Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Santa's Belt (our Annual Holiday Story), Republicans for Obamacare, Nothing New About Government Eavesdropping and How I Read the Newspaper



                                                           Santa’s Belt    

                         (Posted on the blog annually during the Holiday Season) 

                                                           Jack Lippman

Things were getting hectic at the North Pole.  Santa and the elves had been working overtime to make certain that everything would be ready on Christmas Eve.  After all, children of all ages throughout the world were waiting for Santa to bring them the gifts which they had been wishing for, gifts to make their dreams come true.

“Rufus,” Santa called out.  “Are all of the presents ready to load into my bag?  Have our helpers down on Earth, the toy manufacturers, gotten their toys and games ready for the kids?  And how about the parents?  You know, they all have to do their part too!  Hey, we only have a few days left!”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Claus,” Rufus replied.  “There won’t be any foul-ups this year.  The toys are all ready to go!”

“And is my sleigh ready?  Are the reindeer in good shape?”

“Don’t worry, Santa,” Rufus reassuringly replied.  “The sleigh has been repainted, the runners greased and the harnesses repaired.  And the reindeer are just fine.  Santa, you must stop worrying.  Everything is going to be fine!”

It had been three years since Rufus had become the Chief Elf in Santa’s workshop.  Of course, he had been helping out there for many years but only recently had Santa learned of Rufus’ prior experience working for Merlin the Magician centuries ago.  Some of Rufus’ innovations, obviously learned from his apprenticeship with that ancient wizard, had greatly increased the efficiency of Santa’s operation.  It was Rufus who had taught Santa to be able to be in many different of places simultaneously.  Rufus also made sure that Santa’s bag was never empty, simply by cloning one toy from another. And of course, he used a lot of Merlin’s magic to ease Santa up and down chimneys without his red outfit ever getting dirty.  Finally, it was Rufus who convinced Santa to include peace, love and brotherhood among the gifts he left for those who deserved them.

It was just a few nights before Christmas when Rufus encountered Santa in a state of real panic.

“Santa, what’s the matter?  Why are you holding your waist like that?”

“Can’t you see, you darn fool!  I’m holding my pants up!  If I let go, they’ll fall down.  It happened this morning.  My suspenders snapped and I don’t have a belt big enough to fit around me to hold my pants up.  Rufus, they keep falling down, how can I go out on Christmas Eve?  Rufus, do something to help me!  You must!”

“Now, Mr. Claus” the elf answered, holding back a snicker.  “I can see how this happened.  Come to think of it, I should have seen it coming and done something about it.  I’ve watched the way you’ve been eating all of that delicious food Mrs. Claus prepares for you.  I’ve seen you put away enough for an army and top it off with a banana split and a chocolate bar.   What did you expect?”

“Stop preaching, Rufus!  What would your Merlin do?  Come on.  Think of something so that I don’t disappoint all the children!  I can’t go out there with my pants falling down!”

“Santa, I don’t think suspenders will do the job for you any more because of the pear shape you’ve developed!  You need belt big enough to hold up your pants!”

“What do you think I’ve been doing all day?  I’ve been looking for one and there just aren’t any made that big.”

Rufus thought for a minute.  Turning his eyes upward toward the stars, he fixed them on the constellation Orion the Hunter.  In an instant, using a mystical incantation remembered from his days with Merlin, he turned himself into a thunderbolt and flew up into the heavens directly at the strip of stars which formed Orion’s belt.  Grasping as many as he could, Rufus flew back to Earth and fashioned a belt from them for Santa.  The old man, finding for the first time since his suspenders had snapped that he was able to keep his pants up, was ecstatic. 

A few nights later, Santa was able to travel his appointed rounds delivering gifts to children of all ages throughout the world.  As he headed back toward the North Pole, he smiled up at the constellation Orion the Hunter, whose belt, as you can see on any clear evening when you look up in the sky, consists of only three stars, which was all that Rufus had left.

Soon, recognizing the welcoming lights of the workshop far below, the reindeer guided the sleigh into a slow descent and the jovial old man once more waved his hand, crying out, “Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night, especially to you, Rufus!”

Why the G.O.P. is NOT Really Opposed to Obamacare

So you oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010! Let’s get something straight. 

Do you oppose it on the basis of what it does, or do you oppose it because it is the significant accomplishment of the Presidency of Barack Obama?  If it had been proposed by a Republican President and passed by a Republican Congress, would you still oppose it?

Of course, such an imaginary Republican bill would not put the Federal Government in the business of providing health insurance coverage for American citizens, as does Medicare for seniors using tax revenues, and which everybody who has it loves.  It would probably insist that Americans who weren’t covered by Medicare or an employer plan purchase their own insurance from private insurance companies, the traditional American way.  Sound familiar?

Because one of the objectives of it would be to see that all Americans had health insurance (unlike citizens of most other civilized countries, many millions of Americans do not), it would regulate what the insurance companies sell to those who apply, so that all policies would provide straightforward, comprehensive coverage without annual or lifetime maximums and would not take the applicants’ medical histories into consideration when doing so.  It also would provide for subsidies for low income applicants and prescribe cost cutting procedures for hospitals and health care providers.  

To encourage enough Americans to apply for such health insurance so that a big and representative pool of insureds could be established, there would have to be tax penalties for those individuals who do not choose to participate.  For private insurance companies to provide the  actual policies, such a pool would be an absolute necessity. Without it, policies would have to be subject to cancellation, frequent rate increases and coverage limitations, the kinds of things with which the Act does away.  In a nutshell, that’s probably what a Republican plan might do.

