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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What are those values again?

The US president was in North Carolina campaigning for the Republican State Senator Dan Bishop in his quest to beat Democrat Dan McCready. Both Bishop and the president have said McCready does not represent the values we need and is a liberal socialist. But, what are those values that McCready lacks?

McCready served our country as a Marine after 9/11. He returned home to set up a solar energy business that created about 750 jobs, a pretty capitalist idea. But, he also has time and again said he is a moderate and would work across the aisle. And, given his oath as a Marine, he said he would put country ahead of party.

Yet, the so called “values” such as lying, bullying, name-calling, denigrating, impatience, recklessness, racism and sexual misconduct, seem to be lacking. I would add, he was also against the HB2 law that Bishop helped pass that caused multiple millions of dollars of lost revenue for the state. This law was eventually repealed and modified given its overreach and the reaction thereto.

Unfortunately, in my view, Bishop carried the day winning a close race in a largely GOP district. It is my hope Bishop will be up to the task of governing and I wish him the best. What I do not want is for the reckless US president to have one more rubber stamp in Congress. That would be harmful to our democracy.

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.

A nice thing about our country

Our country is weary of having a person in a leadership position who is seemingly in the eye of every storm. He seems to be the lone constant in personal, political, company, country and media attacks. Even his supporters lament some of his tweeting habits.

Yet, our imperfect country has some nice things going for it. Here are a few thoughts.

– when our leaders do not address our real problems, companies, cities, states and people can step up and do more;
– when the president cannot get out of his own way and then has his people spend time, energy and their integrity defending his inane comments, we can choose to tune him out;
– when the president is untruthful more than he is not, we can choose to not believe a word he says or tweets;
– when leaders rationalize indefensible comments as normative, we can push back on them;
– we can choose to act on conservation, climate change and guns by voting with our feet; companies pay attention. Why? What creates profits and jobs are customers.

To this last point, companies like Google, Amazon, IKEA, Walmart, Facebook, etc. and states like California, Texas, Iowa, North Carolina, etc. are active in renewable energy. Walmart, Dick’s and Albertson’s are stepping up on gun sale restrictions. Even ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell are paying attention on climate change due to shareholder pressure.

If leaders choose not to lead, we can all do more. It sure would be nice if they helped some, too. If they do not, they become less relevant.

Alleged Mark Twain quotes

Mark Twain is alleged to have said the following two quotes.

“It It is easier to fool people than convince them they have been fooled.”

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Whether he is the author is moot, as they sure sound like they came out of his brain or mouth. Twain was not just an author, he was a fabulous and witty orator.

These quotes resonate as it alarms me how too many people read, listen and watch pseudo-news that tell them what they want to hear or see. I fault these pseudo-news outlets, salivating readers and watchers and politicians such as the president who know they can be loose with the truth.

As someone who is fiscally conservative and socially progressive, I do not mind people being more conservative or liberal than I. What I do mind is people spouting arguments from sources known for spin-doctoring, misinformation and disinformation. We must get away from hyper-rationalization of untruthful or even bizarre statements made by their party. With a very untruthful president and his sycophants, the rationalization is rampant.

We must be the navigators of our customer service, which includes our news. We must look at multiple sources that do not spend so much time on nonsensical conspiracy theories and provide errata statements when they get it wrong. Another sure sign of less-than-aurhentic news is the glee in what is being presented or an opinion meant to flavor what we just heard.

We must be truthseekers. It is not an easy job. Yet, if we don’t do our part, we might prove Mark Twain correct.

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.