Letter to the editor – Australian election should be a wake up call for the US conservatives

I sent the following letter to the editor of my newspaper. It may not get printed, but I wanted others to see it and adapt and use it if they like it.

Seeing Australian voters sweep out conservatives after nine years and three prime ministers is telling. A large bloc of women voters grew tired of relative inaction on climate change, lack of assuring soundness of their Medicare and child care, and overall lack of integrity in its elected leaders.

Here in the states, my former Republican party is turning a blind eye to more action on climate change, better gun governance, growing fascism and shoring up the ACA and are attacking voting rights and civil rights. At the same time, overstated and even contrived issues are getting the air time to garner votes from their base.

As conservative pundit Michael Gerson says the “Republican Party is in decay.” I agree. We need a viable Conservative party, but what we have is not on the right path. The truth matters. And, a party that vilifies its truth tellers while glorifying its liars does not have the needed veritas to be considered seriously. I can disagree with the Democrats on policy, but with Republicans I find myself having to argue what is true. That is telling to this independent and former Republican and Democrat voter.

US is the only developed nation where rate of pregnant mother deaths is rising (a reprise from 2015)

The rise in maternal mortality in the United States has been hitting the headlines, especially as it relates to Louisiana leading the way. Senator Bill Cassidy is getting flak, rightfully so, for trying to minimize the problem focusing on taking the African-American mothers out of the equation. Their deaths are an important part of this, but they are only a part, but deserve due diligence as to why just like every other race, income group, ethnic group, etc. We should look to things like – lack of healthcare access, fewer rural hospitals, food deserts and poverty as several of the causes. Yet, this is not a new problem, as I wrote this post seven years ago.

Recently, a very powerful article was written by Danielle Paquette in The Washington Post entitled “Why pregnant women in Mississippi keep dying.” A link to the article follows: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/24/why-pregnant-women-in-mississippi-keep-dying/. While the article focuses its title on Mississippi, that is a metaphor for a national problem. The US is now the only developed nation where the rate of pregnant mother deaths is increasing. In 1987 only 7.2 pregnant women were dying per 100,000 births. That rate has more than doubled in 2013 to 18.5 deaths per 100,000 births. Our maternal death rate in childbirth is 3x the rate in Saudi Arabia and 2x the rate in the UK.

In Mississippi, it is far worse with 54.7 black mothers dying in childbirth out of 100,000 births and 29.3 white mothers dying per 100,000. There a number of reasons cited, but one of the key reasons is that Mississippi has not expanded Medicaid and have over 107,000 people who do not have access to healthcare coverage. Note, other reasons are cited, but not having health care coverage limits access to preventive visits that expectant mothers with care get.

As many know, I have been a broken record for the need to continue and improve the Affordable Care Act, which is working pretty well by a number of studies and has dampened cost increases with the Congressional Budget Office lowering health care projections three times due in part to the ACA. In fact, just yesterday at Congress’ request, the CBO and Joint Committee on Taxation noted that repealing the ACA would increase the deficit by $353 Billion (or $137 Billion when a new dynamic scoring approach is used). This seems to run counter to rhetoric of how harmful the law is. Here is a link to the article: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/obamacare-repeal-would-boost-10-year-deficit-by-dollar353b-cbo/ar-AAbQa2S?ocid=DELLDHP

But, we need to finish the job and completely implement the ACA in about twenty states, such as North Carolina, that have not expanded Medicaid to cover a key tranche of people under the ACA. It is not surprising, these predominantly southern states are seeing the worst child and mother health results. Several reputable health-related foundations (The Commonwealth Fund, Kaiser Family Foundation) and economic think tanks (RAND and Economic Policy Institute) have noted that not expanding Medicaid is actually harmful to people and this is more evidence of that assertion.

Please read these articles and, if you concur these are problems worth doing something about, reach out to your state legislators and US representatives and senators. Ask them to support the continuation of the ACA as the majority of Americans wish to happen. Ask the states who have not expanded Medicaid to do so as they are hurting people, rural hospitals and their own economies in not so doing. These issues are that important as people are the pawns in these political chess games and they bear the brunt of these decisions with their health and lives.

Comedians and Congress

The very astute and funny comedian Sarah Silverman said yesterday on a segment of The View, “Why is it we hold our comedians to a higher standard than our Congressional representatives?” She was responding to the trend for comedians to come under physical attack on stage and verbal abuse online. I want you to re-read the emboldened sentence of hers and let it sink in. Why, indeed?

