Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Lesson Learned From Ted Kennedy

The year is 1982. Ronald Reagan is in the second year of his first term as President of the United States. Terrell Bell, a Utah Republican and a Mormon, is the Secretary of Education. Charles Manatt, a Los Angeles lawyer and life long Democrat is the Chairman of the DNC. The National Council of La Raza, "the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States", is in its 14th year of existence. Ted Kennedy is two years into his 4th term as a US Senator from Massachusetts. “The Sage” is married to his first wife, a naturalized US citizen born in Havana, Cuba, and the two of us are enjoying high-profile national reputations in our chosen careers; she in education and I in banking. We each make frequent trips to DC as “citizen lobbyists” on behalf of our professions.

In late summer of 1982 Terrell Bell at the urging of his Under Secretary of Education, Jesse Soriano, nominates my (then) wife to be the Vice-Chair of a prestigious national education organization. It is a White House appointment and, if confirmed, she will be sworn in at a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House. The appointment looks like it should be a slam-dunk for a 34 year old Cuban-American woman who, along with her mother, had fled Castro’s wrath just 21 years prior. And it was “on track for confirmation” until “La Raza” got wind of the nomination and began a two pronged campaign; one to pressure Secretary Bell and the other to personally harass my wife. Her “lack of qualification” according to “La Raza” really boiled down to the fact that she was a Cuban and not a “chicana” (a person of Mexican descent). She was the “wrong kind of Hispanic” they complained. She took it personally. I knew it was politics at its nastiest and had to be dealt with politically.

I had met Charles Manatt, the founder of the prestigious LA firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, several years before while doing some consulting work for a bank in which he was involved as a shareholder and Director. We worked well together and resolved the bank’s issues quickly and without regulatory intervention. A pragmatic and practical man, Chuck Manatt has always known that you need “friends in both camps” in order to play the game of politics effectively; a lesson I too had learned early on. As a result he was only too glad to see me and my spouse on short notice during a hastily arranged trip to DC. We met in his office at the DNC- -the office Howard Dean occupies today- -and told him the situation as quickly and as succinctly as possible noting the incidents of harassment and personal attacks. Manatt knew immediately who among the senior party members had the clout to rein in "La Raza". He picked up the phone and in 30 seconds Ted Kennedy was on the speakerphone.

Manatt explained the situation stating that I, "even though a Republican," was a friend he could "rely on and trust". And after some polite conversation Senator Kennedy finally asked me straight out who my “friends” were. I knew what that question meant in that town and had enough sense to name one Democrat, US Representative Les AuCoin and one Republican, Senator Bob Packwood. Both were actually friends of mine and friends with Kennedy as well. (Rumor had it that Kennedy and Packwood attended the same AA meetings in DC). Kennedy promised to help and after 15 minutes the call was over.

Two days later she got a personal apology from the Chairman of “La Raza” who was stunned that she had enough “clout” to get Senator Kennedy to intervene. Her nomination sailed through without further objection from any Hispanic organizations.

Why is "The Sage” telling you this? Because it illustrates three important points:

1. The hypocrisy of La Raza when they claim to represent the interests of all Hispanics. (The topic of a future post.)

2. The way “politics” works in the US, and

3. The uncanny ability of Ted Kennedy to know when to do a political favor and create an “I.O.U” (Which he and Manatt called in from me- - big time- - 2 years later during an Oregon gubernatorial race.)

I also tell you this to let you know that as a Conservative I was diametrically opposed to almost all of Ted Kennedy’s political beliefs. In fact, I didn't agree with his politics about 99% of the time but, I did admire his unwaivering comittment to his beliefs and to working behind the scenes to get things done. And while there were times he made me extremely angry I know- -and firmly believe- - that if a real political dichotomy is to continue to exist in our beloved nation there will always need to be a voice like Ted Kennedy’s, if for no other reason than to keep Conservatives from losing focus on our own values and becoming complacent. There is no Democrat at present who can immediately fill his shoes and be that voice. It sould be interesting to see who will "grow" into it.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who Will the Left Seek to Silence Next?

