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.

 

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Just a thought

Where do you get your information? I ask this because our President seems to get his information from less than reliable sources and then criticizes more legitimate sources for disagreeing with him.

Here are a few questions to ask of your sources:

– if a source of information screams at his audience while his head is turning a very scary shade of red, he might not be a good source of information.
– if a source of information has such a raspy voice from shouting at the wind and name calls everyone who he deems appropriate, then he might not be a good source of information.
– if you get your information from Facebook or Twitter, you need to look carefully at sources cited and use the Twitter feed for headlines only to cause you to dig further on more legitimate sources.
– if you are getting your information from a source that must advertise they are fair and balanced to make up for their bias and inconsistent veracity, then you might want to consider another source for validation.
– if you are getting your information from the current President, stop because he is an unreliable source and has been most of his life.

I encourage you to check multiple sources. I am often asked where I get my information. Several places – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, Reuters, and The Guardian. I read articles from my browser feed which come from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, Time, etc. And, my local paper, The Charlotte Observee is a good source for local and state news.

A good sign a news source is reputable is they print errata or correct portions of stories that prove to be inaccurate. Admitting mistakes is a sign of intelligence.

I would also ask people who say inane things about their sources. Our President cites a couple of sources that are known for making things up or creating conspiracies. He even put one on the White House. And, he has actually appeared on one where the host is on record that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, as an example of his lack of veracity.

Before someone claims fake news, he needs to make sure the things he is saying are legitimate whether it is about his electoral college landslide, voter fraud or unemployment or crime rates.

A few suggestions for a better 2017

As many blogs have highlighted, 2016 has been the most interesting of years. My biggest concerns go beyond any electoral issues. They are the decrease in civil discourse and the increase in fake news and misinformation.

On the lack of civil discourse, we must start listening to each other and not just to respond. We need to listen to understand the other’s point of view. We need to decrease the decibel level and the use of name-calling and labeling.

The louder people are and the more shortcuts they use by labels show their argument is poor. I personally find labels to be a lazy form of argument to dismiss the other’s point of view. I have been called a tree hugger for this purpose, but I usually counter that I am also a capitalist to make that person think a little more.

On the fake news and biased news sites, we must do a better job of labeling the veracity of these entities. If you are going to call yourself a news source, then you need to be doing what it takes to be right far more than you are wrong. And, you need to have an errata where corrections are made public. We must also do our part to understand the veracity of our news sources.

So, what can we do better in 2017? Treat others like we wanted to be treated would be a huge plus. Listen and provide feedback like you want to receive it. Also, know the following statements:

– neither political party has all the good ideas and both have some that are not so good or don’t factor in the holistic causes of the problem.

– political incorrectness does not give anyone license to lie or be a jerk. One can be candid without taking someone’s head off.

As for the fake news sites, be on your guard. If it reads like a tabloid, then that is a sure sign. If mainstream news is not covering an issue, but this source is, check out its veracity. If it says Sponsored Advertisement on it, that is opinion, not news. If you are getting your news from shock jock entertainers, that is opinion. Also, be guarded of Facebook forwarding of news and even blogs on this source (by the way, my site is not news and represent the opinions of its user).

These fake news creators are very good as they make a nice profit through advertisements. They can afford to be good at it. So, it does take effort and homework on our part.  I read a variety of sources, Reuters, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, news summaries and watch or listen to several others – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, some mainstream news, etc.

Our issues are hard enough without us debating over the facts. We must gain common ground, listening and asking questions. Otherwise, we will solve the wrong problem.

 

 

 

Life lessons from an astronaut

The other day, I saw Miles O’Brien of PBS Newshour interview astronaut Mike Massimino about his new book Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe.” What was moving about this interview is Massimino tells the story in his book how becoming an astronaut was not easy for him.

He notes he had to apply to be an astronaut four times before being given the opportunity. When O’Brien asked him what he would be doing had he not become an astronaut, he said “applying for a fifth time.” Here is a man who is still afraid of heights and cannot swim very well, yet he became one of the very few people who have ever flown in space. He saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and decided that is what he wanted to be and did not let his shortcomings stand in the way.

He also notes he had struggles all through training, which he highlights in the book. Here is his response to O’Brien about his question on dealing with his setbacks.

“I think you’re right, yes. It’s not a question of being the best at something or things coming easy to you, but it’s being a person that can work with others and not give up. And, for me, that was part of it too.

At every step of the way, when I had trouble, there were people that came in, in my life that helped me. It’s important to go seek help when you need it, and to give help when other people need it. And that is really more important than coming in with a gigantic brain into the astronaut program.”

To me, there is no better life lesson than what Massimino says in these two paragraphs. Just because someone is not the best at something or that things do not come easy to him (or her), does not mean he (or she) cannot be successful or achieve a goal. The second paragraph is telling as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The only price is to pay it forward and help others.

A link to the entire interview follows: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/setbacks-failures-shaped-improbable-astronaut/

In the quiet of the morning

My favorite time of day is the quiet of morning. As an early riser, thanks to taking kids to school for so many years, I enjoy the peace of reading the newspaper with a cup of hot coffee.

I read a great deal online, but I still prefer the feel of a newspaper in my hands. Even if I may have read a story online the day before, rereading lets it sink in more for digestion and understanding.

While I am closer to being a news junkie than not, it is important to consider the news and the sources. Not all news is created equal, so the veracity of the source and data cited is relevant. This a key reason I read, watch and listen to multiple sources.

For those who would prefer not to read the news, I would guide you to NPR, PBS Newshour or BBC World News. Al Jazeera is also good, but I get few chances to watch it. I am visiting my sister and she watched PBS with me last night. The stories are well reported and analyzed by people who are more expert in their field. They are also civil to one another and cover stories that are more relevant and less influenced by bias or conflict of interest.

I am blessed to have access to an excellent daily newspaper in The Charlotte Observer. They continue to do in-depth reporting on topics for which they win numerous awards. They just completed a four-part series on our regional future water crisis and have exposed the problems of overworked and understaffed medical examiners in our state which has led to change, e.g. Plus, I appreciate reading the editorials from a variety of vantage points, even if I don’t agree with everything or much of what the writer says.

So, I am thankful for this time to read and reflect. I feel I am a better citizen and person in being informed. How do you stay informed? What are your favorite times of the day?

Restorative Justice – a concept which makes a difference

Earlier this week, my wife and I were enthralled by a PBS Newshour report on a concept being deployed in a Colorado high school called “Restorative Justice.”  In essence, rather than suspend offenders from school, which does not resolve much of anything, the school counselors invite the offenders into a circle with their parents to discuss the conflict and various points of view. They pass around a “talking stick” which means only the person with the stick may share his or her points of view. The idea is the offenders hear the other person’s point of view, recognize how differences occur and begin a restorative process rather letting animosities fester.

The concept is straightforward, practical and replicable in many settings where conflict resolution is needed. The number of suspensions and fights have declined significantly in the Colorado high school comparing the numbers to previous year trends. Yet, the school is taking it a step further to teach the kids how to resolve conflict in a restorative circle. In other words, they are letting the kids resolve some conflicts and issues, as well as brainstorm ideas, etc. which are terrific skills to cultivate.

The news video can be accessed with the following link:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/new-approach-discipline-school/

A more detailed summary of the Restorative Justice concept can also be gleaned from the attached link to an Oakland high school, which includes some metrics and data around the demographic groups affected most by suspensions and how this approach has kept kids in school.

http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us/restorativejustice

We came away very impressed by these efforts and hope you will as well. I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts. Restorative Justice has a nice ring to it.

America is one big pothole – how to fix them and create jobs

Part of the above headline is a quote from former Secretary of Transportation and Republican lawmaker, Ray LaHood. When he and former Democrat Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell appeared on PBS Newshour the other night regarding America’s need to improve our infrastructure, LaHood responded to Judy Woodruff’s question about its importance with “America is one big pothole.”

Rendell and LaHood are co-chairs of a bipartisan group called “Building America’s Future,” which is pushing for the overdue needs to rebuild and improve America’s roads, bridges, ports and electrical grids. Both speak from experience in what improving infrastructure can mean for the assets in question, but the jobs they create both directly and indirectly. And, we need not have to wait for another bridge to collapse to prove the need. Attached is a link to their interview with Woodruff on PBS Newshour. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/nation/jan-june14/infrastructure_01-08.html

They cite numerous examples of how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has aided in improving infrastructure and getting people back to work. With the echo effect of the projects at hand, these capital investments are some of the best job programs around, as people are needed to build, repair and renovate, not to mention the peripheral support, supply chain and maintenance jobs. And, the needs exist whether we address them or not. Rendell cited the number of bridges identified just in Pennsylvania that were deemed in need of significant repair. On his watch, they were able to rebuild and repair about 20% of them, but there is much work left to be done.

To show an echo effect, one of the reasons cited as to why the City of Chicago did not get the 2016 summer Olympics it was vying for is our aging infrastructure. Further, one of the challenges facing our even larger move into solar and wind energy is our infrastructure is insufficiently supportive to where the new sources of power exist. In other words, we need more grids to garner and distribute electricity in places more conducive to alternative energy to make it even more effective and widespread.

Yet, in my last post, I mentioned an even more concrete example. With the widening and deepening of the Panama Canal slated for completion next year, almost all of our eastern harbors are not deep enough to support larger transport ships. We have plans that need to be expedited to dredge these harbors. As LaHood points out, if we do not do this, the larger ships will sail past these harbors to larger Canadian ports. That means more distribution jobs will be needed in Canada and fewer in Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, Baltimore, New York and Boston. That also means fewer taxes collected from wages and fewer goods bought here causing a very unwelcome echo effect. People will migrate where the jobs are.

There are numerous examples of win-win partnerships that are occurring. In fact, per “That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How it can come back” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, this co-investment in our future between federal, state, local governments and private business is how we have become so successful over time. I have written about one example before where Clemson University, the City of Charleston, the wind turbine makers (GE, Siemens, etc.) and Department of Energy and South Carolina Energy Department have invested in a wind turbine testing facility in Charleston. The idea is to help the onshore and offshore wind turbines be more functional and efficacious.

When some leaders question paying for these investments, here is where we need to distinguish between capital investments and operational funding. I have heard several economists state that borrowing money to pay for an asset is different from borrowing money to pay for operations. With the low-cost of borrowing as of this writing, the time to borrow money to do this is now. With that said, we do need sustainable funding to pay the cost of borrowing and both cite an increased gas tax, as an example. There are other avenues to do this, but we need to explore the entire cost/ benefit equation with the bipartisan lens they are offering. This issue is too important to leave it to the special interest groups who lobby and tell our congressional leaders what they need to do.

I have written several posts about our infrastructure needs. Rendell and LaHood are breath of needed fresh air into addressing these needs. They have real ideas and experience to help us address real problems. Let’s get behind their efforts and challenge our leaders to do the same.