Retrenching into silos is the exact opposite of what is needed

With the advent of more terrorists’ activities around the globe and the significant refugee crisis, nationalistic and jingoistic behaviors have taken more solid footing. With the backlash in some European countries, the Brexit vote and the rise of Donald Trump as an unlikely candidate for US President, show that protectionism is selling these days as a concept. These folks want to build actual and proverbial walls, rather than bridges.

Yet, that is precisely the wrong behavior needed. These so-called leaders feel if we segregate and retrench into our own little worlds, this cocooning will make everything better. What these so-called leaders fail to tell you is the significant benefits with being aligned, working together and doing commerce with each other. Economic trade breaks down barriers, as countries do not want to upset the financing of their economy and will work past governing differences.

President Abraham Lincoln did not coin this phrase, but he capitalized on it – keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.  Lincoln added several adversaries to his cabinet when elected. His view was if he could keep tabs on his opposition and argue with them, he could keep a lid on dissent at a time when dissent was in vogue. President Teddy Roosevelt was very open with reporters, in part because of his ego, but in large part to have the reporters be his eyes and ears. He would have them go speak with his department heads to learn what was going on.

Commerce breaks down barriers. Not only will we make more money by co-existing, we will be safer in turn. That is a concern of the Brexit vote, as the UK being a part of the EU makes the world safer and aids the economy of both entities. Like the UK, there is much to be gained in the US with the global economy, especially with companies who employ people here. Just here in Carolinas, there are multiple hundreds, if not thousands, of foreign companies who have US presences here, be it a North American headquarters or a major plant. BMW, Mitsubishi, Michelin, Doosan and Husqvarna come to mind.

We should not lose sight of breaking down barriers abroad. I have been a staunch supporter of doing trade with Cuba and Iran. The countries want to do business with us and we are well positioned to leverage that travel and trade. Just with Cuba and its 11 million people, it will be like adding a 51st state to our US economy. With Iran, of course, we need to keep our eyes open, but the median age of Iranis is age 35. We have a chance to create new economic paradigm with Iran which will live beyond the older regime. Plus, being closer to Iran will allow us to keep more tabs. This is the  best example of what Lincoln did.

The candidates who have touted building walls and retrenching are not being very open with the whole picture. They are using fear and an incomplete picture of reality. Companies have always chased cheap labor and as one CFO said in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” if companies could get by with hiring no employees, they would. The greater threat is technology improvements as a new plant is not going to have 3,000 employees, it will have 300. On the flip side, Nissan in Tennessee and Mercedes in Alabama employ a great many American workers, which is not talked about enough as a benefit of globalization.

If we retrench, we will be reducing markets for goods and services. A venture capitalist once said what creates jobs is not owners, but customers. The fewer the customers, the fewer the jobs. But, with that said, there are elements of truth that workers need to ask more of the employers who have suppressed wages and let people go, to hire younger and cheaper workers. Companies are quick to hire cheaper, but need to be reminded that we employees are important and customers, as well.

I am reminded that two of the top three jobs creation Presidents had two things in common. Bill Clinton, the number one job creator at 22.8 million jobs, and Ronald Reagan, the number three job creator at 16.1 million, were both collaborators and advocated global trade, as reported in “The World is Curved” by David Smick, who was an economic advisor to both. Creating markets for trade and opening up our markets to others, in my view, is one of the best things a President can do.

Globalization is extremely important, but we need to manage it better. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is something we must guard against. So-called leaders who are advocating this very thing need to be asked more questions. As they are not telling you the whole story.

 

If we want to improve Black (and all) lives in America

With the need to improve the lot of Black and all lives in America, there are some things we can do and stop doing legislatively. And, there are things we can do as citizens. We must play a huge role in being civil to each other and tasking our leaders to lead, rather than divide with demonizing comments. The latter serves no purpose other than appealing to an overzealous and bigoted faction in our country.

