Healthcare from Hell


What can you say about the high-speed train wreck that is American healthcare that hasn’t already been said? Perhaps nothing, but there are plenty of stories out there to talk about; a number of truly distressing examples that should be pointed out repeatedly as reminders to us all that this system is deeply diseased.

Late last year in Marina, CA my sister and brother-in-law responded to a terrible commotion on their patio and found a raccoon attacking their two small dogs. When they stepped in to break it up the raccoon was undeterred and bit them. A trip to the emergency room followed and then they underwent a series of rabies shots, which was the most painful development of all, and not for the reason you might think – they were presented with a bill for $10,000. They have medical coverage, of course, a solid school district policy through my sister’s teaching job, but it didn’t cover the full cost of the rabies series for two people – an eye-popping $90,000. This is hardly an elective procedure, as you probably know. Rabies is 100 percent fatal.

An article on this very treatment appeared recently in Vox, pointing out that the high cost is due to a drug called immunoglobulin. US emergency rooms charge up-to $10,000 for a single dose. In the UK they charge $1,600. “Rabies treatment is more expensive in the United States, as are many medical treatments, because we don’t have price controls,” according to Charles Rupprecht, a biomedical consultant who previously ran the rabies control program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as quoted in the Vox piece.

My sister told me another story recently – about a man she knows who needed surgery for prostate cancer, but he was unemployed and his COBRA plan wouldn’t cover it. A local hospital wouldn’t perform the surgery without an $5,000 payment up front, money he didn’t have. So he was forced to establish a GoFundMe page to raise the cash required for an operation to save his life.

It’s a time of staggering irony in modern medicine – never has it been more scientifically advanced, more technologically remarkable; and never has it been so abjectly ridiculous. While much of the rest of the first world cares for its citizens through some form of universal approach (more later), the United States of America, arguably still the greatest country in the world, defers to the whims of insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, CEOs and shareholders, and we all pay the price.

My mother is 83 years old and, unfortunately, in declining health. The American medical industry has responded with prescriptions – you know, better living through chemistry and all that. It turns out there is quite a lot of chemistry. She takes 23 pills every day. We–her children–have attempted to engage her doctors in some analysis of what is actually effective and what may be potentially harming her through interactions with other medications. But we haven’t had much success.

According to a web site called Statista, The United States alone holds over 45 percent of the global pharmaceutical market. In 2016 this share was valued at about $446 billion, with six out of the top 10 companies from the US. $446 billion buys a lot of lobbyists on Capitol Hill and, as we have all seen, a slew of expensive TV advertising for drugs that may or not be helpful but are likely profitable. An example is the anti-depressant Abilify, which can lead to coma or death.


Abilify may not be for you.

The legendary Steve Martin spoofed the absurdity of drug company disclaimers 20 years ago in an essay he wrote for the New Yorker called “Side Effects.” Here’s an excerpt:

Do not consume alcohol while taking this pill; likewise, avoid red meat, shellfish, and vegetables. O.K. foods: flounder. Under no circumstances eat yak. Men can expect painful urination while sitting, especially if the penis is caught between the toilet seat and the bowl. Projectile vomiting is common in thirty per cent of users-sorry, fifty per cent. If you undergo disorienting nausea accompanied by migraine and raspy breathing, double the dosage. Leg cramps are to be expected; one knee-buckler per day is normal. Bowel movements may become frequent-in fact, every ten minutes. If bowel movements become greater than twelve per hour, consult your doctor, or any doctor, or just anyone who will speak to you.  

Insurance companies are seen as the other major villain in this train wreck. The stories of denied coverage and counterintuitive explanations are legendary, and have been for decades. We all seem to have first-hand experience with it or know someone who has. The state of California recently launched a probe of Aetna after after learning that a former medical director for the insurer admitted under oath he never looked at patients’ records when deciding whether to approve or deny care. While that statement isn’t necessarily surprising, the fact that someone would be put in a position to have to admit it is unusual, and it’s quite welcome.

A story developed several weeks ago about a 51-year old self-employed New England carpenter who won a $1 million lottery prize and was looking forward to squirreling some money away for retirement, buying a new truck, and relaxing a little. Turns out he he didn’t have medical insurance–couldn’t afford it–so he used some of the money for a long-overdue trip to a doctor, where he learned he had stage-four cancer. He died less than a month after cashing the ticket.

