Toys for us and others

This will be the first Christmas in a long while without retailer Toys R Us, who went out of business. Or, as my youngest son aptly called it when he was a younger, “Toys for us.” The “Toy Story” movies register the impact of the store on our lives.

Toys are no longer for kids and sometimes disguise themselves as what they are – useful products. A mobile phone is far more than a phone, but the “wanna new phone” marketing that occurs is estimated to cost a user $75,000 over a lifetime. Do you have to have the latest and greatest new phone? Just think, if you skip a few new phone upgrades, you reduce that number a great deal.

But, while our younger generation is accused of a more materialistic mindset, I must confess how proud I am of kids who are making statements on the need to address better gun governance and action to combat climate change. Yesterday, in Australia, tens of thousands of kids age 5 to 18 boycotted school to protest en masse for more action on climate change. While their President and lead environmental person said these kids should stay in school to learn something, I think these two men need to learn a few things.

Earlier this year, we saw kids make a huge difference in Florida when the state legislature passed a few gun governance bills in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Could the legislature have done more? Yes, but the kids forced them to act. The kids live in fear and are not burdened with lobbyist dollars and threats as are the legislators.

Toys are important as a distraction and even to make our devices more utile. Yet, these kids stepped up and made their voice heard. Given what they are protesting, it would behoove the legislators to listen. “They ain’t playing.”

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It is time to govern

Now that the elections are over, it is time to put away the rhetoric and focus on governance. This used to be how it was done, until we segmented the news into various markets. The past twenty years or so, we seem to govern off the campaign rhetoric rather than facts and collaboration has become a dirty word.

As an Independent voter, who has been a member of both parties, the governing off rhetoric and lack of collaboration need to stop. Neither side owns all the good ideas and both sides have some bad ones. And, we need to focus on the underlying truths and facts rather than tweets and who wins a public relations battle over an issue. Process matters – when politicians deviate from process, it is for political reasons.

In this spirit, here are the issues that this voter thinks we should focus on. Many voters have voiced agreement on some of these, but some issues just don’t get due attention.

– we should stabilize and shore up the ACA which most Americans favor: funding commitments to insurers will stabilize premiums, as will expanding Medicaid and considering the expansion of Medicare down to age 55, 60 or 62.

– we should ditch the harmful tariffs and work with our allies and the WTO to pressure China to stop the intellectual capital theft. Tariffs hurt consumers and producers, especially our farmers.

– we should address infrastructure needs which are many, doing so as we have done in the past with a blend of business, venture capital and federal, state and local government funding.

– we should recognize that the two biggest threats to our planet per the World Economic Forum are our water crisis and climate change, which exacerbates the first issue: strides have been made, but we need to reassume our global leadership role on climate change and focus on measures to address both.

– we should add more governance around gun control issues: Gun-owners and non-gun owners have voiced agreement on measures that would help. It should be noted most gun-owners do not belong to the NRA, so the NRA’s political activism against reasonable change should be noted, but not over-emphasized.

– The deficit and debt are building to a point of huge reckoning. It has been eight years since the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Resuction Committee report was shelved. It was shelved because it recommended $2 in expense cuts to every $1 in revenue increases. It was shelved because neither party had the political courage to roll up their sleeves and make tough decisions – we cannot get there with only expense cuts or revenue increases, needing both.

– We should stop the lack of civil discourse and beating up on the media. The media’s role is vital to our democracy. Pay attention to where your news comes from. Be wary of opinion disguised as news. Tweets are not long enough to show context or subtlety and are an easy way to misinform, as a result. To this end, it is vital for our democracy to return to appropriate Congressional oversight. We are not a kingdom.

If anything, we must have our politicians work together. The crime bill the President is pushing and that passed the House is not perfect, but is a bipartisan effort. It makes steps forward. Let’s make needed improvements and get something done. And, that is what Americans want most from our politicians – stop the grandstanding and get stuff done.

