Replacing bad habits with good ones

I was reading a post by M.L.Davis at the suggestion of our friend Roger of Woebegone regarding good things that happen when you make writing a habit. I have included a link to her blog below. As I mentioned to her, it reminded me of a book my niece suggested for me when I was discussing breaking a bad habit of mine called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. I wrote a summary about the book in the link below.

Many of my older readers know that I am an alcoholic. But, I have not had a drink in going on twelve years. A blog I wrote on my sixth anniversary remains by far my most frequented blog (link provided below). I think we all suffer from a bad habit or two that we would love to change. I believe that is the reason for the post’s relative popularity. My reasons for change were the wife of a colleague dying from complications from alcoholism and the recognition I was a train wreck waiting to happen.

The best piece of advice I received came from another colleague as we waited in an airport restaurant/ bar for our planes in Cincinnati. When she noticed me not ordering a drink early on in my sobriety, she said her husband went through this. She then said he used the mantra “I am not going to drink today.” There is a reason alcoholics can count the days of sobriety. It is a daily struggle.

Even today, there is a faint whisper of wanting a drink. It usually occurs during certain trigger moments, which Duhigg references in his book. My greater triggers were getting home from work and grilling out on Sunday. Unwinding from a stressful day sent me down an easy path to drinking. And, watching football or golf, while starting the grill became a cue for Happy Hour.

Recognizing these triggers is a way to change the habit. You have to substitute a good habit for the bad one. My good ones were fruit juices, popsicles, and tonic water. The alcoholic brain craves something sweet, so this allowed me to respond to the craving. Non-alcoholic beer helped some, but those added more calories than I wanted.

Regardless of your bad habit, identify its triggers and what happens next. I recall from the book about a worker who snacked too much at work. His cue was going to the restroom that took him past the breakroom. When he realized this, he changed his route and went for a quick walk.

The book is a good read. The attached post does highlight a few examples and teachings, but falls short of what Duhigg’s writings instruct. And, if you are an alcoholic or know someone, please offer the final link below. I have heard good feedback on it as I share what helped me with my problem.

4 Things That Happen When You Make Writing a Habit

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/the-power-of-habit/

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

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Keep these trends in the back of your mind

It is easy to get distracted with today’s news, where “he said what about that” gets way too much press. Here are few other trends that we should keep in the back of our minds. Some are more pressing than others:

  • Drug companies make money by inventing a recurring need and marketing a drug you need to take the rest of your life. Mind you, there are plenty of good reasons to invent new drugs to help, but there are a series of runaway trains being advertised daily. One trend I noticed is the “add-on” drug. What I mean by this is you may be taking a recurring drug for a condition that works just fine. But, the company or even another company comes up with a supplemental drug that makes that drug a little better. Or, in the case of opioids causing constipation, there is a drug to help you with that. Suggestion: Speak with your doctor and do some research.
  • Your data will never be fully protected and safe online. We should do everything in our power to limit what is out there, but hackers are way too sophisticated and diligent. I applaud the security folks greatly, as they are tasked with a hard job. And, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, some apps like Facebook make money selling access to your information. Unless they change that model, your data will be exposed. Suggestion: Know what data you have out there and decide if you want to limit any of it. Do not use wi-fi in public places to do sensitive financial transactions (banking, credit cards, etc.). A security person said using a hotel’s wi-fi is like picking up a croissant off the floor and eating it. Change your passwords every so often, but make sure you can remember them.
  • Bottled water is a threat to our environment and your wallet. There are floating islands of plastic in the ocean as big as some states. If you must buy water, then recycle. Then there is that cost thing. Much cheaper is buying a filtered water pitcher and keeping it filled in the refrigerator. Some major named water sellers simple use purified tap water with additives. So, why not cut out the middle man. Suggestion: Check out how much you spend on bottled water or even soft drinks each month. Filtered refrigerated water (either from your door or pitcher) will save you money and the environment. Plus, if you reduce the number of soft drinks by drinking water, it will do the above, plus improve your health.
  • An authoritarian type leader tends to use a lot of false bravado. It is my view that the amount of bravado is highly correlated with the amount of lying. Think Trump, al Assad, Putin, Kim, Duterte, Maduro, etc. Suggestion:  Take everything said by these people with a grain of salt. I assume their comments are untrue and work back from there. Plus, do your homework and don’t be made out to be a fool. As Mark Twain said, “It is easier to fool someone than to convince them he has been fooled.”
  • Speaking of correlation, larger family sizes are highly correlated with a propensity toward poverty (this one is not just my impression). I read again this morning the solution to poverty is smaller family sizes, yet the source also denies the need for family planning funding. Another variation is there are too many single parent families. Again, family planning helps, but also marriage counseling with 1/2 of marriages ending in divorce. Suggestion: We need to avoid stating obvious problems as if that statement will solve them. We must do something about the problems. Data reveals states that have robust family planning funding have fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer healthcare costs, fewer STDs and less poverty.

