Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Being a Storyteller

In a recent interview for McKinsey Quartely Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman makes a brilliant point: "Overconfidence is a powerful source of illusions, primarily determined by the quality and coherence of the story that you can construct, not by its validity." We've heard it a million times: The data doesn't lie. But it really matters who is constructing the data and why. Wall Street created well-constructed illusions with its string of alphabet soup derivatives. Now, I better understand what my mother meant when after being caught in a lie she would say, "don't tell stories." It's just that the stories Wall Street tell are detrimental to us and other countries all around the world.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Being Like-Minded

"Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation."

--Romans 12:16

No matter our social status we often desire a circle of greater influence and recognition. But where there is the greatest need there is greater opportunity. This association brings fulfillment on many levels and this wisdom supersedes our daily maneuvering.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Being Constitutional

Why does it appear that some only think that we should abide by portions of the Constitution? The government is ratified to "...provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; To regulate Commerce...To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts..." But some only want to "provide ...for the common Defence." Yet, some claim that the laws passed by others are unconstitutional. If the Constitution ratifies the provision for the "general Welfare" why do some say that this is unconstitutional? If the Constitution ratifies the "progress of Science" how can a president essentially decree through an executive order the restriction of science to study stem cells for life-sustaining illnesses? (I guess that's the prerogative of the president, eh?) And, pray tell why do we cut "useful arts" in schools and give so little to arts organizations? What about the banks? Why deregulate banks when commerce, according to the Constitution, should be regulated? (I guess it has to do with getting the balance right, eh? But the balance seemed to be working jut fine prior the the massive deregulation that began with President Reagan.) All of these, not just the provision of the "common Defence," are constitutional. I suppose some might think that it's not what we do but how we do it. Okay, but why haven't we been effective in governing? Yes, waste and abuse. But has our defense budget, with multiple billion dollar contracts to private corporations, lessen our ability to govern effectively? While we expect defense to have the lion's share in the protection of our country, we should be wiser in the reasons and ways that we launch our defense. To do otherwise would seem unconstitutional, for we will only be largely abiding by portions of the Constitution and not by others. I guess the argument might be that there are provisions for the "general Welfare," and the "progress of Science." But I would argue that if these provisions are unduly restricted and are so small that they can be drowned in a bathtub, as was suggested by the Republican Grover Norquist, are these indeed provisions?

Being Excellent

"Excellence is doing ordinary things, extraordinarily well."

--John Gardner

Discover the ordinary by being exceptionally observant and listening incredibly well. The extraordinary is in the excellence of the ordinary.

(Thanks, DB, for the quote.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Being Inspired by Others

Temple Grandin is so inspirational. She says "I had to sell my work and not myself." That seems like a novel idea today. But I think we need to get back to that. We are by far too self absorbed and many great ideas are being lost because we are going after the glitter and not the gold.

Grandin also makes another great point: "The autistic mind tends to be a specialist mind, good at one thing and bad at something else." I would imagine that other minds are like this too. It is probably our egos that are so multitudinous. We like to think that we can do everything well.

Here are two more beautiful points Grandin makes. 1) "The world is going to need all of the different kinds of mind to work together." 2) "I get satisfaction out of seeing stuff that makes real change in the real world. We need a lot more of that and a lot less of abstract stuff." So true!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Being President Barack Obama

Today after a year of negotiations President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev agreed to sign a new arms control treaty. The New York Times reports that "they will fly to Prague to sign the treaty on April 8 in a ceremony designed to showcase improved relations between the two countries."

President Obama made the announcement at the White House today. "With this agreement, the United States and Russia, the two largest nuclear powers in the world, also send a clear signal that we intend to lead," he said. "By upholding our own commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, we strengthen our global efforts to stop the spread of these weapons, and to ensure that other nations meet their own responsibilities."

Will this agreement affect positive relations with Iran?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Being Violent

The violent rhetoric by leaders in Congress has to stop. Minority Leader Rep. Boehner (R-OH) said this about Rep. Driehaus (D-OH) in the National Review: "Take Steve Driehaus, for example. He may be a dead man. He can't go home to the west side of Cincinnati." Boehner said he was speaking metaphorically. That sounds like Sarah Palin speaking satirically. "What's going on?"

