Trying to solve that gun death thing

I am hopeful, but not optimistic that tangible change will be enacted by Congress to reduce the risk of gun deaths in America. The kids who are protesting have already brought on some change with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger announcing changes on gun sales policy and other companies eliminating discounts offered NRA members.

If change occurs it will likely be the result of the retailers paving the way and dragging Congress along. What we may end up seeing is something like integrated background checks and an age 21 restriction on assault weapons. We may see some funding for more security in schools. While these changes would help,  they are not near enough to help reduce most gun deaths and respond to what the significant majority of Americans want per repeated surveys. Here are a few thoughts:

– Let’s start with data and ask the CDC to track gun death data, which has been forbidden by Congress since the late 1990s. Then, we can measure progress of various initiatives.

– Next, we can ask for background checks on all gun transactions which should be a given since most Americans favor this. Plus, if someone is credibly reported on by a reasonable number of concerned citizens and a potential problem is deemed possible, the police must be able to seize weapons while more indepth review is undertaken via a legal process.

– Next, we could have an elongated waiting period, again favored by most Americans. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicide, with suicide being the top reason for gun death in most states. Waiting a few more days will hopefully reduce impulsive suicides and may flag something.

– Then, we can address the mental health aspects. We could start by changing the law passed by Congress last year adding mentally disabled Social Security recipients to the eligible gun rolls. We could stabilize the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act and encourage Medicaid expansion both which have mental health benefits. We could also add funding for more school counsellors and psychologists which many states pulled back on. This could go part and parcel with funding more security in schools.

– Finally, we could reduce accidental deaths with more required training and finger printed triggers, so kids won’t do damage with weapons they find.

Personally, I would ban all assault weapons and bump stocks, but that is a hard sell in America.  I would not arm teachers as the solution to school gun deaths is not introducing 700,000 weapons to campuses, which would increase risk and not solve a problem. Shooting at someone shooting back at you is not something many are up to, especially if outgunned and in a chaotic environment. Let’s add security staff and measures.

Whatever we do, we must holistically addresses all gun deaths. I did not touch on poverty, drug industry, entertainment violence and lack of civility that cause gun violence. But, we must invest in these areas. What do you think? Am I off base? Do you have other ideas?


And the band played on

Earlier this week, a fifteen year old decided that he should bring a gun to school in Marshall County, Kentucky. Two teens are dead and 18 more are wounded. Less noticed is that there were 81 other shooting incidents that same day in America leaving 28 dead and 40 wounded per the LA Times.

Per the New York Times, the Marshall County shooting was the eleventh on school grounds just this year, with three occurring the very same week in Winston-Salem, NC, New Orleans, LA and Italy, TX, Just toward the end of last year, there were shootings at the following high schools:

– 9/13/2017: Freeman High School in Rockford, WA where a 15 year old killed one and wounded three students.

– 9/20/2027: Mattoon High School in Mattoon, IL where a 14 year old wounded one student.

– 12/7/2017: Aztec High School in Aztec, NM where a 21 year old former student killed three students.

The two horrific shooting tragedies last year at a church in Texas and concert in Las Vegas were not enough to elicit action – now isn’t the time to make knee jerk actions we were told by serious minded leaders in the pocket of the NRA. I am still dismayed that after Sandy Hook Elementary shooting which killed twenty-six, now was not the time was said then as well.

Well, let me ask a simple question. When is the time? How many children, teens and adults have to die for it to be time. The LA Times reports that 60% of Americans want  gun laws to be stricter. An Elon Univeristy survey a couple of years ago pegged universal background checks and elongated waiting periods at even higher rates of preference by Americans.

To be brutally frank, we are well passed time. For those who give the standard NRA fed response that certain changes would not stop certain crimes, the answer is “obviously doing nothing isn’t preventing them either.” Politicians it is time to stop worrying about keeping your job and start doing your job. We need leaders to think  more like parents and grandparents and less like politicians scared of lobbyists.

Keep on pushing forward ladies

Disillusioned by tribal politics and a President who has reduced civil discourse to a new low and untruthfulness to a new high, it was nice to get outdoors and participate in the second Women’s March in my city. My wife and I joined some friends and over 5,000 more marchers to hear important messages about pushing women and human issues forward.

