Context does matter

In our sound bite age, where context cannot be squeezed into a five or ten second bite, we tend to only hear or see someone say sensational things. Someone who is provocative and uses slogans will get on the air twenty times before someone of substance can get any footing. We are seeing this in the presidential race in America, where one person dominates the news.

The sad truth which this candidate knows, it does not necessarily have to be great publicity as any publicity works. And, if he said something truly awful like is his wont, he will accelerate a replacement sound bite for the next news cycle. The news stations do not have time or interest in offering context as his pace is relentless. So, in his view, give them something new to talk about.

in the US, we crave entertainment in everything. We would rather have an interesting buffoon as president, than a boring competent one. Many may be too young to remember a very smart presidential candidate Senator Paul Tsongas (pronounced Song-as). He was a marvelous policy wonk and may have been a good president. But, he spoke quietly in a monotone and came off as boring. It was so bad, his critics used Simon and Garfunkel’s song “Sound of Silence” and called him “Sound of Tsongas.”

Yet, context does matter. Words matter. We have a presidential candidate who is an embarrassment to our children, with his language, name-calling, bullying and narcissistic persona. How can we as parents tolerate such behavior, if we don’t want our children doing it? He does this as he is short on substance and reasonable policy ideas. Much of what he speaks of doing is illegal, immoral, infeasible, or goes against the grain of our country’s ideals. And, per our many retired generals and current and past defense leaders, much of what he says will not make us safer.

We cannot torture people unmercifully and it is illegal to go after the relatives of the captured suspects. Building a wall between Mexico would cost roughly $30 Billion and cost that much to maintain. Plus, it would do little to stop immigrants. Global warming is not a hoax invented by the Chinese to steal our jobs; it is a real problem and we need to accelerate doing something about it. We are not the most taxed country in the world, not even close. Reducing taxes under his plan would increase our $19 trillion debt by $12 trillion. Yet, he says he can reduce the debt in eight years – how?

Please ask lots of questions. Please read and watch reputable news sources. Understand the context, but listen to the words not the style. Being politically incorrect does not give someone license to lie or be a bully. Those who use name-calling tend to have the weakest argument.

Addendum: I read this morning about violence that broke out outside of a Trump rally in California. Folks, that is not what civil debate needs to look like and it needs to stop. Protest is one thing, but violence serves no purpose, regardless of who instigated it. Trump supporters have the right to assemble, just as Sanders or Clinton do. This takes the debate off the issues.

Mr. Tanner – a Harry Chapin short story

One of my favorite performers who passed away much too early is Harry Chapin. Some may remember his biggest hits like “Cat’s in the Cradle” or “Taxi.”  Each of these songs is exemplary of his work as his songs told short stories. I have written before about my favorite one called “A Better Place to Be” where he tells two stories, one being recounted by a midnight watchman to a rotund waitress with the second one when she responds to his sadness.

But, a close second is called “Mr. Tanner” about a man who would sing while he worked. The lyrics follow, but listen to the song at the link below:

Mister Tanner was a cleaner from a town in the Midwest.
And of all the cleaning shops around he’d made his the best.
But he also was a baritone who sang while hanging clothes.
He practiced scales while pressing tails and sang at local shows.
His friends and neighbors praised the voice that poured out from his throat.
They said that he should use his gift instead of cleaning coats.

Chorus: But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole.

His friends kept working on him to try music out full time.
A big debut and rave reviews, a great career to climb.
Finally they got to him, he would take the fling.
A concert agent in New York agreed to have him sing.
And there were plane tickets, phone calls, money spent to rent the hall.
It took most of his savings but he gladly used them all.

Chorus

The evening came, he took the stage, his face set in a smile.
And in the half filled hall the critics sat watching on the aisle.
But the concert was a blur to him, spatters of applause.
He did not know how well he sang, he only heard the flaws.
But the critics were concise, it only took four lines.
But no one could accuse them of being over kind.

(spoken) Mr. Martin Tanner, Baritone, of Dayton, Ohio made his
Town Hall debut last night. He came well prepared, but unfortunately
his presentation was not up to contemporary professional standards.
His voice lacks the range of tonal color necessary to make it
consistently interesting.
(sung) Full time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.

He came home to Dayton and was questioned by his friends.
Then he smiled and just said nothing and he never sang again,
excepting very late at night when the shop was dark and closed.
He sang softly to himself as he sorted through the clothes.

Music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
(And) he did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole. 

