A path forward

As we end one decade and start a new one, there are plenty of posts and articles telling us what is wrong with the world. I agree we have numerous challenges, but please remember this one truism – negative news has a higher bounce than positive news.

Since the many good things happening don’t get reported with the appropriate frequency, it is hard to avoid getting despondent. Our friend Jill has a weekly summary of about three to five good news stories (see link below to a recent one). These folks are the “points of light” the elder George Bush spoke of. We must shine a spotlight on these exemplars.

Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof wrote a year-end column (see link below) called “2019 has been the best year in human history – here’s why.” He largely makes the above point, but cites the following observations:

“The bad things that you fret about are true. But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.

Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.

Perhaps the greatest calamity for anyone is to lose a child. That used to be common: Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood. As recently as 1950, 27% of all children still died by age 15. Now that figure has dropped to about 4%.”

But, what do we do about those negative stories with a higher bounce. They are real and concerning. Here are few thoughts, some of which may be Pollyanna-ish:

– engage in thoughtful discussion asking probing questions and listening – only then will you be permitted to offer your thoughts that may be heeded (“Help me understand,” “That is an interesting view, why do you believe that to be true?”, etc.).
– advocate your beliefs, focusing on the issues, not the people are parties; often one party is not 100% wrong and the other is not 100% right.
– write and call legislators – they may not be listening, but we need to let them know where we stand; calling is better, but don’t chew the head off a staff member – give it like you want to get it.
– write to the news paper, publications or other blogs, again focusing on the issues and not just wanting to disrupt.
– avoid name calling, labeling, denigration, smugness and raised voices – all of these are masking poor arguments; when I hear name calling or labeling, it raises a red flag (unfortunately, a certain global country head does this often).
– avoid less than credible sources – be a truth seeker; if they do not print or post errata when they get it wrong, it is not credible; fact check claims made by various sources, especially those who have a habit of sensationalism or conspiracy BS.
– finally, understand that almost every issue is more complex than portrayed, so solutions are less black and white; be wary of easy fixes and panaceas.

Happy New Year to all. Happy decade to all. Let’s be civil and active truth seekers.

Good People Doing Good Things — Little Things Mean A Lot

https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/2019-has-been-the-best-year-in-human-history-heres-why-39896456

A few why moments the past decade

Since I speak often that we need to ask more why questions, as well as a few more what, how, and when questions, permit me to ask a few why questions about the past decade.

Why would Prince Andrew think it was a good idea for him to visit a known pedophile’s house and be photographed with teen girls he is accused of having sex with?

Why do people still not find it a national security concern when a US president bends over backwards to support various Russian narratives and running shadow diplomacy?

Why do mass shootings continue at such a rampant rate in the US and no tangible action is taken to address these and everyday shootings?

Why do the kids (such as Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, eg) understand our climate change and gun problems better than many adults?

Why are two of the heroes of the decade female – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who led to new gun laws in one week after mass shooting and the 16 year old climate activist, Thunberg?

Why have people allowed the media to be labeled around the world as enemies of the people by so-called leaders not known for truth – Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Xi, Johnson, Erdogan, et al?

Why are we not actively condemning hate groups for domestic terrorism – this is not right?

Why is the current White House trying to solve our growing poverty problem by kicking people off their healthcare and food stamps, and defanging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau designed to punish predatory lending?

Why is there not a bigger outcry for screwing over our Kurdish allies who fought our enemies?

Why is the Hong Kong story being covered far more than China’s abduction and brainwashing of Muslim and other religious groups within concentration camps?

There are so many more why questions than I have space. Please add a few of yours.

Three why questions

Tell me why, three why questions have not sunk into more people’s minds about the Ukraine mess caused by the US president?

– Why did people who heard the “perfect” phone call try to hide it?

– Why does the US president want witnesses called, but prevents those in the know from testifying?

– Why don’t more people believe hard working, honorable public servants who testified under oath at great risk instead of a person who is known to be cavalier with the truth?

I would like to hear some answers to these three why questions starting with people named McConnell, Graham and Barr. This American would like to hear from folks like Mulvaney, Pompeo, Giuliani, and Pence under oath. Tell me why I should not be able to do so?

We cannot solve US debt by charging more on our national VISA

The math problem is large. We have $23 trillion plus in US debt today, per the US debt clock. It is projected to increase by $10 trillion by 2027 FYE (September 30, 2027) before the tax cut in December, 2017. The tax cut added $1.5 trillion to the debt projection over ten years. A later budget change added $500 billion over ten years.

The budget bill just signed last week will add $500 billion over ten years per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, yet they note all laws passed in 2019 have added $2.2 trillion over ten years. That would make it at least $37 trillion. So, a good working number is $37 trillion sans any action by the end of 2029 FYE.

