Saturday in the park salutations

Happy weekend. Saturday in the park is an idea worth considering. I will need to check with my better half regarding her thoughts for the day. Below are a few rambling thoughts to salute the news of the week.

Pakistan has selected a new leader, a very charismatic former cricket star named Imran Khan. He has promised to end corruption and offer better governance. I wish him well, but a reporter once said on NPR, the corruption is ingrained and corrupts the best of intentions. It should be noted his rivals are crying foul and want a new election.

Speaking of the best of intentions, Theresa May is trying to take Great Britain out of the EU with some semblance of a plan. It is surprising it has gotten this late in the game without more planning achieved. I still hold out hopes that the Brits will realize they screwed up and remain in the EU. Voters were not told of all the facts and I fault people like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin for their roles in deceiving folks. Decisions based on pride tend to lack prudence.

The now annual severe wildfires out west continue and are alarming. On the other end of the spectrum, stalled or slow moving weather patterns in the east are flooding various areas. In the middle of the country, severe heat is causing major concerns to drought areas. In 2011, a report put together by the largest pension trust managers in the world noted their financial concerns over not addressing climate change. They noted the increase in wildfires, concerns over severe droughts and stalled weather patterns as huge financial concerns. All of the above are a concern, but the fire and drought issues also shine a spotlight on our global water crisis, where certain areas around the world are in danger of diminishing access to fresh water. Yet, the leaders of our federal government are doing their best to avoid recognition or discussion of climate change action.

Another CEO, Les Moonves of CBS, has been accused of past sexual misconduct. It seems that men who lead (or are stars in) entertainment businesses that hire and promote attractive people cannot keep their hands and other body parts to themselves. Fox, NBC, Weinstein, and CBS have each had bad apples. But, as women know, this is a universal problem where men with power can impose their will on women in less senior roles. This is why the video of the waitress throwing the man, who felt up her fanny,  to the ground is so inspiring. He was held and charged with sexual battery.

Finally, the stand your ground law in Florida has caused yet one more death. A white man, who has taken it upon himself to accost people who park in handicap spaces, was shoved to the ground by a black man who took offense at his remarks. From the ground, the man is seen shooting (and killing) the shover. The man was not charged due to this law, which has caused a split on public opinion. Two questions – would opinion change if the races of the men were reversed?  Would a man be dead if a gun was not present?

Other news abounds, but I wanted to focus away from news that seems to suck all the oxygen out of the room.

 

 

Advertisements

Knife wielding suspect subdued (and lives)

The title gives the climax away, but that is not the whole story. A man wielding two knives was threatening people in the halls of his apartment complex.

Three police officers showed up and told the man they had a taser and asked him to put down the knives. After a lengthy discussion and pleas, one officer moved toward the man who lunged at the officer and was tased. Remarkably, the man kept trying to knife the officer, who was able to avoid getting stabbed. The man was taking away to face a court date and jail time.

There are two other keys to this story. It was in Australia, not the US. In Charlotte last year, a man wielding a knife was shot dead by police with nine shots. I understand police have a difficult job, but the eagerness and frequency in which assailants are shot seems much higher here on the US. Plus, the number of shots stymies me – nine, eleven, sixteen shots are too representative.

The other issue worth noting is the man was white. I often use the story of how a 65 year old white man was disarmed by Detroit police after an hour conversation. Tamir Rice, an adolescent black boy, was killed within two seconds due to the toy gun he was carrying. Why? Why is there such haste to unload a weapon when the alleged perpetrator is black?

We must do better at addressing these issues. The police are doing a hard job, made harder as they don’t know who is packing heat and what firepower such heat has. I believe this adds even more tension to any police encounter where there is uncertainty. And, race plays a huge factor. Another black man was gunned down at a Walmart by police yesterday.

We cannot overtrain police at identifying threats and de-escalating tense situations. And, we must treat every shooting like the pilots investigate crashes. We must be transparent and learn how to avoid poor or hasty decisions. Other western countries do not have our overall and police gun death rates. We must do better.

You’re not Vice-President of the United States

Eric Reid, a San Francisco 49er football player appeared on “The View” earlier this week. He was one of the players who knelt during the anthem at the game where Vice-President Mike Pence left in a planned protest.

