Friday, October 19, 2018

Respectful Discourse - and What I believe


One of the things I pride myself on is my willingness to listen to people with points of view that are different from my own. I welcome the give and take of a good debate not because I’m looking to change others’ minds, but because I think it expands my own knowledge and ways of looking at the world. And if I change my mind and/or the other person does, then it’s a bonus.


With our current political climate, it’s very easy to get differing points of view on almost every topic. Unfortunately, they tend towards way out on both fringes of opinion, at least they do until, and if, you can get someone to really discuss individual issues and not just spout off rhetoric. (Which then, usually, devolves into name-calling. I wonder, is this caused by a lack of knowing about the subject? 

Or is it a “give up” position where they just don’t care to listen to anyone else’s opinion?)
What is my political side? Well, it depends on who you ask. I have some friends who think I’m a raging Liberal and others who think I tend toward Conservative values. Take a look at these statements and see if you don’t agree with opposing opinions, too.

I believe that gun ownership is a Constitutional right provided by the Second Amendment AND I believe in responsible gun ownership. I also believe that no one needs to own an automatic weapon (I’m okay with semi-automatic) or the ability to have more than 10 rounds in their gun at a time. I believe that, since it’s a deadly weapon, owners should be licensed, made to pass a safety course, and have an insurance policy to cover harm that might occur. Why? The only other deadly weapon that most Americans possess is an automobile and all those common-sense things (license, safety course, insurance) are required by law when we own one of them. Why shouldn’t it be true for guns? That
Sorry. I don't think anyone needs these.
just seems reasonable to me. We have to stop all the senseless killing of kids and I don’t know how to go about it. I’m not in favor of outlawing guns. I am in favor of understanding the data and figuring out how to stop it, first. The NRA seems dead set against that but until the problem is studied, we don’t know how to fix it! So, am I a Liberal or a Conservative? (By the way, I own a few guns and I wrote this paragraph a few weeks after the latest school shooting in Florida. I also think that no one needs a gun that was designed specifically for killing humans, like the AR-15. The fact that there are over 10 million of them in American’s hands leads me to believe we’re always going to have them, unfortunately.)

I believe that our government is too large. Not because it’s doing too much but because it’s inefficient in how it’s run. I think that if some business tenets for managing people, establishing goals and budgets and performance management, were instituted that we could make it more effective. It takes in far too much money and often provides little in return and desperately needs to be more efficient. So, am I a Liberal or a Conservative?

I believe that we need term limits for our elected officials. Two terms for the President, two terms for the Senate, and five terms for the House of Representatives. (I’m not sure about judges and SCOTUS
but I’m leaning to a certain number of years, say 20.) I also believe that all these people’s health insurance, retirement programs, and other perks should be the same as “normal” Americans. (I don’t know of any job where you can work for a couple of years and then draw 80% or your same salary for life. Congress can do that. Yes, really.) I’m also in favor of controls on campaign contributions – the amount of money these people are taking in is ludicrous and I’m appalled at how much money is spent to influence them. They all appear to work for the lobbyists with the deepest pockets, from what I can tell. So, am I a Liberal or a Conservative?

I believe that our federal budget should be balanced – what comes in, goes out. All of us as citizens live that way; our government shouldn’t be any different. To enforce this, I’m in favor of all of Congress being replaced at the next election cycle as a penalty for failing this simple test. (I realize this would take a Constitutional Amendment.) So, am I a Liberal or a Conservative?

I believe in capitalism as it’s the basis for the American Dream. I also believe that regulation is important because greed makes people compromise their rules/morals and there must be consequences for doing so. (I don’t know how much regulation is too much. I do know that, occasionally, regulations are put into place and create unintended consequences. Because of this, there needs to be constant vigilance around regulations, ensuring that they’re accomplishing the desired behaviors.) So, am I a Liberal or a Conservative?

I believe that, since the Federal Government was created “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare” of the nation, that it’s responsible for providing military might, establishing and enforcing laws, and helping people who are unable to help themselves. (Yes, including health care.) This is accomplished through the collection of taxes and delivery of those named services to everyone as they need it. So, am I a Liberal or a Conservative? (Or a Communist or Socialist?)

Whatever, man.
I believe everyone should be allowed to practice whatever religion they want (or not practice one at all) without anyone telling them that theirs is better or worse. So long as their "religion" doesn't
negatively affect others, then it's acceptable. I also believe that our country was founded by men who
were religious and that they went to great lengths to keep their beliefs out of forming the country. In other words, this country was NOT founded on Scripture but on the rule of law so that it could apply to every person, regardless of individual beliefs.

I believe that, in a developed society like ours, basic health care is a right not a market; it’s right up there with clean water. No one should be denied healthcare just because they lack the ability to pay for it. As a society, we have the right to expect that healthcare to be as available, good AND as inexpensive as possible. (I recognize that’s a balancing act between those 3 parameters.) So, am I a Liberal or a Conservative?

