Our children deserve better

Two time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof wrote an editorial earlier this week in The New York Times called “Our children deserve better.” It is a clarion call to our nation showing the plight of kids in America.

Here are a few quotes to frame the issue:

“UNICEF says America ranks No. 37 among countries in well-being of children, and Save the Children puts the United States at No. 36. European countries dominate the top places.

American infants at last count were 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than children in other advanced countries, according to an article last year in the journal Health Affairs. We would save the lives of 20,000 American children each year if we could just achieve the same child mortality rates as the rest of the rich world.”

“Half a million American kids also suffer lead poisoning each year, and the youth suicide rate is at its highest level on record….The Census Bureau reported this week that the number of uninsured children increased by 425,000 last year.”

These are different views and sources of the threats to US children that note we have a problem. Another source I read a couple of years ago noted America has a much higher maternal mortality rate at child birth than other civilized countries, which further endangers children as well as the mothers.

Yet, these issues are not being discussed in the halls of government. We have a poverty problem in our country with too many living in or just above poverty levels. We have not expanded Medicaid in fifteen states whose numbers are worse than these national numbers per capita. We have not addressed our national water crisis which has a Flint, MI like exposure to lead in too many cities and a volume of available fresh water issue in other places. We have not invested as we should to diminish crime and provide more opportunities for jobs in disenfranchised areas. There are several pockets of success that can be emulated in more cities.

We also need to address better gun governance, especially with the number one gun death cause by far being suicide and a non-inconsequential accidental gun death rate. And, we have not dealt with the continuing and rising exposure to technology and artificial intelligence which have taken and will take even more jobs in the future. Finally, there is that climate change thing we need to deal with.

These are real problems. And, they will get worse. Data driven analysis of causes and solutions are needed. They are both multi-faceted. Investing more now, will save huge amounts later. This is not just an urban issue, it is rural one as well. The opioid crisis is rampant in these impoverished rural areas, for example.

None of the solutions will fit on a bumper sticker. And, political attempts to oversimplify issues should be questioned. Here is an easy contradiction to spot – if people believe gun deaths are a mental health issue, then why the effort to eliminate or not expand mental health benefits?

Please make your legislators aware of these issues and ask pointed questions. These questions deserve answers, not bumper sticker slogans. These concerns deserve to be talked about, studied and acted upon.

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Echoes of past blogposts

If you have been blogging for a few years, you likely witness some of your older blogposts resurfacing with more interest. In my case, it is not uncommon for some older posts to be more widely read than at the time they were written.

Now, I am not referring to those blogposts that have consistently drawn attention. The ones that pop-up in your most-viewed list after being long absent are to what I am referring. Here are a few late-blossomers that are getting more attention:

“Don’t laugh at me” written in September, 2013 – This one resurfacing is less a surprise as I think people are alarmed by the divisiveness in America and western democracies. The Peter, Paul and Mary songs resonates saying quietly and pleafully “we are all the same.” It’s message is place yourself in the shoes of the person who is being ridiculed. At some point, each of us has been ostracized. Here is a link.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/dont-laugh-at-me/

“Who is Paul O’Neill and why should his opinions matter?” written in March, 2013 – This one is more of a surprise, given the relative anonymity of Paul O’Neill. Yet, I think people are craving leadership with the dearth of such in the two largest English speaking democracies. O’Neill is a quiet, studious and effective leader who deserves notoriety for his ability to observe what is wrong and how to arrive at solutions. Plus, it shows great leaders facilitate communications up and down organizations as the best ideas often come from those closest to the action. Here is a link.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/who-is-paul-oneill-and-why-should-his-opinions-matter/

If you do not remember these posts or were not following my blog back in 2013, please check them out. I am delighted they are getting a little more interest given their subject matter. Also, please share a link to similar posts of yours. I would love to revisit them or read them for the first time.

Note from Nebraska GOP State Senator

Last month, I sent an email to a Republican State Senator in Nebraska complimenting him on his political courage to be critical of his own party. For his courage, he received a letter from the Nebraska Republican Party inviting him to leave the party. Today, I received this email.