It should be noted that Reid was the first player to kneel with Colin Kaepernick last year. His purpose of appearing was to regain the narrative on why African-American players are protesting. Reid, whose mother and uncles served in the military, said it is all about civilly protesting the treatment of Blacks by law enforcement. It is not about showing disrespect to the anthem, flag or military, which is why they are kneeling to at least be solemn.

Senator John McCain’s daughter Meghan has joined “The View” as of this week. She noted if she had walked out like Mike Pence had would you have felt less of me. He responded that “You are not the Vice-President of the United States.” She said “Fair enough.”

Reid added this is all about leaders using their power to systemically oppress others. The Vice-President attended the 49er game with an intent to walk out. The President said as much. Reid said this oppression has been going in our country for a long time, so it was not just invented.

When asked about being called a SOB by the President, Reid said two interesting things. He said “The President should not call any of our citizens a SOB.” Plus, after Charlottesville where the Neo-Nazis killed one person and beat another, the President referred to some of them as “nice people.”

Hearing Reid articulate his rationale is compelling. When asked what he would do to fix things, he said he wanted people to know the reasons. When pressed about any laws he would like to see, he said we could start with police not using excessive force on an unarmed man.

Civil protest is done with the intent to make us feel uncomfortable. Reid said he is “somewhat grateful” the President has elevated the discussion, although that was clearly not his intent. I have written before, civil protest says a lot more about the greatness of our country than formal ceremonies ever could.

Are you going to believe me or your own eyes?

The man residing in the White House has basically told his followers that everyone else is lying, only believe me. By itself, that is a pretty audacious claim, yet when the man’s history is reviewed, truthful is not the word his biographers or business relationships would use to define the man. Yet, his fans still follow his lead.

It is very difficult to manage the response to three major hurricanes. Yet, don’t lie to people and tell them everything is going well in Puerto Rico, when it is obviously not. As the Mayor of San Juan said bluntly, “we need to get our shit together.” The better answer would have been for the man in the White House to say we have been slow to get help to people, but here is what we are going to do about it. This same Mayor was ticked off today when a DHS person said Puerto Rico is a “good news story.”

The same man is trying to ram a tax cut through that may offer some relief for middle class families, but who is he kidding? The percentage reductions for the top of the house are substantively more than for the middle class. Abolishing things like the estate tax (which already does not exist on the first $5 million of inherited assets) and the Alternative Minimum Tax (which is what most of these high earners pay) is a windfall. And, let us not look past the comment that a tax cut that will impact the debt by $2 Trillion will create sufficient economic growth to pay for that increase. If we can grow our way out of the problem, let’s cut the taxes to 0%.

The same man has echoed the party line that the ACA has failed, but there are a couple of things he is not letting on. It is not failing, but needs improvement. And, it could be doing even better if it were not for the sabotaging done by the man and his party. Premiums are even higher and carriers are fewer in part due to the efforts of the Republican Party leadership, including the man in the White House. The sad part is most Americans have no clue about this sabotoging role, but it is entirely true.

Finally, just a thought to consider. Why did the man in the White House refer to African-American protestors who civilly made a statement taking a knee during the national anthem as “sons of bitches,” yet made no such references to torch bearing White Supremacists chanting “blood and soil” and carrying Nazi slogans? Then, he said his words had nothing to do with race, yet that is why these men risked their careers by protesting.

On this latter point, my wife shared with me the comments of a third generation soldier. He said he, his father and his grandfather fought people who were not permitted to civilly protest their leadership in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. To him, to see the man in the White House criticize Americans for exercising their rights of civil protest, citing the reason to condemn them so as not to offend the flag or the military, is what this soldier fought against.

 

Notable Notaries

The other day presented an opportunity to witness a terrific slice of Americana. “Witness” is the operative word, as my sister and I needed to sign nine closing documents in front of a notary and two witnesses, who also happened to be notaries all of whom worked at our bank.

What fascinated me as I was driving to send by Fedex the documents to the attorney, is the realization of the demographic make up of our legal witnesses. While all female, one was an American whose accent reflected an Eastern Europe upbringing. The second was an American of Mideastern heritage, while the third was an African-American.

To me, this moment of reflection made me proud to be an American. Our melting pot of immigrants makes our country a great place. To be hyper-critical of immigrants and people who do not look like you do tears at the fabric that makes us great.