I believe that our borders should be difficult to cross for the purposes of immigrating here (No, not a wall) and that we should be diligent about whom we let in. (We already are, by the way.) I also know that there are people who were brought here as children, who have only known this country and are now adults – in most cases, providing for their families, paying taxes, acting as good citizens should act. They should be given an easy route to citizenship. Those who came here years ago, illegally, should also be given a chance to citizenship if they’ve proven to be upstanding individuals – paying taxes, not committing crime, etc. I don’t believe in simply deporting those people. It causes far too much chaos for very little gain. (Contrary to some opinions, illegal immigrants can’t get government handouts. Their kids can get public school education and if they show up at an ER with a life-threatening condition they will receive treatment because of the law that states everyone will be treated, even if they can’t pay. Yep, it’s a law. Signed by Richard Nixon in 1972.) Am I a Liberal or a Conservative?

I believe that women have a right to choose what they do with their bodies and that includes get an abortion if they so desire. I also believe that abortions should be the last choice as there are plenty of childless couples who are willing to adopt a child that is unwanted. That then means that the public needs to help take care of the women who are carrying these babies to full term as the expense, for many women, can be a burden. So, am I a Liberal or a Conservative? (P.S. if you really want to reduce abortions, provide easily available health care for all women – that will reduce unwanted pregnancies thus reducing abortions.)

Finally, I believe that our political leaders have a duty to comport themselves in a manner that is in line with basic, acceptable, societal behaviors. That includes using facts, eliminating lies and apologizing when one is uncovered, setting an example for how one should behave, and not resorting to name-calling or bullying of others. It also includes holding other world leaders to the same set of behaviors

Now, from these statements I suspect you’ve formed an opinion about me. Some of it good and some of it bad. That’s a direct result of whether you agree with me or not on each specific point. Chances are that you have agreed with me on at least one point and, depending how important that point is to you, it forms the basis for your deciding if I’m a Liberal or Conservative. (I have a friend of mine who thinks I’m a C because I’m a capitalist and want business to succeed. Another thinks I’m a flaming L because I want to see regulation in place to constrain bad behaviors. As you can imagine, those respective points of view are strong passions for each!)

My effort behind this post has been to provide a starting point to conversations. If you’d like to join in with me, comment by clicking the comment link below. Please stick with facts, not opinions, and include a link to whatever supports the facts.

All comments are moderated by me and won’t be posted if there is any name-calling, whatsoever!            

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Affordable Health Care? Facts, Opinions, and a Solution!


Disclaimer: I am not a financial wizard, or a financial analyst. I sold health insurance for six months or so but that was 35 years ago. I do work for a company in the
business of health care but we distribute supplies so we get paid no matter how this goes. Finally, these thoughts are mine and mine alone. I’m just a concerned citizen who scratches his head at the folly of our legislature debating Health Care and various acts they want to repeal or pass.

Let’s begin with the Facts:

Prior to 1973, it was illegal for healthcare to be conducted on a “for profit” basis. The Health Maintenance Organization Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Nixon on December 29, 1973 to encourage and promote HMOs as a way to reduce the cost of health care on a trial basis. The intention of this act was that entities could eventually begin to use profits to offset costs, thus driving down overall costs. (Or make a buck out of healthcare, however it worked out. Turned out to be the latter.)

All Americans are guaranteed to receive some form of health care should they show up at an Emergency Room at a hospital even if they have no way to pay for it. (This is as a result of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act passed by Congress in 1986 and signed into law by President Reagan. It’s an unfunded mandate that all hospitals appear to heed; more on this later.) The fact that this legislation was passed leads me to believe that, We the People, believe that everyone is entitled and has a right to basic healthcare.

The annual cost of healthcare in the US is $8608 per capita (that’s as of 2015; current estimate is $10,068 per capita) which is the highest in the world. Despite this, the US does not have the “best health care in the world” as many believe. The following paragraph comes from Wikipedia.

The United States life expectancy of 79.8 years at birth, up from 75.2 years in 1990, ranks it 42nd among 224 nations, and 22nd out of the 35 industrialized OECD countries, down from 20th in 1990.[6][7] Of 17 high-income countries studied by the National Institutes of Health in 2013, the United States had the highest or near-highest prevalence of obesity, car accidents, infant mortality, heart and lung disease, sexually transmitted infections, adolescent pregnancies, injuries, and homicides. On average, a U.S. male can be expected to live almost four fewer years than those in the top-ranked country, though notably Americans aged 75 live longer than those who reach that age in other developed nations.[8] A 2014 survey of the healthcare systems of 11 developed countries found the US healthcare system to be the most expensive and worst-performing in terms of health access, efficiency, and equity.[9] 

(We must be very proud!)

There is no such thing as “free health care.” Even the indigent, who may get health care they can’t pay for, aren’t getting it for free. It may be free to them but the rest of us are paying for it.

