Don’t Laugh at Me

Peter Yarrow, Noel (Paul) Stookey and Mary Travers made famous a song written by Steve Seskin and Allan Shamblin called “Don’t Laugh at Me.” Mark Wills, another artist has also recorded a variation along with Seskin, but it is the context and words that are embodied in Peter, Paul and Mary that makes the song resonate. When you live your lives speaking out for the disenfranchised, this song takes on far greater meaning than with any other artist, even the writers. Here is the entire song, courtesy of Peter, Paul and Mary with due thanks to Steve Seskin and Allan Shamblin. You can give it a listen after the lyrics.

I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call the geek. A  little girl who never smiles ‘Cause I have got braces on my teeth. And I  know how it feels to cry myself to sleep.

I’m that kid on every playground who’s always chosen last. A single teenage mother tryin’ to overcome my past. You don’t have to be my friend but is it too much to ask?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

I’m the beggar on the corner you’ve passed me on the street. And I wouldn’t be out here beggin’ if I had enough to eat. And don’t think I  don’t notice that our eyes never meet.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

I’m fat, I’m thin I’m short, I’m tall I’m deaf, I’m  blind Hey, aren’t we all?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

Well I’m fat, I’m thin I’m short, I’m tall I’m deaf, I’m blind. In a way we’re all.

I’m black, I’m white. And I am brown. I’m Jewish. I’m  Christian. And I’m a Muslim.

I’m gay. I’m lesbian. I’m American Indian. I’m very, very young. I’m quite aged.

I’m quite well fed. I’m very, very poor.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

My country ’tis of thee. oh, sweet land of liberty. It is of thee I that I sing.’T-LAUGH-AT-ME-lyrics-Peter-Paul-Mary/3A0B58077C50623648256A22002CB23E

We need to stop the bullying of others whether it be physical or mental torment. Whether it is in person or online as cyberbullying. Whether it is in the legislature or in the pulpit. But, especially the latter. One of my greatest pet peeves is bigotry from the pulpit and when bigotry is espoused by a spiritual advisor it is just like bullying. And, per Dan Savage who advises teenagers who are bullied because they are gay or lesbian, it does get better. Yet, it could be better still, as we have too many adults and hate groups (which is the extreme version) who try to divide, exclude and torment. Please heed these words and advocate by voice and example to treat all as we want to be treated.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.


Football coach suspends team as a lesson in character

This may be one of the more adult measures I have witnessed by someone in authority in some time. It is worth sharing as we must always strive to treat others the way we want to be treated. Matt Labrum, the football coach for Union High in Utah, took a profound step to suspend his entire football team after witnessing and learning of poor behavior to others and an overall lack of accountability. With the support of his fellow coaches and, eventually the parents, he kicked everyone off the team and told them later how they could earn their way back.

The final straw that precipitated the action was some cyberbullying of a fellow student that was strongly believed to have been fueled or done by members of the team. Yet, before then, he had observed or been told of football players skipping class, showing disrespect to teachers and not being accountable to teammates. More on the subject can be gleaned by clicking on the attached link to Deseret News:

The kids were devastated, but understood the message. We cannot tolerate poor behavior to others and you are responsible and accountable. Character is more than a word, it is something you earn by doing right by others. The team was told what they needed to do to earn their way back onto the team: community service, write an essay, and do day-in and day-out what we all should do – treat others like we want to be treated. The impact on these young men will carry with them the rest of their lives. Being a man is much more than being physically gifted. In fact, being physically gifted has nothing to do with being a man. It is being responsible and accountable. Per the line from “Rob Roy,” one of my favorite movies, Your honor is a gift you give yourself.”

What is also terrific about Coach Labrum’s actions is the echo effect it will have on others in the school and who are aware of this story. They will say to themselves, if it can happen to them, it can happen to me. So, please help me share this story by telling others about someone who is of the finest character – Matt Labrum and his fellow coaches. Well done.

