Highway To Hell

No speed limits and no guardrails on the Highway To Hell

Build the wall…….Make it tall

Let icebergs fall…..While treaties stall

Burn the coal……That’s the goal

Grab the crotch….Stand by and watch

Who is friend and who is foe?…….Go to Putin, he will know.

Ban the press……Deny the mess

Never wrong…..Always strong

Ban the other……Let free speech smother

Back to work we go……to hell with what we sow

Health or wealth it does not matter…..go ahead and pick the latter

Toward the cliff we surely go……Where it stops we do not know.

Manifesto of Big Ideas: Arbitration for all that ails us

Replace overbearing over-reach with reasoned oversight

Too much oversight vs. too little recourse for injustices

The government is often accused of being too big and too intrusive. The judicial system is a lengthy process. Litigation is costly for the aggrieved and out of reach for the poor . They are the ones most in need of recourse for grievances. Expensive trial lawyers, class action suits and union protections are out of reach for those who are most in need of their services and protections.

What if a system of Oversight Boards following the arbitration model could be established? They could provide outlets for the aggrieved, the intimidated, and the frustrated who only want to air their complaint, call out an injustice and change the dynamic? How might this look?

To better conceptualize this proposal, consider the following situations that happen to most people:

  • Employee grievances could be brought before an independent board. That’s important if you have no union to protect you and no money to hire a labor relations lawyer.
  • Employee suggestions for improved work performance and upgrading a stagnant or rotting work culture through anonymous channels might be accomplished thru independent arbitration boards.
  • Student grievances and suggestions could follow same scenario.
  • Citizen and neighbor grievances and suggestions, same scenario.
  • Consumer grievances and suggestions, same scenario.
  • Adopt the format of an Advisory Review Board modelled in response to incidents of police brutality and misconduct.
  • Corporations and non-profits have boards of directors, most companies have a Human Relations Department. Police Departments have Internal Investigation Units, citizens have their elected officials and there’s always the Human Relations Commission/Civil Rights Department for those from protected classes (racial, ethnic, gender, etc.) seeking redress. So why propose OVERSIGHT WATCHDOGS and ARBITRATION opportunities. Because all too often “the fox is watching after the chicken coop” or “the fox just doesn’t care about your issue” or “the fox is too busy to deal with your complaint or your complaint does not match what the fox is supposed to keep track of”. I know I over did with the “fox analogy” but I hope it gets the point across.
fox & hen house
I hear your complaints, don’t worry about anything
  • You are overcharged for health care and/or prescriptions
  • You are denied services for health care and/or prescriptions
  • You are denied benefits or services even though you appear to be eligible for them . Making matters worse, you observe ineligible persons obtaining those services. You continue to be a diligent worker bee while observing others feeding at the public trough.
  • You work in a hostile environment that includes any (or all) poisons such as: sexism, racism, bullying, cronyism, financial irregularities (illegal or unethical), mismanagement, rampant gossip, or just plain chronic laziness and inefficiencies.
  • You find yourself in situations where you want to follow the mantra “see something, say something” but you either have not outlet to do so or you fear reprisal for doing so. This proposal takes the “see something, say something” as step further to include “do something”.
  • You experience a trend or pattern of behavior by persons, businesses or agencies that are either blatantly wrong or foreshadow harmful effects for the greater good. You want to do the right thing but you have no forum to express your concerns or your observations.
  • You sense that you are not alone concerning these situations and observations but there is no opportunity to aggregate these experiences so there is no opportunity for strength in numbers and real change.

So what might be the solutions?

All too often the response is to pass more legislation, establish more programs, create rules and regulations and spend more money. Governmental responses tend to be a meat cleaver rather than a surgical laser strike at the source of problems. What if effective, impartial oversight could be applied whenever and wherever these problems crop up at their sources rather than wait until government overreach appears to be the only response?

How did I come to this proposal? My personal experiences and observations:

  • I have worked in a variety of toxic work environments where the culture was rotten but the options for change were few. Consequently, job change was the only logical option.
  • I have observed innumerable conversations involving complaints about the behaviors of specific persons followed by broad brush generalizations denigrating all persons of that particular background be it their race, culture, ethnicity, etc. Let’s have more targeting of the offenders rather than generalizing the masses.
  • I have experienced waste and financial gouging in the health insurance industry (astronomical increase in both costs and ridiculously high deductible levels). I have been repeatedly told that smaller businesses and non-profits are too small to be self-insured so they don’t have sufficient size (critical mass) to command competitive health insurance rates. We can’t be alone in this boat so if we all started rowing together, might we overcome this falsehood.
  • I have experienced innumerable conversations with persons from both the far left and far right political spectrum expressing outrage over a pet peeve and anger that they are not heard. Polarization and animosity will never be resolved as long as it persists and has no outlet. If a Community Level Arbitration infrastructure could be crafted, angst could be addressed on a micro level where there is a greater chance of agreeing on what’s right and wrong. We might avoid the macro level of polarized discourse where the trenches of our respective positions are dug too deep.

