The kids in Colorado know better than a narrow-minded school board

The story out of Jefferson County, Colorado * has gotten a lot of airplay and it should. Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald, whose column is picked up in numerous papers, had an excellent editorial. In essence, the Jefferson County Colorado school board made the decision that a whitewashed version of US history should be taught which focuses more on the positive things that happened in our country, glossing over the many trial and tribulations. The story takes a positive twist when the students from six high schools walked out of the classroom in protest to place a spotlight on the school board’s narrow-mindedness. The school board recanted saying you misunderstood the new requirement, to which Pitts notes, they understood it all to well.

This reminds me of what the Chinese government has done. They have effectively expunged the occurrence of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 that led to the deaths of many Chinese. One of the greatest pictures of the 20th century is the one of the young protestor standing in front of a tank. Yet, in Chinese textbooks and their version of the Google searches, you will not find any reference to this June 4 incident. In fact, if you do a Chinese Google on June 4, this incident will not appear. So, an underground movement calls it “May 35th.” ** What is interesting to me is I heard a Hong Kong protestor reference Tiananmen Square on the news last night.

In Texas, the school board decided several years ago to rewrite textbooks to embellish the accomplishments of conservative thought leaders and diminish the amount of material on folks like Martin Luther King. In Louisiana, the classrooms were instructed by the State Legislature and Governor Bobby Jindal to teach creationism as a science and not to teach about climate change, the greatest threat facing our planet. A student sued the state for depriving him of an education and his petition was backed by well over 100 Nobel laureates in science. In South Carolina, the state requested the College Board to eliminate bias from Advanced Placement examinations. Since these moves, including the Colorado one are backed by Americans for Prosperity, one could say their intent is to put their bias in the books, not eliminate perceived bias.

I tie the Tiananmen story together with the others as they are similar in mission, although the repression is more severe in China. We must look at history, the good, the bad and the ugly, otherwise will be destined to repeat past mistakes. Our country’s history is glorious, but it is also paved with blood, sweat and tears. While we talk about how we came together in World War II using our powerful manufacturing engines to help our allied cause, we must remember that we were almost too late and had to be drawn into the war due to bad feelings about the number of Americans who died in WWI. If the Japanese had never bombed Pearl Harbor, we may have been too late.

While we remember positively our Constitution and Bill of Rights, as we should, we need to remember that an African-American slave had no rights and was deemed 3/5 a person for purpose of giving more power to the southern states. It took almost 90 years for the slaves to be emancipated and another 100 years for them to truly gain equal rights. We should never forget the Jim Crow era and how echoes of it still exist today. We should also remember how some ministers used the bible as a weapon to keep down African-Americans, while others used the same bible to say Jesus would not approve of such maltreatment.

We should also remember that women did not have the right to vote for well over 100 years after the signing of these two important documents. The fight for women’s suffrage was truly a long uphill battle, against men who felt their power slipping away. We should remember how hard President Theodore Roosevelt fought the Robber Barons who ran the country, to get more Americans a “Square Deal” and how hard his cousin FDR fought to get more economic opportunity to Americans whose rights mattered less.  We should  not forget the “Trail of Tears” where native Americans were marched from their homeland to a safe place in the Indian Territory created after our government took their land.

America is a great country, but it is far from perfect. No country can claim perfection. If you only study the parts of history you like and are not made to think about the uglier parts, then you will lose sight of the most important part of the equation. We the people rule. We the people can protest when governance is not proper. We the people need an outlet for our voice, especially when the cost is so high to get one with elected officials.

To me, the Koch sponsored Americans for Prosperity has a disingenuous name and there is a reason they support the whitewashing of history. It should be Rich Americans for Prosperity. These wealthy Americans have used the Tea Party as their puppet and want continued power to influence their dominance. They want to go back to the Robber Baron period, as their oligarchy builds even more power. They do not want people to know that it was people like them that were on the opposite sides of Teddy’s Square Deal, FDR’s New Deal, women’s suffrage, and African-American rights. I recognize I am generalizing, but it should be noted some of the toughest parts of our history were influenced or caused by an established power of wealthy Americans,

I applaud these kids as they are clearly telling the Jefferson County school board, do not hinder our education. And, they are doing it the way our forefathers wanted it – through civil disobedient protests. Well done, kids.

