Stating obvious truths

I feel like I am walking around in a constant state of disbelief. How can people rationalize certain behaviors as acceptable when they are obviously abhorrent, petty, childish, unethical, illicit, etc.? So, let me state some obvious truths.

It is not OK to shrug off as “well-intentioned” the fact staff members tried to protect the President’s fragile ego and hide the name of an air craft carrer honoring three American heroes named John McCain. This is petty and childish.

It is not OK that a Republican operative known for his gerrymandering skills left a smoking gun reference to adding the citizenship question on the 2020 census to enable more gerrymandering to help the GOP. Folks, this is cheating. Both sides have done it, but the GOP through ALEC is cheating in an organized manner.

In the UK, Boris Johnson may be on trial for actively lying about the financial impact of Brexit. He also is a candidate to be the next Prime Minister. In Texas, they would define someone who was long on talk and short on substance as “All hat and no cattle.” That would define Boris’ modus operandi quite well.

Now that Robert Mueller reiterated what is in his report, he directly and subtlely contradicted the President and his Attorney General. It could simply be said that “there is something there there.” The President’s staff and sycophants are doing there best to say “don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain,” but do pay attention to him. And, ask your Senators some why quesfions.

Between going against his staff to belittle Japan’s legitimate fears over North Korea to making yet another surprise announcement to impose tariffs on Mexico if they do not do even more to halt migrants entering the US, here are two more painful examples that the President is a loose cannon. The military has a term for short-sighted and poorly planned (and communicated) decision-making that puts people in harm’s way – they calk it a clusterf**k. That aptly defines the President’s modus operandi.

People can rationalize away, but the above is pretty obvious to me. And, these examples are not anomalies, The horribly conceived, unplanned and poorly conceived travel ban that was pulled in two days is similar to the Mexico tariff announcement. It reveals the President still has not learned from his mistakes.

My neighbor with a rocket does not bother you?

What if you had a long time friend who lived across town? For decades, you had helped each other out. Then, this friend wants to be friends with your beligerent next door neighbor.

This neighbor had been shooting fireworks over your and your other neighbors’ houses. Your friend supported your and the neighborhood association’s desire to stop the fireworks, which happens. Everyone is hopeful the beligerent neighbor will behave going forward.

Then, the beligerent neighbor starts shooting fireworks near your fence. Again, you complain. But, this time your cross-town friend stands right next to you in your yard and says to the neighborhood association that the neighbor’s shooting fireworks does not bother him. What? But, it bothers me.

This happened in Japan just last week. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood there as US President Donald Trump said the North Korean testing of short range missiles does not bother him. It does seem to bother Trump’s head of National Security and Secretary of Defense, South Korea and the United Nations, but not the man who says his gut is smarter than everyone’s brain, which is insulting in and of itself.

The fact his former Secretary of State testified the week before to a Senate committee that Putin had “out-prepared” them is telling. And, a Politico article this week noted Trump continues to stand alone on North Korea. Yet, none of that would stand in the way of belittling legitimate fears, not the ones he contrives.

Many Americans do not realize Japan is one of our best allies. To stand on their soil and say their concerns about a beligerent neighbor are unimportant is an insult. To Abe’s credit, he reiterated his concerns referring to the missile test as a “quite regrettable act.” What he sadly realized then and there is what other people who have dealt with Trump eventually come to realize. You can cater to him, but he will not reciprocate.

Rachel Carson, a silent, but forceful hero

It is hard to go against the grain. It is especially hard when you are a 5’4″ woman in a man’s scientific world that boldly said we can tame nature. Yet, when Rachel Carson wrote her provocative book “Silent Spring” in 1962, she rocked the world of the chemical industry. PBS’ “American Experience” has an excellent episode on Carson.

While her book was fiercely discredited by various “throw something against the wall” attacks by the chemical industry, it helped define how we need to proceed with more precaution. It laid bare the hubris of those who felt they could control nature.

It also started a grassroots environmental movement. Within ten years, the toxic chemical DDT would be banned and the Environmental Protection Agency would be created. Her testimony to Congress abetted these efforts. The Cuyahoga river in Cleveland catching fire also was a clarion call. Yet, she would not live to see them. She had cancer when she was being interviewed and testifying to Congress dying in 1964.

“Silent Spring” was her fourth best seller. The first was her “The Sea Around Us” published ten years earlier. Her first topic called upon her marine biology degree and work at the National Wildlife and Fisheries Department. Her first published book in 1941 called “Under the Sea Wind” was re-released after the second one’s success and sold well. Her “The Edge of the Sea” published in 1955 also was a best seller.

