Ethics are a good thing, until they diminish the law

scales of justice

Image by Shutterstock

A civilized nation relies upon the rule of law. Lately, though, our nation seems more fascinated with the nuances of ethics than with a code of law. Maybe we’re becoming less civilized.

Ethics are abstract guidelines of acceptable behavior that require only a credible (believable) standard of proof in order to condemn, with no legal binding. On the other hand, laws are written rules that require a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and if found guilty is punishable with fines and/or imprisonment.

It seems pretty clear where we should be focusing our attention, and yet the news is filled with stories about scandalous ethics violations instead of real criminal charges. It becomes difficult to remember that an ethics accusation does not carry the same weight as a criminal conviction.

Or, it shouldn’t.

Television journalists, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, were immediately fired after allegations of sexual harassment.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is welcoming a congressional ethics investigation after a photo surfaced of him during his comedian career days with his hands on the breasts of a sleeping and unsuspecting woman.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., stepped down from the Judiciary Committee after multiple staffers accused him of sexual harassment.

And the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, Roy Moore, is accused of sexual misconduct with several individuals including a 14-year-old child several decades ago. The election is just weeks away, and he is under heavy pressure from members of both political parties to exit the race.

None of the allegations have resulted in charges of criminal activity.

If a law is broken, the breaker should be prosecuted and those who have been victimized should receive justice. Let the alleged offenders have their day in court to determine guilt or innocence, and let the alleged victims seek restoration through prosecution and the hopes that the abuse will not happen to others. And it needs to be done long before any statutes of limitations run out.

Lauer and Rose were fired by their employers. Voters will eventually determine the fates of Franken, Conyers and Moore.

For the most part, employers can fire at will and voters can fire on Election Day. That certainly includes firing individuals who at least appear to be unethical or criminal.

It just seems that the right thing to do would be to determine guilt first—before punishment.

But that’s not where this civilized nation is trending.

“Adult coloring book” is not an oxymoron

coloring cupAdults and creativity go together. That’s why sales of coloring books for adults have taken off in the past few years. Sure, they’re promoted for stress relief. But it also confirms what we innately know to be true. Human beings desire to be creators, even if the best tools we can come up with are crayons.

Some people don’t need coloring books. They’re fortunate enough to be creators in their careers—professional artists, photographers, engineers, researchers, landscapers, florists, writers, carpenters, interior designers, jewelers, fashion designers, actors, chefs, musicians, architects, along with many other professions.

Problem solving is a form of creativity, and many are required to problem solve at work. Still, most of us come away from our jobs at the end of the day without the feeling that we were able to put our unique stamp of individuality into something. Over time, we become cognizant that there’s something missing.

It’s a noble thing to earn an honest living and to financially provide for our family.

But there’s more to life than being responsible. At least, there should be.

In, “The Charge: Activating the 10 Human Drives that Make You Feel Alive,” by Brendon Burchard, he defines creativity as one of ten necessary components to living a charged life—one in which you feel truly alive and not just drifting from one day to the next.

The biggest mental roadblock to creativity is the thinking that some people received the creative gene or gift, and others did not. But we were all born with the desire and ability to create, somehow and in some way.

Think about how excited children are to show off their coloring page masterpieces. That’s our natural state. But as we move into adulthood, we often lose that creative drive.

Part of the reason is that it does require effort. According to Burchard, “Creativity isn’t a trait; it’s a discipline. Those who say they are not creative are often those who are averse to the hard work of transforming a good idea into something truly magnificent.”

Even if we don’t achieve creative magnificence in our jobs, we can at least find creative satisfaction in our personal life and through our chosen hobbies. We may not be florists, but we can take great pride in our flower gardens surrounding our home. We may not be photographers, but we can put together a fun photo book that preserves memories from a family vacation. We may not be interior designers, but we can craft our home into a unique living space. All of these things can nourish our need for creative self-expression.

There’s a commercial that promotes the arts with a dog that runs with a stick in its mouth to a man and lays the stick at his feet. With wagging tail, the dog waits for the delightful moment when the stick is thrown so that it can retrieve it. The man looks down at the stick in a puzzled way and instead of considering the possibilities of the playfulness of the moment—he picks it up and puts it in a garbage can. His mind is too tunnel-visioned on being responsible.

