Family reunions bring out the old stories

My wife, sister and I met my brother at a large family reunion this weekend. The annual gathering is of descendents of my mother’s maternal grandparents who had eleven of their fourteen children survive to adulthood. This is the first time we have gone in many years and is the first one after my mother passed. To top it off, the three of us stopped at the home of family friends who went to college with my parents.

The old stories were wonderful to hear, many which were new to our ears. Here are a few highlights beginning with a couple we shared about our grandparents.

– My grandmother worked for a retail store overseeing the men’s and boy’s departments. When the CEO of the company visited, he was given a tour by the store manager for whom my grandmother worked for years. The CEO borrowed her pen and then put it in his pocket. She said “Sir, that is my pen; my boss is too cheap to buy us any pens. So, if you want any sales, you may want to give it back.”

– My step-grandfather would take us fishing leaving around 5 am. My Great Uncle would follow my grandfather’s truck and boat trailer with his. One morning my grandfather had to stop suddenly and my Uncle smashed into and crumpled my grandfather’s boat – we still fished, but had to rent a boat.

– One of the second cousins (the family was so large, the older children’s grandchildren were contemporaries of the younger children’s children) told a story about listening under the porch while her mother, grandmother and great grandmother sewed on the porch – it was too hot to be inside, so she heard all the gossip. Later, she said she helped them with the foot pedals as the sewers were too feeble to manually spin the bobbins of the old sewing machines.

– One of my mother’s cousins confirmed a story that my mother shared as her memory was fading. The cousin shared that she and another cousin hid in the backseat of the car in which my father and mother drove off to their honeymoon from the wedding reception. After a couple of miles the two culprits surprised the young newlyweds and they had to drive them back. As I told the confirmed story to my table, the wife of another cousin shared that she sang at my parent’s wedding. She recalled singing “Whither thou goest.”

– I confirmed with a couple of my mother’s cousins, that her younger sister was similar to Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” taking up for my mother when she was slighted. She was deemed a tad bossy at that age, but would give you the shirt off her back to help. Ironically, she was small in stature, but married a man who was 6’7″ making the oddest of pairs.

– The best reunion story relayed a piece of advice from the lone childless couple to his niece who shared it with us. He said don’t put everything off; go out and live. He lamented they have money and time as  retirees, but cannot travel. So, the niece said each time they felt they were saving too much for later, they remembered these words and went on a trip. This was voted the best story.

– My grandmother’s younger brother liked to do gymnastics. When a boy, he fell snd knocked out his two fronf teeth. Their mother, who was like a local nurse, sat him down and soaked a towel iin boiling water.  She let it cool a little and told him ti put that in his mouth as hot as he could stand it and his gums swelled. She then shoved his cleaned up teeth into the swollen gums and they held the teeth. To have that presence of mind is amazing.

– At the later gathering with my parents’ college friends, who we have known for years, they shared how hard they had to work at their college work study program. The two guys worked on a sawmill crew, where they took down trees for several days a week, loaded and trucked them back to the mill the next few days, then sawed them up later in the week. The women worked in the cafeteria, laundry and sewing areas. The work was hard, but it was the only way they could afford college.

I hope you enjoyed these vignettes. What are some of your memories of your older relatives?

Note: Looking over a photo of ten of the siblings, one of the cousins noted the older female siblings were much more conservative in dress, pointing to the closed toed and shorter heels. The younger female siblings had more stylish clothes along with open-toed and higher heels.

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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.

The art of exaggeration

The following are paraphrases of actual quotes from a person known to exaggerate and even prevaricate. A famous comedian from the same area as this person noted three years ago that this was “schtick” used to improve your image.

  • I am the least racist person in the world,
  • I am a stable genius.
  • I know more about taxes than anyone in the history of taxes.
  • They love me in England.
  • My gut is smarter than an expert’s brain.
  • No one has treated Black people better than me.
  • African-American people love the job I’m doing.

These are just top of mind from a longer list of exaggerations. Often, these are said following scrutiny that he has brought om himself.

This last point is important as I have said repeatedly this person is his own worst enemy. Through exaggeration and prevarication, he is the biggest purveyor of fake news by far. Even when the news is good, he must make it better or the “best.” Things he must change are “disasters.”

Yet, exaggerating and lying is bad enough, in and of themselves, but become  far more serious when policy is set off one of the two. Here are some real examples that should concern us all.

