A “Thankful for” Thanksgiving Story

The purpose of this post is not to depress you.  Nor is it to make you feel guilty in some way.  The purpose is to hopefully allow you to reflect on what you have to be thankful for, however small it may seem to be.

Recently, a student came to my room and asked if I would allow him to do some work he had for my class.  It was my free period, so I told him yes.  So he went back to tell the study hall teacher where he would be.  Upon his return, the following unfolded.

“Wagg (that is what he calls me), I want to apologize for my behavior lately.  I know I have been talking too much in your class”. He then proceeded to tell me what was bothering him.  He told me that his mother was dying of cancer.  His father, who lives in Michigan, was dying of liver disease – he was an alcoholic.  The man he considers his father – who helped raise him since he was two years old – was also dying of cancer.  His older brothers, who were trying to turn their lives around, had made some mistakes.  They might be going to jail.  As he characterized it, “I am living with this 7/24 and sometimes I just need to let things out.”  Wow.

We continued to talk.  He told me that he prefers to be around adults rather than kids his own age because he likes to learn.  As an example, he told me he was in McDonald’s the other day and saw an older man sitting by himself.  So this 17 year old started talking to the man.  Because he doesn’t like to see anyone alone.  Because he wanted to gain some wisdom from an older person. And he told me he enjoyed the time. That is a side of him I guarantee none of us has ever witnessed or would have know about him until he told me.

This young man does not have very advanced social skills.  He is sometimes lacking in proper hygiene. He doesn’t always use the filter we all have in our brains for decided when and what to say.  He has a REALLY tough existence.  I suspect I am the only person who treats him  as he should be treated – just like every other kid in my room.  I have expectations for him to do well.  I engage him in conversation.  I push him to do better.  And I tease him just like I tease many other kids.  I believe that is why he opened up to me.

We all have our burdens.  Perhaps there are many things going wrong with your life.  But can they be more than this 17 year old has on his plate?  As we gather for this very important holiday, I pray we all might look inside our lives and find many things to be thankful for.  If not, perhaps we need to look a little deeper and ask ourselves if we would prefer to change places with this young man.

I know my Dad and Mom up in heaven steered this story my way for a purpose.  The two of them were always strong advocates for the downtrodden and the less fortunate.  They always displayed a compassionate heart.  I appreciate the lessons they taught me and the example they should for those less fortunate.

As a postscript to this whole story, my family is going to try to help a little.  The last few years we have anonymously adopted a family at Christmas to provide gifts for the needy.  We are going to adopt this young man this year.  Perhaps we can bring him a little joy. Have a great Thanksgiving


School Funding

We just finished an election cycle.  One of the most amazing things to me is the method we use for deciding how our schools are funded.  We require levies to be voted on by the citizens of the community.  I understand the goal is to have the “people decide how they want to spend their money”.  But are the people equipped to make a sound, logical decision this in this case?

People generally oppose levies for schools for three reasons:

(1) “I am on a fixed income/I am barely making ends meet.  I cannot afford any more taxes.”

(2) “The schools are inefficient with the funds they already get.  They have a bureaucracy in place that needs to be reduced.  They need to get by on less funds like we all do.”

(3) “I don’t believe in higher taxes.  I am already taxed too much.”

Okay, let’s give those people the benefit of the doubt.  Let’s say that every one of those reasons is valid and rational.  My point is not that they are right or wrong.  My point is why do we entrust one of most important functions, educating our children, to the whim of voters?

What if we did the same thing for other Governmental functions?

Can you imagine if those same citizens were provided the opportunity to vote on sending aid to Egypt or Saudi Arabia, for instance?  Let’s vote on giving billions of dollars to Middle Eastern countries run by non-Democratic governments.  Ha, fat chance that would happen, if for no other reasons than those cited above.  What if we gave them the opportunity to vote on the billions of dollars that goes into all of the various intelligence agencies?  If people stuck to the reasons cited above – and why shouldn’t they be consistent – there is no way the Government would win.

You can take this point to just about any Governmental program.  If people stuck to their very logical arguments listed above, would anything get funded? It would be mass chaos in the US.  Obviously we would never do that.  We know that people don’t have enough information to make decisions on many programs.  They also would vote for their own personal interests, not thinking about the great good perhaps.  And as citizens of the larger world, we all need to be involved in the world.

