Category Archives: Politics

A Senior In The White House: Health An Issue?

The Super Tuesday primary results suggest that our next President will almost certainly be a senior. Hillary Clinton is 68 and will be 69 on inauguration day.  Donald Trump is 69 already, and will be well into his seventieth year on January 20 — older than Ronald Reagan, the current record holder for age on taking office.

It’s difficult to say exactly when “old age” begins, but if either Clinton or Trump serves two terms, they will have entered that period of life by most definitions. At a time of life when most seniors are slowing down and starting to feel their aches and pains, the senior in the White House will be bearing the immense responsibilities of the world’s most powerful office.

There will be compensations, of course. The President will have plenty of help with the house cleaning. Aides will be on hand to remind her or him of doctor appointments and to discreetly whisper the name of that familiar person who just came in the door. If it comes time to give up driving at night — no problem.  A chauffeured limousine is always available.

Cicero, in De Senectute (On Old Age), wrote that the advanced years can, in fact, be quite tolerable, provided one has made the proper investments earlier in life. The young should invest in friends, so that when old, they will have companionship and support.  The young should invest in learning and the arts, so that their minds can remain active and engaged in old age. Most important, a young person should invest in health.

From the look of them, Hillary has taken this last bit of advice more seriously than Donald, but she was forced to take time off back in 2012-1013 after a fainting spell and concussion. Her physician has said she is fit to serve as President, but Trump is certain to bring up her health during the campaign.

Trump’s physician has also issued a statement, this one claiming that “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”  The doctor added that Trump’s blood pressure and lab results were “astonishingly excellent.”  The candidate himself says his health is “perfection” But then, there has always been a touch of hyperbole associated with the Trump campaign. The candidate’s skin tone make’s one wonder if he’s hiding something. I won’t mention his hair — except I just did. Meanwhile, if I had to choose a new doctor, I think I’d go for Bernie Sanders’, who has issued a letter saying Sanders is “overall in very good health. That’s a little more down to earth.

At any rate, here’s hoping that each candidate invests wisely in the future by choosing a vice presidential running mate who is not only competent, but also fit and healthy. This would be the common-sense thing to do. Video clips of Governor Christie at Trump’s elbow do not inspire confidence.

We haven’t had to worry much about the President’s health these past eight years. President Obama (now 54) used to be a smoker, and Vice President Biden (73) underwent surgery for brain aneurisms in 1988, but they’ve kept themselves in shape. We’ll miss them when they’re gone — and not just for reasons of health.




Marco Rubio: Not A Candidate for Common-Sense Seniors

Marco Rubio is said to be the favorite presidential candidate of the Republican “establishment.” According to NPR, he has more endorsements from members of Congress than any other Republican nominee (Donald Trump has none).  Rubio could well break from the pack if primary voters eventually decide that they can’t stomach either Trump or Cruz. So let’s take a look at his stances, particularly in so far as they might affect common-sense seniors.

The most important thing to understand about Rubio is that his proposed tax cuts and defense spending increases are going to cripple government. In our vision statement, we pointed out that seniors have an interest not only in government programs that benefit them directly, such as Social Security, Medicare, and medical research; but also in programs that strengthen education, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and help those coming after us to prosper. If Rubio’s tax and spending plans were implemented, it’s difficult to see where the money for beneficial government programs would come from. Cuts would almost be certain.

Rubio’s tax proposals are nicely arranged to benefit the rich. He would slash tax rates for the wealthy and corporations, and eliminate taxes on capital gains as well as dividends. Former congressional budget expert Mike Lofgren, a self-described “recovering Republican,” noted recently in the New York Times that 79 percent of revenue generated by the capital gains and dividends taxes comes from the top 1 percent of earners.  Just repealing the capital gains tax would cost the government $1 trillion over 10 years, according to Lofgren.  Rubio would also abolish the estate tax, which falls only on the richest Americans. Just 5,400 estates owed federal tax in 2015.