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

This quote from Act 3 Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” has been associated throughout history with many people who, after doing a lifetime of good, are most often remembered for the one or two things they may have done wrong. Most recently Don Imus comes to mind. Imus, an irreverent radio and TV talk show host with conservative leanings, made one politically incorrect comment about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team and was fired by CBS after intense pressure from the Left. The fact that Imus had for years self-funded a working cowboy ranch for cancer-stricken children, supported numerous other charities and was noted for helping folks who were just simply down on their luck meant nothing. The only thing that mattered to the Left- -Liberals and Progressives- -was the one intemperate comment he made and the opportunity to silence a dissenting voice, not his good acts and deeds. And, if the Left has its way the next victim of their organized silencing campaign will be John Mackey the CEO of “Whole Foods, Inc” the small grocery chain known for selling organic and natural foods. Mackey’s “evil”? Criticizing ‘ObamaCare’ in an August 11, 2009 editorial in the Wall Street Journal was Mackey’s ‘crime’.

At a time when the Left keeps asking critics of ObamaCare to come up with a better plan Mackey did just that. In the editorial Mackey carefully outlined 8 reforms that if enacted, he argued, will “greatly lower the cost of health care for everyone.” But in so doing Mackey called for equalization of tax laws regarding healthcare deductibility, repeal of state laws preventing insurance companies from doing business across state lines and tort reform- -reining in the large jury awards that add to the cost of health care. The fact that Mackey is correct matters little to the Left. The only thing that matters to Liberals and Progressives is that Mackey is out of lockstep with the Democrat Party line and is, therefore, a political heretic worthy of being figuratively burned at the stake. “Boycott!” they screamed by the thousands on Facebook and Twitter and the picket lines went up at Whole Foods Markets in Washington DC, Maryland, New York and Texas. Forget the good he and the company he heads may have done. And there is a lot of good to talk about.

In addition to its commitment to selling organic and natural foods, the company under Mackey’s leadership has empowered individual stores to buy from local farmers and growers thus helping local economies and helping to assure freshness of the meats and vegetables sold in each store. Under Mackey’s tenure the company adopted a policy of paying 100% of the health care premiums for all employees working 30 hours or more a week- -about 90% of the company. In addition the company provides up to $1,800 a year into “Personal Wellness Accounts” for each employee to spend as they choose for their own healthcare. Sounds like an egalitarian dream doesn’t it.

Yet all the Left cares about is that Mackey dared to question BHO’s plan for health care reform. Mark Federici, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) said, “Mackey’s views are totally at odds with those of the company- -he has to go!” Then playwright and noted Progressive, Mark Rosenthal, who was one of the instigators of the boycott said this: “I read the article and it stunned me, the hubris of this man who made his millions selling his products to Progressives in America based on an image of caring for the community.” Talk about ‘hubris’ here are two guys who appear to be pretty damn smug when it comes to Mackey and the company he founded in 1980.

It’s Mackey’s company built on Mackey’s vision and Mackey’s core values. Yet somehow the UFCW has a better sense of the company’s views than Mackey himself does? Outrageous! And Rosenthal marginalizing Mackey’s good works by making reference to an “image of caring” as though he intuitively knows that Mackey is a fraud? Arrogant beyond belief. But, this is nothing new. It’s what we’ve come to expect from Liberals and Progressives.

We expect the folks on the Left to do their best to stifle free speech and dissent. The ACLU has done its best to gag the “religious right” under the dictum of “separation of church and state”. Now they are taking aim at silencing Conservative talk radio by use of the so-called ‘fairness doctrine’. And while I think Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are over-the-top wind bags they have just as much right to be on the air and say whatever they want as Rachel Maddow, Ron Kuby or Keith Olberman. But not according to the Left for whom free speech is only free if you espouse liberal and progressive ideologies. Anything other than that is “hate-speech” as they see it. And that’s what this attack on Mackey and Whole Foods is all about. It’s the opening salvo of the next battle front- - -stifling the opinions of Corporate America. It’s about keeping entrepreneurs from speaking out for more free enterprise and less intrusive government.

A cousin of mine whom I respect and admire said this week in a Facebook post that he thought “brands should remain a-political”. I love my cousin but he couldn’t be more wrong. If the religious right is stifled and Conservative talk radio is silenced who will be left to speak out against big government and socialism? If Corporate America is bullied into political correctness who will be left to champion free markets, open competition and yes- - -capitalism? No one.

As I’ve said before the problem Conservatives have with Liberals and Progressives is that they all seem to think they are morally and intellectually superior. Or to paraphrase a famous quote from James Carville, “It’s the smugness, stupid.” But here are my questions to you all. What’s so morally superior about trying to stifle legitimate dissent and others’ rights of free speech? And what’s so intellectually superior about blindly following the party line without question or examination? And once folks like John Mackey are harassed out of business, how will you earn your paychecks or do you expect to live on the government dole? If you can tell me without being smug or arrogant, I’d like to know.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

What Does HR 3200 REALLY Say?