 

 

Thursday’s little bit of this and that

Having been away at the funeral for my friend’s mother, I have been a little out of sorts as well as out-of-pocket. The elections and next two days of affairs have my mind spinning, so please forgive me as I comment on a little bit of this and that.

The election results are encouraging from a number of fronts, but most of all from the number of diverse candidates that led to the Democrats retaking the House of Representatives. I am proud to see more newcomers and many women getting elected. These folks felt the need to get involved to focus on issues and decorum, which has been kicked to the curb. I wish for them to have the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job and the collaborative bipartisan bent of former Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan.

I was also pleased to see a number of ballot initiatives pass in various states. Several so-called red states voted on the expansion of Medicaid, which is telling. Florida passed an initiative that would overturn the highly restrictive limitations on former felons regaining the right to vote after they get out. And, in North Carolina, every former governor advocated for the successful defeat of a power grabbing measures by the GOP led legislature to limit the powers of appointment of the governor.

While the Senate result was a little displeasing given the election of a couple of folks who should not hold public office (Former Florida Governor Rick Scott and Texas Senator Ted Cruz), the GOP maintaining the majority was not news. My greatest disappointment is two races benefitted racist efforts to likely win, although one is still not certain. The fact Brian Kemp may win the Georgia governor’s race after his blatant unethical and untruthful efforts to channel Jim Crow-like voter restriction is disheartening. Should he win, the state of Georgia deserves much better than him, as if he cheated to win, he will cheat while serving. The other is in Florida, where the new governor Ron DeSantis has a racist past and benefitted from racists robo calls and dog whistle statements, one he made. Florida deserves better, especially following Scott.

What has not changed is the US President continuing to channel his inner child heightening his lack of truthfulness, bullying and denigration of the media. At his tempestuous news conference yesterday, I kept thinking that a leader needed to step up and put him in time-out. I am still amazed at how he can sell his followers that he is the one telling the truth and that everyone who is against him is lying. But, per his five biographers, that has been his schtick over time. His firing of AG Jeff Sessions was expected, but at the heart of this, is the US President thinks the AG represents him, not the country. It is not a puzzle that Trump cannot fathom that the recusal was the ethical thing to do. He asked, “what kind of man would do that?” An ethical one.

Finally, we have one more mass shooting in America. How can we stop them? It is simply quite difficult to stop a motivated lone gunman (and it is almost always a man). Our police and FBI are terrific, but with our freedoms of less-inhibited gun ownership and the focus more on the lesser problem of foreign terrorists taking money from preventing the far worse domestic terrorists and hate groups, we are making it easier not harder to kill many at one time. Our leaders have lacked the courage to do more and too many are paid to avoid doing so. So, I just pray that my family, friends and others are just not in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, I pray that those leaders find that conscience they misplaced.

 

 

 

What are we voting for?

So, much of the focus has rightfully been on countering the most divisive US President this Independent voter has witnessed. He has bullied, denigrated, lied and made himself the center of attention on far too many issues.

Yet, let’s look at this record he touts as his reason to give him free rein. His followers say he has done what he promised. To me, therein lie the problems.

While the economy is going well, the economic growth has lasted 9 1/2 years, the second longest in US history. We have also had over 8 years of job growth. The tax law and deregulation have helped make it a little better, but we are doing so on borrowed time with increasing debt and less governance.

We have announced the pull out of the Paris Cilmate Change accord and are an outlier in the world. The President lied to people about climate change being a hoax and has added insult by damaging our environment through enabling industrial polluters. He is borrowing time the world does not have.

The ill-conceived tariffs are bad enough, but bullying and lying to our allies far exceed the damage tariffs will do. We are harming our relationships, which are a key strength of America. We are also less trustworthy. As Trump’s former economic advisor said after telling him he lied to the Australian PM, Trump is a “professional liar.”

We have focused on immigration as a major problem, but it has been sold on fear and is not as big a problem as advertised. We have made immigrants the bogeymen and have lost sight of the impact of domestic terrorists already here. Yes, we should fix immigration, but three promising bills before this President were waylaid for political reasons.

