Income disparity during snow days

snow day in ohio

snow day in ohio

I heard the blizzard warnings last night on the television and immediately thought all the news stations were just salivating at the chance to finally scare the living crap out of us with spun-up winter weather.

Shortly after sun-up this morning, I knew I was wrong. We were getting some real winter weather.

I’m lucky. I don’t have to go into my office to make a living. I just need an Internet connection and a laptop. I can redirect my office phone to my cell phone with a few clicks and log into servers from anywhere I can get WiFi.

But many employees are not as lucky. Many employees who work for retail and fast food places at or near minimum wage are not only expected to show up for work during bad weather, but will probably get their hours cut or fired if they show up late or not at all. In addition, many will also choose to sleep in their cars after their shift today so they won’t be late for work tomorrow morning.

Something to think about on Boxing Day when those of us who are more fortunate are supposed to be mindful of those less fortunate and labor in service for our comfort.

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Why every private sector company should want single-payer, Medicare-for-all

Yesterday, I made a call to Verizon Wireless to cancel my MiFi card. At $59.99 per month for unlimited use, it was an expense I could live without. But I won’t be saving that money for long.

In March, I am expecting Anthem BCBS of Ohio to increase my health insurance premiums at least 20%. I still have to find about $100.00 in savings I am paying some other private-sector company to break even with where I am today. I may have to stop eating organic food.

I’m most definitely not buying an iPad Mini.

“Why are you canceling your MiFi service?” the woman on the other end asked me, expecting some service issue she could happily resolve with some equipment upgrade.

“Well, I am fixing to transfer some more wealth to the private insurance company, BCBS, that the good folks at the GOP are saying is my freedom of choice,” I explained. “You know, if we had single-payer, Medicare-for-all, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Pretty soon, the medical industry will have all the money we might be paying you.”

With incomes being flat and no sign of them rising, us middle-aged, middle-class folk will have to get the money from somewhere to pay for our medical care. The private-sector medical industry doesn’t show any slowing for their appetite for increasing costs.

If you are a private sector company, why are you not supporting single-payer, Medicare-for-all? In ten years when you wonder why your customers have no money, won’t you at least wonder why the medical services industry is the only growth industry?

Something to think about.

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This is not a donut

Cosby Show

Cosby Show

Mitt Romney released his final 2011 taxes today and the media are all over it like there is some precious jewel they will uncover. For me, the fact that he has been arrogantly obstinate about not releasing more than two years tells me all I need to know about his character.

I was content with that until Chris Hayes from the UP w/ Chris Hayes Show tweeted something rather pointed this afternoon about Mitt’s tax returns that got me thinking.

I think it’s actually morally condemnable to take “extraordinary” measures to avoid taxes, even if legal. #hashout

I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that everything on the Romney tax returns is entirely legal. Every deduction, every exemption and every income category complies with the letter of the law. And that is the crux of the issue Hayes was getting at.

Chris is young. He is not a grizzled, hardened small business person — yet — so we can forgive him his moralizing for a moment. But this got me thinking about how Mitt sees the tax code and why it is a peek into his character. For this point to stick, we need to climb into the Wayback Machine to the ’80s and watch a short clip of a Cosby Show episode. This is the one where Claire was invited to be on a panel for a Sunday morning show much like Hayes’ except the pastries were kept in the green room.

It’s a good thing we’ve evolved and let the pastries join us at the table. Let’s watch.

The scene that aligns with Mitt’s behavior and Hayes’ tweet is when Hector say, “This is not a donut!” as he bites hungrily into a chocolate-glazed long john. He is technically correct; a long john is not a donut. But it really IS a donut. You and I would call a long john a donut. So would Claire. And Cliff Huxtable knows damn well that a long john — and even a danish which he eventually bites into — is a donut.

This is what the “morally condemnable” bit is that I think Hayes is referring to. While Mitt’s tax avoidance may be perfectly legal, it is immoral to dance on the letter of the law as you force the spirit of the law to give up the ghost.

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The chicken is a red herring

Yesterday was Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, which resulted in photos splayed all over the Internet of slack-jawed Oakies, holding up sandwich bags of fresh, blood-splattered carcasses gleaned from the day-long rabbit clubbing frenzy in No Man’s Land.

