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Sample Chapter – Shareholder’s Report

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Dutch, Barry and the gang make their way out of Las Vegas, and Barry learns a thing or two about the efficacy of green energy initiatives.  They pull into the town of Beaver, Utah, a tiny town of 2,500 perhaps best known as the birthplace of Robert LeRoy Parker, or Butch Cassidy.  Butch used to rob banks and company payrolls — presumably in order to spread the wealth around.  When they reach Grand Junction, Colorado that evening, they all watch Shareholder’s Report on television, a sort of American Idol dedicated to the American taxpayer hosted by none other than Kid Rock.  Afterwards, Barry learns about the 29th — yes, 29th — Amendment.

The attached Word file contains this sample chapter.  Unfortunately, WordPress will not allow me to upload Mobi or Epub files.

When Barry Met Ronnie Sample Chapter 4 – Copy – Copy – Copy – Copy

Godspeed, Neil Armstrong…

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Excerpt from Chapter Eight – The 16% Solution

All the while the group had been traveling eastward in northern Ohio following the rough contours of Lake Erie.  This area was quite strong economically thanks to the boon in shale gas and oil extraction.  Unemployment was low, average incomes were rising steadily, and the state’s fiscal position was strong.

About three hours into the trip Dutch decided that they would pull into Warren, Ohio for lunch and some rest.  Warren is the birthplace of astronaut Neil Armstrong and the Packard Brothers, although Dutch probably was the only one along on the trip who remembered what one of their cars looked like.  A memorial to Armstrong’s first flight is situated in an incongruous spot for such a lofty and selfless achievement, on the edge of a shopping center flanked by a McDonald’s and a K-Mart.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/leonandloisphotos/2320297790/

Book Excerpt #9 — The NO CHOKE Act, a Progressive Triumph

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Back on the campaign trail.  A beautiful early summer day in a suburban midwestern setting.  The president had flown there this morning from Washington, and was set to address the workers at a snack food plant.

After a high school band had played an up tempo song to get the crowd riled up, the president took the stage.  The band had practiced Hail to the Chief all week leading up to this morning but the president’s advance team had indicated that the president preferred an up tempo number instead.  As he took the stage in front of the adoring throng, he was back in his milieu.

The president started off by mentioning that he wanted to “give a shout out” to various politicians in the audience, although a senator from his same party regretfully had declined his invitation to attend.  The senator’s blasted scheduling commitments made her attendance at the president’s function quite impossible.  Before his speech began, and as a carefully staged piece of theater, the president playfully and histrionically opened a tin can of peanuts and pretended to throw one in the air and swallow it.  This played well in front of the packed house and led to raucous cheers, laughter, and sustained applause.  In response, the president took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves.

He just loved interacting with folks.

The boisterous noise could be heard all the way across the factory and into the personnel office where, unfortunately, the human resources officers were unable to join in the day’s festivities.  Despite the singular rareness of a presidential visit, their daily grind was continuing.  It seems that some workers were being laid off that day, and the HR personnel were meeting with the affected employees to talk about COBRA healthcare coverage, severance payments, and outplacement services.

Back at the podium, the president had concluded his shout out and was beginning his formal remarks.  “My fellow Americans, as you may know I recently had a brush with disaster,” the president declared.  There was a low murmur among the crowd.  A CNN camera caught the sight of a middle-aged blue collar worker, bused in with 75 members  of his crew from a construction site 45 miles away that very morning, with tears in his eyes as the president recounted his heart rending tale.  “I was out for a few minutes and I don’t know where I was at the time, but I clung tightly to my faith in God, family and country,” he continued.  The crowd gave him another round of warm applause.

“It is for this reason that I am happy to introduce The Nachos, Oreos, Chaste Hope of the Keebler Elves Act, or the NO CHOKE Act,” he declared.

There was strong sentiment within the administration to call it the “Collective Hope of the Keebler Elves Act,” but the word “chaste” had scored well in focus groups, especially in those crucial “purple” states where many independent voters reside.  There were lots of nodding heads at the introduction of this common sense proposal.

This was in accordance with the shift supervisor’s request to his crew earlier that morning that there should be “lots of nodding heads at the introduction of this common sense proposal.”