I Have Mine, Go Get Yours

With the efforts of Senator Ted Cruz and his Tea Party friends to defeat Obamacare, I have been interested in how someone and some group could be so against a law designed to help tens of millions of uninsured people gain access to affordable healthcare insurance. In particular, with Cruz’s state of Texas ranking dead last by having the highest percentage of uninsured as reported by the Commonwealth Fund and per the Dallas Morning News, by the US census, it is ironic and sad that Cruz is on this crusade.  When I did a search to see what Texans were saying about this, I found the article in the Dallas paper online. Yet, what I found of interest was the reaction of some of the commenters. The one that stuck with me is “Why should I care if they don’t have insurance. Let them go buy it like I did mine.”

This comment is an example of what several bloggers and I have been talking about the past several months. I call it the “Haves” and the “Have-nots” and have made dozens of references to different subjects related to our poverty problem in the US and our two Americas. In short, people who have cannot fathom why you cannot do what they did until, it hits them as well. As reported in the documentary film “American Winter” people who never believed they would be needing help were seeking shelter from the storm of losing their home and/ or not being able to buy food. Attached is a link to a post I wrote on this film a few months ago. .

Getting back to the above comment, in my previous position, I have done a lot of consulting work with retail and restaurant clients. In this predominant minimum wage environment, many folks could not afford the healthcare coverage offered. In one extreme case, one of my clients had just under 20% of its employees sign up for healthcare insurance. I have seen another retailer where 20% of its employees were on Medicaid. Minimum wage jobs perpetuate poverty and the reason this industry is hit so hard by the cost of Obamacare, is they have gotten away with as low a cost model as they can. Now, I know of some retailers who get it. They want their employees covered as they learned from their own data, that employees who signed up for benefits tended to stay employed with them longer. So, the productivity and customer service gains exceeded the cost of additional coverage. However, these retailers are in the minority.

But, I digress. This issue of “I have mine, go get yours” is a very unhealthy and cold-hearted view. Per the movie “I AM” which I referenced in my previous post, we are wired to help each other. That is the big punch line. When we do, society benefits and, yes even our economy, as more people are out spending money. This mindset that has infested some where “I have mine, go get yours” is poor form. To illustrate, let me offer a few paraphrased quotes:

My job is not to worry about the 47%. My job is to worry about people like you (donors). The government will take care of the rest. Mitt Romney

If you are out of work, go borrow $20,000 from your parents to start a business. Mitt Romney

Defeating Obamacare is like standing up to Hitler when he invaded France and Poland. Ted Cruz

Get a job! as sung by Bruce Hornsby in “That’s Just the Way it Is” to illustrate what some said to folks standing in an unemployment line.

Let them eat cake. Marie Antoinette when told the people in poverty could not afford to make bread.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is an imperfect law. It is complex. Yet, it moves the ball forward in a significant way to get people access to affordable health care. Please do not lose sight of that mission. And, for those who air commercials who take liberties with the truth (funded by some very significant “Haves”), for those who say Obamacare is communism (it is not and actually has some very capitalistic features), for those who equate it with Nazism (sometimes the same people saying it is communism, which is a different system – it is neither), and for those who want to defeat it as it is Obama’s signature piece of legislation (that does a disservice to the pawns, in an ugly political game), I would ask that you find some better arguments. I would ask that you help make it better rather trying to waylay it.

People need help in our country. We have a huge poverty problem. We have a great number of folks who are one paycheck away from poverty. A key factor in poverty is the absence of healthcare insurance. According to the Journal of Medicine, 62% of personal bankruptcies are due to the absence of healthcare insurance or low levels of insurance. Let’s move this ball forward and stop holding people hostage.

I AM – a documentary film worth seeing

My friend Barney of turned me onto the documentary film by Tom Shadyac called simply “I AM.” If the name rings a bell, Shadyac made a fortune directing highly successful movies such as “Ace Ventura,” “Liar Liar,” “The Nutty Professor” and “Bruce Almighty.” Yet, this film is nothing like the others and was done after a life event changed his perspective. Shadyac had a terrible fall from a bicycle and suffered a lingering concussion that lasted for several years, not unlike what some football players have suffered from. Apparently, it is very debilitating and depressive and some football players have taken their life due to the suffering and depression.