Some of the red-letter citizens of No Man’s Land America are posted to the right. You may recognize them by their goofy grins and the thumbs up “okey-dokey.”

As the day unfolded, I marveled at the Right’s ability to mobilize their army to march out to their local Chick-fil-A and buy a sack of fat and carbs without reservation. What power, what pull. But in the light of day, fueled by a wee-hours chat with two really smart women on the twitter, I came to realize something: Chick-fil-A really messed this one up.

What the hell, dawg? No, they had a great day. There were lines out the door and down the block!

Settle down and let me explain.

Chick-fil-A may have sold a lot of sandwiches yesterday, but thanks to the meddling of Mike Huckabee, they don’t know why. When Cathy spouted off in his interview about one-man, one-woman Biblical family definition, blah, blah, blah, the issue had clarity. If you supported Chick-fil-A, you also supported their beliefs. If you boycotted, you didn’t. If you were oblivious, you probably just liked their chicken sandwiches. When Huckabee got involved, he threw the issue kattywhompass by encouraging people to support a great small business, to boycott the boycott, to show that the voice of the American people could not be silenced by a bunch of left-leaning, commie weenies.

Alrighty, then. So now we have some people going to Chick-fil-A because they are lemming drones with GOP knee-jerk marching orders vaguely based on some goofy understanding of the First Amendment, some people showing up because they support Cathy’s version of family, some people out of pure hatred for gay people and some people who were just caught up in the fracas going to their lunch place.

In their frenzy to stick it to the Left, the Conservatives left yet one more organization in shambles trying to figure out what just happened, proving once again they can win an issue, but can’t govern or manage. The chicken for these cultural locusts was just one more pest to club on their way to solving a problem they have not defined or thought through. If Chick-fil-A thought they had an ally on the Right, they are probably wrong. The Right is on to club the next thing in their way. After all, there is an election on the horizon.

Chick-fil-A had a great day yesterday, but they don’t know what to do today. They know less about why people eat at Chick-fil-A today than they thought they knew the day before yesterday.

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A calculation almost every American man over fifty has made in his head

There is one calculation that almost every American man over fifty* has made in his head that he will almost never admit to. The ones who have made it more than once and many times a year are the ones who have families and responsibilities who now find themselves at the scary end of a medical diagnosis and/or the threat or reality of unemployment.

That calculation is:

Am I worth more dead than alive?

….

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Two questions we should ask Mitt Romney

Last night, Mitt Romney conducted some hastily-organized interviews with the major networks in part to respond to the deluge of attacks by Barack Obama about his role at Bain Capital. He did not do very well because I think he was confused by the lack of understanding of corporate governance the reporters exhibited in their questions.

Ironically, as the GOP pushes to slash education budgets, more and more Americans are learning less and less about how business works. Most kids are now being trained to go to work, punch a clock and expect money for work. They don’t understand the difference between passive and active income, an executive vs a shareholder position in a corporation or the relationship of a board member to a CEO. All they know now is you are either the boss or you isn’t.

Oops. I’ll bet Mitt did not see that coming. If he had, his explanations would make as much sense to the nails ladies and the dogs walkers as they do to the 1%-ers. In short, he would not be in this pickle.

As someone who holds annual shareholder meetings with the shareholders (me) and my board (me) and my CEO (me) I understand the nuance. Is it silly? Absolutely. I should not have to generate meeting minutes where the Secretary (me) takes role call of all the directors (me) and also calls for a vote on mundane things and seconds them (me and me.) But, the letter of the law and my corporate charter is very specific so we (me) do it.

But we should really move on and away from all this legal crap and into some questions everyone understands.

Question One:
If you resigned as CEO, who specifically was then in charge? What was the organizational chart? Please name the names of who reported to whom. Will you release the Board of Directors meeting minutes that show these votes?

Question Two:
We will accept at face value that you resigned from Bain Captial in 1999. Since then, you have led the Olympics — a non profit — and were governor of Massachusetts, a public-sector job. Since being governor, you have been running for President of the United States. That is a thirteen year gap in your private-sector, for-profit business experience rĂ©sumĂ©. Please explain how this is not like a typical stay-at-home mom who may have left an executive career to raise her kids and is now trying to re-enter the workforce?

