Used bedroom furniture

When I was single I moved into my first home, albeit a condominium with two bedrooms. With a spare bedroom, I decided to look into used bedroom furniture, which I found in the newspaper for sale.

I bought this solid wood furniture – headboard and frame, chest-of-drawers and dresser for $200 in 1983 from a policeman and his wife. They had first painted the set pink for their daughter and then brown for their son.

While it has had many coats of different colors, we still have the set 33 years later. My daughter has the dresser in her bedroom, while we just pulled the chest-of-drawers from the attic to put in place of a piece my oldest son is taking as he moves into his first post college apartment.

We are excited for his move as he is. He is starting a new path forward. But, these old bones and what little muscle remains have been moving stuff around and down stairs, with more to do. Since this piece is well-built, it is not light even sans drawers. Thank goodness it was going down the stairs, as up would have been a challenge.

New furniture is lighter and flimsier, unless you want to spend a fortune. For $200, we have been able to build on the memories first created in the policeman’s home with his family. I wonder if he and his wife bought it used as well. We have made good use of it.

To me, the furniture is as good a metaphor for a solid family as I can think. Times change and events occur, but family is forever. This furniture may last that long.

Breaking down barriers

A common saying of mine is when religion is inclusive it is at its finest; when religion is exclusive it is at its absolute worst. It matters not the degree of self-proclaimed piety, if we practice exclusion we are sealing the fate of our own demise.

A great example of the power of religion is the work of Pope Francis. The Catholic Church was in trouble with the pedophile priest scandals and too much of an inward focus. With Pope Francis focusing on outreach to those in need coupled with a humility long needed, he has touched many within and outside of the church.

He has broken down barriers. He has led by example, washing the feet of a Syrian migrant and condemning those who want build walls to isolate people. When asked about homosexuality, he has said who am I to judge?

Yet, with heightened fears of terrorism, xenophobia, bigotry and racism have surfaced in an ugly way. While many do not condone this evil triumvirate, what may have been an undercurrent is now more visible in public, campaigns and even governance. We should be vigilant and shine spotlights on these unhealthy behaviors. We certainly should not be voting for people who advocate exclusion or condone bigotry.

These actions do not make us safer. Nor do they make us better people. They prey upon our fears and insecurities. So, let’s not erect barriers and then throw stones  at those on the other side. Let’s emulate the Pope and break down barriers.

 

 

 

 

 

A few funnies

My close friend Frank is Catholic and one of our annual traditions during our teen and college years was going to midnight mass. The priest would invariably wish everyone a Happy Easter as well, as he knew he would not see some until next Christmas Eve.

This same priest presided over another close friend’s father’s funeral last month. Having not seen the priest for thirty years, he looked the same as he did before, with a full head of thick hair. He must be in seventies, so I commented on his youthful look to my wife. She said what do you expect, he is not married.

Speaking of looks, my wife and I have long been fans of Tina Turner. Turner was performing in her sixties and still had a dancer’s pair of legs. When I commented to my friend Don that I hoped to look that good when I am her age, he correctly quipped you don’t look that good now.

As my hair has thinned, my older brother has been able to keep more of his on his head. When his daughter hollered across a quiet room, Uncle Keith, how come my Dad has more hair than you do, I responded because his wife does not spend as much as mine does. My wife agreed with my assessment.

Speaking of Easter, my oldest son’s Godfather Joe attended a large Easter egg hunt with us one year. Since the older kids would aggressively gather most of the eggs, Joe would be off to the side guarding a few eggs for my small son to find. It was comical to see him diplomatically tell eight year olds there were no more eggs here, so my son could find a few.

After college, one of our close friends was dating a woman named Lark, while another was dating a woman named Robin. Our friend Randy assessed the names out loud to both and added, it looks like I need to find me a girl named Con-dor, accentuating each syllable.

Randy always enjoys a good joke, yet sometimes he has to let it sink in. Going to  a game, Frank and I were chatting with Randy in the backseat about the lack of success of the junior varsity basketball team coached by Pete Poore. Frank said what do you expect when you have Poore coaching. We both chuckled at the pun and then about a full minute later Randy roars with laughter – poor coaching he shouts.

A final story relates to my old boss who was working late. He had to reach someone who he knew was also working late, but had stepped away from his desk. A late night cleaning crew member answered the constantly ringing phone and my friend went into detail of what he needed. The man said sir, I told you as much as I know, when I said hello.

On that note, I will say goodbye.

