Sunday, December 29, 2013

Republican Orthodoxy: You Match 'Em Quiz

John Boehner
Carl Rove
Ted Cruz

John Q. T-Party

Okay:  It's time for one of those end of the year quizzes.  Let's play, "Who Said That During 2013?"

Match the statement to the Republican who said it: 
1. "Jesus never once admonished government to create social justice. He admonished us personally to be our brother's keeper...Our nation's founders, creators of the American Dream, did not form the Constitution based on social justice and inclusivity, but on the pursuit of happiness and equal opportunity...It is a personal responsibility to be our brother's keeper...It is easy to palm off our neighbors to the government."

2. "Society...does not have an obligation to even the playing field. Those who choose to be needy [italics added]over choosing to be responsible are literally robbing from people who have no choice."

3. "Our welfare system has created the fatherless black child trapped in a prison of violence and hopelessness. Before the invasion of The Great Society, the African American family was intact. Check the statistics of the 1950's versus those since the act creating the Great Society in 1965. Watch the news in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. We have slipped from ghetto to the new plantation... And we want to broaden this failure by forcibly taking hard-earned money and giving it, rather than jobs, to more people? It is morally reprehensible. So, what would Jesus say?"

4. "There is hard-earned dirt under my fingernails, and I have never had the luxury of getting callouses on my behind rather than my fingers."

Mad Dog may indulge himself over the next few posts, as the spirit moves, to deconstruct each of these jewels, which as a group are a delicious screed against that most foul bogeyman which delights and titillates the dark cockles of the Tea Party heart: The Welfare Queen, immortalized by Ronald Reagan, as that reprobate who gamed the welfare systems for "hundreds of thousand dollars a year," and drove a Cadillac, laughing all the way to the bank while her fellow citizens worked hard to support her profligate ways with their taxes. (More on her to come, stay tuned.)

But for now, Mad Dog admits the answer to the quiz is: None of the Above, or, alternatively, "All of the Above" because, while this was all written by a single author, one Ramona Charland, of Portsmouth, in a letter to the Portsmouth Herald; she was wittingly or unwittingly quoting chapter and verse from the same text, the Republican Bible, the book of Tea Party Pslams, aka The Book of Sore-man.

And, yes, Mad Dog, got a new software program as a Christmas present--what would Jesus say?-- from one of his sons, so he can now create cartoons which, eventually, will be a lot more polished than his old hand drawn attempts. Still working on the software, and it's tons of fun.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Obamacare: Hey It Works For Me

Van Gogh

Okay, here's an early Christmas present. The phone rings at 10 o'clock at night and the caller ID shows it's our thirty something son. 
He  is living his bohemian life in Brooklyn and we worry about him. 
We have told him how important it is he have health insurance. He shrugged that off, being young and invulnerable as he is.
But my wife appeals to him on the one level she knows will appeal to him. From early youth, this particular son has been a person who feels responsible for the rest of humanity. Give him a $5 bill for his lunch money for a week and he gives it to a pan handler on the street and he eats crackers and ketchup from the school cafeteria that week.
 When his younger brother found a living sand dollar on the beach and proceeded to carry it  home to show his mother his living treasure,  the good son lambasted him the whole way home, saying the sand dollar would die out of the water, would die just so the younger brother could have the pleasure of showing off  it to their mother. 

So his mother, my wife, appeals to that most reliable, entrenched part of him--concern for others:  "Look," she says, "If you get hit by a truck and wind up in the ICU at $50,000 a day, you know your father and I will not just let you die there. We will have to mortgage the house and go bankrupt trying to save you. So, do us a favor, get yourself health insurance."
So he got a policy called a "catastrophic" policy which covered almost nothing and cost $800 a month--a major part of his budget. His rent costs $800 a month.

Now, it's a phone call from New York at 10 PM. 
A phone call at 10 PM from this son could not be good. 

But, he sounds happy. Not just happy, euphoric.
He had got on the Obamacare website, got a policy for $300 a month which covers just about everything you can think of, including dental. He has not seen a dentist in 5 years. (News to us.) 
Of course, he lives in New York, where there are many insurance companies competing for business, not New Hampshire, where there is no competition, where Blue Cross has a monopoly. 
But for him the unsung truth, Obama care has proven a great blessing.
We'll see if his anecdote is more representative than the other anecdotes we have been bombarded with in the Times and the Portsmouth Herald.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Strip Searching Again. This time Dr. Khobragade. The New York Times is All For It.

He bemoaned that public outrage was focusing not on Khobragade's alleged treatment of the housekeeper and her spouse, but on the U.S. government's treatment of the diplomat.
"Is it for U.S. prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims (again, here an Indian national), or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?" he asked rhetorically.
Bharara defended the handling of the arrest and custody, though his office was not involved. "Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded," he said. "She was not, as has been incorrectly reported, arrested in front of her children. The agents arrested her in the most discreet way possible, and unlike most defendants, she was not then handcuffed or restrained."
In addition, she was allowed to keep her phone and make calls to arrange personal matters, including child care, he said.
"Because it was cold outside, the agents let her make those calls from their car and even brought her coffee and offered to get her food. It is true that she was fully searched by a female deputy marshal -- in a private setting -- when she was brought into the U.S. Marshals' custody, but this is standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself. This is in the interests of everyone's safety." [italics added]

--CNN report about the arrest

There are all sorts of issues connected to the arrest of Devyani Khobragade in New York.
She is (or may be) a diplomat from India and may or may not have diplomatic immunity. New York accuses her of abusing a domestic worker by underpaying her. She is not accused of human trafficking or selling the worker in to a life of prostitution, but of underpaying her.

1. The arrested woman was strip searched and had her vagina probed, just in case this mother and diplomat was carrying a concealed switch blade in her vagina. Just in case she carried an explosive in her vagina, with which she might harm some of the other prisoners (or herself !)  Of course, this is a legitimate concern for the New York prosecutor, because, Heaven knows, this woman, who apparently had just dropped her child off at day care might have known the arrest was coming and loaded up her vagina to do battle at the jail. Might have locked and loaded that very morning. 

You never know.

Some have described this as "finger rape" in jail. Some would not. It's just what every female American citizen can expect when taken into custody by their government at any time in any jail. Ain't not big thing, according to the New York state prosecutor. A little vaginal probing, stripping. Endorsed by Justices Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas, too. They are all for it. Got to protect those jailors from dangerous criminals like Dr. Khobragade. Feed her coffee and doughnuts  first, just to get her in the mood.

2. The New York Times ran an editorial supporting the state, saying the treatment befitted the crime. Of course, the venerable Times completely ignored the idea of punishing (by finger raping and stripping) someone who has been only accused and not convicted of a crime. One might ask what was in the coffee of the Times editorial board that night. 

