“America First” has become “America Last”

For those who’ve followed this blog (or my ministry) for the last several years, I think you’ll agree that I try to strike a balance between my own beliefs and views (which are clearly rather Progressive); and emphasizing the importance of listening-to those who have different perspectives.  And, I believe this is imperative if we are serious about our faith: we must make a determined effort to really understand where others are “coming from.”

As I see it, we’re all in this together.  And, we cannot make progress towards a better future for all UNLESS we all believe together that it is a better future.  But, there comes a point where the line between reasoned debate and outright insanity is crossed.  That has happened repeatedly in the last few months, and isn’t going to end any time soon.  Even so, I have tried to differentiate between the actions and beliefs of our demonstrably incompetent and self centered president; and the well founded anger and doubts of many who support his administration.  Anger and concerns which many of us on the Liberal side of the spectrum actually share.  There is much more that unites us than divides us, even now.

But for me, this decision of the president’s to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is the last straw.  (This article from the Weather Channel does a good job of summarizing what this will mean for us.)

Now, for those who have questions about Climate Change, fine: have questions. Ask them. Ask lots of questions. And when well informed folk respond, listen.

But the president’s decision goes far beyond that: it not only flies in the face of unequivocal scientific research and findings; but also puts the USA at odds with the ENTIRE WORLD.

No good can come of this in an environmental, economic, political or diplomatic sense. It isolates us from our allies and economic partners.  It removes us from our former status as a respected world leader.  We are well on the way to becoming the bully with a big stick whom others will have to join together to knock back into line.  It is hard to imagine a worse decision being made by any past, present, or future president – short of starting another global war.

I’m always happy to engage in reasoned dialog on the issue of Climate Change.  But, it is not a left vs. right issue, but a right vs. wrong issue: do we listen to what ALL reputable scientists are telling us? Or, do we subscribe to the conspiracy theories and “research” promulgated by a tiny band of deniers whose motives and qualifications are for the most part highly suspect?

For this country to remain strong, for it to retain it’s position as a world leader, requires more than just a large economy and an oversized military.  Other countries will eventually eclipse us on that score, and even sooner than we might think.  Such leadership solely through raw power cannot endure.  For us to remain a leading nation in this world requires us to lead in other ways.  Sadly, the current administration and leadership in Congress does not understand this, and is leading us down a path from which we will take decades to recover, if we ever do.

Political Reality

I’ve said this before, and it needs to be said again and again:

Some aspects of the GOP’s agenda, particularly with regards to economic policy and governance, have merit: reducing government bloat and overregulation are good goals; as is strengthening our manufacturing base and increasing our economic competitiveness.
 
I may disagree with some aspects of these goals, especially certain proposed implementations, but the basic ideas are sound. Making progress on these issues would be welcomed by many moderate Democrats and non-aligned voters, especially if implemented with some effort at building a common consensus with those outside the party. And many within the GOP, such as Senator McCain and even Dick Cheney have said exactly this.
 
However, the GOP’s blind spot is their assumption that they have been given a mandate to promote their social agenda and a pass on ignoring the influence of dark money and corruption in politics.  If they continue pushing on rolling back social reform and ignore the corruption issues (as they are actively doing), they’ll have a really tough time in the next election cycle – despite their extensive attempts at voter suppression and gerrymandering.
 
But Democrats be warned: American voters are determined to have a government that is focused on improving the situation of the middle class and the poor, and they see “dark money” and influence-buying as key obstacles to making that happen. I think it likely we’ll continue to see increasingly large, wild and ultimately destructive swings every few years from one party being given control to the other until both parties recognize this and do something about it.  Case in point: the current regime.

And let’s be perfectly clear on this: those of us who are devoted to the cause of social justice can never ignore the fact that people vote first with their wallets.  If we don’t provide the majority of people within this country with realistic hope for a stable and prosperous future, they will be adamant in their refusal to support any expansion of social justice that could be construed as taking away what little stability and hope they already have.  It doesn’t matter to them how right or just a particular cause may be: what matters is whether they have a roof over their own heads and food on the table for their own children.

That’s reality: deal with it.

– Pastor Allen


Copyright (c) 2017, Allen Vander Meulen III.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Abolish the Electoral College?

