Wednesday wanderings the first week of March

Well, March Madness will be thrust upon Americans later this month, so everyone get ready for the various brackets for the NCAA basketball tourney. Madness may be the operative term for the world these days, but please note things are usually not as bad as reported, as good news is vastly underreported and does not have as high a bounce as a negative news.

Here are few thoughts as a wander this Wednesday.

The Coronavirus will be more prevalent than first thought, but it seems not as deadly as other viruses. Still, those who are not in good physical shape with breathing issues, circulation issues, obesity issues, etc. should be prepared to more abruptly deal with symptoms. Sadly, since the US president has made this a personal political issue, listening to politicians talk, whose first mission is to protect the Trump brand, is not reassuring. I want to hear from experts.

Many financial people have forewarned that using stimulus tools to prop up an economy and stock market when it is going pretty well is not the best time to deploy them. When they are used now, what will you use later? The economy is still doing pretty good, but has been softening for more than a year. And, the stock market has been in need of a downward adjustment for some time. But, the president views the stock market as a key barometer, so he takes it personally when it falls, even though, he has little ability to control it long term. Yesterday, the market did not react very well to the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates 50 basis points (1/2 %). To me, it was seen as a panicky move, but smarter people than me will have to judge this (note, the market got a bump today in reaction to Biden’s success in the primaries).

While I like Bernie and will vote for him if he is the nominee, America breathed a sigh of relief yesterday with former VP Joe Biden’s rebound performance. As an independent and former Republican and Democrat, I am fiscally conservative and socially progressive. I very much believe in helping people with opportunities and to climb a ladder when disenfranchised. But, we need to pay for things. Right now, we have $23 trillion in debt and it is projected to increase to over $35 trillion by the end of the decade. We must deal with this obstacle, while we do other things – pay for infrastructure improvements, shore up the ACA, Social Security, etc. With this in mind, while both are good people, Biden will be better positioned to bring folks together to do that – Democrats, independents and even some Republicans.

If Bernie wins the nomination, I hope he pulls in a more moderate Democrat as his VP candidate. If Joe wins, it would be great if he tapped someone a little more progressive than he is. One of the dilemmas is the Democrats need to think about the future, as neither person is a spring chicken. I like listening to folks like Pete Buttitieg, Andrew Yang, etc. as they have a well-considered ideas, even if you don’t agree with every thing they say.

Whatever happens, Democrats need to vote for their candidate as four more years of the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime, including the corrupt Richard Nixon, will not be good for America. I have said and written this to Senators and my Congressman, but regardless of party, we cannot have a president who acts the way this incumbent does. He is a national security risk and quite simply, America is no longer trusted as before, because the president is not trustworthy. Plus, we cannot lose sight of more aggressively addressing climate change and environmental degradation that have been made worse and would deteriorate more on his continued watch.

Finding your Roots

My wife and I have become fascinated by the PBS show called “Finding your Roots.” Historian Henry Louis Gates hosts three people of prominence and shares with them interesting things he discovers about their ancestry.

The show provides a rich and personal history lesson to the three guests and the audience. We have learned many things we did not know, especially when races and ethnicities intermingle or families flee bigotry, enslavement or persecution.

Here are a few of those learnings:

– every family has unusual circumstances or secrets that may not have been shared, as the information may have been embarassing, highly personal or even dangerous if others knew.

– there were some freed African-Americans living in areas of the South and more surprisingly, some of these freed African-Americans owned slaves.

– we knew of African-Americans that fought for the Union, but some fought for the Confederacy, and some of those fought for the Union after their City fell to the Union.

– Fascists and anti-Semites know no boundary. Some Jews escaped Poland from Polish anti-Semites long before they tried to escape the Nazis. Some escaped Russia for the same reason, then had to leave England to escape it there.

– it is not surprising for the guests to find different races and ethnicities in their background – the history is validated by DNA tests.

As examples of this last point, Bryant Gumbel found out he was about 10% European Jew. Suzanne Malveaux from CNN has multiple races mixed in, including Native American, French Quebec and sub-Saharian African. The comedian Fred Armisten found out his Japanese grandfather was actually Korean who fled persecution and was an acclaimed dancer in Japan. Larry David, who does a great Bernie Sanders impersonation, has DNA that makes him a distant relative of Sanders, which neither knew.

I encourage you to watch the show, even if you may not know the guests. Also, go on Ancestry.com and spend some time tracing your roots. It will suck you in, but do invest some time. History is fun, especially when it is yours.

Weary from travel with time to think

These old bones have been in a car the last few days and the older I get, the more it wears me out. I will be the guy at the rest stop stretching by his car, before he gets back in and tacks on a few more miles. But, It does give me time to think, so what follows are the musings of a “rambling man” (I figure I can use that line since I passed through The Allman Brothers’ home state of Georgia).