Yet, after some time, Shadyac emerged from the pain and suffering and eventually recovered. He was left wanting more out of life. After seeing his own mortality, he wanted to know better answers to two principal questions.

– What is wrong with the world?

– What can we do to make it better?

With a film crew of four (his other movies had 400), he interviewed some of the best thinkers on the physical, mental, anthropological and spiritual meanings of life including: David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu (just watching Tutu in his animated style is worth the watch), Lynne McTaggart, Ray Anderson, Marc Ian-Barasch, John Francis and Coleman Barks. The results are very profound. Their answers to these questions will make you think and may inspire you, make you feel encouraged as well as concerned, and make you think you can make a difference. I do not want to spoil the story, so I would encourage you to watch and let me know your reactions. The official site is

I will leave with you with a quote from Shadyac going into the project. His success allowed him to buy many things, bigger and better. He had just moved into an expansive house and immediately felt this should make me happy, but it really doesn’t. He said, “Much to my surprise, the accumulation of wealth was a neutral phenomenon, neither good or bad, and certainly did not buy happiness.” The answer to this observation and his questions above are worth the watch. Let me know what you think. I look forward to your comments. Barney, please feel free to weigh in.

A few questions for Senator Ted Cruz and friends

Since Senator Ted Cruz from the state of Texas has been the champion for defunding Obamacare, I have a couple of questions for him and some of his friends that would be helpful to us all. Let me start with an overarching comment. In the recent Commonwealth Fund study on how well insured Americans are measured over the 2010-11 timeframe, it is noted that of Texans (age 19 – 64) whose income is less than 2 x the federal poverty limit, 55% of them do not have healthcare insurance. The same study notes that 31% of all Texans do not have healthcare insurance ranking the state of Texas as dead last out of the 50 states and our territory, Puerto Rico. My question is what do you propose to do about them if Obamacare is defunded?

My follow-up questions are if Texas is dead last, why are you not supporting Obamacare which is largely a Republican idea which will offer access to care with subsidized premiums in insurance exchanges? Also, why have you not done more to expand Medicaid to help those citizens who make less than 133% of the federal poverty level?  The expansion of Medicaid has been portrayed by the Rand Corporation as a win-win for the state’s economy and those people in need of healthcare.

The Commonwealth Fund is a private foundation whose mission is “working toward a high performance health system.” Their website has interesting state rankings and data regarding how states are doing to deliver healthcare to Americans. The country map can be accessed by clicking on the attached link: Overall, it is noted between 2010 and 2012, 55 million Americans age 19 – 64 either continuously or periodically spent time without healthcare insurance.  We should not lose sight of the key mission of Obamacare which is to give access to affordable healthcare to more people through employer plans, insurance exchanges and expanded Medicaid. And with our poverty problem in America, it is essential to get more people access to healthcare. 62% of personal bankruptcies in the US are due to no or poor healthcare insurance.

The exchanges are actually an idea Republicans have supported and should support as they introduce more competition in each state.  The various Blue Cross Blue Shields have been offering their own exchanges for some time and they work reasonably well.  The competition will only help in making the market in each state more competitive. The feature of Obamacare that gets left off is the premiums will be subsidized based on your income relative to the poverty level eventually phasing out at incomes of 4 x the poverty limit.

Yet, one key part of Obamacare that has still not been picked up by 25 states is the expansion of Medicaid for those making up to 133% of the poverty limit. It is not ironic that the states who have elected not to do this rank very low on the Commonwealth Fund statistics for health quality and were highlighted in an earlier post I wrote called “Why are the states with the worst healthcare not expanding Medicaid” at

But, let’s give Senator Cruz a break and ask some of his colleagues the same questions. Senator Marco Rubio, the state of Florida has 48% of its people (age 19 – 64) making less than 2 x the poverty limit without healthcare insurance. With 28% of overall Floridians in the age group without healthcare insurance, Florida ranks 49th out of the 51 states and Puerto Rico. Congressman Paul Broun, since you are medical doctor, you may not appreciate the state of Georgia has 45% of its people in this age group making less than 2 x the poverty limit who are without healthcare insurance.  With 26% of overall Georgians in this age group without healthcare insurance, it ranks 46th out of 51 states and Puerto Rico.