Tax increases will not solve this problem, nor will spending cuts. Both are needed. Once the interest cost approaches the defense cost, we have a serious problem. At $37 trillion in debt, the interest cost to maintain it inches closer. So, it truly matters not what Democrats or Republicans like, some poor souls in charge will take the heat for trying to solve a problem passed along by poor financial stewards. It will be akin to the Greek people not liking the EU or responsible Greek leaders when they said Greece was in debt trouble.

What frustrates me is the GOP Freedom Caucus who got elected on debt reduction is the biggest bunch of hypocrites. They screamed bloody murder when the debt was $8 trillion, then $13 trillion, but are passing debt increases misleading the public that the tax reduction would pay for itself – no tax bill has ever done that and this one did not. But, Dems are not without fault. What should scare us all, we should be reducing the deficit with a pretty good economy, yet the deficit is growing and will exceed $1 trillion next FYE. What happens when the economic growth softens even more than it has over the past year.

So, my plea to all is dust off the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan and do even more. I am trying to tell folks what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. If I was a young person, I would be screaming bloody murder at inaction on climate change, guns and debt. Debt is not as frightening as guns and climate change, but it is a huge problem.

Senator Murkowski is on the side of the angels

In an ongoing effort to highlight political courage, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska continues to fight for the soul that has been trampled on in the Republican Party. She is concerned that Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is coordinating with the White House on the impending trial. An article on her stance is provided in the link below.

Americans should step back and think about that, regardless of political party. The Senate Leader is coordinating with the defense while he sets up the trial. To make matters worse, Senators like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana have bragged that they do not plan on being impartial. Really?

Senator Murkowski says this is not right. She is correct. It is not right. Senators McConnell, Graham, Kennedy et al took an oath to the US Constitution. They did not swear an oath to the GOP and certainly did not swear one to the person in the White House. It matters not what party someone is, this is not right. If people are telling you it is, you should ask them a why question.

Please join me in applauding the courage of Senator Murkowski. Swimming against the tide in your own party, with a vindictive leader, takes chutzpah. Kowtowing to such a leader is, to be frank, shameful and not courageous at all. Murkowski is on the side of the angels.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/republican-senator-disturbed-by-mcconnells-coordination-with-white-house-on-impeachment/ar-BBYm9e8?ocid=spartandhp

A brief, but profound sermon from a surprising movie

In the early evening of Christmas Eve, my wife and I watched for the second time. the movie “Chocolat” starring Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Hugh O’Conor among others. While it seemed a strange choice to show on Christmas Eve, the movie is about the ugliness of exclusion toward newcomers who do not fit in and the redemptive power of kindness and inclusion.

The mayor played by Molina, led a town who used overt piety as a means to treat a single woman and her daughter poorly, even trying to close down her sinful chocolate shop. The mayor even edited the young priest’s sermons.

After the realization he was on a bad path late in the movie, the mayor and others see the error of their ways. Freed from the mayor’s editing, the priest, played by O’Conor, offers an off-the-cuff homily on Easter Sunday. Its brevity should not betray its profound message.

“I’m not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord’s divine transformation? Not really, no. I don’t want to talk about His divinity. I’d rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His *kindness*, His *tolerance*… Listen, here’s what I think. I think that we can’t go around… measuring our goodness by what we don’t do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think… we’ve got to measure goodness by what we *embrace*, what we create… and who we include.”

Amen. This is the overarching message of Jesus, which is so profound, it can be found in other religioius texts. Treat others like you want to be treated.

Let me close with the other key message of the priest and the movie theme. When religion includes it is at its finest. When it excludes it is at its absolute worst. Welcome people. That is what Jesus did.

Have a safe and enjoyable holidays

For those who celebrate, please have a Merry Christmas. For those who do not (and those who do), please have a safe and enjoyable holiday season. Christianity is an important religion, but it is only one of several, so a blanket Merry Christmas statement may or may not be well received, even if well-intended.

Either way, time away from work should be spent with friends and family. Yet, the holiday season is a time when those who do not have others will be even more despondent or depressed. Even more so, the holidays will be a time when loved ones who have passed (or left or are in harm’s way) are missed. So, please share your home or celebration with others.

My mother passed away early Christmas morning in 2016. To me, as devout a woman as she was, it was fitting for her to pass away when Christians celebrate Jesus’ birth. My wife, brother, sister and I will always remember her passing this day. Not ironically, my mother-in-law passed away just after Christmas. Like my mother, she was a devout woman. So, we will remember her well this season.

Let me close out with a bit of humor, which is indicative of non-Christians remembering the holiday in their own way. When Elena Kagan was being vetted by the Senate for the Supreme Court, she handled a question meant to highlight that she was Jewish. Its purpose was unclear, but the following was asked in a mid-December hearing. “Judge Kagan, how will you be celebrating Christmas this week?”

Her response was priceless. “Senator, I will be eating at a Chinese restaurant like all Jewish people do.” It received a laugh even from the asker and diffused its uncertain intent with aplomb.

Being with family and friends. Sharing a meal. Remembering those not with us. Happy holidays everyone. And, travel safely. Following distance is our friend.

