocket and saying,  “check this out Bob, look what I made in my garage.”

The dictionary defines politics as “ the art and science of administration of government.“ It seems no one disagrees on the serial blunders of W (for some it takes several drinks) whose administration seemed to employ neither art nor science.  Somewhere along the way, compassionate conservatives became passionate conservatives.  (Where did the “com” go?) I still have close friends who stick by the Grand Old Party even though they are disgusted by the party’s state of affairs.  They act like someone whose family member was found to be a convicted serial killer, “ yeah, I know George killed 12 waitresses.  But hey, he’s family.”

Some could take it no longer and moved left into a new protectorate – one that talked of social equity (higher taxes) and tough love (higher taxes).  The migration away from the conservatives led to the election of a new President and some freshman blue dog legislators.  We tossed out a few tired, pieces of aged red and blue cheese who had been sitting on the Congressional counter too long. When the dust settled and the echoes of “yes, we can “ faded, suddenly Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were in charge.  Some intoxicated by the possibility of a course correction had not read the fine print that indicated these ardent ideologues came with the package.

Many moderates were drawn to the charisma of Obama and the possibility of change.  For others, it was less about moving toward something as it was the need to distance themselves from an ethos that had lost its allure. With the exodus of many Moderate GOPs to Blue Dog Dems, the Conservative Caucus lost critical mass and its chorus was diminished of gentler voices.  The former chorale suddenly screeched with bellicose arias and exaggerated solos of the party’s more hyper-orthodox prima donnas. When I now drive by the Grand Ole Party I see an angry lynch mob.  The GOP is spending less time telling me what it stands for and more time acing like Nostradamus portending our imminent doom.  It is not a party to which a Moderate would want to return.  It’s like seeing your former neighborhood go to hell.  The GOP that I knew – is gone.

My conservative friends regularly remind me that my move toward the left will expose me to a dogma that I never experienced in my moderate greenbelt.  And to a degree, they are correct.  I admit I do not feel at home among the Democratic Caucus.  My GOP pals smile assuming I am having second thoughts. My liberal friends encourage me to give it time. Like a child at his first sleep away camp, perhaps I am just homesick for my mother’s cooking.

I understand the Democrats anger and zealous desire to move with lightening speed to enact legislation that reverses, in their minds, years of great social inequities, visited by a testosterone charged administration that overspent and under-regulated. Dems know that 2010 midterm elections may swing the political pendulum back toward the middle – reducing the chances to pass health and immigration reform, tax increases and the expansion of entitlement programs.  Their clarion cry for equity and moral responsibility falls unevenly on a population that is suffering from a massive case of economic uncertainty.  We see an estimated $9T in public debt and a future where our children’s inheritance is a massive promissory note to foreign investors. It scares us to spend more.

After a year of hanging out with the Southpaws – I feel disingenuous. I do not track with all the high-fiving and grand plans for massive social change.  When we speak of focusing more on those who can’t help themselves and my need to pay higher taxes to finance vital repairs to a ragged social safety net, I am very supportive.  Yet, when the conversation turns to the cost of financing a dramatic transformation of healthcare, education, economic stimulus and immigration, I start to get a little uncomfortable.

My days of Macro and Micro Economics 101 flash back and I can not see how a fragile recovery can shoulder more public debt, higher taxes reaching into the middle class through pass through assessments and a continuation of “put off until tomorrow” monetary policies.  No one is talking tough choices, personal responsibility or austerity.  I start to get nauseous and leave the Donkey’s lair to get some air.  Nobody really notices I am missing.  So what do I stand for?

I subscribe to the ancient Greek saying, “the mark of a great society is when old men plant trees that they know they will never rest underneath.” I believe if you do not have the money to buy what you want, you must pull in your belt and purchase only what you need. I think everyone should have a roof over their head but not everyone should own a home. To quote one pundit, ” if 15% of Americans were homeless, we would not solve the problem by putting the other 85% in Federal Housing.”

I believe “a great society is defined by how it takes care of the least among them.”  The dividends of free market capitalism do not fall evenly on all heads like soft rain. When people fail they do not always reinvent into better versions of their former selves. People don’t “go out of business”, they need a hand up or become wards of a system – a criminal justice or welfare system.  When the economy tanks, it is often the most vulnerable among us that suffer. Its up to us to decide what kind of system we can afford to offer and how we can finance these vital entitlements with a dollar for dollar reduction in non-essential government spending.

If we do not make some tough choices, we could end up with sustained double-digit unemployment, hyperinflation and social unrest. Many politicians simply lack the political will to acknowledge this dangerous climate change.

