A 12-14 Year-Old Bomber?

ISIL has plumbed new depths, at least I think this is a new depth, by using a  young girl (12 to 14 years of age) to act as a bomber at a Turkish wedding.  We cannot begin to imagine such occurrences in this country, and are therefore susceptible to similar tactics at some point down this road we are travelling.

There was a time when we would’ve thought the act of flying airliners into buildings in New York City was an impossibility, but we know better now.  Our own domestically-born citizens have been convicted of using truck bombs to blow up a Federal building.  We humans, it seems, are capable of inhumanities that most of us have difficulty even imagining.  We are stunned when we hear the news of a child wearing an explosive vest and detonating or being remotely detonated in the group attending a wedding in Turkey.

We rely upon our law enforcement entities to protect us, but I suspect even they would’ve not thought an ‘innocent’ child could be wearing a vest that was going to be triggered as she walked into the wedding group.  We have led ‘charmed’ lives in comparison to many people on this planet, and that makes us very good targets, at least for the first such occurrence.  Our law enforcement units, federal, state and local, can now add this to a list of things they need be wary of and attuned to as possibilities.

Among the lessons to be taken away from this occurrence is that ISIL needs to be taken very seriously as a potential threat around the world.  We have not yet learned of any domestic vestiges of an ISIL-type organization, but that does not mean there cannot be sleepers already here working their wonders with U.S. citizens where the populations are found in large numbers.  It is by far and away better for us if we engage and destroy that target on foreign soil.

We in America are so accustomed to excellent protection from threats that we have come to be less aware of our surroundings, and of those with whom we interact.  If for example, we witness a robbery there is that period of disbelief before we accept the reality of what we are seeing.  It seems we have the ability to look but not see, and that does not serve us well in the modern world where we are not always thought to be a good people, and therefore become targets of hate-filled groups.

We should, by now, also understand that our own American brothers or sisters of any color, background or ethnic origin are capable of being turned into zealots who lose any sense of the sanctity of life as they follow the teachings and leadership of despots.  We need only reflect on the news of such happenings in the past few months to understand the threat is real.

Remain alert and aware of your surroundings no matter how safe you believe you are at the time.  Better to have been aware than to become a victim as the result of the lack of awareness.

In 500 Words Or Less…

I have been reading the written hypotheses of several people, who appear to have solid credentials, extolling the problems as they see those in the Sherman Park area of Milwaukee.  Those appear in the morning Sunday Journal Sentinel and each is most probably under 500 words.

Among the most riveting were the statements made by the father of Sylville Smith, the young man who was shot and killed by police when he drew down on them during the riots in that area of Milwaukee. His father recognized, too late, unfortunately, that him being in prison and jail, repeatedly, was doing his son no good in the process of becoming a young man.  In this case, the father admitted that he was a bad role model since he was on the street dealing drugs, pimping and ‘entertaining’ whatever that term means in the ‘hood’. His son emulated his father, whether knowingly or instinctively, and is now dead. Unfortunately, the son, in death, is serving as the rallying cause for further disruption by many in the Sherman Park area.

Multiply this story by a hundred or a thousand and you find the thread of truth in his death too often revealed only after it is too late for one or more people.  Ashanti Hamilton, President of the Milwaukee Common Council, in his piece titled  “A call to action for the Milwaukee community”, hits on multiple points that he contends will help in curing the disease that has overrun many inner cities across our country.  Those points include “organizing broader coalitions of people and resources to address the underlying causes of violence and lawlessness” and replacing the “police presence with community policing strategy that creates a partnership based on mutual understanding, trust and respect between people in the neighborhoods and our police department”.  He says “we must improve access to jobs, job readiness training, education and community resources that help create stable families and neighborhoods”.  Hamilton went on at some length to lay out what he believes will be necessary to bring an end to this lawlessness.  The list is lengthy and sounds like it consists of things we’ve heard before, several times before.  He finishes by telling readers that the Common Council, of which he is president, plans to show the community what this could look like, and says “we’re not just making the call to action, we’re ready to do our part.”  We have heard all this before; maybe he can help to make it a reality but the odds are weighted heavily against his success.

I applaud Hamilton and pray that he will be able to lead the Council through this maze of initiatives, find the funding and implement positive programs leading to the necessary change.  How much chance does this initiative have in reality?  In my opinion, based on past such initiatives, there is very little chance of Hamilton succeeding, at least to the point of realizing major positive changes in the neighborhood.