With all of our necessary adult responsibilities, it’s easy to forget to play and create—but we need that dimension in our lives.

Don’t be the guy that puts the dog’s stick in the garbage can. Find a way to infuse creativity into your life.

Even if you start with just a coloring book.

We can unite behind term limits

term limits

The country is politically polarized, but one issue that Democrats, Republicans and Independents can unite behind is term limits for members of the U.S. Congress.

We wouldn’t need to have this conversation if Congress weren’t so dysfunctional. It passes highly consequential legislation without reading it (Obamacare), is incapable of managing our money ($20 trillion debt) and will not work together on an issue as bipartisan as term limits. What is good for the nation is many times pushed aside for what is, instead, good for the politician or party.

There are three common arguments against term limits, but they’re weak.

Some say that we already have term limits, and that it’s called voting. But we don’t really have primaries or elections anymore. We have incumbency retention days. It’s the day citizens go to the voting booth and pull the lever for the name most recognized, thanks to media and money advantages that incumbents possess.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that during the 2016 election, the average Senate incumbent raised nearly $13 million while the challenger raised about $1.6 million. The average House incumbent raised $1.6 million compared to $200,000 from the opponent. With the help of all that money, about 87 percent of U.S. senators and 97 percent of U.S. representatives were re-elected.

Money is helping to send the same people back to Washington D.C. over and over again, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing if citizens actually had confidence in these elected officials. But high re-election rates don’t equal high enthusiasm for the work of the incumbents. A recent Rasmussen survey found that only 15 percent of voters felt members of Congress did a good or excellent job.

The vote is no longer efficacious.

A second reason given to oppose term limits is that while it would purge the corrupt and power-driven, it would also kick out the good ones. For example, it could be argued that decades-serving U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has represented Iowa well and done a lot of good for our nation.

But it’s not that Grassley has done something wrong. It’s that there are lots of other people who are fully capable of doing something right. If we vote with the fearful belief that there’s a scarcity of intelligence and wisdom in our country, we’ve already become a nation at risk. There are more than 535 individuals, out of 200 million adults, who love this country and can do what is necessary to keep her safe and prosperous.

Lastly, it’s said that it’s just too difficult to pass term limits because it requires a constitutional amendment.

The last amendment was the 27th and it stopped Congress from giving itself a pay raise that became effective immediately. Now, pay raises don’t become effective until after the next election. But without term limits, all it means is that instead of 100 percent of the current session of Congress enjoying the pay raise, just incumbents or 87 – 97 percent get it.

The amendment was needed, but the lack of term limits is the loophole that keeps members of Congress voting for their pay raises without consequence. We passed an amendment that has done little to rein in the power of lifer legislators. It’s worth the effort to pass an amendment that could dramatically reshape Congress back into a staff of citizen legislators, as was originally intended by the founding fathers.

In 1776, the colonists had the crazy notion that people didn’t need a king and could self-govern. It was a radical idea at the time, but now we take for granted that it will always last.

There will be, though, opposing forces driven by the lure of power that will continuously challenge this great Republic and our ability to effectively govern ourselves.

In President Abraham Lincoln’s time, proponents of slavery—thinly disguised as a states’ rights issue—was the opposing force. But in the Gettysburg Address, we hear his concern not just for a nation in a civil war, but also for the fragile future of such a country when he laments, “…whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure.”

Our “great task” is to ensure that it will endure.

For many today, there’s a sense that our government is no longer “of the people, by the people, for the people,” and part of the problem is the feeling that we’ve lost control of the political process.

Term limits could go a long way to bring power back to the people.

Country has bigger problems to solve than legal immigrant benefits

statue of liberty

Nobody gets into the country illegally. That’s been President Donald Trump’s message to his base, and it’s been well received. Now, though, he’s adding that nobody gets into the country legally without showing that he or she can be self-supporting for the first five years. He shared this message at a recent Cedar Rapids visit, and his supporters gave raucous accent.

