Tuesday, August 28, 2018

300. Column 300 and The End

I wrote my first column for the Lorain County Community Newspapers in 2003.

I was at Ohio State University taking a three-week course that was required to get my license in health care administration. It was a rough time — I was working two jobs through my internship at $8 per hour. I stayed in an awful motel, one that had a weekly rate that averaged out to about $29 per night. It was the only thing we could afford and, even then, when I tried to check in one Sunday night there was not enough money in our account.

However, one evening during the training, my wife called me and told me that my first column had run. It was about “The Starfish Poem,” and how every life mattered. I was so excited.

Fifteen years have quickly passed and this is my 300th column for the local papers. It is also my final column.

The time has come to move on — I feel like I have exhausted my perspectives. While there will always be specific issues to write about, my underlying values and arguments have been well communicated by now. I’ve learned to never say never, so I can’t say that I won’t ever write to or for the paper again, but it is my intention to tackle the next adventures in my life.

My desire to write was inspired by Stephan Jay Gould, who wrote beautifully and intelligently for Natural History magazine. A collection of his essays was required reading in one of my biology classes. I fell in love with his knowledge and brilliance and was envious of his writing ability.

I enjoy dissecting issues and writing challenged me to acquire some knowledge on an issue, consider both sides (or several sides) of an argument, and present a coherent essay on the subject. I tried to tackle the tough issues and in doing so I learned a lot about myself and what I was willing to share publicly.

Writing this column has been a wonderful experience, which has allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. I appreciated all the feedback, positive and negative, and my only hope was that on occasion my views offered some reader reflection and consideration.

I do have a couple of endeavors yet to consider. I want to write a book. I have been taking notes for over a decade but have never consistently committed the time it takes. The book will examine how — through “arrogance, ignorance and indifference” — we have become disconnected from the foundation of society. It will offer in-depth philosophical ideas intertwined with autobiographical experiences. I was making notes about societal fabrication and detachment long before “fake news” became a catchphrase.

I would like to run for political office one day, to put into practice that which I am so passionate about. To test my political philosophies, perhaps.

But I also turned 50 this year and I am acutely aware that there are no certainties in life. There is no longer the feeling of infinite summers, holidays, and time with my family. There is an anxiousness and awareness about time, and a bucket list that needs an increasing amount of attention.

I am motivated by Sir Francis Bacon Sr., who wrote, “Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake.”

In 15 years, it is interesting to know that, as a freelancer writer and due to technology, I never once walked into the newspaper’s office. However, I am grateful to Kathleen Willbond, who invited me to start writing my column, and editor Jason Hawk for his opinions and guidance. I am also grateful for the publishers along the way who printed my columns, even if they were controversial or unpopular at times.

Finally, I want to thank my friends and colleagues who often read and commented on my drafts, and my wonderful wife who not only proofread most of my columns but also provided honest feedback.

Monday, August 20, 2018

299. Ingredients for a perfect candidate

We often hear from voters that they are tired of politicians, particularly career politicians.
There are a few reasons for this, ranging from the desire for some fresh ideas to the fear that longtime politicians get too cozy with special interest groups. Often, I hear that voters want “ordinary people” to represent them.
When it comes to voting for political candidates, what are we really looking for?
I have a few ideas, but it is fair to note that these are just my thoughts and that there are many exceptions, both positive and negative:
  • First is a diverse background. Government encompasses so many areas of business, law, science, engineering, human resources, accounting, and philosophy. Whether through education or experience, I think it is incredibly valuable to have several areas of expertise. Issues are complicated and often engage economic, legal, and moral considerations. So I am weary of a candidate who has done the same job for 30 years. They might be incredibly smart and driven; however, their skills and areas of expertise might be too narrow. For example, the candidate might be a great doctor, but do they have the experience or knowledge to consider issues regarding the environment, manufacturing, or economic development? Our elected officers should represent all member of their constituents — that includes black people, poor people, and service workers as well as rich people, small business owners, and political donors.
  • I think it is optimal to have worked in both the private and public sector. The relationship between the two is an important one and best served by those who have considered the interests of both. This would also include experience with union workforces. Consider a successful businessperson. Whether it is a small business owner, for which voters often share affection, or a wealthy mogul, we have to remember that the primary interest and experience of that business owner is in the private sector.
  • Life experience is crucial and includes things like going to college, getting married, buying a house, and paying taxes. For that reason, I have concerns about young candidates. And it is not because they might not be brilliant and committed, but because, in my opinion, life experience matters. If a candidate has not spent time in “the real world” and done things like buying a house and paying property taxes, then I worry he or she won’t truly understand their constituents.
  • Leadership experience might include things like working with nonprofit organizations or serving on community boards. Leadership is a difficult quality and can be differentiated from advocacy and representation. One needs to understand the role government plays in each of the areas, such as the impact of raising taxes or applying for a grant. And, unfortunately, the truth is that some people are better in supportive roles. For example, in sports there are some outstanding assistant coaches who were awful head coaches.
  • Humility. Serving a community is a tremendous responsibility and public officials need to spend as much time listening as they do talking. The purpose of leadership is to improve the lives of the people in your community, not boost egos or practice narcissism. It is about spending time listening — really listening! — to constituents.
  • You have to be someone who can overcome obstacles. I like a candidate who has overcome adversity at some point in their life. Life is difficult and at one time or another most people have faced some difficult situations. I would rather have someone who took college courses in the evening, overcame financial challenges, or worked two jobs to provide for his or her family, than those who had their college paid for, a job waiting for them at Dad’s firm when they graduated, and a trust fund to buy their house.
  • I like people who “learned their politics.” What I mean is that they identified their political philosophies from their experiences, not simply adopted the platform of a political party. They’ve been downsized from a job or worked with immigrants. They have spent more time in the community, helping people without an agenda, than attending political fundraisers. They offer specifics on how to help the community rather than adopt slogans like, “I am going to be a crusader for the working man!” Say how you will help the working man!
Serving the public is a difficult job that can affect the lives of millions of people. Politicians need to be smart and informed and understand how one issue or interest may affect another. For example, placing a tariff on steel sounds great and rallies the out-of-work steelworkers; however, just that simple action, fair or not, has had a ripple effect throughout the world impacting workers and other industries.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, Americans don’t take voting seriously enough. They don’t learn about the candidates and issues, don’t verify the statements of candidates and special interest groups, and too often lazily re-elect incumbents.
It takes effort and defining your own list of criteria. What are you looking for in a candidate?

Monday, August 6, 2018

298. Picking and choosing customers

A sign in the bakery window could have read: 
“Heterosexuals only.”
Or maybe these might one day be more appropriate:
“Heterosexual Christians only.”
“Heterosexual Roman Catholic Christians only.”
“Heterosexual White Roman Catholic Christians only.”
I have wanted to write about this case for a while and the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the baker who, for religious reasons, refused to bake a custom cake for a homosexual couple, provides that opportunity.
The same-sex couple argued that Colorado law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Supreme Court ruled for the baker; however, its decision was a narrow one, meaning that it only looked at a sliver of the laws that may eventually be affected. Although those on the right celebrated, the real issue is forthcoming, which Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote about in the majority opinion: “… these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
This issue affects the rights of private businesses to choose their customers. Usually, they can do so uninhibitedly, except when the party is a member of a protected class. Choosing not to serve someone because he or she is wearing a LeBron James jersey is OK but choosing not to serve someone because he or she is black is not.
Classes based on gender, race, age, or sexual orientation, for example, are protected for two reasons: One, they are viewed as things that people can’t control, and two they are classes that have been frequently discriminated against in the history of this country — often harshly. The trump card, and also a protected class due to previous abuses, is religion, which unfortunately means people can claim almost anything as a “religious belief.”
Of course, it’s generally not good business to start chasing your customers away. But there is the question about the duty to our beliefs and values. If I owned a business, there are certainly people I would be uncomfortable serving. I don’t want the money from people who might hurt children or animals, for example.
Let’s turn this around. Suppose there were two Italian restaurants side by side and, feeling like pizza today, I had to choose. Generally, I like them both but one has a big “NRA for Trump” sign in the window and the other one has a “Health Care for All” sign in the other. Which one am going to choose?
A couple of years ago, when I was looking for a concrete company, I was not too excited when one of the business owners started talking about all the deer he kills. Why do I want to give him my money to support this hobby? Conversely, my neighbor advertised for a Christian landscaper — presumably because he wants to give his money to people who believe as he does.
Truthfully, when it comes to choosing a business, I would rather not know their political or religious beliefs. If I do, then undoubtedly it is going to factor in my decision. Similarly, businesses probably don’t want to know everything about their customers. Are you going to serve those engaged in domestic violence? What about those who kill animals for fun, drive drunk, or are too lazy to recycle? Like the opening paragraphs of this column, that customer list could narrow quickly.
This is a complicated issue. Do I bake cakes or do I only bake cakes for people who share my vision of society? Generally, I have a hard time faulting people who are true to their beliefs and principles. I would not want to bake a cake for a hunting festival or deliver one to a pig roast. Let someone else do it.
The challenge of course, especially when it comes to religion, is hypocrisy. I don’t know the extent of the baker’s faith, but I would ask — does he serve divorced customers, those who have committed adultery, or those who have stolen? Again, ignorance may apply, but before one discriminates based on religion, I would hope for a consistent application of those beliefs (the courts will test that).
For me, this issue presents more questions than answers. Because we do not truly know the motives or the authenticity of one’s beliefs, I believe that businesses should be able to choose their customers (at their own peril) and protected classes should continue to be legally free of discrimination.
The problem, as this case demonstrates, is when two protected classes meet.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

297. What's the point of the game?

A Ponzi scheme needs two actors — a fraudulent businessman or woman who promises high returns for investments into his or her company, and an investor who has been sold the promise of higher than normal (or guaranteed) returns.
Typically, when the money is withdrawn, the early investors receive their high-return money, sparking more investors, while those later investors, as the money runs out or the fraud scheme is exposed, can lose almost everything.
For most, money serves a few purposes. First and foremost, it is a necessity to purchase the essentials of living, such as shelter, food, and clothing. Money also provides security in anticipation of both short- and long-term financial needs, whether it’s surviving a job loss or later being able to retire. Next are the desires — those things we want but neither provide our essentials or security for the future. Socio-economic groups might have differing opinions on the distinction between needs and desires. For some, a television is a desire, for others it is a million-dollar yacht. Regardless, desires are generally regarded as those possessions or services that exceed the necessities of survival.
Finally, there is the money that provides freedom in life. There is another name for it, one that Matt Damon made famous in “Promised Land.” It is the money that comes after the necessities, security, and desires. It is the money that lets you navigate the rest of your life freely. It is the money that lets you quit your job or retire early. It is free of debt or obligation and enough money to do whatever you want for the rest of your life (of course, the less desires, the quicker the freedom).
I think the true winners of our current economic system are those who earn (or inherit, I suppose) their freedom. The game, I think, is to win as young as possible. The younger that you can live your life, the more life you will have to live. The number, of course, is different for everyone and how they live. The money to live quietly on a small farm is less than perhaps for someone who wants to travel the world. Some would like their money to run out at the very moment of their death; others want to leave money to family members or causes they believe in. It’s unpredictable but the point is clear.
Once you have freedom money, by definition, you don’t need any more. You don’t need to work for it, you don’t have to invest it — you’re done. You have enough to live the rest of your life, so why take risks?
And yet.
We see people who have enough money to last the rest of their lives continue to work, to make business deals, to invest it. Some just can’t stop, it is in their nature; some are just incredibly greedy. Some are talked into risky investments, whether it is in the stock market or opening a restaurant. Certainly, some have insatiable desires. It is not unusual to see athletes, movie stars, and successful business people have enough money for generations but lose it all.
This takes me back to the victims of Ponzi schemes. The stories are, on the one hand, heartbreaking, such as hearing about a couple who worked all their lives and saved up a couple million dollars that would easily provide for their retirement, only to lose it all by being conned into a Ponzi scheme.
But on the other hand, I am furious with these people. They are baited by the desire for more money, to earn an unrealistic return on their money. And they don’t just invest it, they invest it all. What is it about human nature that people would risk their freedom money to earn a higher return on money they don’t even need?
Unfortunately, our world is defined in many respects by money. It is an obsessive desire to have more and more — just for the game of it, to impress friends, or as a scorecard on success. It’s like sitting down at McDonald’s for lunch with 64 Big Macs — what are you going to do with 63 of those Big Macs? Invest them to earn 82 Big Macs?
I think, in a lot of ways, people have forgotten the purpose of money. And for most Americans, our financial journeys are tough enough — we make mistakes, we don’t save enough, we don’t set financial goals. It is too easy to buy things we can’t afford. Most of us have fallen into financial traps. It’s hard to reach “freedom” financial status but it is even harder when we are not aware of that which it really offers.
If you get there, enjoy it. You’re free to do what you want, when you want! If your work brings you pleasure, work without the worry of losing your job. Or maybe travel, volunteer, or spend time with friends or family. Or maybe sit peacefully on your porch with your dog, listening to the birds. Or spend your time in a garden growing big, beautiful tomatoes.

It’s your life. Just don’t risk it — never invest it all, never seek suspiciously high returns, don’t open an expensive business. We work to earn the money we need to buy our freedom — don’t be tempted to jeopardize it for money you don’t need.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

296. Abandoned again, naturally

Probably the last thing people living in Northeast Ohio want to read is another opinion about LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers again.
There is a glut of sportswriters and talk shows that have been debating this all season, with mostly unoriginal and recycled thoughts. For that I apologize — but I find the range of opinions to be fascinating. Some think LeBron did what he came to Cleveland to do, so there are no hard feelings, while others (maybe not to the jersey-burning extreme like last time) still feel slighted by his decision.
I have mixed feelings. LeBron did come back home and win a championship, ending an agonizing 52-year pursuit for the city. James is a hard-worker, stays out of trouble, and gives back tremendously to the community. At the same time, it is hard not to question his motive: Did he come to Cleveland to win a championship, or to preserve his legacy — one seemingly forever tarnished in “The Decision”? Did he evaluate the roster and know with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love they had a competitive team right away?
What bothers me is his letter to the city when he came back. He made us feel proud. He raised our spirits. I remember just feeling so content that he tried to make things right.
However, some of James’ words now disappoint me.
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize it four years ago. I do now,” he began. And so, four years later, where is that relationship? In Los Angeles?
“I always believed I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” he said. Finish his career in Cleveland? Is he coming back again?
“Of course, I want to win next year, but I am realistic. It will be a long process,” he said. It wasn’t long process, and I don’t think he ever believed that — he was just taking some of the pressure off himself. But obviously he no longer seems committed to the process in Cleveland, even with an owner who will spend freely. He delivered his championship and feels “allowed” to leave.
“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I want kids in Northeast Ohio… to realize there is no better place to grow up,” he said. LeBron loves it so much, he and his family left again. Now LeBron’s kids will grow up in Los Angeles.
And most famously he wrote, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.” Now it seems that he gave himself a new team — giving up on the one in Northeast Ohio.
I am not a fan of the NBA as much as I am a fan of Cleveland. I think the game is nearly impossible to referee consistently, the regular season is meaningless, and the playoffs take too long. And if LeBron didn’t ruin it when he went to Miami with his buddies to win a championship, Kevin Durant ruined it when he joined a Golden State team that went an NBA record 73-9 the prior season. I never say his name without mentioning what a coward he was to join that team.
For those of us who grew up with the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, and Isiah Thomas, who played most of their careers with one team, its hard to understand the modern players. It’s all immediate gratification and not much fun for the fans.
And so everyone is chasing a ridiculous obstacle in Golden State. I don’t understand how the other teams in the league survive when the players have made a concerted effort to put together a few super teams. As I am writing this, DeMarcus Cousins reportedly just signed with Golden State, giving them, if healthy, an all-star at every position.
Meanwhile, LeBron again leaves the team in Cleveland in ruins. He chased off their next best player in Kyrie Irving. His presence created an urgency to win now (since he wouldn’t sign a long-term deal in Cleveland), which initiated many bad contracts the Cavaliers are now left holding. They will, like last time, be terrible for some time.
Cleveland will retire LeBron’s number one day, and they should. As for a statue? For a player who twice left the city to he proclaimed to love and only delivered one championship in 11 seasons, I’d have a hard time warming up to the idea.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

295. Of puffins and inner piece

Sitting on Hog Island overlooking Muscongus Bay off the coast of Bremen, Maine, an American goldfinch sang beautifully as I was rereading Henry David Thoreau’s epic novel, “Walden Pond.” For the soul, the combination was almost unfair.

Thanks to a scholarship from the Black River Audubon Society, I spent a week attending the Audubon Field Ornithology Camp, which is home to the Puffin Project. We rose at dawn, usually around 4:30 a.m., and slept with the sun, just before 9 p.m.

There was no television and no radio, which also meant no politics, not a single mention the entire week (except in reference to the administration’s attack on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act), and no other social nuisances like LeBron James’ free agency. It was bird lovers coming together to share nature — to learn about the evolution and ecology of birds, share conversations about their behaviors, and see them in their natural habitats. It also included difficult looks at the impact of humans on the planet and avian environments, as well as our role in protecting some species over others.

The week included field trips to local parks and reservations, educational workshops, healthy “family style” meals (you know, the kind that includes engaging conversation), and programs presented by acclaimed scientists and writers from across the country on bird ecology. It also included boat trips throughout Muscongus Bay, an area rich with small islands and home to many shorebird habitats.

The highlight of the camp was the trip to Eastern Egg Rock, home of Atlantic puffins. I could barely control my excitement as our boat approached. Not usually fond of boats (and generally terrified of open waters), the three- to five-foot waves and rocking of our boat could not diffuse my enthusiasm. I battled my fear and balance to get a look at the puffins and other birds, such as black guillemots, terns, razorbills, double-crested cormorants, and gulls. I even got a few photos.

The story of puffins in Maine and Eastern Egg Rock is a long and detailed one, but Audubon summarizes it this way: “Project Puffin began with an attempt to restore puffins to Eastern Egg Rock in Muscongus Bay, about six miles east of Pemaquid Point. Puffins had nested there until about 1885 when hunters took the last survivors of this once-flourishing colony. The restoration of puffins to Eastern Egg Rock is based on the fact that young puffins usually return to breed on the same island where they hatched.”

To do this took ingenuity and patience (puffins only lay one egg per year) but the success not only restored puffin populations to the coast of Maine, it became a model for restoring other bird populations across the world.

“Between 1973 and 1986, 954 young puffins were transplanted from Great Island to Eastern Egg Rock and 914 of these successfully fledged. Transplanted puffins began returning to Eastern Egg Rock in June of 1977. To lure them ashore and encourage the birds to explore nesting habitat, wooden puffin decoys were positioned atop large boulders. These were readily visited by the curious young birds, which often sat with the models and pecked at their stiff wooden beaks. The number of young puffins slowly increased. In 1981, four pairs nested beneath boulders at the edge of the island. The colony has since increased to 150 pairs.”

In 2017, the project reported 172 pairs.

The project has not only been successful for the puffins, it has led to research opportunities for young scientists. Each summer about 15 interns live on the recluse island, spending quiet days in blinds and reporting on puffin and other bird activity.

While I fell in love with the success of the puffin project, we quickly learned that each species has its own story — both successes and challenges. Populations are often fragile and can quickly change due to factors such as predation, environmental changes (warmer water, for example), available food, and availability of habitats. Nature is difficult and many stories are difficult to hear.

Thoreau’s book is based on his time living in a small self-built cabin near Walden Pond, which he committed to live as simply as possible as a way to understand life. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I also reflect that too many people are going to miss “the good stuff” in life. The good stuff, in my opinion, is experiencing life — not only in practice, but also in emotion, thought, and understanding. The “bad stuff” is the restless pursuit of money and the practice of greed and materialism. It is living the “scripted life,” doing that of which is expected, only to wake up one day, old and unfulfilled.

Thoreau wrote, “Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thought … Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.”

Maybe we need to return to calm and peace of nature. Spend more time enjoying the views of lakes, the soothing motion of waves, the swaying of trees, and the songs of birds. A place of tranquility, alone comfortably alone with our just thoughts and appreciation of the natural world around us.

A place that money can’t buy.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

294. The two-party system is killing us

Individuals have a diversity of religious beliefs, moral values, and cultural traditions.

Beliefs, values, and traditions affect opinions on areas of life such as liberty, justice, government, democracy, social welfare, war, economics, and on and on. These social perspectives are often grouped into political categories such as liberal, conservative, Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, socialist, and moderate. From simple exponential functions, it is easy to consider how many different social and political perspective combinations there may be in this country.

Yet Americans are expected to funnel themselves into the two great parties — Democrats and Republicans. If you are for one, you are against the other. And while there are other parties, such as Libertarian and the Green Party, none have risen to the level that even allows them to get invited to a presidential debate.

I often say that I am a liberal whose values most closely align with the Democratic Party, but it doesn’t mean that all my values, without distinction, line up perfectly with the Democratic platform. I have some conservative values (mostly fiscal), some libertarian leanings on freedoms, and I support many democratic-socialist perspectives. And while I adamantly oppose some Republican values (and our president), it doesn’t mean there are not some gray areas. For example, I am for the death penalty if there is absolutely no uncertainly as to the nature of the crime (such as caught on video). I am for social welfare programs but I don’t think people should abuse the system to get a free ride. Social issues are difficult and form a continuum of issues and situations.

The impression that everyone should have to “pick a side” and turn our democracy into to an “us versus them” ideology has always been concerning to me. This has led to a highly contentious and aggressive political divide that has limited fair and intelligent discussions, incited a winner-take-all mentality, and hindered open-minded compromise.

One founding father warned of this divide. John Adams prophetically said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

George Washington also expressed his concern in his farewell presidential address: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

Unfortunately, modern times are bringing these concerns to fruition. The animosity of the parties and their constituents and the “alternate domination” of the parties has sharpened the spirit of revenge.

Since so many important congressional votes are cast along party lines and there is the increasing use of executive action, we are experiencing a back-and-forth in which laws are being formed and repealed or reversed as soon as the other party regains control. It’s highly inefficient, sponsors bitterness, and repels progress.

Michael Coblenz of The Hill wrote, “The two-party system is destroying America. Democrats and Republicans are in a death match and the American people are caught in the middle. The nation faces all sorts of serious problems, from growing inequality to spreading international terrorism, but the bitter fight between Democrats and Republicans has largely ground government to a halt. Partisans on both sides are so angry they can barely speak with the other, much less work together.”

Exactly — and lost in this battle are the American people. Politicians are representatives of their constituents and should act in their interest, not the exclusive interest of the party. People are tired of the “party over country” politics.

Of further concern is that of the controlling party changing the rules to increase its power. Coblenz further commented, “Each side is more extreme, and each bases their political agenda on demonizing the other side. Each side engages in political machinations, which include partisan gerrymandering and manipulating the rules of Congress to get their way, stymie their opponents, or deny them office completely.”

The Republican blocking of Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, in early 2016 is the most egregious example.

A multiparty system might infuse new ideas and inspire diversity and compromise. Politicians should be able to vote according to their ideologies and the interest of their constituents without the fear of party retribution. There might be occasions in which, for example, religious conservatives may work with liberals on health care. Or the Tea Party with conservative Democrats on fiscal responsibility. If nothing else, it would help parties alleviate the consistent hypocrisy they exhibit.

In my opinion, and although I won’t live to see it, it’s time for the American two-party system to evolve into a political system that represents the diverse “melting pot” that makes up our country — one that is diverse in not just demographics, but also beliefs, morals, and traditions.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

293. Amazing birds need our protections

One of the most fragile animal classes on the planet are migratory birds.
These amazing birds maintain winter and breeding homes and travel thousands of miles per year, relying on sustainable food, water, and habitats along the way. The remarkable journey and life cycle incorporates more than the normal amount of risk as birds are highly evolved and often very specific in their adaptions.
Some interesting migration facts provided by the Audubon Society:
  • The Arctic tern has the longest migration of any bird, almost 50,000 miles in one year, going from the Arctic to Antarctica.
  • Some migrating birds fly as high as five and half miles above sea level. The record is a Ruppell’s griffon vulture, which traveled seven miles above sea level.
  • The northern wheatear, weighing less than one ounce, travels from the Arctic to Africa — almost 9,000 miles each way.
  • The fastest migratory bird, traveling 60 miles per hour, is the great snipe.
  • The bar-tailed godwit can make the nearly 7,000-mile trip without stopping.
  • Migratory birds enter a physical state called hyperphagia before traveling, bulking up on fat to fuel the trip.

