Tag Archives: Ann Gaylia O’Barr

Why the Healthy Should Buy Health Insurance

I’m the daughter and sister of insurance agents. I understand that an insurance program is an agreement to provide buyers of insurance with funds to overcome some kind of misfortune. Examples include automobile accidents, house fires, and illnesses, to name a few.

For the insurance provider not to go broke, payments into the insurance program must be enough to accumulate funds needed to pay out for the misfortunes.

A provider of automobile accident insurance would soon go broke if the provider allowed people to begin the insurance after having an accident. Likewise, so would a company providing house insurance if people were allowed to begin fire insurance after having a fire and expecting to receive funds.

In a sense, insurance programs are community programs. Some are profit driven. Others, like social security for the elderly, are not. Even with social security, however, workers are required pay into social security whether they know they will live to old age or not.

Popular sections of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) include the provisions covering preexisting conditions and those guaranteeing people’s continued coverage even if they get sick.

Highly unpopular, however, is the mandate that all must purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.

Unfortunately, adopting a plan with the first two requirements is most likely impossible unless all people are required to have a policy or pay a penalty. Health insurance, no more than car or house insurance, needs regular payments over a long period of time to balance the outgoing.

Otherwise, it becomes too expensive. The cost of caring for sick people is too expensive unless a large group of people pay for coverage.

Of course, people with health insurance are more likely to enjoy good health than people without it.

If their insurance covers doctor visits, they are more likely to have regular checkups. They are more likely to visit a doctor when they first have symptoms of an illness rather than later when the illness may require longer and more expensive treatment.

The term”health” insurance is instructive. The primary goal is better health, rather than paying to correct ill health. It’s also less expensive in the long run.

You Don’t Have to Know Russian to Read Russian Propaganda; Try U.S. Social Media Sites

Reports are surfacing that Russian interests paid for numerous adds on Facebook before the 2016 U.S. election. These adds reportedly focused on divisive issues in an attempt to polarize the elections to Russia’s advantage.

Facebook says it has identified hundreds of fake accounts connected to Russian groups known for trolling on social media. Facebook says it is cooperating with U.S. investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Social media sites have an obligation to weed out hidden political advertising masquerading as news. However, as the comic strip character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

We are the ones who stopped reading newspapers and began depending on social media for our news. Too many of us ignored actual news gathered by professionals.

As long as we prefer to find our “news” from tweets and Facebook, we risk electing officials just as unprofessional and ill prepared to govern.

Five Hundred Years of History, Repeating? Our Choice.

In October of this year 2017, we mark the 500th anniversary of the day an obscure Christian monk named Martin Luther posted a scholarly document in Wittenberg, Germany. The document questioned certain practices of his church.

It was an unsettling time. Armies from the Middle East threatened Europe. Less than a century before, the city of Constantinople, the ancient bastion of eastern Christianity, had fallen to Muslim Turks. In a few years time, Turkish armies would lay siege to Vienna, Austria, and do so again late in the next century.

Even more disturbing were new ideas spreading through a recent invention, the printing press. Pamphlets and books, including Luther’s ideas, were now produced more cheaply and with lightning speed compared to the old way of copying manuscripts by hand.

The explosion of ideas created challenges to established ways of doing and thinking. The gatekeepers no longer functioned.

Tragically, war and conquest too often became the answer to these new thoughts. Rulers, anxious for political power, usurped religious ideas as a pretext for their own ambitions, unleashing great suffering.

Today’s internet age shows remarkable parallels to Luther’s time, but we don’t have to choose the ways so often chosen then. It’s not a zero sum game. We can reason together, gleaning the good from our old culture, while allowing new growth. We don’t have to agree on everything.

Changes have come, and they won’t go away, any more than they did in Luther’s time. How we use them is our choice.

Hurricanes and Earthquakes: What Do We Care About?

Our overly active hurricane season illustrates how unprepared most of us are for natural disasters.

In our seismically challenged Pacific Northwest, studies indicate insufficient preparation for a major earthquake.

An extensive drill found that the region would be unable to cope with the three million or so survivors who would need food, water, shelter, and medical aid ( The Seattle Times, October 23, 2016).

“Everything we depend on to live our 21st century lives is going to be significantly degraded or eradicated,” one official said. “The needs are going to be immediate, they are going to be urgent and they are going to be overwhelming.”

These warnings are similar to those sounded as major hurricanes approach.

Smartphones and Facebook helped rescuers find trapped families in Texas, but electrical power outages, lost computers, and damaged cellphones begin to limit digital use.

What do we depend on when these fail us?

We depend on basic networks so often neglected in our wired age. We depend on families, neighborhoods, and face to face friendships. And also on the kindness of strangers.

Battle of the Handshakes

In Western societies, the handshake became evidence of a binding contract to buy and sell. It could also signal a truce or peace agreement between warring parties. Informally, it was a way of welcoming a stranger.

Like many other practices, President Trump has upended this friendly gesture of respect. In shaking the hand of recently appointed Supreme Justice, Neil Gorsuch, Trump appeared to want to pull Gorsuch off his feet.