Why we need this, more thoughts on why this might work and how it might look

  • Letters to the editor used to appear in the local newspaper. Now its hard to find a paper version of newspapers.
  • Letters could be sent to the offending entity (business, government agency, organization, etc.) with the result nothing more than the polite, carefully crafted response letter informing you of their “sincere” desire to provide quality customer service and their “apology” for any disappointment you have experienced. End result is nothing. You have been politely disrespected and you have no idea of how many others have complained.
  • Contact your local official. The higher up they are on the food chain, the less likely you will get a response or any sense of satisfaction. Also, you have no idea of how many others are complaining. Politics is all about power and at the end of the day expressions of complaint (even if there are a bunch of them) are nothing more than that if there are no consequences.
  • Vent on the internet. Yelp, likes/dislikes, blogs all provide opportunities to sound off by you and fellow complainers. However, in the long run it often serves as nothing more than a sound chamber where you hear your own echoes.
  • How many times have you been upset by something but you had no recourse to complain. You might have feared recrimination. You might have thought you were the only one bothered by what you experienced. You might have felt that even if you and others complained, nothing would result from it. So instead you ruminate and stew in your own juices of resentment till it boils over into a sense of apathy and fatalism. You start using phrases like “they’re all crooked” and “my vote doesn’t count” and you ultimately live by the mantra “life’s a bitch and then you die”. Without an outlet where you can be heard and have a sense of empowerment, you are on the path to tribalism and anarchy.
I just want someone to listen to me.

The devil’s in the details….

How the ARBITRATION Boards are established, how they function and what powers they have is critical to their success.

Participation should be voluntary to keep costs low and no compensation would present no opportunity for members to be beholden to any vested interests. They will only be effective if they are transparent, independent and unbiased.

Participants must include a healthy cross sample of society akin to the format of a jury. Depending upon what issue they are overseeing, some members of the oversight board should have expertise in the appropriate field (i.e, pharmacists concerning pharmaceuticals, criminal justice professionals concerning law enforcement matters, etc.). However, the “professionals” can not have an undue voice or a deciding vote.

Even if the Arbitration Board does not have binding authority, their very existence and recommendations might provide much needed transparency and a sense of empowerment which in the long run will encourage positive change.

Arbitration Boards as conduits to channel societies frustrations (especially among societies most frustrated), might actually re-engage the alienated, reduce polarization and even bring together members on the far left and far right together on irritations at the micro lever which we all share. Who knows, this might even reduce societies epidemic levels of loneliness because “birds of a feather will be able to flock together” (even if we are various species of birds at least we will begin flying in the same direction).

Reflections While We Hit The Pandemic Pause Button

Quietness of the Quarantine Prompts Reflections

Lulled By Life

  • Sun Rises, Sun Sets
  • Breath In, Breath Out
  • Steady rhythmic heart beat
  • Don’t be deceived by the regularity
  • All things change, albeit at a glacial rate
  • Paycheck to paycheck
  • Bills to pay, every 30 day.
  • When will it stop, nobody know
  • Aches and pains creep up, still got to keep up
  • Crisis flares up but life’s routine returns
  • Memory’s fade, sharp edges soften
  • Birthdays come and go, school alumni I no longer know
  • When was the last new thing, big thing, original thought, sea change, paradigm shift?
  • Will this steady state go on in perpetuity? Might that be the definition of hell
  • If so, then what is heaven? Might that be “the next big thing?”

Next

  • The present is fine but it’s what’s next that really counts.
  • Are you next in line?
  • What are you going to do next?
  • What are you going to be next?
  • Where are you going next?
  • It’s the source of our anxiety.
  • The next doctors visit, dentist’s visit
  • The next draft notice (back when there was a draft, if there is another draft)
  • The next bill, the next school, the next job, the unknown
  • The teacher, the coach who call us next to answer or perform
  • Our creator who says “next”.
  • It’s our source of joy. Our hope. Our anticipation
  • Scholarship
  • Nomination
  • Award
  • Job
  • House
  • Child
  • Change

From the moment of our birth and our first breath, life is essentially a series of NEXT’s. Breath to breath, heart beat to heart beat, emotion to emotion, person to person, goal to goal and challenge to challenge. We live in the present but our subconscious focuses on what’s next.

Maybe that’s why life’s most enjoyable moments are when we are thoroughly immersed in the present with no concern for what’s next.

Which leads to the question of life’s ultimate mystery. So what’s next when this life as we know it is no more? As youngsters, we were taught that there is a heaven to reward the good and a hell to punish the bad.

With the passage of time, experience and natural curiosity, we develop various scenarios of what might be next.

If there is no next…..

Is life in the present more important and more fulfilling? Or might it just be meaningless? What keeps us from misbehaving if there are no consequences in the next life? Can there ever be true justice for unfairness and atrocity experienced in the present if there is no next?

Is the concept of an afterlife a construct of the human imagination to compensate for these unsettling questions? Does the very nature of our present existence cry out for some sort of NEXT?

Someday

The sneakiest, most insidious word on the English language.

The ultimate thief of time, negotiator, procrastinator.

Someday is the deceiver that implies we have more time. Tomorrow I will be more ready, more confident.

Someday and its cousin “somehow” sooth us with the notion that somehow my problems will go away someday.

Somehow and someday team up for a knock out punch of inaction and inertia.

Somehow and someday are the two pillars of a house in a fools paradise.

Why do today, what you can do tomorrow?

Somehow and someday can not stand up against the march of time. Change is inevitable whether we like it or not and whether we are prepared or not.

