Archive for July, 2017


Yesterday’s GOP vote to move their iteration of the healthcare required some last minute dramatics, with arrival of John McCain and a tie-breaking vote by Vice Preside Pence. Senator McCain arrived with thunderous applause and received a presidential tweet calling McCain a hero.

“So great that John McCain is coming back to vote. Brave – American hero! Thank you John.” (President Trump, July 25, 2017).

That tweet counters what Trump stated as a candidate. During a July 2015 event, Trump said McCain “… is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” But yesterday, McCain was a hero once more. And with that vote, McCain saved the GOP healthcare bill via a partisan vote.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough claimed McCain was only moving the bill to debate, that the GOP Healthcare bill faces many steep obstacles. So, in essence, neither the GOP nor Democrats gained from the maneuver. That logic vacates the recent electoral cycle. For instance, no one thought Trump had a chance to win the Republican Primary. Of course, no thought President Trump would actually win the Election. Of course, few thought Betsy DeVose would win confirmation. Of course few thought President Trump would name his daughter and son-in-law as special advisors. And few thought Trump would fire Comey. Etc. Etc. Etc!

As a former veteran, I honor and respect Senator John McCain. I truly believe McCain has been, and always will be, a war hero. However, with surgical scars and all, McCain flew into Washington on wings of an eagle, yet made vociferous speech that ultimately landed a decision like a peck of a hen. Chicken.

McCain will did not vote for “a health care bill.” Rather he favored opening the amendment process. In doing so, he helped enabled the GOP achieve that any sort of measure is passed, tossing reform details to Senate-House conference, that will receive little input from anyone outside G.O.P. leadership.

In all transparency, Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight) tracked and recorded the voting records of all GOP “Mavericks.” McCain has voted along party lines 94% of the time. Turns out McCain is no Maverick. And by casting his vote, McCain moved 20 million American Citizens closer to perilous health care.

In the October – December 2008 Dharma World Magazine, Pinit Ratanakul wrote:

“The Buddhist worldview is holistic and is primarily based on a belief in the interdependence of all phenomena and a correlation between mutually conditioning causes and effects. This belief is formulated by the principle of dependent origination, also referred to as the law of conditionality, the causal nexus that operates in all phenomena–physical, psychological, and moral. Accordingly, whether in the universe, the natural world, or human society, or within oneself, nothing exists as a separate unit but only as an interdependent part of the whole.”

What the GOP and Trump miss is that Americans are interconnected. And dumping 20 million or more into a world of inadequate care means America itself will probably not like the end result. However, maybe Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway is correct, those losing able-bodied citizens losing Medicaid coverage under any proposed GOP health care plan should find a job that provides health insurance.

Fortunately for McCain, he will return to Arizona for treatment – at the Mayo Clinic (Phoenix), a healthcare facility most could never afford. More than likely, McCain’s health care will likely cost him nothing. That fact was not lost on tweeter Alex Morash.

“Thankfully John McCain had access to the best health care in the world so he could get back to DC to vote to rip care away from millions.”

My New Normal

During a late stifling heat soaked summer day, a therapist friend suggested we get out of the house and drive around, take in a few sights and stop for ice cream at a local creamery hotspot upon our return.  Over the course of several hours, our drive included hills and valleys, wineries and riverbeds.  We blazed into and out of the summer sun, through lean tall trees of a not to distant national forest and rows upon rows of summer corn.

Fifteen minutes from home, she started a conversation that quickly nose-dived the afternoon.

“I have a client in her mid-sixties.” she said. “She loves to play with her granddaughter, but her knees started aching. Fearful she would drop and injure her granddaughter, she stopped playing. She went to a physical therapist who found nothing wrong, finding it all imaginary. The grandmother was scared to play, so she created a way not to play.  In other words, it was in her head. What do you think?”

“Why do I need to think about this? I really have no thoughts on the subject.” I replied.

“Well, I was thinking maybe the pain and issues you’re having are really because your scared, that if you change your thinking, you’ll change your fate.”

“Well…” I paused. “Transposing your client’s situation onto me is remarkably rude.”

Over the years, I’ve learned people don’t like unsolved mysteries. It’s true that my body’s battle, including Multiple Sclerosis, Spinal Stenosis and Cardiopulmonary Disease remains unseen to those around me. It’s not that they don’t affect me, I simply choose not to bitch about them while many are completely worse off.