His songs are reflective and poignant. Often, they leave you with melancholy. “Mr. Tanner” is no different. Yet, he also balanced these with some fun songs like the one where a truck load of bananas crashed in the middle of a small town. When he performed, he told you about the songs and then sang his stories.

Please do listen to this song and catch a few others while you are at it. He made you feel at home as he regaled you.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=mr.+tanner&qpvt=mr.+tanner&FORM=VDRE

Terrorists are the least of our concerns for violence

Since we are in the middle of a Presidential race, those out of power tend to use the politics of fear to terrify people that they are best suited to handle things. In my long voting history, I also have seen fear used when your story is not as good to tell. This is especially true with our economy doing pretty well, the stock market more than doubled and unemployment down to 5%.

We are told that our country is not doing enough to fight terrorists. And, we need to be hyper vigilant that terrorists will attack again in America like they did in California five months ago or in Paris, Belgium or Africa. The fear is based on some merit, which is why this election model works. Dial the fear up as much as possible. Forget the words of FDR who said “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

Yet, what the continuing, day after day news stories show us, the much greater fear in America is gun deaths from Americans. We now have more guns than people in America. Think about that for a second. Just this past week, horrible gun deaths occurred in Ohio and Georgia. More law enforcement people were killed and people were shot at a prom in Wisconsin.

But, those are the event stories. Something bad happened en masse, so it is reported as it should be. The greater gun death problem is what happens everyday. Pick up any paper, any day of the week and count the gun death stories. Or, make yourself very sad and Google “toddler kills parent” or “six-year-old shoots four-year-old” and count the stories.

Or, think for a minute about what does not get reported, the greater tragedy in America with gun deaths – suicide. Over 2/3 of our gun deaths in America are suicide. A home that has access to weapon is far greater likely to house a suicide than one without. We have some states who are enabling students at college to have weapons on campus, where the rate of depression is higher than in general society, as a hoped for nirvana is not found on campus or kids feel they have disappointed their parents by failing. All it takes is one impulsive act and it is over.

The President has said failing to gain any common sense action from Congress on guns is his greatest frustration. I share that frustration, but I blame Congress who is too influenced by the NRA’s money to do what Americans have told them to do in surveys – background checks on all sales and elongated waiting periods. The “fog a mirror” gun sales at shows has got to stop. When a fourteen year old boy cannot buy cigarettes, porn or beer, but can walk out with weapon, that is a shame (this was a done as a demonstration project).

Guns do not kill people. People with access to guns kill people. But it is not just guns, so that argument is sound. It is the lack of civil discourse. Having access to a gun in bar is an unhealthy mix with alcohol and testosterone. It is the we/ they culture we have in news, politics, religion, entertainment and sports – we must divide us into factions. We cannot argue civilly, we have to do it angrily and a loved one, friend or acquaintance is dead because someone had access to a weapon.

It is the increased poverty which leads to crime filling the void. It is the increased amount of drug usage which begets crime. It is entertainment violence which desensitizes us to gun death. In the case of suicide and some mass shootings, it is not getting treatment for depression or other mental illness, although I want to avoid the perception that if you have a mental illness you must be a danger to others. And, it is due to the increased number of domestic terrorists groups who are hate groups.

We need the parents in legislatures to push the others to act. Those who don’t say “doing something won’t solve the problem.” But, it is obvious doing nothing at all won’t either. And, that is what our Congress is known for. Doing nothing at all.

 

 

Please Remember Rush and Vote


One of my favorite songs by the group Rush is “Free Will.” Within the wonderfully crafted lyrics is the following phrase;

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

This lyric resonates especially in this election season. In an election where our president may be selected from the lesser of two choices, opting not to vote may cause us to end up with the worst choice.

The Republican Party started out with seventeen candidates, but has managed to whittle it down to the two most horrible choices of the lot. It amazes me that Donald Trump can get people to overlook his past and his present and think he can change all of that nature in the future.

Senator Ted Cruz may be the most detested legislator in Congress. He has grandstanded, ridiculed and demeaned others. He almost caused us to default on our debt. One GOP Senator was caught in an unguarded moment and said he would vote for Hillary Clinton before he would vote for Cruz. He later revised that statement saying he never said it.

As for Clinton, she is by far the most qualified candidate in terms of her service as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. But, she has had years of fair and unfair scrutiny by the conservative and mainstream media. The dilemma is the fair and unfair parts are clouded together.

