Call me crazy

I hope everyone had a great weekend. We are living in interesting times, some would even use the word “crazy.” Here are a few random thoughts to match the times.

– A real hero is someone like Lori Gilbert Kaye, a 60 year-old woman who lost her life in this weekend’s synagogue shooting. She lost her life because she threw her body in front of the Rabbi. Please share her story rather than the name of the cold-blooded killer, who not only killed her, but shot two others, including an eight year old girl.

– I agreed with the President when he said people need to get vaccinated for measles.. Then, as I read on, he said during the campaign the measles vaccine is linked to autism. When will this man understand that words matter and people do not realize that the significant majority of the words this man says are untruthful ones?

– Speaking of lies, The Washington Post has recorded 10,000 lies by Trump as President. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich defended the President saying he is a businessman and is allowed to exaggerate. Mr. Gingrich, I am a businessman and if someone in business lied like the President, people would not do business with him very long. Further, why did an independent contractor who dealt with Trump companies say “Word on the street is if you do work for Trump, get paid in advance.”

– A recent poll conducted by Opinium said 55% of Brits now feel the 2016 Brexit vote was a bad idea. They have time for another vote, but not if they wait. A fact based process would help, but it would also help here in the states.

– With the advent of market segmentation in all things, including the pseudo-news and now data, we seem to be moving closer to another Robber Baron period. Now, it is so easy to obfuscate voters, they do not know that elected officials are making changes that help the wealthy. What is also unsurprising is how easily more strident groups can be fooled to go along, provided you play to their fears.  Immigration is being sold as the problem, but the main problems are technology and CEOs chasing cheaper labor costs. In Western countries the haves and have-nots are even more divided. Unless something is tangibly done, this bifurcation is unsustainable.

– Finally, it is amazing how little the US leaders talk about our ticking time bomb problems – job retraining as technology kills more jobs, increasing debt, environmental degradation, global water crisis, stabilizing healthcare costs, crumbling infrastructure and climate change. The GOP is running on building a wall, proliferating gun ownerships, restraining abortions and how bad socialization is. Make all candidates answer questions about these ticking time bomb problems. If they cannot, do not vote for them.

Call me crazy, but maybe, just maybe, the ones who are crazy are the ones not addressing real issues and telling real truths. You be the judge.

 

 

 

Twenty-three kids and a grandma show the way

As a 60 year-old man, I have grown weary of politicians acquiescing to industry funders who want them to permit industry to conduct environmental degradation with impunity.  So, when I see younger folks (or maybe an older one or two) making a difference for the environment, it gives me some hope. They see a future that must change.

Emily Stevenson is a 21 year-old UK woman who has been policing the shores of her country since she was a child gathering up washed up plastic items. Among her many collected items, a frequent item is used plastic chip bags, many made by Walker’s. She advocated successfully to get Walker’s to recycle these bags and look to more bio-degradable materials. One of her ideas to garner notoriety was to make a graduation dress out of Walker’s chip bags. She got Walker’s to partner with a company who recycles items (that previously went unrecycled) into reusable plastic pellets.

Maybe, she was influenced by a 70 year-old British grandmother who has combed 52 beaches in the UK for trash. Pat Smith may have a simple name and have a simple approach, but she is a dedicated exemplar of what we must do to keep our environment clean. Her persistence is refreshing.

Sixteen year-old Greta Thunberg has gotten notoriety for her climate change activism. The Swedish teen parked herself outside of the Stockholm Parliament building advocating more action on climate change. She spawned other teens to do the same around the world. Recently, she spoke eloquently to the UK Parliament. Were they listening? Let’s hope so, but the fact she was there speaks volumes.

Let me close with the twenty-one American kids who have a lawsuit that continues to move forward over all obstacles thrown their way by government and industry. They are suing the US Federal government for denying them due process by obfuscating the impact of climate change for years along with the fossil fuel industry. As reported on “60 Minutes” earlier this year, their case is pretty compelling. Why? It uses the government’s own data and reports against them. It should be noted a separate case against Exxon Mobil by three state AGs uses Exxon’s own data and reports against them. Their case is Exxon misled investors of the impact of climate change on its financials (note a similar case has been brought by Exxon shareholders).

Twenty-three kids and a grandmother are making a difference. We need to listen to what they are saying. As Stevenson noted companies need to pay attention or we simply won’t buy their products. The smarter companies are listening and acting.

Memorable concert moments

My wife and I have enjoyed many concerts throughtout our almost 35 years together as a couple. I wrote recently about our joy in seeing Joan Osborne in a small venue. Here are a few more memorable moments.

– Tina Turner is high up on a short list of performers. Before ending one of her famous songs, she asked the men in the audience to sing the chorus. She chided, “You’ve been saying this most of your lives.” The song was “What’s love got to do with it?”

