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Century Village for aging politicians

Our elder leaders should make way, move to retirement village

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Bernie Sanders, gay news, Washington Blade
Bernie Sanders, gay news, Washington Blade, retiring politicians

Let Bernie Sanders run for president of a condo board in 2020 instead of the United States.(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

My coffee group in D.C. meets every morning to debate the political outrages from the previous day. In this age of Trump and the Russians we have lots to talk about.

We also found ourselves talking about why members of Congress and other aging politicians refuse to retire, usually having to be carried off center stage kicking and screaming instead of gracefully making way for the next generation of leaders. There are currently five members of the Senate over 80 and 18 over 70. Recently Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, presidential candidate and DNC chair said, “Old people like Bernie Sanders should get out of politics for 2020.” He called for a new generation of leaders.

My coffee group couldn’t agree more so we tossed around ideas about what these aging politicians could do considering so many of them have oversized egos that apparently lead them to conclude they are indispensable. So as not to be accused of ageism full disclosure requires I report many in the coffee group are themselves aging politicians and over 70.

We came up with the concept of a Century Village condominium for aging politicians. Here they could continue to run for office only now it would be for positions on the condo board. Anyone currently serving on a condo board would agree there are enough issues there for robust debate and in some instances could even be considered appropriate penance for what they did to the country. They could challenge each other for leadership positions and control of their surroundings including everything from the golf course to the gym; the beauty parlor to entertainment choices; to running the pharmacy or deciding on how to decorate the lobby. Instead of the age requirement for admission being 55 as it is in the Century Villages in Florida here it could be 70.

Century Villages in Florida are gated communities with round-the-clock security. Having a gated community for aging politicians could protect them from us and us from them and in addition could eliminate taxpayer-funded Secret Service and congressional protection service requirements some of the would-be residents now enjoy. There are convenient buses providing transportation to local shopping, restaurants and medical facilities. They do have on-site medical buildings along with a pharmacy. Just think of all the fun debates Bernie Sanders, Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch could have over how they should be run.

Think about Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and John McCain all moving in and mounting campaigns for president of the condo association. Bill Clinton wouldn’t enter the race as he already was a president. But he would ask each candidate for a commitment to let him use the ballroom for an annual Clinton Foundation benefit.

There would be a board big enough to provide for leadership positions for many of the residents and then dozens of committees they could seek to chair. Sanders’s platform would include a promise his wife would chair the Education Committee because of her experience running a college (didn’t she bankrupt one?). Biden said his wife would run that committee if he won because she wasn’t actually facing possible indictment and had extensive real teaching experience. John McCain’s platform initially listed his other six residences but was reminded he actually had seven but then his wife paid for most of them so he was excused for not knowing that. Romney again reminded people about his ‘Binders of Women’ and promised he would use them to name committee chairs. Hillary’s platform was the most extensive having detailed plans for each committee and a 20-year budget proposal. Some of the other candidates felt that was overdoing things as they most likely wouldn’t be around then and who really cared about the next generation of owners. She had the support of another owner, Nancy Pelosi. Nancy felt that it was time for a woman president after having been the highest-ranking woman politician in American history and being elected to that position for the second time in January 2019. She believed she knew what the people wanted. She also reminded people of the ‘me too’ movement and said they didn’t want to face the issue of possibly needing to impeach a president shortly after his election. She reminded people Biden was known to be a hugger and then there was Anita Hill; and Sanders, when he was in his early 30s, had written those weird pieces on what he thought women think about during sex.

We imagined Donald Trump hearing about this new condo and putting in a bid to buy the penthouse. Of course the timing of his move-in would necessarily depend on Robert Mueller and whether he indicts him or whether Congress tried to impeach him. But we could envision a scenario in which he is indicted and then cuts a deal to wear an ankle bracelet and serve time under house arrest living in splendor in the gold gilded penthouse. Trump may have to get around the prohibition of young children living permanently in the community. But like he was he could send his young son to military boarding school or even have him live with Ivanka and Jared if they aren’t in jail. But that could be negotiated with the condo board.