How? Hospitals, bound by the law mentioned above, record the cost of that care on their books as “un-reimbursed expenses” which is above the profit line. That means, it is accounted for as an expense or “cost of doing business” and is simply deducted from their potential profits. In other words, all of those who pay the hospital money (insurance companies, your employer, you in the form of copay or deductibles) pay for it.

That means WE pay for all the health care in the country. Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, and our employers may send a check to pay parts of our healthcare bill but they get the money to do so from We The People in the form of taxes paid, health insurance premiums, copays, and deductibles. We pay. They 
administrate.

About 18.5% of all the money in our economy is taken up by the cost of health care. How much is that?

Current In round numbers, it’s $3,400,000,000,000. That’s over three trillion dollars and it continues to go up every year. This is the reason that the Affordable
Current Law
Care Act
and it’s repeal / replacement / adjustment / tweaking are so important to our Congress. And it should be very important to all of us because, in the end, they’re discussing the distribution of almost 20% of our money, each year.

Do you trust them? (And by them, I’m talking about Congress since they’re the ones deciding how this will be done.)

Now, here are my Opinions (along with some additional facts):

Consumerism????

I find it ridiculous that healthcare isn’t treated like nearly every other business in this country. What do I mean? Well, we have all kinds of consumer protection laws in place to ensure we don’t get the shaft from just about every type of business but nothing like that exists in healthcare!

When I worked in retail consumer electronics, we were required to have on display
Prices?
and available for sale in every store, any item that was advertised in our newspaper circular. Failure to do so, could result in a $10,000 fine per location. On any given Sunday, that meant we were on the hook for up to $7 million in fines due to being out of stock and this was enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. (The law came about as the result of bait and switch tactics practiced by some retailers.)
In the world of healthcare, pricing is a kind of smoky unreality that no one really wants to talk about with the patients. (The only place where pricing is upfront is typically in the case of Urgent Care Clinics. These places spell out their prices for visits when you check in. In other words, they act like a retailer. How refreshing!)

Example – an acquaintance of mine was diagnosed with a form of sleep apnea and was prescribed a CPAP device; these blow air in your nose and keep your airway open so you can actually sleep. When they went to the equipment provider, they were unable to tell how much the unit cost and how much the private insurer would cover. This person called the insurance provider and they were unable to explain how much coverage would be provided so that the insured could budget for the purchase. In other words, no one was willing to own up to actual cost for the patient! (In the end, it amounted to over $1200 and this person was able to cover that but most people in this country could not afford that expense; in fact, most Americans couldn’t afford it if it was as little at $400.)

High Costs – because, waste

On a different plane, why is the cost of healthcare itself so high? Particularly when the US clearly isn’t getting much in return? (See rankings above.)


For one thing, there is a great deal of waste involved in our current system. The person with the CPAP machine that I just mentioned received a total of 11 different bills (delivered thru US mail) for the device, despite having gone to only one provider for the unit!

This is an example of waste that occurs on a daily basis in every aspect of health care. In this case there is at least 10 bills too many, all with postage that adds up to around $5 of wasted postage cost. But it’s far more than that. Each of those bills and invoices had to go through various departments/people for processing before being printed and mailed to the insured. A quick Google search tells me that it costs anywhere from $7 to $37 dollars for each invoice produced. If we take the halfway point, that’s $22 per invoice or $220 worth of waste for this one transaction. Bear in mind, that the waste noted here is only on the patient side. If the same number of invoices have to be produced for the private insurers, it doubles. That’s $400 of waste on one transaction (that cost the patient $1200) and we’ve only looked at the billing!

More waste occurs in another way, over-testing. Currently, physicians are reimbursed for procedures / tests that they perform, a methodology known as pay for procedure. The downside to this is that it incents them to perform more tests than may be needed for a given presentation by a patient. Is there justification for this? Maybe. Doctors claim that it helps to keep the cost of malpractice insurance down but I haven’t done any research on that. (I do know that my personal physician sold his practice about 8 years ago and moved into another role in health care because his malpractice insurance had risen to $12,000 per month and he’d never had a claim! That cost was more than he could overcome.)

It’s estimated that a third of health care costs are caused by waste in the system. That seems like a reasonable number to me, especially when you consider that 64% of all healthcare is paid or administered through some form of government program: Medicaid, Medicare, Veteran’s Administration, for example. If that estimate is correct, that is $1 trillion that is being paid for, needlessly, by all of us every year! (That’s 1/12 of the economy.)

Higher Costs – because, profit!

Another cause for the high cost of health care stems from the costs of pharmaceuticals. Manufacturers invest a great deal of money in coming up with new drugs to fix all of the things that ail humankind and I recognize that. But do you know how much they spend on advertising? In 2016, it was $5.2 billion!
WTF with 2 tubs????

Direct to consumer drug advertising began in 1982 but didn’t really get going until 1997 when the law was loosened up and TV advertising began in earnest. It’s gotten really bad the last few years as more and more manufacturers expand their advertising and, coincidentally, their prices. According to a report by CBS News, 20 brand-name, high use, prescription drugs have quadrupled their prices since 2014. In 3 years, that equates to a compound annual increase of 48%! I’m not aware of any current business that is driving it’s pricing in such a way while still remaining in business.