On the surface, it makes sense. Many taxpaying citizens are not fond of punching a time clock for 40 hours a week, just to hand over part of that paycheck to new arrivals seeking immediate government handouts.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 already states that immigrants are not eligible for any federal means-tested public benefit for five years after arriving in our country. If not independently wealthy, it means that many require sponsors either through an employer who promises paychecks that are sufficient enough to be self-supporting or through an individual—often a relative—who promises to provide for the immigrant financially if paychecks fall short.

But emergency medical care, public health assistance, school lunch programs and other benefits are still available to immigrants and are exceptions to the rules. And although it may take a permanent legal resident up to six years to become a naturalized citizen, the household qualifies for some assistance immediately once a child is born on U.S. soil. Lastly, the five year rule is not so awfully long. After that period, a greater number of government programs become available.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, a 2012 report showed that legal immigrant households, receiving assistance, consumed $6,378 annually in government benefits.

Nobody wants to deny lifesaving health care, and every child should have their basic needs met. But this shows that taxpayer dollars are, indeed, finding their way into the homes of immigrants.

I get what the president is after. We want to be the land of hope and opportunity, not the land of generosity that can be easily manipulated.

Six thousand dollars, though, isn’t enough to support a family. It means that immigrants are working. They’re just not earning enough to provide for their family. Unfortunately, there’s a difference between working full time and being self-supporting.

The solution to the immigration and welfare problem isn’t to limit newcomers to just those who already possess the skills, education or wealth to be completely self-sufficient upon arriving in our country. We can certainly welcome the elite immigrant, but it seems a little harsh to deny legal immigration to individuals without those advantages.

A better approach to further reduce benefits to immigrants is to increase the federal minimum wage. This is the legislation that Trump should be promoting. Small businesses can absorb a reasonable increase (not a ridiculous 100 percent increase to $15.00 as some advocate), and it would give immigrants and all workers a better chance of supporting their families without government assistance.

People will continue to legally arrive in our country and receive government benefits, no matter what Trump would like to propose. The sensible goal is to strive to keep benefits at a minimum. We’re not a country that refuses emergency medical care. And once children are born in the United States, they become citizens. A household with low wages then qualifies for assistance that not even Congress or the president can take away. Trump’s time would be better spent on solving the illegal immigration problem.

The inscription on the Statue of Liberty states, “Give me your tired, your hungry, your huddled masses…” That belief system seems to be in direct conflict or tension with attempts to allow only self-supporting immigrants or the elite into the country.

Over the years, the huddled masses have done their part to build our country and build a better future for the next generation. More want to do the same.

Trump is a self-described builder. He should recognize that same desire in others.

It’s time to go for the gold in education

gold-medal-usaEducation reform and the reduction in poverty must be tackled simultaneously to improve our education system.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development launched the Program for International Student Assessment in 2000 as a tool to assess education achievement on an international level. In 2000, there were just 41 countries reporting data. That year, the United States ranked 16th in reading, 20th in math, and 15th in science. Finland, Canada and New Zealand took first, second and third in reading while Hong Kong, Japan, and the Republic of Korea took the top three spots in math and science.

The 2015 PISA report included data from 70 countries. The United States ranked 23rd in reading, 39th in math and 25th in science. Singapore and Hong Kong were the education heavyweights.

Americans are more competitive than that. We want the gold, the silver, or at least the bronze—not 39th.

But when it comes to education, we tend to lose our all-in, competitive drive to succeed and instead fall back on protective, territorial natures.

New Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, has received blistering opposition from teachers’ unions and others. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association, said that she is, “…dangerously unqualified and lacks the experience we demand…”

But teaching experience hasn’t historically produced exceptional results in this leadership role. During the first 15 years of the PISA report, Rod Paige, a former superintendent for the Houston Independent School District, served as Education Secretary during the Bush Administration and Arne Duncan, a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, served for the Obama Administration. Going from 20th in math out of 41 countries in 2000 to 39th in math out of 70 countries in 2015 is not an improvement, despite having very qualified and experienced educators at the helm.

DeVos gave a less than stellar performance at her confirmation hearing, but one theme that stood out was her desire to empower parents. Nobody cares more about the education of our children than their parents. Maybe it’s time to allow them greater decision-making through school choice. If private schools were to receive public funds, though, it should be required that these institutions—just like public schools—be non-selective in accepting students and be accountable and transparent through standardized and reported testing.