This part of Milwaukee, once a beautiful residential neighborhood, has become a classic ghetto with all the bad stuff that word connotes.  Drugs, prostitution, auto theft, robberies, burglaries, killings, arsons, beatings and taunting of police officers seemingly trying to goad them into behaving badly for the cameras.  There are fewer and fewer effective functioning families left in this area.  Many fathers have been arrested and are incarcerated; mothers turn to prostitution to keep food on the table; young men and women are heavy into gangs rather than school and essentially have sealed the deal that they have virtually no future other than addiction, crime and prospective early death. There are some faith-based bright spots but those seem too few and too far between.

I fear this will be a generational change if it occurs and, thus, will require decades to really affect change.  The essence of the problem is this: generations are succumbing to the current environment and making things worse rather than better.  These young men and women know nothing else and see no alternatives other than to become part of the toughest gang around.  And the devolution of society in this chunk of the world continues to carry many lives swirling down the drain of life.

Milwaukeeans, in the inner city, seem powerless to change the direction and velocity of the changes visited upon them.  I suspect that tipping points have long ago been reached. How do you go about uncracking an egg?  How do you go about erasing criminal ‘careers’ that rob families of fathers?  Milwaukee seems to be heading into the storm rather than away from the storm.  Unless the Common Council can wave a magic wand, this is not the last of these kinds of conflagrations we’ll be seeing, and the road ahead appears bleak…and tragic.

Tying the hands of police officers is not the solution.  Those brave souls are doing their very best in a very bad situation.  Tough love seems maybe the only workable tool and elected/appointed officials hate having to make those calls.  Prayer is definitely called for and we have to trust that the Lord is working throughout all this apparent disarray…even if we cannot fathom that.  Faith is required.

A Real Curmudgeon Has Left The Room…

I have used the word ‘curmudgeon’ to label myself for a long time in my blogs.  I hope I do not look like the picture one finds if you were to Google the word curmudgeon, but I have fancied myself as acting a bit curmudgeonly from time to time, and sort of wore that as a badge of honor as it were.

I received the news that a guy who is no doubt more curmudgeonly than me has passed from this life.  Bob Gilray, a long-time acquaintance from our mutual employee benefits/insurance world has died in Alabama where he spent the bulk of his retirement years.

Bob was one of those wonderful guys who could move you from the doldrums to laughing out loud in seconds.  And, if you somehow didn’t complete that journey in what he deemed a timely manner, he’d work on you some more until you finally had to give up and give out with a belly laugh.  He was also able, and willing, to call you or anyone else out if you didn’t make sense as he saw that word defined.  He was the consummate professional insurance person and I’m sure he handled his clients with the deft touch of the pro he was.

There was hardly a  moment when Bob was in the room that he wasn’t the center or near-center of what was happening.  That was simply his nature and it wasn’t overwhelming.  It was simply who and what Bob Gilray was.  I had lost touch with him when I left the world of employee benefits and often thought about where he was and what he was up to from time to time.

I missed seeing Bob but simply knew he was still with us until this morning when I received a message from another friend who had known him for a long, long time telling me he had died.  We exchanged some remembrances and that brought Bob right back to the center of mind; his antics, his verbal outbursts, his big laugh and his ability to get under one’s skin were gifts to those of us were had been fortunate enough to move in his circle for at least a bit of time.

I’m gonna’ have to sharpen up my ‘curmudgeon’ skill set now that Bob is gone.  Those will be huge shoes to fill.

Rest in peace Bob.

From the ‘Green & Gold’ to Black & White…

Former #42 on the Green Bay Packers team has gone from the heights of adulation to the depths of a prison uniform.  Darren Sharper has been sentenced in New Orleans to 18 years in federal prison for drugging three women in order to rape them.  He was also fined $20,000. He has been involved in similar accusations in Arizona, California, and Nevada where he pleaded no contest or guilty.

We fans idolize Packer players for their football talents and that tends to carry over to their private lives.  Usually, that is appropriate, as has been demonstrated by the Bart Starrs of the world.  In the case of Darren Sharper, the post-game idolization was greatly misplaced although it took public knowledge of his crimes to help us understand that we’d made such a mistake.

I wonder how many #42 Green & Gold jerseys will find their way into the garbage can as the result?  Or,will those already autographed by Sharper be worth even more now than they were before this all became public knowledge?  Packers’ fans are, as the contraction of the root word suggests, fanatics.  Fans can do some crazy things as they address their sometimes blind belief that their sports idol is somehow larger than life.

We are all frail human beings, even those who, as professional athletes, tend to be placed on pedestals. Sometimes it seems that their access to fame and fortune makes them more susceptible to believing they are above the law, or, in this case, that even if a woman says no she really doesn’t mean ‘no’; she is only saying it because that is expected, or so people given to these needs would tell themselves.