3. Diplomats are typically protected from dingy cells and in jail genital manipulation.  Mad Dog recalls a conversation he had with an American foreign service officer some years ago. Mad Dog was speaking to this foreign service officer because the son of a Mexican diplomat had crossed the double yellow line on a Friday night, in his car, which was loaded with eight other teenagers. There may or may not have been drinking involved. 
You guess. 
And the car wound up in Mad Dog's windshield. Mad Dog's wife, riding in the passenger seat was air lifted to the trauma center, unconscious, spent two weeks in intensive care and did not walk without crutches for six months.
 Mad Dog had to hire an in house au pair to care for his 9 month and 2 year old sons, and Mad Dog was just starting his practice in Washington, DC and did not have the money to pay for his wife, his sons and still try to go to the office and hospital.  
The son of the diplomat was not arrested at the scene. The police told Mad Dog the father arrived "waving his diplomatic card around like it was a credit card," and the father took him home, leaving the wreckage of the two cars and the seven other injured teenagers behind. 
"Well," the American foreign service officer told Mad Dog, "If we don't honor the diplomatic protection here, our foreign service officers in Mexico, Turkey, Beirut and the Soviet Union are all exposed."

Not only could Mad Dog not see the son locked up, Mad Dog could not sue the father. 

Diplomatic immunity. 

But here today we have a diplomat (or some family member) finger raped before she is even tried in court for a non violent crime.

(And the New York Times sees nothing wrong with this and upbraids the Indians for getting angry.)

America looks at the rest of the world and sees barbarians. 
What do the Indians and the British think, when they look at America and see Texas executing people with all the abandon of an afternoon barbecue?  What do they think when they learn women, a mother having dropped her child off at day care, is hauled off for a strip search in an American jail?

What do Americans think about strip searching?
Oh, won't happen to me. Won't happen to my wife or daughter. 
Not my problem.
Live free or die.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time: When the Seabrook Plant Blows

Hey boys and girls! It's what we've been looking for in our mailboxes all year, and it's finally here: Our 2014 Emergency Public Information Calendar (for neighbors of the Seabrook Station) "DO NOT DISCARD. SAVE FOR USE DURING AN EMERGENCY."

And what a wonder of invaluable information it is! My favorite is the Emergency Bus Information map for Hampton. When those sirens go off because the power plant is melting down, just go right out to Route 27 and wait for the bus to safety. (18 pages of emergency bus routes from the surrounding towns. What haven't they thought of at the power plant emergency planning office?)

Just climb on board. 
Don't need no luggage. 
All you need is faith. 
Hear the diesels humming. 
There's a bus a coming, 
Just thank the Lord.

It is reassuring to see that they plan to evacuate towns as far away as Dover and Rochester. Makes one feel better about living just two miles as the crow flies from the plant.  Wouldn't matter if you lived at a "safe distance." The safe distance appears to be Canada.

Oh, and what to take with you when the siren goes off. Things I would not have thought of: 1. Dentures  2. Toothpaste 3. Medical insurance card --we might radiate you, but nobody's going to treat you for free. 

If things get, how shall we put this? Constricted. Just shelter in place. "Keep pets inside. If you are in your car close the windows." 

And do not breathe more than necessary.

 "Remember, in an emergency, you will be better prepared if you know how to help yourself and others, as well as how to receive help from others." 

There are some lovely photos in this calendar: Look at July, with the picture of gentry getting on board the Portsmouth Electric Railway car, which apparently ran from Rye to Portsmouth. Look at those folks. There was a time along the seacoast when living was elegant. Those folks did not have to worry about a nuclear power plant blowing up. Judging from their clothes, they were living about maybe 1900:  All they had to worry about was Diptheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, strep bacteria, influenza, polio, world wars, and crop failures. 

Life was simple then. No worries about computer viruses and nuclear power plants. 


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Private Sector vs The Government in Health Care

One of the core Republican Tea Party tropes is that "Government cannot do anything right; the private sector, motivated by profit and competition is always more efficient and effective."

Obamacare's troubled roll out has played into this cant, and Republicans have been frothing and delighted.

The problem is, the profit motive is not always the most functional motive: Consider medicine.

In medical school, nascent doctors are taught relentlessly what constitutes good medicine: Every medical student admits patients to hospital and each new patient begins a series of quality control exercises, as the student presents the case to the ward attending and to each attending who visits the patient from each specialty. So a diabetic admitted for chest pain who is found to have an infection of his big toe will get seen by the ward attending, the attending cardiologist, the attending infectious disease faculty. Every chart note the student writes, every presentation he makes is reviewed by his intern, his resident, his attending, the specialists, the faculty member who hears the case presented at morning report. Feedback is critical, constant, valuable. 

You learn, through this process to judge quality: the infectious disease consult who sees the patient for his toe infection should cut away the dressing from the toe, inspect it daily, to see how it is healing or not.  Some attendings are lazy. They don't remove the bandage, which often takes time to search for the nurse for a kit to use and then to rewrap. Some never fail to examine the toe. That is quality care. The doctor who does not unwrap the toe may miss the fact the antibiotics he has ordered are not working.  He may save time by not unwrapping, and he may be able to see twenty five patients on his rounds, and bill and profit more than the plodding doctor who does it right, but the rapid moving, lazy doctor is not practicing high quality medicine. The doctor who sees fewer patients, unwraps every toe, bills less, but does more good.

Mad Dog has worked for medical care organizations in which the work the physicians do is never reviewed for quality by another doctor. No chart note is ever read, not case is ever required to be presented. No conference to review performance is ever done. The only metric that matters  in such organization is the metric of dollars in and dollars out. When contract renewal negotiations occur, there is never a mention of whether you unwrap toes, examine hearts or lungs because the contracts are negotiated by MBA types, not doctors. And the MBA types don't have any mechanism to check which of the doctors they are negotiating contracts with are practicing low quality medicine and who is high quality. But those MBA's can add up dollars just fine.

There is a big push in medicine now for "quality metrics" which often means some easily quantifiable thing which can be collected easily, with a minimum of effort, by an entry level staff person and plugged into a spread sheet. The glycohemoglobin fits all these criteria.  It is a number which tells how high the blood sugar as been for the past three months.  Want to know if a doctor is good at treating diabetes? Add up all his patients' glycohemoglobin, divide by the number of patients and presto: Quality assessment.

The problem with such easy metrics is they can always be gamed. They invite gaming.  So the organization announces you will be judged by glycohemoglobins: What to do?  Well, first fire all your overweight, non compliant, under performing patients. Or send them to some other doctor, an endocrinologist or a nurse practitioner; let someone else carry these neer do wells. Keep all your thin, compliant diabetics with their good glycohemoglobins and you look great. 

The problem with this good assessment of diabetic control is that it attributes to the physician the entire burden of the outcome. Doctors may find themselves in the same position as  teachers in the South Bronx, the poor  scores of their students do no mean they are bad teachers; these teachers are not working with cooperative subjects. Doctors who work with patients who cannot or will not do the things they need to do to control blood sugar, who are judged by poor results,  know they can do nothing to affect those results. So they will game that system.

