Takeaways from the 2018 Election

Just a few reactions to yesterday’s election (including a few that are personal):

  • The country is a safer place now that Trump and his R minions won’t be controlling both houses of Congress. There is something to be said for legislative gridlock.
  • Adjusted for strong economic and stock market conditions, this election represents the worst House retention of any president in 100 years according to JPMorgan Asset & Wealth Management. But, of course, not everyone is benefiting from these conditions; asset appreciation and increased wealth continue to accrue mainly to the top 1 percent. This dynamic will play a major role in future elections. To this point, neither party is addressing the problem.
  • Ds are badly out of step on immigration and taxes. If they don’t get their act together, it will cost them dearly in 2020.
  • Rs are badly out of step on health care. If they don’t get their act together, it will cost them the White House and Senate in 2020.
  • The electorate is in two camps: urban and rural. And within those camps, the electorate is divided by education.
  • The disenfranchisement of voters in large states (people, not land), and the over-representation given to voters in sparse states, will continue to put pressure on our constitutional system. The Senate is becoming a highly unrepresentative body. This doesn’t bode well for our future.
  • The Ds have to run good candidates if they are to win. Donnelly in Indiana, where I now live, was a pathetic candidate. Consequently, the Ds squandered a seat they should have retained.
  • The Ds retaking seven governorships is huge even though it’s not getting the attention it deserves.
  • The grand Republican experiment in Kansas failed miserably. The state is worse off because of it. On a positive note, the Ds took the governor’s mansion. However, much damage has already been done and not all of it will be reversible.
  • Scott Walker’s loss in Wisconsin is sweet. Very sweet. And very well deserved.
  • Texas is undergoing a major shift. For the first in a long time, its electoral votes will be up for grab in 2020.
  • My favorite state, Colorado (a place I called home until recently), completed its transition from purple to blue. Colorado is the least partisan place I’ve ever lived. The Rs’ divisive tactics don’t work so well there.
  • Steve King’s reelection speaks volumes about the people in his district in Iowa. They should be ashamed. The fact they’re not is a stark reminder of some of the forces at work in American politics today. And of the darkness that lives within the souls of all humans (yours truly included). At its best, politics should be a source of enlightenment and understanding and call people to their better selves. Sadly, politics often does just the opposite.
  • Old white men are the strength of the Republican party. As these guys die off, the Rs are in big trouble unless the party can pivot and start appealing to educated women and younger voters.
  • Voters still aren’t concerned about fiscal risks. This will come back to haunt them in a very big way someday.
  • Yesterday’s election tells us little about either party’s prospects for 2020. Two years is an eternity in the world of politics.
  • Yesterday’s election will have absolutely no effect on Trump. He is who he is, and he isn’t about to change. For some, that’s good; for others, it’s a never-ending nightmare. Either way, our president and his presidency are a reflection of who we are. What do you see when you look in the national mirror? Voters’ reaction to that image will decide the 2020 election.

77% Aren’t Getting Enough of This

Location matters. Culture matters. Especially when it comes to exercise. And fitness.

According to the CDC, 77 percent of us are slugs. We fail to get enough exercise.

Mississippians are the worst. The best state when it comes to exercise and fitness is the one I’m not allowed to mention around the house. My wife thinks I believe this state is perfect. She’s tired of hearing about it. So I won’t mention it. At home. Continue reading

Did Trump Just Help or Hurt the U.S.? Look to Indiana for the Answer

My (new) home state of Indiana is the top steel producing state in the country. It’s also the most manufacturing intensive state. We manufacture a lot of automobile and truck parts here, parts that rely on cheap steel and aluminum. So when assessing whether the new tariffs imposed by President Trump will be good or bad for the country, Indiana’s may be the bellwether state. We may see the impact first — for better or for worse.

Meanwhile, I’m still grinning from ear to ear at the ways the Republican Party has been transformed under Mr. Trump. Who would have thought that the Republicans would become the party of protectionism? Not me. Or anyone else if they’re being honest with themselves.

I’m also taking delight in Mr. Trump’s recent desire to take guns from people without due process of law. All I heard during his predecessor’s administration was the ludicrous fear mongering from the right claiming that Obama was “coming for their guns.” And now it turns out it’s the Republican president who wants to come for their guns. I have to admit taking some perverse delight in the way the worm has turned.

But back to trade. This could well be a train wreck in the making. Or not. Only time will tell. But it’s hard to imagine a good outcome should other countries retaliate, which one would assume is likely.