I am very encouraged by the 26,000 women who have moved ahead with running for office. We need more women in all forms of government as they are woefully underrepresented. Some of the highlights from the speeches in addition to the above are as follows:

– while the push for equality was mentioned most, I was impressed by a Muslim American woman, Rose Hamid who spoke of equity, to value our differences in perspectives and not let fear of the unknown drive wedges between us. Hamid gained notoriety for sitting quietly in a Trump campaign event, until she was escorted out.

– I was appalled to hear a statistic that I had written about a couple of years ago continues to get worse – we have an increasing rate of maternal mortality around childbirth and our global ranking on this statistic is even more negative. A key driver is the lack of healthcare insurance access and education in too many areas of the country.

– I was troubled by the increasing statistics around domestic violence. Locally, the first four homicides of the year in my city were related to domestic violence. Men and women need to help women get out of relationships where signals are apparent. And, better education for boys and girls need to occur that violence is not the answer to relationship conflict.

– I am encouraged by the unifying voices from various fabrics of our culture regarding the need to treat everyone with dignity and respect. And, we must listen to each other and glean points of view. We are listening to respond, not hear.

– I am encouraged by the recognition to act and not just talk or tweet. One speaker said the quote, which may have been made by Rosa Parks, that “even the mighty oak tree was once a nut that stood its ground.” So, don’t worry if someone is calling you a nut.

I have often written about the tough-to-read book “Half the Sky,” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the plight of women and girls around the globe. The Chinese proverb is “women hold up half the sky.” Not only is it the right thing to do, but treating women with dignity, respect and equality is the economic best thing to do. Otherwise, a country or area is competing with only 1/2 of its intellectual capital.

As our country enters its 104 consecutive month of economic growth and closes out its seventh consecutive year of 2 million plus jobs added, we should celebrate our economic success, but it is not bearing fruit equitably for everyone. Our economic classes have become more disparate and women remain relatively underpaid. Plus, with significant pay disparity, women are subject to more sexual harassment to keep better paying jobs or get better work scheduling for their parental duties.

So, let’s applaud this push by women. We will all benefit with more female voices being heard and heeded. That sky is heavy without the extra half holding it up.


A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asser Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes an deteriorated asset creating jobs.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.




The President almost did something good, then…

People need to know that our President is not big into details, nor does he care to be. He is not very conversant on healthcare or the Affordable Care Act, for example. Yet, he almost slipped up and accomplished something good. Alas, he changed his position within 24 hours.

Just last week, he signed two executive orders to help healthcare in the US. Neither order would be very helpful and both will cause premiums to go up under the ACA. In fact, he said if we eliminate the subsidies for deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance on people making less than 2 1/2 the poverty level it would just hurt the insurer’s profits. That simply is not true, as our deficit would go up by $20 Billion per annum and people without subsidies would see premium increases.

But, while this was going on, Senator Chuck Schumer kept telling him about the bipartisan effort of Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray that would stabilize and improve the ACA. Their efforts would restore the subsidies that Trump wanted to do away with. Insurers were pricing 2018 premiums higher sans these subsidies,

Trump encouraged Alexander while Schumer did the same with Murray. The President actually did the right thing, as Alexander and Murray were going about their business in the right way with hearings and committe meetings. This is how legislation should be done, which has been lost on our two Congress chamber leaders.

When Alexander/ Murray announced they reached agreement, the President was supportive. Alexander actually thanked the President for his role in making it happen. Yet, just after Alexander called to thank him, Trump changed his mind and now does not support it. Less than 24 hours had elapsed.

Of course, his support may change and Alexander/ Murray are not done yet, but Trump had a chance to take credit for helping Americans. This could have been a helpful major piece of legislation, which is missing from his tenure. Alas, he realized he would be helping the ACA and he had to destroy it. That is what he promised to his base. While imperfect, the ACA is not broken, but it does need improvements. If it eventually fails, it is on this President and Congress’ shoulders.

Any more questions?

For over two years, I have been amazed at how a man, who is so consumed with himself and has given so little regard to the plight of others, can become the President of the United States. He convinced far too many people, whose voice has not been heard, that he was on their side. Unfortunately, they did not pay attention to his history which reveals he has only one cause – himself.

Yesterday, this man decided to kick poor people one more time, stripping subsidies under the ACA for deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance for those who qualify because of low wages. This man owns the imperfect, but working ACA. He has sabotaged it from the get go picking up the baton the GOP Congress gave him, so if the ACA fails as a result, it is on his and GOP leadership’s shoulders.

