Unless This Is Addressed, There Will Be More Rapids Ahead

This graph does as much to explain the election of Donald Trump as anything I’ve seen. And unless we figure out a way to deal with this reality, we’re going to see a lot more political turmoil and social upheaval ahead.

I say “reality” and not “problem” because some people (especially the rich and powerful) don’t think it’s a problem. And that’s a problem. For unless they come to the realization a declining median family net worth isn’t a problem, nothing will be done to address it. And if it’s not addressed, the gap between the haves and have-nots will continue to widen and the pressures on societal stability will continue to build. Eventually, the pressure will find a way to relieve itself. And history tells us that’s usually not good.

Ideas over Ideologies

America is an ideological mess. I’m sorry we’re leaving you with such a mess, Vera, but unless something radically changes over the next decade or two, a mess is what you and your generation will be getting.

Today, ideologies rule. We are bereft of ideas and solutions yet ideologies abound. Some people say it’s a matter of political partisanship. But I think we’re giving politics a bad name when we characterize it that way. No, I think it’s fairer to say it’s a matter of ideologies.

They include some that are based in religion, some based in individualism or collectivism, some based in capitalism, some based in consumerism, some based in nationalism or tribalism, some simply based in fear. Whatever the root, we’ve given ideologies power over us and our decision making. Everything is to be judged against the ideology. And that’s the end of the analysis.

Moreover, since it’s a matter of ideology, there is no compromising. The ideology is sacrosanct. To compromise is to reject. Hence, we are rigid and unyielding. Obstinate. Arrogant, even to the point of nastiness. We even become blind to the self-destructive outcomes of our ideologies.

It’s no way to run a country. Or anything else for that matter. Nor is it the way this country was built.

We were once a country of doers. We saw a challenge and went about the task of meeting it. Sure, we had different perspectives and biases. Indeed, our constitution is a document of compromises made by men of different desires. But we got it done. We didn’t allow ideologies to become barriers. Or anchors holding us to the past, an impediment to forward progress.

We have some big challenges — indeed, problems — today. None of them should be insurmountable. Yet they are. Because we’ve become a country of ideologues.

Our problems include a runaway debt, growing deficits, a healthcare system that’s eating us alive, an educational system that is too costly and too underperforming, decrepit infrastructure in many places, unaffordable housing in many places, global warming, depleted and depleting water tables, economic inequality that is creating cracks in our societal fabric, a rising death rate, high incidence of mental and psychological disorders, abnormally high rates of violence including killing of our children, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc.

A country of ideas tackles such problems, not with ideologies but with ideas — ideas that lead to solutions and progress. It matters not what political or religious affiliation one has; every person is capable of generating ideas and entering into dialogue with others to find solutions. But we don’t. And it’s because we have become hostage to ideologies and all the bad habits that entails.

I have to be honest, Vera: I hate living in a country of ideologues. I hate being surrounded by cognitive laziness and can’t-do spirits. Fortunately, not everyone is like that. But many are. Too many. Enough to put the brakes on progress. Enough to cause progress to retreat. For decline and decay to set in.

I remain hopeful that things will change. And perhaps they will. But not necessarily so. In any case, this is the country we are leaving you and your generation. You can still make it better. All it takes is ideas. And the conviction that it’s ideas and not ideologies that are the path forward to a better future.

Never underestimate the power of ideas. And the commitment to get things done.

The Worst Thing About Being a Parent

Being a parent can be a lot of fun. There is nothing quite like the experience of holding your newborn son or daughter for the first time. And then the glorious memories start piling up. If we’re lucky, that is.

Some of us aren’t. The memories for some parents are painful. Perhaps it’s because their child was born with a defective heart. Or succumbed early to a hideous disease or accident. Or was gunned down at school. For them, being a parent was akin to a nightmare without end.

Most of us, however, were lucky. Our kids were healthy. And fate didn’t bring tragedy into their young lives.

Yet it’s still not all good. For most of us, that is. There is pain. And grief. And worry. Endless worry.