However, my personal choice does not allow one to assume my symptoms are caused by angry spirits, a punishing god, nor like Job who gave up looking for explanations or to be accepted as part of God’s loving plan. Yet without symptoms, without evidence, people tender their thoughts to some undefined psychological problem that is ‘in one’s head‘.

I do believe people can benefit tremendously from psychological counseling and or mental health treatment. I believe people can find tremendous assisting in coping with day-to-day issues, as I have. But patients too often live by too loosely defined subjective and arbitrary judgments of others. It’s an insulting way of saying, “You look healthy, so you must be fine.”

So to all those who arbitrarily decide I am fine, I have a few questions.

What level of proof is adequate to prove my level of pain? How can I make you feel the arbitrariness of life? What will allow you to understand my level of exhaustion? And why should I not feel so sympathetic to others who experience similarly as I?

Contrary to your opinion, many, like me, do not surrender gracefully. We valiantly battle our symptoms and yearn for the days of yesteryear when we lived joyful lives and walking stairs did not seem like an ascent up the Grand Canyon. Some simply long for a good night’s sleep.

To my friend, people like me experience something called a “new normal.” First, it’s not all in our heads. And secondly, my new normal no longer includes assholes.

Into The Streets

All of us are faced with a myriad of decisions. Do this, then that. Do that, then this. Life is full of complicated, often uncharted decisions. How one chooses often makes the difference for so many millions.  This is what the GOP health care bill legislation reminds me of.

As reported by the New York Times, the selected Senators working on the GOP legislation includes Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, John Thune, and John Barrasso. The group also includes three committee chairmen: Mr. Hatch; Senator Lamar Alexander, Senator Michael B. Enzi, Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner, Rob Portman and Patrick J. Toomey. This was an all boys’ club, woman weren’t allowed. No public hearings, no healthcare professionals and zero representation from the insurance industry.

Having worked in healthcare for years, I’m accustomed to seeing an oft-forgotten segment of society, the elderly and ill. Much of this group includes the mentally ill, dementia inflicted, those with Alzheimer’s, cancer patients, and Medicaid/Medicare permanently bound nursing home residents.

As person inflicted with both heart and neck disabilities, I am at peace knowing that for the moment, I’m not on public disability.

For the moment.” For the moment. The words “for the moment” lingers in my soul. I, like nearly sixty-five percent of Americans, will become afflicted by disease so severe that I will be forced to receive care from another. This is not a picture I imagined 30 years ago let alone 5. Like many who experience this, the vitality of life has left for better weather and all that’s left is this old wrinkled soul. It’s a reality almost all I’ve encountered expected.

Elizabeth O’Brien of Time Magazine wrote

When it comes to finding—and financing—long-term care for older loved ones, most families are on their own. And many end up turning to Medicaid when their money runs out. It’s not hard to drain your life savings on nursing home care that runs around $82,000 per year but can go much higher in costlier areas of the country. To qualify for Medicaid for long-term care, applicants need to have depleted most of their resources. Criteria vary by state; in New York, for example, the asset limit is about $14,000, not including a certain amount of home equity.

My healthcare experience included many assisted-living and nursing home facilities. Accordingly, I’ve residents from all walks of life – former professional athletes, teachers, farmers, doctors, lawyers, stay-at-home parents, health aides, stockbrokers, CEOs’, auto mechanics, and laborers. You name a profession, I have seen it. Many entered old age with significant assets but were forced into Medicaid as resources depleted. A combination of longer life spans and spiraling health care costs has left an estimated 64 percent of the Americans in nursing homes dependent on Medicaid.

So what’s the unanswered question? If the GOP bill gets approved, where do all these people go?

To the streets.

IcarusI’ll admit it. Washington’s “Trump-Russia” connection can make engrossing television. Recent disclosures of meetings between Donald Trump, Jr. and Russian backed attorneys reveal the complex world which we live. Media outlets could have focused on the administration’s G20 meetings, healthcare, or any number of items. But the ongoing coverage seems to return to Russian collusion.

I will not overtly condemn Trump Jr. My thoughts are broader and something covered previously. More to the point, in today’s world, there most certainly an electronic copy of our life. And deciding whether to take a suspicious meeting, one must understand who is watching and when will same said information become public.

In 2008, British newspaper The Telegraph noted Britons are recorded approximately 3,000 times a week. In the U.S., license plate readers, public space cameras, store and loyalty cards, phones, television, computer, emails and businesses entered are recorded. Information is complied, stored in some database and retained for years, if not definitely.