A letter to a conservative editorialist who says we just don’t like Trump

As an independent and former Republican (in fairness, I was a Democrat for a few years after college), I am bemused at how Trump supporters are dismissive of people’s criticisms because they just don’t like him. That does not give him a hall pass to be untruthful, be a bully, name call critics, or act in a corrupt manner.

What I find telling is conservative groups like “Republicans for the Rule of Law,” “Checks and Balances,” and “Christianity Today” who have called out this president for impeachment for his abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Plus, the Mueller report, which I read, has several examples of obstruction of justice and lying.

But, we also should heed the voices of respected Conservative voices like George Will, David Brooks, Michael Gerson, Eric Erickson, Ross Douthat et al, who have shared concerns about the president.

Donald Trump got elected because he is a great salesman. He got folks to look more at his opponents’ imperfections than his own. He is acting as president no differently than he ran his business. As Thomas Wells, an attorney who worked for Trump, wrote before the election, “Donald Trump lies every day, even about things of no consequence.” And, we should not forget the words of Michael Cohen under oath, “Donald Trump is racist, he is a con artist and he is a cheat.”

So, excuse me if I take the word of a parade of dutiful, honorable public servants who courageously testified under oath of their concerns about the president’s actions rather than a president known to be less than truthful.

Do I like Donald Trump? Not really, but it is mainly due to how weary I am of his tendency to lie, demean, bully and make too many things about himself. I also have concerns about his acting like an autocrat and treating our treasured allied relationships like transactions.

I personally find Donald Trump the most corrupt and dishonest president in my lifetime, and that includes Richard Nixon.

I am sorry to push back on you, but I am frustrated with the ongoing rationalization of this incumbent. My question to you is the same one I ask of our Senators. What will you have to defend next week, next month, and next year?

Two powerful quotes

Two quotes. One from Carl Sandburg, the other from Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain, as he is better known.

I was reminded this weekend of the quote from Sandburg in an editorial by Ned Barnett of the Raleigh News and Observer. The context for the editorial which included the quote, is the receved death threats toward Michael Gerhardt, an impeachment expert after he testified that Trump should be impeached.

Referencing the “histrionics of the Republican members,” Gerhardt cited Sandburg, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

I have cited the Twain quote several times. It defines the difficulty in changing the impressions of Trump supporters. Twain said “It is easier to fool someone, than to convince them they have been fooled.” Sadly, this quote needs an addendum to update it for modern social media and biased news sources.

The addendum is “It is even harder when the person doing the fooling controls the sources of information of those fooled.”

Per Trump, the impeachment document is filled with “fake news.” As I have said countless times, the biggest purveyor of fake news in America is Donald J. Trump and it is not even close. Sadly, his sycophants are oblivious to this observation. As Thomas Wells, an attorney who worked for Trump for years, wrote before the election, “Donald Trump lies everyday, even about things of no consequence.”

Think about this third quote as you ponder the more famous two.

Communication between spouses (or partners)

For those of us who have been together for more than a few years, mutual communication sometimes takes interesting paths. My wife accurately accuses me of speaking too softly. What I learn later is I may think she heard what I said, but she may have been too tired to follow-up when I spoke too quietly. So, when I mention I told her something later, she will respond that she does not remember me so doing. This is a version of husband or wife deafness, where you may not hear everything of what is being said. I do it as well.

My wife and I both do the following and that is ask the same question we were asked earlier in the conversation. We get tickled by this, but it will follow a pattern like:
– I will ask “Do you want to leave earlier?”
– Conversation ensues and circles back
– Then she will ask “Do you want to leave earlier?”
– “That is what I asked you.”
– Then we will both laugh.

The funniest communications occurs when neither one of us can remember the name of an actor or actress, a movie, a restaurant, an old friend or colleague, etc., but we both will know what we are talking about. It is a coded language where certain references can get the point across. The dialogue will make no sense to a casual observer, but communication has occurred. It may go like “do you remember that place in Winston-Salem which had that desert the kids liked?” And, she will know.

As for actors and actresses, Iphones have simplified our lives, abetting our memory loss. We can search on the show, look up the cast and find that movie we were trying to think of or the co-star. Yet, it takes some of the fun away with the added clarity. “Isn’t that the guy in the Allstate commercial?” will start a search rather than a discussion.

Finally, couples have a form of non-verbal communication or short verbal clues to pass along a mountain of information. The cue could be touch on the arm, a pinch, a pat on the leg, a small shake of the head, etc. “Don’t go there” is a key message when a sensitive subject arises with a third party. Plus, the other spouse may not be supposed to let a third party know he or she knows a confidential matter. Or, “it is time to leave” is another key message, which comes in handy at the other spouse’s office holiday party. Or, my wife will whisper “don’t bite” when someone is trying to start a political argument.

Let me know if you have some of these communications. I am sure all couples have their own variations.