* Here is a link to an article on the protests:

** A link to Wikipedia which defines the event is as follows:

Stemming the decline in American Exceptionalism

In 1961, the New York Yankees won the World Series defeating the Cincinnati Reds going away, winning four out of five games. This team was voted one of baseball’s all time best teams, with six players hitting twenty or more home runs, led by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. What many did not realize at that time, is this huge success was the beginning of the end of a long-lasting Yankee dynasty. Yes, they made it back to three more World Series, even winning one, but that was the apex of the dynasty and its hero, Mickey Mantle and by 1965, they would be out of the limelight until the late 1970s.

I use this example as it is a metaphor for the United States that has touted its exceptionalism. Mind you, we have one of the greatest governmental constructs of any country, but we have let others catch up and pass us, by investing less in our country than others. We have also let our country drift further into a land of haves and have-nots, where not everyone has full access to the same opportunities, what Teddy Roosevelt called a “square deal.” However, it is not too late to stem the tide of decline. We have rallied before and can rally again. But, we need to recognize the world has changed and we will be only one of several great economic engines and world influencers.

Not to belabor the decline too much, but to highlight where we have lost our way, note the following:

– Our educational rankings per the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development show we have declined in rankings in math, science and reading where we can barely hear the music the band is playing. On this subject, it should be noted that India sent a rocket to orbit Mars on its first try and did it cheaper than we could.

– Our upward mobility rankings continue to decline where we are no longer in the top ten. Some measures have us even further down the list. It is increasingly more important in the US where and to whom you were born than your own relative merit to achieve success. It should be noted that Canada now has a higher median level of wealth than in the US and our bottom 90% have stagnated in earnings, while our top 10% have done quite well per a recent survey.

– Our governing process has been thwarted by special interest groups, funders and lobbyists, to the extent deadlock, gridlock, ineffectiveness and inaction are words used more often than others to describe our leaders in Congress. Plus, bizarre and hypocritical decisions are made by many and few notice. Our own Department of Defense has noted Congress as a security risk to our country, as they are not governing and prefer to grandstand.

– Our focus has been on entertainment and sound byte issues. Fewer people care to investigate and pay attention to what really is going on with some biting hook, line and sinker the propagandized version or a superficial version of the news. If it is not exciting, Americans tend to lose interest. They do not recognize when smoke is being blown at them or question rhetoric.

– Our infrastructure is declining and we need to invest in roads, bridges, ports, technology, education, and renewable energy. The fact that one major political party refuses to admit publicly climate change is man-influenced is beyond lunacy and has harmed America and our planet. This is prima facie evidence of the power of funders, in this case the fossil fuel industry which favors the continuation of non-renewable energy where their greatest profits lie. Per “The Global Warming Reader” edited by Bill McKibben, the industry sold through an advanced PR campaign the story that “global warming is a hoax” and many bought this story and some still do.

So, how do we fix this? First, we must invest in our country. We built this country with leveraged public and private investment and other countries have followed our model. Yet, we have lost sight of this and we have fallen behind. There are several books on this subject, but the best one is “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How it Can Come Back” by Thomas Friedman (who wrote “The World is Flat” and Michael Mandelbaum.

We must provide equal opportunity for everyone and not favor those with the most money. As a 55-year-old former Republican, what I have witnessed in my business dealings and observations, is people say they want free market capitalism. What they tend to want is capitalism that favors them. Our country needs some governance on capitalism, which is why Teddy went after the Robber Barons who ran the country. Everything was tilted in their favor and they used everyone else as their pawns. We must avoid collusion, price-fixing, interlocking boards, insider trading, back dated stock options, unfair labor practices, aggressive marketing and fraud, etc. I also don’t like that long time employees must pay for the sins and bad decisions of their leaders through lay-offs while the leaders continue on or go out with a golden parachute.

