The wrong way to debate citizens with issues

My friend Amaya on her website, The Brabble Rabble, has aired a pertinent article which shows how public debate should not be done. She has written about a North Carolina GOP power broker named Art Pope, who after helping the new governor get elected, became his Budget Director. In essence, his political website has published photos of a large and growing body of protesters in NC who have been termed the Moral Monday protesters. Over 500 of these Moral Monday protesters have been arrested for failure to disperse and trespassing. Many are ministers, teachers and professionals. Yet, the website goes further to ridicule the protesters with an online game. The article link follows: http://thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/art-pope-funded-group-launches-database-targeting-moral-monday-arrestees/

These protesters are there because of a series of law and bills that will be very harmful to the less fortunate in our state. Money could not be found to help these folks, yet it could be found for a potential tax cut that will help the upper income earners moreso than others. I have written several posts on the topic, the latest of which can be read with the following link: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/moral-mondays-the-new-civil-rights-protests-in-north-carolina/

My point is not to rehash their issues. My point is that these folks have a right to be heard and not ridiculed. The governor has said they are from out-of-state, when surveys show that 98% are from NC. Other legislators have called them names to belittle them. I have shared with the governor and other legislators by several emails that whether you agree with their issues or not, they have a right to be heard. Especially, when you have people of all races, genders, and ethnic groups risking arrest. I for one believe their issues have merit. As an Independent voter, I am truly baffled by some of our decisions in our General Assembly that will be harmful to our citizens and the economy. These decisions will hurt people of all political persuasions, as poverty knows no political party.

Yet, irrespective of whether our leaders agree with them or not, the Moral Monday protesters deserve to be heard. At the very minimum, they deserve respect. This is extremely poor form on Art Pope and his advisors part. This is extremely poor form on the governor’s part, which is a shame as I voted for him. I have shared with him that his inaction to meet with the Moral Monday protesters and failure to rein in Mr. Pope’s efforts to ridicule them has cost him my vote. I realize my vote does not matter in the big scheme of things, but he needs to know his actions or inactions affect people.

No matter in which state or country you live, if you are permitted to share your concerns over government action or inaction let them know. Do not name call and stick to the issues. If you strive to be constructive in your comments, they will be more easily read and hopefully acknowledged. If you name call, they will go in the pile of unread emails. In our country, it costs so much money to get elected, the people with the money have greater influence. The only way for everyone else to have a voice is to let our leaders know what they have not done well, but also where they have done a good job. Thanks for letting Amaya and me share our state woes as an example to others.

Great Rivalries

Having just concluded a very exciting NBA basketball final pitting two great teams and players, I am reminded of when sporting events are at their finest. It is due to great rivalries, be it players or teams. Much of the rivalry’s greatness is due to opportunity and timing, but it is also due to proximity and passion. Tiger Woods will eventually be remembered as one of the greatest golfers ever. Yet, he has not benefitted from having a great rival, as he was a cut above for most of his career. Only when he had injuries and philandering issues, did the bloom fall of the rose.

Conversely, Jack Nicklaus had several rivals throughout his career that made his greatness more memorable. Very few people remember how he was not liked at first as he was a challenge to Arnold Palmer who was literally the first TV sports star. Arnie still won while Jack was around, but it made for great theatre, when the two dueled and it became obvious Jack was the better player. Gary Player, Lee Trevino and eventually Tom Watson were up to the challenge to battle Jack. Probably the greatest golf match I have seen was at the British Open, when Tom beat Jack by one stroke with both playing at their very finest and together at Turnberry.

Tennis has several examples of great rivalries, even today. More recently, to see Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in their epic battles at Wimbledon and the French Open is about as good as it gets. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe staged several memorable breakfasts at Wimbledon (with sequels at the US Open), especially during one of the longest tiebreaker matches I have witnessed, complete with a diving McEnroe during his eventual loss to Borg. On the women’s side, seeing Chris Evert, the best clay court player, and Martina Navratilova, the best grass and overall player, battle at Wimbledon and the US Open was also a privilege.

On the basketball court, it is usually more about team rivalries, but one that transcended into individual player rivalry were two team-oriented players – Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Magic’s team won five NBA titles to Larry’s three, plus Magic’s college team beat Larry’s team in their final year of college. Both were known more for their elegant and artful passing which had truly become a lost art. They made their teams better. The NBA was actually in trouble (with some finals played on TV tape delay) when the two joined the league and their rivalry brought it back to prime time.

