Our children deserve better

Two time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof wrote an editorial earlier this week in The New York Times called “Our children deserve better.” It is a clarion call to our nation showing the plight of kids in America.

Here are a few quotes to frame the issue:

“UNICEF says America ranks No. 37 among countries in well-being of children, and Save the Children puts the United States at No. 36. European countries dominate the top places.

American infants at last count were 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than children in other advanced countries, according to an article last year in the journal Health Affairs. We would save the lives of 20,000 American children each year if we could just achieve the same child mortality rates as the rest of the rich world.”

“Half a million American kids also suffer lead poisoning each year, and the youth suicide rate is at its highest level on record….The Census Bureau reported this week that the number of uninsured children increased by 425,000 last year.”

These are different views and sources of the threats to US children that note we have a problem. Another source I read a couple of years ago noted America has a much higher maternal mortality rate at child birth than other civilized countries, which further endangers children as well as the mothers.

Yet, these issues are not being discussed in the halls of government. We have a poverty problem in our country with too many living in or just above poverty levels. We have not expanded Medicaid in fifteen states whose numbers are worse than these national numbers per capita. We have not addressed our national water crisis which has a Flint, MI like exposure to lead in too many cities and a volume of available fresh water issue in other places. We have not invested as we should to diminish crime and provide more opportunities for jobs in disenfranchised areas. There are several pockets of success that can be emulated in more cities.

We also need to address better gun governance, especially with the number one gun death cause by far being suicide and a non-inconsequential accidental gun death rate. And, we have not dealt with the continuing and rising exposure to technology and artificial intelligence which have taken and will take even more jobs in the future. Finally, there is that climate change thing we need to deal with.

These are real problems. And, they will get worse. Data driven analysis of causes and solutions are needed. They are both multi-faceted. Investing more now, will save huge amounts later. This is not just an urban issue, it is rural one as well. The opioid crisis is rampant in these impoverished rural areas, for example.

None of the solutions will fit on a bumper sticker. And, political attempts to oversimplify issues should be questioned. Here is an easy contradiction to spot – if people believe gun deaths are a mental health issue, then why the effort to eliminate or not expand mental health benefits?

Please make your legislators aware of these issues and ask pointed questions. These questions deserve answers, not bumper sticker slogans. These concerns deserve to be talked about, studied and acted upon.

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Impromptu conversations

Earlier this week, I had a delightful conversation with an 80 year-ish old couple in a doctor’s waiting room. Doing what I often do, I observed
a conversation starter and took the chance to inquire.

The man was wearing a white t-shirt that had the cursive “Dodgers” in blue on the front. Rather than speak across the room, I walked over, got a cup of bad coffee, stopped at their seats and dove in.

“Is that for the Brooklyn Dodgers or the Los Angeles Dodgers?” I asked indicating where the baseball team moved in the late 1950s. He smiled and said the answer I hoped to hear, “Brooklyn.”

In response to my question if they are from Brooklyn, he said “No, Cuba.” Rather than segue into a different subject regarding why they left Cuba, I stayed with baseball. I asked if he was a Jackie Robinson fan and he became animated. He said he actually got to see Robinson play.

We discussed what a treat that was and our collective knowledge of Dodger history. I can remember old baseball history much better than recent history. We meandered down the path of Robinson, beating the dreaded Yankees in 1955, the book “The Boys of Summer,” the pitching prowess of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres that swept those same Yankees in 1963 and the current team’s prowess.

His wife relished in his enjoyment of the conversation. She had a big smiile, Before I could move onto her, his name was called by the nurse.

It was a delightful conversation. I have shared before how much I like to uncover conversation starters, be it a name like Olivia or Aimee likely after a star or song or some version of double names like Mary Ellen or Betty Sue. Or, I love it when resort areas have someone’s home town on his or her nametag.

My wife said I made that man’s day, but he helped make mine better. I encourage everyone to have impromptu conversations. It brings us closer. Just look for those cues.

Echoes of past blogposts

If you have been blogging for a few years, you likely witness some of your older blogposts resurfacing with more interest. In my case, it is not uncommon for some older posts to be more widely read than at the time they were written.

Now, I am not referring to those blogposts that have consistently drawn attention. The ones that pop-up in your most-viewed list after being long absent are to what I am referring. Here are a few late-blossomers that are getting more attention:

“Don’t laugh at me” written in September, 2013 – This one resurfacing is less a surprise as I think people are alarmed by the divisiveness in America and western democracies. The Peter, Paul and Mary songs resonates saying quietly and pleafully “we are all the same.” It’s message is place yourself in the shoes of the person who is being ridiculed. At some point, each of us has been ostracized. Here is a link.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/dont-laugh-at-me/

“Who is Paul O’Neill and why should his opinions matter?” written in March, 2013 – This one is more of a surprise, given the relative anonymity of Paul O’Neill. Yet, I think people are craving leadership with the dearth of such in the two largest English speaking democracies. O’Neill is a quiet, studious and effective leader who deserves notoriety for his ability to observe what is wrong and how to arrive at solutions. Plus, it shows great leaders facilitate communications up and down organizations as the best ideas often come from those closest to the action. Here is a link.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/who-is-paul-oneill-and-why-should-his-opinions-matter/

If you do not remember these posts or were not following my blog back in 2013, please check them out. I am delighted they are getting a little more interest given their subject matter. Also, please share a link to similar posts of yours. I would love to revisit them or read them for the first time.

Why aren’t you in Brussels?

After several days of being taken to the woodshed, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was found walking the streets. And, he got quite an earful. One man said it clearly. “Why are you here? Why aren’t you in Brussels?”

The meaning is clear. Why aren’t you in Brussels negotiating a deal to leave the European Union? Whether you favor Brexit or not, leaving the EU without a deal would be disastrous. CEOs have been consistent in this message. To their credit, many of them do not favor leaving rhe EU. They see Brexit as dilutive to the British economy. Yet, leaving with no deal would be a bureaucratic fiasco. Think long lines of trucks at the border, both ways.

Sadly, the PM is not known to be a detailed person, not unlike the US president. So, when Boris tells people a “no-deal” Brexit is manageable, those words should not give anyone comfort, even pro-Brexit people. Going one step further, the same could be said of Parliament whose inability to manage Brexit has put the UK in this predicament.

So, I think the man on the street has it right. Prime Minister, get your fanny to Brussels. And, take some detail people with you. You will need them. Either get a deal done or don’t leave the EU.

Note from Nebraska GOP State Senator

Last month, I sent an email to a Republican State Senator in Nebraska complimenting him on his political courage to be critical of his own party. For his courage, he received a letter from the Nebraska Republican Party inviting him to leave the party. Today, I received this email.

“Dear Keith,
It’s State Senator John McCollister here. I’m the Nebraska legislator who called out the complicity of the Republican Party in enabling white supremacy 3 weeks ago.

If you are receiving this message, you are one of the kind people who sent me a personal email. There have been literally thousands of messages and with so much going on, I haven’t been able to respond to everyone individually. I want you to know I’ve read your notes and they have touched my heart. I wanted to send you all a message here to keep you informed about what has been going on and future plans. To recap:

Three weeks ago I had enough. After yet another mass shooting linked to a white supremacist, I tweeted out the following thread:

The Republican Party is enabling white supremacists in our country. As a lifelong Republican, it pains me to say this, but it’s true. 

I of course am not suggesting that all Republicans are white supremacists, nor am I saying that the average Republican is even racist.’

Almost immediately, the post started gaining national attention. Prominent news anchors, celebrities and political figures all seemed to be talking about it and reposting. The night after, I was on CNN. A few days later, I was on Morning Joe:

None of this was planned, in fact it caught me quite off guard. State senators typically don’t attract much attention or controversy.

But I had to say something. The activities of this president are BEYOND the pale. Hate crimes are on the rise. Racism and discrimination have been mainstreamed. Just yesterday there was another mass shooting. I may be a registered Republican but I’m a human being first and clearly see what’s going on. Many want me to stay quiet. I will not be doing that.

In my remaining time in the Nebraska legislature, I will tell the truth about this president and about the viability of the two-party system. The GOP wasn’t always this way. We used to believe in fiscal responsibility and sustainability. We used to believe in environmentalism. We once stood up for civil rights.

I have a VISION for what our party can and should be and I want to keep spreading this vision. I want to use my new platform to have honest conversations about what is happening no matter how inconvenient it may be. I want to promote a more inclusive GOP.

If you want to join me on this quest, there are a few ways you can help. 🙂

#1. In my experience, convincing voters who’ve already made up their mind is a hard sell. Our efforts are better spent talking to non-voters or undecided voters. In the 2016 election, close to 40% of the voting-age population didn’t vote. Let’s change that in 2020. Let’s have conversations with friends, neighbors and go-workers so we can get out the vote.

#2. If you’re not already following my pages on Facebook and/or Twitter, please do so and help me SHARE posts when I release them. The larger our reach, the louder our message.

#3. If you want to make a contribution on my website, the proceeds will go to spreading this message in the biggest way we can. We will create more content. We’ll make graphics. We’ll be able to hire some smart folks who are savvy with the internet. The bigger our team is, the louder our megaphone will be and I intend to keep talking.

And that about summarizes everything. Thank you so much for your compassion. I wouldn’t be sending this message were it not for your letters of support. You give me strength.

-John McCollister

Nebraska State Senator

Copyright © 2019 McCollister for Legislature, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you sent us a message.”

We need more elected officials to speak the important truths, especially when their party needs to do better. I applaud Senator McCollister for his courage and truthfulness. We all should.

Colorado Family Planning Initiative

As the veracity of Planned Parenthood is being discussed, there is a program and study that was conducted in Colorado over a seven year period that offers meaningful data. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative offered low-income women and teens access to low or no-cost contraception, including IUDs and implants.

The Governor’s office released the results of the program which analyzed data from 2009 – 2013. The key findings are:

  • there was a 40% statewide decline in the teen birth rate
  • there was a 35% statewide decline in the abortion rate

If the goal is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, funding the use of contraception along with family planning efforts and information is the better answer. Cutting funding will only increase these numbers. And, it should be noted there are correlations between poverty and increasing family size and poverty and single mothers. This is more true the younger the mother.

Education is a vital part of the program as well. If people want to teach abstinence as part of a holsitic program, that is fine. But, the teachers and funders need to clearly understand these teens and young adults are just like we were, if not more so. They are tempted and will have sex. It would be so much the better, if they were informed of the consequences and knew what options there were.

A key part of the education must help girls understand that self-esteem need not be tied to sex. These girls need to be able to say no and feel confident in withstanding pressure, especially today with so many ads, shows, and stars (by dress and manner) saying it is OK. And, boys need to know that no means no. It can be uttered up to the time in which sex occurs.

As a parent, I know parents worry about their kids. You hope they will make good choices. Yet, we did not always make them and they will likely follow suit. Also, please understand even kids brought up in the strictest of homes will be tempted to do things when away at school or college. It is only natural.

Three anecdotes might help illustrate the importance of education and planning.

  • My brother-in-law taught eighth grade science in a high poverty rural area. Annually, he had a number of girls in his class get pregnant. To them, it was being like an adult a right of passage. Only when it was too late, did they realize the consequences.
  • A colleague was viewed by teens in her church as being the kind of person who would shoot straight with them. She was asked questions that told her these kids thought they could not get pregnant the first time and if they had sex standing up they could avoid pregnancy. When she mentioned to the minister to have a sex education class, he scoffed at her request.
  • A friend who has run several non-profits and is very devout told me the children of his friends would go off to a religious university nearby. He said these kids would go wild when finally away from their parents and shocked some of his friends by what they got into.

So, Planned Parenthood and organizations that provide holistic family planning need more funding to reduce the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies. Kids need to get good information and access to tools. It is their lives. And, while I focused on pregnancies, STDs and HIV are very viable threats to manage through contraception and education.

Let me close with this thought. As the former Board Chair of an organization that helps homeless working families, single mothers is the predominant group that is helped. It is also the fastest growing homeless population in America. Key tools to help lessen the propensity of poverty and homelessness in this group are family planning, sex education and low-cost birth control.

Plain talk

The news is never dull when the world has too many leaders that do not embrace facts to address problems. This is not unique to the US, but is indicative when other fact-challenged leaders are called the British Trump, the Philippino Trump, the South American Trump.

A threat to other countries’ national security is being identified in a country on the other side of the world and other hemisphere. The Amazon rain forest produces 30% of the planet’s oxygen, absorbs huge amounts of carbon and creates countless medicines. Yet, it is burning out of control and more is being harvested when it is not. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, like Trump, says climate change is a hoax and is slow to act on the fires and wants to develop more of the rain forest. This is a major concern. The planet needs more trees, not fewer.

The UK is headed for a trainwreck which makes me incredibly sad. They are unfortunately being led by a man who promises to make Great Britain great again. Financial analysts have said from the outset that Brexit will be dilutive to the British economy. Companies are moving and will move EU headquarters and distribution centers to EU cities like Dublin, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, etc. because of Brexit. And, what would be even worse, in spite of assurances to the contrary by PM Boris Johnson, is a no deal Brexit. Picture semi-trucks lined up on both sides of the borders trying to get through. Picture the Scottish and Northern Irish parliaments taking serious votes for referndums to leave the UK and rejoin the EU.

Italy will be having a new vote after the PM resigned over conflicts with his popular populist number two had created a stir. Snap elections are not conducive to stability. Just ask Theresa May, who made a horrible unforced error, losing a lot of support when she overstated her appeal.

Let me close with the most fact-challenged person in a position of lesdership outside of Putin, Erdogan, Kim and other autocrats, the regal-minded Donald Trump. His former ally and short-lived Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, has started a group to assure Trump is not reelected saying Trump is “off the rails.” Sadly, I agree with The Mooch.

As Trump’s tariff and trade wars push the global and US ecomomy closer to recession right when the ten plus year old growth market is feeling its age, he is blaming everyone else. Yet, what he is up against is financial and non-financial news shows consistently referring to the dampening impact of the Trump tariffs and trade wars as a cause and concern.

These increasing temper tantrums (let’s call them what they are) fail to recognize the role he has played in this with poor decision-making and lying to support such. It was reported by two insiders yesterday that Trump was surprised by China’s response that morning. Really? So, the person in the White House is barking orders and calling the Fed Chair a greater enemy than Xi.

Harry Truman’s words “the buck stops here,” are words that we are unlikely to hear from this president. And, if you ever wonder what a narcissist is worried about, a key trait is to blame others with their own faults.