Of course, protectionist trade barriers are nothing new. Every state in the Union already has them. They’re called licensing requirements, etc. They inhibit commerce across state lines, ostensibly to protect consumers. But that’s often a ruse. Usually, it’s to protect incumbents from competition, thereby propping up the income and wealth of the incumbents (to the detriment of others, of course).

Countries have protective barriers, too. Including the U.S. Just ask any farmer in Brazil or sugar cane grower in any other country. Or foreign producers of any of the myriad of other products that already carry stiff tariffs.

So, despite the impression the press may be giving people, the world isn’t new to tariffs and protectionist policies. That doesn’t mean they’re good. They’re usually not. And it doesn’t mean we should add more. But it does mean it’s not the black and white issue that many are projecting it to be.

A Tale of Two Cities, A Tale of Two Countries

This past week I learned that our city’s high school spent $140,000 on a coffee bar. And that teachers and students alike can order drinks on a mobile phone app, to be delivered to the classroom. I suppose the Carmel students deserve no less.

The very next day I read about the suicides in Madison, Indiana, just a two-hour drive south. According to the New York Times story, captioned “Suicides, Drug Addiction and High School Football,” Madison has been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis. Jefferson County, where Madison is situated, has the highest suicide rate for any Indiana county — a rate that’s more than twice the state average and 3.2 times higher than the national rate.

On the surface, Carmel High School and Madison High School couldn’t be more different. Parents of Carmel students worry whether their sons and daughters will be accepted by Harvard and Stanford Universities; parents of Madison students worry whether they’ll find their sons and daughters hanging from a tree.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course. Not all Carmel students are headed to the Ivy League or other elite university, and not all Madison students are addicted to drugs or headed off to prison or the mortuary. Yet the contrast is real. Stark, in fact.

The Madison story took me back, to the days growing up in one of the poorest counties in Pennsylvania. It’s not that we thought of ourselves as poor. We didn’t, and we weren’t. But we didn’t have a lot. Most of our parents had working-class jobs or were farmers; very few were professionals or had extra cash to spare.  We never took vacations. We didn’t even dream about Ivy League schools — in fact, I don’t think I even knew what the Ivy League was. We didn’t have a lot, but we had enough. Fortunately, one of the things we didn’t have was drugs.

I suppose there were some around, but, honestly, if I had wanted to use drugs, I would have had no idea where I would have gotten them. I didn’t know of anyone who took drugs, much less anyone who was addicted to them. Hell, I barely knew anyone who drank. I suspect it’s different today, even in that secluded, rural county I knew as home. No, I know it’s different today.

I never returned home to live after heading off to college. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how detached I had allowed myself to become to the reality of so many of the kids who were growing up in places like my small rural high school.

I had become a professional and lived in areas populated by professionals and corporate types. That had become my new normal and, unbeknownst to me, I had become blind and oblivious to the transformation that had been taking place all around me. It wasn’t until I was appointed by Governor Rendell to be Secretary of Community and Economic Development that I become aware of the scales that had formed on my eyes.

It was then I traveled to the far reaches of Pennsylvania. To places I hadn’t been in decades. Or had never been. It was then I saw the depth of rural poverty in my native commonwealth — in America. And encountered the plight of the multitudes who had slipped into a life of chemical dependency. I wondered how I could have been so blind.

And now I’m living in a city that delivers lattes to its high school students. While Madison parents are trying to keep their kids out of prisons and graves. And while parents are being bankrupted by the crushing cost of rehab. (See this Wall Street Journal article titled “After Addiction Comes Families’ Second Blow: The Crushing Cost of Rehab.”)

But it’s not only Madison, of course. People are doing drugs everywhere, even in upper-crust Carmel, Indiana. And kids are dying by their own hands everywhere. Perhaps not at the rate that Madison is experiencing. But at an unacceptable rate just the same.

And so I wonder, what is happening to America? What is leading to such widespread drug addiction and abuse? Why is our country’s death rate increasing?

It’s not happening everywhere. In fact, I’m aware of no other developed country that is experiencing an increase in its death rate. America is an outlier. Something is going on here that isn’t happening elsewhere.

I have my own theories as to the root causes of this decay. And you probably have yours. But they’re just theories. They’re not solutions.

Things like this are hard to fix. Very hard. But I worry that we’re not trying. Or that our efforts are feeble at best.