All this is happening because the wrong people have been given the task of judging doctors. MBA's can only judge how much money the doctor brings into the coffers.  CPA's and economists might dream up a metric or two which sounds reasonable, but they cannot see where the metric fails and how it can be gamed. 

Health care systems, whether they are for profit corporations, or "voluntary hospitals" are all failing in the same way: They have excluded the very people who can judge the work of the doctors in the system, namely other doctors. 

The emergence of the profit motive as the driving force in medicine, combined with the flight of doctors from being independent shop keepers to hired help has meant the culture of business has, by default, assumed control of the way doctors are evaluated, paid and ultimately what kind of quality they provide their patients. 

Next time some Republican says,  "Keep your government hands off my Medicare, get the private sector control of medicine, let the profit motive prevail,"  just tell them government may not be as efficient as we'd like, but it is still worlds better than profit driven private companies. At least the government has the motive of providing good health care. The company cares only about the bottom line.

Much as doctors love to complain about Medicare, they mostly agree Medicare generally does what is best for the patient.  The private insurance company will deny a diagnostic test for its customer, knowing that two years later the patient may be much sicker because the diagnosis was missed. But, two years later the customer will likely have another insurance company, and paying for his illness will be that company's problem. Medicare knows they are stuck with every patient for life. 

So Medicare will pay for a pair of shoes designed to prevent ulcers on the feet of diabetics. The shoes may cost $100 a year. A single visit to the ER for a foot ulcer is $500. Medicare makes the investment because keeping the patient out of the hospital is cost effective. The private insurer is hoping to keep the patient out of the hospital only for the term of the policy. 

Democracy may be the worst form of government ever devised, as Churchill noted, except for all the other forms of government which have ever been tried. The same may be true of government guided medicine--the worst form of management except for all the other forms which are currently out there.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Constitution Is Only A Rough Draft

A Well Regulated Militia

This week's New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin notes that the Constitution is America's Holy Book, that both conservatives and liberals avow they are the true defenders of the founding fathers' holy words and their opponents are trying to thwart the intentions of those divinely inspired, bewigged 18th century gentlemen (and they were none of them peasants) who assembled in Philadelphia. 

In fact, as a law  professor named Sanford Levin has pointed out, the document set forth a plan which was a political compromise, with morality often absent, to wit, the enshrinement of slavery (with slaves, referred to as "other Persons").

In many ways, the political compromises which were made in the late 1700's still thwart us today:  A representative democracy, if that's what we are aiming for, should, ideally, represent the people who live in the nation rather than some artificial constructs, which are, after all, what states are. (There is a wonderful book about how states got their boundaries, and if ever you doubt the artificiality of states, read that.)

The notion of states ultimately stood in for real divides among the people of the nation:  In the 1800's states which raised cotton and kept slaves were different from states which did not. Today, there are rural to wilderness states with few people but lots of land and resources, and it is the people who control those resources and that land which get a commanding voice in the U.S. Senate. 

The idea, expressed by Orin Hatch of Utah, that the populous states of California and New York could rule Utah, Wyoming and Montana is horrifying to the people living in those states, who believe only they should control the water, the gold, the silver, the gas and oil on their "property." And that's, in essence, the idea of a state, the people in that geographic area have fenced off the land as "ours" and everyone else is trying to take their rights to use that land as they see fit. 

Toobin notes that in 1787 Virginia, the largest state, had eleven times the population of Delaware, the smallest. Today, California has seventy times more people than Wyoming. And yet, the people of Wyoming get to control resources, get to align themselves with other wilderness states to prevent meaningful gun control. 

If Mad Dog had his way, and if we really decided we need states, he would create a single state out of Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada. The Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., and a part of Maryland from those suburbs up through Baltimore would form another. Upstate New York would become part of Vermont, and populations which share common concerns and problems would be bound together.  This would likely mean retrenchment every twenty years, but at least we could avoid the absurdity of Albany, New York controlling New York City.

If state boundaries were eliminated tomorrow, if we all became simply "Americans" then we could people in Idaho, they do not have a right to their AK 47 attack rifles and grenades.  

But Delaware, Rhode Island and likely Vermont and New Hampshire might not have joined the union if people in those states, who thought of themselves as being from those states, were told they would be represented according to their numbers rather than according to  their property.

In fact, those hallowed founding fathers did not trust the hoi polloi to govern themselves, so they created a Senate which could be controlled by the landed gentry, the wealthy and the well connected, and which could nullify whatever the rabble in the House of Representatives tried to enact as law.

We are not, and were never intended to be a democracy. "This has never been a democracy. This is a representative republic, with heightened democratic principles," Orin Hatch says. 

Through time, the revered checks and balances have thwarted change: For part of our history it was the Senate, which blocked emancipation of the slaves, then civil rights, then Clinton's health care reform.  Then there was the Supreme Court, which confirmed slavery in the infamous Dred Scott case, and which blocked changes to Jim Crow and recently made stealth political contributions a protected form of free speech. 

The government, as our founding fathers handed it to us was designed to accomplish little. That's what "checks and balances" is all about. 

That is why the Tea Party canonizes the founding fathers. If you believe government is bad, if you believe that government is best which governs least, well then, the Constitution is your Bible and Thomas Jeffferson and his fellow slave holders your apostles. 
All Men Created Equal. Except the Slaves

That may have worked well in the 18th century, when there was really very little which any government could do for its people other than to tax and wage wars against other governments. There were no medical schools to fund, no hope of curing cancer or infectious disease, no way of  doing any meaningful public health. They could build roads, locally, but there were no bulldozers, no bridges which could span large rivers, and no airports, no need for air traffic control. There were no automobiles to power with gas lines, and no internet, no computers, no mass communications beyond newspapers, no telegraph, no railroads, no labor unions (although we may soon join the 18th century in that respect) no hospitals which we would recognize as hospitals, no real pharmaceutical industry, no public education, and the few universities which did exist taught mainly Latin, Greek and theology. 

The men who signed that parchment with quill pens did make a giant leap in thinking: They recognized the idea you needed a king to govern was absurd. But then, they had seen England's Parliament.  They were, for the most part, ordinary men of their times, who found some extraordinary men, like Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Hamilton to lead them.  What they cobbled together almost fell apart because they had sewn their fabric with the poisoned threads of slavery, states rights, property, male dominance, class suppression, aristocracy and indentured servitude. 

Lucky for us, Abraham Lincoln found his voice and his chance.

President Obama has been hamstrung by what those dead white men left him. 

