Saturday in the park – once again

The rain has stopped and the sun is shining. So, we will celebrate with a nice hike in a close-by park trail. Hopefully, the trail won’t be too slushy.

Here are a few thoughts to chew on this weekend, in no particular order.

Note to expressive incoming Congressional representatives. Even though the President acts like what you call him, derogatory name-calling is not productive. It is even more true with this President who relishes mud fights simply because he does not need to know facts to win. Please stick to the issues and his actions and words.

Speaking of said man, he says he will do what it takes in shutting down the government to get his wall. Excuse me, but what sacrifices are you making Mr. President? It seems the federal workers who work under your watch are worried sick about mortgage, rent and bill payments and spending on groceries and prescriptions. What precisely are you sacrificing Mr. President?

What saddens me about the Republican Senators is they know their leader is largely untruthful and does not deal in good faith. This man screwed them over before Christmas reneging on a deal, yet again. Conservative columnist David Brooks said it best on PBS Newshour last night. If you get a deal with Donald Trump, get it in writing.

Lastly, let’s give a shout out to our newly elected Congress that looks more like America. It is indeed an exemplar of what our country should be all about. Whether people like the new Speaker or not, Nancy Pelosi is an effective leader and has a bipartisan record to prove it. She is far from perfect, but she is much closer to that paragon than another person in a place of leadership who I may have mentioned above.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

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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.

 

Capitalism and socialism coexists

On more than one occasion, I have seen letters to the editor speak of setting up beachheads in the coming election around capitalism vs. socialism. To me, this is a name-calling gimmick to persuade a voter who does not do much homework. Voters that are prone to listen to name-calling as debate will buy into this logic time and again. The irony in this debate is the United States’ economy is a blend of “fettered” capitalism with socialistic underpinnings. So, both co-exist here.

For readers in the either camp, this observation probably surprises them, especially those who are gung-ho capitalists. But, the word in quotes is also important as we do not have unfettered capitalism. If we did, the US President would have run out of money long ago with his many bankruptcies. I believe in capitalism as well, but we need to understand why we ventured down the path of the socialistic underpinnings.

These underpinnings spoke to a nation that was in a great depression and who seemingly got lost in poverty later on. Social security is a low-income weighted pension, disability and survivor benefit program that is funded equally by employers and individuals. To determine the base level benefit, 90% of average wages are used for the earlier wages then added to 32% of the next tier of wages which are added to 15% of the highest wages up to a limit.

In the 1960s, LBJ’s “War on Poverty” added Medicare and Medicaid to the mix, with Medicare helping retirees and Medicaid focusing on people in poverty. Then, we can mix equal measures of unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation and food stamps which are now called SNAP benefits. Each of these programs are forms of “social insurance” benefits. That is socialism designed to keep people fed, housed and protected.

Taking this a step further, utilities are so needed to our communities, they are either co-ops or fettered capitalistic models where rate increases must get approved by a state governing board. Companies like Duke Energy and Con-Ed must get permission before they change their rates. For the co-op model, the customers own the business.

But, the word “fettered” enters into the mix on other businesses as well. To prevent monopolies, insider trading, interlocking boards, collusion, the misuse of insider knowledge by investors, etc. rules are set up to provide governors on capitalism. Then, there is that bankruptcy thing, where a business or person can claim bankruptcy to pay debtors what they can and restart. I use the President as an example, but his experience is a good one, as he filed for bankruptcy six times on various investments.

I want people to think about our country in this context. We want people to earn their keep and be fully functioning tax paying citizens. Yet, we have programs in place to keep them out of the ditch. As we considering changes to programs, we should consider what they are accomplishing and how changes could make them more effective. And, we must understand that things must be paid for, so how do we get the best return on the investment into those stated goals?

For those that have followed my blog for some time, you know I have been involved for many years in helping homeless working families find a path back to self-sustainability. We help the homeless climb a ladder, but they climb it. Yet, we are also successful in keeping people housed on their own after two years of leaving our program because we measure things and make improvements. The ultimate goal is self-sustainability, so we measure how we can be the best financial stewards toward helping people achieve that purpose.

We need social underpinnings to help people be fed, housed and protected. Some need to be temporary in nature, while others are longer term like Medicare and Social Security. There is a cost-benefit to these equations, but we should understand that we have poverty problem in our country. We must also understand technology advances will continue to change the paradigm on employment as it has throughout the industrial age placing additional pressures to even more wage earners. Not providing ladders out of poverty or ways to avoid it would be a bad path to follow for our country.