We must also recognize that we have a poverty problem in this country. Most of the vanishing middle class did not go up in ranks, but fell down the ladder. We must increase opportunity through education and training. We must provide a living wage to people by increasing the minimum wage and tagging it to periodic or indexed increases. We need to embrace health care access for all, so we should refine Obamacare which is showing success in spite of its complexity. It should not be lost on others that the countries with better social mobility rankings tend to have some form of national healthcare. While Obamacare is not national healthcare, it does improve access and is dampening cost increases.

Finally, we citizens need to pay more attention and tell politicians we are watching. We need to share our concerns and vote for people who are willing to collaborate. The rigidity of a candidate in his or her belief system is in direct proportion to his or her inability to govern. We don’t need leaders shouting at the wind; we need leaders willing to listen and look at real data from reputable sources. We need leaders who are less enamored with their own voice and do not believe their own BS simply because a supposed news source regurgitated that rhetoric as fact, so it must be right.  We also need our citizens to be better informed. I encourage you to read and watch news sources that are more even-handed and in-depth, where actual subject matter experts speak civilly with informed newscasters.

It is not too late to stem the tide of our decline. But, we do need to wake up and change our behavior. The Yankees did learn from their demise and eventually rebuilt their team. They won two World Series in 1977 and 1978 and then created a new dynasty that rivaled the older ones in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Derek Jeter is retiring this year and serves as a great example to learn from. He carried himself with professionalism, came to work every day on time and ready to play and cared more about winning than individual success. Not a bad act to follow.

I might not survive this encounter – racial injustice lives on

Last week on “Real time with Bill Maher,” one of his panel guests was actor/ director Wendell Pierce, who has appeared in numerous TV shows and movies. I should note that Pierce is an African-American male, as this context is important for his viewpoint. During a discussion on domestic violence, Maher introduced the concept of race playing a role in how people perceive alleged perpetrators. Pierce’s opinion was very informative and well thought out. But, there was one particular commentary he made that needs to be stated again and again, as there are some who believe racial injustice does not still exist and is blown out of proportion by the media.

Pierce was dressed in a suit and tie for the show, which is important for his example. He said people who are not an African-American male do not and can not appreciate when he is stopped by a police officer or patrolman, that the thought goes through his head that “I might not survive this encounter.” He used a recent example where he said he was driving to a funeral in Mississippi, dressed like I am tonight, with two young children in the backseat and another passenger up front. He noted he was pulled over by a patrolman.

Pierce said he did what he always does when stopped and pulled his wallet out of his pocket and set it on the dashboard awaiting the officer’s arrival. African-American men do this to avoid the perception of going for a gun as you get your wallet out. He said it was a very hot day, so he turned the car off and left the AC running. After a few minutes of waiting, he looked in his rearview mirror and saw an officer pointing a rifle at his car mouthing the words to get out of the car, #$%&#$. So, a situation that did not need to be tense, was because the officer presumed malintent.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book “Blink,” he notes that there is a predisposition to act that is based on our experiences. The theme of the book is we make subconscious decisions all the time based on our experiences. These hunches have been formed over the years. He notes this can be good or bad, and cites as an example of the latter in the story of “41 Shots” that Bruce Springsteen made famous in his song “American Skin.”  In essence, an “English as a second language” person was perceived as a perpetrator as he did not understand questions officers were asking and, feeling in jeopardy, ran. Not condoning this flight, Gladwell notes the person was trying to pull out his wallet and was shot 41 times on a stoop. 41 times!

The recent death of Michael Brown in Ferguson is another example of this predisposition to act. As a result, someone is killed with his hands raised as confirmed by several sources. Trayvon Martin died because self-appointed neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, presumed he was up to malintent and pursued him even when told not to by the police dispatcher. Something similar happened at a gas station where a civilian shot into a car and killed an African-American teen because they were playing their music too loudly.

As a white person, let me state the obvious. While I can empathize greatly with Pierce and other African-American males, there is no way I can walk in their shoes. There is no way for me to know what it is like to fear for my life in circumstances which should not warrant fear. There is no way for me to fully understand how racial injustice continues, when it is obvious that it still does. I have read the excellent book by Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” which speaks to the higher preponderance of incarceration for African-Americans for drug crimes, when whites are equally guilty as indicated by the data. The book also speaks to the number of African-American teens who are in adult prison and, as a consequence, are being taught more to be a better criminal rather than a better citizen. So, they leave prison with few opportunities and may resort to a life of future crime.

