Letter to editor – health care actions speak loudly

I have written longer posts on the actions of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Republicans to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. What many do not know, after the election, a court case will decide its fate, brazenly brought forward by several Republican state AGs after Congress stripped away the coverage mandate during a budget vote. The following is a brief letter I sent to my newspaper.

The truth matters. Actions matter. Four years ago, Trump said we had to wait and see his healthcare plan. None existed and still does not. Three years ago Trump cut payments to insurers to fund their payment of co-pays and deductibles for ACA members making less than 2 1/2 x the poverty rate and then lied about its impact – it actually increased premiums and the deficit per the CBO.

After the election, SCOTUS will be hearing a case to rule on the constitutionality of the ACA premium subsidy after Republicans stripped away the coverage mandate, which would severely hamper the law and may lead to its end. The White House chose not to defend the law. The ACA impacts both exchange and employer benefits, three key provisions of which are allowing pre-existing conditions, requiring guaranteed renewability and requiring wellness doctor visits not be subject to deductibles.

Sadly, beyond the nay-saying, there has been more sabotage of the ACA which increased premiums (Google Marco Rubio and risk corridors), repeal and replace efforts which were fortunately defeated, and fourteen states (including NC and SC) who still have not expanded Medicaid, a key part to help people in poverty. Health care coverage access is a major issue this coming election so says this retired benefits consultant, benefits manager and former actuary.

Eliminating the ACA which which may impact over 200 million Americans  (including the ACA requirements on employer plans) is unwise in my view, in general. But, doing so in the middle of a poorly handled pandemic by the White House with over 200,000 and growing American deaths, is plain asinine and mean-spirited.

Please feel free to adapt and use. Actions speak louder than words and my former party, the GOP, has purposefully sabotaged the right for Americans to have access to health care coverage. This is why your vote matters.

Kentucky police force benefits from hiring social workers

From an article in The Guardian called “The US police department that decided to hire social workers,” a path forward can be gleaned. Here are a few paragraphs to provide a sense. The full article can be linked to below.

“In 2016, the Alexandria, Kentucky, police chief talked the city into hiring a social worker – and four years on, the current chief sees the program as indispensable. In 2016 he decided to try a new approach: he talked the city into hiring a social worker for the police department. ‘To an officer, they all thought I was batshit crazy,’ he said of the police.

The current police chief, Lucas Cooper, said he was ‘the most vocal opponent’ of the plan at the time, thinking that the department should be using its budget to hire more officers for a force he viewed as stretched thin. But now four years later, Cooper sees the program as indispensable: it frees officers from repeat calls for non-criminal issues and gets residents the help they needed, but couldn’t get.”

Just recently, a Utah boy with Asperger’s was shot by the police after his mother called alerting them to the boy’s inability to calm down when she returned to work. Last year, a North Carolina man who called the police for help when he was having a schizoid disorder was killed in his own home because he would not put down a knife when the police arrived.

These are not rare occurrences. People with mental illness may not be sufficiently cognizant to respond to commands, or they may fearful of what is happening. Unless an attending officer is used to seeing and working with people who have mental health issues, it is quite difficult to avoid the use of force when commands are not followed.

In human services agency I was involved with, the licensed social workers used a model called “trauma informed care.” This approach let them focus on the traumas that people face. For example, a woman and family who are domestic violence victims have PTSD issues. So, if they lose their house, as well, there are two sets of trauma to deal with.

To be frank, the “defunding the police” movement has chosen a poor choice of words. Too many view it as taking all funding away – the key difference is using more wisely to serve and protect. Hiring more social workers who are licensed to offer counseling will let the police focus on other alleged criminals.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/19/alexandria-kentucky-police-social-workers&lt

Freedom Summer Project – a needed revisit with a voter suppression and racism afoot

With a president who attacks the voting process (without dearly protecting it) and does not speak out against racism in our country, this past post on a terrible time in history is relevant of what we must not become again. The only change is adding six years to the time elapsed.

Fifty-six years ago this summer, over 700 students from across the country, joined in the Civil Rights battle in Mississippi, where African-Americans had been demonstratively and, at times, violently denied their basic civil rights, especially the right to vote. These students joined together with the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNNC) under the guidance of Bob Moses, who had been slowly organizing SNNC since 1960. These students, were predominantly white, but included all races and ethnic groups.

The fact that many were white helped bring further attention to the ongoing tragedy going on Mississippi, perpetuated by those in power as the young students lived within the African-American community, taught through Freedom Schools young students about African-American history, literature and rights, items that had been absent from their curriculum. The Freedom Summer project can be viewed up close with an excellent documentary shown on the PBS American Experience. A link is provided below.* I would encourage you to watch the two-hour film as it can tell a story that requires footages of violence, overt racism, and brave people who spoke up, like Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rita Schwerner and countless others.

Hamer is the face of the effort as evidenced by her speaking passionately in front of the 1964 Democratic Convention committee about how she was arrested, beaten, and tormented when she and others tried to register vote. Schwerner is the widow of one the three Civil Rights workers, Michael Schwerner, who along with James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were abducted and killed by the KKK who came to abet the efforts of those in power in Mississippi. The widow rightfully pointed out the fact that two of the abducted (at the time) were white, was the only reason people in America started paying attention. She noted it is a shame that many African-Americans had died or were injured merely trying to exercise their right as citizens. Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, less than 7% of African-Americans in Mississippi were allowed to register due to ostracization, intimidation, and complex constitutional literacy tests.

Since I cannot begin to do justice to this subject, I encourage you to watch the documentary. It will make you ashamed that this could happen in America, while at the same time making you applaud the magnificent courage of all involved, especially those African-Americans who had lived and would continue to live in this Apartheid like state once the freedom summer students went home. Yet, it took the deaths of these three young folks to galvanize and empower people.

It also took the organization of a more representative Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of whites and blacks that went to the national convention to unseat the representatives sent by the state party, who were all white. Since morality was on their side, they almost succeeded, but they ran into the politics of Lyndon B. Johnson, who used his power to squelch the effort for a greater good – he could not help in matters if he did not get elected and he saw this as a means to interfere with that mission, no matter how noble the cause. LBJ accomplished great things for African-Americans, but politics is an ugly thing to watch up close and he looks manipulative in the process.

While their efforts fell short at the convention, their efforts were huge contributors to the passage of the Voting Rights Act the next year. But, one of the young folks who went to the Freedom Schools and is now a PhD., noted that learning about their African-American culture and civil rights that had been denied them, may have been the greatest achievement. I applaud their efforts and bravery. We still have a way to go and are seeing some battles having to be refought with several states passing restrictive Voter ID Laws. Three states have had their new laws ruled unconstitutional, while others are in court now. Yet, just because our President is multi-racial does not mean we are there yet. So, let’s keep in mind the battles these brave folks fought and not let their civil rights be stepped on again, no matter how cleverly masked those efforts.

* http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/

Lucy Worsley and spotlighting myths

On PBS, a delightful British show is aired called “Lucy Worsley’s Royal Myths and Secrets.” It is fascinating for two primary reasons – Worsley focuses on exposing the real truths beneath the myths and she exudes a passion as she invests in each episode.

Each show includes actors portraying smalls skits in the show, in which Worsley will play a sidebar role, as well as scholars who share context and researched observations. The skits add the human side to the scholar’s research and context.

Yesterday, Worsley focused on the French revolution and Marie Antoinette’s role, which is overstated, but still present. A few vignettes that offer context are truly enlightening.

– Antoinette is used as a scapegoat for the financial problems of the country, but the real cause is the French spent 1.5 billion francs to support the American independence effort, which is 2 1/2 times their annual budget of 600 million francs.

– Antoinette liked very extravagat things, but there is no record of her saying “let them eat cake,” which was referenced 50 years later. The saying may have come from an earlier queen.

– Antoinette was Austrian, so the French people did not like her to begin with; she also was more politically shrewd than her husband, Louis XVI and saw the danger of the revolution. This runs counter to the noted saying above which implies ignorance.

– Robespierre is scapegoated for the violence of the revolution, but while he was an idealist, he initially did not favor capital punishment. He argued it did not stop crime. He later said for France to change, the King must be executed, but this was after a power sharing agreement seemed to not be working. Robespierre was executed about two years after Louis XVI.

– While Bastille Day is celebrated for freeing political prisoners, it freed only seven prisoners, all common criminals. Four of these criminals were even rearrested. Yet, the storming of the bastille is an iconic event.

– What should not be forgotten, the first revolution did not free France from autocratic rule. War hero Napolean was made emperor about ten years later. And, after Napolean, a Bourbon king was reinstalled for fifteen more years. So, later change was needed.

This show was particular fascinating. It also showed fake news was alive and well back then. Antoinette cartoons were particulary viscious. And, the revolutionaries downplayed the executions, while loyalists played that up.

A fascinating sidebar is the French revolution inspired others. It was noted Lenin had a statue raised in Russia for Robespierre and, of course, violently ended the lives of the tsar and his family. This was over 120 years later.

We have seen a few shows and, if you love history, you will find these interesting. Even if you don’t, Worsley will make you wish she was your teacher with her enthusiasm.

The nonpartisan Concord Coalition on the absent relief package

The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan group that researches and educates on the US deficit and debt problems. The following was in my inbox from that group and it speaks for itself.

“The following is written from the perspective of Concord Coalition Policy Director, Tori Gorman.

Avid readers of The Lookout will notice that my missive today is unlike any of my previous entries. If you are accustomed to the colorful charts and technical policy analyses that usually accompany my posts, my sincerest apologies. Those features will return, but today’s post is from the heart.

Last week I fully anticipated that I would be spending my waking hours prior to publication of this newsletter buried in legislative text, frantically distilling the latest coronavirus relief package from Congress for our readers. Instead, I find myself staring at an empty desk while federal officials jet home for their sacrosanct August recess. Why? Because despite over 160,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, a record-setting decline in economic activity, over 31 million people collecting some form of unemployment, and millions of children unable to return to school, lawmakers refused to compromise.

Unconscionable.

Each side has expressed support for another pandemic relief bill and each side has tendered their initial offer. The House-passed HEROES Act would spend another $3.4 trillion whereas the Senate Republican package of proposals would spend closer to $1.2 trillion. Clearly there is plenty of playing field in between to reach agreement.

On what planet is an acceptable outcome ZERO?

To add insult, on August 8, President Trump announced with great flourish a series of toothless executive memoranda from the ballroom of his eponymous Bedminster golf club – actions that will have virtually no effect except to make any further negotiations more difficult: A payroll tax proposal that neither side in Congress supports, a pseudo-unemployment insurance scheme virtually no state can navigate nor afford, an eviction ‘moratorium’ that isn’t, and student loan action that could have been, and should have been, more robust.

At some point in our political history ‘compromise’ became a dirty word. Somewhere it became acceptable in an election year for Congress to punt the people’s work until the November results were known. In today’s environment, however, where twin crises are leaving a trail of death and destruction, it is imperative that lawmakers rise above the low expectations they champion, return to Washington, and do the work they were elected to do.

Americans deserve no less.”

What the president has fashioned with executive orders is beyond his authority. Congress has the purse strings given to them by the Constitution. What the president has proposed is unworkable in parts and unwieldy in others. But, again we are not an autocracy and Congress needs to do its job.

What I also find interesting is the president’s executive order did not include a price tag on debt impact. I have done some back of the envelope calculations and it is likely nearer the $1.2 trillion GOP figure, if it is not extended, but we just do not know. I also feel that cutting FICA taxes will be harmful to Social Security and Medicare, at a time when they need more funding not less.

Yet, what no one has done is calculate what we need to do, including all three parties, the Senate, the House and White House. The House at least passed a bill on May 15, but the Senate could not bring themselves to debate and vote until the bewitching hour. Frankly, that is poor leadership by Senator Mitch McConnell and the president. Crisis planning is often not the best of planning.

You would think our so-called leaders could take the time to do some homework. But, what do I know?

Is this what a president for the common man does?

Many of the Trump base have no idea they are voting against their economic interests. This advertised populist, common man president, fails to let folks know the following:

– in his first two hours of being president, he repealed a regulation that would have reduced homeowners insurance premiums for securing mortgages with the less than 20% down, that was scheduled to go in effect February 1, 2017. This would have helped about one million low income homeowners.

– he has hobbled the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was very successful, but banks and credit card companies did not like it. The CFPB penalized these companies for fraudulent and aggressive lending practices, with 95% of the fines going to cheated consumers. In short, the CFPB helps folks who are targeted.

– he eliminated a new requirement that said all investment advisors have to be fiduciaries, meaning they must put your interests ahead of their own. This was done to help investment advisors, paid by the transaction, to encourage sales that may not be in your best interests.

– he passed a tax bill that favored the elites and businesses, under the guise of helping everyone. To keep the bill down to costing only $1.5 trillion in debt, he had to have some pay higher taxes – a sneaky requirement noted that state and local tax deductions were capped at $10,000, so if you owned a house and lived in a state where income tax occurred, your tax bill may increase. Note, folks who do not itemize deductions, tended to come out ahead with the change.

– he failed to tell people (actually lying about the impact routinely) the tariffs would be paid for by consumers when importers passed along the cost. He has routinely lied saying China will pay the tariffs, but that simply is not true. Each time he said this, economists would rebut his lie.

– he also lied about an ACA change he made that increased premiums for people, saying it would only impact insurer profits. In essence, he ceased the subsidy to insurers to repay them for paying deductibles, copays, etc. for members making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty rate. Insurers honored their written commitment (Trump did not) and subsidies went up to pay for the resulting increase in premiums. BCBS of North Carolina said premiums the next year were going to increase by 0%, but with the Trump change, they went up by over 6%. The CBO said the increase in subsidies increased the deficit by $10 billion per annum and unsubsidized folk saw premium increases.

– he has advocated a COVID-19 relief bill which will prevent employees from suing employers for endangering them with COVID-19 exposure.

– finally, environmental deregulation hurts those in poverty more, as they have fewer choices as to where to live.

There is more. With his attacks on the ACA, with a pending lawsuit that would harm it, more of Trump’s base will be harmed. Plus, with his misinformation and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are being harmed and dying. Of all that I mentioned, his callousness and negligence in COVID-19 handling is the most prominent failure that impacts people.

So, in turn for getting protection over gun rights and attacks on abortion access, the president has largely screwed over his base and they have no idea he has.

Let’s follow the example John Lewis lived

The following is necessarily short, as my local newspaper was kind enough to print it in its “Letters to the Editor” section this morning.

Watching the memorial service for Congressman John Lewis, I noticed the words kind, caring and courageous were used often. A staff member noted he was a great boss with several people working with him for over 10 years (a few over 20).

Lewis embodied the words spoken about him. Civil and nonviolent protest will be his lasting legacy. His example is followed by a significant majority who participate in the multiracial Black Lives Matter protests.

Those few who choose violence may make the news, but they dilute the message. Steadfast resolve is a much greater weapon. It galvanizes people.

Let’s honor Lewis for the person he was and how he conducted himself. Black lives do matter.

Eight habits of the heart – a quick review

Recently, I revisited an old post about “The Porch People.” This was a summary of the book called “Little Cliff and the Porch People” by Clifton Taulbert. One of his other books is called “Eight Habits of the Heart.” It’s subtitle adds “Embracing the values that build strong families and communities.” When I met him, he was meeting with executive groups to go over these eight habits.

Below, I will summarize these eight habits and repeat the phrase Taulbert uses on each chapter page. The book is a quick read, so please do not let this summary get in the way of picking up or downloading the book. Each chapter has questions at the end for self-reflection and the end of the book has an outline on how to pass along these habits in small learning groups.

1. Nurturing attitudeIn the community, a nurturing attitude is characterized by unselfish caring, supportiveness, and a willingness to share time.

2 and 3. Dependability and responsibilityWithin the community, dependability is being there for others through all the times of their lives, a steady influence that makes tomorrow a welcome event; and responsibility means showing and encouraging a personal commitment to each task.

4. FriendshipWithin the community, friendship is the habit that binds people together when they take pleasure in each other’s company, listen, laugh, and share good times and bad.

5. Brotherhood or sisterhoodWithin the community, brotherhood or sisterhood is the habit that reaches beyond comfortable relationships to extend a welcome to those who may be different from yourself.

6. High expectationsWithin the community, high expectations involves believing that others can be successful, telling them so, and praising their accomplishments.

7. CourageWithin the community, courage is standing up and doing the right thing, speaking out on behalf of others, and making a commitment to excellence in the face of adversity or the absence of support.

8. Hope Within the community, hope is believing in tomorrow – because you have learned to see with your heart.

Whether you agree with these eight habits, they provide a great foundation to better understand yourself and become a better community citizen. I like the inclusion of high expectations, as we look to lift each other up. A spouse, parent, grandparent, friend or mentor can inspire someone to be better than they would otherwise be, settling for a lesser plateau.

Each of these habits, if practiced and reinforced, will make our communities better. As Gandhi said, a community’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of its least fortunate. Thinking of the classic movie, “It’s a wonderful life,” do we want to live in Bedford Falls or Pottersville? Do we want to emulate George Bailey or Mr. Potter?

As you think of these habits, also consider paying forward good deeds done for you. I recall the story of someone paying for the college education for a young person in poverty. She asked how could she repay him and he said, pay it forward doing the same for someone else. And, as noted under “Nurturing attitude,” if you don’t have money, the gift of time is so very valuable.

What is not said above, is practicing these habits has a psychic income for the person so doing. Being a better person, being a better community citizen, being a friend to many, will be rewarding in and of itself.

David Brooks pens an editorial – President Biden’s first day

David Brooks has long been my favorite conservative pundit. I first became aware of him as he teamed with more liberal Mark Shields to do a recap of the week on the Friday show of PBS Newshour. They epitomized the PBS doctrine of civil discourse. I have read two of Brooks’ books – “The Social Animal” and “The Road to Character” – which are excellent reads, and have had the good fortune of hearing him speak.

Like other conservative pundits, George Will, Michael Gerson, Erick Erickson, et al, Brooks is deeply disappointed in the actions, verbiage and temperament of the current US president. So, when he penned the editorial, “President Biden’s first day,” I was intrigued and not surprised. Here are a few quotes that shape the article.

“The first thing you’ll notice is the quiet. If Joe Biden wins this thing, there will be no disgraceful tweets and no furious cable segments reacting to them on Inauguration Day.”

“Republicans will pretend they never heard his (Trump’s) name. Republican politicians are not going to hang around a guy they privately hate and who publicly destroyed their majority.”

“It is very hard for Republicans to demonize Biden because he comes from the sort of background that Trumpian conservatives celebrate.”

“His (Biden’s economic) agenda is more New Deal than New Left. In the two speeches he has delivered so far there are constant references to our manufacturing base – infrastructure, steelworkers, engineers, ironworkers, welders, 500,000 charging stations for electric cars. ‘When I think of climate change, the word I think of is jobs,’ he declared.”

“The agenda pushes enormous resources toward two groups: first, African-Americans, who have been pummeled by deindustrialization for decades; and second, white working class Trump voters.

“Everybody says Biden is a moderate, and in intellectual and temperamental terms that is true. But he has found a way to craft an agenda that could reshape the American economy and the landscape of American politics in fundamental ways.”

The entire piece can be found with the following link. I will not comment on the above here and let Brooks’ thoughts filter in. Let me know your reactions, thoughts, etc.

Toxic Charity – revisiting an important book

About eight years ago, I wrote this post based on my reading of “Toxic Charity,” conversations with the author and my volunteer work to help working homeless families. The book remains relevant today.

I have made reference on several occasions to a must read book written by Robert (Bob) Lupton called “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt those They Help and How to Reverse it.” I had the good fortune to hear Lupton speak about his experiences and how he came to this view on toxic charity. To those who do not know his story, he felt called to move into the impoverished areas of Atlanta to live near and like the people he was trying to help. From this vantage point, he witnessed and gleaned a far better and more impactful way of helping people in need. His premise based on this first hand anecdotal evidence is well intended volunteers and donors often do more harm than good in their outreach.

In essence, they do for people what the people can do for themselves, both here and abroad. His mantra is we should help people climb a ladder, but do it in a way they can maintain their self-esteem and their efforts can be sustained. He notes that true charity should be reserved for emergency situations like Hurricane Sandy. A few examples may help.

– From the feedback from those being helped and his observations, it is far better to provide a discount store of donated goods which caters to those in need as customers. When clothes are just given away it creates an entitlement society and the relationship can be adversarial which is counterproductive to all parties. He told the story that everyone likes to find a bargain. So, why should we deny that opportunity to those in poverty. This will help people in need with budgeting and the pride in saving up money to purchase a good deal on something they need.

– Rather than giving food away, he has witnessed it is far better to have food cooperatives. They would have each family pay a weekly stipend such as $3 to join a food co-op. These funds would be used to buy discounted food to pool with the donated food. The co-op begins an association with others that usually proves fruitful with recipe sharing, neighborhood dinners, restaurant development, etc. It also allows the deployment of better food for the recipients.

– Rather than have parishioners donate time and energy on projects that are mis-prioritized, mismanaged and misimplemented, use the volunteers for more employment and entrepreneurial activities such as helping people set up a small business, learn a trade, understand a business plan or network to find a job. This will use the skills of the volunteers in a more impactful way. He also notes we should let the community leaders decide on what is most needed (community initiated), actually lead the efforts (community led) and allow time for mutual information sharing (how their faith is important to both giver and recipient).

– Find ways to invest in the community to improve on assets in existence. This Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is critical to leveraging what is there (such as a school, playground, golf course, clinic, etc.) and works well with the community. Schools for example, are critical not only to the education of the kids, but after school programs for kids and adults, and a place where communities can gather. He noted an example where a developer in Atlanta bought a golf course and improved the neighborhood around it using a 50/50 mixture of market based and affordable housing. The golf course provided jobs and recreation to these mixed income families and gentrified a run down neighborhood.

The charity I am involved with for homeless families follows his empowerment model. We try not to do for the families what they can do for themselves. The families receive rent subsidized housing based on their ability to pay, meaning they must pay a portion of the rent. They must also save money for their eventual exit from the program. We help them buy a car on more favorable terms than 23% interest, yet they have to pay for car, insurance and upkeep. They must work with our social workers to make better decisions, improve their education, attend career development and budget more wisely. We are helping them climb the ladder, but they have to do it. We cannot and will not push them up the ladder.

Lupton speaks of “The Oath for Compassionate Service” which builds off the Hippocratic Oath for Doctors and is as follows:

– Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.

– Limit one way giving to emergency situations.

– Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.

– Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.

– Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said – unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.

– Above all, do no harm.

One of the things I have observed about people in need is their network of people with connections or skills they need is very narrow or non-existent. In fact, homeless families or individuals may have exhausted their only network of friends and family. I often help friends or relatives of friends and family network to find a job or resource. Others would do this for my friends and relatives in need. Yet, who can someone in poverty reach out to except people who are also in poverty? So, church goers who sit in the pews every Sunday have an abundance of knowledge and connections that is better suited to help those in need. Following Lupton’s example, if we can provide more intersections of those in need and those who can connect the dots for them, more success would be witnessed. There would be more ladders out of poverty.

Lupton made a telling observation in his speech. We are a very generous nation of people. We donate billions of money and time to help, but what do we have to show for it? Poverty has increased. The key is to help people find the opportunities, the ladders out of poverty. We can look for ways to help them climb the ladders, but they have to do it to make it sustainable.