Tuesday Truisms

While Monday is like getting reacquainted with the workweek, Tuesday is when it begins in earnest. In no particular order, I have noted a few truisms for this Tuesday.

Looking out at the rainy early evening, it is wonderful to see how green everything looks. The trees frame an enchanting view.

On a more sober note, on our travels to visit our son a few hours away in NC we saw two huge confederate flags flying boldly off the highways. I know the flyers do not care, but when I see a flag like this, especially having grown up white in the South, my first thought is bigotry. This flag represents Jim Crow and the KKK as much as it does the Confederacy. When I see a Confederate flag side-by-side with an American flag, the hypocrisy that one flag represents rebellion against the other is not lost on me.

I mention this as the persona non grata NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick won a global award from Amnesty International for human rights this month. He was made an example by the US President for his very brave protest of kneeling during the national anthem in deference to black Americans not having the same rights and opportunities in America as whites. His courage and understanding of our constitutional rights far exceeds that of the President who resorted to flaming fires of jingoism among a dutiful base against this man. I am reminded that MLK was equally unpopular when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. People outside the US are watching if we are living up to our ideals which mean far more than an anthem.

A final thought on our ideals includes the freedom of the press. It should not be lost on others that reporters for The Washington Post and New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism for their coverage of the Russian meddling. It is important to note that the US President has called this fake news and a witch hunt. Apparently, the Pulitzer people disagree. Let’s see, if the man is lying about that, what else might he be lying about?

I started with how green everything looks with the rain. Maybe our country needs a good cleansing rain to wash away our fears and demeaning of others and our ideals.

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That healthcare thing

In more than a few surveys, the majority of Americans have noted that healthcare is a key dinner table issue. In several surveys, shoring up and stabilizing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is preferred by a smaller, but still majority of Americans, than its repeal.

With a background of being a former benefits actuary, consultant and manager of benefits, here are a few facts and observations that I encourage you to research and verify.

– The ACA borrows from a Republican idea implemented by Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts which was advocated by de facto Tea Party leader Senator Jim DeMint for the whole country. Some elements can be found in a healthcare idea of Senator Bob Dole when he ran for President in 1996. These are reasons Republicans had a hard time with other ideas to repeal and replace it.

– The ACA is designed to require employer and public plans to offer certain minimum level benefits. The non-employer benefits are delivered through healthcare exchanges of policies and the expansion of Medicaid for people near or in poverty (32 states and the District of Columbia elected to do this).

– The biggest benefits of the ACA are guaranteed issue and renewability of coverage and the premium subsidy for people with incomes up to 4 x poverty limit. If you or a child has a preexisting condition, guaranteed issue and renewability are huge benefits.

– The botched roll out of the online exchanges sits at the feet of President Obama. For this to be such an important issue, it deserved better planning. The online exchanges are doing much better now, but you don’t get a second chance for a first impression. And, this poor roll out was used as fodder to nay-say the program, even though the problems were fixed.

– The ACA has experienced higher premiums due to adverse selection (pent-up demand and more high risk than better risk customers), but it is frustrating that the Republican Senators and President have masked their role in making premiums even higher. Senator Marco Rubio led an effort to strip 89% of the funding to insurers for initial adverse selection a couple of years ago and President Trump stripped out funding for co-pays and deductibles for lower paid people last year. Both of these changes cause premiums to increase even more than they otherwise would have.

– The lack of expansion of Medicaid in 18 states means the ACA is still not fully implemented. Per The Commonwealth Fund, this implementation would help people, rural hospitals and state economies. GOP Presidential candidate John Kasich called Medicaid expansion a no-brainer when he did it in Ohio as Governor.

The ACA is not perfect, but it is working OK. It could work even better if it were stabilized and improved. Taking away the mandate will be harmful and cause premiums to go up even more. What troubles me in our zero-sum game of politics is we are foregoing improving an imperfect law, which we have done countless times before on major changes. The way I see it, Congress and the President own this law now. If it fails, people should look to them asking why did they let it happen. This impacts people.

I have mentioned before several changes to consider. National healthcare is not going to happen in our country as it is too political and the healthcare industrial complex is strong. Yet, I advocate expanding Medicare in a targeted way down to age 62 (or maybe 55). Unlike the more complex Medicaid, Medicare actually works pretty well and strips out the profit load embedded in insurance premiums. This will reduce exchange premiums and Medicare premiums, as it makes both audiences younger on average.

