A Good Friday for America and the World

Irrespective of how someone might feel about same-sex marriage, last Friday’s US Supreme Court decision will be looked upon as watershed moment in American history. Further, it has already launched celebrations around the globe as the decision to allow same-sex marriages here is a beacon for the rest of the world. It was indeed a good Friday for America and the world.

Our friend Barney wrote earlier this year a post that offers some valuable historical context. He notes that our US Constitution afforded more rights to white male property owners at the expense of others. I would offer that should any of those white males have been gay men, they would have kept it extremely quiet, so as not to run afoul or the mores of the day. Women did not have the right to vote, nor did other white men. And, slaves were denied all rights and counted as 3/5 a person to provide southern states with more power in Congress.

But, what is most interesting to me, is the history of our country is a series of events that give others those same rights. The most notable changes are the freedoms afforded former slaves at the end of the Civil War, which was a hard fought battle in a predominantly northern Congress, and giving women the right to vote in the early 1920s. I like to remind people that women have had the right to vote in our country for less than 100 years, which is a shame that it took so long.

Yet, other key changes occurred by legislation and court cases. The Civil Rights and Voters Rights Acts are two key pieces of legislation which afforded Blacks the same rights they should have had in practice for 100 years, but were denied by Jim Crow laws. These laws were also ten years after the Brown v. Board of Education US Supreme court decision which said separate was not equal in education. Another key court case which is similar in nature to last Friday’s decision is Loving v. VA where an interracial couple won a court case which opened up marriage between people of different races. Like the recent decision, the Loving decision ran up against people with biblical references of how bad it would be to mix the races.

In America, people have the right to believe the way they want. That freedom is important. Yet, one thing that is of equal importance, is no one has the freedom to restrict the rights of other people. That is a key part of the Civil Rights Act. So, to say it simply, your freedoms are of equal importance to my freedoms, but not more. I cannot discriminate unfairly against you, nor should you be allowed to do the same to me. And, this goes for government officials as well. To do otherwise, is a slippery slope.

So, we should celebrate the historical ruling of last Friday. As a 56 year-old, heterosexual married father, who is an Independent voter, I am delighted that Americans have the freedom to marry someone of the same-sex. One of the best pictures I saw this weekend, is one of a Lesbian couple who had words painted on their fists, when held up in unison, said “Love Wins.” Yes, it most certainly did. And, so did America.

Advertisements

A little data goes a long way

It is hard to make headlines with data, when the sensational sells more easily. With this week’s decision by the US Supreme Court to permit the health care subsidies to continue in the 34 states where the federal exchange is used for the Affordable Care Act, the onus is now on the ACA to continue to work. Per several sources, this imperfect and complex law is working pretty well. These sources include – the Congressional Budget Office, Kaiser Family Foundation, The Commonwealth Fund, RAND Corporation and the Economic Policy Institute. Even Credit Suisse and Charles Schwab improved their outlook on US Treasury Bonds due in part to lower healthcare projections resulting from the ACA.

So, it should not be repealed, but could use some improvements. One key improvement would be for the remaining 20 some odd states who have not expanded Medicaid to do so. In these states, the expansion would not only help those in need, per a George Washington University study, it would help rural hospitals, the state’s economy and add jobs. Attached is an article on the impact in my home state of North Carolina.

http://www.wataugademocrat.com/news/study-nc-economy-would-grow-under-medicaid-expansion/article_2f1b4fc6-8aed-11e4-a01a-332771204a95.html

Yet, what the ACA could use most is some honest discussion rather than political posturing. While working pretty well, the law needs some improvements beyond the Medicaid expansion. With the exception of the mandate to buy coverage, its component parts are well received. But when the nickname of Obamacare is used, the entire law is viewed less favorably. When the name ACA is used, the entire law favorability improves, but is beneath 50%. Yet, in Kentucky, when the ACA name of KyNect is used, it polls more favorably than its national name or nickname.

