A not so chance encounter

I had a wonderful discussion with a man from Rwanda that I met in the parking lot at the FDA where I am serving as a senior business systems analyst. While my French is atrocious, I could see that the book he was carrying was a history book dealing with the struggles between blacks and whites in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994. I asked him if he had seen the movie Hotel Rwanda and if it was accurate. He told me that he had and unfortunately, it wasn’t. We started talking about the Hutus and the Tutsis and racism. He asked about the origins of racism. I talked to him about Dutch and British colonialism, the caste system in India and the Untouchables in particular, and also the treatment of the aboriginal people of Australia by the British settlers and even more contemporary Australians. Then he asked me a very poignant question, “what do we do to get rid of racism in this country?” I told him that the best things that we can do are to dispel falsehoods by teaching the truth and to show ourselves as friendly and respectful toward those of different people groups. We have to dispel the falsehood that there is a unified hatred of one group by another by proving that at least one person of that group doesn’t hate them.
We discussed what sort of teachings might change people’s minds. I spoke to him about the common ancestry of humanity as described in the Hebrew Scriptures. I told him stories of Moses and how his own brother and sister were upset with him because he married an Ethiopian woman. I told him of the Jewish people from Ethiopia that stood as a testimony to the fact that we are truly one race of people, a message he echoed to me earlier in our conversation. I told him of the origin of humanity being from North Africa and drawing the conclusion that if all people came from one place, then the essence of all humanity is identical and we simply have different appearances.
I asked him if he was familiar with the Gospel story and how when the edict went out to kill the male children two years and younger that Mary and Joseph fled to North Africa. He knew the story well. Being a Jew in my heritage and my pedagogy, I asked him a question versus presenting my conclusion. I asked him, “would parents of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy hide in a place where everyone had brown skin and black hair?” He smiled and said, “no.” Then he surprised me. He pulled out a book and asked me if I though it was legitimate because he had a friend that only spoke French who needed this book in French. The title was, “Nouveau Testament.” He knew there were versions floating around that had slight changes to promote the doctrines of certain cults. I opened the book to Jean 1:1, recited John 1:1 in English and asked him if that’s what it said. He confirmed that. I asked him to look at the phrase, “and the Word was God” and make sure that there was no indefinite article there, a trick of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to substantiate their Arian (not to be confused with Aryan) doctrine of Christ. He said there was none. We did a similar drill with Jean/John 3:16. He confirmed that what it says was what I recited. He was very happy because now he could give his friend what he was asking for.
We both ended our work days with a wonderful encounter. I have been telecommuting for five years. While I dislike making the drive, I love meeting people face to face.

The Oligarchy Times-The Product Isn’t Good

The Oligarchy Times, volume 1, issue 3

In today’s issue of the Oligarchy Times, we examine the most consistent man in the United States, if not the world. President Barack “Enron” Obama made the following statement on October 23, 2013:

“The product is good. The health insurance that’s being provided is good. It’s high quality and it’s affordable. People can save money, significant money, by getting insurance that’s being provided through these marketplaces. And we know that the demand is there. People are rushing to see what’s available. And those who have already had a chance to enroll are thrilled with what’s available.” (Source: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/susan-jones/obama-shills-obamacare-product-good-call-now#sthash.s6xg4RDg.dpuf)

In almost flawless constancy, President Enron lied, flat out lied.  How can a person state that a largely unavailable product “is good?”  Even if the site is 100% running and available, by all accounts, it is not secure.  In order to go window shopping, you have to give sensitive information.  It is like going window shopping at the mall while naked.

The following is directly from the Chicago Tribune, December 15, 2013

CHICAGO — Rachel Arai is a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom with a second child on the way in February. Her family has never been without health insurance, coverage her family views not as a luxury but as a necessity.

She and her self-employed husband, Devin Stites, want to buy a policy for 2014, but like millions across the country, they’ve found themselves in limbo: With just days left to select coverage that will kick in Jan. 1, they lack the information needed to make a decision on what policy to buy.

The family has health insurance through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. But they’ve been eager to see if they can get a better deal, and possibly a tax credit, through the new Illinois health insurance exchange set up as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The problem: Blue Cross hasn’t told them how much they’ll have to pay for their existing plan in 2014. And HealthCare.gov, the federal website where consumers in 36 states, including Illinois, are supposed to be able to compute their subsidy amount and buy health insurance, has been largely inoperable for many consumers, including Arai.

As the Dec. 23 deadline to obtain insurance coverage approaches, frustration is mounting across the country for people who fear they’ll have little time to assess their health care options or, at worst, not be able to sign up for a plan in time because of the bumpy rollout of the health care law.

There’s not much Arai and her husband can do, aside from wait and hope they get the information they need in time to ensure no gap in coverage.

“I’m really frustrated at this point, (and) I don’t have hours and hours to try and get pricing on my health insurance,” she said. “I’m nervous about the situation, but my hands are kind of tied. I don’t know what to do, and my husband is beside himself.”