So let’s all take this Pandemic Pause to…..

Reflect on the past, appreciate the present and prepare for the future.

When Left Meets Right

Sometimes we have more in common than we realize if we only listen to each other and consider mutual goals and objectives

The pandemic and the ramp up to the November election got me to thinking of the following reflections:

  • Some claim the pandemic provides an excuse for capitalist overlords and the “powers that be” to scoop up the property of homeowners and small businesses because foreclosures and bankruptcies will occur in the wake of the quarantine. They predict monopolies on steroids consolidating power (capital and political) among the few who will dominate the masses and plunge the final nail into the coffin of the middle class. It’s a terrifying scenario for traditional conservatives who support low tariffs, free trade, free markets, small business innovation and a vibrant middle class fueling consumerism. It’s equally terrifying for traditional liberals who fear over-reach of monopolies, oligarchies and “the powers that be”. Left meets Right.
  • Some claim that the pandemic will provide an excuse for government overreach of biblical proportions in a never ending and ever expanding quarantine. They predict total government control. Socialism and communism on steroids. Terrifying scenario for conservatives who generally support states rights, privacy, personal liberties and limited government. Equally terrifying for liberals concerned with the erosion of personal liberties, privacy issues and the potential for a tyrannical, dictatorial governmental concentration of power. Left meets Right.

Left and Right might end up on the same page all because of the pandemic and quarantine. Might some good result from so much bad?

Consider how the Left and Right might be forced to play nice in this Covid-19 sandbox:

  • Everyone agrees that no business in a capitalist system stocks up on masks, respirators in anticipation of a pandemic. Pharmaceutical firms don’t devote resources to a maybe/someday pandemic threat. There’s no profit motive. Left & Right might agree that this might be the one circumstance when a command economy makes sense. Government subsidizes what the private sector would never do on its own.
  • Everyone agrees that the economy needs to be re-opened but everybody also agrees that we do not want to return to square one and risk a reigniting of the pandemic. Everybody wants to work and nobody wants to die. Now might be the time to launch a campaign to test and isolate the infected while tracing those potentially infected. End goal: clusters do not become outbreaks. Now might be the time to launch a Manhattan Project/D-Day magnitude initiative to facilitate a safe re-opening and longer term cure. This will take money (lots of it, but it will be cost effective in the long run for saving both lives and the economy).
  • It will require big government, big money, mandatory measures
  • Mandatory testing, treating, isolating of the infected, with mandatory tracing & testing (and isolating as needed) those who are potentially infected (repeating the process as needed to insure there are no virus flare ups). All employers will be required to have their employees tested to certify that their workforce is virus free and continues to be virus free. Costly yes, but the government may be the only entity in a position to fund this so it’s implemented. It’s in everybody’s best interest
  • Financial compensation of the tested, treated and quarantined. We can not mandate people to remain quarantined without compensation. Costly in the short run but savings and safety in the longer run. People are not being compensated willy nilly. Only those who tested positive for the virus and those who came in contact with them as high risk contacts would be isolated and compensated.
  • Housing arrangements for those who can not safely and consistently be tested, treated and quarantined.
  • Medical costs for treating this illness will not be the responsibility of the patient. There can be no allowance for an infected person to avoid treatment and quarantine for fear of lack of resources.
  • Ongoing and repeated testing, treating, tracing, housing and quarantining until such time that the virus curve and its manifestations are manageable, flattened, and an effective vaccine has been developed.
  • Testing of all persons and quarantining of all infected persons at all points of entry be that via plane, boat or vehicle. Herculean task….yes. But worthwhile since germs know no boundaries. While we’re doing testing for virus, maybe we could make sure that they are not bringing any illegal drugs or weapons

All of the above recommendations are costly, long-term and draconian. However, the Left and the Right can agree that:

  • The economy can re-open gradually and safely. Good for capitalism.
  • The response is targeted. Only those who are infected are isolated and compensated. Only those who are at highest risk due to physical contact are isolated and compensated. Cost effective solution monetarily and medically.
  • Financial safety net for both persons and businesses.
  • We get to try out a nation wide comprehensive health care system specific to this illness to determine if it could be applied to other illnesses. We put in place an apparatus (policies, procedures, supplies, etc.) that might better prepare us for the next pandemic. Left & Right plan ahead and work together for mutual benefit rather than mutually assured destruction (MAD).
  • Most importantly, we tackle the pandemic while re-starting the economy. We might even find a way to live in greater harmony where Left meets Right

Manifesto of Big Ideas

American Options

There was a time when:

  • You worked hard
  • You were loyal to your employer
  • Your employer was loyal to you
  • You had good medical health insurance
  • You had a decent pension
  • You didn’t have to change health insurance plans annually
  • You didn’t have to keep worrying if your investment portfolio was the right one
  • Paperwork was less onerous and customer service was more pleasant

Now it seems like, the “hurrier I go, the behinder I get”.

What are the options for a guy like me playing in the last quarter of this game of life?

What are the options for young adults starting out on their career journey?

Option 1: Military Service

You get food, clothing, shelter, health care and training (depending upon what you sign up for)

No worries, right? Not quite.