Yet, teams sports are more about team rivalries, so the fact that Bird played for the Boston Celtics and Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers was fortuitous, as it was a coast to coast rivalry of excellence built over time dating back to the 1960s. That made their individual rivalry even greater to watch. While this was coast to coast, most team rivalries are legendary because of proximity and passion. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees rivalry is perhaps the best example in this country, but it may be “rivaled” on the college level by Duke University and the University of North Carolina, as they sit only eight miles apart.

Both sets of fans are passionate and their team’s success is as much a part of who they are as anything else. There are great HBO documentaries on both rivalries, but one of the things I most remember from watching them, is when the Red Sox rallied to beat the Yankees and eventually won the World Series about ten years ago, Red Sox fans would take pennants, bobble head dolls and ball caps to the cemetery to celebrate with their dad, mom, uncle or aunt who had passed away without witnessing a triumph over the Yankees in the playoffs. Their teams meant so much to the deceased, their children had to celebrate with them.

Please forgive me if I slighted your favorite rivalry. Ohio State/ Michigan, Alabama/ Auburn, etc. are all great rivalries. By not listing your favorite was only due to brevity not malice. And, please forgive this US centric post, as I am certain there are many rivalries that could “rival” the above. I would love to hear about some your favorites. Please share them for all to see.

Promoting Lynn Good is good for two reasons

You may be asking who is Lynn Good? She is the new CEO of Duke Energy Corporation, the largest utility in the United States. She was promoted from her position as Chief Financial Officer having worked with Duke Energy and the company Duke acquired for over 20 years after being an auditor of utilities. As reported by The Charlotte Observer today, she is only the 7th female to head one of the nation’s 200 utilities. This is good news from two major fronts.

The obvious one is a very credible candidate who happened to be a woman was promoted to CEO. I use this phrasing as her credentials would make her a great candidate irrespective of her gender. In addition to her job at Duke, she has also been one of Duke’s champions to the community, serving as Board Treasurer for the Arts and Science Council in Charlotte, Duke’s headquarter city. Plus, she has a depth of financial knowledge about utilities based on her experience and per The Charlotte Observer loves her job due to its complexity of financial and regulatory challenges. I know we should all love our jobs, but when someone publicly marries reasons like this for her joy at working for Duke, that says a lot, as running a publicly traded utility has many moving parts.

Yet, to see a woman justifiably achieve a promotion like this makes you feel progress is being made toward reducing the gender deficit at the top. Good was a computer science major, so she has always been one of the few women in her class or field. I hope and believe that is changing, but having some lightning rods like her can only help in more girls pursuing STEM degrees.

The other reason her promotion is important is due to her promotion from within. I say this as a shareholder of Duke Energy. One of my favorite business books is called “Built to Last” by Jim Collins. His team looked at the best companies in industry over time and how these companies dwarfed the results of their nearest competitor. They were built to last. One of the several tenets for their success was called “homegrown management.” I won’t quote this statistic exactly, but the book said out of the 500 leaders these 18 companies had in their histories, 495 of them were promoted from within the ranks. I wrote a post last April about this book which defines the key tenets for their success, so if interested, here is the link:

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/built-to-last-lessons-still-endure-for-all/

The key to this success is there are two types of knowledge about your job – one is extrinsic and the other is intrinsic. The former is what you know about the job that is portable and is of value to a new employer. The latter is what you know about getting your job done at your company. You know how to navigate the company – whom to call upon and whom to avoid. This knowledge is less valuable to a new employer, which is why some folks don’t succeed when they change jobs.

My old company made a habit of hiring people from outside. The new CEOs did not have this intrinsic knowledge and often brought in others from outside who they trust, but these newbies did not have the intrinsic knowledge either. So, they may not know a new idea of theirs was tried and failed. They may not know that the person who merchandises themselves best to the new leaders is part of the problem. They may be overlooking the folks who are quiet but very effective. So, they usually do not succeed. My old company eventually would fire these leaders and go get new ones who did not have this intrinsic knowledge either. This is a key reason I am glad I know longer work there.

So, I am very happy for Lynn Good and Duke Energy. Both women and the company have a great standard-bearer. I think both will be well served. And, as a shareholder, I like that. Well done.