What are some trends you are seeing? Please offer a suggestion as well.

Messers. Trump and Pruitt – it is the Environmental Protection Agency

Almost one year ago, the President of the United States announced a plan to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord making the US a very isolated country on the world stage. That announcement both betrays and galvanizes further the significant efforts and science behind America’s push toward renewable energy and conservation.

Yet, that is only part of the attack by this administration on our home planet. Under the tutelage of Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency, has decided to have an all out war on science and the environment. The orchestrated removal of climate change science data accessible by the EPA website and the repositioning, demotion or firing of some scientists, is indicative of a parent wanting to mask the fact they do drugs from their kids.

Pruitt has also tried successfully and unsuccessfully to let companies pollute waterways and the environment with fewer repercussions. The fact we have a global water shortage is irrelevant. He has also championed the ability for industry to question the EPA’s data. That may sound good, but industry has challenged data for years and, as a country, we do not adhere to the Precautionary Principle.

This principle states that if it is believed an industry is polluting the environment, then they must prove they are not before going further. In the US, industry has to be proven they wronged people many years after the fact. The reason Erin Brockovich is so famous is it is rare to win against industry. The sad part is people have died or been made ill by then. The Pruitt change is to let industry cherry pick data more easily. I should note the flame retardant industry used a study that had nothing to do with that issue to show the retardants were safe – it was proven they cause cancer in firefighters, toddlers and mothers.

Last week, a new report came out that noted the Outer Banks of North Carolina will be the hardest hit region by rising tides by the end of the century. Yet, the report eliminated any reference to man’s influence of climate change. It should be noted a few years earlier, the NC General Assembly refused to accept a similar finding, but paid for a report that used the past 100 years sea level increase as a guide for the future showing an increase of 8 inches versus 39 inches per the scientists. Apparently, that report has been proven faulty.

Finally, a report by the United Nations has estimated the failure to address climate change will cost the world $100 trillion in US dollars. Some have cried foul over this number, but I would add a study sanctioned by the world’s largest pension scheme (plan) investors in 2010 estimated the cost of repairing climate change problems in the $10 trillion to $20 trillion range. The key word in both is trillion.

We should recognize these numbers are guesses backed by science and some rationale. I would quibble less if the numbers are toward either end and focus on the observation that doing nothing will cost money and a lot of it. Hurricanes are more severe now when they hit shore from elevated sea levels. The costs to fix the damage run in the tens to hundreds of billions range. When you multiple just the hurricanes by these cost fixes, then one can see how the numbers can rise.

If that does not scare, there is a new term that should called “sunny day flooding.” These are days when high tides flood the streets of coastal cities when no storm is present. These days are increasing significantly in places like Miami, Hampton Roads, Charleston, New Orleans, etc. In the next fifteen to twenty years, some of these cities may have fewer non-flooding days than flooding ones.

So, Messers. Trump and Pruitt, you can choose to play ostrich all you want, but the people that care about our home need to move forward. It would be nice if you were an enabler rather than a blocker.

This zero-sum discourse needs to stop

What does zero-sum discourse mean? It means framing topics in terms of who wins and who loses. I fault politicians, pundits and reporters for this mindset. This mindset preceded the current White House incumbent, but he views most everything through a very short-term transactional lens. Did I win?

The dilemma in discussing who wins and loses on actions, speeches or tweets is it takes the focus away from the issues. Does this decision help or hurt the people, environment or region?

I heard a news discussion on whether the US pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal helps or hurts Trump’s image? That is the wrong question among many better questions. Does it make the US safer? Does it make the world safer? Are we harming our relationships with our allies? Are we making a fact based decision as other leaders are questioning the veracity of this decision? And, so on.

Whether it is healthcare, debt, taxes, environment, financial protection, etc., I do not care who wins or loses politically. When people care too much about winning or losing, I can tell you who gets screwed – it is the people they represent.

Americans want Congress to address healthcare, with the majority saying to fix Obamacare. Instead, the President and leaders in Congress have sabotaged it over the past three years making premiums even higher. They want to see it politically fail while screwing American people.

I am tired of the lack of collaboration. I am tired of the abuse of factual information. And, I am tired of this zero-sum discourse. To be frank, our leaders need to stop trying to keep their job and start doing their job.