The president moved in for the forceful close. “This act will help to save or create thousands of American lives through the reduced threat of snack food asphyxiation.  Through the process of right-labeling we have created a package warning that is designed to continually remind snack food eaters of the potential dangers of ingesting these products.”

At that point, the CEO of the company, sitting just behind and to the right of the president, made a valiant effort to suppress a groan at the prospect of declining sales.  That was until the equivocating president added as a coda, “But, hey, eat all you want because they taste so darn good!”  And he proceeded to do just that, crunching on a kettle cooked chip into the microphone for emphasis.  The ferocity of the crunch underscored the president’s passion for this consumer packaging enhancement and exposed the president’s core before his fellow man – this guy was a fighter for all of us.

Book Excerpt #8 – Althea Robinson Saves Public Education

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Art went on to explain that Althea Robinson had worked as a janitor for 40 years at a major city’s Department of Education (“DOE”). She was also a grandmother who had four grandchildren being educated in that same city’s public school system. Over that time while still acting as a model employee, she became disillusioned with the quality of education the school system offered her grandchildren. She was concerned that her grandchildren were not receiving the instruction they needed that would allow them to compete and excel in our competitive economy. So Althea decided to enact a little civil disobedience of her own. From the position of janitor Althea had become an unlikely change agent in the way public education was both perceived and delivered in America.

Art explained that despite her reservations about the quality of education her grandchildren were receiving, Althea just kept to her work until a late night meeting at the Department of Education’s headquarters changed her viewpoint – for good. While cleaning up a conference room one evening she overheard a discussion concerning an upcoming conference of DOE employees to be held in Hawaii. Althea later mentioned that she never had been to Hawaii, and was surprised to learn that school district employees would need to travel that far in order to accomplish their work. Art inferred that maybe Althea’s personal attitude towards a trip to Hawaii took its inspiration from none other than John Adams. Perhaps she felt that she would need to continue to work hard so that her children or maybe her grandchildren could visit the 50th state.

Several weeks later, while emptying trash cans, Althea came across the copy of an expense report and the accompanying receipts from an attendee of the Hawaii trip. Her eyes widened at the list of expenses which, to her, seemed extravagant. And it was because of this that one of the DOE’s most loyal and tenured employees did something that evening that she had never done previously – she failed to dispose of a piece of trash. Althea put the expense report in her pocket instead of the trashcan. She took the receipt home with her and it gnawed at her sense of justice.

Art mentioned that in a later interview that was facilitated in order to capture her oral history Althea stated that there were two items that made her take that action. The first was an itemized copy of a restaurant bill she found that included entries for shrimp cocktail and an after dinner drink of port wine for $75. The second reason was that her discovery of the expense report occurred the very same week that one of her grandchildren’s teachers notified the class that their goal of providing computers to every student would “need to be put on hold due to budgetary concerns.” Every individual has her tipping point, and this very vivid example of the largesse of public employees spending taxpayers’ money to the denial of the students had become Althea’s.

Althea continued at her work, often receiving the highest marks possible during her regular job reviews, and earned raises that were a percentage point or so above the rate of inflation. All the while, though, she was collecting gold, or perhaps dynamite depending upon one’s perspective, in the form of other people’s trash. There were multiple memos on the white board fiasco, when 2,500 electric white boards were ordered for city schools only to have a subsequent audit reveal that more than 90% of them were unopened and still in their original boxes at the recipient schools two years later. Dozens of other examples existed, including that of a district-rented warehouse filled to the brim with teacher and student supplies “sufficient to supply the DOE and its constituent schools and their students for the next 15 school years,” or so an independent audit later stated. After a few years, Althea had amassed quite the collection of evidence on wasted spending and general indifference towards the students.

Art mentioned that one spring day, May 1st to be exact, Althea decided to walk into a local television station and offer up the documents to its investigative reporter. To the reporter, this was manna from heaven, a sure shot at a local Emmy. To Althea, though, this was all about righting a wrong. The reporter ran one week of stories dedicated to the financial mismanagement within the school district. The city’s Department of Education attempted to have the series suspended from airing through the use of legal injunctions (their flimsy position being the materials were the confidential property of the DOE), all attempts at which failed. After all, they were spending taxpayer’s money, and the public had a right to know.

Art told Barry that the reporter offered to interview Althea and protect her by silhouetting her image and employing a voice scrambler, but she declined the offer of concealment explaining simply that “Rosa Parks never had the opportunity to be silhouetted.” To drive home her point, Althea wore her janitor’s uniform during the interview.