A protest is planned in front on Rep. Driehaus' house this weekend. When his address was posted on the Internet protesters were encouraged to "drive by." He has received death threats. Rep. Boehner's words are reprehensible. Leaders have to be held accountable for both their actions and words. Is the one who incite violence as guilty as the one who does the deed?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Being Nancy Pelosi

Ed Schultz asked, "Is Nancy Pelosi LBJ in a skirt?" She is more like Frances Perkins, the first female Secretary of Labor known for her no-nonsense negotiation style, in a suit. Without her, LBJ would not have gotten Social Security, minimum wage and unemployment insurance passed. Do you think Schultz even knows who she is? I didn't appreciate the question. Pelosi is the first female Speaker of the House. She turns 70 this Friday. This woman, as a friend suggested, deserves a card.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Being Inspired by Paul Krugman

"This is, of course, a political victory for President Obama, and a
triumph for Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker. But it is also a victory
for America’s soul. In the end, a vicious, unprincipled fear offensive
failed to block reform. This time, fear struck out."

--Paul Krugman

(Thanks, Zorro, for the article. It can be read here.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Being (Un) Inspired by Others

It has been a tradition here on Sundays to lead with an inspiring piece. But on today, the day the historic health care vote in Washington, I feel compelled to write about the despicable treatment of three African American congressmen, Representatives Andre Carson of Indiana, Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri and John Lewis of Georgia, by Tea Party protesters yesterday.

Preceding President Obama's final speech to galvanize House Democrats to vote for health care reform, thousands of Tea Party protesters gathered around the Capitol and shouted "nigger" to these congressmen and spat on them. (Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is gay, was called a "faggot.") I have been saying repeatedly here and elsewhere that while some of the Tea Party members may have legitimate concerns, the underbelly of the movement is racist. Their leaders Tom Tancredo and Mark Williams have both made racist statements. Tancredo's remarks were given at the Tea Party Convention to uproarious laughter.

Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, said "It was absolutely shocking to me. Last Monday, this past Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus of Claflin University where fifty years ago as of last Monday... I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit ins... And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since that day. I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus."

Rep Cleaver's office issued this statement:
For many of the members of the CBC, like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.

This afternoon, the Congressman was walking into the Capitol to vote, when one protester spat on him. The Congressman would like to thank the US Capitol Police officer who quickly escorted the other Members and him into the Capitol, and defused the tense situation with professionalism and care. After all the Members were safe, a full report was taken and the matter was handled by the US Capitol Police. The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol Police.

This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the "n" word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans. That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting. He looks forward to taking a historic vote on health care reform legislation tomorrow, for the residents of the Fifth District of Missouri and for all Americans. He believes deeply that tomorrow’s vote is, in fact, a vote for equality and to secure health care as a right for all. Our nation has a history of struggling each time we expand rights. Today’s protests are no different, but the Congressman believes this is worth fighting for.
As usual, Republican leaders spoke at the Tea Party protest and as usual none of them have publicly come out and condemn their actions. On the floor of the House yesterday Congressman Ryan of Ohio denounced the protesters' behavior:

Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic Majority Leader, also issued a statement condemning the protesters' remarks and behavior:
Today's protests against health insurance reform saw a rash of despicable, inflammatory behavior, much of it directed at minority Members of Congress. According to reports, anti-reform protesters spat on Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, yelled a sexual slur at Rep. Barney Frank, and addressed my dear friend, Rep. John Lewis, with a racial slur that he has sadly heard far too many times. On the one hand, I am saddened that America’s debate on health care — which could have been a national conversation of substance and respect — has degenerated to the point of such anger and incivility. But on the other, I know that every step toward a more just America has aroused similar hate in its own time; and I know that John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, has learned to wear the worst slurs as a badge of honor.

America always has room for open and spirited debate, and the hateful actions of some should not cast doubt on the good motives of the majority, on both sides of this argument. But Members of Congress and opinion leaders ought to come to terms with their responsibility for inciting the tone and actions we saw today. A debate that began with false fears of forced euthanasia has ended in a truly ugly scene. It is incumbent on all of us to do better next time.
Historically, Republicans have long stoked racial division by using hate in their ads to get out the vote. (Remember the Karl Rove Willie Horton ad and the recent "Call me" Bob Corker ad?) By not speaking out against such despicable behavior, it is clear that nothing has changed. Throughout this health care debate the Republican Party, along with their fringe element--The Tea Party, without whom what would the modern Republican Party be?--have shown themselves utterly uninspiring, unless you count the fact that they have charged people of all races to fight bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head and denounce hatred. We, the people, are many but one.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Being Republicans

