If a Psychopath Were Elected President of the US?

First, a reminder. Today, February 29, is the last day to download my eBook, A Senior Citizen Walks the Camino de Santiago. Tomorrow the book’s cost goes back to $6.99.

What would happen if a psychopath were elected president of the United States? Some people think we’re in danger of having that happen. Is Ted Cruz a psychopath? How about Donald Trump?

In my new novel, to be published soon, Jason Wilder, a psychopath born in Chicago and educated in Phoenix, first becomes governor of Arizona and then, backed by the immense wealth of the Hogson Brothers, manages to get himself elected president of the United States by defeating Barack Obama in his bid for reelection for a second term. The Hogsons, of course, want government tax policy to favor the very rich even more than it already does. How many other candidates have the Hogsons managed to get elected? We all know that the real-life version of the Hogsons have enormous political clout.

Unlike real life, everything turns out well in the end of my novel. Well, it turns out well for the average citizen. It does not turn out well for Jason or for the Hogson Brothers.  Wouldn’t it be nice for the average American if we had sense enough not to vote for people who want to take away our money and give it to the very wealthy? What would life be like if we had the good sense to vote for politicians who have the welfare of the country and its citizens at heart? Congress would look much different than it does today.

I’m still cleaning up the typos from my manuscript. I expect the novel “Running for President” to be available for pre-order within a week and do go on sale this month.

Finally finished the book!

First, I want to repeat that anyone who is interested can snag a free copy of my book about my last summer’s pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Click on the book’s cover image in the left sidebar to go to Amazon’s main website to download it. It can also be downloaded for free from any other Amazon site throughout the world today and tomorrow ONLY (February 28 and 29, 2016). After that it will cost US $6.99 to download it. Quite a few people have already downloaded free copies so far this morning, so if haven’t yet read the book, you might as well join the crowd today while it won’t cost you anything.

I finally finished the rough draft of my first novel today about a psychopath who manages to get himself elected president of the United States. Don’t laugh; that could happen for real this year. 🙂

I expect to have the book for sale as an ebook on Amazon by mid-March. The sales as an ebook will determine whether or not I also go to the expense of having it printed. I’ll probably have it available for pre-order by the end of this week. If I do, I’ll put a link to it in the left sidebar of this blog.

Free Book Download

My Kindle book about walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela will be available for FREE download on February 2i and 29 only. On other days, it is currently priced at $6.99 US and at a comparable price in other currencies on Amazon websites throughout Click on the book’s image to go to the book’s webpage on Amazon’s US site, amazon.com. If you enjoy reading the book, I would be grateful if you would leave an honest review on Amazon’s website. Thanks in advance.

Small Government. Great for the Rich. Bad for You

It’s interesting to listen to the Republican candidates for president, except Donald Trump, try to outdo each other in claiming to be the most conservative and the one who will do the most to reduce the size of government. (I exclude Trump, because he seems to have no plan whatsoever.) By shrinking the size of government, of course, they mean reducing the taxes that the rich pay, and reducing the benefits of government for the rest of us.

The extremely rich can afford private jets and have no need to worry about streets that are unfit to drive or bridges in danger of falling down. They don’t use them. They don’t have to worry about dysfunctional school systems. They can send their kids to private schools in Switzerland. The rest of us, however, are seeing our quality of life diminish due to the inability of government to do its job.

Republicans, while being the most to blame for the declining state of our infrastructure, educational system, oversight of the robber barons in the banks, etc., they don’t deserve all of the blame. It was Bill Clinton who famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view) declared in this 1996 State of the Union address, “The era of big government is over.”

Government has a job to do. It builds the highways, repairs the bridges, provides the temporarily unemployed with enough income to get by on, and makes sure that Americans receive at least a basic education. It is increasingly failing to meet these obligations. War veterans are sleeping in the street, incomes are falling in real dollars, our infrastructure is decaying, streets and roads are full of cracks and potholes, and some bridges have even collapsed. Many more are in danger of doing so.

The generation of young Americans who are now entering adulthood are the first in our nation’s history to be more poorly educated than their parents. Our schools turn in an abysmal performance, and while our universities still maintain a high standard, fewer and fewer people can afford to attend them. Those that do often have to take remedial courses in math and English before they are ready for normal university classes. When they graduate, if they do, they are often saddled with debt loads that they will spend the rest of their lives paying off.

American graduate schools in the sciences are largely populated by students from other countries, because few Americans have the background to do graduate work in difficult fields.

 Those of us who live in Arizona can spend a day observing what smaller government will bring us. From Phoenix it is a three-hour drive to the Mexican border. In Mexico, the government barely has enough money to provide basic services. Many people cannot write cursive, because the schools are dysfunctional. A large proportion of the population tries to eke out a living in the informal economy, selling trinkets in the street, washing the windshields of cars stopped at traffic lights for tips, or outright begging. With each day that passes, the United States looks a bit more like Mexico.

