Change Isn’t Just Coming. It’s Here.

While we’re all starting to get charged up about the next Presidential election, and why Ford is dropping most sedan production and Amazon’s next move, it might be good to step back and look at a bigger picture.

This country, as well as the world, is going through more changes now than we’ve ever gone through. They will have a direct impact on, not just how we live, but in some cases, if we live.

* Climate change. The planet is heating up. We’re having storms we’ve never had before. A record breaking cold in our north at the same time Australia is having a record-breaking heat wave; tires and roads literally melting. During the summer before last, parts of the middle east were well over 120 degrees. Oops! Sorry, that was Phoenix, Arizona. It was so hot planes couldn’t take off.

Yet we’re still arguing over whether climate change is real. 

* Economy. The disparity between the poor and the wealthy is greater than it was in the Gilded Age. Remember when everyone wanted to be a millionaire? Now millionaires are a dime a dozen (if you’ll pardon the expression). Today it’s all about billionaires. In 1986, Sam Walton was the richest American with $4.5 billion. Today, the richest American is Jeff Bezos with $160 billion. There was less wealth disparity in the 50’s, with a high tax rate 70%, than we have now, with a high tax rate of 37%. The buying power of the middle class – heck the middle class itself – is disappearing. And that’s happening just as robots are arriving to take human jobs, robots that will do everything from picking out items in Amazon warehouses to helping a surgeon do a 4-way bypass. 

The disparity is so widespread we’re actually questioning the validity of the economic system that got us here: capitalism.

* US Leadership of the World. We’re losing our leadership position of the Western World. After WWII, we were the country with the power to make things right, to keep bad guys at bay. Now, as a result of stupid wars and stupid leadership, we are losing that respect. There’s a funny thing about leadership – a leader without followers is just a person with a big mouth and no audience. Between over-reach of assorted Presidents in the past 20 years and the pure disrespect for our current President, we’re fast becoming unimportant. 

That has enormous potential for trouble – worldwide – as bad guys like China and Russia fill the vacuum and assert their leadership.

* Culture change: From the founding fathers up to the 50’s, the US was led primarily by WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). In the last 70 years, that has changed as different immigrant groups arrived and started moving up the ladder, as African Americans stopped being held back and started moving up the ladder, as women stopped being tolerated and started up the ladder. Now everyone can compete and WASPs are becoming less important. The country is finally becoming the melting pot we always claimed to be. 

From Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue to Main Street, the culture is more complex and diverse than ever. Who is an American is harder to answer and more hotly debated than ever before. 

* Industrial Age vs Computer Age. The industrial revolution arrived in the middle of the 1800’s and sent the agrarian economy packing within a few decades. Kids left farms for factories. African Americans left the south in a huge migration to factories in the north. Silicon Valley, once a place of oranges and grapefruits is now the change agent for, not just the country, but the world.  

Those who aren’t conversant with computers have no one to converse with or about.

* Politics. Everywhere you look around the world, you see political change. Rightist governments are popping up everywhere, from Europe to the Philippines. Democracy, once the aspiration of peoples across the world, is being challenged by the rise of demagogues. In this country, we are having a genuine debate between capitalism and socialism. 

Which way will we go? Who knows?

These are not just a few changes. They are not minor. They are many and more varied than we have ever seen at one time. How we manage these changes, how we adapt to them, how we use them to better ourselves and others, is critical. Because they are happening now, not next year or next decade. Now.

Share this column:

About Valentine’s Day

Valentines Day is not just another Hallmark holiday, like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day.  St. Valentine was not just a creation of merchandizers looking for a new reason to shame us into buying stuff. 

There are several legends about this 3rd century martyr. The one I like centers on a law allowing married soldiers not to go to war. Emperor Claudius of Rome, leader of a small army and not wanting to make it any smaller, forbade his soldiers to marry. Valentine was a priest who valued love more than war or fear of Claudius, so he defied the ban and married soldiers and their sweethearts anyway. To mark the occasions he gave couples parchment cutouts of hearts. (Altogether, now: “Awww!”). Claudius beheaded him to set an example, so the Church, setting its own example, waited 900 years until the 12th century, to make made him a saint.

Fear and love have always fought for our hearts.

Claudius was not unique in using fear. Dictators have always used it. Hitler promoted fear of Jews to bring Germany together in the 1930’s. Stalin used fear of Siberia, torture and being disappeared. 