The best domestic and foreign policy is to create a viable consumer class.  A rising tide of prosperity lifts all boats and drowns out the bellicose extremists that seek to advance agendas ranging from authoritarianism, communism, social Darwinism -any theology that divides people while centralizing power.  Americans are spoiled.  They do not take the time to learn the facts and want rapid resolution.  We don’t live well with pain. We gorge on the empty carbohydrates of TV and radio sound bites.  Charisma and character are often confused.

I am ticked off at Republicans and Democrats for so completely abandoning a doctrine that promised reduced deficits, effective regulation and social investment that expanded the middle class.  We were not supposed to preside over a period where the economic chasm between those at the top and the bottom of society exponentially expanded.

So who do we hold culpable? The Dems want their incumbents (rap sheets and all) reelected.  Meanwhile, the Party of W presided over massive increases in our public debt and now suffer from collective memory loss saying its all Obama’s fault.  A few are even showing grainy photos of what looks like the President firing RPGs with Osama Bin Laden while on holiday in Karachi.   If it were up to me, I would toss the lot of them out on their ear.  Who is buying this garbage?

As someone who still clings to aspirations to leave the world a better place than when I came into it, I am flummoxed. I scan the political horizon line for fresh faces that attempt to honestly frame reality while at the same time having the political courage to attempt to change it.  It’s grim.

Am I a Libertarian? A Populist?  A Demoindependican? My political meandering seems to piss everyone off. I have been accused of being a bleeding heart liberal, an idealistic windsock, a Republican in sheep’s clothing or a political ronin – you name it. Most are usually quick to tell me why an idea won’t work but tend to stumble when asked to offer a viable solution.  It isn’t easy stuff.  Is Obama really a closet socialist hell-bent on massive income redistribution or is he a neophyte liberal politician with incredible charisma whose desire for greater social equilibrium is running into a two party buzz saw that categorically refuses to split the solution down the middle? Is he in control of a headstrong Democratically controlled Congress or is he painfully learning on the job?  Is he Valdemort or Voltaire ?

So here I sit – an Independent.  Do we Independents have a mascot? May be we could choose an eagle – strong, resilient and self-sufficient.  Are eagles taken? Are they, like the Independent, still endangered? Other than Joe Lieberman, I actually don’t know any Independents.  Where do they hang out?  Do we have a convention? Or at least a clubhouse with a small gym?

As I sit with my chin in hand on the proverbial curb, the great red and blue political machines churn, polish, manage and crank out Teflon candidates to challenge one another’s incumbents.  And I can’t find a single member of my new tribe.

Dude, where’s my party?

Answer The Question

Answer The Question, Please!

 

In a past life, I briefly served as a senior executive in an industry that was a favorite scratching post for the media.  Having spent over twenty years as a consultant – – writing and speaking on a range of radioactive topics,  I was naturally impervious to media trickery and was put off when my new employer suggested I go through training.  “ I have been doing this for many years.” I mused to the HR rep who was attempting to penetrate my calendar for a four hour session with a media consultant.  “ I really don’t need this.”

 

My boss called and gently suggested I indulge my management and attend a one on one coaching session.  The day arrived and I was directed to a nondescript office suite in New York where I was sequestered to an equally unimaginative conference room to await my training.  I sat impatiently alternating between my Blackberry and my watch.  I literally was getting out of my chair to return to work when the door burst open.   The room filled with a cacophony of bright lights and noise as a female television reporter rushed in followed by her cameraman with lights blazing and camera filming.

 

“ Mr Turpin, is it true that you have been CEO during a period of time where your firm was being investigated for irregularities in your operations? “  Before I could even answer, she continued to attack.  “ So when did you stop beating your wife?”

“ What,” I said, “are you serious?”  She went for the jugular, “ I am sure it’s hard to remember many of these things.  But how does it feel to preside over a business that is so indifferent to the needs of the consumers it serves.”  At this point, I began to piece together words but it came out as babbling gibberish .  She thrust the microphone in my face as I stuttered an unconvincing, defensive response that seemed to suggest that I was hiding something – – perhaps weapons of mass destruction or institutional malfeasance.   All the time I was answering, she was making incredulous faces, mocking my responses

 

The reporter lowered her microphone and mercifully switched off her 300 watt light.  She shook my hand and introduced herself as my media coach.  “ This is why you need media training.  In the next four hours, we will learn how to stay on message and to position yourself for the camera to appear credible, confident and compassionate”.  Over the next several hours, my coach who had made a career advising politicians and CEOs, walked me through the art of deflection.  Like a martial arts instructor, I was taught to move with the momentum of the attacker and never allow an interrogator a direct hit.  I watched video tapes of oil industry executives who had credibly appeared to defend attacks about egregious profits and watched as less effectively coached executives and politicians squirmed and were reduced by the media to shifty Simon La Grees who had  widow’s fund money in their pockets and larceny in their hearts.