So have we all.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Obamacare Takes Root

Norman Rockwell

This morning, NPR aired a story following a thirty-something man as he  tried to work through the Obamacare website. NPR followed him through his first frustrating encounters, then as he gradually wended his way through the web, and finally as he discovered a plan which would work for him. The plan costs about $180 a month, more than $200 a month less expensive than his current plan and it covered his prescriptions, had minimal co-payments and deductibles and was overall way better. In the end he phoned the insurance company, Unity, which would be his new insurer and they confirmed the good news, which he could hardly believe.
"The really funny part, " he said in the end, "Is that it was Unity which rejected me a year ago, because I'm diabetic. Now they are giving me way better coverage at a fraction of the cost."

Family Plan

This, of course, is an anecdote. It's the kind of reporting that is easier because you do not have to fight through statistics and computer screens and try to draw conclusions which are supported by statistics. And, as they always say in journalism, it's got the "human dimension." You can follow the individual. The problem is, how do we know whether or not that individual is representative of a larger trend?

If he is, then the Republican party, and people like Fred Rice and Nancy Stiles should, eventually be in big trouble, if voters remember how they tried so hard to prevent this leap forward in healthcare. 

Of course that's a lot of "if's."  If Obamacare works this well for the millions. If voters remember who tried to prevent it and who made it happen.  If voters go to the polls.

John Singer Sargent 

But, if this sequence occurs, it will be good for a lot of people, and it will be a huge step forward for the nation. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fried Rice

"We face a $17 trillion federal deficit and $128 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Continuing to look to Washington as a bottomless pit of money that we can draw on just by complying with increased federal conditions is irresponsible and leads to greater dependence on government for everything in our lives."

--Fred Rice, Republican Delegate House of Representatives, New Hampshire

Whenever people start throwing around big numbers, you can be pretty sure they have no idea what they are talking about. When they talk about thousands, they may have some inkling; millions, they are in a fog; billions, they are listening to someone else; trillions, they haven't the faintest idea.  There is a strong inverse correlation between large numbers and solid evidence.

--Mad Dog, Hampton New Hampshire Democrat

Fred Rice voices the standard Tea Party Republican tripe when he says we cannot afford Medicaid for our New Hampshire citizens, and we cannot afford health care for our nation. The line is so old  and wrong it is like a worn out pair of shoes: leaky, inadequate, but  comfortable.

Here's how it goes:  We are spending more money than we can afford. This will result in catastrophe, not necessarily today, but tomorrow, when the bill comes due.If we agree to this Medicaid thing, then we will be involving ourselves more with the federal government, and that is always bad. The federal government is bad. Government is bad. Someday, when the bill comes due, we will be owned by the Chinese, and our grand children will have to learn Chinese. They will be working for Chinese companies, living in dormitories next to the factories and they will live in a soulless country where there is no free market. Government spending is always bad. If we had only not spent government money during the Great Recession, we'd be oh so much better off. General Motors would have gone bankrupt, but that would have only hurt the unions, so that would have been a good thing.

One advantage of mouthing this line is that it is easy to remember and it never changes and it sounds homey and has the ring of truthiness.

Only problem is, it is total rubbish.

We have the money.  Medicare is not,  and never has been,  and in the foreseeable future will not be in economic trouble. Social Security is not in danger of default, unless the Republicans drive it in that direction. Medicaid will not bankrupt the state of New Hampshire, especially given the federal government's generosity when it comes to this program. (Of course, Mr. Rice knows the federal government is just trying to trick us into taking part in this program so it can control us later.)

What Mr. Rice and his Republican colleagues really fear is not that Medicaid will hurt New Hampshire, but that New Hampshire will come to love Obamacare as much as it loves Medicare, and maybe, just maybe, New Hampshire voters will remember who tried to give them health insurance and who tried to stand in the way.

Remember, expanding Medicaid is not a way to help the few, but the many. The reason we worry about denying Medicaid to fellow citizens is not because we care so much about those who need Medicaid. What we really care about is if we don't insure those Medicaid eligible people, they will go to the Emergency Rooms, where they will run up the bills for all the rest of us. 

As for Mr. Rice, as an example of a specimen of this Republican species, we must always remember that Mr. Rice has (and continues) to insist that building a motorway along the abandoned railroad line between Hampton and Portsmouth would be better for the environment than building a bicycle path.  You see, Mr. Rice informs us, the new two lane road would reduce traffic along Route 1, and with fewer cars, there would be fewer cars idling their motors at traffic signals and that would reduce emissions and seacoast air would be cleaner.  So there you have it: Worried about air pollution? Build roads.  Build roads and the roads will carry fewer cars. (If you build it, they will not come. Roads are good. Roads do not simply fill up with more cars if you build them--they empty out.)

Mr. Rice is probably not, at heart, a bad sort. It is true, he voted for lowering cigarette taxes because his unfailing economic compass told him if we lower taxes we could sell more product and if we sold more product, even at a lower price, we'd make more money. When confronted with the question about why we tax cigarettes, what we hope to accomplish, he looked like a deer in the headlights. Why? To make money, of course. But do we not hope to diminish the use of cigarettes by taxing them? Are we not concerned with the health of the citizens of New Hampshire?  Well, Mr. Rice replied, what we are really going to see is all those Massachusetts residents will drive across the border for the cheap cigarettes. So, Mr. Rice was asked:  "Are we trying to export our lung cancer to Massachusetts?"

Mr. Rice replied, "Well, cigarettes are legal aren't they?"

Fellow citizens of Hampton, do we not have a single human being willing to stand in the next election against Mr. Rice?  Can we not rid our town of this vexatious priest of Republican obtuseness? 

The man, plainly put, is an embarrassment. And he represents Hampton! People up there in Concord must look at him, listen to him and say, "Do they still have lead in the drinking water in Hampton?"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ms. Liasson, Mr. Obama and Death by A Thousand Cuts

Mara Liasson first grabbed Mad Dog's attention during the 2008 Presidential campaign, when her pieces for NPR got Mad Dog frothing at the mouth and in risk of being taken away by the Humane Society as a rabid canine.

What she would do was subtle, but effective. A piece about Sarah Palin would have several extended clips of Ms. Palin delivering zinger after zinger, invectives against Mr. Obama and, with five seconds left, Ms. Liasson would  squeeze in, dismissively, a  terse summary of what Mr. Obama had said in response. So it would go something like this: 

  Sarah Palin clip:  "Senator Obama has insulted not just every soccer Mom in this great country of ours, but he has betrayed his own sexist attitudes about women when he snidely said you can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig. Well, I don't think I resemble a pig, and that's unworthy of a serious candidate for President of this great country of ours."
  Ms. Liasson:  "Mr. Obama replied Governor Palin had used the lipstick imagery first, so it was fair game."

And so on.

Over the past five years, Ms. Liasson's  antipathy toward the President has become increasingly apparent.  Now is a slow news stretch with Congress on recess,  and when dead calm strikes, reporters start interviewing each other.  Ms. Liasson was asked to comment on what the Obamacare website fiasco means for Mr. Obama's Presidency and Ms. Liasson told her NPR listeners:
1. Mr. Obama's "signature" (read that as "only") accomplishment has been the passage of the health care law.
2. The law is now moribund, owing to the catastrophic breakdown of its website.
3. Mr. Obama's Presidency will never recover from this blow.
4. He has nobody but himself to blame because this is simply a matter of incompetence. 