I can imagine some of the deals and negotiation involved to gain someone’s support for their candidacy. Trump could demand Sanders release his tax returns if he wants his vote or instead cut a deal that would have Melania chair the decorating committee. She could then hire former Congressman Aaron Schrock, if he isn’t in jail, based on his experience decorating his congressional office like Downton Abbey. Melania, however, might ask for more of a Versailles motif.

Trump would also likely ask if his young friend Vladimir Putin could reserve an apartment for when he turns 70. This would, of course, generate a debate as to whether you had to be an American citizen, born here, and have to prove it with your birth certificate to be allowed to buy into the building. The board could decide that birth certificates were required of all potential residents. Bernie Sanders sided with Trump on the Putin issue and no one was quite sure why but he also advocated for allowing Jill Stein who will be 70 by 2020 to make a reservation for a condo. Guess he thought they would make interesting dinner companions. He based his request for Stein on the agreement the board had with Elizabeth Warren, who is now a sprightly 68, allowing her to make a reservation for a unit. Part of her purchase contract was she would be guaranteed to be chair or vice-chair of the consumer affairs committee. Sanders said because of that he wanted Stein’s purchase agreement to include she could chair the recycling committee.

The more we tossed around this idea the more we realized it would make a great reality TV show. We imagined board meetings and the annual condo association meeting would make for great television. The show would get a new influx of characters, and they would be characters, with each new aging politician who moved in. To add interest and keep it current every once in a while one of the next generation of leaders, be they a president or member of Congress, would ask one of the aging politicians, hopefully one who still had all their faculties, to serve in either the cabinet or just come out on the campaign trail for nostalgia’s sake. That person would be the envy of the entire community and naturally be savaged by all the residents until they moved home again.

Maybe Marriott or some other corporation that builds senior communities will like this idea and get moving on it. It was the opinion of some of the millennials in our coffee group it can’t happen soon enough while the aging politicians in the group reminded them experience and wisdom shouldn’t be overlooked or undervalued.

 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Speaker Kevin McUseless calls for Biden impeachment inquiry

Stunt will backfire on Republicans in 2024

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Congress has joined the world of the insane with Republicans calling to impeach any Democrat they disagree with. It is happening in Wisconsin to the new Supreme Court justice, and now lily-livered Kevin McUseless, facing threats from his MAGA members, announced an impeachment inquiry of President Biden.  

He could name no reason, and in fact during the nine months of Republicans investigating Biden, they have found none. Two weeks ago, he said he wouldn’t do this without a vote of the House, but moderate Republicans rightly figure this will all backfire on them, so wouldn’t agree to vote for it. Meanwhile the country is waiting for House Republicans to do their job and pass a budget, which they are unable to do. The result could close the government again. That will also backfire on them, as it will hurt so many people. 

So, what better time for Democrats, thinking independents, and any sane Republican left, those willing to put the country above their own party, and in the case of Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), even their own reelections, to just vote all these Republican clowns out of office? 

Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.), who will lead the inquiry on Biden, has for the nine previous months come up with zilch — nothing meriting impeachment or even further investigation. The IRS whistleblowers’ testimony he touted was contradicted by the FBI in sworn testimony. But then it isn’t Comer asking for this impeachment inquiry, it is Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, and the MAGAs holding McUseless hostage. Those two should be arrested for criminal behavior, charged with being an embarrassment to the country. They are joined by the likes of Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), recently thrown out of a Denver theater for groping her boyfriend, vaping, taking pictures, and recording a show, Beetlejuice. This is today’s Republican Party. 

Clearly, most elected Republicans are not willing to stand up to these jokers; all afraid of the Trump cult, aka the Republican Party. They are being threatened with a primary by Trump if they do. They would lose the primary, part of the reason Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) just announced he would not run again. The Trump cult controls roughly 35% of the party and you can’t win without them. But Trump-supported primary winners have shown they lose general elections. 

I am more confident than some in a Trump/Biden replay, Biden will win by 10 million votes this time, but not get one more electoral vote. It will again be about seven or eight states. If Republicans go ahead with this impeachment Democrats will win in 2024.