“Dear Keith,
It’s State Senator John McCollister here. I’m the Nebraska legislator who called out the complicity of the Republican Party in enabling white supremacy 3 weeks ago.

If you are receiving this message, you are one of the kind people who sent me a personal email. There have been literally thousands of messages and with so much going on, I haven’t been able to respond to everyone individually. I want you to know I’ve read your notes and they have touched my heart. I wanted to send you all a message here to keep you informed about what has been going on and future plans. To recap:

Three weeks ago I had enough. After yet another mass shooting linked to a white supremacist, I tweeted out the following thread:

The Republican Party is enabling white supremacists in our country. As a lifelong Republican, it pains me to say this, but it’s true. 

I of course am not suggesting that all Republicans are white supremacists, nor am I saying that the average Republican is even racist.’

Almost immediately, the post started gaining national attention. Prominent news anchors, celebrities and political figures all seemed to be talking about it and reposting. The night after, I was on CNN. A few days later, I was on Morning Joe:

None of this was planned, in fact it caught me quite off guard. State senators typically don’t attract much attention or controversy.

But I had to say something. The activities of this president are BEYOND the pale. Hate crimes are on the rise. Racism and discrimination have been mainstreamed. Just yesterday there was another mass shooting. I may be a registered Republican but I’m a human being first and clearly see what’s going on. Many want me to stay quiet. I will not be doing that.

In my remaining time in the Nebraska legislature, I will tell the truth about this president and about the viability of the two-party system. The GOP wasn’t always this way. We used to believe in fiscal responsibility and sustainability. We used to believe in environmentalism. We once stood up for civil rights.

I have a VISION for what our party can and should be and I want to keep spreading this vision. I want to use my new platform to have honest conversations about what is happening no matter how inconvenient it may be. I want to promote a more inclusive GOP.

If you want to join me on this quest, there are a few ways you can help. 🙂

#1. In my experience, convincing voters who’ve already made up their mind is a hard sell. Our efforts are better spent talking to non-voters or undecided voters. In the 2016 election, close to 40% of the voting-age population didn’t vote. Let’s change that in 2020. Let’s have conversations with friends, neighbors and go-workers so we can get out the vote.

#2. If you’re not already following my pages on Facebook and/or Twitter, please do so and help me SHARE posts when I release them. The larger our reach, the louder our message.

#3. If you want to make a contribution on my website, the proceeds will go to spreading this message in the biggest way we can. We will create more content. We’ll make graphics. We’ll be able to hire some smart folks who are savvy with the internet. The bigger our team is, the louder our megaphone will be and I intend to keep talking.

And that about summarizes everything. Thank you so much for your compassion. I wouldn’t be sending this message were it not for your letters of support. You give me strength.

-John McCollister

Nebraska State Senator

Copyright © 2019 McCollister for Legislature, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you sent us a message.”

We need more elected officials to speak the important truths, especially when their party needs to do better. I applaud Senator McCollister for his courage and truthfulness. We all should.

Competition and love

“Competition and love.” This was noted as a key set of ingredients in the success portrayed in the Showtime documentary “Hitsville: The Making of Motown.” The story is largely told by the people who made up Motown, but the two most prominent narrators and contributors are best friends Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson.

The story is fascinating and a must-see documentary which will provide a memory lane for those old enough and fans of the music of any age. The story is told by several behind the scenes players, along with the talent we heard and those who created the words and music. A few admiring stars like John Legend, Jamie Foxx, Oprah Winfrey, Neil Young, Little Richard and others add context.

Motown was birthed the same year I was in 1958. Robinson told Gordy that if they were going to be taken advantage by the music industry (after an insulting $3.19 royalty on a popular song), Gordy needed to start his own company. With an $800 loan from his aunt and other money he pooled, he bought a house that would serve as the studio, headquarters and Gordy’s living quarters.