For people with chronic conditions or those who require ongoing medical treatment like Arai, the loss of coverage — even for a month — could create a big financial hardship.

How the family and others like them ended up in this pickle is largely a reflection of the technological meltdown that rendered the website all but unusable in its first two months, a reordering of the insurance market spurred by the health care law and the policy reversal that followed.

New regulations under the health law that required all new policies to cover a list of 10 essential health benefits, including prescription drugs, hospitalization and maternity care, with no extra charge. That spurred insurers across the country to cancel plans for millions of Americans with private coverage, including about 185,000 in Illinois.

Massive public outcry erupted, prompting the White House to change course. President Barack Obama announced in November that states could allow insurers to offer existing policies for one more year, even if they didn’t meet the new standards.

Blue Cross, the state’s largest insurer that issued the majority of plans on the individual market last year, decided it would go along. But it has yet to communicate 2014 rate information to Arai and other customers.

“Every week I call they say next week. The email I got earlier this week said next week. Everything is next week, but next week never seems to come,” Arai said.

Lauren Perlstein, a spokeswoman for the parent company of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, said the company will notify its members soon of adjusted 2014 rates that reflect new taxes and fees associated with the health law.

In a letter sent two weeks ago to customers, the insurer said it would tack on an additional 4.1 percent to premiums reflect those new fees, plus another unspecified rate adjustment to account for 2014.

The insurer advises them to compare their current plan to new 2014 plans on its website to ensure they’re getting the coverage that is right for them.

Other insurers that sold individual policies in Illinois this year also will offer those plans next year, including Health Alliance, which said it will increase rates on extended plans by 21.8 percent effective Feb. 1.

Humana is offering renewals for small group plans, but still hasn’t made a decision about individual policies, a spokesman said. Aetna said Thursday it would not offer old plans next year.

State and federal officials have urged consumers to keep trying to access the website, which is working far better in December than in its first two months of operation. They also encourage those who need help sorting out their options to contact one of several dozen community groups across the state that have a combined 1,500 trained helpers who can help people navigate the process of signing up for coverage.

That’s little consolation for Fran Schlesinger, 45, of Naperville, who has spent more than 20 hours trying to sign up for coverage on the federal website, including at least seven hourlong calls with federal call center helpers, to no avail.

After her husband lost his corporate job in 2011, her family of six has purchased coverage on the individual market. Their current policy, through UnitedHealthcare, will cost more than $1,000 a month starting in January, up from about $900.

She estimates the family will be eligible for a hefty federal subsidy to buy an insurance policy on the exchange, but the one time out of dozens that she was able to get through the application process, she inadvertently entered an erroneous income figure. The system kicked her application into Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for those with low-income or the disabled

Once she realized her mistake, she made four calls to the federal help line, spending an hour on the phone with a helper each time. But she’s still unable to remove or correct her application, leaving her locked out of the system and unable to compare the private policies her family intends to buy.

“At this point, I’ve thrown up my hands and said I can’t deal with this anymore,” Schlesinger said. “I feel like I’m in one of those hamster wheels, where you cannot get off.”

Pam Lefkowitz, 53-year-old Lincolnwood self-employed IT consultant, called the entire process “the biggest nightmare.”

After two months of failed attempts, the finally was able to view health plans on HealthCare.gov Dec. 2. She didn’t like what she saw.

Although she’ll qualify for a monthly tax credit of about $91 if she buys a plan through the exchange, the policies offered carried higher total out-of-pocket costs than her old plan from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which she would prefer to keep, depending on how much it costs.

She received an e-mail last week from the insurer saying it would renew that plan and send her information this week on how much it would cost in 2014. As of Thursday afternoon, the letter had not arrived.

“I’m in a holding pattern,” Lefkowitz said. “I’m not doing anything until I hear from Blue Cross.”

——

Even for enrolled, obstacles remain

Even those who have signed up via the health exchanges are running into red tape and roadblocks.

The website also has had a number of back-end issues that affect the way it notifies insurance companies of their new enrollees. The federal government said last week that about 10 percent of the enrollment forms HealthCare.gov submits to insurers have errors, including incorrect information, duplicate forms and, in some cases, missing forms.

That’s down from an error rate of about 25 percent in October and November, before a host of significant repairs were made to the website, officials said. Even so, the continued issues raise the specter that some people who believe they are enrolled in a health plan may show up to a doctor’s office or a hospital and find that insurers have no record of their application.

Administration officials and insurance companies suggest that anyone who enrolls in coverage via the federal website call their insurance company to confirm they’ve signed up. For the plan to kick in Jan. 1, enrollees also are required to pay their insurer the first month’s premium by Dec. 31.

In a nod to the ongoing sign-up problems nationwide, federal officials announced several steps Thursday aimed at helping people who get stuck in health care-law limbo. The Department of Health and Human Services said patients enrolled in special insurance plans for people with pre-existing conditions would be able to stay on that coverage until the end of January.