Meanwhile, Rubio would open the floodgates on defense spending. He would give the Navy two additional aircraft carrier strike groups — we have ten already. Each group includes a carrier, costing $13.5 billion, with 44 strike-capable aircraft; accompanied by five destroyers and a fast-attack submarine. The Center for a New American Security points out that 6,700 men and women are needed to crew a carrier group, and operating costs come to $6.5 million per day.

The carrier groups are just the beginning of Rubio’s military spending dreams. He wants new amphibious assault ships, new ballistic missile submarines, nuclear weapons modernization, new long-range manned bombers, and a troop buildup in the Army and Marines.

But when it comes to programs that help seniors, Rubio is tightfisted. He wants to “transition” Medicare out of existence, replacing it with an annual fixed amount provided to seniors so they can purchase health insurance. Common-sense seniors would rather have guaranteed health care under Medicare than an insurance policy.

Some of Rubio’s Social Security ideas sound appealing at first glance, but don’t stand up to scrutiny. For example, he would exempt workers over 65 from paying the payroll tax that funds the Social Security system. That might be a nice idea for those seniors who find themselves working as Walmart greeters, but in fact, many of those who continue to work past 65 are professionals  — lawyers, doctors, judges, and college professors, not to mention hedge fund managers and business owners. Why should they be exempt from the payroll tax? And anyway, won’t this proposal tend to weaken Social Security rather than putting it on a sound financial footing? Rubio advocates raising the retirement age, which is just a way of cutting benefits. He does say that over the long term, he would reduce benefits for the wealthy. It would be interesting to see how that proposal would fare in Congress.

Many of Rubio’s other ideas also fail the common-sense test. He opposes the expansion of background checks for firearms purchasers, “And on Day One,” according to his website, “Marco will repeal President Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders that infringe on the Second Amendment.” Rubio would re-impose sanctions against Iran, again on “Day One” — a move that is sure to re-ignite Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

Marco Rubio’s tax cuts and defense spending plans would hobble government. His Medicare and Social Security plans run contrary to the interests of seniors. He is not, in short, a candidate a common-sense senior should choose.



Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz: Quite a Contrast!

The Democratic National Committee has scheduled Sunday’s presidential candidate debate to conflict with Downton Abbey in the eastern time zone. This is not a senior-friendly move. Supporters of Bernie Sanders suspect that the Democratic debates have been limited to six in number and purposely scheduled at inconvenient times by party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in order minimize Sanders’ exposure and to help Hillary Clinton.

If that was the idea, it hasn’t entirely worked. Sanders’ fundraising is surging, and he has pulled within  two percentage points of Clinton in Iowa polling. Meanwhile, the Republican candidates, benefiting from their numerous prime time debates — twelve will have occurred by the end of the primary campaign — have garnered the bulk of media attention.

We’ll give Sanders some exposure here at Common Sense for Seniors by taking a look at his positions on issues affecting seniors, concluding with a quick comparison to the positions of Ted Cruz as a representative Republican.

The positions Sanders takes at his website have great appeal to any progressive senior.  The clickable headings tell the story: “Income and Wealth Inequality,” “Creating Decent Paying Jobs,” “Combating Climate Change to Save the Planet,” “Racial Justice,” “Fighting for LGBT Equality” — and the list goes on. He is advocating for policies that will strengthen the economy — how about “It’s Time to Make College Tuition Free and Debt Free” — and leave a better country to those who come after us.

Sanders would put Social Security on a sound financial footing by requiring everyone making more than $250,000 per year to pay the same percentage of their income into the system as those in the middle class and working families. He would also “expand benefits by an average of $65 a month; increase cost-of-living-adjustments; and lift more seniors out of poverty by increasing the minimum benefits paid to low-income seniors.” These reforms are sorely needed. I remember working with Sally down in Florida after her husband died and wondering how she was possibly going to get along on the $1,500 a month she would be receiving from Social Security.

