This is not a rehearsal

One of the anthems of the 1980s is “It’s My Life” performed by Bon Jovi and written by Richard Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi and Max Martin. While the ladies are quite fond of Mr. Bon Jovi, his group would not be as successful without great songs. This one should resonate with all, as evidenced by the first few lyrics.

This ain’t a song for the broken-hearted
No silent prayer for faith-departed
I ain’t gonna be just a face in the crowd
You’re gonna hear my voice
When I shout it out loud

It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive
(It’s my life)
My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said
I did it my way
I just wanna live while I’m alive
It’s my life

Folks, this is not a rehearsal. Yes, there may be an afterlife but we won’t know for sure until the time comes. My suggestion is living a life that is worth living. That does not mean partying hard all the time, but as David Brooks has noted in his recent book on “The Road to Character,” live a life for what they will say at your eulogy, not on your resume. Please do have your fun, but I have discovered that a life where I try to help people, gives me back so much.

In the documentary movie, “I AM,” the punchline is money does not create happiness. Having some money does alleviate unhappiness as it shelters, feeds and clothes you and your family, but amassing a lot of money has a diminishing return on happiness. Per the interviews with countless psychologists, sociologists, faith leaders, etc., the key to happiness is reaching out to others and interacting with them. The psychic income from that effort is huge.

Yet, whatever you decide to do, live your life. Take some chances. You will fail from time to time. Don’t worry. Learn from it. Pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and move forward. Travel somewhere beyond your boundaries. Meeting fascinating people is a wonderful experience. When our family took a vacation to Ireland, I remember meeting Oola from Belgium in a café near the Cliffs of Moher. What a delight she was. I remember the advice from a cabbie who told my son who wanted to start a tavern, to be sure not to “drink away your profits.”

Live your life. It is not your parents’ life. It is yours. Of course, listen to what your parents have to say, as they tend to know a thing or two, but stretch your wings. But, remember to be generous of your self. Your time and interest for others can mean a great deal to them and you. I mentioned living for what is said at your eulogy.

A good man and friend died the other day. His funeral was well attended by many as he was as generous a soul as you will find. His kids’ friends were always welcome at his house and his son said he treated them like he was interested in them. His colleagues had many wonderful stories about this kind man. I guess if I had to sum up his life, he was generous with his time for others. He was a wonderful and devoted husband of over 50 years. And, he died well-loved and remembered.

Affordable Care Act continues to get undue criticism

Reading letters to the editors in various newspapers on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while a few concerns have merit, there is much undue criticism. The ACA is working pretty well in expanding coverage to uninsureds and is actually dampening costs per the Congressional Budget Office and PricewaterhouseCoopers. When its components are surveyed (guaranteed issue and renewability, preventive services, elimination of lifetime limits, capping profit margins baked into premiums), it actually polls favorably.

As noted before, the components poll better than the whole ACA, which in turn polls better when the name Obamacare is used. Yet, more people like the whole ACA than do not, which is a recent trend. However, even the recent polling is sloppy, as a solid 15% of people want the ACA to do more and be replaced by National Healthcare which is working well in other countries. So, these detractors are different from detractors who oppose it for political or free market reasons. While I would support elements of National Healthcare here in the US, that is not likely to happen, so the ACA is a good step forward down that path.

Regarding the subsidies, what many don’t realize is insured buyers were already subsidizing costs in hospital price increases to cover the uninsureds.  Absent a move to National Healthcare, this was a reasonable approach to gain access to many in need with affordable prices. The argument to do away with the subsidies to have a free market care system, would fail as many people could not afford coverage and we would be back in the same boat as before. What is also forgotten is the Chief Financial Officers of companies were asking for more consistent healthcare costs as rising costs were harming their profit/ loss statements. The ACA has actually helped accomplish a dampening of cost increases per the above two sources.

As a retired benefits professional and actuary, I am encouraged by the progress made by the ACA. Getting people access to coverage will help them get treatment in advance of worsening conditions. Its success is also in spite of twenty some odd states who have not expanded Medicaid. The states who did so are seeing better results in cost dampening and hospitals are more secure in funding. It would be nice to see the impact of ACA when fully implemented with all states expanding Medicaid.

I personally do not anticipate the Supreme Court to do away with the subsides in the national exchanges for the states who punted. I have always seen the court case to challenge the subsidies as narrow-minded and not looking at the context of what the law is trying to do. Also, running the national exchange for the states who asked was helpful to those states, so to now belittle those states and screw millions of people over, is cold-hearted. But, stranger things have happened. If it does happen, it is an easy fix, but hopefully it will not come to that given unnecessary politics.

