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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired for two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Presidential Contact With Iran, Political Ruminations, Short Story Contest Prize Announced and Mental Health vs Gun Control

U.S. - Iranian Relations

President Obama has been exchanging letters with the new Iranian President, Hossein Rohani.  This may or may not hint at a thawing of our relations with that country.  George Friedman, the noted expert on geopolitics, has written about Iran at some length in his books as well as in articles published by his intelligence-providing firm, Stratcor.  In fact, two of these articles were reproduced on this blog.  Check out the postings of January 24, 2012 and April 12, 2012 for information which will shed light on the kind of issues the President and Rohani may be addressing. 
About as trustworthy as the telemarketer who calls you at suppertime!

Try to read these articles before next week, when both Obama and Rohani will be in New York addressing the United Nations.  The simplest way to access them is by  doing a search in the blog's search box off to the right, on “George Friedman.”  Quick links to both articles will appear. (This is material you probably will not find in the newspapers, on TV or elsewhere on the internet.)

Jack Lippman


Short Story Contest

Here's a reminder that our Short Story Contest ends on December 31.  Your entry cannot exceed 1000 words and must start with this sentence: I could hear the floorboards on the porch, weathered by years of exposure, creaking in the night.   Send the entry to me at riart1@aol.com.  We already have a few entries, but Sid has provided us with a short story, starting with the required sentence, as an example of what an entry can look like.  Check it out .... and try your hand at writing your own.  Incidentally, the prize to the winner will be a bottle of 2008 Montipulciano de Abruzzi, a delightful Italian wine that I describe as something like a Merlot, but with a kick.  Here is Sid's sample story.
Jack Lippman

                                                              Eternal Love

Sid Bolotin

I could hear the floorboards on the porch, weathered by years of exposure, creaking in the night. He had come for me, just as it had been foretold, and I had left the door unlocked.

I clutched my small tote bag to my chest and waited for him to enter my room, eager to be finally carried away to my new life. My parents were not supportive of my decision, and I hoped that they’d not awaken. Angry protests had drained them, and they had collapsed in the front room of our modest cottage.

The door swung open, and he filled the opening, tall, broad, and handsome, his dusky coloring gleaming with the light from the kerosene lamp. My heart fluttered at the sight of him holding his gold-capped walking stick with his top hat cocked jauntily over one eye standing there in his black, cape coat.

“Come, my dear,” he whispered urgently, “we must hurry before the sun sets. I want you to see my estate for the first time in daylight. Is everything you’ll need in that one tote?”

“Yes, yes, dear one. I’m taking just the bare essentials as you suggested. You assured me that you’d provide everything else in my new life with you. I can’t wait to leave this hovel and be with you for ever…just as the gypsy described to me.”

Gripping her firmly by the elbow he guided her past her sleeping parents, out the door, and into his carriage waiting in the outer yard. Hurriedly he raced the horses toward his estate in the hills beyond the town.

As they climbed a curve on the winding road, she gasped, “Oh, my love, it’s beautiful, almost like a castle. I’m sure that I’ll be very happy here.”

Stopping in the courtyard he helped her out and ushered her toward the massive front doors while announcing, “Come quickly; I can’t wait to show you my life’s work in my studio.”

After descending a long flight of stairs she entered a vast room filled with equipment she did not recognize and exclaimed, “Studio? You said this was your studio. This looks like no studio I’ve ever seen. What are all those dials and blinking lights? And where is your life’s work? As your bride I want to know all about you and your work.”

“Of course you do, sweet one. And you will; you will. But in your haste to escape your hovel you must have misunderstood my proposal. I didn’t bring you here to be my bride. You’re to be his.”

And with a flourish of his arm the baron flipped the sheet covering the table in front of them, and exclaimed, “Meet my life’s work. I’ve created life and your husband for eternity.”


Politics:  “Country Second, Party First(and a sad prediction)

As for the Republican controlled House of Representative tacking on a measure "defunding" the Affordable Care Act in their budget bill as a requirement before they would vote for it, I have but one question to ask members of that party, including Speaker John Boehner:  Are you Americans first or are you Republicans first?  

Their willingness to use the leverage of crippling the government's operation in order to once again express their opposition to a law passed by both Houses, signed by the President and affirmed by the Supreme Court shows the purely political level on which the G.O.P. operates.  Of course, the Senate will not go along with such blackmail nor would the President who has the power of the veto.  This tactic will fail, as it will again when then try it once more when raising the debt limit, historically a routine measure, comes to the House floor shortly.

Back in 2008, the Republicans had a campaign slogan, “Country First.”  Apparently, so long as the voters chose to put the White House and the Senate in the hands of the Democrats, the G.O.P.'s motto has become “Country Second, Party First.” Each day, they sink to new lows.