So, she carries this extra baggage into the mix. But, she has been vetted more than any other candidate. And, she and Bernie Sanders answer questions better than the other candidates and understands that climate change and water are concerns, economic inequity is an issue and social injustice exists.

Both Trump and Cruz do not speak of climate change as an issue and do not talk of our water problems at all. And, both run counter to their rhetoric with proposed tax plans that would hugely increase the US Debt problem.

So, not voting may leave us with a President who will take us backwards and pick the next few justices on the Supreme Court who could unwind social progress.

Random musings for a rainy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day everyone. A beautifully sounding April shower is beating down on the outside deck. We have left the door open to feel the cool freshness of rain as it rinses the pollen out of the air.

A few random musings not all related to our Mother Earth.

Another musical genius has left and much too soon at age 57. To me, Prince was frozen in age as he was so youthful in his manner, appearance and style. Like David Bowie, he melded other musical influences into new styles of music. And, like Bowie and Glenn Frey, his body of work influences others still. He also was very clever with lyrics. One that has always struck me as unique in its simplicity is in Raspberry Beret, where he says “she walked in through the out door” to describe her joie de vivre. He will be missed.

I watched a most interesting documentary on “Vice” about the “Future of Energy.” It showed some exciting things occurring in renewables, but also depicted two other areas that will be key parts of our future. The first is improved grid storage where unused electricity can be saved for later usage when the sun goes down or wind does not blow. Elon Musk of Tesla and rocket ship fame, owns a solar energy company and battery storage company that continues to improve on personal and industrial grid storage, which may make utilities less needed.

The second is the terrific progress in nuclear fusion, not the fission which is used now. Fusion is safe, but the challenge has been creating a way to harness the extreme heat at fusion. It is being done on a small-scale in the UK and US, but France has a major plant being built which is ten years away, they think, from the fusion process giving out more energy than it takes in. So, the future is renewables, grid storage and nuclear fusion. Note, fossil fuels was not included in this mix as the supply wanes and environmental costs are more measured and pronounced.

As for Mother Nature, the two earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador remind us we are mere passengers on planet Earth. Terrorism and corruption are things we must deal with, but the larger concerns are treating our Earth better than we do and to better protect ourselves from calamities and the impact of our poor stewardship. We can do little to prevent major earthquakes, but we can do some things.

We can make sure buildings are subject to higher standards to withstand earthquakes, especially in earthquake prone areas. Also, while neither of these two quakes were impacted by this, we need to stop disposing of toxic fracking water beneath the earth, as this tactic has been proven to be causal of small earthquakes. Just check out the earthquake data in Oklahoma and other states where this process is used.

Ending on a positive note, the US Treasury has announced that an American hero named Harriet Tubman will be on the new $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson on the front. The courage and conviction she portrayed to help slaves escape and start the women’s movement are exemplary. Jackson will be moved to the reverse side of the bill.

Plus, other female leaders in our history Eleanor Roosevelt, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Lucretia Mott as well as Martin Luther King will appear on the reverse side of the $5 and $10 bills. I recognize some have voiced criticism over these changes, but I for one welcome American heroes being recognized.

Let’s make today’s Earth Day one to remember, especially as the Paris Climate Accord is signed today by so many countries.

 

 

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

I think most of us are familiar with the poem regarding the attributes of children born on each day of the week. Here is the poem for those who have not.

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child must work for a living,
But the child that’s born on the Sabbath day,
Is fair and wise and good and gay.

As I sit here on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, I am reminded how shortsighted we are, but especially our leaders. The trouble is we need leaders and wanna-be leaders to think longer term as very few problems can be solved short-term and some are growing in magnitude as we are doing precious little about them. So, by failing to do our job, we are creating more Wednesday’s children.

My greatest concern relates to how we are slow to fully address the impact of climate change on our planet. The World Economic Forum noted in their 2015 Global Risks Report that inaction on climate change is one of the two greatest risks to the planet over the next ten years.

Yet, we look to countries like Denmark who are now 100% powered by wind energy. Why? Their leaders understood it would take years to do this and needed buy-in from everyone, as the plan needed to be executed after some would leave office. Coupling that with the sense of urgency of a country beneath sea level, can spur folks to action.

In the US, we have made great strides, but we still have the heavy hand of the fossil fuel industry who has too great an influence on too many elected officials. This prevents them from looking at the real problems facing us. I wrote last time about the alleged misleading of shareholders by ExxonMobil on the impact of climate change on its business being investigated by the New York Attorney General. If found guilty, this would be a fraudulent crime.

