Health Insurance by the Numbers


I want to look at health insurance in one more way. I want to look at it by the numbers because the insurance industry is all about numbers. We know that before anyone offers to insure something the industry takes a look at the risk/s involved. The variables must be named; how many years does a person live in the case of life insurance, but this one is simple and there are actuarial tables for this. Vehicle accident insurance risks are more complicated to calculate and require constant readjustments; how many accidents per year, how many accidents that total vehicles, how many injuries, how much loss of life, how big is the pool of drivers, etc., how much money will be paid out in insurance per year per market, how much money must be charged to make a profit. Drivers are required to buy car insurance if they own a car. Isn’t this an individual mandate?

The risks in health insurance are extremely difficult and calculation cannot be expressed in a single table, at least until many factors are examined first. Insurance companies almost certainly have access to the total health care costs by region. They probably know what treatments cost on average by region and condition being treated. These figures are unlikely to hold true for more than a year or two, so I’m sure insurance companies hire people to keep track of this information and chart it, convert it to tables, make spread sheets about it, design power point presentations, and whatever else is state of the art for summarizing data. They must be able to predict costs accurately enough to keep stockholders and employees happy with their profits.

Risk Management

We understand that in order to take in a high risk insured with a serious or chronic condition there will need to be a number (I don’t know the number) of healthy people among the insured, people who make demands on the insurer that are quite small. If someone lives in a rural or poor state (there are six states in America that have no millionaires) it is difficult for insurance companies to cover them unless they are national in scope and covering areas with huge populations to offset the losses they will probably see in lightly populated areas. Doctors in rural areas are harder to find as are hospitals, forcing people in insurance plans to travel for care. This makes it less likely that healthy people (who are needed for balance) will buy any insurance at all thus lowering the number of clients even further.

Modification Offered to Reduce Risks

When a public program like Medicaid picks up the poorest and sickest folks and pays for their medical care (although they don’t pay doctors and hospitals well) then it should be possible for insurers to cover the rest. But shareholders are relatively brutal when it comes to showing profits so insurance companies are still unhappy to operate in certain markets. Even when a subsidy was offered insurers wanted guarantees that large numbers of healthy people would enroll. The individual mandate was supposed to take care of this but it was demonized in the exact areas where it would have helped enrollees the most.

So any private health care plan must deal with the issues of risks, which in the case of health care involves lots of variables, some far less predictable than others. Unpredictability is not a trait the insurance industry will ever like. Cutting profit is not acceptable in private markets especially when there are stockholders.

Why didn’t the ACA Work

Although Obama was able to put together a plan that offered fewer risks for insurance companies it all had to work in concert. Taking away aspects of the plan changed those risk factors that had been nailed down in negotiations and left the plan spinning out in some areas of the country while doing well in other areas. The plan did not control prescription costs and that made it very difficult for many people who needed expensive, non-covered medications. Once things started to slide, insurance companies felt released from agreements that they had made to hold the line on prices.

And, while Obama thought that people would be able to keep their doctors and promised the public that this was so; it ended up being false. When I see my Explanation of Benefits printouts and I see what my doctor charged and what my doctor was actually paid, what I have to conclude is that our doctors are not being overpaid. And perhaps the doctor deliberately overcharges so that they will recoup more money but perhaps the insurance companies also underpay because they have already taken overages into account. No matter, I’m guessing that many doctors with expensive and thriving practices were not amenable to the cuts in payment that were required if they stayed in the marketplace.

Married to Capitalism

Even more than other Americans, Republicans fell in love with and made an exclusive marriage with Capitalism, in sickness and in health ‘til death do us part. The only problem is the deaths right now will be ours. The health insurance industry knows who is in charge of this administration and perhaps contributed big money to put them there. They are unlikely to be willing to negotiate on health insurance at all given the current favorable climate in Congress. Most likely we are screwed.

Private health insurance is not sustainable because the risks cannot be managed for all levels of care. The kinds of cobbled-together public/private health care plans designed by the Obama administration and this Trump administration are like Rube Goldberg contraptions with many moving parts and there are certain points where if a break occurs the whole mechanism must be reworked. But we will not let the private health insurance industry fail, even if they cannot meet the needs of consumers, because private is good and public is bad. So although I know this is America, and I know we don’t do socialism, I think we should give serious consideration to a single-payer system.

Think it through. We already give our tax dollars to the federal government in order to live in a well-ordered society. If the people decide that they would like to spend their money on a single-payer health care system that would not be socialism; that would be democracy in action. I’m thinking that the richest Americans will never go along with such a solution. They would have to wait in line for care like everyone else or make a privately insured system of their own. If affluent Americans left the single-payer system would there be enough money left in the system to insure everyone else or would the system be doomed by bad risk factors?

Why can’t we even look deeply at this single-payer option which has worked well in other democracies? If anyone is able to come up with a really workable system regardless of whether it was private, a hybrid, or public and if that system would keep this issued settled even for one decade wouldn’t it be well worth the effort? However, given the complexities of the variables involved in health care I do not see a private health insurance company ever being willing to make a plan that doesn’t stick it to both patients and health care providers. And as long as ideology reigns over practicality we are also doomed to a less than sensible health care system and thousands of people could die.

Health Insurance – Pig or Teddy Bear?

Make no mistake. The Senate Health Insurance bill (called The Better Care Reconciliation Bill), like the House Bill is an awful, terrible, no-good bill. We have already had free market or private insurance. We had it for years. But we had employers to negotiate prices with the insurance companies for us (and for themselves) if our jobs offered insurance. We had unions who also took part in these negotiations. In both the House and the Senate plan there is still employer insurance and the 50 individual states will have some ability to negotiate although poorer and more rural states will still find it hard to attract a wide variety of different insurers.