So, “Ask your doctor if continuing to get screwed by high drug prices is right for you!”

Solutions – are there any?

The Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare, was enacted in 2010 and signed into law by President Obama. It was designed to reduce the overall cost of healthcare by providing insurance coverage for those who can least afford it and, generally speaking, cost the most.

Remember the law guaranteeing health care for poor people in the ER? That’s where many would go for anything health related. As a result, they’d be going to the most expensive provider for the least expensive need (flu, cold, general maladies) and getting no well care to help keep chronic disease (diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol) held at bay. Result – increase in health care cost.

The ACA provided millions more people with health insurance, and coincidentally slightly better health care, thus bending the cost curve down. (That’s not really a reduction in expense, it’s a reduction in the amount of increase. It’s better but not dramatically so.)

American Health Care Act
Turn your head and cough!

Now that the GOP is in charge of the House, Senate, and White House, they are bound and determined to fix healthcare once and for all. They intend to do this by repealing and replacing the ACA and replacing it with something better. (Thus, saving us from “the complete failure of Obamacare.” I wish everyone would speak less dramatically about all of this. Obamacare has actually bent the curve down slightly as to the overall cost. I hope whatever the GOP comes up with fails at least that good!)

The House plan calls for reducing the amount of money spent on Medicaid (that’s the one that covers the poorest people in the country) a defunding of Planned Parenthood, along with a loosening of insurance laws that would allow them to sell across state lines (that’s not yet clear on details) and it would leave in place some of the features from the ACA around pre-existing conditions and allowing dependent children coverage until age 26.

This plan would also remove a tax on the wealthiest members of society which was in place to pay for the ACA. (Thank goodness! I was worried about them.)

According to the Congressional Budget Office, this would cause 23 million people currently insured to lose their coverage.

According to the House majority, this would turn loose the power of the open market to reduce prices for insurance thanks to competition and free market forces. It would also allow people to purchase the insurance they want, instead of having it forced up on them. (Except of course poor people who, according to one legislator could just “get a job to pay for it.” Or pay for their living expenses, like food or something.)

The Senate, as of this writing, is still working on their own version of the repeal and replace bill. Things that have been floated out from the caucus that is working on it, don’t sound much different from the House version

My Solution – Hey guys, you’re fixing the wrong things!

I believe that every citizen of the US is entitled to basic healthcare, just like every other developed nation on the planet. I further believe that rich people should be free to purchase even better health care if they wish because, hey, they can!

I don’t believe that the government should be in the administration of health care but I do believe they need to be involved in setting parameters for the business. (Why? It’s 1/6 of our economy. If it’s not regulated we end up with the Great Medical Recession of 2030 or something like it. Don’t think it needs to be? See banking and Great Recession on Google.)

I believe that the only way to do this is by using a system that I call Modified Single Payer. (I fully recognize this is way oversimplified but we have to start somewhere and I'm not against something completely different!)

I propose that insurance companies are designated for every locale in the country. It could be state, region, county, GMA, or something else. Every area has at least 2 companies to insure competition. These are for-profit entities and are required to cover all the citizens in their markets. (Note that non-citizens are not covered by this.)

Providers (that’s the medical people) can sign up with whichever insurer they want or both or none if they prefer. (My back doctor refuses to take insurance and he is doing just fine without it. I don’t want to force any provider on this.)

All of the money (less 30%) that is currently being paid out for healthcare is dumped into a pool to be divided among the payers and it’s their job to pay for the health care being handled by the providers.

The pool of money made up of that 30% is held back for bonuses. As waste is identified and quantified, the bonus money is provided in some form to compensate the group that discovers it, at a maximum of 1/3 of the bonus pool. This could be providers, insurers, even patients! If no waste is discovered, no bonus is paid. 

All of the money left over at the end of a period (2/3 or 20% of the total spent) is refunded back to the citizens who paid it into the fund. (If someone didn’t pay any in, they don’t get any back.)

I submit that this would improve out healthcare AND our health while improving our economy ($680 billion back in the hands of Americans that isn’t going to health care? New TVs for everybody!!!!). And we might even have a health system that rivals other countries.


What a concept!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Alternative Facts


A few weeks ago, MB and I flew down to Florida for a wedding on her side of the family. It turned into a raucously good time, winding up as a family reunion of sorts with about 25 people attending from all over the country.

'Murica
The festivities took place in central Florida, a town called Crescent City, that is reachable by driving 40 – 50 miles from one of 3 different airports. We got the best price from JetBlue to Orlando and so our drive was through the most rural part of the state including Pierson, the Fern Capital of the World. (I had no idea this existed; there were miles of covered fields, all housing ferns from the sun.)

This ride is mainly on 2 lane blacktop, going through small towns and communities. It’s the heart of Trump country, with many of his
Coming soon!
signature signs still up in celebration. There were even some billboards congratulating him.

