A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asser Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes an deteriorated asset creating jobs.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.

 

 

 

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That big undo button the President has in his mind

Since there is such a fuss over “button, button, who has the largest button,” let me build on this theme with another button that comes to mind. For some reason, the President believes he has an “undo” button that can make people forget what has happened.

The most recent example is in response to the comments made by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former Chief Strategist, that are derogatory to the President and his family. In trying to diminish Bannon, Trump said Bannon was just a staff member who did not greatly help Trump’s election and never got one-on-one meetings with the President. Call me crazy, but Chief Strategist sounds kind of important and we should not forget that Bannon was given an unheard of security clearance usually reserved for Generals. As for the one-on-one meetings, there are pictures of the two of them meeting, which look like no one else is in the room.

Of course, he changes his stories so often, he presumes reporters don’t remember he said things. The infamous meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and several Russians is now being referenced as treasonous and unpatriotic by Bannon. Yet, we should not forget that the President has changed his story twice on his knowledge of this meeting. First, he said he had heard about it shortly before the news broke. Then he changed the story to knowledge the month before the news broke as he funded $50,000 into Junior’s defense fund. Then, he changed it again and said he was aware of the meeting before it happened, but did not attend. Now, Bannon implies more to the story, asking the question why was the meeting held in Trump Tower?

The above story will likely haunt his son and son-in-law more than it will him, but his story changing as to why he fired James Comey, may come back to haunt him for obstruction of justice. Firing Comey was not the wisest move on Trump’s part, but he added fuel to the fire by doing the following: firing Comey without the courtesy of telling him or his communication people who had to plan on the fly in the White House shrubbery, deviating from the story as to why Comey was fired two days later in an interview with Lester Holt saying it was due to the Russia thing, and then providing altering versions of the story in future tweets.

For me, I am not going to let him off with an “undo” button. He has pushed that button so many times, it has worn out. My thesis is simple. If he is not guilty of anything, then why does he act so guilty with his story changing? And, for those who want him to testify to remedy all questions, there is an interesting story about a deposition he once did, when the opposing attorney made him recant under oath 30 lies he had told. When you change your story so much, it is hard to remember the truth.

If you give a mouse a cookie

The childhood book by this name reveals that some are never satisfied when you do them favors. I was thinking of this as I thought of the litany of things done by a self-promoted populist on behalf of his true benefactors, the wealthy mice. He started with cookies, but the list goes on.

If those onerous environmental regulations were getting in the way, he just rolled back a few of them. Plus, if those scientists and their data were problematic to polluting businesses, he just fired a few, ran off a few and deleted access to important research data.

If access to public lands and what lies thereunder was a roadblock, he just cut back on the national parks and gave easier access to developers. What is land, if it cannot be exploited for short term gain? As a rancher put it, when the developers come, the profits go to Houston and Calgary, but the degradation is left for them long term.

If paying taxes is preventing investment in employees or business, even though conpanies are sitting on cash, then he gave the mice more money. The key is how much will flow into investment and employees and how much will be used to make the executives look good?

Along the way, there are some photo ops to say look what is happening, but the mice seem to be the ones who are getting the cookies and added benefits. As one energy consultant noted, the President has done a lot for coal owners, but not much for coal workers.

I am all for making things easier, but we need smart regulations that protect Americans from short cutting and corruption. We must pay for things as well, and debt and environmental costs are dear. Saying they don’t matter is poor stewardship as our children and grandchildren will have to pay the price for our avoidance.

The weather outside is frightful

The weather outside is frightful. Inside it’s so delightful. And, since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let is snow.

Please think good thoughts for those who are exposed to the severe cold and wintry precipitation. May they stay warm and travel safely if they must. We will be in the teens here over several nights, but our Minnesota based friend, Hugh, said he awoke to 19 below, Fahrenheit. Yikes!

I also want to emphasize the word “weather.” The US President either purposefully or unknowingly confused climate with weather. If purposeful, his intent was to play up to the “climate change is hoax” crowd among his followers. Unfortunately, this becomes an annual confusion effort which is either cynical of filled with malintent. Someone needs to tell the President that it is summer time in the Southern Hemisphere and 2017 set a new record for average heat around the globe. A few days of frigid weather in December north of the equator and June south of the equator will not alter that fact.

It would be nice if the President did not forsake the US global standing and stay engaged as a leader on climate change efforts. We have some of the leading climate scientists and data in the world. We are also one of the two biggest carbon emitters. Fortunately, other state, city and business leaders will keep the US moving forward leveraging the many good efforts.

Have a wonderful 2018. Let’s move this ball forward. Our children and their children need us to.

Help me understand

In probably the best example of tribal thinking in America is the stark contrast in character between the last two Presidents and how Evangelicals have papered over the holes in that of the current incumbent. The reason is the current President will do their bidding, which is questionable, but let’s set that aside for now.

Help me understand how a man who does very little to exemplify Christian behavior is given a hall pass while his predecessor who is devout, raised a wonderful family with his only wife and had no scandals in eight years is demonized?