 

I was getting a deep whiff of the carcinogenic air of Nick Naylor, the teflon sociopath spokesperson for big tobacco created by Christopher Buckley in Thank You for Smoking.  My consultant impressed on me with relentless repetition.  “ Don’t get charmed by the reporter.  Stay on message.  No matter what the question.  You come back to the key messages that we want to underscore as a company.  No matter what they ask you, segue back to the message.  Do not answer the question.  You do yourself no favors answering the question.  They are all set ups.  Stay on message.”

 

I have recently watched the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates with an even more jaundiced eye.  At times, I want to scream, JUST ANSWER THE DAMN QUESTION!” and then I realize, they will never answer the question because they are staying on message.  John McCain’s message is “ My opponent has a liberal voting record, is naïve with no experience and consorts with radicals.”  Obama’s message is “ John McCain equals George Bush.  McCain’s experience is not an advantage but a pathetic resume of failure and cronyism which is rife in Washington DC”.  You could ask them any question you want, you will be waiting a long time for an answer unless it relates back to these talking points.   It has been made abundantly clear to me that these debates are than honesty around the issues. 

 

I just want someone to answer my questions.  I have several that are weighing on my mind:

 

1)   Senators, do any of you know what a credit swap is?  Do you know there are $ 55 Trillion dollars of CDOs still in the market?  Did you vote for or against the 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act which deregulated these financial speculation instruments? Can you explain why our economy is still cratering even after a $ 700B bail out package and a coordinated cut in the lending interest rates by several country’s central banks?   How do we arrest this crisis of confidence?  It’s not about liquidity, it’s about trust and there is none.

2)   Senator Obama, you have a very liberal voting record which indicates a desire for higher taxes, increased government and entitlement programs. Herbert Hoover ushered in the Depression when in 1932, he further suffocated consumer spending by passing the largest marginal tax rate increase in history at the very time that taxes should have been held firm or decreased.  Please tell me how history won’t repeat itself? 

3)   Senator McCain, you are a Republican.  The Republicans have presided over record deficits, eroded international credibility, deregulation that led to intoxicating excesses and crippling energy dependence at the hands of powerful petro authoritarian governments who hate the US.  Cab you fault anyone for thinking a Democratic Whitehouse could not be any worse than what we have endured these past eight years?

4)   Who was minding the store at Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac?  What do you think about Barney Frank and Chris Dodd and their oversight of the quasi –governmental agencies that gave out sub prime loans to individuals who could not afford them? 

5)   I believe the next credit crisis will be consumer credit?  Do you agree and what do you propose to mitigate the coming days of reckoning as people default on their credit obligations?

 

I have lots more questions , Senators.  However don’t bother getting back to me.  I know McCain is an unpredictable, hawkish, Bush crony and Obama is in inexperienced uber liberal.  Yes, I know your records.  Yes, I know what you think of one another. 

 

But can someone just please answer my questions?

 

The Politics of Father and Son

The Politics of Father and Son

 

I am the son of a diehard Republican.  We often speak late in the evening across 3000 miles of America to discuss the economy, politics and trends in business.  I fancy myself as a middle ground moderate that advocates fiscal conservatism, social activism and open arms internationalism.   I never leave the fairway on issues.  My political ball can be found in the center left or right.  Rarely, will I find the rough reserved for those with hooks and hard right slices.  I am the voter every politician seeks to woo.  The fact that my views on public policy seem to lack the hard calluses of conservative conviction bothers my Dad but we like talking politics.  Discourse raises our collective IQ around issues – blending black and white opinions into a slate gray amalgam where clear answers are not easily found.

 

“Dad, I am voting for Obama.”

 

(Silence)…

 

“As far as I’m concerned, McCain comes across like the angry old conservative that loves to chase liberals off his lawn.  I have no doubt that McCain is a good man, but he is well past his buy/sell date and has been part of the party that brought us record deficits, two wars, laissez faire regulatory oversight and back breaking energy dependence.”

