Goodbye to 2021

The past year began with more hope to finally turn the page, only to find that the next few pages were glued together. COVID’s vaccines had been created and hope that we could put this pandemic more behind us were building. And, the last president of the United States was going to leave after one term taking his untruthful, bullying, incompetent and ego-maniacal bent with him.

Sadly, we learned that no good deed goes unpunished, and politicians made political a pandemic and its vaccines, masks, and other tools to fight it. In some places, public officials who were trying to help people got vilified by hyper-political attacks fueled by governors from Texas and Florida, and the former president. Ironically, only last week when the former president tried to do the right thing and advocated the booster shot, he got booed by his own fans. He realized then he helped create a monster that was bigger than himself.

We also learned that same man was far more than what is noted above. We learned he played a heavy hand in seditious activities to overthrow a branch of government. This handiwork may be proven to be far worse than what is overtly known, but we cannot and must not let what happened on January 6 happen again. Full Stop.

And, we learned he can be sociopathic. Narcissism is a form of sociopathism, but it came to a point when the former president confirmed this year what he told two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward in an interview on February 7, 2020 that he knew of the dangers of COVID then. What makes this unnerving is he had several pep rallies later in the month of February with his most loyal followers without telling them they were in danger. At those rallies, he told them COVID was Democrat hoax and naysayed it.

We also learned that Joe Biden can make mistakes just like his predecessors. Getting out of Afghanistan so abruptly without forewarning allies caused a rapid domino effect. We had little reconnaissance that people in the military would simply step aside so easily to let the Taliban assume control. Yet, we should have known and handled this better. One of the sad truths about American leadership is sometimes we let our own arrogance get in the way of learning the facts. We went into Iran and Afghanistan thinking we knew more than we did and it caused us problems.

I will say Biden, while imperfect, is a breath of fresh air from his predecessor. I grew very tired of the lens always being on the former president. I actually do not want to hear from the president every day. Let the people you hired do their jobs. I am also glad we finally got an infrastructure bill passed after ten years of inaction. America must invest in ourselves as we have fallen into a state of disrepair.

On the global front, we are learning that Brexit is briar patch that is hard to navigate without getting thorns. And, while it is appropriate that Boris Johnson be the one getting the thorns given his marketing stance on Brexit early on, it is painfully obvious the UK needs someone who knows details and diplomacy to handle the unwind. We are also seeing China continue to assert itself as the dominant global power, with its heightened crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong (and elsewhere) and reaping the dividends of investing in rare earth metals that go into so many electronics.

So, in 2022, I hope we can put the COVID thing to bed. And, I hope the less fervent followers of the former president start to realize what kind of person he truly is. The question has never been can he win again. The question is he should not ever be allowed to be in charge again. America needs to stop its own in fighting long enough that others like us fighting amongst ourselves as they take advantage.

John Madden – a class act

John Madden passed away yesterday. People outside the United States may not know this exuberant and larger than life man. But, he was a superb professional football coach, a groundbreaking football announcer and an innovator in a football video game.

He made the game simple for us without talking down to his audience. He was colorful with his sounds and drawings to define what was happening. And, people loved it – but they loved him more. He did not use arcane terms to define things and just told you what was happening and how it happened.

Fellow announcers, coaches and players have all described how genuine he was. Three stories can shed light on this. One of the things that precipitated his retirement was a vicious hit one of his players made on an opponent named Daryl Stingley which paralyzed him. This kind of hit is now illegal in football as the intent is to injure. Madden visited Stingley daily in the hospital as the injury occurred in Madden’s home city.

Another story is Madden was scared to fly. So, he would travel across the country in a Winnebago leaving days before a game. Madden would visit with people along the way. This endeared him even more. He was truly an everyday person.

The final story is he was a player’s coach. He told you what was expected of you – show up for practice, pay attention and play hard. Those were his rules. He did not care about what you looked like or wore. No dress codes, just play and practice hard. One of my favorite lines of his is “In my experience, when you practice well, you usually play well in the game.” 

It was said Madden was well-read and did his homework for each game. Fellow announcers would commend him on well he knew the players in the game he was announcing. The time on the road allowed for this.

Madden may not have looked the part, but he truly was s class act. 

Hard Truths

Since our pseudo news outlets and social media pot-stirrers capture the imagination with stories that are largely untrue or focus on the wrong things, we seem to be ignoring hard truths. This concerns me as dialogue over factual information is greatly needed. Otherwise, we address the wrong problems.

America no longer is a country of upward mobility. We have fallen in the ranks of people climbing the socio-economic ladder and to whom and where you were born matters more than merit.