That should do it. Just two questions.

Which news organization is going to take me up on this?

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What does it mean to own something?

I passed this sign on the way through the Village of North Clayton on our way to the “dog park” yesterday and it made me pause. Firstly, because it wasn’t there yesterday so that probably means the economy is starting to move (we’ll lose our dogpark when it does) but also, because the lot is in one of those “planned villages.”

The dirty little secret about these planned villages is when someone buys a lot and builds a building, the developer still owns the property. The structure is on private property even though it looks like a public street. No First Amendment protections, endless association fees and in this case, every business not only pays rent, but a percentage of its sales.

In dog-speak, owning something now means a leash.

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Dern ye, ya shoulda taken d’pie

When I was fifteen, I worked as a cook for The Viking Village Smorgasbord on Snelling Ave in St. Paul, MN. It’s not there anymore and someone long ago turned the building into a furniture store. A few decades have passed since I last clocked in, but a few stories stick vividly in my brain as if they happened only yesterday.

In “The Cities,” as we were wont to say, we prided ourselves on being urbane, but we were surrounded by the State of Minnesota that had its share of dirt farmers. On this particular weeknight, a farm couple wandered in for dinner. He was wearing his best overalls and she, her best go-to-church Sunday dress. Neither had very many teeth, their faces were ruddy with sun and wind and their hands gnarled from years of manual farm work. They held all the cash they were going to spend in The Cities in their hands. Maybe it was all they had left, maybe all they started out with or everything they planned on spending but you could tell it wasn’t much.

….

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We should be careful about filling people with ambition

I had a pretty lively discussion with someone on the twitter this morning who had some strong opinions about how everyone should be self-employed and that we should quit relying on “The Man” for a job. I expressed some concern that before cheering them to jump off the ledge, we should perhaps maybe encourage people to first assess the risks, that they should jump with eyes wide open.

Twitter being what it is — by the end of the discussion — I was accused of scaring people, looking for more ways to fail than to succeed and killed fifty people on the highway with a load of wood.

….

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Happily ever after; why the dogs were humping in Mad Men

Humping dogs from Mad Men

Humping dogs from Mad Men

A while back, a friend of mine asked me what I thought was the purpose of life. “To ensure the survival of our species, nothing greater,” was my reply. To him, that sounded incredibly sad but for me, it is incredible pragmatic with a sense of ultimate clarity of purpose.

I still believe that and believe also that it can be expanded out to cover the whole condition of the human animal with this simple formula:

Step one; create.
Step two; develop and nurture.
Step three; release, let go.
Step four; repeat.

Whether we’re talking about raising kids, writing a book, building a bridge, mentoring a protĂ©gĂ©, composing a song or any of the thousands of things human beings do, the formula remains the same. Create-nurture-release-repeat.

Where people get hung up (yeah, pun intended) is when they become scared of step four or hang too long onto step two and never pull the trigger on step three or never even start step one. Throughout season five of Mad Men, this has been the theme; the journey each character takes through each of these steps on the way to letting go and starting over, to sharing their creation with the rest of the species to ensure its survival. Some made it through the formula while others got caught up in the tentacles of one or more of the steps.

When Matt Weiner puts a two-second scene of two dogs humping out on the sidewalk, you bet we’re gonna notice. You bet we’re gonna write about it. While some have called the scene “completely unnecessary” and put in as a “cheap attempt at soliciting a reaction,” I disagree. Two seconds of airtime is just way too expensive to just “throw in a couple of dogs shagging each other” for the heck of it. I say the scene sums up the meaning of the season perfectly.

Hear me out.

It would be easy to say the humping dogs symbolizes that the old Don is back, but that is missing the mark. I think the dogs humping in the parking lot symbolizes nature’s way of forcing a species to start something that they will need to nurture (nurse), let go and repeat. Dogs do this in a care-free, almost matter-of-fact way. To a pair of dogs in a parking lot, the act of copulation is neutral; it has no moral value. Its only purpose is to ensure the survival of their species.