 

Questions for Campaigning Republican Legislators

Our diligent and thorough blogging friend, Gronda, wrote a post regarding answers to questions that Republican Party leadership provided GOP candidates. Most of the questions are of many of the messes the President finds himself in of his making, but truly miss the boat on where Republicans and the President have failed to address larger US and global issues.

There is plenty to ask about of these legislators. Here are a few of my questions:

– why are you allowing the easier maltreatment of our environment by industry?

– why are you supporting leaving the Paris Climate Change Accord ignoring the rest of the world?

– why have you failed to address our water concerns in Flint and similar places?

– why have you not only ignored our rapidly rising and expensive debt, but made it worse?

– why have you stood by and let the President trash and cut our diplomacy staff and bully our allies?

– why are we placing tariffs on everyone, without concern for past failures and ignoring better channels to address China involving our allies?

– why have you not listened to Americans and improve the ACA actually harming it instead?

– why have you not done anything to materially address gun governance?

– why have you allowed a President to trash our hard working people in important government departments to create an illusion of conspiracy to save his hind end?

– why have you tolerated a President who believes the civil rights of whites matter more than that of other races?

– why are we doing things to make our poverty problem worse, not better?

– why have we not addressed infrastructure with our significant needs and resulting job creation when interest rates were lower?

That is a start. These folks have a lot to answer to. To be frank, all Americans should be asking these questions, but if I were a young person, I would be even more alarmed. Just with climate change and growing debt, this party is screwing our youth.

But, there is so much more. I am an Independent voter who left the GOP over ten years ago because of their failure to speak to the truth on real problems – Trump has made it worse and his followers have been conned to believe the opposite.

When you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you will know that I love cleverly worded song lyrics. The above title comes from an unexpected source (if you don’t follow the band) – a song called “Free will” by the rock band “Rush.” I find this lyric, penned by drummer Neil Peart, compelling as it speaks to people who choose to do nothing in the face of obvious problems. Martin Luther King saved some of his criticism for the silent people who did not condemn Jim Crow actions.

People choose not to vote because they do not like the choices. But, “none of the above” is not an option and one candidate tends to be worse or represents worse. If you did not vote because you did not think Brexit or Trump would win, you water down your right to protest. And, I would add there are seven white supremacists running for office, empowered by a US President who won’t condemn racist actions and has made racist statements. So, your vote does matter.

If you witness a daily assault on civil rights, women’s rights, truth, media, science, allies and environment and don’t speak up, then you condone the actions as acceptable.

– It is not OK for leaders to lie multiple times a day.

– It is not OK to have governmental websites delete data that run afoul of unsubstantiated opinions by leaders.

– It is not OK to demean people because they dare criticize a leader’s point of view.

– It is not OK to demonize groups of people or exaggerate causes of problems, as it is hard enough to solve real problems with real data.

– It is not OK to ignore real problems or have faux efforts to address them. Gun deaths, poverty, health care access and costs, infrastructure deterioration, increasing debt, environmental degradation, climate change, etc. are real problems.

Please do not remain silent. Speak up. Call or email your representatives. Attend marches and protests. Share diplomatically your opinion, but listen to theirs. Find a way to get your opinion heard and heeded. Calling someone a name is not the way to be heard.

The other day as I was looking for a new battery for my cordless mower, a store clerk and I chatted about the need to move toward renewable energy. While he supported the eventual move, he said renewable energy is “seven times” the cost of fossil fuel energy. I responded and said that is a ten-year old argument. The costs are now more on par. In fact, there is a city in Texas who chose to be 100% renewable energy powered as its CPA mayor said financially it is a better deal. Did he hear me? I don’t know, but he would not have  if I had not listened to his argument and responded.

Do not follow the words of the song lyric. Choose to decide.

Media – focus more on the problems needing solving and less on who wins

The main stream media is doing a better job on focusing on the issues, but they still have a bias toward conflict. Who wins and loses based on the airing of an issue or problem is covered way too much for my taste. The end result is problems and their many causes do not get addressed or are oversimplified, so they go unsolved.

The dilemma is we citizens lose. The focus must be on the issues rather than who benefits from whatever hits a news cycle. Substance matters more than image. Here are a few examples to digest.

