WHY AREN’T YOU DEAD YET?

Why aren’t you dead yet?

If you’re over 65 and/or on Medicare, or poor on Medicaid, that’s the message you’re getting.

Out-of-pocket costs of Medicare have been going up annually, with ever-higher deductibles and premiums and a massive doughnut hole in prescription coverage that like the energizer bunny just keeps going and going and going. Many of the most fundamental, critical medications aren’t covered at all — emergency and other inhalers for asthma sufferers, nitroglycerin, newer antibiotics. Out-of-pockets costs are terrifying.

Coffin

It doesn’t matter that you literally can’t live without your medications. Survival is your problem. Your health care providers, including your doctors, don’t care.

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been a downhill slide into worse medical care. As long as I was on MassHealth (Massachusetts’ Medicaid), I was okay. Medication was affordable. If I was sick, I got care. Lucky I had cancer while I was covered by MassHealth. Otherwise, I’d be dead.

The day I turned 65, I was dumped from MassHealth. I vainly hoped I’d be protected by my disabled status. I had been on Social Security disability for years. Officially disabled, I was thus entitled to MassHealth.

No problem getting around that. Social Security reclassified me as just old, not disabled. They switched me to standard Social Security. I get the same money, but without the protection. They also changed the poverty line so I no longer qualify for the extra help I was getting for medications.

Cost-of-care

Apparently when you’re over 65, you need a lot less money to live on. Pity no one told my mortgage company or other creditors. Or the drug companies. When you hit 65, you are healed of all existing disabilities and can can live on a third of the money you needed before. Poverty — when you are 65 or older — is set to levels so low you couldn’t afford a refrigerator crate.

All of this occurred right after the second anniversary of the two tumors which cost me both breasts, at which point I discovered I needed major heart repair. Without MassHealth, I needed a new medical plan and had switched to a Medicare HMO. At the time, there was only one in Worcester County. Fallon was (and remains) awful with practically no oncologists and they didn’t include the only dedicated cancer facility in central Massachusetts.

So, for a year, under Fallon, I didn’t see an oncologist. I made appointments, but they were consistently cancelled because the guy had meetings. Not emergencies. Meetings. By the end of 2013, facing heart surgery and needing a real oncologist, I switched to one of Blue Cross’s Medicare PPO Advantage plans. Simultaneously, Partners Group, the umbrella organization for all the doctors I’d been using withdrew from the Medicare and MassHealth HMO programs. Partners Group chose to not serve the old and poor. Not profitable.

At the beginning of 2013, I had no doctors. My PCP, gastroenterologist, psychiatrist … my entire support network … dissolved. In theory, I could continue to go to them. It was, after all a PPO … but it turns out just because you can go to a doctor doesn’t mean your insurance will pay the bills.

I needed new doctors and I don’t have them.

I’ve had four different kinds of heart surgery and I don’t have a cardiologist. No one is monitoring my blood pressure or medications.

Essentially, I’ve got no medical services. I’m taking the medications I was taking before surgery because I don’t know what else to do. I’m doing my best to hook up with doctors, but I’m in limbo and have been since before the surgery.

I’m angry. I’m trying hard to stay calm, but inside, I’m terribly angry. I’m getting the message loud and clear.

“Why don’t you just die already? Stop using up valuable resources we could use for younger people who deserve to live.”

I’ve outlived my usefulness. So how come I’m not dead yet?

When did we become this mean-spirited country with medical organizations which would rather close down than provide care to most vulnerable citizens? How did we come to this? Who are we?

I know. I get it. Just die already.

Send in the clowns … Marilyn Armstrong

America, land of the brave and the free. Photo by Turtsman.

My father was not a wise man, but a smart one who knew how to make money. He was a lifelong Democrat, small businessman and other things I would prefer not to delve into right now. A big part of his salesman’s repertoire were one liners and jokes. This was a favorite of mine.

It isn’t what you don’t know that will get you. It’s what you DO know that’s wrong.

Albert Friedman
Self-Made American (1917 – 2010)

How true it is, and also, how sad. So many people knowing with complete certainty so much that is so wrong. For them, the motto will forever be thus:

Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up.