Legislatively, we can ask several state governments to reconsider Jim Crow like Voter ID laws. Many ask what is wrong with requiring Voter ID? Two reasons. First, it disproportionately affects older Blacks because of Jim Crow laws, may not have legitimate birth certificates or other forms of ID. Second, the more unconstitutional parts of those laws reside beneath the ID part. The intent of these laws is to suppress voting, which is scoffed at by the enactors, but where greater risk of Voter fraud occurs is in absentee ballots, but they are usually untouched.

Additionally, we can improve the minimum wage across the country, but in lieu of that, do so in states. There have been bipartisan efforts that have successfully increased the state minimum wage  above the federal minimum in 31 states. There is a movement to demonstratively increase the federal minimum wage by one of the parties to $15 per hour. While that may prove difficult, we need to at least move to a living wage for one person which is roughly $10.10. And, we should index it.

Further, we could leave the Affordable Care Act intact and make necessary improvements. What is not talked about enough are the many successes of this law which has increased the number of insured people by over 20 million. This law could be fully implemented in the remaining 19 states, who have not expanded Medicaid. This would help everyone making less than 138% of the poverty level, as well as their state’s economy and rural hospitals. As a benefits actuary by trade, I fear the elimination of the ACA would throw us into a recession, with money (used by these 20 million plus people) that has been freed up some by ACA for spending, instead going into uninsured healthcare costs.

Finally, we need to invest more in our communities. Job retraining, social and economic infrastructure, road and bridge maintenance and building, etc. are needed and will spawn more economic activity. This investment will also spawn hope. We finally passed the Highway Trust funding last fall, but it was not enough and about four years tardy. Our economy is doing pretty well, but this would have been accretive to the economy and helped areas of need and blight.

However, as citizens, we need to exercise our power with each other and our leaders. We must listen to hear more and not listen to respond. We must be more informed from reputable sources. We must not tolerate bigotry and shine spotlights on such behavior. We must ask the same of our leaders. And, we must not vote for leaders who espouse hateful bigotry and demonize people as a means to get elected. We cannot unite around bigotry. We cannot unite around fear.

 

Climate change continues to hit home in the US

An article on two islands, one off the coast of Virginia and one off Louisiana, reveals what the rest of the planet is witnessing. Both Tangier Island in the Chesapeake and Isle de Jean Charles in the Gulf of Mexico, are being consumed by rising sea levels. Climate change is already impacting the planet and we better do something about it. A link to the articles is below.

These are not isolated incidents. The City of Miami and surrounding counties are spending $200 million to stave off the sea water from coming up through street drains following the mildest of storms. Last month, I read where the sea levels have been threatening a major water reservoir near the Everglades coming through the porous limestone. And, as we enter hurricane season, the rising sea levels are like raising the basketball court, so it is easier for the hurricane to metaphorically dunk a basketball and wreak havoc.

But, what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has stated clearly for years, is the climate change will cause exacerbated weather patterns, where the drought areas will be drier, the forest fires will be more frequent and severe and snow-bound areas will be pummeled with stalled weather systems. This is not just around the world, but here in the states with California seeing much of the first two and states like Texas and plain states seeing more drought conditions.

The World Economic Forum annually publishes a Global Risk Report. In 2015, the report cited failing to act on climate change is the second greatest risk facing our planet over the next ten years. The greatest risk is made worse by climate change – our water resources are declining. So, ironically, as we have too much of sea water, our fresh water is being threatened. This is a key reason I have been against fracking as it requires so much water in the process (2 to 4 million gallons per one fracking attempt) that cannot be reused as the chemicals that are mixed with it are toxic to humans.

When I have been scoffed at for this comment, I note that for three summers in a row, frackers and farmers have been fighting over water in California, Kansas and Texas. Texas has some towns where the water has been severely depleted and California, where many crops are farmed, has recurring water rights legal fights as the water is being used up.

And, last fall, during a panel presentation on the Future Water Crisis, a Duke Energy spokesperson noted that they factor in evaporation into their water models and climate change is anticipated to increase evaporation by 11%. It should be noted that the normal power generation process with fossil fuels and nuclear power heats water into steam several times to turn the turbines to turn the generators. When the water is finally released back into the river, they have also lost about 1% to 2% of the water due to evaporation.