– Billy Joel has so many hits, on three occasions during his performsnce, he asked the audience to vote on one of two songs to sing.

– Elvis Costello had this huge spinning wheel on the stage which had his song titles listed. He would ask someone from the audience to spin the wheel to pick the next song.

– Eric Clapton was joined on tour by Derek Trucks and Buddy Guy. Now, that was a treat.

– Bob Seger is one of my favorites. Near the end of his great show, he introduced the band. Don Brewer, the drummer, was a foundjng member of Grand Funk Railroad, a great 1960-70s band.

– Sarah Brightman, the London theatre actress who was once marriied to Andrew Lloyd Webber, can flat out sing. Her version of “The Theme to Titanic” was sung in French. Bravo.

– Elton John has a multi-generational following. It was so cool to see grandmothers, mothers and daughters sing each song word for word.

– Paul McCartney is a treat, anytime, anywhere. From The Beatles to Wings to his solo career, he has a significant body of work. The stories behind some songs were an added treat.

– Heart puts on an amazing concert. Ann Wilson was introduced by her sister Nancy as having one of the greatest Rock-n-Roll voices. No argument here.

– Tony Bennett and kd lang toured together after the cut an album. Her admiration for him was obvious. She offerred a humorous story about a hit song of hers “Constant Craving.” An uninformed fan had referred to it as “Instant Gravy,” which tickled her.

– Two concerts where I took my boys stand out, as Mom did not want to go. ACDC was terrific as we sat above left of the band. Also, Rush was outstanding as three musicians could produce so much sound.

And, there are so many more – Tom Petty, James Taylor. Chicago, Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Ian, Don McLean, etc. But, let me end on a personal note.

We attended an outdoor concert of Jimmy Buffett’s. My brother-in-law went with us and was feeling no pain. Someone from behind was shouting for Buffett to sing “God’s own drunk,” then I realized everyone was looking at us – it was my brother-in-law standing on the bleachers shouting.

Well, that is enough for now. What are some of your favorites? Any amusing memories?

Red flags all over the place

The Mueller report concluded that there was no evidence the President and his team colluded with Russians to influence the election. But, they also concluded the Russians successfully influenced the election through social media and facilitating the hacking, modification and release of emails. That middle word gets overlooked, but per Thomas Rid (a cybersecurity expert at Johns Hopkins University who has closely studied Russian operations) in an interview on PBS Newshour, the Russian agents would modify things they leaked.

Further, per an article in MSN.com, entitled “Mueller report shows Trump campaign left itself wide open to Russians, officials say,” the Trump campaign naively opened themselves for being used. Here is a quote from the article which can be linked below.

“The Russians came up against a group of people who were not intelligence savvy and who were predisposed not to listen to the intelligence and counterintelligence community,” said Luis Rueda, who spent 27 years as a CIA operations officer. “The Russians made a very bold and aggressive attempt to take advantage of that — to try to compromise people, to try to leverage their access.”

More will come from the pending court cases, but this article notes the Mueller report paints a very unflattering picture of the Trump campaign and White House. I personally believe there was collusion, as they did not interview the President and they also did not dive as deep as they could have. To me, there was too much story changing going on, especially about financial ties to Russia, for there not to be some nefarious effort going on.

Setting that aside, even if there was no collusion, the Russians were invited in to play and they would not do this unless they had something to gain. I encourage you to read the attached brief article. Or, check out the PBS Newshour interview because the Russians will not go away in 2020.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/mueller-report-shows-trump-campaign-left-itself-wide-open-to-russians-officials-say/ar-BBWh5Sc?ocid=spartandhp

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/after-mueller-revelations-how-to-protect-election-integrity-in-2020

A specific deficit problem – Social Security and Medicare

While we have an annual US deficit approaching $1 trillion on budgeted revenue around $3.4 trillion, nothing much is being done about it or our current debt of $22 trillion. A tangible subset of this problem includes Social Security and Medicare, which were reported yesterday by trustees to run out of money in the near future – Medicare by 2026 and Social Security by 2035.

A nonpartisan group called The Concord Coalition, who tracks and reports on our debt and deficit issues, offered the following statement.

“Today the trustees once again warn that Medicare and Social Security are not on sound financial ground,” said Robert L. Bixby, Concord’s executive director. “Sudden and substantial benefit cuts await beneficiaries in less than 20 years — well within the lifetimes of many current beneficiaries — if lawmakers fail to act. Any ‘political leader’ worthy of that title, including those out on the 2020 campaign trial, should make it a priority to find solutions that are both fiscally and generationally responsible.”