I fear we’re more concerned with our ideologies than solutions. I worry that we simply don’t care about each other enough to try to fix what ails us.

Meanwhile, the contrast between the two cities — between the two realities — becomes more stark by the day. And the casualties mount.

How will it all play out? I don’t know.

What can I do about it? I don’t know. But I know we should be trying. Harder than we are.

What is our future as a country if these trends aren’t reversed? I don’t know.

But it’s hard to think it will be good.

Conservatism At Its Worst

I lived in a blue state for five years: Colorado. For heaven’s sake, we even decriminalized marijuana.

I recently moved to a red state: Indiana. Yet it feels the other way around.

Not entirely of course. You’ll find some of the worst roads in the country in Indiana and Indianapolis. I suspect it’s because of the brand of fiscal conservatism here that is championed by people such as former governor (now vice president) Mike Pence. Penny wise and pound foolish. That’s a generous characterization.

It’s conservatism that thinks the only thing that matters is lower taxes, regardless of the impact on living standards or social well-being. It’s conservatism that shifts costs from the rich to the poor and working class (often via hidden subsidies). It’s conservatism that rejects the ideals upon which the country was founded and instead embraces the radical ideology that government is inherently bad. In essence, it’s a conservatism that is inherently anti-democratic.

As noted investor Jim Chanos recently remarked:

In the U.S., an attitude of hostility toward government involvement in the economy has developed over the last several decades. In the U.K., when it comes to the economy, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party both see a role for government. The Conservatives see a role that needs to be shaped and controlled and limited, while Labour feels that government should have a bigger role. But they both understand that it has a meaningful role to play. In the U.S. we have a much different situation. The Democratic Party in the U.S. is more like the Conservative Party in the U.K., while the GOP is a party that is actually opposed to the government, taking the view that the government is bad and needs to be reduced or limited. That’s a significant difference, and it shows up in our infrastructure.

And so it does. Indiana, as a bastion of conservatism, has a lot of shitty roads and streets.

With exceptions. Fortunately, we live in one such exception: Carmel (great roads!).

I’m told Carmel is really conservative, but you wouldn’t know it. It’s investment in public infrastructure and economic development far outstrips any place we’ve ever lived. As a result, it’s a vibrant place to live, replete with cultural, entertainment, outdoor and other amenities. (To be fair, however, it’s also obvious Carmel has more money that many other cities in the state and that it’s success would not be easily replicated in other parts of the state.)

In any case, compare that to my blue state experience in Loveland, Colorado, a city that sits square in the middle of one of the fastest growing, dynamic economies in the country, spanning from Fort Collins in the north to Colorado Springs in the south, with Boulder and Denver in between.

Loveland’s downtown is shoddy and embarrassing. Yet city council refuses to invest even a few million dollars in infrastructure upgrades and streetscaping. They finally initiated a big downtown project, but did so begrudgingly while still refusing to upgrade the adjacent commercial and retail corridor.

Loveland’s schools aren’t first-rate, either. I can’t think of anything more important than the quality of a community’s schools. But kids aren’t the highest priority in Loveland.

Meanwhile, Loveland sits on more than $200 million of reserves in the bank (on which it actually loses money due to its dubious investment policies and management), and stubbornly refuses to finance public infrastructure with bonds. The mayor and council persons tout their fiscal conservatism, but in reality they’re simply making some imprudent, short-sighted decisions.

But that’s the way much of conservatism in the States is these days: short-sighted and self-destructive. Perhaps there is no greater example of the self-destructive nature of this ideology than Kansas.

If this new brand of conservatism thinks it’s a good idea to ignore public infrastructure, public education and the growing inequity of income and wealth in our country, its adherents will be in for a surprise. The impact on their economies, competitiveness, standards of living and social stability will be profound over the mid to long term.

Moreover, if this newfangled belief in the inherent evilness of self-government spreads, people will be in for a harsh surprise by what such an ideology yields.

We’re seeing conservatism at its worst today. But this too shall pass, Vera. Will it pass before it gets worse? That isn’t clear.

In any case, I’m eager to see what it looks like when you’re old enough to vote. I hope it will look better. A lot better.

(P.S. Liberalism At Its Worst will be forthcoming.)

Place Matters: Today I Became A Hoosier

At the risk of laying claim to a derogatory term, today I embrace Hoosierism. Well, maybe.

What’s inarguable, however, is that, today, I became a Hoosier. We closed on the purchase of a house in Carmel, Indiana this morning.