We have a poverty problem in the US. It is not just a declining middle class. Too many are living beneath paycheck to paycheck or are one paycheck away from being in trouble. The United Nations just released a report that confirms the US has a poverty problem citing numerous examples and numbers. Instead of asking lawmakers what are we doing about it, the media focused on the Trump administration admonishing the UN for the report. The problem exists whether or not it makes Trump look bad, as it took decades to decline to this point. Addressing poverty is more important.

We have a significant and growing debt problem that has been made worse by the Tax law passed in December. The economy was already doing pretty good with a long growth period. Yet, rather than address our debt, we borrowed more from our future. This malfeasance must be highlighted. Yet, most of the focus is on the economy doing well and its impact on the midterm election. Note the economy would have done well without the tax change, but we have a day of reckoning coming that will require more revenue and less spending. What are we going to do about it now, especially with a good economy?

The Affordable Care Act has needed improvements and stabilization for some time. The American public favors this as do lawmakers from both parties. Yet, the media focuses too much on the political  impact of an ACA that could be doing better. Not only has the party in power not helped the ACA, they have sabotaged it making premiums go up even more. As I see it, the President and GOP own the ACA. Letting premiums go up hurts Americans. If the ACA fails, our poverty problem will get even worse and the economy will suffer.

Issues like immigration, climate change, water shortages, tariffs, exiting international agreements, eg, all need to be focused on. We need to drill down on what makes sense in a data driven and reasonable manner. Attempting to resolve issues based on optics of winning or losing won’t solve anything. And, that is what our President and legislators seem to be more interested in.

So, media please start asking our leaders what they plan on doing about these problems and asking them to explain why certain measures don’t seem to be helpful.  And, leaders stop worrying about keeping your job and start doing your job.

Pope is at it again

Last week, Pope Francis again revealed why he is a global leader. Leveraging the biblical teachings that God wants us to take care of our environment, he reiterated his concerns on climate change to oil executives. Per a Wall Street Journal article called “Pope Francis Criticizes Continued Search for Fossil Fuels at Meeting with Oil Executives,” he encouraged oil executives to find ways to leave fossil fuel energy in the ground. Per the WSJ article:

“’Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!’ he said at a Vatican climate change conference attended by top executives including Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Darren Woods, BP PLC Chief Executive Bob Dudley and BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Laurence Fink.

At the conference, co-sponsored by the University of Notre Dame and featuring nearly 20 speakers Friday and Saturday, the pope said that an estimated 1 billion people still lack electricity and noted that access to energy is an essential resource for escaping poverty. But he warned that a failure to reduce the use of fossil fuels would lead to a ‘spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.’

The poor ‘suffer most from the ravages of global warming,’ he said, through water shortages and extreme weather which in turn drive mass migration, among other ways.
Pope Francis commended oil and gas companies for adopting policies that account for ‘assessment of climate risk’ and he encouraged the practice of environmentally sensitive ‘green finance’ investment strategies. But he warned that ‘markets and technology’ wouldn’t be sufficient to stop climate change, since our ‘current economic system thrives on ever-increasing extraction, consumption and waste.’

Earlier this year, BlackRock’s Mr. Fink in a letter urged chief executives at global companies to ‘make a positive contribution to society.’ The world’s largest asset manager has played a key role behind the scenes in insisting that companies take action to respond to climate change.

Pope Francis’ meeting with oil executives and investors comes almost exactly three years after the publication of his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he called global warming a major threat to life on the planet and said it is mainly caused by human activity. In that document, which as an encyclical ranks among the highest levels of papal teaching, the pope blamed special interests for blocking policy responses and indicted the market economy for plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and future generations.”

With the US President announcing his intention to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, other global leaders, like Pope Francis are continuing the push. Ironically, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders voted (the day before Trump’s announcement to leave the Accord) to obligate the company leadership to inform them of what they are doing to address climate change. Fortunately, US cities, states and businesses are picking up the baton dropped by the President. The US has passed the tipping point on renewable energy, in spite of the President and his EPA head’s efforts.

Pope Francis should be commended for leading the charge. Taking care of the least of us has been a mantra of this leader. I recognize he is not perfect, but is concern for people and the environment is meritorious. And, unlike Messrs. Trump and Pruitt, the pope is a scientist, with a Masters in Chemistry and has worked as a chemist.