  • He said eliminating the subsidy to insurers under the Affordable Care Act to repay them for co-pays/ deductibles they absorbed for people making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty limit would only effect their profits – this is not true, as the CBO said it would increase the US deficit by $10 billion per annum and increased premiums for all members.
  • He said the illegal immigrants were taking all the jobs and are the reason for the malaise in certain areas – this is a gross exaggeration, as the primary reason for job loss is technology gains and CEOs chasing cheaper profits by offshoring manufacturing plants.
  • He said to reporters in front of the Pakistan PM, the India PM asked him to mediate the conflict in Kashmir – this is not true and statement was made by the India PM within an hour to state “no such request was made” as well as the White House staff going silent on the issue. India is an ally and experts noted this was a slap in their face as Kashmir is hyper-sensitive.
  • He said it is OK to have trade issues with China as we are raking in tariffs from them in our treasury, a statement he has repeated multiple times, including yesterday – while tariffs are being collected, this is a lie that China is paying them; US importers are paying the tariffs and passing much of the cost to US consumers.

I could go on as there are many examples to choose – he promised a better and cheaper healthcare program than the ACA in the election, but it has yet to materialize, and he is advertising it again for 2020. What is it Mr. President?

Politicians, business people and marketers tend to exaggerate and even lie to sell their message. Yet, the people who track lying say the incumbent has lapped the field. By the way, a key message from the Mueller report is the president is not very truthful and his staff knows it. And, Mueller testified that Trump was “generally” untruthful in his responses to his questions.

Dog whistle racism

My wife suggested that when I use the term dog whistle racism it may not resonate with everyone. In short, it means implying racism without resorting to actual racist words.

“Send her back” is a prime example as countless minority groups of all colors have been told to go back where you came from. Defenders of the president have said he did not say racist remarks, but they did not hear the dog whistle. His remarks were directed at four women of color with non-WASP like names.

Variations of this are “we don’t need your kind around here” or the more innocent version of “where are you from?” It also applies to athletics where black and brown athletes are not defined as “heady athletes” as white athletes are. Even a famous sportscaster said a black quarterback could not be successful because they had to read and react to complex coverages implying blacks could not do so. Times have indeed changed.

Alabama Governor George Wallace was not the forerunner of racism in politics, but he was the face of white supremacy as he stood in the doorway trying to deny entry to young black students. He used dog whistle racism as well as the old fashioned racist rhetoric when he ran for president following the various civil rights movements.

He did not win, but Richard Nixon did using a southern strategy that reeked of dog whistle racism. His purpose was to take advantage of what LBJ feared. LBJ predicted the Democrats would lose the south following his push for the civil and voting rights laws. Ironically, these laws were passed with the help of several Republicans, but that did not matter. Nixon and his strategist Lee Atwater made sure of that.

Scrolling forward, Senator Jesse Helms routinely used dog whistle racism to get elected. But, one of his tougher races was against Harvey Gantt, the first black mayor of Charlotte and first black student at Clemson University. Helms ran commercials that implied racism, one in particular focusing on a pair of black hands as a negative message was spoken.

Dog whistle racism uses code words to imply inferiority or difference. Trump’s attacking four elected women of color denouncing their right to criticize our country is flat wrong. His using more code words to attack Congressman Elijah Cummings also is racist with references to rat infested areas. It should be noted the president had to settle two court cases over discriminatiory rental practices.

Dog whistle or not, we cannot condone and must condemn the president for his racist and xenophobic remarks. Racism is a part of our history, but it represents the worst of our nature. We must guard against it, especially when it comes out of the president’s mouth. We need to hold up our better angels.

India calls out Trump lie

A story that got very little press occurred this week regarding India and Pakistan. It was overshadowed by the Mueller testimony, budget bill and the presidential seal issue, but it was a major faux pas and harmed relations with India, an important ally.

In a HuffPost article by Mary Papenfuss called “India Calls Out Trump Lie That He Was Asked To Mediate Kashmir Conflict,” she spells out what happened.

“President Donald Trump spun a tale in front of reporters Monday that he was personally asked by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, to mediate the Kashmir conflict with Pakistan.Trump raised the issue during a meeting with Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, in the White House while reporters listened.

‘No such request has been made’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the U.S. president, said a spokesman for India’s government, despite what Trump claimed.” It should be noted, the White House would not confirm what Trump said, even before the India PM’s denial.

