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The Craziest Rollercoaster ever built…

Each and everyone of us have ups and downs in life, that’s part of being human and it’s something we can’t change. We all know too well the emotional rollercoaster we ride when life throws us a single unexpected curve ball, and it’s even worse when we get hit with a series of them.

Sometimes the only way to get through those more challenging times is to just hang on and know that the ride will soon get back to the starting point and allow us a breather. Yet, with all its turns and ups and downs, and as bad as it seems to feel down and unhappy, it’s important to remember that without these dips and twists of life itself, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the highs in life, or indeed have the motivation to reach for these highs in the first place.


Unfortunately, it’s human nature to look at all the things that are missing in your life. It is our main way of thinking. To help get through the bad times, one strategy that works for me is to change my way of thinking from “what am I missing in my life?” to “what am I blessed with.”

As simplistic as that sounds, it works. Changing your perspective is sometimes all we need to ride the rollercoaster we call life.

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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Second Chances…the Difference a Day Makes!

Our country is at a crossroads.  Today is a new day.  I think it is an opportunity that might have been missed after the 2006 election of a Democratically controlled Congress or the 2008 election of Barrack Obama.  It is an opportunity to find the common ground between our leaders and to move forward.  I know, it sounds like 2006, and 2008.  I just keep hoping that our leaders figure that out and make the appropriate adjustments as we all work together to move America forward.
This election cycle, perhaps more than ever before, revealed the ugly side of the electorate and the frustrations that each side brought to the table.  As I traveled around last week, the tension in the air was palpable.  Americans are worried, angered, and upset over the direction the nation is heading. They are not satisfied in the outcomes of the 2006 and 2008 elections.  During those elections, people acted upon their concerns by voting for a new administration, a new Congress and a new direction. 
As the country’s direction shifted, the minority was left out in the cold.  For the first two years of the Obama Administration, the country certainly went in a new direction.  Some say that it was a radical change, others embraced it.  The republicans in congress were labeled the party of no by the administration and the leadership on the hill just continued to forge ahead. I have stated in the past and I think it is worth repeating here – if you have an absolute majority, why are you afraid of political debate?  Why would you consistently deny the minority the opportunity to offer amendments to legislative proposals?  Why would you not hold committee meetings for nearly a year?  With  a 77 seat lead in the House and a near filler buster proof majority in the Senate, why not let the minority be heard, let them offer amendments and then vote each and every one down?
Instead of governing from the center – where he campaigned – the President and Congress chose to govern from the left and enlisted the assistance and support of some of the most liberal members of congress to assist.  That coalition resulted in David Obey (first elected in 1969) writing the $814 billion stimulus bill and directed the package toward transfer payments rather than job-producing public works.  It led to Barney Frank, from the class of 1980, writing a financial reform bill with 243 new rule makings and the enshrinement of “too big to fail.”  It led to Henry Waxman (class of ’74) and Ed Markey (class of ’76) writing the cap-and-tax bill that passed in the House but failed when Democrats revolted in the Senate.  It resulted in George Miller (class of ’74) writing the federal takeover of the student loan industry, and Pete Stark (class of ’72) steering the health care debate as far left as he could and demanding a new payroll tax to pay for it.
With no real voice for nearly half of America, people’s frustrations lead to action and in this case, it led to the creation of the tea party movement.  The tea party and the election of 2010 will go down in history as another in a series of shifts in American politics.  But I fear it could also led to the establishment of an even more partisan electorate and a more polarized legislature.  These types of movements tend to come from the far right or the far left and the middle is cut out.  Moderates lost big this election but I am encouraged that some balance has been restored. 
So where do we go from here? 
For starters, the administration will now have to do pay more than lip service to those who have ideas that differ from it’s own.  Secondly, we have to begin to understand that it took the nation some time to get where we are and it will take some time to get it fixed.  Thirdly, we have to learn to work together – no matter what brought a member to Washington, we must, on behalf of the American people, start to re-engage in good old fashioned debate where everyone’s ideas are heard, weighed, evaluated and voted on. 
America is nation with a rich – albeit short – history.  We have never shied away from a good debate or a tough challenge and today I still have faith that if we hold to our principles and learn to respect our individual ideas, a collective solution will evolve that will be greater than any one person’s solution to our problems. 
I guess that is the challenge of the second chance….finding the common ground.
 
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Posted by on November 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Punishing our Enemies…What?


I have had the privilege of spending some time in the “field” over the last few days and the feeling on the ground is very different from anything I have witnessed during any other election season. 
On one hand it is exciting to see people engaged about the election. But unlike two years ago, there is not the same excitement or anticipation about the future.  I hate using cliché words, but a missing ingredient in what I see is that “hope” that was prevalent last cycle. 