It is a bit more difficult for those of us who live in Arizona to observe a government that is large enough to serve its citizens the way a government should. Those of you who live in the north of the USA might visit Canada, whose citizens are better educated that ours and where everyone has the right to affordable healthcare. Spend a bit of money, and you could fly to a Scandinavian country, where there no citizens are sleeping in the streets (although some people in the country illegally may be.) If you want to discuss the benefits of having a functional government with the locals, you can do so in your own tongue, because almost all Scandinavians speak two or more languages and are fluent in English. The residents of most European countries are much better educated than we are.

In Mexico, there is a huge difference between the rich and the rest of the population. The rich run the government and claim the benefits. That is also increasingly the case in the United States. Although the gap between rich and poor is growing in Scandinavia, it is not nearly as great as in the United States.

We have a choice to make. Do we want our country to be more like Mexico? Then we should vote for small government, which does little to interfere with the criminally minded, who want to get rich at the expense of the rest of us while impoverishing the middle class. Or, do we want a government that provides services and puts controls on those who would cheat the system in order to use the hard work of the rest of us to enrich themselves?

Demanding a government that is large enough to function means more than just voting for the right presidential candidate. It also means voting for candidates for the House, Senate, and local offices who put the welfare of their constituents above political ideology.

Harder than I thought

I had no idea how hard it would be to write a novel until I started this one. I’ve written a lot of non-fiction books in my life, and once I did the research, the writing was easy. I’m not finding it that easy to write something that I make up.

The novel is about a psychopath who runs as a Republican against Barack Obama’s bid for a second term. My psychopath, whom I have dubbed Jason Wilder, wins. What happens after that is still a secret, but I promise that he will be stopped before he has a chance to wreck the country.

I had to invent a biography for Mr. Wilder. He had to have some political experience, so I had him run for president after serving two terms as governor of Arizona and to be a car salesman before that. In order to make the character’s biography believable, I had to develop a timeline of historical events. To name one example, 9/11 happened during my character’s adult life. How did that affect his business and his life? I couldn’t just ignore it. In other words, I learned that even writing fiction can involve a lot of research. Perhaps writing science fiction would be easier, because by placing the novel in the future, the author gets to make up everything.

I have one more chapter yet to write, but it will probably be several months before the book is published. I have learned from hard experience that once a rough draft is finished, there is a lot of proof-reading and revision to go through before a book is ready for market.

When I was writing for a Pierson, I had an editor and a proofreader looking over my work as it was written and suggesting improvements. In these days of self-publishing, I have to be my own editor and proofreader. I don’t have the deep pockets that my former publishing house had to pay others to do those jobs.

I’m anxious to get this done before summer, because I hope to spend the summer in Portugal and Spain and do the pilgrimage from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela. If those plans work out, I’ll probably do a book about it similar to the one about the Camino francés that I am advertising in the left sidebar of this blog.

Well, time for me to get back to writing fiction.

Predictit, a political junky’s hangout

A few days ago I became aware of a Web site called predictit.org, which allows people to gambl… err… I mean “invest” in the outcome of political races in increments of a penny. So I checked it out and went through the registration process up to the point where the site asked me to invest at least $10 to get started. Being a cheapskate, at that point I backed out.

A day or two later I received an email from the site. If I would transfer $25 to my account, predictit would match it. So I used a credit card to send $25, and a few minutes later my balance on the site was $50.

The site operates by matching buyers and sellers of a political position at a price of from one cent to one dollar per share. For example, as I wrote on this blog earlier this week, I thought that it would be politically astute for Obama to nominate Loretta Lynch as Supreme Court justice. I bought ten shares at 18 cents each for a total investment of $1.80. Had I held onto the shares, when Obama picked a nominee, I would have received $1 a share or $18 if I had been right and zilch if I had been wrong.

After I bought the shares yesterday, I began rethinking my position. Loretta Lynch has never been a judge. Not all Supreme Court nominees have been judges, but given Republican opposition to anything that Obama does, they would probably use that fact to refused to consider her nomination. So, I decided to sell my shares today, which I was able to pawn off on some other sucker… err.. investor for 20 cents each. My $1.80 investment was now $2.00 for a grand profit of 20 cents. But wait! The website charged me a fee of two cents, meaning I only made 18 cents. Highway robbery!

In the Nebraska Democratic primary, Clinton and Sanders shares were selling for 50 cents each.  I bought 10 shares of Clinton for an investment of $5.00. My rationale is that many of Sanders’ young supporters will be on spring break getting drunk in Mexico during the primary, and the old folks who support Clinton would be at home and would vote. We’ll see how that turns out.