The activity will eventually result in a litter, which will be nursed along until the pups are ready to be nudged out on their own. The mother’s job will be over and they will go forth and be “successful” on their own without her. She will then repeat the process with another litter.

This is Don’s role. When he was younger, creating, nurturing, releasing and starting over was easy, especially when it was only him. But these days, the formula includes other people. As he is aging, he is also forming attachments that are harder and harder for him to let go. But in true Don Draper stoic style, he finds a way and when he does, he closes the door and moves on even as he cares deeply and honestly about everyone with whom he gets involved.

When Don watches Megan’s screen test, he is not going through the act of falling in love with her all over again or realizing she really is perfect for the part. What he is doing is realizing he has fallen in love with the two-dimension, celluloid version of Megan. The “real Megan” is far more complicated, far more damaged than stylized, acting Megan. In that moment of clarity, Don realized he had hung on to her too long. He realizes that for her to grow, he needed to let her go on without him. That light-headedness was not the smoke in the room, or the sadness in his heart, but relief. He does the right thing even if nobody will ever know he did, even if the right thing looked to the outside world like two dogs humping in a parking lot.

Real life has no happily ever after. It just has a never-ending cycle. But it is it’s purpose.

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Don Draper and potted plants

When I worked at a major retailer many, many, many years ago we would get regular deliveries of potted plants in the spring. They would come in on trailers from some place south and everyone would gather at the dock and help unload them. They were always huge and green — large palms, ficus trees, dieffenbachias — planted in gallon pots and sold for $19.99 or some other low price. Having spent the previous five months buried in the snows of Minnesota, customers were eager for anything green.

The plants sold quickly. They also died quickly.

Apparently, the grower would force the leafy part of the plant to grow quickly and not care about the roots. He made money on quick turn of the product, not on the health of the plant. He knew the big, lush greenery would sell. He didn’t care how long they lasted.

“All of this for such a cheap price? Wow, that would look great in my apartment!”

As I watched “The Other Woman” episode of Mad Men this past Sunday, that lesson leapt into my head.

Taking short-cuts work for short-term results. Anyone who has ever worked in the online space has probably had constant battles with the “SEO v Quality Content” arguments, knowing full-well that a dedicated SEO effort with back links and “black hat” stuff will produce quick results. We know that we will have to defend the “quality content” argument against the seemingly successful SEO push as the client’s site hits page one of Google at a meteoric rise. But we know equally well that the page will drop like a stone once the effort is stopped.

We are rarely given the chance to defend the quality position as the client gets busy popping the champagne cork in celebration.

We know the plant will die because it does not have the root structure to sustain the leafy green top. That might be ok if the client were a white-label brand selling quick greenery to a cabin-fever-infected audience looking to buy cheap plants. But if the client was in the long-term relationship, quality results business such as selling very expensive cars to an exclusive demographic — where their brand is also on the line — that might prove to be a bit problematic.

This is what Don Draper knows. While many reviews out there focus on the morality of “whoring out Joan” or the role of women in the workplace, the real significance of the “deal” was not lost on Don. He now has to decide how to handle a situation where he is contractually tied to a group of people who are willing to game the system to produce leafy green plants with no root structure to sell to an audience who will buy from the nameless vendor willing to sell the leafiest greenery at the cheapest price. His future is tied to these people and he no longer gets a vote. He is feeling too old, powerless and out-of-touch to just leave.

This is what he is processing in the instant Joan and he exchange looks in Roger’s office. He is not judging Joan; he is assessing everyone else in the office. Joan has won 5% of a leafy green company and Don knows it. That is what is in Don’s eyes.

I’m not quite sure what is in Joan’s.

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Visiting London on a Sunday morning

Gerry and London from The UnseenBean Coffee

Gerry and London from The UnseenBean Coffee

“Do you drink coffee?” he asked me eagerly as soon as we shook hands. With a broad smile and cheerful flourish, he was already digging into his bag, giving me a pound of coffee from The UnseenBean.

Gerry (Gerard) Leary was born in 1952 and named after the patron saint of expectant mothers, St. Gerard. He weighed three pounds when he was born and the oxygen used in the incubator during the first few weeks of his life took his sight. Despite his lack of sight, his parents were determined to raise Gerry to be self-sufficient and independent.

