Celluloid Heroes and A Few Live Ones

My daughter is reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” in her high school English class, so we watched the movie the other night. As it is one of my favorites, we actually own the book and movie. Giving credit for part of the title to the old Kinks song, “Celluloid Heroes,” I thought it might be good to take a break from the issues of the day to talk about reel and real heroes. Atticus Finch is one of the great heroes captured in print and on screen. Gregory Peck plays him so well it is hard to imagine someone else in that role. There are many wonderful parts in the movie, but the two that move me most are when the Reverend makes Scout stand up in the court room because “your father is passing”  and when Jem is told by a consoling neighbor that “there are people meant to do our unpleasant tasks in this world… your father is one of them.”

I told my daughter Atticus Finch is my idea of a true hero. He does not have to carry a sword, although he may as noted below, but is courageous in a time when it is far easier to do otherwise. Standing up for what is right when others don’t have the gumption to do so, makes a hero live on in our memories. Some of my other celluloid heroes would include, but not be limited to:

– Robert Roy McGregor of “Rob Roy” also one of my favorite movies. While he carried a sword that was just a tool needed for those times. The key lesson he passed on through words and deed are “honor is a gift you give yourself.”

– Henry Fonda’s character in “Twelve Angry Men” who stood alone against 11 impatient jurors until one gave him a chance to be heard. When we all take our jobs seriously and purposefully like he did, we will be better for it, even if it takes more time.

– Rick in “Casablanca,” another favorite movie. He is a harder one to figure as hero at first, but rallies in the end. I think his imperfections make him more believable, so when he does the right thing, we are behind him.

– Sergeant Wendell White in “LA Confidential.” Like Rick, a man of imperfections, but he stands up for those treated unjustly and is relentless to find the truth.

– Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront” is another man of imperfections that comes to mind as he stood up against the mob on the loading docks.

There are countless others, especially when the movies are about real people – Erin Brockovich, Norma Rae, Jimmy Braddock, William Wallace, etc.The stories play the best and the heroes stand tallest when they are playing against the odds. These real people lead me to some true heroes of mine, some of whom movies have been made about.

Gandhi and Martin Luther King are two that come readily to mind. My blog friend at “News of the Times” describes herself as a pacifist at heart.  MLK admired Gandhi so much that he adopted his “passive resistance” mantra to shine a spot light on unfairness and bigotry. Rosa Parks became another hero for similar reasons by refusing to give up her seat on the bus when it would have been easier to do so.

Nelson Mandela galvanized a country when it could have been so easy to divide it. I would have mentioned the movie “Invictus” before, but wanted to highlight him more here. His is the best example of inclusion and how he saw South Africa as a greater entity unified rather than separate. I wish our religious leaders would follow his lead on behalf of the LGBT community. The fewer “they” words we use the greater we will be.

John Adams is a true hero as well, but I remember what he did before the American Revolution as even more heroic. He defended in an American court of law British soldiers who had reacted appropriately when accosted by American rioters. His point is we stand for truth and justice and if we did not let these men go free, we would be going against our principles. This was against the strong will of the people led by his cousin Samuel Adams.

Abraham Lincoln is a hero of many and I am included in this mix. To do what he did when he did stands the test of time. Thomas Jefferson also is included in mine and many others list of heroes.  His principles drove much what we hold dear in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

A couple of names you may not know are Elliott Richardson and Archibald Cox. I would encourage you to look them up on Wikipedia.  They were leading the case against Richard Nixon after being appointed by him. When Nixon tried to strong arm them into pursuing a more tolerable path to justice, they resigned. They were there to do their jobs as they owed it to the American people to find out what happened before, during and after Watergate.

I recognize I am picking a select few heroes, but I wanted to get people thinking about the heroes they hold dear to their hearts. Truth be told, we have heroes we interact with day-to-day, be it a teacher, social worker, advocate, nurse, doctor or parent. These are the people I admire most. Heroes may be someone who is doing what he or she has to do to get by and try to help others. So, thank them, help them, applaud them and emulate them. When we see injustice, let’s call it out and try to do right by each other. If we had a few more Atticus Finch’s in this world, we would be in a much better place.

