Thursday, December 28, 2017

Avoiding the bitcoin bubble.

I have had thoughts on bitcoin for sometime and finally decided to write about it. (See article here)

However there was a lot of things I didn't get a chance to write about because of limitations with getting it to fit on the printed page, so I will elaborate a little on this post.

I give several reasons in the article for not investing in bitcoin, at this time. The first is security. I mention the fact that there are direct scams but do not go into perhaps the biggest scam, ICO's. That stands for initial coin offering. ICO's have been popping up. The idea is that you get to purchase a new cryptocurrency coin right at the beginning, so you can reap the rewards when it explodes, just like bitcoin is doing. This is the old, getting in on the ground floor, idea. The problem is most of these simply to take you from the ground floor to the basement by running off with your money.

There is also the potential to loose all your bitcoin if you personally store it on a personal computer and that computer crashes. I mentioned, in the article, that you  could have others store it for you but those can be hacked. Mt. Gox was the most famous story and I mention it, but they are not the only bitcoin exchange that has been hacked and had millions of bitcoin stolen from those who store their bitcoin with them (here is a great article on some of the hacks). Many now believe that such hacks are being done by North Korean hackers. North Korea is under extreme sanctions from the US and other countries and is in desperate need to get cash to continue the arms race they are in. Bitcoin is one way the North Korean government has used to get around such sanctions and to directly steel the needed money. The more bitcoin increases in value the more we will see hackers and scammers doing whatever they can to get access to your money.  With credit cards and many other forms of financial exchange you have many built in securities, bitcoin does not. If you get swindled out of your bitcoin, or out of your money trying to buy bitcoin, you can kiss it all goodbye.

Regulation is the next point I make. Silk Road, the ebay of drugs, was shut down by the FBI in October of 2013. The story of how FBI agents were able to capture the administrator of the site will be told for years and is well worth reading if you have not (here it is). The site ran almost exclusively on bitcoin. As the story points out, bitcoin provides a certain level of anonymity that criminals love, but crime fighters do not. They will find a way and criminals will move onto something else. The fact that them vacating the currency will crash it's value will mean nothing to them, but will be to you if you  happen to buy it when it was high.

The next thing is competition. Recently bitcoin itself went through what they are calling a "hard fork".  Bitcoin insiders, (whomever that is) realized that bitcoin could not handle the amount of transactions that were occurring in a timely manner. So they came up with an improvement, the problem was there was arguments about how to deal with this and that is what led to the two currencies. But as I note this is not really the competition that I think could lead to a bitcoin crash. I note in my article there are 900 different currencies. Each I am sure has pros and cons but what this really points to is the fact that these are not difficult to make. Bitcoin does has the advantage of the first big one to market but it doesn't have the backing of the big financial players. What would happen if cryptocurriencies got big enough? What would stop a JP Morgan Chase from creating one? Visa? The United States Government? And at that point which one would people gravitate to? I don't know, but I would defiantly not say bitcoin is for sure the future even if cryptocurrency is.

Lastly I point out that why bitcoin is sold as a currency, most people are buying it as an investment, creating a false demand. I would never invest in something I didn't understand, and that is bitcoin for most of us. And I would never invest in something that is not what it claims to be. (This is true of Whole live insurance, it suffers from an identity crisis of trying to both an insurance and an investment and it does do both, just really poorly.) For bitcoin that is a currency. How is it not a currency? Well most people who trade for it do not use it to exchange for goods, rather they hoard it. I think we are all better off when we use currencies for currencies, insurance for insurance and investments for investments. Trying to mix these usually leads to poor currency, bad insurance, and low return investments, and that is exactly what I think will happen with most people who buy bitcoin.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Have you left the Comfort Zone?

Today I wrote about the wonder of a local amateur choir (read it here).

My point is part joy in this particular choir and sorrow in the shrinking number of community choirs, theaters, bands and other forms of amateur entertainment. My article focuses on one aspect that may be a cause in limiting this, access to very cheap, high quality entertainment. But I wanted to write about another one...our comfort zone.

This week I had ample opportunity to think more on amateur entertainment. My kids performed in five different, stage, choir, recital or other performances. Weather it's public speaking, a test, a recital, or sporting event we give our children ample opportunity for these type of events.We encourage our children to do these kind of things because it stretches them.  It forces them out of their comfort zone. But such opportunities seem to become more and more limited for adults, partially because we don't like getting out of our comfort zone, it's uncomfortable.

I noticed an interesting post on Facebook today. It was Councilman Harhay attending his sons music concert. One comment was how much music, that had started at school bands for someone else had enriched their lives. I thought of my own mother, she dragged me kicking and screaming to addition for my first play, The Nerd, (I played a bratty kid, a part my mother new I would be qualified for). After that I acted in several plays and films, it was a very rewarding part of my life.

But without a mother to drag us do we still challenge ourselves...go out of our comfort zone. Do we practice the piano and force ourselves to perform? Do we challenge and push ourselves to do something we have never done before?

When was the last time you left your comfort zone? Doing so can lead yourself and those around you to amazing, wonderful and rewording things.  So again, I salute Red Mountain Choir for giving so many a chance to expand their comfort zone and in so doing providing amazing entertainment for all of us in this community.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Principles vs. Compromise

Today I wrote about Boulder City finding the right balance in negotiations with a developer. (Read here)

But it hints at a larger issue in politics and that is principles vs. compromise. We all want principled politicians, and talk of the need for people to stick to their principles. To ensure they do we often ask them to sign pledges. One, may be a pledge that they won’t raise taxes or a pledge to protect social security. But we also say politicians need to be able to compromise. Be willing to give a little. These two ideals often seem to conflict and people often use them to their own benefit.  They say that a politician has no principles when they compromise something they would not, and get upset the politician won’t compromise when it would better align with their views.

Truth is, I respect someone who will not compromise on core principles but find that most political issues do not fall under core principles, no matter how much we want them to. Taxes, social programs, and zoning laws are all important policies that can be guided by our principles but the specifics of the policy is not a core principle that cannot be compromised.

One of the Boulder City Council Candadites was asked to sign a pledge and replied that the only pledge he would agree to was the pledge of allegiance to our flag. That was Councilman Harhay and that position was wise, not necessarily politically wise but simply incredibly sage.  My respect for Councilman Harhay has grown and his decision to compromise that I wrote about this week led to many online critics but I think he and others on our council are successfully finding that they can indeed both compromise and stay true to their principles.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Taxes?

This week in my article I tackle my views on  taxes and the evil 1%. (Read it here)

But in reality this is more focused on us as individuals than it is on congress. I generally feel what we do is far more important than what congress does. So, what are my views on what congress should do?

I am very concerned with deficit spending and our debt. Everyone I talk to is. And every person, and for that matter, every president has a solution. The solution everyone always has is to do exactly what their side of the isle wants. What do I mean? When a Republican wins election he says he will get rid of deficits by slashing domestic spending, slashing it so much that he will be able to lower taxes, increase military spending and still eliminate the deficit. Democrats will get rid of the deficit by raising taxes on the rich and cutting military spending. They will raise taxes so much that they will have more money for increased domestic spending and still be rid of the deficit.

These are always their campaign promises, yet what really happens. Without a willingness to compromise, Republicans can somehow find the political fortitude to cut taxes, but somehow lack the political capital to meaningfully cut spending. So, the debt only goes up. Democrats seem to muster the political strength to increase domestic programs and spending, but somehow can't seem to actually effectively raise taxes. So, the debt also goes up. So what do we get? More and more deficits, more and more debt. (This is aptly shown in one of my favorite Studio C skits) They all say the deficit is a huge issue and cry foul when the other party wants to raise it, but somehow become blind to it when their own party wants to raise it. The same democrats who will moan that the deficit will increase under current GOP tax cuts didn't seem too worried when the ARRA was being passed, knowing full well it would raise our deficit. Similarly many Republicans who said it was immoral to even consider ARRA given what it would do to the deficit, now somehow feel that a tax plan that massively increases deficits is okay.

