Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Path to War

Bobby Kennedy and LBJ discuss Vietnam escalationCompeting with Thanksgiving travel, Black Friday speculation, unemployment, layoffs, budget shortfalls, the health care debate, election violence in the Philippines, the mine disaster in China, H1N1 vaccine supplies, a former governor’s book tour, the beginning of the last two years of Oprah, the American Music Awards, Kennedy troubles with the Catholic church and on-going coverage of Michael Jackson and Princess Di, is President Obama’s decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan. Bill Moyers offers (aired 11/20/09 on PBS) a prospective through the LBJ’s decision to do the same in Vietnam.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

Our country wonders this weekend what is on President Obama’s mind. He is apparently, about to bring months of deliberation to a close and answer General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. When he finally announces how many, why, and at what cost, he will most likely have defined his presidency, for the consequences will be far-reaching and unpredictable. As I read and listen and wait with all of you for answers, I have been thinking about the mind of another president, Lyndon B. Johnson.

I was 30 years old, a White House Assistant, working on politics and domestic policy. I watched and listened as LBJ made his fateful decisions about Vietnam. He had been thrust into office by the murder of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963– 46 years ago this weekend. And within hours of taking the oath of office was told that the situation in South Vietnam was far worse than he knew.

Less than four weeks before Kennedy’s death, the South Vietnamese president had himself been assassinated in a coup by his generals, a coup the Kennedy Administration had encouraged.

South Vietnam was in chaos, and even as President Johnson tried to calm our own grieving country, in those first weeks in office, he received one briefing after another about the deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia.

Lyndon Johnson secretly recorded many of the phone calls and conversations he had in the White House. In this broadcast, you’re going to hear excerpts that reveal how he wrestled over what to do in Vietnam. There are hours of tapes and the audio quality is not the best, but I’ve chosen a few to give you an insight into the mind of one president facing the choice of whether or not to send more and more American soldiers to fight in a far-away and strange place.

Granted, Barack Obama is not Lyndon Johnson, Afghanistan is not Vietnam and this is now, not then. But listen and you will hear echoes and refrains that resonate today.

PBS Links: TranscriptTimelineWatch Video

Hold your nose and swallow

medicinekidsClose your eyes. Hold your nose. Open your mouth. Now swallow. – That’s how my mom tried to keep me from gagging when taking medicine. That’s what our Democrat leaders are telling us now about health care “reform.”

Another gigantic example of big event legislation. A massive bill way too big to fail – or read – or understand – or debate. Chock full of things for just about every special interest so Dems can finally deliver a health care bill.

  • No insurance? We’ll give it to you.
  • Can’t afford insurance? We’ll help you.
  • Uninsurable? No longer.
  • Have insurance? We’re not going to change a thing.
  • On medicare? We’ll close the prescription donut hole.
  • Own insurance or pharma stocks? We’ll increase your markets and your profits.
  • A health care provider? We won’t set prices.
  • Against a woman’s right to choose? Us, too.
  • Against expanding Medicare? Us, too.
  • Against a public option? It will be in name only.
  • Anti-deficit? It’s paid for with savings and new taxes.
  • Anti-health care reform? Your state can opt out.
  • Anti-Obama? Won’t go into effect until after the next presidential election.
  • Anti-immigrant? Us, too.
  • Own a business? Have we got some loopholes for you.
  • Middle class poor with lots of debt? Okay, nothing for you, but didn’t we just pass a tax cut and credit card reform?
  • Healthy and just starting out? There are no jobs anyway, go for Medicaid.
  • Work on K Street? You’ll make your bonus.
  • An accountant or lawyer? Consider it a bailout.

H.R.3590 – Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009 (this is the actual name of Senate health care bill which is an amendment of a bill already in the cue to speed it up – aka: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) runs some 2,074 pages containing 327,911 words (War and Peace has 561,893 words). It is the poster child example of the preferred way to govern these days: one gigantic omnibus bill that no one authors (or is to blame) and no one really knows who (or what lobby firm) added or compromised what that ends up in it. Bills that can be labeled, branded, lobbied, spun and base-rallied pro or con. Legislation to do everything, will last forever and we’ll fix down the road, depending upon who is in the majority down the road. This type of legislation is the reason politics is so partisan. And, this is what I hate about health care reform.


Note on the numbers in the chart: I downloaded the documents (transcripts of the older document) and used Microsoft Word’s word count tool. Some of the documents included signers, secretary notes, enactment dates, and other information that may cause count to vary slightly.

Couldn’t we have broken out a few things that we all believe in? Small, understandable bills that could be bipartisan? Simple language to solve some basic problems that simple people could believe government could actually accomplish? Incremental reforms to fix what we all might agree is broken?