We have allowed a President to build off Republican leadership efforts to sabatoge the Affordable Care Act making premiums higher than they otherwise would be. His party has screwed Americans to win a political argument. And, now the GOP has the unmitigated gall to say they want to protect pre-existing conditions.

We have put in place two very conservative justices, but the President forced the Senate to move away from a super majority to a simple majority. This has made it easier to get a less moderate Justice on the court. I want well-tempered jurisprudence, not partisanship. The most recent Justice lied to the Senate.

We have allowed a President to make money off the Presidency, which he has been sued over. The trial is permitted to move ahead. We have not criticized a President enough for denigrating rhe media. Trump is on record  as lying more than any other politician. Our democracy is at stake because of these two issues. He is President, not King.

Finally, civil rights are under attack with this President. His hate speech and bullying have greased the skids for white supremacists. The President is a racist and misogynist.

This is his record. And, I have not even discussed the Russian issue. I would give him kudos on discussions with North Korea and some deregulation. The tax cut helped some, but went too far and is hurting our debt. And, we have done little to better govern guns or invest in our infrastructure.

That is what I think as an Independent voter, who left the GOP over ten years ago. We need to better govern this President. He certainly is not up to the task.

 

Sunday summaries

I hope your weekend is going well. Several topics have toyed with me writing a full post, so I will resort to a brief summary of a few. In no particular order:

The royal family of Saudi Arabia has done a pretty inept job of lying to the world about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. It is so unartful that even the US President, who is not known for truth and wants just to do transactions, is being forced to admit they must be lying. I applaud other world leaders and even more than a few US Senators for stepping up to cry foul. My guess is this will eventually lead to the fall of Crown Prince MSB as he is embarrassing the family and country and this is adds to a growing list of notorious screw-ups.

Heading north to Great Britain, there were an estimated 750,000 British folks that protested in the streets of London yesterday asking for a new Brexit vote with actual facts being disseminated. While I fully understand the rationale of those who want Brexit, from the outset, Brexit will be harmful financially to Great Britain. Many financial companies and EU headquarters have either moved or are planning to move to an EU site. Plus, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to talk openly of votes to leave Great Britain should it occur. If that is not enough, it is believed that Vladimir Putin has had a hand in the disinformation as he did with the 2016 and current 2018 elections in the US.

Returning to the US, candidates of my old Republican Party are taking a lot of heat over their positions on healthcare over the years. They should. Not only has this party not tried to improve and stabilize the Affordable Care Act, they have sabotaged and made it worse. It should be noted politicians don’t seem to understand a lot about healthcare. Here is a letter I sent to my newspaper that will give you a sense of what has transpired.

It seems healthcare is a key issue this election. Surveys the last eighteen months have indicated the majority of Americans want the Affordable Care Act stabilized and improved. Yet, the GOP leadership has tried to repeal it and actually has sabotaged its success making premiums higher than they otherwise would have been. The Senate’s defunding by 89% of adverse selection payments to insurers, the President’s defunding of payments to insurers to help people in need with co-pays and deductibles and the fight in states like NC to not expand Medicaid have increased exchange premiums and driven more carriers out of markets. This retired actuary, benefits consultant and benefits manager believe these measures have harmed Americans and people should know this.

Finally, a story that should get even more airplay than it is relates to the voter suppression attempts by the Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp in his role as State Secretary. Whereas an ethical person would recuse himself from overseeing elections, Kemp has been pretty blatant in his efforts to make it harder to vote. I do not like the voter ID laws, gerrymandering districts and aggressive voter suppression tactics being done in my own and other GOP led states. These are Jim Crow-like. Yes, Democrats have done similar tactics, but what is being done the last eight years has been an orchestrated effort by a group called ALEC, funded by the Koch Brothers.