So for some reason, funding for most functions the Government does don’t get voted on by the people (Post Office, Food and Drug Administration, EPA, etc.).  We allow the bureaucracy to function however it does. But my original question still lingers.  Why do we entrust funding one of the most important functions to the people?

Insurers and the Affordable Health Care Act

It is never quite what it seems when it comes to this whole thing called the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare”.  Our President has decided to go back to his original promise on allowing people to retain their original health plan.  He had said that people would not have to change only to find that millions actually were having their plans discontinued.  The firestorm was immediate.

Of course, he took about a week to long to act.  The anger of the people was allowed to spread.  Allowing the time to go by created more time for opponents of the plan to talk about how bad it is.  While his gesture is the right one, the action might be too slow.

More interesting to me was the reaction of the chief lobbyist for the insurance industry.  Basically the industry had three things to say. First thing they said was allowing people to retain their old policies would “destabilize the market and result in higher insurance premiums for customers”.  Second is that many of the insurance companies “eliminated” those plans because they were not going to be allowable under the ACA.  So insurance companies took them off their menu.  The third reason given is that it will take too much time to inform customers of the coverage they are not getting but are supposed to get under Obamacare. Because it will take “so long” people won’t get signed up in time to have insurance coverage on January 1.

Let me tackle the first one. Somehow granting this privilege to a couple million people is going to upset the whole funding of medical insurance.  Let me refute that.  Consider the whole premise of ACA.  We want to get as many people as possible who currently do not have medical insurance insured.  That is over 40 million people.  So the insurance companies are going to get 10’s of millions of new customers paying premiums to them.  But somehow allowing a few million people to continue with the policies they already have – which presumably were already profitable to the insurance companies (why else would they offer them?) – is going to wreck the whole system.  Yeh, right.

The second one is ridiculous.  It cannot be that hard to resurrect those old policies in the IT systems of the insurance companies.  But the state “insurance regulators” need to “allow” the insurance companies to offer those plans.  Supposedly it will take “time” to make that happen.  Why?  How hard is it for the state governments to say “you are allowed to continue selling policies you sold this year”?  Oh yeah, I am talking about state governments.

As for the third one, how many people care to know what coverage they are not getting that they were never getting in the first place?  I doubt there are many people who care as much about what the ACA says they should have for medical insurance compared to what their experiences and pocketbooks tell them what they need.

By the way, according to Fortune Magazine, the top five health insurers had over $12 billion in profits last year, which was more than 8% of  revenue.  I am not denying them the right to make a profit.  That is the reason for existence.  But how much better would it have been if the insurance lobbyist said “We support our customers’ right to have the insurance they want.  We also believe our President is right in holding to his promise.  We will gladly reopen the cancelled policies.  After all, the customer comes first.”

The insurance companies are NOT on our side.

Veterans’ Day

I was reflecting on another aspect of Veterans’ Day.  As the generations go by, less and less of us will be veterans.  My Dad’s generation served in WWII or the Korean War.  Growing up, it seemed that virtually everyone I knew had a parent who was a veteran. Every Uncle of mine (ten of them) was in WW II.  I think all of Rose’s Uncle’s were also.  Many of my older cousins served in Viet Nam.  But starting with people my age and younger, being a veteran is less likely.

I saw in the Dayton Daily News that less than 1 in 9 Ohians is a veteran.  And that number is going down.  Is that good or bad?  I don’t know.

Perhaps a bit more revealing is that less than 20% of our Congressmen are veterans.  As late as 1985, that number was 40%.  Might that be one more small reason that our Congress is dysfunctional?  Veterans are trained to work together.  Their instincts are honed to trust the person next to them to do the right thing.  Despite facing unthinkable situations, and the myriad situations that come about in the “fog of war”, they know how to act together, in  one common bond to achieve a result.  Our Congress displays none of those qualities.

My Dad never “played up” his military experience.  It was not something that he talked about a lot.  But you know that the things he learned in the Navy reinforced what he learned from his family.  Was he a “hero”?  Probably not.  But were the qualities that he and so many other veterans honed in the military part of what made him a great man, dad and teacher? Yep.