The Sanders website doesn’t go into his plan to offer a single payer, Medicare-type plan for all Americans. That may be because everything at the website is paid for — that is, he has developed plans to pay for all the proposals that are there. He’s not there yet on the single payer proposal, but his plan is coming.  Chelsea Clinton, who has begun to campaign for her mother, has mounted an attack on Sanders for his Medicare for all proposal that is nonsensical. Of course it would dismantle Obamacare and the health insurance system — these things would no longer be needed.

The positions Ted Cruz takes at his website are from another planet: “Restore the Constitution,” by which he means “rolling back the federal government;” “Second Amendment Rights;” “Secure the Border.” The heading “Life, Marriage, and Family,” sounds vaguely promising, but click on it and you will find that Cruz believes “marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.” He promises to instruct the Attorney General to investigate Planned Parenthood on “day one.”

Who could be against “Jobs and Opportunity,” another Cruz issue heading?  But the diligent reader soon discovers that Cruz wants a 10% flat income tax and a “stable currency” — code for returning the United States to the gold standard. The Cruz gold standard proposal is keeping economists up at night. They don’t think much of his flat tax idea either. These are policies that would destabilize the economy and deepen the divide between the very wealthy and the rest of us.

So, once again, our review of websites and issue positions makes clear that for a common-sense senior, the Democratic candidate is preferable by a very wide margin. If only the Democrats would schedule additional debates at convenient times so that more voters would hear their message!




Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Common-Sense Senior Issues

Let’s take a look at the websites of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on issues that affect seniors.

Hillary photoA striking thing about Clinton’s website is its comprehensive coverage of a long list of issues. Many candidate websites on the Republican side limit themselves to five or six issues, usually “hot button” topics such as the Second Amendment or immigration. Not so, Hillary’s. Her website covers twenty-seven broad issue areas, ranging from campaign finance reform to Wall Street and corporate America, and delves into details and specific proposals under each heading. This gives potential critics plenty of material to work with, and her willingness to run that risk shows courage.

There is much at Clinton’s website of special interest to seniors. The very first issue on her list is Alzheimer’s disease, and she proposes a reliable funding stream of $2 billion per year for research on prevention and treatment through 2025. Current spending is just $586 million per year. Hillary would cover comprehensive Alzheimer’s care planning sessions under Medicare, and work with Congress to re-authorize the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program.

On Social Security, Clinton promises to oppose Republican efforts to raise the retirement age; expand benefits for those who took significant time out of the workforce to care for children, ailing relatives or aging parents; and, place the program on a sound financial footing by requiring the wealthy to contribute more. She would resist Republican attempts to privatize Medicare and would drive down drug costs by permitting the program to negotiate with drug companies on prices. Clinton would also permit seniors to import lowest cost drugs from foreign countries with approved safety standards.

With respect to gun safety, Clinton would reinstate the assault weapons ban and close gun sales loopholes. She also favors repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields the gun industry from civil suits by victims of gun violence. (Clinton is highlighting this issue at the moment as a way of distinguishing herself from Bernie Sanders.)

Meanwhile, Clinton’s website features a host of proposals on the economy, education, infrastructure, and clean energy intended to promote growth and prosperity in the decades ahead. Economic growth, as noted in our 2016 political vision statement, is good for seniors and for those who come after us.

hero_image_main_2Donald Trump’s website lists just five “positions:” U.S. China Trade reform, Veterans Administration reforms, tax reform, Second Amendment rights, and immigration reform. This is a short list for a candidate who says he wants to “Make America Great Again.” Many seniors have an interest in the Veterans Administration, but reforms are already underway there, thanks to the bipartisan Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, signed into law by President Obama in August 2014. Trump’s proposed massive tax cuts and draconian immigration measures seem likely to disrupt the economy in ways that would be harmful to all Americans, young and old.

