Friday, March 27, 2020

Yea Bipartisanship! Oh wait?

The US will allocate 2 trillion dollars to stimulate the economy ...

Fear can lead us to do some strange things. I believe fear just led us for the first time in many years to have a wonderful bipartisan moment. One where party's united from both sides of the isle to pass one of the worst pieces of legislation in our history. Another rare bipartisan moment came when not only did both sides of the isle pass this bill but they joined in on spewing hate to anyone who dare speak against it. Stopping the bill from moving forward at break neck speed was tantamount to wanting to kill Grandma and the economy, as we saw when Congressman Massie looked like he might stand in the way by asking Congress to follow procedure.

The obvious reasons to be opposed to this bill all seemed to fade into dust behind the bandwagon. What happened to the anger that fueled the Republican party when they didn't have time to debate or even read the massive Obamacare bill. My guess is if we clocked time to pass versus size, this bill would take the cake. What happened to the mocking conversations of "How will you pay for that?" when Bernie Sanders spoke of Medicare for all. I remember when at least one party used to care about that question, before they bowed and rolled over as soon as it might impact their fearless leaders reelection chances.

But put aside the fact that with this bill Trump will likely exceed Obama's record deficit of $1.4 Trillion by two to three times this year, even if we could afford it, this bill would be a bad idea and here is why.

1. Bad bills lead to windfalls-
We all feel badly for people and companies that have lost jobs and revenue due to the Corona virus situation. We would love it if no one lost any money, but do we want to pass a bill that gives people or a company windfalls? Should any of us walk away from this situation with more money than we would have had if this virus never come because congress passes a bill that hands out tax dollars? I hope we can all answer, a resounding, NO! But that is exactly what will happen with this current bill. This bill contains 3 separate windfalls that are likely to occur.
  •  500 Billion in this bill is for large corporations. While it is not very unclear how the 500 billion put in for large corporations will be distributed you can bet that if there is one group of people who know how to show a loss in order to get a gain big corporations will figure out how. I will never forget when President Obama came out dismayed when he found out that large banks they had bailed out used some of the money for big bonuses for it's executives. Well, if you think something similar this time won't happen you greatly underestimate corporations ability to out lawyer, and out maneuver our politicians. Not to mention when Senator Bernie Sanders threatened to add an amendment that would stop any of the money going to corporations that lay off workers, cut wages or benefits, ship jobs overseas, or pay workers poverty wages, it failed. There is zero doubt in my mind some corporations will end up ahead in this one. This will be a windfall for some of them.
  • Another provision adds an extra $600 dollars for unemployment benefits above the benefit that would extend unemployment to full salary for many workers. Meaning that there are many Americans currently laid off that will make more on unemployment than they did working.  (To who does that sound like a good plan?) There were several Republican Senators that tried to add an amendment that you could not make more on unemployment than when you were fully employed, it failed. That is a windfall.
  • But the biggest windfall is the checks to every American. While many lost their jobs the majority of Americans are like myself, and fortunate enough to be working during this time. I have lost 0 salary or benefits during this crisis, my wife lost 0 and my kids don't cost more, or need more money during this crisis. And many of those who did loose work will get 100% of their pay through the new unemployment benefits. So why do we need to send out checks? It's simply a windfall from this poorly crafted bill.
2. This bill punishes those who did the right things. We want people and companies to make wise and prudent decisions. Yet many provisions in this bill punish those who did the right thing.
  • Save for a rainy day- We want to encourage people to save for events like the one we just had, yet when the government increases the money supply by $2 Trillion dollars in one swoop it dilutes the currency. You can't run these type of deficits without causing inflation and inflation lowers and thereby punishes those with savings. If everytime there is a crisis we try to solve it by passing out money and diluting our currency people will learn that only a sucker saves for a rainy day.
  • Try to hold onto your employees through the hard times- Many businesses try to hold onto employees through hard times because they feel it is the right thing to do. They look like suckers today now that this bill passed. If they would have quickly laid people off or sent them home, they would have held onto more money and the taxpayers would have foot the bill for the time their staff was off.
3. This bill encourages bad behavior.
  • Do I as a business want to rush out and rehire my staff, when I know they are making full benefits and pay at home not on my cost? I don't want to risk bringing them back until I absolutely know they will bring me more profits by being in the office than at home. This will slow rehiring.
  • Do I want to go out and find a new job when I am making full salary, plus even more sitting on the couch? It will lead to the mentality of, "I want my old job to call me back and rehire me, just not quite yet." This is bad, bad for productivity, the economy, and bad for developing people. 
  • This bill furthers the lie that we can have our cake and eat it to. We all want to beat Corona virus. We made a decision that it was worth the sacrifice to slow the economy to beat it and save lives. This bill is trying to say we can stop our economy and have zero sacrifice, maybe even get a little ahead. It's a lie.  It will perpetuate the idea that every inconvenience we face in life should be solved by congressional vote and a presidents signature. 
I am sure there are parts of this bill that are good. I am supportive of breaking the piggy bank to fight this virus. Testing, drug trials, vaccine research, cutting red tape to get these things even faster. That is a good idea, hang the costs. But bailouts with little to no strings, free checks to every American for doing...nothing, 100%+ pay for unemployment, these are all horrible ideas and that makes up the bulk of this bill.

So, what am I going to do about it? For one, I will not be accepting my windfall. I am torn between giving it back to the treasury through my taxes or giving it to a charity of some kind. I know it is mostly a symbolic gesture but I hope you will join me in it. And even more importantly, I hope you will not be rushed away with this bandwagon that somehow all the things we know are a bad idea in our personal lives is somehow good policy because someone like Trump or Pelosi peddle it. 

Here is a rebuttal on this from my Brother (click here).

And here is my Father's view (click here).

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Thriving in a pandemic

Image result for pandemic

Right now things are scary and when I’m scared I often find good advice from my wiser, more calm self (I hope I can get the rest of me to listen). So, what I need today is advice to thrive through a pandemic, and here it is:

1. Calm down. I’m not saying this because the situation isn’t serious, or because I know that things are going to get better before they get worse. But no matter which direction things go, I know that I will face it best, if I face it calmly and with a clear head.

2. Don’t sell your stocks in a panic. I am not a genius investor. But I have a decent sense of when things are high and when they are low. They are low now. Are they at the bottom? Nobody knows, that is why they are up 5% one day, down 10% the next. Everyone is guessing the future value of companies when they have no idea if this pandemic will be over within a few weeks, months or years. Everyday investors take a new stab in the dark. Which way the market goes from here is a pure gamble. If you have been on the sidelines it may be a decent time to get in, but if you have ridden this wave down, now is not the time to get out. Fear will lead you to buy high and sell low, not exactly a formula for getting rich.

I remember back when real estate in Las Vegas crashed. I had paid $170,000 for a 1 bedroom condo in 2006. By 2009 that same condo was selling for $35,000 dollars. The common advice of the day was to take a short sale and get out from under it. After all, it would never be worth what you paid for it. I held on. I look back on that being one of the best decisions we ever made. Did I end up selling it for more than I bought it for? No. But I made good rent on that condo for many years and it more than paid for itself. In addition, the lessons that it taught me are worth far more than money can replace, but that will have to be a post for a different day.

3. The government can’t save us. I am not anti-government. After all, I work for the government. But at the end of the day bailouts, checks, and stimulus will not be what saves us. If you think, “if only the government paid for my lost income, or guaranteed me work or…” you name it, you are headed down the wrong path forward. I want good government, and one that does all it can to limit people's suffering in hard times like we are currently entering. This is best done by fighting the disease and cutting red tape related to relief and healthcare. But what makes our country strong is individuals picking themselves up and accomplishing great things. That will happen by individuals pushing, working, motivating, hiring, innovating, not by government bailouts. The government paying us to sit on our couches only incentivices sitting on our couches, it does not create, and in the long run that is what grows the economy. In fact what really needs to happen is:

4. Work, Work, Work. You want to individually thrive during hard times, work like you never have before. When the going get’s tough the tough get going, as the ancient phrase goes. “Easy for him to say,” you might be thinking. He wasn’t laid off. But to the millions who will likely be laid off this time around, I am sorry but the answer to your suffering is work. Work in any way you can. Work to find a new job, work at odd jobs, start a youtube channel, write a book, remodel your kitchen, whatever you do, work.

This time especially there will be millions who lose their job on a temporary basis. It will be tempting to say to yourself, ‘what can I do, but stay at home and catch up on netflix or master debating on twitter, while I wait for them to call me back.’ You may feel getting another full time job is not the best option, since your other job will likely call you back. To this I say, the best creations we all enjoy were built by people who were working on things they didn’t ‘have’ to work on. You working on a side project and really focusing on it could build the next microsoft, write the next harry potter, or create the next great youtube channel. Is that likely? No. Your next great idea is likely to fail. But you will gain skills and knowledge that will benefit and enrich you in new and exciting ways. If you have been given the unexpected and undesired blessing of time off. Don’t sit back, but challenge yourself and create.

The last point I’ll make on this is that you need to control your own destiny. I know that is a total cliche saying, but it’s true. I hate to say this, but thousands if not millions who have been sent home and told they will get called back in 15-30 days may never get that call. All businesses hope that in 30 days their customers will come right back as if nothing happened. For many, they won’t. Sitting hoping on your old company to ride back and save the day is no better than sitting back and waiting on the government. You deserve better, by taking control, and getting to work you will find yourself with more options, no matter what happens in the future.

5. Hire Others. Winner for smartest move in the current crisis goes to Amazon. Rather than panic and wait to see what this will do to their business, they realized they are in a position to both help society and capitalize on making this a growth opportunity. They said they will focus on delivering the most needed supplies, hire an additional 100,000 people and increase wages from $15 to $17 an hour. I could be wrong but I believe history will show that this was beyond genius. They look good, because they are. They expand their clientele as people who need supplies who don’t regularly use amazon (if such people exist) will begin to use them. And when there are lots of talented people laid off looking for work, they are ready to swoop in and get them, and then pay them a wage that will keep them.

But I’m not Amazon, you say, I don’t have a trillion dollar business that can give 100,000 people jobs. That is okay. Do you have a job that you need done around the house or a contractor to fix the landscaping you have been meaning to do? Getting good help isn’t easy, but in the next few weeks your chances of finding a honest, hard working, and talented person to help you with whatever you need is much higher. And likely at a very reasonable price. People need work, and if you can hire them, you and they will likely benefit.

6. Count your blessings then slow down and enjoy them. At times it takes us to lose a little to help us realize we have a lot. Most of us still have our health. We continue to have access to more knowledge, education, entertainment, food, transportation, methods of communication, and healthcare than anytime in history. This is a list of blessings that our society in general enjoys but each of us could list thousands of personal blessings and should.

As noted above now is a time to work like never before but make sure you take time to not only count, but enjoy your blessings. Take a slow walk through the neighborhood after a rain. Enjoy an evening with the family by the fireplace. Read a good book. When life is hectic it’s time to enjoy the blessings at a slower pace.

7. Serve. There is no better time to stop worrying about how hard you have it and realize there are thousands around you who are suffering just as bad or worse. “Forget yourself and go to work.” is one of my all time favorite quotes by Bryant Hinckley. And he is right. Find those around you in need and lend a hand. Nothing will do more to brighten your day and lift you from worrying about the future like lifting others. This is #7 on the list but I probably should have made it one.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Matt 16:25. There may never be a better time to find yourself.

All of these are ways to say, take control. Refocus your life on the things you have power over. You can’t control the stock market, you likely have very little impact on the spread of coronavirus in New York, or Italy. You can’t stop your job from sending you home. And you can’t get Congress to pass the legislation that you feel is best.

There is a temptation when we get scared about the future to become news junkies who watch 24-7 for any sign of what the future might have in store for us. We watch stock tickers go up and down. We check 4 times a day how many people have the virus and how many have died. We listen to hear what bailout bill the government will pass. But every second we spend doing that we put energy and focus into things that are largely out of control. So our world seems and feels, just that, out of control.

When you take time to focus on the things you do have control of. Your health, your mental state, your family relationships, your ability to create and work, and the chance to serve those around you. Then you realize you are the master of your fate. That despite the world crumbling around you, you are still in the driver's seat. And that will help you thrive at any time of your life.

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Friday, March 13, 2020

An Alternative Solution to School Closure

photo by Demano Barcelona

Even though it appears our chance for contracting the Coronavirus is currently low in Clark County, these many recent cancellations of public gatherings are a prudent step as studies show the earlier those things are limited, the less severe the outbreak will be. Waiting until the outbreak occurs before we cancel events is, as many have stated, like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. However, the largest gatherings that we are most reluctant to cancel are the schools, and understandably so. Many of our families depend on schools for child care and even food, and there is not equal access to technology and internet at home that might allow for education to continue through distance learning.

But I’m afraid we will wait until it is far too late for school closure to be a useful barrier to the spread of Covid-19 in our communities. The reality is, though we are grateful our children are not at much risk, they are very good at spreading illness, and they have parents who work or shop with our more vulnerable age groups. Thus, our children and teens are likely to be a huge catalyst to outbreak in our society and the death toll that goes with it. But there’s a difficult balance of caution and consequence that our government, school, and organizational leaders are grappling with day by day. 

Let me suggest an alternative to closing schools that we could implement immediately  and which could at least aid the prevention of large community outbreak with as little family hardships as possible, and that is voluntary distance learning. The thought came to mind after a friend was telling me they might pull their kids out of school and homeschool the rest of the semester now that he and his wife have been directed to telecommute from home. I could see how that would help protect their family and their aged mother with whom they have frequent contact, but it would have almost no community benefit unless large numbers of people did the same. I could feasibly do that for my kids, but I still want my son to get school issued credit for his geometry class that goes on his high school transcripts, and I’m sure many feel the same.

But what if schools offered and encouraged everyone who has the resources at home to finish the semester from home? Those who have adequate food supplies, adult supervision, and internet technology at home, can continue their course of study from home, receiving and delivering assignments through email, or doing assignments on the free Khan Academy website, and otherwise implementing distance education measures. Thus we could dramatically reduce the number of kids in a classroom, empowering us to implement more effective measures into the classroom that would provide the most caution against the spread of Covid-19.

Some of these protective measures could include: spacing desks out throughout the room, running air filtering devices, spraying an aerosol disinfectant during recess, not sharing writing utensils, having the teacher dispense hand sanitizer as students come or go, even serving lunch in the classroom or outside on good weather days rather than in a common cafeteria, and stagarring recess to one class at a time. You could essentially limit each student’s contacts to only the 6-12 students in their own class. At recess they could close off shared playground equipment and introduce other activities on the grass and black top that don’t require shared hand-touched surfaces. Should someone in the class or a family member then come down with coronavirus, it would be much easier to quarantine the remaining class members and their families than trying to track the entire school and their contacts. Secondary schools are more complicated with specialized classes, but perhaps having teachers rotate through classes rather than students or other inventive measures could limit students contact with other students and shared surfaces. 

Additionally, those who have adult supervision and internet technology at home, but who would struggle without school lunch or breakfast, could drop by and pick up their meals from an outdoor distribution point rather than being at the school all day, such as is done in many communities during the summer months. 

Another benefit of this approach could be that we redistribute our online learners to the teachers who are in higher risk age groups. They could plan assignments and keep up with student progress from home so that the ones directing the in class instruction at the schools can be only those in lower risk age groups. 

This approach may bring the concern and criticism that it disproportionately exposes low income students and families to the spread of the virus, but the truth is, when compared with not cancelling school until it is too late, this approach would still greatly reduce the risk to our low income families by decreasing the school population as a whole, and would have the added benefit of allowing some of our most academically needy children to receive more one on one instruction and support with a much lower student to teacher ratio during this period of time. It also benefits our low income families with continued child care and meals while still reducing those children’s risk of contracting or spreading this infection, which of course benefits the entire community as well. 

Should an outbreak become more widespread in our community, it may still come to the point where schools will have to close entirely, but this solution might provide an interim benefit to everyone involved and could delay or possibly prevent the need to close schools entirely. 

With so many pros and cons, costs and benefits to consider, think this one over and if you like the idea, pass it on and maybe our district or state will consider this option.

Written by Jeanine Gee (my awesome wife)

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Is America Great?

At Dinner with Alanna, Josh and Brandon

Life had never been easy for young Alanna, she never knew her Father, never even knew anything about him until she was an adult and then figured out very quickly she was glad that the violent alcoholic had not ever been in her life. Her Mother did her best that a single Mom could do trying to raise a family by herself. When little Alanna came home and said that her friend Brandon, who was only 5 years old, had been abandoned by his family, her Mother decided to adopt him and add one more mouth to feed. 

But despite loving her, her Mother was far from perfect, and when her older brother starting bringing drugs home, Mother, rather then stopping it, joined in. Due to the Meth addiction of her Mother young Alana found herself on the streets for the first time at age 16. Her Mother would go on and off drugs for the next few years. Brandon would join the Navy and spend two years on a submarine before being discharged and coming back to Indiana. 

Alanna went on to fall in love with a boy named Josh. Josh had special needs but kept a job at Indiana Beach being a stunt double for their shows. When Alanna was able to help her Mother sober up for the first time in a long time things looked like they were going pretty good. Her Mother was sober, she wasn't on the streets, Brandon was home and Josh's job brought in a few bucks so they had some money.

But things changed fast, her older Brother was still caught up in the drug scene and one night, a deal went the worst way a deal can go and Alanna's Mother was murdered by a local drug dealer. A short time later, Indiana Beach shut it's doors and the trio of Alanna, fiance Josh and adopted brother Brandon, banded together on the streets. 

The only shelter that they were near in Indiana was a Men's shelter, that meant that if the nights were freezing Alanna had no place to go. "No one will give you a job in Indiana if you are homeless." Alanna states as she recalls there time back home. "Police do nothing but harass you, and if it's freezing, well, too bad."

Josh's Father told them that he planned to move to a small town outside of Denver in May, and he was getting a large piece of property, and they were welcome to 2 acres if they wanted. It was more than anything they had in Indiana so they somehow got a vehicle they hoped would get them to Denver and hit the rode. They were wrong, the vehicle never made it, but with rides and help they did. 

Now they just have to wait until May, but things have been very different for them in Denver. "There is a clinic that sees us for free and helps get me my asthma medication. There is a local church that helps us with food. The police stop to make sure we are okay, and if it's below freezing they help us get to somewhere with shelter so we don't freeze. And best of all there is a daily work place that will help get us temporary work," Alanna says. 

Brandon pipes up. "I have had two places offer me a job once I get my ID which should come in the mail in a few days."

I, knowing that addresses can be hard for homeless ask, "Where are they sending your ID's?"

"A local charity gave me a box to use as an address."

"They are way more helpful here. When we told the guy that Josh had special needs, rather than look at us like, too bad, he said, 'no problem' and helped him fill out the application right then and there. It was totally different experience," Alanna adds.

This experience, oddly enough, reminded me of two statues.

The Colossus at Rhodes was a statue of the Greek God Helios. At over 100 feet it was the largest statue of the Ancient world. It was erected to show Rhodes power after they had a victory over Cypress. 
The Colossus of Rhodes: Ancient Greek Mega Statue

In 1883 the United States was in the middle of a Depression. They too hoped to erect a large statue. They needed to raise funds to build a platform on which to place a statue of a beautiful women that had been given to them by the French in honor of their friendship. A young poet, Emma Lazarus wrote a sonnet that was to be auctioned off to raise funds for the pedestal.  

In the end, the statue was to be similar in size to the Colossus at Rhodes, and it would undoubtedly be compared to it. But would the comparison be fare. Lazarus knew that unlike the Colossus at Rhodes, which was erected to show power over others, this statue was a symbol of strength through friendship, love and charity.

To make this clear she penned the immortal words, a portion of which were placed and still sit at the base of that statue today:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

In a depression, when we were struggling to take care of ourselves she knew where Americas power truly would come from. Not from showing how great we are or only accepting the worlds best and brightest it would be from showing that we were open and prepared to receive the lowest of low. Those who needed help. She was not blind that they would come with baggage, struggles and needs. But She knew that we had something to offer, something that would make them and us better.

A portion of those words still sits at the base of the Statue she helped raise the funds to erect, the Statue of Liberty.

I do not know all the reasons it didn't work out in Indiana for this group who has had so much of worlds adversities laid at their feet. But when I hear about their experience in Denver, it reminds me that what makes our country great is not just men and women who have pulled themselves up from poverty, but men and women who have pulled, loved and helped others along as well.

If you enjoyed this please enjoy another one of my homeless articles: Getting Behind the Wheel

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