People make a difference

The significant majority of the news is about what is not working in the world. What we focus on far too less is what is working well. People make the difference. People can overcome bad structure and even governments.

We see it first hand during disasters when people help those who have lost their homes and loved ones. But, it also happens everyday in the normal course of living.

We see it in helping homeless families climb a ladder out of poverty and into sustainable housing. We see it as someone delivers meals to shut-ins and speaks with them about their day.

We see it when people volunteer to read or tutor kids who are failing behind. Or, as my wife says just give them a soft place to land. This also helps the teacher who may not have the benefit of a teaching assistant.

We see it in the people who greet and speak with customer service people in stores or on the phone. We see it in the many donation drives for coats, school supplies or food. We see it in the countless volunteer coaches, choir leaders, scout leaders and school leaders.

We see it in people who listen to the point of view of others. A Black man said he was able to get KKK members to give up their robes and change their ways by listening first and then asking questions. Our friend Jill has written recently about the loss of civility. We need to follow these examples and practice it more.

A famous person once said the only way to change the world is one person at a time. That has always been the case. So, let’s embrace civility and celebrate what is good about it. And, please remember, kindness is not a weakness.

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Tell me why the CFPB is a disaster

In the current fued over who should lead the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, what should be focused on is why the President and Republicans are calling the CFPB a “joke” or a “disaster.” This agency has penalized banks, credit card companies, lenders, etc. almost $12 billion for aggressive marketing practices, selling products people did not ask for and outright fraud.

Over 90% of this money goes to the affected customers who have been cheated. A good example is Wells Fargo being fined $150 million for setting up accounts for people that did not authorize them, so employees could meet a bonus goal. Another is Bank of America being fined over $780 million for selling services customers did not ask for. Other brand name organizations have also been fined for bad practices.

The organization has also helped over 29 million people with issues and education on financial matters. Since, financial issues are complex and so many were harmed during the housing crisis, the CFPB seems to be a big help to everyday Americans.

The reason for the comments by the President and Republican legislators is the CFPB is working too well and banks don’t like this. It is far from a joke or a disaster, so reporters need to ask the speaker of such a comment as to why they say this? The pat answer is the CFPB has too much authority and too little oversight. Yet, it was set up to be removed from the political process for these reasons. Banks, et all don’t want to be fined for their business practices, so they fund politicians to diminish the CFPB’s clout.

My strong advice to banks is to stop screwing people over and maybe you won’t get fined. Stop selling people products they don’t understand such as variable or pick-a-payment mortgages. Stop selling them products and services they did not authorize. My sister is dealing with one of these banks right now on a credit card account she did not open.

So, Mr. President tell me again why the CFPB is a disaster? And, tell me how attacking this organization helps those voters who put you in office? To be brutally frank, when this President uses the word “disaster” it usually means he is being untruthful about something.

 

Gone to seed

We have a poverty problem in the United States. Too many of our declining middle class did not rise to the next strata, falling instead, to near poverty and into poverty. Yet, we do not talk about this problem enough. We have let their ladders out of poverty, go to seed along with their environment.

Poverty should be succinctly defined, as it is often misdefined along with simplistic diagnoses. Quite simply, poverty is the lack of money. The causes are many and complex, so the solutions must be holistic.

Some like to say it is due to lack of virtue. Some like to say it is due to lack of work ethic, while others may claim it is due to drug use or alcoholism. When I work with people in poverty, I witness hard working, often pious people. I see people with a lesser propensity to do drugs than general society.

If we recognize the simple definition of poverty as lack of money, we can focus our attention on providing ladders out of poverty. We can invest in the communities that have gone to seed, both with economic and social capital. We can start with redeveloping depleted assets. The term coined with a successful program in Atlanta is ABCD – Asset Based Comminuty Development.

ABCD could focus on repairing and not closing a community school, recognizing the during and after school value it offers. Or, it could be redeveloping a gone to seed golf course or empty textile or tobacco mill. Or, it could be repurposing a mall to be a school, church, charity or governmental building. Replacing or refurbishing blighted assets makes a huge difference.

Coupled with these investments must be education and career development, or social investments. Jobs and careers are scarce in too many areas. Opportunities must be introduced and nurtured to make them sustainable. STEM education, apprenticeships, trades skills are part of an all of the above tactical strategy,

But, we must be mindful of four negative trends in areas that have gone to seed – crime, opioids, food deserts  and single families. Community policing by people living in the community is key. Targeted help with the opiod epidemic is important. Better food choices must be available as they may not have a grocery market. And, we must have holistic sex education and access to planned parenthood tools and birth control.