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Private Equity – Not a Vampire, but not a Saint either

We do not live in a black and white world although the political partisanship that goes on in this country tries to paint it that way. The latest issue under scrutiny is this concept of private equity. It was tagged with the term “vampire capital” by Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich during the GOP debates and campaign to discredit Mitt Romney. Messrs. Perry, Santorum and Gingrich called it that due to the job destruction that was generally left in the wake. The GOP leadership rightly cautioned against indicting private equity as the candidates were truly throwing the baby out with the bath water. The President’s campaign has picked up on this theme with respect to Bain Capital while trying not to denigrate private equity, in general. Even economist Paul Krugman has advocated in his column that private equity is not value additive on the whole.

In my experience with firms owned by private equity, I would not call private equity vampire capital. I would not call it a saint either. So, what is it? Private equity is typically deployed in start-ups or companies who are not clicking on all cylinders. In other words, companies who need help and are not big or sufficiently valuable enough to obtain equity on the open market are key targets. The private equity firms represent investors who are looking to buy a controlling share in these undervalued companies and turn them around for a profit. The private equity firms usually do not want to hold onto an asset like this for the long term, so the focus tends to be very short-term (3 – 7 years). While there are exceptions to this rule, the understanding of this short-term mindset is important.

The short-term focus allows the private equity firm to sell off under or non-performing assets fairly quickly. This might include a low margin line of business or product line. These lines would include the employees who would be sold with the company or be part of a downsizing. In essence, the private equity firm is looking to dress up the company for eventual sale to someone who will hold onto it for a longer time. This short-term mindset focuses the priorities away from long term profitability to profits that are additive or “accretive” to earnings in the short-term. This unfortunately includes employees, who tend to be viewed less as assets and more like to expenses. So, training and career development may be shortchanged as the expense savings would show up now, while the gains from career development may be later. Compensation and benefit costs would tend to be suppressed. I am not saying this happens in every circumstance. I am just illustrating that when the focus is more short-term, priorities for investment that are longer term in nature tend to get pushed down the list.

Many of these companies are successful long term and once the private equity firm sells its interests, they are owned and managed by people with a long term focus. Some are not successful and end up in bankruptcy due to their inherent problems or added debt burden when a private equity firms buys them. Some of these will emerge from bankruptcy while others will be shuttered. And, others may be sold to other private equity owners or companies who may be able to better leverage the investment as they own companies in a similar business.

So on the positive side, private equity plays a role in providing capital and leadership to companies who cannot easily get them elsewhere. At its best, private equity can help a troubled or start-up company survive. At its worst, it can strip a company of its profits and gut its staff before it goes under. The intent of the private equity firm is to make money for its shareholders over a shorter term horizon than would be true for the typically stock market investor. Again, there are exceptions to this rule, yet the short-term focus appears to be very normative.

I think this is where Mr. Krugman focuses his concerns. When companies focus on the short-term, they tend to make decisions that benefit the short-term which may be at the expense of longer term profits. And, as noted in my earlier post citing the lessons from “Built to Last” the companies that are most successful over the long term are the ones who look to build an organization for the long haul.

Does all this mean Mitt Romney was a job creator or job destroyer when he led Bain Capital? The real answer is we don’t know until we see data before, during and after the time of ownership of these companies. Can Bain take credit for jobs that grow after the sale to another investor? Is Bain responsible for cutting fat built up from days prior to their purchase? My main thrust is the focus of private equity is more short-term than it is for other investors. If private equity tended to gut companies to glean their profits, I would tend to be more critical of what they did.  If they were more altruistic and looked to build something that would last, I would be more complimentary. My guess is they have examples of both in their historical portfolios.

I do think the President has the right to suggest Romney’s Bain experience does not necessarily translate to running the country where a  longer term focus is needed. Yet, I also think it is unfair to paint Romney as a vampire capitalist. I would consider it a data point, just like his experience as Governor of Massachusetts and the Olympics are data points. My main concerns are Romney represents ideas of the GOP – cutting taxes which would be deficit increasing, the head in the sand stance on global warming, the discriminatory posturing of the evangelical right and lack of concern for the huge economic disparity in this country – these are what trouble me most should he win, not that he was part of a private equity firm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Change – It’s Time We Got Serious

Three things crossed my desk this week which impelled me to write about climate change and the absence of meaningful discussion in the halls of government. With one political party unable to mention these words or their more provocative cousin – global warming – our dialogue is missing. We need the GOP at the table, so we can address openly the issues and plan how we should address them. The irony here is the GOP politicians know this occurring, but cannot talk about it as their oil/gas industry funders want to keep stiff arming folks and promote more drilling. Yet, that is precisely what we need to do less of.

The first piece was courtesy of Georgia State University in Atlanta. GSU has one of the finest risk management programs in the country and many actuaries, underwriters and risk managers graduated from there. Since managing risk is their forte, they have established a new course called “Climate Change and Risk.” The focus will be on the risk of climate change from the scientific, legal, public policy, economic and ethical perspectives. One of the two professors, Glenn Harrison, has served as a consultant to the Swedish government and the US Environmental Protection Agency. I found this noteworthy that courses of study are being developed to assess the risk of climate change when one of our political parties cannot mention the topic in a public forum.

The second piece is in follow-up to the concern I raised on fracking in North Carolina. A law has passed to proceed in 2014 once the regulations have been thought through some more. Yet, the issue came up again when the NC State legislature went back into session and Senator Bob Rucho advocated moving ahead with the fracking. I won’t repeat the concerns I mentioned in an earlier post “The Perils of Fracking,” but definitely more studies of the downside of fracking are needed before this state barrels full steam ahead. I would advocate the prize is not worth the chase due to the perils it causes, but also due to a glut on natural gas. So the developers would wreak havoc and the economic benefit may not be as material. This is an extreme approach to gathering natural gas, so it should not be done without the benefit of more study.

The third piece was mentioned in today’s paper. While it also is NC specific, its lessons are beyond our borders here. The state was actually trying to prepare for the increase in sea level due to climate change. The Federal authorities said the NC coast is vulnerable due to its low flat land and thin fringe of barrier islands. A study was sanctioned by the NC Coastal Resources Commission that projected a one meter rise in sea-level by 2100. The study also noted that 2,000 square miles of land could be threatened. It should be noted Maine is preparing if a two meter increase, Delaware a 1.5 meter increase, California a 1.4 meter increase and Louisiana a 1 meter increase. When a group backed by developers challenged the projections, the study panel reconfirmed its findings.

The troubling part is the developer group has asked the GOP led majority in the State Congress to pass a law which would limit the projections to the use of historical increases which would come in around 8 inches (about 1/5 the projection of a meter which is 39.37 inches). The developer group claims the higher projection would be harmful to development along the coast. So, in essence they want to fool people willing to fork over money to build and buy homes, businesses and properties on the shore. My thinking is you can pass all the laws you want, but you cannot hold the sea back.

If you venture to Bald Head Island off the NC Coast, you will see sandbags beneath these beautiful homes which were built too close to the shore. The sea has consumed many houses there and some people have lost everything. Trying to get insurance is next to impossible. So, you have people petitioning the State for compensation for buying a home to close to the water. In essence, the developers noted above want to do largely the same thing and let the buyer beware. Yet, let me point you back to the Georgia State course noted above on climate change. The insurance industry has to be savvy to the risks of sea-level change or it would lose money.  I would ask even if you developed something, where are you going to get the insurance?

As a businessman, here is where I say we need the government’s involvement. The government has to convene discussions and plan with all stakeholders, so we do not have someone taking advantage of others. It is the nature of developers to make their money and get out, leaving the problems for someone else. More importantly, we need these discussions convened now, so we avoid passing the problem to our children. In actuality, the problem is here and we need to act while it is still manageable.  Otherwise, our children will be putting a lot of sandbags up. More conservation, smarter energy planning, better risk management is needed now.

 

When Religious and Other Leaders are Intolerant

I have written several posts in the last few months around the subject of intolerance and exclusion in religion. The issues have tended to be around my support for the rights of the LGBT community. Like many Americans, I am religious, but not evangelical. I am less strident in my views and favor inclusion and treating all of your neighbors well. These are the greatest teachings of Jesus and the themes find their way into other religions, as well.

When religions are inclusive they do wondrous things for people. They lift the spirits of those who worship and send them off to do good deeds as stewards of this inclusive mission. When they are exclusive and intolerant, they can become about as bad a group of people as you can find. They are bad in that their piety and general kindness overshadows the intolerance that lies beneath the surface. Last night, my daughter and one of my sons joined my wife and me as we watched “The Help,” a movie that looks at how African-American maids were treated before the Civil Rights Act in the early 1960’s. There are many lessons therein, but the one that strikes me most is how presumably pious people can treat others the way they do and how people who have distaste for this treatment remain silent. These silent witnesses are how intolerance ferments and grows into something more.

