Lessons in leadership and work from the AHCA mess, plus a letter to my congressman

Well, last week was interesting, wasn't it?

I want to start with some thoughts on Obamacare, and the reason I want to do that is so you don't think I'm a cheerleader.

The Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") is not perfect. It's barely even good. It did a couple of good things, like making sure anybody who wanted health care could get it, and made sure that if you had a preexisting condition, you could get a policy.

It's also way too expensive for most of us in the middle class (I say most of us, because I think some people who think they're paying too much would be paying way more on the open market, if they could get insurance at all). It's harder to figure out what's going to be covered under my plan — I can pick a doctor in my network, but it takes a lot of work to figure out which tests (if any) are carried out by labs in my network.

The deductible plans under Obamacare are ludicrous. Ten years ago, insurance cost me about $160 a month. If I went to the doctor, I paid $10 and insurance covered the rest. If I went to the eye doctor, I paid $20 and insurance covered the rest. If I got glasses, insurance covered roughly the cost of basic lenses and I was responsible for the frames and any lens upgrade I might want.

Now, it costs about three times as much for insurance (granted I'm older and I have a second person on my insurance and there's been inflation). But the kicker is, the first $5,000 of in-network care comes out of my pocket, outside of one physical. The insurance company negotiates down the cost of care, but doesn't kick in anything except a physical until I've spent over $10,000 (the cost of insurance plus the deductible).

Obamacare, in other words, is not amazing. But it's what we have, so that's where we have to start from.

Here's the thing: In all the years since we've known Obamacare isn't amazing, nobody's bothered to start writing something amazing.

And then Donald Trump was elected president, with one of his major campaign promises being to repeal Obamacare.

If anybody had been doing one iota of real work on health care over the last seven years, we would have had some idea of the basics of a new plan that could have helped us move forward.

There are plenty of career politicians in both houses of Congress — people who would certainly have been around to reap the benefits of their work whenever it came to fruition.

Not that that's why you do it. Remember, you're entitled to work hard, and that's basically it.

Instead, what we wound up with was a quickly-hacked-together piece of legislation that some people were affectionately calling repeal and go fuck yourself.

This is not what you get if you spend seven years putting together a good foundation and then refine some of the details. It's what you get when you assume that people fall in line behind you instead of actually asking them what they want.

It takes 218 votes to get a piece of legislation through the House. It has to be a pretty good piece of legislation, then, not something that gets hacked together.

Lesson One, then, is do the work.

Lesson Two is work with your colleagues.


Two more lessons learned came straight from the top.

Lesson Three: Don't give ultimatums. The president told the House to pass the bill or forget about it. Trump's been in office just over two months, and he left everything on the field on health care? That's even an insult to athletes who actually go out there and leave everything on the field.

If you leave everything on the field, you focused on nothing but this game, gave it everything you had, and are so exhausted at the end that you'll have to deal with the emotion of the result later. For now, all you can do is scrape yourself together and try to pull off your shirt so you can get off in the shower.

Not one of those things describes anyone in the legacy of the AHCA.

Lesson Four: Take some responsibility. And even if you don't control the whole process, understand who can actually help you. If instead you're angry at your son-in-law for being off skiing with your daughter and your grandkids, you clearly don't understand that your son-in-law's job is basically to say what he thinks should happen and hold your hand when things don't go your way.

Jared Kushner doesn't write policy and he doesn't vote on it. And frankly, if he didn't think this was a battle worth fighting, that's his business, not yours.


This is the letter I wrote to Congressman Buddy Carter on Sunday after I received his weekly newsletter. I'll update when I get a response. He only accepts email from his constituents, so unless you're in the first Georgia district, you can just read and enjoy (or whatever).

Congressman Carter,

You write in your most recent email to constituents (March 26, 2017) that "Obamacare is a disaster," and you list many reasons why that may be true.

You also blame a "small number of [your] colleagues in the House" for failure to pass the AHCA.

If a small number of your colleagues were against the AHCA, it would have passed -- at least 218 of them must have been against it.

The problem with dwelling on the faults of Obamacare is that you create no solutions.

Obamacare was always imperfect, and nobody -- Democrat or Republican -- has tried to fix it or work out any of the kinks in the past seven years.

The proposed version of the AHCA failed because the president rushed together a new bill and tried to bully it through the House with a "pass it tomorrow or forget about it" dictate, rather than spending the time working with a majority of the House to write good legislation.

It's going to take some time to write good legislation. If it means gut Obamacare and start over, then do that -- don't just pick apart what you and your colleagues don't like and hope it works out.

Look, I am a healthy 40-year-old man with a healthy wife and so far no children. That makes me fairly immune from whatever comes down the pike over the next few years; even if we're blessed with a child or two, we're in pretty good shape.

My parents are not getting any younger, and their premiums are way too expensive under Obamacare, but they would not have been eligible for coverage under the previous system because a bad back or a previous rotator cuff surgery would have been flagged as a preexisting condition.

We're not sure what would have changed for them under AHCA because nobody bothered to tell us what's in it, other than, "it's better."

I want you to understand something, before you read the rest of this letter. I'm a writer by nature, and do a fair bit of writing by trade. I have a vocabulary roughly three times that of the average college graduate. I say that because the words I'm going to use are very strong, and you should know that I'm picking them purposefully. Ready?

Get it the fuck together.

Your constituents know Obamacare isn't working. We're subject to it, unlike you and your colleagues who have federal health care.

You're not struggling. We are.

You don't have to tell us "Obamacare is a disaster." In fact, we'd really like it if you found your own descriptor. We've heard that one before. Chernobyl was a disaster. By that metric, Obamacare is at best annoying.

While you're coming up with words, try some that mean something. Here is what you said about AHCA in your email: "The legislation contains the critical reforms necessary to deliver relief and a patient-centered health care system with the choice and control needed to empower patients. "

In case you need someone to translate your fancy speech for you, that says, "AHCA contains changes that will give patients power."

Give me some details, please.

You don't fix a broken system by calling it a disaster and then hoping you can speak vaguely enough for long enough that people will cheer for the new one.

Do some fucking work.

I know it's difficult. Remember that you are a public servant. You represent us, but you work for us. It's not the job of your constituents to make you feel great about yourself. It's the job of your constituents to ask you to do great things, even if it takes sacrifice and hard work.

Even God never promised us the fruits of our labor, only the labor itself.

Now, take a deep breath, then decide to take some responsibility for working together with 217 (or more) of your colleagues, to write some legislation that's good for your constituents instead of your reelection campaign.

Yours,
Joshua Shear
Savannah, Georgia

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 50: Telling stories

Some real American originals have died since we last spoke. Let's talk stories.

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Bill Morrissey
Edson by Morrissey
Mississippi John Hurt
Tommy Shea
Sean Kirst
Suzanne Strempek Shea
Songs from a Lead-lined Room, by Suzanne Strempek Shea
The Soul of Central New York, by Kirst
Chuck Berry died
Jimmy Breslin died
Chuck Barris died
Tom Wolfe
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Wolfe
William S. Burroughs
Hunter S. Thompson
Charles Bukowski

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Of stories and storytellers: Farewell to the ‘unlettered bum’

Clifton Pollard's name was queried on Google more on Sunday than it had been perhaps any other day except for one — Nov. 22, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy.

I'll save you the search, if you don't recognize the name. Pollard was the man who, on a Sunday morning, finished his bacon and eggs, went to Arlington National Cemetery, climbed into a reverse backhoe, and dug the grave into which Kennedy's casket would be lowered.

He made $3.01 per hour, and he came in on his day off.

He didn't get to go to the funeral. It was too crowded.

We know about Clifton Pollard because a New York Herald Tribune columnist named Jimmy Breslin wrote about him.

On April 5, 1992, Pollard, a World War II veteran, died and was soon after buried not too far from our thirty-fifth president.

Breslin died over the weekend at the age of 88. He had, earlier in the week, been admitted to the hospital to be treated for pneumonia and released the next day. His wife thought he was getting better and his death came as a surprise to her.


Breslin was part of a generation of hard-scrabble storytelling journalists. He wrote stories, not articles. He drank whiskey. He smoked cigars. He scorned reporters who stayed in the newsroom, and instead wandered the streets, pubs and tenements of New York, speaking to people.

It's a storied generation — one that included Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal. Most of them predeceased Breslin.

While journalism — and the rest of the world, frankly — has certainly changed in the couple of generations since Breslin went and found Pollard, there are remnants of his world. I recently found in a used bookstore a collection of essays by PJ O'Rourke. Younger essayists like Doug Rushkoff and Chuck Klosterman certainly carry forth a biting witness. My friend Tommy Shea was so well-loved at The Republican that even the competition wrote him a nice sendoff. My friend and former colleague Sean Kirst had the same impact in Syracuse, and has now moved on.

Reading Shea and Kirst in print — actual newsprint still feels, and smells, familiar to me — put me in mind of a time I never really got to know. But the writing is still there. Wolfe is still writing books and the occasional column. Count among Breslin's non-journalistic contemporaries William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac.

These are not easy men to read, but once you start, it's nigh impossible to stop.


Yes, the world has changed. You won't find many smoky bars anymore. Nor too many people in suits willing to walk into a slum in search of a story (nor many people willing to talk to them if they did).

Breslin was the sort of guy who was able to find not only Clifton Pollard but also a man named Tony Palma.

If that name doesn't sound familiar, I'll again save you the searching. Palma was once a long-haired Beatles fan in the 1960s, and later, on December 8, 1980, he was the police officer, along with his partner, Herb Frauenberger, who responded to a call of, "Man shot, 1 West 72nd St." That night, they helped a dying John Lennon.

And Breslin had his interview conducted and typed up that night in time for 1:30 a.m. deadline.

It takes hours or days to get that kind of access to some people in uniform nowadays. That's not a complaint; it's just the world we live in.


There are stories, and there are storytellers, and there are people who read stories.

I think a lot of people would like to claim to be the second, but to do so, you have to truly understand the first. And that's a hell of a craft. You'll know who they really are, because they attract the third.

Many people have stories — hell, many people are stories — they just don't know it. It takes a real storyteller to pry the stories out of those folks.

It's why we'll read a headline or a couple of sentences in almost everything we click on these days, but we'll read giant novels by Wolfe and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It's why we'll read Kirst's book of Central New York stories.

Breslin told stories. They were stories of New York and New Yorkers, and people felt they knew him and the stories. Maybe that's why David Berkowitz — the Son of Sam killer — wrote him letters.

Sometimes the stories don't realize what they are. You might think you have a story to tell, but the one that comes out when a storyteller gets a hold of it may be entirely different.


"You climb the stairs," Breslin is quoted as saying, "and all the stories are at the top of the stairs."

Maybe it's a simple metaphor for doing the work ‐ climb the stairs while everyone takes the elevator, or just stays in the lobby. Or maybe it's a simple instruction manual. When you climb enough stairs, there are certainly stories when you get to the top.

Breslin called himself an "unlettered bum." He certainly put a lot of letters on a lot of pages.


Be a story, or be a storyteller. Hell, be both. Or neither. But don't pretend to be either. We have enough pretenders out there.

To Mr. Breslin, ever a story and a teller, may your cigar ever be lit, your glass three fingers full and your typewriter ready for some punishment.

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 49: St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah

It's St. Patrick's Day in Savannah! We're one of those places with trolley tours that run 364 days a year. Christmas? Trolleys are running. New Year's? Yep. Thanksgiving? Easter? You bet. St. Patrick's Day? Nope, day off.

So, who was St. Patrick? Why do we wear green? What's with the shamrocks?

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Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick's Day
Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee
St. Patrick's Day in Savannah
Slow Carb Diet

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#TheIdesOfTrump, the problem with #resist and why persistence is more important

We are a heavily divided country. End of sentence.

Many of us feel left behind. Millions of people have turned out for demonstrations. Usually quiet town hall meetings this past recess saw people get left out because fire marshals were concerned about occupancies. Some representatives simply didn't have them; some of their constituents held town halls anyway and brought cardboard cutouts of their elected officials.

Tomorrow marks the Ides of March, the day immortalized as a day of which to be wary thanks to the murder of Julius Caesar.

It also marks a day on which many people will send postcards to the president — liberals to send negative messages and conservatives to send messages of support to counter what those on the left are calling #TheIdesOfTrump.

I'll keep the more amusing details of how I think this plays out to myself, but I think the larger result is the recycling pickup at the White House next week is going to be somewhat heavier than usual.

Before you drop me in a corner here, I want to remind you where I stand. As an American, if President Trump succeeds in improving education and trade and international relations and community relations, I succeed. I'm rooting for him.

I'm just not optimistic.

Don't point to the stock market, please. It works independently of the president, and consistently works its way up. We're in the midst of the longest bull market ever (eight years). Pundits who are crediting President Trump for the growth since the election didn't give President Obama any credit for the previous seven and a half years of steady growth; markets aren't partisan — they just grow. At some point we'll have a bear market for a little while. Every single bear market in US history has been followed by a bull within a year, with the one exception being the Great Depression (and technically, they called that a crash, not a bear).

Here's the problem with the liberal side of this postcard campaign: It takes up the battle cry #resist.

A couple of years ago, when it was announced that no charges would be brought against police in Ferguson, Mo., and the city went crazy, I wrote of police who came with armored vehicles and riot gear:

I understand you prepare for the worst-case scenario, not the best, but if you don't appear ready for the best-case, you're never going to get it.

I feel like that's what the left is doing with #resist. Says the dictionary of resist: "to withstand, strive against, or oppose; to make a stand or make efforts in opposition; act in opposition; offer resistance."

This is different from debate, persuade, seek to change or even to work within the bounds of constitutional process. It's to set up a physical opposition, not a political one. It's a very aggressive message to send, and not one that invites discussion.

There are hundreds of #resist meetups that have popped up around the US (and also elsewhere in the world). The conversation is not civil. It's mostly a lot of shouted threats, again, not at all like discussion.

Aggressors rarely come out on top without a strong show of actual force, and liberals are going to have to decide if they're liberals in the way of George Washington and Fidel Castro, ready to pick up arms and overthrow their government, or progressives in the way of Mahatma Gandhi and Ram Dass, willing to fight with their brains and their mouths for what's right and not quitting until they get it.

If it's the latter, get on the phone with your elected representatives. Show them the numbers. If Medicaid is shut down in 2020 and your parents won't be able to get health care because simply being 72 years old is a preexisting condition and your $100,000-a-year CFO salary belongs to the hospital after three nights recovering from a fall, they need to know.

If your kid's public school can't afford a new roof after 30 years because half the federal aid that would have gone to that school is going to a private school down the street, they need to know.

If the NEA disappears and all the museums in your city that might have inspired children to be artists and archaeologists and historians have to close and those kids wind up in gangs because that's the only way they've ever seen to break the cycle of poverty, your representatives need to know.

If you're worried because the administration is purposefully lying to media to keep the public in the dark as to what's really going on in the world, your representatives need to know.

I'm not saying roll over for your government — for sure, always stay vigilant — but understand when you meet fire with fire you get a bigger fire. When you meet fire with water, you get relief.

Here's how to contact your elected representatives. Don't give up until you feel you've been heard (be polite to staffers; they can pass along your message or not).

We can be resistant, or we can be persistent. We can't be both.

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 48: There is not a finite amount of awesome in the world

I often get confused for a New York Democrat. The truth is, I don't wear team colors, and I'm from Massachusetts. I ramble a bit on where I stand policy-wise and we talk about lifting people up.

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Jesse Ventura on Joe Rogan's podcast
Regressing toward a higher mean

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#TryPod

There's a lot of stuff floating around in my head for more extensive blog posts coming up — I've done some deeper looking into our brains, I've recently read Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, and I didsome more window shopping at the library.

But I wanted to talk a bit about #TryPod this morning. It's a month-long endeavor to push podcasts as a medium.

If you're not on board with podcasts yet, give one a try. If you have a smart phone, you probably have a podcast app built in, and there are plenty more that are easily installed.

Here are a few to check out outside of the biggest mainstream ones:
Josh: The Podcast — That's my podcast. It comes out on Thursdays.
JKWD (Josh & Kelvin World Domination) — A podcast I do with the great Kelvin Ringold. It comes out Mondays.
Another Round — Tracy and Heben bring a whole lot for ignorant white dudes like me to learn
We the People Live — Josh Zepps talks politics with comedians and others
Pod Save America — Some Obama staffers offer inside-inside politics. It's slanted way Dem, but how often do you hear people speak who have worked on a presidential staff?

If you're already a podcast listener, what are some of your favorites?

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 47: Our crazy brains

If it bleeds, it leads! Why news headlines and shows like "Law and Order" and "CSI" tap into the part of our brain that's scared of everything — and how to slow it down. Major League Baseball, Trump address Congress, Sessions lies to Congress. It's a rambler, folks!

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What are brain waves?
The amygdala
President Trump addresses Congress
Jeff Sessions met with Russian ambassador
How do you speed up baseball games?
Synagogue classroom in Indiana shot

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Would you still be doing what you’re doing?

I recently re-read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Maybe I should be doing it more often, particularly given it's about a three-hour read.

Here's something important I pulled out of it.

"Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?"

It gave me pause, but not for very long.

Blogging and podcasting are how I understand the world. I would certainly still be doing those things.

My job in news? I would definitely do that. It's gathering information, processing it and sharing it.

Running? Yep. Eating? Yep. Meditating? For sure.

There really are a lot of lessons in that book. I recently ordered a copy on a whim for someone who needed it. It's that important.

Here are a couple of other lessons I've learned from the book.

What's the Platonic ideal for Resistance? »

Pressfield imagines Resistance as a dragon, and you, as artist or entrepreneur or whatever, must slay the dragon to do the work you want to be doing.

The thing is, upon further review, I'm not sure that dragon ever dies. Is wounded to the point of dormancy? Sometimes. Dead? Never.

We are nothing if not present tense »

There's a line. On one side are the people who say "I'm gonna" and "I used to" and "I wanna" and "I wish I could," and on the other side are the people who say "I am."

Be on the important side of the line.

Josh: The Podcast, Episode 46: The repressive/regressive left, Milo, art and superheroes

We jump around a lot this week, discussing how the left isn't helping progressives right now, Milo Yiannopoulos, creating, why you're almost a superhero and more.

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Milo Yiannopoulos on Joe Rogan's podcast
Yiannopoulos speech blocked at UC-Berkeley
Yiannopoulos on Bill Maher
Yiannopoulos loses book deal
Yiannopoulos out at Breitbart
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler
The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler
Steven Kotler on Lewis Howes' podcast
Pod Save America
Pod Save the World
Buddy Carter's Town Hall in Savannah
Buddy Carter (R-GA-1) official page
The 14th Amendment
Constituents hold Sen. Pat Toomey town hall without Toomey
Seth Godin: Drawing a line in the sand

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