Health care should not be a for-profit business, but these models will allow insurance companies using for-profit models to have pretty much free reign over our health care. The theory of the all Republican, all male authors of this bill is that this model will force insurance providers to compete against each other and this will eventually bring down costs. I remember health care before Obamacare and insurance companies rarely cut the costs of their plans. They competed by adding non-medical perks to their plans but even this did not make for true competition because they all just wrote plans that copied each other. If one company added new coverage all the insurance companies did too and prices rose accordingly. For a while it was suggested that HMO’s would bring down the costs of insurance coverage, but since each HMO had to have its own staff and the equipment necessary for expensive medical tests this model failed in many locales, although some HMO’s still exist.

But it is the Medicaid cuts which make both of these bills really disgusting. I see people all around me every day who struggle to make ends meet. I have young nieces and nephews with children who were only able to have insurance once Obamacare included that Medicaid expansion. Before the ACA one of these young families used the emergency room for their health care and their bills were written off because everyone knew they could never pay. And these guys are good parents. Many children live with very bad parents, parents who drink, who have violent tempers, parents who do drugs and are not available when high to care for their children. These parents could at least, under the ACA, take their children for medical care, inoculations, and tests if necessary. Some young parents have children with illnesses that are so serious and debilitating that they are unable to climb the economic ladder. Every ounce of family energy is needed to keep the children alive. But the ACA covered these children and gave these families hope. Many adults with serious illnesses were also able to get consistent treatment for perhaps the first time in their lives.

Neither the House nor the Senate plan shows any awareness in Congress of what life is really like for many Americans. They babble on and on about tax credits (numbers). They apparently realize that poor people will have to get their money up front but the tax credits they offer are not enough to pay for the care some poor families and individuals will need.

What was good about the Affordable Care Act is that it was a hybrid plan. It gave private insurance a continuing role, but it offered public insurance to cover those who could not afford private care. Well the plans under consideration now are also hybrids but the money will be distributed through the IRS instead of Medicaid. Why do Republicans like that idea more? And they go on and on about how these plans will offer Patient Centered Care and take the government out of health care, but the tax credits argue otherwise and instead of the federal government, the state governments will have to oversee these matters.

We are expected to jump onboard for all these changes which are really just experiments with our medical care because of some Constitutional argument our forefathers had about Federalism. Oh and because the Koch brothers, who are not any part of our government, are putting pressure on Republicans and especially Conservative Republicans to make this happen. Also, don’t forget those tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

Clearly it will not work. I do believe the CBO and they say that 22 million Americans will lose their insurance and they will not find tax credits enough to foot the bill.

When I was a child there was no such thing as health insurance. There were doctors and patients. If you could afford it you went to the doctor when necessary. If you couldn’t afford it you waited until the last possible minute and then hoped the problem was nothing serious. Poor people were not treated well by hospitals.

My family was poor. We rarely saw a doctor once we were born. When I was three I fell in my aunt’s driveway. Her driveway was lined with cinders, tiny sharp gravel made from coal. I got several of these cinders in my knee. My mom tried every folk cure she could think of to draw out those cinders. Some days, under my bandage, you would find brown bread soaked in milk, on another day she would use brown soap chips. Although these were not effective at drawing out the cinders, my knee did not get infected. Finally my Mom took me to a doctor who said that the knee has already healed around the cinders and he gave me a tetanus shot. That cinder is still visible in my right knee.

After the war when strong unions called work strikes to get higher wages, employers offered health plans in lieu of raises. A whole new market for health care coverage was born and this became a popular benefit offered to workers by employers. If employers had known what beasts insurance providers would become they never would have offered this benefit to their employees. People in the insurance industry already knew how to make big profits and so the profit pie got divided among more competitors. As long as our health care system includes companies who intend to profit, and profit “bigly” from their services we will find that we are never able to cut the cost of health care, even by cruelly excluding patients who cannot afford care.

We keep looking for a teddy bear and finding a pig. Somebody show us what it would cost each American to have a single payer system and we don’t want to hear one word about small government. These people are so stuck in their ideology that they cannot cross the line to give America the insurance it needs. So we have beliefs about government limiting the imaginations of those who we trust to have enough imagination to come up with solutions to fulfilling the needs of the people. Because of what this party believes the Republicans will never be able to produce a beneficial health care system. They are so stuck in their ideology that they also caused the very death spiral that they claim the ACA is in by not allowing the system to work as planned.






Demonizing Democrats


While it is true that many Democratic Party leaders are nearing or are in their senior years, the GOP also is chock full of old folks and no one seems older than Mitch McConnell. So why are the Democrats having to bench all of their most experienced political leaders. Yes there have been mistakes, but all politicians make mistakes. I contend that there has been an organized campaign by the right demonizing Democrats as one of the strategies in their government takeover.

The Democrats have “stars” but they are so tarnished that the party can no longer rely on them to further its agenda and this is a big problem. It really weakens the party because they have no one who is a big draw. That leaves the party with a few second tier leaders and newcomers with little name recognition in the public sphere where voters live. And as soon as a new potential leader pops up they are a target.

Judicial Watch, Fox network news, Breitbart, Alex Jones and more right wing media and watchdog groups have attacked Dems, especially the women, dug up questionable dirt on them and dispensed it to the press as facts or even just as a juicy story. They have created a market for these stories by making them sound like scandals, and when one story dies down another is released.

Bill Clinton, of course, made himself an easy target, and when he tried to help unfortunate people globally with his Clinton Foundation it was perhaps less difficult to get the public to believe that he and Hillary conducted a “pay for play” scheme while she was Secretary of State. There is a lot of innuendo shouted whenever the Clintons or their Foundation are mentioned, but there is no real proof that this actually happened.

Hillary was definitely targeted and effectively sidelined because she is now too demonized to be useful. And perhaps she helped do herself in because of that private email server but it was the Republicans who kept convicting her over and over in the press and made a basically clerical matter into a criminal or treasonous offense.

The Republican Party would destroy Elizabeth Warren in a heartbeat if she stuck her nose out too far. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was destroyed when she headed the DNC. In fact she was taken out by her own people. Did she do anything unpardonable or was she framed by the GOP? Donna Brazille, interim leader of the DNC was taken out by the charge that she gave Hillary the questions for one of the debates.