Handshakes between President Trump and the leaders of our allies have descended to wrestling grips. Some appear to cause actual physical pain to Trump’s handshake partner.

As leaders have wised up to Trump’s apparent understanding of handshakes as another form of warfare, they have developed strategies to deal with it.

French President Emmanuel Macron gripped Trump’s hand as hard as Trump gripped his. Trump appeared to slightly wince while Macron grinned. Macron later commented, “One must show that we won’t make little concessions, even symbolic ones.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, an amateur boxer, also came off well in the handshake match.

Since most leaders of our allies are younger than Trump, time would appear to be on their side.

Deep State: What Is It, and Do We Have One?

A “conspiracy of powerful, unelected bureaucrats secretly pursing their own agenda” is one definition of a deep state, according to Jon D. Michaels in Foreign Affairs. ( “Trump and the Deep State,” September/October 2017).

This type of nation does exist, says Michaels. As examples, he includes Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey, “where shadowy elites in the military and government ministries have been known to countermand or simply defy democratic directives.”

The United States, Michaels points out, is operated much more transparently than the countries mentioned above.

That is why President Trump complains so much about the established news media. Freedom of the press is not some slogan spouted by politicians. It’s been ingrained in our national fabric since before the American Revolution.

When I applied for and eventually was accepted into the U.S. Foreign Service, I had to pass both written and oral exams. Nothing on the exams concerned my political persuasions or my voting record.

My class of Foreign Service officers included various ages and educational levels and previous occupational experience. The dedication, especially of the younger members, impressed me. None of us came in because of who we knew. None of us were political appointees.

The U.S. government is run by and large by mid-level bureaucrats, more of whom live outside Washington than in. These mid-level workers are not appointed by some presidential cabal or political party. They are hired over the years based on professional merit. They run the government and remain through various administrations.

Writes Michaels: “U.S. administrative fragmentation makes it hard for things to get done—but it also makes the notion of a coordinated, secret conspiracy by multiple state actors laughable.”

Landing of Another Black Swan

Hurricane Harvey developed in a short time to an unprecedented rain maker. These unexpected events, sometimes likened to rare black swans, have a way of changing our viewpoints.

As we see nursing home patients waist deep in water in their wheelchairs and families struggling to carry their children to safety, our perceptions change.

We do, in fact, need strong government agencies to rescue these people, to give care in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, and to support them in the long term as they seek to rebuild their lives and businesses.

Ordinary citizens will show compassion. Charitable organizations will help, but we will need organized aid that only a strong central government can provide. We will need more money to rebuild, yes, in Texas, but ultimately to replace older infrastructure all over the country.

We all know how unpopular taxes are. Yet taxes are how these programs are paid for. Our tax system must be reformed in a way that does not weigh heaviest on the middle and working classes. Some taxes, like a sales tax, weigh on the poor as well.

Despite the present political dysfunction, our elected representatives still can come together for a tax system that is fair and asks from the rich what it already demands from the non-rich. Taxes on corporations may indeed be too high, but so are the tax breaks available to them and rarely to ordinary citizens.

At some point, for the United States to continue as a developed society, we will need more money to maintain and improve it—infrastructure, education, preventive health care, security, and hosts of other needs. Middle income citizens are already paying their fair share.

More black swans will land in the future, and we need to prepare for them.

What To Do When Neo-Nazis Come to Call

When far right protestors picked Charlottesville, Virginia, to hold a rally, Leah Wise, who lives there, wondered what her response would be. She finally chose to go to her church, St. Paul’s Memorial, the evening the rally took place. (“Dispatches from Charlottesville: What Happens When Neo-Nazis Are Outside Your Church Doors,” Christianity Today, September, 2017.)

That evening a standing room only crowd of all religions and colors came together. “We came because we were scared, or at least confused. We didn’t know where else to go. We came because we shared a call to social justice and we knew we needed each other,” Wise wrote.

While protestors gathered in the city, the church group sang “This Little Light of Mine,” clapping and stomping as though in some Appalachian revival service. Their reaction to the chaos outside their doors provided peaceful encouragement to those opposed to hatred and racism.

In other commentary, Danny Westneat (The Seattle Times, “Stop Feeding the Neo-Nazi Beast,” August 16, 2017), cautions against shouting matches with the protestors or attacking them.

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote: “Fight fanaticism with fire? No, with modesty and moderation,” (as quoted in The Seattle Times, August 20, 2017).

“Progress is not made by crushing some swarm of malevolent foes; it’s made by finding balance between competing truths—between freedom and security, diversity and solidarity,” Brooks wrote.

When the times are out of joint, dysfunctional groups take advantage of fear and uncertainty. It’s doubtful these groups will go away any time soon.

Moving society in the opposite direction—step by step, election by election, good work by good work—requires long term commitment. The missionary preacher Paul summed up this kind of activity in his letter to the Ephesians: “Be angry, but do not sin . . . ”

Embassies Without Ambassadors: Who’s In Charge?

