Fake Win

I was working on a post for the blog when I read this column today by Maureen Dowd saying much the same thing, only better. I hope you will read it. The thing is, Trump neither knows nor much cares what is actually in the Republican health-care-for-the-young-and-healthy/tax-cut-for-the-wealthy bill. He expects to keep getting away with claiming things are great that aren’t– and selling them. He needed a health bill passed. No matter that it hurts most those who most need help. A win for him is a win, regardless of the lives trampled along the way. That is the art of his deal.

Trump: Hazardous to Our Health – The New York Times, by Maureen Dowd

President Trump sprinkling flimflam dust in the Rose Garden Thursday to deflect attention from the health care bill House Republicans had just passed. Credit Carlos Barria/Reuters

Repeal, Replace, Regurgitate

After several attempts to start this post, I need to give up on trying to be clever or intellectually rigorous, disciplined, or even organized in presentation. I’m just too disgusted and need to get it out of my system. The ongoing spectacle to repeal Obamacare and replace it with We-don’t-care is reaching it’s absurdly noxious climax this week. We are being treated to one of the most nauseating demonstrations of legislative sausage-making I can imagine. Repeal, Replace, Regurgitate.

It looks very possible that an $8 billion ruse is going to persuade enough moderate (what the hell does that mean here?) Republicans to vote for the House bill to pass it.

How did we get here?

After sixty-some safe and symbolic votes over the years to repeal the Affordable Care Act, someone threw the House Republicans a curve in November and delivered all three Houses– Representatives, Senate, White– and a mandate to do it for real. Several problems presented themselves early on.

Republicans, including Trump, had done a smashing job of convincing their base that Obamacare was evil, awful, and a disaster. So much so that a large percentage of those voters entered 2017 not realizing that the health care they had and counted on actually is Obamacare. Once that began to sink in, views on health care became a little less partisan for real people. They liked and needed what it provided.

The new President had been promising for months that he was going to replace it with something better. He had a plan and it was great. Ready any day now. No such plan existed.

Republicans had been saying or implying the same thing for years. But, sorry, no such plan existed.

It turns out that the only thing that has been uniting Congressional Republicans on health care is the political strategy of opposing Obamacare. When it comes to providing health care, their enthusiasm wanes and is scattered all over the map.

Folks like Ryan and his cohort want mostly to get government out of health care and any other entitlement program ASAP. If they could privatize completely, they gladly would but see the need to proceed cautiously. The Freedom Caucus has similar goals but has little interest in compromising or being cautious, even within the party. The so-called moderates see some value in providing actual health care, whether they are motivated politically or sincerely.

So, when the House came up with their first bill, you’ll remember that the Congressional Budget Office scored it and determined 24 million Americans would lose insurance by 2027. Premiums would be 15-20% higher for the first couple years, then about 10% lower by 2026. Medicaid reductions would account for many of the people thrown off care. Tax cuts would result for wealthier people and businesses.

That wasn’t painful enough for the Freedom Caucus, so they voted against and scuttled it.

Recently, with both Trump and the House under extreme pressure to deliver on their promise to repeal Obamacare (or something sorta kinda like a repeal that they can sell), a deal was struck with the hard right members. Several of the popular features of Obamacare– e.g. no refusal or penalty for pre-existing conditions, a list of required provisions for all plans– can now be eliminated by states with a waiver. The states would be required to have a high-risk pool for people who have pre-existing conditions. It is widely understood that these high-risk pools almost always run out of subsidies, resulting in skyrocketing premiums and loss of insurance.

A particularly sensitive and touching explanation for the removal of the guarantee of affordable coverage for families with pre-existing conditions was given by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who said these people will “contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the costs to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. Right now, those are the people have done things the right way that are seeing their costs skyrocket.”

Contrast that remarkable statement with the one made a couple nights ago by Jimmy Kimmel. If you haven’t watched it, you should.

So, today a couple of the so-called moderates came up with an amendment to the bill that would add $8 billion over 5 years to supplement the insurance of people with pre-existing conditions. That is vastly less than the amount that will be required if, no, when many Red states choose to exempt themselves from full coverage for their people, which is inevitable perhaps for most states since the bill also calls for cutting and then limiting (block granting) money for Medicaid and for subsidies.

Conjecture is that this bandaid could be enough to assuage the consciences of a handful of legislators, enough to pass the bill on to the Senate.

What a hollow victory that would be. What a repulsive accomplishment.

