Goodbye Ruby Tuesday – a few random thoughts

With due credit to the Rolling Stones, we approach the end of a gem of a Tuesday. We are celebrating our daughter’s 20th birthday at her favorite restaurant. It is a joy to see the woman she has become, with her sense of purpose, humor and morality.

With the latter in mind, let me speak to those who are our moral compasses during these much needed times. The first shout out goes to Angela Merkel who has now become the leader of the free world. She has taken the mantle that the current US President has ceded with his retrenchment mindset and fondness for authoritarian leaders. She has a better grasp of right and wrong than our leader and sees the advantages of mutual trade and trust.

Another shout out goes to the three men in Portland who interceded to protect two Muslim American women from the verbal abuse of a white supremacist. Two of them (Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche) paid with their lives, while the third (Micah Fletcher) was injured. It should not be lost on anyone that one of the deceased (Best) was a veteran who fought for the rights of the Muslim women to practice their faith with our freedom of religion. I have purposefully avoided the use of the killer’s name who I view as a domestic terrorist.

Finally, a shout to Dusko Markovic, the Prime Minister of Montenegro. His graciousness exemplified how to handle maltreatment, when our brutish President shoved Markovic aside as he moved to the front of the group for a picture of the NATO leaders. This was not the worst thing our President did while in Europe, but it is emblematic of his bullying nature where everyone stands in his way.

We need to recognize those who do the right thing, especially when the cost is so severe. Former news anchor Dan Rather gets it, as he admonished the President for saying nothing about the Portland terrorist act. The President did finally say something, but he used a less popular channel than he normally uses when he feels slighted or threatened.

Have glorious remainder of your week. May it be a gem. And, let’s applaud those gems among us. We need their morality.

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Let’s Honor our Vets – Avoid Unnecessary Fights

On this Memorial Day, we honor our veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice and who are no longer with us. And, we should. But, we must honor their sacrifices more by doing every thing in our power to avoid conflict in the first place and fight with purpose and planning when we cannot.

Many soldiers lost their lives in Vietnam, a war which fell out of favor as its purpose could not overcome the loss of life witnessed on the nightly news. And, in what may have been his worse abuse of power, which says a lot given Watergate, President-elect Richard Nixon purposefully and clandestinely derailed the peace process, so it could be accomplished on his watch. Many more Americans died as a result.

Later, we did not learn the lessons of fighting a war without clear mission and follow-up, by invading Iraq under false pretenses. We fudged questionable intelligence to invade and overthrow Saddam Hussein. A former Vietnam veteran and Congressman made an impassioned speech that if we invade, we need to be prepared to stay for 30 years.

We are now 14 years in and it looks like we will remain a while longer. We did not understand what success looked like, trusted the wrong advisors, did not understand the differences between Shia, Sunni and Kurds, and went in with too few troops and inferior equipment. General Shinseki resigned because of his disapproval of these last two reasons and our troops commonly referred to our efforts as a “clusterf••k.”

To honor our troops, we need to avoid fighting battles whenever possible. But, when we do send our troops in harm’s way, let’s make darn sure we have a clear cut plan, sufficient support and follow-up after the battles are won. Allowing the new Iraqi government to fire the police force from the Hussein days and to maltreat the minority Sunnis helped create ISIS.

We owe it to our troops to avoid risk whenever possible and to minimize their use of the term “clusterf••k” to define our modus operandi when we must fight needed battles. As General James Mattis said, if we lessen funding of diplomacy, we will need even greater funding of the military.

Statesboro Blues – The Final Allman is gone

You likely have read or heard that Gregg Allman has passed away. His brother Duane died so many years ago, but the two left a huge footprint on bluesy rock and roll influencing many.

One of the finest live albums or any album for that matter is their magnum opus “Live at Fillmore East.” Gregg’s soulful voice and musicality are a key reason for their success, but the band is known for the slide guitar playing of his brother Duane and the harmonious guitar of the also talented Dickey Betts. Duane was greatly admired and played the plaintiff sound on Eric Clapton’s “Layla.”

