The hook brings you back

The group Blues Traveler had a huge hit with a song called “Hook,” which intentionally says nothing of substance. The chorus is as follows:

“Because the hook brings you back
I ain’t tellin’ you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely”

The song is about their frustration with MTV or popular music which relies on a “hook” to grab your attention. A hook is a catchy riff, phrase or gimmick used by songwriters. The Blues Traveler song is a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the use of a “hook” while using one.

To me, this song is a metaphor for companies selling products harmful to people’s health. The “hook” is an addiction, that brings people back to buy more.

The vaping industry is repeating the successful sales model of selling smoking to kids and young adults to get them hooked. The tobacco industry knew dating back to 1964 that nicotine was addictive. So, they hid this fact as they added more nicotine. The subterfuge lasted until the mid-1990s when an insider blew the whistle. This was after eight tobacco CEOs sitting at a table in front of a Congressional Committee lied saying nicotine was not addictive. What is troubling about the vaping industry is they are selling these vapes as candy in all kinds of flavors.

An even more dramatic and traumatic sales job relates to the opioid pain killer business. These companies were not forthcoming about how addictive their product is. People have died and families have been ruined by this subterfuge. And, once again we have a heroin and worse drug addiction problem in America, as it is cheaper than the opioid product. Please strongly consider non-opioid painkillers if you have surgery or an injury, if permissible by doctor.

On a more widespread basis, food companies have asked their chemists to make their products more addictive. How? By adding more sugar to their products. The sweeter taste is more alluring and gets people to eat more and buy more. What is the harm in a little more sugar? The US is the most obese country in the world and kids are now getting adult diabetes, not just juvenile diabetes.

So, like catchy songs, these hooks are designed to sell lots of products to unsuspectingly addicted consumers. Please be mindful of when you buy to make sure you are not being reeled in.

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Melania Trump, thank you for the invitation, but no thanks

Yesterday, I received a letter from First Lady Melania Trump and the Republican National Committee asking for donations for her husband’s campaign. The letter espoused all of the good things which have occurred under the president and all the bad that would happen should he not win in 2020. Since a pre-addressed envelope was enclosed, I sent the following letter.

August 14, 2019

Republican National Committee
c/o Melania Trump
PO Box 96994
Washington, DC 20090-6994

Dear Ms. Trump,

Thank you for your service to your country. I received your invitation to support your husband’s campaign for 2020 and I must respectfully decline. As an Independent and former Republican voter, I must confess I see your husband’s presidency differently from what you noted in the letter.

While I am pleased the economic growth that was almost eight years strong has continued under his presidency, we are at least dialoguing with North Korea and a bipartisan law was passed to push prison and sentencing reform, I am concerned with several other policy positions and his overall behavior as president.

On the policy side, I am very concerned with the our building debt and the US decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord as well as unwinding several regulations that make it easier for companies to degrade our environment. I am also concerned with treating our allies and trading partners so poorly. We are retrenching from our leadership position and we are less trusted by other world leaders. That is unfortunate as we are diminishing a major strength of our country. We cannot shrink to greatness.

On the behavior side, it is frustrating that our president consistently dishonors the office he holds. Our president must be one of our better angels, not our worst. We need our president to be truthful and not denigrate and bully people who disagree with his positions. And, we must not have our president spouting racist and xenophobic comments. Country leaders from Sweden, UK, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, New Zealand , eg condemned his recent remarks.

Please encourage your husband to become the leader we need him to be. Right now, he is just a person occupying a leadership position. We need more from him than that. If he is not prepared to make such changes, I would ask the Republican Party to find a replacement candidate. I am concerned for our democracy and our planet. It frightens me to have to say these words.

Please forgive my candor. You are the best thing he has going for him, so maybe you can encourage some change. Thank you again for your service and doing your best to bring honor to the First Lady role.

Keith Wilson
Charlotte, Independent Voter

 

Helping people climb a ladder – a perspective

The following is an edited version of a comment on Hugh Curtler’s (a retired college professor of philosophy) post regarding whether we should help people in need or let them fend for themselves. I provide a link below to his post. I am going to cite the work a charity I used to be a part of that builds off the book “Toxic Charity,” written by a minister who lived with the disenfranchised people he sought to help. His name is Robert Lupton.

Lupton’s thesis is simple: true charity should focus on emergency or short term needs. What he argued for to help others long term and we did (and still do) is help people climb a ladder back to self-sufficiency. That should be the goal. An easy example is he would advocate for food and clothing co-ops rather than giving the food and clothes away. People love a bargain, so let them maintain their dignity while they get discounted help. This dignity thing is crucial – people would rather not have to ask for help.