I turned the satellite radio to Radio Margaritaville and played it loud while MB knitted.

Cheap Motels

We had made reservations at one of the places to stay in Crescent City, the Lake View Motel. It had been a number of years since I stayed in a “motel” (a word coined mid-20th century for Motor Hotel, in other words along the road) and I had a pretty low bar set for what we would find. At $70 a night, you need to set your sights a little lower. This place was your basic cinder block construction, painted bright white with a very well kept outside appearance.
King of the Road...

To our surprise, the hotel while dating from the 1950s, was very well kept inside, clean and bright, and the proprietors (a Middle eastern family) very friendly. They’ve evidently run the place for almost 10 years and clearly take pride in it; the place was full for the weekend with all 18 rooms in use.

Our room had an issue with a toilet that wouldn’t flush very well. We reported it the first morning and they attempted to fix it while we were out. Unable to do so properly, the owner went and purchased a new one and he and his handyman installed it the next morning while we went out for breakfast. The only thing missing in the motel was any kind of internet but we got around that by going to McDonalds to use their wifi one morning, allowing us to keep up with the rest of the world.

Wedding and After Party

Let's party!
The wedding took place on the beach, reachable by a 45 minute drive through a magnificent park. Afterwards, we all headed back to Crescent City to a local restaurant where the bride and groom had first met 3 years before. The restaurant was called “Three Bananas” and every sign we saw for it, although not the one on the building, had a misplaced apostrophe that just drove MB crazy the entire weekend. The current “apostrophe catastrophe” in our country is very real in her mind and she never misses a chance to bemoan the complete downfall of English grammar. (This from a guy who drinks coffee from a cup that says “I am silently correcting your grammar.”)

There were lots of pictures taken, lots of food was consumed (nearly all of it was fried, much to the disgust of MB who is not a fan of bar food anyway) and plenty of drinks were drunk. A large time was shaping up to be had by all!

About 6:30, the musical provider began setting up. I thought it was a DJ at first; he was setting up a portable PA system (Fender Passport – a real nice, small system) a computer with lots of music loaded up, and a microphone system. Hmm. Was this karaoke?

He carried in a guitar gig bag containing a Fender Strat knockoff, and a keyboard and stand, and set those up, too. Apparently, he was a musician! By then, he had a helper who stationed himself at the computer. They talked back and forth for a few minutes and then started the show.

The singer stepped up to the keyboard, pulled the mic up to his mouth and introduced himself. (I didn’t catch the name.) He said to be prepared to dance and have some fun! The music started and he began singing a KC and the Sunshine Band number.

Tables were pulled back to clear a space for a dance floor and the bride and groom got their first dance in as the singer switched to something slow. All the other traditional dances (father and bride, mom and groom, etc) took place and there was great picture taking going on throughout all of it.

After the bridal party finished all the planned bits, the singer began performing a string of dance numbers and up tempo songs to get folks out on the dance floor. Up to this point, I’d been off to the side taking pictures and singing along. I caught MB’s eye and we headed out to dance.

And then, it got kind of weird….

Somewhere along about the fourth or fifth song, I found myself directly in front of the singer. I forget what song he was doing but a guitar solo was about to come up on it (at least that’s what the original had) and I turned to watch him play it.
(Full disclosure: I play the guitar although I don’t consider myself a guitar player. I play rhythm guitar, almost never any lead stuff because I’m just not that good, and I’m always watching other players to see how they do it. That was my motivation for watching closely.)
Caution:

I watched the singer’s left hand and realized he was playing in the wrong position on the fretboard, playing the wrong notes. When I looked at his right hand, he wasn’t playing the correct string, either. He was singing the song, and very well, too, but he was totally faking the guitar work! Just to be sure, I looked at the guitar cable and noticed that it wasn’t plugged into the amp or a mixing board either. In fact, it seemed to just disappear under a mat that he was standing on.

I stared in absolute fascination. I have never seen anything like this before and just couldn’t imagine that I was the only one who noticed. A hundred things passed through my mind, like did he think he was fooling people? Was I the only guitar player to see him in action? Does he think he’s actually playing?

The guy had a decent voice and was quite a showman with all the stage moves that one sees in house bands. Maybe it was just this song, and I was mistaken.

At the end of the number, he put the guitar back in the stand, took a sip of water, and moved over to the keyboard. I watched him hit a couple of buttons as if he was selecting a particular instrument or tone. Then he counted in and his assistant hit play on the computer for the next song. Almost immediately, he began pounding on the keys and while he was in the correct rhythm he wasn’t playing anything remotely like the music coming out of the speakers.

I followed the connector cable coming out of the back of the keyboard and it went under the same mat as the guitar and no other cables were coming out. Another fake instrument!

I suppose it’s a good thing the microphone was plugged in or he could have billed himself as Marcel Marceau plays and sings the hits! (Google it)

I went back to dancing and smiling and laughing with all the other family members and guests.