Whether the Trump-Russia collusion connection pans out or not. Donald Trump Jr. is not unlike many Americans. Either naivety or the willingness to win at all costs overwhelms the “gut check” common sense demands. I tend to believe the Trump views any all opposition as a perversion that must be pulverized.

And the willingness to pulverize is not unlike the Greek Myth Icarus who flew too close to the sun. It’s the fascination with fire that lead many astray.

Many years ago, I was contacted by a recruiter from a rival nationwide consulting firm. After cursory conversation, the recruiter proposed a well-intentioned employment offer, substantial raise and benefits. Nearing the end of the offer, the recruiter then requested a list of every customer from my current firm and projects being proposed. Stunned for only a minute, I calmly rose, shook the recruiter’s hand and said, “I believe our time has concluded.” Leaving, I was appalled by the recruiter’s audacity and honored by my principles not to engage.

Personally, I chose not to fly that close to the sun. Maybe Trump Jr. accepted the risk. Saint Bernard Clairvaux is attributed to the saying L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs” (hell is full of good wishes or desires). An earlier saying occurs in Virgil’s Aeneid, “facilis descensus averno (the descent to hell is easy).” The commonly used version is “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Many fail to understand the concept of “do no harm.” One ancient text states that “non-harming is the distinguishing characteristic of Buddhism.” Let’s modify this to non-harming is a distinguishing characteristic of good men. For unenlightened Buddhists, the commitment of non-harming is carried in the ethical precepts where non-harming becomes integral to their nature and “delight in harmlessness.”

While the principle of non-harming is a noble one, its application in daily life raises many questions about when such a principle is relevant and in which circumstances it might be discarded.  Is harmlessness an absolute precept for Buddhists?  Does it prohibit any use of violence for the purposes of self-defense or when it can prevent a greater harm? Does harm mean only physical violence?

Even if violence is prohibited, the principle of acting out of hatred, anger or envy is. And looking at the current state of politics, the very nature of acting in hatred (regardless of party) is very transparent. Accordingly, acting out of hatred, anger or envy is common in daily events.

Christ stated that one sins simply by thinking. Meaning if one thinks of adultery, then adultery has been committed. As a Buddhist, we are instructed to become better by abstention of evil actions, speech, and intentions. If we don’t, I am sure emails, video and other information will humble even the most arrogant. Maybe that’s the humbling lesson Trump Jr. is learning.

If I had simply abstained through my walk, I would have been a much better person, in both life and love. But I wasn’t. And like Icarus, I died a thousand deaths in the Sea of Humility.

Hopefully, you will not.

In a July 10, 2017 Wall Street Journal Letter to the Editor, a reader commented:

Regarding Holman Jenkins’s “Seattle Aims at McDonald’s, Hits Workers” (Business World, July 1): At last, someone finally said it. It’s the people who work at McDonald’s today, not the “greedy corporation” nor our “unfair society,” who limit pay because they aren’t worth $15 in many cases. To earn $15 you must create a good bit more than $15 worth of value for your employer to cover the cost of Social Security, workers’ comp, your training, business and property taxes, capital investment, rent, and any other benefits such as paid vacation. This isn’t greed, it’s a fact of survival for any business.

The crux of Mr. Jenkins article is that as labor costs rise, industries would likely replace workers with automation, but it would still create jobs at $15 an hour for people whose productivity can justify $15 an hour. “The people who work at McDonald’s today, typically, would already be earning $15 an hour somewhere else if their productivity could justify $15 an hour.” I believe the essence of the reader’s argument was that most fast-food workers could not justify their value worthy of a $15 per hour salary.

So a question for the reader. In commenting that one has to create a good bit more worth of value for your employer, let’s review Yahoo’s former CEO Marissa Mayer. Did Yahoo receive more value from Marissa Mayer than earned through salary?

When a withered Yahoo was vacuumed up by Verizon Communications, the transaction completed a five-year tenure for Yahoo’s chief executive, Marissa Mayer. During those five years, Mayer gobbled up almost a quarter of a billion dollars in compensation while simultaneously presiding over Yahoo’s demise. Through her leadership, Yahoo ended up so weakened it was forced to sell.

Letter to the Editor supporters could justifiably note Yahoo’s stock was $15.65 the day Mayer started and ended at $50.60. As such, this would be a no-brainer victory for those claiming Mayer had indeed brought tremendous value. But Yahoo benefactors were mostly stockholders, not the average bread-and-butter workers and contractor eliminated in post-merger alignment. Thousands of jobs cut. Eh. Just a byline to broader stockholder value. For these workers, Mayer empowered nothing but shit, including months of pain, anguish and mental stress.