There are rumors that Hillary’s campaign people murdered their guy Seth Rich because he knew something they did not wish to see made public. Although there is no evidence to suggest that this is true it is brought up over and over again.

Today I saw an article that said Bernie and Jane Sanders are under investigation by the FBI for bank fraud.

No need to even go back over the negative nonsense about Barrack Obama.

Nancy Pelosi is no monster, as far as I know. All she has done is do her job in the House very, very well but she has been so demonized that just mentioning her name and connecting it with a candidate almost guarantees that the candidate will lose, at least it does in certain states. Now with Jon Ossoff’s recent loss in Georgia there is talk of replacing her as minority leader in the House. While it is true that Nancy Pelosi has become toxic it seems to be only because she is hated by the Republicans. The Democrats don’t hate her. But she has already been weaponized so she is no longer an asset. The Democrats are, in a way, being forced into cannibalizing their own people.

Right wing media starts a rumor, then Judicial Watch starts an investigation to find out the facts. We are told in the news that they have filed FOIA warrants for documents but we are never told the outcomes of these investigations or given any data attached as proof. All these investigations seems to do is offer an air of legitimacy to what is actually fake gossip designed to undermine the Democratic Party by rhetorically gunning down all their best known people. These strategies have been very successful. The GOP can keep sidelining top Dems using these same techniques for as long as people eat this stuff up.

What can the Dems do to prevent the GOP from taking out all of our leaders? Is it already too late? Exposing the bias and sleazy tactics of Judicial Watch might be a start, but one little article will not be enough. However, if we can’t come up with anything original and yet still effective at changing this dismal dilemma then we can adopt the underhanded tactics of the opposing party.

Perhaps the Republican Party has consolidated its power and their true leaders, the Koch brothers, are so strong that the Democrats cannot redeem their very tarnished stars. But they surely should try. In a way this is war and the Democrats are still far more the people’s party than the Republicans are. If you weren’t sure the revelation of the Better Care Reconciliation Plan might help convince you.


Presidential Games

Obama played chess

Trump plays poker (and real estate broker, and mafia boss)

Presidential Games: Trumps Rules


From poker:

  1. Hold your cards close to your chest.
  2. Bluff, bluff, bluff
  3. Use facial expressions that offer no content and change them often

From real estate:

  2. Be prepared to look like you will walk away from the table/ deal (works in poker too)
  3. Gin up competition and don’t be afraid to fake it if there is none

From the mafia

  1. Use threats if all else fails and look like someone who knows people who can back up those threats
  2. Poor people are losers so it’s OK to lie to them, cheat them, and steal from them, in fact most people who aren’t me are losers so this gives me a license to cheat anyone
  3. Pout if people don’t like you; then get even

I’m sure this is hardly an exhaustive list of Trump’s leadership rules. Feel free to add your own. I suppose some of these traits could be positive in certain situations.

The Democrats and The Dialectic


Image from Huffington Post via Google Image Search

So right at this moment in time it looks like the Republican Party is in the ascendancy, whether we like the way they got there or not. This is my third article in this series and after this I will be leaving this topic for a while. I will admit I have been a bit repetitive, but it seems as if I am speaking into the emptiness of space and there are not even aliens out there to listen. It is the Democrats who are the target of my passions this time.

The Democrats and the Dialectic

I am not the only person pondering the fate of the Democratic Party. If you Google it many prestigious sources are trying to find answers as to whether the Party is in its death throes; if it can be resurrected; or if it will have to change (possibly even rebrand). I found a lot of good sense and profound thought and analysis in some of the articles I have been reading. I have my own ideas on the subject but they are more accurately called impressions since I have not done any in-depth study of the data mined from the 2016 election.

Will we have to wait for the dialectic? Theory states (and has been borne out) that when things swing too far in one direction they tend to come back to the middle. How long would it take to go this route? How many ways will the people, the Constitution, and America be screwed before this happens? Are there steps the Dems should take? If so what are they? If you are looking for criticisms of the Democratic Party there are plenty of those available also. But considering the “cruel”, Social Darwinist agenda on the other side the left must survive in one form or another, and the form in which it survives must make more sense to the American people than the current incarnation of the Democratic Party and get its message out more effectively than the current incarnation of the Republican Party.

Internal Obstacles

If all the obstacles to the Democratic Party were external then Resistance would be the only choice on the left. But if, as multiple voices suggest, the difficulties Democrats face are also internal then resistance alone may not do the trick.

Age Issues

I have been noticing how many Democratic leaders are in their senior years. Seniors are not at all bad for the Party. They bring recent history (since the end of WW II along with them). Many of them learned their activism on the front lines in the 60’s and 70’s. They have held jobs and political positions and they have been leaders in their local communities. People resent their earned affluence but they lived in times when the work ethic was strong and when work was easy to find and paid well. Many seniors had two generous incomes during their key working years and they invested and saved. They benefited from skewed tax codes and other economic regulations, or a lack thereof, which deposited money in their pocket just as it did with successful Republicans.

However, most of the laws we have seen passed to try to benefit those who struggle with poverty and the burdens that accompany it were proposed and passed when Democrats were the majority party and often when the economy was depressed or in a recession. At times of scarcity the gap between rich and poor is far more obvious. Because I am cynical, the fact that revolutions have been prevalent in times of greater inequality may have added incentive to compassionate impulses.

Republicans point to the failure of these social programs to solve the problems that are prevalent in areas where poverty is stubborn, and they claim that this is the reason they want to discontinue them, or (if prevaricating) reform them. With all the emphasis on “small government” and constant attempts to drastically cut safety net programs reforms seem to be the farthest thing from the minds of those on the right – that is unless you believe that localizing and privatizing all programs, even including housing and education will banish poverty and put everyone to work. Do they actually believe this stuff, or do they just want out?