Even elected leaders have used it. Nixon once said “People react to fear, not love; they don’t teach that in Sunday school, but it’s true.” His fear of impeachment led to an early retirement.

Trump said, “Real power is — I don’t even want to use the word — fear.” But he sure likes using the power it generates.

Contrast that with Churchill’s “Never, never, never give in!” Or Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

Or just about anything from Jesus Christ.

Falling in love is fraught with fear. Will she love me back? Does he notice me? Am I too old, skinny, fat, ugly? Should I hook up with her? Can I trust him? Contemplating marriage is one of the scariest things ever.  Will he change over time? Will she still love me if I lose my job or my hair? Will he love me when I’m grey and my attributes are drooping?      

Sometimes fear wins. Sometimes love wins. 

I knew a couple who had diametrically opposite political views and, like most, feared the opposing party. But they held hands whenever they walked until her arthritis made it impossible. Love – love, as they might say in tennis.

Another couple had ingrained fears from similar childhood traumas. One became reactive; the other became distrustful and controlling. Despite great chemistry, they never learned to salve each other’s fears. One day her controlling triggered his reactivity, which triggered her distrust, which triggered him being thrown out like a bad piece of fruit. Love lost; fear won.

Dating websites are great examples of the fear-love conflict. Are you texting with a scammer, a potential rapist, or your next true love? But our need for love makes us brave: one third or more of marriages today began from on-line dating.

We could all learn about love from dogs. They have no fear of loving – even the biggest jerk ever – unconditionally.  Maybe they should be called “valentines”.

St. Valentine never defined human love. He just celebrated it above all else, especially fear.

Some of us have experienced and lost love. Some just read about it. The lucky ones have it. The smart lucky ones cherish, protect, and nurture it – every day.

Longtime symbol of Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe, once said: “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”  

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” – Elie Weisel

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.” – Pablo Neruda

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”  – Nat King Cole song.

My favorite definition of love came from Dr. Seuss: “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” 

There’s not a scintilla of fear in these quotes. Love wins; fear loses.

Thank you St. Valentine.

Share this column:

The Inside Scoop of Re-Homing A Dog.

Most people get dogs for one of three reasons: you lose your job; your kids need a friend who won’t criticize them when they screw up; or in today’s world a dollop of unconditional love every day goes a long way.

I recently re-homed a standard poodle. “Re-homing” is different from “rescuing”. In re-homing you have to pay the owner, not a shelter. And you don’t have to go through a whole bunch of questions shelter people always ask. 

“How big is your house?” “Do you have a fenced-in yard”. “Do you know what a pooper scooper is?” “Do you have any relatives from Viet Nam?” (The proper answers are: “3 BR, 2 Baths”, “Yes”, “Yes “, and “Absolutely not!”.) 

The re-home person asks two questions: “How do you like the dog?” “Do you have cash?” (Correct answers: “Yes” and “Yes”). See? Much easier. 

Our family had a French poodle that died three years ago. Philo was absolutely the best dog, not because he was a good family dog, which he was, but because he offered wisdom few other dogs offer. And he did it in English, French and Bark!

I meet the re-homer at a dog park and watch her poodle barking and romping with some other dogs. He wanders over to her, and then sits directly in front of me and sniffs – long and hard.

“Why do you want a dog?” he asks. 

“Uh…?”

“Hey! Pay attention, please. Why do you want a dog?” 

“Philo? Is that you?” I stammer. 

“Oh great!” says the dog. “Answer a question with a question. Another one with no manners.” He trots back off to the other dogs.

I’m flabbergasted. Bark! And English? Is this Philo re-incarnated? Nah! Can’t be. No French.

His owner looks at me a little sheepishly. “I’m sorry.” She says.”  I thought he only did that with me.”

“Hey!” from amongst the dogs. “I’m listening. Dogs have good hearing, you know.” 

“But that’s not why I have to re-home him”, she whispers. “I’ve had to move because of a new job and my new apartment doesn’t allow dogs, so…” It must be hard. I decide to get this over quickly.

“OK.” He trots back up and sits directly in front of me. “Time for the interview.”

“What interview?” I say, handing her the cash.

“The interview to see if we make a good fit,” says the dog.

“Sorry”, she says, “he insisted…” She pats his head and he licks her hand.

“This wasn’t my idea”, he says to me. “I was perfectly happy with her.”

Then, “what kind of dog food will you feed me?”

