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.

U.S. Foreign Policy: It’s going to be a bumpy ride

It’s not like no one warned us. It’s not like a majority of us did not believe those who warned us. But we are all passengers on the Trump ship of state now. We are airborne and en route to spots around the globe. The Fasten Seatbelt sign is still on, and the turbulence just keeps getting worse. You have to wonder if there’s anyone in the cockpit who actually knows how to fly this thing!

The warnings came from both halves of the political spectrum, sometimes with great drama and fanfare. (Think Mitt Romney.) One that is resonating with me this week came on August 8, after the Republican convention. It was the public Statement by Former National Security Officials. All fifty former officials, many who served at the highest level, served in Republican administrations from Nixon to George W. Bush. After stating none of them would vote for Trump, it includes these paragraphs:

From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.

In addition, Mr. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding of America’s vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances, and the democratic values on which U.S. foreign policy must be based. At the same time, he persistently compliments our adversaries and threatens our allies and friends. Unlike previous Presidents who had limited experience in foreign affairs, Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself. He continues to display an alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics. Despite his lack of knowledge, Mr. Trump claims that he understands foreign affairs and “knows more about ISIS than the generals do.”

He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander- in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

We are convinced that in the Oval Office, he would be the most reckless President in American history.

We older Boomers grew up with the real threat, nearly an expectation, of nuclear holocaust. The world watched as the testing of atomic and then hydrogen bombs put their awesome destructive power on display. We crawled under our school desks during drills and held our collective breath during the Cuban Missile Crisis, coming even closer to cataclysm than we realized at the time.

The Cold War provided the context and the impetus for a US foreign policy that has weathered and navigated the decades since. No one would claim it has done so perfectly. Far from it. Nonetheless, conflicts have been regional, not global, and we are the country that free nations and those aspiring to democracy have looked to for leadership and support.

In the past 50 years, only Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush have entered the presidency with any significant national security/foreign policy experience. Stability and continuity have been maintained by appointing experienced, capable leaders for departments staffed by career professionals, intelligence officers, and diplomats.

Until now.

The President possesses an unfounded but boundless confidence in himself and trusts others only to the extent that they satisfy his prerequisite of proven loyalty. And, it seems, with that sole dubious qualification satisfied, they are admitted to the inner circle where the real influence and responsibility reside in this administration. The State Department is perhaps the most obvious casualty.

When he was appointed, then confirmed relatively easily, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was widely considered evidence of Trump gathering a well-qualified team. It is still early, sort of, but it would seem Secretary Tillerson would have been a better fit at the CIA. It is possible he is doing good things at State, but he has managed to keep it a closely guarded secret as he avoids not only the press, but his department staff and diplomatic corps as well.

Meanwhile, the State Department has suffered resignations and firings of a large number of senior officers and is facing a potential 30% budget cut. Tillerson was refused his choice for Deputy, the experienced Elliot Abrams, allegedly because Abrams had come out against Trump during the election.

This shrinking of the State Department is inversely proportional to the rapid expansion of the portfolio of wunderkind Jared Kushner, who serves as the prime example of the premium Trump puts on personal loyalty and trust. And the lack of value he attaches to experience.

The ridiculous list of jobs for the 36-year-old Kushner has been delicious fodder for the late night comedians and social media. It may be less amusing for the Cabinet Secretaries who expected they would be responsible for those  things.

There has been so much more in the news just this week about our foreign policy. It is all troubling, but if you have made it to the end of this piece, you have no doubt read much of it yourself already. So I’ll just sum up by saying it’s not just us that are in for a bumpy ride. Leaders and citizens of countries around the world are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to read the mixed signals emanating from the Trump administration.

Would someone go ask the pilot where he’s taking us first: Russia, Mexico, Syria, Iraq, China, or North Korea? Oh, and don’t be surprised if you find he looks like he’s just a kid!


Resisting the Bully

How do you stand up to a bully? In schools, we teach children to find an adult and report the bullying. Then, in an effective school, there are clear rules which are applied to stop the bullying behavior. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for the resistance movement.