If you’re a female, there’s a strong likelihood that you will be sexually harassed and worse yet raped. It’s ironic that an institution that’s so disciplined and order driven, can’t seem to eradicate this plague. Might it be a “top down” problem. What’s that saying “the fish rots from the head”.

For some, the discipline and structure of the military is just what they need. For others, it breaks them, making them damaged goods in society where they self-destruct. Worse yet, they destroy others in acts of domestic violence, shootings and a life of mayhem often accompanied by addictions.

Lastly, the military is not like selecting from a menu at a restaurant. You don’t get to chose what war you are joining.

Option 2: Live off the grid

If you are a Bear Grylls or MacGyver type of person, this option is plausible.

For the rest of us, maybe you should practice living in a tent in the back yard for four seasons to test out this option.

By the way, if you subscribe to the virtues of survivalism in these increasingly difficult times, you may want to dip your toes in this water to acquaint yourself with the rigors of this lifestyle before it’s foisted on you suddenly.

Option 3: Keep your 9-5 job but augment it with passive income

Options could include rental property, cash for services rendered, skills or hobbies shared, stock investments, tutoring, fixing, cooking and everything from bartendering to bartering.

I especially like this option for young persons starting out. If they could sock away $400/month over 20 years while re-investing it, now that’s progress toward independence

As for me, this advice falls into the “wish I knew then what I know now” category. I have been working 2nd and 3rd jobs for the past 20+ years. I fantasize about how I could have built up quite a nice nest egg. Where did it all go?

  • I’m not an alcoholic, addict or gambler. I don’t even by lottery tickets (maybe I should).
  • I don’t smoke
  • I don’t go on shopping sprees or run up credit card debt. The only time I go to the mall is to work at one of my part-time jobs as a mall cop.

The answer is…..I pursued the American Dream (aka, nightmare). Home ownership, car purchases to get to/from jobs and putting kids thru college

How would I do it differently? I truly do not know. I have a nagging sense that there must be a better way. I have discovered the joy of writing and have written a novel that incorporates this Plan B philosophy so it’s never too late to try this option.

Option 4: Communal living and pooling of resources

This might be the way to go if you are starting out in life and are trying to avoid the shackles of ownership (car, house, debt). It you’re a die-hard capitalist and rugged individualist, this may not be your cup of tea. If you travel down this socialist path (dare I use that term for fear of alienating some readers), just make sure some guardrails are in place concerning the allocation of assets and energies while this experiment is underway. Also, make sure there is a process for dissolution when and if this noble experiment runs it’s course. As noted above, some of this communalism is included in my novel.

Option 5: Join religious order

Becoming a priest or monk obviously applies to those so motivated. Steer clear of any cult groups or any memberships that just don’t feel right or tumble into the fanatical direction.

Option 6: What if a National Service Organization (NSO) could be modeled after the Peace Corps (international) and Ameri-Corps (domestically)?

What if there was some variation of the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) type of initiative that was launched in response to the Great Depression of 1929? The function and format could be like the CCC with the planting of trees to preserve the environment and counter global warming. This could include the creation of community gardens in urban areas and “liberty gardens” in Americas back yards to create a healthy, affordable food supply while encouraging self-sufficiency and sustainability.

If planting trees and horticulture is not your thing, how about training, tutoring and mentoring of America’s youth particularly in the STEM fields. This would instill pride and purpose among youth while closing the achievement gap and bolstering America’s research & development capabilities.

A person like myself wants to live out the balance of my life with the following: food, clothing and shelter. Nothing fancy. Just the very basics. Medical care to patch me up when I get sick and hospice/palliative care to gently bring my life journey to a comfortable end. Let me and my fellow baby boomers to be of service to this great country for as many productive years that I have left in me. Without the opportunity for this option, I and millions of boomers will live out the rest of our lives working as serfs toiling under crushing debt in a constant state of anxiety. Sounds like a chapter from Dante’s Inferno!

As for the up-and-coming generation, some of them might opt for this minimalist lifestyle of community service if given the guarantee that basic needs would be met. They could still be entrepreneurial. In fact, they might be more likely to express an entrepreneurial spirit since they didn’t have to worry every waking minute about how to pay for mortgages, student loans and health insurance.

There might be a side benefit to establishing a grass-roots opportunity for national service on the domestic and international stage. Participants would have an opportunity to appreciate the circumstance of others. This might engender greater empathy, goodwill and understanding for everyone in the equation. Who knows? We might even become a less polarized society since there might be a greater appreciation of each other’s circumstances. The level of anxiety, isolation and polarization might notch downward.

As a very practical matter, this scenario might bring clarity to trends, situations and solutions both here and abroad. For example, in a foreign land, who knows best which way the winds of change blow? The diplomat and ambassador safely ensconced in the fortified embassy or the relief worker engaged directly with the people? In the school system, who best knows student sentiments, the principal in the office or the teacher in the classroom or the coach in the gym. The cop on the beat has his ear to the street while the chief of police conducts a press conference.

These outside-of-the-box proposals are incorporated in the chapters of my blogs within the series entitled Manifesto of Big Ideas. They are also baked into my upcoming novel entitled Mall Child so stay tuned for more ideas and as always I appreciate any feedback.

