Running for President

Running for President is the working title of the novel I’m currently writing. As I believe I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’m quite inspired by current presidential campaign politics and have borrowed (some would say plagiarized) some campaign tactics, especially those of Donal Trump, and given them to my book’s protagonist, the psychopathic Jason Wilder. His campaign is financed by the fictional Hogson brothers, who managed to become famously rich by cornering the silver market when they were younger. Any resemblance to any living persons is, of course, purely intentional.

The books starts with Jason’s birth in Chicago I’ve reached the point in the rough draft when he’s in his late 30s and is running for nomination as the Republican candidate in the hopes of thwarting Barack Obama’s re-election to a second term as presidents. You Republicans will probably be happy to know that in my fictional version, Jason wins, and Barack Obama retires gracefully from politics. Why didn’t I set his election in the future, since it is fictional? Well, I wanted Jason to be the first psychopath to be elected president in my lifetime. If I’d pushed his fictional presidency into the future, I might have had to call him the second one, given some of the people who are presently seeking the nomination.

When Jason gets elected, one of his first acts will be to overturn Obamacare with the aid of a Republican-dominated Congress. Next will be the imposition of  a flat tax, which will greatly reduce the tax burden on extremely rich people and increase it for us normal folks  (sorry Democrats). Again, any resemblance to the campaign promises of current presidential aspirants is purely intentional.

What I haven’t figured out yet is how to finish Jason off at the end of the book. Should he be assassinated? Should he be impeached, tried on criminal charges and go away to prison for a long stretch? I’m leaning toward the latter. We have enough people getting shot to death in our country without my adding to the toll, even in fiction. Well, I have to shamefully admit that one of my characters was already assassinated. Surely I can’t let Jason live happily ever after. He needs to get his comeuppance. Allowing a crooked politician to go scott-free would be too close to reality.

To add a little excitement before the novel’s publication, I was going to create a Website for Jason, but imagine my surprise to discover that there is a real Jason Wilder, and he has a website with his name in it. I thought I had invented that name! I’ll have to be more imaginative next time.

I may yet create a website for my fictional character’s presidential campaign. Those of you who are approaching my age will remember that Mad Magazine once ran its fictional character Alfred E. Newman for president. If Mad Magazine were still around today, I’ll bet old Al would have not only a website but also a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

Remember, when it’s time to vote, if you don’t like any of the candidates, you can always write in Jason Wilder’s name. That’s the only campaigning I’ll do for him, and he only gets that much because it didn’t cost me a cent.

By the way, turning to a matter of no importance to anyone but me, when I was first married, almost 45 years ago, I bought a floor scrubber from Sears. I still have it, although I haven’t used it in years. Today I resurrected it and decided it would work better with new scrub brushes. I went online and was pleasantly surprised to know that Sears still sells some parts for the old scrubber including brushes by mail order. They will supposedly soon be on their way to my front door. It will be a pleasure to use a floor scrubber that is older than my daughter in these days when we toss our computers away every three years.

Trump Conspiracy Theory

I’ve always been fascinated by conspiracy theories, although I almost never believe them. I heard one of the best this week, and I’d like to share it with you. First the disclaimer: I’m not saying it’s true, and I’m not saying I believe it, but I admire the imagination of whoever made it up, even if that person didn’t bother to check the facts.

I suppose you have heard or read that Trump was a Democrat who switched to the Republican Party. According to the conspiracy theory, he did it to make sure a Democrat gets elected president by messing up the Republican election. His goal is to get nominated as the Republican candidate, and knowing he cannot be elected, he thereby guarantees that a Democrat will be our next president.

The problem with that theory is that Trump is a habitual party switcher. According to The Washington Times, he has switched parties at least five times. The Times history of Trump’s political affiliations starts in 2001, so I have no idea if his party-switching habit goes back even farther. In August 2001 he registered as a Democrat, presumably having been a Republican before that. He switched back to the Republican Party eight years later only to leave the party again after two years. In December 2011 he indicated that he did not wish to be a member of any party, and in April 2012 he re-registered as a Republican. So, to set the record straight, during the past decade and a half, he was a Democrat only half the time.

One of the more famous quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson is, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” We certainly can’t accuse Mr. Trump of that sin. What would Mr. Emerson have written about a foolish inconsistency?

Iowa is Getting Exciting

I am writing this on the Saturday before the Iowa caucuses, and I’ll have to admit to a feeling of excitement as the day approaches.  Admittedly, the Iowa caucuses are surrounded by a lot of hype and are vastly overrated. Nevertheless, I can’t help but get caught up in the excitement, especially when it comes to the Republican side.