There has been a lot of talk about the deficit lately by Republicans who are opposed to the health care bill. As I listened to Representative Boehner yesterday trash the bill because it will cost $940 billion to insure some 30 million more Americans, I could not help but to think about the lies and hypocrisy that usually accompany such talking points. Republicans are supposed to be conservative and Democrats are supposed to be liberal. The line has long been that Republicans cut and Democrats spend. Here is a graph of the reality of deficit spending under Republican and Democrat administrations:

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the CBO, reports that the health care bill will cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years as the government does the moral thing to offer health care to those without it. Representative Boehner entered the House of Representative in 1990, serving under both Presidents George H. Bush and George W. Bush. He didn't have any problems with increasing the deficit to record levels under these Republican administrations. His repeated Republican talking point about deficit reduction, while being in a position then and not offering a real solution now, renders his words merely mute.

Being a Detroiter

On a brilliant day of sunshine in Detroit I saw a Chrysler Charger with a rich maroon hard top with darts on all four sides pointed down onto the sparking champagne body that rode atop big spit-fire shining chrome wheels. The driver wore shades, slightly leaning to the left bobbing his head coolly--to what tune, I don't know--confidently, somewhat cocky. I smiled. That's so Detroit!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Being in Bed with Big Insurance

The Washington Post reports that the Democrats who are holding out on health care reform are those who have their coffers full of campaign funds from the insurance industry. Here are the top 20:

1. Bob Etheridge (D-North Carolina) $505,157 Uninsured in District: 21%

2. Baron P. Hill (D-Indiana) $519,000 Uninsured in District: 14.3%

3. Michale Capuno (D-Massachusetts) $550,401 Uninsured in District: 6.8%

4. Melissa Luburic (D-Illinois) $551,000 Uninsured in District: 11.5%

5. Timothy H. Bishop (D-New York) $557,086 Uninsured in District: 11.3%

6. Dennis Moore $631,885 (D-Kansas) Uninsured in District: 12.9%

7. Betty Sutton $621,036 (D-Ohio) Uninsured in District: 13%

8. Marion Berry $634,417 (D-Arkansas) Uninsured in District: 21.7%

9. Rick Boucher $642,917 (D-Nevada) Uninsured in District: 16%

10. Ron Klein $648,778 (D-Florida) Uninsured in District: 19.4%

11. David Wu $671,035 (D-Oregon) 14.8% Uninsured in District: 14.8%

12. Bart Stupak $800,455 (D-Michigan) Uninsured in District: 15.3%

13. Ron Kind $841,913 (D-Wisconsin) Uninsured in District: 11.7%

14. David Obey $900,000 (D-Wisconsin) Uninsured in District: 12.9%

15. Jim Cooper $1 Million (D-Tennessee) Uninsured in District: 15.6%

16. Richard Edmund $1.1 Million (D-Massachusetts) Uninsured in District: 4.3%

17. Shelley Berkley $1.1 Million (D-Nevada) Uninsured in District: 28.3%

18. Carol Shea-Porter $1.2 Million (D-New Hampshire) Uninsured in District: 12.3%

19. Baton Jennings $1.4 Million (D-Tennessee) Uninsured in District: 14.2%

20. Earl Ralph Pomeroy $2.1 Million (D-North Dakota) Uninsured in District: 12.1%

Now, do you really think these campaign funds don't influence their vote? Do you really think that they care about us more than themselves?

Being Friends

When I was a kid I had a friend who was rich. She was rich and slow. I was not rich and fast. We became good friends. Her parents always looked after me when I could not afford to participate in certain activities and I always defended her if anyone even looked at her sideways. She was always in the "in crowd" because wherever I was she was there too. Recently, she found me online and we have gotten reconnected after many years. She is going through a bit of a difficult time financially. I cannot even begin to tell you the joy I felt in being able to assist her. Friends are forever.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Being a Tea Party Leader

Dick Armey, a leader in the Tea Party movement, recently said that Tom Tancredo, another leader in this movement, is "destructive" to the Republican Party. I could not help but to wonder what kind of force does Armey think he is. The once former Majority House Leader presided over a Congress blighted by scandal and excessive spending. When Armey was asked why he, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, both of whom left Congress disgracefully, racked up excesses in federal pork that made the Democrats look quite conservative, he replied, "To the victors go the spoils." Now, Armey seeks to create a conservative image and legitimize a movement whose underpinning is racist in nature. (Why can't these old dudes just find something else to do?)