Per Pierce and others, the solutions lie in education. The solutions lie in better after school programs.The solutions lie in providing opportunities. The solutions lie in better parental guidance. The solutions lie in better training of police officers to handle confrontations. The solutions lie in community based policing where the efforts are to reduce crimes through positive interaction. The solutions lie in better remedial sentencing where kids can be taught an education, skills and how to be good citizens. And so on. Racial injustice may have lessened, but it is alive and well in America. Anyone who thinks otherwise, needs to do some more homework or look to better sources of information.

Joan Osborne – more than if God was one of us

Back in the 1990s, Joan Osborne became a sensation with a soulful, heartfelt rendition of the song “One of us” penned by Eric Bazilian. The chorus goes as follows:

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home

The song caused a stir, but many felt like I do, that it was an attempt to make God more real to more people. I found it moving. While this may have been her biggest hit, it would truly sell her short if she is only remembered for this one song. My wife and I enjoy her many songs, especially from the album “Righteous Love.” If you only had one CD to buy to get a real sense of what she is all about it would be this album.

One of my favorites of hers is a cover of Bob Dylan’s song “Make you feel my love.” Here is sample lyric from Dylan’s song, which she sang better than any other cover.

I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawling down the avenue
Oh there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love
There are several great songs off this album. One of our favorites is “Baby Love” written by Osborne, Jack Petruzzelli, Erik della Penna, & Rainy Orteca. Here is a provocative lyric from the song, which leaves little to the imagination:


Take me in your fist
Prove to me that you exist
Be as plain as day
Watch my body melt away
There in black and white
Victim of my appetite
Make me understand
Do you want to be the man

“Angel Face” written by Osborne and Joseph Lyburn Arthur is also a straightforward song. Maybe that is a reason we like her so much, as she sings evocative and provocative songs in a soulful style which she arcs to the song. Here are some lyrics from Angel Face:

I was a woman
I was a mother
Woke in a fever from what I’ve been under
You made my heart beat
Like God made the thunder

I was struck down by your angel face

Another interesting song of hers is “Hurricane” written by Osborne, Petruzelli, della Penna and Mike Manzini. Here is the final chorus from the song, which to me is the rush to satisfy a lust, which is the only Novocaine to numb the intense feelings.

Like a hurricane
In the face of the wind and the rain
Like a hurricane
When you open you open a vein
Give me more give me more Novocaine

If you have not heard Osborne sing or only remember her for the “One of us” song, look into her work. Whether she is covering someone else’s songs or her own, she brings a unique style. There are numerous videos on these songs, but check out Bob Dylan’s song to see if you like her style. She is touring smaller venues now, so she may be coming near you soon. You will be in for a treat.

Sensational politics get press, but the real problems are routine

My eye doctor went to jail for taking a bribe as North Carolina Speaker of the House a few years ago. He is a nice man, but got caught doing something wrong. The Charlotte Mayor will be going to jail soon for selling influence he did not really have. He lasted only three months in office. The former Virginia Governor apparently likes nice things and will be going to jail with his wife. The current South Carolina Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House are accused of wrong doing with campaign funds. The former South Carolina Governor preferred to walk the Appalachian Trail with his soul mate than govern the state.

The former California Governor fathered a child out-of-wedlock and was accused of free hands by several women. The former San Diego Mayor was envious of the Governor and decided to grope even more women. The former New Orleans Mayor is going to jail for malfeasance following suit with a former Detroit Mayor. A New York Governor resigned when he used public money to frequent a prostitute at the same time he was clamping down on illicit prostitution. The former Illinois Governor decided to peddle an open seat in Congress and went to jail where four of the previous five Illinois Governors ended up.

On the Federal level, we had one President who resigned before he would have been impeached for running a burglary ring from the White House. About 50 people went to jail for various crimes, including his two highest ranking officials. We had another President who came close to being impeached for selling arms to Iranians to pay for military actions in Central America and then lied about it to the American people, known as the Iran-Contra affair.  We had another President who had more than a few peccadilloes and lied to the American people about one that occurred in the Oval Office. We have had varying degrees of malfeasance and sexual inanity in Congress ranging from bribery to insider trading to wide stances to sending pictures of private parts to impress a would-be lover. Truth is stranger than fiction. And, I could go on.

