Please do not rewrite history, there is too much to learn

In the US, a few states have acquiesced to the push by some conservative funding groups to whitewash history. The target is the Advanced Placement US History curriculum. The problem the group is solving in their minds is we do not pat ourselves on the back enough and discuss American exceptionalism. I will forego the word exceptionalism as I can devote a whole post to this, but when we try to hide our warts and how we have protested or overcome those warts, we are missing a key part of our greatness – our ability as citizens to protest and right a wrong.

I have written before about May 35 which is a real reference to an imaginary date. Per the attached article in the New York Times, it as reference to what happened in Tiananmen Square in China on June 4, 1989, which has been expunged from Chinese history, including internet search references to that date. So, to make sure the Chinese kids remember this protest which was brutally squashed by the Chinese army, historians established a May 35 web link.*

I mention this extreme, as we must know our history, the good, the bad and the ugly, to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Here are few things we must never forget and constantly remind ourselves and question the why, the where, the what, the when and the how around these issues. If we do not, we will repeat the same mistakes.

– our forefathers did not give women the right to vote in our US Constitution. This was not remedied until 1921 after a significant and building level of women protests.

– our forefathers did not disallow slavery, but to give the southern states more clout agreed to count slaves as 3/5 of a person. Slavery was not outlawed until near the end of the Civil War in 1865.

– our ancestors conducted a war on Native Americans who would not play ball to let settlers live amongst them as we seized their land. These tribal leaders were constantly lied to, mislead and slaughtered in some cases. Eventually, we made tribes move to designated areas for their own protection.

– during the industrial revolution, business tycoons exploited everyone and everything to make their profits. These folks were called Robber Barons and it took a concentrated effort of President Teddy Roosevelt to make sure Americans got a Square Deal. The traits of these Robber Barons can be found today in major funders of political elections who want to win and do away with those pesky regulations around job safety, pay equity, and environment, etc. that get in their way.

– one of our greatest Presidents in FDR confessed later his chagrin over having to place Japanese Americans into guarded camps during World War II. It was a malpractice on the rights of Americans and leaves a bad taste in many mouths.

– we remain the only country to ever drop a nuclear bomb on people and did it twice. While we may understand the rationale, as bringing a Japanese surrender would have been a horribly bloody affair, we need to learn from this and never, ever let it come to this again.

– although slavery ended 100 years earlier, it took a major effort of protests and marches to bring codified rights of equality to African-Americans ending a long period of Jim Crow laws and the killing and maltreatment of people of color. This racism still festers in our country, but we need to shed a spotlight when we see poor behavior, such as the masked Voter ID laws that usually carry Jim Crow like provisions.

– one of the reasons Iranians do not trust Americans is in 1953, the CIA helped overthrow a Democratically elected leader to establish the Shah of Iran who was supportive of the US. The Shah was overthrown by rebellion in 1979. My guess is over 95% of Americans are not aware this happened. Why do they hate us so much, many may ask?

– one President came very close to being impeached, only saving himself from this fate when he resigned. President Nixon used to say “I am not a crook.” Mr. Nixon, you are wrong. You are a crook and ran a burglary ring from the White House, had a dirty deeds campaign to discredit Edmund Muskie forcing him to resign his campaign, and had an enemies list who you spied on with the help of J. Edgar Hoover.  While you did some good things, you got less than what you deserved as you dishonored the White House and dozens of your compatriots went to jail, including your two key advisors.

– we supported folks like Osama Bin Laden to help repel the Soviet army from Afghanistan (watch “Charlie Wilson’s War”). Once the Soviets left, we left these folks high and dry and the country fell apart. After 9/11, when we had a chance to get Bin Laden, we let him get away. To save face, President Bush led the invasion of an old nemesis in Saddam Hussein under the premise he possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. This information was fabricated from misdirection that Hussein used to let his enemies think he was more powerful than he was. We have been paying for this invasion for twelve years and will still pay for it with ISIS, who was formed from the police force we helped fire.

I could go on, but we need to remember all of these moments. We have a great country, but it is an imperfect one. We must learn from these events and avoid repeating mistakes and instead emphasize the equality of all Americans. If we forget our history, then we will not learn from our mistakes and do them again. A good example is fighting an elongated unwinnable war in Vietnam. The same thing happened in Iraq. We owe it to our soldiers to have a set strategy and a definition of what winning looks like. This is their message to our leaders – we do not mind fighting for our country, but give us support and an end goal.

Do not let anyone whitewash history. We need to know the good, the bad and the ugly, as all three are there to be found. We need to avoid the need for May 35th.

* http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/24/opinion/global/24iht-june24-ihtmag-hua-28.html?_r=0eal

A Clueless Congress blocks progress

While our President remains imperfect, several good things have happened on his watch, some with his impetus and some where he is given more credit than the office of the President is warranted. The economy has largely recovered, but more work is needed to make it be felt more equitably. The Affordable Care Act is actually working reasonably well and most Americans want it improved upon, but not replaced. And, he is at least taking some strides on addressing climate change. He is also showing judicious restraint working with Mideast and other countries to combat terrorists. Yet, we greatly need better governance over the NSA spying and use of drones and he could be more LBJ like in getting things done with Congress.

On the flip side, we have a Congress that is building off two years of being labeled as one of the most ineffective ones in our history. The current Congress has not shown any indication of changing that downward trend in effectiveness. In fact, the Department of Defense has rated our Congress’ lack of governance as a threat to national security. And, the Wall Street Journal has noted how horribly this current Congress has started out, even before the fiasco of last week’s inability to fund Homeland Security beyond one week. We will have more of the same dysfunction this week, plus it will be compounded by bypassing the White House to have a foreign leader come to speak to Congress on Tuesday. This is poor form.

The big tiff over the Homeland Security is around the President’s executive orders to improve our immigration problems. This is mainly due to the ire over the President acting when the House decided to punt after eighteen months of no action. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill that was formulated by one of the GOP presidential candidates, but it was not good enough for the extreme members of that party. And, that is representative of the problem. We must start governing from the middle where the more rational, collaborative heads reside and not placate extremists. That is why they are called extremists as their vision of America is narrow-minded and exclusive.

Until which time the Speaker wises up and starts looking to pass legislation that has a snowball’s chance, he is wasting American’s time and energy. Yes, he will tick off those extremists in his party, but that is OK. He held a vote so that we could have new people vote to repeal Obamacare. Americans have said they do not want that. And, as noted above, it is working reasonably well and that is from a variety of measures. The additional irony it is based on a Republican idea that was advocated by the Tea Party leadership before it was passed (Google Senator Jim DeMint and Romneycare and read until your heart’s content).

I would also suggest we start working off real facts and not someone’s version of the facts dressed up and misused on pseudo-news sources. When we start governing again off the real information and not campaign rhetoric, we stand a better chance of getting to better solutions for our country. Climate change is real and man-influenced; solar energy jobs are growing rapidly along with the decline in solar costs; Obamacare is actually growing in receptivity while the number of uninsured decline and cost increases are dampened; and our infrastructure needs are significant and jobs will come with those investments to improve them.

Congress we need for you to gain a clue. The President, while imperfect, at least has one. Help make what he proposes better and start doing your job. Otherwise, the best jobs plan would be to get rid of all of you blockers under the Capital dome. You deserve the poor ratings you are getting.

And the band played on, as more people are shot

As a father and US citizen, it is beyond amazing how the leaders of our country can watch more kids and parents be killed by guns and yet do nothing about it. The polls say people would like something done about it, but leaders will not act as they are scared of reprisals from the leading gun selling advocate, the NRA, who brandishes the Second Amendment like it is a lethal weapon – they are right, it is lethal.

Just in the past few months, here is a sampling of headlines.

“Woman shot, killed by gun in her bra holster” – reported on 2/19/15 by NBC12 Newsroom

“Father accidentally kills child while cleaning his gun”- reported on 2/17/15 by AP News

“3-year-old boy shoots father, pregnant mother in New Mexico” – reported on 2/2/15 by CNN

“4-year-old accidentally shoots uncle with gun found on floor” – reported on 1/30/15 by Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

“2-year-old kid shoots mother dead at Walmart” – reported on 1/30/15 by US News

“Girl 9, accidentally kills instructor while firing an Uzi” – reported on 8/27/14 by ABC News

While I am terribly saddened for the loss of life and the heartbreak people will carry for the rest of their lives over their role in the deaths or injuries, we should not view these incidents as just accidents. In my view, they ranged from accidents waiting to happen to homicidal negligence. The sad truth is I am no longer surprised by these headlines, as awful as they may be. They are more commonplace.

While there are many very responsible gun owners, we cannot train some gun owners enough. Yet, these are just the so-called accidental gun deaths.  The most significant gun death cause in America, by far, is suicide. Homes with guns are three times more likely to experience suicide than homes without. All it takes is one impulsive act when someone is depressed and it is over. This is a key reason college therapists do not want guns on campuses, with the higher rates of depression than in general society. And, homicides are increased in America due to the presence of guns.

Let’s get back to those Second Amendment rights. The second amendment initially did not give everyone the right to bear arms limiting the right for the purposes of forming a militia. It has been subject to interpretation by Supreme Courts, but we should keep the original context in mind. But, one thing is for certain, it should not supersede our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness afforded us under the Constitution.  I think most Americans understand this and want some action.

The US leads the civilized world in gun deaths significantly outnumbering the top 22 wealthiest nations combined. Our fondness for guns is a reason our police are more predisposed to act with violence in perceived threatening situations, than in other countries. Gun deaths are due to a multitude of reasons – lack of civil discourse, entertainment violence, poverty, drugs, mental health issues, etc. – but make no mistake they are also due to gun access. Guns don’t kill people; it is people with access to guns that kill people.

Per a 2013 Elon University poll, people of all political persuasions want elongated waiting periods and better background checks on all transactions. The police want bullets codified and registered to solve crimes. For me, these would help, but I cannot fathom a reason someone needs an Uzi or AK47. At a minimum, we need to limit the numbers of bullets that can be fired before reloading. That would save lives. Plus, we need to have as much recurring training as possible as this is serious stuff.

The NRA and its avid proponents say the answer to any question is we should arm everyone. That is inane. Just look at the above and see what happens when more guns are around people. We will only see more accidental and suicidal deaths. We will also have more homicides over small arguments. And, that serves no one’s purpose. It is time for our leaders to think like parents and not like pawns in a deadly game.

A vanishing art – the follow-up

In our age of instant communication, one of the vanishing arts is the art of the follow-up. Before our instant communication, people were not as diligent to this art, but even now, when it should be so simple to do, it is seemingly a missing part of communication. What do I mean by the follow-up? This is a quick response to let the requester or sender know that you have the ball, understand the message, received the message or recognize the effort of the sender. Further, when you have executed the request or favor, it is the communication to the requester that you took care of it.

I should be able to stop there and people should realize that is something we all must do. But, many of us do not, so it leaves the requester or sender wondering. Even when I worked in a client service setting, there were not as many colleagues who were good about letting you know they took care of something, which should be a modus operandi.

In marketing settings, this happens all the time. You reach out to people you want to do business with or have a meeting with and get zero response. I have often said “no” is an acceptable answer, so it is OK to tell me no. One of the better follow-up people I worked with would say “just tell me no or kiss my foot or something.” Yet, we would rather leave people hanging with expectation. However, that is in marketing, where you expect these kinds of responses.

One of the worst examples of the failure to follow-up occurs when I am forwarding a resume for a friend to someone else in a large organization. What becomes embarrassing is when that person fails to let the person know something and you have to chase it down. I usually tickle file follow-ups with people, but it need not be so hard. You end up embarrassed with your friend because someone else did not follow-up. Again, a “no, we are not interested or have no openings” would be fine.

What surprises me most is when I am a customer and get these kinds of responses. Nada. Nothing. I sit here wondering “did he or she receive my message?” or “maybe the person does not work there anymore.” When something is meaningful to me to know it is being done, I make a note to follow-up. “Did you get my request and do we need to provide any further information?” I have noted before that the customer service is on a steep decline. And, all it takes is a just a little more communication than is done and it would improve by a noticeable margin. Such as:

– I received your request and will take care of it by the end of the week. I will let you know when I have done so.

– I have it on my list of things to do. When is this needed by?

– I wanted to let you know I took care of your request. Here is  a copy of my response.

– Thank you for your request. Unfortunately, we cannot comply with such request, but do thank you for reaching out.

– We cannot easily comply with all of the items in your request, but can more readily respond to these items. Will that be sufficient?

Please follow-up with others. It will make all of our lives better. And, it will reduce a few headaches.

 

Two Macro trends we need to heed

Since our public debate in political circles tends to focus on what donors want or who is winning the political “gotcha” game, I thought it might be important to repeat some comments about macro trends for which we need to plan ahead. Looking forward from a report sanctioned by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that was done in 2008-09 timeframe, several macro trends were identified by leaders in business, education, foundations, and governments. Two are highlighted below.

First, a key concern is simply demographic and it has and will shape our economy and budgets for some time. The world population is aging. It is getting worse here in the US, but it is much worse in places like Japan and Greece, e.g.  In fact, a key reason Greece is struggling today is trying to fund financial commitments made to people who have already retired. You can address the benefit commitments to future retirees, but much of the liabilities owed are for people who have left the workforce and being funded by fewer relative workers per retiree.

This is hitting the US in our cities and states and will continue to do so. Just count the number of states who are grappling with serious underfunding issues on pensions and seeing higher retiree medical costs. It impacts our federal Social Security and Medicare programs as well, but with the earlier retirement opportunities in state pension plans, the cost impact is exacerbated there. With the tandem problem of communities not growing due to suburban flight and poor planning, a number of cities have had to declare bankruptcy. This why it is critical for all governmental pension and retiree medical  plan sponsors to address the future issues now so costs can be spread and mitigated.

Second, a key macro trend that makes the above problem worse, not better, is we are an increasingly obese world.  Unlike the aging ranks, the US can lay claim to being the most obese country in the world. We are number one. This is one of the reasons we can lay claim to the most expensive healthcare system in the world. A former UK colleague, who helped companies with developing global health management plans, noted that the greatest export of the US is obesity. That was not meant to flatter us.

As a former actuary, I can tell you the medical cost rate for people in their fifties is generally 2 to 2 ½ times the medical cost rate of the average workforce.  The ratio goes up for older populations. Yet, as we have grown in size through obesity, we are even greater train wrecks waiting to happen. This is why it is critical we get as many people insured for healthcare as possible, so they can see doctors now, be prescribed treatment patterns, and attempt to ameliorate future health catastrophes. We spend a lot of time talking about and fighting cancers which is great, but heart disease will kill 10 times more people, especially women, who tend to ignore symptoms more so than men and wait longer to seek help. And, heart disease risk is heightened when patients are more obese.

There are other key macro trends noted within the WEF and OECD report. It is worth the read to understand other key drivers of our global economy. But, these two are overarching problems which we need to deal with now before they become worse, as the more we wait, the higher the cost impact.

A Path Appears – Women and Children need our help

Our friend Debra (see link below) has written a review of the much-needed book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn called “Half the Sky.” This is one of the toughest reads you will ever take on as it discusses how women are maltreated around the globe. In addition to how awful it is to the women and children who are subject to this maltreatment including rape, sex slavery, genital mutilation, fistula due to births before the body is able, and domestic violence, it discusses the economic detriment to those communities. The book is based on the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky, so if you treat them poorly, you are devaluing your economy, competing with one arm tied behind your back in a world that will leave you behind.

https://debrabooks.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/who-cares-about-poor-women/

Kristof and WuDunn have followed up their first book with one called “A Path Appears,” which expands on these issues, but discusses how we can make a difference. We can find a path forward to help women, children and communities in need and how it will do the giver as much good as the receiver. Attached is a New York Times review which provides a review and summary of the book. I have yet to read this book, but have seen the two authors interviewed on PBS Newshour as they discuss how each of us can play a role in helping others.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/books/review/a-path-appears-by-nicholas-kristof-and-sheryl-wudunn.html?_r=0

An additional book worth reading on this subject is penned by former President Jimmy Carter called “A Call to Action.” It leverages further the work of Kristof and WuDunn, but brings the arguments home to America as well as speaking to the global problem. While we are only beginning to give notoriety to sexual abuse in the US military and on our college campuses after long ignoring the problems, while we are finally highlighting the impact and prevalence of domestic violence toward women that occurs in our society, we are still largely unaware that we have a non-inconsequential sex trafficking industry within America. We have sex slaves being brought in from other countries in addition to the women stolen from within our own communities.

I have read Carter’s book as well and find his arguments and anecdotes compelling. It is also a difficult, but must read. Carter has been one of the best ex-Presidents we have ever had. He has done more good for humanitarian causes and his voice is a powerful one and full of substance. We should heed his, Kristof and WuDunn’s messages and begin to better address the maltreatment of women.

Our world needs stronger positioning of women. We see the wonderful examples with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, Christine LaGarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Prime Minister of Denmark, to name only a few, but need more. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, while not the first female, she was the most widely known ambassador of the US and made a huge difference to the issue of helping women.

But, we cannot wait on more women to get in power. We all need to see the wisdom of treating women and children fairly and as we would want to be treated. We all need to see that if we devalue women, we are limiting idea creation, market opportunities and good governance in our country and communities. We all need to see that treating a human being like property is not in keeping with the overarching messages of religious texts or answering well the Christian question of WWJD? What would Jesus do? He would treat women like he would want to be treated.

A disproportionate response

What does this mean you may be asking? It has a couple of contexts. When I first think of it, I usually think of well-meaning people who want to help someone in need. A church or employer group may adopt a family who is going without. This is not uncommon around the holidays. Unfortunately, what happens is the family is over-provided for stripping them of any dignity that remains. Plus, neighbors who are in a similar boat, may ask why them? This is one reason I do not care for the “move that bus” show where they over provide for a family.

This may sound callous, but it is an example of what is called “Toxic Charity” as defined by Robert Lupton. In his view, charity should be reserved for emergencies. We should be transacting with those in need to help them climb a ladder. If we over do, then the family’s dignity suffers. He likes to ask churches, “Is what you are doing more for you or the people you are helping? If it is the former, then you may want to rethink your outreach.”

A former executive director of a family homeless agency calls these exercises a “disproportionate response” to a crisis. He said we need to help people in a sustainable way. The goal is for you to help them stand on their own. That is the premise of the family homeless services agency I have the privilege to serve with on their Board. We do not want to do for our clients what they can do for themselves.

The other context is when controlling a hostile situation. We are beginning a discussion where police officers have on occasion used force when it was not needed or when the crime they were apprehending the suspect for was not that serious. Recognizing the tough job they have, police officers need to be trained and retrained on the art of handling delicate and difficult situations. The predisposition to act with violence needs to be managed, so that it is not used as often as it is with men of color or in less strenuous situations.

Yet, part of the issue is using an aggressive manner to apprehend a suspect of a petty crime. There is a disproportionate response when a violent apprehension is deployed with someone over a petty crime. This is akin to chasing a runaway vehicle through traffic endangering others drivers and pedestrians for running a stop sign. The safest response for the community would be to forego the chase. This has to be part of the new paradigm where training can keep officers alert, but not predisposed to act with violence. There should be a difference when apprehending someone suspected of a burglary or murder versus someone selling illegal contraband like cigarettes.

We need to approach situations with an appropriate response. Some folks will say that a suspect who is gunned down is justified if they committed any crime. I find fault with that. Someone should not be killed for stealing candy.  Further, a child with a pellet gun should not be gunned down in less than ten seconds, when a man with a rifle threatening violence is talked out of it, as he is white and the child was black. The other key question is should someone shoot to kill every one? What happened to shooting to wound? I know in the movies they do this to keep a clean end to a story and to punish very bad people that we can see as bad through our omnipotent viewing. Yet, this should not be the case in real life as much as it is.

I recognize these contexts are very different, but I believe we should be thinking and planning how we should respond to various issues, whether they be someone in need or someone who needs to be apprehended. We need to be more proportionate in our responses. More people may be saved as a result.