This year at CPAC, Dick Armey said these things about President Obama: "You're intellectually shallow. You're a romantic. You're self-indulgent. You have no ability. You're the most incompetent president perhaps in our lifetime." As you can well understand, Armey himself continues to be destructive to the Republican Party. For the record, so is Tom Tancredo. I have written of him on this blog before. Like Armey, he is prone to saying racist and sexist remarks. You can read of Tancredo here when he addressed the Tea Party Convention. He received wild applause in the hall for his racist remarks. The followers of the Tea Party are obviously like their leaders.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Being Juan Ramon Jiminez

I Took Off Petal After Petal

I took off petal after petal, as if you were a rose,
in order to see your soul,
and I didn’t see it.

However, everything around-
horizons of fields and oceans-
everything, even what was infinite,
was filled with a perfume,
immense and living.

(Translation by Robert Bly)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Being Inspired by Others

President Obama awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the first women pilots who served during World War II. During the ceremony the Associated Press reports that one of the pilots, Deanie Parrish, said that they "served our country without any expectation of recognition or glory and we did it without compromising the values that we were taught growing up."

There were more than 1,000 women in the program and some 300 are believed to still be alive. We are happy that these women were finally honored. They are truly inspiring.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Being Texans

What's going on in Texas? Over the summer Governor Rick Perry wanted to secede from the Union. Now, the New York Times reports that Conservatives won a vote which changes textbooks throughout the state. The change skews history and cuts Thomas Jefferson from texts because he coined the phrase "separation of church and state."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Being a Working Girl

Working Girl is one of my favorite movies and I love this song!

"Let the river run. Let all the dreamers wake the nations. Come, the New Jerusalem"

(The opening backdrop engendered heartbreaking memories. Blessings to all!)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Being Non-News

What an utter waste this whole talk of former Representative Massa's "snorkeling" and "tickle fights" has been. Who gives a flying fart, really? Why are the news networks making such a big deal of this? It's pure foolishness. What a waste of airtime. News has largely become gossip. Is this really what viewers want?

I agree with Representative Kennedy.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Being Precious

I love the movie, "Precious." I saw it last night and was moved incredibly. It is difficult not to love Precious and to completely empathize with her. The script is fantastic. It is obvious why Geoffrey Fletcher won the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay. (His acceptance speech was beautiful.) Mo'Nique also delivered a powerful believable performance and it is obvious why she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Even though her role was extremely brutal and harsh, there was even a humane tender moment for her character which was brilliantly acted. (Her acceptance speech was not so beautiful.) Gabourey Sidibe was utterly believable as Precious. And, how precious she is in this role. Sidibe was nominated in the Best Actress category. I was so inspired by two interviews that I saw with her that I wrote of her here last year and included the videos. May God bless the precious young women in such a plight all around the world.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Being Goldman Sachs

David Pfeiffer, Communications Director for the White House, wrote in a blog post on Sunday that Goldman Sachs advised their investors that "profits will continue to soar under the status quo." Now, where do you think Goldman Sachs' interests lie?

Being Non-News

Fox News reported incessantly on ACORN and assisted in their losing 3 million dollars of government funding which was largely used to get out the vote, especially of those who have never been active in their government. Fox News and Republicans praised James O'Keefe, the young man who was later charged with attempting to wire tap Senator Landrieu's phone, for setting up a prostitution plot that was supposed to reveal that ACORN was an illegitimate organization. This seemed to me then and even more so now to have been an attempt to suppress the vote. ACORN had gotten 1.2 million people to vote in the last election. Stephen Colbert breaks it down for us:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tip/Wag - James O'Keefe & Sean Hannity
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorSkate Expectations

Being True

"This above all: To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."

–Shakespeare, Hamlet: Act 1, Scene 3

Being true first begins with ourselves.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Being Inspired by Others

Psalm 8

O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,

4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?

5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands. You have put all things under his feet,

7 All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,

8 The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Being Happiness

What happiness! Coca Cola puts a "happiness machine" in the middle of a college campus. This is just delightful!

Make someone happy today! Be happiness!

