The Booklady – Dolly Parton

When people hear the name Dolly Parton, the first thing they think is probably her talented singing, songwriting, larger than life persona or her generous spirit. The first thing is probably not the booklady, but that is also a large part of who she is. As reported on PBS Newshour earlier this week, Dolly (I cannot call her just Parton) has an organization called “Imagination Library” that has distributed over 50 million books in 1,400 communities around the world. These books are sent directly to the kids who can retrieve their personal book from the mailbox to much anticipation. Please check it out at http://www.imaginationlibrary.com/.

She started Imagination Library in her home county in Tennessee as a tribute to her Dad. She said on PBS Newshour her Dad was a smart man, but never knew how to read or write, a shameful curse he lived with. She did not want kids in her county to go without books. So, she started a program where a child would be provided 60 books, one per month for the first 5 years of their life. The first one is given to the parents at the hospital. The idea spread to other counties, then near-by and other states and now is in Canada and the UK.

Dolly said more and more the kids call her “The Booklady” and she takes a great deal of pride in being more known for books than what made her famous. She said she feels like she is accomplishing something. Dolly, you are 100% correct. I have written before about an article written by David Brooks called “32 Million Fewer Words.”The link follows: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/32-million-fewer-words/. The premise of this article is kids in poverty have heard 32 million fewer words than kids in more flourishing homes by the time they start pre-Kindergarten at age 4. The teachers in the PBS piece noted this as well. They said they can tell which kids have parents who read to them. It is obvious with their vocabulary and grasp of new words.

Some of the parents said these books are truly a Godsend. They cannot afford these books as they are living paycheck to paycheck. What do the kids think? The news report followed a couple of young girls as they showed with great pride their book collection and read from their favorite books. They also flipped the book over and showed their name and address indicating how it was sent to them. These are their books, so they treasured them even more. And, when the journalist asked them who is Dolly Parton? “She is the booklady,” they all responded.

I made the comment about Dolly’s generous spirit above. I have seen her interviewed several times. Her kind nature exudes from her. Barbara Walters has noted Dolly is one of the most genuine people she has ever interviewed. This is prima facie evidence of that assertion. Dolly, your legacy may be even larger than your legendary career – you are The Booklady. You should take pride in what you have created. Well done.

Why Should Christie and Obama Working Together be so Newsworthy?

I am delighted with the collaboration between Governor Christie of New Jersey and President Obama to rebuild the parts of New Jersey devastated by Hurricane Sandy. They demonstrate the power of collaborative funding between the Federal, State and Local governments and the private insurance industry toward a common purpose. This is how it should be and how it has been in our country over the years. Yet, people are so surprised and it becomes newsworthy when our leaders are doing exactly what we want them to do; be leaders and not politicians.

Part of the problem is the news media. Conflict sells. One of the editors of Times Magazine once said the main stream media is not as biased politically as some people say. Where they are biased is toward conflict. The key problem, though, is the political parties. They must divide to sell. If the other party in power says its dark, the opposing party must say it is light. There is a strong tendency to make every issue a contest even when it should not be. Obamacare, for example, is largely a Republican idea, with a variation that is working pretty well in Massachusetts. Both Obamacare and Romneycare were built on a concept GOP Senator Bob Dole presented in the 1990’s as an alternative to National Health Care proposed by President Clinton. Yet, the President gets the law passed and the GOP nows thinks it is a horrible idea.

Getting back to Christie and Obama’s “bromance” as it is now called, the Governor and President working together is how it should be in all major issues that impact a state. How can money and resources be leveraged to do the most good? Leverage is a key word in most investments. Our country was built on leveraging public and private money, especially in times of tragedy where significant investment is needed. When you are building major assets, pooling finite sources is modus operandi. When leaders have forgotten this or were slow to recognize this, they have been lampooned.

Two examples. President George W. Bush was vilified for his slow reaction to Hurricane Katrina. There were some in his party who questioned whether we should rebuild New Orleans. That comment is fairly arrogant and insensitive in its own right, but when you think of a major port city where goods can be shipped and received from the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River and one that lies pretty close to the Panama Canal, that comment becomes not only arrogant, but ignorant. You add to it the incompetent delivery of services from FEMA run by someone who helped George get elected, then you get “a textbook example of what not to do.” The italicized phrase are not my words as they were uttered by a presidential historian last week. A pundit said after the poor reaction, Bush’s worst legacy may not be Iraq, it will likely be Katrina.