I caught the tail end of an interview with a US based expert on India on NPR Thursday. He said this was a “damn lie” by Trump as it could not have been close to being accurate. Kashmir is a hotly debated area between the two countries of India and Pakistan for decades. The conflict almost turned into a war only in the past few months. So, it is a powederkeg issue and Trump should have known better than to state such an untruth.

The expert (whose name I did not catch) added that Modi is a nationalist, so he would not seek outside help from a US president or anyone to resolve an issue like this. The fact the White House would not confirm it and India denied it within one hour is very telling.

Quite simply, this is as good a microcosm as any of the modus operandi of Donald J. Trump. It is also indicative of why he is so dangerous to our country and planet. It has been written by multiple sources that he does not take the time to study issues. His briefings have to be made extremely short because of his short attention span and disdain for history and being lectured. He has touted he does not need to know the details, as he has such an incredible gut instinct.

The truth is it does matter. Facts matter. History matters. Knowing what not to say matters. A few well-researched blogging friends and I chat often about Trump’s inability to tell the truth most of the time. We debate on whether he is purposefully lying or is it he lies so often, he does not know where the truth stops and the lies begin. I think it is more the latter, but I also think he lies to distract and defend.

But, think about this particular issue with India. If you were the India prime minister, how would this make you view dealing with the US president? Would the word “untrustworthy” come to mind? So, considering the president’s modus operandi, do you think other world leaders would think of this word? I do, as start out from the basis of not believing a word he says. The odds are in my favor.

Endangering people to win politically is not leadership

One of the sad and scary truths with a president who lies, demeans, denigrates and bullies his critics is his more strident followers believe his rhetoric. A consequence of this stirring up of emotions is it places people who are critical of the president in danger of bodily harm or death.

Let me state this plainly. That is not leadership. It is promoting criminal behavior. It is not becoming of a president or any other legislator or person, for that matter. And, it should not be tolerated regardless of who does it.

Three items of late come to mind. The president stirred up his audience beforehand, but after stretching the truth and taking statements out of context, he had his followers chanting “send her back” in response to his demonizing four elected representatives. And, do not believe a word the president said when he tried to weasel out of responsibility the next day. He knows precisely what he is doing – using racism to divide America to get elected. That is beyond poor form.

It does not stop there. A law enforcement officer in Louisiana said this weekend what Representative Omar needs is a bullet. Really? And, you are in law enforcement. These four Congresswomen are already receiving death threats before the president’s recent racist comments. And, take this to the bank – if there is an attempt to harm any of them, the president will again weasel out of any responsibility.

Finally, we seem to be headed down a path to autocracy. That is scary for our democracy. So, pay attention to what happened in Hong Kong yesterday. Pro-Beijing gangs beat and harmed about 45 pro-democracy demonstrators in a transit center. The police were not used as that would look worse. So, as done on the mainland, gangs of thugs beat dissenters.

Could this happen here? Easily. Has it happened here. Yes, but not on a government sanctioned basis. But, with this “wind-up-the-extremists” president, it only needs Trump to do what he does well  – use lies and half-truths to rile people up.

Finally, to be fair, we do not need Antifa extremists promoting violence either. We do not need people treating others they disagree with like they would not want to be treated. Civil discourse is critical. When people use violence it diminishes their argument and cedes the higher ground. And, legislators please condemn violence, racism, lying and bullying, no matter who does it and that includes the president.

Let me close with the fact multiple global leaders have condemned the US president’s racist remarks – including, but not limited to New Zealand, UK, Ireland, Scotland, EU and Canada. That ireveals Trump’s comments as not exemplary behavior.

Former Judge announces her departure from the GOP due to president’s racist remarks

From today’s The Washington Post, the following are some powerful words from a former Judge who is leaving the Republican Party. This is as succinct as it comes and should be a long overdue clarion call to Republicans regarding the person they continue to rationalize on a weekly basis:

“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.'” 

What will it take for others to come to the same conclusion? A poll said while 68% of all Americans do not approve of the president’s remarks toward the “squad,” only 47% disapprove in the Republican Party. Another poll had Trump’s GOP voter approval increase by 5 points, while it fell by 10 points among Independents and two points in Democrats from a lower starting point.

As I ask GOP Senators on a routine basis, “is this the person you want to spend your dear reputation on?” The defenders do not fully know what will come out of the woodwork nor what he might do or say. At some point, the rationalizing will be hard to come by. They should be well past that point by now.