Capitalism might be the true dilemma in America in the 21st century. Young people blame Capitalism for much that is wrong with America. However, there is always a continuum of Capitalism, just as all human endeavors seem to offer two possibilities. Sometimes the possibilities are as simple as the good and the evil that is offered by any innovation or idea, e.g. nuclear power and nuclear bombs. Usually the extremes on the continuum offer completely different results. Moderation may be the best path but people get bored with moderation. They often like excess better. Capitalism, therefore, is not the real culprit; but what people do with Capitalism, how they apply it is what matters. People are always the real problem. We are so imperfect.

Communism has its problems; Socialism has its problems. Capitalism seemed as if it would provide some separation between government and economics. The various ways to implement Capitalism were explored and written about in detail by people like Keynes and Adam Smith, and more recently, Paul Krugman on the left and Thomas Friedman on the right, with, oddly enough, Ronald Reagan and Ayn Rand thrown into the mix. But the issues people have with Capitalism (mostly young people) are about the ways it has become so entwined with our government, the ways the system of Capitalism, as a driver of wealth and the equal distribution of wealth, seems to be off track – providing fewer jobs, tone deaf on environmental issues, and fueling greed in those who are already affluent.

Younger Americans are watching the current movement to deregulate all the rules that act as fetters on Capitalism, fetters that protect people who are not affluent. They are watching the disgusting fervor to provide more wealth for the wealthy while consigning poorer Americans to deeper poverty. Small wonder that they conclude that only getting rid of a Capitalist economy and switching to perhaps some kind of hybrid (or even a barter system) will redistribute wealth and stop money from being more important than values.

Young people are idealistic. They think grand thoughts. That is a value that youth offers to societies. But this desire to come up with new solutions to old problems leads them somewhat astray. They may not recognize that regardless of a what system they are able to dream up the real villain is always the people who will use that system. We try to be are best selves, but we often get confused and listen to our worst selves because it seems to offer greater personal rewards. Even when societies were communal there was competition, and here, in the cult of the individual, competition becomes even more intense.

Seniors may not be done with the world and the leadership thereof, but the future will belong to younger people. The leaders we have now seem old to these young people and if they seemed wise there might be some productive dialogue. But our leaders do not seem wise. They seem selfish. They are not offering great solutions to an out-of-kilter society, except for the Progressives and the old Socialists. Young people find the Democrats as married to skewed Capitalism as Republicans are and they don’t feel at home in either of our major political parties.

Can the Democratic Party Survive?

Well, for now, the Republican Party is alive and well due to some pretty organized chicanery. But how weak are the Democrats? Many feel that the party is in deep trouble and may not survive in its current form. This is how the matter was discussed in an article in The Nation:

“[T]he Democratic establishment’s failure in the 2016 election has left tens of millions of our most vulnerable fellow citizens at the mercy of Republican plutocrats who imagine that a nation of immigrants can close its borders, that food stamps are too costly while tax breaks for corporations are a necessity, that senior citizens don’t work long or hard enough, and that the essential work of government is the redistribution of wealth upward to billionaire oligarchs. Americans with a conscience must be morally outraged at Trump and the cruel hoax that is contemporary “conservativism,” but they should be equally outraged at a Democratic establishment that is so disengaged, so incompetent, and so indebted to elite campaign funders that it is incapable of guarding against crisis.

Party leaders were slow to speak to the disenchantment and desperation that develop with expanding inequality and contracting opportunity; they resisted a full embrace of an economic-justice politics that might have maintained or even expanded the majority coalition established by Barack Obama. At too many turns, they settled for the narrow promise that “we’ll never be as nasty as the Republicans.” (The Clinton campaign’s closing motto, “Love Trumps Hate,” offered a creative play on the GOP candidate’s name rather than a what-we’re fighting-for message.)

The answer should be obvious: There is no point to the continued existence of this Democratic Party. It must change, or be replaced. And since no major party has been replaced since Henry Clay’s Whigs, it is time to recognize the need for a reformation of the Democratic Party—one that transforms it every bit as thoroughly as in the 1930s (when FDR aligned with a burgeoning labor movement and the independent progressive movements that had left the Republican fold in states like Wisconsin and Minnesota), and in the period from the late 1940s to the early ’60s (when the party finally acknowledged a duty to follow Hubert Humphrey’s call, at the 1948 Democratic convention, “to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights”).”

John Nichols authored that article in The Nation. Here are his suggestions for the Democrats:

  1. Recognize what just happened
  2. Become the party of structural reform
  3. Pick a side and stand your ground
  4. Get out of town (DC)

This article in Raw Story makes 6 suggestions to help the Democratic Party get stronger, and I quote:

  1. Analyze reasons for the loss
  2. Develop new ideas
  3. Use new ideas as a basis for the next campaign
  4. Focus on issues that matter to voters and show you can get things done
  5. Burnish the party’s image
  6. Find a dynamic candidate to give new ideas a popular appeal

In this article in The Atlantic there is an interesting discussion about leadership in the Democratic Party which I do not summarize here. It’s short and I think will more impactful if you follow the link to the original.

My Conclusions

If Democrats wait for the pendulum of the dialectic to swing back in their favor we may see the party’s demise well before the swing. If the party wants to attract younger voters and train them for leadership roles they need a plan and they need it fast. I do see the beginnings of such a plan but I have no data on its effectiveness yet.

If you have any dealings with the Democratic Party you will most likely be inundated with email. While it strokes the ego to imagine that important Democrats know your name and write to you personally, we all realize that these connections are not real. And the sheer number of Democrats who pile on pretending to want your opinion when they really just want your money has the opposite effect from the grassroots campaign that Democrats wish to stir up. It makes the Democrats look very divided within the party and in Congress and it suggests that the Democrats are poor. As a result, the very strategies that worked for Obama and the OFA, having been adopted by every Democratic candidate, their brother, their sister, and their spouse, parents, and their pets, are now distracting and divisive. It is as if everyone on the left is competing for attention when I do not think this is really the case. I think these party members and party organizations are more connected than they look. But often appearances are everything. Democrats need a new communication plan.