President Obama, one might conclude listening to Ms. Liasson, may as well pack it in.  He has been a thoroughly worthless President and he should resign in disgrace. 

During the last Presidential debates, Mr. Romney informed Jim Lehrer that as President Mr. Romney would defund public television and public radio because it is anti-American for the government to spend money on things the private sector can do. 

Apparently, National Public Radio panicked. We need to appease those conservatives, who think we are a sort of Fox News for the left.  So, we'll put forward a few really rank conservatives and then we can claim we are "balanced."

Mad Dog has no problem with that. Just call a spade a spade. 
Just say:  "And here is NPR's answer to Rush Limbaugh: Mara Liasson." 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Hampshire Medicaid: Chris Muns and Nancy Stiles

So here's the thing about Medicaid: Most people do not want to think about it.
Most people do not want to think about prisons, either.
These are things which happen to other people and we have enough to think about when it comes to things which might happen to our own selves.

So, when Obamacare (now the Affordable Care Act) gets passed, New Hampshire gets offered a lot of dollars if it will only sign on, but Republicans in New Hampshire, particularly Republicans in the Senate, like Nancy Stiles, see treachery in these dollars, and they know those are tainted dollars, dollars likely to lead us down some dark, sinister road to perdition. These are dollars with Democratic fingerprints all over them, and they vote to refuse the money, on principle. On the principle that no money from Democrats, even if it goes to New Hampshire citizens, can be good money.

But, as Mad Dog has said, Medicaid is  not something most people in New Hampshire care about, because Medicaid is for poor people, welfare queens, people who are not willing to work, people who would accept government charity, people who are lazy and undeserving. 

Even if all that were true, there is a problem with the Republican position: When those lazy, undeserving people get sick, they do what?  They go guessed it, THE EMERGENCY ROOM.  And guess who pays for their care?  The deserving, upright, hard working citizens of New Hampshire. 

It's not a direct tax bill you see on April 15th, but that does not make it any less real.

Think on that, Granite staters.

As Chris Muns said, rather forlornly, after Nancy Stiles voted with her Tea Party friends to reject federal Medicaid funds, these Republicans don't care who they hurt, or how crazy their position is, from a public policy or public health viewpoint--they only care about an ideology:  Government is bad. Democrats are bad. Democrats handing out money is doubly bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. 

The question is, do the good folk of New Hampshire really want to be led by fundamentalists?  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Mad Dog and Marijuana

Mad Dog must admit, from the outset, he does not smoke marijuana, has never given it a fair try, has never smoked cigarettes, although he once tried and found the experience uninspiring, does not drink caffeinated drinks, cannot tolerate much alcohol, although he has tried to develop a taste for wine and beer, just cannot.

(In fact, Mad Dog married a Jack Mormon, whose entire family can regularly drink Mad Dog and all his relatives under the table.)

Having said all that, Mad Dog may not be qualified to say much about marijuana, but that will not keep him from trying.

Patrick Radden Keefe's article about Mark Kleiman and the legalization of marijuana in the state of Washington, which appears in the Nov 18 New Yorker, triggered a potent memory in Mad Dog.

Sometime in the mid 1990's Mad Dog received a notice to report to  the Rockville, Maryland Courthouse at  the Montgomery County seat for jury duty. Mad Dog's initial reaction was dread and anger: Mad Dog was in the private practice of medicine and if he were taken out of his office for a week he would have trouble meeting his payroll, his rent and his expenses, while most of the members of the jury pool would be getting a free holiday from their government and corporate offices. 

But when Mad Dog was seated for a trial the judge assured everyone this would be a one day trial and Mad Dog quickly became enthralled by the experience:  The defendant was seated at a table in the courtroom and the jurors filed in and took their places in the jury box. Mad Dog was the 13th juror, the alternate juror.

Looking around him at his fellow jurors, and then across the room at the defendant, Mad Dog could see immediately this defendant was marked as clearly "guilty" and stood next to no change of acquittal. The jurors looked much like Mad Dog, white, dressed in the wardrobe of  Ann Taylor, Brooks Brothers, Talbot's, Barney's--white bread through and through. Guido, the defendant hand been cleaned up for the occasion:  clean shaven,  dark slacks and a new, pressed shirt, but the clean up would not help Guido, whose dark, slicked back hair and Hispanic/Mediterranean features marked him as guilty, guilty, guilty.

The judge asked the jury if anyone knew of any reason he or she should not hear this case of the sale of marijuana. Mad Dog raised his hand and the judge told him to approach the bench and they turned on some white noise machine and the prosecutor and the public defender flanked Mad Dog as Mad Dog explained to the judge Mad Dog did not believe selling or using marijuana ought to be illegal.  The judge asked Mad Dog, "But if the state could prove to your satisfaction the defendant did in fact sell marijuana and that selling marijuana in Montgomery County is illegal, could you find the defendant had violated that law?"  Mad Dog had to admit, meekly, he could. That satisfied the prosecutor and Mad Dog was told to go take his seat. 

The only witness for the prosecution was a florid faced Montgomery County detective named O'Shaunessey (or something Irish) and he testified he had been sitting in his car, with a delicatessen sandwich on a waxed paper wrapper in his lap, looking through binoculars at the housing project buildings 150 yards away, across a playground and walkways. He was on a stakeout on a separate case, looking for some felon, when he saw a young man in a red tropical shirt drive up, park and start talking to Guido, who had been working with his brother, under the hood of his car. Guido reached into his pocket pulled something out and slapped the hand of the red shirted guy and Detective O'Shaunessey knew, from years of observation, he had just seen a drug deal go down, and the pass off of a packet of something illegal and the exchange, with another hand slap of cash. 

O'Shaunessey reached for his radio and rained down mayhem upon the playground and environs of this housing project,  as half a dozen Montgomery county police and detectives swarmed over the grassy knoll, guns drawn, brushing aside squalling infants, and young children, and their mothers and nannies, as they raced across the 150 yards, toward Guido, his brother and the unfortunate buyer in the Hawaiian Punch shirt. 

By the time the cops reached the scene of the crime, Guido had disappeared into his apartment building and the cops arrested his brother, who had just lifted his head from under the hood and was bewildered, thrown to the ground, arms pinned behind his back, handcuffed and told he had just sold some drugs to the tropical shirt felon.

Guido then emerged from his apartment and breathless cops realized they had arrested the wrong guy and they arrested Guido. It is not clear how long Guido's brother had his arms pinned behind him. 

Presented to the jury for their viewing pleasure and edification was the roll of cash found in Guido's pocket, the cell phone he carried. Guido had no drugs on his person. Hawaiian Punch had a packet of marijuana in his pocket.