Living in North Carolina, I was not surprised, but discouraged by the recent vote to reiterate that the LGBT community cannot marry in this state. The equally troubling part of this Amendment One gives the license to deny civil unions in place for both gays and non-gays. The lone positive to be taken away is the Amendment was defeated in the larger Metropolitan areas (Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro) where centers of education are located. At the same time, I am very encouraged by the stance of the President, Vice President, Secretary of Education and NAACP on gay marriage in the future. I just wish the President had made his statement before the NC vote.

During the lead-up time before the NC vote and since that time in early May, let me reiterate some of the less tolerant things that have been reported, some in NC and some elsewhere. These trouble me as they are forewarning of how intolerance can manifest into something ugly. As citizens, we need to call out this intolerance. We can say you can choose to believe the way you do, but you cannot denigrate and step on the freedoms of others. For the Constitutionalists out there this is for what our Bill of Rights stands.

Here are a few lowlights of late from my perspective:

  • Reverend Franklin Graham besmirched the name of Billy Graham, his father, by demonizing the gays and lesbians and promoting intolerance. I realize Billy Graham is still alive, but I personally feel he has always been about inclusion and tolerance and if he were alert, he would not let Franklin do this. Franklin’s earlier stances against Muslims showed how intolerant he can be.
  • The day after Amendment One, Bill James, a county commissioner in NC’s largest county requested the elimination of domestic partner benefits for the county employees. This was less than 24 hours after the vote. This commissioner has a public record of intolerance, so his personal stance is not unusual, but this is the kind of action that was feared by those who were against the Amendment as they saw similar examples in other states.
  • A minster in a less metropolitan, but not rural NC county advocated this past Sunday about putting homosexuals behind an electrified fence. This is fueling a fire and could be construed as abetting a future crime in my view and he should be called out on this.
  • In Mississippi, a minister and reverend, Andy Gipson posted on his website his belief that the only ruling on gays is Leviticus 20:13 which advocates the killing of both men who are gay sexual partners. When pressed, he said he does not advocate the killing of gays, but this occurred after the backlash he received. Some say if you ever want to create an Atheist, have them read the bible. In my view, the bible was written and re-written by a lot of imperfect men who sometimes placed their imperfections in the bible to interpret God’s word. I personally do not want to worship a God that people believe feels this way.
  • That bring us to Presidential Candidate Romney. His “hi-jinks” as a youth bother me. Bullying should not be tolerated and holding down a young man who was effeminent in looks (Romney said he did not know he was gay), is a little more than hi-jinks to me. Yet, if we give Romney the benefit of the doubt, what troubles me most is he cannot remember the incident. His fellow bullies are tormented to this day by their actions and one said he spoke with the victim before he passed away to share his apologies. The victim had not forgotten. I never did anything this cruel, but I can remember every bad thing I did as youth as I try to do the right thing whenever I can. This is a teachable moment and frankly gives us a poor window into Mr. Romney’s character. I recognize he is a good man and has raised a good family, but he should have come clean on this because he is either lying or did so many hi-jinks that he cannot remember them all.

We must call out intolerance. We cannot remain silent when we see it. Otherwise the intolerant ones will feel more licensed. Whether it is the people above, the Koran burning minister in Florida or the family of bigots whose church pickets military funerals, let these people know intolerance does not have a place. As Americans, we must support the right for people we disagree with to voice their beliefs. That is one of the tenets of our Bill of Rights. Yet, when their rights damage or infringe on the rights of others, that is when we must step up.

When leaders, religious and non-religious, are intolerant and exclusive, they will drive people away. Even the silent witnesses will eventually vote with their feet and leave. The Catholic Church is seeing that as their church is on the demise. More and more Catholics are staying home due to its intolerant positions not to mention its hypocrisy in masking criminal pedophilia in its priests. Please remember, religious leaders are human just like the rest of us. They can be full of crap just like you and me. So, when they are, tell them just like you would tell one another. I think if you said, “Minister, I hear what you are saying, but I don’t think that way,” you will get your message across. If he does not get your message then you can make an informed choice to leave. There are many inclusive, tolerant ministers who would welcome you.

Silence abetted the denial of the civil rights of African-Americans for the longest time. Let’s not be silent on the denial of the rights of LGBT citizens. Our children read history about the civil rights movement and ask how could people have tolerated that behavior? They see injustice and they know treating LGBT people differently is not right either. Let’s make our children proud and do the right thing. Don’t be silent.

What Kind of Tea is the Tea Party Drinking?