Note, we cannot push people up the ladder. They must climb it.  A social worker I have advocated with used to say “we walk side by side with our clients.” The folks we helped are homeless working families. We had two keys – they received a subsidy for rent based on their ability to pay, but they had to plan, budget, get financially educated working with a social worker and attending required training programs. Our homeless clients had to be responsible for rent and utilities up to 30% of their income, which is threshold for housing risk. Another key is we measured success. Success to us is being housed on their own without help after two  years.

As a community and country, we need to better identify what we mean by success in our help for people in need. Also, are things like healthcare a right? Is food on the table a right? Is a roof over the head a right? What we need is better measurement of what we spend and how it helps. It actually is cheaper to provide housing to chronic homeless and partially-subsidized housing to those who are more acutely homeless (due to loss of job, reduction in hours,  loss of healthcare, problems with car, predatory lending on a car, etc.) than let them go to the ER or commit petty crimes and be jailed. People should know all homeless are not alike, so the remedies to help need to vary.

My former party likes to argue off the extreme anecdotes – the significant majority of people do not cheat the system, but the perceived thinking of such is much higher in Republican ranks. When I have spoken to church groups, chamber groups, rotary clubs, United Way campaigns, etc., I come across this bias which is firmly believed. Just last month, the US president announced curtailing a rule on food stamps which will put 3 million people at risk, as one man was able to purposefully game the system. Yes, there is a small percentage of folks that do that, but the significant majority do not.

What people like David Brooks, a conservative pundit, tout is a dialogue on what kind of country do we wish to be? Our economy is a fettered capitalist model, with socialist underpinnings to help people in need and keep people out of poverty. What is the right balance? Is it better to pay a much higher minimum wage or have a higher earned income tax credit, e.g. Is it better to have a Medicare for All system, subsidize those in need or have a free market system only? A factor in this decision is many employers now employ a larger part-time or contractual workforce (the gig economy) to forego having to provide benefits. This is especially true in retail and restaurant industries.

At the end of the day, Gandhi said it best – a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate. With so great a disparity in the haves/ have nots in our country, I can tell you we are out of whack as our middle class has declined and far more of them fell into a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. Ironically, even in the age of Trump promises, we have many people who do not realize they are voting against their economic interests. Doing away with the ACA and not expanding Medicaid are very harmful to rural areas, e.g.

So, I agree with Gandhi, Lupton, and Brooks that we need to help people, but decide what is the best way. We should measure things and adjust them when they get out of whack. It is hard to fix what you do not measure. The group I was involved with would alter its model, if the numbers showed less success than hoped. What I do know is over 80% of the people we helped are still housed on their own after two years of leaving the program. In other words, they live without a subsidy.

Finally, what we need most is for politicians to check their tribal egos at the door when they enter the room. Having been a member of both parties, each party has some good ideas, but both have some bad ones, too. I do not care what a person’s party preference is or if he or she is more conservative or liberal than me  (I am fiscally conservative and socially progressive), we need to use facts and data to make informed choices. And, continue to measure the results making modifications, if needed.

Dilemma

After his death, a second amendment supporter, leaves a message on gun violence

The following posthumous editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer on August 6, 2019. It speaks for itself.

“Larry Swenberg died of ALS this spring, a few months before gunmen killed 29 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Swenberg, a retired doctor of veterinary medicine in Durham, was a gun owner and avid hunter, but he was horrified at mass shootings inflicted by assault-style weapons. His wife, Gwen, sent us this op-ed from her husband last week, before Dayton and El Paso. One of his last wishes, she said, was to leave a message for his fellow Second Amendment supporters — and all of us.:

I am a 73 year-old retired doctor of veterinary medicine and a political independent who is neither a politician nor a Washington insider, but a citizen pleading to stop the carnage of assault weapons. I am a former hunter, recreational shooter, current gun owner, supporter of the Second Amendment, but never an NRA contributor.
In my plea for sanity, I prioritize assault weapons because of their availability and their ability to produce mass carnage. In the wake of a mass shooting in New Zealand committed with an assault weapon, it took five days for the country to ban the weapon. Our country’s ban expired in 2004, and the gun lobby and the NRA has spent millions to buy its continued extinction.

If your goal is to kill the greatest number in the shortest time, this is the weapon of choice. Many cry foul here, saying it is the shooter, not the weapon that is the problem. If you honestly prioritize human life over personal desire, then you must acknowledge the risk of assault weapons in the wrong hands as responsible for oft repeated slaughter of the innocent.