Yep, health insurance is messed up. I take three medications daily and like just about everyone else refill my prescriptions monthly. My co-pay is $1.62, not each but in total. I could certainly afford a much higher co-pay and would be more than willing if it meant that people like that carpenter could afford health insurance and therefore see a doctor regularly, and my sister and brother-in-law didn’t have to deal with a bill of 10-grand for life-saving treatment, and my chronically-allergic wife, who has been treated several times to prevent attacks of anaphylactic shock, doesn’t have to face the prospect of paying several hundred dollars for shots of epinephrine she carries with her in devices commonly called Epipens, because insurance coverage has slackened as prices have dramatically increased.

In 2007, according to Business Insider, a pharmaceutical company called Mylan acquired the rights to produce Epipens. The story points out that at the time pharmacies were being charged less than $100 for a two-pen set. Then annual price hikes set in – peaking every year in August, when parents of children with severe allergies typically stock up on Epipens for use in schools. In 2016, the price reached $608.61 – an increase of more than 500 percent over a decade. And that eventually landed Mylan CEO Heather Bresch in front of a House oversight committee, facing uncomfortable questions. Before long, though, the problem had taken care of itself, as lower-priced competitors surfaced, including “Adrenaclick,” a $10 Epipen alternative. Mylan has seen its market share plummet. As far as my wife is concerned, we still must navigate the doctor-pharmacist thicket to try to secure one of those alternatives, be it Adrenaclick or something else.


I have a small side complaint about signs like these at doctors’ office and pharmacies – nothing about this arrangement protects privacy as long as people can talk.

The slow-burn journey through the bureaucracy we will surely face will help us prepare for the next phase of our lives – membership in the Medicare generation. It’s government health insurance when you’re 65, unless you’re still working, and–of course–it’s not complete coverage. You’re gonna need another policy on top of that and probably still pay out of pocket. Here’s the AARP, attempting to explain:  “Depending on which (Medicare) plan you choose, you may have to share in the cost of your care by paying premiums, deductibles, copayments and coinsurance. The amount of some of these payments can change from year to year.

“Most people who qualify for Medicare don’t pay a monthly premium for Part A, but they do pay premiums for Part B and Part D or a Medicare Advantage plan.”

Ok, parts A, B and D; WTF? Well, Medicare is helpfully separated into sections, including a part C. Again, the AARP explains:

  • Part A (hospital insurance) helps pay for the costs of inpatient stays in hospitals and short-term skilled nursing facilities, home health services and hospice care.
  • Part B (medical insurance) helps pay for doctors’ services (including those in the hospital), outpatient care, preventive care, and some medical equipment and supplies.
  • Part C (Medicare Advantage) is an alternative coverage option to original Medicare that allows you to receive all of your Medicare benefits through one plan. Medicare Advantage plans (typically HMOs or PPOs) must cover all of Part A and Part B services, and most plans include Part D prescription drug coverage in their benefit packages. Some plans provide extra services that original Medicare doesn’t cover. 
  • Part D helps cover the cost of outpatient prescription drugs. 

The AARP advises that if Medicare patients have questions, they can contact Medicare, or the Social Security Administration–which administers a piece of the program–or something called State Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs). Does all this seem confusing? Yes, I would venture to say it does, even more than the convoluted system that holds those of us under 65 captive. As we get older and seek more simplified lives, American healthcare vexes us by funneling us into a system that is anything but simple.

T stupidity

Into this abyss plunged guess who? Yep, the infantile Donald J. Trump. Following his improbable election his first order of business was to attempt to un-do the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, for the sole reason that it was an achievement of President Obama’s.  After several tries he finally managed to convince Congress to put some provisions in place, to predictable effect. A recent story in the Los Angeles Times stated, “Those fiscal geniuses in the White House and Republican-controlled Congress have managed to do the impossible: Their sabotage of the Affordable Care Act will lead to 6.4 million fewer Americans with health insurance, while the federal bill for coverage rises by some $33 billion per year.” 