So, I guess if you want to maintain your bona fides as a Real American, you should continue to watch ONLY Fox News. It will help to reinforce your unfounded opinions by presenting pseudo facts and speculation in lieu of real information and you, dumbass, will believe every word of it. Rupert Murdoch is laughing at you all the way to his offshore accounts.

Don’t read anything that contains facts unless they comply with your preconceptions. In fact, it might be best to avoid reading entirely. Make a flag of your ignorance and close-mindedness; wave it proudly. Tell the world you know nothing and don’t want to learn nothin’ neither.

Finally, proclaim that you are the prototypical American, unlike the rest of us snobbish book-reading socialist anti-Christian liberal Nazis who don’t agree with you. Don’t be concerned that you don’t know what prototypical means. I didn’t expect you to understand. Too many syllables.

After that, you can wonder why the world is losing respect for the United States. Maybe it has something to do with “true Americans” like you with your passion for ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and stupidity.

You vote against your own best interests because you vote not for people who will help you, but for those who share your hates. Anyone can have you by preying on what you hate. You hate so many things that you are easily had. You are America’s fools and losers, the people about whom H.L Mencken spoke when he said:

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

H. L. Mencken
US editor (1880 – 1956)

Without Benefit of Clergy – Marilyn Armstrong

I was Jewish when I married Garry in a Lutheran Church. I said then … and I say now …  any God I am willing to worship doesn’t care what ritual you use, what language you speak, what color you are or whether you put cheese on your hamburger. I really DO believe that everyone has the right to live the life they want to live, to have or not have children. Spend whatever day you consider the Sabbath doing whatever you want: attend a church, synagogue, mosque or sleep late and read in bed.

Travel your path and be glad.

All prayers are good prayers. Goodness is goodness, whether you believe in God or not. Faith is a choice, decency is a requirement. You don’t need a church to know the difference between right and wrong. Some of the worst people I’ve known were ardent church goers and some of the best were skeptics or atheists. I’ll bet that God knows who is who and is not fooled by how often you attend church.

Garry and I were married in his church on Long Island because he had a strong emotional attachment to it and I didn’t have any particular attachment to any religious institution, though I had and still have a strong emotional attachment to Judaism as a philosophy and as a moral compass … and as an ethnic identity: Yiddishkeit, as it were.

When we renewed our vows the first time, it was in front of a notary, but the next renewal was under the sky in our backyard by a minister of the Christian Reform Church. Maybe we’ll do it again and who knows who will officiate? We intended to renew our vows again for our 20th anniversary, but I was sick that year and I had other things on my mind. Hopefully, we’ll both be available for 25th. That seems like a good number for another renewal.

Marriage is a contract between two adults. It doesn’t require benefit of clergy. Any religion is okay and no religion is okay too. Unless you live in a theocracy and thank God we do not … yet …you don’t need to believe in anything but your partner to get married.  I hate the theocratic trend this country is taking. I’m baffled as to how God and religion are suddenly the arbitrators of what constitutes a family.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness …”

That last part, that bit about pursuing happiness seems to have been lost. Pity about that because it  is not less important than anything else and may be the most important of all. What good is life and liberty if you can’t be happy too? Gay people, straight people, old people, young people … we should have the right to marry who we choose and be as happy as we can manage.

If we start defining the meaning of marriage, if we declare that marriage is sacred and exists entirely  for the creation of children, what about people who don’t want children? Are they the next group who won’t be allowed to marry? And people past the age of  baby making … can they no longer marry? For too many years in a lot of states, people of different races were forbidden to marry … was that okay? They said that it was God’s decree too. Funny how it’s always God’s plan … no individual ever seems to be responsible.

You can interpret “God’s teaching” however you like. If it was so clear what God wants of us, what was the point of all the theological discussion, debate, Biblical interpretation and everything else for the past few thousand years? What was that about?

The best and the worst things done on this earth have been done in the name of God, Allah, Yahweh … whoever, whatever. Horrors like the Holocaust, the Crusades and so much more … and God was always on the side of the every combatant. If I were God, I’d abandon the human race in disgust.

Gay, straight, or not entirely clear on the issue, marry if you want or not. Have a good life. Maybe you’ll be one of those couples that has a great relationship. Maybe you’ll wind up in the middle of a bitter divorce, but whatever you choose, it’s YOUR right to choose. I’ll never demand you live your life my way. Be happy.