A few weeks ago, he rolled out the outline of his tax plan that uses sleight of hand with a small tax break for the middle class, while eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, Estate Tax above $5 million in value, and the ACA tax on wealthy people, while cutting the individual and corporate tax rates. This is a clear windfall for the “haves” with a little gain for the “have-nots.”

Next, we should consider his proposed defunding of programs to retrain displaced coal miners. At the same time, he was enabling coal owners to invest in digging more coal with fewer workers. An energy expert said, “Trump is not for coal miners, he is for coal owners.” The dilemma is the current and former coal workers don’t know this.

The focus on fossil fuel and attack on environmental regulations is another slap at the disenfranchised. They tend to be the ones who feel the brunt of environmental rollbacks. A rancher in Montana, who has successively fought against the oil companies, notes that he cannot name one western town that has benefited long term after the oil rush abates. He said “all of the money goes back to Houston and Calgary.” The ranchers and farmers are left holding the bag to fix all the environment problems.

Speaking of environmental calamities, after much better responses to hurricanes in Texas and Florida, the response to the hurricanes which devastated Puerto Rico has been slow and fraught with problems. Yet, after pronouncing what a great job he was doing, Trump has continually harangued people in need, actually verbally and physically insulting them when he visited and afterwards.

Finally, the President’s attack on civil liberties, protest and free speech is the coldest dagger of all. He is basically telling everyone to “believe no one else but me.” His actions and words say he will squelch these unpatriotic troublemakers. To me, he is saying how dare they question what is going on in this country or what I am doing?

Well, I dare ask one question to everyone. Do you have any more questions about whose bread is being buttered by this President?

My former party does not know much about healthcare

The Graham-Cassidy Bill seems to be on its last legs, but these bills are like Jason – just when you think you kill the serial killer, he remains alive. This latest effort may be the worst bill by my former party, which I left in 2006. It is apparent to me that Republican leaders don’t know much about healthcare and don’t care to know or take the time to know. That includes the man in the White House who just wants to sign something that negates something Obama did. “Who knew healthcare could be so complicated?” he asked earlier in the year. The answer “Everyone, but you.”

Every bill either put forth by the Senate this year or passed by the House has been scored poorly by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), has been not appreciated in polls and has been denigrated by medical and hospital associations. Not involving women, Democrats, experts and due process in the planning revealed a haphazard approach to legislation.The Graham-Cassidy Bill is the worst of the bunch as it places the burden, and eventually all of the financing, on the states. In a nutshell, the bill says we cannot figure this out, so we are punting it to you.

In addition to the tens of millions of Americans negatively affected by these bills, if passed, the authors make a concerted effort to kick people in poverty and near-poverty in the teeth. Since we have a poverty problem in America, these bills are especially cold-hearted. And, Graham-Cassidy gives states the right to do away with pre-existing conditions, which was incorrectly refuted by Cassidy after being called on the carpet by Jimmy Kimmel. Seeing protestors in wheel chairs at the Senate was telling.

Further, I have shared with Senators, Congressional Representatives and the White House, these bills would be dilutive to the economy. Standard & Poor said yesterday in their global report the Graham-Cassidy would harm the American economy by $240 Billion through 2027 and cause 580,000 job losses. In a nutshell, when people in need no longer have insurance, the trade-off becomes between food/ rent and medicine. So, less is spent in the market place which dilutes the economy.

Yet, let me emphasize one thing that has been raised by more than a few state Medicaid Directors and Governors. Building a new healthcare delivery system will take longer than the time given. In my view, it will take longer than even these folks are thinking about. In business and government, leaders tend to vastly underestimate the complexity to set-up administration of things. As President Obama found out, setting up healthcare exchanges was hard and initially failed to deliver.

This is an important observation about the Affordable Care Act. It is in place. It is not in a death spiral and it is not broken. From the lens of fewer uninsured, it has been successful. Yet, it needs improvements, but first it needs to be stabilized. Part of the reason for the latter is the GOP’s efforts to hamstring its success by defunding subsidies for adverse selection to insurers. Coupled with slow funding of other subsidies, nineteen states who did not expand Medicaid and general naysaying, the law has not been given full opportunity to be successful.

So, this retired benefits actuary, consultant and manager recommends the ACA be stabilized under some version of the bipartisan Alexander/ Murray Bill. Then all members of Congress can spend more detailed and thoughtful time in deciding how healthcare can be delivered going forward. My recommendation is they improve the ACA.