My personal prediction is that Ted Cruz will win in the Republican caucuses, despite Donald Trump’s lead in the polls. Ted Cruz seems to be the favorite among Iowa’s conservative Christians, who are more likely to take the trouble to go out on a cold winter’s night to attend a caucus. According to analysts, a large segment of Donald Trump’s support is made up of people who seldom vote.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders seem to be in a virtual tie in the polls. I believe Hillary Clinton will win. Why? Bernie Sanders is especially popular among younger people, who have a poor record of turning out to vote, especially in primaries. Hillary Clinton has more support among older voters, who are more likely to take the time to caucus.

However, we shouldn’t give the Iowa caucuses too much importance. The winners of the caucuses seldom go on to become their parties’ nominees. I doubt if either Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders will end up being nominated.

Finally, a plug for my book. That picture of me standing beside an enormous road sign in Spain is the cover of my ebook, currently selling on Amazon. If you click on the cover, a new browser window will open showing the book’s webpage on Amazon.com

The Cigna Healthcare Mess Goes On

If I am not mistaken, today is the day that the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) gave Cigna to deliver a plan for corrective action to fix its Medicare Advantage mess and stop taking advantage of its Medicare Advantage customers. I have scoured the news, but I have found no news stories reporting whether or not Cigna delivered such a plan. The day is not over yet, so perhaps the plan is forthcoming.

Just to recap, On January 21, CMS barred Cigna from signing up new Medicare Advantage or prescription drug insurance customers and gave Cigna until today to come up with a plan to correct the problem. If Cigna doesn’t come up with a plan, will it allow us who are insured by Cigna to change to a more honest health insurance company? I hope so.

Cigna stock meanwhile has been trending down in value. DNB Asset Management dumped 57,670 shares today alone.

I have my own anecdote to relate regarding Cigna . I am insured by Cigna, but I have been unable to get an insurance card from the company. If I need emergency care, how will I prove that I am insured?

Cigna’s local customer service has entered a request on multiple occasions for me to be sent a card, but no card gets sent. It sounds to me like a computer problem. Customer Services types a request to send me a card into the computer, the request disappears in Cyberspace, and no card gets sent. Customer service says it has no power to fix the computer problem.

So, I turned to Cigna’s Internet Customer Service. At first the good people working there told me I was not a Cigna customer, so I sent them proof that I was. I would have thought that the fact that their computer did not have my records would tip them off to the fact that they have a problem, but no. They just shrugged it off.

After an exchange of emails, I received the final response today:

Dear Jack Quinn,
Thank you for your response. I apologize that you are not receiving your ID cards. I spoke to a Healthsprings customer service advocate who confirmed that they have sent out multiple cards and they are being mailed to the address on file.

OK, that should confirm that there is a problem. Customer Service believes it is sending the cards, but the cards are never arriving. Is the computer sending them? Are they going to look into the problem? No. After a few lines on another subject, the email ends this way:

This case has been closed by our Internet Customer Service Team. Please do not reply to this e-mail.
Sincerely,
Valerie H.
Internet Customer Service
CIGNA HealthCare
www.CIGNA.com

In other words, we have determined that there is a real problem here. Therefore we are closing the case, and don’t bother us again with your petty problem!

I hope no one reading this is unfortunate enough to have Cigna Health Insurance.

Cigna HealthSpring Dysfunction, a real mess

I am amazed at how dysfunctional some companies are and how little we citizens can do about it. Cigna comes to mind. In December Cigna HealthSpring was the only Medicare Advantage plan in Arizona that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) ranked with five stars, the highest rating possible. In fact, it was one of only a handful of plans in the whole country to receive that high rating.

Then, on January 21 of this year, a few weeks after the window had closed for seniors to change their Medicare Advantage Plan, CMS sent an open letter to Cigna HealthSpring suspending its right to enroll Medicare beneficiaries, due to “widespread and systemic failures” of Cigna to provide provide proper services. CMS had given the Cigna plan five stars even though “Cigna has had a longstanding history of non-compliance with CMS requirements.” The letter to Cigna goes on to say, “Cigna has received numerous notice of non-compliance, warning letters, and corrective action plans from CMS over the past several years.” Even though CMS repeatedly pointed out the same problems to Cigna over a period of years, Cigna did not correct them, and CMS gave at least one of the company’s dysfunctional plans five stars. Go figure!

You can read the CMS letter to Cigna by clicking here.

I am covered by Cigna HealthSpring. Why did CMS lead me and other Medicare recipients to believe that Cigna was a five-star provider when in fact CMS knew that Cigna’s problems were so grave that it CMS had years ago judged the company unfit to insure Medicare patients? Why was this information withheld until after the time had passed for us to change to another plan? In other words, why did CMS, a federal government agency, lie to us?