I believe that almost everyone has some thoughts about whether the Democrats will survive, what they need to do in order to win elections, and whether or not they need a rebranding. Offer the Democrats your tips if you happen to lean left and would like to win in 2018 and 2020.







Republican Coup, Where Were the Democrats

I am typing this after hearing news of the shooting of Republican Steve Scilise at a practice for a Congressional baseball game. I wrote this article last night and then, in light of this morning’s events, felt that I could not post the article without expressing the sadness I feel and my sorrow about how frightening this must have been. I may rail against the activities of Republicans in Congress but I would never wish to incite anyone to violence or to see violence as a way to turn the political tide around. I will be listening intently all day to hear about the condition of those who were shot. I also hope we are able to hear the shooters reasons for his attack.

In fact, I was awake at 5 am this morning remembering that I forgot to mention the pitched battle over gun control that raged throughout the Obama administration between Republicans and Democrats. Even when young children were targeted, even when it was clear that people with varying degrees of mental instability owned guns, gun control talk was met with hysterical claims that Democrats wanted to take people’s guns away. Republicans repeated this over and over again and whipped some Americans into a frenzy over the inculcated fear that their 2nd Amendment rights were at risk. At many points it seemed the Civil War would break out once again, especially around the activities to get Cliven Bundy to pay for grazing his cattle on federal land. I will remember forever that photo of an American citizen lying prone on the pavement sighting through a gap in two concrete barriers ready to shoot an official representing the US government.

In those Obama years certain members of the 112th-114th Congress acted like a band of Mad Marauders especially Ted Cruz, Michelle Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn, and Sarah Palin (not even a member of Congress). They threatened to shut down the government and did shut it down for a brief period. Many of us felt that bigotry was at the heart of all of these activities. There were members of Congress who were not happy to see an American of African Descent in the oval office as the President of the United States of America.

Even so, taken separately it would be difficult to say that Republican strategies always broke laws. After all they were operating in a window in time when the Supreme Court was leaning right (it still is). The Court legitimized many of the moves Republicans made. The Court made money speech, the court made corporations people. Republicans used the court to pass legislation in a sense. Although most of us were disgusted that the Court did this we saw that it was done legally (although the Constitution did not design the Supreme Court to be a partisan body). Even the huge wins in the states could not really be pinned to anything illegal except for a few examples of outrageously skewed gerrymandering and a few blatant voter suppression laws which were sometimes overturned by lower courts. And although most of the strategies pursued by the Republicans under Obama, were not truly illegal they seemed to walk the line of what is legal.

However, to really see how outside the norm Republican strategies were you have to think about the overall goal of the Koch’s and the Republicans. The one outcome to which all of these actions seemed to lead was not only illegal, it is at least seditious and at most the Republicans were committing treason. Clearly the Republicans were staging a coup, a bloodless coup, to take over the US government. And guess what? That coup was successful, although they ended up having to bring Donald Trump along on their ride and have not, therefore, been able to revel in their victory as they might have wished. They also have not completely destroyed the Democrats, although they are seriously wounded and side-lined, except for the rise of a grass roots Resistance movement. And even this movement is not a Democratic Party wave, it trends perhaps even further left than the Democratic Party. I will always recall that one of the first things Paul Ryan did the morning after the election was to proclaim “Welcome to the US Republican Government.” Coup accomplished.

Obviously the Democrats were aware of the things the Republicans were up to. Were they unwilling to raise a fuss? Were they too aware that the mood of much of the nation was not on their side? Did they downplay the Republican takeover aspect of this to try to preserve the Constitution and as much of regular order as they could? If you staged a coup and the other side refused to recognize it, was it actually a coup? Democrats tried to fight back but their battles were small. They relied on the lower courts or on email campaigns and Facebook comments. Democrats won small victories in terms of stemming the worst abuses of gerrymandering and voter suppression. Their emails were so focused on collecting money that, perhaps, they lost their effectiveness as fight mechanisms. People were riled up but not enough people. We are not really a nation of activists, although perhaps we are learning. The resistance group I have been attending is made up mostly of seniors with a few young people scattered in, and has little diversity.

Democrats, for these, or other reasons I have not thought of or have forgotten, were not able to stop this Republican coup. Did these Republicans break the law? Did they commit treason? Are their actions seditious? Regardless of how we answer these questions it is unlikely that any court will go after them and their wealthy ring leaders.

We can be thankful that so far some internal squabbles and re-election worries have kept this all Republican government that we are presented with from passing in quick order all the cruel pieces of the Republican agenda. Perhaps our resistance has helped the 115th Congress see that getting or pretending to have a conscience re your constituents might be politically expedient.

As for the Democrats – better late than never. They have been excellent partners in the Resistance as we attempt to find our way back to bipartisan government. Of course the joke could be on all of us. We could all end up as subjects of the new American monarchy led by the Golden Plumbing King, trailed by his less-than-royal family.

Here’s an article that Google News sent to my tablet this morning. It explains why the Koch Brothers are “collecting” states. (Yikes!)

Republicans Cheated – Don’t Let it be Forgotten


Whenever someone on a news show asks a panel of experts that includes both Democrats and Republicans a question about how unpopular an agenda item is, such as their health care plan, or cuts to Medicare, or cuts to food stamps, or cutting taxes on the wealthy, Republicans always point to their overwhelming control in the states. And they do have control in the states. In 30 states they control the executive and legislative branches of government and so have pretty much complete control. In three other states they have at least partial control. I began to tune into the Republican strategy of winning in the states in 2012. At that time they controlled 23 states. They have control because Republicans cheated.

We are all given gifts, either from nature or from nurture, which give us sensitivities in certain areas. I was gifted with a talent for being sensitive to what is fair and what is unfair in human endeavors such as governments or societies or even less formal social interactions. I will not explore the possible personal roots of my “gift” and this same gift has been given to many other people. If the Republicans were winning fairly in the states I would have had no sense of outrage about this trend towards “red” states. But that it not the case. There is nothing natural about what Republicans have accomplished in wooing and winning states to the “red” side.