 

(Sound of crickets)…

 

“Obama knows he will not get the vote of those he is planning on taxing.  He is actually being transparent about the fact that we will be negatively impacted by his tax policies.  Yet, his tax cuts for the middle class are three times those of McCain.  His tax plan will cost $ 3.5B vs. McCain’s $5.1B.  The national debt has doubled under the Republicans.  When you voted against Democrats, you always did so telling me that you did not endorse politicians who would increase the deficit, intervene into the free market – (like nationalizing banks), and hijack the country on an idealistic joyride. Isn’t that where we are today after eight years of Bush? ”

 

There was a heavy sigh on the phone.  Finally he spoke. “ Well if it was just about tax policies, I suppose I could tolerate higher taxes but it won’t stop there.  You just watch.  Jimmy Carter showed us what incompetent fiscal and foreign policymaking can do to the country.  He focused on unemployment with jobs programs that bloated the federal deficit while establishing a program of wage and price controls. Neither worked. By the end of the 1980, we still had high unemployment and 18% interest rates resulting in stagflation.  We know nothing about Obama – we don’t.  America is hungry for hope and grazing on his cotton candy rhetoric because Bush has ruined the Republican party.  If that damn McCain would just be himself and stop listening to his handlers  ‘attack tactics’, people might see through the great orator Obama and realize he is just a tissue paper, give away artist.”

 

I felt the need to defend my decision to endorse the dynamic Illinois senator with the razor thin resume. “Dad, you’re right that we don’t know a whole lot about him.  However, I do not believe he consorts with terrorists and people disloyal to America.  That’s just a hangover political tactic from the Republicans who have spent eight years seasoning our opinions with fear.  I want to believe in something and someone. I am sure he believes that trickle down economics disproportionately favors those at the top and falls well short of helping those at the bottom.  His life experiences probably include a point of view that justice and prosperity is uneven in America. He probably believes that the underbelly of free market capitalism is marked by inequity and a more polarized society.   However, I do not believe you can vilify anyone for having that political view.  For many, that was their experience, particularly under Reagan and Bush. “

 

He snorted a cynical chuckle.  “Here’s the problem.  The next President inherits an economy in deep trouble.  The Treasury Secretary and the White House will have unprecedented power.  I am very concerned Obama’s policies will probably deepen the recession and expand government at a time when we need to learn to live within our means by reducing government, decreasing entitlement programs and putting money back into the hands of all consumers by making the Bush tax cuts permanent.  I am telling you, you have no idea how much damage a guy like this can do – to our legal system by liberalizing the Supreme Court, to our economy by deepening the multi trillion dollar deficit and to our national security by screwing up the next critical steps we make in foreign policy.  I may not like McCain but I am not going to vote for a guy that represents more risk to the nation.”

 

He was getting into a lather and I knew that I could probably make him spontaneously combust if I mentioned those who must not be named – – Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid.  He had worked hard to save for retirement.  He was feeling more at risk than ever.  He was also tired.  He had lost confidence in those who he had supported for so long.   The race still had a few weeks to go. Yet, deep down, he knew that this time the majority of swing voters were too fed up, too betrayed and too angry at the Bush administration to reverse their desire for a new direction when real fear was scratching at their door.

 

(More silence.) He was giving me the last word.

 

“You know Dad, I guess it get’s down to hope and faith.  I wager that Obama is a good man.  I am certain his life experiences will shape his policies. However, he is a smart guy and if he brings into his administration strong business leaders – the Buffets, Diamonds or Grosses, I think pragmatism will triumph over idealism.  Like Thomas Friedman, call me a sober optimist. “

 

A pause.  “ Well, let’s just hope you’re right. But, I’m still not going to vote for him.”

 

“Love you, Dad”. 

 

(Click.)

 

There are three things in life I can always count on – death, taxes and the fact my father will never, ever vote for a Democrat.  I’m ok with that. It’s his country too.

 

America’s Ex-Wife

image1The number of American presidential candidates varies with the sunspot cycle and the phases of the moon. Being a Republican, I’m backing Hillary Clinton.  Because she could lose.  The reason is not that she’s a woman.  The reason is that she’s the particular woman who taught the 4th grade class that every man in America wished he were dead in.  Hillary Clinton is Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown.  Hillary Clinton is “America’s ex-wife.”  ~PJ O’Rourke

 I have to sheepishly confess my petty satisfaction when Obama garnered the democratic nomination for President.  It was pure schadenfreude for many watching Hillary Clinton cede her manifest destiny.  I am still not entirely sure why she bugs the hell out of me.  I begrudged her candidacy each painful step of the way.  It was the first time I felt like voting against someone instead for someone.  And yet, on the day it became clear that Obama had the mandate from his party, I felt a twinge of guilt.  Was it me?  Or was it her?