The other example was from Hurricane Sandy earlier this year. When Congress was slow and almost did not approve $50 Billion in aid to help New Jersey, New York and other states rebuild, they were also vilified. The Congressional representatives from those states along with their governors called the GOP led Congress on the carpet. To be frank, they deserved every ounce of criticism. We must help Americans in a crisis. I agree with Ruth Marcus who said last Friday on PBS Newshour, we should budget for contingencies like this, so that these decisions to help need not be so monetarily challenged. By the way, with global warming and rising sea levels, it will only get worse.

Yet, the collaboration goes beyond the crisis which created the opportunity (and need) for Christie and Obama to work together. This is what most Americans want. I did hear George Will say he did not want collaboration on one of the Sunday Talk Shows. I must confess, I do not watch Sunday Talk Shows for this reason. They tend to have politicians and pundits on there who care less about the issues and more about the game of politics. What Will said is ludicrous in my mind. Unfortunately, the host did hold him accountable for those inane words.

Folks, we Americans work together. That is what makes us a great nation. We expect our leaders to work together. If they don’t, then they are part of the problem and not part of the solution. It is outstanding that Christie and Obama worked together to solve a problem for the people of New Jersey. It should not be so newsworthy that they came together to do so.

From Pirates to Parrot Heads – Tribute to Jimmy Buffett

Some of the most loyal fans in music are lovingly referred to as “Parrot Heads,” given the name by the focus of their attention, the wannabe pirate, Jimmy Buffett. The singer, songwriter and pied-piper romanticizes the rebel deep within all of us by envying the pirate lifestyle of few rules and more imbibing. From one of his reflective songs, “A Pirate Looks at 40,” Buffett sings:

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late
Cannons don’t thunder there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

While it is truly hard to find a Buffett song where imbibing does not occur, his words are extremely reflective of humanity and our imperfections. Like a sailor away from port, he often thinks fondly of people, places and times. Since he is a sailor as well, this may be where his songwriting originates. My favorite Buffett song “He Went to Paris” is one of those reflective songs, where an old sailor retired to the islands recounts his story when prodded. He went off to Paris, full of energy and then… Here are the first few verses:

He went to Paris looking for answers
To questions that bothered him so
He was impressive, young and aggressive
Saving the world on his own

But the warm summer breezes
The French wines and cheeses
Put his ambition at bay
The summers and winters
Scattered like splinters
And four or five years slipped away

Then he went to England, played the piano
And married an actress named Kim
They had a fine life, she was a good wife
And bore him a young son named Jim

And all of the answers and all of the questions
Locked in his attic one day
‘Cause he liked the quiet clean country living
And twenty more years slipped away

This song is extra special to me as I would sing it to my kids as we rocked in the glider before they fell asleep. Probably, my second favorite Buffett song and one of his bigger hits is “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude.”  Here are a few of his reflections:

Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again
If it suddenly ended tomorrow
I could somehow adjust to the fall
Good times and riches and son of a bitches
I’ve seen more than I can recall

But, Buffett had a fun side, where he explained his and our own foibles. One of those songs has a fun title “We are the People our Parents Warned about.”

We are the people there isn’t any doubt
We are the people they still can’t figure out
We are the people who love to sing twist and shout
Shake it up baby
We are the people our parents warned us about (do do do dooo)

I also enjoy some of the clever references in many of his songs which provide mental context, such as what Desi Arnaz wore in “I Love Lucy.”  In “Pencil Thin Mustache,” he sings:

That’s why I wish I had a pencil thin mustache
The Boston blackie kind
A two-toned Ricky Ricardo jacket
And an autographed picture of Andy Devine

Oh, I could be anyone I wanted to be
Maybe suave Errol Flynn or the sheik of Araby
If I only had a pencil thin mustache
Then I could do some cruisin’ too

Buffett has a huge inventory of songs that his Parrot Heads can sing word for word. I think that is why he chose the name of his fans. His biggest hits “Come Monday” and “Margaritaville” are surrounded by wonderful songs such “Boat Drinks,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “The Captain and the Kid,” “The Last Tango in Paris,” “Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit,” “Volcano,” and  so on. As this tribute could go on forever, let me end with our sailor theme with words from another classic “A Son of a Son of a Sailor.”

As the son of a son of a sailor
I went out on the sea for adventure
Expanding the view of the captain and crew
Like a man just released from indenture

As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin’ man
I have chalked up many a mile
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks
And I learned much from both of their styles

I love Buffett’s ability to make us also romanticize, reflect, laugh and sometimes cry. It may be because he dared to be the rebel on occasion, but it his ability to tell us about it that brings us Parrot Heads along for the journey.