I have said it countless times – Obamacare is not perfect and is complex. Yet, with the exchanges which should work well once the kinks are worked out and the expansion of Medicaid in the states who elect to do so, it will move the ball forward and get access to coverage to millions more people. And, in so doing will help them, help the hospitals and providers in the state by reducing the unpaid care costs and help the economies of the states. Let’s give it chance to work and improve it where we can.

Advising young people not to have healthcare insurance is imprudent

There has been an all out assault on young people to make it harder for Obamacare to succeed. I have seen some commercials paid for by the foundation sponsored by the Koch Brothers, who made their billions in the coal industry, which is a little ironic since coal mining and burning could not be confused with preventive health measures. As someone who has an actuarial background, I find the advice to not insure a risk such as this to be imprudent, without full knowledge of a personal risk assessment. Let me explain.

To begin with, not all risks should be insured or insured with exposure on the first dollar lost. To identify your own risks, I would ask you to draw a square and then draw the letter “t” across the segments of the square to create four quadrants inside. On the bottom axis, I want you to write the words “Likelihood of the Event Occurring in the Next Few Years” and across the upward axis, write the word “Cost Impact of the Event.”  In the upper right hand quadrant, write the letters “HH” for  high likelihood and high cost impact and in the bottom left quadrant write the letters “LL” for low likelihood and low-cost impact. In the quadrant above LL, write the letters “LH” for low likelihood and high cost impact and in the bottom right quadrant write the letters “HL” for high likelihood and low-cost impact. My artistic friend Z is probably loving this exercise.

Now start placing your risks in these quadrants. Anything you place in the LL quadrant most likely need not be insured. If you don’t own a boat or a motorcycle, as extreme examples, then you don’t need boater or motorcycle insurance. Conversely, anything that you place in the HH category will require two key questions to be asked. If the risk is high, the first question is should you be doing this activity which exposes you to the risk? The second question is if due to a passionate hobby (mountain climbing, skydiving, e.g.), due to profession (airplane pilot, e.g.), or due to where you live (near a flood plain or exposed to forest fire, e.g.), how much can you afford to pay for the insurance?  The latter question is important, as you will likely need to get a policy that has limits to make it affordable – such as a high deductible or cap on the amount payable. In some places, the private insurance is so unaffordable that it is reinsured by a state-based high risk pool – people who built houses close to the shore, e.g. So, you will need to judge the trade-off between cost and exposure to loss.

Anything you place in the HL meaning it has a high likelihood, but low-cost would lead you to question whether you need insurance as well for those activities. I hedged on this a little, as there are some less costly risks imbedded within a greater risk, that have a high likelihood of occurring. A good example is when you have a teenage driver added to your automobile policy. The risk of accidents increases, so you want to insure the greater cost of a serious accident, but hedge the smaller cost of fender-benders with a higher deductible. Saying it a different way, I would add my child to the policy, but increase the deductible from $500 to $1,000 to avoid the re-rating of the policy and the nuisance of filing a claim. This would make the now higher costing policy more affordable, as well.

The items that are the best candidates for insurance fall into the LH quadrant. The risk is low, but the cost is high. The easiest example is buying life insurance during your working years. When you begin having children, the cost impact to your family of a premature death is huge – not having your income. The same could be said for disability insurance, as there is greater chance today you may survive a serious accident or medical issue, but in so doing, place a huge strain on your family’s budget. If you are a mother or father, these two types of insurance are a must. The homeowners insurance falls into the same quadrant for two reasons – the loss of property due to fire or damage and the liability insurance that works in tandem. Without insurance, a claim can bankrupt you.

For our young readers, health insurance falls into this last category. The beauty of most health insurance policies as will be offered under Obamacare is the preventive aspects of care, which fall in the HL quadrant by themselves. The insurance company wants you to seek preventive medicine for yourself to make sure you are doing things necessary to take care of you. Plus, there is an avenue for treatment of small maladies without going to the higher costing emergency room. Yet, these preventive services are not the key reason to buy healthcare insurance. The reason is insuring the low likelihood, but very high cost impact of a healthcare claim. Being in a car accident, having a bicycle or swimming accident, being too near a discharged weapon, having a diagnosis of leukemia, cancer, morbid obesity or heart disease, are the reasons to have healthcare insurance. The likelihood is low, yet the cost of a healthcare claim can be huge easily running into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, the number one cause for personal bankruptcy at 62% is lack of healthcare insurance per the American Journal of Medicine in 2009.

