Where have all the flowers gone?

Pete Seeger, a true hero of common people, passed away earlier this week after a long life of 94 years. There are numerous tributes being made to Pete for his lifetime of contribution to the impoverished, disenfranchised and environment. All are justified as he sang and stood up for people even against obstacles like the communist witch hunts of Senator Joe McCarthy where personal freedoms were trampled. For this, he was sentenced for contempt of Congress and blacklisted for ten years.

One of the several causes he sang loudly against was young men being sent off to die for a war that no one understood why we were fighting. One of my favorite Pete Seeger songs is “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” Yet, this song resonates with any war and picks up a theme I wrote recently about – “War is old men talking and young men fighting.” https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/war-is-old-men-talking-young-men-fighting/

Where have all the flowers gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the flowers gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the flowers gone,
Picked by young girls every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the young girls gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the young girls gone,
Gone to young men every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the young men gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the young men gone,
Gone to soldiers every one,

When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the soldiers gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the soldiers gone,
They’ve gone to graveyards every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the graveyards gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the graveyards gone,
Gone to flowers every one,
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

Pete Seeger will be missed by many. His songs will resonate for future generations. I hope people will take the time to listen to what he sang for and against in tribute to his passing. What is your favorite song of his?

Get really informed – stop watching Fox and MSNBC

My friends Barney and Hugh have noted often that the one thing worse than an uninformed voter is a misinformed voter. My friend Linda wrote an excellent post yesterday called “We, the people, have been had – Part I” which can be accessed by the following link: http://rangewriter.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/we-the-people-have-been-had-part-i/ which gives this issue more meaning.

Her point is to make our country work we have to be informed citizens and question our leaders. If we do not stay informed, we will be duped into believing what politicians and their funders want us to believe. Unfortunately, in our country, it takes so much money to get elected and with the Supreme Court’s inane ruling to permit more unfettered funding, our country is being controlled by a small few with great means.

The only guard against this is to stay truly informed, question leaders and organize in a grass-roots fashion toward common causes. The “Occupy Wall Street, etc.” movements were good and had merit in their mission, but were set up as rudderless ships and failed to move forward. On the other hand, the “Moral Monday” protestors who started in North Carolina to oppose limitations on the rights of voters, teachers, women and impoverished people, is picking up steam and scares the GOP led legislature here and elsewhere – they should be scared as this group is on the side of the Angels with their cause and data to back up their arguments.

Which leads me to Linda, Barney, Hugh and my point that we need to stay informed – and it is hard work. Let me start by making it easier for many – to be truly informed, stop watching Fox News and MSNBC. And, let me throw in to stop listening to entertainers disguised as pundits who are only trying to stir up extreme bases of listeners.

I have had three conversations in the last few weeks about how people watch both Fox News and MSNBC to get a balance of views. I say now, what I told them – do not watch either one of them. Why? These networks provide a biased view of issues reflecting their spin on the news. So, the water is not just fine, by getting the hot and cold version of an issue. A good example is the old joke about the northern relative who was visiting his home in Alabama. When the household dog becomes rabid and has to be destroyed, being the better shot, he was asked to put down the dog. The news in the northern papers was “Visiting relative puts down rabid dog” while the story in the Alabama paper was “Damn Yankee kills beloved pet.” Same story, but…

The other problem I have noticed is most news outlets cover the game of politics and not the issues. The issues are too complex and boring, so people do not want to pay attention to them. Yet, who wins and who loses is important news. Last night, one of the newscasts was tracking what people thought of the President’s speech. People who were not as informed as they should be were grading a speech. Talk is cheap; action is what matters. We need to understand the problems and ask our people to do something about it, not just grade them on how they spoke.

I tend to read and watch a variety of sources of news. It helps me detect when I am reading something biased. I was watching the BBC World News America the other day, and an expert was asked how this event would impact the US and he started to respond with the public relations impact. Katty Kay, the very astute host, said “no I mean the real impact, not how someone will be viewed.” I applauded her for stopping a “spin” comment. My other watching and listening sources of news are PBS Newshour and NPR, as they tend to have people who know the subject matter, sharing opinions without being talked over by someone who disagrees. In fact, if they are not civil, they do not get invited back. Plus, the hosts and reporters have a deeper understanding of what is going on and ask better questions and not whether Santa Claus was white.