Happy Easter Egg

My grandmother used to wish us “Happy Easter Egg!” Either by phone or in person for Easter egg hunts, she would be exuberant in her wishes for her six grandchildren.

My grandmother, whom we called “Big Mama,” was indeed a character. Unlike, the Big Mama in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” she would be more than a match for Tennessee Williams’ Big Daddy.

She loved telling stories about her large family, all of whom were characters. She called her sister Carrie Bell, “Cowbell,” and loved to hear her tease back. When I asked if I could sit in her chair when she went into the kitchen, she would respond “They’re all my chairs, but you can sit in that one.”

I think about her around Thanksgiving and Easter, as we often visited on those holidays. So, Big Mama, “Happy Easter Egg” up there in heaven. And, don’t tease St. Peter too much.

A few ideas on the US deficit and debt

I have written in the past few years (and weeks) about the US deficit and building debt as it is a ticking time bomb. We failed to reach a grand bargain early in the Obama presidency after the marvelous efforts of the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee. And, that is unfortunate as it was a terrific model to start legislative conversations. While I think the President has done a pretty good job, I see shelving the Simpson-Bowles work as his biggest failure.

Recently, I cited the sixteen myths about our deficit and debt problem in the US, that I gleaned from a bipartisan organization called Fix the Debt which can be found at http://www.fixthedebt.org. As with the efforts of Simpson-Bowles, reducing the debt cannot be done by panacea and will require bipartisan trade-offs that include a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts. The Simpson-Bowles recommendations blended about 1/3 tax increases with 2/3 spending cuts to make huge strides in reducing the debt.

It will definitely not be accomplished by tax cuts as proposed by the two leading GOP candidates for president, who former GOP Senator Alan Simpson said would so significantly increase the deficit, that there are not enough spending cuts to bring the deficit down. Both leading candidates tax proposals have been scored unfavorably by The Concord Coalition, another bipartisan deficit and debt reduction group in this regard, which is a concern, especially with one of the candidates touting how much of a deficit hawk he is.

Solving this problem will require trade-offs and both political parties will need to check their baggage at the door. From an exercise called “Debt Busters, An Interactive Budget Education Exercise by The Concord Coalition” which can be found at http://www.concordcoalition.org, here are few examples of what can be done. This is not a complete list, but is indicative of the kinds of options that could be considered. Note, the numbers reflect the impact on the deficit over the next ten years as measured by the Congressional Budget Office.

Spending Cuts

It should be noted the three largest areas of spending are Medicare/ Medicaid, Social Security and Defense.
  • Reduce healthcare spending by adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), limiting the subsidies to people making 3 x the poverty limit or less (it is currently 4 x)  and limiting malpractice suits = $327 Billion deficit decrease
  • Reform Medicare Part B premiums to be 35% of the cost (closer to the initial intent of 50%) and convert federal share of Medicaid payments to a fixed annual block grant = $749 Billion deficit decrease
  • Reduce specified defense spending deferring development of a long-range bomber and number of ballistic submarines = $41 Billion deficit decrease
  • Reduce domestic spending by reducing the size of the federal workforce through attrition = $49 Billion deficit decrease
  • Increase Social Security retirement age gradually to age 70 and calculate cost of living adjustments based on consumer good price changes = $217 Billion deficit decrease

Revenue Increases

Increasing revenue is something that has to be considered. Strong opinions flavor this discussion, but this is where the exercise earns its keep, as it let’s folks consider the trade-offs and priorities.

  • Increase the Social Security Taxable Wage Base to $177,500 from its current limit of $118,500 which would draw in more FICA taxes = $672 Billion deficit decrease
  • Increase gas tax to 35 cents per gallon (or something equivalent in mileage tax) earmarked for Highway Trust Funding = $469 Billion deficit decrease

I purposefully stayed away from more tax increases, but reconfiguring our tax code to get more corporations to keep revenue taxed here and simplifying our individual tax code should be considered. Those ideas could be deficit neutral or deficit reducing, but we should think very hard about lowering tax revenue as we cannot afford it in my view and the view of the above bipartisan sources.

Please check out these websites and speak with your congressional representatives and senators. And, ask candidates pointed questions about their plans. Their failure to do something about an obvious problem, telling us what we want to hear via promised tax reductions, does not help us and is a reason our younger adults are frustrated. They will be the ones who have to bear the burden of our poor stewardship.

China, Cuba and Iran

Former President Richard Nixon became the first president who almost was impeached and would have been if he did not resign. Yet, in spite of his troubles at home where he ran a disinformation and burglary ring from the White House, he did make a huge difference in opening up dialogue with China. His efforts and those of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, paved the way for changes in the economic relationship with that country which led to growth there and abroad.