Does Jesus Really Love Me?

On PBS Newshour last night, Jeff Chu was being interviewed about his book called “Does Jesus Really Love Me? – A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.” Chu was raised and remains a devout Baptist, but he did not want to leave the church as it is a key part of what makes him whole. Chu married his male partner, but his mother refused to attend the service and according to an article by the NY Times’ Dan Savage, “cries herself to sleep every night.” So, his book is about his pilgrimage (a fitting word) across America to find out how others feel about his right to be gay.

This was a fitting story to end the week, as two other news items supporting the LGBT populations occurred. The first is Senator Lisa Murkowski, a member of the Republican caucus, announced that she is third GOP senator to support same-sex marriage. The second is the news that Exodus International will be shutting its doors. Alan Chambers, the executive director of Exodus noted that their efforts to convert gays or people with homosexual inclinations into heterosexuals was not successful. He even offered an apology for the pain and anguish they have caused their clientele and families.  Below is a link of an ABC News article on their announcement:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/exodus-international-gay-cure-group-leader-shutting-ministry/story?id=19446752#.UcWO7D_D-M8

Chu noted in his interview that he did not feel comfortable becoming an atheist or agnostic as he loved the Lord and the bible gives him great comfort. His journey was to find out why some people are told to ostracize others who don’t fit in with their understanding of the bible. I have shared the story of overhearing a conversation between two Lesbians last spring when North Carolina voted to reiterate the state position against same-sex marriage. When one asked the other if her family had reached out to console her, she said “my family has disowned me and won’t talk with me.”

I have made these points before, but let me be crystal clear on my feelings about this topic. As a Christian, married father of three, I detest bigotry from the pulpit. Jesus said to treat others like you want to be treated. He made no caveats about whether they were LGBT. He made no caveats about whether they had a different faith, ethnicity or race. He made no caveats if they disagreed with you politically. The bible may be inspired by God, but it was written by men, imperfect men (gender intended). It was not written in English and has been reinterpreted and refined in each of its interpretations. So, men’s biases are flavored into the document. To me the Golden Rule, which appears in variations in other religious texts, trumps everything. Whether you are an Atheist, Jew, Muslim or Christian, if you follow the Golden Rule, we will live in a better place.

The other key point is this is your child. I am not perfect and neither are my children. Yet, I love them no matter what. Your child has a brain and will do things that serve his or her passions and interests. You hope your child will heed your lessons on being a good person and following the Golden Rule. But, if your child chooses to go down a different path than you did or would, that is the choice your child must make. It breaks my heart that Chu’s mother cries herself to sleep and misses the chance to love her child. I hope the two of them can find some common ground based on their love for each other. The same holds true for the young Lesbian (and her parents) I overheard last spring.

Life is too short to hold onto bigotry and hatred. It will eat at you. Recent studies have shown that folks who give more of themselves to others actually live longer. To me there is no question they live a more purposeful life. But, especially with your children, do not let your opinions cause you to lose your love for them. There is still time to make amends. You cannot change past comments or maltreatment. But, for your own sake and the sake of your child, please reach out and find that person again. You will not regret it. What would Jesus do? Jesus would reach out with open arms. That is what it says in the bible.  And, yes Jeff, Jesus does really love you and me too, even with my many faults.

 

Gasland Part Two – Continues to beat the real fracking story drum

Let me first say I am not an expert on fracking and I am certainly not a scientist. But, I am a truthseeker and read and watch as much credible news and science sources on this subject. I say this as Josh Fox, who produced, directed and narrated the award-winning documentary “Gasland” about the underlying story of fracking that the fossil fuel industry does not want you to know, was shouted down by one of Bill Maher’s guests on his show for not being a scientist, an attempt to discredit his extremely strong base of knowledge on the subject. Fox appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday as he has made a follow-up documentary called “Gasland II” which will air on HBO July 8. I have written many posts about fracking, but if interested, you can read more about “Gasland” with this link to an earlier post:

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/gasland-a-view-of-the-real-fracking-story/

Fox began his exploration of fracking when he was solicited by a fracking company to drill beneath his land in Pennsylvania. What he found in his exploration in talking first hand with affected people who live on or near fracking sites is a very compelling argument against fracking. What he found by talking with scientists who know and measure the subject is also a very compelling argument against fracking. From what he shared about “Gasland II” it will be beating the “real fracking story drum” even more. It was quite apparent from his work, study and discussions with people who have witnessed first hand or know the subject matter and are not influenced by the fossil fuel industry, that Fox knows his subject fairly well. So, when Niall Ferguson, a Harvard history professor on Maher’s show tried to discredit him, it actually backfired on the Harvard man.