Her voice came at a time when “more chemicals” was the answer to any question. She was troubled that our arrogance was getting ahead of our wisdom. Her voice gained footing when it became apparent some fishermen had radiation poisoning from drifted winds from a hydrogen bomb test. But, she had been concerned about the unbridled use of pestiides for years.

A few chapters of “Silent Spring” were printed in The New Yorker and caused such an uproar that a Science Commission was set-up even before the book was released. President Kennedy made reference to Carson in a Q/A with reporters. She understood the use of pesticides is necessary – her main thrust is we need more testing before they are used. The chemical industry went after her and said she was undermining progress. She was called a communist and her data was more anecdotal. And, the fact she was a woman unnerved industry scientists, who felt she was infringing on their turf.

The book was a runaway best seller. It was highlighted in 70 newspapers. When she answered her critics, only then did they realize the power of her calm and informed voice. They were unable to silence her, though they gamely tried to stop a CBS Special Report featuring an interview with Carson. While two sponsors were pressured to drop out, CBS held their ground. For every question answered, there were 100 more raised.

The CBS Special Report was seen by as many as 15 million people. Carson was quite believable.  It was so impactful, a Congressional Committee was set-up the next day. A few months later, the earlier established Kennedy commission verified her findings as vindication.

As she told Congress we must measure the hidden costs against the potential gains. Shouldn’t we do that with every issue? And, for that she was vilified. However, her most telling testimony is our children have been born into this chemical age and we don’t know the full impact on their lives. As one historian noted in the “American Experience” documentary, she caused a “paradigm shift.” Thank you Ms. Carson.

Vox on Fox

Vox on Fox. No, this is not a Dr. Seuss book title or quote. It is more akin to a quote from Mark Twain, “It is easier to fool someone than convince him he has been fooled.” Why? Vox has put together two You Tube videos which should heighten your concern over Fox News (see below), which my oldest son shared with me.

One video notes the power and reach of Fox. It traces its origins to a memo of Roger Ailes when he worked for President Richard Nixon. It shows how Fox influences the news covered, even if you don’t watch Fox News. Like a dog chewing on a bone, Fox will overinflate small issues to discredit the Democrat Party. This is why Fox watchers know who AOC is moreso than non-Fox watchers. This is why Benghazi became a bigger issue than it was as determlned early on by a nonpartisan review.

The other video shows their influence on one viewer who occupies the White House. This person has access to some of the best intelligence information in the world, but chooses to be more influenced by Fox and Friends. This must cause great consternation to people who do their darnedest to get it right as they get upstaged by entertainers who can sell a better story to a key listener.

The narrator of the Vox video notes the causal relationship between items said on Fox and Friends and this viewer’s tweets. The narrator notes he counted fifty tweets from this person within three minutes of the story being said on Fox and Friends. And, often the words are verbatim.

Even when I was a Republican, I did not watch Fox News. The opinion folks are simply over-the-top story tellers, who should not be taken serioiusly – Beck, Riley, Hannity, Riviera and so on are caricatures. The ones who found their conscious like Lt. Col. Ralph Peters or Judge Napolitano get vilified for speaking the truth. Peters left offering a condemning resignation letter.

If you do persist in watching Fox, pay more attention to Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith. The are news people. if you get your news from Hannity or Carlson or that viewer’s tweets – do yourself and country a favor and stop. You are being “Twained,”


In memoriam

My father passed away in 2006. He was a veteran of the Korean Conflict. For some reason it was not worthy of being deemed a war, but still many people died.

My father was a sailor on board an aircraft carrier during the Conflict. He did not talk much about the fighting, but I do remember two things he shared – the limited 25 second showers and the Blue Nose Society.

The former was divided up as five seconds of water. Stop. Lather up. Stop, Then, rinse off with the final twenty seconds. The latter is a card given to the sailors for morale purposes when the ship crossed the Arctic Circle. It was the Navy’s way of saying, it’s cold, so here is a card.

War or conflict is difficult. People are in harm’s way and too many do not survive or are impacted physically and/ or mentally. Often, harm comes to people for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think of this when I read articles on D-Day. Death was random.

Today, I read of a sailor who let men off on shore at Normandy. As soon as he let the gate down, the bullets riddled in and soldiers were killed before they got out of the boat. The movie “Saving Private Ryan” captures the randomness of those who gave up their lives on that beach.