For those who have read my earlier posts, you can glean a frustration of mine when people misrepresent information and do it so often it becomes their version of the facts. While I support the rights of people to organize and show their concerns, I would like for the group to have a better understanding of facts before they cite their displeasure. The Tea Party is one of those groups. I agree with their making the US deficit and debt issues of import. They are definitely that. Yet we must look at all levers to remedy the situation.

The Tea in Tea Party stands for “Taxed Enough Already” and they have sworn allegiance to the God of no tax increases – Grover Norquist. Mr. Norquist is so adamant in his belief of no tax increases he strong arms all GOP candidates and politicians to sign a pledge to not increase taxes or be the target of a full court press against their election or re-election hopes. My timing for writing this is the belief by Presdiential Candidate Romney to reduce taxes to solve our problems. This is absurd and would increase our deficits.

So let’s get back to those elusive facts and see if we are “taxed enough already.” The global organization the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) out of Paris has measured financials for 34 countries dating back to 1965. On their website you can find a graph and table that shows the Total Tax Revenue as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for each of these 34 countries every 10 years and during 2008 and 2009. Total Tax Revenue is federal, state and local taxes and would include things such as FICA, sales and property taxes.

In 2009, the US Total Tax Revenue as a percentage of GDP (Tax/ GDP Ratio) is 24.1% a decline from 26.3% in 2008 and 29.5% in 2000, the last time we had a balanced federal budget and before the two Bush tax cuts. What the Tea Party advocates may find of interest is the average of these 34 countries in 2009 is 33.8%. Comparing this average ratio to the US 2009 average of 24.1% shows a difference of 9.7%. What the Tea Party advocates may also find of interest is the US ranked 32nd out of the 34 countries in the Tax/ GDP Ratio. If we go back to 2000, the last time we had a balanced federal budget, the comparison of the US Tax/ GDP Ratio to the average is 29.5% versus 35.3%. So our Tax/ GDP ratio in 2000 (again the last time we had a balanced federal budget) to the average is not only less than the average of the OECD analysis in 2000, it is still 4.3% less when contrasted to the OECD average in 2009 of 33.8%. Saying this another way, our tax revenue in 2000 when we last had a balanced budget is 4.3% less than the average revenue in 2009, which is the year following the start of the recession.

So help me understand this concept of “taxed enough already” as this independent data would seem to indicate we are not taxed enough. To this old fart, we have to be prepared to step up and pay for something. Back in the early 2000’s when I was a Republican when the GOP actually strived for better stewardship, I was very much against the Bush tax cuts. When Bush’s senior tax advisor resigned and Warren Buffett cited we do not need these tax cuts, it confirmed my reservations. Mr. Norquist is fond of citing Ronald Reagan as the paragon, but President Reagan increased taxes five times after he had cut them too much with Tax Reform early in his presidency. Citing Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum in their book “That Used to be Us,” President Reagan hated deficits, so he realized he needed to increase taxes. However, he was smart enough to call them revenue enhancements.

I get frustrated when the Tea Party advocates beat on their chest and say we should lower taxes. Kowtowing to this position on taxes, GOP candidate Romney is truly at the height of irresponsibility. I get back to an earlier comment I posted – any idiot can get elected saying he or she will lower taxes. Yet that is not what we need to hear. We need someone to very clearly say we have a problem that we must address. We need to make some cuts in spending, but we also need to raise revenue. We have cut revenue to an unhealthy level and we need to adjust it. We cannot kick the can down the road and we certainly cannot reduce tax revenue. I am all for tax simplification, but at the end of the day we need to pull in more tax revenue not dissimilar to what we had before the Bush tax cuts. And, if we are going to pay down debt, we actually need more revenue than spending.

Some read this and say they don’t care what other countries do. I have two comments in rebuttal to that specious argument. First, the US tax rates are at their lowest in 50 years. The top end federal tax rate used to be 70%, became 50% and then was reduced to 39.6%. Today it is even lower and Mr. Romney wants to lower it more to create jobs. Since Mr. Norquist likes to cite President Reagan, it is interesting to note the comments of David Stockman, Reagan’s economic advisor. He says today “trickle down economics did not work.”  In my mind, if the top tax rate is already so low, where are the jobs now?

Second, the other rebuttal I would make is to look at what is happening in Greece, Italy, Spain and other European countries. One of their challenges which does not get talked about enough is the aging population relative to the workforce. With systems that promoted earlier retirement, the relatively diminished workforce versus those retired will continue to have a hard time paying for obligations created by these earlier retirements. We have this problem staring at us as well. So we must address it today. Tax increases for everyone (and not just the wealthy President Obama) as well as spending cuts must be considered. And for our grandstanding GOP congressmen that means defense cuts as well.