Please refer to the attached post I penned last summer,  “Healthcare is more than a pawn, it is a problem.” where I reference this survey among other things.

The main reason young people are told not to sign up for insurance is they are subsidizing the higher risk claimants – of course you are, in the same way a healthy person subsidizes a less healthy person. In an employer plan, it is not uncommon in any given year for 15% of the participants to drive 80% of the claims cost of the healthcare plan. Not all of the remaining 85% are necessarily young adults – they are people with little or no claims. And, the 15% is not always the same people. That is the principal of insurance, spreading the risk. Yet, that does not stop the need to insure your greatest loss potential – i.e., what must you avoid.

However, the Obamacare exchanges will be offering a number of different policies, that will allow you to find a suitable premium for your budget with a higher deductible to truly insure the higher cost items that would bankrupt you. The higher deductible claims will only be assessed on non-preventive healthcare needs, as the insurer wants you to do preventive visits. I would add if you walk into a doctor’s office or hospital without insurance, you will tend to be charged full market cost, rather than the discounted cost negotiated between insurer and medical provider based on volume of customers.

I am not telling people what to do. I am encouraging people to assess their risks and ascertain what insurance is needed. I do think it is imprudent to advise young people not to sign up for healthcare insurance in and of itself. I do find the motivation of some who are using this message for a political purpose to be offensive, and to be frank, arguably unethical. If someone chooses not to be insured and has a claim that they cannot afford, then they will realize too late that a political motivated advisor has sold them a bill of goods.

You be the judge. You decide on what to insure and how much exposure you want, based on a trade-off of cost and deductibles, out-of-pocket limits, etc. But, use the framework above or something similar to decide the most suitable path forward for you.

The bad influence of public relations

With all due respect to public relation (PR) professionals who have to perfume some of the smelliest of pigs, many do their job too well. Yet, we the public make their job too easy. They count on an uninformed public and use their talents to spin-doctor a story that is compelling, even if it could not be confused with the truth. Stephen Colbert famously called this “truthiness” as every group has its version of the truth. The dilemma is we must ferret through this PR spin to ascertain what the real problems are and what we should do about it.

The sad part is very few people do this and are left forming judgments based on a source of information that they judged long ago to be aligned with their thinking. Even when confronted with evidence that disproves thinking, they tend to gravitate back to their advisor’s opinions. This is often termed cognitive dissonance. Per Wikipedia, “cognitive dissonance can be defined as  the distressing mental state that people feel when they find themselves doing things that don’t fit with what they know, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.” This can be very disconcerting and is a key reason PR people can have a field day fueling pre-conceived notions. This is a key reason the Limbaughs, Becks, O’Reillys and Maddows of the world can paint a picture that is so terrible by spinning the story toward their bent.

To be frank, I am not a fan of purposeful disinformation or misinformation. It is one thing to truly not be aware of a topic or have been misled, but when someone intentionally tells you something they know not to be true, it bothers me. The term I use for this is Machiavellian. It is intentional deceit and is the worst aspect of PR and politicians. Here are a few disinformation campaigns that I find distasteful as they harm real people.

Global warming is a hoax: Back in the 1990s, the fossil fuel industry hired a PR firm and paid for biased scientific studies to paint a picture that global warming was a hoax. They did their job so well, that several congressmen and senators held meetings on Capital Hill to address this hoax. This stalling tactic put the US ten years behind on planning an eco-energy future strategy.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: This one led to American and our allied troops dying along with thousands of civilians. This was employed by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove. The manufactured evidence was done so to support going to war to do something after the President let Osama Bin Laden escape Afghanistan after being cornered. Scooter Libby, one of Rove’s lackeys went to jail for outing a CIA operative whose ambassador husband was critical of the misuse of data from his reconnaissance mission on WMDs. Yet, if you questioned this WMD public relations campaign, you were labeled as un-American. This is why the named folks have no credence in offering an opinion on bombing Syria.