Trump and Kindergarten Lesson 2: Play Fair

Lesson 2: Play Fair

Part 2 in a series      (See Part 1: Tell the Truth)

Every president since FDR has measured what they have accomplished in their first 100 days. We rate President Trump’s the worst on record, with no major legislative victories and a string of policy and personnel embarrassments. A common theme that ties these calamities together is a contempt for ethics. Trump’s conflicts of interest and other ethics troubles contributed to each of his major stumbles, and will continue to hobble his administration unless he takes corrective measures.   – Painter and Eisen, USA Today 4/26/17

Richard W. Painter is vice chair and Norman L. Eisen is chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is issuing a report Friday on Donald Trump’s first 100 days. The authors were chief White House ethics lawyers in the Bush and Obama administrations, respectively. Follow them on Twitter @RWPUSA and @NormEisen.

Can you remember playing a board game with a 5-year old son or granddaughter? If so, you should easily grasp the point I’m about to make.

A 5-year old understands that the point of a game is to win. He understands it so well, he will likely invent rules, lie about spaces moved, or may even knock over the board in order to keep from losing. This is the right developmental time to teach him that for the game to be fair, and therefore fun for everyone, we all follow the rules of the game. Level playing field and all that.

That’s why playing games, and later sports, are considered great preparation for life. Be competitive and strive to win, but within the rules. Play fair. If you have ever followed professional golf, PGA or LPGA, you may have noticed the ultimate example of this principle. Players are expected, and do in fact, call penalties on themselves, even if no one else noticed the infraction. Seriously.

So, there are those of us who learn and embrace the importance of playing fair, who come to understand that this simple principle underpins such critical values as income inequality, social justice, equal opportunity, and ethical governance.

Examples also abound of those who believe themselves exempt. It may be that the drive to win overpowers the constraint of the rules. Thus, footballs get deflated and visiting teams’ signs are electronically poached and transmitted to the home team. Or, a businessperson cheats in order to beat a competitor, or takes advantage of clients to achieve personal gain.

It may also be that a sense of entitlement has developed to the point of believing oneself in a category where the normal rules don’t apply. Or, in the case of someone with a bent toward narcissism, believing one’s world is subject to his own rules.

Gosh, where could I be going with this?

The legion of Americans mystified by Trump’s election– with reactions ranging from head scratching to garment rending– have wondered how his voters will react if (when?) they find themselves in the same crowded boat as previous lenders, contractors, and Trump University students.

Well, the President’s track record of not playing fair is consistent, so at least he is unlikely to surprise anyone in this regard. Recent interviews of Trump supporters suggest most are willing to accept this trait so far. It will be interesting to see if they are in it for the long haul.

Meanwhile, he is treating the rest of us to an unprecedented presidential display of flaunting established protocol, traditions, standards, rules, and possibly laws. Some of this behavior is aimed at reinforcing his disingenuous populist image. Indeed, this was the election when both Left (remember Bernie?) and Right were fed-up with establishment politics and primed for an iconoclast who would blow things up.

But he hasn’t set out to blow up entrenched practices and policies that encourage corruption. Nor does he show any interest in “draining the swamp” of lobbyists and others who have made the unlevel playing field a playground for bankers, the wealthy, and large corporations.

Instead, the occupant of the Oval Office, the man from Mar a Lago, seems to be the magnetic north of his own moral compass.

Winning is clearly important to Trump, witness how often he talks about it and the lengths he goes to claim it. Everything he does has to be not just a win, but a big win. Getting elected was not enough. He persists in insisting that his Electoral College victory was the greatest since whatever (it wasn’t) and that he really won the popular vote because Clinton’s more than 3 million vote margin was due to illegal voting (nope.) His inaugural crowd was the largest ever, please ignore any visual evidence to the contrary.

After spending months pre- and post-election promising he had a great plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare, he revealed his hand was empty. He also proved he was willing to throw vulnerable Americans, including his supporters, under the bus with a series of capitulations in order to get a legislative win that never happened.

More sobering is how little regard Trump has for established norms designed to insure ethical practice. Contempt really. Inadequate attention to vetting has led to numerous appointments that are ticking ethical time bombs. Flynn already blew up but seems not to have run out of explosives yet.

We suspect he never did intend to release his taxes. He has taken so much political heat for this, some writers have speculated that what could be found in his tax returns must be worse than the political price is is paying to keep them private. That price will only become steeper now that he has released his one page tax “plan” and will continue to grow if actual legislation comes from it.