The competitive scramble for those finite, public dollars could affect infrastructure. High performing schools may expand. Low performing schools may close. One thing that won’t change is that we will always have parents who want the best for their kids, students who want the opportunity to realize their full potential, and teachers who want to help them reach their dreams. The particular building in which they accomplish that is less important.

But even a monumental decision to implement school choice wouldn’t solve the poverty factor. Teachers have been telling us for a long time that student poverty is one of the greatest challenges they face in successfully educating our youth.

According to both the OECD and UNICEF, the United States has one of the highest relative (less than one-half the nation’s median income) childhood poverty rates among developed nations. The argument that poverty is affecting the success that teachers have in the classroom has merit, and it’s not the job of the educator to fix that. That responsibility belongs to our legislators.

Legislators must do everything possible to bring good-paying jobs to their state. For those families still struggling in low-paying jobs, an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $9.00 could be a real help. Small businesses have shown that reasonable increases can be absorbed.

It’s tough to instantly produce good-paying jobs, but raising the minimum wage is entirely within their power. Until legislators increase the minimum wage, they cannot sincerely say that they are doing their part to improve education.

We must do something different to better compete at the international level on education. School choice has been talked about for decades. Perhaps the time has come to act instead of talk. Trusting parents, instead of the government, to make education choices for our youth might be the sea change that is needed.

If we can make bold moves and reduce poverty, maybe we could even medal at the 2030 PISAs.

 

“Buyer beware” is necessary to help contain health care costs

value-and-priceSome people, who had never cast a ballot before, voted in this past election solely as a protest to the financial burden that Obamacare had placed upon their families. Voting is a good tool, but there’s something more immediate that can produce good results in containing health care costs—taking personal responsibility.

Consumers think in terms of caveat emptor, or buyer beware, when purchasing all sorts of goods. Not much is purchased without asking, “What’s this going to cost and what value will I receive?”

That basic question gets left out many times when purchasing (non-emergency) health care services. In the past, individuals didn’t see the need. Most insurance plans had small deductibles.

But that’s changing, particularly in the individual health insurance market. Opting for $5,000 or $10,000 deductibles is necessary, just to get the monthly premium down to an affordable rate.

There are, though, a couple of things that all individuals can do to help reduce health care costs.

Get used to asking your doctor for an estimate on what a particular procedure will cost. Having the money talk with your physician might feel a bit uncomfortable, but those feelings dissipate when you realize the damage that can be done to your pocketbook by remaining uninformed.

For example, knee and hip replacements are becoming increasingly common among our aging population. What’s not common is any type of standardized pricing for this procedure. Insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, in its report called, “A Study of Cost Variation for Knee and Hip Replacement Surgeries in the U.S.,” found that total knee replacement surgeries could vary between $16,772 and $61,585 within the same geographical market.

Asking a few questions could save not just hundreds or thousands of dollars, but tens of thousands of dollars.

After receiving an estimate from your provider, utilize price transparency websites as much as possible to verify that estimated costs are within an acceptable, average range. Although price transparency in the health care field has been met with some legal challenges, most states are continuing to move forward with providing or referring some type of informational system.

The Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute monitors states and their health care price transparency efforts. In its annual “Report Card on State Price Transparency Laws,” it gave Iowa a “F.”

Iowa is not alone. Only seven states were given passing grades. Many failed because pricing data collected was insufficient or in an incorrect format, quality of care data was left out, websites were not easily navigable, or sites were not even up and running at the time the report was issued.

Iowa does not have a state all-payer claims database. The Iowa Hospital Association does provide some pricing comparisons on its website, www.iowahospitalcharges.com, but its data is based upon prices charged, not actual payment received from negotiated insurance contracts. It also lacks quality of care comparisons.

Still, it can be of some help. After first searching for “musculoskeletal system,” and then selecting knee replacements, its data show that even within the Cedar Valley there can be a $10,000 swing in average charges for knee replacements of comparable difficulty.

More information is better, but having some comparison data is better than having none at all. It’s a start.

