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.

Built to Last – a revisit to a still relevant book

This is a repeat post from about nine years ago. It is longer than my current posts, but I did pare down a few dated anecdotes.

As a retired business person, my favorite business book is “Built to Last – Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” written in 1994 by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. “Built to Last” is a data driven book that looks at the habits of 18 highly successful companies and contrasts their results to the second-best competitor in their industries. While the data supports their arguments, it is an easy read and not an arcane business book. To me, its lessons can be translated to any organization or governmental entity, be it national, state, provincial or local. If you would like to explore it more, check out the WikiLeaks summary of the book which is quite good.

While I read this book several years ago, today’s business, political and governmental climate of more short-term thinking troubles me. As our country does not have the patience to see if an idea works, we are destined to try small band-aid solutions that will never get at the underlying problems. I would say, though, band-aids can help if they move things incrementally forward, but many of our problems will take longer term planning and execution that will go beyond the terms of office of those making the decisions. This occurs in business as well as governments. The businesses who are publicly traded must meet analysts expectations on a quarterly basis. Think of how many times you have seen a business do better, but miss expectations and are crucified. So, it is not uncommon for businesses to forego longer term solutions that are not “accretive” or additive to short-term earnings.

Clearly, the same holds true in governments whether they are in the US or abroad. In these partisan days, we have too many people kicking the can down the road. They won’t take necessary action during times of prosperity and have predictable problems grow and must be resolved during times of economic strife. They did not learn their bible lessons from Joseph who had a dream that his Egyptian captors should save grain from the seven years of fortune, as seven years of famine would follow.

In “Built to Last,” the 18 companies studied dwarfed the performance over time of that of their best competitors.  They did not just dwarf the industry average performance; they significantly outperformed some very good companies. There were several lessons learned from these companies that formed the “successful habits” presented in the book. A brief review of these habits and some analogies follow:

Build a clock, don’t just tell time

These organizations were built from the outset to do more than just one thing. In fact, some of the companies failed at their first idea. Yet, they built a framework to develop new ideas and concepts. This is needed in government as well as business and non-profit organizations. What is the framework to plan and execute our strategies? In the US, this framework for future strategy has to be done in a thoughtful, non-partisan manner. Otherwise, we all will fail.

Be more than profits

These companies are all good community citizens. They recognize that for their business to flourish, their communities must be vibrant and take care of those less fortunate. This helps their customers and employees. It shows this is a great place to work. It also helps their shareholders, as the performance numbers are powerful. In the book it highlights how Dow Chemical survived one the worst chemical spill disasters in India, in part because they were a good community citizen. People knew the company was mortified by this tragedy and worked with them to rebound. Contrast this to the company whose coal-miners were killed in West Virginia two years ago. This company had a long history of trying to usurp the law and had a trail of audit issues for safety violations.

While we do need to reward and promote success, we have to be more than profits. Paraphrasing Gandhi, a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate. We have to help those in need climb the ladder. Otherwise, we will end up with the haves and have-nots. Having seen the “Hunger Games” last night, it is not unlike some dictatorial cultures where those that have do well and those that do not live in poverty. We have places like that on Earth today and our economic disparity in our own country is rather disgraceful for a free country.

Preserve the core but stimulate progress

These companies had enviable track records of success and had a core set of businesses. Yet, they all looked to grow. They realized to survive they had to progress, to make things more efficiently, more effectively and seek new avenues for growth. Our country has an enviable construct of government. It bothers me greatly when people want to mess with that construct. That is our core. Yet, we do need to work to define what is truly needed and develop a longer term plan for progress. We have added tools (laws, regulations, bureaucracies) over time to help us progress, so we need to review these and make sure they are still effective. Where our tools are outdated, redundant or less effective, we should refine them to promote progress. But, we need to preserve the core.

Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGS)

Many people have heard or used this term, but don’t know where it came from. These companies have been successful because they set bold goals or BHAGs. One of the boldest goals noted in the book is that of John F. Kennedy when he declared at his inauguration that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  At the time, America had seen several launch failures, not unlike the recent North Korean missile failure. So, it was indeed a BHAG. And, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July, 1969. We need more of this in business and government. While the President has declared and set mpg standards for cars, something like we will make America’s energy production entirely green by 2050 would be a BHAG I think we should strive for. To do this would require a lot of planning, industry support and buy-in and execution.

Cult-like Cultures

One of the more interesting habits was this one on cult-like cultures. They cited the customer service focus of Nordstrom and how the customer came before the shareholder. Their mantra is if we take care of the customer, the shareholders will make more money. They actually inverted the pyramid structure, putting the customer at the top.  New employees would need to adopt this or leave. Other companies had similar culture issues. Equating this to our country, Americans believe fervently in freedoms. They also believe in fairness. So, when things begin to look unfair, Americans will act. That is our cult-like culture. Yet, we need our community conscious leaders to let us know when things are becoming unfair.

Try a lot of stuff and keep what works

The successful companies are constantly trying new ideas. Sometimes they fail. It notes the example of Texas Instruments who used to be a darling of Wall Street. Back in the 1970’s, they had a leadership group that would actually publicly humiliate you for perceived dumb ideas. Guess what happened? Idea creation went to zero and TI fell by the wayside. In an another example, I read where a CEO made a $10 million mistake on a new venture. The Chairman of the Board called him in and instead of telling him he was fired, congratulated him on trying something new. That is why he had hired him. This is an interesting converse to the TI story.

In today’s world, I hate to see when people are unfairly punished for failures, real or perceived. We are human and we mess up. We make decisions based on the best information available.  I would want to understand why things failed.

Good enough never is

I switched the order of the chapters as I see a lot in this chapter with the above.  These companies never rested on their laurels. They always said this is good, but we could be or do it better. They never are satisfied with good enough. They strived to be more. This is one of the geniuses of Steve Jobs. He never was satisfied with good enough. He was quite adamant and even an asshole about it. Yet, those who worked with him saw his vision come true time and time again. There were many times when he could have let an inferior effort get to the market place, but he was enamored with the art and elegance of the product. He wanted the Mac to look good on the inside as well as the outside. He wanted the walls of the factory to be painted white as it shows the dirt and had to be cleaned more. He wanted the impression that if we care so much about cleanliness, we really care about our products.

Home grown management

This habit was equally amazing to read about. I will cite these numbers incorrectly, but out of the 500 or so leaders these 18 companies had over time, 495 of them came from within. Meaning these companies promoted recognizable leaders from their own ranks. This went against a preconceived notion. In actuality, promoted leaders were recognized for their success as natural transitions, their promotion opened other promotions which led to better career-pathing and the companies benefited from the intrinsic knowledge of how to get things done in the company, whose counsel to seek out and whose to avoid.

My old company made the mistake of hiring outside leadership several times in the last eight years. Each time, the leaders were eventually fired. It became a revolving door. Each time the leaders would try ideas that had been tried before and failed in this company. Several times decisions were made and announced and the employees knew the day of the announcement that the decision was poor. They would inevitably not know who to trust, so they would bring in new leaders from outside. As these folks were not known commodities, the mistakes would be magnified. And, the good internal candidates would leave creating a greater void.

New blood is good when effectively used. A company needs new ideas. Yet, it cannot throw out what makes them successful with the bath water. Our country needs leaders of all types. We cannot have only new leaders who have never governed before. And, we cannot just rely on leaders who have only governed.  We need people who know how to get things done who know others in other areas of government. Yet, we do need new ideas as well.

If you have not read this book, I would encourage you to do so. There are good lessons for many types of governance. The businesses and governments who think long term and embrace these successful habits will flourish. And, so will we as citizens, customers, shareholders and employees.

Interesting news item on lead pipe and paint removal

In the midst of all the falderol about the former president’s last Chief of Staff, something good is happening. Part of the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill will help with lead pipe and paint removal. This has been a festering problem and not just for the folks in Flint, Michigan.