Manifesto of Big Ideas: Infrastructure & Transportation

Efficiency, ecology and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) replace congestion and waste while stimulating long-term, sustained growth

Smart, Cost Effective, Revenue Generating, Environmentally Friendly

Infrastructure and transportation (roads, bridges, rails, airports, rivers and deep water ports) have always been the catalyst for development. Additionally, natural resources are the reason why a place becomes a place in the first place.

If infrastructure and transportation were folded into Transit Oriented Development (TOD),  this could be the development pattern for a sustainable future. Imagine the cost efficiency and livability of living, working and playing all within close proximity to mass transit connections (train stations, overhead tramways, trollies, moving sidewalks in catwalks making seamless connections between home-work-play). Imagine not worrying about buying a car, insuring it, maintaining it, paying taxes on it and storing it.

This could limit the carbon footprint of both persons and cities. More efficient use of land while preserving open space, planting more trees, creating less pollution and slowing down global warming.

Place a moratorium on 1 story strip mall style development. Mixed use development (primarily residential, office, retail) along bus/electric trolley commercial corridors would be a more efficient use of land and preserve precious resources. These mixed use corridors could also be designed with bike lanes to accommodate pedal bikes, electric bikes, segues, etc. that would truly be safe paths for these alternative and healthy methods of transportation.

Why not have the large scale transit sites (train stations, bus terminals, ferry terminals, heliports and parking garages) accommodate modest and efficient transportation alternatives such as electric bikes enabling commuters to get exercise while safely and efficiently getting to and from their destinations. Why not have safe, secure means of storing your electric bike and create a network of loaner bikes to expedite getting to and from destinations. Why not have more opportunities for commuters to shower and change clothes at their places of business to encourage more physically challenging (and healthier) commuting. 

How did I come to make this proposal?

Save money commuting and get healthy

I’m a city planner by training. During the course of my 30 year career, it has been the infrastructure/transportation improvements that get the most bang for the buck concerning public resources and long-term sustainability. Nothing stimulates development better than a dredged harbor to accommodate shipping, a new interchange on the interstate, a new bridge,  a new train station and high speed rail connections.

I’m a commuter who rides a bike from my home to the train station storing one bike at that train station and storing another bike at the train station in the city where I work so I can commute from that station to my office. When I mention this scenario to others, they think it’s a great idea and noble cause in terms of being environmentally friendly and healthy. They also note how my commute pattern is the exception to the rule and not something that they would be psychologically willing to do or physically capable of doing . I admit from experience that there are significant obstacles. Constant vandalism and theft at the outdoor bike rack at the train stations, particularly the first train station which has no CCTV surveillance despite the fact that they have security guards patrolling within the station. There is so much theft and vandalism at the first station that for a while I resorted to securing my bike at a bike rack at the City Hall Annex located a few blocks away. That is until an employee of the City Hall Annex told me that I could not keep my bike at that bike rack all day. When I questioned why I could not secure a bike at a BIKE RACK on a daily basis, she threatened to have me arrested for trespassing. So much for encouraging environmentally friendly alternative commuting! At both train stations, the bikes are stored outside and take a beating exposed to the elements. The trip by bike to/from each train station is a safety challenge. I use a hybrid bike to/from the first train station since I use more sidewalks and cut through more parking lots since riding on the road is out of the question.

Coping with Covid

Some helpful suggestions and humorous reflections on the pandemic.

First of all, my personality and lifestyle is already conducive for social distancing and quarantines

  • I have never have taken a cruise and probably never will, not for fear of illness but because of lack of money
  • My cruising consists of commuting to work (M-F) from Bridgeport to Stamford CT
  • Have not taken a vacation for over 20 years, not because I’m allergic to fun, I just don’t have funds
  • Weekends consist of working 2 additional jobs. Therefore, socializing in bars or going to movies are not something I’m giving up.
  • I never really enjoyed team sports, maybe because I’m an only child. Too much arguing on team sports and rules that must be followed. My favorite sports are solitary events like running, swimming and weight lifting.  
  • I rarely shop and when I do, it’s only for essentials like milk, bread, and peanut butter (of which I probably eat too much)
  • I have never been incarcerated but if I was put in jail, I would opt for solitary confinement over having a cell mate. Who needs that drama.
  • Being almost bald, I shave my head so it’s not like I’m missing trips to the barbershop. My shadow has not darkened the doorstop of the barbershop in over 20 years.  
  • Last, but not least, being of Irish descent, I am not predisposed to hugs and overly demonstrative physical expressions. It takes an Irish wake to get a hug out of me.

So how am I coping and what are some of my recommendations?