America ranked in the twenties in terms of science and math in world educational ranking the last time I checked. It may be worse now. That is not American Exceptionalism.

America has the most expensive health care system in the world but ranks around thirty-eight in quality outcomes. We have one of the hjghest maternal mortality rates in first world countries.

America was put on watch list for democracies around the world. That sentence speaks volumes. When people believe a former president who is known for being untruthful when he says the election was stolen, that gives me concern. The fact he cannot prove any of his wild contentions should be informational. He has won only one out of 65+ court cases and no recounts or audits. It is hard for him to lose any more than this, but he was still at it earlier this week.

That climate change thing is real and it is here. Storms are more severe and impactful. Drought areas are dryer. Wild fires are more intense. And, coastal areas are seeing more sunny day flooding. What is less discussed is the warmer weather pushes further north wreaking havoc on flora and fauna. The Maine lobsters are migrating north and we are seeing more tropical disease carrying insects up this way.

And, there are many other things we are not discussing.

Good economic news per Jennifer Rubin and Wall Street Journal

In an editorial by Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post called “Opinion: Biden gets an early Christmas gift: Good economic news,” she discusses the good economic news hearing into 2022. In excerpts below, she cites The Wall Street Journal and The Conference Board to support her claim.

“Presidents have some control over fiscal policy, but markets, the Federal Reserve and, yes, the state of the pandemic have a lot more say on how the economy is performing. Nevertheless, if President Biden can be bashed for bad economic news during his presidency (e.g., inflation), then he also should get some credit for successes. And right now, there is plenty for him to crow about.

Heading into the new year, the economy looks in better shape than Biden’s legislative agenda. The Wall Street Journal reports: ‘A booming U.S. economy is rippling around the world, leaving global supply chains struggling to keep up and pushing up prices. The force of the American expansion is also inducing overseas companies to invest in the U.S., betting that the growth is still accelerating and will outpace other major economies.

With a projected 7 percent annualized growth rate for the fourth quarter, the United States is running circles around Europe and China. That relative strength against the rest of the world, reflected in a strong dollar that lowers the cost of imports for U.S. consumers, matters greatly.

The economy grew 2.3 percent in the third quarter (higher than the expected 2.1 percent). Moreover, for all the talk of inflation and the pandemic, consumer confidence is through the roof. ABC News reports: ‘The Conference Board, a business research group, said Wednesday that its consumer confidence index — which takes into account consumers’ assessment of current conditions and their outlook for the future — rose to 115.8 in December, the highest reading since July.

…Furthermore supply chain woes are showing signs of abating. As Biden said at a meeting on Wednesday with his supply chain task force, “Packages are moving, gifts are being delivered and shelves are not empty.” He was also able to point to concrete steps his administration has taken to address the issue, such as obtaining the ports’ agreement to operate 24/7.

The full editorial can be linked to below. Rubin’s first point about presidents getting too much credit and blame for the economy is a good one. Yet, they do provide headwinds and tailwinds, usually a little of both. Biden’s predecessor inherited an economy that was in its 91st consecutive month of economic growth in January 2017 with six consecutive years of 2 million plus annual job growth. To his credit, it continued and was lifted some by a temporary sugar rush of the corporate tax cut in 2018, before falling back to previous levels after the sugar rush waned. Once the pandemic hit, all bets were off and we retrenched.

Biden and Trump invested in stimulus payments to get the economy going providing money to spend. And, it helped tide us over until more of us started working. Was it the best use of funds? Arguably. Some contended we should have provided the subsidies to employers to keep people employed. I would preferred to have seen that, as people would still be tethered to their job. The recently passed Infrastructure Bill will provide some additional tailwinds as would the Build Back Better bill that is still waylaid.

Inflation is of course a concern. Yet, politicos like to highlight bad news when their tribe is not in charge and lessen the focus on good news. In addition to the new COVID strain, what gives me pause is the stock market continues to remain at record high levels. The question is how long can it remain there? If you know that, you are way ahead in the game.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/22/biden-gets-an-early-christmas-gift-good-economic-news/

A Monday morning after Christmas

Since I rise early, after feeding the dog and letting him outside, I can settle down with a cup of coffee and shadowy morning serenity to catch up on posts and post the words for a new day. While Christmas was enjoyable to a small degree, we have continuing concern after my oldest son came in contact with an “unannounced” COVID infected person. He is feeling poorly (although he said the Mucinex is helping with congestion),but did test negative on a less than accurate test. He is awaiting the more detailed test results, which have been held up by the holidays and will likely test again later in the week.