Part of these findings relate to the overall complexity of health insurance, in general and due to some real concerns over the law.  Part of these findings relate to some who want National Health Care insurance, so the ACA did not go far enough in their eyes. Yet. part of these findings relate to politicians using the name Obamacare as a weapon of mass destruction using labels with negative connotation such as Nazism, Apartheid, and slavery, some of which have been used by Presidential candidates. When a strident, uninformed base of voters hears these labels, they tend to believe the labeler. Yet, where I come from, when people use labels, it usually means their argument is less valid or even poor.

Yet, while cost increases have been dampened somewhat by the ACA per the CBO, with increased risk comes the potential for cost increases in areas where competition is small. The overall dampening effect will be more long term with more folks getting treatment before they become train wrecks. The short-term pressure on costs is evidenced by the headline grabbing double-digit increases in some areas. But, those are the headlines. I would look to what people like the Kaiser Family Foundation notes in the attached, that average expected cost increased expected in eleven cities is 4.4% for 2016.

http://kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/analysis-of-2016-premium-changes-and-insurer-participation-in-the-affordable-care-acts-health-insurance-marketplaces/

The ACA is here to stay. We need honest dialogue and not labels to discuss how to make it better. We do not need any more votes to repeal, as we have wasted far too much time with ceremonial votes. We need seriousness of purpose using real data and informed discussion. My advice is if you hear a politician use a demonic label on anything, ask them some questions about why they feel that way. You may find that they do not have any sound information to back up those claims.

Innovation is portable (and attractive)

Innovation is portable. This is a quote from David Smick’s book “The World is Curved.” Who is David Smick, you may be asking? He was an economic advisor to Congressman Jack Kemp, President Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton, two Republicans and a Democrat. His comment is telling in that he notes if we do not do our best to keep the innovators here, they will go elsewhere. And, when they go elsewhere, manufacturing from the innovation will be based elsewhere.

The US has the world’s best college and university system and it draws people from around the globe and country. So, we should grease the skids to make it easier for them to stay and innovate here post graduation. It would be a shame for the idea creation to start here and migrate to another country. As that will be where the job creation begins.

So, what do we need to do about it? We need to make sure our immigration laws are improved to make it easier to keep talent. Industry has been crying out for this, yet it is held hostage by a political gamesmanship to speak to a strident base. We need to reform our patent laws to make sure “patent trolls” do not interfere and sabotage the innovators. These trolls are extortionists who will use a key word or phrase in an idea by someone else to state that someone is violating a patent they filed (with no product or development behind it). What the troll wants is “go away money” without a court case.

We need to understand the historical marriage and timing of venture capital, government funding and other investor capital. Our nation has been forged on the interplay between these funding sources, as they are needed to perpetuate ideas and implement the initial manufacturing effort. The money is needed at various times in the process, with the government money sometimes in advance of the venture capital, sometimes in tandem with the venture capital and sometimes following it. The need varies based on the what is needed to get stuff off the ground.

There are numerous examples of joint investment. I spoke of one last night about an offshore wind turbine testing facility in Charleston, South Carolina. It is a joint venture between folks like GE and Siemens who make turbines, Clemson University, the City of Charleston, the US Department of Energy and the SC Department of Energy (although it may have a different name). The idea is to improve the efficacy of these offshore wind turbines making them more economical to use here in the states, as they are done elsewhere.

Another good example in Durham, North Carolina is a company called Semprius, which makes the most elegant solar photo-voltaic panel in the world, where 33% of the sun’s energy is convertible to electricity, a huge leap forward. This is a joint venture between Pratt-Whitney Rocketdyne, Siemens and the US Department of Energy. With solar energy taking off everywhere, but especially in North Carolina with about 23,000 jobs which have been growing at a 25% annual rate the last three years, it shows what innovation means to an area. Nationally, at year-end 2014, there are 174,000 solar jobs which have been growing at a double-digit rate over the last five years per annum.

It should be obvious that I picked two renewable energy examples, as these two sources not only have to be a key part of our future energy mix, but they have and will promote jobs as a result. And, not only is innovation portable – it is attractive to new business. So, this is where we need to fund more of our resources. It is good for our environment and it is good for business. And, per Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change which is on point, it is good for God’s creation. Given that the Pope is also a trained scientist with a Masters in Chemistry, as well as a humanitarian, I think the world should listen to what he has to say on these issues. Especially, since he is echoing the findings of so many scientific bodies and panels.

From the ashes in Charleston good news appears

The horrible tragedy in Charleston that took the lives of nine people should not be forgotten. When people die at the hands of a terrorist bent on killing people who do not look like him, then their deaths are even more tragic. I have written and will write more about the underlying cause in the future, but now is the time to mourn the passing of not only people, but good people, as evidenced by their deeds and the actions of their relatives and friends.

From the ashes of this tragedy are two good news stories on which to build. Many are so moved by the relatives and friends who looked at the face of the killer (I will not mention his name), and through their pain, forgave the young man. Their forgiveness and conviction revealed what true faith looks like. These are the people this young man was taught to hate. These are the people who he had been led to believe were raping white women and taking over America. Well, if these are the people taking over America, we may be better served as they have more character and conviction than many people I know.

The other good news story is the galvanizing effect this tragedy has had on the Charleston community and others around the country. Seeing blacks and whites together mourn the loss of these good people is inspiring. I hope that this can continue to be the galvanizing force to improve understanding among people of different races. That it will help people walk in the shoes of others and not be segregated in thoughts and locations. And, I hope it will help people shine a light on bigotry and hate and tell these narrow-minded folks that their actions are not valued and are wrong.

Per the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein in the movie and play “South Pacific,” which was written during the height of the Jim Crow era, “Bigotry has to be carefully taught.”  We, the people, can choose to teach the opposite.

 

US is the only developed nation where rate of pregnant mother deaths is rising

Recently, a very powerful article was written by Danielle Paquette in The Washington Post entitled “Why pregnant women in Mississippi keep dying.” A link to the article follows: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/24/why-pregnant-women-in-mississippi-keep-dying/. While the article focuses its title on Mississippi, that is a metaphor for a national problem. The US is now the only developed nation where the rate of pregnant mother deaths is increasing. In 1987 only 7.2 pregnant women were dying per 100,000 births. That rate has more than doubled in 2013 to 18.5 deaths per 100,000 births. Our maternal death rate in childbirth is 3x the rate in Saudi Arabia and 2x the rate in the UK.

In Mississippi, it is far worse with 54.7 black mothers dying in childbirth out of 100,000 births and 29.3 white mothers dying per 100,000. There a number of reasons cited, but one of the key reasons is that Mississippi has not expanded Medicaid and have over 107,000 people who do not have access to healthcare coverage. Note, other reasons are cited, but not having health care coverage limits access to preventive visits that expectant mothers with care get.

As many know, I have been a broken record for the need to continue and improve the Affordable Care Act, which is working pretty well by a number of studies and has dampened cost increases with the Congressional Budget Office lowering health care projections three times due in part to the ACA. In fact, just yesterday at Congress’ request, the CBO and Joint Committee on Taxation noted that repealing the ACA would increase the deficit by $353 Billion (or $137 Billion when a new dynamic scoring approach is used). This seems to run counter to rhetoric of how harmful the law is. Here is a link to the article: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/obamacare-repeal-would-boost-10-year-deficit-by-dollar353b-cbo/ar-AAbQa2S?ocid=DELLDHP

But, we need to finish the job and completely implement the ACA in about twenty states, such as North Carolina, that have not expanded Medicaid to cover a key tranche of people under the ACA. It is not surprising, these predominantly southern states are seeing the worst child and mother health results. Several reputable health-related foundations (The Commonwealth Fund, Kaiser Family Foundation) and economic think tanks (RAND and Economic Policy Institute) have noted that not expanding Medicaid is actually harmful to people and this is more evidence of that assertion.

Please read these articles and, if you concur these are problems worth doing something about, reach out to your state legislators and US representatives and senators. Ask them to support the continuation of the ACA as the majority of Americans wish to happen. Ask the states who have not expanded Medicaid to do so as they are hurting people, rural hospitals and their own economies in not so doing. These issues are that important as people are the pawns in these political chess games and they bear the brunt of these decisions with their health and lives.