I have noted before that my father told me when people shout or name call, their argument is weaker. And, what I have observed on Maher and others’ talk shows, just because you are an expert or knowledgeable on one topic, that does not automatically make you an expert on all topics. This was not the first time on this show that Ferguson tried to shout others down and not let them talk. So, when Fox finally said you have not allowed me to say anything, Ferguson said you have had enough air time. This was not the Crimson’s finest moment. When Fox was allowed to speak, he showed a tremendous grasp of the issues and shared why we should be concerned.

Let me pause for a moment and note that I did not watch “Gasland” until January of this year. My concerns over fracking began two years ago and were raised when I heard Dr. Sandra Steingraber speak and read her two books – “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah.” My concerns became even greater when I read Steven Solomon’s book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization.” By the way, Solomon’s book is the best history and forward-looking book you will find, so maybe Professor Ferguson could give it a read. I also have read summaries of various studies by the University of Texas and several scientific and news reports. Here is what I have found, which jives with what Fox is seeing.

The risks of fracking are known and have been masked by the fracking industry for years. This is why Vice President Dick Cheney, who was President of the largest fracking company in the world, inserted language in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to exempt frackers from clean air and water acts.

Fracking causes air pollution. The fracking engineers say that at least 5% of the methane, arsenic and mercury gases escape into the atmosphere. There is no way they can harness all of these gases.

Fracking causes water pollution. The chemically toxic water they frack with finds a way into the water table. Water alway does. The chemicals are carcinogenic and cause other issues for humans and animals.

Disposing the water beneath the ground has been proven in Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma and in the UK to cause earthquakes. Note, the fracking doesn’t, but the disposal of water deep ground does. Fracking was shut down temporarily in the UK for this reason.

Fracking trashes the infrastructure and environment around the fracking site with road damage and environmental degradation. Fracking does create jobs, but most of them are hired guns from outside of the state. So, the frackers make money, the landowner makes money, the workers from out-of-state make money, and the state and its residents are left holding the bag on environmental and healthcare costs.

– But set all that aside. Fracking takes a huge amount of water. At 2 to 6 million gallons per frack, ten to twelve fracks per well and 1,000 or so wells in an area, that is 20 to 72 billion gallons of water. Water is one of our two dearest resources and we have water concerns already. If you think I am all wet, the frackers and farmers were fighting over water in Kansas and Oklahoma last year and are fighting, as of this writing, in California. Since they grow so much food for us, this should give you pause.

My wife laughs when I say this, but “I didn’t make this stuff up.” Yes Professor Ferguson, I am not a scientist. I am a business person who reads a lot. I am also well aware of Return on Investment (ROI). Treating the environment poorly and using up dear resources which impact people need to be factored into all ROI equations. And, I know a lot of developers as well. Not all, but a typical developer’s modus operandi is “get in, make your money, get out and leave the problems for others.” What I have found is an industry who spends a lot of money trying to misinform others on what needs to be a more open discussion about the pros and cons of fracking. And, as any history professor would know, industry data at its very best is “subjective” when the source has a vested interest in the outcome. At least that is what this non-scientist, non-historian thinks.

Why are the states with the worst healthcare not expanding Medicaid?

Help me understand why legislators of the states with the worst healthcare rankings and the highest children poverty rates are the ones who are resisting the expansion of Medicaid? This question is in bold, as for the life of me, I cannot think of a logical reason why legislators would not want to help people, especially when studies such as the latest one by the Rand Institute, show that Medicaid expansion will have a positive economic impact on the state. The reason, of course, is GOP led states are doing anything in their power to beat the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which ironically is based on a Republican idea. It has absolutely nothing to do with trying to help millions of Americans in need.

A few brief statistics might help. According to the United Health Foundation and Center on Budget and Policy, select statistics from the 2010 Census would reveal the worst states on health (note the rank in parenthesis is their children poverty ranking) who are not expanding Medicaid.