In an article called “Harris announces Biden administration’s new lead pipe and paint removal effort,” by Kevin Liptak and Kate Sullivan of CNN, it speaks to why this is a concern and what is going to happen.

“Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday announced a new administration push to eliminate lead from water pipes and homes in the next decade using billions in new funding allocated through the new bipartisan infrastructure law.

‘Here’s the truth, and it’s a hard truth: Millions of people in our country, many of them children, are still exposed to lead every day,’ Harris said at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in Washington.

The vice president said many parents across the country have told her they were worried ‘that every time they turned on the faucet to give their child a glass of water that they may be filling that glass with poison.’

‘The science is clear about what drinking water from a lead pipe can do to the human body,’ Harris said. ‘For adults, it can cause an increase in blood pressure and decreased kidney function. In children, it can severely harm mental and physical development. It can stunt growth, slow down learning and cause irreparable damage to the brain.’

Through the administration’s new Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, agencies will take a number of steps meant to remove the toxic metal from places where people live, work or go to school. Harris said the push would focus on communities that have “historically been left out or left behind.”

The Environmental Protection Agency will begin the process of writing new regulations that would protect communities from lead in drinking water; the Department of Labor will form technical assistance hubs to fast-track removal projects with union workers; agencies will commit to removing lead service lines and paint in federally assisted housing; and a new Cabinet group will focus on lead removal in schools and child care facilities.”

The Infrastructure Bill is about ten years over due in my mind. It has long been supported by the US Chamber of Commerce and the labor unions, as it helps invest in America and creates jobs. And, it has always received bipartisan support. Ironically, the last former president spoke of improving infrastructure during his 2016 campaign, but missed a chance to address it during his term.

This aspect of the bill is vital as it is addressing something that is harming our children. And, that is certainly a very good thing.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/white-house-to-announce-new-lead-pipe-and-paint-removal-effort/ar-AARSxCE?ocid=msedgntp

Lower-cost clean energy rises in NC

The following are a few excerpts from an editorial written in The Charlotte Observer on Sunday by columnist Ned Barnett. While the focus is on what North Carolina has done the past ten years, it shows what can happen with a focus on renewables and attracting business. It should be noted a lot of NC’s success is in part due to companies like Amazon, Facebook (now Meta), Google and IKEA setting up centers powered by renewable energy, which got the attention of legislators.

“A new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group gives North Carolina strong grades for renewable energy. In measures of growth since 2011, North Carolina ranks third nationally in solar power, 10th in energy efficiency, 17th in electric vehicle sales, 20th in battery storage of renewable energy and 26th in wind power. ‘It’s amazing the difference that a decade can make and how many people are choosing to embrace renewable energies like solar power,’ said Krista Early, an advocate with Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center.

That growth raises prospects that seemed hopelessly remote just a decade ago: widespread use of electric cars that could eliminate the volatile cost of gas and a power grid driven by renewable energy that will reduce utility bills. North Carolina’s move toward renewables will be accelerated by this year’s passage of a major energy bill, House Bill 951.

Steve Levitas, a vice president at Pine Gate Renewables in Asheville, one of the nation’s fastest growing renewable energy companies, said the new state law will have a big effect. ‘HB 951 is going to drive a dramatic transformation of the state energy sectors,’ he said. ‘It will drive retirement of (Duke Energy’s) coal fleet and will result in more renewables. That’s going to happen.’

The new federal infrastructure law and the possible passage of the Build Back Better bill will also expand the use of renewable energy. While renewables still produce a small fraction of electric power, Levitas said the rising use of solar and wind power will make renewable energy an increasingly cheaper option to fossil fuels. ‘People predicted a long time ago that if you created demand, that would drive down costs and that’s been proven to be true many times over,’ he said.”

Note, while the reference to renewables providing a small fraction of electric power may be true in NC, in places like Iowa, Texas, California, Oklahoma, et al, the percentages are not small fractions. Iowa gets over 40% of its electricity from wind energy while Texas is right at 20% on electricity from renewables, primarily wind energy.