Did it begin with Talk Radio or did it begin with wealthy donors like the Koch Brothers?

Koch Brothers

Not all wealthy people bother with spending enormous amounts of money on politics, but as the Koch Brothers got wind of (get it) the shift away from fossil fuels they had solid profit-based reasons for meddling in our government. They cooked up a campaign and even “fake” data to fight the growing concerns about what the use of fossil fuels was doing to our atmosphere and therefore our planet.

They got laws passed, first a law that made corporations people, then a law that allowed corporate people to contribute to political campaigns (Citizens United vs. the FEC, 2010). (Money is speech.) This meant that big money could pour in to political campaigns in such quantities that corporations could always exercise more influence on elections than individuals. It allowed forces of industry to spend money right down into the local level with polished negative ads against Democrats who dared to run in states that already leaned red. They had ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) write actual legislation that the newly elected “army” of local and state reps sometimes passed verbatim.

In 2014 the Supreme Court passed a decision named McCutcheon vs the FEC which ended limits on the amount of money that could be contributed to campaigns. Conservatives moved their apparatus into blue states. My fairness radar thinks these laws that favor corporations are bad for “we the people” and are therefore bad for our Democracy. My fairness radar also thinks that this progression of laws that favor corporate spending in elections was no accident, but a carefully planned, one-step-at-a-time plan to benefit Republican candidates in elections. The Democrats were against these rulings and have fought to overturn them.

Talk Radio

Which brings us back to Talk Radio? As the affluent Conservatives were creating a web of interconnected organizations to create top-down strategies, Talk Radio was tackling bottom-up strategies for turning a nation into ardent conservative “patriots”, a virtual army of discontented Americans feeling the pinch of a recession and a changing economy.

These Conservative talkers whispered and yelled into the ears of unemployed workers from their radios (old technology) in their trucks, their cars, their workshops, their kitchens. They used time-tested propaganda techniques like name-calling, blaming, repetition; they harangued their listeners, touched again and again on the sore spots of their audience, twisted history to make it sound like Democrats were liars and bigots by reminding people that there were Democrats (the Dixie Crats) who were violently opposed to the Civil Rights Act and who were still nursing grievances from the Civil War. They neglected to tell their listeners that these particular Democrats left the party and joined the Republicans when they saw that the Civil Rights Act would become law. Talk Radio was so effective at whipping certain citizens into a frenzy (the Tea Party proved this) that the powerful media members on the right created Fox News to pursue this tactic in living color just about around the clock.

Voting Rights Act

Oddly enough all of this was happening right around the 5oth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act which made all of the resurgence of the hate and bigotry that we were supposed to have overcome all the more bizarre and distasteful. This led to a test of the Voting Rights Act (supposedly no longer necessary) in the Supreme Court and to the overturning of the section that mandated clearance procedures which stated that some states had used unfair tactics to deny minorities the vote and that these states would have to seek clearance from Congress before they could change anything about their voting procedures.

As soon as the Supreme Court overturned the need of several states to seek clearance there was a rush to change voting procedures in ways that made it less likely for minority voters to go to the polls or, in the case of requiring voter ID’s, less likely to be able to vote. It was really quite shocking to witness if you happen to be one of those folks who has a talent for ferreting out unfair practices. Republicans claimed that they were suppressing Democratic votes, not minority votes and although some of their activities were reversed by courts many were allowed to stand.


Republicans, since they had the majority in Congress, were also allowed to draw the voting districts in the states. Extreme gerrymandering is not new. Political parties have tried to draw districts that give their own crew a distinct advantage before in our history. But it is not considered an ethical way to win votes and the practice has been frowned upon for some time. The Republicans were happy to resurrect it and drew some districts that excluded minority votes on a house by house basis with the rationale that minority voters tend to be Democrats. So, they say, we are not bigots, just cheaters, but only in ways that the Democrats had also been known to cheat.

Republicans Cheated

So every time I listen to a Republican empaneled by the media on a liberal network they feel the need to remind us all of their great successes in turning states red, both in terms of governors and legislatures and they leave it up to us to conclude that America is mostly Conservative and that means Americans have given them a mandate to pass any old law they want even if it hurts the very Americans who have been led astray by or brainwashed by Republican money, propaganda and talking points. I call these “turned” Americans the “pod” people after the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and I despair because there is no referee in a Democracy, except for “we the people”, and many of us have been manipulated and sold a bill of good that has us choosing policies that are against our own interests. It is not universally argued that the Republicans are winning by cheating (and these points may just be the tip of the iceberg) but I, and my sense of what is fair and what is not, say that Republicans did not win in the states (or in the 2016 election) fair and square; they cheated.

The Baroque Cycle, A Trilogy by Neal Stephenson – Book

I chose the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson because I wanted a long book to read and because this author has written other books that I enjoyed. Perhaps if I knew this trilogy of books ran to 2700+ pages I might have had second thoughts but my Kindle doesn’t deal with page numbers. I like to think that I would have read these novels anyway. It certainly was not a sprint: it was a journey – a journey in time, a mental journey, and involving lots of journeying by the books’ characters. Stephenson takes us to the 17th and early 18th century. This time period represents a transitional age in that the way men lived upon the earth was changing, in much the same ways that we are in a transitional age now.

Quicksilver introduces us to the Alchemists, who wished to find a way to turn base metal into gold. Quicksilver is mercury, which fascinated Alchemists with its unusual behaviors as a metal that is liquid at room temperature and a metal that beads and rolls around as if it were solid. It was felt that quicksilver, so often found near gold deposits, was somehow transformed into gold by some kind of mysterious natural process. The Alchemists were almost done with their investigations, having failed so often in their endeavors. But the experimentations they had conducted gave them a great scientific curiosity about everything in the world around them, both nonliving and living. Out of the Alchemists came a group known as Natural Philosophers and we had the very beginning of Physics.