I bring this up as when we look back in forty years at these moments, we may be able to say the same things about Cuba and Iran. Both have very young countries, with the youth crying out for better ties with the west and the products and services they bring. Yes, both countries are not being led the way we would want, but I believe having commerce with people is the best way to break down barriers. At some point, the commerce is so important, that it will be preserved and more dialogue will occur.

Of course, we need to move forward with our eyes open, but it is far better to find common ground than to beat on your chest and refuse to enter the sandbox. So, from where I sit, I applaud the President for opening up these countries to more dialogue, just as I thought as a teen that dealing with China was exciting.

We will see the positives with Cuba much sooner, as tourism will be ramped up this year. The president’s visit was a huge step forward. But, I think having a better relationship with Iran will pay dividends as well, yet I am not foolish enough to say trust them completely. So, let’s be cautiously optimistic and guarded as well.

 

Wearing jeans and passing out ball caps doesn’t make you a common man

The two leading candidates for the Republican nomination like to hob knob with the common folk. To show they are one of them, Senator Ted Cruz is wearing jeans and shirt with no tie. Donald Trump likes to wear his ball cap and hand them out as souvenirs. Yet, there is a big snag in their efforts.

Both Cruz and Trump have put forth tax proposals that have significant tax cuts for the wealthy. And, to make matters worse, both tax plans would materially increase the deficit to the extent there are not enough spending cuts to reduce the deficit, per former Republican Senator Alan Simpson.

While the tax cut for the rich is vintage Republican fare, the fact that both proposals increase the deficit run counter to the Tea Party concerns over reducing the deficit and debt. In Cruz’ case, it is especially hypocritical as he personally shut down the government in October 2013 and we would have defaulted on our debt if it were not for ten female senators who told Cruz to get out of the pool. Cruz said he did not care as he wanted to prove a point about the deficit. Yet, his tax plan would materially increase the deficit.

I have often said any Tom, Dick or Harry can get elected saying they will cut taxes. But, we need better stewardship than that. We need to pay down our debt and spending cuts cannot do it alone. That was the conclusion reached by the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan.

One thing is for sure. Neither Cruz or Trump can claim common status by doing exactly what the Republican establishment tends to do – favor the wealthy. That is not quite the revolution their fans are likely hoping for. Plus, being poor stewards with our debt strikes me as salesmanship and not governance.

Water problems have been around for ages

The water issues that have been plaguing Flint, Michigan residents are not new. Our planet has had water (and sewage) issues dating back to when people gathered together in villages. In Steven Solomon’s book calledWater: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” he describes how the mastery over water resources kept leaders of civilizations in power. The needed mastery revolved around water to drink and bathe in, water to carry sewage away, water for transportation and trade and water for naval control.

Here are a few examples to illustrate this point.

  • Every major city has had water/ sewage issues. In London in the 1850s, a  major problem came to a head which was called the Big Stink. The planners had sewage lines dropping waste into the Thames. When cholera and dysentery epidemics broke out, initially, the planners thought these were air borne diseases. But, when they realized a brewery, where employees drank free beer, had only minimal breakout, they realized the diseases were water borne. It turned out the sewage line was perilously close to the line that pulled water from the Thames to drink. Once that was remedied, the breakouts subsided.
  • In Edinburgh, the Scots had an unusual way have handling sewage. It turns out, the city dwellers would throw sewage out of their homes around 10 pm, which is the reason people smoked after meals to mitigate the smell. This made foot traffic very perilous and less than sanitary.
  • In Chicago, when the city got so crowded and filthy, city leaders realized they needed to carry sewage away, but they could not figure out how to do it. An engineer had an idea that they should lift the buildings using railroad car heavy duty jacks and build the sewage and water lines beneath the buildings.This actually worked too well, as Lake Michigan began to get filthy and fish would be coming up through the water lines into bath tubs. So, they had to remedy where the sewage was dumped.
  • It is thought that the greatest Chinese achievement is the Great Wall. Yet, a more monumental achievement per Solomon was to build a canal between the two major rivers in the country – the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. This was a massive undertaking, but led to transportation and trade across the country.
  • Solomon also advocates the two greatest achievements in US History that made us a world power is the building of the Erie and Panama Canals. The former linked the east coast with trade of goods with the Midwest, making Chicago a very important port. The latter gave us access to two oceans and helped with global trade and naval might. He also credits the two Roosevelts as our greatest water presidents, with Teddy building the Panama Canal and buying watershed rights in the west. FDR built many dams to create hydro-power.