Fortunately, he has had the first two vaccines, yet is scheduled to have the booster. He was bummed he did not get to be here live for all of the festivities, but we delivered his presents and some homemade chicken soup. He was also disappointed someone he knew did not tell him he or she was infected, until after handing him a cup of coffee and being close by. Since he has been so diligent with his precautions, this less than altruistic attitude of an acquaintance was particularly “disappointing” to him. It is like someone breeched his trust.

Disappointing is the word that comes to mind for my wife and me. While I applaud those who have gotten vaccines and take the COVID seriously with the steps they take, I am disappointed that others are not so community minded. While I understand legitimate concerns about the pace of the vaccines roll out, I tend to find arguments about vaccines being an infringement of freedoms lacking in veracity. And, for those who are avoiding the vaccines because some talk show host or elected official made this political, I strongly disagree with that rationale.

I was watching “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” last night where their year-end show recaps the year’s stories. One reporter made the comment about the falderol over certain athletes who have lied about taking the vaccines, but noted the professional leagues tend to have very high vaccination rates – the WNBA has a 96% rate, while the NBA has a 92% rate. The reporter noted too much fuss is placed over the named players who have not, but we lose sight of the low vaccine rates in the New York City police force (she cited 32%) as an example, which should give us greater pause.

I share our vaccine stories with others and try to be encouraging. Yet, when people are cavalier about the responsibility that comes with freedom, it gives me pause. And, if my son does have COVID because of such, it adds fuel to my disappointment in those who do not take this seriously. If I offended you, then I am sorry, but that is the way my wife and I feel. Please get the vaccines and/ or booster shots. It helps you, your family, your friends and others you come in contact with.

Holiday wishes for politicians, candidates and voters (ten years later)

Happy holidays to all. I wanted to close the year with a few holiday wishes to various constituencies – politicians, candidates and voters – as we move into a full campaign year. Please note this piece was written ten years ago, but still holds true.

For all parties, I strongly encourage you to read “That Used to be Us” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. The subtitle is ” How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We can Come Back” and I think it should be required reading for all politicians and candidates. The voters would be benefit greatly as well as it will help us keep the first two groups honest and focusing on the right things.

I wish for politicians and candidates to focus on things of import and less on platitudes. The 2012 Republican presidential debates have tended to focus on less important things and we need to ask tough questions about where we are as a country and how do we do what is needed on the major issues of the day. We have tended to dumb down the debates about issues that have been decided (abortion) or that run counter to what is actually happening (global warming). It is hard for me to take someone seriously who wants to do away with the EPA or will choose which judicial rulings he will obey.

I wish for politicians and candidates to think more before they speak. Our problems are complex and deserve well thought out answers. Herman Cain was toast long before his personal crises, as he had not done any homework in preparation for the most important job in the world. I also wish for politicians to tell the truth or use meaningful information to support a cause. Not all data is equal and biased survey data needs to be identified and ferreted out. I have taken a survey gleaned by Newt Gingrich’s team and, frankly, it was biased from the outset and I told them so.*

I wish for politicians and candidates to collaborate with others. They do not have all of the answers and some don’t have a good hand to begin with. So, it is imperative they collaborate with others across all spectrums. This is a major reason I am an independent voter. Collaboration is the key to our success.

I wish for voters to take everything a politician says with a grain of salt. With the infamous words uttered by Senator Kyl earlier this year when he was caught in a lie, “please don’t interpret my comments as being factual,”  he gave us the proper advice. Senator, we will take that advice to the bank. We will not believe anything you say from this point forward. The Democrats should not gloat as they have tended to misrepresent a fact or two, as well.

We voters also need to keep the politicians and candidates between the white lines. We should consider all portrayed facts or survey data in the right context. Who conducted the survey? Where did the facts come from? Does this person have a history, both good or bad, with the subject? Some congressman are supported by lobbying groups and they will vote 100% of the time on issues in favor of the lobbyist’s cause. Their opinions should be discounted as being overly biased.

Our problems need serious people and serious discussions to address them. Going back to the book noted above, we have wavered from our mission, but we can rectify our problems if we think long term and approach our problems together. If we continue our partisan bickering, we will likely fail in these endeavors.

Thanks for reading. I wish for each of you and all of us, a prosperous New Year.

*Note: Herman Cain, the pizza chain tycoon, got early press in his presidential candidacy for his simple 9-9-9 tax plan, as he called it. The problems started appearing when he could not explain what it meant and he started contradicting himself. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, started out strong in 2012 in his presidential run, but he fell by the wayside when his over-confident manner rubbed too many the wrong way. People forget his own party removed him as Speaker for similar reasons in the 1990s.