49th worst health (tie) – Louisiana (49th worst in children poverty)

49th (tie) –  Mississippi (41st)

46th – South Carolina (48th)

45th – Alabama (28th)

43rd – Oklahoma (24th)

40th – Texas (47th)

39th – Tennessee (32nd)

36th – Georgia (43rd)

33rd – North Carolina (39th)

I have noted in earlier posts that the lack of healthcare insurance or limited insurance is by far the number one reason for personal bankruptcy. In my home state of North Carolina, we have over 500,000 people who would benefit from the Medicaid expansion and poverty, as noted above, is high. Poverty is also an equal opportunity offender, which knows no political party, color or ethnicity. For example, The Charlotte Observer reported this weekend that of those in poverty in NC – 37% are White, 35% are Black and 20% are Hispanic. They are in rural and urban settings. They are registered Republican, Libertarian, Democrat and Independent.

When I have asked legislators what do you propose to do if you do not expand Medicaid, I receive no response. Since this is largely a GOP idea, it is hard to come up with another one, but they must be against it since Obama passed it. Yet, who is harmed by these stances? It is not the Kings and Queens – it is the pawns. When people are surveyed, the majority support many features within Obamacare, including the expansion of Medicaid. It is just the GOP has done such a good job of labeling this imperfect law as horrible and giving it a lightning rod name, that people say they do not favor it in its entirety. That is unfortunate.

We have a poverty problem in this country that needs to be talked about more. A part of this multifaceted issue is the absence of affordable healthcare. The Affordable Health Care Act has addressed and will address a major chunk of these uninsured. What I find troubling is the pawns in this political game are the ones who get screwed. In NC, there has been a growing movement called Moral Mondays (click on this link to review post https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/moral-mondays-the-new-civil-rights-protests-in-north-carolina/ ) where several hundreds of NC citizens protest each Monday. The past seven weeks, 480 people have been arrested for trespassing and failure to disperse. These include people of all colors, ministers of various types of churches and professionals, including doctors, who are pushing back on several laws that harm those in need, including the decision not to expand Medicaid.

But, let me leave the “right thing to do issue” and speak of the economic impact. The Ohio governor who has relented late to do the Medicaid expansion said “we are talking about $13 billion coming into our state over the next seven years.” Also, rural healthcare is in big trouble and has been for several years with high indigent (uninsured costs). The Affordable Care Act would help people get to the doctors and hospitals in a more affordable and best suited way and the practitioners would be assured of payment and not have to chase dollars. This Ohio governor saw it as a win-win for his state and is pushing it through. What he is seeing now is occurring in all of the states above and is actually worse. SC, for example, has a wide swath of poverty down the middle eastern part of the state and no one is doing anything lasting to remedy it.

However, the state stragglers need to act now as they will be in no position to expand Medicaid, if they wait much longer. Yesterday, Arizona’s governor just signed the bill to expand. While not a fan of the Affordable Care Act, she sees Medicaid expansion as the best path forward. And, if these state legislatures don’t expand Medicaid, they will be screwing the pawns in their states yet again.

More than American Pie – a Tribute to Don McLean

When you hear the name Don McLean, your first thought is likely his magnum opus “American Pie.” That song was voted the 5th best song of the 20th century and is truly a classic. Yet, McLean produced a significant body of work that is often gets overshadowed by that song’s huge success. My wife and I had the pleasure of seeing McLean perform in a theatre venue which was perfect for his style of singing and it was truly an enchanting evening. His voice is underestimated, so he can make his wonderful words and music come to life.

Here is a small sampling before we get to his main event. I have several favorites, but let me start with  “And I love you so” about how his life becomes complete when he meets his love:

The people ask me how
How I’ve lived till now
I tell them I don’t know

I guess they understand
How lonely life has been
But life began again

The day you took my hand

Probably his second most popular song is his tribute to Vincent van Gogh, called “Vincent” or more commonly known as “Starry Starry Night.” McLean’s melancholy singing and strategic pauses make this song both haunting and compelling.

And now I understand
What you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free

They would not listen
They did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now

Another favorite is a reflective and sad song about the emptiness when his lover finally leaves hims. It is called “Empty Chairs.”

