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Chasing Squirrels – the GOP’s Pursuit of Obamacare

As happens almost daily, when I take our family Shih Tzu-Poodle for a walk, he will invariably spot a lone squirrel near the driveway foraging for food in the front yard. Acting on pure instinct, Oreo will initiate a chase, presumably to catch the squirrel before it ascends to a nearby tree. Recently, Oreo surprised a ‘lazy’ squirrel and was within three yards of catching it, but the wily squirrel was able to outrace the jaws of our 20-lb house pet.

By watching this somewhat comical incident, I mused to my wife, “Assuming Oreo caught the squirrel, what would he actually do with it?” We both concluded that this particular pet would “have no clue” on how to proceed. For Oreo and most canines, chasing squirrels is essentially a ‘sport’ that requires little forethought about what may follow should the improbable event happen.

Following the November election results, we are bombarded daily with news about the fate of Obamacare. Since 2010, when the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare) was created, Republicans have battered Democrats with generic claims that this legislation is directly responsible for rising premiums and frustrations within our country. Frankly, there are mixed truths to these claims. We can all agree, healthcare delivery and payment problems preceded this mammoth law, and many of these problems (e.g. overpriced and opaque healthcare) persist to this day.

In a different way, Obamacare has become the GOP’s ‘squirrel.’

I am often asked the question: “With Republicans taking control of both houses of Congress and the White House, how will ‘repeal and replace’ campaign promises play out?” Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. Then again, nobody does – not even Republicans. Intra-party diversity on healthcare ideology is the only sure thing we know as 2017 begins. Even the savviest of policy wonks have nebulous notions about how to proceed with ‘fixing the atrocities’ of a major partisan law that has had almost seven full years to ‘bake’ within our health ‘system.’

This much is known. After the January 20 inauguration, the GOP will have the ability to begin dismantling Obamacare. Portions of this law, if related to federal revenues and spending, will require only a simple majority (51 votes) in the Senate for repealing – Republicans have 52 Senate votes in the new Congress. However, parts of the law not directly related to federal spending, such as insurance market reforms, require at least 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster in the Senate – most likely resulting in a messy and prolonged process.

Suffice it to say, there are a myriad of routes that “repeal and replace” measures can take, with most all scenarios requiring a transitional period for replacement plans to buffer against coverage disruption. Yet again, one-fifth of our economy will be profoundly impacted by how the ‘other’ party will treat the captive squirrel.

Unless bipartisan support suddenly becomes ‘in vogue,’ any new legislation to replace Obamacare will consequently become a big target on the back of Republicans – a role reversal for both parties. The GOP will own their new creation and subsequently become the ‘hunted,’ an unenviable position to have in future elections.

The times they are a changin’. Maybe sometime soon, the squirrels will be chasing Oreo!

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Volunteering = Positive Health Outcomes

The resolutions we make to change undesired personal traits or behaviors usually begin at the dawn of the new calendar year – an attempt to ‘start over’ and refresh our hopes and desires to make us more productive, perhaps improve our health (and appearance), and move us to a happier state.

Perhaps you have joined a fitness club, initiated a new dietary program, developed a budget to save more and spend less, or carved out more time to read rather than watch television shows. There are a host of other new beginnings that may meet your personal goals.

So, after just a few days into 2017, how are you doing?

Have you thought about volunteering your time within your community to benefit another person, group or organization? Perhaps serve on a committee at your church, spend time assisting an individual to shop for groceries or attend a doctor or dentist appointment, or participate with a non-profit organization to take care of our underserved vulnerable populations (e.g. homeless, disabled, elderly, etc). This isn’t necessarily about altruism, though having an unselfish regard for helping others is certainly important and admirable for the health of any community.

Volunteering actually invites a new sense of purpose to our lives that consequently impacts our OWN mental well-being. Sounds somewhat self-serving doesn’t it? But promulgating our own well-being by volunteering our time and resources to help others actually makes a great deal of sense. Such activities positively impact the social determinants of health for our communities.

Recent studies indicate a positive relationship between volunteering and healthy outcomes, such as  self-rated health, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease, disability, mental well-being and life satisfaction. Some studies report that volunteering activities can reduce the risk of mortality. A person who volunteers will have a larger social network of connections and a personal sense of accomplishment that comes from helping others.

Listen up to those age 40-plus

A 2016 study in The BMJ suggests that there is “no clear evidence that volunteering was positively associated with mental health during early adulthood to mid-adulthood.” However, a positive association with mental health became more apparent after around 40 years of age and “continued up to old age.” This same study reveals that even for those of us who participate minimally in volunteering activities appear to have better mental well-being compared to those who don’t volunteer at all. Those who never volunteered had “lower levels of mental well-being starting around midlife and continuing in old age compared to those involved in volunteering.”

As with any life-changing resolution we embark in this new year, taking small, incremental steps to achieve our personal objectives is often underestimated. Yes, making massive changes sounds great for many of us, but this can also cause most of us to give up before we ever start.

It’s never too late to amend your 2017 resolutions. Volunteering your time will have a positive impact on your neighbors, community – and yes, even your own health!