Gregg was also talented and no one should say he did not bring a huge amount to the band. His voice and timing was adroit as was his keyboard work. The songs were his as well. But, the band also had other terrific musicians, including two drummers, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson. The bassist was Brett Oakley, who died a year after Duane.

“Statesboro Blues” is a vintage Allman Brothers’ song. It is also one of their shorter ones. “Whipping Post,” may be their greatest song, but each of us will have our favorite.  “One Way Out,” maybe a close second for me. “Melissa” is a more serene song about love which shows their range. I saw an interview with Gregg who said he gleaned the song name from a mother chastising her daughter Melissa. “Midnight Rider” was one of their bigger hits. And, Betts sang the lead on “Blue Sky” and “Ramblin’ Man.”

Most of their songs were too long for pop radio, so their hits were fewer than you would expect. Yet, their body of work is substantial. And, to best appreciate them is to download or play a CD of their live songs while cruising down the road.

My wife and I saw them in concert long after Duane and Brett had passed. My youngest son was able to join us. Derek Trucks had joined the band for the tour as Trucks is one of the finest guitarists in the world and is the nephew of long time Allman Brothers ‘s drummer Butch Trucks. We left spent from the concert with Warren Haynes and Derek’s guitar playing amplified by two drummers who took breaks as the lengthy songs wore them out.

It is sad to see the end of an era. But, their  music will live on. May Gregg rest in peace. As he sang late in his career, “I’m no Angel.” Neither are we, but we value your part in our lives.

A mean spirited, dishonest budget

On PBS Newshour last night, Mark Shields and David Brooks defined the President’s budget succinctly. They said it was a “mean-spirited, dishonest budget.” I had been searching for the right words to define a proposed budget that kicks people in poverty in the teeth. Fortunately, Senator John McCain said the budget was “dead on arrival.”

The budget is bothersome in so many levels as it severely cuts Medicaid and food stamps, as well as other programs. The latter has grown because of the greater number of people in need. Yet, while these cuts are occurring, tax breaks for the wealthy would be provided.

But, it does not end there. It has been reported about the extra rosy and very hard to achieve projections on revenue growth. While this is not too uncommon, it is still sleight of hand. When people say tax cuts pay for themselves, that is as believable as the check is in the mail. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget will say there often are some revenue improvements, but nothing near paying for the entire cut.

Yet, there is more dishonesty. Former Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers said in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post that there is some double counting of revenue sources, an obvious error. Per Summers, “You can’t use the growth benefits of tax cuts once to justify an optimistic baseline and then again to claim that the tax cuts do not cost revenue. At least you cannot do so in a world of logic.” Summers noted he has not seen something like this in a budget proposal in 40 years and a business person should know better than to double count like this.

To be brutally frank, this is not what the President advertised in the campaign. He touted his business leadership as something the country sorely needs. Yet, former Speaker John Boehner said with the exception of foreign policy, Trump’s presidency has been a “complete disaster.” I would argue his point on the foreign policy omission. But, it should be noted is how this budget, the AHCA bill, and other measures harm the very constituents that rose up to vote for this newcomer. He is screwing them and they still lack awareness that is what he is doing.

Getting back to Brooks, I have cited his earlier observation after the horribly planned and executed travel ban. “This White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Summers used the latter word in his piece, as well. We can now add “mean spirited and dishonest.” These are not words that he had hoped to elicit when elected.

 

 

A few thoughts for Thursday

I would be remiss if I did not express my sympathies to the victims of the terrorist bombing at the conclusion of Ariana Grande’s concert. Targeting civilians is bad enough, but targeting young adults and kids is vulgar in its cowardice and an insult to any deity the perpetrators say they worship.

As a needed antithesis, I applaud the many angels who helped the hurt, lost and confused after the attack. They revealed the best of humanity as a direct contrast to the worst shown by the terrorist. Peace be with those angels, survivors and the families of the victims and injured.

In other news of the week, I do want to give credit to the President for his visit to the Middle East to further relationships. And, he has been surprisingly well behaved, which is traceable to him sticking to script and not tweeting his thoughts. Yet, we do need to peel a few layers back and understand that he spoke to a group of autocratic Sunni leaders in Saudi Arabia about dealing with terrorism. It was an important step away from his negative Islamic rhetoric, but terrorists exist because of the corruption of autocratic leaders who cause disenfranchisement.

