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.

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.

Managing Expectations – The Aftermath of Financial Crises

In December 2008, Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland and Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard University followed up on work they performed a year earlier and produced a paper entitled “The Aftermath of Financial Crises” which they presented at the American Economic Association meeting in January, 2009 in San Francisco. They studied the 18 global banking and housing crises which occurred in the post World War II period and then added to them the US depression which began in 1929 and a banking crisis in Norway in 1899 for which they had housing data.

I mention their work for two principal reasons. First, looking forward from their initial work in December, 2007, they predicted the financial crisis that would occur in 2008. Second, their analyses of the historical crises noted above seems highly predictive of what has transpired since that time. Knowing we are not out of the woods yet and we still have huge variables in Europe, China, Middle East and US, I think the data show remedies to banking and housing crises take time. This latter issue is important as we must not look for panaceas or miracles to resolve the crises. It takes month by month progress on the journey upward, knowing that the market may fall back on occasion. In our political climate in the US which has little cooperation between factions and a huge amount of impatience, concerted effort is needed.

To keep things simple for me, I like to think the housing crisis and recession generally began at the end of 2007. In some areas of the country, California, Nevada, Florida, e.g. the housing crisis had already begun. I would also like to presume that the unemployment crisis started  at the end of 2008, but it actually started in some places and industries before then. The equity market began bleeding in the spring of 2008, but fell precipitously in September, 2008. For ease of the math, let’s presume it occurred in September, 2008. This makes the arithmetic a little easier to follow.

Their key conclusions are as follows:

  • “First, asset market collapses are deep and prolonged  Real housing price declines average 35% stretched over six years, while equity price collapses average 55% over a downturn of three and a half years.
  • Second, the aftermath of banking crises is associated with profound declines in output and unemployment. The unemployment rate rises an average of 7% over the downphase of the cycle, which lasts over four years.. Output falls (from peak to trough) an average of 9%, although the duration of the downturn, averaging roughly two years, is considerably shorter than for unemployment.
  • Third, the real value of government debt tends to explode, rising an average of 86% in the major post WWII episodes….The big drivers of debt increases are the inevitable collapse in tax revenues that governments suffer….as well as often ambitious countercyclical fiscal policies aimed at mitigating downturn.” They note the cost to bail out and recapitalize the financial system is usually not the key driver of debt increase.

The above speaks of averages, but there are historical crises that were far worse and some that were even better than the averages noted. Yet, if we use the averages as a baseline, they show some telling results that are eerily accurate in the US, but also beg for patience as we work our way out of the crisis. First, they note the average equity downturn is 3 1/2 years. If we use the start of the downturn postulated by me of September, 2008 that places us at March, 2012 as when the equity market recovers. If you look at the first quarter of this year, many equity declines were largely restored and the market was on much better footing. It was not all the way back and has fallen off some since, but I found this math interesting.

The unemployment statistics have shown month by month growth for the last 26 months. It has been less than hoped growth, but jobs were added. We have not fully recovered and definitely have a way to go. Doing the same type of math with 4 years on average of unemployment during a financial crisis and beginning the fall off at the end of 2008, that would place our average recovery at the end of 2012. That may be too soon, but we seem to be slowly climbing our way toward that. While the President has aided the process somewhat, we could have done more with a more cooperative Congress. The President also made the ludicrous announcement after the stimulus in early 2010 that unemployment would be significantly improved by summer of 2010. That was not a very good prediction and gave too much false hope.

On the housing side, improvements are visible, but we have too many people underwater and in trouble with their homes and mortgages. Using the same kind of arithmetic, the above presumed start date of January, 2008 and an average housing decline of six years, that places us at the end of 2013 for a fuller housing recovery. That seems to feel about right given what is happening, but things could turn around in a bad way quickly with the other variables noted above.