If nothing else, this should serve as a stark reminder that each of us is only human and that, without a strong sense of right and wrong, we could find ourselves in a bad place. Even with that strong sense of right and wrong, we can still conjure up those wonderful things called ‘excuses’ to make ourselves forget right and wrong for the moment.

Rather than to spend all this time discussing Darren Sharper, I need also to recognize the victims he has left in his path and to pray they will be able to find some sense of relief with the knowledge that Darren Sharper has been found out for what he was, and has been reined in by the justice system.  I pray this verdict and sentence will be of help to his other victims in the sense they can see he is being punished and that they can see they were not the only person taken advantage of in this manner.

Maybe also this sentencing will help other athletes or otherwise famous people who might have such lustful thoughts, take a deep breath or two or three and think about what they might be about to do to their futures.  I can think of a particular politician whose wife is now a candidate for President of the United States who may have needed to take several more sobering deep breaths.  Unfortunately, not all who may have guilt are always brought to the bar of justice.  There will be an accounting required, however, even if not here and now.

Incestuous American Politics?

Is it just me, or does it seem we read reports over and over again that feature well-known family names playing all sides in political skirmishes?  There is a very well-established behind-the-scenes political system comprised of the people who are usually in the background working without regard to political persuasion.  Party name means very little in this rarefied world; the same person/family might easily work for candidates of either major party in any given election.  The candidate is seeking,and paying for, the knowledge and the contacts represented by the firm(s) hired.

Trump has been a bit of an anomaly given that this is his first foray into politics; why not, if you are Donald Trump, start right at the top of the political mountain; no sense in doing your duty at lower levels and then trying for the heights.  Where are the fun and the notoriety in that stale, old approach?

If one is going to do that, one needs to buy the experience necessary to know which buttons to push when and in what order.  These firms or individuals are selling their experience, whether they have been successful or not, to the highest, or only, bidder no matter the person, no matter the politics and obviously no matter the beliefs of the ‘boss’.

Trump’s campaign chair was working for then-President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine a year or so ago.  There is a phrase that goes like this:  Politics makes for strange bedfellows. How true!

There is more than sufficient cynicism to go around.  Hillary Clinton is equally guilty. Virtually all the people who rise to the level of national politics succumb to the sirens’ song of those who have been there and done that.  And, as the Podesta brothers, John and Tony, show the politics of the prospective client makes little or no difference.  A client with money is a client desired.  Pay us enough and we’ll change our stripes.

I have always seen national politics as something that requires a deep gut feeling in order to line up after a particular party’s candidate, but it is obvious that is not necessary today. The game is what is important and not the belief system of whoever is paying your freight.  You score points in your world by showing how tough you can be, not by how devoted to one belief system over another you show yourself to be.

Somehow, that seems to cheapen what has already become a system involving highly questionable morals.  Straight shooters are no longer rewarded for a life dedicated to one political conviction.  We only need to look to recent presidential campaigns to see how a Romney was vilified no matter the facts.  He was blamed for carrying his dog on the rooftop of his car cruising down the highway at speed when the pooch was enjoying the ride slowly and safely over a country trail.

This all tends to point up how a Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill and guilty of cronyism and dirty tricks of the highest order, can hire whomever she wants to help her win office because it is winning that is important, not the quality and capability of the person whose campaign is footing the bill.

I could not live with myself if that was my driving motivation.  I could not bring myself to sell my soul for money from a poor, or worse, candidate.  Only, apparently, when one gets into the rarified atmosphere of national politics does the sale of souls progress as if on auction.

Is there too great a semblance of truth, in this day and age, in the old saying:  Nice guys (or gals) finish last?  I fear that tired old phrase may be truer today than it ever has been up to now.  And, we the people, have permitted this obliteration of the concept of the phrase, may the best person win.  That has virtually nothing to do with too many election outcomes today…especially at the national level.  Money dominates all too often, and who is best takes a distant second place in importance.

The pessimist in me wants to say that, because of this, we tend to get what we deserve and not what we sorely need.

Who Might be Watching? What Might They See?

I was reminded as the result of a visit we have just had with an acquaintance from our past, of just how lasting our actions and inactions can be, and of the impact what we do or don’t do might well have on another person we hadn’t even thought might be affected.