Spilled beans

I went back to a table to sit a couple of songs out and one of my wife’s cousins came over to me. She said, “What do you think of the singer?”

“I think he’s a really good karaoke performer.” Was my reply.

“What do you mean?” she responded.

“He’s singing but he’s not playing anything. Neither of his instruments are plugged into anything and he’s not even playing the correct notes. Watch him right now and tell me if you can see him playing the piano like the music sounds.” She listened intently for a minute while watching his hands on the keys.

“Oh my god! You’re right!” She wandered off to tell her husband and soon, just about everyone in the wedding party knew and was talking about it. There were lots of knowing looks and giggles passed around during the next couple of hours. By the time MB and I headed back to the hotel, it was no longer an item for discussion.

It was, however, a topic for conversation at our gathering the next couple of days.

It's important to note that knowing this guy was faking it didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the evening. Truth is, the guy did a fine job of picking a good blend of music, was a solid vocal talent, and acted like someone in a live band should act when entertaining people. We danced, sang along, and had a great time. (I’ve since learned that he’s a regular at this place and is very well liked for the parties that he hosts at the place.)

Summing Up

So, a guy who doesn’t actually play any instruments (although he fervently pretends to do so) has a following of adoring regulars, who come out to celebrate his faking it (perhaps they don’t know it) and they dance and sing while he spins the tunes and appears to be doing something they really like, leading a big party every weekend.


Now I understand all of the Trump signs scattered all over the area!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What’s great about America - That's a statement, not a question!


I’m a cynic, I admit it. If there’s a cynical comment to be made, you can count on it coming out of my mouth. It’s probably one of the reasons I describe myself as a “flailing Buddhist.” I just can’t let stupid stuff go by without some kind of observation.

There is a belief in organizational development circles that a weakness is actually a strength taken to the extreme.

For example, flexibility is considered by itself to be a strength. But if one is too flexible they run the risk of being thought of as unable to take a stand, wishy-washy. And that’s not a good thing in business.

If that theory holds true, then a cynic is simply an idealist who has been disappointed one time too many. Or constantly.

I recite this preamble because an acquaintance of mine asked for a post on What’s Great about America! (This came about after reading my post about bias. I wonder if they’re related?) Here’s my shot. For your reading convenience, my cynical take is included after each section, parenthetically and in red italics so you can skip it if you’d rather focus on nothing but the positive. (It’s just one more service I provide!)

What’s great about America
America the Beautiful!

Land: America encompasses 3,794,083 square miles including water (lakes, ponds, rivers) and the beautiful views, abundant resources, vast plains, sturdy mountain ranges, and verdant valleys make it a wonderland that is the envy of much of the rest of the world. It’s no wonder that Americans dream big; our homeland almost commands us to do so!

(As I write this, our new President has signed an executive order reinstating the XL and Dakota pipeline access projects to completion. So, some of that pristine stuff is now at risk but no sense worrying about that now. He’s also chosen, for head of the EPA, a person who has filed suit dozens of times against the organization he’ll head. How convenient. Nothing to see here, folks!)

Freedom: Our 241-year-old experiment in democracy continues on its journey, with the taste of freedom in every citizen’s mouth. The First Amendment to our Constitution guarantees each of us that:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Word!

Never was this more in evidence than on January 21, 2017 when enormous crowds of peaceful protesters (majority of females) gathered in cities across the land to stand up for the rights of everyone: women, LGBTQ, poor, Black, Latino, immigrants all were called out and told they would be taken care of. In solidarity, marches took place in over 500 cities and countries around the world with the same message.

(Our new President, has taken to Twitter to explain to everyone that his Inauguration crowd was bigger and, besides, didn’t we just have an election? Why didn’t these people vote? He later stated that demonstrations were the backbone of democracy, or something like that.  My feeling is, if you’re going to have an argument with women about size, you better bring the goods and the numbers show he didn’t. He’s also been in a running battle, and these are his words, with “mainstream media” because he says they are purveyors of fake news. Really? I guess that’s just because he ran for President and no one likes him or something. Perhaps he’s confusing the editorial pages with the news pages. The administration has shut down various government agency’s ability to tweet, announce, or otherwise communicate with the outside as they “develop their policies to match the new administrations goals.” Some people are saying, first step to autocracy. I prefer, “first step to a brave new world.” Pun intended!)

Wealth: The American economy has been the largest on earth for decades, only recently being challenged for the top spot by China in the last few years. Our capitalist system has allowed average people to become millionaires and billionaires starting businesses, developing real estate. Some became millionaires by working their way up the corporate ladder from the mail room to the board room! A recent example of entrepreneurism at its best is shown in the film The Founder, a story about Ray Kroc who discovered and improved a small burger joint, turning it
Cabinet members will see you now!
into a conglomerate and becoming the CEO of McDonalds; but only after failing in business several times right into middle age before finally becoming successful.