The final comment in output shows a much quicker turnaround. Many have referred to this as the “jobless recovery,” but it makes sense. Business has to improve with the available resources you have before you begin hiring again. GDP growth has been apparent for several years, yet it is a little slower than desired. I would add a comment made by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandlebaum in their book “That Used to be Us.” They noted that China’s GDP fall off in growth from 10% to 7% would impact the global economy far more than slow US or European growth. This shows that we are part of a whole, so we are impacted greatly by others. So, we can show improvement, but it can be dwarfed by China’s slower growth.

So, what can we draw from the above? We need a little more patience on the housing market (end of 2013) and unemployment rates (end of 2012). While the equity market and GDP growth make us feel a little better, we need to be mindful of the debt increase. We have to be smart to pay down the debt and deficit, but pay it down we must. That is why I am a fan of the Bowles-Simpson Plan – it attempts to do both.  Yet, at a bare minimum, we need our leaders to work together toward a reasonable solution that will pay down debt, but not stop growth. The last thing we need is what will unfortunately happen – partisan bickering over whose fault this is and why the bother has not done more.

 

 

Need for Light Rail Transit and a Little History on Collusion

With the needs for better traffic planning in larger cities to alleviate congestion, diminish smog and let people move more freely, there has been a growing push for light rail lines. These lines are electrified trains that run adjacent and across traffic at crossing lights. They have tended to be more economical to build and run than the major subway and elevated train lines serving our largest cities. With the environmental concerns over global warming and the need for less fossil fuel usage, you would think these developments would be a slam dunk.

Unfortunately, projects like these are fighting uphill battles as part of the budget cuts and cost estimates. Unlike an operational budget issue, these capital projects are building assets that would benefit the communities and address the issues noted above. There is no doubt we need the best cost estimates possible to make these things happen and we should blend federal, state and local money to do so, but we should not be making this so hard. For some reason, the conservative right has latched onto this issue and for the reasons noted above have been more adamant against their development. The skeptic in me thinks there is more to this than just the budget issues, as we want to continue our focus on driving rather than riding. To me, a vibrant transit system is needed for a cosmopolitan area. Otherwise, we are just creating a congested, environmental problem.

What is interesting to me is a significant number of cities in the US had electric rail systems before they were destroyed and replaced by buses and cars in the 1930’s and 40’s. What is disturbing is how this came about. I would like to say this was done with good stewardship, but the unfortunate reason is several companies with a vested interest in the outcome, colluded to monopolize the bus industry and replace the destroyed electric rail or trolley system with their buses and cars. In 1949, after the fact, GM, Firestone Tires, Standard Oil of CA, Phillips Petroleum and Mack Trucks were found guilty of “conspiring to monopolize” the bus industry and using buses and cars to replace the electric trolley system that companies they owned had bought up. This conviction was upheld in appeal.

Wikipedia has a good summary of how these companies went about it. Search on “General Motors Conspiracy” and you can pull it up.  In fact, GM set in motion this plan to “motorize” the mass transit system dating back to 1922. And, if you look at the names of the fellow conspirators, you will note that two are oil/ gas companies, one is a tire company, one is a maker of buses and one is a maker of cars and trucks. These motorized road vehicles companies and fuel companies conspired to destroy an electric, rail based system that relieved congestion and smog. Even if their motives were altruistic, this would not seem like good transit planning.

Why do I mention all of this now? Two reasons. First, I want people to know why it is important to look beneath the source of information and data on any issue, but especially those which include oil and gas. There is too much money at stake and, as noted above, stranger things have happened. Just today, it was announced the President is supporting fracking to my chagrin, but is wanting the chemicals used by the oil/ gas developers to be disclosed. Yet, the industry lobbyists have battled down this ruling to be they only need to disclose this after the fact. So, they will be permitted to frack and only disclose the toxic chemicals that could leak into the water supply afterwards. To be candid, we need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as we can. The best way to do that is to drive less with those oil/ gas-powered vehicles. Electric rail systems are a key part of that strategy.