Make no mistake. We have a bully in the White House. He has made that clear over and over: in his campaign rallies, in tweets, and recently in person when he threatened Republican (!?) lawmakers who were voting ’No’ on Ryancare. However, the atmosphere in the Capitol is so politicized and the politics so dysfunctional, it is difficult to see where the courage and cooperation will come from to stand up to Trump.

Let’s look instead at the other Washington, which is a hotbed of sanity in contrast. When the first Muslim ban was issued by Executive Order just one week into the new administration, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, state Solicitor Noah Purcell and the rest of the AG’s team were prepared. Their lawsuit was successful in blocking a cynical, cruel, and unconstitutional action, masquerading as an anti-terror measure. Two  separate courts ruled against the administration.

This was a case of the adults dealing with the bully by applying the rules.

It is happening again right now. Seattle, one of numerous so-called sanctuary cities, has been threatened with loss of federal funding if it does not comply with demands from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Justice Department to help round up and detain undocumented immigrants.

Instead, the city announced on Wednesday that it will file a lawsuit against what it is calling an illegal demand and threat. The mayor, city council, and chief of police are united in this response. The adults are confronting the bully with the rule of law.

The LA Times described Donald Trump’s “shocking lack of respect for those fundamental rules and institutions on which our government is based. His contempt for the rule of law and the norms of government are palpable.” This contempt has been on full display in his reaction to Seattle “so-called” Judge Robart who issued the original injunction against the first Muslim ban and in his virulent commentary on the judiciary in his recent rallies.

While this behavior from a sitting President is certainly a danger to our democracy, it is also a vulnerability that could be his undoing. The same disregard for the rule of law that makes him believe he can get away with anything also exposes him to the consequences of breaking the law. His presidency should be consumed in litigation, challenged at every step with public protests and investigations.

A school always hopes to change a child’s bullying behavior. But, with a 70-year old child who has been a confirmed bully for decades, there may eventually be no choice but to expel him.

Exclusive Interview: Bob Dylan ‘Reborn’ After Nobel Prize

The Nobel Academy shocked the world last fall when they announced that the Prize for Literature was being awarded to songwriter, Bob Dylan, the first American to be so honored since Toni Morrison in 1983. That reaction was mild compared to the one that greeted Dylan’s silence following the announcement. After being skewered in both the US and Swedish press for two weeks, Dylan finally released a statement explaining he had simply been rendered speechless and would attend the ceremony to accept the award if possible. But, Patti Smith ended up standing in for him. The saga comes to an end this weekend, as the academy has announced they will hold a small private ceremony with Dylan.

In a rare coup for such a new publication, this blog is able today to report this exclusive behind the scenes story. A set of odd circumstances gave me the opportunity to interview someone with first-hand information about how drastically Bob Dylan’s life has changed since last fall. Speaking on condition of anonymity, because his office is only two doors down from Dylan’s agent, Brian Greenbaum at Creative Artists Agency, and he doesn’t want to lose his job, this person painted a picture of a late life renaissance, a Boomer reborn if you will. (Yes, he was born in ’41, but we gave him honorary status in the 60s.)

The timing of the Nobel announcement was key. “Bob had just received the results from his MyHeritageDNA test.” (Note: my source kept referring to Dylan as Bob, which is mainly what convinced me of the authenticity of the account.) “As a Minnesota native, it should have come as no surprise, but the results indicated he was at least 80% Swedish.” Still, Dylan had spent his entire life believing his family had come from Russia. He was stunned and still processing his newly realized heritage when the Nobel announcement was made.

Although his first impulse had been to question the DNA results, Dylan saw this award as some kind of divine confirmation of his Swedish roots. “How else to explain that he was getting the Nobel Prize for friggin’ Literature?” my source asked reasonably.

Dylan, who was at the end of a tour, immediately went into seclusion to reflect on the revelation. Those close to him were used to this kind of thing, so did not think much of it. The Nobel people, on the other hand were livid. When word of their reaction reached him, Dylan went even deeper into contemplation.