Fracking is perfectly safe: It should give you pause that the fracking industry is using the same PR firm to promote the safety of fracking that was used to portray global warming as a hoax. I heard a commercial the other day where some minor celebrity is allowing fracking on her property as it is perfectly safe. I understand the need to find ways to glean natural gas from the ground, but to portray it as perfectly safe is a bald-faced lie. Nothing in life is perfectly safe. Vice President Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, placed some strategic language in the 2005 Energy Policy Act to give a hall pass to frackers from the Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water Acts. Why would he do that if fracking were perfectly safe? Per a fracking engineer, 1 out of 20 cement casings around the fracking housing fail immediately. And, over time more of them fail. But, even if they did not, you are only as good as your worst operator.

Failed Stimulus Bill: This was a very successful PR campaign strategy that carries over to today. The GOP was told to use the world “failed” in front of Stimulus Bill. The truth is the Stimulus Bill actually worked and made a difference in aiding our economy, so says five econometric firms as reported in Time Magazine. It was traditional Keynesian economics, which is needed today, but was not significant enough back then. Yet, when I say this to people, they look at me strangely, both Republicans and Democrats (they seem to have an esteem problem)That is how well this PR campaign worked.

Obamacare is not a Republican idea: This one is very timely given the 41st vote to repeal Obamacare. I have written in numerous posts dating back to last spring that Obamacare is largely a Republican idea, especially the exchanges. Its predecessor, Romneycare was supported by then Senator and Tea Party leader Jim DeMint as late as 2009. Once Obamacare was patterned after Romneycare and passed, DeMint declared both as unconstitutional. I find this hypocritical since DeMint is leading the anti-Obamacare push from the Heritage Foundation.

Americans don’t like Obamacare: Taking a page from the failed Stimulus Bill PR campaign, the GOP was asked to always describe Obamacare as “job-killing Obamacare.” And, like failed Stimulus Bill, if you say it over and over again, it paints an impression. People began to accept this as gospel, yet when CFOs said four years ago that their number one concern was runaway healthcare costs, this was an idea that the GOP embraced as an option against national healthcare insurance. Yet, the key goal is to get people insured and the mandate (which DeMint liked in 2009) is a key part of spreading risk. So, when asked if you like Obamacare, the numbers are stacked against it due to this PR campaign. Yet, if you ask people about Obamacare’s individual features – continuing adult children to age 26 on a parent’s plan, the elimination of pre-existing conditions to deny coverage, the elimination of lifetime limits on medical reimbursements, the limitation on the profits an insurance company makes on your premiums, the subsidies to buy coverage through exchanges and Medicaid where it is expanded, etc. – they tend to like these features in the majority.

NSA is not really reading what they are obtaining: I did not believe this when I first heard it. If that is the case, they are going to an awful lot of trouble to become Big Brother and building a mountain of data storage sites. Whether you like Snowden or not, we would not be having this conversation of it were not for him. We must have an active discussion around freedoms versus security. I have said before, in many respects, the terrorists have already won, as we are no longer the land of the free, as we once were. We must have better oversight over this kind of surveillance.

I understand the need for public relations. Yet, I would prefer people to shoot straighter with us and not try to purposefully misinform us. I personally do not like to be lied to, especially when I know you are lying. That serves no one in the long run.

More Elves to play with – very cool

A quick update on our Elf friend courtesy of an article today in the Triangle Business Journal. I should say friends, as after six months, Organic Transit has just delivered its 200th solar-powered car-bicycle called the Elf and has passed $1 million in sales. Organic Transit will be profitable once they hit the 300th vehicle.That is a lot of elves to play with. For more on the Elf, please click on the attached post entitled “This Elf is not impish, it is solar-powered” from March, 2013: .