Under “Second Amendment Rights,” Trump defends assault weapons, writing that “Opponents of gun rights try to come up with scary sounding phrases like ‘assault weapons,’ ‘military-style weapons’ and ‘high capacity magazines’ to confuse people. What they’re really talking about are popular semi-automatic rifles and standard magazines that are owned by tens of millions of Americans. Law-abiding people should be allowed to own the firearm of their choice.” Recently, Trump has proposed doing away with gun-free zones in schools.

Trump has positions on other issues, not mentioned at his website. In his book, Crippled America, he describes our nation’s infrastructure as “crumbling,” and mentions our deteriorating roads and bridges, our inadequate power grid, and our slow internet speeds compared to other countries. This is a positive, but Trump doesn’t lay out a blueprint for dealing with these problems, arguing instead that we should just trust him because of his experience as a builder. “When you talk about building,” he says, “you had better talk about Trump.”  Donald also says he opposes changes to Social Security and Medicare, but offers no practical proposals for strengthening the finances of the two programs. Anyway, he in fact favors one major change – allowing people to invest a portion of their Social Security savings on their own. This is a type of privatization that would benefit Wall Street and leave many seniors short of the funds needed to retire.

Even if we grant Trump a little credit for issue positions not mentioned at his website, there is no doubt that Clinton’s stances fit far more closely with the interests of common-sense seniors.

Coming soon: the websites of Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz.

Common-Sense Gun Safety: Where Do the Candidates Stand?

Common Sense for Seniors staff have promised to survey the websites of the presidential candidates to see what they have to say about issues affecting seniors. That project is still underway, but we’ve been diverted by the reaction of the candidates to President Obama’s gun regulation speech on January 5.

In our draft 2016 political vision statement, we said that common-sense seniors will be looking for candidates who favor common-sense gun laws. In his speech — coincidentally entitled “Remarks by the President on Common-Sense Gun Safety Reform,” — the President announced measures to tighten background checks in order to keep convicted felons and people with mental health problems from purchasing guns on the internet and at gun shows. He’ll add ATF agents to speed up the background check process and increase federal spending on mental health, That all sounds like common sense to us. We’ll be safer if felons and the mentally ill have a harder time purchasing weapons, and so will our loved ones.

Three candidates, all Democrats, share this view. Bernie Sanders said “As president, I will continue these executive orders because it’s past time to end the moral outrage of Aurora, and Newtown and Charleston.” Hillary Clinton tweeted “Thank you, @POTUS, for taking a crucial step forward on gun violence. Our next president has to build on that progress—not rip it away.” Martin O’Malley tweeted his support as well, with a link to seven additional measures he would take.

On the Republican side, the candidates greeted the speech with outrage and a considerable degree of misrepresentation of what the President had actually said.

The reaction of Ted Cruz was perhaps the most over-the-top. “We don’t beat the bad guys by takin’ away our guns,” he said. “We beat the bad guys by using our guns.” (BBC Evening News.)  The Cruz campaign team set up a website, “Obama Wants Your Guns,” featuring a photoshopped picture of the President dressed as a member of a SWAT team.  This despite the fact that the President had explicitly endorsed the Second Amendment as guaranteeing a right to bear arms, adding “this is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns.  You pass a background check; you purchase a firearm.”

Marco Rubio said “this president is obsessed with undermining the Constitution in general, but the Second Amendment in particular.” Rubio was backed by Jeb Bush, who charged the President with “utter disregard for the Second Amendment.”  Carly Fiorina weighed in on Twitter:  “Another lawless, unconstitutional overreach.” Donald Trump pledged that “They’re not going to take your guns away, folks,” but “They’re trying.” Mike Huckabee amped up the bravado with “”I will never bow down and surrender to Obama’s unconstitutional, radical, anti-gun agenda.” Even before the President’s speech, Chris Christie said that Obama was acting like a “petulant child” in planning another “illegal executive action.” “He wants to act as a king, as if he’s a dictator,” Christie charged, adding that the President’s measures would be “stricken” when he becomes President.