The singer/songwriter is reborn

When he contacted his agent two weeks later, it was with an enthusiasm that had been missing for many years. Dylan had been rereading his autobiography, Chronicles, Vol 1, to review his early life in this new light. One result of this was for him to drop his initial theory that this book was the reason for the Literature prize.

More importantly, though, he now realized his life had been full of foreshadowings pointing to this inevitable cultural rebirth. For example, there was his boyhood best friend who had moved away from Duluth, to the little town of Stockholm, Wisconsin, just east of Minneapolis. He spent many weekends there, and had fond memories of the stacks of paper thin pancakes his friend’s mother made. Also, his early folksinging days in the Village are legendary, but few people realized he lived with friends in a flat across the Brooklyn Bridge on Stockholm Street.

Greenbaum arranged for a private meeting between Dylan and the president of Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter, Minnesota. Dylan proposed that the College, the foremost Swedish language institution in the U.S., immediately begin a project to translate the entire Dylan songbook, nearly 400 songs, into Swedish. In return, the college has received a $10 million contribution to establish the Bob Dylan Chair for Folk/Rock Literature.

There was a brief period when the agency had to push back on their star’s new-found Nordic obsession. Dylan, who refuses to text or use email, had sent them a note, saying he needed to change his name. My source gave me a photocopy, which says:

God dag, Brian. Please have your attorneys start paperwork for a legal name change to Robert Allen Johanneson. You see, I Was Young When I Left Home, and I thought I would be Forever Young. But now I Feel a Change Comin’ On. Who I’ve been up to now, well, It Ain’t Me Babe. Ever since the Nobel Prize, that Simple Twist of Fate, I’ve had the North Country Blues. Then, last week, I was feeling Like a Rolling Stone so I got in my car, man, and it was like Highway 61 Revisted. I drove most the night until I saw the thunderclouds and thought, “Whoa, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” It was a sign, like I’m Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. OK man. Thanks. I mean tak.  Bob

Turns out this is a thing with Dylan. I suggested the note was probably a kind of joke, since it was mostly composed of his song titles. I was assured it is common and he takes it pretty seriously.

They have been stalling him on the name change, but have not been able to dissuade him from insisting on singing in Swedish from now on. The students at Gustavus Adolphus have several dozen songs completed and Dylan has been using a phonetic version of the translations to rehearse for this weekend’s performance at the small Nobel ceremony.

I expressed doubt that this would go over very well, but my source just laughed. “I’ve heard several of the session recordings,” he said. “Mumbling in Swedish doesn’t really sound much different from mumbling in English!”

I need to post this before someone else gets wind of the story. But, I did do some additional research and found there are some “fake news” versions of Dylan’s foray into all things Swedish. I’ve confirmed, for example, that there is no truth to the rumor that he has had a giant dragon tattooed across his back.

On the other hand, watch for an announcement in the coming days about Bob Dylan’s upcoming tour. Starting sometime in June, he and his band will perform free outdoor concerts throughout 14 northern states in IKEA parking lots.

Are we marching against climate change this weekend?

Did you see the headlines Tuesday? Ones like this:

Trump Signs Executive Order Unwinding Obama Climate Policies

Where do we meet to march this weekend? Just kidding of course. Not saying it isn’t a good idea, but climate change, global warming, just isn’t that kind of issue, is it? The breaking news stories are about policies, not people. No climate scientists in detention or being deported, at least yet. No chance that a federal judge will issue an injunction that will put warming on hold until we can get our act together.

Don’t get me wrong. The actions of the administration on climate and against the environment (WTF! Scott Pruitt?!) are aggressive, hostile, and need to be fought.  But the alarm has been sounding on global warming for a couple decades now. While Republicans have found some electoral advantage in joining this century’s Flat Earth Society,  we are in danger of becoming that frog who stays in the slowly heating pot, unaware he’s about to be dinner.

There’s something confounding about the way our human nature is dealing with this issue. Well, not dealing with this issue would be more accurate. When Gallup asked last March how concerned we are about global warming, their poll results looked like this: U.S. Concern About Global Warming at Eight-Year High. So, considered in isolation, people understand rationally that this is something they should be worried about. But, just one week later, Gallup published the results of a ranking poll of a list of problems facing the country and Climate Change came in as just the 12th biggest problem. Out of 13.