Also, I am big on data, so I look for reasonable sources which are cited to support arguments. We have too many governing by anecdote. For example, there is no evidence of a significant voter fraud in this country. Our problem by far is not enough people voting. Yet, there are some who know a couple of instances of fraud, so because of that, there must be rampant fraud. When I have asked for data from politicians like I did last week, I get none.

So, let’s start be altering where you get your information. Seek out multiple sources who can give an even-handed view of the news and not a spun version. Read news columnists who cover issues and less on incumbents. There is one ultra-conservative writer who writes a variation of the same column every week – “I hate Obama because of (name reason).” Obama is far from perfect, but really, every week? You cannot write about our poverty, wealth disparity, global warming, infrastructure, etc. problems?

One of my favorite movies is “The American President” starring Michael Douglas. During the climax to the movie when he realizes he is being self-serving and not thinking of the country, he says something that supports Linda’s post of yesterday. “America is advanced citizenship. You have to want it real bad.” This means we must tolerate the right of someone to disagree with us, but it also means we must stay informed. Work hard at it. And, when you do get informed, be willing to share this with others and question our leaders. I used to think politicians were more informed than the average citizen – I no longer feel this way. So, please question and ask if they have data on their positions.

And, do share information with others and how you feel about an issue. Pete Seeger, who died this week, was quoted as saying be wary of great leaders; it is better to have many smaller leaders doing good things. This is another way of saying it takes a village. Thanks Linda.


Leaders Eat Last – at least the good ones do

After some of the events of the last few weeks, I was considering a follow-up post to the one I wrote called “Organizations tend to take on the personality of its leaders.” A link to this post is provided below.


Yet, today on CBS Good Morning, Simon Sinek was interviewed about his new book “Leaders Eat Last.” He also talked about his observations on a TED Talk which can be accessed below. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4. Sinek said true leaders seek to gain consensus with their teammates in the mission and empower them to pursue that mission. He uses the example in the military, where the troops line up in a mess hall or tent with the junior members first and the leaders last in line. This is not written anywhere, but the military leaders recognize the troops doing the heavy lifting should eat first.

I love this analogy and equate it to another belief that true leaders deflect credit to others. If you test this with your own leaders and management, note the ones who take credit for ideas and results, versus the ones who brag on their team and team members. In my experience, the ones who deflect credit are the ones for whom people would prefer to work. The ones who take credit are more about “what’s in it for me?” Sinek’s thesis, which I wholeheartedly agree with, is if you win the hearts and minds of your team, they will serve a greater purpose, collaborate more readily and the organization will benefit.

I felt empowered to write about leadership based on some recent events. First, while I have been a fan of Governor Chris Christie for his get-it-done mentality and working in a bipartisan manner, I must confess disappointment about the news of the machinations in his state. The story which has been confirmed is his lieutenants ordered the closing of lanes across a bridge in retribution for a mayor not supporting him last fall in the election. Christie has denied all knowledge of this and fired the miscreants. As I noted in the above post, organizations tend to take on the personality of its leaders, so while he may not have sanctioned this closure, he apparently has created an environment where his subordinates felt it was OK to do this.

Second, Tom Perkins, a venture capitalist has equated the “war on the rich” by progressives as akin to what the Nazis did to the Jews. Here is a link to the article:


Really? I wrote a post a few weeks back about how people should not equate things they do not agree with to atrocities such as Apartheid, Nazism or terrorism. It is an insult to people who died at the hands of the demons and those who died trying to stop the demons. I also noted that making this equation is either deceptive or showing someone’s ignorance. In my view, they are trying to inflame a less informed audience that this issue they disagree with or the people behind it are evil.

In Davos last week, the global poverty problem was discussed. This week, the President will highlight the poverty problem which is pronounced in our own country. But, just to show how much disparity there is in our country versus the others in terms that Mr. Perkins might understand, in the US, the average CEO pay is roughly 354 times that of the average worker. In other capitalistic countries, the ratio is around 12 to 1. I have worked with a number of CEOs in the US and I can assure you, even the good ones are not worth 30 times more than their European counterparts relative to their workers.