Before they count ol’ Bernie out, Democrats may need to take serious stock of what happens in California and the remaining states. I will vote for either one against The Donald, as he is about as bad a candidate as they come, but it will be interesting to see what unfolds. If Bernie runs the table, with Hillary’s email issues, those super delegates may need to do some serious reflection.

By the way, the best Presidential candidate of either party is not running and that is Senator Elizabeth Warren. She may be drafted as a Vice Presidential candidate, but she has more street credibility and has taken on Wall Street successfully with her pushing through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a huge success for Obama that no one has ever heard of. Republicans hate it because it punishes banks, insurance companies and credit card companies for fraudulent and aggressive marketing practices and over 90% of the penalties go to financial victims. Think of banks selling you (or your 80 year-old mother) something you did not ask for.

It is not surprising how the GOP is trying to make an abnormal candidate look normal. Everything people need to know about The Donald’s lack of veracity as a candidate is in his history and it is not hard to find. How this exploitive narcissist can portray himself as the champion of the common people may be the biggest con job I have ever witnessed. Whether he wins or not, he will be on trial for alleged misrepresentation to students and seminar goers under now defunct Trump University, one of his many failed enterprises. Yet, it is his thin-skin and false bravado of how tough he is, that show he should never be near a nuclear weapons command.

Finally, one thing I have observed about Clinton, while she may be imperfect, she is far tougher than Donald Trump. Leaders do not have to pat themselves on the back. Leaders can take criticism. It is apparent that Trump can dish it out, but he cannot take it. On the flip side, Clinton has had and will have her share of criticism, both fair and unfair. Benghazi was a smear campaign, as admitted by Kevin McCarthy who would have been Speaker of the House, but he let slip this fact which has been known, but not uttered. Yet, Clinton does need to answer questions about the emails which are legitimate.

People often accuse me of being a Democrat and the above will likely not change that. As an Independent, I left the GOP in 2006 because of their stance on climate change, guns and social issues and tendency to make things up with the aid of Fox News. In my opinion, I see a party that is on the wrong side of most issues – climate change, economy, guns, healthcare, LGBT issues, voting rights, etc. I also see a party who is too busy listening to its extreme voices and not reasonable voices.

I do not mind people being conservative or liberal, as most folks are combinations of both. I am fiscally conservative, but socially progressive. What I do care about is people lying and not using real data to make decisions. Governance is hard enough without people lying about the real story. It should be noted Trump is on record as lying over 75% of the time in this campaign, setting fact check records. Note, he says the fact checkers are part of the liberal media, but he cannot be judge and jury on his own lying. This is prima facie evidence of a problem with his candidacy.

 

Please Remember Rush and Vote


One of my favorite songs by the group Rush is “Free Will.” Within the wonderfully crafted lyrics is the following phrase;

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

This lyric resonates especially in this election season. In an election where our president may be selected from the lesser of two choices, opting not to vote may cause us to end up with the worst choice.

The Republican Party started out with seventeen candidates, but has managed to whittle it down to the two most horrible choices of the lot. It amazes me that Donald Trump can get people to overlook his past and his present and think he can change all of that nature in the future.

Senator Ted Cruz may be the most detested legislator in Congress. He has grandstanded, ridiculed and demeaned others. He almost caused us to default on our debt. One GOP Senator was caught in an unguarded moment and said he would vote for Hillary Clinton before he would vote for Cruz. He later revised that statement saying he never said it.

As for Clinton, she is by far the most qualified candidate in terms of her service as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. But, she has had years of fair and unfair scrutiny by the conservative and mainstream media. The dilemma is the fair and unfair parts are clouded together.

So, she carries this extra baggage into the mix. But, she has been vetted more than any other candidate. And, she and Bernie Sanders answer questions better than the other candidates and understands that climate change and water are concerns, economic inequity is an issue and social injustice exists.

Both Trump and Cruz do not speak of climate change as an issue and do not talk of our water problems at all. And, both run counter to their rhetoric with proposed tax plans that would hugely increase the US Debt problem.

So, not voting may leave us with a President who will take us backwards and pick the next few justices on the Supreme Court who could unwind social progress.

While the Republicans bicker

While the Republican Presidential candidates and leaders bicker, it should be noted that the two Democrat candidates are far more civil and focused more on issues than mudslinging. Whether you agree with Bernie Sanders’ solutions, he is the most consistent candidate in speaking about our real issues in America. He is also offering more specific solutions rather than speaking in platitudes.