Where this contempt and the perspective of a narcissist takes us way beyond the pale is in the catalog of conflicts of interest being compiled. In November, sitting for an interview with the NY Times, Trump boasted, “The law’s totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” That is sort of true sort of not, but with a telling twist from someone who always thinks it’s all about him.

The law says that the responsibilities of the President and Vice-President are so broad and far-reaching, it is not practical to expect them to recuse themselves from involvement in matters where a possible conflict might arise. Nor is it reasonable for them to be vulnerable to prosecution. Nonetheless, the expectation remains that the executive should strive to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and undue influence through business interests. Before now, Presidents have been scrupulous to divest or otherwise separate themselves from such interests once in office.

Far from putting country above self, Trump has virtually paraded his conflicts of interest, giving the appearance of impropriety and relishing it. There is income flowing to the President and his family from near (Trump International DC and Mar a Lago, among many US holdings) and far (many business dealings in and with countries around the globe) that could easily intersect national interests.

Sooner or later, we will know whether or not Russia is one of those entanglements and to what extent.

He has chosen a not-so-blind trust for his businesses that appears to do little to keep him from accessing the assets or preventing involvement with the trustees, who happen to be his sons.

Which brings us to Jared and Ivanka. If they prove to be positive contributors, I will be glad. Yet, Trump’s making them such a prominent and powerful part of his administration seems an act of monumental hubris. They bring along their own portfolios of potential conflicts of interest and no government experience. But they are loyal family members and they reinforce the Trump doctrine that “I alone can fix it” and that special rules apply.

 

The Trouble with Trump? He Must Have Skipped Kindergarten!

[Part 1 in a series]

We are sent to school to be civilized—to be introduced to the essential machinery of human society. Early on in our lives we are sent out of the home into the world. To school. We have no choice in this. Society judges it so important that we be educated that we must go. It is the law. And when we get to school we are taught the fundamentals on which civilization rests. These are first explained in language a small child understands.

Across the course of our lives we will wrestle with questions of right and wrong, good and bad, truth and lies. Again and again and yet again, we will come around to that place where we came in—to that room where the elemental notions about humanity were handed to us with great care when we were very young.

Of course it wasn’t literally all you really needed to know. Certainly not. But if you didn’t get this basic stuff to begin with, you and society will pay a heavy price for your failure. If you did learn it and do practice it, then all the rest of what you needed to know has a lasting foundation.

“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum

We all know people who obviously missed or have forgotten those early fundamentals. At least some of them. We could all use reminders. The consequences of such lapses may be minor for us and irritating for those around us. Or they may be major and, as Fulghum says, we and the society in which that person moves pay a heavy price.

But how heavy might that price be if the person who “didn’t get this basic stuff to begin with” occupies the highest and most powerful office in the country? Arguably the most powerful in the world? The initial answer to that question may be coming into focus in these first 100 days of the Trump presidency.

Yesterday’s post suggested that this president poses the challenge of learning how to filter out all the intentional static he generates in order to distract and manipulate. This will be an ongoing challenge, as long as he is in office. To focus on what he does rather than what he says. To direct our own responses constructively. Still, executive orders and legislation, however objectionable or damaging they may seem to some of us, can be tempered or reversed down the road. This is the way of politics in a democracy.

The deeper danger, the more serious threat– to our society and our democracy, to the global community, even to the planet itself– is posed by the exercise of presidential power and influence by someone who evidences a profound lack of those “fundamentals on which civilization rests.” Starting today and with the next few posts, we will look at the effects of Donnie skipping kindergarten.

Lesson One: Tell the Truth

Donald Trump is a liar. Donald Trump lies. There it is. Not exactly a newsflash nor an original observation. But for our purposes we need to be clear. No point pussy-footing around. Sorry, poor choice of words there. No point beating around the bush. Shoot, not good either. Let’s just say it is important to label him bluntly because this fact may be his most obvious defining characteristic.

No point throwing stones either. Who among us qualifies to pick up that first one? We all lie sometime, at least in some way. We all expect politicians to lie. So what sets Trump apart? Why and how does this matter? This isn’t about condemning, it’s about understanding that one of “the fundamentals upon which civilization rests” is under attack and is already seriously injured.

Lying and politics have been natural bedfellows forever, elevating to a profession something that we civilians practice as amateurs. But, this profession has normally been governed by rules that define the distinctions between lying and telling the truth. Rules that impose penalties when the lies are of a certain kind or trespass certain limits.