So, blend in ingredients like a business model that borrowed from Ford’s assembly line, that was fed by a city that had public, faith-based, and street music pool of talent, that mixed talented songwriters, that drafted local jazz musicians to form a talented in-house session band called “The Funk Brothers,” that groomed people to present themselves so the music could be heard, that mentored talent allowing them to grow and you end up with an organization built to create sustainable great music.

But, “competition and love,” made it sing. The songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland (Eddie, Lamont and Brian) competed with the duo of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy himself. Plus, the artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder  et al were writing songs. The singers like Robinson, Gaye, Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, The Marvelettes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Mary Wells and some young group called the Jackson Five, all competed for songs and studio space. But, it was the mutual love for the music, what they built, and each other allowed them to compete without damaging each other’s psyches.

This was evident in the weekly quality control meetings to confirm what was ready for release or where some improvements might be needed. Gordy was only one voice in the meeting and he told of stories where his idea was outvoted. That is telling.

A few takeaways worth noting:

– Motown had a blend of genders, ethnicities and races in its leadership and ranks. Gordy took some flak, but he spoke of this being a natural blend and supportive of what they wanted – a universal following of their music.

– The Motown sound is influenced by Gordy who wanted the song to catch your attention in the first ten seconds or “two bars” as Robinson noted.

– The Supremes were initially called “The No-hit Supremes” after a slow start. But, they became the stars of Motown, once the first hit landed. “Baby, baby, where did I love go….”

– At age 11, little Stevie Wonder wrote a song on stage called “Fingertips” as he was listening to the applause.“Clap your hands just a little bit louder,” he sang. It is incredible to watch, especially as the band behind him realized what was happening.

– It is shown how Marvin Gaye wrote and recorded “What’s going on?” adding the building blocks of conga drums, his second lead vocals, his first lead vocals, a bass by James Jamerson (one of The Funk Brothers), his own chorus, another chorus and so on. It is fascinating.

– We see how Robinson penned “My girl” for The Temptations where he wanted to feature David Ruffin’s voice rather than Eddie Kendricks as there was so much talent in the band and Kendricks should not be the only lead.

– Finally, to see a young Michael Jackson with his four brothers was stunning. As their Motown manager said, there is varying degrees of talent and then there is “genius.” The remaining four Jacksons noted how much pressure they felt to play artists’ songs in front of the artists who made them famous.

Please take a look at this documentary. It is worth the effort as fans of the music and performers. I would add that business people need to see this as well. Building a sustainable, successful organization takes nurturing and equal parts competition and love. These ingredients allow another motto of Gordy’s to flourish – innovate or stagnate. Well said.

 

 

Helping people climb a ladder – a perspective

The following is an edited version of a comment on Hugh Curtler’s (a retired college professor of philosophy) post regarding whether we should help people in need or let them fend for themselves. I provide a link below to his post. I am going to cite the work a charity I used to be a part of that builds off the book “Toxic Charity,” written by a minister who lived with the disenfranchised people he sought to help. His name is Robert Lupton.

Lupton’s thesis is simple: true charity should focus on emergency or short term needs. What he argued for to help others long term and we did (and still do) is help people climb a ladder back to self-sufficiency. That should be the goal. An easy example is he would advocate for food and clothing co-ops rather than giving the food and clothes away. People love a bargain, so let them maintain their dignity while they get discounted help. This dignity thing is crucial – people would rather not have to ask for help.

Note, we cannot push people up the ladder. They must climb it.  A social worker I have advocated with used to say “we walk side by side with our clients.” The folks we helped are homeless working families. We had two keys – they received a subsidy for rent based on their ability to pay, but they had to plan, budget, get financially educated working with a social worker and attending required training programs. Our homeless clients had to be responsible for rent and utilities up to 30% of their income, which is threshold for housing risk. Another key is we measured success. Success to us is being housed on their own without help after two  years.