I have no opinion on afterlife or not, reincarnation or not. I don’t know.  And neither do any of you. You can believe whatever you like but you don’t know anything for sure because God doesn’t talk to you or me. He (or She) does not confide his or her intentions to us. Moses was the last one he chatted with face to face and the world has turned a few times since then.

Enjoy this life. It’s the one you’ve got. Maybe you get another shot at it, maybe not. I think it behooves us all to live in the moment and let everyone else do the same!

WHY TERM LIMITS ARE A TERRIBLE IDEA — AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN

Too many people believe we will get better government by making sure no one in congress gets to stay there for a long time. I don’t know why inexperience would mean better government. In what other field do we prefer raw recruits to veterans? Would you want an inexperienced surgeon? A lawyer fresh out of law school?

Why do you want amateurs making your laws?

Our founding fathers specifically excluded term limits. Their experience under the Articles of Confederation (the document that preceded The Constitution) showed them that good people are not interested in temp jobs for lousy pay in a distant city. Those elected to office walked away from their positions — or never took them up in the first place. There was no future in it.

When the Constitution was drawn, its authors wanted to tempt the best and the brightest to government service. They wanted candidates who would make it a career. They weren’t interested in amateurs and parvenus. The business of governing a nation has a learning curve. It takes years to get the hang of how things work, how a law gets written. How to reach across the aisle and get the opposition to participate.

The Articles of Confederation contained exactly the ideas people are promulgating today. They failed. Miserably. Do we need to learn the same lesson again?

The absence of term limits in the Constitution is not an oversight. The writers of the Constitution thought long and hard about this problem.

A little more history

Under the Articles of Confederation, our country fell apart. Elected representatives came to the capital (New York), hung around awhile, then went home. Why stay? The job had no future and their salaries didn’t pay enough to cover their costs, much less support families.

Term limits were soundly rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They were right. The Constitution’s aims to get professionals into government.

Term limits remove any hope of building a career in government. It becomes a very hard temp job with no future.

Myth Busting 101: Congress isn’t overpaid

Maybe they are paid more than you and me, but compared to what they could be earning elsewhere, they are paid poorly. What you cry? How can that be?

Most members of congress are lawyers. The 2011-2012 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year. A third year associate at a good law firm will do that well and after six to twelve years (1 – 2 senate terms), a competent attorney in a good market makes much more.

Senators and representatives have to maintain two residences, one in their native state, the other in DC. If you think $174,000 will support two houses and send the kids to college, you are living in a fantasy world. Which is why many members of congress have other income streams.

Curiously, our Founding Fathers expected congressmen, especially senators, to be men of means. They felt only wealthy people would be able to afford government service. And they would be less susceptible to bribery. On the whole, they were right. What they didn’t foresee was how many kinds of corruption would be available. Bribery is the least of our problems.

Skill and experience count

Writing a law that can stand up to scrutiny by the courts and other members of congress takes years. You don’t waltz in from Anywhere, USA and start writing laws. Moreover, great legislators are rare in any generation. A sane electorate doesn’t throw them away.

We are not suffering from an entrenched group of old-time pols stopping the legislative process. We are suffering a dearth of old guard, the folks who understand how to work with the opposition to make the process work. It’s the newly elected morons who are stopping progress. Sadly, our experienced old-timers got old and retired. Or died. They have been replaced by imbeciles.

Above and beyond the skill it take to write legislation, it takes even longer to gain seniority and peer respect. Frank Capra notwithstanding, Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington and accomplish miracles. Newly elected congresspeople hope to build a career in politics. With luck, one or two of them will become a great legislator, a Tip O’Neill, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bob DoleTed Kennedy or another of the giants. Anyone you name connected to important legislation was a multi (many) term representative or senator.

Term limits eliminate all chance of having great legislators

Term limits guarantee a bunch of amateurs — or worse — fumbling their way around congress. As soon as they figure out where the toilets are and get reasonably good at their jobs, they’ll be gone. Does that make sense? Really?

Garry and Tip O’Neill

If you think your congressman or senator is doing a crappy job, replace him or her with someone you believe will do better.