And, Hillary Clinton is giving a more pragmatic lens into why her approach is different than Sanders.This is the way it should be. I have heard neither candidate comment on the looks, sweatiness or intelligence level of the other. To me, that is an important distinction. Only John Kasich on the Republican side has had a similar sense of decorum and is speaking consistently about issues. Ironically, he has little chance of winning his party’s nomination as a result.

Yet, while these GOP shenanigans sink to new lows, a few other things are happening.

the 73rd consecutive month of job growth has occurred in the United States;
the unemployment rate remains below 5% at 4.9% per the Bureau of Labor;
the economy continues to be in growth mode, with the 5th longest growth period in our history and the most car and light truck sales ever in the US in 2015;
the business and tourism excitement with renewed relations with Cuba is palpable;
the Affordable Care Act has yielded several positives, but could use some improvements to make it better;
the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau created at the impetus of Elizabeth Warren has been hugely successful for punishing banks and credit card companies and getting compensation in penalties for defrauded and preyed upon consumers; and
Iranians have just voted in a greater number of moderates in their version of parliament.

We have problems in our country with the increased number of folks in poverty and disenfranchisement of urban and rural dwellers, but our country is doing pretty well. This is especially true in contrast to other countries. So, we need to build on these successes, not pretend they are not happening. And, we need to address the social injustice that is going on.

A potpourri of news items

While a few thoughts bounced around as potential themes, I felt it would be best to highlight a few items of note, in a world of many to choose from. In no particular order:

Ukraine troubles continue – One of the things that does not get stated in the downing of the Malaysian airplane is the pro-separatists do not have any planes, so why would the Ukraine military be firing in the air? The evidence points the finger where the missile was launched from and the group that says it had no hand in it is not letting people get to the site to investigate. And, the artillery launcher was moved, presumably back to Russia. Call me crazy, but when your arguments are contradicted by actions, then your credibility lessens. Putin has not learned this yet either. Folks, get to the table and negotiate a settlement to cease innocent people being killed and before your story falls apart. Plus, while I understand economic sanctions in this case as an alternative to military options, in general, I don’t like them, as they tend to punish the wrong people for leaders’ actions.

Israel, Hamas and Gaza – In my simple view, a country has a right to defend itself, but Israel has gone a “bridge too far” and is looking poor for civilian deaths. The UN is correct to assert their position and the violence on civilians and children must end. Hamas should also get poor marks for hiding among the civilians and setting the stage for pawns to be killed, as well as not acknowledging the right for the other to exist. Yet, the conditions are ripe for a group like Hamas to survive. Reasonable leaders (on both sides) need to advocate for a cessation to the violence which is killing its people. Reasonable leaders need to push for finding a way to co-exist. Reasonable leaders need to find ways to stop marginalizing people and look for ways they can thrive, live in peace, raise families and practice their religion. If they do not, then both sides are destined to live in an environment where innocent people are in danger and killed.

Afghanistan election is important – A major step forward for Afghanistan is still in the works. The Presidential vote recount is important to get it right and pass muster. This is the first election post Karzai and it needs to be successful regardless of the winner. The peaceful transition of power is a major element of a sustainable government. This is why the Taliban is in such a dither not to let it happen.

Medicaid expansion push gets a practical conservative voice – Please check out Dana Milbanks’ editorial article on a conservative GOP Mayor in North Carolina marching to Washington to advocate for saving a closed rural hospital in his town. A woman died because of this closing, as she could not make it to the next town in time, which was 75 minutes away. He had reached out to the North Carolina GOP leadership and was told they could not support anything to do with Obamacare. He said it plainly, this is not a political issue, this is an issue about people dying because we don’t have a hospital near by.

Kudos to Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Jeff Miller for collaborating – I mention their efforts in my previous post, but want to highlight how legislation used to and is supposed to work. Sanders is an Independent, who caucuses with Democrats and Miller is a Republican, yet they said failure to get some action to help our veterans is not acceptable. I hope it catches on as a trend. Again, as you vote this fall, if a candidate advocates strident ideology at the expense of collaboration, a “my way or the highway view,” show them the highway.

Treat others like you want to be treated, especially refugee children – America has had an immigration problem for a while, but legislators would prefer not to act, even though there are votes today in the House to pass the bi-partisan Senate bill passed last year. They also complain about securing the border, yet won’t fund filling open border patrol positions. Irrespective of this, people should not punish children, with some screaming at them, for our own failures. A recent Religion Polling survey noted that 75% of Americans want us to take in these children. We have already made this a political chess game. Let’s stop making it a game and show some stewardship and heart. My friend George Dowdell notes in his blog* about the concept of being a Red Letter Christian, meaning Christians should follow the words that Jesus spoke. So, WWJD?