The other concern is to paint Shia led Iran as THE bad guy, when they just had an election while he was there and elected the moderate Incumbent Rouhani to continue as President. Iran has a median age of 35, so by trading with Iran and treading carefully, we can help break down barriers for the future.

Finally, just yesterday, a Republican candidate for Congress in Montana named Greg Gianforte apparently does not like tough questions. He has been arrested for assaulting Ben Jacobs, a reporter from The Guardian when Jacobs asked him about the CBO scoring of the repeal and replace AHCA bill that would knock 23 million people off insurance. In front of other reporters, Gianforte choked, shoved to the ground and began punching Jacobs.

Let me state the obvious. A leader does not beat up someone for asking questions you don’t like. I am positive entertainers like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh will drum up their fans saying it is OK to beat up a liberal reporter. No, it is not. And, if a wannabe leader has to resort to force, it means you are worse than a name caller and certainly no leader irrespective of the outcome of the election.

Interesting thing is happening at energy company shareholder meetings

An interesting development occurred at annual shareholder meetings of two major companies in the energy business – PPL Corp, a utility serving Pennsylvania and other states and Occidental Petroleum Corp. A shareholder instigated vote took place at each firm and passed over the recommendations against it by their Boards of Directors. The proposal is for each company to share formally a report on what they intend to do about climate change.

Per the website “Financial Advisor” the following was reported earlier this month about the Occidental vote:

“The proposal received the backing of Occidental’s largest shareholder, $5.4 trillion asset manager BlackRock Inc. BlackRock, which owns a 7.8 percent stake in the oil explorer, said it took action due to the “lack of response” on the issue by the company and a lack of improvement in its climate-change related reporting following a similar proposal last year which received more than 40 percent support.”

The shareholder proposals are at the impetus of CalPERS, one of the largest pension trust funds in the world and a major investor in each company. Other state pension trust funds are supportive of CalPERS’ push. A similar vote was taken recently at Royal Dutch Shell and was defeated, with another vote scheduled at ExxonMobil. It should be noted that institutional investor groups are recommending against these proposals, but two have passed.

With a White House at odds with the rest of the world on climate change, we will need a groundswell of advocacy. Fortunately, we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy due to falling prices and rapidly increasing jobs. And, some of these same companies are advocating the US stay in the Paris Climate Change accord. Yet, the US cannot leave the table. To assure that we remain, we need these kinds of shareholder votes and other advocacies.

The White House has now canceled two meetings to discuss the future of our involvement in the Paris Climate Change. I believe this is in reaction to the push back from business. We cannot backtrack on this and other environmental issues. Let’s push forward and, if the President does not want to play a role, we and the rest of the world can leave him behind.

 

Poverty is highly correlated with large families

We have a global poverty problem, but what may surprise some, the US has not escaped the problem. Our middle class has been squeezed, but unfortunately, gravity has caused too many of them to fall beneath or just above the poverty line.

There are many reasons for the decline, but it has been occurring over the last 45 years, so all politicians own this issue. Technology advances, globalization, stagnant wages, downsizing of union populations, costly healthcare, etc. are all contributing factors.

Yet, it should be noted that large family size and one parent families are highly correlated with increased poverty. These two factors should not be a revelation, but too many folks look past these causes to others. This a key reason for the importance of family planning to help families manage their family size and health.

Today, I saw a report that noted the US has more teen pregnancies than other western nations. A data point was cited (without a source) that 30% of teens in the 9th grade have sexual relationships increasing to 60% in the 12th grade. The report supported the practice of more holistic sex education in schools, an experiment being promoted in West Virginia, where 1 out of eight births are to teen mother.

The training speaks to more than abstinence and contraception. It speaks to   how to say no and not give in to pressure. It discusses sexual assault and STDs. It speaks to relationships and the role sex plays when folks are ready.

Family planning and sex education are key tools in fighting poverty. There is a causal relationship between family planning and fewer abortions, which should give  those against family planning some consolation, Rather than condemn or not fund these efforts, we should look at the data and support them.