So was Mayer’s leadership worth a quarter billion? An article in Variety offers a different perspective.

“… as Yahoo’s finances have continued to deteriorate, it has become apparent that Mayer has wasted time and money with a lack of cohesive vision and a mercurial micromanagement style that paralyzed growth opportunities, according to former employees and industry execs.

As one shareholder wonders: “What the f— has Marissa Mayer been doing for the last three-plus years?””

Mayer also gifted additional value to 1.5 billion breached Yahoo users. Call it a “value-base security awareness” reminder to reset passwords and check credit reports. Surely, the “Letter to the Editor” writer would note this was damn good value. And let’s not forget the secretly built custom software program Yahoo used to search user emails for specific information provided by US intelligence officials. Proponents should surely claim the additional safety value for Americans nationwide.

Seriously? “Value?” By whose standards?

According to the Economic Policy Institute, U.S. CEOs earn an average of 300 times more than their workers. Fifty years ago, the ratio was closer to 20-to-1. Yet, management continues to bemoan employees who want such luxuries as a living wage, to send their children to a decent school, a decent place to live and some form of health benefits. In truth, many CEOs empower themselves while simultaneously devaluing regular every day workers. And sometimes, CEOs’ get help.

Many times, state legislatures will openly assist in “de-valuement” (yes I know this is not technically a word). Take Missouri. Rather than just bemoan St. Louis’ $10 per hour minimum wage, Missouri state legislators forced St. Louis businesses to reduce any hourly salaries above the state minimum wage of $7.70 back to $7.70. For all you boys and girls following along at home, that’s a net decrease of 23%.

Here’s the back story. In 2015, St. Louis city council passed an ordinance raising the minimum wage to $10 while raising it to $11 in January 2018. This led to a legal battle that wound up in the Missouri Supreme Court. The city won. However, Missouri’s Republican governor said the St. Louis ordinance would “… kill jobs, and despite what you hear from liberals, it will take money out of people’s pockets.”

Damn those fricking liberals. They provide no value.

So Missouri state legislators cut a deal to appease business special interests and supporters and rolled back hourly wages to state minimum wage of $7.70. Strange … Missouri’s Republican governor did not sign a law limiting executive pay packages for those like Mayer.

In reality, there are no easy answers to the CEO/employee pay disparity and the value of a worker. Is Mayer wrong? Was Yahoo wrong for paying such an outrageous sum? Not sure either way. What I do understand is that there will always be money in any complex society. Yet, we need to have some kind of system for measuring how we consume, produce, and share. And any human who wants to pay the rent has to learn the rules of budgeting. I get all of that.

What’s not thought of is how money itself interconnects the world. The Buddhist in me thinks about how money connects you to other people. From a Buddhist standpoint, you should think about how to use money to not only empower yourself, but others as well. We can be awakened, but unless you’re like Ms. Mayer, everyone has to make a living. The real question is could have Mayer empowered her employees to become better? How could McDonalds? Lastly, how can you empower the babysitter, the gardener, the hairstylist, your children?

Life is not about “my power,” it’s about “empower.”

Defining a Winner

By the time the first inning was over, everyone hoped the All-Star was here. In the ten run first, Cubs pitcher Jon Lester managed only two outs before being mercifully pulled. Is there any good news? Yes. Lester still made $781,000 plus change for the day. At season’s halfway point, the Chicago Cubs are 43 – 45, with little chance of repeating anything but mediocrity.

Twenty-five years ago, former Indiana University Coach Bobby Knight told an audience of automotive executives that getting to the top of one’s profession is hard. Staying at the top is extremely hard. At this point, Cub fans count their blessings that players can even find the locker room.

In 2013, Chicago Tribune columnist K.C. Johnson wrote:

“Ask any player or coach who has been part of a repeat championship season — or, to even a greater degree, a three-peat — and this answer is obvious: Getting on top is hard. Staying there is even harder.

Forget the cliché of how once a team wins a title, it always gets the other team’s best shot — although this cliché is somewhat true. It’s more the cumulative wear and tear of playing so many games the previous season and having to do it all over again.

Plus, a first championship season for a talented team often has a feel of inevitability to it. Think Detroit Pistons breaking through the Boston Celtics’ stranglehold or the Chicago Bulls finally solving the Pistons.

But repeating is a different story. It takes continuity on a roster, perseverance through adversity and talent — lots and lots of talent. Repeating has been in fashion since the Lakers did so in 1988. The Pistons, Bulls (twice), Rockets and Lakers (twice more) have accomplished it since.”