For our President to convey a message that some people are more American than others is hogwash. Another’s rights are just as important as mine, not more or less. That is what makes America great not running down others who some feel are less a citizen than they are.

Monday, Monday

With this famous Mamas and the Papas’ song in my head, have the best of weeks. Here are a few random musings to start off the week.

The new sleight of hand approach being used by the US President on Russiagate is “It is his fault I cheated.” In essence, his predecessor chose not to make public the verified Russian meddling in the Presidential election due to the polarized political climate. While I understand his logic, I disagree with his silence. Yet, his choice does not alter the fact the newly elected President is at the very minimum an unwitting participant in the meddling and, as yet to be proven, a known colluder. Either way, he cheated, but that is consistent with his history.

Speaking of cheating, having clandestine discussions about health care reform does not give off the impression what you are doing is on the up and up. David Brooks, the conservative pundit, said on Friday that a key reason for the secrecy is there is no overriding mission to what is being done. Also, it could be construed as cheating to sabatoging the Affordable Care Act by not giving money promised to insurance companies to reimburse them for the initial adverse risk they took on. These actions harmed people as premiums went up even more and some companies left the market because they were stiffed.

The reason the “Black lives matter” movement started has been in evidence even more of late. Apparently, in terms of police shootings, they don’t. I would not want a police officer’s job as it is very dangerous. And, there are many, many fine officers. Yet, there have been too many actions taken that seem to fly in the face of reasonable use of force. Why must shots be taken? Why must so many shots be taken? Why must the shooter shoot to kill? When I see seven, twelve, sixteen shots are fired, I find that excessive. We must have honest review by all parties and better training. Too many Black men are dying and yes, their lives do matter.

These reflections turned quite sobering. I hope everyone stays safe and travels safely this week. And, don’t forget to hug your loved ones and tell them how you feel.

 

 

 

If we want to improve Black (and all) lives in America

With the need to improve the lot of Black and all lives in America, there are some things we can do and stop doing legislatively. And, there are things we can do as citizens. We must play a huge role in being civil to each other and tasking our leaders to lead, rather than divide with demonizing comments. The latter serves no purpose other than appealing to an overzealous and bigoted faction in our country.

Legislatively, we can ask several state governments to reconsider Jim Crow like Voter ID laws. Many ask what is wrong with requiring Voter ID? Two reasons. First, it disproportionately affects older Blacks because of Jim Crow laws, may not have legitimate birth certificates or other forms of ID. Second, the more unconstitutional parts of those laws reside beneath the ID part. The intent of these laws is to suppress voting, which is scoffed at by the enactors, but where greater risk of Voter fraud occurs is in absentee ballots, but they are usually untouched.

Additionally, we can improve the minimum wage across the country, but in lieu of that, do so in states. There have been bipartisan efforts that have successfully increased the state minimum wage  above the federal minimum in 31 states. There is a movement to demonstratively increase the federal minimum wage by one of the parties to $15 per hour. While that may prove difficult, we need to at least move to a living wage for one person which is roughly $10.10. And, we should index it.

Further, we could leave the Affordable Care Act intact and make necessary improvements. What is not talked about enough are the many successes of this law which has increased the number of insured people by over 20 million. This law could be fully implemented in the remaining 19 states, who have not expanded Medicaid. This would help everyone making less than 138% of the poverty level, as well as their state’s economy and rural hospitals. As a benefits actuary by trade, I fear the elimination of the ACA would throw us into a recession, with money (used by these 20 million plus people) that has been freed up some by ACA for spending, instead going into uninsured healthcare costs.

Finally, we need to invest more in our communities. Job retraining, social and economic infrastructure, road and bridge maintenance and building, etc. are needed and will spawn more economic activity. This investment will also spawn hope. We finally passed the Highway Trust funding last fall, but it was not enough and about four years tardy. Our economy is doing pretty well, but this would have been accretive to the economy and helped areas of need and blight.

However, as citizens, we need to exercise our power with each other and our leaders. We must listen to hear more and not listen to respond. We must be more informed from reputable sources. We must not tolerate bigotry and shine spotlights on such behavior. We must ask the same of our leaders. And, we must not vote for leaders who espouse hateful bigotry and demonize people as a means to get elected. We cannot unite around bigotry. We cannot unite around fear.