Mr. Cohen Is a Stark Reminder of the Temptations that Come Our Way

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer, was sentenced to prison yesterday. Among his crimes were ones conducted with and at the behest of Mr. Trump. Whether Trump will be held accountable for his misdeeds remains to be seen. But in any case, Mr. Cohen is headed off to the pokey. Before he leaves, however, it’s good to take stock of the lessons imparted by his tragic experiences. Why? Because they may help you avoid the same fate, Vera. Continue reading

Tariff Man Fails

Tariff Man (the term President Trump coined for himself) hates the trade deficit we run with China. He’s been working to correct this, or so he’d like us to believe. But the data don’t lie. And the data show our trade deficit with China is higher than it’s been in a decade (higher than it ever was under President Obama). It seems Tariff Man may be all talk. Now there’s a surprise.

Here’s the chart:

I suppose there are a couple lessons here for us, Vera. Continue reading

Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Our Next President Did These Things?

Another week of observing the clown show we call the Trump presidency (culminating Monday in actions that would get anyone else indicted for obstruction of justice and in yesterday’s Tariff Man tweet that tanked the stock market) got me to thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if our next president: Continue reading

Is This What Great Looks Like?

The CDC reported this past week that life expectancy for Americans dropped last year. The U.S. stands out in this regard: no other developed country is experiencing higher mortality rates. Indeed, the gap in life expectancies between Japan, Spain, and many other countries and the United States is growing, which, obviously, is a very bad development for the U.S., both from a societal and economic standpoint.

Last year, 70,237 deaths were attributed to drug overdoses in the U.S. West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania had the three highest age-adjusted rates of fatal overdoses. Most drug overdoses are unintentional. But not all.

Suicides overall were up by 3.7 percent in 2017. Since 1999, the national suicide rate has increased by 33 percent! A particularly disturbing trend is the increase in suicides among teenagers and young adults. And among farmers. The country’s most rural counties had suicide rates almost twice as high as those for the most urban counties.

These are not signs of a healthy society; rather, they are signs of social decay.

You’d think this would spur some serious national reflection. But it hasn’t. Instead, it has precipitated a mean-spirited reaction whereby the country doubled down on failing policies, values, and priorities. Donald Trump is Exhibit A.

But there are other manifestations of our dysfunction that are equally troubling, including mass murders (our schools have become killing grounds), worker exploitation, widespread underemployment, gross economic inequities (a big part of the problem that is largely ignored and goes unaddressed), lack of social mobility, high debt burdens, broad resentment, alienation and shallow or nonexistent personal networks, widespread insecurity and feelings of compulsion, incredibly high rates of incarceration, and high incidences of psychological problems (e.g., Americans take far more antidepressants than anyone else).

It’s impossible to know how all of this will play out over the long term, Vera. What kind of country will await you when you reach the age of majority? I’m not sure. But it’s quite possible your world will look very different from the one that awaited me when I graduated from high school.

No one can insulate you from the problems of the country. But we can prepare you. By helping you learn and discover. Fostering your curiosity. Helping you to acquire the skills and capabilities to navigate ambiguity and a hostile world. And by not perpetrating illusions or mindlessly supporting many of the deeply flawed ideas and narratives that have been eroding our country’s social and moral fabric. And, perhaps most of all, by loving you unconditionally and providing you with a strong and stable family.

The rest will be up to you. Just as it was with everyone who came before you. And will be with everyone who will follow you.

That’s life.

The good news, you can be great. In the end, that’s what great looks like: Life flourishing within the human body, mind, and soulPeople relishing the gift of life, in peace, joy, and love.

Days to Avoid Surgery

I learned the hard way to avoid Friday surgeries. It had nothing to do with mortality (obviously). It had everything to do with pain management. My post-surgical pain was intense (very, very intense), but I was unable to reach my surgeon on Saturday. For that reason alone (the unavailability of medical professionals on weekends), I will do my best to avoid having any surgery on a Friday. But there’s more. And the more is potentially far more serious. Continue reading

Designer Humans

Scientists in China have been recruiting couples in an effort to create the first gene-edited babies according to this report in MIT Technology Review titled “EXCLUSIVE: Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies.”

I suppose it was inevitable. Nonetheless, it’s scary as hell. Where will it lead? Where will it end? Or is the concept of end obsolete? Or closer than ever?

Every technological advance carries with it both beneficial and harmful consequences. Or so it seems to me. It’s easy to posit the beneficial aspects of gene-editing. But the potential harmful effects aren’t so easy to imagine. Yet there are real. And potentially very scary.

I wonder what it will be like for parents when you’re at a child-bearing age, Vera. I suspect your experience will be very different from that of your mother and grandmothers. You may have choices that were beyond our imaginations.