Obviously, any trip of this magnitude is quite dangerous and billions of birds die each year from a variety of causes. Windows, radio and television towers, cars, and windmills all cause the death of these brave migrants. Other human activities threatening bird species are hunting, habitat fragmentation, and domestic cats.
It’s due to the hunting and habitat destruction that birds are among the most protected animals. And, as with any environmental issue, it can be quite contentious, as many people put the interest of industry, sport, trade, and economic development above the needs of birds.
The Migratory Bird Treaty was born, in part, out of the overhunting and annihilation of birds like the passenger pigeon. Once abundant, it was hunted to extinction despite the attempt of activists.
All About Birds provided this account of the failure of an 1857 Ohio Senate committee to protect the passenger pigeon: “The passenger pigeon needs no protection. Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced.”
According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, “The MBTA provides that it is unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, import, export, or transport any migratory bird, or any part, nest, or egg or any such bird, unless authorized under a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior. Some regulatory exceptions apply. Take is defined in regulations as: ‘pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.’”
This basically means you have to leave birds alone. You can’t kill, hunt, or trap them for fun or because they are a nuisance. You can’t destroy their nests or collect their eggs. You can’t catch them and sell them or their feathers. There is an exhaustive list of migratory birds, including common birds like the Canada goose. They might be messy and abundant but they are protected by federal law.
The MBT has been credited with saving the snowy egret, which was hunted for it delicate feathers, and many other birds such as the wood duck and sandhill crane.
However, in the Trump administration’s continued effort to destroy anything that gets in the way of financial interests, enforcement of the MBT has been changed to accommodate industry that may “incidentally” kill birds. A Washington Post report said the greatest beneficiaries of the change are oil and gas companies, which “were responsible for 90 percent of incidental takes prosecuted under the act, resulting in fines of $6,500 per violation.” Newsweek noted that “environmental disasters still carry legal ramifications, but the MBTA will no longer have the power to prosecute actions that incidentally harm birds.”
Birds provide numerous benefits to our ecosystems. They eat insects, clean up road kill and dead fish, and distribute seeds. They are also a sign of ecological health.
And bird-watching is one of the most popular hobbies. They are fascinating to watch and learn about — they all seem to have different story. They also provide tremendous economic support to places like Magee Marsh, where thousands of birders come from all across the world to see dazzling warblers make their final stop before crossing Lake Erie.
They are worth protecting and with hundreds of bird species on the endangered list — it might be now or never.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

292. Baseball and the world have changed

Baseball has been a big part of my life. When I was young and playing in youth leagues, I would go in my room and cry when games where rained out. I carried this passion from my youth through high school, college, and adult leagues.

While of course I wanted to play professional baseball, my goal was to play college baseball and I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to play at Ashland University.

After college, it was hard to give it up. Most guys fade away to start their careers, attend graduate school, or raise families. But I was lucky to play into my mid-30s and I also coached at several area high schools. Baseball was in my blood.

The Cleveland Indians’ remarkable run in the mid-90s was enjoyed with my wife, whom I started dating in 1995. We spent many nights at Jacob’s Field watching incredible Tribe comebacks. We also traveled to some away games with friends to root for the team.

I always pictured myself buying season tickets to Indians games after I retired. I would live out my days at the stadium eating hot dogs and watching the game I loved.

However, like so many things, the game has changed.

The analytics and subsequent approach to the game has transformed it and fans have noticed. Major League Baseball has noticed the declining attendance and is trying to make changes to improve the fan experience.

The game increasingly relies on the home run to produce runs, as hitters have adjusted their “launch angle.” In 2014, the percentage of runs via the home run was 33 percent; in 2016 it was 40 percent.

Swinging for the fences has also led to the more strikeouts, which have increased 10 straight years. The obsession with home runs has also led to defensive shifts, which places extra fielders on the “pull” side of the field. In 1993, Frank Thomas, swinging down through the ball and hitting to all fields, hit 41 home runs and stuck out 54 times. In 2017, Joey Gallo hit 41 home runs and struck out 196 times.

Watching the Indians and Yankees in the playoffs last year was miserable. The Yankees struck out 64 times in the five-game series, almost 13 per game. The Indians struck out 61 times.

Stolen bases are down, bunts are down, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a well-executed hit and run. Many players no longer even own these skills, as evidenced by an entire side of the infield left unattended. Managers and players don’t want to “waste an out” and thereby reduce the number of attempts to hit the ball out of the park.

The number of pitching changes has slowed the game down to the point that baseball has limited the number of trips to the mound. And the lack of offensive creativity has limited the game management to pitching and batter match-ups. Speaking of game management (in the National League), it’s time to choose between a designated hitter and the pitcher batting. Inter-league play should encourage that the leagues share the same set of rules.

I thought I would be a fan of instant replay in baseball. However, like football, it has created a delayed reaction to close plays. Managers must get a signal from their staff to challenge the call and then the umpires must look at it. The spirit of replay was never to punish baserunners who come off the base an inch or two — but a rule is a rule. And while replay is important for game-changing plays, the calling of balls and strikes is a critical part of the game and the umpires’ ability to do this varies greatly.

The major league playoff system, which was smart to introduce a wild card team in 1994, ruined it in 2012 when two wild card teams from each league qualified and now battle in a ridiculous one game playoff. When you need 162 games to determine playoff teams, you need a seven-game playoffs series — even the five-game series is not statistically long enough.

And finally, postseason baseball (to the Indians’ benefit in 2016) is a different game than the regular season — it’s long and disjointed.

But it not just the game that has changed. The world has changed.

The slow play of baseball (compared to other major sports) lends itself to the distraction of cell phones. When I do get to a game, it is hard to understand the number of people who spend more time watching their phones than watching the game.

Finally, when I was younger, it never bothered me that athletes made the money they did (and back then they didn’t make anything like they make now). Although baseball is probably the most affordable of the major professional sports, it’s gotten ridiculous and many hard-working people aren’t willing to pay that kind of money to attend a game. And the player excuse of, “I have to the think of my family,” when choosing between a $100 million contract and a $95 million contract is a little out of touch.

I grew up in North Eaton, and I was there a couple of weeks ago looking for birds. I told my wife it reminded me of the days I spent there playing baseball. There was something in the air, the smell of rural spring evenings, and the threat of rain, that took me back to the simplicity of my hopes and dreams.

Unfortunately, things change.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

291. You have to consider lost opportunities

Opportunity cost is largely a business term describing the impact of a decision to produce one product over another or invest in one company over another.

“Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action,” Investopedia describes it. “Stated differently, an opportunity cost represents an alternative given up when a decision is made. This cost is, therefore, most relevant for two mutually exclusive events.”

The last sentence is the key to understanding opportunity costs — it is the decision that comes at the expense of every other mutually exclusive choice.

It is a relevant and sometimes overwhelming concept that applies to not just financial matters but many other elements of our lives.

For example, if I go to law school, it comes (most likely) at the time and financial expense of going to medical school, bartending school or studying to be an architect. But it also applies to simple matters like what to do on Sunday mornings when you cannot be in two places at the same time. Going to Cedar Point comes at the expense of everything else you could do on that particular morning, such as go to church, have brunch with the family, or fly to Rome.

In terms of personal finance, some advisors have suggested that it is one of the most overlooked considerations of decision-making.

If I decide to buy a boat, I have to consider not just whether or not I can I afford to buy the boat but whether I should purchase the boat at the expense of everything else I could buy with that money. Should I buy the boat or a car? Or should I take 10 vacations or go out to dinner 500 times?

Too often we want it all and don’t think about how one thing affects the other — we just do it and hope to figure it out later. It’s the danger of credit cards — that which allows us to delay or spread out opportunity costs by not paying only what we can afford at a given point in time.

This distinction lends itself well to the discussion of local and national budgets. Whereas state and local governments have to balance budgets, the federal government, as we all know, can run trillions of dollars in debt.

Local governments, with a finite amount of projected revenue, have to make difficult decisions. Officials have to choose between adding another police officer, fixing up a city park, repairing a road, or buying a fire truck. For the most part, it is a good requirement as it attempts to prevent local governments from going into debt. The trade-off, of course, is that poorer communities — those that collect less in tax revenue — often see their services decline. There might be fewer police officers on the roads to keep the community safe or it might take longer for roads to be repaired.

Conversely, the federal government can fall in debt — currently to the tune of $21 trillion, according to the U.S. debt clock. That works out to almost $175,000 per American taxpayer. Of course, the federal government can also sell bonds or obtain loans from foreign governments. It’s a complicated financial system but the point is: opportunity costs.

Federal opportunity costs are limited more by political consequences than actual budgetary restrictions. For example, imagine if you went to the polls in November to vote on the budget and the questions read as an opportunity cost. You’d have to choose between a border wall, improved infrastructure, larger military, or an to end homelessness.

When the government (or individuals) can borrow money, it negates the value of considering opportunity costs in decision-making.

However, as I mentioned, it can be an overwhelming, even paralyzing, concept in terms of time and money. It can be exhausting to consider that you are spending your money at the “expense” of everything else you could buy or spending your time at the “expense” of everything you could be doing.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

290. Pruitt doesn't belong at EPA

Despite promising to hire the best people, President Donald Trump’s administration has been a revolving door with Trump hiring them and then firing them in often rapid and dramatic fashion. He pledged to “drain the swamp,” but I am not sure he planned on stocking the swamp as well.

One slime-covered gator still swimming in the metaphorical political swamp is Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt is, in fact, an enemy of the EPA, describing himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Putting him in charge of the EPA would be like putting a trophy hunter in charge of PETA. Pruitt, of course, doesn’t “believe” in climate change, to the degree that all references to climate change were removed from the agency website. The White House and EPA have sought to reverse as many as 67 environmental rules, according to the Harvard Law School’s Environmental Regulation Rollback Tracker and reported in the New York Times. Some include reversing migratory bird protections, endangered species listings, and the anti-dumping rule for coal companies. That 52 Republicans confirmed him in the Senate is embarrassing. His relationship with fossil fuel companies was apparently too lucrative to pass up.

It’s quickly becoming the Environmental Destruction Agency.

But it’s not just his environmental record, it’s also his ethics — or lack of them. Like his boss, he seems to have little regard for taxpayer money or conflicts of interest. He has allegedly rented a condo for $50 a night in Washington, D.C., from a lobbyist and purchased a $43,000 soundproof phone booth.

The Office of Government Ethics has also questioned his frequent and sometimes first-class travel, raises given to some employees, and demotion of employees who questioned his spending. Acting director David Apol wrote, “If true, it is hard to imagine any action that could more effectively undermine an agency’s integrity than punishing or marginalizing employees who strive to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations that safeguard that integrity.”

Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) said, “He’s the subject of no less than five independent investigations, he has retaliated against EPA staff who have questioned his spending habits, and he likely violated ethics rules by renting an apartment from an industry lobbyist.”

But it is not just environmentalists and Democrats who want to see Pruitt fired. Many Republicans have had enough, including, according to a Wall Street Journal report, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

The Hill reported this spring that “Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) appear(s) to be the first Republican lawmaker to publicly request Pruitt’s dismissal. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) echoed his call shortly after. In a Tuesday afternoon tweet, Curbello said Pruitt’s ‘corruption scandals are an embarrassment to the administration, and his conduct is grossly disrespectful to American taxpayers.’”

Thus far, Pruitt has Trump’s support. In light of the turnover in the Trump administration, it is both mystifying and unfathomable that this is the guy that Trump stands with. Then again, ethics have never been anything that Trump has seemed to care much about — unless he was trying to impose them on President Barack Obama.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

289. Orangutans deserve so much better

Orangutans are endangered primates, consisting of three species that only live in two places — the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

They are very intelligent and second only to chimpanzees in relation to human beings, matching 97 percent of our DNA. Orangutans are not as social as other animals — they are mostly loners, sleeping in amazing nests they build in trees each night. Dedicated female orangutans carry the responsibility of caring and protecting their young. Reproduction is slow, with females conceiving only about every eight years. Populations have dwindled due to the usual human activity: hunting, habitat destruction, and the pet trade.

As one might imagine, baby orangutans are adorable! They have big eyes and goofy red hair. They use their long arms to cling to their mothers as they learn their way around the rainforest. The problem is that they are so adorable that some people want to keep them as pets.

We live in a world in which people will do almost anything to make a few dollars. It’s a constant battle of good versus evil. It’s a battle between those who are willing to abuse and exploit other people, animals, or the environment for personal gain and those who are left to deal with the consequences of their actions. Loving and caring people donate time and money to help those in need, create regulations, and enforce laws.

For every person who throws a tire in the river, there is a group of people who give up their Saturday to fetch it out. For every animal that is rescued from an abuser, there are compassionate people who rehab and care for the animal. For every company that exploits its workers or the poor, there are agencies dedicated to holding them accountable and offering assistance those in need.

It’s exhausting. And it’s unfair that so many people have to spend their lives fighting the digressions of others.

The list of consequences is tragic: Poverty, lack of clean water, slavery, extinction, unemployment, climate change, pollution, child labor, animal cruelty, physical pain, lost homes, mental anguish, bankruptcy — and I’m just getting started.

The illegal pet trade is a billion-dollar activity and baby orangutans are often sold for a few hundred dollars to wealthy families and other cultures. Horrifically, the only way to really get a baby orangutan is to kill the mother and pry it from her dead hands.

Baby orangutans feed from the mother up to six years of age, so it is no surprise that many die in transportation from the poacher to the buyer. The baby orangutans are not just orphaned from their mothers, they are taken from their habitat and are now at the mercy of the human beings who view them not as animals, not as primate cousins, but as dollar signs.

It is an amazing sight to see baby orangutans sitting in wheelbarrows, one on top of another. Many have been seized from poachers and those who purchased them illegally. While rescued, the lifelong consequence is that they will grow up without their mother in a rehab center. It will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (from taxpayers and personal donations) to care for these orphaned orangutans — to clean up the mess of disgusting poachers.

Incidentally, baby orangutans are place in wheelbarrows, whether they being rescued or because they are going to a rehab activity, because they have little legs that aren’t made for long walks. They are adapted to live their lives in trees and accordingly have strong arms and hands. There are plenty of photos and videos of adorable baby orangutans in wheelbarrows on the Internet if you want to laugh and cry.

Unfortunately, for me it’s more tears than laughter. As cute as they are, they belong in the rainforest with their mothers, not in wheelbarrows. Those images, and those responsible, will haunt me the rest of my life.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

288. Attacks on survivors are unconscionable

Every time there has been a school shooting in the past, it seems that we went from “thoughts and prayers” to “it’s too soon to talk about it” to “stop using this as a political issue.”

Time passes and nothing ever happens.

But after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, these kids from Parkland stood up and said it’s time to do something — now! They grabbed the attention of the country and led conversations, protests, and marches. Enough was enough.

Unfortunately, we live in a country now where we attack others rather than try to understand. The discourse around these kids has been nothing short of embarrassing. Calling them paid actors, referencing Tide pods, asking who is paying for the marches, photo-shopping leaders, and even suggesting they learn CPR.

NBC reported that rocker Jesse Hughes — the Eagles of Death Metal singer who survived the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris —“criticize(d) Parkland student leader Emma Gonzalez as ‘the awful face of treason’ and a ‘survivor of nothing.’”

Of course, it’s all about changing the subject. No longer able to defend this disturbing part of American culture and its inexcusable lack of action, NRA supporters have resorted to personal attacks on these teenagers. Those on the right, particularly the alt-right, attack them relentlessly on social media. Some suggest they are too young to have an opinion. I would argue that when they have been a victim of a mass shooting — running for their lives, watching their friends get slaughtered — then they sure as hell get to have an opinion.

You can disagree with those who feel we need better gun control without acting like an insensitive imbecile. Bullets kill conservatives and liberals, blacks and whites, Christians and Muslims, and both the rich and poor. Why does a sensible question about gun control infuriate those on the right? At least the congressmen and congresswomen who receive large amounts of NRA contributions have a financial motive to sit on their hands. But what about everyone else?

The Second Amendment is not going away, ever. One reasonable starting point in the discussion of gun control is to stop misstating the issue. What these kids and most reasonable people want to discuss is how to keep guns out of the hands of those who may use them to kill others. An Internet meme said it perfectly: “When you strip away all the partisanship, the simple fact is kids are dying and they’d rather not. They are asking for help. From adults. That’s it.”

The arguments, such as the “what abouts,” are stupid and irrelevant. What about knives? What about cars? In fact, when you look at the arguments made by those on the right, they run the full spectrum of desperation from straw man arguments to appeals to ignorance, false dichotomies, slippery slopes, and red herrings. “Those kids should be in school. Liberals are communists.” They are futile attempts to justify their cognitive dissonance.

From polls to protests, how much clearer does the American public need to be before our legislators do something? Americans simply want to discuss the availability and ease in which the wrong people obtain assault weapons, whether it is banning them, instilling age restrictions, or improving background checks.

So enough is enough. But the “enough” is not just the lack of congressional action on gun control, it is also enough of the unyielding attacks on these students.

Stand-up comedian Todd Hollowman tweeted, “Imagine being the kind of person who is more outraged at kids walking out of school in protest than at kids being carried out of school in body bags.”

Unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

287. We’ve forgotten the common good

As I have mentioned in this column before, I am a big fan of former labor secretary and economist Robert Reich.

Rarely do I share near total agreement with someone and their particular view of the world. However, when I saw the title of his new book, “The Common Good,” I thought we might finally deviate in our perspectives. I often state that I think we should do what’s best for everyone, not what’s best for me personally. But I have grown quite cynical the last couple years, losing faith in people and our society.

Reich even notes that despair: “Some of you may feel such a quest to be hopeless. The era we are living in offers too many illustrations of greed, narcissism, and hatefulness.”

You know the saying “misery loves company.” And I have been quite miserable. So, with a roll of the eyes, I began reading the book.

And then, of course, he nails it:

“A love of country based on common good entails obligations to other people, not national symbols. Instead of demanding display of respect for the flag and anthem, it requires that all of us take on a fair share of the burden of keeping the nation going — that we pay our taxes in full rather than seek tax loopholes or squirrel away money abroad, that we volunteer time and energy to improving our community and county, serve on school boards and city council, refrain from political contributions that corrupt our politics and blow the whistle on abuses of power even at the risk of losing our jobs. It has sometimes required the supreme sacrifice.”

The common good is about sharing the virtues of our country (and our planet). We are better when we lift the quality of life of everyone. It is not just about seeking the rewards, but also sharing the sacrifice.

In business, it is about returning the interest of stakeholders and not just the shareholders. Stakeholders include not just the owners/investors, but also employees, suppliers, creditors, and the community. Corporations used to consider both shareholders and stakeholders in their business decisions—they were a part of the community,

However, Reich noted that in the 1980s, “a wholly different understanding about the purpose of the corporation emerged.” Corporate raiders, “targeted companies that could deliver higher returns to the shareholders if they abandoned their other stakeholders — fighting unions, cutting the pay of workers or firing them, automating as many jobs as possible, and abandoning their original communities by shuttering factories and moving jobs to a state with lower labor costs, or moving them abroad.”

It became about the prosperity of the few at the expense of others.

To achieve the common good, we will need leaders that not only serve to financial interests, but also the trust and integrity of institutions they serve, whether it is business or government. Reich quotes Shimon Peres, who said, “We need a generation that sees leadership as a noble cause, defined not by personal ambition, but by morality and a call to service.” Reich summarizes, “The purpose of leadership is not simply to win. It is to serve.”

Undeniably, we live in a winner-take-all society. Successful people are admired and honored, often ignoring the means of that success, including moral digressions and ethical sacrifices. Reich writes, “little or no attention is given to how they obtained their wealth. They may have avoided or skirted laws, paid off politicians, engaged in insider trading or price fixing, defrauded investors, or even brought the world economy to near ruin because of their disregard for the consequences of their schemes… The subtle message is that the common good doesn’t really count. Wealth and power do.”

There is much more to the book, which I highly recommend. He writes a lot about education as a common good and the benefits of civic duty. The underlying message is that we need to start changing our priorities and definitions of success. There is nothing wrong with personal ambition and obtaining success, but there is no reason you can’t help others when you get there.