I have a few more bets… err… investments, but you get the idea how it works. I have to remember to keep referring to this as an investment site. Online gambling is illegal in the United States, of course. Oh, at last check, of my $50, I had $13.99 invested and was 30 cents behind.

I’m also betting… err… investing that you haven’t checked out my ebook about walking the Camino de Santiago yet. To do so, click on the book’s cover image near the top of the left sidebar.

Time to Dump Your Cigna Medicare Advantage Plan?

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services gave notice to Cigna on January 21 that Cigna would not be able to sign up new Medicare customers until it solved a number of complaints that the CMS had brought to Cigna’s attention on repeated occasions. I am covered by a Cigna HealthSpring Medicare Advantage plan, and I have also had problems with the company.

The reasons for the sanctions against Cigna include:

  • Not conducting sufficient outreach to providers and customers to obtain information needed to make an appropriate decision regarding medical or drug coverage.
  • Incorrectly denying medical services or drugs.
  • Failing to provide customers with a one-time temporary supply of a drug (also known as a transition supply).
  • Failing to process requests for medical services or drug coverage correctly and/or on a timely basis.
  • Providing inadequate or incorrect information in beneficiary communications.
  • Failing to have an effective Compliance program.

Today, just over a month after CMS imposed the sanctions against Cigna, I finally received a letter in the mail from Cigna notifying me about the problem and telling me I could change to another Medicare Advantage plan. I assume that most Cigna Medicare Advantage customers are first becoming aware of the problems today when they also receive this letter. Waiting a month to notify its customers indicates that Cigna is dragging its feet on addressing its problems.

The last sentence of the letter reads: “We want to assure you that Cigna-HealthSrping is working diligently to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.” From what I’ve seen, that sentence is not true.

I have personally had my problems with Cigna. Until just over a week ago, I was unable to obtain my Cigna card for 2016 despite repeated requests. Then, a month and a half after my 2016 coverage started, I received three cards in the mail.

I am still not able to access my complete insurance information on the Cigna website my.cigna.com. Only my drug coverage shows up on that site. I have spent hours on the phone with different support people, and the problem has still not been solved. Several of them have sent me to a variety of other Cigna websites and told me I could access the information there. Not a single one of those websites has worked.

I filed a complaint with CMS about both problems. I assume there are many other Cigna customers with these and additional problems, but as near as I can tell, Cigna has not fixed them.

I did receive a phone call about a week ago about my problems accessing my insurance information online. The woman who called, and whose contact information I failed to obtain, said that the problems I was having were unacceptable and promised to solve them. I’ve heard nothing since.

If you are a Cigna Medicare Advantage customer who is dissatisfied, you may be able change plans, even though the open enrollment period is over. CMS refers to this as a Special Election Period (SEP). For more information, contact Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)

Finally, my usual book plug. My ebook about hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is available on Amazon. Click on the image of the book’s cover in the left sidebar for more information. Sales of the book help finance this blog.

Former US Citizen Boris Johnson Clobbers the British Pound

Probably not many people who follow this blog are interested in European politics, but I am, perhaps because I hold dual citizenship. I was born and grew up in the United States, but because my mother was an English immigrant, I also hold British citizenship and passports from both countries.

What concerns me is the threat that the UK could leave the European Union, a so-called “Brexit.” The British are to hold a referendum this summer in order to decide whether to stay in the European Union or leave it.

I definitely hope that the UK stays in the Union. One of the advantages of being a citizen of one country in the European Union is that you have the right to live, work, and travel in all European Union countries. I have no interest in getting a job in Europe, but I do spend quite a bit of time on the continent, mainly in France and Spain. My British passport gives me the right to stay as long as I like. If the UK leaves the European Union, will I lose the right to stay for months at a time in Spain?

The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, threw a monkey wrench (or “spanner” as the Brits say) into the works today by declaring that he is in favor of a Brexit. The pound sterling reacted by falling two percent against the dollar. His backing of a Brexit increased the perception that the Brexit might happen and have negative financial consequences for the UK.

Changing the subject, I will point out that Mayor Johnson, like me, was born in the United States and had dual US-UK citizen Unlike me, he renounced his US citizenship a few months ago. (Before he renounced his US citizenship, he was therefore legally qualified to run for the office of president of the United States.) Why did he renounce his US citizenship? The US Treasury wanted him to pay the a reputed 100,000 pounds sterling in capital gains taxes, even though he neither lived or worked in the USA and earned his money exclusively in the UK.

The US government expects anyone who holds US citizenship to pay US income taxes no matter where in the world they live and work, even if they never set foot on US soil. To my knowledge, it’s the only country who does that. It strikes me as unjust for a person to have to double taxation on income, once to the country where the person lives and works and again in the country where the person holds citizenship. If a German citizen immigrates to the United States, that person pays US taxes, and Germany does not try to double-tax the person’s income. However, if a US citizen moves abroad to work, the person has to pay taxes in the country where the citizen lives and works and on top of that in the United States.