I go back to my harping on the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction proposal. It is not perfect, but it is well thought out and moves us down the path of responsible government. Please tell Mr. Romney when he shows the commercial on the three things he would do immediately when he becomes President he is zero for three in his recommendations. Yet the most offensive thing he mentions is cutting taxes immediately for his wealthy friends. So, Tea Party advocates, I don’t know what you have been drinking, but it seems to be a little stronger than tea. Keep after the deficit and debt – you are on the money there, but you need to stop listening to folks like Grover Norquist who have been less than forthcoming about the data. We have to increase revenue as well as cut spending. We simply cannot solve our deficit any other way. The math does not work.

Restating what I said earlier, at some point in time we need to step up and pay for something. The more we delay the worse it will become and then we will be like Greece is today.  I don’t mind Speaker Boehner pushing this issue now, but he is doing it with empty commitment. If he said we need to cut defense more and raise taxes, he would show seriousness of purpose. Otherwise, he is just blowing political smoke and truth be told, I have little tolerance for gamesmanship right now. We need to get serious and put all cards on the table. Since we have this inane partisanship going on which will only get worse, the Bowles-Simpson plan would be a good draft to start from and will get the discussions moving in the right direction.

As my tea of choice is Constant Comment, it seems appropriate I should be constant in my advocacy for the Bowles-Simpson plan. Maybe if our Tea Party friends drank that instead of the Norquist Kool-Aid, their advocacy would be more informed and well-received.

 

The Gods Must Be Crazy

In 1980, a South African film called “The Gods Must be Crazy” directed by Jamie Uys garnered a cult-like following. In essence, the film is a compilation of three stories, the main one of which is about a Bushman who desires to rid his tribe of a Coke bottle that fell from the sky. This new-found property caused envy, jealousy and unrest to a tribe that had everything they needed to live peacefully and well. On his journey he witnesses the less sane remainder of the world. To me the title is about his bemusement over the rest of the world, yet others may interpret different meaning.

I use this movie as an example as it helps in trying to decipher the many contradictions by our political candidates, parties and followers that back them. On occasion, I will venture outside the US, but we have enough inanity in our country to entertain us for years to come. So, as your read on keep thinking “The Gods Must Be Crazy.”

Let me begin with something I have mentioned in early post. God gave us a brain and we do not choose to use it to the fullest extent. We have candidates and their followers who are skeptical of science and believe that religion and science are mutually exclusive. They are not. The evidence is pretty clear that life has been on this planet for quite a long time and to try to teach an alternative that the earth is 6,000 years old is asinine. To ignore the evidence we have is an insult to the brain God gave us.

To this point, God wants us to be good stewards of the our planet. Yet, we have a limited group of people who continue to deny overwhelming evidence that global warming is occurring. We better have a long term plan to address the issues. Within this plan, we need also to address the toxicity of our environment and future water supply. Otherwise, we may witness the apocalyptic games and movies which show earth when it is less livable. In this case, the apocalypse won’t be due to a nuclear disaster but will be due to a gradually overheated planet with limited water and toxic areas to avoid. I jest only in part.

We know the planet cannot sustain a population much larger than we are today. And, if others consume resources in the future like we do in North America, some studies show we have 5 billion people too many already. Data also shows that poverty is more prevalent in larger families. Yet, we have a group of people who are against groups like Planned Parenthood whose purpose is to help parents have manageable families. Planned Parenthood and their sister organizations around the globe due wondrous things. I believe we should support them to the fullest extent possible.

We have a group of people who are against abortion. I understand where they are coming from. While I support choice for women, I personally would not advocate for an abortion. Yet, it is not my body, so I respect the rights of women and would argue for education and informed choice. I do not condone “holier than thou people” infringing upon someone’s right to choose. I presume the choice is hard enough for the woman. Yet, the irony to me is how can people who are against abortion also be blindly in favor of the NRA and against the EPA? They are not thinking about what they are advocating. To create an environment for more gun deaths of children and to expose children unknowingly to toxic chemicals is hypocritical. Another way of saying the above is this group will support a child in the womb, but after the child is born, he is on his own.