These are the sensational items that make for good reading. They represent the worst of politics, but they do not represent what happens routinely in politics. While there are a great number of politicians who sincerely try to do the right thing, the amount of money needed to win elections is so great and so opaque, puzzling decisions are made that are not reflective of the problem at hand or what most people want. And, some decisions never get made which is probably the best description of Congress I can make. Why for example would you not want the FDA to govern the supplemental drug industry which is fraught with potentially harmful misinformation, while they are asked to govern the prescription and over the counter drug industry? The answer lies in the significant funding the supplemental drug industry pays to fund a decision they want.

Why would you not be in favor of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau both before and after it was created? The CFPB has only fined financial institutions $4 Billion for aggressive and fraudulent marketing practices, with over 90% of those monies going to defrauded customers. Bank of America was hit with the largest fine, over $775 million, for selling products to customers that they did not ask for. The answer lies in heavy funding by the financial services industry of politicians. The funding was able to exclude auto loans from the governance by the CFPB when the law passed. It should be noted the next credit crisis we will have will be from the auto loan industry.

Along these same lines, why would states not be harder on the pay-day lending industry which preys on poor people and military families. Pay-day lenders are one step above leg breakers with annual interest quickly exceeding 500% when loan after loan is made to pay off earlier loans. There are examples of interest rates in the 1000% to 2000% range. So, why would the state of Texas appoint a pay-day lending Vice President to head the commission that oversees pay-day lending? Why would we not be concerned about these companies preying on anyone, but especially our military families, with one member oversees and a spouse at home making a perilous decision.

Not to be outdone, in North Carolina, the Mining and Energy Commission which oversees the consideration and development of fracking regulations after a fracking law was passed, is stacked with people from the fracking industry including its former and current chairs. As reported by The Charlotte Observer, the former chair held several clandestine meetings with fracking industry representatives to help write laws that would pass muster, but give them more license. The chair also uttered the phrase we are more likely to be hit by meteor than fracking fluid getting in the water supply. It should be noted Duke University, which sits 25 miles from state capitol, in concert with two other universities, proved there is groundwater contamination in Pennsylvania and Texas from faulty cement casings around the fracking tubing. Watch out for meteors.

The concern many have is with an US Congress that does not come together to accomplish anything. Decisions are made or not made based on funding and lobbyists and less on the veracity of the issues. Decisions are made or not made as an issue has become political, so an idea favored by the other party has to be wrong and defeated as we will win votes that way. Rather than fix imperfect legislation, we would rather defeat it. Teachers say the Common Core is not perfect, but don’t throw it out, but the Tea Party has made it a lightning rod of federal government control. It matters less that the US is 27th in math, 20th in science and 17th in reading rankings in the world.

These are the more troubling aspects as they happen everyday and will continue to happen with it requiring so much money to get elected. They do not get the headlines of a Congressman sending a text with a picture of his private parts, but the catering to monied interests are a more consistent concern. Please focus your representatives attention on the issues. Here is what is wrong. Let’s fix this. And, let’s fix it before it becomes a bigger problem.




A few ideas for better health management

At the end of March, I mentioned five items that people can more routinely do that would promote their wellness and possibly prevent health problems down the road.. A link to “Prevention and Wellness, we are train wrecks waiting to happen” can be found at the end of this post. * I stopped at five, as I felt these things could make a difference, but I will highlight a couple of more items after I summarize the five.

– Men and women should get a colorectal exam every five years beginning at age 50. This is the best prevention and immediate remedial action test around.

– Women should get a recurring mammogram around age 40, although protocols continue to change and some say start later. If you have a family history or feel something via a digital exam, do it sooner. Please be aware that reading a mammogram is art and science with false readings, so get a second opinion.

– Walk more. After dinner, to run errands, to exercise during lunch, etc. Even a little bit helps and you need not have a pedometer to impact your health favorably.