As to Hunter Biden, he should be punished for anything he did wrong, like any private citizen; whether it is not paying his taxes or lying on a gun permit application. President Biden should stop inviting Hunter to the White House, and curtail his public embrace of his son. It hasn’t helped his son, and is clearly not helping his own campaign, or for that matter any other Democrat. What he does in private is his business. The president has two homes, one in Wilmington, and one in Rehoboth Beach, where he can meet with, and entertain his son. I think the president owes that to the people he is asking to support him. He owes it to the party to not put himself in positions his opponents can take advantage of. 

Joe Biden has been a public servant since he was 28 years old, starting on the New Castle County Council, in Delaware, in 1970. He ran and won his Senate seat in 1972. He has never been accused of any impropriety until the Republicans decided they could make unfounded accusations for political gain. He has shown himself a decent and honest man. A man with empathy for those less fortunate; and a president with one of the most successful administrations in modern times. 

So McUseless, do your worst. Bend over for the MAGAs and get screwed. Hope it hurts. You have no balls as depicted in a recent funny meme where Barbie is shown on her knees in front of Ken, saying she finally understood; McUseless was the model for Ken. 

The country will survive McUseless and the congressional Trump cult and be stronger for it. The decent people of the country will end up winning and McUseless, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and their cronies, will be relegated to the dustbin of history with nary an asterisk to their names. If there is an asterisk it will read that they were useless, venal, and screwed up.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Impact lingers 22 years after that bright September morning

Religious zealotry that led to 9/11 can be seen in far right politics

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The Pentagon in Arlington just across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. on the morning of September 11, 2001, approximately 10 minutes after terrorists flew American Airlines flight 77, which had taken off from Dulles International Airport, into the southwest side of the building killing 184 people. (Screenshot/YouTube Archival news footage)

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, a point in time that forever altered the world in a series of events, terrorist attacks, that would linger on politically, spiritually, culturally, and leave an indelible mark on those alive at the time who experienced that day.

A human being born that day celebrates their twenty-second birthday this week, having grown up in a world where security measures — some draconian — dominate and where a certain sense of collective innocence has been lost.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that lessons of peaceful diplomacy that could have possibly been gained from that day were instead lost to the sense of paranoia and nationalistic ideology and messaging as governments reacted, and in the case of the United States, commencement of a war that became the longest in American history.

The number of American service members who died fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had passed 7,000 at the end of 2021. The ‘War on Terror’ as it was known spanned 20 years, saw the expenditure of $6 trillion, 900,000 lives lost around the globe and at least 38 million people who have been displaced. 

9:37:46 AM, The Pentagon in Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.: American Airlines Flight 77, which had taken off from Dulles International Airport, struck the southwest side of the building killing 184 people.

This reporter was in the Pentagon that fateful morning, having agreed to substitute for a sick colleague. I witnessed the utter disbelief on the faces of every one of my colleagues as we were clustered around a television set watching the events unfolding in New York City at the World Trade Center and then suddenly it was our turn as the entire building shook as Flight 77 crashed into the southwestern face of the Pentagon.

The next 16 hours are still a vignette of sounds, smells, and sights from that day that have never left me. The events of that day would later define my career and set me on a path of being far more cynical than I was previously as I viewed a changed world.

Here, two decades later, I reflect still on what could have been and yet still remain optimistic even in the face of greater turmoil, widespread authoritarianism, a global climate crisis exacerbated by war, and then too of war itself as evidenced by the illegal incursion into the sovereignty of Ukraine.

The rise of nationalism, especially of the white supremacist variety tied to religious fundamentalism, is the primary danger and the direct linear descendent of the terrorism that was seen on that Tuesday morning 22 years ago. It is not just an American issue, it is a global issue, one that needs to be exposed and then dealt with.

The religious zealotry that fed the extremist ideology that led to the acts of terrorism that bright September morning can be seen again manifesting in the extremist actions of the far right beyond politics. Book bans, the war on trans and queer people, stifling of free speech and ideas, promotion of anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and racist ideas all contribute to a society that is rapidly becoming very unsafe and a petri dish for the next 9/11.