Perhaps there are some perfect parents out there who can’t identify with this. I hope so. It would be nice to think parenting is something that can be done sans regrets.

But that’s not been my experience. I don’t think I had the perfect parents, and I certainly don’t think I was the perfect parent. I carry baggage from childhood, as do my own sons. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s become more obvious with age.

I suppose I thought I was better than I apparently was. Which isn’t surprising. Often you’re the last one to spot your own shortcomings. And mistakes.

Knowing that your words and actions ended up hurting your child is a tough nut to swallow. Sometimes, it hurts so much you wish you’d never had children. At least then you wouldn’t have made things worse for others. At least then you wouldn’t have been the cause of someone else’s suffering. I’m not sure there is anything worse than inflicting suffering on another, especially someone you love so much.

When I ponder the things my own parents said or did that hurt me, I know it wasn’t out of malice. They did the best they could do. But that doesn’t necessarily make it better. It does, however, help to negate the resentment and bitterness that might otherwise fill the void.

I was fortunate. My parents never abandoned me. Or failed to provide for me. That may seem like I’m setting the bar low. But that’s not the case at all. Alive, safe, fed and loved is no low bar. There are many kids and adults who can attest to that.

Of course, my parents did far more than clear the bar. Similarly, I tried to set the bar high for myself as a parent. But, of course, the higher you set it, the more certain it is that you will fail.

Life is hard. And we’re imperfect. Consequently, each of us collects scars along the way. And, I suppose, many of us parents carry on our backs some guilt. And sense of failure and culpability.

Or perhaps other parents don’t feel this way. Perhaps I’m merely projecting my own shortcomings and guilt.

As a parent, I have shed different types of tears. I tell myself the happy ones made it all worthwhile. I tell myself lots of things. Yet I realize in such matters I am a poor arbiter of truth. Not that it matters. It’s too late for that. It is what it is.

And so we do our best. And carry on, with both our healed and open wounds. With both our pleasant and painful memories, as well as our hopes and dreams for memories yet to be formed. Yet the memories, hopes and dreams do nothing to sooth the soul of one who feels he has let his child down.

I suppose Daniel Egan was right. “My family and I are alive, safe and fed. The rest is luxury.”

 

Why Do Americans Think It’s Right to Deny the Vote to Fellow Citizens?

Americans say they value democracy. But often they don’t act like it. In fact, often they try to deny the vote to fellow citizens (e.g., poll taxes) and, frequently, try to delute the votes of their fellow citizens by gerrymandering. Frankly, it’s despicable. And shameful. Yet most of these people feel no shame. That’s the tragedy.

I doubt there is any worse example of shameful conduct than found in my native state of Pennsylvania. I’ve dealt with the Republican leaders in that state when I was a cabinet secretary. On the surface, they seem like reasonable people. Yet when it comes to drawing congressional boundaries, they’ve not been reasonable at all. They’ve been rabid partisans. They’ve intentionally diluted the vote of minorities and Democrats in general. As a result, the congressional caucus in Pennsylvania does not resemble the voting citizenry. It has been heavily skewed in favor of the Republicans.

In essence, the Republicans have acted cowardly. They have not tried to win office fair and square. Rather, they have actively worked to retain power through trickery. If you don’t believe me, pull up the last congressional map developed by the Republicans.

They should be ashamed. Yet apparently they don’t have sufficient character to feel shame.

Now lest anyone think I’m picking on Republicans, I’m not. It’s possible Democrats in other states have been just as shameful in their practices. I don’t know; I haven’t researched it. But as for Pennsylvania — a state for which I have a particular familiarity and affinity — it’s been the Republicans who are the culprits.

As a lawyer, I’ve long been extremely disappointed in our Supreme Court, which has tolerated this tactic of disenfranchisement. Frankly, there aren’t many areas of jurisprudence that have been so contaminated by partisan politics as this one. The court’s tolerance for rampant gerrymandering has been inexcusable. Shameful.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in and is trying to rectify the wrongs perpetrated by the Republicans. We’ll see if they’re successful in restoring full voting rights to the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the issue again. I’m skeptical but hopeful that a sense of justice and fairness will trump the partisanship that too often dictates the court’s rulings.

It’s been said that power corrupts. The Republicans in Pennsylvania are living proof of that. Of course, there are many other examples, including many involving Democrats and people of no particular political affiliation. But it’s corruption no matter how you spin it.

I am hopeful that justice prevails in my native state. The people deserve no less.

 

Is “Follow Your Passion” One of the Great Lies?

“Follow your passion,” many people say. But is such a blanket recommendation sound?

I’ve never thought so. And neither do some other people.

I know that many people are interested in what billionaires think, for obvious (although perhaps faulty) reasons. So here is a link to an article about what Mark Cuban has to say about following your passion.

Cuban puts it succinctly, “One of the great lies of life is ‘follow your passions.'” Follow the link it you want to know why he feels that way.

From the Ashes of Evil, New Leaders Are Born

It is time for my generation — the Baby Boomers — to step aside. But we’ve shown no sign of doing so willingly. So the mantle of leadership will have to be yanked from our selfish grasp. I’m heartened to see that begin to happen. But somewhat surprised by who’s doing the yanking.

It’s the children.

More specifically, it’s the children in Florida who lost classmates and others to bullets. Bullets shot from an automatic assault weapon. That was bought by an alienated young man. Who wasn’t even old enough to buy a beer.

The insanity cannot be allowed to continue, the children say. They deserve to be safe in their schools. They deserve to be valued more than corporations and politicians who care only about themselves.

Their parents and neighbors have failed to act for far too long, say the children. So now they’re going to take action. They will protest. And organize marches. And do everything in their power to change things.

How much power they actually have remains to be seen. It may be little. It may be a lot. Perhaps much depends on their resolve. And the resolve of adults who care about the kids. And their future. And who are willing to put the interests of the kids and other innocent bystanders (such as concertgoers in Vegas) above the interests of gun manufacturers and the NRA.

My generation has sold out. Most of our elected representatives are on the take. They’re corrupt. They put their own interests — specifically, they’re overriding desire for money from wealthy contributors such as the NRA and gun manufacturers — above the interests of the people. They do not deserve to have power.

Hopefully, the kids will be successful in yanking some of that power from their greedy hands.

Anti-Social Media

There’s a lot of talk about the harmful effects of social media these days. Even some people who have been instrumental in developing and promoting the sites have been speaking out. Loudly and often. As I earlier mentioned, I’ve also witnessed, up close, the insidious, addictive power of Facebook and other so-called social media sites. It’s caused me to take a fresh look at the phenomenon.

I’ve concluded we’ve got the term wrong. There’s nothing social about social media sites. In fact, they tend to be anti-social. So let’s frame the issue right and start calling it what it is: anti-social.

All the mental health statistics in our country indicate my conclusions are sound. They’re all going in the wrong direction. If you don’t believe me, it’s not hard to find the data; look for yourself. Or talk to a counselor at any school. Or a nurse at a college. I guarantee you’ll be shocked by the amount of anxiety, depression and other psychological symptoms our young people are experiencing (as well as adults). In short, the degree of alienation and anxiety felt within the populace is unprecedented.

Check out our suicide rates, too. And ask yourself why there’s a positive correlation between Facebook use and depression.

And then check out any Starbucks or restaurant the next time you’re out. Observe how many people have their faces glued to their smart phone and how little face-to-face conversation is taking place.

I also can’t help think how we used to not have mass shootings like we do now. It seems to me that it’s connected to a national psychic pain, a condition that seems to be aggravated by our disconnectedness which, in turn, is exacerbated by our technology (as well as other factors, such as our obsession with money and things and our disregard for the weakest and suffering among us).

I could go on with one example after another that supports my thesis — that these supposedly social devices and programs are actually having an anti-social impact. But my purpose isn’t to convince. Rather, it’s to share my decision and perhaps spur parents to question whether their kids are being helped or hurt by all the new technology that dominate many lives.

That’s not to say technology is inherently bad. It isn’t. But it is to say it’s important not to lose sight of our real goal: happiness and fulfillment. If we assume the unfettered use of technology will make our lives (or the lives of our kids) better, then we may be making a grave mistake.