What we cannot have is kicking tens of millions off health care insurance. We cannot reduce an already minuscule food stamps program. We need to think about improving the minimum wage.

These are just a few ideas. But, first we need to address what people in poverty lack – money.

 

 

 

All the President’s Men

Not to overstate the obvious, but it would behoove those who serve the President to remember the famous title of the Watergate movie – “All the President’s Men.” While President Nixon was pardoned for any crimes that led to his resignation, over twenty of his colleagues went to jail.

Our current President has many challenges that continue to be problematic. His biggest character flaws are his large ego, thin skin and disdain for telling the truth. Yet, what makes these attributes even worse is he cannot remain silent when that would be the wiser course of action. As a result, he has unforced errors.

A month ago, the bookies in London had the odds at even money, this President would resign or be impeached before his first term ends. My guess is the odds are now better than 50/50 that he won’t make four years.

While the proof has yet to be found, this President is acting like a guilty man with respect to Russia collusion. But, what may also be his undoing is his vast number of conflicts of interest. I personally believe he is using the Presidency to make more money, as caring for others has never been his modus operandi.

So, I would recommend people to stop lying for this man and start doing their job. They will stay out of trouble that way.

Personal Finance Education is Essential

Attending a recent Board meeting for an agency that helps working homeless families obtain sustainable permanent housing, a thought struck me. We partner a licensed clinical social worker with families to help them on their journey while we offer temporary rent subsidies based on the client’s ability to afford 30% of the housing and utility costs relative to their monthly income,

Much of what these social workers do is help with budgeting for “needs” and prioritizing less “wants.” Yet, another key element is to require the parent(s) to attend classes on personal finance training. We partner with another agency to do just that.

The thought I had is we should require high school students to take a semester course on personal finance. One of my sons took this course as an elective, so I know the curriculum exists at least in our public schools. And, he benefited from it.

This course could run the gambit from monthly budgets to checking/ savings accounts to investments to credit/ loans to ID theft prevention. We are largely a financially illiterate nation. This would help educate people to make more informed decisions.

To illustrate my point, there was an economic study in New York several years ago called “Class Matters.” The study demonstrates that people in a lower socio-economic class ask fewer questions of advisors, bankers, lenders, etc, when they should be asking more. I call it the “suit and tie” effect. This is how people can sign up for mortgages they cannot afford, how they can succumb to predatory lending on car loans or make the mistake of using a pay-day lender. These folks are preyed upon because of their financial illiteracy. This also is one of the reasons for the 2007 housing crisis as lenders provided mortgages to riskier lendees.

I am not saying mandatory personal finance training will end homelessness or poverty, but it will arm our graduates to budget better and ask more questions. Avoiding 23% car loans can impact a budget in a major way.

If you agree, please reach out to your local papers and politicians. To me, this a sustainable and impactful change.

When fear mongering is your main argument


It is hard to back away from an erroneous point, when fear mongering is your argument. Let’s face it, fear sells. This is why politicians use it and why it is used in commercials to push product.

Politicians tend to use it most when their arguments are poor or the data goes largely against their points. Some of the Presidential candidates have said the Affordable Care Act will cost us millions of jobs, when, in fact, it has not and is working pretty well, but could stand a few improvements. Same with the economy, as some Presidential candidates say it is horrible, yet it is doing pretty well.

In my home state of North Carolina, our General Assembly passed an unconstitutional law that restricts the rights of LGBT citizens, in general, but specifically targets transgender people by restricting them to the bathroom based on their birth gender.

This law was passed and signed in twelve hours in an especially called General Assembly session. It was designed, but went further, to overturn an ordinance in Charlotte which mirrored 200 similar laws nationwide permitting transgenders to use the restroom of identification.

To sell the law, fear was used. Direct fear that any man could choose to go in the restroom with your little girl. Indirect fear is implied that transgenders must also be perverts, which is not based in fact. These are people trying to find themselves. They are discriminated against based on lack of understanding.

Yet, in 200 cities that have these laws, examples of inappropriate use are hard to come by. The fear has been sensationalized to the point it is hard to reason with someone. It also made it difficult for the General Assembly to back away as they know they screwed up.