Most of the other developed nations of the world have some type of universal health care – places like the UK (and much of the rest of Europe), Canada, Australia and Japan.  Imagine how this madness looks to them. Well, we actually have some idea, thanks to the Internet. I pulled this example from a friend’s Facebook page:

“Whilst living in the States, my 3yr old daughter was jumping on the bed (despite many warnings not to) Naturally, she fell off and knocked herself out. She was unconscious for a few seconds (which felt like years) and after a frantic 911 call, two ambulances, a firetruck(!) and a police car showed up. They strapped her to a back board and then….something weird happened. The ambulance guy turns to me and says “do you want us to take her to hospital in the ambulance?” “Err…yeah” I replied, thinking, is he cracked? What else would you be doing with her? Off we went with me beside her & my husband following. All checked out well.
Two weeks later a bill drops on the mat for $835 – for the ambulance. I call up to explain that there’s been a mistake, we have insurance, etc,. “No” says the lady on the line, “that’s not covered by your insurance” (we had the gold-standard- armour-plated one).
Apparently, an ambulance ride is viewed as a separate cost that many insurers don’t cover. It defies belief, it really does. We were so glad to move back to the UK – warts and all, it’s a much fairer society. Altho’ the Tories would rather it wasn’t. This is the reality.”

Meanwhile, in the Canadian province of Quebec, more than 700 medical professionals, mostly doctors, are protesting planned pay raises. They’re asking their employers to hold them back for the good of the entire health system. The doctors feel they already make enough money. The average salary for a physician in Canada is $260,000.

If all this isn’t enough, consider the American opioid crisis. According to the Atlantic, in 2012 there were 793 million doses of opioids prescribed in the state of Ohio, enough to supply every man, woman, and child, with 68 pills each. Roughly 20 percent of the state’s population was prescribed an opioid in 2016. Ohio leads the nation in overdose deaths. Reasonable questions are being asked: Are drug companies pushing opioids on people by shipping huge quantities to areas with population sizes that make no sense for the quantity of drugs? Why haven’t crack downs on these companies worked? Have there been been crack downs? Some public officials are trying. Ohio has joined a handful of other states suing pharmaceutical companies for spending millions on marketing campaigns that allegedly trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain. The companies allegedly lobbied doctors to influence their opinions about the safety of the drugs. Additionally, some of the latest research indicates that opioids are not more effective long-term painkillers than other medications like over-the-counter acetaminophen and and prescription lidocaine. The cause is believed to be a built-up tolerance to opioids, a development that helps feed addiction and keeps the gravy train rolling.

American physicians apparently get a piece, too. A joint study by CNN and Harvard found that in 2014 and 2015, opioid manufacturers paid hundreds of doctors across the country six-figure sums for speaking, consulting and other services. Thousands of other doctors were paid over $25,000 during that time. Physicians who prescribed particularly large amounts of the drugs were the most likely to get paid. Can you say bribery?

It is, of course, no surprise that when Trump recently called for executions as a mitigating measure in the opioid crisis, he wasn’t talking about CEOs of pharamceutical companies.

America is broken. Its healthcare system is a major symptom. So is its president.







Tourists in the homeland


My wife and I grew up in Southern California–metropolitan LA–and we each left more than 35 years ago. When we go back we find we’re flooded with memories while also feeling like we’re visiting a strange land.

Calling LA the homeland is, of course, a little misleading. The Los Angeles Basin is so vast that it encompasses a number of distinct areas that could be considered homelands. I hail from the mostly working-class San Gabriel Valley, and my wife lived in the more prosperous hills above the San Fernando Valley. So our recent trip to West LA was much closer to her youthful experiences than mine.

I have often thought if I had grown up on the west side–with its urbanity, glamour and coastal access–I may never have left. But I’m not sure of that anymore. It’s all too big; too crowded. I have come to remember that was pretty much the case all those years ago, and it was one of the reasons I left in the first place. Here are some other observations from our tourist jaunt:

1) Traffic ruins your life – Even though we managed to avoid a life-altering experience on the San Diego Freeway (the 405), the busiest highway in America, we spent more time in cars than at any other activity except sleep. Drives to Santa Monica and Malibu, relatively close locations, were marred by gridlock. A seven-mile trip between two points on Wilshire Blvd. took 45 minutes, even with our Lyft driver functioning at peak creativity with short cuts on side streets. On our last day in town, as we pointed our rental car in the direction of the airport at Burbank, we allowed ourselves enough time to stop at a Target in West Hollywood, or so we thought. It was four-and-a-half miles from our West LA hotel, and it took us an hour-and-15 minutes to get there. We ended up not going in and slogging straight through to the airport. The only reason we made it with a comfortable amount of time to spare was a flight delay.

2)  Traffic signals and road signs need updating – LA has more than four-million people, more than two-million vehicles, and not nearly enough left-turn signals at intersections. That’s one reason it takes so long to drive places. And the road signage is confusing, at best. I managed to get lost along major thoroughfares like Santa Monica Blvd. and Coldwater Canyon Dr., even though I possess some actual skill when it comes to navigation in unfamiliar places. And yes, I looked at maps.