Johnson ran into trouble with the US Treasury when he sold a house he owned in London for a 730,000 pound profit. (The price of London real estate has skyrocketed.) The US Treasury sent him a bill for the capital gains on the house. He settled that matter and paid an undisclosed amount to the US Treasury before renouncing his US citizenship.

Getting back to the original topic, I sympathize with Mayor Johnson’s double taxation problems, but I regret that he has endorsed a Brexit.

By the way, a plug for my latest book. Click on the image of the book cover in the left sidebar to see information about the book on Amazon.

Loretta Lynch for Supreme Court Justice?

If Barack Obama would take my advice, he would nominate Attorney General Loretta Lynch to replace Antonin Scalia as Supreme Court Justice for purely crass political motives. I’m sure that everyone is familiar with the differing opinions of Democrats and more conservative Republicans about a possible Obama nomination. The Democrats argue that it is the president’s duty to submit a nominee, which appears to be true, and that it is the duty of the Senate to consider the president’s nominee, which also appears to be true, although not necessarily to approve the nominee. However, leading Senate Republicans including Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republican majority, insist that Senate Republicans will refuse to allow the Senate to even consider Obama’s nominee, no matter whom he picks.

What if Barack Obama were to nominate a highly qualified black woman for the post? Would Mitch McConnell block hearings on her nomination and thus come across to many as racist and anti-woman? I suspect he would, defying logic in the process. Ms. Lynch seems highly qualified, and she was already vetted by the Senate when Barack Obama nominated her as his Attorney General. From what I can determine, her credentials appear impeccable. There could be no logical reason to not give her a fair hearing.

If the Republicans were to refuse to even consider Ms. Lynch’s nomination, many would see it as an insult to women in general, to African-Americans in general, specifically to black women.

Is Ms. Lynch the best-qualified person for the post? I don’t know. But, from a political point of view, and most things done in Congress these days seem to be done for politic gain, she seems to be the perfect nominee. If the Senate approved her nomination, the Democratic-leaning side of the would have a five-to-four majority on the Court. If the Senate refused to even consider a black, southern, female nominee, it would endanger the Republicans’ chances of electing the next president, and it could even result in a shift of control in the Senate. It could give Democratic candidates the edge in Senate and perhaps even in House races and could put Democrats back in control. Then, the nominee of the next president, probably a Democrat, would sail through the nomination process.

Yes, if he would consult me, I would advise President Obama to nominate Loretta Lynch. Politically, it would be a win-win situation for the Democrats, and given Ms. Lynch’s biography, she seems to be highly qualified. However, I’m not sitting next the phone waiting for the president’s call.

By the way, don’t forget to check out my Kindle ebook about my 400-mile plus hike along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain last summer. For more information, click on the book’s cover image near the top of the left sidebar, and a new browser window will open showing information about the book.

Apple versus the Justice Department

I wish the conflict between Apple and the Justice Department did not exist. I can see merit to the arguments of both sides.

The Justice Department is trying to unlock the iPhone that was used by one of the terrorists in the San Bernardino massacre. The Justice Department has a legitimate reason for wanting to know what information is stored on the phone. These terrorists could have been communication with other prospective terrorists who are still at large and could take human lives, possibly even very many human lives, if they are not located and stopped.

According to reports, the data is so well encrypted that even the government cannot unlock it. Worse yet, from the Justice Department’s point of view, if 10 failed attempts are made to enter the phone’s pass code, all the data on the phone is erased.

The Justice Department wants Apple to create software to defeat this feature. Once the erase feature were disabled, the FBI could use brute force to unlock the phone by having a computer try all possible combinations of numbers until one of them works. The FBI would give the phone to Apple, Apple would use software that it has not yet written to defeat the erase feature, and the FBI would then apply the brute force method to unlock the phone.

This seems like a solution that has only an upside. Apple would keep the software it created, and the Justice Department would not have access to it, although it is possible (even probable given the current state of cyber security) that some foreign intelligence agency could hack into Apple at some future date and steal the software. If China did that, for example, it would be able to unlock the iPhone of any dissidents it wanted to silence.

Even if the software remains secure within Apple’s domain, if one government demands that a phone be unlocked, what’s to stop another government from making the same demand? If the US government has the right to get access to a phone, doesn’t China have that right also? If Apple gives into one government, even in a case as serious as this one, it will make it harder to resist future demands from any powerful government in countries where Apple does business.

This assumes, of course, that Apple can  develop software to defeat the phone’s lock mechanism. Apple has not denied that it has this ability, so I assume it does.

This is not a black-and-white matter, as the Justice Department is painting it. This is an argument with two sides.