A nice thing about our country

Our country is weary of having a person in a leadership position who is seemingly in the eye of every storm. He seems to be the lone constant in personal, political, company, country and media attacks. Even his supporters lament some of his tweeting habits.

Yet, our imperfect country has some nice things going for it. Here are a few thoughts.

– when our leaders do not address our real problems, companies, cities, states and people can step up and do more;
– when the president cannot get out of his own way and then has his people spend time, energy and their integrity defending his inane comments, we can choose to tune him out;
– when the president is untruthful more than he is not, we can choose to not believe a word he says or tweets;
– when leaders rationalize indefensible comments as normative, we can push back on them;
– we can choose to act on conservation, climate change and guns by voting with our feet; companies pay attention. Why? What creates profits and jobs are customers.

To this last point, companies like Google, Amazon, IKEA, Walmart, Facebook, etc. and states like California, Texas, Iowa, North Carolina, etc. are active in renewable energy. Walmart, Dick’s and Albertson’s are stepping up on gun sale restrictions. Even ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell are paying attention on climate change due to shareholder pressure.

If leaders choose not to lead, we can all do more. It sure would be nice if they helped some, too. If they do not, they become less relevant.

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Rainy days and Mondays, especially today, get me down

Karen Carpenter sang “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” This weekend was a yet another sad chapter in America’s history. Plus, we learned 31 people died in a ferry capsizing in the Philippines. In California, an eroding cliff collapsed next to the shore killing three. And, Russia and China are coming down hard on protestors. These are signals.

In America, we have decided we cannot do anything to stop mass gun shootings. We have decided the politics are too hard to do the needed things that would help. We could start by acknowledging that we average 100+ gun deaths a day even without the mass shootings. Many of those deaths are suicides. Some of them are accidental shootings of kids who find a gun in the house. And, some of the homicides are due to mental health issues, lack of civil discourse, hate crimes, or drug crimes. The common thread is access to a weapon without better governance.

Yes, we must act on these signals. We must call hate speech on the carpet, especially if it comes from someone who is in a position of leadership. Dog whistle racism and xenophobia are fuel to a fire for some extreme thinkers. The ones who want status quo in gun laws will say “now is not the time” for change to gun governance. Apparently, “never is the time.” The ones who want status quo will say “that change would not solve this instance.” Yet, doing nothing at all is not solving much.

There are things we can do that, in sum, will help make a difference. If it saves a few lives, that is good. I want politicians to get in a room and I want them to check their politics. I do not care who wins and loses a political game, but it is obvious the dead people and their families are losing. It amazes me how little we did after Sandy Hook. We even had a conservative shock jock say for years Sandy Hook was not real. He is on trial for his hateful rhetoric for the damage he has caused to Sandy Hook families and should be.

The Philippines tragedy is terrible, but not getting much play here. It seems we don’t pay attention like we should when the weather sends us signals. Overloading ferries can be OK in calm waters, but it is a disaster when waters are rough, especially after two earlier ferries had issues. I think failing to heed signals causes far too many deaths. Here in the US, we are whistling past the graveyard in preface to the next infrastructure collapse. Around the world, we have signals telling us to plan ahead on eroding seashores, increasing floods with stalled and repetitive storm systems, increasing droughts in other areas and elongated and bigger forest fires. We need to act on these signals.

In Russia and China, the signals are telling us that we must not be like that. Civil protest is more than fine, yet we must emphasize the word civil. Yet, a regime that crushes the spirit of those who question things, is one that is sowing more seeds of discord, not fewer. A regime that squelches and controls the media is not one that wants to hear the truth. I am watching the mini-series called “The Loudest Voice,” about Roger Ailes and his creation of Fox News. He purposefully controlled what and how things were said, that he started believing his own BS.

Truth matters. Facts matter. Diligent preparation in the face of those facts matter. When people ignore problems, white-wash or deny the truth, and squash those who are trying to tell you those things, the future is hamstrung. As I say often, I do not care what people’s politics are, as usually they are a mixed bag like me, conservative on some things, progressive on others. What I do care about is when people ignore or massage the facts to make their tribe win. I a more concerned about the people who die, who struggle, who become infirmed, who are jailed inappropriately, etc. That is what our leaders should be concerned about and not spreading fear, hate and division to win an election.

 

A few Sunday meanderings

Good morning one and all. I hope your weekend is going well. Reading the Sunday newspaper and a few stories online, I thought I might meander a little on this Sunday, typing in tune with cicadas chirping outside.

A simple concept with a lot of big numbers – Swiss scientists have confirmed that planting one trillion trees would be one of the least expensive ways to take carbon out of the air. They note there are 3.5 million square miles of available land to do so. In the documentary “Ice on Fire,” which I wrote about a few weeks back, planting and maintaining forests was one of several key options that we should do. The scientists note this will only work if we stop putting so much carbon there in the first place.