Progress is being made, but we now need to hasten it as we have passed the tipping point. Yet, what business has started realizing the past several years, if they do not keep up, their ability to compete may be compromised. State legislatures must recognize this as well.

Read more at: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/article256092197.html#storylink=cpy

A Beautiful Mind has it Right – the Nash Equilibrium shows the power of working together

The following post was written seven years ago, but holds true even more so today with the recently passed infrastructure bill as well as the need to work together in our global economy on trade, environmental, and human rights issues.

One of my favorite Russell Crowe movies is “A Beautiful Mind” directed by Ron Howard about the schizophrenic Ph.D. in economics, John Nash. If you saw the movie, you know that Nash won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science for his theory which became known as “Nash Equilibrium” that was used in game theory, economic development and other areas. In short it was all about maximizing everyone’s gain. From Wikipedia, this example might help define what Nash’s theory was all about:

“Stated simply, Amy and Will are in Nash equilibrium if Amy is making the best decision she can, taking into account Will’s decision, and Will is making the best decision he can, taking into account Amy’s decision. Likewise, a group of players are in Nash equilibrium if each one is making the best decision that he or she can, taking into account the decisions of the others in the game.”

The reason I raise is this is that we can all benefit more if we work with each other rather than against. If we all try to win the game, whatever that is, we will actually end up in a collective lesser state. This is a key reason why collaboration is vital to the success of most endeavors, including and especially politics. But, let me use a real example of how a region can benefit more economically through collective partnering under Nash Equilibrium.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, we have a terrific new “transmodal distribution facility” that is near the airport. The facility is adjacent to and incorporates railroad train tracks in the distribution process. It is also very conveniently located to three interstates (I-85, I-77 and I-485) and a fourth four lane highway (US 321) which connects to I-40 about forty miles away. If you know your North Carolina geography, you will know that Charlotte is right on the border with South Carolina and several towns in SC are actually included in the Metro Charlotte area.

A key reason for its success is more than the rail, highway and air access. Charlotte is also a convenient driving distance from ports in Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. With the deepening of the Panama Canal set to be complete in 2015, bigger ships can sail from Asia-Pacific (China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, etc.). Yet, unless these ports are dredged to become deeper, the bigger ships cannot enter the harbors there and will sail past. Activity has begun in various stages, but here is where Nash Equilibrium should come to fruition.

The states of North and South Carolina (and Florida and Georgia) should work collectively along with business and the Federal government to deepen all ports noted above. We will all benefit more greatly if we invest together. This would be true on other economic investments where we should work less at cross purposes and compete as a region. I recognize there have been pockets of success where this has been done, but to me, with the significant cost of dredging these harbors and the stalemate in fighting in Washington where Congress is moving money around to fund a very limited transportation budget for infrastructure, this a keen example of why we must work together to benefit more.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell have been promoting a bipartisan investment in our infrastructure, each representing the major political parties. LaHood said this is the best jobs program we could possibly have. And, as I have said before, borrowing money to invest in assets, is different from borrowing money for operations. This is where we need to spend our money as the collective return on investment is huge.

So, to the state legislatures and Congress, let’s get with it and work to invest in America’s ports and roads. As Rendell said, if we don’t deepen our ports, the ships will sail right by us to Canada. John Nash indeed had a beautiful mind. We should follow his direction to maximize our collective gain.

It is all about The Donald

Yesterday, the former president was giving a speech during which he again lambasted thirteen Republican representatives who voted in favor of the infrastructure bill. One of those thirteen, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York was in the audience. According to news reports, she was visibly shaken, as she probably knows what it means for the former president to rile up his base.

I called her for a second time this week, on top of my call to thank her for her vote and political courage. I also wanted to thank her for putting America’s interests ahead of those in her own party or at least those of a vocal and fervent base. The second call was to reiterate her courage and ask her to hang in there. We need more people to vote for what they believe is in her constituents better interests and not fewer.