But part of me knows that I’ve always been and always will be a Pennsylvanian. It’s the land of my and my family’s roots. Every time I think I’ve shaken it, I return home to the Commonwealth to visit friends and relatives and realize it’s not something one can shake. It’s in my bones.

But on the surface, I am now a Hoosier.

I came here after living the past five years in a blue state: Colorado. Indiana is a red state. I take a tiny bit of solace in knowing it’s just a bit less red today than it was yesterday.

Hoosiers are friendly people I’m told. However, I’ve learned over the years that friendly comes in different packages, some more authentic than others. I hope Hoosiers are authentic people. I find authenticity to be far more valuable than friendliness.

Regardless, I am so lucky to be here. We came here to be near you, Vera. That’s the power you possess. Try not to let it go to your head. Or to take advantage of your grandparents.

There are collateral benefits of course. We’re near your parents, too. And nearer to the rest of our family (sans your uncle on the west coast).

And we finally live at a place that’s within walking distance of just about everything we need in life. And we’re a stone’s throw away from a trail that will take us, by bike or foot, to downtown Indy or north into the countryside.

My goal is to burn as little gas as possible. And to walk, hike and bike as much as possible.

So now we go about the business of nurturing place.

Place is something that resides in our subconsciousness more than our consciousness, which is odd considering how important it is.

When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate the importance of place. I lived not in a place but in a cutthroat world — a world of competition, domination, discontent and violence — primarily violence against oneself and one’s soul.

I now think place is paramount.

The place we envision will be an enclave of love, peace and grace. Our home will be your home, Vera. And your parents and uncle’s home. And a home for friends and family to commune. A place to laugh. A place to cry. A place where precious memories are created.

Outside, your grandmother will take the lead in creating a tribute to nature and humanity’s connectedness to the earth. She will play in the dirt, as angels are inclined to do. It will be a place of peace and tranquility. And of beauty. I’m looking forward to seeing it unfold. It will be glorious.

Beyond the borders of what we naively think of as “our property” will be the larger place. My place in that place is yet to be defined. I’m counting on the rhythms of life to show me the way. Some people call it “the hand of God.” I’m no longer sure I believe that. But I don’t disbelieve it either.

I try not to delude myself however. I know that, for many, place is hell. Daily, some are forced to walk into or through the valley of death. It’s hard to create place when confronted by harsh realities.

Perhaps my place will nudge me forward, to hold their hands, to carry their loads, to help create place in the midst of pain and suffering. Perhaps my place will go with me wherever I may go.

Place can do that. Place has incredible power. But only if we allow it. Only if we allow place to thrive and become a living force within us.

On my journey, I have been blessed to live within the beauty and grandeur of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and, now, Indiana. I have absolutely no idea where my journey may take me in the years yet to be lived. But, for now, I am attending to important work. Holy work. I am allowing place to do its work.

From Mile High To Sea Level

 

For the past five years, I’ve lived a mile above sea level: 5,130 feet to be precise. Living at altitude is different. Blood oxygen levels are lower. Sleep can be impaired (not good for someone with sleep apnea). But you’re closer to the sun, which is out most of the time. And the humidity here, in this semi-arid high plain, is low.

I’ve made no secret of how much I love this place. I wish I’d moved here years ago. I can’t think of a better place to live. Yet today I leave my mile-high home.

There is a lot about this place I’ll miss, but perhaps I’ll miss the skies the most. The two photos were taken at Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park. I can’t find an adjective to do the Colorado skies justice.

Vera, your grandmother said she’ll miss the mountains the most. I can’t argue with that. Seeing the magnificent Rockies every day is an indescribable blessing, and climbing over them has been an inexperience unlike any other.

But today we leave our mile-high home. Soon, we’ll be living near you. That will make it a very, very special place.

The anticipation of the next excites me. I always look forward to turning the page. So I will travel down to sea level or something close. And as I do, I will turn the page in the book of life.

I don’t know what I’ll find in the next chapter, but I’m sure it will be new and interesting. I like new.

I’m an incredibly fortunate guy, certainly more so than I deserve or have earned. I’ve had the good fortune to spend the past five years in an amazing place. And now I get to spend the next few years in a place that’s even more amazing, because that place is your home.

My life reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Babette’s Feast. Following the feast, one of the town’s men looked up to the starry sky and remarked, Hallelujah!

Hallelujah indeed!

Perhaps it’s a good time to listen to this.