A British ambassador speaks the truth about the US White House – Per a CNN report as reported by AFP.com, “Britain’s ambassador in the United States has described President Donald Trump and his administration as ‘inept’ and ‘uniquely dysfunctional’, according to leaked diplomatic memos published by the Mail on Sunday. Ambassador Kim Darroch reportedly said Trump’s presidency could ‘crash and burn’ and ‘end in disgrace’, in the cache of secret cables and briefing notes sent back to Britain seen by the newspaper.”  This is not news to people who pay attention to the machinations of the White House incumbent. My prediction is this will be called fake news from a loser network by said incumbent.

A day in the life, two more shootings in my city – If we rewrote John Lennon’s portion of the famous song “A Day in the Life.” which blended two separate songs, the other by Paul McCartney, we might have the following:  “I read the news today, oh boy, about two more shootings in the city I live. One was shot in an expensive hotel corridor, while the others in a famous fast food chain.”  Recognizing I did a poor job matching words with the notes, the sentiment is valid. Maybe, we should just report when no one is shot in the city, as that would be more newsworthy.

False equivalences abound – This is a pet peeve of Bill Maher, with which I agree. When someone commits a series of poor behaviors or says inappropriate things, members of the supporting tribe will parade out a false equivalence that is intended to balance the scales. The past few years, these false equivalences are paraded out to show that the president is not the only politician who lies. While that is true, the president has lapped the field several times with his lies. He lies far more than he does not, he has been recorded with over 10,000 lies as president, and five former associates (not the media, not Democrats) have been quoted, one under the oath, that the president is not very truthful including, but not limited to, his attorney fixer Michael Cohen, his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his former White Counsel Don McGahn, his former National Economic Advisor Gary Cohn and former attorney Thomas Wells. The latter noted “Donald Trump lies every day even about things of no consequence.”

Why does the last item matter so much? Just read the leaked correspondence of the British ambassador. We are not trustworthy because our president is not trustworthy. And, it is hard to solve problems and build relationships if you cannot tell the truth. The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. Climate change is a problem, but he tells us it is a hoax. Guns are part of our shooting death problems, but he won’t admit they are. He tells the children detention centers are well run. And, so on.

 

 

Underneath a few headlines

We get so consumed with the person who shall not be named, we lose sight of other stories. Here are a few on this Father’s Day.

– Hong Kong citizens reminded the financial city leaders they are promised a different path forward by their owner. One million people equal to 1/7 of the city’s population protested the proposed law to extradite people to mainland China. The law was postponed, as a result. It should be noted some big money investors threatened to move money to Singapore to aid their cause. I applaud their protest and shows the power of people. China can ill-afford the notoriety or flight of capital away from Hong Kong.

– An issue that needs attention today, is a subset of our US debt issue. Social Security will soon pay out more than its revenues. This will draw down the trust fund in a way to require automatic 20% cuts in sixteen years. Of course, we could act now and make less onerous changes, but politicians are not even talking about this issue, which is par for the course, in my view. Why plan ahead they ask by their failure to act? I have seen exercises where a group of locals solve the Social Security funding dilemma. It should not be that hard for our representatives to act like such.

– Another shooting at Costco in the Los Angeles area occurred this weekend. Public shootings are now so commonplace in the US, it made page four of my newspaper. And, that shows how derelict our so-called leaders are in failing to do anything of substance. We have become too inured to gun deaths in the US. This makes me sad and angry that our representatives are failing to address a huge problem that is killing people. If Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings can’t bring greater change, I truly do not know what will.

– Both Brazil and the US need more doctors, especially in rural areas. Brazil is seeing visiting Cuban doctors bail on them, as they are not getting paid what they are owed. Why is a good question? In the US, medical students are going more into specialty areas. With student debt, it is hard to practice in low income areas and in lower margin general services. There are good ideas with telemedicine, but doctors need to see their patients up close to assess risk, physical and environmental.

If you have not heard of these issues, it reveals how little we pay attention to news and news not related to a someone who commands so much attention. I am hard pressed to ever remember an occupant in the White House consume so much attention.

I could use a heavy dose of boring competence in a leader who need not be the center of attention. Maybe then, we could address some of these issues. So, let’s celebrate Hong Kong’s successful protest and speak to issues like these and others. Again, I hope fathers are having a wonderful day.

Out of the pool

I think it is time to fire any politician in Washington who is forgetting why they are there. We could start with the White House incumbent and then take out hundreds of members of Congress in both houses. I understand fully Congress must investigate and provide oversight over the Executive Branch. That is part of their job and the current incumbent has given them cause to dig further.

Yet, I have this simple idea that leaders of both houses sit down with legislative liaisons from the White House and figure out some things they can pass and sign into law. I think a civilian board could list about a dozen major issues to focus on and say work these out. It should not take a civilian board, but these folks are too beholden to funders to come up with a workable list.