I mention this now, as Solomon has been a staunch advocate for addressing our water problems before it is too late. Flint-like problems exist in several cities right now. Yet, this goes beyond Flint, as our planet is drying up our water resources and it is noticeable by satellite pictures. It is also being made worse by climate change, which the Department of Defense says is one of the greatest threats to our planet. And, The World Economic Forum echoes these concerns with the global water crisis being the number one risk in their 2015 Global Risks report followed by climate change inaction. Solomon is adamantly against fracking as the amount of water wasted is huge per frack. He also notes that not only climate change will make the water crisis worse, but so will over-population.

Finally, the man who predicted the housing crisis two years before it happened, who is featured in the movie “The Big Short,” has only one investment right now. He is buying up water rights. Yet, outside of the Flint issue which is being spoken to by Clinton and Sanders, no candidate is addressing our water concerns and only one Republican candidate admits that climate change is a problem, John Kasich, with both Democrats being vocal about it. These might be questions we want to ask our candidates about, especially with Department of Defense and World Economic Forum noting their concerns.

Dating dilemmas


Being a tall person, I have had my share of dates who were much shorter than me. I have even dated a few women who were under 5 feet tall. But, those height differences are very manageable and provide interesting stories. The dating dilemmas occur when something surprising happens.

Here are a few I encountered, some funny some not so.

Why must you be so rude? – the first example occurred when I took a date to Disneyworld for the day driving from my home 3 hours away. The dilemma is she was rude to other people, cutting lines, being curt, impatient, etc. I was captive while there, but could not wait for the date to end.

We really must pray before the meal – one of the funniest blind dates occurred when a friend set me up with a minister without telling me. I was not expecting the answer that she gave me when I asked what she did. She was a nice woman, but I was too immature to get past thinking it was a sin to imagine carnal knowledge with a minister.

Prom dates need to pace themselves – I think many of us have had prom dates where too much drinking occurred. But, our double date before the prom started consisted of far too many Screwdrivers. When we arrived first to the prom, my date waved with a big gesture to the other couple when they arrived. When she did she fell backwards and for some unknown reason, I was able to catch her with one arm, six inches from the ground and straighten her up. Talk about scared.

Did you like how I parked my car?  – when dating a college friend, I offended her when I suggested we use her car, so a friend could use mine. She broke our date after I arrived, so I tried to back down a long, hilly and angled driveway. I drove off into a rock garden and my car got stuck. My last sight of her was as she watched from a large window as her father towed my car off his rock garden. 

Where did that horse come from? – as I was sneaking out of my girlfriend’s parent’s house after she moved into their basement apartment, I was unaware her horse was in the field next to the driveway. At 3 am, while pitch black dark, as I edged toward my car, the horse snorted and scared the bejesus out of me. If a horse could laugh…

I guess my audition failed – this actually occurred with the above horse owner. We went to a community play where folded chairs were placed on raised platforms. When we returned from intermission, unbeknownst to me, one of my chair legs moved off the back of the platform. As I took a sip of wine, I noticed my date moving forward in slow motion. In actuality, I was falling and made a huge crash when I hit the floor on my chair. It was indeed funny and the only thing hurt was my ego.

Tell me your funny or surprising date stories. I am sure you can top mine.

Children will listen

In his musical “Into the Woods,” Stephen Sondheim penned a telling song called “Children will listen.” The song advises adults to watch what they say and do as children will be listening or watching. Here are few lyrics from the song:

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
Co learn what to be
Careful before you say ‘Listen to me’
Children will listen

I could not think of a better song to advise the leading Republican presidential candidate about his abusive and divisive words. Not only is his manner, actions and words of division, name calling, bullying, and lying, very unpresidential, they represent precisely the behaviors we teach our children not to do.

It will be much harder as parents who support this man to then tell their children this is not how to behave. But, Mom and Dad, Donald Trump does it and you seem to like it when he does. It will also be harder on us other parents to teach our children when they see these actions on the news and the resulting reactions from followers, protestors and fellow candidates.

To further my point, the close to an open letter written by an eight year old boy to Trump said, “I hope to grow up to be a better person than you are teaching me to be.”

As an American, I ask that Mr. Trump resign from his campaign. His malevolence is creating less dialogue and more shouting at each other. We do not need this in our country, in general, but certainly not in our leader. It is certainly not the answer to WWJD and it is not what our children should witness.