Once, practitioners of this profession mostly adhered to the rules. The truth remained a valued standard. It might have suffered plenty of stretching, but it was still recognizable.

That began to change a couple of decades ago. While other factors have contributed, the explosive growth and reach of cable news and the Internet have played a crucial role. In that time, news outlets have proliferated, diluting the influence and authority of the major networks we Boomers grew up with, with Fox News making the greatest impact. Further, web-based campaigns from email to Facebook to Twitter, have become primary sources of “information” for many millions, never mind where they originate.

This environment, where support and “proof” for any opinion or bias is just a click away, was fertile ground for Donald Trump. Decades of honing his skills in the tabloids of New York City were the dues he paid to enter this era’s political arena. His trial run was the false campaign to delegitimize the first African-American President. Finding that obvious lies were no obstacle for millions who wanted to believe them, he did what he does even now: he doubled down on the lie. He ran for President.

Is Donald Trump a greater liar than any other politician? Than a president like, for example, Richard Nixon? I don’t know how to gauge that. But, I do know that we are seeing something we have never seen before. This president lies as easily as you or I might discuss the weather. He lies so often, I suspect that neither supporters nor opponents take his words seriously and the supporters shrug while the opponents rage.

Worse, we may start to accept the lying as normal and stop giving weight to it at all. It may have been his strategy all along.

I have begun to believe that his lying is so much a part of him that Trump himself may not always keep track or care whether he is lying or not. Losing the ability to know the difference is truly an ominous situation when we are talking about POTUS. Not only do we worry whether he can distinguish his own truths and lies, we have to seriously question whether he has the capacity to discern when an advisor or a foreign official (cue Russia red alerts) is being honest with him. Bizarrely, the Commander-in-Chief, with the most extensive intelligence apparatus in history, tweets impulsively based on baseless conspiracy theories he finds on TV or the Internet.

All right. Time to check in on our theme. Children learn the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. The lesson was the importance of trust and how it is lost through lying and that the results can be devastating, even fatal. (Sheep can die!) Tell the truth!

That’s the price. Trust. Remember the original question? How heavy might the price be for our president to have gotten an ‘F’ in Tell the Truth? To have missed Kindergarten altogether?

Think of it. The leader of the free world is widely believed to be a liar. How do we, citizens of the United States, follow someone whose word we do not trust? How can our allies trust our participation in the alliance, let alone have confidence in our leadership? What response is prompted in our enemies? How can our diplomats, if there are any left, negotiate in good faith?

Oh, and remember. There was something else lost in the story beside trust. Yeah. Some sheep died too.

Our First 100 Days with Donald Trump

If you’ve done anything more than stream Netflix this week, you know we are approaching a milestone. April 29 marks what the French* would call les cents jours du Trump. (Translation: a friggin’ eternity.) The first 100 days of a presidency have become an arbitrarily significant measure of a new administration’s impact. The media seems to love the neatness of framing a President’s activities and achievements in this storyline. In fact, the media hating/loving Trump embraced it even more enthusiastically. These final days before the 29th promise to be fraught for the President and the Republican Congress as they bicker over what priorities, if any, to try to jam through.

Starting with an impossibly momentous Day 1, this initial three-plus months was the gift box into which Candidate, President-Elect, and Rookie President Trump shoveled his promises to his base. A couple weeks before the election, he released a document titled, “Donald Trump’s Contract with the American Voter,” which touted 60 promises in a “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again.” The fact that only a small handful of these promises have been kept or even look promising by now has been met by Trump with characteristic humility and equanimity. Ha, just kidding. Met, that is, with a characteristic tweet:

No, nothing unexpected here. But, the coming week could be an opportunity to recalibrate our perspective after three months and focus on the things that make this administration a unique threat.

Whether he is now downplaying the 100 day mark, Trump & staff, along with Congress, will be very active this week. Revive the House healthcare bill? Tax reform legislation, i.e. tax cuts for guess who? Allow the government to shut down? Should be some interesting debate about funding that wall.

So, while they are trying to sort that out, the rest of us could be doing some sorting of our own. First off, is it fair to say that Trump is a threat to our democracy? After all, neither side typically likes most of the policies of the opposing party. But even Richard Nixon does not hold a candle to Trump in matters of the truth, ethics and conflicts of interest, ignorance in public and foreign policy, and more.