About a third of U.S. ambassadors are political appointees under any given president, Democratic or Republican. Massive campaign contributions often count in such appointments.

These appointments are normally to European countries or perhaps to Caribbean island nations. Political ambassadors are rarely appointed to what are known as danger or hardship posts, like Pakistan or Sierra Leone. Those are for the career diplomats.

Unlike most developed nations, we think nothing of sending a diplomatic neophyte to serve in the capitals of our important allies.

Nevertheless, even political appointments have been slow for our current presidential administration. Take Switzerland. The country has been without a U.S. ambassador for seven months, since the ambassador, a political ambassador, resigned, as is customary for political appointees when a new president takes office.

Who’s directing the embassy in Switzerland? As in all of these ambassador-less posts, the second in command oversees operations, almost always a career diplomat, a U.S. Foreign Service professional. In this case, Tara Feret Erath, serves as temporary overseer.

Ms. Erath has served at U.S. posts in Afghanistan, Belgium, Brazil, France, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She speaks German, French, and Portuguese.

One wonders why they don’t just appoint Ms. Erath to be the ambassador.

How The Hiring Freeze Affects Lives

The White House announced a government hiring freeze soon after the current administration took office in January.

Blanket orders often are not well thought out and can have unintended consequences. A recent article in The Foreign Service Journal (July/August, 2017) pinpointed one such consequence. Foreign Service officers, the Americans who staff U.S. embassies and consulates overseas, transfer frequently, moving with their families from one assignment to another.

As American citizens, spouses often fill critical positions at posts, as they move with husbands and wives. The hiring freeze means that they cannot be hired for jobs at their spouse’s new post. They cannot serve as office managers, back up visa officers as they interview foreigners, or help security officers with classified data.

Many of these spouses staff critical positions in U.S. embassies and consulates . The government saves money because they already are in the country and do not have to be moved there or paid housing allowances and other expenses to take the jobs.

Family members who had jobs lined up have suddenly had to change plans. Some must pay for unexpected housing back in Washington as the spouse waits there for the freeze to end. Others must do without the planned salary from the job while waiting at post.

One view from a long-term spouse: “. . . there is absolutely no indication that this administration has any interest in mission staffing, from either a practical or a morale perspective.”

Another says, “It is devastating for families and demoralizing for those blocked out of positions.”

Not to mention damage to U.S. diplomacy as supporting roles remain unfilled.

Life after Hate

“Oh, honey, you’re so much better than that.”

Such was the comment of a restaurant waitress, an elderly African-American woman, to a young man after she saw the swastika tattooed on his hand. Her concern pricked his conscience. Eventually he changed the focus of his life from hate to helping others.

This story is mentioned in “Confessions of a Former White Supremacist” (Sojourners, August 2017) by Jason Byassee. The article chronicles the journey of the former white supremacist, Tony McAleer.

McAleer is co-founder of “Life After Hate,” a group working to free those bound by the hate of extremism.

McAleer’s life illustrates why some fall into the extremist trap. His father neglected his son physically and emotionally. Growing up, McAleer often was bullied. Joining a hate group was a way to cope. It provided him with the identity he lacked. His anger “rotted into neo-Nazism.”

Eventually finding himself the single father of two children, McAleer realized that he was responsible for lives other than his own and began a slow process, through counseling, toward improving his life.

His therapist was Jewish, a member of a group McAleer had been taught to hate. Yet, he helped McAleer to love himself.

Hating those who hate—despising them—only feeds their own self-hatred, to see themselves as unlovable. Instead, loving them and calling them to love themselves can be one step toward abolishing the hatred that claims the hater as its first victim.

Digital Servants: Candidates for Spiritual Discipline

Spiritual disciplines aren’t necessarily about giving up evil practices. They deal more with disciplining ourselves to control the neutral or even good things in our lives.

Food is not only enjoyable but necessary. So is our need for social interaction.

But just as we can overeat, we can overindulge in the time we spend with our digital devices.

We gain too much weight, not only from overeating, but also from eating the wrong kinds of food like refined sugar and trans fats.

We can spend time with the wrong kinds of digital input like pornography, but we can also waste time with gossipy items on celebrities.

In my case, I’m inclined to overdose on news items. In the hyper charged political climate we live in, I can spend hours following rabbit trails about our political leaders and their outrageous antics.

I try to limit the number of times I enter internet space. The early morning tends to be my most productive time for writing, so except for checking the weather, I ignore the internet, including emails. Than, after a few hours of writing, I break for exercise and checking the news on my iPad.

Unless I’m waiting for something urgent, I wait for afternoon to check emails, scanning for important items that may need a response, and deleting junk stuff. The more important reading I usually save until later in the day, when I feel I’ve accomplished more worthwhile tasks.

Obviously, if communication is a regular part of your job, or you are a parent of young children, or you work in certain kinds of employment, your routine will differ.

The point is to discipline ourselves to use our devices at proper times of our choosing. They are helpful servants but atrocious masters.