In the last week we’ve all been seeing numerous petitions, blogs, and posts calling to eliminate the Electoral College because it has made it possible for candidates like Donald Trump and George W. Bush to be elected President without a majority of the nationwide vote.
 
Now, it is obvious that the GOP has been waging a war to restrict the ability of minority voters (in particular) to have a voice in elections; and this does affect the Electoral College. But, eliminating the Electoral College is fixing a symptom: it does not address the root causes of gerrymandering (which both major parties are guilty of) and voter suppression.
 
Hillary Clinton appealed to the majority of the country in a numeric sense; but she failed to appeal to the majority of the country in a geographic sense, which is the function of the Electoral College.  Without it, states with small populations like Wyoming and Vermont (both of which I lived in for several years) would have no meaningful role in Presidential elections or the national political dialog.  And without the Electoral College, politicians from smaller states – like Bernie Sanders and Dick Cheney(!) – are less likely to be seen as viable Presidential (or Vice-Presidential) candidates.
 
So, do we really want to the major parties to focus on the largest states, ignoring the needs and concerns of rest of the country?  As Christian, it seems to me the answer is “No.”  As I see it, my faith calls me to work to ensure that everyone has a meaningful voice in determining our nation’s direction, not just those who think and believe like I do.
The Electoral College is not perfect, but it is an important tool we have to ensure that living in certain States does not preclude having a voice in the national political dialog.  We cannot eliminate it without first creating some other mechanism that achieves the same end.

Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Sermon: A Clean Heart

zuy2tlnte6b8b0pscugedir3fvtoti5t-largeIt’s at just about this point in every election cycle, especially this one, that I realize the entire world is mad and doomed to certain destruction and that there’s nothing I can do about it: Frustration, Anger! How can supporters of that other candidate be so stupid?!? Can’t everyone see that it will be Armageddon if the other party wins on November 8th???

And I don’t think I’m alone on this; no matter whether our favorite color is Red, or Blue; or even Yellow or Green.

Continue reading “Sermon: A Clean Heart”

The Narrative of Anger and Pain

…Those who oppose Trump share similar concerns to those who support him. The difference is often in the desired outcome; and even there, there is usually less difference than we are led to believe.

It’s distressing: the current narrative by many supporters of Trump (and haters of Hillary) seems to be “She’s as bad as he is.”
 
The problem with this is that it is a deflection – attempting to excuse the really vile behavior of one candidate by equating it with the behavior of the other. The problem is Donald Trump’s behavior. What Hillary did (or didn’t do) has absolutely nothing to do with DT’s narcissism, bullying, misogyny and hate speech. Her behavior, regardless of whether you buy into the claims made about her or not, does not excuse what he’s said and done.
 
What many supporters of DT miss in their eagerness to defend him is that the concerns with him are threefold.
 
First, aside from a handful of mantras about immigration, job loss, taxes, gun rights and the evils of Hillary; he has no discernible plan or stance on anything. His opinions on things change with the wind, and his proposed solutions – when voiced at all – tend to be in the realm of “whack it with a big stick and it’ll go away, trust me.”
 
Trust is essential to the office of President: trust built upon diligence, a legacy of results, transparency, and a willingness to take criticism seriously (or at least tolerate it well). No President is perfect at any of these things, but none yet has been as completely devoid of these traits as DT.
 
And yet, in most of these cases, those who oppose Trump share similar concerns to those who support him. The difference is often in the desired outcome; and even there, there is usually less difference there than we are led to believe.

Continue reading “The Narrative of Anger and Pain”

Sermon: What About THEM?!!

It isn’t about them. … It is about us. Jesus is teaching us that to change the world, to make the Kingdom of God here on earth a reality, does not require that we change others; but rather requires that we change ourselves. This is part of the great journey of Lent after all, a time when we remove distractions. We look inward, taking a realistic look at our flaws and our failures. We repent, and ask God to help us.

shame-finger-pointing-320x198Do you remember, when we were kids, when someone whom we sometimes barely knew approached us in class, on the playground, or maybe even at church, and said “<So and So> just said something terrible about you!” or maybe “Did you hear that <So and So> just said or did some unimaginably awful thing?!”