Taking Chance – the Most Appropriate Military Movie

On Memorial Day or any day for that matter, the most appropriate military movie is called “Taking Chance” starring Kevin Bacon. Today, many movies are being shown which honor the valor of the men and women who fought for our country. Yet, “Taking Chance” honors Lance Corporal Chance Phelps (1984 – 2004) who gave his life in defending our country. Chance Phelps is representative of all of the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Bacon plays the role of Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, the military escort of Phelps’ remains. He honorably shepherds the deceased back to his family. Strobl is emblematic of all of his fellow soldiers who did their best to honor Phelps as they prepared his body. He is moved by the display of respect and honor given to Phelps on his way back home. One of the more moving gestures in a movie with many, is when a flight attendant learns of what Strobl is doing and gives him a cross, which he later gives to the family. This is one of the most moving movies you will ever see. I watched it for the second time a few moments ago. If you get a chance, please do yourself a favor and watch it.

Men and women who fight for our country deserve the utmost support and respect. Yet, our leaders owe more to them than that. Before we send these young men and women into harms way, we owe it to them to make sure we have exhausted all other options. We owe it to them to look for any peaceful resolution to a crisis. We owe it to them to be diligent and not rash in our debate. And, if we decide to intervene militarily, we owe it to them to amply supply, support and deploy them. Even though these are not the sons or daughters of senators (to remember a John Fogerty song), our leaders need to treat them that way.

Let’s take a few minutes to remember Lance Corporal Chance Phelps and those like him. They gave their lives for something they believed in. We should not let them die in vain and remember what they did. We owe it to them.

Job Creation is Still Key

I must confess I am not surprised, but am disappointed in the failure of Congress to address the issue of job creation after spending so much time talking about it. To the President’s credit he has posed ideas to move things forward, but has not said this is mission one and we must do this. Our Congress can find ways to discuss every thing else under the sun, with the exception of what they need to discuss. The right seems so infatuated with not increasing the deficit, that they fail to consider needed investments in areas which could fuel growth. What does fuel growth?

According to Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s “That Used to Be Us: How American Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How It can Come Back” we have strayed from our model of public/ private partnership of investing in our infrastructure, innovative ideas and education. For some reason, the involvement of government investing in moving big ideas forward seems to have gotten lost. Our government has always invested in big infrastructure items like highways under Eisenhower, dams and highways under FDR and water resources under Teddy Roosevelt. But, it also has invested in tandem with venture capital and other investors on ideas that could be game changers. For a copy of the book, please link to: http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/bookshelf/that-used-to-be-us.

This thesis of investing in innovation is also echoed in David Smick’s book “The World is Curved” which plays off Friedman’s earlier best seller “The World is Flat.” What is interesting about Smick’s perspective is he was an economic advisor to two Presidents – Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, as well as Jack Kemp who ran unsuccessfully for President. He notes that America must invest in innovation to remain successful, as he notes innovation is portable. If the idea is created, protected and funded elsewhere, that is where the initial jobs will be created. For a copy of the book, please use the following link: http://theworldiscurved.com/. This is a key reason the Immigration Bill included keeping talent here in America as we need to keep our innovators.

One of the interesting observations that Smick makes in his book is how similar Reagan and Clinton were in a key area. They both opened up markets for US trade. When you look at the jobs created during various White Houses (note this gives too much credit to the President, but is an interesting exercise nonetheless), Bill Clinton’s tenure had the most non-farm jobs created than any other president – over 22.7 million, an average of 11.4 million jobs per four-year term (per the Bureau of Labor Statistics). The fourth best president result, per added non-farm jobs is Reagan at 16.1 million or 8.1 million jobs per term. What I found surprising is the second most jobs created per term was under JImmy Carter at 10.3 million. Lyndon Johnson came in third with 9.8 million jobs in his second term, building off a good combined result with JFK in his short first term ending JFK’s term after his assassination.

Our Republican friends will not appreciate this next statement, but if you look at the Bureau of Labor statistics and earlier data, the comparison of non-farm jobs created under Democratic White House tenures dwarfs the same result under GOP White House tenures. Again this gives too much credit (or blame) to the President, but since 1921, the twelve GOP terms have created 35.3 million which pales in comparison to the eleven Democratic terms which had 74.5 million jobs added. The average per term shows 6.8 million/ term for the Dems versus 2.9 million/ term for Reps. It means that the Democrats needed a better press agent. But, I do believe it goes deeper than that.