In the meantime, humans must find a way to deal with the ethical issues posed by these new technological capabilities. Indeed, humans might need to find a way to preserve the species generally.

We are entering a new age. And there is much beyond the reach of our headlights.

Taking Stock as I Come Down the Homestretch

The year is coming to a close. Christmas is only a month away. It spurred me to revisit my New Year’s resolutions. Since I have only five weeks left.

Here are my resolutions and my status report:

  • Meditate daily – Tried but failed. Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough. Or perhaps I quit too soon. I may return to this when my mind is in a better place. At this point, however, suffice it to say I’m not in control of my thoughts.
  • Read at least one book per week – Not sure. I had started the year by keeping a list of all the books I was reading, but that became a chore so I stopped. I’ve read a lot. Whether it averages out to be one per week doesn’t seem important to me.
  • Volunteer and make new friends at the nursing home down the street – Done.
  • No alcohol from Monday through Thursday – Tried but failed until September. I came back from a long weekend in Cincy (to see my Pittsburgh Pirates play the Reds) and dumped most of my liquor down the drain. I decided it was unable to discipline myself when it was in the house. Since then I depleted the few items I couldn’t bring myself to discard (rye whiskey, Scotch, and a few beers). Now all I have in the house is wine for dinners. I intend to limit my consumption of spirits to restaurants, etc. In short, progress.
  • Avoid ice cream and candy and press my War on Sugar – OMG this is hard. Sometimes I do great; other times I fall off the wagon and stay off. The power of sugar is strong. Very strong. I shall continue to press my War on Sugar. I refuse to surrender. Yet I’m not certain I shall ever achieve complete victory. I do, however, need to lose weight. And I shall.
  • Exercise daily, with three or more intense workouts a week – Mixed success. I can’t say I never miss a day. I do. But I biked more this year (outside on my Scott) than I have in a couple of years, and I continue to ride the Peloton cycle in the basement and lift weights. I upgraded the exercise room. Trends are favorable.
  • Discover one or two great investment ideas – Not yet, but the year isn’t over. My biggest achievement of the year is having avoided some of the losses sustained by those who held FANG stocks or QQQ into the fall. I’ve had some nice winners but also some ugly losers. This is a game I’m still trying to master.
  • One silent solo retreat – Scheduled for January (a bit late but close enough). More to come on that.
  • Focus more on myself and the people and things that are important to me and over which I have some control or influence, and less on politics and society – I’m still working on this one. I’m hoping the retreat helps me get in touch with reality and less involved with the narratives and illusions that continue to dominate my thoughts.

Our Feelings Are Being Hacked

If you think you’re immune from being hacked (and, yes, I mean you, not your computer), then you’re probably not aware. And perhaps there is nothing as dangerous as lack of awareness.

Yuval Noah Harari outlines 21st-century hacking dangers in this Ted Talk and offers suggestions for resistance. It’s well worth watching. And, more importantly, it’s worth considering the risks and challenges to individuality. To independent thought. The risks to you. To me.

It’s also worth questioning whether we should be participating in certain internet platforms such as Facebook. Some time back I decided to drop out of FB and am convinced it was the right thing to do.

Last week I watched the Steelers-Panthers football game on Fox. It came with Amazon Prime. It’s the first I had watched commercial television in a while. OMG, the commercials. And the product placement in the announcer booth. The entire experience was commercialized and manipulative. It was a good reminder of the constant attacks on our independence. On independent thought.

Awareness. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. And realizing how unaware I still am.

The Great Amazon Stickup

Here is the handout (corporate welfare) Amazon (and, by extension, Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, who is history’s richest man) is receiving in exchange for siting new offices in New York, Virginia, and Nashville:

Incentives from New York state: $1.525 billion:

$1.2 billion in refundable tax credits over 10 years.
$325 million from Empire State Development.

Incentives from New York City:

Property-tax abatements for up to 25 years.
$900 million in job-creation tax credits, plus other unspecified tax credits.

Incentives from Virginia:

$550 million cash grant over 12 years, plus potentially an additional $200 million based on future job creation.

Incentives from Arlington:

$23 million in cash over 15 years.

Incentives from the Tennessee:

$65 million cash grant.
$21.7 million in state tax credits.

Incentives from Nashville:

$15 million cash payment based on job creation.

Add them up and you will see the biggest  corporate giveaway in our history. Corporate welfare and crony capitalism are indeed alive and well in the good old U.S.A.

Of course, it’s not news to anyone that capitalism has no ethics or morals. The only question is, will such a system override every other value and principle this country professes to hold dear? Will the rich and powerful demonstrate some ethics and morality on their own? Continue reading