Admit it, we’ve all not only experienced this, but have done these same things ourselves. (Hopefully less often now than we did as kids!)  We’ve all heard and then unthinkingly repeated things that we’ve heard someone else said or did, something that confirms what we knew about them all along, something that we feel validates why we cannot support them, or why they cannot be our friend, that proves they really do believe or represent something that is completely against the obviously right and true things that we believe.

Continue reading “Sermon: What About THEM?!!”

Goodbye Mr. Boehner

We will always need a viable, strong and thoughtful opposition in Congress, one that acts as a counterbalance to the excesses that will inevitably come if the majority party feels no need to seek consensus with others as it implements its own agenda. Sadly, the GOP is a sycophantic caricature of the great institution it once was, and is unable to be such a voice; and it may never be again if it continues on its present path.

John BoehnerYou know, while I am sure it is no surprise to my readers that I don’t agree with the Conservative Agenda (as presently conceived), and have never felt that Rep. John Boehner was a very effective Speaker of the House, I also recognize that Boehner was in an extremely difficult position: trying to hold together an increasingly fractious, extremist, and polarized GOP while simultaneously trying to make some sort of progress on many important issues. Not an enviable position; and he did far better in that thankless situation than most anyone else would have.

So, rather than “piling on” and mocking or ridiculing him as he resigns from office and leaves Congress, I think it best to wish him well, and thank him for his dedication.

I do worry, though – Boehner is the latest casualty in the GOP’s race to marginalize itself ever further from the American mainstream, alienating itself from most groups within the electorate in ways that will take decades to recover from, if they ever do.

We will always need a viable, strong and thoughtful opposition in Congress, one that acts as a counterbalance to the excesses that will inevitably come if the majority party feels no need to seek consensus with others as it implements its own agenda. Sadly, the GOP is a sycophantic caricature of the great institution it once was, and is unable to be such a voice; and it may never be again if it continues on its present path.

With Boehner gone, the Republican Party may well descend into chaos for a time.  But whether it does or not, I worry about what the future will hold if they continue to reject the centrality of consensus-building within the political process.

Copyright (c) 2015, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Healthcare and Battle Fatigue

I may not be a conservative Republican, but I do respect and admire the opinions of thoughtful, balanced writers, no matter what their political stance. David Frum’s recent CNN column is a very well written and persuasive commentary on the damage the Republican party has done to itself in the healthcare battle, as well as some well reasoned suggestions as to where to go from here.

I agree with Mr. Frum on most of his points.  Healthcare is an accomplished fact, and the Republican leadership needs to accept that and move on.  Attempts to derail the legislation after it is signed into law may well have far-reaching negative consequences for the country as well as for the Republican party.  As Frum says, a more productive and probably more favorably received (by the voters) strategy would be to pass laws to fix those portions of the new legislation that are the most troublesome from a Republican point of view.  Blindly attacking the entire legislation is a strategy that is very high risk and which has already failed (probably at great cost to the Republican Party), and continuing to do so may well have additional major side effects.

I find it disingenious, for instance, that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is denouncing the new legislation as unconstitutional due to it’s requiring all citizens of the US to sign up for healthcare or face fines.  He seems to have forgotten that he was governor when the system upon which the new Federal Law was based became law here in Massachusetts, legislation that he championed as a bipartisan victory, and for which he lauded the Late Senator Ed Kennedy’s assistance in making it possible.  Does he think Democrats will forget this in the upcoming election cycle?  Romney’s claim will be great ammunition for any Democrat running against a Republican who makes the constitutionality of the new law an issue.

I also wonder, in this rash of Republican State Attorney Generals filing lawsuits to get the law declared unconstitutional even before it has been signed by Obama, if anyone has considered the consequences of such a legal victory (should it ever happen)?

If the U.S. Supreme Court were to decide that Federal Government programs forcing citizens to get insurance are unconstitutional, then does this impact Social Security, which is another Federal Insurance program that all citizens are required to sign-up for?

If not, then it will be because the new legislation forces citizens to sign up for private insurance, not a government program.  This will leave Republicans with the option of either taking responsibility for ditching healthcare reform entirely – not likely to win them many friends when millions of formerly uninsured Americans instantly lose their newly acquired protections; or else they will need to create a government sponsored insurance plan in its place – the very thing they spent lots of time and effort demonizing the current legislation for!