A key reason for not listing the problems is too much discussion occurs around whether not solving an issue helps them politically. A curse word comes to mind, so please insert your favorite. A good example is a bipartisan Senate immigration bill was passed in 2013, but the House refused to take it up as leaving immigration unaddressed would help the Republicans in the 2014 midterms. The Democrats should not be smug as they do the same thing.

Because of the Republicans unhealthy focus on dismantling the Affordable Care Act, the party justifiably lost seats in the 2018 midterms. To be frank, they should have lost seats with a rushed process that did not follow form and came up with several awful ideas. They should also thank Senators John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski for saving them from themselves by voting against an ill-conceived vote.

But, what have Dems done with improving the ACA with their winning back the majority in the House – nothing other than “beating on their chest” bills that went nowhere? Not that they were bad bills, but don’t wait until an election in 2020 to address healthcare. The ACA is imperfect, but is working OK and needs some more stability and improvements due to initial design flaws and several efforts by the GOP to sabotage it.

So, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. McConnell, and Mr. Pence, get your fannies in a room with a white board and figure out how to get something done. I do not care which party benefits from what comes out of this. The key is we benefit. Do something that will be signed into law by the mercurial man in the White House. So, Mr. Pence you better have the Queen of Hearts’ blessing to make deals or you may lose your head.

Here are few items for the list:

  • Stabilize the ACA: pay insurers what we owe them (yes we reneged on two deals with them) and invite them back to the market to have more competition. Consider expanding Medicare to age 62 as a trial to improve the risk pools in both the ACA and Medicare. Push for the remaining states to expand Medicaid.
  • Address better gun governance: another mass shooting occurred yesterday and nobody in office cares. More suicides occurred yesterday and nobody in office cares. A few accidental shootings and homicides occurred and nobody in office cares. It is a holistic problem that needs holistic solutions. Do something, anything that will help even if it is just a little. Universal background checks and elongated waiting periods would be well received by the majority of Americans.
  • Address climate change at the federal level: Cities, states and some industries are moving forward without an active federal government role, which is rightfully being sued by 21 children for failure to address what they have known about for three decades. They actually have a good case. This is also a jobs and economy issue as we can look backwards and get passed by or look to growing renewables industries. As a good example of looking backward, we let China seize a significant majority of the rare earth metals market share from us which is now a threat to national security.
  • Address the debt and deficit: Trade deficits are not a big thing as we are a consumer driven economy. The far bigger crisis is our national debt and growing deficit. We have to pay for things and the less we do, the more risk we have with a growing interest cost as a percent of our annual budget. We must increase taxes and reduce spending, both. The GOP has forsaken its role in being a budget hawk passing a tax bill that made a growing problem worse. Revisit the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan and do some of those things.

I will stop there, but there are more problems to address. Immigration is a problem, but it has been made worse under this president by cutting funding to help some Central American countries improve the lives of their citizens and the lack of judges to address the increased migration. A wall is not an answer. It is merely a structure. Dusting off that bipartisan Senate bill from 2013 would be a good start as well as addressing DACA. We need to keep educated young people in our country, as growth is an issue.

So, legislators, please get in a room and do some things that will pass. The focus should be on helping Americans, not helping legislators. Stop worrying about keeping your job and do your job. And, yes continue your oversight role as we are a republic not a kingdom.

 

 

 

Tuesday’s gone with the wind redux

One of my favorite songs from a hometown band called Lynyrd Skynyrd is “Tuesday’s gone.” Using the above song lyric, let me provide a wisp of several issues of the day.

To convince all of us that the sky is falling and we must build a wall, the US President was particularly windy last Friday. Self-created facts were being blown all around, yet when reporters tried to use real data points provided by people who worked for him, he told the reporters that was fake news. The reporters should have said they came from his buddy Vladimir and he would have believed them.

Our British friends are headed for a hard Brexit, unless the lawmakers realize they are not arguing from a position of strength.  There are three options – get more time, take another vote, or seek only minor changes. Brits need to know the Scots and Northern Irish might have remain votes if a hard Brexit occurs. The answer is blowing in the wind, but the obsinate leaders need to check their pride and party warclubs and act.

Speaking of wind, a cold wave blew in responding to the two Mikes – Pompeo and Pence – coming for a visit in Europe. An unlearned lesson on the Mikes and their boss is one cannot pee on people and tell them it is raining. Relationships must be more than transactional. They must be nurtured. If everything is viewed through a lens of short term transactions, then everyone is short-changed.

A final wind analogy relates to another mass shooting, this one in Aurora near the Windy City. Five people here, five people there seems to be a weekly occurrence. The greater tragedy are these and smaller shootings which are routine. The real wind is the usual rhetoric from NRA funded politicians blowing smoke to avoid changes to improve gun governance.

This post may seem at odds with my radical kindness one that precedes it, but the people I am being kind to are the disenfranchised, when politicians fail to act or act foolishly. These are not games to assuage egos. People are being hurt. We could start with the truth and more accountability.

 

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.