(How wealthy are some people? Well, according to sources, the wealthiest 80 Americans have more wealth than the bottom half of the population combined. Some very wealthy people are being tapped for Cabinet positions. I’m hoping the new Administration’s main goal will be to teach everyone else how they did it, themselves. As opposed to continuing to make it easier for them and their ilk to gain more wealth. Right?)

Equality: Our Constitution guarantees every American many rights, including equality in the eyes of the law. This is the cornerstone of democracy.

(Of course, that’s taken a bunch of amendments to get here, and the Equal Rights Amendment – guaranteeing the rights of women – never was passed. Some say, what’s the big deal? But women still only earn 80% of men, on average, in the same position; blacks earn 74.6% of whites in the same position. Some of my female friends tell me they have to work twice as hard and have twice the performance to be considered the same as men. Fortunately, they say, that’s not that hard.)

Healthcare: Everyone in America has access to healthcare in this country. Truly. State laws require hospitals to provide healthcare to anyone that comes into their emergency rooms, even those who are unable to pay. So, everyone has healthcare available to them. The Affordable Care Act was passed in an effort to provide the opportunity for more people to have health insurance so that they wouldn’t go to an emergency unit for care and, thus, reduce the overall cost of healthcare. According to a nonpartisan research team study, that has occurred and the cost curve has been bent down. In other words, the act was at least partly successful in it’s goal.

(And still, as I write this, our new President has taken the time to sign an executive order to begin to repeal, not tweak, repeal this law. Because this law has “killed jobs” (sorry, it hasn’t) because it’s not providing coverage (sorry, that’s false) that you couldn’t “keep your doctor” (that’s true in some instances). What is particularly bothersome to me is that no one is pointing out that healthcare costs continue to rise and are at the point of being unsustainable – 19% of the US GDP. The ACA was an attempt to slow that down and was only marginally effective. What we really need is a complete overhaul of our system – kind a moonshot project – and I don’t see this Administration and Congress having the skills/desire/motivation to pull it off; at least not as long as lobbyists keep filling their pockets. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong!)

Education: Our public education system is designed to provide an education to all kids. A number of acts over the years have worked to make the system better and better. No Child Left Behind, passed under President Bush (43) was designed to provide quality education to those who might otherwise be unable to get one due to being in the poorest part of the population. Our colleges and universities are outstanding and many are among the finest in the world.

Psst. Her pockets are Yuge!
(No Child Left Behind, while being noble in its goal, has turned out to promote mediocrity thus reducing the quality of education. It seems to me that many states, in their efforts to improve public education, have done the opposite by working to standardize so many things that good students are slowed down. They’ve also focused almost entirely on the notion that education is an expense rather than an investment and that has eroded the motivation for people to go into public school teaching as salaries remain stagnant and teachers are made to teach to tests instead of helping people learn. But I’m sure our new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, will fix all this. During her confirmation hearing she failed to answer a number of questions correctly, some that are taught in first year teaching courses. Hell, I know the answers and I’m a trainer! She was confirmed on a historic tie-breaking vote by VP Mike Pence on the strength of: She had donated over $200 million to GOP legislators. I’m sure this will all work out, just fine!)

Opportunity: In America, every child that is born in this country can grow up and become President, one day!

(And now that we’ve proven this aphorism to be true, can we never do this again?!?!?!?!?!?!?)

In closing, I can say that America is already great. Now, can we agree as a people not to eff it up from here? Please?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bias

Bias


Dictionary.com defines bias as:

a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned.

I’ve started a new blog post about a half dozen times in the past two months. I’ve been struggling with deciding what to write about since the election; it’s been one of the main sources of conversation for so many that I felt like I had to jump in. But I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say. I’ve finally decided to talk about bias because I think it’s what caused the election to turn out as it did. I also think it tends to drive most of what we think and do. I’m concerned that if we, as a society, don’t get a handle on us, it may lead to our ultimate destruction.

During conversations with some of my friends over the past few weeks, I’ve been attempting to understand how people that I would normally describe as intelligent are losing their minds, spewing “news stories” that are anything but, and trashing the constitutional tenets that guide our republic. All in an effort to get me to agree that their selection for President (Trump) was the correct one. Or to get me to agree that Clinton was the correct choice and the election had been stolen from her.

The act of being in these conversations has led me to begin forming opinions about personal bias. (Forgive me if this covers ground you already know, yourself. I’m just becoming aware of these things. At least this election accomplished something!)

Race

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that he thought that President Obama had done more to increase racism in this country than any individual in history. His statement was, “Obama said that he doesn’t believe that police are doing their jobs, that they’re targeting black men, and that he doesn’t support their behavior.”

We did a quick google search on our phones (my bride calls smart phones “pocket BS detectors”) and were unable to come up with a quote that was anywhere close to what my friend had just said. Most quotes were around how difficult the job of a police officer is and we can’t undermine that by painting them all with a broad brush.

The fact that we couldn’t find the quote my friend claimed to have heard was disturbing to him. I pointed out that it was possible that the liberal media had removed the story in order to keep Obama’s legacy intact. When he vehemently agreed, I pointed out that I’d been kidding. (Hmmmm. Bias.)