Many may vehemently disagree with me, but I have concluded that Hillary Clinton was perhaps the most qualified in the field of presidential nominees – both Democratic and Republican.  Wait, wait, don’t roll your eyes and groan.  Even my father, an ardent anti-Clintonite, agrees with me that as president, she may have very well turned out to be the most balanced – tough, focused and as a beltway insider, perhaps most bipartisan.  I have no doubt some of her policies would have had impact on those already concerned about being in too high a tax bracket and given shivers to those laboring in industries that would prefer less regulation and government intrusion.  Yet, curiously, our aversion to Mrs. Clinton seems to be driven less by her policies and politics and more by her persona.  It seems we focus less on what she is saying because we’re so focused on how she is saying it.  What is it about Hillary that gets so far under our skin?

I asked a psychologist friend to help me deconstruct my visceral reaction to Citizen Clinton in hopes that I might come to grips with my Hillary heartburn.  After hours of analyzing my misspent youth, relationship with my mother, ex-girlfriends, conservative father – all the while having me play with a GI Joe to get in touch with my inner child – he offered several theories..

1)    Latent Misogynist – This suggested that I secretly hated all women, particularly women who possessed intellect, confidence and ability.  Given that I married a woman who brought many of these attributes to our relationship, I could confidently say I was not harboring a secret nostalgia for the good old days “whar’ women folk was in the kichun’ bar’foot and pregnunt.”  I actually loved the fact that my teenage daughter had a role model who was cutting a path all the way to the White House.  Just why did it have to be Hillary?

2)    Clinton Hatred – I voted for Bill Clinton – twice.  He did a good job as President.  I recognize he was helped by a Republican congress that would not let him drift too far left.  Bill was and is a charismatic windsock – blowing in whatever direction the breezes of public opinion direct him.  However, he made you feel like you were important and possessed a great ability to motivate people into action.  I also spent several years living overseas and witnessed the incredible surfeit of goodwill the Clinton presidency accumulated for America, which the Bush administration has now overdrawn like a profligate teen.  Hillary was there every step of the way – physically, emotionally and intellectually.  And, if Primary Colors is to be believed, the woman some have dubbed “Lady Macbeth” had a lot to do with Bill’s success, including sweeping up behind his many personal transgressions.

3)    Clinton Conspiracy Theorist – What really happened to Vince Foster?  What about the mysterious deaths befalling the state troopers who had provided protective services for Bill during his alleged extracurricular activity?  Is Hillary really Jimmy Hoffa?  Oliver Stone, is there a grassy knoll here?

4)    Xenophobia – From the moment Hillary “took on healthcare” during the ‘80s, I was annoyed at her gall to tackle something as complicated, dysfunctional and profoundly in need of change as the US healthcare system.  Besides, she was proposing changes that would effectively mess with my industry’s mess…and my livelihood.  I mean, how dare she?  It didn’t matter that our efforts to date had done nothing to really fix the problems.  Who was this presumptuous interloper talking about healthcare purchasing cooperatives and increased regulation?  The male chauvinist in me wanted to yell, “Hey, lady, I smell something burning in the White House kitchen!”  It did not matter to me, or Harry and Louise for that matter, that much of what she was saying had merit.

5)    Political and Economic Mistrust – I was genetically programmed from the time of conception to distrust anyone who espoused the 3 R’s: regulation, redistribution or redistricting.  The road to serfdom is carved by politicos who enjoy spending other people’s money advocating collectivism and a massive centralized government.  Hillary scared me on several occasions with her bellicose rhetoric against business and free market economics.  She had a penchant for distorting issues that I felt did not inform the public’s IQ around energy, healthcare and foreign policy.  Here’s the problem: we are in the midst of a Republican presidency that has presided over historic deficit spending and its own dubious distortions.  So how can I hammer Hillary when the neo cons have led us so deep into a quagmire of self-inflicted decline.

At the end of our session, my counselor said he was pleased with my progress but that my recovery would still probably take years.  He recommended that I repeat over and over “Kenneth Starr swims out to meet troop ships” while walking around the house wearing Ilsa, the She-wolf, pumps.  We agreed that I should continue my therapy as one thing was for certain: Hillary Clinton is a fixture in American politics and will be a constant storm on the horizon.  With our country’s never-ending jet stream of social, economic and political crosswinds, she will remain an omnipresent low pressure system drawing purpose and strength from inequity in America.

Yes, Hillary has been voted off the island. But don’t count her out.

She’ll be back….