These were the days of Isaac Newton in England and Hooke in England and Huygens, a Dutchman, and Gottfried Leibnitz, a German. These men explored the insides of living things, they looked at everything under lenses that improved in quality as the trilogy progressed. They created “the algebra” and they began to see that all things were made of smaller things (atoms to Newton, monads to Leibnitz). Newton and Leibnitz both claimed to have come up with “the algebra” which made these two great men opponents and caused educated folks to divide into two camps depending on which great man they backed.

Stephenson gives us a fictional character to serve as a go-between for these great gentlemen who did not always agree with each other. Daniel Waterhouse is the character who speaks to all of the principals. He also avoids much of the Catholic – Protestant divide of the times by coming from a family that is neither. His father is persecuted for his beliefs, but Daniel is not. Daniel serves as our man in London and in Massachusetts where he is trying to set up the Massachusetts’ Institute of Technological Arts. (He is not the founder of MIT.)

The other two books in this trilogy – which jumps around in time and place – although not quite as neatly and tidily organized as I am making them sound, are called The Confusion and The System of the World. They take us out of London with a vagabond. On the “Continent”, we follow two very unusual fictional characters. We follow Eliza, the stunning and extremely intelligent ex-Turkish slave, captured by a French aristocrat with her mom and sold into slavery in Turkey. And we have Jack Shaftoe, a poor Englishman, also extremely intelligent, who becomes the King of the Vagabonds. Eliza and Jack fall in love when he rescues her from the Turks but their paths diverge. Eliza becomes wealthy by learning to invest in the Dutch “stock market” of the day. Dutch economics are superior to other nations earlier due to the trade of the Dutch East India Company. Eliza becomes a member of the court of Louis XIV and becomes a familiar figure at Versailles. Jack gets captured and becomes a slave rower on a ship bound for Africa. But he is too brilliant to stay down for long. Jack makes a plan, makes some friends and ends up taking us to visit all the world that was known at that time.

Jack’s plan involves stealing gold as part of a plan of retribution against the Frenchman who enslaved Eliza. He does not realize that this is known as the Solomonic Gold because it is bound to mercury. The nature of this particular gold had everyone chasing Jack and his men all over Christendom and beyond and puts his life in mortal jeopardy more times than you will want to count. The Alchemists and the Natural Philosophers are thrown into a total tizzy over this gold and several of our favorite characters barely escape with their lives and only manage it through the rather extreme machinations of Daniel Waterhouse and those he ropes into assisting him. Thus ends the age of Alchemy.

What follows are the beginnings of the Industrial Age. Here as magical science wraps up and practical science begins, just here when someone invents the “Engine that Uses Fire to Pump Water” and a contest offers a prize to anyone who can come up with a way to determine “the longitude” when on a sea voyage, things are as chaotic as they are here at the end of the Industrial Age in our real world.

The Baroque Cycle is a tale that will either entertain you over many a rainy and sunny day or will cause you to completely lose your patience and perhaps throw it at a wall. (Don’t throw your Kindle). Although I sometimes felt a bit crazed when I read for half a day and only progressed through 2% of the book, I never really wanted to stop reading it and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but it’s not an experience I can recommend to anyone. You know if you are a reader who will love this or yawn over this. As for me I will eventually download another Stephenson tome and while away some more idle hours by allowing my mind to be taken somewhere/time else. (It is also a love story of sorts.)

“At some point, says Neal Stephenson by way of Daniel Waterhouse, the whole System will fail, because of the flaws that have been wrought into it…Perhaps new sorts of Wizards will be required then. But – and perhaps this is only because of his age, and that there’s a longboat waiting to take him away – he has to admit that having some kind of System, even a flawed and doomed one, is better than to live forever in the poisonous storm-tide of quicksilver that gave birth to all of this.

Democracy Attacked from Within and Without

Clearly our Democracy is under attack from within. As I said in a previous article, “Since the election of Donald Trump many Americans are even more worried about the demise of our Democracy.”

However, Democracy is not only under threat from within; it is in even more danger from forces outside our boundaries. The threats are so many and so varied at this particular moment in time that we are tempted to ask, can Democracy survive? Many even argue that it is a form of government that is nearing obsolescence because it is falling prey to weaknesses that Democracy organically carries within it. Apparently many have warned, from the ancient Greeks and Romans to our Forefathers that Democracy could fall prey to the rich and powerful and is prone to allow for the rise of a dictator, possibilities that they warned us would have to be constantly guarded against.

As we near the 250th year of our survival as a Democracy many Americans feel that we live in a Democracy in name only; that our idealistic experiment in government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” has been directed off the main track and detoured on to a side rail where it has been gussied up and occupied by wealthy Americans who allow the people to believe they still have a say in their own governance, but who are actually so inconsequential as to constitute a “pesky” populace that must be occasionally addressed only because they outnumber the “great men” by millions.

America’s younger citizens, such as millennials and Gen-Xers, etc. argue that our Democracy is so corrupt that it may be impossible to restore it to anything approaching integrity and they were happy to back a “democratic socialist” in the last election, He was a person they believed possessed enough personal integrity to put our government back on a track that would level the playing field between wealthy and not so wealthy, at least to some degree. They did not so much care if that government resembled the Republic described in our founding documents, only that whatever form our government took it remained the government of “common” man and “great” man alike. I’m thinking many of us who are not in these generational groups hoped to hear a few more concrete details about what form of government might actually accomplish these goals.

No matter, these movements show that the very fundamental ideology of Democracy is being challenged as the actual practice of democracy becomes less and less like the original ideological idea of democracy that gave it a powerful sway over people’s minds since the American and French revolutions.

Part of this challenge exists, perhaps, because authoritarian states are capturing more and more of our attention right now in this improbable moment when we thought we would be conquering Space, but are instead wandering backward through old Arabic dynasties so used to the rule of “strong” men that they are thrown into chaos at the loss of them and they do not know where to turn but are at the mercy of new strong men, however cruel. Until Arabic nations and African nations settle down and treat, by belief or nation, with each other and form governments and economies that allow them to reside comfortably with other nations in the world as it exists right now the chaos will continue to spill out everywhere.