This cycle, people seem engaged not because of the hope and anticipation of the future; they seem engaged because of genuine concern and unease.  Some interpret this is anger.  I really don’t think it is – I think it has everything to do with the fact that unemployment is high, deficits are at record levels, massive tax increases loom on the horizon, and people who bought in to the hope concept have not seen is materialization.

I know, is two years enough time to allow the administration an opportunity to implement the change that was promised to bring us the hope that we had?  Mrs. Obama stated this week that we have come too far to turn back now.  That is certainly a reasonable argument.  It is not one I subscribe to, but it makes sense that some people can feel that way. 
But, I’m at a loss of words when the messenger and architect of the “hope” agenda steps away from his normally presidential demeanor and decides it’s alright to stoop to a level I would argue is less than presidential at best, and desperate at worst. 
The President recently stated that “If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, ‘We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,’ if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s going to be harder.”
I am not sure that he meant his words to come out the way I heard them,  but this election seems to have brought out the ugly in everyone and I think the president should be the one constant – and in this case, he let me down.  Presidential reputation matters and it sets the tone for debate and political discourse.  To me, this is a lowering of the bar for political discourse and it does not provide me with a sense of hope for the future.  President Obama is the President of the United States – he is not the president of only those who agree with him.  More importantly, even if I don’t agree with him, I am not his enemy. 
Who knows what next week will mean to the President or the majorities he inherited in Congress just two years ago.  But, if you believe the polls, so soon after his historic accomplishment of two years ago, the President is poised for another historic political event – the electoral wipeout of his party with the loss of some of the most familiar faces and longest serving members of Congress.

His “enemy” comments scream panic to me.  But, it does remind me that we are blessed to live in the country where the governed have the ability to change the direction of the nation if they are not happy with the direction the nation is heading. 

It’s not punishing our enemies, its called exercising our right to vote.  Isn’t that what elevated the President to the White House in the first place?   

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Disruption on the Rails!

Just when this commuting thing was getting good, the VRE threw me a curve ball this morning.  As I arrived at the VRE station, I was so happy to see so many available parking spaces – and the really good ones were still available up front!
After I refocused, I noticed the throngs of people standing around looking like they had just lost their jobs.  Sad and bewildered, one of them cautioned me to “just turn around…this train ain’t going anywhere!,” she exclaimed like a train prophet warning the masses. 
The first RED FLAG.
I did not heed her warning and I climbed to the platform where the conductor handed me a “Free Ride” certificate. 
The second RED FLAG.
I asked him what was going on, and he said the train was going to be cleared soon, but I was getting a free ride for the inconvenience.  What inconvenience I thought to myself…I just arrived. Then he announced the train was cleared to leave, and I boarded the train.  But looking out to the parking lot, I noticed that most of my co-commuters stayed in the parking lot.
The third RED FLAG.
What was going on?  Clearly the RED FLAGS were being shoved in my face – almost at every turn – but I chose to ignore them.  Another rookie mistake.
Unfortunately, the train only traveled one station down the line, dumped everyone and left us on a ridiculously long line to catch a fleet of buses that were taking passengers to the nearest Metro station.  As a parting message, and perhaps the last RED FLAG of the day, the conductor announced that he has never seen a disruption like this and we should check before heading to the VRE on the way home because it is unlikely that the trains will be up and running by later today. 
I decided that I should start listening at this point.  Once we arrived at the Springfield Metro station on the overcrowded bus, I ran to the taxi stand, spent $20.00 and completed the circle by retrieving my vehicle at the original VRE station.  I drove to work.
Today, after numerous warnings, I abandoned the rails, but I have a “Free Ride” for next week J

Note:  At 11:15 am, the VRE announced that the Norfolk Southern signal system was restored and all of the equipment was moved to Washington in order to run service this afternoon. VRE stated that they do not anticipate any delays this afternoon on the Manassas Line this afternoon and evening.   I should have ignored that last RED FLAG!

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Train Folks

There is something really cool about standing on a train platform and waiting for a train to arrive.

The smells, the sights, the sounds are all distinct and unique. After ten years of life in northern Virginia I decided to abandon the insane daily commute by car, where I found myself spending upwards of two to three hours of each day in my car to travel 28 miles round trip.

Why did I wait ten years? Not really sure, but I am sorry it took so long! My initial reaction was akin to your child’s first day of school. Complete with my butterflies I set off on my train adventure. To be honest, it was more than expected – it was clean, comfortable, air conditioned, and there were enough seats for all passengers. It was on time, it was smooth, and most importantly, it cut my commute time to a fraction of my normal vehicular path.