“Uh… I don’t know…Something healthy.” He looks down his nose at me.

“We’ll let that go for a minute? Where will I sleep?”

“On the floor.”

“On the floor!? What do you think I am? A Golden Retriever!?”

(A very arrogant Poodle, I think). But I say, “It’s a nice floor and there are rugs… (he looks back at her as she pauses in counting the money). “OK”, I say, “I’ll get you a dog bed!”  

He shows his teeth. (Is that a smile or is he about to bite me?)

“How many times a day will you take me for a walk?”

“How many times will you poop in the house?” (I’m getting a little annoyed.) But then, “OK… two, morning and night, right after I feed you.”

“OK, two.”

“Two walks?”

”No, two poops in the house. I’m only partially house trained.”

“I have to work and…” she says.

“OK. Four walks a day.”

“Done, unless your dog food makes me sick. Then the number goes wa-a-a-y up”. He starts off toward the other dogs.

“Is that it?” I ask her. 

“Yes”, he interrupts, before she can answer. “How complicated do you think dogs are?”

She smiles and gives him a hug.

“Be good”, she says. “I’ll miss you.” 

He licks her cheek. “Don’t be sad. I understand.”  

I leash him up and we walk toward the car. He looks back at her. “Don’t worry. It won’t take long.” He says to her.

“What won’t take long”, I ask. 

“To train you.” He hops in the car.

I sigh and get in. “Good-bye” I say to her. “Any time you want to see him, give me call.” She nods. 

I start the car and he looks at her as we pull away. “A bientot, mon amie.” 

Share this column:

Instead of a Wall, How About a Plan?

According to Pew Research, there were 10.7 million “illegals” (3.3% of the US population US) in 2016, the year of Trump’s birth as a President. The portion from Mexico has actually declined over the years, but those from Central America have increased: from 1.5 million in 2007 to 1.9 million in 2016. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are now 12 million illegal immigrants in the US today.

To stop that influx, Trump wants a 1300 mile wall. In 2017, his wall was estimated to cost between $15 billion and $25 billion, but two years later, who really knows? And the real question we’re asking ourselves is: will a wall really stop illegal immigration? 

Now, hold that thought.

World War II was, initially, just another war between European countries that had been warring with each other for centuries. It was also a continuation of WWI, which was won by the allies.  Following the old adage ”to the victors; belong the spoils”, the allies from WWI spoiled life for Germans in the form of reparations and rules that crippled the country from 1918 to 1938. 

Which really angered the Germans.

That resulted in a populist strongman who used that anger to go after its WWI enemies and start WWII. WWII was bigger, spread farther around the world, and caused far more horror than WWI, including The Holocaust and the two atom bombs dropped on Japan.  

But what’s unique about WWII is not the horror; it’s that no European country has gone to war against another since. Not so for the rest of the world, though. The US, for example, has been trying to duplicate it’s macho in WWII by engaging in wars repeadedly since 1945, some like Korea for good reasons, other, not so much. (Viet Nam, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria…). 

And we don’t seem to change. Just in the last few days, our government has “refused to rule out” military intervention in Venezuela. 

Hold that thought, too.

The primary reason for Europe’s unique peace since WWII is The Marshall Plan, named for WWII general, later Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, George Marshall. 

He, like all veterans, hated war. So he and Truman and Congress decided that, rather than punishing Germany and Italy for WWII, the US would help eliminate the reasons for that and future wars – for all of Europe including our allies, like England. They figured that if European countries were to prosper, were to bond through trade, were to talk through problems instead of cutting each other off in anger and seeking vengeance, they would have less incentive to go to war. That simple philosophy led to the UN, NATO and the European Union.

And 73 years of European prosperity and peace. 

The cost of the Marshall plan? Around $125 billion in today’s dollars. By comparison, the Viet Nam War cost over $1 trillion in today’s dollars; Afghanistan has cost us $841 billion – so far. 

OK, now back to illegals and Central America. 

Central Americans have to contend with corrupt governments, drug cartels, life-taking poverty, and being gunned down in the streets. Inflation in Venezuela is 25,000%. Venezuelan women are selling their hair just to put food on the table. Their children and others in Central America have to join gangs or be shot.

These people are not coming here for comfier movie theaters or more McDonalds burgers. They like their own cultures. They’re coming here for economic and personal safety. And they’ll do just about anything to get here, including crossing hundreds of miles of desert, giving “coyotes” their life’s savings, and, now, even risking having their children yanked away by armed guards. 