We have 50 million Americans who do not have health are insurance.  The US is ranked 38th in health care quality by the World Economic Forum and World Health Organization. Yet, we are ranked number #1 in cost around the globe. That is not a good return on investment. Health Care Reform is far from perfect, yet it is a step in the right direction. The irony is it is a Republican idea from the 1990’s and a variation of the plan the likely GOP candidate put in place in Massachusetts. Yet, because President Obama set it in motion it is a horrible idea. It should be noted about 2 million adult children under 26 have been able to stay on their parents’ plans since part of the law went into play. I will reiterate it is not perfect, but nothing ever is. Yet, many who are adamantly against it could not articulate tangible reasons why, other than they were told to hate it.

We have a huge economic disparity in this country that is an embarrassment to America. Lack of education is a key part, but the perpetuation of poverty by minimum wage jobs is another. The disparity became far more visible post 1980 when the tax rates on the high-end were brought down. The rich did get richer. People say the President is dividing America with his rhetoric. I have news. America is divided. The rich people won. The rich people are the New York Yankees. The GOP says lower taxes on the rich will create jobs. The tax rate is at its lowest point in over 50 years – where are the jobs now? David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s economic advisor, said “trickle down economics” doesn’t work.  We have to address the economic disparity with better education for the masses, better wages, tax structure and job sharing.

We have a huge deficit, but we do not want to address the issues in a mature, holistic manner. We need all ideas on the table including increased revenue. We cannot cut our way out of this problem. I harp on starting from the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Plan. Let’s embrace and advocate not changing ideas therein unless we have a good reason. I would gather Obama, Boehner, McConnell, Reid and Pelosi in a room and say make it work and supportable over the long term. I don’t want your political party BS getting in the way of developing a workable plan. And, if you cannot improve upon Bowles-Simpson, don’t change it and make it work. The Gang of Six which had no support was at least trying to move it forward.

While we are on the subject, other countries have to do the same. We live in an aging environment. Some countries are getting older faster and they cannot support the retirement schemes with people retiring early. The working population cannot support them. I hate to say this, but it will actually get worse if nothing is done now. I do agree austerity has to be done in a thoughtful way, so growth is not inhibited. Yet, when leaders make agreements with lenders, they need to be good stewards with those agreements. Otherwise, you will not see future money. 70% – 80% of Greeks do not favor leaving the Euro Zone. They are right as it would be disaster. So, they need to make it work. And, US if you don’t get your act together this could be you.

The last two sections could be “now that you have danced to the music, it is time to pay the fiddler.” We need very thoughtful discussions and planning. We need less grandstanding and partisanship in the US, Greece and elsewhere. We need collaborative thinking to get to the most elegant solutions. The saddest irony is the peacemakers and collaborators are being the thrown out of office. I can assure you no political party has ownership of all the answers. As an US independent, I can look at the GOP party and say they don’t have many good answers to begin with. Many of us in the states are frustrated by debates over so-called values issues. It detracts away from the clear identification of our problems and recognition of our successes. The other party has to claim “total failure” on any effort by an incumbent. Total failure – that is absurd, but that is what wins elections.

“The Gods Must Be Crazy.” We talk around our problems and not about them. We don’t see the contradictions in our public discourse. We need to highlight our successes, discuss our problems openly and endeavor to solve them. Maybe the Gods will become more sane as will we.

 

 

Pride and Prejudice – Gays and Religion

Sitting in my home in North Carolina, I am quite disappointed by the vote earlier this week to reiterate that marriage should be between one man and one woman. This was already on the NC books, but the evangelical right wanted to make sure others heard them. It also went an extra mile to deny civil unions for any citizens. Within 24 hours after it passed, a very staunch conservative county commissioner in one of NC’s largest counties wanted to repeal the domestic partner benefits offered by the county as an employer. This was one of the arguments against the amendment’s passage and the advocates for the amendment assured others that this would not happen. We shall see what transpires.

On the very positive front, I am delighted and encouraged by the President’s stated position on gay marriage. I also applaud Vice President Biden and the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, for stating earlier in the week their positions in favor of such marriages. Not that this next phrase is important, but as a 53-year-old married father of three children, to deny the ability for the LGBT community to marry is discriminatory. I have noted in earlier posts and will repeat again here that my Christian bible very much supports treating gays the same as everyone else. Yet, to be honest, that is beside the point. In our governmental construct set up by our founding fathers by the constitution, Bill of Rights and initial operating principles, we clearly have a separation of church and state for a reason.