Here is what I also told her. The former president forgets he campaigned in 2016 to pass an infrastructure bill. This is one of the few things I agreed with him on. So, did Democrats and folks like Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders welcomed discussion on infrastructure. Yet, the former president chose to try and take people’s healthcare access away first and foremost. Over four years, nothing on infrastructure happened after making a campaign promise..

Now that he lost the election because he got fewer votes overall and in key states, he is targeting anyone in his party who, in his mind, is helping the opposition. This in middle school behavior, saying I am not going to like you, because you like him. He is siccing his fervent base on them and some use vile threats against this group. Those targeted know this and still voted like they did. Now, why would they do this?

But, back to the infrastructure bill which will be signed Monday. Most Americans want the bill to happen. In fact, the Senate had nineteen Republican votes on top of the thirteen Republican representatives who voted in favor of the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted for it saying this week it is a “godsend” to the people of the state of Kentucky. Mind you, he did not see this is a pretty good bill for his constituents. He said it is a “godsend.” I will take that as an endorsement.

This former president is reacting like he usually does through the lens of an enormous and fragile ego. How does this bill’s passing affect me? Using a line that can be used with any narcissist, but applies here – it is all about the The Donald. America’s and Americans’ interests are always secondary to that of The Donald’s. That is why extorting other countries for gain and “burning it all down” as his niece said he would to overturn the election are so easy for him to consider and do.

And, for those who believe I am all wet, consider these two things. Why would a person in a leadership position have rallies in February, 2020 when admitting to Bob Woodward on February 7, 2020 that he knew of the dangers of COVID-19. He had several rallies of his most loyal followers, lambasting COVID-19 as a Democratic hoax (that would go on to kill 750,000 Americans), and without letting his most ardent followers know they may be in danger. If that were not enough, he had a big party at the White House later in the year, where about a half-dozen folks caught COVID-19, which may have been where he contracted it.

Why does he do these things? It is an easy answer – the adulation. Full stop. It is all about The Donald. And, Representative Malliotakis and the 31 other Republicans who voted for the infrstructure bill (not just twelve others), thank you for your service to our country.

Two posts on infrastructure worth a look this morning

As I was fumbling around for the subject of my post, I saw a post that intrigued me. To be frank, the subject was less important, but the author was our friend Jill who has been missing from the online blogging world as she recovers. She has been missed.. It is truly a delight to see her words again.

Her post and that of fellow blogger Annie are related to the passing of the infractucture bill. late Friday night. Rather than repeat their blog posts, I will provide links below. Please read their words on their blog and comment accordingly. I am going to put one of my comments here to emphasize how important it is to highlight this accomplishment.

“I thought his (President Biden’s) words yesterday were well done. And, he was ebullient. I did call the thirteen Republican representatives who voted for the infrastructure bill, thanking them for putting our country ahead of party. As an independent and former Republican (and Democrat) voter, this bill is more than three months over due; it is ten years over due. And, contrary to what is being portrayed by some Republicans, this was a bipartisan bill that also passed 69 to 30 in the Senate, including a vote in favor by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.

Not to belabor the point, but the US Chamber of Commerce and union leadership for ten years have been pleading for Congress to act. Yet, the only substantive change made was to reload funding for the Highway Trust Fund. How many bills get support of the unions and business leaders?

So, this is good news for America and Americans. We can now fix and improve things that are outdated and in disrepair and build better infrastructure to serve our needs going forward.”

Climate of Hope – an update of a older post

One of the positives of the previous US president pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is it galvanized the many who see the need to act to save our planet. Coupling the US exit with the former president placing climate change deniers and fossil fuel supporters in key cabinet roles, he placed the US government at the kids table, while the adults talk about solving the world’s problem. But, with the current president, this is changing, but even he is not moving fast enough. Getting the US back to the table is a huge plus, though.