Yet, to honor these men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, we need for our leaders to do everything in their power to avoid conflict. They need to do everything in their power to staff and supply our people. And, they need to have a clear goal for success. The soldiers and sailors deserve that.

Let’s think good thoughts for our friends and relatives who fought and died on our behalf. And, let’s say an extra prayer for those in harm’s way today.

Stable genius

A few quotes to ponder:

“I am a stable genius,” said Donald J. Trump on several occasions, most recently after he threw a tantrum to abruptly end a meeting to discuss infrastructure.

“You have been telling me you are a genius since you were seventeen. In all the time I have known you, I still don’t know what you mean,” sang Steely Dan in “Reeling in the Years.”

“We were out-prepared,” testified former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson under oath to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as he described a meeting between Putin and Trump.

More colorfully, Tillerson commented while Secretary of State after the President changed his mind again, “He is a f**king moron.”

Testifying under oath to a House Committee, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer said “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-man and a he is a cheat.”

“You will have to do a deal with the European Union,” said German Chancelor Angela Merkel eleven times in one sitting to Trump until it finally sank in he could not do a trade deal just with Germany.

“Donald Trump lies every day even about things of no consequence,” said former Trump attorney Thomas Wells.

Finally, former National Economic Advisor Gary Cohn said after witnessing the President lie about what he said to the Australian Prime Minister, “He is a prodigious liar.”

Lastly, at 60 years-old, I am hard pressed to recall a very smart person bragging on how smart he or she is. These folks need not brag.

I could go on, but that will give you a sense. The title of this post depict two words that are not top of mind to me to define the US President – stable or genius.

Navigating medical customer service

Before I share a few observations and experiences, let me first note that too many Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) are likely understaffed and undertrained to do the jobs they are asked to do. The healthcare system in the US is complex with a lot of moving parts, including consolidated entities on the provider side and insurer side. In other words, there are plenty of opportunities for the system to fail the customer, provider and insurer.

Through all of this, the patient has to be the navigator of his or her customer service experience. Otherwise, the patients may not realize they are not being treated fairly. As evidence that I am not personalizing this more than I am, let me mention two things.

First, I have a friend who runs a successful business advocating for insured patients. Her firm is hired by companies to help their employees and retirees navigate the healthcare insurance system. In essence, they advocate to get the insurers to pay for what they say they will in plan documents. No more, no less.

Second, as a retired benefits manager and consultant, I am familiar with the complexities, but there are people who know them far better than I. So, what concerns me is people who get maltreated  by the system and don’t know they can push back or don’t feel comfortable in so doing. The various acronyms, footnotes, poor communications, entities and touch points are confusing.

Rather than lament issues, let me offer a few tips to help in the navigation.

– If you need a pre-authorization for a surgery or procedure, start at least a week before or as soon as you can. Ask what they need and make sure they know who to call. An increasing number of providers are putting the burden more on patients to get the process started.

– On any call or reach-out, save emails or notifications, write down notes, names, dates and phone numbers – there are many, especially with centralized functions for smaller doctor offices. Recently, I was given multiple numbers to call (and addresses) from each party.

– Read your EOBs – Explanation of Benefits – including the footnotes as to why something was unpaid or pending. There may be an action needed on your part. If have a non-ACA, non-Medicare or non-employer plan, there may be a need for medical information to confirm this is not a pre-existing conditon.

– If you feel uncomfortable with asking questions of your doctor or insurer, write the questions down or include someone to advocate for you. Don’t be afraid to ask what someone said as it can be confusing or the person may not be the best communicator. And, if it is a major surgery or procedure, it is more than OK to seek a second-opinion.

– Follow-up. This is critical. Hand-offs are made to do things and the receiving entity may not confirm it has the ball. As a result, while you are waiting, nothing is happening. If medical records need to be there in 30 or 60 days, follow-up 10 – 15 days before those deadlines.

– Finally, be as diplomatic and polite as you can, but sometimes it is hard. So, be prepared to say something like, “I am sorry to be a pain, but this is frustrating.” Also, if urgency is needed, please share that need. Some readlng this may note there are websites to facilitate this process, but too often, the website does not do what you think it is doing. It may just be recording a query and not codifying an action. You may be surprised how frequentIy I have to read to the CSR what another part of the company sent me.

Again, there are many fine people in these positions who want to get things right for the patient. It is often said, good people make up for a bad structure.  Yet, it should not be as hard as it is. Until it is made easier, you must be the navigator of your customer service.

Please feel free to share your ideas and reactions.