Building a coalition and plan to fight these extremists is a good move

In some respects, ISIL has done the world a favor. I say this not to make light of the seriousness of purpose they have placed on others to combat the cancer they are spreading, as innocent people are being killed, tortured, sold into slavery and made to convert from their religious beliefs or die. The favor they are doing is showing the world three things.

- First and foremost, this is what evil looks like. ISIL has usurped reasonable concerns of Iraqi Sunnis and Syrians who had been marginalized and taken their cause hostage. I wish leaders could be more like Nelson Mandela and be inclusive, but his inclusivity is unfortunately more an exception, than the rule. In Iraq and Syria, the leaders marginalized others who were not in the religious sect in power.

- Second, ISIL has shown the world that the significant majority of Muslims are not like they are. Muslims, who adhere to their faith and want to raise their family and worship in a peaceful manner, may be sympathetic to addressing underlying causes, but deplore the ISIL tactics.

- Third, they are galvanizing both Muslims/ non-Muslims and countries inside and outside of the Middle East to defeat their efforts. I recognize people are being cautious as any support can be demonized by ISIL and other extremists, but the conversation is changing about who the real enemy might be. Islam is not the enemy. America is not the enemy. It is extremists who kill innocent people.

Taking time to build this coalition following the changes made in the Iraqi government is good. This cannot be an American play and it needs the support of countries in the Middle East. I think there is recognition that too much time cannot pass, but doing this in an orchestrated manner will pay dividends to the region and world. Also, the issues are subtle and complex. You have different stakeholders on different sides of several equations in the Middle East and North Africa. Two countries may be together on a cause in one country, but at cross purposes in another.

I say this, as President Obama has taken grief for not having a strategy. Much of this criticism is due to “gotcha politics” which uses any and all issues as levers to win votes. Yet, as noted above, this issue is complex and takes time. It also takes the coalition that is being built. We do not have an abundance of time, but the strategy and goals have to be articulated along with the time line and buy-in from a coalition.

I would offer one criticism, though, and that is the “no boots on the ground” statement. Yesterday, I heard the right comment made about this issue from a spokesperson whose name I did not catch. He said, “To say, we will not have boots on the ground is wrong. It is also wrong to say we will. It is too early to tell.” I know why the President said this, but he really does not know at this point and neither do his critics.

The final point I want to make about developing a strategy is to ask why are people heeding the advice of former Vice President Dick Cheney on this subject? Cheney, along with President George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove, took America and its allies into Iraq under false pretenses – they said Iraq had WMDs. They also did not follow the advice of their lead general to use more troops to secure the country which led to the need for the “surge” several years later. They followed the local advice of some dubious advisors, did not have a robust plan to stabilize the country, did not have enough Iraqi Arabic or Kurdish speakers to understand who was being forthcoming, and sent our soldiers into battle with poor equipment. They also fired the police force who could have helped secure the country.

They also chastised people in the US as unpatriotic if they spoke up and asked why are we doing this (remember the Dixie Chicks being vilified for criticizing President Bush)? When CIA operative Valerie Plame’s former ambassador husband learned his reconnaissance of not finding a WMD trail in a supplier to Iraq was used inappropriately by Cheney/ Rumsfeld, he wrote a piece in the New York Times called “What I did not find.” Rove’s man Scooter Libby outed Plame as a CIA agent and Libby went to jail for it. And, to top it all off, when they had Osama Bin Laden cornered early in Afghanistan, they left it to others to get him and he escaped.

The reason I mention this, is if we are going to send Americans and our allies to die, we should damn well have our facts straight, develop a plan with a goal, staff the mission well, and equip or soldiers. We owe it our soldiers, our allies and the civilians in those countries. Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Rove did not do this and 4,000 Americans died as well as many more civilians. So, please excuse me if I take Cheney’s advice with a grain of salt.

Let’s get this right. Too much is at stake.

We do well, when we all do well

Beginning tonight, Ken Burns’ documentary series called “The Roosevelts” will be aired on PBS. The series highlights the impact President Teddy Roosevelt, President Franklin Roosevelt and Teddy’s niece and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had on America and the world. While all three were “to the manor born,” they each took up the cause for the marginalized and disenfranchised people in America, even while Teddy was a Republican and FDR was a Democrat. But, Eleanor could hold her own and her influence and ambassadorship to those in need spoke volumes as she is noted as our greatest First Lady.

On CBS Good Morning, Burns was talking about the forthcoming documentary and he quoted a line which embodied their mantra – “we do well, when we all do well.” This line is so very pertinent and is one which I believe to my core. It also shows that the time of greatest growth in our country occurred when more of us did well and were out buying goods and services, moving into our homes (not necessarily estates), and living a heretofore idealized version of the American dream.  It also reveals why our recovery has not benefitted everyone equally, with the top 10% of our country doing quite nicely, but everyone else treading water or sinking below. Since we are not “all doing well” fewer goods and services are bought, so our recovery is not quite as strong.