As a community and country, we need to better identify what we mean by success in our help for people in need. Also, are things like healthcare a right? Is food on the table a right? Is a roof over the head a right? What we need is better measurement of what we spend and how it helps. It actually is cheaper to provide housing to chronic homeless and partially-subsidized housing to those who are more acutely homeless (due to loss of job, reduction in hours,  loss of healthcare, problems with car, predatory lending on a car, etc.) than let them go to the ER or commit petty crimes and be jailed. People should know all homeless are not alike, so the remedies to help need to vary.

My former party likes to argue off the extreme anecdotes – the significant majority of people do not cheat the system, but the perceived thinking of such is much higher in Republican ranks. When I have spoken to church groups, chamber groups, rotary clubs, United Way campaigns, etc., I come across this bias which is firmly believed. Just last month, the US president announced curtailing a rule on food stamps which will put 3 million people at risk, as one man was able to purposefully game the system. Yes, there is a small percentage of folks that do that, but the significant majority do not.

What people like David Brooks, a conservative pundit, tout is a dialogue on what kind of country do we wish to be? Our economy is a fettered capitalist model, with socialist underpinnings to help people in need and keep people out of poverty. What is the right balance? Is it better to pay a much higher minimum wage or have a higher earned income tax credit, e.g. Is it better to have a Medicare for All system, subsidize those in need or have a free market system only? A factor in this decision is many employers now employ a larger part-time or contractual workforce (the gig economy) to forego having to provide benefits. This is especially true in retail and restaurant industries.

At the end of the day, Gandhi said it best – a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate. With so great a disparity in the haves/ have nots in our country, I can tell you we are out of whack as our middle class has declined and far more of them fell into a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. Ironically, even in the age of Trump promises, we have many people who do not realize they are voting against their economic interests. Doing away with the ACA and not expanding Medicaid are very harmful to rural areas, e.g.

So, I agree with Gandhi, Lupton, and Brooks that we need to help people, but decide what is the best way. We should measure things and adjust them when they get out of whack. It is hard to fix what you do not measure. The group I was involved with would alter its model, if the numbers showed less success than hoped. What I do know is over 80% of the people we helped are still housed on their own after two years of leaving the program. In other words, they live without a subsidy.

Finally, what we need most is for politicians to check their tribal egos at the door when they enter the room. Having been a member of both parties, each party has some good ideas, but both have some bad ones, too. I do not care what a person’s party preference is or if he or she is more conservative or liberal than me  (I am fiscally conservative and socially progressive), we need to use facts and data to make informed choices. And, continue to measure the results making modifications, if needed.

Dilemma

Rainy days and Mondays, especially today, get me down

Karen Carpenter sang “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” This weekend was a yet another sad chapter in America’s history. Plus, we learned 31 people died in a ferry capsizing in the Philippines. In California, an eroding cliff collapsed next to the shore killing three. And, Russia and China are coming down hard on protestors. These are signals.

In America, we have decided we cannot do anything to stop mass gun shootings. We have decided the politics are too hard to do the needed things that would help. We could start by acknowledging that we average 100+ gun deaths a day even without the mass shootings. Many of those deaths are suicides. Some of them are accidental shootings of kids who find a gun in the house. And, some of the homicides are due to mental health issues, lack of civil discourse, hate crimes, or drug crimes. The common thread is access to a weapon without better governance.

Yes, we must act on these signals. We must call hate speech on the carpet, especially if it comes from someone who is in a position of leadership. Dog whistle racism and xenophobia are fuel to a fire for some extreme thinkers. The ones who want status quo in gun laws will say “now is not the time” for change to gun governance. Apparently, “never is the time.” The ones who want status quo will say “that change would not solve this instance.” Yet, doing nothing at all is not solving much.

There are things we can do that, in sum, will help make a difference. If it saves a few lives, that is good. I want politicians to get in a room and I want them to check their politics. I do not care who wins and loses a political game, but it is obvious the dead people and their families are losing. It amazes me how little we did after Sandy Hook. We even had a conservative shock jock say for years Sandy Hook was not real. He is on trial for his hateful rhetoric for the damage he has caused to Sandy Hook families and should be.