The NRA’s seven-million-dollar senator, Richard Burr of North Carolina, blithely maintains a ban would infringe on Second Amendment personal freedom. Are speed limits a similar infringement? This attitude reflects a disconnect which is mind numbing. This character flaw is common among politicians and America’s gun-owning public. People who fail to see blood on their hands for their inaction do so because guilt for their acts of omission is simply not a quality of their character.

The High Court has affirmed the congressional right to regulate firearms. Therefore the belief that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own an assault rifle is wrong. If politicians past and present had any integrity and not just self-interest, poor judgment or a lack of conscience, we would not have the cumulative carnage of assault weapons we presently have. Had Congress recognized its sin of omission and sought penance through action, we would not have the empty solace of our collective thoughts and prayers.

Think about this when you sit in a church pew, go to work, or enjoy hobbies: we all have the blood of omission on our hands, despite those who live in denial. So long as assault weapons are available publicly, the pathologically demented will use them to massacre the most numbers in the shortest time.

An author whose name I don’t recall wrote a person’s god is that to which ultimate allegiance is given – money, fame, power, etc. if you prioritize the petty position of a firearms over public safety, then your god is a gun no matter how many hours you sit in a church or bow to Mecca. You then are a first order hypocrite and must simply own this fact. It is a tragedy some people feel a felony must be committed to protect the public’s safety.

An assault weapons ban will not solve America’s gun violence but it would stop mass carnage in minimal time. Demand nothing less of Congress and the White House.”

 

 

Rainy days and Mondays, especially today, get me down

Karen Carpenter sang “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” This weekend was a yet another sad chapter in America’s history. Plus, we learned 31 people died in a ferry capsizing in the Philippines. In California, an eroding cliff collapsed next to the shore killing three. And, Russia and China are coming down hard on protestors. These are signals.

In America, we have decided we cannot do anything to stop mass gun shootings. We have decided the politics are too hard to do the needed things that would help. We could start by acknowledging that we average 100+ gun deaths a day even without the mass shootings. Many of those deaths are suicides. Some of them are accidental shootings of kids who find a gun in the house. And, some of the homicides are due to mental health issues, lack of civil discourse, hate crimes, or drug crimes. The common thread is access to a weapon without better governance.

Yes, we must act on these signals. We must call hate speech on the carpet, especially if it comes from someone who is in a position of leadership. Dog whistle racism and xenophobia are fuel to a fire for some extreme thinkers. The ones who want status quo in gun laws will say “now is not the time” for change to gun governance. Apparently, “never is the time.” The ones who want status quo will say “that change would not solve this instance.” Yet, doing nothing at all is not solving much.

There are things we can do that, in sum, will help make a difference. If it saves a few lives, that is good. I want politicians to get in a room and I want them to check their politics. I do not care who wins and loses a political game, but it is obvious the dead people and their families are losing. It amazes me how little we did after Sandy Hook. We even had a conservative shock jock say for years Sandy Hook was not real. He is on trial for his hateful rhetoric for the damage he has caused to Sandy Hook families and should be.

The Philippines tragedy is terrible, but not getting much play here. It seems we don’t pay attention like we should when the weather sends us signals. Overloading ferries can be OK in calm waters, but it is a disaster when waters are rough, especially after two earlier ferries had issues. I think failing to heed signals causes far too many deaths. Here in the US, we are whistling past the graveyard in preface to the next infrastructure collapse. Around the world, we have signals telling us to plan ahead on eroding seashores, increasing floods with stalled and repetitive storm systems, increasing droughts in other areas and elongated and bigger forest fires. We need to act on these signals.

In Russia and China, the signals are telling us that we must not be like that. Civil protest is more than fine, yet we must emphasize the word civil. Yet, a regime that crushes the spirit of those who question things, is one that is sowing more seeds of discord, not fewer. A regime that squelches and controls the media is not one that wants to hear the truth. I am watching the mini-series called “The Loudest Voice,” about Roger Ailes and his creation of Fox News. He purposefully controlled what and how things were said, that he started believing his own BS.

Truth matters. Facts matter. Diligent preparation in the face of those facts matter. When people ignore problems, white-wash or deny the truth, and squash those who are trying to tell you those things, the future is hamstrung. As I say often, I do not care what people’s politics are, as usually they are a mixed bag like me, conservative on some things, progressive on others. What I do care about is when people ignore or massage the facts to make their tribe win. I a more concerned about the people who die, who struggle, who become infirmed, who are jailed inappropriately, etc. That is what our leaders should be concerned about and not spreading fear, hate and division to win an election.

