A mean spirited, dishonest budget

On PBS Newshour last night, Mark Shields and David Brooks defined the President’s budget succinctly. They said it was a “mean-spirited, dishonest budget.” I had been searching for the right words to define a proposed budget that kicks people in poverty in the teeth. Fortunately, Senator John McCain said the budget was “dead on arrival.”

The budget is bothersome in so many levels as it severely cuts Medicaid and food stamps, as well as other programs. The latter has grown because of the greater number of people in need. Yet, while these cuts are occurring, tax breaks for the wealthy would be provided.

But, it does not end there. It has been reported about the extra rosy and very hard to achieve projections on revenue growth. While this is not too uncommon, it is still sleight of hand. When people say tax cuts pay for themselves, that is as believable as the check is in the mail. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget will say there often are some revenue improvements, but nothing near paying for the entire cut.

Yet, there is more dishonesty. Former Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers said in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post that there is some double counting of revenue sources, an obvious error. Per Summers, “You can’t use the growth benefits of tax cuts once to justify an optimistic baseline and then again to claim that the tax cuts do not cost revenue. At least you cannot do so in a world of logic.” Summers noted he has not seen something like this in a budget proposal in 40 years and a business person should know better than to double count like this.

To be brutally frank, this is not what the President advertised in the campaign. He touted his business leadership as something the country sorely needs. Yet, former Speaker John Boehner said with the exception of foreign policy, Trump’s presidency has been a “complete disaster.” I would argue his point on the foreign policy omission. But, it should be noted is how this budget, the AHCA bill, and other measures harm the very constituents that rose up to vote for this newcomer. He is screwing them and they still lack awareness that is what he is doing.

Getting back to Brooks, I have cited his earlier observation after the horribly planned and executed travel ban. “This White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Summers used the latter word in his piece, as well. We can now add “mean spirited and dishonest.” These are not words that he had hoped to elicit when elected.




Just a man with words

My favorite editorial offering each week is when conservative columnist David Brooks joins with liberal columnist Mark Shields on PBS Newsour. Each Friday, they say grace over the news events of the week.

Usually facilitated by Judy Woodruff, these two pundits offer context and civil discourse. It is obvious each has profound respect for the other, as even when they disagree, the rationale is supported by good observations.

It should not be a surprise that both are somewhat alarmed and bemused by our President. In fact, Brooks (along with fellow conservatives Michael Gerson, George Will and Charles Krauthammer) has been a recurring critic of the man who became our President.

Earlier in the year, Brooks described the White House under our new President as “equal parts incompetence and chaos.” This was just following the horribly crafted, vetted, communicated and executed travel ban that caused so much negative reaction.

Recently, after yet another week of bizarre statement and actions that the President’s people had to scurry to defend, he made another insulting reference to the President as being “just a man with words.” Taken in the context of the piece, the President is not a man of conviction and will say just about anything, often not with a lot of thought.

And, that is a sad state of affairs. George Will spoke of the unforced errors when the President just says or tweets things. Will said he has made the world more dangerous and hopes that when the 3 am calm comes with a real problem, they just let the President sleep and wake up Genetal Mattis.

Just a man with words. Unfortunately, many of them are not truthful or well thought out.


Chaos and Incompetence

Conservative columnist David Brooks appears weekly on PBS Newshour as well as NPR to recount the week. Last Friday on PBS, he and Mark Shields discussed their concerns over our new President’s decision-making, unforced errors and fights that he has picked in his first eight days.

Yet, what caught my attention most was Brooks reference to how our President has conducted his Presidency. He said he has exhibited equal parts “chaos and incompetence.” I could not agree more. While I support the President since his success is tied to ours, I have a very low bar of expectations, which he has not met. And, I am not too optimistic at this point, given his difficulty in admitting any fault.

Management has not been his strength. He is a great salesman and merchandiser, yes, but manager, not so much. His executive order to block entry to people coming from seven countries has been total chaos and coupled with his torture comment makes America out to be a pariah in the eyes of others. Issuing an order should allow time to execute and include some instruction to make it effective as well as being vetted by various agencies. And, per Senator John McCain, it makes us less safer providing fuel to the ISIS fire.

Chaos and incompetence. Remember these words. Add them to the words lying and thin-skin. And, let’s pray that our President begins to learn a few lessons before he does even greater damage to our country and its reputation.

This is not a rehearsal

One of the anthems of the 1980s is “It’s My Life” performed by Bon Jovi and written by Richard Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi and Max Martin. While the ladies are quite fond of Mr. Bon Jovi, his group would not be as successful without great songs. This one should resonate with all, as evidenced by the first few lyrics.

This ain’t a song for the broken-hearted
No silent prayer for faith-departed
I ain’t gonna be just a face in the crowd
You’re gonna hear my voice
When I shout it out loud

It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive
(It’s my life)
My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said
I did it my way
I just wanna live while I’m alive
It’s my life

Folks, this is not a rehearsal. Yes, there may be an afterlife but we won’t know for sure until the time comes. My suggestion is living a life that is worth living. That does not mean partying hard all the time, but as David Brooks has noted in his recent book on “The Road to Character,” live a life for what they will say at your eulogy, not on your resume. Please do have your fun, but I have discovered that a life where I try to help people, gives me back so much.

In the documentary movie, “I AM,” the punchline is money does not create happiness. Having some money does alleviate unhappiness as it shelters, feeds and clothes you and your family, but amassing a lot of money has a diminishing return on happiness. Per the interviews with countless psychologists, sociologists, faith leaders, etc., the key to happiness is reaching out to others and interacting with them. The psychic income from that effort is huge.

Yet, whatever you decide to do, live your life. Take some chances. You will fail from time to time. Don’t worry. Learn from it. Pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and move forward. Travel somewhere beyond your boundaries. Meeting fascinating people is a wonderful experience. When our family took a vacation to Ireland, I remember meeting Oola from Belgium in a café near the Cliffs of Moher. What a delight she was. I remember the advice from a cabbie who told my son who wanted to start a tavern, to be sure not to “drink away your profits.”

Live your life. It is not your parents’ life. It is yours. Of course, listen to what your parents have to say, as they tend to know a thing or two, but stretch your wings. But, remember to be generous of your self. Your time and interest for others can mean a great deal to them and you. I mentioned living for what is said at your eulogy.

A good man and friend died the other day. His funeral was well attended by many as he was as generous a soul as you will find. His kids’ friends were always welcome at his house and his son said he treated them like he was interested in them. His colleagues had many wonderful stories about this kind man. I guess if I had to sum up his life, he was generous with his time for others. He was a wonderful and devoted husband of over 50 years. And, he died well-loved and remembered.

A dysfunctional Congress – a national security risk?

This is actually not my question. I was reading an article on the inability of Congress to do much of anything, and the author of the comment noted that Congress is so dysfunctional it is actually a national security risk. The point was in reference to Congress is so busy doing make work on scandals of the month, they are actually forsaking the role to govern various oversight functions. But, I think it goes further than that. I believe Congress’ inability to do anything, even in crisis mode, jeopardizes the health and welfare of the United States.

The smaller VA Health Care Bill which should be celebrated as a bi-partisan effort between Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Jeff Miller was only passed because it funded much less than is needed. It will help immensely, but it is not near enough and they will have to come back next year. It should be noted, Sanders’ earlier legislation for four times as much was not passed in the spring before the problems in Phoenix and elsewhere blew up. Plus, a very small transportation infrastructure band-aid was passed at the eleventh hour before the funding law expired, but it does not address our major infrastructure needs. There are other exceptions of collaboration, but herein lies the problem. These collaborations should not be so newsworthy.

Last night, the House adjourned by passing two bills to address the border crisis which will go nowhere. Conservative columnist David Brooks shared his frustration on PBS Newshour last night saying the Republican party gave up on governance and passed a bill that would look good on Fox News. The bill was passed after a compromise bill fell through the day before. Brooks lamented that Senator Ted Cruz worked with Tea Party Representatives to craft a bill that will go beyond deporting all of the refugee kids without a hearing, but also lead to the deportation of about 500,000 people who are here on work-visas after they expire. Brooks noted the party desperately needs an “anti-Cruz” person to step up and speak about governance.

Never mind, there are votes to pass the bi-partisan, collaborative Senate Immigration bill that was passed last year. Yet, most major bills have passed the House in the past two years with an unusual caucus. The only way for Speaker Boehner to secure passage of needed legislation, with a couple of exceptions, is for some moderate Republicans to join in with the Democrats to get enough votes in a bi-partisan collaboration. This was how the unfortunate government shutdown was ended. This was how Hurricane Sandy relief was passed. This was how the fiscal cliff crisis was resolved and so on.

The Senate is in a much better place as the majority caucus is more unified. Plus, the Senators are subject to state-wide election, so the gerrymandered districts do not affect them like they do Representatives. These Representatives face more strident candidates in primaries, which may determine the winner as they run unopposed in the fall. If a candidate does not have to face someone in an opposing party, then some more zealous ideologues can win and they are less prone to collaboration. So, the Senate can find a higher percentage of collaborators, Senator Cruz withstanding.

So, with this context, our country is not addressing the key issues. And, even when crises come to the forefront, the dysfunction gets in the way of governance. The government shutdown which was harmful to so many and led the President to cancel an Asia-Pacific trip to open markets should not have happened. The country was held hostage by a handful of people and it hurt our country and made us look like stooges in the global community. It took the bi-partisan, collaborative efforts of several female Senators to end the madness and show the men how it should be done. Some of these same Senators are working on a bi-partisan collaboration for a bill to address sexual violence on college campuses, following their successful efforts to refine the legal process on sexual violence in the military. The key words are bi-partisan collaboration.

There are many problems to deal with and neither major party has a license on the solutions. Some folks don’t even understand the problem, so their solutions are off the mark. We also have donors and lobbyists who generally rule the roost and feed some of this lack of understanding through misinformation. To combat this, we can at least get people to the table who will collaborate and hear each other out. And, as I have said in two earlier, recent posts. If an ideological candidate is touting “my way or the highway” this election, as voters, we need to show them the highway.

The Booklady – Dolly Parton

When people hear the name Dolly Parton, the first thing they think is probably her talented singing, songwriting, larger than life persona or her generous spirit. The first thing is probably not the booklady, but that is also a large part of who she is. As reported on PBS Newshour earlier this week, Dolly (I cannot call her just Parton) has an organization called “Imagination Library” that has distributed over 50 million books in 1,400 communities around the world. These books are sent directly to the kids who can retrieve their personal book from the mailbox to much anticipation. Please check it out at http://www.imaginationlibrary.com/.

She started Imagination Library in her home county in Tennessee as a tribute to her Dad. She said on PBS Newshour her Dad was a smart man, but never knew how to read or write, a shameful curse he lived with. She did not want kids in her county to go without books. So, she started a program where a child would be provided 60 books, one per month for the first 5 years of their life. The first one is given to the parents at the hospital. The idea spread to other counties, then near-by and other states and now is in Canada and the UK.

Dolly said more and more the kids call her “The Booklady” and she takes a great deal of pride in being more known for books than what made her famous. She said she feels like she is accomplishing something. Dolly, you are 100% correct. I have written before about an article written by David Brooks called “32 Million Fewer Words.”The link follows: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/32-million-fewer-words/. The premise of this article is kids in poverty have heard 32 million fewer words than kids in more flourishing homes by the time they start pre-Kindergarten at age 4. The teachers in the PBS piece noted this as well. They said they can tell which kids have parents who read to them. It is obvious with their vocabulary and grasp of new words.

Some of the parents said these books are truly a Godsend. They cannot afford these books as they are living paycheck to paycheck. What do the kids think? The news report followed a couple of young girls as they showed with great pride their book collection and read from their favorite books. They also flipped the book over and showed their name and address indicating how it was sent to them. These are their books, so they treasured them even more. And, when the journalist asked them who is Dolly Parton? “She is the booklady,” they all responded.

I made the comment about Dolly’s generous spirit above. I have seen her interviewed several times. Her kind nature exudes from her. Barbara Walters has noted Dolly is one of the most genuine people she has ever interviewed. This is prima facie evidence of that assertion. Dolly, your legacy may be even larger than your legendary career – you are The Booklady. You should take pride in what you have created. Well done.

A Sense of Recognition and Belonging

One of my favorite columnists and weekly guests on the PBS Newshour, David Brooks, authored an interesting read called “The Social Animal.” In essence the book tells a story of two people from their childhood to when they meet and their travails as a couple, offering some social science input on why we do the things we do. It is more than a novel, but less than a textbook, so it is indeed an illuminating read. In the book, one of his characters discovers a Greek word called “thumos” which seems to identify in one word a need to be both recognized and belong to some sort of affiliation. Per Brooks, we don’t have an English word that wraps both of these human needs into one. Yet, the word thumos explains so much when we look at our society and why we do the things we do.

We all have a need and desire to be recognized. We want and need others to recognize the effort or gesture we made. As a quick example, as blog readers and writers, think of how your spirit is uplifted when someone recognizes a post you have made. The fact that someone else is taking the time to read and acknowledge what you wrote is meaningful. Yet, the word thumos takes it a step further. People have a need to belong to something, be part of a group whether it is a high school, religious, political, community, sports or some other group of people.

The example from Brooks’ book is the male character discovers in high school the need to be recognized for how he leads his life, while still having a sense of belonging. In high school, with hormones raging and communication filters not fully developed, kids can get ostracized quickly for not being part of a group of people, whether it be the popular, athletic, academic, band, anti-establishment, etc. crowd. The ones who tend to avoid this belonging tend to get ostracized by all groups, whereas if they belong to at least one group, have a home base.

I mention this now as we have a heightened sense of grouping in this country and abroad which has created an unhealthy tension of “we/ they” finger-pointing. The high school example is a good one, as some of the behavior is very high school-ish, even middle-school-ish, while other behaviors are even criminal. Recognition is very important and is a great motivator and validator in all our lives. Yet, we can be recognized for good behaviors as well as bad behaviors. As a parent, one of the key lessons I have tried to teach my kids and try to live by each day is “your name is the most important thing you have.” When people say your name, what do you want people to say about you – is he a decent, honorable person or is he a jerk? One of my favorite movie lines is from “Rob Roy,”  where the title character says “honor is a gift you give yourself.”  That is the best code to live by. In today’s debates over issues between people of different political persuasions, the best thing that can be said about anyone is he or she listens to the arguments of others whether he or she is in agreement. Their conduct is both civil and honorable.

The need to belong is also important. It should not define us, as we are usually an amalgamation of different groups we belong to, yet it often can be taken to either a healthy or unhealthy extreme depending on the group. A healthy extreme might be a woman who is so devout she becomes a nun. She is taking a vow to live her life devoted to God and helping others. On the unhealthy side is when the group is arguably called a hate group, be it some form of White Supremacist, Al Qaeda or youth gang, where the groups recruits impressionable people who have some level of disenfranchisement with society. These impressionable people are taught to blame others for their lot in life and to hate. As social science has told us clearly, we are not born racist or bigoted; we have to be taught.

Using Al Qaeda as an example, for adult men to be able to convince a teenage boy to strap on a hidden, suicide bomb to become a personified weapon is absolutely criminal and horrifying. These youths are given the penultimate brainwashing of belonging saying if you commit suicide and kill other infidels you will earn your place in heaven. This is one area where we need women to gain a greater voice in a male dominated religion so that they can tell these men what they are doing is wrong. Unfortunately, we have this behavior elsewhere with other affiliations. So Muslim extremists like Al Qaeda are not the lone set of criminal groups.

The recent shooting that occurred in the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin is the latest example of a hate crime by a group where the shooter had a sense of recognition and belonging. The shooting in Norway of the youths on the island along with the bombing at the downtown government office is another. These killers and others are led to believe their victims are different from you and are the cause of your problems (or society’s problems) and should be eliminated. Or, the groups can become so unhealthy in a cult like way, where rational reasoning is squelched. How else could a group of people be taught to drink the cyanide laced Kool-Aid by Reverend Jim Jones? How could a gang member be taught he has to commit a litany of severe crimes to be a member?

With our innate need for recognition and belonging, how can we encourage people to have a sense of right and wrong about all the decisions they make alone and in a group? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but have a few thoughts. I would love to hear the thoughts of others, as I see this as a broader problem. For conversation starters:

– We must ground our children, leading by example, with a sense of right and wrong. The aforementioned quote from “Rob Roy” is one example. Yet, we need to openly discuss behaviors that are wrong that we witness or that they might do. The minister who want to put gays behind an electrified fence is an easy lesson of inappropriate behavior. The ministry I was taught would look to the Golden Rule as the greatest rule to live by.

– We need to be civil to one another in our daily interactions and expect the same from others. In fact, if someone refuses to be civil after you asked him to do so, exit the conversation. Yet, with that said, remain civil and you will be heard. My grandmother used to say, “The louder you shout, the worse your argument.” You could modernize this with those who are called “trolls” as they intentionally upset blog conversations. When you see inappropriate blog discussion write “This is inappropriate discussion.”

– We need to continue to teach children (and adults) to think critically. They need to ask questions and have a healthy sense of skepticism about what they read, hear and witness. Group-speak is a powerful mechanism, so people need to see things for what they are. Just because someone is a minister does not make them right on all counts. Political parties can stridently convince people that they are 100% correct and the other side is 100% wrong. As an Old Fart, I have never seen a one-sided communication problem.

– We need to shine a spotlight on hate groups. Make as many people aware that they exist and here is what they believe. The best thing to come out of the Sikh Temple shooting is a greater awareness that the Sikhs are a peaceful, hard-working spiritual group. Talk about the hate groups and other groups with your children. Show them you do not condone the former behavior and note we each have different ways of being devout, so we need an open mind to all religions.

– As members of society and with an eye toward “it takes a village” to raise a child, if you witness a child who is at risk on any issue, talk to the child and see if there are problems. Maybe you know the parent or a teacher or principal who could help. When you witness hateful group-speak, intervene. Dr. Wayne Dyer uses the term “defend the absent.” If someone or some group is being run down, he would defend the person not there.

These are a few ideas borrowing from the many mentors I have had and books and movies I have enjoyed. I have noted in earlier posts becoming a mentor, tutor, big brother/ sister, volunteer, etc. may be a way for us to place ourselves in these conversations with children and others in need. The recognition and belonging affiliated with helping others is the greatest gift to yourself and others. Please share your thoughts and ideas.