If that is not enough to stew on, I want you to think of recent and not so recent comments by several members of Congress with names like Taylor-Greene, Cawthorn, Jordan, Gosar, Breitbart, Gohmer, Brooks, Gaetz et al. If that were not enough, fold in comments from folks like Senators Cruz, Paul. etc. Then we have the former president’s comments which take it to an even lower level.

These comedians make their living making fun of uncomfortable topics. Do they cross the line on occasion? Absolutely. Yet, we seem to vilify them more than we do for people who are supposed to represent our better angels as elected officials. I can disagree with a policy position of an elected official and that is OK. Yet, I want them to be respectful of the office they hold.

I disagree with Democrats and Republicans on various issues. I think some Democrats tend to forget we need to pay for things, e.g. But, the names I mention above are all Republican for a reason. They have a strident manner in dealing with opposing arguments. Name calling is not an argument. Parroting conspiracy theories is not an argument. Saying truly inane things does not make you more credible.

It is not ironic that the most touted leader in the world is a former comedian. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine has stood up against the invasion of Russian troops and rallied his country against the onslaught. To be frank, Vladimir Putin did not count on that stance thinking he could steam roll Ukraine in three days. He could not have been more wrong.

When I watch shows that are news centered comedy discussions, the more astute guests tend to be comedians. To be able to make fun of something, you tend to have to know what it is and why it could be funny. In this same vein, one of the best news shows on TV is actually a comedy show – John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.” Invariably, his writers will have an in-depth discussion on issues that do not get air time elsewhere such as predatory tele-evangelists, predatory lending, predatory court fees, et al. Other new sources have actually complimented their efforts.

Since comedians seem to be more knowledgeable, maybe we should do like sports teams do. When an elected official is obviously not up to the challenge, like in a sporting event, let’s just replace him or her with a comedian. In my view, we will be far better off.

Wednesday wanderings in early May

What a great day for a walk about. So, as I walk today my mind will wander on various and sundry topics. In no particular order.

A draft Supreme Court ruling has been leaked which appears Roe v Wade may get overturned. The fact it was leaked may be due to the justices wanting to gauge reaction, which politicians do often. If the justices did this it would be highly disappointing as they need to be above politics. Or, it may be a leak by someone who is troubled by the ruling.

If this draft turns out to be the eventual ruling, some Republicans who voted for the recent judges are feeling betrayed – notably two females in Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Yet, my first reaction was the Republicans who went along with this to garner the vote of evangelicals are now like the dog who caught the bus. My guess is women may rise up and squash them. While I personally would not advocate an abortion, I also support the right for a woman to determine what happens to her body and the limitations that exist provide sufficient governance.

What also frustrates me is measures that reduce abortions are also frowned on by the evangelical crowd. Holistic sex education (which includes abstinence and self-esteem discussions) with birth control approaches and tools being taught and made available, are proven to reduce unwanted pregnancies, reduce poverty and save healthcare costs. What also frustrates me is some people who are so against abortions also are in not in favor of helping people in time of need, not in favor of better gun laws and not in favor of doing something about climate change, water shortages or environmental degradation.

I realize this draft is not official, but I am curious how the justices may react to a groundswell of women who do not like this.

My friend Carol who “leaned in” – a reprise

Although we are two days removed from Women’s History Month, I stumbled onto an old post of eight years ago that tells the true and still ongoing story of my friend Carol, whose decision to change her path forward is an example for us all.

For those of you who follow the wonderful blog called “The Bookshelf of Emily J”  you know that she recently highlighted Sheryl Sandberg’s book called “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.” The post can be found with the attached link: http://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/women-at-work-leaning-in/. After reflecting more on Emily’s post, I decided to tell a story about my friend Carol who during the early part of her career realized she was not doing what she wanted to do and did something about it.

The fact that she realized she was not fulfilling her dream is not the story, as many come to this realization. The story is she did something about it and took a leap of faith back into her dream. Carol had always wanted to be a social worker, but she listened to the counsel of her father and studied something more practical in college that would gain her a better paying career. Unfortunately, he was focused on the economic value of the career and not the psychic value of helping those in need.

So, she got a great education from a wonderful college and embarked on a career with a major electric utility. She was doing very well, but something was missing. She did not know what until she began volunteering with a crisis assistance organization that helped people who were about to be evicted from the homes or have their power shut off. Through this community service, she rediscovered her social worker mindset and calling. So, she sought and discovered opportunity with this agency.