Boomers should recognize what’s going on here, because it’s an awful lot like retirement planning. When we were young, there was this big event looming far in our future. People who were experts told us the terrible consequences of not cutting back enough on our spending, of saving and setting our priorities so that our financial environment would be healthy at the end of our lives. Right?

If you had asked us, we’d say, “Sure, I know I need to plan for retirement, and I’m going to.” But, the future need didn’t seem real or pressing, whereas the present needs and wants were damn real. So, many of us just let it slide.

One critical difference is if we failed to act responsibly for our retirement, we were mostly just hurting ourselves. Whereas, the scope and scale of the likely consequences of continued warming are literally global. While there is growing scientific consensus that the present trend toward extreme weather is linked to the changing climate, we Boomers are likely to skip out before it gets truly horrible. The planet we leave behind will be inherited by our children and our grandchildren, and of course so on ad finitum. Yes I know it’s obvious, but before you go on, read that last sentence again and consider it. That’s a nasty little surprise to leave in the will, don’t you think? Sort of like finding the old man left you several million dollars– in debts.

If you have read some of my earlier posts, such as Why This Blog, then you know that this topic is more central to the theme of the blog than the frantic antics of President Whatzisname. It is tempting to hunker down for the duration. It is galling to have to give him so much of our mental bandwidth, but he and his henchmen are doing real damage at breakneck speed and we have to be on our toes rather than our heels.

So, pick your passion. Immigration, health care, education, consumer protections, redistricting, whatever. The list of the values that really make America great that are under attack is long. Focus on something and be an advocate, even an activist.

However, I’m suggesting that we all have to be advocates and activists for the planet. Being thoughtful and intelligent about protecting our home is an intergenerational responsibility that transcends news cycles and even administrations. But perhaps it falls most heavily on us. We Boomers are the first generation who has no right to say about global warming, “But, we did not know.”

More to say. More to do. Maybe even a march someday.


Post Script to my Letter to the President

On Sunday, I wrote a letter to the President, commiserating on his difficult week due to Ryancare and the recalcitrant Republicans. (I haven’t heard back yet. I should probably check my Twitter feed.) Because he was taken aback by how complicated health care policy turned out to be, I helpfully pointed out that there are only three general paths open to us:

  1. Government-funded health care for all.
  2. Repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare for the 35-40% who did not realize they are the same) and return to the market approach pre-ACA.
  3. Keep the ACA in place.

So, I was interested this morning to read David Leonhardt’s column (below) in the not-so-failing-New York Times. He describes essentially the same three options and makes the case that the House and the Administration are unwittingly setting us on path #1.

The nearly universal rejection of the GOP bill made clear there is little interest in returning to the bad old days for those who don’t have employer-provided insurance: either pay through the nose (or whatever ailing body part applies) or just keep your fingers crossed and pray. So, scratch #2.

If my appeal to the President to support #1 somehow fails, in spite of his public promises of better health care for everyone, that will leave #3 by default. But, Leonhardt’s contention is that Tom Price has already begun taking steps to reverse and eliminate provisions of Obamacare. The thing is, though, the provisions that are most vulnerable are the more conservative aspects of the law– remember, the ACA’s gene pool has lots of GOP DNA– those governing the private insurance markets or exchanges. Those most protected from attack are the more liberal, namely those under Medicaid and its expansion.

I cited a 2016 Gallup survey indicating a majority of Americans favor some form of federally-funded universal health care. There are others. And when survey questions are purged of political rhetoric from either side, I believe the results are even more positive. I imagine a fictional phone survey illustrating this might sound something like this:

Question: Do you think we should get rid of the job-killing Obamacare?
Answer: Hell, yes!
Question: Do you think all Americans should have good quality health coverage they can afford?
Answer: Hell, yes!