Finally, there is the issue of “battle fatigue”.  You can’t keep on whipping up the rank and file of your party into a frenzy on every major issue, especially if you keep on coming back to them with nothing to show for it.  Eventually they’ll get burned out and turn their back on you, or else they’ll go and look for someone else who is actually able to get things done.  As Frum says, the “All or Nothing” approach the Republican leadership is currently using is a negative, short term, high risk approach.  It is not a long term, strategic plan for positive change.  It can be effective, but is a weapon that gets “blunt” very quickly.

Frum’s column is one I think Liberals and Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans should read.  He raises issues and questions about the new legislation that all of our representatives in Washington should seriously consider, and not just dismiss out of hand, or sweep aside in favor of a broad attack upon the entire package.

Liberals take note: there is intelligence on the other side of the fence!

Copyright (c) 2010, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that mentions my name or provides a link back to this site).

Thoughts on the Healthcare Debate

I have many years of experience in the IT side of the healthcare industry, having worked for ten years at a major medical center (the Mayo Clinic) renowned for its efficient and high quality healthcare system.  I also worked nearly three years for a major nonprofit that provided healthcare (and other support) to those in need, worked for three years in support of the Veterans’ Health Administration, worked with the Red Cross and UNICEF while Director of IT at a company that provided services to nonprofits, and worked for a year or so as a contractor supporting a small company in the medical insurance industry.

I’ve also dealt with the challenges of attempting to provide healthcare for myself and my family as a self employed, underemployed and unemployed person.  Finally, in my current status as a student working towards ordination, I am constantly meeting and working with those who are underserved, if they are served at all, by our current healthcare system.

In other words, I’ve seen many aspects of our current  medical system, and its’ evolution over the last 20 years or so, from the “inside” – working closely with Physicians, Nurses, Technicians and other support personnel; as well as from the “outside” as a person looking for affordable and reasonably good quality healthcare services and insurance.

Let’s start with the obvious: the current system is evolving in an unsustainable direction, of providing high quality healthcare to fewer and fewer people, with costs rising at a rate that significantly exceeds inflation, meaning that we pay more and more each year while getting less and less for each dollar we spend.  In other words, it’s broken, and it will get worse, much worse, in the foreseeable future.

That good quality healthcare at a reasonable cost can be achieved is a certainty: the Mayo Clinic does so by providing highly centralized, well integrated services to its patients, supported by sophisticated manual and automated systems that ensure that each and every physician seeing a patient has accurate and timely information when they need it, and that every patient is able to rapidly get all of the tests and procedures they need for a correct diagnosis, followed by a course of treatment that works hard to take into account all of the complexities presented by the patient’s medical history and condition.  No wonder Mayo is rated as the best place to go for treatment of complex cases involving multiple disease processes.

What’s really astounding is that Mayo does all this for a cost much less than most other medical practices can achieve.  This is due not only to the volume of patients Mayo sees, but also due to Mayo’s sustained (nearly century-long) effort  to integrate and standardize medical care while ensuring a consistently high level of care and quality across every medical discipline in the practice.

There has been much talk of how the implementation of databases for patient medical records and the building of interfaces to allow such databases to talk to each other will be a “golden bullet” for high quality medical care.  I’ll agree, as one who played a significant role in the building of such systems at Mayo, that such systems are needed.  But, let’s not forget that Mayo built such systems itself primarily due to their need to share medical information and test results rapidly, if not simultaneously, among multiple healthcare professionals.  Paper-based mechanisms to store and share such information, and ensure its consistency and quality, had already been in place at Mayo for decades.  The business case for the expense of such automation was built on the need to speed access and to handle the ever increasing volume of such information.  The quality of the data, and the quality of the care itself, was already there.

In other words, automation is a great tool in healthcare: one that can provide great benefits, but an infrastructure that can take advantage of such high quality information must be in place, too.  That requires the creation of business processes to acquire, manage and utilize such information.  It means rethinking how medical practices (hospitals, labs, doctors, insurers, and other healthcare professionals, services or organizations) are managed internally, how they interact with each other, how they are regulated, and how they are compensated for their efforts.

It is not a small task.  It cannot be done piecemeal, and we cannot afford to avoid the challenge of doing so any longer: if you want to have a healthcare system that can meet your needs ten or twenty years from now, then we need to begin to make such changes now, as it will take years to implement such changes across thousands of medical institutions, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of healthcare professionals, and within every government agency, hundreds of insurers, and thousands of companies that are involved in every aspect of healthcare.