Why is it important to help (a reprise from eight Christmases ago)

When I am asked about my volunteering to help the disenfranchised and how can someone go about doing it, my answer is to follow your passions. I usually ask what interests you, how much time do you have and what groups of people do you feel most comfortable helping. For some, it is visiting, talking, reading and singing with the elderly; for some it is mentoring or tutoring school kids; for some it is helping homeless people find shelter, find employment, or gain assistance. These folks need what you have to offer – your time, your experiences, your feedback, your coaching.

I was reminded of this yet again earlier this week. I was meeting with a formerly homeless father who the organization I serve with helped regain a home after he and is wife made poor decisions. He was a former Army soldier and was gainfully employed when he began a cocaine addiction journey that led him to being imprisoned. It also claimed his wife, as he noted, she was in worse shape than him. After his release from prison, he had a hard time and became homeless. He also did not have custody of his son.

Through the help of this agency, he regained a home, regained custody and eventually reconciled with his wife. He was doing well until he lost a second job in short order. He was among seventeen workers who were asked to not come back on January 6 unless called as the company is downsizing to four staff. He is in a bad mental place, so I met with him as I am helping the agency expand a pilot an employment initiative.

He was doing all the right things (resume drafted, applied to 25 or so places) to find another job and I offered some additional suggestions and companies he may wish to consider based on his needs. He also needed someone to offer support and reinforcement. Someone to say keep doing what you are doing and offering constructive feedback. He has interview on Thursday, so keep your fingers crossed.

Yet, I also want to share with you another reason why we should help. You see, through all of these troubles the mother and father have had, his son just graduated with a Master’s degree at a state university. Through all of this, his son was able to find opportunity. Through all of this, his son was able to complete his education. Through all of this, his son was able to break the cycle of poverty. One of the things we emphasize to others, is the homeless kids don’t have a place to study. Oftentimes, they may not eat or go without healthcare. So, helping the family find a home means more than just a roof for kids – it is stability.

When I speak with some people who are more conservative in mindset, I do my best to convince them to help these people climb a ladder. To some, I am wasting my breath, as they view these parents as lazy, drug addicted, or welfare bound. Some like to paint with a broad brush everyone who is in need based on the observations of over-dramatized anecdotes. Yet, the people I encounter are hard-working and are in need of a second job as hours have been cutback or they lost a job. Before the state of Florida was asked to unwind unconstitutional drug testing of welfare recipients, the data from the four months of the program said welfare recipients’ rate of drug use was 1/4 that of general society.

Yet, what I do get even these strident conservative folks to agree on is let’s do something to help the kids. There is a higher propensity for homeless children to become homeless adults than for general society. There is also a higher propensity for children who are violently abused to marry or become abusers themselves when they grow up. I mention the latter as 30% of our homeless families are homeless due to getting away from a domestic violence situation. So, if we can help the kids and parents find homes and help them climb the ladder, we can break the cycle of homelessness and domestic violence.

The Christmas season brings out the generous spirit of many. Yet, the needs last beyond the season. As someone who volunteers, I can tell you there is such great sense of purpose to help others. Follow your passions and offer your help to others. You will be helping more than just one generation. Plus, you will be helping yourself.

Merry Christmas and have a successful New Year.

Happy Easter, too – a reprise of an old post

While I did not grow up Catholic, my best friend did. So, one of our rituals that lasted about ten years was going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. One of the traditions of that mass was the Father would also wish Happy Easter, as he knew he would not see more than a few parishioners until next Christmas.

While fewer people are church goers than before and some check the box “none” when surveyed, Christmas remains an important holiday for the promise it brings. Whether you believe that Jesus is the son of God, there was a man by this name who walked the earth and spoke to gatherings of people of all sizes. He reminded us of four key themes among his many parables and lessons. And, these themes can be found in other religious texts.

– Treat others like you want to be treated.

– Help people less fortunate than you.

– Recognize each of us is imperfect.

– Forgive those who trespass against us.

To me, if we live our lives doing our best to remember these four things, Jesus’ words will help us be better people. And, if enough of us do this, the world just might be a better place.

Mormon leaves the church taking his money with him

A technology billionaire has sent a letter of resignation to the Mormon church noting the reasons why he and his family are leaving. Jeff T. Green notes while there are some fine people in the church doing good things, the church itself is doing harm to people. He said the Mormon church is antagonistic to women’s rights, civil rights and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

In an article in Newsweek called “Utah Native Billionaire Jeff T. Green Quits LDS, Says Mormonism ‘Hindered Global Progress” by Danny Villarreal, the following excerpt can be gleaned:

“Jeff T. Green, thought to be the wealthiest person hailing from the state of Utah, recently wrote an open letter to Russell Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), announcing his resignation from the church along with 11 family members and a friend.