North Carolina based Organic Transit started in Durham, which is part of three cities that form corners of Research Triangle Park (Raleigh and Chapel Hill are the other two). The Triangle was designed around innovation and research. The company announced it is opening up a manufacturing center in San Jose, California after six months of business. They have raised over $1 million in investment funding and plan to open up five more facilities in the next 18 months including branching out into Europe. They noted San Jose as the logical next city, as it is the electric car mecca in the US.

It is ironic that San Jose is the electric car mecca and next move for Organic Transit, as GM had a pilot program in California on its EV-1 back in the early 2000s and pulled the plug (pun intended) on it even though it was more successful than planned. The drivers (who were not permitted to own the cars and had to lease them) wanted to buy the cars, but GM would not sell them to the drivers even after much pleading. GM took them back and did something unheard of – they shredded them. One Board member asked management why as he thought electric cars were the future, but was told Americans want Hummers and GM opened up that plant instead. If I remember correctly, Hummers did not do well after the initial sugar rush died and the government had to make a small loan to GM to keep them afloat. I have said before, GM could have owned the electric car market by now, but that is another story.

Getting back to the Elf, this is a cool idea and sells to people who don’t need a big vehicle to get around with. I applaud the innovation. That is what makes American hum along. And, the humming will be the pedaling of tires when the solar power wanes. Well done, Organic Transit!

Coexist vs. Capitalist Bumper Stickers?

This may be one of those “only in America” things, but I have observed on several occasions car bumper stickers that have the word “Capitalist” portrayed in a manner similar to the ones portraying “Coexist.” The Coexist sticker uses religious symbols from a variety of religions to portray a world that embraces many different ways of worship with a message of respect, diversity and understanding. My wife and I had one on a previous car and I have shirt that I often wear with the same logo. I have seen variations of the concept using words such as “Tolerance” which we have displayed on our door to the garage among other items.

The “Capitalist” bumper sticker uses the same concept to portray a message of free markets, I would presume. Yet, maybe it is just me, but I get a sense that the portrayal of Capitalist is a means to counterbalance the words Coexist and Tolerance. This strikes me as odd, as the words do not have opposite meanings. I also find someone driving a nice car in America not needing the word Capitalist to portray that they believe in making money in free markets.

You see, I am believer in capitalism, provided it has some governance. I have time and again noted that unfettered capitalism is not the answer as it gives greater freedom for the “haves” to take advantage of the “have-nots.” We have unfortunately slipped down that path more in America as evidenced just this week by the increasing disparity in the top end of our wage earners versus everyone else. This slippery slope is traceable back to the early 1980’s when taxes were significantly reduced on the upper end leaving flat growth for most people and heightened growth for the higher income earners. Yet, my business is based on the concept of capitalism and I believe when governed correctly is the more elegant economic model.

Yet, I am also a huge believer in coexisting. We must embrace our differences and be more inclusive. Another pet saying of mine is when religion is inclusive it is at its finest and when it is exclusive is at its worst . An unfortunate history lesson bears this out as more people have been killed over religious differences than any other issue – Catholics versus Protestants, Sunnis versus Shiites, the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews, the Crusades, etc.

So, I am a capitalist who believes in coexisting. But, let me make two final related points. First, for true capitalists, you will make more money by coexisting and being inclusive than you will if you only trade with people who believe or look the way you do. Think about that. As an example, in the Jim Crow south, southern white capitalists still conducted trade with African-Americans. To do otherwise would have hurt their business. The white businesses may have served African-Americans differently, but they did indeed trade with them. It was for this reason that the Civil Rights movement used a boycott of the bus system in a town in Alabama to gain some concessions.

Second, I believe that inclusive, coexisting economic trade does wonders for relationships between disparate groups. When the leaders of a country do bad things, the western world poses economic sanctions on the country. When this is done it punishes the wrong people. The everyday people are the ones harmed by the sanctions and, in a non-free society, they have little power to express grievance unless there is a revolution. I believe if you promote free trade among civilians and open the markets up to many, this is a better way of diplomacy.

You need only contrast the two Korea’s, the flourishing South Korea versus the totalitarianism in North Korea. The restart of the manufacturing complex on the border of the two Korea’s where civilians of both are working side by side, is the best example of goodwill and free enterprise which far exceeds the impact of political maneuverings. People everywhere want a safe and secure place to live and feed their families. If you allow this to happen, then they will care less about political differences.