Morning comes and morning goes with no regret
And evening brings the memories I can’t forget
Empty rooms that echo as I climb the stairs
And empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs

And I wonder if you know
That I never understood
That although you said you’d go
Until you did I never thought you would

McLean began as a folk singer in the 1960s and was mentored by Pete Seeger. He also knew Jim Croce before he left Villanova University after four months (he did complete his college degree at Iona). So, he spent a lot of time in small venues along the Hudson River and was able to hone his craft. I mentioned his voice. He did a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and it became a number one hit record internationally before it was brought back to the US. To sing that song, you must have some vocal chops. And, he truly does Roy proud. Another great song of his is “Castles In The Air” and here is a taste:

And if she asks you why,
you can tell her that I told you
That I’m tired of castles in the air.
I’ve got a dream I want the world to share
And castle walls just lead me to despair.

But, any tribute to McLean would have to include “American Pie.” When we saw him, Madonna had just done a cover of the song, so he referenced he would get to that Madonna song later. He references so much musical history in the song beginning with day the music died when the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed. I particularly like one of the final stanzas where it is believed he references Janis Joplin.

I met a girl who sang the Blues, and I asked her for some happy news
She just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store where I’d heard the music years before, but…
The man there said the music wouldn’t play
And, in the streets the children screamed, the lover’s cried, and the poets dreamed, but…
Not a word was spoken – the church bells all were broken
And, the three men I admire most: the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, they…
Caught the last train for the coast the day the music died

You would think I would close with that classic, but I have personal observation which may not be correct, but I like it anyway. Let me run it by you. He has a wonderful song lamenting George Reeves who played Superman on TV. It actually destroyed his career and he could no longer get good acting roles and for some reason was alleged to have committed suicide. My thesis is McLean had such overwhelming success with “American Pie” that he did not want to only be remembered for that song, hence his fascination with Reeves. Here is a glimpse of the song “Superman’s Ghost.”

I don’t want to be like old George Reeves
Stuck in a Superman role
I’ve got a long way to go in my career
And some day my fame will make it clear
That I had to be a Superman

Don McLean, you may not be a Superman, but you are an American treasure and much more than the writer and singer of “American Pie.” Yes, that is one fine song, but so are the above and many others. Thanks for sharing your words, music and voice with us.

The Lost Art of Customer Service

One of the best customer service people I have met is my former administrative assistant, Brenda. She was so good, I often had her reach out to clients or colleagues on my behalf. One of my female colleagues told the story of how Brenda had reached out to her while she was on a plane trip down from New York to see if she needed any changes to a report the next morning. This was at 10 pm. Changes were needed and Brenda came in early the next morning and made the changes for this colleague in advance of the Board meeting for which the report was intended. The traveling colleague was effusive with praise, but this was par for the course for Brenda.

I mention Brenda as excellent customer service is becoming harder to come by. It is a lost art. Just today, I had to close out a mutual fund account with a bank because they could not stay out of their own way. What should have been an easy transaction for a custodial account that would have kept business for the bank left me with two choices – close the account or set up another account for my son. Well, I am sorry it was just easier close the account and the bank lost future business as a result. This is not the first time I have had to navigate through their processes to accommodate something. Last year, I wrote how I had to go down to the branch to pay them a fee to have the bank wire transfer money to their own mortgage company. Mind you, I could have done this transaction online in about 45 seconds, but was told I should not pay off the balance in that manner, as it would mess them up.

Customers have to be the navigators of their customer service. This is especially true when calling customer service representatives (CSRs), who tend to handle more routine problems. When you have a problem that takes the CSRs off script, then you need to help them through the process. Have your information handy, know your questions and what you want to accomplish, but most of all be patient and extremely diplomatic. Even in the examples above, I was patient and kind, but persistent. It is OK to tell them this is puzzling or troubling, but if you become a jerk about it, your chance for a successful interaction declines. And, it is more than OK to ask for a supervisor, but if you were a jerk to the first person, you are flagged to the supervisor as a belligerent caller. So, be pleasant, but be persistent. You do catch more flies with honey.

One of the dilemmas in dealing with CSRs is their processes get in the way on unusual issues. For example, in dealing with a need to change a prescription drug from a generic substitution drug (which made my son break out in a rash) to a “dispense as written” brand name drug prescription took some effort. The drug company agreed to the substitution after his doctor sent in a new prescription form, but then I got a denial letter days after my call and had to call again. The CSR said the denial letter was automatically sent and I would be getting another letter soon with the approval of the change. “Why could you not stop the first letter from going out?” I asked. “Sir, we cannot do that,” she said. “But, that is confusing,” I responded. “I know,” she replied.