  • Why do we have to debate the public option to get rules changed so preexisting conditions don’t prevent people from getting insurance?
  • Why do we have to debate whether every business will be forced to offer – and every individual will be forced to have – insurance in order that individuals and mom and pop businesses are allowed to join group plans at a reasonable cost?
  • Why do we have to agree not to negotiate prescription prices in order to have higher penalties for people who commit Medicare fraud?
  • Why do we have to debate subsidies for the uninsured, just so we can get rid of subsidies of private insurance companies offering Medicare (or at least require them to report quality of care results)?
  • Why do we have to debate changes in tort so that we can pass legislation to cover newborns who don’t have insurance?
  • Or require reporting on the effectiveness of drugs, medical tests and procedures? Or require electronic reporting? Or remove lifetime limits? Or limiting waiting periods? Or insurance plan transparency? Or transparency of physician ownership and investments? Or investments in primary care provider training? Or nursing student loans? Or funding for a National Health Service Corps? Or a national and state background checks for facilities and providers? Or medical bankruptcy prevention? Or improvements in access to immunizations? Or addressing childhood obesity? Or hospice reform? Or chronic disease prevention? Etc.

Wouldn’t it seem more civilized to pass specific bills that we agree on rather than bundling those we agree on with a bunch of controversial issues forcing our representatives to vote up or down on the whole package – or, God forbid, break with their party?

Why can’t we have a separate debate/vote on a public option or expanding Medicare? And a separate debate/vote on allowing insurance companies to compete in national markets? And a separate debate/vote on requiring everyone to have some form of coverage?

What is really going on here? Our leaders just don’t have much faith in us. They act as if they believe that the only way they can build a constituency to pass a bill is to make the issue seem to have epic proportions. To frame a debate as one that threatens our existence or our way of life. To excite the base, shake out the campaign contributions, get TV face time and get reelected. They did this to invade Iraq (Vietnam, Korea, Philippines, Mexico, Indian Wars, etc.). To bail out Wall Street (protect many other industries). And now, to pass health care “reform.”

We need our health care industry reformed. We must find ways to stablize costs. We must become more efficient and more competitive. We must do better in preventive care. We must discuss as a society, how the poor, the unfortunately sick and the innocent should receive health services. We also must find common ground, or we may lose more in the process than gained by any victory or defeat of the bill.

This bill is not about really about “reform” – I sincerely wish it were since I hear and read so much about it. Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of great stuff mixed in the 2,074 pages – important, life-improving and life-and-money-saving stuff. But much of this bill and almost all of the cost, is about expansion of health care insurance for those who can’t afford insurance, don’t choose to buy it (preferring, in most cases I suspect, to eat or have shelter), or have been denied it. Reform is mostly packaging.

As a result, we’ll probably get a compromise of a “reform” law. A compromise of a benefit for the uninsured. Certainly a more divided country. And, we’ll probably have to do it all again some day soon because many of the real issues won’t have been honestly included, debated in daylight, voted on, or made sustainable.

On the other hand, what an historic achievement to get it this close. Maybe it really does take this cynical, scare-the-hell-out-of-everyone, Rahm Emanuel-pit bull-but-open-to-compromise-approach to get something done? Please weigh-in with your comments.

Suggested Reading:

Listing those who will die

Something extraordinary happened Wednesday night in the House of the Representatives. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), gave a speech on health care. He continued speaking about the 44,000 Americans who die each year because of lack of health insurance. This time, he broke out the number who will die next year by the Congressional district of those who oppose the reform bill. Republicans went to great lengths to shut him up, but they didn’t (they start trying in Part Three). Watch it.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Part Eight

How Nero Must Have Felt When He Stopped Fiddling

get-motivated-bushWhat a mess. Somebody should have stopped me.

I have been fortunate to have had many people who encouraged me toward self-improvement. An early example was an employer’s requirement to complete Dale Carniegie’s training to learn “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” As those of you who know me might expect, it did require staying after class a few times. I almost dropped out when I was required to stand up in front of the class and yell with believable enthusiasm, “Boy, do I feel good.” But somehow, I got through it and completed the course. Other than making some great friends in the class and remembering their names for a few months, the long-term affect was not as dramatic as was hoped. I do still remember to “live in a day tight compartment” and that “any fool can criticize, condemn and complain.”

Admittedly, my anti-establishment beliefs ran and still run deep. I didn’t buy their politics, their wars, their attitudes on race or religion, their dog-eat-kennel mentality. I didn’t want to dress like them, talk like them or concentrate on my golf swing. I didn’t want to demure to the “man” or respect a fool for his money or power. And still don’t.