I think we need to reconstitute the adverse selection and co-pay subsidies to insurers. The federal government needs to repay insurers they stiffed and invite insurers who left back into the exchanges. I would also recommend the remaining states expand Medicaid and I would add back the mandate for coverage, even though this feature is unpopular. If there are areas where competition is not significant, select use of Medicare (or Medicaid) could be deployed in those counties.

There are other changes that should be considered, but we need to shore this thing up. Congress and Mr. President, the ball is in your court as well as the legislatures for those eighteen states.

 

Knife wielding suspect subdued (and lives)

The title gives the climax away, but that is not the whole story. A man wielding two knives was threatening people in the halls of his apartment complex.

Three police officers showed up and told the man they had a taser and asked him to put down the knives. After a lengthy discussion and pleas, one officer moved toward the man who lunged at the officer and was tased. Remarkably, the man kept trying to knife the officer, who was able to avoid getting stabbed. The man was taking away to face a court date and jail time.

There are two other keys to this story. It was in Australia, not the US. In Charlotte last year, a man wielding a knife was shot dead by police with nine shots. I understand police have a difficult job, but the eagerness and frequency in which assailants are shot seems much higher here on the US. Plus, the number of shots stymies me – nine, eleven, sixteen shots are too representative.

The other issue worth noting is the man was white. I often use the story of how a 65 year old white man was disarmed by Detroit police after an hour conversation. Tamir Rice, an adolescent black boy, was killed within two seconds due to the toy gun he was carrying. Why? Why is there such haste to unload a weapon when the alleged perpetrator is black?

We must do better at addressing these issues. The police are doing a hard job, made harder as they don’t know who is packing heat and what firepower such heat has. I believe this adds even more tension to any police encounter where there is uncertainty. And, race plays a huge factor. Another black man was gunned down at a Walmart by police yesterday.

We cannot overtrain police at identifying threats and de-escalating tense situations. And, we must treat every shooting like the pilots investigate crashes. We must be transparent and learn how to avoid poor or hasty decisions. Other western countries do not have our overall and police gun death rates. We must do better.

Sorry Meatloaf, two out of three IS bad

One of the most popular songs from a singer named Meatloaf off his stellar first album is called “Two out of three ain’t bad.” If you are not familiar with his work, the album is called “Bat out of Hell” and it is end to end one of the finest rock albums ever produced.

But, with due respect to Meatloaf and Jim Steinman, who wrote the songs, in the case of the man sitting in the White House, two out of three is bad. You see, that ratio equates to 67% when rounded and it is two percentage points less than 69%. And, the latter represents the measured rate of mostly false, false and pant-on-fire false statements made by the President of the United States (per Polifacts).

Saying this more frankly, the President is on record as lying more than two out of three times. Think about that – for every three statements, two are not true. And, that is bad.

Being President is all about character. When a person lies like this, it is hard to fathom that person having character. If you layer in his demeaning and denigration of others along with his self-professed sexual assaults, he does not represent what makes America great. In fact, he embodies the worst traits in us. That is sad.

Other leaders do not trust him both within and outside the United States. Why would they? When he makes one of his impulsive decisions that makes his staff scramble, he often makes an untrue statement to support it. He did this with the new tax law, the defunding of an ACA subsidy that helped people in poverty, and  the DACA is dead statement he made his weekend.

The truth matters. Character matters. We need them to matter to the President.

Monday, Monday again

Using a wonderful song from The Mamas and Papas, happy Monday everyone. Our friend Jill enjoys (and eventually laments) it when I place these songs in her head.

A few random thoughts for the start of the week are as follows:

Facebook is apologizing and saying they will do better at protecting your information. Yet, what they fail to tell you is sharing your information is their business model. Unless they are prepared to go to a subscription model, do not expect any major changes. Tailored ads based on your data and search history is revenue.

The biggest news from the Stormy Daniels’ revelations is not the tryst with Donald Trump. It is the illegal election contribution made by the attorney who has boxed himself in with his own revelations. By admitting he did not get reimbursed by Trump, he blocked a possible exit ramp that may have mitigated his guilt. I will say the creepiest thing about the Daniels’ revelation is when she said Trump told her she reminded him of his daughter. Ick.

Trump keeps saying articles about things he will be doing are fake news. Yet, when it happens anyway, does that make it fake? Mind you, he has delayed decisions mentioned in these articles, so as to punish the media with this fake brand. But, when he eventually fires the person or signs a wretched executive order, it verifies the earlier assertion does it not? He did fire Tillerson, McMaster, e.g. even though he said he would not do so after the press reported it.

