Protecting institutions must start with accountability

With the parade of accusers testifying at the trial of Larry Nassar, the US Olympic gymnastic physician who sexually assaulted hundreds of young females, the finger is now being pointed back at Michigan State University, his employer. The university leadership allegedly did not take seriously previous accusations. It is alleged MSU brushed it under the rug to protect the institution.

The same could be said about Barry Bennell, an elite youth soccer (football) coach in the UK who sexually abused young boys for decades and yet no one did anything about it. Or, Penn State University where the University President and legendary football coach turned a blind eye toward Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys and men. And, by far the worst example is the Catholic Church which long knew of sexual assault in their ranks and chose to hide it, move priests around or, in a horrible failure, try to train the sexual proclivity out of the predatory priest.

Now, the #metoo movement is providing support, encouragement and a window for women and men to come forward. And, they need that support. Harvey Weinstein is more than an individual predator, he represents a business, as do Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, etc. These men represent institutions that have revenue streams and reputations that are bigger than that of the individuals.

What happens to the victims who dare come forward are they run up against institutions that first and foremost think of protecting their reputations and/ or revenue streams. Weinstein had a mountain of people helping him threaten and pay off victims who accused him. The movie “Spotlight” on the investigative work of The Boston Globe (about sexual abuse by priests) revealed how there was a secret list of about ninety priests in the Boston area who were known by the church as to having sexually abused young boys as the church settled the cases.

The first step to addressing these issues must be for the institutions to be accountable. They must investigate these accusations with accountability, responsibility and due diligence. If they find fault, they need to admit it and take action. If they do not, the institution betrays the trust of people who support that institution. Leaving a predator in place is beyond poor stewardship, it is criminal.

The movie that angers me more than any other is called “Mea Maxima Culpa,” about the sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in a Milwaukee home for deaf boys in the 1960s. It is revealed later that some church leadership knew of the abuse and did not act. Sadly, there was a similar home for deaf boys near The Vatican that had the same kind of abuse. What would Jesus do? – he would not let a predator prey on more children.

Sexual assaulters prey on people. They use their power of control to abuse, silence, deny, defame and refute their victims. And, if needed, they pay off the victims asking for silence in return. Institutions must stand up more for their victims and less for the assaulters they employ. Believing the predator will stop after a settlement has been proven time and again to be a pipe dream.

To close, I am reminded of the true story of the Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, who effectively ended her soaring career when she tore up a picture of the Pope on live TV in protest over the silence of church leadership on sexual abuse by Irish priests and other failures. She was booed off every stage after that and unjustly ridiculed. Twenty years later after the Irish priest scandal broke, she was proven correct. Yet, how many more boys were sexually abused in those twenty years?

This story is why it is important. How can these institutions and companies allow these predators to abuse more children and adults after they know? Again, that is criminal, in my mind. Sadly, these kinds of sexual assaults occur too often in everyday organizations affecting everyday workers. We must shine spotlights on these activities and efforts to mask them from the public if not remedied.

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Good energy news on this cold, snowy day

Global citizens are rightfully concerned the US President is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, but progress continues as “we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy.” Even the US pullout cannot stop the train, as states, cities, businesses and other countries continue the push. It just means the President and his team will not be at the adult table on this issue and may not be invited at all.

Here are a few miscellaneous energy tidbits that should offer encouragement.

Per the UK Based organization Carbon Tracker, here are a few highlights from the past year:

  • more than 1/2 of the US coal plants in existence in 2010 have been closed;
  • more than 1/2 of the remaining coal plants in Europe are losing money;
  • the UK has slashed electricity from coal usage from 40% to 2% in the last five years; and
  • there have been big strides in China and Australia on reducing coal usage.

Per the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the five member, Republican dominated agency denied the request by Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to fund the building of more coal-fired and nuclear plants. This was a surprise move given the make-up of the committee. I would call this decision as not wanting to throw good money after bad.

It should be noted, it is not just coal that is giving the FERC commissioners pause. The US division of Westinghouse Electric Company had to declare bankruptcy for cost overruns on a new nuclear power plant for SCANA, the South Carolina utility. As a result, the new plant is being shuttered and SCANA is being sold to Dominion Resources, so as not to overburden SC citizens with the cost of the lost investment.

The International Energy Agency in their 2017 Energy Outlook notes the cost of new solar photovoltaic electricity has declined by 70% and wind energy has fallen 25% since 2010. It should be noted the IEA has tended to favor fossil fuel energy in past releases. China, the new country leader in the climate change fight, will be investing US$360 billion more in renewable energy by 2020. Plus, the price of solar has fallen so much in places like Zambia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, it has won bidding contests against fossil fuel energy sources for projects.

Finally, any discussion on future energy cannot exclude the declining cost and increasing capacity in battery storage. Per Bloomberg New Energy Financials, energy storage will double six times between 2016 and 2030. Elon Musk just helped southern Australia go live with a major battery installation and 21 states in the US have planned projects on energy storage.

All of the above stories are important because it has always been a financial argument to combat the environmental concerns, whose long term costs have been undervalued. Now, the financials are favoring the renewable energy engine, so market forces will continue to force the ultimate demise of coal-fired energy, which started with the lower cost of natural gas. If a company can find a clean energy source which is cheaper and more predictable long term, that is easily the better path forward. If you don’t believe me, just ask companies like Google, Facebook, Walmart and IKEA to name only a few.

 

 

Beautiful Beaufort

My wife and I ventured to a quaint town and area called Beaufort for the weekend. Pronounced Bew-fert, it is located on the coast of South Carolina between Charleston and Savannah. It is a historic town and has beautiful architecture as it sits on the Beaufort River. We just wanted to get away and this trip did the trick.

Beaufort is where the South Carolina leaders fomented the plan to secede from the United States. Ironically, Abraham Lincoln had an armada and ten thousand troops invade the port town just after the war started, so it fell into Union hands as the town leaders left quickly. It was called the “Great Skedaddle.”

The historic homes and stories behind them are marvelous. One interesting story is of a slave named Robert Smalls, who was educated and became an indentured servant which led to him being a ship captain. He later bought his old slaveowner’s house and brought in his destitute owner as she became homeless following the Great Skedaddle and Civil War. He took care of her until his death and asked his family to continue such until she died, letting her stay in her old bedroom.

Smalls later developed the first church built specifically for African-Americans. It was featured in the movie “Forrest Gump,” which was filmed in the area. Tom Hanks is remembered fondly in Beaufort and even used a box of chocolates from a store there in the movie.

Other movies filmed there include “The Big Chill,” “The Great Santini” and “The Prince of Tides” to name a few. The southern author Pat Conroy penned several of his books there, two of which were made into movies noted above.

The nearby islands add so much to a journey there. While we stayed in town, we did venture to Hunting Island State Park and enjoyed a beach with no houses, just tree-lined. Plus, I did climb the lighthouse to get some cool pictures.

The scenery and the food make it happen. Low country food such as shrimp and grits or Frogmore stew are worth a try.  Plus, one of the restaurants had a local guitarist perform his own and orher songs, so it added to one of our meals. We toured one house and did a carriage tour, which we both enjoyed and recommend.

If you come from a distance, the area has a lot to offer. Savannah, Hilton Head or Charleston are neat by themselves, but could easily be included in a longer visit to Beaufort. It is worth the venture.

Moral Courage is Lacking

The following is a letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. It is not too dissimilar to a letter I posted on the websites of Senators David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas after they could not recall the President making insulting and profane comments about immigrants from certain countries.

Perdue went on to say Sunday to George Stephanoplous that Trump did not say that term. It should be noted Senator Lindsay Graham confided in two Republican Senators that the President did say it and confirmed that he pushed back on the President per Senator Dick Durbin. Note, I used to live in Georgia which I reference in my letter.

“As a former Republican, I am disappointed in the lack of moral courage of Senator David Perdue. When he had an opportunity to condemn the President for highly offensive remarks, he not only punted, he followed the lead of our largely untruthful leader. Is this the kind of man on whom the Senator wants to spend his dear reputation? I encourage him to honor my former state and his position and show moral courage.”

Quite simply, we must have leadership and moral courage from our Republican legislators. We are not getting either except from a very small handful. When this President defiles the office, he must be held accountable, a word like truth and civility, that he has a hard time executing.

A Monster Calls

Do you ever get surprised by a movie or book? You did not expect to like it, but it touches your core. The movie “A Monster Calls” fits into this category.

The movie stars Felicity Jones as a divorced mother of a boy, Conor, who is bullied at school, but has anger issues, the source of which are revealed as the movie develops. Conor is played by Lewis MacDougall who does a wonderful job revealing his angst, which is far more than the bullying.

Conor loves to draw like his mother and is quite imaginative. He awakens each night at 12:07 am to a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who evolves out of an old tree Conor can see from his window in a field near a church. The monster teaches him parables, one each night, with one requirement. Conor must tell him a key truth when he is done with all of his lessons.

I will leave the summation at that. Sigourney Weaver plays his grandmother who has a hard time understanding her artistic daughter and grandson. Weaver does an excellent job in her role, as she must come to grips with her own angst and get closer to her daughter and grandson.

Give the movie a chance and don’t let the title turn you away. You may want to have a Kleenex close by, just in case. The simple truth may touch your core.

If you have seen it, tell me what you think. If you have not, you may want to avoid reading the comments. What other movies or books surprised you?

A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asser Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes an deteriorated asset creating jobs.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.

 

 

 

Four friends, one parent left

I have shared before that I am blessed to still have two friends dating back to elementary school with a third one being added in junior high school. We four visit when I return to my home town of Jacksonville, usually over much laughter and time well spent.

Unfortunately, some of the recent visits have been for funerals for our parents. Tomorrow, I will be headed down for the next to last parent funeral for our group. Glenn lost his mother this week.

That will leave Frank’s mother as the last parent. Unfortunately, she has been burdened with Alzheimer’s like my mother. So, she won’t likely remember any of us. But, she is a rock for us all, as we spent  more time with her as Frank’s father died forty years ago.

Glenn’s mother was a gem as well. One of my favorite stories about Glenn’s mother is while she drove any of her children, regardless of age, when she braked the car, she would invariably shoot her right arm out to restrain her child. For my British friends, think left arm. Picture an adult child being restrained by his mother when she brakes.

She was a caring woman whose husband was a minister. He passed away two years ago. Her several grandchildren called her “Nana.” I like that as it suits her well.

She will be missed by her family and friends. She lived a full life and raised a beautiful family. Please think a good thought for her. And, if still blessed to have your mother and/or father, give them a call. If not call a brother, sister or friend.