Hail, Oceania!

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.”

“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”

Do those quotes resonate? Do they make you uncomfortable? How about queasy, uneasy, want to look away, or fearful? Do you feel as if you’ve heard them before? You should. George Orwell wrote them in 1948 when he published his now famous novel “1984”, about the dystopian Oceania, a superstate in perpetual war. It’s most famous words are, of course, “Big brother is watching you”, but did any of us ever dream that we would actually live in a world where we would actually start to see this fastasy become our dark, twisted reality?

We’ve already seen the start of impingement on the fourth estate. Threats to who is allowed in the White House press room, press conferences are becoming less Q&A sessions and transitioning to briefing sessions with reduced opportunities for the press to ask questions and challenge inconsistencies, tweets about climate change removed from national park websites with the fllimsiest of excuses. The accusations of “fake news!” were heard recently when our new President would not accept being challenged, in stark contrast to his predecessor who said “it’s your job as the press to challenge me. I may not like it, but it’s your job and it makes me better as a person and as your president.” Now if a member of the media dares to challenge the status quo, they’re belittled, pointed at, scolded like a child,  and told they’re being rude, knowing all the while the press room is filled not only with fellow members of the press, but also with something called a “claque”.  From The Washington Post:

“In the description of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, a claque is: an organized body of professional applauders in the French theatres. The hiring of persons to applaud dramatic performances was common in classical times”

So President Trump has apparently arranged to bring along a group of individuals, whose job it is to start the cheering and the clapping. And of course if you’re in that room, when others are cheering and clapping, you’ll probably do so as well, because after all you don’t want to end up being the only one who isn’t, right?  Now the President has slammed a reporter and told him he’s nothing and reporting fake news, and the claque begins the clapping making it sound like they approve. How much longer before the only press that is left is the government controlled press? And the only information we recieve is that which we are given when the government wants to give it to us, selecting what limited information they want us to know?

This week we were introduced to alternative facts. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll hear that thrown out now every time we have the audicity to to question what we see, or make a statement about something. What happens when Congress votes on a bill, and it doesn’t go the way President Trump wants? Will he present the results as alternative facts and say that there were other votes we didn’t know about, or count, or should discount for this or that reason?

Let’s call an alternative fact what it is. It’s a lie. I’m not attaching malice or intent to the word, but it is a lie. What scares me, and what should scare each and everyone one of you,  is what happens when the impact of the lies moves further out? When it’s not about how many people attended the inauguration, but when he gets into a war of words with North Korea’s leader and tensions start to escalate? What about if his words seem like he will start to make moves in some of the countries that we’ve sworn to protect in Europe and the Middle East? Countries where there is oil, and where he now says we should have just taken it? Folks in these countries are a mite twitchy about this, and aren’t likely to just let us take their precious resources. (If you want to learn more about this, especially if you have family members in the military, please watch this video from The Rachel Maddow show. She does a fantastic job explaining this and why this is a terrifying scenario.)

Totalitarianism is a political system in which the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible, without any respect for human rights.

Remember the old saying “when the shoe fits”? Well, get used to that word folks. It’s feeling suspiciously like a shoe that might fit, and I’m starting to think we haven’t heard the last of it. Before too long, maybe this really will be our world:

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-4-46-59-pm

Advertisements

The Three R’s

Repeal…Replace…Reform…

Not the usual three words we’ve come to think of when we hear the phrase “the three R’s, but new “R” words in the news lately about Obamacare. (Yes, I know I said once I objected to the term ‘Americans’, but if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.) There is so much information that is hitting the media these days, much of it rather confusing and mystifying so I thought I’d take a stab at peeling back the proverbial curtain so you can see the little man behind it. Full disclosure: While I don’t  bill myself as an expert, I have worked in the healthcare for 40 years, the last 17 of it in insurance, which does make me more informed than the average bear.

What’s the difference between “The Affordable Care Act” and “Obamacare”? The simple answer, none. If you thought there was, you’re mistaken. You can’t repeal Obamacare and have the Affordable Care Act left to fall back on. If you get rid of Obamacare, you’ve gotten rid of the ACA. It really is that simple.

If they repeal Obamacare, what will I have for insurance? Assuming you applied for Obamacare because you didn’t qualify for something through an employer, or for Medicaid, Medicare or some other state based plan, probably nothing. That’s why repealing without something in place and ready to go is a problem. 

But they say that there will be access for everyone, right? So that’s good. Not so fast. There is a big difference between access and coverage. Access isn’t the same as actually having the insurance. I have access to any doctor or hospital I want to, if I can pay for it. What if I can’t pay for it? As Bernie Sanders said, “I have access to buying a $10 million home. But if I don’t have $10 million, then I can’t actually buy that home.”  So don’t be fooled when you hear the word access. It isn’t equal to insured, even though there are those that want you to think it is.