With the passing of the US spending bill on top of the tax law change, it is apparent that Congress and the President do not care about resolving our deficit and debt issues. These laws make them worse rather than better. It should be pointed out that China is talking about buying fewer US Treasuries bills, notes and bonds. That is how we get cash and is a trade threat the US cannot reciprocate.

A final shout out to the teens who are advocating for better gun governance. You are an inspiration. The lawmakers need to pay attention as they may have awakened a sleeping giant.

 

Over-politicized and under-moralized

I had the pleasure of hearing columnist and author David Brooks speak the other night. He was invited to my city by a church known for being inclusive. While his speech and following Q/A was filled with poignant quotes and observations, his caution that “we are over-politicized and under-moralized” resonated with me.

His speech was far more focused on America’s changes over time than it was political. He noted we were much more community oriented before 1968, but still had many faults around racIsm, bigotry and gender inequality. He noted the gains made post-1968, but we tore down institutional cache and became more individual minded, even more narcissistic in nature, as he explained with a few key  statistics. He thoughtfully spoke of how we have come to the current tribalism. He noted tribalism is based more on fear and hatred of others than it is love for your tribe.

This was occurring long before Trump and he said he frankly did not think Trump would win. He said people are disenfranchised and want to be heard. To Trump’s credit he reached out to these folks, yet he sold a message of fear and isolationism. An example of one of Brooks’ quotes is “Trump is the wrong answer to the right question.”

From his travels, reading and teaching, he noted people are thirsty for moral direction. We desire a moral compass. We want to do the right thing, but we have become so lonely and alienated (he again accentuated with statistics) we have limited avenues to a community mindset. We are not talking to one another and have looked less to institutions and more to movements.

Early on he defined we are consumed by both a “desiring heart” and “yearning soul.” We want to love someone and belong. We want to find contentment for our soul nurturing it. This is why we long for a sense of community or family. He noted an answer to a previous time in the 1890s when we became so disenfranchised, we saw community movements that led to better working conditions, the suffragette movement, the temperance movement, environmental protection, etc.

That is likely the answer we need to diminish this tribalism. We need to seek community oriented solutions. He said our places of faith can be more helpful, but need to focus on our being better people and picking each other up. He noted an example of a man in Shreveport who helped identify a community house in each area of the city. The house would be a place where BBQs, community events, parties et al could happen.

When someone asked what is a key takeaway, he laughed and said that is your job as I just throw out ideas. Then, he eloquently noted a story about a psychologist who was captured by the Nazis and placed in a detention camp. The question no longer was what should I do with my life? The question was now what does life have in store for me? He said that may be the better question we should ask ourselves.

As he left the stage, I witnessed a humble man who seemed to be saying through his body language, why are you clapping for me? He deserved the adoration. Even the minister of the church noted Brooks’ message had a strong sense of a Judeo-Christian ethic. We need more voices like him. We need more discussions like these.

Water – the real crisis facing us

While Americans are distracted and consumed by the routine chaos out of the White House, we are letting huge problems go unaddressed. One of the major problems is the current and growing global water crisis. For several years, the World Economic Forum has voted the global water crisis as the greatest risk facing our planet over the longer term, defined as ten years. But, this is not just a future problem, the city of Cape Town in South Africa is in severe water crisis and continues to ration pushing forward their Day Zero as long as they can

Per The Guardian in an article this week, the United Nations warns that water shortages “could affect 5 billion people by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs.

The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

‘For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,’ says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. ‘In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.’

Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum. Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year.

This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities.

Demand for water is projected to rise fastest in developing countries. Meanwhile, climate change will put an added stress on supplies because it will make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.

Drought and soil degradation are already the biggest risk of natural disaster, say the authors, and this trend is likely to worsen. ‘Droughts are arguably the greatest single threat from climate change,’ it notes. The challenge has been most apparent this year in Cape Town, where residents face severe restrictions as the result of a once-in-384-year drought. In Brasília, the host of the forum, close to 2m people have their taps turned off once in every five days due to a unusually protracted dry period.”

Here in the states, we exacerbate our drought and other water problems with bad piping and fracking, which waste or use huge amounts of water. But, with our vast agriculture, we need water to produce our and much of the world’s crops. We must manage it better. Two books are very illuminating. “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” by Steven Solomon is a terrific look back and ahead. He is the coiner of the phrase “water is the new oil.” The other book is called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn that details the struggles of these professions and two others with climate change and its impact on water and other things they do.

Folks, this is a major problem. We must address it now before we all have our own Day Zeroes. If this is not enough to raise concern, one of the financial experts who forewarned us of the pending financial crisis, has a new concern – water.