The prosecutor held up the roll of cash and the beeper confiscated from Guido at the scene and said, "This money, this beeper, which is used by drug dealers to set up sales,  is all the evidence, taken with Detective O'Shaunessy's testimony, you need."

Now the beeper as an incriminating article struck Mad Dog as particularly bogus. Mad Dog ran an inner city clinic in Washington, D.C. and every 13 year old carried a beeper. Most of these beepers were not even operational--that would have meant a monthly bill and required a credit card. They were simply status symbols. If you had a beeper, you were cool, a player. The prosecution never even established Guido's beeper was activated. The roll of money, Guido's lawyer explained, was no crime, no indication of venality. Guido, like many project people, had no bank account, no checks and lived on a cash economy and the arrest occurred on a Tuesday afternoon, and Guido had just been paid.

Guido's public defender made one tactical error, by saying Guido had purchased the beeper because his girlfriend was pregnant and he needed to be reached when she went into labor, which suggested to the white, upper class Montgomery County jurors: A/ Guido had fathered a child out of wedlock  B/Guido did not live with the mother of his child and C/ Guido likely did not support the mother. D/ The mother was likely some 13 year old child, living with her parents, who would not allow Guido near her except for the event of the delivery, because they knew Guido was a no good scum bag, a point of view the jurors, at a glance, could readily understand.

To Mad Dog, if the story were true, it suggested at least Guido intended to do the puffing and panting with the mother of his child at the delivery.

Probably none of these assumptions was true.  But the fact all these assumptions were in play suggests an explanation why the vast preponderance of convictions for marijuana sale and possession occur among the underclass in America although the numbers of middle and upper class children and people who use the drug vastly outnumber those in the underclass who do.

After the testimony, the judge instructed the jury which rose to go deliberate in the jury room and Mad Dog prepared his impassioned argument for acquitting poor Guido,  when he heard the judge call his name and summon him to the bench. The judge said, "Those also serve who only watch and wait." And the judge dismissed Mad Dog, who would not be allowed in the jury deliberations with the 12 real jurors.

In the hallway, the prosecutor and the public defender collared Mad Dog to ask how he would have voted. Why these two were so interested escaped Mad Dog. But they were 20 somethings and they had done at least some work on the case, and it was a game to them and they wanted an early signal about who might win. 

"I'd have voted to acquit," Mad Dog told them. "The cops arrested the wrong guy initially which speaks to confusion about who actually saw what when. And no drugs were found on Guido. No packet was actually seen through the binoculars. In fact, the major risk to public safety that day was all the police with their fingers on their triggers, running around among a dozen children on the playground. If anyone should have been charged, it should have been O'Shaunessey for reckless endangerment."

The prosecutor told Mad Dog, the only other juror he had as a choice for  the 13th juror was someone who had been convicted of marijuana possession a decade earlier. So Mad Dog, even after his statement to the judge looked like a better bet. Even in that white bread county, they couldn't find 14 people who had never used or admitted to using marijuana. 

So Guido went down, found guilty, found guilty by a jury of his peers, convicted of selling a packet of marijuana, sent off to jail, missed the birth of his son, likely lost his job at Jiffy Lube. 

The whole concept of being tried by a jury of your peers, as Mad Dog understands it, arose in English law and was incorporated by the English colonists who wrote the American constitution. No peasant wanted to be judged by a jury of disdainful aristocrats who would not know about the status symbol value of a beeper (or its 18th century equivalent) among the peasants. But that jury of your peers thing has been perverted by the complexities of class and class resentment and disdain in America today. So the poor get tried in front of a jury of their betters and they get sent to jail more or less ruthlessly and ineluctably. 

Maybe he's moved to Washington State by now, where he would likely be arrested even today, for selling marijuana on the black market.  

As Keefe observed in the New Yorker:  "When legal marijuana goes on sale, sometime next spring, the black market will not simply vanish; over-the-counter pot will have to compete with illicit pot. To support the legal market, Kleinman argued, the state must intensify law-enforcement pressure on people who refuse to play by the new rules."

It's third season of the wire, coming to real life, where Major Howard Colvin's experimental "Hamsterdam" emerges on the streets of Washington state. As David Simon and the Wire ensemble so intricately and clearly showed, the results of drug legalization, even for the most benign drug, marijuana, will likely not be pretty and will create new problems. 

Hopefully, the new problems will be less damaging than the current problems. But watching that third season should be required viewing for legislators from New Hampshire to California.

It's all right there, in the good book called "The Wire," if anyone would actually brave up and watch it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is America More Dysfunctional Now than Ever?

With all the talk about the staggering start to Obamacare, with the crumbling of the middle class, the emergence of gridlock as a permanent state of Congress, the capacity of a few Southern states to throw a wrench into the gears of the federal government, we hear  a lot about how things are simply not working, dysfunctional and blame is assigned depending on your Republican or Democratic roots.

But, the fact is, banks are lending. Maybe to the wrong people, maybe for the wrong projects, but they are in business. Insurance companies (outside of health care insurance) are doing business and cheating their customers just as happily as they ever have. Automobiles are being made, sold, crashed, replaced. Hospitals are doing surgery, admitting patients, discharging at least some of them.

The military has found wars to fight, and although they are winding down some wars, new opportunities for dropping bombs, shooting guns, air lifting troops to war zones will inevitably present themselves. Career advancement in the military may not be as rapid or assured as it was when the armed forces were larger, but in the era of eternal war, which has persisted since WWII, things look good for the military's long term prospects.

Our infrastructure may be crumbling, but, eventually, unless the Tea Party wins more elections, the government will get around to refurbishing bridges, roads, telephone and power lines. 

Fracking may pollute under ground aquifers, but we are likely to be less hostage to Saudi sheikhs and we may be more energy independent and we may even use methane, wind and sun power better someday.

When you look at the 1860's, with open rebellion from the states which became the Tea party states, or at the 1960's, when boys were torn from the bosoms of their families, sent to Vietnam and killed, today's mercenary armies look much more benign--at least for the 98% of people who know they will never have to wear a uniform and shoot a gun in combat.

It may not be the worst of times/ best of times, but, for now our problems are mostly financial, and financial problems were worse in the 1930's.  Just about every problem we face now, was worse at some other decade in our history.

Of course, it will take only one terrorist with a nuclear bomb to undo this rosy picture, and we ought not tempt fate.