The Philippines tragedy is terrible, but not getting much play here. It seems we don’t pay attention like we should when the weather sends us signals. Overloading ferries can be OK in calm waters, but it is a disaster when waters are rough, especially after two earlier ferries had issues. I think failing to heed signals causes far too many deaths. Here in the US, we are whistling past the graveyard in preface to the next infrastructure collapse. Around the world, we have signals telling us to plan ahead on eroding seashores, increasing floods with stalled and repetitive storm systems, increasing droughts in other areas and elongated and bigger forest fires. We need to act on these signals.

In Russia and China, the signals are telling us that we must not be like that. Civil protest is more than fine, yet we must emphasize the word civil. Yet, a regime that crushes the spirit of those who question things, is one that is sowing more seeds of discord, not fewer. A regime that squelches and controls the media is not one that wants to hear the truth. I am watching the mini-series called “The Loudest Voice,” about Roger Ailes and his creation of Fox News. He purposefully controlled what and how things were said, that he started believing his own BS.

Truth matters. Facts matter. Diligent preparation in the face of those facts matter. When people ignore problems, white-wash or deny the truth, and squash those who are trying to tell you those things, the future is hamstrung. As I say often, I do not care what people’s politics are, as usually they are a mixed bag like me, conservative on some things, progressive on others. What I do care about is when people ignore or massage the facts to make their tribe win. I a more concerned about the people who die, who struggle, who become infirmed, who are jailed inappropriately, etc. That is what our leaders should be concerned about and not spreading fear, hate and division to win an election.

 

Independent comment pushing back on “A false narrative links the GOP and racism”

An editorial appeared in my local paper called “A false narrative links the GOP and racism” by J. Peder Zane. I will let you find the article on your own, but the premise is to say Democrats have cried wolf on racist remarks for a long time, in his attempt to defend the indefensible. So, the accusations on the current president are just more of the same in Zane’s view.  Here is my email to Mr. Zane pushing back on this premise.

Dear Mr. Zane,

I read with interest your editorial published today in The Charlotte Observer. As a 60 year old white man from the south and an independent and former Republican voter, I disagree with your premise. I know dog whistle racism when I hear and see it and, while your coin of phrase “yellow dogs” being the only ones hearing it is clever, it is offensive. Nixon used it as part of his southern strategy and I saw Jesse Helms use it recurringly in its most artistic form. And, three years ago, I equated Donald Trump’s campaign comments with George Wallace and his racist remarks. This is not a new phenomenon.

To be frank, I have grown weary of my former party’s leaders defending a retreating line in the sand of indefensible behavior by the person who occupies the White House. I have shared such concerns often with my two and other Senators pleading with them to condemn the latest set of the president’s behavior, tweets or remarks. I also ask them, what will they have to defend next week? We are better than this. And, our leaders must be our better angels, not our worst.

But, don’t take my word for it. Leaders in Sweden, Germany, UK, Ireland, EU, New Zealand and Scotland have condemned his racist  remarks toward the gang of four. Yet, let me close with a quote form a Texas judge from an article in The Washington Post in response to his racist remarks and doubling down on them earlier this month.

“A former top Texas judge says she has left the Republican Party over President Trump, after his racist tweet telling four congresswomen to ‘go back’ to where they came from.
Elsa Alcala joins a small group of conservatives alienated by Trump’s remarks as most of the Republican Party sticks with the president — including through his latest attacks on Democratic representatives of color, three of whom were born in the United States.
‘Even accepting that Trump has had some successes (and I believe these are few), at his core, his ideology is racism,’ the 55-year-old retired judge wrote Monday in a Facebook post. ‘To me, nothing positive about him could absolve him of his rotten core.’”

I realize you are a popular conservative-bent editorialist, but so are George Will, David Brooks, Michael Gerson, Erik Erickson and others who have pushed back on this president and his behavior and words. So, I will ask you the same question I have also asked GOP Senators – is this the man you want to spend your dear reputation on? These conservative-bent editorialists have said no.

Keith Wilson
Charlotte