If you don’t elect them, they won’t be in congress

We have term limits. These are called elections. Throw the bums out. Vote for the other guy. Term limits were an awful idea in 1788 and they haven’t improved with time. Among the biggest concerns Democrats had about Barack Obama in 2008 was he didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t been in the senate long enough. With term limits, no one would ever have enough experience. Where would we get candidates suitable to be President?

We don’t need term limits. We need better candidates. We need men and women willing to learn the craft, who have ideas and can work with others to get America’s business done. Our government does not rest on the Presidency. It rests on 435 congressmen and 100 senators.

The President doesn’t run the country

Congress writes legislation and votes it into law. Ultimately, it’s you, me, our friends and neighbors who choose the people to make laws, pass budgets, approve cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.

Whatever is wrong with Congress, it’s OUR fault

The 535 members of congress are chosen by us and if you don’t like one, don’t vote for him or her. If someone gets re-elected over and over, you have to figure that a lot of people vote for that candidate. You may not like him, but other people do. That’s what elections are about. It doesn’t necessarily work out the way you want, but changing the rules won’t solve the problems. Make the job more — not less — attractive so better people will want to go into government. Otherwise, you’re creating a job no one will want.

It’s close to that already. Mention going into politics to an ambitious young person. Watch him or her recoil in horror.

Ultimately, it’s all about America. Partisanship, special interests, regional issues, party politics and personal agendas need to take a back seat to the good of the nation … and we need to agree what that means, at least in broad strokes. Term limits won’t fix the problem, because that’s not what’s broken.

JUMPING SHIP

Daily Prompt: Walking on the Moon

by Krista on February 23, 2014 – What giant step did you take in which you hoped your leg wouldn’t break? Was it worth it, were you successful in walking on the moon, or did your leg break?

I was born in Brooklyn, New York in March 1947. By the end of 1977 I found myself at emotional loose-ends. I was closing the book on chapter one of my life and looking for the next part of the story. Which is why, in January 1978, I tossed everything into a couple of trunks, got permission to take my son with me … and ran away to join the circus. Well, not the circus. I made Aaliyah and went to live in Israel which is very similar. I’d wanted to go there since I was an overly romantic teenage girl with visions of Ari Ben Canaan stuffed in my head.

I had a bunch of reasons for going, though the bottom line was a persistent hunger for adventure and a yearning for romance. It went like this:

  • My marriage was over. I wanted to get on with life and being very far away seemed like a fine choice
  • I wanted to put an ocean between me and my father. I forgot this would put an ocean between me and everyone else, too
  • My idea of Israel was gleaned entirely from books, movies and Mom — but it sounded great
  • I wanted to get out of my safety zone and into a wider world. I was bored
  • I wanted culture shock. To immerse myself in a different society. Really bored
  • I was tired of suburban life and wanted to do something big. Or, in other words, I was really, really bored.

How did it go? I gave up a lot to go there. Everything. Except my son. Divorce is easy if you hand everything to your ex and take a hike. I probably should have made a better settlement but I was young. Freedom was worth everything. Eventually I came to realize money matters too, but back then, it didn’t seem all that important.

I got plenty of excitement. I got layer upon layer of history, the ghosts of millennium walking with me on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. I got romance too, but not the sweaty, breast-heaving sort. It was the romance of discovery, more interesting than I dreamed. All in all, a worthy adventure.

Where I used to live.

Where I used to live.

I learned a lot in Israel. I discovered how provincial and ignorant I was. I learned how inaccurate the international press is, that everything you read about the Middle East is slanted. Sometimes, it’s completely untrue. As in “that never happened.”

Israelis — like other people — are not of one mind. Israelis don’t walk, talk and think in lock-step. If you know anything about Jewish culture, the idea that millions of Jews could live together and agree on anything (much less everything) is funny. Get three Jews in a room and you’ll have 4 — or more — opinions. With millions of Jews all packed together? Imagine the possibilities.

When I am asked about Israel, I find myself saying: “It’s complicated.” Which translates to “The amount of time it would take me to answer your question exceeds any real interest you have in the subject. ” Where Israel is concerned, it’s always complicated. Because everyone is right. And wrong.