The Republican over-reaction to the President’s modest reforms suggests a lack of judgement that should caution seniors against trusting any of the party’s candidates with the highest office in the land. That concern extends to Republican candidates for the House of Representatives. Before the President had finished his remarks, Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement alleging that “From day one, the President has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding.” Can the Speaker truly believe that gun purchases by convicted felons and the mentally ill are “safe and legal?”

On the issue of of gun safety, Republican candidates are not responding to the common-sense interests of seniors. We’ll be taking a look at other issues in future posts.


The 2016 Election and Seniors: Let’s Start With A Vision

Twenty-sixteen, momentous election year, has arrived. Common Sense for Seniors staff will be monitoring politics right through the year, keeping seniors informed on the issues and candidates. We invite you to participate in this political discussion, using the Leave a Reply and Contact features of the website. What are your views on the issues? What information can you give our readers on the congressional candidates in your district? Which might merit our support, whether moral or financial?

Before launching this political discussion, let’s come up with a vision of what we’re looking for in 2016. What do seniors want?

First and foremost, we want to protect Social Security and Medicare – or even better, to improve these two vital programs. Social Security’s long term future beyond 2034, when funds will start to run short, needs to be assured. Benefits need to be increased – the current average monthly benefit of $1,300 doesn’t go very far, particularly for those who rely on Social Security for most or all of their income. Medicare should be expanded to cover hearing loss, dental care, and routine eye exams. It too, should be put on a sound long-term financial footing, and the program should be empowered to negotiate with drug companies over prescription medication prices.

But seniors have an interest not just in programs that benefit them directly. We are concerned about those coming after us, including our children and grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, and the kids growing up in poverty in our cities, towns, and rural areas.

We want them to be safe and secure, so we’re looking for candidates who favor common-sense gun laws and a common-sense foreign policy.

We want them to live in a country with a first-class infrastructure and good schools everywhere. We want them to have the same economic opportunities we’ve had, or better. Right now, they are falling behind. In constant dollar terms, on average, 18 to 34 year-olds are earning $2,000 less per year than in 1980 and $3,500 less than in 2000, even though the proportion with college degrees has increased from 16 per cent to 22 per cent.

There may be seniors who don’t feel any particular concern for the generations coming after us, but that’s a mistake on practical grounds. Our own financial well-being, our Social Security, and our Medicare are only safe if the economy is strong and growing – and that means we need an economy in which young people are prospering.

What would you add to this vision?

In coming months, we’ll be looking at candidates and their positions on the issues to see how they measure up to the vision we settle on. We’ll be starting with a look at the websites of the major presidential candidates. Stay tuned.

Happiness: It’s Hard Sometimes, But It’s Common Sense

Like many seniors, we here at Common Sense for Seniors follow the news. In fact, if you counted up the hours we spend with online newspapers, local newspapers, the evening television news, and the Sunday New York Times (print version), you might think we were a little obsessed.

The news these days, however, is enough to plunge any senior into a bout of pessimistic rumination.

How, may I ask just for starters, did racism get passed on to young people – despite all that’s been said and done over the past 50 years to promote tolerance, understanding, and racial justice? In July, in Charleston, a 21 year-old murdered nine people at an African-American church. A photo at his website showed him posing with a pistol and a Confederate flag. Just last week, a 19 year-old was arrested for using YikYak, a social media app, to threaten to murder “every black person I see” at the University of Missouri.

Where do young people get this stuff? The sad truth is that it’s been passed down to them, directly or indirectly, by seniors.

In Europe, the lessons of the loss tens of millions of lives in twentieth century wars seem to be fading. The European Union is weakening, and Britain will hold a referendum on withdrawing in 2016 or 2017. Right-wing, nationalist movements are on the rise in many countries. Meanwhile, a nuclear-armed Russia undertakes military adventures with evident enthusiasm, as its domestic political institutions slide backward into authoritarianism.

Paris is attacked by ISIS, a fundamentalist group that seeks to bring on Armageddon – an apocalyptic battle it expects to occur at an obscure desert village called Dabiq. ISIS goes in for video recordings of beheadings, and some call it “medieval.” Others argue that ISIS is giving the Middle Ages a bad name.