It should be noted that both Roosevelt presidents are known for eco-energy measures and protecting our environment. Teddy is known as our greatest “water” president, by buying up land for national parks and watersheds and overseeing the construction of the Panama Canal, which is a heavy contributor to US naval power and sea trade prominence. FDR constructed more dams on his watch as part of the New Deal which helped provide jobs and infrastructure. FDR’s infrastructure investments were carried forward by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower which helped contribute to the aforementioned period above.

It is for these reasons we need to move forward down a path of doing more of what made America great. Investing in ourselves, our infrastructure and our future. This is the key premise in Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s book “That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How it Can Come Back.” This book highlights the co-investment in America’s infrastructure between private and public funds to maintain, restore, rebuild, and build anew our infrastructure to support business development and job creation. But, as history has shown us, we need to do more to help those who seem to get lost in the future growth or never get the same opportunities. Our history has also shown us the “haves” will take advantage of the “have-nots” to move ahead.

So, clearly we need to invest in ourselves and our future. Even while we cut expenses elsewhere, we need to invest in our infrastructure and development. But, we need to do some or all of the following, as well:

- Raise the minimum wage. Going to $15 an hour is a pipe dream, but following the recommendation to phase up from $7.25 to $10.10 is doable and has bipartisan support. It will create more spending and lessen pressure on public assistance programs.

- Invest more in education, not less and make sure after school programs are robust to attract kids and keep them engaged. Also, we need to improve access to pre-K reading programs which have shown to be impactful. But, most of all listen to teachers and not politicians. For example, teachers have noted the ideal class size is between 18 and 24 students. More voices can be heard and break out groups are easier with those sizes.

- Clamp down on pay-day lending who prey upon who Jesus called the “least of these.” Pay day lenders also prey upon our military families. Please know that pay-day lenders are a form of usury and they are one step above leg breakers. They also fund a lot of politicians who are blinded by the money to recognize what they do to poor people.

- Limit for-profit colleges who also prey upon people using government funding. People may find of interest the graduation rates from for-profit colleges are abysmal and they spend more money on marketing than teaching. And, when one area of funding was tightened up, they moved over to follow the pay-day lenders lead and are preying upon veterans and military people who have financial benefits since coming home.

- Educate people on what state lotteries are. They are a regressive tax taking a disproportionate share from people in poverty. Too many people throw money they need away on something extremely unlikely to happen. Ten lottery tickets per week may increase your chances by tenfold, but it is still a 10 out of 10 million probability, which is a likelihood of .000001

- Invest even more in our community college systems who are more geared toward career retraining and development. The former Clemson University president partnered with area community colleges as they knew how to reach out to industry better to help train the new work force. The President deserves credit for some of this, but we need more.

- Finally, per the lead in and the Roosevelt’s legacy, invest in our infrastructure and assets. Asset Based Community Development should be enhanced  and incented.

The Roosevelts’ legacy is significant on America. We are better as a country because of them. I look forward to seeing the series. Please join me as it may spur some more ideas. Some or all of the above would make us better and give us each more opportunity. We do well, when we all do well.




Why is there not a poverty matchmaker show?

My wife likes to watch the millionaire matchmaker show from time to time. This show has a strong-willed female matchmaker working with some strong-willed male millionaires to find them a significant other. More often than not, the clients hold high opinions of themselves and feel anyone should be lucky to have them. For many that is fine, but the show tends to have more than its fair share of arrogant men.

Yet, as I thought of this show, I asked my wife why is there not a show to make matches for people in need. In other words, why is there not a poverty matchmaker show? I am being facetious, as people like to watch people with money whether it is houses of the rich and famous or wives of some rich suburb. So, very few people would want to watch what too many Americans look like these days, people in need.

So, rather than a show, maybe we could have a matchmaking service where people in need could match up with someone who is also in need, pooling their resources. They need not necessarily get married, but could co-habitate to share expenses via a roommate agreement. The matchmaker would make sure that people are vetted to minimize any problems.

With more adult Americans single than married as of a survey announced this week, the sharing of expenses with some mutual understanding may help the two singles or heads of household make it together. This could be a temporary arrangement until both families can get back on their feet. And, since this is a platonic arrangement, the head of families could be of the same gender.

At the agency I volunteer with, we help homeless families get back on their feet. If needed, we shelter them in temporary housing where they have a bedroom and bath, but share kitchens in a communal arrangement. Once they have saved enough and get their sea legs beneath them, they move into their own apartment paying a subsidized rent. All of this is based on the concept that they are assigned a social worker to help them work through issues. Eventually, the families exit the program when they can sustain themselves and over 86% remain housed after two years of exit.