Subsequently, I was encouraged by employers to be Ziglarized, motivated, sold on success, taught to be productive and trained to be a leader. I’ve listened to 10,000 miles of cassettes, read dozens of books, done exercises, been coached, retreated, meditated, counseled and cajoled (George W. Bush wasn’t on tour during my self-improvement phase). Generally, with the same result. As I once said to my wife about technology, but the same is true for me when it comes to self-improvement, “the mind is like a rock. Pour the water of knowledge on it and it looks wet, but almost nothing sinks in.” Okay, I do remember a Ziglar story from “See You at The Top” that I loved – how to train fleas. I love it because I suffer from flea training and still observe friends and their children who suffer from it. It goes something like this:

“To train fleas you place some fleas in a jar with a lid on the jar. The fleas will, of course, begin to jump, repeatedly hitting the lid in their attempt to escape. Wait about 20 minutes. The fleas begin to grow tired of hitting their head on the jar lid. They just give up and will no longer jump as high. Once they become accustomed to the fact that if they jump too high they will hit their heads on the lid. You can remove the lid and the fleas will continue to jump at the same height, never escaping the jar.”

One exception to those who watered my rock was Mooney Player. You’ve probably never heard of him. For much of his life, Mooney was a high school football coach in South Carolina at Saluda High School and Lower Richland. His teams won five state championships in his 18-years of coaching. Ken Burger, executive sports director at the Charleston Post and Courier, said of Mooney,

“He won 90 percent of his games by turning ordinary players into true believers.”*

In 1974, after a year as an assistant coach to Lou Holtz, the University of South Carolina was looking to replace Paul Dietzel and Mooney wanted the job. He campaigned publicly for it, saying that, “if his teams didn’t win at least 10 games, he wouldn’t accept a salary.” Of course, the university would never hire a high school football coach (hired Jim Carlen) and Mooney stopped coaching and became a motivational consultant. That’s when I met Mooney.

Mooney taught me to be productive and helped me learn to communicate without pissing off everyone in the process (I’m still working on that lesson). He didn’t have books or tapes and generally worked from a notebook more fitting for a football sideline. Mooney taught me to establish goals, break them into meaningful steps that could be accomplished and to set priorities. He taught me to plan each day with A, B and C priorities and to only do the A’s. His thinking was if you take care of the big things, the small things weren’t worth doing. I believed him and it works.

That is until you either run out of goals, or you live in “the worst economy since the great depression.” For many of us, business just stopped last year. Those of us who know a thing or two about a lousy economy or depression know that you gotta re-up. Set new goals. Break out the steps. Learn new things. Implement. Stay productive. Keep good habits. Stay busy. Most of us quickly accomplished our social marketing. We updated our sales tools. We streamlined. We planned. We called. We met. We scaled back. And we tried harder.

After a while of not having A priorities that could be accomplished (see training fleas, above) and being bored silly with B priorities, I found myself compulsively accomplishing C priorities. Those easy things to accomplish that fill our lives and have almost no positive consequence, except the sense of accomplishment that comes from crossing things off a list. I’m over that.

I know unemployment will likely worsen. That small business will likely not see an upturn for a year or more. That the worst may be behind us, but the future is going to be awfully hard. I know the stimulus won’t help me much. That health care reform, should it pass, won’t help me until after the next presidential election when it would go into effect. That doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’m not looking for Washington to solve my problems. I’m setting new goals. I’m going to break them into daily steps that I can accomplish. And I’m going cold-turkey on the C priorities.

I’m guessing that is how Nero must have felt when he stopped fiddling and looked out to see Rome in ashes. What a mess. Let’s get out the broom and get to work.

*”Looking back at Mooney the motivator.” The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC). 2001. Retrieved November 04, 2009 from accessmylibrary.

The Big Game


As we approach the college football rival week late this month, it is time to begin an even heavier use of sports metaphor to describe the game of political football. Two great rivals. 77th meeting*. Home field advantage: Democrats.

With only a few months left in the second quarter of this Congressional session, the Republican defense has kept health care reform, Wall Street regulation, don’t ask-don’t tell and the energy bills out of the end zone. While the gallant defensive effort has not put not Republican points on the scoreboard, their fans have cheered wildly, drowning out any sounds of the Democrat faithful.

Since their stunning early financial stimulus touchdown, the Dems have largely relied on misdirection and fakes to their star issues to fool the gang-tackling Republicans and grind out enough yardage to kick easy field goals on stem cell research; banning torture; passing the largest ever middle-class tax cut; putting Sonia Sotomayer on the Supreme Court; expanding SCHIP to 4 million children; making the morning-after available to 17-year olds; cutting drug costs to seniors by $80 billion; securing EPA authority to limit climate warming pollution; fast-tracking a CAFE standards increase; expanding college loan access and grants paid for by killing private lender subsidies; implementing grants for state merit pay for teachers; releasing Bush torture records; implementing executive lobby reform; expanding hate crime laws; bailing out Detroit; making it easier for women to sue for equal pay; mobilizing the greatest response in history to the H1N1 pandemic; passing tobacco regulation; expanding wilderness protection; and killing major and unneeded military appropriation programs.

Current score: Democrats: 67, Republicans: 0.

*Based on sessions of Congress. First Republican elected to 34th Congress (1855-1856). Sincerely hope my math holds up under inspection.