Flaws and all, it’s the only place on earth where Jews live by a Jewish calendar, where we aren’t a tiny minority. We need Israel as our safe place when nowhere else will take us in. It’s not paranoia — it’s history. Without Israel, Jews are fragile nomads, blowing with the winds of war and public sentiment.

Home

Home

What brought me back?

I’m American. This land is my land (please join in for the chorus). The seasons sync with my body. I can smell the salt air of the Atlantic. The trees are the right color and they turn gold in autumn. After 9 years away, I needed to come home.

I’m glad I went, glad I stayed but very glad I came back.

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A RUN FOR WALKER

Darren Walker was moderately successful in business when he was called upon to head up the state’s Bureau of Air.  Even though he made little progress there, his passion for the job and common sense solutions to problems led him to be appointed head of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency.  From there he made a lot of pronouncements about enforcing the state’s laws and cleaning up the rivers, lakes and the air as well.  There was a big problem with Darren’s dreams, however.  He had a small staff and a small budget.  So Darren decided to dream bigger.

Election Day 2012

An entire year before the general election for governor, Darren announced that he would be a candidate.  He told the press it was the only way for him to move reforms forward in the state.  His own party was stunned at this and especially at the use of a dirty word to career politicians, “reform.”  The governor who appointed Walker felt this announcement to be a personal betrayal of his trust in Darren and withdrew all support of anything Darren wished to do.

As he was accomplishing very little anyway, Darren resigned from his position to concentrate on his campaign.  His own party felt that was pretty much the end of Darren.  Without party backing or major donors, they were convinced he had no chance. They went on with business as usual.

Darren, however, was more determined than his rivals could possibly imagine.  When asked about fighting a campaign with less money than his opponents, Darren would always reply, “We will just have to outwork them.  We will knock on more doors, make more calls, hold more meetings than all of them combined.  We will take the campaign to all of the people statewide.”

And so, he did just that.  With his good looks, boundless energy and pleasant personality Darren started to become a good interview for the press and he gave a lot of interviews.  This added media attention meant his opponents would fight back the only way they knew how, with attack ads.  While other candidates were spending money on negative ads, Darren was shaking hands, kissing babies and smiling for the cameras.

“We will not wallow in the mud like our distinguished opponents,” Walker declared.  “Distinguished” was probably an overstatement.

When the primary election arrived along with the winter thaw, pollsters showed a tight race and some even thought Darren could win.  This, of course, scared those in his own party as they clearly wanted to return the sitting governor to office.  When the results were in, however, Darren rode his bright smile onto the fall ballot as the candidate of his party.  Immediately, party leaders were announcing that they would support the will of the people and get behind their party’s candidate for governor.

“We will not let our opponents take back the governor’s office and march the state backwards with their regressive ideas,” the Senate president announced.

“The people have spoken,” the House majority leader declared, “and we intend to see that their candidate is a big success.”  In truth, they did little to support Darren as they were not so sure that an opponent in the governor’s office would be worse than a reformer from their own party.

Soon after the primary victory, Darren announced he intended to live up to his name and walk from one end of the state to the other, right down the middle.  Considering the size of the state, this idea seemed insane. The opinion of experts was that it would take most of the campaign for Darren to do it.  He would lose precious time while wandering down rural back roads and he would get no press outside the big cities.  His party was convinced he was doomed and tried to determine if they should start acting friendly toward the opposing party candidate.

Darren lost no time in organizing his walk.  He held a press conference at the south end of the state to declare the beginning of “Walking to the People.”  He set out with a small entourage and an advance team that headed off to the towns along the way to line up interviews, town hall meetings, and “meet and greet” sessions with local residents.  To lose no time on the road, they invited local press to walk part of the way with the candidate and they would drive the reporter back to his or her own town when he or she got tired.

There were a lot of reporters who could brag that they walked with the candidate, although they might not always admit it was just a short distance.  At other times his small staff, would throw questions at the energetic candidate as he walked, so he could practice giving good answers. Darren was prepared for everything the press and the people of the state could ask.

The unique campaign tactic gained national attention.  By the time Darren was half way across the state, he was a nationwide sensation. News crews rode along side Darren. The crew of “Walkers for Walker” grew and when they walked into the northern half of the state, they walked with students, parents, idealists, dreamers, and a whole contingent of people who believed that Darren was going to return government to the people.