“The last ten years of my father’s life, we were like two peas in a pod,” Gerry boasts with a slight chuckle. “But when I was growing up, man….” as his voices drifts off and his face lights up with a broad smile that tells a colorful story full of fond memories of youthful hooliganism.

At 59, he is fearless. He interacts easily with everyone around him and marches forward with as much confidence and conviction as any sighted person.

Gerry grew up and became a mechanic, but about nine years ago, his interests started to wander. As he was having dinner at a San Francisco café, he heard what sounded like a rock tumbler. It was, in fact, a coffee bean roaster. Immediately intrigued, he asked the roastmaster if he could learn to roast beans by sound and smell. Without missing a beat, the roastmaster explained what the roast looked like as the beans turned color. Gerry pieced together the subtle changes in sound and smell to map out a roasting cycle.

Armed with his indomitable confidence he enrolled in the San Francisco Coffee Training Institute to learn the craft of roasting coffee beans, despite the skepticism of the roasting instructors. He couldn’t see the color of the beans as they roasted, but he could smell and hear the change. He outfitted a sample roaster with a talking thermostat made from parts found on the Internet and The Unseen Bean was born. Later as the business grew, he bought a full-sized roaster.

But this was Hamvention weekend and Gerry (WBGIVF) was in town for that. We were curious about his entrĂ©e into HAM radio. London, a four-year-old yellow lab and Gerry’s guide dog, was also patiently waiting for us to get to his story. We’ll get there, I promise.

When Gerry was nine years old, he came down with an ear infection which kept him home from school for several weeks. He was driving his dad crazy with boredom, so his dad’s Army buddy gave Gerry an old radio to listen to. It wasn’t long before Gerry’s natural curiosity took hold and he and his dad were taking HAM radio operator classes. By the time he was eleven, Gerry had his license and he could not only listen, but talk on the radio.

“Keep active in the HAM Radio operators’ community,” his dad advised. “You’ll always be in the company of educated, caring and compassionate people.” Each year, Gerry comes to Dayton, Ohio to meet up with his community in person. Each year, they greet him as they would an old friend.

“London is my third dog,” Gerry shared. “I had a setter at first — which didn’t work out — and a black lab named Midnight for nine years after that.” Midnight was diagnosed with cancer and Gerry was faced with the awful decision to put him down. The training facility had another dog — London — but he was three days away from being cycled out of the program. Gerry would have to move fast to get this dog.

Within hours, he had completed the application and London and a trainer were on their way to Gerry’s house. It usually takes three to six months to acclimate the guide dog to a new owner; it only took about thirty seconds for London to jump into Gerry’s lap and then settle at his feet, London’s side snuggled up against his leg.

I takes six months to a year to train a guide dog. Only 40 percent of all dogs who enter a program graduate and are placed. Despite his casual demeanor, London is a dog with exceptional skills.

For more on Gerry Leary, visit his website at http://www.theunseenbean.com, on twitter at @TheUnseenBean or come on down for the next Hamvention and meet him and London in person. You will be inspired by his effervescent personality and quirky sense of humor.

If you have a HAM radio, reach out to WBGIVF. Tell London his Dayton Pack is anxious to meet up with him next year. And the year after… and the year after…

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Open letter to the teen who nearly died yesterday in Englewood

Dear teen driving the car on Walnut Street;

You nearly died yesterday because you were impatient and you thought you were owed the right-of-way making a left turn onto National Road.

From page 36 of the Ohio Digest of Motor Vehicle Laws on left hand turns;

Is required to yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. Prior to engaging a left-hand turn, the driver must wait for oncoming traffic to clear the intersection. One may advance into the intersection as a prelude to turning, provided that no other traffic control devices prohibit this action.

I was the vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. I outweighed you by at least two tons. If I had hit you, one of us would have gone to the hospital and it would not have been me.

You did not have the right-of-way simply because you were waiting longer than I was at the 2-way stop. Yes, I have been where you were, trying to make a left-hand turn onto a busy road at 4:00pm. Yes, the lights in “downtown” Englewood are timed badly, if at all. Yes, it is maddening that others pull up in the opposite direction to make a right-hand turn just as the road looks like it is clearing up.