  Speaker Boehner and Senator Cruz represent differing approaches to the G.O.P.'s mission.  Might they be pallbearers at their party's demise in 2016?

Incidentally, the G.O.P.'s budget cutting charade, really no more than an attempt to keep the taxes of many of their rich supporters from increasing, becomes harder and harder to justify as the nation's deficit continues to decrease.  Really, there remains little reason for anyone to vote Republican other than to oppose gun control, women's rights, same sex marriage, an increased minimum wage, immigration reform, and of course, health care reform aimed at bringing our country's health care up to the level of other industrialized Western nations.  

The most depressing part of this scenario is that mid-term elections, which we are having next year, usually see a resurgence of power on the part of the "outs."   This means that the G.O.P (the "outs" in 2014) needs to avoid losing no more than sixteen seats to the Democrats to retain control of the House. Without, a vote-attracting Presidential race on the ballot, that would seem to be an easy task for the Republicans.  They might even gain a few seat due to heavily gerrymandered districts. For the same reason, look for G.O.P gains, if not control, in the Senate as well.

Much of this political turmoil focuses on the Affordable Care Act, as its provisions gradually go into effect, despite continued harassment by Republicans even after the Act was passed by both Houses of Congress, signed by the President and affirmed by the Supreme Court.  States dominated by Republicans are also attempting to impede the Act's operation.  There is a perception out there that the ACA is unpopular with the American people.  To the contrary, it most certainly is popular among those who are able to keep their dependent children (especially if they are unemployed) on their policies to age 26 and among those who would otherwise be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions or who reach a lifetime cap on their benefits.  

This supposed "unpopularity" stems from the fact that most Americans do have some form of personal or employer-based health insurance.  Individuals and employers are reluctant to latch on to something new, despite the fact that it will enable thirty million presently uninsured Americans to be insured, motivated to some extent by the possibility of tax penalties if they do not.  Also, some employers object to the Act's making them responsible for offering health insurance to employees in situations where they had not been required to do so up to now.  These steps will relieve hospital emergency rooms of the unfair task of transferring the cost of treating those without insurance into increases in what they charge those with insurance.  

There also is a fear that the government will meddle with the type of care available to insureds, a fear that also extends to Medicare recipients (Medicare and the Affordable Care Act are two separate and distinct programs.) Right now, today, private insurers and HMOs are already delineating what they will and will not pay for, and insurance obtained from private insurers regulated under the Affordable Care Act will also reflect this.  But this tightening of benefits, already taking place, wrongly feeds the public misconception, and that of some doctors and other health care providers, that it is the fault of Obamacare, and contributes to its unwarranted lack of popularity.  Republicans in Congress are not reluctant to use such misconceptions as a political tool to get votes.

The Affordable Care Act is good medicine for the country and for the insurance industry and deserves the support of Americans.  Too many, ignoring those without insurance today, do not agree with this and like things just the way they are today, blind to the fact that the United States is creeping downward each year in comparison to other nations according to the yardsticks used in measuring health care.  

I predict a very depressing, if not disastrous, two years of Congressional misbehavior, including continued attacks on the Affordable Care Act,  until the next Presidential election in 2016 at which time the G.O.P. (unless it abandons its tea party orientation) will be swept from both houses of Congress and of course, not come anywhere near the White House.  When Americans come out to vote, they do what they have to do, but unfortunately, that won't happen in 2014.


Better Mental Health Care vs Gun Control

Most of the perpetrators of recent massacres carried out with firearms, it turns out, have had a history of emotional or mental problems. 
Single or multiple incidents may have been reported in their histories which hindsight says should have provided warning signs.  Disproportionate reactions to employment problems including firings or layoffs, marital disputes, drug or alcohol related stresses, a low anger threshold, abuse or bullying by peers and diagnosed psychological histories, alone or in combination, can push an individual over the edge.  But there are tens of millions of harmless Americans out there who, if you look into their educational, employment and medical histories, present one or more of these things. 
People go to psychiatrists and therapists for valid reasons.  People “blow off steam” in many ways; some such "outlets" are harmless like running or exercising and others may be more violent.  Some episodes are documented.  Others are not.  Few find their way into law enforcement records.    Job applicants do not readily volunteer such information as having had to spend an hour after work every day at a punching bag to work off the day’s frustration with their boss at their last job; who can judge if this is significant?  None of these things necessarily makes them into killers. 
But perhaps a miniscule percentage of the tens of millions of Americans mentioned above are potentially dangerous.  It is almost impossible, however, to sift through them all and pick these few out.  This is why providing better mental health care in this country, however desirable it may be, is not the answer.  It is just too enormous a task to keep track of all of these individuals.  An easier way is to support legislation controlling the availability of firearms.  This can be done within the confines of the Second Amendment and will go further toward ending massacres by firearms than searching for needles in the mental health haystack.

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Jack Lippman

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