3) Drivers are quite good – Unlike Sacramento, where drivers are unpredictable and road rage always a possibility, the LA drivers we encountered were decisive and polite. They use their blinkers and will generally make room for you to crowd-in someplace. But they’re also super-aggressive and a little impatient. They have lots of practice navaigating through the muck, so they won’t hesitate to lean on their horns if you seem confused.

4) Walking in LA – When the band Missing Persons claimed in song years ago that “only a nobody walks in LA,” they probably weren’t talking about Beverly Hills. The downtown core is quite walkable and plenty of people are moving about on foot. You probably have to drive in, though. The same is true for the coastal strip of Santa Monica.

5) Everybody seems to have a plan and an attitude – But they’re often good attitudes, probably because folks are hustling. West LA is one of those places where lots of people are chasing a dream. One of our Lyft drivers said she was a London-trained stage actress. I met a young man in a bar in Koreatown who was probably half my age, well-dressed and stylishly-coiffed, and positively brimming with enthusiasm. He claimed he went to Stanford, had been a golf pro, and promised to run for governor in the future. But he was in a hotel bar at 4:30 on a Monday afternoon. After our 10-minute chat he insisted on the thumbs-up handshake and half-bro hug I see my son employ all the time. It was a first for me.

6) People are welcoming and curious – Probably because they’re wondering if you can do something for them. Our bartender the night we hung out at the Sunset Marquis hotel in West Hollywood must have taken one look at me and known I wasn’t one of her usual Rock-and-Roll clientele, but she was nonetheless very friendly and can-do. Just about everywhere we went, including the legendary Nate and Al Delicatessen in Beverly Hills, we were studied intently by people trying to figure out if we were someone they should know. And when they determined the answer was no they stopped looking at us.

7) Concertgoers are rude – We went to a pair of Van Morrison shows in West LA, and the crowd behavior was very disappointing. Too many people were acting like they might have at a Foghat concert 40 years ago at the Forum. There was far too much drinking and loud talking, and people were constantly in and out of their seats. Van is an artist who requires rapt attention – he is truly a European old master. I find it hard to believe the LA crowd would have acted similarly if they were seeing the Three Tenors, or Leonard Cohen, or Sinatra. Yet they felt it was appropriate in this case. As we left the venue frustrated after the second night we walked past a young woman complaining to her friends that she was shushed during the show. My wife and I said, “Good” in unison, loudly enough for her to hear us.

So those were some noteworthy moments during our trip. LA is definitely fascinating – a vibrant international destination and center of art and commerce perched on a fault that could one day grind it to ruins. But the gleaming megalopolis presses on, all optimism and sunshine – 284 days a year. I’m reminded of an episode of ‘Seinfeld’ in which the character Cosmo Kramer said of LA, “She’s a seductress, she’s a siren, she’s a virgin, she’s a whore!” He’s probably right about that. Los Angeles, the mythical Hotel California, is a helluva place to visit and–with apologies to Mr. Don Henley and the late Mr. Glenn Frey–you can in fact leave, and that’s a good thing.

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Jumping the Shark

fonz shark

In 1977 the actor Henry Winkler, in his alter ego as Arthur Fonzarelli, unwittingly spawned a phrase for the ages when the comedy “Happy Days” depicted him scaling a shark while donning water skis. Yep, the Fonz was the first to Jump the Shark, and now we recognize those words as a moment when all pretenses of reality and common sense are tossed aside. While Jumping the Shark today is used most often in entertainment circles, it’s emerged as a theme that can be reliably applied to many facets of life.

The entire United States of America has, in fact, Jumped the Shark – just look at the occupant of the White House. But this piece isn’t really about him – it’s more about the forces that were unleashed to put him there, and how they’re at-large throughout our society.

In late January the emotional-support animal trend Jumped the Shark when a woman in Newark, New Jersey bought a plane ticket for her pet and arrived at the airport with the critter in tow – it was a fucking peacock. Fellow travelers were savvy enough to snap pictures and capture some video before United Airlines jolted the woman into reality by informing her that the bird would not fly.

The lunacy continued into this month when a Florida woman attempted to bring an “emotional support hamster” on a plane and was allegedly coerced by Spirit Airlines personnel to flush it down the toilet.

