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.

Please stabilize the Affordable Care Act NOW to help Americans

A February, 2017 Morning Consult Poll noted that 35% did not know the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Obamacare are the same thing. I want you to think of this poll when you see how Americans feel about the ACA. Today, just under half of American approve of the ACA, but that is in part due to the above and the fact more progressive Democrats want a Medicare-for-All replacement.

I wrote the following post a few months back as I am of the opinion Democrats and Republicans need to stabilize the ACA now and explore a few changes on a measured basis. As I wrote this, I call politics on the carpet for causing some of this mess, but everyone needs to check their egos and zero-sum games and fix the problems which are fixable. They also need to drop the BS lawsuits that are asking to rule the ACA unconstitutional again, when the group making the request changed a feature to further this mission. That is like ripping an engine off the plane and blaming the engineer while it is flying.

So for what it is worth, here are my suggestions. I am an Independent voter and retired, but my career included being an actuary, benefits consultant and benefits manager for a Fortune 500 company. I have shared with Senators and Congressional representatives a few thoughts on stabilizing the ACA, something Democrats campaigned on last fall and won in the midterms after the disastrous attempts of the Republicans to clean the slate that fortunately failed.

Medicare-for-All deserves debate, but will require a more elongated and data-driven discussion. We need to have Congress take steps to stabilize the ACA now. To do otherwise, is a disservice to Americans.

Here are my thoughts.
– the GOP sabotaged the ACA in two specific steps which increased premiums even more. They defunded 89% of the risk corridors (for initial adverse selection) driving some insurers out of the market. The other is Trump reneged on reimbursing insurers for copays/ deductibles for people making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty level. My suggestion is to pay insurers what we promised in writing and invite those who left back into the exchanges.*

– I suggest the lowering of the eligibility age for Medicare to age 62 (the age when retirees can first draw Social Security). This could be viewed as a pilot for Medicare-for- All. This action would lower the Medicare premium rate for all and lower the ACA exchange premiums due to the age of those leaving the ACA and joining Medicare. In other words, both the average age of Medicare and the exchanges would be lower, so the actuarial cost per person is less in both.

– Actively encourage the expansion of Medicaid in the remaining states – this will help the economies, healthcare providers and people in those markets. There are now 36 states who have done so. GOP Ohio Governor John Kasich calls Medicaid expansion a “no brainer.” North Carolina is debating this issue, but it needs to move forward with the number of rural hospitals that have closed thus far in the state.

– Finally, where only one option exists in a rural county, offer a Medicare option, again as a pilot. People should have choices.

There are other changes that would help, but this needs a data-driven analysis and not whatever the GOP did in 2017, which was a horrible approach to legislation that resulted in horrible legislation. Had any of the GOP legislation passed to kill the ACA, the GOP would have lost even more seats and we would be talking about a recession coming our way.
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* Please feel free to Google these topics: “Marco Rubio and risk corridors” and Donald “Trump and ACA subsidy decision”. The former caused insurance premiums to increase more than they otherwise would have and some insurance companies left the exchanges with the US government owing them money. The risk corridors were designed to tie insurers over until the initial adverse selection flushed out of the system.

The latter was frustrating because the subsidy helped people in need. Trump untruthfully claimed it will only affect insurer profits, but the carriers committed to the customers to do this under contract. The CBO said this action raised the deficit by $10 billion, since premium subsidies went up to pay for the increased premiums. In my home state of NC, BCBS said before the Trump decision premiums were NOT going to increase. After the decision, the premiums increased 8%.

Saying this in a more succinct way, the GOP screwed American people to win a political argument. Sadly, that is the truth, but very few people know of this. This also is an exemplar of the President’s lying affecting hard-working people. Lying is one thing, but setting policy off lying is another matter altogether.

Note, the ACA is imperfect and complex. Obama was not truthful when he said you could keep your doctor – no new network should make that universal claim. But, it still has not been fully implemented in all the states with those who did not expand Medicaid. But, people need to be fully aware of the sabotaging of the ACA undertaken by the GOP, which I find interesting, as the ACA is largely based on a GOP idea. That is politics for you – you did it, so I must be against it.

Weariness and Frankness

This independent voter is weary of people not addressing the obvious and rationalizing actions and behaviors that are less productive. Having been a member of both parties, a Democrat for about ten years of my early adult life and about twenty years as a Republican, I define myself as fiscally conservative and socially progressive. Both parties have some good ideas, while both have some bad ones.

So, let me be frank with my opinions, built off this foundation.

Democrats can defeat Trump, but they can also lose to him. Please study why George McGovern and Walter Mondale got shellacked in 1972 and 1984 and why Michael Dukakis and John Kerry lost in 1988 and 2004. It is not ironic that winning candidates Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were more moderate Democrats. Democrats cannot beat Trump without Independents and some Republicans. They could start by working now to address shoring up the ACA as they committed to do in the mid-terms and not waiting until 2021. Medicare for All is worth the discussion, but we need to address issues today, especially after the healthcare fiasco the GOP went through in 2017.

With that said, people need to look under the hood as to why more progressive Democrats have a few socialistic ideas. We should not ignore that the US economy is fettered capitalism with some socialist underpinnings. On the top end down, we have rules that govern collusion, monopolies, interlocking boards, insider trading, bankruptcy, etc. and on the bottom end up, we have socialistic programs that offer Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Workers Comp, and unemployment protections. Yet, the reason for their focus is America has a widened disparity between the haves and have nots. The key is to have a good debate as to how we address this disparity, not name-call ideas to win elections. Plus, this discussion must be done in the context of our huge debt and deficit problem (see below).

Seeing a dozen Oregon Republican state lawmakers leave the state to avoid voting for a Carbon Cap and Trade bill should be a clarion call. Cap and Trade used to be a GOP idea, but fossil fuel funders told them not to like it. We are facing a climate change crisis and voters must ask what candidates are going to do about climate change. Let me emphasize I left the GOP twelve years ago in large part due to its stance on climate change. Fortunately, climate change action is not waiting on head-in-the-sand politicians, but could be leveraged by more federal help.

My concerns are exacerbated as not only did the US president announce our withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Accord, he asked the G20 this week to soften language on climate change. It should be noted this is in contrast to his businessman stance, where a few years ago Trump staff requested in writing the Scottish government give them permission to build a sea wall at one of his golf courses to hold back the rising seas due to climate change. The word you are looking for his hypocrisy. The other words are fossil-fuel funding.

An issue not being discussed is rising US debt and deficit. Both parties are to blame. Nonpartisan groups and the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee clearly state this problem cannot be solved with just spending cuts and tax increases – it must have both, as the math will not otherwise work. These groups also note the GOP tax cut in December, 2017 was imprudent. But, Democrat candidates speaking of tax increases to pay for new social programs are being imprudent, as well. We need tax increases and spending cuts to pay for the poor stewardship of their predecessors.

When America forgets its ideals, we become just another country. I hear we must be a nation of laws, but we are treating migrants like chattel and not following due legal process. There is a reason so many attorneys are volunteering their services to migrants. If we are concerned about illegal immigrants, punishing companies that hire them would limit the economic slavery that goes on every day. Yet, we should also recognize that these folks are doing many jobs Americans don’t want. So, a thoughtful, humane and fact-based solution is warranted rather than a political one. Both parties are to blame, but I hold this president to account for making a recurring problem much worse with his words and actions. He reneged on a bipartisan agreement sixteen months ago and the House never took up a bipartisan Senate bill passed in 2013.

Finally, if we are to be a nation of laws, we should be gravely concerned the country is being run like a mafia family. The White House incumbent is clearly making money off the presidency and favoring countries where he sees business growth for his empire. It greatly troubles me that is daughter and son-in-law are serving unvetted and unapproved roles in the White House, because the president values loyalty over competence and experience. Then, comes the lying, bullying and denigration of critics, allies, media, public servants, etc. I have long been concerned over his setting policy off his lies be it climate change, voter fraud, Russian influence, Saudi prince innocence, Iran nuclear deal, the ACA, environmental pollution, and so on.

There is so much more I could write about. We need Americans to pay attention to better news sources, question things, and push back on politicians asking what they intend to do about issues. We need Congress to remember their job of governance. I feel this president is a clear and present danger to our democracy, our planet and even the Republican party. We are a Republic, not a kingdom and certainly not a mafia-ruled domain.

An American hero – Bryan Stevenson

Who is Bryan Stevenson you may be asking yourself? Per Wikipedia:

“Bryan A. Stevenson is an American lawyer, social justice activist, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a clinical professor at New York University School of Law. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, Stevenson has challenged bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system, especially children. He has helped achieve United States Supreme Court decisions that prohibit sentencing children under 18 to death or to life imprisonment without parole.”

He is an American hero who has helped free over numerous death-row prisoners who were wrongly convicted. Some of these people should not have ever come to trial. They were guilty by being Black. The DAs did not bother with ballistics tests, even when later challenged. The juries, judge and prosecutors were almost always white.

Stevenson got a new trial which freed one man who had been on death row for 30 years. Earlier attempts years before failed because a line of DAs would not take the time do a ballistic test. The man has still not received an apology for giving up 30 years of his life for a wrongful conviction.

Per the HBO documentary “True Justice:”

“Stevenson has argued five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including one that resulted in a ban on mandatory sentences of life without parole for children 17 and under. He and the EJI have won reversals, relief or release from prison for more than 135 wrongly condemned death-row inmates.” 

He has now helped establish a Civil Rights museum in Montgomery, AL. Part of this museum includes several shelves of jars of soil gleaned from beneath trees where Black men were lynched. And, there are two monuments for every county in America where lynching occurred. The second monument is for the county to take back to remind us of what evil intent can do. He is strident in his view that the death penalty following a pre-determined trial outcome is a legal way to lynch someone, so he feels it is imperative to link this to the lynchings.

In the HBO documentary, Stevenson noted how we do a terrible job in our country of admitting and learning from our mistakes. Germany has many places where plaques note the atrocitues of Nazism. Here, we try to whitewash history, including the “genocide” of Native Americans, a term which is rarely used, but is apt.

We need more heroes like Stevenson. He is very earnest and speaks with a thoughtful and quiet voice. It is refreshing to see such a man where substance matters over perception.

 

Call me crazy

I hope everyone had a great weekend. We are living in interesting times, some would even use the word “crazy.” Here are a few random thoughts to match the times.

– A real hero is someone like Lori Gilbert Kaye, a 60 year-old woman who lost her life in this weekend’s synagogue shooting. She lost her life because she threw her body in front of the Rabbi. Please share her story rather than the name of the cold-blooded killer, who not only killed her, but shot two others, including an eight year old girl.

– I agreed with the President when he said people need to get vaccinated for measles.. Then, as I read on, he said during the campaign the measles vaccine is linked to autism. When will this man understand that words matter and people do not realize that the significant majority of the words this man says are untruthful ones?

– Speaking of lies, The Washington Post has recorded 10,000 lies by Trump as President. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich defended the President saying he is a businessman and is allowed to exaggerate. Mr. Gingrich, I am a businessman and if someone in business lied like the President, people would not do business with him very long. Further, why did an independent contractor who dealt with Trump companies say “Word on the street is if you do work for Trump, get paid in advance.”

– A recent poll conducted by Opinium said 55% of Brits now feel the 2016 Brexit vote was a bad idea. They have time for another vote, but not if they wait. A fact based process would help, but it would also help here in the states.

– With the advent of market segmentation in all things, including the pseudo-news and now data, we seem to be moving closer to another Robber Baron period. Now, it is so easy to obfuscate voters, they do not know that elected officials are making changes that help the wealthy. What is also unsurprising is how easily more strident groups can be fooled to go along, provided you play to their fears.  Immigration is being sold as the problem, but the main problems are technology and CEOs chasing cheaper labor costs. In Western countries the haves and have-nots are even more divided. Unless something is tangibly done, this bifurcation is unsustainable.

– Finally, it is amazing how little the US leaders talk about our ticking time bomb problems – job retraining as technology kills more jobs, increasing debt, environmental degradation, global water crisis, stabilizing healthcare costs, crumbling infrastructure and climate change. The GOP is running on building a wall, proliferating gun ownerships, restraining abortions and how bad socialization is. Make all candidates answer questions about these ticking time bomb problems. If they cannot, do not vote for them.

Call me crazy, but maybe, just maybe, the ones who are crazy are the ones not addressing real issues and telling real truths. You be the judge.

 

 

 

Mobile homes aren’t too mobile and create financial risk

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” may have a comedic bent, but is one of the best news shows around. The latest episode included a detailed look at the mobile home industry. The key takeaway is private investor groups prey upon the mobile (and modular) home buyers through a rigged system.

Between a truly captive audience (more on this later), the fact the significant majority of mobile home buyers rent the land underneath, and the predatory lending and sales practices, the buyers are at the mercy of greedy players in a shady industry. Adding to that, the value of the mobile home will only depreciate (like an auto), so the buyer truly must beware.

We have come to this problem as several conditions have culminated together. We have an increasing number of “have-nots” in America, so mobile or modular homes are the most affordable route. The mobile home park owners have consolidated and were purchased by several private investor groups, but even the larger regional players operate under this rigged system. These folks see a market to squeeze. Finally, if the buyers do not own the land, they are truly held hostage.

Why? Over 80% of mobile homes never move due to the cost of moving. The property owners know this, so they annually jack up the rent increasing by exorbitant amounts. The renters are then inundated by collection agencies who get them to pay. When they cannot, they eventually move, leaving their home behind. Then, the property owner takes possession of the abandoned home and rents it out.

Finally, the sellers of these products often own the financing agency offering a turn-key purchase. The loans are more like predatory car loans than they are mortgages. So, the interest is higher than normal at the same time the rent is getting increased.

Oliver’s show highlights a couple of the players in the industry. One property owner has sites in 25 states and offers seminars on how to gouge your captive tenants. In one instance, this property owner referred to his tenants as “like being chained to a Waffle House table.”

There is a small movement afoot which will allow homeowners to buy the mobile home park land en masse, as a right of first refusal. Nonprofit funders are helping make this happen. What is needed is more states to have right of first refusal laws, so that the property is not sold to a predatory landlord.

The other need is education. If you must buy a mobile or modular home, place it on land you own or in a tenant owned development. Also, seek better financing than what is offered by the seller. But, know going in this home will not go up in value. If you buy a modular home for $50,000, it may be only worth $10,000 in a few years.

The “have-nots” have little recourse in this industry. Education is a must, as you will truly become a hostage in your home.