Second, I mention this as conservatives are asking for fewer regulations and the elimination of some agencies. I worked in business and can say with certainty – businesses need to be regulated – it is that simple. If we don’t they will take advantage of situations to maximize short-term profit. The collusion verdict noted above was too late. Industries pay lobbyists a great deal to take the teeth out of regulation. The EPA has been fighting an uphill battle for years. We actually need the EPA to do more, not less. And, nowadays industries need only contribute to campaigns to share their viewpoints and push their desired outcomes. It costs too much money to run for office. This makes the lobbyists work easier.

In closing, I would ask that we all try to understand the stories beneath the news. When we see people against ideas that seem to be for the greater good, we should ask  ourselves why and look into it. Otherwise, we will miss the more elegant solutions and may avoid finding out who is more interested in an outcome than others. Not everyone is altruistic.

 

Context is Everything

In our impatient, sound byte society, where the news reporters tend to pluck phrases and nuggets as news and we viewers take what the say as gospel, we many times miss the real story. That is one of the reasons I watch PBS News Hour, as they take the time to do more in-depth reporting by people who know their subject matter. One of my constant themes is explained by this title – context is everything. Anyone can be made to look foolish by taking their words out of context. Plus, in so doing, the real story is often missed.

I was reminded of this yet again yesterday, so I thought it would be good to highlight an example of what we call news and public discourse, masking the real story.  The Head of the South Central Region for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) resigned this week over words taken from his speech two years ago in Dish, Texas. The site will become more relevant as more of the story is told. Al Armendariz’ resigned over remarks made in the speech saying he would “crucify” companies for not adhering to compliance with the EPA standards. From what I have read, he has been a good public servant and was a good champion for the EPA who has been historically held at bay by lobbying efforts of the various industries they try to patrol.

So, the big story was around his resignation and his unfortunate use of the term “crucify.” Opponents of the EPA cited this as over-zealous and how dare he discuss crucifying these legitimate business  interests. The context is the real story. Dish, Texas is the community near a hydraulic fracturing site where bedrock is blasted by chemically loaded water to release natural gas. For more on “fracking” please refer to an earlier post on “The Perils of Fracking.” Mr. Armendariz’ was making a speech in Dish as there is evidence of contaminated water and air pollution which are two of the major drawbacks of  fracking. The real story is the extreme measure of harvesting natural gas is poisoning the water supply of a nearby town and arsenic, mercury, methane and others gases are being released into the air. Although not stated in the article fracking takes a significant amount of water that should not be reused and Texas is having severe drought problems.

To be perfectly clear, we are more concerned that a fine public servant doing an unpopular,misunderstood, but much needed service used the word “crucify” than the reason why he was there. The reason being the oil/gas industry is polluting the water and air supply of children (and adults) in an adjacent town. Not to mention that Texas, where water is being trucked into some towns can ill-afford the loss of any water. This is the news the oil/ gas industry spends so much money on to mask it from society. This is why they fight the EPA and want it diminished or disbanded – one of the dumbest ideas I have heard. The next time you hear that comment, ask the person do you really want to live in a country that does not police these issues?

On other subjects, the context that seems to get lost in news reporting and public discourse, would include, but not be limited to:

I am bemused by the position of the religious right on contraception. 99% of Catholic women use (or have used) birth control, but the Pope wants to beat on nuns for daring to counter the views of a bunch of old men. This also bleeds into the discussion around Planned Parenthood.  Let me be plain on this. Young people are going to have sex and it will continue until they die. You can preach abstinence all you want, but it will not even make a dent. It is like trying to hold back a flood with sand bags. So, unless you want unplanned children and expose your children to STDs and AIDs, my advice is to promote as much knowledge about sex as possible. I would even suggest churches have balanced sex education classes. And, for those of you who say my child is not having sex, note that I live within three hours of well-known religious university. People who went there say the kids go wild there as they have been restrained for so long.