This is the lingering impact of that long ago day and must be mitigated, before history repeats itself.

Brody Levesque is editor of the Los Angeles Blade. 

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There’s a good chance you’re overpaying for medication

New policy lets worst offenders behind high drug prices off the hook

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(Photo by Vitalii Petrushenko/Bigstock)

In its push to lower the cost of medicine, Congress has focused on giving Medicare the authority to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. Officials just announced the first 10 medicines up for negotiation under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Unfortunately, all of the attention given to that policy lets some of the worst offenders behind high drug prices off the hook: pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs — companies that function as powerful drug-industry middlemen.

Acting on behalf of insurers, PBMs use their buying clout to obtain discounts and rebates from drug makers. In theory, these savings should be passed on to patients at the pharmacy counter. But in fact, while PBMs extract billions of dollars in profit for themselves each year, patients see little to no benefit.

It’s time to change this system. Thankfully, lawmakers now have PBMs in their sights in a proposed bipartisan reform bill.

The fundamental problem is that PBMs wield enormous influence over drug prices, with virtually no transparency or accountability. They’re able to wield such power because they control insurance company formularies — those lists that determine which drugs your insurer will cover, and on what terms.

PBMs have drug manufacturers over a barrel because (in a helpless position), in order to make sufficient sales, the manufacturers need their products on formularies on favorable terms. But even though PBMs are charged with obtaining discounts, their interests are not aligned with those of patients. In fact, just the opposite is true.

The PBM revenue model is linked to the list prices of drugs. The higher the list price, the bigger the discount they can obtain. That means that PBMs make more money off more expensive medicines, giving them a perverse incentive to offer better formulary placement to pricier treatments. But that, in turn, pressures drug makers to increase list prices, on the expectation of offering larger discounts.

Meanwhile, the coinsurance obligations that patients pay continue to be calculated based on list prices — not the discounted prices insurers actually pay. By exploiting this difference, PBMs manage to charge two-thirds of patients for the full list price of a drug, even though they’ve negotiated deep discounts from the manufacturer.

Mergers and acquisitions among PBMs and insurers have given them even more power. Currently, just three PBMs make up 80% of the prescription drug market, and the top six control nearly the entirety, 96%. At the same time, the three biggest PBMs either own or are owned by the three biggest insurance companies. They also use their sway to steer patients to fill prescriptions at the pharmacies they likewise own.

Consider how this whole setup affects patients with HIV. While there are more than 30 FDA-approved medicines to treat the virus, a PBM can steer patients toward the most expensive options via their insurance coverage. Then, a patient can be required to pay a percentage of the list price out of pocket, rather than a percentage of the lower price the insurer actually paid.

There’s still more in the PBM-insurer bag of tricks. Drug makers often issue discount coupons to help patients with coinsurance requirements. But PBMs and insurers essentially steal the value of those coupons right back, by refusing to count them toward deductibles and annual caps on out-of-pocket spending.

Insurers and their PBMs are also behind the “utilization management” rules that patients increasingly face when seeking care. So-called “prior authorization” policies, for instance, require doctors to ask insurers’ permission before ordering certain drugs or tests. Such policies have been an obstacle to patients obtaining PrEP drugs, the pre-exposure prophylaxis that prevents HIV transmission.

As so many activists and lawmakers have observed, we need to bring down out-of-pocket medication costs. One-third of Americans report not filling a prescription because of price, and we know that when prescription costs increase, patients are less likely to adhere to their medication regimen. Their health suffers as a result, often requiring additional interventions and hospital stays.

But the new IRA plan for drug-price negotiations can’t solve all these problems. Lawmakers also need to rein in PBMs. Specifically, any new legislation should decouple PBM compensation from the list prices of drugs, so that the companies aren’t motivated to steer patients toward the most expensive treatments.

For the sake of patients, myself included, there’s no time to lose.

Guy Anthony is president and CEO of Black, Gifted & Whole.

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