This past week’s dust-ups at various “Town Hall” meetings dealing with the subject of healthcare have done nothing to advance public discourse with each side accusing the other of being mean spirited and each side invoking the specter of Nazism and brown-shirted thugs. I’m convinced that a huge part of the problem is that very few- -on either side- -have actually read HR 3200 relying instead on third-party analyses coming from people and organizations with vested interests and axes to grind. So, for what it’s worth your friend “The Sage”, who has actually READ the bill, has a few observations that may add some understanding to this subject.

The US population is just over 300 million. That number includes the often cited 12 million un-documented workers. According to a recent government report about 60% of us or 180 million people are covered by private healthcare plans offered by employers. Another 25% of us or 75 million people are covered by Medicare or Medicaid and the remaining 15% or 45 million people- -including those here illegally- -are not covered at all. Now if ObamaCare was simply a plan to cover those 45 million people alone we probably wouldn’t be hearing all the screaming and shouting coming from both camps. But it isn’t. In a nutshell here’s how it works and here’s what’s causing so much of the angst.

· HR 3200 doesn't create a new program per se but expands and amends the Social Security Act, which includes Medicare and Medicaid, beyond the 75 million or so people now covered, to include the 45 million people not covered- - -including 12 million or more illegals.
· If private medical coverage through an insurance company represents the "Gold" standard of coverage and Medicare represents the "Silver" standard of coverage, ObamaCare represents the "Bronze" or maybe Tin standard of care.
· Current Medicare recipients and boomers who will be retiring in the next few years who, for the most part have paid the maximum amount each working year into the system and have an expectation of getting the "Silver" standard of coverage, will now be reduced to the "Bronze" standard in order save enough money to help pay for those coming into the plan who may have never paid a dime in payroll taxes. This is what the Congressional Budget Office meant when it reported that one third of the $1.5 trillion cost of ObamaCare would be paid for by cuts to Medicare and this is what has ‘boomers’- -those born between 1946 and 1964- -turning out in large numbers and screaming to be heard and understood. THIS MUST BE FIXED.
· If Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) and Gen Y folks (born between 1981 and 1995) are covered with a "Gold" standard plan by their employer and lose their job they will be forced to go to the "Bronze" plan and even if rehired will not be able to go back to a "Gold" plan. Over time, as the attrition from private plans continues, the end result could be a single-payer, completely nationalized healthcare system. Gen Xers should be in revolt over this. Even that ultra-liberal, Barney Frank, realizes this is not a desirable outcome and has spoken out against it. THIS, TOO, MUST BE FIXED.
· A huge concern, that should have the American Bar Association AND the ACLU up in arms, is the fact that under the proposed bill (Section 1651, pages 734 and 735) the provisions of HIPAA are all but negated by the fact that the DOJ will be given access to our previously 'private' medical records. And while the intent of the bill is to allow the AG to prosecute frauds and cheats, it does not specifically prevent the AG from using medical information to prosecute someone for an alleged crime NOT related to the healthcare system. What this means is that if the DOJ has you in their sights for prosecution of an alleged crime they can access information known previously only to you and your doctor and use it against you. So much for “doctor/patient privilege”. This is a serious Constitutional issue and must not be allowed to stand.

But, many of the aspects of the plan, especially those related to reducing fraud are quite good and should NOT be opposed by healthcare providers. If you are a healthcare provider or biller expecting to take payments from the government there’s no reason you shouldn’t prove that you are qualified to provide the care and services for which you are billing and that those billings are not fraudulent.

The medical community is also up in arms about the establishment under the bill of a “National Health Services Corp”. The idea behind this is that med school grads who attained their education through tax-payer funded government loans should spend some time working in community health centers in return for a reduction in the amount of their loans. I’m OK with this. After all, if auto companies and banks who have taken tax-payer money have to meet certain government conditions why should the medical community be exempt?

Overall, no one seriously doubts that our current system is deeply flawed and needs some overhaul. But when taken in its entirety HR 3200 creates more problems and social unrest than it cures. Besides, if ObamaCare is so good why aren’t the 535 members of Congress lining up to enroll? Perhaps James Madison, the “Father of the US Constitution” put it best when he said:

The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”