As a new convert to the rails, there was a ton to observe. The most interesting? You guessed it, the people.
These folks are serious rail people. They seem to go through the motions of entering the station, validating tickets, and boarding the train without ever really looking up or greeting anyone around them.

But these folks are hard core. For instance, there are no markings of any kind on the platform, yet the veteran travelers mysteriously know exactly where to line up with the train doors for boarding. These folks oddly line up, again without ever looking up, in columns four people wide. As the time for arrival gets closer, a mass of people seem to mindlessly emerge from their cars, the woods, and wherever else they wait, to make their way to the platform, without ever looking up.

Do you remember the scene from the movie “Dawn of the Dead?” Well it reminded me of that – as if some silent whistle sounded and notified everyone to make their way – NOW!

While that was slightly unsettling, the real interesting visual was how they al line up behind the folks that began the boarding lines. In precise columns of four, they line up, one behind the other. It’s sort of interesting to watch. While I think I will be a train person some day, I will resist all efforts to be assimilated into the train collective.

My very presence on the platform is an irritant to the vets because I have not followed protocol and I think it upsets them. I stick out like a sore thumb and act confused as the train approaches and I remain outside of the columned lines entering the train. I suspect they also know I am not one of them when I stare and watch with child-like curiosity over some of the behaviors they display.

And just when I think I have seen it all, something new happens – something you cannot get your head around – yet you realize it is really happening before your eyes.

I call him Dr. Squirrel. I recently arrived at the L’Enfant Plaza stop a little early for my ride home and saw a man standing at a trash can. His backpack was placed on top of the can and he had what appeared to be peanuts in his hand. He was staring off in the distance looking at a stand of bushes. This is the kind of behavior that has DC commuters somewhat concerned since we have all been trained to be weary of our brothers and sisters and need to report suspicious behavior.

I looked to the bushes and saw nothing that could have possibly warranted this much attention. I looked back at the man, scanned the platform for security, and then, in the corner of my eye, I noticed the guy with the peanuts perk up and looked with some anticipation towards the bushes.

His facial features changed and he became more intently focused on the bushes. I looked again and only saw a small, but rather plump squirrel darting out of the bushes. The squirrel stayed off the platform until my new friend tapped the peanut on the top of the trash can.

And then, as if I were watching a trainer and his animal friend perform, the squirrel ran toward the can, climbed the adjacent pole and jumped on top of the man’s bag! I realized that I did not need security, I needed a camera!

I looked around at the people on the platform and I seemed to be the only one watching this. As I searched for the hidden cameras, the squirrel had his little front paws resting on the man’s hands eating the peanut from this man’s hand.

My stare was broken with the sound of the train whistle approaching the station. I suspect this may be only the beginning of a series of stories about my new friends, the train folk…..
 
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Posted by on October 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

The Real Gift of Relay

Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

This quote keeps coming to mind as I reflect about the first ever Springfield Burke Relay for Life. A little over a week ago, the inaugural Springfield Burke Relay for Life was held at West Springfield High School. I still find myself thinking about the new friendships and relationships that were created over the last year as a small group of neighbors and concerned residents got together for the first time to discuss the idea of a Springfield area Relay event.

All of us involved in Relay took up the cause because cancer impacted our life in some way. Many of us were involved in this Relay because of the loss of Beth Bryan. Last year, I wrote on this blog that “Beth was that rare individual that you come across on this all too often short life journey and you instantly want to be friends with. Beth touched more people than I think she perhaps even realized, from neighborhood friends who first met nearly 20 years ago putting their eldest children on the bus for the first day of school, to the countless families and friends she touched in her capacity as a swim coach in Northern Virginia.”

These worlds and circles of friends came together in an amazing display of community on May 14th in an extraordinary way demonstrating what I now know is the true heart of Relay – the spirit and compassion of all participants.

From the celebration surrounding the Survivors’ lap, to the emotion of the Luminaria Ceremony, to the hundreds of people who walked (or ran) all night, the event was amazing. The flexibility and willingness to pitch in any where needed by everyone in attendance was truly an inspiration. Watching 40-50 high school volunteers help set up the field was a sight to behold.

Working side by side with the dedicated educators at the high school strengthened the respect I have for our faculty and staff at West Springfield. And watching 400 + high school and college students give up their time to fight against a disease that has taken too much reaffirmed the faith I have in the next generation of leaders.