A shorthand method I’m using to test my own view of the Trump threat is to read what conservative writers have to say about it. We get the impression from Trump’s base and most of the polarized, paralyzed DC Republican delegation that they are OK with him. But, listen to or read some of those on the right and a different picture emerges. Just a few that I appreciate are David Brooks and Russ Douthat in the NY Times, David Frum of the Atlantic, George Will of the Washington Post, and Stephen Hayes, editor of the Weekly Standard.

By now, we are recognizing that the frenetic and often chaotic jumble of news and pronouncements are likely to be a hallmark of these next four years. Trump’s obvious strategy is to keep the noise at a level and timing to distract from the things that deserve our attention and resistance. We need first to identify what issues matter, focus on those, and let all the noise go, regardless of how outrageous it might be.

Commemorating the 100 days, this blog is going to try to follow its own advice this week with a series of posts. As one of our favorite cable commentators says, “Watch this space.”

*Note: The use of French in the first paragraph above was prompted by a couple of things. As you may already know, the “first 100 days” standard traces back to Napoleon Bonaparte, who left Elba, raised an army, and waged an extensive military campaign before being defeated at Waterloo, all in less than four months. The other thing was today’s French presidential election, where Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen emerged to qualify for the runoff on May 7. Gardez les doigts croisés.

Hillary Clinton Campaign: From the Ship of State to the Titanic

Book cover- Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign
Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

There was a book discussion in our house today. Not about a book we read, but about whether we wanted to read it. We had both seen a review  of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign. Human nature being what it is and our being, you know, human, we are reluctant to resurrect a nightmare. There would for sure have to be a damn good reason, some obvious benefit to the Trump here and now.

I may yet reconsider, but the book review did not quite convince me to jump into 464 pages of masochism. I found enough ballast in the summary alone to ground a good mood. Nonetheless, it did make me realize a few things that help make sense of the illogical election of Trump and the inexorable incompetence of his administration.

The authors, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, are journalists who spent 18 months covering Hillary’s campaign. They couldn’t reconcile all they observed with the fact that Hilary was favored to win. The premise of their book is that the notion she could lose to Trump was so unthinkable it allowed the authors, the Clinton campaign, and most of the country to underestimate the red flags, the evidence of dysfunction, and obvious strategic blunders that permeated the campaign and its staff. It was only when it ended in defeat that everything fell into place and made sense.

It is also hard to reconcile the candidate of 2016 with the retiring Secretary of State of 2013. The Wall Street Journal, citing the WSJ/NBC News poll, reported her leaving the post with a 69% approval rating against just 25% disapproval. They called her “an overwhelmingly popular figure on the national stage” and the early favorite for the 2016 presidential candidate.

She was viewed very differently by 2016 however. There had been relentless and effective efforts from the right to tarnish her image. But Hillary had been a cooperative target, being responsible herself for choosing to use the private email server, involvement in dubious activities of the Clinton Foundation, and giving speeches to Wall Street banks. She could not “cast herself as anything but a lifelong insider when so much of the country had lost faith in its institutions.”

From the time she announced her candidacy, the book recounts a mind-boggling number of missteps and fatal flaws by the candidate and within her organization. The campaign is the doomed Titanic headed for the iceberg, speeded along by the Comey and Russian tailwind.

But, I don’t buy it. In spite of a ledger full of negatives, Hillary’s was not a doomed campaign. Far from being destined to fail, losing to Donald Trump required a perfect storm of self-inflicted wounds and externally-imposed calamities. The margin of votes was so thin in the three states that gave Trump the electoral college victory, eliminating just one or two items from the ledger would probably have reversed the outcome.

Hillary has the temperament, experience and capability that Trump lacks to be an excellent President. But she was an epically horrible candidate. Shattered, or in my case the Cliff Notes, thoroughly chronicles a “shockingly inept” and “soul-crushing” campaign. That, along with Comey and Russia, is what it took to allow someone like Donald Trump to become President. This election was not won. It was lost. Trump was not given a mandate, he was given the presidency.

Well, that is cold comfort, to be sure. But perhaps the take away is this: we need better candidates. Both parties have a duty to improve their development of capable, honest leaders and to reform their selection processes. That shouldn’t seem as hard as it does.

A Health Care-ol, With Apologies to Charles Dickens

Donald Trump glanced at his watch as he passed through the cordoned-off press corps gathered to hurl questions at him as he hurried to Marine One.