When the exposé hit the airwaves, Althea was summarily fired by the local Department of Education. She found it curious that during the termination meeting her supervisor said to her, “How could you?”

Her “retirement” did not last long. A mass of protesters marched on that city’s DOE building the very evening of the termination after it was reported on the local news. “Hell no, we won’t go” was chanted all evening long. The following day there was a general “sick out” among the students, less than 15% showed up for school that day, a poor percentage even for that city’s public schools. DOE officials backed down and quickly re-hired Althea, offering her a promotion to supervisor which she promptly turned down. She was happy simply to resume her role as a janitor.

Art said that Althea’s actions led to the “Occupy DOE” (Department of Education) demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and which eventually spread to the 50 state capitals. Soon the bloated, ineffective Potemkin Village edifice of public education in the United States began to crumble. And this was no gradual erosion; it came down in a heap. All across the country the word was out. The focus was on the children and accountability, and the monopoly was no longer running the show.

Teachers around the country began to post variations on Althea’s theme online from their own school districts as did other janitors and administrative personnel. This was a righteous form of WikiLeaks, a much more logical and effective children’s crusade. Althea’s actions led to similar brush fires in all the major cities around the U.S. There was a rush by administrators to double down on the number of shredders used by the various school districts but by then it was too late. Soon, a large majority of state attorneys general were calling for financial audits of the various school districts for the previous 10 years.

And it all started over an order of shrimp cocktail and a glass of port.

There’s a bronze statue of Althea Robinson in front of the southern entrance of the U.S. Department of Education building at 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, in the District of Columbia. The sculptor offered to place her in a chair in a dignified pose but Althea had a preferred pose of her own, and that was what the artist eventually captured: a woman in a janitor’s outfit holding a feather duster surrounded by a few schoolchildren while standing next to a trashcan. And there’s a tongue-in-cheek caption to the statue, approved by Althea, which simply states “Sunshine is the Best Disinfectant.” To the end, she wanted to downplay her accomplishments, consistent all the way to the placement of her statue – across the street from a local pharmacy.

Art commented that Althea Beatrice Robinson, a descendent of sharecroppers in Alabama, wouldn’t have had it any other way. Althea died in her late 80s and she herself never earned a high school diploma. But her brave actions singlehandedly led to the beginning of the end for the monopoly in public school education. And to that a nation and millions of children who escaped the oppressive yoke of low expectations and even lower prospects for a vibrant and fulfilling life are eternally thankful. To this day, D.C. high school seniors in cap and gown have their pictures taken in front of her statue in the late spring, and then they take off a few well-deserved months and enter their four-year colleges in the fall.

Book Excerpt #7 — Preserving Medicare for Today and the Future

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When Sara came back to the table to deposit the drinks she led off with an apology.  “I’m sorry for the slight delay, gentlemen.  This is my first day back after some time off, so I’m a little slow.”

“I hope you’re okay now,” Dutch replied.

“I am, thank you,” Sara replied.  “I just needed a little work from my doctor in the way of a hip replacement, but now I’m back on my feet again.  All in all, I was pretty happy with the whole experience.”

“That’s the thing about Medicare,” Barry chipped in.  “There’s a pretty high level of satisfaction with that system.”

“Oh, I’m not on the traditional Medicare plan,” Sara replied.  “I’m signed up with one of the private programs.”

“You’ve dismantled Medicare?” asked a flummoxed Barry who directed his remark at Pete.  “Is nothing sacred to you guys?”

“Well, Barry, there you go again,” Dutch replied with a little edge to his voice.  At that moment Pete caught Dutch’s eye and nodded that he would take it from there, if for no other reason than to save him from getting into a major lather.  Dutch looked as if he had been filling his sails and was prepared to launch into a fairly lengthy rebuttal.

“Look, Barry, all of the innovations in private healthcare delivery we spoke about during this morning’s car ride were just as applicable, perhaps even more so, for Medicare.  The dismal financial condition of Medicare combined with the rapidly aging Baby Boom generation made our actions imperative.”

“If you’re standing on train tracks and you feel some rumbling, it doesn’t make much sense to wait around for a visual confirmation,” said Dutch.  “You better get out of the way in a hurry.”