The Chicago Cubs look like a vacationing family traveling without Google Maps. They demonstrated an absence of perseverance that propelled their World Series run a season ago. Even Lester appeared unable to muster any amount of urgency, even to pick up the baseball fumbled by Contreras behind home plate.

Yet, from Cubbie misery cometh life lessons.

First, whether one struggles in marriage, experiences poor work situations, declining health, or has a struggling child, you need to remain consistent. Persevering through adversity is the key to continued success. One cannot succeed in life by simply going through the motions.

Secondly, find some level of joy. In his book “The Inner Game of Tennis,” Tim Gallwey wrote “What is the real game? It is a game in which the heart is entertained, the game in which you are entertained. It is the game you will win.” One has to wonder if the Cubs experience entertainment from baseball. Maybe. Then again, their play screams maybe not. More importantly, how are your life experiences?

Third, lose yourself to the “zone.” For me, being a Buddhist meant I had to lose my edge. Intensifying concentration freed limitations and allows the spirit to soar. Soaring created a self-surpassing dimension of human experience recognized by the world, regardless of culture, gender, race, or nationality that promotes highly efficient performance, emotional buoyancy, heightened sense of mastery, lack of self-consciousness, and transcendence. Athletes phrase this as “being in the zone.” Coworkers call it “being in the flow.”

The Cubs misery reiterates that true success is not a one-time event. Winners in daily life do not require salaries of $700,000, yell at one another, or place personal absolution over others. Real winners find the required combination of personal commitment to succeed. This type of effort involves sustained discipline, practice, and energy output day after day, year after year.

As such, in your life are you in your own flow? Or are you simply going through the motions?

As I write, I remember the insightful words provided to my niece and nephew. “In the world of Twitter and blogs, almost everything you do can be tracked. In fact, you are tracked.” Yeah, of course there are methods that help anominity. Incognito web browsers, hidden VPN services, fake email addresses, hidden websites, etc., etc. Still at the end of the day, given the right amount of resources, some blind luck and time, writers, bloggers and others can be identified.

This past week, a CNN reporter used details of user’s Reddit account to crack his real-life identity. After CNN contacted the user using the blog name “HanAssholeSolo,” he became remorseful and published an apology on same site.

Two things of note. First, the apology,

“I am in no way this kind of person. I was trolling and posting things to get a reaction. I love and accept people of all walks of life. I would never support any kind of violence.”

Second, CNN stated they reserved the right to expose the blogger should the blogger begin reposting vile and hatred.

To the first, we really don’t know if this user actually accepts people from all walks of life. One can always present an outward appearance of love and harmony, yet it is in the shadows of life, where one is unseen, that demonstrates whether life is lived through principles of a higher calling. Are we to believe a principled man would write such vile? At the moment, it appears unverified.

To the second. CNN’s response drew swift condemnation as outright blackmail, in that withholding the user’s identity was a form of blackmail and thus led to further condemnation by various bloggers. Blogger “Weev” wrote that unless CNN staff personnel and reporters resign and denounce the network’s acts of blackmail, both CNN employees and family members are fair game. (Ironically, “Weev” fails to note his own use of blackmail.)

Moving forward, both CNN and the blogger missed an essential lesson. The “Butterfly Effect.” Had the first act (that of the blogger) not occurred, neither would have the second. Yet, just as referees misses flagging an act of unsportsmanlike conduct, the retaliatory offender almost always gets punished while the initiator remains relatively unchallenged. Accordingly, had CNN not responded sophomorically, the third act, CNN’s alleged complicity in potential blackmail and twitter condemnation would not have occurred.

So let’s propose an alternate view. In Buddhism, “ethics” or “morals” generally refer to three components of the eightfold path: “right speech,” “right action” (in which taking life is discouraged), and “right livelihood.” In essence, our actions and non-actions have consequences.

If the blogger had proposed his opposition to the news media in both right speech and right action, CNN would never be accused of blackmail. I agree that all Americans have the right to free speech, even assholes. Accordingly, the blogger has a right to free speech, but in American, does free speech require hidden identities, fake names, and insistence that one’s opinion is not reflective of overall character?

Criticism of both the news media and the government is an American right. However, that criticism should be performed in right speech and action. Political commentators fail to remember that both the government and news is neither completely wrong nor right. Both have positives and negatives.

Accordingly, the free speech we use should propel all people to a new level of honesty and integrity. And that my friends is what CNN and the blogger may have missed.

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