My premiums on Obamacare went up, it’s a failure. What a mess. So here is how that works. Insurance is all about risk. The bigger the risk pool, the more spread out the risk is. But it takes time for the pool to grow and get spread out, and you need to have both healthy AND sick people in the pool so that the risk is spread across everyone. In the first years of Obamacare, the most likely enrollees are the sickest, so there are likely to be more people seeing doctors and going to the hospital. That’s going to make premiums go up at first, then they’ll stabilize as other folks who aren’t as sick sign up. But you need to give it time. And have you checked out the cost of your care WITHOUT insurance? Here are some facts:

Average costs without insurance  

Emergency Room Visit $ 1,200.00
Uncomplicated Delivery $ 3300-37,000
Cesarean Section $ 8300-71,000
Daily inpatient rates in hospitals $ 1700-2300
Daily inpatient ICU rates in hospitals $ 4,000.00

So yep, go ahead and crab about how much it costs. Don’t come crying to me after you get the bill from your stay for that heart attack/car accident/fourth baby/slip on the ice and broke your leg in three places. Shit happens in life. That’s why we have insurance. 

So I heard with this new program, the premiums will be paid for with Health Savings Accounts instead of subsidies. Isn’t letting people set money aside pre-taxes better than giving them an after tax reduction? Well, I guess that depends on how you look at it. Sure the Health Savings Accounts can be a good thing, and a way to help reduce your tax burden, however it assumes a critical point: That you have enough disposable income after you pay your rent, bills, and buy food that you can afford to have your take home pay reduced. Because let’s face it, even though it’s set aside pre-tax, it will still reduce your take home pay. Maybe not in a 1:1 amount, but it will reduce it. So…this new plan takes away the subsidies from the people who needed it the most, and forces them to have a plan that can only be purchased if they have a Health Savings Account. Take the fictional Johnson family from Minneapolis. Tony and Sara make $34,000 a year, and have 2 children. Sara worked but found that all of her income was going to child care, so it wasn’t worth it and she quit to take care of their children. Tony works for a small company that doesn’t offer healthcare. Under Obamacare, they qualify for enough in subsidies that their monthly premium was $98. Now, under the proposed plan with Health Savings Accounts they’ll need to come up with $1102 a month, which is the current cost of the unsubsidized premium for their family. Does anyone seriously think that’s going to happen? Here’s a newsflash, it’s not. After taxes Tony is lucky if he takes home what $800, $900 per paycheck? And out of that has to come rent, utilities, the car payment, and food and we’re expected to believe that shaving $550 off the top of each check before taxes will reduce his tax burden enough that his paychecks will miraculously adjust enough so that he still takes home at least $800 each paycheck? It ain’t ever going to happen. And so we’ll see the number of newly uninsured skyrocket. Immediately. Because there is no flipping way that millions of people will be able to afford their unsubsidized premiums. They’ll go on Medicaid instead, paid for by your tax dollars. Look for an increase in your property taxes, sales taxes, levies and all sort of other taxes to offset those costs.

As a final note, here’s a message for all of our Congressmen/women and Senators on Capitol Hill. Stop fooling yourselves into thinking this is a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s not. It’s a people issue, and the sooner you start treating it like one, the sooner you’ll actually all stop with the craniorectal inversion and move toward real progress toward a solution.  Healthcare is so godawfully complicated it’s not going to be fixed in a single four year cycle. It will take that long to get it started, understand how your risk pools are imbalanced and how you can make positive changes. Those changes need to be incremental, and just a couple at a time, so you can measure, remeasure, perform some analysis and watch trends. As any halfway decent statistician can tell you, if you start reacting to every blip in the graph and don’t understand which part of your process is within statistical control and and what is out of control, pretty soon you’ll make such a mess of the process that everything will be out of control. Like overcorrecting a skidding car on ice. Instead, if everyone put down their swords, shook hands like adults and agreed to leave your party labels at the door when working on a solution, you might actually have a fighting chance of coming together to solve this. Follow quality improvement principles used in businesses such as PDCA and Kaizen. (This ain’t rocket science, it just requires you leave your egos outside the door. Sheesh.) Where I work we are fortunate to have developed a culture built on values that help us to become better and stronger as we work together. Some of those values are integrity, compassion and relationships and I can’t help but think that if applied as part of the process to solve this problem, maybe real change could finally begin.