  • Work out in the driveway lifting weights, shadow boxing and doing plyometric exercises  ( jumping jacks, burpees, planks, etc.).
  • Wearing all black (sweats and t-shirt) and listening to Eminem rapping before doing the above described driveway workout. Imagining during the work out that you are in the prison yard. If Eminem is not your thing, try listening to Jonny Cash singing “I walk the line” from Folsom Prison.
  • Wearing all white (sweats and t-shirt) and listening to Loggins & Messina’s “Highway to the Danger Zone” before doing the above described driveway workout. Imagine during your workout that you are Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun or Richard Gere in the movie “An Officer & a Gentleman”.  Ironically, I have been told that I look just like these guys (now that’s some seriously fake news!)
  • Wearing my torn sweats and ratty sweatshirt (of which I have plenty) and jog down the street while shadow boxing. Listen to the song “Eye of the Tiger” and watch a clip of any of the Rocky films (the first couple are my favorites) and yell “Yo Adrian” to passerbys (from a safe social distance).
  • Learning a new skill. My kids have been teaching me sign language.  While doing the aforementioned workouts, they make me show them every letter of the alphabet.  If I do not remember it or get it wrong, I need to do an extra sit up. I have been doing LOTS of extra sit-ups. At this rate, if the quarantine lasts a long time,  I hope to get a set of abs like “The Situation” on the old show “Jersey Shore”.
  • Catching up on my writing. Revising my novel entitled “Mall Child” which I am planning to release early in 2021. Participating in any and all writing webinars to further hone my writing skills. Everybody should take this quarantine time to pursue whatever avocation they always wanted to launch. I’m a late bloomer to writing and I absolutely love the exercise.
  • Catching up on my blogging and networking with family, friends and outreaching to advance my writing career.
  • Last, but not least, a huge beneficiary of this pandemic is my lawn. Working 3 jobs I have never had the luxury of working on it this early in the season. I usually postpone lawn work until getting a notice from the health department urging me to cut the lawn. By the way, I’m big on multi-tasking so I use an old fashioned push mower (old school version) so I’m getting my work out while cutting the lawn. My goal is to keep it low early in the season so I can continue to use the hand held push mower

Manifesto of Big Ideas: Mental Health

Treatment & Therapy Replace Stigma & Stereotype

The perception & dynamic needs to change. If you get a physical illness (diabetes, cancer, etc.) you receive empathy. Get a mental illness diagnosis or experience emotional distress/depression, you get ostracized and stigmatized. 

Cost for treatment and therapy should be covered just as it is for physical ailments. There should be no shame in obtaining treatment. 

However, the patient also needs to assume responsibility for their own recovery. Medication and therapy as appropriate needs to be mandated for the best interests of both the patient and the society. Both must be protected and if that means mandated services with consequences for non-compliance, then so be it. Part of this system of mandated treatment must include close monitoring of the individual since circumstances can change quickly for the worse for everyone concerned. 

This scenario requires giving up of one’s autonomy (similar to giving up of the single family home ownership fixation as described in another of my blogs concerning affordable housing). The end goal of the new dynamic would be a tough-love scenario where the patient gets the needed treatment. The patient maintains his regime and is not allowed to “go off the radar screen or go off the rails”. 

Gone will be the days of denied service. 

Gone will be the days of persons missing in action (MIA) only to surface later in tragic circumstances for either themselves or others. 

Families and loved ones need to be able to take charge of the person who is decompensating. We need to adjust the system and rules of the game to prevent a gradual descent into hell or in some cases a free fall. 

We need to re-design the system to allow for off-ramps and rest stops on this person’s highway to hell. Under the revised format, a person who has self-awareness of their deteriorating mental and emotional state should be able to check into a treatment facility where they can get the help they need. If they are unaware of their own free fall, family and loved ones with whom they are connected should be able to get them the treatment they need. 

Last, but not least, this treatment should be more than a 24-48 hour monitoring bandaid strategy. The duration and intensity of treatment needs to be sufficiently long and effective. 

Will all of the above described proposals be costly? Damn right! But it’s preferable to our current quagmire of homelessness, co-occurring disorders, undiagnosed disorders, addictions, suicides, violence and mass shootings. 

Do we continue with the band aid approach treating symptoms or treat the actual disorder making the proper diagnosis. 

A theme of this segment of the manifesto of big ideas (like all the other segments) revolves around the notion that persons should not be allowed to become untethered. Persons should be allowed to be reasonably independent. However, based upon diagnosis and behavior, the monitoring-treating-restricting of this person for their own good and the good of society must take priority.  

How did I come to make these observations and proposals?

Years of working in the mental health field assisting persons suffering from mental illness and recovering from addictions has convinced me of the importance of compassionate tough-love. When I switched into this career late in my life, I had to make a conscious effort to refer to persons as suffering from mental illness and addiction rather than being labeled mentally ill or addicted. As a mall cop, I have been at the scenes of drug overdoses and dealt every weekend with persons who are emotionally disturbed and experiencing anxiety attacks. As a former property manager and community organizer working in some very distressed housing sites and neighborhoods I have seen up close the ravages of addiction, suicide, mental illness and crime all in a toxic mix. Last, but not least, given my Irish-American ancestry, I am well aware of alcoholism, conflict avoidance, vengeance and denial all neatly masked in a veneer of wit and charm.

Manifesto of Big Ideas: Health & Fitness

Accountability (financial accountability on behalf of providers and personal accountability on behalf of patients) replaces skyrocketing costs and personal irresponsibility

Stop the financial madness. Stop the fitness madness.

The health insurance industry, medical profession, pharmaceutical industry and hospitals need to live within the Cost Of Living world that the rest of us must comply with. Why can’t the normal rate of inflation apply to them?

This blog was written before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, so I’m adding these notations:

There will be hell to pay if the above listed conspirators try to list Covid-19 as “pre existing conditions”. What do you want to bet that they don’t try? Just like the health insurance industry tried to put a sunset provision on the 911 responders (cops/firemen/EMT’s) and the construction workers who have cancer and other illnesses that are killing them. The “powers that be” will try to wiggle out of long term costs affiliated with this pandemic’s patients just like they tried to short change the 911 patients.

