Thursday this and that’s

Thursday has arrived bringing the last day of November. One month is left in the most interesting, befuddling and alarming of years. A few “this and that’s” on varied topics follow.

2017 will be remembered for two major global events, one good and one bad. And, the bad may have helped open Pandora’s Box on the good. The good will be the “year women fought back.” The bad will be electing a global leader who is known for his lying, his narcissism, his maltreatment of women, his bigotry and his bombast.

Women have been sexually harassed and assaulted for years. In some places in the world, their rights are secondary to men and/ or their husbands. Starting with Bill Cosby and Donald Trump, women are coming forward with claims of sexual misconduct. The sad part is this was not enough to prevent a man, who boasted of his assault in at least three taped settings and the fact he could get away with it, from getting elected. To me, it takes a huge effort to come forward, so these women should be heard and heeded.

The bad is the election of a man who is far from being qualified for office. Last year, I was told many times he would hire good people to make up for his inexperience. The more capable people either refused or would not kiss his ring. So, we have had a parade of folks who had to resign or were fired and our White House is filled with “chaos and incompetence” per several staffers noted by David Brooks. But, the worst part is the daily degradation of the our standing in the world, the office of the Presidency and civil rights and decorum. If not remedied, this period will be remembered as the time the US ceded its global leadership role.

Another key storiy is 2017 will be the year of backlash against the refugee crisis. With all of the turmoil in the Middle East and Africa, the flood of refugees has caused massive problems for Europe. Welcoming countries had more refugees than they could handle. So, nationalistic movements grew in size and clout. Some groups won seats in their parliaments and a few won majorities. Refugees need our help, but it has to be managed and we need to realize the US minimized its role, which further exacerbated Europe’s issues.

The other big stories are the reality of Brexit negotiations, China extending further its reach and clout with the diminishing US role, the reemergence of Russia along with its cyber manipulation of other countries, and Kim Jong Un accomplishing the build-up of nuclear weapons and ICB missiles.

Going into 2018, I worry most about the man in charge of the United States. He is not trusted, he attacks critics, he uses false news as much as Putin, he belittles legitimate news sources and he not only remains inexperienced, he does not care to do the work to become so and is rather incoherent when he defends what he does. Read a transcript of what he says and it is embarassingly nonsensical.

Let’s forget all of this and enjoy our remaining holiday season. I can leave you with this one thought – there is far more good news than bad, it just seems the opposite since the good is vastly underreported and bad is overreported. Here is one such good story – a team of Afghani girls won the global robotics competition this week, after being initially denied entrance to the US due to our Muslim travel ban. You go girls!

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Tell me why the CFPB is a disaster

In the current fued over who should lead the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, what should be focused on is why the President and Republicans are calling the CFPB a “joke” or a “disaster.” This agency has penalized banks, credit card companies, lenders, etc. almost $12 billion for aggressive marketing practices, selling products people did not ask for and outright fraud.

Over 90% of this money goes to the affected customers who have been cheated. A good example is Wells Fargo being fined $150 million for setting up accounts for people that did not authorize them, so employees could meet a bonus goal. Another is Bank of America being fined over $780 million for selling services customers did not ask for. Other brand name organizations have also been fined for bad practices.

The organization has also helped over 29 million people with issues and education on financial matters. Since, financial issues are complex and so many were harmed during the housing crisis, the CFPB seems to be a big help to everyday Americans.

The reason for the comments by the President and Republican legislators is the CFPB is working too well and banks don’t like this. It is far from a joke or a disaster, so reporters need to ask the speaker of such a comment as to why they say this? The pat answer is the CFPB has too much authority and too little oversight. Yet, it was set up to be removed from the political process for these reasons. Banks, et all don’t want to be fined for their business practices, so they fund politicians to diminish the CFPB’s clout.

My strong advice to banks is to stop screwing people over and maybe you won’t get fined. Stop selling people products they don’t understand such as variable or pick-a-payment mortgages. Stop selling them products and services they did not authorize. My sister is dealing with one of these banks right now on a credit card account she did not open.

So, Mr. President tell me again why the CFPB is a disaster? And, tell me how attacking this organization helps those voters who put you in office? To be brutally frank, when this President uses the word “disaster” it usually means he is being untruthful about something.

 

Need more to meet in the middle

The overarching theme of the book “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn is to accomplish lasting, impactful solutions (in this case with climate change and environmental concerns) we need to work with folks in the middle. In essence, the folks in the extremes are too strident and reluctant to compromise.