How to Raise a Tyrant

I was in a department store one evening recently, and overheard a father and his toddler daughter having a “conversation”. They were about 30 feet away from the exit, standing with their cart and she was hanging on the side of the cart, whining rather loudly about wanting to get back into it to ride to the exit. Daddy was trying to reason with his little darling, saying “but we’re almost at the door already”. Too bad she was having none of it. Of course you can already see the punchline to the joke coming a mile away…”you can’t reason with a terrorist“…and I’m thinking to myself “Oh that poor, poor man. She’s three and he is SO screwed already. What he really needs is to grow a pair and say ‘no’ to her”. As in “no, you can walk” and take her hand and start walking. Oh I know, I’m probably going to have a boatload of parents jump on me and tell me you have to pick your battles, and yes, I’m sure you do. But come on, you lose one this early, are there any you can seriously hope to win?

I see it a lot, kids telling the parents how it’s going to be. Say what? That would have bought me a one way ticket to the flat of my dad’s hand! And before all of the child protectionists are up in arms, I was never beaten. Down boys and girls! I was just spanked. There is a difference, and there were times when I – and my sisters – deserved it. There was never any doubt who was in charge in our house. Dad said “Jump” and you asked “how high” as you were already poised to leap. It wasn’t blind obedience, either, but trust. I knew that he loved us and he always had our best interests at heart so if he told us to do something it was with good reason. I might not understand or like it, but there it was. As I got older, and started to question it more, well, that became an entirely different conversation, and of course by then I was too old to spank as well. But as a child, I listened to my daddy because he was in charge. End of story.

Another thing, what ever happened to vacations that were things like summer road trips, or camping in state parks? It’s like the line that Max Kellerman says in Dirty Dancing “Trips to Europe, that’s what the kids want. Twenty-two countries in three days.” That’s nice. They can see Europe and the Caribbean when they graduate from college and have jobs. For now, have they seen a state park in their home state? Mount Rushmore? Yellowstone? The Grand Canyon? The Smithsonian? The Everglades? Stars in the sky when there is no city light pollution, and they realize for the first time what galaxies are? If not, maybe you’re doing them (and your bank accounts) a big disservice. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “well it just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t go to [insert your favorite thing here: Disneyland/world, Bahamas, St. Martin, Mexico, Costa Rica, Hawaii, etc.], or “I just want my kids to have all the things I didn’t have”. But did you turn out so rotten? The answer is, you didn’t, and in fact you have an appreciation for those things because you didn’t have them as a child. So perhaps it would be better to not just hand all of them to your kids, but let them work for them as they can as well. Or provide some sparingly.

I remember my parents renting a Bethany pop-up camper when I was little, and pulling it behind the car as we went different places on vacation. We would find KOA campgrounds, and park the car and set up the camper. The top would go up, the sides pull out and voila, 2 beds, a microscopic kitchen and living room. I don’t remember much about the specifics of any of the trips, but snippets…the thunderstorms scaring us half to death…the long walks to the community bathroom, especially at night…the community showers. My recollection  is that it was fun, although it’s possible I’m viewing it through a lens clouded by many years gone by. I can also remember some vacation trips we took to the Black Hills, the Wisconsin Dells, Brainerd MN to see Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, which scared me to death when Paul talked to me on the loudspeaker and greeted me by name! screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-18-57-pmHow could he possibly have known that? Of course, when my dad paid for the tickets, he gave our names to the ticket taker and the ticket taker gave them to whoever provided the voice of Paul, who then talked into the microphone and it came over the loudspeaker. What? What do you mean you’ve never heard of Paul and Babe? screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-32-12-pm

 

They’re part of the lore here in Minnesota. Paul Bunyan was a legendary giant lumberjack of superhuman strength and skill, and Babe was his blue ox that usually accompanied him everywhere.

There was an amusement park named after him in Brainerd many years ago, with a giant seated Paul that talked, and an equally large Babe. It was a rite of passage that sometime in your childhood you went there. Today the park is gone but there are still a couple of Paul and Babe statues around the state, and you can often find things named after them. Next time you meet a native Minnesotan of a certain age, ask them if they saw the “talking Paul Bunyan” as a child, and chances are they’ll smile and say “yes”. Now, many places claim to have been his birthplace, but as Minnesotans know, he truly loved the north woods of this state so much, that when he died he was buried here. Need proof? His gravestone marker which is near Kelliher, MN. screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-42-04-pm

I wouldn’t give up those memories for all the trips to Hawaii for anything. They’re so precious to me, and Hawaii will always be there, but things like this aren’t, and I’m so glad my parents had the insight to put their collective feet down with us and made us appreciate what we had, and made us learn how to behave in public, and to work and play well with others. Now if that were only criteria for running for public office.

King Me?

Many a student has sat in their Civics class in High School, hearing the familiar opening words to our “Declaration of Independence”. It begins “When in the course of human events“. Those words, and the rest that follow, were written in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, adopted by the Continental Congress and then on July 4, signed by 56 members of the Congress. The youngest was 26, and the oldest was Benjamin Franklin at 70. But beyond the opening sentence and the now familiar “we hold these truths to be self evident,that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“, how much of the rest does anyone remember? When was the last time you actually read it…digested what it meant…really internalized it? 