I suggested something else.

“Let’s pretend, for a moment, that instead of Obama saying that, it was George W. Bush when he was president. So, President Bush at a press conference says, ‘I believe that there is a group of police officers who are not doing their jobs, that are targeting black males and I want this to stop because I don’t support that kind of behavior.’ How does that change it for you?”

My friend couldn’t really come up with an answer.

So I said, “Wouldn’t you think that President Bush was trying to ensure that police were doing their jobs properly?” He replied in the affirmative.

“Would you say that he was reaching out to the black community in an effort to get them to see that he was trying to help them?” Again, he agreed with that.

“So when a white president says it, he’s doing the right thing. But when a black president says it, he’s what? Getting uppity? Not knowing his place? Rabble rousing?”

My friend, who I truly don’t believe is a racist, couldn’t answer the question.

I suggest that his “personal bias” made him look at the words, hear the words, even understand the words, differently. Perhaps even make up new words to match his bias.

Religion

I’m a member of a Unitarian Universalist church. I consider myself to be agnostic only because I can’t imagine an actual god but I also can’t imagine there not being a higher power. In other words, I need some proof. The closest thing I can align to is Buddhism and, quite frankly, I describe myself as a “flailing Buddhist” as I’m not very good at living in the moment or at accepting things.

My church describes itself as a liberal church and welcomes all who choose to worship with us. UUism doesn’t have a dogma but, instead, draws on many different faiths and teachings for inspiration. We are a welcoming congregation, meaning that we want all who come to join us to feel welcome.

In the fifteen or so years that I’ve been a member, we’ve done all sort of things that could be considered welcoming. At one point, we had a group of Amadiyah Muslims meeting in our church building before they were able to build their own mosque. This offshoot of Islam is among the most peaceful and focus their entire worth on love. The members that I met were incredibly kind and compassionate. (At the same time, women in their group were not given a seat in leadership; they were subservient to the men at all times. Interesting bias.)

A couple of years ago, we had a person come to our church for a period of time. Several people reached out to learn more about him and his family. They began to take an active role in the church and then, one day, they stopped coming. Why? Turned out that he was a Republican and was taken aback with so much anti-GOP talk that he heard among the members and from the pulpit.

I guess, to some degree, we are welcoming but especially to those who think as we do. Once again, bias comes into play.

Conservative vs Liberal

This one plays out every day, on every channel that broadcasts news stories (or what passes for news) by anyone who watches. Same with newspapers, news magazines, and even news websites.

The New York Times is a very old newspaper that prides itself on reporting the news as accurately and fairly as it can. It has won many awards for doing just that, including multiple Pulitzer prizes.

Here’s a test for you. What’s your opinion of the New York Times? Before you continue reading, take a moment and decide your answer. I’ll wait.

Okay, you may continue.

Some people think that the NYT is a “liberal rag” and not worth the paper it’s printed on. Others think it’s the last bastion of good reporting in the nation. Still others, think it’s a puppet of the right wingers.

How could all of those opinions differ so widely? Bias, pure and simple. (Your answer above is, of course, based on your personal bias.)

(Side note: The Richmond Times-Dispatch, my local newspaper, has a long history of being conservative, having endorsed the GOP candidate almost exclusively for decades. When they endorsed Gary Johnson this past October, a large number of people lost their minds. The letters to the editors almost never fail to elicit a chuckle from me. They’re almost better than the comics! Bias examples abound just about daily.)

So what?

Here’s the deal. I remember a time when most of us were taught to listen politely to what someone else had to say about a topic. I remember it as a time that was more thoughtful, respectful, and when we were able to accomplish more. (Remember when Kennedy challenged America to go to the moon? It took 9 years. Think that could happen today? Not a chance. Too many people arguing about it.)

Want to think more clearly about things and help break the cycle? Do this.

Take the time to consider the other person’s point of view, even if it directly opposes what you believe. (The operative word is consider here. Don’t discard what they say out of hand. Just consider it. What if they were right? What if you were wrong? What if both of you were wrong?)

If asked, give your own opinion, politely, about the same topic. Provide the other person with your reasons for the opinion. (Bear in mind, facts should have more value than opinions or feelings.) Ask the other person to consider your point of view, too.

Above all else, listen to understand don’t listen to reply! Life isn’t a debate. We’re all in this together and, in the final analysis, we all want what’s best for the country, our lives, our families, and ourselves.

In the end, if your opinions haven’t changed, agree to disagree and thank the other person for sharing their thoughts with you. Both parties will be changed by this, whether or not they believe that.

Final thoughts

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m not sure I even have half of the questions! I only know that we, as a society, are at a very strange place in our journey. We have the capability to end it ourselves and, frankly, I’m worried that’s going to happen if we don’t change the ways we interact.

We also have the wherewithal to be better than we are, as a country, and as a world. I intend to do my share.


I hope you intend to do yours.