A good example comes from the Montana rancher as he combats climate change and environmental degradation caused by fracking for natural gas. He works with folks who will address the environmental issues, but permit him and his family to make a living ranching. He notes the fracking companies paint a picture that is far rosier than it is, while some extreme environmentalists want everything to stop and do nothing with the land. At personal risk, he built a coalition of ranchers, environmentalists and government officials who were willing to follow his lead to preserve the environment while permitting the ranchers to do their thing.

The Kansas farmer speaks to working in concert with the land and learning and sharing best practices with other area farmers and the agro-economics people at nearby Kansaa State University. Farmers want to maximize a sustainable yield on their crops, but climate change and water concerns increase the challenges to do so. He emphasizes growing what grows naturally in the area. There is a reason wheat and alfalfa are cash crops in Kansas. He notes the farm to table concept is not necessarily ideal – it would be a waste of water and land to try to grow everything there. As for climate change, they work with legislators to protect the water resources, but have to stop short of using that term with their representatives. They gain collaboration by speaking to what is happening, not identifying its lead cause.

The Louisiana based river man moves frieight up and down the Mississippi River. He understands the importance of experienced teams who know the river going both ways, with high, low or medium water levels. He has seen the significant dissipation of the wetlands in the Bayou which are causing huge problems to many, Engineers tried to outsmart the river and failed. In fairly dramatic fashion, the Gulf of Mexico is absorbing land due to rising sea levels and fewer buffers, So, they are working with scientists, businesses, and even the petroleum industry to slowly rebuild the Bayou.

It should be noted working in collaboration is how business and government work best. Yet, collaboration is hard work. For those who block the consideration of solutions, they need to be sidelined. In our toxic tribal political environment, we must remember each side does not own all the good ideas and both sides own some bad ones. Let’s follow the lead of these folks who get their hands dirty, understand what is happening and work together.

Get out of the pool

Although a religious person, I am more of a pragmatist with a goal to simply treat everyone like I want to be treated. I have grown increasingly frustrated by more zealous followers of any religion. I wish for God, Allah or the Supreme Being to simply call out from his ultimate life guard chair “Alright, everyone, out of the pool.”

The attack in Egypt which has killed over 300 Sufi Muslims is yet one more example of why most violence is caused by religion. Your branch is different than my branch which is more pure, so you must die for your blasphemy. Or, you are going to hell for not worshiping our way. With all due respect, “who appointed you judge and jury?” I ask.

Christians do not get a hall pass on this either. Many deaths have been caused by fighting between Protestants and Catholics. Jesus would not condone such behavior. We should remember The Church of England was started because of a horny king, which is not a good reason to start a church at least in my view.

Then there is the fighting between different religions with Muslims, Christians and Jews at odds throughout history. Muslims pushing north into France about eradicated Christianity while the Crusades tried to do the same with the Muslims.

And, while all of the intersectional fighting was going on, the Mongols eventually were at Europe’s doorstep taking advantage of various rifts and divisions with their superior fighting force. Religious views provide a reason to divide, not unite. Under the Mongol rule, religions were allowed to continue. In fact, In the Capitol city of Mongolia, various places of worship were represented as Genghis Khan wanted enlightment.

I mention this last example as it showed how letting people worship their on way can be done even in close proximity. Trying to stop this worship is counterproductive to keeping the peace. So, if God can follow this example and tell us all to “get out of the pool” until we learn to live together, that would be most helpful.

Let me close with how I started. Jesus called it the Golden Rule. And, it can be found in various forms in most religious texts. Treat everyone like you want to be treated. It is that simple. Then, you can get back in the pool.

Note: Please forgive the many oversimplifications above. I recognize I greatly oversimplified and these events did not overlap.

Happy Thanksgiving All

Even for our friends who do not celebrate Thanksgiving, peace be with you. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, bar none. Nineteen of us will sit down to dinner and fellowship.

This will need to be short as more preparation is required. We have been at this for ten days, but thank goodness people will be bringing food, drinks or ice.

Please remember this season all of the things to be thankful for. Also, note good news is vastly underreported and bad news is vastly overreported, so things are never as bad as they seem. With that said, there are too many who do without or less than we do in this country and world. There are too many that live in a more dangerous area than we do and are ostracized and disenfranchised daily.

Let’s be thankful for what we have and remember those who are not as comfortable as we are or are in severe need. All the best.