It could be argued that the actual Shark Jumping on this issue occurred long ago.  People have been complaining about the generous interpretations of help animals for quite some time. Enough dogs are flying these days to warrant their own restroom facilities at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, CA – a room with artificial turf and a reasonable facsimile of a fire hydrant. Remarkably, it doesn’t smell.


A place for dogs at the airport in Burbank.

It may not be a coincidence that Burbank is the closest commercial airport to Hollywood, home of Paramount Pictures, the production facility for Happy Days.

Much of the rest of the country believes that California Jumped the Shark decades ago, regarding it as “the land of fruits and nuts,” and they may not always be talking about food. Many of us who live here see it differently, of course, believing in the state’s innovative and progressive spirit. But we have our moments. Here are a couple of examples that may have raised eyebrows elsewhere in the country:

  1. A law forbidding plastic straws – A bill working its way through the California legislature would make it illegal for restaurant employees to hand out unsolicited plastic straws. The legislation was written in such a way that a single violation could result in a six-month jail term. The conservative media jumped all over that one before the bill’s author clarified that the overly harsh penalties weren’t supposed to be in the bill and will be removed before voting occurs.
  2. Legal weed with no iron-clad mechanism for determining DUI – California isn’t the lone ranger on this one. Recreational marijuana is also legal in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Vermont, and Washington DC. The fact remains that cannabis results in another legal intoxicant people will consume before climbing behind the wheel, and even though anyone with experience driving while stoned knows that weed significantly alters your perception and reactions, there currently isn’t an iron-clad way for law enforcement to test for levels of of intoxication–like alcohol–and that is a potential problem that has defense lawyers ready to pounce. We certainly hope that changes and our hats are off to police agencies that are definitely trying their best, but it may seem to conservative America, dear voters, that this issue could have been resolved BEFORE legalizing weed, and that doesn’t even to begin to discuss how the right may feel about the conflict between federal and state laws on marijuana.

Food pic

It’s not just California and other blue states Jumping the Shark, though. In fact, the red and blue states have a kind-of mirror image thing going. They point at each other and claim the other side is the problem.

The red states pull us back to the subject of Donald Trump. When we ask the perfectly natural question of how the hell he became president, the answer lies in the red states. They elected him. They Jumped the Shark. The Republicans populating those states made a deal with the devil to gain control of the presidency, and now a great many of them are holding on, refusing to admit their mistake come Hell or high water, mostly Hell.

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Some of our best writers continue trying to explain what happened. Richard North Patterson, writing in the Huffington Post, pointed out that the GOP is plunging “ever deeper into a fever swamp of fantasy” when it comes to Trump, supported and facilitated by friendly media like Fox News and Breitbart. Patterson continued: “Long before Trump, ever more Republicans became addicted to fact-free narratives (fake news) through which one right-wing cult or another mesmerized the party faithful. From this petri dish of unreason came Trump’s implacable army…The GOP has become a credulous coalition rooted in magical thinking and unreasoning resentment ― the perfect seedbed for a toxic Messiah who creates his own reality.”\

The newspaper of record in the state of Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune, recently lectured the institution that pays its bills, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with an opinion piece from a Mormon college student asking when church members will finally dump Trump. The student wrote, “The difficult truth, it would seem, is that Mormons have decided that promoting a conservative agenda is more important than opposing Trump’s reprehensible behavior.” The young man concluded that supporting Trump is, in fact, a betrayal of Mormon identity.

Lord jesus

However, Trump has enjoyed stunning success among the religious right, including Mormons. Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals reportedly voted for him last year, and more than one evangelical leader has equated support for Trump to a belief in Jesus Christ that may well accompany a presumption that God is a benevolent supporter of white, male-dominated America.

At the same time, and this is far from a coincidence, a recent survey of evangelicals asking if  “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life” revealed that 72 percent of them said yes, although only 30 percent of them believed that in 2011, when Barack Obama was president.

A sizable portion of Trump’s support seems to track along a belief system that, in addition to being highly religious, is also anti-fact and anti-science, and that may not be a coincidence, either. In this video by journalist and author Kurt Anderson, he explains how religion has radicalized American politics over the last 30 years and seriously harmed the perception of science, led by the rise of the Christian right.

On the other hand, the impact of religious beliefs is nothing new, even if the scale and fury of it in modern times are something different. It could be argued that a fundamental belief in God is anti-fact and anti-science, a position that is reinforced by a woman described as an ‘evangelical adviser’ to Trump who claims flu shots are unnecessary because you can “inoculate yourself with the word of God.”