Being Mozart

Mozart, the genius of composition, touches the heart forever. Here is the sublime trio, "Soave sia il vento" translated "May the Wind be Gentle" from his rather comical opera Cosi Fan Tutte typically translated "All Women are Alike." Go figure! Are we? Are men really from Mars and women from Venus? Don't we really want the same things? Perhaps it's a simple--or not so simple--matter of how we go about getting them. Are some caught in between? Where might this place be? Pluto? Oh, it's no longer a planet anymore, is it? Perhaps this is the feeling of many--the sense of being nowhere, of not being understood or not being emotionally wholly in one category of the other. But I digress.

In the trio the men are leaving the young women in a state of extreme distraught, wondering when or if they'll see their lovers again. Notice the underlining troubling "waves" of the orchestra over the calm plaintive wails of the singers, setting up the theme of the opera and a beautiful tension similar to real life—not that such tensions are always beautiful. Often times separation and gender differences are just painful. But do sometimes they hurt so good—just a little? The trio appears in Act I which sets the scene for a series of strange happenings, ensuring that things will never be the same for the young lovers ever again. Here is the translation: "May the wind be gentle, may the wave (s) be calm, and may every one of the elements warmly fulfill our (your) wishes." Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Being Happy

Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and Nobel Prize laureate for his groundbreaking work in behavioral economics, gave a thoughtful talk at TED this year. He dealt with the paradox between the experience and memory selves and how it applies to happiness. Kahneman asserts that time is the crucial element that distinguishes the experience and memory selves. He concludes that there is no change in time in the story; the story itself as actually experienced doesn't change. But what about our memory of it? Memory seems to evolve in time even though there is no actual change in the story itself. Our memory of the story often changes. Kahneman asserts that "we choose between memories of the experience." But I wonder about our recreating or reinventing the experience. Does this become memory?

What we think about "the happiness of the experiencing self and the satisfaction of the memory self" are very different, Khaneman posits. There is nothing new here really. I think this relates to our ability to invent stories, even memorable ones, those re-created by memory from the story. The mind seems to have a distinct ability to create stories, to develop pictures. But what is interesting is how these distinct selves relate to our happiness or sense of it. Kahnenman asserts that "happiness is not a substitute for well-being. They are two different notions." He gives stats that unequivocally indicate that money plays a role in how we remember happiness but not how we experience it. Do listen to the 20-minute video. You might find in interesting, even applicable in how we think about happiness.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Being for Public Schools

In 2005 former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch wrote, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act ... All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation."

In 2009 Ravitch has changed her mind. "I was known as a conservative advocate of many of these policies," Ravitch says. "But I've looked at the evidence and I've concluded they're wrong. They've put us on the wrong track. I feel passionately about the improvement of public education and I don't think any of this is going to improve public education."

Ravitch appeared on NPR today.

Ravitch believes that No Child Left Behind "misuses standardized testing."

"The basic strategy is measuring and punishing. And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there's a lot of cheating going on, there's a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it's actually lowered standards because many states have 'dumbed down' their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are."

Ravitch opposes charter schools, as they take money away from public schools and have not been proven to be any better largely. She also opposes competition within education.

"There should not be an education marketplace, there should not be competition," Ravitch says. "Schools operate fundamentally — or should operate — like families. The fundamental principle by which education proceeds is collaboration. Teachers are supposed to share what works; schools are supposed to get together and talk about what's [been successful] for them. They're not supposed to hide their trade secrets and have a survival of the fittest competition with the school down the block."

I agree with Ravitch point by point.

Being in the Old Guard

Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution stipulates the age limit to join the House of Representative as 25. Article 1 Section 3 of the Constitution stipulates the age limit to join the Senate as 30. Why isn't there a stipulation that requires those in the House and Senate to retire at a certain age? What might that age be? If we are not going to impose term limits maybe there should be age limits on both ends, entering and exiting. I'm getting really tired of the same staid faces which usually represent the same staid ideas.

Being Senator Jon Kyl

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is against unemployment insurance and Cobra extensions that would enable families to subsist and get some form of health care insurance while they search for work. Okay, that's his stance. But as a legislator what is he doing to assist those who have given into the system and through no fault of their own have been laid off? We can all take a stance but as a legislator I want to know what is he doing about our current state. Otherwise, it is my opinion that instead of holding up benefits that other states desperately need he can go back to Arizona and find another job himself and pay for his family's health care benefits without Cobra.