What we don’t need is people who are against this law for political reasons to continue to find different ways to hammer it. Which is a shame as it is working pretty well and is ironic as it is based on a largely Republican idea. Let’s improve where needed, but do not do away with it.

Income inequality per a Nobel Laureate in Economics

On the good side, we finally are beginning to talk about income inequality. We are a nation of “haves” and “have-nots” with an increasing number in the middle class that are living one paycheck away from poverty. On the bad side, are the overly simplistic assessments of blame, reasons and solutions, most of which do a disservice to this complex topic.

Some lay blame on the policies of LBJ’s “Great Society,” yet that trivializes the last fifty years. In fact, LBJ’s “War on Poverty” was hugely successful with those over age 65 with the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid and improvement to Social Security. Yet, positive movements for those under age 65 have been waylaid by other factors over the last fifty years. Some lay blame on the issue with respect to African-Americans with too many children born to unwed mothers. Again, that is an issue, but overly simplifies that as a cause, and it does not reflect that most Americans on welfare are white.

The best place to look is the advice of Nobel Laureate in Economics, Joseph Stiglitz, who wrote the book “The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them.” In his view, this Nobel Laureate feels the decline is due to a multiple of factors, some of which can be traceable to the failed Trickle Down economic policy set forth at the start of the 1980s. Significant reduction in tax rates under President Reagan set us on a course where the “haves” added greatly to their wealth and income, while the “have-nots” stayed flat, even while productivity climbed.

This echoes what I have read elsewhere which can be described by placing two arms out in front of you, one at an upward angle, with the other straight out. The straight out arm reflects what has happened in income to the significant majority of people, while the upward arm shows what happened to the upper-end earners. So, while a few of have done very well, many have not participated in the economic growth.

When this trend is coupled with deteriorating inner cities, the lack of targeted investment to rehabilitate areas of plight due to budget restrictions, the continued fall in education rankings which has occurred over time, the continued maltreatment of African-Americans where opportunity is denied and the introduction of crime as economic enterprise, the problems are exacerbated. If you season this, with the segmenting of society into market segments to sell products, services, news and politicians, we do not see the forest for the trees. We must also understand that poverty is the absence of money and is not due to being less virtuous, less hard-working or more prone to substance abuse.

Rather than belabor my opinions, please read more about Stiglitz’s thoughts as reported in the Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/nobel-laureate-joseph-stiglitz-2015-4. Here is someone who should be listened to rather than people giving pat solutions to complex problems.

Random musings while the birds are chirping

It is nice to arise to the birds chirping on a beautiful Saturday morning. This is one of the benefits of having a couple of bird feeders, although we have had some tall Blackbirds fending away the Cardinals, Finches, etc. In no particular order, here are some random thoughts while the birds chirp.

Happy Mothers Day to all mothers tomorrow. Also for those who lost their mothers, it is melancholy time to reflect. My mother is 83 and is at the early stages of Dementia. We are testing for Alzheimer’s later this month, but she has her moments of confusion and loss for words. Being a teacher, this is harder for her as she has always been quite the wordsmith and communicator. I am going to venture down to see her tomorrow.

The Kindness Blog, which is a compilation of authors works on being kind to one another, has a great post on not trying to be more than you are or to be great, just be a better version of you. http://kindnessblog.com/2015/05/08/maybe-we-just-need-to-be-better-by-karen-pearce/. If you don’t follow this blog, you should consider it as it will highlight the many good things happening in the world to contrast against the bad. Since I have been taking a Yoga class, this could sum up what they try to teach – be a better version of yourself.

We need more politicians to act like adults, especially when something very childish happens. You may have heard in Texas, the Governor has asked his militia to shadow the national militia as a person with an extreme bent has put on his website that the federal government is doing an exercise in preparation to takeover Texas. Rather than being adult and asking “why would our federal government want to do that?” he gave credence to the craziness and matched its inanity. Several politicians running for President from Texas and beyond, also had varying degrees of reactions that gave some credence to something that is not feasible. One conservative State representative did call the Governor out for wasting time, resources and raising fear. We have enough real problems in the world without having to invent fantasy ones.

I saw a great story on NBC News about two female physics students at UCLA who are riding bicycles across the country to teach interesting physics lessons to middle school girls. At each stop, they show the girls how to build a toy solar powered bike and watch it run. They encourage the girls to follow their dreams, that they can do anything and science is cool. The women met in class as they were outliers in a room of men. I think this is about as cool a summer project as you can find.