I could not have asked or imagined a better first Relay experience. I was blessed to work with a wonderful group of old and new friends. We were all united for a single purpose and together we exceeded all of our goals. We overcame our fears of the unexpected, the weather, and as a result nearly 1,000 people joined us and relayed with us all night. What a sight.

The community of friends that remain on our journey, without the friends and family who have been taken by this disease we unite to fight against, are certainly better off for having known these special people. Relay gave us a chance to work through some of the loss and demonstrated that we all need one another as we continue to grieve and adjust to the new daily routines in our lives. Relay provided us with a forum to truly begin to fight back. Relay gives us hope that one day we will be able to talk about cancer as horrible disease that no longer exists.

The Springfield Burke Relay and all the participants that took part in the event gave me more hope than ever before that a small group of people will indeed change the world once again.

That was the real gift of Relay.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Health Care Provisions, New Taxes, and Cuts

After hearing from many of my friends and family members, I decided to put together a summary of when the new provisions of the health bill go into effect. This is a list based on a series of articles I have read and information that has been provided to me from various sources. At the end, I decided to list a summary of the new taxes and medicare cuts that were adopted to provide funding for the bill. I hope this helps with your questions….

2010

· Sets up a high-risk health insurance pool to provide affordable coverage for uninsured people with medical problems.

· Starting six months after enactment, requires all health insurance plans to maintain dependent coverage for children until they turn 26; prohibits insurers from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing health problems.

· Bars insurance companies from putting lifetime dollar limits on coverage, and canceling policies except for fraud.

· Provides tax credits to help small businesses with up to 25 employees get and keep coverage for their employees.

· Begins narrowing the Medicare prescription coverage gap by providing a $250 rebate to seniors in the gap, which starts this year once they have spent $2,830. It would be fully closed by 2020.

· Reduces projected Medicare payments to hospitals, home health agencies, nursing homes, hospices and other providers.

· Imposes 10 percent sales tax on indoor tanning.

2011

· Creates a voluntary long-term care insurance program to provide a modest cash benefit helping disabled people stay in their homes, or cover nursing home costs. Benefits can begin five years after people start paying a fee for the coverage.

· Provides Medicare recipients in the prescription coverage gap with a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs; begins phasing in additional drug discounts to close the gap by 2020.

· Provides 10 percent Medicare bonus to primary care doctors and general surgeons practicing in underserved areas, such as inner cities and rural communities; improves preventive coverage.

· Freezes payments to Medicare Advantage plans, the first step in reducing payments to the private insurers who serve about one-fourth of seniors. The reductions would be phased in over three to seven years.

· Boosts funding for community health centers, which provide basic care for many low-income and uninsured people.

· Requires employers to report the value of health care benefits on employees’ W-2 tax statements.

· Imposes $2.3 billion annual fee on drug makers, increasing over time.

2012

· Sets up program to create nonprofit insurance co-ops that would compete with commercial insurers.

· Initiates Medicare payment reforms by encouraging hospitals and doctors to band together in quality-driven “accountable care organizations” along the lines of the Mayo Clinic. Sets up a pilot program to test more efficient ways of paying hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and other providers who care for Medicare patients from admission through discharge. Successful experiments would be widely adopted.

· Penalizes hospitals with high rates of preventable readmissions by reducing Medicare payments.

2013

· Standardizes insurance company paperwork, first in a series of steps to reduce administrative costs.

· Limits medical expense contributions to tax-sheltered flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to $2,500 a year, indexed for inflation. Raises threshold for claiming itemized tax deduction for medical expenses from 7.5 percent of income to 10 percent. People over 65 can still deduct medical expenses above 7.5 percent of income through 2016.

· Increases Medicare payroll tax on couples making more than $250,000 and individuals making more than $200,000. The tax rate on wages above those thresholds would rise to 2.35 percent from the current 1.45 percent. Also adds a new tax of 3.8 percent on income from investments.

· Imposes a 2.3 percent sales tax on medical devices. Eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and many everyday items bought at the drug store are exempt.

2014

· Prohibits insurers from denying coverage to people with medical problems, or refusing to renew their policy. Health plans cannot limit coverage based on pre-existing conditions, or charge higher rates to those in poor health. Premiums can only vary by age (no more than 3-to-1), place of residence, family size and tobacco use.

· Coverage expansion goes into high gear as states create new health insurance exchanges — supermarkets for individuals and small businesses to buy coverage. People who already have employer coverage won’t see any changes.

· Provides income-based tax credits for most consumers in the exchanges, substantially reducing costs for many. Sliding scale credits phase out completely for households above four times the federal poverty level, about $88,000 for a family of four.

· Medicaid expanded to cover low-income people up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, about $28,300 for a family of four. Low-income childless adults covered for the first time.

· Requires citizens and legal residents to have health insurance, except in cases of financial hardship, or pay a fine to the IRS. Penalty starts at $95 per person in 2014, rising to $695 in 2016. Family penalty capped at $2,250. Penalties indexed for inflation after 2016.

· Penalizes employers with more than 50 workers if any of their workers get coverage through the exchange and receive a tax credit. The penalty is $2,000 times the total number of workers employed at the company. However, employers get to deduct the first 30 workers.

2018

· Imposes a tax on employer-sponsored health insurance worth more than $10,200 for individual coverage, $27,500 for a family plan. The tax is 40 percent of the value of the plan above the thresholds, indexed for inflation.

2020

· Doughnut hole coverage gap in Medicare prescription benefit is phased out. Seniors continue to pay the standard 25 percent of their drug costs until they reach the threshold for Medicare catastrophic coverage, when their copayments drop to 5 percent.

How do you pay for the new health care bill?

$569.2 billion in new taxes Included in the Legislation

  • A first-time ever tax on health care benefits, commonly referred to as the “Cadillac tax,” which raises taxes by $32 billion.
  • A new Medicare tax on wages, self-employment income and certain investment income that increases taxes by $210.2 billion.
  • A new tax on health insurance providers and totals $60.1 billion.
  • A new employer mandate tax that will increase taxes on employers by $52 billion.
  • A new tax on drug manufacturers and importers of $27 billion.
  • A new tax on medical device manufacturers and importers of $20 billion.
  • New requirements on information reporting on payments to corporations that raises $17.1 billion.
  • A new, higher floor for medical expense deductions for people with high-medical bills that raises $15.2 billion in taxes.
  • A new individual mandate tax, which forces Americans to purchase health care. This raises $17 billion and an earlier analysis of this provision by the Joint Committee on Taxation said nearly half of that will be paid by Americans earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty limit, which is $66,150 for a family of four.
  • There are also new limits on Flexible Spending Accounts in cafeteria plans that raise $13 billion in new taxes.
  • There is an elimination of the deduction for expenses allocable to Medicare Part D subsidy in order to raise tax revenues by $4.5 billion.
  • Other restrictions on Health Savings Accounts, Health Reimbursement Arrangements and Flexible Spending Accounts increase taxes by $5 billion.
  • There are new taxes on tanning services to the tune of $2.7 billion.
  • A limit to the deductibility of compensation paid to employees of certain health insurance providers that increases taxes by $600 million.
  • There is a modification of section 833 treatment of certain health organizations that raises $400 million in new taxes.
  • The bill denies the use of the so-called “black liquor” for the cellulosic bio-fuel producer credit, which raises $23.6 billion in tax revenues.
  • Codification of the economic substance doctrine that increases taxes by $4.5 billion.
  • Additionally, there are other “revenue” effects of $60.3 billion.

Medicare Cuts included in the bill

These bills cut Medicare by nearly the same amount – $523.5 billion. They are:

  • $202.3 billion in cuts to seniors’ Medicare health plans, including cuts targeting the extra benefits and reduced cost-sharing seniors receive through Medicare Advantage. CBO predicted a similar policy would result in 4.8 million fewer seniors will be enrolled in these plans in 2019, while the independent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission predicted a similar policy would result 1 in 5 seniors no longer being able to enroll in Medicare Advantage as a result of this policy.
  • $156.6 billion in cuts to inpatient and outpatient hospital services, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, long-term care hospitals, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, Ambulatory Surgical Centers, hospice, ambulances, dialysis facilities, labs and durable medical equipment suppliers.
  • $39.7 billion in cuts to the home health providers.
  • $22.1 billion in additional cuts to hospitals by decreasing reimbursements designed to assist hospitals that serve low-income patients.
  • $20.7 billion in cuts to the Medicare Improvement Fund, which had been intended to fund improvements to seniors’ Medicare benefits.
  • $13.3 billion in yet-to-be-determined Medicare cuts from the hands of the Medicare federal board.
  • $2.3 billion in cuts to imaging reimbursements when seniors have MRIs, CT scans, and other procedures.
  • $ 800 million in cuts to power wheelchair suppliers.
  • $65.7 billion in the form of higher premiums and additional cuts to Medicare beneficiaries and providers.

Between the new taxes and the cuts listed above, the total revenue from this bill is $1,092,700,000.00. The CBO scored this bill at $940 billion.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2010 in Uncategorized