But your sense of what is fair does not give you the right to punch the gas and pull in front of me simply because you felt it was your turn to go. The traffic laws do not work that way. Life does not work that way. Your sense of fairness nearly cost you your life. Defending traffic laws are not worth dying over.

You are very lucky that I yielded my right-of-way to you, even though I really didn’t have to. I have seen other drivers in my situation who would have pushed their advantage. The look on your face clearly indicated that you thought I was the one in the wrong, so I suspect you learned nothing from our chance encounter. Perhaps by luck, you will read this open letter.

I understand you may not have received as much training as you needed from our local driving school. I know my two kids did not. I also know from experience that the “testing” given by the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles is not all that hard to pass. A drunken monkey could pass that test. But that really is no excuse to not know some basic right-of-way laws.

Few interactions on the road determine whether you live or die behind the wheel than knowing who has the right-of-way and when. Please learn these laws. And when in doubt, yield the right-of-way and live to drive another day.

It’s not about fair. Ultimately, it’s about surviving other drivers. You should not also have to fight yourself.

Regards,

Rufus Dogg.

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I apologize, Governor Kasich

Northmont Kindergarten Sign

Dear Hon. John Kasich, Governor of Ohio;

I apologize for my sight-sightedness with respect to my opposition to your state education budget cuts and SB5, which sought to limit bargaining rights for teachers. Clearly these were bills designed to give smart-ass bloggers like me an endless supply of content for free.

Please forgive my lack of vision. I look forward to the endless bounty of your labors.

I remain your loyal subject,

Rufus Dogg

Northmont Kindergarten Sign

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The naked truth about health insurance

Supreme Court Building

Supreme Court Building

The Supreme Court of the United States of America just listened to three days of argument as to whether or not the recent Affordable Care Act (ACA) is Constitutional. Central to the twenty-six States’ argument is that the Federal government can not compel its citizen to purchase something they they do want to buy.

Like these opponents of the ACA, I have a big problem with the Federal government telling me what I should and should not be buying. But I have an even bigger problem with my fellow citizens who insist on sucking out only the benefits of citizenship without shouldering any of the responsibilities. In short, we should never be at a juncture where the government is forced to make us play nice with each other.

What affects you, affects me. The United States of America is our community and we should never cede control to a government because we can’t figure out how to take care of each other.

Solve that problem and you have a small government.

But I digress.

What we are calling health insurance is not really insurance. It is just a way to pay for health care. Mandating citizens buy health insurance is not at all like forcing them to buy car insurance. Not buying health insurance is an act of denial by some that their bodies will not get sick or injured.

If we want to stick with an automobile metaphor, it is more like being in denial about changing your car’s oil and expecting it to run simply because the oil is healthy today. Ignoring your health care by pretending you will always be healthy only acknowledges you are healthy today but ignores the fact that your body wears over time. Like oil, some bodies break down faster than others. Sometimes, the oil pan gets punctured even when the driver is careful.

In other words, illness and injury are a certitude with a human body. It’s just a matter of when. No business worth a damn capitalizes based on certain loss.

The current health insurance market is unsustainable and the industry knows it. What nobody is saying is that the health insurance companies were unsuccessful at selling insurance to young, healthy people, so they lobbied to get this group covered — and paid for — by their parents. That took care of that group while Medicare takes care of the older group they didn’t want to cover. Now, the only the group left are middle-aged people who are getting fired left and right by employers, thereby getting dropped from coverage.

Individual plans? These are gawd awful expensive for anyone over 45 so most just drop coverage and pray they don’t get cancer or a heart attack. If the ACA is struck down, in ten years there will be nobody left to buy health insurance.

Insurance companies know this.

The ACA gives them 20-30 years to transition their business model. Without it, they probably have fewer than ten years before they will all be frantically merging, trying to pool assets and mitigate losses. The argument against the individual mandate is being driven by the very wealthy, the very healthy and the already Medicare-serviced. Selfish pack of idiots.

You just need to be paying attention halfway with half a brain to figure this out. It just is not that hard. The morality of providing health care or the constitutionality of forcing us to pay for something does not even need to be part of the argument.

The business model is simply unsustainable.

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