“That’s right,” Manny said.  “We anticipated the problem of underfunding and we dealt with it.  We had no choice.  Entitlement programs needed to be reformed.  To not act, to just keep kicking the can down the road, would have been negligent – both to current Medicare recipients and to future generations.  It would have been the antithesis of our posture as a serious country.”

In Barry’s world the government’s persistent indifference towards the looming deluge in Medicare and Social Security claims meant that the train was getting so close that soon one would be able to read the small print off of its glaring headlights.  The Congressional Budget Office reported that total U.S. spending on healthcare, absent any changes in federal law, was poised to grow from 16% of the economy to 37% of the economy in 2050.  Further, federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid was projected to grow from 4% to 7% of GDP over that same time period.  Time was rapidly running out to avoid a fiscal calamity, and the pain was likely to fall squarely on the young and the lower and middle classes.

“Well, look, for me it’s working just fine with my private plan,” said Sara.  “When I was told I needed a hip replacement, I was able to go out and shop around a bit to look for a competent surgeon offering a reasonable price for the procedure.  You’d be surprised how they fall all over you when they know you’re the one directing the payment.  You get a whole new level of respect.

“My husband is a bit of a curmudgeon so he stayed with the old Medicare plan.  Of course, once he gets set in his ways, it’s hard for him to change; he won’t even try Honey Nut Cheerios.  Still, I do think there’s hope for him.  He told me he’s thinking about switching to my plan given my recent experience.”

“Wait.  I’m not following you.  Did you abolish Medicare or not?” Barry asked.

“No, Medicare still exists,” said Manny.  “We kept it around for a few reasons.  First, there is a comfort level with the program for some of our citizens, and we wanted to maintain it for those who were going to retire within the next 10 years.  It could be disruptive to them to change at this late a date in their retirement planning.  Second, we wanted to show the confidence we had in our market-oriented approach.  We felt that if people could compare the two options they would gravitate towards one of the private programs over time due to either lower costs or better service, or possibly both.  Finally, we didn’t want to listen to disingenuous opposing politicians telling vulnerable seniors that we killed the Medicare system when, in fact, we strengthened it.”

“Well I hope you had the sense to raise taxes in order to fund the deficit.  I think it’s important that everyone pays their fair share,” Barry argued.

“Barry, increasing taxes alone wasn’t a judicious path to closing the underfunding gap.  We needed structural reform of entitlements,” Manny said.

If Barry had seen the recent projections from the Congressional Budget Office he would have known this to be true.  They estimated that tax rates on the middle bracket would need to rise to 47% and to 66% for the highest bracket by 2050 in order to fund the gap presented by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid solely through taxes.  Corporate taxes would also need to rise to 66% by that time.

How does that passage go?  Rend unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s…

Such an approach would crash the stock market, manifestly decrease the American standard of living, and actually impede, if not fully curtail, the ability for workers to save for retirement.  On a governmental level, there would be little money available for all of its other priorities (such as defense and the protection of our borders), and the burden on the younger generation would be particularly oppressive in this scenario.

Book Excerpt #6 — Dutch Has Left the Building

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During that moment Dutch began walking and then bounding down those same 58 steps that had seemed so insurmountable just moments before.  He gave a few high fives and fist bumps to the crowd that had lined the staircase and was now five deep.  There was sustained applause from the assembly.  As he hit the last step the park ranger flipped him his car keys and Dutch made the grab and held his footing as well as any receiver in the NFL.

Dutch took one last long look up at the steps.  He stood upright and gave a salute to Dylan, high atop the monument, and Dylan responded with a salute of his own.  Barry, realizing that this was his last chance to communicate with Dutch, took after him.  He caught up with his target just as he walking back towards his car.

“Wait, you can’t be going,” Barry pleaded breathlessly.  “I have a lot of questions I need to ask.”

Dutch replied, “Sorry, my friend.  I need to get home to Mommy and that wood pile.”

“But there’s a lot we haven’t covered,” Barry implored.

“Actually, I think we’ve covered it all,” was Dutch’s only response.  The Old Man held his gaze but it was clear that he had finished the conversation.  Barry held his gaze, too, but he reluctantly accepted the social clue being emitted.  The time for questioning was over.  The falconer was letting go.