In fact Democracy seems in retreat and under attack everywhere. It seems that we are almost to a point where someone will be able to say “you are surrounded, put your hands up, your guns down and surrender”. Russia is run by a man who believes that he is a “strong” man. North Korea is run by a man who believes that he is a “strong” man. China has a seemingly benign but very authoritarian leader. We have Duterte in the Philippines. We have ISIS who uses terror to telegraph strength. We have Assad, the Taliban, and al qaeda and Boko Haram and plenty of thugs and drug lords, all believing they are “strong” men. And now we have one of these “strong” men in the very heart of our Democracy.

I always pictured that if we had to fight for our government it would be in some clearly delineated, black and white situation like World War II. But this is not that kind of fight, and it is battle that could conceivably be engaged on so many fronts, and that our forces would be so divided, that winning might be impossible. The potential battles are subtle. Is Putin a big enough threat that we must be incredibly alert and gird ourselves to do some kind of battle or is he just toying with us? How do you combat someone like Duterte without resorting to the never effective regime change?

How do we create a message that turns ISIS into a blowhard false prophet whose strength leaves it like the air from a balloon? How do we help large swaths of Africa become positive partners on a continent that supports itself and its people and joins the world community as an equal in fighting the challenges to come as world population increases? Perhaps the climate in Africa offers too great a challenge to prosperity. Perhaps climate change will bring Africa a more moderate climate which will change its fate. Many South American nations are not thriving, also possibly due to challenges of climate and geography.

Europe and North America seem relatively small places when you enumerate the “strong” man nations and the chaotic nations, and the non-thriving nations that are all around them. Will our Democracy survive this moment when it is challenged from within and without and when many question whether a Democracy is a government for the long haul, or a short term pipe dream of a few educated revolutionaries? As someone who does not see a better plan at the moment than a Democracy for running a tolerable and tolerant society, I feel as beleaguered at this moment as the America I love seems to be, and just as helpless to offer good solutions, although I think dealing with the insurrection in our own nation would be a start.


The Hubris of One Man, The Fate of a Planet

Because of the terrible hubris of one man, yesterday, June 1, 2017, we “stiffed” approximately 194 other nations on our shrinking and increasingly dirty planet. This man objects to the Paris Climate Accord because he believes he would have made a better deal for America. He insists that the deal will hurt the American economy, although this opinion runs contrary to almost every expert on the economy, and denies the intelligence of his predecessor. This may not be an earth-shaking or planet- destroying act but it turns America into an isolated nation refusing to join its neighbors as caretakers of a planet that will soon be home to nine billion people. I am embarrassed by the actions of this man whose job it is to lead our nation. But I am not surprised.

Republicans are dug in to a position which contends that humans cannot change the climate of earth. They do not even accept that high levels of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere could cause global warming. They have generated an entire body of speculative scientific data based on core samples and temperature studies that suggests that the changes we think we are seeing are within the normal range of historical climatic changes.

However many of these studies are not accepted as good science by peers in the field. Take for example, the work of a group of people who use the title “The Right Climate Stuff”. It’s a clever play on the meaning of right as correct and the designation of right as an ideological position on the political spectrum. However, if you research The Right Climate Stuff on the internet you will find adherents and critics. The adherents are mostly right wing citizens, the critics are mostly actual scientists. Quoting The Right Climate Stuff data will not convince anyone who is not already a climate change “denier”. The data has a partisan stink about it. Science should not depend on what political position you subscribe to. See:

Science used to trump politics. And, although 97% of climate scientists say that climate change is real and is affected by the activities of people, the right wing has been able to throw plenty of shade on this bit of science by simply repeating ad nauseum that the data is wrong. They are also great at acting incredulous as they repeat, “We need to get over ourselves; people are too puny in the grand scheme of things to change earth’s climate.” In the end the right wing falls back on a philosophical argument which cannot be shaken by mere “science-y” experiments (Big Bang reference).

Perhaps looking back at the natural events, the unnatural events, the arguments, the cultural trends and the possible solutions will help. I have kept a diary of sorts of climate related news during the Obama years of 2010 -2016 (not blaming Obama for anything here). (see my book at and on It is informative to take a look back. Perhaps you will decide, as I have, that we can set aside the decisions about whether climate is changing or not.

We could just focus on the fact that we are spinning through mostly empty space on our lovely little planet. We could remember that we have no way, so far, to get off the planet. We could accept that our planet can live on without us, but we cannot live on if our planet gets trashed or if the delicate balance of wind, water, and air that makes our planet such a delightful place to live gets out of balance for any reason.

Can’t we just look at ourselves as caretakers who must keep our planet clean and happy and ticking along in the same way that we would like to keep our households ticking along. While we are arguing about what is basically climate politics the population of earth is exploding. Even if weather is not getting more extreme (which we are arguing about also) the fact that there are many more people in the path of extreme natural and unnatural events and the fact that our technology allows us to experience extreme events in real time makes such events costly in terms of both money and the psychic toll it takes on all of us.

How could it hurt to mend our flagrant polluting behaviors for a designated length of time to see if this helped matters? Well, if you are wealthy, I guess you feel it would hurt a lot, hence the pushback. If you are not so wealthy the way you feel may depend on what the media tells you, or whether or not you live in an area experiencing extreme events. However, the rather large segment of the right wing which belongs to an Evangelical religious tradition with a fundamentalist approach to the Bible should find that being earth’s caretakers suits them very well given that we all once lived in that wonderful “garden” from which we were only expelled by knowledge, and that we, in that garden, apparently once lived in perfect harmony with nature.

We cannot be divided on this. If we want to know the answers we must put this to the test, be kind to earth, and see if things get less chaotic. You might excuse tornadoes that seem larger and more numerous than they once were as just being a natural cyclical occurrence, but seeing the shrinking of our ice caps, the calving off of giant chunks of ancient glaciers, is harder to be sanguine about.