Bixby added: “The trustees’ warnings seem all the more alarming because the country is not in a position of current or projected fiscal strength. Delaying reforms, however, would simply exaggerate the generational inequities of reform. For example, the trustees say it would now take an immediate and permanent benefit cut of 17 percent to keep the Social Security trust fund solvent for 75 years. Waiting until 2035 to take action would increase that benefit cut to 23 percent.”

As a retired actuary, I have written before about a few ideas, not limited to the following:

– increase the Social Security taxable wage base to above $180,000 drawing more FICA taxes from employees and employers;

– reduce Medicare retirement age to 62 and use ACA funding for that group to shore up (it will help the risk pools of both groups);

– limit cost of living increases on Social Security benefits along with measured changes to select Medicare benefits;

– increase judiciously FICA taxes to shore up shortfalls (Medicare Part A is currently 1.45% and Social Security is 6.2% up to the taxable wage base of roughly $128,000). Medicare Part B premiums change annually.

Please encourage your legislators to act now on these issues. Bixby’s caution is a good one. As we age as a country, it will only add pressure. Also ask candidates what they propose. Do not let them off the hook with a non-answer. Deferring action has been the norm.

A little bird and a big crow

While at a stop light, I saw a flying metaphor. A little bird (about three inches in height) chased off a big crow who is closer to a foot in height. The little bird chased the bigger one for well over 100 feet, most likely a mother defending her nest from an egg stealer.

I feel the big crow is analgous to the America First mindset, where we are devaluing our relationships and bullying people into action. Now, some might say we have always thrown our weight around. Yet, our allies are reacting to being treated worse with tariffs and talk of more, our pulling out of multilateral or global agreements, our denigrating respected multinational groups, and telling countries who they can and cannot do business with.

The little bird represents individual countries, businesses and farmers who are doing what they must to perpetuate commerce. When certain avenues are closed or made difficult or costly to use, they have to find new suppliers or customers. They are chasing away the impact of the crow. It is a simple equation – the more difficult an entity becomes to deal with, others will seek other options. Plus, the more difficult we make it for all transactions, then fewer transactions will be made and global trade will suffer.

It is reported the President reached out to former President Jimmy Carter. The reason is Trump’s having concern over an ascendant China. This was happening any way, facilitated by actual long term planning by China. Yet, what Trump fails to realize is his role in greasing the skids. By retrenching from our position of strength, pulling out of a Trans-Pacific trade deal meant to even the playing field with China, he has allowed China to fill the void. By telling countries they will face tariffs if they deal with Cuba and Iran, we are greasing the skids for China to fill the void.

These little birds have to eat. They will look out for their best interests. If they must acquiesesce to the big crow, those actions will be remembered, if they are needed in the future by the crow. It should be noted,  a foreign diplomat said two years ago, the strength of the US is its allied relationships – failing to nurture them comes at a cost.

And, that Chinese bird is getting even bigger and faster than this old crow.

This must stop

I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend, yet we had another event which we cannot let define us. The tragedy in Sri Lanka sheds a spotlight on what must stop. The three recent Black church bombings in Louisiana do the same; this must stop. The many shootings at churches, synagogues, and mosques must stop.

The victims do not deserve this, no matter where they worship. The perpetrators have some warped view of extremism. They are terrorists irrespective of what religious master they serve. They are hate mongers and murderers. They will not build a stairway to some perverted view of righteousness. Their names should not be mentioned, as they do not deserve recognition.

These actions of hate must stop. The underlying hate must stop. If someone’s view of religion inspires them to hate or kill others, that is not God or Allah talking. That is a narrow-minded form of extremism. These folks are murderers,

We need these actions strongly condemned by all leaders. We need religious leaders to promote a message of inclusion. A ministry of exclusion is religion at its worst. One person’s exclusion becomes another person’s hate. And, to a small subset, the words inspire violence. This also holds true with political leaders,

What can we do? If your spiritual or political leader speaks of exclusion, ask them to stop. If they don’t stop, vote with your feet and leave. Our leaders need to be our better angels – if they are not, find another leader and call them on the carpet.

If you see some followers who are echoing or speaking of violent acts, tell the authorities or more even-tempered religious leaders. Zealotry can lead to violence. If you hear unproductive words, push back or tell someone. This is even more true if they come from leaders.

But, most importantly, we must be civil to one another. We must demand civility from our leaders. Fear sells, but is an unsustainable governing approach. We deserve better from our leaders. We must also demand peace. We need more diplomats, not fewer. We need to value the mavens and dot connectors. Relationships are to be courted and nurtured.

This has to stop. Stop the words of exclusion. Stop the words of hate. And, let’s do what we can to stop the violence.

Let me close with one of the greatest examples of faith I have witnessed. After the Charleston AME Zion church shooting, the surviving family members forgave the shooter. That is powerful. Let’s be like them. But, let’s stop it from happening the next time.