The Presence of the Lord – a Blind Faith Tribute

While they only made one album, a band called “Blind Faith” which blended the talents of two-thirds of “Cream,” Eric Clapton and GInger Baker, with a very young and talented Steve Winwood, produced some wonderful music.  My favorite is one penned by Clapton, but sung by Winwood, as Clapton wanted Winwood’s sweet voice to sing this ethereal song. Here are the first few stanzas from “The Presence of the Lord.”

I have finally found a way to live
Just like I never could before.
I know that I don’t have much to give,
But I can open any door.

Everybody knows the secret,
Everybody knows the score.
I have finally found a way to live
In the color of the Lord.

I truly love this song, as it brings spirituality to a wonderful song, without being too overt. To me, the understated reference in the chorus to “in the color of the Lord,” is meaningful. I interpret this to live a life in keeping with an overall context of color, rather than a rigorous line by line text. The context of treating others like you want to be treated is the “color of the Lord,” that I take away. Maybe you have a different take.

Clapton has noted in his autobiography that he regretted leaving this band after only one album. Winwood is an awesome talent that I have written about before, including reference to this song. He and Clapton would have surely made some more memorable music over time, like this and “Can’t Find My Way Home.”

I am repeating my love for this song, as we have taken some religious debate into the mire, where pieces of scripture are noted out of context and without the complete reference, which is time-sensitive based upon the mores and biases of the period. To me, whether someone is religious or not, if we live a life in the “color of the Lord” and treat others like we want to treated, things will be better for us and others.

A few paraphrased quotes for fun

Politicians, pundits and so-called experts say the darnedest things. And, they tend to forget that they have been recorded. The sad truth is some do not care, as they have “evolved their opinion” or “changed their mind.” Nonetheless, these quotes provide nice vignettes into the absurd world of our leaders and so-called thought leaders. It is a reminder that every thing you see and hear should be taken with a grain of salt.

– In 2008, both current Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said these statements on camera. “Climate change is real and man-influenced and we need to do something about it.”

– Roughly in 2007, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and then current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did a television commercial together. Newt said “I was wrong about global warming. It is a problem and both Nancy and I agree we need to do something about it.”

– In 2014, both Boehner and McConnell said roughly “The science is not clear on climate change.”

– In his 2012 Presidential election run, Gingrich said, “I was wrong to say I was wrong about climate change.”

– Last month, Presidential candidate Rick Santorum in response to a question about Pope Francis’ paper on the Catholic Church’s concern over doing something about climate change, “We need to leave this to the scientists.” The Pope not only is supporting what governing scientific bodies are saying, but he also has a Masters in Chemistry, so technically he has some science qualifications.

– A public relations person who is well-compensated by the fossil fuel industry portrays himself as a scientific expert and argues on the split screen shots with scientists on talk shows. In the documentary movie “Merchants of Doubt,” he made fun of scientists saying they were “boring” and took pride in selling a story of climate change being a hoax. These scientists have spent a life studying the problem, but sometimes find it hard to articulate a complex argument into sound bites. When he was asked by Glenn Beck if he was an independent, unbiased expert, he lied and said he was.

– Former Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina, who was a climate change skeptic, traveled to Antarctica to see for himself. He came away convinced that the science was real and climate change is the problem as advertised. On the floor of Congress, he made a speech about his findings and that we need to do something about it. He was trounced in the next election by a fossil-fuel backed candidate. He now travels around telling his story as a Republican supporting the need to act on climate change and faces uphill battles everywhere he goes.

Man-influenced climate change is here and is causing problems around the world from Ecuador to Bangladesh to the Cartaret Islands to Miami to the Everglades to Norfolk to Texas to California. The drought areas will become worse and they are. Forest fires will become worse and they are. Sea-level rise will encroach into low-lying areas and it is. Hurricanes will hit shore from an elevated water level and be worse like Hurricane Sandy. And, chemicals in the ground will heat up like a crock pot.

The world can ill-afford a President or politicians to not recognize climate change for the problem it is. Please ask questions of politicians why they believe the way they do and what framed their opinion.