Same-sex marriage train continues down the track – 19 states now allow same-sex marriage and fifteen more have ruled in favor, but are awaiting the appeals process. The Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage over the Virginia case, but their jurisdiction includes South and North Carolina. The Attorney General in NC said after the ruling this week, that he will no longer fight the current court cases, since the appellate court has spoken. I said a few posts ago, this train has left the station and eventually all states will allow same-sex marriage, as to do otherwise is discriminatory and unconstitutional. So, I repeat the question I asked then, if you are against same-sex marriage, where do you want to spend your time?

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There are many other topics worth talking about. I would love to hear your thoughts on these and other topics. Thanks, in advance, for your comments. Note, you can check out George Dowdell’s terrific post on Red Letter Christians with this link: http://georgedowdell.org/2014/07/28/take-seriously-what-jesus-said/#more-3033

 

But, how could you let this happen?

“But, how could you let this happen?” is a phrase often uttered after an event has made the headlines. People are incredulous and leaders, in response, will look at others to blame for the recent turn of events. Yet, oftentimes, the leaders omit their role in the event which occurred by their failure to act. Or, the event was going to happen, and no proactive action was taken to lessen the impact.

I have written before about how social workers are sometimes thrown under the bus for a family treating a child poorly or rampant substance abuse exposing children to things they should not see at their ages. Invariably, the social worker is handling far too many clients due to budget cuts over the years, so that families do not get the attention needed. Depending on travel, capabilities, types of family challenges, and numbers of family members, a social worker should ideally have less than twenty clients. The ratio of 16 to 1 is often mentioned as ideal. Yet, when something goes wrong, we often see social workers with 150 or 200 clients, which means no family gets the attention they need. I have the greatest admiration for social workers, but even Mother Teresa would have a problem with the caseload.

However, this line of questioning is much broader than making sure we staff sufficient numbers of social workers to meet a community’s needs. It gets into most areas of politics and governance. Last week, I was watching a leader of the US border guards on the news describing the problems with the influx of child refugees. He defined and demonstrated how difficult the job is and noted we are already understaffed due to the sequestration budget from last fall. So, to state the obvious, we have people in Congress who, in addition to not passing an Immigration Bill, have not funded the open positions in the border patrol making it harder for them to secure the border. Please reread that last statement, as we have some Congressmen and women who are insisting we secure the border, yet they won’t fund staff to secure the border, in general. This is before the latest request for funds to handle the refugees.

Yesterday, I was encouraged that a bi-partisan bill was agreed upon between the House and Senate committees on handling veterans’ affairs. Senator Bernie Sanders (I) and Representative Jeff Miller (R) are the key proponents (kudos to both). Yet, when the VA Hospital problems hit the fan earlier this year on wait times and veterans not getting served, the echo from Congress was loud, “how could you let this happen?” A veteran leader noted this is the same Congress who would not sign off on Senator Sanders bill earlier this year to address known concerns saying it was too much money, but offered no compromise solution. Yet, they did not do a mea culpa and say we screwed up earlier. Our leaders talk a big game about taking care of veterans,  but we are much more prone to fund tanks and planes we don’t need, than take care of wounded soldiers. Soldiers who have fought much longer and, since fighting among civilians, have been exposed to more PTSD need our help and not just our “atta-boys and girls.” Words are cheap, very cheap. Thank you Senator Sanders and Representative Miller for your actions to support our troops.

Finally, I will drift back to another favorite topic of some and that is Benghazi. “How could you let Americans get killed?” is asked. This issue has been put to bed for eighteen months in a non-partisan review led by Admiral Mullens and Ambassador Pickering, neither of whom were asked before Congressional Committees to speak on their report from December, 2012 until the committees were apprised of this oversight. The report went through all of the areas where we could have done better, but one area was interesting. Security of all embassies had been shortchanged by budget cuts in funding from Congress. So, we cared less about securing our embassies and then cried foul when something happened. And,this is not the first time our embassies and foreign service personnel have been attacked. “How could you let this happen?” the same folks asked.

The two common themes from the above are budget cuts impact service and it is hypocritical to totally blame someone else for something you, as a group, had a hand in causing. As a business person and volunteer board member of non-profit groups, I recognize fully that budgets are not infinite and require trade-offs. I do think we need serious discussions about where we spend our money. Yet, I am also mindful there are some that want to axe everything without noting what services are being performed. And, I also am aware there are those who say cut this or cut that, but when reminded that people back home or funders’ businesses are impacted, change their mind. There are so many military weapons that are not needed and are stockpiling, yet because of funders and lobbyist efforts, we cannot stop making them, e.g.

We have a deficit and debt problem in this country. The answer that the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission came to in December, 2010 is both spending cuts and revenue increases are needed. Before we have other “what-ifs” happen, we need to take a look at that report as a plan to start from.