I confess I’m glued to my iPhone and computer too much. I’ve recently taken one step to help rectify that, by deactivating my Facebook account. Today, I deactivated my LinkedIn account, too.

It’s not that I’m going to swear off digital technology. I’m not. I’m not trading in my iPhone for a flip phone and I’m not swearing off Twitter (at least not yet). But I’m going to focus more on the things that lead to happiness and a sense of fulfillment and purpose and less on the distractions.

If You Hang with Liars, You’ll Become One

This week President Trump’s lawyer said he paid a hooker $130,000 out of his own pocket (so she wouldn’t go public about her encounter with Mr. Trump). Right. I’m a lawyer. I can just imagine paying a hooker $130,000 out of the goodness of my heart for a client. Clearly, Mr. Trump’s lawyer is as big a liar as Mr. Trump himself is.

But that’s not surprising. One tends to become like the people you spend time with. My guess is, if you spend much time around Mr. Trump, and want his business, you’re pretty likely to become a liar just like he is. If you weren’t one to start with.

Be forewarned, Vera: choose your friends and clients carefully. And don’t delude yourself into thinking you’ll be better than they are. I’ve seen it time and time again. People have the uncanny ability to drag others down into the gutter with them. People think they’re above it — that they can resist. But in due time, they usually don’t. They succumb. They get dirty just like the pigs with whom they associate.

Speak the truth in all things. But if you’re serious about it, keep distance from those who habitually lie. It’s really quite simple.

Russians Who Helped Trump Win Have Been Indicted

The U.S. Government indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities in connection with alleged improper activities to influence U.S. elections. According to the indictment, the defendants’ operations included “supporting the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.”

None of this comes as a surprise. Despite Mr. Trump’s hollow protestations to the contrary, anyone who has been following developments already knew that Russia had meddled in favor of Mr. Trump. But it might be a wee bit harder for Mr. Trump to stick to his script now that the U.S. Government has formally charged 16 Russian defendants.

Putin helped get his man elected (despite not winning a majority of the votes cast). But this story is far from over.

P.S. 2/17/18: Just came across this gem from last year. What a bright idea: working with the very person and country that’s trying to undermine your country.

When a Nation Fails to Protect Its Children

In the first six weeks of this year (first 31 school days to be exact), gun violence visited our children’s schools 17 times. Red marks the spot (add a big red dot in Florida):

The latest rampage claimed 17 lives and more than a dozen wounded. It’s hardly news anymore. We don’t know when or where school children will be gunned down next, but we know it will happen. And happen again. Time and time again. And yet we do nothing. We accept it as a fact of life. But, of course, it isn’t a fact of life. It’s only a fact of life in the U.S.A

Americans are an odd bunch. This is the face of America today:

Many of us them (this is one time I don’t want to be lumped in with all of my fellow citizens) apparently love the NRA more than our children. They want the “right” to arm themselves with assault weapons, just in case … . Meanwhile, the right to live is routinely taken from innocents, by gunpoint.

I wonder what some of these people think they’re protecting. A nation that cares so little for its children that it fails to protect them? A nation that caters to the whims of a lunatic fringe full of conspiracy theorists? Is such a nation worth preserving?

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” they say. I suspect many of the parents who are making arrangements for their daughter or son’s funeral might say you can keep your thoughts and prayers to yourself. I know I would.

I will never vote for a candidate who takes a red cent from the NRA. Until more people do the same, nothing will change. Children’s lives will continue to be snuffed out.

Will America act, or will it continue merely to roll out its “thoughts and prayers” to make itself feel better when its children are slaughtered?

Or perhaps we’ll just blame the kids.

I guess we’ll see.

P.S. For perspective (homicides by firearm per million people) –

P.S. # 2 If there is any doubt about the power of the NRA, consider the fact background checks are not required on all gun buyers and then consider the information below. Obviously, our representatives have someone else’s interests in mind other than the people’s.

P.S. # 3 Sobering data: