The hook brings you back

The group Blues Traveler had a huge hit with a song called “Hook,” which intentionally says nothing of substance. The chorus is as follows:

“Because the hook brings you back
I ain’t tellin’ you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely”

The song is about their frustration with MTV or popular music which relies on a “hook” to grab your attention. A hook is a catchy riff, phrase or gimmick used by songwriters. The Blues Traveler song is a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the use of a “hook” while using one.

To me, this song is a metaphor for companies selling products harmful to people’s health. The “hook” is an addiction, that brings people back to buy more.

The vaping industry is repeating the successful sales model of selling smoking to kids and young adults to get them hooked. The tobacco industry knew dating back to 1964 that nicotine was addictive. So, they hid this fact as they added more nicotine. The subterfuge lasted until the mid-1990s when an insider blew the whistle. This was after eight tobacco CEOs sitting at a table in front of a Congressional Committee lied saying nicotine was not addictive. What is troubling about the vaping industry is they are selling these vapes as candy in all kinds of flavors.

An even more dramatic and traumatic sales job relates to the opioid pain killer business. These companies were not forthcoming about how addictive their product is. People have died and families have been ruined by this subterfuge. And, once again we have a heroin and worse drug addiction problem in America, as it is cheaper than the opioid product. Please strongly consider non-opioid painkillers if you have surgery or an injury, if permissible by doctor.

On a more widespread basis, food companies have asked their chemists to make their products more addictive. How? By adding more sugar to their products. The sweeter taste is more alluring and gets people to eat more and buy more. What is the harm in a little more sugar? The US is the most obese country in the world and kids are now getting adult diabetes, not just juvenile diabetes.

So, like catchy songs, these hooks are designed to sell lots of products to unsuspectingly addicted consumers. Please be mindful of when you buy to make sure you are not being reeled in.

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Unsurprising news

The Associated Press reported today the US deficit for the first ten months of the 2018-19 fiscal year has increased by 27% over last year’s ten month deficit. The $867 billion deficit is in line to pass $1 trillion for the year ending September 30, 2019.

This is not a surprise as the tax law passed in December, 2017 is projected to increase the debt by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. That is on top of the expected increase without change of $10 trillion. And, to make matters worse two spending bills in 2018 and 2019 have increased spending, with the latter increase yet to be felt.

Expenses are up 8% and revenue is up only 3% with such a good economy. As mentioned before, we should be paying down the debt in good times, but the tax bill reduced the revenue from where it would have been.

Politicians, including this president, have an unhealthy focus on short term results. The long term impact can be blamed on future politicians, in their minds. We have a ticking time bomb, where our $22 trillion debt will be closer to $35 trillion in ten years sans change.

Some poor president and Congress will have to step up to solve this problem. And, they will unfairly get blamed.  It will take both spending cuts and tax increases to get us there. And, to show how frustrating harmful action is, a Senator from Florida yesterday said we need a tax cut to spur the economy with the pending recession Рreally? More debt is the answer?

We need fiscal stewardship and leadership. We are not getting it from these incumbents. And, that is a dereliction in duty.

 

The young folks see the need to act now

“I am growing up in a world whose life systems are unraveling”

Jamie Margolin

The young Mr. Margolin is an attendee at the second annual International Congress of Youth in San Juan, Puerto Rico. People like him and Greta Thunberg recognize the need to act.

Unfortunately, too many of the adults in legislative positions are too beholden to funders to do the right thing. Whether it is not acting on climate change, allowing companies to pollute, or perpetuating profit margins for industries that prey on consumers off fear or some form of pacifier, the legislators are obsequient to their cash cows. And, why do these funders give them money? The Return On Investment (ROI) is huge. The fossil fuel industry has benefitted from multi-trillion dollars of government welfare.

But, these young people look at what is happening and clearly realize what the beholden legislators cannot – WE ARE SCREWED, unless we act. What makes their battles so uphill, is the funders are spending an awful lot of money to keep their ROI going.

The money being spent to convince people climate change is a hoax, not too bad, a natural evolution, etc, dwarfs those trying to get scientific peer reviewed information. As an example, there are about 700 peer reviewed websites discussing the realities of climate change, but there are 30,000 plus faux science sites. And, the current US president’s cabinets are busy burying peer reviewed reports on climate change, deleting data and reports and repositioning or running off climate scientists. Yet, one more climate scientist left the Dept. of Agriculture last week, as his warnings on rice harvests were being buried. “Why?” is an excellent question.

Climate change is not just causing rising sea levels, but that is a huge problem for coastal cities like Miami, the most at risk large city in the world. We are seeing stallled weather systems consistently flood areas. We are seeing drought areas experience worse droughts. We are seeing larger forest fires. And, we are seeing more tick and misquito borne illnesses with more standing water and higher average heat.

Action is occurring due to innovators, cities and states. We need the US federal government to leverage these efforts and not block them or mask the problem. The kids get it. They will also live with the world we are leaving. So, what kind of world do we want to leave them?

Rainy days and Mondays, especially today, get me down

Karen Carpenter sang “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” This weekend was a yet another sad chapter in America’s history. Plus, we learned 31 people died in a ferry capsizing in the Philippines. In California, an eroding cliff collapsed next to the shore killing three. And, Russia and China are coming down hard on protestors. These are signals.

In America, we have decided we cannot do anything to stop mass gun shootings. We have decided the politics are too hard to do the needed things that would help. We could start by acknowledging that we average 100+ gun deaths a day even without the mass shootings. Many of those deaths are suicides. Some of them are accidental shootings of kids who find a gun in the house. And, some of the homicides are due to mental health issues, lack of civil discourse, hate crimes, or drug crimes. The common thread is access to a weapon without better governance.

Yes, we must act on these signals. We must call hate speech on the carpet, especially if it comes from someone who is in a position of leadership. Dog whistle racism and xenophobia are fuel to a fire for some extreme thinkers. The ones who want status quo in gun laws will say “now is not the time” for change to gun governance. Apparently, “never is the time.” The ones who want status quo will say “that change would not solve this instance.” Yet, doing nothing at all is not solving much.

There are things we can do that, in sum, will help make a difference. If it saves a few lives, that is good. I want politicians to get in a room and I want them to check their politics. I do not care who wins and loses a political game, but it is obvious the dead people and their families are losing. It amazes me how little we did after Sandy Hook. We even had a conservative shock jock say for years Sandy Hook was not real. He is on trial for his hateful rhetoric for the damage he has caused to Sandy Hook families and should be.

The Philippines tragedy is terrible, but not getting much play here. It seems we don’t pay attention like we should when the weather sends us signals. Overloading ferries can be OK in calm waters, but it is a disaster when waters are rough, especially after two earlier ferries had issues. I think failing to heed signals causes far too many deaths. Here in the US, we are whistling past the graveyard in preface to the next infrastructure collapse. Around the world, we have signals telling us to plan ahead on eroding seashores, increasing floods with stalled and repetitive storm systems, increasing droughts in other areas and elongated and bigger forest fires. We need to act on these signals.

In Russia and China, the signals are telling us that we must not be like that. Civil protest is more than fine, yet we must emphasize the word civil. Yet, a regime that crushes the spirit of those who question things, is one that is sowing more seeds of discord, not fewer. A regime that squelches and controls the media is not one that wants to hear the truth. I am watching the mini-series called “The Loudest Voice,” about Roger Ailes and his creation of Fox News. He purposefully controlled what and how things were said, that he started believing his own BS.

Truth matters. Facts matter. Diligent preparation in the face of those facts matter. When people ignore problems, white-wash or deny the truth, and squash those who are trying to tell you those things, the future is hamstrung. As I say often, I do not care what people’s politics are, as usually they are a mixed bag like me, conservative on some things, progressive on others. What I do care about is when people ignore or massage the facts to make their tribe win. I a more concerned about the people who die, who struggle, who become infirmed, who are jailed inappropriately, etc. That is what our leaders should be concerned about and not spreading fear, hate and division to win an election.

 

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.