Since she also had the business mindset from her schooling, she was able to leverage her heartfelt desire to help those in need. Eventually, she became the Executive Director of this organization and has successfully led them for many years. Because of her solid reputation, she is also a go-to person for many community efforts or to be a spokesperson on the plight of those in need. She lends her voice to those whose voice cannot be heard.

I like many things about Carol. But, in my dealings with her, she listens to what others have to say and she is comfortable enough in her own skin to change her opinion if you present good arguments. Yet, she is also confident enough to stick to her guns when she feels she is in the right. And, she can sway those who may disagree with her through her intellect and conviction. Many new ideas have been piloted through her involvement, whether directly or indirectly. She is a wonderful partner. There is an old saying about change. When you are looking to have change, make sure you have people on the bus that will help move it forward. You want Carol on that bus.

Carol leaned in early on. She changed the arc of her career to do something she loved. She rediscovered her passion. Yet, she is also someone who you want to work with. That is one of her true gifts. Together, with Carol on board, we can solve many more problems than without her involvement. She is one those “lights” that President George H.W. Bush spoke of so many years ago. Thanks Carol. You are more than one of the lights – you are a gem.

A Proven Three for One Return – an example of reducing poverty, abortions and unwanted pregnancies (a reprise from an earlier post)

The following post was written about seven years ago. Given my past volunteer work for working homeless families, this Colorado study was compelling.

If there was a proven solution that would accomplish three major goals and save money, it would be worth considering, right? If data revealed that a state could save $80 million and dramatically reduce abortions, unwanted pregnancies and help people in poverty, it would be as close to a no-brainer as we could get. Then, why is Colorado’s legislature unwinding funding to an effort to provide birth control and family planning to people in need?

Worldwide and in the US, there is a high correlation between larger family size and poverty. Further, a Harvard study from 1982 – 2011 indicates that one of five reasons for poor socio-economic mobility is fewer traditional families (some Conservatives like to say this is the only reason, but that oversimplifies).

Yet, the use of an obvious toolset with a proven track record does not stand up to the scrutiny of this legislature. Of course, the reason is the fervent belief against birth control even though the significant majority of women ignore their religion on this subject. About 90% of American Catholic women use or have used birth control.

In my work with homeless families, one of the reasons for some young women who find themselves homeless is having children before they are ready or out of wedlock. Also about 30% of our clients are victims of domestic violence. Lacking the additional income of a second parent, not to mention the support of a good one, puts a family in a hole which is hard to climb out of.

Here is where religion is less inclined toward the practical and can be harmful. We need to have holistic open discussions about this topic with teens. It is more than OK to preach abstinence, but these teens are tempted far more than we were at that age, and we were tempted. So, we need to teach a girl’s self-esteem is not tied into relenting to sex, nor is a boy’s for that matter. We need to teach boys that no means no. But, we need to also teach family planning and provide tools of birth control.

We have columnists who tout fatherless families as the reason for poverty in the Black community, which it is one of several. It is a reason no matter the race or ethnic group. Yet they stop short of defining one of the cures, which is noted above and proven to be successful. It should be noted in the states with the lowest abortion rate, they each have more robust family planning effort than states with higher rates.

Let’s be smart and practical about these issues. The data is pretty clear. And, it should be noted using a condom actually reduces STDs and HIV transmission which would be fourth benefit.

Rural Health Care is suffering (and COVID-19 has made it worse)

In an article called “The South’s health care system is crumbling under Covid-19. Enter Tennessee” by Daniel Payne of Politico, the demise of heath care in more rural areas has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

A key reason is the closing of rural and small town hospitals that has severely impacted immediate health care. A key paragraph from this article is telling:

“Of the 50 counties with the highest Covid deaths per capita, 24 are within 40 miles of a hospital that has closed, according to a POLITICO analysis in late January. Nearly all 50 counties were in rural areas. Rural hospital closures have been accelerating, with 181 since 2005 — and over half of those happening since 2015, according to data from the University of North Carolina. But that may be just the beginning. Over 450 rural hospitals are at risk of closure, according to an analysis by the Chartis Group, one of the nation’s largest independent health care advisory firms.”

These hospital closings are not new nor did they just happen. The financial difficulties predate the passage of the Affordable Care Act. In essence, a significant portion of the cost of running these hospitals went toward indigent care, meaning people without insurance. In some cases, it was over 50% and even as high as two-thirds of the hospital budget. This meant some of the revenue may be reimbursed by the local county, but if the county was in financial trouble or this was a private hospital, the hospital was out of luck.

The ACA brought with it the expansion of Medicaid, should a state opt in to cover people. The federal government would reimburse the state those costs for three years and then drop to 90% thereafter. All but fourteen states have so expanded. Per the non-partisan Commonweath Fund, Medicaid expansion helps the state economy, rural health care and the people in those locations. Former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich called Medicaid expansion a “no brainer” when he was governor of Ohio.

And, these hospitals are usually a major employer in these towns. So, when one closes, a lot of revenue leaves the town budget and economy. Belhaven, NC Mayor Adam O’Neil, a Republican, pleaded with the state leaders to expand Medicaid, but to no avail. So, he walked to Washington, DC to plead his case there. It should be noted that North Carolina remains as one of the fourteen states who have not expanded Medicaid.

As a retired benefits consultant, manager and actuary, I know the ACA is not perfect and could use some shoring up. But, a key reason for the ACA is patients need access to care and hospitals need to get paid for services rendered. If a patient has health care insurance, he or she will seek more preventative measures to stave off problems. Plus, he or she will seek care if needed, rather than avoiding it.

All of the above greased the skids for a problematic response to COVID-19. Without hospitals close by, people would forego care until it was too late. Plus, coordination of care with doctors to do triage and offer vaccines is hindered.

The ACA is not perfect, but it has improved access care for many people. I have written before about some suggestions to improve it. Yet, in fourteen states, the ACA still has not been fully implemented and in many of those states, they lag other states on health care results per the Commonwealth Fund. Expansion of Medicaid could be a major step.

https://news.yahoo.com/public-health-disaster-shuttered-hospitals-110000044.html

Why I left the Republican Party

I made the following comment on Jeff’s blog which asked the question why would someone vote Republican? I have made some edits for clarity.

When I left the GOP around 2008 to become an independent, I had three principal reasons:

-the stance on climate change
-the unhealthy embrace with evangelicals and NRA
-the greater propensity to make things up

Republicans would typically see the last one and say both sides lie and they are right. But, it is not a normal distribution, being more heavily weighted to the right. And, in the age of Trump it has only gotten worse. I can argue policy with Democrats, but with Republicans I have to correct their misinformation (and sometimes disinformation).

I said this about ten years ago, but most Republicans are voting against their economic interests and have no idea they are. Poverty is not restricted to urban areas nor is it restricted to non-white voters, with more people in poverty being white. As an example, if the ACA was done away with, Republican voters would be harmed in great numbers. A picture pairing two sets of GOP voters speaks volumes. Note the picture refers to a wealthy GOP donor thanking the less wealthy and educated GOP voter who has been lured in by a values proposition.

And, what I find funny is the GOP is making such a big deal out of election protections based on the Big Lie perpetuated by Trump and his sycophants. Looking back to the Voter ID and gerrymandering bills that got passed in state legislatures since 2010, the GOP cheats far more than the Democrats do, although they both are prone to game the system. I have witnessed this first-hand in North Carolina with laws that were deemed unconstitutional and then rewritten to a retreating line in the sand level of acceptable cheating.

Yet, the issues that concern me are not getting enough airplay, as the focus is on perceived value propositions. If people are concerned about climate change, please do not vote Republican. If people are concerned with civil rights, please do not vote Republican. If people are concerned with healthcare access, please do not vote Republican. If people are concerned about voting rights, please do not vote Republican. If people are concerned with the environment, please do not vote Republican.

My former party used to tout being the party of values, law and order and fiscal responsibility. They do not check any of these boxes anymore. Lying is not a value. Rationalizing an insurrection caused by a Republican president is not lawful. And, increasing the debt and deficit just as much as Democrats do is hypocritical. But, in short, when the truth tellers are vilified and the liars are aggrandized in the party, that shows the party is untethered to the truth.

Democrats are not perfect, but I do not see the same level of lying and malevolence as I do under the GOP. Until the party leaders are told the truth matters and held to account, this won’t change. We must make them rethink this. Some of my Democrat friends disagree with this statement, but we do need a viable Republican party. What we don’t need is whatever this thing masquerading as the Republican party is. Truth must matter.

Minimum wage continues to increase in many places

The minimum wage continues to rise in a number of places. Effective next year,81 jurisdictions will see tangible increase to amounts already above the nationwide minimum wage. Per a USA Today article yesterday called “Minimum wage is about to rise in 21 states, 35 localities as more embrace $15 an hour,” the national minimum is of less importance in more places.

A few paragraphs from the piece follows, with a link to the entire article below:

Twenty-one states and 35 cities and counties are set to raise their minimum wages on or about New Year’s Day, according to a report provided exclusively to USA TODAY by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a worker advocacy group.

Base hourly pay will climb from $11 to $12 in Illinois; from $9.25 to $10.50 in Delaware; from $9.50 to $11 in Virginia; from $12 to $13 for most workers in New Jersey; and from $10.50 to $11.50 in New Mexico.

Since some governments will act later in the year, a total of 25 states and 56 localities – a record 81 jurisdictions – will lift their pay floors sometime in 2022, according to NELP….

Besides California and New York, nine states are headed to a $15 pay base over the next four years – Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Virginia. They’ll join 50 localities at or on the way to $15, including Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

All told, by 2026, about 40% of the U.S. workforce will be covered by $15 minimum wage mandates, NELP figures show.

Separately, at least 100 or so mostly large companies already have raised their pay floors to $15 or higher, including Best Buy, Costco, Wayfair, The Container Store and Southwest Airlines, according to the NELP study.”  

With living wages for individuals, two-person and greater families at a higher rate than the national minimum wage, it is good to see these jurisdictions and employers recognize this. Right now, retailers, restaurants, customer service jobs are available. Just check out the signs for hire when you walk in the door. People have been voting with their feet doing other jobs instead. Some have decided to do a compilation of independent contractor jobs to get by, rather than work on someone else’s schedule.

Having worked as a volunteer to help working homeless families, these wages increases are good to see. Too many of our clients were working at insufficient wages at multiple jobs to meet the rent demands. The demand for workers is also good to see as people will have more choices. With any job, but especially a customer facing one, do yourself a favor and make yourself valuable. Do these things and you will see some success – show up, show up on time and show up dressed with a helpful attitude.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/minimum-wage-is-about-to-rise-in-21-states-35-localities-as-more-embrace-15-an-hour/ar-AARYykL?ocid=msedgntp

Imperfect American hero dies at age 98 – Bob Dole

In an article in Yahoo! Finance called “Bob Dole dies at 98, leaving lasting legacies on Social Security and food assistance,” by Bob Werschkul, the following brief obituary can be found:

“Bob Dole, a former Senate majority leader who unsuccessfully ran for president against Bill Clinton, died Sunday. He was 98 years old. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth Dole, who was also a U.S. senator, and a daughter, Robin, from a previous marriage.

One of the giants of American politics in the 20th century, Dole will be remembered for his heroism in World War II, his time as Senate Majority Leader, his 1996 run for president, and even his unlikely turn in a commercial for the maker of Viagra.

But perhaps two of his most enduring legacies on American life came earlier in his nearly 50-year-long career in public office. As a U.S. Senator, Dole was at the center of deals on the Social Security program and on food stamps (now known as SNAP) that have left lasting imprints on how Americans interact with these two programs.

In his memoir, “One Soldier’s Story,” Dole wrote that when he is asked about the accomplishments in the Senate he is most proud of, his ‘answer sometimes surprises people’ — he listed Social Security as his top answer alongside passing the Americans with Disabilities act, a civil rights law that prevents discrimination based on disability.”

I recognize fully that some folks may not appreciate Dole for some of his other stances, but even progressives should note his pride and help in getting three major pieces of legislation enacted that impact so many lives. Even without his legislative accomplishments, Dole served in the Army and survived World War II when many thought he would not. He was awarded a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts for his courage and physical punishment that lasted the rest of his 98 years.

I was telling a retired neurosurgeon yesterday about Dole’s push for better access to healthcare. This neurosurgeon is among a national group of doctors pushing for Medicare for All. As we discussed the Affordable Care Act, I mentioned there are elements therein of Dole’s healthcare plans he was pushing in his 1996 presidential campaign. Some of these elements also found their way into Romneycare in Massachusetts, to which the ACA has similarities.

So, think about this legacy. Social Security, SNAP, the Americans with Disabilities Act and some elements of the ACA. But, of course, today we have more strident tribal politics, which flavor way too many things. What many folks need to better understand today is there is not one politician who will say and do things you agree with 100%. Nor should it be. This is a lot like all relationships.

We need to avoid taking people’s head off when they don’t agree with you. There is an old line that applies to any organization – be diplomatic when people disagree with you, as they may have supported your idea in the past and may very well in the future. Dole was imperfect, but he knew this. We should as well.