Fortunately, even the former president’s actions cannot stop the momentum as a tipping point on renewable energy and other efforts have been reached. As reported in the book “Climate of Hope,” by former New York City Mayor and Governor Michael Bloomberg (he actually did some good before his sexual harassment caught up with him) and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club Carl Pope, cities, businesses and citizens have been leading the way. This is important as cities are significant contributors to climate change and can therefore make a huge dent in ameliorating its effect. And, they are sharing their successes formally and informally

Some of these efforts include:

– Restoring and renovating older buildings into green buildings. Bloomberg touts the renovation of the 1931 built Empire State as a key example.

– Building new structures with an even greener footprint. In India they deploy white rooftops to reflect away the sun to minimize cooling costs, e.g,

– Building more pedestrian areas which provide safer and eco-friendly access to shops, restaurants and businesses. These car free zones actually are part of a solution to reroute traffic to reduce carbon polluting stoppage.

– Building and nurturing buffers to allow nature to do its jobs to absorb the pounding of the ocean, since,  so many large cities are coastal cities with some below sea level. We should use nature to provide defenses that stand the test of time.

– Developing master traffic plans embracing car sharing, ride sharing, bike sharing, pedestrian pathways, electric vehicles from buses to taxis, and the elegant use of mass transit based on capital needs and restrictions. Bloomberg is big on measuring things, so installing GPS in New York taxis allowed them to measure success and make modifications to their plans as executed.

– Planting more carbon saving trees in cities and other areas, as well as using other plants such as mangroves in coastal areas as they suck carbon out of the air.

– Conserving food and reducing wastage. We waste huge amounts of food, both before and after it is cooked. Imperfect fruits and vegetables go straight to the dumps unless concentrated efforts prevent it and guide distribution to other users. Buying local saves on transportation costs and emissions, as well (but we need to buy more of what grows naturally in an area, as a caveat).

– Challenging manufacturers for efficient production and distribution. For example, a significant amount of wood goes to pallets that are tossed after one use. Look to more durable pallets that can be reused. Plus, the US does an excellent job of distributing products by rail and can do even better, as the rest of the world improves their efforts. These transmodal distribution centers that marry the efforts of ships, planes, trains and trucks provide huge efficiences and enhance trade.

– Dissuading the building of new coal plants. Active efforts have reduced coal from over 53% market share in 1990 to 30% market share of energy in 2016. Market forces are reducing this further as natural gas became cheaper and renewable energy cost fell to become more on par with coal. If new coal plants must be built, do it in concert with retiring older, less efficient plants. Fortunately, coal has become more costly to produce (not even factoring in its other costs) than natural gas which has its own set of issues) and is more on par with certain renewables.

– Making investment funds available to pay for upfront costs for renewable energy in countries that have fewer capital funding sources. India could do even more with available funding, especially as they electrify more of the country.

The great news is these things are happening. And, they are being shared. Please read this book. It is brief and optimistic. Also, watch the soon the sequel to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and the excellent documentary “Ice on Fire” to learn more. Also, there is a very practical book called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn on dealing with climate change. Iowa gets over 40% of its electricity from wind energy with Texas getting about 20% from renewables. And, California is the 4th largest solar energy “country” in the world, by itself. Then spread the news about what is happening.

To be frank, these actions are positive and smart irrespective of one’s stance on climate change. And, a final note from Bloomberg is the millennials are paying attention. They want to work in places that are doing their part to fight climate change. Think about that as you plan. Yet, we still need to move faster than we are. In my view we are at least ten years behind where we should have been.

A Habitat for Humanity – a reprise on the Carter legacy

Jimmy Carter just celebrated his 97th birthday on Friday. The following is an encore presentation of a tribute to Carter’s legacy, especially with Habitat for Humanity.

There are strong opinions about who might be the most impactful US president. But, there should be less debate on the most impactful ex-president. In the view of many, that would be James Earl Carter, better known as Jimmy.

With Rosalynn, his wife of 73 years by his side, the 95 year-old Carter is out there with hammer and drill building houses for Habitat for Humanity. As a non-profit Board volunteer, I believe the Habitat model, embraced by Carter, is a sound model, based on sweat equity. Having helped build one house with my co-workers, I can attest to the “sweat” part, as never have I been more tired at the end of the day.