This tragic pandemic is a prime example of how we could have been so much better prepared had there been a national health insurance system in place. Everybody would have been covered by health insurance rather than this ridiculous scrambling with a patchwork of private unaffordable insurance plans, millions who are still without coverage and a patchwork of states offering different medicare/medicaid options. We could have had in place a nationwide mobilization for everything from supplies to preventive procedures to quarantine measures to affordable health care for victims. Maybe we will learn our lesson from this pandemic and have it in place for the next one.

Back to my “big ideas” concerning health & fitness:

If it costs too much. Don’t do it. This may sound harsh but it’s the reality. We all need to come to terms with our own mortality. Until we do so, the cost of doing whatever is necessary at whatever cost will spiral out of control. For chronic incurable situations, palliative care to mitigate symptoms might be the advisable course of action.

Why can’t good health habits be rewarded, comparable to auto insurance providing good driver discounts. Likewise, bad drivers pay higher insurance rates because of their bad driving. Why should we all pay higher health insurance rates because of your unhealthy lifestyle.

Accountability needs to replace personal irresponsibility. Here is where the tough-love theme kicks into overdrive.

After years of people watching, these are my observations and recommendations:

People need to stop spending money they do not have. Credit card debt is astronomical. I cringe when I hear economists refer to consumer spending as a barometer of a healthy economy or as a means of spending ourselves out of an economic slump. Deficit spending as a nation and as a consumer can only lead to collapse. It’s like buying chairs for the deck of the Titanic and rearranging them. End goal should be debt freedom not commercial consumption.

People need to eat healthier, exercise more and sleep more. Stop feeding the diet/fitness industry buying their books, programs and panaceas.  Too many of America’s exercise equipment and gadgets are gathering dust and filling the landfills. As the Nike slogan says, “Just Do It”.

Most absurd are the cars that circle around in the parking lot trying to get a space close to the gym before the driver gets on the treadmill inside.

Stop buying junk food, eating junk food, get moving and take better care of yourself. This is not rocket science.

If both of the above described proposals are adapted (buy less stuff, eat better stuff and exercise more) the carbon footprint will shrink. Less stuff bought, stored, tossed. More people walking and biking improves both their health and the environment. 

Healthier population will reduce medical costs and in the long run this is a cost effective solution. The first step starts with us, the patients taking more responsibility for their own health.

Now the second important step is to stop the blame game that occurs among the following players: doctor, specialist, hospital, clinic, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical industry and an assortment of medical related suppliers. This complex of characters today is comparable to what was termed the military-industrial complex being in cahoots with each other since the 1950’s.

These players need to stop hiding behind each other when assigning costs and following procedures.

Case in point: Let’s look at the controversy over coding a procedure as “preventative vs. diagnostic”. Everybody in the profession talks a good line when advocating for “preventative” medicine and touts prevention as a long term method of lowering costs.

However, when preventative measures are taken, they often get coded as “diagnostic” with many health insurers refusing to pay for diagnostic procedures.  

We need to establish a clear line distinguishing diagnostic vs. preventative.

Anything done after a situation/condition is found because of taking preventative measures should be classified as diagnostic. Checking to see if there is a problem (whether this is a lab test or a reconnaissance type procedure such as a colonoscopy) should be coded as preventative. Coding more procedures as affordable (low cost or no cost) preventative will encourage patients to take these preventative measures thereby avoiding costly subsequent medical costs and saving everybody in the long run. Makes sense for everyone except the “powers that be” in the medical/insurance complex who benefit from the blame game of coding and billing.  

How did I come up with this tough-love, cost-benefit perspective on finances (personal and medical)

I’m personally immersed in this “preventative vs. diagnostic” coding tug-of-war.

Everyone I speak with has horror stories concerning health care costs. Assurances are given that procedures will be covered and then the bill is delivered. Thanks’ for nothing but deceit.

Outrageously high annualized insurance deductibles. Ever increasing insurance costs with nothing to show for it.   

Everyone I speak with experiences an adversarial relationship with some or all the players in the healthcare industry (doctors, insurers, hospitals, specialists, pharmacy). Name any other industry where so many customers (i.e., patients) are so disgruntled and yet still seek these services. Why? Because it’s medical and we really don’t have another choice.

What if every other transaction in the marketplace (the purchase of gas, bread, etc.) was so convoluted, irritating and inflationary? Our system would grind to a halt as it has been doing in the current medical/pharma/insurance marketplace. Why can’t prices be set and why are set artificially high in anticipation of negotiations with health insurers? Why do you feel like you are dealing with a sleazy used car dealer?

Why is it that the older you get and the sicker you get, the financial and medical/insurance system is structured to make things more complicated? Why is it that when you are feeling sick or are too tired to think straight, this is when they force you to make important decisions? The older and sicker we get, the more we prefer a slow, steady, predictable, affordable lifestyle.

I have been told that you cannot be denied treatment for pre-existing conditions. This is great. However, this does you no good if the cost for that treatment exceeds your ability to pay.

I have been told that the reason smaller companies cannot get an affordable health insurance rate is because they’re small. Whenever it’s suggested that small companies could be aggregated into a larger pool and thereby mitigating the risk to insurers, everyone says “that’s a great idea”.