Yet, the sister environmental issue is the declining availability of fresh water, which is the top issue of concern by the World Economic Forum. This concern predates and is beyond the Flint Water crisis, although that is important. We have increasing areas of drought which are exacerbated by climate change around the globe and in the US. In one of the great ironies, the Middle East is oil rich, but water poor. And, one of the greatest symbolisms of this concern is the religious leaders in Saudi Arabia allow their people to pray with sand and not waste water.

Another concern that will impact our children is leaving them with our debts. In the US, we have a $19 Trillion debt problem that seems to get forgotten about. This debt will increase even more with our aging population with fewer workers for each retiree. This is a key reason the labor participation rate has declined as we are aging with fewer workers. Yet, this is happening in other places at a greater pace causing problems in Greece, Spain, Japan, etc.

We cannot pay this debt down by ignoring it. And, we cannot cut expenditures enough, so we will need to look to higher taxes. With that said, the two leading GOP candidates tax plans will increase the debt by $12 Trillion and $3.7 Trillion over the next ten years. And, the leading GOP candidate said he will get rid of the debt in eight years, but we should be asking how when you will be increasing it by over 60%? The leading Democrat candidate’s tax plan will slightly decrease it by about $500 Billion over ten years, while the second place candidate will also increase taxes, but offer more benefits and services  (such as national healthcare) which will increase the debt as well. This is in the wrong direction – each candidate should have plan to significantly pay down the debt.

I recognize fully we have poverty issues, income inequality issues, terrorist issues and corruption issues. These must be dealt with. But, at least we are talking about these issues. We must address these other issues or our children will be screwed. It is that simple. And, they will be more than full of woe. They should be angry that we did not address our problems and left them holding the bag.

 

 

A few quotes paint ExxonMobil into a corner

The movie “Merchants of Doubt,” took a satirical and accurate look at the lengths the fossil fuel industry have gone to promote climate change denial. Last fall, the New York State Attorney General began an investigation of ExxonMobil regarding their purposeful misleading of shareholders and investors on the impact of climate change on their business. Lying to the public and customers is one thing, but lying to investors is a fraudulent crime.

In the recent issue of the Sierra Club magazine, the case against ExxonMobil is very compelling and follows some excellent investigative reporting by the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News, a Pulitzer Prize winning new site. And, one more state Attorney General has added his state’s weight to the investigation.

Apparently, ExxonMobil was very prolific in investigating the impact of burning fossil fuels on the environment dating back to the 1970s. Yet, they shelved that work in the late 1990s, as it did not fit in with their  climate change denial charade, per the Sierra article called “Big Oil in the Hot Seat.” A few quotes from ExxonMobil internal meetings and external statements paint the picture as quoted from the Sierra article. Note Exxon is referenced below as it predates the merger of the two oil giants.

In a 1982 memo circulated to Exxon executives – “Exxon’s environmental affairs manager reported that addressing the greenhouse effect ‘would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion’ and that without the reductions ‘there are some potential catastrophic events that must be considered.’

At a 1991 conference, an ice researcher with Exxon’s Canadian division told a group of engineers “Greenhouse gases are increasing ‘due to the burning of fossil fuels. Nobody disputes that fact ‘

Yet, during a 1999 Exxon shareholders meeting, then CEO Lee Raymond “waved away climate science as ‘sheer speculation.’

It should be noted that ExxonMobil has been a leading funder of groups who are polarizing the debate over climate science.  Per Greenpeace USA, the company has contributed over $30 million to such groups between 1998 and 2014. These are the groups that were portrayed in the movie “Merchants of Doubt.”

It is ironic that this is how the tobacco industry was exposed after eight CEOs lied to a Congressional Committee in the 1990s that tobacco was not addictive, when internal memos dating back to the 1960s said it was. Pun-intended, the smoking gun was there in the files all the time. It should not be lost on anyone that the same PR people handled both the tobacco and fossil fuel industry’s disinformation campaigns.

This is serious stuff for ExxonMobil. If they misled shareholders, this is fraud. But, it is not just the investors who are harmed. Climate change is real and is man-influenced. We must now move to address these issues as we are behind the curve on this. Please consider the stances on climate change of each candidate. It is that crucial, as we can no longer tolerate denial and we cannot unwind progress in the move toward renewable energy. We cannot afford a President who does not recognize climate change for the danger it represents today and for our children.