Not only does the home owner have to help build his or her house, he or she has to help other home owners build their houses. But, another famous couple is building on the Carter Habitat legacy. You may have heard of them – country singers Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. They hope to carry the hammer and drill forward after the Carters can no longer do it. Yet, the older couple are still out their hammering away, even after falls, hospital stays, etc.

Yet, that is not all of what Carter does. He still teaches Sunday school, which is so well attended, it was moved to the church sanctuary. He has also written about thirty books – I have read a couple, one on his upbringing and one on addressing the maltreatment of women in the US and world. His and Rosalynn’s “Carter Center” has helped to eradicate guinea worm disease in many places around the globe. And, Carter has been asked by several presidents to be an envoy to certain countries to represent our interests be it for state funerals or to elicit the release of an American in custody.

To be frank, his presidency is not given sufficient credit as he served one term as an outsider. To my surprise, I read that a significant number of bills were signed into law on his watch, but that is not well known. But, it is clear, he has been a much more impactful former president. He will be missed when he is gone.

Let’s celebrate them while he and Rosalynn are with us. A good way to do so, is to sing a Peter, Paul and Mary song, “If I had a hammer, I’d swing it in the morning, I’d swing it in the evening all over this land….”

Grandstanding is not governance – not even close

As someone who follows the news and used to hold most elected officials in higher esteem, I am continually frustrated with the absence of good governance in Washington and various state capitols. Rather than governance, I see grandstanding for sound bytes to beat the other party over the head with. The purpose is to remain or regain power, where they will be in charge of doing nothing to govern.

Several Congressional representatives and Senators have retired or are retiring. The principal reasons are the disillusionment with the open hostility between factions and the fact over 1/3 of their time (some said 40%) is fundraising for the party. Let me say that last part in a different way. We taxpayers are paying for elected officials to hit us up for money between 33% and 40% of the time.

In essence, elected officials are more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs. A further frustration is the number of folks who just don’t bother to reach out to all constituents and only care about their own party. The truth has become a casualty. And, what is sad is those who pay attention to the news know many of these elected officials are lying and know they know they are lying, but they lie anyway.

Grandstanding is a pronounced way of lying drawing attention to the person so doing. To me, it is akin to a gorilla beating on its chest to make an opponent cower and not fight back. Right now, we have an entire party that is OK with the US defaulting on its debts. Increasing the debt ceiling is to address what we have already spent or decided to spend, which the same folks did not seem to mind doing. Or, they cut revenue which also increased the debt.

In fact, many of these same folks voted on a tax bill in December, 2017 that reduced taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals which raised the debt by $2 trillion, approximately. In essence, we added to debt to make a pretty good economy a little better for a little while. Per the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, we must do both – cut spending and raise revenue to address our deficit and debt. The math will otherwise not work.

I have shared with several Senators it is OK to push back on spending to make sure we consider the best investments, but grandstanding on a debt limit that you helped make worse is not the place to do it. Before the pandemic, the US was around $22 trillion in debt with a $1 trillion annual shortfall on our budget ($3.4 trillion in revenue on $4.4 trillion in expenses). After needed pandemic stimulus, we are even worse off on debt and scheduled to be even further behind.

The last time we had a debt limit standoff was about eight years ago, led by Senator Ted Cruz (who by the way voted for the tax bill increase noted above increasing the debt). Our allies pleaded with us not to renege and when the US was within twenty-four hours of defaulting, ten female Senators from both parties told Cruz and others to get out of the pool for an adult swim. These ten women resolved the matter and the US did not default.

Our debt and deficit has been caused by both parties. Do not let either party say it is the other one’s fault as that simply is not true. And, we need for both of them to be involved to remedy this. Unfortunately, no one has the stomach to do what it really takes to resolve this. Any elected official can spend money and reduce taxes. Any elected official. But, that is precisely the problem. We need serious discussion with data and not grandstanding. Grandstanding is not governance.