How are we responding? By arguing over the need for a wall propped up by bigger and badder security measures. By readying our military to go into Venezuela, even as Russia is threatening us if we do. 

We blew up the Middle East. Hey! How about Central America, too?

What if, instead, we helped Central Americans stay in Central America? What if we invested in their infrastructure, helped re-establish honest government in their countries, and improved their economic and personal safety? 

What if we replaced the billions spent on border control with profits from new trade? What if we reduced the amount of drugs coming into our country and the cost in lives and productivity of drug abuse and drug related crime and spent that money on our own problems? What if medieval walls were, once again, just the stuff of history books?

OK. Now let’s put it all together.

What if we tried a Marshall Plan for Central America? 

Share this column:

My Solution to Divided Government

We all know how divided the country is. We all know how divided the Congress is. We all know how divided the Supreme Court is.  

None of us know how to unite any of it again.

Imagine our government solving facing anything bigger than traffic gridlock in DC or collapsing subways in NYC or crumbling education in LA.  Imagine even that. 

Disheartening, isn’t it, especially for a country that prides itself on saving the world from Hitler, being first on the moon- all in the last century. 

In this century all we have achieved is a government that actually shuts itself down.

Big problem. No solution. At least from our leaders.

Like all solutions, the answer to this lies in understanding the problem. 

Years ago, Congress men and (the very few) women of different persuasions would actually talk to each other, go to the same cocktail parties, hang their coats in the same cloakroom. Now their only common activity is using the same cloakroom. And, if they do chummy up to someone from the other side, they have to keep it secret or get tossed out in the next election.

The problem is tribalism: groups of people who stick with their own tribe to the point of idiocy: Republicans vs Democrats, Tea Partiers vs Moderate Republicans, Progressives vs Centrist Democrats.   

It wasn’t always this way. Way back in the last century, Reagan and Tip O’Neill had drinks together of an evening, even though they were opposites in politics. It allowed them to develop trust in each other and pass some good laws. It allowed them to govern.

So, if the problem is tribalism, the solution is breaking down tribalism, right? But how? 

There’s not a lot of out-of-the-box thinking in DC these days; they’re still arguing over climate change. We have a president who envies the Great Wall of China and Senators like Grassley and Hatch, who think a millennial is some kind of Roman column. At a recent hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Facebook’s Zuckerberg if Twitter did the same thing as Facebook. Really. No joke.

Time for a new approach.  

To start, let’s take note of something new in politics for 2019: women. Half the country has always been women, but we just recently decided they might have enough brains and talent to help govern. We now have 126 women in Congress. That’s new.

And then, lets go just about as far from sclerotic DC thinking as we can. I’m thinking Silicon Valley types, high tech thinking. They’re full of novel ideas, like internet dating. 

My solution to divided government combines Internet dating and women in government into a new website just for members of Congress.

I call it “535 Date”.  

Its purpose is different from most dating websites. It is not about sex and lust, though. Nope, this website is about respect and teamwork. (Ok, maybe a little of the other two; after all, we are talking about powerful people). 

Here’s how it works:

Senators and Representatives go to the “535 Dates” website, where they choose ID’s and passwords. Each fills out some forms with their core beliefs, knowledge of government and politics, age, education, gender and, most important, ideas for new bills, aspirations for the country, ways to get along with other members.

They then peruse profiles of each other. If they see a profile they like, they email anonymously through a secure email system. They communicate tentatively at first. Then, when trust is established, they exchange email addresses and communicate more freely. Finally, they meet in person (surreptitiously at first, so fellow Democratic and Republican tribal members don’t know), possibly in the Cloakroom, or, more likely, in the corner of some dark bar in DC. They get to know each other.  They respect each other. They form friendships. 

It’s a bit of a subterfuge, of course, using a dating format to encourage respect and openness, but whatever works, right?

And voila! Friends across the aisle, the breakdown of tribalism.   

Out of deference to their high office, membership will also be granted to Trump and Pence. No worries though. Pence will refuse, because he doesn’t ever use the Internet without his wife next to him.  

It will be also an incentive for Trump to learn how to actually use a computer. 

We’re hoping he will eventually stumble onto Nancy Pelosi and a long friendship will ensue to the great relief of the entire country – not to mention Melania.

Share this column: