Borrowing from Garfunkel and Webb

After breaking up with Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel sang a beautiful song written by Jimmy Webb, who wrote several of Glen Campbell’s hits (“Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”), The 5th Dimension’s “Beautiful Balloon,” and “MacArthur Park,” which was a huge hit in the 1970s as sung by the actor Richard Harris.

The song is called “All I Know.” The first stanza is as follows:

I bruise you, you bruise me
We both bruise too easily
Too easily to let it show

I love you and that is all I know

This song is intended as a love song between two people who often fight and have hurt feelings as a result. But, I would like to use this stanza as a metaphor for relationships between all of us in civil society that have gone awry.

We are too easily bruising each others’ feelings. We are also taking offense too easily, when we should not or should listen to hear rather listen to react. I was highly disappointed with the tenor of the most recently concluded political convention, when hateful remarks were the norm and not the exception. I am hoping that the one next week will be the antithesis.

As an independent voter, I don’t care if someone is conservative on a viewpoint or liberal. What I found is many people have a mixture of opinions. To this point, Ivanka Trump told the GOP audience she is an independent voter. And, she like me joins many unaffiliated Americans.

Yet, what I do not like is the lack of civil discourse and use of information which is not steeped in facts. The latter is a key reason I religiously check the two fact checking organizations summaries. But, let me set that aside for now and get back to the civil discourse.

I do not agree with everything the politicians or parties support. My disagreement may be material or it may be in emphasis. For example, the President has done a commendable job, but I am disappointed that he did not move forward on the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee’s report, he tends to like the use of drones where we need more governance, while he has moved the ball forward on climate change he is too found of fracking, and he did not collaborate more with a highly uncollaborative and obstinate Congress, e.g.

What I can tell you is neither party has all of the solutions and sometimes are not asking the right questions. Neither party should be smug that their way is the only way or even the right way, especially with funding that fuels their opinions. Again, I don’t mind a conservative or liberal view, but let’s work off the right data and do so civilly, respecting each other’s opinions. And, let’s work with real solutions and not what easily fits on a bumper sticker. Bumper stickers are not policy, they are advertisements.

The debt is a huge problem. Climate change is a huge problem. Water resources are a huge problem. Poor gun governance is a huge problem. Poverty is a huge problem as is the declining middle class. Civil rights for all citizens, especially those most disenfranchised, are lacking in too many places. Infrastructure needs are paramount and fixing them will create jobs. Terrorism is important, but combatting it must be holistic and involve all of us.

Building actual and proverbial walls are not the answers. We must reach out to each other and solve these problems as the diverse Americans we are. No American is more American than the next. And, no less, either. So, let’s civilly discuss the issues.

The more he talks the scarier he gets

Now that the Republican Party has officially nominated a bigoted, xenophobic, thin-skinned narcissist, it is imperative that America gives this candidate a full vetting. I have said multiple times that Donald Trump’s lack of veracity as a candidate is in his history and it is not hard to find.

He has made his fortune by exploiting people for money. His sales skills have allowed him to get his money, but he has often left others high and dry through multiple bankruptcies, failed businesses and getting out of deals before they went south. The number of lawsuits that he has  settled are significant as a result as well as the line of unpaid contractors.

The three Trump University class action lawsuits are a microcosm of why he is a poor candidate. He is charged with alleged misrepresentation and aggressive marketing to strong arm money from students and seminar attendees.

But, what bothers me most is his selling of his name to developers where he has nothing to do with the development. He receives royalties while the developer charges unaware buyers more money. I find this exploitive and somewhat unethical. Either way, he is participating in a scheme to gain profit from unsuspecting buyers who are paying a premium for the Trump name.

Yet, let’s set that aside and just consider what a Trump presidency would entail based on his history and campaign positions and comments.

  • Our. NATO allies have now been given reason to question our commitment to them with Trump’s position clarified this week that money comes first then protection.
  • He is OK with all countries having nuclear weapons including Saudi Arabia.
  • He supports Brexit which has been criticized by financial experts as dilutive to future growth and may lead to Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the UK.
  • He advocates going after terrorist families and water boarding, the former of which is unconstitutional and the latter of which is not only ineffective, but the CIA has said they will not do again since Bush/ Cheney hung them out to dry.
  • He has ostracized Blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, women and disabled people.
  • His tax plan has been measured by the Tax Foundation to increase the debt of $19 trillion by $12 trillion over  the next 10 years.
  • He has dismissed Climate Change as a hoax invented by the Chinese to steal our jobs.
  • He has said there is no drought problem in California which is news to them and is counter to the #1 global risk of water loss per the World Economic Forum.
  • His party is against reasonable gun governance, so without change there is little he can do to stop motivated lone gunmen in mass shootings.
  • His hateful and bigoted comments have given license to hate groups to feel more empowered and per five retired generals and two former CIA directors, he has endangered America.
  • His healthcare plan would cause 20 million uninsureds, may cause a recession in my view and be very harmful to people in poverty and just above.
  • His thin skin and ego have revealed he does not have the temperament or judgment to be commander in chief says another retired general among many others.

And, per an article by Rodrigo Campos for Reuters:

“A Trump presidency ‘would not be good for markets at all,’ because of the uncertainty among investors about his true priorities, said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer of multi-asset strategies and solutions at Voya Investment Management in New York.”

i mention this last item as he is supposed to be reassuring to the markets, but brings more uncertainty. This uncertainty is the best word to define the risk of Donald Trump as President.

 

A little context on safety

Last night’s Republican National Convention focused on keeping America safe. This is an enviable goal, but while bashing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on Benghazi and terrorism, three key points were missing as context.

First, while we have eight Congressional committee efforts to get to the bottom of Benghazi, at no time was it discussed that a GOP-led Congress cut funding for embassy security the previous summer. But, more importantly, why have we not investigated information that supported the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) claim that led to an invasion of Iraq which has killed 1,000 times more Americans than Benghazi not to mention many allied troops and Iraqi citizens?

This is even more important when it should be noted a member of Vice President Dick Cheney ‘s team named Scooter Libby went to jail for outing a CIA operative named Valerie Plame. The reason is her husband Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson was asked to do reconnaissance on a source of WMDs. He found no such link, but his information was intentionally misused. When Wilson wrote an op-ed piece countering this, Libby leaked Plame’s CIA cover to discredit him which is a crime.

Per the last committee’s findings, there was agreement with the findings of a report done two months after Benghazi occurred which was prepared by Admiral Mike Mullens and Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering. There are things that could have been done better with Benghazi, but eight committees worth of investigation seems highly disproportionate. And, as Speaker of the House candidate Kevin McCarthy revealed last fall that the purpose of the taxpayer-funded committees was to discredit Hillary Clinton.

Second, as I have written about before, I am having a hard time reconciling the GOP’s NRA influenced pro gun stance with making us safer. Like many Americans, unless we improve gun governance, I see very little that can be done to stop motivated lone gunmen. In multiple surveys, a significant majority of all Americans and a majority of Republican voters agree with the following steps. We must not allow the sale of weapons to people on a no-fly terrorist watch list. We need background checks on every gun sale transaction. We need extended waiting periods to allow time for the background checks and due to the number one reason for gun deaths in America being suicide.

In my view, a candidate can talk until he is blue in the face about stopping mass shootings, but until we have better gun governance, it is all talk. There is not much any President can do to otherwise stop these shootings except involving the various communities in being watchdogs and reinforcing police and investigative efforts. And, we should not alienate groups of Americans, as we all have a role in seeing less violence. No American subgroup is more American than another or less for that matter.

Third, with respect to the GOP candidate, he has already made us less safer with his campaign rhetoric and he isn’t even President. Who says this? Five retired generals and two former CIA directors, of different political parties, have all said that Trump’s comments have been a recruiting brochure for ISIS. One of these former directors, Michael Hayden has noted the danger a Trump Presidency would hold. He went further to say that much of what Trump professes is ill-advised and goes against our ideals and some of which is unconstitutional. And, one of the most effective commercials against Trump is from a sixth retired general who says Trump does not have the “temperament or judgment” to be Commander-in-Chief.

So, being safe is an enviable goal. We just need some context as to what that really looks like. And, as a final sidebar, we do not need to hear from Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani about being safe, as his comments over the past few weeks have been not only off base, but inflammatory toward race relations in America. His comments are in-keeping with divisive comments of his friend The Donald.

 

 

 

Retrenching into silos is the exact opposite of what is needed

With the advent of more terrorists’ activities around the globe and the significant refugee crisis, nationalistic and jingoistic behaviors have taken more solid footing. With the backlash in some European countries, the Brexit vote and the rise of Donald Trump as an unlikely candidate for US President, show that protectionism is selling these days as a concept. These folks want to build actual and proverbial walls, rather than bridges.

Yet, that is precisely the wrong behavior needed. These so-called leaders feel if we segregate and retrench into our own little worlds, this cocooning will make everything better. What these so-called leaders fail to tell you is the significant benefits with being aligned, working together and doing commerce with each other. Economic trade breaks down barriers, as countries do not want to upset the financing of their economy and will work past governing differences.

President Abraham Lincoln did not coin this phrase, but he capitalized on it – keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.  Lincoln added several adversaries to his cabinet when elected. His view was if he could keep tabs on his opposition and argue with them, he could keep a lid on dissent at a time when dissent was in vogue. President Teddy Roosevelt was very open with reporters, in part because of his ego, but in large part to have the reporters be his eyes and ears. He would have them go speak with his department heads to learn what was going on.

Commerce breaks down barriers. Not only will we make more money by co-existing, we will be safer in turn. That is a concern of the Brexit vote, as the UK being a part of the EU makes the world safer and aids the economy of both entities. Like the UK, there is much to be gained in the US with the global economy, especially with companies who employ people here. Just here in Carolinas, there are multiple hundreds, if not thousands, of foreign companies who have US presences here, be it a North American headquarters or a major plant. BMW, Mitsubishi, Michelin, Doosan and Husqvarna come to mind.

We should not lose sight of breaking down barriers abroad. I have been a staunch supporter of doing trade with Cuba and Iran. The countries want to do business with us and we are well positioned to leverage that travel and trade. Just with Cuba and its 11 million people, it will be like adding a 51st state to our US economy. With Iran, of course, we need to keep our eyes open, but the median age of Iranis is age 35. We have a chance to create new economic paradigm with Iran which will live beyond the older regime. Plus, being closer to Iran will allow us to keep more tabs. This is the  best example of what Lincoln did.

The candidates who have touted building walls and retrenching are not being very open with the whole picture. They are using fear and an incomplete picture of reality. Companies have always chased cheap labor and as one CFO said in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” if companies could get by with hiring no employees, they would. The greater threat is technology improvements as a new plant is not going to have 3,000 employees, it will have 300. On the flip side, Nissan in Tennessee and Mercedes in Alabama employ a great many American workers, which is not talked about enough as a benefit of globalization.

If we retrench, we will be reducing markets for goods and services. A venture capitalist once said what creates jobs is not owners, but customers. The fewer the customers, the fewer the jobs. But, with that said, there are elements of truth that workers need to ask more of the employers who have suppressed wages and let people go, to hire younger and cheaper workers. Companies are quick to hire cheaper, but need to be reminded that we employees are important and customers, as well.

I am reminded that two of the top three jobs creation Presidents had two things in common. Bill Clinton, the number one job creator at 22.8 million jobs, and Ronald Reagan, the number three job creator at 16.1 million, were both collaborators and advocated global trade, as reported in “The World is Curved” by David Smick, who was an economic advisor to both. Creating markets for trade and opening up our markets to others, in my view, is one of the best things a President can do.

Globalization is extremely important, but we need to manage it better. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is something we must guard against. So-called leaders who are advocating this very thing need to be asked more questions. As they are not telling you the whole story.

 

If we want to improve Black (and all) lives in America

With the need to improve the lot of Black and all lives in America, there are some things we can do and stop doing legislatively. And, there are things we can do as citizens. We must play a huge role in being civil to each other and tasking our leaders to lead, rather than divide with demonizing comments. The latter serves no purpose other than appealing to an overzealous and bigoted faction in our country.

Legislatively, we can ask several state governments to reconsider Jim Crow like Voter ID laws. Many ask what is wrong with requiring Voter ID? Two reasons. First, it disproportionately affects older Blacks because of Jim Crow laws, may not have legitimate birth certificates or other forms of ID. Second, the more unconstitutional parts of those laws reside beneath the ID part. The intent of these laws is to suppress voting, which is scoffed at by the enactors, but where greater risk of Voter fraud occurs is in absentee ballots, but they are usually untouched.

Additionally, we can improve the minimum wage across the country, but in lieu of that, do so in states. There have been bipartisan efforts that have successfully increased the state minimum wage  above the federal minimum in 31 states. There is a movement to demonstratively increase the federal minimum wage by one of the parties to $15 per hour. While that may prove difficult, we need to at least move to a living wage for one person which is roughly $10.10. And, we should index it.

Further, we could leave the Affordable Care Act intact and make necessary improvements. What is not talked about enough are the many successes of this law which has increased the number of insured people by over 20 million. This law could be fully implemented in the remaining 19 states, who have not expanded Medicaid. This would help everyone making less than 138% of the poverty level, as well as their state’s economy and rural hospitals. As a benefits actuary by trade, I fear the elimination of the ACA would throw us into a recession, with money (used by these 20 million plus people) that has been freed up some by ACA for spending, instead going into uninsured healthcare costs.

Finally, we need to invest more in our communities. Job retraining, social and economic infrastructure, road and bridge maintenance and building, etc. are needed and will spawn more economic activity. This investment will also spawn hope. We finally passed the Highway Trust funding last fall, but it was not enough and about four years tardy. Our economy is doing pretty well, but this would have been accretive to the economy and helped areas of need and blight.

However, as citizens, we need to exercise our power with each other and our leaders. We must listen to hear more and not listen to respond. We must be more informed from reputable sources. We must not tolerate bigotry and shine spotlights on such behavior. We must ask the same of our leaders. And, we must not vote for leaders who espouse hateful bigotry and demonize people as a means to get elected. We cannot unite around bigotry. We cannot unite around fear.

 

Climate change continues to hit home in the US

An article on two islands, one off the coast of Virginia and one off Louisiana, reveals what the rest of the planet is witnessing. Both Tangier Island in the Chesapeake and Isle de Jean Charles in the Gulf of Mexico, are being consumed by rising sea levels. Climate change is already impacting the planet and we better do something about it. A link to the articles is below.

These are not isolated incidents. The City of Miami and surrounding counties are spending $200 million to stave off the sea water from coming up through street drains following the mildest of storms. Last month, I read where the sea levels have been threatening a major water reservoir near the Everglades coming through the porous limestone. And, as we enter hurricane season, the rising sea levels are like raising the basketball court, so it is easier for the hurricane to metaphorically dunk a basketball and wreak havoc.

But, what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has stated clearly for years, is the climate change will cause exacerbated weather patterns, where the drought areas will be drier, the forest fires will be more frequent and severe and snow-bound areas will be pummeled with stalled weather systems. This is not just around the world, but here in the states with California seeing much of the first two and states like Texas and plain states seeing more drought conditions.

The World Economic Forum annually publishes a Global Risk Report. In 2015, the report cited failing to act on climate change is the second greatest risk facing our planet over the next ten years. The greatest risk is made worse by climate change – our water resources are declining. So, ironically, as we have too much of sea water, our fresh water is being threatened. This is a key reason I have been against fracking as it requires so much water in the process (2 to 4 million gallons per one fracking attempt) that cannot be reused as the chemicals that are mixed with it are toxic to humans.

When I have been scoffed at for this comment, I note that for three summers in a row, frackers and farmers have been fighting over water in California, Kansas and Texas. Texas has some towns where the water has been severely depleted and California, where many crops are farmed, has recurring water rights legal fights as the water is being used up.

And, last fall, during a panel presentation on the Future Water Crisis, a Duke Energy spokesperson noted that they factor in evaporation into their water models and climate change is anticipated to increase evaporation by 11%. It should be noted that the normal power generation process with fossil fuels and nuclear power heats water into steam several times to turn the turbines to turn the generators. When the water is finally released back into the river, they have also lost about 1% to 2% of the water due to evaporation.

We have a presidential election in front of us and, on this issue, party matters. We have one party who is heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry who wants to get as much profit from fossil fuels as possible, so they require the naysaying of climate change. As a sidebar, Exxon-Mobil is being investigated by the New York Attorney General for alleged misrepresentation of the impact of climate change on its business to shareholders and investors, which is a securities crime.

The presumptive presidential nominee from this party has said several times that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese to steal our jobs. In fact, only one candidate from this party in the primary recognized climate change as a problem. This issue more than any other scares me, as we can no longer afford to wait and must build upon what President Obama has started and what the Paris Climate Change Accord compels us to do.

 

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/rising-seas-are-washing-away-two-us-towns-how-theyre-responding-is-a-matter-of-faith-belief-and-money/ar-BBugN8v?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartandhp

Christmas in July – a better time to help

Having worked with several human services agencies as both a volunteer and Board member, one of the challenges is the timing of cash flow and the need for more of it. Many agencies are funded through a combination of federal, state and local money and donations from the faith community, foundations, businesses and individuals.

During the holiday season, these agencies are blessed with an inflow of giving that would honor Christmas or Hanukkah. Those donations are greatly appreciated and are used judiciously throughout the year. But, the time of greatest need is during the summer months, when the kids are off from school.

Much of my effort has been around helping homeless families climb a ladder back to self-sufficiency. The families we help work, sometimes more than one job, but cannot make ends meet or an event has caused them to lose their home. The event could be the breakdown of a car, significant healthcare expenses, reduction in hours at work or the loss of a job.

During the summer months, the working parent(s) are finding and paying for ways to look after children. Also, their hours are cut back due to people being on vacation and shopping less. Or, they work in the school system and are not paid during the summer months. Yes, we have helped teachers and teacher assistants who are homeless.

Rather than waiting to give in December, look into places you normally give and donate during the summer months. Whether it is your money, clothing, books, goods or time, the donation will be greatly appreciated. In fact, small groups of people often can perform duties – stuffing envelopes, setting up crafts, providing day care, etc. that will be beneficial. Look at each organization’s website and see the best way to volunteer.

I have witnessed some wonderful organizations who take their stewardship roles very seriously. They do more with less, but sometimes it is hard. It should not have to be this hard. Thank you in advance for your consideration of helping them make it through.