Let’s fix the larger gun death problems

Mass shootings are very tragic and heart wrenching. Homicides are also tragic. Yet, the biggest gun problem and another tangible and avoidable problem make up between 60% and 70% of annual gun deaths in America. The lion’s share of gun deaths in America are suicides. Last year, over 23,000 of the 38,000 plus gun deaths were suicides. This ratio is not unusual and tracks pretty well year in and year out.

The other much smaller, but more avoidable gun death problem is accidental shootings. And, tragically the ones doing the shooting or getting killed are children who come across a weapon. To lose a child is the worst nightmare I could possibly imagine. But, to lose one because you did not put away your gun, is even more traumatic. The gun owner has to live with the guilt. While accidental shootings are about 2% of gun deaths, they seem to be ones we should be able to avoid irrespective of one’s fervor for the 2nd Amendment.

After each mass shooting, there is concern registered by kids and parents about not letting this happen again. The people for and against more gun control go into camps with some saying now is not the time, while the others asking when is the time. I must give a huge amount of credit to the Parkland kids and others around the country who are forcing action. But, outside of a little lip service in Washington, nothing tangible happens. They may regret inaction come November.

These past few months, the barest of minimum change was done, but there was the President of the United States speaking before the NRA convention last week. He was the one who taunted Congress representatives for not standing up to the NRA. These were obviously just words, which we should be used to by now. With this said, I do give kudos to Florida who acted a little more demonstrably than DC.

To prevent more suicides, background checks on all sales with elongated waiting periods are needed. Doctors must be permitted to ask patients if there is a gun in the house as the propensity for suicide is much higher than one without. All it takes is an impulse and it is over. We must add more psychologists and counselors to schools. The greater gun risk is a depressed student taking his or her life. And, we should expand Medicaid in the remaining 18 states along with its mental health benefits.

As for the accidental shootings, the majority of states require guns to be locked up at home, but why do not all states have such a requirement? I have shared this before, but I asked my father-in-law to lock up his weapon, as I did not want his grandkids around a loaded weapon. He did so. One idea that has merit is requiring a finger printed trigger, where only the owner can use the weapon.

Please note that none of the above speaks of taking weapons away. These steps would help reduce the number of suicides and accidental shootings. Even if the number is only 100, 500 or 1,000, those are lives saved. Isn’t this what it’s all about?

 

 

I am evidence – real sexual assault cases are lagging

One of the longest running shows on American television is “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit” starring Mariska Hargitay and a terrific ensemble cast. The SVU investigates and hopefully solves heinous sex crimes in New York City. Unfortunately, real life SVUs are woefully understaffed, underfunded and behind.

It is not ironic that Hargitay has co-produced with co-director Trish Adlesic a documentary film called “I am evidence,” which focuses on efforts to remedy a US backlog of over 200,000 untested rape kits. That is not a misprint. The film is co-directed by Geeta Gandbhir and focuses on efforts in Detroit, Cleveland and Los Angeles.

Only eight states require the testing of every rape kit – Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. This boggles my mind as women who have been sexually assaulted and beaten went to great pains to be tested after being raped.

Two of the focal points of the film are Wayne County (Detroit) Prosecutor Kym Worthy and a reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland named Rachel Dissell, who each brought attention to the backlogs in their two cities. With a spotlight on these travesties, gained funding and oversight, they are making huge headway in their local problems. But, it is more than local as many of the DNA samples have revealed serial rapists and repeat offenders  across state lines.

Many of these untested kits are ten years and more overdue. It also became clear by not testing these kits, more woman were raped. One rapist was a truck driver who raped many women across the country for years. And, in one chilling example, one serial rapist would abduct, hold, abuse and kill his victims. When arrested, the police found multiple women’s bodies in his home. One of the victims was able to escape an earlier abduction.

Letting the previous paragraph sink in will likely make you ill. The scarcity of resources is appalling. It also led to a prioritization of cases often based on race and notoriety of the victim. Worthy noted rape kits should be tracked, since these victims went to a lot of effort and remained unclean for hours as they were subject to tissue and semen sampling and verbal examination. One women said she was made to feel guilty as she answered questions – why were you there at that time, eg?

Worthy noted “If you can track a package when you order something from Amazon, then certainly you should be able to track a victim’s rape kit through the criminal justice system.” Is that too much to ask?

The good news is the progress that is being made. It is never too late and it goes without saying lives are being saved, some dignity restored to the victims and future rapes can be avoided. Please download “I am evidence,” and watch this important film. We owe it to the current and potential victims. And, as one oversight committee member noted, the success rate on testing the kits made every dime well spent as the DNA data leads to convictions and takes a rapist off the streets.

 

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.