Our founders knew first hand what religious persecution looked like, so they were careful to guard against it. So, it is irrelevant what one interpretation by evangelical readers of one religion’s textbook says. It is discriminatory to treat people differently based on the sexual orientation. Only when someone’s rights infringe on another’s rights should people be concerned. Taking this one step further, the fact that a Catholic Priest is gay is irrelevant. The fact that some Priests are pedophiles is a crime.  So, it is ironic the Catholic Church, who comes down on the gay community, has employed a number of gay men in their ranks for many years. To me that is a little hypocritical. Especially when a very capable and popular male minister of music at a NC church was fired earlier this year for getting married to another man in a monogamous, loving relationship in New York. I would add that some parishioners of that church attended the ceremony. Yet, he had to be fired when the marriage was announced at the Bishop’s request.

I have been encouraged by the number of church leaders – ministers, rabbis, imams – and Republicans who have publicly stated their support for gay marriage. These are people who are risking more by publicly advocating their position. I applaud them. Even on Bill Maher’s show last night, one of his Conservative guests openly supported the President’s move as did David Brook’s on PBS News Hour. I would expect no less from Mr. Brooks, as he is then most reasonable conservative pundit around and his opinions are well thought out and respected even by others who disagree with him. These advocates give me hope for America on this issue. We need to move this train along the track and I am hoping we can get on the right side of history on this issue in the very near future.

I am less encouraged by a couple of things Mitt Romney did, which is making rethink my post that I could tolerate him, even though I won’t vote for him. The fact he threw one of his staunchly conservative colleagues under the bus when a radio talk show host made an issue that this colleague is gay bothers me. He should have stepped up and said “so what.”  He did not and that is unfortunate. The other is his handling of the story where he apparently led (or was part of) a group of teenage boys to accost a gay fellow student and cuts the student’s hair against his will. This teenage bullying is inappropriate by any stretch of the imagination, but what concerns me most today is the adult Mitt Romney not remembering the episode, when all of his cohorts remember vividly the shameful act and their huge remorse. At my age, I remember every stupid, shameful act I ever did as they stand out. I try to live a good life, treat others like I want to be treated and do good deeds, so I may not be able to remember every good thing I did. Yet, I can attest at the age of 53, I remember and truly regret all the dumb things I ever did. So, for Mr. Romney to say he does not remember gives me pause – to me, it means one of two things. Either he did a number of things like this, so many he cannot remember them all, or he is lying when he says he does not remember. I know he has done some very honorable things and has raised fine young men and has been married for a number of years, yet this lack of memory concerns me.

Let me close by noting two things I witnessed this week, First, my wife and I rented a movie the other night because we liked the actors, which is usually the reason for renting movies we had never heard of. “A Single Man” starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore is a love story, but not the kind we envisioned. In the movie. Firth plays a gay man in the 1960’s who early in the movie loses his live-in soul mate of 16 years to an auto accident. Let me repeat they had a monogamous relationship for 16 years. Firth’s character finds out about the death when the brother of his lover calls him to tell him of the death. He calls quietly after hours against the wishes of his lover’s parents, who forbid him from attending the funeral. I recognize this movie is set in the 1960’s, but this still happens today.

Second, I happened to be in downtown hotel in NC the day after the passage of Amendment One noted above. I was reading the paper and overheard a lesbian woman and gay man chatting. It was then I noticed a national LGBT gathering was occurring at this hotel and they arranged it in NC I presume to advocate against this amendment. The gay man noted his mother had called him to offer her condolences for the amendment being passed. The lesbian woman noted that her mother would not ever do that and her mother had never come to grips with her daughter’s sexual orientation. This made me sad for her and her mom. This is your daughter, your child. Nothing in my bible would ever say do not love your children. If it did, then it is a religion not worth having. If I was in a church and a minister said something like that I would walk out. Maybe that is what we need people to do more of. I think people are voting with their feet by not attending already. Organized religion is on the decline due to its exclusivity and lack of tolerance in some houses of worship. As noted in an earlier post, when religion is inclusive, it is a wondrous welcoming experience. When it is not, it can be debilitating.

The mom story touched me greatly. My mom is one of the finest people I know, but she is very conservative in her religious views and listens to her minister. When the President was able to get Congress to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, my mom echoed the church’s party line on this. After hearing her out, I simply said “Mom, it is discriminatory to let this policy continue.” She heard the conviction in my voice and she agreed. When this issue comes up in conversation, be polite and speak plainly and say “it is discriminatory” to deny the LGBT community the same rights as others. History is waiting on us.