The religious right has unquestionably Jumped the Shark.

Bottom line – Jumping the Shark is the human condition. People have brains that are hard-wired for emotional responses and not always willing to consider objective fact – irrespective of political and religious beliefs. So as a country we pay the price, and we find ourselves barely treading water in a vast sea of bullshit, especially right now with a stupendous moron in the White House.






Tattoos and you


I was born 10-15 years too soon to comfortably fit in with Tattoo America. When I was in high school and college three guys I knew of sported tats, and they were all outlaws. I never gave it serious consideration. All I could think of then (and now) is what happens when gravity inevitably takes control of one’s body, like when one might be about to turn, uh, 60. As a result, whatever is sagging on me does not include ink, so I got that going for me, which is nice.


A style of tattoo I would actually consider.

Tattoos began regularly appearing on otherwise respectable people not in the Navy in the early 90s. I remember meeting a woman about then who had a smiling sun on the side of one of her calves. It remains one of the few tattoos I actually liked. If I was ever to get one (not bloody likely), I would probably choose that, and maybe in the same spot.

At some point tattoos became standard equipment for professional athletes, especially in basketball, where they could be seen (and enjoyed?) by all. The first phase consisted of relatively tasteful single images on a bicep or forearm, and then guys like Dennis Rodman, Chris “Birdman” Anderson and Cherokee Parks took it to the next level by featuring multiple pieces of body art, including personal artistic expressions like neck tats. In my humble opinion, nothing says, “I am not a serious person” quite like a neck tat. But those young multimillionaires blazed their own trail, and popular culture willingly followed.


The Birdman

Fast-forward to the present and tattoos are more popular than ever. A story from the Huffington Post in 2014 estimated than 36 percent of all Americans between the ages of 18-25 had tattoos. I would guess that figure is higher now.  People of a certain age, my age and above, have resigned themselves to their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews tatting-up.

The 19-year old living at my house has been discussing tattoos for several years and made it clear they would be a part of his life. The first one recently materialized on his forearm, indicating his dismissal of my suggestion that he locate them in places where people who might judge him for his ink–people like his stodgy old man–can’t see them.


The Year of the Tiger.

His tattoo is a Chinese character matching a gold piece he wears on a necklace that represents the year of his birth, 1998, the Year of the Tiger. Hey – it could be worse. I’m still suggesting strategic hiding places for the next ones, and I’m also lobbying hard against neck tats. Please, dear God, no neck tats.




Arguing with voodoo and nonsense


The debate following the horrific slaughter last week in Parkland, FL has tracked along predictable, sickening lines. Those supporting reasonable gun control rely upon numerous solid facts, while those defending their “right” to own weapons of war try to prop up the Second Amendment and the NRA while leading us down a rabbit hole of warped logic and militia voodoo. Like many issues involving conservatives in this country, they are countering strong arguments with flimsy propaganda and emulating the moronic president they idolize by doubling-down on their stupidity when challenged. As for members of Congress bought and paid-for by the NRA, they meekly recite their lines and somehow continue to look at themselves in the mirror.

However, there have been some interesting developments over the last few days. Let’s see if they lead anywhere:

1) A teenage speaker in Parkland has declared to great acclaim that this will be the last mass school shooting in America.

2) A former army solider described in convincing detail in a widely distributed blog post how an AR-15 is the perfect killing machine, and how it’s patently ridiculous that it is available for sale.

3) A key GOP donor has said he won’t write another check until Republicans get behind an assault weapons ban.

4) A protest vigil turned up at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, VA.

5) Students and teachers are threatening a massive nationwide school walkout on April 20. As that date is also the infamous 4-20, we can only hope the students’ motivations remain pure.

For any of these ideas to actually achieve something, Americans must do one thing differently, a big thing – stay engaged. We are good at public mourning and we excel at insulting each other on the internet, but we haven’t figured out how to be tenacious in finally, finally stopping the mentally ill from acquiring weapons and using them to butcher children, concertgoers and movie patrons. Common sense would tell us that at some point every citizen regardless of political persuasion would say “enough” and work together to enact change. But common sense was banished from one side of the table a long time ago, and it has not been invited back.

If there was ever a time to lay the voodoo priest to rest, it is now, but we have been saying that for years and Wayne LaPierre, the NRA and their congressional puppets still don’t get it. It will require uncharacteristic tenacity and possibly conflict with armed-to-the-hilt assholes to get there. I fervently hope we find a solution in my lifetime, but I have doubts.