So as we take a moment to reflect on Veterans’ Day, lets remember all who have served and sacrificed for our country.  Would we be better off if more of us had that experience?

Two funny elections

Only in America.  This is going to be a short post.  There are two particularly peculiar races going on in Southwest Ohio this year that I feel compelled to write about.

The first is for mayor of Kettering.  The incumbent, Don Patterson, is being challenged by Michael Barnett.  Old Michael is an interesting character.  He has never run for office before.  He is simply a disgruntled citizen running for public office.  It seems the Kettering City Council denied his request to build a second garage to house his collection of Corvettes (because the square footage of his garages would be greater than the square footage of his houses).  So, at 65,  he decided to run for office.  As he was quoted in the paper, “I saved my money, never got married and didn’t have any kids”.  He would be the “people’s mayor”.  I can imagine him down at the local watering hole getting his buddies to support him for mayor.  After enough Budweiser he decided to run. Good luck.

The second race is for municipal judge in the city of Oakwood.  There are eight people running for that office.  That means someone could conceivably win with 20% of the vote.  Why are so many people running for this one post?  It is the “Tim Butler” rule?  MONEY!  This judicial post pays $67,000 per year.  But you only work one day a week!  That is more than $1200 per day or probably about $200 per hour.  To do what?  90% of the work is to adjudicate traffic tickets.  Everybody knows Oakwood is a speed trap.  So most of this judge’s duties is to ask someone how they plead (almost certainly guilty or no contest), give the person a short lecture and then pull out the little card that says “the fee is xx dollars plus court costs”.  ANYONE could do that job.  Occasionally there are crimes in Oakwood, but those are relatively rare. So why not run for an office that pays that much money for easy work?  Bigger question is why does the state allow a post to be paid so much?

I will say it made for interesting runs through Oakwood with signs for different candidates seemingly on every house.

So Iraq wants our help

In the news this week is the visit by the President of Iraq asking for Americas assistance in fighting back terrorist elements in Iraq.  Iraq has been rocked by an unconscionable amount of horrible deaths over the past year.  The new “democratic” government is just not able to hold off the divisions within the country.  So they are asking for American help – military products, money and advisors.

There are three reasons being touted for why we should intervene.

(1) America got them into this position by our 2003 invasion.  While we eliminated Saddam Hussein, the underlying problems within the country were unleashed in our invasion.  Even in our 9 years trying to stabilize that country, we were unable to do so.  We morally owe it to the Iraqi people to “finish the job”.

(2) It is a humanitarian crisis.  Innocent civilians are being killed every day.  As the world’s superpower and democracy, we owe it to the people to help them be safer.

(3) If we don’t help Iraq, they will have to turn to others – certainly Russia and/or China – for assistance.  It is not in America’s interests to allow either of those two countries to get a foothold in Iraq.

You have got to be kidding me.

As for (1) above, we tried for nine years to get that country into a democracy.  It did not happen.  It probably will never happen.  The traditions and religious differences among the people all centuries old.  They have never had a democracy.  We will never overcome the tribal and religious differences.  Do you really think if we went back in to Iraq that the people of Iraq (and the rest of the Mideast) would say, “here come those nice Americans.  They are here to help the Iraqi people.  We are so lucky that they are morally great people.”  Nah, not happening.  They hated us then, they will hate us now.

As for (2) above, isn’t that the job of the United Nations?  For all of the same reasons as in (1) above, we don’t need to be there.

(3) above is really a good one.  If we don’t do something, our rivals will fill the vacuum.  If they do that, they will gain a strategic foothold in an important country in a critical part of the world.  This would allow them to impose their will and their form of government in Iraq.  Plus they could create all kinds of mischief in the surrounding countries.  That would be a disaster for the USA.  That is a really good argument – NOT.  How much were WE able to “impose our will?”  How much have we been able to influence other countries?  How much did the people of the Middle East love us?  Why would Russia or China find the going any better than us?  The answer is they won’t.  I say let them have at it if they think they can fix things.  And to be honest, the Middle East has only been important to us historically for the oil.  With all of the other energy-related work  going on, we don’t need them nearly as much.

I know we have to say it diplomatically.  But the bottom line is we need to tell Iraq, we have enough of our own problems and you are hopeless.  Good luck.