So, the matchmaking concept could work, although it would make for less exciting TV. Maybe we could assign one social worker to the co-habitated families. What are your thoughts? Am I all wet?

Domestic violence is nothing to play around with

The Ray Rice story is making the rounds the past twenty-four hours with his release from the Baltimore Ravens after a video showing him punching out his wife and then dragging her from an elevator. The National Football League denies having seen the video before, but now that it is in the public domain, moved quickly to suspend him. Rice’s wife Janay has blamed the media for causing her husband’s demise, which is unfortunate, but not unusual for the domestic violence victim to make excuses for her perpetrator. It is also not uncommon for the victim to blame themselves, because the perpetrator has told them such in an exercise to control. I feel for her and wish her friends will give her advice that I note below.

The sad truth is domestic violence is more than just the violent acts. It is one person controlling or dictating his power on another weaker person who lacks self-esteem. The violence tends to manifest itself at some point, but often it is demeaning put downs that are part and parcel with the equation. The victim’s esteem is so low, she blames herself and makes excuses for her perpetrator. If there are children around, they will normally be included in the violence. And, children who have experienced domestic violence will be prone to be involved in domestic violence as an adult, as a perpetrator or victim.

The other sad truth is the perpetrator will not be prone to change. He may say he will, but he will invariably fall back on bad habits. He may say he is sorry and he loves you, but that will be an echoing refrain each time. He is truly a powder keg waiting to explode. And, he will again and again. So, if you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation, get out or help them get out. He will not change.

Rather than cite statistics, let me repeat a story I have told before about a friend. He came from a big Catholic family of several brothers and sisters. None of the siblings including my friend had any idea one of their sisters was being beaten by her husband. None of them had any idea that the outings she missed were due to her wanting to save face for her family and hide her cuts, bruises and broken bones. None of them knew until one day the husband killed their sister. What they found out later is he also beat his children, often taking the boys and banging their heads into the ceiling when they misbehaved in his eyes.

I feel greatly for Janay Rice, but someone needs to tell her to get out. And, to repeat what I said before, if you are in such a relationship, get out. If you know someone is such a relationship, help them get out.

Two excellent posts about this issue can be found with the following links. The first is by Hugh Curtler on the NFL’s possible cover up of the issue. The other by Diatribes and Ovations on an open letter to Janay Rice.



A pocketful of acorns

My wife and I were walking in the woods this morning and she came across a beautiful specimen of an acorn, brushed it off and pocketed it to take home. We both laughed as our children used to do this when they were little. Each time we went for a family hike or one where I took the kids out to give my wife some “me time,” I would return with a pocketful of acorns. Usually, fifteen to twenty acorns would make it home, sometimes filling both pockets in my pants, as I was the designated carrier.

To my kids, the acorns were treasures, something far more valuable than what they were. So, we would collect them until we had too many and they would forget about them. And, then when we went out again, we came back with more. I think it is the quest for acorns that made them special. Or, they just wanted a memento or souvenir of our morning walk. This morning, my wife’s acorn brought these memories back to top of mind.

When all is said and done, it is these memories that are mileposts in our lives. These memories are our “pocketful of acorns.” I cherish our family and it makes me smile when something happens which brings up one of these mileposts. Witnessing the actions of the children of our niece and her husband is one set of reminders taking us back to how our children acted. This is one reason I surround myself with pictures of our kids, especially when they were little.

My daughter, like many daughters, loved to wear hats and sunglasses. So, we have numerous pictures of her with a joyous smile in such attire. My sons loved their army men, Legos and hats as well, so we have pictures of them clad in hats or playing with their army men outside. I have one “acorn” of my youngest son, swinging on our swing in the back singing his own version of ACDC’s “TNT.” I have another “acorn” of my oldest son in his first Halloween costume as a clown and, just in case you did not know what he was, he would announce “I am a clown.”

I have another acorn of my youngest son asleep on his crib mattress at the bottom of the stairs after we put up a big boy bed and brought the old one down. My daughter left with us several acorns of her trying to wake me when I fell asleep reading her a story again and again. My guys left me with an acorn of laughing at me when I jumped on the bed to tell them a story and bounced off and down between the wall and bed.

Let’s do our best to remember our own pockeftul of acorns. They will bring a smile to your face, like it does to mine.


Asset Based Community Development fuels growth and jobs

The concept of Asset Based Community Development is one that was spawned from redeveloping blighted areas around a community asset, be it a school, library, church or landmark. For example, a school is more than a place to educate kids; it becomes a community center for after school and evening programs. When the school becomes run down, the surrounding community usually does as well.

Yet, the concept very much applies to redeveloping towns, cities, regions and other venues and has for some time. When New York City subways were a haven for crime back in the 1970s, the city began a daily occurrence of repainting over graffiti. When people saw this, crime diminished as the belief was if the City cares this much about graffiti, they will care also about crime.  The subway was an asset that had to be redeveloped and maintained.

If used wisely assets that have been redeveloped or nourished can create avenues for renewal and growth. In Greenville, South Carolina, the downtown area was revitalized around its assets which include the Reedy River Falls. Now, downtown Greenville is a wonderful and quaint venue for tourism and business. In Durham, North Carolina, the run down American Tobacco Campus has been revitalized into a place of innovative business, housing and restaurant venues. The new ball park and performing arts center round out an attractive area of Durham replenishing a previously uninviting downtown.

In Richmond, Virginia, an old train terminal has been converted into a wonderful children’s science discovery museum. This has been part of a refocus in downtown Richmond building off its unique history to make the downtown area an inviting part of an area of discovery. In Atlanta, the areas around CNN have been revitalized with the new aquarium and Coca-Cola museum, and the area around the refurbished East Lake Golf Club was redeveloped with golf club as a centerpiece for jobs, housing development and education.

Charlotte, North Carolina borrowed from Durham’s success to revitalize an area of downtown to build a beautiful new baseball stadium across the street from a new park honoring the artist Romare Bearden. This is dovetailed by other building projects that continue to renovate downtown which had been started in the mid-1990s.

Yet, the greatest success in North Carolina is Research Triangle Park (RTP) which came to fruition back in the early 1960s. Sitting between three high-caliber universities (Duke, UNC and NC State), a park devoted to research, marketing and leadership was created that attracted new business. The area, cities and universities have thrived under the RTP vision which is being revitalized as we speak. Durham’s success above is a key part of the RTP revitalization efforts and Raleigh was just voted the best place for growth in the country.

I mention this today, as we lose sight of the value that co-investment in maintaining, refurbishing or reconstituting existing assets means for a community. These are just a few examples of the partnership between private and public money that has made our country what it is today. When we speak of cutting expenses, as we should consider, we need to know that we should also be investing and spending in other areas where growth and job creation can occur. So, across the board cuts are unwise, as in some places we should spend more. We should recognize our assets (or strengths) and leverage them as much as possible. If we don’t, it is opportunity lost.

A few interesting tidbits on renewable energy

As the attention nationwide continues for fracking for natural gas, in spite of the mound of evidence of environmental degradation, chemical leakage and vast water usage, we are seemingly ignoring the greener path which has and will continue to bear fruit in our nation. Many do not realize the significant progress that has been made on the renewable energy front. With kudos to my blogging friend Hugh Curtler, at who instigated this post with one of his own, a few interesting tidbits on renewable energy that do not get played up enough are as follows:

  • There are more jobs in the US in the solar energy industry than in the coal industry. In 2013, there were over 140,000 solar energy related jobs. This has been reported by several sources and verified as true by Politifacts.
  • The state of California, if measured as a nation, would be the 7th most prolific solar energy country. It is the US leader by far in solar energy development.
  • The state of North Carolina had the second most solar energy development in the US in 2013 and is now the fourth most prolific solar energy state. Two NC companies of several that are gaining national and global notoriety are Semprius, who makes the most elegant solar photovoltaic panel in the world, and Strata Solar, who is a fast growing developer of solar panel installations.
  • In 2013, there were about 75,000 jobs in the wind energy industry. If we play our cards right, there could be over 500,000 wind energy jobs by 2030. Wind energy production has increased from 4 million megawatt hours in 1999 to 141 million megawatt hours in 2012.
  • The state of Texas has a relatively quiet wind energy boon going on which is creating jobs and electricity for its residents. Almost 10% of the electricity produced in Texas comes from wind energy and it is the clear leader in wind energy production in the United States.
  • The US Department of the Interior just announced that its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has defined three wind energy areas offshore North Carolina that total approximately 308,000 acres for potential commercial wind energy development. The entire eastern seaboard of the United States could be powered by wind off North Carolina.
  • Finally, one-fifth of the world electric energy production now comes from renewables.

Man influenced climate change is happening and I have seen reports that future models may understate the impact going forward. We need to move in a more aggressive way toward renewable solutions. As a business person and tax paying citizen, I feel that the greener paths will be more monetarily green than spending our dear water and air resources to dig vertical and horizontal holes in the ground to release limited supplies of natural gas.

Finally, it is not an either/ or issues on jobs, as the fossil fuel industry contends. Of course, there are jobs in the fossil fuel industry, but as shown above there are jobs in renewable energy creation. The solar and wind energy progress and positioning for future development is job creating and attractive to new industry.

Let’s stop the ill-fated fracking train and invest in the future.