So, to sum up, remember your mother, be a better version of yourself, act like an adult to silence fear mongering, and teach children to find and follow their passions.

 

 

With endless campaigning, rhetoric has replaced real issues and data

I struggled with the title to this post. Many have lamented that we now are subject to endless campaigning which is a byproduct of a highly contentious political environment compounded by pseudo news sources whose reporting has been called into question, except by their strident watchers. It used to be campaign rhetoric would be set aside after the election and governance would be based on more factual information and issues. Now, our politicians govern off campaign rhetoric, which means the real issues and facts are less a part of the equation.

This frustrates more than me as we have to argue over what should be obvious, rather than address the issues. Which means true governance stands a snowballs’ chance of occurring. This is a key reason I do not watch the Sunday morning talk shows as I find the truth and politicians do not mix very well. They are more intent on making themselves or party look good and the other party or opponent look bad. Or, as seems to be happening more and more these days, a politician will follow a statement with the phrase “and that is a fact” when it is not really a fact, but an opinion often not a well-grounded one.

This is compounded by a very uninformed and, in some cases, purposefully misinformed public by politicians and pseudo news sources who care less about verification of facts and more about who is to blame for something. Someone has to lose in a story, which means we all will lose. When you only hear what you want to hear and do not listen to the other side or the real story, then you are less inclined to look for solutions that make sense. It is also compounded by monied interests who want you to believe their version of the truth. Since pseudo news sources do not make the effort to verify facts, the monied interests can have a field day feeding these pseudo news outlets whatever story they want.

So, as we focus on the November, 2016 Presidential Election eighteen months from now in May, 2015, having already been at it since January, please ask your candidates how they stand on the real issues of the day that are facing our country and planet.

– How will you help our country and planet address or lessen the impact of climate change? If the answer involves some form of denial, do not vote for this candidate, as we can ill-afford someone denying one of the greatest threats to our planet.

– How will you address our US (and global) poverty problems? These issues are very complex and multi-faceted, so catch-all solutions which do not address this complexity, show a lack of understanding or playing to a voter base.

– How will you address our continuing decline in educational proficiency and close the widening skills gap between job demands and talent?

– How will you keep our economy vibrant in an increasingly global economy where innovation can be nurtured anywhere in the globe?

– How will you address our failing infrastructure needs and maintain them going forward?

– How will you address political corruption in the US and abroad? Will you support a 28th amendment to our constitution that says money does not equate to free speech?

– How will you address our limited water and air resources as our population grows and climate change further limits both?

– How will you keep America’s influence effective in a world where we become one of several powers and we cannot be the key source to fight regional conflicts?

– How will you balance our privacy with our security as you combat those who want to exploit our free culture to wreak havoc?

– How will you make sure woman are treated with more dignity and sexual harassment, trafficking and assault are addressed?

– How will you address our less than healthy lifestyles that have made us the most obese nation in the world? How will you make sure we can build off the success shown by the Affordable Care Act and expand it the remaining twenty states who failed to expand Medicaid?

– How will you address our gun crazy country, where suicides are two-thirds of all gun deaths and access to guns is too easy for those who should not have them or touch them?

I am sure you have your own questions, but these are many of mine. Answers to these questions will make it easier to pick candidates who can truly govern our country rather than win an election.

 

 

The Princess Bride – a movie for all ages

“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us together today.” Although this line is picking on people with speech impediments, in the context of the movie “The Princess Bride” it is quite comical, as it is uttered by the magnificently attired priest who is conducting a wedding service for the bride to her unloved groom. It is so unexpected it becomes farcical. And, that is one of the reasons why this Rob Reiner movie is so entertaining. It does so many unexpected things and all ages will enjoy the story, as narrated by a grandfather, Peter Falk, as he reads to his grandson played by “The Wonder Years” star Fred Savage.

The story fascinates as it begins with true love between a young girl played by Robin Wright in her first movie (before “Forrest Gump” and “House of Cards”) and a farm hand played by Cary Elwes, who would go on to star in “Robin Hood, Men in Tights.” They get separated and she catches the eye of a hated prince played wonderfully by Chris Sarandon. The prince’s greed, though, overtakes his lust and he sends her off for a visit to another land where he asked three interesting hired assassins to kill her, so he can blame the other country and grow his realm.