I am pretty tired of this the “ends justifies the means” rhetoric. I see what can happen when people cheat. They cheat to get elected and cheat once they are there. The US President is not only enriching people who donated to his efforts, he is enriching himself by using his position to make more money. This self-dealing is actually illegal. And, when people cheat, it devalues our country and state governance.

 

 

 

Headin’ out that door

With the sudden passing of one of my wife’s brothers at the too young age of 61, our sister-in-law uncovered an old song in his paperwork. My wife (and her family) also lost a younger brother 34 years ago to leukemia at the age of 21. Maurice was a talented musician, who could play a mean guitar. His father was also a talented guitarist, but I am told his youngest son may have been better.

As he was undergoing treatment he wrote a song entitled “Headin’ out that door,” which he noted an alternate title as “Four walls.” Maurice died before I met my wife. When he wrote this, he was still on the more optimistic end of the treatment, but I am certain he knew the darker prognosis. He knew the walls were closing in one way or another. So, I feel the final few lines of each stanza could be viewed as a release from the monotony of the four hospital room walls in what ever form it may take.

Here are the first and third verses, which give you a sense of his talent and thoughts:

 

Trapped without your loved ones, no place else to go.

Wondering how they’re doing, with the passing of each day.

Gazing out your lonely window, knowing very soon.

You’ll be heading out that door again, heading out that door again.

 

Trapped inside a lonely place, closing in once more.

People come and people go, never say much more.

Ask ya’ how you’re doing, go on their merry way.

I’m heading out that door again, heading out that door.

 

As I read these lines, I try to put myself in his place. You are doing what must be done, and hope and pray it is effective. Yet, there is a monotony to the waiting in a place where waiting seems like an eternity. There is a monotony and anxiety to not knowing. It also helps remind me as a visitor that every visit counts. Being there counts. Listening is essential. Talking about things the person enjoys or updating him on friends and occurrences helps break the monotony.

As a visitor, you wonder by telling things going on, do you make things worse by saying what the patient is missing? These words instruct me that we should keep folks informed. The conversation is what keeps us closer. Each person is different and some may want solace. And, some guests may be more welcome respite than others. Yet, like any conversation outside the hospital, look for non-verbal cues and in another stanza, Maurice said for people to “listen.”

The key message to all of this is life is short, sometimes very short. Never miss a chance to give a goodbye hug or share your love for someone, even if it is a mere look, touch or just lending a good ear. Life is hard enough. Those moments are the tonic to make it easier.

Sixty feels like fifty-nine

I am no longer in my fifties. I know many reading this may have passed this threshold. More than being one day older, the milestone has caused a lot of reflection.

My boyhood friends that last to this day also turned sixty this year, with me the final entrant. We were reflecting on boyhood moments and achievements that seem like they were just yesterday. Reminding each other of what each remembers about an event is an interesting exercise as perspectives vary. I remember something that a friend forgot about it and vice versa.

Old friends are treasures. We cannot talk or text for a couple of months and pick up conversation as if no time had elapsed. We are like an old pair of jeans that are broken in real well.

With that said, my best friend is the one I married. My wife of thirty-three years is a constant. She grounds me and keeps me sane while driving me crazy on occasion. She is the best of listeners, one of those “rainy day people” that Gordon Lightfoot sang about. She makes me laugh.

We have had some family challenges like all families do, so we seem to always have a ball drop while we are juggling many. The other day, I sat down after putting a lid on one issue and had solace for eight minutes until the phone rang. After hanging up, I told my wife – eight minutes of solace.

I guess turning sixty reminds me of our recent loss that is painful for my wife and me. Her brother Joe passed away almost three weeks ago at the young age of 61.
He died young, but his body was hurting. She loved and admired her brother greatly.

We don’t know how much time we have. We just have to make the best of it. We need to live our lives with intent, not being a passenger in our own lives. We need to savor our friends and family. I hope many years remain for all of us. And, I want to thank all of my blogging friends for sharing their insights and stories.