 

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina ACA premium rate cut request

Earlier this week, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) has announced a request of a premium rate cut for the second year in a row under the Affordable Care Act. They announced a request of a 5.2% rate reduction for their 435,000 members and one of 3.3% for small businesses in the state. It would have been three years in a row, but as I mentioned in earlier blogs, the Trump decision to renege on paying insurers for absorbing co-pays and deductibles for people making less than 2 1/2 x poverty limit caused premiums to increase for all.

This shows the ACA is stabilizing for insurance carriers who have been at it a few years. It would be nice to get more carriers back in for members to have choices. Many left when the Senate, led by the GOP defunded the risk corrider payments to the tune of 89% of the adverse selection cost. These carriers left the markets with the US government owing them money.

These two efforts to dampen the ACA have gone largely unreported. But, there is one more which is critical that impacts premiums and threatens the entire ACA. The tax bill passed by the GOP led Congress eliminating an unpopular feature of the ACA, which required individual coverage. It was called the individual mandate. By obligating people to have coverage, it lessened the risk on the insurers which will keep premiums lower than they would be otherwise.

Here is what BCBSNC said in their announcement as reported by The Charlotte Observer.

“The rate of decrease requested for 2019 would have been larger, the company told the Observer in 201, if the GOP tax reform legislation signed by President Donald Trump hadn’t repealed the ACA’s individual health insurance mandate.”

Further, several GOP led-states are suing the federal government to rule the ACA unconstitutional due to the elimination of the mandate. The tax laws are complex, but it is going to end up at the Supreme Court. It is thought by experts this case is weak, but the Trump Justice Department has decided to not defend the law which helps so many. Ironically, this is happening as it stabilizes even more, the GOP lost seats because of their ham-handed efforts to repeal it and when some Democrats want Medicare-for-all.

Independent comment pushing back on “A false narrative links the GOP and racism”

An editorial appeared in my local paper called “A false narrative links the GOP and racism” by J. Peder Zane. I will let you find the article on your own, but the premise is to say Democrats have cried wolf on racist remarks for a long time, in his attempt to defend the indefensible. So, the accusations on the current president are just more of the same in Zane’s view.  Here is my email to Mr. Zane pushing back on this premise.

Dear Mr. Zane,

I read with interest your editorial published today in The Charlotte Observer. As a 60 year old white man from the south and an independent and former Republican voter, I disagree with your premise. I know dog whistle racism when I hear and see it and, while your coin of phrase “yellow dogs” being the only ones hearing it is clever, it is offensive. Nixon used it as part of his southern strategy and I saw Jesse Helms use it recurringly in its most artistic form. And, three years ago, I equated Donald Trump’s campaign comments with George Wallace and his racist remarks. This is not a new phenomenon.

To be frank, I have grown weary of my former party’s leaders defending a retreating line in the sand of indefensible behavior by the person who occupies the White House. I have shared such concerns often with my two and other Senators pleading with them to condemn the latest set of the president’s behavior, tweets or remarks. I also ask them, what will they have to defend next week? We are better than this. And, our leaders must be our better angels, not our worst.

But, don’t take my word for it. Leaders in Sweden, Germany, UK, Ireland, EU, New Zealand and Scotland have condemned his racist  remarks toward the gang of four. Yet, let me close with a quote form a Texas judge from an article in The Washington Post in response to his racist remarks and doubling down on them earlier this month.

“A former top Texas judge says she has left the Republican Party over President Trump, after his racist tweet telling four congresswomen to ‘go back’ to where they came from.
Elsa Alcala joins a small group of conservatives alienated by Trump’s remarks as most of the Republican Party sticks with the president — including through his latest attacks on Democratic representatives of color, three of whom were born in the United States.
‘Even accepting that Trump has had some successes (and I believe these are few), at his core, his ideology is racism,’ the 55-year-old retired judge wrote Monday in a Facebook post. ‘To me, nothing positive about him could absolve him of his rotten core.’”

I realize you are a popular conservative-bent editorialist, but so are George Will, David Brooks, Michael Gerson, Erik Erickson and others who have pushed back on this president and his behavior and words. So, I will ask you the same question I have also asked GOP Senators – is this the man you want to spend your dear reputation on? These conservative-bent editorialists have said no.

Keith Wilson
Charlotte