Sinek noted the example of a US employer who decided not to cut anyone during the recession. The owner said we all must suffer a little, so that no one will take the brunt of the downturn. So, every employee from CEO on down was required to take a four week, unpaid furlough at any time they wanted. The employees responded well to this. Note, I have read of a similar example in Germany. This is leadership at its finest. These employees will be more loyal to their company and team members than in other places.

Our US and global citizens and employees of various organizations are crying out for leadership. They want leadership who will support their efforts. Leaders who do well for their organizations (note I did not say for themselves), are empowering and share credit to others. They probably eat last as well.

People need advice on Obamacare and not doublespeak

I must confess I am little ticked off this morning, so please bear with me. I have guided a second person in two days to an Affordable Care Act navigator, both of whom have been listening to too much rhetoric around everything wrong with Obamacare. One person is losing coverage and does not know what to do and the other does not have coverage and had to forego buying much-needed medicines at the check out counter as the total due was over $200. Both are working, but are in low paying professions – one in a non-profit food bank and the other who has cleaning service business.

Each had no idea of what Obamacare could do for them having only heard the bad things about it. I shared with them that the two greatest benefits of Obamacare are geared to helping people in your situation. First, it has guaranteed issue coverage. As of January 1, 2014, both adults and children are guaranteed coverage even if they have a pre-existing condition. When people say their old individual policy was better or just as good, this is one area where it was not, as their policy did not guarantee coverage.

Second, if your income is beneath a certain level, you would have access to a subsidy. This makes the policy more affordable. If you have a family of four, your family income can be as much as $94,000, for example and some level of subsidy is available. It is less for a smaller family and more for a larger family. In states that have expanded Medicaid, the options for lower-income people are even better.

I told them I am just an informed citizen and I cannot give you advice. You can look online and do this yourself, but unfortunately, there is so much jargon, that you would be better served using a licensed navigator. I gave each the name and contact information of a navigator that I know who helps people with low incomes. She is an attorney by profession and works in a Legal Aid organization.

Why I am ticked off is people need to hear straight answers and not political doublespeak. These are people who need help. They do not need a political engine telling them what to do and not do. I told the last person whom I know, regardless of how you feel about President Obama and how you feel or what you have heard about Obamacare, you need to look into this. It is not perfect, it is complex and it was rolled out poorly, but you will likely benefit from this. I wrote a post earlier regarding younger folks being advised poorly when they need to make an informed choice.


As someone who has worked in benefits or benefits consulting for 33 years; as someone who was an actuary by profession during a significant part of his career; as someone who volunteers to help homeless families who have jobs and sees what having little or no healthcare can do; and as an Independent voter who tries to stay informed, let me say the following to anyone who will read or listen:

To advise someone to not consider a potential solution that may help them is inappropriate. To advise someone on something that you are not qualified to provide advice on is unprofessional. To advise someone for political reasons to not consider something is unethical.  Note, in each of these conversations, I said you need to speak with navigator to see if this makes sense for you. To be frank, I am probably more conversant on this topic than most folks given my experience, but I am not licensed to give such advice, so I did not.

Let me close with a story that is making the rounds. A restaurant owner is being commended for selling his business to help a waitress of his that was diagnosed with cancer at the end of the year. His actions are meritorious. Yet, he did not need to sell his restaurant for that purpose. She could have signed up for Obamacare and would be guaranteed coverage. If he wanted to he could have given her money for the premiums.

People need to hear straight answers from leaders and not doublespeak. And, my strong advice to people is not to take the word of a politician on anything. Go talk to people who know what they are talking about and do not have an axe to grind. Most politicians are not as well versed on issues as you would hope them to be. Some may know more than others, but even if they do, you want someone to shoot straight with you and oftentimes, they are too beholden to a party line to give a straight answer. You deserve better answers to your questions.

Impatience is not a healthy trait

Whether it be the news of the day or a rush to do something, one thing I have learned in my fifty-five years is impatience is not healthy. Unfortunately, we all seem to be impatient to some degree, especially with our bent for news via Twitter or Text, or mission critical need to have the newest thing first. Many of the bad decisions in my life could be traced in some way to impatience, whether it was a car accident or making too quick a judgment on something.

I was thinking about this topic with the pace and shallowness of news reporting and analysis by people who should know better. Since an analysis of our real problems is more complicated than the average attention span would warrant, we forego such analysis and report on easier grasping topics. This is one reason why we see so much news discussion around the game of politics rather than the issues. Who wins or loses over a topic is more newsworthy than the actual issue. We focus on how someone’s speech went rather than the underlying issue that is of concern.