But that also describes the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in a nutshell.  It is very similar to the state plan Mitt Romney instituted in Massachusetts with bi-partisan support.  Mitt, you will recall, is a Republican.  If he had been elected, his first act according to his campaign promises, would have been to repeal “Obamacare,” which in all likelihood would be replaced by the same kind of plan, only this time, it would be acceptable to Republicans, as it was in Massachusetts. 
Republicans know that the overwhelming success of the Affordable Care Act is the only thing that can prevent the Democrats from eventually instituting a single payer plan amounting to Medicare for everyone.  This is what the rest of the world has, but bringing it here is dreaded by the Republicans because it would take health care, involving one-sixth of all the money spent in this country, and turn it into a government function, whereby our enormous cash outlay for health care would no longer be paid to insurers or directly to providers, but instead, would would be paid to the government as health care taxes going to support a single payer health plan for all.   No self-respecting, tax-fearing Republican would want that to happen.  Nor would those who contribute to the Party’s coffers.  

So that is why they quietly are not really opposed to Obamacare, despite their blustering about the Act's horrible technological roll-out difficulties and griping from those whose cheap, substandard and sometimes worthless, health insurance policies were cancelled because they did not meet the minimum standards of the Act.

The G.O.P. knows that it is on the wrong side of the demographic changes occurring in our country and which ultimately will enable the Democrats to control both Houses of Congress and the Presidency for a long time.  This may not happen for a decade or two, but it will happen. (Passage of immigration reform legislation will make it happen sooner.)

No, Republicans are not opposed to Obamacare.  They really want it to succeed, because they know what will inevitably come about if it fails. If they ever manage to repeal it though, their replacement will be very similar to Obamacare, because what they really fear is the dreaded single payer plan, Medicare for all, which would exchange the nation's present private health care spending for tax increases to support a single payer plan.

No, Republicans are not really opposed to Obamacare.  They are just opposed to Obama.
Jack Lippman 


So What’s New With Government Eavesdropping?

Way back in the 1950’s, over half a century ago, a college buddy of mine was in the Army and involved in what he called communications intelligence, something I had never heard of.  Oh, I knew that Army Signal Corps people were traditionally involved in trying to capture messages that an enemy was sending to its troops on the battlefield, but that was to gain an edge in a combat situation, giving us a tactical advantage.
“Yes,” my friend agreed.  “But we were also doing that kind of thing but on a far bigger scale.  We had these massive antennas on an old Luftwaffe base in Germany that could pick up radio transmissions from all over the world.  Most of those transmissions were in some kind of code, so we never knew what they were about, but since they were encrypted, they must have been important.”

When I asked him to whom we were listening, he replied, “Everyone … the British, the French, the Israelis, but most of all the Russians, who were our cold war opponents in those days.  When there was a lot of coded traffic between two Russian cities, like Moscow and Vladivostok for example, I suppose our code breakers and analysts would be trying to figure out what was going on.  It could have been about troop movements or something like that.  We gave them tapes of everything we were able to latch onto.  We had some of these smart guys on our base but a lot of the stuff we intercepted was sent back to Washington, to the National Security Agency.”

“Hey, I thought you were in the Army,” I said.   “I was,” he replied, “but stuff like what we were doing belonged to the NSA regardless of who picked it up.  If there suddenly was a lot of traffic between Tel Aviv and Moscow, for example, it was an alert that our Israeli allies might be talking to the Russians about something.  That was important to the people in Washington. This kind of thing still goes on today, of course, but in a far more sophisticated manner, with satellites and computers, and it goes way past just intercepting foreign communications.  Believe me, it is just as essential now as it was a half century ago."  So nothing is new, I guess.

(Postscript:  My friend continued our conversation telling me that his old base in Germany has long since been shut down and when he went to Europe on a vacation recently, he found that its site now houses a shopping center, hotels and the European offices of a worldwide athletic goods manufacturer.  He recalled that back in 1956, there were two small soccer shoe factories in the nearby town run by two brothers.  Well, the base isn't around any longer but the soccer shoe companies have survived under the corporate names of Adidas and Puma, and they have even moved onto what was his old base. He sent me some old pictures of the place and what stands there today, shown below.)




My friend's old Army base as it looked half a century ago, the old antenna field and some of the buildings there now, including a four star hotel.


How I Read the Newspaper

The first thing I look at in the newspaper each morning is the front page to see if anything really important is happening in the world that I missed on TV or on my smart phone overnight, or on “Morning Joe” which I turn on as I get out of bed.  Usually there is nothing new or of great import on the front page.

I then open the sports section to see how my favorite teams of the moment are doing.  Right now, that’s where I find out about baseball player trades and hear murmurings of the upcoming Spring training season, as well as keeping track of the football bowl games.  I then check out the bidding in the daily bridge column and look at the four or five comic strips I follow (which include Doonesbury and Dilbert) and quickly scan the rest of the paper.  Then it’s back to the front section.

After taking a look at the page one articles, particularly those of local interest, I then skim all of the intervening pages until I reach the Editorial and Opinion section where I read the editorials, the letters and the collected wisdom of the nationally syndicated columnists whose words appear there.

By this time, I have finished my raisin bran, toast and coffee and am ready to tackle the day, probably better informed than those who depend solely on electronic media to keep up with what is going on.

It will be a sad day when there no longer are newspapers to read in the morning.  That day is coming.  Although the paper I read is also fully available to me on line, it just isn't the same as a real newspaper and I wouldn't want to spill coffee or get crumbs on my smart phone or tablet.  

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Jack Lippman

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