A similar law was ruled unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals in Virginia, which would oversee an appeal of the lawsuit against the state. The Attorney General for the state refuses to defend the law in court, which he has done before on laws that were ruled unconstitutional passed by this GOP led Assembly.

The law has received a huge backlash from business with canceled expansion plans, canceled conventions, canceled shows and reduced turnout at the spring Furniture Market in High Point. It is expected that the fall market will be decimated as the designers had  already committed to the spring show.

Even with these concerns, the law will make things worse on the restroom issue and is unenforceable unless each restroom will use a policeman. Many transgender people look like their gender of identification, so being required to use the restroom of gender birth will be a problem. Also, some have had their gender legally changed and they would run afoul of the new law.

This law was rushed through in twelve hours. Many folks did not know the LGBT restrictions were added, which are discriminatory by themselves. It was passed on fear. So, these lawmakers who know they screwed up have boxed themselves in.

We need to protect the children of the world (to protect ourselves)

There is one constant across all people, religions, and cultures. We love our children and want to protect them, nurture them and give them opportunity. Yet, we need to do a better job of protecting not just our children, but all children of the world. There are too many strident and zealous people who provide challenges to this goal. And, there is too much corruption among greedy leaders who stand in the way of helping.

Our missionary friend in Nigeria notes in his view the three greatest challenges we have are climate change, global poverty and global corruption. The latter seems out of place, but it is a major cause of disenfranchisement everywhere in the world, even in western countries. It stands in the way of getting resources and help to those in need and lays the groundwork for terrorist groups to find a way in to help. It is only too late, when the people realize the terrorists are far worse than the leaders.

Terrorists are very good at brainwashing adults and children leading them to extreme beliefs. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught, so does hatred and zeal. It has to be nurtured and the terrorists are good at recruiting innocents and creating new generations of haters and using them as their army. It should not be lost on anyone, that the young impressionable person is strapping a suicide vest on, not the teacher.

Outside of the extreme example above, we tend to avoid thinking about helping our children. We have far too much short-sighted thinking that stands in the way of doing a greater good long term. We have too much corruption in politics that our profit makers get their way at the expense of others. And, the messages can easily be manipulated, so that blame can be assessed. We are too good at blaming others than looking at the real problem.

Here are few real truths that need to be addressed by leaders:

  • The World Economic Forum in their Global Risks report note the two greatest risks over the next ten years are the global water crisis and climate change inaction. Please ask your leader and want-to-be leaders what they intend to do about it. If they deny these issues are a problem, then do not vote for them.
  • The global maltreatment of women, including in western worlds, is an issue as it affects women and girls. Women must be viewed as partners not chattel, as to do otherwise is not only unjust, it is unwise, as women hold up half the sky. If a region does not value women, then it is competing in a world with half of its resources and intellectual capital.
  • To the first point, a major concern is overpopulation, which will heighten the impact of climate change and water. Our earth cannot support its people if we grow like expected and people consume more like western cultures. Plus, increased family size is highly correlated with poverty, so family planning is essential. The religions of the world need to get their arms around this issue and not prevent holistic family planning.
  • The refugee crisis must be addressed by all, including the US and Russia. Xenophobic fear mongering that is espoused by a few politicians does not serve the purpose. It is a resource issue and one country cannot bear the burden. Our Canadian partners are showing the US how to help, but we have decided to let politicians fear monger rather than help more. Russia needs to be part of the solution, instead of looking to gain influence at others’ expense which is Putin’s goal on most anything. Europe cannot do this alone and we need to get Syria more settled or the problem will continue.
  • When regions are in a state of disruption, little education is occurring. Our children are not getting the education they need if they are too consumed with just surviving. The refugee children are an extreme example of this, but when adults are disenfranchised, education suffers everywhere.

I have noted before that treating women better around the world will have an echo effect. It is not only the right thing to do, but economies will grow, we will be tapping more intellectual capital to solve problems and women do not compete like men do in politics, avoiding zero-sum games and seeking collaborations. I remind folks it took ten female senators to avoid the US from defaulting on its debts in October 2013, when Senator Ted Cruz single-handedly shut down the government.

Treating women better will enhance how we look to help our children. Girls are maltreated just like women, sometimes worse as they are sold as property or stolen. So, this echo effect will greatly help our children, through more stable economies and a greater focus on education. People should not lose sight that some of history’s greatest advancements came out of the Middle East. If we leave entire populations in disarray without education, that hurts us all.