However, for some reason everyone also says “that’s not possible”.

Why?

Likewise, the USA has a big, diverse population (sick people and healthy people). Even after the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, we overall have a pool of healthy people. It seems like if we all got into the same insurance pool, the risk would be sufficiently spread and the costs would go down. It also seems to me that some people want to keep the insurance/medical/pharma Ponzi scheme intact.

As for a return to personal financial sanity, the insanity all starts with the American Dream and the notion that bigger is better with each generation expected to do better than the next with money buying happiness. The commercialization of Christmas is the ultimate example of buy now, pay later. Gifts purchased on credit cards in winter are not paid off until summer (if then). Wedding and vacation costs can rival a year’s worth of salary.

Everyone needs to ask themselves the following questions:

Do I have enough food, clothing and shelter to survive (nothing fancy just the basics)?

If I get sick are there funds to patch me up?

If I can’t be patched up is there money to let me coast out relatively peacefully.

I acknowledge that this is harsh and the bar is set low but it might just return us to financial and medical sanity. This new way of thinking might also reduce the carbon footprint thereby increasing the longevity of both us and the planet.

Common Ground

The SILLY SEASON is fast approaching.

The 2020 campaign for USA president in heating up.

It’s that special bipolar time of year when the trenches between liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans get dug deep. That special time when everybody’s talking and nobody’s listening. Nobody’s convincing.

The commuters are lined up along the train platform like birds on the wire. What are they thinking? Hard to tell since they no longer chirp.

Zombie drivers commute to work crawling forward for hours at sun up and sundown. What are they thinking? Hard to tell since the windows are up and the radios are on.

TV emits a bluish glow from every bedroom at night. What’s on? It doesn’t really matter. Very little stimulation of gray matter. 

Got me to thinking….When we strip away all that’s different between us….What do we fundamentally have in common. What is truly our Common Ground? When was the last time every man-woman-child was truly on the same page moving in the same direction?

I will be asking this question to everyone I meet in the run up to the election in 2020. I’m looking forward to sharing results in an upcoming blog.

In the meantime, here is my humble reflection concerning what I consider to be the most fundamental Common Ground from which hopefully we all can agree:

The categories are four:

  1. Work Ethic/Work Experience

I worked hard, so do you.

I pay bills, so do you.

I got educated, so did you.

I got life experience, so do you.

I respect what you do for work

I respect that you get up every day to do that work.

I would hope that you have the same respect for me concerning all of the above.

If you do not have this respect, then I guess we truly have nothing in common.

2. We have no other choice but to go our separate ways.Wanting what’s best for our kids.

Deep down, let’s agree that we want our kids to be…

Healthy

Productive

Self-Sufficient

Morally grounded with a conscience that enables them to distinguish right from wrong

Let’s not get lost in the details as to whether they are liberal or conservative or what particular positions they may hold.

Let’s just agree that we want them to be known as “good people” like we want to be known as “good people” for ourselves.

3. Life Experience

If we can not agree on the above described base line, then I guess we will never agree and have no choice but to go our separate ways.

We all have experienced…

Joyful times

Sorrowful times

Bland, hum-drum times

Experiences that have shaped us for the better, worse and everything in between.

Each of us is the sum of what came before us.

I need to appreciate your experiences and you should value mine.

If we cannot view each other within this context, it’s best that we travel different roads.

4. We all want to make money. Who could be against that?

Let’s not get caught up on the tax and spend details.

Let’s just focus on the common goal of making ends meet. That means the bare essentials of food, clothing, and shelter. Let’s add health care in minimal terms of patching you up when you get sick and keeping you as comfortable as possible when there is no cure.

Let’s agree that everyone needs to feel productive, valuable for something and allowed to pursue happiness. Sound familiar? The pursuit of happiness is baked into the Bill of Rights. Nobody is guaranteed happiness, only the opportunity to pursue it.

So where do we go to find Common Ground?

It’s not about the details of policies and budgeting choices. It’s all about what we fundamentally agree upon.

Without fundamental agreement, it’s best to agree to disagree and live in separate, parallel universes.

There may be some deal breakers that are so important to you and me that coexistence is impossible even if we agree on basic common ground. We will know deal breakers when we see them. These will be the situations and philosophies that we find so abhorrent to eachother that we can not co-exist.

This break point occurs on the personal, professional and national level. It is comparable to paths chosen in the marital relationship: stay and stagnate or leave or stay and revive.

Stay and stagnate:

Co-exist living in separate, parallel universes being careful not to antagonize eachother or in worse case keep antagonizing without breaking up. Doesn’t this sound like the current culture of the USA?

Leave:

Come to the realization that we really have nothing in common and that a national divorce is the only real alternative. How will you know when this point has been reached? It will be like when you attend a party and realize that you share nothing with the attendees, you are miserable and you must leave.

Stay and revive:

Hopefully this will be the path taken. Re-kindle relationships. Get back to the reason we got together in the first place. As a nation, be like that couple that shares goals, dreams and passions. Once again get on the same page and revive the excitement.

Now the hard part. The dilemma is how do we re-kindle that spark and keep the national love alive. No clear answer here but at least it could start with agreement on Common Ground.