While we are on the subject of Planned Parenthood, the issue is more global than the US. When funding for Planned Parenthood dries up, it affects others on the planet. Here is the context – there is a high correlation between family size and poverty. So, it is incumbent for  parents to plan for their families. The other issue of import is the Earth can only support so many people. We are just shy of 8 Billion. A study was done in the UK a few years ago. It noted if people consume like the average citizen of a poor country in Africa, the Earth could support about 15 Billion. If they consume like the average North American, the Earth could only support about 2 Billion people. This begs for the use of planned parenthood and birth control and is the bigger story.

I may offend some with this next statement, but things have gotten out of control. The NRA has way too much influence and every politician, not just Republicans, are scared of them. We have more guns than people in the US. Let me say this again. We have more guns than people in the US. Pick up any paper and read the news around the region – murder, suicide, murder, accidental shooting, murder, etc.- are reported consistently. For context purposes, there is high propensity of depression on college campuses and the NRA wants to arm the students. Arguments with family and friend escalate into a shooting because a hand gun was nearby. Yes, you are partially right NRA, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The last phrase should be “people who have access to guns kill people.”  I like Chris Rock’s solution to gun violence – make the bullets cost $5,000. That will minimize gun deaths. As an US citizen, there is no reason a civilian should possess an AK-47. So, the real story is too many people are dying needlessly in our country. More guns  to reduce the number of gun deaths would be like putting out a fire with kerosene.

Global warming is the story, but we debate too much on personalities. For all the good Al Gore did with his documentary on global warming, it unfortunately put a political face on the global warming debate. So, the other side had to defeat Al Gore and win. Unfortunately, the story is the planet is heating up and the data is overwhelming. For the former NASA employees who want 100% causal proof, you will never get there, so we cannot put off planning looking for perfection. Already there is sufficient correlated, highly correlated and, in some cases, causal data and the impact of global warming is showing up and will continue to show up. The problem is we cannot wait until the sea encroaches fully on low-lying areas to say see we told you so, as it takes about 15 years to make a difference. We need to act now. That is the story, not the diminishing few who cry foul. We need active and real discussions around the problem and long term solutions. We need the GOP at the table with their ideas.  And, we need them to today. That is the context.

I could go on, but let me close with a major theme of our times. Since politicians now continuously run for office, it is difficult for them to agree with the positions espoused by the other side. This is a problem for both sides of the aisle, but I would not be President for all the tea in China. When everything you do is chastised, critiqued and lampooned by the opposing party, it makes it difficult to govern and for us to be governed. The President has actually done a better job than the GOP would let you believe. He has not been perfect, but he does not get his “propers” from the opposing force. So, when the GOP criticizes him for not doing enough, it amazes for the lack of context. The GOP Congress has fought him at every turn, even ideas that many in the party agree make sense. For example, unbiased economists would tell you the stimulus package worked, it just was not enough. So, when a new stimulus is needed, we cannot even talk about it. Housing based recessions take on average six years to come out of – a 2007 Harvard/ Maryland Professors study of all housing recessions over time. We have had modest growth for 25 straight months. Could the President have done more – yes? Could Congress have helped more – absolutely?

We have to move away from these “zero sum” exercises, where someone wins and someone loses every argument. Oftentimes the news stories are around the game of politics rather than the substance of issues. I detest news stories on who gains and loses from a verbal miscue. The other stuff is harder to report and harder still to decipher. Yet, that is where we all must do more work. On this last issue, it is the US citizens who lose when politicians do not work together. So, whether it is political, economical, environmental or other type of issue, we need to look for the context in everything. Who said it, why did they say it, when did they say it, where did they say it and what else was said at the same time. I would like people whose words are being insufficiently reported to step up and say “yes, I said that and here is why. Next question.”

Quoting my old boss, he would say “my daddy used to tell me believe half of what you read and nothing of what you hear.” So, dig deeper when you hear something said and look for its context. It may make all the difference.