I am personally having problems with Cigna HealthSpring. I have not been able to obtain my coverage card for 2016, apparently due to an unresolved computer problem. On multiple occasions a customer service representative has typed a request into a computer terminal that I be sent a card, but the computer doesn’t send it. When I tried to resolve the problem higher up within the company, the response I get was that “I spoke to a Healthsprings customer service advocate who confirmed that they have sent out multiple cards and they are being mailed to the address on file.” What is meant, of course, is that customer service has made multiple requests to send a card. A troubleshooter checked and told me that no card has been sent  and that my “address of file” is correct. No one fixes the computer problem. The request was typed into the computer, so everything is OK.

I shouldn’t complain too loudly about my situation. From what I have been reading, there have been multiple instances of people being denied coverage by Cigna for life-threatening situations. Again it appears that the main culprit is the company’s dysfunctional computer systems and the lack of will to fix them. I hope no one has died due to Cigna’s dysfunction.

Other large companies have a single website that customers can log onto. Cigna has multiple websites and apparently multiple computer systems that don’t talk to each other. It’s information technology is a jumble of poorly-maintained computers. Want to check on your drug claims? Go to site X. Want to check on your medical claims? Err… well, we’re working on that. It worked last year, and we’ll get it working again someday. How about checking your medical records? That’s another website, which in my case is the only one that works.

The Cigna mess pales, of course, in comparison with the situation in Flint, Michigan where children may have suffered irreparable brain damage due to the city’s lead water pipes. I have not heard of any plan to replace the pipes. That is an even more drastic example of where government oversight has failed. People may have shortened lifespans due to bureaucratic incompetence.

Some people, so disgusted with government’s bureaucratic failure, think it will be solved if they vote for the most-outrageous presidential candidate. It won’t be.

Who is Felipe Cruz?

Have you never heard of Felipe Cruz? Of course, you have. He’s running for president of the United States. Oh, you may not recognize him by his original name. Perhaps out of shame of his Hispanic Heritage, the Canadian-born Felipe Cruz changed his first name to Ted. That’s just one of the many bizarre facts concerning the US presidential campaign.

Changing the subject (slightly), who do you believe will win Monday’s caucuses in Iowa? I have a bet (no money involved, just bragging rights) about the results. Going with the poll numbers, he believes that Donald Trump will win on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic race. I disagree. I picked Ted Cruz to win the Republican caucuses and Hillary Clinton to win with the Democrats. Why? Anyone who attends the Iowa caucuses has to commit to spending several hours in meetings discussing the candidates before voting. Not many people are willing to do that. Therefore, turnout in both parties is bound to be a minuscule percentage of registered Iowa voters.

Ted Cruz has great support among extreme right-wing fundamentalist Protestants. I believe that these true believers will be more motivated to give up their Monday evening in support of their candidate than Donald Trump supporters, many of whom are probably not even registered to vote

As to the Democrats, Bernie Sanders’ support is mainly among young whites. Most people in this age group are too lazy to even fill in a mail-in ballot let alone sacrifice an evening to support a candidate. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is more popular among older voters, many of whom have the time and feel the sense of duty of participating in politics.

What is your opinion?

Deteriorating Infrastructure

Can there be anyone in the world who hasn’t heard of the contaminated water system in Flint, Michigan? In April 2015, the city’s emergency manager oversaw the changing of the source of the city’s drinking water from the Detroit municipal supply to the Flint River to save money. Soon after, Flint residents began complaining that the water had a foul smell and that drinking it and bathing in it caused skin rashes and hair loss. The local General Motors plant noticed that the water corroded metal and stopped using it.

Tests revealed that the water had a high bacterial content, and Flint residents were advised to boil the water before drinking it. However, no one told residents that the water had an even graver problem that boiling it wouldn’t solve. The water had a high lead content.

A year ago, in January 2015, it was also found that the water contained dangerous chemicals. The City of Detroit offered to allow Flint to reconnect to its water system at no cost, but the Flint emergency manager declined. Why?

In February 2015, the State of Michigan awarded the City of Flint $2 million to improve its water supply. I have no idea where the money went, but Flint’s water continued to negatively affect the health of the City’s residents and to cause permanent health damage to the health of the residents’ children.

In January of this year, in an admission that Flint’s water was unsafe to drink, the National Guard began distributing bottled water to Flint’s residents. Flint’s water supply was then belatedly switched back to the Detroit water system. However, due to the contamination of Flint’s distribution system, the water continues to be unfit do drink.