We have a presidential election in front of us and, on this issue, party matters. We have one party who is heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry who wants to get as much profit from fossil fuels as possible, so they require the naysaying of climate change. As a sidebar, Exxon-Mobil is being investigated by the New York Attorney General for alleged misrepresentation of the impact of climate change on its business to shareholders and investors, which is a securities crime.

The presumptive presidential nominee from this party has said several times that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese to steal our jobs. In fact, only one candidate from this party in the primary recognized climate change as a problem. This issue more than any other scares me, as we can no longer afford to wait and must build upon what President Obama has started and what the Paris Climate Change Accord compels us to do.

 

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/rising-seas-are-washing-away-two-us-towns-how-theyre-responding-is-a-matter-of-faith-belief-and-money/ar-BBugN8v?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartandhp

Christmas in July – a better time to help

Having worked with several human services agencies as both a volunteer and Board member, one of the challenges is the timing of cash flow and the need for more of it. Many agencies are funded through a combination of federal, state and local money and donations from the faith community, foundations, businesses and individuals.

During the holiday season, these agencies are blessed with an inflow of giving that would honor Christmas or Hanukkah. Those donations are greatly appreciated and are used judiciously throughout the year. But, the time of greatest need is during the summer months, when the kids are off from school.

Much of my effort has been around helping homeless families climb a ladder back to self-sufficiency. The families we help work, sometimes more than one job, but cannot make ends meet or an event has caused them to lose their home. The event could be the breakdown of a car, significant healthcare expenses, reduction in hours at work or the loss of a job.

During the summer months, the working parent(s) are finding and paying for ways to look after children. Also, their hours are cut back due to people being on vacation and shopping less. Or, they work in the school system and are not paid during the summer months. Yes, we have helped teachers and teacher assistants who are homeless.

Rather than waiting to give in December, look into places you normally give and donate during the summer months. Whether it is your money, clothing, books, goods or time, the donation will be greatly appreciated. In fact, small groups of people often can perform duties – stuffing envelopes, setting up crafts, providing day care, etc. that will be beneficial. Look at each organization’s website and see the best way to volunteer.

I have witnessed some wonderful organizations who take their stewardship roles very seriously. They do more with less, but sometimes it is hard. It should not have to be this hard. Thank you in advance for your consideration of helping them make it through.

Be mindful of your news media sources

We are a nation divided. We must find one another again. We must engage in dialogue rather than talking past one another. We must be mindful of our news media sources of information.

While we mourn over horrible tragedies like the police shootings, the too common Black deaths occurring at the hands of police or the mass shooting or terrorist tragedies, we tend to look for simple answers and culprits to blame. We have grown too accustomed to moments of silence and are reluctant to have needed dialogue around underlying reasons and possible solutions.

Our childish political polarization stands in the way of that dialogue and it truly must come to an end. We must task our leaders to stop their zero-sum antics of “I win/ you lose” and start leading. And, as citizens, it is incumbent on us to be truly informed with uncomfortable data.

Right now, we tend to get our information from biased sources that tell us what we want to hear. Or, we may get it from shallow or conflicted sources that gloss over a news story and miss key points or may not cover a story at all as it is not entertaining.

We live in a country of opportunity, but not all get a fair shot at that opportunity. Our problems are complex, especially around gun deaths. The causes include poverty, lack of education, crime filling the void of opportunity, lack of mental health access, entertainment violence, inherent bigotry, and gun access, e.g. Our biases predispose us to a gut level reaction, when we should guard against that.

At the heart of the matter, violence is not the answer and should not be condoned. Violence against those here to protect us is even more abhorrent. But, we should not lose sight that violence against our Black and Brown citizens is occurring with too much frequency.

Let’s start talking and listening to one another. And, let’s be truly informed from reputable news sources and not from our own echo chamber. Otherwise, we will miss the point.

 

 

 

You told us you were the financially astute one

I hear often that people may not like what one of our US Presidential candidates says about people, but at least he is a business leader and knows finances. Are we really sure about that, as the evidence I see from policy statements, comments and history seems to run counter to that argument? Yes, he is a successful sales person, but business is littered with sales people who have been disasters as business managers. The key reason are the skills that made them great sales people do not often translate to management.