The worst calls to make are the dreaded technology support calls. I know they are at a minimum a two-hour call, so the patience of Job is required. The calls could be called Saturday killers as it is not unheard of for them to last longer than the two hours. Nothing is easy when something on your computer messes up or a virus gets through. I appreciate what they do as they try to figure out what in the heck happened, but it does exhaust your patience and diplomacy skills.

Most people vote with their feet and don’t do business with companies after very poor customer service experiences. Often, our hands are tied and we must use these providers, such as the prescription drug company that my employer uses. Changing banks is also difficult and they know it. I have so many things tied in with this bank, a change would take a major effort. Plus, the other problem is where would I go? Most banks tend to get in their own way, so a change would not assure better service. So, I accept the historical known bank relationship to one where I would have to learn how to navigate a new system.

The only answer is we need more Brenda’s in the world. If we had more, customer service would improve and maybe we could spend less time on the phone or online. Other than that, I wish for each of you a major dose of patience and diplomacy.

 

Another Gun Death in America – x year old kills z year old

Here is a fill in the blank headline which will make it easier for the reporter to insert the single digit age of the shooter and victim. If you need more than one digit for the shooter or victim, you can modify as needed. Two days ago, we had yet another gun tragedy where a child came across a loaded gun. But, these are not headlines anymore as they happen too often – here is only a small sample.

Arizona  – two days ago: A surprise visit to a friend’s home with his young son on Friday ended up being a deadly decision for Justin Stanfield Thomas. The 35-year-old Army Special Forces veteran and former Green Beret was shot dead by his 4-year-old, who police say found an unsecured gun in the living room of the friend’s home.

Kentucky – April 2013: A 5-year-old boy accidentally shot his 2-year-old sister to death in rural southern Kentucky with a rifle he had received as a gift last year, authorities said. The children’s mother was home at the time of the shooting Tuesday afternoon but had stepped out to the front porch for a few minutes and “she heard the gun go off,” Cumberland County Coroner Gary White said. He said the rifle was kept in a corner and the family didn’t realize a bullet was left inside it.

New Jersey – April 2013: A 6-year-old New Jersey boy has died after being shot in the head by a 4-year-old playmate as their parents stood in the yard nearby, a local police chief said. Brandon Holt was pronounced dead at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, according to Toms River police Chief Michael Mastronardy.

Minnesota – December 2012:  A 4-year-old boy playing with a handgun apparently shot and killed his 2-year-old brother in their Minneapolis home Wednesday, police said. Police were called to the shooting at a town house in Minneapolis’ Riverside neighborhood just before 1 p.m. and found the 2-year-old with a critical gunshot wound. He died in an ambulance at the scene, police said.

Indiana – July 2011: A 4-year-old Cedar lake boy died Thursday after accidentally shooting himself and a 2-year-old Connersville boy died July 14 after being accidentally shot by his 5-year-old brother, police said. A 6-year-old Martinsville boy died June 30 after being shot by his 11-year old brother, officials said. In each case, officials said the children were able to gain access to a loaded deadly weapon inside their homes.

Huffington Post  – December 2012: Before 20 first-graders were massacred at school by a gunman in Newtown, Conn., first-grader Luke Schuster, 6, was shot to death in New Town, N.D. Six-year-olds John Devine Jr. and Jayden Thompson were similarly killed in Kentucky and Texas. Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, died in a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., while 6-year-old Kammia Perry was slain by her father outside her Cleveland home, according to an Associated Press review of 2012 media reports. Yet there was no gunman on the loose when Julio Segura-McIntosh died in Tacoma, Wash. The 3-year-old accidentally shot himself in the head while playing with a gun he found inside a car.

If you want to get further depressed, just Google “Four year old shoots two year old” and see the pages of stories that pop up. I pulled the above stories from that gaggle of Google results. I wanted names with these tragic and avoidable deaths. I have cited a statistic before that according to the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery and Medicine, of every 100 children and teen gun deaths in the Top 23 wealthiest nations, the US has 87 of the gun deaths. That means, the other 22 countries have 13 gun deaths.