I believe Keynesian economics seems to have been embraced more by Democrats than the GOP, who are much more interested in trickle down economics. The Keynesian view follows some of what Smick and Friedman/ Mandelbaum are saying. Intentional spending creates jobs. If we Invest in infrastructure, jobs will be created that will fuel more spending. So, as we look at the deficits, they are important, but we need to be mindful of three things. First, we need judicious cutting of some expenditures. Second, we need increased spending in infrastructure, innovation and education investments. It is OK to borrow to build an asset, less so to pay for operations. You may have debt, but you do have an asset. Let’s build things – this latest bridge collapse was not a total surprise. Third, we do need more revenue. The Bush tax cuts which we continue today (except at the upper end which has helped bring down the deficit) took us from a surplus position to a deficit position and caused Bush to fire his Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill when he openly was critical of this move.

It should be noted these three ideas are part of Simpson-Bowles plan and are behind some of the President’s budget recommendations. And, I do want to say to those folks that called his stimulus a failure did not read the conclusions of five reputable economic firms who said the stimulus actually worked, it was just not enough.

Our economy continues on its journey upward. The capital market are at a new peak doubling what they were when Obama started (a lot of GOPers should thank Obama and Bernanke), the housing market is recovering and jobs have been added for over three years. Yet, we need to build things. And, we have stuff like these bridges that need to be built. Congress please stop focusing on nonsense and focus on this issue. You said you would.

Complex Issues in a Twitter World

With the aid of new tools to communicate, the terrible irony is we do less meaningful communication. With Facebook, Twitter, Texting, PINterest, etc. we now resort to very brief nuggets of communication, which can only scratch the surface of an issue. Even with a picture, which is supposedly worth a thousand words, context is sometimes lost, or worse, misconveyed. Even with emails, many people react to the messenger or only read the tops of emails, meaning the first few paragraphs. And, I should add, I am not even counting the oftentimes mindless back and forth that transpires over these media which give people status reports on their day or how they feel about something that just happened.

You may have guessed I am not a Tweeter, but I do text as that is often the best way to communicate with my away-to-college children. So, these media do serve a great purpose. Yet when issues are complex like many of our problems in the world today, if we only rely on this media, much is lost in the translation. Since the briefer media is here to stay, I offer you some Tweets to use as you deem appropriate on a variety of topics, with an attempt to include some context.

Gun Control Tweets

  • OMG, another kid shot his sib! I heard the US leads the civilized world in kid gun deaths by far. That is tragic. Background checks are a must.
  • NRA keeps telling me the answer to our gun problem is more guns. Call me stupid, but that is like saying the answer to obesity is more fatty food.
  • I cant believe Congress cant pass a gun control bill when Americans want one. Even most gun owners want better background checks, including Ted Nugent’s brother.
  • Canada likes its guns too. Yet, US has 3x number of gun deaths. 80 out of 100 gun deaths in the richest 23 nations occur in the US. That seems to be a problem.
  • I cant figure out why someone in the US would want an assault weapon. Honestly would you date a guy or girl who has seven AK47s? I would run for the exit.

Climate Change Tweets

  • You can tell Chris Christie is running for Prez. He is now denouncing climate change to win the GOP nod. This is after his state was crushed by Sandy which was worse due to rising sea levels.
  • NC legislature would not accept a science report saying sea levels would rise 39 inches by 2100. They wanted one that said 8 in, so they got one. Cant hold back the tide with a report.
  • Newt Gingrich made a TV commercial with Nancy Pelosi in 2006 saying he was wrong about climate change. Then, when running for Prez last yr said he was wrong to say he was wrong. Hmmm.
  • 97% of scientists say climate change is here and man-influenced. Only 26% of GOP congressmen say it is. Hmmm. Science issue. Whom should I believe?
  • It seems the fossil fuel industry makes a bucket load of money. I heard they are huge donors to the GOP. You dont think there is any connection with the GOP saying climate change is hoax?
  • Biggest news story to get underplayed recently was scientists saying our carbon levels in the atmosphere have reached a level of great concern. I guess it wasnt scandalous enough. We need to act now.

Deficit Reduction Tweets

  • Some say we should cut taxes and spending to solve our deficit, but I cant see that working. Simpson Bowles said we should cut spending and increase some taxes. Of course I want to pay less, but the math wont work.
  • TEA partiers say we are taxed enough already, but I read the OECD in Paris say we are 32nd out of 34 countries in Tax Revenue per GDP and 10% below average. That does not jive with what the TEA crowd says.
  • Of course, we need to cut spending wisely, but we need to invest more in some areas to create growth and jobs – infrastructure, education, innovation.
  • OMG I just saw our deficit has been greatly reduced lower than when Obama took office. I read it was due to growing economy, higher taxes on wealthy, stopping the 2% payroll tax incentive and decline in war spending.