A knee replacement surgery is a high-cost procedure. Patients may fall into the trap of thinking that pricing doesn’t matter because the $5,000 or $10,000 deductible will be exhausted, and insurance will pick up the rest. But many insurance plans require a patient co-pay percentage of ten or 20 percent, after the deductible has been reached, which can become quite costly. Many other procedures will fall below the deductible threshold, meaning the patient will pick up 100 percent of the tab.

If all health care consumers got into the habit of making smart purchasing decisions, premiums and deductibles could come down for everyone.

It may seem harsh to arm yourself with a “buyer beware” mentality in the health care field. Health care, after all, is no more onerous than any other industry.

At the same time, it’s no less.

Clinton’s history of corruption, without consequences, should be a deal breaker

trump-2

Historically, voters send an individual to the White House who is in good standing on Election Day. Most serve their country well.

Sometimes, though, the president surprises and disappoints citizens by committing a potentially impeachable act after being sworn in. Voters don’t have a crystal ball and can’t predict what any elected official will do, once in office.

This election, though, voters know before marking their ballot that Hillary Clinton has committed wrongdoings so serious that they would likely be impeachable offenses had she committed them as president.

The Watergate Articles of Impeachment show uncanny similarities between the actions of President Nixon and those of presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

The articles charged Nixon for, “Withholding relevant and material evidence or information from lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States,” and also, “Interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation,…and Congressional Committees.”

Clinton stated that she, “never received nor sent any material that was classified” on her private email server while Secretary of State, a claim the FBI found to be untrue. Also, Clinton’s emails were deleted after she received a congressional subpoena. And Clinton’s phones were destroyed with hammers, according to an FBI report.

There is the unseemly defense that she may have been unaware of what was happening or couldn’t remember what happened in the State department, for which she had final authority, as she repeatedly testified. But that could make her the most unknowing and forgetful person to seek the highest office in the land. If not brazenly corrupt, then completely incompetent.

Remarkably, the FBI has characterized this behavior as carelessness. For the average citizen, it would likely be considered felonious.

For Nixon, it caused him to resign from the presidency. But for Clinton, she’s still on path to ascend to the Oval Office.

It seems that Hillary Clinton is above the law, that the rules don’t apply to her, and that she receives special treatment instead of consequences.

Donald Trump is a flawed candidate, as well, with a cringe-worthy communication style. But although he’s not a great talker, he is a hard worker.

He sees the work that needs to be done in this country including appointing Supreme Court justices who will defend and uphold the Constitution, rebuilding our nation through a strong military and strong trade agreements that will benefit American workers, and repealing Obamacare and reducing regulations that are strangling small businesses and the jobs they create.

Most importantly, though, he’s called attention to the corruption in politics and the bias in the mainstream media for liberal candidates. Our country won’t have a chance to accomplish anything until these two wrongs get righted.

The Center for Public Integrity reports that 430 individuals working in the journalism field made political donations and that nearly all of the money, or about 96 percent, benefited Clinton. The donation totals were relatively small: $382,000 for Clinton and $14,000 for Trump. But the money isn’t the biggest problem. It’s the mindset of the journalists, who control the airways and the newspapers—who hold the extremely powerful role of telling voters what to think about. And those journalists have invested financially, and emotionally, in a Clinton win.

The mainstream media is no longer the trusted, watchdog press that it used to be.

If the numbers aren’t damaging enough, recall the imagery of the hug that moderator Rachel Maddow, of MSNBC, gave Hillary Clinton after a Democratic debate.

The press is hugging Clinton. Figuratively, literally and financially.

It seems that Hillary Clinton, if not outright corrupt, is a benefactor of corruption. Positive changes won’t happen with her.

My father had a way of sharing his wisdom and then ending with, “Don’t ever forget that.” One of those teaching moments came when I was quite young, and it stuck with me. He told me that I wasn’t better than anyone else. But at the same time, nobody—(including a presidential candidate)—was better than I was.

And he’s still right.

Hillary Clinton is not above the law.

I’m not sure if Donald Trump can make America great again, but he correctly understands the best way to start—by draining the swamp of corruption.