The changes also impact our schools, which need to train not only new healthcare professionals, and retraining many of  those already in the field, but also ensure the correct mix of skills are being taught – not just in terms of ensuring enough Primary Care physicians are there, but training thousands of new administrators skilled in managing to ensure high quality, or skilled in integrating systems and practices: not skilled just in generating maximum profits for their employers.

The system cannot fix itself.  Only external pressure can redirect current trends into a more constructive direction.  Any person with knowledge of business ethics will tell you that a company that ignores or avoids social responsiblity for its actions will always be able to provide services cheaper than those that do seek to be socially responsible: just as it’s always cheaper to dump raw sewage and chemical waste into a river than it is to clean it up.

In terms of healthcare, it is always cheaper and more profitable to squeeze those individuals out of the system who are likely to incur greater healthcare costs.  This includes the elderly, those with chronic medical conditions, or anyone with an increased risk of becoming ill.  We see this in the ever increasing list of “pre-existing medical conditions” that are not covered by insurers.

On the other hand, as insurance costs increase, it becomes more and more desirable for those of us who are healthy to simply avoid buying insurance.  We put off doing so as long as possible, and only buy insurance when we get older, and/or think we’re likely to need it.  This is a major problem because it means we are not paying into the system: we’re expecting the money to somehow magically be there when we need it ten or twenty years from now, even though we have not put anything into the “bank” for our own future medical care.

Who then is paying?  We are: those who do have insurance have to foot the bill, either in terms of paying more for insurance (to cover for those who refuse to pay into the system, or who cannot afford insurance to begin with), and the escalation of costs at hospitals due to the need to pay for expensive emergency room care for those without insurance.

Every aspect of the healthcare industry is facing greater and greater challenges every day because of the current situation.  Insurance companies have to cope with an unbalanced pool of “customers” for their services and have to cope with competitors who seek to increase profits by reducing costs through reduced insurance coverage in their policies, excluding more potentially costly clients, and finding new ways to avoid or delay payment for covered services.  Hospitals have to deal with increasing malpractice and emergency room costs.  Doctors are avoiding critical professions (such as obstetrics and pediatric care) due to the high costs of malpractice insurance.

We all feel the impact of overall inefficiencies of the system due to inadequate and management and sharing of healthcare information among (and even within) healthcare organizations and individuals.  We all pay for payment practices that encourage volume over quality, and for insurance rates that discourage or prevent many from getting insurance at all (which simply raises costs for everyone else).

We have vicious circle after vicious circle – an ever escalating mess that can only get worse, and which will rapidly escalate with each passing year: like the compound interest on an overdue credit card bill.

Those who think they are safe from loss of benefits or “rationing” of healthcare in the future are kidding themselves.  Within the lifetimes of most of those reading this, we are likely to see a situation where only the extremely wealthy will be able to afford decent quality healthcare — assuming the entire system doesn’t collapse well before then.

President Obama’s speech before the joint houses of Congress earlier this week certainly contained suggestions for healthcare reform that not everyone agrees with.  (Even I, a [relatively] Liberal Democrat, don’t agree with all of his suggestions!)

Yet, he had a critical message that we must all take seriously: the overhyped and overheated posturing we’ve seen from both liberals and conservatives must stop.  If the attempts that we’ve seen to derail reform through ridiculously overblown rhetoric succeed, then we will all lose.  No matter how good your healthcare is at present, the course we are on as a nation will inevitably turn all of us into “losers” if changes are not made.  A debate that is reasoned and constructive, one where moderation and respect are the order of the day for everyone at the table, is the only way that our healthcare system can be reformed.

As Obama has said, the status quo is not an option: if you don’t like the proposals on the table, then provide an alternative and back it up with facts.  Those who work to destroy the opposition’s position in a game where political “points” are all that matter are being irresponsible and playing with fire: they are putting everyone at risk, including themselves.  If they succeed in derailing healthcare reform, it will be a Pyrrhic victory: one where they will be called upon to pay the price for their irresponsible actions far sooner than they can imagine.

Copyright (c) 2009, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that mentions my name or provides a link back to this site).