I believe the Mormon Church has hindered global progress in women’s rights, civil rights and racial equality, and LGBTQ+ rights,’ Green’s 900-word letter stated.

Although the Mormon Church has made modern efforts to publicly atone for its past policy positions, the church has funded anti-LGBTQ initiatives, including a 2008 ballot measure to overturn same-sex marriages in California. The church also has a long history of demonizing people of color. Official LDS policy banned Black people from entering Mormon temples until 1978.”

Green will be making an immediate $600,000 donation to support LGBTQ+ issues, but has promised the lion’s share of his $5 billion fortune will go to causes shunned by the church.

In another public display to get the Mormon church to treat the LGBTQ+ community better, Mormon Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons, helped lead a concert for at risk youth in the church. He has been trying to push the church in the directions that Jeff Green sees far too slow movement. Here is a write up from the online press Vulture in 2018 about Reynolds’ efforts.

“Dan Reynolds did everything right. He served as a Mormon missionary and attended the Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He then got married and fathered three children. Reynolds also started a band, and now, at 31, he’s the singer in Imagine Dragons, arguably the biggest rock band in the world. Plenty of rock stars have nontraditional pasts, but Reynolds is different: He’s using his platform as a very famous straight man to advocate for LGBTQ rights, and in the process he’s alienating his band from its fans and himself from his own faith.”

This is how change occurs. It takes a grass roots effort embraced by some very public figures who can use their money and gravitas to get people’s attention. Regardless of faith, the words of Jesus can be found in multiple religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated. No caveats. No ifs, ands or buts. Let’s truly honor Jesus’ birthday by doing our best to remember those words.

https://www.newsweek.com/utah-native-billionaire-jeff-t-green-quits-lds-says-mormonism-hindered-global-progress-1661959

https://www.vulture.com/2018/11/why-imagine-dragons-is-fighting-for-lgbtq-rights.html

Be kind, be safe, be wise

With a new holiday season upon us as well as a new variance of COVID, we must remain cautious. My wife and I just learned her cousin and her cousin’s husband have now contracted the virus, with her cousin in the hospital getting treatment. Both were naysayers and neither got the vaccine. This makes us sad and concerned, and we are hoping for a recovery.

Since we Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus in a few days, let me take a few minutes to encourage the deployment of the following three “wise men.” In my story, these three magi are kindness, safety and wisdom. Be kind, be safe, be wise.

Be kind. One of my favorite quotes is do not mistake kindness as weakness. As we travel and intermingle with others, do what Baby Jesus taught us later in life – treat others like you want to be treated. This rule is so important, Jesus called it “golden.” Jesus had no caveats regarding being selective or discounting those who are perceived enemies. And, Jesus was no weakling, as he agreed to be tortured to save us from ourselves. Please think of these golden words when you are considering being a jerk to someone because you do not like the rules you should have known beforehand.

Be safe. There is no plan B. You and your family only have one life. So, be safe. The best piece of advice I heard is you are better protected against COVID if you practice all of the layers of protection. Be vaccinated, get the booster, wear a mask indoors, practice safe distancing, and wash your hands. If not for you, think of your children. I would hate to have a loved one die from COVID. I would hate it even more, if they chose not to get the vaccine only to realize too late, they were just being stubborn as six naysaying radio shock jocks realized. It is akin to the people who died from AIDS who chose not to use condoms after clearly learning how it was transmitted.* It makes you sad.

Be wise. There are many people smarter than me. Full stop. But, I do know when people realize how much they still don’t know, they have reached a stage of enlightenment. I see way too many people speak with certainty about things they should not, me included. Please do not take my word for anything. I am sharing my opinion. Do your homework through reputable sources. Speak with your doctor. This is especially true if you have other medical issues you are dealing with. We will continue to restrict our travel. We have not been on plane since before the pandemic. Yet, we do drive and take day trips.

So, during this holiday season and even afterwards, be kind, be safe, be wise. That is the best gift you can give you and your family. Peace be with you.

* Note: It should be noted for the longest time, it was unclear how AIDs was transmitted. Because of this, there was a lot of confusion and misinformation bantered about and people died. Lessons were learned and eventually communicated, but once it became clear that using condoms helped, it would have been a community service for the wider dissemination of that information and free condoms – these last two tools were deployed in Third world countries to much success.