How did Governor Christie do in his press conference? Was he convincing? My main concern would be did he do what they said he did? Or, did he create an environment in which such behavior was tolerated, if not rewarded? Did the Presidents’ speech on the NSA seem compelling? My concern is we would not be having that speech had it not been for Edward Snowden, irrespective of how one feels about him. To say otherwise, would be a stretch in my mind.

I have been reading several analyses on whether Obamacare is a failure or success. It is far too early to tell, so anyone saying it is successful or a failure is being impatient and in some respects, disingenuous. Part of the issue is the “failure” crowd is banging on the drum loudly to try to precipitate its failure, which I personally find inappropriate and offensive. The poor roll out did not help matters, but it seems those problems are more behind than in front. So, let’s see how it will do to accomplish the great need we have for our uninsureds and remedy our highest costing healthcare system on the planet which has bought us a 38th in the world healthcare quality ranking. At this point, I predict two things – it will continue to build an audience and it will continue to be a lightning rod for the naysayers, as it is not perfect.

Let me close with one final point. We have started the 2016 Presidential campaign way too early. There were some who started doing articles last January before the inauguration. With the win/ lose news coverage being the focal point, we have people who rise to the top of the wave, but then fall back. Yet, it really does not matter in January, 2014 who is running as there will likely be an issue that intervenes on that person’s candidacy. A potential candidate’s best bet is not to declare anything and stay beneath this superficial coverage until he/ she is ready and time forces a decision.

So, try to be a little more patient. When you see a news story that declares victory before the game is over (or even starts), have a healthy dose of skepticism. And, one final piece of advice that I have shared before. Be judicious with your news sources. I would strongly urge you to not get your news from extreme points of view from either side of the spectrum, as what you will be getting is a spin on the news. Remember, our issues are complex. It takes patience to understand them. So, it is better to glean your news from those who have patience and due diligence.


Pennsylvania judge honors MLK with decision on voter suppressive law

On Friday, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley ruled that the Voter ID Law signed into law in March 2012 by Republican Governor Tom Corbett is unconstitutional and solving a problem that does not really exist by any great measure. In his 103 page ruling, Judge McGinley noted “Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election. The voter ID law does not further this goal.”

Per The Charlotte Observer, Judge McGinley “ruled that the law hampered the ability of hundreds of thousands of qualified Pennsylvanians to cast their ballots falling most heavily on elderly, disabled, and low-income residents, and that the state’s reasons for enacting the law – that it was needed to combat voter fraud – was unsupported by the facts.” He also noted the “communication designed to explain the law was filled with miscommunication which had never been corrected.”

This ruling will likely be appealed, but is consistent with the expectations of many attorneys that the law is unconstitutional. The law is actually not as over-the-top as the law signed in North Carolina earlier this year to serve the same unsupported claim of rampant voter fraud. I have written several times about the NC Voter ID Law, the latest of which can be found with the following link:


Before the NC Voter ID Law was passed, the Democrat NC Attorney General told the General Assembly and Governor the law was unconstitutional. Personally, I have written several emails to legislators about not passing this obvious Jim Crow type law. Some have written back in disagreement and the legislation was passed anyway. This has also been one of several issues that have been taken up by the Moral Monday weekly protestors which have led to the arrest of over 900 ministers, teachers, professors, attorneys and others.

And, if you watched an episode this summer on “The Daily Show” you will see an interview with a Buncombe County (Asheville, NC area) Republican Party  Leader, who was very animated about the purpose of this law – to suppress votes so GOP candidates could win. He was so over the top in saying what he believed to be true, the GOP asked him to step down. To their credit, the NC GOP did ask him to step down, but this was a party leader speaking, not just an extreme conservative voter. My friend Amaya in her blog The Brabble Rabble has a link to this episode.


The NC Voter ID Law has four pending lawsuits against it. And, both the Governor and General Assembly have retained legal counsel, which will likely cost the state over $1 million in legal fees to defend. My hope is a NC judge will rule accordingly following the lead from Pennsylvania. So, I want to thank Judge McGinley for his very appropriate ruling. This is a nice tribute to Martin Luther King on our holiday to celebrate his life and work. We should not have to be dealing with issues like this, yet when people’s rights are trampled on, we need to follow the lead of the Moral Monday crowd and fight against it. Martin Luther King would want us to.