So, capitalism is not the opposite of coexisting. They work quite nicely together and should. Capitalists will make more money by coexisting than not. Coexisting is the right thing to do and if we focus on doing the right thing, then it makes other things flow more easily and naturally. Even capitalism.

Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain

As the United Nations published its convincing report about the chemical weapons attack in Syria noting the manner in which the chemicals were deployed, it is pretty obvious that the Bashar al-Assad gassed his own people. This is in spite of his and the Russian ambassador’s pleas that the report is not convincing enough. Yet, I am reminded of the famous scene from “The Wizard of Oz” where Toto pulls back the curtain and the wizard says “don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain” to dissuade Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man from not believing what they were seeing. This is exactly what Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin want you to do as they try to convince you not to believe what is obvious.

A key reason I ask you not to believe The Wizard of Assad and his friend and benefactor in Russia, is that too many times what he has said could not be confused with the truth. There are numerous examples, but let me highlight three of his more telling, shall we say, misstatements. First, when the rebels in Syria first started the rebellion, he denounced them as terrorist groups. That may be more true now as the United Nations failed to act (due to Russia and China’s blocking in the UN Security Council), but when the rebellion first started, it was a rebellion of citizens reeling from past maltreatment and the repercussions of a severe drought that affected their food and water supply.

Second, last year al-Assad was speaking with a news reporter who asked about the Syrian government rolling tanks into Homs to crush the opposition. When he denied that his tanks were in Homs, the reporter showed video footage of Syrian army tanks rolling down the streets in Homs. The rebels did not have any tanks.

Third, after denying for years and months that Syria possessed chemical weapons, in an interview with Charlie Rose, al-Assad answered directly to Rose’s question that Syria did not have chemical weapons. This interview was aired Monday of last week and that same day after Secretary of State John Kerry answered a question regarding diplomatic options that Syria could turn over its chemical weapons, the Syrian Ambassador said they could do that. Now, call me crazy, but did not your President just deny on camera again that Syria did not have chemical weapons and you said you would agree to release these phantom weapons?

In the middle of all of this is our KGB trained friend Vladimir Putin, who may be the most savvy politician in the world. I use that term not as a term of admiration, but one of admonition. Putin is playing everyone for a fool to seize upon a relatively easy concession for Russia and his friend and foil in Syria. The Syrian government has killed 99% of the 100,000 deceased with conventional weapons and can easily concede the chemical weapons to remain in power and not face American bombing. Putin can keep his client happy and boost the Russian economy selling weapons, keep Russian access to a vital port and make the western world look belligerent as he comes across as the peacemaker. In this way of thinking, Winston Churchill must have looked belligerent to the folks supporting Adolph HItler’s march into Paris when Churchill stood up and said that is not right.

I recognize that the real rebel Syrians are getting a raw deal as the terrorists have seized their cause to gain power. I also recognize that the millions of Syrian refugees are the greater issue, which we must do even more to help. Yet, with real Americans having no appetite for another war without a clear-cut mission objective, I do applaud that we can find a peaceful way to resolve an issue and appreciate the Russians for being a key part of this. I must concede kudos to Putin (as well as Obama for his delaying tactic) for his role in this, but everyone should know that it is my belief that Putin does not do anything without trying to gain politically. And, if you disagree with my questioning his sincerity, just look at how he came back into power and is using old school Soviet tactics to squelch anyone that dares disagree with him.

But, getting back to The Wizard of Assad, I would not construe much of what he says as the truth. It would be inconsistent with his track record. It reminds me of when Senator John Kyl of Arizona was caught in giving misinformation, he famously said “Don’t construe what I say as a factual statement.” I would also not be surprised if al-Assad used methods to purposefully distance himself from the events, not unlike the infamous curtain behind which the wizard from the movie hid. So, I am asking you to use your eyes and ears as you consider what the Syrian and Russian government are saying relative to what the UN report and others are saying. My advice is to most definitely “pay attention to the men behind the curtain.” They are the ones who have the gas masks on.