Here in Michigan there are just as many white collar workers and blue collar workers who are without jobs. What is the solution right now? There seemed to be no problem in giving hundreds of billions to Wall Street banks who are now making record profits. Everything takes time in Washington. The Stimulus is working but not fast enough. Again, if companies (large and small) are not hiring and banks are not lending what should be done right now?

Unemployment insurance "doesn't create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work," Kyl said during debate in the Senate yesterday on whether to extend unemployment insurance and other benefits that would assist families during this incredibly difficult time. "I'm sure most of them would like work and probably have tried to seek it, but you can't argue that it's a job enhancer," Kyl continued. "If anything, as I said, it's a disincentive. And the same thing with the COBRA extension and the other extensions here."

As a business owner, I employ others. I vehemently disagree with Senator Kyl. I'm actually out in this incredibly difficult jobs environment; he's largely pontificating in Washington. Most people would much rather have a job than receive unemployment insurance. It's not a "disincentive." It's not called unemployment insurance for nothing. It's insurance for those who have already paid into the system. Being from Michigan, the hardest hit state with the highest unemployment, I am acutely aware that many are laid off of work due to no fault of their own and are hitting the payment every single day in search of work.

A recent jobs fair in downtown Detroit nearly caused a stampede. I have hired many of these. I see the pain on the faces of unemployed men and the fear in the eyes of single mothers. Questions are prevalent on their faces: Will I be able to feed my family? Will I lose my home? They are not using unemployment insurance as a "disincentive." They are out every day looking for work. But right now they need assistance.

Being Merciful

"For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment."

--James 2:13

Be merciful.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Being Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett has never been out so much on television as he has been in the last two years. Usually, we see him once a year during his annual quirky shareholders' meeting in Omaha. The interesting thing is that Berkshire has never been in such a dubious position as it has been over the same period. Yes, I'm aware that Berkshire has been profitable lately. Do you remember how much Buffett was insisting on the need for bank bailouts? He had vested interests, real skin in the game.

There seems to be a correlation with the once reclusive billionaire investor and the now very talkative one. Buffett talks health care today as a typical politician in a back and forth wiggle room position, rejecting the current bill while saying that other countries--mostly socialized countries I might add--do it better. The world pays about 9 percent of their GDP on health care he noted. We pay 17 percent.

Buffett says that we should "attack cost cost cost" as "jobs jobs jobs." But he doesn't suggest how these things might be done. Real lawmakers, not obstructionists, are in the real position of dealing with how things are done. Often times, comprises are necessary. I did not like the tone Buffett took on President Obama's effort of bipartisanship and beginning anew with that infamous "white sheet of paper" is out of the question.

Regarding the health care bill, Buffett says that he would prefer a Plan C as opposed to the current A or B but he doesn't say how this Plan C would look or why his ideas--whatever they are--could be added to the current bill. His uncertainty or inability to actually express what he means did not instill confidence.

The Oracle of Omaha seemed to be a bit of red meat for the giddy often ill-informed CNBC analysts who tried to force him to say what he was actually saying as opposed to dancing like an inept dancer. Perhaps Buffett felt as if he needed to make a television appearance as George Soros' did brilliantly yesterday on Fareed Zakaria GPS. It did not work well for him.

An article in the Huffington Post reports that "Berkshire owns clothing, furniture, jewelry and corporate jet firms, but its insurance and utility businesses accounted for one-third of the company's profit last year. It's net income jumped 61 percent in 2009 to $8.1 billion largely because the value of its investments and derivatives rose sharply."

As I read this I couldn't help but to wonder if Berkshire is so very profitable as Goldman Sachs now is through government bailouts of Wall Street firms. (Yes, I understood the necessity of the bailouts, although not the lack of accountability.) Goldman Sachs is now also reporting record profits. After all, Berkshire was heavily invested in Goldman Sachs and Goldman Sachs heavily insured by AIG. As indicated above "insurance and utility accounted for one-third of the company's profits last year." A question: Are banks essentially utilities?

What a web we are all in. But some of us get caught therein while others win big, lecturing us on what we need to do without offering any real solutions on how to do it. There is cost control containment in the current health care bill, although perhaps there could be more. Some would say that the public option would insure greater cost containment.

While being for the public option, it is not a deal breaker for me in this first stage of health care reform. Changes to Medicare has also occurred over time. But if Warren Buffett has an opinion on what needs to be further included in the current health care bill he should say so or otherwise not comment at all. After all, he is known to be the Oracle of Omaha and some might just listen to him. But in this CNBC interview what has he really said?