Without giving away too much of the movie, the Dread Pirate Roberts enters the picture to save her and has to ward off the assassins, the prince’s henchman, and torture. The three assassins are played wonderfully by Wallace Shawn, whose catchphrase is “inconceivable,” Andre the Giant (the former pro-wrestler) and Mandy Patinkin as a swashbuckling Spaniard out for revenge for his father’s death. Andre the Giant turns out to be quite the comedic actor in several scenes. Patinkin’s passion for vengeance is also room for comedy and heroics.

But, other actors play wonderful roles in large cameo parts and other scenes. Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are quite funny playing Miracle Max and his wife. Christopher Guest plays the prince’s henchman quite well, especially as he is inquiring into the pain reactions of the Dread Pirate Roberts in his contrived torture chamber. Mel Smith has a fun cameo as the torturer and Peter Cook, is the magnificent lisping priest.

Yet, the idea to have Falk read the story to Savage makes the movie feel like a fairy tale. Especially when the dream scenes are read and Savage reacts rather annoyed to the story. The story includes perils such as the fire swamp with its ROES, Rodents of Enormous Size, as well as fighting off the talents of three assassins and even overcoming death. We learn the difference between “Mostly Dead” and “Totally Dead” from Miracle Max. Yes, it is silly especially when the future princess is booed by a character played by Margery Mason, which turns out to be one of the dreams that Savage does not care for.

Reiner’s directing and casting of this wonderful movie make it a treat for all ages. His inclusion of Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) in developing the soundtrack and writing the best song “Storybook Love,” which was sung by Willy DeVille, makes it even more special. I have tried to stay away from much of the plot for those who have not seen the movie. If you have not and you have children or grandchildren, rent this movie, make some popcorn and turn the lights low. If you have seen it, still follow the above steps, as the kids and all in the family will get a treat.

Water – the best reason for renewable energy

At a recent Sierra Club meeting, I heard an environmental science professor speak about the river system that provides water for millions of Carolinians called the Catawba/ Wateree River Basin. This system has been on the watch list due to poor planning for several years. About half of the use of the river also goes to generate electricity for these same citizens through Duke Energy, so it is a multi-purpose river system. While this river basin is endemic to the Carolinas, the issue is more universal with water concern areas like California, Oklahoma, Texas, etc.

In previous posts, I have noted major concerns over our fresh water supply, noting it as one of our two dearest resources on the planet, with air being the other. Often citing Steven Solomon from his book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization,” I noted a concern over our need to manage this resource, especially in light of the vast amounts of water that do not feed us, quench our thirst or help us stay  clean, but go instead into non-crop irrigation, fracking and other fossil fuel and nuclear power production.

Further, one of the key impacts climate change  has and will continue to have is on drought areas, making them worse. In fact, water provided cooling for power  generation (while water is replenished, there still is a net loss of water) is so significant, that when we have a drought, we should not only conserve water, we should raise the thermostat and turn off the lights. The reduction in electricity use will save water as well.

Yet, until I heard this presentation which included excerpts from Duke Energy’s internal presentations, it did not hit me that we run a reasonable risk of running out of  our capacity to support additional people in the Catawba/ Wateree River Basin. With our growth expectations for the area, even with modest growth, we will need to alter our mix of energy production in a dramatic way or we may very well run out of water. At a minimum, we will need to spend several hundreds of millions of dollars to add more water processing and waste management processing plants, as the ones we have will max out. Saying this last statement a different way, as we grow, we will grow beyond the capacity of existing plants to provide fresh water and treat sewage regardless of what the river might provide.

Even though the time period for concern is beyond the tenure of current politicians, we need to plan accordingly with a long term strategy. We cannot wait to act, as if we do, it will be too late to intervene. We need to have more active conservationist strategies per the counsel of previous Duke CEO Jim Rogers who liked to quote from Solomon’s book that “water is the new oil.” We need to be more concerted and aggressive in our move to renewable energy which need not require water usage. We must diminish fossil fuels not only for climate change reasons, but to afford us water to drink and cook with. And, we need to be prepared to build water and waste management processing plants before they max out.

Please note, I am not trying to be an alarmist, but more of a pragmatist. We must begin our planning and accelerate our actions. Not planning ahead is a key reason our Catawba/ Wateree River Basin has been included on the list of most threatened rivers.  A final comment is Denmark which sits at sea level, developed a long term plan to deal with the encroaching seas due to climate change. The plan had to have consensus from multiple parties as it had to survive the terms of the political officials. That is what is needed here.