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Five Lessons Learned on a Snowy Day in 1969

Viking Front Four: Alan Page, Jim Marshall, Carl Eller and Gary Larsen

Purple People Eaters: Alan Page (88), Jim Marshall (70), Carl Eller (81) and Gary Larsen (77)

Growing up in Fargo, North Dakota in the 1960’s and early ‘70s brings back many wonderful memories of watching my favorite NFL team play football. Fargo sits alongside the mighty Red River, which divides North Dakota from Minnesota. It was only natural, therefore, to spend Sunday’s in the fall/winter (following church) watching the Minnesota Vikings wreak havoc on opposing teams – thanks largely to our General Electric 12” black and white television.

By the late 60s, when the Vikings were considered one of the more dominant teams of that era, I grew familiar with every player, his position, jersey number and the style of play he brought to the team. One player I keenly followed was their running back, Dave Osborn, who was not fast or flashy, but always contributed with a gutsy run to ‘move the chains’ and score critical touchdowns when the game was on the line. Just as importantly, he, too, was a product of North Dakota, demonstrating to this young Fargo boy that I could grow up and do important things as well.

The Vikings were best known for having a suffocating defense that featured the ‘Purple People Eaters,’ a well-deserved nickname given primarily to four terrifying players on their defensive line that consisted of Carl Eller, Gary Larsen, Alan Page and, team captain, Jim Marshall. Through trades and draft picks, the Vikings accumulated these four players by the time the 1967 season began. From 1967 through the 1970s, these front four produced two hall of famers (Eller and Page) and are known as having one of the most dominant defenses in NFL history. Many sportswriters, players, coaches and fans, including this fan, argue that Jim Marshall should also be in the Hall of Fame.

From the 1967 season to the present, the Vikings have played over 800 regular season games, in addition to 47 playoff games – including four trips to the Super Bowl. I’m guessing that I may have only missed watching about two dozen of those games – for good, legitimate reasons, of course! Games that ended in the most improbable fashion, either with miraculous wins or by kick-in-the-gut losses serve as a roller coaster ride for all true fans. Viking fans have definitely had their fair share of rocky rides along the way.

But there was one play in one game that I will never forget. The play provides lessons that are important – both for team sports and for non-sport organizations.

During a snowstorm on Thanksgiving Day in 1969, the Vikings defense was pitching a shutout against the Detroit Lions at Tiger Stadium. The Vikings led 17-0 in the fourth quarter when Jim Marshall unexpectedly intercepted a tipped Greg Landry pass and ran 30 yards down the right sideline. Due to the snow and a muddy field, everyone who watched this game had trouble seeing the players. Marshall was about to be tackled at the Detroit 15-yard line when he did the most improbable thing.

Legendary Hall of Fame Viking coach Bud Grant recalls what happened next:


Click on this picture to watch the play.

“Then, without looking back, he (Marshall) takes the ball in his right hand, reaches to his left and flips the ball around the defender to Alan Page, who runs it in for a touchdown. How Jim Marshall knew Alan Page was there, I have no idea. And Alan said he didn’t yell out to Jim.” Grant concluded that this was “one of the greatest plays in football history.”

During that following Monday in Fargo, I remember, as a fourth grader, trying to replicate that very same play with friends during recess breaks outside in a snow shower. We all marveled at how Marshall blindly flipped the ball to Page before being tackled. ‘How did he do it?’ we all asked.

Making instinctive plays like Marshall-Page describes how important it is for team players to achieve objectives, whether it be in sports or in the workplace, etc. Here are five lessons to be learned from this one play in 1969:

Collaborate on Common Goal

Collaboratively working together as a team to pursue a common goal, whether it be on a marketing project, an assembly line, or serving on a committee at church, is critical for any organization to be successful. For the Purple People Eaters, the goal throughout the game was to stop the Lions and give the ball back for the offense to score. In this particular case, the defense caused the turnover that led to a defensive score.

Be Prepared

In 1908, Lord Robert Baden-Powell published his Boy Scout handbook about preparedness: “Be Prepared… the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.” In other words, having a contingency plan ready is important when expected results fail to materialize.

Jim Marshall said the no-look pass was similar to ones he and teammates did routinely on the practice field the day after games, when players loosened up their bruised muscles with what essentially looked like a team of grown men playing a game of tag. This type of improvisation allowed the team to successfully perform when it really counted on game day.


Trust is the gold standard for any organization. An environment of trust assumes that all participating parties will be safe. It carries with it an implicit message that you have each other’s best interests in mind. By being prepared himself, Marshall knew he could trust that his teammates were also prepared. He instinctively shuffled the football to Page, completely trusting that Page was ready to finish what he had started.

Be Selfless

Being ‘selfless’ is about acting with less concern for yourself than for the joint success of others. Marshall no-doubt attempted to score a touchdown after intercepting the ball, but realizing that he was about to be stopped short of his team’s desired goal, he selflessly shared his success with another teammate to make the goal achievable.

Have Fun!

Hey, isn’t it all about having fun? I’m sure that Marshall, Page and the entire Viking team felt a great amount of enjoyment playing in the snow on that Thanksgiving day in 1969.

Just a few days later, a few impressionable fourth graders in Fargo did as well!

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