Healthcare Tweets

  • Help me understand why Obama passes a largely Republican idea as Obamacare and now Repubs dont like it?
  • Call me stupid but it seems to me Repubs dont like Obamacare as they want to prevent it from being successful. They want to beat Obama without much concern for us pawns in their political game.
  • Obamacare is not perfect and is complex, but its going to get more people covered and some good things have already happened with more young adults covered, prexist conditions going away, no lifetime limits…
  • I have heard a lot of GOPers say they dont want Obamacare, but I have not heard any ideas on how they want to cover the uninsured if it is repealed. I guess we just get screwed as before.

Scandal Tweets

  • Why is there still a fuss about Benghazi? Why havent the Repubs invited Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullens in to testify? They did the report back in Dec and seemed to put it to bed.
  • Now that Obama has provided his emails, it has gotten real quiet in the Benghazi Committee. Call me stupid, but I think they want to let it die with open questions rather than let them be answered.
  • This IRS thing is weird. It seems like overworked bureaucrats were trying to have the same folks review like kinds of filings and didnt realize this could look funny to others. Sounds like theyre more naive than criminal, but I need more info.
  • The one that bothers me most is the AP scandal. I am not sure I like the Justice dept getting my phone records so easily for national security. I would like some more due process.

I could go on, but I think I have covered enough topics for now. All of these issues are complex and unbiased data points are key. There are too many issues controlled by special interest groups. The IRS issue is complex and we need to wait for the completion of the investigations to render judgment. People calling for heads before the issues are known are making political statements.

Please feel free to use as you see fit. or create your own better grounded tweets. Yet, in any event, quoting my old boss – “My daddy used to say, believe half of what you read and nothing of what you hear.” Be an honest skeptic on what you read and seek the truth in everything.

I grow weary of the Affordable Care Act gobstoppers

I was searching for a word to describe the never-ending story to defeat a law that is based on your own party’s idea. The word “gobstopper” came to mind as per Willie Wonka, it changes colors and is seemingly everlasting. Or, you could use the North American name for it and call it a “jawbreaker.” Congress has voted for what seems like the one hundredth time (it is only 37) to repeal the Affordable Care Act (the ACA)

The irony is the ACA is a largely Republican idea created as an alternative to National Health Care proposed by the Clintons and rolled out in similar form in Massachusetts to much ongoing success by some guy named Romney. So, when a variation was put forth as the ACA since National Health Care once again could not be passed, it was approved and portions of the law are already in place to a good reception. So, like the gobstopper, the GOP has changed its color on this.

Rather than repeat much information, let me reference several posts I have written over the past year. I will close with some final comments:

– June 29, 2012 – “Help me understand the Ruckus against Health Care Reform”

– July 28, 2012 – “Internal Bleeding – Be Your Own Health Care Advocate”

– August 8, 2012 – “Health Care is more than a pawn, it is a problem”

– September 4, 2012 – “Doctors for America – Patients over Politics”

– November 16, 2012 – Affordable Care Act – the Path Forward”

If you only have time to read two of these, I would refer to the highlighted pieces. The first implores politicians to stop making health care of people in need a pawn in a political game. The second summarizes why 15,000 doctors believe the Affordable Care Act makes sense and the good it has already done and will do in the future. This law is not perfect, but moves the ball forward to cover many people without care. A key part of this law is expanding Medicaid to cover the more impoverished people with significant subsidy to the state to pay for the coverage.

When I see GOP led state legislatures like in my own North Carolina agree to not extend Medicaid to over 500,000 residents, without any replacement ideas to help those in need, I see a group of people who only want to defeat the other side. I see politics at its absolute worst as they would rather defeat the other person’s idea, even if it is like their own, rather than help people in need. In NC, every Monday, a group of disenfranchised citizens are picketing our NC state capitol with some getting arrested. I have shared my concern and disdain with the governor and legislature for the vote to do this. Not that this should matter, but a significant number of the 500,000 in NC who would have been helped by this are Republican voters who have no idea they have been screwed by their own party. These folks will get coverage through the exchanges that are being created, but it would have been more ideal with the Medicaid expansion.

As I mentioned earlier and in the attached posts, the law is far from perfect. Mainly, it is complex. Yet, it needs to continue and will help many in need. I have suggested the law be tweaked, not overhauled, as it helps extend coverage providing subsidy to those in need. Please write a note to your Congressional representative and encourage them to cease the endless, gobstopping votes and make this law better. And, if your state has decided not to expand Medicaid, please let the legislature know of your concern. They are harming people in need, including their own constituents.