– Eat smaller portions. This is the best diet plan around and is sustainable. Plus, do not eat so fast, as your mouth can get ahead of your brain on this. Also, when you snack, don’t take the bag to the couch. Fill a small bowl of nuts, fruit, chips and you will be less inclined to overeat.

– Get a routine preventive health exam from your doctor. This is the best benefit under the Affordable Care Act, as preventive visits are sans deductible and more folks will have a doctor.

I left the first post with these five items. We are an obese country and, if we do not check this, future problems will occur. It is  not just heart health, if you are heavier, you are destined to musculoskeletal issues and risk of diabetes.

A few more items to consider might include:

– Take your medicines. Not following this simple protocol is not uncommon. This is especially true if you are taking maintenance medicine for cholesterol, hypertension, depression or some other psychic disorder, so take your medications.

Don’t smoke cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes. They are horrible for health and you do not look as cool as you think you do when you smoke. Plus, your significant other will need to smoke as it is like kissing an ashtray for them, if they do not.

Drink more moderately. I am an alcoholic who has been drink free for seven years. I want to drink every day, but don’t. Please know, when you tell your doctor how much you drink per week, he or she does not believe you. Start with telling the truth. This is one “golf game you don’t want to cheat at.” If you do decide to stop, please check out the second link below to a post I wrote on my sixth anniversary of being drink free. **

Don’t drink and drive and certainly don’t text and drive, which is actually worse. Please know that a car going 60 miles per hour will travel 88 feet in one second. If 45 mph, that is 66 feet per second. If you get distracted for one second, that can make all the difference.

Stretch more or take up Pilates, Yoga, etc. Back in the 1970’s, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, one of basketball’s legends who played until he was 40, used to stretch at half court before every ball game. He was the only player doing this. Seeing how long he played, now almost every player does this. All three of these exercises are easy and can be maintained, but check with your doctor, first.

– Look for de-stressors to alleviate the stress. Some of the above ideas are good for de-stressing. At work, every ninety minutes take some form of break. The body cannot sit that long and needs to be energized. Also, try to make all meetings no longer than ninety minutes. Most meetings break down when that long, so make them focused.

With the exception of smoking and drinking curtailment, none of these ideas is overly difficult and can be maintained. Sustainability is the key. Also, they are not too onerous, so if you fall of the wagon, you won’t fall as far and can get back on it. As you read this, please note I am not a medical professional. I have been a benefits professional, benefits manager and consultant for over 33 years. I would encourage you with any major change to chat with your doctor.



A little bit of green goes a long way – a few eco-friendly news tidbits

There continues to be progress toward more green energy development and other environmentally friendly ideas. In no particular order and by no means an exhaustive list, here are few news tidbits over the past few weeks:

– Burlington, Vermont has announced the city is powered 100% by renewable energy. Although, it is a little bit of a misnomer as energy shortfall is powered by imported fossil fuel sourced energy, the exporting of surplus renewable energy in peak times more than offsets, so the city can claim over 100% of their needs is from renewable energy.

– Duke Energy continues its push toward solar energy with a $500 million investment which will add 278 megawatts of solar power. This will bring Duke’s percentage of renewable energy up to 6% of its portfolio of energy. Duke is based in North Carolina, which is now the 4th most prolific solar energy state in the US with the help of Duke and others.

– Charlotte based EV Fleet has announced a new EV (Electric Vehicle) truck called the Condor, which is entirely made in North Carolina. The delivery vehicle costs $49,000, but can be offset by an energy tax credit of $7,500. The trucks get about 100 miles between charges and can haul up to 1,000 pounds. They will have over 100 trucks built by year-end.

– The EV Fleet news adds to solar-powered transport innovation in the state of NC, where in Durham, a solar-powered bicycle car called the Elf is made. Durham is also home to Semprius which produces the most elegant solar photovoltaic panel in the world, which converts over 33% of the sun’s energy into electricity. It should be noted Tesla continues to expand their manufacturing footprint of their electric car with the recent announcement to expand into New Mexico.

– There are now more solar energy jobs in the United States than coal jobs. This has been reported by several sources and confirmed as true by Politifacts. This is a surprising truism, as many people believe solar energy is still a fledgling industry, when the opposite is true.

Good things continue to happen on the renewable energy front. Please help spread the word.