Most financial experts and pundits view Brexit as a poor move on the UK’s part. The financial reaction to markets, currency, budgets, real estate, etc. that is already happening is a sign of headwinds in the future. Many companies who placed Europe headquarters and plants in the UK are considering moving them. It will only get worse should Scotland and/ or Northern Ireland leave the UK. Yet, there was Donald Trump in Scotland, saying how a great a thing Brexit is the day following. He did not even bother to note where he was standing, as Scotland voted to stay in the EU if they could.

Also puzzling is Trump’s tax plan. As measured by the Tax Foundation and other tax expert organizations, his tax plan would increase our $19 Trillion debt by almost $12 Trillion over the next ten years, a more than 60% increase. It should be also noted he has said he will eliminate the debt in eight years. How? With an annual budget of $4 Trillion, how do you plan to do that with a $12 Trillion debt increase. How would you do it without it, is a more realistic question, which he has no answer for. Maybe we should take him at his word, as he has told us “I know taxes better than anyone. Better than anyone in history.” Even if that was the case, it is his math I am concerned about.

Further, his stance against globalization runs counter to what business and GOP leaders advocate for. While people have lost jobs over the last 35 years, it is due to a variety of factors, including technology, outsourcing, offshoring, downsizing, industry obsolescence, etc. Business has always chased cheaper labor and will continue to do so. The key worry should be technology as new manufacturing plants in the US do not have three thousand workers, they have three hundred.

But, like Brexit, what is not factored in is the number of foreign companies who have their North American headquarters and plants in the US. These plants employ American workers. So, globalization arguments must look holistically at the pros and cons, so we can avoid the mistake of a Brexit decision. Trump should know this as he has taken great advantage of cheaper labor from abroad. Yet, he does not want to tell the whole story as it does not fit easily on a bumper sticker.

So, we should look at the man’s history. His companies have taken advantage of the bankruptcy process on four occasions. He will say many companies do that, but many do not do it four times, and companies the size of his tend not to do it all. But, his judgment on other businesses is something to look at with several failures that did not go the bankruptcy route. He likes to counter the three class action court cases alleging misrepresentation by him and Trump University as the students were satisfied per surveys. The surveys were taken early in the process, but let me ask if Trump University was so successful, why is it not still in business?

Trump is a successful business man, but I would not deem him to be a good leader of people or business. Good leaders deflect credit to others, while poor leaders tend to pat themselves on the back too much. It is all me. How many times have we heard him say how smart he is and how stupid others are? Back to the math, he said if he was President, the Supreme Court decision against Texas’ abortion clinic laws which led to closures, would have been the other way around with the justice he would appoint. Mr. Trump, the decision was 5 to 3. You would have still lost. And, so we will we, if this candidate with all of his bigotry, ego, thin-skin and financial skills wins.

 

 

 

 

Questions and more questions

I have written before that we do not ask enough or the right questions of our leaders and candidates. Why, what, how, when, where, how long and how much? If we would just ask the why questions more, we would be far better off.

Here are a few to ask:

Why have we not made changes to gun governance since the significant majority of Americans want certain measures?

What do you plan to do about our $19 Trillion plus debt problem, especially with the interest burden becoming such a big part of our $4 Trillion annual budget?

Why are we not doing even more to combat climate change (or in the case of some, why are you blocking climate change actions)?

Why are we not funding Planned Parenthood even more, when they help reduce unwanted pregnancies through education and birth control thus reducing abortions and healthcare costs based on actual data?

What do you plan to do about retraining people for jobs that have been reduced due to technology, declining markets, offshoring, outsourcing, etc.? 

Why do some people feel they are more American than others based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc.?

Why must you be against something because your opponent is for it?

When did collaboration become a dirty word?

What data do you have to support your contention or plan or better yet, when did using actual data become a negative?

When did we start tolerating bigotry in our national leaders, especially since this has been a reason to not vote for racist candidates in the past?

There are many more to be asked, but we could start with these few.