With that the Old Man climbed back into his car with Manny in the front passenger seat and punched radio button number four to XM’s Classic Vinyl station.  Just at that moment three audible bass pedal beats were followed by a rest on the fourth.  From there, The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again came blasting out of the Blaupunkt speakers, eight minutes and thirty seconds of barely controlled mayhem, rage and sardonic reverence aimed at the powers in charge.

The Old Man gave a wry smile and his characteristic tip of the head.  He simultaneously punched the gas pedal and twirled the volume knob on the radio.  And with that he was gone, in a cloud of dust, red metal and burning rubber.  Still, the synthesized pandemonium of that masterpiece lasted for another 15 seconds as he drove out of sight. 

Ladies and gentlemen: Dutch has left the building.

He left with a loud yet straightforward message.  It’s not about the little tin god, it’s not about the matinee idol, and it’s especially not about the guy on stage with the newest map to the Promised Land. 

It’s about the man in the trenches, the fellow who keeps his head down every day, who follows the rules and raises his family well.  It’s about the parent who’s more interested in what grade her child received on the last math test as opposed to whether her kid is on the cheerleading squad or the football team.  It’s about the entrepreneur who senses a market opening, takes a risk and works 18-hour days to bring that vision to fruition.

In the end, it’s about the American individual, the mortal source of everything good that has happened in this country, and the quality and character of which, when combined with that of his fellow citizens, is unstoppable at conquering any challenge.

Even Canis Lupus.

Book Excerpt #5 — Barry on Healthcare

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“So, if I’ve played by the rules all my life, you know paid my taxes, exercised regularly and watched my diet, and at the age of 76 I need a knee replacement, do I get one?  Or am I deemed to be too old as it was decided from on high that this treatment would be better suited to a 45 year old?”  Dutch wondered.

“Well, look, there are metrics that would be set up by top medical experts so that this knee replacement could be objectively viewed against providing this procedure to a younger person.  It would all be done with an eye toward fairness and rationalizing our overall healthcare budget,” Barry answered diplomatically, if not evasively.

“And there would be no political hacks on this committee, right?” Manny asked skeptically.

“Oh, no, no,” Barry said reassuringly. “This committee would be free from political influence.  It would be staffed by the top non-partisan experts in the field, perhaps even some Nobel prize winners,” said Barry, throwing in the last clause for extra emphasis.

“Top experts in the field.  Isn’t that a line from Raiders of the Lost Ark?” Dutch cracked, although Barry did not seem to grasp the analogy.

Barry’s optimism for the group was short lived.  He had believed they could handle a mature discussion on this topic and now that looked unlikely. 

Pete began chuckling, “No, the political cronies only show up when it’s time to get an experimental drug approved by the non-partisan panel, right?  Gain the right introduction to the panel and you’re golden.  Try to present on the merits and you roll the dice. ‘Gee, we’re not so bowled over by these implantable defibrillators but this Beriberi vaccine for the elderly, now that’s a keeper’.”  Dutch laughed the hardest at this probably because he was the only one of them old enough to remember what Beriberi actually is.  Barry felt that Pete’s criticism was unfair but, in his world where there was a prevailing disdain towards the professional politician, it was not unexpected.

“Aren’t doctors already doing this with their patients? You know, figuring out which treatments make sense and which don’t?” Dylan asked shyly.  Dutch just nodded silently at the young man.  Sometimes comments are so elegantly stated that a response, even a positive or enthusiastic one, would only serve to tarnish the moment.

Pete continued, “Look, Barry, there was plenty we could do, and actually did accomplish, to reduce the rate of healthcare inflation and to make sure dollars were spent more efficiently.  And that’s what this was all about, to try and get the rate of increase in healthcare more in line with general inflation.  We did this by breaking down the barriers that stifled innovation.  Insurance companies started paying physicians for patient outcomes, for example.  And we spent a lot of effort eliminating the reasons for the higher costs in healthcare.  Some of the insurance companies added innovations as well such as offering doctors a flat fee for each patient which was, of course, adjusted due to age, gender and health history.”

“Barry, the World Health Organization rates the U.S. number one out of 191 countries for ‘responsiveness to the needs and choices of the individual patient.’  To what degree are we willing to denigrate this statistic?  That’s the risk you take when you create an all-knowing panel that makes many of the key decisions and largely takes that role away from the attending physicians,” Pete argued.

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