The reason for the lead contamination is said to be the fact that Flint’s water distribution system is still made up of ancient and unsafe lead pipes. During the years, a protective patina had build up on the inside of the pipes, which prevented lead from the pipes from leaching into the water. When the water source was switched to the Flint river, the highly corrosive river water dissolved that patina and allowed exposed the water to the lead pipe lining. Very high levels of lead began appearing in the water, and many Flint residents drank that water for over a year. A chemical that could have impeded the corrosion of the patina was not added to the water for unknown reasons. The cost of adding the chemical to the water would have been minimal.

It is to be assumed that many of Flint’s children have suffered permanent brain damage. The neurological damage caused by high levels of lead in the body is irreversible. How could this be allowed to happen in one of the richest countries in the world?

The blame has been placed on the decision to switch the source of Flint’s water, and that is a decision that deserves criminal penalties. Probably no one will go to jail for taking that decision, but someone should. Negligently allowing the health and mental capacity of thousands of children to be irreparably damaged is a horrendous crime.

However, why does the City of Flint have lead pipes in the first place? It has been common knowledge for decades that lead in the water or in the air is a serious threat to human health and especially to the physical and mental health of children. Those pipes should have been replaced 50 years ago.

The City of Flint is a poor, declining community, and it is evident that the City itself cannot possibly pay to bring its water mains up to modern standards. Nevertheless, this is one of the richest countries on Earth, and it is incomprehensible that the less well off should be allowed to suffer brain damage while despite the fact that the richest among us have so much wealth that they cannot possibly spend it, they demand and get ever larger tax cuts for themselves. Warren Buffett once joked that he was going to write a book How to Get By on $500 Million “because apparently there’s a lot of people that don’t really know how to do it.”

I live in a Phoenix neighborhood with decaying water mains. As I wrote in an earlier post, there are frequent water main breaks in my neighborhood. Yet, the City of Phoenix apparently doesn’t have the money to fill potholes let alone replace the ancient water mains. What is the quality of the water in my house? (A lot of my hair has fallen out, but I think that has more to do with old age than with the quality of my water.)

According to the NBC News website, “It’s been three weeks since Michigan declared a state of emergency in Flint, but not a single water pipe that contains lead has been replaced, NBC News has learned.”

If an economically troubled country such as Spain can reasonably maintain its infrastructure, why can’t the more prosperous United States do the same. The answer, of course, is the political climate. A large number of American view higher taxes, and especially higher taxes on people much richer than they are, as something contrary to American values. They would rather see kids suffer brain damage than require the extremely rich to pay their share of taxes.

Bloomberg updated

News reports yesterday clarified Michael Bloomberg’s announcement that he might run for president of the United States. He said that if the Republicans nominate either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz and the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders, he will consider running for president as an independent. In the meantime, Mr. Bloomberg is said to be developing a list of detailed policy statements. If his conditions for running are met, that would make him the only candidate with specific plans. Mr Trump has no plans whatsoever, and Senators Cruz and Sanders don’t explain how they plan to convince Congress to go along with their ideas. In today’s climate, a politician with actual plans to do something would appeal to a minority of voters, but in a three-way race, that minority might be enough to get him elected.

However, I don’t think Mr Bloomberg need be concerned. It’s hard to say whom the Republicans will nominate, but it could be Mr Trump of Senator Cruz. However, on the Democratic side, I don’t think Bernie Sanders has much of a chance. He is said to appeal mostly to young people, and most young people can’t be bothered with voting. Ms Clinton has a lock on older voters, who tend to turn out in greater numbers. I will be very surprised if Ms Clinton does not win the Democratic nomination.

Suppose Trump, Sanders, and Bloomberg all run. The liberal economist Paul Krugman writes in a New York Times editorial that in that case Donald Trump would stand a good chance of being elected president, because Bloomberg would take moderate votes away from Bernie Sanders. You can read Paul Krugman’s short editorial by clicking here.

I’m taking some lessons from the campaign in the writing of my novel about the fictional character Jason Wilders. He has decided to run for a second term as Arizona governor, and has designed a Trump-ish campaign. He will make outrageous statements, promise big things if he is reelected, and not make plans for implementing any of those empty promises. That is just the sort of gibberish that appeals to the modern voter.

Now Bloomberg’s in the race (maybe)

I am glad that I no longer live in the Allegheny Mountains of Southwestern Pennsylvania. From what I see on the news, the whole mid-Atlantic region of the USA is buried under several feet of snow this morning.