If we knew that we were impacting someone for his or her lifetime, would we spend a bit more time being sure of our words or actions?  Would we be as quick to react to a perceived slight or would we simply be a bigger person than that?  Would our words be better chosen so as to be supportive and positive rather than destructive and negative?   Would we be as quick to criticize or would we take a deep breath and consider whether or not to say or do anything before opening our mouths?

I had the great pleasure of being around a bunch of youngsters during our church vacation bible school recently and was rewarded by the beaming smile of a youngster who recognized me as he and his family came to church the next Sunday.  I had never seen him or interacted with him up until that vacation bible school and my involvement with him was indirect at best.  But, he knew his new older friend and lit up with a big smile as he ran up to me to give me a hug.

We had a visitor from our mutual past this past day or two, and his recollection of lessons he claimed had come from him observing me made another big impact on me.  This was the second time someone had made me understand that an earlier involvement had made a difference for them.

It made me wonder how many times I might have caused something other than a favorable memory in a person when I sped past with no time for them, or when I had just had a less-than-good experience and had a frown on my face rather than my usual smile?

We have probably all had the experience of wishing we’d done something other than what we did in a given situation.  We wish we could have a ‘do-over’.  I know that I have and that it has happened more times than I’d like to admit.  This is all part of the ‘human’ condition.  We tend to get a bit too full of self, and that is usually when we find these kinds of things happening.  We can even see it about to happen but there is nothing we can do to prevent it by then.

I also find that if I am thinking more about those with whom I am interacting at that moment, I usually have a much better result since I am focussed and recognizing another human being who deserves respect and kindness.  If they have had a disappointment a moment or two ago, my smile might be enough to help them begin to heal.  If they have just received bad news, maybe my smile will help them forget that news for an instant.

We are usually not aware nor do we care about others when we are being jostled through an airport line, or rushing to board a bus.  Those are precisely the times, though, when a smile can have magical qualities when you are seen as a nice person who also deserves a smile.

I am reminded that we were taught that we usually reap what we sow.  If we sow a frown, that is likely what we’ll reap.  If we try to bully our way to the head of the line, we’re likely to get bumped right back to where we started.  If we treat others with the respect they deserve, we are more likely to receive that same consideration from others.  And, if we don’t always get a positive payback, there will be another in our future somewhere that we didn’t expect to receive.

Ask yourself who might be watching and maybe that will help you find that smile or helpful effort.

ObamaCare Takes Another Hit…

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has proven to be a ‘money pit’ for Aetna just as it has for United Health Group and for Humana.  Aetna is the third major player to end participation in many of the states with which it had been involved since the inception of the ACA.

The pent-up demand for health care services was worse than even the government, in its infinite wisdom, thought would be the case.  While President Obama might’ve thought his ‘force of personality’ would somehow save the day, the national health care approach bearing his name is proving the simple reality that loss ratios fueled by pent-up demand cannot be suspended because the President decrees them to be suspended.  Paying out more than one takes in is the recipe for failure…it is just that simple.

Aetna will reduce the number of states in which it participates from the current 15 to just four.  It has lost more than $300 million on its exchange business so far in 2016, and there is obviously a lot of 2016 left on the calendar; that number could easily surpass $500 million.  This will require that hundreds of thousands of people will be forced to seek other ACA plans and find new doctors.  And there has to be some question as to just how many remaining ACA insurers there will be and just what their financial capacity amounts to in terms of taking on significant new membership.  Remember the old story about just one more straw breaking the back of the camel?  This could be that story being played out before our eyes.

Government spokespeople were quick to downplay this event as we might expect.  Talk is cheap, however, when the safeguards to prevent huge losses basically didn’t do the job. The insurance company execs seem to want to hold the door open to future increases in ACA membership, but one wonders if this is simply the act of paying deference to the President who can make some new edict the law of the land to get even with people who dare cross him.  Vindictiveness does not seem something that isn’t well understood as a useful tool in this President’s Oval Office.

There is only so much capacity across the entire health insurance industry, and three of the giants have abandoned big chunks of the marketplace.

Could it be?  Could it be this is the desired outcome behind the creation of ObamaCare in the first place?  Could it be that the masterminds behind ObamaCare were really just that? Masterminds, who were years ahead of the rest of us because they knew how this would play out, and knew the alternatives would be very few…maybe there would be just a single alternative?  The full blown government take-over of health delivery systems?

These major companies are bleeding huge amounts of dollars.  They can give us all the assurances they wish for whatever reason they wish, but that does not alter reality.  Losses of this magnitude cannot continue year-after-year without major corporate failures, or the complete abandonment of health care as a marketplace as a remedy.

In that case, might we see the government take-over of health care as the sole solution that exists?