“Mr. President! Are you serious about your threat to withhold health care subsidies as a bargaining chip with Democrats?”

“Didn’t you read my book? There’s a whole chapter about bargaining chips in Art of the Deal,” he called over his left shoulder as he picked up the pace. “It’s great. It’s incredibly, incredibly, um, great!”

“Mr. President! Aren’t you afraid you might lose again if you go back to healthcare negotiations so soon?”

Trump immediately stopped and turned away from the waiting helicopter on the lawn to glower at the reporter. “Lose? Lose?! I never lose! Losing is for losers and I am a winner! If I weren’t so amazing, people would get bored with all my winning. It was the Democrats’ fault Ryan had to pull the bill. And the more I’ve thought about it, Ryan’s a loser. So’s the Freedom Caucus. And so’s the Republican Party. I’m getting the picture, now, see? I’m going to have to take care of that mess on my own. I’ll have the Democrats doing whatever I want on health care. You really gotta read my book.”

The President held up both arms to stop the shouted questions. “That’s it. I have to get down to Mar a Lago if I’m going to make my tee time.” He took a couple steps, caught himself, and turned back. “Yeah, I’m meeting a world leader, a really really important big name leader, and we’re gonna to meet over tea and take care of some really important business. It’s gonna be great. Gotta go!”

Barry’s Ghost

When Donald Trump collapsed on his bed that night, his mind was spinning. He wasn’t thinking anything, his mind was just spinning. Suddenly, he sat bolt upright as a loud banging noise grew closer outside his door. Before he could get up to look, he realized he was not alone. A shimmering apparition hovered in the middle of the room. Trump nearly screamed when he recognized Barack Obama.

“Hello Donald,” the former President said with a transparent trademark smile.

“I heard you coming down the hall. How did you get in here, Obama?”

“Nah,” Obama chuckled. “That was just housekeeping dragging a ladder. Who were you expecting, Marley’s ghost?”

“Huh?” Trump looked puzzled.

“Never mind, Donald. I forgot. It was in a book. No, I’m no ghost. Don’t you think the FBI would have told you if I had died?” Obama saw Trump’s expression. “Hmm, you’re right. Maybe not. Anyway man, when you retire from the presidency, they give you some crazy cool gifts. The CIA gave me a prototype of this transporter they’ve been working on. Don’t need no Scotty, man, I can beam myself wherever! It will be really terrific when they get it perfected and I can get there as my regular self, instead of this weird hologram.

“Now, listen Donald,” the ex-President said, getting down to business. “I’m here to give you a heads up. I’m not the only visitor you’re getting tonight.”

Trump looked worried. “Wait a second, are going to tell me that three spirits are going to visit me tonight?”

“So you did read it,” Obama said with surprise.

“Pfff,” Trump scoffed. “I saw it on TV.”

Obama shook his head. “Yeah, well, you’ve got the idea. But, whattaya expect? You’re not only messin’ with the lives of millions of people, you’re gonna screw up my legacy. Now, before sunrise, three friends of mine are gonna show up and give you a little TLIC.”

“You mean TLC,” Trump said distractedly.

“No. TLIC,” Obama said and he started to laugh. “Time for a Little Intensive Care!” 44’s famous cackle echoed in the room for several seconds after his hologram dissolved.

The Spirit of Health Care Past

It was no hologram that materialized an hour or so later. Trump could immediately sense a supernatural presence, in that the wind blew through the closed window and a white-coated figure completed several aerial laps before screeching to a stop, suspended about three feet in front of and above the seated President, who sent off his Tweet before looking up.

“Hey, Marcus Welby M.D.?! I loved your show!” Continue reading “A Health Care-ol, With Apologies to Charles Dickens”

Aging and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Best Is Yet to Be

John Goodenough, age 94, example of aging and self-fulfilling prophecy
John Goodenough, who at 94 has filed a patent application on a new kind of battery. Credit Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

An article on aging caught my eye the other day and now it will not leave me alone. To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old, by the NY Times’s Pagan Kennedy, tells the story of John Goodenough and it is clear his name sells him short. He is a physicist who, at 57, was the co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery. He has recently filed a patent application for a new battery that promises to “be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles.” I immediately thought of a connection between aging and self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ms. Kennedy suggests that Goodenough is an example of how creativity and cognition can increase, rather than decrease, with age. He is able to draw upon a lifetime spent building a foundation of knowledge and experience.