By election night, Darren was unstoppable. Party leaders were at his campaign headquarters to grab some of the spotlight for themselves and to congratulate the new governor.

75-SignOfTheTimesNK-1After Darren took office and gave a rousing inaugural speech promising the people of the state just about everything, he went right to work.  He summoned his party leaders to his office.  He spoke about campaign reform and the need to limit spending, but legislative leaders explained that their opponents had many wealthy friends and they would get around the laws through political action committees.  When the new governor spoke of term limits, he was told that was unfair to those who already dedicated their lives to the public.

When Darren offered to raise the limit of terms, they countered with the same explanation and when he offered even higher limits or to exempt sitting legislators, they had a counter argument for that too.  Over his time in office he tried to get his leaders in the legislature to pass a variety of reforms.  He soon learned through his many meetings with his own party, that they were the stumbling blocks to success not the other party.  A governor could not do much if he could not get legislation passed.

When it was time for the next election, Darren had little success in office and worried that he would be perceived as a failure by the people.  Party leaders explained to Walker if that he wanted to have a chance at reelection, he needed to support the legislation of his own party and stop putting his veto to measures they passed.  They would in turn support him.  They could blame and lack of his legislation on the opposition, even though they controlled the legislature.

“You support us, Governor, and we will support you,” Walker was told.  From that point on the only chance for the Walker for Governor campaign was to avoid telling the truth about what Darren learned during the first term.

CAMPFIRE WITH THE PRESIDENT – VIETNAM, 1967 – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’ve shared this tale many times in conversation with family and friends, but never written it down. One reason is I have no pictures to go with the story. Another is the nagging feeling it might be somehow disrespectful.

Nonetheless, I am bowing to repeated requests to tell the story of my memorable evening with President Lyndon Johnson around a campfire in Vietnam. Near Saigon, 1967.

1967 and 1968 are blurs in my sense memory. I had jumped directly from college and small time commercial radio to ABC Network News. The time was right and the opportunity was there, but I was just a 20 something kid. Suddenly, I was in the big leagues. My journalism baptism included the 6-day war, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the volatile ’68 Presidential campaigns — and a trip to Vietnam.

Vietnam really is a blur. It was a blur even as it happened. In New York, I was used to receiving reports from ABC’s field correspondents. I’d speak with them over static-riddled phone lines that made it difficult to hear. The daily MACV or war front reports were often significantly different than what the Pentagon reported.

ABC needed a grunt to help the news team covering President Johnson’s visit to Vietnam. I was it. The sights, sounds and smells of Vietnam are still clear almost 50 years later. But, my job required I keep a very narrow focus. I was a young reporter still learning the ropes. I had to stay focused on the story and exclude the harrowing images around me.

LBJ vietnam 1967It was a typical evening with the ever-present sound of artillery barrages in the background. We were in what they called “down time.” Dinner around a campfire. GI’s, South Vietnamese soldiers, politicians and news media, we all hunkered down for chow. Everything was off the record. Chow was beans and some unknown local meat. Most of us ate the beans and skipped the meat.

President Johnson or LJ as he told us to call him, sat or squatted at the point of the campfire and told some colorful tales about dealing with his pals in the Senate and Congress. The stories were punctuated with smiles and profanities. LJ was drinking from a bottle which he passed around. It was good stuff.

Halfway through dinner, a scene that I would later associate with the movie “Blazing saddles” unfolded. The beans began to resonate. The smell was pungent! I must’ve had a funny look on my face because LJ gave me a withering stare and asked if I had a problem. I remember sounding like a squeaky 16-year-old as I responded “No sir.” LJ guffawed and passed the bottle directly back to me.

Before completing his trip, President Johnson confided to some of us that seeing Vietnam up close confirmed his worst fears. He broadly hinted he probably wouldn’t be seeking re-election given the backlash of Vietnam at home in the States. I thought he sounded like one of my cowboy heroes putting duty above personal gain. But it wasn’t a movie.

One last encounter with handshakes and a smile about our campfire evening. LJ again was President Lyndon Johnson.