I see that Joe Biden is in Turkey where he has thanked the Turkish government for fighting ISIS. The problem is that the group that is doing the most to fight ISIS is Pesmerga, the fighting arm of the Kurds, and the Turkish government seems to be putting most of its efforts into bombing the Kurds. Russia meanwhile also claims to be fighting ISIS but is in fact bombing groups that are fighting ISIS in its attempt to prop up the Bashar al-Assad regime. What a mess the whole Middle East has become! Would it be this bad if George W. Bush hadn’t invaded Iraq? I don’t know.

We have a new (maybe) presidential candidate. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced that he’s considering running for president. What the hell does that mean? Is he running, or isn’t he? If he runs, he will contribute a billion dollars of his own money to the campaign. You and I cannot imagine how much money a billion dollars is, but to Mr Bloomberg, that’s chump change.

Michael Bloomberg is a former Republican who left that party after it became to radical for him. Therefore, one might think that if he runs, he will split the Republican vote and guarantee the Democratic nominee the election, but would he? Mr Bloomberg is too moderate for most of today’s Republicans. Like many present and former big-city mayors who have had to deal with a bloodbath on the streets of their cities, Mr Bloomberg is in favor of gun control. That alone would cost him the votes of most Republicans. Worse yet, he considers himself a moderate who believes in reason. Remember in the last Republican primary how Mitt Romney was tared with the label “Massachusetts moderate?” Being a moderate and a reasonable person, was bad enough in those days, and the Republican party has taken a giant leap to the right since then. Today, anyone who believes in science, logic, reason, moderation, etc. is branded a “left-wing liberal.” Remember that Romney only won the Republican nomination by renouncing his former reasonable views and by pretending to believe in right-wing views.

If Mr. Bloomberg runs and wins part of the moderate vote, that will almost certainly take votes from the Democratic candidate. Suddenly the prospect of having Trump or Cruz as president starts looking more real. Please, Mr Bloomberg, don’t run! You cannot possibly win. All you can do is almost guarantee that someone you despise will be our next president. Don’t cause us to suffer through four years of Trump or Cruz.

Psychopath for President?

I’m not saying that one of the current presidential candidates is a psychopath, although I have to admit to having some questions about Ted Cruz’s sanity. Did you think I meant Donald Trump? No, he seems perfectly sane. He’s just very skilled at manipulating the opinions of the less educated.

No, the blog headline refers to Jason Wilder, the protagonist of the novel I’m writing. As far as I’ve gotten in the novel, he’s been elected governor of the State of Arizona with the help of corrupt Maricopa County Sheriff Pal Balboni’s political machine. Jason has been getting rich on graft, which he had to split with the sheriff until someone whose wife was mistreated by the sheriff’s department sent the sheriff to the Happy Hunting Grounds.

Jason is about to get a call from Luther Hogson, the younger of the two famously rich Hogson Brothers who use their immense wealth to buy political candidates. They want Jason to run for president to give them more control over the federal government. They already own a number of members of Congress.

Is any of this based on fact? Well, I admit to some exaggeration, but I find the current political situation both in my state of Arizona and nationally to provide great inspiration in writing this book. A real-life version of the Hogson brothers does exist as does a real-life version of my fictional Maricopa Country sheriff Paul Balboni. All I have to do is write about the current political situation, change a few names, and exaggerate a bit. As is often said when something in real life is so bizarre as to be difficult to believe, “You can’t make this stuff up.” I wouldn’t be able to write this novel without my daily dose of news about the kooky antics of our real-life politicians.

As I look out the window of the potholed street in my Phoenix neighborhood while spending hours on the phone day after day trying to straighten out a problem with Cigna Healthcare (so far unresolved) I feel very fortunate to live in a state and a country where nothing seems to work properly. It would be a great inspiration to any writer. Oh, here comes another repair crew. The ancient water mains under our street keep springing leaks, and there seems to be a repair crew out to repair one of those leaks at least once a month.

It’s going to be many months until my fictional politician Jason Wilder makes his public debut. I estimate that I am less than halfway through writing the rough draft. In the meantime, my nonfiction book on walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is for sale as an ebook on Amazon. Click on the book’s cover image on the left sidebar of this blog for more information. Or, if you need something more outlandish to occupy your time, follow the daily news.

By the way, yesterday Medicare banned Cigna from signing up new Medicare members due an alleged large number of irregularities in the way Cigna treats its customers. Maybe there is some justice, even if it’s slow. In the meantime, I’m stuck with a medical insurance company that can’t seem to do anything right and is under a federal government investigation. I did file my own complaint about Cigna with Medicare. I wonder if anyone will ever find mine under the mountains of complaints that seem to have been filed against Cigna.