A Kerr-Popovich national ticket in 2020


Gregg “Pop” Popovich and Steve Kerr

In the wake of the shooting deaths of 17 people at a school in Parkland, FL, the latest incident in the long-running batshit-crazy psychodrama of American assault rifle attacks, I am reminded that some of the best takedowns of the infantile Donald J. Trump; his corrupt, inept administration; and GOP moral vacancy in general have come from a pair of basketball coaches, Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, two men who have become rich and famous through professional sports but in fact offer a great deal more, starting with fierce intelligence and deep humanity, traits that are in very short supply right now in the White House and among majority leaders on Capitol Hill.  For this reason I’m taking a stance that’s half-serious (maybe): Kerr and Popovich for president/VP in 2020

Popovich, 69, is an NBA legend who has led the small-market San Antonio Spurs to five league championships and 20 consecutive winning seasons. Kerr, 52, has enjoyed what looks like a too-easy career as a member of the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls, a national broadcaster, and the coach of the talent-rich Golden State Warriors. If you didn’t know better you would think Kerr is one of those guys who has breezed-by on charm and good looks, and you would be wrong.

Steve Kerr’s life story is unique, and some of it is heart-wrenching. By the time he had become perhaps the most popular athlete in school history at the University of Arizona–inspiring an arena full of basketball fans to repeatedly and ritualistically shout “STEVE KERR” in unison–he had already endured more misfortune than many of us encounter in a lifetime. His father was Malcolm Kerr, an educator who was president of American University in Beirut and was killed there by terrorists in 1984. Steve Kerr carried that terrible burden forward and wore it on his sleeve as maturity and leadership. As a coach, Kerr took a Warriors team that was already very good and introduced a meticulously thought-out, innovative approach that made it the best in the NBA, winning two of last three league titles. Kerr had never coached before.

I know three people who know Gregg Popovich personally, and they each talk about his loyalty and integrity. They go back to his years as a student at the Air Force Academy and a stint as a young coach at a small California college. Popovich, known as “Pop,” doesn’t forget his friends. He leaves them tickets when his team travels to Northern California, and he is careful to make time for them away from the demands of players and the media. As a coach, Pop has excelled through flexibility, tactical brilliance, savvy player acquisitions in collaboration with the Spurs front office, and brutal honesty. He connects with his players and motivates them, and sometimes he might even scare them a little.

So let’s look at Kerr-Popovich on the issues. Pop has been very eloquent in his assessments of Trump:

1) Responding to a lie Trump told about his response to the deaths of four soldiers in comparison to other presidents, Popovich said, “This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it.”

2) On Trump and all the commotion last fall over athletes choosing not to stand-for or otherwise recognize the national anthem: “The childishness, the gratuitous fear mongering and race baiting, has been so consistent that it’s almost expected. The bar has been lowered so far that I think it’s more important to be thinking about what to do in more organic roots based level. Thinking about the efforts to restrict voter registration, comments that demean cultures, ethic groups, races, women. Those sorts of things. What can be done in an organic way to fight that?”

Kerr took time last night before a Warriors loss to address the attack in Florida, saying, “It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death, day after day in schools. It doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It’s not enough, apparently, to move our leadership, our government, the people who are running this country to actually do anything. That’s demoralizing. But we can do something about it, we can vote people in who actually have the courage to protect people’s lives, not just bow down to the NRA because they’ve financed their campaign for them. Hopefully we’ll find enough people, first of all to vote, get people in, but hopefully we’ll find enough people to actually help our citizens remain safe and focus on the real safety issues, not building some stupid wall for millions of dollars that has nothing to do with our safety, but actually protecting us from what truly is dangerous, which is maniacs with semi-automatic weapons just slaughtering our children. It’s disgusting.”

It’s even more powerful on video.

Yeah, we can elect new people – guys like this. What, you ask, basketball coaches as national leaders? Well, as you can see, they’re already leaders, and in the current farce we’re forced to suffer through, why the hell wouldn’t we consider people like them?

Kerr-Popovich 2020? Sure, I’d be interested. (Half-seriously)




About Jane Fonda


We had a Jane Fonda moment last month. We don’t seem to have a lot of them, or at least I don’t. On those rare occasions when she enters my consciousness I find myself thinking something like, “Oh, yeah – her. Is she still around?” Indeed she is, but in the world I inhabit she spends a lot of time under the radar before occasionally resurfacing in a burst of publicity and/or controversy.

Jane Fonda’s legacy is complicated and unique. Born to Hollywood royalty and devastatingly beautiful, she has managed to–in the eyes of some–both squander her considerable gifts and achieve a level of notoriety she will never completely outrun, not even in death.

Fonda is an octogenarian now. She recently turned 80. And whatever golden years she might have been enjoying have been jolted by a feud with NBC news anchor Megyn Kelly that apparently began over interview questions about Fonda and plastic surgery and advanced to the point where Kelly, a product of the Fox News propaganda machine, realigned with the conservative right by attacking Fonda’s long-ago actions in opposition to the Vietnam War. Kelly took the very Fox step of claiming Fonda has never apologized for those actions–one in particular–when, in fact, she has said a number of times that she regrets her actions.


Hanoi Jane

So what, exactly, did Jane Fonda do all those years ago? Well, in 1972 she accepted an invitation to tour North Vietnam, where she made several radio announcements urging US pilots to stop their bombing runs and then posed for a picture that still enrages veterans and the right-wing – she was photographed with an antiaircraft gun that would have been used to shoot down American planes. And with that, the legend of “Hanoi Jane” was born.

The animosity for Fonda was visceral, and it still is. A common reaction is a stated refusal to watch any movie or TV show featuring her, which–if true–is fascinating but hardly fair. The list of objectors to the Vietnam War is, of course, overwhelmingly long. Millions of Americans lined up against it. Young men moved to Canada to avoid the draft. Some guy named Trump stayed out of it with a highly dubious claim of bone spurs.

Celebrities like Paul Newman and Warren Beatty supported anti-war Democratic challengers to a Republican president (Nixon) pursuing and defending the actions in Vietnam. News broadcaster Walter Cronkite, perhaps the most trusted man in America at the time, came out against the war.

Meryl Streep, a leading Hollywood liberal, forged her political consciousness in the Vietnam era and has set herself up squarely as an enemy of the modern right-wing. Yet Streep is the most celebrated actor of this and many other generations, the star of films no doubt seen by a large number of the same people treating Jane Fonda like a pariah.

To be clear, as an actor Fonda is no Streep, but she has enjoyed a long and distinguished career–49 movies–and peaked in the 70s with two Academy Awards for best actress, for Klute and Coming Home. Yet she has always seemed to play Jane Fonda rather than inhabit a role. Her highly cultivated speaking voice tends to typecast her in a manner similar to Katherine Hepburn or Lauren Bacall, or Humphrey Bogart. The voice overpowers everything. She perhaps would have been better suited to an earlier era when stars were always glamorous on-screen; the era of her father. For those reasons I have never been much of a fan. The only movie I can regularly identify with her is The China Syndrome, where she does a passable job portraying a TV reporter who stumbles onto the story of a lifetime. The film rocketed to fame in 1979 when its fictional near-meltdown at a nuclear power plant preceded an actual near-meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island a short time later.


Fonda’s life has taken some other intriguing turns, starting with her three marriages. In her 20s she married French director Roger Vadim, who directed her in several films portraying her as a sex kitten, including 1968’s Barbarella, which led to a wild, infamous cover for Penthouse magazine. Fonda’s next marriage went in a dramatically different direction. Her husband was Tom Hayden, a civil rights and anti-war activist who became a California state senator. And the final union went someplace different still – she married media mogul Ted Turner, who owned the Atlanta Braves. The liberal Fonda was there during the Braves’ 90s heyday, attending postseason games at Fulton County Stadium and joining in the controversial Tomahawk Chop before she honored the concerns of Native Americans and stopped.


In addition to all that Fonda found time to develop a sideline career as an aerobics entrepreneur. She was in her mid-40s then and looked pretty damn good in a leotard and tights. She produced Jane Fonda’s Workout Book, which spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list, and then helped pioneer workout videos with a VHS series–starring her–that continued well into the 21st century (progressing to DVDs) and sold hundreds of thousands of copies to people–mainly women–who didn’t seem to care much about the Hanoi Jane thing.

There can be no question that Jane Fonda has led an extraordinary, albeit privileged life touching movies, politics and popular culture. To write her off following her activities during the Vietnam War amounts to nothing less than short-sighted cultural retardation. Love her or not, Fonda is an authentic American icon who should be celebrated, warts and all.