Men in power who don’t listen for the word no

I heard a quote from a women’s panel on sexual harassment and assault this morning and it is sealed in my brain. “Pandora’s Box is open and Pandora is pissed off.” I was thinking about this quote as I am disturbed after the revelations that veteran and award-winning journalist Charlie Rose was accused of sexual harassment and assault by eight women. This is like finding out your favorite uncle has done some bad things. But, even Rose does not get a hall pass for his behavior.

More women are feeling empowered to tell their stories that they have been tortured by for many years. Too many have been shamed into changing jobs, derailing careers, and losing their esteem because men in power are “not listening for the word no.” Whether they are in politics, business, religion, law, teaching, or run a store, restaurant or plant, men in power are used to hearing the word “yes” by subordinates. The more powerful they become, the more insulated they feel from culpability.

As a young District Attorney, Senate candidate Roy Moore felt insulated as he trolled the malls creepily looking for pretty teen girls he could influence. He said to several who balked at his advances to remember that “I am the DA and no one will believe you.” Arkansas Governor and President Bill Clinton used his sway to garner consensual sex with subordinates in administration and is alleged to have tried advances on women who were not consensual.

But, the one whose behavior disgusts me the most is the Man in the White House. Not only has he admitted to sexually assaulting and harassing women on several occasions (people tend to forget the Howard Stern interview admissions in light of the Access Hollywood tape), he bragged about being able to do it and not get caught. And, as for his defense that the Access Hollywood tape was “just locker room talk,” I personally find that a load of BS as I have never heard such talk in a locker room.

When his boasts are compared to the accusations by sixteen women, some who came forward before the Access Hollywood tape surfaced, it is uncanny how Trump describes precisely what he is accused of. But, these were not just adults. He bragged (and was accused) of his penchant to walk into beauty pageant dressing rooms to see the unclothed contestants. Mind you, he did this with the Miss Teen USA pageant, as well.

Pandora has the right to be pissed. CBS, PBS and Bloomberg have all fired Rose. I think Alabamans need to tell Moore that he is not worthy of being a Senator. While I love Al Franken, he needs to step down or announce he will when a replacement is found. And, the accusations of one Donald Trump need to resurface and his resignation needs to be demanded. They will not get it, but if others are being held accountable, then so should he. Then, other male managers may get scared straight to hearing the word “no.”

A few painful truths

We are overlooking some very painful truths primarily for short term gain. As I chatted with staff members for several US Senators, I found myself saying “you sound like a young person; you do realize we are leaving this problem for you?” I hope they start thinking more about what I said because of what we are ignoring.

The reason for my question is Congress has passed one Tax bill and is debating another that will increase our $20.5 trillion debt by at least $1.5 trillion. Yet, not only are we ignoring the $20.5 trillion debt, we are ignoring that the Congressional Budget Office projects that figure to grow by $10 trillion without the Tax bill impact. So, in 2027, the debt could be $32 trillion if the Tax bill is signed into law. This is beyond poor stewardship – it is malfeasance. We would be screwing those young staffers I spoke with.

Unfortunately, there is more. Our leadership has decided to make the US the only country in the world to not support the Paris Climate Change Accord. Not only are we denying hard truths and overwhelming scientific evidence, we are shooting ourselves and planet in the foot. Renewable energy is passed the tipping point and we risk getting left behind as other nations invest in Innovation for the new economy. Fortunately, cities, states and businesses are carrying the banner dropped by our leadership, who is being relegated to the kids table at Thanksgiving. At the next post-Paris event, the US may not be invited at all. If we don’t deal more decisively with climate change, we will be screwing those young staffers and their children.

A final issue to mention, but not the final problem we are ignoring, is the US is retrenching from our global leadership role to the delight of China and Russia and chagrin of our western allies. The President gave a speech in Vietnam this month similar to the one made in Davos earlier in the year. America will retrench to a nationalistic country seeking bilateral agreements. On each occasion, his speech was followed by Xi Jingping who gave the global leadership speech the US normally gives. What our President fails to understand is globalization lifts all boats and our economy benefits more than if we look to maximize only our share. This concept has been called the “Nash Equilibrium” in honor of the Nobel Economics prize winner who developed it, John Nash. If we retrench, we will be harming our future growth and screwing those young staffers.

As I mention, these are not the only things we are ignoring – poverty, job losses due to technology advances, healthcare costs, environmental degradation, infrastructure, better gun control, etc. Yet, should we not alter our path set by these leaders, this path will be defined in the future as the period when the US gave up its global leadership role. And, the world will be a lesser place because of it. Sadly, I have witnessed these words spoken by more than a few global financial and security experts.