And we need to redefine patriotism. We need to stop with the grandstanding and the belief that, for example, protesting the NFL is some sort of patriotic activity. In addition to thanking our service members for their sacrifices, we need to make our own. We need to engage in the political process, researching candidates and issues and removing the money that is corrupting our democracy. We need to hold accountable those who break the rules and take advantage of others.

Working toward the common good is the ultimate expression of patriotism. Our country is stronger together.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

286. Where does all that money go?

A typical day to consider in 2016.

It’s Friday, nice outside, and you’re looking forward to the weekend. You’re running a little late, so you get the kids off to school and head out the door.

Coffee sounds good to start the day, so you run through the McDonald’s drive-through. You pass on the breakfast sandwich and hurry off. You might not know, but the CEO of McDonald’s, Stephan Easterbrook, was compensated $15.35 million in 2016. From his yacht somewhere in the Pacific, he is thankful for your support.

On the way, you check your iPhone to make sure your kids made it to school without forgetting anything. You’re surprised to learn in a news alert that Tim Cook of Apple only made a modest $8.75 million. However, to run that phone, you’re on the Verizon network. Good choice — at least that’s what Lowell Mcadam was thinking when he was raking in $17.67 million.

You’re low on gas and better stop for a quick fill-up. Exxon Mobile can help with that. Rex Tillerson, the 2016 CEO, is happy to be of service at a cost of $27.39 million. You saved some money and packed your lunch, but run in to get a Diet Coke. Compared to Rex, J. Frank Harrison of Coca-Cola is a bargain at $11.36 million.

Finally, you head to your job at Parker Hannifin, where thankfully you are a full-time employee and not one of the contract employees they have been using increasingly. You are lucky to work for a Fortune 500 company. The CEO, who you’ve probably never met, made $10.78 million. He thanks you for your hard work and for voting down the union again. They’ve canceled the company picnic but were forthcoming in suggesting that you should vote Republican in the next election.

It’s a long day but it’s payday and that picks up your spirits. Your salary is directly deposited into Key Bank, where CEO Beth Mooney cashed in on $8.17 million of executive pay. Your mortgage is automatically withdrawn today too, saving a stamp. Wells Fargo, when its not making up fake accounts, is happy to service your loan and the CEO does so at $13.01 million.

After work, you run to the doctor to check your diabetes. The doctor says a prescription or two will keep it under control and so off you go to CVS to fill your prescription. CEO Larry Merlo is happy to fill that for you and his share is $18.36 million. The drug is made by Pfizer and you would think with a compensation of $17.32 million, CEO Ian Read would have cured cancer or something.

Dinner with the family is at Cheesecake Factory. It’s your one night out a week. The meal for a family of four is close to $200 with an appetizer and overpriced cheesecake for everyone. One person eating well is CEO David Overton. With compensation of almost $6 million, he can take his family anywhere he wants — anywhere in the world.

Wanting to get those hotel points, you wittingly use your American Express card, to the pleasure of Kenneth Chenault and his $17.46 million compensation package.

Exhausted, you sit down to watch a little television before bed. There is a reality show on CBS where people are stuck on an island. Les Moonves, CEO of CBS Corporation, can actually afford to buy that island with a compensation of $69.55 million. Of course, you watch the show on your cable provider, Charter Communications, where CEO Thomas Rutledge just missed the $100 million mark in 2016. Better luck next year, Tom!

We have just touched the surface of the impact corporations have on our lives. Besides live the American dream for another week, you made the wealthy even wealthier and made the powerful more powerful. You and the millions of us across the country do this on a daily basis, to the delight of the one percent.

It is not just executive pay that corporations spend their money on. They also spend billions upon billions on lobbyists and campaign contributions to protect their interests.

At the end of the day, we should ask two things of our economic system:

1. If corporations have this much profit to spend on executive pay, lobbying, and campaign contributions, why did Republicans give them an additional tax break?

2. If corporations have this much profit to spend on executive pay, lobbying, and campaign contributions, why can’t they pay their employees sustainable wages to not only help them in their lives but also raise the community they live in?

Note: 2016 CEO compensation provided by AFL-CIO CEO pay watch.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

285. Old friendships, divergent philosophies

Perhaps like many, my first venture into social media was Myspace.

After setting up my page, I didn’t do much with it and it sort of slowly disappeared from my attention. I really didn’t get it. So I wasn’t really interested in joining Facebook, in part because I was in law school at the onset of its popularity and because I thought it was just like Myspace.

Then one day my wife was on Facebook when I looked at her screen and noticed a close friend of mine from high school who I had been casually searching for. He was one of the few high school friends I kept in contact for a while after starting college, even writing letters back and forth. Somewhere along the way we lost touch, but I was excited now to find him.

I quickly joined Facebook and contacted him. I caught up with not only him but also other friends from high school and college. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was reacquainted with old friends. Some I remembered well; others I hardly knew. I enjoyed the perpetual class reunion, learning about the lives of classmates, such as their families, jobs, and where they were living.

I didn’t talk much about politics in high school. I didn’t run for class president, nor did I join the debate team. We might comment on a current event but we had no political philosophies and were largely oblivious to the ways of the world. I liked Ronald Reagan, everyone seemed to, though I really didn’t know why. I do remember trickle down economics and I thought it made sense at the time.

I was more interested in sports, my studies (math in particular), and of course girls. Our memories were filled with baseball games, swimming, movies, rooting for Cleveland sport teams and many late nights trying to figure out the opposite sex. I guess I just assumed that being such good friends growing up, and sharing those “teenage moments,” that we would grow up with similar belief and values. They were like family, after all.

But times change and people change and it turns out that many of my friends don’t share similar viewpoints. To be fair, I probably changed more than they did. Not many people from rural American grow up to be an agnostic liberal vegetarian with political views leaning democratic socialist.

When you’re a convicted idealist, and its tied to personal morality, it’s hard to grow a former relationship with someone perhaps as oppositely passionate. Too many issues like guns, animal compassion, Trump, and religion are deal-breakers to resume a close, in-depth friendship (as opposed to a friendship).

The memories of yesteryear are sometimes more valuable than the realities of today. It’s better that those memories stay there in that time of my life. We shared a meaningful time in our lives and had so many great memories — but that was then and this is now. We’re different people and there is not going to be any “The Hangover” type reunions. And it’s OK — some relationships grow into old age while others fizzle out. It doesn’t change the past and I wouldn’t want to. It’s emotional and a little sad, but we just see the world differently now.

On the flip side, I suppose, there are high school classmates that I really didn’t associate with much growing up but with whom now share a lot of common values. I often think it would be fun to get together and talk about our paths and how we arrived at a common worldview.

Perhaps form new relationships, thanks to Facebook.