But we ought not despair. History can be a wonderful nostrum.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Eric Schlosser: Command and Control or Lack Thereof

Eric Schlosser
"When the missile left the ground, you could feel it in your bones. The blast, the roar, the sight of the flames slowly lifting the Titan II upward--they suddenly affected me. They were more visceral and powerful than any Cold War story. I had grown up in the 1970's hearing about missiles and warheads, throw weights and megatons, half believing that none of those weapons really worked, that the fears of nuclear Armageddon were overblown and based on some terrible fiction. The Titan II hesitated for a moment and then really took off, like a ten-story silver building disappearing into the sky. Within moments, it was gone, just a tail of flame somewhere over Mexico.
Watching that launch, the imaginary became tangible and concrete for me. It rattled me. It pierced a false sense of comfort. Right now thousands of missiles are hidden away, literally out of sight, topped with warheads and ready to go, awaiting the right electrical signal. They are a collective death wish, barely suppressed. Every one of them is an accident waiting to happen, a potential act of mass murder. They are out there, waiting, soulless and mechanical, sustained by our denial--and they work."
--Eric Schlosser, Command and Control

Thus ends Eric Schlosser's book, Command and Control. It is a catalog of accidents involving nuclear bombs: Bombs dropped five feet while being loaded into airplanes, bombs carried in airplanes which crash and explode, and one bomb which was simply struck by a falling wrench when a nineteen year old Air Force Airman--just a boy really-- dropped a wrench piercing the "skin" of a Titan II missile, setting off a chain of events culminating in the missile exploding, taking lives with it, as airmen and officers frantically tried to undo the mistake, the slip of a metal tool. 

The book is repetitive and could have used some editing, as events and time sequences are jumbled,  but that is forgivable in a book which took 6 years to write. Even the repetition and losing track of sequences of events is not wholly a distraction, in that it builds the central thesis which is that all works of man are inherently subject to error and are flawed, imperfect creations which can do harm as well as function the way they were intended to function.

Schlosser takes us through eras past, when the Soviet Union constructed a perimeter defense of nuclear tipped missiles which would automatically fire, unless manually over ridden, if the system detected  an "attack" from the United States occurred. It was straight out of "Dr. Strangelove," because the Soviets never told the United States about this system, so it had no deterrent effect. It was simply an instrument of reprisal. 

He takes us through the current perils of India and Pakistan armed with nuclear weapons, of terrorists who are plotting to steal a few.

The critical point Schlosser makes is that more weapons have not made us more secure, but less.  

We once had three parts to our deterrent scheme: Part One, Airplanes with nuclear bombs which were kept aloft circling the northern borders--Pease in New Hampshire was part of the Strategic Air Command--and New Hampshire was targeted because airplanes with nuclear bombs flew out of Pease; part two,  missiles in the ground in places from Arkansas to Kansas to Washington state to California; and part three,  missiles in submarines which were and are essentially undetectable and untouchable and are enough of a deterrent all by themselves, because there are enough of these stealth weapons to kill Russia and before that, the Soviet Union several times over.

The problem with the airplane part is that airplanes were clearly  ineffective. They never would have reached their targets. They also were very risky to the owners, i.e. the people of the USA. Airplanes crashed. They accidentally dropped bombs on the land they flew over, namely the United States of America. Fortunately none of these mishaps resulted in the detonation of the nuclear part of the bombs, but that was, as one of the generals said, "Part good technology, part  heroism and part divine intervention. The last part being by far the most important." The airplane part was kept going because the Air Force wanted to be in on the game; air force generals wanted to be power players in the game. And they had political clout. But the lumbering B-52's were kept parked by runways, or lumbering into the sky long after they were a credible threat or deterrent. They were like so many Don Quioxte's, riding on broken down steads off to do glorious but doomed battle, no real threat to anyone.

The problem with the in ground missiles is they needed maintenance, and they were sitting ducks. The Russians could target them, and did, dozens of times over and the ground missiles would be wiped out in any first strike. There was once a plan to move the missiles around in a massive shell game, to thwart a first strike, to remediate this vulnerability, but this plan was too expensive even for the American Congress. Even jackasses can occasionally do sums. So the missiles we've got which are still in the ground, are magnets for nuclear missiles from Russia, but likely they pose more threat to the communities they are buried near than to any city in Russia or any Russian military base.

The submarines were and are still pretty much invulnerable, as long as no captain or crew goes berserk, and as long as communicating with all those submarines occurs flawlessly.

This is a worthwhile book. It is a book Congress men and women should read, if they can still  read at all.

Mr. Schlosser has written about other important topics: he has focused on the American food chain, made a movie based on Michael Pollen's Omnivores Dilemma, the excellent "Food, Inc."  He has written about the American prison system.   So he picks topics we do not want to think about, because thinking about these things it makes us uncomfortable.

The problem is, this is the same problem "The Wire" encountered. Truth, no matter how important, when it becomes too uncomfortable, is something the greater public (and I use that phrase ironically) is apt to deny, or to ignore or to simply refuse to hear. As magnificent as "The Wire"was, it never won an Emmy, never won a large audience. It was simply, funny as it could be, in the end, too sad and depressing. And this may be the fate of Command and Control an important topic we'd rather not think about.

As T.S. Eliot observed: Humankind cannot bear too much reality.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Where Everyone's an Expert

Mad Dog recalls, only dimly, some novel by Flannery O'Connor--may have been Wise Blood-- which had a character, a twenty-something, who feels "called" to preach God's word and he stands on the street corner proclaiming "truths" which he just simply "knows, " like, "There is no man without sin."  This scene made a great impression on Mad Dog, because it portrayed so clearly that desire to be a person who "knows." This was an unschooled, thoroughly ignorant young person who, on some level, understood his own paucity of knowledge, rigorously examined,  and he wanted to become a person of wisdom and knowledge, without the drudgery of acquiring wisdom and knowledge. 

There is almost an Augenblick diagnosis of the man who has only phony, dreamed up knowledge: He is wide eyed, excited, eager, while the man who has acquire knowledge slowly, systematically, rigorously is slumped shouldered, burdened by the effort and almost burdened by the weight of his knowledge. Where the ignorant zealot is eager to convey the simple truths he knows, the genuine article has no simple truths, only complex truths. 

This will for instant understanding and enlightenment may be the same impulse which causes people to blog--instant punditry: I speak, therefore I know.

The same impulse is clearly what fuels many people to talk, read, exchange about politics and the blood brothers of politics: economics and sociology.

You can see this will to be a savant in Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and New Gingrich. They all share that sense of urgency, the will to preach, to make others understand the truths they "know," truths, which of course, are only the containers for the realities these men wished were true.

When Ted Cruz says the battle over Obamacare is really the first skirmish in the war between those who would abolish the free market in this country and those who believe in capitalism and free market, he is preaching his gospel on the street corner, speaking in tongues.

When Rand Paul says we need to cut government spending and reduce deficits because government spending is unsustainable and will cause economic catastrophe, he knows these things because he wants to believe them. Paul Krugman, of course, looking at history and at numbers and debating this proposition over the years, knows  just the opposite: We ought to be spending more in times of slow economic growth.

These articles of political and economic faith cannot be tested with double blind, randomized, prospective, controlled studies.  That's what makes them articles of faith. 