The article makes much of the tendency in the business world and in our culture to favor youth and of the many biases expressed in agism. This is the part that I keep returning to. We Boomers, like generations before us, are subject to the debilitating effects of age discrimination. Here is a cause worth fighting for! Where should we direct our protests? Our demands for reform? Here’s a clue:

Pogo enemy cartoon related to aging and self-fulfilling prophecy

Like many couples after retirement, Ann and I have occasionally considered the conventional wisdom of moving somewhere that we can “age in place.” Single floor home, few if any stairs, appropriate height counters for a wheelchair, no shower ledge to step over, grab bars all over the bathrooms, etc. Of course we don’t need those things yet. The “wisdom” is that by the time we do actually need them, we will be comfortable in this new home and not need to face the trauma to our diminished faculties of moving.

In other words, our final years will be marked by infirmity. And all the time between now and then will be spent anticipating those final years. I would like to suggest a more fitting name for “aging in place.” Planned obsolescence. Well, we have other plans.

Recently our next door neighbors of many years moved into a new assisted living apartment in town. A mild stroke for him and a fall by her announced their readiness to their children. They are in their mid to late 80s, but they never seemed to realize it. I could hold my own with him on a tennis court, but by the time I remembered I couldn’t take it easy on him whenever we played Pickleball, he would pick it up a notch and beat me. He was notorious at the gym for lifting weights with his shirt off, and still looking good. She is full of energy and mischievous wit. We roared at her tales of the cross-country car-camping trip they took just four years ago.

Sure, many of us will, or already do, face health issues that no amount of prevention or positive thinking are going to help us avoid. But except for those circumstances, the evidence is mounting that we all have the option and means of increasing the quantity, but especially the quality and vitality, of our remaining years.

Aging and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Choose your future

My career in education gave me ample opportunities to observe the power of self-fulfilling prophecy on young learners, the contrast between children of similar intelligence who had internalized the powerful messages either that they were capable or that they were not. Research studies quantified the sometimes astounding role it plays in student success or failure. What does that have to do with us?

It turns out we are no different when we age.

I found this fascinating 2015 Irish study, Negative Perceptions of Aging and Decline in Walking Speed: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. One of the first things they did was divide the 4800 participants into two groups and primed one group with all these negative stereotypes about aging. (Or ageing, as spelled in Great Britain.) That group demonstrated immediate declines in objective walking speed.

Next, they addressed the longer term effects of that kind of negative attitude. The participants completed a questionnaire rating their level of agreement with statements of attitude about aging. After 2 years, walking speeds were measured and compared with their initial speeds and categorized by their questionnaire results.

Participants (average age 62.8) who remained in good health over the 2 years, but had indicated a “strong belief in a lack of control and in negative consequences as a result of aging” had a significant decline in their walking speed. What to make of this? Decline in walking speed is an important indicator of deteriorating health outcomes, including earlier death.

And, this study suggests, improving one’s outlook about aging should have the effect of slowing one’s rate of physical decline.

Applying common sense can lead to a similar conclusion. Someone who believes that painful, inflexible joints and poor balance are a normal part of getting older is more likely to exercise less, rather than differently, as those conditions inevitably get worse. Someone who believes it is natural to gain weight as one gets older is less likely to try to maintain a healthy weight.

The famous Nun study suggests that even the fearsome impact of Alzheimers can been blunted for some by a physically and mentally active and healthy lifestyle.

Other great examples of the power of our perceptions are in the CNN report, 5 Powerful Benefits of ‘Pro-Aging’ Thinking. Our attitudes and beliefs about aging can make positive differences in our behaviors, our thinking, and even on our immune system.

Aging and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Youth Shows But Half

So, perhaps you accept that it is in our power to make our final chapters happier and more robust than they might be otherwise. But, implied at the outset was that the conclusion of each of our stories has the potential not just for a happy ending, but for apotheosis, a culmination. How is that possible?

In our society, so much of our identity and self-worth is tied to our careers. I am a teacher. You are a doctor. You are a welder. You are a (fill in the blank.) When we retire, we find ourselves untethered. Adrift. Not many of us will be like John Goodenough, able to work in the same field into our nineties. The natural impulse is to assume and accept that the most valuable part of our lives is over.

I made a choice a few months ago, without fully understanding it, to believe that I had not lived the best part of my life yet. I don’t expect any patents in my future, but I do expect there is much still to be built on my own foundation. I expect that of each of us.

GROW old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

-Robert Browning

In Praise of the Viewer-in-Chief

The images from Syria of children and other townspeople gasping for breath, dead or dying from the sarin bombs dropped by their own government, filled our screens and shocked our sensibilities. Essentially no different than the normal carnage inflicted by this evil dictator, yet still somehow beyond the pale.

Another difference: the Viewer-in-Chief is now a man whose reality seems to be most formed by what is broadcast through the screen.  Seeing the aftermath of this particular attack  might have genuinely affected him. Within hours, plans were underway for a military response that would leave talking heads spinning all weekend. A fundamental campaign stance of candidate Trump– nonintervention for America First– was left up in the airwaves as the President appears to have switched channels.

Whether we are witnessing the initial days of a new, well thought out strategy (unlikely), or we are trapped in a weird remake of the film, “Wag the Dog” (whimsical), or this is the foreign policy analog to making 4 AM tweets or other pronouncements based on last night’s Fox news commentary (hmmm), the Friday airstrike against Syria was significant. And, I have to say, welcome.

I’ve heard and read enough on this the past three days to appreciate a few things, starting with the consensus that a solution in Syria remains difficult and incredibly complicated. While the violence seems all-consuming, that solution will have to be political rather than military. Russia will be key and must be persuaded or coerced into helping. The United States cannot accomplish this unilaterally.

What was accomplished on Friday was getting the world’s attention. I liked how someone put it this morning. The sheriff walked in and fired his pistol in the air. That stopped the action, in this case very likely no more gas attacks in the near future. Now, everyone is looking to see what Trump will do next. Will National Security Advisor McMaster or Secretary of Defense Mattis prevail on the President to allow for smart strategic planning, follow up, and diplomacy? Or will something on TV this week set us on some other course?

So, why else was it significant? And why welcome?

The world has watched for six years while Assad has slaughtered 400,000-500,000 of his own people and displaced 5 million more. The world has continued to stand by while Russia has joined and enabled the Syrian butcher. Diplomatic efforts have so far failed.

In Kosovo in 1999, genocide was only stopped when US-led NATO airstrikes were added to the diplomatic efforts. Five years earlier, in Rwanda, there was a UN attempt at peacekeeping, but no military intervention from the West to put a halt to the eventual genocide of an estimated 800,000 people.

This surprising willingness from the new President to use military force against Assad has at least the potential to change the scenario in Syria. It has signaled hope that perhaps other nations will muster the will to stand up for the Syrian people.

I wrote last week that schools teach children to resist bullies by getting help from the adults. But I have to admit, there are times we really want to see, and all cheer when, someone walks up to the bully and just lets him have it.

Nice punch, Mr. President.

 

Boomer Blog v. 2.0

So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don’t sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we’ve satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late. – Lee Iacocca

On my list of things it never occurred to me I would do, quoting Lee Iacocca on my own blog must be fairly near the top. Right after being invited to hear Kareem Abdul Jabbar speak on the Microsoft campus by my son. Thanks, Todd.

But, here I am, about two weeks after starting this thing and already hitting the reset button. Have to admit, I do feel sheepish doing that. But then, much of this endeavor has been outside my comfort zone all along. I love the challenge of the underlying technology and I remain certain that this was the right thing at the right time. But several times I have wanted to pull the plug due to an overwhelming self-consciousness.

Turns out the biggest rock in my shoe was the the blog’s title. Really. As I tried to explain in the post, Why this blog?, “Conscience of a Boomer” referred to the fact that the urge to write was motivated by a desire to address the challenges that seem to await our kids and grandkids and it was coming from my own conscience. Somehow, writing publicly under a banner with the word “conscience” has felt increasingly preachy and pretentious. I’ve been afraid the title makes it easier for a reader to perceive it that way as well, giving the impression I’m trying to speak for a generation rather than just myself.

Whether that has been an issue for anyone else or not, I hope you will notice a subtle difference in future posts. If so, it may be due to the author being a bit less conflicted, sometimes taking a subject seriously, but never himself.

Bonus Quiz

Which of the following quotes are attributed to Lee Iacocca? (Scroll for answers)

    1. We’ve got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?
    2. You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.
    3. If you can find a better car, buy it!
    4. In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.
    5. The one word that makes a good manager – decisiveness. Make that – perseverance. No, decisiveness!

 

 

 

 

Answers:  1, 2, 3, 4.   I was just messing with you with 5.