I would like to see a congress and president finally embrace the fact that this issue is so important that they have to be willing to do things unpopular with their party in order to compromise and move the needle. That means Republicans willing to raise taxes, and cut military spending and Democrats willing to cut domestic spending. Could such heretics of their parties sacred cows get elected? Probably not. And that is why we will continue to get each president promise a way out of deficit spending only to see it go on.

(In my lifetime the only time we got close to truly having true surplus was in 2000 when the debt was raised by a meager 17 Billion dollars, very minor compared to most other years. How was this accomplished. Clinton both raised taxes, had a booming economy, cut military spending and yes, cut domestic spending. He, a democrat, worked with a republican congress to actually cut a domestic program. But did any President since follow suite, work with the other side and really take a hit to find a decent compromise? No, push only what their side wants and the debt has done nothing but climb.)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Paralegal to Prostitute

Jennifer and Myself in Denver



Jennifer was only 12 years old when she first found herself living on the streets. Mom demanded she attend school and she just wanted to goof off. "Most nights, I would find someone’s couch to crash on," she remembers. By 13, she was into drugs and in and out of juvenile detention. At 19, she was pregnant, and she gave birth prematurely to a boy who came out heavily addicted to alcohol and drugs. Not surprisingly, the state took the child. But finding foster care for such a high needs infant can be difficult (see my post on Doug Broadbent).

The state was lucky. A nurse with all the right background and knowledge had recently decided to foster. This would be her first and last foster child because after 6 months they were sick of being foster parents and simply wanted to be parents. The couple approached Jennifer and asked that she give up any rights to the child to allow them to adopt. While it was hard, she agreed, "They were going to give him a much better chance at life than I was prepared to give."

Since the birth, her personal life had not improved. Drugs still ruled her every action, and shortly after the adoption was finalized she again found herself in jail. However jail proved exactly what she needed. She went straight from jail to a rehabilitation facility. She was released at age 22 and that is when she began to get her life back. After acquiring her GED, she entered school at University of Colorado Denver to work on a Political Science degree. She married, got a job as a waitress, and most importantly, stayed sober. As she neared graduation she began to feel maybe Political Science was a mistake and took side classes to get a certificate as a paralegal. As she neared graduation she began an internship in her new field.

Then it happened. It had been 7 years of sobriety, but avoiding drugs doesn't guarantee an easy life. Her marriage was hurting and it ended in an ugly divorce. "After the divorce, I felt like a failure and just lost all my motivation." She lost her internship, dropped out of school and returned to drugs, streets and crime. That was five years ago.

I saw her near a Wal-Mart holding a sign that said, “Trying to pick myself up by going lower." When asked to explain, she said that she was trying to get a job as a sign flipper which many considered low, but any job would be higher for her. She said she was guilty of anything to get the drugs, but had finally decided that stealing and prostitution weren't worth it and that she had stopped those. She recounted how even begging was a step up from those.

As I thought of the lessons I learned from Jennifer, I thought of Oswaldo, another person dragged into a life of addiction at a young age. I also thought of how hard it would be to give up your only son. Even though the state had taken the child, if she hadn’t given up rights, he could be bouncing around in our legal system from foster home to foster home to this day. She did exactly what someone who loves their child should do, give him the best chance for happiness in a home with a loving father and mother. She said it better than I could: "I am proud of myself for giving him up, no matter how hard it was, and I'm grateful for the great parents who are raising him."

But the other thing I can't get out of my mind is the night 5 years ago when she felt so empty. When the failure of her marriage made her feel a failure at life to the point that she was ready to reenter the hell of addiction she had left seven years before. Why couldn't someone have been there to take her to dinner that night? To help her see how far she had come and how much she had to keep fighting for? If she had not slipped back into the darkness of her past that night, where might she be today?

Who around us is struggling today? Who is about to fall? Those in the depths of despair won't usually call out for help. Rather, we need to be in touch with their needs and call them up, seek them out, and rescue them before they surrender to whatever hell is closing in.

I wasn't there for Jennifer that day, but who can I be there for today?




If you liked this check out my last Homeless post: Devastating Debt

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Improving Historic Preservation

This week I write about how Boulder City could work together to improve historic preservation. (Read Here).

I try to layout things I would want to see if I were going to vote on a measure that increases the strength of our historic preservation laws. But truth is, what I want to see is not nearly as important as what the council wants to see, and is willing to vote for.

It is clear that Councilman McManus is the easy vote on this. He has brought up items in the past that would strengthen historical preservation. The problem is, it was always seen as too limiting to property rights and was voted down.

So the focus needs to be on the other four votes, if historic preservation change is going to occur. In the most recent election Councilman Harhay made it very clear that he believes in, and would protect property rights. With that said, I believe, all on the council believe in, and see the value in historic preservation. What is needed is to find language that strikes the proper balance between preservation and property rights. A great place to start is by conversing with Councilwoman Leavitt, Councilman Schuman and Harhay, as well as the Mayor to find a balance they could support. Then a good balance could be found and something might pass. This will take compromise, work and working with those we don’t always agree with.

However, if those trying to get this to pass, simply move forward with crafting the language, and constantly paint the council as outsiders working against them, with language such as, “We got to show them they must vote for this or ruin their political careers” or  “ We crafted something great but they and their crony’s are probably going to vote it down...recall.” Then we will have an, “us vs. them.” and it won’t pass.

I sure like the first option much more. And truthfully feel it has the best chance of success. What about you?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Quick thought on thoughts and The Las Vegas shooting

"Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results."  --Willie Nelson

Much has been said, and rightly so, about the power of positive thinking. But we typically apply that to thoughts about ourselves. Think about making the shot in basketball or getting the promotion at work. But what about the media we choose to partake of and how we think about it.

When a hurricane hits do we only focus on death toll and devastation or the thousand acts of heroism, selflessness, and service that follow.

When we follow news on politics do we only look for scandal, attacks and disagreement and avoid the news of the hundreds of men and women who work day in and day out in politics because they truely hope to improve our society.

I write a little about this and how it apples to the horrid and cowardly incident, that was full of wonderful and heroic men and women in Las Vegas. Here is the article

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

You can vote... as long as you're not Mormon.

This week I wrote an article about Mormons and Boulder City Politics (Click Here).

In the article, I mentioned some of the early political and religious persecution that Mormons faced in Missouri in 1838. Among those that were driven from their homes in the freezing cold as part of Governor Boggs Extermination Order was one of my great grandfathers, John Telford. Below is an except from his history:

"At one time during this distressing period when he and all of his family except Robert were down in bed with chills and fever, the mob came and ordered them out of their home. The victims of this fever were very ill, but John and his wife were fortunate that their worst time occurred on alternate days so when one was too sick to get up it was possible for the other to help take care of the children. On the day that the mob came John was so helpless and ill that it aroused the sympathy of one member of the mob who objected to the heartless treatment imposed upon them by the mobbers and interceded for them, and got the mob to consent to let them remain in their home until the following day, but when the morning came conditions were even worse and neither John nor his wife were able to get up when the mob returned. This only added to the fury of the men and they threatened to burn the family with the house unless they would denounce Joseph Smith as an imposter. This they refused to do although the mobbers devised every means to get them to discredit the Prophet. When their efforts failed they prepared to carry out their inhumane threats, but the man who had interceded for them on the previous day defied the mob and carried the family out of the house, against the blasphemous threats of the mobbers. He helped them to get away in safety by marching with his gun between their wagon and the anger crazed mob for a mile while their home and their crops and all their possessions were consumed by fire, Even the great stacks of sacked wheat that was piled in the yard during the harvest was also burned by the infuriated mob."

Reading this account has always brought me grief for the suffering caused to my forefathers because of the fear and prejudice of these early frontiersmen, but it was discussing this with my Father that I discovered something that I had not known about Mormons and politics in his home state. Idaho's constitution specifically denied Mormons the right to vote, hold office, or serve on a jury.  It was in the year 1889 that Idaho drafted their constitution. In order to ensure that congress approved their petition to become a state they felt the need to distance themselves from Mormons. At the time Mormons were not very popular due to their practice of polygamy. In fact the United States had passed the Edmunds Act in 1882 that specifically bared polygamist, people cohabiting and anyone belonging to an organization that promoted polygamy or cohabitation from voting or holding office.  Since Mormons belong to an organization that promoted polygamy they all were restricted from voting, even though only 1% of them actually practiced polygamy. The Idaho constitution followed suit, except it added the word celestial marriage to polygamy.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints officially stopped the practice of polygamy by an official declaration by Prophet Wilford Woodruff in 1890. At this point, under the Edmunds Act they could vote, however in Idaho it was still in question. In 1908, it was taken to the Idaho supreme court  in (Toncray vs. Budge) and determined that celestial marriage was not polygamy but anyone who had a monogamous marriage in the temple, and since Mormons encouraged people to marry in the temple, it applied to all Mormons. Therefore if you were Mormon, you could not vote. They even expanded that it applied to all who are, or ever were, Mormon. This was done because the fear that people would denounce the church, vote, and then go back. I could not find how extensively this provision was enforced and when exactly it stopped. (Some claim it stopped when the test act, the act relating to making people sign a statement that they were not Mormon, was repealed in 1892, however Toncray vs. Budge came after this time, so it clearly was still upheld, at least in the courts.) It was clear that the anti-discrimination laws passed in the 60's would have likely put an end to the practice, if it hadn't already stopped.

In 1982 a Mormon and Native American Larry Echo Hawk was voted into the Idaho State Legislature, it was by no means the first time a Mormon was elected, but what made it different was that also on the ballot was the Idaho Remove Voter Disqualification Amendment. It proposed removing the language that barred Mormons from voting. Part of the reason was that Mormons who served in the state always had a hard time promising to defend the state constitution that barred them from voting or holding office. It passed 65% to 35%, with over a third of the population voting to leave the language barring Mormons from voting on the books.

Sometimes I don't the fight for our freedoms as seriously as I should. The years where we didn't allow people to vote because of race, gender or religion seemed so far in the past that I have generally felt removed from those experiences, but 1982 or even the 1908, wasn't that long ago and we need to stay engaged to ensure it doesn't happen again to any group of people, no matter how small and strange or how large and influential they appear to be.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Devastating debt

Tom and Keith-Tom is the older gentleman

Deciding on dinner when I’m out of town and alone can be tough. I get tired of fast food, and sitting alone in a sit-down restaurant is not my style. Once, while in Denver with my family, we all went to Casa Bonita, a restaurant full of interesting scenery and a big waterfall that performers dive into while patrons eat. I drove over to the restaurant, thinking I might go again, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk in alone. I begin walking down the street.

Colfax Street was likely at one time a nice road, but now it’s rundown and flanked with smoke shops, pawnshops, and tattoo and massage parlors. A few blocks down, Walmart has built up a very nice shopping center with a dry riverbed and bridge, set back a little from the road.
This is clearly a popular place for the homeless to gather. I approach two men and start a conversation. Keith came from Pennsylvania (an interview from earlier)

Tom is older and has been in Denver since 1985. He grew up in Helena, Montana, the youngest of 8 kids. He has lost track of all of his siblings. He heard that one of his brothers, who had been a Catholic Priest in San Francisco, had died of AIDS, but he didn’t find out about it until several years later.

In 1978, Tom graduated from high school and worked in Helena for 7 years. Then in 1985, he decided to come out to Denver for an ACDC concert. He never went back. “I loved the weather, the mountains, and the atmosphere, so I decided to stay. Shortly after that, I fell in love, got married, and had a daughter.”

“What did you do for a living?”

“Heating and cooling mechanic. I even went to school at Metro Tech for drafting, but that didn’t work out.”

“You ever see your kid?”

“I haven’t seen my daughter in 5 years. She’s 30 now and lives in Denver, or at least she did last time I saw her. See, when she was 8, I came home from work one day, and everything was gone—my wife, my daughter, and the furniture. I took 3 weeks off work to look for them. Turns out she had run off with her ex-husband. She took my daughter, and her stepdad raised her as her father. She even took his name.”

Tom is surprisingly void of emotion as he tells this tragic story. He shows no bitterness towards his ex-wife or this man who replaced him in his family. It is not clear if time has healed his wounds or if he really feels this was best situation for his daughter anyway.

I’d seen such family breakups be the catalyst for homelessness, so I ask, “Is that when you became homeless?”

“No, I went back to work and did okay for another 10 years or so. Shortly after my wife left, in 1991, I bought a home. It was a nice 3-bed, 2-bath home, and the payment was only $450. But I took out several home equity loans, and my payment became over $900, so I sold it so it wouldn’t get foreclosed on. That is when I found myself on the streets.”

We talked for over an hour as we ate a sandwich from Jimmy John’s. Keith and Tom told me how they avoided downtown because of crime, how they remove “no smoking” signs at bus stops, and how it’s only safe to gather in groups of less than 4 and not on the Wal-Mart side of the channel.
Homelessness is almost never to be blamed on a single cause it’s usually multi-faceted a broken home, addiction, mental illness, adventure, etc. But sometimes you can see a primary cause, and for Tom, it was debt. As Tom spoke, I could see and how crushing debt can be, and I felt deeply grateful for my parents and church leaders who regularly spoke out about the negative impact of debt.

His story also led me to ask myself, Do we make getting debt too easy? Do we do enough to discourage debt? Would the financial advisers call the loans Tom had taken out and that eventually put him on the streets, ‘good debt’?

As noted above, choosing where to eat when out of town can be difficult. If I had chosen to eat alone, I could have had a much nicer meal for what I spent that night, but I am certain it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable or satisfying.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Fasting...weird

Lately, my mind has pondered a lot about my youth, and how lucky I am, given how stupid I was, to be where I am today.  There have been many points that are making this more and more obvious but the reason I bring this up today, is fasting.

I wrote a little about fasting and how it relates to helping those in Harvy and Irma in my article in the Boulder City Review (see here). But I recall how stupid I used to think fasting was. No matter how many Sunday school lessons I sat through on it, I just didn't see the point. It just felt like a way to torture myself by not eating. And given that the only reason I did it was that my sister, Ta, watched me like a hawk, that was likely all I was doing. Frankly, I could see why some people just think its weird.

The more I age, the more I am impressed with how wise occasional fasting is.

The world is full of good men who spread misery or fail to meet their potential because they cannot do the good they want to do. Why? Because they cannot let go of their own physical needs. They degrade women and break the hearts of their wives to gratify sexual passions. They leave their own children destitute because the drink has more pull on them than a job. They steal from their fellow man, due to the desperate need to get the next high. Even those without such obvious failings can be guilty of allowing passions to rob them. We wake up but can hardly think until we have had a coffee, or energy drink. We go to work but by 9 o'clock spend more time thinking about what we will eat for lunch than what we are working on.

While these minor personal addictions may not be so great as to cause us to destroy our family, does our focus on our own needs limit our ability to help others? Can we really be open to figuring out what we can do for others when we are worried about our next drink, cigarette, meal, sexual encounter, etc?

Men become great by learning to sacrifice their immediate desires in pursuit of something better. And at it's core that is exactly what fasting and fast offerings can teach us. It is meant to give us power to find and focus on goals and pursuits that are bigger than us. It is to learn to be able to set aside our own desires, even our most basic needs, when called upon to be able to open our mind and hearts to others. It is to teach us that no carnal appetite should be so strong as to distract us from celestial objectives.

Isaiah 58:6-11

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him...Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am...And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Singing Through Life

The boy belted "I Am a Child of God" out with enthusiasm. When it came to singing, he did not have much talent but he did have desire. The chorister was a very talented chorister for such an inexperienced choir. Indeed, "overqualified" was an understatement in every way. She was skilled in music, a natural leader and exceptional teacher, so her spending her time teaching young kids who had little hope of becoming great, may have appeared to be a waste of talent. Why didn't the church have her oversee a large adult class or choir, or serve in a "more important" leadership calling? Such would have been far more fitting. But she had been asked to lead the off key youth, so that is what she did. And even with his lack of skill, she was willing to work with desire. She asked the boy if he would like to prepare for a solo. She and her equally skilled accompanist met on Saturday's and weeknights to help him improve his voice. In a short time he was performing solos for the little congregation. Was he great? No. But he was improving.

The work was not easy. They worked with him often and continued to lead the young choir. Now this is the exciting part. Can you guess what happened? The children performed in a choir that put the Von Trapps to shame? The young boy grew up to perform in the Met? Top the music charts? No, nothing so exceptional. Rather he grew with music being a significant part of his life that he shares with his wife, children and local congregation.

I love music. I play the piano on occasion for church, love to sing in choirs and, on occasion, still sing a solo at church. Joye Cummings was not the only influence in my life that pushed me towards music. No doubt, my parents who forced me, against my will, to play the piano (which I am exceptionally grateful for) deserve some of the credit. But as I attended Sister Cummings funeral this Summer, it struck me how much of a positive impact she had on my life. Music and the few abilities I have with singing and other instruments have greatly enriched me.

Joye Cummings, my primary chorister, passed away on July 22, 2017


Most of us who coach little league won't ever coach the next Bo Jackson. But we will coach many, perhaps hundreds of kids whose lives will be enriched by what we teach them. I am exceptionally blessed because of the volunteers in my life. That is why I wrote the article that was published in the Boulder City Review today (click here to read it). So while it may be a bit of a fluff piece, I truly am grateful for all those in any community, but especially here in Boulder City, who give so much time and effort to making our lives and community more enriched.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Drugs...It's always the drugs.



One of my favorite TV shows of all time is Monk. If you have not taken the time to watch every episode, I highly recommend you quit your job and stay home and watch them tomorrow. "You'll thank me later."

There is one episode, pictured above, where Monk goes to Mexico. The two detectives, when asked what led to the murder, answer, "Drugs...it was drugs...it's always the drugs."

"But the man drowned while sky diving," Monk puzzles.

"Trust me, Monk. It's the drugs."

Before I started interviewing homeless. I had the idea, and still feel many around me have the idea, that in many ways, that is the usually the answer for homelessness. "Why are they homeless?"

"It's the drugs."

Once I started interviewing people, I was surprised how often it was not drugs. Was drugs a significant issue? Yes. Was it the key issue for some. Yes (see story of Oswaldo). But the drugs we usually see as the problem...heroin, meth, cocaine etc... have rarely been the main issue with those I have spoken with.

Yet...it's still the drugs.

What do I mean? It really hit home when I met with Keith.

Keith and Tom in Denver

Keith came to Denver 8 years ago from Pennsylvania. (He has the red shirt). I met Keith and Tom sitting outside a Walmart in Lakewood, Colorado. (Tom's story here) We talked for a while and then Keith and I walked over to a local sub shop and got some food. His story was nothing out of the ordinary. He had worked some in construction in Pennsylvania but was between jobs when he met a girl online and rushed out to Denver to live with her. It lasted two weeks, and after that, he found himself on the streets. Eight years later, he is still there.

But what struck me most about Keith was the topic of conversation. When I approached, he asked, "got any cigs?" I, not surprisingly, did not.

As we walked towards the sandwich shop, he asked, "see any cigs?" hoping that I would notice any half smoked cigarette butts on the ground. Once we were walking out of the sandwich shop he said, "you know cigarettes are so much more expensive here then they are in Pennsylvania." We walked by someone else and he asked them, "you have a cig?" they did not. Then as we walked, he said, "do you have any money for me to get a cig?" A minute or two later, "I sure could use a cig." And then shortly after looking around he said, "It sure is hard to get a cig."

I would love to tell you this conversation was unique to Keith but it is very common among the homeless I speak with. Keith is not a druggy by most definitions. He is not hooked on meth or some other illegal drug. Yet almost 100% of his mental energy goes to an unfulfilled addiction.

I learned how he gets by, by living on the streets and food stamps. Meaning he gets very little actual income. The only cash he sees is from the very occasional odd job and from pan handling. This means that it is entirely possible that 100% of any money he sees, goes to cigarettes. I asked him if he ever looks for work. He looked at me as if the idea hadn't crossed his mind. I firmly believe that he is so in the thralls of this addiction that he rarely thinks about much else.

I felt awful for Keith. I feel awful for anyone trapped in addiction. I don't mean to diminish the negative impact from heroine, meth, cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs, but I think if we were going to really peel back the true cost to society we would find that these hard drugs negative impacts pail in comparison to that of alcohol and tobacco. I think that you would find that while very few would say they became homeless because of alcohol or tobacco, it is almost universally part of the story.

If you follow this blog at all you will not be surprised to find that I hate homelessness but love the homeless. I do not have very many answers, but no answer that fails to recognize the debilitating nature of even what we see as "socially acceptable" and legal addictions will have the deep impacts that are needed.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"people like to see blood"

Last night at City Council I saw everything I love and hate about local politics. (In regards to my hopes for the debate on the Hoover Dam Gateway see my article here. I admit I wrote this article before the council meeting, but after the meeting was glad I wrote what I did.)

I saw a large number of concerned citizens show their public officials they cared about and were willing to speak about an issue.

I saw good city politicians, who listened to both the presented information and the people.

While each elected city official spoke differently they all made excellent points.

Councilman McManus spoke about some significant issues regarding finances and the cost of the utilities. What had been presented was rosy and he was playing the skeptic. He did not attack the report or those who put it together but took a skeptic view of what it presented and where we were going. Professional skepticism is healthy and I thought he brought up some excellent points. I didn't agree in his final statement but thought overall he brought a lot of value to the meeting.

Councilman Harhay spoke of the fact that no mater how good or bad an idea this may be, now is not the time. The city is too understaffed to tackle such a huge project and we should wait for a different time. He is right on. Even under the most favorable circumstances this city is simply not ready to be moving forward with this project. High turn over is something the city will have to tackle and they will be hard pressed to get all the day to day done, let alone large, new, ambitious projects. He also pointed out he was glad the study had been done and that it brought a lot of value.

Councilwomen Leavitt agreed that now was not the time but added her gratitude for the information brought out in the study and reiterated that the goals were to not cannibalize existing business but to draw in new business. She pointed out that such a study would be important for long term planning and that such planning is valuable and necessary. She was spot on.

Councilman Shuman noted the scope was huge and likely beyond what we needed at this time but called for not giving up on perhaps finding something that does make sense at that intersection. Particularly he noted signage and visitors center. He also said that proper zoning should be considered for the future. All his points were excellent.

Mayor Woodbury was the quietest about the project itself. He was happy for the most part to listen to the presentation and others opinions. Mostly I was exceptionally impressed with his ability to keep calm and listen to others views even when the attacks became personal against him.

And that leads me to the one thing about Tuesday's council meeting that disappointed me. The unprofessional and personal attacks leveraged by some. True, these people made up a very small minority. Most of those who spoke did so with professionalism and spoke their views. Others however, made the attack personal against those who drafted the report and those who voted for it to be created in the first place. Such attacks are never appropriate but are unfortunately, to be expected from a few. But the most disappointing part to me was not even that such attacks occurred but how much they seemed to be encouraged by the general assembly. Good people who I respect seem to cheer at the attacks.

In regards to an upcoming fight Floyd Mayweather has decided to go with 8 ounce gloves. When asked why, he said, "because the people like to see blood."

I hope our political choices, even the words we choose, encourage by our comments, or cheers are never because we "like to see blood."



Thursday, August 10, 2017

StoryBook

This week I wrote a few thoughts I had on the StoryBook contract vote. You can read the article Here.

However a few other thoughts to add.

1. After the vote I heard some people say and write that Councilman Harhay had gone against his campaign promises by voting for this. That seemed crazy to me as nothing about this contract went against any thing he had promised, as far as I could tell. After all this contract conforms 100% to the growth ordinance.

2. If you read my article you will see that if I had to vote I would have voted with Councilman Schuman and Councilman McManus for a few reasons I outline. But while I disagree with the vote I was super pleased with the process. We had very professional behavior and the council showed it can be divided, express clear opposing positions, vote the way they feel is best and move forward. I am proud to call each of them my leaders and think they are a great council.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Boulder Cities New Rates

Boulder City has new utility rates. I write about some of my thoughts on the new rates in my article for the Boulder City Review and you can read it here. I am very grateful for a chance to write for the paper and appreciate my editor, but once and a while struggle with the titles they give me. I don't think water rates are the answer to attract families. I think our current rates might not encourage families but I digress.

But, in addition to what I wrote, I have had a few additional thoughts. One, while I do believe our rates need to be sustainable, I think the new rates are too aggressive. I think the city needs to run on a little bigger picture and see if we can't both be sustainable and maintain our status of lowest rates in the valley. The current rates seem very hasty and aggressive. I hope the new council will reconsider and look into new possibly lower rates.

The second thought is any family budget has two variables, income and expenditures. Most of us like to solve our financial woes by focusing on income. Meaning we'd rather get a raise then spend less money. I hope City Council is looking at both ends of the equation not just looking for a raise, so to speak, by increasing rates. I say this realizing that we do have real needs for infrastucture improvement. But I wonder if there couldn't be other cost savings as well. Something I have not had time to investigate just hope and trust those we elected are.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Interviews

Several years ago, I made a goal to, once a month, find someone whom I wanted to emulate and interview them. I have not been as diligent at this as I originally intended, but those I have interviewed have brought me great insight.

One day in Sunday School we were talking about marriage and a gentleman raised his hand and told the class about something similar he had done. Years previous he had been through a divorce and was looking to remarry. He wanted his marriage to be successful so he began interviewing couples that had been married for a long time. (I think it worked he has a great marriage). I encourage all to do the same. Whatever you wish to improve or learn about, find someone who knows or who has been there before and go have lunch with them.

Most recently, I had lunch with the man who made that comment in Sunday school, our retiring City Attorney. You can read about it Here. Special thanks to Dave for taking the time to meet with me, it was great.

On a final note, don't delay the chance for such meetings. I had a wonderful interview with Bruce Tschuntz just last year. In many ways that interview changed my life. He was a key player in the Carter Administration in drafting the first Dam Safety Guidelines, and the first Cheif of Dam Safety for FEMA. I am so glad I met with him. I just found out he died a few weeks ago.

I highly recommend taking the time to interview great men and women and highly recommend you start today.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Chapter 1: The Professional


Eye contact is a powerful thing. Empathy, love, passion, confusion, distress, panic and a plethora of other emotions can all be conveyed between our nose and eyebrows. Pure disdain is another one of those fun emotions that eyes can send from one person to another. That message was coming over loud and clear from Mr. Johnson to Dr. Lewis from the moment he had walked into the office. But, to ensure the message wasn't lost in translation, Mr. Johnson sent it over and over and over again. The forced presence of husbands in their office was something every marriage counselor was accustomed to, but in his experience with Mr. Johnson, this usually was exhibited in simple indifference. No, something was clearly on the man's mind beyond just his disintegrating marriage and the regular contempt any man has for another man who keeps asking him, "How does that make you feel?" No this was clearly something more. As Mrs. Johnson told a story about how Mr. Johnson totally ignored her during their last assignment, which was to discuss why she was originally attracted to him, Mr. Johnson did a very good job of reenacting his indifference to her and instead was focused completely on the doctor. Dr. Lewis himself was usually a very conscientious listener but it was hard to focus on Mrs. Johnson's words with Mr. Johnson’s glare demanding so much attention. Dr. Lewis tried to press on, "So, Mr. Johnson, why do you think Mrs. Johnson feels you weren't listening?" Mr. Johnson paused and, in a rather supercilious way, remarked, "I'm not sure. Does your wife ever assume you're not listening?" Dr. Lewis was used to clients trying to get him to interject his personal life as an example, some were innocent, but increasingly they were less about curiosity and had more of a sinister nature. From the tone, Dr. Lewis feared this was more likely the latter. But, treating it as innocent, he calmly said, "It's important we focus on your situation. There is no value in looking at mine." "Oh, okay. Well, since you don't want to talk about your situation," Mr. Johnson's tone had not improved, "we will only talk about mine. So, why didn't she think I was listening. I may have not had good eye contact. Isn't eye contact important?" His eyes continued to pierce into Dr. Lewis, proving that at least under certain motives, Mr. Johnson's aptitude for eye contact left nothing to be desired. "Yes that is important, but could it have been more than that?" The doctor was doing everything in his power to avoid what he knew would turn into an awkward situation, but deep down knew what was coming. "Or maybe I was stressed. You ever have a stressful day?" Dr. Lewis at that particular moment was very prepared to answer this question, but before he could tell himself to hold his tongue, Mr Johnson added. "What do you do when you get home all stressed and your wife wants to talk?" "Again, Mr. Johnson lets focus on your situation." "Good, I want to know what you do when you are in my situation." Directly trying to maneuver away from his personal life was clearly not going to work so he tried the old, answer the question they should have asked, "Your wife deserves open, honest conversation. So if you need a break to de-stress be open about it." Mrs. Johnson at this point began to interject, "But this was on a Sat.." "How would you know?" Mr. Johnson cut her off, demanding all the attention the little office could offer.
"What?" Dr. Lewis was beginning to expect some confrontation but this was more aggressive than he could have imagined. Recomposing himself a little, Mr. Johnson clarified, "How would you know? Have you tried it?" Dr. Lewis was now getting a bit defensive and his response was not his usual tranquil tone, "I have a doctorate from the University of Connecticut, worked for one of the most prestigious clinics in America, counseled hundreds of couples. I am very qualified to discuss these situations. Mr. Johnson was pleased to see he had gotten under the Dr's skin, and it was with a smile that he sat back in his chair and said, "And yet with all that, no real experience. Come on Jen, lets get out of here." He stood and did the only thing he ever looked forward to doing from the first day he had walked into this office, walked out for the last time. Mrs. Johnson was conflicted, she looked at the doctor in a panic, but the heap of mangled ego that was left of him was far from the pillar she would have needed to help secure her decision. The only strength was leaving the room and she followed it. It was not the fact a disgruntled client walked out that left Dr. Lewis in such a worn state. He had faced it before and would face it again. It was the increased frequency of such occurrences. It was no mystery to Dr. Lewis where Mr. Johnson had discovered the fact that in manners of love, the Dr. was a bit of a novice. A client several months ago,who blamed Dr. Lewis for his failed marriage, had used his knowledge of Dr. Lewis's bachelorhood to flood the internet with scathing reviews like, "Why does a man who has never said, 'I do' get to tell me what to do in my marriage." If Dr. Lewis hadn't been so devastated, he would have had to admit that one was pretty clever. Since these had picked up, his clients had dropped off. There were always men who were looking for a way to get out of counseling, but Dr. Lewis had always prided himself on the fact that if they just gave him a little chance, he could help. He had saved so many marriages that had started their counseling with reluctance. Now he was worried no one would give him a chance. They had their out. Inaction was not something Dr. Lewis ever accepted. Every problem had a solution, and suddenly it was crystal clear. The solution was easy. "Yes, it wasn't mainstream, but that doesn't make it wrong," his mind quickly countered. He always counselled his clients not to make life changing decisions under the duress of hurt feelings, and although that same counsel echoed in his mind as he now found himself rationalizing what he would have described as an irrational life choice in a counselling session, he felt himself dig in his heels against his own good advice for the same reason many others had ignored his counsel: because he wanted to. The only question was the method to deliver the message. The internet made the options and reach almost unlimited. Foreign market was fairly good. No, better keep it close to home. It took only a few minutes to create a new hotmail account and, surprisingly, no one had taken the handle yourhusband@hotmail.com. Next, to the Gazette Classifieds. Local professional seeks wife.
Here is a link to Chapter 2.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Myth #2- You Should Live Within Your Means


Living within your means is the mantra of the conservative side of the financial world.  I know all those who say this mean well. I have even said it, but the problem is many see this as the financial ideal.  And here in lies many of Americas financial problems.  Living within your means is not a wonderfully lofty goal.  In fact, it is a clear way to financial stress and ruin. 

The problems with the “Living within your means” philosophy is multifaceted and I will seek to dissect a few of these facets.

The first problem is that is sets the bar way too low.  We see our goal in life to get to this great time when we will live within our means.  Since that is the goal we always see it as okay to postpone.  It’s the goal not the necessity. So, we get ideas like, “I will live within my means when I am done with school, when I get my next promotion, when I get my professional license, when my kids move out, when my kids get out of college or when my wife goes back to work.”  We are always one raise away from the great goal of “Living within our means”.  Which ties closely to myth #3- Making more money will improve my financial situation.

I wonder when this phrase came along, because you don’t have to go too far back when living within your means wasn’t a goal, it was a necessity. It wasn't, "you should live within your means." It was, "Thou shalt live within your means." For so many what was the floor of our grandparents is now our ceiling.  The idea of “I don’t have the money, so I won’t buy it” has turned into “someday I will have the money to afford what I’m currently buying”.

The second problem is what many define as “Living within their means”.  For many people living within their means is another way of saying, “living paycheck to paycheck.” See many people say, “I live within my means but I had to take debt because my car broke down, I needed a root canal, or I got furloughed from work.”  To these people the concept of living within their means is that their fixed expenses equal their fixed income.  Living within your means should not mean your fixed expenses equal your fixed income because that leaves no room for emergencies which will eventually happen.  Because living includes all those things they are part of your living, the problem is many of us don’t make all our living part of our financial plan.  This leads to excessive stress whenever these unplanned instances occur.

But even if you do include some for emergencies you are not necessarily fully “Living within your means”.  Why? Because you may be living within your means for this week or this month but let’s take a much bigger view to think about what truly “Living” is.  See, life starts at birth, I know this likely doesn’t surprise anyone.  But once you are born your life starts and lucky, for most of us, someone else, picks up the tab for the first 18, 20, 25 or even now sometimes, 30+ years.  At some point most of our parents will have enough and we either leave or are escorted to the door.  For many of us that means some form of education or training.  Rather than work to pay for this, or all of it, most Americans choose to have someone else pay for this period in their lives too, promising that someday when they’re making the “big bucks” they will pay it back.  So now you’re 25, 30 or 35 depending on how much education you got or how much you dragged your feet, and are prepared to live on your own/pay your own way.  Most Americans at this point do not start “living within their means” because after all they are just getting started but let’s say for argument that you do.  

You are 25 years old and you now have a point where you can earn equal to what it cost to sustain yourself.  So you do this until 65 or in other words you put in a good long 40 year career.  You decide to retire and have Social Security, Medicare and a pension pay for your expenses until the day you die at 90 years old.  So in our circumstance you lived 90 years and worked for 40 to pay your own way and let others cover you for the other 50.  “Wait a minute”, you’re thinking.  I paid into Social Security and all those other things so I am covering myself.  Yes and No.  Yes you paid into them, but if you live 80-90 years you will take out far more than you put in, that’s why those programs are going broke.  The same great math minds that want to work for 40 years and get supported for 50 set up those programs and are finding they don’t work. 

So what’s my point? If you truly want to live within your means then you need to earn and put into society as much in the 40 or so years you work as you took out in the 90 years you lived.  And I don’t know about you, but I hope to put more into society than I get out.  I realize just because you’re not working full time doesn’t mean you’re not giving anything to society and money is only one measure of contribution, but you get my point.  Truly living within your means does not mean that you earned as much this month as you spent.  Truly live within your means, means earning far more than you will spend, especially during your most productive years.  Also, hopefully you have enough to do what your parents did for you and pick up the tab for someone else for the first 18 to 30 years. 

So, by most people’s definition we need to be living far below our means, that is the real financial goal. I believe that is the secret to success and low stress in your financial life.


Myth #3- Making More Money Will Improve My Financial Situation


Myth #3: An increase in income will improve my financial situation.

Who wouldn’t love a raise? A little extra money can always help, right? Not necessarily. In the US, one might even say that more financial problems are caused by increased incomes than by a lack of income. Yes, more. In fact, for many people, the worst thing that can happen for their financial situation is a raise. But how can an increase in income actually hurt your financial future?

In 1983, just a few months after my own birth, a young man was born in the Texas. He was athletically gifted, and he grew up playing football. He got a full-ride scholarship to play at UT at Austin, and in 2006, he played quarterback going 13-0 and winning a national championship. At this point in his career, Vince Young looked unstoppable. 



It seemed clear that he was destined to be a franchise quarterback with a long career in the NFL. He was drafted third by the Tennessee Titans and played with them from 2006-2010. From 2010-2014, he bounced around from team to team as a backup, but he ended up retiring from football in 2014. Over the course of his 8-year football career, he made approximately $35 million. However, after only a few months out of the league, he filed for bankruptcy, showing a total of $500,000-$1 million in assets and debts between $1 million and $10 million.

This scenario plays over and over when it comes to professional athletes. They start making more money than they ever imagined and begin spending it faster than they make it. They get ripped off, they buy homes and cars on debt, and they never stop spending. They assume their stardom will never end. Then injury, issues with coaches, age, and many other issues arise and compound, and before long, their career is over. In Vince’s case, he bought a mansion and several cars on credit and spent very lavishly. At one point in his career, he averaged $5,000 a week at The Cheesecake Factory (I am not sure how this is even possible! ). By the end of his career, he was so hounded by debt collectors that his coach admitted that his financial issues contributed to his termination with the team.

Did his huge salary actually help him achieve a financial future? Without such a lavish income, would he be facing as much as $9.5 million in the hole? Of course not. His inflated income was a key factor in his financial ruin.

You might say that this is an extreme example. You might not make millions a year but could use an extra thousand or two, right? Well, I share this story, extreme though it is, because it is full of the mistakes that I see all the time in people’s everyday finances. First, careers bring ups and downs. When financial planners sit down and plan your financial future, they look at your income as a steady slope of perhaps a 3%-5% increase a year throughout your working life. This may be a good average, but we will all face setbacks, with times of plenty and times of shortage. I have been out of college for 11 years and have indeed had salary increases but also salary cuts and a layoff. Many of us might get sick, have to take time off to care for someone else who is sick, or be forced to work less for other personal reasons. Our industry may shift and leave us without work for a time, or our company may fail due to mismanagement. We have no guarantee of future income.

Second, the problem for many of us is that, when we get an increase in income, creditors are more than happy to sign us up for a credit increase. In other words, when income increases, so does our ability to acquire debt. I saw this in the story of a homeless man I met in Colorado named Tom (Here is his story).

Basically, I look at how we spend money as far as our future goes in three categories. The first is saving or paying down debts. Second, we pay cash for things, and third, we use money as a down payment to acquire something on debt. When we save or pay off debts, we improve our financial future. When we spend cash on something, it could be wise or unwise, but it doesn’t enslave us to future debt. For example, when Vince Young was paying $5,000 at the Cheesecake Factory, it wasn’t what bankrupted him (as long as it was paid in cash). But when we use our new income to acquire new debt, we put our future self in bondage, and this usually hurts our financial future.

So how do I decide if a raise in income will actually help or hurt my financial future? The question to ask yourself is this: will I spend this money so that, in the future, I will need less income to live my life? Or will I spend this money in such a way that I will continue to need this level, or more income in the future? Basically, do my purchases make me more dependent on money or less dependent?

So, be honest – would an increase in income help or hurt your financial future? Would you pay down debt or use it to get more? We should all think about this issue and not just assume the very prevalent myth that an increase in income will always help our financial future.
In case you missed it

Myth #1- A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

and

Myth #2- You Should Live Within Your Means

Thursday, June 22, 2017

We Don't Want Your Kind

Tony and I at Taco Bell in Sacramento

As I drive up to Taco Bell I see three people, covered in dirt and ragged clothes, dash across the street with large garbage bags. I assume the bags are their belongings but I have no idea why the rush to the smoke shop they now approach. I park and begin to walk a little.

I walk a block or so and am on my way back when I run into Harlin, one of the runners. As he approaches I can hear the bag is not his belongings but cans, hundreds of smashed cans. I approach him as he approaches me, cigar bouncing in his lips. "What you up to?" I ask.

"Just trying to trade someone for these cans, so I can get something to eat."

"I'll buy you something to eat."

"Awesome, how about some chips and a beer? Want the cans?"

"That's okay, how about we go to Taco Bell or Subway?" I was hoping to have more of a conversation with him.

By now his friends are caught up and clearly curious about why I was talking to Harlin. "Who is your friend?" they ask.

"He's getting me something to eat."

"I'm happy to get you all something. Do you want to go to Taco Bell?"

Harlin quickly chimes in, "No, just a beer and chips at the gas station would work for me?"

By the look on the other two faces, I can tell they are more interested in some real food. I know Taco Bell may not qualify, but it beats the gas station. Harlin is more interested in a snack. So, I get Harlin a few items at the gas station and I then head to Taco Bell with the young couple, Tony and Stacy.

They too had a large bag of cans and I had to ask, "So why were you running to the smoke shop with the cans?"

Bag of cans they collected as it sat outside Taco Bell while we ate.

"They pay 5 cents a can but turns out you have to get there before 5 o'clock, so we will just come back tomorrow."

"How much will you get for all that?"

"I'd say we have 300-400 cans, so $15-$20 bucks."

We order, and as we wait, I begin to get to know Tony and Stacy. They've been on the streets or couch surfing at friends for the past 8 months after being kicked out of Stacy's mothers home in San Francisco. "Right now we have a friend that lets us keep our stuff at their place and stay from time to time. That is really nice because when we have a cart our stuff gets stolen all the time."

"Is this your first time on the streets?"

"No we were homeless before when Tony's Mom kicked us out." I turn to Tony, "You see your mother any more?"

The mood quickly changes, Tony didn't get mad or unwilling to share but extremely contrite. He began to share very openly some things that clearly brought him intense pain.

"My mother is in Arizona, but I don't know where. I haven't seen her in 9 months. I wish very much I knew where she was."

He continues to explain that he was trained as a chef and had worked in some very high end restaurants, earning $15-$18 dollars an hour. During that time, about 7 years ago, he got into drugs with the girlfriend he was dating at the time. Stealing became a way to feed the addiction and he wrote bad checks, stole identities and credit cards. In time, he was caught and spent 9 months in jail, did community service, went through a rehab program and spend 4 years on probation. "Given what I did, they were very lenient on me. It could have been much worse." It was during this time that he met Stacy, got his old certificates current and landed a job at "The Rose Garden" in Portland, Oregon. By the way he said it, you could tell he thought I would know about his restaurant. He was planning to move and come back later for Stacy but they found out she was pregnant and decided to ask for an extra week before he started to get things in order and bring her along. They agreed and he prepared to move. The day before he left they called him and told him that they would not be giving him the job, due to his background check and the past issues it turned up. "No real restaurants will hire me."

That was a couple years ago and since them they had a baby boy. He's now 1 and they have not seen him in 9 months because when Tony's mother left to Arizona she took the baby with her. I now understood why admitting he didn't know where his mother was brought so much pain.

He cheered up a little as he said, "but in three months it will have been 7 years since my conviction and my record will be clean. I can't wait to get a job."

"Have you been able to stay off drugs?"

He and Stacy said they had and I believed them. However being on the streets, drugs are never far away. "Heroine is a real issue in Sacramento. We had a friend overdose last week."

"So no one will take you with your background?"

"I could probably get a job at a place like this, but it's hard to take a job for $8 an hour when you were a chef in a nice place that made $18. I know that's a bad attitude to have, but it's hard."

They shared a few more stories about her siblings, she has a sister at Sacramento State and a brother who is in high school back in San Francisco. Shortly after, we finished our meals and I headed out.

I thought of a story I had read online  a story about a homeless man who turned down a job because he made more panhandling, and the car dealership used the opportunity to shame the homeless man.  I realize that Tony's story was very different, he was not panhandling but like the man in the story he had a hard time taking a job. Many of us are quick to assume such men don't want to work, but in Tony's case he had just worked an 8-10 hour day in 108 degree weather to get a $15-$20 pay check. Clearly he was willing to work.

But something keeps him from a job. What he described was pride. Being too proud to work a lowly job for lowly wages. But again I am not sure one would consider collecting cans much above fast food worker. I sense it may have more to do with that call he got from Portland. After he had paid his debt to society, done community service, probation, went through rehab, re-earned his certificates, applied for a job and got an offer, he got a call that said, "Oh wait, you are not good enough, we don't want you, we don't need your kind here."

I recently tried to take my wife to a restaurant, one that I'd been to many times before. I called ahead and they didn't answer, so I went, assuming I could get in. Once there, they said, they no longer took reservations without a tee time (it's connected to a golf course). It might sound silly, but even that felt awful, and it had nothing to do with me personally. It felt like they were saying, "you are not good enough for our restaurant." I hated that feeling and would avoid any place that I thought might bring a similar experience.

He said Taco Bell would hire him, I think, at least partially, he's scared to find out if that is true. He's happier believing they, lowly Taco Bell, would accept him, rather than apply and risk finding out that they wouldn't.

I thought of a man in my last ward, Lynn Goodfellow, who runs a business on the edge of Boulder City. He often employs men who may not be able to find employment because of their background. I thought of the homeless Bishop who told me he had to know which employers would be willing to consider those he works with. Such employers are hero's of mine. It made me think, in what ways do we send the message, "we want you to be a part of us" or  conversely "we don't want your kind?"

I am not sure why many able bodied, homeless men do not work. Perhaps sometimes it is that they are lazy, but I think a lot of the time it's far more than that. I am not condoning able bodied men choosing not to work. Tony knew and was correct that this is a "bad attitude", but maybe we can do things to make it less hard. Perhaps after we spend thousands of dollars "rehabilitating" an individual with court, lawyers, jail, rehab and all the work and money it entails, we can offer them less rejection and more encouragement, less shame and more praise, less disdain and more love.

Here is another Homeless interview: When did you get out?



Saturday, June 17, 2017

Financially Different


My blog has mostly been about two major topics, Boulder City politics and encounters with the homeless. In order to make a successful blog it is important to be cohesive and there is nothing too cohesive about Boulder City politics and homeless people. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of people involved in Boulder City politics have homes.

So, I have had plans to break off into two different blogs, but this would require too much effort, so I am doing the next best thing. I am adding new things to write about so as to make my blog more eclectic than ever. The only cohesiveness will be in the lack of cohesion. Although, the new topic is money and homeless people usually lack money and politicians overspend it, so now it all ties together.

The first addition I will make is on the topic of financially different, or looking at finances differently. Money is something we all deal with and something I have written about a lot in my own journal and have decided to add to the blog.

The first set of post’s (who knows how many I will get to) will be on financial myths.

These include:
                A penny saved is a penny earned
                You should live within your means
                Things are so expensive now a days
                If I earned more money I would be better off financially
                You should purchase as much home as possible
                Always carrying a payment on your home is a good idea 
                Pay yourself first is the secret to wealth
                If I had more money I would be less stressed/happier


Hope you enjoy.

Here's a link to myth #1  "A penny saved is a penny eared"

A penny saved is a penny earned...Myth?


A penny saved is a penny earned. There is perhaps no more common a financial expression/advice in the English language as this. The problem is, it is simply not true. Not only is it not true but it is so oft repeated that people actually believe it and believing it can lead to some very destructive financial behavior.

This myth is tied to several other myths including, if I earned more money I would be better off financially. I will write about that one later.

So, what is wrong with this cliché? A penny saved is far more than a penny earned. In fact, the two are not even close. Many people say it takes money to earn money. This too, at least, in its intent is a myth. (again, for another day). The more appropriate wording would be it costs money to earn money. The biggest reason for this is our current taxes. For most Americans, federal income tax takes 15% to 34% of everything they earn. That is only income tax, then you have Medicare and social security. If you own a home you will pay property tax and wherever you chose to spend that money you will likely have another approximately 7% on sales tax. Depending on what state you live in you may also have state income tax. I am religious and pay 10% in tithing to the Lord (best financial decision I ever made, again, for another time).

Therefore, depending on who you are, based on simply the math a penny saved could easily be worth as much as two times a penny earned.

But that is just the beginning. The true power in saving is restricting our life style. Once we spend money or expand our lifestyle it is very hard to pull the reins back. Simple example, yesterday I had an all-beef hot dog, it is going to be hard to buy those half chicken, half pork, half cat hot dogs again. So, once we expand to a certain life style we are setting ourselves up to stay at that life style. Especially if that life style involves payments (car, home, phone etc…). That means for many purchases that spending that penny means you are setting yourself up to need to spend it again and again and again. By saving or restricting your lifestyle you are avoiding potentially years of further financial pressures. I will expand on this in many other of my myth posts.

So, who cares? After all the slogan, a penny saved is a penny earned is encouraging you to save. Your point is saving is way better. So what, it’s off, but isn’t it a step in the right direction? The problem with the phrase is by equating the two we can say, a penny earned is as good as a penny saved. We hold the penny and think, “should I spend, or save? Since a penny saved is a penny earned, if I choose to spend this penny all I have to do is earn another one…. right?” This is the core of financial ruin. This leads to getting to $1,000 bonus and spending $1,000, when you will only every see $500-$800 of it. This leads people to say, “why do I earn more and get further behind?”

So, next time you hold that penny. Realize that, for most of us, a penny saved could be worth two pennies earned, and perhaps even more.

Next Myth #2- You Should Live Within Your Means

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

General Elections-How I did



So as always, I want to follow up my predictions with how I did. (Here are my predictions, If you want to reread them).

First question 2. I, like everyone else, guessed this would not pass, and it did about how I predicted.

I wrote that I thought question 1 would not pass. So check 2, got it right. However I was way off on it being close. I felt question 1 supporters were gaining ground. They gained nothing and lost in a landslide. This loss was so bad that I don't think there will be any stomach for making any changes moving forward. It is clear the people of Boulder City, at least for now, feel the growth ordinance should be left alone. The fact that this was on the ballot had impact on everything else. It also showed the limits of the "Woodbury" influence. A great man, who will continue to have much influence in this town, but the feeling of inevitability around issues he backs is gone.

Next, the hardest loss for me, Cam Walker. I noted that it would be close and a tough win for Cam but I felt he would get reelected. I was wrong. It was fairly close with only a few hundred votes between him and reelection. He was able to pull votes that also went No on 1 but 1 had to be closer for this to give him the win. I feel Cam has served us well and his presence will be missed. I don't know what is next for Cam Walker but I hope he will continue to be involved, as he has done much good for this town. Maybe we will see his name on a ballot again?

John Milburn also lost, which I predicted, but for the wrong reasons. I had thought that his indifference would hurt him but rather I think his votes were swept up in the anti-growth fever. He had publicly opposed 1 but was connected to it none the less. While I hope John will continue to be engaged in the community, because he really is a great man, I think ,we will not be seeing his name on a ballot again.

Warren Harhay or now Councilman Harhay, I totally got this one right. I guessed his win and that he would pull more votes than McManus. His style is well liked and it really is an amazing story to go from complete unknown in the town to the man with the most votes. I think Councilman Harhay will end up being a surprise in many ways and will actually lead in a fairly centric fashion. This will please many who voted against him and anger some who voted for him, but overall will be good for the town.(more on this below)

I think nothing showed the power of the Alliance's influence like Councilman McManus's win. He was very quiet the last few weeks, was not that outgoing, but won even without a smile. And I will note, I did see after the election that he is capable of smiling. While I was wrong on the outcome I think he will add some powerful insight to the council.

So what now? I predict that good things are in store for Boulder City. I'm an optimist. I think McManus will be less centrist than Harhay but I don't think either will be obstructionist.  There will be pressure from the extreme side of the Alliance to be just that. And it will be tempting. Being obstructionist could make a clear and easy articulation for the next election. "We have 2 votes but are hopeless because the majority of the other 3 votes. If you help us win the mayor and another seat we could have 4 votes and finally really make a difference." As I said this is tempting and the easy way to go. This is the, "us versus them" model. It will require avoiding true compromise, so you are free to always vote against the issue. The model is employed in DC all the time and does. 1. Energize the base and 2. Make arguments easy (true compromises can be intricate, take a lot of work and be difficult to explain/sell to the public.) The down side to this path is we will have two years of getting little to nothing done, angry meetings and strained relationships inside city hall that will seep into every area of our town. Which in a town like Boulder City means every area of our life.

However their is another path, and I believe all on the council, including Harhay and McManus will follow it. It is a path of working together, finding compromise and realizing that the balance both McManus and Harhay bring can be a good thing. Such compromises will mean a lot of votes that will offend the hardline base, on both sides, that don't want compromise. Such votes will take time,  leadership and courage. It means proposing new ideas that might end up being unpopular. This path is harder, it takes engaged Councilmen and Women willing to take risk. It takes engaged citizens willing to study and look at new ideas. It takes understanding the opposite side instead of insulting them. It is the path I believe in. It is the path we in Boulder City can and I believe will follow.

I am grateful for all who ran both those who won and those who did not. I am grateful for all who were willing to speak their mind whether their issue was accepted or rejected. Let's believe these next two years will be the best years Boulder City has ever seen and then let's work to make it so.