—Peter Frost and Chad Terhune of the Los Angeles Times

To quote The Thompson Twins, “lies, lies, lies, yeah!”

I Support Barack Obama’s View on the Debt Ceiling 100%

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure.  It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. That is “trillion” with a ‘T.’ That is money that we have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, borrowed from China and Japan, borrowed from American taxpayers. And over the next 5 years, between now and 2011, the President’s budget will increase the debt by almost another $3.5 trillion.

This year, the Federal Government will spend $220 billion on interest. That is more money to pay interest on our national debt than we’ll spend on Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. That is more money to pay interest on our debt this year than we will spend on education, homeland security, transportation, and veterans benefits combined. It is more money in one year than we are likely to spend to rebuild the devastated gulf coast in a way that honors the best of America.

Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.

I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), 2006

War…what is it good for?

“I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.” (President Barack Obama, August 31, 2013)

Later, the president said he would involve Congress in a vote on this issue. It somewhat begs the question as to why he is putting to vote a thing that he has already decided on.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, emphasis mine)

How does attacking a nation that has not struck outside of its own borders constitute a defensive action?

The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country. (Department of Defense official Web site)

Syria has not threatened the United States with war. Its ownership of chemical weapons does not constitute any greater security threat to the United States than any other military armament it possesses. The U.S. owns massive caches of chemical weapons, yet we are no threat to any other nation. Nations around the world, including the U.S., use o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS gas, a/k/a Tear Gas) on their own citizens on a regular basis. Between March 2011 and February 2012, 34 people in Bahrain died from Tear Gas (see http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/blog/tear-gas-or-lethal-gas.html). Maybe we should launch a drone strike on Bahrain.

I have one last quotation:

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior – for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure – and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one. (Barack Obama when he was accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2009)

Fight for a Change

I believe that we have forgotten how to fight in this country. The further we get from the fighters of the 1950’s and 1960’s such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the further we get from fighting that makes a difference in society. The Occupy movement was a perfect example of this. For all of their bluster, they accomplished nothing and broke dozens of laws that had nothing to do with their cause in the process. They left filth on the streets and caused problems for people that had nothing to do with those they were protesting. In comparison, think of the four young men from North Carolina A&T who in 1960 quietly sat at a lunch counter and simply asked to be served coffee. They were refused because of their skin color. These four young men took up a fight as gentlemen (in the old sense of the word) and with dignity and grace. They were heard. They caused real change.

Fighting involves risks. I believe that Dr. King knew of his impending death and spoke of it just before he was assassinated. Corrie Ten Boom knew that if the Nazis discovered evidence of her fight against totalitarianism by hiding Jewish people in her home, she would lose her life. The Chinese students who died in Tiananmen Square gave their lives so they could raise their voices.

We need to recapture the fires of change in our bosoms and stand against all forms of injustice. Find your passions and fight for them. Take risks. Be willing to lose what you cannot keep so that you can gain what you cannot lose (Jim Eliot). Remember that “a man [that] hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live” (Dr. King). Maintain the pressure on your “boilers” so you are hot enough to fight but not so hot as to explode. Leave nothing on the battlefield except the echos of your cries for change.

Yellow journalism

Yellow journalism, press that is based on sensationalism, pandering for sales, and a lack of commitment to the best practices of journalism such as objectivity and verification.  When newspapers are nearly indiscernible from tabloid gossip rags, they are practicing yellow journalism.  Voltaire said, “In the case of news, we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.”

Star Trek and the Systems Analyst/Project Manager Bargaining Game

The bargaining game of analyst estimates and PM timelines is key to an analyst’s success. The analyst typically asks for too much, the PM offers too little, and they meet somewhere in the midst.  The best example of how the analyst wins at this game is seen in the rare crossing of the original Star Trek engineer, James Montgomery Scott, a/k/a Scottie, and the Star Trek, The Next Generation (TNG) engineer Geordi LaForge.  Scotty locked himself in a transporter buffer loop thus allowing himself to exist as unaging demarterialized energy.  The Enterprise’s crew figured out how to release Scotty from the buffer.  As a result, there were two chief engineers on deck.  Scotty was the old salty dog who always said things couldn’t be done and then did them.  La Forge was a younger, more idealistic, by-the-rules engineer.  The following dialog took place in a scene where Captain Picard (the captain of the TNG Enterprise) had given La Forge an order to produce some critical analysis.
LA FORGE: Yeah, well, I told the Captain I’d have this analysis done in an hour.
SCOTTY: How long will it really take?
LA FORGE: An hour!
SCOTTY: Oh, you didn’t tell him how long it would *really* take, did ya?
LA FORGE: Well, of course I did.
SCOTTY: Oh, laddie. You’ve got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

You see, everything I ever learned about systems analysis negotiation, I  learned from Star Trek.  We may have been considered nerds when we were young, but we make more money than the cool guys ever will.