“That’s a big problem if Elizabeth Warren starts poking around…”

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It’s always a pleasure to be quoted in the media, especially when the author is Warren Hersch, the well-regarded insurance industry investigator. Hersch has an article on the structured settlement industry in today’s Life Annuity Specialist. His focus is on the industry’s changing leadership which includes an insurance executive, Michelle Caine of Prudential Financial, taking over as President of the National Structured Settlements Trade Association (NSSTA).

An excerpt:

Training aside, advisors and consultants in the industry need to be better regulated, according Peter Arnold, a consultant who from 1995 to 2014 managed public affairs for the National Structured Settlements Trade Association.

Personal injury claimants may be getting less than an optimal deal on the annuity because of conflicts of interest arising from carriers or wholesalers offering exotic trips or other financial incentives to consultants who sell their products, he said. “That’s a big problem if Elizabeth Warren or someone like her starts poking around,” says Arnold of the U.S. senator and presidential candidate. In 2017, Warren issued a report charging that 24 companies paid kick-backs and awards to annuity sales agents, creating conflicts of interest that “can result in devastating consequences for retirees.”

“The optics are even worse,” adds Arnold. “Having an insurance company offer five-star resorts to brokers whose sole business involves financial assistance for accident victims undercuts the goodwill the industry’s going to need for future legislative efforts.”

For years, the NSSTA shied away from having an insurance executive as its president. The reason was easy to discern. Insurance executives were (and are) ill-suited to mediate policy disputes among structured settlement consultants since those consultants are the insurers’ customers. Regardless, here’s hoping Michelle has a good tenure.

Remembering 41: “If his glare had been a knife, it would have sliced through the USS Missouri”

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The outpouring of kind words after President Bush’s recent passing is a deserved tribute to his leadership as President and his decades of public service. For two exceptionally good testimonials, click here and here.

But no tribute to President Bush would be complete without mentioning his zeal to win – especially on the softball field. Bluntly, this man did not like to lose even if the competition was “just a friendly staff game.” And woe to the staffer who didn’t appreciate the game’s gravity!

Mr. Bush’s passion to win and a young staffer’s naiveté were both on splendid display at a staff softball game in mid-1987 at Vice President Bush’s home on Observatory Hill. I was playing shortstop when the Vice President came to bat. He hit a one-hop and sprinted to first. I moved toward second base, grabbed the ball after the hop and then realized I had two options:

Option #1: Throw it hard to first, likely throwing him out but also risking “beaning” the nation’s second most powerful elected official.

This would not have been a good career move.

Option #2: Deliberately overthrow the first baseman, my fellow speechwriter Joe Casper.

After introspection that lasted slightly more than a nanosecond, I made my decision. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the height of his career couldn’t have grabbed the throw I tossed over Joe’s head.

More than 30 years later, I still vividly recall that look Mr. Bush gave me while standing on first base. He knew I’d deliberately overthrown and he was enough of a competitor not to like it one bit.

If his glare had been a knife, it would have sliced through the USS Missouri.

George Bush was a tough and demanding boss but never unfair. If a speech text wasn’t to his liking, he would stress clearly, firmly what needed to be improved. But he was always respectful to every member of his staff. In turn, this fostered the intense loyalty that so many of us have felt toward him for these past decades.

Rest in peace, Mr. President. Thank you for everything.

Al Gore, humorist

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With the election season over, a bit of humor might be an appropriate balm to all the acrimony from the past several weeks.

Thirty years ago today was Election Day and I was on a flight from Washington to Houston as part of a White House staff migration to watch returns with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. I was a White House speechwriter for Mr. Bush and Election Day 1988 was the culmination of months of late nights and weekends in the office.

Mr. Bush’s staff had gathered in the Old Executive Office Building that morning for breakfast and Bloody Marys. Although alcohol was strictly prohibited during White House work hours, it’s possible that vodka was an ingredient.

The group took cabs to National Airport where we boarded a flight to Houston that had a stopover in Nashville. I was one of two staffers at the plane’s entrance who offered Bush/Quayle buttons to interested passengers. The rest of our team (perhaps 50) were in coach wearing elephant hats and holding Bush/Quayle signs.

More important, the vodka had kicked in.

Sure enough, the final two passengers in the plane were Al and Tipper Gore. I didn’t offer them buttons but said something along the lines of, “Senator, welcome aboard and you’re in for a surprise when you get to your seat.”

When the Gores entered the coach area, a loud roar went up from our group. To his credit, while surveying all the elephant hats and signs, he replied without missing a beat, “I’ve heard that Republicans are moving south but this is ridiculous.”

He then turned to Tipper and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “Honey, as soon as we get to Nashville, I’m firing our travel agent.”

For a public servant oftentimes criticized for being excessively serious, these were pretty good one-liners.

Remembering Barbara Bush

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With former First Lady Barbara Bush’s passing, the nation mourns a wonderful, remarkable First Lady whose signature issue was a lifelong campaign for literacy. Those who knew her have posted well-deserved tributes to her and her exemplary life (click here and here, for example).

No tribute to Mrs. Bush would be complete without a reference to her sense of humor. She was a funny person but not in a comedic way. Rather, her humor was purposeful and sharp – often very sharp.

I was a speechwriter for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush from June 1986 to January 1989. The Bushes were exceptionally kind about inviting staff to their home for softball, drinks and jokes. Mrs. Bush would always come out for those events and more than a few times, when she offered an especially barbed or bluff bit of humor, those of us in the conversation would shoot each other a look that asked, “Did she really say THAT?!”

My favorite Barbara Bush story took place in early December 1987. That month, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev came to DC for a summit with President Reagan and Vice President Bush. Shortly after he left, the Bushes invited staff members, including me, to their home for drinks and jokes. (See photo)1988 Bush holiday party

Midway through, Mrs. Bush turned to the Vice President and said, “Tell them what Raisa [Gorbachev, wife of the Soviet Premier] said to you at the concert.” “No,” replied Mr. Bush, waving her off. “Oh go on!” she prodded and once more, he said no, shaking hs head.

At that point, she told us what happened: Gorbachev had hosted a dinner at the Soviet Embassy for the Reagans, Bushes, and other U.S. officials. The post-dinner entertainment was a Russian opera singer. Vice President Bush seated next to Raisa Gorbachev and as the singer reached for the high notes with visible passion, Mr. Bush said through the interpreter, “I think I’m falling in love.”

“Be careful,” Mrs. Gorbachev replied, “Remember what happened to Gary Hart.”

I don’t recall the look on Vice President Bush’s face when Mrs. Bush told this story but something tells me that he probably wasn’t entirely pleased. Then again, it was so typical of Mrs. Bush to dispense with formalities and share something she thought was funny.

Mrs. Bush, we will miss you. R.I.P.