That may be due in part to the language of the time, and blogger Leifur Thor has rewritten it in modern language. I’ve linked to his blog so you can see the additional comments if you would like but the document text is below. As I read it, a number of things resonated for me and I saw some frightening parallels. So with all due respect to my friends across the pond, perhaps we all need a reminder of why our founding fathers left England and came to America.

When it becomes necessary to end one political process due to lack of representation, it’s only fair to list the reasons why.

We believe everyone is created equal, and should be afforded the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as they see it. We believe these rights a fundamental truth, and no government’s right to curtail, now, and forever more.

That to protect these rights, governments are designed by and get their powers from its People. And when any design of government begins to remove their freedoms, it’s the sole responsibility of its People to repair or replace it.

We shouldn’t change government lightly however, for when we do, people suffer. Therefore, it’s important that whatever form of governing process we agree on, we build it well. When however through any actions this governing body we create, seeks to reduce our civil liberties, and our ability to self govern, it’s not only our right, it’s our civic obligation within any real Republic to amend or throw off such governments, and provide a new governing body that supports civil liberties for all, now, and for future generations. To enjoy civil liberties, our participation in maintaining their security lands squarely on us, the People who live under them.

Looking at the King of England’s record, it’s clear England wants total control of our colonies, compromising our liberties. Here are our facts-

He won’t allow us to create our own laws, a fundamental need for things to work here.

He won’t let us pass important laws we need now. He’s got to sign off on them and when he doesn’t we suffer.

He’s refused to let us pass laws affecting large groups of people in our colonies unless they swore allegiance to him even though they’ve had the right to self govern, clearly showing he’s a tyrant.

He requests meetings of our representatives in far away cold, and strange places for the purpose of wearing them down in to submission so they’ll agree with him.

He’s disbanded our leaders whenever we complain about human rights abuses.

By not allowing us to self govern in any capacity, it opens our colonies up for corruption from within as well as from outside.

He fights to control our colony’s population, immigration, ownership of land, and expansion.

He’s made it difficult to practice the law here, wanting himself to be the ultimate judge and jury.

He’s sent over crooks who he calls judges to dispense his will through courts without trial or jury.

He’s created new offices who’s staff beat business down through harassment to enforce his will upon us.

He’s sent the Army to watch over us, when we didn’t need or want them.

He’s done everything to make his army bigger than our system of law, and our ability to carry out justice.

He refuses to acknowledge our own laws, and tells us we have to follow his laws instead.

For breaking up our military so as to make them vulnerable, and controllable.

For protecting any of the British military personnel by mock trial from going to jail for any reason, allowing them operate outside our own laws.

For cutting off our trade with other countries.

For adding taxes without our consent.

For taking away our right to trial by jury in many cases.

For kidnapping our citizens only to be tried and convicted outside our colonies, and our own laws.

For taking us,one of England’s provinces, removing our laws, forcing his own body of laws on us, and expanding it’s boundary and making it an example of rule of law others must follow or else.

For taking away our charters (forms of legislature) that allow us to govern.

For suspending our own laws, and forcing his own system of justice down our throats.

For disowning our government, and for declaring war on us for having the desire to self-govern.

He has over-fished our waters, burnt up our towns, and destroyed the lives of many people within our colonies.

Right this very moment, he’s sending over a large army of mercenaries with no morals to kill and torture everyone now that he’s ruined our laws protecting the common man. If you think we’ve been repressed up to now, expect the worst you can imagine.

He has kidnapped citizens of our colony on the high seas, and turned them in to his own soldiers only to fight their own brothers and sisters here.

He has manipulated people and groups within our colony to fight each other, and wants rule of law similar to those savage Native Americans who live by war destroying everyone under any conditions. (Guerrilla warfare is probably what they’re talking about here since war prior to that had been fought face to face in broad daylight)

With every action above, we’ve petitioned, and been told in return to “suck it up”. By this alone, it’s time to stand up for ourselves as free people, and kick this tyrant out.

We don’t like making waves. And we’ve warned England from time to time we’ll govern ourselves, reminding England the conditions of our own immigration and settling here, yet even when we’ve shown them how it’s bad business for everyone, they just won’t listen. So it’s up to us to fight for our fundamental rights, and anyone who’s opposed to this inside or out of our borders is our enemy, and anyone forging to expand civil liberties, our friend.

So we the representatives of the people living within these unified States of America gathered here under one roof declare to the supreme judge of the world we are free. We declare we are no longer under the British crown’s rule, and all political connections are hereby over. These Free and Independent States of America have full power to each build partnerships, do business, go to war, or negotiate peace. To show we mean what we say, we offer each other our lives, our fortunes, and our integrity.