It is precisely because nobody can really know whether more spending will save us or sink us that the actors proclaiming, declaiming, exclaiming do so with such urgency and drama--when you don't really know, you better look like you have no doubt.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

My Own Private JFK

Fifty years! Hardly seems possible. Some part of you always remains 16.

JFK was the first President Mad Dog can really remember in great detail, personally. Eisenhower was a gray old man. Now that Mad Dog has learned more about Eisenhower's critical approach to the reactionary forces within the US military, Ike looks a lot better. But then Eisenhower was just another irrelevant old man.

And now JFK looks...well, a lot different.

What swept Mad Dog away as a teenager was the marketing, the glamor machine--JFK had that great regional accent which made him sound smarter and more exotic. The only regional accents Mad Dog heard growing up were from the South, and Mad Dog associated those accents with stupidity, brutality and backwardness. 

And there were those press conferences, full of wit and joy and class. And those gatherings at the White House of luminaries, Nobel prize winners, scientists, artists, athletes. One night, JFK stood in front of a glittering dining room, looked around at all the famous, accomplished people and said, "This is perhaps the greatest concentration of talent, creativity and accomplishment to be present in this room in  the White House,  since Thomas Jefferson dined here, alone."

Mad Dog pleaded with his parents to allow him to go downtown to the Kennedy Inauguration, and finally they gave consent, but it snowed 8 inches and that much snow paralyzed Washington, DC. So Mad Dog had to watch it on TV at home, the same way kids in New Hampshire did. Robert Frost tried to read a poem he had written for the occasion, but the sun reflecting off the snow blinded him and JFK stood up to shade the lectern so Frost could read, but Frost gave up trying to read and said he would recite a poem he didn't need to read, one he knew from memory, a poem called, "The Gift Outright." There he was, an old man, standing next to the youngest President, reciting from memory. A lovely moment in American history.  Mad Dog never saw JFK in the flesh. He did meet Jackie Kennedy, much later, when Mad Dog was a resident in medicine at New York Hospital, but never JFK himself.

Mad Dog's father thought Kennedy something of a light weight, and he could not abide Jackie Kennedy. Every time Jackie's name came up, Mad Dog's father would tell the story about when she was a cub reporter and he had to take a telephone call from her,  to answer some questions about some government program and what really struck him was "that awful, brassy voice."  She had no class whatsoever. Just a pushy career woman, trying to make it in Washington.  When she gave her famous televised tour of the White House with that phony whispery voice, Mad Dog's father just howled. "You want a breathy whisper, go for Marilyn Monroe. She, at least, is just being funny and she is a class act."

Apparently, JFK may have agreed.

We know more now. JFK took his pleasures where he found them. His sexual mores were aligned with those of his father. You married a woman, who you put on a pedestal, and you bedded other women, for pleasure. Once Upon A Secret is but one memoir of a woman who JFK had procured, brought to the White House and had sex.  All those sexual adventures mean to Mad Dog now, is JFK lived in an era which demanded he lie about his sex life, an era which has not yet ended.

The Friday Kennedy was shot, there was supposed to be a Judy Collins concert at the  high school, which Mad Dog was in charge of publicizing and there was considerable criticism Mad Dog had done a pretty poor job. Judy Collins was then an  unknown folk singer and she had agreed to appear at the  high school because it had the biggest gym in the county--a field house with a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller, and the ticket sales had been anemic and that field house was going to be empty. Of course, the concert was cancelled with the news from Dallas.

A few kids at school had transitor radios, but  it was not like today, where everyone is  linked in--radios were not usually turned on until the bus ride home from school. But students  looked out their windows and all those yellow buses were pulling up in front of the school and it was only 2 o'clock in the afternoon. There was that long line of buses and everyone knew something was up. And kids who had radios, turned them on.

They interrupted classes with a Public Address system announcement. 

They were smart enough to select Mr. Good to deliver the news. He really did live up to his name: Everyone really liked him. He was the vice principal.  He said the President had been shot in Dallas but there was no word as yet about his condition. On the way to the buses, kids clustered around anyone who had a radio to his ear, and they knew before they got on the buses: the President was dead.

That school, Walt Whitman High School,  was just miles from the District line, and most of the kids were children of  federal employees, civil servants, Congressmen,  Cabinet officers. Like adolescents everywhere, the students  were more concerned day to day with who was cool and who was dating whom, and it did not matter much what their parents did for work, or who was a Senator's daughter. It mattered if she was cute or bright or stupid, but nobody cared much if your father was a Congressman. But at that school most kids did feel some direct connection to the federal government, and even if their parents were Republicans, nobody was anything but distraught that day. Didn't matter if Kennedy was a Democrat, the idea that somebody could shoot dead the President of the United States made everyone pretty grim.

Personally, Mad Dog was furious. Mad Dog was mad at himself for thinking about how at least he would not have to look out at all those empty seats in the field house and feel like a failure, but he was really furious about the idea somebody could shoot the President, his  President, a President to whom he felt somehow personally connected. 

We heard a lot about Texas over the next few days, how they were all a bunch of haters down there.  But we could see the television images from Dallas and it was pretty clear not everyone in Texas was happy Kennedy had been shot.

As fate would have it, Mad Dog's college girlfriend was from Houston and one of his best friends from Dallas.  Mad Dog sort of made them exceptions, like people in the South made exceptions for Negroes they knew personally. "Oh, he may be a Negro, but he's okay."  That's the way Mad Dog felt about Texans in college. In the end, though, there was a cultural gap between Mad Dog and the girl from Texas.  Broke up with her in medical school. It would never have worked. You can take the girl out of Texas, but you cannot take Texas out of the girl.

But back to Kennedy.

As for his presidency, Command and Control (Eric Schlosser) tells the story Mad Dog had not appreciated, about just how close we came to nuclear war and the most harrowing part of it was not the craziness of Khrushchev, but it was the craziness of our own military leaders, who seriously urged JFK to launch a first strike against the Soviet Union. How did these maniacs rise to the top of the American military?

JFK was rendered impotent to pass legislation to reverse Jim Crow in the South. There were drinking fountains, bathrooms, restaurants, motels for whites only throughout the South and others marked "Colored."  JFK himself was clearly appalled by this. But the Democratic party in those days was a Southern party. Only the Confederate states voted reliably Democratic, against the Republican party of Lincoln, while New Hampshire had William Loeb of the Manchester Union Leader, and the Granite State was reliably Republican, as was much of the Midwest.

LBJ, who may have murdered JFK, changed that alignment of the parties. He pushed for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and legislation which made segregation illegal and the South jumped ship and turned Republican on a dime.

So, in retrospect, JFK was a transition figure, who managed to keep America from going over the Armageddon cliff, but could not do much to change the nature of life in America for the underclasses. He really could not accomplish much. And he did inject advisers into Vietnam. We'll never know whether or not he would have extricated us from Vietnam. 

We do know he did not push the button during the Cuban missile crisis.

And avoiding Armageddon is no small accomplishment.