So if voters like government-provided health care and Republicans are going to undermine private markets, what should Democrats do? When they are next in charge, they should expand government health care.    -David Leonhardt

Sounds good. It’s just that, as John and Paul said, it’s a long and winding road.

Letter to the President re Health Care

Dear Mr. President,

Gosh, it seems you had a tough week. No, wait, don’t look away. I didn’t write to gloat or rub it in. In fact, unlike you, I don’t see every issue or transaction as being about winning vs. losing. So, while I can understand why the demise of Repeal and Replace is being portrayed as a huge political loss, it isn’t automatically a win for opponents.

Don’t get me wrong. You could almost hear the sigh of relief around the country when Paul Ryan announced they didn’t have the votes. You have to admit that’s understandable, since only 17% of American voters approved of the bill. I guess a lot of people started paying attention to the real life implications of what was and wasn’t in it. Turns out the 8 year campaign to repeal Obamacare was very effective, not at getting rid of it, but at confusing people with distortions and misinformation. And hey, you were pretty good at that too, but more on that in a minute. Did you know that as of early this year over a third of Americans did not realize that Obamacare and the Affordable Care act were the same thing? Or that nearly a half did not realize that if Obamacare was repealed it would mean the ACA would disappear? (You might have missed it, since it might not have been mentioned on the channels you watch.)

For that bill to have even 17% support is pretty amazing. I think you need to take some credit. Throughout your campaign, at all those rallies, and in the first two months in office, you have laid out your health care policy: Obamacare is a disaster. I have a plan. It is so great. Insurance for everyone; no cuts to Medicaid; insurance companies can sell across state lines; no one will lose coverage; better coverage for less money. Believe me. No details, but trust me.

A lot of people among that 17% still, even today, believe you. I know. Go ahead and chuckle, but the country is mostly not falling for it. And believe me, the temptation to gloat is great. But, like I said, I don’t see any winners out of this yet.

Obamacare is not imploding, at least not everywhere. States that made good faith efforts to implement the exchanges, to accept and competently administer the Medicaid expansion, and to put the needs of their citizens above politics, have actually succeeded in expanding the number of insured and often at a reduced rate of health care cost growth. States that have refused to accept the ACA’s provisions and make those good faith efforts have generally undermined the Act’s intent and gotten self-fulfilling prophecy results.

My reading of the analyses is that Obamacare won’t implode or explode on its own any time soon. In fact, cooperative, beneficial legislation could save and improve it. However, the opposite will almost certainly cause its demise. You would probably consider that a win. I doubt the 24 million, or whatever the number of millions ends up being, who lose coverage will see it that way.

You seemed genuinely surprised when you announced to the country that health care policy is so complicated. (I hate to break it to you, but it’s no surprise to most of us who have needed to navigate it most of our adult lives.) I think I can simplify something for you. The details of course are incredibly complex. But, our choices of how we, as a country, approach access to medical care can be simply categorized. And there aren’t a lot of choices, which accounts for the impasse you and the House Republicans reached this past week. As laid out in a Gallup Poll last year, here are the three basic options we have:

  1.  Replace the ACA with a federally funded healthcare program that provides insurance for all Americans. (Oddly, this is the only option that fits with your promise of delivering insurance for everyone, and has arguably the best bang for our health care buck. It is also the option that polled highest!)
  2. Repeal the Affordable Care Act. (This gets us back to the market approach that has support from most of your party but not most of the country, with approaching 20% of our fellow citizens uninsured.)
  3. Keep the ACA in place. (This can continue to work in states that want it to work, continue have problems in states whose governors and/or legislatures don’t, and can probably be killed if you choose to sabotage it. And it could probably be improved with a bipartisan effort. No, I’m not trying to be funny.)

You like winning. How about trying to win at something that actually matters? Something that allows everyone to win. How about turning your rhetoric into reality regarding health care? BE a populist, don’t just act a part. Accomplish something really great. Leave a true legacy: universal health care so our children and grandchildren will live in a society where no one lives in that dread and consequence of medical and financial catastrophe.

Will you? Can you? I’m thinking about 0% chance. But, that’s the same chance most of us gave you to become President. So, surprise us again.