In preparing for this article, I saw one from a website geared toward the Conservative Right that said children gun deaths were exaggerated as a problem in America. I am sorry, but these words offend me. My friend Momma E had a great post the other day,  http://dje1231.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/a-true-pro-life-stance/ , that said the GOP is not a pro-life party, they are a pro-birth party. There is a huge difference. Among other things, you cannot stand by and witness these children or any gun deaths and say it is not a problem. What good does it do to promote life before birth, but let kids gain access to guns? That is the ultimate contradiction.

Irrespective of what the NRA says, we are well past the tipping point. Responsible gun owners agree. 90% of Americans want background checks. We should not stop there. We need recurring background checks on all transactions, even if no money changes hands. We need mandatory training for use and storage of a weapon. We need highly restrictive usage of assault weapons and magazines. We need to register bullets as the police force wants to do this to solve crimes.

The NRA is right on the first part of the famous phrase, but wrong on the second part – guns don’t kill people; people with access to guns kill people. But, even worse, children with access to guns kill other children and adults. The time has come. We need adults and parents to start making decisions expected of them. The constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness overrides everything else in the document and please note that life is listed first If our leaders do not value the lives of our children, then they truly do not deserve to remain in office as they are sentencing our young to die for no damn reason. By the way, according to the Children Defense Fund, over 125,000 children and teens have died in gun deaths in the US since 1979. That is not an exaggeration.

A Bizarre Pairing – Comic Book Heroes and the GOP

I thought I would check out the North Carolina Republican Convention being held in Charlotte this weekend. This group has been responsible for so many pieces of legislation and bills that are harmful to people in poverty and those living paycheck to paycheck, I thought I would check it out. The bizarre irony is at the same convention center, the comic book franchise Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find was having a Comicon. So, as I walked up I saw people young and old dressed in elaborate costumes from Two Face in Batman to Wonder Woman and so on. These folks were in the same place and having lunch right next to a very homogeneous looking crowd of Americans with delegate tags.

The ironies were several. My first thought is this is America. We are an assortment of all kinds of people with different interests, issues and eccentricities. I think I have confessed before I love the eclectic and am especially fond of southern eccentricity. One of my favorite Pat Conroy characters is from the “Prince of Tides.” The old grandpa used to lug a cross around town every Good Friday before Easter. When he got too old, they put the cross on roller skates to make it easier for him. I love that guy and thank you Pat for bringing him to us.

My second thought is one group of people is looking to appeal to a younger, more diverse crowd. What better opportunity to recruit about as much diversity as you could ever fathom? Yet, I did not see much inter-mixing, but a chance was missed. What I did see was the following demographic in the NC GOP – an older crowd, with a few young folks inter-mixed. I did not see much diversity, something they would like to remedy. Along with others, I have tried to tell them you cannot kick minorities in the groin with the changes you are doing and then ask them to join your club. There was a small gathering of the Moral Monday protestors outside, but I think they are saving up for a much larger protest in Raleigh on Monday. By the way, most of the Moral Monday protestors outside were Caucasion-American, one a minister, advocating for the disenfranchised, many of whom are African-American and Hispanic-American.

My third thought is the GOP is looking for a hero, but in their case it may be hard to find. The reason I say this is the party is splintering further between the established GOP and the Tea Partiers with a few Libertarians thrown in. I saw a table which was very accusational toward Karl Rove, the feature speaker of the weekend. I heard someone chatting about how the established GOP has let us down for 20 years. This is within the party ranks.  I was bemused and concerned by a banner offering discounted, quality assault weapons and found that not surprising, but terribly out-of-place to my way of thinking. It will be hard to find a hero that can appease this base and be electable on a national scale. On the gerrymandered NC districts the GOP led legislators constructed after the last census, more rational North Carolinians will have a hard time unseating some the folks who have some rather extreme views.

My final thought is who was creating the greater fantasy? The costumed crowd or the ones who watch their own news stations, read the same biased data, and create plans to save America based on faulty problems or shadows in the night. The costumed crowd knows they are dealing in fanstasy, the ones without don’t realize many of the platform positions – global warming, gun control, environment, immigration, gay rights, job creation, poverty, the Affordable Care Act – are based on faulty information. Maybe the ones without the costumes should go get Captain America from the convention hall next door. That hero may have a better shot at pulling them through.