The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys – Tribute to Steve Winwood

One of the most prolific musicians, songwriters and performers is someone too few people know. Steve Winwood was born in Birmingham, England to a foundry worker and semi-professional musician. After playing with his Dad and brother Muff at the age of 8, he joined the Spencer Davis Group with his brother at the age of 14. That is not a misprint. Before being associated with a parade of compelling and different hit songs, he backed up musicians touring in England such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker. A long list of instruments he plays would include, but not be limited to: keyboards, organ, guitar, bass guitar, violin, mandolin and drums.

He played and sang lead with great groups such as Spencer Davis, Traffic, Blind Faith (with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker) and several others. In fact, Clapton always lamented leaving Blind Faith in his continual search for perfection, but often played with Winwood as recently as a few years ago. Then, in the mid-1970s, Winwood went out on his own. But, it was not until the mid-1980s did a new generation of fans rediscover this marvelous talent. His hit songs are many, such as “Well Alright,” “Higher Love,” “Roll with it,”  “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Valerie,” as well as the songs noted below and others not mentioned.

The following songs are a taste of the breadth of his talent. I will lead with one of my personal favorites and close with another.

 Presence of the Lord

Clapton wanted Winwood’s higher voice to sing this ethereal song. Even with the title, it is not an overtly spiritual song, yet is quite profound nonetheless as he sings about finding a better way to live.

 I have finally found a way to live
Just like I never could before
I know that I don’t have much to give
But I can open any door
Everybody knows the secret
Oh, everybody knows the score
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
I have finally found a way to live
In the color of the Lord

Gimme Some Lovin’

When I had the good fortune to see him play, he closed the show with this up tempo song, which has a classic bass beat throughout.

 Well, my temperature’s rising and my feet hit the floor
Twenty people knocking ’cause they’re wanting some more
Let me in, baby, I don’t know what you’ve got
But you’d better take it easy ’cause this place is hot

So glad we made it, so glad we made it
You got to gimme some lovin’, gimme some lovin’
Gimme some lovin’ every day

Back In the High Life Again

This song was part of his rebirth as a single performer leading to his discovery by a new audience. More of today’s listeners would equate this with Winwood. It also is somewhat prophetic with his new audience.

It used to seem to me
That my life ran on too fast
And I had to take it slowly
Just to make the good parts last

But when you’re born to run
It’s so hard to just slow down
So don’t be surprised to see me
Back in that bright part of town

I’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time
Will open up again

Higher Love

Like the previous song, “Higher Love” would resonate as a Winwood song to more people as part of his rebirth. He wants something more from a relationship, be it a higher love together or from a larger entity than both can provide.

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine

Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be

Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love, oh
Bring me a higher love
Where’s that higher love, I keep thinking of?

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Yet, let me back up in time and close with two oldies, which are great songs, but different in lyrics and style. The lyrics of “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” remind me of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Minstrel of the Wind.” Both are singing of entertaining many, but reflective that the singer of the songs is an imperfect being just like the rest of us, those he is trying to provide a brief fantasy or respite away from their problems.

Dear Mr. Fantasy play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar make it snappy
You are the one who can make us all laugh
But doing that, you break out in tears
Please don’t be sad if it was a straight mind you had
We wouldn’t have known you all these years

The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys

Let me close with the strangest of titles for a song you might ever see. To me, this song seems to be about a record producer or merchandiser who has made a lot of money off young, talented musicians – the “high heeled boys.” It is quite interesting even without the music, but the music adds a pacing that is also unique.

The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams

But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest was
The low spark of high-heeled boys, high-heeled boys

If I gave you everything that I owned
And asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you?

Or take me for a ride
And strip me of everything including my pride
But spirit is something that no one destroys

And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
Of the low spark of high-heeled boys, heeled boys

Steve Winwood may be the closest thing to a rock and roll prodigy we have ever had. At a minimum, he would be on a short list. Yet, he is not as well-known as his contemporaries. If you know Winwood’s magic, thanks for joining the memory lane. If you are not as familiar with his breadth or much of his work, give him a detailed listen. I would love to hear your thoughts.