I used to specialize in African affairs, and could say more on that subject than most readers would be willing to tolerate. I’ll just mention that in Burundi, another round of Hutu against Tutsi slaughter may be building. It would mark the fourth such outbreak since 1972. Contemporary experts maintain that Africa is moving forward, but from Eritrea to Congo, and even South Africa, there is reason for doubt.

I could go on citing trends and events that make me wonder whether the world has made much progress over the course of my lifetime.  Global warming, for one. How about the Republican slate of presidential candidates?

Did I really believe, back in the day, that the times they were a-changin? I think I did.

And perhaps I wasn’t entirely wrong. Our first African-American president won a resounding re-election in 2012. The internet is a miracle, not least for seniors. There have been amazing medical advances and life expectancies are rising – except, alas, for middle aged white Americans.

Good news or bad, so much else in life brings me joy — friends and family; gardening, cooking, and the other pleasures of day to day life; a walk along the Erie Canal on a sunny November day. Somehow, happiness keeps winning out over pessimism.

Happiness is common sense. We only go around once in life, as they say, and we might as well enjoy it.

Nihil Nisi Bonum: Fred Thompson Gets a Pass

Fred Thompson in his Senate days

Fred Thompson in his Senate days

Former Senator Fred Thompson, who died on Sunday, seems to be benefiting from that ancient Roman dictum, “de mortuis nihil nisi bonum” — “of the dead, speak only good.”

Thompson’s New York Times obituary refers to his “life in public service,” while the Washington Post quotes Senator Lamar Alexander calling Thompson “one of our country’s most principled and effective public servants.” His role in the TV show Law & Order is being warmly remembered, and the failure of his 2008 presidential bid is evoking notes of regret from the commentators.

You would never know from reading Thompson’s obituaries — or listening to the NBC Sunday night news, not to mention Cokie Roberts on NPR — that since 2010 Thompson had been hawking reverse mortgages to seniors on television.

(The exception here is Fox News, which briefly mentions Thompson’s reverse mortgage ads in its obituary. Fox News should know. It aired a Thompson ad as recently as Sunday morning.)

Seniors, however, are all too familiar with Thompson’s work on behalf of reverse mortgages. We’ve seen him over and over again telling us that reverse mortgages are the way to get the cash we need to enjoy our retirement. There’s no catch, Thompson tells us, adding that President Reagan himself signed into law the reverse mortgage authorizing legislation in order to help seniors remain in their homes.

The problem is that reverse mortgages are full of catches.  Borrowers can in fact lose their homes if they fail to pay taxes or keep up with repairs — or if they’re absent from the home for more than six months. Borrowers can outlive the cash they obtain from a reverse mortgage, or spend it unwisely, and have to sell after all, losing the equity they took out of the home. Reverse mortgages may be right for some people in certain circumstances, but they can easily get borrowers into trouble.

That’s why it always seemed unfair to me for Thompson to capitalize on the good feelings seniors had toward him due to his past public roles in order to sell a potentially risky product.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warned in June that

“Ads for reverse mortgages are found on television, radio, in print, and on the internet, and many ads feature celebrity spokespeople discussing the benefits of reverse mortgages without mentioning risks. We looked closely at many ads and found incomplete and inaccurate statements used to describe the loans. In addition, most of the important loan requirements were often buried in fine print if they were even mentioned at all. These advertisements may leave older homeowners with the false impression that reverse mortgage loans are a risk-free solution to financial gaps in retirement.”

The Bureau didn’t mention Thompson specifically, but he did not mention reverse mortgage risks in his ads. He was one who conveyed the false impression that reverse mortgage loans are a risk-free solution.

It’s fine to try to remember the good things about Fred Thompson, but he was a public figure whose life merits a comprehensive examination in the media. Seniors certainly have reason to ask whether, in the last years of his life. Fred Thompson dealt with us fairly.