Help me understand how a man who is a habitual and prodigious liar, an admitted and accused sexual assaulter, a demeaning bully and a narcissistic man can be viewed without concern. How can a man who is such a negative example to Christians and non-Christians be permitted to bring out the worst in us?

For the ultimate goal of whom he might appoint to the Supreme Court and other courts, we have a President who is making America into a pariah around the globe, galvanizing white supremacists into action, diminishing civil rights, demonizing the media while he is such a prolific liar and attacking anyone who dares criticize him. Jesus would weep at such a man for the hatefulness he has espewed.

Help me understand how I can be proud of the man who is in the leadership role of our country, when he embarasses us on a daily basis? I wish I did not have to say this, but I do not believe a word the man says. Help me understand why I should?

The more common sexual misconduct

Sexual misconduct awareness is arguably the story of 2017. Men of renown or in public service have been called on the carpet for past misdeeds, almost always losing their jobs or status. Yet, the more common stories are the countless male managers, supervisors or peers in a host of industries, retail stores, restaurants, manufacturing plants et al, who have preyed on women (and men) simply because the victims were powerless.

On Friday, a story hit the airwaves about Ford manufacturing plants where managers sexually assaulted and harassed female workers. Several allowed a culture of sexual harassment to occur and be perpetuated by peer male workers. A couple of examples stuck with me. A woman starting work would hear “fresh meat” being yelled at her by her male peers as she walked into the plant. Another woman said she had to sleep with her boss to get a schedule that would permit her to drop off and pick up her child from daycare.

For every Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Bill Cosby or Donald Trump, there are thousands of men who abuse their power and sexually harass women every day. The women have little choice as the jobs that pay the same are scarce. Or, they may be working for the main employer in a small town. So, many have to make a decision to acquiesce to a manager, put up with that environment or leave. Reporting the issue to HR may prove futile or backfire on the woman, especially if the employer has more clout in a small town.

Fortunately, more voices are being heard. We are at a tipping point, but it will have to be a long game to make the needed dramatic impact. As citizens, we must hold our leaders accountable. It matters not what tribe they belong to, meaning political party. As employees, we must not perpetuate or condone a sexual harassing environment, nor can we remain silent if we know of sexual assault.

The “times they are a changin” sang a Nobel prize winning songwriter in the 1960s. It could be sung now as well. But, maybe the anthem from a female songwriter from the early 1970s should be loudly vocalized. Helen Reddy sang, “I am woman hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore.” Amen, sister.

Threatening others is not a great sales strategy

The US President made an ill-advised move to declare Jerusalem Israel’s capitol saying the US would move its embassy there. The dilemma is it’s a lightning rod of a change, with Palestinians laying claim as well. Yet, after the UN Security Council voted 14 to 1 against this declaration with the US being outnumbered, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, extended the President’s threat to cut funding to the countries who voted against the US.

Well, in a show of defiance, the entire UN body voted 128 to 9 against the US decision. Some small African nations, who heavily rely on US funding, acquiesced to the threat. Several countries abstained since the did not want to unsettle the sensitive President, but the sizable vote count should serve as an embarrassment to him. In sports and politics that would be called a rout.

It is my guess the President will remain defiant as it is not in his nature to admit a mistake, but one thing the President absolutely detests is being made to look bad. We should not forget his recorded comment that asked Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican President, to say openly Mexico would pay for the wall as “it was making him look bad” if they did not.

We should remind the President that his decisions and comments are what are making him look bad. When he announced that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Accord on June 1, it was the day after Exxon-Mobil shareholders voted against a management recommendation to require management to disclose what they are doing to battle climate change, the third fossil fuel based company to be so required in May following shareholder votes at PPL and Occidental Petroleum. The shareholders did what the President would not, go against the wishes of a petroleum company’s management.

To further illustrate US isolation on this Paris withdrawal, we are the lone county not to participate once the withdrawal becomes effective. We are also one of the biggest polluters, which seems fairly un-neighborly to thumb our nose at the rest of the world. Our country was also not invited to a climate change planning conference earlier this month in France. The US did have representation from several states, cities and business leaders who have picked up the baton the President dropped, but our government was not represented nor wanted.

My biggest fear going in with the bullying President was his not supporting climate change action. But, the greater fear is making the US a pariah in the world, someone who threatens other countries. If a country has a choice to deal with the US President or not, unless avoiding pain or accomplishing gain is compelling, the answer may be “no, thank you” more than it would have been before this President took office. Threats will not help in this cause, as illustrated at the UN.

China is benefitting from our retrenching position in the world. Xi Jinping is a more rational and trusted leader than the US President. Even domestic US leaders know not to trust the President at his word, including Republicans who suffer in silence. Lying and bullying are not admirable traits. Fortunately, leaders like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are picking up the mantle as true leaders of the Western world.

In closing, if there is a visual metaphor of the bullying US President, it occurred during a meeting with fellow NATO leaders in Brussels earlier this year. President Trump appeared to shove Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic of Montenegro aside in order to position himself front and center for photographers. A bull in a china shop, so to speak.